A nonbeliever's SECOND reading of the Bible

A nonbeliever's SECOND reading of the Bible
Hunc tu caveto.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Time for some Q & A. Someone asked me this question:

What can be used as evidence for what one believes? You say that a christian cannot use a bible to prove their point but a scientist can? If you yourself are still learning then how can you objectively know that you understand religion or anything else as well as you think you do? You used to believe in the bible's teaching and now you look back and feel you were wrong. Then how do you not know that you are wrong now? I find your points through out the topic very intriguing and was just curious as to what is the best way objectively to search for the truth? And for that matter what do you believe truth really is?

Well, the scientific method can be used. But so far, all the times it has been used on religion, it has failed. The biggest experiment on prayer, financially backed by the Templeton group (which is a group that seeks to show religious truth by scientific methods), showed that prayer makes no difference at all.

We can also use the Dead Sea Scrolls, and older manuscripts, that show differences in the Bible as it has been copied over the millenia.

You seem focused on finding an "objective truth". I'd have to say this is physically impossible, given our brain capacity and our having one fixed biological perspective of being the center of the universe (we experience the universe as it enters our senses). We can approximate an "objective truth" only through intellectual honesty. That is to say we must have the courage to call a spade a spade.

The truth is that religion is a failed science. Claims made by religions made sense thousands of years ago because people tried to interpret their experiences and natural phenomena by integrating their superstitions in with their explanations - that's how we get Biblical ideas like the firmament or the "windows of heaven" mentioned in the Flood myth, or the circular (not spherical) earth.

Science shows us that as time goes on, newer information is continually filtered and we are constantly updating what we know about the world. Imagine if humanity decided to be dogmatic about scientific notions and stopped at Newton. Einstein's theories on relativity and gravity, etc. would not be allowed into scientific thought.

Well, in a sense this has already happened with the practice of our religions. Except instead of being stuck hundreds of years ago, we are stuck THOUSANDS of years ago. Now THAT is scary!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Roughly all religious testimonies where someone actually claims to have come into contact with a primary source or ’God’ is the same. And I can say that because I’ve heard many testimonies in my life, and I’ve noticed the pattern.

Essentially, the person hits some hard times or some significant event leaves the person with no other option than to give up or surrender.
What happens next is where they make their mistake, because no one really knows what they’re surrendering to, but they sure would like to know.
Usually, they believe they are surrendering to God, and what God is to a desperate individual largely depends on what a person already believes God to be.

And that’s the problem. "God" is a word that carries with it certain baggage, and the word entails different things depending on the context. I’m pretty sure ancient Greeks, when in similar circumstances, petitioned with all their heart to Zeus or even Poseidon. If Hurricane Katrina occurred in ancient Greece, for example, people would’ve been praying their hearts out to Poseidon.

The person who first converted me claimed to have had God speak to him, and so he picked up the Bible and became caught up with its mythos. If you believe the Bible is true, then of course you will wind up believing that the picture that it paints is true. This becomes obvious in the choice of words people use.

A very common thing to say, something that I’ve said myself, is that "The Bible tells us that _________ (fill in the blank) is true" or "Jesus tells us (through the Bible) that __________ (fill in the blank) is true."

The entire statement is built on the assumption that the Bible is true.
I can’t say that I have personally met God, but I have met religion. My brush with religion is largely the experience that most people have. I really don’t think most people who profess to be religious really buy into their own religion. They try to, but they don’t really believe it. This is because most people do not meet face-to-face with a primary source, and are thus prone to doubt. And this is a good thing.

Most people have never seen a convincing miracle. Instead, they are religious because of some perceived social pressure, and thus become religious because of a secondary source.

This secondary source is extremely common and powerful. Church is, after all, important to certain families; it’s culturally important in certain regions; and sometimes it’s just a fun place to hang out. Most people go to church to be around other people.

The trick to not get into this mess, is to not make the first mistake of assuming that religion must be true. When you’ve managed to surrender and you feel that blissful feeling that everything will be okay, don’t run to the Bible or the Koran for answers. While I don’t doubt that when one manages to totally surrender, there is a feeling of bliss and vivid awareness of some sort of presence, we should quickly understand that this is a feeling that people of all religions have felt.

