Crucifying Christianity, Part 3: Jesus, The Best God Could Do?

Jesus seems like a pretty good guy. I would have hung-out with him. Of course that is assuming we really know what Jesus was like. I said earlier that I did not wish to dwell on the historical accuracy of the Bible and would assume, for argument's sake, that everything in the Bible was accurate and that God's inspired words managed to make it through 2,000 years of human error to its present form. I will simply say that the all-loving, forgiving, personal Lord and Savior (invisible best friend), WWJD, hippie-style portrait of Jesus, which is emphasized today, is probably more a reflection of the values of our society rather than what kind of person he actually was. We will never know what the historical Jesus was ever really like, although considering the time period he inhabited, I think his message was considerably more medieval "fire and brimstone" or at least less what we would consider today to be enlightened teaching.

But if Jesus really was God, why was his 30 or so years on Earth so low-key? Remember we're not talking about a Prophet or a Judge. We're talking about God incarnate. God was actually here on Earth in human form and all he did was heal some lepers, let a blind man see, raise a person from the dead, walk on water, multiply fish and loaves of bread and turn water into wine. Okay there's a much larger list of "miracles" I'm leaving off for the sake of space, but those are sufficient to make my point. Having a friend who could turn water into wine sure would have been exciting, but really... come on. Why didn't God cure blindness? Why didn't he eliminate all diseases or at least teach us how to do it, through medicine and science? Why didn't he give us enough clean water to keep the entire world from going thirsty or enough vegetation to feed the world forever? There are any number of incredible miracles that no one - pagan, atheist, or believer alike - could have ever doubted had been done by an all-powerful deity. Instead he does simple signs; miracles that world religions are replete with since the dawn of time. He does things that agnostics can easily dismiss due to implausibility and lack of supporting evidence. This would be an understandable frustration given an ordinary human historical event, but shouldn't God have planned for his miracles to be better recorded or have evidence remain to substantiate them? He knew one day we would become more scientific and demand proof, rather than take the oral tradition at face value.

At the very least, he could have made sure that the entire world knew that Jesus was God and that he was here on Earth. He could have appeared in brilliant form, more like he was described in John's Revelation. Imagine if instead of walking around a tiny backwoods country, talking to mostly illiterate, uneducated crowds here and there, Jesus had traveled to Rome, the center of the world at the time, and began teaching the educated leaders of the world what it was that God actually wanted humanity to do. He could have displayed so much power and might that all of Rome would have been humbled and paganism would have been instantly eliminated. He could have spoken to rooms of scribes and made sure his every word was accurately recorded in the lingua franca of the time so that people from all over would hear and know the signs. Better yet, God could have appeared simultaneously to everyone everywhere and told them clearly what it was they needed to do and believe. Why not reveal knowledge to all the people, which God is reported to love equally, instead of just a few selected apostles?

God doesn't even take care to make sure that his sayings are accurately preserved. The English King James version was not the actual language that any of the books of the Bible were written in. The original texts from which the Bible was compiled were written in ancient Hebrew for the Old Testament and Greek for the New Testament. For the New Testament we do not possess any of the original copies of any of the books. We only have copies of copies which have so many mistakes and errors from copy to copy that scholars have to debate what the originals actually said. There is also evidence of theologically-driven changes being made by Monks who wanted the books to say what they believed it should say. Why so much human error?

Jesus could have at least written the Bible himself this time, rather than leave it up to us to write decades after his life. In fact, in order to prevent anything being accurately recorded, he recruited a bunch of illiterate peasants - people who could not even write their own names, more or less a Gospel - and then entrusted them with his words. Just in case the apostles might have found people who could write down what they saw and knew about Jesus, he went and told his followers that he would return imminently. The early church did not even organize itself because it believed, falsely, that the end times would occur before the apostles had died. If Jesus was God and he said he would return before they died, then why would they bother to make sure what they knew was written down for posterity? What posterity? In that context writing holy scriptures would seem a little pointless. When Jesus promised to return, the people took that to mean he would come back within their lifetimes. Why did he have to deceive them about that?

Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (Matthew 24:34)
When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 10:23)
For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his conduct. Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. (Matthew 16:27, 28)
You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. (James 5:8,9)
The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. (1 Peter 4:7)

This is probably one of the most embarrassing truth claims the Bible and Christianity make: that the world is coming to an imminent end within the lifetimes of the early Christian followers. This claim has been proved to be false. All of the early followers are dead and the world is still here. Jesus did not return. So God caused the Church a lot of embarrassment forcing them to do some massive damage control and reinterpret the imminent part out of his message. Jesus could not be wrong, they reasoned, so the Church must have misinterpreted his message. They did do an amazing job. Ask a Christian today what the principle message of Jesus was and they'll likely refer to the Beatitudes and a warm-fuzzy "love your neighbour as yourself" directive, completely ignoring the "Chicken Little" aspect of his preaching about the destruction of the world and the coming Kingdom of God. Jesus' principle message was that the end of the world was right around the corner and one had better repent and become a better person now before it was too late.

As a final note to this part of my essay, I thought I would include a link to a cartoon which humorously articulates my point that if Jesus was God incarnate on Earth, he was an extreme underachiever.

Only the mind of the religious...

