Saturday, April 05, 2003
Following is an essay - part personal reflection, part dissertion - assembled from numerous pages of scribblings assembled by me in wroth after a Catholic Retreat in Sabah in March 2003, which caused me to renounce my faith and become an agnostic.
I am aware that the retreat I went to was of a ludicrously puritan and hideously ascetic bent ("sheesh. what you went to sounds like a cross between extreme puritan catholicism and charismatic movement. it is -not - representative of moderate christianity"), and that probably only the Pope and various other extremist fringe sects have such extreme and outdated views. Indeed, I am told that Singapore Christianity is "uniquely perverted" and "takes itself far too seriously". Nonetheless, the retreat has scarred my psyche indelibly, pissed me off immeasurably and alienated me considerably, resulting in a pronounced aversion towards Christianity, especially fundamentalist Christianity.
Thus, I have written this essay - in part to consolidate my thoughts and reflections, also to set out a case for why I believe that religion - especially human-organised and interpreted religion - is likely a delusion, but mainly to rebut all the points of doctrine preached at the retreat that I found repellent.
This retreat was conducted by one priest, mostly. He will, hereon, be referred to as "the priest"
1) Disclaimer and primer
The author is no stranger to controversy, and does not shy away from traditionally taboo topics. He believes in the Socratic method of seeking truth, and (so far) hasn't been forced to drink hemlock yet. If you are fond of excommunicating people on the slightest pretext, or if every other facet of the modern world is blasphemous to you, you might want to give this essay a miss. But a thought for you: "Blasphemy? No, it is not blasphemy. If God is as vast as that, he is above blasphemy; if he is as little as that, he is beneath it." - Mark Twain. On the other hand, if you've never questioned your faith, or if you are in your religion only because you were brought up in it, perhaps some meditation would serve you in good stead. Just don't get too lost in the interminable passages.
In this essay, I have tried to deal with a broad range of topics, ignoring a few like Creation "Science" and the Immaculate Conception, and have neither the space, time nor ability to explore many issues to as deep a level as I would like. I have no revolutionary, earth-shaking ideas to share, as this ground is well trod upon, and indeed some might say barren, but I hope some insights might be found useful. I've tried to exercise some form of essay discipline but the sheer extent and wealth of material is overwhelming, really, especially since I've no editor. I'll be working on this essay when I have material to add, or when the whim strikes me, though, so it should steadily become more lucid. All feedback (but for mindless hate mail) is welcome. Many thanks are due to all who have given feedback so far :)
Hopefully, everything should come together as a coherent whole by the end of this tract :)'
Friday, April 04, 2003
Version 1.5 will be coming at an unspecified point in the future :)
Rafflesians for Rafflesians
...Fuel the promethean flame�
Peer mentorship in RJC � leaving a legacy.
Proposed is a peer mentorship programme that is very different from systems that have been previously practised. The focus is on a more relaxed volunteer tutoring programme
There are instances where students find it difficult to grasp a topic or subject that their tutor is presently teaching. We all have had a taste of how hard A level topics are. Many students cannot afford tuition classes and CCAs make it difficult to schedule tuition on a regular basis. This system will give them a solution to their academic problems.
The machinery - The names and contacts of volunteers will be put up on the school intranet or on the notice board. Volunteers can sign up and withdraw from the programme at any time. . Volunteers will be assigned subjects that they feel comfortable in tutoring, so as to provide optimum assistance. Their teachers will then verify the ability of the volunteers to teach.
Students who feel that they require assistance can approach these sources to obtain this list of available volunteers. The arrangements can then be made between the students and volunteers. The volunteers, however, are obliged to tutor a student for a stipulated period of time � say 1 week, 1 month, 3 or 4 months � which should be agreed on by the volunteer and the student mutually.
The rationale behind this programme is simple. After the A levels, most graduated Rafflesians have at most 8 months of vacation or 2 years of National Service. Also, there are many Rafflesians who go overseas for higher education and come back for long periods of vacation. Surely, this flexible system will allow them to arrange to make a difference for the school during these periods of time.
The Rafflesian spirit boasts passion, dedication and service. I really do hope that all of you able, young Rafflesians will do your part in leaving a legacy and strengthening the unity that bind our school.
Contact Vimaljit Kaur at 92714918 to find out more.
Sign up by sending an email with your particulars, contact number and the subject(s) you are comfortable teaching to RforR@hotmail.com
Wednesday, April 02, 2003
2) Why do people need religion?
3) Personal history and the stimulus of the Sabah retreat
4) First principles - Is there a God? Brief meta-physical discussion, since I've no training in philosophy/meta-physics.
5) Rebutting the untenable claims and ludicrous beliefs of literalists.
6) Circular arguments and inescapable flowcharts in finding God etc
7) Some fundamental precepts of Christianity - e.g. sin, sex as a sin. This is not a book, merely an essay so a short discussion will suffice.
8) Questioning applied religion - assumptions and interpretation.
9) Goings-on of the retreat, personal reflections, odds and ends
10) Conclusion and further reading
NB: The Sabah retreat was conducted by one priest, mostly. He will, hereon, be referred to as "the priest"
Beware, all ye who tread here. Be forewarned that the author of this rambling treatise is no stranger to controversy, that no Sacred Cow is too hallowed for him to eviscerate (or so he'd like to imagine). If you are a staunch, fanatical or fundamentalist Christian (or indeed are strong in any other religion), you may want to give this essay a miss. But if you'd like to explore some issues and follow me in my quest for truth, in the process gaining a better understanding of your religion, even, perhaps you'd like to read on and hope you don't get lost in the interminable passages. The author believes in the Socratic method of finding truth, so questions galore will you find. But then Socrates was sentenced to death by hemlock...
Due to the wide nature of this essay, I may not have the time or ability to deal with all subjects as best as I'd like, and I totally avoided others - Creation *cough* 'Science' *ahem*, say and the Immaculate Conception. Readers are encouraged to try some of the suggested sites which I found very helpful in writing this essay. I tried to exercise some form of essay discipline but the sheer wealth of material I jotted down � and the amount of research I did for this was just too overwhelming (and no one wanted to help me edit it too � humph).
If you want to try to bog me down with circular and intricate arguments, you are welcome to try. I'll entertain you, if I have the time. If you want me to quote scripture to support some of my statements - well, I could have laced this essay with them more extensively, but then this essay would be twice its already unwieldy length, so. Some parts may leave points unsaid, or be easily rebutted, but when the essay is read as a whole, everything should (I hope!) come together.
And for those who want to cry blasphemy, well, here�s a thought for you:
"Blasphemy? No, it is not blasphemy. If God is as vast as that, he is above blasphemy; if he is as little as that, he is beneath it." - Mark Twain
2) "If God didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent him. " - Voltaire
Why do most societies and cultures, at least those that haven't advanced to a certain level of sophistication, have a form of religion? Religion fulfills a certain visceral need in all of us. Our mystical, spiritual side; the side that just wants to surrender and release all our burdens to a greater being; the side that believes, and wants to believe, in superstitions. There is something seductive and comforting about the idea of not being alone in this world, of Life and Creation having some mysterious significance.
What's in it for the individual? Besides filling unsaid needs, religions usually promise a host of other benefits. Ultimately, most people practice a religion because of the benefits that will accrue to them - eternal life, worldly success, salvation from the fires of hell and the like, though the appeal may be unconscious. Doing good isn't recommended only for its own sake - to sweeten the pot, boons are promised to those who follow certain rules and laws; people are urged to engage in ritual deprivation so that they will be rewarded many times over in the afterlife (a kind of hypocrisy, really). See: 2 Corinthians 9, verse 6: "But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully" Without such inducements, the number of adherents would probably be substantially lower.
So, do people do good things and believe in God because they truly do, or only because if they don�t they will burn in Hell forever? And do those who believe because they were brought up to, and never did question or truly understand their faith still get the perks and fringe benefits of believing in the Right God?
"Religion is the opiate of the masses." - Karl Marx
I was outfield one day when I suddenly realised how true Marx�s observation was. Religion is addictive, it may lead you to dumb things, it creates a vicious circle of dependence, the more you consume of it the harder it is to wean yourself it, the more you use it the more you need it to function, and the consumer�s happiness is dependent on an external good (as in product, not beneficial agency). It is soothing, but it controls you even if deep down inside you know that it is bad for you.
So why are drugs illegal in most places, but not religion?
3) Me and Religion
"The church hates a thinker precisely for the same reason a robber dislikes a sheriff, or a thief despises the prosecuting witness. " - Robert Ingersoll
It could be said that I was brought up Christian. My family never went to Church, and my father is a free thinker, but my mother did buy some books and give me some form of instruction. However, after I emerged from the unthinking acceptance of childhood, I began to have doubts, and so I suppose I was a semi-believer. The influences of Humanism resulted in me enquiring even in areas where normal people ceased to enquire, and accepted what they were told unthinkingly. Areas like religion.
