The Missing Piece

Whenhen I was born my parents followed Old Testament tradition and typical American culture and had me circumcised.  I had no say in the matter and it irritates me a little bit now.  Obviously there’s not much I can do except blog about it and try to explain why I’m upset.  I’ll break it down for you so you can understand.

  1. The practice of circumcision is cosmetic and elective.
    While there are many confusing studies out there (do a Google search) the one thing on which professionals agree is that there are no definitive, positive health benefits for removing the foreskin.   A large portion of males are circumcised because the parents want the child “to look like daddy” or they think an uncircumcised penis is ugly, or their family has always held that circumcision was just the way it’s done. The American Medical Association has stated, “Virtually all current policy statements from specialty societies and medical organizations do not recommend routine neonatal circumcision, and support the provision of accurate and unbiased information to parents to inform their choice.” 

    In addition to being elective, circumcision is a surgical procedure which means that complications can arise. The complications due to circumcision are most frequently seen in less developed countries where medical practices aren’t as regulated and hygienic as in the U.S. but are present nonetheless.

  2. The practice of circumcision is Biblically unnecessary.
    Unless you’re Jewish, you’re not subject to Old Testament law.  Jesus and Paul both preached that since his birth and death salvation is not exclusive to Jews adhering to the law — uncircumcised gentiles can be saved too.  Since nearly all Christians these days are not ethnically Jewish there is no reason for Christians to remove the foreskin from their sons’ penises.
  3. Circumcision is mutilation.
    There’s very little doubt that every Christian I know — including all of my family members — would agree that female circumcision (a.k.a. female genital cutting) is a detestable practice.  I also have little doubt that these people don’t realize there are different degrees of female genital cutting ranging from a pin prick to the clitoris to severely invasive removal of the genitalia.  Likewise, there are degrees of male circumcision where some or all of the foreskin is removed.  In my case, circumcision left a very noticeable scar with which I’ve never been pleased. 

    How is it, I wonder, that people so opposed to the maltreatment of female infants can be so flippant about male infants — even going so far as to view the mutilation of the penis a badge of honor for their god?  Cutting an infant’s genitals is cutting an infant’s genitals, regardless of their gender. Who doesn’t see this?

  4. Circumcision removes sensation.
    The foreskin isn’t just a flap of skin or excess material.  It contains bundles of nerves that add sensation to the penis.  The nerves in the foreskin are fine touch nerves like those on the palm of your hand. If you compare the sensation in the palm of your hand to the sensation on the back of your hand you’ll see the difference.
  5. Circumcision violates human rights.
    Performing a painful elective surgery on an infant without consent violates the infant’s rights and undermines their free will.  Since Christians are so big on free will, you’d think this would be a point at which they’d stop and think a little harder before slicing up their babies. If circumcision is to be performed, it should be performed later in life when the patient can give informed consent.
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Born Christian?

I was indoctrinated into Protestant Christianity from birth and accepted Jesus as my Lord and savior at the ripe old age of four.  I don’t remember much about my childhood but I still remember that evening and the place of worship in Panama we called “The Home.”  It wasn’t a formal church and I imagine it was more like what you would have seen in the Apostle Paul’s day where believers gathered in homes to praise god together through song and prayer.

A quick aside: on my blog I’ll never capitalize the word “god.”  It’s not a proper name.  If I use a proper name like Jehovah or Jesus or Allah I’ll capitalize it as per English grammatical rules.  However, since I commonly refer to “god” you can assume I’m speaking of the Biblical deity known as Jehovah or Yahweh.

Almost as sweet as forgiveness.

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What is Hate? Baby Don’t Hurt Me!

OK, so I’ve been accused of “committing hate” by another Xangan and I just want to take this opportunity to clear something up: I don’t hate anybody. I told this Xangan that I would create a post for them to showcase my hatred because it was, at the time, muddying up someone else’s perfectly good blog with a bunch of nonsense. Here it is, in all its glory!

