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Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 121 to Psalms 130

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). All headings are links to those Bible chapters.

BibleThis week's entry continues on in the Songs of Ascent collection with Psalms 121 through 130. They're all relatively short, but a few highlight some of the negative aspects of the Bible.

Psalms, Chapter 121

This psalm mainly focuses on God protecting the psalmist. According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), this might have been a call and response, where a pilgrim posed the question in verse 1, answered himself in verse 2, and then received further response from the priest for the remainder of the psalm.

Psalms, Chapter 122

This psalm, supposedly 'Of David', focuses on Jerusalem. This seems appropriate if these Songs of Ascent were for pilgrims to Jerusalem.

The NOAB pointed out an alliteration in the original Hebrew that I never would have known about reading the English translation. Where verse 6 says, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem", the original Hebrew says, "sha'alu shalom yerushalaim".

Psalms, Chapter 123

This is a short psalm praising God and asking for mercy. The NOAB pointed out an interesting tidbit that I'd glossed over on my own, that this Psalm actually compares god to a female, which is pretty rare in the Bible.

as the eyes of a maid
   to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
   until he has mercy upon us.

Psalms, Chapter 124

Psalm 124 is one of thanksgiving, that the people wouldn't have survived had it not been for God.

Psalms, Chapter 125

This is a psalm discussing the righteous and the wicked, comparing the righteous to Mount Zion "which cannot be moved, but abides for ever."

Psalms, Chapter 126

This psalm starts off by recalling how the Lord had blessed Israel during the return from the Babylonian exile, but then goes on to ask God to "Restore our fortunes". As the NOAB puts it, "The book of Ezra suggests that in fact few returned from Babylon, the return was a disappointment, and the hyperbolic prophecies of Isa 40-55 were not fulfilled." Reading the chapter with that understanding, it's actually a bit sad - here's this group of people who trusted completely in this prophecy, and now they're left wondering why it hasn't been fulfilled.

Psalms, Chapter 127

The first verse of the psalm points out the futility of human endeavors unless the Lord is a part of it - not exactly a ringing endorsement of humanity, but not really out of line for what you'd expect from someone who believes in God.

The second verse can actually be taken as a pretty good message, for people who were burning the candle from both ends even back then.

It is in vain that you rise up early
   and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
   for he gives sleep to his beloved.

But the second half of the psalm is the part that really stood out to me. Here, I'll just quote it in full.

Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord,
   the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
   are the sons of one's youth.
Happy is the man who has
   his quiver full of them.
He shall not be put to shame
   when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

This short section epitomizes several of the issues I have with the Bible. First, notice the word choice on what constitutes a blessing - 'sons'. It could have been children, but in the sexist culture that gave rise to the Bible, daughters weren't the same type of blessing as sons. Notice also the violent imagery of the passage, with a 'warrior' and 'arrows'. Psalms hasn't been nearly as bad as some of the previous books I read, but many parts of the Bible seem to glorify violence.

And finally, notice the emphasis put on having many children. Granted, at the time this psalm was written, that would have been fine. So long as a person could support all of their children and give them the attention they deserve, there was no reason not to have many. But in the modern day, the human population is just too big, and we know all the ways we're stressing the environment. Having many, many children and adding to that stress is irresponsible. One passage in particular jumped out at me, "his quiver full of them". I checked on Wikipedia, and this is indeed the inspiration for the title of the Quiverfull Movement. In case you've never heard the term, this is a modern evangelical practice with a whole host of practices. It's not just about impregnating your wife as many times as possible, it's also strict gender roles with the husband as the head of the household, often with homeschooling to keep kids away from bad secular influences, women dressing modestly so as not to tempt the men (long dresses, head coverings), etc. If you want to learn more, Vyckie Garrison has a blog, No Longer Quivering, to, according to the blog, "tell the story of her 'escape' from the Quiverfull movement." She has a section on her site, What Is Quiverfull?, as a Q&A to explain the movement. Here's how she closed that entry:

Generally the longer a Christian family is involved in the home school community, the more deeply they become involved in this "family values" lifestyle ~ it is a process which transforms a "normal" family into a patriarchal cult completely at odds with the general population. In fact, the more "peculiar" (set apart) the family becomes, the more they consider themselves "true believers" following "the narrow way" as opposed to their neighbors who are on the "broad path which leads to destruction."

I noticed that even the NOAB practiced a bit of apologetics in their footnotes on this section, which is rather unusual for them, when they said "It is a declaration that one of God's greatest blessings is children (in that culture, sons)..." It's almost like they're trying to slip it past you by putting it in a parenthetical note that the author of this psalm really was talking about sons specifically, not children in general.

Anyway, sorry for the digression, but this movement really does bother me.

Psalms, Chapter 128

This is another psalm praising God and promising how you'll be rewarded if you 'fear the Lord'. But if you just read between the lines, it's another example of the sexism of the Bible.

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
   within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
   around your table.
Thus shall the man be blessed
   who fears the Lord.

It's specifically 'the man' who will be blessed. And the nature of the blessings makes it seem like his wife and children belong to him, almost like property.

Psalms, Chapter 129

This is a request for the Lord to punish the psalmist's enemies, who have "attacked me from my youth".

Psalms, Chapter 130

This psalm asks for redemption. It makes the point of saying how unworthy people are, but that God is forgiving.


Like I said in the introduction, a few of those psalms really do highlight some of the negative aspects of the Bible. Oh well, that's one more week closer to being done with this book. To continue with the countdown that's become standard by this point - I only have two more weeks of Psalms left to go.

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.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Does Religion Really Answer the Tough Questions?

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismA recent post by Jerry Coyne, Accommodatheism #2: More gratuitous atheist-bashing in an mainstream article on the Creation Museum, called attention to a magazine article, that while good overall, had a kind of jarring passage in the center that was only tangentially related to the rest of the article. As Coyne puts it, it was "a superfluous insertion in an otherwise good piece, a gratuitous solipsism meant only to establish the author's status as 'not one of those damn atheists.' "

The article in question is Were There Dinosaurs on Noah's Ark?, by Jeffrey Goldberg. It is a fairly good critique of Ken Ham's Creation Museum in Kentucky, and the world-view that guides Answers in Genesis and similar evangelical Christians. However, there was one passage that just didn't belong, quoted below.

My sympathies, by the way, do not lie entirely where you might think. I find atheism dismaying, for Updikean reasons ("Where was the ingenuity, the ambiguity ... of saying that the universe just happened to happen and that when we're dead we're dead?"), and because, in the words of a former chief rabbi of Great Britain, Jonathan Sacks, it is religion, not science, that "answers three questions that every reflective person must ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live?" Like Ken Ham, I am appalled by the idea, as expressed by Richard Dawkins, that "the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference."

