Friday, November 30, 2012

1 Peter 2

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A Living Stone and a Holy People (v. 1-12)

If I'm understanding this correctly, this section is a metaphor of the building of the church. The congregation are the living stones and Jesus is the cornerstone.

Seems like a fine metaphor to use, when we talk about creating any group we talk about building it, building a community for example, why not use the metaphor of actually building with stone? There are a couple of verses I wanted to single out and discuss.

v1 "So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander."

We are off to a good start in this chapter, here's a bunch of things that are bad for you, and bad for the church if you are a part of it, don't do these things. The only thing I will add here, is that it might be tempting to complain that this is obvious, but I think that would be misguided. Even if something is obvious to you, there is value in having it pointed out. Perhaps you know something is bad, but you might do it anyway without thinking about it too hard. Then if someone makes a point of it you might reevaluate and correct your own behavior.  

v12 "Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation."

I'm honestly not even really sure what to make of this one. We start with a command to be honorable, which sounds good. But then these people are going to call you evildoers anyway. Alright, fair enough, there's a group of people who are going to hate you anyway, but even in the face of that you should be a good person. But then it says they will see your good deeds and glorify God. It would seem to me that they can either call you an evildoer or they can recognize your good deeds and glorify God, but how can they do both? Perhaps it has something to do with that "day of visitation". I don't really know what that means, is that when they die? Maybe that is supposed to be when Jesus finally comes down to those people personally. Actually that kinda makes sense, the command says be good around people even when they treat you like crap, eventually (once Jesus helps them see the light) they will reflect on their interaction with you and view you favorably. I wonder if I'm on to something here, I'm curious what the Christian commentaries will say.

Guzik seems to generally agree with this idea, cool.

Submission to Authority (v. 13-25)

It is the will of God that you be subject to human institutions as well as to God. You should do good and silence the ignorant people who speak against Christians.

This is interesting, it says you should follow human leaders. It would wonder how you could follow this verse if the human institution and the word of God were in conflict though. Obviously you would expect that the answer would be to listen to God, but how do you then follow this instruction. I suppose perhaps it lies in the meaning of "be every human institution". It would appear to me that this means to follow every rule, but is there another meaning that I'm not seeing? 

Servants should be subject to their masters even if they are unjust. Jesus suffered even though he didn't deserve it, you should follow in his footsteps. It is a good thing if you suffer, you should be like Jesus and do not get angry or threaten in return.

First of all, what does 'servant' mean? It might mean slave, I looked at different translations and some say slave instead of servant. Some say household slaves or domestic slaves. I can't believe I'm going to write this, but the slavery itself is somewhat beside the point here, the bad thing is that the servants are supposed to be good to their masters even if they are unjust. What the hell?

As always, it is interesting to see how a Christian would try to defend something that is so obviously terrible. Guzik says the following "If we must endure hardship because of our Christian standards, it is commendable before God." Here is the good ol' Christian persecution complex again. But I would argue that what he is saying isn't even in the text. It doesn't seem to be talking about dealing with hardship from being Christian, it's just deal with hardship because your master is a piece of shit. Why should you have to take that?

He also quotes Meyer who said "Our case is like that of a criminal who had better bear quietly a sentence for a crime he has not committed, lest by too much outcry he induce investigation into a list of offenses, which are not charged against him, because they are not known." So basically, he's comparing this situation (being a slave with a shitty master) to a criminal who is in jail for a crime he didn't commit, but who should keep quiet because if they investigate too much they will find another crime for which he does deserve to be in jail. What a terrible analogy, the criminal deserves jail, he's just in there for the wrong thing, the slave was just screwed over by the world.

This is great, Gill's take is that the Jews thought that they shouldn't be slaves, and this verse along with others. Wow, so according to him the Jews tried to be anti-slavery and the bible put a stop to that idea. Amazing. If Gill is correct, this would have been a perfect time for an all loving God to jump on this opportunity and say "Yes, you are correct you should not be slaves to anyone. But that goes for everyone, not just you guys." Christians will often argue that slavery was just the way it was back then and it is unreasonable to think he would just put a stop to it. As terrible as that argument is, given this idea from Gill it is that much worse. Here is a perfect opportunity.

