Friday, February 24, 2006 


I've had a really, really hard & hectic week leading up to tomorrow's vacation. I didn't get a chance to do more than read my mail (blogger emails me every time a comment is posted). I've drafted a post for marcguyver (no, I didn't forget), and six posts about CHILDREN just waiting for some attention. Stay tuned, I'll be back soon.

Meanwhile, Sunny California, here we come!


Examining a debate

I think I have a handle on the frustration in a previous discussion.

Let's say you have a friend really into astrology. Let's say he uses an old book supposedly created by a famous mystic to create horoscopes. The book is a bit cryptic, and a bit "far out", but your friend feels he has the right way of reading it (maybe cross-referencing it with a different translation), so he can create really spot-on horoscopes. He "predicts" things when he's with you, constantly referring to events "because Jupiter is rising" and "your moon sign is in Sagittarius" etc.

Finally, you push back. "Wait, because Jupiter is on the rise, I am about to come into some money? That doesn't make any sense." But your friend persists, countering every example and reason you give for this to be senseless with another quote from the book. He will read and interpret from the book all day without ever seeing your point that the "evidence" from the book is next to worthless to you.

I've formed this hypothesis from a quote by our loquacious xtian himself: "Likewise, I'm just lending you my understanding of the Bible for your consideration" and everyone else is going, "AHHHHHH! How frustrating!"

For fun, I tried re-reading the conversation substituting "Jupiter is on the rise" for biblical content. I'm not sure what else to do with it, going over it point by point seems, um, pointless.

I should add that I feel everyone has their own take on the bible. If you feel it is important to your life, hey, knock yourself out! I had fun examining what the term "the bible" means, thanks to everyone for listening and your comments.

Thursday, February 23, 2006 

Trying feedburner

I'm trying to set up the orange feedburner icon working on the sidebar. I think it is OK but I'm not sure. I also want to try to read my favorite blogs by subscribing to feeds, but haven't had a chance to figure it out!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006 

The bible: my summary (continued)

I previously pointed out interesting wikipedia entries about the bible but I missed an important page: the English Translations of the Bible. This entry says that there are about 450 translations of the bible over the past two thousand years! It also has (in some cases very brief) entries on about 120 bible versions and about three dozen biblical translators.

My favorite is a link from a very stubby entry:
Zondervan: does comparison of a number of translations, with a graphic showing where each fits on the spectrum of word-for-word (literal) or thought-for-thought (paraphrase). However, it may be skewed in favor of the New International Version (which the graphic shows located in the middle of the spectrum) which Zondervan publishes.
Anyone know if the graphic on the Zondervan page is approximately accurate? I would find it helpful to have a quick place to reference when I read when someone points out their preferred bible.

After deciding which books to put in the canon (and deciding which version of these books to use), now I see one has to pick the translation based on how much of the literal words versus the gleaned intended meaning is desired. When I hear someone stating what they think is a fact about their god, I tend to ask how they know. Now that I have a feeble grasp of the canonization and translation process that went into each passage, I wonder, how could anyone assert something as a "fact" when its source is the bible? Any insight here, Steven (my favorite biblical scholar)?

Thanks to my grounding in the scientific method, I generally hear the assertions many make about their invisible god while simultaneously wondering at their apparent innocence of how this world works.

Thanks to Kevin Parry who was recently writing about the Latin Vulgate Bible.

Monday, February 20, 2006 

Dogma vs. "Spirit"

The Jewish Atheist recently published Dogma: The Real Enemy, a topic I think about alot. A friend yesterday described someone as a spirit with a beautiful soul, I didn't jump up and say, "Soul? Do you really believe that?" She frames her life as a spiritual quest, and I like her and I like to consider the world from her point of view. We get along very well but it makes me sad we can't be the best of friends because I'm not completely honest with her.

