Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Everybody Loves Hypocrisy

Thinking outside the box doesn't come easy for most people, and that's understandable because life is routine. We're programmed to follow the path of least resistance; our brains are trained to seek patterns. This also means we can't see when things may be different for others to whom those things aren't routine. And only when we see something through the eyes of someone else can we recognize what outside the box actually means.

The other day I watched an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond titled Prodigal Son. The biblical parable by the same name is about a son who demands his inheritance before his father dies, rather than wait for the event to actually happen. The son takes the inheritance, runs off, spends it all and then is forced to return home penniless. The word prodigal means wasteful. This is a long way about getting to my point, so forgive me for clearing my throat. 

In the episode, Raymond hates going to church, but because he feels guilty that his family (especially his father) goes every Sunday, he gives in and returns to church. And when he gets there he discovers his father actually turns church into his own little lodge gathering with his buddies, serving as ushers rather than sitting in the pews listening to sermons. His father even refers to church as "mumbo-jumbo" and Raymond actually uses the word hypocrisy, my favorite part of the episode. This is how my family thought of church when I was younger, a waste of time.

But that's not the real problem with this episode. En route to the church (on the Sunday when Raymond chooses not to go), his daughter asked her grandfather what happens to people who don't go to church, to which he replied, "They go to hell, Sweetie." 

She then goes home and is so scared by the prospect of her dad roasting in eternal hellfire that, as adolescent therapy, she draws a picture of her father in hell and shows it to him, which of course infuriates Ray when he learns it was his father who taught her this. 

Do you see what's wrong with this yet? Telling children they will burn for eternity for their sins is psychological child abuse, and telling them their daddy is going to hell for not attending a ritual every Sunday in some building bought with the tithing collected from believers is even worse. Imagine as a 5-year-old you're told your parent, whom you love and honor above all else, is going to be tortured forever, and you will too if you do anything wrong. How would you react to that?

Indoctrinating children is beyond contempt. Just because you're irrational and follow myths created by desert goat herders in a time when they thought the sun revolved around the earth doesn't mean you should force your beliefs on your children. Let them know about both sides of the coin, and do it in a way that is fair to them. And scaring them into belief should be a crime. It's no better than beating them for talking back or cussing. It may not be physical abuse, but it's certainly psychological abuse.

Because most people believe in some sort of religion and had those beliefs forced upon them as a prepubescent sponge, they watch this episode inside the box and laugh at the situations. Only when you denounce religion and its fear-laden practices can you recognize the themes in this episode are offensive. But add a studio audience, a laugh track and label it comedy and all critical thinking goes out the window.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Religion and abortion

Anyone who has read this blog knows I have touched on the subject of abortion, mostly regarding the hypocrisy right-wing Christians display on this topic. 

Here's the deal for me: If you don't believe in abortion, fine. I have no problem with that. Everyone is entitled to their beliefs. If you think abortion is murder, good for you. Don't do it. If you want to raise your family that way, again, that's fine.

But when you force your beliefs on those who aren't asking for your opinion, that's when I have a problem. You have no right telling someone what they can/should do with their body, and the Supreme Court is on my side.

Another problem I have with some anti-abortionists is when they lie to further their cause. There's a story that's been floating in cyberspace for ages that perfectly exemplifies this perpetration of disingenuous practice. There are numerous versions with delineating variations, but the crux of the story is this: If you knew of a woman who had syphilis, and because of that she had given birth to three deaf children, another child with tuberculosis and another with mental retardation, would you recommend an abortion for her when you found out she was pregnant again? If you say yes, congratulations, you just killed Beethoven.

First, this is the most pathetic bit of logic I have ever read and it shows just how desperate and scandalous these clinic bombers are. Beethoven's mother didn't have syphilis, he was the second child in his family and none of those horrible details were true. Some stories have him as the fifth or ninth child born, his father had tuberculosis, etc. But the fabricated story, which is on par with the use of a childhood Albert Einstein "schooling" the atheistic professor, isn't even the problem.

