Friday, August 7, 2015

Was BlogPress for iPad finally fixed?

Yes, it was.
It's a miracle!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Incompetence of the Bible

While I reread the New Testament, I'm struck by how Paul doesn't know about Jesus. And reflecting on this, comparing it with other aspects of the New Testament and its predecessor, the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament, I can't help but conclude that incompetence suffuses the whole scheme.

The Hebrew Bible tells us of an incompetent, imperfect entity that, for some reason, the Hebrew people choose to worship. Read Genesis. Tell me if Yahweh resembles any being that is good at what they do. Take your time.

Yahweh is incompetent. And the Hebrews chose to worship it. Did the Hebrews do the right thing? Has it paid off? Their reward for this worship is always in the future ... a messiah that never comes. Thousands of years of persecution ... a world thrown into unrest because subsequent generations somehow think these people are "chosen". They may be forgiven for thinking that Yahweh was worthy of worship. It was a primitive time, and we didn't yet know where lightning came from. But continuing to believe that, after thousands of years of misery and evidence that worshipping Yahweh is a bad choice leads me to conclude that they're incompetent, or insane. Not evil. Not bad. Not worthy of hatred or the suffering that they and others have heaped upon them. But they've been incompetent or crazy to pursue this after the millenia of misery they've endured.

Then we turn to the New Testament. Paul doesn't know Jesus, yet it appears that he gives rise to a new religion, or at least gives it direction. What does Jesus do for the human race? We have no way of knowing. There's no mention of him anywhere, no trace of his existence except in the words of the New Testament. The NT tells us that Jesus says he will return .... but he doesn't. Someone has made a mistake. Was it Jesus? Was it Paul? Was it the scribes or the early church fathers at Nicea, or before, or after? We don't know, but we see a book that doesn't accurately describe life as we know it. Its central character prophesies his return, and people worship him for this. And their reward is always in the future. Did he lie? Was he mistaken? Is it incompetence?

What about Christians? If I criticize the Hebrews for continuing their belief in the face of overwhelming evidence that it will only bring disappointment, shouldn't I turn equal criticism on Christians? Of course I should! Are they incompetent? Are they crazy? Is that too harsh ... should I be more polite and say "they're simply mistaken"? Maybe so, but their entire lives are spent chasing a dream that never materializes. Centuries .... millenia are wasted on this phantom. The waste of human potential is enormous ... truly mind-boggling. It may be impolite to say, but it's true. At best ... at the very best, the Bible is incompetent, an incompetent telling of an incompetent entity that spawns an incompetent sequel featuring equally incompetent prophets and a messiah who isn't a messiah, because he never does what he said he would do. And people believe this incompetence.

It may bring comfort. It may bring hope. It may bring meaning and organization to people who lack these things, but the human race can do better. The human race must do better. To do less is incompetent. Insane. Call it what you will. It's an enormous waste of human potential.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

NT: 1 Thessalonians

I continue my cursory review of the New Testament with 1 Thessalonians, considered by many to be the first Epistle written, thus the first of any book in the New Testament. I’ve already skimmed over Galatians and James, also considered by some to be the first books written. It’s not relevant to me which is truly the first, because there seems to be nothing in any of them that tell me that this or that book is a direct consequence of meeting Jesus or those who met him. (See my NT index here for the entire series so far.)

I admit that my notes here are shallower than you might expect, given that this is the Bible we’re talking about. I’m a little surprised myself, having read this at least three other times over the decades - probably four. I attribute this to a slightly different point of view over the years. In the seventies, it was “this is the Bible - its the Word of God”. Then it became “this is inspired by thoughts of the divine, but probably muddled through human error”. Now it’s “where’s Jesus in all of this? How do I know that Paul is a fair broker?” Consequently, what Paul says, absent some clear authority from Jesus, is not that interesting to me. My sparse notes are a reflection of that ennui.

Chapter 1 is entirely a salutation.

Chapter 2 recounts travails at Phillippi, and expresses love for the Thessalonians. Verse 15 mentions that the Jews "... both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets". Red meat for the Mel Gibsons of the world?

Chapter 3 is more blessings and encouragement of the faithful. Meh.

Chapter 4 contains even more exhortations ... but includes a future meeting with Jesus and “them in the clouds” - clearly some imagery that took hold in Christianity.

Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

Chapter 5 is still more exhortations ... and a closing blessing. That’s it.

