Cherry-Picking Jesus

The Bible is full of contradictions, and anyone can build a God or Jesus in their own image by cheery-picking the parts they like.

The character of Jesus as relayed in the Bible is a mixed bag. It is NOT a consistent message of peace, love, and understanding, despite what so many seem to want to believe.

Matthew 10:36: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household.”

Luke 14:26: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

Matthew 15:22-26: “A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.’ Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’ The woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said. He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.'” [Although, he did eventually help her, he basically calls non-Jewish people “dogs.”]

He curses a fig tree to death for not bearing fruit out of season [Matthew 21:19], and he seems to disregard the poor when he is advised that the costly ointment being used on him could be sold to help them (“The poor you will always have with you” -Mark 14:7).

In Matthew 12:30 and Luke 11:23, Jesus acts like a Sith Lord when he says, “He who is not with me is against me.” Jesus introduces the idea of thought crimes in his Sermon on the Mount. And Jesus is the one who introduces the idea of eternal hell and damnation for nonbelievers (Believe or Burn!).

Also consider that most Christians believe in the idea of the Trinity, that God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost are one God, that they are “co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial, and each is God, whole and entire.”

However confusing this might seem to be, it means that Jesus is also responsible for all the mean, nasty, insane, and genocidal stuff the character God was supposed to have done in the Old Testament as well.

So despite how much liberal Christians might LOVE to find ways to call conservative Christians hypocrites and conservative Christians might LOVE to reinterpret the nicer bits, they both overlook the fact that there are enough contradictions in the Bible (and enough different ways of interpreting it) to make Jesus/God into whoever you would like them to be by cherry-picking whichever parts you like best.

Sacrifice? Not Much.

Today is the day Christians celebrate the idea that a God sacrificed himself to himself to save us from himself.

So giving this story EVERY possible benefit of the doubt, one might ask, “How much of a sacrifice was it really???”

Plenty of other people have suffered worse, and you would probably have people lined up for MILES to be sacrificed like that if they knew in 2-3 days they would be resurrected as the Supreme Being of the Universe forever afterwards.

Jesus: “Well, it was fun while it lasted. I think I’ll go back to being the Supreme Being of the Universe now.”

Easter

According to Wikipedia, “Easter is the most important religious feast in the Christian liturgical year. It is believed by the Christians to be the resurrection of Jesus, which Christians believe occurred on the third day after his crucifixion around AD 33.”

In fact, it might be said that Christianity stands or falls based on whether or not the resurrection of Jesus actually occurred.

The “evidence” is sketchy.

Jesus isn’t credited with writing anything himself and there are no contemporary accounts of his life or death. The earliest texts mentioning him come from “Paul the Apostle.” Paul never met Jesus, and Paul’s first writings are dated roughly 15-20 years after Jesus’ supposed death (and Paul doesn’t reveal any knowledge of Jesus’ birth, or much of his life or his ministry, so he isn’t a good source for an historical Jesus).

Paul relays stories of people who he says Jesus appeared to after his death and ends this list with himself (1 Corinthians 15). It is certainly unclear if he is describing some kind of “spiritual vision” or an actual bodily resurrection since he includes his experience on equal footing with the other appearances (and his experience seems to have been of the former type).

The four so-called “Gospels”–which are supposed to be the primary accounts of Jesus life, death, and resurrection–were written even later, decades after the fact (and none of those were written by actual eye-witnesses). [We can include the “Acts of the Apostles” here as well.]

We do not have the original copies of any of these texts. The earliest sufficiently complete copies we have come hundreds of years after the supposed events. They are fragmentary and are copies of earlier copies, which are themselves copies of earlier copies, and so on, to an unknown degree removed from the originals. Comparisons of the various copies that we do have indicate variations between them and indicate that copying errors occurred.

The sudden appearance of new sections of text in later copies (text that doesn’t appear in any earlier copies) suggest that some things were added later and were most likely not contained in the original versions. This opens up the possibility that additions were made before the earliest copies available to us as well.

Even the originals, from which the flawed copies are derived, were written years and/or decades after the supposed events took place. None of them were written by actual eye-witnesses, so they are second-hand accounts at best. They are actually even further removed from the supposed events than that, either based on prior writings that are lost to us and/or oral traditions that were passed down over time. [The reliability of stories passed down orally should be is suspect to anyone who has ever played the game “Telephone.”] Additionally, the original authorship of the various texts is entirely unknown (except for some of the ones said to be written by Paul).