It's not just Goldberg who says or writes things like this. I hear sentiments like this all the time, so I think it's worth a substantive response. There are so many objectionable aspects worked into that short paragraph. I'll just work through them sequentially.

I find atheism dismaying, for Updikean reasons ("Where was the ingenuity, the ambiguity ... of saying that the universe just happened to happen and that when we're dead we're dead?")...

Reality doesn't care one lick whether you're dismayed or not. Reality doesn't care, period. Reality is what it is. This objection about atheism being 'dismaying' is merely an argument from consequences. I've used this example before, but I certainly find the Holocaust 'dismaying', to say the least, but I don't doubt that it occurred because of that. As a mature adult, you just have to face up to reality, no matter what the consequences.

Let me parse this statement a little further - "the universe just happened to happen". First of all, no one's really yet sure where the universe came from. Evidence so far points to the Big Bang, but anything before that, if there even was anything, is still conjecture. So, no one can even say "the universe just happened to happen", since no one's really sure where the universe came from in the first place. But the bigger question I think Goldberg is getting at is why there's something rather than nothing, because even if we were to discover what caused the Big Bang, the question would just shift to where that cause came from. But in this sense, how does religion add anything? It's just postulating one possible cause. Even if it were true that Yahweh created the entire universe ex nihlo, the question then shifts to what created Yahweh. And if the religionist's answer is 'Yahweh just happened to happen', then how is that any more satisfying than Goldberg's objection to atheism?

On to the next part of that statement - "when we're dead we're dead". I've actually given this a lot of thought (usually when I'm occupied with mindless chores like raking leaves). If consciousness is an emergent property of matter, as seems to be the most likely scenario, it's still the case that no one really understands how it all comes about. What if you were to take a person's brain, throw it into a blender, use a Star Trek replicator to reconstruct all that raw material into an exact copy of what the brain was like previously, stick it back into the person's skull, and revive them? Would the experience of sensation be the same as before? Would it be a different sense of self, but acting just like the original person? Does it depend on getting the duplication exactly the same as before atom for atom, or does it only matter if the same elements get put in the same places (carbon atom here, oxygen atom here, etc.)? What if you reconstruct the brain differently to match somebody else's brain? Is it the same sensation of experience but with a different personality and memories? Of course, this thought experiment is a little unrealistic in that there's no technology to scan or reconstruct a brain in that level of detail, nor revive a person after such a procedure, but moving on to something real, what happens after a person dies and decomposes, and those atoms in their brain get incorporated into the brains of new organisms? Is this in any way a continuation of the previous consciousness, even though the personality and memories would be entirely different? (BTW, I've coined this concept as 'materialistic reincarnation' in my own head. I'd be interested if anyone knows of a better term or of people who have already gone down this thought path.) Just because most atheists don't believe in souls doesn't mean we don't give any thought to questions like this.

in the words of a former chief rabbi of Great Britain, Jonathan Sacks, it is religion, not science, that "answers three questions that every reflective person must ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live?"

This is a false dichotomy. Even if science can't answer those questions subjectively like Goldberg and many others might like (and it can't since science deals in the objective), why should we automatically assume that religion can answer them adequately?

For one thing, there are many mutually contradictory religions, with their own unique answers to these questions. Since at least some of those religions must necessarily be mistaken, then their answers to Sacks' big three questions could also be mistaken. It does no good to try to answer questions like this when your starting from a false foundation. If Yahweh is only a myth, why worry about his dictates any more than those of Zeus?

But even if any religion were true, it's a stretch to think that they would provide meaningful answers to these questions. As I pointed out above, even if Yahweh created the universe, you're left with the problem of where Yahweh came from in the first place, or why he has the characteristics he has. And if you can't answer that, how can you invoke Yahweh to give more than a superficial answer to the question of 'Why am I here?'

There's a very old philosophical point that illustrates the problem with this, the Euthypro Dilemma. It was posed by Plato in Classical Greece, back in the first century BCE, "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" This is usually brought up in relation to morality, and illustrates the inadequacy of ideas such as Divine Command Theory. Following a god's commands is merely obedience, not true morality. Even if a god was real, that only tells you how to act to avoid the god's judgement, not how to be moral.

Like I said up above, limiting your choices to science and religion in this discussion is a false dichotomy. There's another human endeavor with contributions to the topic - philosophy. Try reading about secular humanism for a way to live ethically and morally without relying on religion.

...I am appalled by the idea, as expressed by Richard Dawkins, that "the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference."

Similar to the first statement I critiqued, this is another argument from consequences. Being appalled by an indifferent universe doesn't mean the universe will suddenly start caring about you.

Conversely, now that I've become an atheist, I find this view of the universe more appealing than a theistic view (not that this is a reason to be an atheist, or else I'd be just as guilty of arguing from consequences). If you consider the problem of evil, and all the bad things that happen to good people, it makes you wonder about the nature of any supposed god. I mean, just look at the Ebola outbreak going on right now, and all the suffering it's causing. Understanding that it's a random occurence, and that the people being afflicted are just victims of bad luck, is much easier to take than thinking that some god is letting it all happen, or worse, causing it, and choosing which particular people are in for the worst suffering. And if you consider the Bible to be an accurate portrayal of Yahweh, with both the Old Testament atrocities and the New Testament invention of Hell, then a universe of 'pitiless indifference' is much more comforting than one being ruled by such a petty, vindictive, capricious and cruel being with limitless power.


Overall, Goldberg's article was good. But that one particular paragraph was horrible. It was basically one big argument from consequences, but without really thinking through the consequences as applied to religion. There are tough philosophical questions that we all try to deal with, but there's no reason to assume that religion can answer them.

More Info:

I've dealt with many of these issues previously, so if you're interested, you can read more of my thoughts through the links below. Yes, some of what I wrote here is similar to what I've written in the past, but I just couldn't help myself.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 111 to Psalms 120

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). All headings are links to those Bible chapters.

BibleThis week's entry covers Psalms 111 through 120. It's a bit of a milestone - Psalm 117 is the midway point of the Protestant Bible, going by chapter count. There are a few ways to determine the center of the Bible, and even a bit of controversy associated with it, so I posted a bonus entry earlier in the week all about it, Friday Bible Blogging - Center Verse of the Bible. Like I wrote at the end of that entry, since I plan to read the Apocrypha in addition to the content normally included in Protestant Bibles, I'm still not halfway through with this project, yet (that won't be until Isaiah).

Other than being the sort of midway point, other highlights this week include both the shortest and longest chapters of the Bible, and chapters with language that most Christians should recognize.

