Sunday, January 30, 2011

Partner Swapping in the Pentateuch

Equating modern, socially-constructed ethical norms with those of the Bible, most fundamentalists fail to realize the extent to which they impose their own values on the biblical texts. The seventh commandment of the Ten Commandments reads,

Thou shalt not commit adultery.

The modern Evangelical fundamentalist reads this as follows:

Wives do not cheat on your husbands, and husbands do not cheat on your wives.

However, this is not how adultery is understood in the Pentateuch and throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. In the Pentateuch the sexual roles of man and woman are profoundly sexist. A woman is the property of the man—her father or her husband—and subordinate, lacking equal entitlement. The command against coveting (Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21) parallels “wife/woman” to “field” indicating the two key possessions that are to be respected and honored as a man’s possession. Where a man is permitted to have more than one wife (e.g. Exodus 21:7ff and Deuteronomy 21:15ff), for a woman to have more than one husband would be adultery. Old Testament scholar Brueggemann (p. 192) states the following:

…adultery [in the Old Testament] committed by a man is not adultery if with an unmarried woman. The act is only adultery if it is committed with the wife of another man, whereby the affront is fundamentally against the husband of the woman, for in the act the relationship of the other man is disrupted, and he is subject to social shaming (Lev. 20:10; Jer. 5:8; 7:9; 9:2; 29:23) … In the cases of Leviticus 21:9 and Deuteronomy 22:21, the violation of the “father’s house” is at stake, so that even the woman’s action is defined by the impact upon male prestige (italics mine).

Similarly, Everett Fox in his Schocken Bible: Volume I states,

The definition [of adultery] used here is the classic biblical one: a married woman and a man, married or not (p. 950).

The woman, be she a daughter or a wife, is male capital, male property. Hence, the “sin” of adultery in the male-dominated, patriarchal world of the Hebrew Scriptures relates to the shame and property theft that appropriation of another man’s female capital or property entail. If there is no shame brought to a man, if there is no theft of another landed Israelite’s female capital, then there is no adultery. A man is hence enabled to take on other women. He can take females as booty of war (Deut 20:14), from his deceased brother’s wife (Deut 25:5-10), purchased from a poor father (Exodus 21:7ff), or at his own volition (Deut 21:15).

Fortunately, Occidental cultures have largely moved away from the understanding that women are property. Despite biblical injunctions against practical egalitarian gender rights, women in the West can vote, they can hold jobs and earn a private income, they can own property, and they can think for themselves. Women are no longer seen as the property of their husbands; they are seen as equal partners (not a “weaker vessel”) in marriage. Thank the gods (or whoever you wish to thank) not even Evangelicals accept the sexual ethics of the Bible in this regard (though they indiscriminately accept patriarchally-based prohibitions against homosexuality). Moving on, though, I think there is an enormous loophole in the Mosaic Law worth flushing out: partner or couple swapping.

Noting as we have above that adultery is a sin against the married woman’s husband because it brings shame and is considered a form of theft, a significant loop hole can be found in the Mosaic Law. What if a man willingly allows his wife, his property, to be appropriated by another man? What if two landed Israelite men decide to trade wives and forgo the shame and the theft that others might feel in the same situation? If two men willingly give up their honor and property rights, is it still adultery for their wives, with their knowledge, to sleep with another man?

Now, before some of my fundamentalist readers jump to the conclusion that I am advocating partner swapping, I would like to say that if you wish to make that conclusion, it is probably a reflection more of your own desires than anything I am trying to say. My goal is simply to show what a wholesale acceptance of “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” approach would lead to: women as male capital and possibly an allowance for consensual partner swapping.

My personal take on relationship structures, etc. is not germane to this post. I would like to show fundamentalists how removed from the Bible their sexual ethics actually are. So many fundamentalists say, “Without the Bible, or God, we would have no ethics.” Poppycock: you have an ethical system that makes adultery a gender-neutral sin and you accept this in spite of the Bible. Think on this. Contrary to the claims of fundamentalists, the Bible is anything but a clear and unambiguous moral guide or ethical casebook.

