A Treasure Trove of Nonsense pt. 1

So, I’ve been posting very intermittently, which is not the way I intended to do things when I started this blog. Unfortunately, work has been unbelievably busy but that isn’t the only reason it’s been so hard for me to put out content.

It takes me a long time to put my thoughts together about each part of the Bible, and I want everything I write to represent my thoughts as accurately as possible. I want to put out analyses that are as thorough as I can possibly make them, and that sort of thing takes time.

Case in point, I’m currently working on Genesis 16, which I thought was going to be quick, but after a few rewrites, I found myself enamored with the character of Hagar. And while doing some research, I wound up learning of a book by Delores S. Williams on the subject called Sisters in the Wilderness. So, I ordered the book on Amazon and have been reading it ever since.

Long story short, I’m not inactive because I’m lazy, I’m inactive because I want to do a good job. But, at the same time, I also want to run this blog, and I realize that if I want to do that, I’m going to need to post more frequently.

So, from now on, when things get quiet, I’m going to drop a little post like this where I link to a bunch of nonsense that you don’t need to read about but should. This is all the BS and nonsense that I find from browsing the internet.

Again, you probably shouldn’t proceed if you value your time but if you’re reading this, you probably don’t so let’s go…

Where does the term ‘Nincompoop’ come from?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about going back to school and pursuing my PhD in Physics (which is what I studied in undergrad). As a result, I’ve been going back and reviewing my old Quantum Mechanics textbook.

One night, I was doing a few problems and I made a really obvious mistake (I won’t explain exactly what it is so I don’t bore anyone). But in my journal where I was doing the problem, I highlighted the mistake, and I wrote a note to myself in which I called myself a nincompoop (the only insult my tired brain could come up with for some reason).

So anyways, after I wrote this, I began to wonder, where did that word even come from? It’s a really bizarre word when you think about it: nin-com-poop. What the hell?

So, I looked into it and it’s not 100% clear where the word comes from. One source that I found said that Dr. Samuel Johnson, in his famous Dictionary, cited the word as being derived from the Latin phrase non compos mentis, meaning “not of right mind”.

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Me reading about the origins of the word ‘nincompoop’.

But another, more detailed article, says this may be incomplete. This article argued that the word could come from the Dutch phrase “nicht om poep”, meaning “the female relative of a fool”. Or, potentially it could be a reference to Nicodemus, the pharisee (who I will certainly be writing about somewhere down the road).

So yea, if for some reason you were wondering about where the word ‘nincompoop’ comes from…there ya go.

Posadism: The Wackiest Political Ideology of All

In the era of Donald Trump (and Bolsonaro and Boris Johnson and so on) a lot of people find themselves arguing with people with really wacky political ideas. I often argue with my aunt, who seems to think that Donald Trump should be able to do anything he wants at anytime for any reason and I often find myself thinking that my aunt has insane politics. But little did I know that there is a political ideology out there that blows all of the crazy aunts and uncles out of the water.

I give you Posadism.

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When my friends ask if I’m a Democrat or a Republican I laugh and say: I’m a Posadist.

Posadism is a form of communism, or more specifically, Trotskyism. To be honest, I don’t really give a shit about communism and all the different variants and subdivisions of communism, so I have no fucking clue what Trotskyism is exactly, but J. Posadas, the godfather of Posadism, was originally a Trotskyist in the 4th International.

When the 4th International dissolved, Posadists broke with their fellow communists on the question of nuclear war. Posadists believed that nuclear war would be a wonderful way to destroy capitalism and make space for communism. Posadas hoped that nuclear war could bring about the world revolution that would ultimately allow workers to seize the means of production.

So already, what we have is an accelerationist pseudo-death cult, interested in sparking nuclear war for the sake of establishing their political framework. If this isn’t crazy enough, it’s about to get weirder.

At some point, Posadas started to turn his eyes to the skies. Posadas started to think about UFO’s. In Posadas’ mind, aliens must have achieved an enormous level of scientific and societal advancement if in fact they made it all this way. That would mean, of course, that they also achieved socialism!

Aliens, Posadas irrefutably demonstrated, will bring socialism to Earth.

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And if all of that isn’t weird enough for you, read into it yourself, there seems to be a lot more where that come from, I just didn’t have time to research it all.

In the modern day, Posadism is basically an internet meme. Anyone who’s writing about Posadism in this day and age is probably not taking the ideology very seriously. That said, there is an active Trotskyist-Posadist Party in Uruguay, known as the Partido Obrero Revolucionario or The Revolutionary Worker’s Party. I was able to find their website, but it’s in a language I don’t speak/read so I didn’t learn much.

Anyways, that’s all from me, these are the things I’ve been reading. Hope you found these things weird and interesting. My thoughts on Genesis 16 will be coming very soon. Happy Monday everyone!

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Genesis 15: Tough Love or Manipulation?