The various texts that we are left with are in conflict with one another in many details regarding the events that supposedly took place. They are also in conflict with what we know about the history, culture, and traditions of that time, place, and people.

They include accounts that are suspiciously similar to other earlier stories that were told about other god-men that we now consider mythological, and these accounts claim various extraordinary and supernatural events taking place that most of us would consider wild, outrageous, and unbelievable were they to be told about something happening in today’s world with no more evidence than what we have here.

Even if we assume that Jesus existed and that the whole story wasn’t an invention, distortion, or in any way embellished, that the written translations were more or less uncorrupted and somewhat accurate translations from the original texts, and that the original texts were based on accurate reports of more or less uncorrupted and somewhat accurate oral accounts given in good faith by actual eye-witnesses (which is quite a lot to assume), there is still the possibility that the witnesses were mistaken or deceived.

So we have flawed translations of conflicting reports by biased and/or anonymous authors who were relaying hand-me-down hearsay-accounts of wild, extraordinary, and supernatural events given by unsophisticated witnesses, who were possibly duped, mistaken, or lying (if the authors themselves weren’t fabricating or embellishing, which appears likely), and that are suspiciously similar to earlier stories circulating at the time which we now consider unbelievable mythology.

This kind of “evidence” would be laughed out of any court of law today.

It is certainly not much to base your life on.

Occum’s Razor and common sense suggest that there are any number of other more rational/natural explanations for these accounts of supposed events than the one Christians believe.

I think it unlikely that most Christians would even believe it, if they were presented with this evidence for the first time as adults and not brought up to believe it as children when they were most impressionable.

Regardless, as Carl Sagan said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

In this case, we have some very extraordinary claims which lack even the minimal requirements for evidence of even ordinary claims.

PS: Resurrection Myth Development

While I’ll not get into the conflicting resurrection story details found in the various Gospels, I’d just like to review how the resurrection myth developed over time in the Gospels themselves….

In Mark (the oldest gospel), you have an empty tomb and a young man in a white robe to tell what has happened, saying Jesus would be seen in Galilee. In Matthew there is an earthquake and the young man has turned into an angel blazing like lightning, flying down from above to zap a couple of guards and roll away the stone to the tomb with one hand, then saying Jesus would be seen in Galilee (but instead, he shows on up right away and repeats what the angel said). In Luke, the one boy is now two men in dazzling raiment, but rather than Galilee, the place to see the visions has become Jerusalem. Then some more time goes by and we get to the story of John (the last gospel) where the boy in Mark has become two angels!! and Jerusalem is again the place to see visions.

Also, as the myth grows, we see Jesus go to more and more trouble to prove that he has a physical body. In Mark, he isn’t there. In Matthew, they grab at his feet. In Luke, he asks his disciples to touch him and eats some fish. In John, he shows his wounds, breathes on people, and lets Thomas put his fingers into the wounds themselves.

It is as if the authors have more and more they want to try to prove about the resurrection, so they keep adding more details and taking it further and further.

Now it has been taken so far that it has become The Greatest Lie Ever Told.

PPS: Matthew’s Resurrection Zombies

Some of my favorite humorous parts of the Bible are the fabrications “Matthew” spreads regarding the aftermath of the resurrection…

“And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent. The graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” – Matthew 27:51-53

Matthew is the only one to report any of this. None of the other Gospel writers mention it, and there is no extra-Biblical support for it (as you would imagine there should be for such an extraordinary event).

One of the funniest commentaries about this I’ve ever read is from Thomas Paine in his “Age of Reason.” He sounds almost like Mark Twain here….

“It is an easy thing to tell a lie, but it is difficult to support the lie after it is told. The writer of the book of Matthew should have told us who the saints were that came to life again, and went into the city, and what became of them afterward, and who it was that saw them — for he is not hardy enough to say he saw them himself; whether they came out naked, and all in natural buff, he-saints and she-saints; or whether they came full dressed, and where they got their dresses; whether they went to their former habitations, and reclaimed their wives, their husbands, and their property, and how they were received; whether they entered ejectments for the recovery of their possessions, or brought actions of criminal conduct against the rival interlopers; whether they remained on earth, and followed their former occupation of preaching or working; or whether they died again, or went back to their graves alive, and buried themselves.”

