Organized Religion

Please check out my forum, consider joining, and respond to this post here…

http://athans255.freeforums.net/thread/88/organized-religion

Most atheists and even many believers have a problem with organized religion, whether that be a church in general or something like the Catholic Church. My question is WHY is organized religion bad and how do you define it.

I ask this for a couple of reasons. First I want to point out that I do understand the problems we have had in the past, as well as current issues. I do certainly believe it is a problem when the Church is seen as a powerful political leader, like the Catholic Church used to be. The Catholic Church literally used to control Europe. Then of course we have the Church of England to a lesser extent and things such as Islamic governments in the Middle East. I doubt very many people would agree with the power and influence of those I listed above, except for the extremely religious, and of course they would want it to be their preferred faith. I think we can agree this causes major problems.

I guess what I want to focus on is a particular denomination or branch of a religion or even a specific Church. We certainly have issues with priests, and people in leadership positions, raping or molesting young children. This is always a problem. We also have bad denominations, such as the FLDS (Fundamentalists Latter Day Saints,) which could be considered a cult. I guess I want to randomly mention the Church of Scientology, which is a cult and does horrible things. There are also single Churches that are problems, such as some of the mega churches or churches like Westboro Baptist Church (which is unaffiliated with the Baptist Church.) We also read a book about Pentecostal snake handlers, which I have a serious problem with due to them allowed children near dangerous animals and teaching them that screwing with these animals is okay. Once again, I do not think anyone will agree these things are good. But does this make ALL organized religion bad?

The reason I bring up this topic is because of currently experiences as well as my upbringing and studies. As many of you know, our children are baptized and will be raised loosely Christian (meaning at a Liberal church that doesn’t pound it into their head so bad they will never recover.) Many atheists disagree with this and do not understand how I can do this being a non-believer. First, I am not religious, I do not believe in Christ as my personal savoir, so rubbing a little bit of water on their head does not mean anything to me. Most important, it is important to my wife and her family and since I do not believe, I do not care. I also plan on telling my kids the story of Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy and I assume there will not be any long term affects.

Anyways, my son is currently going to pre-school at my wife’s church (Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church) and everything about the place makes me feel good. Everyone is friendly and happy. One of the staff members is the sister of one of my wife’s best friends growing up. I like her very much and my younger son has a crush on her. Nearly all of my son’s friends are from this church. When we go there for his different preschool events, they are always a positive experience. We had one recently where we went around and did different activities and finished in a room with one of the pastors leading the kids in singing. My younger one, the one not actually in the class was the star of the show and made everyone laugh. It is true they sang about God and Jesus and guess what? I did not melt…nor did I leave a brainwashed believer. Everything about the place makes me feel good. We have donated food to their box for the food shelf. Nearly every time I go in there I wish I could work there just because of how the place makes me feel. The problem is I have that little not believing in God problem…

Besides this experience I have extensive experience in dealing with many different religions and denominations. I was raised loosely Lutheran Christian (I did Sunday school and we went to church on the holidays.) I went on a number of church trips and camps. I asked for Jesus into my life and for a sign. I never got one. Yet I only have good memories. The church I went too was fairly Liberal though I think they did lean Conservative on a few things, such as evolution. There were a couple other minor things but overall, it was mostly positive.
I was also a Chaplin’s assistant while in Tech School in the US Air Force. While in Basic Training I went to Mormon services. Both were positive experiences, especially going through those tough conditions.

Between my wife going to an all-girl Catholic University and my major in religious studies, as well as traveling to Europe and the Middle East with the Air Force, I have been to large variety of services and gatherings of many different religions and denominations. Nearly every single one was positive…or at least not negative. I always found the Mormons to be very friendly and I like their family aspect. I also appreciated the lack of judgment by the Catholics. I have gone to Catholic services more than anything else, at a number of different churches. I never take Communion, especially at Catholic churches because to do not allow non-Catholics to take Communion. Here is the thing though…not a single place ever asked people if they were Catholic or not, in addition to that not once have I received a dirty look, or even a look, or NOT taking Communion. My favorite was the Baha’I gathering. Their policy is that they can only accept donations from members. If a non-member donates, it is given to charity.

This has been my extensive experience. So I ask…do you simply dislike organized religion because you dislike religion or the way the media has portrayed it? Do you simply dislike it because the particular church you were brought up in was one of the “bad” ones? Do you believe not all organization is the same and some groups are not only not harmful, but positive? Or are they all bad? Is it the organization that is bad? I ask that because many atheists organize into groups…How do you define organized religion and what are your objections?

America’s Ignorance and Stupidity When it Comes to Muslim Countries

Once again we have Bill Maher saying stupid stuff about religion. Though I am a fan and find him correct most of the time, he keeps sticking his foot in his mouth about religion. I do not understand why he refuses to listen to the experts on this topic. This time though, it was not just Bill Maher, but our liberal media. Both sides, liberal and conservative, seem to be equally ignorant or stupid about the topic of religion, Islam, and the Middle East. I have spoken about this issue before but I wanted to do a blog dedicated to the topic because it really needs it. Religion, especially Islam, is very misunderstood in this country and for whatever reason, no one cares to listen to the experts.