I am not one to accept what I am told tamely. For example, Tim asked me once why I like to rail against the proscription of homosexuals, and if I was one. I am not � not all of the suffragettes were female, and did the anti-apartheid movement consist only of blacks? I do not see why people whose only crime has been to be born a certain way should be discriminated against and labelled unnatural, while others who deliberately pervert the normal course of nature are let go scot-free. Put another way: Would anyone worship a God who advocated the murder of unbelievers and apostates, cheating other people, heedless fornication, the pillaging of the earth, hating everyone, larceny, perjury, fratricide, parricide and more? I think most people, Satanists notwithstanding, would rather go to hell than worship such a god. Granted, conservative Christianity is not intolerant on this scale, but I trust you, gentle reader, see my point.
I�d heard about this Sabah retreat for a while - since 1999, when Tim went. He told me it was very good, and though I had my doubts, I finally decided to go this time, in March 2003, and indeed, the retreat was beneficial to me, but not in the way most participants believed. It really opened my eyes to a lot of issues and forced me to examine many beliefs that I�d been holding for a while, and in the aftermath of the retreat, I feel cleansed and free. People went to renew their faith; I lost mine, pretty much, and feel all the better for it. The fuzzy undergrowth in my head has been cleared, mostly. Timothy�s father was saying I�d be buying a lot of books after I came down from the Mountain to learn more about my faith, and that I�d experience a lot of changes. Indeed I will buy some - if books on agnosticism and atheism were easier to find in the shops, and I have become a great deal more sceptical!
4) Some Basic Questions
Does God exist?
Meta-physics is really not my area of interest or expertise, but to those who say that nothing can come from nothing � where did this God come from then? You cannot apply the �nothing can come from nothing� rule but conveniently not hold your God to this same criterion, that would be disingenuous. If God can be eternal, why can the Universe not be so?
Blaise Pascal's Wager
A proposition sometimes offered to atheists and agnostics, it goes:
(1) If you believe in God and God exists, you have a chance to gain everlasting life and happiness after death.
(2) If you believe in God and there is no God, you have lost nothing.
(3) If you don't believe in God and God does exist, you have lost everything and you will suffer infinite torture in Hell after death.
(4) If you do not believe in God, and there is no God, you have gained nothing. Therefore, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by believing in God and everything to lose by not believing.
And so this is often quoted as a compelling argument for believing in a God. However, there are several flaws here:
- Which God do we choose? If we choose the wrong God, we will "have lost everything and suffer infinite torture in Hell after death" Since there are so many Gods, choosing no God is almost as good as choosing a God at random
- If you believe it is safer to believe in a God and do so solely because of that, do you really think you'll get all the benefits?
- You lose a lot if you believe in a God and there is none. Consider the amount of energy people fritter away on religion. How about those who orientate their whole lives towards "God"? Then they have lost their whole life
Science and Religion
The advent of Science in recent times has inevitably led to a corresponding decline in the fortunes of Religion. When Science can explain how we were created, we no longer need to attribute (or blame) it on a God. Indeed, some claim that Science is now our new Religion. Theists love to bash science, and claim that it cannot explain a lot of things - they dispute the Theory of Evolution, for example, and ask what could have come before the Big Bang - surely something cannot have come out of nothing?
However, Science is most assuredly not a Religion, and was never meant to explain everything. Science gives us a way of looking at the world, but it does not purport to explain every single mystery - it only endeavours to. So what if there are flaws in the Theory of Evolution? Its name alone gives you a clue - it is but a Theory. Darwin never claimed that it was perfect, or could explain everything, but today most have come to a conclusion that Evolution was generally responsible for our existence.
With regards to what came before the Big Bang - just because you cannot explain something does not mean that you have to attribute it to God. In Ancient Times, lightning was thought to be from the Gods, as no one knew how it came about, but now we know better. A few years ago, some Hindus in Singapore got very excited because the statuettes of one of their Indian elephant-headed Gods miraculously started �drinking� milk, and believed that the God was drinking the milk even though everyone knew that what was actually happening was that the stone the statuettes were made out of was absorbing the liquid.
Just because we do not know something now does not mean that we will never know it. Therein lies the promise of Science. Religion, on the other hand, claims to explain everything, or at least most religions do. There lies its folly, for the flaws and contradictions inherent in any religion are its doom. If something promised by a Religion is patently false, but is claimed to be patently true, then how can the Religion be true? Of course, apologists and fundamentalists try to temporise, to dissemble, evade, ignore the question, offer fallacious, disingenuous and misleading arguments, change the question, bash straw men, poison the well or employ their last recourse - say that faith is needed and that non-believers will never see or understand (or imagine or hallucinate, rather) - when in fact their faith creates the god, but those with unclouded vision can see the truth.
"Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived. " -- Isaac Asimov (1920-1992)
Even when I was still relatively secure in my faith, I gave short shrift to the literalists - those who believe that scripture is infallible and is to be interpreted literally. Or at least literally where it doesn't sound totally ludicrous and/or makes daily life impossible. Their interpretations of doctrine seem to be oh-so-convenient - some parts are read literally and some figuratively, and the interpretations conveniently fit their right wing fundamentalist agenda; for example, many fundamentalist Christians in the USA support the death penalty, but we can find plenty of verses in the Bible condemning killing (but then, plenty more where God killed the enemies of the Israelites).
Perhaps the most explicit of the passages proclaiming Biblical inerrancy is this: 2 Timothy 3:16: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. " Of course we could posit that this passage is false, and so are all the others for Biblical infallibility, but for the sake of argument we won�t. Now we shall see how this is most untrue.
Translation and transcription
Literalists believe that scripture is infallible because it was either dictated to the human writers, or that they were inspired by the Holy Spirit while writing it and so were unable to make any mistakes. The more progressive sorts see, on the other hand, that there have been many avenues for errors to creep into scripture. Let us assume first, for the sake of argument, that the original scriptures were perfect and error-free. Now, almost 2000 years have passed since the New Testament (to say nothing of the Old Testament) was committed to writing. The originals have been lost, so we know of what they said only because copies were made. Assuming that the whole thing is not a forgery, consider how many times the texts have been translated and transcribed throughout the ages. People aren't perfect and the people making the transcriptions certainly weren't. Who's to say errors did not creep into the sacred texts along the way? And the meaning of original texts often gets lost during translation, so can we assume the interpreters translated the text correctly, or managed to retain the multitudes of meanings and nuances in the texts? Literalists might say that the Holy Spirit filled all translators and transcribers, but then why are there so many versions of the Bible?
Editing and personal bias
Mechanical copying and transcription aside, there's also the problem of the editor. Who decided what was to be included in the Bible? The current texts we have are only a fraction of the thousands of books from Jewish and Christian tradition. Who decided what books to include? The books that are traditionally included in the Bible themselves refer to other books like the Book of Jasher (Joshua 10:13). Scholarly analysis, too, has found that some parts of the Bible are missing. To even look at the first 4 books of the New Testament would be to see that even the Apostles, supposedly inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote from their individual viewpoints, with their individual prejudices, and that they contradicted each other. Lastly, there is overwhelming evidence that the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) were written by more than one author, since there are, among other things, two versions of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20 & Deuteronomy 5) and two creation stories in Genesis.
There is also the matter of personal bias, which inevitably creeps into media as they are transmitted, translated or transferred from one form to another.
Why should we read the Bible in context? Believers often claim that others are quoting their texts out of context, but often they themselves are not following their rules. The texts were written at a specific time for a specific group of people for a specific purpose. This is especially evident in the letters of Paul to specific groups - why did he write separately to the Ephesians, Colossians, Corinthians and others, if what he was writing was meant to apply to everyone? Why not just write one letter to everyone (and to posterity too)? (This ignores the question, too of why we should follow what St Paul said. What makes his opinion and judgment as infallible and sacred as God's? His letters are just commentaries. I respect his opinion but reserve the right to form my own) That is the reason why much of the Old Testament does not apply to Christians today. Why the need for targeted scripture? The Ancient Hebrews would not have been able to comprehend the concept of a world being created over billions of years, and you wouldn�t tell people in the 11th century AD about nuclear bombs, would you? They�d think you were mad, or worse - stone you for being a witch.
On interpreting the Bible literally
Now, since some people are so fond of following the Word of God wholesale and without thinking, let's look at some areas.
Man�s best friend lives in many of our homes today, providing love and companionship. Yet, dogs are repeatedly condemned in the Word of God!
A dog is compared to:
Male Prostitutes - Deuteronomy 23:18: You shall not bring the hire of a harlot, or the price of a dog, into the house of the LORD your God for any vow. For even both these are hateful to the LORD your God.
Villainous Enemies - Psalms 22:16: and You have brought Me into the dust of death. For dogs have circled around Me; the band of spoilers have hemmed Me in, piercers of My hands and My feet.
