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New Testament...part 3?

Picking up from yesterday, the second leg of the trip...

This is still acts of the apostles.

My guess with Paul and his vision, is that he was already having second thoughts about what he was doing, perhaps not willing to admit those doubts to himself, or feeling compelled for some reason to stay the course, so when he had his vision, it articulated those doubts better than he was able to do on his own, and so he felt permission to do what he was already inclined to do anyway, which was quit his job. He certainly wouldn't be the first person to go from one end of the debate to the other. In the modern health care debate, for instance, look at a guy like Wendell Potter. Once the guy that did the enforcing and helped to screw people out of their coverage, now advocating strongly against everything health insurance companies stand for, having seen it on the inside.

Now in Romans.

Other than saying that Jesus was the only thing you needed for salvation, what was the motivation for Christians to give up sacrifices? Don't want to sacrifice to false dieties, but Jews sacrifice to the their god, why give it up to be Christian? I don't remember anything in particular except to say that it wasn't necessary. Is this another case of they wanted to stop doing it for other reasons, and Christianity just gave them an excuse to do exactly what they wanted anyway?

They also say that circumcision isn't necessary, but is recommended. Why is it that one was kept and one was abandonned?

The arbitrariness of god's mercy is, in fact, arbitrary. Romans admits that, and they think that's actually good. To people with morals, this is hideous. But that's how they make sense of good things happening to bad people. But how can you say god is good if he's arbitrary?

Corinthians now.

If you are married to a nonbeliever if they want to stay, because they are sanctified through being married to a believer. But, if they wish to leave, let them leave.... okay. So, if you want divorce to be okay, you just need to marry a nonbeliever. I guess nonbelievers are good for something.

Give not offense to neither Jews nor Gentiles? Another piece of advice not taken by Christians.

Isn't it a shame how they follows the rules that are pretty crappy, but ignore the good ones. They are talking about women being covered, and they basically just say the local custom holds. Men should not be covered.

I have to pick this up later... guests have arrived.

Continuing the next day:

Women should have long hair because it helps to cover them, but men should not.

The three greatest virtues, according to Paul, are faith, hope and charity. But of these, charity is the greatest virtue. Not faith.

Speaking in tongues is good, according to Saul, but better if you prophesy, and better still if you "speak with knowledge". Not something most Christians come even close to. He also says that, even in Church, if no interpreter is present, you should keep your speaking in tongues to yourself. If no one understands it, you may lead them astray.

Women should not be teachers, and if she wants to know anything, she should ask her husband. God, what a sexist. Consistent with the culture, but still.

Asking questions about what body will be resurrected, etc. means that you really don't understand what the resurrection is about. He seems to be suggested that you will be resurrected in an incorruptible heavenly body, not a corruptible earthly body. So what happens to the Earthly body is beside the point. Catholics! Donate your organs!

(II Corinthians)

How did the apostles decide who to write letters to and who to travel to. Why the Corinthians, for instance, and not the Athenians? Couldn't stand the philosophical arguments?

Galatians now.

Paul talks about meeting the brother of Jesus, James, a child of Mary by Joseph, who was therefore younger than Jesus? Or is this a child of Joseph by a previous wife (in that case, not actually related to Jesus at all by blood)?

It's easy to see why the Romans wouldn't have been very impressed by the Jews. All this talk about not wanting to eat with the uncircumcised makes them seem like "we're special and you're disgusting"... and given who the Romans were, you can see how that would fly in the face of their own cultural expectations... well, and really anyone's self-respect.

Paul here argues against aseticism. These people won't inherit the kindgom of god, only those about love and peace.


Pick up here on the next long drive. Almost done!!

New Testament...part 2?

So, the continuing saga of Haysoos continues... The new testament has its problems, of course, but it's not as engaging as the old testament, and I fear I tune out periodically. But below are my collected notes. I think I left off at the end of his around Galaticians. I'm getting close to the end. One more long drive should do it.

We pick up in the gospel of John. These notes (the ones at the beginning at least) were recorded on Newtonmass Eve.

