Sunday 30 June 2013

the shelf life of faith

The shelf life of Christianity…

The founders of Christianity took many years to settle on which “holy books” were going to be included in the Christian Bible. So they had plenty of time to decide what the message of Christianity would be. During the course of this examination they considered and rejected a number of texts for the Bible. But still after all that effort, they made a tragic mistake which, among the monotheistic faiths, is unique.

The predicted the end of the world, and they said it would happen soon.

Jesus told his followers a lot about the kingdom which God would create, when the End Times came. He gave detailed explanations on who would be welcomed into the kingdom, and who would not. And, most significantly, he specified that it was coming any day, in a man’s lifetime,  and that everyone needed to prepare for it, even if that meant ignoring your family and everything else. John in the Book of Revelation echoed that sentiment, warning right off the bat that the End Times were coming soon. The other major religions ruminate about the end of the world, but only Christianity made it that specific – it’s coming soon, so get ready!

Coming soon.

On the basis of that prediction, many disciples abandoned their families to go preach the word – if the world was ending any day, what did their wives and children matter?

Then the disciples got old, wondering why the kingdom hadn’t come as promised, and then they died. How disappointed they must have been – like Red Sox fans of the last century, they waited for decades, confident, positive that paradise had to be coming to them….and then nothing.

And then new Christians came along. Year after year, generation after generation, the new Christians predicted that Jesus was coming back any old day now. Twenty eight separate times the faithful got excited over a prediction that “this is it!” They offered many explanations for the dates they chose as the end of the world; less often they offered explanations as to why their predictions failed.

So like Vladimir and Estragon, the Christians wait for Godot to come, and he never comes. But do they question whether he’s ever coming at all? Do they wonder what he could be waiting for?

According to the Bible, a huge proportion of mankind will be killed in the End Times. Is that the problem? Back in the time of ancient Israel God killed in large numbers at the drop of a hat – Noah’s flood, Sodom, the Egyptians, the sinning Israelites in the Sinai desert – and then ordered the Israelites to do even more mass killing in his name. Has God lost his Mass Murder Mojo?

How many centuries does Linus sit in the pumpkin patch, before he realizes that the Great Pumpkin isn’t coming? It’s been two thousand years, so….Another thousand years? Another ten thousand years? At what point do we openly declare faith to be insanity? When can we publicly laugh at the Bible and the people who read it?

Saturday 29 June 2013

The Bible says we can all ignore Torah law, including the Leviticus language on gays

Citations directly from the Bible, showing that the founders of Christianity did not expect us to follow Torah law…

Here are instances in which Jesus made clear that the laws of the Torah (which includes the ban on homosexuality) were no longer valid.
·         John 2, Jesus’ first miracle is putting wine into the water jars for the Jewish rites of purification. A major violation.
·         Matthew 12, the priests criticize Jesus for plucking grain on the Sabbath; Jesus says that David did it too.
·         John 7, Jesus says that the circumcision law came from the patriarchs, not Moses.
·         Mark 10, Jesus contradicts Torah law on divorce.
·         John 8, Jesus talks a crowd out of carrying out Torah law on stoning an adulteress.
·         Mark 12, a scribe tells Jesus the loving God and loving your neighbor are “much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Jesus replies “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
·         Luke 6, priests criticize Jesus for curing people on the Sabbath.
·         Luke 15, according to Jesus, the son who obeys the law doesn’t get the big celebration from his father – his brother, the sinner, gets the big party.
·         Mark 2, on breaking the Sabbath rules – “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.”
And here are the instances in which the founders of Christianity said explicitly that Torah law, including the ban on homosexuality, was no longer in force.
·         Acts: Peter cancels the law on circumcision, and James replaces Torah law with a much shorter list of rules for all Christians.
·         Romans 2, Paul says that Christians don’t need to obey Torah law; Romans 4, blessedness is independent of the law; the acts of the patriarchs before Moses were independent of the law; Romans 7, we are now discharged from the law; Romans 8, we are set free from the law; both Jews and Gentiles who ignore the law will receive God’s glory; Romans 10, Christ is the end of the law; Romans 11, Israelites who keep the law but don’t embrace Jesus won’t be saved.
·         1 Corinthians 6, Paul shows the difference between what is lawful and what is beneficial; chapter 7, circumcision is irrelevant; chapter 8, food laws are irrelevant; chapter 9, I am not under the law. And 2 Corinthians 3, Jesus has overturned Moses.
·         Galatians, Paul criticizes Peter when Peter temporarily shuns those who are not following the law – “a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.… For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.”
·         Galatians 3, “Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish?... Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law…. Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.”
·         Galatians 5, “Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace…. I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!...For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”… But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.”
·         Galatians 6, Paul says that even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh.
·         Collossians 2, Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths…. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”?  All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings.
·         Ephesians 2, Christ has abolished the law; chapter 3, we now know that the gentiles who don’t follow the law are fellow heirs.
·         Hebrews, the death of Jesus erases the old covenant; chapter 8, in bringing a new covenant he has made the old one obsolete; chapter 10, it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
·         John – we are all God’s children. Mark 9, whoever is not against us is for us.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Hate speech!