False Christians (Possibly) - Philippians 3:2: Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision party. [Ed: Was such an injunction ever more clearly spelt out?]
Dogs are made out to be disgusting:
Proverbs 26:11: As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.
Ugh. That�s sufficient evidence to stay away from them, ain�t it? Even though we�ve never seen dogs eating vomit, if the Bible says it, it must be right.
Perhaps worse of all, Dogs are barred from Heaven:
Revelations 14 -15: Blessed are they who do His commandments, that their authority will be over the Tree of Life, and they may enter in by the gates into the city. But outside are the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the fornicators, and the murderers, and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and makes a lie.
Oh dear. How can we get out of this predicament?
Perhaps the word 'dog' is used metaphorically. Right. If that is the case, why are other parts of the Bible so conveniently interpreted literally, and not metaphorically, even when the literal meaning is against the message of love that the New Testament preaches?
2. Slaves and Masters
Ephesians 5:6: Slaves, obey your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as to Christ;
Colossians 4:1: Masters, give to your slaves what is just and equal, knowing that you also have a Master in Heaven. (Note: Masters are not asked to free their slaves)
This comes from the New Testament, the revised Word of God (is that not already proof that the Word of God is not Eternal and Unchanging? Why can't he make mistakes too?), so we can assume that Slavery is permitted! The Declaration of Human Rights is thus Blasphemy since it condemns what God expressly allows!
Perhaps Paul only meant these instructions for the Ephesians and the Colossians respectively, as he knew that if he told the slaves to rise up, and the masters to free them, because God didn�t condone slavery (having changed his mind since the Old Testament), social upheaval would result and the nascent Christian movement would surely be eradicated by the Romans.
3. Husbands and Wives
Ephesians 5:22: Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
There. Wives are to be lorded over by their husbands. True, the husbands have to love them, but ultimately the husbands are the ones in charge and the wives have to be obedient. Was Man made to dominate Women, then?
I read a tract a while back while neatly reconciles this: "Ephesians is not a letter written to Western marriages! It is a letter written to Christians who were living in a culture where marriage was a type of slavery. Young teens were wedded to middle-aged men in order to bear them a legal heir. It is difficult for us to imagine the level of degradation and hopelessness these young wives must have experienced... perhaps more than the slaves. Paul was not intending to set up gender hierarchy in marriage in these passages any more than he was endorsing slavery by encouraging slaves to submit to their masters. He was simply referring to the slavery and male headship that was already a part of their secular culture."
Why can't more people be willing to read things in their wider socio-historical context?
Now, most Christians worth their salt will condemn people with alternative sexual orientations, although most of these seem to have been created this way by the putative God. The fact that for homosexuals to attempt to live heterosexually would be as much of a sin and as unnatural as for heterosexuals to live as homosexuals does not occur to them.
A close study of the Bible, reading it in both its spirit and its wider socio-historical context, leads many to conclude that homosexuality per se is not condemned, only:
"(1) homosexual rape
(2) the ritual homosexual prostitution that was part of the Canaanite fertility cult and at one time apparently taken over into Jewish practice as well; and
(3) homosexual lust and behaviour of the part of heterosexuals.
On the subject of homosexuality as an orientation, and on consensual behaviour by people who possess that orientation, it is wholly silent." (http://www.godlovesfags.com/bible/interpretation.html)
The case against homosexuality seems to rest on several phrases from the New Testament (I could consider the Old as well, but I'm too much of a windbag as it is already, and anyway much or all of it was nullified with the First Coming)
Romans 1:26-27: "For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature. And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. "
Notice that the key word here is 'nature', translated from the Greek "phusis", which refers to a person's nature. We can thus conclude that what is condemned is not homosexuality per se, but homosexual practices indulged in by normally heterosexual people. Indeed, some Roman cults involved rituals with homosexual acts, where normally straight men had to mount other men. That indeed is an abomination, but not natural homosexuality.
1 Corinthians 6:9: "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, "
The word that has been emphasised has been variously translated, in various editions of the Bible, as effeminate, homosexuals, or sexual perverts. This very fact is enough to cast doubt on the meaning of the original Greek.
There are also plenty of secular arguments about homosexuality being natural, but I will not go into them here. Suffice to say - if something is natural, why should it be condemned? More likely that this is the work of prejudiced homophobes who, reacting naturally against something they did not understand, decided to claim that the Divine Being disliked homosexuality (or imagined that he was as ignorant as them).
Again, why is what Paul said taken to be the Word of God? Prophets contradict each other all the time, so whom are we supposed to follow, then?
5. The Song of Songs
We have here a most interesting specimen. Hard core pornography in the Bible!
1:13: "he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts. "
4:5: "Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies. "
7:7: "This thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes. "
A more fervent and ringing endorsement and celebration of sex never did exist.
Now, those apologists who dare to tackle this topic instead of leaving a deafening silence (and for that they are to be commended) claim that this whole book is referring to Christ's relationship with the Church. I wonder if even they are convinced, as this takes a marvellous leap of the imagination and of faith which could only have come from formulating the explanation after the conclusion had been reached. I might also add that this is the Song of Solomon - it was written a few centuries before Christ came. Now, if this XXX-rated book can be interpreted so imaginatively, what is to stop other parts of the Bible - less explicit and more vague, I might add - from being read likewise? Why can't people accept that this was just a homily Solomon composed after a vigorous bout with one of his mistresses?
Here is something the literalists can most assuredly not escape from. We are told that Noah and his family gathered at least 2 from each the species of animals into his Ark, and that they survived for 40 days and 40 nights in it.
Now, the estimates for the number of land species alone range from 6 million to 30 million. Further, fish and other marine organisms are sensitive to changes in salinity , pH and temperature, so most would have to be stored on the Ark. Could you store 12 million animals in an Ark? How about with food - and Koalas, for example, only eat Eucalyptus leaves so they wouldn't be able to feed off the main food supply, water and climate control (for the Polar Bears, among others)? Consider that the dimensions given for the Ark give a volume of 43,006 cubic meters. Assuming that we take the lower estimate of 6 million species, that gives each animal a box with sides of 15 cm. Perhaps in DNA form that'd be possible, but that's almost as silly as believing the earth is less than 10,000 years old.
How about gathering all the species of animals? Ah, maybe God told them all to go to the site of the Ark. Right. Mass stampedes of animals and a veritable zoo at Noah's doorstep would have alarmed no one, I'm sure.
Now about the flood. The 40 days and 40 nights of flooding supposedly covered the tops of all mountains. Mount Everest is 8,848m tall, so to cover it in 40 days of rain you'd need 9.21m of rain falling per hour. Whoa. Would the water pressure not crush the Ark like a tin can? Even assuming the Ark was protected - where did all this water come from and where did it go to later? And how come the massive weight of this water did not warp the ocean floors and the former land?
How about after the flood? Can you imagine re-establishing an entire species from just 2 animals? The inbreeding would quickly lead to the animal going extinct. And there�s the question of the dead animals - we don't see a sudden spike in the fossil record at a certain time.
7. The Age of the Earth
I have no wish to go too deeply into this. Suffice to say that, when presented with overwhelming evidence, those who believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old like to claim that the scientific constants (like the freezing point of water and the speed of light) may not have been the same always, that when God created the Earth he made it look old on purpose, or that scientific methods of dating have been proven wrong sometimes.
Now, just because Carbon dating and the like have been proven wrong before does not mean that they are inaccurate. A failure rate is always present, so just because dating gives the wrong result 1 out of a 100 times does not mean that it is wrong 100 out of 100 times. Further, most of the dating errors were discovered by scientists checking the results of their work � something theists often neglect to do. By the same logic, I could say that since God has been proven wrong before, and his word has been proven fallible et al, he is always wrong, or that he doesn't exist. Humph. And the suggestion that the scientific constants haven�t always been constant sounds like a flimflam explanation borne out of sheer desperation.
And as for God creating the Earth to look old - we can also propose that this God created the Earth 2 seconds ago and implanted all the memories we have into our minds.
A short list of Biblical Contradictions:
Exodus 20:13 "Thou shalt not kill. "
Leviticus 24:17 "And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death. "
Ephesians 2:8,9 "For by grace are ye saved through faith . . . not of works. "
James 2:24 "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. "
Ezekiel 24:14 "I the Lord have spoken it: it shall come to pass, and I will do it; I will not go back, neither will I spare, neither will I repent. "
Exodus 32:14 "And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people. "
James 1:13 "Let no man say . . . I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man. "
Genesis 22:1 "And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham. "
II Kings 8:26 "Two and twenty years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign. "
II Chronicles 22:2 "Forty and two years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign. "
Hebrews 6:13-17 "For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself . . . for men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath. "
Matthew 5:34-37 "But I say unto you, swear not at all; neither by heaven . . . nor by the earth . . . . Neither shalt thou swear by thy head . . . . But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. "
Genesis 7:15 "And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath of life. "
Genesis 7:2 "Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. "
I Kings 4:26 "And Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen. "
II Chronicles 9:25 "And Solomon had four thousand stalls for horses and chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen. "
Matthew 2:1: "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, " (Ed: Herod died in 4 BC)
Luke 2:1-2: �And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) � (Ed: Judea only came under direct Roman Rule in 6 AD)
Matthew 1:16: And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.
