Tuesday, May 29, 2012

On Rejecting Christianity


"Here's the thing I think which often gets overlooked in the religious debate, the Christ story is as powerful a story as Christians want us to believe. After years of reflecting on the issue I feel that, indeed, it is that powerful. I think many people simply overlook just how potent a myth it really is and how good of a narrative it is. Even if it is flawed. There is an element to it which touches something deeper in all of us, whether we believe or not. Honestly, I have more appreciation for the Jesus Christ myth now that I don't have the overwhelming Christian desire to force it to mean just one thing. Now it can mean many things... and touch upon many new levels of revelation... and be that much more meaningful. I think many Christians feel that once you reject Christianity it holds no more meaning for you, but that's just not the case. The story never loses it's meaning once you stop believing in it literally. All it means is that it's not the final meaning... there is more to life than just one story. There is an infinite amount of stories to draw meaning from." --Tristan Vick (2012)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Jesus Died for Your Sins! The Quick Response.



Xian: Jesus died for your sins.

Me: That's what the *story in the Gospel says. The story written by those who never met Jesus or, for that matter, knew anyone who actually knew him. A story, mind you, written by people who lived hundreds of miles away in a different country, with a totally different culture, who were NOT likely to be Jewish, and who spoke a totally different language (of an educated aristocrat no less--meanwhile Jesus was a peasant from Galilee). A story which, by the way, gets important historical details about the region and area Jesus lived wrong. A story which borrows from the OT liberally. A story which fabricates historical events which never actually happened (e.g., the erroneous consensus in Luke, incorrect account of the massacre of innocents which didn't happen, conversations which never happened--when Joseph and the angel were alone--when Mary and the angel were alone--when Jesus was alone with Satan--when Jesus was alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, along with the resurrection which early Christian tradition is split on--yes, I know you probably are just learning this for the first time, but there was a whole group of Christians who didn't believe Jesus rose up from the dead--they were called Gnostics, a historical fact written out of the NT for obvious reasons--can't be having half of the Christians saying Jesus didn't rise up--that would be so...um... un-Christian). The story of the gospel Jesus is a story which other writers also told but which, subsequently enough, disagree with each other on key events within the *exact *same story (and by exactly the same we mean totally different).

So my question to you is, how is any of this anything but a badly told story with continuity issues and incorrect details and why should it matter to me any more than any other badly told story?

Besides all this, lots of fictional characters have been known to die and come back to life. Captain Jack Sparrow did it. Harry Potter did it too. Big frickin' whoop. The only reason you choose to worship Jesus and not Harry is because you made that choice. Don't ask me to make any such choice--because I view any such proposition as totally nonsensical.

Before you attempt to answer that question, it is only fair to warn you--if you state the Bible is the final truth, or that it's all historically accurate, or that it was written by God (or inspired via the Holy Spirit--a non-existent entity), you will have proved yourself ignorant (ignorant as to the historical details as well as ignorant about the textual criticism you are unaware of by the very reason that you seem to permit yourself an indefensible platitude just because you haven't... and this is the obvious part... considered any of the objections) and, I'm sorry to say, the conversation is over. It's taxing wasting my time trying to educate people who should have at least Googled before they spoke, but that's not the crux of the matter. The real kicker is, I have already heard your version of the story--which is patently wrong--demonstrably wrong--and so, in truth, you are only convincing yourself. "Jesus died for your sins," is what you want to hear. Nobody else cares. Therefore, you have no reason to be talking to me and I have no reason to listen.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Novel Publication



As my regular readers may know, I enjoy writing, a lot. My writing isn't merely restricted to blogging either. I write books too. Now I write books that you can actually hold in your hands and read. Which is exciting for me.

For those who love sci-fi, horror, and just fiction in general you may be interested to know that I recently wrote my first Zombie book, BITTEN: A Resurrection Thriller, which is available in eBook for your e-reader of choice (e.g., Kindle, Nook, other) through SMASHWORDS.


The paperback edition will be made available at the end of the month. But if you have an eBook reader, such as a Kindle, a Fire, or a Nook, you can pick up the book now.

In the near future, I will be blogging on religion less and working on my novels more. There are several reasons for this. Mostly due to the fact that while raising a two-year old and working full time, blogging interferes with my literary endeavors. This is a problem for mainly two reasons. 1) I don't get paid to blog, and the time spent blogging takes away from the revenue I could be generating by writing novels. 2) The religious discussions distract me by making me preoccupied with thinking about philosophical questions which only a few people even care about instead of thinking about plot lines, character stories, and how best to tell my next story.

And all of this is on top of the time I typically require for reading and watching movies that I like. In other words, I just don't have the time I used to for blogging with the same level of interest I once did. Not now that I want to take my writing serious and work toward making a career of it.

