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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Atheist Shoe Discrimination

Atheist ShoesSpeaking of mistrust and discrimination against atheists, here's an interesting study from an atheist shoe company. (What the hell is an atheist shoe company? Do their shoes lack soles? Ba dump bump.) They experimented with different ways of shipping their shoes to the United States. Half of the packages were sealed with the company's trademark tape with the word, ATHEIST, repeated over and over. The other half were sealed with plain brown tape. Sadly, you can probably guess the results. The packages with the ATHEIST tape took on average 3 days longer to reach the customers, and even worse, were 10 times more likely to be 'lost' in transit.

The company learned their lesson. On all future packages to the U.S., they're sticking to plain brown tape.

Why Do I Spend So Much Time on Religion

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismThe other day, somebody asked me why I spend so much of my time on religion if I'm an atheist. Why am I reading the Bible? Why do I write so much on this blog? Why did I self-publish a book ($4.99 from Lulu)? There are actually multiple reasons. I covered this topic briefly in a short pamphlet that I wrote, A Brief Introduction to Non-Belief. I'll list a few quotes from there that begin to address these reasons, and then add some more explanation.

Well, the noble reason would be to say that it's for a love of the truth. And honestly, that is part of the reason. The universe is such a grand, wondrous place, that's all the more enjoyable when you view it without a filter. Looking back on when I was a Christian, it was almost like I was experiencing the world through a haze, and I do want to share that clear sightedness with others.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I'm a skeptic, and I mean that in the positive sense of the skeptical movement. A skeptic isn't a cynic. A skeptic is interested in the truth, and will research claims to determine their veracity. It just happens to be that people are gullible, and urban legends and myths can spread far and wide before someone with a skeptical mindset investigates them. Just take a look at any of my Factoids pages for an example. Most of the factoids I get in e-mail forwards are false, but some turn out to be true. With so many claims out there, once you've determined one to be true, it almost makes it special in a certain sense.

Religion is just one more subject for skeptical inquiry. After looking into it, I don't think any religions are true. And just like I share debunkings of other things on this site, I want to share the debunking of religion.

And like I wrote in that pamphlet, the universe really is amazing. When I was religious, my view was always colored by trying to fit everything into a religious framework. It's nice to to see the universe for what it really is, not tainted with mythology.

There are more pragmatic reasons, though. Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." If people kept their religion private, I probably wouldn't be as motivated to write this. However, when people use religion as an excuse to bomb clinics, fly airplanes into buildings, interfere with school curricula, discriminate against homosexuals, treat women as inferior, etc., then I feel obligated to speak out.

This is perhaps the biggest reason I spend so much time on religion. I don't think people need religion to behave morally. Rather, I see religion as an obstacle to moral progress.

I just listed a few examples in that quote without providing sources. So, here are links to several examples of religion causing immoral behavior or retarding progress, including a few more examples than what I'd listed before.

I can give personal examples, as well. The other day, I overheard some acquaintances disparaging environmentalism because God gave humans dominion over nature. I know many opposed to stem cell research with the potential to help so many people because they think an embryo has a soul. And I've had people tell me that global warming can't be real because God wouldn't let that happen to his creation, so there's no need to do anything about it.

I could go on at length listing these examples. There's no shortage of immoral behavior motivated by religion. I know some people will read many of those examples and want to respond with some form of the No True Scotsman response. First of all, when enough people do something in the name of their religion, they cease to be the exception, rather they've become the rule. A lot of those examples above aren't fringe beliefs. Second, I'm actually reading the Bible right now (you can follow along in my Friday Bible Blogging series). I see a book full of immoral rules. If people read their Bibles and followed the Old Testament rules faithfully*, we'd be living in a much more violent world than we actually do.

Getting rid of religion is no guarantee to progress. You still need to get people to embrace critical thinking and humanism. But right now, religion is an obstacle to that progress.

But you can't simply outlaw religion. For one thing, our Constitution guarantees religious freedom. But even if it didn't, I'd want to live in a country that did. Only totalitarian governments try to dictate beliefs. And countries that have outlawed traditional religion in the past have simply replaced it by making the state the religion, such as the USSR. The only sensible way to reduce the effects of religion is by winning over hearts and minds - convincing people to face reality of their own accord. (There's also the slim possibility I might be wrong. I'm very, very confident in my atheism, but I don't have an unshakeable faith like I did when I was a Christian.)

So, in my own small way, I am trying to convince people to abandon religion. I'm not pushy. I don't go out on street corners preaching. I don't put leaflets in mailboxes or under windshield wipers. I don't go door to door proselytizing. I write for this website, and I won't shy away from discussing religion when it comes up in conversation (though even then, I mostly stick to the facts without trying to 'evangelize'). And the best way to engage in these types of conversations is to be knowledgeable. I also want to avoid the accusation of being close-minded. A christian might try to say that I haven't looked deeply enough into religion, and that's why I'm an atheist. So, by studying religion as much as I do, I can safely claim to know enough about it to reject it. In fact, this is one of my major motivations for reading the Bible a second time, to make sure that I truly understand what I'm criticizing.

In all honesty, I don't expect religion to disappear in my lifetime. It's simply too entrenched in society. But a more attainable goal is to get people looking more critically at their religion, and to 'soften' their attitudes. If people still claimed to believe in god but didn't participate in all those negative behaviors I listed above, then I'd probably lose much of my motivation to speak out against religion.**

There's also the fact that non-believers are deeply mistrusted in this country. I came to my atheism through honest inquiry. There's nothing dishonest or sinister about my worldview - it's simply the way I think the universe is. I could no sooner choose to believe in a god than you could choose to believe in fairies. I don't want to live in a society where people question my integrity simply because I believe in one less thing than they do.

There is a very high level of mistrust of atheists in this country. As summarized in the article, Research Finds that Atheists are Most Hated and Distrusted Minority, a study by the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis found atheists to be more mistrusted than any other minority they asked about. Almost 1/2 of Americans would oppose their child marrying an atheist. A Gallup poll found that just over half of Americans would vote for an otherwise well qualified atheist presidential candidate. According to a study by the University of British Columbia, "participants found a description of an untrustworthy person to be more representative of atheists than of Christians, Muslims, gay men, feminists or Jewish people. Only rapists were distrusted to a comparable degree." And as if all that weren't enough, there are even laws on the books in some states prohibiting atheists from holding public office (though none of those laws would have a chance in court) - Unelectable Atheists: U.S. States That Prohibit Godless Americans From Holding Public Office.

So, by writing so extensively on this blog, people can see the reasons why I became an atheist. There's nothing about my worldview that should be a cause of mistrust. I only became an atheist after seeking out the truth of the universe and being honest with myself. What is untrustworthy about that?

I'll add a fourth reason why I spend so much time on religion - it's a hobby. While some people go skiing, or skydiving, or collect stamps, or do woodworking, I like to study religion. I always have. In fact, it's probably my interest in religion that in large part led to my atheism. If I'd only been marginally interested in religious questions, I probably would have stayed a nominal Christian. But because I was so interested in these types of questions, I dug deeper and discovered the truth. And it's not just Christianity. I enjoyed reading about the Popol Vuh when I was in college. I like Greek and Roman mythology. I've read the Tao Te Ching. There's just something about religion that I find intriguing, even though I don't believe any of it is true.

So, I spend so much time on religion so that I can do my part to help loosen its grip on society, to help share the beauty of the universe, and simply because I like to.

*This is where you get into different interpretations. Many Christians claim that there's a New Covenant, and not all of the Old Testament rules apply anymore. However, according to Matthew 5:18, "For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished." There are other problems with the New Covenant interpretation which I discussed in a previous blog entry, The Old Testament - It's a Bit Strange.

