Tuesday, January 31, 2006 

Jesus Is A Myth and Curiosity

One of the best parts of the net is getting a chance to interact with all sorts. I love seeing different perspectives and trying to understand them.

So, I thought it was great when marcguvyer was asking me questions about my beliefs. For example, he asked a great question about Jewish writer Josephus, and I spent over two hours researching and writing a response.

Well, in the comments on that post, he never mentioned my research, but gave me a pile of similar type questions. Wow, I thought, this is going to keep me busy for a month! He also mentioned that he started a discussion of the topic of Jesus/myth on his blog. Of course, I went to check it out.

At first I was really surprised. Marc tends to write posts designed to hit your emotions, and here was scholarly-type writing. After I spent a while reading it, I realized it didn't address the question. The main argument seems to be that since many people copied the bible by hand, its contents should be considered historic. Then I started wondering. Why such a strange approach to prove Jesus existed? Why not link to the sources of the 'facts' he provides? What is it they say, 92.5% of all statistics are made up? Well, I google'd a bit and found that Marc's post isn't original research, it's duplicated far and wide across theological type sites. No bias there, certainly not, right??

I feel so disappointed and slightly sickened about this. On my post, I linked to four neutral sites because I want people to read what I write, and read where I form these opinions, and make up their own minds. I have nothing to hide. I guess I assumed this is what people do.

Duplicating prose from a biased point of view and calling them facts is an interesting way to argue. He could have dug up some interesting research, there are tons out there. And I find it frustrating that no one read my links on Marc's site and said, "that point of view leaves out ..." or "did you consider ...?". That would be an interesting, fun conversation! Instead, I found the attitude "There Must Be A Jesus no reason still There Must Be A Jesus."

What if we found a diary written by Pontius Pilate that said in part:
I've met and condemned many criminals in my life. Most I can't remember, but there was one, who as I recall had not committed any crimes, but yet the gathering insisted that he be put to death. Funny thing, that one. Anyway, after a hard day of work, I would call for some wine...
That's the kind of independent evidence anyone would love to see.

In that thread's comments, Dan Trabue speaks about how his faith isn't threatened by the lack of evidence of a Jesus. Why aren't more people curious? Is it considered too cynical to even imagine for a minute that someone who claims to have a Magic Book might just be after your money?

Thursday, January 26, 2006 

Alan Alda; the Chumscrubbers

I recently finished Hawkeye's latest book Never Have Your Dog Stuffed : And Other Things I've Learned. Alda describes turning to Catholicism to counterbalance his life with his mentally ill mother (with a Close Encounter with Brother Jacob (shudder)). He then questions, questions, questions ("why do we have to bow our heads before the host?") but doesn't draw the conclusions. You'll still like Alda, but as one amazon reviewer said, "he keeps you at arm's length." If he were a little older, I bet he'd have just said what he thinks.

I hesitate to link this in (no knowledge before watching a movie is GOOD) but make The Chumscrubber your next netflix pick. I almost missed it because the name made me think about cleaning fishheads, please just ignore the name. Great actors, great performances, hilarious, my kind of cynical / strange movie. Great 80's look to the two teens. No atheist issues, think: family dynamics.

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Monday, January 23, 2006 

Some (recent) favorite posts

I just want to point out two articles that I haven't stopped thinking about for the past week or so -- Lya's great post about the Shabbat, ie the Sabbath. Reading it, for an overtired mom with a young family, is like seeing a picture of some yummy chocolate pudding that isn't in front of me. I started reading the link she supplied, because if I had a day off, could I consider making cookies with my kids a hobby? So far, I get the idea that it would be verboten.

I also like A Rational Being's well written summary on a book about Bush he was reading. I'm having to deal in the periphery with an alcoholic only recently in life, but it has opened my eyes to what "being an alcoholic" really means, like destroying everything around you. In this case, it's just a family to destroy, for Bush, it's the world (insert evil 'heee hee hee' noise).