The thing that made me feel the need to type this up was Reza Aslan’s interview on CNN. Before I show the video, I want to give his credentials…

Aslan holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in religions from Santa Clara University, a Master of Theological Studies degree from Harvard Divinity School, and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop, where he was named the Truman Capote Fellow in Fiction. Aslan also received a Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology, focusing in the history of religion, from the University of California, Santa Barbara.[7][8][9] His dissertation was titled “Global Jihadism as a Transnational Social Movement: A Theoretical Framework.”-Wikipedia

If anyone is confused about Religious Studies I would suggest either Googling it or reading my blog about it before you continue because it is more than reading the Bible or “studying God.”

Here is the interview.

http://www.cnn.com/video/?/video/bestoftv/2014/09/30/cnn-tonight-reza-aslan-bill-maher.cnn&video_referrer=http%3A%2F%2Ft.co%2FNgRGButZCG

I expect that kind of crap from Bill Maher when it comes to religion but CNN shows the larger problem. “Muslim countries,” “Muslim countries,” Muslim countries,” he really hits the nail on the head with everything he said. To keep saying “Muslim countries” as if they are all the same is stupid. It is more than ignorant because he is there educating them on the topic and they ignore him. That is stupid. He is pointing out the fact that not all Muslim countries are the same and Americans appear to be completely clueless to this. Before I get into Muslim countries, let me do the exact same thing with America…
Do you believe these pictures accurately represent America?

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Would you be offended if I said those pictures accurately represented most, or the average, American(s)? If you do not believe that is fair, why is it fair to do that to the Muslim world? Do you simply not realize the way we portray Muslims is not representative? The way we portray Muslims is the minority of Muslims, this is the point Reza was trying to make.

Contrary to popular belief, Religion is not the biggest driving factor in people’s actions, culture and society is. In Religious Studies we look at religion from all the different angles including sociological and anthropological (cultural) and it is painfully obvious that these issues are due to culture or society and not religion. The Sunni-Shia rift is a CULTURAL argument. We know culture and society are the driving factors because they both SHAPE religion. Religion can shape culture and society but culture and society are the bigger force. We know this because different cultures and societies with the same religion are very different. Also, if religion was the driving force, why are there so many denominations? The reason is people do not agree. Whether that disagreement is societal or personal, it is more powerful than religion because religion was changed because of that.

This is exactly what Reza was talking about. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is an AFRICAN problem. Here are a few maps of FGM and Religion. Click on the pics to enlarge them

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It is certainly a problem in a very specific part of the world, mostly Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It does certainly appear to be in areas that are Muslim, but Christian majority countries in Africa also have an issue with it. One map echoes what Reza was saying about Ethiopia. Ethiopia has around 75% of women experiencing FGM and they are a Christian majority…

According to the 2007 National Census, Christians make up 62.8% of the country’s population (43.5% Ethiopian Orthodox, 19.3% other denominations), Muslims 33.9%, practitioners of traditional faiths 2.6%, and other religions 0.6%

If this were strictly a Muslim issue we would expect to see around 1/3rd, not 3/4th. This shows it is clearly a cultural thing, not a religious thing. You may want to point out that the Arabian Peninsula is not Africa. Actually it is, in a cultural sense. If we trace culture backwards we will see that Arabs are a Semitic speaking peoples, and the Semitic language originated in Africa. Here is a map…

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You will notice that only a few pockets of people in Iran are Semitic peoples. That is because the Iranian peoples are Indo-European peoples. This is the nature of the Sunni-Shia rift, the culture, not religion.

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Besides FGM, how do we typically portray Muslims? Radical terrorists that treat women worse than dogs? As Reza says, that is certainly representative of certain countries, such as Saudi Arabia. No one is debating that the way SA treats their women is primitive and barbaric or that their beheading of people is alright. The problem is this is not representative of all Muslim countries. Would a Muslim country that saw women as inferior elect one as their head of state? As Reza mentions, seven women have been elected head of state in majority Muslim nations, another one was appointed…

Tansu Çiller, elected prime minister of Turkey, 1993-1996
Benazir Bhutto, elected prime minister of Pakistan 1988-1990, 1993-1996
Mame Madior Boye, appointed prime minister of Senegal, 2001-2002.
Megawati Sukarnoputri, elected president of Indonesia, 2001-2004
Khaleda Zia, elected prime minister of Bangladesh, 1991-1996 and 2001-2006
Sheikh Hasina, elected prime minister of Bangladesh 2009-
Roza Otunbayeva, president of Kyrgyzstan, 2010- 2011
Atifete Jahjaga, elected president of Kosovo 2011-

And actually throughout the history of Islam women have been leaders or held positions of power…

http://www.guide2womenleaders.com/Muslim_Leaders.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslim_female_political_leaders

Like Reza asks, how many female leaders have we had here in the US?

Many Muslim nations are very secular. Take Turkey for example.

