Longtime attache: Mr. Fields, why are you studying the bible at this late date?
W.C. Fields: I’m looking for loopholes.
I am still amazed at the subdued attitudes toward the pope’s denial of the existence of hell. Bet w.c. fields would have joined me in celebration. I tend to agree with the late Christopher Hitchens’ description that the notion of hell was often used as a form of “child abuse”. More on Hitchens later. For now he joins Yuval Harari, Bill Bryson, and Jared Diamond as authors I have become interested in studying. And will now recommend through some comments their books contain.
Infinity and eternity are tough to grasp. Bill Bryson, in his “A Short History of Nearly Everything”, used this example to explain how long this world has been around (13.5 billion years). Bryson says if you spread you arms to full wingspan, the distance from the tip one middle finger to the other represents 13.5 billion years. The distance from your left middle finger to your right wrist represents earth’s existence before any kind of life appeared. If you take one finger nail file off the middle finger of that right hand, that would approximate the length of time mankind of today (homo sapiens) has existed. Did god invent man, or did man invent god? No mankind before that nail file, no religion.
Below are some excerpts from these authors:
Jared Diamond, The World Until Yesterday
Reasons for religion
- The function of explanation
- Defusing anxiety
- Providing comfort
- Organization and obedience
- Codes of behavior towards strangers
- Justifying war
Table 9.2. Examples of supernatural beliefs confined to particular religions
1. There is a monkey god who travels thousands of kilometers at a single somersault. (Hindu)
2. You can obtain benefits from the spirits by spending four days in a lonely place without food and water and cutting off a finger joint from your left hand. (Crow Indians)
3. A woman who had not been fertilized by a man became pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy, whose body eventually after his death was carried up to a place called heaven, often represented as being located in the sky. (Catholic)
4. A shaman, who is paid for his efforts, sits in a house in dim light together with all of the village’s adults, who close their eyes. The shaman goes to the bottom of the ocean, where he pacifies the sea goddess who had been causing misfortunes. (Inuit)
5. To determine whether a person accused of adultery is guilty, force-feed a poisonous paste to a chicken. If the chicken does not die, that means that the accused person was innocent. (Azande)
6. Men who sacrifice their lives in battle for the religion will be carried to a heaven populated by beautiful virgin women. (Islam)
7. On Tepeyac Hill north of Mexico City in 1531, the Virgin Mary appeared to a Christianized Indian, spoke to him in Nahuatl (the Aztec language, at that time still widely spoken there), and enabled him to pick roses in a desert area where roses normally can’t grow. (Mexican Catholic)
8. On a hilltop near Manchester Village in western New York State on September 21, 1823, the Angel Moroni appeared to a man named Joseph Smith and revealed to him buried golden plates awaiting translation as a lost book of the Bible, the Book of Mormon. (Mormon)
9. A supernatural being gave a chunk of desert in the Middle East to the being’s favorite group of people, as their home forever. (Jewish)
10. In the 1880s God appeared to a Paiute Indian named Wovoka during a solar eclipse, and informed him that in two years buffalo would again fill the plains and white men would vanish, provided that Indians took part in a ritual called the Ghost Dance.
Get this—yesterday at swimming pool gossip hour, a community friend pointed out that a local resident was actually arrested for this scam: selling the fact that for a certain amount of money he could earn you access to god, who in turn would grant you the kind of strength the salesman had demonstrated (among others feats, he tore a phone book in two! ) ps –an addendum to this addendum relates there actually were two family members charged in the scam. And, in fact, the two had an earlier disagreement about the money split, so one broke off into his own connection to god. From 13.5 b till yesterday a new religion from Lands End! Sounds like the Baptists.
VIRGINS. The copy below shows an amazing number of virgin births. I couldn’t help wondering if at least one of these virgin’s fathers didn’t concoct this theory as an “out” for a beloved daughter?
Christopher Hitchens “God is Not Great”
As for Bethlehem, I suppose I would be willing to concede to Mr. Prager that on a good day, I would feel safe enough standing around outside the Church of the Nativity as evening came on. It is in Bethlehem, not far from Jerusalem, that many believe that, with the cooperation of an immaculately conceived virgin, god was delivered of a son.
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was in this wise. When his mother, Mary, was espoused to Joseph, before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” Yes, and the Greek demigod Perseus was born when the god Jupiter visited the virgin Danae as a shower of gold and got her with child. The god Buddha was born through an opening in his mother’s flank. Catlicus the serpent-skirted caught a little ball of feathers from the sky and hid it in her bosom, and the Aztec god Huitzilopochtii was thus conceived. The virgin Nana took a pomegranate from the tree watered by the blood of the slain Agdestris, and laid it in her bosom, and gave birth to the god Attis. The virgin daughter of a Mongol king awoke one night and found herself bathed in a great light, which caused her to give birth to Genghis Khan. Krishna was born of the virgin Devaka. Horus was born of the virgin Isis. Mercury was born of the virgin Maia. Romulus was born of the virgin Rhea Sylvia. For some reason, many religions force themselves to think of the birth canal as a one-way street, and even the Koran treats the Virgin Mary with reverence. However, this made no difference during the Crusades, when a papal army set out to recapture Bethlehem and Jerusalem from the Muslims, incidentally destroying many Jewish communities and sacking heretical Christian Byzantium along the way, and inflicted a massacre in the narrow streets of Jerusalem, where, according to the hysterical and gleeful chroniclers, the spilled blood reached up to the bridles of the horses.
“Sapiens” by Yuval Harari is thought provoking. President Obama and Bill Gates listed it on top of their reading recommendations. And, as slow as the first 13 billion moved, the immediate past and present have picked up the pace. Harari points to the computer as the clue to the hastening developments. Not the least of which is our increasing ability to gain “data”. An acceleration of data collection will truly be rapid. So much so that Harari’s next book “Homo Deus” (man god) contends that the next version of man will differ from the homo sapiens we are today into a newcomer as different from us as we are from neanderthals. Heavy.
I don’t know who will win the lottery prediction of mankind’s end. Most have suggested we better be ready Thursday or so. But looking at the scope of our past and speed of change, aren’t we perhaps just at the beginning, not the end?
Truth as the goal?
Is the truth what we should pursue, if not worship? We are witnessing artificial intelligence galloping forward. New knees were unthinkable not long ago. New brain in the future? No way? Harari would say not long now. Would it not follow that soon one would not have more evidence than faith to lean on. Hitchens says exceptional claims demand exceptional evidence. What I do believe is that Hitchens deserves the right to be an “antithesis” rather than an atheist. Certainly Americans have the right to freedom of thought. And who knows, the data required to unleash the many mysteries of life and beyond, may be nearer than we know.
Christopher Hitchens “God is Not Great”
Chapter 15 – Religion as the Original Sin
There are, indeed, several ways in which religion is not just amoral, but positively immoral. And these faults and crimes are not to be found in the behavior of its adherents (which can sometimes be exemplary) but in its original precepts. These include:
• Presenting a false picture of the world to the innocent and the credulous
• The doctrine of blood sacrifice
• The doctrine of atonement
• The doctrine of eternal reward and/or punishment
• The imposition of impossible tasks and rules
Chapter 16 – Is Religion Child Abuse?
When we consider whether religion has “done more harm than good”—not that this would say anything at all about its truth or authenticity—we are faced with an imponderably large question. How can we ever know how many children had their psychological and physical lives irreparably maimed by the compulsory inculcation of faith? This is almost as hard to determine as the number of spiritual and religious dreams and visions that came “true,” which in order to possess even a minimal claim to value would have to be measured against all the unrecorded and unremembered ones that did not. But we can be sure that religion has always hoped to practice upon the unformed and undefended minds of the young, and has gone to great lengths to make sure of this privilege by making alliances with secular powers in the material world.
Chapter 19 – The Need for a New Enlightenment
“The true value of a man is not determined by his possession, supposed or real, of Truth, but rather by his sincere exertion to get to the Truth. It is not possession of the Truth, but rather the pursuit of Truth by which he extends his powers and in which his ever-growing perfectibility is to be found. Possession makes one passive, indolent, and proud. If God were to hold all Truth concealed in his right hand, and in his left only the steady and diligent drive for Truth, albeit with the proviso that I would always and forever err in the process, and to offer me the choice, I would with all humility take the left hand.” —GOTTHOLD LESSING, ANTI-GOKZ.E (1778)
“The Messiah Is Not Coming—and He’s Not Even Going to Call!” — ISRAELI HIT TUNE IN 2001
Yuval Noah Harari
In the 300 years of the crucifixion of Christ to the conversion of Emperor Constantine, polytheistic Roman emperors initiated no more than four general persecutions of Christians. Local administrators and governors incited some anti-Christian violence of their own. Still, if we combine all the victims of all these persecutions, it turns out that in these three centuries the polytheistic Romans killed no more than a few thousand Christians. In contrast, over the course, of the next 1,500 years, Christians slaughtered Christians by the millions, to defend slightly different interpretations of the religion of love and compassion.
Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time!
But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money!
W.H. Auden, “The More Loving One”
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That for all they care, I can go to hell.
Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
The various forms of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people to be equally true, by the philosopher as equally false, and by the magistrate as equally useful.
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another)… There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.
Anyone who thinks sitting in church can make you a Christian must also think that sitting in a garage can make you a car.
When his life was ruined, his family killed, his farm destroyed, Job knelt down on the ground and yelled up to the heavens, “Why god? Why me?” and the thundering voice of God answered, There’s just something about you that pisses me off.