**Yes, I realize there are liberal Christians who aren't fundamentalists. The problem is that they're a minority of Christians. You may run into them more often in intellectual circles, but go down to a Baptist church on a Sunday morning and see what types of attitudes the people have. For example, according to a Gallup poll from 2007, one third of Americans believe the Bible to be literally true, and all but 19% of Americans believe it to be the inspired word of God. As another example, ten years ago, more than half of Americans were opposed to marriage equality. Now, it's about a third (source - DailyKos). Granted, attitudes are changing, but where do you think the still sizable opposition is coming from?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - Deuteronomy 21 to Deuteronomy 34

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

BibleChapters 21 through 34 were the final chapters of Deuteronomy, and also the final chapters of the Pentateuch. As with just about all of Deuteronomy, these chapters were largely repetitious of previous books, but with some differences and modifications. It was mostly a combination of rules, promises of blessings if the Israelites followed the rules, and threats of punishment if they didn't. There were a few new rules in addition to the old ones. The book closed with the death of Moses, and the Israelites on the verge of entering the Promised Land.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 21

The opening verses of Chapter 21 included interesting instructions on what to do when a dead body was found "lying in open country", since there was no way to hold the killer accountable, but the blood guilt would still poison the land. After measuring the distance between the body and nearby towns, the elders from the nearest town have to sacrifice a heifer in running water and perform some rituals over the body. It's not the same as a normal offering though, since they have to break the heifer's neck as opposed to slitting its throat. (You know, I've been getting so used to reading the Bible that that last sentence hardly registered with me as to how violent Biblical rituals are until I stopped and thought about it for a second.)

Following that are verses that are a bit of a mixed blessing. They command that when a beautiful woman is among the captives of a conquered enemy, and a soldier wants to take her for a wife, he has to give her a full month to mourn her parents before he "may go in to her and be her husband". And if he isn't happy with her after that, he can't treat her as a slave. He has to let her go free. On the one hand, the verses are allowing soldiers to take captive women for their wives, but at least they provide some protection for the women.

After that were instructions on inheritance for someone with more than one wife. No matter which wife or child the man liked best, he had to honor the right of the first born son by giving him a double portion of the inheritance. So there are polygamy and birthright in the same verses. As an interesting sidenote, the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) pointed out that many of the earlier characters from the Bible bypassed this rule, such as Isaac and Ishmael.

Following that was an extended description of the rule that disobedient sons were to be stoned to death.

The closing verse dealt with the corpses of executed criminals - the corpses could be hung up for people to see, but they had to be taken down that same day.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 22

Chapter 22 contained more rules, several of which are repetitious (if somewhat modified) of previous books.

There were rules against 'mixing' - no cross dressing, no eating a bird and its eggs if you find a fallen nest, no plowing with an ox and donkey yoked together, no wool/linen mixes for clothes, etc.

There were also extened rules on sex, rape, and marriage. Some of these concerned when a man married a young woman, and then accused her of not being a virgin. Her parents would present to the elders the sheet from the couple's wedding night. It was believed that a virgin would have bled and left the sheet stained (in fact, that's not always, or even usually, the case). If it was determined that the man was lying, then he was to be fined. If it was determined that the young woman wasn't a virgin, then she was to be stoned to death. So, not only was the punishment very assymetrical, but the judgment was based on incorrect medical knowledge.

The rest of the rules on sex and rape were similar to other books.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 23

The first verses from this chapter were excluding people from the "assembly of the Lord". None of the reasons for exclusion were under the control of the person being excluded. They included crushed testicles, cut off penises, being a bastard, or being the child of peoples God didn't like.

After that were verses on maintaining purity in an encampment during war. Anyone who had a "nocturnal emission" had to leave the camp for the night and couldn't come back until he'd washed himself. There were also explicit instructions to bury excrement outside the camp. "Because the Lord your God travels along with your camp, to save you and to hand over your enemies to you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you."

There was a good rule that escaped slaves were not to be returned to their owners (a break from other Near Eastern societies from that period).

"Daughters of Israel" couldn't become temple prostitutes, and any money earned from prostitution could be brought into the house of the Lord.

There was a prohibition on charging interest to other Israelites, but not to foreigners.

There were rules to keep people from abusing previous rules that said that food had to be left in the fields for the poor. Only so much food could be taken, and most of it had to be eaten on site. Kind of like a smorgasboard - take all you want, but eat all you take.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 24

This chapter contained even more rules. To keep this review from growing too long, I'm going to quite trying to summarize all the rules, even those unique to Dueteronomy. These rules covered marriage, kidnapping, skin diseases, loans, and more.

There were a few good rules - you couldn't take a mill or millstone as a pledge, since a person's livelihood depending on those. You couldn't keep someone's cloak as a pledge since they needed it to keep warm. Laborers had to be paid on the same day that they did the work, etc.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 25

More miscellaneous rules. Here are a few highlights. Forty lashes was the limit for a punishment. A woman who tried to break up a fight by grabbing a man's genitals was to have her hand cut off. Weights and measures were to be conducted fairly. The "remembrance of Amalek" must be blotted out.

One section was rather interesting. If a man died, his wife was not to marry outside his family. "Her husband's brother shall go in to her, taking her in marriage, and performing the duty of a husband's brother to her..." The firstborn was to receive the dead husband's name. However, if the brother didn't perform his duties, the woman was to go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off his sandals, and spit in his face. "Throughout Israel his family shall be known as 'the house of him whose sandal was pulled off.' "

Deuteronomy, Chapter 26

This chapter mostly covered the festival of first fruits and giving tithes. It closed with a reminder to follow the Lord's commandments.

Chapter 26 is the end of the core of Deuteronomy, the Deuteronomic Code, but it's still not the end of Moses's second sermon.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 27

Chapter 27 dealt with what the Israelites were to do once they crossed the Jordan. First, they were to erect stones covered with plaster with the "words of this law" written on them. At that location, they were to build an altar and make some sacrifices.

Once in the promised land, half of the tribes were to stand on Mount Gerizim to issue a blessing, and the other half were to stand on Mount Ebal to issue a curse.

Next came instructions for the Levites to issue a string of warnings, after which the people were supposed to respond, 'Amen!' As an example, these included such warnings as, "Cursed be anyone who makes an idol or casts an image, anything abhorrent to the Lord, the work of an artisan, and sets it up in secret," "Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind person on the road," and "Cursed be anyone who lies with his mother-in-law."

Deuteronomy, Chapter 28

The first 14 verses of this chapter were about all the good things the Lord would do if the Israelites obeyed his commands - blessings in the cities, fields, the "fruit of your womb", on the battlefield, etc. But the remaining 54 verses of the chapter were about all the bad things God would do if the Israelites were unfaithful. The list was rather extensive. It began with basically the opposites of the previous blessings, but then moved on to more extreme punishments, such as, "38 You shall carry much seed into the field but shall gather little in, for the locust shall consume it," "53 In the desperate straits to which the enemy siege reduces you, you will eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your own sons and daughters whom the Lord your God has given you," and "68 The Lord will bring you back in ships to Egypt, by a route that I promised you would never see again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer."

Throughout what I've read so far, the NOAB has commented on how similar some sections of the Bible are to treaties from that era. This chapter seems to be especially similar to one treaty in particular, the Vassal Treaty of Esarhaddon (VTE). In fact, certain wording in this section of Deuteronomy is taken almost word for word from that treaty. This explains the seemingly somewhat arbitrary curses. It didn't originally come from a belief that Yahweh would punish people willy nilly. It came from calling on a multitude of gods to use their specific powers to punish people who broke the VTE. For example, the blindness in verses 28 and 29 would have originally been due to Shamash, the Mesopotamian sun god. To see just how similar the wording was to that older treaty, just compare verse 23 of Deuteronomy, "The sky over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you iron" to a section of the VTE which states, "May [the gods] make your ground like iron... Just as rain does not fall from a bronze sky."