So I was reading the my local newspaper today, the London Free Press, which has been in a state of orgasmic news ecstasy since the kidnapping and murder of Tori Stafford. Before I go any further, I just want to say that in any other newspaper I've read, this case has been now reduced to a shocking news brief, not the front page material almost every single day for almost a month now (and continuing). I feel absolutely terrible about what happened, but something inside me is screaming 'leave them alone!' now. The daily timelines, the videos, the fact that the LFP has an entire web directory devoted to the case is just getting creepy. I don't want to hear any more gruesome details.


Now that that's off my chest, I can tell you what I was going to talk about. So here I was, hypocritically reading yet another article in today's paper (I am as guilty as anyone else), and the first few paragraphs of the article made my jaw hit the floor. Here, read it for yourselves:

WOODSTOCK -- Two strangers, a man and woman, walk up to the front porch of Tara McDonald's house, one carrying a large box.

This is the 23-volume set of the teachings of Kabbalah, the man says, launching into a conversation about the religion.

McDonald asks polite questions and allows herself to be hugged.

Oddly, after about 15 minutes of a conversation on the porch -- amidst the floral arrangements, teddy bears, purple butterflies, 'Tori come home' signs and other mementoes for Tori Stafford, the man asks McDonald.

"What's your name?"

It doesn't phase her.

A few minutes later, the man suggests that to find spiritual awareness, McDonald think of something she loves and give it up.

That begs the harsh question a reporter would like to ask: Isn't giving up her daughter enough?

But McDonald calmly thinks about it for awhile, offers a few suggestions, thanks the pair and walks inside.

WHAT?? What the hell did I just read? After showing up on the grieving family's doorstep with a box of religious bullshit, insulting the mother by not even having the decency to remember her name, this man actually has the GALL to tell her that she should consider giving up something she loves to in order to find 'spiritual awareness'. There is only one image that can truly describe my complete flabbergastedness:

ONLY the mind of a religious person could EVER believe that what transpired in the paragraph above is in any way helpful. I'm not sure how I feel about Tara McDonald, but after enduring episodes like that, and it seems like that was in no way an isolated incident, I have to say that her restraint is truly impressive.

I hope she put those 23 volumes straight into the trash. Unbelievable.


Apocalypse NOW!

The end is nigh! Be it judgment day, rapture, or apocalypse, whatever your flavour. It seems that our species has become obsessed with the time we hand over our crown as most dominant on this planet. That is, if you even consider us the most dominant. For a religious person, that status is a simple one to adopt, but I’ve met many a microbiologist or etymologist that could make a very convincing case for their species. Even mycologists have been held similar thoughts, like Nicholas P. Money, who said “After millions of years of unwitnessed toil, the biological careers of fungi happen to have intersected with ours. They followed us indoors from the woods, joined us as cabin-mates across oceans and into orbit, and when human history comes to a close, a deluge of their spores will help erase the record of our presence on this planet.”

Realistically though, what do you think would be most likely to end our time on this planet?

I’ll give you my top 10 list, from least to most likely.

10) Suicidal Dictatorship:

Inevitability: 3/10

Severity: 5/10

Recoverability: 6/10

Immediate Danger: 5/10

Starting us off as least likely, but still possible enough to make the list is Suicidal Dictatorship. First, I gave this 3/10 for inevitability because I think there's a good chance our entire race isn't stupid enough to voluntarily kill itself simply because a leader says so. It still gets some points because I've heard cases of almost a thousand people doing such an activity, but 6 billion is stretching it. Severity score is moderate, because if someone like that actually did come into power, judging by their level of sanity, it probably would be pretty hard to fight back. Someone like that would obviously surround themselves with protection out of paranoia. Recovering is quite possible because, like I said, it would be difficult to exert that amount of control over 6 billion people at once. Someone somewhere would probably survive. I put the immediate danger scale at moderate as well because I think if this course were to ever happen, it is prob

ably more likely to occur now, with the world's current level of globalization, than ever before. Also, we have seen that brutal dictatorships are a very real scenario for many parts of the world at this moment.

9) Incinerated by our Sun

Inevitability: 10/10

Severity: 10/10

Recoverability: 0 /10

Immediate Danger: 0/10

Unless the life of our sun can be extended in some fashion, it is a cosmic certainty that one day our sun will die out. Also note the complete and total annihilation of everything. You can't get much more destructive than this! Ergo 10/10 for inevitability and severity. Recoverability is 0 because it would be impossible (unless we escaped Sun's gravity? :O ). However this threat will sit here at the bottom of this top 10 list for a few million years yet. Not a threat. NEXT!

8) Killed by More Advanced Life Form

Inevitability: 5/10

Severity: 8/10

Recoverability: 5/10

Immediate Danger: 2/10

Ah yes, the template sci-fi plot itself. While I don't consider myself a believer in alien abductions, the possibility that life exists somewhere in the universe, given what we know about the size of it, is quite high. If our species lives long enough, it might one day discover a way to cross those great expanses of space, but we're a long way from that right now. However there may be another race out there that's had a few million years to take a crack at the problem. And if they had, I have no idea how to predict whether they would be friendly or hostile toward us, given how we often behave. I also give severity a high score because something tells me that if they had the capability to get here, they would probably have similarly advanced weaponry. Recoverability? I'm not exactly sure on this one. Immediate danger is low, however, keeping this up at number #8 because we've been looking with the best telescopes and dishes we have, and we've yet to come across anything we could even call intelligent, let alone threatening.

