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Friday, May 20, 2011

Genesis, part 2

Today I finished the book of Genesis.
First I would like to note that I find irony in the idea that I am using the hard work someone (whom I assume is a believer in the religion) who recorded the reading of the Old Testament as a tool to learn more about the core of their belief and yet the more I learn the more I am deciding that my opinion of the faith has been correct all along.

My assessment of the latter half of of the Book of Genesis is that it is, essentially more of the same material found in the first half. There are a few additional things that are noteworthy, such as the story of Joseph. Joseph's story can be interpreted two ways: one is that the God of Abraham was following Joseph with interest and making him succeed wherever he went. The other interpretation of this story is that hard work and intelligence, when applied together, can make someone successful despite terrible setbacks and betrayal. I expect that either interpretation could be considered inspirational to a reader/listener.

My assessment of the complete Book of Genesis is that there are a great many inconsistencies in the overall story of the book. I find that there is also a lot of repetition in the phrasing and information in the book and a couple instances where there seem to be contradiction in whom was involved. The writing is really quite bad and I expect that if other narratives that have been wildly successful books where re-formatted to be told the same way that this book is formatted that EVERY publisher would reject them and very few readers would ever read them (this spawns the question of "how many copies of The Bible are actually READ and how many just sit around gathering dust?").
I also found that the stories highlight the greedy and self-centered nature of people, even those chosen by God. The very nature of the stories lead me to question God's character in these stories. Lastly, that man was created such that he had lifespans of HUNDREDS of years and then God spoke and forced man to have lifespans of only DECADES means that God is fallible: either God made a mistake in the initial creation of mankind OR there was an oversight made in that creation. Either way a correction means a mistake was made. The idea of a correction being made means that the idea of God being infallible is incorrect.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Faith and the lack thereof

Part of my drive to absorb the works of the major religions is that I have been pondering them for many years. I have been thinking about what they mean and trying to understand why people have faith in any of them.
This has also made me consider the idea of a lack of faith.

I have come to the conclusion that there are two very different versions of not believing in an all-mighty being and/or force. The difference between them can be reduced to a single character; "a" or "A."

Atheism is the evangelical belief that there is no god(s). Atheism the just as much a religious dogma and faith as any of the major religions (as is the fanatical belief in just about anything). On the other hand atheism is the failure to have faith in any of the religions. The difference between the "a" and the "A" at the front of the term terms is the difference in faith. Those who are Atheists have the faith that there is, without a doubt, no god(s). Those who are atheists fail to see proof that there is one. The difference is minor, but VERY important. One group has active faith in a negative while the other merely lacks faith in a positive.

I've often found that people who refer to themselves as "agnostic" dislike the word "atheist" regardless of their capitalization because they don't want to be associated with Atheists. I've also found that atheists resent people who use the term "agnostic" because they feel that it is a cowardly way of saying "I'm an atheist." I've also found that many people who are religious seem to think anyone who fails to have a fail MUST be an Atheist.

The reality is that these words have different meanings for different people and that is just as much a problem among the non-believers as different interpretations of dogma have among different sects of believers.

When you're speaking with someone who uses the term "atheist" to describe themselves it may be wise to inquire if they are an "Atheist" or an "atheist" before entering into any discussion on the topic of religion. I know that the difference between the two will be my first discussion point shall I ever be in such a situation.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Genesis, part 1

The first of the works I am examining is the Old Testament of The Bible.
The first book of this is the book of Genesis.

My thoughts, comments, questions, observations, etc are below:

