Archive for the ‘religion’ category

God of the Week: The Harpies

July 12, 2010

07/12/2010: The Harpies

The Harpies were ancient Greek deities, half bird half woman creatures that stole food from the unwary:

The Harpies, who, like the Furies, were employed by the gods as instruments for the punishment of the guilty, were three female divinities, daughters of Tbaumas and Electra …

They were represented with the head of a fair -haired maiden and the body of a vulture, and were perpetually devoured by the pangs of insatiable hunger, which caused them to torment their victims by robbing them of their food; this they either devoured with great hungar, or defiled in such a manner as to render it unfit to be eaten.

-“The Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome”, by E. M. Berens

The Ultimate Zen Experience

June 28, 2010

A Total lack of self awareness. It must be such a serene and peaceful experience.

“The Raytown farmer who posted a sign on a semi-truck trailer accusing Democrats of being the “Party of Parasites” received more than $1 million in federal crop subsidies since 1995.”

A pure capitalistic system would not, of course, have any welfare programs, either for businesses, like farmers, or for individuals, like the un-employment insurance and social welfare programs that makes Republicans see red.

“Crop subsidies are different, he said. “

Ah, special pleading, the last resort of a scoundrel. Take a million, then bitch when someone else gets a dollar. He must have balls the size of bowling balls.

It may be fashionable to bitch about wall street bail outs, but farmers that take millions in hand outs from the government when their business doesn’t go as planned should probably shut up. They’re a business, right? Same as any other. Sink or swim, right?.

A true republican would just sell the farm, to Con-Agra to pay your mortgage before they ever took a big government handout.

There is also a huge subsidy going on right now, benefiting members of the clergy,

“The Freedom From Religion Found­­ation, along with 21 of its California members, has filed a nationally significant federal lawsuit in Sacramento to challenge tax benefits for “ministers of the gospel,” commonly known as “the parsonage exemption.”

Are Republicans, then, supporters of the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s case?

The parsonage exemption became an issue a few years ago when Rick Warren tried to claim $80,000 a year as “housing allowance”. Aw, the simple life of a minister.

Religious schools will even make their faculty lay ministers so they can cheat on their taxes, as well.

According to professor Erwin Chemerinsky on last weekend’s FFRF podcast, erasing this handout can bring in another $500,000,000 a year to the government’s income, all without raising taxes! Can’t think of any reason that a true fiscal conservative would oppose it. It sounds like Good News to me.

Have the Courage of Your Convictions, Texas

June 27, 2010

The Texas GOP has unleashed their new platform on the world. As puts it:

“The Texas Republican Party’s new 25-page platform is chock-full of absurd policy prescriptions, many of which are based on the most absurd of conspiracy theories. “

In addition to banning oral sex (yes, they actually want to make it illegal, as in you can be arrested for it), the Texas GOP is wants to keep the darn Supreme Court from making those darn decisions:

“Further, we urge Congress to withhold Supreme Court jurisdiction in cases involving abortion, religious freedom, and the Bill of Rights.”

So, the US passes the Bill of Rights to, you know, insure the rights of their citizens. But the Texas GOP wants to be left up to their own devices in enforcing them, mostly, as defined by the narrow constraints of their local superstitions; such as with abortion (their belief on the development of a fetus is not based on any scientific research, but rather on Jeremiah 1:5, a bronze age preacher that believed Israel was “cursed” by god for “allowing” people to choose their own religion), the sexual practices of their citizens (essentially, non reproductive sex acts would be sinful, therefor illegal, usually based on Genesis 1:22-“Be fruitful, and multiply”), and marriage rights of those born homosexual (based on the harsh and primitive prohibition in Leviticus 18:22). Of course, this tendency to believe that an all powerful magical being not only could but did decide to teach morality to all the citizens of the world by dictating a garbled incoherent book to one culture on the planet is coupled together with a Stalin-esque desire for totalitarian control over the people of the state. After all, no good Texan can follow their religion without making others involuntarily follow that religion as well.

Modern Christian Mythology: The Garden of Eden

June 9, 2010

Modern Christian Mythology: the Garden of Eden

Who wouldn’t want there to exist an earthly paradise? Especially one that not everyone knows about; keep the real estate affordable.

