Lest We Forget: Remembering the 9-11 Religious Aftermath Too

As we pause to remember those who died in the September 11 tragedy, let us also never forget the theologically perverse religious drivel that spewed forth from the mouths of two of the most ridiculous religious leaders to have ever lived in the days immediately following the tragedy.

May we never forget how religion was misused and abused to promote the conservative cause in the wake of tragedy.

Remember, according to Robertson and Falwell, God hates liberals, so he caused thousands of innocent people to be murdered as punishment.

And you should blame the feminists, the gays, the lesbians, the abortionists, the federal courts, the pagans, the secularists, the ACLU, and People for the American Way, because it’s their fault God killed innocent people.

Damnable, damnable idiots.

(HT: Christian Nightmares)

The Biblical Dilemma of Denouncing Slavery, Yet Opposing Homosexuality (again)

In light of recent claims that one most “possess the Holy Spirit” in order to interpret the Bible “properly”, I’d like to ask someone who believes he/she DOES possess the Holy Spirit and who is therefore eligible to translate this passage “properly” to interpret the following passage for me? (I only have a PhD in this subject, and have addressed this issue before, but those are the “thoughts of men” and multiple of my graduate degrees are from a “secular, public” university, so that doesn’t count to many who claim to possess the Holy Spirit.)

Would someone possessing the Holy Spirit please read the following verses and answer the following questions for me:

Lev. 25:44 As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that YOU MAY ACQUIRE MALE AND FEMALE SLAVES.

Lev. 25:45 You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you, and from their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; AND THEY MAY BE YOUR PROPERTY.

Lev. 25:46 You may KEEP THEM AS A POSSESSION for your children after you, for them TO INHERIT AS PROPERTY. THESE YOU MAY TREAT AS SLAVES

Q1. Is this the “inspired, word of God”?
Q2. Is God the objective ethical foundation for all morality in the world?
Q3. Does God of the Bible – at ANY point – ever rescind this command regarding slavery?
Q4. Does the NT command slaves to continue to obey their masters?
Q5. Do you believe that foreign persons can be acquired as slaves, bought and sold, and passed on to subsequent generations as inherited property?
Q6. Have you written your local congressman, or donated money to, or supported a constitutional amendment banning the “redefinition” of slavery?
Q7. Have you stated publicly that regardless what our “godless, secular government” does, you’re going to still listen to a “higher authority” and condemn homosexuals and endorse slavery?

Morality: Slavery vs. Homosexuality: Guess which one the Bible's OK with?Leviticus 25:44-46 is just as much the “words of God” as any other biblical command regarding social institutions in the Bible. The Bible never rescinds this command(!!), and the NT only reinforces the institution of slavery by commanding slaves to obey their masters (Col. 3:22; 1 Pet. 2:18; Eph. 6:5 – thus, you can’t dismiss it and say, “Well the Old Testament was nailed to the cross”.) It doesn’t matter how one “defines” slavery; it has been defined quite accurately in the verses above above: owning people as property, and passing them along as inherited property to children. And we FOUGHT A WAR against people who attempted to argue that the above biblical endorsement of slavery should still be valid in this country in this modern time.

(Seriously, I must ask: why do so many of those who oppose same-sex marriage hail from the former Confederacy? Is there some demographic connection? Has any research been done on this?)

If you’re not going to embrace and defend slavery, then WHY ON EARTH, would you continue to condemn homosexuals?
WHY ON EARTH, then, would ANYONE continue to deny gays the same privileges and rights enjoyed by heterosexual individuals?

The God of the Bible CLEARLY says it’s OK to own and pass on slaves as property. HOW DO YOU ARGUE AROUND THAT FACT? Seriously: Have you given ANY THOUGHT WHATSOEVER about how you theologically argue around God’s endorsement of slavery in the Bible? And if so, WHY can’t you do THE SAME THING with homosexuality??

If you’re going to appeal to the “inspired, revealed Word of God”, from which you cannot pick and choose the verses you want to follow and dismiss because, “culture isn’t the final arbiter of truth, revelation is,” then why aren’t you using THE SAME LOGIC (and same hermeneutic) toward gay people as you do toward slavery?

