2 pointsMerry Christmas! At this time of year many people will read, or will have read in their presence, the following verses: Matthew 1:23 Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us). Isaiah 7:14: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Matthew 1:23 is of course a quote from Isaiah 7:14. Have you ever read all of Isaiah 7 and 8? The context is fascinating! Ahaz, king of Judah, has heard that Syria and Israel are planning to join forces and attack Judah. Ahaz isn't a good king, but Jehovah isn't ready for Judah to be destroyed, so the prophet Isaiah goes to him with a message. Isaiah tells Ahaz to ask for a sign, but Ahaz doesn't think it's a good idea to ask God for signs. Isaiah says "He's going to give you one, anyway!" Then comes the famous prophecy. Isaiah goes on to say (verse 16) " before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted." So a child will be born and before he's old enough to know right from wrong, Syria and Israel will not even exist as kingdoms any more! But the story continues in chapter 8. There, in verses 3 and 4, we see " 3 And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, 'Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz; 4 for before the boy knows how to cry ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.'" Are you familiar with this? There, right in the next chapter, the prophecy is fulfilled! But wait! Was Isaiah's wife a virgin? Are there two virgin births in the Bible? Here's where it gets tricky. I've discussed before how most of our Old Testament translations use the Masoretic Hebrew text as their source. The English Standard Version deviates from this in the case of Deuteronomy 32 because the Qumron text (aka "the Dead Sea Scrolls"), which are older, show the Septuagint (Greek language text used in the first century, which Jesus would have read from) to be correct. Well, Isaiah 7:14 is a place where every English version uses the Septuagint. The reason? That's what Matthew quoted. The actual Hebrew word in Isaiah 7:14 is almah, which means "young woman" (and possibly one that has never had a child). So Isaiah's wife wasn't a virgin, she was simply a young woman! But wait again! Why, then, does Matthew say "virgin"? If you read the Wikipedia link in the last paragraph, you'll see that the Septuagint used the word parthenos, which means "virgin." But that Greek word changed meaning over time, as words do. It was probably a perfectly good word translation when the Septuagint originated, but over time the meaning changed from "young woman who has never had a child" to "virgin." So there was never a prophecy that a virgin would be with child, but by the first century the Jews read this with the new meaning of the word and thought it must be about the messiah, since no virgin had ever borne a child. Somehow they ignored the context -- all of Isaiah 7 and 8 -- which shows the prophecy to have already been fulfilled. It couldn't have been fulfilled in their view, because they knew that Isaiah "went in" to his wife. "Ah!" you say, "but what about chapter 9?" "6For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upond his shoulder, and his name shall be callede Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. " This indeed seems to be speaking of a messiah who will lead Judah to become a power and to create peace forever. But keep reading: "8The Lord has sent a word against Jacob, and it will fall on Israel; 9and all the people will know, Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, who say in pride and in arrogance of heart: 10“The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place.” 11But the Lord raises the adversaries of Rezin against him, and stirs up his enemies. 12The Syrians on the east and the Philistines on the west devour Israel with open mouth. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still." It's still referring to the fall of Israel, only a few years from the time the sign is given. Judah was to have a messiah who would bring peace. Israel and Syria would fall, Judah would rise, and no-one would ever defeat them. Well, Israel and Syria did, indeed, disappear, but Judah never became independent, and the child born to the prophet never turned out to be a messiah. Judah became subject to Greece, then to Rome, and later (ironically, after the one Christians believe to be the messiah came) they ceased to exist, as well. Matthew 1:23 is the most foundational verse of the Gospel, the reason Christians in the first century (and today!) believed that Jesus was the messiah. (Actually, that's backwards. The story that Jesus was born of a virgin likely came about because people already believed that he was the messiah: Because they expected the messiah to be born of a virgin, a story arose about Mary and the Holy Spirit.) Yet the idea is predicated upon a word whose meaning had changed over the centuries. There is no Old Testament prophecy that the messiah would be born of a virgin... the whole foundation of Christianity is based on a mistaken belief by first century Jews. It's no wonder that today's Jews don't accept Jesus as the messiah... he doesn't fit what they find in their scriptures. Do you still believe this story is about Jesus? If so, why?
