hankrules2011

A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Posts Tagged ‘god’

A Review of Misquoting Jesus

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 1, 2015

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and WhyMisquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read Misquoting Jesus through carefully and thoughtfully and concluded it was an excellent book written by an author who clearly knows of which he speaks. Before I started reading it, I had read a number of reviews online, some supportive, some negative. The negative ones seemed to say that, yes, well, everyone knows there have been changes in the Bible over the years. Big deal. They’re minor and they don’t change the overall theme of the Bible. Well, after reading this book, I beg to differ. Like the author, I grew up believing the Bible was the inherent word of God – God’s chosen words as inspired to be written by several select human authors. You had to believe everything. Of course, as I grew older, I began to have doubts. For instance, take all of Leviticus. No one stones their children for being disobedient, people eat shrimp and bacon, men cut their hair and beards, etc. But if you followed the Bible like you were supposed to, you couldn’t do those things, right? So that prepared me for the cherry picking that Christians do with the Bible left and right to suit whatever agenda they have. So textual changes can make a big deal, yes, especially when non-changes like those in Leviticus make a big or non-big deal, depending on how you view things.

Before, I go any further, let me state that I view myself as a Christian. A liberal one, not a fundie or even an evangelical, which is what I grew up as, but still, a Bible reading and respecting Christian. Doesn’t mean it’s 100% accurate though.

Early in this book, just to show people what sort of things they’ll be exposed to, Ehrman shows us some discrepancies. He calls them mistakes. These include when Mark says Jesus was killed the day after the Passover meal, yet John says he died the day before it. And Luke indicating that Mary and Joseph had come to Nazareth a month after going to Bethlehem, while Matthew says they went to Egypt. And in Galations, when Paul says he did not go to Jerusalem after his conversion, while the book of Acts says that’s the first thing he did upon leaving Damascus. And on and on.

So what happened to the Bible? Who changed it and why? Well, the author would have us believe that scribes, both professional and nonprofessional, made numerous changes, both unintentional and intentional over the course of centuries and that as these manuscripts were handed down as gospel, the changes were handed down, so that there was no longer any possible way to know what it was the authors of the Bible and specifically the New Testament wrote. He goes into elaborate detail on the details of scribes having to copy letter by letter books (letters) of the New Testament, as well as other documents, and showed that many of these scribes were barely literate themselves, if at all. One example of unintentional changes were that Greek at the time was written without spaces between words, so that a particular phrase that was meant to have meant one thing, could have actually meant something else when copied or transcribed or translated later on. Intentional changes were made by people who, perhaps, wanted to include an agenda against women in the church when none, perhaps, may have existed in the original texts.

The book that the King James Bible was founded on was the Johannine Comma by Erasmus. The author takes great pains to show its flaws. Meanwhile, there were those who were intent upon translating the Greek New Testament and providing scholarship for it. One such person, John Mill of Queens College, Oxford, spent 30 years back in the seventeenth century compiling a list of “variations,” or discrepancies (or mistakes) in the various manuscripts he had available to him, dating back to the oldest texts available. He found over 30,000 discrepancies! That’s right – 30,000. The author then goes on to say that currently, we possess over 5,700 Greek manuscripts, 57 times as many as Mill, and that there are now known to be between 200,000 and 400,000 discrepancies in the New Testament, or more words than exist in it. It’s stunning. If that doesn’t show that the Bible is NOT the inherent word of God, I don’t know what will. And if you follow that logic, then if it’s not, then how can you believe any of it, or know what to believe or not believe?

I had meant to write a much more detailed review, but feel that I’d never finish with it. Hopefully I’ve made my point. The author certainly made his with me. Needless to say, he no longer thinks the Bible is the inherent word of God, and I’m not sure I do either, or that I have for some time. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain words of God – just that it was written by people and they can make mistakes over the course of centuries. I’d strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in the subject.

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A Review of Small Gods

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 17, 2014

Small Gods (Discworld, #13)Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Small Gods is an excellent book, a great stand alone Discworld novel that is hard to put down. It’s a great satirical take on organized religion and it has a lot to say about it. Pratchett handles it as deftly as he handles other serious subject matter, with humor and grace. The man’s a genius!

