Wednesday, April 25, 2007

I Bring Division! Let's Talk Missionary Work

When I ranted about Westboro Baptist a few days back, some Christians came by to try to “show” me that they weren't like those psycho fundies down at Westboro. Which is fine and dandy, and I never said otherwise, but what I wanted was for someone to explain two things: How these Westboro nutjobs can call themselves Christians? and What are “real” Christians gonna materially do, or are doing, to really stop this insanity?

I thought they were both reasonable questions. In the responses, I got three Christian responses. For my blog, three newbie first-time posters is great! (I should probably work on some superior form of tagging, tho' I admit the technical details I find tedious and frustrating. I should still do it if I'm serious about wanting fundie Christian trolls cruising my blog. A friend of mine doesn't say that it'll particularly help because I'm too good at “winning” arguments, which drives away trolls. Still, I want trolls!)

The first, Kathi, said that confronting them is “what they want”. The second, Kevin, didn't even mention what to do about them except “expose their mess”. The third, Martin, said that the Westboro people sue other people, so didn't dare do anything, then claimed poverty (tho' he eventually did say that, perhaps, it was time to do something about people like that), and then said that money could be better spent feeding starving people, and he also used the “it's what they want” argument. All three of them used the “no true Scotsman” fallacy as a defense, claiming the guys at Westboro weren't “real Christians” (tho', again, to be fair, Martin seemed to realize that his aggressive behavior wasn't, really, too much different from the Westboro people – loving everyone does mean, after all, even loving horrible human beings).

All I could think, really, is “what a bunch of gutless fucking cowards” but then I started thinking it through, more. Christians can find the money to send missionaries all over the world, but can't find the cash to go down to Topeka, Kansas? They'll send missionaries into brutal, war-torn countries to confront dictators and warlords, but can't stand down from some guys in Kansas?! So, given that Christian churches routinely do dangerous missionary, and I gotta figure it takes a lot of nerve to do missionary work in some corners of the world, it really makes me wonder why the Westboro people are so off-limits? Clearly, Christian churches have the nerve to find missionaries to do work in very dangerous places, and they find the money to do it, too. I find it without real credit the idea that neither the resources nor the courage exist to fight the Westboro Baptist Church. I mean, it isn't like these people – Christians – have any problem at all converting people. If the folks down at Westboro aren't “Christian”, I can't see any reason at all why “real Christians” would hesitate from attempting to convert them and thus save their souls as well as blot out an ugly stain on American Christianity.

I think that this is important for talking about American Christianity and every time they throw up the “no real Scotsman” fallacy. These people, as a group, are missionaries. Jesus, himself, created what is known as the Great Commission, which was go to out and preach the word of Jesus to all the world. They've got the resources, infrastructure and personnel to provide missionaries to the most horrible spots all around the world – they'll fight to send missionaries to communist China and war, drought and famine ravaged African countries, and everything in between, but they will not engage in missionary work directed at fundamentalist Christian organizations here in America.

I would really like for some Christian to answer me that – I want to know why missionary work isn't directed towards people like the Westboro Baptist Church, which time and again I've been told “isn't really Christian”. Because, what I think, is that it is Christian, and that no moderate or liberal Christian in America really wants to do missionary work towards fundamentalist Christians because it would start a real lively discussion in America about the real nature of Christianity, what it really stands for, and why Christians speak and act as the do (with many of them being racist, classist, sexist war-mongers), and I don't think that any Christians in America want that. The fundies don't want it because right now they can get away with murder, and the moderate and liberal Christians don't want it because it'll create a big ruckus right next to them, it'll bring division and dissent into their own homes and communities, and they do not want that.

Yet, I can't help but think that Jesus said something about this:

Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. (Luke 12:49-53 KJV)

Again, spread the word. I'd really like to get a good answer as to why “real Christians” don't engage in missionary work to spread the “real” word of Jesus to fundamentalist churches in America.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pseudepigraphy and Fraud

Pseudepigraphical is one of my all time favorite words, and because I continue to do research on the people and events surrounding Jesus for Simon Peter, I run into it all the time.