According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), some of these psalms get grouped together. Psalms 111-113 make up the Hallelujah psalms, and Psalms 113-118 make up the Egyptian Hallel Psalms (I guess 113 goes in both collections).

Psalms, Chapter 111

Psalm 111 was a typical psalm of thanksgiving. The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) pointed out that it was an acrostic poem - one where the first letter of each line has to follow a specific pattern. Although the NOAB doesn't indicate it exactly, and I don't have access to nor the ability to read the original Hebrew, I'm assuming the pattern here was following the alphabet, since that's the pattern other acrostic psalms followed. The NOAB also notes that "Many scholars think that Pss 113-114 were sung before the Passover meal and Pss 115-118 after it."

Psalms, Chapter 112

Another fairly typical psalm, instructing people to behave morally, and that they'll be rewarded accordingly. And according to the NOAB, this is another acrostic poem.

Psalms, Chapter 113

Another psalm of praise.

Psalms, Chapter 114

Another psalm praising God, with references to Exodus and Jacob.

Psalms, Chapter 115

This is another typical psalm - part praise, part thanksgiving, part petition, and part instruction to the people.

Verses 3 and 4 offered a pretty stark contrast between Yahweh and other gods.

3 Our God is in the heavens;
   he does whatever he pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
   the work of human hands.

The next few verses went on to describe other gods as merely idols, and not real gods. Of course, I'm pretty sure that the surrounding cultures didn't see their statues that way.

There was also a verse similar to ones I've mentioned before, showing that the psalmist's concept of the afterlife was very much different than the modern Christian concept.

The dead do not praise the Lord,
   nor do any that go down into silence.

Psalms, Chapter 116

This was a psalm of thanksgiving, where the psalmist was saved from vaguely described distress by the Lord.

One verse caught my eye for how similar it sounds to language I heard going to church as a kid.

I will lift up the cup of salvation
   and call on the name of the Lord...

Since this is the Old Testament, that's obviously not referring to the Last Supper. According to the NOAB, this was a drink offering that would have been poured out.

Psalms, Chapter 117

According to many sources, including the NOAB, this is the shortest chapter of the Bible at only 2 verses long. In fact, here it is in its entirety.

1 Praise the Lord, all you nations!
   Extol him, all you peoples!
For great is his steadfast love towards us,
   and the faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever.
Praise the Lord!

Psalms, Chapter 118

This was another psalm of thanksgiving. According to the NOAB, it might have been said by the king as a representative of the people. There was also quite a bit of language making it seem like it might have been part of a ceremony, processing through the gates of the Temple precincts.

This chapter had another verse that's very familiar to Christians, verse 22.

The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the chief cornerstone.

Psalms, Chapter 119

I've seen many sources that claim that this is the longest chapter of the Bible, including the NOAB. In my hard copy of the Bible, it started on page 871, and ran through page 876 - with small print and two columns per page. Just by comparison, most chapters would fit on a single page. Printing an online copy of the verse would take 11 pages. Granted, the psalms have a lot of white space with their poetic structure, but at 176 verses, it's still a long chapter.

It's basically a long petition, with the length coming from the poetic structure. Actually, I'll just quote the NOAB on this.

The psalm is an elaborate acrostic...: Each of the twenty-two stanzas begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and each stanza has eight verses and (usually) eight synonyms of "law," more accurately "authoritative teaching": "law," "word," "promise(s)," "ordinances," "statues," "commandments," "decrees," and "precepts."

The NOAB also noted how this psalm was part of a transition in the religion "in the postexilic period". The language used to describe the Torah (and the exact meaning of Torah is unclear in this psalm) was the type of language that had previously been applied only to God (love, true, truth), showing how "the Torah is a type of stand-in for God, who is no longer regarded as imminent."

Psalms, Chapter 120

The superscription to this psalm marks it as the beginning of the collection known as the "Songs of Ascents". According to the NOAB, two possible sources of this name are the literary construction of the poems ("steplike parallelism"), or as "songs sung while going up to Jerusalem for pilgrimage". The collection runs through Psalm 134.

The psalm itself is a petition to God for deliverance from the people mistreating the psalmist.


The psalms this week weren't too bad, but I'm glad I only have three more weeks to go before starting Proverbs.

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.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Air Force Oath Follow-Up

U.S. Air Force LogoWell, I have some good news to report, as a follow-up to an entry I'd written last week, Air Force Makes Religious Oath Mandatory. The short background is that the Air Force had changed their official policy. Previously, a religious section of the enlistment/re-enlistment oath, "So help my God", was optional. No one was forced to say it who didn't want to. Just recently, they reversed that decision, and tried to make that portion of the oath mandatory again. After a complaint brought about by an enlisted airman, and the threat of legal action by the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the Air Force went to the DoD's legal team for advice.

Apparently, either the DoD was the voice of reason, or someone in the Air Force came to their senses, because the oath has been made optional again (see story: Air Force: 'So Help Me God' in Oath is Optional).

I really don't see how this was much of a controversy at all. The requirement was clearly un-Constitutional, going against Article VI's ban of religious tests. And even if the Constitution had no such ban, that type of language in the oath still makes no sense. America is a multi-cultural society with people with all types of religious beliefs, from Christians to atheists* to Buddhists to Hindus. It's really only Christians and Jews who refer to 'God' with a capital G, so that part of the oath is very clearly a pledge to Yahweh. For the many people who don't believe in that god, forcing them to make an oath to him is lying - a tacit admission of his existence. Shouldn't we expect more integrity from the members of our military? Even at best, it makes that party of the oath an empty phrase, recited as a platitude that means nothing to the people saying it. In my opinion, that cheapens the oath overall, and I don't think that's what anyone wants.

Like I noted in that previous entry, if you really want to despair for our nation, go read the comments in the linked article. Here are a few from this one.

Yet another monumentally stupid decision by someone who shouldn't be making decisions, we take God our of our lives more and more and as this is done things get worse and worse. He whosoever denies me shall be denied before the father. If the military denies God then in the future you will lose and then you will all have to change the way you salute each other. Just wait till they make it mandatory to allow call to prayer 5 times a day. Apparently the Air Force Never heard of the phrase Stand Your Ground
Personally I don't trust anyone who refuses to end the oath, 'so help me God.' But that's just me.
Cowards all. Why not also make fighting and uniforms optional?
This shows an act of cowardess the part of the Air Force. My respect for them is down as this appears to be another act of appeasement on their part. Tolerance in this area will lead to tolerance in all other areas and the Good order and Discipline will go out of the window. The AF needs to get up some guts and so does their legal department at the national level.

On the plus side, many of those types of comments had responses from rational people, so it wasn't completely one-sided. It just amazes me that so many people have a problem with making optional a religious section of an oath for a non-religious organization. I don't even know what it's doing there in the first place, and look forward to the day when it gets removed completely.

