Is the Bible the Good Book?

Today I was trying to get up to date with one of my favorite podcasts, Skepticality. I was listening to episode 67, where Swoopy interviews Michael Adelson. From the show's very notes "Mr. Adelson had the good fortune to study with the late Rabbi Sherwin Wine. Rabbi Wine founded Humanistic Judaism, a secular movement which provides atheistic and agnostic Jews around the world with a means for organization, mobilization, and a sense of community."

I found the interview very interesting especially because Mr. Adelson speaks about what Humanistic Judaism means and how they treat the Tora and the Bible. They regard the Tora, for instance, with the utmost respect and admiration, recognizing the cultural significance it holds for Jews. However, they don't lose sight of the fact that the Tora is a book, meaning that they feel free to agree with parts of it, admire parts of it and reject the parts that do not seem good.

These words resonated with me. I feel the same about the Bible. There are parts that are nice, parts that are admirable and some that are, well, not good. (How about Lot giving his young daughters away to an angry mob to be ravished? is that good and moral behaviour?) And one of the wonderful things I have experienced in the last year or so as an agnostic is the freedom to feel and judge these things in their proper, humanistic and historical context. Yes, some of the 10 commandments are good rules for social behaviour. But as Reggie Finley (the Infidel Guy) says, the commandment about not lusting for your neighbor's wife is just not fair to our human nature. I may not be able to avoid lusting for my neighbor's wife, teacher, colleague, friend, whoever, if I see her and I find her desirable. That is only human and we should not punish ourselves for that. (Now, acting on that lust is a completely different thing altogether but that is neither here nor now.)

There is no denying the large influence of Christianity and the Bible in our western civilization, as I have said before. We must acknowledge it and embrace it. It is here and it is part of our way of life and values, even for skeptics, agnostics and atheists. But the Bible is a book, written by humans, with all the errors and inconsistencies that come with human nature. Some of it is fiction, some romance, some poetry and some symbolic, almost none of it is a historical account.

As free thinkers, it is our duty to let people know that they can also embrace the freedom of being religion-free. I do not advocate Richard Dawkin's , Christopher Hitchens' or even Sam Harris' activism but I do believe everyone has an opinion to voice and defend. And ideas to get respect for while respecting others' own ideas.

Name change

As of today, I am changing my blog's name to thechapinskeptic. I have reserved the domain name and the forwarding will be ready very soon.

This reflects my intention to pursue more skeptical issues and my desire to correspond with a larger audience of skeptics.

I will try to let everyone I know has read my blog know that the address has changed.

Astrology as a consequence of antropocentric thinking

Last evening, we were laughing and discussing CBS' new show, The Big Bang Theory. I believe Sheldon's retort to Penny about her being a virgo (or whatever sign she indicated) is going to become a classic. She says (quote) "I am a virgo, which probably tells you more about me than you need to know" and he responds "yes, it tells me that you are part of a group of deluded people who think that the position of arbitrary sets of constellations in the sky, relative to the sun at the moment of their birth has influence on their life events" (or something like that). Of course, Penny being blond, she doesn't understand and Leonard saves the moment by saying "we thought you were a water sign".

Jokes aside, this exchange shows the lack of intellectual depth of many current adepts to astrology. And it got me thinking that the reason some people may have thought that the stars had any bearing or effect on their destiny was the thinking (wrong, of course) that the whole universe was created for the benefit of man. Thank religion for that.

This antropocentric view of the world is no longer sustainable in view of our current knowledge of the universe. How can we justify being we so important the whole firmament will align itself this way or that for our benefit?

I will agree that this carachterization I am making of astrology is a reductio ad absurdum. But isn't the whole deal an absurdity?

Is religion born of man's fear of death?

It has been about 40 days of my father's death and I have missed him every single one. In my view of the world, my father's existence has ended; he is gone forever and I will never see him again. That neither makes the pain of my loss worse or unbearable for me; death is a natural part of life and is what makes life so precious and valuable. Nor would christianity's promise of eternal life make it easier. I still would not get to talk to him on the phone or hug him when I visit.

I was thinking about this last night at New Year's Eve mass. (I continue to go to mass for my wife's sake and because I enjoy the community interaction). Everytime I hear priests and preachers talk, they mention eternal life and the bliss of enjoying heaven and it seems to me that men are driven to believe in God simply because they are afraid of dying.

This fear of dying coupled with the usual promise of "eternal life" that religions offer, drives people to believe in christianity, judaism, islamism, budism, whatever. The hope of trascending our short stay in this world plus the promise of a better life if you behave, especially if your current life is not as nice as you would like, is a powerful magnet to faith.

And this magnet may have been one of the reasons for christianity's success against competing creeds, way back then. At the beginning of christianity, many religions offered eternal life but price of admission was steep and usually reserved for the rich. Then come these christians saying that Jesus offers eternal life for everyone in exchange for just belief. It must have been very tempting compared to what the competition offered - pay and eternal life or believe in Christ and eternal life. The choice is obvious. Then all others followed suit. Eternal life is cheap now, even if your church requires tithing. But then, churches now offer you wealth and health in exchange for your monthly dues and the whole thing seems only fair.

I had a "near death" experience a couple of years ago. I choked and lost conciousness for a few seconds. It was a very disconcerting experience to regain the use of my senses and wonder "where am I and who am I?". But after that wore off, I realized I had no memory of what had happened. I was walking and coughing one moment and the next I was looking at my wife's worried face. But after that, I reflected on one very important thing: I didn't feel anything! I could have died and never notice. Death would not have been painful and it would have been very quick.

I agree that there most be very painful ways to die. But the moment of death itself is like falling asleep at night. One moment you are looking at your book in your hands, the next moment you wake up wondering why you did not turn off the light on the nightstand. Only when you die you don't awaken, obviously. But, as I have told my friends and family, nothing to be afraid of.

Enjoy life while you can and try to leave this a better world when you check out.