Hatred is a very strong word that carries implications far exceeding displeasure or dislike. Honestly, if you just dislike something or someone you should just use the word “dislike.” Hatred should be reserved for those things you wish to destroy. Like, literally obliterate, never to be seen or heard of again. I can’t think of a single thing I want to completely destroy. I’m guilty of disliking a bunch of things. Actually, I’ve become quite curmudgeonly lately and there are probably more things I dislike than like.

So let’s examine some reasons why I might be accused of hatred:

  1. I’m an atheist.
  2. I’m not a liberal.
  3. I think Glenn Beck is a sensationalist idiot.
  4. I called someone a troll.

Now, let’s break these down and see just what kind of hatred I’m bandying about.

1. I’m an atheist.
Actually, this is almost too stupid an accusation to address. However, since it is the opinion of this other Xangan that atheists – by definition – are filled with hatred I suppose I have to explain. I don’t hate Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Pastafarians, Rastafarians, Buddhists, Jews, Baha’i, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, or Scientologists. I typically don’t even dislike them, though I make exceptions for the more abrasive members of all religions. I simply have a fundamental disagreement as to the truth of their claims regarding the supernatural and the unprovable/unfalsifiable. I speak out against what I view to be falsehood and/or dangerous ideas and sometimes I get riled up when I see that the effects of these ideas are causing people harm. Far from hatred, that shows a love for my fellow human beings who are being harmed. What I dislike about religion is its pervasive nature and the weaseling of religious ideas and “values” into every aspect of our lives whether or not they’re welcome. I don’t go knocking on people’s doors at dinner time to spread my hateful atheist message. I wouldn’t mind if people just stopped believing in gods and I try to tell people why, but I’ve never hatefully tried to force someone not to believe.

2. I’m not a liberal.
I was accused of being a liberal by the same person who says I resort to calling names. This, in itself, wouldn’t be a big deal even though it’s false. Some of my views are liberal; others are conservative. I consider myself a moderate and I am absolutely in no way affiliated with either the Republican or Democratic parties. However, since we have to consider the source of the accusation I think it’s fair to say that this was a definitive insult. The person accusing me of being a liberal holds the view that liberals are destroying this country, want a socialist state, like to bitch about their rights being taken away while lobbying for others’ rights to disappear, continually whine about things not being fair, would like nothing more than to see all Christians tarred and feathered, and don’t know their asses from their elbows. If I’ve missed anything, I’m sure this person will correct me. That being said, how would I see the accusation of being a liberal as anything other than a blatant insult? Maybe I’m just too liberal and being a whiner.

3. I think Glenn Beck is a sensationalist idiot.
Yeah, I really do. That doesn’t, however, mean that I hate him. If I were to meet him I’m quite sure I could have a civil conversation with him…until he calls me a socialist Nazi or whatever. He and I obviously disagree on nearly every issue (except he also thinks Birthers are distracting people from real issues) but that doesn’t indicate hate. I’m pretty sure he’s wrong about most things and that he probably doesn’t even believe a lot of what he says. That doesn’t indicate anything except that we’re two different people with different backgrounds and different philosophies. Big deal.

4. I called someone a troll.
This is damning. Well, it might be damning…or not. Calling someone a troll is not akin to telling them you hate them. In fact, sometimes trolls are very entertaining! On the Internet, a set of irritating behaviors displayed with consistency will normally get you labeled a troll. For instance, when someone comments on your blog posts in opposition (not a crime) and continually redirects the comments to slightly different topics (annoying) while refusing to answer direct questions in rebuttal (dishonest) and eventually claiming persecution (trollish), I’d call that person a troll. It has no bearing on my feelings for that person. It also doesn’t indicate that I think the person is ugly or stinky because I’m not calling them a literal troll, I’m calling them an Internet troll. There’s a difference, just so you know. Yeah, I realize that this post is sort of feeding the troll, but I’m bored.


This is a real troll.


This is an Internet troll.

In fact, let’s get something straight: people on the Internet are not important enough to me to have any real strong feelings toward or against.

Quit flattering yourself and thinking you’re important enough for me to hate. You’re not. At the very most (and this might even be a stretch) you annoy me. At the very least you amuse me and help my day go by more quickly. So there you go, I don’t hate you or anyone else. I’ve not “committed hatred” (whatever that means) and life goes on.