Should I open up to her? The longer I write and read about atheism, the sillier my silence seems. Yet, in this case, my friend isn't about Dogma, she's an artist who creates out of nothing, and battles personal demons. (At the risk of sounding conceited) I feel too shy to potentially upset her muse.

It's never black and white in real life. I take from her what she shares, and I try to provide a friendly ear, meanwhile my brain whirs and wonders.

Saturday, February 18, 2006 

My Trooper at the hospital

My 18 month old tripped and split his forehead open on a sharp corner at a showroom today. Anyone seeing a head injury knows how much blood appears very quickly. I put a hand over it, then my husband took over, took him and applied pressure with tissues, while I went to figure out where we should take him. He stopped crying within a minute, and stopped bleeding within ten minutes, enough that we got a horrible glance at the almost half inch deep gash near his hairline. The ladies at the store had the perfect large band aid that sealed all four sides shut. I picked him up, and we headed to the car.

As a mommy, I could tell exactly what was about to happen. Baby will go into the car fine, my spirited 1st grader is going to get hysterical. Exactly. He gave her his famous "what is she so upset about now?" look, as I thought of a way to calm her down. "Here, squeeze my finger as hard as you can," I said as I twisted my arm to the back seat. "(Hysterical) NO!" "Please? I want to see which hand is stronger." Finally she did, left hand over right, then right over left, and calmed right down. (My cousin used to do that with me, and tease, "are you squeezing? I can barely feel it...")

We had asked the hospital on the phone if they could see him right away. My husband zoomed off with him when we arrived, and I went to check in. It took one hour just to check in. I imagined what was going on with my baby, but felt calm. My trooper lay on the gurney for that hour, snoozed for a bit but looked at my husband and stayed still for the rest of the time. He did cry while they put in the six stitches, but was fine again a few minutes later. If it had been my daughter in there, I can't even imagine the scene!

I got that crystal clear 'in the moment' feeling as I was with my family today.

As I don't believe that there is a post-death reunion, I try very hard to live each day to its fullest. If I make a mistake, I need to fix it, preferably today. If something needs to be said, I need to say it. Tomorrow might be too late, a point brought home anew today. It makes for a full, happy, examined life.


Misc: Blogger, and TTLB

I feel like such an idiot sometimes! I set blogger to email me when someone comments on the blog, otherwise I'd never figure it out for comments on older posts. Well, just now, I realized that a recent email was marked "From:" that person, and not "" like I usually see. Cool! How did they do that?? A bit of digging, and it seems straightforward. If you have a Blogger account and publish your email, blogger uses your public email address in the From field instead of the noreply one. I'm sure everyone else has figured this out long ago.

So now I have a question: it seems that TTLB (The Truth Laid Bare) only counts inbound links from sites that also have registered with them, anyone know if this is true? Thanks in advance.

Friday, February 17, 2006 

Power has been out all day...

.... now trying to catch up (17 messages, yikes!). Thanks for taking the time to comment, jdhurf, jim, marcguyver, and stardust...

Thursday, February 16, 2006 

The bible: my summary

jim jordan asked me to sum up the (Christian) bible in a paragraph. Great idea!

The bible is an important piece of literature, whose quotes are widely used in our culture. A compilation written by scores of authors, with differing viewpoints, beliefs, and agendas, it has some overarching themes, like rules for organization of social life, and justice. Many people find parts of it very beautiful, like the parables of Jesus. Many people attach special importance to it because they believe it to be inspired in some manner by their deity.

After I wrote the above, I checked out wikipedia's bible entry. I had understood that the bible wasn't a cut and dried document, but actually reading about the story is fascinating!

The Deuterocanonical books are "extra" OT books not found in the Hebrew Bible (and I read to my chagrin that the 'Hebrew Bible' contains the 'Torah' and is not a synonym for it, oops.)

The (New Testament) Apocrypha are "suppressed" books, from wikipedia: "Obedient Christians were warned away from these works now termed apocryphal, many of which were vigorously suppressed and survive only as fragments." The entries for Apocrypha & Deuterocanonical books contain links to each book in question, a veritable wealth of information.

