Monday, July 30, 2012

Paul the hypocritical latent homosexual homophobe CBT gimp

When it comes to the Christian Right's justifications of its own attitude towards homosexuality, people are often surprised to learn that Jesus had absolutely nothing to say on the subject.  This is well documented, and often a point is made of the fact that Jesus supposes all sexual relationships will be heterosexual when he does talk about such things-however, the argument falls flat when examined: usually he is actually talking about why heterosexuals shouldn't get married or how bad heterosexual divorce is.  To argue that he means anything about gays in these passages is tantamount to saying "Moby Dick" is a story about why cars are better than boats.

Paul, however is much more elicit in his condemnation of the practice.
Romans 1:26-27
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
and Corinthians 6:9
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men.
Pretty unambiguous.  The thing is there is a biblical account of Paul smacking another guy's junk around.  According to Acts 16:
16 Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek  
So I guess it's okay to touch another man's penis after all.  This makes Paul the modern equivalent of the high school football player who calls everyone else "FAG" whenever he gets a chance and then anally rapes the effeminate guy in the showers after gym class.

Now of course, this is all taken out of context.  Paul was no more raping Timothy than any modern Rabbi is raping a little boy at a brisq (all a matter of perspective if you ask the guys at B.U.F.F. I guess.)  That, of course, is what anyone does when they try to take the words of the Bible and apply them to a modern context-say, for example, gay marriage.

What's more interesting to scholars is the contrast between the actions of Paul in Acts and his own words.  For example, would the Paul who, with his own hands gently coddled Timothy's wang in the left and a rough stone blade in the right, write:
Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 
In other words, if you're following the old law of the Jews, then  you're not benefitting from the salvation offered by the sacrifice of Christ.

While these aren't necessarily direct contradictions of each other (ie, Paul never writes in an epistle "No matter what anyone tries to tell you, I never circumcised Tim.") they obviously present Paul in a hypocritical light.  Yes, Paul is opposed to homosexual activity-more opposed to it apparently than he is to slavery-but the story is far more complicated than that.

Monday, June 6, 2011


"But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me."


Of all the passages I've looked at so far, this is probably the one which is most disturbing. Aside from the one where Jesus looks like a pedophile:

(I'm trying to turn this image viral to piss off just about any- and everyone. Spread it around, but remember that you saw it here first.)

In any case, what's going on here is that Jesus has just given the "Parable of the Ten Minas," which is apparently about how good investors get into heaven, and "...them what's got, get." Then he turns around and drops this bomb.

Most of the surprising $#*! that comes out of Jesus' mouth in the gospels can be traced back to his apocalyptic nature-that is, you can kind of see where he's coming from in light of the fact that he's telling people in no uncertain terms that the end of the world is going to come in their lifetimes and they'd better be ready for judgement. This is really no different, though it seems to come from another angle-that being that Jesus himself is going to be the badass smack-down daddy of it all. Most of his other proclamations (turn the other cheek, don't try to get out of being a slave, don't get married and cut off your balls) come from the standpoint that there just isn't time to worry about petty stuff like indignation, freedom and child-rearing. This one is pure egotism on his part-"I AM IN CHARGE, DON'T QUESTION ME!"

I will point out that a charge leveled by many christians at the Islamic faith is that it seeks to spread " by the sword." No less a spokesman than the current Pope evidently made this assertion recently in fact. I needn't enumerate the lessons of history that indicate that perhaps this is a case of leaving the log in one's own eye.

I recently was engaged in a conversation about this and was called to task by someone with an apparently devotional bent:
Is it unclear that Jesus was not commanding his listeners in that passage? This was part of the story, the parable, of the nobleman. Those are the words of the nobleman, not Jesus.

He went on to admonish me:
You cannot just pick up the Bible and pretend to know all the meanings of any Aramaic/Greek/English text without some scholarship. However, you would think this was pretty clear as the punctuation quotes in current Bibles delineate who is speaking.
It took some gall to make a claim like that after asserting the need for "scholarship." In the Koine Greek manuscripts, there were no spaces between the words let alone punctuation, therefor no quotation marks. It is a myopic scholar who overlooks such an obvious contextual juxtaposition.

There are several other "scholarly" reasons to question his claim that Jesus was quoting a character in his story though. First and most telling is the fact that the story of the 10 Minas is found in Matthew as well, indicating that it was a part of what scholars call the Q source (for quelle, a German word for "sayings.") Most of the story, with a few edits, is a word-for-word match between the two gospels, yet Jesus doesn't demand the slaughter in Matthew. This would imply that Luke's use of it came from the "L" source and was inserted in this place for no particular reason. Keep in mind that the writers of the Bible weren't putting chapter and verse numbers in as they wrote (that part wasn't added until the 1500s by William Wittingham) so if this was a historically accurate attribution to Jesus, it may or may not have even been uttered on the same day as the preceding parable.

