Monday, December 16, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 24

In this chapter we see a bit of Love Ancient Hebrew Style, featuring all the typical trappings of an Ancient Near Eastern romantic comedy. And what shall we call this comedy? Romancing the Stoning? The 40-Year Old Virgin? Failure to Launch? One Funeral and a Wedding? When Isaac Met Rebekah? Sleepless in Beer Lahai Roi? Sweet Home Aramea? Purchase Actually? How to Buy a Bride in One Day? I'll let the reader decide.

Genesis 24:1-9
Isaac is 40 and still unmarried and living in his dead mother’s tent (v. 67). Abraham, who is now 140, decides it's time to find a bride so the young mean middle-aged man can settle down. Note that even though Isaac is 40, he's being treated like a youth. Abraham calls his chief servant and tells him not to let Isaac leave the land, as though a servant would have that kind of say over Isaac, a grown-ass 40-year-old man man who will one day own him once old Abe kicks the bucket. In normal cases a servant would only be able to exercise this kind of authority over an heir that was not yet of age.

Is it possible that the writer of this portion (typically identified as part of the Yahwist or "J source" by those who adhere to the Documentary Hypothesis) had in mind a much younger Isaac who was only then approaching marrying age? After all, the only way we know Isaac's age is by using material found in chapter 23 along with 25:20, both of which are typically passages attributed to the Priestly or "P source".  Incidentally, the P source also puts Esau at 40 when he gets married. Recall that we ran into a similar age-inappropriate problem in chapter 21 with a teenaged Ishmael being treated like a toddler.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 23

In this installment an entire chapter is devoted to negotiating the purchase of a burial cave, we meet some Hittites that aren't really Hittites, we discover more problems with a place-name and we see once again how Moses really enjoys repeating himself.

Genesis 23:1-20
Most likely not looking like she was a day over forty, Sarah dies at 127 years old in Hebron and an entire chapter of the Bible is devoted to Abraham’s purchase of a cave where all the Patriarchs and their first wives will be buried (sorry Keturah and Rachel, but you're not in the first wives club). Cue all the expositors offering guesses and trying to explain why the details of this transaction and burial cave are so significant. If the purpose was to show that Abraham had a rightful claim to some land in Palestine, it seems kind of silly given that it’s supposed to be Yahweh’s land anyway. If he wants to give it to Abraham and exterminate the sons of Heth/Hittites, that’s his prerogative, right? Why the need for all the described pomp and circumstance? Like I said, I'm sure someone has offered a guess that goes beyond the obvious political and cultural reasons.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Nearly All Christians Are Heretics

You read that right. According to their own dogma, nearly all Christians are heretics and knowing that should keep them up at night worrying about being subject to eternal torment. I realize those are pretty bold statements, but I'm going to unpack them. Fair warning: what follows is going to be some real cerebral egghead type theological stuff. If that's not your bag baby, hit the back button now. I won't mind. It'll still show up as a hit on my stat counter whether you read it or not and my ego will just assume you did.

According to the Bible, believing certain propositions is of eternal consequence. Consider Hebrews 11:6
"And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him."
This verse notes that at the very least one must believe at least two propositions. One of those is that God exists. Yet without correctly apprehending what God is or how God is, how does one believe this very basic proposition?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

God's Not Dead film to bring urban legends to life on the big screen

Social media recently brought my attention to a trailer for an upcoming film called God's Not Dead. The film stars Kevin Sorbo, known for his portrayal of a fictional hero from Ancient Greek mythology. Sorbo is instead cast in the role of a fictional villain from Contemporary Christian mythology, the evil atheist professor. A relative unknown plays the heroic Christian student. Both characters appear to be adaptations of those found in famous urban legends.

The film is based on a book, based on a popular CCM song and has accompanying workbooks, lectures, t-shirts, necklaces, seminars, evangelism kits, a complete sermon series with Power Point slides and numerous other consumer products. It's just further evidence that the foolishness of preaching has been replaced by the foolishness of the savvy copycat marketing of repackaged weak arguments for Christianity along with a heavy dose of the straw man fallacy. Throw in a dash of Christian pop culture icons from Duck Dynasty and you've got a formula for some financial success. All of this is sure to keep young people in the church and convince skeptics, right?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Will to Believe and the Will to Know

During a recent car trip, my wife and I listened to Seth Andrews interview Dale McGowan about secular parenting on his podcast. At some point the subject of Santa Claus came up and the question was put to McGowan about whether or not chilren should be taught this myth. Some in the secular community advocate very strongly against teaching kids any myth as fact. McGowan, however, recommends it in the case of Santa because it's a myth that kids will eventually find their way out of and can serve as a powerful life lesson.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 22

In this installment we look at the sacrifice of Isaac. I've been fairly reserved thus far in this series, making light of a few things here and there, pointing out anachronisms and discrepancies and joking at the silliness generated by conservative views of Genesis as an inerrant, divinely inspired book. Fair warning for this passage: the gloves are coming off and I won't be pulling punches or tempering things. I think this chapter strikes at the very core of exactly how the traditional expressions of the Abrahamic faiths are able to make otherwise good people do terrible things in the names of their gods.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 20 & 21

In this installment we get to experience a bit of déjà vu when Abraham once again becomes worried about his super-hot nineteen-year-old ninety-year-old wife, we find another big fat anachronism, we see once again how possession (of a woman) is nine-tenths of the law unless Elohim threatens to smite you, and we get to see just how much of a physically underdeveloped little man-child Ishmael must've been at seventeen.