So…I Wrote a Review of the Bible…

…back in March of last year on Goodreads. While my underlying point holds true – that basing your world view and morality off of the Bible is dangerous – I think I would write it differently now. I’m not entirely happy with the wording I used.

On a whim, I read through the comments on the review again and there was some good information presented as well as some ignorant crap. For instance:

message 21: by Redneck – rated it 5 stars “What in the world is going through that little mind of yours? I recomend that you read it again with the perspective that God created you and that what you write on as your “reveiw” (more like a smack on the face to God and anyone who considers themselfs christain) can offend someone.”

This kind of sums up my general experience with religious people. Yes, I called it fiction. Yes, I said it was full of nonsense. But then, so is this person’s comment. And the grammatically-incorrect typo generator says I have a little mind? That’s a laugh.

Anyone who knows me knows that when I originally read the Bible from beginning to end I did have the perspective that god created me. I considered myself a Christian and thought I had a relationship with Jesus. It was only after reading through the Bible with my family that doubts started seeping into my mind and I began to question my beliefs. It was precisely the nonsense in the Bible that got me to the point of thinking critically about what I had been taught.

Second, even if I were to go back and read the Bible again right now I’d never be able to force myself into the perspective that god created me and that the book I’m reading is his authoritative, factual word. Try forcing yourself to believe that there’s a ninja creeping up behind you right now. Do it! You can’t, can you? That’s OK, neither can I. There are some things you just can’t make yourself believe no matter how much you’d like to. For me, god is one of those things.

So yes, I think the Bible is fiction. Yes, I think it’s full of nonsense. No, you don’t have to be offended by my opinion because nothing I say has to have an effect on what you believe. It’s a book review, get over it.

More Facebook Hypocrisy

I can’t figure out why something like this is necessary:

Is Jesus going to give you an extra pillow on your bed in the afterlife for re-posting this? Are you going to convert someone to Christianity by declaring you have an invisible friend? Doubtful. And what kind of irks me is that if I were to counter with something like this:

I personally believe in humanity. One Facebooker has challenged all others to put this on their wall. Nietzsche said, “There is not sufficient love and goodness in the world to permit us to give some of it away to imaginary beings.” This is a simple test. If you love humankind and you are not afraid to show it, re-post this…

I would get backlash because I’m voicing a view that is contrary to the forwarded e-mail mentality surrounding the above Facebook post. Is there a reason I shouldn’t post what I’ve written above? Not really, aside from the fact that it’ll be taken as a retaliation against believers who are forwarding this other thing around (which it obviously is). There’s also the problem of some of the Jesus posters being my family members. That would make it a little less comfortable.

The biggest thing keeping me from actually hitting the “post” button is that I’m not a freaking sheep who just forwards crap around for the hell of it. What would either of these Facebook statuses hope to accomplish? What practical use would either of them have? In my mind, none. They’re just a stupid spam message clogging up the news feed when I could be seeing more important things like what color my friend’s baby’s poop was or how good their sushi was at lunch. You know, things that actually mattersilly

Should I post my counter status or not? What do you think?

Billboards: Nothing’s Too Hard…

Billboards abound in Springfield bearing the words of the “Nothing’s Too Hard For God” campaign.


This guy needs help because he’s not god.

Well, duh! God’s supposed to be omnipotent! Are Christians the masters of pointing out the obvious or what? But what does this mean for people who aren’t omnipotent? It’s almost like a slap in the face.

Having financial troubles? If you were god you’d be able to blink them away. BUT YOU’RE NOT GOD!

Having marital problems? If you were god you’d be able to make yourself a new wife/husband. BUT YOU’RE NOT GOD!

Are you lonely? If you were god you’d be able to create some friends. BUT YOU’RE NOT GOD!


BWAHAHAHAHAA!!!!

Yep, that’s right. You are powerless to change your circumstances, you aren’t smart enough to handle your finances, and you aren’t good enough to maintain meaningful relationships. You’re dirt and unless you call on god to fix it for you, you’re totally screwed. So what are you waiting for? Get to praying!

