Saturday, May 21, 2011

But of that day and hour knoweth no man

People are interested in the latest prediction of the end of the world--perhaps not because they believe in it, but because someone has the audacity to make a prediction and, as has happened before (see William Miller), the one making the prediction has followers.

Every Christian knows Matthews 24:36-44. In the King James version, the verse reads: "But of that day and hour knoweth no man." So if you're a believer, and you dare to make a prediction of the rapture, it seems as though that alone would negate your prediction. Atheists are having a great time making fun of the prediction. See Friendly Atheist here and here. But not all Christians think the prediction should be taken seriously. See: Varieties of end-time believers and Why there will be no rapture. I frequently think that atheists without a religious background find it easy to disparage all of Christianity because they view it as a monolithic entity, ignoring the diversity of opinion, interpretation, and belief that has splintered the Faith since the Reformation.

Matthew 24: 36-44:

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Matthew 24:36-44, New International Version)

Friday, May 20, 2011

High school graduation

Friendly Atheist posted today about a student who complained about graduation prayer and is suffering hatred from his classmates. I quit my last job because it was impossible for me to feel comfortable in that public school with its prayer, not just at flag poles, but before track practice, at football games, and at graduation; with teachers who taught US history, but didn't mention Watergate and seemed to have never read the Constitution; and from Christians who frequently expressed frustration with the persecution they suffered, but who openly professed their faith while the atheists could never have "come out" safely in that school.

Right on, Damon Fowler. Well done. I'm glad that atheists who are wealthier than I am are pitching in to give you a college scholarship.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Matthew 5:1-12

Another rather fun passage of the New Testament is the Sermon on the Mount.

What makes it fun are the strange, contradictory, and confusing statement Jesus makes. Christians spend a lot of time and energy analyzing the Sermon on the Mount, but a lot of it doesn't make sense. A believer might pray for understanding, or believe whatever their denomination says.

Verses 3 through 12 are called the Beatitudes, or blessings. Basically, the beatitudes say, hey, don't worry, if you don't have it now, you'll get it later. If you're poor in spirit, you get the kingdom of heaven; if you're in mourning, you'll be comforted; if you're meek, you'll get the earth; if you aren't getting righteousness, you'll get it later.

Those verses--3 through 6--cover people who are lacking something. In verses 7 through 11, Jesus addresses people who have good qualities and says they'll be rewarded. So if you're merciful, you'll be shown mercy; if you're pure in heart, you'll see God; if you're a peacemaker, you'll be called children of God; if you're persecuted because you do the right thing, you'll get the kingdom of heaven.

In verses 11 and 12, he expands on the idea of people who are mistreated. "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." I'm sure this verse brought solace to centuries of Christian martyrs, but I've also had it quoted at me by Christians who felt I wasn't getting their message. Encouraging martyrdom in this life because things will be better in the next (imaginary) life after death was one of Jesus's worst ideas.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Pope John Paul II is apparently now a saint

I suppose it's because I was raised as a Protestant, but this strikes me as exceptionally silly:

Yeah, right, and miracles really happen. Prove it. Actually, the Vatican examines miracles, and apparently they are proven to their satisfaction.

I found out because of the photos posted on this blog.

I realize that this makes a lot of people happy, but to me it is disgusting.

The Historical Jesus

I'm watching Introduction to New Testament History & Literature with Professor Dale B. Martin, one of Yale's open courses. It reminds me of being back in Sunday School. In small town USA in the 1960s, the only moderately intellectual pursuit open to an intelligent kid was Bible study, so I spent hours studying the Bible. I especially feel like I'm back in Sunday School when Professor Martin asks us to "Open your hymnals to..." (a mistake he's made three times when he meant to say, "Open your Bibles to...").

This isn't a class you can watch in the background while you're cleaning; you actually have to pay attention.

As an atheist, I found the most recent episode interesting and worth other atheists' perusal, so I'm embedding it below. If you don't want to watch the program, however, you can read through the transcript, which is online as well. My favorite quotation?

Now there's no way you can basically get these two narratives to fit together in any respectable historical way. Does that mean that nobody's ever tried to do it? No, of course you've got all kinds of very, very smart fundamentalists who believe that the New Testament has to be accurate in every historical and scientific detail or they believe then it can't be scripture. They will figure out some way to try to make sure that both these narratives can be fit together, but what I'm telling you is that no reputable historian will accept this because you just have to fudge the stuff too much; you have to fudge the data.