Genesis 20:1-17
Abraham lives as a temporary resident in Gerar, a Philistine city that current archeology tells us wouldn’t be inhabited until 1200 BC at the earliest and not as anything more than a small village until about 800 BC, putting it hundreds of years after the time when the Patriarchs lived or when Moses supposedly wrote this account (Finkelstein and Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, pp. 37-38). While there, not-so-honest Abe has his ninety-year-old sister/wife once again trick the locals into thinking that they aren’t married. Exactly as happened in chapter 12 during the first of the three "Dude, she's just my sister" patriarchal narratives, the ruler sees the nubile nonagenarian and takes her as a wife. In chapter 12 it’s Yahweh that threatens Egypt. Here in Gerar it’s Elohim. Later in 26:6-11 when Isaac pulls the same thing one more time on Abimelech, no specific deity will be named directly.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Leaving the Santa Claus Fan Club

A few days ago I was (virtually) introduced to fellow ex-Christian blogger Neil over at Godless in Dixie. Our backgrounds share a bit of similarity and I liked his blog so much I've added it to my list of "Some Sites I Like" in the column over to the right. That should be worth at least two or three extra hits a quarter for him, based on the traffic I experience here. Admittedly, I've found myself getting miffed at a couple of things he's written because, quite frankly, I wish I had written them.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 19

In this installment we detour away from the Abraham narratives and examine the cities of the plain and Lot. We get to wonder why in the world Lot is ever called righteous, how he's able to run faster than a Jedi, and where his daughters managed to find wine and Viagra but no men to have sex with other than their father.

Genesis 19:1-14
So Yahweh’s two angel buddies go to Sodom. Lot greets them and insists that the two stay with him. Like Abraham, he prepares food for them and offers to have their feet washed. At bedtime all the men of the city gather around his house and demand he put out his angel guests so they can rape them. Why? What’s all the fuss about? Is it because the men of Sodom had identified them as angels and wanted to go after their “strange flesh” (Jude 7)? Were they just so wickedly gay that they had to gangbang every traveler who came to town? Did Lot receive this kind of treatment when he first came to town? Honestly, it’s anybody’s guess.

Like any good host, Lot offers to turn over his virgin daughters to the mob so the mob can gangbang them instead saying, “Just don’t do anything to these men because they are under the shadow of my roof.” Ladies and gentlemen, I present you Righteous Lot™ (2Peter 2:7-8). I have to ask: do one’s daughters not deserve the same level of protection from their own father under the shadow of his roof as visiting strangers? According to the Bible’s view of women, no. It’s not the same. That conclusion is not reached by merely looking at this passage either.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 17 & 18

In this installment: Abe is asked to put some skin in the game, everyone gets a laugh about having kids when you're old, Yahweh has to talk himself into telling the patriarch about his plans for Sodom and Abe teaches the deity about fairness, justice and mercy and schools him in negotiation.

Genesis 17:1
In this verse God appears to Abram and identifies himself as El Shaddai. Early translations from the Hebrew like the Greek Septuagint rendered this something like “God Almighty” because a similar word shadad means to overpower or destroy and this seems to fit when the name is employed in Numbers, Job and Ezekiel without the El element.

However, when it’s used in Genesis with El it’s almost always in the context of reproductive fertility (see 28:3, 35:11 & 49:25). Interestingly the Hebrew word shad means “breast” and the ending ai means “my own.” It’s very possible that Shaddai started out as a large-breasted Semitic fertility goddess whose “fruitfulness” attributes were eventually subsumed into Yahweh’s attributes, minus the accentuated breasts, of course.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 15 & 16

In this installment: Yahweh makes some promises to Abram over bisected animal bodies, an ambiguous antecedent becomes the basis for an entire doctrine, more Chaldeans are mentioned before they exist, Yahweh rounds to the nearest hundred, old age is relative and slave girls learn their place.

Genesis 15:1
Yahweh is about to once again promise stuff to Abram, but this time he appears to him in a vision rather than as some sort of manifestation at an altar under a tree.

Genesis 15:2-5

There are a couple of elements in this passage that are highly suggestive of literary construction or oral folkloric tradition as opposed to a historical account. The first is that Abram’s servant and heir, Eliezer of Damascus who is nowhere else mentioned by name, has a name that means “El gives help,” which happens to be exactly what this passage is about.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Computer Brains

I was reading a post about thoughtcrime as it relates to Christianity over at A Counter Apologist's blog when it dawned on me that one of my favorite Christian rock bands had engaged in some unintentional irony related to this issue back in the day.

First some background.

It seems obvious that CCM is highly derivative, and the Christian rock band Petra was certainly no exception. In 1984 (the year, not the book) the young people were all tuning in to keyboard-driven techno pop, so there was a natural inclination for a Christian rock band like Petra to veer away from their rock roots and produce a techno pop album. 1985's Beat the System was that album. It was the first ever CCM recording I was introduced to outside of Amy Grant, Keith Green and Truth.