One of the things I’ve tried dutifully to avoid while writing this blog, is rehashing the same nonsense that can be found on hundreds, if not thousands, of atheist blogs across the internet. I’m not really interested in going over arguments that every edgy teenage atheist has used to make their parents clutch their pearls in horror. I have no interest in impersonating Christopher Hitchens in my writings, I’m not nearly as clever or funny to fill those shoes anyway.

Instead, what I do hope, is that my revisiting the good book will unearth some of the core disagreements that underlie the sometimes-venomous conversations between the religious and the irreligious. I’m hoping to find important differences between people who take this book to be holy and the rest of us, so that I might have a better understanding of why people believe.

Here, in Genesis 15, I’ve encountered, what I think, is one of these core differences. At the very least, I’ve found significant differences between myself and Matthew Henry, whose commentary I’ve been reading.

Genesis 15 is often given the title “The Lord’s Covenant with Abram” and that pretty much sums it up. Here we get the famous quote from God in which he guarantees that Abram’s offspring will be as numerous as the stars.

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Abram wondering if he really wants to deal with THAT many kids…

God also promises Abram’s progeny the land of Canaan. However, he doesn’t just promise them land, he also promises them a few hundred years of slavery and oppression. And, just for good measure, God indicates to Abram that he’s going to wipe out the Amorites as well, but we’ll save conversations about God-sanctioned genocide for a later date.

For now, I want to turn to Matthew Henry’s commentary. Henry, upon reading Genesis 15, seems to see God’s covenant with Abram as, on the whole, a good covenant. Not surprisingly, I had a rather different reaction.

In Henry’s commentary on Genesis 15, he says this about the Egyptian slavery:

“They must first be in the horror and darkness of Egyptian slavery, and then enter with joy into the good land; and therefore [Abram] must have the foretaste of their sufferings, before he had the foresight of their happiness.”

Notice that Henry does not try to argue that the Hebrew bondage in Egypt is the result of freely made choices by the Egyptians. In Henry’s mind, Egyptian slavery is part of God’s design for the Hebrews, it isn’t an accident God was powerless to stop. So Henry seems to agree with me that God is ultimately behind the slave driver as much as he is behind the liberator. While God credits himself for the liberation, we must also grapple with the fact that God was cracking the whip that the Hebrews ultimately had to escape.

But here’s the key difference between me and Mr. Henry: when I see God promising Abram that his progeny will be oppressed in Egypt for generations, only to be eventually freed and exalted, I have to ask myself, why did God allow the torment and oppression in the first place? If God loves his people, why not skip to the good part?

This is the disagreement that I was alluding to earlier. When religious folk see their God liberating them from oppression, I tend to see God as the oppressor. In this view, God no longer seems like our friend, but like a sinister manipulator, who torments people only to demand thanks and praise when he finally releases them.

Now, I can already hear the reaction in your mind, so I’ll save you the energy. Life can’t all be flowers! the indignant, conservative evangelical replies after reading my snarky, skeptical commentary, Sometimes, life is hard, God never promised us that it would be easy, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t love us!

The obvious comparison is to a father who takes away his son’s phone when he gets a bad grade in school as a way of motivating him to work harder. God, in the eyes of many, is a stern but ultimately caring patriarch. The argument would be that God doomed the Israelites to servitude in Egypt as a way of disciplining them. This kind of suffering would ultimately lead to growth that would in the long run make the suffering all worth it.

Indeed, this is the argument Mr. Henry’s commentary makes:

“Holy fear prepares the soul for holy joy; the spirit of bondage makes way for the spirit of adoption.”

But this view is limited here in the case of Genesis 15. It might be that individuals need to suffer in order to become strong, but in Genesis 15 we aren’t talking about individuals, we’re talking about entire nations of people, some of whom likely have no relationship to each other and may even be separated by generations. To see what I mean, let’s take a look at the actual text of the covenant between the Lord and Abram found in Genesis 15:13-16:

“Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.””

Notice how God talks about entire nations as if they were people. He talks about punishing the Egyptians for enslaving the Hebrews as if infants in Egypt had any part in determining the social hierarchy of Egyptian civilization. And indeed, we will see that God punishes the Egyptians as a monolith instead of focusing on the political leaders and elites who were largely responsible for the social order of the day. Apparently, God was not a Marxist.

Furthermore, God talks about how the Hebrews will emerge with great possessions, how is this supposed to comfort all of the innocent men, women and children who will die in chains in Egypt? Will they think to themselves: “well at least my ancestors will have lots of livestock” as a brutal slave driver works them to death moving rocks around in the desert? This makes no sense.

That is, it makes no sense, if you look at this through the lens of God as the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the universe. But from where I’m sitting, all of this makes perfect sense. If God, as presented in the Bible, is a character written and created by human beings, then we should expect him to have all the bizarre and confusing inconsistencies that human beings have. We should expect God to conflate nations with human beings at a time when small, localized nations were fighting for their existence against other sometimes larger nations. We should expect God to be largely unconcerned with the rights of individuals at a time when individual rights were more or less nonexistent.