Genesis Chapters 1-16
During creation it is outlined that God created all of the universe and then created life to live within it. He fashions the plants and animals and then he fashions man from the dust of the Earth. Why then did he have to remove one of Adam's ribs to fashion a companion for Adam? Why was Eve not also made of the dust of the Earth? Why were all of the other creatures given the ability to reproduce and created in (at least) pairs when mankind was made as a single individual first? Did Adam then have a missing rib on one side?
When were the angels created?
After Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden Cain and Able were born. Cain slew Able. Cain was cast out to wander the land. Cain found a wife and began a country with others. If Adam and Eve where the first two people WHERE DID THOSE PEOPLE COME FROM? Whom did Cain marry? Where did she come from? Whom did Seth find for a wife later on?
God explicitly states that mankind is mortal and, as such, his lifetime shall be limited to 120 years. This is well after MANY people have lived for HUNDREDS of years. After this proclamation people continue to live well past 120 years. Why and how is this happening? There does seem to be an asymptotic relationship with age and the 120 year cap among the main players of The Bible through the end of chapter 25.
The ark could not exist as written. It would be far too huge. Having only two of every creature would consume FAR more space than the size of a marine vessel could handle let alone all of the supplies needed to sustain all of those animals for 150+ days at sea (even assuming that fresh water was plentiful and that they did not need to pack it). So, unless Noah is a Time Lord from Galifrey and the Ark is a TARDIS disguised as a boat this story is not possible.
It is stated that the flood waters covered the whole earth and destroyed all life not in the ark. This would include all olive trees. Where did the dove get the branch that it returned to Noah to indicate that the waters were receding? Why was the dove more successful than the raven? Is that supposed to be a symbolic/metaphorical message of some sort?
After the flood mankind rebounded into a larger population again. If one assumes that Noah and his wife were on the ark and that the others on the ark with them were mated pairs of humans who were descended from Noah and his wife one must ask: where did the grandchildrens' spouses come from?
We have built structures equal to or exceeding the Tower of Babel; why have we not been struck down?
How were there as many people in Babel as stated if only two generations earlier all of mankind was wiped out by the great flood?
The book is obviously biased toward the main characters (what story is not) as there are many instances of characters having "many other sons and daughters." What happened to these people. Are NONE of them worth mentioning?

Genesis Chapters 17-25
God instructs Abraham to mutilate all of the men in his house whether born into it or purchased. This mutilation is called circumcision. Whether one believes there are hygienic reasons for this procedure (still performed all over the world today) or not it is removal of flesh from the human body and, thus, a form of mutilation. The origin of it appears to be God speaking to Abraham. It makes one wonder why God would require this; did he not create mankind in his own image? Does this requirement imply that God made a mistake in creating mankind or that he deliberately made a portion that can be removed so people can prove their faith by removing it of their male children?
These passages also point out that God (at best) condones of slavery. Any person who is purchased is a slave. Slaves who are forced to be circumcised because of the faith of their owner are being mutilated against their will (most likely).
These chapters have additional incidents of people living longer than 120 years
These chapters have commentary about people being old and past child-birthing age in their 80s when people where having children into their 800s earlier in the story - this is a contradiction in the facts of human lifespans presented by the story.
After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah Lot takes up residence in a cave with his two daughters. Each of these daughters get their father drunk and, essentially, rape him to get pregnant. They each bear a son from the encounter. This is stated factually and without statement as to a consequence imposed on Lot or his daughters by God for the action. Does this mean that God condones incest?
Later on Abraham and Sarah are referred to as having had the same father but different mothers - so they are married half-siblings? This is more evidence that God condones (and rewards) incestuous matings.
Sarah insisted that Abraham father a child through a maid-servant then exiles the servant and the child when Sarah is able to have a child. This is willful example of child neglect, hypocrisy and abuse but it is not only tolerated by the Lord but also Abraham is told to do it. Does this mean that God rewards terrible behavior among his faithful if the terrible behavior supports God's preferred ends?
God instructs Abraham to murder his son, Isaac, in a "burnt offering." After Abraham has tied up Isaac and lain him on the pyre an angle tells Abraham not to harm his child. A ram appears and it is sacrificed instead. Sacrifice of animal tissue is a terrible waste. Who is God that he requires the blood and burnt body of animals be spilled on the ground? This, to me, is murdering the animal for no reason; killing an animal and consuming it provides a reason for the death of the animal where as murdering it in such a way as to prevent anything from using it is a waste of that animal. Requiring someone to murder their own child is also a terrible thing. This story seems, to me, that the entity claiming to be God is evil.
The book repeatedly refers to Issac as "your son, your only son" when it is well-established that Abraham had another son before Isaac with the maid-servant. This is either an attempt at revisionist history (e.g. an attempt to forget Ishmael) or a continuity error in the story: either makes for bad writing. If it is an attempt on the characters to revise Ishmael's existence out of their lives then it shows that they are less than kind and loving humans. God rewards them anyway. It seems that God will not only do evil things but also reward evil among his followers.
God promised that if you do this thing for me I will make your descendants more numerous than the stars but then required more and more... Darth Vader's statement to Lando Calrissian of "I have altered the deal; pray I do not alter it further" comes to mind.
Rebecca died at age 127. 127 is greater than 120. This is further discrepancy of the age limitation imposed on mankind by God.
Rebecca is the grand-daughter of Abraham's brother and is marrying Abraham's son, Isaac. Rebecca is, therefore, Abraham's grand niece. Does this qualify as incest?
Racism is practiced and rewarded: Abraham's insistence that Isaac be given a non-Canaanite woman as a wife. God, allegedly, supports this by directing Abraham's servant to locate the right people so that he may find Rebecca.
This far the Bible is demonstrating that women do not matter as more than property. The gold nose-ring for Rebecca is mentioned repeatedly and, at least in my interpretation, it is mean to mark her as property of Isaac. Additionally female children are rarely mentioned in the book and usually only as "they went on to have many more sons and daughters." Women are not significant players in the story other than as the wives of the male leads. Furthermore, concubines are mentioned repeatedly. Concubines are, essentially, sex slaves of the males. They are owned and mated with at the whims of the owners. This is considered normal so it implies that men are dominant and that monogamy among the men is not enforced. It also reinforces that women are to be owned.
I think it is also important to note that there are a few instances where it is mentioned that women were virgins. This is important to mention not because of it being mentioned but because of how rarely it is actually mentioned. Historical documents regarding people's burials in medieval Europe mentioned it when people were buried with a full set of teeth because it was very rare for that to happen. People today mention things that are rare and ignore things that are commonplace. This leads one to wonder if women were rarely virgins when they were married off to men. This, coupled with the obvious women-as-property mentality of the remainder of the book (thus far) makes me wonder what the norm of the society was and whether it was common practice to sell one's daughters/sisters/etc sexual services prior to them being married off.

Lastly I want to know why it is considered such a large and magnificent reward to have offspring and descendants as numerous as the stars (or grains of dust). It is mentioned so many times to the main characters of the book that it obvious was culturally desired at the time of the book being recorded, but the desire for that to be the case seems misplaced. More children (after a certain point) becomes a cost burden rather than a financial asset and the more children generated the farther one might have to travel to maintain good genetic matches for future generations of breeding. Lastly, it is not possible to have a human population that rivals the stars in number on this planet and there is not enough time to populate planets around all of the stars (if there is enough time to even populate planets around one other star).

These are my thoughts through the end of the Book of Genesis: Chapter 25.

Faith and Religion

It's no secret to anyone who knows me that I have no faith.
It is important to note that "faith" does not necessarily have to be religious in context. "Faith" is, essentially, blind belief in something without evidence to support the belief (or, in some cases, belief against the evidence that supports an oppositional viewpoint).
EVERYTHING I accept as reality is based on evidence leading up to it or based on the idea of giving someone/something the "benefit of the doubt" until they generate enough evidence to confirm or deny that they deserve that benefit.

This is not just applicable to people. It's also applicable to vendors and other organizations. It's applied to concepts and philosophies.

This is why I have troubles with organized religion. They are ALL based on faith of some sort.

Of course, I realized a few years ago that my disdain for certain religions was/is based on assumptions of those religions and on the faith that what I have absorbed through living in the life I live in hasn't been warped or distorted.

In an effort to eliminate this error on my part I have decided to absorb the contents of the core books of several religions.

I am starting with the Old Testament of The Bible (this books is common to both the Jews and Christians) and then I will work into the New Testament of The Bible (Christians) and then I will absorb the Book of Mormon (applicable only to a sub-sect of the Christian faith). After that I will move on to the Holy Quran. If I can find audio versions of many other religious books (including the "banned" books of the bible and alternate books used by alternate variations of the Christian faith I will absorb them, too.

I will post commentary as posts as I am absorbing some of these materials.