The problem is, praying doesn’t really do anything. It might give you some time to quiet your mind and reflect on your situation but it’s not going to make your troubles magically disappear. It’s only after you’re done praying and get off your knees that something will actually get done. So get off your knees and get to work!

Again, I have to ask why these billboards are so incredibly sensible and allowable but something like this symbolizes a detestable oppression of cherished ideas:

 

Billboards: What Would You Attempt…

Driving from St. Louis to Springfield this morning I passed a billboard that I’ve passed many times before and that has always brought up questions in my mind. It goes like this:

“What would you attempt for Me if you knew you could not fail? -Jesus”


A similar billboard in Kansas City.

Undoubtedly the billboard text draws from Matthew 19:26 which states, “with God all things are possible.” Naturally, I got to thinking about this proposition and some things immediately came to mind. If I knew I could not fail, I would:

Fly
 

Have Olivia Wilde’s babies
 

Start a business
 

Climb a mountain
 

Enter (and win) motorcycle races
 

Swim to the bottom of the ocean
 

I know, all of those things are stupid. But if I couldn’t fail why wouldn’t I at least attempt them? Of course this completely misses the point. The billboard isn’t asking what you would do for yourself, but what you would do for Jesus. So let’s examine this proposition in greater detail.

First, what does Jesus need? Since Jesus is supposedly god that means he’s perfect. Since he’s perfect he doesn’t need anything. And since he’s god, anything I could possibly do for him would be so pitifully insignificant it wouldn’t matter anyway. For that reason I can’t even imagine why Jesus would ask a silly question like this.

Second, if the only thing Jesus wants me to do for him is to tell my friends and neighbors (and little tribal pygmy people in the jungle) about him and win their souls for god and Heaven then why didn’t he make sure I didn’t fail when I was witnessing to everyone as a teenager? Why was it that every time I witnessed to someone out of love and concern for their eternal soul, I was met with failure? Why did they never accept Jesus when I said everything I could think of saying after having prayed over it and asked for help? Apparently even the small stuff like talking to people isn’t guaranteed to succeed.

I can only assume, therefore, that this is an empty promise from a book that is full of empty promises and the billboard is just another attempt by Christians to parade their air of superiority in front of the largest number of people possible. This billboard isn’t the only one along the Interstate between St. Louis and Springfield so I can only imagine how many more there are all over the U.S. (let alone the rest of the world). I’ll review others as I come across them in my travels.

One last question: since there are so many Christian billboards along the Interstates and I have yet to see a single atheist, Muslim, Mormon, Hindu, Buddhist, or Scientology billboard why in the heck do Christians get so bent out of shape when they see an atheist bus advertisement? Are Christians really that shallow, petty, and selfish? Grow up!

All Aboard the RV (Rapture Vehicle)

Everybody knows by now that Family Radio has pinned the rapture down to May 21 and the official end of the world to October 21 of this year. Led by Harold Camping (89), a man who failed in 1994 to predict Jesus’ second coming, the organization has launched a “Project Caravan” crusade wherein teams of believers drive across the country proclaiming the end of the world and the need to repent. Several members of the caravan have left behind jobs, family, friends, and responsibilities to drive these RVs until Jesus comes back to whisk them away to be with their Heavenly father.


CNN’s story on the caravan

Even while these faithful followers are so certain of their Biblical knowledge, other Christians (who read the same books) talk about them like they’re lunatics. They cite Matthew 24:36 where Jesus says nobody knows the time and place, not even Jesus himself. This gets me thinking:

If Bible-believing Christian “A” can call Bible-believing Christian “B” a lunatic (or, in kinder forms, “flat-out wrong”) for believing Biblical numerology and Christian “B” can call Christian “A” a lunatic for believing that the Great Flood was allegory and never happened, then what makes one crazy and the other sane? Are they both out of their minds?

I, of course, have my opinions on the matter but I can’t claim to know for sure whether or not Family Radio is wrong about the end of the world. I only know that I’ve seen absolutely no compelling evidence, nor have I heard any compelling arguments that would make me believe that this is probable. And while I would side with Christian “A” in the above paragraph it certainly doesn’t mean that I think Christian “A” is any more justified for believing what they do than the lunatics in the RVs. I only know that I fear for the safety and well-being of these people’s families that have been abandoned in order to spread the far-fetched news about something that was foretold to happen 2,000 years ago, didn’t happen, and hasn’t happened since. I hope god is taking good care of them.