Luke 3:23: And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,
Matthew 27:46: "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? "
Luke 23:46: "And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. "
John 19:30: "When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. "
I trust that that is more than enough to convince anyone that the Bible is not infallible. Could a Perfect God have written such an Imperfect Bible? Incidentally, one explanation offered for contradictions in the first 5 books of the Bible is that 2 versions existed originally, and one person reconciled the two and combined them, ergo the discrepancies.
With such an imperfect Bible, is it safe for anyone to rely on its word as the supposed Word of God, infallible, eternal (when he has changed his mind so often) and totally accurate? I think not.
In JC 1, we had lessons on Thinking Skills, and some propositions were posited to us, urging us to question:
It is in the newspapers, so it must be right.
It is in the Bible, so it must be right.
Lee Kuan Yew says it, so it must be right.
Food for thought, indeed.
I suspect the reason why most literalists cling on so stubbornly is that they have built in their minds a whole fortress of thoughts and beliefs about their religion around the cornerstone of Biblical infallibility. Remove it, and they will be incapable of preventing the whole edifice from crashing down around them. So even faced with undeniable proof of the fallibility of the Bible, cognitive dissonance ensues and they resort to arguments and explanations so ludicrous that only a 6-year-old child - or a convinced literalist - could believe them.
6) Disingenuous arguments - being trapped by the circular logic of religion
Let us examine some Catch-22 situations in religion.
People often ask how to find God, and the answer given is frequently that if you search for him sincerely, you will find him (or rather, he will find you). This passage was quoted to me: Jeremiah 29:13-14 - "You shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart. I will be found of you". From there, it is but a simple step to concluding that if you can't find God, it must be because you aren't looking hard enough, or with all your heart.
There are many assumptions here (among them being that there is a God and that he wants to be found, and that he will let himself be found - basically that this passage is the infallible and eternal word of God), but the problem is that there is no escape route! If someone is not touched or found by God, he can be told that he is not looking hard or sincerely enough. He can then spend his entire life searching and die a broken, disappointed man. Hell, I can make up my own God, or use a pre-existing one - Baal, say, and insert this clause into my Holy Text. Then my adherents will be locked in forever! How fortuitous. For those very strong in their faith, on the other hand, they will "feel" the presence of my "God" psychosomatically, due to their mind conjuring up mirages and will feel vindicated. Their faith will lead to their perceived existence of my God being a self-fulfilling prophecy!
Getting God to work through you
Another instance of this fallacy can be seen in an argument I had with Timothy about whether homosexuality was abhorred by God. I cited instances where, even under Church programmes including praying, homosexuals were unable to change their sexual orientations. He dismissed these instances, claiming that it didn't work because the priests were "doing it wrongly", or trying to "cast out the demon wrongly". So it is impossible for a gay to become straight if the praying et al is done correctly - while the criterion for whether the praying is done correctly is that of the gay person becoming straight. A wonderfully circular argument, if you ask me. God is supposed to understand our prayers, and in other instances, we do not tell him HOW to do what we need, just what we need. We are supposed to just pray, and let God do all the work, so how come we need to do the rituals correctly? When you go to a carpenter you tell him what sort of chair you want, but you do not tell him how to construct the chair and poke your nose into his work. He knows how to do it better than you do.
Adherents of religions are frequently told to have faith. With faith, nothing is impossible. There is a problem with this argument, however. Faith means belief and trust in something. However, one can have faith in many things. I can have faith that the Moon is made of Green Cheese, that NASA didn't really visit the Moon, or that Jews are evil and were behind the September 11th attacks, or even that God is a rabbit. What makes religious faith so different from other types of faith, apart from the traditional air of sanctity given to it?
What is needed is vindication of faith. If that is not present, how do we know what we have faith in is true? I could come up with my own religion, and exhort adherents to have faith, and they would be worshipping a false god all the way.
What we need, then, is the divine spark. The Godly touch to know that the generalities are correct (and who cares about specifics? Let theologians argue till thy kingdom come) - a vindication of faith. A spark which many believe has come, but many more have never felt.
I was lead to believe, at the retreat, that Sin was singularly the most important thing in (Catholic) Christianity. Perhaps that isn't strictly true, but definitely it seems that Sin is grossly overrated.
The appeal of asceticism in religion, that God wants us to feel bad, probably stems from people�s assuaging of their guilt, and perceived building of self-virtue through self-flagellation. The worse you feel, the more God will reward you in the afterlife! The priest said that suffering was good as it would orient you towards God. To this I reply: How about those who despair, curse �God� and turn the other way? Why does God like us to suffer, if he is so good, kind and merciful? Could it be that he is sadistic?
Sin is a fact of life. If you want to survive in the Modern (or even the Ancient world), it is necessary to commit some form of sin, especially in the fields of business and politics. To do other would to be trampled upon. For example, when people ask questions, we usually respond with a degree of tact. Another name for that would be "lying" - a form of sin. "These six things doth the lord hate: Yea, seven are an abomination unto him... a lying tongue... a false witness that speaketh lies" - Proverbs 6:16,17,19. It is also written by David, "I hate and abhor lying" - Psalms 119:163. But how about when colleagues or friends tell us to tell callers looking for them that they aren�t around? Even monks, living in communities, have the potential for sin. Unless one retreats to a cave and lives as a hermit, it is almost impossible to live sin-free - with the Church's broad definition of Sin, that is.
Perhaps even harder to escape - Original Sin. Even when babies have just been born into the world, they have already been tainted by Original Sin.
Let us step back and examine the boundaries of Sin. How are we to know what is sin? Subjective and flawed human interpretations of Holy Text aside, let us look at Natural Conscience. Now, we are, almost all of us, born with an endowment of Natural Conscience. For Christians, let's say it came into the race when our ancestors partook of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If we imbibed the knowledge present in the fruit, then would we not know what is sinful, and what isn't? In many societies, polygamy - both polyandry and polygyny - is practised, and in some African tribes, free sex is the norm. Homosexuals are highly valued in some societies for, with no children of their own to take care of, they can aid in the parenting of others' offspring. Now, it can be argued that social norms have distorted the Natural Conscience. So if we give this argument the benefit of the doubt, we can still see that in babies, sexual instincts are present. Some male babies are born with erect members, and some female ones lubricating, and one reason why swaddling is so popular is that it stops babies from touching their gonads - something that comes naturally to them. If that is the case, why is "self-abuse", something eminently and obviously natural, so condemned?
The priest proclaimed that, however good a life you try to live, unless you have divine help, it is impossible to lead a sinless life. And I agree, for with his Universal, Puritan, all-encompassing definition of Sin, it would be impossible to even breathe without sinning! For it seems to follow human, congenital, totally natural desires is to sin, and all along we are already burdened with Original Sin. Isn�t following our Natural Conscience (implanted into us when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil) and following the Golden Rule and its corollaries is surely insufficient! Methinks that it is best not to focus too much on inevitable, omnipresent sin but instead to concentrate more on moderating the sin and being a positive force.
But why is Sin so bad? If it does not destroy or control you, or hurt others, what is so bad about a moderate amount of �sin�, especially since we are all tainted already by Original Sin? We are told that God hates Sin, but not why. In fact, Sin humanises us.
It is necessary to sin somewhat to survive in the real world, and if someone has such an obsession with eradicating sin, that person will lose all sense of perspective, and this obsession will destroy him. Perhaps that is the greatest sin. We were told, too, to dig out the roots of our sin, and the priest gave the analogy of grass growing in a field - if you just trim the grass, it will grow back. I counter: If the grass is sin, imagine that the field is a person - if you dig out the roots, the field will erode and the place will become a desert. Are we enslaved by sin? More like enslaved by religion.
In summation, I found this quote very meaningful: God and Christians are analogous to an abusive husband and his wife. The husband beats the wife relentlessly, but has instilled such fear in the wife that she cannot possibly conceive of her husband being wrong. Thus, she believes that it is her fault that she is being beaten, and that her husband has no other recourse. This is not tolerated in today's society, but, when God does it, it's perfectly alright. This is what Christians who accept the belief of Hell do to themselves. They've been brought up to fear God from birth. This fear forces them to accept the completely illogical and unbacked statement that God is perfect. Thus, whenever they question the existence of Hell and how just it can be, the leash of God�s perfection tightens around their necks. They simply recite the above mantra and put all the blame on themselves, absolving God of all responsibility for his actions, allowing them to live comfortably with their illusory belief in the biblical God being perfect.