The first mistake comes when the individual gives this feeling of presence a name and subscribes to a background story that simply isn’t true.

And to you people who have never felt the primary source, it would behoove you to be more skeptical toward such claims.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Just an Infidel: My Deconversion Story

I guess I'm an atheist in respect to religion, but not necessarily to God.

Sure, I'm still open to the idea of a God or gods existing, but I know that the concept of God could not be accurately presented from any of the religions we have at our disposal. A personal God as espoused by our holiest books is something I have come to reject. I've even witnessed spiritual phenomena during the course of my life, some might even say supernatural, but fortunately I abstained from attributing these incidents to a specific religion, which is a mistake many people have done.

I grew up in a Catholic home; Filipino Catholics. Most people have heard of the zeal of Filipino Catholics, some of whom will actually go to such lengths as nailing themselves to a cross! I haven't seen such acts in person, but often at a Filipino funeral, someone will lug a huge cross down the church aisle just to get their point across. My mother, however, wasn't steeped in this tradition, and so I wasn't raised by the zealots of the Catholic faith, rather just the moderates.

Later on in my life, at about 14, my father, who is an American of British ancestry (since before the Revolutionary War) converted to Protestant Christianity, and it was through my father that I became acquainted with it as well. The brand of Protestantism that he converted to was Pentecostalism, known for preachers laying their hands on babbling parishioners speaking in tongues, falling onto the ground, and writhing in religious ecstasy.

My first experience with the "laying on the hands" occurred during a youth group session. At the end of his sermon, the youth pastor asked us to come up to the altar and be prayed for. It wasn't long until he began speaking in tongues and tapping people's foreheads. Naturally (or perhaps supernaturally), these normal, boisterous teenagers, began falling down and twitching like epilepsy victims.

I'd also gone up there to pray, but was a bit perplexed by the odd happenings going on around me, though I had heard about this in prior meetings. When the youth pastor started praying over me, I thought I felt a tremor in my knees.

He then laid his hand on my forehead and blew out a blast of hot air at me. I opened my eyes and looked at him, and he gave me a genuine look of surprise and took a step back. He approached me again and repeated the whole thing all over again. I didn't know what to do, because I didn't really feel like I had to fall down, and he stopped after that, moving on to someone more versed at what to do.

Admittedly, I almost passed out because of his breath, which reeked of halitosis and garlic. We eventually left this church because they began putting too much emphasis on speaking tongues, and were beginning to claim those who don't speak tongues will go to hell. "It's becoming too much like a cult," said my father.

So, we went on to another church that was part of a mainstream Pentecostal denomination, and it was called Calvary Assembly of God. As I had already been acquainted with the intensities of Pentecostal Christianity, all the erratic behaviors I encountered at Calvary were taken in stride. I really "grew in the Lord" at Calvary, became baptized, and began reading the Bible regularly. I was often found with my nose in the Bible, reading as much as I could of it.

I gained some great friends, and we regularly went on field trips, ranging from huge multi-church winter camps up in Lake Arrowhead, or surf trips with the youth group down in San Onofre. We'd become politically active and were involved in numerous pro-life protests and even one anti-gay counter-protest.

We'd regularly witness to complete strangers as well, as the Bible suggested we profess the Good News to all.

It wasn't until my junior year in high school that the first doubts crept in, and by this time I had moved to Lakewood, but would still try to attend church in Lomita as much I could.

None the less, there was a physical barrier of distance between me and the church I had grown to love. My parents divorced, I took my first hit from a joint, I had sex for the first time, got drunk, and other taboos were occurring regularly.

After committing or witnessing each sin, hellfire and damnation still seemed as far away as ever, and yet doing these things actually brought me closer to people, sex of course with my girlfriend at the time, and smoking and drinking with my friends, most of whom I am still in contact with today.