Are You a Heretic? part 4

marcguyver has another excellent question:
Do Josephus' writings as a historian count as proof of Jesus' existence?
Josephus was one of the first non-Christians to write about Jesus, in a passage known as the the "Testimonium Flavianum."

A Quick Background
Josephus was born around the time that Jesus supposedly died. When Josephus was about 40, he published his first work, a History of the Jewish War from A.D. 66-73. When translated to English (and by using the 'print preview' feature in my browser), it is over 300 pages long, and was split into eight "books".

His second work is the Antiquities of the Jews, in which contains the Testimonium Flavianum. Originally written in Greek, Englishman William Whiston's translation in 1737 is in wide use even today. The Antiquities contains twenty books, each between 25-45 (English) pages. As the copyright ran out long ago, we can find his entire text online, for example on Early Jewish Writings or Early Christian Writings, two site apparently run by the same person.

He also wrote a long autobiography and the relatively short On the Antiquities of the Jews. We know a lot about him, from his patrons to his three marriages.

Concerning the Evidence
Thanks to stardust1954, you can read about the debate as to the authenticity of Josephus' Testimonium Flavianum.

Let's say that Josephus DID write the truth as he saw it about Jesus. For grins, I'll compare this to contemporary times.

Let's say a tremendously long book is published by author Joe. In it, he states there was a person name Bob, assasinated around the time of his (Joe's) birth, and that people found Bob's speeches to be inspiring. Also suppose there happens to be a biography about Bob that his own family publishes. The biography makes Bob sound like a great guy, even given the factual errors it contains. Imagine that Joe is the first to mention Bob outside the families' book.

Would you believe that Bob was real?

To me, even if the disputed paragraph in Josephus turns out to have been written by him, it isn't really proof of a historical Jesus.

There is this feeling that over two thousand years ago, people were little more than cave-men scratching out an existence. But there is an astonishing amount of information we have on people during this time, like Julius Caesar (I linked to his Chronology) and here are biographies of six of his contemporaries: Titus Labienus - Cicero - Pompey - Theodosius of Bithynia - Catiline - Titus Pomponius Atticus.

I just found a good essay about the debate on religioustolerance.org.

To me, the bible contains factual errors on details of the life of someone named Jesus, and the first reference to him outside of the bible can't be called compelling. Believe if you want/need to, but I don't see it.

Sunday, January 22, 2006 

Now I lay me down to sleep...

It should be pretty simple to understand the needs of happy & healthy children. Nurture them, create a safe and stimulating home environment, freely give unconditional love. Use opportunities to encourage creativity, curiousity, and compassion.

Well, I went to see if people still used the sweet little "die" poem I posted earlier, and I found one of the most frightening pages I've seen yet on the web. Charles Kirkpatrick uses this prayer on his site Sermons4Kids.com to suggest indoctrinating children with the theme "Looking forward to the resurrection". He suggest finding a doll "that can open and close its eyes", (and excuse me for a second because I can't help but summerize the whole page) along with two scripture quotes, a story about Job suffering and dying, a teaching of Jesus, and a COLORING PAGE. In smaller letters at the bottom, it says that some people felt this too disturbing for young children. Obviously the author doesn't share this concern!

Well, why not frighten a child with the thought of death while they are relaxing into sleep?

Hey, let's give them some other things to think about:

and if a fire should light my bed,
mom will come quick, just rest my head;
and if an earthquake should shake the ground,
mama will make sure that I am found;
and if a tarantula should be strolling near,
papa will take care of it, never fear.
[mamas don't do tarantulas]
time to close my eyes, rest, and pray,
hope that a flood won't sweep me away.

Do I add Mr. Kirkpatrick to my list? Stay tuned for more...

Saturday, January 21, 2006 

I changed the name!

As I wrote in my first post, I have less than normal time to try to publish my thoughts.

I wanted to use a TLA similar to BJU for the previous post, I was trying out BLU, but didn't like that, and couldn't think of anything else except FLU. Meanwhile, my baby kept waking up, so there I was, literally running up and down the stairs every ten minutes, burning to get the post out, but not able to concentrate. So I published, cuddled my little guy, then figured out what I should say...