The entry on the Biblical Canon touches on not only which books make up the Jewish and Christian bibles, but which version of each book is deemed proper.

It appears that it is true that the seemingly simple question "which bible?" can take a book's worth of information to fully answer.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006 

Deconversion; Dennett

Reader gaz pointed out recently:
However, it's interesting that you choose a somewhat negative term like 'deconverted' to describe your transition, as if you feel that you have lost something or at least, experienced some sense of loss.
This is astute! I actually think of my transition as a de-evolution. To evolve means to become more complex and my beliefs are now much simpler. However, the other part of the evolution definition is "better". Obviously, I think my change IS for the better. So I punted, and said "deconversion".

But there's more... once you understand you've been mislead, it's like being punk'd! Doh! I'm an idiot! So, "deconversion" is somewhat negative also because I feel stupid not to have started questioning earlier in life.

gaz also recommends this funny article about Daniel C. Dennett, who has recently published Breaking the Spell : Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Wow, gaz, this is totally up my alley and looks like a fabulous book. Thanks!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006 

Great Nathaniel Branden quote

If, in any culture, children are taught, ‘We are all equally unworthy in the sight of God’ -

If, in any culture, children are taught, ‘You are born in sin and are sinful by nature’ -

If children are given a message that amounts to ‘Don’t think, don’t question, believe’ -

If children are given a message that amounts to ‘Who are you to place your mind above that of the priest, the minister, the rabbi?’ -

If children are told, ‘If you have value it is not because of anything you have done or could ever do, it is only because God loves you’ -

If children are told, ‘Submission to what you cannot understand is the beginning of morality’ -

If children are instructed, ‘Do not be “willful”, self-assertiveness is the sin of pride’ -

If children are instructed, ‘Never think that you belong to yourself’ -

If children are informed, ‘In any clash between your judgement and that of your religious authorities, it is your authorities you must believe’, -

If children are informed, ‘Self-sacrifice is the foremost virtue and the noblest duty’ -

- then consider what will be the likely consequences for the practice of living consciously, or the practice of self-assertiveness, or any of the other pillars of healthy self-esteem.

[Nathaniel Branden, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, Bantam (May 1, 1995) p 291-292]
Source: gonesavage by way of Goosing the Antithesis.

gonesavage has a great blog, read about her great escape and here's an excerpt from another essay:
And if A & E [Adam & Eve] had no idea what Good and Evil were, how could they know that to eat from the Tree was Evil? How could they know that disobeying was Evil? If disobeying presupposes knowledge of Good and Evil, how could they know what disobeying was? Basically, what I’m seeing here is god planting a tree on purpose, telling two kids who don’t know what disobeying was to not disobey, then sentencing them to a life of pain (Genesis 3:16 and 3:17) when they disobeyed. This makes no sense. This makes god an asshole. If I had kids and treated them this way, I would be charged with abuse.
Thanks, Francois and gonesavage!


Convert, or else!

When I researched atheism, it was like being on a one-way street (away from blog land), and I remember feeling so alone as I explored my beliefs! So I really enjoy the chance to read what others have written, and I also enjoy the interactions. I'm totally hooked.

Anyway, I read on that the difference between fundamentalists and other xtians is the issue of inerrancy. Fundies believe the bible is an error-free document, end of story. That's theory.

Reality of course is never black and white. From the five fundies I believe I have come across in the past two months, I have yet to hear one person attempt to defend the bible as a completely error-free document. Maybe there are people like this, either not blogging or just outside my sample.

Instead, the ones I've interacted with seem to explain that one needs to interpret the bible as a whole, and as a teeny tiny ancillary point, their interpretation just happens to be the correct one. I also get the feeling that the "personal relationship" part is the code phrase for "we aren't the child molesting Catholics", but I could be wrong on that one too.