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This is why I find the “stern but loving father” defense of God’s more egregious acts in the Old Testament to be incredibly unconvincing. Because God is not just punishing us to make us stronger, that might be the case in Jonah, but it isn’t the case here. Instead, God is punishing children for the sake of their predecessors, no one is being made stronger in this scenario. There is no justice in that, there is no love in that unless you fail to draw the distinction between a person and their ancestors.

Genesis 14: War Is Hell

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Military History Now opens their article about history’s earliest wars in an excellent way: “WARFARE IS AS OLD AS CIVILIZATION ITSELF.” And of course, this is true. Humanity has yet to find a way to get along with one another. A look through the history of warfare reveals that moments of peace are few and far between for humanity and any seeming gaps in the history of violence can likely be attributed to a lack of historical data, and not a true absence of conflict.

In Genesis 14, we get the first biblical war. This isn’t the first war that we have a historical record for, but it’s the earliest war that’s mentioned in the Bible. In short, five kings rebelled against Chedorlaomer, the king they ruled under. Chedorlaomer called upon three other allies to put down the rebellion and this whole conflict became known as the Battle of Siddim. Amongst the kings who rebelled against Chedorlaomer were the kings of Soddom and Gomorrah (who will of course be important later when God torches their cities).

The kings of Sodom and Gomorrah were presumably not winning the Battle of Siddim, and so they both fled, leaving all of the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah behind for Chedorlaomer and his allies to take. Amongst all of these goods was Lot, Abram’s nephew, and he was taken away. When Abram learns of this, he wages a war of his own to rescue his friend who has been captured.

The story is pretty remarkable and strange. When I imagine a war between nine kings, I imagine a massive war between very powerful people, and if the five kings that challenged Chedorlaomer were defeated, it’s outlandish that Abram would have defeated Chedorlaomer with an army of just 318 men. But this is the Bible we’re talking about, it’s full of wild underdog stories.

One interesting point for a Christian reader would probably be Abram’s commitment to his nephew Lot. In Matthew Henry’s commentary, he says this about Abram’s war:

We have here an account of the only military action we ever find Abram engaged in, and this he was prompted to, not by his avarice or ambition, but purely by a principle of charity; it was not to enrich himself, but to help his friend. Never was any military expedition undertaken, prosecuted, and finished, more honourably than this of Abram’s.

Now, the historicity of Abram’s war is disputed, but if it is a true event, then this does seem to have been what we might be tempted to call a noble war. This was not an imperial war over resources or money, it was a war Abram fought for the liberation of his friend.

Another interesting point for a Christian reader is Abram’s rejection of Sodom’s goods. Instead of reaping the rewards of his goods, he returns the goods to Sodom. This wasn’t really meant as an act of charity towards the Sodomites but rather it was an act of tremendous principle on the part of Abram. If you’re familiar with the Old Testament, you know that God doesn’t have a good opinion of Sodom which tells us that Abram probably didn’t either. Abram’s stated reason for not accepting the goods is that he didn’t want the King of Sodom to be able to say, “I made Abram rich.” So, in a sense, Abram is defending his reputation here.

There are some broadly applicable life lessons here. Abram’s principled stance against the King of Sodom is certainly admirable and the war he wages against a powerful enemy for the sake of his friend seems pretty inspiring. But reading this from my modern perspective, I can’t help but think that there are quite a few things left out here.

In Wikipedia’s entry on Abraham, Abram’s war against Chedorlomaor is described as a slaughter. Now granted, we’re talking about Wikipedia here, but this seems consistent with scripture, which says that Abram “routed” Chedorlomaor. The trouble here, is that Abram didn’t defeat Chedorlomaor, Abram’s army defeated Chedorlomaor’s army. And we know very little about either army.

One of the things I find disturbing about the way war is reported to us throughout history (and even in the modern day), is that it often erases the real experiences of the human beings who were involved. We talk about Abram defeating Chedorlomaor, but we don’t talk about all of the soldiers that were killed or maimed in the process. The “slaughter” that Wikipedia talks about is not the slaughter of Chedorlomaor, but the slaughter of a group of young men that probably had no stake in Chedorlomaor’s war. The Bible is not unique in this, this is the way war is reported even in the modern day, but I think that the victims of war deserve better. They deserve a more complicated analysis. To say that Abram’s war was noble because he was fighting for the sake of his friend doesn’t seem to be exactly right considering the fact that he probably sacrificed the lives of people who weren’t involved in his conflict in order to rescue Lot.

It’s probably true what Military History Now says about war. War is probably as old as civilization itself, and perhaps we may never find a way to live at peace. But I think the first step in achieving real and meaningful peace is to acknowledge the true costs of war. The real human beings who are lost forever in all the “glorious” battles in history. Perhaps then we’ll see that war is never glorious, it’s never beautiful, it’s never noble. It’s always brutal and horrifying and sad.