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 14

In this installment: the armies of the greatest empire history has ever never known are no match for an old man and his slaves, the ultra-hipster Amalekites get conquered before they exist, there's some vital clarification regarding Abram's ethnicity, we find more evidence that Moses had a TARDIS, and the Hebrew patriarch pays off a Canaanite high priest and Yahweh is totally cool with it.

There are nine kings mentioned in this passage. This is the best and only time in the Abraham narratives where we even get an opportunity to try to line up the account with the historical and archeological records of the Ancient Near East. It should be relatively easy since nine kings and a pivotal battle are mentioned in this passage. Indeed for about 200 years archaeologists tried to find matches for these kings. Most have given up. Why? Because the geopolitical situation described in this passage has no correspondence to the records of anything that took place in the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE when Abraham was supposed to have lived.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 13

In this installment: Abram continues his Promised Land Sacred Shrine Confusion Tour; Moses reminds his audience that Canaanites live in Canaan; Yahweh makes a promise to Abram...again; and the city of agreement fails to live up to its name.

Genesis 13:1-4
Abram goes back to Bethel where the altar was and again calls on Yahweh there, further cementing a practice that will be difficult to overcome later when worship is supposed to become centralized in Jerusalem.

Again we have another odd remark from our supposed author Moses telling us that the Canaanites and Perizzites were in the land at that time. If this is really being written prior to entering the land, why would Moses need to insert this bit of clarification? Wouldn’t the Children of Israel wandering in the wilderness awaiting entry into the Promised Land assume as much? Doesn’t this remark make more sense if it’s from a time when there were no longer Canaanites and Perizzites in the land? Cue the "scribal insertion" excuse again for yet another anachronism.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 12

In this installment we find a mistaken martyr, some superfluous Canaanite clarification, a confusing setting for worship, Episode I of the Patriarchal Pimping Trilogy, Sarai putting the "sexy" in "sexagenarian", a bit of justice Yahweh-style, and some time-travelling Egyptian camels.

Genesis 12:1-4
11:26 says Terah had Abram at 70. 11:32 says Terah lived to be 205, making Abram 135 at the time of Terah's death. This verse, however, says Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran, presumably after his father's death. This might not be that big of a problem as the text doesn’t explicitly state that Abram received the call from Yahweh and left Haran until after Terah died. It's possible to read this as though Terah could have still been living when Abram got the call and left, given the way it’s worded. We certainly get the impression that Abram didn't leave Haran until after his dad was dead, though. The bigger problem is that the supposedly inspired writer of Luke claims that Stephen understood this to be exactly the case.

In Acts 7:2-4 Stephen reportedly says, “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living” [emphasis mine].

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Modern Mythic Messiahs that Out-Christ Jesus: Marty McFly

Christ figures have been around since…well…before Christ. Even as a Christian I acknowledged that there were what theologians often referred to as “types” of Christ in the Old Testament. These included Adam as a son of God, Abraham as an intercessor, Noah as a deliverer, Enoch who walked with God and ascended into heaven, Melchizedek a king and priest, King David the shepherd king, Isaac the willing sacrificial victim, Moses the lawgiver and deliverer with an infant exposure story, Joshua (same name as Jesus) the conqueror who led people into the Promised Land, Joseph the humble servant who became a ruler and deliverer, Jonah the prophet who was in “death” for three days and was “resurrected”, Judah who offers himself in exchange for the life of his brother, Boaz the kinsman-redeemer for Ruth, Daniel who is thrown in a pit of lions and emerges unscathed, Solomon the wise ruler and supposed husband of the female protagonist of the Song of Solomon, Elisha the prophet who miraculously multiplied resources and performed resurrections, Samson the Nazarite deliverer with a miraculous birth who is betrayed and sacrifices himself, and on and on.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 11

This chapter brings us confusion about a tower, more genealogies with oft-overlooked implications, a few interesting anachronisms and some fun with Hebrew names.

Genesis 11:1
The Tower of Babel narrative begins by informing the reader that the whole earth had one language. This is odd considering what was stated in 10:5, 20 & 31. People typically try to get around the problem by assuming that the chronology of chapter 10 overlaps with the events of chapter 11, ignoring how forced that solution appears. The truth is that neither chapter 10 nor chapter 11 paint a realistic picture of how and why human migration actually occurs. Chapter 10 wants us to believe that people cleanly and uniformly spread out by families and settled according to their languages and cultures, thereby putting the cultural cart before the geographical horse. Chapter 11 wants us to believe that it would take divine intervention to get people to migrate instead of obvious factors like constraints on available resources, rivalries, instability, etc. Both ideas come from the imaginations of ancient people who had little understanding of things like cultural geography.