Turkey has been a secular state since it was founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1923. He introduced the secularization of the state in the Turkish Constitution of 1924, alongside Atatürk’s Reforms. These were in accordance with the Kemalist Ideology, with a strict appliance of laicite in the constitution. Atatürk saw headscarves as backward-looking[original research?] and an obstacle to his campaign to secularize and modernize the new Turkish Republic. The issue of the headscarf debate has been very intense and controversial since it was banned.[1] Turkey is a secular country and over 95% of its people are Muslims.[2] It has resulted in a clash between those favouring the secular principles of the state, such as the Turkish Army,[3] and those who are more conservative with their religious beliefs.-Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headscarf_controversy_in_Turkey

The United States needs to grow some secular balls and ban the headscarves! Seriously, I am not for that, but look at a Muslim country our secularizing the United States, impressive for a primitive and oppressive, conservative religious people. *Sarcasm*

I can point out leaders and point out facts. I can tell you about my experience with Muslims in the Religious Studies department at the University of Minnesota. I can tell you about my classes in Middle Eastern studies and Islam, but I have a more effective method. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I will save on the typing and post some pictures.

While in the Air Force I spent time in two Muslim countries. The first was Kyrgyzstan…

Islam is the dominant religion of Kyrgyzstan: 80% of the population is Muslim while 17% follow Russian Orthodoxy and 3% other religions.[70] A 2009 Pew Research Center report indicates a higher percentage of Muslims, with 86.3% of Kyrgyzstan’s population adhering to Islam.[71] The majority of Muslims are non-denominational Muslims at 64% while roughly 23% are Sunni, adhering to the Hanafi school of thought.[72] There are a few Ahmadiyya Muslims, though unrecognised by the country.-Wikipedia

The second was the United Arab Emirates…

Islam is the largest and the official state religion of the UAE. The government follows a policy of tolerance toward other religions and rarely interferes in the activities of non-Muslims.[77] By the same token, non-Muslims are expected to avoid interfering in Islamic religious matters or the Islamic upbringing of Muslims.

The government imposes restrictions on spreading other religions through any form of media as it is considered a form of proselytizing. There are approximately 31 churches throughout the country, one Hindu temple in the region of Bur Dubai,[172] one Sikh Gurudwara in Jebel Ali and also a Buddhist temple in Al Garhoud.

Based on the Ministry of Economy census in 2005, 76% of the total population was Muslim, 9% Christian, and 15% other (mainly Hindu).[77] Census figures do not take into account the many “temporary” visitors and workers while also counting Baha’is and Druze as Muslim.[77] Among Emirati citizens, 85% are Sunni Muslim, while Shi’a Muslims are 15%, mostly concentrated in the emirates of Sharjah and Dubai.[77] Omani immigrants are mostly Ibadi, while Sufi influences exist too.[173]

People of all faiths or no faith are given equal protection under the country’s constitution and laws.-Wikipedia

While we were deployed, we had a shared folder of pictures taken while on our trips. That is where most of these pictures were taken from. The only purpose of these pictures is to show how the women dress and their freedom. Click on the pictures to enlarge them

Here are a few pictures from Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan has a mixed population of Russians and Kyrgyz. They have a heavy Russian influence and 64% of their Muslims are non-denominational Muslims. It is safe to assume that in these pictures the white people are Russian Orthodox (the Kyrgyz look more Asian) and not Muslim but the point is how WOMEN are treated in a Muslim country.

Here is a picture from a typical market place. The women here are dressed the same way you would find them dressed in Europe or America. They are also out there by themselves, no men needed.

Here is a picture from what I believe is a class trip. If it were not for the background you might assume this was a group of American kids.

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The next three pictures are of the two lovely women that worked with us in linen exchange at Manas Air Base. They are there by themselves, no men. You will notice me in a picture with one of them and I am certainly not related to her.

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On to the UAE. This was a fun trip. The people were so diverse. You have very conservative Muslims with the women covered from head to toe all the way to what we typically see here in America. The pictures that truly show how oppressed women are is best illustrated at a water park. Here are pictures taken from the shared file of a trip to the water park. Keep a close eye on what people are wearing and who they are with.

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I want you to focus specifically on these two pictures. Notice that in the back ground there is a woman with a hijab with her face shown an in another it appears her face may be completely covered.

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The range of diversity rivals and probably surpasses the United States. They have very conservative to very secular or liberal. I know recently on the news they showed a picture of a female UAE pilot, which Fox News thought was appropriate to make fun of, calling it “boobs on the ground” and saying she would have problems parking the plane. So apparently in America the idea of a female pilot is something to joke about but in the UAE women have the right to be one and their armed forces see them as just as capable as a man to do the job. It really makes me wonder which country has the problem with women being equal, Muslim UAE, or Christian America. Here is the picture of that woman and also a picture of other female pilots in the UAE Air Force. Notice that half of the women have their head covered and the other half, do not.

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Is this what you thought a Muslim country looked like? This is exactly what Reza Aslan was saying. Not all Muslims countries are the same and vary greatly with how conservative or secular they are. Some Muslims countries surpass the United States when it comes to the equality of women. Some are more secular than the United States. I would argue that some run their countries better. Take UAE for example. They have billions, possibly trillions, from their oil. Instead of letting it sit in banks accounts, like we do here in the United States, they have been putting it back into the country to build infrastructure and some of the most beautiful buildings in the world. They have turned it into a tourist destination. They have a ski resort inside of a mall. Like Reza says, to say “Muslim countries” to suggest that all Muslim countries are like Saudi Arabia, Somalia, or Afghanistan is STUPID.