THIS IS WHAT I MEAN when I say, “YOU ARE THOSE PEOPLE“. That’s you. When you condemn homosexuals and when you argue that they shouldn’t have the same rights and privileges as we have, THAT’S YOU defending slavery. THAT’S YOU making the SAME argument. That’s you appealing to the Bible to condemn a victimless so-called “crime” against God.

The irony, of course, is that in SLAVERY, there IS a DEFINITE VICTIM – THE SLAVE! – and it is therefore a crime. BUT, in a HOMOSEXUAL relationship between two consenting adults, there IS NO VICTIM!!!!! Point to the victim. There is no victim! And if there is no victim, there is no crime!

Slavery is ENDORSED and AUTHORIZED by God, DESPITE the obvious hardships imposed on the victims/slaves. And yet, there is no victim in homosexuality, and yet THAT is the verse you choose to defend, and not slavery????

YOU ARE THOSE PEOPLE! Those who oppose slavery yet condemn homosexuals are UNABASHED HYPOCRITES, because they read the Bible one way to dismiss slavery, and the opposite way to condemn homosexuality.

YOU ARE AN ILLOGICAL, UNASHAMED HYPOCRITE if you condemn homosexuals and do NOT endorse slavery. You are unworthy of being called “righteous”, or “scholar”, or even “humane”.

It’s that simple: YOU ARE “THOSE PEOPLE”. You should walk around with a sandwich sign around your neck saying, “I’m a Christian hypocrite, because I think some explicit social commands of God can be ignored, but others must be maintained”, especially those commands that condemn victimless activities like picking up sticks on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36) and homosexuality.

Let me say this to those who oppose same-sex marriage – ESPECIALLY IN THE NAME OF GOD: You are deserving of all public shame, chastisement, loss of reputation, and abandonment of friends and colleagues (both secular and Christian) that accompanied those who freely chose to defend the divinely ordained institution of slavery. You deserve the loathing you receive, for you have chosen to suppress the rights and privileges of your fellow human because you think God told you to do so, but you don’t condemn evenhandedly. You deserve to be intellectually exposed and called out publicly, because you condemn in the name of a god who ENDORSED, LEGISLATED, and MAINTAINED SLAVERY!

YOU ARE “THOSE PEOPLE”.

I AM ON RECORD in support of marriage equality for all Americans

I AM ON RECORD for Marriage Equality for all Americans.

I AM ON RECORD for Marriage Equality for all Americans.

Come on folks. It’s time to stand up and be heard on this issue. Marriage equality for same-sex couples is now before the Supreme Court.

Stand up and be counted.

PLEASE DO NOT stand idly by and hold the coats of those who would openly discriminate against the civil (not religious, civil) rights of other Americans!

 

I am ON RECORD as a professor of RELIGIOUS STUDIES at the UNIVERSITY OF IOWA in support of marriage equality for all Americans!


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Philosophy, Metaphysics, Theology, and Science All Summed Up with the Black Cat Analogy

The Black Cat Analogy of Philosophy, Metaphysics, Theology, and Science
(With a HT and thanks to Spreading Science.)

Philosophy is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat.
Metaphysics is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn’t there.
Theology is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn’t there and shouting, “I’ve found it!”
Science is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat using a flashlight.

The Black Cat Analogy of Philosophy, Metaphysics, Theology, and Science

A Quick Thought on ‘Reception History’

“The ‘correct’ interpretation of a myth does not necessarily confirm the historicity of the myth”.

Or, put another way:

“Arguing over the best way to interpret a story does not prove the story historical, factual, or true”.

I find that a great deal of theologians get caught up in the interpretation of claims made in the Bible, and jump to the fallacious conclusion that because they have arrived at the best interpretation of a particular verse, the verse must therefore be “true” or historical.

These are two separate arguments.

Lightsaber cutaway

No matter how detailed a myth might be, or how compelling the interpretation of a particular myth might sound to a large number of people who really like the myth, it does not prove the myth to be true. It’s still a mythical lightsaber (whether it can theoretically operate underwater or not).