For now, the voices of reason have a small win, and airmen and officers won't be forced to appeal to a deity they don't believe in.


*Yes, I know - atheism isn't a religion. But these types of beliefs are mutually exclusive. You can't be an atheist Christian (at least, not in the traditional christian sense of accepting Jesus as your savior). So, I think it's fair to characterize them all under the blanket term of religious beliefs. Or to put it another way, not stamp collecting may not be a hobby, but the label does tell you something, even if only a very little, about the person's hobby habits.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Friday Bible Blogging - Center Verse of the Bible

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). All headings are links to those Bible chapters.

BibleThis week, you get a bonus Friday Bible Blogging entry in the middle of the week. The main entry that I'll post on Friday covers Psalms 111 through 120, but it brings me to a slightly controversial milestone of sorts that I decided was worth covering in its own entry - the central verse of the Bible.

Right off the bat is trying to determine which manuscripts to use as your basis. As I discussed in the Introduction to this series, the development of the Bible wasn't straight forward. For many books, it would be difficult to pin down the 'original' version, even if time travel were possible, because of how those books developed. They were based on combining already existing books, which themselves were often based on even older stories, with Noah's flood developing from the Mesopotamian Flood Myth being one of the most famous examples. And as the books were passed down and copied, changes, additions, and subtractions were made. Even the New Testament, which is much more recent than some of the Old Testament books, has been modified. I was disappointed to discover that the story of Jesus telling the Pharisees to "let him who is without sin, cast the first stone" was most likely a later addition to John, and not part of the original gospel.

Even in the modern day, when most churches have settled on their canon, there are many different compilations of the Bible. The Wikipedia article on Biblical Canon has a table showing the differences in canon between Protestant, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Slavonic Orthodox, Georgian Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Syriac Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Orthodox Tewahedo, and Assyrian Church of the East versions of the Bible. There just simply is no single 'The Bible', so there's no single central verse.

And on top of all that, the chapter and verse numbers certainly weren't part of the original manuscripts. To quote from Wikipedia's entry on Chapters and verses of the Bible:

Cardinal Hugo de Sancto Caro is often given credit for first dividing the Latin Vulgate into chapters in the real sense, but it is the arrangement of his contemporary and fellow cardinal Stephen Langton who in 1205 created the chapter divisions which are used today. They were then inserted into Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in the 15th century. Robert Estienne (Robert Stephanus) was the first to number the verses within each chapter, his verse numbers entering printed editions in 1551 (New Testament) and 1571 (Hebrew Bible).

The chapters and verses weren't settled on until the 1500s.

Moving past all that, let's pick one version to go with, since that's the version I see used in practically all of these Biblical factoid type articles - the standard Protestant Bible. If you do a google search on 'center verse of the bible', you'll find many sites claiming that the central verse is Psalms 118:8. Here's an example of such a site, Fun Bible Facts for Christian Teens: Get Centered with Psalms 118. I've pulled a fairly extensive quote below, to show how they arrive at that conclusion, and the other types of claims these sorts of sites typically make.

Location, Location, Location
  • The middle chapter of the Bible is Psalm 118.
  • The longest Chapter of the Bible is Psalm 119.
  • The shortest chapter of the Bible is Psalm 117.

Adding It All Up

  • How many chapters exist before Psalm 118? 594
  • How many chapters of the Bible exist after Psalm 118? 594
  • Add the two together and you get 1188.
  • What is the verse at the very center of the Bible? Psalm 118:8*

Get Centered

Psalm 118:8 - "It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man." (NIV)

Are you in the center of God's word? The very center of the Bible reminds us to trust in God over trusting in ourselves or other people. The next time you consider making God the center of your life, remind yourself to go to the center of the Word.

As part of this whole project of reading the Bible, I have a spreadsheet with the chapter count for each of the books. For the Protestant Bible, I count 1189 chapters - which matches the fun facts claims so far. And 1189 chapters total does mean 594 chapters before and after the middle chapter. However, since there are 478 chapters in all the books prior to Psalms, 594 - 478 = 116, meaning that the following chapter, 117, is the central chapter of the Bible, not 118. And if the central chapter is 117, then all the rest of the cute claims don't really mean much. (Interestingly, at the end of that article, the author does note some controversy over which chapter really is the center of the Bible, before dismissing it by saying, "Christians should make God the center of their lives, and numerical controversy should not take away from that spiritual guidance." It's a bit disingenuous to knowingly present something false, and then issue a disclaimer that people may or may not read at the very end of the article. Some people might call that lying, or bearing false witness, to put it in terms that author might appreciate more.)

But that's only one way to determine the central verse of the Bible. A way to do it that makes more sense to me is to add up all the verses in all the chapters, and determine which is the center of the whole thing. I don't have verse counts in my spreadsheet, and don't particularly feel like compiling all that information just for this blog entry, so I'm going to rely on other people's analysis here. I actually found a page where somebody went through this entire exercise, Center of the Bible, by Fran Corpier. Corpier found that there are 31,102 verses in the Bible (as somewhat of a double check, BlueLetterBible.org reports the same number). From that, since there can be no single central verse when the total is an even number, Corpier determined that the central verses are Psalms 103:1-2, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, / and all that is within me, / bless his holy name. / Bless the Lord, O my soul, / and do not forget all his benefits..."

Corpier also went so far as to determine the center of the Bible by word count, using the King James Version (KJV). However, I fear that she (he?) must have made a mistake here. Corpier found there were 782,222 words in the KJV of the Bible, and went on to claim that the center two words occur in Psalms 74:21. However, the verse Corpier used to determine those words was Psalms 105:21, not 74:21. So, assuming that Corpier did the math right and just pulled up the wrong quote, the center two words of the KJV of the Bible would be the second and third words in Psalms 74:21, " O let not the oppressed return ashamed: let the poor and needy praise thy name." Hmm. Not particularly noteworthy.

So, to summarize:

  • Center chapter, by chapter count: Psalms 117
  • Center verse, by verse count: Psalms 103:1-2
  • Center words, by word count (KJV): "not the", occurring in Psalms 74:21

So by chapter count, I reached the center of the Protestant Bible this week. However, I'm reading the Apocrypha as well, so I'm still not halfway through with this project.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 101 to Psalms 110

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). All headings are links to those Bible chapters.

BibleWell look at that - two weeks in a row that I've managed to post an entry in this series. I guess I really am getting back into the swing of things.

This week's entry covers Psalms 101 through 110. Psalm 106 is the last of Book IV, which means Psalm 107 is the start of Book V. Book V happens to be the last of the 5 books in Psalms.