As I sort through these early Epistles, I’m struck at how no mention of Jesus’ miracle-working is made. Ignore the lack of historical or biographical information - the idea that people might have witnessed healing the blind, curing the sick, raising the dead, turning water into wine, or walking on water is never brought up. I understand (via a Dr. Robert M. Price video) that the explanation for this is that the recipients of the letter would have already known about these, thus mention of the miracles was not necessary, but I find that ... ummmmmm ... interesting. Weren’t miracles noteworthy? Anyway, 1 Thessalonians is yet another example of an Epistle in which Jesus is mentioned solely as the object of worship, not as having performed behavior similar to actual beings.

Here are the mentions of Jesus that I can find:

1 Thessalonians 1:1 (KJV)
Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians [which is] in God the Father and [in] the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace [be] unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians 1:3 (KJV)
Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;

1 Thessalonians 1:10 (KJV)
And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, [even] Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.

1 Thessalonians 2:14 (KJV)
For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they [have] of the Jews:

1 Thessalonians 2:15 (KJV)
Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men:

1 Thessalonians 2:19 (KJV)
For what [is] our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? [Are] not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?

1 Thessalonians 3:11 (KJV)
Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.

1 Thessalonians 3:13 (KJV)
To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.

1 Thessalonians 4:1 (KJV)
Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort [you] by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, [so] ye would abound more and more.

1 Thessalonians 4:2 (KJV)
For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 4:14 (KJV)
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

1 Thessalonians 5:9 (KJV)
For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (KJV)
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

1 Thessalonians 5:23 (KJV)
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and [I pray God] your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians 5:28 (KJV)
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with you.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Theory of the Supernatural - Part 3

In my prior two posts on "A Theory of the Supernatural" (Part 1 and Part 2), I laid out what I thought were possible arrangements of S-world and N-world such that S-objects might be able to cause effects in N-world, much as we might expact a deity to.

In case I failed to mention it, it seems to me that there are a series of contingencies that must play out successfully for a human theory of the supernatural to be plausible. My list:

  1. A supernatural realm must exist to provide the possibility that supernatural entities exist
  2. The supernatural entities that we're interested in would have the ability to act independently, and cause physical effects in the Natural realm
  3. The means of maintaining awareness between the supernatural and natural realms must exist in order for actions in the supernatural realm to be carried out as expected in the natural realm
  4. A means of transmitting the action from S to N is required.
  5. An entity with at least one characteristic of unrivaled excellence exists in S-world that we might refer to as God

There are a number of quibbles that Theologists and Philosophers might have with these contingencies, such as whether God and the realm in which it exists are separate ideas, and whether the first four items in my list are even germane when we're discussing some entity that can perform any act, such as God allegedly can. But I'm sticking to my guns for the moment - I believe that asking "how does she do that?" is as meaningful as asking how we know that a particular event or circumstance is a result of God's action.

I realized during drafting my last post on a theory of the Supernatural that belaboring whether simpler Supernatual entities such as ghosts, faeries, poltergeists (etc.) exist, doesn't necessarily improve the case for a supreme being, so I'll skip it entirely. Let it be said that a Deity might exist in a Deity-capable realm, and ignore any further navel-gazing.

Also in my prior S-post, I surmised that an arrangement of S-world and N-world could (most likely) be one of the following:

  • SR3. N and S are identical
  • SR4. one supervenes upon the other
  • SR5. one contains the other

For brevity's sake, let's treat these three views as functionally equivalent. Given that S and N are coincident realms, and that humanity's current problem is just that we can't perceive S and don't understand what S might be (other than a place for supernatural stuff to originate), is there a mechanism that we can posit that will allow S-stuff to occur in N? This immediately brings to mind the idea that, regardless of our current inability to perceive S and understand it, any S-causes that affect N ought to raise an eyebrow. Occurrences that are inexplicable are candidates for S-stuff. If we can identify "S-stuff Candidates", then we might have found a starting point from which we can work back through the postulated S-affects-N mechanism, and establish the reality of S. What might we use to start the investigation?

I'm going to confess that I'm drawing a blank here. What the heck, in the history of the world, can we point to and say "this is unambiguous evidence that S-causes affect N"? We know where thunder comes from. And floods. And locusts. We know what red tide is. We know where the sun goes at night. We know that people sense something that they think is "the supernatural". We know that allegedly supernatural objects (crystals, star charts, spirits, deities) can be used to give people focus, organizing principles, a sense of importance, a sense of community, a feeling of certainty and power over an uncertain and intractable cosmos. So where do we look to find clear evidence of S-stuff?

