Thursday, November 29, 2012

Vaginas and Other Things God Doesn't Like

Confession: I suck at writing in a timely manner. Ideally, I would have finished this post a month ago, but it turns out I’m no Bill Shakespeare. On the bright side, none of the writers of the Bible fall into that category either, so there’s loooooooooots of material for me to point and laugh at. If these words were all inspired by the Holy Spirit then, a terrible muse.

The New Testament has the reputation of being all about warm and fuzzy stuff like “love your neighbor as yourself” and stories about angels talking to shepherds. Ignoring for the moment that the Golden Rule was around long before Jesus said it and appears in pretty much every religion and culture, what else is in the New Testament? Plenty of innocuous stuff, and plenty of nice stuff, to be sure. But there’s also plenty of crap that I’m sure apologists wish were left out.

So let’s have a looksee at the New Testament. While we’re at it, let’s also bring back the term “looksee.” Actually, let’s not. It’s kind of a stupid word.

  • Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! No, I came to bring a sword. I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Your enemies will be right in your own household! If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for me, you will find it.” (Matthew 10:34-39)

Well, that’s a lot to take in, eh? I mean, talk about high maintenance--you’re not even allowed to love your family more than this guy! Jesus is supposed to be all kind and loving, yet he’s openly encouraging rifts in any families where kids love their parents more than they love Him. Seriously? So even though God refuses to prove that He even exists (much less that He’s worthy of my infinite and unrequited praise), I’m supposed to love Him (and/or Jesus) more than my mom? Have you met my mom? She’s pretty gosh darn awesome (a less respectful son would have used the phrase “fucking awesome” there, but I’m classier than that). She is unbelievably nice, has put up with way more crap from me than any reasonable person should be subjected to, and I know that she loves me unconditionally. Yet I’m supposed to care more about a being who, if He actually existed, would be an unfathomably colossal jerk.

What a preposterous demand. You wouldn’t think the most powerful being in the universe would also be the most needy and insecure.

  • “A Gentile woman who lived there came to him, pleading, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter has a demon in her, and it is severely tormenting her.’
But Jesus gave her no reply--not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. ‘Tell her to leave,’ they said. ‘She is bothering us with all her begging.’
Then he said to the woman, ‘I was sent only to help the people of Israel--God’s lost sheep--not the Gentiles.’
But she came and worshiped him and pleaded again, ‘Lord, help me!’
‘It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs,’ he said.
‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘but even dogs are permitted to eat crumbs that fall beneath their master’s table.’
‘Woman,’ Jesus said to her, ‘your faith is great. Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was instantly healed.” (Matthew 15:21-28)

Oh, snap! The King of Metaphors just got shamed into performing a miracle by some random woman who out-metaphored Him! I really hope she taunted Him afterwards.

The New Testament is supposed to be full of unconditional love and salvation for all and butterflies and rainbows, yet here we have an example of some good ol’ blatant racism from none other than the Son of God himself. To be fair, there are other examples of Jesus being more accepting of Gentiles (the non-Jews, for those uninitiated in Bible-speak), but apparently He wasn’t always so tolerant of the “dogs.” Clearly miracles are not overly difficult for Him to perform (the guy doesn’t even bother with a “Hocus pocus!” or “Expelliarmus!”), but he shoots this woman down solely because of who her parents were. What’s the deal with punishing people for things that are out of their control, and why does that come up so often in all religions? I know we all like to feel special and inherently better than others, but it would be nice if people cared more about being fair than being superior.

  • “And wars will break out near and far, but don’t panic. Yes these things must come, but the end won’t follow immediately. The nations and kingdoms will proclaim war against each other, and there will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this will be only the beginning of the horrors to come.
Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because of your allegiance to me...In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, the entire human race will be destroyed. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones...
I assure you, this generation will not pass from the scene before all these things take place.” (Matthew 24:6-9, 22, 34)

In the words on the incomparable Will Ferrell: I wish you weren’t a liar (ideally, I would link to the dinner sketch with Sarah Michelle Gellar here, but I can’t because NBC has some weird policy about not making all of their content available for free. So you’ll just have to take my word for it: Will Ferrell drives a Dodge Stratus, he would like to finish his damn story, and he wishes you weren’t a liar). Being arrested, persecuted, and killed for allegiance to Jesus? For a short time, yes, but The Crusades were the exact opposite of that, so that’s strike one. The entire human race will be destroyed? Welp, I’m still alive, you’re still alive (presumably, at any rate--if you’re reading this on the Afterlife Internet please shoot me an email so I can stop making an ass of myself here), and there’s at least a 50% chance that Dick Cheney is not a zombie, so the human race does not appear to have been destroyed. Strike two.