Brutha is a novice in service of the Great God Om in the land of Omnia. With all of the priests and bishops and forced devotion to Om, along with the evil Quisition, it’s meant to be a satire of Catholicism, as well as probably some other religions too. One day Brutha is gardening when he hears a voice. No one else can seem to hear it, but hear it he does. Where is it coming from? A tortoise. What is the tortoise? The Great God Om. Yep. Everyone thought that when Om presented himself to humanity, it would be in the form of a bull or lion or other fierce creature, since there’s a lot of smiting in Omnia, but nope, he’s a tortoise and none too happy about it. And so an adventure begins. Brutha is the only person who can hear Om and also the only person who actually believes in him, as it’s become second nature to everyone else and they no longer truly BELIEVE. And then there’s Vorbis. Vorbis is the leader of the Quisition and as such is dreaded and feared by all. He truly loves torture. He sends an Omnian “brother” to a neighboring country, gets him killed, and uses it as an excuse to go attack said neighboring country. He takes along Brutha for his fantastic memory. Things don’t go as planned and Brutha is forced to flee along with the other Omnians. He and Om wander through the desert with Vorbis, who knocks Brutha out and carries him into Omnia, where he’s going to be crowned the eighth Prophet while declaring Brutha a bishop. Meanwhile, there’s an underground movement ready to attack, and all of the neighboring countries are sailing to Omnia to wipe it out once and for all. Justice is served when Vorbis dies, but Brutha convinces everyone else to lay down their arms and seek peace. One of the classic scenes in the novel occurs when the dead Vorbis “awakes” to see Death and the following exchange takes place:

Death paused. “YOU HAVE PERHAPS HEARD THE PHRASE, he said, THAT HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE?

Yes. Yes, of course.

Death nodded. IN TIME, he said, YOU WILL LEARN THAT IT IS WRONG.

Classic. Vorbis can’t stand to be alone and now he’s in a deserted desert for eternity. Very funny. There are lots of other funny parts too. One of the songs Brutha sings early in the book is called “He is Trampling the Unrighteous with Hooves of Hot Iron.” Hahahaha! Also, lots of instances of things happening in church history and of certain writings. To wit, “In the Year of the Lenient Vegetable the Bishop Kreeblephor converted a demon by the power of reason alone.” “There was the crusade against the Hodgsonites….” “And the Subjugation of the Melchiorites. And the Resolving of the false prophet Zeb. And the Correction of the Ashelians, and the Shriving –” — well, you get the picture. Utterly hilarious. Makes Christianity look completely absurd, but in a fun way.

There’s a lot about belief in this book, and a lot about God and gods. The more people believe, the greater the god. Brutha finds that his devoted belief is shaken, by his god, no less, as well as other so-called believers. And it does him a world of good. So I guess the lesson is we shouldn’t take everything we’re fed too literally or at face value. The philosophers in this book are the true thinkers and yet they are doubters. Pratchett’s good. This book is both serious and hilarious at the same time. It’s a great Discworld novel and I strongly recommend it.

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Our Little Church | SouthernHon

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 28, 2014

Our Little Church | SouthernHon.

My wife wrote this about our little church and the dilemma we face….

 

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A Review of Paul: The Mind of the Apostle

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 19, 2014

Paul: The Mind of the ApostlePaul: The Mind of the Apostle by A.N. Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I FINALLY finished this book! It took me forever because it’s fairly dry and the content doesn’t interest me as much as that in some other books. Still, this was a fairly interesting book to read. The author is apparently an agnostic or atheist and ensures one understands he believed Jesus was a Jew with no intention of starting a religion, and undoubtedly not the son of God or God himself. If you’re a Christian and you can get past that, you’re good to go. This book presents Paul as THE founder of Christianity and THE individual responsible for asserting Jesus was the Messiah, gone to glory in the clouds, and returning again some day — soon. The author asserts Paul thought Jesus was returning in a matter of months or years, thus the urgency in some of his letters.