Recent Religious Studies

The BBC recently released the results of a survey they had commissioned with the research consultancy ComRes.

Here are some of the results…

• Half of the people surveyed didn’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection (including a quarter of people who described themselves as Christian)
• There was an equal split among those who say they believe in a life after death (e.g. reincarnation, heaven, hell) and those who do not (at 46% each).

More from the survey can be found HERE.

Tables from the survey HERE.

Another recent study from the Pew Research Center says that “For years, the percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religion has been rising, a trend similar to what has been happening in much of Europe (including the United Kingdom). Despite this, in coming decades, the global share of religiously unaffiliated people is actually expected to fall, according to Pew Research Center’s new study on the future of world religions.”

The main reason given is that “This relative decline is largely attributable to the fact that religious ‘nones’ are, on average, older and have fewer children than people who are affiliated with a religion. In 2015, for instance, the median age of people who belong to any of the world’s religions was 29, compared with 36 among the unaffiliated. And between 2010 and 2015, adherents of religions are estimated to have given birth to an average of 2.45 children per woman, compared with an average of 1.65 children among the unaffiliated.”

In other words, the religious are outbreeding the nonreligious.

I’d like to suggest that the religious have always been outbreeding the nonreligious and the only way the percentage of those who do not identify with any religion has been rising recently in spite of that is because of the internet.

As I’ve said previously, “if you look back on the rise of the nonreligious, it seems to coincide with the rise of the internet,” and “for the first time in the history of humanity, religion will have to fight it out in the marketplace of ideas like it’s never had to do before.”

I guess only time will tell which way it will go.

A report of the study is HERE.

The study is HERE.

Things To Ponder…

#1

What kind of proof could there ever possibly be for atheists for an omni-max Supreme Being as imagined by believers?

Arthur C. Clarke once proposed that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Suppose a more advanced civilization wanted to fool us into thinking “the” omni-max Supreme Being God was making itself known to us? How would be able to tell the difference? In order for us to really “know,” if it was some all-knowing being or not, wouldn’t we have to be all-knowing ourselves? Even if it was able to prove it had supernatural abilities (or was supernatural itself) somehow, it would always be possible that there were a whole host of other supernatural beings that were superior.

#2

How could any being ever really ever know if it knew everything? How could any being ever really know for certain it was all-knowing? How could it ever know that there was nothing beyond its own knowledge? How does one know what one might not be aware of? So, even if some being thought it could be the all-knowing omni-max Supreme Being, how could it ever know it was for sure? It might be that as far as it could tell it was, but it could never really know for certain. And if that’s the case (and EVEN IF IT’S NOT), how could any human (who is clearly not all-knowing) think that they know something else is? In other words, wouldn’t you have to be all-knowing yourself in order to know if something else was?

#3

Let’s assume there is some Supreme Being God for argument’s sake. Why should be necessarily worship it? Maybe it’s “evil” as far as we can tell, or maybe it doesn’t have our best interests at heart. Just because it might have made us, does it necessarily follow that we should worship or love it? Shouldn’t it still have to gain our trust or give us good reason to have some affection for it? If it seems to be against us and our future advancement, shouldn’t we contest it? It seems to me that as far as we’re concerned, we are what matters, and if there is some being who has other interests that we must be sacrificed for, it needs to sell us on the importance of that sacrifice, or that being’s interests should be disregarded, and an effort should be made for our own interests instead.

Humanism and the UUA

Michael Werner presented his talk on “The History of Humanism and the Unitarian Universalist Association” to the Exploring Humanism group at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte on August 9, 2013. I’ve finally been able to put all the excerpts together into one video for the first time. His talk was shortly after his related book came out, “Regaining Balance,” which can be found in Kindle edition HERE.

The Surprising Thomas Jefferson

 Although I’ve read just about every biography on Thomas Jefferson in print (including Dumas Malone’s 6 volume work), all of the correspondence between him and John Adams, the Library of America volume “Jefferson Writings” (including his autobiography, his “Notes on the State of Virginia,” and selected letters, addresses, and public and private papers), multiple biographies of all the primary founders he interacted with (Washington, Franklin, Madison, Monroe, Adams, Hamilton, etc.), books on his friendship and association with Madison, multiple history books that covered him, and many essays/articles/encyclopedia entries/etc. about him on and offline, as well as watched many documentaries (including Ken Burns’ “Thomas Jefferson”), I’m still occasionally surprised to learn something new about him when I don’t expect to….