The psalms themselves weren't any more exciting than what I've been reading, but I do have a bit more to say about them this week.

Psalms, Chapter 101

So even though I'll have a bit more to say this week, it's not with this chapter. Psalm 101 is pretty run of the mill, with a little bit of praising God, but mostly the person speaking (most likely being recited by the king) promising to be faithful and to do good.

Psalms, Chapter 102

The superscription to this psalm is "A prayer of one afflicted, when faint and pleading before the Lord," which summarizes it pretty well. It's a plea for help from the Lord, blending the psalmists personal complaints with Israel's larger complaints.

Psalms, Chapter 103

This was a psalm of praise, focusing mostly on God's forgiveness and compassion. Like the last psalm, it combined personal and national elements.

Psalms, Chapter 104

If you follow creationism at all, this psalm, or at least the language in it, will be familiar. For example, in one of the first verses, it mentions:

You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
   you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,

Stretching out the heavens is actually a pretty common theme in the Bible. A literal interpretation in line with the cosmology of the time would put it as God actually spreading out something like a tent over the firmament, but modern creationists have more entertaining interpretations. An article on Answers in Genesis, which actually refers to a similar passage in Isaiah, states that "This would suggest that the universe has actually increased in size since its creation. God has stretched it out. He has expanded it (and is perhaps still expanding it)." They're using verses like this to try to say that the Bible supports cosmic inflation.

This whole psalm is even at the center of some debates between different creationists. Here's another article from AiG, Psalm 104:6-9--the Flood or Day 3 of Creation Week?, where they try to refute the old earth creationist, Hugh Ross, who thought this psalm referred to the creation week, when clearly it refers partially to Noah's flood, and partially to the world at the time the psalm was written.

The footnotes in the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) had a different take.

God, luminous and triumphant (vv. 1-4), organizes the primordial waters (vv. 5-18, 24-26) and darkness (vv. 19-23) into a harmonious whole that supports life (vv. 27-35). The depiction owes much to the mythology of neighboring cultures: the storm god who vanquishes Sea (vv. 1-18), and the Egyptian sun-disk Aten whose rays illuminate the world (vv. 19-30)...

Given which source was written by actual scholars, I know which interpretation I'd pick as most likely.

Psalms, Chapter 105

This is a psalm of praise and thanksgiving, giving a short summary of the history of Israel and God's deeds in helping the people, going all the way back to Abraham.

The NOAB noted many differences between the stories presented here and in other parts of the Bible. For example, there were only seven plagues of Egypt here, compared to the ten in Exodus, and they were in a different order.

The psalm did reference one of my favorite stories from the Bible, from when the Hebrews were wandering the desert.

They asked, and he brought quails,
   and gave them food from heaven in abundance.

Now, I'm assuming the psalm is referring to a slightly different version of the story than what was recorded in Numbers 11, because that version of the story is not something the Israelites would have given praise for. Delivering quails 'in abundance' is a bit of an understatement, "a wind went out from the Lord, and it brought quails from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day's journey on this side and a day's journey on the other side, all around the camp, about two cubits deep on the ground," keeping in mind that 2 cubits is about 3 feet. And then, when the people actually started eating the quails, "while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very great plague."

Psalms, Chapter 106

This was a rather long psalm, again looking at the history of the Israelites, but in a slightly different manner. This psalm focused on cycles of sin and forgiveness (of course, going through seven cycles, because so much of the Bible focuses on seven).

The NOAB notes that the final verse, 48, was an addition from whenever Psalms was divided into five separate books.

Psalms, Chapter 107

Psalm 107 marks the beginning of the fifth and final book of Psalms. It's a psalm of thanksgiving, for, according to the NOAB, "bringing back the people from exile". It used four examples of divine deliverance. Again according to the NOAB, "these are all metaphorical for the tribulations of the Babylonian exile of the sixth century BCE, and the difficulties of returning by foot from Babylon."

Psalms, Chapter 108

This psalm is a prayer for victory, which as the NOAB notes, is largely composed by recycling content from other psalms (57 & 60).

Psalms, Chapter 109

This is a somewhat long psalm, supposedly by David seeking vengeance on his enemies. It seems a bit odd from a continuity perspective, however. Verses 6 & 7 start off his request by saying:

They say,* 'Appoint a wicked man against him;
   let an accuser stand on his right.
When he is tried, let him be found guilty;
   let his prayer be counted as sin.

The language makes it seem like what his enemies are asking for. But then verse 20 turns it around to make it seem like it's coming from David.

May that be the reward of my accusers from the Lord,
   of those who speak evil against my life.

The request for vengeance isn't as bloodthirsty as some sections of the Bible, but it does ask God to punish the children of his enemies.

Psalms, Chapter 110

This is a short psalm for the king, promising him victory over his enemies and faithfulness from his subjects.


One more week down. Only four more weeks of Psalms to go. I guess this week was a bit more entertaining than last week, at least.

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.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Air Force Makes Religious Oath Mandatory

U.S. Air Force LogoI just recently wrote an article that referenced the recent Navy Bible brouhaha, A Response to Ben Carson's Comments on Navy Bible Kerfuffle. Now, it seems like another branch of the military is violating people's Constitutional rights, and this time in an even more blatant manner.

An article on Military.com, Air Force Restores 'God' to Enlistment Oath describes the issue. There's a line in the Air Force oath of enlistment or reenlistment that says "So help me God". It seems that the Air Force had made that line optional, but has now reversed that decision and has made it mandatory again.

The American Humanist Society has gotten involved on behalf of an atheist airman, and it seems that the Air Force might be taking the complaint seriously. According to a more recent article in The Stars and Stripes, Air Force seeks DOD ruling on re-enlistment oath, the Air Force went to the DoD's top lawyer and is currently waiting on an opinion on the issue. I would think the decision should be easy enough to make, since Article VI of the Constitution makes it quite clear:

no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

Requiring someone to make an oath to God seems a blatant violation of that clause. And it's not like the previous compromise was hard on theists at all. It wasn't removing the God reference to make the oath secular (which is what I'd really prefer). The 'so help me God' language was optional. Christians and Jews could still say it if they wanted to, while non-theists weren't forced to lie. But apparently, even that was too much for some brass in the Navy, who have made the oath mandatory again.

It seems pretty cut and dried to me, but with the way things sometimes go and the special treatment Christians seem to get in this country, I wouldn't be surprised if they tried to keep the God part of the oath mandatory.

