The God Question

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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/

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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”

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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.

Can a Public School Student Read a Bible in Class?

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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

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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).

My Favorite Passage from the Bible, and How One Atheist Thinks We Just Might Use It to Avoid Extinction.

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You may already know I am an atheist, and may be unaware that some of us have favorite passages from the Bible which were not selected for purposes of ridicule, nor of criticism of the Bible, nor because of dislike of any religion. This is my favorite passage because it contains excellent advice. I do not need “faith,” as that word is commonly understood, nor a literal belief in the devil, to recognize, and appreciate, good advice.

What’s not to like about self-control? Or being alert? Those things can keep us all alive. They are important. I used to only cite the first sentence here as my favorite part of the Bible, but have decided to include two complete verses, for context, and elaboration through metaphor, as I interpret this passage. I see no reason not to.

Atheists (only capitalized at the beginning of a sentence, by the way) don’t have denominations, nor creeds, and there are as many different types of atheist as there are atheists. Atheism isn’t a religion — the word simply describes existence without religion. Everyone is born an atheist, albeit an unconscious one. Also, those who remain, or return to, atheism, change, during the course of our lives, just as theists do. The only people who do not change are the dead.

In defiance of stereotype, we are not all angry and bitter, although some of us, it must be admitted, are. (I used to be far more bitter than I am now, although I am working hard to change that.) Many of us even believe in non-theistic ideas which make absolutely no sense, such as, for example, 9/11 conspiracy theories. We only have one thing in common: we lack belief in deities. You almost certainly lack belief in at least some deities, ones which others fervently believe in. If you are a theist, well, atheists just take things a bit further than you — that’s all. We don’t all hate theists, and (thankfully) not all theists hate us. The ability to respectfully disagree is at least one of the keys to peaceful coexistence. Universal agreement among humans simply will not happen (and would be horribly boring, anyway), until the death of the penultimate person, at least. Even if there is a “last person alive” scenario in the (hopefully very distant) future, this unknown last human being will still have internal disagreements, and will almost certainly disagree with remembered ideas of the dead. In fact, given human nature, and history, such a disagreement might even be the cause of the next-to-last person’s death, at the hands of the last man, or woman, ever to live.

I do not want homo sapiens to end this way.  I’d like us to continue, for many generations, until evolution, and speciation, replace us with successor species, a long time from now — still people, but different, in ways we cannot now know, and, hopefully, people who have long ago learned to live without constantly killing each other.  Isn’t it about time we left this nasty habit called “war” behind, along with murder, rape, and the rest of the litany of human horror?

I’m a big fan of John Lennon, but I’d far rather imagine no war than “imagine no religion,” and I no longer accept the idea, common among atheists, that the second is a prerequisite for the first.

Since we have, as a species, figured out several ways to self-destruct, we cannot afford to wait for evolution to “teach” us how to coexist peacefully.  Evolution is far more efficient at destruction than creation, after all, being a random process.  Far more species have gone extinct than exist today, and the process of evolution simply does not care whether we live or die.  Entropy happens.  It took 3.85 billion years of natural selection to get here, and we will not get a second chance to get it right.

We must figure out effective ways to live with our differences now.  I do not mean that we should somehow erase our differences, for I have no desire to live in a world of clones of myself, and I doubt you want to live in your version of such a world, either.  We do, however, need to come to terms, as a world-wide society, with the inescapable fact that people are different.  We have a right to be different, it’s good that we are, and the fact that we vary so much is certainly is no excuse for killing, nor even hating, anyone.

There is another part of human nature that is on our side in our struggle for survival, and this is the hopeful part of this essay. We are good at figuring things out. We actually enjoy trying our best to solve puzzles. We pay hard-earned money for them constantly! Some of us absolutely obsess over single problems, for days — or years — at a time. Well, this is the best, most important problem we have ever faced, with the highest stakes imaginable:  how to avoid our own extinction. The world isn’t a casino with no exit, though.  It has been mostly a game of chance, so far — and we’ve been lucky to have made it to the present.  However, it doesn’t have to be the way it has been, with us stumbling through history, like drunk monkeys in a minefield — which we pretty much are, right now.

We have minds, and it’s time to use them. We can stop playing roulette, especially the Russian variety, and sit down at the table to play chess, instead. We can figure this out.

If this Big Problem isn’t solved soon, though, there may not be a long wait for extinction.  It could very well be later than you think.  Therefore, I encourage everyone to, in the words of the Bible, “Be self-controlled and alert.” That’s a good place to start.