Posts Tagged “abrahamic faiths”

Sacrifice of Isaac-Caravaggio (Uffizi)The co-called “Binding of Isaac” (which I think ought to be called “the near-murder of Isaac,” since that more clearly describes the event) is one of those pivotal Bible passages that carries a lot more meaning and significance than one would think a mere 18 or 19 verses would seem to. This story, which comprises the majority of Genesis 22, tells how Abraham nearly killed his own son Isaac because his deity, YHWH, had demanded he do so. Just as Abraham was about to plunge a knife into Isaac, YHWH — satisfied his minion had demonstrate a willingness to kill his own son for him — provided a ram as an alternative sacrifice, saving the boy at the very last minute.

This story exemplifies the sociopathy of the Old Testament deity and the murderous demands he made of his earthly followers … which would, later, go far beyond merely asking for one boy to be killed, extending to genocide orders (such as instructing King Saul to exterminate the Amalekites).

Most followers of the Abrahamic religions don’t consider this a serious problem. Their apologists have surmised — even though nothing to this effect can be found anywhere in Genesis — that Abraham knew, in advance, that YHWH would either intervene before he had a chance to kill Isaac, or that YHWH would resurrect Isaac afterward, had Abraham actually executed him. (This latter supposition, for instance, is mentioned in Hebrews 11:17-19.)

Judeo-Christian-Islamic thinkers have pontificated endlessly over how wonderful it was that Abraham had so much faith in his deity that he was willing to kill his son on his orders (appearing not to realize that praising Abraham for this degree of faith contradicts the idea just mentioned that he’d merely been “going through the motions” of showing he was willing to kill his son, knowing the whole thing wasn’t serious). They seriously wonder if they ought to have that much faith themselves, and try to put themselves in Abraham’s shoes — and, one assumes, would do the same if they’d been asked.

Sadly, WPEC-TV in West Palm Beach, FL reports that one devout Christian woman decided to take this “test of faith” herself (WebCite cached article). She appears to have passed it, at the expense of two children:

Right now police are investigating whether a bible verse drove a woman to allegedly kill her ex-partner’s 2-year-old daughter and attempt to kill the girl’s 10-year-old brother.…

A local pastor is nearly speechless Tuesday night as Kymberley Dawn Lucas, a member of her congregation, is spending her first night inside the Palm Beach county jail.

Lucas is accused of killing her ex-partner’s 2-year-old daughter Elliana and attempting to kill the girl’s brother 10-year-old Ethan.

According to a newly released police report, inside the Jupiter home, police found a computer left on with a message for whoever found it.

WPEC has a copy of this note on their Web site, if you can stomach reading it.

Perhaps the worst part about this, though, is the reaction of this murderously-religious woman’s friends and fellow congregants. The minister whose sermon on “the binding of Isaac” apparently triggered it, doesn’t seem to have a grasp of what happened, and is unapologetic:

The pastor at Metropolitan Community church stands with the heartbroken family, and she stands by that sermon talking about biblical sacrifice.

Pastor Dr. Lea Brown, “It’s what I was called to do, there’s no way anyone could have predicted this.”

For thousands of years, the Abrahamic God’s followers have raved fanatically about how magnificent it was of Abraham to have had so much faith in their deity that he’d nearly slaughtered his own son on the deity’s orders … yet now, they pretend not to know why one of their own wanted to try the same stunt, herself?

Seriously!? This surprises them? How and why would it? What surprises me is that this hasn’t happened more often. Instead of feigning befuddlement, maybe it’s time for Christians … both within Palm Beach’s Metropolitan Community Church and elsewhere … to rethink just how sanctified and virtuous they think the near-sacrifice of Isaac was.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Hat tip: Raw Story.

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Crying… you end up facing a situation that very well might cost millions of lives, and for no discernible, rational reason. The trifecta of Israel, Iran and the Right within the United States is rapidly reaching this point. It would have been hilariously funny, if not for the fact that it might lead to a latter-day holocaust.

First, we have Iran, which is led by a furiously religionistic cast-eyed freak known as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who can’t seem to get over the fact that a Jewish state exists, several hundred miles from his own borders. As the New York Times reports, he’s come to the Big Apple this week to spew yet more of his juvenile anti-Semitic rants (WebCite cached article):

Defying a warning by the United Nations secretary general against inflammatory remarks, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran said Monday that Israelis had no historical roots in the Middle East and that the existence of Israel was just a passing phase in the region’s long history. …

At the breakfast meeting, he said that the Israelis had been around the region for only 60 or 70 years, in contrast to the Iranians, whose civilization has existed for thousands of years.

“They have no roots there in history,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said of the Israelis, according to Reuters.

