Leaving the Fold

Leaving the Fold

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Questions on the New Testament Part 1

The New Testament

I have no problem with Christ himself, save for a few peculiar out of character moments in the
gospels, my primary issue is the un-Christ like behaviour so often exhibited by his people, some times to the point they are less Christ like than the atheists and non-believers they sometimes criticise. If he did live, Jesus is probably rolling in his grave. Christianity today is likely far removed from the Jewish sect he started, the original sect may have meant to provide hope and meaning to a nation that was being occupied by an empire. The original religion was seemingly adapted and altered by the Roman Empire following several hundred years of Christianity essentially saying ‘stuff you, we do not think you are divine’ to the emperor which did not go down well seeing as questioning the divinity of the emperor was in the eyes of the Romans heresy. The fighting between members of the Roman Empire who had adopted Christianity and the empire itself had become too problematic to ignore and so the religion itself was integrated into Roman society This likely saw Christianity corrupted from its Jewish counterpart. It also seems unlikely that God would appoint any human as the leader of his church (e.g. The pope) after repeatedly pointing out how displeasing humanity’s conduct was to him. It does seem likely that upon integrating Christianity into their society, the newly formed Roman Catholic Church would include the idea of hell into their doctrine to ensure the obedience of the masses. Hell is not even unique to Christianity, many ancient religions including at least one example from Egypt have deities who took less than kindly to subjects which displeased them. Christians claim that the ultimate proof of Jesus is that he fulfilled over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament. We only have the word of the authors to go by on that point, and assuming these authors had a very good grasp of the Old Testament, there is nothing to suggest they could not have written the New Testament with the deliberate intention of linking parts of the Old Testament to Jesus knowing that it would be less convincing if they did not. It may not have been the original authors who did this either. Many of these perceived prophecies are not even prophecies at all, a case which the Jews would, and do, argue quite strongly. Such cases include the massacre of innocents appearing in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 2:16-18) which is said to be a prophecy but the original text (Jeremiah 31:15) appears to be a lament for those exiled to Babylon rather than a prophecy. The Psalm that is often said to refer to the crucifixion (Psalm 22:18) wherein the soldiers cast lots over clothing does not even refer to a crucifixion or bear resemblance to a prophecy and the popular story of the suffering servant (Isiah 53) is believed to refer to the people of Israel who would suffer a lot and the Jews believe it refers to the people of that land who would suffer because of the mistakes of their ancestors culminating in the exile to Babylon, it is not the only place Israel is called referred to as God’s servant. The other evidence theologians use is saying that a multitude of people other than the apostles saw Jesus after he died and rose again, yet these nameless people never testified to this and therefore the statement that a multitude of people saw him, according to the words of the writer, does not offer much weight in terms of evidence. If this number of people saw Jesus, surely they also saw the dead rising out of their graves as written in Matthew’s gospel and word would have gotten around of this bizarre event. Also, the gospels are claimed to be eye witness accounts, but there is no indication given as to who Mark is and Luke, as is made clear in Acts, was a companion of Paul and not one of the original disciples.

Odd Moments

Of particular note in the New Testament is when Jesus has a few peculiar out of character moments:

1. The cursing of the fig tree (Mark 11:12-14 & Matthew 21:18-22), it was out of season. The timing between when it withers changes between the two gospels where it is mentioned. Making it rapidly bear ripe fruit out of season, particularly seeing as someone was hungry at the time, would have been more impressive.

2. Jesus says treat misbehaving brethren who will not be talked back into line as you would a tax collector or pagan. These people were hated by Jewish society, it is odd that Jesus would be condoning this hatred to the point his comment is discriminatory (Matthew 18:15-17). He is essentially saying that this social norm in Jewish society is acceptable to him. For someone who encouraged the idea of love your enemies this seems to be a rather odd statement. This certainly does not fit in line with Paul’s later attitude of Christianity being for the gentiles, or pagans, whom the Jews did not favour. Jesus saying this is kind of like a pastor nowadays saying treat disobedient brethren as you would a parking inspector (aka parking attendant or civil enforcement officers). Not many people like them, especially if their busy placing a ticket on the windscreen of your car which may mean you either parked illegally or stayed too long which usually takes the inspector much less time to notice than it took you find and get into the parking spot.

3. The turning of the temple tables (Matthew 21:12-13), while it sounds cool, was likely to have gotten Jesus into a lot of trouble, this was especially a bad idea when a certain group of Jewish holy men wanted an excuse to have him arrested. It has a parallel in Nehemiah in which a similar incident takes place (Nehemiah 13).

4. The story of Jesus casting a number of demons, named legion, into a herd of pigs is a little odd (Matthew 8:28-34). Not only did Jesus destroy what was somebody’s livestock and livelihood (assuming being God he had no problem with his creation being unclean and it was not just a case of a Jewish person showing how much they disliked pigs or those who kept them as livestock). We are not told that he compensated the owner in any way. For once the people’s reactions are a bit more realistic to this odd spectacle as they are rather unnerved and ask Jesus to leave.

5. Mary has an out of character moment, despite being in on God’s plan from the start (unusual indeed for a woman) her and her family (it is assumed Joseph is not alive at this point) seemingly forgets whom Jesus is (not to say she had amnesia, she forgot he was the messiah). It is not even explained why Jesus’ family thought he was crazy (Mark 3:21) given that they, or at least Mary, was fully aware of his role as the Messiah.

6. The accounts of the resurrection. On attempting to use all four 4 gospels, and Paul's small account of resurrection from Corinthians 15:3-8, in an attempt to lay out the events in chronological order it becomes clear the accounts do not match up. This includes:
-  Jesus meets his disciple following his resurrection for the first time in at least two different locations quite a distance apart. To clarify, Mark and Matthew say the disciples were told to go to Galilee from Jerusalem which would mean they had a long trek ahead of them, even with the fastest horses it would have been a feat to have made it the same day. In Luke and John the disciples are said to have remained in the same place in Jerusalem and that is where they met Jesus.

- It is never explained why the women would have been taking stuff to the tomb when it had been sealed and they knew this. Somehow it seems doubtful that the guards would have disobeyed orders to let them into the tomb.

- What happens when and after Mary reaches the tomb also changes between gospels.

- Also, if Jesus was resurrected in his human body this does not explain how he was suddenly able to walk through walls or locked doors which would indicate Jesus did not require the stone to be rolled back from the tomb.

- The earthquake on the day of the resurrection is not mentioned in more than a single gospel account.

A more thorough examination of these conundrums can be found here:

 Theologians often use the example of people describing an accident with difference perspectives. Sure the details might be slightly different, but would they be so different to the point you would have two witnesses saying that the incident occurred in two different places located miles apart? If that happened then one of the witnesses got their information wrong. Another tactic, used in regard to the resurrection and the Bible in general, by theologians is something along the lines of 'the writers would not have written it if it weren't true because if it isn't they didn't seek to gain from it'. That could be said of any sacred text that forms the core of the religion of which it is a part and therefore does not prove the Bible we now have is God's word.

7. Some pastors that I have heard have taken a completely literal interpretation of what the New Testament says about forgetting the past, including sayings by Jesus and Paul, an example from the latter is Philippians 3:13-14. At least one of my aforementioned pastors has said that "we should forget the past because it is irrelevant" [sic] as per the sayings of the Bible (an add repeatedly played on a Christian radio station I used to listen to has an add that says the same thing). Although unnoticed by the offending pastor, or the radio station, this was ironic because Christians obviously don't consider the past to be irrelevant, otherwise they would not celebrate either Easter or Christmas, or use the Bible as a learning resource. There are many examples where we can learn from the past, such has implied by the quote "those who do not understand the past are doomed to repeat it". One example is where one of the primary ways science has progressed is by learning from what has been done in the past, i.e. past experiments and research.What the bible, and the pastors reading it for that matter, should say is that we should seek to understand the past but not allow it to control us which is different from forgetting it as the New Testament (and Old Testament to a lesser degree) suggests.