Time after time I run across sentences that start like this. “Although Thomas Jefferson’s interests in [x] is little known…”

For example, several years ago I was reading a book on codes.

I got to the section of the book called “Cipher Devices and Machines.” The very first entry is: “Thomas Jefferson’s Wheel Cypher.” It starts out by saying, “Although Thomas Jefferson’s cryptographic interests are not well known, he designed a cypher device which was the basis of one adopted by the U.S. military over a hundred years later.” Later it says, “This device was well ahead of its time and in fact superseded a number of attempts in Europe. Yet neither the United States military nor the fledgling diplomatic corps was to benefit from the wheel cypher because Thomas Jefferson apparently never used it. Occupied with his many activities and presidential responsibilities, he put it aside. Not until 120 or so years later was a similar version of the wheel cypher made available to the U.S. armed forces, and its worth is verified by the fact that the U.S. Navy made use of such a mechanism for decades after its introduction.”

Doing some additional research on it, I find it described as the “oldest known cipher device,” that it was “beyond doubt the most advanced, secure and user friendly cipher system of its time,” and this:

“Jefferson’s wheel cipher was to be reinvented at least twice. Etienne Bazeries, a French military cryptanalyst, invented his Bazeries cylinder in 1891 but it was never adopted by the military. Then Captain Parket Hitt of the US Army invented it in strip form in 1913. The strip form was made into a cipher called the M-138A. In 1915, Major Joseph Mauborgne redesigned it into the 25 wheels of the M-94, which became the main battlefield cipher for the US military until 1942.

“The US M-94, except for the number of wheels, is an exact replica of Jefferson’s cipher wheel. Jefferson’s invention of this 120 years earlier, while being somewhat preoccupied with the founding of a new country, is testament to his extraordinary genius. The concept of a rotor device with interchangeable wheels was the precursor to the various rotor-based cipher machines, such as the Enigma and Hagelin machines, which were developed in the early 1900s.”

Note that the number of wheels in the M-94 was 25 and Jefferson’s wheel cipher had 36.

I really wasn’t expecting to run across Jefferson while reading a book about codes, but I keep getting re-introduced to him in surprising situations.

For example, did you know that Jefferson was probably the foremost wine connoisseur of his time?

When he was living in Paris as the American Minister to France, he made two wine country tours (traveling as a tourist and paying his own way) through France, Germany, and Italy. He took meticulous notes on viticulture and winemaking practices that each of these areas weren’t sharing with each other, so he came to know more than any other single individual of his time about the subject. He imported great quantities of wine to America and started the first vineyard in the U.S. near his home at Monticello.

He is considered to be the “Forefather of the American Wine Industry.”

Did you know he is also considered the “Father of our National Architecture”?

He was already well educated in architecture before his time in France, and took the opportunity to study European architecture in his travels and time there. He is considered the earliest of the great American architects. Aside from designing his homes Monticello and Poplar Forest [actually training the carpenters and stone and brick workers himself], he also designed the Virginia State Capitol, the University of Virginia, and helped Charles L’Enfant with the plans and design of the “Federal City” in Washington DC. Jefferson’s influence set a precedent for the neoclassical style of our national architecture.

Did you know he is also called the “Father of American Archaeology”?

As just one example of his efforts in this area, he organized an archaeological expedition to explore an Indian burial mound on his property. According to one source:

“Rather than the commonly accepted excavation method of starting from the top and digging down, Jefferson chose to remove a wedge from the mound, taking care to remove artifacts intact. Inside the barrow he found more than a thousand skeletons in various layers of stone, soil, and bones. He decided that it must have been a communal burial mound for generations of Piedmont Indians….

“In pursuing this dig, Jefferson was the first to use the method of stratification, the study of the way layers of earth and artifacts relate to one another. According to William Kelso, director of archaeology for the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, Jefferson’s methodology for this excavation set the standard for archaeological inquiry for a hundred years.”

