Monday, November 1, 2010

Our Enormous Scientific Electoral Fiasco

Here's what really bothers me: In a time of two wars, economic fragility and the basic complexities of the modern world, we are about to put into positions of power a political party that has little or no respect for rational, logical thought. It is a basic tenet of current conservative political thought that the more post-secondary education you have the worse it is. How many times have you heard GOP leaders of public opinion denigrate those elitists who dared to go to Ivy League schools. And God forbid we listen to those egghead academics about issues like climate change and tax cuts.

Just three and a half years ago, three of the GOP's leading Presidential candidates raised their hands at a primary debate to proudly announce they do not believe in evolution. And lest you think this has changed in the last four years or so, consider that one of those three has his own Fox News tv show, one might very well be the next Governor of Colorado, and the third is likely to be the next Governor of Kansas.

And the GOP Governor of Alaska said that whether the Earth is 6 Thousand or 6 Billion years old is a matter of speculation.

This is the party we are placing in power in the modern age; that is supposed to find solutions to complicated modern problems. But they can't even come to terms with the actual problems we face.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Proof Mainstream GOP Does Not Care About Deficit

David Vitter, the GOP's favorite John, has come on board the current GOP talking point that tax cuts do not have to be paid for. The argument is that we don't have to pay for tax cuts because "it is our money" and not the Governments. While this may or may not be good public policy, it is an admission that the deficit is meaningless to the GOP. Passing a tax cut for those earning over $250,000 costs the government money. A lot of money. Something like $600 Billion over a number of years. What Vitter is basically saying is that regardless of the deficit, a tax cut is appropriate. It is not actually an argument for less spending, because the argument remains the same whether you cut spending, leave it the same, or increase it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

More BullS*** from the GOP

Eric Cantor, the Minority Whip of the House has a weekly online vote where people can vote to have the House have an up or down vote on one of three spending cuts. This week's choices are: 1. Stop all direct or indirect funding of NPR; 2. Cut funding for the Exchanges with Historic Whaling and Trading Partners program; or 3. terminate the Presidential Election Fund.

Cantor is obviously trying to convince you that the GOP is serious about cutting bad spending choices of the current government. I will grant him that funding NPR is a policy choice over which the Dems and the GOP can have a good, serious debate. But let us look more closely at the other two.

The Exchanges with Historic Whaling and Trading Partners program provides funding to five museums named in a statute and there is no procedure for evaluating the effectiveness of the program. How could the President possibly support such a boondoggle? But wait, read Cantor's description more closely, and then look at blogs from February 1, 2010, and you discover that the President's 2011 budget already cuts the program. So this choice is meaningless. It will be cut no matter what you vote for.

The third choice is the Presidential Election Fund. We all know about this one. When you fill in your tax return, you have the choice of contributing $3 to the fund. Your tax liability is unaffected. So far as I know, it is the only Federal Program funded entirely voluntarily. If the fund is depleted, no money comes from the general Treasury. So eliminating the fund would have no effect on anyone who does not support the program, and would only potentially save those people $3.

In other words, the GOP has very limited ideas for cutting the budget.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Genesis Chapter 5 - Geneaology

I knew this kind of Chapter was coming, I just didn't know it would come so soon. It is "So and so was this many years old when he begot a son named such and such. So and so lived this many more years; then he died." Over and over from Adam to Noah. There are only three somewhat interesting things. First, the Chapter begins with a short paragraph restating that God made "man in the likeness of God; he created them male and female." This harkens back to Chapter One where humans are made male and female simultaneously, and both are in the "likeness of God." Second, some of the people in the genealogy share the names of those mentioned in Chapter Four in the lineage from Cain to Lamech. There's an Enoch in both and a Lamech. It is hard to know if they are the same people in different traditions or just have the same name. The genealogies both end soon after Lamech - if that means anything. Chapter Four ends with Jabal, Jubal, and Tubalcain - the sons of Lamech. Chapter Five ends with Lamech's son Noah and Noah's sons Shem, Ham and Japheth.

Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, all the men listed in Chapter Five end their lives with "then he died" except one. Enoch, Methuselah's father, does not die, apparently. Instead, it is said that "Then Enoch walked with God, and he was no longer here, for God took him." Gen 5, 24. Some interpret this to mean Enoch, like Elijah later in the Bible, was taken up bodily into Heaven. In fact, some modern New Testament scholars point out that the idea that being taken from Earth into Heaven was not a unique characteristic of Jesus, and something for an important prophet, as opposed necessarily for a messiah.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Genesis Chapter 4 - Cain and Abel

Chapter 4 of Genesis is divided into three parts. The first part is the story of Cain and Abel we all have heard. The man and Eve have "relations" and Cain is born. Eve says "I have produced a man with the help of the Lord." Gen 4, 1. A reminder, I guess, that God has a hand in all creation - even procreation. Then Abel is born. Cain farms and Abel raises animals. "In the course of time" each brother beings an offering to God: Cain offers "the fruit of the soil" and Abel brings "one of the best firstlings of his flock." Gen 4, 3-4. God "looks with favor on Abel and his offering" but does not look with favor on Cain and his offering. Cain is pissed off, and God says something somewhat mysterious: "Why are you so resentful and crestfallen? If you do well, you can hold up your head; but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master." Gen 4, 6-7.

