Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Robert Price: Is the Bible Mein Kampf?

I listen to Point of Inquiry's podcast regularly, and a recent episode wasn't the usual interview format, but a lecture given by host Robert Price, a professor at Colemon Theological Seminary.

Price begins with a scenario imagining what if the texts of Homer had as large an influence as the Bible does today in the United States, if there were large groups of people who insisted that the texts of Homer must be taken literally, and that we ought to base our legal and societal structures on the Illiad and the Odyssey.

Of course, Price continues, classicist Greek scholars would roundly object to such a narrow literalist interpretation of Homer's epics. But neither would they want to throw out the poems as valueless barbarisms in the effort to staunch the foolish attempts to apply Homeric wisdom to our daily lives. Rather, the scholars who most appreciate ancient Greek texts would do so because of the richness and value in them, "warts and all."

Price goes on to maintain that "new atheists" and other modern-day religious skeptics are doing the same with the Bible. In an attempt to counter the overweaning influence of Biblical literalists who want to forcefully apply ancient Jewish texts on a modern society, the opponents of biblical literalism are at risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Price maintains that even though the Bible chronicles a barbaric people living in a barbaric age, it also holds flashes of wisdom--not God-given, certainly, but human genius nontheless. As an example, he cites the common disgust toward Jepthah's burned sacrifice of his daughter in exchange for a military victory, but people don't feel the same distaste toward Agamemnon's burned sacrifice of his daughter for the same reason.

Overall, I find some value in what Price is saying. I know one woman who figuratively pulled her hair because on the invoice of an online order she received was a Bible verse, presumably a favorite for the vendor who shipped her the goods. She wailed that she couldn't understand why she had to be subjected to this sort of religous indoctrination when all she wanted was to buy some lotion online or somesuch.

On the other hand, I can't help but wonder if perhaps Price is perhaps tilting the pendulum too far in the other direction. After all, the number of Greek scholars who appreciate the wisdom found in Homer is a tiny, tiny portion of the population at large, whereas the number of Biblical literalists are much larger; those who use biblical arguments to support their political and social policies are even larger, perhaps in the millions. So the comparisons don't exactly match. Parents don't encourage their young children to push through the works of Homer, including the graphic descriptions of violence and superstition, and yet many children of Christian parents has a Bible to take to Sunday School. Some have argued that encouraging children to read the good parts of the Bible and ignore the murders, the incest, and the genocides would be equivalent to encouraging children to read Playboy magazine for the articles.

Likewise, certain websites like the Skeptic's Annotated Bible aren't the villifying enemies of the Bible as Price suggests, for even on that site is a long list of what the editors call Good Stuff, the passages that extol wisdom, peace, humility and virtue.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

CBN: Demons in your Halloween candy

The Christian Broadcasting Network's Kimberly Daniels wrote a blog post in 2009 claiming that Christians ought not to participate in Halloween because . . . well, because demons and witches have filled the candy with evilness.

During this period demons are assigned against those who participate in the rituals and festivities. These demons are automatically drawn to the fetishes that open doors for them to come into the lives of human beings. For example, most of the candy sold during this season has been dedicated and prayed over by witches.

The post no longer appears on CBN's site for some reason, but it can be found here, along with an editor's note that the article is indeed controversial but Ms. Daniels apparently knows what she's talking about because of "her many years of ministering to people involved in the occult."

But back to the candy. So the sweet stuff bought at the stores has already been blessed by witches--apparently the security controls at Mars, Incorporated and other candy manufacturers are quite lax. But what about candy obtained through trick-or-treating?

Curses are sent through the tricks and treats of the innocent whether they get it by going door to door or by purchasing it from the local grocery store. The demons cannot tell the difference.

Apparently demons are easy to fool.

Ms. Daniels ramps up the crazy assertions, citing bonfires, pumpkins, even the color orange as all part and parcel of Satan's plan to take over the world. Frequently she cites pagan rituals and connects them to demonic worship, as if the one had anything to do with the other, except they're both not Christian.

Which makes me wonder if she celebrates Christmas with a decorated tree, another pagan ritual co-opted by Christians.

Ms. Daniels doesn't stop there. Giving out Smarties and mini-Snickers bars on Halloween leads to demon rape:

The danger of Halloween is not in the scary things we see but in the secret, wicked, cruel activities that go on behind the scenes. These activities include:

* Sex with demons
* Orgies between animals and humans
* Animal and human sacrifices
* Sacrificing babies to shed innocent blood
* Rape and molestation of adults, children and babies

One would think with all this rape, murder, and barnyard sex going on every October 31st, local police officials would be aware of something going on. Are any rapes by demons reported to officials on November 1st? Do very many men and women strangely not show up for work after Halloween because they were murdered in a blood ritual? Do day care centers see a drop in clients during November due to parents sacrificing their babies to Satan? Ms. Daniels doesn't say.