7) Pollution Related Extinction

Inevitability: 4/10

Severity: 8/10

Recoverability: 5/10

Immediate Danger: 8/10

This category could include things like global warming, pollution related cancers and diseases, etc. To think that we could actually pollute our planet with refuse and chemical waste to the point that we could no longer exist on it is as absolutely stupifying as it is horrifying. One would hope we would devote a great amount of resources to NOT letting this happen, as it wouldn't be a 'wake up one day' disaster, and hopefully we would be motivated to recognize the signs soon enough to tackle the problem. I gave immediate danger a high score after reading some of the long term effects we've already caused on this planet in the book "The World Without Us" by Alan Weisman. An entry I hope will not increase on this list in my lifetime!

6) Asteroid Impact

Inevitability: 7/10

Severity: 9/10

Recoverability: 5/10

Immediate Danger: 2/10

It is a fact that large asteroid impacts have played an enormous role in the geological history of our planet. Take a look over at the moon and the effect is quite easy to see. It is also true that at some point we will probably encounter another large asteroid impact on our planet at some point in its lifespan. Judging by the extinction of the dinosaurs which is believed to have been due to a large asteroid impact, I would also rate the severity very high. Recoverability? Its possible, we're resourceful, and some life did survive during other impacts, so a 5. Telescopes currently give us an all clear for immediate danger, but unfortunately with asteroids, sometimes the warning time is unhelpfully small.

5) Intraspecies War

Inevitability: 6/10

Severity: 6/10

Recoverability: 8/10

Immediate Danger: 7/10

"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."
-- Albert Einstein

I don't think there's much I need to say here.

4) Killed by our own Creations

Inevitability: 3/10

Severity: 7/10

Recoverability: 2/10

Immediate Danger: 5/10

Terminator anyone? So far we're safe, but sometimes when I see those creepy talking robots in Japan, I start to wonder.

3) Massive Natural Disaster

Inevitability: 10/10

Severity: 8/10

Recoverability: 6/10

Immediate Danger: 4/10

This category could include earthquakes, ice ages, fires, drought, floods, super volcanos, tsunamis, hurricanes, or any other sort of Earth-based disaster. There have been a few examples of mega-disasters during Earth's history, and some scientists predict that we're about due for another of one type or another. No matter how technologically advanced our species gets, we still tremble before the mighty forces of our planet. Fortunately, these dangers do not occur on specific regular intervals but in geological time. We could be a thousand or a hundred thousand years before an occurance. All we have to give us clues are the intervals from the past.

2) Disease Outbreak

Inevitability: 7/10

Severity: 9/10

Recoverability: 4/10

Immediate Danger: 9/10

Mad Cow Disease. SARS. Avian Bird Flu. Swine Flu. A common news headline every few years is the most recent outbreak of whatever new infectious agent is making its rounds. Diseases have taken a chunk out of the human population in the past. The bubonic plague and the spanish influenza of 1917 come to mind. We've managed to lessen the impact of many diseases with our recent improvements to sanitation and our supply of food and drinking water, but we've also increased the number of hosts and our proximity to one another. Bacteria and viruses mutate quickly, and many of our miracle antibiotics are not effective against superbugs. Right now it's an arms race, but don't expect it to end without some casualties on both sides.

1) Overpopulation

Inevitability: 8/10

Severity: 8/10

Recoverability: 5/10

Immediate Danger: 9/10

With out a doubt, number one on the list. Why? Its so incredibly obvious, just take a look at an extrapolated graph of our population.

It slowly crawls along for a few million years or so, then about a hundred or so years ago literally exploded exponentially. Within our lifetime the population of the world will most likely double, and although predicting the number of people that our planet can decently provide for is incredibly difficult to do accurately, it will probably be reached within a few generations. Either we WILL find a way to curb our population growth rate or we WILL NOT have enough resources. The conclusion is inescapable and undeniable. Within your children or their children's lifetime, some big shit is going to happen on this issue, and I can't see many miracle solutions to this one. The only comforting thought, if it can be called that, is that in nature, once a population is once again lowered to a sustainable level, the numbers will usually stable out, but in that situation we're talking about an isolated ecosystem that is often replenished by nearby stable ecosystems. There is nothing to restock Earth. If we ruin our ecosystem, it has to build itself again, on its own.

Notice that rapture is nowhere on that list? That's because it's ridiculous. The rapture story wasn't even thought up until a few hundred years ago, and now serves as some sort of sick right wing christian wet dream where they can imagine themselves watching others who weren't fortunate enough to be born into the same faith as them in torment. The only thing scarier than the predictions themselves is their self-fulfilling aspect. The rapture theology now forms the backbone for christian republican support of the state of Israel. Nothing about it makes sense when you consider the additional fact of the authorship of the gospel in which the account comes from. Sure, rapture grabs bits and pieces from other parts of the bible too, but for the most part, it is considered to be authored by John. Unfortunately, any biblical scholar can tell you that the John that wrote that gospel was either a complete forgery or a pseudepigraphical mistake, because there was no way that the day labourers that made up Jesus' posse could have been literate given the time and era they lived in.