Pseudepigraphical is a very Christian word. What it means is “a work written by someone other than the work claims it was written by”. So, when discussing the Infancy Gospel of James, that is claimed to be written by James the Just, brother of Jesus . . . well, it isn't. It was written by someone else.

The reason why I love the word pseudepigraphical is because, outside of Christian writings, there'd be a different term for it – a fraud. When someone claims that something is written by one person, when in fact it is written by another, that's just fraud. And, yet, when discussing the fraudulent works for the Bible – and there are a lot of them, the odds are that most of the books of the Bible are pseudepigraphical – this fraudulence is hardly ever mentioned.

So, of the four Gospels, only one of them might actually be written by the person to whom authorship is attributed (that being Luke, who also seems to have written Acts, and is likely to have been the personal physician of Paul). The rest? Their attribution is legendary. But, if you ask most Christians, they will assert that Matthew, Mark and John wrote their respective Gospels, that the authorship of the various epistles is equally certain, when in fact none of this is the case. That they are all, ahem, pseudepigraphical – which is to say that their authorship is fraudulent.

This seems to be utterly significant to me in the context of Biblical scholarship – and, in some circles, it is. But most Christians don't admit to the fact that . . . no one knows who really wrote most of the Bible and that the names and such that are given to the various books of the Bible are completely legendary, even by the standards of Christianity. To me, the failure of Christians to address something even so basic as who wrote their holy texts in a clear and honest way demonstrates the intellectual dishonesty of Christianity.

Still, I love the word pseudepigraphical.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Biblical “Literalism” and Interpretation

Because I hate myself, sometimes, I've started to read Anne Rice's Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. I am doing this because, well, when I heard that Anne Rice had become a Christian and written a Jesus book, it is one of the things that inspired me (out of sheer disgust) to write Simon Peter. So, I figured I should eventually actually read the book. Also, one of the ways that I keep focused on a long project like Simon Peter is to read books that are related to the project – so, after reading something cool, I don't get distracted by plotting in an unrelated subject (like, for instance, thinking about science-fiction while writing a historical novel). Also, I am reading it because I clearly hate myself, hehe.

The book is supposed to contain “dazzling scholarship”. I'm not seeing it. This isn't surprising. The amount of legitimate scholarship a person can do about Biblical characters is basically zero. You can read the Bible, you can read a few passages from guys like Josephus, and that's it. She, apparently, did enough research to know who Philo of Alexandria was. Color me unimpressed.

What is is pretty clear she is doing, however, is something very common amongst Christians. To take the Gospels, in particular, seriously requires some heavy duty mental gymnastics. Because it's the word of god or whatever, everything in the Bible must be “true”. Which would be easy if the Bible contained only one story of Jesus – people would say that is true and be done with it. However, the story of Jesus is told roughly five different times, four times in the Gospels and once in Acts. Now, if the story was the same story, it wouldn't really bear repeating five different times, right? So the truth is that five different versions of a similar story are being told. What most Christians do is blend them together into one narrative – a narrative that is not in the Bible.

The most obvious example of this is Christmas. Our vision of Jesus' birth is Jesus, in Bethlehem, being visited by both wise men and shepherds. Try finding that in the Bible. It's not there. What is there is this:

In Matthew, chapter 2, Jesus is born in Bethlehem in a house and is visited by three wise men who bore presents. But in Luke, chapter 2, Jesus was born in a manger and visited by shepherds.

The familiar Christmas story of the wise men finding Jesus in a manger did not happen in the Bible. So, how is it that Biblical “literalists” can claim that the familiar Christmas story is true when there is no story in the Bible where such a thing happens?

You might have noticed I'm putting “literalist” in quote marks. That's because they're not literal. If you take the Gospels literally, for instance, you just have to say that there's some contradictions. You have to say that in one place Jesus was born in a house and visited by wise men, and in another he was born in a stable and visited by shepherds. When confronted with contradictions in the Bible, Bible literalists go straight for interpretation.

