The God Question

Bible on bookshelf.jpeg

During my 4th period class today, I got asked one of my least favorite questions by one of my students: “Do you believe in God?”

It’s a science class, and I want us to stay on-topic. Discussing my views on the existence or non-existence of a deity isn’t going to help with that. I sighed, and said what I always say in this situation: “That’s a personal question, and I don’t answer personal questions.”

The students then remembered that I have a Bible on the bookshelf in my classroom, and concluded, on the basis of this single shred of evidence, that I am, indeed, a believer. (The Bible is there as one of many options for my students to read during their designated reading time, just before lunch.)

Since then, I’ve been to Amazon, and ordered an English translation of the Qur’an, which I will place on that same bookshelf — probably right next to the Bible. I wonder what my students will make of that? 

Bible Hub: A Website Review

http://biblehub.com/

bible hub

Whether one is a Christian, or not, we should all be able to agree that the Bible is an important book, and that greater understanding of it will benefit anyone who lives on this planet. There are, after all, well over a billion people, alive today, living in families which try to use the Bible as a guidebook for life. (As an aside: is it also true that anyone on earth can benefit from improving their understanding of the Qur’an? Of course it is — and for exactly the same reason.)

Before today, I had never encountered a website which serves that purpose — greater understanding of this important book we call the Bible — with the purity of Bible Hub. I found it by accident, while discussing, with my wife, the original languages in which the Bible was written: Hebrew for the Old Testament, and, in the New Testament, an ancient form of Greek — plus one important sentence (depicted as the last pre-death-and-resurrection words spoken by Jesus) in Aramaic. The New Testament was not written for an audience which understood Aramaic, so the books of the Bible which include this sentence (Matthew and Mark), as originally written (as far as we can tell), follow the Aramaic words of this sentence with a translation into the same form of Greek (Koine, or the ancient Greek of the common people, as opposed to the ruling class) in which the rest of the New Testament is written. The influence of Greek culture (which could have spread along with the Greek language) could only have affected the New Testament, not the Old Testament, for historical reasons. The two of us were discussing the possibility that the absence, then presence, of a Greek influence might help explain why the Old and New Testaments are so radically different from each other. For quite some time, though, I became sidetracked by my inability to remember the last words of Jesus on the cross, in Aramaic, and I decided to investigate that topic more closely.

I do not read Greek, so I have read the words in this important New Testament sentence (“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”) only in English translations of the Bible. I simply used Google to do a search for this sentence — and that’s how I found Bible Hub.

On the two pages at this website related to the verses I was researching, the first thing I found was an amazing variety of English translations of each verse, clearly labeled, including many translations of which I was previously unaware. Navigating to other languages is easy, at the upper right. Below the numerous English translations, there is commentary, but it is clearly labeled as such, so that no one will confuse the commentary with the various translations of the verses in question. If one wants to read sermons related to a given verse, there is an easy-to-find link provided for that purpose, but it is easier, of course, to not click on a hyperlink than it is to click on it.

My favorite feature of this website, by far, is that I was able to get the information I wanted quickly, without anything at all telling me how to interpret what I read. At Bible Hub, the default format is to let readers interpret the various parts of the Bible for themselves. For that reason, in addition to other features described above, I give this website an A+ grade.

The Ill-Fated Quest for “Genesis”

NT

In the “too funny to be made up” category, I recently had someone ask me for help, because he could not find “Genesis” in the paperback New Testament he was reading. I referred him to the complete Bible on the bookshelf, told him to look in the front, and somehow didn’t laugh until he was out of the room, but this took extreme effort.

Forgiveness: Not a Virtue, But a Dangerous Practice

Over the millennia, religion has done much harm, in myriad ways. Of the major world religions, the one that places the greatest emphasis on forgiveness is, to my knowledge, Christianity. This was an error in reasoning made many centuries ago, and it is impossible to calculate the amount of harm this doctrine has caused . . . but the number of people harmed by this terrible idea certainly numbers in the millions.

Consider one of the most oft-quoted passages from the New Testament concerning this topic, from Matthew 18:21-22 (NASB):  “Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’” Seventy times seven is, of course, 490, but it is rare to find anyone who takes that number literally. It is much more common to encounter the explanation that large numbers were viewed differently in the ancient world, and “seventy times seven” was simply a way for Jesus to say, in a way Peter would understand, “an indefinitely large number.”

Now, consider what we know about the modern world. At least one-third of women are raped during their lifetimes. Serial killers often murder dozens of people before getting caught. Powerful people, in positions of public trust and great responsibility, betray that trust for their own selfish reasons. This list could be much longer, but I trust the point has been made:  you live in a world with many others in it who are not nice people . . . and many of them have no intention of changing.