I'll stop here to give my thoughts on the meaning of all this. I had always thought that Cain had offered less than his best "fruit of the soil," and there are many who believe that, but the Bible says no such thing. Therefore, I read this to be simply an instruction from God that the best offerings are animal sacrifices. One commenter I read said it was because the ground had been cursed by God after the Fall. Plausible, but it probably did not matter to Cain.

My reading of why Cain's offering was rejected informs my interpretation of God's caution to Cain regarding sin. I think God is telling Cain that he should not despair that he did not give the proper sacrifice; that there is no shame in that - presumably because Cain did not know. If he does despair over a lesson from God (animal offering better than vegetable offering), God warns, he will be more likely to sin, because his negative emotion will open the door to the "lurking demon" of sin.

God's warning is not well-taken by Cain and he kills Abel, spilling his blood on the soil. Gos knows this because "Abel's blood cries out to" God. Cain lies to God about what happened and God curses Cain to never be able to successfully till the soil again and banishes him. God also places his mark on Cain so that everyone will know that if someone kills Cain, he shall be "avenged sevenfold." Some have searched for a literal "mark." I prefer to interpret the mark telling us that God is the Judge, not man. Killing the killer is seven times worse than the original death. However, it is just as possible that God is warning others to avoid killing Cain because it would release Cain from God's curse. Some have adopted the mark for a racist ideology, claiming the mark is dark skin. In any event, Cain settles "in the land of Nod, east of Eden." Gen 4, 16. Apparently, the land of Nod is symbolic, as Nod means "the land of nomads," and as Cain cannot till the land successfully, he must travel.

The second part of Chapter 4 reverts to a familiar form of a myth of how different skills came into being on the earth. Cain has "relations" with his wife (more on her in a minute) and we get a short genealogy of five more generations culminating in Lamech. Lamech has two wives and three sons and a daughter. Each of the sons is the forebearer of a human art: Jabal is the ancestor of those who dwell in tents and raise cattle; Jubal is the ancestor of musicians; and Tubalcain (the half-brother of the others) is the ancestor of forgers of bronze and iron. Tubalcain's sister, Naamah, is mentioned only in passing. Then Lamech tells his wives that he has killed a man and a boy for harming him and "if Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold." Gen 4, 23-24. Huh? Maybe this is just ego? Or maybe it is a warning that killing one who kills in self-defense such as Lamech is even worse than killing a cold-blooded killer like Cain.

Cain's wife is familiar issue to those of us who question the Bible. Where did she come from? I conjecture that we are learning that God created other humans, but not as blessed as those in Eden. God had given a special place for his most innocent creatures - man and Eve. It would seem logical that the un-blessed human was part of the parade of animals that the man rejected in Chapter 2 before God created Eve. The man must have seen that a flawed human was not suitable. Once the man and Eve are kicked out of Eden, the less blessed humans are fair game for "relations."

Finally, in a temporal twist, Chapter 4 returns to Adam - which the man is called for the first time in my translation. Adam and Eve again have "relations" and Seth is born "in place of Abel." Gen 4, 25. Seth then has a child named Enosh. Then, suddenly, we are told that "[a]t that time men began to invoke the Lord by name." From what I can tell from my little research, this is meant to be when humans began to identify themselves as worshippers of God - perhaps in opposition to those who ignored God; perhaps as opposed to the earlier humans who understood God as a greater being, but not necessarily one to worship.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Genesis Chapter 3 - The Fall of Man

Chapter 3 of Genesis is the classic tale of the Fall of Man and the expulsion from Eden. It starts with the description of the Serpent as "the most cunning of all the animals that the Lord God had made." No where in the Chapter is the devil mentioned - it is just the serpent using the skill granted more to it by God than to any other of God's animal creations - cunning. Interestingly, God has apparently created another creature with intelligence.

Next, the serpent entices the woman to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. We are not given any reason why the serpent would do so; it is simply because of his cunning. It reminds me of the story of the turtle and the scorpion, in which the turtle agrees to ferry the scorpion across the river if the scorpion promises not to sting him. The scorpion agrees but stings the turtle anyway, drowning both animals. The scorpion's only explanation was that it was his nature. Apparently, the only reason the serpent corrupts the woman is that it is his nature to do so. Maybe the scorpion lacks the free will to do otherwise. The serpent suggests that God only wants to hide what is good and evil from the humans in order to keep them from being "like gods who know."