When I read nonfiction books, I don’t underline passages — I turn over page corners so I can go back and catch important portions of the text. Normally I will have turned over 10-20 pages in a typical nonfiction book. In this book, I must have turned over 50 pages or more. I often quote from these passages, but I obviously can’t do that here — I don’t have the time or inclination.

Wilson asserts that Paul was a traveling tent maker and that’s how he supported himself, along with donations. He also calls into question whether Paul was a one time Pharisee or not. He alludes to Paul’s potential homosexuality, in his nonstop efforts to force sexual morality on people and in his almost loving letters to Timothy and other men who were his followers. Yes, sacrilege, I know. Still, interesting stuff. Wilson writes,

“Old-fashioned liberal Protestants detected in the Gospels the seeds of modern feminism — Talitha cumi, Damsel arise, became the motto of Victorian Christian feminists. The Jesus of the Gospels outraged Jewish opinion by speaking to the woman at the well of Samaria, and by offering forgiveness to the prostitute who, though she had sinned much, had also loved much. Impossible, says such wisdom, to imagine the misogynist puritanical Paul extending such forgiveness, nor being so much at ease with the opposite sex.”

We also get in-depth details on Paul’s travels here and their context, which I found really helpful. You also get a history lesson on Rome, at the time, and the state of the Jews. Wilson additionally delves into other religions and gleefully admits to Paul having stolen some traditions from paganism for Christianity.

Wilson is pretty hard on Luke and his book of Acts. He asserts much of it is contradictory to Paul’s own writings and probably made up. And his arguments, which I can’t paraphrase here, are good. (I didn’t know Luke was a Gentile.) Wilson also deals with Paul’s intent focus on evangelizing and converting Gentiles, something he argues Peter and James were opposed to. Of Luke, the author writes,

“By the time Luke writes up the story, perhaps twenty years or more later, it must be obvious that the Lord has not come and that all Paul’s immediate prophesies and predictions about the nature of the world and God’s purpose for it, have been not just slightly off beam, not open to interpretation, but plumb wrong. Christianity — not a word which Paul ever used — will have to sort out the contradictions of all that. It it Luke’s dull task to smooth over the cracks and hide the glaring discrepancies in his story, and to persuade ‘dear Theophilus’, some Roman magistrate or bigwig, that the Christians are safe, good citizens. As Paul’s last visit to Jerusalem shows, he was none of these things.”

Wilson deals with Paul’s end, which we don’t know, and for that he takes umbrage. He asserts that Paul could have been acquitted by Nero or some other Roman official, he could have been made a martyr, as many people believe, or — this is Wilson’s own belief — he could have been let go and traveled to Spain, starting churches, but dying in oblivion.

I’m going to end my review with Wilson’s final (and long) paragraph in the book, because I think it’s a good synthesis of what he is trying to accomplish in writing this book.

“It could be seen, then, that the essence of the Gospels, the thing which makes them so distinctive, and such powerful spiritual texts, namely the notion of a spiritual savior, at odds with his own kind and his own people, but whose death on the cross was a sacrifice for sin, is a wholly Pauline creation. The strange contrarieties which make the Jesus of the Gospels such a memorable figure — named his insistence on peace and kindness in all his more notably plausible of ‘authentic’ sayings, and his virulent abuse of Pharisees, his Mother, and the temple authorities on the other — could point less to a split personality in the actual historical Jesus, and more to the distinctive nature of Paul’s spiritual preoccupations a generation later. Even in this respect, therefore, Paul seems a more dominant figure in the New Testament tradition than Jesus himself. The Jesus of the Gospels, if not the creation of Paul, is in some sense the result of Paul. We can therefore say that if Paul had not existed it is very unlikely that we should have had any of the Gospels in their present form. The very word ‘gospel’, like the phrase ‘the New Testament’ itself, are ones which we first read in Paul’s writings. And though, as this book has shown, there were many individuals involved in the evolution of Christianity, the aspects which distinguish it from Judaism, and indeed make it incompatible with Judaism, are Paul’s unique contribution. It is for this reason that we can say that Paul, and not Jesus — was — if any one was — the ‘Founder of Christianity’.”

Interesting, thought provoking book. Recommended.