That, however, doesn't mean I am going to quit blogging cold turkey. I still plan on blogging off and on, but I'll probably be posting much more specific blogs instead of general polemics and critiques. I feel I have said as much as I need to on religion. As such, I am compiling the most pertinent of the research and observations I have mad and am working on several religious books which I plan on publishing in the upcoming year, and that will require my full attention as well.

So the bottom line is, if you enjoy my writing (and I am truly grateful) please follow my progress and buy my books. 



My author site, with updates and latest publishing news, can be found at:


www.tristanvick.blogspot.com


Thank you, and as always, your readership and support is much appreciated.

Sincerely,



Tristan Vick

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Gospel Fictions and Is the Gospel Jesus Fictional?


Christians believe that the Gospel Jesus was a real historical figure. There are various reasons for this belief, but the main ones include: this is what they are told by all of the authorities in their life, from their parents to their pastors of their church. It's hard not to believe something when everyone is telling you it's true. Second of all, Christian tradition for the last two thousand years has conflated the Gospel Jesus with the historical figure from Nazareth, without so much as attempting to check whether both versions are similar. Finally, it seems the majority of Christians have a desire to believe in Jesus because it comforts them. Christianity, as the Christian apologist Josh McDowell has often said, 
"Christianity is not Religion. Religion is humans trying to work their way to God through good works. Chrisitanity is God coming to men and women through Jesus Christ." 

Interestingly enough, we know that the Gospel Jesus is most likely to be a work of fiction. Now I could appeal to historians who take the mythical view (e.g., that Jesus is an amalgamation of various mythical figures) and argue for an alternative interpretation of the historiography, but I think such a criticism is flawed for the very fact that there seems to be enough evidence to suggest Jesus was more than a myth.


The reason we can say this is because of the way Gospel narrative treats Jesus. But at the same time, this treatment reveals something else too. Something many Christians would be devastated to discover. The same text which affirms Jesus was real also proves he never existed! It sounds like an enigma which is both impossible and absurd all at the same time. Well, yes and no. See, the thing is, the thing which most Christians neglect to see, because I failed to see it when I was a Christian too, is that the Gospel Jesus and the real historical Jesus are two separate figures!



This highlights the biggest reason why the majority of Christians believe that the Gospel Jesus was real. Because they approach the Gospels as a historical documents about a historical person and not a work of fiction about a fictional person. But for anyone who has studied literary fiction will instantly see that the Gospels have all the markers of fiction.

Allow me to better explain by giving a few examples.



Matthew 2:19: The Massacre that Never Happened
In Matthew 2:19 there is a tense shift in the writing to historic present tense.

King Herod has launched the Massacre of the Innocents in an attempt to kill the infant Jesus, but the Holy family having been warned have left for Egypt. In this verse Joseph is (again) contacted by an angel and told that it is safe to return home.

In the King James Version of the Bible the text reads: 

But when Herod was dead, behold,an angel of the Lord appearethin a dream to Joseph in Egypt...

The World English Bible translates the passage as: 

But when Herod was dead, behold,an angel of the Lord appeared ina dream to Joseph in Egypt...

The NIV says: 

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”


The tense in shift is probably a tool the author used to make the narrative flow better by matching it to the tense in verse 2:13. It doesn't mean the author was alive and chronicling events during Herod's death, which actually is chronicled in detail by the Jewish historian Josephus. The reason we know the writer wasn't recalling these event first hand was because Jesus wouldn't even have been born yet. If nobody had heard of the young messiah, then nobody would be attempting to chronicle his birth. This clues us in that the writer, who is writing at a much later date, has made up the events of Herod's Massacre of Innocents.

Wiki has this to say on the historicity of the Massacre of Innocents.

The single account of the Massacre comes in the Gospel of Matthew: it is not mentioned in Luke's gospel or by any contemporaneous historians, or by the later Roman Jewish historian, Josephus.


Modern liberal scholarship, says Marcus Borg, regards the biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus as symbolic narratives rather than factual history.[10] Thus, according to Paul L. Maier, the majority of Herod biographers and theologians hold that the Massacre of the Innocents is "legend and not historical":[11] Geza Vermes and E. P. Sanders, for example, regard the story as part of a creative hagiography.[12] Robert Eisenman argues that the story may have its origins in Herod's murder of his own sons, an act which made a deep impression at the time and which was recorded byJosephus.[13] Other arguments against historicity include the silence of Josephus (who does record several other examples of Herod’s willingness to commit such acts to protect his power, noting that he "never stopped avenging and punishing every day those who had chosen to be of the party of his enemies")[14] and the views that the story is an apologetic device or a constructed fulfilment of prophesy.[15]


Some biblical scholars hold a generally sceptical view of the incident's historicity. Whilst acknowledging that the episode "contains nothing that is historically impossible" Hill says that Matthew's "real concern is ... with theological reflection on the theme of OT fulfilment".[16]


If no other historians, not even Josephus who does write in detail about Herod's demise, can recall any account of such a massacre, then odds are, it simply didn't happen.