While you might think that it should go without saying that there is no one alive today who heard Jesus speak these words, there are some fundamentalists who, against the better judgment of any rational human being, disagree. This passage is one of the origins of The Wandering Jew, a lucky chap who has apparently just been strolling around for the past 2,000 years. Seeing as how there’s no evidence whatsoever for the existence of this gentleman (or gentlewoman, perhaps), I’m going to go ahead and deny their existence. Strike three. As we all know, according to the rules of Bibleball three strikes means you have to go to timeout for five minutes, give the other team two free throws and the ball, and then pay the income tax (either $200 or 10% of total holdings). If this sounds harsh, that’s because it is: Bibleball is not an easy game. The only way you can really win is by not playing.

I should also point out here that this is another example of God getting up on his High Horse of Sadism. He just flat out says, “Yeah, some really bad shit is going to go down. It’s going to be terrible. People are going to suffer. I could do something about all this...but that would be going against my incredibly strong sadistic intuitions, with it, bitches.”

  • “You [the disciples] are permitted to understand the secret about the Kingdom of God. But I am using these stories to conceal everything about it from outsiders, so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:
‘They see what I do, but they don’t perceive its meaning. They hear my words, but they don’t understand. So they will not turn from their sins and be forgiven.’” (Mark 4:11-12)

At least we get an explanation for all the ambiguous, cryptic, and unusual parables that Jesus was such a big fan of: He didn’t want to let all the heathens in on his secrets to eternal life.

Sigh. To be fair, there are also some passages about how the “Kingdom of God” is open to all. However, the fact remains that He often used a slew of odd parables to make his points. Most people use metaphors to make their points clearer, but the Son of God was apparently all about being more opaque. Why did his message need to be obscured? Because the fucking Scriptures said so.

This is one of the things I hate most about religion, and it’s something that’s emphasized very heavily in Islam: the idea that people who believe the right fairy tales will be rewarded with eternal bliss, people who don’t believe in those fairy tales will be punished with eternal damnation...and, to be honest, they’d rather you suffer than be saved. This idea reappears in 2 Thessalonians 2: 11-12: “So God will send great deception upon them, and they will believe all these lies. Then they will be condemned for not believing the truth and for enjoying the evil they do.”

The “powers that be” take so much delight in the suffering of heathens that they will actively keep you out of heaven. But don’t worry, these beings are benevolent. It says so in their books. They just, you know, have a thing about making sure that people they don’t like are punished for eternity regardless of whether or not they deserve it, but other than that they’re super kind.

  • “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who trusts in me to lose faith, it would be better for that person to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around the neck. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better to enter heaven with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands.” (Mark 9:42-43)

There are surprisingly few one-handed Christians. Has anyone else ever noticed that? I mean, it seems pretty harsh to me since absolutely everyone who has ever lived ever has sinned and hands are pretty darned handy. I guess in my case it doesn’t really matter as I should be visiting with mermen at the bottom of the sea somewhere, in which case I wouldn’t have much use for my hands anyway (I used mermen instead of mermaids here in an effort to push gender equality as I feel that mermen are grossly underrepresented in fictional under-the-sea talk. Side note: the spell check in Firefox is totally OK with “mermen.” Yeah, it surprised the hell out of me, too).

This is another problem with that whole “parable” thing--people don’t know whether or not to take this passage literally. In this case most people can agree to treat it figuratively, but that’s only because most people think that the punishments don’t fit the crimes. “Well, this is the word of God, and I did sin...but I really don’t want to cut my hand off because I’m not ambidextrous...with the exception of that one thing I do left-handed let’s just say that what Jesus meant to say is that I should stop hanging out with people who encourage me to do bad things.” It’s much easier to take as a figure of speech...but what if Jesus meant it literally? What if you get to heaven and He’s pissed that you’ve still got both hands even though you spilled your seed liberally with said hands? What then? WHAT THEN?! Well, then it’s off to Hell with you, of course. You should have taken the Bible literally, like those snakehandlers who you assumed were dumbasses (“They will be able to handle snakes with safety, and if they drink anything poisonous, it won’t hurt them.” (Mark 16:18) It doesn’t happen often, but that verse is a lovely example of when natural selection and the Bible work in perfect harmony).

