Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Genesis, Chapter 1

Watching atheist videos on YouTube leads you to believe that the bible is a horrendous book that defends all kinds of immoral acts. The reaction videos made by christians explain away each accusation by saying it was taken out of context. So, I decided to find out for myself. I bought my very own bible and began reading it recently.

First, on the subject of buying a bible. Which one of the 3,395 versions does a person pick up? This reminds me of a quote from a book my Dad and I really loved while I was growing up called "Touch The Earth". The quote:

"Brother, you say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it? Why not all agreed, as you can all read the Book?" (Red Jacket)

So, after some research and reading reviews, I picked up The King James Study Bible: King James Version (KJV), hardcover by Thomas Nelson Inc ISBN-13: 9780785211631. (CHECK.)
Wow. What a mistake!

This version of the bible has about two-thirds more footnotes than actual bible content, and that wouldn't be a bad thing if it wasn't so heavy-handed and overt in trying to hammer home the points in the bible that contradict (and therefore prove wrong) the theory of evolution. Yep, much of the "help" they give you is not about trying to sort out translation issues and context of the age when the book was written, but is instead helping you translate it in a way that makes their case against science. This is turning me off of this book and translation really fast. What translations did they stretch and/or massage (doctor) in the actual text to make their case? I don't trust it.

So, now what? Well, it's not as convenient as having it in paper, but there is -I think I'm going to start reading it there instead. The upside to reading it this way is that I can look at several different translations side-by-side to help me decide what was meant by a certain part of the text. The downside is the loss of the footnotes that did point out important translational nuances, the context in relation to the time it was written, etc. But I guess I have the rest of the internet for that.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Genesis 1. I already don't quite know what to make of this first story. Apparently god made a dome over the earth with water (on the earth) below it and above it (???). Not to mention the fact a number of lesser scientific issues that the chapter contains: the moon being a "light", there being days and nights before the sun was created, the sun and stars being affixed to the "dome in the sky". Although, writing this, I suppose it could be suggested that the universe and everything we can see beyond it could still be inside the big dome in the sky... But, I've heard that coming up in future stories is the fact that it rains when god opens up the windows of that dome, which wouldn't really work if the dome was so far away... but that's for a future time when I actually read that part I guess.

Anyway, the way I see it, if it's literal it makes no sense given our scientific knowledge of the day, and taken as a parable, well I don't see the point. So, I decided to rely on Google for more info. I chose "genesis 1" as my search terms soas not to inject bias into the search. Results 1-5 were just online versions of the bible.

Result 6 was: Which contained the bible text along with the question "Does God expect us to read Genesis 1-11 as a record of authentic historical fact, or is this simply a collection of parable-like stories?" in the margin. The answer in one word is yes, it's meant to be taken literally.

The 7th result was: which dives deeply into the text and how exactly it's reasoned out, but comes to the conclusion that no, the text is not meant to be taken literally and that the purpose of this chapter was just to say that the earth was "
fine-tuned with human existence in view" (quote from link above).

The 8th result: attempts to answer whether the days described were 24hour days or if they may have been longer. The answer, defended by the Hebrew word chosen for "day" among other contextual clues is that the earth was in fact created in six 24-hour days.

The 9th result is the skeptic's bible, which is hilarious, but not really helpful or authoritative in trying to interpret the story.

And the 10th result was just another site with the text of the bible. So, as it sits now we have no idea if this story is to be taken literally or figuratively, but I'm moving on anyway. Maybe this story will become clearer later on?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Religious rambling

I've been spending a lot of time on YouTube lately surfing the atheist vs christian debates. They raise some interesting questions and philosophical debates. I've been wishing I had a video camera to participate, then I decided to try recording myself on my cell phone to see if it'd come out well enough to upload, and I chickened out. I hate seeing myself on camera. Blah.

For those who haven't seen the videos, they are a constant back and forth (as I'm sure you can imagine) where the atheists regurgitate Dawkins and Hitchens ad nauseum while the religious people regurgitate Kirk Cameron or one of those other creationist people. Of course, just like in real life no one ever convinces the other person and the debates quickly end up stuck in one circular argument or another.

But they tend to come down to a handful of questions. One of them is: "If we don't get our ethics from religion, where do we get them from?" See -interesting.

The last video I saw was a christian going over the 10 commandments. He said that a rule against adultery could only have come from god because humans have such a hard time obeying it that we would never have come up with that on our own. Funny. I think most cultures have come up with the idea of marriage which includes hinduism, islam, as well as indigenous cultures on most continents. This means that non-christian as well as christian countries and cultures came up with the idea of being faithful (although several cultures, including christianity include in that polygamy, but we'll skip that for now). Many of his other arguments for the divine origin of the commandments such as "thou shall not kill" or steal, etc were that "well, if that was allowed we'd have anarchy". True! And because that's so obvious and can be reasoned out, that's why we never needed god to come up with such rules!

So, I started thinking about a small group of people from different cultures (races, religions, whatever). If you were to take them and put them in a house (reality tv style), they'd soon have to come up with a set of rules to determine how they'd get along with each other in the house. They'd start out with what's acceptable and unacceptable behavior -what rules would you come up with? How about "Leave my stuff alone and I'll leave your stuff alone." Seems reasonable. Or "If you cook, clean up after yourself." Simple, easy stuff right? These are rules that should be easily understandable and agreeable to people no matter what their background. That's because it's all based on a negotiation -I don't want you to do "X" to me, so I won't do it to you if you promise not to do it to me.