Meanwhile, there is strong evidence which shows, as David Hill observes, that there is an underlying theological necessity to link Jesus to prophecy. The easiest way to do this is to write in a self fulfilling prophecy. Matthew basically takes the events of Jeremiah 31:15 and then utilizes his historical representation of Herod as the vehicle to drive the narrative and thereby creates a Messianic prophecy already fulfilled by the time the baby Jesus is born in a manger.

The prophecy, in otherwords, is retconned into the story. It is done in such a way, in this case the author has it occur in the past, so that it can become a self fulfilling prophesy in the present time in which he is telling the narrative of Jesus Christ. Convenient, is it not? But this is one of the hallmakrs of narrative story telling. Histories are not usually written in this fashion. Likewise, histories usually try to catalog major events--and the massacre of innocents under Herod the Great qualifies as a major event if there ever was one. Yet nobody except for Matthew knew about it. Not even the Gospel author Luke knew of it, which is why we only hear of it from Matthew. He invented it for theological purposes! All fine and well, except, it proves the entire story is a fabrication.

Matthew 2:19 may not be part of history, but it is certainly part of the Gospel narrative and Matthew wants us to believe it was a historical event--because it makes his theological message that much more compelling.



The Use of Literary Asides
The above example of the Massacre of Innocents, if you recall, was relayed to Joseph in a dream. Notice that This is the third time in the gospel in which an angel contacts Joseph in a dream the others appearing at Matthew 1:20 and Matthew 2:13.

What often goes ignored by Christian readers is the setting in which the narrative itself takes place. Like so many Christians who simply assume a priori that the events are all historical, they neglect to actually think about what it is they are reading. In the cases of Joseph and his angel friends, we are listening in on their conversation from a ways off to the side, as if we were standing in the very room with them eavesdropping when their conversation occurred. This is why we call this narrative technique a literary aside.

The reason we know this is all fiction is two fold. First, the angel (is it one angel several times or multiple angels?) only appear to Joseph in a series of private dreams. The only person then, who was actually in the room, was Joseph. And he was asleep. 



There was nobody else in the room with him, so the question becomes, how did an author living in Rome some fifty to seventy years later learn of the contents of Joseph's dream? Was he a personal friend of the family? Or did Joseph simply talk loudly in his sleep? Not likely. The truth is, the reason Matthew knows exactly what Joseph is dreaming is because he is the author! Joseph is his character, and so he can pretty much have him dream anything and speak to anyone--even angels.

Second, as we have seen with the above critique of the Massacre of Innocents, we already know that Matthew is inventing a narrative to tell a story. He is not cataloging actual historical events. As such, we already have reason enough to assume the story is a fiction. Since Joseph's dreams fit this scenario whereas no historical interpretation does we can be fairly certain that this is part of a bigger work of fiction.



But Joseph isn't the only Gospel character which is given away by literary asides. Mary has her own brush with an angel in Luke 1:26-38. Mary has a private conversation with the angel Gabriel. An entire conversation mind you! But nobody else is there. Also, we know the angel's name is Gabriel how? Mary never asks for a name and the angel never introduces himself as Gabriel. The only way we could possibly know the angel's name is if the author, Luke, simply told us. Which he does. When literary authors introduce a new character into the story they usually do it along with the characters name. This is a big clue which shows us that we are dealing with characters from the authors imagination. If it was an actual historical account the angel would have at least said something like, "I am the angel Moroni...er... heh-hem... I mean Gabriel! Behold, I have a message from God!"

But nowhere does the angel actually introduce himself like this. We are just told that Gabriel appeared to Mary (alone) and not only are we explicitly told the angel's name but we hear their entire conversation from aside.

Another case of literary asides is the famous dialog between Jesus and Satan when Satan tries to tempt Jesus the Christ. They even teleport from one location to another instantly. Unless the author was teleported with them, we know that the conversation was completely made up.

In the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36 & Mark 14:31-33) we have another excellent example of a literary aside. Jesus tells his disciples to wait while he goes off to pray alone. Even though Jesus forbade anyone to accompany him, we have the full account of his prayer, as if someone was their eavesdropping to write it all down.

These are just several examples of literary asides which help reveal that the characters and conversations never actually occurred in real life. They are merely the imaginings of different authors who used these time honored literary devices to drive their narratives forward.

There are many literary asides in the Gospels. Jesus talking to Pontius Pilate alone. Or Pilate suddenly talking to Herod of Antipas. Then Jesus to his disciples. Or Pilate to Joseph of Arimathea ( who was probably a fictional character, by the way).



Other Literary Markers Found in the Gospels
Another oft overlooked sign that the Gospels are mainly fiction is the amount of ahistorical additions. Again, we've already discussed the massacre of innocents never happened, but neither did the census in Luke. Luke simply needs the narrative to get Jesus to Bethlehem, where the descendant of King David is prophesied to be born. But as you will recall, Jesus wasn't from Bethlehem. He was from Nazareth! So Luke concocts a census which never actually happened, but which moves the narrative along nicely. The question becomes, which seems more likely, that Luke was a hack historian and a liar or that he simply wrote the events as he best saw fit in order to move the narrative along?