There was a verse that a modern reader could interpret metaphorically, but which makes more sense considering the ancient cosmology of the Israelites and their neighbors, thinking that the Earth was flat and that the firmament was an actual dome above their heads, "12 The Lord will open for you his rich storehouse, the heavens, to give the rain of your land in its season and to bless all your undertakings."

Deuteronomy, Chapter 29

The first verse of this chapter is usually assumed to be the closing of the second sermon. It would have made more sense to include it with the previous chapter, but remember that the chapter divisions weren't added until some time around the 13th century, so this is due to some later scribe or scholar.

The second verse began the third sermon of Moses. It's really just more of the same - remember everything the Lord has done for you including bringing you out of Egypt. Remember this covenant and obey the laws. If you're faithful, you'll be blessed. If you're not faithful, you'll be punished.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 30

God told the Israelites that even if he was to punish them, that he would not forget his promise to them, and that eventually he would restore them. Of course, this was a collective promise to the people, not to individuals. It would be their descendants who would benefit from God restoring them.

This chapter closed with God presenting the Israelites with the choice to either obey or disobey the Law, imploring them to obey, and ending the third sermon of Moses.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 31

The remainder of Deuteronomy is composed of 'appendices'. Chapter 31 was the beginning of the end for Moses. He was reminded that his death was near, and that he wouldn't be entering the promised land. He began the transfer of his authority to Joshua. He wrote down the Law and gave it to the priests to carry in the Ark of the Covenant.

God told Moses that he (God) already knew that the Israelites were going to turn aside from the covenant, and that they wold be punished. This 'prophecy' is probably the benefit of hindsight, since portions of Deuteronomy were most likely written after the Babylonian exile.

The final verses were instructions for Moses to teach the Israelites a particular song, so that they would memorize it to remind them of why things had turned bad for them down the road.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 32

Chapter 32 was composed almost entirely of the song that Moses was to teach to the Israelites. I'm sure it sounded better in the original Hebrew, and that much was lost in translation. But it was basically a summary of the previous few chapters put to verse - reminding the Israelites of all that God had done for them, and then berating the Israelites for being so wicked, "5 yet his degenerate children have dealt falsely with him, a perverse and crooked generation." After detailing the punishments and then promising to restore the Israelites, it closed with praises to the power and glory of God.

I know I'd discussed the polytheistic aspects of Deuteronomy in a previous entry, but this song contained one of the most explicit allusions to other gods.

8 When the Most High apportioned the nations,
   when he divided humankind,
he fixed the boundaries of the peoples
   according to the number of the gods;
9 the Lord's own portion was his people,
   Jacob his allotted share.

Though later in the same song there was a claim that Yahweh was the one true god.

At the end of the chapter, God told Moses to climb Mount Nebo to get a good look at the promised land that he wouldn't be allowed to ender.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 33

Before ascending the mountain, Moses delivered one last speech to the people, giving them a blessing. He gave a separate blessing to each of the 12 tribes, then closed with praise of God and one last reminder that Israel was the chosen people.

One verse from the beginning of this chapter caught my eye.

The Lord came from Sinai,
   and dawned from Seir upon us;
   he shone forth from Mount Paran.
With him were myriads of holy ones;
   at his right, a host of his own.

This is going back to the old anthropomorphic version of God from previous books. He lived on Mt. Sinai, and had to physically travel to other locations. There was also his host of "holy ones", probably originally a council of gods.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 34

Moses took in the view from the summit of the mountain. After God told him one last time that the Israelites would have that land, Moses died. "6 He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day." Then Joshua took over leading the Israelites.

The final few verses were all in praise of Moses - that there had never been a prophet like him before, and that there would never be another again.


Perhaps it's because I'm reading the Bible straight through in order and I just read the full version of the story of Moses, but Deuteronomy seemed rather boring. So much of it was similar to what I'd just read in previous books, though it was interesting to read through the footnotes in the NOAB to see how much had been changed in Deuteronomy.

I think it's pretty evident that there were multiple sources for the books of the Pentateuch. Throughout, there were 'scars' left over from the blending of different materials, along with contradictions even within the same book. Deuteronomy was so different from the previous three books that it's especially clear that it came from a very different tradition.

God has undergone a gradual transition throughout the Pentateuch, but with most of the change occurring in Genesis. In the earliest chapters, God is very anthropomorphic. He literally walks through the garden with Adam and Eve, and has to travel to cities to see for himself what's occurring there. But God transitions to be less and less human-like. During the Exodus, he made his presence known with a pillar of cloud and fire. By the end of Deuteronomy, God still talks to Moses and Joshua, but his presence is usually not described in detail. And looking forward to the first few chapters of Joshua, God's presence is described even less - often as just the Ark of the Covenant. But keep in mind that this is only a trend. With the different sources that were combined together, more and less anthropomorphic versions of God appeared throughout the books.

As I've written numerous times throughout these reviews, the Bible does not present a very loving god like many modern Christians profess to believe in, but rather a god to worship out of fear.

I can also say that I almost feel a bit embarrassed to admit that I'd read through the entire Bible once before, but that it didn't shake my faith. As I described above, it seems obvious to me now that the Bible isn't a divinely inspired book, and that it doesn't present a particularly praise-worthy god. I wonder just how I could overlook all those problems the first time I read it. Perhaps it's because I was younger, and hadn't really learned to read critically, yet. Perhaps it was the indoctrination and the fear of God, and not wanting to question the reliability of the Bible out of fear that I'd be punished or end up in Hell.

With the Pentateuch behind me, next week is on to the Historical Books.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Updated 2013-04-04: I added the quotes and accompanying commentary to chapters 32 and 33, revised the description in the conclusion of God's transition from more to less anthropomorphic, and fixed a few typos.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Christian Morality

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismA couple weeks ago when I was checking out websites in preparation for my entry, The Bible on The History Channel - A Disappointing Adaptation, I came across the following page, Week 1 : In the Beginning / Exodus, part of an episode guide to the series. This particular episode contained the incident of Abraham following God's command to take his son Isaac to the top of a mountain to sacrifice him, only to have the human sacrifice stopped at the last second. As I've written a few times before, I knew I was on my path away from Christianity the day I heard this story and questioned its moral.

The episode guide had a bit of discussion on this story, and offered the following lesson.

Faith and obedience. If we obey God only when his command 1) makes sense to us and 2) we agree that it is good, then we are not really obeying God's commands as an expression of trust in his wisdom and his character. Instead, we are merely complying with God's requests only after he has justified himself at the bar of our own moral or intellectual understanding. Will we obey, or merely comply? Will he be the authority, or will we?

That right there is one of the biggest problems with religion. It stunts the development of people's moral compasses. Instead of being moral agents who must try their hardest to determine the best way to behave, people are reduced to slaves following orders. What type of morality can it be to blindly follow rules with no thought given to their consequences?

And even just pretending that there were some truth to Christianity, this blind obedience to God's commands doesn't make sense. Most Christians don't believe in just Yahweh, but also in Satan and his demons. How are we mere mortals to distinguish whether a command is coming from the one true God, or if we're being deceived by the Devil? The only thing we could do is try to determine whether the command was good or not, and only follow the ones that we deemed to be good.

Blind obedience is not a positive trait. We should take responsibility for our own actions, and always try our best to determine the consequences of our actions before we do them. Religion should not be an excuse to shirk that responsibility.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - Deuteronomy 11 to Deuteronomy 20

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

BibleChapters 11 through 20 of Deuteronomy continued on with Moses's second sermon. These were still largely repetitious of previous books, but did have a bit of new rules and modifications of old rules. But these still aren't the verses that most people are very familiar with.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 11

Chapter 11 was mostly multiple variations on the theme, 'The Lord is God. Love him and follow his commands, and you will be blessed in the promised land.' It didn't even include that many threats compared to other sections of the Bible I've read so far.

