Thursday, January 31, 2008

Odd Tradition

Last night I was listening to Dr. Albert Mohler (“Ask Anything” Wednesday) and a caller questioned whether it was acceptable to use leavened bread in Communion.

Dr. Mohler indicated it was not necessary, but felt we should simulate the Last Supper as closely as possible, and since Jesus ate unleavened bread—we should too. He remembered eating leavened bread at communion only twice in his life.

We always had little squares of dry, unleavened bread at communion. If you want some, you can buy them here.

Yet if we are trying to simulate it as closely to Jesus’ supper as we can—shouldn’t we use wine as well? Instead of grape juice? Why is it felt to be necessary to be accurate in the bread-department, with an equally necessary slight modification in the wine-department? Is this consistent?

If we are trying to be as close to the Last Supper as possible, we should have unleavened bread, wine, and wash each other’s feet. Or at least have the leader of the congregation do so. (Wouldn’t that be a switch?) But, of course, Baptists don’t drink alcohol (nor do we wash each other’s feet), so we substitute grape juice.

Not orange juice. Not water. Not red juice. Not lime, lemon, pop, root beer, coffee, tea, or apple juice. Always grape juice. Clearly we are not emulating exactly what Jesus drank; is it so important we emulate what he ate?

Imagine offering Girl Scout cookies instead of the wafers--Sacrilege!

Isn’t it funny we have become so immersed in tradition we use unleavened bread to copy Jesus, but symbolic grape juice to not.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Why I question God

There is a trick in this title. I will explain.

How many times have we observed conversations along these lines?

Theist: God is a Rock.
Non-theist: Ah—so you mean God is a mineral matter variously composed, formed in masses or large quantities by the action of heat and water?
Theist: No—He is not that type of Rock.

Non-theist: Oh….then you must mean it metaphorically, as in God being solid, firm, steady. Right?
Theist: Partially. But not completely.

Non-theist: Then do you mean it in the form of being sweet and attached to a stick, like ‘rock candy’?
Theist: At times; but not all the time.

Non-theist: Or are you saying He is slang for a chunk of cocaine?
Theist: Absolutely not!

Non-theist: Well, if he is a rock, can he sit in my rock garden?
Theist: What?!! Who are YOU to question God?

Non-theist: As a rock, can he block a flood that will destroy homes and kill people?
Theist: What?!! Who are YOU to question God?

Non-theist: As a rock can smash down on some terribly evil people, and reduce or eliminate the harm they cause?
Theist: What?!! Who are YOU to question God?

Non-theist: I am not questioning God—I am questioning you. You are the one who said God was a rock. I am simply testing that premise. Yet everything “rocklike” I ask about, rather than defend your own premise of God being a rock, you avoid by claiming I am questioning God.

At times we see non-theists raise questions about God. We see, “Why did God allow 9/11?” or “Why did God allow the Holocaust?” or “Why didn’t God answer this prayer?” To which the single most common theistic response is, “Who are you to question God?” I will make this as clear as possible by bolding it:

We do not believe an actual God exists. When we ask these questions, we are attempting to reconcile what humans claim about God with what we observe. We aren’t questioning God; we are questioning YOUR premise YOU assert about the being.

Yesterday I encountered a frustrating problem. Every solution I attempted did…nothing. Nothing positive; nothing negative. I tried this; I tried that. After 2 hours, I had gained no new information, was exactly as I started, and the problem was neither larger nor smaller nor any different. Nuts.

Throughout that endeavor I never once asked a god for help. I never talked to a god. I didn’t figure any god was giving me a lesson in patience. I didn’t thank god once the solution presented itself. God simply wasn’t part of the equation in any way (in complete contrast to my life as a Christian.) Because he doesn’t exist.

In the same way, when I ask, “Why doesn’t God ____?” it is not as if I am thinking there is an actual God which actually did or did not do something. I am asking the human who is making a statement, how that statement fits with my observation. True, it is more proper to say, “If you claim God is X; can you explain this event in light of the properties we humans associate with X?” Perhaps from now one I will phrase my questions in this laborious manner.

For example, one commonly hears God exhibits the properties of “Love.” In my human experience, “love” includes communication. More importantly, it requires (at times) a person to communicate in a way in which the recipient understands. I love my children. It does me no good to communicate to my 8-year old on my terms, if those terms are insufficient for her to grow and learn. It is useless for me to use an example of driving a car—she’s never driven a car. It is completely useless for me to use the word “nuance.” She doesn’t understand what “nuance” means.