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Genesis 12 and 13: Abram, King of the Soil

In Genesis 12 and 13, an interesting character is introduced to us (technically he’s introduced in Genesis 11, but only briefly and I was too focused on the Babel stuff to talk about him there). When we meet him here, he’s called Abram, but God will later rename him Abraham and Abraham is, in a sense, the Father of monotheism.

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            The big three Abrahamic Religions are Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but there are others such as Rastafarianism and Baha’ism. These religions all claim some sort of distant connection to Abraham who is often considered a revered ancestor or significant prophet.

            But in Genesis 12 when we meet Abram (as he is originally called), he’s not as mythic as he would become. At the beginning of Genesis 12, God tells Abraham to pack up his things and move. We don’t know how long Abram spent at his current residence, but God clearly felt it was too long and so seventy-five-year-old Abram packs up his things and prepares to move to Canaan (it’s worth noting that these guys lived to be like 900 apparently so seventy-five-year-old Abram is basically a toddler). God’s cited reason for asking Abram to leave his home is that he was going to make a great nation out of Abram.

            I couldn’t find a reliable source for exactly how long of a walk it is. Answers.com said it was about 500 miles and according to this little map I found on another site, it does seem to be a nice long walk along the Mediterranean Sea. So, I guess Abram feels pretty strongly about what God tells him and I guess being turned into a great nation is reason enough to walk 500 miles on foot with all your belongings.

            Abram goes with his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot and when he arrives, there’s a famine so he has to leave Egypt (a bit rude for God to call him out to a place where there’s literally no food but I guess that’s none of my business). As Sarai and Abram arrive in Egypt, Abram realizes that his wife is super-hot and when the Egyptians see this, they’re going to want to have sex with her. Abram deduces that the Egyptians will probably kill him if they know he’s married to Sarai so he suggests to Sarai that she should claim to be Abram’s sister, that way the Egyptians don’t kill him.

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Abram and his “sister” Sarai in Egypt

            So, Pharaoh takes Sarai as his wife and, as a result of this, Abram was treated really well. But this didn’t seem to affect Abram so much as it affected God. Outraged at the whole ordeal, God afflicted Pharaoh’s family with a plague (this wouldn’t be the first time either, so maybe God just got a kick out of it we can’t really tell). Pharaoh sends Abram and Sarai on their way, and they leave Egypt a plague-ridden mess.

            Following this bizarre story, in Genesis 13, Abram returns to a place called Bethel in Canaan. At this point Lot, who had been following Abram this whole time, had acquired so much stuff that it was difficult for Lot and Abram to travel together because their herders kept bickering with each other. So, Lot and Abram part ways. After Lot leaves, God reminds Abram that all this land around him is going to belong to him one day.

I don’t have too much to say about Genesis 12. I didn’t really find it to be a hotbed for meaningful commentary. A Christian commentary on this chapter would probably say something about the courage Abram exhibits by following God anywhere he’s asked to go. They might also note something about how God doesn’t give us guarantees and he might uproot your life at any point in order to ask that you follow him, and at the end there will be a greater reward for you if you have faith that God has good plans for you. And we can probably expect that a Christian commentary would include some mild apologetics for the latent sexism involved in Abram’s venture into Egypt. They’d remind us that this was a different time and we can’t read our morals into an ancient book and blah blah blah. And as the atheist, it’s my job to emphasize the latent sexism and perhaps even argue that the Bible ordains it. Then I could guffaw at all the backwards Christians who believe in this evil book that hates women. When I’m done with that, I could probably add something about how inconsiderate God was when he just uprooted Abram’s life without even asking him how he felt about it. But these points have been hashed and rehashed so many times now it makes me nauseous to even think about having to write that nonsense.

            With regards to the latent sexism, I’m not going to comment on that too much here. Generally, I agree with the Christians that in this instance, this was written in a different time and I think as long as it’s pointed out that this book is loaded with misogyny because it was written by human beings, I don’t feel the need to write a post about sexism every time I come across a sexist act in the Bible (I’d be writing all day). I’ll talk about the misogyny of the Bible for verses that have been historically wielded against women or if there’s something particularly important I want to take note of, but other than that, I’m not going to overemphasize the point, because everyone knows it nowadays.

            However, I do think Genesis 13 contains some interesting content. Here, God tells Abram that a vast portion of land belongs to him and his posterity. This might not seem unusual, it wasn’t to me as I was rereading it recently, but it should be unusual. In light of modern science, I think this view of nature is actually quite backwards. The idea that God (were he to exist) would promise a piece of land to someone makes no sense when you understand that the vegetation and all the creatures on that piece of land are living things. Wouldn’t it be akin to slavery to hand over a piece of land full of life to the will of a group of human beings?

            This is an implicit assumption that I’ve always felt was problematic about Christianity. The assumption that the Earth is an object to be owned and exploited, is one of the fatal errors of Christianity that has created many of the problems we face as a world today. Its why climate change is slowly killing us, it’s why the fish are dying out, and it’s why there are still wars being fought to this day on that land that God gave Abraham so many years ago.

