Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

All About Mormons

September 13, 2016

The creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, have a curious relationship towards religion. They are not religious and enjoy mocking religion in their show, yet they deny being atheists and have been just as quick to make fun of the pretensions of Atheism and the New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, and they have admitted to having  a certain curiosity and respect for religious belief. In fact, a closer look at the South Park episodes which ridicule religion shows that they are really opposed to hypocrisy or bad actions justified by religious belief.

Parker and Stone have a particular liking for Mormonism. Growing up in Colorado, right next to the Mormon promised land of Utah, they knew many Mormons and have expressed an appreciation for their politeness and niceness, even while regarding the story of Joseph Smith and Mormon beliefs as ridiculous. Their feelings about Mormonism and religion in general are expressed in the seventh season episode, “All About Mormons“.

In this episode, a Mormon family, the Harrisons, moves to South Park and one of the boys, named Gary, is in the same class as the series regulars.  The Harrisons are nice and polite and eager to befriend everyone in South Park, particularly the Marshes and while they do not want to force their religious beliefs on anyone, they are more than willing to tell their neighbors the history and beliefs of the Mormon religion and it’s prophet Joseph Smith.

The Harrisons

The Harrisons

This history is told through a series of musical flashbacks.

Stan is not impressed with their account of Joseph Smith and points out the inconsistencies and logical fallacies that suggest that Joseph Smith was simply making up his stories about the golden plates and the Angel Moroni.

"All you've got are a bunch of stories about some asswipe who read plates nobody ever saw out of a hat and then couldn't do it again when the translations were hidden!"

“All you’ve got are a bunch of stories about some asswipe who read plates nobody ever saw out of a hat and then couldn’t do it again when the translations were hidden!”

The next day Gary confronts Stan at the bus stop and explains why he is a Mormon even if the stories are a little silly.

Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, but I have a great life, and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that. The truth is, I don’t care if Joseph Smith made it all up, because what the church teaches now is loving your family, being nice and helping people. And even though people in this town might think that’s stupid, I still choose to believe in it. All I ever did was try to be your friend, Stan, but you’re so high and mighty you couldn’t look past my religion and just be my friend back. You’ve got a lot of growing up to do, buddy. Suck my balls.

The sentiment expressed by Gary, and presumably shared by Parker and Stone is one that I would hope if widely adopted, might promote greater tolerance and civility between persons of different faiths, and with those with no faith. Still, it doesn’t satisfy me because it ignores the question that is most important to me. It is good if the religion you follow makes you a better person, but the question I think more important is, is the religion true? Can the assertions and claims made by this particular religion be shown to be true or false?

I do not mean the metaphysical claims made by nearly all religions concerning deities or the afterlife or anything of that sort. These matters cannot be shown to be true or false this side of eternity and properly matters of faith Nor do I expect that every word of the Book of Mormon or spoken by Joseph Smith to be literally and completely true. That is a burden that even my own mainstream Christianity couldn’t bear. I do think it is fair to ask whether, in a broad sense, the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith are what they claim to be. Is the Book of Mormon really a historical record of Jewish refugees who settled in the New World? Is Joseph Smith really a prophet of the Lord who translated this account?

The answer to both questions would seem to be no. Studies of the DNA of the Native Americans show that their ancestry is almost entirely from Northern Asia or Siberia. There is no indication of any ancestors of Semitic or Middle Eastern origin. There is no archeological evidence that any of the events described in the Book of Mormon ever took place Not a single city or country named in the Book of Mormon has ever been positively located or identified, nor do any individuals named in the Book of Mormon appear in any historical record outside the Book of Mormon. In contrast, many places in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, can be located on a map and many people named in the Bible can be attested in other sources. It may well be that some of the accounts in the Bible are slanted, or even fictitious, but there is no question that there really were places like Israel, Judah, Jerusalem, or Babylon and that people like the kings and prophets of Israel, Jesus and his apostles really did exist.

As for Joseph Smith, he had something of a reputation as a con artist who practiced folk magic, specializing in money digging, or searching for lost treasure by occult means. It is possible that Smith reformed after the visions he claimed to have had, but Smith’s actions even after he founded the Mormon religion do not seem to be those of an honest man, still less a prophet.