I found one part interesting - stressing the difference between Egypt and the promised land, "10 For the land that you are about to enter to occupy is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sow your seed and irrigate by foot like a vegetable garden. 11 But the land that you are crossing over to occupy is a land of hills and valleys, watered by rain from the sky, 12 a land that the Lord your God looks after." The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) says this was also to stress the Israelites reliance on God.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 12

Chapter 12 continued with instructions on what the Israelites were to do once they entered the promised land, but it now introduced a new concept. Whereas in previous books, Hebrews built altars wherever it seemed appropriate and made their sacrifices there, Deuteronomy dictated that sacrifices could only take place at God's dwelling place. After commanding that the Israelites were to destroy all the altars and other sacred objects of the previous inhabitants Moses said:

4 You shall not worship the Lord your God in such ways. 5 But you shall seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes as his habitation to put his name there. You shall go there, 6 bringing there your burnt-offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and your donations, your votive gifts, your freewill-offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and flocks. 7 And you shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your households together, rejoicing in all the undertakings in which the Lord your God has blessed you.

This talk of God's 'habitation' reinforced the idea that he was a distinct entity that could be located in one place. This isn't the modern conception of God being everywhere.

The remainder of the chapter mostly reinforced this idea. However, as the NOAB informs me, any time an animal was killed before this tradition arose, it was sacrificed to God on an altar. Now that a single location was designated for this, and the people would be too dispersed to travel to that location every time they wanted to eat meat, new rules were created to allow for the secular killing of animals.

The chapter closed with commands not to imitate the previous inhabitants of the land, including the claim that 'They would even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods." There is no evidence to suggest that child sacrifice ever occurred in those regions.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 13

This was one of the most violent chapters of Deuteronomy. It started by warning the Israelites that if prophets came along, even if they were prophesying correctly, and then tried to persuade the Israelites to worship other gods, that the Israelites shouldn't listen to them. Further, the prophets were to be put to death.

This is one of those passages in the Bible shielding believers from critical thinking. Evidence doesn't matter. Even if it appears that a prophet is getting his powers from another god, the Israelites shouldn't listen to him.

The next section dealt with family members trying to secretly convince somebody to follow another god, "even if it is your brother, your father's son or your mother's son, or your own son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your most intimate friend". And again, the penalty was death, "Show them no pity or compassion and do not shield them. 9 But you shall surely kill them; your own hand shall be first against them to execute them, and afterwards the hand of all the people. 10 Stone them to death for trying to turn you away from the Lord your God..." Interestingly, this supersedes the requirement from other sections that more than one witness is required for the death penalty.

The third section dealt with the inhabitants of a town turning away from God. If an investigation verified the charge, "you shall put the inhabitants of that town to the sword, utterly destroying it and everything in it--even putting its livestock to the sword. 16 All of its spoil you shall gather into its public square; then burn the town and all its spoil with fire, as a whole burnt-offering to the Lord your God. It shall remain a perpetual ruin, never to be rebuilt."

Deuteronomy, Chapter 14

This chapter including prohibitions against lacerating yourself or shaving 'your forelocks for the dead'. It then moved on to the dietary regulations, which were largely similar to those given already in other books. It closed with commanding the Israelites to provide a tithe to the Lord. Since these rules were in preparation of Israel becoming its own nation and spreading out geographically, it allowed people to sell their offerings in their home towns, and then use the money to purchase new offerings once they arrived in "the place that the Lord your God will choose".

Deuteronomy, Chapter 15

This chapter described the remission of debts that was to occur every seven years. It modified the rules on Hebrew slaves. Whereas Exodus made the timing up to individuals, letting Hebrew slaves go free after seven years of service, Deuteronomy made a common timing for all Hebrew slaves, so that they all went free at the same time every seven years. Moreover, it added rules to give the slaves gifts at the time they gain their freedom. There was still the option for a slave to become a slave for life.

There was an interesting contradiction right within the chapter itself. Verse 4 read, "4 There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the Lord is sure to bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession to occupy..." But then verse 7 said, "If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbour." Granted, verse 7 is a nice sentiment, but it doesn't exactly fit in with poverty having been eliminated.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 16

The major portion of this chapter was concerned with festivals, such as Passover and the festival of booths. In keeping with the theme of centralization, the sacrifices for these festivals were to take place "at the place that the Lord will choose". Moreover, "Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose: at the festival of unleavened bread, at the festival of weeks, and at the festival of booths."

There was a bit of information on appointing judges, with the worthwhile directive that they weren't to accept bribes or show partiality.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 17

The first two thirds of this chapter were mainly to do with a person who has broken the Lord's covenant by worshiping other gods. The punishment was death. However, this time it was back to requiring at least two witnesses. If the case was too difficult to determine, then it was to be taken to the levitical priests and the top judge who would decide - a kind of Biblical Supreme Court.

The last part of the chapter was about kings. First of all, kings were permitted, "you may indeed set over you a king whom the Lord your God will choose." Just pretending that the Bible actually was the inspired word of God, it would have been nice to have seen instructions to set up a democracy or a republic. Having wording about divinely chosen kings set up a mindset that allowed monarchs to maintain their positions and retard the development of better forms of government. But at least this section put restraints on the king - he wasn't to abuse his position to make himself excessively wealthy. And the king was still bound by God's Law.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 18

Chapter 18 began with rules for Levites and what they were to receive from the people (since Levites had no property of their own). Next came admonitions to not "imitate the abhorrent practices" of the previous inhabitants of the promised land. Those abhorrent practices included anyone "who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practises divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead."

The closing verses of this chapter dealt with prophets. The Lord told the Israelites that he would provide them with future prophets, but that they must take care to only follow true prophets, and not false ones. There was a bit of problem in how this would have played out in practice, since the only way to determine if a prophet was legitimate or not was to wait to see if his prophecies came true (contradicting chapter 13). What were the people to do in the meantime if the prophet gave them instructions supposedly from God - how would the people know they were really following God's wishes, and not a false prophet?

Deuteronomy, Chapter 19

Chapter 19 described the refuge cities*, though in a slightly different manner than Numbers, and without actually calling them 'refuge' cities. The Israelites were to initially set up three refuge cities. If the Israelites remained faithful to God and he enlarged their territory to the full extent of his promise, then they were to add three more refuge cities.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 20

This chapter was about waging war against other nations. First, the Israelites were told that even if their enemies had a larger army, "you shall not be afraid of them; for the Lord your God is with you..." Next came some rules that were actually kind of nice, at least with a charitable reading. Anybody who had a brand new house, or a new vineyard, or fiance, was to go back and leave the battle, so that he wouldn't have to risk dying before he could enjoy those things. Also, anyone who was afraid was to leave the battle, "or he might cause the heart of his comrades to fail like his own." The less charitable interpretation is that the potential soldier was told to leave the battlefield out of fear that he would have divided loyalties, not out of any thought of well being for the soldier.

But after that came rules that weren't so nice. When the Israelites first approached a new town, they were to offer it terms of peace. But the terms were that the town "surrenders to you, then all the people in it shall serve you in forced labour." Any town that had the audacity to defend itself, "you shall besiege it; 13 and when the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword. 14 You may, however, take as your booty the women, the children, livestock, and everything else in the town, all its spoil." But that was only for far away towns. "But as for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive."

The final verses of this chapter prohibited the Israelites from destroying the trees in the vicinity of a besieged town, "Are trees in the field human beings that they should come under siege from you?" They were only allowed to chop down what was need to build their siege-works, and then only the trees that wouldn't produce food.