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A Review of American Sniper

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 15, 2013

American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military HistoryAmerican Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have really mixed feelings about this book and its author. I had been wanting to read it for awhile, but my interest spiked after reading that Kyle was murdered at a gun range recently. I mean, he was a Navy sniper, the best ever in the US military, so the irony of his murder is beyond description.

The book is really interesting to read, I must admit. There are many tales of his battles in Fallujah and Ramadi, as well as other places. (He was deployed to Iraq four times.) The description of his SEAL training was pretty intense. And the book starts out with his first sniper kill, a woman with a grenade. All told, he killed some 160 insurgents while over there, which admittedly is quite a few.

That being said, he seems to revel in the murder of other human beings, most of whom he refers to as “savages.” He was great at this job, but he loved to kill, and that made him rather unlikeable to me. He wanted to kill as many of the enemy as he could and was disappointed he couldn’t kill more. Not a very nice human being. He also struck me as woefully naive (and Republican) in defending the war, of invading a sovereign country to “liberate” its inhabitants (after asserting there were indeed chemical weapons there, which I don’t believe) and ending up shooting a ton of them who resented his presence in their country. Instead, he asserts this was to defend America and its freedoms. That’s BS, in my opinion. Iraq posed no threat to the US and played no role in terrorism — until we invaded. That’s a proven fact. So, his defense of the war rings hollow, and as I said, naive. (I wonder what he thought of Obama as commander in chief. I can pretty much guess….)

Another thing I didn’t like about the author is the number of fights he gets into and glorifies. He loves bar fights and brags about getting out of being arrested countless times. He brags about the SEALs beating up bar patrons in fights left and right. It’s really rather sickening. He also enjoys hazing new SEALs. The thing that truly sickens me is his countless assertions that God comes number one in his life, that he’s a born again Christian. Yet he uses the “F” word more than any Christian I’ve encountered and engages in many non-Christian acts. He seems like a total hypocrite to me. On page 431, he declares, “I am a strong Christian…. I believe the fact that I’ve accepted Jesus as my savior will be my salvation.” Yet on the same page, he said that while growing up, he wondered, “how would I feel about killing someone?” He answers he own question next by writing, “Now I know. It’s no big deal.” Seriously? Think God feels that way Chris? He ends the book by writing, “…when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.” Really? Seriously? And you’re a strong Christian??? Cause that’s not how I view Jesus as seeing things. I don’t think they all deserved to die. They’re children of God, just like everyone else. You invaded their country and came to kill them. If they shoot at you, that’s what you get. What a complete hypocrite.

So even though this book was moderately enjoyable, I can only give it three stars because the author is totally unlikeable and the book reeks of smugness. Also, his wife interjects repeatedly throughout the book, which might be interesting to some people, but which irritated me. She didn’t seem too likeable either, frankly. She’s a bitter woman. I wonder how she feels now that he’s dead at the hands of a deranged US gunman…? I cautiously recommend this book, but be prepared to read some ugliness.

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A Review of Radio Free Albemuth

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 2, 2013

Radio Free AlbemuthRadio Free Albemuth by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Radio Free Albemuth is another fine Philip K Dick novel, written in 1976, but published in 1985 after his death. It’s a precursor to VALIS, and as such, centers around VALIS, an alien God-like entity.

This book is certainly post-modern. One sure sign is Dick writes himself into the book as one of the characters. “Phil Dick” is a sci fi writer in Berkeley who has written Man In a High Castle and other “real” works of Dick, and yet while the author uses this pseudo-Dick as a character, he steps away far enough to make him seem three dimensional and real. The other main character in the book is Dick’s friend, Nicholas Brady, a record store clerk in Berkeley who starts dreaming odd dreams and hearing voices and seeing visions which seem to emanate from an alien satellite, later to be called VALIS by Nicholas. This satellite has an AI operator who is beaming things into Nick’s mind, convincing him that it is controlled by this alien entity with God-like powers originating from the planet Albemuth and that there is a minor “invasion” of earth by these alien beings — but they are the good guys. They’re trying to protect society from Ferris F. Fremont (666), the president of the US who killed his way to power after the Lyndon Johnson administration. He’s a not too thinly veiled marriage of McCarthy and Nixon. Fremont is forever going on about the evils of Aramcheck, a group of people sponsored by the USSR to overthrow the US. He’s also established a police state with the help of the “Friends of the American People” (FAPers). There are even rumored concentration camps in Nebraska!