Does it matter it there is any truth to the Book of Mormon or the story of Joseph Smith, so long as it improves people’s lives? Perhaps not, but it seems to me that a faith built on untruths is a faith built on sand rather than solid rock. I do not believe that such a faith can endure.

For my part, if it were shown that the claims of Christianity were false, I would be obliged to change religions. I could not take comfort in the idea that it does not matter whether the stories the gospels tell about Jesus are true so long as I follow the teachings in the gospels because Christianity is not based on the teachings of Jesus, or Paul, or anyone else. Buddhism could still exist even if it were shown that there was no such person as Gautama because his teachings about life and suffering stand on their own regardless whether he existed or not. The same could be true of Confucius or Socrates or many other sages. The teachings of Christ are not much different from the teachings of other sages and express the same truths common to the whole human race. The central message of Christianity is a historical one, that the man Jesus of Nazareth was God in human form who was crucified for our sins, who died and was resurrected, defeating sin and death. If Jesus were shown to have never existed or were shown to have been just an ordinary man, than I, and every other Christian, have been wasting our time. As Paul put it,

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1Cor 15:12-19)

Is this true of Mormonism? I don’t know. The family values taught by the contemporary Mormon faith certainly have little to do with the polygamous Joseph Smith. It may be that the faith is better than its founder. And yet, the family values that Mormonism teaches are, or used to be, the mainstream within the Judeo-Christian tradition. If one can have the family values without the silly stories about Joseph Smith, why bother with the silly stories? If the Mormon religion gives life meaning but is shown to be based on falsehoods, than then meaning one derives from the faith is also based upon falsehoods. I think I would rather have a faith based on truth.

Living in God’s Matrix

June 22, 2016

Physicist Michio Kaku has come to believe that we live in a universe designed by some sort of intelligence, God for lack of a better word, at least according to this article by Mark Ellis in Godreports, which I found via this post by Walter Hudson at PJMedia.

I wish I knew what those equations meant.

I wish I knew what those equations meant.

Theoretical physicist, futurist, and bestselling author Michio Kaku has developed a theory that points to the existence of God using string theory.

String theory assumes that seemingly specific material particles are actually “vibrational states.”

His view about intelligent design has riled the scientific community because Dr. Kaku is considered one of its most respected and prominent voices. He is the co-creator of string field theory, a branch of string theory.

“I have concluded that we are in a world made by rules created by an intelligence,” he stated, according to the Geophilosophical Association of Anthropological and Cultural Studies.

“I have concluded that we are in a world made by rules created by an intelligence,” he stated, according to the Geophilosophical Association of Anthropological and Cultural Studies.

Dr. Kaku has continued Einstein’s search for a “Theory of Everything,” seeking to unify the four fundamental forces of the universe—the strong force, the weak force, gravity and electromagnetism.

The very purpose of physics, says Kaku is “to find an equation … which will allow us to unify all the forces of nature and allow us to read the mind of God.”

Because string theory may provide a unified description of gravity and particle physics, it is considered a candidate for a Theory of Everything.

To reach his conclusions about intelligence behind the universe, Dr. Kaku made use of what he calls “primitive semi-radius tachyons.”

A tachyon is a particle that always moves faster than light. Many physicists believe such particles cannot exist because they are not consistent with the known laws of physics.

As noted by Einstein and others, special relativity implies that faster-than-light particles, if they existed, could be used to communicate backwards in time.

Dr. Kaku used a technology created in 2005 that allowed him to analyze the behavior of matter at the subatomic scale, relying on a primitive tachyon semi-radius.

When he observed the behavior of these tachyons in several experiments, he concluded that humans live in a “matrix,” a world governed by laws and principles conceived by an intelligent architect.

“I have concluded that we are in a world made by rules created by an intelligence, not unlike a favorite computer game, but of course, more complex and unthinkable,” he said.

“By analyzing the behavior of matter at the subatomic scale affected by the semi tachyon pitch radius, what we call chance no longer makes sense, because we are in a universe governed by established rules and not determined by universal chances plane.