Image Source: Dobbins Air Reserve Base


P.S. If you really want to despair for our nation, go read the comments. Yes, there are several people with rational takes on the issue, but a lot more comments than I'd like to see supporting the mandatory oath. Here's a sampling.

nice to see that someone in the military has finnaly grown a PAIR
Very refreshing to see the US Air Force stand up against political correctness (much of what is wrong with this country) and the courage to stand up for God. God bless America, the foundation of this country.
The enlistment oath is correctly worded ! Deal w/it or don't sign the dotted line! It's that SIMPLE!
He doesn't have to stay in. He can believe in whatever he likes but, he can believe it as a civilian. Sick of all the whiners and liberals that think EVERYTHING should be because they want it. Atheism is stupid anyway. Don't believe in anything. When you die, we can just leave you on top of the ground for the buzzards. Time to pay back all the crap they've dished out to Christians. Notice they have said NOTHING about Islam? Wonder why?!

So as not to end this entry leaving a bad taste in your mouth or thinking that all Christians are so pig-headed, here are a couple good comments.

As a retired Chapel Manager I've got to say the USAF is flying too high on this one. If this Airman doesn't believe in God his oath to God becomes meaningless. It only had value to those who believe in God. It's like forcing a Christian or Muslim to give an oath to a fence post. What value would that promise have?
I'm a fundamentalist Christian but I find it immoral to force someone to in essence lie when taking an oath. In addition, as a conservative constitutionalist who served to support and defend the Constituyion, I also find it offensive to force someone to take recognize a religious tenet in order to serve in the military or any other government position.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Response to Mark Looy & Ken Ham's Complaints of Atheist Aggression

Mark Looy & Ken HamThrough a series of following links that began on an IFL Science Facebook post and went through Snopes, I came across an article on Answers in Genesis, Intolerant Atheists Viciously Attack Christian School, by Mark Looy and Ken Ham. There's a whole lot I could write about on that page (such as the hyperbole of using 'viciously attack' to describe strongly worded articles and e-mails), but I'm only going to focus on one part, actually a bit of a tangent from the main article - hypocritical and/or strange complaints by Christians against atheists. In the third paragraph, Looy and Ham wrote the following.

Over the past few years, we have seen atheists becoming more aggressive and intolerant towards Christians. (See the sidebar for just a few of the many examples we could cite.)

So I took a look at that sidebar. It's titled, "How Are Atheists Becoming More Aggressive in America?", and has a bulleted list of all the supposed aggressions committed by atheists (but without actually citing or linking to anything concrete). I tackle each claim individually below.

Billboards promoting atheism and attacking Christianity have popped up across the country.

Billboards like this?

AiG Anti-Atheist Billboard

AiG Creation Museum Billboard

Just in case you missed it, both of those billboards are from Looy & Ham's own organization, Answers in Genesis (AiG). Granted, that first billboard was AiG's response to an atheist billboard campaign. But, if billboards are inherently 'aggressive', is AiG operating under the playground mentality that two wrongs can make a right?

Here are a few billboards by organizations other than AiG:

Nothing's Too Hard for God Billboard

Anti-Atheist Stalin Billboard

These types of billboards promoting Christianity or disparaging atheism are very, very common in my neck of the woods down here in Texas. That one from the Assemblies of God was all over town for a while (not so much anymore), and I see several religious billboards along the route whenever I drive down to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. If it's wrong to put up billboards promoting your viewpoint on religious issues, why aren't Looy & Ham upset by all the Christian billboards?

The American Humanist Association has launched a special website for children to indoctrinate them in atheism.

You mean something like this, Kids Answers on AiG's own site. And check out the page, Good News - How Can I Become a Child of God. I agree that indoctrination is wrong, so why is AiG doing it?

I did go check out the page I think they're referring to, Kids Without God. After a bit of clicking around and browsing, it looks to be a very good page, and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in humanism. It's not so much indoctrination as just explaining what humanism is, and offering resources to teens who might be having issues because of their lack religion. The 'kids' section is of course a little simple, but the teen section is pretty informative, and would probably make for a good introduction even for adults. Here are a few of the pages I particularly liked.

An atheist rally in Washington DC last year had a special promotion to encourage kids to attend their atheist camps.

I did a google search on 'Vacation Bible School Wichita Falls', just to see what type of results I'd get for my own hometown. Here were the first four results:

And there were more than that. Religious camps are pretty common.

Atheists have been increasingly using terms like "child abuse" to describe the efforts of Christians who seek to teach their children about creation, heaven, and hell.

It does seem like hyperbole to call a religious upbringing 'child abuse', but the guilt instilled by this type of indoctrination can be very traumatic. It was this guilt that I struggled with the most personally in becoming an atheist - much more so than the intellectual side of it. And it shouldn't be that way. I experience no sense of guilt when I learn about other ways I've been wrong. With the modern skeptical movement and Internet sites like Snopes and TV shows like Mythbusters, many of us have learned of urban legends that had us tricked at one point or another. But while we may feel a bit of embarrassment at being too gullible, there's no guilt that goes along with ditching those mistaken beliefs. Why should people, especially children, feel guilty about questioning the fundamental nature of the universe? It's one thing to examine different worldviews as an adult and pick the one you think is most likely. It's quite another to be taught that you'll be punished in hellfire for all eternity if you even question the teachings of your elders.

And of course, there are other aspects of religious upbringing by extremists (not mainstream Christians) that are much more abusive, such as refusing to give your children vacinations, or denying medical treatment in favor of faith healing.

Many atheists claim that children belong to the community, not to their parents.

I almost wrote an entry about just this single bullet because of the mindset it reveals. Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but most atheists I know don't think children belong to anybody. They're their own person, not property. It is a parent's responsibility to raise their children properly, but the parents don't own the children. The community (i.e. government) will step in in cases of abuse or neglect, because children are too young to have any other recourse. It's to protect human beings, not to exercise control over property.

Do Looy and Ham really believe that children belong to their parents?

Atheists have actively opposed any effort in public schools to even question a belief of evolution or suggest there are any problems with it.

I know one of the primary purposes of Ham's organization is promoting creationism, but this is a silly complaint to anybody who understands evolution and accepts reality. It's about like the Flat Earth Society complaining about public schools only teaching about the Earth as a globe, or wanting moon landing hoax conspiracy theories taught in history class. Creationism is a bit more socially acceptable than Flat Earthism, but every bit as silly.


Perhaps what struck me most in reading all of this was the sheer hypocrisy. So much of what Looy and Ham complained about is stuff that's very common among the religious, and stuff that they themselves do. It's a pretty stark double standard.

Image Source: Answers in Genesis

Friday, September 5, 2014

Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 91 to Psalms 100

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). All headings are links to those Bible chapters.

BibleWow. It's been a while since I've done one of these entries. I fell off the routine of posting regularly back in March, and have only had a handful of posts in the series since then, mostly explaining why I was too busy to post a review. But I'm back. The big work project that was keeping me super busy is over, and the big personal event that the whole family was busy preparing for is over. So, I should once again have the time to come up with a new post every Friday (the only concern now is motivation).