Like other parts of the book of Genesis, the Eden story is paralleled in Sumerian mythology, specifically the Epic of Gilgamesh, which predates the compilation of the Hebrew sources by over a thousand years:

The Sumerian poem “Enki and Ninhursag: A Paradise Myth” begins with a eulogy of Dilmun, describing it as a place that is pure, clean, and bright, where there is neither sickness nor death. Similarly, the characterization of the serpent, the eating of the fruit of the tree, and the deprivation of human immortality, are all paralleled in the Babylonian “Epic of Gilgamesh”, in which the legendary hero succeeds in obtaining the “plant of life” only to have it stolen by a serpent, thus depriving him of immortality.
“From Ancient Writings to Sacred Texts: the Old Testament and Apocrypha” By Solomon Alexander Nigosian


Justifying Genocide

June 7, 2010

What kind of a thought process does it take to justify the systematic killing of an entire group of peoples? Ask William Lane Craig. Him and other Judao-Christian creationists believe that the genocides listed in the Bible are ok, since God ordered them. And, if they Israelites had not killed the Canaanites, they would have lived a sinful life, raising their children into it. This irrational train of thought really shows how low an unblinking acceptance of religious literature can drive a person, accepting everything in it as good no matter what it may contain. Once a pattern of thought such as this is adopted, a living group can certainly be deemed unholy, and a modern day Holocaust could occur.
From Craig’s website, Reasonable Faith :

The command to kill all the Canaanite peoples is jarring precisely because it seems so at odds with the portrait of Yahweh, Israel’s God, which is painted in the Hebrew Scriptures.

So then what is Yahweh doing in commanding Israel’s armies to exterminate the Canaanite peoples?  …  How can He command soldiers to slaughter children?

So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites?  Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement.  Not the children, for they inherit eternal life.  So who is wronged?  Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children?  The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.

The problem with Islam, then, is not that it has got the wrong moral theory; it’s that it has got the wrong God.

Hector Avalos wrote a great article that available online responding to this atrocious reasoning. Check it out.
Creationists for genocide

That’s Vampires, Not Atheists, Duffus

May 25, 2010

Two Florida teachers have been suspended after they threw “holy water” on a college because she was an atheist. This is quite funny, because of all the practices of religious people, holy water is one that’s so silly, I never really thought that anybody actually believed it. I always thought it was just one of those stupid traditions churches do for ambiance.

Local clergy have called an emergency meeting on Monday over two teachers who were removed from their classrooms after allegedly sprinkling holy water onto an atheist colleague.

So, what’s the local clergy calling a meeting about? Is it taking a beloved religious symbol and attempting to use it as a magic talisman? Nope.

“We need to know why one teacher is allowed to teach our children there is no God and nothing is done,” said the Rev. Willie J. Rainer, husband of one of the accused teachers and  an associate pastor of Hopewell Baptist Church in Pompano Beach. “But the Christian teachers have been removed from the classroom even though nothing has been proven.”

What hasn’t been proven? The existence of god? The thing philosophers have been debating since before the beginning of written language? No, that hasn’t been “proven”, though pretty much every damned claim in the Christian Bible has been disproved. But, this teacher isn’t teaching atheism. If she had been, she would have been dismissed. She just IS an atheist. And, I’m guessing that these teachers have a problem understanding that because separating their jobs from their beliefs isn’t a practice they adopt.

It’s not too surprising that the “good” reverend is the husband of one of accused, though. People this superstitious just can’t stay apart from each other. Hell, she probably stays with him for a steady supply of holy water. He’s probably blessed their water pipes so their toilet bowl is filled with holy water to keep the smell of bullshit out of their house.

Anyhoo, a quick look at the Catholic Encyclopedia states that “the first historical testimony does not go back beyond the fifth century.” So, yeah. not an ancient tradition handed down by Jeebus. Just magic and superstition.  But, for some reason voodoo dolls are looked down on.