I leave you with some pictures of the UAE and what they have done with their oil money. I ask that you think about what billionaires have built for America recently…
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Rejection of God due to the Bible

To those that know me, it is common knowledge that I do not reject the possibility of their being a god. However, I do reject the Judeo-Christian God. I reject God based on the Bible, which may seem odd because the Bible is most Christian’s evidence for God. The main reason I reject the Bible is because I understand the context of it. This write-up will explain my views and reasoning on this topic. I will add that all of the professors, that I know of, that helped me understand this topic, are religious. Knowing the actual facts and contexts of things does not have to destroy faith unless the person chooses.

There is one thing that we must do to start. We must assume that there is nothing significant about the Bible. We must assume that it is not any different than any other historical document. We must do this because this is how historians and scientists do work. It is called inductive reasoning. We look at the evidence and then draw a conclusion based on the evidence, rather than assuming a conclusion and looking for evidence to support it. No one should have a problem with this, because if the Bible is what Christians and Jews believe it to be, the Bible should have no problem validating itself through this method.

Because we will be looking at the Bible in a historical aspect, I should explain what that means. To save time, here is a link about thinking historically.

http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2007/0701/0701tea2.cfm

This will give you a brief introduction to what exactly historians do.

The most important part, in my opinion, is context. I wrote a short blog explaining why context is so critical. Please read it before continuing on, for it is the most important point.

http://athans-athansblog.blogspot.com/2013/05/pass-and-stow-importance-of-context.html

This demonstrates why it is crucial to understand the context of the Bible. Without the context, they are simply words open to interpretation. Now the question is where do we start?

I think the most obvious place to start is with the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible (HB) because if the God of the HB is not valid, in whatever sense, whatever follows is irrelevant, since Jesus is the son of this Hebrew God. To understand the context of the HB, we must be familiar with the history it came out of.

One should familiarize themselves with the history of the Ancient Near East, specifically what we now call the Middle East and Egypt. Getting a grasp of thousands of years of history is not easy and there is a lot of dry material. I will recommend a few books depending on your interests…

My personal favorite is The Oxford History of the Biblical World edited by Michael Coogan. This is not an easy read and is over 400 pages, much of it being very dry, but it is a great guide to the history we are looking at.

A shorter read is A History of the Ancient Near East by Van De Mieroop.

One should also be familiar with Egyptian history of the same period due to their influence and interactions in the Middle East. Our long, detailed, dry, book is The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt by Ian Shaw. However I am sure there are dozens of good books on Egypt that are an easier read.

More specifically to this topic, I would suggest How to Read the Bible by Marc Z. Brettler for the serious reader.

To everyone, I would suggest A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible by John J. Collins. This is a book that anyone could read in a day or 2.

If you would prefer to watch something, there is a great bit on NOVA.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/bibles-buried-secrets.html

But to the point…I will briefly hit on the major points since I doubt most people reading this have the time or energy to read the books on their own…

Key points:

Other cultures/people’s and their writings/beliefs.

The origin of the ancient Israelites and Judahites.

Major events and politics of the time.

The “Hebrew” people themselves.

To make this short, when comparing the texts of the Torah (first 5 books of the HB) to other texts of that area, they are a disappointment. Nothing in the Torah is new or original and is dependent on older stories. The Epic of Gilgamesh has a clearer version of the Flood Story, nearly word for word, yet the Epic of Gilgamesh was written nearly 1000 years earlier. Other texts such as Hammurabi’s Law Codes are found word for word in the Torah, and predate it. There is also a striking resemblance between the Torah and the Assyrian Vassal Treaties. The examples are so numerous, that I will leave it at that for the purpose of this blog. Like I said, nothing is the Torah is new or original.

If you think I am exaggerating, look at these 2 portions of the texts…

Genesis

 7 and he sent out a raven, and it flew here and there until the water was dried up from the earth. 
8 Then he sent out a dove from him, to see if the water was abated from the face of the land; 
9 but the dove found no resting place for the sole of her foot, so she returned to him into the ark, for the water was on the surface of all the earth. Then he put out his hand and took her, and brought her into the ark to himself. 
10 So he waited yet another seven days; and again he sent out the dove from the ark. 
11 The dove came to him toward evening, and behold, in her beak was a freshly picked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the water was abated from the earth. 
12 Then he waited yet another seven days, and sent out the dove; but she did not return to him again.

 Gilgamesh (Full text here http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/mesopotamian/gilgamesh/tab11.htm)

When a seventh day arrived

I sent forth a dove and released it.

The dove went off, but came back to me;

no perch was visible so it circled back to me.

I sent forth a swallow and released it.

The swallow went off, but came back to me;

no perch was visible so it circled back to me.

I sent forth a raven and released it.

The raven went off, and saw the waters slither back.

It eats, it scratches, it bobs, but does not circle back to me.

