Odd Bible Verses

You know how you sometimes read the Bible and discover something that you didn’t expect was there? I’m not talking about anything spiritually meaningful in this case. I’m talking about finding something weirder than you expected.

Thus I’m including a link to Cracked magazine’s list of nine passages that qualify for what I mentioned above.

I’m not sure if it reflects well or badly on me that I was already familiar with all but one. In fact, I can think of at least one passage that I’m surprised they skipped.

For what it’s worth, here’s my commentary on Ezekiel 23:19-20 (which they didn’t skip).

Worth mentioning? The reason these passages are regarded to be odd is the prevalence of sex and violence. The Bible has more of that than you might think.

Hey, That’s My Church…

There’s apparently a website called “Ship of Fools” which looks at Christianity with a perspective that’s both critical and irreverent at the same time (to my mind this is a good thing).

One of the features is something called “The Mystery Worshiper” in which someone reviews a church. During the summer, someone apparently reviewed Church of the Servant, the church I go to.

In the recent past, they apparently also reviewed Mars Hill Bible Church, a locally prominent congregation.

The Medical-Industrial Complex

I do work for non-profits. At one non-profit I actually draw a part time salary in addition to my computer consulting. For a while, in fact, I did all my work for that non-profit from my house, connecting via a VPN.

It’s thanks to that, I suspect, that I got a call tonight.

As I was sitting down at my laptop, catching up on email and meditating on how soon I should make supper, I received a phone call that asked for one of my supervisors at work.

The caller wanted to know exactly what we did as part of our AIDS related program.

I told him. I also attempted to make it clear that we weren’t doing much with it at the moment because all our state funding had been cut off.

It didn’t make much of an impression, but it was after that that the call turned a little weird.

He wanted to know if any of our patients were ever cured of AIDS. I explained that no one gets cured of AIDS. At best, your virus load gets down to near impossible to detect levels.

“That’s with pharmacia,” he said, “not God’s medicine.”

Over the course of the next half hour, I learned a number of things:

1. That disease is not caused by bacteria or viruses. It is caused by chemicals, and parasites. For example, people with AIDS have benzene in their pancreas (or maybe their liver? I forget). Also, cancer has been cured in at least one person by removing a tape worm.
2. AIDS has been cured in Africa by using seven herbs plus a little bit of electricity.
3. “Pharmacia” (sp?) is the original word for our current style of medicine and it comes from a word that meant sorcery.
4. The real reasons for disease have been known since the 1930’s and are in every public library.
5. The reason you’ve never heard this before is because the government does not want you to find out.
6. Doctors know all this too, but they’re using the current methods because it will make them more money.
7. That whatever form of medicine this guy is using uses the “qxci.” Search for it on Google. The results are… wacky. Oh and incidentally, qxci is short for Quantum Xeroid Consciousness Interface device.
8. I can learn even more if we get together everyone in our office and watch a videotape. At that point, all will be explained.
9. And we may even make some money…

The end of the conversation left me thinking that I need to learn to be considerably less polite. The guy talked for more than half an hour, needing no encouragement at all beyond “mm-hmmn” and a brief yes or no.

I would have hung up on him if he’d been a telemarketer, but hanging up on him as a salesman would probably reflect badly on the organization. Also it seemed like he was about to wrap up three different times.

He never did.

In the end, I gave him the organizational number, made clear the fact that he was calling my house, and directed that he leave a voicemail for someone that I’m quite sure will be out tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’m sending everyone an email…

Real Live Preacher

There’s a blog out there called Real Live Preacher that you’ve probably heard of. I say probably because I know pretty much everyone who reads this blog and know that most of them know Ed. Ed linked to Real Live Preacher every so often a couple years ago. In fact, I’m pretty sure the blog’s writer commented on Ed’s blog once.

In case you didn’t know, Real Live Preacher is a blog by Gordon Atkinson, a pastor who writes about his church, his life, his family, depression, religion and a multitude of other things.

Eerdmans (right here in Grand Rapids) published a book of his blog entries a couple years ago and apparently it didn’t sell as well as they hoped.

As I understand it (and I could be wrong about the details), they sent him the remainders and now he’s selling them on his website.

Along with the books (which are signed), you also receive odd surprises within the covers.