Is Jesus Based on the Greek Gods

May 18, 2010

There is no denying that Jesus, as we know him, does bare some resemblances to a handful of other gods, not only Greek in origin, but from all over the Mesopotamian region. Gods such as Dionysus, Hercules, Perseus, etc, were born of a virgin. God such as Attis, Tammuz, Osiris, El, etc, died, and then rose again (either in a literal or symbolic sense).

The argument from a comparative religion standpoint does not specifically say that early Christian “stole” ideas from other religions that they thought sounded cool, though it is often misinterpreted as such. It is instead a discipline of stepping back and looking at different religious ideas to see what they have in common. What sorts of themes and concepts do people revere? What makes people/objects holy or sacred? The study of comparative religion is more concerned with what goes on in the human mind than what goes on in any unseen world out there.

The Evolution of Jesus

The image of Jesus, as far as we can tell from the records that we have, did not appear out of whole cloth. Instead, the Jesus story appears to have grown in the telling. The earliest dated documents (the epistles, the Didiche, etc) talk of Jesus the Christ (the Greek reading of Joshua the Anointed) only in terms of a heavenly savior, an intermediary son through which his flock can get to know God the Father. The references by Paul that Jesus was revealed to him through the scriptures leads us to believe that he came to know of Jesus through a discipline know as pesher, pesher being a method of finding hidden messages or prophecies by re-interpreting already existing religious writings, like the Torah. A practice like this may sound strange, but you  are probably more familiar with it than you think, since it is still practiced today. Any time someone claims that God is giving them a personal message through some arcane interpretation of an ancient Bible verse, they are practicing pesher (though probably not in the same sophisticated way that the New Testament authors practiced it).

The next stage of development was the writing of the first gospel: The Gospel According to Mark. This document, originally untitled, is by far my favorite gospel preciously because of the heavily mythological feel it has. It reminds me very much of the Greek hero stories. It tells the story of Jesus walking around on Earth, something that had not been done yet, in a third person method (no claims of eye witness). Jesus is shown having the Holy Spirit enter into his body (apparently giving him his supernatural essence), he heals a deaf/mute by sticking his fingers in his ears and spitting, controls the weather, feeds a bunch of people with a food miracle, foretells the end of the world, then is killed, the holy spirit leaving him. There is no virgin birth in gMark. There is also no earthly resurrection of Jesus after his death; once the women go to the tomb, they find it empty and flee, telling no one. Jesus had, apparently, been pulled up directly to heaven. (the oldest copies of gMark end at chapter 16 verse 8, and the newer copies we have that continue past that point bear show a different writing style, leading experts to believe the narrative was appended at a later date to keep up with the evolving story).

The gospel of Mark is written using two distinctive methods very popular at the time: midrash and the emulation of Homer. Midrash is a method of re-writing ancient scriptures as a means of conveying lessons to a modern audience. The reason the Homeric epics the Illiad and the Odyssey were emulated was because, in the Hellenistic world, they were used as a  method to teach students to read and write. Anyone educated in Greek, the language the gospels were written in, would copy the stories, then re-write them in prose form, or write other stories using the outlines laid out by Homer.

Other literary markers in mark include it’s two part outline: Mark is divided into two section, Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, and his time in Jerusalem. Each section features 5 miracles that mirror each other, a feature that is obviously pure narrative, and not a relation of actual historical events.

The next major stage in the evolution of the Jesus story was the composition of the Gospel of Mathew. Written probably 20 years after Mark, it used the initial story Mark had written(even using direct quotes from it), adding to it a list of sayings that had been associated with Jesus, commonly refereed to as Q, and breaking the structure out into 5 sections in emulation of the Hebrew Pentateuch instead of Homer. The book then uses Moses as a model, having Jesus preach on a mount, adding a massacre of the innocents, and a flight into Egypt. Taken as a whole, the book is a classic midrash, re-telling the law code of Moses to the day’s Hellenistic Jews.

Mathew also adds to the story an earthly resurrection and a virgin birth, much like a Greek hero.

Possibly as late as the middle of the second century CE, the gospel story was re-written once more, this time in the writings known as the Gospel According to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles (which really focuses on Paul). Luke appears to be the first of these gospels that really believes all the events told of in the previous documents really occurs and is attempting to write them as history.It appears to have been written for a Roman audience, since the Roman authorities in the story are relieved of responsibility for Jesus’ death. The author, again his true identity unknown to us, also relied heavily on the histories of Josephus and other sources to create what he believed would have been the history surrounding the early church.


