Saturday, September 28, 2013

Guest on Bitchspot Report

I joined Cephus this week on his podcast. We did a few news stories (my favorite was about a guy who is in hiding because people thought his epic mustache goes against Islam) and then talked about atheist parenting.

For those of you unfamiliar with Cephus, he is a conservative atheist who has an atheist blog as well as a geek blog in addition to the podcast which I mentioned up above. His blog first caught my attention because of the rarity of conservative atheists, anything that separates itself from the pack is worth a look in my opinion. I really like his stuff, and he's one of the few bloggers who I read most of what he writes. If you haven't already done so, I recommend checking out his stuff.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Anything Can Be Inspiring

What inspires you? Perhaps a moving speech, a heroic act you want to emulate, a perfectly executed piece of music that makes you want to pick up an instrument? When I think of being inspired this is the kind of thing I think of. Hell, I myself was inspired to start this blog in large part due to several well done blogs and podcasts, The Atheist Experience being chief among them. But these are the kinds of things that inspire us when we aren't expecting it. When I found TAE, I was just bored and looking for something to fill the time while I was commuting. The fact that it had such an effect on me was actually quite a shock.

But what happens when we go out and look for inspiration? It seems to me that when we want inspiration we will find it anywhere. If you hear a vague statement, you will read into it what you need. This is basically how cold readings work, isn't it? The "psychic" throws out a bunch of random crap and people will latch onto whatever they can.

It gets worse when you expect something to be inspirational, in those cases, you can find inspiration in things that should be repulsive to you. Look at many of the stories in the old testament, Noah's Ark for example. A story about God murdering nearly every person on the planet has been turned into a children's story. People come in expecting it to be good and so they see it as good, even though the content of the actual story is pretty horrific.

I think many Christians do this a lot when they read the bible, they expect wisdom on every page and that is what they find. Much of the time there is nothing there, and yet they see brilliance. You can see this play out for yourself if you follow a bunch of Christians on twitter like I do. They will often tweet bible verses, which I had originally expected to be all about love, compassion, and so forth. What I see, however, is quite different, they seem to tweet any random verse at all. It almost seems like they opened their Bible to a random page, picked a random verse on that page, and tweeted it. It got me wondering if that is pretty close to what really happened, they asked God for inspiration, opened their Bible randomly (In their mind they are guided by God's hand I'm sure) and started reading. After doing this, they found the inspiration that they desperately needed, regardless of what verse they landed on. This verse now holds some meaning to them and they tweet it out. This is obviously some wild speculation on my part, but it is the best explanation I have come up with for the constant stream of random verses I see posted to twitter.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Exodus 6: God Promises Deliverance

Today's Podcast


God sent Moses and Aaron to Egypt to ask Pharaoh to free the slaves. Pharaoh responded to this request by punishing the slaves harshly.

God Promises Deliverance (v. 1-13)

God says that he will do something to Pharaoh and the slaves will be driven out of the land. He reminds Moses that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and that he has promised the Canaanite land to their descendants. He has heard the groans of these people and remembered his covenant and he will now deliver on that promise.

God tries to remember (pic source)
I highlight these words just because it suggests a God who isn't omnipotent. It's easy enough to dismiss these things (such as it being how Moses understood God and not how God really is), but I still find it very interesting that a much more human seeming God is depicted in the bible than the abstract and perfect God that is often thought of nowadays.

I looked through all of the commentaries on my list for this point, and no one even tries to address the idea of an omniscient God remembering something.

Also, I mentioned in my reading of chapter 5 that the strategy of simply asking that the slaves be let free for a few days to worship their God was poor. It seems to me that God is intentionally using a poor strategy so that he will be justified in punishing Pharaoh.

Moses told the Israelites this news, but their spirit was broken because of their harsh slavery and broken spirit.

I'm sure a large part of the broken spirit is due to what happened to them last time.

God told them that since the Israelites won't listen, Moses and Aaron should go right to Pharaoh. Moses complains, but then God gives them a charge to do it anyway.

I'm not actually sure what "gives them a charge" means, but it seems like God is telling them to go do it anyway, even thought they don't want to. Moses really doesn't seem to have a ton of faith in God here does he? 

Moses complains that Pharaoh won't listen to him because he has "uncircumcised lips"

I have no idea what the hell this means.

