Friday, October 30, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
Religion is a failed science. It is, depending on the religion, either a 1300-year-old conversation explaining the universe (Islam), or a 2000-year-old conversation (Christianity), or even older (every other major religion). Judeo-Christian religion in particular is a scientific claim about the natural world (it was created in six days), and about morality (i.e. we get morality from the Bible).
I am taking up a challenge by a friend of mine, to prove my claim that while we can not prove or disprove whether God exists; we can disprove with relative ease, specific religions. I am going to focus on Judeo-Christian religion because Judaism, Christianity and Islam are the most influential religions in the U.S., and the west. They dominate politics, the news, and our lives. In the case of Judaism, which isn't as influential, it is none the less the father of both of the latter religions.
Today, religion has very little impact on modern-day science’s facts and theories. In fact, it's losing on a thousand fronts against science. It does have an impact on public policies that ultimately affect how we go about our scientific discourse. This is because of the sheer amount of people who still believe, unjustly, that their religion is the one and only, Capital-T “Truth”. That's why a critique like this one is necessary.
As a disclaimer, let me assure you three things: 1) We nonbelievers are not trying to outlaw religion. 2) By criticizing religion, we're not persecuting religious people. I should remind believers that persecution has been carried out in far more heinous ways then constructive criticism. 3) We're also not demonizing spirituality, as no one can argue that spiritual experiences do not happen. I have them. You have them. Those who have had them, can agree that they're very important. All we're doing is bringing religion into the political spotlight, where we can discuss it like rational men and women. We should do this because it affects the politics that govern all of us. In fact, I'd argue that it is our duty as citizens to have these kinds of discussions.
I will admit that our goal is to reduce religion's influence on politics, and be recognized as something akin to astrology in how seriously it is to be taken.
'YOU HAVE TO HAVE FAITH'
Most believers will find they have no basis for their beliefs at all. When the critique comes, they will first fall back from specific claims about Jesus or Mohammed, to a more general and vague 'deist' god. This god is not compatible with the personal God that they call Yahweh or Allah. After this point about incompatibility is made, believers will generally fall back to the foggy and shady adage: "You just have to have faith." This is poor reasoning, as it is the same argument that can be used for Santa Clause, leprechauns, or unicorns.
Then there are those few who ground their beliefs in rhetoric and mental gymnastics. These latter people are what we usually call “apologists.” It is to the apologists that I write the rest of this, as I believe they're the only ones who can appreciate the claims I am making about what is true and false.
WRONG BY THE STANDARDS OF SCIENCE
At the root of Islam and Christianity lies Judaism. If Judaism is proven wrong, then Islam and Christianity are wrong by extension. There are numerous claims about the Old Testament that we can say are wrong; historically, scientifically, and ethically. I could mention the Old Testament's mention of four-legged insects, bats that are referred to as “birds”, and all sorts of interesting phenomena described in the Bible that science has proven untrue. I’ll describe just one of these in the interest of readership.
For instance, in the Book of Genesis, in Chapter 1, the author(s) of Genesis wrote that God created a firmament to separate the higher waters from the lower waters. Essentially, this is stating that prior to the creation of the Earth there was nothing but a huge blob of water. The Sumerian myths from which the Genesis myth is influenced call this blob of water “the waters of chaos.” The waters of chaos is a formless, deep, void of water. Genesis 1:6 "And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters."
The firmament is an invisible, physical barrier that made a separation, almost like a bubble, within the waters of chaos. Except this “bubble” was half spherical, with the Earth being its bottom border. The purpose of the firmament was to allow a space for God to create mountains, and trees and animals.
Here is my point. The firmament is a scientific claim. It is falsifiable.
It’s a scientific claim because it was a theory that these Bronze Age, desert priests who lived 3 to 4,000 years ago, made by observing nature. Looking up at the sky on a clear day one can’t help but observe that the sky is blue. Like water. From horizon to horizon, the view appears circular. When it rains, water comes from the sky. If you dig deep enough, you’ll find water. All of these phenomena are explained with the firmament.
That was 3,000 years ago.
Today, thanks to the scientific method, we know that on the other side of the Earth’s atmosphere there is a void of empty space, there are no boundless amounts of water. We know that the Earth is round, that it revolves around the sun, and that we are on the edge of a galaxy comprised of millions of other stars. We know from our studies in meteorology why it rains; that water vapors condense in huge cumulonimbus clouds and when the condensed water gets too heavy, it falls to the ground. We know from geology that water naturally collects underground in water tables, or simply “groundwater.”