Interestingly enough, it seems that Native American mythology like that of the Iroquois comes closer to reality by suggesting that groups of people were first spread out and isolated from one another by the creator deity, the Holder of the Heavens, and then because of that cultural and geographic isolation their languages changed to be different from one another. This etiological myth for the origin of the differentiation of language has the added bonus of including some things we can actually observe when we look at how and why languages evolve over the centuries, unlike the Babel myth which relies solely on divine intervention.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 10

Genesis 10:1-32
Here we find the so-called Table of Nations. These folks will go on to populate the whole world. There are some problems here, however. Most of the nations that can be identified in this passage are, not surprisingly, surrounding Israel. Many of these “nations” supposedly founded by these guys are not known to history or archaeology until well into the first millennium BCE, i.e. long after Moses was dead even though Moses is supposedly writing about them as though his audience is already aware of their existence.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Christianity's Culture of Pious Fraud

As I reflect on the time I spent as Christian, I can look back and see things that should have been obvious clues that something was not exactly right. The Bible itself contains many of those clues, but even outside the Bible, Christianity seems to have an ingrained sense that taking liberties with the truth is acceptable and even encouraged as long as it bolsters faith, reassures the doubting and furthers "the cause of Christ and His kingdom." One is left to conclude that for all their talk of having the truth, Christians in general seem to have a careless disregard for it. Most seem to be willing to believe anything as long as it conforms to their expectations.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 9

We now turn to the post-flood world and learn more about God's "promises" and find out that Noah could be a bit testy when he was hungover.

Genesis 9:2
In this verse God says every living creature of the earth and every bird will be terrified of mankind. This is kind of odd because there are quite a few land animals and birds that are not at all terrified of humans, especially in places like the Galapagos where, up until recently, there was no human presence. People can just walk right up to frigate birds on the islands and they won't fly away. Similarly, dodo birds who lived in isolation on the island of Mauritius had no natural fear of humans and were easily hunted into extinction. It's almost like animals that were around humans evolved to fear them because of selective pressure caused by easily being killed by them. Nah, that can't be it. Evolution is just a fairy tale for grown-ups.

Just look at how terror-stricken all these animals are!

Genesis 9:4-5
Prohibition is made against eating bloody meat. It would have been easy for the ancients to conclude that blood was the source of a creature’s life essence as any time they observed major blood loss it would have looked like something’s life was literally draining out of it. We now know what blood actually is and does.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 8

We now move on to the final chapter dealing with Noah's Flood. Here we begin to see, among other things, how the timeline of the Flood makes for some odd circumstances.

Genesis 8:1-3
Here we have another term, “remembered,” (zakar) that has to be given an expanded meaning because it can’t possibly mean what it looks like it means. Otherwise it might imply that Yahweh does not possess timeless omniscience, but rather has to rely on his memory of past events. It's just another anthropomorphism for the stupid people that can't grasp that concept without using human-like descriptions.

It is noteworthy that the writer of this passage seems to think that by having a wind blow across the land and closing the floodgates in the sky, the waters will just recede. In his view of cosmology that might have worked just like it did before. In reality, no amount of wind is going to just make nearly two times the currently extant volume of water on the earth just disappear.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 7

More fun with the Great Flood in this installment.

Genesis 7:1
As the narrative switches back from "Elohim" (God) to “Yahweh” (LORD), we find out that Noah is godly compared to everyone else around…again. Although in fairness, it is a different word this time (tsaddiyq in lieu of tamim). Why would Moses suddenly perfer to use a different name for God and a different word to describe Noah's character? Well, if it turns out we're dealing with two or more different authors, we would seem to have our explanation.

Here the instructions concerning how many animals to take are modified. Back in 6:19 Elohim told Noah it was to be two of every kind of living creature from all flesh. Now Yahweh tells Noah here that it’s actually seven of every clean animal and seven of every kind of bird, but only two of every unclean animal that’s not a bird. This is odd for a few reasons. First, back in 6:20 Noah was specifically told by Elohim that birds and cattle (a clean animal) will come to him “two of every kind.” Second, we were told in 6:22 that Noah did all that Elohim commanded him. Here, though, Yahweh changes that and adds, “You must take” not they “will come to you.” Later the narrative will switch back to emphasizing just two, oddly enough at the same time the writer begins referring to the deity as "Elohim". It’s almost as if there’s one source who likes referring to God as “Yahweh” who’s concerned that animals will be available for sacrifice after the flood and another source using “Elohim” to refer to God who doesn’t share those same concerns. But that can't be because Jesus and the apostles said Moses wrote the whole thing.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 6:5ff.

Now we come to the Flood narrative and this is where things start to get kind of silly. I'm going to deal with this from the standpoint of those who take these passages literally. However, the question I have for Christians who don't take these passages literally is, what's the point of all this if it's just "metaphorical" and how do you know your metaphorical interpretation is the right one?

Again Yahweh comes across very human in this passage. He has to observe the wickedness as though he didn’t already know it was coming in the first place. He experiences regret and grief over his actions. Finally, in a rather petulant manner he decides to wipe out not only mankind, but also land animals and birds. Like a child who’s angry that his model airplane didn’t turn out exactly the way he wanted, he’s just going to pout about it and then smash the thing and go do something else.