According to Guzik

This may refer to Moses' idea that he has a speech problem, or it may be that he recognized that he is a sinful man, and therefore unworthy to be used.
Fair enough, I suppose in either case Moses is saying he is unworthy of this task, which does make sense given the context.

The Genealogy of Moses and Aaron (v. 14-30)


Moral of the Story

I. Don't be of the world, instead trust in God

According to Guzik's commentary, the centuries of slavery had made the Israelite people think as slaves rather than people of the covenant. They thought of Pharaoh as bigger than God.
Many Christians find themselves in the same place. They find it hard to trust God and believe that He is for them. This is why Paul says we must not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. The children of Israel needed their minds renewed, and we do also.
I remember hearing this kind of stuff growing up a lot, it's basically just saying "don't be bad", but simultaneously saying that all good things are "of the church" and all bad things are "of the world". I hate this kind of non-specific nonsense.

II. Don't give up so quickly (endurance and perseverance)
God wanted Moses to keep plugging away; to not look at Pharaoh, to not look at the children of Israel, to not look at even himself - but to look at God and God alone.
Moses wanted to give up after the first setback. God had much to do in his heart before Moses is ready to deal with all the discouragement ahead as he leads the people to the Promised Land.
God is building endurance in Moses, the ability to stick with God's plan and will even when it doesn't seem to work. This is faith; this is patient endurance in the LORD.
Well, obviously I'm not a fan of all of the leaning on God, but I do like the idea of endurance and perseverance.

Sorry for the uneventful post. I was planning on doing chapters 6 & 7 together given that half of this one was wasted with genealogies, but partly due to the addition of the moral of the story section I ran out of time this week.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Moral of the Story

When I started my blog, my intention was always to try to give as fair a reading of the bible as possible. I want to look at the good things of the bible next to the bad things of the bible and compare. Pretty much across the board I have found the good parts lacking and the bad parts to be plentiful, but nevertheless I try to give the bible the benefit of the doubt and I keep my eyes open for little bits of the story to praise. Even if the main thrust of the story is offensive in my opinion, if there is one little part that is a good lesson I point it out.

I have found that increasingly difficult to do since I have been reading the Old Testament. I have repeatedly asked myself "how can anyone read this book and see it for anything other than a horrible, horrible book?" This is clearly a bad perspective to have while doing this project, and yet all I see are bad characters doing bad things. But it can't be all bad, people have been getting meaning out of this book for thousands of years, what can they see that I can't?

So I have decided to add a new section to my bible posts, the moral of the story. In this section I will comment on what lesson is supposed to be learned from the story. Luckily, the Christian commentaries that I read almost always include something that will fit in this category. This seems like it might run the risk of overlapping with my blue text, but that has typically been checking if the Christian commentaries have responses to my criticisms. This new green text will be of a different flavor.

One final thought. As anyone who has followed my blog for very long at all will know that I get ideas like this fairly often. It has resulted in quite a few things that I like a lot and have stuck around (the podcast and the Christian commentaries for example), but there have also been quite a few ideas that didn't turn out to work and disappeared pretty quickly. We'll just have to see which category this lands in.

***Edit: Another thought***

The church I grew up in considered the Bible the divinely authored perfect word of God. Every word of it was supposed to be literally true. This is the perspective I generally take as I'm reading the bible, partly because of my background and partly because I know a good portion of the country looks at it this way.

But it's also possible to look at it more like a book of fables that are intended to teach us lessons rather than a book of things that actually happened. From this perspective, it might be easier to look past a horrible thing that happens to see the lessons one character or another is supposed to learn from the situation. This will be what I have in mind when writing the moral of the story segment.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Rotten Core but Thick Fruit

As I mentioned in last week's post, my mother died unexpectedly a few weeks ago. My biggest concern was how my father was going to handle this, they have been married for around 40 years and pretty much everything he does has her in mind. What is he going to do now that she is gone? When I first got into town my sister and I had a conversation and she said our dad is planning on going back to church. This actually made me happy, he grew up in the church and when I was growing up he always seemed to take a lot of joy in church activities. It seems like it would be good for him to get back to something like that.