First, I'm going to be really cold and toss out all personal anecdotes of the supernatural as irrelevant - including my own. I thought for several years that spirits existed, and that my grandmother, who had been unable to speak during most of my conscious childhood, guided me and watched over me after she passed away. How else to explain my ability to persevere and to make good when my life was a mess? Similarly, I felt in my early twenties that Jesus loved me, that God loved me, and that I was destined to find human love and to make a positive impact in the world. And both of those feelings are fully explainable. I was looking to be significant in the universe, to find love and friendship, to have something firm around which to organize my life. And was important to me back then. So it's easy for me to imagine other people - billions of other people - approaching their lives the same way, doing the same general things that I did when I was in need. And I don't see why they shouldn't do that, if they don't have a better plan. But I don't see why anyone should think that this human need, desire, hunch that there is something supernatural going on and is affecting them in a real way is evidence that there in fact is. It could be considered evidence if there were a way to validate its occurrence, then examine possible causes. Absent some good physical explanation, a candidate S-event could be important in our overall probability calculation of S's existence, but unsubstantiated personal anecdotes don't work here.

Let me point to where the supernatural might be found, given that trivial occurences and human feelings of the supernatural haven't produce anything substantive so far. We should look at the Great Unanswered Questions - things like the origin of the universe, the origin of life, the source of ostensibly objective moral values, the apparent fine-tuning of the universe, the origin of consciousness, the fact that the universe is understandable. If this sounds familiar, it's because these are (obviously) some of the topics used in constructing arguments for the existence of God. And I believe that's where I should look, as well. So let's examine one.

Asking the question "where did the universe come from?" often results in one of two answers. First, a respondent might reply "we don't know". Fair enough ... seems like a difficult question to answer. Another answer we hear is "God created the universe". Here's Dr. William Lane Craig on the subject:

Now from the very nature of the case, as the cause of space and time, this cause must be an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power which created the universe. Moreover, I would argue, it must also be personal. For how else could a timeless cause give rise to a temporal effect like the universe?

Craig subsequently states that this cause is a Personal Creator, and that this Personal Creator is God.

Craig didn't think this one up by himself ... there is a history of musings about the "First Cause" - dating back to Plato and Aristotle. Much has been made of Craig's particular argument, with my particular take being that anyone claiming this - an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power that is also personal caused the universe - has the interesting task of explaining how those five exact characteristics are required for a being to create the universe, and how that being exists in some state somewhere in order to effect this universe's creation. These claims reek of bare assertion and flirt intimately with infinite regress.

Without good reason to acknowledge that a creator thingy has to have the characteristics just described, we don't really get any closer to describing a plausible first mover, let alone something that, additionally, has some influence on transient corporeal lives and eternal spiritual lives.

Next time, let me poke around into some of the individual characteristics.

Monday, June 22, 2015

NT: An Index

An index to my brief notes and comments on the New Testament:

NT: James

I turn my attention to the Epistle of James (Wikipedia, Blue Letter Bible), mainly because it is said by some that it might be the earliest book in the New Testament.

Fair Warning: James has approximately nothing to tell us about Jesus. He mentions Him by name twice. Two times. That’s all. So, whether or not James is the earliest mention of Jesus is practically irrelevant, since he provides no historical or biographical information that might make Jesus seem real.

Another note, if you’ve read the Gospels and Acts, then read James, you can imagine that itis written either 1) before an actual Jesus appears on Earth, or 2) before the tradition of an actual Jesus (as opposed to a wholly spiritual Jesus) is developed. Read Chapter 5, especially Verse 8 to see what I mean.

In the canonical order, James appears after Hebrews and before 1 Peter. It is the twentieth book in the New Testament. It, like Galatians, is brief, consequently I’ll charge through it in one post.

Chapter 1 is addressed to the twelve tribes - apparently of dispersed Judeo-Christians - and begins a sermon on sin. My favorite verse:

21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

Naughtiness! Yes, that’s our problem!

Chapter 2 shows us James view on justification - the act of becoming righteous - as he espouses works as well as faith. He sounds like a good man.

15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

Chapter 3 seems like general advice on not being sinners, while Chapter 4 continues the theme.

17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

Chapter 5 repeats an earlier backhand to rich folk - James loves the poor and downtrodden.

1 Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.
2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.
3 Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.

He closes with a final piece of advice.

19 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;
20 Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

James’ epistle is not addressed to a specific group, at least not in the sense that it might be delivered to a particular recipient or group of them. It appears to be a broadcast message. You can imagine printing (if printing had been invented) many tens of copies and leaving them in the public square for general distribution. All-in-all, a nice letter. I like James.

As before, here are the (only two) verses where Jesus is mentioned by name, although “Lord” and “Christ” appear more frequently. Jesus does not seem to be a real person in James’ eyes.

James 1:1 (KJV)
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.

James 2:1 (KJV)
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, [the Lord] of glory, with respect of persons.

More Cheers!