That is the power of science to relinquish the claims of religions. Imagine if scientific progress was forced to stop at Isaac Newton’s discoveries just a few hundred years ago. We would have no trains, automobiles, telephones, satellites, nuclear power, or anything like that. We wouldn’t know about the theory of relativity or about evolution.
For billions of people, it is kind of like that, except instead of 300 years they are incorporating a belief that stopped progressing anywhere from 1300 to 2000 years ago.
WRONG BY THE STANDARDS OF MORALITY
Another study that has shown that the religion of Judaism to be wrong is ethics. For millennia Judeo-Christian religions have claimed that their religion instills moral principles into people. While there are plenty of great things that are said in these traditions, and even more so in the Eastern religions, it should be noted that morality doesn’t come from religion. It comes from our own intuitions. Since the Bronze Age, our vision of morality has changed drastically. Heck, our moral intuitions have changed immensely since the 1950s!
But I digress; the Old Testament goes into detail on how we should keep, or punish, slaves. The Old Testament also goes into detail on how we should beat our children or kill them if they talk back to us, whether we should sell our daughters into slavery, or whether we should kill nonbelievers and homosexuals. We in modern Western society no longer do any of that, and we have rightfully decided that these are disgusting and immoral acts.
Instead, we choose to focus (rightfully) on passages about loving our neighbors, being tolerant, and similar moral claims that have withstood the test of time.It isn’t the Bible that gave us morality. Rather, it is our our desire to relieve suffering, both in ourselves and in others, that makes us moral. Empathy and compassion, which are Christian characteristics, are also characteristics shared by many other religions, like Buddhists and Jainism.
Many folks insist that we get our morality from the Bible and religion. But they are obviously mistaken. We do not get our morality from Bronze Age texts. All we have ever done is choose what is moral and what to ignore.
As an example, let us consider the 10 Commandments. The 2nd Commandment says that we “shall not create graven images …” As a statement of morality, this doesn’t seem like it should be listed as the second most important commandment, or simply on any list of 10 moral precepts. We can place anything we want as the 2nd Commandment and it will almost be guaranteed to be more moral. “Thou shalt not kill animals needlessly” is a much more moral commandment then the one we are familiar with. Or, as Sam Harris says, “Thou shalt not fry all of your foods.”
In conclusion, I have shown that Judaism and the Old Testament are filled with scientific (the firmament) and moral (slavery, wife-killing) untruths. Judaism is the foundation of all Judeo-Christian religions, and so by extension all Judeo-Christian religions aren't 'true'. This is because the Bronze Age scientific explanations set forth by those desert tribes have been proven false by modern-day science. Furthermore, the dialogue on morality has evolved so much over the millennia that the Old Testament morality is completely alien to us, as anyone who has read the Old Testament can agree. It is through this ongoing human conversation that employs philosophical reasoning, the passage of time, and just regular old fashioned conversation, that morality itself has diverged from our ancient religious texts. However, I would suggest that the two, morality and religion, do come from the same place. The human mind.
Friday, October 23, 2009
This is what's happening in Numbers, Chapter 16. Except in Numbers, the folks with the democratic mentality are portrayed as the bad guys.
It's kind of like the American Revolution, from the perspective of the British. The simple fact of the matter is any human being can recognize when people are being treated unfairly, and when that happens, people get pissed off.
The rebels approach Moses and Aaron with the same gripe the last few people had, except with a much more indepth speech.
Two rebels named Abiram and Dathan say, "Isn't it enough that you us took out of Egypt to die here in this desert? Now, you want to make yourselves rulers over the people? You have not even brought us to this promised land of milk and honey. Do you think you can hoodwink us?"
In response, Moses talks to Yahweh, and then tells the rebels to meet him tomorrow at the Tabernacle with incense. Whoa, incense!?! Remember what happened to Aaron's sons? I smell a trap.
Sure enough, God has arranged to smite all these rebels, by having the Earth swallow them up and send them alive to "Sheol". Because of their courage (since they should've known what happens to complainers), and also because of their well-reasoned argument, the Skeptics Annotated Bible has called them the first "Freethought Martyrs".
Monday, October 19, 2009
Imagine you're out gathering firewood for the family on a Sunday morning, and then your neighbors see you, apprehend you, and then bring you to your church pastor, who sentences you to death. Would that suck?