  • “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you, anyone who doesn’t have their kind of faith will never get into the Kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:14-15)

Translation: if you ever grow out of your gullible phase and become capable of critical thinking on your own, you’re screwed. I’ll write more on the concept of faith in another post, but I wasn’t being facetious in that sentence. The “faith of a child” requires a lack of critical thinking. It requires ignoring all the knowledge gained as an adult. It requires taking comfort in wishful thinking rather than accepting reality. I’ve been making a concerted effort to be less of a dick in my writing (I guess people don’t like it when I say mean things?), but it’s really hard to sugarcoat this point.

Now, I’m not saying you can’t be simultaneously rational and faithful. I have plenty of friends and family who are both intelligent and Christian. However, anyone who has childlike faith is kind of an idiot, because having childlike faith involves accepting everything at face value without doubt. Pretty much everyone I know has at least some doubt about the existence of a higher power and the validity of their (or any) religion. Yet, here we have Jesus telling us that we need to have total, unquestioning faith in him to get into heaven, and that’s simply an unreasonable demand. Oddly enough, one can still hear this passage quoted ad nauseum in churches because, you know, ignorance and blind acceptance of what you’re told are admirable qualities.

  • “You can pray for anything, and if you believe, you will have it.” (Mark 11:24)

I just wish you weren’t a liar. Seriously, how much bullshit is this? Every single Christian in history has been burned by this verse, leading to nonsensical rationalizations like the Garth Brooks song “Unanswered Prayers.” (Quick question: do you think Garth knew how to spell “unanswered” before he wrote that song?) In that song, Garth sings about how glad he is that God didn’t answer his prayers to hook up with this chick that he really liked in high school, because then he might not have married his current wife. First of all, he has no way of knowing that he’s better off with his wife than the chick he liked in high school--maybe that chick would’ve had the sense to talk him out of that stupid Chris Gaines alter-ego thing he did. Secondly, this line of thinking begs the question “Why do you pray in the first place if God is just going to do whatever He wants anyway?”

The number of prayers that have gone unanswered throughout history is astronomical. Throw out all the prayers from people who didn’t “truly believe.” Throw out all the prayers from people who haven’t forgiven their enemies. Throw out all the prayers with either bad intentions or bad outcomes. That number remains astronomical, and this verse remains entirely untrue.

The common explanation for this is some variation of “God has a plan,” with the implication being that you’re not allowed to be mad at God for not answering your prayer because He knows better than you and somehow, in some way that you can’t even see because you’re just an insignificant speck on this planet and God is omniscient, everything is going to work out for the best. Tell that to everyone who prayed for their release from a concentration camp, or anyone who prayed for safety in the face of a natural disaster (or “Act of God” if you prefer), or anyone who prayed for the end of a war before dying in battle, or anyone who prayed for their child’s survival before the advent of modern medicine, or anyone who doesn’t think rape is a “gift from God” or or or or or or well did “God’s plan” work out for all those good and faithful servants of His? Either God is not capable of answering prayers, or his “plan” involves being a dick.

  • For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Ah, the most famous verse in the whole book. You’re not gonna believe this, but I’ve got a number of issues with it. First of all, why did He have to give up Jesus to begin with? If God is all-powerful then He gets to make the rules, right? Why the hell would one of those rules be “my son must die for humanity to be saved?” He already pulled the “raise a guy from the dead” trick with Lazarus, so it wasn’t like this was the ultimate example of never-before-seen power. Seems like a pretty stupid plan with a bunch of unnecessary suffering if you ask me. Then again, unnecessary suffering is right up God’s alley.