I found it somewhat surprising that this is the reaction I had to my dad going to church. My opinion of Christianity is pretty low, why would I want my dad to take part in it? Well...It is a set thing to do once a week, come down to a place and be surrounded by other people. Take part in a bit of ceremony, mill about and talk to people before and after, and I think he enjoys some aspects of the actual service, such as the music. Ultimately it is the social aspect that I want for him. If he misses a week, someone in the church will probably notice and give him a call to make sure he's okay (not just because he missed a week and people there are fanatical, but because they know what he just went through). I like the idea that he will have something to do every week to keep him from spending all of his time milling about in his house by himself. Furthermore, my dad is the kind of guy to get involved in things. If the church runs a soup kitchen he will volunteer to help out, and again, it will be a good social thing for him. I don't often think about the good things that come from church, but there is definitely a good side of it. Along these lines, I also spent a lot of time observing and listening to people as well as reflecting on what I heard people talking about when I was growing up. The take-away message that many regular church-goers have is that Jesus is a good guy and they should be more like him. If that's what they get out of church I'm all for it. The church does bear some fruit, and I think there is an argument to be made the the fruit is thick.

However, the core is rotten. The central tenet of Christianity is that we are all sinners, we all deserve to be tortured for eternity, but if we ask God for forgiveness we can go to paradise instead. There are many other things about Christianity that I have issues with, but most of them vary from church to church. This one, however, seems to be pretty constant. It is necessary really, it's the reason we need Jesus. And I think this core message, the idea that we are all inherently evil, infects everything that the church does. A simple example, an aunt of mine (who doesn't know I'm an atheist) was talking to me about the importance of including religion in my son's upbringing. Within her pep talk, she randomly mentioned that we are all sinners and we all do bad things. She then quickly included "at the very least everyone has bad thoughts". Something about the offhanded inclusion of thought-crimes just to drive home the point that we are all evil really stuck out to me.

So I had these things rolling around in my head while I was sitting in the pew with my dad on Sunday morning. I got this picture of a nice thick, juicy apple that represents the church. There is plenty of good stuff in there. But the core is rotten, and that rot has tendrils reaching out for the edge. Go ahead, take a bite, you'll get some good stuff, but it's pretty difficult not to get a taste of the rot as well.
Behold my amazing artistic skills

Monday, September 9, 2013

Exodus 5: Why Not Give Your Slaves a Vacation?

Today's Podcast


God appeared to Moses and told him to go free his people from the Egyptians. So Moses gathered up his wife, son and "brother" Aaron and went to Egypt.

Making Bricks Without Straw (v. 1-23)

Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and asked if his people go hold a feast for God in the wilderness.

Already I don't understand the strategy here. They are asking Pharaoh to give his people some time to go worship their God by throwing some kind of a party. Essentially he's asking Pharaoh to give his slaves some time off. It's certainly possible there is a plan here that I just don't see, but it seems like a strange move.

Hell, maybe he just thought Pharaoh would let them do it and he planned on having them all just run off. A bit of a silly plan looked at in that way, but I guess it's something.

From Guzik:
It seems strange to many that Moses only asked for a three-day weekend; after all, he knew what God wanted to do. Was Moses deceptive in only asking for three days?
Not at all. God had Moses ask first for three days off to test Pharaoh's heart. God gave Pharaoh the chance to agree to something small and to have his heart softened before the big request came.

I suppose that's as good of an explanation as anything. Ultimately he's asking the Pharaoh to release a bunch of slaves, which at the time was seen as valuable property. This clearly wasn't going to work, but neither would just asking to free them. 

Pharaoh was upset at the suggestion. He increased the slave's workload by keeping their quota the same but made them gather some of their own building materials.

Seems like a bit of an overreaction by the Pharaoh. One guy makes a request on behalf of the slaves and Pharaoh punishes them all. I suppose it is an effective way to keep a group of people in line, but damn.

Picture source: Wikipedia

Now the slaves are pissed at Moses and Aaron for making their lives harder, and Moses is upset at God for sending him and making the slave's lives worse.