There were a few new rules in these verses to help break up the monotony of merely repeating what had come before. And some of the rules were even pretty good ones, though there were also some pretty bad rules in there, as well.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

*In case you're unfamiliar with the concept and haven't been following these entries week by week, a refuge city was where somebody who had killed another person could flee to and be safe from retribution from the victim's family. Once a trial had been completed, if the death was found to be accidental, then the killer could stay in the refuge city for a certain period, and the victim's family wasn't allowed to get vengeance. I wrote a bit more on this concept when reviewing Numbers Chapter 35.

Updated 2013-03-18 Fixed a few typos and added the footnote about refuge cities.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

VW XL1 + E-mail Debunking - China's New "Little Car"

I got an e-mail the other day about a new car supposedly being made in China. The e-mail was partly true, and partly not true. But the truth is so cool that I can't resist blogging about it.

The e-mail claimed that a new car had been developed in China, with a bit of input from Volkswagen, and that the car got phenomenal gas mileage at an unbelievably low price. Well, the price point is unbelievable, and the car was developed by Volkswagen in Germany, not be a Chinese company with input from Volkswagen, but the gas mileage claim is real.

Here are some pictures from the e-mail. These are for the concept prototype, not a production version. The concept was known as the VW 1-Litre Concept Car. The 1-litre designation is because the goal of the car design was to be able to go 100 km on 1 liter of fuel. The car managed to meet that goal, needing just 0.99 liters for 100 km, or to put that in terms familiar to us U.S. readers, it achieved 238 mpg.

VW 1-Litre Concept Car

VW 1-Litre Concept Car

VW 1-Litre Concept Car

Image Credit: Unknown

Volkswagen had a second prototype similar to the original one but with several improvements, and then moved on to a production version. The production version is named the XL1. Here are a couple pictures of it.


Image Credit: Wikipedia


Image Credit: Car and Driver

According to Volkswagen, this production version only needs 0.9 liters to travel 100 km, or in other words, it gets 261 mpg. That's pretty amazing. And it sounds like VW is planning on putting the car into production. The catch? It's not cheap. According to a Car and Driver article, the anticipated price is around $50,000.

For those interested in reading more about the car, here are a few good articles on it. And for those interested in the original e-mail that prompted this entry, I'm including that below the fold.

More Info:

Here's the original e-mail that prompted me to look into this.


This is not a joke and they do sell for $600.00.
They wont be able to make them fast enough--good just to run around town.

Here's a car that will get you back and forth to work on the cheap...
$600 for the car. 258 miles per gallon...

Only a one seater, however - Talk about cheap transportation....
Volkswagen's $600 car gets 258 mpg--

It looks like Ford, Chrysler and GM missed the boat again!

China launches $600 car that will get 258mpg

This $600
car is no toy and is ready to be released in China next year.

The single seater aero car totes VW (Volkswagen) branding.

Volkswagen did a lot of very highly protected testing of this car in Germany, but it was not announced until now where the car would make its first appearance

The car was introduced at the VW stockholders meeting as the most economical car in the world is presented. The initial objective of the prototype was to prove that 1 liter of fuel could deliver 100 kilometers of travel.

Spartan interior doesn't sacrifice safety

The aero design proved essential to getting the desired result.
The body is 3.47 meters long and just 1.25 meters wide, and a little over a meter high.The prototype was made completely of carbon fiber and is not painted to save weight.

The power plant is a one cylinder diesel, positioned ahead of the rear axle and combined with an automatic shift controlled by a knob in the interior.

Safety was not compromised as the impact and roll-over protection is comparable to the GT racing cars.

The Most Economic Car in the World will be on sale next year:

Better than an Electric Car 258 miles/gallon: IPO 2010 in Shanghai
This is a single-seat car From conception to production: 3 years
and the company is headquartered in Hamburg , Germany . Will be
selling for 4000 Yuan, equivalent to US $600.. Gas tank
capacity = 1.7 gallons Speed = 62 74.6 Miles/hour Fuel
efficiency = 258 miles/gallon Travel distance with a full tank =
404 miles

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Progressive War on Science?

War on Science, Image Credit: Khairil ZhafriI subscribe to the Skeptic Society's Skeptic magazine and get their online eSkeptic e-mails. For the most part, it's a pretty good organization, and I enjoy reading their articles. However, nobody's perfect, and I find myself questioning their articles from time to time. This morning, I found a new eSkeptic in my inbox, with the title, The Progressive War on Science. It was a review of a book, Science Left Behind by Alex Berezow and Hank Campbell, claiming that the political left is just as anti-science as the political right. The reviewer mostly just repeated the claims of the book without providing any counter arguments.

Now, I don't think that the left is guilt free in regards to abusing science. It's a problem in society in general, so it's going to cross party lines. The issue is which side is worse. And when out of the entire crop of potential Republican presidential candidates, only three of them supported both anthropogenic climate change and evolution, and then two of them later backpedaled on their positions, I think it's pretty clear which side that is.

The book conceded that Republicans are anti-science on some of those highly visible issues, but claimed that there were other issues where progressives were guilty. The problem, at least according to the examples listed in the article, is that when I was reading through the issues claimed to be problems for progressives, I recognized many of them from the Texas Republican party platforms over the past few years. For example, here's one paragraph from the review.

And despite studies showing conventional crops to be equally nutritional and both personally and environmentally safe (never mind vastly less expensive), "organic" foods--whatever that means in a shamefully unregulated industry--are somehow superior products. Ditto for raw, unpasteurized dairy products and juices left untreated for foodborne illnesses.

Here's what Texas Republicans had to say about that in 2010*:

Unprocessed foods - We support the availability of natural, unprocessed foods, which should be encouraged, and that the right to access raw milk directly from the farmer be protected.

Here's another quote from the article.

They accuse progressives of propagating a number of socially destructive myths, among them the assumptions that everything "natural" is good and everything "unnatural" is bad. Accordingly, homeopathy is just as good as or better than traditional medicine, vaccines actually harm children, and nuclear energy promises unprecedented sickness and loss of life.

In addition to the quote above about unprocessed foods, here are a couple more quotes from the Texas Republican Party Platforms, the first from 2010, and the second from 2012.

Health Care and Nutritional Supplements - We deplore any efforts to mandate that vitamins and other natural supplements be on a prescription-only basis, and we oppose any efforts to remove vitamins and other nutritional supplements from public sale. We support the rights of all adults to their choice of nutritional products. We strongly favor legislation recognizing legitimate alternative health care choices. [emphasis mine - JRL]
Immunizations - All adult citizens should have the legal right to conscientiously choose which vaccines are administered to themselves or their minor children without penalty for refusing a vaccine. We oppose any effort by any authority to mandate such vaccines or any medical database that would contain personal records of citizens without their consent.

This isn't the first time Michael Shermer and the gang over at the Skeptics Society have tried to paint the left as just as bad on science as the right. Shermer had an article in Scientific American earlier this year, The Liberals' War on Science . It was refuted briefly by PZ Myers in his blog entry, Shermer's false equivalencies. As Myers pointed out, and as I alluded to above, ignorance of science is a general problem in the country. However, when it comes to the leadership of the parties, i.e. the elected politicians, there's much more of a problem among Republicans than Democrats. Rebecca Watson has a more in depth rebuttal in her blog entry, Is There a Liberal War on Science?.

There's an interesting article in Mother Jones, It's Not Your Imagination: Republicans Really Don't Like Science. It lists the results of a study looking at trust in science over the years. While conservatives, liberals, and moderates all trusted science roughly equally back in 1974, in recent years, the level of trust among conservatives has plummeted.

Admittedly, the article in eSkeptic this week did list a few problems that do seem to be more of a problem with the left than the right, but when half of your examples don't support the point you're trying to make, then your point probably isn't a very strong one. And considering the points made in some of the other articles linked to above, it really does appear that the problem of anti-science is more of a problem in conservative leadership, not just the rank and file.