The logic isn't sound at all. If you were to subscribe to this train of thought, then that would mean every time someone abstains from sex they are depriving the world from a potential genius or philanthropist, etc. I've seen other ridiculous variations on this theme, listing all of the great types of people who could have been born. But the obvious other side of this twisted coin is the presence of evil. For every Beethoven born there's a Stalin or Osama Bin Laden coming out of their mama's vagina. Here's the flip side to the original story: A pro-life Catholic family in 1888 didn't abort their child when given the chance, and that baby was named Adolf Hitler. And unlike the Beethoven story, the Hitler one is true.

Some other thoughts:

* When Christians say they are pro-life, why is it that the majority of them are also pro-death penalty? Did you know George W. Bush, who is as pro-life as anyone, was governor of Texas and presided over more executions than any other state? During his term in office, he saw an execution every nine days on average, yet he'll defend a zygote with his last breath. A life is a life, W. Religious hypocrisy rears its ugly head yet again.

* How about in vitro fertilization? This procedure has delivered countless babies to couples who otherwise would be childless. But part of this process involves numerous zygotes being killed, otherwise the mother would turn into a human gumball machine. No one questions this practice because ultimately a life is the goal and desired outcome. But what about the unborn zygotes that are intentionally destroyed? Why aren't there picketers outside IVF clinics? 

This is what happens when people are indoctrinated and blinded by irrationality. And that irrationality often leads to lies, deceit and violence. So sad. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

My first secular crisis

I am currently going through my first family crisis since admitting my non-belief. The most difficult part for me is not that I'm starting to miss the comfort of prayer (I never believed in it before and it never gave me comfort anyway) or the "let go, let god" cop out, but the person who is having the crisis is deeply religious and I'm as close to her as any person on this planet. 

It's the first time I am having to comfort someone without the fallback of telling them I'll pray for them or that god is there for them. I suppose it's much better now that I can be perfectly honest with myself and with them by not saying something I didn't believe anyway. I obviously won't mention anything about non-belief or how prayer doesn't work, I'm no ogre, but at least I won't be lying either. I'll merely show support by empathizing and offering to do whatever I can in this trying time. I do admit it's a much more difficult situation when you can't just say you'll pray for them, but if I'm honest, compassionate and loving it will be better, because it's something they can tangibly appreciate and make their lot in life easier.

I'm hopeful things will turn out ok; I will be miserable without my mother.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Which is worse, pseudo or blind?

Who is more offensive: Someone who proverbially thumps you over the head with their bible despite never actually reading it, or someone who has read the bible and still believes it's entirely true and a moral compass?

When I see sheeple on Facebook posting excerpts from the bible, I know they likely haven't ever read the book. They are merely liking or sharing some cherry-picked verse, a platitude or meme designed by some other follower who likely hasn't read the bible either. These are the people who say the bible is their guide and the reason they believe in god, but when you quiz them on the bible, they actually have no idea what's in the book. When you call to their attention the atrocities and inconsistencies of their holy book, they dismiss it, say they aren't smart enough to understand it or they don't believe what you are saying. This is what I like to call a pseudo Christian. They were told what to believe as a young person, never questioned it and never really cared enough to seek out all of the available information. I don't question their devoutness, I just know they don't really know all the facts.

Then there's the believer who has read the bible, perhaps attending classes to study it or just reading it at home. When these people recite verses from the bible, and still believe it as god's word, I am offended. How can anyone read that book, know that slavery was endorsed, rape was accepted and murder practiced, and still be a Christian? I like to call these people blind Christians. They either lack enough stability and fortitude in their lives to think for themselves, or they are so stubborn they refuse to admit they (and their religion) are wrong. 

So, I think the latter person is much more offensive. This person knows the bible is pure filth, that it isn't divine, and yet they still follow it, and try to make others believe it, too. Misery loves company. At least the pseudo Christian is just mostly ignorant. Don't get me wrong, both are offensive, but blind Christians know the difference and still try to infect everyone.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Wizard of Oz, a vehicle of atheism

My last post about the Matrix has motivated me to tackle the Wizard of Oz. While it has been years since I've seen this classic movie (and I never read the children's book), I recently saw the prequel, Oz, Great and Powerful, and it reminded me that the original wasn't just a children's fantasy story, but a metaphor to endorse atheism.