            There’s an old Arapaho saying that, I think, gives us a much better ethical framework for how to treat the Earth: “All plants are our brothers and sisters. They talk to us and if we listen, we can hear them.” This may not sound like much, but it draws a sharp distinction from the implicit assumptions about property present in the Abrahamic traditions. It is also far more in line with modern science. The message from the Arapaho is that the plants which, to us, seem to be inanimate objects, are living things that can feel, think and even speak to us.

            Of course, it seems pretty unlikely that trees are able to think, but what’s indisputably true here is that the trees are living things. In fact, an oft repeated truism in the modern day tells us that there are more living organisms in a handful of soil than there are people on planet Earth. How then, could we justify owning a plot of land, which is full of a diverse array of living, breathing creatures?

            This might sound like New Age woo woo magic, but this is a reality and it shows that the Abrahamic traditions committed what may be a fatal error for humanity. This belief that the Earth is property is what has led us all to believe that we can treat it any way we please without any repercussions whatsoever. I think that the best way forward for us as a species, is to recognize that the beliefs that underpinned our society for so many years are fundamentally toxic. We must replace these beliefs with an understanding that the Earth is something we live in harmony with, and not something that we dominate. Or, put another way, we must teach Abram another old Arapaho saying: “When we show our respect for other living things, they respond with respect for us.”

Genesis 11: The Tower of Babel

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The Tower of Babel is one of the more interesting tales in the Biblical canon. The myth was designed to make sense of the fact that humans speak so many different languages. The story is often told like this: in the early days of humanity, some time after the flood, a group of humans decided they were going to build a city and, in that city, there would be a giant tower called Babel. God passively watched from above but when he saw what they were up to, God couldn’t help but become angry with the humans. The humans were trying to build a tower so that they too could sit on the clouds like God. The humans were beginning to fancy themselves Gods. So, God responded by toppling this little tower and forcing all the humans to speak different languages, so that they couldn’t communicate with one another. Without the ability to communicate, the humans presumably gave up on the project and decided to form independent countries and endlessly go to war with each other instead. The end.

If you were raised Christian, you’ve probably heard some variation of this story before. The way the story is often told seems to parallel the story of Icarus. Humanity flew too close to the sun, so God melted their wax wings and sent them plummeting back to Earth. Hubris is the tragic flaw of humanity in this story as it is usually told. But, having read it with a fresh pair of eyes, I think we’ve misunderstood this story.

The story is only 9 verses long, so we haven’t got a lot to work with here. The details of the traditional story are all in agreement with the actual text. Humanity, under one language, does decide to build a city with a tower named Babel in the middle. God does get angry at this and he does destroy the tower and give each of the people new languages. But God’s reasons for doing this, and humanity’s reasons for building the tower are a little bit different than we’re usually taught.

Genesis 11:4 is usually the text cited to justify the position that humanity was building the tower to be arrogant. This verse tells us that humans wanted to build the tower to “make a name for ourselves.” This sounds pretty damning until you read the full quote: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” So, it seems like humans were building a tower to make a name for themselves, but for the purpose of unifying all people under one common banner.

We see further evidence of this in Genesis 11:6. God descends to the city and sees what’s going on and responds, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” Notice there’s no mention of hubris here, it doesn’t even seem to be implied. It almost sounds as though God is frustrated with how successful humans are. It almost sounds as though God is the enemy of humanity in this moment.

Could it be that the ancients saw God as an obstacle? Why not? Most gods were personifications of abstract natural forces. Most natural forces, it seems, are working against humans, not with them, so why not assume that God is standing in your way? Why not assume that God is against you?

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We tend to assume that the ancients would have believed in a cheerleader god who shows up to all our soccer games and takes us for ice cream whether we win or lose, but that’s only because that’s what we want to believe. The ancients would probably have been expecting a God who didn’t think much of humanity or, quite possibly, even a God that hated humanity and actively worked to undermine them.

Perhaps, then, God didn’t topple the Tower of Babbel because he thought humans were arrogant, perhaps he did it because he couldn’t stand the thought of human beings becoming united and self-sufficient. Perhaps God realized that if there were no wars, no violence, no oppression, there would be no need for humans to run to God for comfort. If there were no suffering, there would be no need for God. And God couldn’t stand such an idea.

This whole story reminds me of a conversation between Russel Brand and Yuval Noah Harari on Brand’s Under the Skin podcast. Harari notes that most sci fi films depict AI as having some sort of flaw. The robots don’t work the way we wanted them to, they turn on us and they try to kill us. But, Harari notes, this is actually not the most terrifying scenario. The most terrifying scenario is that the robots do work the way we want them to. They work so well that suddenly there’s no place for us in this world anymore. Maybe that’s how God felt; humans were working so well together that God felt useless. And it was better, in God’s eyes, to have humans that fight and go to war and kill each other, than to have humans that don’t need God.