Brueggmann, Walter. Reverberations of Faith: A Theological Handbook of Old Testament Themes. Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press, 2002

Fox, Everett. The Five Books of Moses. New York: Schocken Books, 1995.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Godly Immorality

Ruth* is sixty five and works administrative support at my company. Nearly one month ago she fell and injured her knee. Since then she has been either in a wheel chair or on crutches. Before her fall she would make herself two pots of tea every day; now that she cannot carry her teapot and other tea-making components across the office, I make her two pots of tea a day. I volunteered to make her tea and to do whatever else I could when she showed up with her injury. Every morning at about 7:30AM and again at 10:15AM I do what I can to break away from my desk to brew her tea and bring her hot porcelain pot back to her desk. Others in the office chuckle at me and my willingness to help, but I enjoy helping Ruth.

Helping people in need is part of who I am. I do not expect reward or recognition for doing this—it is rewarding enough to be able to help. I do not believe in God.

Good for God—Example from Colossians 3

In the book of Colossians, Paul enjoins his readers to live righteously, “…not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God.” “Eyeservice as menspleasers” entails good deeds done for the sake of temporal recognition. Paul desires his readers to perform their good deeds, to live righteously with the fear of God, and so he continues:

And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons (Colossians 3:22-25).

In an economy of divinely meted reward and punishment, Paul notes that the fear of God and the pleasure of God are appropriate sources of motivation. For Paul, a person is to “do well” because it is God who sees all and rewards and punishes accordingly. Motivation by the fear of God is contrasted with “eyeservice” or “menpleas[ing]” which is performed for people who cannot see all deeds done both in public and in private.

Moral Retardation

I cannot emphasize strongly enough how morally and ethically retarding God-based moralities can be. Good deeds, however defined, performed with a reward motivation, immediate or delayed, are ranked at the lowest level of moral development (see Kolhberg’s stages of moral development). If a divine punitive economy is the framework, the backbone, the foundation for your morality, I would posit that you not only are operating at the lowest level motivator for morality and, if you are fully consistent with this motivation, that you are not a moral person. If you could live one day outside of God’s fictive knowledge and awareness, would you behave any differently? Have you not thought through or matured in your own moral actions sufficiently to be good without oversight and accountability? I am not saying that accountability is necessarily bad, but it is not grounds for mature morality and ethical systems.

The Godless Atheist and the Pious Catholic

I would like to present a singular story with two moral agents: one a godless atheist and the other a pious Catholic. Both are faced with an opportunity to save a toddler in front of a moving train but at risk to their own lives. In fact, in the seconds they have to assess the situation, they note that it looks entirely inevitable that saving the toddler will cost their own lives. The pious Catholic “knows” that, if she dies, she will awake in the presence of God in heaven and eternal bliss. The godless atheist knows that his death will be final, there will be nothing more to know or experience. Who has more to sacrifice by saving the toddler? Whose act of saving the toddler is more moral, why?


*name changed

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Primal [Diet] Piety

For a period of over seven years, Seventh-day Adventism had a significant influence on my life. Though I never became a member of a Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) church or agreed with some of the SDA distinctive doctrines, some of my closest non-family associates and friends were SDA. A distinguishing characteristic of SDA's is their endorsement of a vegetarian "Genesis" diet. Genesis 1:29, the fundamental passage for Genesis diets reads:

And God said: 'Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed--to you it shall be for food…

Following the unified narrative of Genesis chapters one through nine (the seven-day creation through the end of Noah's Flood), a progression is seen. In Genesis 1, before Adam and Eve are cursed with death, before they eat of the tree of knowledge, God gives explicit allowance for a plant-based diet. After the Fall, when Adam and Eve are expelled from Paradise and given mortality, Genesis chapter 5 expresses that human longevity is in the hundreds of years with some like Methuselah living into their 900's. As Noah disembarks from the Ark, God establishes a covenant with him and his progeny. However, in this covenant allowance is given for the eating of meat. Note the following (Genesis 9:3-4):

Every moving thing that liveth shall be for food for you; as the green herb have I given you all. Only flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.

Notice reference is made to the allowance in Genesis 1 for the "green herb" (1:30). Now humanity is given dispensation to eat animals, to eat meat. The Seventh-day Adventists and others note that human longevity suddenly drops after the introduction of meat into the human diet. Where Noah lived yet into his 900's, his near progeny, the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all only lived into their mid-100's. It is thought that the introduction of animal flesh into the human diet sped up the aging process because humans were not made to eat animals; they were made to eat a plant-based, Genesis-1 diet.