Dr. Michio Kaku seems to be moving into the Intelligent Design camp, at least in so far as he believes that the order and established rules that we observe in the universe imply a mind behind the material reality. This is more of a Deist, or Theist, concept of divinity than the traditional Judeo-Christian God. The idea that the reality we know is some kind of simulation by an ultra-advanced computer is another explanation for the apparent order and logic we see in the universe which has gained a sort of vogue lately. Perhaps the two explanations, intelligent design, and computer simulation are the same, since an intelligence that can create a simulation of the entire universe might be a god to the people living in the simulation. For all we know, any player of a game like the Sims is a god to the sims in the game, if the sims had intelligence and free will.

The problem with these sorts of speculations is that they cannot be considered scientific explanations or hypotheses because there is no way to prove or disprove the ideas. We only know the one universe we are living in and have no way, at present, of learning about any other universes. We have no way compare our, possibly designed or simulated, universe with one that has not been designed or is not a computer simulation. This matter belongs properly to metaphysics rather than to physics and while Dr. Kaku’s views on string theory ought to be respected as belonging to an expert in the field, in his views on whether God or an Intelligence Designer or Programmer is ultimately behind the world he studies, he shares with the rest of us a common ignorance. On these matters, we cannot know truths with the same certainty we know about the behavior of atoms. We can only have faith.

 

Blame the Gun

June 13, 2016

Once again the barbarians have attacked the West. This time a gunman named Omar Mateen walked into a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida and killed fifty people. Jo Comerford at Moveon.org places the blame for this atrocity squarely on where it belongs, on the gun Mateen used.

Dear MoveOn member,

At least 50 people were killed last night in a horrific mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando, FL. At least another 53 were injured.1 As the news continues to peel back the layers on this terrible, tragic shooting and we grieve and mourn with Orlando, we must act now for common sense gun laws and to ban assault rifles. We must stop these mass shootings from tearing apart our communities.Click here to sign the petition, which says:

Military-grade assault weapons should not be used by civilians and have no place in our cities and towns.

Sign the petition

Orlando. Sandy Hook. San Bernardino. Aurora.

What do these horrific shootings have in common? The AR-15.

This military-grade assault rifle was used to murder at least 50 people in Orlando, 26 people in Sandy Hook, 14 people in San Bernardino, and 12 people in Aurora.2

Right now, such a mass-killing weapon is available for purchase on-line, at trade shows, and at neighborhood brokers across our nation.

The AR-15 and automatic assault weapons like it have no place in our cities and towns. They have no place on our streets.

We need to ban all assault weapons now and enact other commonsense gun reform.

Click here to add your name to this petition, and then pass it along to your friends.

Thanks for all you do.

—Jo, Anna, Justin K., Ben O., and the rest of the team

I can make a list of places too: Orlando, San Bernardino, Paris, London, Copenhagen, New York. What do all of these places have in common? They were each the site of a horrific attack by Islamic barbarians intent on overthrowing the West and its ideals of freedom and tolerance. We are at war with savages and the solution that the Moveon.org has is to disarm our population and make us all helpless for the next attack.

This is the only solution people on the left offer after every attack. Appease the Muslims. Don’t make them angry. Don’t publish drawings of Mohammed. Don’t criticize or make fun of Islam. Treat the Koran with respect. Women, cover yourselves lest you arouse a Muslim man and cause him to rape you. Christians, pray in private lest you offend the sensitive ears of Muslims. Don’t suggest that immigration from Muslim countries be curtailed or that perhaps Mosques with ties to radicals should be watched. That is islamophobia. Respect Islamic customs and traditions and don’t expect that respect to be returned. Give in when they demand that Sharia law be imposed. Above all else, do not ever suggest that Islam is not a Religion of Peace or they will attack. Remember it is better to die than to live and be considered an islamophobe.

I expect that in the wake of the Orlando Massacre, the gays will be asked to go back into the closet. Its all very well to stand up to Christians who do not approve of gay marriage. The Christians are not going to start bombing and shooting. Standing up to Muslims who want to kill gays might take real courage. They might target us instead. Better to blame the guns.

