Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Religion May Be Declining. But Stupidity May Not Be

An atheist said yesterday, about the Bible: "Nothing on those pages of that book are [sic!] based on fact or reality. Not one thing." He said it in a well-visited public place on the Inter-Tubes, but only one person challenged what he was saying: me. And I don't think it's that no-one else had anything to say about it, but rather that such things are said so often that they have become a familiar part of the background noise, like the ravings of fundamentalist Christians. There's too much of it to deal with it all, and so we shut it out. If none of us had heard a remark like "Nothing on those pages of that book are based on fact or reality. Not one thing." for months, then, perhaps, several of us might've made a concerted attempted to acquaint this person with Ancient History 101. But we hear it day-in and day-out. This time only I responded, while presumably several other people also read the comment, but just groaned and continued looking for someone sensible to discuss things with. Which I find perfectly understandable. That's my usual response when I come across a fundie spouting old-time religion: make a wide berth. Do nothing to catch their attention. Move on.

This atheist had said "Nothing on those pages of that book are based on fact or reality. Not one thing." in response to a fundie who'd said that EVERYTHING in the Bible was true. Then I chimed in saying that both statements were about equally absurd. The atheist then said:

"Really? Do tell me all of the facts that come out of the bible. I know, people really do live to be 900, and all women are descended from adam's rib, and.... well, I'll let you have your turn."

I responded by naming four people named in the Bible who actually existed: David, Solomon, Nebuchadnezzarand Paul.

The turnip responded: "Really now? Cuz you were there and you know. Laughable." And he told me to keep my nonsense in my own home and my church and out of his life and his home. No discussion, no consideration of whether there ever really was a Nebuchadnezzar, just dismissal.

This makes my head spin. Apparently this guy can see no middle ground between believing everything in the Bible and believing none of it. Apparently there is no room in his mind for the concept of an atheist who does not assume, as he does, that there is no factual content in the Bible, zero.

And also, obviously, he knows squat about ancient history.

Both he and I reject religion. Presumably for similar reasons: because we see that belief in God requires a great suspension of logic, and because elementary levels of logic contradict it. But he doesn't seem to get that by flatly asserting that there is nothing factual in the Bible he is repeating the same kind of logical lapse and refusal to acquire even elementary knowledge which make religion so objectionable. The fundamentalist Christian: God said it, I believe it, that settles it. The atheist moron: It's all crap, I'm done. No doubt in either mind, no curiosity for greater detail about the subject. Moron A: It's all true. Moron B: It's all false.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

So you figured out that there's no God. Whoop-dee-freakin-doo, Sparky. You really don't need to be so proud of that achievement. It doesn't mean you're a genius. It's pretty easy to figure that out, and it gets easier every day, because progress is actually being made when it comes to human knowledge. Now that you've figured it out, you still need to keep learning. There is still an awful lot you don't know. There's no shame in that: there's an awful lot the greatest geniuses in the world don't know. But In your case, I would recommend Ancient History 101 at your local Learning Annex, or in your elementary or junior high or high school or university if you're still a student. I would urgently recommend it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Well, It's Interesting to Me, Anyway

It's interesting that on the main HP Religion page, where an article by Karl Giberson, PhD is currently the headliner, there's a picture of a Dutch Bible opened to the title-page.

I've got a Dutch Bible. And a French one, and a Spanish one, and a Russian one, and a German one. (No, it's not the Luther translation, thanks for asking. It's translation by a dude named Menge.[No, not Mengele. Menge.]) Why do I have all those? Because I saw them in thrift stores or bargain bins. I don't think I spent more than a dollar for any one of those. Two bucks tops. Then there are some Bibles in English I got for free from hotel rooms in the US and Canada, mostly Gideon Bibles, plus one Catholic Bible. (Is it wrong to take the Bibles from hotel rooms? Is it considered stealing? Why won't anyone tell me! Just give me your opinion if you're not sure!)

Then there are some Bibles I spent a little bit more for: vol 3 of the Expositor's Greek Testament, edited by W Robertson Nicoll, containing the Greek texts of 2. Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, plus long introductions and copious notes in English. Apparently Nicoll is the general editor of this whole multi-volume New Testament, with various others contributing intros and notes to individual books. I got this vol 3 second hand, but not in a bargain bin.

I also have a Hebrew Old Testament, a one-volume Greek NT, a Septuagint, a Vulgate, and a Dead Sea Scrolls Bible and a so-called "complete Dead Sea Scrolls" (It is not.), the latter two translated into English.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ancient Literary -- No, I Won't Call Them Forgeries. Plenty of Others Will -- Misattributions

Dr Bart Ehrman

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Atheist Fundamentalism -- For Real This Time

In a previous post on the blog, I proudly and sarcastically claimed the title of a fundamentalist atheist. Sarcastically, because I didn't really think there was such a thing, that it was just another in the list of straw men and flat falsehoods theologians routinely employ when attacking such atheists.