8. The Trinity, father, son and Holy Spirit is a major component of most Christian denominations. It is not named the trinity in the New Testament and the concept is absent from both Islam and Judaism both of which find the idea that God taking on human form blasphemous (the messiah of the Old Testament was not meant to be a person who was God incarnate according to Judaism, neither were they the Son of God). What is odd is that there is considerable disagreement on the concept of trinity amongst denominations, as well as their roles. The Bible doesn't help much either, Jesus says he is equal to the father in one verse (e.g. John 10:30-31) and then in another he is not (John 14:28). Although Christian's agree that Jesus is fully God Jesus prays to God i.e. himself and asks why has God forsaken him on the cross (which is sometimes interpreted to be a reference to a Psalm) but if Jesus is God how could he forsake himself?

Lewis Trillema

The Trillema argument, started by CS Lewis in his writing, Mere Christianity, has become increasingly popular in contemporary churches. It argues that you only have three options in whom Jesus is. That is he was lord, lunatic or liar. This is a false dichotomy as it assumes that there are no other possibilities or that there are numerous theories people can come up with on whom Jesus was. It also ignores a possible fourth argument that Jesus was a legend, this does not deny that he existed rather that his story became an elaborated version of a historical event, or historical events some of which do have evidence but this does not make them true. The Lewis trilemma also assumes that God did write the bible and that his words have been accurately transcribed into the book over the centuries. We would not be calling Christ a liar or lunatic if we do not think he was the one doing the writing. Even in modern times people get misquoted, and even famous historical figures such as Gandhi have sayings attributed to them that people dispute to this day (the ‘eye for an eye’ quote, or ‘God has no religion’ is believed to similar to something he said but whether or not he did is disputed). That does not necessarily mean we think less of them for that, we might not even think less of the person responsible for the misquote if it was just a mistake.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Old Testament Peculiarities part 3: After the plagues

After the plagues

After going to so much effort to get the Hebrews out of Egypt God finally leads them out, only to kill a large portion of them (probably prompting a ‘what the hell?’ from Moses, without the hell bit). This happens on at least two occasions. The survivors then march through the desert for 40 years until the passing of their leader. According to Exodus 14 there were over half a million Israelite’s that left Egypt (and that’s just counting the men, not children or women, their livestock, provisions and any other goods they took with them). Not only did would this have resulted in a logistical nightmare to provide food (which was given) and water for such a large group, such an enormous number of slaves leaving the country en masse would have destroyed Egypt’s economy and been a disaster within itself.

When it came to killing some of the Israelite’s on the first occasion this is shown to not be entirely God’s idea but even if Moses or Aron were the main people behind this idea, if God was not in agreement with it then why did not he stop Moses or Aron from pursuing it? God had also just told Moses not to kill, yet no acknowledgement that this commandment has been broken right after it was made is given. This is a particularly controversial complaint made by non-believers. While they often complain about God killing people, I have more of a problem with the fact that he condones the Israelites doing it even on his own orders at times. There are several occasions throughout the Israelite’s journey through the desert where this occurs, at one point the Israelite’s complain about these killings which promptly results in more people getting killed (Numbers 16). Understandably such events would have been a huge blow to the morale of the Israelite’s but apparently this reduction in morale was yet another cause for reducing the Israelite’s population once again, although it is not specified by how much in this case (Numbers 11). Had God decided there were too many Israelite’s to journey effectively through the desert and decided on a rather grim means of dealing with this? It would seem that way.Although these killings occurred usually because of people rebelling against God it is little surprise that they did if their countrymen were frequently executed for one reason or another.

Moses is only told idol worshiping is wrong after the Israelites have already started worshiping a golden statue of a cow. He might not have known this was happening at the time, but he would not have been able to tell the Israelites until after the act had been committed and after he had received this commandment. Had the Isrealite’s been told it was wrong to worship the golden cow before this point? If not, then they should not have been killed. Also, they seem to suffer the biggest case of mass stupidity in this chapter, considering they had just witnessed 10 plagues (probably even more than what is mentioned after the Nile was turned to blood), been guided by a massive pillar of flame yet decide to worship an idol instead. They would have been only too aware of what happens when you annoy God-given what just happened to the Egyptians. The bible does make people sound really thick sometimes.

God never teaches the Israelites any diplomacy, nor does he appear very supporting of the idea of diplomacy at almost all of the time (the story of Jonah could be counted as an exception). The Canaanites were not even served an eviction notice before the Hebrews moved in, and they were simply evicted by the conquering of their land, this does not make the Israelite’s look much different from other nations that would do, or try to do, the same thing to them. Nor did anyone attempt to convert a couple of the Canaanites (or the Egyptians even for that matter). Not for the first time, and not for the last, the bible says this was because they were evil. No doubt the Canaanites thought the same thing about the Israelite’s when they were being invaded.

A few Strange Occurrences

The amount of weird, gruesome and unrealistic things that occur in the Old Testament could very well fill this entire blog although I have no intention of going over them all in great detail. The only ones I have included are those which played a significant role in making me question the authenticity of the Bible as God's word.

 One thing I did not understand about the Old Testament from very early is people love dying far too much (with the exception of a few very notable individuals the New Testament continues this trend, especially in Revelations). No justification for this strange desire to be killed is given. Also the Old Testament has a remarkably gross fascination with certain body organs (not including metaphorical references to the heart). It also has an odd fascination with human reproduction and in one incident, the bowel functions of a certain Moab king when he is stabbed by a messenger from God. Amusingly though, the incident with the Moab king is probably one of the closest points the bible comes to being comedy since the king’s attendants and guards think he has gone to the toilet when they smell the mess from outside the throne room. One wonders at the conservation that went on between those guards. The Moabites do not get long to ponder their embarrassment though as the Israelite’s diplomatic shortcomings are made obvious in the next few verses. Following are some of the more unusual verses, in some of them people do not act in a way the reader would expect.

1. In one incident we read about soldiers practically queue up to be incinerated by a prophet (2 Kings 1) after asking him to come down from a hill (in contrast another unlucky group got chewed up for telling a prophet to go up). They appear quite eager, at least until the very end of the tale, to be incinerated and are not in the least bit phased that the groups before them got crisped by a guy who can call fire from heaven which cannot have been something they see every day.

2. The death of 5000 or more people who looked into the Ark of the Covenant between God and the Israelites is a peculiar tale. If the Ark was inside the tent (Tabernacle) it was sometimes kept in, it would have gotten difficult to get inside to see it. The last few people in this incident must have seen it coming considering by the 5000th individual there was likely to have been a large pile of bodies around the ark. One would expect the last few individuals to think-“Hmm this is probably not a smart idea…”
Apparently it was.

Note that touching the dead made you unclean to (from Leviticus), so it looks like whoever dealt with that mess to reach the Ark would have been unclean for the remainder of their life (which would have been short had they repeated the same mistake). The amount of dead is absurdly high, 50,000 in some translations. This would have led to a plague if the bodies were not removed and dealt with properly and anybody witnessing that sight would probably be more likely to freak out and run rather than go near the pile of corpses even if they were under orders to retrieve the Ark. Even the least superstitious of people would have thought it was cursed and kept away. There is some debate over the correct number of casualties in the verse and whether 50, 000 was a mistake, since a village of 50, 000 would have been very rare in the region described and 50,000 people crowding around a small cart carrying the Ark, or in a tent, would have not been feasible, 5000 would not have been very feasible either. Had the victims been described as dying from an unexplained illness days or weeks later following their encounter with the Ark this may have been more realistic.

3.God kills a man who stops the ark falling of an ox cart, the origins of the phrase ‘no good deed goes unpunished’, or the guy had horrible karma which is not a belief associated with Judaism or Christianity.

4. The order to Saul, by God, kill the Amekalites down to the smallest infant is extreme. They are not the only nation, which God deems worthy of annihilation either. This order seems strange to, given that God had told the Israelites not to murder as one of the first commandments.

- The justification given by Christians for this is that they were all evil. It seems unlikely, even in the case of the Genesis flood that all man’s thoughts were evil. This may have been the author’s own perception in which case they may have been through a lot and been quite twisted and bitter. The bible focuses a lot on humanity’s ability to do evil. Rarely, if ever, does it focus on man’s capacity to do good sometimes through considerable trial.

- Many religions have encouraged doing good to strangers and others in general. This is not unique in any way to the Christian doctrine.