The rapture is an idea that makes those who subscribe to it feel better about all of the tedious requirements of faith that they are required to perform, from handing over their earnings to sacrificing their free time. They know that they must be on their best behaviour because they never know when the big man upstairs is going to be dropping by to end his little 6000 year experiment. The story just doesn't make any sense! God, for whatever reason (he was lonely?) decided to start time, then during a micro slice of it in one tiny dot in the galaxy in the universe, he had a few of us make a choice between good and evil that he already knew we would make. Then, at some later time of his choosing, he will gather up the few of his followers out of however many billions of us exist at that time that he feels chose the right faith and take them to his really cool clubhouse while the rest of us that he also created and knew we were going to make the wrong choice get to suffer an infinite amount forever with no hope of reprise. What? If there's one thing I've learned about people, it's that they hate uncertainty. Admitting that we don't know is not a common thread in religion, but it is a stance we must take. Admitting to how much you don't know is a sign of true knowledge, and as a species, we are only just beginning to open our eyes.

Reason and Faith, the Perpetual War

In his essay, “Faith and Reason, the Perpetual War: Ruminations of a Fool”, Stewart Shapiro takes the position that religious faith conflicts with rationalism and that it seems evident that holding dual beliefs in both science/philosophy and religious faith are logically inconsistent. Shapiro’s essay succinctly analyzes two common attempts to address the problem: that rational belief and religious faith work cooperatively to understand the world, or that they are incommensurable. Ultimately he finds both positions untenable and makes a strong case for all that remains: reason and faith in conflict.

I have attached a link where the entire essay can be read, from the anthology by Louise M. Antony, Philosophers Without Gods. This essay initiated a chain of thoughts in my mind which began my rejection of Christianity. Enjoy.

Faith and Reason, the Perpetual War by Stewart Shapiro


Crucifying Christianity, Part 2: Incredulous Incarnation

"And God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life," (John 3:16). So the teaching goes that the world was so screwed up after Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge that something had to be done. Now God went ahead and planted a tree with tempting fruit there knowing full-well what would happen, right? Well if you accept the omniscience of God then, yes. If not, that's a separate argument. Hell, even if you don't accept that God knows the future, it doesn't take a god, or a rocket scientist to realize that if you put fruit in a garden, then put humans who don't know anything about right and wrong (knowledge of which, the fruit gave them) next to it and tell them not to eat it and to obey you, it's unlikely they would listen since they lack the capacity to make moral decisions. In fact, you would naturally assume it was God's fault for not originally endowing humans with rational and moral judgment.

I could go on and on about the logical absurdities in the Expulsion from Paradise myth but the point is that in disobeying God, Adam and Eve gave humanity the stain of sin that would carry on to their children and their childrens' children ad infinitum. This doctrine is the answer to the logical question of why must Christians evangelize? If you would not go to hell for not knowing about Jesus and his teachings then it seems logical that if your goal was to save as many humans from eternal torment in hell, the most efficient way is that you do not tell people at all. Ah, but they'd still rot in hell. Even babies. Because of original sin. Well various churches have differing teachings on this but it seems that original sin is with you when you're born because all humans are evil and can only be saved through the grace of God.

So Yahweh used to accept sacrifices throughout the Old Testament as a method of humanity atoning for its sins. God taught the Israelites when it was appropriate to slaughter animals, usually lambs, and burn them on an altar to him. For the first 4000 years of Hebrew history this was acceptable. I am still unclear how exactly Jesus' death was the key to salvation or how the fact that Jesus "died for me and my sins" makes any sense whatsoever. God apparently required more than burnt offerings after all and decided that in order to justly punish humanity he would have to wipe them out for all of their sins and transgressions, including that original sin we committed in ignorance. But rather than do that, if a worthy sacrifice could be found to replace humanity in general, then everyone could be spared utter annihilation. Since the only sacrifice worthy of God was apparently himself, he finally decided to be incarnated in human form and then made sure that things would work out so that he would be humiliated and crucified by the world's superpower, but in an ironic twist, absolve them from any guilt in doing it. Yes, while Pontius Pilate, a brutal Roman governor, fought for Jesus' life the blood lust of the Jewish crowd was too much. The Jews were the ones who cried for his crucifixion, while the Romans reluctantly complied. After Jesus died, the Roman soldiers who carried out the sentence remarked that "Truly this was the son of God."

So by killing God, God was so satisfied that he washed away the debt of past and future sins. So why do we have to bother living good lives? Well, there's another catch that gets you stuck following Christian rules. God will only look the other way on your sins if you follow the teachings of Jesus (and the Church) and believe that he was and is God. So I guess that is a pretty huge sacrifice to make if only a small percentage of the world even cares enough to accept it. Of course is it really a sacrifice at all if you know you're going to raise yourself from the dead in 2 days? Why was Jesus so scared the night before if he knew? I guess he was just afraid of the pain of dying in anguish, thirsty, sunburned and starving over the course of days. Luckily God died within hours of being up there. He didn't have to suffer the worst part of crucifixion, which was the agonizing slow death over days. The question I couldn't quite get is, why didn't god just spare himself the trouble and forgive our sins from the beginning? He knew we were imperfect beings. He made us to be imperfect beings. So why all the unfair judging?