Arguing about whether lightsabers will work underwater, no matter how convincing your argument, does not mean that lightsabers are historical or real.

The argument about what a text meant to the author (or what the author meant in writing a particular verse or text) is a quite common legitimate, scholarly enterprise. We call this “exegesis” or simple interpretation. Likewise, how that text was interpreted by subsequent communities is also a legitimate, scholarly enterprise. We call this “reception history”. “What the text means to me”, or alternatively, “What I think the text says”, is far less of an academic pursuit, despite being very popular among many religious individuals.

But all of the above endeavors – the debates over the interpretation of a text – are completely separate and apart from the examination of the actual historicity of the claim made in the text under discussion. Just because one interpretation of a text wins a consensus and place of preference within a majority of confessional interpreters DOES NOT prove that the story or text being interpreted has any historical or factual merit at all. It simply means that the author believed what he was writing to be true, or that a community believed or accepted what an author had written to be true.

The debate about a text’s interpretation has absolutely no bearing upon whether the claim is, in fact, factual.

The historicity of factual nature of a claim is left to disciplines outside of reception history, namely science (like archaeology) and history. These disciplines examine the claim itself and weigh evidence to determine if the claim is valid. These disciplines could really care less (and should care less) about what people thought about the claim.

Or put another way:

“The ‘correct’ interpretation of a myth does not necessarily confirm the historicity of the myth”.

imagine that picture of you protesting same-sex marriage 40 years from now: YOU ARE ‘THOSE PEOPLE’

Imagine that picture of you protesting same-sex marriage 40 years from now, with your Bibles and your flags and your signs:

Imagine how stupid you are going to look in 40 years: Mixed Marriage vs. Same-sex marriage.

Imagine how stupid you are going to look in 40 years: Mixed-race marriage vs. Same-sex marriage.

In 2008, I wrote:

“I ask Californians, especially Christians, to look within their hearts and ask themselves whether we want to treat homosexuals today as we treated women in the 1920’s, and blacks in the 1850’s. Will we look back in 40 years’ time in disgust and shake our heads and ask how we ever voted to deny civil rights to groups based upon a personal sexual choice?”

An artist sums up what I wrote in one picture.

If you are campaigning AGAINST same-sex marriage, that’s you. In the picture. That’s you. You ARE that person. You are the person in the picture that we look back on in disgust, shaking our heads, and asking, “How on earth were people EVER that mean? Why did they EVER believe that? How could those people discriminate against others that way? And use the BIBLE to do so?”

YOU ARE “those people.” And in an age of social media, where EVERYTHING is written down, captured, and remembered, it will be that much easier for us to show our children and grandchildren the faces and the names of those people who argued AGAINST the civil rights of others. And our children will look back in disgust at the images of people protesting same-sex marriage the SAME way we look back and shake our heads at the bigots protesting mixed-race marriage 40 years ago, or desegregation before that, or women’s right to vote before that, or slavery before that, and using the Bible to do so!

YOU ARE THOSE PEOPLE!

(HT: Rabbi Gershon Steinberg-Caudill via FB)

inside a church of christ history class

I marked up a cartoon that has been going around lately. It summarizes what is taught by Church of Christ historians and its theologians. It made me smile.

Restoration Movement History Chart (click to enlarge)

HT: Bibleworks on FB.

god does not make you catch or drop passes

Steve Johnson Tweetand that’s all i have to say about that. it’s just as much nonsense for steve johnson to blame god for dropping a pass as it is to thank him for catching one. god doesn’t care if you catch or drop a pass. and if you believe that, you’ve got one screwed up, me first theology. seriously, it is good to feel ‘blessed’ that you were able to have success on an athletic field, but what happens when you lose? did god abandon you? did he like the other team better? did they pray harder?

johnson tweeted:

“I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO…”

if you’re going to employ this kind of ‘us vs. them’ mentality toward god, then it must be maintained in defeat as well, where we see it much less. at least steve johnson maintained a consistent, albeit flawed, theology. besides shifting responsibility and blame away from himself, by blaming god for dropping a pass, johnson is simply playing out the other side of this ‘god blessed me with a great game’ mentality. if god causes you to win or have success in a game, he must be responsible for your loss and/or defeat.

it is this capitalistic, success-driven, health-and-wealth gospel that is plaguing christianity.

god wants you to act like a professional. he doesn’t care if you can catch a ball or not.

