Saturday, October 20, 2007

Taking a Piss?

"Drink water from your own cistern, flowing from your own well." (Proverbs 5:15)

"But the Rabshakeh said, "Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the people sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and drink their own urine?" (Isaiah 36:12; see also 2 Kings 18:27)
When BuzzFeed alerted me this morning to the new urine therapy "trend" (teenagers, bless 'em, they'll do anything to get rid of acne), I knew that there had to be some Bible bending afoot.

Sure enough, the first (and most compressive) site, SkepDic, welcomed me with the above Bible quotes. Robert Todd Carroll approaches the issue with the best kind of holistic medicine: a dose of scientific and historical analysis (though I do not know how many of us needed any evidence to ignore this trend). Still, it had me thinking about how bizarre trends find footing in the Bible.

Take, for instance, that first quote from Proverbs. As SkepDic points out, it is probably a message of remaining faithful to your spouse, but you have to admit, it works in favor of urine therapy activists. And there are many passages with mention of excrements, such as when God advises the Israelites to eat bread made of excrement when mingling with the Gentiles (Ezekiel 4:10-17) and commands that feces should be spread over disobedient Israelite's food (Malachi 2:1-3).

Then there is the strange-sounding exaltations of Isaiah 16:11 that in the King James Version reads: "Wherefore my bowels shall sound like an harp for Moab, and mine inward parts for Kirharesh;" but in the New International Version sounds far more innocuous: "My heart laments for Moab like a harp, my inmost being for Kir Hareseth." So if I were to whip up a religious sect in my laboratory today, using only the King James Version as a guide, I could produce Flatulence for Jehovah, perhaps in the style of the Whirling Dervishes.

Yes, bodily functions are funny; and yes, suggesting a religious off-shoot that utilizes them for worship is offensive, but what is important is understanding the diversity among and within bibles. For that reason, the Bible has become more of a Rorschach test than anything else and its proving that there are some interesting personalities looking into it.

The image above is from Dan Savage's column in the The Stranger, Seattle's only newspaper.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible

It doesn't get much better than this folks.

A. J. Jacobs, who is Jewish "in the same way that the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant," challenges himself to live up to biblical standards for one year without being "picking and choosing." After all, 33 percent (ahem, excuse me, 63 percent; no, 55 percent!) of the American population believe in the Bible literally. But what would it mean to live the Bible literally?

That means Jacobs not only honored his father and mother and refrained from murdering anyone, but he grew a beard, bathed after sex, declined fruit from a tree less than five years old, and did not mix linen with wool. And Jacobs tries to answer all those biblical-scholar-pleasing bits too, like which Bible he should use, what does it mean to take the Bible literally, and should he obey the Old Testament, the New Testament or could he obey both?

Most of all, Jacobs approaches the task he sets for himself with empathy and humor. He speaks with all sorts of people who try to live out the Bible literally from the Amish to the ultra-Orthodox to Pat Robertson. So take my words literally: read this book.

Want more?:

Stephen Colbert for President

Stephen Colbert announced his run for presidency Tuesday night* on his own "prestigious show" after a teasing on "The Daily Show" Fred Thompson/Al Gore/Newt Gingrich-style a half hour before. But the most revealing moment of what Colbert has to offer the 2008 presidential election was his Op-ed piece in the New York Times this Sunday.

This Bible-bending gem speaks for itself:
Look at the moral guidance I offer. On faith: “After Jesus was born, the Old Testament basically became a way for Bible publishers to keep their word count up.” On gender: “The sooner we accept the basic differences between men and women, the sooner we can stop arguing about it and start having sex.” On race: “While skin and race are often synonymous, skin cleansing is good, race cleansing is bad.” On the elderly: “They look like lizards."

*This post originally and incorrectly stated that Colbert made his announcement "yesterday."

Even the Bible Says so!

I imagine every journalist has three books sitting on their desk: a thesaurus, a dictionary, and a Bible: a thesaurus when you want a better word, a dictionary when you don't know what it means, and a Bible when you want to show that your idea is tried-and-true.

And that is exactly what the New York Times did in a brief article article on the evolutionary function of Grandmothers. Think that grandma's are a product of twentieth-century nutrition? the article asks. Think again:
Plenty of women were living well past age 40, Dr. Hawkes said. Even the Bible recognized that women can live well beyond their fertile years, NAMS executive director Dr. Wulf Utian noted.
See? even the Bible had grandmas. It is a good thing that journalists have their Bibles, or we might not have a cultural history to turn to when we need to check where we are in relationship to where we were. And this is exactly, possibly the only, bible bending we should allow.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Distinguishing between Bibles

The Dallas News ran a brief article this morning on the differences between Bibles. It is not perfect--there is no critical analysis of the versions and it is far from comprehensive--but it is good to see a local newspaper rolling up their sleeves and providing a little scholarly context to the Bible. Smart move too, since Americans care about their Bibles a lot.

Here is a nice comparison they made:

John 6:56
King James Version: He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.

New International Version: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.

English Standard Version: Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.

New Revised Standard Version: Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood
abide in me, and I in them.

New Living Translation: All who eat my flesh and drink my blood remain in me, and I in them.

