Home > Live Blogging the Bible > Live Blogging the Bible, Exodus 4:24-26

Live Blogging the Bible, Exodus 4:24-26

by Noah Lugeons

Even after only a book and 3 chapters, the title of “weirdest part of the bible” is a tough one to earn.  I’m only 100 pages in or so and already I’ve had to stop, scratch my head, re-read, re-scratch my head and sigh in frustrated confusion approximately one time for every 3 chapters.

If pressed, up until this morning I’d have listed the curse Noah lays on his grandson when his grandson’s dad sees his pecker as the weirdest part of the bible, though I’d have hemmed and hawed a bit between that and the part where Jacob wrestles god on the river.

But now there is a brand new contender and I actually think it might remain the bible’s weirdest passage no matter how much of this crap I read.  For those familiar with the bible, this is the part where Moses’ wife gives him magical foreskin powers so he can kick god’s ass.  And for those of you unfamiliar with the bible, that part actually exists and if you don’t believe me, check out Exodus 4:24-26 and tell me what the fuck is going on there then:

On the way, at a place where they spent the night, the Lord met him [Moses] and tried to kill him.  But Zipporah [Moses’ wife] took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched it to his feet and said, “Truly you are a bridegroom of blood to me!”  So he let him alone.  It was then she said, “A bridegroom of blood by circumcision.”

For a little context (and I’m afraid a little is all you’re gonna get), this is shortly after God charges Moses to go to Egypt and free the Israelites in bondage.  God appears in burning bush form, tells Moses to go to the pharaoh, loads him up with a few magic tricks and tells him to meet Aaron along the way.  And then, for no reason the bible bothers to explain, god appears and tries to kill Moses.  But not very hard.  Because of Zipporah’s clever foreskin maneuver.

There are so many fucking questions here, I don’t know where to start.  Why would god try to kill Moses?  How omnipotent is this guy if he can’t handle a Jew and his foreskin wielding wife?  If god can appear in a form that can ineffectually assassinate Moses, why the burning bush crap a few passages earlier?  And, most importantly, what the fuck?

This is some seriously crazy shit and the bible carries on like none of it happened a few verses later.  God just got thwarted by a piece of baby-dick and we’re just supposed to move on like this was no big deal?  And just how many of the early Jewish fathers have defeated god in a wrestling match?

I hoped that the annotations would help, but they just made it worse.  They refer to this whole thing as an “Enigmatic Episode” and point out that when it says that Zipporah touched the foreskin to Moses’ feet, that may have been a euphemism for his nuts.  Seriously.

So as I’m reading it, the scene from Zipporah’s perspective has to go something like this:

  • Awakened in the middle of the night by sounds of a struggle.
  • Wipe the sleep out of her eyes and glances through the moonlight to see her husband getting his ass kicked by God, Almighty.
  • Says to herself, “If only I had something to mutilate my son’s cock with!”  Finds flint.
  • Hastily circumcises her infant with a random, unsanitized stone in the dark.
  • Disrobes Moses’ while he’s fighting god.
  • Touches his cock with bleeding ring of baby genital.
  • God says… “Gross!  I don’t even want to wrestle any more!”
  • Says, “Truly you are a bridegroom of blood to me!”

I’m no closer to understanding this book, but at least now if I’m ever tasked with making an Exodus video game, I know what the power-ups will be.

 

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  1. May 5, 2013 at 6:22 PM

    That is a hilarious take away!

  2. May 8, 2013 at 10:10 AM

    Strangely these aren’t the parts of the bible they focus on in American Bible Challenge.

    • May 8, 2013 at 10:13 AM

      If I ever have a sudden influx of money, I might finance a series of bible cartoons for all the stories they leave out.

      • Hugh J. Sumption
        May 10, 2013 at 3:02 PM

        Great idea, Noah! I’d love to see an animated rendering of silly bible stories on YouTube or somewhere that everyone could easily access them.

        In case you and the crew haven’t seen it, here’s the site for a gentleman who has put together a book version of the same:
        http://www.illustratedbiblestories.ca/

        Potential podcast guest? 🙂

  3. Hugh J. Sumption
    May 10, 2013 at 2:37 PM

    Sounds like Exodus 4:24-26 does a pretty good job of answering the question: “Could god create a foreskin so powerful that it could defeat even him?”

    Putting that aside, I completely agree with you Noah. These verses do nothing if not raise an abundance of questions. For example:

    1. Are all foreskins magical? (If so, I think the best part of me was left on a delivery room floor somewhere… and I’d kind of like to have it returned to me.)

    2. Was Zipporah already aware of some god-banishing properties of the foreskin… or was she just kind of freestyling while looking for ways to end the fracas? If the later is true, it was an interesting choice… and probably not in the top ten things I would have tried.

    3. What is the full ritual required to release the almighty power of a foreskin? I’m guessing it includes the following incantation: “Wonder-skin powers… ACTIVATE!”. But I’m just guessing. Someone must know for sure. I’m looking forward to the Dan Brown book that reveals who knows and why they are covering it up.