Maybe God also wanted to go down to Earth and dwell amongst his creation so that he could explain in better detail and through example how he wants us to live. Jesus did make a lot of moral teachings that seem to either refine or contradict orthodox Jewish teachings. But then does that not entail a problem again? Why not simply have explained it better the first time. The whole concept of God having to take a mulligan on his first attempt at Revelation through Moses is a little... shall we say, imperfect? Why again does God chose to reveal information critical to the salvation of the entire world only to a select few people in a tiny insignificant corner of the world, which is itself in a tiny insignificant corner of the galaxy, which is itself a tiny insignificant part of the universe. So vast is this universe that it really makes you wonder why an almighty and omnipotent God's interests are so provincial. I'm getting off topic. So God's revelation was lost in translation through the Israelites. Moses and all the prophets just didn't get it right. So God came and told us how he actually meant to write the Torah.


Mission Aborted

I wondered when I was going to have to lay out an argument for this overdone and redundantly pointless discussion, but it has come up a few times in my personal life lately, so I'll bump it up the queue. About a week ago I was taking a Greyhound home from Hamilton. It passed through Ingersoll, one of a couple small towns along this route, when I noticed a rather well kept yellow bricked church. It was very modern looking, with new insulated glass windows and fancy ramps and elevators to show off how up-to-code and welcoming a place it was. Then, as I was wondering how the recession might be affecting their business, something caught my eye. On the front lawn, at the corner nearest to the intersection where the church sat was a small rose coloured granite statue. The statue was a warped heart shape, and etched into the base were the words In Memory of the Victims of Abortion. I was taken aback. I knew the christian stance on abortion, but there it was, right on the front lawn, for everyone to see. The word victim just carries such a punch, they might as well have put up a a sign that said "Fuck you babykillers!", the point they were trying to convey would have been the same.

What is the church's stance on abortion? Well, as far as I know (and I do hear differing views across the religious spectrum, but I would definitely cluster them closer to one side of the gauge), the church believes that abortion is wrong because "Life is Sacred", and that this life begins at the moment of conception. I don't think I need to go into any more detail about the religious viewpoint to begin my argument, because with those two statements, I already have so much to take issue with.

That phrase "Life is Sacred" gets thrown around a lot. I see it on the backs of cars and license plate covers that claim 'Life is Sacred - From Birth to Natural Death" or something like that. Euthanasia is a debate for another place and time, but I really would like to know what exactly this phrase is supposed to mean. In the sense it is being used here, it seems to mean that sacred implies 'worthy of protection' or 'of highest importance'. However, I've heard the term 'sacred' applied to inanimate objects, figurines, rituals, and holidays too. I personally think life is rare, fascinating, and worthy of the highest admiration, but not sacred. Think about it. If life was sacred, wouldn't we be given a little more of it to work with perhaps? Why a 60 to 80-year slice on this planet, at this time in history, when, for so many billions and billions of years, not only on this planet but as far as we can see (for now!) life as we know it played such a miniscule role in the scheme of the universe? An amazing development, for sure, but sacred? This 'sacred' life is regularly ended for so many people in so many awful and terrible ways every second of every day, week upon month upon year, for hundreds and thousands of years throughout our history. All around us, every person we've ever met, ever will meet, and ever could meet will die. You might say that this preciousness is exactly what makes life sacred, but I won't accept that. Diamonds aren't considered sacred. I think a more honest definition is that 'sacred' is anything that is important to the continuation and existence of the church, whether by member or by ritual. Due to the fact that parishioners tend to eventually expire, and also that expired parishioners cannot continue to propegate the doctrine of their faith, their members must be continually replenished and expanded. Therefore, anyone who could possibly grow up to be another member of the church and continue these traditions, whether they are two cells or two million, is therefore sacred and worthy of protection, at least until they turn their back on god. I can't wrap my head around the mental gymnastics here. On one hand, you've got folks saying that life is sacred, that the innocent need defending, and that the women who have an abortion should be punished with jail time. Are these the same people protesting lethal injections? What about sending troops overseas to be killed, and to kill others? Where did that sacred regard for life go? Not to steal too many of George Carlin's thoughts, but the message coming across to me here is: 'We only care about you while you're inside someone else's body and don't yet even have the capability to process a thought. Once you're outta that tummy, you're on your own.' I don't need to point out the hypocracy of anyone who uses this argument against abortion and then goes on to threaten any sort of retribution against blasphemers or members of an opposing faith.

One thing that never made sense to me was the claim that abortion is immoral because it is an 'unnatural' procedure. That we can create artificial organs and prevent disease is in no way natural either, and when we look at our close relatives in the animal kingdom, some of the behaviours they perform naturally (incest, murder) are completely unacceptable in civilized society. Where did we get this idea that aborting a child is any less natural than preventing pregnancy in the first place, or for all the fundies in the crowd who disagree with contraception too, any less natural than taking antibiotics for an infection? These are all human creations. If god DID create us, wouldn't it make sense that anything that is within our ability as a species should have been a natural progression of our continued development? To think that we could create new technologies that are somehow offensive to god makes absolutely no sense. If he didn't agree with some specific action he shouldn't have created us with the ability to execute that said action. Oh, wait a second, this is GOD we're talking about here. I forgot for a second that he's a TOTAL JERK and does things like that ALL THE TIME in the bible. You needn't go any further than the garden of Eden in Genesis without him dangling some damn treat in our faces that we're not supposed to touch (even though we wouldn't have understood that this was an evil action at the time. That knowledge came after eating the apple, not before). I won't go off on that tempting creationism-bashing tangent, but I still think it sounds incredibly silly to have, in the words of Gene Roddenberry an "all-knowing, all-powerful god that creates faulty humans and then blames them for his own mistakes". I should point out that statistically, a great percentage of pregnancies abort on their own with no medical influence whatsoever. I hope god will take responsibility for those ones; he should already be aware of the unfathomable amount of violence and hatred that has been carried out in his name during the history of our species.