He had an impact on meteorology. Aside from keeping meticulous weather records all his life and encouraging others to do so, he and the Reverend James Madison (related to President James Madison) made the first simultaneous meteorological measurements in America in 1778. “He was a strong advocate for a national meteorological system, and encouraged the federal government to supply observers in each county of each state with accurate instruments.” The “Thomas Jefferson Award” is “the highest and most prestigious award bestowed upon Cooperative Weather Observers” by the National Weather Service “for outstanding achievements in the field of meteorological observations.” Jefferson also created the U.S. Coast Survey, an ancestor agency of NOAA in 1807.

He had a significant impact in American agriculture. He invented a new type of plow of “least resistance”; he is credited with introducing Brussels sprouts, eggplant, cauliflower, broccoli, olive plants, Italian rice, and various grasses to America; he brought the “Paccan Tree” to the eastern U.S.; and he was one of the first Americans to advocate crop rotation and contour plowing (among other things).

Aside from inventing a new type of plow and the wheel cipher, he is credited with inventing the swivel chair and a spherical sundial, designing an improved version of the dumbwaiter, and perfecting a polygraph machine for duplicating his correspondence among other things (like designing the Great Clock at Monticello).

Weirdly, he even turns up in such odd places as the history of macaroni and cheese. Thomas Jefferson evidently had a macaroni making machine and introduced macaroni and cheese to America in 1802 when he first served it in the White House. [It seems that he may have learned about the dish during his time in France or England. The origins of macaroni and cheese seem to be from an English recipe for “macaroni baked with cream and cheese,” so Jefferson didn’t actually invent it.]

He wrote the “Manual of Parliamentary Practice for the Use of the Senate of the United States” (the first book on parliamentary procedure in America), developed the United States’ monetary system (was almost the father of the metric system), and was the father of the Patent Office [“The patent system he created remains the basis for the patent system of today. Much of the present structure, rules, and guidelines, were established by him.”]

I could go on and on about his accomplishments, but I’ll just sum up here….

So, aside from his roles as President and Vice President of the United States, American Minister to France, Secretary of State, author of the Declaration of Independence, Governor and Representative of Virginia, Founder of the University of Virginia, author of the Bill to Establish Religious Freedom in Virginia (a precursor to the First Amendment), etc., he was a lawyer, writer, architect, agriculturist, surveyor, naturalist, archaeologist, paleontologist, inventor, diplomat, philosopher, agronomist, linguist, cryptographer, classical scholar, avid reader and collector of books, musician, husband, father, and revolutionary.

He was considered, “A fine mathematician and astronomer, he could reckon latitude and longitude as well as a ship captain. He calculated the eclipse of 1778 with great accuracy and was able to make suggestions for the improvement of almanacs on the equation of time. Jefferson was considered expert in anatomy, civil engineering, physics, mechanics, meteorology, architecture, and botany. He was able to read and write Greek, Latin, French, Spanish and Italian. He was recognized as a pioneer in ethnology, geography, anthropology and… paleontology. Because of his wide range of knowledge, Jefferson was ahead of his time in several lines of inquiry and advanced of contemporary scientists. Even so, Jefferson never failed to acknowledge that in science he was ‘an amateur.'”

The source above relays this fairly well-known story, “President John F. Kennedy, while entertaining a group of Nobel Laureates, quipped that this was probably the greatest gathering of intellect in the White House since Jefferson dined there alone.”

My Second Year (1959)

There were two significant events this year.

The first was that we moved in Concord, NC from 15 Milton Lane to 29 Hyde Park Avenue.

The second was that my grandfather on my father’s side died on 06/12/1959.

Of course, I wasn’t told of his death, but not long afterwards we drove past someone who looked like him walking down the street. I pointed out that we were passing my grandfather by, but my parents didn’t seem to believe me. It made me mad at them for leaving him behind.

Online Tests

In the past week or so, I’ve taken some of those online tests to see if they could guess my age based on one thing or another.

Based on one test where I was asked to pick words to describe different things, my age was calculated to be 24.

Based on my political views, my age was calculated to be 26.

Based on my ability to pick colors, my age was calculated to be 42.

Considering I’m 59-years-old, these tests seem to be wildly off the mark.

There was another test that promised to calculate my IQ based on posts I made on my FB page. It was calculated to be 215. Right between da Vinci and Tesla. That one obviously seemed more accurate.