The Day After: Thoughts on the Response to the Overturn of Prop 8

It has begun. The response from those who supported California Proposition 8 is underway now that:

U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker said Proposition 8, passed by voters in November 2008, violated the federal constitutional rights of gays and lesbians to marry the partners of their choice.

What I find fascinating is how similar the comments being made by all of the various talking heads are to one another. They don’t mention that Prop 8 barely passed with 52.2% of the vote, which was down from the 61.4% that the very same measure (Prop 22) passed with only 8 years earlier, they speak about how “over seven million voters voted for the measure.” They don’t speak about how certain groups regularly seek to bypass around our elected representatives (as we are, in fact, a democratically elected representative democracy), and use direct ballot initiatives to place what are now, in fact, unconstitutional measures on California ballots. Rather, we hear speak of how “activist judges” “disregarded the will of the people,” “set aside a democratic vote,” and “legislated from the bench,” as if the popular views of a voting public always produce fair and equitable laws. (Seriously, ask yourself: were the issue of slavery or the equal rights of African-Americans placed on the ballot in a southern state in 1860 – or 1960 for that matter – would the voting public abolished slavery? The fact that a war was fought to, among other things, defend the practice – with guns in the 1860s and water canons in the 1960s – may help answer that question.)

We are also hearing the “slippery slope” argument invoked at every opportunity: if now this, what’s next? Similarly, we are hearing form many Christians appeals to the Bible that Prop 8 supporters dared not make during the campaign for fear of revealing their obviously unconstitutional desire to influence the state with church directives.

Regarding the “illicitness” of homosexuality in the Bible, allow me to make a few brief observations. It is interesting that the other forms of what many refer to as illicit sexual behavior are actually condoned in the bible. Polygamy was all the rage until Paul encouraged Christians in 1 Cor. 7 to stop getting married altogether (unless, of course, you lacked self control, in which case he asked Christians to limit themselves to merely one wife). Marrying a bride-child under the age of 18 was the norm as long as her father agreed to the price he was paid for her. Incest wasn’t frowned upon because staying in the tribe was considered more important than staying out of your half-sister’s pants.

The point is, there are many things sanctioned in the Bible that are today considered criminal (slavery, suppression of women’s rights, etc.). Today we have remedied many of these things, despite what the biblical text says.

Likewise, there are sexual restrictions in the Bible that modern society has maintained because they are exploitative towards marginalized persons. You can no longer marry or have sex with a child, despite the fact it was done legally all the time in the Bible. It is exploitative of children and therefore forbidden. It is argued that many women in polygamous relationships are suppressed and exploited, so after much debate, the U.S. banished it. I am open to having the debate once again, as it is never wrong to revisit issues that were once decided long ago. But I think we’ll find that on both popular and civil rights grounds, polygamy will not pass muster.

The difference with homosexuality is that it is a decision made by two consenting adults with no victim. Because married couples no longer feel the pressure to produce children, and because few Americans no longer feel that sex is only for the “reproduction of children,” a childless relationship is no longer considered inappropriate. And, because there are no data showing that the presumed negative effect on children being raised outside of a relationship consisting of “one mother and one father” is any greater than children raised in families that have experienced divorce (and there is certainly no constitutional amendment barring divorce or barring divorced individuals from remarrying!) the “it’s bad for the children” argument also falls flat.

This generation has witnessed homosexuality depart the category of “illicit activity” (bestiality, polygamy, incest, etc.) and join the category of previously prohibited biblical activities that modern people (Christians and non-Christians alike) now find acceptable (like eating pork, mixing milk and meat in the same meal, planting different crops side by side, allowing divorced people to remarry, mowing the lawn on Saturday, allowing women authority over men, and, you know… not owning slaves!