In a way it all comes back to that essential church doctrine that faith is something that is to be spread and shared with others. People of faith know that not only is their specific interpretation of scripture the correct one among many conflicting interpretations that all also claim infallibility, but that they must ensure that other people must also abide by these rules even if they don't belong to their sect. This is unacceptable. The entire question about when life begins doesn't even matter in the debate, because there is a much more pressing question that first must be answered: why do people of faith think that they have the right to impose their handpicked moral values on others? People of the Jewish faith don't eat pork, but you don't see them trying to pass laws making it illegal for others to do so. It would do the faithful a lot of good to come down from their cloud of sacreds and holies and doctrines and take a few shots of reality every so often. The reality is that we can already see the effects of making abortion illegal, because there are plenty of countries that have already done just that (see this excellent article in the NY Times on El Salvador). What you will learn is that laws against abortion still do not prevent abortion, they simply make it more dangerous for everyone involved. You get babies born into families that can't support them, children born to mothers who find it difficult to love them because they are the product of their emotionally scarring rape and not a loving relationship, soaring populations, and a rising number of inmates.

I'll leave you with one particular story I heard that really highlights the incredulity of this issue: A young single mother was pregnant with a child. During the pregnancy, it was discovered that she had developed a cancerous tumor in her body. Luckily for her, it was caught early and would have been simple to treat with doses of radiation except for the fact that the radiation would have killed her unborn child. So, instead of performing the obvious choice of saving the woman, the doctors refused to treat her cancer as specified by the anti-abortion laws of the country. Her stomach grew, her cancer grew, and after 9 months, she gave birth to a child that she would not have the chance to share the joys of parenthood with, because now the cancer had spread through her whole body. She died shortly after, leaving a very sad little boy to wonder quietly to himself one day as he was growing up what exactly it was about life that was so sacred it was worth killing his mom for.


Crucifying Christianity, Part 1: Muddled Monotheism

Do Christians believe in one all powerful god? They say that they do. Such a belief can be found clearly stated in the opening sentence of the Apostles' and Nicene creeds. But then they have the doctrine of the Trinity which states that here are three persons in their one God. What does that mean?

The Trinity is their way of explaining how Jesus can be god too. He's often referred to as the "Son of God" in the New Testament, but if this were literally true then that would entail that God would have created a second god of either lesser or equal power. Christianity is based on Judaism and it attempts to maintain the facade of monotheism. If there are actually two gods, Yahweh and Yahweh's son, Jesus, then Christianity would be polytheistic. This would create problems because Christians would have to still abide by Yahweh's laws that they worship no other gods beside him. So instead they invented a doctrine that says that Jesus was God too. So God didn't really send his literal son. He sent himself down to earth. So Jesus is God. God is God and throw in the Holy Spirit, which sounds pretty much like a euphemism for God, and you have a doctrine which allows for three parts to one all-powerful god.

Not a bad save, except that it doesn't make any real sense. If you ask a theologian they may have some really complicated philosophical explanation that obfuscates the reality that they don't really know how something like that works. A little spin and they call it a "divine mystery." Of course it's God, so humans with their pathetic little brains don't need to understand it. Just humble yourself and accept that you can't understand it. The real reason you can't understand it is that it isn't intelligible. It might as well have been the ruminations of a mad man. At least the Jewish religion is a little bit more coherent. They say one god and they actually mean it. Just one. There are no parts to God.

The interesting thing to note is that out of the four canonical gospels only the latest gospel, John, refers to Jesus as being divine. The other synoptic gospels never mention it. Odd that the three other gospel writers never seemed to feel the need to mention that the person they were writing about claimed to be God. This is a rather important detail to leave out if you're trying to make a record of Jesus' life and teachings, leading scholars to believe Jesus probably never taught that he was God, that in fact this was a later theological development. As well, for historical sake, the title Son of God did not mean the same thing to the ancient Jews of Jesus' day that it means to us today. For a Jewish person in the first century to be called Son of God was simply to call him holy or in a close relationship with god.

The Catholics, have actually stretched the concept of monotheism beyond any sense of modesty by claiming that the Pope actually has the authority to declare that certain dead Christians are in heaven and can be recipients of prayers and perform miracles. They can intercede for the faithful and apparently certain Saints are better at interceding for certain things, hence the concept of patron saints. So now we have a whole pantheon of gods... er... saints to pray to for various worldly things. If you felt you needed a goddess to pray to, well, there's always the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was a human being but has been so elevated in Catholicism to a point where you can pray to her to do basically what you would ask of God. According to Catholic tradition, which is code for really old bullshit that was maintained orally for centuries before it was written down anywhere, she was born without sin, which itself means she was in fact conceived by God too. The immaculate conception does not refer, as I once assumed as a child, to Jesus' immaculate conception but Mary's. Mary was born free from original sin. Besides Adam and Eve, who committed the so called original sin, and Jesus, no other human beings can say that. Mary never died either but was taken up into heaven, body and all. The Feast of the Assumption is a major celebration in Catholicism and it's not even in the Bible.