Anti-science attitudes are a problem for the whole country and cross political divides, but it's more pronounced on one side in particular, and it's not the progressives.

Related Entries:

Image Credit: Khairil Zhafri, Flickr

*As shown by the 'Related Entries' links above, I've reviewed the Texas Republican Party Platforms for the past few years. I skimmed through my reviews to find the quotes I included in this article. There may be relevant sections to each of the issues from the most current platform, but I don't feel like wading through that entire document again. Plus, it's not as if 2008 is the distant past. Showing that Republicans were supporting those issues as recently as 5 years ago shows that it's not a 'liberal' problem.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for February 2013

Top 10 ListI'm a little late getting to this this month, but now that February's over, it's time to look at the server logs and see how things went on the site last month.

Most of the pages that made the list had been on there before. In fact, most made it to the list last month, in nearly the same positions. However, there were two surprises. One blog entry, Texas Board of Education in NY Times Magazine, had only made the list a handful of times in the past. An another blog entry, Email Debunking - 1895 8th Grade Final Exam made the list for the first time ever.

Here were the top 10 most popular pages on this site last month.

Top 10 for February 2013

  1. Blog - A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  2. Autogyro History & Theory
  3. Blog - Response to an Editorial by Ken Huber
  4. Blog - Texas Board of Education - Bad Results for Science Standards
  5. Blog - Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  6. Factoids Debunked & Verified, Part II
  7. Factoids Debunked & Verified
  8. Blog - Email Debunking - 1895 8th Grade Final Exam
  9. Blog - Texas Board of Education in NY Times Magazine
  10. Blog - Running AutoCAD R14 in XP Pro 64

Friday, March 8, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - Deuteronomy 1 to Deuteronomy 10

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

BibleDeuteronomy is the fifth and final book of the Pentateuch. It's actually a bit of an anomaly. According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), the first four books of the Pentateuch were probably all brought together as a single collection before Deuteronomy was added (the Quadrateuch?). Deuteronomy probably served as an introduction to the Historical books before those were combined with Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. At that point, Deuteronomy was grouped with those other four books to create the Pentateuch, possibly with a slight rearrangement to move Moses's death from the end of Numbers to the end of Deuteronomy. And of course, the book of Deuteronomy has its own history of changes and combining information from different sources.

Deuteronomy is grouped mainly as three sermons from Moses, with a few other 'appendices' thrown in. It is largely repetitious of elements from Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. However, having a different origin, it's not entirely consistent with those other books (nor with itself, for that matter), and has a few bits of information original to it. As I said in the introduction to this series, I don't want to get bogged down in too many details in these reviews, so I'm not going to focus too much on the inconsistencies. I'll point out a few of them, but if you want in depth analysis of contradictions in the Bible, then the Skeptics Annotated Bible is probably the resource you want to use.

Since this book is so repetitious of the previous three books, don't expect detailed summaries of everything that happened. I'm just going to hit on a few highlights.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 1

Deuteronomy begins shortly after the Exodus from Egypt, when the Israelites are camped at the base of the mountain where God gave them the Ten Commandments. However, this book refers to it as Horeb, as opposed to Mt. Sinai. Since Deuteronomy had a much different origin than the rest of the Pentateuch, this could either represents a different name used for the same location, or even a belief that the story took place at a different location.

This chapter covered the time from leaving Horeb until the spies returned from the promised land, prompting the 40 years of wandering the wilderness. In this telling, there was no mention of false reports from the spies - just the Israelites not wanting to fight such strong enemies.

Interestingly, this chapter ended with an incomplete sentence that was continued in the next chapter.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 2

This chapter briefly covered the wandering in the wilderness, pointing out that "the entire generation of warriors had perished from the camp, as the Lord had sworn concerning them." It moved on to the start of Israel beginning to conquer different lands. Whereas previous books called for a mix of destruction and driving out the previous inhabitants, this time it was all destruction, "in each town we utterly destroyed men, women, and children. We left not a single survivor. 35 Only the livestock we kept as spoil for ourselves, as well as the plunder of the towns that we had captured."

Deuteronomy appears to include more details than the other books on lands that weren't conquered because they either already belonged to descendents of characters mentioned previously in the Bible, or had been promised to them, such as the lands belonging to Esau and those belonging to Lot.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 3

This chapter covered from the conquering of King Og to God telling Moses that Moses would not get to enter the promised land.

There was one verse that was interesting from two points of view.

Now only King Og of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. In fact his bed, an iron bed, can still be seen in Rabbah of the Ammonites. By the common cubit it is nine cubits long and four cubits wide.

The first interesting part is the idea that Og was a giant of a man, whose bed was 13 1/2 feet long and 6 feet wide. Second is the statement that it "can still be seen". That's one of the clues that this book was written long after the supposed events it described had taken place.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 4

The first 43 verses of this chapter are traditionally included as the closing part of Moses's first sermon, but it's a little bit different from the first three chapters. While those earlier chapters were a 'historical' summary, this one was mostly exhortations to the Israelites to follow the law.

This chapter included some of the strongest language against idolatry, such as, "15 Since you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire, take care and watch yourselves closely, 16 so that you do not act corruptly by making an idol for yourselves, in the form of any figure--the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth."

As I wrote up in the introduction, Deuteronomy is not very internally consistent. For example, in verse 3, Moses describes another god, "You have seen for yourselves what the Lord did with regard to the Baal of Peor..." Verse 7 also hinted at the existence of other gods, "For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him?" And again, in verses 33 and 34, "Has any people ever heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have heard, and lived? 34 Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by terrifying displays of power, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?" (There are further hints of other gods in following chapters, but I'm not going to quote all of them.) But then, in verse 39, the book says that there is only one god, "So acknowledge today and take to heart that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other."

The final few verses are the introduction to Moses's second sermon, which begins in earnest in the next chapter.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 5

Here, Moses repeated the law to the Israelites. The Ten Commandments here are largely similar to, but slightly different, from when they were presented in Exodus.

This was supposed to have been Moses's retelling to the next generation of Israelites, after wandering the desert, but these next few chapters seemed to switch back as if Moses was addressing the generation that had been alive at Horeb, "Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today," and "When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you approached me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders..."

Deuteronomy, Chapter 6

This chapter continued on with more rules, mostly repetitious of previous books.

There was one line that caught my eye, and will probably be familiar to most Christians, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah."

Deuteronomy, Chapter 7

This chapter contained rules on what the Israelites were to do once in the promised land. Again, it mostly repeated rules from other books, including telling the Israelites to "utterly destroy" the previous inhabitants. But even if the Israelites weren't completely successful in exterminating their enemies, God promised to help them, "Moreover, the Lord your God will send the pestilence against them, until even the survivors and the fugitives are destroyed."

There was an interesting verse explaining why the conquest wouldn't be too fast, "The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little; you will not be able to make a quick end of them, otherwise the wild animals would become too numerous for you."

Deuteronomy, Chapter 8

This was a short chapter. The first part consisted in telling the Israelites that their wandering had been to humble them, but also to trust in the Lord because he had continued to provide for them.

The second part was a warning to follow all the commandments, lest God destroy them like he had destroyed the other nations before them.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 9

This chapter was basically one long guilt trip on the Israelites. First, Moses told them that God was not taking them to the promised land because of anything good that they'd done, but because the previous inhabitants were so wicked, "Know, then, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to occupy because of your righteousness; for you are a stubborn people." The chapter then went on to describe several of the episodes that had provoked God's anger, giving the most detail to the story of the golden calf.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 10

Chapter 10 was back to Horeb, and describing God making the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments. There was a bit of discontinuity describing the Israelites wandering before getting back to Moses spending forty days on the mountain.

I found these verses rather interesting:

12 So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being.

That's one heck of an 'only'.