Let's assume, then, that our group of people make up a list of rules to live by. Now they need punishments for breaking the rules. Would "an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" be such a stretch for anyone? No. Is this because god made us this way or is it evidence that humans wrote the Bible? Depends on which side of the debate you're on.

But look outside of ourselves at other cultures with other religions and you'll see that all cultures consider stealing, rape, murder, etc as being wrong. These ethics do not belong solely to the christians! It's a simple matter of "I cannot be secure in my possessions if it's ok for others to take them, so in order to protect myself, I'll support a law against stealing." It's simple logic, so I think the argument for basing laws off of a religion is way off base.

With laws based on logic, we can reason out exceptions (like murder by accident or for self defense) or determine if they cause more harm than good such as laws against gay marriage when allowing them would not do harm. If we were to base laws on the Bible, it is clear from reading it (which I'm doing right now) that slavery is endorsed, beating slaves is ok (as long as they don't die right away), rape is ok if they are a slave, stoning is a reasonable punishment for blasphemy, etc.

Am I over exaggerating? Well, no -it's all there, but I'm sure most people wouldn't endorse such laws. But I'm just trying to show that it's not that easy. Who do we trust to draw the line? And how many people who don't believe in christianity are prevented from living freely by some of the laws that are already in place?

An example of a religiously based law that many states and counties have adopted are those that legislate against selling cars, liquor, etc on Sundays. Why should those of us who don't believe in the need to rest on Sunday be prevented from carrying on as normal? There's no reason for it. Is it ethical? No. Repealing such laws would give non-believers back their freedom without causing the religious any harm. If you choose not to buy cars or alcohol on Sundays, just don't. Or if it's about having to work selling either, then that's a scheduling issue that you can negotiate with your employer like any other retail job would have you do. So, anyway, it's an unethical law, and I can assume we'd only have more if this christian movement to gain politcal power goes any further.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Google Reader

I just started using Google Reader and I'm finding the ability to save and share the stuff I find interesting kinda cool. My shared stuff is here and updated frequently:

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Presidential Primary

Right before the holidays I started researching candidates. I usually take elections quite seriously, and this one even more so since I have to avoid making the same mistake I made in 2000 when I voted for Bush the first time. So I printed out each candidate's "On the vote" page and hauled the 30 page monstrosity with me to Canada with the intention of reading it on the plane or something. Well, that never happened. It seems the internet has made me lazy, I've done most of my research this time around on YouTube. But my mind's not made up yet. All I know is that if Huckabee becomes president I'm moving out of the country. That man scares me -a lot!

On the Republican side, unfortunately, the front runners seem to be nutjobs -in fact they're all pandering to the religious right and as an atheist I can't exactly support someone who wants to make laws based on religious principals. How about ethics, logic, and morality (without cheating by looking it up in your Book) instead? No, stem cell research, abortion, and gay rights mean I can no longer vote for these Republican puppets for the Evangelical Church.

Except for McCain and Ron Paul. McCain... I voted for him in the primary when Bush ran the first time. I liked him a lot back then. Since that time he's been on TV a lot and I've been left with a bad taste in my mouth. I'd definitely like him over Romney or Huckabee though. In fact if Huckabee becomes president, I'm moving to Canada until this country gets back on track. We aren't the "land of the free, except for the Patriot Act". It's the "land of the free and home of the BRAVE!" and yet all it took was 2 planes and 2 buildings and we ran to Washington and signed our rights away in exchange for perceived security. I'd call it unAmerican if it wasn't for all the ribbons and flags on the cars of people who support such tactics. Yikes.

Ron Paul, or should I say "RON PAUL!". Yeah, he's a wacko too if you dig into his platform a bit. I wonder how many of his supporters realize he's pro-life. Anyway, he'd do much more good than bad in the Whitehouse and it's encouraging to hear him actually speak intelligently about the problems the country's facing when it comes to our economy and it's ties to the Federal Reserve, the Patriot Act and other unConstitutional laws that take away our freedoms, the IRS and taxes... At one point I was ready to vote for him on these issues because his vision of America is what I was brought up to believe in. Not only does his ideas make sense, he's a real guy -he talks like a real person, he tells people in the audiences where he speaks that he believes their position on X is wrong and he takes time to educate them on the topic and explain why he holds the view that he does. THAT'S what I think we all want to see in our candidates. But what we get instead is people who follow strict party platforms, evade questions, and otherwise live up to the "politician" stereotype we've all come to know. In that respect, Ron Paul is a breath of fresh air and I know I'm going to regret not supporting him, but I think the time for his ideas have come to pass. People in general have become more than just lazy when it comes to government run programs -we've come to RELY on them. I just don't see how the very American and actually "Free" ideas that he stands for can work in what has become a socialist country whether we like it or not.

On the Democratic side we have Hillary. **Shutter** I really can't put my finger on why I don't want to see her win. Her politics aren't that much different than Obama's (or anyone elses?), but she just rubs me the wrong way. That crying stunt from yesterday? Pathetic. Will she cry infront of leaders of other countries too? "**Sob** I'm sorry, but this trade agreement is just so personal too me!" Pah-leese!

Obama is inspiring, there's no two ways about it. He's got your average Democratic agenda, which makes my decision tough because they support some of my most important issues where the Republicans let me down (again: stem cell research, abortion, and gay rights), but their philosophy on other issues like the environment scare me. They just don't think about small businesses and the impact that their well-meaning legislation will have on them. Or, if they do, it means all kinds of red tape when there's so much already! But anyway, yeah, Obama is my #1 choice right now, but mostly because he's electable and is probably our best shot at regaining our country's reputation after "W" drug it through the mud.

Anyway, I'm off to research McCain. Luckily I have over 3 weeks left to decide!