The woman eats the fruit (not explicitly an apple, seems more likely to be a date or olive or something like that). She eats it because, in part, it was "desirable for gaining wisdom." Gen 3, 6. The man eats it simply because she offers it to him. This would appear to be another opportunity for modern feminists to point out the nature of the woman to seek out wisdom, and the man's blind obedience.

Once they eat the fruit, they realize they are naked and cover themselves with fig leaves. Gen 3, 7. I am intrigued that the symbol of knowledge of good and evil is nakedness. If the knowledge of the difference leads to covering up nakedness, that would suggest nakedness is an evil. But then why does God originally place the humans in Eden in an "evil" state?

The humans walk around the Eden and the humans hear him and hide. An curious human physical behavior for God. When God finds out the humans know they are naked he reasons they ate the forbidden fruit. Then there comas a lot of passing the buck by the man (who blames the woman) and the woman (who blames the serpent). Then we have the punishments God metes out, of which we are probably all familiar. First, he curses the serpent to have no legs, crawl on the ground, be "banned from all the animals and from all the wild creatures" and eat dirt. Gen 3, 14. To me, this sounds more like an earthworm than a snake. Since when do snakes eat dirt and stay separate from other creatures. However, Gos also states that the woman and her offspring will be enemies of the serpent and "he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel." Gen, 3, 15. Unless there are some scary, biting earthworms, that seems more like a snake. Second, God curses the woman with the pains of childbirth, but still with the "urge" for her husband (nice innuendo there), and makes man her "master." (Maybe the feminists would want to skip that part in their modern interpretation of Genesis). Third, he curses man with having to work an unpleasant earth for food and lastly, with death. Gen 3, 17-19. Note that woman is not cursed with death directly. Apparently, just a small lapse by the author.

For some reason, after God curses the three wrongdoers, the man decides to call the woman "Eve" "because she became the mother of all the living." Gen 3, 20. God has already told the people to be fertile and multiply, the name must relate to the working of the Earth for food. According to the New American Bible the Hebrew word for Eve is related to the Hebrew word for hay. So Eve is the mother of the fruits of the Earth. Mother Nature?

Now God shows a bit of ego. He banishes the man and Eve from Eden. He notes that by knowing the difference between good and evil, the man has "become like one of us." Gen 3, 22. Note the plural "us." Some have suggested that the original conception of the Hebrew God was simply one of the numerous Gods worshipped in the ancient world, and that that explains the ability of the Jews to live relatively peacefully with certain other cultures, whereas the Christians had more difficulty because they seemed to care so much about rejecting the worship of other gods by other people.

So the significant difference between "us Gods" and the humans ends up being that the humans will not live forever by eating the fruit of the tree of life. This is an interesting concept: that what separates God and man is not the knowledge of what is right and wrong but immortality.

Finally, God kicks the man and Eve to the east of Eden "to till the ground from which he had been taken," and stations "the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword, to guard the way to the tree of life." Gen 3, 24. This is the first appearance of non-God yet unearthly beings. Where did this cherubim come from? Is the cherubim one of the "us" with the knowledge of good and evil? As for the "fiery revolving sword," I've got nothing. Clearly, God really wanted to keep humans away from that Tree of Life. But why wouldn't he just destroy it? A quick Google search shows that some believe he did not destroy it because the Tree of Life (read: immortality) would be available to humans after Jesus. Personally, I think God would be hesitant to destroy something he created which was so powerful and, therefore, would keep it. It is also possible that the Tree of Life was necessary for life to exist, and destroying it would end all life. That is just a guess, however.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Genesis Chapter 2

Sorry it has been so long - I was in Milwaukee defending a deposition that took longer than expected. But on to it -

You want a traditional creation myth? This is it. Man formed out of mud and a deity breathes life into it. This is very unoriginal. But there are some other very interesting things in here as well.

For example, Chapter 2, verses 1-4 are actually the natural completion of Chapter 1's creation story. They are a description of God's decision to rest on the seventh day. Why the editor decided to place this at the beginning of Chapter 2 instead of Chapter 1 is a mystery to me. My initial thought is that it is an attempt by the compiler to meld together two very different styles and stories. Chapter 1 is the story of God's creation of the universe, and is very well-structured. Chapter 2, however, is a description of God's creation of Man, and is more of a traditional fable. Maybe the beginning of Chapter 2 is meant to hide that there were two separate authors.