This is, of course, a lie. DNA studies have shown that modern Jews do, in fact, have Middle Eastern roots. I’m sure Iran’s cast-eyed freak — and pretty much every other anti-Semite on the planet — would dismiss these DNA studies as products of the pervasive and evil “Jewish cabal” that controls the planet … but paranoiac thinking like that is par for the course, for this childish crew, so one can hardly expect otherwise.

So this is hardly the first time he’s unleashed this kind of tantrum and it certainly won’t he the last. However, this little childish antic has been compounded by another episode of juvenile religionism, and that is, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s desire to nuke Iran because it appears they may have a slim chance of someday creating a workable nuclear weapon, as NPR reports (cached):

During a joint press conference in Jerusalem with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, Netanyahu expressed his frustration with how world powers are handling Iran and its nuclear program.

“The world tells Israel ‘wait, there’s still time’. And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?’ Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel,” Netanyahu said.

It doesn’t matter to Bibi, I guess, that Iran’s nuclear program is, in a word, delicate … so delicate that cyberattacks like Stuxnet and Flame have been able to derail it. Oh no. The fact that Iran’s cast-eyed freak has been rattling his saber for the last few years, is all Bibi needs to tell him that his country is only 10 seconds away from nuclear extinction at Iran’s hands. That Bibi is motivated to nuke Iran, by militant religionists within his own country, is something he’d never admit to … even though it’s true.

Now, added to all of this tension — which all by itself is sufficient to ignite a war that no rational person should wish be fought — we have a third party intruding on it, scrapping for a fight at all costs. That would be America’s Right, which is absolutely enraged that President Barack Obama insolently chose not to meet with Bibi, presumably in order to get his blessing for Israel’s nuking of Iran (cached). (Memo to the Religious Right: No, Obama does not have to meet with Bibi just ’cause Bibi asked to meet with him. The leader of the free world gets to choose who he meets with, and when. He is at no one’s beck and call … not even the Israeli Prime Minister’s.)

Because of the R.R.’s sanctimonious outrage over this, Mitt Romney, GOP presidential candidate and current commander-in-chief of the Religious Right’s political arm, is also aching to start a war in the Middle East, as CNN reports (cached):

“Tonight on 60 Minutes, President Obama called Israel’s legitimate concern about the impact of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons ‘noise’ and referred to Israel as merely ‘one of our closest allies in the region,’” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul.

Saul continued in the statement: “This is just the latest evidence of his chronic disregard for the security of our closest ally in the Middle East. Governor Romney’s views stand in sharp contrast to the President’s. Governor Romney strongly believes that Israel is our most important ally in the Middle East and that support for Israel is essential to extending freedom, peace and democracy throughout the region. As president, Governor Romney will restore and protect the close alliance between our nation and the state of Israel.”

It’s not true that a war between Israel and Iran could ever be in the best interest of the U.S., and there’s no valid reason Americans should ever want one, so long as there are alternatives available (cached). But in order to appeal to the evangelical Christians here … who’ve been itching to ignite Armageddon and usher in the return of their precious Jesus … Romney is forced to agitate for a war he knows would be bad for the U.S.

What a fucking joke this all is. And it’s all useless and pointless. It’s only come about because of the militant religionism that comes from the Abrahamic faiths. There’s no rational reason for any of this tension.

Isn’t it time for the world’s leaders to just fucking grow the hell up already and get over their militant religionism? I’ve had enough of your goddamn infantile tantrums, fercryinoutloud.

Photo credit: Clover_1, via Flickr.

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Michelangelo's "God", from "the Creation of Adam"Every time some hideous catastrophe takes place in the occidental world, inevitably, people start musing about “where God was” while it was going on. I’ve noticed this has been particularly common in regard to the Aurora massacre that happened just over a week ago. CNN’s Belief blog alone has hosted multiple postings which ask this one question … but that’s hardly the only place. The media and the blogosphere are literally choked with people asking that question. Last Sunday, preachers and pastors around the country were (trying to) answer it for their flocks during their sermons, and I assume are still trying to do so.

I tangentially mentioned that particular question myself, just a few days ago — so I have to confess, even I have stumbled into it. Given how frequently this question has come up, I’ve decided I must address it a little more directly.

The question, “Where God was during the Aurora massacre?” is a direct consequence of “the problem of evil” which lies at the philosophical heart of the Abrahamic faiths.