Due to the environment that I grew up in with mainstream media promoting low-fat diets and vegetarianism being idealized to minimize the risk of heart disease, it was no hurdle for me to be easily influenced by the Seventh-day Adventists and their "biblical vegetarianism" as reasoned above. I bought into this, and my first forays into healthy living were characterized with lacto-ovo vegetarianism with occasional accidental or intentional veganism. I lost a lot of weight. I felt healthy. I ran roughly thirty miles a week, and I began to lift weights at the gym. I lost a lot of weight.

Just over two years into my preference for vegetarianism, a preference bolstered by my kosher-only diet, and I was a bit of a health nut. My then three-year old daughter was having dietary problems, and we were able to source them to gluten intolerance. She needed to avoid grains, especially whole wheat—the cornerstone staple of the SDA Genesis-1 diet. This discovery was attended with a lot of books and articles on health, and through my research into raw-food diets I began to encounter paleo and primal diets that emphasized the human evolutionary diet of our hominid ancestors. I came to terms with the fact that the Agricultural Revolution was a late change in human diets, and the human body has not evolved to handle the increased sugars, starches, and grains along with the decreased bio-availability of vitamins and minerals. I came to the realization that not only my daughter but that I also had gluten intolerance. I discovered that gluten intolerance is common, especially in ethnic population groups that encountered wheat, barely, and oat (gluten-containing grains) later and at further distances from the epi-center of the Agricultural Revelation—the Fertile Crescent hence leaving them less time to evolve to gluten.

This model put my young-earth creationist timeline of Creation-Fall-Flood-Disbursement off kilter. In my young-earth model, humans were created recently with a proclivity for grains, fruits, and vegetables. The evolutionary implications of gluten intolerance made more sense to me than the Creation-Fall-Flood model. I learned further that meat-based, paleo or primal diets are extremely healthy and health-promoting. How could this be? These discoveries fit well into the mainstream scientific, evolutionary model in which humans evolved and in which meat was a cornerstone of human diets until very late in our history. These discoveries did not fit the expectations of the Genesis-1 diet.

There seemed to be few believers in my circles that I could discuss these implications with. Few seemed interested in learning about meat-based, primal or paleo diets, and none wanted to learn about how such diets offered better dietary benefits than the Genesis-1 diet. I felt as though I had circumscribed a significant body of knowledge that betrayed reconciliation with Genesis and that fit well into human evolution. This lead to some of my earliest realizations that human evolution was true.

Paleo/primal diets and gluten intolerance played a significant role in my migration away from young-earth creationism and toward my re-acceptance of evolution. Diets that emphasize minimal grains such as primal and paleo diets are still very much a part of how I try to live and eat healthy (when I try). Now as I have recently (last week) resumed a very low to no gluten diet, a diet that some would call primal, I am feeling better and am experiencing some needed weight loss.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Snapshot of My Experience with Demons

I am seventeen. My girlfriend's brother is in rehab in a multi-level, suburban Chicago building that is also home to mental patients. The words of Jesus in Mark 16:17 permeate my thinking,

And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues…

I live in a demon saturated, demon haunted world. I know that there are demons present, I can feel them. Walking up to the building, I am a soldier in the army of Jesus Christ. I place my hand on the brick, and out loud I pray:

Father God, I pray Thy Spirit of deliverance upon this building, to fill in every room, every heart and to bring all knees to the ground in prostration before Thee. So shall the Light of Thy Presence chase away all the demonic forces and all the darkness that fills the souls of those here. In the name of Jesus I pray these things, in the name of Jesus I cast out the demons here—I throw them to the swine, to the outer places and bind them, in the name of Jesus, I bind them to their place of torment, never again to trouble the souls of the weak and the hurting. I ask for this *now* in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, amen.

My heart races, I feel the presence and power of God moving through me. I repeat a similar prayer with even more passion and even more authority, "In the name of Jesus I command the demons to flee…"

It is after visiting hours, we hop back in my girlfriend's car and drive away talking about how Jesus healed, cast out demons, and performed miracles in the Gospels. Jesus promised us, "He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father" (John 14:12), and I believed this with all my heart.