This is Yahweh’s first recorded killing in the Bible and he appears determined to do it in grand fashion. He could have started with the fratricidal Cain, but instead he decided to actually protect him from retributive justice. He could have made an example of the proud and murderous Lamech, but he still withheld his justice. He could have struck down the violent, half-breed Nephilim. No, instead he waits until things get so bad he has to just kill absolutely everything in an incredibly overcomplicated manner. He appears to be under certain constraints when it comes to how he can accomplish this. It would seem that he can’t merely make all the bad people just disappear. He can't just magic all the wicked people straight to hell and make everything over again. No, he apparently has to put on a show, allowing theologians to later make guesses about why.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 5:1 – 6:4

We move now to some begats. People often like to skip over these when they read the Bible, but often these can present some real oddities and problems. This series of begetting is no exception.

There are a few odd things about this passage that recounts the descendants of Adam through Seth. First, the passage strangely seems to treat the previous four chapters of Genesis as non-existent, almost like it was a reboot or was from a different source. Seth comes across as a firstborn son and Cain is completely forgotten about.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Canon Revisited: a response

I suspect that most Christians regard the Bible as a single book and take for granted how and when those constituent parts were composed, much less how and when those 66 (or more?) books came to be collected and arranged into a single book. I myself became more aware of this process several years ago when I began looking into the claim that the King James Version was supposedly the only un-corrupted English translation. Bound up in that issue was, of course, the question of why certain books were included in the Bible and why others were left out. Not long after, I became embroiled in a lengthy online debate with a Roman Catholic over the question of canonicity. For those not aware, Catholics include some books in their Bibles that Protestants do not.

After the debate, which I felt I had "won", I came away with the sneaky suspicion that there were apparent weaknesses in the Protestant argument that my Catholic opponent had failed to point out. Perhaps the reason why that person didn't point out those weaknesses was because their argument was in many ways susceptible to the same sorts of critiques, namely the question of authority. My Catholic opponent would've done well to expose the fact that when I said that the Bible as a whole and the books individually attest to their own authority, my argument was completely circular. Of course, had my Catholic friend done that, I would've countered that relying on a supposedly infallible church body to decide what belongs in the canon only introduces one more participant into the circle.

I revisited the subject a few years later when I was teaching part of a Sunday School series on the doctrine of Scripture and the topic I was to teach on was the canon. Again I discovered the same problems, but this time I sought resolutions to those difficulties. What I discovered was that even Protestants within the Reformed tradition disagreed with one another over how best to go about addressing those issues and, in truth, none of them could satisfactorily escape the problems of circularity and subjectivity. This was certainly one of the things that helped precipitate my questioning of other doctrines with problems I had been brushing aside and ignoring.

Fast forward to a few months ago when I revealed to my church leadership that I no longer believed. When I mentioned in a discussion that the question of canonicity was one of the problems that led me to begin questioning the claims of Christianity, I was told that there was "more recent scholarship" that would address those questions. This, of course, raises the question of why it took 2,000 years for theologians in Christ's chruch to come up with a reasonable justification for the belief that the 66 books of the Protestant Bible are the right ones.

What follows is my written response to that "more recent scholarship" which turned out to be a book entitled Canon Revisited, written by a New Testament professor and president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. I wrote this response after the book was presented to me and I returned the book along with this response, so I no longer have a copy in my possession. Keep that in mind if and when you decide to comment.

On a personal note, I think it's noteworthy that after I took the time to read this book and type up this response, the person who sent the book to me decided they no longer felt the desire to "cross swords" over this issue and instead just wanted to "express [his] love." In all honesty, it's hard for me not to see that as little more than an emotionally manipulative cop-out, even though I don't doubt the sincerity of the expression itself.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 4

By the time we get to this passage it seems evident that Yahweh created Adam and Eve with not only the ability to speak Hebrew, but also the ability to employ complicated wordplay within that language. In 2:23 the man uses a play on ishah (woman) and ish (man); in 3:20 he uses a rather complex play on khavvah (Eve), khay/khayyah (living), and khayah (to live); and now in 4:1 Eve uses wordplay on the sound of the verb qaniti (I have created/obtained) and the name qayin (Cain).

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Flat tire urban legend redux

Jay, Mark, Mateo and Lucas - everybody called Lucas "LT" because those were his initials and he sort of resembled a certain Giants linebacker - all met each other freshman year while attending Liberty University and became good friends. Often they would try to register for the same classes when convenient, given their majors. One semester they were all taking the same Chemistry class and had all done pretty well on all the material up to that point. Going into the final all four had a solid A in the class. In fact, the four were so confident going into the final that they decided to head over to Virginia Beach and party with some friends on the weekend, even though the final was on Monday. They had a great time, but they overslept and didn't make it back to Lynchburg until early Monday morning.

Monday, April 8, 2013

I've been such a fool

Many will be familiar with Psalm 14:1 and, of course, since my apostasy I've had it quoted to me. After reflecting on this verse a bit, I now think the people who say the godless are fools may be right after all.

One of the reasons often bandied about to explain why brilliant scientists and other egghead professor types try to push their secular agendas in fields like anthropology, sociology, archeology, biology, psychology, cosmology, geology and other areas that can make claims that run counter to sacred texts is that these folks are just trying to convince themselves and everybody else that there is no God. They desperately don’t want there to be a God and the reason they and other non-theists don’t want there to be a God is really quite simple. They don’t want to have to feel like any divine judge can hold them accountable for all their vile wickedness. That’s the whole motivation behind secular humanism and atheism, right?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 3

I've already dealt with a few of the issues pertaining to Genesis 3 in my discussion of Genesis 2, but there are a few other things that come up in specific verses that I address in what follows.