Accepting the Word
Christianity is founded on the idea of Love - God loved us so much, he sent his only Son down to die for us. Whoever believes in him will receive Eternal Life. So, a question comes up - what about those who don't? In the deepest heart of Africa reside pagan tribes which have never been visited by Missionaries. So when they die, they will not be able to receive Eternal Life - just because the news never got to them? Even when people have been preached too, they may not believe, as there is no compelling reason for them to. Perhaps what the missionaries say sounds like the words of Snake Oil salesmen (and who believes them, anyway?) - what makes one so different from another, and which faith should they believe in, then, with so many clamouring for their souls? Or how about those who want to believe, but who are never touched by Divine Grace and die bitter and cynical? Or even people in religions which punish apostates - some with death, even, resulting in the rate of conversion being low due to the fear of punishment? Is it fair to all of these people?
God is good
A generally accepted notion is that God is good. A cursory observation of the world will show that this does not seem to be the case - misery is widespread. This is explained off with reference to quotes from scripture, and various excuses, that Evil comes from Man through his free will, God is trying to mould people, misery is good for the character, the Universe being God�s creation and not his plaything and so on. However, how can the deaths of innocent people in natural disasters, say, be justified then? God is good, God is merciful and God is kind, after all. If we take the view that God should not intervene in his creation, then why are there still so many instances of supposed miracles? Or why, indeed, has God even appeared in this world, to mess around with it? Even if he does want to appear, it is suspicious that he chooses such indirect and doubtful means to do so. And how about the Evil supposedly arising from the hearts of men? Many people become �evil� because of their circumstances - poor neighbourhoods tend to have higher crime rates, say, so this �evil� does not really come from men, but from what happens to men, since most people are born good.
When good things happen, we are supposed to praise God. If bad things happen, we are supposed to do the same. But why should we praise someone who is doing bad things to us? The logic behind this is ultimately very fishy. Why should it not be the other way around?
If God is so good, why do we have a Vengeful/hateful God who urges genocide (and this after �thou shalt not kill�):
Exodus 34:17: I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Take care, therefore, not to make a covenant with these inhabitants of the land that you are to enter; else they will become a snare among you. Tear down their altars; smash their sacred pillars, and cut down their sacred poles.
Genesis 7:4: For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth. [Ed: Even the surely guiltless children?]
Specifically, it seems the Unchanging, Eternal God makes himself out to be spiteful, vindictive, cruel and sadistic in the Old Testament.
Perhaps the notion of God being good can best be rebutted simply and succinctly in the Riddle of Epicurus.
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
God is perfect
God is supposed to be perfect, all knowing, eternal, infallible and the like. If that is the case, then why is his creation, the Universe so imperfect? Just one example would be extinction - if the Earth was created perfect, then species needn�t die, need they? Or how about the supposed Great Flood?
God repenting as he has made a mistake: Genesis 8:21: �I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. �
Jesus doubting God: Matthew 27:46: And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Many other examples can be found in the Bible. Just look.
8) Christianity as interpreted by Man
Since I was at a Catholic retreat, the thoughts and reflections below will inevitably by somewhat biased towards (or against, if you prefer) Catholic doctrine and practice.
A common accusation levelled at Catholics by other Christians is that they are obsessed about praying to Mary. Catholics might protest, but a casual observation of their method of prayer puts paid to their protests. When Catholics wield their Rosaries and start praying, the amount of prayers to the Virgin Mary outweigh those to the Holy Trinity combined, due to the former being recited in a decade. Hell, maybe it's not a Trinity after all, but a Holy Quartet. What I want to know is, why is appealing to Mary to intercede so important? The Son was supposedly sent to Earth to die to breach the gap between the Father and his creations. So why is the additional help needed? And why is so much time devoted to it? As far as I know, in fact, nothing in the Bible exhorts believers to pray to Mary, and if the Bible is the Eternal, Unchanging and Complete Word of God, it takes a Catholic not to see that we have a problem here. John 14:6, "Jesus said to him, �I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.�"
Besides the unseeming obsession with praying to the Virgin Mary, Catholics also have a whole host of other rituals and practices that other denominations frown on. Now, it's not good for a religion to stay still and not adapt to the times, but some people take the Bible as the eternal and infallible word of God, so addenda are reviled - someone once told me that she decided to stop being a Catholic because "they practice a lot of rubbish that isn't in the bible", and you should have seen my former superior ranting about how Catholics are wrong to pray to Mary.
All the sermons we got were about Sin, so it seems that Sin is one of the most important concepts in Catholicism. Somehow, it seems to me that instead of forbidding everything that is not expressly allowed, the Church should allow everything that is not expressly disallowed.
Give me chastity and continence, but not yet - Augustine of Hippo, later St Augustine
It seems that sex is a universal taboo. Probably this is because the puritan and ascetic side of us grimaces whenever we enjoy ourselves - what feels good is not good. Isn't sex totally natural? The birds and the bees partake in it with no thought of Sin. Humans are born with sexual instincts - it is as natural a part of us as eating, drinking and sleeping. We were supposedly made as such. If sex was so sinful, then perhaps it was made so appealing as a test - a cruel test, like putting spiders into a jar and waiting for them to kill each other. A test with dubitable motives. But I was always under the impression that he wasn't supposed to test us unduly. If anyone is able to control their sexual desires as well as the priest said we should, then they should take up the cloth! If they�re male, at least.
All sex is supposedly sinful. That is why Jesus Christ was allegedly born of a Virgin, so that he wouldn�t be tainted by the Sin of his mother. On the other hand, sex within marriage is supposed to be permissible, so why could Mary not have been a Virgin? Especially since she was wedded to Joseph. So we see we have a problem, again. This could be solved by accepting that the generally accepted interpretation of Isaiah - �A virgin shall conceive�, actually was meant to read �a young girl shall conceive�, but then this is blasphemous to most. Oops.
The priest was very conservative regarding various sexual sins. He condemned Oral Sex because it didn't lead to babies being conceived. "If God had meant you to have Oral Sex, babies would be born from the mouth". This brought to mind a similar argument bandied around by conservatives when the Wright Brothers were experimenting with flying - "If God had meant for us to fly, he'd have given us wings".
Perhaps most amazingly, he condemned all positions but the Missionary Position. What century he is living in, I don�t know, but this is the 21st Century and to be puritan to that extent is so ridiculous that only Mormons would fain comply. It is no wonder that Catholic Priests need to be single, unlike their Orthodox brethren, for to advocate such unrealistic and puritan practices betrays a severe disconnect from reality that can only come from not having any � nor ever having the chance to have any - experience. Of course, the priest claimed that Catholic priests are not allowed to marry because they need to devote their lives to God, but then isn�t everyone supposed to do that? So everybody should take up the cloth!
Homosexuality and contraception
Of course, any Catholic priest worth his salt would revile homosexuality, and this one was no exception. Homosexuality is unnatural, he said. Sure. Then why has homosexuality been observed in so many species of animals? Or if you abhor comparisons with mere animals, how about vegetarians? Humans were made to be omnivores - you can see it by our tooth structure. Isn't is an abomination, hated by Heaven, for Man to reject the fruits of the earth and indulge in Unnatural Eating Habits? Or how about going to the doctor? If God has seen fit to let you get sick, shouldn't it be left to his will whether you get well? Why pervert the course of nature by trying to defy his will and fill your body with all manner of chemicals, besides? Or how about wearing clothes? We aren't born with clothes, so why should we wear any? Adam and Eve ran around naked in the Garden of Eden the whole day, so that is our natural state. How can we deviate from it?
Contraception is reviled. Why is this so? Apparently it is because it is unnatural and perverts the purpose of sex - to procreate. Ignoring the many examples of modern practices which pervert nature yet are not condemned by the Church, let us consider what happens if contraception is disallowed. Now, consider a couple who are very religious, and do not practice contraception. What happens if they, as normal couples do, maintain a normal physical relationship? It can be seen that the female will conceive endlessly until one of 2 ends come to pass - she dies in childbirth, or she reaches menopause. Somehow, I think the former is much more likely, and that will leave a single, lonely (since he�s not supposed to remarry) father with a gigantic brood to take care of. The children will grow up without the love of a mother, and the father might go crazy. Is not such an infinitely greater sin than simply using a condom? It could be said that the couple could stop copulating, but isn�t marriage a God sanctioned form of release? It is no wonder that most of those who oppose contraception are those who are likely never to have the chance to use it! Anyhow, if God is upset at the sin in the world, and if the sin is increasing with the population of the Earth, then why not use birth control to reduce the amount of sin in the world and make him happy?