So, is Jesus based on the Greek gods? Well, there may be some of that in there, but it would hardly be an intentional addition. Most elements of the story would have been added as the story grew.

The heavenly Jesus is a phenomena of the ancient world that we are well aware of: the intermediary son. It happened in many cultures when the concept of god evolves into that of an esoteric and philosophical being that many of the common people no longer felt they could relate to anymore. The intermediary son gives a personality to the god head.

The second stage, the earthly Jesus appears to have started as a narrative method of relating the story to new converts. When writing the story, the most popular aspects of hero would very naturally have been appealed to.

The third stage, adding historicity, would be done once the story gains importance.

At each stages more attributes would be added to the Jesus story, some of them Greek, some Hebrew. The Hebrew concept of a messiah restoring the Hebrew rule to Jerusalem became an intermediary son, a concept that was indeed very popular in the Mystery Religions.

Priest Torments Disabled Girl

May 10, 2010

Chalk up another one for the superstitions of the Catholic priest hood. A priest in Australia (though the local newspaper is stressing that he “wasn’t trained there) tormented a disabled girl during a “faith healing” at a church service last week end.

“A horrified congregation watched a foreign-trained Catholic priest lay a mentally and physically disabled girl on an altar during mass at the weekend and order[ed] her to walk.

The priest was later escorted to a mental health clinic by police. The congregation is being counselled over the event, which left children and adults in tears.

Vicar-General of Perth’s Catholic Archdiocese Brian O’Loughlin said while the “bizarre and unusual service” was largely due to the priest’s mental condition, it highlighted that foreign-trained priests had a more spiritual approach.”

The article mentions the priest’s “mental condition”, I hope not  is implying that the priest simply lost it during the service. You cannot tell me that he has never done this before, just suddenly attempting a faith healing it full force in front of a congregation. Remember, the Catholic Church has a chief exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth. An institution that employs a chief exorcist fully backs and endorses exorcism. They just caught the attention of the press this time.

Faith healing is a scam trick. Anyone making the same promises without a white tab on their collar would be arrested for fraud. One thing that could have prevented this event is a high school education. Hell, even a grade school education should have been enough to tell us that magic spells and hoodoo voodoo don’t work (though people have seriously sent me angry e-mails over my tag line, “By Reading This Blog, You Are Denying The Holy Spirit”, a sort tongue in cheek Biblical voodoo curse. I usually ask them if they seriously believe that. They seldom answer.

Tim Minchin on the Pope

April 29, 2010

Totally agree with this guy. Anyone that dares to claim that this song is more offensive than the Pope’s actions are morally bankrupt.

Don’t Crucify Me, Bro! part 4

April 25, 2010

Part Four, The Mythology of Sacrifice

The Christian Passion is not the first sacrifice to have been portrayed as the means to salvation. Many cultures since before history have used sacrifice, human, animal, and agricultural, as offerings to the powers that be. These, less theological, but just as mystical acts of devotion are often seen as representative of hubris, an anthropomorphism of societies ills.

The sacrificial death of Jesus is important because Christ is a guiltless figure, without sin. How is this conceptually different than, say, sacrificing a virgin to a hungry volcano? Human sacrifices in ancient cultures were often done to promote the growth of crops, the body of the victim being strewn out upon the fields. In Christian ceremonies it’s for the nourishment of the soul instead of the nourishment of the soil. It is the body of the savior that is consumed as food.

“but with precious blood, as of a lamb without spot, even the blood of Christ: who was foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world, but was manifested at the end of times for your sake” (I Peter 1:19-20)

This motif of the sacrifice of a life without flaw, a perfect specimen, can be seen in religious movements around the world, from the small sacrifice of a carefully selected animal without any blemish or flaw right on up to the ultimate sacrifice of a human being. A child would be a large sacrifice, but not as large as a grown human that had managed to mature without sinning. (The actual age of “person hood”, in which an individual is no longer viewed as property but is rather seen as a mature human being differs from culture to culture, but there is usually an initiation rite of some sort: a bar mitzvah, sweet sixteen party, etc).

