Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Talking with Christians

Recently it was asked: ”Why?” Why do we discuss with Christians?

At the moment, I do it because I enjoy it. I like the discussion; they won’t come here—so my only other choice is to go to them. The reasons have changed over the years since my initial deconversion.

I recall freshly abandoning Christianity and desiring to talk with other Christians regarding what I had discovered. Tried it in real life—epic fail. My main internet spot (iidb) was inundated with other deconverts and non-theists waiting to pounce upon any poor Christian that wandered into the lion’s den. I was one voice among too many—this was not satisfying.

Off I trotted to another forum, and thus began a pattern of discourse continuing to today. I approached it with naiveté. I thought if they only knew what I had discovered—they, too would reconsider their position. No, I didn’t expect them to immediately deconvert upon my appearance or first post. Nor my second or third. I did think they would be as interested as I was to actively engage the conversation and perhaps…just perhaps…realize there were viable and robust reasons Christianity may not be what they thought it was.

It was like discovering a new Mexican restaurant tucked behind the Post Office very few people know about, and despite its 1950’s styling, the cook is so extraordinary, one taste of his food and you could never deign to enter any other Mexican restaurant again.

Of course, I quickly discovered many theists were not as interested in the subject as I was. That it was too hard to discuss with a skeptic. That they had already made up their minds, and were sufficiently satisfied with any justification that might tend to support their conclusion. I discovered other theists that certainly did want to discuss the subject—but only in attack mode. No matter what I said, it must be wrong because of who said it—not the content.

I have continued conversations because of concern with lurkers. I certainly recall during my deconversion process (and have heard similar tales from other deconverts) lurking and lurking and lurking. Reading entire threads, and every link and every link from the link, absorbing the various positions. Ordering recommended books from Amazon or the library, and pouring over them.

Remembering those days, I can’t help wonder who might have wandered into some blog, forum or facebook note I happen to comment on, and they desire to know more about my position. It would be a shame to abandon the blog entry, when the lurker is yearning for more.

One thing I learned—if you go into these conversations with the expectation…no…the NEED…to have the person agree with you—you are doomed for disappointment. Best acclimate to such disappointment or you will have ulcers within weeks.

The other thing I learned is there isn’t one “correct” style. Think you may have been too harsh in your response? Doesn’t matter—I’ve tried nice and it doesn’t make a difference. Think your story is “too emotional?” Doesn’t matter—I’ve tried intellect, cites, books, authors, websites, etc. They still look at me quizzically and proclaim, “You deconverted because of sin.” Or the wrong intellectual reasons.

For me…now…the reasons are pretty simple. If I see a topic interesting to me—I will comment. If the person is not convinced…*shrug*…not my department. If they want to accuse me of some ulterior motive, I may ask once for a method to determine motive—but sheer proclamation doesn’t move me much.

Oh, noes!—some Christian thinks I’m wrong!

I would love to see American become less engrossed with religion. I would love to openly state “I am an atheist” only to elicit the response, “Yeah…so what?” However, after watching the tea-bag party, and the interviews with protestors over the Health Care reform; I see little intellectual pursuit in other areas to determine what is true, let alone in religious fields.

So I discuss because I want to.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Off doing stuff

I’m around. I’ve been discussing over at Tough Questions Answered if you really must know. No need to read through it…the same old routine.

At the moment, I find the discussion enjoyable. Sure, nobody changes their mind. The apologist (and the apologist’s friends) all think they are performing smashingly. The skeptics—likewise. The conversation—the same dance done before and likely to be repeated again.

What can I say—the topic still fascinates me.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What to do with old friends?

Recently there have been a few blog entries by friends about deconverts interacting with Christian friends. The question was poignantly asked, Is it possible [for a deconvert] to have Christian friends and family? Obviously anything is possible, and I am sure there are numerous anecdotal accounts regarding individuals who do nicely, thank you very much.

I haven’t seemed to manage it.

To me, its feels like that summer after your first year of college. You get together with your high school buddies and by evening’s end, realize you have no interest getting together with your high school buddies!

In high school you shared experiences with your classmates—same teachers, same halls. Same inside jokes about Ms. Crabapple. The team losing the semi-finals together. The year ends with graduation, parties, and assurances of being BFF’s (contractually enforced through yearbook signatures.)

Then you go away to college. A whole new set of friends, experiences, and growing up. Coming back, the jokes about Ms. Crabapple seem stale. The lost semi-final forgotten amongst new memories of parties and inter-mural Frisbee golf. How many times can one recount the same thing? Either the relationship continues to grow with new experiences (and new jokes and laughter) or it dies. So you maintain a relationship with a few, and the rest fall off, only to be remembered when bumping into each other at Wal-Mart (“Boy did he lose his hair!”) or Facebook.