 

Easter

March 27, 2016

We left the story of Jesus of Nazareth last Friday. He had been executed in the most painful and degrading way possible. His closest followers were disperse and in hiding. It must have seemed that Jesus and his movement had ended in utter failure. But then, something remarkable happened. This something is commemorated by the Easter holiday. Although Christmas is the more popular Christian holiday, Easter is actually the most important holiday in the liturgical year as the celebration of Christ’s resurrection is theologically more important than his Nativity. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The Gospel of Mark has the most concise account on what happened that first Easter.

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene,out of whom he had driven seven demons.10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country.13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.

14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.17 And these sign swill accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons;they will speak in new tongues;18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. (Mark 16:1-20)

Mark 16:9-20 seems to be a later addition. At any rate, the earliest manuscripts do not have those verses. Whether the original ending has been lost or Mark intended to end his account so abruptly is unknown.

Matthew has more details.

1After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

The Guards’ Report

11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:1-20)

Luke and John have more to say of Jesus after His resurrection but I won’t quote them here.

The date of Easter has been a matter of some controversy in past centuries. The date of Easter is related to the date of Passover. The calculations on which the date of Easter is determined is based on a lunisolar cycle like the date of Passover but the cycle is not the Hebrew calendar. Generally Easter falls about a week after Passover but it occurs about a month later in three years of the nineteen year cycle. Various groups of Christians have had different methods of calculating Easter over the years and these differences have led to bitter disputes. There is still a different date for Easter among the Eastern churches since they use the Julian calendar for the liturgical year while Catholics and Protestants use the Gregorian calendar.

Among Catholics and some Protestants, Easter is generally celebrated by an Easter vigil beginning the previous evening. At dawn, a mass or service begins, etc.

And, of course, many people celebrate Easter by finding Easter eggs and eating candy delivered by the Easter Bunny.

 

Good Friday

March 25, 2016

Today is Good Friday, the day of Jesus’s crucifixion. It may seem strange to call it “Good” Friday since being crucified wouldn’t normally be considered as part of a good day but the word good is used in an obsolete sense meaning holy. Good Friday is generally celebrated with fasts and vigils. In the Roman Catholic church no mass is held on this day.

I will be using the Gospel of Mark to tell the story.

Mark 15

Jesus Before Pilate

1Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.

2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

3 The chief priests accused him of many things. 4 So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”

5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

6 Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.

9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.

12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.

13Crucify him!” they shouted.

14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:1-15)

It would seem that this meeting of the Sanhedrin at night and before Passover was highly irregular and some have questioned the historicity of the Gospel accounts on that basis. I think that if the elders and priests of the Sanhedrin believe Jesus to be on the point of declaring himself the Messiah and leading a rebellion, they might not have been too concerned with fine points of legality in the face of a national emergency. Little is known of Pontius Pilate but in the historical accounts of Josephus and others, he does not seem to be the sort of man who had any scruples about putting a trouble maker to death even if he wasn’t certain of the man’s guilt. It is possible that he was impressed by Jesus’s force of personality. On the other hand, Josephus makes it clear that Pilate was a tactless man who did not like the Jews much. He was eventually recalled because his actions seemed likely to cause rebellions. Perhaps Pilate resented having the High Priest and others, who he might have considered semi-barbarians, insist on his crucifying a man. He might have refused just to be obstinate.

16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.

27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. 29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.(Mark 15:16-32)

Luke has one of the thieves taking Jesus’s side.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[d]

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

Crucifixion is probably the most painful method method of execution ever devised. The victim is slowly asphyxiated as he hangs on the cross. It was not uncommon for a man to linger for days writhing in pain the whole time. In addition to the pain, crucifixion was meant to be a humiliating, shameful punishment. Only the lowest of the low were crucified, which might have been a stumbling block to early Christian proselytizing.

33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[b]

35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

crucifxion

Those words were the first verse of Psalm 22. Matthew’s account parallels Mark’s but Luke and John report different last words.

46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.  (Luke 23:46)

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.(John 19:28-30)

John adds another detail.