Self-abuse and porn
"The history of professional and popular opinion about masturbation has been one of ignorance, pseudo-science, and hysteria" (R.E. Butman in Benner 1985:687-688)
Masturbation, or self-abuse, was also bashed. Supposedly, this is because it defiles the temple of the Holy Spirit, and indulging in it creates a hunger that cannot be stopped - like fuelling a fire. However, in response to the first point, since self-abuse pleases the temple of the Holy Spirit so much, shouldn't it be encouraged? The body itself recognises the need for periodic relief - that is why males have wet dreams. Furthermore, it is but a response to urges we were supposedly created with. As for the second point - perhaps it is not so much as an act of fuelling a fire as of releasing water from a dam; if the dam overflows, good luck to the people in the town below.
Safety valves are in place for a reason. Just witness what happened with the Catholic Priests who cooped everything inside and then went to rape their altar boys. We can also see what happened in the Victorian era, when women went to doctors with "hysterics" and were treated with vibrators to relieve their tension. Of course, it can be said that prayer can overcome the instincts which God has given us, but what of those for whom it cannot - and many of such cases abound?
Of course, finding more dubious evidence to back his case up � since �self-abuse� is not talked about anywhere in the Bible, the priest talked about Onan and how this supposedly showed that masturbation was bad.
Genesis 38:6-10: �And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar. And Er, Judah's firstborn was wicked in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord slew him. And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the Lord: wherefore he slew him also. �
So YHWH committed murder, and then smote someone else. That aside, I think any unprejudiced reading of the above would reveal that was God was displeased at was not the spilling of seed, but his refusal to impregnate his brother�s widow. If he wants to quote the Old Testament so much, perhaps we should, unlike Onan, impregnate our brothers� widows (all the while ignoring the circumstances in which this habit, gross to modern sensibilities, was practised). Also, following his interpretations, females are free to have fun with their fingers and joy-sticks. I thought the Old Testament was nullified anyway, in any case. To be lazy and quote someone else, �I have no idea why ancient scholars decided to use the story of Onan to condemn masturbation. I can't believe that they didn't understand about levirate marriage � it's all there in print. I'm afraid they were victims of the medieval loathing of the flesh, which taught that spirit was good, body was bad, man was good, woman was temptress, pain was purifying, and pleasure was evil. What a perverted way to look at the world! Those who believe in God should profess that He made all things holy, and pleasure and joy and love are the components of heaven on earth. And though I'm no expert on masturbation (though I do study diligently on a daily basis), I'd say it's a good part of our world. �
Perhaps to conclude, he related an anecdote, of this 70-year-old man who told him that he couldn't stop masturbating, and that he hated himself for doing so. Perhaps he would feel better if he wasn't indoctrinated with a guilt complex.
Peripherally related is the topic of nocturnal emissions, also known as wet dreams. The priest was so hopelessly out of date that he even tried to condemn this!
Deuteronomy 23:10-11: If there be among you any man, that is not clean by reason of uncleanness that chanceth him by night, then shall he go abroad out of the camp, he shall not come within the camp: But it shall be, when evening cometh on, he shall wash himself with water: and when the sun is down, he shall come into the camp again.
Well done. Laying aside the question of what �uncleanness that chanceth him by night� actually means, what is a boy to do once he starts having wet dreams, I ask? I wonder what the priests who actually live by these 2 verses do every time that time of the month (or week or fortnight) comes along. Do they have to leave their church buildings and wash themselves and return at night? Or maybe they secretly go to harlots once a month.
And then we have pornography. Personally, I think that it is rather pointless, but if people want to do something in the privacy of their own homes, I don�t see what�s wrong with that. Blue movies were bashed repeatedly, but I find it interesting that Romance Novels weren�t. Where blue films merely have purely carnal content, romance novels corrupt and taint the reader�s notions of love - supposedly a gift of God - by transmogrifying, distorting, mocking and mutating the way real life relationships work. Is that not worse?
To support some of his proscriptions, the priest used the Book of Leviticus to back him up. Thanks. Leviticus is so ridiculous and contradictory that even the Jews don�t follow it. And if he likes it so much, what about the lengthy instructions on rituals and dietary restrictions? If he wants to throw the book at us, I can throw it back at him.
Leviticus 15:19-24: And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean. And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And whosoever toucheth any thing that she sat upon shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And if it be on her bed, or on any thing whereon she sitteth, when he toucheth it, he shall be unclean until the even. And if any man lie with her at all, and her flowers be upon him, he shall be unclean seven days; and all the bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean.
Leviticus 21:17-20: Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God. For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous, Or a man that is broken footed, or broken handed, Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken
Perhaps to end sexual sin once and for all, we should follow the noble example of Origen of Alexandria who, determined to not sin sexually, castrated himself. Unfortunately this also disqualified him for sainthood as he was then incomplete (what about circumcision - genital mutilation - then, I ask?). Pity. But then some eunuchs do have sexual desires too and some can be induced to produce a form of ejaculate, so perhaps we can never be free.
Divorce and other attacks on the sacrament of marriage
The institution of marriage is present in all modern societies, but Catholicism seems to place particular emphasis on it.
Marriage supposedly has been sanctioned by God as a union of a male and a female for life. However, looking at the animal world, we can see that the one male partnering one female for life concept is hardly the dominant form of mating. In some human societies, those not swayed and overpowered by the dominant moral paradigm, we can see too that the traditional institution of marriage is not extant. These are not, in and of itself, overwhelming evidence against marriage, but do consider them.
Marriage is supposedly sanctioned by God as an outlet for sexual desires. However, sex in and of itself is a sin, which was why the Mother of Christ had to be virginal. So why not everyone abstains and the whole religion die out? Also, with contraception banned, masturbation forbidden and nocturnal emissions sinful (see above, on the �sin� of spilling one�s seed), where does that leave us? A marriage at a young age which will likely later break down? A marriage at a young age, with the couple having children every few years till the female dies in childbirth, then the male having to purify himself every time he has a wet dream until the day he dies? Praying to God which often does not work? Or is a more likely explanation that he is not as strict about trivialities as he is made out to be?
Peace in marriage was advocated during the retreat. Now, in and of itself, that is not a bad thing but the priest seemed to be advocating totally friction-free marriages. The wife is supposed to submit (read: be a slave) to the husband and the husband is supposed to love his wife. That way, no quarrels will ensue. I disagree - healthy disagreement and quarrels are part of a healthy marriage, for without them, how will effective and sound decisions be arrived at? The priest recommended that men look for submissive wives � a sexist statement if I ever heard one. What�s wrong with spunky women? They�re quite fun. I wonder indeed how people who have never been married can lecture on how a marriage should be lived (me included, but then I merely offer suggestions and opinions, and do not mount a bully pulpit and proclaim something to be Holy Writ)
Divorce is frowned upon. This issue has been a bone of contention in the Catholic Church before - if not for this, England might still be in the Catholic fold. Now, most people get married in their 20s. This is hardly a sufficient time for someone to search for his life partner, but then compromises have to be made - we can't expect people to spend most of their lives searching. Perhaps they believe, at that point in time, that they have found true love. Or peer pressure induces them to get married. So, some years into the marriage, problems crop up. The Church preaches that the holy institution cannot be broken, and that the couple should pray and try to repair their marriage. But what if the couple are not suitable for each other? Or if one has met someone infinitely more suitable for him and has found true love at last? What then? Do the two stay in a loveless marriage? What if prayer and counselling do not work? Surely the Church does not expect the two to waste the rest of their lives together, bound only by peer pressure, moral suasion and religious dictate? I would think that leaving the marriage to continue as a sham would be the greater sin (and that's why I support cohabitation - which is another topic).
Most religions preach that there is only one path to God - their own, and all who don't follow it are screwed. However, there are literally thousands of denominations and religions out there. How are we supposed to know which one to believe in? Do we choose the one which promises the most benefits in the afterlife, or the one which dictates the most self-flagellation, reasoning to ourselves that the more we suffer now, the more we enjoy ourselves later? Can it be that all of them are wrong but one? More likely that more than one are correct, or all are correct, or even, dare I say, that none are correct.
A roommate claimed that if you believed in a false God, you�d know. So why do so many people believe in so many different Gods? Can they all be correct, if most proclaim the rest to be wrong? And how about atheists (I presume if you don�t believe in a real God, you�d know too)? This leads me to the same conclusion as above.
Tim�s father offered another view - you must look at the fruits the religion brings. A true, good God would bring good fruits. So looking at it that way, Buddhism must be the true religion, for it advocates peace and I don�t think anyone has ever killed anyone else in Buddhism�s name. Many atheists lead perfectly virtuous and happy lives, so is not atheism also a true religion (or lack of, rather)? The same could be said of the much-reviled Wiccans, even. Christianity, on the other hand, has resulted in wars, murder, and hate, the Spanish Inquisition and assorted other iniquities.
Christ on the Throne?
Have you heard of the Four Spiritual Laws? Law One says that: "God LOVES you and offers a wonderful PLAN for your life. [Christ speaking] "I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly" [that it might be full and meaningful] (John 10:10)". I find the interpretation for this to be extremely suspect. But let's just assume, for the sake of argument, that he *does* have a plan for our life. We are urged to follow this plan and surrender to the inscrutable divine will. We are to let Christ be on the throne and submit to him in all things.