5. The slaughter of 42 little boys (2 Kings 2:23-24) who called Elisha a baldy (possibly one of my least favourite moments in the Bible, it does not even look like it has much purpose with the text before or after it).
This passage is just gross as is the means by which the kid are executed; by two bears. Prior to this the author had been having an obsession with lions eating people, it looks like at this particular moment he ran out of lions. How Elisha was not emotionally traumatised by sight is anyone’s guess, he just carries on as if it is just an ordinary day. He would have had to have some serious personal issues not to be psychologically scarred by this event. This verse appears out of the blue, it is entirely random, we are not told in the preceding text up to the execution that Elisha was afraid or in any way harassed beyond being called names. Elisha’s personal safety is not mentioned as being jeopardised despite this being the subject of many explanations of this. Elisha is just out walking along and then suddenly that happens. One wonders why none of the victims ran 42 people is a bit of a handful, or rather mouthful, for two bears. Had Elisha repeated this story to anyone it is doubtful they would have believed him or thought he was drunk. There are many excuses for this verse some odd and some distasteful, but the fact is God could have done something other than have the boys torn from limb to limb by a couple of bears. He could have:
- Cursed them with hair loss showing he had a sense of humour.
- Knocked them out
- Swept Elisha away somewhere else.
- Frozen the kids temporarily

Heck there were no limits to what God could have done OTHER than respond to Elisha’s request to have them killed. In keeping with his personality portrayed in the New Testament, he should have told Elisha to turn the other cheek. Even if you argue that Elisha did not murder the boys, the bears did, Elisha was the one who orchestrated the incident by calling them down from the mountain. The text does not indicate the bears were nearby, if they were not then it would appear the boys simply stood and waited for their execution for some time which is most unlikely.

Modern translations of the bible water this down by saying the victims were youths and that the King James was not translated well if God aided these people in translating the bible why did they mess the verse in King James up, among other things. Some will even go so far as to call the 42 boys a mob, a word strongly associated with a group of people intent on violence, such are the negative connotations associated with this word that upon hearing it not many people ask, what caused these individuals to form a mob or commit the actions they did? It won’t be long before some translations start calling the youths thugs, which is extremely effective word at removing any sympathy the audience might have had for the people being referred to as thugs.

- There is an odd difference between this verse and God’s response to another VIP, assuming Elisha was one being a prophet and all, whose personal safety is actually jeopardised in the New Testament.
The difference between God’s reactions to Elisha being teased and Jesus being actually threatened are profound. Elisha is given two bears at his disposal to deal with the menace, when Jesus is threatened however God does nothing, no bears, no lions (or tigers), or anything. Considering Elisha is a prophet, and Jesus is, from the narrative at least, God’s son this is a very big contrast.

6. Lot, who is apparently the only righteous person in either Sodom or Gomorrah, tries to give away his two daughters to some less than nice people, the daughters apparently thought this was totally normal and were okay with it, which seems a bit unrealistic. Nor does his angel companion rebuke him. Lot cannot have been that righteous because the moment his wife is killed he commits incest, he did not seem to have been bothered that his daughters would have been killed had he handed them over either.

- On that distasteful subject, Leviticus tells us that incest is prohibited and abhorrent to God. Yet it would appear Adam and Eve as well as Noah and his family had no choice in the matter.

7. The ‘happy is they that dash their infants against the rocks’ in Psalms, which cops a lot of flak when taken out of context is written by an author portraying their less than friendly feelings toward the Babylonians by saying he or the Israelites would be happy killing Babylonian babies. While this was not entirely without reason, the whole ‘love thou enemy’ found in the New Testament is certainly not followed here. The author certainly shows no love toward his enemies here suggesting this chapter or book was not written in any way shape or form by God.

8. The concubine story is quite odd and disgusting (Judges 19-20). The victim in this story is assaulted and then has their body divided into 12 parts, one for each of the tribes of Israel.

9. In Judges 11 a man (Jephthah) makes an oath to God that he will sacrifice the first thing that comes out of his house, maybe he thought it was his wife and he wanted to divorce. However, the person that comes out of his house is his daughter and he sacrifices her. This is more explainable in that swearing an oath to God was forbidden and he had to pay the penalty for breaking that law.

10. In another case of a slaughter-fest in the Old Testament God gets annoyed at the Assyrian army trying to invade Israel and slaughters them all. He does not give them a chance to retreat or kill a few and then tell them to surrender nor does he use any kind of diplomacy, which should be easier for God than any human being. Again on the issue of free will, they were not given a choice to retreat. Given the large number the bible gives, over 100,000 anyone cleaning this mess if they were an Israelite would have been unclean for the remainder of their existence, the dead would have caused a plague to if they remained there for long, and since the dead were on the doorstep of the Israelites, such a plague would not have boded well for them.

11. In keeping with the Bible’s trend of large body counts whenever a protagonist feels either slightly annoyed or threatened, Samson kills a thousand men with a donkey’s jawbone. Despite his claim to fame, before his wife cut his hair, this seems highly unrealistic.

11. Although not so much an odd moment in itself, the story of Uriah’s widow who King David fathered a child with, gets some attention due to the unfair punishment given to the child born out of this relationship. If the Bible is taken literally, then yes it does seem unfair that a baby would be punished for his parents crimes despite having no knowledge of those crimes and obviously no involvement in them. However, if the Bible is viewed as a collection of stories which can teach us something, then the story can be viewed as a lesson on how a parent’s actions can have consequences that affect other family members in this case their children.

If I had read these verses in the Old Testament while I was still a Christian I would have tried to form some rationale for why they were there, including the Old Testament is no longer relevant in today’s church. or that people were more cruel and violent then than they are now (which considering there are lots more people on Earth now is debatable). These verses are not even the reason I lost my faith, but they did make me question the credibility of the bible, they certainly made me think God had not written it and that he had indeed had little to do with its writing. Obviously, the Old Testament was still relevant to the New Testament authors, who probably had a decent knowledge of the Jewish sacred texts; otherwise, they would not have referenced them repeatedly. These verses certainly made me think that the bible was not meant to be taken literally, certainly not to the extremes some denominations would take it.

Asking questions, at least at groups in the small semi-rural churches I attended prompted an unusually fast change of subject or a statement along the lines ‘it is not our right to question God’ or ‘God’s ways are mysterious/not our ways. I do not mind mysterious, but I do mind that it makes sense if I have to behave like a pawn in an elaborate chess match between God and the devil (pawns being the ones who are usually missed the least when sacrificed). Despite God’s ways being mysterious many Christians will make statements that give the profound impression that they are somehow privy to the inner workings of God’s mind, his personality, his feelings, emotions and actions. So when a Christian rebuttals a unbeliever’s scepticism by saying ‘God works in mysterious ways’ they should probably examine the fact that they are claiming to understand God’s ways despite having just said that was not possible. As an agnostic I do not claim to know who god is, or even consider assigning it human attributes.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Old Testament Peculiarities Part 2: The 10 Plagues of Egypt

The plagues of Egypt

Very few Christian’s question the authenticity of the ten plagues, here I provide some brief points as to why they probably did not occur in the manner presented in the story and a few other issues with it. First off however, very few people read the story and feel sorry for the Egyptians, at least among Christian circles, despite the fact they end up in a very sorry state by the end of it all because God kept hardening the pharaoh’s heart. From the start the audience is led to believe the Egyptians are evil and by the end that they deserved their suffering regardless of how extreme it might have been. I might be more inclined to let the issues slide had God not taken his dislike of Egypt’s ruler out on the entire country.
God hardens the pharaoh’s heart on multiple occasions, removing his free will. The fact that their leader may have not been quite himself appears to have been missed by those in the Egyptian court. The Egyptians would have at least thought that, because of the plagues, that something was wrong and wondered why their leader was seemingly incapable of doing something about it. For one, the pharaoh was seen as a god but was unable to stop the plagues, it seems likely that the Egyptians would have blamed him for what was going on and rebelled especially when their land and the very life source of their kingdom (the Nile) had been decimated by the plagues. You would expect also that there would have been at least one attempt on the pharaoh’s life when it became obvious things were not going well under his leadership. No attempt on the pharaoh’s life is mentioned (except by God at the parting of the Red Sea). Even if the pharaoh had the loyalty of the army and his people or even just the army, they were not likely to remain loyal for long when suffering from spoiled food, disease, lack of water and the loss of the livestock. Given the pharaohs heart was hardened, and God was interfering with his ability to rule properly by doing so, the slaughter of the firstborn seems unnecessary. They were not necessarily children as many who are not familiar with the passage might think but still it was not necessary, especially killing the firstborn animals.