So, my commentary came out harsher than I wanted (than I feel), and I couldn't fix it until now!

Friday, January 20, 2006 

Introducing TRU

Recently, I've been in discussions with 3 or 4 folks affiliated in some way with BJU (Bob Jones University). I found, to my surprise, that none of these folks could identify what it is about Pat Robertson that makes everyone cringe. The answer I thought was clear: Pat Robertson spews HATE. So what is it about attending BJU that makes this so hard to understand?

Instead of spending a gazillion dollars at BJU, why not come to my newly formed program at TRU: The Real University?

We will study a code of ethics to guide one through life ("Treat others the way you want them to treat you. Take care of them.") There are no other rules. You will be expected to apply this rule.

We will have one book, The Three Questions. You are expected to read this book.

We will have guest lectures from incredible people from all walks of life.

We will have no exams. Paper topics will examine the aspects of religion that make it hard to apply the code of ethics.

All for one low tuition bill! Stop wasting your money and apply today!

Updated 21jan06 to rename my university. Always willing to serve you!


Mean Appeal for a "Christian Nation"

Most people who have my email don't bother sending me those ubiquitous unsigned emails floating around like "Help Pay for Cancer Treatment", "Swiffer Kills Dogs", "Man Overloads Car With Lumber" (actually, this one WAS true).

But I still get them occasionally, like one this appeal for a Christian Nation. The version I received, however was punctuated with a "DID YOU KNOW?" every line and ended with this generous, life affirming message:
"It is said that 86% of Americans believe in God. Therefore, it is very hard to understand why there is such a mess about having the Ten Commandments on display or "In God We Trust" on our money and having God in the Pledge of Allegiance. Why don't we just tell the other 14% to Sit Down and SHUT UP!!!
If you agree, pass this on"
I wrote back:
Hello! I assume you passed this on so I could see it and not because you believe it! Instead of being convincing, I find this email frustrating because someone thinks they can use make-believe facts and appeals to emotion to stand in place of a logical argument. Quality discourse in our country continues to be AWOL.

Please read this and forward to your friend:

stardust1954 has a brief post on the Eastern Pediment, points out this article on the Supreme Court embellishments and was kind enough to write this on the "SHUT UP" sentiment:
The American Bill of Rights guarantees to every person in the United States the rights and liberties that are the basis of democracy. The first of the ten amendments that make up the Bill of Rights guarantees the freedom of religion, speech, assembly and petition. Justice William J. Brennan wrote, “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” The commitment of the principle of free speech has been repeatedly tested beginning with the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 to the present day intolerance for individual and unpopular opinion.

These people who want to shut us up, are saying they hate the American Bill or Rights and do not support the Constitution of this great and DIVERSE land.
Thanks stardust!!

Thursday, January 19, 2006 

Is a Belief in God Beneficial? Or, What's an Atheist to Do?

Here is the post that I wanted to write, but at the rate I'm going it would have taken me six months and still not be as good! The Jewish Atheist writes about the positive benefits from being religious and ways for us atheists to not miss out on them.

(thanks to the Jewish Freak & his blogroll.)

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Are You a Heretic? part 3

I do not mean for this to go on & on, but I want to answer a question and consider what I learned from the author of the quiz.

marcguyver asks:
You [freethoughtmom] said, "I don't think Jesus is God incarnate, but not because God can't dwell in flesh." Not trying to stir up trouble here but, can you tell me then what you think Jesus is?
I had no clue when I started researching the Christmas story about three years ago that I'd have ever said this, but, well, (pause) ... I think that Jesus is a mythos. This was the last step in my deconversion, and it was shocking for me to come to this conclusion, and I'm pretty sure any theist, no matter how open minded, will think this is nuts. So let me quickly add, it doesn't matter what any one person believes (as long as they aren't hurting children with those beliefs), but that's the perspective I was trying to take the quiz from.