1 pointI posted in the forums about how my older son discovered the truth about the Bible after he decided he really needed to study more. He had managed to come out of the closet and, he thought, not destroy his relationships. Well, it turned out to be more complicated than that, and it got really complicated for me, as well. My son and his wife had a baby. They live in another town, and his in-laws live there, as well. So we went to see meet new granddaughter. They weren't at church that Sunday, and in fact left the hospital for home about the time of the evening service. My wife and I went to church. We noticed my son's father-in-law looking what we thought was his usual odd self. We didn't really want to talk to him because even though our son was accepted as a "visitor" and "former member" by the church, his father-in-law is one of the "church discipline" types who thinks you can't have anything at all to do with any Christian who is "living in sin," and that being a Christian who has rejected God is "living in sin." (In other words, there's no such thing as an "ex-Christian." If you leave, you're an "erring Christian.") So when it was over we answered a few questions about the baby for the people who were asking and congratulating us, and then we made our way to the car. We planned to pick up dinner and take it to our son's house. But father-in-law went out a side door and intersected our path! As he approached, making a bee-line for me, my wife congratulated him on the new granddaughter, which interrupted his train of thought. He turned to her and shook her and and said "you -- congratulations!" Then he turned to me, refusing my hand, and said "and you... I KNOW YOUR SECRET." I replied "ohhhh kay?" and we proceeded to the car. Boy, was my wife mad. I was shocked. How in hell did he know I was an atheist? It was a tough night, but I didn't really know that anything would come of it. Our son already had a chilly relationship with him. The following Wednesday night I went to Bible class, and as usually, afterwards took our older granddaughter outside to play. But a little while later one of the elders came out and found me, and asked if they could speak with me. I took my granddaughter to our other son and told him the elders wanted to see me, then I went to the room they were meeting in. Only two of the three were there. One of them said to me, quite sheepishly, really, that they had been told I had a blog called "The Closet Atheist." Well, of course, that was true, but in my shock I was able to act shocked enough to deny it and, I thought, seem believable. I asked what it was, and he started to explain to me what a blog was. When I said, no, I understood that, he told me how there were pages and pages of posts dating back several years. After attempting to deny it, they said that they weren't inclined to believe it, but that they felt they had to ask. I wandered out in a daze and went home. My wife hadn't gone that night and I didn't say anything to her. She was unaware of the blog. So, I need to back up a bit. When my son first indicated that he was doubting, he also implied that his wife was kind-of on board with him. That was wishful thinking. In an effort to be supportive (and, frankly, because I was so happy for him) I told him about the blog, and even said he could tell his wife about it. I wanted her to know that even if they didn't agree, that didn't mean he wasn't the person she married, and it didn't mean their marriage was over. The baby's birth was four month's away at this point, and it really seemed important that she not suffer any undue stress. In reality, the realization that there are no such things as gods shouldn't cause anything but joy in one's life, but when you have fundamentalist family, it isn't simple at all. I wanted to help. But his wife really still believed, and she's not one to keep secrets, so when conversing and seeking advice from her parents, she mentioned my blog. Later in the week the elders emailed me wanting to meet again. I had to tell her now, and she yelled at me about how naive I had been. She's never been more right. I trust people. My daughter-in-law loves me. She wasn't trying to sabotage me or betray me, yet that's exactly what she did. My honesty plus hers combined to start an avalanche. I didn't know whether to be relieved or scared to death. My younger son and his family were moving... that Wednesday was to be the last one at this church, and they were headed on a vacation/journey to a new home on the West Coast. They left before I could talk to him. Right here -- this is it. The ONLY reason I cared whether anyone knew I was an atheist is because I was afraid it would affect my relationship with this younger son, and that he wouldn't want his daughter to be around me much. That's it. That's the only real negative that could happen in my life. And if that happened, my wife would never forgive me. Literally, not metaphorically, never forgive me. The blog was somewhat cryptic, in the sense that if someone had stumbled across it they wouldn't have suspected it was mine. Yet there was enough information in there that if someone said it was mine, and someone else read it, I wouldn't be able to deny it, so before my meeting with the elders I decided I'd better come clean. I admitted it was mine, and I said that I would go before the congregation and ask for forgiveness. I took the blog down before sending the email. I also said that I would begin a Bible study via email with a preacher who was well educated, but a