Further, it makes less sense for the character of the Master to say this than for the character of Jesus to (whether your perspective is devotional or historical.) The master is already in a position of power over these people-he doesn't need to aspire to be king over them and wouldn't care if they wanted him to be king or not. Jesus on the other hand at this point talks non-stop about the coming Kingdom and judgement and (especially in Luke) identifies himself as the "Son of Man," the true power player in the coming kingdom. (In Mark, he always puts the "Son of Man" in third person, as though it's someone else. By the time Matthew and Luke are writing, they decide to give Jesus the title and make the appropriate changes.)

Another scholarly aspect to consider in this case is the story in its context as a Lukan parable. Luke has Jesus giving lessons like this in a consistent manner: first he tells a strange narrative, then he kind of puts you down for being too stupid to understand it and finally he tells you what the he really meant or why he told it to you. That middle portion is always marked in the same way: with the phrase "I tell you" or in some translations "I say unto you" (Greek lego λεγω Strong's 3004.) The call to violence comes after this portion of the story, so if it is a part of the story it really needs to be considered as a part of the coda or explanation, not a rejoining of the dialog. In no other place in Luke does Jesus continue the quotation of a character after this point.

But let's say for a moment that I accepted (and I do not) that the writer of this gospel really intended for these words to be spoken by Jesus only as a quotation of a fictional character and not as his own command to the assembled audience-he's still not off the hook for the charge of inciting violence. Here's an extended portion of the pertinent passage:
20 “Then another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief. 21 For I feared you, because you are an austere man. You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 And he said to him, ‘Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow. 23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’
24 “And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.’ 25 (But they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas.’) 26 ‘For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 27 But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.’”

Consider the point that Jesus is trying to make here-to use the language of the devotionally oriented here, ostensibly it seems that those who exercise spiritual austerity on earth will receive great spiritual gifts in heaven, and those who keep it to themselves will be punished-in any case, the "Master" is exercising judgements and doling out rewards and punishments. If the command to slay non-believers is that of a character in Jesus' story and not that of Jesus, then it is fair to ask who the "Master" in the story represents, and the answer is clear: he represents the Judge in the final judgement, the decision maker about the rewards of the Kingdom of Heaven, the son of man himself.

I'll agree with my accuser here: you can't just pick up the Bible and pretend to know all the meanings without some scholarship (which arguably is a fault of many modern churches in their attempts to reconcile their own existence with their biblical roots,) but you also can't make Jesus someone he wasn't in the context of the Bible just because it's uncomfortable or inconsistent with the picture the church has sold you ever since early Sunday School Classes and Davey and Goliath reruns. The Prince of Peace was apparently not very tolerant of people who wouldn't just fall into his program.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Matthew 13:31-Don't know much about biology

Another parable He put forth to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field,It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants and grows into a tree where birds can come and find shelter in its branches." (Also Mark 4:31/Luke 13:19)

Mustard was a weed in the fields of the Levant farmers, and Jesus would have been quite familiar with it. (Evidently, hamburgers and bratwurst had not quite yet achieved popularity in the region, so the condiment wasn't widely used.) Many people now have small mustard seed pendants as reminders that even a mustard seed's worth of faith can move mountains (Matt 17:20/Luke 17:6) and the seeds are not rare as whole spice in American kitchens.

The problem is, the mustard seed isn't the smallest seed in the world. It wasn't necessarily even the smallest seed planted in the area ("Consider the lilies* of the field...")

Some apologists like to assert that Jesus didn't mean that the mustard seed was the smallest seed in the world, and they point to the phrase "which a man took and sowed in his field" as a qualifier that he meant locally. He doesn't really specify that though, and someone making a point to rural dwellers of an agricultural region would want to be a bit more specific to make his point.

Others point to translations that take the greek word mikronos and render it as "least of all seeds" rather than "smallest of all seeds." Thus they say Jesus was making a point about how the mustard seed was unassuming or meek, not about its physical size. However, the parable is about the size of Kingdom Come, not about its ostentation. Further, that usage of mikronos is fairly obscure and doesn't really appear anywhere else in the bible.

Now of course all this is "straining at gnats" in the end. But if someone is the Son of God, the creator of all things, shouldn't he have a little more familiarity with the local fauna? And if the Bible is inerrant, does that mean that the error was one that Jesus the otherwise perfect man made? Most modern believers won't be troubled by this hopefully. It's just fun to kick against the goads of those who insist on absolutism and perfectionism of the book.

*This is used only for dramatic/ironic purposes. Lily seeds actually vary a bit in size by variety but most are not quite as small as an average mustard seed. However, the Lotus flower has seeds so fine that they actually are perceived as a powder in volume. This flower is mentioned in Job twice and was sacred to and part of the creation myth of the ancient Egyptians, their country being one where Jesus is said to have spent some time. For him not to be familiar with the lotus is probably unreasonable, but it is possible he was simply of limited knowledge.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Mark 12:25: You want to know what heaven is like? It's like not-being-married.