I wanted to maintain my relationship with Christian friends and my family. I naively thought it could work. But I started to realize I was having new experiences, new laughs, new inside jokes they couldn’t share.

Me: And then she said…get this…’Evolution is just a theory.’ Bwahahaha. Can you believe it?
Them: [Blank stare.]

(“This one time…at college…we created stair sledding. It was the funniest thing EVER!”
[Blank stare.])

I began to have questions that they not only didn’t share—they didn’t want to share:

Me: Why didn’t Paul seem to know anything about the Jesus of the Gospels?
Them: Look, all I want to know is how to apply Paul’s doctrine to my life.

I don’t want to give the impression my journey is somehow better or more full than theirs. It is just…different. As if we were on a train, and I took a side-track. I’m seeing different scenery, going to different places. They are perfectly happy on their track (seeing things I am not), with their friends, and their scenery and stops. They would love to have me re-join the train, but have no interest in joining my side-track. Their life is complete without it.

With these two divergent courses, relationships will suffer, wither and end. They don’t want me to be friend—they want me to be convert. And, to be honest, how much do I want their friendship if I find myself stifling my curiosity, and censuring my statements around them? What kind of friendship is that?—I could do that with any acquaintance.

Facebook has brought this into sharp focus. Having joined many of my former friends, I get to see status updates and posts:

“We went to the Doctor and received a prescription for Tommy’s sickness. Isn’t God great?”
(Me [to myself]: Griznitmicklemuph…)

“Hey! Here’s a great video about how Einstein bested an atheist professor on the question of God. Einstein was only 2 1/2.”
(Me [to myself]: GrizNITMICKLemuph…)

“Why do those atheists have to put ads on buses?”

And if I dare respond…carefully couching it in the most innocuous, harmless, questioning tone possible…I hear that AOL voice, “You’ve been defriended!”

So what—I was defriended by plenty long before Facebook developed it. Ha!

I find my laughter, my talks, my relaxation amongst those I can share new experiences together. Time to look back on those former friends with fond memories of good times with a smile, and look forward to new friends and more good times and a grin.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mary and James

Our discussion regarding Women at the Tomb mentioned two Mary’s, both with sons named James. I thought I would put a place marker here for the Mary’s and James’ in the New Testament.

1. Mary – mother of Jesus. Wife of Joseph. Sister of Mary (2). Mother of James, Joses, Judas, Simon and at least two daughters (Mark 6:3) Born 20-6 BCE (depending on Matthew’s date of 4 BCE for Jesus’ birth, as compared to Luke’s date of 6 CE, and her age), last mention at Upper Room prior to Pentecost. (Acts 1:14) Age at least 43 at time of crucifixion, would have been 83+ for the Temple fall and around time of first Gospel.

I’m sorry. The next bit gets confusing because of the possible names. There are two Mary’s named which could either be the same Mary….or be two different Mary’s. I tried to list both possibilities.

2. Mary* – sister of Mary (1). Wife of Cleophas (John 19:25) Possibly Mother of James the Lesser (9)

3. Mary* – Mother of James the Lesser (9) and Joses (Mark 15:40.) Wife of Alphaeus. (Mark 3:18) Possibly mother of Levi (Mark 2:14). Assuming Levi is Matthew (Matt. 10:3), then possibly mother of Matthew. Saw Crucifixion (Mark 15:40). Visited tomb on Resurrection Sunday. (Mark 16:1; Matt. 28:1) Saw Resurrected Jesus (Matt. 28:9-10) contra, See Gospel of John does not list this Mary at the tomb or seeing Resurrected Jesus.

*I apologize for the confusion here, but due to the plausible overlap of names, there are certain possibilities to discuss. It is argued Cleophas is the Aramaic form of the Greek Alphaeus, and hence these are the same person.

That would make Mary (wife of Cleophas/Alphaeus) both the mother of James the Lesser (9) and Joses, as well as the sister of Mary (1), Mother of Jesus. Do you follow that? Mary (1) (Jesus’ mom) had sons named James(10) and Joses, additionally she had a sister named Mary (2) who also had sons named James(9) and Joses.