In the middle of all the hoopla over the Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage, there was one striking tweet:
Courageous. RT @toddstarnes: Won't be long before they outlaw the Bible as hate speech.
The Bible? As hate speech? No way.
It’s not as though the Bible advocates the murder of gays and lesbians, or the murder of all ethnic groups who make the mistake of straying into the Holy Land, or hatred against Egyptians, Romans, Samaritans, Babylonians and Canaanites, or asserts that God approves of ethnic cleansing, genocide, slavery, and rape as an instrument of war, or the subjugation of women to the will of their husbands, or the murder of children.
Oh, wait….

What gays didn't win today

Gay rights took a big step forward today. But there is a lot more to do. Here is a key reason why.

The DOMA ruling makes it possible for Obama to grant rights and benefits to gay couples – at the federal level. But there are many rights and benefits which are generally left to the states: the DOMA ruling doesn’t really address them. The other big Supreme Court ruling, on the California law, is pretty much specific to California – it is unlikely to be applicable to the other three dozen states where gays and lesbians are still fighting for their rights.

The rights which married couples have, broadly speaking, fall into three categories.

First, there are the issues which are mostly settled at the federal level: this is the stuff that Obama can start working to fix, now that DOMA has been overturned. It includes compensation for service-related deaths, income tax filing status and deductions, Social Security, veteran’s pensions and disability, disabled vets tax exemptions, relocation benefits for military families, and spousal assets as a factor in determining need for government aid -- VA benefits, housing, educational loans, farm price supports.

Second, there are the rights and benefits which are mostly managed at the state level – this is the stuff that is essentially unchanged even after the DOMA ruling. It includes tax-free property transfers, organ donor issues, next-of-kin status, access to school records, alimony, foster care, medical decisions, and funeral decisions, condominium laws, child support.

Then there is the stuff in the middle, the questions that can be either a federal issue or a state issue, depending on what you’re trying to do, and where. This include a big one, insurance coverage, as well as survivor benefits, continuation of health care for surviving spouses, parental rights, child custody, adoption, homestead laws, water rights, name changes, domestic violence laws, spousal privilege for criminal witnesses, prison and hospital visitation, conflict-of-interest rules, bankruptcy, shared property, prenuptial agreements, wills and inheritance.

So as you can see, the battle for equality is far from over.

Sunday 23 June 2013

We're being persecuted!

“The enemies of faith are persecuting us!....”

We are hearing that a lot from Christians these days. The notion of martyrdom, even if it has no basis in reality, is attractive to religious zealots because it appeals to their Christian mythology and to their fathomless, messianic narcissism.

The world is persecuting you? Really? Are we tying you to a pole and setting you on fire, like you people did to us in the Middle Ages? Dragging you off to the Vatican to torture you? And your faith in miracles, and your voodoo-like prayers for supernatural intervention and the assistance of dead  saints, is obviously witchcraft and paganism – are we hanging you for idolatry like the pilgrims did?

Here’s what real persecution looks like. Just in the last few weeks, Jesus-impaired officials at America’s schools have expelled one girl for being a lesbian, fired one teacher for having an abusive husband, and thrown one female football player off the team for, you know, being a girl, which they somehow hadn’t noticed before. More legislatures are trying to throw atheists out of their high schools.

Real persecution looks like legislators trying to put both abortion patients and their doctors in prison, and even trying to make women prove their miscarriages were really miscarriages; legislators trying to force vaginal probes into women; putting our girls at risk for cancer by preventing them from getting HPV shots, and putting them at risk by denying them sex education; hospitals denying women treatment for reasons of “conscience”; carpet-bombing women’s clinics with so many regulations and fees that they are forced to close shop; making our kids stupider by impeding the teaching of real-world science; lowering the veil of ignorance by trying to ban books. Persecution is Molotov cocktails at abortion clinics and death threats against liberal legislators. It’s Kristallnacht in the twenty-first century, right here in America.

It’s trying to kill off gays by retarding AIDS research. It’s working to keep gays and lesbians from getting equal rights on insurance coverage, compensation for service-related deaths, income tax filing status and deductions, tax-free property transfers, Social Security, veteran’s pensions and disability, disabled vets tax exemptions, and relocation benefits for military families, survivor benefits and continuation of health care for surviving spouses, organ donor issues, next-of-kin status, parental rights, access to school records, alimony, child custody, adoption, foster care, homestead laws, water rights, VA benefits, housing assistance, educational loans, farm price supports, name changes, domestic violence laws, spousal privilege for criminal witnesses, prison and hospital visitation, conflict-of-interest rules, medical decisions, funeral decisions, condominium laws, bankruptcy,  child support, shared property, prenuptial agreements, and wills and inheritance.

Real persecution is trying to ram new legislation down our throats week after week, on abortion, school vouchers, school prayer, intelligent design, putting the Commandments in courtrooms, stem cell research, euthanasia, cloning, civil unions, HPV shots, contraception, sex education, faith-based initiatives, banning books, and assisted suicide. It’s forcing atheists to pretend to be Christians to get elected into office. It’s hijacking the entire Republican party and forcing their leaders, on pain of primary challenges, to do things they know are morally reprehensible and destructive. It’s telling America that fear and hate are cool.