Crucifying Christianity: Introduction

Christianity makes no sense. I like to think of myself as a reasonably intelligent person, so I am a little embarrassed at how long it took for me to come to such a realization. I am not speaking about the point when I realized that religion itself is ridiculous. It is, and such a realization was a fundamental moment in my intellectual maturation. I am speaking of the comprehension that Christianity specifically is a ludicrous incoherent belief system. It is a point I should have reached much sooner but nevertheless, here I am. Now that I am at this place, I feel a little lonely. There are just so many believers. At 2 Billion professed members, Christianity is the world's largest crazy cult.

When I first heard the beliefs of Scientologists explained to me, I was incredulous, as I think most people today are. I just could not understand how it was that anyone could come to actually believe such nonsense. Yet there are those who do. The answer is most likely that a lot of the information that we are given in life is beyond verification for us. We will never really "know" that what we've been told is actually true. We instead use our rational abilities to discern the likelihood of a claim to be true. Those who are very good at rationality will weigh a truth claim's likelihood of validity according to the proportionality of the evidence for it and make an unemotional decision on whether or not to believe it. Most will not do this. They will often believe a truth claim based on the level of trust they place in the people providing it, how it makes them feel to believe it, and most importantly, how the claim is packaged and presented. We all know how great corporations are at making their products look desirable. Religions are just as good at selling their beliefs to a public that desperately wants to believe in something supernatural.

I feel this way because I used to believe in God and his son, Jesus. I used to read the stories in the Bible with talking snakes and donkeys, parting seas, giant herculean warriors, people who lived to be 900 years old, etc. Why did I believe these stories were historically true and that it made absolute sense to believe that God had perfectly preserved it all right there in one easy-to-read paperback? Because my parents, teachers, priests, and friends all believed it too. They were right about all sorts of things, so why not this too? Plus, believing in God gave me certainty. I knew that there would be life after death, hopefully in heaven and that God had a plan for me and my life. This made me feel good and happy, for the most part.

When I first heard an unemotional academic summary of the beliefs of Christianity, I almost laughed at how ridiculous it sounded. Without all of the brainwashing, constant reinforcement, and slow conditioning that had been done to my reason, I saw it from an outsider's perspective, much as we see Scientology and it seemed just as crazy. Study the beliefs of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism or any others and a Christian naturally concludes that they believe some pretty crazy stuff, yet has been conditioned not to apply that same lens to their own beliefs: not to study them academically.

In the following series of essays I will ask and attempt to answer some basic questions about the beliefs of Christianity. I will not focus on any of the historical arguments against its sacred scriptures or attack the Church as hypocritical or dangerous based on a historical examination of its multitude of sins, nor will I delve into the philosophical arguments against the existence of any god. My purpose is to demonstrate that the very basic beliefs of the religion are ridiculous and that even if we were to accept at face-value the Bible as factually correct, this still leaves us with utter incoherence: enough, hopefully to make us wonder why it is we believe it at all and why it's not still considered a crazy cult.


Certainty, Certainly

Let's begin our journey through thoughtville by talking about a theory I learned about during my education in psychology. A consistency theory proposed by the influential Leon Festinger in 1957, modified by a number of researchers, and studied experimentally by an entire generation of social psychologists, I am talking about Dissonance Theory. According to my old university textbook on Attitudes and Opinions, "Without a doubt, dissonance theory has aroused more controversy and received more praise and criticism than any other current theory in social psychology". Big claim to live up to. Let's see what all the fuss is about:

The theory describes the relationship between items of knowledge, attitudes, information, or beliefs that a person holds about his or herself, or the world around them. Two different items can be either consonant, meaning they agree with one another, or they can be dissonant, or irrelevant. A dissonance can be some sort of logical inconsistency, when based on one belief one would expect X outcome, but instead found Y.

The basic principles of the theory are as follows:
1. Dissonance, being psychologically uncomfortable, will motivate the person to try to redue the dissonance and achieve consonance... [and to] avoid situations and information which would likely increase the dissonance.
2. The magnitude of the dissonance (or consonance) increases as the importance or value of the elements increases.
3. The strength of the pressure to reduce dissonance is a function of the magnitude of the dissonance.

Just to give an example to help clarify for those stoners in the back, the thought "Speeding is dangerous" is consonant with the thought "Speeding is against the law", but disonant with "Speeding is necessary when running late". An irrelevant thought would be one like "I like mudkips". When a person holds dissonant thoughts, they can attempt to reduce that dissonance by:
1) Changing one of the held beliefs. With our example above, not speeding, or by deciding speeding is within her ability would qualify. Or by holding the belief that speeding is only a petty crime, or some other sort of notion that reduces the discrepency.
2) Adding new beliefs to strengthen one side or the other.
3) Lowering the importance of the belief. If two beliefs don't agree, she may simply say, "I know speeding is against the law, but I'm having health problems and my life is worth more than the risk" for example.

All of this has some interesting implications for Religion! As one of my favourite quotes states: "The bible is a mine rich in the ore of cognitive dissonance" (Delos B. McKown). The opportunities for cognitive dissonance to arise are everywhere. I'll look at a few, and then explore what it is about how these beliefs are structured that seems to prevent people from critically examining them or convincing themselves that no dissonance exists.

(Does Not Equal, our symbol of the day!)