An Atheist Goes to Church: Episode 2

Preface
Aurora, a town of around 7,500 people, is the home of Aurora Baptist Temple (ABT). The church sits off of a well-traveled route through town in a tall but unpretentious building with a smaller gymnasium and activity building across the parking lot. Pastor Nathan Burch leads the congregation in a down-home, friendly atmosphere that is fairly typical of Baptist churches in the Midwest. The congregation is made up of people from all walks of life and nobody makes a fuss over who’s wearing what. Visitors to the church are greeted at the main doors by kind ladies and gentlemen who smile, shake your hand, and encourage you to fill out a visitor card. As a bonus, I got to keep the pen I used to fill out my card. Yay, schwag!


Now I can write letters to Jesus!

The large auditorium is just inside the main double doors to the right. A stairway to the left leads you to the Sunday School hallway, where coffee is available. The church has its own Web site (linked above) which offers downloadable sermons, although none seem to currently be available. ABT supports over 70 missions abroad and a local pregnancy care center whose statement is that life begins at conception.

My friend, Joey, attends ABT and invited me to come and visit with him and his family on February 27, 2011. I met him for the main service which begins at 10:15. Looking around I could see that the age range was wide, with a good number of young people mixed in with a good number of people who were only young-at-heart totaling somewhere around 250 in attendance.

Chapter One: The Music Service
The praise band consists of a piano, drums, three guitarists, a brass section and a saxophone, and about four female vocalists. I was pleased when they started playing traditional hymns and could sing along from memory, although two large projector screens up front and one in the back prominently display the lyrics for everyone to see. The band is coordinated well and sounds good although the acoustics of the auditorium are not that of a concert hall. Some of the vocalists seemed somewhat bored at times but it could have just been that the music we were singing wasn’t super peppy. Regardless, there was only one song I didn’t know and I really enjoyed being able to sing along and harmonize during the music service.

Between the first two songs everyone was encouraged to shake hands and greet those around them. Some of the people eagerly sought out people to hug while others, out of ritual, turned to the people in their immediate vicinity and shook hands while waiting to be able to sit back down. This was always my experience in church growing up and it doesn’t seem to have changed much.

Chapter Two: The Offering
Prior to the offering being taken, the pastor spoke to the congregation about giving. ABT has what they call a “Faith Promise,” which is a member’s weekly or monthly (maybe even quarterly or annual) pledge that the church can budget. The pastor encouraged those who had made these pledges to keep their promise to ensure that the church’s work can continue. He spoke at length of the missions they conduct abroad (they have at least two families that they send to at least two countries every year) and here I registered my first objection.

The pastor said, “There is no better way to spend the church’s money than on missions.” I disagree. If the church’s goal is simply to win the world over to Jesus Christ then I can see how the pastor can hold this view but there’s so much work that could be done locally that could yield tangible, immediate results. People are without jobs, without food, and without homes in this area. There’s obvious need for assistance right under your nose. I’m not saying that ABT doesn’t do these things; I’m saying that if ABT does these things, then I’d more likely agree with a statement like, “There is no better way to spend the church’s money than on ensuring the livelihood of the people in our community.”

In conclusion the pastor said, “God isn’t after your money but he wants to reward your faithfulness.” I have to ask…would god reward your faithfulness if you didn’t give any money at all but helped people in your community instead? This is a point on which I’d like to get clarification. It seems to me, with the standard offering plate ritual in every church across the country (and around the world) that there is more of an interest in money than actual contributions. But that’s only my opinion.

Chapter Three: The Message
Pastor Nathan delivered his sermon over Hebrews 10:19-21, focusing on the power of Jesus’ blood. He emphasized his distaste with some churches for diluting the message of sin and salvation through sacrifice, saying that the message goes soft if you tiptoe around people who are offended by the concepts of sin and blood. He said that Christians need to be bold about the message of Jesus’ sacrifice and that Jesus’ blood gives believers that boldness. He added, “God is not a wuss.” He said that Job had that boldness in his trust in god, but here I again disagreed with what he was presenting.