Some have likened the movie to the industrial plight of America at the time (Scarecrow represented the struggles of farming, Tin Man represented factories, etc.) but given the people behind the book and movie were atheists, it certainly seems much more legitimate that this story is a veiled attempt at spreading atheism in a time when it wasn't exactly an accepted stance (not that it is today). When it's over, you'll see that Oz represents the man-made dream of heaven and nightmare of hell, that god is a fraud and you don't need a deity or religion to face your problems and be a good moral person.

Dorothy was raised by her Christian aunt and uncle, and being so innocent she never really had any doubts about religion, that is until something extremely important was on the line. When her dog Toto bites someone, it is recommended that the dog be put down, and this frightens Dorothy, so much so that she begins to question the very Christian ethic of her family and community. 

Knowing that her aunt and uncle (which represent god or any other supernatural force) isn't going to do anything, Dorothy Gale realizes she needs to leave town to save her dog. Toto serves as the catalyst for Dorothy to discover the truth, to discover what feels right, a path to agnosticism.

Some say the tornado is Dorothy's struggle with religion as thoughts of doubt and disbelief swirl in her head until she lands in Oz. "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." The symbolism is ripe here, leaving the colorless, drab, oppressive Kansas (Christianity) for the bright, colorful, happy place where people are friendly (humanism). Here she breaks out into Somewhere over the Rainbow ... Way up high, there's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby." As she starts to distance herself from god, she's reminded of the one pleasing aspect of her religion, heaven, of which this beautiful city reminds her.

The first person she meets is Glinda, the good witch, who serves as a sort of an atheistic guide for Dorothy. When Glinda sees that Dorothy is confused by her newfound feelings, she sends her on a journey to see the Wizard of Oz. It will be a trip fraught with difficulties (just like any deconversion of a believer), and Glinda knows this, but it's the only way for Dorothy to see religion and god for what they are. Further ensuring that Glinda represents rational thinking, she tells the wicked witch "You have no power here," meaning your superstitious religion can't affect my rational thought.

But before she goes on this voyage, Glinda gives Dorothy the ruby slippers to keep them safe from the Wicked Witch of the West. I like to think these slippers represent logic and reason. By the way, the wicked witches represent the religions of the eastern and western worlds, which of course are wicked. So it's also conceivable these slippers could be a metaphor for power, which explains why the western witch wants them "so badly!" as Glinda said. And since Dorothy is a product of western religion, the Wicked Witch of the West will be the most difficult to destroy, because that's the religion she followed, whereas the eastern religion has no real effect on her.

You'll notice the iconic Yellow Brick Road is made of gold bricks and leads to Emerald City and the Wizard of Oz. This symbolism is too obvious, representing the greed of religious institutions and the path of money that leads to church.

Along the way she meets three "companions" and the first is the Scarecrow. He believes he has no brain, meaning he can't think for himself (just like religion tells you to not question anything). But as her escapades progress we notice that Scarecrow is the one who comes up with all of the solutions to their problems. This shows Dorothy that you have your own mind and ideas, that you don't need some higher power to get you through life's difficult crises. He didn't need a brain, he already had one, just like you don't need religion to tell you what's right and wrong, you already know.

Next they meet the Tin Man, who thinks he doesn't have a heart, yet he's very emotional. He symbolizes another virtue Dorothy thought she needed god for: heart (compassion). The final character or virtue comes in the form of the Cowardly Lion, who says he has no courage, yet when faced with an opportunity he is willing to fight for Dorothy, proving you can have wisdom, compassion and courage without god.

Once they arrive at the Emerald Palace, we see it is a huge green church-like structure that sports massive steeples. And what do followers go to church for? To honor god by giving money and praying. And what are prayers if not wishes or requests, which is exactly why Dorothy and her troupe are there.

They encounter a doorman who says he's never seen the wizard, to wit Dorothy asks: “Well then, how do you know there is one?” if this isn't atheism then nothing is.

When they meet the wizard, he clearly is supposed to represent a god-like figure, and not just any god, but the evil one of the Old Testament decreeing orders down from the clouds. Just like Yahweh, the wizard can’t seem to get his business done and needs to “test” the mortals over which he reigns. He sends the troupe on a mission to obtain the witch's broomstick, which he never believes they will accomplish because the western religion is too manipulative and powerful for them to escape.