‘Old Men Are the Real Youngsters of Our Generation’: Reflections on Greta Thunberg

For those of you that have been living under a rock, the young girl pictured below has been taking professional lawmakers to school this past week.

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Also, if you’ve been living under a rock, you should know the Earth is finally reacting to the past few centuries that we’ve spent greedily devouring it, blissfully unaware of the devastating consequences. And, if you haven’t heard, this might mean the end of our species and the end of all life as we know it on this planet.

But there’s good news, if you’ve been ignorant enough to ignore all of those things, you’re probably old which, surprisingly, is a privilege these days. You’re privileged enough that you won’t ever have to deal with the consequences of climate change, you’ll die before this ecological disaster renders portions of the world unlivable. But there are many of us, like Greta Thunberg (the girl in the rain jacket) that weren’t granted this privilege. Many of us will have to live with the consequences of the generations that preceded us that weren’t willing to take seriously the implications of their actions.

Greta Thunberg is a 16 year old, Swedish environmental activist whose blown up over the past year for speaking out about climate change and in the past week she’s spent her time outsmarting American lawmakers and calling out the UN, both of whom have proven to be completely impotent when it comes to dealing with this problem. And the American Right, the only people in the world who still pretend climate change is a hoax, have spent their time insulting her and displaying a level a maturity that I wouldn’t even expect from a teenager.

But at least the conservatives are honest. They don’t give a shit, and they’re crystal clear about that. What makes me sick is the ineffectual liberals who show there faces at Thunberg’s speech just so they can pat themselves on the back and tell their wives and children how brave that little girl was, but then they go home to their countries and continue with business as usual. Those lawmakers that are so narcissistic that they aren’t even aware that Thunberg’s speech is leveled not just at the Republicans, but also at the liberals who couldn’t muster up the courage to put forward a genuine political solution. When Thunberg says “My message is: we’ll be watching you.” and she’s met with laughter and applause, be sure that this is the laughter and applause of people who have no awareness that they are part of the problem.

16-year-old explains the gravity of the ecological crisis to the UN.

It’s a stirring speech. But the true tragedy is that it’s all for nothing. We live in a world where a teenager had to tell Congress to ‘listen to the scientists’ which, in my view, is a world too far gone. Of course, I believe in the words of Dylan Thomas, and I refuse to quietly except the end of the world, but I can’t say I’m optimistic.

Anyways, I admire this kid’s courage and anger, and I truly hope some of these boneheaded lawmakers will grow a backbone and stick up for the children who will actually have to live with the consequences of their irresponsible decision making. But if you’re still too delusional to accept the science, then there’s probably nothing I can say to you, and if you’re still too cowardly to accept that any solution to this problem requires a massive restructuring of our economy, then there’s probably nothing I can say to you except, what Thunberg said: “The eyes of all future generations are upon you and if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you.”

I’ll leave you all with a quote from the great Elie Wiesel that reminded me of Greta. This comes from his fantastic novel ‘The Accident’ or as it’s more commonly known ‘Day‘. The quote is taken from a conversation Elie has with a woman named Halina about his journalism. This was, of course, written about a completely different generation, but it’s no less applicable as it was a generation struck with similar fears of Armageddon.

“I thought you’d be older.” She was smiling awkwardly.
“I am,” I said. “At times I am as old as the wind.

“I’m serious,” she said. “I read your articles. They are written by a man who has come to the end of his life, to the end of his hopes.”
“That is a sign of youth,” I answered. “The young today don’t believe that some day they’ll be old: they are convinced they’ll die young. Old men are the real youngsters of our generation. They at least can brag about having had what we do not have: a slice of life called youth.”

Genesis 9:18-29: Peeping Ham and the Curse of Canaan

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In one of my previous posts, I talked about the ancient belief that sin could be inherited but I didn’t dig too deep into the multitude of egregious manifestations of this belief throughout history. I didn’t forget about this, I simply figured there would be many opportunities to discuss it, starting with the latter half of Genesis 9.

Recall that in Genesis 6-8, God decided he was going to drown the entire world because the humans were being shitty. But God decided he’d save Noah and his family, so he told them to build a giant boat and put a pair of every single species of animal on that boat. Then God flooded the world and killed everyone.

Afterwards, Noah and his family were tasked with restarting the world. God promised he wouldn’t destroy everything this time (although he provided a neat little loophole in his promise, in case he changed his mind) so the only thing Noah and his family had to do was procreate and everything would be back to normal.

After the flood, Noah did the next logical thing, he planted a vineyard, made some wine and got drunk. After forty days of tending to a literal floating zoo, Noah needed to kick his sandals off and drink away some of that stress. Now, if you’ve ever been to college, you probably know that the craziest people are the people that have never drank before. And as we know, prior to the flood, Noah was God’s favorite student, so we can imagine he was something of a goody two shoes. This means that when Noah got drunk, he got really drunk. We’re told that, when the party was over, Noah was found naked in his tent.