“It’s icky” is no longer a good argument against gay marriage. Slippery slope arguments (like, “If we allow gay marriage, then what’s next? Polygamy? Marrying a goat?” etc.) also fall flat on a case-by-case basis because they exploit the civil rights of others (not to mention the goats). Appealing to biblical precedent is hypocritical (see slavery, genocide, etc.), and arguing that it’s “unnatural” casts aside hundreds of other human behaviors that are obviously unnatural and self-destructive like overeating, eating processed foods (what other animal does that?), smoking, drinking, and wearing makeup.

In the end, all that’s left is a simple appeal to the way it’s always been: “preserving traditional marriage.” And just like this same appeal to the status quo has time and again been defeated (slavery, women’s rights, etc.), so too has the restrictions on gay marriage. And this is a good thing. Of course, some will object and deny gay marriage, while others will speak out on the side of equal rights for all. But I believe in the end, many Americans will do as Jesus did and not mention the subject at all. Because most Christians and most Americans simply don’t care about what other people do in their bedrooms… unless a video of it can be accessed anonymously via the internet.

michael shermer on how and why we are wired to believe

Michael Shermer has given an excellent talk at TED offering an explanation as to why we believe. Shermer argues that belief is based upon our nature as a pattern-seeking animals. Our brains have evolved to seek out patterns and relationships between objects and events.

Specifically, Shermer argues that animals make two types of errors in cognition. A Type I error is a false positive, that is, when we believe a pattern is real when it is actually not. A Type I error is when we find a nonexistent pattern. A Type II error is a false negative, that is, when we don’t believe a pattern is real when it actually is. A Type II error is when we don’t recognize a real pattern.

Humans tend to make more Type I errors because they are less costly. His example is that of standing in the jungle and hearing a rustle in the grass. If we believe the rustle in the grass is something that is going to jump out and eat us, then we are cautious and move away. If it turns out that the rustle was just the wind, then there is really no cost to us except for the time we spent moving out of the way and being cautious.

However, if we make a Type II error and we don’t believe that the rustle in the grass will harm us, and it actually was something that can do us harm, we’re dead. Those individuals that gravitate towards the Type II errors tend to die out over time, while those that trend toward the Type I error survive to pass on their genes. Over time, this process results in a species of animals that are more likely to see patterns that are not there (Type I error) because it is selectively safer.

The cost of making a Type I error is less than making a Type II error. Or, to put it another way, it is safer to believe in something that doesn’t exist than it is to not believe in something that does.

Shermer argues that this is why so many people are still very religious, or at least believe in a god, despite our movement towards a scientific world that is regularly disproving many of the myths contained in accepted religious literature. He argues that ‘agenticity,” or the tendency to infuse patterns with meaning, intention, and agency, often from the top down with invisible agents or beings is responsible for the development of religion. This explains angels, demons, and gods, but also a belief in aliens and in government conspiracies.

This conclusion should also speak to scholars, who tend to look for patterns in texts or archaeological evidence that simply aren’t there.

I like Shermer’s explanation. It explains the single most prevalent, yet least-spoken reason why so many people are religious: they’d rather live a religious life and be wrong about hell’s existence than not live a religious live and be wrong about hell. The Type I error results in a life that believed in a superstition, and perhaps that loss of a little “fun.” The Type II error, however, results in eternal damnation.

That is to say, many people believe in a god and follow a religion just in case

This reasoning does not make for good people of faith and explains why so many people are looking to do the bare minimum “to be saved” instead of living a life of service to their fellow humans.

Of course, the next appropriate question is: what is driving us to do good for one another if there is no god? Attempts to explain this question are at the heart of the secular humanist movement and others like it.

Shermer makes some other very interesting comments about cognitive priming and other psychological phenomena. My personal favorite is when he states:

I want to believe and you do too. And in fact, I think my thesis here is that belief is the natural state of things. It is the default option. We just believe. We believe all sorts of things. Belief is natural; disbelief, skepticism, science is not natural. It’s more difficult. It’s uncomfortable to not believe things.

Regardless of your point of view, this is a fascinating lecture and is worth a listen.

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