Up until the end here, I really though I was going to have a day where all of the summaries were good, and then BAM, right at the end, slavery. You almost got one through bible, you almost made it one day without being horrible.

For the overview post (If you think I should add or remove stuff from this list please let me know, I think it would make good conversation)


2:1 malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander are all bad things.

"So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander."

2:12 Act in an honorable manner even in the face of slander.

"Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation."

2:13 Follow all rules of earthly government

"Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution..."


2:18 Slaves, respect your masters even if they are unjust to you

"Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust."

Thursday, November 29, 2012

1 Peter 1

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As usual, when I get to a new book, I check the wikipedia page for any interesting information about it, particularly I look at the dating and authorship. It is a letter from Peter to a number of churches, so the supposed authorship is Peter, although some people argue that someone else wrote it and put his name on it, likely some of his followers after he died. Some suggest it was written in AD 81 during the reign of Domitian, which is after the death of Peter. Others suggest that the book relies on the Pauline apostles which again, is too late for Peter. Others of course argue in favor of Peter being the author.

Greeting (v. 1-2)

Peter says who he is and that he is talking to "the exiles in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.

Born Again to a Living Hope (v. 3-12)

God provided us with Jesus so we could be saved, have faith in this. The prophets were not working for themselves but for you.

That seems to be the basic message here, although the actual text is quite wordy. Obviously I'm not a fan of the faith message here.

Called to be Holy (v. 13-25)

Through belief in God you can be holy as long as you are obedient and conduct yourself as God wants you to through fear.

Reading that, you might suspect I had trouble summarizing this section. It seemed to me to use a lot of words to say very little, but that seemed to be the basic idea. Obviously I am not a fan of focusing on obedience or fear. There was also one more verse that caught my eye.

v17 "if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds,..."

This isn't necessarily a contradiction, as I suppose you could be judged poorly by God and still be let into heaven, but I thought that only faith mattered, and deeds were unimportant.

For the overview post (If you think I should add or remove stuff from this list please let me know, I think it would make good conversation)


1:8 believe in Jesus despite a lack of evidence

"Though you have not seen [Jesus], you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him..."

1:14,22 Obedience is of supreme importance

"As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance"

"Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth..."

1:17 You should be ruled by fear

"conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile"

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

James 5

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Warning to the Rich (v. 1-6)

Soon your wealth will rot away and be useless to use, you have chosen to amass your treasure here on earth where it will be useless soon. The rich gain their wealth by fraud and exploitation of their workers. You are responsible for the death of Jesus.

The bible clearly does not like rich people, funny then, that the catholic church has amassed so much wealth. Something I wanted to focus on a bit, I summarized that wealth will soon be worthless, I said this because verse 3 contains "You have laid up treasure in the last days". If you are really pushing for this to make some kind of sense, I imagine you would argue that this is talking about your own personal death, but I think it is pretty clear they are talking about the impending apocalypse.

The other problem here, is that all rich people are lumped into one big pile. They all have ill-gotten gains and apparently they are all responsible for the death of Jesus.

With the Catholic church in mind, the following statement from Guzik made me laugh. "[James] now naturally rebukes those most likely to live independently from God: the rich."

Patience in Suffering (v. 7-12)

Be patient and establish your hearts for the coming of the lord, which is at hand. Do not judge each other or you will be condemned. Be an example of suffering and patience like Job.

I like that patience is extolled here. Other than that, I'm not a fan of this passage. It is mentioned a second time that the apocalypse is right around the corner. It also says that suffering is a virtue, and looks toward Job as a role model. As far as I'm concerned, the story of Job is horrible, God lets the devil torture a guy to prove a point.

Apparently, the apocalypse prediction is not wrong, even though it has clearly failed, as according to Guzik 
"James said that in his day that the coming of the Lord is at hand. Was he wrong? No; we should not think as history since Jesus’ Ascension as moving towards a distant brink known as Jesus’ coming. Instead, it has run parallel to that brink for the last two thousand years or so, ready at any moment to head off it."
So apparently the end is near, and it has been for 2000 years. Great logic there buddy. Gill tries to get out of it in a different way, with a vague reference to the idea that for God "a thousand years are as one day". This seems like a pretty lame cop out to me, if correct it also seems that God is terrible at communicating with us, for if he meant that Jesus would return in thousands of years, he should have not told us it is right around the corner when our lifespan is so much shorter than that.