I understand “love” to include bending and molding my communication to suit the needs of the person receiving my love. This certainly raises the question of “Why doesn’t God communicate to people in a way in which the individual person can understand?” The theist may reply, “Oh, but he does, through God moments or the Bible, or the Book of Mormon or the Qur’an or…” Yet this is clearly insufficient, because we have a number of people (including other theists) quite confused as to the attributes of God.

Now the theist retreats to God’s love being different than our love. ‘Cause our love includes communication God’s love does not. But if God’s love is different—what can we mean by saying God has “love.” The whole POINT of the statement is to communicate a property of God at least similar to a human concept!

When I tell you a person is “mean” or a person is “stingy” or that fellow “loves” that gal, or she “hates” him—those words, “mean,” “stingy,” “love” and “hate” are portraying concepts we use to relate to each other. It is ridiculous to claim “God is Love” and then immediately claim “but when I say that I don’t mean ‘love’ like you define ‘love’—I mean it some completely indefinable way.”


I don’t question god—there isn’t one. I question a person who makes an adamant statement about what this thing…this “god”…is like, and then claims their statement fails to conform to anything I recognize.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Read in the past week:

“It's impossible to convince an atheist that God isn't the problem, however, that perhaps it is their view of God that is at fault.

“Atheists are basically saying that our own free will is a mistake.”

“Of course, atheistic reasoning is always of this shallow variety. They choose not to believe and any argument is just a thin veil over that choice.”

“…I have not seriously attempted a collegiate level study of evolution. That is probably more than the evolutionists have ventured into the bible however.”

“Those who claim the Bible is dated and therefore irrelevant and of no value today often go unchallenged. Their assertion is that just because a text was written many years ago, it must therefore be outdated, of little to no use, and incapable of speaking to, addressing, or affecting things in the present.”

“They have merely assumed ahead of time that God does not exist, and therefore the Bible is just like any other book.”

“Nearly every atheist I've encountered who professed to have a deep knowledge and understanding of Christian theology had nothing of the sort, but instead seemed to have stopped studying once they felt their own suspicions were confirmed.”

No. Nope. Wrong. Not from what I’ve read.

It’s like getting the pain from a brain-freeze without the pleasure of the ice cream.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Getting Lost

Sorry ‘bout that. Elsewhere I happened to touch on the topic of Textual Criticism, and since it had been a bit, decided to “refresh” my memory on the subject. And, just like the times before, I find myself totally immersed, only to emerge back to daylight, discovering a week has gone by with nothing else productively made.

And my inbox informing me has auto-confirmed my order. I swear I don’t remember ordering more books!

It’s funny how we blithely toss out the term: “the Bible” as if it was one cohesive book. I suspect 99% of my readers (a completely made up statistic, and therefore as accurate as any other) when they hear the term “Bible” think of the 66 Books of the Protestant Bible, bound in one flexible cover of semi-synthetic leather. You know—Genesis to Revelation, demarcated by “Old Testament” and “New Testament.”

As Christians we thought of it as “one book” because it had one ultimate moving force behind it—God. Oh, we understood it was written by different authors, with different perspectives, at different times—but in the end it was a cohesive whole. So when we said the Bible self-declared to be “inspired,” even though this term is found in only one sub-book, (2 Timothy), we considered applicable to the entire book. Page 1 to 1120. (Not including the Color Maps in the back, of course.)

As a non-believer, I have lost that concept of an entirety. Each book (and in some books like Isaiah, each portion of a book) rises and falls on its own. As a Christian, I worked to align the doctrines of James and Romans. ‘Cause this was all “one book.” I worked to align the stories of 2 Samuel with 1 Chronicles, or John with Matthew. ‘Cause this was all “one book.” Now, such differences are not even note-worthy. They are shrugged off as anticipated.

It is the difference between an Isaac Asimov anthology and Star Trek. I enjoyed reading Asimov’s collection of short stories from various science fiction writers. But as I read them, I did not expect them to align. I realized one author may have robots with artificial intelligence, and another may write a story about robots never being able to obtain such intelligence. Why? Because it was two different authors.

While Star Trek’s episodes may have different writers, we expected a cohesive “wholeness” about the story. The Prime Directive was not something new each week. The ship did not change shape or designation from show to show. There was “oneness” about Star Trek. In fact, this gives rise to the stereotype of Trekkies arguing over incongruities between certain episodes because of that expected uniformity.