It gets worse. Mark’s Gospel records the story of Jesus interacting with a tax collector by the name of Levi, son of Alphaeus. (Mark 2:14) Subsequently, Mark lists Jesus’ disciples, naming one “James, the son of Alphaeus.” (Mark 3:18) This disciple is traditionally called “James the Lesser” (9) to differentiate him from James, (11) the son of Zebedee.

What Mark does not tell us is whether James the Lesser, son of Alphaeus (9) is the same or a brother or even related to Levi, son of Alphaeus. Now is when it gets tricky. Let’s follow this story through the Synoptic Gospels.

Matthew decides to insert his own name, “Matthew” instead of Levi when he recounts the tax collector’s tale. (Matt. 9:9)** He drops “son of Alphaeus” when referring to Levi/Matthew.

**Yes, I am aware Matthew is not the author, but I am trying to keep this as simple as I can.

Luke goes back to “Levi” when discussing this tax collector (Luke 5:27) and also drops “son of Alphaeus.” If you are totaled confused, it is as follows:

Mark – Levi, son of Alphaeus
Matthew – Matthew
Luke – Levi

Therefore, if one is proposing a resolution that Alphaeus and Cleophas were one and the same, AND Matthew is the same as Levi, AND the Levi/Matthew son of Alphaeus is a brother to James the Lesser (9), this would make:

Mary (1) – mother of Jesus, James (10) and Joses
sister to:
Mary (2 & 3) – mother of James (9), Joses and Matthew.

Jesus would have a mother named Mary (1), an aunt named Mary (2 & 3), a brother named James (10), a cousin named James (9) [also a disciple] and a cousin named Levi/Matthew [also a disciple.] Plus a brother named Joses and a cousin named Joses.

I should note that Bauckham does not believe Alphaeus and Cleophas are the same.

4. Mary Magdalene – At the crucifixion (Mark 15:40; John 19:25) Saw Jesus buried. (Mt. 27:56; Mark 15:47). Visited tomb Resurrection Morning. (Mark 16:1; Mt. 18:1) Saw post-resurrection Jesus. (John 20:11-18) contra, See Mt. 28:9-10 where it implies she saw resurrection Jesus, but this fails to align with John’s Gospel. Only Luke records Jesus removed seven demons from her. (Luke 8:2)

5. Mary of Bethany – sister to Martha, sister to Lazarus. (John 11:1) The woman who anointed Jesus. (John 11:2, see Mark 14:1-9) See also Luke 10:38 – 42 that records the story of a Mary living with her sister Martha. However, there is no mention of Lazarus, and Luke names the place “a certain village;” not Bethany, despite being aware of where Bethany was. Luke 19:29; 24:50. This is possibly two different Mary’s.

6. Mary - mother of John Mark. (Acts. 12:12)

7. Mary - in Rome, worked with Paul. (Rom. 16:6)

8. Intentionally left blank.

9. James the Lesser – son of Alphaeus, son of Mary (3), possibly cousin to James (10). Called “the Lesser” to differentiate from other disciple named James (11). (Mark 3:18; Matthew 10:3; Luke 6:15) Never listed in John. Nothing beyond being in the list of disciples..

10. James the Just – Brother to Jesus. Mother is Mary (1), Aunt is Mary (2) and possibly Aunt is Mary (3). If Aunt is Mary (3) AND Cleophas is same as Alphaeus, would be cousin to James the Lesser (9) (Mark 6:3; Matt. 13:55) I discuss the growing myth within the Tales of James’ martyrdom here. (Luke 8:19; John 7:3-5; Acts 1:14)

Curiously, only Matthew and Mark name him as a brother to Jesus, (See Gal. 1:19). Luke & John indicate interaction between Jesus and “his brothers” but never names any of them. (Luke 8:19; John 7:3-5; Acts 1:14) Also note Acts indicates a “James” as a leader in the church, but does not indicate he is related to Jesus. Traditionally claimed to be the author of the Epistle of James, but does not indicate such in the book. James 1:1. Brother to Jude (Jude 1)?

Listed in the Gospel of Thomas to be the leader of the Church. (Thomas 12)

11. James the son of Zebedee (Mark 3:17) One of the three insider disciples (with Peter and his brother John) Killed by Agrippa I (Acts 12:2) between 41 – 44 C.E. (Note: the Bible calls this king “Herod” whereas his name was “Agrippa.”)

12. James, father of Judas (not Iscariot). Note this particular disciple named “Judas” is not listed in Mark or Matthew but is listed in both Luke and John. (Luke 6:16; John 14:22 ) I discuss the varying the disciples’ name here.