Do not swear any oath by heaven or earth.

As to the "don't swear an oath" thing, I don't get it.

According to Guzik the oath thing refers to making complicated deals with people, which are presumably complicated because they are deceptive. It says to use simple yes and no, and that is apparently what this is referring to. Being unfamiliar with the history, I'm fine deferring to him on this point. And given that, the spirit of this seems good, don't try to swindle people with complicated contracts.

The Prayer of Faith (v. 13-20)

If you are righteous and have faith your prayers have great power. The prayers of the church elders can heal, and the prayers of Elijah caused it to not rain for the and a half years.

This has two ideas in it that are terrible, first is the idea that prayer can do anything. Are we actually supposed to believe that Elijah made it stop raining for three and a half years? If not, at the very least the story is surely supposed to be telling us that prayers is extremely powerful. I definitely think the verse that says church elders can heal with prayer is supposed to be taken literally. Why is this such a bad thing? Because prayers don't seem to work. But the second bad thing about this section is that if your prayers don't work, it is your fault, you must not be righteous enough.

I didn't mention it, but in addition to having the elders pray, they are supposed to anoint the sick with oil. Guzik interprets this as "seeking the best medical attention possible". Are you kidding me? I mean, I'm glad they found a way around the silly rules in the book and are able to still go get proper care, but to say that is what the text means is a hell of a lot of spin.

He also says "Some have interpreted the idea behind save the sick as not specifically being healing, and raise him up as being a reference to ultimate resurrection." Another no lose situation for God. One more quote "The best approach in praying for the sick is to pray with humble confidence that they will be healed, unless God clearly and powerfully makes it clear that this is not His will."

It is quite telling when the Christians trying explain things hedge their bets immediately like this. "God can heal anything, unless he doesn't want to, so if it doesn't work it's not God's fault"

James finishes by stating that bringing back someone who wanders from the truth will "save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins"

Are those the sins of the person saving or the person being saved? My first thought was that it was talking about the person saving, that saving someone will offset some of your own sins. But then I looked again and it is talking about saving his soul, is bringing him back covering his sins? I'm not sure.

Guzik agrees with my first thought, that the person helping the other person gets some sins forgiven for helping him.

For the overview post (If you think I should add or remove stuff from this list please let me know, I think it would make good conversation)


5:7-8 patience is a virtue

"Be patient, therefore, brothers...8 You also, be patient..."


5:3,8 the end is near!

"...You have laid up treasure in the last days."

"...Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand."

5:4-6 All rich people are evil

"the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud... You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence...You have condemned and murdered the righteous person..."

5:16 Prayer is powerful if you are righteous enough

"Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

James 4

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Warning Against Worldliness (v. 1-12)

You are all evil people, and by choosing the evils of the world we are turning our backs to God and turning towards the devil.

That seems to be the essence of this section. I'm definitely not a fan. This is one of those ideas that seems to permeate Christianity which I think is really dangerous. I wrote about this idea recently, my problem with this largely centers on the fact that you are telling people (especially children) that they are evil and deserve to go to hell. (This verse doesn't say you deserve hell, but that seems to be where Christians take it). Children take this to heart, I thought I was a bad person for a long time, that's a tough mindset to grow up in.

v6 "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

I like that. While there is nothing wrong in a little pride for a job well done, I don't think that's what we are talking about here. We are talking about being prideful more in general, which can cause some problems and generally will turn someone into a huge dick. Having a general sense of some humility is preferable. 

v9 "Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom."

hmm, I'm not even sure what to make of this, it seems to be saying that you are not supposed to be happy. The verse before is talking about getting close to God and purifying yourself and such. I guess perhaps the idea is this section is saying that worldly things are bad, and worldly things make us happy, so by making ourselves unhappy we must be getting closer to God. I really hope I'm misinterpreting this, that is an awful message. I can't wait to see what the christian commentaries have to say about this.