This is where the Jewish soldiers are the ones who arrest and attack Jesus in Gethsemene, instead of the version where it's the Romans that do this. It's interesting that Mel Gibson picked this version rather than the other for the Passion of the Christ.

When Jesus is being confronted by Pilate, he goes to a great deal of trouble to talk like a lawyer or a politician, going to a great deal of trouble not to really answer any of the questions put to him. When I grew up, Pilate was portrayed as a bad guy, but in the actual story, he seems to be doing everything he could not to put Jesus to death. He was looking for any excuse at all, but Jesus seemed to determined not to oblige him. Given the story here, it's hard to see how Pilate could be considered the bad guy. It just seems like you would be better off blaming it on the mob and the followers of the chief priest... not the Jews in broad strokes, but just this particular Jew in an effort to preserve his own power.

The detail about not breaking his legs. Not like he was fulfilling a prophecy, but that it was something easily adjusted in the story after the fact. They broke the legs of the other two guys. And decades after Jesus was dead and buried, how could you prove it?

How is it that the disciples would be able to participate in passover when they had just touched a dead body. Isn't that why women were responsible for the dead, because it would make them unclean?

Before Jesus is resurrected, he's appearing to the disciples and Mary... is he some kind of ghost? He hasn't ascended to heaven yet. What's the deal with the three days then?

Doubting Thomas story. Jesus is encouraging credulousness.

What does Jesus see in Simon Peter?

In Acts, Judas died with all his guts spilled on the field, but not that he had hung himself.

All the listeners speak different languages, they hear the apostles speak in their native languages. That's not what speaking in tongues means today. It's gibberish. If someone could really speak so that anyone of any language could understand, like the Doctor with the TARDIS, that would be pretty damn impressive. Doesn't happen, though.

What do they mean they can't be drunk by 9 a.m.?

This glorification of unlearnedness and ignorance is quite disturbing.

How can it be a good thing for one of the apostles that he threatened a woman with something so horrible that he died right there at his feet? Whatever it is that he says is beside the point. Is that really a good thing?

If it's good it will last and if it's bad it will go away... early notion of marketplace of ideas.

Did you notice that one of the first acts of the apostles after the death of Jesus was to cast lots to determine who would be appointed to their number to replace Judas? A very common practice in the Greek world, and they think god has a hand in it... but is casting lots really the best way to choose the best person? To modern ears, this is just crazy.

That makes it sound weird looking at the brother of Joseph thinking of the twelve patriarchs as selfish, bratty kids. Very strange.

Rather than making Phillip disappear, why not just restore the eunuch to wholeness? That would have been impressive. The disciples are wandering around performing miracles and acquire a following, but wasn't it Jesus who insisted that the blessed are those that believe without evidence? What's this with supplying all this evidence? Where is the evidence now?

So first gentile that became a Christian was Cornelius, and he brought a whole bunch of people together to cut off the tips of their penises. Imagine sending out that invitation.

You know easy it would have been for a clever man to fool so many stupid, superstitious people in those days? And you say, it's from god, god told me to do it, and they all say, oh, okay, whatever. Imagine Obama doing that about gays in the military?

Simon Peter says you don't have to be circumcised to be saved. So why is it that so many people in America do this, but not in Europe.... fundamentalist streak in American Protestantism?

Converting gentiles is a neat trick. All the prophecies were from the old testament, the torah, and the jews were more skeptical because they knew the prophecies better, but the gentiles didn't, and seemed more likely to just accept that what they were told about Jesus fulfilling prophecies was true. Interesting marketing strategy.

A follower of Jesus telling other people they were too superstitious? That's funny.

All the men were about 12? Does that mean the mean were 12 years old or there were 12 men?

Oh, and look, encouraging the burning of books. There's that anti-intellectualism streak again.

The translation of "hour" is a bad one.

The way they treat Roman citizens vs. others is always interesting.

I've got some more notes to post, but I am going to pause here for the moment.



It was almost two years ago that my nephew was born. There were a lot of things about that experience that I disapproved of--thought, my newphew really is a sweet kid, and far more friendly than I ever was at that age--things that my brother allowed his Catholic wife to decide on despite his own personal objections to them. For instance, my nephew was baptized Catholic, despite his father being a non-believer. There is something to be said for those Protestant faiths that reject infant baptism. He also allowed his wife to have their son circumcised, again, despite his own rejection of the practice.