member of a "mainline" church rather than one of the non-institutional groups. (My thinking was that this would keep the rumor mill quiet. I didn't have to tell that preacher what was behind it, and he wouldn't have any discussions with "our" preachers.) The next Wednesday night I showed up early (along with my wife, who went into the auditorium to both suffer embarrassment and to be comforted by the other ladies who were there early. I went into the office to meet with the three elders, and the preacher was there, too. He didn't know much about what was going on except for what the elders had told him in a few minutes, and he had not seen the blog (which was gone by this time). He was aware of my older son's deconversion and had actually had a number of discussions with him about it. Again, I made my promise to study, and I indicated that I wished to continue to be a member of the church. I was to go forward to offer public confession after the "invitation" was offered ("invitation" is Church-of-Christ speak for "altar call") and "acknowledge my sin." One of the elders remarked that most people in my situation would just say "I'm outta here!" and he wondered why I didn't respond that way. My honest reply was that there was simply no advantage to it, and that it would cause too many problems within my own family. They accepted this reasoning. So then there was the confession: This was tough. I told about the blog, and explained that I needed to confess because that was public and required public "repentance." I apologized to my wife and thanked her for putting up with me. Then one of the elders got up and made a few comments. I interrupted to ask that nobody call my younger son, who was on his way to his new home, because I hadn't talked to him yet and he didn't know what was going on. Then they prayed for me. Afterward, people offered all sorts of words of encouragement. Several people wanted to talk way too much, and in the next couple of week some brought me reading material. I called my son the next day and left a message. He eventually called me back. He was upset, but he said he wasn't surprised. I talked to him about how Moses apparently believed that there was more than one god, and he said he knew that already! (So why is he still a believer.) I didn't tell him everything, but at the end he asked me to please say that I still believed that Jesus was the son of God, so I lied and said "yes." Since then, he hasn't said a word about it and I really think he doesn't want to know any more. And since that time, I quit leading singing. One of the elders did ask several months later if I was going to start leading singing again, and I indicated that I was pretty happy to be retired from that. I may get that uncomfortable question again, but I can easily dismiss it if my wife isn't around. (When she's around it's harder to just dismiss, because it embarrasses her and she doesn't go to bat for me -- she takes the side of the person who's bugging me. I end up having to try to justify my decision. It's a pain, especially because she knows I'm an atheist!) Occasionally, one of the other elders asks me how I'm doing, meaning "spiritually," and I say "pretty well." That's all there is to that conversation. And that's it at this point! I show up most Sunday mornings by myself and use the time to read, and I go other times when my wife makes it, but not usually by myself. Nobody really expects much of me any more, and that's quite a relief. I hope that some day my younger son won't be able to avoid the truth, and we can just be done with it. My older son surprised me when he figured it out, so it could happen. I may decide to write a book someday. I wrote this post because I had never written this stuff down. It's kind of hurried, so there may be typos and awkward wording, but if I wait any longer I'll forget things.
1 pointI don't know what it's like to not think about Christianity. Having been told the Bible was non-fiction from the time I was old enough to understand, and then in my 50's realizing that it's really just a book of myths, legends, and embellished history, it has thus-far been impossible for me to let go of this near obsession. Christianity affected nearly everything in my life, and realizing that it isn't true does not lessen the impact of it on my life in any significant way. Living in a place where nearly everyone believes it doesn't help. What must it have been like for the Romans and Greeks who first realized that their gods weren't real? I suspect that I can identify with them to some extent, except that they may have been in danger of being arrested. 