NT: Galatians

I continue my occasional review of the New Testament with Galatians.

The Epistle to the Galatians appears in the New Testament after 2 Corinthians and before Ephesians - it’s the ninth book. It is worth noting that Galatians is thought by some to be the first of Paul’s Epistles to be written - between 45 and 55 C.E. As such, it serves as a window into what the Christian world was like at the earliest times, and may tell us something about what Paul - whom might be called the father of the Christian Church - believed about Jesus and the Jewish world in which he became aware of him.

To be charitable, there are other views about the order in which NT books were written. A quick Googling on “chronology of books in the new testament” returned me other timelines. I've omitted Galatians-first entries, since that seems to be a majority view:Galatians is short, just six chapters, and appears to be motivated by Paul’s concern that the Galatian congregation is already straying from “the gospel” that they’ve been given regarding Christ. From Chapter 1:

6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

Apparently there’s another gospel or two that are floating around, and which Paul considers bad juju. Here, we can already see that there’s a tradition of preaching about Christ - that there are at least two, in fact - the one that Paul prefers, and the one that he thinks will pervert what he’s preaching. We don’t know (yet) what these gospels are, whether they have a name or a source or what tradition they present, but it will be interesting to see what turns up as Galatians unfolds.

11 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.
12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
13 For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:

In the verses above, Paul attests that his version was received by revelation, not from man. Now this-heah is interesting! He hasn’t told us anything about Christ in this letter yet, but he claims his gospel came from beyond. You get the impression that he could be claiming that the revelation is from Jesus himself, but Gal 1:12 could be interpreted as an anonymous revelation _of_ Christ as well. We have no idea what his intention is, except to impress the audience that his words come from on high. That might work if you believe that sort of thing.

Anyway, Paul visits Peter and sees no other Apostles “save James the Lord’s brother”. The adventure begins.

The start of Chapter 2 tells us a couple of things about Paul, and (we might presume) the Christian community that he so strongly influences:

1 Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.
2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.
3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:
4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:

He “went up by revelation”. Does that meant he didn’t physically go? Curious choice of words!

In verse 4, he reports spies that might want to bring him into bondage. We thus have, in just four verses, a reliance on revelation (or his imagination, if you’re skeptical) and a feeling of persecution. If his followers adopt Paul’s particular way of seeing the world, we could be in for a long, strange trip.

It gets weirder. Paul’s obsession with circumcision is an unfortunate sign of the times. Of course, if the present-day U.S. Government was going around snipping the ends of dudes’ dicks off, I might be as obsessed (and fearful) too. So, maybe Paul’s not as bent as I first thought. One of the defining features of Christianity then appears to be their desire to keep their weiners in one piece. Okay then, we finally have a solid rationale for Christianity!

Among other oddities:

9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.

Wherein Paul mentions a John - but apparently not an Apostle, if the prior chapter is to be believed. Oh, and more dick mangling.

Chapter 3 seems to be one long admonishment of the “foolish Galations”.

In Chapter 4, he gives a shout out to Abba, then continues his rant in slightly more subdued tones. At least he enjoys ’70s pop music.

Now, in Chapter 5 - something memorable:

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

But he still can’t get off the topic of circumcision completely.

Chapter 6 is just the denouement of his admonishments and encouragements. Kinda anti-climactic.

If Galatians is the earliest record of Jesus, then you’d think there’d be a hint of something more than just the object of worship or salvation. Jesus might be. a Golden Calf, for all Paul has told us. Even the reference to Peter only implies that he’s an Apostle, which implies the existence of an Apostle meme that his audience understands. The best evidence that Jesus is flesh-and-blood is the mention of James as His brother. That’s all that I can detect. So Jesus is pretty mysterious, circa 47 A.D.

Just for completeness, here are the verses in Galatians that mention Jesus. Not a one that gives us historical or biographical information.

Galatians 1:1 (KJV)
Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)

Galatians 1:3 (KJV)
Grace [be] to you and peace from God the Father, and [from] our Lord Jesus Christ,

Galatians 1:12 (KJV)
For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught [it], but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Galatians 2:4 (KJV)
And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:

Galatians 2:16 (KJV)
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Galatians 3:1 (KJV)
O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?

Galatians 3:14 (KJV)
That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Galatians 3:22 (KJV)
But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

Galatians 3:26 (KJV)
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28 (KJV)
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 4:14 (KJV)
And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, [even] as Christ Jesus.

Galatians 5:6 (KJV)
For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

Galatians 6:14 (KJV)
But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

Galatians 6:15 (KJV)
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.

Galatians 6:17 (KJV)
From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.

Galatians 6:18 (KJV)
Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with your spirit. Amen.