Finally, having done her best to convince us that demons are powerful enough to hide inside the center of a Tootsie Pop and that witches release 'time-released' curses against the populace, Ms. Daniels then reassures everyone that Satan isn't all that much after all:

People who worship the devil continue to attempt to lift him up. But he has already been cast out and down! Many are blinded to this fact, but the day will come when all will know he has been defeated once and for all.

So which is it, Ms. Daniels? Is Satan mean and scary and evil, or is he weak and defeated? Are demons like the Nazis in 1939, or 2010? I need to know, because October's coming soon, and I really like Peanut M&Ms.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ignorance of the Law is Apparently Just Fine

Federal authorities in Philadelphia have decided not to press charges against school administrators who issued laptops to students with built-in webcams, then used the webcams to monitor students in their own homes.

The story came out in February when it was revealed that 2300 school-issued MacBooks had webcams that could be accessed by school officials wherever the computers went.  They argued at the time it was to prevent theft, but they let the cat out of the bag when they busted a student for "improper behavior" they saw the student doing in his bedroom.  They thought he was popping pills; his parents claimed he was eating candy.  Regardless, they sued the school district for the invasion of privacy, and lawyers who filed the suit claimed the district had thousands of pictures of students in their room, in bed, even partially dressed.

Here's where it's confusing.  The US attorney for the district said he found "no criminal intent" in the surveillance, so there was no point in furthering prosecution.  This strikes me as bizarre.  Does this mean that people can do all sorts of criminal behavior as long as they can prove they didn't mean to do anything wrong?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Laugh of the Day

A guy starts a website called "JesusIsAJerk.com" because his believed his gardener, Jesús, (that's Hey Zeus) is sleeping with his wife. The site was supposed to drive Jesús' business away and let the world now how much he hated his ex-gardener.

Naturally, he receives a flood of e-mail from outraged Christians (Motto: Umbrage Is Our Birthright!) Finally, the guy has to change everything on his website because A) he was tired of getting all the hate e-mails from Christians who don't know the difference between Jesus and Jesús, and B) it turned out Jesús wasn't sleeping with his wife, but he's still a jerk.

Here are the main points of what I'm saying in a nutshell:

* Jesús and Jesus are two different people.
* I was mad at Jesús because it looked like he was going above and beyond the call of duty with my wife.
* I'm not mad at your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who, if he exists, I'm sure is a nice guy that would never bone another guy's wife.
* Even though Jesús wasn't doing the nasty on my property, I still wouldn't cry if the Romans crucified him.

We all clear now?

Prediction of the Future is Tough

The Web comic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (or simply SMBC) has a new comic that amused me:

After reading this, it occurred to me that the same formula could perhaps be applied to those who have predicted the exact date of the Rapture.  Has there been an individual who calculated the date that Jesus would return who was A) over 50 years old and B) calculated the date more than 50 years in the future?  Wikipedia has pages listing Unfulfilled Predictions of the Second Coming, as well as Unfulfilled Religious Prophecies in general. 

What strikes me as truly interesting is that religious believers point to fulfilled prophecies in the past as proof that their religion is backed by supernatural forces.  But when a prophecy in the present fails to pan out, the religion continues on.  Sometimes the expected prophecy is adjusted to another future date.  Sometimes the prophecy is re-interpreted to mean something else.  Other times it is concluded that the prophet was simply wrong but the religion remains true.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

10-year-old girl burnt and abused in exorcism

In Malaysia last month, a young girl finds herself the victim of superstition and abuse:
A 10-year-old girl who was bound, beaten and burnt for a month as part of an exorcism ritual escaped on Monday after picking the lock on the chain around her ankle.

The unnamed girl was left in care of a relative after her father passed away. Perhaps the relative (also unidentified) resented the extra mouth to feed. A local medium told him that the girl was an unlucky omen for the family. So naturally he began to torture her:

Initially, she was deprived of food, given only rice laced with turmeric powder and chilli.

Then, she was chained and beaten up. This allegedly went on for a month until Monday morning when she managed to pick the lock and freed herself.

The relative and his wife told the girl that this was all for her own good.

At the time of the report, she was receiving medical care in a hospital, and the relative was under arrest. The girl testified that she would rather be put in foster care than go back to her relative's home.

No word on whether the fraudulent medium will receive any charges as well.

Just one more entry against the line, "What's the harm?"

Monday, August 2, 2010

Smug compartmentalization

From xkcd. Be sure to hover your mouse over the image to get the bonus.