Well, that's how people rolled back then, and they were only following the 4th Commandment: "Keep the Sabbath holy."
Back then, the Israelites had their Sabbath on Saturdays (Jews still do), but it's the same concept - one mandatory day off. Have you noticed that no one follows this anymore? Plenty of people work on Sundays - lawn maintenance, shopping, working, auto care, gardening, etc. If the 10 Commandments were still in effect, there's be a lot of killin'. Christians say it's because Jesus nullified the Old Testament law. Then why the big fuss about the 10 Commandments?
Well, Jesus didn't. In fact, he said that not one jot or scribble of the law shall pass until he returns. Is it moral to follow the 4th Commandment?
There's two responses that usually arise when questioning the 10 Commandments. First, "It was okay in that time and that cultural context," and "Come on, Andy. A guy getting executed for picking up sticks is a little bit extreme."
Well, Numbers Chapter 15, Verses 32 through 36 has an interesting story about a young man who was picking up sticks one fine Sabbath day.
They "caught" him, which kind of sounds like the guy even took off and ran, and then brought him before Moses, Aaron, and the rest of the community. They put him into custody, while Moses talked with the Almighty (Yahweh), asking Him what to do with the evil stick-gatherer.
Yahweh Himself says, "The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp."
And so they took the guy outside the camp, and the entire community threw stones at him until he died.
Again, I ask: Is it moral to follow the 4th Commandment?
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Above: A favorite piece of 'evidence' from conspiracy theorists. A Photoshopped picture of an alleged giant, whom are supposed to have been descended from the Nephilim.
Remember in Start Trek, or Star Wars for that matter, when the captain and all of his highest ranking officers would be the FIRST people to explore a new planet? Well, that's what the Israelites kinda did with Canaan, as of Numbers, Chapter 13.
Of course, in Star Trek, Captain Kirk joined them. Moses, a little wiser then Kirk, stayed behind. He lined up the chiefs of the 12 tribes of Israel, and told them to go and explore the land of Canaan which lies just beyond.
"Go south, and up the mountain. Scout out what type of people live there, what sorts of cities they live in, whether the land is good, and bring back the fruits of the land," said Moses to the chiefs.
And so they went. Deep into the wilderness, and they found a huge cluster of grapes, so big it took two men to carry it.
After 40 days, they returned to Moses, with an interesting report.
One of the chiefs said, "Yea, the land definitely flows with milk and honey, but the people are strong there."
Another chief, a man named Caleb, quieted down the excitement at the news, and like any good opportunist, said, "Let's go there right now and take the land. It'll be easy for us kick their butts!"
But Caleb was quickly rebutted. "We can't fight the people there. They're friggin' humongous! We are like grasshoppers compared to them."
At this news, the Israelites suddenly start crying. Maybe they were scared? They start getting angry at Moses again. What a bunch of whiners these people are!
"Why did we follow Moses out of Egypt? Now we're going to die by a bunch of humongous giants!" they'd yell. "Maybe we should find a new leader to return to Egypt."
Didn't these motherf**kers learn? Yahweh lit a bunch of these whining maggots on fire, and then besot them with plagues just for whining. That should've been the first commandment. "No f**king whining!"
Sure enough, Yahweh gets wind of these complaints and once more must show these guys who's boss. Right before the Israelites decide to stone Joshua (one of Moses' supporters), Yahweh shows up at the Tabernacle, all smoke and fire. Yahweh threatens to kill every single Israelite and make an even greater nation from their ashes.
Moses, who is apparently much more reasonable then Yahweh, who is supposedly the all-knowing Creator of the Universe, according to most religionists. He actually persuades Yahweh.
"Don't kill them," said Moses. "If you do that, then the Egyptians will hear about it and laugh because You weren't able to lead them successfully."
And so they strike a deal. Yahweh compromises and agrees not to kill everyone. The key word, of course, is 'everyone'. Instead, He's just going to kill everyone over the age of 20. "The carcasses of the rest will fall in the wilderness," He said.
In addition, Yahweh makes it so that the Israelites will be forced to wander the wilderness for 40 years! Imagine that, a trip that would probably only take a few weeks - and they have to do it for 40 years!
Yahweh even killed the men who went scouting the land, apparently because it was their report that started this rebellion. Numbers 14:36 says they 'slandered' the land, and that leads me to think that maybe there were no giants.
Next time, the Israelites stone a man who was collecting sticks on the Sabbath!