According to Guzik, the idea is that as we draw close to God, we lament our sins from before we were close to God and that is what makes us sad. This seems like a pretty reasonable interpretation to me actually. Everything leading up to this verse is saying that we are pieces of crap, then it says submit to God, and then is the part where we feel bad about ourselves. But then afterwards it says to humble ourselves to God and we will be exalted, so we could feel better then. Good, I'm glad my first impression here was not correct.

v11-12 Don't speak evil against one another. Don't judge each other, only God can judge us.

This is another bit where I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it. As a general loose guideline, I like the idea of not judging each other and not speaking against one another. If the first thing in our mind is to give people second chances and try to see their sides of things the world will be a better place. But at some point people need to be judged, and we need to talk poorly about someone if they repeatedly do bad things. If someone is a scam artist for example, we should let everyone know so they won't be a victim. So this seems good as a general guideline that you only go against when it is really deserved would be a good thing, but that isn't what this is. Saying only God can judge makes this a solid rule that applies always. I don't think I can put this in the good column because an honest reading here won't let us ever say anything bad about anyone. In fact, if we really followed it, we wouldn't be allowed to have prisons, because that is judging people. We should instead just trust that God will punish them in his own way.

I looked through a handful of Christian commentaries and they never really address my complaint here. Guzik says that you can't be right with God if you are being evil toward other men, and Gill seems to interpret this as saying bad things about people when they didn't actually do it. Reading the verse again, I really don't see how that could be what it is supposed to mean.

Boasting About Tomorrow (v. 13-16)

If you claim you will do something in the future, you are boasting and this is evil and a sin. You should instead say that you will do this or that if the lord wills it.

Again, I just don't know what to make of this. By making plans for the future I'm boasting and therefore sinning? This is just insanity. The problem isn't even that it is saying boasting is bad, it is claiming that planning for the future is bad. What a horrible message to send to people.

About this section, Guzik says the following "James will not discourage us from planning and doing, only from planning and doing apart from a reliance on God." So he is saying planning is okay, as long as your plans always have God in mind. I guess he is getting that from verse 15 which says "You ought to say 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that'" Does that imply that you can plan as long as you are considering God? I suppose that is a possible interpretation, but it feels like quite a stretch to me.

Gill seems to basically say the same thing. So the question now becomes this, am I just having trouble seeing the obvious interpretation, or are they stretching to make this verse reasonable?

I thought about this a little more, and still can't decide where I land on my last question there, but I would like to throw out one piece of evidence for my point of view, Jesus himself said we shouldn't plan for tomorrow at all in Matthew 6.

For the overview post (If you think I should add or remove stuff from this list please let me know, I think it would make good conversation)


4:6 pride is bad, humility is good.

"Therefore it says, 'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'"


4:4 You are evil people (probably should reference whole section)

"You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."

Monday, November 26, 2012

James 3

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Taming the Tongue (v. 1-12)

Although the tongue is small, it is very powerful. It is like the rudder of a ship, which is small and yet controls where the ship goes in a strong wind. Or like a small flame that sets a forest fire ablaze. So be careful who becomes teachers, for the tongue of a teacher can control many.

I think that was the point here, it didn't quite lay it out exactly like that, but it started saying that not many people should be teachers and then spent the rest of the section talking about the power of the tongue, I think this is the intended message.

That being said, I agree with the idea that the tongue is very powerful, I guess the real message there is you should watch what you say. We can do a lot of damage with thoughtless words and we should be careful to avoid it.

Verse 1 says that not many people should become teachers. I definitely disagree with this message, I think everyone should try to teach what they know to other people, it is the best way to learn something yourself and spreading knowledge is always a good thing. We had a saying back in grad school, if you want to learn a topic, teach it to someone else. That being said,  I have a feeling that this is meant as more "leaders" than "teachers" in the way I am thinking about it, so my comments probably don't really apply. Nevertheless I find this idea compelling so I wanted to mention it anyway.

Guzik highlights that this is talking about becoming a teacher in the church and his take on this is basically that the position should not be taken lightly. I agree with this perspective, especially if you are talking about being a real leader in the church (which I think is the intention of the verse), but I do like the idea that many people within the church can take up smaller roles of authority and the congregation can spend a lot of energy teaching each other.

v. 7 "For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,"

I also wanted to point this verse out just because it is silly. At the time of this being written, we certainly hadn't discovered every type of creature that exists in nature, and I would say it is more than likely that is still true today. And we certainly haven't tamed them all.