And from the quiz author himself, Steven Harris, I am technically NOT a heretic just for the belief of Jesus -> Mythos. He also points out that to him, my position is extremely shaky and practically fantastical. I'll leave that to "well, I guess we have very different opinions." Good luck with your thesis, Steven, and if you have any proof outside of the bible about Jesus' existence, I (and the world) would love to hear about it.

Thanks to all for the comments!

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006 

Are You a Heretic? part 2

Thanks to Elena for a clarification on the Heretic quiz. I thought "heresy" meant complete rejection of the Church's teachings, but upon closer inspection, the dictionary really does point out that it could be having just one "wrong" opinion.

The author at the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry points out that the heresies he lists are to him essential ones, ie the "serious assaults upon the character of God, of Christ, and salvation itself" (and they appear to be the ones in the quiz). Unhelpfully, he doesn't describe the process of determining which teachings are heresies, and blithely excuses the horrific persecutions of heretics.

An in-depth study of one heresy should be instructive, so I studied the Donatist Heresy, my results from the quiz. Funny thing, Wikipedia's take on the topic is radically different from Catholic Answers'. In any case, the church decided that even if a priest makes a grave sin, say repudiating his faith, he may still officiate over the sacraments (ie sole moral authority lies with the church). Donatists wanted priests who did the right thing. When it was apparent that this idea had a lot of traction by the number of Donatist churches, it was firmly dealt with and the Donatists are no more.

A story of Christians killing Christians, to keep the money and power within one group. Why does the church think it has the high moral road, again?

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Monday, January 16, 2006 

Introducing the Horror Roll

I'm trying out a new sidebar on the right "Keep kids away from..." for those who want a quick list to help protect little ones. Lame title, but the Armchair Potentate seems to be MIA, I could use his help for an alliterative name. I think "Children Chasers" sounds too sick, and doesn't cover the people or groups that endanger kids in other ways. As usual, comments welcomed.

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Sunday, January 15, 2006 

Are You a Heretic?

I found what should have been a fun quiz called Are You A Heretic? But, it doesn't work! It scored me as 'Donatism' (and now I've lost the notes on what THAT meant).

It presupposes theism, and I get the feeling it will never score heretic. For this question:
Jesus was not really God incarnate, because God cannot indwell corrupted matter
you have a choice of agreeing or disagreeing. I don't think Jesus is God incarnate, but not because God can't dwell in flesh. So, how should I score myself? I posted a clarification question on his web site, but no response so far.

But, if you have all the "right" answers, he replies: "Congratulations, you think JUST LIKE I DO!". Actually, he doesn't really, but almost does.

His web site has a cool "email me when someone replies" feature. Now I want that!


Another Theist For Governor

While I am psyched to see more parties besides Republicans & Democrats out there, do we really need another theist??

Saturday, January 14, 2006 

Go, BigHeathenMike

I had to pull this recent quote out of BigHeathenMike's blog:
What is so scary about ideas? This guy [a freak on Wa-Wa's Heaven special] sounds like those dipshits in the States like Fred Phelps who hate homosexuals so much they picket the funerals of gays. What are they afraid of? Is being an atheist or a homosexual so attractive to people that even exposure to the ideals or lifestyle will instantly convert a Muslim away from their grovelling or a Southern Baptist to sodomy and raves? Is the way of life for a Muslim so horrible and unfulfilling that being around an atheist would crumble their view of the world and cause them to renounce their faith in favour of godless heathenism and the betterment of the lives of his/her family, friends, and community?


First Bishop to Report a Personal Sexual Abuse Encounter

I have been trying to figure out how long the Catholic church has had priests molesting children. Here's a new piece of data: an Auxiliary Bishop in Detroit reports that he was a victim in 1945. He is brave both for talking about the issue and to ask several states to temporarily lift statues of limitations so more lawsuits could go forward.

A Washington Post article reports that the molester "has been dead for more than a decade" and quoted Thomas Gumbleton as "I've been saying for 10 years that these cases should be handled with pastoral sensitivity..." That's a bit odd because the scandal went public around 2002.