Elsewhere I’ve devoted an entire Web page to this particular dilemma. To keep it brief, the problem lies in the fact that the Abrahamic faiths believe in a creator deity which is simultaneously omnipotent (i.e. having the power to do anything s/he/it wants), omniscient (i.e. knowing everything that can be known: past, present, and future alike), and benevolent (i.e. wanting there to be no suffering on the part of anyone). In spite of this supposed combination of traits, though, we know that this deity’s creation contains suffering … a lot of it. Over the centuries many theodicies have been proposed to explain how this presumed creator deity can have all three of these traits yet still there is a lot of suffering. All of those theodicies, however, fail the test of logic, because they all fail to take into account the absolute nature of the three traits the Abrahamic deity is assumed to possess, as well as his role as the creator of the universe.

The one most apologists use is the “free will” theodicy, or the claim that the creator has given humanity “free will,” so that each of us can do whatevever s/he wishes at any time, and said deity refuses to do anything about it … hence there is suffering in the world that God cannot prevent. Unfortunately this fails for three reasons: First, not all suffering is even of human origin, so that someone’s presumed “free will” played no role in it and cannot have caused it. Second, that creator deity is believed to have intervened in human affairs many times in history and has gone so far as to order people around; clearly he is not some kind of remote spectator-being who’s philosophically opposed to getting involved in people’s decisions and unwilling to get in their way. Third, as the creator, he must have known how his creation would turn out; he must have known in advance what everyone would do; he must have known there would be widespread suffering for uncountable billions of people over many generations; yet — despite knowing all of this prior to the moment of creation — he created the universe anyway.

Ultimately, a truly omnipotent and omniscient being can never be absolved of any responsibility for what he creates; if he exists, and if he created this universe, he and he alone is responsible for everything that ever happens in it. Those who are part of that creation can, at best, only be secondary agents — since he created them as they are, and they did not create themselves. In the end, simply put, it is logically impossible for the creator of the universe we live in — which has suffering in it — to simultaneously be omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent. It just doesn’t work.

The curious thing about the problem of evil is, as soon as you take the Abrahamic deity’s presumed benevolence out of the equation, the rest of it actually becomes logically tenable. Removing his omnipotence or omniscience tends not to work so well: If you assume the creator was less-than-omnipotent, you’re still left with a creator who made a universe he knew would get out of his control and have suffering in it that he couldn’t do anything about; and even if the deity was less-than-omniscient, he still must have had some idea that he was risking creating a universe that might have suffering in it. So even taking either or both of those out, you’re still left with a creator-being who must have behaved in a less-than-totally-benevolent manner.

While this is coolly logical, it unfortunately does not fit with prevailing notions about the Abrahamic faiths. Most Jews, Christians and Muslims are unnerved even to consider that the deity they worship might be something other than benevolent. Some are willing to dispense with his omnipotence or omniscience (e.g. Harold Kushner, author of the best-selling When Bad Things Happen to Good People), but for the most part they simply refuse even to entertain the idea that their creator deity could be anything less than loving and compassionate.

Thus, as far as I’m concerned, for followers of the Abrahamic faiths to have to ask themselves, “Where was God during the Aurora massacre?” just provides more evidence of the inherent, undeniable absurdity of their beliefs. They shouldn’t even be asking it! What they should be asking — instead — is, “Why do I believe in a creator-deity to whom tradition assigns a combination of traits that logic tells me he can’t possibly have?”

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Mordechai Jungreis, right, walks his mentally disabled son, 16, home from school in Brooklyn. (James Estrin/The New York Times)I blog often about the Roman Catholic Church’s worldwide child-abuse scandal. It may seem that I concentrate on Catholic cases at the expense of other institutions’ abuses. But I have mentioned other faiths’ abuses, and this blog post also concerns another religion. Worse than child abuse itself, is the manner in which religions close ranks around abusers. You see, it’s not only the Catholic Church that protects them; as the New York Times reports, it also happens in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities of New York (WebCite cached article):

The first shock came when Mordechai Jungreis learned that his mentally disabled teenage son was being molested in a Jewish ritual bathhouse in Brooklyn. The second came after Mr. Jungreis complained, and the man accused of the abuse was arrested.

Old friends started walking stonily past him and his family on the streets of Williamsburg. Their landlord kicked them out of their apartment. Anonymous messages filled their answering machine, cursing Mr. Jungreis for turning in a fellow Jew. …

Abuse victims and their families have been expelled from religious schools and synagogues, shunned by fellow ultra-Orthodox Jews and targeted for harassment intended to destroy their businesses. Some victims’ families have been offered money, ostensibly to help pay for therapy for the victims, but also to stop pursuing charges, victims and victims’ advocates said.

That’s right, the abuse victims’ families are victimized a second time, merely for having stood up to the abusers. Wonderful, eh?

The retribution against the reporters of abuse has had some unfortunate ramifications:

When ultra-Orthodox Jews do bring abuse accusations to the police, the same cultural forces that have long kept victims silent often become an obstacle to prosecutions.

