Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sixty-Six Clouds--Word Cloud Bible

Someone made a Word Cloud out of every book in the Protestant Bible (Apocrypha excluded). Matthew's Word Cloud starts at 2:13. I recommend muting the schmaltzy background music, but to each his/her own.

I found it here. They're making money on the idea here, but you can easily make your own Wordle for any chapter you desire.

Revelation is interesting because of the dominance of the word "beast." Leviticus is interesting because of the prevalance of the words "offering" and "unclean." Matthew is all about "Jesus."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Matthew 3

Hieronymus Bosch 090
In Matthew 3, we meet John the Baptist.

Since we are all products of our time, and I was a kid in the 1960s, I always envision John the Baptist as the quintessential Woodstock-era hippie. The New International Version describes him: "John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey." Hieronymus Bosch's interpretation is in the illustration above.

What would camel's hair clothing look like? Would it be comfortable? Is his attire and diet a sign of his religious asceticism? Or maybe he's more like Daniel Suelo, who gained notoriety for living in a cave near Moab, Utah, but lately has been wandering.

John the Baptist is a prophet, foretelling the coming of the Messiah. John condemns the "Pharisees and Sadduccees", the perennial hypocrites of the New Testament, calling them a brood of vipers.*

John was the original Bible-thumping, hell-quoting preacher. He uses an allegory to let them know what's coming to them: "The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."

This is an important chapter for those Protestant denominations, such as Baptists, who contend that only adults (or at least older, thinking children) can choose to be baptized. It explains that baptism is for repentance, a sort of get-out-of-jail free card for those who sin. John describes Jesus, who as John puts it, "will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” With this allegory, Christians find out what happens to nonbelievers. They learn that all atheists, like me, are bound for hell. In reading Christian blogs, one gets the feeling that many Christians can hardly wait for the world to end so they can say "Na-na-na-na-na-na" at the atheists. Unless they happen to be related to one of us, they desire less to convert us than to jeer at us when the world ends.

The chapter ends with the baptism of Jesus. Again, advocates of full immersion point to the fact that Jesus was fully immersed as an adult to support their contention that sprinkling infants isn't right. On the other hand, Roman Catholics, among others, are infant sprinklers. For more information on the Roman Catholic perspective, you can read the article on baptism from the Catholic Encyclopedia. Among other insights, that article says that even heretics or Protestants can perform valid baptisms if they use the right words. That seems fairly accepting of them. The article states the position on infant baptism as "The fate of infants who die without baptism must be briefly considered here. The Catholic teaching is uncompromising on this point, that all who depart this life without baptism, be it of water, or blood, or desire, are perpetually excluded from the vision of God."

It's much easier to be a rational atheist than to follow the history of interpretations, exegesis, and dogmatic proclamations instituted by generations of men reading a few verses of the Bible.

Right after Jesus is baptized, an interesting event happens. The Bible says "he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'”

God said, "Here he is. This guy did the right thing. He's my son" thus setting up Jesus to begin a cult. But again, Christians make it much more complicated than that. Many Christians believe that baptism by other men (or priests) can lead to a second baptism by the "spirit." Pentecostal Christians, for example, believe that this "spirit baptism" is demonstrated by speaking in tongues. We'll get into more about speaking in tongues later after the crucifixion when Jesus comes back.

Illustration: Hieronymus Bosch (ca. 1450(1450)–1516) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

*This makes me want to create a Biblical insults t-shirt. Brood of vipers would be a good start.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Leaving church

Why do some people leave church and others stay?

I'm asking myself that question now because my mother just showed me the Christmas letter she received from a minister friend of hers. He has three adult children, and the two men became ministers while the woman married a minister. All of them bought the party line.

I read a lot of religious blogs. Some claim to have rational explanations for their beliefs. They carefully analyze Bible verses. They write about the theological explorations of believers before them. They try, try, try to understand and to apply what they learn to their own lives and to the modern world.

Like this blog I briefly read, or like my Facebook cousins, some people don't really think about what they're taught. Thus, it's easy for them to stay in the church. To my grandmother, it was social unacceptable to avoid church. If you were a moral person, you went to church. I could never really figure out if my parents believed in the party line. I think my dad went to church partly to please my grandmother, partly because his best friend also attended, and mostly to sing. If I had managed to make friends in the church, would I have stayed? No. In the end, a love of singing wasn't enough to hold me.