31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”[c]37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” (John 19:31-37)

Strange as it may seem, the breaking of their legs was an act of mercy since they would die sooner. It was surprising that Jesus had died after only being about six hours on the cross.

42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid. (Mark 15:42-47)

To anyone on the scene, this must have seemed the end of the matter. Jesus of Nazareth was dead and his followers scattered. It would seem that, at best, he would only be a minor footnote in history.

The end?

The end?

 

Betting on the Devil

March 23, 2016

South Park is a vulgar show. The characters, especially the children, routinely use foul language. (The creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker insist that children really talk like that and that only hippies and Democrats believe children to be sweet and innocent. Judging from my own memories of childhood, I am inclined to believe that they are right.) There are crude sexual situations and toilet humor in many episodes, and more than a little violence. The show is irreverent and even blasphemous and they is nothing that Parker and Stone won’t made fun of. One might think that South Park is a show with no redeeming features at all.

I disagree. I wasn’t actually aware that South Park was still on television after nineteen seasons, since I do not get cable, but last year, I began to see praise for the nineteenth season’s take down of political correctness and I started to watch the latest episodes online. I found, to my amazement, that South Park was as funny and relevant as ever. I started to see that South Park is actually a very good show, perhaps the best on television right now. It has characters you can come to care about, interesting plots, including the multi-episode arc this season and even some well thought out lessons, for those who care to look. Despite the vulgarity, the essential values of South Park are surprisingly wholesome, even, believe it or not, Christian. This is all the more remarkable considering that Parker and Stone are agnostics.

As evidence for this startling assertion, I would like to go all the way back to the first season of South Park to an episode titled Damien. In this episode there is a new kid, named Damien attending South Park Elementary who happens to be the son of the Devil.

Damien

Damien

He is in South Park to deliver a challenge from his father to Jesus, depicted as hosting a public access cable show, Jesus and Pals. Satan wants to meet Jesus for the final confrontation in the boxing ring.

South Park Jesus

South Park Jesus

At first, all the residents of South Park are certain that Jesus will easily defeat the Devil and place bets on Jesus. Then Satan appears in South Park. While Jesus is a 135 pound weakling, Satan is a muscular 350 pounds. There seems to be no way Jesus can possibly beat Satan.

Satan

Satan

 

Everyone in South Park rushes to their bookies to change their bets to Satan winning the fight. In fact, only one person bets on Jesus. Jesus warns the residents of South Park not to bet on the Devil, but no one listens. The day of the fight arrives and the two combatants meet in the ring. Satan pounds away at Jesus, taunting Him all the while and daring Jesus to hit him. Finally Jesus manages to get a blow in and Satan is immediately knocked out, or so it seems. It turns out that Satan has thrown the fight. It was his plan to lose to Jesus all along and he was the one person who bet on Jesus to win. Satan taunts the people of South Park for their foolishness and then returns to Hell wealthier from his winnings.

This is a silly story and the portrayals of both Jesus and Satan owe more to popular culture conceptions than to Christian scripture or traditions. After all, Jesus was a carpenter by trade and his associates were working class men. He was hardly likely to be the effeminate wimp that He is all too often imagined to be. The episode does have a moral that Christians ought to consider. A lot of times, people are betting on the Devil to win.

The final conflict between the forces of good and evil is not going to be in a boxing ring and Satan is not going to take a dive. The book of Revelation is full of confusing symbolism that Christians have been arguing about for centuries, but the end is quite clear, Jesus wins.

The real Jesus

The real Jesus

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns.He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

king of kings and lord of lords.

17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave,great and small.”

19 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. 20 But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.21 The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. (Rev. 19:11-20:3)

When I say that there are many Christians who are betting on the Devil to win, I do not mean, of course, that there are people who believe that Satan is going to defeat Heaven and rule the universe. I am referring to a certain lack of faith that God will overcome all of our difficulties in the end. People who are worried about the economy or terrorism, or declining morals, or even their own personal problems , are, in a way, betting that the Devil is winning. We must have faith that God as the Author of history has a plan for the world and for each one of us. Whatever our personal or national difficulties, we must not lose faith that Jesus will win in the end and His will will be done. As Jesus himself has commanded us.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34)

So stop worrying and betting on the Devil.

St. Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2016

Today is St. Patrick‘s day and I thought it might be appropriate to write about St. Patrick. So, who is St. Patrick and why does he get a day? Not very much is known for certain about his life. It is possible that his story has been confused with one Palladius, a missionary who became the first bishop of Ireland. Still, Patrick wrote a short autobiography called “The Declaration” or “The Confession” as part of a letter which seems to be genuine.

Get out snakes!

Patrick, or Patricius was a Roman who lived in Britain. He may have been born around 387 and lived until 460 or possibly 493, so he lived during the twilight of the Roman Empire in the West. At the age of 16 he was captured by raiders and enslaved. He worked as a shepherd in Ireland for about six years. He managed to escape and return to his home, but then he became a priest and returned to the land where he was a slave and worked to convert the pagans to Christianity. He seems to have been very successful during his lifetime, though there were many other missionaries in Ireland. He helped to organize the Church in Ireland and is supposed to have traveled to Rome to seek the Pope’s assistance in this endeavor.

According to legend, Patrick died on March 17, so that date has become his feast day. He has never been officially canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. He became known as a saint long before the modern procedure for canonization was developed. He is, obviously, the patron saint of Ireland, and also Nigeria, Montserrat, engineers, paralegals, and the dioceses of New York, Boston, and Melbourne.

There are many legends about St. Patrick. The most widely known is that he chased all the snakes out of Ireland, thus ruining the local ecology. Another is that he used the example of the three-leaved shamrock to illustrate the trinity.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all the Irish, and Irish at heart, out there!

Sorry about the green text. I couldn’t resist.

Chelsea, Hilary and Faith

February 22, 2016

I see a lot of posts on social media or on the Internet telling that I am going to be disgusted or shocked at the latest outrageous act or statement of some politician or celebrity. I don’t much like reading them. For one thing, I think that I am able to decide for myself what I find to be disgusting or shocking and I really don’t need someone else telling me how I should react to someone’s actions or even whether I should care. For another, I am actually starting to be a little disgusted at this point of view in which people are always finding reasons to hate or distrust one another and always assuming the worst possible motives for their political opponents’ actions. Maybe we would all get along better if we stopped trying to find reasons to be outraged. Besides, most of the time, the alleged outrages are so minor or petty, I can’t imagine wasting the time or effort to have any emotion at all about them.

So, when I read this column at the Daily Wire about the latest outrage from Chelsea Clinton, I did not feel ill, as the headline suggested I should.

Sunday, Chelsea Clinton, stumping for her pro-abortion mother, showed she has learned her lessons well from her parents, as she offered a Byzantine defense of Hillary Clinton’s supposed faith.

Chelsea Clinton, in an attempt to limn her mother as a religious person, told an audience at a fundraiser that the reason she left the Baptist Church as a child stemmed from the church’s discussion of abortion when she was six years old. She wheedled, “I find it quite insulting sometimes when people say to my mom, my dad or me . . . that they question our faith. I was raised in a Methodist church and I left the Baptist church before my dad did, because I didn’t know why they were talking to me about abortion when I was 6 in Sunday school — that’s a true story.”

Uh-oh. When a Clinton claims something is true, watch out for what else is in the bag.

I see no particular reason to doubt her story, though it does seem unlikely that a six year old girl would be mature enough to decide to leave her parents’s church over the question of abortion. I doubt many six year olds have much of an understanding of the issue, though perhaps Chelsea Clinton was precocious. She is, after all, the daughter of the smartest woman in the world.

But I don’t really care about her religious or political views, and I wouldn’t bother writing this post except for the next section in the article.

Sure enough: “My mother is very deeply a person of faith. It is deeply authentic and real for my mother, and it guides so much of her moral compass, but also her life’s work.”

And: ‘I recognized that there were many expressions of faith that I don’t agree with and feel [are] quite antithetical to how I read the Bible. But I find it really challenging when people who are self-professed liberals kind of look askance at my family’s history.”