There are further four strange things that occur in the plagues:

1. All the Egyptians livestock died, multiple times, they were killed in at least two of the plagues, the 5th, then the hail from heaven and once more when the firstborn animals were killed. Unless God was feeling particularly sadistic that day because he was so annoyed and brought them back to life so they could be killed again later this makes no sense.

2. How were the Egyptian court magicians, whoever they were, able to perform the same things as Moses? These included turning staff into snakes. No suggestion that they were shocked at having those powers is given, and it was likely not God who gave them that ability. Not only this, why would they want to replicate some of the plagues that God had made? In addition, they tried to turn the Nile to blood when it was already turned to blood. This does not make sense unless they were able to turn it back to just water instead which means they somehow possessed powers similar to God that would suggest that there was more than one deity at work here. This does not agree with what bible scholars have to say on the subject.

3. The Egyptians chase after the Israelites on chariots, despite the death of their livestock which presumably included their horses. Even if they did not get killed during the plagues that killed the livestock, their fouled water supply would have killed them. The fish would have died, along with every other living thing in it that could not relocate, leading to an outbreak of disease that would have infected anything drinking the water, horses included which means Egypt would have been in no position to rally a large enough number of chariots to run after the Israelites. One theory states that at least a couple of Egyptian gods were demons in disguise and God was having a fight with them while creative and interesting, it explains the bit about pharaoh’s magicians but not a lot else. Either way it seems entirely unfeasible, given that Egypt no longer had a king, no longer had livestock or crops, their water had been fouled (everything in it died from the water being turned to blood), and they no longer had an army, or at least a large portion had been destroyed, that they would have remained a viable power. The fact that their military might was at the bottom of the Red Sea is a particularly serious problem, not only was Egypt crippled, starving, and no doubt demoralized at this point, not to mention suffering from a few unpleasant bugs due to the Nile being bloodied and everything in it dying, Egypt also had no way of defending itself and the warlike Philistines were just next door. All these events occurred within the lifetime of one pharaoh in the story, had the plagues occurred over multiple generations then maybe they would be feasible, but this is not what the story says. Even if Egypt could have looked to their neighbors for help, their neighbors would likely have taken Egypt over and not allowed it to recover as an independent nation. Egypt would have, without a doubt collapsed. That is, unless God returned to Egypt and, by restoring the kingdom to its previous state, offered them an olive branch in exchange for all their troubles and letting the Hebrews go. This is entirely speculative and given the narrative that follows it is unlikely that such a miracle would have occurred.

4. When God casts darkness over Egypt for 3 days, the pharaoh is told that he will not see Moses again, but before the end of the narrative he does see Moses again.

There is an Egyptian poem, the Ipuwer Papyrus that has been pointed out to contain some similarities to Exodus but there is a couple of problems, first is the fact that Egypt could not have survived a disaster of the magnitude described in Exodus if it occurred throughout the kingdom and the second is the poem describes an invasion not an exodus, it is possible that it describes a famine or some other disaster that resulted as a direct consequence of this invasion. The closest the text comes to looking remotely like Exodus is describing the Nile as having the colour of blood. The poem refers to an invasion so this is easily explained in that if for some reason the invading army was driven across the Nile or tried to cross it and the Egyptians met them there then the resulting battle would have made the Nile look bloody if it was large enough. The burning of crops or buildings by an invading army could have sent large plumes of smoke into the air turning the sky and sun a shade of red and brown across the affected region that would have looked very apocalyptic. There is no mention of Moses, his brother or the Israelites either in the Egyptian text.

It is possible some of these events occurred, though not over the time period portrayed in Exodus or anywhere near the same extremes. It is also possible they only occurred at a single location in Egypt but this is not how it described in the book of Exodus.

The loss of fresh water presents the most serious problem with this story, according to the text all the Egyptian’s water had turned to blood and if this lasted more even a short space of time dehydration would have resulted both in animals and people. The fish and other aquatic organisms adapted to the normal environment of the Nile would have died, and anything dependent on them would have been forced to leave the river, including aquatic birds and the Nile’s less popular reptiles. This would have led to a disease outbreak when people tried to drink the fouled water, which would have been a lot more than just the highly inconvenient pest problem that occurs in the plagues that directly follow the turning of the Nile to blood according to the narrative. Disease outbreaks do not discriminate by race or religion so neither Israelite nor Egyptian would have been safe from the diseases that would have befallen the Nile from all the rotting fish in it. Yes the bible does describe a plague of lice, frogs, locusts and boils but if your water supply was fouled by everything in it dying, these would be the very least of your problems if you drank the water and the Israelites would have had just as much of an unpleasant time of things as the Egyptians. I don’t think it is necessary to describe exactly what un-pleasantries they would have endured, but it would have quickly made things much worse.

More than likely these are simply stories and allegories written to convey God’s devotion to the Israelite’s, a reoccurring theme throughout the Old Testament.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Old Testament Peculiarities part 1

Old Testament Peculiarities part 1 of 3

Much of the Old Testament contains odd and unrealistic stories much of which does not support the idea of a benevolent God. Nor do they make the idea that God had much say if any, in the writing of the bible credible. Most Christians avoid the issue by saying the Old Testament is no longer relevant. Some even say that they were written in a time when humans more inclined to be evil, yet people still do nasty things to each other sometimes far more subtle and corruption is far more widespread than it probably was in the Old Testament times. There is no justification given for why these people were evil, just that they were evil. One of the oldest rules of writing is show, do not tell, a rule the bible does not always follow when trying to make points about everyone being evil. We are only told they are evil from the point of view of a presumably Israelite author, who had a typically negative view of their neighbors although this was not entirely without reason given the Babylonian exile, trouble with their neighbours invading periodically and according to the bible, enslavement by Egypt as well (more on that later). The bible would suggest that all the members of these nations, right down to the smallest infants were evil because of what those who held power in those nations did to the Israelite’s. This is typical of the sort of thinking of parents pass down to their children after they have been oppressed by another nation. This leads those children to express a similar dislike for anyone from the oppressive nation, even if the people they direct their hate towards had nothing to do with the actions of their predecessors or their countrymen. This thinking does not seem worthy of an omniscient and all-powerful God. There is no way to prove that if those infants in these stories had been removed from their society and brought up with the Israelite’s and treated the same as Israelite children then they would not have grown up hating the Israelite’s but it is probable as a hypothetical situation that if treated well they would have borne no ill feelings towards the Israelite’s.

It is important to note with the Old Testament that while the authors presumably all believed in the same God, they had different interpretations of who he was leading into subtle and sometimes glaring differences in God’s personality from one book to another, or sometimes such as in Psalms, within the same book. Psalms such as Psalm 23, often cited by evangelicals when they spot a potential convert, depict a nicer deity than some of the other authors such as the author of Kings. Despite Richard Dawkin’s commentary on the Old Testament God, – who states in his book The God Delusion- “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” (Dawkin’s is hardly what I call the subtle type)- there are moments where the author of some of the Old Testament books thinks God is merciful or compassionate in contrast to what some of the other authors thought. Psalm 116:5 gives us a different view of God compared to some of the ways he is portrayed in the Old Testament.
“Gracious is the Lord and righteous; yes, our God is merciful”- Psalm 116:5

God’s emotions in the Old Testament are decidedly human. He gets angry and destroys some of his subjects on at least one occasion in a rage (almost all in the case of the flood). He becomes biased towards certain groups of people (such as the Israelites, at least until they annoy him). He has at least one moment of regret just before the Genesis flood. He loves making things but gets extremely frustrated when they do not work properly (while many people can attest to this we are not perfect so this is presumably not applicable to God), when they do work he enjoys the things he makes at least until they stop working the way he wants and sometimes throws them out, people included. He loves as humans love but sometimes appears to hate as well, gets jealous as a human does and desires recognition to extreme degrees that for a person would be considered unhealthy. Oddly, God does not like some of creation very much as some animals are described as unclean. According to some theologians God decided some animals were deemed as unclean because they did not fit to a pattern, or kind, as those animals that the Israelite’s were more accustomed to.