Job didn’t know about Jesus’ blood…or even Jesus. The blood wasn’t the source of Job’s boldness or his faith, so the example seemed a bit awkward and tangential to me. Regardless, everyone can concede that Job was bold in his faith in god.

The pastor then said that Christians are set apart by the blood. Christians are consecrated by the blood to be as close to god as the High Priests were in the Old Testament. He spoke of the Holy of Holies and about how the only people allowed to be in god’s presence were the High Priests and I got a chuckle out of the next part because I had fallen victim to the apparent urban legend involving this Old Testament knowledge (I believe it was my dad who told me this when I was a kid): it was not the custom to tie a length of rope around the High Priests’ waists or ankles in case they were struck dead.


Kinky.

Anyway, the new High Priest is Jesus Christ and believers have a direct line to god without any ropes or curtains. Having spilled his blood for us as the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus did away with the Holy of Holies and now intercedes on our behalf.

The pastor then said that our sins are covered by the blood. He maintained the standard Baptist line of reasoning where we are to turn away from sin but that in the event our weak human nature gets the best of us, god provides forgiveness through Jesus. However, he then made a statement that I wasn’t prepared to hear:

There is no sin too great to be covered by the blood; not a single one.

What about intentionally deceiving and leading people away from god? What about denying the Holy Spirit? What about rejecting god’s gift of salvation? Presumably, the point is that the blood will cover everything only if you’ve already accepted Jesus as your savior and ask for forgiveness. It is, however, possible that someone could be a born-again Christian (I asked Jesus into my heart when I was four years old) and still reject Jesus later or cause other people to reject Jesus by your words or actions. So what happens to them? Are they covered? I need clarification on whether ABT’s doctrine is that of once-saved-always-saved.

I could tell when the sermon was winding down because of the typical lowering of the voice and the segue into talking about acceptance of Jesus’ blood. This was something I always listened for when I went to church as a kid because it meant it was almost time to go home, eat my mom’s delicious cooking, and run around the woods for six hours until the evening service. Mmmm, now I’m hungry for pot roast!

Chapter Four: The Invitation
The invitation was given to the traditional invitation hymn, Softly and Tenderly, which I love to sing. It brings back memories. Plus, it has great harmony parts! Anyway, as is the custom, the pastor urged those who don’t know Jesus to come forward and accept him and those who feel like their walk with Jesus is slipping to come forward and renew their commitment. After the music played out, a prayer was said and the service was dismissed with the pastor and his wife heading to the main doors to shake everyone’s hands as they left.

Epilogue
Going to ABT was a good experience. Everyone was very friendly and the service brought back memories for me because it was so much like the churches in which I had grown up. The music was nice and the building was clean and orderly. I had intended to have a sit-down with Pastor Nathan after the service but there were scheduling conflicts with some church activities and I was told that he’d love to talk to me but it would have to be some other time. I’ll be in touch with my friend, Joey, and Pastor Nathan to see if I can set something up soon. That makes two interviews I need to schedule now. When am I going to get the time?

My thanks to Joey and his family for having me along. Stay tuned for episode 3!

Archive:
Episode 1

Creation Museum Lunacy

According to the Creation Museum, T-Rex ate coconuts.


Mmmmm, coconuts!

Yeah, that’s right, the gigantic, serrated, flesh-ripping teeth lining the mouth of the T-Rex were used to crack open the tough shells of coconuts. Will creationists ever realize how stupid they sound? Will they ever give up their cartoon-worthy apologetics of outdated, ignorant views of the world? Will I ever stop laughing at them? Not likely, on any count.

Having heard this news I have to wonder if the shark ate seaweed with its rows upon rows of death triangles? Perhaps the lion enjoyed bamboo alongside the panda? All I know is that the people who make this crap up and the people who eat it up like candy are deluded. If you’re one of them, I’m sorry to be so blunt about it but seriously…this is insane. And so are you.