I still think that that list is long, but I might have to take fundamentalist atheism off of it. There does seem to be a well-defined group of dumb atheists, dumb as fundamentalist Christians, with their own well-defined set of myths which they do not question any more than the Christian fundies question their dogma. Both groups gather together for the purpose of telling one another they are right, and to proudly cite people who seem to agree with their myths, and to refer to such people as authorities because of that perceived agreement, and for no other good reason. The biggest superchurch of the atheist fundies is the website jesusneverexisted.com, where they gather to tell each other that Jesus never existed, that Christianity was invented by the powerful as a means to manipulate the masses, that not one aspect of the Jesus myth is original, everything having been borrowed from earlier myths, that in the early first century AD Bethlehem was uninhabited and Nazareth did not yet exist, and so forth. What a huge circle-jerk.

If you opine in his presence that you are not certain whether Jesus existed or not, such an atheist fundie may compare you to people who believe that Bigfoot and Spiderman are real and that pyramids and crop circles were made by aliens, and insist that there is no evidence for Jesus' existence.

Let's start with this last one first. I'm so tired of hearing it repeated over and over that there is no evidence for Jesus' existence. The New Testament is evidence. If it doesn't convince you of anything, fine, then call it unconvincing evidence. Stop saying nobody wrote about Jesus: the New Testament authors did. Call them deluded or charlatans if you wish, or deluded charlatans, but they were somebody, not nobody. Don't tell me that if Jesus had existed, surely there would be much more written evidence -- you're just telling me that you don't know what you're talking about. Lower-class people like the sons of carpenters weren't written about back then. The Romans did not keep written records of every person they crucified, not even if one of them had all of twelve followers. Twelve followers. Pontius Pilate, who ruled the entire province of Judea at the time, is known mostly from the New Testament. He can't be said to have been better-attested than Jesus until the mid-20th century, when a block of limestone was found in Israel into which Pilate's name had been engraved in the 1st century by all appearances.

And we know, all of us sensible people, that Stan Lee created Spiderman, that pranksters made those crop circles and that picture of Bigfoot, and that Egyptians and Mayans and Incas and other Earthlings made those pyramids. We don't know for sure who might've made up Jesus. It was the powerful! say these turnips. They invented Christianity to keep the masses down!

Well, it seems awfully strange that the powers that were would invent a story of a poor boy, born in a barn and killed 33 years later by crucifixion, a punishment reserved for poor people and slaves, for nobodies, as King of the Universe. That part of the Jesus story was a definite subversion of the prevailing power structure.

It was also original, so much for the meme about everything in the Jesus story having been borrowed from earlier myths. Buddha was a prince, Mithras was either a monarch or a deity, Dionysus was a god, whoops, the Christians didn't steal every part of the story, did they?

A poor person, a nobody from the despised classes which faced crucifixion if they were killed, unlike the stabbings and poisonings reserved for the big muckety-mucks, becoming King of Kings -- that part of the story was revolutionary. And Christianity at first spread mostly among the lower classes and slaves. Emperors tried repeatedly to wipe it out. Diocletian made the most strenuous of these efforts to destroy Christianity, and his successor Constantine then allied himself with it, by all appearances, out of necessity rather than choice. Christianity was invented by the powerful so that after two and a half centuries of pretending to oppose it, then could then cleverly make an alliance to keep the little people down?

That's tinfoil-hat territory, folks.

So is the stuff about Nazareth not existing until centuries into the Christian era and no-one at all living in Bethlehem in the 1st century. Augustus never made that census which would've required Joseph and the pregant Mary to travel to Bethlehem, but if he had, Bethlehem would've been there waiting for them, with people in it and at least one manger and everything. Trust me. Or don't, become expert in the ancient history of the area and make up your own mind who's talkin' smack, me or jesusneverexisted.

No, I don't believe in God, I don't think Jesus walked on water, healed the lame and insane, fed a huge crowd with a small basketful of bread and fish, raised Lazarus from the dead or rose from the dead himself. There are many other parts of the stories in the New Testament besides these that I think are clearly fiction. But I'm not going to dismiss the possibility of any factual core to the story because of obvious mythical elements, any more than I'm about to assume that George Washington never existed just because Parson Weems lied to us all about that cherry tree and the dollar young George was supposed to have thrown across the Potomac.

I don't know whether there was a real person, maybe named Jesus, maybe not, who inspired the New Testament stories, or whether someone else -- my prime suspect would be Saul/Paul of Tarsus -- made the whole thing up.

I don't know. Please don't lump me together with people who are sure on that question, one way or the other. I think that both Christians and others who insist, Of course Jesus existed, and atheists (and a few others) who insist, Of course he didn't! are trying to end investigation into the question. And pardon me, but that's just no fun. I see nothing remotely like convincing, debate-ending evidence either way here.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Climate and Psychology

It's very green where I live: there's a lot of rain in the summer, and the leaves on the trees and shrubs grow in very thick and deep green. And there are an awful lot of trees and shrubs. and many people let their lawns grow kind of long before they mow them. Some people around here don't mow their grass at all, not because they're distracted or disturbed, but in order intentionally to add to the already-abundant plant life, pumping out all that oxygen for us.