Genesis 3:5
Many English translations take the plural participle translated “knowing” as a substantival participle functioning as a predicate adjective in the sentence and give the translation, “You will be like God, knowing good and evil.” However, other translations recognize that it could be (and mostly likely is, given an examination of parallel constructions) an attributive adjective modifying “elohim”. In that case “elohim” would be a numerical plural and should be rendered “gods” like in the KJV, NET and alternate reading of the HCSB. The point is the serpent would be telling the woman that she would be like “gods”. If this is the case, she must, therefore, have had some frame of reference for the idea of there being more than one god or at least lesser gods. We have here even more evidence of the writer(s) having either a polytheistic or at least a henotheistic understanding of gods and we're only in Genesis 3. This raises the question: what other gods would Eve have known about?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 2

Continuing the series I started earlier this week...

Genesis 2:8-17
In the creation account of 2:4-3:24 the deity is referred to as Yahweh Elohim (usually shown as "LORD God" in most English translations) rather than merely Elohim (God) as in chapter 1. The double identification of the deity, found eleven times in this section, occurs almost nowhere else in the Pentateuch (the sole exception being Exodus 9:30 where the Greek equivalent of this construction is curiously absent from the Septuagint). It has been suggested that someone inserted "Elohim" into a text that previously only had "Yahweh" as a means of softening the transition between the creation accounts of 1:1-2:3 and the one found in 2:4-3:24. Given that this is the only place in Genesis where this construction is used, that certainly seems plausible. Otherwise we're left wondering why in the world Moses would've suddenly switched gears on us, not that Bible expositors haven't provided quite a few guesses.

Anyway, Yahweh Elohim plants a garden/orchard, makes a man and places him there to work, care for and maintain it. Why? If we don’t bring all of our interpretive baggage with us, the obvious reason seems to be because Yahweh wants to be able to eat from it, but he doesn’t want to have to work it himself. He does allow man to eat from the trees in the orchard, however, and this is for the man’s provision and wages for his services. Man is essentially Yahweh’s slave, made from dirt. This would fit with most of the other Ancient Near Eastern creation myths like the Atrahasis Epic, which has the gods forming man from clay in order to serve them in tending to creation because they don’t want to do it themselves. Again, Yahweh seems to be failing to distinguish himself from the other gods of the Ancient Near East.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 1

As an homage to the Great Agnostic, Robert G. Ingersoll and his work Some Mistakes of Moses, I've decided to publish my own remarks on the Pentateuch under the heading "Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe." Star Wars fans will get the "expanded universe" reference. This series will begin with Genesis and go through Deuteronomy. I don't pretend to be an expert and this is simply a vehicle for disseminating my personal notes on certain passages in these books of the Bible that I find problematic for those who hold to a doctrine of inerrancy akin to the one put forward in the Chicago Statement. Christians with a more robust view of scripture probably won't have any real problems getting around many of the issues I am likely to point out. Those with a more traditional view will take issue from the outset.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Resurrection reply

As people have been made aware of my apostasy, a few [read: exactly three thus far] have made attempts to engage me in correspondence about matters of religion while remaining civil in tone. One mailed me a book, but two have done so in their own words. Both of them have my respect.

What follows is a response to a letter one of them wrote me in which they provided their expanded personal testimony along with an appeal to the historicity of the resurrection, among other things for my consideration. I've left out identifying remarks and portions pertaining to their personal testimony. This is, admittedly, only one side of the dialogue. However, I'm putting it up as a reference I can point people toward if and when they bring this particular issue up with me. Also, today is Easter Sunday so I felt it was appropriate.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Shields of Faith: It's supposed to sound foolish

As part of my reflections on why I remained a Christian for so long, I’ve decided to try to think about some of the things that shielded my faith from internal critique. I'm calling this segment, "Shields of faith." Yeah, that sounds pretty cheesy, but what did you expect from a blog with a lame pun for a name?

So one thing that popped up from time to time when I was a Christian was just how nuts Christianity sounded. The fact that many of the claims and especially the central narrative of Christianity seemed completely absurd was not something that was lost on me. I knew it sounded crazy and that's probably why I was so often embarrassed about being more open about my faith. I didn't mind telling people that I was a Christian, but I have to admit that the thought of explaining the whys and hows of the story of Christianity did make me cringe at times. I saw someone on a discussion board put it this way:
[Christianity is a story] about the creator of reality sacrificing himself to himself to appease himself by atoning for the sins of creatures he predestined to [or at least knew would] fail to live up to the impossible standards that he devised, so that in his appeasement he does not have to force himself to eternally punish those creatures, provided that they believe that he sacrificed himself to himself in the manner recorded in four contradictory accounts of his sacrifice of himself to himself written [decades] after the event by people who weren't there at the time, and whose original writings have been lost or destroyed, and which survive only as copies of copies of copies.
Now, I would’ve taken issue with the notion that the accounts were contradictory and I would’ve argued that at least two were probably written by eyewitnesses, but overall I would’ve recognized that much of the above is not a straw man. When you express it that way it really does sound rather absurd, but not to worry…

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hell is for [some of your] children

It occurs to me that some of you reading this might be parents who are working hard to make sure your kids are brought up in the nurture and instruction of Christ in order to keep them out of hell. You should know that if they turn around and reject Christianity later, you’ve essentially made hell that much hotter for them according to many people's theology. Regardless of whether you believe that or not, the fact remains that you chose to bring them into the world in the first place knowing full well there was a chance that they might apostatize just like people like me and be damned to hell forever just like me.