500 years ago a person who told the truth about the Bible might have been arrested, too, but fortunately that isn't so today (at least not in the U.S.A.) What I really hope happens soon is that I forget about all of this, that I do not spend so many of my waking moments obsessing about Christianity. It's a mentally exhausting preoccupation. I hope that writing about it here provides the catharsis for me to put it in the past. Now that I'm on the outside (mentally at least, though being in the closet I still go to church), it occurs to me that there are some words and phrases I used as a Christian that make no sense any more, and ways of expressing thoughts that now seem bizarre. These terms and phrases were designed to keep people in, and from the outside they're meaningless. Here are a few of them, with an explanation as to why they're so strange to me now. 1. Lost their faith As a Christian, I don't think I even understood what this meant. When someone quit going to church, we said they had lost their faith whether they publicly declared that they didn't believe the Bible or not. If they quit going to the Church of Christ and started going to the Methodist church, we still said they had lost their faith. I don't think I ever thought about what faith really meant in this context, if it was a thing that could be lost or found. Mark Twain is wrote the following: Now that I'm no longer a believer, I realize those who quit Christianity don't do so because they've lost anything. OK, maybe Twain was wrong, because a person who believes the Bible to be the word of Jehovah doesn't know it isn't. The sad thing here is that we're warned so much about losing our faith that we go to great lengths to protect it. When we start to question, we do not launch an investigation to determine the truth. Instead we buy books and talk to people who are supposed to understand the Bible better with the goal of convincing ourselves that it's all true. Faith requires ignoring the cognitive dissonance. When you realize the truth the phrase "losing your faith" no longer makes any sense, because all you've really done is realize how foolish (or simply fooled) you were before. To borrow another Biblical term, faith isn't a thing to be grasped. That isn't to say that faith isn't real. My wife has faith in me and I in her, faith that we are both as committed to one another as we claim to be. This faith comes from experience, having developed trust in the other person. That faith can be destroyed by the other person, but we can't simply lose it. To make that more clear, I would not suddenly wake up one day and wonder whether my wife would cheat on me. I would not even, over time, begin to wonder whether she would cheat, eventually losing my faith in her. This could only happen if she were to do something to destroy that faith. Faith in Jehovah can't be "lost", either, and Jehovah can't destroy it, because it was based on fiction in the first place. Once we no longer have faith in the god of the Bible we can't say we've lost anything, only that we've learned the truth. 2. Fell away I picture an open airship of some sort that a person can accidentally fall off of. Maybe I should picture a cruise ship, as drunk passengers do occasionally fall off of them. They fall away and get left behind, and it's a tragedy. I get it. I've been on the end of having someone I cared about "fall away". From the inside it literally feels like a death in the family! But from the outside you realize that no such thing has happened. From the outside, being mourned for realizing there are no gods makes about as much sense as going into a deep emotional pit because your child realized that Santa Claus isn't real. To the person who supposedly "fell away", what really happened is that their eyes were opened to the truth. It's a time of rejoicing, because I'm no longer deceived. And it's a time of rejoicing because I'm no longer afraid that my relatives who "died without knowing the Lord" are in torment awaiting Hell! I haven't fallen: The scary ride just finally stopped and I got off. 3. Believe in As a Christian I thought (like everyone around me) that you could choose to believe in things, and that you could reject a god that you knew was real. If a person who had been a Christian "fell away" it was probably because they didn't want to live according to Jehovah's rules. There must have been something they wanted to do that was sinful, so they just said "I don't believe in Jehovah" as a way of deceiving themselves. Now I understand that the term "believe in" doesn't even apply to things that are real. A child believes in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. If Santa Claus was real, they wouldn't have to believe in him! A person doesn't believe in their house or their job or their spouse, because they know their house and job are real and their spouse is a part of their life. There are even things you can't see that do not require the phrase "believe in," such as bacteria. But a person who says that Jehovah is real must say they believe in him. 1 + 1 = 2. I don't have to believe in that, I simply understand it. Though I had to be taught what the symbols meant, the concept is intuitively obvious. Not so with Jehovah. Jehovah must be taught. Jehovah must be imagined. The most important thing here is that you cannot choose whether you believe in Jehovah or not. You believe in Jehovah only because you've chosen to ignore evidence to the contrary (or perhaps never paid enough attention to notice it), and generally you seek out reasons to believe. Once you become aware that there's no such thing you don't choose to not believe, you simply cannot force yourself to believe something that isn't true! 4. Atheism is a religion 5. Evolution is a religion Atheism is by definition not a religion. Atheism is the understanding that there are no gods. Atheism does not require one to pursue it. Although I'm a bit consumed with it now, atheism does not need me or anyone else to follow it. And there's not any such thing as an "evolutionist"! Evolution is simply a field of study. Nobody worships Charles Darwin, and people who study evolution are quite aware of where he was right and where he was wrong. He did a really good job at getting the field started, but science is about learning, about understanding, and it requires knowing that there's always more to learn. Science, and in particular the field of evolution, can be pursued, but nobody thinks of it as a god. By the way, there are plenty of Christians (who you, if you are a fundamentalist, might refer to as "so-called Christians") who accept evolution. Michael Behe, the fellow behind the "irreducible complexity" theory that "Intelligent Design" people love to use, believes in common descent. Young Earth Creationists quote Behe, but only so far as irreducible complexity is concerned, because he believes that evolution was guided by Jehovah. 