 

What are the chances that two different peoples, writing over 1,000 years apart, both have a Raven and a dove? Gilgamesh is actually a clearer story and does not have the contradictions that Genesis does. The contradictions bring up another issue, which I will not go into much detail about, but will briefly mention. The Genesis story is actually 2 stories, by 2 different authors, that were blended together. We know that the Torah had 4 different authors, which had different political affiliations and ways of writing things. We know this by examining the text. There is an interactive program that shows this more perfectly than I could ever explain.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/bible/flood.html

This shows that the Flood story is two separate stories that were combined. We see this in many stories, including the creation story. The creation story for example says God created man and woman at the same time, but it also says God created man and then woman from Adam’s rib. Over the years people have speculated that this meant Adam had two wives. This is where the Lilith myth comes into play. However, the idea of Lilith is unfounded. Like the flood story, the differences are simply because there were multiple sources and multiple authors.

So the Torah was compiled by different authors and is made up of a number of different texts. I know some of you may be thinking that these other texts may be copies of the Bible and that the Bible is the original. Besides the fact we can already see the version of the Bible we have is not the primary text, it is still plausible that there is an older version, a perfect version, which the stories were taken from. However, this is only wishful thinking. We have methods that are used to date things but if you are one of those that believe they are made up, I will explain another issue…The origin of the ancient Israelites and Judahites.

If one is going to argue that the Bible is the primary source, we should investigate when the people actually came into existence. To do this, we need to look at the records of other people to see if they are mentioned. The very first instance in which “Israel” is mentioned, outside of the Bible, is the Merneptah Stele. This Stele is Egyptian and can be very specifically dated to right around 1,200 BCE. When compared with the HB and archeological evidence, we get a clear picture. 1,200 BCE was right around the time we would expect Israel would to start drawing attention. The height of Israel’s power in the region, is around 1,000 BCE, the time of David and Solomon. This is also the point at which the HB starts to match up with, on many but not all, accounts outside of the HB. The HB can now be used as a historical text and used as evidence to evaluate other historical claims.

We know the ancient Israelites were in existence by 1,200 BCE but how long did they exist before that? Well luckily we have a record of peoples living in that area dating back thousands of years. We know when the Canaanites lived in that area and when other peoples invaded them. The conclusion on the date is shortly before our 1,200 BCE date. The big question is HOW they got there. There are four debated theories in the scholarly world. One of these theories is the Out of Egypt theory, or the Exodus story. This is actually the least plausible of the four. There is not a shred of evidence, outside of the Bible, that matches up with the Exodus account. There is no account of these types of people ever being in Egypt, let alone an event such as the Exodus. The Egyptians kept amazing records, even of losses. They kept records of border crossings and still, nothing. They simply did not come from Egypt. So where did they come from? I find a combination of the other three to be the most likely result. The main point in the other 3 are quite simple…they are Canaanites.

            They were most likely outcasts, living in the hills, banning together and raiding cities in the area. When we take this idea and look for evidence of it in the HB, we find a figure that seems to match what we are looking for…David. Oddly enough this is right around the point in the HB when history starts matching up. Also when we look at early Israelite settlements, we find the remains of the Canaanite culture. We find idols such as Yahweh and his wife Asherah. But we also find evidence of a new culture, the Israelite culture, trying to establish a new identity, trying to distance itself from the Canaanite culture. This would be the time the HB started being compiled and/or written.

So our date is around 1,200 BCE for the earliest possible dates of the Biblical texts. Unfortunately for our theory (of the Biblical texts being older,) civilizations, the ones that wrote the other texts, have been around for thousands of years. The Great Pyramids were already ancient at this time. But we have a larger issue I have yet to address. Gods…

As I mentioned above, in case you missed it, I said idols such as Yahweh and his wife Asherah were found in Israelite settlements. For you that are not familiar, Yahweh is the name of God. In the Bible Yahweh is translated to LORD and God is translated from Elohim. Not only does Yahweh take on the identity of the Canaanite god Baal in the Song of the Sea (once again comparing texts) but he has a wife. Israelites were not monotheistic at this point. No one was monotheistic at this point. All of the surrounding cultures were polytheistic and that includes the Canaanites. If one reads the Old Testament carefully, there is not a monotheistic claim until the book of Isaiah. For example, one you have probably heard, “You shall have no other gods…” Does that sound like a monotheistic claim? It does not read “I am the only god.” It means you will not worship the other gods…There is no denial of other Gods. But back to the first monotheistic claim…Isaiah is the first point in which a clearly monotheistic statement is made. Isaiah is also around the time when the Jews were exposed to the Zoroastrians. Zoroastrianism was the religion of nation of Persia. We know this because Isaiah tells us the name of Cyrus of Persia by name. Isaiah explains that God’s Messiah (God’s anointed) Cyrus, liberates the Jews from Babylon. This is also confirmed by the Persian records and the Cyrus Cylinder (though the Jews altered what it said in the Bible to suit their needs.)

So monotheism in the Bible actually first appeared when they were introduced to Zoroastrianism. They were also freed from Babylon and allowed to return to their homelands by Cyrus the Great, God’s Messiah. Other concepts found in Zoroastrianism would be the figure of the Devil, Hell, the idea behind the Holy Trinity, and many more things found in Christianity that are not found in the early part of the Bible. It is not more than obvious that the Jews acquired features of Zoroastrianism AFTER they were liberated and allowed to return to Judah? Cyrus the Great was God’s Messiah, after all, as stated by the book of Isaiah.