Gumbleton kept his silence until the older priest died. I can guess why he'd keep quiet (controlled by the abuser and/or ashamed for the church), but I can also see how other molested children would have wished for someone to have stopped him sooner.

As the trial for the inmate that killed child molester John Geoghan is in the headlines, here's a well-written non-Boston Globe article from 2002 showing the stunning lack of compassion that the church has demonstrated.

How is it that someone whose life mission is to minister could turn their back on the ones hurting the most? What got in the way of basic empathy?

Thursday, January 12, 2006 

Background, and Foreground

As the Armchair Pontentate correctly points out, my deconversion story is a bit lean. I left out the details I thought were boring, like early life and current thoughts.

I was brought up Roman Catholic. The earliest memory I have of anything god-related is the happy little prayer we used to recite before bed:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the lord my soul to keep
and if I die before I wake
I pray the lord my soul to take

I also remember being congratulated when learning to kneel on the pew.

Even way back I knew Catholicism isn't what I'd consider a good model for a moral, examined life. I clearly remember my mother teaching me that girls are just as good as boys, but not to ask about why churches are exempt from this idea. I was also dumbfounded by confession (I do something wrong, feel bad but don't fix it, tell a priest and say five Hail Mary's? Wow.)

Did you know that if there aren't enough boys around to be alter boys, the church will use girls? Now the thought fills me with horror, but I remember my sister being an alter boy. Once when she was up there, I noticed my mother turning purple next to me. I looked up, and there was my sister and another alter boy crying and shaking with silent laughter as the priest did his magical cannibalistic transubstantion. The two of them were in profile view, facing each other, kneeling, behind and on either side of the priest. Every time he lifted up his arms, the 'holy man' was farting. This image to this day makes me laugh out loud.

So, from a young age, I started to question what I was told, though it was many years later before I was truly free of it. I didn't take notes as I went, so it's hard to reconstruct the timeline.

Now? My deconversion as I storied came about in a one-way vacuum, so I was surprised while lurking exchristian.net forums that there are all types of labels that atheist-type people use. What is 'Strong atheism' and 'Secular Humanism', and does it apply to me? I don't know. I value thinking, I love knowledge and testing out theories & beliefs. I would love to learn about something beyond us that cannot be explained. It would have to be compelling, however, because I strongly suspect there isn't anything out there, and that is perfectly OK.

Monday, January 09, 2006 

No Small Mission

After I realized that I was atheist, that is "without belief", I spent a long time contemplating the world from my new vantage point. One thing I thought about was all the needless suffering of children everywhere caused by nothing but side effects of people's hyperactive imaginations. Could I just ignore this pain and live my life, or, as vjack recently wrote, should I be promoting human welfare? Hey, let me at it, what can I do to make children's lives better?

I wondered if I should start Yet Another Atheist Blog (YAAB). I hesitated for so long, because every time I jumped on the web, I learned something new. What about forums? I lurked on a few, and Lya recently reported on her excursion into Christian forum-land. What about on the street? I'm still working on that.

My passion is about healthy children, although I haven't written too much about this topic yet, it's coming, as I first jot down a few more thoughts swirling in my brain.

I feel a deep sense of gratitute for those who first started this climb, against the popular direction. This blog happens because I can draft those brave ones. Thanks to you!

Saturday, January 07, 2006 

Pat Robertson: even the xtians can't watch

Yes, it's true, even the Christians can tell that Pat Robertson isn't All That. This blog title says it all: Would somebody *PLEASE* shut this man up??

mounty also nails the particularly annoying as "xenophobic isolationist NWO-sniffing paranoids". Well stated, mounty!

[updated 06jan08 to link to monty's profile]

Friday, January 06, 2006 

Founding Father Thomas Paine

Great excerpt again by stardust1954 on Founding Father Thomas Paine. Common Sense is what I associate with Paine, I don't think I was exposed to his other writings!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006 

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

Ever walked by a company bulletin board and see "Job Well Done, Johnny!" posted by a manager, and get a creepy feeling? Alfie Kohn's book Punished by Rewards helped me understand why this is so distasteful.