That said, I never really doubted the divinity of Jesus Christ at this time. Rather, it was the doctrine of sin that I began to doubt. How can these behaviors be evil? They were fun, they brought camaraderie, and sex brought on, for me at least, an emotional maturity that I couldn't have had should I have remained a virgin.

Another crack to my system of beliefs occurred while I was in the Navy. While overseas, spinning laps around the Persian Gulf in a brand new, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, I would sit on the fantail (or the rear of the ship) and ask myself the old chestnut, "Why was I here?"

And not just in the philosophical sense, but also in the social-political sense as well. This line of questioning led me into an inquiry that caused me to question one of the things I had taken granted for so long, and that was that America was an "innocent" country. In 1998, we were still bombing Iraq on a regular basis. It seems that the decade between the first Gulf War and the second was more like a siege than anything.

The United States prevented supplies from reaching the desert nation, and we enforced a no-fly zone, all the while bombing various targets while we were there. This notion of America as the best country or even an innocent one, actually goes hand in hand with my religiosity, as it is in fact a symptom of ethnocentrism. I've learned that the reason that I love America is not because it's the best country, it's just that it's the one I'm the most familiar with, and is the one I have always called home.

After I got out of the Navy, I attended Cypress Community College and it was there that I took my first philosophy class. This class fed some of my suspicions that began festering in the back of my mind. This is where my doubts about the Bible's validity and divinity of Jesus really began to manifest.

Initially, I was a militant agnostic, and was very hostile toward Christianity. It's very much the same as when I first became Christian and became very anti-secular, anti-"other religions", etc. There is an initial fanaticism that occurs each time a new belief sets in.

Around this time, my father went on to become a preacher, and my mother converted to Protestantism as well. My father and I get into some very interesting conversations at times, as one could imagine, but we always engage in these conversations with respect toward each other. We still have these conversations, often when we camp out in the desert.

I never completely gave up spirituality, and so I actually turned to eastern religions for a while. Buddhism in particular drew me in, though I did find Hinduism to be quite fascinating, too. However, Buddhism is steeped in alien mythology, and I decided to extract from it the things I thought made the most sense. Ironically, this is actually advice imparted from Siddhartha Gautama himself.

In Buddhism, for example, I thought much of the philosophy behind it was quite sound, such as Siddhartha's argument for extinguishing suffering. Meditation, too, is very practical, and can produce amazing spiritual insight. I have also learned through further Biblical research that the Old Testament is just influenced by numerous myths from Sumeria, Babylon, and Canaan, and that these myths were perpetuated by the Israelites, who had come out of these people.

If I were to sum up my personal belief, I'd say the concept of God is kind of like the mirrors placed in the upper corners of markets. They're not necessarily there to help store employees watch a theft; rather they are there to prevent the theft from happening.

When the shoplifter looks up at himself, he sees himself in a third person perspective, and the person he is seeing is a bad guy. Likewise, the concept of God is like an internal mirror.

This isn't even a new idea. Plato called it the form of the Good, Sigmund Freud called it a Super Ego, Christians and Jews call it Yahweh, and Muslims call it Allah. I just call it the "Ideal Self", which we strive to be like, and its standard is set largely by the society or culture we live in.

Similarly, there is a competing force, and this is our physical body's needs and desires. Plato might have called it natural urges, Freud called it the Id, Christians call it the Devil, and Muslims call it Shai'tan. I just call it the Animal Self.

The struggle between the two competing forces is basically the situation we are constantly in. I just drop the supernatural description and see it to be a natural part of being a social animal.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

There's a reason there are mirrors high up in the corners of markets, and it's not necessarily what you think it is. They are there because they prevent crime.
No, it's not that they provide an angle that allows the store clerk to see a crime take place, and its not that they are one-way mirrors. When a potential thief sees himself in the mirror, he is more likely not to steal. He sees himself from a third person perspective, and the person he is seeing is the bad guy.
In one social psychology experiment, an experimenter put 150 candies on a table with a sign that said "Take one candy."
After an allotted period of time, and recording how many kids approached the candy bowl while hiding inside the house, the experimenter took the candy bowl and counted how many were taken. He then refilled the bowl with 150 candies but this time he put a mirror behind the bowl. After the allotted amount of time, he took the bowl and counted the candies again.