Wisdom from Above (v. 13-18)

Wisdom comes from above, and unspiritual and demonic things from from below.

This is yet another one of those times when the bible just claims all good things as coming from God and all bad things as not coming from God. If you just claim that all wisdom comes from God, and then attribute all good things to him, while letting him get away from anything that is bad, of course he will look good, but it's just a bullshit illusion. Oh, actually, it sounds almost like a politician when I put it that way. That being said, there is some good advice here.

As usual, Guzik seems to take this message hook line and sinker.

v 13 says to show your works in the meekness of wisdom.

This is pretty good, being meek isn't always the best thing to do, but I think as a general guideline it is pretty good. 

v 14 says that jealousy, selfish ambition, boasting, and lying are bad.

That's a lot to shove together, but yeah, I agree here.

v 17 "But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere."

I'm actually not completely sure what to say about this one. If by "wisdom from above" we mean the bible, then I disagree with every point here. It's riddled with contradictions, so calling it pure doesn't work for me. There is some peace preached by Jesus, but there is also a ton of violence (some even preached by Jesus). Gentle? there is plenty of heavy-handedness by God, for example, killing nearly everyone on the planet with a flood. Open to reason? not with all of the blind faith talk. Full of mercy? Again, the flood. good fruits, impartiality and sincerity? All of these seem to be destroyed with all of the contradictions all over the place.

They all sound good, and if this verse had said that we should have these qualities I would have put it in my good list, but it is saying that the book has those properties, and I simply disagree with the statement.

For the overview post (If you think I should add or remove stuff from this list please let me know, I think it would make good conversation)


3:10 Be careful what you say, you can do a lot of damage with a thoughtless word

"From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so."

3:13 Show your works through meekness

"Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom."

3:14 Lying, selfishness, boasting, and jealousy are bad

"But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth."


3:15 God gets credit for good things, absolved from bad things

"This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Justice by Proxy

Let's a assume for the moment that a murder has been committed and we all agree that for justice to be served the perpetrator needs to go to jail for life without the possibility for parole. Suppose further that he is a young man and his father does not want him to have to spend the rest of his life in prison, the dad offers to serve the young man's prison sentence for him. If we allow this to happen has justice been done? Obviously not, you can't get off Scott free just because someone else is willing to serve your sentence for you. We wanted to put the son in jail for a reason, we want to remove him from society and we demand he be punished.

Well, this is an atheist blog, so I'm sure it's pretty obvious where I'm going with this, let's think about the Jesus story. According to the Christian narrative, we are all sinners and deserve to be tortured for all eternity. But in an act of love Jesus died on the cross and paid for our sins. As long as we are willing to accept this gift, we are free from hell and get to live in the eternal paradise of heaven instead. Apparently justice has been done. This makes absolutely no sense, and I would argue it is similar to the situation described above. We all deserve to go to hell, Christians say this all the time, just like our murderer deserves prison. Jesus gets us out of hell by dying for us, which Christians claim is justice served. However I'm sure they would not let the father serve his son's jail time.

Although on second thought this analogy isn't very accurate, the trade proposed by the father is much more equitable than the one involving Jesus. The father was going to trade one life sentence for another, I suppose it's not completely equal as his life sentence would be about 20 years shorter than his sons would be, but it's pretty close. Jesus on the other hand canceled out an infinite amount of torture by dying for 3 days. Since the ratio infinity to 3 is zero, we can't make it completely analogous, but let's do what we can and say the father instead offers to serve 3 days in prison to cancel his son's life sentence. It wasn't justice before, and we are going in the wrong direction. Furthermore, the deal with Jesus doesn't just get us out of eternal torture, it gives us eternal paradise. We deserve punishment, but Jesus paid for our sins and we get a reward for it. So in the case of our murderer, he shouldn't just gain freedom, he should also be rewarded, say with a million dollars.