Have you ever considered that? And if you have, why would you bring children into this world knowing full well that there was at least an outside shot that such an outcome would result? I’m not trying to be mean and nasty, I'm just pointing this out to illustrate that regardless of whether you view salvation as solely the work of God based on a decision God made in eternity past or whether salvation is based on an individual’s free will, in either case you can’t really trust that God will save your own children. There are no guarantees. You can work as hard as you want, but if you're honest with yourself, you have to admit that the possibility remains that one day one of your precious children will turn out just like me. It would seem that there’s really only one way to make sure that none of your children will ever be tortured for eternity in blazing fire and outer darkness. Never have any.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Q & A for the curious

For the benefit of those who may know me, I’ve prepared this little Q & A to address what I think might be some common questions people will have.

You obviously don’t believe the Bible is the word of God anymore. Why not?
Probably for some of the same reasons you don’t believe the Book of Mormon, Bhagavad Gita and the Quran are the word of God. That is to say, they all appear to me to be of human origin and make truth claims that are either internally inconsistent or run contrary to empirical observation. It may not seem abundantly obvious from your perspective that the Bible is internally inconsistent and makes truth claims counter to reality, but it is from my perspective along with the perspective of millions of other people. I’ll be happy to demonstrate this or point out other sources that do, but in all likelihood you won’t accept that evidence any more than a devout Mormon, Hindu or Muslim would accept your evidence pointing out the inconsistencies and things contrary to fact in their holy texts either.

I know you may look at the Bible as I used to and see all these wonderful and miraculous things that prove to you that God inspired it. You might point out all the supposedly fulfilled prophecies or the accounts of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead or how wonderful and wise so many of the Bible’s verses appear that seem to reflect its divine origins. These would, of course, be similar to the evidences put forward by adherents of other holy texts. Additionally, there are plenty of good reasons why none of those things are particularly compelling from my perspective anymore. I’ll be discussing why I don’t find them compelling as this blog progresses. I also understand that you will likely write off my objections as resulting from my being blinded by Satan and/or not having the Holy Spirit inside of me. If that’s the case, you really can’t blame me, can you?

So do you believe in evolution and the big bang and all that stuff?
I wouldn't say I "believe in" evolutionary theory or big bang cosmology. Rather I'd say I understand them to be the best explanations currently available for the formation of the detectible universe and the diversity of life on earth. I would also say similar things about germ theory being the best explanation for infectious disease and gravitational theory being the best explanation for why physical bodies are attracted to one another.

My lack of belief in the claims of Christianity is not bound up with any of these theories, however. So please don't try to refute germ theory thinking that if you do its absence will automatically lead me to assume the Biblical explanation that disease is caused by demon possession. Likewise, please don't assume that somehow falsifying the mountain of evidence in favor of evolutionary theory will lead me to posit six days of creation by the god of the Bible in its absence. Note that even if there were such a thing as "Intelligent Design" that would only give credence to deism, and from a practical standpoint deism is just as consequential as atheism or agnosticism.

Do you even believe in God anymore? Are you an atheist or what?
I don’t believe in the god of the Bible. That is to say, if a god or gods exist, I’m pretty sure it’s not the one(s) described in the Bible (or the Koran either for that matter). Beyond that I really couldn’t say for sure. I acknowledge that there could be either an evil, incompetent or ambivalent god or gods that exist, so I remain open to maltheism and deism on a philosophical level. I suppose that makes me an agnostic. However, since both maltheism and deism would be irrelevant to how I choose to go on about my existence, on a practical level I’m an atheist. As such, I’m fine with being labeled either agnostic or atheist.

Didn’t you feel the presence of God?
Well, I certainly felt something. I felt that when I prayed, God was listening. At times I experienced varying degrees of joy and exaltation while engaged in both public worship and during personal quiet times. I even had moments where I thought I was gaining clarity or insight on some spiritual matters. I certainly had moments where I felt like God had actually answered my prayers.

The problem with those experiences is that people of many different religions all have similar experiences. They can’t all be right. Additionally, all of those experiences can be explained by human psychology. Quite simply they could all be traced back to mental functions common in virtually all human beings cross culturally.

Aren't you just making yourself into a god?
Well, if you view independent decision-making as a god-like trait and think that self-determination and personal responsibility are forms of self-worship, then I suppose I am. If every time I prayed I was really just talking to myself, then apparently I've been pretending I'm a god for quite awhile. I just didn't realize it before.

All kidding aside, no. I don't think I'm a god. If anything I feel I have an even greater grasp of just how insignificant I am compared to the enormity of the universe and the vast expanse of time.