Kristen ordered one and we received a key (he doesn’t know what it’s for) and some religiously themed candy. Pictures of both to be attached to this post someday.

Kristen reads the blog regularly and I read it occasionally. As someone who attended seminary for a couple years, I’ve been on his end of the pulpit/visitation/church politics.

It’s interesting to be reminded of what that was like and of other things I spent more time thinking about in seminary than I do right now.

Not to mention the fact that beyond anything else, he’s a good writer, making it an interesting blog whether or not you connect with his major topics.

Things I’d Like to See Less of on Reddit (and Why)

1. Ron Paul: There’s no chance in hell I’ll vote for the guy.
2. Atheism: Not an atheist. Just don’t care.
3. Why Bush is Stupid and Evil: I disagree with his administration on Iraq, torture/waterboarding, and various domestic issues. Do I have to hate him too?
4. Yet More Examples of Why Iraq is a Horrible Mistake: I agree. Why wallow in it?
5. Tasers/Cops are Fascists: There are good cops and bad cops. Good cops don’t make the news.
6. Reasons Why Religion is Stupid: I’m religious. I guess I’m too dumb to understand these articles.
7. Reasons Why the Economy will Tank Soon/Environmental Disasters/Other Scary but Unlikely Events: I’m interested in potential problems, but an awful lot of these articles make it sound as if everyone will die tomorrow. In short, too much hype repels me.

Problems at Calvin Theological Seminary?

Apparently, Ruth Tucker, a former professor at Calvin Seminary was fired under rather questionable circumstances.

By questionable, I mean that she had good evaluations and didn’t do anything in particular wrong. From what she’s written about the event, it seems that her removal may largely result from her gender.

It’s an odd thing.

I don’t want to draw any conclusions having heard only one side of the story, but she’s got a lot of supporting material up on her site.

If true, it puts Neal Plantinga, one of the CRC’s better known scholars (currently president of Calvin Theological Seminary) in a very bad light. Of course, it may be that he wasn’t directly involved. It may be the that the administration had been given bad information. I don’t know. From what she says though, it seems unlikely proper procedure was followed.

Hell, Revelation, and 666

Tuesday, June 6, 2006 is 6/6/06 on the calendar. Hell, Michigan as part of it’s on-going campaign to attract tourists has decided to have a big party.

Meanwhile Michigan Radio has made some effort to cover the “story.” Multiple times over the weekend I heard the announcer refer to the book of Revelations and 666 as being the number of the devil.

Warning! A Short Rant Follows:
Once upon a time, I majored in religion (and sociology). While I didn’t go into the ministry (though I attended seminary for a couple years), I do know a couple things.

1. The book in the Bible is named “Revelation.” One might say that it has multiple revelations within, but “Revelations” is not the name of the book.
2. The number 666 (some scholars argue it’s actually 606) is not the number of the devil. In Revelation, it is the number of the beast as well as the number of man (as in humanity, not just men). Some scholars argue that Revelation is as much about Nero and the Roman Empire as it is about anything supernatural–which might make 666 the number of Nero for all I know. So anyway, the key point being: 666 is not the number of the devil and it might not even be 666.


Happy Holidays, Bill O’Reilly! Or, Yet More War on Christmas

I’m pretty sure that the the world can survive without another blogger commenting on the “War on Christmas,” but I have an irrestible urge to do it. For those of you who successfully managed to avoid knowing what this semi-controversy is (and I congratulate you on that), I’ll give a quick summary. From what I understand, Steve Gibson, a reporter for Fox News wrote a book arguing that Christmas is under attack, pointing out that there’s a movement toward saying “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. From what I’ve seen in a clip from Bill O’Reilly’s show, they link this to the decline of religion in Europe, saying that once you push religion out of the public square you get things like legal prostitution and other social ills.

I don’t agree.

Personally, I think that the source of the decline of the European church can be traced to state sponsorship of religion. In Europe, the state sometimes owns the church buildings, pays the clergy, and generally makes it possible for the state sponsored church to be completely disconnected from public wants.

By contrast, the US has a more “free-market” approach to religion. We give churches no support other than tax exempt status. Our churches have to be dynamically engaged with the culture they live in or die. And they do die. Where are the Shakers now? They used to be huge. By contrast, Pentecostals have grown immensely and so have other religious groups.