Let's see how this deal looks now, a 20 year old guy is convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. The father comes in and says he wants justice to be served and is willing to sit in a prison cell for three days in exchange for his son not having to go to prison and should instead get a million dollars from the court. Oh, and one more thing, if anyone else is convicted of murder from now until the end of time, they get the same deal provided they are willing to believe such a deal was struck.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

No Obvious Line

(Note: for a non-colorized version of this post, click here)

I was listening to a debate on abortion recently, and it got me thinking about the whole idea that life begins at conception. As far as I can tell, the whole idea of claiming that life begins and conception is to draw a line in the sand as to where abortion is permissible. If we declare the fetus to be alive, then aborting it is tantamount to murder. On the other hand, if it is not alive, we are merely performing a medical procedure. I would argue that there are a number of spots during the pregnancy where we might consider claiming life. Perhaps it is the moment of birth, perhaps it is once nervous system can feel pain, there are probably several level of brain development that would make a certain amount of sense, perhaps it is when the heart has reached a certain level of development, maybe it is just the moment of conception. How do we choose where to draw the line?

I would argue 
that it is really not obvious where this line should be drawn, it seems like it should be somewhere in the middle, but I have no idea exactly where. If we think about the 
extremes it seems pretty obvious, a single cell, or just a handful of cells, no big deal, clearly not murder. You are not talking about a life, you are talking about a little lump of practically nothing. On the other hand, consider a fetus that is almost ready to be born, is aborting that baby murder? It certainly feels like it to me. Does something magical happen when it is born? Not really, it's essentially the same the day before and the day after birth, and it seems obvious that late-term abortion is a thing to be avoided. Put another way, what is the difference between a baby that was born 2 days early and another baby that is 2 days late, on the day they were expected to be born, is it moral to abort one, but immoral to kill the other? They should be treated the same right? I would argue that the point where abortion should no longer occur is somewhere in the middle, but it's not really a line, there's a sort of moral grey scale. The farther along the pregnancy gets, the 
more uneasy the idea of an abortion makes me. But my understanding is that this is reflected in how abortions are performed in practice, getting an abortion early on is no big deal, and late term abortions really don't happen unless there is something severely wrong (like if the baby didn't develop correctly). If we have to draw a line somewhere legally, it seems to make the most sense to me to put it at the point of birth.

But this is the 
kind of thing we should be used to, we see it all over the place. What happens the day you turn 16 that makes it reasonable for you to get a drivers license? Why is it that we are wildly irresponsible when we are 15 years and 364 days old, and yet when we turn 16 we can drive safely? Obviously nothing, but legally we have to draw the line somewhere. Some kids would probably be great drivers at 12, while other probably shouldn't be allowed to drive until they are 20, somehow the law wound up at 16. The same thing is true for drinking, the day we turn 21 we can drink ourselves into a stupor, but one day earlier a single drop touching our lips is illegal. It's kind of silly, but it's just the way we have to write the law.

It also reminded me 
of assigning grades for a class. Why is an 89.99% a B while a 90% is an A? To think about how fair this is, 80% is also a B, so the 80% and 89.99% students are counted as having equal mastery of the material. We can help this a bit by adding pluses and minuses, but you still have 82% and 87.99% being the same grade. For practical purposes, we have to draw these lines in the sand somewhere, but no matter what you do you get these jumps that don't seem quite fair.

Another big place this 
shows up is in evolution, if we say that X evolved into Y, it's not like there are a bunch of species X around, and then suddenly the next generation is a bunch of Ys. It's gradual change over time, that's really the point of the whole thing. There's no obvious point where the changeover happens, it's just that if we look at a line of descendants it's obvious that at the beginning we have a bunch of species X, and at the end we have a bunch of species Y. The organisms in the middle will look like a mixture of the two species, the closer you are to the start the more it looks like X, while the closer you are to the end it will look like Y. Unfortunately, we are used to looking for a place to draw a line and it even permeates our language, when a new species is created we call it a speciation event, this suggests there is a moment when a new species is created. Of course the reality is much more muddy than that. Abiogenesis has the same problem, we talk about the origin of life and the way people talk about it, it seems that in one moment there is just mud, and the next moment there is life. Really there are some things that we would probably call proto-life which have some properties that we would require of something we would call alive which gradually assembled into life. Pointing to a single moment where you have the first thing ever that is alive would be impossible, there is no obvious first life-form.