As I mentioned a few times above, the book of Deuteronomy is not very consistent. It has numerous inconsistencies within its own pages, and even more when compared to other books of the Bible. Other than that, there's not much for me to write here. So much of what I've read so far in Deuteronomy is simply a summary of what was written in other books.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Sequester - John Stewart Beats Me to the Punch in Blaming Republicans

MoneyAs the title of this blog suggests, I only have a limited amount of time to write these entries. If there are a few ideas bouncing around in my head, I have to pick one to write about that day and postpone the other one till later. Yesterday, I wanted to write about both the sequestration and a TV show from the History Channel. I decided on the TV show, and postponed the sequestration post until today.

There was one main point I wanted to make about the sequestration, but after watching the Daily Show last night, I see I was beaten to the punch (and honestly, I'm sure others have already made this point, as well). Here's the video from last night's The Daily Show. Below that, I've pulled out the quotes concerning the point I wanted to make.

Now in the President and Speaker Boehner's statements, we do get a hint of why the sequester is happening. The sequester, the penalty for not finding a way to balance revenue and spending, consists entirely of cuts in spending. How do Republicans feel again about cuts in spending?

This was followed by the obligatory montage showing a series of Republicans calling for spending cuts, after which Stewart continued.

I wish I was there when Democrats said to Republicans, 'Look, if we can't come to a deal, there's going to be massive, across the board spending cuts.' I'm sure the Republicans were like, [mocking reservation] 'Okay...If that's what you want.' Basically, the sequester amounts to catching your kid smoking, and forcing him to smoke a whole carton of cigarettes. Only your kid is Dennis Leary.

This is exactly the point I had told some of my friends when the fiscal cliff law was first passed. Republicans never had any strong reason to try to fix the problem, because in many of their minds, there was no problem.

I know a lot of people are blaming Obama for a lack of leadership in this, and maybe there's something to that. But what can you do when many of your opponents wanted the sequester to take effect. Here are just a few quotes from Republicans expressing desire for the sequester to carry on and for the budget cuts to occur.

Rand Paul, R-Kentucky (source: Politix)

Not only should the sequester stand, many pundits say the sequester really needs to be at least $4 trillion.

Jim Jordan, R-Ohio (source: NPR)

The sequester should happen. That's going to happen in two days. That is good. First significant savings for the American taxpayer in a long, long -- since I've been here.

Scott DesJarlais, R-Tennessee (source: The Gavel)

Sequestration needs to happen...Bottom line, it needs to happen and that's the deal we struck to raise the debt limit.

That last one was from a page listing 22 Republicans politicians calling for the sequester.

And if the politicians don't get their heads out of their nether regions and fix this problem soon, it's going to hurt our still struggling economy. I mentioned a good story on the budget in a previous blog entry, Good Commentary on the Fiscal Cliff, which explained that right now is still not the time to balance the budget. You can't go on deficit spending forever, but in the short term, that's what the government needs to do to give the economy a boost. Just look at all the problems Europe is having with their austerity programs. And now, we look set to repeat Europe's mistakes and risk putting our economy back in a recession again. This isn't just me opining. The Congressional Budget Office has said that the sequester could cost 750,000 jobs by year's end (source: Buzzfeed).

This whole thing is just so damn frustrating. Why in the hell are Republicans being so obstructionist? And why can't politicians just get things done?

More Info:

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Bible on The History Channel - A Disappointing Adaptation

The Bible on The History ChannelThe History Channel just aired the premiere of a new mini series, The Bible. Since I'm in the midst of reading the entire Bible right now (see my series, Friday Bible Blogging), and I'd just finished with the book of Numbers, I figured this first episode on the early books of the Old Testament would be right up my alley.

To be honest, I didn't pay very close attention to the commercials for the series, so my preconceptions weren't accurate. Since it was the History Channel, I was expecting a documentary, albeit one with a lot of special effects and reenactments of the stories (is 'reenactments' really the right word for myths?). Had I actually paid attention or looked at the History Channel's website, I would have known that this is a mini series. There is no commentary or analysis. It's simply a dramatization of the stories, with a narrator at points to help move the episode along.

Still, a mini series could be good. I thought it might be interesting to see some of the stories I've been reading about come to life on the small screen. Here's the description of the series from the History Channel.

The Bible comes to life in HISTORY's epic new series. From Genesis to Revelation, these unforgettable stories unfold through live action and cutting-edge computer-generated imagery, offering new insight into famous scenes and iconic characters. Created by producer Mark Burnett and featuring an international cast that includes Roma Downey, this 10-hour docudrama explores the sacred text's most significant episodes, including Noah's journey in the ark, the Exodus and the life of Jesus.

Sounds okay so far. What's more, while they're calling it a 'docu-drama', they're claiming to have consulted with a lot of experts in the making of the series. Here's a quote from the About page on Outreach.com, specifically from the section, Biblical Accuracy & The Bible.

According to an interview with Ms. Downey the miniseries, "...is being made with full hearts. We've had scholars and theologians help. We're not pretending to be biblical experts. We brought experts in once the scripts were created to take a look at the scripts to make sure we were accurate and true to the Bible, but obviously we're making a movie, and so we breathed creative expansion into that."

The Bible project advisors include:

Rick Warren - Pastor, Saddleback, Erwin McManus - Pastor, Mosaic, Jim Daly - Focus on the Family, Sam Rodriguez - National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Paul Eshleman - Campus Crusade for Christ, Bobby Gruenewald - YouVersion Bible, Brad Lomenick - Catalyst, Leith Anderson - National Association of Evangelicals, Frank Wright - National Religious Broadcasters, Tom Peterson - Catholics Come Home, Geoff Tunnicliffe - World Evangelical Alliance, Gabe Lyons - Q, Luis Palau, George Wood - Assemblies of God, Craig Groeschel - Life Church, Denny Rydberg - Young Life, Andrew Benton - Pepperdine University

That sounds so promising (well, at least from the point of view that they'd tried to keep everything as close to the Bible as possible). Unfortunately, after watching just a bit of that first episode, I was extremely disappointed. As happens so often with film adaptations of books, too much had been changed. That's unexpected for a supposedly sacred book believed to be the divinely inspired word of God, especially when the producers are Christians themselves. I was also disappointed in that it left too much out. I know it would have been impossible to include every detail from the Bible, but some of the omissions were significant.

To get into details, the series began with Noah's Ark. For some reason, this has always been one of my favorite stories from the Bible. But the amount of coverage it got was miniscule - just a few minutes showing Noah reciting a paraphrased version of the first creation story from Genesis to his family while they were getting tossed about in the ark, with cuts to scenes of the creation. And that was it. No scenes of Noah building the ark, loading the animals, getting everything off the ark when the flood was all over, sacrificing all the animals, getting drunk and cursing Canaan. It was as if Noah's Ark was used only because it provided a good opportunity for special effects. (As a side note, I was also struck by how roomy the ark was inside - not crowded at all for a boat carrying specimens of every land animal on Earth.)

When Abraham and Lot were doing their travelings, and it became clear that their herds were becoming too big to keep together, the Bible states, "8 Then Abram said to Lot, 'Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herders and my herders; for we are kindred. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.' " Not so in The Bible mini series. At the urging of his wife, Lot told Abraham that they'd decided not to follow Abraham any longer, and to go settle near Sodom. And Abraham was distraught, begging Lot to remain with him. Why? It wasn't to help shorten the story to fit time constraints. It was a needless change.

And then there was the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Even the way the angels found Lot's house was different from in the Bible. Instead of simply meeting him and being invited in, they were being chased by an angry mob and were in need of help. When the mob tried to get into Lot's house, there was no mention of their wanting to 'know' the angels, and Lot never offered his daughters to the mob in exchange for the strangers' safety. Those omissions would have taken less than 30 seconds to include. But perhaps worst of all for this chapter of the story, when it came time to flee the city, it was a battle. And the angels were the warriors. I read one review that called them angel ninjas. It was ludicrous.