What if you’re wrong? Aren't you afraid you'll burn in hell?
Well, what if you’re wrong? What if the Muslims are right and Allah is going to torture you in Jahannam (the Muslim version of hell) for all eternity for rejecting the teachings of Muhammad? What if the Zoroastrians are right and their god, Ahura Mazda, is going to cast you into purgation in molten metal? What if people of other sects of Christianity are right and you either haven’t believed correctly or didn’t do enough good works? What if your own faith isn’t sincere enough and even though you’ve picked the right religious belief, as it turns out you don’t really believe? What if you’ve just convinced yourself that you believe, but at the final judgement Jesus ends up saying to you, “Depart from me, I never knew you” and you are cast into the Lake of Fire for all eternity?

Do you worry about those things? Perhaps you do from time to time, but I’m betting that most of the time you don’t. You may even find the notion that those things might actually happen to you after you die rather absurd. And yet millions of other people on this planet believe with just as much sincerity as you do that one of those things will indeed be your fate because you don’t believe the things they do or practice religion the way they do.

The reality is that everyone runs the risk of being wrong. None of us can just on a whim change the fact that we simply don’t believe these other things. I can’t make myself have faith in the god of the Bible in order to avoid the possibility of spending eternity in hell any more than you could make yourself have faith in the god of the Quran to avoid the possibility of spending eternity in Jahannam (assuming you are not already a Muslim, of course). Do you think you could make yourself believe in Zeus? How about Vishnu? You may have believed in them when you were a kid, but could you make yourself believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy again? Of course not. You have no control over that because that's not how belief works. Dorothy can't just ignore the man behind the curtain.

Perhaps you think I'm gambling with my soul and should just bet on Christianity and believe it (or go on pretending I believe) just in case. The problem is this discounts all the other virtually infinite possibilities of what kind of god(s) might exist and what he/she/they might want from me in order to grant me a pleasant afterlife and avoid some kind of eternal torture. Not to mention that wouldn't be genuine faith and certainly wouldn’t pass muster according to most people’s understanding of the kind of "saving faith" the god of the Bible demands. It amazes me how many people who are having doubts will simply cling to Pascal’s Wager when even Pascal himself seems to have understood its limitations. I suggest as an alternative the agnostic atheism wager.

What about morality? You always seemed like a decent fellow.
I don’t really plan on changing much in that respect. Believe it or not there are moral and ethical systems that exist apart from the Christian religion. I don’t plan on going on any shooting sprees or hanging out at strip clubs or neglecting my children or cheating on my taxes any time soon. I’m now OK with some stuff you may find objectionable like gays getting married and such, but in all likelihood you and I most likely still share many of the same basic, common values we always have. I’m quite certain that if you stop and think about it, you personally know or have known several other people who are nonreligious and yet seem to be fine, upstanding and trustworthy people. I’d like to think you could place me in that category now as well.
Since you don't believe there is an afterlife, aren't you sad, depressed and hopeless now?
Not really. I was a bit disappointed at first. Perhaps this isn't the best analogy, but imagine you're a kid going for a ride and you've been told you're on the way to Disney World only you find out you're really just going for a ride and that's it. Of course you're going to be disappointed. Someone gave you false expectations. Maybe if you had been told all along that you were just going for a ride, you'd have spent more time trying to make the ride better for you and others and just enjoying the ride. You would have spent less time thinking about and preparing yourself for Disney World. Additionally, you might be a bit angry with the people [or culture or institution] responsible for giving you the impression you were going somewhere that you weren't.

Sure, it sucks coming to the realization that there probably isn't an afterlife where I'll get to see my dead loved-ones and continue my existence, but I'm still young enough that I'd rather be honest about reality than persist in a comfortable delusion all while dragging others into that delusion with me. And yeah, I'm kind of pissed that I spent so long believing what amounts to a giant load of bullcrap. On the plus side, though, it's nice to know that most of the people who've ever lived probably aren't headed for eternal torment in hell after all. How's that for good news?

We're all going to die. But we're the lucky ones because we got to live. Trillions of potential human beings will never get that chance. On top of that we are part of the universe that is able to think about itself. That's pretty awesome and exciting in and of itself. I'd like to try to make the most of that. As Rush says all I can really do is take my chances and "roll the bones."

How did this happen?

It seems strange that people like my wife and me with our upbringing and levels of participation in the church would just up and leave the faith, doesn’t it? Usually when I’d heard about other people leaving their faith it’s around the time they leave home for the first time and go off to college or get out on their own. It’s not usually people in their mid-thirties who’ve gotten married, settled into a career and had kids. This, of course, has only served to increase the level of shock that people close to us have felt.

It wasn’t something we went looking for. There was no tragic event that made us angry with God. There was no immoral behavior we wanted to engage in and needed to find a way out so we could quiet our guilty consciences and happily pursue it. There were no religious leaders in our church engaged in hypocritical behavior that made us sour to Christianity. This has made it really hard for people to categorize our apostasy. Several still continue to offer their unsolicited guesses about our motives, fearing the obvious: that we simply found the claims of Christianity to be false.