And of course there is 
the color thing. The first word of this post we can all agree is red and the last one is blue, and the middle is somewhere in between. Identifying the first blue word or the last red one is pretty difficult. We could each pick a word, and if we compared we would probably be in the same ballpark, but I'm pretty sure we would not all pick the same word. That's because there is no obvious line between red and blue here, the change is gradual and differentiating between them is messy, like so many other things in life.

Friday, November 23, 2012

James 2

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The Sin of Partiality (v. 1-13)

The big point of this section is that you should treat people the same no matter their station in life. You should not treat the rich guy well and the poor guy like crap.

This is a good message, don't prejudge people based on their appearance, give everyone the same chances. 

But then a few verses later, it says that rich people are blasphemers.

It contradicts itself almost immediately. It says we shouldn't be partial, but then it follows that up by saying how terrible rich people are.

You should love your neighbor as yourself.

There we go, more good stuff. 

If you break any bit of the law you become accountable for all of it.

And again, the good stuff is followed up by nonsense. If you break one law it is the same as if you had broken any other, or all others I suppose. I've complained about this before, but equating all laws is moronic, lying and murder are equally bad? I'd just like to point out that under this logic, if your child bakes you a pie that tastes terrible and asks if you like it, it is equally bad for you to tell them it tastes good or to stab them in the face.

Guzik triest to argue here that the point is you are not allowed to pick and choose which parts of the law you want to follow, you can't say "I like God’s command against murder, so I’ll keep that one. But I don’t like His command against adultery, so I will disregard it." I disagree with his assertion, look at the verse, it says "if you fail in one point", that doesn't suggest to me that you have decided to ignore the rule, that suggests you tried to keep it and were unable. 

Since you have also broken the law, have mercy on other people who have broken the law, for mercy triumphs over judgement.

This is interesting, it would appear that the whole point of telling us that have all broken the law is so that we can have mercy on other people who have broken the law. That's nice, and mercy is good when appropriate, but there are times when judgement is necessary. Just having a blanket statement that you should show mercy is bad. It makes me think of the whole catholic church molestation problem, those priests should not be getting the kind of mercy they are getting from the church, they should be judged, severely. Mercy sounds great when you are talking about someone who stole a loaf of bread to feed his family, but sometimes it is not appropriate.

Faith Without Works is Dead (v. 14-26)

James argues that works are necessary to make faith matter. He compares having faith but doing no works to telling a starving person "Go in peace, be warm and filled" but giving them no food. He then uses examples from the old testament to justify the assertion.

James and Paul seem to be on different pages here. Didn't Jesus abolish the old law and make it so that faith is now all that matters? That being said, should I put this in the good pile? It is saying people should do good things after all, I mean it says you should have faith also, which I don't like, but at least it also says you should do good works...I guess I'll put this as a good item.

For the overview post (If you think I should add or remove stuff from this list please let me know, I think it would make good conversation)


2:3-4 Don't treat poor people worse than you treat rich people.

"if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place,"while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or, "Sit down at my feet," have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?"

2:8 Love your neighbor

"If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well."

2:14 Do good works, faith is not enough

"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?"


2:7 Rich people are blasphemers

"Are [rich people] not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?"

2:10 All crimes are equal

"For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it."

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Turkey Jesus died for our sins. We are forgiven.

Dude, are you crazy? The farmer is coming, we have to run

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

James 1

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As usual, when I start a new book I like to check out the wikipedia page. I looks like this is a letter written by James, although I didn't see anything about who he was writing it for. It says that "[James] consists largely of moral exhortations and precepts of a traditional and eclectic nature." so perhaps it is intended as a letter for a general audience. Hopefully this means there will be plenty of material that will be of interest for me if it focuses on morals. Apparently our earliest copies are from mid to late 3rd century, although it is attributed to James the Just who died in 62 or 69. I'm not really sure how that works out, I guess the early copies were lost?

Greeting (v. 1)

Apparently I was right, James is writing "To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion", I guess it is just written for all.

Testing of Your Faith (v. 2-18)

You should be happy when you face trials, when you stand up to tests of your faith you become more steadfast, and letting this steadfastness have its full effect makes you perfect and complete.