They say that everything in all the books of the Bible happened, and there is no contradictions. It's just, they go on to say, that different writers noticed different things. The discrepancies between the Christmas narrative in Matthew and Luke, then, are because the writers of those books noticed different things. Matthew didn't notice the shepherds, nor Luke the rich wise men. Tho' what a manger is doing in a house isn't, really, every answered.

(If you then wonder why a book made perfect by their god contains such contradictions, and you've figured out the justifications, please tell me. I have asked and I have looked. I get bizarre things such as the curious omissions and contradictions are meant to test faith, or they're just not important, but none of them are sensible to me and feel like pure justification. You'd think a perfect book would be written better, but apparently you'd be wrong. Writing books that are internally consistent is, apparently, a vanity of mortal writers.)

The key thing to remember, I think, is that Bible literalists are nothing of the sort and are full of interpretation. Because the actual Gospels can't be consistently interpreted literally, what Christians do is invent a narrative in their mind – a narrative not found in the Bible – and call that the “real truth”! This is, I think, reasonably important to understanding how Christians, in other areas of their life, can shrug off massive inconsistencies. They're already used to it, they've trained, as Christians, in a level of interpretation that would make a post-modernist blush.

I'm sure that reading this soul punishing Anne Rice novel will generate more of this sort of wit and wisdom from me, as well as motivate me to put even more sex, violence and treachery in Simon Peter.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Bible Highlights

On Dwindling in Disbelief, the blog of the author of The Skeptic's Annotated Bible, has posted about the "best" books in the Bible from an atheist point of view.

My favorite bit, by far, however, is that:

Only 35 books are listed. The other 31 have nothing that I can call good.

The list of "bad" books of the Bible - meaning those void of any worthwhile moral content - are:

1. Genesis
2. Numbers
3. Joshua
4. Judges
5. Ruth
6. 1 Samuel
7. 2 Samuel
8. 1 Kings
9. 2 Kings
10. 1 Chronicles
11. 2 Chronicles
12. Ezra
13. Nehemiah
14. Esther
15. Song of Solomon
16. Lamentations
17. Ezekiel
18. Daniel
19. Joel
20. Amos
21. Obadiah
22. Jonah
23. Nahum
24. Habakkuk
25. Zephaniah
26. Haggai
27. 2 Corinthians
28. 2 Thessalonians
29. Philemon
30. Jude
31. Revelation


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Friday, March 23, 2007

Friday update!

Jon Stewart makes me laugh.

That said, I'm almost done with part 2 of Simon Peter. As opposed to part 1, which dealt with material that was, largely, non-Biblical, part 2 deals heavily with Jesus' involvement with John the Baptist, which receives some actual play time in the Bible. Simon Peter is only very loosely adapted from the Bible, but there are plenty of events that happen that people will be familiar with. It also deals with historical figures that have an existence outside the Bible, such as Herod Antipas, so I was able to draw on additional sources other than the Bible about these colorful people that populated Judea and Galilee at the time, as well as some medieval myths. As such, at times, it is a very exciting part to write. I plan on getting done with it today, but we'll see how that goes. I could be a thousand words from the end, I could be five thousand words from the end.

Also, over the next week or so I'll be slow to post and perhaps absent at posting altogether. Adrienne and I are going on a vacation to visit some friends in Arizona, and this involves trips to some various parks and camping. There will be pictures when I get back, almost certainly including some that I can turn into various icons for this blog. All the cool kids have pictures, after all, right? I've brought in a ringer or two for that time, but my posting will be periodic, at best.

In the works is an video interview I'm going to make with a a friend, Santiago. The subject matter will be, at least initially, Simon Peter and the reason why I made various decisions that I made. We're seriously thinking of posting it on GodTube because, well, it is relevant to Christianity and part of the work has always been to express myself to Christians as much as atheists, to open a dialog. We'll see! But that's also in the works.

Lastly, Santiago and I are also working on a secret publishing project. It's very hush-hush but we figure it'll make us some money and increase our exposure in a very constructive, productive way - it has nothing to do with our militant atheism or politics - and while I'm not sure the time is right to give details it is very exciting as well. There will be updates.

That's it for right now!

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