This idea of servitude rankles me - it sounds like a euphemism for slavery. Is it good to be mindless automatons, zombies controlled by God? If that was our purpose in life, to be puppets with him pulling the strings, then why were we created in the first place? If we should submit to his "plan", then why were we put on this earth? To be expensive, semi-intelligent playthings? The question of free will comes up, and the prepared refrain is that God gave us free will so that we could choose him without compulsion. However, religious representatives tell us to "do this and be happy forevermore or burn in hell for all eternity", so is there really no compulsion or coercion? Furthermore, we are told that our body comes from God, and belongs to God, so whither and wherefore Free Will?
Even putting all our doubts aside, we are told that we were given free will just to have it taken away from us. That sounds like he is putting us here to play with, and test us. Life then sounds like a cruel, inane divine game. A more plausible explanation given to me was that submitting to him, we realise that his plan is the best for our life. Put that way, it doesn't sound like we have a choice. Is submitting to a pre-determined plan and going to a pre-destined fate really what we want?
Also, how do we know just what is in the Plan? Supposedly, if we have accepted him, we will know what to do. But what about the murderers who thought that voices were telling them to kill their fellow Men? What if that was really the voice of God? Who's to say?
I am growing increasingly disillusioned with organised and human-interpreted religion, what with its inconsistencies, hypocrisies, flaws, obvious errors which are glossed over, false promises, contradictions and misleading logic. I wonder if even another Thomas Aquinas would be able to reconcile all the paradoxes, as a reading of some parts of the Summa Theologica didn�t leave me very impressed. Who's to say which interpretation is right, with the number extant? They have proved wrong before, like when the Catholic Church proclaimed the truth of a Gaia-centric universe, justifying it with passages from Scripture, and when it prohibited usury - what if they are wrong again? And if Original Sin has stained Man forever and ever, has not the sins of the Church stained it irredeemably?
Disillusioned with Organised Religion, Thomas Paine (of "The Age of Reason" fame) followed the philosophy of Deism, which is truly appealing in its precepts.
RELIGION has two principal enemies, Fanatism and Infidelity, or that which is called Atheism. The first requires to be combated by reason and morality, the other by natural philosophy.
The Universe is the bible of a true Theophilanthropist. It is there that he reads of God. It is there that the proofs of his existence are to be sought and to be found. As to written or printed books, by whatever name they are called, they are the works of man's hands, and carry no evidence in themselves that God is the author of any of them. It must be in something that man could not make that we must seek evidence for our belief, and that something is the universe, the true Bible, -- the inimitable work of God.
Contemplating the universe, the whole system of Creation, in this point of light, we shall discover, that all that which is called natural philosophy is properly a divine study. It is the study of God through his works. It is the best study, by which we can arrive at knowledge of his existence, and the only one by which we can gain a glimpse of his perfection.
Do we want to contemplate his power? We see it in the immensity of the Creation. Do we want to contemplate his wisdom? We see it in the unchangeable order by which the incomprehensible WHOLE is governed. Do we want to contemplate his munificence? We see it in the abundance with which he fills the earth. Do we want to contemplate his mercy? We see it in his not withholding that abundance even from the unthankful. In fine, do we want to know what GOD is? Search not written or printed books, but the Scripture called the 'Creation.'
--- Thomas Paine. The Existence of God, A Discourse at the Society of Theophilanthropists, Paris, circa 1810
9) Six Nights In Sabah
Scepticism is necessary in the realms of religion, where the intangible reigns. For without scepticism, are we to follow gullibly the first religion we come to know of? Most intelligent people desire the truth, and they don't want to live lies, or they might as well worship man-made idols. At the same time, we must try to be sceptical without being contemptuous.
Why does God not come to all who ask for him? He has a long and proven track record of appearing to people - Noah, Moses, the Apostles, Doubting Thomas, St Paul (a vision converted him from a hater of Christians to one himself) Muhammad and others. Why is it that modern day credited manifestations of him and his power are all of events that were ambiguous and not witnessed by a large group, including sceptics? Why does he not resolve the doubts of those looking in vain for him, and lose faith and die cynical and broken - or worse, continue seeking and die deluded? In short, what gives?
It seems to me that as the intelligence and developmental level of peoples and societies goes up, the proportion of people with no religion, who are sceptical about religion or who are just not very devout goes up in tandem. Many of the most intelligent and prominent people in the past century or more have been atheistic or agnostic. The naysayers reply that these people have tried to rationalise God and religion, and so have not found either. But to trust in blind faith in something that might be false would be folly, as I've already shown at length. Real religions are supposed to make people feel fulfilled and touched by God - those who are are jubilant and become very devout, but what about those who aren't? They then inevitably become sceptical, cynical and disillusioned and disavow the existence of worship of God, where more gullible people might be tricked into continuing on their futile path.
Personally, I am half-sceptical. Indeed, Bien Kiat said of me � �He�s a very tough customer. If you can convert him, you will go to heaven. Guaranteed.� (But then he also said that I was �Very intelligent, but very blur and stubborn�, so) During the retreat, I found my scepticism rising till the last day, when it subsided somewhat, but since returning from Sabah, I have found it rising to unprecedented levels.
I want to keep an Open Mind (both ways), for fear of missing something through intransigence. I saw some things - healing, tongues, slaying and the like, but they can all be explained, as belief can work wonders and push the human body to do things not thought possible, though some are harder to rationalise than others. I feel a sense of peace once in a while, and feel twinges and vague emotions sometimes, but it could be a product of my own imagination and hope - my skin positively prickles and crawls whenever I hear my School Anthem being played (from the memories and some degree of pride), and even when the National Anthem is played (though whether this is because of the years of attempted indoctrination, the mysterious substances they put in our drinking water or my disgust and intense emotions at my Slavery I know not).
Agnosticism and faith both have their appeals. On the one hand, I just want to surrender, and not to question. Like Milder, I want to believe (though I don't watch the X-files). At the same time I know, on the other hand, that I could never live with myself believing in a sham, living a lie and wasting my time being a fool. In other words, I'm not playing Devil's Advocate just for the heck of it. Both choices are liberating in their own ways. I was accused of not wanting to open up, and trying to rationalise something that cannot be rationalised, but I think I tried as best I could, and really � the sheer ridiculousness of it all stuns me sometimes and turns me off, and if I didn�t enquire, I might as well join the Raelian sect or Heaven�s Gate.
Most of the retreat consisted of talks and Praise and Worship, but there were some sessions where the Power was turned on. The Power of mass hysteria.
Many times, the retreatants were whipped up and encouraged to �talk and pray to the Lord�, and a ear-shattering cacophony ensued. People cried. People screamed. People shouted different things at different tempos at the same time. People talked nonsense (�tongues�). All in all, it sounded like what Hell is supposed to be. Or maybe everyone was possessed by demons. I think the Chinese Communist Party would be overjoyed if it could tape a session like that - it�d just claim that this was a Falungong session, and vindicate its branding of it as an Evil Cult.
While trying my best to participate fully in these sessions, hoping in vain that my years of semi-belief would be gloriously vindicated, I couldn�t but help make some observations. The pastor conducting the retreat was skilled indeed. He wore at our resistance throughout the day, yelling diatribes and abuse, planting suggestions and admonishing us, tiring us with long hours, hinting at things, and scheduling Praise and Worship before and after most sessions to soften us up so our resistance would be lower, making us castigate ourselves and each other to implant a sense of shame, and the Spartan environment didn�t help the Rational-o-meters. During the sessions themselves, he manipulated the volume of the microphones, whispered for emphasis so we had to listen more carefully, co-ordinated his actions and words with the band, and the band sometimes played discordantly to stun us or sung the same lines again and again to hypnotise us with their soporific effect.
Somehow, I was put in mind of that case a few years back, when children throughout Japan suddenly went into fits because of a sudden series of bright flashes during an episode of Pokemon. No one blamed Satan then, as I recall.
Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)
Not to be outdone by Saddam, the Priest had some Weapons of Mass Destruction of his own up his sleeve, each more powerful than the last, not least in making people cry.
The first was when he got his helpers to lug a giant cross into the prayer hall, and asked all of us to write a letter to Jesus confessing our sins, even dictating how it should go, and then to go to the cross on our knees, prostrate in front of it, tear the letter up and reflect. I could not, in good faith, write the letter he dictated, so the one I wrote was slightly... different, asking for faith, and all through the ceremony I felt nothing.
The second WMD was a forgiveness ceremony, where people had to bathe each other�s feet and pretend that they were bathing the feet of people whom they had a long-standing grudge against. On reflection, I decided that I did not have any outstanding grudges and did not hate anybody, though some degree of dislike is inevitable, so I declined to participate, but it was quite touching to see some of the people taking part in the ceremony, especially when one Brother bathed one Priest�s foot and when one nun from Hong Kong was asked to act as a surrogate for 2 Hong Kong-ers, but bathed their feet back in return and kissed them to boot. 2 of the Priests, however, were not asked to act as surrogates for the ceremony. I guess they weren�t charismatic enough.