Real persecution is the Baptists declaring war on the Boy Scouts and closing troops because the Scouts don’t hate gays enough; it’s Baptists protesting military funerals because the rest of the country has rejected their homophobic delusions.

It’s trying to hang atheists in Bangladesh and jail them in Kuwait; it’s oppression across the Muslim world; it’s Catholic rules on divorce and contraception and abortion imposed on nonbelievers in Europe and Latin America; it’s rabbis impeding the marriages and divorces of the non-Orthodox in Israel; it’s riots and violence if Europeans draw a picture of Muhammad two thousand miles away from the Muslim world.

The real persecution is coming from Team God, not from us.

But when we say happy holiday so that everyone can share in the holiday season, or politely ask you to keep your Christian nonsense out of our schools and legislatures and our hospitals, then we’re the tyrants, right?

Anybody who disagrees with you must be declaring “war” on you.  War on traditional America, war on marriage, war on Christmas….We’re not declaring war on you. We just want to take part in the same things you already have. We can share marriage without hurting your marriage, we can share the holidays without ruining your holiday…You’re mistaking “war” for “disagreement”. Our stubborn insistence on living our lives our way, and not yours. You believe that your religious liberty includes the right to take our liberty away, and not just on religion, on everything from law to education to medicine. Your religious liberty is just that, liberty of religion – not liberty to do whatever you like, in any area, and then force us to do the same, in any area.

So you don’t like being forced to play by the rules, when you spill over the boundaries of the religious world and try to impose religion on science and medicine and law? Be glad we’re not forcing you to pay your fair share in taxes.

Keep your religion in church on Sunday, and stop annoying the rest of us. It’s, you know, persecution. The real kind.

And by the way, screaming “censorship!” at anyone who disagrees with you, is called….censorship.

Saturday 22 June 2013

Who do we want immigrating to America?

Two immigration stories this week.

A 65-year-old woman in Texas, who has lived here 30 years, recently applied for naturalization. She is a little old English lady who has been recognized by the Queen of England for her work fighting illiteracy. She claimed the right to be a conscientious objector, but the immigration people rejected her claim, because she doesn’t belong to a church. Essentially they said – “come back and show us that you are part of a church that believes that, and you can be naturalized. And we want a letter on official church stationery.”

I have a few problems with this.

First, this action by the immigration people is illegal. The Supreme Court already said the immigration guys can’t do that. In 1971 they said you can base your conscientious objector status on something other than religious belief – the only thing they require is that you object to fighting wars in principle, rather than objecting to a particular war. You must be opposed to war in any form, not just the war we’re fighting now, or could be fighting in the near future – and the woman in this case said that explicitly. Check the Gillette, Witmer, Seeger and Welsh cases. And the military already has the same rules: you can object to fighting wars for religious or non-religious reasons, as long as it’s not based on your political view regarding the war, or sheer self-interest.

Second, she’s a 65-year-old woman, and nobody has been drafted in 40 years – it will probably never happen again. So even if the immigration people were right on the law – which they weren’t – they should have let this pitch go by anyway.

Third, we already live in a world in which religious extremists are trying to breach the wall between church and state, to put their religious priorities at the top of our national agenda, and ram their views down our throats on abortion, school vouchers, school prayer, intelligent design, putting the Commandments in courtrooms, stem cell research, euthanasia, cloning, civil unions, HPV shots, contraception, sex education, faith-based initiatives, banning books, assisted suicide. Now officials of the government are taking us down a path wherein an English grandmother who wants to teach kids that reading is better than fighting can be thrown out of the country for being an atheist, but if she came back the next day and said “okay, I’m a Baptist, I hate fags, I want to ignore Roe v Wade, my schoolkids shouldn’t be taught evolution or sex ed or get anti-cancer shots, and let’s start burning books too!”….they would welcome her with open arms. If she was teaching her kids hate and ignorance rather than grammar and spelling, they would roll out the red carpet for her.

And fourth, it opens the door to restricting atheists from entering the country – what other restrictions could government put on atheists? As it is, already it is almost impossible for an atheist to have a political career in America. The government, with this action, is taking the stance that morality doesn’t mean anything unless there’s a church standing behind you.

Update – the immigration people backed down.

…Second story, Ted Cruz, arguably the leader of the crazy tea-party caucus in the U.S. Senate. He is a hardcore opponent of immigration reform – he has been screeching that we must oppose immigration reform in order to save “our humanity”.

Brace yourself for some irony here.

Cruz’s father came from Cuba, and did so illegally. He had to bribe officials to get into the United States. And Cruz himself believes he is eligible to run for President, even though he himself was born in Canada. So those Republicans who argue that illegal immigrants can turn into criminal scumbags once they arrive safely in America – they were right!

So by Republican logic, the little old lady is the person we need to fear, and keep out -- Cruz is the guy we want not only as a citizen, but as Commander in Chief.