Unfortunately, Noah was found naked in his tent by his son Ham. Genesis 9:22 tells us “Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside.” Now, modern readers tend to read this part and think that it’s rather gross. Nobody wants to walk into a tent and find their dad naked (especially if their dad is 600 years old…) but apparently this would have meant something more to the original readers of this text. We know this because, after Ham tells his two brothers (Shem and Japheth), the brothers walk in backwards and cover their father with a blanket. The reason they walk in backwards is to avoid seeing Noah naked like Ham did. Why take such precautions? Apparently, seeing your dad naked wasn’t just gross, apparently it was a mortal sin. When Noah woke up and found out that Ham had seen him naked, Noah cursed Ham’s son Canaan and doomed his entire bloodline to a life of slavery.

If you’re confused, you’re not alone. Why did Noah curse Canaan when it was Ham who he had beef with? Is it really the end of the world that Ham saw Noah naked? The folks at gotquestions.org are also puzzled by this one, they present a couple of possible answers but even they agree that most of them don’t add up and ultimately, they’ve got questions but no answers. Answers in Genesis, on the other hand, always has the answers. And as usual, their answers misread the text in order to justify their preconceived beliefs. They’re response more or less boils down to, “well Canaan must’ve done something wrong, otherwise God wouldn’t have let Noah curse him.” But apparently there are no Answers in Genesis as to what exactly it is Canaan did wrong.

I’m no Bible scholar but maybe the reason it’s so hard to find an answer here is because we’re expecting it to make sense in our time. We assume that their must be a good reason for Noah to curse an entire bloodline of people, so there must be something the Bible isn’t telling us. But maybe the Bible is telling us all the information it wants us to know. Maybe the Genesis writers have given us all the pieces to the puzzle, but we just don’t like the big picture. Is it possible that this Curse on Canaan happened because Noah was embarrassed that his son saw him naked? Then, when he woke up with a serious hangover, he was pissed off (and perhaps a little drunk still). He was so pissed off that he accidentally cursed the wrong person.

Genesis was probably written sometime between 900 and 700 BC. In the centuries preceding Genesis, Canaan apparently had some rough years. Canaan was a colony of Egypt and many Canaanites are included in a list of prisoners of war to Egypt. So, something happened to the Canaanites that might have led one to suggest that the Canaanites were cursed to become slaves. The Bible has its own account of what happens to the Canaanites and it’s rather horrific, but we’ll get to that later. For now, what’s important is that the writers of Genesis would have been trying to explain why Canaan had drawn such a bad lot. In my view, this bizarre tail of Noah’s nudity and peeping Ham was all just a way of explaining the misfortunes of a fallen nation and perhaps even a way of justifying the actions of the Israelites.

But regardless of the justification for these verses, the problem is the way they’ve been used. In the 18th and 19th centuries when African slavery became prominent in America, Genesis 9 was used as a justification for the enslavement of blacks. According to this view, the Africans were descended from Ham and Canaan and since Genesis 9:25 says “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers,” this apparently means that God ordained slavery.

Now of course, you could argue, I’m being unfair. There’s nothing in the Bible that explicitly states that the Africans were descended from Ham and Canaan. The slave apologists were being dishonest, and we shouldn’t blame the Bible for the way it’s been interpreted over the years. But my argument is a bit more nuanced. I’m not saying that we should blame an ancient text for having ancient views. What I’m saying is that, when we read the Bible as an infallible, perfect text, we will inevitably just read in whatever views we want to read into it. This is why the Bible has been used to justify slavery, genocide, greed and all sorts of other egregious things over the years. It’s not because there’s anything wrong with the book, it’s because there’s something wrong with the way we read it.

What Christians often fail to understand is that nothing can be read objectively. As the old saying goes “there is no view from nowhere.” You cannot simply read the Bible; you have to interpret it and the way you interpret it is greatly impacted by the culture you’re living in. This is why the Bible has always been used to affirm the status quo, because the human mind is always looking for affirmation of the current form of reality. The human mind is always looking to be told that everything is perfectly fine the way it is and that nothing needs to change. Reading the Bible as the inerrant word of God allows us to read our own beliefs into the text and then ordain them as if they had come straight out of God’s mouth. In this way, Biblical Inerrancy hinders progress and change in society. We can’t change because the Bible says so, and if we can’t change we can’t grow.

Unexpected Hiatus

Hello Internet!

I’m aware that I’ve been gone for quite some time now. As a teacher, I take the summers off and I spent my summer doing quite a bit of traveling, backpacking and unfortunately, not doing very much writing. Because of this, I was unable to make any posts for a few months now. However, you may be happy to know that I’ll be returning with some content very soon. I haven’t given up on this project just yet! Looking forward to the future of this blog.

Thanks for reading!