Now, if the child of a Republican presidential candidate had said that her parent was very deeply a person of faith who was guided by her faith, the progressive left would have a fit. The candidate would be denounced as a card carrying member of the Religious Right in all the usual media. There would be accusations that the candidate was planning to overthrow the sacred constitutional doctrine of absolute separation between church and state (found nowhere in the actual words of the first amendment, but in one of the penumbras that only left wing jurists can see) and institute a Christian theocracy. Editorials would be written which explain that in the secular government that our founding fathers created, no office holder should permit his private religious views to have influence over his actions and decisions because that would be the worst sort of religious discrimination against those who do not share his views. If the candidate’s religion has negative views on leftist hobby horses such as abortion or gay “marriage”, he would be called to repudiate the beliefs held by his more unenlightened co-religionists.

Hilary and Chelsea Clinton can say that Hilary’s faith motivates her and provides guidance, yet somehow this isn’t an offense against decency and democracy. If the progressives didn’t have double standards, they wouldn’t have any standards at all.

 

Muslims Beaten Mosques Burned

January 10, 2016

That is the claim made by a recent e-mail I received from Moveon.org.

Dear MoveOn member,

Last week, a Muslim store owner in New York was beaten by a man yelling, “I kill Muslims!” A pig’s head was left outside a Muslim community center in Philadelphia. And in California, a mosque was set on fire while people prayed inside, and a woman threw hot coffee on Muslims praying in a park.1

And that’s just a partial list of the hate crimes directed at Muslims—and those mistaken to be Muslim because of the color of their skin—sweeping the country.

The only way to stop it is for all of us who reject hate to speak out. Loudly.

That’s why we’re helping jumpstart a nationwide campaign called “Hate Has No Business Here.” We’re organizing small-business owners, community centers, libraries, schools, town halls, places of worship, and others to stand up against Islamophobia.

Will you chip in $3 and help stand up against anti-Muslim hate crimes?

Yes, I’ll chip in.

The wave of Islamophobia since the Paris attacks is terrifying, and the FBI was reporting a disturbing rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes even before Paris.

And with Republican presidential candidates whipping up fear, things could get out of control fast.

That’s why we were so inspired by a couple of small-business owners in Minnesota who launched a nationwide campaign with a simple gesture. They put a sign in their window saying, “Hate has no business here.”

Now we’re teaming up with them and the Main Street Alliance to get these signs posted in businesses all over America.

Your donations will allow us to distribute thousands of posters—and expand the campaign to public spaces across America. We’ll collect stories and photos and drive media coverage to push back against the stories of hate and violence.

Will you chip in $3—and help stand up against anti-Muslim hate crimes?

Click here to chip in.

In the wake of our “We Are Better Than This” ad campaign in The New York Times, we’ve all been looking for more positive steps we could take, together, to turn the tide against hate and religious, racial, or other profiling. “Hate has no business here” is right in that spirit.

Thanks for all you do.

Anna, Erica, Robert, Jo, and the rest of the team

There are many among the progressive left who have a heavy emotional investment in the idea that the American people are racist, intolerant, ignorant rednecks who have to be restrained from going on a murderous frenzy against the Muslims. I suppose this gives them a pleasant feeling of superiority over their countrymen.

The fact is, despite a supposed surge in hate crimes against the Muslims, Jews are far more likely to be the victim of hate crimes than Muslims. It’s not even close. According to the article at snopes.com I linked to:

Hate crimes of all types are, thankfully, fairly rare. And it is true that hate crimes against Jews outnumber the number of hate crimes perpetrated against Muslims. The FBI reported that in 2014, there were 609incidents of hate crimes against Jews and 154 against Muslims.

Case closed? Not quite. This could, after all, be an example of lazy reporting. Sure, the raw number of hate crimes against Jews is higher, but national crime statistics are typically reported as a rate: number of crimes per 100,000 population.

Although estimates of the Jewish population in the U.S. were fairly stable across various websites, estimates of the Muslim population varied dramatically – anywhere from 2.1 million to 6.7 million. The Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study seemed to offer the most reliable and objective statistics on religious affiliation in the United States.