Another item of interest is the content of Verses 10-14. It is a very clear description of where Eden is, (note that Eden is not mentioned in Chapter 1), and the rivers to find there: Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, Euphrates. It is almost a travelogue for wherever the land of Havilah is. Havilah apparently has "excellent" gold and has bdellium (interestingly, a cheaper relative of myrrh - great foreshadowing), and lapis lazuli. The other place mentioned - Cush - is not given any such advertisement. It is just where the Gihon flows.

Anyway, God places man in Eden and tells him of a special tree - the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad (which God created when he also created the Tree of Life). God tells the man that he cannot eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, or he will be surely doomed to die. Gen. 2: 16-17. Given that we know that man eats the fruit and doesn't immediately die, this suggests man would have been immortal prior to eating the fruit, but eating it fated him to eventual death.

God decides man should not be alone and creates the animals and birds for man to name and to see which would be a suitable partner. Gen. 2: 18-20. Two important things jump out at me from these three verses. First, God decides, in Verses 18-19, to create the animals in order to find a suitable partner for man. God parades the animals before man in order for man to name them, and to see which would be a suitable partner. One would think God would know what would be a suitable partner for man, but God apparently does not. Once more, god is not omniscient. Second, this is the first example of man's free will. Man gets to choose the names for the animals and whether any of them is a suitable partner.

As we find out, none of the animals is a "suitable partner" and so God puts man to sleep, takes his rib (no informed consent necessary apparently), and creates another being. Again, man gets to choose the name, "woman." She was suitable, and according to Verse 24, "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body." For modern purposes, I note that the verse does not necessarily say that every man will join with a woman, but only that when one does leave his parents to be with a woman this is why.

Finally, you may have noted that I have not used the names Adam and Eve. Why? Because this translation does not. From what I can glean, the name Adam simply comes from the Hebrew word "adam" which literally means "man." And Eve is not named until the next Chapter. Once the New American Bible uses the names, so will I.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Genesis Chapter 1

I'm back, and I'm blogging the Bible. 'Cause I want to.

I'll jump right in with the first Chapter of the first book - Genesis. It is probably what some would consider the most famous Chapter of the Bible - the Creation. But it is missing some things that people usually consider part of "the" creation story. For example - there is no removal of a rib to create a woman. In fact, it appears God creates man and woman simultaneously. Genesis 1:27 states "God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them." I find two things very interesting about this verse. First, the equality of male and female, both apparently in the divine image. Could this be a recognition of the author of the duality of God as both male and female? That would be quite a different interpretation from our traditional view of the Judeo-Christian God. Second, the verse appears to be separate in form and tone from the rest of Chapter 1. In the New American Bible, it is presented in the form of a poem, unlike the rest. It also is a change in the structure of the Chapter. The rest of the Creation is presented as God said "Let there be X;" "So it happened;" and "God saw X was good." The creation of man starts about the same - "God said: 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." Gen. 1:26. And gives Man dominion over the animals. But then comes 1:27. Why the repetition in a different form?

But back to the Chapter as a whole. I have a personal interest in Time, so I find the temporal aspects of the Chapter very interesting. "In the beginning, when God created the heavans and the earth . . ." The beginning of what? Man has not yet been created, so it is not the beginning of Man. The Universe already exists, as we see in Gen 1:2 - "the earth was a formless wasteland and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters." So there was already a "formless wasteland," an abyss and waters.

My initial thought is that this Chapter is about an introduction of God to the masses. A Priest I know has said that this story of Creation was meant to demonstrate the power of the Jewish God. God creates the world simply with God's desire, and quickly. It also sounds a great deal like the Creation myths of polytheistic religions: Some deity takes what already exists and forms it into the world and humans. So it is telling the people that this God is not so different from your mythical creator. This might also explain the gender duality in Verse 27. Many early religions had female creators, and the duality of this new God allows Goddess worshippers to enter the new religion seamlessly.

A truly unexpected element of Chapter 1 is that God does not appear to be omniscient. God makes something, and only after making it does God realize the creation is "good." A truly omniscient God would already know that it would be Good. So God is within our temporal limitations as far as God's knowledge. God does not necessarily know what is going to happen.

Chapter 1 has a little for everyone. Vegetarians rejoice! Genesis 1:29-30 gives man "every seed bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground, I give all the green plants for food." (What about the fish in the sea)? No mention of carnivorous behavior. And nothing about a forbidden fruit.

And my random, perhaps less important observations:
1. Gen 1:6-8 describes the creation of the sky to separate the water below the sky from the water above the sky. The water below becomes the seas in Gen 1:9, but nothing happens to the water above the sky.
2. Why the distinction between plants that "bear seed" and fruit trees that bear fruit with seed in it?
3. God tells the animals of the sky and the sea, as well as humans, to be "fertile" and to "multiply." But God offers no such instruction to the other animals. Why not?