I researched our church's history for an online friend and as part of that, I went through the church roster of baptized members. I was surprised to see that my grandfather was baptized. Since he died years before I was born, I know little about him. We only have one decent photograph of him. My dad told me that when he was little, his dad always joined the other men in cooking breakfast for the women and children who were upstairs attending Easter sunrise service. Even though my dad couldn't cook, he made coffee for that same breakfast. Somehow, even though I knew my grandfather had cooked breakfast, I never pictured him attending church. I should have known that with my grandmother for a wife, he wouldn't have had a choice.

Was he a believer? Possibly. He was baptized. So was my dad. It fell apart in my generation. My older brother was baptized, and in a way he's the only one who's stayed "religious" although his religion is decidedly wacky. My other brother is an atheist, but he never really tried to learn much about the Bible. As an example, he was astonished when I answered a trivia question about the "original writing on the wall" with the words Mene, mene, tekel upharsin.

"How do you know that?" he asked.

"I've read the Bible," I replied.

To me it always seemed as though, even though we were all given a choice of the path to follow, the people who stayed in the church didn't really have a choice. Like me, they were thoroughly indoctrinated in the Bible. Our lives revolved around church. We read and studied and were given interpretations for many verses. They chose to be baptized and to stay in, while I opted out. Why did they stay? I think it's because their worldview had become so Bible-oriented. They filter everything through the Bible. I'm not able to do that. So they stayed and I left.

I looked up my former minister's blogs, as well as those of his children, and so I'm now reading even more religion blogs. I found a link from one of their blogs to one blog which seems to be worth reading. It's called Thinking Christian. I read through the post about Sam Harris's latest book. I thought about re-reading and blogging about "Why I am Not a Christian" by Bertrand Russell, a book I haven't read since high school. Maybe I'll read Sam's book first.

The photograph below is of my paternal grandfather, who was apparently a believer. The photograph is part of a family portrait taken in 1935 in the church where I grew up. In the larger version, you can see the curtains in the window. The last time I visited the church, the same curtains hung in the window.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Why gays should be able to marry

I posted this as a comment on an anti-gay, pro-religion blog, the Blog for Life, Marriage, & Religious Liberty. Since it seems unlikely that they'll actually publish it, I thought I'd publish it here.

In the 1950s and 1960s in small town USA, we weren't all that aware of gay-ness as an issue. Betty and Pat ran the airport together, and everyone respected them and treated them well. In 1979, my boyfriend was in a car crash which left him partly paralyzed. An employee at the rehab hospital rented rooms to those of us with relatives in rehab. My housemate wasn't as lucky as I--his girlfriend was in a wreck which left her brain damaged. My boyfriend could say, "I want my girlfriend here." She couldn't say that about him. When her parents visited, he was excluded. That's when I learned what it was like for anyone who isn't married. Later that summer, my boyfriend and I married, and when he went into the hospital, it made a huge difference in the way I was treated. Only those who are married have the right to a real say in their loved one's treatment. That's when I became an advocate for gay marriage. I was able to make it easier for my boyfriend and me; my housemate, however, had no say in his girlfriend's treatment, and since she was mentally disabled, he couldn't just marry her. That's when I realized how unfair and horrible it would be to be gay and unable to marry. That's why I believe that the right to marry is critically important for gays, and I can't figure out any reason why they should not be accorded that right

Friday, January 7, 2011


I re-created my Facebook account for one reason--to share photographs with cousins. Thus, I have only 8 Facebook friends, and almost all of them are relatives. Two of my cousin/friends are LDS (Mormons); two are born-again devout Christians. At least the Mormons aren't overally racist like my other two cousins. Those cousins have posted links to "Preserve our right to keep and bear arms" and "John Boehner"; and their friends have praised Jesus for healing their cancer without even mentioning the important role of modern medicine and science. Although we were happy together as children, I wouldn't even want to try sitting down with them in the same room for a conversation. The last time I tried it, my cousin yelled at me because I am not a racist. The only safe subject for us is the past, as reflected in the photos I post on my Flickr page.