This week's entry covers Psalms 91 through 100. I guess that's a bit of a milestone - reaching the 3 digit mark. This is the only book of the Bible where that's even a possibility. I forgot to mention this in the last entry, but Psalm 90 marks the beginning of Book IV in Psalms. Book IV only goes through Psalm 106, so this weeks entry actually covers the bulk of that book.

I wish I could say that the chapters this week were exciting, but it's really just more of the same. Even a 5 month break isn't enough to make this material seem fresh.

Psalms, Chapter 91

This Psalm brought back memories from when I used to go to church as a kid, the hymn Blest Be the Lord. Read verse 5.

You will not fear the terror of the night,
   or the arrow that flies by day,

And compare it to the refrain from the hymn (which I'll now have stuck in my head all day).

Blest be the Lord; blest be the Lord.
the God of mercy, the God who saves.
I shall not fear the dark of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day.

The hymn has plenty of other references to the Psalm, but none quite so closely copied.

One note for this chapter from the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), the 'under his wings' language from verse 4 may be "a reference to protecting bird as in Egyptian iconography..."

Psalms, Chapter 92

Psalm 92 is 'A Song for the Sabbath Day'. It's pretty typical - praise, thanksgiving, fallen enemies, etc. There's a little insult at the people that can't see God's mighty works, "The dullard cannot know, / the stupid cannot understand this..." One interesting aspect I wouldn't have noticed if not for the NOAB is that God's name was used seven times, almost certainly symbolic in a psalm about the Sabbath.

Psalms, Chapter 93

This psalm is full of imagery I've mentioned before, representing Yahweh as a storm god, and showing the primordial fight against chaos. According to the NOAB, this is "referring to the Canaanite myth in which Baal, the storm god, defeats Sea".

Psalms, Chapter 94

This is another typical psalm, asking God to right all the wrongs committed against the community.

Psalms, Chapter 95

This one's mostly a psalm of praise and worship, with a reminder of the rebellion after the Exodus that brought on the 40 years of wandering the desert.

Psalms, Chapter 96

Another psalm praising God and his glory.

Psalms, Chapter 97

Psalm 97 included more storm god imagery, "Clouds and thick darkness are all around him...", "His lightnings light up the world..." There was also mention of other gods.

All worshippers of images are put to shame,
 those who make their boast in worthless idols;
   all gods bow down before him.

I think it's interesting that those first two lines indicate that the other gods are just images or idols, but then the third line has them bowing before Yahweh. It sounds to me like the first two lines are meant to belittle other gods, but that the author still believed they were deities.

Psalms, Chapter 98

Similarly to Psalm 93, this one is about God winning a battle over forces of evil.

Psalms, Chapter 99

And another hymn praising God. According to the NOAB, this was part of a group of "enthronement hymns", including Psalm 93, and Psalms 95-99, which were about God establishing his throne and his "authoritative decrees".

Psalms, Chapter 100

Psalm 100, 'A Psalm of thanksgiving', was rather short, calling on "all the earth" to worship the Lord.


Ugh. My first week back, and I'm right back to remembering why I was getting so bored with this book. It's not that it's horrible. It's just so repetitious. And I'm sure these reviews are reflecting my boredom. I'm doing my best to try to find interesting tidbits, but I know I'm just making more and more chapter reviews like "Another psalm praising God and his glory" or "This is another typical psalm..." At least I'm two thirds of the way through this book, so there's only 5 more weeks of me whining about how boring it is.

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.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for July & August 2014

Top 10 ListNow that August is over, it's that time again to check the server logs to see how popular different pages were on this site. But as soon as I started to do that, I realized I'd forgotten to check at the end of July. So, today you get two top 10 lists - one for July, and one for August.

There were several suprises between these two months. One page that made it to both lists, but that had never made the list before, was Aviation Books. I'm honestly not sure why that book would all of a sudden become popular, but I guess it could be useful. July had other more new entries to the list, Debunking a Columbus Myth, Eben Alexander Misrepresenting Carl Sagan, and Pet Peeve - Articles Aren't Blogs. The first of those is pretty good (though perhaps people would be more informed by reading Happy Exploration Day). The second I like quite a bit, too. The third is okay, but not one I'd ever have expected to make this list.

August had three more first time top 10 entries, The 2014 Texas Republican Platform, More on Origin of Species, and When Will There Be an Aircraft in Every Garage? (short answer: never). I'm really happy about seeing the first one get that kind of traffic, because I think people need to see just how off-the-wall the Texas Republican party is. The third is another entry I'm glad to see people finally reading. I am surprised by the Origin of Species entry, though, especially considering that a later entry, Book Review - Origin of Species, combines the one that made the top 10 list and another entry on Origin of Species for a more comprehensive review.

And as a bonus, since these two entries just missed making the top 10 list, but are entries that I particularly like, I made the list for August the top 10 + 2, and included Abortion and How to Convert Me Back to Christianity.

As far as overall traffic, July and August were both similar - down just a bit from the past few months, but in line with traffic for the past year or so.

Top 10 for July 2014

  1. A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  2. Response to E-mail - Are America's Hunters the World's Largest Army?
  3. Obamacare Lives (A Discussion of the Individual Mandate)
  4. Gamera II Human Powered Helicopter Sets New Record
  5. Aviation Books
  6. Running AutoCAD R14 in XP Pro 64
  7. Debunking a Columbus Myth
  8. Happy Fastnach Day 2014
  9. Eben Alexander Misrepresenting Carl Sagan
  10. Pet Peeve - Articles Aren't Blogs

Top 10 + 2 for August 2014

  1. A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  2. Email Debunking - Tips on Pumping Gas
  3. Obamacare Lives (A Discussion of the Individual Mandate)
  4. Running AutoCAD R14 in XP Pro 64
  5. Aviation Books
  6. The 2014 Texas Republican Platform
  7. Debunking a Columbus Myth
  8. Gamera II Human Powered Helicopter Sets New Record
  9. More on Origin of Species
  10. When Will There Be an Aircraft in Every Garage?
  11. Abortion
  12. How to Convert Me Back to Christianity

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Response to Ben Carson's Comments on Navy Bible Kerfuffle

Ben CarsonBen Carson has apprently just won a GOP straw poll in Indiana, getting a whopping 67% of the votes (see Christian Post - Ben Carson Wins Polk County, Iowa GOP Presidential Straw Poll by a Landslide; Says ISIS Must be Dealt With). His next closest rival, Ted Cruz, only received 7%, with Rick Perry in third with 4%, followed by a scattering of of several other potential candidates. I know it's awfully early to start taking these types of polls too seriously, and I suppose it's somewhat good news that Cruz and Perry weren't in the lead, but Carson isn't a whole lot better.