Missing information is another key example. Information we would usually expect to find in a historical record, for example, but do not is often a sign that the authors didn't do their research.



I would be remiss if I failed to point out that the Gospel authors, all of them, were entirely unfamiliar with the entire region of the Levant where Jesus and his followers roamed. They placed Jewish synagogues outside of their correct time frame in places that didn't have synagogues. Which means they didn't know anything about synagogues. But this only goes to explain why they fail to mention the second Jewish temple in Egypt at Leontopolis (more missing information we would expect to find in a historical document but do not find in the Gospels). Why do the Gospel authors fail to mention important temples but fabricated numerous non-existent synagogues? Because they didn't do their research. 


The Gospel authors also forget to mention the capital of Galilee is Sepphoris, which would have been the central hub of all the events the Gospels hinge on. The Jewish historian Josephus called Sepphoris "The Jewel of Galillee" and remarked on how important it was to King Herod. 


Presumably, Sepphoris was a location which Jesus and his disciples would have inevitably needed to frequent as it was directly in the center of Galilee. Any which direction they went they would need to pass through Sepphoris. Yet there is not a single mention of it in the NT. Not one! It is omitted entirely from the Gospels.


The question becomes, if the Gospels are genuine accounts of history, why would the authors all deliberately omit any mention of Sepphoris? There, seems to me, an obvious answer. Realizing the authors of the Gospels lived hundreds of miles away, lived in a different country, in a different decade, and spoke a different language from Jesus--then it's not too far of a reach to assume they simply weren't as familiar with the region as they should have been. In other words, we find, they simply didn't do their research.

This is a common flaw we find with authors of fiction but a flaw we do not typically expect to find with well trained historians, since even Josephus accounted for Sepphoris! This only adds further support to the idea that the Gospels are works of fiction.

There are a lot more examples of missing information I could go into, and although it doesn't act as definitive proof that the Gospels were fabricated, it does however predict a literary trend we already expect to see when we find examples of literary asides, tense changes, and narratives which are massaged to make a specific character or theological message more prominent.

Conclusion

There is an over abundance of examples which point away from the Gospels being historical documents and instead point to them being historical fictions.


The problem this raises for Christians is two fold. 1) If the Gospels are historical documents, they are largely inaccurate, incorrect, and misleading. That is, they are imperfect and untrustworthy as historical documents. In which case, the question would become, how reliable are the Gospels really? 2) The other problem is only a problem for Christians who want to believe the Gospels are historical documents but, as we have seen, there are good reasons to suspect the Gospels are literary fictions. What this means is quite profound, because everything that Christians believe about Jesus Christ and about God, including events such as Christ's Resurrection, probably never happened. It was all made up. So, either way, it seems the Christian is at an impasse.


Of course, many Christians apologists spend lots of time and energy finding rationalizations to get around these objections. Why? Because they don't want to admit to either one of these possibilities. Both conclusions work against faith and diminish the conviction they have worked so hard to edify by simply taking it on a matter of faith that the Bible is true to its word. 


The problem, however, is that these rationalizations typically create more questions than answers. What works for one example doesn't necessarily work for all the examples. So basically, the apologist is stuck having create brand new theories for every single objection raised, independent of all the others, meaning they have hundreds of theories to explain how the Gospels could be historical documents. But the liteary theory only requires the one theory to explain ALL of the problems because, as we have seen, they are problems we already would readily expect to find if the Gospels were indeed works of fiction. Since this single theory does account for these elements, it seems the best inference to the truth. The Gospels, and so too Jesus Christ, all appear to be fictionalizations.


Now this doesn't mean that the Gospel Jesus wasn't, in fact, based off a real historical person named Jesus. However, we simply don't have enough information to say what the historical Jesus might have been like or be able to demarcate the exact point where his persona overlaps and diverges with the legendary one that we find within the pages of the Gospels. Of course, this question doesn't really matter all that much because Christians aren't actually placing their faith in the historical Jesus--they are placing their faith in the Gospel Jesus. The Jesus of scripture. But the crux of the matter is, it appears that, to our best understanding of the underlying text, the Gospel Jesus may be more fiction than fact.