Do you see how context is starting to work? Do you see historical events affected what was written? We see the same types of things when looking at the Assyrian Exile and the Babylonian Exile. We see the political conflicts between Judah and Israel in the Bible. What was being written was directly related to the events of the time.

On that note, I will address the prophecies for Jesus. Ironically, Isaiah is often cited as a prophecy for Jesus…Isaiah 7:14

14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

When one understands the context of Isaiah and the situation of the Hebrew people of that time, you would know they are in exile in Babylon and are then allowed to return to Judah to rebuild the temple and make it a great nation, once again. The prophecy refers to someone during that time, not someone to come 700 years in the future. We know this because we also study Rabbis and Jewish literature.

By studying Midrashic literature and writings such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, we can get an idea how and what these people thought of their writings. We cannot look at the Bible as people look at things today. We cannot assume they were writing “history.” We cannot assume their writings were to be taken as literal. We cannot assume they were opposed to altering the text. We cannot even assume they actually believed the stories because they may have simply been a teaching tool or part of their tradition. When we actually study the language and things such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, we find that the scribes were not opposed to editing and altering the writings. They do it plain as day and do not appear to have an issue with it. They clearly did not think of this stuff as “the word of God” because they constantly changed it. This was acceptable and not a problem to them. We have evidence that the “final text” found in the OT today had already been edited and changed.

The HB was written during a specific time, by specific people, for a specific reason. This is not speculation class where we decide what the Bible is or means. We study the context of it. We study the history of it. We study the linguistics of it.

The HB is nothing unique or special when compared to other writings from the same time. It is not monotheistic. It is polytheistic (or Henotheistic) at the start and is based on stories from other polytheistic religions. How do these facts equate to the existence of God, the one supreme creator of the universe? How did we start with a bunch of gods, that nearly everyone living today would reject and turn it into the Christian God? I have yet to even take the New Testament into consideration and its legitimacy is already destroyed. It has crumbled at the base. The next step is to examine the claim made by Jesus, that he is the son of the one God, Yahweh…One would imagine that Jesus would have known of the other gods in existence, the ones subordinate to his father. Or was he basing his claims on the popular opinion of the time, which was monotheism? Jesus and the NT are a discussion for another time, which we can have if one so desires, if you feel I have yet to invalidate the Bible.

Of course, you do not have to believe me on any of this stuff. You can spend years reading book after book on your own and come to your own conclusion.

Are Christians Morally Superior to Atheists?

This is a follow on to my first blog about morals and where they come from. You can check it out here…

https://stern255.wordpress.com/2014/04/11/christians-atheists-and-morality/

Though I argue that morals come from society and culture, which means religion does not play a role, or at least that atheists will share the same morals, I still the constant back-and-forth between Christians and atheists about morals. There are two claims by Christians, about atheists, which I wish to address…

  1.  Because atheists believe in evolution, survival of the fittest, random molecules floating around smacking each other, chemical reactions, or whatever they think atheists “believe”, they cannot have morals.
  2.  Morals of Christians are superior.

To address the first claim, this is utterly false. As I talk about in my first blog, morals are cultural and societal. It does not matter how one views the world. Just looking at the things I mentioned above, it may be easy to see how atheists can be without morals. However, atheists are not heartless and cold. They are not without the basic human emotions. They are not without love, sorrow, empathy, despair, grief, guilt, remorse, or any other one. These are simple traits that make us human, that we have evolved with. People that do not have these emotions have mental problems and are called sociopaths and atheists are not sociopaths. If they did, we would hear about all of the atheist rape and murders. Anyone, regardless of their religion, can be a sociopath. The idea that atheists  lack basic traits of humanity and are not capable of feeling is highly ignorant and insulting.

There is also the fact that humans have uniquely evolved the ability to reason. Not only do we have emotions, but we have the ability to use logic and reason to think about life and the universe. We are not simple animals or random reactions; we have unique abilities to ask questions about the life and universe. This is a unique gift that humans have and we do not simply ignore us. This makes us more than matter randomly reacting with other matter. Atheists have the ability to ask and reason though what is best for the world or any living creature, as do Christians, or people of any other religion. Human beings are human beings.

What about people like Hitler and Stalin? Did they not use the atheist mindset to kill millions of people?

No mindset is inherently evil or immoral. What matters is the individual. An individual will use whatever tools  they are given to enact their will. Is it true that Stalin was anti-religion and promoted atheism? Sure, but his atheism was just as “religious” as any religion. Is it true that Hitler used science to prove his ideas? Sure. He used the scientific idea of eugenics and bought into many of the pieces of Social Darwinism. The thing is, Social Darwinism is not scientific. Darwin’s theory, though correct for the origin of species, is not comparable to human society. Though this was the science of the time, it is not known to be incorrect. Did many people die in the name of science? Were women forcefully sterilized in the name of science? Was racial discrimination accepted because of science? Yes, it is all true. But the fact of the matter is religion is responsible for just as many atrocities, or at least is the guise of the actions. Very few things are purely religious. Society, culture, politics, and economics are often just as involved as religion itself. The reason for this is simply bad people will do bad things and find whatever means to justify their actions. To point figures and argue about who is less moral is childish and uninformed. The truth of the matter is that disease and natural disasters are the champions of killing life. It is not even close, there is no contest. If you want to have a debate, argue about what is more effective in preventing those things…prayer of science.  But stop the immature finger point about who is less moral and more evil because it simply comes down to humanity and the drive of an individual.