Genesis 9:6-7: God’s Epicurean Command

How should I live? This is the answer that most people who read Genesis would have been looking for. You could rephrase it of course, How does God want me to live? What is the purpose of my life? Etc. But however you word it, this is an age-old question and we’re still asking it today. In Genesis 9:6-7, the writers of Genesis attempt to answer it. In Genesis 9:6-7 after Noah and his family have survived the flood and are preparing to start the world anew, God gives Noah and his sons the following command: “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind. As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.” Or, in other words, have sex and don’t kill each other. These are the surprisingly Epicurean commands Noah and his family were to carry on into the new world.

These commands are much more concise when compared to the ten commandments, but I think they are just as effective at establishing a moral framework and they cut out nonsense like “I am the Lord your God” and “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”. These commands seem to be more fitting to a secular person than they are to a religious person.

Have sex and don’t kill each other. Just two commandments, but if we broaden our scope they can be applied to a wide variety of human experiences. Let’s take the first command, the command to have sex. Or, as God put it, “be fruitful and increase in number.” Of course, we could simply take this at face value. Thou shalt fool around with thy neighbor (so long as it’s consensual)! And it’s likely that the Genesis writers would have wanted it to be read that way. In fact, for the writers of Genesis, this God-ordained love making probably only applied to a specific subset of sexual encounters. Namely, a man and his wife. Premarital sex, gay sex, polygamous sex, transamorous sex were pretty much all off the table. But since I’m no longer chained to this book by some religion, I’m going to take some liberties in my interpretation.

For many religious people, sex is a touchy subject and anyone who’s studied the issue can attest to the complicated relationship between religion and sex. So, it’s quite liberating to hear the God of the Old Testament (who is generally the most conservative of God’s many faces) telling us that, contrary to what our preacher might tell us. God apparently wants us to fuck around. Take that GEM Anscombe!! So, if God is giving us the liberty to have sex freely, what else are we free to do? When I read this verse, I saw it as a broader endorsement of hedonism. Of course, the God of the Old Testament doesn’t seem like the type to endorse such a thing but then he didn’t seem like the type to endorse sexuality either, so maybe we were wrong about the old guy (we weren’t but play along).

Perhaps, the message here is to enjoy yourself. Indulge a little bit. Eat the tastiest foods, drink the best beers and the finest wines, laugh with your friends, dance with your loved ones, watch reruns of I Love Lucy if that’s what you’re into. Spend the fleeting moments you have on this Earth enjoying every moment because that’s what you were born to do. But there’s a catch, and it comes in the form of the second commandment.

The second commandment, don’t kill each other, is the only thing that should neuter our ability to enjoy ourselves freely. After all, there is a danger in hedonism. We can drink ourselves so drunk that we forget that there is a world beyond our beer. If we do only what’s good for ourselves, we will likely leave behind the downtrodden and the disenfranchised. After all, as we speak, the people of Yemen are starving by the millions because of a Saudi-led Coalition which is endorsed by most western nations including the US, UK and France. And what do these western nations stand to gain? A few billion dollars in defense contracts and more oil to destroy the Earth with? It seems then, that these nations heard the OT God’s first commandment to Noah but conveniently ignored the second commandment.

Surprisingly, I’ve found some agreement here with the writers of Genesis and I think that if more people followed these two commandments to Noah we’d be living in a much nicer world.

Or, as a wiser man than I once said, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”  -JRR Tolkien

Guest Post at Peace Hacks: Reflections on Wealth, Comfort, Peace and Injustice

I recently wrote a guest post over at Peace Hacks. If you don’t follow their blog already, check it out. It’s a great resource for how to live peacefully.

My post gives a synopsis of one of my favorite books The Mother of 1084 and following that, I use the story to give my views on pacifism and why people ought to pursue justice over peace.

Here’s an excerpt from my post, click the link at the bottom for the full post.

If I had to give an award for the best book that no one’s ever heard of (including my librarian), I’d have to give it to Mahasweta Devi’s The Mother of 1084.

Here’s a brief synopsis:

The novel follows Sujata, wealthy mother of a failed revolutionary named Brati. It takes place exactly two years after Brati’s death and follows Sujata as she mourns her son and attempts to understand him better.

Sujata goes beyond grief as she discovers a deep sense of alienation from the world she has always known while investigating her son’s memory. There are no epic battle scenes or grand dramas, only a grieving mother trying to understand her son, herself, and the remarkably cruel world around her.

Each chapter is named after a time of day.

In Late Afternoon Sujata meets with Brati’s former lover and fellow revolutionary, Nandini, who is broken, perhaps more so than Sujata. She’s been blinded from torture after she was captured when Brati was killed. Sujata talks with her about Brati and the movement that they were both a part of. The conversation is painful as Sujata learns a great deal about her son that she never knew.

Their encounter is relatively peaceful. It isn’t an argument, but towards the end of the chapter, Sujata says something that triggers Nandini as they discuss the aftermath of the government’s squandering of the movement Nandini and Brati were both a part of:

Read the full article here.