Extrinsic Motivation is doing something because of a promise of a reward (a 'carrot') or the threat of a punishment (a 'stick'). Kohn's book examines what happens when students or business people are manipulated via extrinsic motivators like pizza, money or gold stars.

Intrinsic Motivation is doing something from within yourself (intrinsic = 'originating or due to causes within a body').

Let's apply this to moral codes.

  • Johnny doesn't kill Fred, because he doesn't want to go to Hell. Extrinsic motivator.
  • Johnny doesn't kill Fred because he wants to go to Heaven. Extrinsic motivator.
  • Johnny doesn't kill Fred because it is against the law. Extrinsic motivator.
  • Johnny doesn't kill Fred because his heart tells him that isn't right. Intrinsic motivator.

Extrinsically motivated people are externally manipulated people.

I'm trying to raise my kids to be intrinsically motivated. It's harder because I can't demand instant obedience. I have to take a longer view, and go over again and again, "would you want to be treated that way? Is that OK to do?"

Here's a short quote from Mr. Kohn:
There are at least 70 studies showing that extrinsic motivators— including A's, sometimes praise, and other rewards—are not merely ineffective over the long haul but counterproductive with respect to the things that concern us most: desire to learn, commitment to good values, and so on. Another group of studies shows that when people are offered a reward for doing a task that involves some degree of problem solving or creativity—or for doing it well—they will tend to do lower quality work than those offered no reward.
If this is true, our country is full of extrinsically motivated (religious) people who over the long haul have less commitment to good values.

Sounds about right to me.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006 

The sun god Mithra

When I learned that Christmas was held on "Mithra's birthday", December 25th, I always thought it would be interesting to find out more about Mithra ... thanks stardust1954 for these excerpts.

Sunday, January 01, 2006 

Why Religiosity Matters to All

How could religion be harmful to humanity? Here's one reason. Send me an email finishing this story. I won't spam you, but I'll send a short response, and that's all. (By the way, I can't get online every day, so it might take me a few days, I'm sorry.)

Your new neighbor doesn't scare you. He reminds you a bit of the fifth grade bully in your class, the one that picked on the first graders. It's his stepson that you are a bit worried about, because he always walks around looking exhausted with dark circles under his eyes. You are always kind towards the son, but he never says anything to you.

Dog on the leash, you tie on your running shoes for a brisk walk to the store. As you walk by the neighbor's house, you hear a commotion and look through a screen door. There, in front of you, you see the boy about to be raped by his stepdad. The dad has his back to you, but the boy is half turned, screaming and crying, begging for help. Your heart is thumping. Your cell phone is in your back pocket, a baseball bat is on the ground, your dog is leaning forward. You ...

email me at freethoughtmom@gmail.com


Resolution 2006: Bravery

How do I raise my children to the highest moral standard? I practice this daily, the way a surgeon practices medicine. I practice what I've learned about parenthood. I make mistakes, I apologize and try again. The road of raising children is long and hard, but also tremendously rewarding.

"How can you teach children about morality without the Bible?" is an honest question. I don't know where to start. So I don't.

I'm assuming most people haven't actually read much of the bible (because I think then there would be many more skeptics), so to say "the bible is a terrible place to learn about morals!" isn't going to answer the question for them, and most likely close their mind (someone feeling attacked stops listening and starts defending).

This blog is helping me find my voice, so I can answer this question for them. Children are too important to let misinformation stand.
If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed. Albert Einstein

About me

  • I'm the freethoughtmom from New England. Welcome!
  • The word rational means having the ability to reason. Reasoning takes time. Giving yourself the space to think is practically a luxury in our society.

    My father is a logical engineer, my mother a caring nurturer. My handwriting with my dominate hand resembles that of my father, the other, my mother. I feel lucky to have both sides to draw from.
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