Now for the second point…as alluded to in the point above, Christians claim that they are morally superior to atheists. If you want an argument, I have one for you…

Fact: Christians believe in an afterlife.

Fact: Atheists do not believe in an afterlife.

What does this mean?

So Christians believe in an afterlife? And this afterlife is great, amazing and perfect…except for those that go to hell. The idea of hell itself is highly immoral, but I will not even touch on that…What does this amazing afterlife mean? It means that things will be better once you die. It does not put a focus on this life. If people are suffering, starving, and dying, it is okay, because things will be better once they die and go to Jesus. It does not promote a better world. It promotes suffering and being poor…as long as they find Jesus. So people live a miserable existence, for what? An afterlife?

Atheists do not believe in an afterlife. Once one dies, that is it. It is like unplugging a computer. As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, atheists have the same emotions as Christians. The difference is they are not comforted by a better future after death. Heaven is an emotional crutch that allows one to ignore the present in favor of the future. Atheists believe human life is precious and this life is the one opportunity they have. This means they strive to make this one the best one possible. Happiness is the key in this lifetime because there is not another. They do not rely on this after life to make things better, they must fix it now. That is why science works to prevent disease and natural disasters. This is why science is used to make the world a better place. Atheists want to save the world now and make it better now, because it is the only life one will experience, as opposed to waiting for Jesus to come back and make everything okay. I mean every generation since the death of Jesus thinks theirs is the one in which he will return. It has been 2,000 years…you want to gamble on those odds?

Either way I think this is a pointless argument because morals come about culturally and socially, so neither one is superior to the other if coming from the same source. But if you want to have an argument, there are the facts. Good luck…

 

Christians, Atheists, and Morality

With my extensive involvement and study in religion, history, and science, I have noticed a topic that keeps reoccurring…morals. Many Christians claim that atheists have no morals and cannot have morals, because they come from God or from religion. On the other side atheists claims that Christians base their morals on a book that seems to have parts that are highly immoral, among other things. Atheists claim that Christians cannot have morals that go against what the Bible says.

I am no philosopher of morality, but I have taken classes in philosophy, to include a moral philosophy class and a philosophy of religion class. Though I would not consider myself an expert in the area, I have taken what I learned in those classes and combined it with what I have learned in history, science, political science, and religious studies. I believe the best way to find the most accurate conclusion is to best understand the big picture.

Based on this, I am making the claim that both parties are incorrect in their views of the other. I will argue why both are incorrect as well as explain my personal view, but most important, why both/all sides CAN AGREE on morality.

I will start by saying that I do get very irritated with philosophy, for a number of reasons. Being a science guy, I have come to notice one major theme in philosophy…I am sure many of you familiar with philosophy have heard the criticism of the philosophical arm-chair in the ivory tower…This is my biggest gripe. Many philosophers sit around and speculate about things instead of actually looking at the evidence. Logic and reason, as well as deductive arguments are worthless without having the facts. One can get any idiot to believe a deductive argument, as long as they do not know better. We see this on the right all the time…their arguments are logically valid, but they are using lies or things that are not facts to make them valid in the deductive sense. The reasoning sounds good…as long as one is ignorant of the issue at hand.

A perfect example of this is the argument to and from design (as related to biology.) The arguments stayed basically the same from Socratics until around the 1800s, when we started actually looking at biology empirically and inductively. When they started looking at actual evidence different ideas took charge and became the norm.

So, instead of sitting in our philosophical arm-chair, let’s look at what history and science tell us about morals…

There are 3 general claims:

  1.       There are universal morals, good and evil, right and wrong, that come from God, a god(s), or a divine/supernatural creator.
  2.       Morals come out of society and culture. (This is the most accepted conclusion among scholars and philosophers, based on my personal experience and reading.)
  3.       Morals are purely naturalistic and based on evolutionary principles.

 

The first major claim is that morals are given to us by God (not necessarily the Bible, but possibly,) or that there is some type of universal good in the deist sense. This means that even if a person does not actively believe in a higher power, they are still directed by this universal good and bad, which they are unaware of. There are a number of issues with this view. I think the argument that most clearly addresses it is the Euthyphro Dilemma (I will not explain it here, but you can check out Wikipedia for the basics.) Some noted philosophers and thinkers have criticized and responded to the argument, but I find these objections to be invalid and I find every argument for a higher power to be invalid in a logical sense (I am talking logic as a philosophical discipline.) Here is how I come to that conclusion…

For an argument to be deductively valid, one must show that the conclusion follows from the premises.  Inductive reasoning evaluates the premises based on empirical evidence. Basically, Inductive arguments rely on more than clever word shuffling. Here is the major issue…

Personally, I do not know whether or not there is a god or higher power. However, I know that we cannot come to a conclusion based on empirical evidence. We can neither confirm nor deny the possibility of a god. Because of this, the arguments are invalid from the start. One of the premises for morals coming from divine creator must be “a divine creator exists.” One cannot prove the existence of a god empirically and trust me, I am aware of all of the philosophical arguments for a god and I do not find the value or validity in existentialism. Because a god cannot be proven, a premise is either wrong, or cannot be proven or questionable. Because a premise is incorrect, the conclusion cannot be valid. For this reason, the idea that a divine creator has given us morals is invalid and not based in logic.