Exactly like the arguments attempting to align the incongruities of doctrines between the Epistles, or the historical claims of the Gospels. In Trekkies is it amusing; in Christians it is in dead seriousness.

When looking at the individual books, I enjoy studying the interplay between the books utilizing each other (Matthew and Luke using Mark; 2 Peter using Jude), I enjoy studying the development of the canon itself, and…obviously…I enjoy studying the variances which crept in when the copies were made. Textual Criticism.

Luckily, we have numerous copies (of copies of copies). Unfortunately, we don’t have much close to the time of the initial writing. And all these copies, when compared, show us the changes, some subtle, some not so subtle over time. What they hint at are the changes which may have entered during the first 100 years copies were made.

We often hear the term, “This is the original” or “We are 99% certain as to the original” but this is really a misnomer. We really are only reaching back to the first copy (of a copy of a copy) from which all other copies sprung. Whether it is “the original” or a mis-handled copy of the original is unknown.

Here is an interesting example. Mark 1:9 is the first Gospel reference to Jesus, referring to him as “Jesus of Nazareth of Galilee.” The early manuscripts have Nazarei while the later manuscripts modify the iota at the end to a theta making it Nazareth. Nothing shocking or surprising here.

However, what becomes more perplexing is the fact Mark refers to Jesus of Nazareth four (4) other times, yet in Mark 1:24, 14:67 and 16:6 it is Nazarenos and in Mark 10:47 is it Nazoraios. (Note, Nazoraios is the same word used in Acts 24:5 when it says “sect of the Nazarenes.”) In other words, all of the other times Mark refers to Jesus, in the Greek it is actually saying, “Jesus the Nazarene.” (I’ll bet your Bible, though, translates it to “Jesus of Nazareth,” doesn’t it?)

Further, Mark never uses a double identification, like “Nathanal of Cana in Galilee” (John 21:2). Mark also implies Jesus was from Capernaum (note the term “the house” in Mark 2:1). And, a person from Nazareth would be a Nazarethite or a Nazarethene. Not a Nazarene. That would be a person from Nazara.

Finally, Matthew, when copying Mark, comes across the term nazoraios, presumes it means Jesus was from Nazareth, creates a prophecy, and introduces Jesus’ home town of Nazareth. Matt. 2:23.

In my opinion, it is more likely Mark referred to Jesus as “Jesus the Nazarene” four times. When Matthew was drawing the story from Mark, uncertain as to the term Nazoraios, and being aware of the town of Nazareth in Galilee, Matthew eagerly creates a prophecy, “He shall be called Nazarene” and just as eagerly creates a fulfillment: “Because he was from Nazareth.”

And later, as some scribe was copying Mark, they came to Mark 1:9 and inserted “of Nazarei” for clarification. Voila—we have “Jesus of Nazareth of Galilee” in our modern English Translations.

Now, that was more an exercise in Higher Criticism than Textual Criticism, but I did it to demonstrate we cannot utilize Textual Criticism to get to the “original.” It would appear “of Nazareth” was not in the original Mark 1:9, yet all our copies of Mark included it.

Simply put, Mark was modified due to interplay with Matthew before numerous copies were made. Yet Textual Criticism only takes us back to this modification—not to the original.

And this is one word in one verse in one book of the entire Bible. Ay Caramba!

Sunday, January 13, 2008


You only have to watch television for about 27 seconds before you see a stereotype. The husband who is incompetent in the kitchen. The female who knows nothing about sports. The dumb blonde. The over-bearing boss.

I must confess one of the reasons I do not publicly label myself as an atheist is the stereotype that atheists have loose morals. We live in a smaller community. Everyone goes to church. Sure, some are Catholic, some are Lutheran, and some are Baptist. And we attend each other’s Vacation Bible Schools (to entertain our children as much as possible in the summer) so that’s O.K. It’s fine if you attend St. Mary’s or First Baptist Church, or the Methodist Church—as long as you attend.

But I have heard the lowering of the voices—the pause, before the word “atheist” is spoken. As in: “He’s an…an atheist, ya know.” It is a designation that is not considered positive. Might as well say, “He’s a…a convicted felon, ya know.”

I know exactly what my children’s friends’ parents think. ‘Cause I have heard it. If Bill, down the street, goes to ___ church, then it is just fine for Hank to spend the night with Bill’s son. Because it is safe—Bill goes to church—nothing can happen. But if Bill was an atheist; why, what keeps him from being a child molester? Nothing—that’s what!