These seem like reasonable questions on both counts. Of course that is because they can't see the future, all they know is things have just gotten worse and they are all asking what is up.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Dealing With Death

You may have noticed that I haven't made a post in a few weeks. You may have guessed that I have simply been busy with my two month old son, unfortunately you would be wrong. The day my last post went live I got a call from my dad that my mother had passed away unexpectedly. It was quite a shock, she wasn't sick, or showing any other signs of problems (other than feeling a touch under the weather for a few days) and she's relatively young. So anyway, I grabbed a quick flight and went to visit my dad for a week. While I was there I kept a little grief journal, here's a few thoughts from it.

What is the appropriate amount of grieving?

When I first heard the news, I was more shocked than anything. I was intellectually sad, but emotionally I was mostly numb. At some point I realized that everyone other than me seemed to be distraught and while my numbness had seemed to wear off, I wasn't feeling particularly sad. What does it mean that I am not feeling like everyone else? Is there something wrong with me? Did I not love my mother? We certainly had our issues, but I cared for her. Why the disparity?

I talked to my wife about this, and she said I was being silly. I loved my mother, and there is nothing wrong with me. Judging your emotions is a bad idea, and not everyone is on the same schedule. She was right, I cut myself a little slack, and the emotions came. Especially during the actual funeral. Holy shit was that brutal. It was actually good though in a way. It was exhausting, but it was a way to get the emotions out around plenty of people for support. And it was great to share stories with people.

Now that I've returned to my regular life for about a week, things are mostly back to normal. My everyday life is pretty far removed from my parents, so the whole episode is rarely in the forefront of my mind. I do randomly have an impulse (such as "my mom would love this, I should call her about it") which is always a bit of a bummer.

What do you say to someone who is grieving?

When I got past the shock and disbelief of losing my mother, my concern went right to my dad who just lost his wife of roughly 40 years. My dad much used my mom for motivation for pretty everything he did. He loved tinkering around the house and in the yard, but even when he was just screwing around with his own little hobbies, he always had an eye out for things that my mom would like. Losing her would be absolutely devastating for him. What the hell do I say to my dad in this situation? How can I make things better?

Of course, I was on the other side of this a lot in the following week. My friends and family were searching for things to say to me to, many of them said things like "I just don't know what to say" just as I had to my father. Here's the thing, there is nothing to say. Nothing will fix things, no words will really make things better. However, the simple fact that people want to help and are searching for things to say is nice. A simple "I'm sorry for your loss" is good. Many people also offered to help in any way they could. "If you need someone to talk to please don't hesitate to call me", that's also nice, and I did take a few people up on that as did my dad. Another thing that a lot of people did that was really nice was to drop by food and drink. It's nice to not have to worry about grocery shopping during all of the craziness, and it also gives people an excuse to drop in and just hang out with us for a few minutes.

She's with God now

There is one thing that I heard a lot, in many variations from many different people "God must need her in heaven". Many atheists take offense to these statements but I obviously didn't as very few people in my family know I'm an atheist. But I'm not sure it would bother me even if they did, everyone is trying to cope. And as I said, it is hard to know what to say, in fact at the beginning of the trip I found myself wishing that I could have said such a thing to my father. I never did of course, but it seemed like it would have been nice.

But would it really? As I was watching so many people say these types of things, I was wondering if such words really help, and I don't think it did. Nobody seemed to be comforted by these words any more than they are comforted by anything else. People nodded and said "thank you" as they would have to "I'm sorry for your loss", but it doesn't make things better.

One angle I see a lot of atheists take with this type of thing is to submit it as evidence that they don't really believe what they are saying. It's not terribly uncommon to hear "If they really thought she was in heaven they'd be happy about her dying." I've nodded along to this before without thinking about it too hard in the past, but now I'm not so sure. Consider this analogy.
Suppose you were a really poor person in a really poor country. You have a wife and family that you love and your life is good given the conditions, even though you long for the better life. Suddenly some rich person swoops down to your village and says they will take one of your loved ones to live in a rich country in a mansion. They will be living the good life. You can come too, but you have to wait 5 years. 
In this situation, you are going to be happy for them, but you are still going to be sad they are gone. You will look forward to the reunion and being able to join them in the good life, but nevertheless, you will be sad for the time you have to spend apart. Furthermore, just observing my extended family, they really believe what they are saying. They Some of them really believe that my mom is in heaven, they are still sad they will never see her again (until they die).

Anyway. I should get back to a somewhat normal posting schedule starting next week.
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