The big issue, though, is that Jesus’ death has been glamorized to such an absurd degree that people view it as the most selfless, altruistic, and loving event of all time. Look no further than the Mel Gibson film The Passion of the Christ for evidence of this, as it’s depicted as some kind of incomprehensible sacrifice on the part of God/Jesus. While we’re here, allow me to make a very simple point: if God had any control whatsoever over the events on Earth, is there any chance at all that He would pick Mel fucking Gibson to make this film? You know, the openly racist, anti-semitic asshole with anger management issues? I’m going to go ahead and say “No. No He would not.”

Back to the death of Jesus. Part of the reason people treat it with such reverence is because it was such a terrible experience for Jesus--he was beaten, whipped, mocked, spit on, and crucified. Unquestionably, this would have been awful, and anyone who had to go through that deserves sympathy. However, everyone seems to forget that people go through horrible experiences all the time, and (not surprisingly) it’s often in the name of religion. Jesus was not the first person to have His life taken for having dissenting beliefs about supernatural beings, and He was far from the last. Hell, “witches” were burned alive, and most of them held the same beliefs as the people who put them to death! I’m not denying that Jesus had a really rough time; I’m simply making the point that it’s disingenuous to treat his death as some kind of unique torture that no one else has ever experienced and therefore somehow carries extra weight.

The other main reason His death is so glamorized is because we’re told that God willingly sacrificed His son. Again, this is not a unique circumstance--many parents are forced to deal with the death of a child. Is that a terrible thing to go through? Absolutely. Is it something that us mere mortals can’t even comprehend? Absolutely not, so let’s stop pretending like this was the greatest sacrifice ever made because it wasn’t. How can I say that conclusively? Because Jesus came back to life after three days!!! I don’t bust out the triple exclamation point very often, but in this case it’s deserved. Three days! Do you think my parents lose sleep over not seeing me for three days? I would certainly hope not, seeing as how they usually only see me once or twice a month. That’s probably all they can handle since I’m a terrible person who never says anything nice and I smell like the city of Pittsburgh, but that’s beside the point. Three days is nothing. Furthermore, after another forty days, Jesus supposedly goes up to Heaven and spends the rest of eternity by God’s side.

Some sacrifice. That must have been really hard for God, going three whole days without Jesus while knowing that they were about to spend infinity years together. Hell, I sacrificed masturbation for forty days for Lent high school. Yeah, seriously, I did. If you know anything about the hormones of high school boys, you will be way more impressed by my sacrifice than God’s.

  • A man is responsible to Christ, a woman is responsible to her husband, and Christ is responsible to God. A man dishonors Christ if he covers his head while praying or prophesying. But a woman dishonors her husband if she prays or prophesies without a covering on her head, for this is the same as shaving her head. Yes, if she refuses to wear a head covering, she should cut off all her hair. And since it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut or her head shaved, then she should wear a covering. A man should not wear anything on his head when worshiping, for man is God’s glory, made in God’s own image, but woman is the glory of man. For the first man didn’t come from woman, but the first woman came from man. And man was not made for woman’s benefit but woman was made for man. So a woman should wear a covering on her head as a sign of authority because the angels are watching.” (1 Corinthians 11:3-10)

I don’t want to argue against anyone referring to me as “God’s glory,” but isn’t this taking the misogyny thing just an itsy-bitsy, teeny-tiny, weeeeeeee little bit too far? It’s hard to make the message “women are lesser than men” any more explicit than this. In this case, it’s not even a general “women should listen to men” message, it’s a straight up “God likes penises more than he likes vaginas, so those with vaginas should cover themselves up in shame and submission.”

Christians like to brush away the draconian rules in the Old Testament because, for some reason, we’ve all agreed that those rules no longer apply. However, this here is some New Testament nonsense. This is the “Good News” that the Bible has to offer, and it’s just as crazy and outdated as the older stuff. Yet, for some reason, there were no ballot initiatives to require head coverings for women...but there were a bunch of initiatives regarding whether or not two women could marry each other. Note to the Religious Right: it’s the same fucking book. Why is it that the vast majority of this country (save for the hardcore literalists) can agree that this passage is completely worthless, yet we’re still haggling over birth control and abortion and gay marriage because of other passages? What in the world could possibly make those other passages more valid? How could anyone possibly know that God doesn’t care if women cover their heads in church, but He does care if they would like to start a family on their own schedule?