We all know stereotypes are wrong. We know fellows who are brilliant in the kitchen. My wife knows basketball far better than I ever could. We have seen smart blondes, and nice bosses. Unfortunately we treat the non-stereotypes as exceptions; different than the norm.

How many times have I read how some atheists can live moral lives? As if we are straining to keep what few morals we have left with But the rest of those atheists are wallowing in ethical voids.

So—am I wrong? Is it only me that sees this? If not—how do I change it?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I am too easily amused

This is a tale of something happening every day on the Internet. Any person who has blogged or participated in forums or chats could recount similar situations. It is a pretty typical example of what I have seen in real life as well.

Pastor Russ of the Aurora Church of the Nazarene writes a blog. In fact, if you view the menu on the Church’s website, you can see a direct link. Not surprising, considering how many pastors enjoy writing, and how many others do as well. This Tuesday last, Pastor Russ published a blog entry entitled Science and the Bible. Nothing earth-shattering or surprising here either. Within the blog he wrote:
I know that many people are skeptical of the Bible and I have no problem with that, it is a good trait of an intelligent person to consider evidence before deciding whether or not something can be trusted. All I ask is that you really do look at the evidence and not make up your mind before you even take a look. Most people who say they don't believe the Bible, have never read it for themselves, they are simply repeating what someone else has told them. That is not a trait of intelligence.

While I might wonder who he means by the “most people” who say they don’t believe the Bible (and what does “believe the Bible” mean?) have never read it, I get his general drift. If you are going to question something, inspect it first.

The only reason I stumbled upon this blog was Vinny’s posting a response (accurate in my opinion) ”You Call that Evidence?” Even a bit humorous. Again, so far extremely standard fair in internet-world. Vinny also posted a comment to Pastor Russ’ original blog on Wednesday, essentially questioning what scientific degree Kirk Cameron held, and pointing out how apologists often do the same thing—fail to investigate by actually reading what the opposing side writes. I was thinking of writing a similar comment, questioning Pastor Russ what books written by scientists defending evolution against creationism he had read.

Basically asking Pastor Russ if he was guilty of what he accused “most people” of doing—not reading it themselves, but believing what other Christians had told him.

This morning, with coffee cup firmly in hand, I stopped by Pastor Russ’ blog with curiosity as what response, if any, to Vinny’s comment was made. What’s this? Vinny’s Comment—gone. Comments—no longer allowed. Even Pastor Russ’ profile was removed from the blog! (The only proof I can offer that comments were even allowed at one time is by Google Cache.)

I chuckled. Not out of surprise, but more out of how characteristic this “Katie-bar-the-door” mentality permeates the Christian community. This is not a “surprise” ending—this is as typical as can be.

I’ve lost count of the times I have had the conversation:

Christian associate: Have you read [a. Zacharias; b. Strobel; c. McDowell; d. Johnson]?
Me: Some. Have you read any non-believing authors on the same topics?
Christian associate: Oh, I don’t have [a. time; b. need; c. desire; d. enough problem with my faith] to read those.

Christian associate: Have you studied ____?
Me: Sure have. Here are the arguments for. Here are the arguments against. Here is why I find this set of arguments persuasive. What do you think?
Christian associate: Gee, look at that time…Gotta go!

I find it amusing we are told as skeptics we need to ask questions; but when we DO, the question is erased, ignored and forgotten. Why tell us to ask, if you don’t want us to…er…ask?

Look, Pastor Russ is free to run his blog how he chooses. He can allow comments from everybody or just Christians or even just people named “Steve.” He can erase comments at his whim, and have no comments at all.

And I am free to find it hilarious to see someone (again) say, “You need to look at the evidence” and when a skeptic attempts to do that (again), the person runs away. Again.

If you have truth, why the fear of open commentary?

As I said—I am too easily amused.

UPDATE: Pastor Russ has posted a new blog entry responding to some of the points made. However, while you may see a “comment” link on the entry, and can even try to post a comment, if you do so you will be greeted with this message:

“Comments on this blog are restricted to team members.”

Friday, January 04, 2008

Define God

It is always fascinating to watch language develop. 20 years ago, if I included “xoxox” within a letter, people would immediately recognize it as “hugs and kisses.” However, if I included “lol” I would get a puzzled response. Communication would break down. Or if I said, 15 years ago, I “googled” my sister, people would wonder whether to throw me in jail, or what that meant.