One Final Aside

Ultimately, it was this very realization which pushed my three decade long faith to its breaking point. With no real savior to speak of, to affirm belief in, I had no real reason to continue believing. In the end though, I think I'm much happier with the truth. As comforting as the illusion was--it's much more liberating to know that I am in control of my own destiny. Knowing that I can take a hold of the thread of my own fate, instead of relying a savior, I can simply call upon close friends, family, brothers, sisters, and my dearest comrades to help me get by. But isn't that what the Christian story is really about? About not having to suffer the trials and tribulations of a strife filled life alone? About the desire to feel love and acceptance--to belong to something greater than yourself? Isn't this why God sent his one and only son? Yeah, it's a mighty powerful narrative. But in writing the story of my own destiny, I have found an equally powerful narrative. I have found this in my camaraderie with my fellow human beings--who I know for a fact--exist. And for me that's good enough. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

10 Quick Religious Arguments Answered



This is a series of quick rebuttals for some very common, overly mundane, religious arguments which totally annoy me. Anyone who has given any amount of thought these arguments will likely realize my answers can be rationally defended to the point of just validation, but for the sake of argument, I will merely supply the snarky quip rather than the elongated explication.


1. All life is sacred, therefore abortion is evil because it's the same as murder.
A: No it's not, and you're a moron if you think it is. Also, if you believe all life is sacred, protest abortion, but support capital punishment, then you are a hypocrite of the worst kind--and every other opinion you might have, or ever have had, with regard to ethical questions simply doesn't amount to much and does not count. Advice: Think it through again.

2. Blasphemy is a crime.
A: No it's not. And you are a completely deluded if you think it is--because in order to claim on God's behalf that God's feelings were hurt, you'd *literally have to know the mind of God--which would make you God. Hence you would need to be delusional in order to claim any such arbitrary thing, said or written, could ever be designated as an offense or crime against God. And crazy people shouldn't be allowed to make laws. FYI: You are morally bankrupt and void of compassion and empathy if you support any blasphemy law whatsoever which punishes people for what is essentially a non-crime.

3. Atheism equals Nihilism (thus all atheists are nihilists).
A: Normally, this is what I have people do when I hear this non-argument. First, take out a pen and some paper, write down why you think so, then go home, eat the paper, and try not to choke to death on however much stupid you are cramming down your throat. Also, no it's not.

4. Pro-life is the only moral option.
A: If you mean forcing the relinquishment of a woman's right over her own body to slave-masters who dictate what she can and cannot do with her own body, then yes, perfectly moral. Oh, wait. No. No, it's not.

5. I have faith in religion and God and you have faith in science and reason. Our faith is the same.
A: No, your faith is believing in things without ways to properly test and justify those beliefs. I have *confidence in science because it works and will continue to do so for as long as it provides practical knowledge and a better understanding of the world I live. All you have is a non-explanation. 

6. I don't have enough faith to be an atheist.
A: That is an incoherent statement. Which means you probably are an idiot. Try again.

7. Pascal's Wager states...
A: Let me stop you there. Pascal's Wager only works under two conditions. The first being that there is only one true religion, Christianity, which needs to be tested for (otherwise how can the absolute claim be valid if not verified) but never is since the assumption takes it for granted that it just is. Huge reasoning fail. Secondly, it only works if you agree that a loving God would segregate believers from non-believers and would effectively torture nonbelievers forever for simply not having good enough reasons to believe--which is evil--which technically negates your concept of a "loving" God. Double fail. The best thing you could do... is just save everyone the misery of having to suffer to listen to your stupidity--and for the love of God--please shut up. Thank you in advance.

8.  Jesus died for your sins.
A: That's what the story in the Gospel says. The story written by those who never met Jesus or, for that matter, knew anyone who actually knew him. A story, mind you, written by people who lived hundreds of miles away in a different country, with a totally different culture, who were NOT likely to be Jewish, and who spoke a totally different language (of an educated aristocrat no less--meanwhile Jesus was a peasant from Galilee). A story which, by the way, gets important historical details about the region and area Jesus lived wrong. A story which borrows from the OT liberally. A story which fabricates historical events which never actually happened (e.g., the erroneous consensus in Luke, incorrect account of the massacre of innocents which didn't happen, conversations which never happened--when Joseph and the angel were alone--when Mary and the angel were alone--when Jesus was alone with Satan--when Jesus was alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, along with the resurrection which early Christian tradition is split on--yes, I know you probably are just learning this for the first time, but there was a whole group of Christians who didn't believe Jesus rose up from the dead--they were called Gnostics, a historical fact written out of the NT for obvious reasons--can't be having half of the Christians saying Jesus didn't rise up--that would be so...um... un-Christian). The story of the gospel Jesus is a story which other writers also told but which, subsequently enough, disagree with each other on key events within the *exact *same story (and by exactly the same we mean totally different).

So my question to you is, how is any of this anything but a badly told story with continuity issues and incorrect details and why should it matter to me any more than any other badly told story?

Before you attempt to answer that question, it is only fair to warn you--if you state the Bible is the final truth, or that it's all historically accurate, you will have proved yourself a moron and the conversation is over. Not because I don't find it entertaining wasting my time watching morons make fools of themselves, but because I have already heard you version of the story--which is patently wrong--demonstrably wrong--and so, in truth, you are only convincing yourself. Therefore, you have no reason to be talking to me and I have no reason to listen.