This idea I find interesting, because I find grains of truth in it, but it's all mixed up with stuff I don't like, and the conclusion is pushed way too far. We'll start with the idea that you should be happy to face trials. I was arguing recently that we should accept challenges to our ideas because it is a chance for growth. We can find out if we are wrong and improve our positions, or we can be more confident in our previous position if our ideas hold up and have one more piece of evidence that are are indeed correct. This sounds like I am saying the same thing, we become more steadfast, but what I'm talking about isn't the same as what is written here. I'm talking about becoming more steadfast by employing error correction. Without the option to change your opinion if you are proven wrong this whole thing is worthless. The verse is about faith, it is about standing up to a challenge and never moving an inch. This is a very bad thing, this is the basis that people use to deny evolution or climate change given the ridiculous amount of evidence that we have at this point. Furthermore, I mention that we improve through these trials, which is similar to what is written here, except it says you become perfect. There is really no ideal, there's no end to the pursuit of knowledge. There is no room to improve yourself if you think you are already perfect. This is similar to something good, but it is poison, it is the evil twin of a good message.

If you lack wisdom, ask God and he will give it to you. But you must ask in faith without doubt. If you doubt you should expect to get nothing from the Lord, as you are double-minded and unstable.

So basically, if you ask God for wisdom and you don't get it, then it is your fault. Also, when it says that doubts are not allowed, it is basically saying that skepticism is bad.

Don't blame God when you are tempted, for God cannot be tempted by evil and God tempts no one. You are tempted by your own desires, which grow into sin and then death.

Reading this, I just knew it had to be bullshit. I generally try not to read SAB while doing my blog, but this time it seemed like a perfect time to use it. With it's help, I discovered that God can indeed be tempted, and God does indeed tempt people

Everything good comes from God.

Well that's a nice blanket statement. I love that God gets credit for everything good and washes his hands of everything bad. If he created everything and set up the rules for everything, shouldn't he have to take credit for the good and the bad?

I didn't really have time to do my normal inspection of christian commentaries today, but I did glance really quick through Guzik's (if anyone is wondering why I use his so much, they are generally pretty good, and the format is excellent for scanning for specific items) and he seems to have accepted the things I have complained about hook line and sinker.

Hearing and Doing the Word (v. 19-26)

You should be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.

Now that's good stuff! We should not only listen to the words other people say, but really hear it. Being slow to speak suggests we should truly listen and understand, instead of waiting for the other person to stop talking so we can start talking. And of course being slow to anger is great as well. Patience is a great virtue, and that is really what we are talking about here.

For the overview post (If you think I should add or remove stuff from this list please let me know, I think it would make good conversation)


1:19 Be a good listener and be slow to anger

"Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;"


1:6 Skepticism is bad

"But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind."

1:13,17 God takes credit for good and distances himself from bad

"Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one."

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hebrews Overview

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As I have explained in the past, one of the reasons I am doing this blog is I am curious to see what kind of messages one might get from reading the bible. What might one learn as a take-away. Here is my quick summary of the good and bad from Hebrews.

I'm continuing my efforts to organize and categorize the items here. Hopefully this will be better than the last one, and I will continue to improve them as time goes on.



5:2 Consider your own weakness when you see other's struggling with theirs

"He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness."


10:34 Compassion is a good thing

"For you had compassion on those in prison..."

13:3 Be compassionate 

"Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body."


13:2 Show hospitality even to strangers

"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."


12:1 Use historical (and mythical) figures as inspiration to live good lives

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,"


13:5 Be content with what you have

"Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'"


--Violence and Veangence--

1:13 God is violent

"And to which of the angels has he ever said, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet"?"

10:12-13 Jesus is vengeful and violent

"But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet."


2:9-10 glorification of suffering

"But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering."

5:8 Obedience is the most important thing and suffering is good

"Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered."


5:8 Obedience is the most important thing and suffering is good

"Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered."

13:17 Obey all church leaders

" Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls..."


5:9 Justice by proxy

"And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him"


6:6 Apostates are crucifying Jesus a second time

"[For it is impossible...] to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt."


8:9 God does not love everyone

"...For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord."


11:1 When the bible says faith, it means blind faith

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."


12:16 Sex is bad

"[see to it] that no one is sexually immoral..."

13:4 No sex before marriage, no 'sexual immorality'

"Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous."
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