When Dorothy encounters the Witches Forest, it represents Dorothy's vision of hell. Why hell? Well, it's dark and scary and has a sign that reads: "I'D TURN BACK IF I WERE YOU!" This perfectly exemplifies Christianity's tactic for frightening you into believing in god and being a good person. But Dorothy kills the witch with water, which I know religious types will say is holy water to dispense evil. But I like to think of it as irony, using the substance that is supposed to cleanse you of sin to ultimately set you free from the bondage of religion.

Upon return to Emerald City, Dorothy and her companions are granted their wishes, but of course they find out the wizard is a fraud, that there is no such thing as an all-powerful being, and that they had those attributes of which they has sought all along. This is the very definition of atheism. And it's only fitting that Toto discovers the wizard, the very reason they began this journey was to save Toto, and Toto shows her the way to enlightenment. (Don't pay any attention to the man behind the curtain!)

And when Glinda returns, she has some 'splainin' to do! If she knew the wizard was a fraud, why didn't she just tell Dorothy? "Because she wouldn't have believed me. She had to learn it for herself." And just like the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion, she had what she most desired all along as well: the ability to go home. There was no reason to rely on a fraudulent all-powerful imaginary being because she always had those virtues and abilities.

Dorothy returns to Kansas, and we learn atheists aren't immoral people, because even though she no longer believes in god, she still loves her family and friends, and is happy to see them. And yes, the Toto problem remains unresolved, but she will do whatever she can (on her own) to keep him alive. The moral? People should face their problems rather than rely on some made-up god to solve them.

Neo's the One ... But which One?

I still remember the first time I saw The Matrix. I was so enamored by its special effects and premise. My infatuation with this movie, at least in the beginning, was rooted in the concept of the superior protagonist. It comes as no surprise since I have always gravitated toward these types of movies (Good Will Hunting, Star Wars, Rounders, Beautiful Mind, etc.).

But as the years grew, my reflection on the Matrix has shifted toward viewing it as a huge metaphor for religion. It has been called a messiah movie in the past, but that's quite the conundrum actually. Neo is considered the savior of the world, and he is. But the term "savior" automatically drums up images of Christ. So, is Neo, the miracle man inside the matrix, a metaphor for Christ? The filmmakers go so far as to have him die in the end for his cause, and have him dragged through the matrix (after he dies) spread like he's mounted to a cross.

But the crux of my reflection comes when Morpheus, (the god of dreams, by the way) finds Neo (an anagram for the One) and tells him he has been living in a dream world, aka the matrix, aka a world where fear and faith rule and the rulers use humans for their well-being. "We are all slaves," Morpheus tells Neo. In the movie, the machines use the heat and energy generated from humans to run their world, enslaving them against their will or knowledge, not unlike the church using humans' fear of death and the unknown to fuel their empire and line their coffers with blood money.

The matrix is an altered reality, preying on the imperfect mind, which is so easily manipulated when faced with crisis. It's perfect mind control, not unlike religion, which shackles the minds of humans to control them and obtain power. Logic loses in a religious world.

Machines (Christians) do everything they can to squash the rebel movement (atheists). I find it humorous to compare machines to the righteous because isn't that a perfect analogy? The righteous are on a mission, to spread their word to as many people as possible, whether you want to hear it or not, just like the sentient agents, whose job is to search the matrix for any dissenters and eliminate them.

But what's the conundrum? Well, The Matrix is a metaphor about the control religion has on humans, yet it ironically implements the savior concept to free these humans. "You're my savior, man. My own personal Jesus Christ," said Choi in the beginning of the first movie in a bit of foreshadowing. 

When Neo takes the red pill, he is accepting logic and reason because he knows something isn't right with the way the world is, with the way we think. He's agnostic toward the matrix, and Morpheus shows him the truth. I suppose Morpheus could be seen as a John the Baptist, and after their encounter Neo falls into a lake of dirty water, baptizing him into the real world.

You'll also notice when they are in the matrix there is a green tint, which would represent the blind faith pulled over their eyes, and green of course is the color of the money the church rakes in while you are under its spell. Only when Neo emerges in the real world do we see through our own rational eyes the beautiful blue tint, perhaps a tip to the big blue marble or the fact that he has been washed clean (baptized) of the matrix.