Besides all this, lots of fictional characters have been known to die and come back to life. Captain Jack Sparrow did it. Harry Potter did it too. Big frickin' whoop. The only reason you choose to worship Jesus and not Harry is because you made that choice. Don't ask me to make any such choice--because I view any such proposition as totally nonsensical. Which is simply the polite way of saying keep your crazy religion to yourself. 

9. Atheists are always angry.
A: Sometimes. Sometimes not. One thing that makes atheists angry is people telling them they're angry all the time when they're not. If you don't want atheists to be angry all the time... then stop doing that.

10. I know God is real, I know it in my heart, so there is no way you will ever convince me he's not real.
A: I'm not trying to convince you of anything. I just want you to look at the facts and make an informed decision--using your own brain and not what someone else prompts you to believe. I want you to think for yourself, use the brain you say God gave you, for Christ's sake! If after having done so, you still feel your heart knows best, well then, follow your heart to its content and be happy. But knowing something exists before something is proved to exist isn't actually knowledge--just so you know.





 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

NDH and Mimetic Theory

A case of Mimetics. "I'm the King," said Jesus. "No, I am," replied Elvis. 


I was reading an interesting article on the Neo-Documentary Hypothesis (NDH) over on the blog Textuality.

Joel Baden, an Assistant Professor at Yale Divinity School, is taking the Mimetic theory approach of the Hebrew scriptures and is focusing on features of narrative rather than historiography to create a model of how the Pentateuch might have come to be.

This approach to source criticism isn't new however. We have seen it before in the work of Randel Helms, a professor at Arizona State University in Tempe, and Dennis R Macdonald, who is John Wesley Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Claremont School of Theology and co-director of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity at the Claremont Graduate University, with regard to the New Testament.

I think many classicist historians have a hard time accepting that story-telling methodologies are just as valid of inferences as the cultural artifacts (found within either the historiography or archaeology of the various time periods) themselves.

Dennis R. Macdonald's approach to the NT is reflective of the NDH by Joel Baden, in that Macdonald finds the threads and themes within the lines of text itself which frequently mimics or echos, often times verbatim, the threads and themes of the lines of text found within the Greek epics.

What I find interesting is how many people (especially Christian historians/theologians) seem dismissive, if not outright put off, by this form of investigation. They don't want to admit even for the possibility that there might be influences and relationships between the Bible to more mundane texts. That would make the Bible both rooted in the unoriginal, same old, same old while at the same time showing that it has a basis in fiction rather than divine revelation.

But the dismissive attitude regarding this line of investigation is simply unwarranted. These aren't fringe theories involving vague comparisons we are talking about. Both Helms and Macdonald go into detail as to the mimetic relationships which exist between the texts, line by line, word by word. For example, colloquial and regional language usage specific to one area or one time period often saturates a text, and this helps identify who the authors might have been. 



One of MacDonald's points that has always stuck with me is that the NT writers, whoever they were, often use the language and sentence structures of Homer--which is out of place for the spoken language of their day. Unless, of course, you take into account that they were writing fiction, in which case, it makes sense that the NT authors utilized the work of that  they would have been most familiar with, in this case the Homeric epics.


Whether or not you have the gumption to deny these textual relationships in both narrative and form after it has been clearly laid out, is rather telling, I find, of the willingness to accept new lines of evidence or else dismiss it in favor of an age old dogma.

It sounds like, to me, that NDH is reflective of this same line of investigation but focusing on the OT instead of the NT. I will be interested to see where it leads and whether or not proponents of the OT will be as dismissive in its application as most proponents of the NT are with Mimetic theory.





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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

An Open Letter to the Voters of North Carolina

*UPDATED*



Dear fellow Americans,



I was deeply saddened by the news coming out of North Carolina regarding Amendment 1.

To all those who voted in favor of Amendment 1 banning same-sex marriages, SHAME ON YOU!



  • What does it matter if two people are in love?
  • What does it matter if two people want to get married?
  • Who are you to say they can or can't?


Frankly, it's NONE OF YOUR GODDAMN BUSINESS.



The ONLY excuse you have is a BAD one. 


You think that God's word, i.e. the Holy Bible, defines marriage as a love between one man and one woman. This is your ONLY basis for taking the position you have.

Biblical historian Daniel Tabor, a citizen of NC no less, posted this on his Facebook, and I think it is well worth repeating:



Really sad about the ignorance of North Carolina voters tonight. The so-called "Marriage Amendment" was pitched as supporting "one man and one woman" that could hardly be anything other than popular. All over our state we had signs saying: Support Marriage. But what many missed was the next phrase, which made it practically and illegally nuts, that there are no other "domestic and legal unions" to be recognized.

From couples needing domestic protection to hospital visits, to just laws of legal inheritance, this simply makes no sense. It is absurd, and has nothing to do with "marriage." Why should there not be other forms of "domestic union"? Why impose a religious understanding of human relationships on our country that was founded on the principle of freedom and individual choice. Trivia question: Where does the Hebrew Bible ever mention or use the term marriage? Should I answer or can you guess?