    I’m sure all of these questions will be answered in later chapters of the bible. I mean, as a divinely inspired book it would have to be exceptionally organized, free of pointless filler, and utterly devoid of glaring contradictions …right?

    • May 10, 2013 at 4:09 PM

      First of all, love the name.

      Secondly, I’d love your permission to quote extensively from that comment on our upcoming “Holy Babble” segment… I read it allowed to one of my roommates and both of us were in tears by the end of it.

  4. Hugh J. Sumption
    May 11, 2013 at 1:24 PM

    Noah, you have my complete permission to quote, misquote and/or horribly misquote me — whatever works best for you and the show, should that opportunity arise.

    Also, Heath has my complete permission to fuck, hate-fuck, and/or angrily hate-fuck Fred Phelps with my dick — whatever works best for him, should *that* opportunity arise.

    I’m pretty sure nothing would make me happier than to contribute to the show. At least until Heath and I get the chance to collaborate on that other project.

  5. Hugh J. Sumption
    May 12, 2013 at 7:36 PM

    I’m pretty sure that when god tells the wrestling story, it includes the line: “What a time to remember that I had left *my* foreskin in my other pants”.

    • May 12, 2013 at 8:32 PM

      Since God dictated the story, I can’t help but wonder if he added the foreskin bit just to give himself an excuse for losing. I’m sure all the other gods are rolling their eyes at God-Bar and saying, “Sure, Yahweh. If it hadn’t been for that foreskin, I’m sure you’d have kicked his ass.”

  6. Hugh J. Sumption
    May 13, 2013 at 3:33 PM

    From what little I understand of OT God’s perspective… the scariest thing Zipporah could have produced was some menstrual blood.

    • May 13, 2013 at 4:44 PM

      I’d have appreciated a quick line where she first tried to menstruate.

  7. Jett Clark
    June 2, 2013 at 5:26 PM

    I’d love to elucidate a little bit of what’s going on in this story if you don’t mind. As a theist with absolutely zero interest in apologetics, I look at this story and am just as bewildered as everyone else. That’s exactly why I love it so much. It speaks to a much older strata of the text than what we see on the surface, and likely goes back in tradition literally hundreds of years further than much of the rest of Exodus.

    The author here has a very different conception of YHVH than the later author. God, here, appears as a man, much as he does in the Garden of Eden and in his wrestling match with Jacob. It’s a veritable certainty that this author say YHVH as one of many gods who would have all been very real to him. Later Exodus authors do not see the want or need to write in an anthropomorphic God, and are content to leave him as, say, a burning bush.

    To put yourself in the mind of the author, remember that people had very little understanding of how their gods operated. For them, the world still felt very large and unexplored, and so there was no need to place God in the sky, or even out of the universe. They were very much content to have him live over on the other side of a hill. Furthermore, they had no idea what made the gods tick. After all, sometimes even the most seemingly pious men were just struck by lightning. Sometimes, the author of this strata believed, the gods just wanted blood. The gods weren’t watching you from afar. They were watching you from in caves, and from behind trees, spying on you, waiting to kill you. After all, Jacob characterizes YHVH as “the terror of his father Isaac.” YHVH was scary!

    So what we have here is a story from a strata that shows no sign of knowledge of a covenant with Abraham. Circumcision was just something that the Jews did, and not something that had yet been mythologised. If it was a covenental circumcision, it would be invalid, as it was required to be performed by a temple priest (always a man). For this author, God wanted blood, and the easiest way to get that blood was for Zipporah to circumcise their child and touch it to Moses’ penis in order to satiate YHVH’s blood lust. YHVH, having sensed the blood, retreated from Moses. Zipporah then emphatically declares that she is a “bridegroom of blood,” a saying which carries the connotation of blood offering protection. Moses’s wife willing acknowledges that she has warded off God by shedding the blood.

    It’s an incredibly disturbing and ominous story when put into context, and its fragmentary enigmatic nature is rather chilling, as if the missing elements of the original strata are hiding some profoundly scary shit. The idea that there are incredible beings hiding in the wilderness, spying on me, ready to kill me at any moment… that is a very scary idea indeed! Not to imply that I believe it, of course.

    • June 2, 2013 at 7:59 PM

      The opening of your third paragraph strikes me as quite curious. You seem to suggest that at the time of this authorship people knew less about how their god operated than they do now. As this book is still the primary source of information about said god and no revised data set exists, it would seem we have no more “knowledge” of how such a god might operate now.

      Did you intend to imply that people now have a better understanding of god’s MO? If so, how might such a thing have been obtained. In other words, how do you know that the version of god present in this account is wrong while maintaining that some other version is correct?