Consider this:  a newly-married woman discovers her husband is betraying her in one of the worst possible ways, by sexually molesting children who live in nearby homes. She decides to leave him, and contacts her (devoutly religious) family, asking for help – only to be told that marriage is a sacred covenant, divorce is a sin, and the evil deeds of others are, according to the Bible, supposed to be forgiven. “Pray for him,” she is told — but the real support she is asking for is not given. She tries to forgive him. She stays in the marriage for many more years. The unsurprising result? Dozens more children are abused by the man over the following decades, with far-reaching, horrible consequences.

That last example was not hypothetical. The woman, and her family, are people I know.

There are people – many of them – who simply do not deserve to be forgiven for the crimes they commit. They are dangerous, and will remain so, until and unless they are stopped. Some stop only when they die — and those deaths, I do not mourn. Others are caught, tried, convicted, and imprisoned. However, those people are, too often, released while still dangerous, due to another nonsensical idea (that of having paid one’s “debt to society”), or simply because prisons are overcrowded with many people who only committed non-violent illegal acts. Both problems are easy to solve, however. First, we should stop locking up non-violent offenders – that’s the obvious part of the solution. The other part is more difficult, for it would require major legislative changes:  the abolition of specific, time-limited sentences for violent criminals.  Why lock up, say, a murderer or rapist for ten years, and then let them go, more dangerous than ever? It would make more sense to leave such people – anyone who is clearly dangerous to the rest of us – locked up for life, or at least until they have become so weakened by illness or advancing age that they are no longer capable of harming other people.

What about lesser offenses? What if, for example, you catch someone you know in a harmful, deliberate, and malicious lie? Should you forgive them? My answer is often a flat “no” – at least, not until the person has regained the trust they have damaged or destroyed, and sometimes that simply is not possible. (Who decides when trust is restored? The person who was lied to, of course.) Forgive a pathological liar, and what you are really doing is inviting them to lie to you again. A far better thing to do would be to warn others not to trust the liar, and explain exactly why that is the case.

Some who wish to cling to their religious beliefs, even when those very beliefs cause obvious problems, have devised a way to try to get around the problem that forgiving those who harm you, or your loved ones, invites further harm. You are likely to have heard it, or something like it:  “I forgive them, but I will not forget what they have done, for they may well do it again, and I must be on my guard.” Such a statement is an improvement over total, unconditional forgiveness, but it is not without problems. First, if one is constantly vigilant for a repeat offense, has forgiveness really taken place? Not by the Biblical standard of divine forgiveness of the evil deeds of people, it hasn’t, as Hebrews 8:12 (NIV) makes clear: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Many other verses tie the acts of forgiving and forgetting together. Separating the two, as many people do now, is an improvement, to be certain . . . but it is in no sense an idea rooted in either the Bible, or in traditional Christian doctrine. It is, instead, a modern concession to reason and common sense.

What about really small things?  Accidents, honest mistakes . . . that sort of thing?  Is there a problem with forgiveness in those sorts of situations?  No, there isn’t . . . but there also would have been no problem with not getting angry at a person for such a “crime” in the first place. As a good rule of thumb, if it made perfect, rational sense to get angry at someone because they did something truly terrible, then it does not make sense to forgive them for it ten minutes later, nor the next day . . . perhaps not even until they die, because at that point, the chances of them repeating the offense drops to zero. In other words, it isn’t yet time to forgive a person who still poses a danger. This is simple logic.

Monsters in human form, like everything and everyone else, are part of the physical universe. If one or more of them does something terrible to you, or to someone you care for, it makes sense to take steps to prevent their repeating such an act. It does not make sense to forgive them for it. To do so is the equivalent of telling the universe that you want you or your loved ones to have to endure further suffering. That is not a logical way to live one’s life. “Forgiveness is a virtue” is a pernicious idea – one we should, as a species, leave in the past, if we want to make progress in the future.

Can a Public School Student Read a Bible in Class?

Image

Can a public school student read a Bible in class?

Yes, but not loudly, waving it around, while I am explaining the safety protocols for laboratory use of silver nitrate in chemistry class.

It’s dangerous stuff, as you can see here:  http://www.sciencelab.com/msds.php?msdsId=9927411.

Did this actually happen? Of course — I don’t think I could make up a story like that. It happened in a different class than the one I am teaching this year, though. The student’s name is being withheld, to protect his identity (and my job).

Don’t Forget These Verses

Image

Attention, “Christians” who do hateful things, such as:

*Issuing death threats against Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and many others

*Bullying numerous gays, to the point of suicide

*Bombing women’s health clinics, and killing the doctors who work there

YOU MISSED SOME IMPORTANT VERSES IN YOUR FAVORITE BOOK!

My Tattoo of Pi

This is my tattoo of pi, my favorite number. The circle which surrounds pi does not close because it is only three times as long as the diameter of the circle, in “deference” to the infamous “pi is exactly 3” verse of the Bible (I Kings 7:23).