On the last full day, the third WMD came out. Well, it wasn�t exactly a WMD, but it was something other than the usual talks, mass, prayer and Praise and Worship � morning meditation. Except that most were sleeping during it.
The next-to-last WMD that he unleashed came on the last full day. For 40 minutes, we had kneel while holding our arms out horizontally, like we were on the Cross, all the while in front of the Blessed Sacrament and hearing someone from the Music Ministry reading out the 12 Stations of the Crucifixion, with music sung in between each station. The pain was horrible. Now I know a tiny, little bit of what crucifixion is like!
People cried. I sort of cried too, a half-cry with no tears � not because I was overwhelmed by emotion, but because my arms were hurting too much, and a few times the boundary between half-crying and laughter blurred and I laughed, kind of like the times I fall down and, though my tush hurts, I start laughing. I was very tempted to slay myself and end my misery, but during the many times I looked around the room, no one had collapsed, given up or been slain, so I didn�t want to feel pai seh (embarrassed). To distract myself, I started jerking around and swaying wildly � jerking to and fro, back and forward and humping the air, among other things - in some part to redistribute the weight on my knees, which wasn�t that bad really, but more to distract myself from the terrible aching in my arms, especially around the shoulder, and to uncramp the area. I did cheat a little, though, by wiping my sweat 2-3 times, looking around the room to see if anyone had given up, drooping my arms very low on occasion and letting my arms down to massage them once. This went on for at least 15mins, and apparently all this while the priest was looking at me as if to ask, �What is this fella trying to do?�. Others who saw me said after they saw me they felt like laughing, even if they had been about to cry, and some asserted that if not for my antics, they wouldn�t have been able to keep in that tortuous position.
After the whole thing was over, people told me that I was in a trance, and that I looked like a �tan kee� (medium) in a Taoist temple or I had what the priest had referred to as a �Muhammad Ali� spirit in me. Since I was in full control of my actions, was conscious of them, felt nothing inside of me and did not smell, taste, see, hear or touch anything special during that time, I naturally didn�t believe them. How does one tell if one is in a trance anyway? However, they were so insistent in their claims that I suppose there was some modicum of possibility. However, if I truly was in a trance, the fact that it was a Taoist trance doesn�t bode very well, does it? :) Later I asked a priest how someone could tell he was in a trance, and he said that that person had to be pure of heart and had confessed all his sins. That didn�t describe me, so I suppose it wasn�t a trance! Perhaps it was an, err, experience.
The priest�s final weapon was powerful indeed. It involved the priests going around to bless people, and by the end of the session between a third to a half of the room had been felled and was out cold on the floor, and some people were running around the room chattering in tongues. I didn�t experience anything, though *shrug* I think I�m condemned :)
It's a miracle! Praise the Lord!
People love to look on the incidences of "miracles" as evidence of Divine touch and presence. In fact, many of them can be easily explained. Also, more than one religion has miracles - what are the implications of this for there being one True religion? Or none, even?
Further, it seems God has become less powerful in recent years. All the miracles attributed to him have been becoming steadily less powerful and observable. Coincidence, or conspiracy?
This is a perennial favourite. Notice that most times, the miraculous healing is of a most subjective ailment - pain. Now, as all knows, pain is all in the mind. To a large extent, pain is psychosomatic - if you think you're going to hurt, you will. One could get a hypno-therapist to plant suggestions in your head, and a similar result would be achieved. The power of this placebo effect is recognised by scientists, which is why in drug trials, the control group is always given a placebo. Now, if the promise of a mere drug can dull and deaden pain, imagine what unshakable, firm faith in one's healing can bring?
As for the more visible types of healing, Bien Kiat told me that he saw a show exposing fake Healings, and it was rather shocking how the tricksters managed to fake the regeneration of a hand, gore and all. All in all, I will not totally dismiss this �miracle�, but I must make the observation that we hear so much about those who are healed - but what about those who aren't? Ah, it must be God's will that they are not healed. And that the people who go to faith healers, trusting in His Power and casting themselves at his feet but later sicken and die should die.
From time to time, people will begin spouting gibberish. They are said to have been given the �Gift of Tongues�.
A cursory analysis of the tongues spouted reveals that they follow a certain pattern, the tongues actually consist of a very few words (one I heard just consisted of �Lalalalala�) and that certain words and phrases occur very often. This makes me wonder what they are actually saying, and how extensive their vocabulary is. Perhaps it is just �Praise the Lord�, and if that is the case, this gift is not very good, for what good is a language if your vocabulary is limited? I might as well learn curse words from various languages and then proclaim that I know a million and one tongues!
Cases have been documented, I believe, of people suddenly speaking weird languages when they suffer brain damage. One case I am certain of is of this Chinese scientist who, when he suffered brain damage, suddenly lost the ability to speak in English and reverted to his native Mandarin. In any case, when someone is emotionally overwhelmed, it would not take too much for him to suddenly spout a few nonsensical words and imagine that he was speaking a new language.
Perhaps the simplest explanation for Tongues � possession by demons. Tada. So much for it being a divine gift.
I suppose people�s minds can become overwhelmed by everything, or they experience a sudden release of built-up tension. And they thus collapse when touched by the Priest but my choir junior - a non-believer - told me he got slain at the Festival of Praise at the Indoor Stadium, and my room mate Clarence told me he got slain before the retreat too, so I will accept that Slaying might not be due to personal, internal influences.
- Walking on Hot Coals
This is not a miracle attributed to Christianity, but can be used as an example showing how so-called miracles can actually have a rational explanation.
Basically, people can walk on hot coals yet not get injured because of the Leidenfrost effect. When liquids are placed onto surfaces at high temperatures, they do not vaporise as quickly as one might think because the part of the liquid in contact with the hot surface vaporises and acts as an insulator, protecting the liquid from the heat of the hot surface. Globules of water can thus remain on the surfaces of hot skillets for up to 3 minutes. Now when the coal walkers run across the hot coals, they either wet their feet or, because they are nervous, sweat around their foot area. Thus, when they run quickly across the hot coals, they can escape injury.
- Sights and Sounds during adoration
Nightly adoration was supposed to be the most powerful time of the retreat. People related being healed, feeling various sensations and smelling scents.
Now, adoration was held at odd hours during the night, when the retreatants were dazed, tired from a lack of sleep and disoriented after waking up. They�d have been psyched the day before, and all the proceeding days, and in the quiet of the adoration chamber, who knows what they might have thought they saw?
One woman claimed that, during mass adoration, she smelled roses around the Blessed Sacrament. Bah. The Sacrament was surrounded by bowls of scented oil!
Others claimed that they experienced many things during mass adoration. Perhaps they were short of oxygen, or affected by the mass hysteria and all the psyching. See below also for more on how we were emotionally and psychologically manipulated.
Praise the Lord, ye bright angelic choirs with Holy songs of joy...
During the retreat, there was much Praise and Worship. Most sessions started and ended with Praise & Worship. Indeed I sang so much my jaw hurt from all the unconscious dropping of it - a habit inculcated in my 4 years in the RI Choir.
I've never really liked Praise and Worship. For one, it is musically uninteresting. The simple melodies are short and all sound similar, most Praise and Worship songs sound like Country Music and the songs can be classified into one of 2 groups - happy and sad. All the songs end the same way - by repeating the last lines of the last stanza or chorus. Perhaps what's worse is the gestures - clapping, raising of hands, turning around and jumping (though there was none of the latter in Sabah, perhaps in deference to the Middle Aged people. The tunes were so boring that I started trying to harmonise with them (but not very well) � I never thought I would �degenerate� to the level of Zhuomin and friends!
The priest conducting the retreat scolded people who dislike Charismatic worship, lauding it, but everyone has their own way. What makes raising your hands and clapping to Country Music tunes more virtuous or pleasing to God than wearing hair shirts and standing in the middle of rivers like the Irish monks used to do, Gregorian Chant, sitting alone on a pillar in the middle of the Egyptian desert for 20 years, or flogging yourself like the people who, during the Black Death in the 14th Century, used to go from town to town practising self-flagellation?
I was thinking about the purpose of all the song singing, and the shouting the priest did from his pulpit. The former is meant, through the �fun�, loosening up and relaxation to break down your defences and inhibitions and make you more receptive to the messages preached, and to implant suggestions into your head which you will now be more susceptible to, and the latter is meant to wear your defences down and likewise plant suggestions. The shouting was nothing compared to BMT, though, so I have a degree of acquired immunity to this sort of thing and was happily unaffected (I think). Alternately, the songs and shouting were meant to prepare the retreatants spiritually, so it depends on how you look at it. Probably both answers are correct.