I've recently gotten my little mittens on an audiobook copy of Bart D. Ehrman's "Jesus Interrupted", a book that literally slogs its way through the bible, bit by bit, pointing out irreconcilable contradictions in the text. The author is no clown show, he is "an American New Testament scholar and textual critic of early Christianity. He is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill." (thx wikiP). And when he says there is a great many contradictions in the bible, I'm going to believe him. We don't need to take his word for it though, he lays out his material quite plainly in his books. I've included a few of the issues he rasied just in the first chapter of his book while I was listening to it last night at the end of the article.

How does this relate to cognitive dissonance? Well, when a person holds a belief about religion, like say, that the bible is the inerrant word of god and also knows that one passage or book from the bible is in disagreement with another, there you have your cognitive dissonance. Everywhere you turn, some sort of little nagging disagreement seems to pop up. Our perception of "God" is a great example. According to most of the faithful, god posesses omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, omnibenevolence (perfect goodness), divine simplicity, and eternal and necessary existence. God has also been conceived as being incorporeal, a personal being, the source of all moral obligation, and the "greatest conceivable existent". All of these concepts are inconsistent with anything we could ever hope to posess ourselves, and when I ask how it is that we even know that god posesses these characteristics, the most common answer I hear is that the bible tells us so. Maybe you haven't gotten all the way through that colossal bore of a bestseller yet, but for a being with perfect goodness, he gets pretty nasty when the occasion calls for a pillar of salt or two. I think Dawkins said it best when he said

The God of the Old testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent, bully.

How can anyone reconcile this extreme dissonance? Looking back at our list of ways people deal with beliefs they hold that do not mesh, we can draw a few likely conclusions. Either:
a) They didn't realize a discrepancy existed. ("I never really thought about it")
b) They conclude that god is beyond their understanding. (Lowering the importance of the problem. Dissonance only seems to exist due to their lack of comprehension)
c) Add more beliefs to balance things out (eg. God loves and forgives everyone. UNLESS you turn away from him. EXCEPT when you do not accept him as your personal saviour, and so on).

There isn't much you can do about situation a) except make a blog (reminds me of this funny quote). Option b) is incredibly weak and insulting to anyone who subscribes to this notion. If god is outside of the realm of our understanding, how do we have a book purportedly outlining his every wish and command for how we are to live? How did nomadic, uneducated, near-savages in the middle of the damn desert manage to get such a great grasp on things, yet we can't understand it today? No, b) is a cop-out I say. The last option is interesting, because it allows the believer to 'make up their own rules' in a way. You can carefully craft your own little 'if, unless, but' rules and you end up with a little logic square that can suit any sort of political agenda you wish, but the fact of the matter is, there will always be statements in the bible that are in direct conflict with one another.

You know what else works for reducing that psychologically stressful cognitive dissonance? Realizing that the whole thing is a craft that isn't the 100% inspired word of god, but a collection of primitive texts written by multiple authors, modified and mistranslated over hundreds of years to suit the agendas of those who passed them on. And they are. Any biblical scholar can tell you that. It is then and only then that you will realize that all of these debates on moral issues such as homosexuality that are based on pieces of scripture are ridiculous. We wouldn't follow the same rules and methods for preparing and storing food, or treating disease, or transporting ourselves, or communicating with members of the opposite sex (or or or) that we did then. Why would we follow any other specific verse?

(sidenote - I also find it interesting that God seems to posess every quality that is a failing or limitation in some way to us as humans. This notion was best pointed out to me by Michel Onfray when he said:
Mortal, finite, limited, suffering from all these constraints, haunted by the desire for completeness, human beings invent a power endowed with precisely the opposite characteristics. With their faults turned inside out, like the fingers of a pair of gloves, they manufacture characteristics at whose feet they kneel and finally prostrate themselves. I am mortal, but God is immortal. I am finite, but God is infinite. I am limited, but God knows no limits. I do not know everything, but God is omniscient. I cannot do everything, but God is omnipotent. I am not blessed with the gift of ubiquity, but God is omnipresent. I was created, but God is uncreated. I am weak, but God is the Almighty. I dwell on earth, but God is in heaven. I am imperfect, but God is perfect. I am nothing, but God is everything. And so on.

Some discrepencies in the bible:

Genesis 1 vs. Genesis 2 Order of creation:
- Are animals created before humans (ch .1), or after (ch. 2)?
- Are plants created before humans or afterward?
- Is man the first living creature to be created, or the last?
- Is man created at the same time as women, or separately?
- If light was created on the first day of creation, how is it that the sun moon and stars not created til the fourth day?
- And how could there be an evening or morning on the first day if there was no sun?

When Noah takes his pairs of animals on the ark, does he take seven pairs of all the clean animals as Genesis 5-2 states, or just two pairs, as 7-2 indicates?

10 Plagues:
5th plague was a pestilence that killed all of the livestock of the Egyptians. How was it that a few days later the plague of hail was to destroy all of the Egyptian livestock in the fields? What livestock?

New Testament

Cleansing of the temple in Mark 11, John 2
In Mark (last event before he dies)
In John (first public event)
(maybe he did it twice?)

When did Jesus die? Mark vs. John

The birth narrative differences between gospels (lots)
Matthew - wise men come to worship Jesus (no shepherds)
Luke - shepherds come to worship Jesus (no wise men)

Geneologies of Joseph
- Why do the geneologies & royal lineage matter if Joseph and Mary didn't have sex?
Matthew (From Abraham --> David)
Luke (From Adam --> David)

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