Pharisees and religious authority

There was a religious group in Israel around the time of Jesus. It played an important role in the contemporary theological and legal climate. Its teachings were very influential on later Christianity and Judaism. However, Jesus didn’t like that group. Knowing this and nothing else about them, most Christians proclaim that the Pharisees were hypocrites.

The logic is simple. Jesus was God. God can’t be wrong. Therefore anything Jesus says is true and requires no further investigation. Chapter 11 of Luke describes his attitude. A Pharisee invited him to dinner. He expressed surprise when his guest didn’t wash his hands before eating. Jesus proceeded to launch into a tirade against his hosts, calling them “full of greed and wickedness” and claiming they “neglect justice and the love of God.” A legal scholar pointed out to Jesus that he was tarring a bunch of people with a broad brush, and Jesus then added legal scholars to his rant. In other words, he burst into a rage like a five-year-old because he was asked to wash his hands before eating.
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Song: Mary Dyer

Wikimedia image of Mary DyerSong blogging time again. I introduced this song at the MASSFILC gathering on March 4. I’ve been thinking about an alternate history cycle involving the Quakers, and decided to start with actual history. The lyrics and sheet music are on my website.
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The Bible on immigrants and war

While looking up something else, I came upon Leviticus 19:33:

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.

I wonder what the religious right would be like if they actually read their Bibles. Then again, they’d keep going to Deuteronomy 20:13, so I should probably be glad on the whole:

When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves.

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Robert Ingersoll

Robert Ingersoll quoteMy second post on Secular Voices is now up: Robert Ingersoll, A Hero of Free Thought. Please share the link if you like the article.

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New article on Secular Voices

Secular Voices has just accepted my first article, “The Biggest Victims of Muslim Fanaticism: Muslims”. Getting a good number of views will help my future chances, so pleaseMuhammad saying "C'est dur d'être aimé par des cons." spread the word if you like it.

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On bashing people for their religion

I can bash religion as well as anyone else, but I draw a strong distinction between attacking the fallacies of religion and attacking people for their religious affiliation or expression. Mashable juxtaposed two New York tabloid front pages, both of which I consider seriously offensive. The Daily News quotes four politicians, expressing sentiments such as “our prayers are with the victims,” and declares in huge letters, GOD ISN’T FIXING THIS.” The Post says, in slightly larger letters, “MUSLIM KILLERS.”
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NBC News panders to religious hatred

A headline on NBC News plumbs the depths of bigoted writing. It reads: “‘Wiccan Ritual Killing’ Leaves Family of Three Dead in Penascola: Police.”

The evidence? Andrew Hobbes, speaking for the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, said, “It appears that this might be connected to some type of Wiccan ritual killing and possibly tied to the blue moon.” He further referred to “The injuries to the victims, the positions of the bodies and also the person of interest right now is also a practitioner.” The injuries were described as blunt force trauma, and the murder weapon was supposedly a claw hammer. Funny, I haven’t heard of claw hammers as a Wiccan ritual instrument of sacrifice before.
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What we can learn from Phil Robertson

Let’s make a few things clear at the start. I don’t want Phil Robertson censored. I don’t want him to lose his job. If someone acts on his claims and kills people, it’s the murderer’s fault, not Robertson. In fact, I think we can learn something from his words, in a perverse way. Here’s what he said:

I’ll make a bet with you. Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And then they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?’

Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this [sic] was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun. We’re sick in the head, have a nice day.’

If it happened to them, they probably would say ‘something about this just ain’t right.’

Phil Robertson (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)Well, yes, something about that would not be right. The same thing would not be right if fanatics broke into Robertson’s home, claimed that Christians say there’s no right or wrong, and raped and murdered his family. But the clear implication is that the atheist would be wrong, that in fact there is no right or wrong if the target of violence doesn’t believe a deity exists.

I wanted to make sure I was understanding Robertson correctly, knowing how distorted media accounts can get. It was conceivable his next words were, “Of course something about this ain’t right. People don’t stop being human just because they don’t belong to your religion.” However, I haven’t found any claims that his words were ripped out of context. I did find a defense of Robertson by someone named John Nolte. This piece calls the denunciations of Robertson “ignorant” and “bigoted.” Nolte says Robertson was making “a perfectly valid point about a Godless world in which there is no Ten Commandments and by extension no basis to judge right from wrong.” This clarifies an important point: the scenario applies not just to atheists but to anyone who doesn’t have a belief system that includes Moses. He could equally well have talked about raping and killing a “little Hindu wife” or “little Buddhist daughters.”

I don’t think he’d act on that principle and murder unbelievers, but there are people who do just that, for the reasons he gave. They kidnap, torture, and kill on the principle that anyone who doesn’t recognize their form of religious authority falls outside all moral consideration. Robertson points to the Bible as his revealed moral authority, and Islamic State and Boko Haram point to the Quran, but there’s no way to decide which is the “true” one.

Robertson and IS believe that humans are incapable of moral knowledge on their own and that anyone who doesn’t follow divine authority doesn’t count as a human being. For Muslim fanatics, this applies even to people who don’t hold their exact interpretation of the Quran; they kill more Muslims than non-Muslims. There’s no need to feel moral doubt while committing mass murder, since apart from God’s orders there is no right or wrong.

It’s an escape from personal responsibility. The people who accept this view don’t have to bear the burden of deciding what’s right and what’s wrong. By accepting that they’re incapable of independent moral judgment and have to follow divine orders, they escape the need to think and the risk of doubt. The ones who take up violence literally would rather die than think.

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A god who must die

Muhammad saying "C'est dur d'être aimé par des cons."There is a god who needs to be destroyed. These days he most often assumes the name Allah, but he’s also the god behind the Jericho massacre, the Aztecs’ human sacrifices, Salem witch trials, the slaughter of the Huguenots, and doubtless many atrocities of religions I’m less familiar with. Even atheist Sam Harris paid homage to him in The End of Faith when he wrote, “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.” He is the god Holy Murder. He’s around wherever people accept the doctrine that the alleged words of a deity are the sole standard of right and wrong, or when they just want an excuse to kill people they can’t control.

Good will and courage are necessary to destroy him: enough good will to categorically reject the idea of killing people for the propositions they believe, and enough courage not to be silenced. It’s a mistake to concede any religion to him; as long as there are people within it who refuse to accept him as their god, they deserve support.

Je suis Charlie.

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Newton’s birthday and the “war on Christmas”

Lately on Twitter I’ve noticed complaints from a number of conservatives about people who celebrate Isaac Newton’s birthday on December 25. It’s a tactic of the War on Christmas, they tell us, to claim he was born on the 25th. If so, then all of England was waging this war during his lifetime.

The case against regarding December 25 as his birthday is that under the reformed European calendar, which everyone now uses, his birthday would have been January 4. However, Newton was born in 1643 and died in 1726. England didn’t adopt the new calendar until 1750. It’s perfectly reasonable to regard his birthday as the date in use in his home country.

Dates of birth don’t have any intrinsic significance, of course. Those who want to call it January 4 can. But it’s especially silly for people who celebrate Jesus’s birthday on December 25 to express outrage at alleged inaccuracy in such matters. Even if you take everything in the Bible as literal truth, there’s nothing in it that indicates Jesus was born in winter, and the nocturnal watch of the shepherds makes a spring day much more likely.

Some people, like me, like to observe Newton’s birthday because the big religious holiday on December 25 has no special meaning to us, and it’s nice to celebrate something we find more meaningful. Let’s face it, this is the real reason for the outrage; a lot of Christians think no one but them should engage in any seasonal celebrations. Some of those people know enough history to know that shortly after Newton was born, the Puritans passed a law banning many forms of Christmas observation, so that gives conservative Christians a reason not to like anything English from that period. (I’d agree with their low opinion of the Puritans, if not their reasons.) On top of that, Newton may have been inclined toward Unitarianism.

If you missed December 25, celebrate Newton’s birthday again on January 4. That should make everybody happy.