The voters of North Carolina who passed Amendment 1 have shown the rest of America the horrific depths of their bigoted ignorance. Marriage is not defined by the Bible to any adequate degree. In fact, the custom of marriage isn't even a Biblical institution. Marriage existed long before the Bible was ever written. I have it on good authority that the Chinese have been celebrating marriage just as long as the Jews have been, if not longer.

But Tabor, an expert on the Bible, makes a good point. 



This law isn't just about interfering with people's personal lives--this is about repressing their basic human rights by not allowing them the same domestic protection during hospital visits. It's about not ensuring the fairness of any legal inheritance because they and their families will not be recognized as a domestic union. It's about not letting gays have access to the same medical insurance because they are not a domestic union. It's about not letting gays have custody of their biological children because they aren't recognized by the state.

What is it really about? It's about DESTROYING lives.



My question is this: who do you think you are to oppress someone else and ruin their lives to such a degree? What gives you the right to cause others such grief and misery?



What ever happened to the Golden Rule of treating others the way you want to be treated? You who do not even know what your own Bible has to say on marriage (among other things)! For shame.

Dear voters of North Carolina, 60% of you voted for this immoral, degrading, and iniquitous law and in-so-doing 60% of you proudly attested to your HOMOPHOBIA and HATE of your fellow Americans.

You are a DISGRACE. What's more, you have disgraced your entire nation! 



You have deliberately wounded people, have broken thousands of hearts, have sought to oppress and ruin your fellow Americans--Americans whose only desire was to chose someone they loved to be with perchance to enjoy some semblance of happiness.

And you took that away from them.

Don't you dare talk about destroying marriages when you are actively destroying other people's lives!

Don't you even dare.

For those that voted against the undemocratic, and most probably illegal, Amendment 1, I thank you.  But at the same time, I don't envy you, for 60% of your fellow citizens revealed themselves to be bigoted, soulless, homophobes who apparently can't read--and that must be a dire situation. A dire situation indeed. For that, you have my pity.







P.S.
I just learned that the last time that NC ratified their state constitution with regard to marriage, it was to ban all ineracial marriages between a person of white skin and a person of negro decent. In retrospect I find this funny (in a not so funny kind of way), because on the actual amendment (see above photo) it actually says that marriage between whites and blacks is "prohibited forever."

Well, obviously not.

Even so, there is a not so subtle irony here. We could basically replace the word "negro" with the word "gay" and it's the same archaic, bigoted, mentality. Basically, marriage between same-sex couples is "prohibited forever."



Yeah, but how long will that last? Forever is such a short time when we realize nothing lasts forever. Especially in the 21st century where everything is advancing so rapidly, even our moral sense. It's only a matter of time before more people begin to advance along with the rest of the world.

I guess moral progress is pretty difficult though when you have a large group of douche-bags who use a book that is archaic, bigoted, and hate filled. I mean... these people aren't born racist homophobe twats. The ideas and the mentality have to be instilled in them first, by their narrow-minded and uncultured parents (who were raised the same way), by their xenophobic communities (cuz you gotta maintain the tribe's values first), but even though we can see them breeding intolerance and making a whole generation of PREJUDICED hate-filled morons, the question becomes, where did they get these prejudiced and idiotic beliefs from in the first place? 



It's just a hunch, but I am willing to bet the majority of their archaic, bigoted, prejudiced, idiotic, and hateful beliefs come from their archaic, bigoted, and intolerant religious book--in this case, the Christian Bible. 
As my friend Bud recently said on his excellent blog Dead Logic:



Prejudice makes people do strange things. It even makes people who claim to believe in a god of love act with pure hate. Nothing new.

Indeed.

Personally, I wish people would learn to just keep their hate to themselves. But that would require a semblance of humanity which, it appears, is desperately lacking in America today. And that's sad.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Trans-sub-tuh-huh? Bloody Hell!


Jesus said things.


Jesus supposedly said a lot of things.

One thing Jesus supposedly said was to, and I'm paraphrasing, "Eat me!"


In Matthew 26:26-28 (NIV) we learn that while the disciples were eating, Jesus took bread, broke it, and gave it to his followers, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Christ's words at the Last Supper is what has sponsored the Roman Catholic belief in the Eucharist and Holy Communion. Dr. Jeff Mirus, founder of CatholicCulture.org informs us that

"Christ is present body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. That’s a unique form of Presence (which is why Catholics call it “Real Presence”), unlike all the other forms which are spiritual only..." (Dr. Jeff Mirus, CatholicCulture.org)

What Dr. Mirus is referring to is the transubstantiation of the Host, i.e. the belief that the wine and bread literally transform into the blood and flesh of Christ. According to the Oxford Dictionary of English, the Roman Catholic belief in transubstantiation is: the conversion of the substance of the Eucharistic elements into the body and blood of Christ at consecration. 