On God’s emotions

 If God is 100% good, why does he get jealous? Christian’s claim he is good but rarely if ever in literature and in reality jealousy results in something good. In fact in most of literature jealousy results in something bad happening, Shakespeare’s plays for one are notorious for characters doing this and they usually do not realize they are doing it until it is far too late (hence the concept of the tragic hero). Usually half the characters, or the main one at the very least, end up dead by the last act as a result. Nothing good comes from jealousy.

Many Christians counter this by saying that God’s jealousy is like that of a husband or wife that has been cheated by their spouse and that is righteous jealousy. How is this jealousy? Anger at a betrayal is not quite the same. Righteous jealousy is a complete and total oxymoron. Either way, rarely if ever does jealousy promote feelings of goodwill toward the subject of one's jealousy (e.g. a jealous spouse will likely not feel like being kind to someone they think is flirting with their partner).

Paul, despite my dislike of some of what he writes, provides a wonderful passage on what love is. Commonly known as the love passage, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 reads as follows:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”

God is said to be love, and evangelists sometimes substitute love for God when reading this passage. Yet God is shown to be boast, get jealous and is easily angered in multiple instances. Also, if he was not self seeking would not desire the amount of worship commonly given to him and punish those who fail to do this by condemning them. While not keeping a record of wrongs for Christians, God does keep a record of wrongs committed by non-believers according to the Bible.

– Also on God’s anger, how does a deity who has planned everything and is omniscient get angry? Usually one gets angry because of circumstances that are beyond their control or which they feel is beyond their control (not applicable to God). God getting angry is kind of like suggesting a fiction author could go into a rage at something a character in their book does and then throw the book in the fire. Since they are the one writing and they know everything that is going to happen this makes no sense. This is assuming God is omniscient.

This leads on to the highly controversial topic of predestination previously mentioned before on this blog, some denominations agree with the idea, some do not. If our fates are planned however, this means God knows our fates before we are born, knows who and who will not go to heaven and according to predestination God chooses us, not the other way around. So in other words, your fate is already decided.
Why does God resort to killing? Surely there are other ways to resolve relationship issues caused by sin. I do not understand why the bible would glorify this either because there is nothing glorious about killing something that is completely incapable of defending itself against you. It also makes the idea that some believers have, that the Bible is God’s love letter to humanity sound very wrong indeed. While this could be argued of the New Testament except for Revelations, I have doubts about how romantic or interment a letter would sound if it contained the level of violence described in the Old Testament, it was not always solely humanity that was committing or orchestrating the violence either.

Strange Moments in the Old Testament

The following will span the next two entries of this blog and will only focus on some of the stranger moments that occur in the Old Testament with the primary focus being on the most well known ones.

The Story of Isaac

This was a story I also learnt very early on as a Christian, at the time I never questioned it along with anything else theology or Bible related that I heard during that time. Here are a couple of things of note from that story:
Isaac is reduced to a total idiot in the story where Adam is told to sacrifice him. In the narrative, Isaac was apparently totally oblivious to the his father’s intent to sacrifice him even as he was being bound, one suspects that at that point at least Isaac may have queued to what was going on. Instead he keeps asking Abraham where the sacrifice is, not realizing it is actually himself even as he is being bound (by which stage Isaac seems so stupid Abraham was probably feeling less that concerned for his well being). Also, Isaac was totally unfazed at nearly being stabbed by his father; one would suspect that he would have been understandably quite upset afterwards.

What did Abraham tell Sarah? In context she has desired a son her whole life, then one day her husband says that he has been ordered by God to sacrifice that son, one would think Sarah would not have been pleased and possibly divorced Abraham there, and then, the test was hardly very kind on Sarah. Did her husband lie about what he was going to do, which would make the story even worse. Why would God demand something from Abraham that was undoubtedly traumatic, assuming Abraham loved Isaac.
Why was Abraham tested when God already knew the outcome? Some have theorized that an evil spirit, not God, told Abraham to sacrifice his son and God stopped the plan from being carried out at the last moment, which is more feasible


Thursday, 24 April 2014

Problems with the Genesis Flood

On the flood

The Genesis flood is considered a fact by many Christians despite an enormous number of plausibility issues. Many are first introduced to it in Sunday school or some Christian kids group with pictures of content looking animals upon a boat riding the waves of a vast ocean with a rainbow somewhere in the background, often Noah or the iconic dove are also included in these pictures. These pictures often include well known animals including giraffes, lions and elephants (of course it would not be kid friendly to suggest that the lions were likely to get peckish). However few Christians question whether or not the flood was global or if it was even possible for it to be global. Rarely is it considered that the author may have simply chosen to exaggerate, to convey the idea of the flood being very large. It is not impossible that a boat, or boats, could have been used to ship domestic animals and people to somewhere safer in an attempt to ensure that they were not killed in a very large flood. Or they could have fled to another land following  a cataclysm in their own country. People fleeing a cataclysm in a region populated by some of the worlds largest civilizations would have been able to spread the story far and wide. To the people of an ancient civilization without science, and little in the way of technology to help provide an answer to why an enormous natural disaster was occurring, it would look like the work of an angry deity pouring their judgement upon the Earth.

 It is never suggested that God simply ‘pressed the reset button’ in the narrative but that is the only way the flood could have actually occurred without running into the problems listed below.