According to the Pew study, Jews and Muslims both represent fairly small proportions of the U.S. population, coming in at 1.9% and 0.9% of the U.S. population as a whole. With a total U.S. population of 318.9 million as of 2014, there are approximately 6.1 million Jews and 2.9 million Muslims in America.

Easy math tells us that although there are roughly twice as many Jews in the U.S. than there are Muslims, hate crimes against Jews occur four times as often. Expressed as more official rates per 100,000 population, Jews suffer from hate crime incidents at a rate of 10.05 incidents per 100,000 population while the Muslim rate is roughly half as much, at 5.37 incidents per 100,000 population.

Meanwhile in Europe, there has been a significant rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes over the past few years, with the rapidly increasing Muslim immigrant population largely responsible. Added to that the fact that there is no place in the majority-Muslim Middle East, outside of Israel, where a Jew can expect to live in peace, and it begins to seem as if the Muslims are far more often the persecutor than the persecuted.

These facts do not excuse hate crimes against Muslims, but they do shatter the narrative of the poor, persecuted Muslims suffering at the hands of the bigoted, Islamophobic Americans. When you consider the number of terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies committed by Muslims over the past decades, American people have shown a remarkable degree of patience and tolerance. If some Christian terrorist organization had been committing attacks like 9/11 in any Middle Eastern country, by now there would not be a Christian alive throughout the entire Middle East. Even now, Christians in the Middle East are in serious danger of extermination for the heinous crime of existing.

As that article points out, hate crimes are rather rare in present day America. Hate crimes make the news precisely because they are something out of the ordinary. If America was really the nation steeped in bigotry that Move0n.org imagines us to be, hate crimes would be a daily occurence, hardly worth mentioning in the news. In fact, in many ways the United States is among the most tolerant nations and Western nations generally are more tolerant than non-Westerners. Yes, we do have a history which includes slavery, segregation, imperialism, etc, but these sort of things are the norm in human history. We are the exception in that we decided such things are wrong and should be stopped. If Moveon.org is concerned with the ill-treatment of religious minorities, their efforts would be better focused in places like the Middle East.

 

The Nativity According to Mark

December 22, 2015

The Gospel of Mark does not actually include a narrative of Jesus’s birth. Instead Mark gets right to business with John the Baptist.

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,  as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

(Mark 1:1-8)

Then Jesus makes his first appearance, fully grown and ready to begin His public ministry.

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

(Mark 1:9-15)

English: John the Baptist baptizing Christ

English: John the Baptist baptizing Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mark’s gospel was probably the first gospel written. It is the shortest of the four gospels and seems to have been intended as a sort of FAQ for Christians wanting to know more about the central figure of their faith. Mark doesn’t include a lot of details about Jesus’s life and teachings. He just gives the basic facts about Jesus’s ministry, his miracles and his death on the cross.

The earliest Christians weren’t really interested in the details of Jesus’s birth or His early life. Even His teachings were of secondary importance. For the early Christians, the most important fact about Jesus was that he was crucified, died, and them came back to life, defeating death and sin and redeeming the whole world. Paul, whose letters are some of the earliest Christian writings hardly mentions any details of Jesus’s life. He was surely not ignorant. Both he and the recipients of his letters already knew the information found in the Gospels. For both Paul and the people he wrote to, the most important thing was the death and resurrection. For the earliest Christians Easter, not Christmas, was the most important day of the year. Indeed, the birth of Christ may not have been celebrated by Christians until the third or fourth century.

There is a lot of talk, these days, about the War on Christmas, and I have written posts about the Secular Christmas Grinches who seem determined to ruin Christmas for everyone, or at least strip it of all meaning until it is a generic “Holiday”. As Christians, we should remember the importance of Christmas and should fight against the increasing marginalization of the Judeo-Christian worldview that this nation was founded upon. Still, we should also remember that Christ’s death and resurrection was the reason he came into the world. If Jesus is the reason for Christmas, Good Friday and Easter are the reason for Jesus. We should remember Christ on the cross as well as baby Jesus in the manger.


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