We relate with language. With the simple modification of a few letters, a completely different depiction is made between “few” or “many” or “most” or “vast predominance” or “all.” Or the placement of particular words can change the meaning. We understand the contrast between “I love my wife” and “I love chocolate ice cream” despite both being a declaration of love, dependent upon the object of my affections.

A comment has stated the term “God” is meaningless, and I have reflected on that observation with a growing resignation it is correct. When a person states, “I believe in God” this provides so little information as to, in essence, provide none at all. It could be a primal source, or a creator. An absentee landlord or an invasive pest. Good, evil, indifferent—all are possibilities. Monotheistic, polytheistic, or triune. Frankly, stating the word “God” provides no insight whatsoever on what a person means by it.

At one time, I might argue at the least we all recognize a God as something that is “more.” In some way it is larger and greater than what we perceive as humans. But then I am informed of gods who cannot commit immoral acts. We obviously can. By fiddling with the definition of “more” we are left with the puzzle of which is “more”—the inability to be immoral, or the inability to be solely morel? We can wonder about the future. A god who predetermines cannot. Which is “more”?

We are also a society which focuses on people being individuals. We demand our “rights” to believe differently than others. If I want chocolate ice cream, and others want vanilla, we think we should be offered a choice. We want the choice of being Liberal or Conservative. To like plays over movies. Blondes, brunettes, redheads or bald. Our cell phones and iPods come in various colors, just to provide the consumer with choice to be individuals. Only to be covered by individual cell phone and iPod covers, and to download individual ring tones, songs, wallpapers, etc.

This individualism couples with the indistinct definition of God to create a murky soup where anything goes. “I think God is _____.” That blank can be filled with something, anything, or nothing; yet the theist requests we respect it--no one can prove it technically wrong. Everything becomes open for acceptance, since nothing can be proven out of the question. Time and time again, I hear as a defense for some attribute of god, “It is possible…” As if the best we can say is that some attribute of God, while not provable, and not even probable, we could hope it may be possible.

When I first deconverted, I landed on a certain place of the internet, teaming with what are best described as liberal Christians. “Who ARE these people?” I thought. “How are they so easily able to dismiss the Jesus of the Judgment seat, yet embrace the Jesus of ‘Love your neighbor’? How is it they are able to pick and choose which parts of the Bible to accept as divine, and which parts to ignore as man-made?” It was only after many discussions and some enlightenment on my part that I realized anyone who uses the Bible as a basis for their theology must, to some extent, play “pick and choose.” Either they must pick what verses trump others, or what verses no longer apply because of others or what books (*cough, cough* Tanakh) must be interpreted in light of other books.

Due to the make-up of the book—every Christian or Christian group comes to the point of choosing some part to take predominance over another. Liberal Christians are no better or no worse than any other.

And broadening my scope, in relating with other theists and their descriptions of their God, it has become this cosmic salad bar. Where people take their individual plates, with tongs and spoons, going ‘round about the salad bar, choosing which attributes of God they like, which ones they would never accept, and displaying indifference toward others.

Curiously, we then sit together and each theist picks apart the other theist, as to why they chose a particular item off the salad bar! Hello!? If you didn’t like the crunchy noodle things when you are picking out your salad—why is it any surprise you wouldn’t like the salad of your fellow person when they picked out the crunchy noodle things?

In the same way, due to this individualistic ability to define one’s own god, if you didn’t pick the god of hellfire, why is it any surprise you don’t prefer someone else’s god who has it? Yet you both are basically claiming your own preference for what you like on the salad bar, with no ability to prove the other person’s god exists or not. No one can demonstrate what the God salad is supposed to actually be.

I am coming to the conclusion we are uselessly communicating by utilizing the term “God.” It has become an entity molded around each person’s own inclination, with attributes affirmed or discarded as quickly as the individual’s taste changes. We are left with the speculative guess of “I think god is ___” and a blank which can be filled in to each person’s content.

With a complete inability to verify what god is (or is not) we are left with billions of opinions generated from billions of people as to how to define a god. None considered completely correct; none considered completely incorrect.

So how is it we determine our view of God (or lack thereof) is the best we can do with the information we have? What qualifications do we put in place to avoid picking what parts we like to assimilate, and discarding parts we do not like; to instead ascertain what most likely is regardless of our own personal desires?