I have yet to hear an answer for any of those questions that makes more sense than “Well, I choose to believe in the passages that align with my worldview and disregard the others. In other words: whatever’s convenient.” Pretty much everything else is pure rationalization.

  • Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says.” (1 Corinthians 14:34)

If only this directive extended outside of church, AM I RIGHT? Seriously, though, it takes a hefty bit of rationalization for a woman to buy into Christianity when it’s founded on a book with stuff like this in it. A number of the women in my family are active in their respective churches, and they feel no remorse about speaking in church, so presumably they just kind of pretend that this verse doesn’t exist.

In a way, I can understand it--having been a Christian for the first twenty-some years of my life, I got to be pretty familiar with ignoring whole swaths of the Bible because, frankly, you have to ignore much of it in order to be a worthwhile member of modern society (sacrificing doves and goats is no longer commonly practiced, believe it or not). So I get it--you chalk it up to the fact that we’re living in different times, and you manage to convince yourself that it’s OK to pick and choose which verses are worth following and which aren’t. In a way, you don’t really have a choice if you want to call yourself a Christian without appearing crazy. And since you’re told that Heaven and Hell are real places, you’ve got a vested interest in calling yourself a Christian. In short: being a Christian today is the epitome of humanity’s ability to rationalize and handle cognitive dissonance.

Even with all that rationalization, I still wonder how much verses like this bother female Christians. Aren’t they annoyed by the fact that their female ancestors were prevented from having a role in the church? Misogyny was widespread and certainly existed outside of just religious settings, but the fact that it was so explicitly embedded in religion bothers me. Call me crazy, but I expect an institution that claims to provide moral guidelines to, you know, have good morals. Shouldn’t any source of morality be a proponent of fair treatment? Fairness is a rather large part of morality, yet the Bible goes beyond ignoring the topic--it actually advises against it. It’s as stupid as telling someone not to bother putting up walls in their house. “Heat rises, and rain comes down, right? Right. So all you need is a roof.”

  • I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes. For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do. Women should listen and learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly. For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. And it was the woman, not Adam, who was deceived by Satan, and sin was the result. But women will be saved through childbearing and by continuing to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty.” (1 Timothy 2:9-15)

I’m guessing you probably don’t need me to tell you how “whoa crazy crazy” this lovely little passage is as it should be self-evident, so I’ll keep this brief. Obviously, women give less than a shit about it as gold jewelry is practically omnipresent and shopping for clothes and shoes has become the stereotypical national pastime (please note that I said stereotypical--I’ve made enough sexist jokes in this blog that I don’t need to be accused of trying to seriously treat all women as a homogenous group). Unfortunately, there are some men who give more than a shit about this passage as they can use it as their defense of “easy rape” statements (which can be found in the gray section of this handy-dandy rape chart). Ugh.

Also, in case you forgot: in the world where the Bible is true, childbirth is an excruciatingly painful experience because Eve was a weak-minded broad who ate an apple once. Adam was an innocent bystander, so naturally men get to pee standing up but women are pushed to the brink of consciousness (and occasionally death) in order to continue the human race. This seems toooootally fair. Can’t we all just agree that religion sucks and women should be treated fairly?

  • Pay close attention to what the prophets wrote, for their words are like a light shining in a dark place--until the day Christ appears and his brilliant light shines in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophets themselves or because they wanted to prophesy. It was the Holy Spirit who moved the prophets to speak from God.” (2 Peter 1:19-21)

Yeah, just keep this shit in mind when someone tries to tell you that you can’t take the Bible literally because it was written by man and not God and it’s just metaphorical and you’re interpreting it wrong. Not to mention the fact that the Bible becomes next to worthless if it wasn’t inspired by God; the problem is it’s so damn crazy that no reasonable person could possibly believe that the entire thing was an accurate reflection of a being as lofty as the Christian god is purported to be.

People like to say “you can make the Bible say anything you want,” insinuating that anytime someone uses a ridiculous Bible quote to make a point it’s somehow invalid because they’re just twisting the words of God. I contend that if there wasn’t so much nonsense to begin with (and if God had picked some better writers) then this wouldn’t be an issue. You can only make so many excuses for supposedly omniscient beings before they lose all credibility. These verses are not fitting for a good and loving god; they’re fitting for a petty and sadistic one.