Neo's name in the matrix is Thomas Anderson, which is loaded with religious symbolism. Neo doubts he is the (Chosen) One, hence doubting Thomas, but the real Messiah metaphor is derived from his last name, which in the New Testament means Son of Man, aka Christ. And since Neo means "new" that would mean he's the new Son of Man.

But the messiah metaphor continues. Neo dies in the first Matrix movie, killed by the agents, but is resurrected. And once he is alive again, he has complete control over the matrix and its agents, just like Christ said he was given all authority of heaven and earth.

Other religious overtones:

Cypher is Judas, betraying Neo and his "disciples" by turning over Morpheus to the agents. Cypher means zero and his opposite is Neo, which is an anagram for one, just like in binary code where 1s and 0s make up everything in a computer world. Good vs. evil.

Trinity, the name of Neo's love interest, is a religious term that refers to the father, the son and the holy spirit. 

The Oracle prophesied the coming of the One, just like in Isaiah.

Terms such as Zion and Nebuchadnezzar are used.

So, while these metaphors are prevalent throughout the Matrix movies (Neo brings people back from the dead, he ascends into a higher place by flying, radiates white light on numerous occasions), the original movie stands as the definitive model for religion's grip on the weak-minded. And I find it interesting that Neo is called the system's anomaly, the one who is different from the rest, who blindly follow the matrix.

The end of the movie wraps up my analogy quite well. Neo is on a phone talking to the agents, and he says, "I know you're out there. I can feel you now. I know that you're afraid. You're afraid of us. You're afraid of change. I don't know the future. I didn't come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it's going to begin. I'm going to hang up this phone and then I'm going to show these people what you don't want them to see. I'm going to show them a world without you, a world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries, a world where anything is possible. Where we go from there, is a choice I leave to you."

Monday, October 14, 2013

Wormhole losing credibility?

One of my favorite television shows is Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman on the Science Channel. It's fairly obvious why I take pleasure in watching this documentary-style entertainment, because it delves into science and answers some of life's great questions.

But one of my pet peeves with this show is its insistence on inserting religion where it doesn't belong. As a journalist, I am 100 percent for telling both sides of a story, and if religion truly played a role in any particular episode then I would accept its presence and listen intently. But also as a journalist I am bound by my ethical responsibility to reveal fact and not glorify destructive conspiracy theories that attempt to dispel these facts.

When a show like Wormhole lands on Science Channel, I believe it has an obligation to tell the truth, because that's the very definition of science, discovering the truth about our universe. Yes, it is entertainment, but its content needs to stand on its own merits to be that entertainment and shouldn't stray from that just to embrace a non-secular audience or majority.

What has me so hot about one of my favorite shows on TV? The episode titled "Did God Create Evolution?" had quite a few misconceptions and misrepresentations in its writing. Some of the monologue that Freeman offered essentially said Darwin's Theory of Evolution was his explanation for all life. That is 100 percent wrong. The theory explains how all living things evolved into what they are, but it says nothing of the origin of life. His book is called On the Origin of Species, not On the Origin of Life.

Scientists don't know how life started, and that's OK; they will figure it out one day. But as we've explored in this blog before, when we don't know something we don't just say God did it. That's a scientific cop out.

But the biggest offensive segment in this episode came right at the beginning when they highlighted a Christian scientist (isn't that an oxymoron?) who believes in Intelligent Design, aka creationism. He used the argument of irreducible complexity, which essentially states if you remove any single part of something and that something fails to operate, then it's irreducibly complex and cannot have evolved to that point. 

Parenthetically, this argument was once used in a Pennsylvania courtroom to try to force the school system in question to teach creationism alongside evolution. Dr. Behe, in that case, used the same example that was used on Wormhole, the flagellar motor of a certain bacteria, which has a rotary type tail that acts like an outboard, burrowing through its substrate. Behe went so far on the stand as to intentionally misrepresent facts. He was embarrassed during cross examination, where he had to admit he didn't keep up on actual science and medical journals that refuted his claims. He even had the judge (in his summation) defending evolution and accusing Behe of preying on the religious and trying to profit from it.