>>> fast forward over fifteen years

I was recently asked by a person who knows I am a naturalistic atheist why I don't believe in demons. He asked me what evidence I have against demons. His question amused me beyond words; I wouldn't have felt much different if I had been asked what evidence I had against fairies or imps. As a person who used to live a world haunted and overrun by demons, who used to see himself as a warrior in God's army, I used to live with the "reality" of demons. I could potentially describe my personal theological narrative from a demon-saturated world to Orthodox Judaism and its world of unclean spirits and then back to Evangelical Christianity with a rather "matured" view of demons as signs of dispensational transition whose activity was now silent, like God, waiting to yet up the ante just before Jesus returned. But, I won't go into all of the biographical details at the moment.

Demons do not exist. Notice, there are no mental health diagnostics in the Gospels. The world of the Gospel writers was also a demon-haunted world. It was a world in which demons were invoked to explain mental and physical illness. Now, frankly, to ascribe a demon to a person like my birth mom who has schizophrenia is an insult to the patient and to our intelligence. We know now that mental health matters can be treated through naturalistic means such as therapy and/or medication. To enter back into the world of the Gospels, the world which I once had tried to reconstruct for myself, would be a step back into the Dark Ages. It would be to ignore the last two hundred years of learning about mental health and its naturalistic, physical origins.

Though a bit disconnected from the above, let me lay out a clearly bulleted reason for my rejection of belief in demons:

  • There is nothing observable that requires demons to exist or is best explained by the existence of demons
  • Demon theory has been made obsolete by modern medicine
  • Demon theory holds people into the bondage of ignorance
  • There is no evidence of the supernatural and demons are supernatural

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Instructional Manual for Life from Exchristian.net

I feel like this captures many aspects of my story well. From exchristian.net:


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Paul & Social Mobility

As much as modern Christians may disavow slavery and racism, American Christianity has a clear historical connection with slavery and other ethnic injustices in America. Though this post will not explore these historical connections, I would like to touch on the Apostle Paul's advice regarding slaves.

Paul states in I Corinthians 7:17-24 reads:


But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so
let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches. Is any man called being
circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision?
let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is
nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let every man abide in the
same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called [being] a servant? care not
for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use [it] rather. For he that is called
in the Lord, [being] a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is
called, [being] free, is Christ's servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye
the servants of men. Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein
abide with God.
In I Corinthians 7, Paul attempts to dissuade the Corinthians from changing their social status in regard to marriage, conversion (Gentiles becoming Jews), and slavery. Paul clarifies that his instructions regarding marriage relate to, "the present distress" (7:26) and so it can be implied that Paul's instructions are limited to the "distress" of his generation. Don't forget that Paul is the earliest writer of the New Testament corpus, and he expected Jesus to return in his lifetime. In the above pericope, Paul instructs his readers to "abide in his [social] calling." Though this passage does not entirely imply that it is wrong to consider buying or obtaining freedom from slavery, it does nothing to ameliorate the practice or station of slaves in his readers.

In Colossians 3:22, it is stated:


Servants, obey in all things [your] masters according to the flesh; not with
eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God.
Here the author of Colossians (a pseudo-Pauline reworking of Ephesians), maintains that the servant-slave must work for his master as though working for God. This instruction does nothing to address the status of slaves, and it became, in the Christian South, a basis of a code of slave ethics taught by the slave holder to the slave. A similar verse in the more-likely Pauline work of Ephesians 6:5 reiterates this theme.

Deuteronomy 23:15-16 offers the following imperative regarding a slave that escapes from a master:

Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his
master unto thee: He shall dwell with thee, [even] among you, in that place
which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt
not oppress him.
It is interesting that despite the humanness of this passage that Paul in book of Philemon, returns the escaped slave Onesimus to his master. Paul had an opportune moment to apply a biblical precept and demonstrate a biblical aversion to slavery. However, there is no such biblical aversion to slavery. Abolition was not served by Paul and his soft approach to slavery. His social ethics discourage social mobility and directly encourage the slave to stay where she is—serving the master as though serving God.

(original posted on http://disevangelists.blogspot.com/ on February 9th)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Atheistic Gratitude for the Bible

Recently, a fundamentalist Christian friend of mine stated the following (paraphrased):

Remember, the Bible helped you form your opinions about right and wrong. It gave you morals and ethical guidelines.