This experiment has been done repeatedly by psychology students all over the world, and every time the result is roughly the same. With the mirror there, children will usually take only one candy, and without the mirror, they will take more.
To answer the question, "What is God?" I'm going to say it is something of an internal mirror. Freud called it the Superego, Plato called it a Form, Christians call it YHWH, Muslims call it Allah. It is the ideal self, that perfect man or woman we would like to be, and sometimes we even actively strive to be like it.
While we were growing up, we pick up on various social norms like 'stealing is bad' and internalize it into our proper behavior. The social pressure that stems from this becomes our foundation for morality.

There is another force at work here that determines our behavior. Freud called it the Id, Plato might have called it 'natural urges', Christians call it the Devil, Muslims call it Shai'tan. I'll call it the Animal self. Having evolved from animals, we have much of the same basic urges that they do. We have the need for air, food, water, space, and sex. And if we don't get the right amount of these things, we suffer.

And so it is, that we are in a constant tug-of-war between these two things; our higher Ideal Self which proscribes what morality is, and the Animal Self which dictates our physical needs and desires.
Unfortunately, in the material realm, the realm of practicality, it is nearly impossible to be like the Ideal Self, and it is socially reprehensible to be like the Animal Self. Both are essential to our being, and so we find some kind of balance between the two extremes. The balance of the two, the actuality of what we are, has been called many things, but I will call it the Actual Self.
I would like to reiterate that there is nothing new that I'm proposing here. This has been noted many times throughout history and by people of conflicting beliefs. What might be different to you is applying these things to the question of what God is. There is a kind of universal experience that we all share just by virtue of living, thinking, remembering, and interpreting.
Collectively, this amounts to a certain expectation that is put on the individual, and this expectation is reinforced through parenting, by the school system, by our religions, philosophies, culture, and history.
God is the mirror that reflects the sum of all these mental constructions back at the self. God doesn't exist outside of our minds, He exists as a result of them. God is the mental reflection of all the things we think are Good; and His antithesis, call it the Devil, call it the Id, or call it the Animal Self, is the thing we don't want to accept as a part of our selves.

And so we demonize it. We don't want to see it in ourselves.

My suggestion is that we don't have to embrace the Animal Self, nor should we reject it. Rather, we should just understand the Animal Self and accept it. It is an inalienable part of who we are.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Most of us should know by now that the ancient Hebrews were pagans, and borrowed their concept of Yahweh from older gods like the Babylonian Marduk and the Sumerian El.

While the mythology of the Babylonians account for most of the worldview of the Hebrews, it is the Sumerian god El from which Yahweh (or YHWH) comes from. Briefly, El was Father of the Gods, Creator of Created Things, The Kindly, Kodesh. El wears bull horns on his helmet and resides at "the Source of Two Rivers" upon Mt. Lel.
El also had a wife named Asherah, who was considered the Queen of Heaven.
In the Bible, we see that Yahweh (the Hebrew's adaptation of El or Elohim) actually had a wife named Asherah. I'm pretty sure that much of the Hebrew's earlier history was lost or forbidden after the reforms of King Hezekiah and King Josiah.
But there are still parts of the Bible that allude to Asherah, especially in complaints from reformist "prophets" like the author of Jeremiah or in the historical accounts of 2 Kings. For instance, the "high places" or "groves" were places where Asherah was specifically worshipped, and she is referred to as the "Queen of Heaven".Check out these Bible verses: Jer. 7:17-18Jer. 44:17Deut. 16:212 Kings 18:4 .
It's strange to think of Yahweh being married. Isn't it?
We can also see how later reforms actually eliminated one earlier concept of god and replaced it with another. First it was the Sumerians and Babylonians, then it was the Hebrews, then it was the reforms of the kings Hezekiah and Josiah, later the various sects that formed out of Judaism, Christianity and its myriad of sects, and finally Islam.
People create and mold the concept of God to suit their needs, political or otherwise, and so religion is forever changing.