More interesting is the fact that three of the five have said, to atheists as a group or to me in particular, "if only I could make you believe...". The first time, a slip of the tongue. The third time? Pattern. (It's been the same words each time, too, spooky, huh?)

This phrase "I want to make you" is really scary. I'm glad my children aren't near people like that, and I feel bad for any kids whose parents feel this way. I nurture my children because I value confidence, capability, compassion, independence, and free thought. Obedience, ie this "I know better than you" paradigm is repulsive to me. I cannot believe it is said accidentally.

Sunday, February 12, 2006 

In the dead of winter

This morning, I poured myself my new favorite tea. I'm trying not to think about the beautiful Bird-Of-Paradise blooming in mojoey's front yard and the easy "just pop on a jacket" that Cassandra needs to go to the park. It's a bit depressing, though, because even though it's cold, most of the snow is gone. New England of yesteryear is gone.

And yet, my seed order from Fedco is on the table, ready to plant today. Today?

I'm going to try Trudi's WinterSown method of mini-greenhouses set in the snow. If you have ever seen the destruction a toddler can do in a few minutes, you understand why I'm not considering the indoor method of seed germination.

Fedco's catalogs are a source of info as well as seeds. Which companies grow our seeds? What would have happened had the "Plant Variety Protection Act" been enacted at the dawn of civilization? Should we worry about Monsanto and genetically engineered seed? What can we do about it?

Today, I'm not going to worry about global warming and frankengenes, and just get my hands in the dirt. Hey look, it just started snowing! Wouldn't it be nice if it could just work out in the end?

Thursday, February 09, 2006 

The Anything God

stardust1954 pointed out this article Raising Humanist Children. The author Terri Mandell has some good advice (like using "one nation under the sky" in the Pledge). My favorite part is right at the end, where she says:
You don't have to tell kids that god doesn't exist. All you have to do is tell them that God can be anything they want it to be, because it's an idea that comes from the imagination.

And then let them figure out the rest for themselves.
I've been letting this seep into my brain for the past week. This feels so right and fits right in with my larger philosophy. I want my children to be independent, free thinkers, full of curiosity and compassion. I don't want to tell them what to think (which I'm sure would be a futile exercise anyway). I value allowing them the freedom to explore and make mistakes if need be, under my protection and gentle guidance. But how do I do this when "God" is such a part of our culture? Ms. Mandell's statement is a way of thinking about the issue in line with my parenting style.

A few weeks back, my 1st grader was telling me that she and her fellow student were talking about God at school. Which god, where? I asked. "He's everywhere!" she enthused. I let her talk and asked questions, but didn't know where to leave it. With this idea that God can be anything, I can really relax about the issue and indulge in creative thinking with her. I also think it'll remove the issue from becoming a "hot button" one for us as a family.

thanks, stardust!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006 

Our Nighttime Parenting Ritual

I really hesitated before starting this blog because there are many bright, articulate atheists already blogging out there, but my passion is about children and I have questions on how to raise them with very few role models as my guide. mindgames asked me recently if I had any end of the night rituals, so I thought I'd share a little.

I need the end of the day to be very peaceful. My 1st grader is what Kurcinka calls spirited: a high energy, super sensitive, intense, persistent sweet little girl. The old "die" prayer I grew up with would be the last thing I need to get her to settle down!

So what does an atheist family do? Well, our ritual is pretty mellow. After stories, I turn out the light. I ask if there was anything that bothered her that day (and it is amazing the things she comes up with), so she can put that to rest.* Then I ask about her favorite part of the day, to get her smiling again. I then tell her how special she is to me, and how much I love her.

Usually one of us will do "see you later alligator / in a while crocodile". If she lies quietly with her eyes closed and head on the pillow, I'll sit with her for about ten minutes, stroking her hair, or if she is lucky, rubbing her back or giving her a hand massage.