So if morals do not come from a divine creator, where do they come from? Isn’t it obvious that there is some type of “natural” good and evil? Do not all people seem to be engrained with the notion of what is right and wrong? Surely everyone would agree rape, murder, and stealing are wrong, so does it not seem logical that we have morals engrained into us?

In reality, examples in real life would show morals are not logical, I do think there is a naturalistic aspect to them. I think there is some evolutionary benefit at the root, but culture shapes them and drives them. I would like to think there is a universal right and wrong/good and bad, but I do not see this. Let’s look at some of those examples…

Murder is a no brainer…we see this everywhere, in every culture. It appears to be one of the most “natural” aspects in humanity…oddly enough, murder appears to be uniquely human, with few exceptions. On the same note, cultures have practiced human sacrifice. Typically they used POWs but they often sacrificed people that were willing and it was seen as an honor. The Inuit practice infanticide…they kill their own children. There are also numerous cases of cannibalism.

Rape…that seems to be another very common occurrence and appears very natural, though most would agree it is wrong. In some Scandinavian cultures, when a man died, they would take his wife, or one of his servants and they would all take their turn rapping her and then would burn her to death, along with the body. We also have many cultures that marry away children, which are then taken advantage of sexually.

Stealing has also been seen as a good thing in many cultures, such as some of the Native American cultures. They prized the guy that could steal man horses. It was seen as a positive thing. Also, stealing is quite common; we see it from the rich to the poor.

This certainly does appear to be social and cultural, as opposed to a universal good. But can society and culture be taken out in favor of a purely naturalistic explanation?

I find this to be a possibility and we have some good evidence for it.  I see survival of the fittest, a struggle for life, and the drive to reproduce. Though murder is odd, human sacrifice and infanticide seem perfectly natural. The Aztecs believe the sun would not rise unless vast amounts of human blood was sacrificed to the gods. They believed their very existence depended on this. Infanticide is done because they do not have enough food to feed everyone. If they did not do this, they would all starve. It is about keeping the tribe alive. Both of these are about life, which leads to reproduction and the passing of genes, the ultimate “goal” of life. Rape is simple. Everything desires to reproduce or pass its genes on and easiest way to do that…rape. Stealing, once again, is perfectly natural. If you are trying to survive and compete for resources, stealing allows you to get them and survive.

With that being said, many cultures find these things to be wrong or immoral, even though they are naturalistically normal or acceptable. So where does that leave us? I find the naturalistic view to be more plausible than a divine creator or universal good, but obviously many societies go against the naturalistic view. This leaves us with the obvious answer…the driving force of morality is society and culture. It is not God based and it is not nature based. What does this mean for Christians and atheists?

Well it is quite simple…Religion and society/culture both reflect on each other. Religions are based on culture/society and often times cannot be separated. Look at Eastern cultures and Muslim countries. We cannot really separate religion and culture, they are one in the same. We also see divisions in religion based on cultural aspects. We see this is Judaism vs. Christianity and Sunni vs. Shiite Muslims. This is also the case for Western culture. Western philosophy and science was highly influenced by Christianity in the past. Christianity is the basis for the culture and society.

What does this mean for atheists? It means that even though an atheist does not believe in the religion, they still share the same cultural morals as the religious people in that society/culture. This means that atheists are NOT WITHOUT MORALS.

On the same note, people that follow a certain religion will also share the cultural norms. Judaism, or the Old Testament, comes out of a totally different culture than the New Testament, and Western culture, especially Protestantism. The culture they live in makes it very simple for them to ignore the norms from another culture (the OT.) Granted, people can always use the words in a religious text to support a certain view, but in general, their morals fall along cultural lines. This means that Christians and atheists of the same society/culture, will share the same morals. There is also the simple fact that people disagree.

This leads to another point. How do we decide who is right and who is wrong? If morals are culturally based, we must decide which culture is correct. But how do we go about this? Everyone will be biased towards their own culture, but without a judge, such as a divine creator, how do we establish the measurement or standard? We cannot. We can simply agree that the views are different, but that neither is more correct than the other because we do not have anything to measure it by. Here we must simply agree to disagree and try to understand the reasons for the differing view so that we can have understand, tolerance, and acceptance.

Can we try to remove the culture/society from the equation and look other factors, such as science and philosophy?

I would argue that we can. We can attempt to gather knowledge and evaluate things and come to our own conclusions. I do this myself and have come to conclusions that may not go along with the norm. I am okay with this and I am okay with disagreeing. The goal is a valid effort at understanding. Not all great thinkers and scientists agree or come to the same conclusions based on the evidence and this is okay. There is disagreement and there is no universal truth, so the best we can do is simply agree to disagree, respect each other’s views, and live in peace.