The Catholic writer Carson Daly goes on to inform us that the Presence of Christ's lifeblood is contained, literally speaking, in the Eucharist!

Although the word "transubstantiation" was not used until the medieval period, the idea to which it refers can be found in many scriptural passages (Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; John 6:50-67; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25). Moreover, many of the early Church fathers make it very clear that, once consecrated, the sacramental bread and wine actually become Christ's Body and Blood. Ignatius of Antioch, Justin, and Ireneus, as well as Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, and Cyril of Alexandria all explained this mysterious transformation in their writings, and by the close of the seventh century, this doctrine was accepted throughout Christendom as the authentic teaching of the Church. (Carson Daly, CatholicCulture.org)

So there you have it. The dominant branch of orthodox Christianity for the majority of history has held that during Holy Communion, the wine and bread literally, actually, transform into the actual, literal, blood and body of Christ.

For the majority of history, if you did not believe in this doctrine, you were viewed as backwards. A heathen. This belief was taken so seriously that Jews were slaughtered for Host desecration crimes. The crime of, as demonstrated by PZ Myers in 2008, desecrating the Eucharist. This prompted The Catholic League to claim PZ Myers was guilty of a *hate crime. PZ's response was merely to ridicule The Catholic League, since there is no such thing as a hate crime against a "frackin' cracker."

I only bring all of this up because it goes to show how goddamn serious people still are about this age old belief.

But then I was reading my Bible, or rather skimming it for research [on origins of vampire lore], and I was suddenly surprised to read Genesis 9:4 which says, " But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. "


Wait a minute. If the Presence of Christ's lifeblood is contained in the Eucharist...then wouldn't it technically be wrong to eat the body and flesh of Christ with his Presence and lifeblood contained therein? Just asking. Cuz... well, you know.

In Leviticus 3:17:12 God says to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may any foreigner residing among you eat blood.”


In Leviticus 3:17 we are given a lasting ordinance, or law, prohibitig the consumption of blood for all peoples, whenever and wherever! "This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live: You must not eat any fat or any blood."

And in Leviticus 6:30 it is said the blood must never be eaten in Holy places of worship. "But any sin offering whose blood is brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement in the Holy Place must not be eaten; it must be burned up."

Last I checked a Church was a Holy place of worship.

Leviticus 17:14 reminds us that "because the life of every creature is its blood... I have said to the Israelites, 'You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off.'" 

And then I read Leviticus 19:26, "Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it. Do not practice divination or seek omens."

Isn't partaking in the Eucharist a type of Christian omen? An omen, after all, is simply an event that is regarded as a portent of good or evil. That's exactly what partaking in the Eucharist is! It is regarded as a portent of good. Good grief! 

I'm sure you get the point by now. But just in case you're a Catholic reading this, try opening up your Bible and read Leviticus 7:25-27. "And wherever you live, you must not eat the blood of any bird or animal." 

The last time I checked humans were considered animals. If the Host transforms into the body of Christ, that implies the physical human, animal, aspect of Christ. The body is the flesh, the meat, the person. So what gives?

Or how about Deuteronomy 12:16. "But you must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water."

Shouldn't the Eucharist be this instead? A whole congregation following the LAW of GOD by pouring out the Eucharist Host onto the floor. And God commandeth--"pour it out on the ground like water." 


Let the dousing begin! Heck, I would go to a Church that floods with wine every Sunday. That would be, in the famous words of Steve Martin, WILD!


Of course the Bible, and God's, injunctions against the consumption of blood do not end here. For example, Deuteronomy 12:23 tells us that "you must not eat the life with the meat."

But doesn't that sort of defeat the point of the Eucharist, which literally turns into the meat of Jesus so as to gain everlasting life? 

In fact, it is such an important moral injunction that Deuteronomy repeats it in Deuteronomy 12:24 and again in Deuteronomy 15:23. "You must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water."

In context most of these above versus are talking about the Jewish customs of sacrifice and atonement. But that's exactly what the Eucharist encapsulates! It is because of Jesus Christ's sacrifice and atonement, we are told, that the Eucharist has any meaning at all.

But since these laws all come straight from the top, from God Almighty himself, the question becomes: who is right? Should Catholics be eating their Lord and Savior? Given God's commands excessive compulsive need to drive the point home for his people not to eat the lifeblood of any meat whatsoever, does it make sense to then go and eat the lifeblood of Jesus Christ?

Just because Jesus said, "Eat me," are believers supposed to listen and become little God-Eaters even as God said NOT TO?
God says don't eat blood and flesh. Jesus says eat my blood and flesh. And if you take the Trinitarian view, then the question becomes, who is right... God or God?


It's a conundrum. A laughable conundrum. Absurd, sure. But a conundrum none-the-less.


And one last thought, with all the injunctions against eating meat, most of them set down by GOD, shouldn't there be more vegetarian Jews and Christians?

I'll leave it up for you to decide. 


Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist