Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bible Verses not Read in Sunday School

I used to go to church a lot. My church of choice was the First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ. But I’ve also been to other protestant denominations including Lutheran, Methodist, Nazarene, Baptist, Pentecostal, and Assembly of God.

I’ve heard a lot of sermons in my day. Most of the sermons centered around the teachings of Jesus, as would be expected in a Christian church. The Pentecostal preachers really focus on the Book of Acts for some reason. Acts tells about how the early churchgoers practiced their faith; it has very little to do with what Jesus said or taught.

Many sermons are based on the writings of St. Paul. Here was a man who never met Jesus but could tell you everything in Jesus’ head. There are four Gospels in the bible, all written after Paul’s letters. But there is no Gospel of Paul. Jesus told Peter that he was the rock upon which his church would be built, but it turns out that Paul is the real foundation, at least in most churches I’ve attended.

And once in awhile, the pastor will go back to the Old Testament for the source of his sermon. They preach a lot from Genesis and a lot from the so-called books of prophecy. But I’ve never heard a sermon based on any of the following bible passages. I’m not saying no preacher has ever uttered them aloud, but if they have, it was probably in the context of trying to explain what God really meant to say. But it is God, after all. And it is the bible, God’s supposed word. Why does He have to be explained?

2 Kings 2:23-24 – “Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up the road, some youths came from the city and mocked him, and said to him, ‘Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!’ So he turned around and looked at them, and pronounced a curse on them in the name of the LORD. And two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.”

It would be difficult for a preacher to work into his sermon on this chapter why God would stoop so low as to kill 42 children for being childishly rude. And couldn’t God have just stricken them dead instead of sending bears to maul them to death? This is one sadistic creator of the universe.

Deuteronomy 25:11-12 – “If two men, a man and his countryman, are struggling together, and the wife of one comes near to deliver her husband from the hand of the one who is striking him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity.”

Ok, let me get this straight. To guys are fighting. The wife of one guy comes to and grabs the other guy’s testicles in order to stop him from killing her husband. Did this happen a lot? Were there any repeat offenders? Maybe that should have been one of the Ten Commandments in place of, I don’t know, “Thou shalt observe the Sabbath and keep it holy.” Not too many people follow that one anyway. But cutting off her hands seems a bit strict.

Malachi 2:3 – “Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces….”

This is God talking. I can’t think of any way in which a preacher could smooth this one over. I mean, if the Almighty gets so angry that he is compelled to smear feces on someone’s face and make him infertile, that’s sinking pretty low. Maybe the Lord was just having a rotten day.

The above passage comes from the King James Version, which some other versions also state similarly. But the New International Version cleans it up a bit. It states that offal from sacrifices will be spread on the faces. That’s still pretty bad, but probably not as bad a dung. The NIV was translated by fundamentalist Christians with the intent of bringing in more souls. In other words, the writers had a clear agenda, so it is no wonder they clean up the bible a little and remove some of the inconsistencies that are obvious in other versions.

Ezekiel 22:20 – “There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.”

This verse, obviously from the Larry Flint edition, could be a bumper sticker. I guess the preacher could elaborate on this one if he sent the kids off to the Sunday school rooms for cookies. I’m surprised the fundamentalists don’t demand the bible be banned from the bookstore for this one.

Oh, and here’s one for the Christians in the women’s liberation movement, if there are any:

1 Timothy 2:15 – “But women will be preserved through the bearing of children….”

Maybe some sleazebag could use that verse as a basis for a new religion. Their mantra: “Keep the women pregnant, for it will save their souls.” But a regular preacher of an existing religion would preach unto his flock that verse at his own peril.

I could go on, of course. The bible is a huge compilation, chock full of misdeeds and pornography. But you get the idea. If you’re a churchgoer, challenge your minister to center his next sermon on one of these verses that strikingly highlight some of the bible’s R-rated content.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fundamentalist Christians are Hypocrites

After living for years in a sort of religious limbo (no pun intended) I now call myself an atheist, not because I know there is no god, but because I do not believe in one. God might or might not exist; I have no way of knowing for sure, so I’m an agnostic atheist.

I used to call myself just an agnostic, and before that I called myself spiritual but not religious and before that I called myself a Christian because that’s how I was raised. But after reading Dan Barker’s book, Godless, I know that if I cannot specifically answer in the affirmative if someone asks me if I believe in God, then by definition, I’m an atheist.

Theists believe in a god. In the U.S. most theists are Christians. And most of them have no reluctance to tell me how wrong I am for not believing. I can point out that they only believe in one god, the Christian god, and therefore, are atheistic with respect to all other gods. What if they picked the wrong one? But logic doesn’t faze most fundamentalist Christians. They, after all, have their bibles.

It doesn’t matter that the bible is chock full of contradictions and horror stories of a vengeful god. It doesn’t matter that the bible has absolutely no independent historical corroboration. It doesn’t matter that not one word of the New Testament was written by a person who knew Jesus personally or witnessed any of the events they wrote about. None of that matters to Christians. They have their beloved bible, which is the unerring word of God. And how do they know it is? Well, obviously, because the bible tells them so.

Logic, reason, and rational thought don’t work at all with fundamentalists and their bibles. They can be the most reasonable, intelligent people in the world when it comes to all other aspects of their lives. Maybe they are whizzes at business or art or music. Maybe they have a photographic memory or are champions at playing Trivial Pursuit. But they are able to compartmentalize their daily, rational lives and keep all that separate from their religious beliefs.

It doesn’t matter to them that scientists have proved that all species of life on Earth, including humans, have evolved. They simply say, “Oh, it’s only a theory.” They don’t realize that, in science, a theory is as good as it gets. Theories have been proven, even though they can be modified by new evidence if necessary.

Fundamentalists say they have all the proof they need that God exists, in the trees, the flowers, a baby’s cry. It doesn’t matter one bit to them that everything they point to as proof of God can be explained perfectly well by science using only natural laws. It doesn’t matter to them at all that the personal feeling they have that God lives within them can be duplicated, and is duplicated, in other religions that they might call heathen religions. And those feelings can all be explained by neuroscience anyway.

I am often asked why I care what other people believe. I care, partly, because I am a teacher, and I like for people to understand how things really work. I at least like for them to be open minded enough to try to understand.

Mostly, though, I don’t much care that people believe in God. After all, if there were solid evidence, I could be convinced myself of God’s existence. I used to believe in God. So I get it. But what really bothers me is not their belief in God or even in Jesus, but that so many of them rule out what has been proven by science in favor of biblical mythology. And some of these people who rule out evolution as viable in favor of six-day creation find no problem accepting help when they need it from a doctor. Many medicines, such as immunizations and antibiotics, have been created based on the theory of evolution. Evolution is useful to scientists, and therefore, to everyone else.

If the religious fundamentalists would denounce the use of anything that comes from what they do not believe in – the theory of evolution, the Big Bang, the age of the earth and Cosmos – then I would say they are missing out on life, but at least they would not be hypocrites. But if they make use of any of these things, then they are, indeed, hypocrites. They use the advancements of science for their own benefit, even if those advancements could not have come absent the theory of evolution.

I say to all the fundamentalists who do not accept evolution as factual, despite 150 years of evidence supporting it then stop using the benefits of science. Live like the Amish. You should not accept the fruits of the labor of evolutionary biologists if you do not believe in evolution. You can’t have it both ways, unless you are a hypocrite. If you are a hypocrite, then you are being dishonest. And isn’t that what you would call a sin?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize often Given for the Effort

America does not exist in isolation. The isolationist policies that existed prior to World Wars I and II cannot work in the global economy of today. One can argue that they didn’t even work back then, since those wars might have been prevented by a United States that was more engaged in world affairs.

The United States, if we are to be a world leader, needs to have the respect of the nations we are leading. During the eight years of the Bush administration, we did not have that global respect. Our enemies loathed us to the point of actually attacking us, which enemies often do. But enemies are also often open to diplomacy. But the Bush administration wanted none of that.

Our friends did not respect us and often criticized the saber-rattling policies of the Bush administration. They were more than willing to stand behind us as we attempted to weed out terrorists in Afghanistan and elsewhere, but when we decided to invade a sovereign nation using the unproven excuse, which later turned out to be totally false, that Iraq was somehow tied to the 9/11 attacks and was hiding weapons of mass destruction, our friends mostly refused to go along with us. The countries that did back us did so tentatively and out of a sense of obligation, not admiration.

But in the few months that Barack Obama has been president, we have gotten our friends back abroad. The U.S. is still reviled by its enemies, but the rhetoric has been toned down and some of them are eager to engage with us in diplomacy. The nations of Europe, our staunch allies since World War I, are proud to have the U.S. as a friend again. We no longer stand as a monolithic war-mongering black-sheep nation. We are no longer a nation of peace that has gone rogue. No one has reined us in; we reined in ourselves, thanks to the policies and promises of our new president, Barack Obama.

So why did Obama win the Nobel Peace Prize? Some are wondering why. Some of Obama’s supporters are wondering why. And his detractors are out right livid that he won. Never mind that it speaks volumes of how the U.S. is perceived by the rest of the free world. Never mind that the award is a great honor to its recipient and his country. Obama detractors and the right-wing party of “no” can’t bring themselves to squeak out a limp congratulatory comment. It doesn’t matter to them that the prestige of America is rising again or that we are now seen as a peace-making nation rather than a war-monger. All they care about is that Obama has gotten an award he, in their minds, does not deserve.

But I don’t wonder why he received the Nobel Peace Prize, not after hearing the explanation from the Nobel Committee. He received it for his extraordinary push for worldwide diplomacy, for his effort to bring nations together to figure out common solutions for our problems, and for advocating a nuclear-free planet.

Prior to his nomination last February, Obama campaigned on abolishing nuclear weapons worldwide. He campaigned on creating a policy of diplomacy. Once in office, he abolished torture as a national policy and signed an order to close the constitutionally-questionable Guantanamo Bay prison facility. He stopped the saber rattling of the previous administration. And he opened up a dialogue with the rest of the world, including the Arab world, urging cooperation over condemnation to solve the world’s problems.

Some of Obama’s supporters, though happy he received the award, say it might have been too early. Maybe he should have been in office at least a full year before being nominated. And his detractors say he should turn down the award; they claim he hasn’t done a thing to deserve it. But the Nobel Peace Prize is not always given to accomplishments; it is quite often given for effort.

Pres. Woodrow Wilson won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in creating the League of Nations, a world organization that was supposed to act to stop all future wars. There was no appreciable disconcert over the fact that he won the Prize, even though the League of Nations was a dismal failure. But Wilson’s effort was awarded nonetheless. If the Nobel Committee had waited to see if the League actually worked, Wilson would never have won the Prize.

Desmond Tutu of South Africa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his effort to end apartheid. Never mind that apartheid did not end until 10 years later. Was the Nobel Committee premature in that case, or should it have waited until after apartheid had actually ended? It awarded the effort.

Pres. Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at bringing peace in the Middle East. If the Nobel Committee had waited until he succeeded, they would still be waiting to award him the Prize. Instead, they awarded his amazing effort.

After learning he had won the Peace Prize, Obama said he was humbled and that he didn’t feel he deserved to be placed in the company of previous winners. But he added this: “The Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement. It has also been used to give momentum to specific causes.”

While acknowledging that Obama’s achievements after only 10 months in office have been few, his efforts toward achieving lasting world peace have been awe-inspiring. After only a few months as president, he has finalized little in his bid for world peace, but he has put America on the right road to helping achieve it. It is a cause worth awarding.

A change of attitude can go along way, with individuals as well as countries. America has a new attitude, thanks to Obama. The rest of the world recognizes that. It’s just too bad the right-wing zealots who are automatically against anything Obama does or says or accomplishes are so busy hurling insults at our president that they refuse to acknowledge that the world might actually be a safer place now than it was a year or so ago, not so much because of specific accomplishments, but because of a change in attitude.

Only our enemies and those at home who call themselves conservatives do not understand why Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s sad that the right-wing party of “no” has more in common with America’s enemies than it does with the aims of their own president.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Five-Second Rule: Myth or Reality?

Most people have heard of the five-second rule. It says if you drop a piece of food, such as a potato chip or an apple on the floor, and if you pick it up right away, within five seconds, it is still clean enough to eat.

Our science class at George Washington Community School decided to test this rule. No, we didn’t use each other to test the rule by eating dropped food to see who would get sick. We used the scientific method to perform an experiment to find our answer.

Experiments should always have a set of variables, the dependent variable and the independent variable. It should also have constants and a control. We used equal amounts of nutrient agar in Petri dishes as a constant. Incubation temperature and time of incubation was a constant. The control was a clean-agar dish that had not been smeared with dropped food. Our independent variable was the time we left the food on the floor – one piece for more than five seconds, the other piece for less than five seconds. The dependent variable was the number of bacterial colonies that grew on the agar after 24 hours.

We decided that we would use bite-size Hershey chocolates as one of our constants. We would simulate the dropping of the candies by rubbing one on the floor for three seconds and another on the floor for seven seconds. If the five-second rule is correct, the hypothesis would be that the candy left on the floor for only three seconds should contain significantly fewer bacteria than the candy left on the floor for seven seconds. However, some of the students decided to state a different hypothesis, that both candies would contain approximately equal numbers of bacteria.

Our procedure, after rubbing the candies on the floor for the specified amount of time, was to rub them on top of nutrient agar in the Petri dish for five seconds each. We then incubated the Petri dishes for 24 hours at about 85 degrees F. At the end of the incubation period, we found that both the five-second dish and the seven-second dish contained considerable numbers of bacterial colonies. We performed three trials, one for each class period. In two trials, the number of colonies was approximately equal. In one trial, the three-second dish actually contained more colonies than the seven-second dish. The control dish contained no bacteria.

We, therefore, concluded that the five-second rule was bogus and simply a myth. The hypothesis stated by students who said that both pieces of candy would contain considerable bacteria proved to be correct. It is not wise to eat any food dropped on the floor for any amount of time.

See a video of one student, Emily, performing the experiment on YouTube.