I suppose it's possible to argue that baptism, in a world with no god, is just an empty gesture. And if it makes the wife happy, so be it. I suppose one could think that, though I think the symbolism is far more meaningful than a mere gesture. But, it's hard to make that same claim with circumcision, a practice that is only religiously meaningul to the Jews. Catholics and Protestants in Europe generally don't have their sons circumcised, so it's only culturally meaningful, and really, it's less conscious than "meaningful" suggests, to Americans. Really, it's more like a habit, like buying boys blue blankets and girls pink ones. It's unconscious, and no one really acknowledges the religious roots of it until someone challenges the status quo, as though changing the colour of a baby blanket rejects the presumption that boys are somehow "better" than girls.

The subject has come up again recently as places in California have measures on the ballot to try to ban the practice of circumcising boys under 18. Female circumcision, since it is usually much more invasive and cruel, is already banned in the US. But because of the relationship with the dominant religion and widespread practice in the US, male circumcision bans have a much steeper climb. Some critics of the bills have cited questions of religion freedom, and analogies with minors getting their ears pierced as arguments for defeating the measures. I want to look at both of these in turn.

First, what is male circumcision? Let's be clear, male circumcision is removing the foreskin from the head of the penis for non-medical reasons. It does not grow back. How minor this procedure is isn't really the point, as even forms of female genital mutilation that involve merely "knicking" the clitoris are banned right alongside more extreme forms. What are the consequences of circumcision? Well, that is hard to study, since there are few people who experience sex before and after the procedure and are capable of comparing for researchers, however, there is some evidence of reduced sensation, though because it is difficult to study, this is not widely accepted as conclusive. It's also true that some people argue for the value of circumcision for hygenic reasons such as reduced infections (from poorly cleaning the area), and alleged, though inconclusive relationship to reduced HIV infections (recent research is leaning against this latter conclusion). One can see why people afraid of sexual gratification would want to find ways to avoid infection without touching the penis... but is that a really good reason for amputating a part of an infant's body? Other than the loss of a body part, one might say there doesn't seem to be an conclusive proof of harm, but neither is there any conclusive proof of benefit. And people for whom this is part of their culture, they may be coming down on the side of the status quo. Why rock the boat after all if there is no good reason to change?

I, for one, am not so bound my tradition.

Especially since, babies die from this practice. Babies who were otherwise perfectly healthy, die from blood loss or infection. And that is not even accounting for the ones who suffer permanent damage but don't die. We haven't come far enough if I can say that my brother did not even receive anesthesia for his amputation; that painkillers are more common today does not change the number of unncessary deaths. Nor does it change the fact that it's medically unnecessary.

What about freedom of religion, you may be thinking. I'm all for freedom of religion, to a point. They have a right to bring them up in their religion, to teach their kid to believe in their god, even if I think that god is a fairy tale. But parents don't have unlimited rights over their kids. They don't have a right to keep their kids at home and pray over them if their children are suffering life-threatening illnesses. They don't have a right to beat their children, even if it is in the name of their god. Nor do they have a right to perform exorcisms or other practices upon them if it results in bodily harm or death. And they can be charged with negligence even if the child could die, but ends of not dying. Parents do not have an unfettered right to impose their religon on their children in a way that harms them. And the children that die every year or suffer serious complication from this procedure, they, too, deserve to be protected from the excesses of their parents' religion. Once the child is an adult, if they choose to undergo the procedure themselves for the sake of their religion, that is their choice, and they can accept the consequences for themselves. I may think they are crazy, but it will be their choice.

And what about kids getting their ears pierced?