In Brooklyn, of the 51 molesting cases involving the ultra-Orthodox community that the district attorney’s office says it has closed since 2009, nine were dismissed because the victims backed out. Others ended with plea deals because the victims’ families were fearful.

“People aren’t recanting, but they don’t want to go forward,” said Rhonnie Jaus, a sex crimes prosecutor in Brooklyn.

The article is lengthy, and offers many examples of this kind of reprehensible behavior. It’s well worth reading to the end.

The article also mentions that the situation has begun to change. That’s all well and good, I suppose, but given that both Jews and Christians frequently sing the praises of their vaunted “Judeo-Christian ethics” and waltz around telling everyone else that only they have any morals, the fact that this could have happened at all, is telling: It tells me that theists may talk a good game of “morality,” but when it comes down to actually behaving morally … well, too often they can’t be bothered.

Sorry, but given situations such as this … wherein entire communities of people who belong to the same religion all behave in such a horrific manner … I am forced to conclude that the common theists’ claim that “religion makes morality” is, very clearly, nothing but fucking bullshit. It’s obvious these peoples’ religiosity did nothing to make them “moral” — just the opposite, in fact! What’s worse, the sense of righteousness that theists feel, actually prevents them from improving their behavior. Now more than ever, we need to stop giving theists the right to proclaim themselves morally superior to everyone else. Their hypocrisy really needs to end, and those of us who see it for what it is, must make it clear and stop giving them a “pass.”

Photo credit: James Estrin / New York Times.

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In the wake of the manner in which Christians — such as Marion “Pat” Robertson — have used the Haiti earthquake to advance their own agendas, scientist and outspoken critic of religion Richard Dawkins is using the comments of Christians — both Robertson’s, and those who try to distance themselves from him — to expose the reality of the religion they worship. In the Washington Post On Faith blog, he wrote (WebCite cached article):

Needless to say, milder-mannered faith-heads are falling over themselves to disown Pat Robertson, just as they disowned those other pastors, evangelists, missionaries and mullahs at the time of the earlier disasters.

What hypocrisy.

Loathsome as Robertson’s views undoubtedly are, he is the Christian who stands squarely in the Christian tradition. The agonized theodiceans who see suffering as an intractable ‘mystery’, or who ‘see God’ in the help, money and goodwill that is now flooding into Haiti , or (most nauseating of all) who claim to see God ‘suffering on the cross’ in the ruins of Port-au-Prince, those faux-anguished hypocrites are denying the centrepiece of their own theology. It is the obnoxious Pat Robertson who is the true Christian here.

Where was God in Noah’s flood? He was systematically drowning the entire world, animal as well as human, as punishment for ‘sin’. Where was God when Sodom and Gomorrah were consumed with fire and brimstone? He was deliberately barbecuing the citizenry, lock stock and barrel, as punishment for ‘sin’. Dear modern, enlightened, theologically sophisticated Christian, your entire religion is founded on an obsession with ‘sin’, with punishment and with atonement. Where do you find the effrontery to condemn Pat Robertson, you who have signed up to the obnoxious doctrine that the central purpose of Jesus’ incarnation was to have himself tortured as a scapegoat for the ‘sins’ of all mankind, past, present and future, beginning with the ‘sin’ of Adam, who (as any modern theologian well knows) never even existed?

The reality of Christianity is that sin, suffering, and retribution are central to everything about it, and Dawkins delivers this philosophical hammer-blow to Christians who would try to disavow Robertson:

Educated apologist, how dare you weep Christian tears, when your entire theology is one long celebration of suffering: suffering as payback for ‘sin’ – or suffering as ‘atonement’ for it? You may weep for Haiti where Pat Robertson does not, but at least, in his hick, sub-Palinesque ignorance, he holds up an honest mirror to the ugliness of Christian theology. You are nothing but a whited sepulchre.

Dawkins will, no doubt, be condemned for this confrontational piece, which is one of the harshest things I’ve read about Christianity, in the mass media, in a long time. (People seem to think that atheists like Dawkins are supposed to be meek, humble milquetoasts who cannot say anything even remotely mean about any religion … even though they, themselves, think nothing of deriding atheism, secularism, and other forms of non-belief.) But whatever the merits of Dawkins writing this confrontational piece may be, the fact remains that he is correct: Christian theology is predicated on viciousness and suffering, and revels in it. I have long argued that the God of all the Abrahamic faiths (i.e. Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition) can — logically — only be a malevolent being. It is not possible for him to be benevolent, as JCI worshippers assume him to be, nor is it possible even for him to be ambivalent or neutral. It’s heartening to see a public figure delivering a similar message.

Hat tip: Unreasonable Faith and the Friendly Atheist blogs.

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