1 Corinthians 1:30
King James Version: But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.

New International Version: It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God­that is, our righteousness, holiness and

English Standard Version: And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,

New Revised Standard Version: He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption,

New Living Translation: God alone made it possible for you to be in Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made Christ to be wisdom itself. He is the one who made us acceptable to God. He made us pure and holy, and he gave himself to purchase our freedom.

Bring it on "God of the Bible"

I often come across letters to the editor in the Jamaica Gleaner that reference the Bible in response to any number of issues from gambling, to abortion, to child-raising, and elections. But this letter in response to the death penalty struck me as particularly odd:

Associate Pastor Daren S. Larmond, in a Gleaner letter, argued, "Death is not a
penalty. Death is an easy way out" and asking, "why should we kill a man for
killing a man?" He added the perennial adage that, "no evidence exists that capital punishment is a deterrent to murderers".

From whence the idea of life for life came into human societies? Well, blame the God of the Bible. Because, He did tell Noah, "I will demand an accounting for (taking) the life of his fellowman. "Whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed" (Gen 9: 5-6) He later delivered to Moses his command to His people, "Thou shall not murder" (Deut 5:17) Jesus, the victim of capital punishment, made it clear
that "anyone who murders will be subject to the judgement" (of both the Sanhedrin and God's final punishment) (Matt 5:22).

As the God of the Bible, beginning with His experimental nation Israel, shaped the type of earthly Kingdom to come, He prescribed civil laws to rid His people of by death or banishment, gross delinquents, including murderers. God is not squeamish and He is certainly no bleeding heart, He sets up earthly authorities, and yes, some are corrupt and unjust, but He "demands an accounting for taking the life of a fellowman".

I have read through this letter over and over again trying to understand the position of this writer. Is the author responding critically to Father Larmond with a "don't complain about the death penalty; it is the God you preach about that commanded it!"? Or is the author saying, "like it or not, the death penalty is God's will"? The use of the phrase "God of the Bible" has me thinking the former but there is a note of satisfaction in the author's last paragraph that reveals something of the cowboy ethic we have become accustom to in the US.

Isn't it odd that I cannot tell the difference between an apologist and a cheeky critic? Perhaps the author, Claude Wilson, will respond?

UPDATE: Claude Wilson responded to my post and with his permission, here is his response:
Without getting into Philosphical debate. Noticed I did not played my hand pro or anti Capital Punishment. Those against told me off, called me name in their e-mails this morning. some commended me becausr they are pro CP. The letter answered a pastor of a Christain church who asked where did man's idea of taking a life for a life came from. A pastor of the Bible, should not have phrased the question that way. So, I merely pointed to the Scriptures in the bible, and in a small way, outline the bible's justification. That was the point of the latter.
When I wrote for the same Gleaner they had requested a story from me about Capital Punishment in the Bible. I outlined them but alas the same Bible shows that despite the penalty it was difficult to be executed. The witnesses had to tell the exact story and if the evidence cannot stand up it would be imprisonment for that witness. So in most cases Capital Punishment was not carried out. But, the law was on hte books as the penalty.
Light reading of the bible is given to erronous ideas, one responded took me on, not about CP, but it was absurd to say Jesus died via CP, so what was it?
A part of the letter was editted out as the Pastor beleived that the murderers should be tried, condemned ant out to work with our National Solid Waste company.That is absurbed.

An Atheist Fascination with the Bible

Today in Salon, Steve Paulson interviewed cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker and novelist and philosopher Rebecca Goldstein. The couple shared their thoughts on language and realism and finally outed themselves as atheist. Paulson followed-up their admission with a question similar to the one that Freakonomics author Steven Levitt asked a month ago. You can find the Bible Bending Watchdog's answer to why Bible-bashers are bestsellers here.

I find it puzzling how the recent atheist manifestos by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens have all turned into bestsellers in a country that's overwhelmingly religious. According to various polls, half of all Americans believe the Bible is the literal truth. A recent Newsweek poll found that 91 percent believe in God. How do you explain the enormous popularity of these books?

PINKER: Part of it is that the people who buy books -- at least that kind of highbrow trade book -- are not a random sample of the population. The opinions sampled by these polls are probably soft. When people are asked a question, they don't just turn
a flashlight into their data bank of beliefs and read out what they see. When people say, "Yes, I believe in God and the Bible," they're kind of saying, "I'm a moral person. I have solidarity with the community of churchgoers that I was brought up in and that I currently belong to." I think that if you were to probe a lot of people's religious opinions, they would not be as religious as the numbers would suggest.

GOLDSTEIN: It would be fascinating, though, to see a poll of the people who are buying the new atheist books and see how they are answering these questions.

PINKER: Well, the question often arises whether these authors are preaching to the choir. Especially since these books make no concessions toward religious sensibilities. It's a full-throated intellectual assault on the concept of God. My sense is that the books are really not aimed at the 91 percent of the people you cited who believe in God, but rather at some minority of people who are wavering, who've been brought up in a religious way but now have some private doubts. They perhaps think that confessing to being an atheist is like confessing to being a child molester. So they're not willing to even think those thoughts. Then they come across a book that seems to vindicate all of their doubts. And that tortured minority of reflective, analytic people
from a religious background -- perhaps like Rebecca from her religious background -- are who the books are aimed at. Julia Sweeney's one-woman show, "Letting Go of God," would be representative of the kind of person whose mind could be changed by a book like that.