For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.
(Also Matt 22:30 and Luke 20:35)

In context, the Saducees, who are more interested in Temple sacrifice as a means of ensuring well-being in this life than interpreting the law of Moses to make sure you make it in to the next one, are trying to trip Jesus up with a catch-22 in the law. Essentially, the "Law of Moses" says that if a widow is left childless by her husband's death and there is an unmarried brother-in-law available, she and the brother-in-law are to marry. The Saducees concoct a hypothetical situation where there are seven such brothers, and each takes a turn marrying the woman and dying without offspring. The Saducees ask Jesus whose wife she'll be in the afterlife (presumably either the first or the last brother to marry her I guess, but you can see how they thought they had him good.) Jesus first insults them, asking more or less "Don't you know the law and the prophets or the power of God or [and I'm guessing here] are you just stupid?" He then ruins the plans of couples who plan to spend eternity together.

This is probably why the unpleasant "...'til Death do you part" corollary is inserted into the otherwise joyous wedding vows of most christian couples.

Nonetheless, this is more evidence that Jesus wasn't a big proponent of marriage. Neither was Paul in 1 Corrinthians. You don't hear this passage a lot from the American Family Association types, or from anyone whose financial well-being is based on the idea of familial regeneration to populate an organization from century to century. I guess you can't blame them for decontextualizing the Bible so often.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Matt 19:12:If you really want to go to heaven, DON'T get married and cut off your balls

10His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.11But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.12For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

Any church that wants to last more than one generation is going to have a problem with this line. Indeed, the proto-orthodox church had to brand ascetic sects as heretical in order to continue receiving tithes after the initial converts were made. The greek for the word in question is εὐνοῦχος (eunouchos) and it is rooted in the word for bedroom, which makes sense in that men with large harems would use castrati to guard their women, thinking that the lack of testes would render these guards uninterested in sex with their charges. This evidently was not the case (see Ulpian in the Roman Digest of Law or Hammurabi's Code.) In any case, it's pretty clear that Jesus is talking about someone doing something painful or difficult to himself to make it hard or impossible to procreate. Even clearer is the message that it's better not to get involved with women at all, but it's undeniable here that he teaches that someone who is dedicated to the Kingdom of Heaven will not get married.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mark 7:27-Greek people are as lowly as Dogs so I won't heal your sick Syrophenician Daughter

25For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: 26The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. 27But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. 28And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs. 29And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter.

It's easy to look past this fact, but the synoptic gospels pretty much make Jesus out as a bigot. Or at least as a nationalist, or a Jewish separatist. Now when you look at it, Jesus doesn't say he won't help the woman, just that she's low on his priority list apparently ("the Children" here are the nation of Israel, meaning both the Judeans in the south and anyone the disciples might find of the "lost tribes" of the North.) It's only when the woman says "You're right, I'm a dog," that Jesus relents and heals the little girl.

In any case, he wasn't a big fan of "greeks." Matt 15:21 says the woman is a Canaanite (which means if you insist on infallible Biblical literalism that this was a separate incident and that Jesus pulled this insult out of his bag of tricks at least twice.) He wasn't big on Samaritans (a group of Jews that broke away from the Jerusalem Temple in a disagreement over where sacrifices were supposed to take place, at least one of whom was decent in a parable of Jesus') or Gentiles either (Matt 10:5):

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7

Now in context, let's say you're a Jew of that era. Your people have spent the last 300 years under the thumb of the Greeks (since Alexander's conquest of the world) and now the Romans have pretty much bought out that franchise. In recent memory was the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, who tried to hellenize the Jewish people by outlawing the practice of circumcision. Currently, the Romans keep centurions stationed at the Antonia next to the temple (within mooning distance, anyway, according to Josephus.) Chances are, you aren't going to be too fond of these folks, so maybe we can understand Jesus as a human being here. Still, it's not hard to see why this incident doesn't get a lot of mention in the pulpits on Sunday morning.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Mark 10:28-31:Peter, I'll reward you for leaving your family to fend for themselves!

28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Ouch. First, you're supposed to leave your wife and family to fend for themselves to follow this guy, and then you're going to "trade up" as it were in kingdom come. Perhaps this is why there is so little shame in having a new "trophy wife" today among so many politicians who confess their allegiance to various charismatic groups.

What's interesting is that just 18 passages before this, Jesus makes the act of leaving your wife out as the one sin that might be seen as unforgivable (Mark 10:6-12. Oddly, this is the passage most often cited as objecting to homosexual activity and same sex marriage-but again, that's for another post at another time.)

This is one of those little gems that is almost word-for-word copied in Luke (18:28) and Matthew (19:27) so scholars tend to give it a lot of weight in terms of likelihood of having been a real exchange. In any case, it appears that to Jesus the sanctity of marriage is violable under some circumstances-namely, that you use following Jesus as an excuse for it. Conceivably, that means it would be perfectly acceptable to join a monastery or become an itinerant preacher if one got tired of providing for one's family.