6. Money or fame or fancy cars or television or celebrities are gods It's good not to get too wrapped up in stuff. A person can get obsessed with things and lose sight of what is most important in life, namely, relationships with other people. To say those things are gods can only come from a religious perspective. That saying implies that the person pursuing those things is substituting them for Jehovah. They aren't, because there are no gods. The problem with saying these unimportant things are our gods is that, from the Christian perspective, even things that are truly important are seen as usurping Jehovah in our lives, therefore becoming our gods. If we spend time with our families, whether it's Wednesday night Little League games or vacation in a place where we may not go to an "established church" on Sunday, our family has become "our god" and we have sinned. Family is not a god, but family is important. The same is true of caring for other people. Some really good teaching on this is attributed to Jesus. The person who pursues material goods in this life to the exclusion of relationships may be selfish or simply clueless when it comes to establishing priorities, but those things aren't a substitute for "Jehovah", they're a substitute for the better things in life. 7. "This life" I actually typed "the person who pursues material goods in this life" above, then I realized what I had done. There's no reason to specify this life, because there is no other life. This is all we have, so we'd better try to make it as pleasant as we can for ourselves, for people around us, and for the generations to come. To do good is not to try to get a reward in a future existence whether that's a better position in a reincarnated life or a place in Heaven, it's to go through life spreading happiness. 8. Without the objective standard that the Bible gives us, nobody can say what is good and what is evil. This. Is. HUGE. There are more people in the world who do not claim to be Christians than there are who claim to be. There are people who practice Buddhism and Hinduism who are very kind and good people, and they don't look to the Bible to find out what is good and what isn't. The saying among Humanists is "be good for goodness sake", which sounds like a Christmas song. But the Christian says we cannot know what "good" is. The Old Testament actually condones evil in some cases. The case of Israel being told to kill every man woman and child among the Amalekites is literally genocide. If a nation at war were to do that today, we would try the generals, corporals, and even some privates for war crimes. Why? Because even if they were just following orders, they're supposed to know better. It is immoral to kill non-combatants, downright evil to kill children except in self defense, and we know this. But if we were to depend on the Bible for our moral code, we would allow such horrible things. But that point is not necessary to reach the conclusion. Even if there was nothing evil in the Bible attributed to Jehovah, he wouldn't be necessary for us to know the difference between good and evil. There's a very good question that has been asked, but is hard to word coherently. I'll try here: Is a thing good because Jehovah says it's good, or does Jehovah inform us of what is good because it is inherently good and he wants us to know? If it's good because Jehovah says so, then it's arbitrary: Capital punishment for adultery is somehow "good". But if Jehovah tells us what is good because it is inherently good, then his existence is not necessary for there to be such a thing as goodness. The truth is that we know what is good and what is bad. Yes, there are sociopaths who seem to have no concept of right and wrong, but most people know that if you do something hurtful to another person, that's wrong. And you don't have to have religion to know this. Evolution actually explains this quite well: Those members of the species who cooperated fared better than those who were selfish. Some people insist that "survival of the fittest" means "might makes right" but the overly selfish animal or person is not particularly fit. The Bible even says "if two lie together they can stay warm." Evolution agrees. If what you do harms another, it's bad. If harm cannot be avoided, for instance if you have to choose who to favor, then do as little harm as possible. But causing deliberate harm to another is evil. Speaking to the reverse, we really should be trying to help, not just avoiding harm. We should be doing good. And billions of people around the world know the difference even without the Bible.