It seems to me that what Bill O’Reilly and Steve Gibson are advocating is more akin to state sponsorship of churches than anything else. In this case, of course, it’s more pressuring companies than passing laws, but, what’s the best case scenario if the general culture listens to them? Employees of various stores will say “Merry Christmas” whether they are Christian or not. More stores will have “Merry Christmas” signs instead of “Happy Holidays” signs. This won’t represent an honest desire to honor Christ. It will just be a realistic approach to avoiding a boycott.

I’m trying hard to think of anything good that can come of it.

Honestly, I don’t think anything bad is going to come of it either since I suspect this issue will evaporate once Christmas passes just like the whole “Christmas is getting too materialistic” concern seems to evaporate every year.

At core, the whole “War on Christmas” thing points to a larger anxiety that Christianity is disappearing from our culture. I don’t know if that’s true. Assuming that church attendance represents some level of commitment to Christianity, I’m told that the percentage of people attending church (around 40%) and the sex ratio (trending female) has been roughly the same for much of the country’s history.

If this is true then the “War on Christmas” is more perception than reality.

On the other hand, it might be that numbers don’t tell the whole story. It may be that Christianity is getting less influential and less important to the people who profess it. If so, pushing stores to continue saying “Merry Christmas” strikes me as more of a band-aid than a solution. If people believe in Christ, then it doesn’t matter whether the religion’s holidays are part of public life or not. If people don’t believe, you’re doomed from the start.

It’s in reference to things like this that I envy Orthodox Christians. They use a different calendar for determining when they celebrate religious holidays. As a result, there’s no confusion between what’s going on in public life and what they celebrate religiously. They get to have a Santa Christmas and a “real” one a few weeks later.

It makes obvious what I think is the real truth of things–the public Christmas has little if anything to do with Christianity. It’s a civil, commercial holiday that piggybacks on the religious holiday. I’m inclined to enjoy it for what it is and try not to confuse it with the celebration of Christ’s birth that goes on at the same time.

Mormon Missionaries and Raking Leaves

raking.jpgI spend a couple days a week simultaneously working and taking care of kids. Needless to say, I choose the work rather carefully (nothing that can’t be interrupted by kids) and don’t work an entire day those days. Generally, the pattern of the day goes like this:

Morning: I work while they watch Sesame Street and then play.
Afternoon: Some sort of outside activity like going to a park or running errands, possibly both.

Today the afternoon’s outside activity was raking leaves. I needed to do the raking and I was pretty sure that Abby and Rebecca would want to jump in the leaves.

As I was doing it, I noticed two men walking down the street, both of them in button down shirts and ties. Having been alive for a while, I know what this means. The people walking down the street with books in their hands are probably pushing some faith. Mormonism seemed most likely given their ages.

At this point I had a choice. I could stay outside and wait for the inevitable attempt to share the faith or I could bring the kids back inside and pretend to not be home when they knocked on the door. I decided to stay outside, largely because I wanted to finish raking.

I have a visceral negative reaction to salesmen of any kind. I just don’t like it when someone attempts to convince me that they have something I need. I prefer to make that decision myself, preferably without someone constantly talking at me.

I watched them as I raked, observing as they knocked on the door of each house on my street, slowly getting closer. Amusingly, no one opened the door at any house–even where I knew people were home.

As they grew slowly closer, I thought about how to respond to an invitation to learn more about the Book of Mormon. My options as I saw them at the time:

1. Hostility: “Get the @#$%#$ off my lawn!”
2. Irony: I could attempt to convert them to my religion. As someone with a B.A in religion who put in two years of seminary, I can tell people much more than they want to know about John Calvin, the Heidelberg Catechism, TULIP (five doctrines of Calvinism), and the history of Christianity. Unfortunately, this would start a long (and possibly interesting) conversation and I just wanted to rake my leaves.
3. Listen politely: Again, I wasn’t up for being polite at that moment. Watching a 3 and 4 year old (next to a slightly busy street) doesn’t lend itself to long conversations.

Bearing in mind my personality, three was the most likely option. I don’t personally enjoy being rude or attempting to convince people that I’m right about things. By contrast, I’m sure I’ve listened politely to people I disagree with for hours at a time.