Bill O'Reilly Proves God's Existence

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Bill O'Reilly Proves God's Existence - Neil deGrasse Tyson
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogMarch to Keep Fear Alive

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Lesley Hazelton: on reading the Koran

I love this Ted Talk about a journalist/author's reading of the Koran.

The Word is God

It seems that this might be a good year to read the Bible in the King James version. In honor of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, Shakespeare's Globe theater is mounting a production called The Word is God where actors will read the Bible on stage from, as they put it "Palm Sunday to Easter Monday." While I can't imagine heading to London to see this (since I lack both funds and a passport), I imagine that it will be a wonderful experience.

I would especially like to hear them read Leviticus and Deuteronomy. I wonder how you could make those books interesting enough to hold a theater-goer's attention. Perhaps that's when everyone will take a break from listening and head to the lobby.

I purchased a version of the King James Bible on audiocassette once. It was narrated by James Earl Jones. That sounds like a wonderful idea, and it would have been if they hadn't backed up his sonorous voice with cheesy hymns. They didn't allow even a moment's respite from the background noise. James Earl Jones could have carried it off without the "help" of music. As usual, not everyone agrees with me. Apparently, the reviewers at Amazon generally like the hymns.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Matthew 2: 19-23

In Matthew 2:19-23, the family of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus is still hiding out in Egypt. But an angel drops by to let Joseph know that it's safe to return to Israel. The family ends up in Galilee, in the town of Nazareth.

The problem with setting yourself the task of re-reading the Bible starting with the New Testament when you don't really *like* the New Testament is that it's difficult to stay motivated. Thus, I haven't really read the Bible in months. But recently, another atheist started re-reading the Bible. He's starting with the Old Testament. He blogged briefly about one of my favorite stories in the entire Bible, the story of the Tower of Babel, saying "Once again we learn that knowledge is frowned upon." Well, that's one of the lessons, I suppose. At any rate, because he's blogging about the Bible, I'm inspired to take up the habit again, power through, and read the New Testament so I can get to the good stuff in the Old Testament.

When we were taught about Jesus ending up in Nazareth in Sunday School, we were specifically told that he moved there to fulfill a prophecy, yet another proof that Jesus is the Messiah. I could never find much meaning in the fact that Jesus fulfilled prophecies made in Isaiah and other Old Testament books perhaps because, unlike the ancient Hebrews, I've never been looking for a Messiah or Savior. Whether he was accepted as the Messiah or rejected (e.g., by the Hebrews who didn't convert), it seemed like ancient history because it is. Matthew wasn't thinking about me when he wrote the verses to prove the prophecy; he was speaking to other scholars of the time. Perhaps that's another reason why the prophecy is irrelevant to me.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Oprah Schmoprah

Oprah is apparently continuing her non-skeptical and nonsensical beliefs into her new "network", OWN.

One of the shows is called "Miracle Detectives" described as a journalist believer and a skeptical scientist who travel throughout the United States investigating miracles.

Here is one of the comments from the website above:

There will always be the believers and non believers. But honestly we have a choice so what is the best choice. To think there is something more powerful, loving, gracious and wonderful watching out for us and we have a definite purpose here or to just think we are in this alone and isolated and there is no wonder to the wonderful there are only cold facts not loving revelations and gifts. I personally have had miracles happen to me and it's funny because I rarely watch TV and the other day I was actually saying I could use another miracle and I went upstairs to my suites in my Bed & Breakfast to water some plants and clean up a little and I thought I should put the TV on ( because that is the only place I have a TV is in the suites) and there was Oprah talking about her new network OWN (love the name) and the show on MIRACLES I couldn't believe it, no I could believe! Something very profound will happen to our scientists and skeptics of the world and they too will believe. Oprah I do know is a believer in Miracles, she is living them and has all along. She was put on this path to help other people and bring so much information and good on that grand scale and she has made a difference in so many lives. I'm glad she is in my circle of beliefs! I will be watching without a doubt! A Dream by the Sea Michelle New Jersey

Right when she needed a miracle, she went to water her plants and there was the news: An Oprah show about miracles. It was a miracle!