This is a terrible analogy, because the cultural pressures aren't nearly the same, and the religious pressures are either non-existent or actually work in the other direction. I got my ears pierced for the first time when I was four. It was my choice, and my parents let me make it. Even at that age, that's quite different from what happens to male infants with circumcision. What happened when I got them pierced? Did I lose any blood? No. The place used a little gun, and voila, it was done. If I had taken the earrings out before the hole healed, all that would have happened was a little scar. Did I lose any functionality in my ears? Nope. I got a few more holes at 13. Again, my choice, and though they did take much longer to heal, the story was otherwise similar. How many people do you think die every year from getting their ears pierced? No one. People die when unsterile instruments are used, or kids are being stupid, but they don't when it is done correctly, according to existing regulations. There is no risk of bleeding out, only infections from the stupid. Circumcision, yeah, runs the risk of infections, too, but kids still die even when it is done correctly by qualified professionals in hospitals. There is no comparison here.

Could I quibble a bit about the proposed law... sure. Maybe 13 (with parental consent) is old enough, or 15 or 16, instead of 18. But I wholeheartedly concur that we need to protect infants from this practice, to allow them to grow up and choose for themselves. It's not about inflicting a secular religion on everyone, but merely ensuring that every citizen can make decisions for themselves, and not have the will of another, however well-meaning, imposed on them when they are helpless to defend themselves.

Follow-up: It seem South Africa agrees with me. Don't see that everyday.

The Ledge

It seems like I dropped off the face of the Earth for a while. I'm afraid that's what happens when I have too many things going on. I'm doing a little less this summer before the insanity of fall quarter (where I will surely work myself to death), so during my semi-hiatus--i.e. 60 hours a week instead of 120--I'm going to try to manage a post here or there, possibly on a semi-regular basis... But there are so many demands on my writing time, like the next novel, we'll see.

However, I want to write about this new movie, the Ledge. I managed to catch it last night on HD on Demand before it hits theatres. What I'm about to say is likely to be a bit spoilerish, so please proceed with caution. This is a thriller and if you don't want the ending spoiled, you should just know it's pretty good: Liv Tyler manages to do a better job acting than in the Lord of the Rings, and not much else. For the rest of you, I'm going to try not to spoil the ending too badly, but I fear what I will say will give it away to any clear-thinking person.


Okay, ready?

So, the "ooh, shiny" thing about the Ledge is that the main character is an atheist. And he's not the bad guy. The fact that he's not a scientist, this isn't science fiction, he's not deeply cynical about life, and he's not a homocidal maniac,... that any of this should be "big", well, that tells you the state of affairs of Hollywood story-telling. Atheists are weird, like black lesbian prison guards. So the fact that an atheist is portrayed as a normal human being is, unfortunately, a big deal.

If you've seen any of the previews, you know the bad guy is a crazy fundamentalist freak. If the first thing--a sympathetic atheist--wasn't enough to spawn crazy right wing hatred, that surely will. Of course, when atheists look at most right wingers, we see carbon copies of that nut in the movie, so from the atheist perspective, there is nothing unbelievable about it. And really, the guy isn't hating on the atheist because he's an atheist, it's because he slept with his wife... his religion is just an excuse.

This isn't the problem, though. The problem is that there is a massive hole in the plot. (Here's the spoiler... stop reading now if you don't want spoilery stuff...) If I'm an atheist, a member of the reality-based community. I also don't just accept my fate. I take advantage of every opportunity to save myself... like tell the police guy trying to talk me down off the ledge what's really going on so they can try to find the crazy lunatic threatening me so that I won't have to jump. You don't wait until the last fucking minute. I'm sorry, but that's just bad writing. You tell the cop about it, and if they don't find him, then you jump. Jesus H. Christ!

As a writer, I'm flabbergasted this got through. Are people that dumb?

Anyway, not a bad movie generally. Go see it. Atheists' Brokeback Mountain? Whatever. I didn't think that movie had gross plot holes, though. But then, I do know gay people who hated it, so what do I know?

Phil Plait at OSU

Phil Plait is a great speaker. If he's ever in your area, go see him. Especially if you are a geek. It's so nice to be around other people who get excited about astronomy the way I do.

Phil Plait OSU 2011 Phil Plait OSU 2011
Phil came and gave his Death from the Skies talk at OSU on 2011.04.28. Here he is talking about Kleopatra, the asteroid shaped like a dog bone.


science wins

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