In the end, things turned out okay. The conversation went like this:

Them: Would you like any help raking leaves?
Me: Nope. I’ve pretty much got it covered.
Them: Are you interested in the Book of Mormon?
Me: No. Not really.
Them: Well, have a good day. We’ll see you around.

You know what’s ironic though? I actually am interested in the Book of Mormon. I majored in religion because religion interests me and the Church of the Latter Day Saints is a growing religious organization. One of these days I’d like to read more about their beliefs. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet and I don’t want do it with someone hovering over my shoulder, hoping that I’ll convert.

Movies: What the Bleep Do We Know?

After hearing a story about it on NPR, I was curious about the film What the Bleep Do We Know? I never got around to seeing in the theater (it may never have come to Grand Rapids), but as it happens my sister bought it for me for my birthday.

So I watched it and overall I enjoyed it. It hit some topics that interest me such as quantum mechanics and biology as well as religion and spirituality. This is okay as one of my favorite professors in seminary had two doctorates, one in physics (dissertation on cosmic dust) and one in theology (dissertation on the Desert Fathers). Most of his theology classes included an interesting conversation between science and religion–more interesting, I might add, than the question of evolution vs. seven day creation argument which is endlessly rehashed everywhere.

The film is a combination of story and documentary illustrating its points with events in the life of the protagonist. The story moves forward with experts in science, medicine, and religion interrupting the scene to lecture. These people aren’t part of the story, but excerpts of interviews with them appear throughout the movie.

The animations that illustrate science are generally pretty good and often funny. They’re worth watching.

So that’s the good part of the movie. It tries to engage a person on the topic of what quantum mechanics and current science of the brain say about reality and it does it well. I enjoyed watching it and found myself thinking about it later.

And that brings us to the bad points of the movie. It does a good job of communicating and once you’re done watching it, you know what it’s trying to say. The trouble is, what happens if you disagree with what it’s trying to say, and, feel like the movie makers are arranging the science to support their views of spirituality?

A major point of the movie is that the way you think about your world has effects on your brain, keeping certain connections between neurons and letting the connection between other ideas drift away. Thus, you can potentially change yourself to a degree.

That’s true–even inspiring–if you feel that your life needs changing.

The trouble is that the film goes further than that, seeming to claim that your thoughts can affect reality. It cites a study that indicated that thoughts affect the shape of a water molecule. In addition, one of the interviewed experts claimed that a group of people meditating affected the homicide rate in Washington D.C.. Other bits of the movie seem to imply that you can mold reality itself to your liking.

That’s not something I can accept without a lot more evidence than this movie provides. Can the cited studies findings be reproduced? When scientists look at them, do they think that the research says what the movie implies it says? You don’t get any of that. You just get the claims. Believe them (or not) as you will.

The movie seems to jump from evidence to claims that sound good on the surface, but might not be true. For example, even if you can somehow affect the crystalization of a water molecule with your mind, you can’t necessarily affect anything else at all.

This brings us to the experts used. Most of them look pretty good. In fact pretty much all of them appear to be capable, intelligent people–even the wackier ones. For example, the expert who claimed that meditation lowered D.C.’s crime rate appears to be a decent physicist. On the other hand, he works for the Maharishi University of Management and was the Natural Law party’s candidate for president at one point. In short, he’s into Transcendental Meditation. Bearing in mind that they argue that meditation is the cure for all social ills, I take his assertion with the same grain of salt I use when Microsoft comes out with a study showing Linux to be inferior to Microsoft Windows Server 2003. I just don’t believe that he can be objective on this issue.

Similarly, I also have huge reservations about including Ramtha in the film. Ramtha is a spirit “channeled” by a woman named J. Z. Knight. J. Z. Knight appears throughout the movie just like the various physicists and doctors, commenting on reality in an odd accent. Though they don’t mention it in the movie, Ramtha ruled Atlantis at one point, making that accent an Atlantean accent. Personally, I see no reason to believe that Ramtha exists. As such, I question the judgement of anyone who regards J. Z. Knight to be an expert in anything other than marketing.

The bottom line? Watch the film, it is entertaining. Most of the experts actually seem to be experts on the topics that they are talking about and even Ramtha will at least keep your attention. If you’re looking for spiritual guidence or trying to understand the sociology or pschology of belief, however, look elsewhere,