Sunday, January 23, 2011
Saturday, January 22, 2011
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
Monday, January 17, 2011
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.
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.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
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
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
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.