It's not my responsibility to explain all the reasons why his argument was refuted (you can read the God Delusion for that, which does it much better than I ever could), but I believe Wormhole dropped the ball here by even giving the Christian scientist any credibility. This isn't a political debate where Science Channel was legally obligated to give equal time to candidates. This is the Science Channel, and its obligation is to science and fact. Knowing this ID argument is ludicrous and refuted, SC should have used that opening time for a much better, more responsible segment.

Please stop catering to the sheep just to sell commercials. Tell the truth, don't insult our intelligence with superstitious mumbo-jumbo. You're better than that Morgan.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The mind boggles

Financially, think what the world would be like if every dollar earmarked for religious places of worship was instead invested in economics, health and medicinal research, science, equality, famine, etc. 

One afternoon I turned onto a street and headed west and I saw a Methodist Church as soon as my car righted itself. The thought popped into my head, "I wonder how many churches are on this street?" 

This thought and street were purely random and didn't reside in any particularly religious town or state, just chance occurrences. My car hadn't yet traveled two miles and the count for places of worship was 10. 

Now, I want you to really digest that for a minute: 10 places of worship in a less-than-two-mile stretch, and each of those places has completely different beliefs, different dogmas. Using those numbers, does that mean nine out of 10 people go to "hell?" 

The money it must have taken to build these institutions is staggering, not to mention the money it takes to keep them thriving. And this was just a two-mile stretch of random road. Try to formulate how many places of worship there are in America, or the world. The mind boggles at the money, materials and time wasted. 

And if we're looking for money to save the economy, how about lifting tax exemptions on all churches? Imagine how quickly these institutions would shut down. Why allow tax breaks for obvious fraudulent practices, especially if there is only one true god?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Tackling the 10 commandments

I've railed on the bible many times in this blog, mostly because of the inconsistencies. One place where I really didn't think inconsistencies existed was in the 10 commandments. I mean, how can you get those wrong? But as it turns out, the interpretations again get "god's word" in trouble again.
The Catholic commandments vary differently from the Protestant version in content and order. The first difference comes at No. 2. Catholics insert not taking the lord's name in vain here (Protestants have this one at No. 3), while Protestants say you shouldn't make any graven images. I suppose Catholics feel they have this covered with "no other gods" because graven images could be categorized as idols.

This shift in commandments pushes the rest down a notch (or up one depending on your religious flavor), and most of the list is the same. Protestants say "no murder" while Catholics say "no killing" (shouldn't that be clarified a little?). 

The final difference comes with No. 10 and coveting. Protestants lump everything into this one law while Catholics choose to split coveting into two commandments, one for your neighbor's wife (another misogynist chauvinistic reference, why not spouse?) and the other for your neighbor's goods.

For the sake of sanity, I'll use the Catholic commandments for the rest of this entry. Not believing in god renders the first three moot for me (no other gods, name in vain, holy the sabbath) but I can still have problems with them.

1. I, the Lord, am your God. You shall not have other gods besides me: This is an acknowledgement of other gods, past and present. If Yahweh was the one true god, then this isn't necessary. But by admitting there are previous gods and a threat of future gods, doesn't this point to insecurity? The full commandment actually says "I'm a jealous god." how hilarious is that? Jealousy is far from virtuous and it is even further from perfection and benevolent.

2. You shall not take the name of the Lord God in vain: Why? Who cares? What's the big deal? It's just a word. It really scares me when people take this so seriously that they think they could go to eternal hell for speaking a word. And since the bible was written in Hebrew, if you say Jesus Christ or Goddamn in English then I suppose you're OK.

3. Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day: This translates into not working. But who is to say which day is the sabbath? The Old Testament was written by and for Jews, and they say the sabbath is Saturday. This makes sense because the first day of the week is Sunday, so if you worked the first six days and rested on the seventh, then that would be Saturday. But Christians believe the sabbath is Sunday, yet another conflict with "god's word." If you can't even convey to your sheeple which day is yours then how can we be expected to trust you with our eternal souls? The other problem with this is, every NFL player in history is going to hell, right? How stupid is this commandment?