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Numbers, Chapter 12 proves that Moses did not author the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament), as many Christian fundamentalists would suggest. It also shows Yahweh's obvious sexism and favoritism.
First, those who say that Moses authored the Pentateuch are dismayed when they read this verse: "Now the man Moses was very meek; above all the men which were on the face of the Earth."
Moses, had he authored the Pentateuch, would be at pains to explain how any meek man could write such arrogant words about himself. It's bad enough that he was referring to himself in the third person. Unlike Christian fundies, I don't think Moses authored these books. Actually, I question whether Moses even existed. The things Moses does reads more like Hercules or some superhero. And, recent Biblical scholarship is lending support to what is called the 'documentary hypothesis', which is a school of thought that thinks there were at least four authors of the Pentateuch.
The documentary hypothesis is probably the best explanation why the Pentateuch is so full of contradictions. The Book of Genesis, as I've mentioned when I first started this journal (obviously), is the most problematic. That's because the authors were at pains to explain things that happened before they decided to start writing stuff down. So, they used elements of stories that they knew from their old cultures, the Sumerians and Canaanites. That's why the Sumerian stories of the Enuma elish and the Epic of Gilgamesh resemble the creation story, and the flood, respectively.
As for Yahweh's sexism, in Chapter 12, Moses marries an Ethiopian woman. Aaron (Moses' homeboy) and Miriam (Moses's older sister), complain and then criticize Moses for his choice in women (it had something to do with marrying outsiders). Yahweh became angry that they would criticize Moses (who was God's homeboy), and punished them, by giving leprosy to Miriam.
That sucks! Two people complain about God's BFF and ONE person (the chick) gets punished - with LEPROSY no less!
Next time, we're going to meet the favorite characters of Christian conspiracy theorists; a race of giants called the Nephilim.
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Yahweh then brings a wind that sends countless multitudes of quail dropping like flies onto the camp of the Israelites. And they, who are now happy that their prayers (and complaints) have been answered, start collecting the quail and cooking and eating them.
But they were tricked! While they were chewing on the tasty quail, Yahweh sent a "great plague" upon the people, and smote many of them. (Numbers 11:33).
What's the moral of the story here? Don't complain. Don't ask Yahweh for anything. If you do, He might send TOO MUCH, and He may very well kill you!
What the f*ck!?!
Monday, October 05, 2009
They had to be clean-shaven (except for the face), and that means they had to shave their pubes too! They (the males) went into the service of The Tabernacle at the age of 25 until 50 years old, when they were relieved of service.
They also had a lot of work cut out for them. As mentioned in a previous entry, the Levites were fairly busy people. They tore down and built up their portable temple (aka The Tabernacle), protected its holy relics, performed executions for breaking certain laws (or at least sentenced people to execution), performed animal sacrifices, purified the Israelites of their sins in elaborate rituals, followed very strict laws, and interpreted their scriptures, wrote them down, and ministered to the Israelites.
One might argue, from hindsight of course, that they weren't necessary to the function of society. But they were hardworking individuals, and they did serve some sort of function. They were kind of like the social glue that kept their tribes together.
Plus, without them, we wouldn't have these interesting historical documents from a 1000-plus years BCE to tell us about how weird and wacky and how utterly alien their culture was.
Friday, October 02, 2009
Chapter 7, if I'm not mistaken, is about the Grand Opening of the Tabernacle. Rather than the usual tame ribbon-cutting affair practiced by modern folks, representatives of the 12 tribes got together and sacrifces bulls, rams, lambs, baby goats, and oxen. Approximately 240 animal sacrifices were done on that day.
Y'know, we should bring that back! Imagine a steakhouse's grand opening with 240 animal sacrifices! Or, better yet, a bank! Or a preschool! Or even just a church. A church is probably the closest thing to a Tabernacle, anyways. And so what if PETA gets angry. Eff' PETA!
- A ewe lamb as a sin offering
- One ram as a peace offering
- A basket of unleavened bread
- Cakes of fine flour mingled with oil
- unleavened bread wafers
- meat offering
- drink offering
Being a priest must have been very lucrative. And so, after a lot of hocus pocus, waving various offerings in the air, shaving the Nazarite's hair, etc. Finally, finally, the Nazarite may drink wine (Numbers 6:20).
I'm all for being a mystic, as long as the attempt is both rational and reasonable. Which means, the experience can be had by anyone, but we don't need to have all the extra, irrational baggage that religion adds to the mix.