So Nicholas is experiencing odd things and telling everything to Phil. VALIS instructs Brady to move down to Orange County, where he gets a job as an executive at a major record label. Phil moves down shortly after just to keep up with things going on in Brady’s life, which seems somewhat hard to believe, but he is a sci fi writer, right? 😉

VALIS helps Nicholas out from time to time. In one instance, Nicholas is given information that his child is sick and needs to be hospitalized for surgery immediately. Without being able to explain why to his wife or doctor, he is proven right and the child’s life is saved. Another time, he expects to receive a mysterious letter, which he does, and he decodes a message in it. This is part of a FAP frame up and VALIS saved him in how he goes about handling it.

At times, though, the book gets confusing. It’s when Phil and Nicholas are theorizing about VALIS. Is is reincarnation? Is it God? Is it an alien satellite? Is it an alternate reality? Is it something else? Thoughts wander and you can get bogged down at places in the book, but not enough to throw you off.

One important development in the book is when VALIS gives Brady a dream that he would meet Sadassa Silvia, a character who claims that Ferris Fremont is actually a communist covert agent recruited by Sadassa’s mother when Fremont was still a teenager. Siliva is actually named Armachek, but changed her name to get away from Fremont. Apparently, she too is in contact with VALIS. The thing that made it hard for me to believe this sequence was believable is quite simple though. Brady was born in 1928. These events take place in 1974, after he’s been grown and a family man for years. Silvia is a college girl, quite young, but Brady falls for her and she ultimately seems to known all there is to know about VALIS and fills in the gaps for Brady (and the reader). But why would such a young girl know everything? And especially since Nicholas had been receiving messages for decades? That didn’t make sense to me.

Eventually, Nicholas and Silvia hatch a plot, engineered by VALIS, to produce records with subliminal political messages in them, alerting the public to the fact that Fremont was a “Red,” and therefore not to be trusted. This part of the plot seemed a little weak to me too, but I think the author backed himself into a corner here and this was the only way out.

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!

Nicholas and Silvia are found out by the FAPers and are executed. Brady’s record label is destroyed. The VALIS satellite is blown up, after it was found in outer space by a Russian scientist. FAP confronts Dick and tells him that his books are going to be ghost written for him now with proper political messages about following benevolent leaders thrown in, and for his refusal to fall into line, he’s sent to a forced labor camp. The ending of the book can be read a couple of ways. In one sense, it’s rather sad, because Nicholas and Silvia are dead and the record’s been destroyed. Fremont is still in power and Dick’s life is ruined. However, while Dick is taking a work break one day, he hears a radio some kids are holding in a parking lot next door and it’s playing the subliminal song Brady was hoping to get out. Another record company produced it and it got played, so we’re left with a small hope that the future generation will see what’s going on in society and there will be a revolution, I guess? So I suppose you could say it ends on a slightly positive note.

In case you don’t know this, this book is highly autobiographical for Dick. He experienced a number of things both Dick and Brady experience in this book during the 1970s and went through many of the same theories, especially relating to Christianity. If you’ve read about his life at all, you’ll recognize many of these scenes are straight out of his life. Like I said, post-modern. It’s got to be hard to tie something like that up with a final type of ending, though, when you’re living it while you write about it. And I think that difficulty is displayed here, with Dick jumping around from theory theory, ultimately settling on a large bee-like alien God-like entity which seeks constant communication with everything in the universe. Was that ultimately Dick’s view of God? This book is not hard to read; it’s a quick read. It’s entertaining. It’s got intrigue and mystery and your typical Dickian themes of identity and reality (and alternate realities). I haven’t yet read VALIS and I suppose there’s a lot of overlap, but I do recommend this book for both Dick fans and just interested sci fi fans, as well as those who might enjoy speculative fiction.

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