“And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying,

And I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the first-born that openeth the womb among the children of Israel; and the Levites shall be mine:

for all the first-born are mine; on the day that I smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt I hallowed unto me all the first-born in Israel, both man and beast; mine they shall be: I am Jehovah.

-Numbers 3:11-13”

Sacrifice, the taking of an innocent life for the benefit of a society as a whole, was/is believed to transfer certain properties from the guiltless sacrificed party to the people, either the performers of the sacrifice, or the community at large. In the Book of Judges, Jephthah sacrifices his daughter after making a promise to Yahweh that he would sacrifice the first thing that walked through the door if he defeated the Ammonites. In the Iliad, Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia to win the favor of the goddess Artemis. In Genesis, the sacrifice of Isaac may have been thought of as an atoning act, though there is little indication that Isaac was a willing participant in the act. In the Jesus Passion, there is question as to Jesus’ ultimate knowledge of his own death; Mark’s version shows Jesus to be silent, and perhaps unwilling, Luke’s version portrays a much more involved martyr.


In the all too familiar Isaac story, Abraham, who is not shown putting up much of a fuss when asked to slit his son’s throat, a practical joker of a God magically conjures up a sheep as a substitute for the boy in the nick of time (Just kidding there, big boy. You were going to do it, too!). The Greeks too had a variant of the myth in which it is Hercules that puts a stop to a human sacrifice, substituting a sheep instead. In a variant of Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his daughter, it was a deer that was substituted by the goddess at the last moment.

“On the Day of Atonement, which was the tenth day of the seventh month, the Jewish high-priest laid both his hands on the head of a live goat, confessed over it all the iniquities of the Children of Israel, and, having thereby transferred the sins of the people to the beast, sent it away into the wilderness.”

(Frazer, chapter 57, section 3)

In the ancient Greek culture, a human scapegoat, known as a pharmako, was chosen, usually a criminal. Records of the event differ, some claiming that the pharmako was sacrificed, with others taking it to be a mock ritual. Either way, the spirit of the event focused on a death that, through an unknown method, made up for the sins of the people.

And this sacrificial death motif seemed to have taken the world of the 1st century by storm. Not only did Christianity arise at this time and place, but a slew of Mystery Religions worshiping the divine deaths of Mithras, Dionysus, Isis, Osiris, etc, swept across The Mediterranean region. This mystical replacement of the once all too common real world sacrifice could have been seen as a step in the right direction. Played out with responsibility it could have told the world that the slaughter of people or animals was no longer needed; that the ritual itself could unite the community. In all too many sects of Christianity, though, the death is fixated upon, made into a gruesome fetish that frees the believers from personal responsibility.

“Among the Semites of Western Asia the king, in a time of national danger, sometimes gave his own son to die as a sacrifice for the people. Thus Philo of Byblus, in his work on the Jews, says: “It was an ancient custom in a crisis of great danger that the ruler of a city or nation should give his beloved son to die for the whole people, as a ransom offered to the avenging demons; and the children thus offered were slain with mystic rites.” (Frazer, chapter 26, Sacrifice of the King’s Son)

The death of Jesus is compared to the death of the passover lamb in the gospel narrative, the lamb that was killed and who’s blood was painted on the doors of the Hebrews so that the angel of Death would pass over those houses, sparing the lives of their children inside (God, apparently, did not know your heart in those days, and needed a visual indicator on who to kill on who not to kill). In the Jesus variation of this Jewish myth, accepting the blood of Jesus protects us from divine judgment after death. This is why it is a matter of necessity to place the crucifixion during the passover festival. The Christian movement had split off from the Jews, no longer wanting to be slaves to Temple sacrifice of the priests, they accepted one of their own; a sacrifice that no longer needed to be tied to a physical location.

When theology becomes nothing more than rationalization of mythology, it provides a disservice to both the philosophy that leads to it, for any philosophy no matter how sound is worthless when based upon a false premise, as well as the mythology, which, when crammed into a pseudo-historical setting, loses whatever edifying nature it may have once had. Crucifixion saves no one. There is no single saving event, only the struggles we face each day.