That's all, a ritual stripped to the essentials of caring, belonging, tenderness and love. It works for us.

Anyone have other bedtime rituals? I'd love to hear about them.

*Recently, I try to start this at dinnertime if I know she's got a lot on her mind.


Invisible atoms and old texts

marcguyver has read stories about someone named Jesus in the bible and is frustrated (I think) because there are people that don't consider those words proof enough that that person lived. He asks another great question:
Lastly, have you ever seen an atom? And yet, if all of our abilities to actually see an atom (i.e. through an electron microscope) were destroyed, I'm guessing you'd still believe that atoms are real because of the 'testimony' or 'written record' of others who had seen them in the past; am I wrong?
I love this question.

Two guys were sitting around, postulating about the smallest possible particle that could exist. They called this concept the "atom", meaning "indivisible". What is the smallest piece of stone that can still be called a stone be like? How about the smallest part of this table leg, or the contents of this glass of wine? There wasn't an electron microscope in sight as this thought experiment was performed by Greek philosophers Democritus and Leucippus in 500 BC. They came up with a theory that it was the different sizes and shapes of these "atoms" that caused different physical properties such as "hard" or "liquid".

It turns out that their theory didn't hold up when examined using the scientific method. Other theories were proposed, and tested, and as early as 1897 there were insights that the "indivisible" atom had to be comprised of subatomic particles.

Ernst Ruska invented the electron microscope based on knowledge that electrons possess a wave aspect, magnetic fields could manipulate electrons, and that the shorter electron waves would magnify more than ordinary light waves. You couldn't happen to invent an electronic microscope without understanding electrons!

But even with this microscope could we not see an atom. That had to wait until Erwin Muller invented the Field ion microscope in approx. 1951.

How cool is that!

If we were to lose all our scientific knowledge, there we would be on square one with Democritus and Leucippus, postulating about things we can't see, and slowly performing experiments to understand (again) what it is that makes up our universe. If we were to lose all copies of the bible, no amount of sitting around postulating would re-create it. That is why I can believe in atoms though I can't see them, but not, by extension, the contents of a very old book.

Monday, February 06, 2006 

Jesus (Myth?): examining Suetonius

From Steven Harris' blog: "Suetonius, Claudius 25:4, approx. 120AD "He banished from Rome all the Jews, who were continually making disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus" approx AD 49, according to Steven.

There must be a mistake! How is a group goaded on by a dead person? There should be a bigger story! Jews travelling to Rome spread oral (presumably) tales of what? Jesus walking on water? Turning the other cheek? Dying for sins? Which caused the Jews to agitate enough that the Romans threw them out, just here but not elsewhere in the Empire. Here is an ancient map showing the Roman Empire (and modern for orientation).

I have spent two days reading about Roman Emperor Claudius. Fascinating! I had no idea we knew so much! He became Emperor just after Jesus supposedly died. I could not find another reference to this Jewish Banishment that he (supposedly) ordered. The stuff we do know about is pretty neat, from his relationship with the Senate to his wives to his cause of death (mushrooms).

Just after becoming Emperor, Claudius in his 'famous' Letter to the Alexandrians didn't permit many Jewish families to move to Alexandria; if you read it you'll see he isn't the kindest towards Jews.

Still, Jewish historian Josephus records that Claudius "then reaffirmed the rights and freedoms of all the Jews in the empire" (quote is from wikipedia, I think referencing book 19 chapter 5 section 2). I don't know to find the date that book 19 refers to, anyone? Was it before or after the banishment? Josephus doesn't seem to notice the banishment. Should he have known about it?

It was in Roman historian Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus' book The Twelve Caesars that contains the reference to Chrestus. He section on Claudius was finished around 112 AD, sixty-ish years after the banishment. The original Latin with translation is available, if I knew Latin I would try to pin down "instigation". Where did he learn that Jews had been banished from Rome? Where are the "imperial records" that he supposedly worked from? One part of this wikipedia entry says he is very significant and a main source of work, but the last line says much is "gossip and factually unrealiable", with no data to back up either view. Annoying!