Abraham's story had so many interesting points that were left out. Sara never became the wife of the Pharaoh. Abraham never built his altars and made his sacrifices (there was a telling omission of animal sacrifices in general), nor dug his wells. The Tower of Babel and other stories were left out entirely. I understand that some details had to be omitted, but when there were gratuitous scenes like the ninja angels, or another invented scene where Moses fought with his step brother, you know that the producers did have the time to include some more actual details from the Bible rather than invent things out of thin air. It also seemed to me that some of the omissions were sanitizing the stories.

I could go on, but the main point is that this adaptation played very fast and loose in its interpretation of the Bible. Just about every part I watched (at least until I fell asleep some time around the Exodus from Egypt) had glaringly obvious differences from the book. Obviously, I'm not troubled by this for any theological reasons myself, but the nerd in me just hates to see film adaptations butcher their source material. If you really want to know what's in the Bible (and it's not pretty), go read it for yourself.

Image Source: BibleSeriesResources.com

Update 2013-03-08 Added sentence about Abraham being distraught when Lot decided to leave. Also clarified sacrifices as animal sacrifices.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - Numbers 31 to Numbers 36

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

BibleChapters 31 through 36 are the final chapters of Numbers. There was another atrocity, continuation of the wandering narrative, and rules and details for the Israelites for once they crossed the Jordan into the promised land.

Numbers, Chapter 31

This chapter started off with God starting a war, "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 'Avenge the Israelites on the Midianites; afterwards you shall be gathered to your people.' " So the Israelites attacked, killed all the men, burned down the villages, plundered all their wealth, and kidnapped all the women and children. Moses was upset with the soldiers, but not for the reasons you might hope. He was mad because it was the Midianite women who had caused the problems described back in Chapter 25. His commanded corrective action was horrific, "17 Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. 18 But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves." Wholesale slaughter of women and children, while keeping only virgin girls so that they could have their way with them. And just a few verses later when God talked to Moses, He wasn't upset at all with those events. In fact, when giving directions on how to divide the spoils of war, God included people in those instructions, "27 Divide the booty into two parts, between the warriors who went out to battle and all the congregation. 28 From the share of the warriors who went out to battle, set aside as tribute for the Lord one item out of every five hundred, whether persons, oxen, donkeys, sheep, or goats." A few verses later, we learn that they had kidnapped 32,000 virgin women.

The chapter closed with a little more bragging about the conquest. Not a single Israelite warrior had been killed, and they plundered "sixteen thousand seven hundred and fifty shekels" worth of gold to offer to the priests, in addition to what they'd kept for themselves.

Numbers, Chapter 32

Some of the Hebrews, the Reubenites and the Gadites, who owned a lot of cattle, saw that the land they were currently in was very good for grazing, and decided they'd rather settle there than continue on to the promised land. When they first approached Moses to ask if they could stay there, Moses was upset that they'd abandon their fellow Israelites when it came time to conquer the promised land. After reminding them of the spies that came back with the false bad report of the promised land, prompting the 40 years of wandering, he laid a guilt trip on them, "14 And now you, a brood of sinners, have risen in place of your fathers, to increase the Lord's fierce anger against Israel! 15 If you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness; and you will destroy all this people." After vowing that they would fight with Israel when the time came, the Gadites and the Reubenites were allowed to settle where they were. And just to finish out the story, they went out and conquered a few neighboring towns and villages to expand their territory.

Numbers, Chapter 33

This was one of the most boring chapters yet. Here's how it started out.

1 These are the stages by which the Israelites went out of the land of Egypt in military formation under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. 2 Moses wrote down their starting points, stage by stage, by command of the Lord; and these are their stages according to their starting places.

And when the writer wrote stage by stage, he meant it. Here are just a few verses out of around 30 detailing the Israelites wandering.

10 They set out from Elim and camped by the Red Sea. 11 They set out from the Red Sea and camped in the wilderness of Sin. 12 They set out from the wilderness of Sin and camped at Dophkah.

The only highlight in the midst of all that was briefly mentioning Aaron's death on top of Mount Hor.

There was one other interesting comment from the beginning of the chapter. When describing the Passover slaughter of the Egyptian first born, the latter half of verse 4 stated, "The Lord executed judgements even against their gods." This is a holdover from Judaism's polytheistic roots, and a pretty explicit admission that the writer(s) of Numbers believed multiple gods to exist.

The chapter closed with the Lord giving Moses instructions on what the Israelites were to do once they crossed over the Jordan River into Canaan. Basically, destroy everything from the people that were living there before, and don't let any of the previous inhabitants stick around, "if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides; they shall trouble you in the land where you are settling. 56 And I will do to you as I thought to do to them." They were also reminded to divy up all the land fairly between the tribes.

Numbers, Chapter 34

This chapter described in detail the boundaries of the land that the Israelites were to control, along with the names of the people who were to aportion the land to the tribes.

Numbers, Chapter 35

This chapter contained various rules for the Israelites for after they had entered the promised land. First were instructions on the land that the tribes would have to give up to give to the Levites, and the dimensions of that land in relation to the towns. The Levites were also to receive 48 towns, 6 of those being towns of refuge. The rest of the chapter dealt with slayings, when they should be considered accidental, and when they were murder. Murderers were to be executed. People who killed accidentally were allowed to flee to one of the reguge cities. But here was an aspect that seems foreign to modern readers. It seems that it was expected that whenever somebody was killed, one of their family members would want to enact vengeance. The Bible referred to them as "the avenger of blood". In the case of a murder, "The avenger of blood is the one who shall put the murderer to death; when they meet, the avenger of blood shall execute the sentence." But even if a person was killed accidentally, it was still expected that the victim's family would want vengeance. That's the purpose of the refuge cities. So long as the killer was in a reguge city, they were off limits to the avenger of blood. They were to stay in the reguge city until the high priest died, presumably providing enough time for the family of the victim to calm down. "26 But if the slayer shall at any time go outside the bounds of the original city of refuge, 27 and is found by the avenger of blood outside the bounds of the city of refuge, and is killed by the avenger, no blood-guilt shall be incurred."

According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible, there was one other reason for the slayer staying in the refuge city. Killing a person created a type of pollution of the land, even if the killing was accidental. Putting killers into the refuge cities helped to isolate their polluting influence from the rest of the land. When the high priest died, his death somehow took away that polluting effect.

There was at least one good rule - nobody could be put to death for murder based on the account of a single eye witness.

Numbers, Chapter 36

Recall Chapter 27, where God directed that women that had no brothers could inherit the family's land from their father. Well, it just wouldn't be the Bible if it wasn't sexist, so this chapter put some constraints on those women. A few of the men were worried that if those women married into other tribes, the women's original tribe would lose that land. So, God made a new rule, "Every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the Israelites shall marry one from the clan of her father's tribe, so that all Israelites may continue to possess their ancestral inheritance."


That's one more book down. To repeat a bit of what I wrote last week, the Book of Numbers really doesn't present a good god at all. God acted cruelly towards the Israelites, told the Israelites to enact cruel punishments against each other, and called for the utter destruction of peoples who got in their way. And in one instance, indirectly through Moses, the Israelites were told to kill all of their captives from one conquest except virgin girls so that they could keep them for themselves. There were also breaks in continuity and other signs that the book was made by combining multiple prior sources, along with hints of Judaism's polytheistic origins. And of course, there were more animal sacrifices. And there was also a talking donkey.

There were some interesting parts and even a few good rules, but overall, this book made me glad that it's all myths and legends, and not describing a real deity. What is troubling, though, is thinking about how many people throughout history have had to suffer because of what was written in this book.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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