I find it odd that a fundamentalist would feel it necessary to remind me of this. Yes, the Bible has had a profound impact on me and my thinking in just about every arena of life, not just morality. It was through biblical studies that I realized how important objectivity and hermeneutics are. It was from the launch pad of my own cultural framework—filtered as it was through the Bible—that I began to understand people in other religious traditions. The Bible, as I was taught to understand it, ingrained in me many of my notions of morality and fidelity in relationships. It made me aware of the value of pluralism against the backdrop of heterogeneous ritual moralities. Yes, the Bible has profoundly impacted my life and my thinking, and the above examples merely scratch the surface of it all.

However, in addition to all of the above, the Bible has also had the most profound influence on my disbelief in the supernatural and a supernatural God. It was through biblical studies that I was able to quantify God—pinning down God and God's values to be studied. The Bible's God, I learned was the inspiration behind retrograde moralities such as those that prescribed the death penalty for cooking an egg on the Sabbath or loving another person of the same gender. If it had not been for the limits that the Bible places on God, the quantification that it allowed, I might never have had the tools or the raw material to assess and reject God.

So, I do not deny that the Bible has had and is having a profound impact on my thinking. I do not deny that the Bible has helped me think beyond myself and beyond my immediate cultural limitations. Yes, these are all aspects of my biblical studies that I am grateful for. However, this does not mean that I am in any way limited by the Bible. I am not limited to the arbitrary standards that the Bible prescribes relative to sexuality, diet, table fellowship, or entrance into the pearly gates. I have broken away from local truth systems, I am no longer a slave to cultural-historical frameworks anchored in the Bible

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Justin Martyr and the Virgin-born, Dying, Rising Man-Gods

Second century Christian apologist Justin Martyr penned the work Dialogue with Trypho the Jew in which he sets forth numerous Hellenistic and Jewish objections to Christianity. Many of the objections addressed are placed into the mouth of a literary persona named Trypho, a Jewish objector to Christianity. Structured with Trypho as the objector, Justin provides his literary opponent with rebuttal. As valuable as Justin's replies can be esteemed as an attestation to early Christian (c. 130 CE) thinking and practice, the objections raised by Trypho provide an equally valuable insight into perceived Jewish and pagan thinking about Christianity.

In both Dialogue with Trypho the Jew and elsewhere, Justin records that Jews and pagans alike accused Christianity of borrowing or even plagiarizing from antecedent myths and legends. One such example is as follows:

For when they tell that Bacchus, son of Jupiter, was begotten by [Jupiter's] intercourse with Semele, and that he was the discoverer of the vine; and when they relate, that being torn in pieces, and having died, he rose again, and ascended to heaven; and when they introduce wine into his mysteries, do I not perceive that [the devil] has imitated the prophecy announced by the patriarch Jacob, and recorded by Moses? And when they tell that Hercules was strong, and travelled over all the world, and was begotten by Jove of Alcmene, and ascended to heaven when he died, do I not perceive that the Scripture which speaks of Christ, 'strong as a giant to run his race,' has been in like manner imitated? And when he [the devil] brings forward sculapius as the raiser of the dead and healer of all diseases, may I not say that in this matter likewise he has imitated the prophecies about Christ? (Chapter LXIX, Roberts-Donaldson English Translation)

Justin here outlines items of the Christian Jesus narrative that find parallel in preceding legends. These include the following:

  • divine conception
  • healing the sick
  • raising the dead
  • violent death
  • resurrection
  • ascension to heaven
  • use of wine ["in his mysteries"]

Justin argues that "the devil" created the false narratives of these false deities. Justin then uses the Hebrew Bible in a rather associative, non-literal way to bolster his claims for Jesus. However, if all of the other divinely-conceived, healing, dying, rising, and ascending gods were phonies, how do we, today, know that Jesus in the Gospels is not just another divinely-conceived, healing, dying, rising, and ascending man-god—the product of a process of apotheosis and legend making? Frankly, we do not, and we need to apply the same naturalistic bias to all of these myths and so render them improbable and evidence of the common human tendency toward worshiping archetypes.

Does this of necessity devalue the Gospels? Does this mean that we should jettison the entire collection of writings in the New Testament and throw the baby out with the bathwater? If the Gospels and the New Testament literature can be taken critically and appreciated for what they are, then we need to keep them. We need to maintain them as part of our cultural heritage and an attestation to earlier ways of thought. However, if they become sheltered from criticism, placed on the pedestal of absolute inspiration and inerrancy, then not only do we do them and their writers a disservice, but we chose ignorance and outmoded ways of thought in lieu of learning and progress.