How many Jews were banished? How long did the banishment last, when did it end? Were there guards posted around Rome to keep out the Jews? How did Claudius know the name of their instigator (Christ the ghost?)? I think I could spend another two days on this and have more questions. Feedback, please...


Jesus (Myth?): examining non-NT sources

I can't remember a time in my life without stories about Jesus! It wasn't until recently that I started having my doubts, cynical as I am, I tend to think it's a very tiny minority of people that fabricate stories that are presented as the truth (even when presented with ample evidence to the contrary). How could this stuff be made up? Why would anyone do it?

I want to say thanks for all the time Steven & Marc have taken to dig up extra-biblical references about Jesus. I have so much to learn, for example it took me a while to find the meaning of MSS as Marc uses. Check out that link, there are some pictures of ancient manuscripts and codices - including the recently mentioned Codex Sinaiticus, how cool is that??

Steve points out seven extra-biblical sources (excluding Josephus). I can't stand not researching them, so I'll do them one at a time.

Lya, stardust1954, thanks for the links!

Friday, February 03, 2006 

Challenge updated

In this post I asked whether I could ignore the bible itself as a reference source to that age-old question "was Jesus a real person, or a myth?" In addition to my cynical side saying "huge bias there!", the Jewish Freak points out the extrodinary evidence required for supernatural claims, to which point Steven Harris & I seem OK to put to the side. I don't know how to judge the wide enough circulation point, lemme think on that.

To see how Steven separates the theological vs historical parts made me reconsider. Can a theist pull out passages to support an argument without also asserting the supernatural claims contained within must be true? It appears so. This means I can't blithely dismiss historic evidence just because the source of it is the bible (though I know I will still worry about bias). OK, I'll try not to. Thanks for the clarification, Steven.

While chasing down guidelines for examining historic data (following marcguyver's lead, though he uses uncredited sources), I found an essay by skeptic Jeffery Jay Lowder, cofounder of the Internet Infidels, concluding that independent confirmation really doesn't need to be provided. (It was written before Doherty's work.)

Steven, if you would be so kind, would you provide a link to somewhere containing what you think are the best guesses for dates of when the Gospels (NT?) were written?

I made some yummy peanut butter cookies with my daughter yesterday, and I wish I could hand them around. Thanks to everyone for taking the time to write so extensively & passionately.

Next post: examining the extra-bibical sources provided by marc & steven and responding to stuff ya'll had to say previously, I did read it all...

And I must rant that trying to read long comments in blogger in a skinny little column was driving me crazy, I switched it to the annoying pop-up window type to be able to expand it. Am I just lucky to get people who really have something to say, or what?

Thursday, February 02, 2006 

groan, groan

I see a great discussion going on in my last post, and I haven't even parsed it yet, nor had the time to respond in kind to marc & steven while I see franky has a post that pulls me back to what I really want to talk about (children).

Sweet baby that he is, however, he has given me a cold. I'm handing him over to his father (nothing more sexy than a dad nurturing our little ones!) so I can snooze. Back soon...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006 

Jesus is a Myth Challenge Examined

I wrote: "if you have any proof outside of the bible about Jesus' existence, I (and the world) would love to hear about it."

Steve Harris correctly points out that the NT could be used for theological claims and historical claims. I didn't think of it this way, but that makes sense.

Certainly I was trying to head off the theological arguments in the form of "since the bible was written by my God, the stuff in it must be true! Since it says someone walked on water, it must have really happened!"

What about historical claims? There is still a bit of a problem, because when someone has a vested interest in an outcome, the claim needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

So is there a way to find the information in the NT that can help prove the point (Jesus -> real person?) while being cognizant of the vested interest?

Try me out, I'd love to hear what you think.

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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