  • A basic knowledge of the biological sciences, helped with a decent knowledge of the fundamental workings of ecology raises many problems, especially for creationists who think the Earth is much younger than the age generally accepted by the scientific community. Ecology is far more complicated than many give it credit for, given the number of things that can an effect an ecosystem and the organisms found within it and given how easy changes in conditions one or more factors either living or non-living can have significant and often complicated effects on an ecosystem, a global flood would have been disastrous for the Earth’s biodiversity. To illustrate how complex ecology is think of everything that makes someone who they are: that is, their genetics, family, environment, health, financial status, peers and friends (even these categories are quite broad). In this example there are many variables that make someone the person. Even small mutations within a persons genes can have profound consequences (cells, both plant and animal, have ‘fail safe’ mechanisms that prevent these consequences most of the time). In the same way the characteristics that make up an ecosystem are determined by a variety of variables many of which if altered or destroyed, as in the case of a global flood, would change that ecosystem or cause it to collapse if it could not recover. Ecosystem collapse can happen in the event of a significant disturbance and the flood could definitely be categorized as that.
  • Every ecosystem on Earth, to sound very unscientific about it, would have been trashed. Including those in the ocean and rivers where organisms require specific light levels, temperatures and salinity to survive. Estuarine organisms can survive variable salinities more however, this account for a small majority of marine life. Organisms that live in freshwater systems that cannot tolerate large changes in salinity (or lack there of) of their environment let alone being inundated by seawater in which they would have had no chance (freshwater fish kept as pets will die if accidentally placed in seawater).
  • Organisms within ecosystems form complex interactions with other members of that ecosystem and sometimes rely on these for survival. These interactions would have been disrupted or destroyed by a global flood, leading to the extinction of many of these animals (and plants). This would also have led to the disruption of food webs and other complicated species interactions that meant the affected animals were not able to complete their life-cycle and would have died.
  • Kelp forests and coral reefs, which attract a large abundance of organisms, which reproduce in these areas, exist in a narrow range of temperature and depth. They would have most certainly been demolished by a global flood removing a vital component of the ecosystems of which they are part of. Without them, the survival of marine life dependent on these would have been unlikely. This would have included organisms that rely on them for food and shelter. Kelp and mangrove forests provide shelters in which juvenile fish can survive with much lower mortality rates than in the open ocean due to being eaten, these fish and animals that rely on them for food would have died when the kelp and mangroves were destroyed in a global flood. We are seeing a comparable situation with the loss f kelp forests and reefs where the organisms found in these areas have declined in numbers.
  • Some species reproduce in freshwater and upriver from the sea to do this, there would have been nowhere for them to reproduce so they would have died out to.
  • It is very unlikely Noah brought all the corals (which would not have survived and would have been dangerous to handle), plants and sessile marine and freshwater organisms onto the ark. Not to mention you then have to account for all the beetles and insects, some of which would have been inadvertently squashed during the voyage.
  • It is difficult enough these days to restore an ecosystem that has been fragmented, degraded or destroyed, particularly if the original inhabitants have been reduced to a very small number. It is impossible for an ecosystem to just restore itself within a very small space of time when there is little or nothing left of it, yet that is what many interpretations of this story suggest happens.
  • Any taxonomist can tell you that there well over a million species of animal, of which vertebrates make up a very small percentage. Among the vertebrates, many species, are unique to the areas in which they are found and cannot be found in the fossil records of areas such as the Middle East. Many of these areas are isolated and there is no way short of a miracle animals in these areas could have reached the Ark. Some animals are incredibly slow, so if summoned to the Ark would take a very long time to reach it, animals like the sloth would probably not have been able to make the journey within their lifespan. 
  • Recovery would not have been possible for animals with a low fecundity (where fecundity refers to birth rate, rabbits for example have a very high fecundity compared to some other mammals such as humans). This is a problem for wildlife conservationists today, even with far larger numbers of animals within a species than were available to Noah. Animals with minimal genetic diversity stand less chance of surviving any natural selection agents such as disease. Ecologists have now defined a threshold below which, a species becomes unrecoverable and extinction is inevitable, it is well above the number of animals of each species that are described as surviving the flood, of these survivors Noah sacrificed some despite God knowing how detrimental that would be to their recovery). Among the only organisms that could survive from only two individuals are bacteria which reproduce by binary fission that does not require a second individual.
    • On the subject of disease, disease would have been rife aboard the ark. 18th century sailing vessels carrying people, their cargo and livestock had terrible trouble with disease outbreaks not counting those caused by dietary insufficiencies that resulted from being offshore for so long. Assuming Noah had far more cargo than any sailing ship that has been built since; this would have been an enormous problem.
    • How did microbes and parasitic organisms survive the voyage? Some of these would have had to kill their host in order to survive. Other pathogens make their host sick, sometimes but not always killing them, so chances are if they were on board the Ark, Noah would have had some rather messy and unpleasant situations to deal with.
  • Some insects would have had to kill other insects in order to breed and thereby survive, there are some rather unpleasant reproductive habits in the insect world that often result in the death of the male organism involved in the process (the praying mantis being a better known example). I will not expand on this here but any entomology enthusiasts will find lots of information elsewhere.
Without a doubt the author of this story, whoever they were, had no idea how large the planet was or just how enormous the abundance and diversity of organisms on this planet is. Finding that out when they were trying hard enough to survive would have been far from the author’s mind. Likely, they were aware of animals and plants occurring in the region in which they lived but knew little of what lay beyond (which probably was meaningless to them). Therefore they would have had no knowledge of animal species or plant species occurring beyond the Middle-East or their homeland, which would mean they would have had no knowledge of most of the world’s animals. To them, their country and surrounding regions was the entire world, there was no Americas, no poles, no South-East Asia or Oceania, their world, the Earth, was the region in which they lived. These same people also believed the Earth had edges, was flat, was held up by pillars and that it did not move (Psalm 104:5). Without astronomy they had no way of knowing any differently.

If the water had risen above 5 km breathing would have become difficult, and if it receded within the time frame given then the resulting humidity would have killed everyone. Also, the amount of water required to increase the sea level by 8 km is enormous and would have resulted in a deluge that would have been difficult for the Ark or its inhabitants to withstand unless it was totally sealed (and with a large number of animals on board that would had some unpleasant consequences of its own, the smell might have been the least of Noah’s worries).
For the reasons described, the flood was likely a regional flood, which affected many civilizations within the region it occurred within the areas of the modern-day Middle East and North Africa.

What did the flood achieve?
In the context of the narrative, the flood achieves absolutely nothing. People still sinned following the flood. This included Noah who got drunk and as far as Noah was concerned this also one of his sons, who was cursed for covering his drunk father with a blanket (you do not notice the cold as much when intoxicated so that was unfair). Afterwards Noah curses his son, in a bizarre overreaction and curses all his descendants who later become known as the Canaanites, for whom the Bible authors offers little sympathy despite the fact they never asked to be cursed by someone who probably had a hangover at the time (given the stressful circumstances it’s hard to blame Noah for getting drunk).
  • No attempt is mentioned of God trying to intervene before the flood except for Noah and his family, they are said to be the only righteous people on Earth yet later on more than one occasion the bible states that there is no one righteous on Earth, not one.

  • Mankind populated the Earth twice, considering that the Earth was recovering from a flood on the second occasion and both instances started off with a very tiny population, this would have taken far longer than 6000 years (even if God restored all the ecosystems assuming he did not create more people to replace those who died, if he had then the idea of everyone being descended from Noah’s family is no longer valid). The bible says that humanity covered the Earth, which would have taken far longer than stated here given the size of the planet. Again the author was ignorant to this fact, so they are not entirely at fault. Young earth creationists ignore this problem. Extensive research into mass extinction events that have occurred throughout Earth’s history, the most well-known being the Cretaceous extinction event, can be used to provide clues as to how long it would take life on Earth to recover from a widespread catastrophe, though none of them are quite as profound as a flood drowning everything. Based on studies on mass extinction events it would take life far longer than just 6,000 years for life to recover, and that is without the disaster wiping out every single ecosystem in existence leaving just a few animals behind. Some journal articles put the estimated time for ecological recovery as approximately 20- 30 million years. So unless God hit the ‘reset button’ it is impossible that the Earth would have completely recovered from the flood if the Earth was less than ten thousand years old.

Further points:
  • Christians will say there is evidence of a global flood. More likely, this is the culmination of many flooding events across the Earth and the movement of the plates. It is also likely that based on the ice age events theory some flooding occurred at the end of these periods. Floods likely represented a terrifying paradox for ancient people; the idea that the very life source of their people could well kill them was probably not pleasant.
  • Some say that the receding water froze at the poles, while this accounts for a large volume of water this would only raise the sea level about 70 meters, maybe a bit more if you include glaciers found within mountain ranges but this still leaves over 7 km until reaching the peak of Mount Everest, you still need a kilometer rise in sea levels at least to inundate the smallest mountain ranges. While the author does say the mountains were covered, there is no reason to suggest they were not exaggerating.
There is actually evidence within the text to suggest that the flood was not global and it is a rather iconic image to. Noah sends out some birds as the flood waters receded, a dove returns with an olive branch signifying the flood is over. The fact that it was able to find an intact olive branch suggests that there was still some land exposed and it was at an altitude where olives can grow. On a final point, it is worth nothing that Jesus himself believed in the story of Noah's Ark and the flood, according to the author at least, and it is referred to at least once in the gospels.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Does God want everyone in Heaven?

Does God want everyone in heaven?

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”2 Peter 3:9

For the sake of context in the corresponding chapter Peter’s audience appears troubled that the day of judgment, i.e. Jesus return, has not come yet despite the fact it was anticipated that he would return in the lifetime of the first disciples and in this particular passage Peter is trying to reassure them.

There are two verses, which appear to present a conflicting idea with 2 Peter 3:9 which states that God does not want anyone to perish, this is not including the heart hardening verse from Romans.

- “He [God] hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.”
– John 12:40

“God shall send them strong delusion that they should believe a lie; That they all might be damned.”
2 Thessalonians 2:11-12

The first verse is an apparent fulfilment of a prophecy made by the prophet Isaiah, referred to as Esaias.

Together with the second one they appear, whether out of some unexplained necessity or not, to suggest that God deliberately assists the hardening of non-believers hearts against him. The role of discouraging non-believers from Christianity by making them less likely to convert seems to be attributed to God here. More often, this role is more commonly accepted to be the role played by the devil. There is some suggestion namely in Romans that this is done deliberately for the benefit of believers. This supports the idea that people’s fates, at least the fate of those who are unfortunate enough to have their hearts hardened further, are predetermined. In addition, it does not make sense that God would make people who doubt his existence or word, doubt even further if his will is they do not perish unless he has just given up on them. It it is as if God has no alternative available to him but to condemn non-believers as though something is preventing him from not following this course of action. Either way, it does not appear to promote the idea of free will. An earlier part of the passage in John talks about an entity assumed to be the anti-Christ, although the hardening part does not appear to apply to this being in particular. Does this character have free will if its destiny has been predetermined? If it had free will, could it gain knowledge of these prophecies and then decide if it does not want to make them true could it? The concept of predestination and free will seem to be polar opposites and I would argue they do not seem compatible.