I've mentioned Carson on this blog once before in the entry, Local University Invites Creationist to Give Commencement Address (with the local university being Midwestern State University, an otherwise respectable institution). I made note of some extremely ignorant statements Carson had made about evolution, as well as his well-known bigoted remarks against homosexuals.

With Carson's recent straw poll win making headlines, I decided to Google his name just to see what else he was up to, and came across an article he'd written about the recent Navy Bible kerfuffle, Atheists forgetting the meaning of freedom: Nonbelievers seek to impose their values by banning Bibles. For anyone unfamiliar with this issue, the Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta, has a pretty good article, After Atheists Blow the Whistle, U.S. Navy Says Bibles Must Be Removed from Base Hotel Rooms. Basically, hotels run by the Navy had Bibles in the night stands, which may seem fairly standard given that practically every hotel room in the U.S. has a Gideon's Bible, but the Navy is a government institution, and per the Establishment Clause, isn't supposed to endorse religion. The Freedom From Religion Foundation got on the case, and the Navy originally agreed to remove the Bibles, but seems to have backtracked for the time being (as detailed in verse by the Digital Cuttlefish, Armageddon Gets Results; Navy Puts Bibles Back In Hotel Rooms).

Now, while it would be nice to see the Navy keep Bibles out of hotel rooms, out of all the issues in the country today, this one's a pretty low priority. But you can guess that certain right wing Christians were outraged when the Navy first removed the Bibles, which brings us back to Carson's article. I'll start off with the quote that ties in most closely to politics, and the fact that Carson just might be a potential presidential candidate.

We must also go back and read the Constitution, including the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion. It says nothing about freedom from religion and, in fact, if you go back and look at the context and the lives of those involved in the crafting of our founding documents, it is quite apparent that they strongly believed in allowing their faith to guide their lives.

Yes Dr. Carson, we are guaranteed the freedom of not having religion imposed by the government. To quote the Constitution since you brought it up, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." That has been repeatedly interpreted by the Supreme Court to mean that government cannot endorse religion. And putting the holy book of one particular religion in a government run facility is endorsing that religion.

I don't doubt that many of the Founding Fathers were Christians and deists who were strongly motivated by their faith in how they lived their lives. But that's separate from how they framed the government. It's very telling that there is no mention of God in the Constitution (other than the convention of the date - year of our Lord). Even more explicitly, there's the Treaty of Tripoli, unanimously approved by the Senate in 1797, which contained the phrase, "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion..." The majority of the founders wanted a secular government, keeping religion and government separate so that neither would interfere in the other (more info - Response to an Editorial by Pat Boone).

This next passage is the worst one from the article, and what motivated me to write this entry.

This last sentence may seem out of place if you don't realize that atheism is actually a religion. Like traditional religions, atheism requires strong conviction. In the case of atheists, it's the belief that there is no God and that all things can be proven by science. It is extremely hypocritical of the foundation to request the removal of Bibles from hotel rooms on the basis of their contention that the presence of Bibles indicates that the government is choosing one religion over another. If they really thought about it, they would realize that removal of religious materials imposes their religion on everyone else.

That is just plain idiotic. If lack of religious materials imposes atheism, then I'm surrounded by atheist propaganda, from the weather report on the 10 o'clock news, to the donut shop on the corner, to the stop light on my way home. If they don't hang a crucifix at the intersection, they're shoving atheism down our throats!

If the FFRF were demanding copies of Why I Am Not a Christian, The God Delusion, or God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, then Carson could claim that they were imposing their beliefs on everyone else. But as it is, they're simply asking for religious neutrality.

He also seems to paint with a pretty broad brush in saying atheists believe "all things can be proven by science". Heck, I'm rather scientific minded myself, but even I wouldn't go that far. 'Science as the most reliable method of answering questions with objective answers?' Sure (see my article, Confidence in Scientific Knowledge). But it's not magic that will answer any and all questions ever posed. And there are plenty of atheists who aren't necessarily of a scientific bent (see for example, Massimo Pigliucci's article, On the scope of skeptical inquiry).

The FFRF even offered what seemed to me a good compromise, making Bibles available to the guests that wanted them, along with other religious materials for other guests. Carson didn't seem to like that idea.

Some atheists argue that there should be a library or cachet of religious material at the check-in desk of a hotel from which any guest could order a Bible, Torah or Koran for their reading pleasure. No favoritism would be shown through such a system, and those who reject the idea of God would not have to be offended. This is like saying there shouldn't be certain brands of bottled water in hotel rooms because there may be guests who prefer a different type of water or who are offended by bottled water and think that everybody should be drinking tap water. The logical answer to such absurdity would, of course, be that the offended individual could bring his own water or simply ignore the brand of water that he does not care for.

Except that choosing bottled water isn't a Constitutional issue like the Establishment Clause. Really, this type of complaint by Carson just drives home how much this issue is about privelege, and not freedom of religion. The FFRF offered a solution that still made Bibles available to Christians. Not only would a Christian have the right to 'bring his own water' in the form of a Bible, but the front desk would even have extra Bibles on hand for the Christian who forgot their own personal copy. If that's an unacceptable compromise, then you're really arguing for special treatment, not just freedom.

Here's a quote I couldn't resist turning around on Carson.

As a nation, we must avoid the paralysis of hypersensitivity, which will allow us to get nothing done because virtually everything offends someone. We need to distribute "big boy" pants widely to help the whiners learn to focus their energy in a productive way.

I agree with the sentences, but not what Carson meant by them. Some books were taken out of hotel rooms. No one is stopping you from taking in your own Bible to read. Put on your 'big boy pants' and get over it.

This final quote came from near the start of the article, but considering how the situation has turned out, I figure it goes better here at the end of this entry.

The surprise is not the hypocritical stance of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, but rather the fact that an established bulwark of American strength and patriotism caved to a self-serving group of religious fanatics.

I wish I could say I was surprised "that an established bulwark of American strength and patriotism caved to a self-serving group of religious fanatics", but that's the special treatment Christians seem to get in this country.

I wasn't impressed by Carson last year when MSU invited him to give the commencement address, and this recent article has only hurt his reputation in my eyes. If this is the best hope for a Republican presidential candidate for 2016, I sure hope the Democrats come up with somebody electable. (Maybe I'll just vote for Kodos.)

Image Source: Christian Post, Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Updated 2014-09-10: Added link to my Confidence in Scientific Knowledge essay.

Updated 2014-11-17: Added note about the Treaty of Tripoli.

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