I’m not making any particular argument, this is more reference material. I may add information later, as I come across it.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect is how difficult it is to narrow down the names. As if the people knew there was a Mary somewhere, and a James, but not quite certain as to who they were in relation to the actual people. Some interesting points:

1. There is no James listed in the Gospel of John. Although the “brothers of Jesus” are referred to, as well as the “sons of Zebedee,” even the other Judas, son of James—the name “James” does not appear.

2. Mary Magdalene is the only Mary listed in all four Gospels. She is not mentioned again.

3. John lists Jesus’ mother’s sister as “Mary”—not Jesus’ mother. Why is it the Johannine community did not know Jesus’ brother’s name, nor Jesus’ mother’s name?

4. Only Luke and John list “Mary and Martha”—although it is possible these were two different Mary’s (and two different Martha’s). (Luke does not record them from Bethany, does not indicate this was the person who anointed Jesus, and does not list Lazarus, her brother.)

5. Although Acts lists a James becoming prominent in the church, it does not list him as Jesus’ brother. (Luke would have had a copy of Mark. Either he must have known the name, OR the name of James being Jesus’ brother was added in a later copy of Mark, after Luke’s copy.)

You may know the argument Gal. 1:19, where Paul says “James, brother of the Lord” was merely a designation of comradeship—not an actual fraternal relationship—just like Christians still call each other “brother” and “sister.” I’m not convinced…yet…but Luke and John not listing “James” when referring to Jesus’ brother is troubling.

Monday, March 08, 2010

…you might be an anti-theist

Apparently there is a poster entitled: Top Ten Signs you are an Unquestioning Christian. I perceive it to be intended as semi-humorous/semi-serious. Along the lines of Jeff Foxworthy’s famous, “You might be a redneck.” A hint of truth amongst the parody.

The Pyromaniacs Blog is responding to each of these. Curiously, they recognize the use of parody (it was from their blogs I saw the Foxworthy angle), yet they decided to address them as literal arguments.

This was all brought to my attention by Stan’s counter of Ten Signs You are an Unquestioning Anti-theist:
10. You cannot recognize the simple, logical, undeniable fact that if there is one, true God, all other gods would be false.

9. You find ultimate value in creatures you are quite sure evolved by chance from a pool of chemicals.

8. You reject any evidence and logic that is contrary to your view because you are a person that only accepts evidence and logic.

7. You make Christian beliefs a matter of ridicule without subjecting other religions or even your own beliefs to the same standards.

6. You are confident that you know more about Christianity than the average "Christian".

5. You are quite sure that science, history, geology, biology, and physics have disproven the existence of God.

4. You have comfort to offer in times of death and suffering even though there is no overarching basis for such comfort.

3. You believe that faith in science is reasonable, but faith in God is believing something when there is no reason to believe it.

2. You are comfortable claiming that life is meaningful when you're convinced that humans are biochemical bags who cease to exist at death.

1. You hold that there is no "Supreme Moral Agent", but affirm that there are moral atrocities that occur and moral values that all of us should have.

I thought of responding to each one, but then I would be as guilty as the Pyromaniacs for taking these literally, when they are given tongue-in-cheek. Yet presumably there is some truth being claimed. And perhaps they are NOT given as a parody, and meant to be firm statements. Can’t tell.


Friday, March 05, 2010

You’re an atheist because you are ugly

Well. This is a new one on me. I’ve been accused of deconverting because I want to sin, because the devil is tricking me, because I wasn’t a Christian in the first place, etc. This is the first time (that I know) I’ve been accused of becoming an atheist because of my looks!

Detroit has joined the campaign where secular groups hire advertisements on the sides of buses. The Oakland Press wrote an article on it. Three great quotes have come from this article. (The first one was in a comment that has subsequently been removed, but luckily was quoted by another person later.):

Atheists are hilarious. They are just angry virgin nerds who are upset because their mom made them go to church when they were kids. Most atheists grow out of this silly little crusade against mommy and daddy if they are fortunate to touch a girl. But given the fact that there is no such thing as a physically attractive atheist, it is rare to find someone who will put up with one considering their awful personalities

Sorry Kinae, but it's all about sex. As soon as atheists get their v-cards punched they tend to drop the teen angst and stop spouting off about "xtians" and "logic" on the internet. Like I said though, that's pretty rare since as Darwin said, organisms tend to look for mates with desirable traits. Being fat, greasy, smelly acne riddled nerds does not qualify atheists as desirable.

40 million atheists in the USA? That sounds entirely plausible given the high levels of obesity amongst young people and teens in the USA.

Who dares argue against impenetrable logic like that?