4. Honor your father and your mother: Makes perfect sense.

5. You shall not kill: Same as above, though I suppose this could use a little clarification. The Protestants get it right with murder.

6. You shall not commit adultery: A fine practice.

7. You shall not steal: Yep, I agree.

8. You shall not bear false witness: This basically means don't lie about someone's actions. I suppose we could interpret it to mean don't lie in general, which would be good because there is no commandment saying not to lie. But either way I'm OK with this.

9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife: In the general sense, I understand the morality behind this, but the "thought crime" tied to it is what makes it ridiculous. Many interpretations have a much more strict definition, meaning if you even look at another person and think they are attractive then you have already sinned (this also pertains to adultery).

10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods: Again, thought crime. Is it not normal to see something nicer than yours and wish you had it? It doesn't make you a bad person, it makes you wish your life was better and inspires you to strive for excellence. If this is a sin then everyone is guilty of this sin because the second you acquire anything that improves your station in life you've sinned. You couldn't acquire those things without knowing about them first, and how did you learn of them? By seeing them somewhere in the real world, and usually owned by someone else.

The majority of the commandments can be summed up in one thought: the golden rule. This rule predates any biblical writing and can encapsulate Commandments 4-10. Do onto others as you would have done to you. If you remove god and thought crime, you can have just one commandment: the golden rule. 

And, one of the major problems with the commandments is what's missing from the list. Rape, slavery? Where are those commandments? They aren't there because the bible and commandments weren't written by any all-powerful deity but rather desert peasants who owned slaves and raped women. But if we just had the golden rule, then rape and slavery wouldn't be tolerated either. It's so simple, yet an omniscient, omnipotent deity couldn't think of it?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The history of gods

I recently watched a show on the Smithsonian Channel called the Lost Gods. It wasn't very good, but it did make me think about something. First, however, a little about the show. It basically traced the history of some of the gods that came before Christianity, following the Egyptians, Greeks, Celts, Romans, etc. The show didn't have great production value and the content wasn't exactly earth-shattering. 

But the main point that stood out and led to this post was the fact that there were "gods" long before the Judeo-Christian-Islamic god of the bible. The Sumerians believed in An and Enki, who predate the bible god by about 2,000 years. There are others, of course, but doesn't it bother believers that there were gods even before their one true god? The concept of a god existed long before Yahweh-Allah-Jesus. If any of these latter deities were indeed the one true god, then where was he when his "children" were conjuring up these other gods?

The late Christopher Hitchens, a hero to many, used to like to make this argument on his book/debating tours: Humans have been here in our current form anywhere between 100K-250K years, depending who you ask. He always took the modest guess of 100K for his point. If humans have been around for 100K years, that means for at least 95K years the one "true" god sat around indifferently while we struggled with survival, died of simple ailments, lived to about 25 years old, invented dozens (and ultimately thousands) of other gods and lived in fear of the unknown (like inclement weather) while tribes annihilated each other. 

Then, out of the blue, he says, "That's long enough, time for an intervention." He even gives commandments, one of which is forbidding other gods. People today try to interpret this to mean false idols (money, power) but it's so clearly not that. Gods were ubiquitous throughout the world when the bible was written, and these peasants wanted to be sure their god was the only one worshipped.

What was interesting about the show was how the gods were either phased out or outright eliminated by new leadership or conquering empires. These gods were legitimate to their people, no different than how the biblical god is "legit" to the followers today. But as these tribes and civilizations died out or were assimilated into other cultures, their gods disappeared, replaced by the newer incoming deities.

Now, when people refer to the Greek or Roman gods they call it mythology, yet when they refer to the biblical god they root it in history. How is their god any different? They have no proof, so isn't it mythology as well?

Will the replacement of the current god happen again? Given the downturn in religious numbers and the Internet, which provides instant research and answers, a belief in god could just fade on its own. But can a god be eliminated like it did in Egypt when Greece took over? Probably not. In those days, countries were susceptible to invasions and new ideologies were forced on survivors. 

Now, technological weapons and the United Nations all but assure the majority of the world won't be overtaken by any one idea. But, it is plausible that religion will become mythology, in fact it's very likely. Fingers crossed.