Politically it's very green around here too: many of the cars are Priuses or other hybrids. Many people don't drive at all or walk or run or bicycle a significant part of the time. The city buses run on bio-diesel. The city collects recyclables along with the trash every week. Until recently they provided different-colored bins for different kinds of recyclables: paper and cardboard, plastic, glass, etc. Then they replaced all of those with one recyclable bin. I was confused, I called the city and asked but what about the sorting? Should we put different categories of stuff in separate bags inside the bins or what? They said: no, just throw it all in there, throw it all in together in your new recyclables bin. Our new recyclables collection trucks sort it all automatically.

Boy hoydy.

When I moved here and saw all the Priuses -- they're the top-selling hybrid vehicle here as elsewhere, and the only ones I can readily identify as hybrid -- my only thought was that it was great. That if more place were like this we humans would have a better chance of not killing ourselves.

I recently saw the movie The Other Guys,and although I liked it, it clued me in to what some other people think of Priuses, and it was harsh. Will Ferrell plays an NYPD detective who happens to drive a Prius. Mark Wahlberg's character, Ferrell's character's partner, in the passanger seat of the Prius, remarks, "Wow, I actually feel like I'm riding in a vagina." Other detectives ask whether the car came with a dental dam, and so forth.

Wow. Excuse us for riling up your subconscious sexual insecurities by trying to save your lives, guys. Excuse us for trying to save you and the other hairless apes from yourselves.

All that lush plant life around here, pumping out all that oxygen -- which came first, the abundant plant life or the green focus in local politics? Does the extra oxygen help our brains function better? Like the nasty little Republican kid in Everyone Says I Love Youwho, it turned out, was only Republican because a blood vessel in his brain was obstructed, and once normal blood flow to his brain was surgically restored, he became a healthy liberal Democrat like the rest of his family?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Don't Call it my "Grail," it's Much Cooler than That

When it comes to recovering lost texts of Classical Greek and Latin, there are those who are looking everywhere, scouring specialized journals and general news outlets for finds and for clues to possible finds, who are very optimistic and excited about the chances for great recoveries, convinced that the era of great discoveries begun during the "Renaissance" in no way has to be regarded as closed. -- and then there are those who snicker and point at the first group. I'm way over on the optimistic fringe of the first group. I don't mind the snickering. I still get along just fine with the second group, and everyone in the second group agrees that the first group has included experts of the first degree. Still, just know that when I go on about such things, I do not have a broad consensus of experts behind me.

But I personally think it would be absurd to assume that there will be no more major discoveries of Livy.He was THE historian of ancient Rome, the one whom Tacitus,

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Tea Party Lost

Yes, what they did was huge and awful. But the debt ceiling raise extends to 2013. There's nothing more they can kidnap. And they've caught the attention of a lot of people and made them angry. And whoever you are, your political opponents are a lot like the Hulk:

Monday, August 1, 2011

Not Since 1945

Bill O'Reilly has criticized the baggers for holding the debt ceiling hostage to extreme demands and risking the first Federal government default in the history of the US. No doubt O'Reilly's accountant informed him that a default would a) cost him a lot of money and b) lead to mobs of desperate poor senior citizens and disabled persons with nothing left to lose rising up like the fishwives of Paris in 1789, brandishing walkers and canes instead of pikes, storming his gated community as if it were Versailles and burning it to the ground, if he did not distance himself from the mishigas.

When O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann agree on something, it ought to make you stop and think. (Not the baggers-- you. When I find something that will make the baggers think, I will let you know immediately, I will alert the media, I will email the White House and my Congressional representatives. When and if.) Economists from every point on the political spectrum, including some people who never before in their lives have agreed with each other about anything, have agreed that this hostage situation with the debt ceiling has been bad. Very, very bad. Investors from all over the world have agreed, many of whom could not name a half dozen American politicians to save their lives. The Wall Street Journal and the Times of London and Mother Jones and Der Spiegel and Jungle World and le Figaro all agree, and the Asian markets, and the Argentinian gauchos.

The only comparable group, the only group I can think of of such international breadth and ideological diversity who ever were united against anything, is the group of countries who declared war against Germany in World War II: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Byelorussia, Canada, Chile, China, Columbia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iran, Iraq, Italy (in 1943), Lebanon, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, The Philippines, Poland, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Syria, Turkey, the Ukraine, the Soviet Union, the UK, the USA, Uruguay, Venezuela, Yugoslavia, and I'm sincerely sorry if I left anybody out. How often, before or after the provocation of the Nazis, did a half, or a third, of all of those nations ever agree about anything?

It took a hell of a lot to get all of those countries to declare war. It took quite a lot for some reputedly smart people to oppose them at all. Neville Chamberlain met with Hitler and described him as a reasonable man.

In hindsight, although people might and do argue about whether Hitler was Christian, or pagan, or agnostic or atheist; whether he was neurotic, or psychotic, or quite sane and crafty -- no-one describes him as reasonable anymore. Early on in his career, in the 20's and early 30's, people often were appalled at the way the German Communists physically fought in the streets against the Nazis, with all the violent force they had -- eventually the whole world had to do the same thing. Because they would see no reason, would make no compromise, would tolerate no contradiction.