Several following examples give support to the idea that God wants everyone in heaven. The following verses would certainly suggest that, despite the misgivings mentioned earlier God wants to save everyone.

“[2:1] First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, [2] for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. [3] This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight ofGod our Savior, [4] who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. [5] For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, [6] who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” - 1 Timothy 2:1-6

“[8] But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. [9] The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance. [10] But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”2 Peter 3:8-10 ESV

[16] “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [17] For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. [18] Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. [19] And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. [20] For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. [21] But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” - John 3:16-21 ESV

However, as mentioned earlier the following excerpts do not support the idea that God wants everyone in heaven, some of these suggest that God selects, or appoints, people to heaven supporting the idea of predestination.

“[2:1] Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, [2] not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. [3] Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, [4] who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. [5] Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? [6] And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. [7] For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. [8] And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. [9] The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, [10] and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. [11] Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, [12] in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
-2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 ESV

“[46] And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. [47] For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth. [48] And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. [49] And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.” – Acts 13:46-49 ESV

- “He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.” – John 12:40

Indeed, more than once does the bible in the New Testament refer to a group of people who have been put aside, or chosen, to follow him. That just makes it sound like bad luck if you are not one of those individuals. In this manner the New Testament is similar to the Old Testament wherein God has chosen a group of people to be his chosen, much to the misfortune of those not in that group, at least in the Old Testament those who are not in this group, namely the gentiles, do not have to look forward to roasting for eternity. In the New Testament however, if you are not part of God’s selected group, there is hell to pay (pardon the pun).

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The role of Satan in Christianity

“But who prays for Satan? Who in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most, our one fellow and brother who most needed a friend yet had not a single one, the one sinner among us all who had the highest and clearest right to every Christian’s daily and nightly prayers, for the plain and unassailable reason that his was the first and greatest need, he being among sinners the supremest?”
- Mark Twain

On Satan

Although he does not play a very large role or have an enormous presence in the Old Testament, at least according to Jewish interpretations of it, Satan is a central figure in Christianity. Different denominations have different views on what he does. The present view that is well accepted among theologians is heavily influenced and inspired by old but well-known literature such as the works of  Dante and Milton as well as the book of Revelations. As such, most theologians now believe that Satan is the enemy of both humanity and God who rebelled against God and was exiled as a result, taking a third of the angels with him. His reasons for rebelling, except that he liked being evil (a tad clichéd) because bad guys are cool (also clichéd), and he did it for the laughs, are unclear and suggested motivations for his rebellion vary between theologians. Usually it is accepted that he did it due to a pride or a desire for God's power. In the Old Testament Satan is part of the heavenly consort and is sometimes employed by God to test people’s faith (such as occurs in the book of Job, although that was a bet), there is no mention that he was exiled because he became power-hungry.

It is never explained why Satan thought it was a good idea to rebel against an all-powerful deity knowing he would fail, it makes him sound omni-stupid. It can be assumed that he was more than aware in the story that God was omnipotent and he [Satan] was not and must have known there was no way he could get away with anything unless God let him get away with it. Although it is frequently argued by theologians that humans are no different in the fact that we rebelled against God there is the major difference. That is,  Satan was in heaven  in the story and could see God and communicate face to face and not just through prayer (and Satan also had access to heaven, at least until, as per Christian belief, he was exiled).

God’s response to Satan’s rebellion  is also odd, he kicked him out and put him where he could cause the most trouble possible for humanity. It gets even weirder because although  Satan was thrown out for trying to usurp God, he was given Earth to have as his own kingdom which sounds like a really odd punishment considering the whole reason he was kicked out was for trying to make a kingdom his own. Couldn't Satan have been thrown onto some desolate, uninhabited rock as far away from Earth as possible? Why would God kick him down to Earth and allow him to roam to Earth contributing indirectly or directly depending on your take on Satan’s role, to hundreds of thousands of souls ending up in hell through his temptations? Again, God would have had complete foreknowledge of all of this if he were omniscient.

  • According to some eschatologists following the end-times, the devil will be brought to bear, chained and after a thousand years be released to tempt people again and he will, yet again, try to duel it out with God… Then lose. Again.
  • In the 4th chapter of Matthew Satan even tries to tempt Jesus with a kingdom, when Jesus already has one. In addition, Jesus is God. How is it remotely possible that he could fall for temptation, or even be tempted if he is God? If he was capable of being tempted then this would imply that God is capable of being tempted to sin and therefore able to sin which makes little sense.
  • The angels of the Old Testament are not portrayed as having free will. Satan even has to get permission to make Job’s life a hell, including sending a twister in his direction. This makes me question whether the interpretation that Satan was the snake in the Garden of Eden is very good because that would mean the devil had been given permission by God to bring about man’s fall and all the consequences that would befall Earth because of it, as blasphemous as it might sound it is as though God sold the Earth and humanity to the devil before deciding that was a bad idea. Indeed, some Christian denominations claim that the devil is the prince of this world.
  • Why would God create something with the predisposition to rebel and become his enemy, taking a number of angels with him and that then not stop it when it did so. This would suggest either God made Satan as powerful as, or more powerful, than he is by mistake which is definitely not in agreement with current theology, or God wanted Satan to rebel for unbeknownst reasons thereby making everyone’s life miserable. It does not really sound plausible either that an all-powerful god could make something stronger than themselves.
  • Interpretations of Satan’s followers are even weirder than interpretations of the devil. Widely popularised by Hollywood, they are seemingly incapable of doing anything except making people behave strangely, despite being presumably powerful otherworldly beings that were capable of causing significant destruction when ordered. One would think that they would be subtle if they didn't want God’s followers knowing they were around (although angels in the bible weren't always subtle). At least you'd think they'd be  more subtle than demons in Hollywood that seem to do nothing more than make objects behave in ways they normally would not or make people act in ways they normally would not.
  • There seems to be no consensus on Satan or his followers capacity to influence Christians. Many Christians upon hearing that another believer is doubting their faith will blame the doubt on Satan or a demon whispering into their ear. How he is able to do this when God, or the Holy Spirit (or other angels depending on the denomination you talk to) is supposed to be protecting them I’m not sure. If this could endanger the person’s faith, potentially leading to them ending up in Hell, and that is not what God wants (presumably) then how is this able to happen? Some Christians have claimed to have been troubled by the devil or demon and it has not gone until they told it to in Jesus name (something that the Bible says Christians can do). If God is protecting his followers it doesn’t explain how they were harassed by an evil spirit when he is more than capable of dealing with them and preventing that from happening in the first place.
  • It would also appear that Satan is omnipresent given his capacity to influence people or events in multiple places at once, it is not implied that he or angels are omnipresent in the Bible.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Questions on the Biblical Creation Story and the Role of Humanity

On Creation

Why did God create humankind? Was he bored, or lonely? Acts 17:25 suggests he does not need humanity to fulfil any wants or needs. The verse in full:

“Nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”-Acts 17:25

God had, and still has as far as the bible is concerned, quite a few angels to minister to him so lacking something such as companionship or worship cannot be the case. Why was it necessary to create humanity for the sole purpose of performing a function that the angels were more than capable of themselves? Is creating humankind with the knowledge that they would sin, and billions would go to hell just so he could be revered and glorified a satisfactory explanation? It is essentially saying the loss of billions to the eternal torment of hell is worth that outcome despite the fact those in Hell would feel very disinclined to agree. Again, the angels were capable of performing the function of revering and glorifying God and being in a relationship with him so why was humanity needed? According to Revelations, and Isaiah from the Old Testament angels are more than capable of glorifying and worshipping God and, at least in the Old Testament they do not screw up on a regular basis unlike the New Testament where it occurs to fulfil an apparent plot device. It is never specified why God needs angels to do tasks for him either, or at times requires them to act as messengers. When angels did act as messengers in the bible, it was often obvious they were not just another human claiming to speak of God’s behalf (needing an angel to do the speaking seems unnecessary anyway) as the characters encountering them often are described as being afraid in some way. God's plan was apparently to be glorified (to whom exactly, himself? It's not like he needs to be told that he's great and he is God, he already knows that which some Christian's might want take note of).He also does not want anyone to perish, as the following quote from 2 Peter suggests:

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” – 2 Peter 3:9

This verse seems so bittersweet when considering most of the Earth’s population, from the time of Christ on wards will end up in hell according to theologians, and many missionaries will not fail to point out that two-thirds of the world’s population are not Christian. It would seem that God’s will is far from accomplished. The ‘God did not want robots’ explanation is often used here, but one must ask why would God who is love and is the epitome of compassion and mercy create such a flawed, sin prone race if the price of free will is the loss of countless millions, nay billions, to the depths of hell. Would he truly be happy with that? What happens to people who die and do not know who Jesus is? It is often said that those who do not know who Jesus is will go to heaven, some Christian’s do not believe that nobody has heard of Jesus partly because of literally interpreting Paul’s writings. If people who have not heard of Jesus go to heaven, then this presents a paradox for missionaries and would suggest that their attempts to convert people are inadvertently sending some people to hell. This would also mean that it was better not to tell anyone about Christianity despite the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20. The fact that there is even a need for a Great Commission or missionaries conflicts with any literal interpretation of Paul’s writings where he states everyone knows who Jesus is in their hearts and therefore have no excuse for not believing.

Why Earth was probably not created specifically for humans as Genesis suggests

This world, or rather nature, does not appear to have been created solely for humankind. This is because nature is more than capable of killing people, which it frequently does. This does not just happen by natural disasters either. Many environments are incredibly hostile to humans and frequently kill people. The sea, which I cannot blame Paul for hating if he did get shipwrecked several times, is not tame by any means and people are frequently killed in it. We are not born with an inbuilt ability to swim or survive underwater, leading to tragic circumstances where people drown, even in small amounts of water. God is  well aware in Genesis of mankind's inability to survive in large volumes of water for long, which he makes use of in the early chapters of Genesis (no need to mention where). 70% of the planet is covered in water, all but a small percentage of it undrinkable by humans, as evident by this quote from Samuel Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

“Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”
Of the 1% of water which is fresh a considerable portion is not particularly safe to drink, and those with weaker immune systems are likely to be worse off from drinking it, or is not readily available as it is located in relatively inhospitable environments.

There are also vast deserts with little to no water, the Israelites and their neighbours were aware of this fact. A large portion of the north is covered in snow for months on end, and until the last few centuries, this was associated with an extremely high risk of mortality, particularly among the very young and elderly, and in some places still is.

A perfect original creation?

The presence of carnivores, parasitic insects some of which are quite nasty, other parasitic animals and microbes that cannot survive without harming, or killing, another organism all seem to suggest that the world was designed with the existence of death in mind. These were all presumably created by God as it is not suggested in the Bible that Satan can create things although some have theorised he can. Though many microbes and insect larvae are harmless, many kill their host in order to ensure their own survival and some even have to kill their host in order to reproduce (The film Alien does draw some inspiration from these creatures). Many microbes and viruses can kill even the healthiest and fittest people. Some microbes, called decomposers, cannot exist without death as they process dead tissue to gain nutrients, some other organisms do this as well.

In order to be nutritious soil requires death; to be less vague it requires the breakdown, of deceased organic tissue, sometimes processed by other animals, such as by bacteria and other microorganisms to help it remain fertile by providing a source of nitrogen input into the soil. This is essential for plant health, growth and development.

Some young earth creationists say that animals were vegetarian before the fall of man. There are a few problems with this. If this was the case and they were created to be vegetarian, then the physiology and morphology of carnivores and omnivores is poorly adapted to a vegetarian diet (omnivores less so). Most organisms, except certain bacteria, cannot break down the cellulose wall of plants and are unable to access a large portion of nutrients within a plant, which also suggests that vegetarianism was not at the forefront of Gods plans for creation. The leaves of rice crops for example contain multiple nutrients required by humans that are absent in the edible portion of the rice crop. Carnivores, especially carnivorous reptiles lack the proper dental physiology to chew leaf matter well, they do however have adequate dental physiology to tear chunks of meat that would be unnecessary to have in a herbivorous animal. Animals often have to die so that others can feed and survive in an often complex food chain, this is often slow and painful for the poor animal that gets eaten. An inability to breakdown cellulose means that due to the plants cell wall, much of the nutrients in the plant leaves are inaccessible to the organism consuming it. Omnivores can counter this if they have access to a large variety of plant resources to some degree, including a wide range of fruits or vegetables, while this is the cases for many of us for animals which have a far more limited access to a wide range resources this is less possible . For most animals excluding humans, varying diet to counter a deficiency in a particular nutrient or nutrients is not that easy as not all the nutrients it needs may be readily available.

Only a small fraction of all occurring species of plants, are actually edible to humans, of these plant species only some parts are of nutritional value and some parts are poisonous. Some plants are poisonous and so are some animals and humans have no inbuilt ‘immunity’ to any of these that might be expected if the Earth was created for us. True, some plants have a medicinal benefit but this does not account for all of the plants we cannot eat.

It is also something of a paradox that Australian dry sclerophyll ecosystems require bushfires, they are required for some plants to germinate. The fact that fires are quite destructive, yet are necessary for the survival of some plant species, contradict the idea of a perfect original creation. Either these plants were not created until after the fall of man, along with a lot of other things, or bushfires were part of the original creation otherwise it would not have been possible for some plants to survive. A small minority of creationists believe that God gave animals the ability to evolve so they could survive changes in their environment over very long periods of time, those that do far less likely to not take Genesis literally which I think is closer to the way it is meant to be interpreted, as an allegory.

A Banksia following a bushfire, the maternal plant was killed but the seeds are released as a result of the temperatures associated with the fire after which they germinate.

The mentality that we were created above the animals and they therefore do not matter, has created some exceptionally environmentally unfriendly attitudes and some disregard for animals in general among some groups of Christians. This has not been helped by the sentiment that Jesus is going to wipe out the Earth and start all over again when he returns so there is not much point in caring about the planet if he is going to destroy it anyway and we are living the end times as frequently stated by evangelicals.

Although not directly related to creation, some argue that you cannot prove that elements without substance, or are invisible to the naked eye even with the most powerful microscope, exist and yet people believe in them. Therefore, belief in God is no different. This is false. If their properties can be measured and their effects observed (e.g. Electrons) then we can say they exist. This is achieved through much trial and error and by advances in scientific technology. Examples where this has been argued include the cold and wind, we cannot see it but it is there. The effects of the cold on molecular kinetics alone are well-known to chemists, its effects on human physiology are majorly self-evident. We also know the cold is caused by the absence of heat, and we know what heat is and what causes it, and its effects on molecular kinetics are well-known. Likewise, wind can be measured, and its power is well-known to us and we also know what causes it. God on the other hand, if the bible or other scripture is any guess, cannot be measured or detected by human instruments, regardless of how much technology advances, whereas the aforementioned phenomena can.

God seems strangely obsessed with humans in the bible. If he created the universe then this planet is but a speck among the cosmos. So much a speck in fact, that in one picture of Saturn taken by NASA, the publishers erased what they thought was an erroneous blue speck in the corner of the picture that should not be there, when in actual fact it was not an error. That small speck was in fact Earth viewed by Cassini during a flyby of Saturn. Even our Solar System is a speck, one star among billions in a single galaxy that of itself is but one of a countless multitude of galaxies grouped in clusters. Yet all God’s attention in the bible seems to be focused on one planet orbiting one star among many others. Even ignoring this you might expect him to acknowledge and focus his attention on all the Earth not just a small region consisting entirely of what is now the Middle-East and its immediate neighbours. The existence of the rest of Earth is completely ignored.The regions that appear in the bible encompass only a small percentage of the entire planet. This suggests God had nothing to do with the writing of the Bible and might explain why Paul seemed to think everyone had heard of Jesus because, understandably, he had a very limited knowledge of just how big Earth is.