      • June 2, 2013 at 8:12 PM

        Well, I’ll elaborate a little on what I meant. I didn’t mean to say that the gods were mysterious to them in the sense that they didn’t know what properties they supposedly held. I meant to say that how they were going to behave next was a mystery. For them, a thunderstorm could be seen as–as we still call it–an “act of God,” and they may have had no idea why God was behaving the way he was! Things seemed fine, and then a giant storm whipped through and people were dead, and the people all thought to themselves “Wow, God is pissed, but why?” They knew God or the gods could cause storms, but they didn’t know why they would.

        Second, you are correct. I do not think that we have a better idea of how God behaves than the ancients did. It’s all conjecture, and that’s why I don’t hold myself down with much in the way of doctrine or dogma. The Bible is in a state of argument with itself as to who God is and what he wants. Are we to challenge him, like Job? Or to be subservient, like the author of much of Proverbs? Is he a god of distributive justice, like in the prophets? Or a genocidal maniac, like in Joshua?

        Moving into the New Testament, a greater emphasis is taken off worldly understanding (i.e. there was a storm therefore God is mad) and instead placed on philosophical notions. The Bible certainly doesn’t hold any monopoly on God (if he exists–and I’m not sure of that either). Rather, it is a conversation on what God might be, with some authors very sure (Pentateuch) and others totally unsure (Ecclesiastes). It’s best to acknowledge that from the get-go.

      • June 2, 2013 at 8:21 PM

        So you acknowledge that the bible is a work of speculative fiction by people who were every bit as equipped to opine on the nature of god as we are today. I would say that the very fact that the god hypothesis has been stagnant for thousands of years is more than enough of a reason to dismiss it altogether. Further, if we acknowledge that the bible is a conversation on what god “might be”, then any notion (including pasta-related theology) is an equally valid conclusion. In fact, even those things which can be shown to be false are equally valid.

        From an atheist perspective it would seem that the only way to defend theism at this point is to offer a definition with no substance whatsoever. In other words, the only way to properly define god at this point is to not define him at all. This, of course, is an intellectual admission that there is no reason to believe god exists, as something with no properties is not “something” by any logical definition.

      • June 3, 2013 at 2:42 AM

        I would certainly disagree that “the god hypothesis” (more aptly: theology) has been stagnant. It’s been in constant development for thousands of years. As far as the Bible being a conversation, yes-and-no. If you continue reading the Bible, and with an earnest interest in the Hebrew, you will find stories of YHVH where he has penises for eyes, but that doesn’t put it in the same league as “pasta.”

        The problem is, enlightenment thinkers are entirely focused on the physical. Whether God looked like a man or like a bowl of spaghetti was entirely unimportant before a couple hundred years ago. What was important was what the theology meant. The Bible, from a theistic perspective, is not just random conjecture, but an attempt at pinning down the divine. It is an attempt to explain the grandiose feeling of “more” that is so prevalent in human thinking, but which has been so difficult to pin down in human understanding.

        Your claim that the only way to defend theism is to offer a definition without substance is false, however, and shows a lack on your part in the understanding of the history of theology. And that’s fine! You have no interest in theism (and therefore theology) and so there’s no reason for you to give a shit. Still, it would do good to read up on present ontological discussion before acting like theism has just backed itself into a shapeless corner. Something like, say, liberation theology, or process relational theology, holds a very concrete view of the divine. Christian thinkers were the first to dismiss “God of the Gaps” arguments, after all. The debate goes deeper than many are willing to go, myself included.

  8. June 3, 2013 at 2:45 AM

    I would further ask you to question yourself. Other than an off-handed remark that I happen to be a theist, at what point did I invite this conversation? I mean, I’m taking part in it, sure! But what sparked it? The mention that I’m a theist, of course! And so apart from my careful handling of the Exodus text, you zeroed in on what separates us (theism vs. atheism) and instantly began to debate and oppose. I don’t think that’s healthy. Live and let live is most definitely an underrated ideology.

    • June 3, 2013 at 8:35 AM

      Wait a second… you posted about your theism on a blog called the “Scathing Atheist” and you wonder how it turned into a debate?

      • June 3, 2013 at 9:28 AM

        I made my theism known in a single sentence of a relatively long and dense post as a way of airing my potential biases, not to signal that I was up for a debate. I came to talk about YHVH’s penis, nothing less, nothing more!

      • June 3, 2013 at 6:17 PM

        Okay, well this probably isn’t the right forum for you. Not that you’re not welcome, but the entire point of this blog (and the associated podcast) is to point out what ridiculous horseshit theology is. When you show up and say (and I paraphrase), “I agree that this book is ridiculous and demonstrably insane, but I still agree with it’s core thesis”, I really have no choice but to point out what a nonsensical stance that is.

        You argued that theology had advanced (before trying to close the door on debate) but what you actually demonstrated was that it changed. It can’t be said to have advanced unless we could somehow establish that the current conception of god is closer to the “reality” of god than the nut-job Moses-wrestlin’ god in this passage. As (by your own admission) this author has every bit as much validity in claiming knowledge of god as you do today (or any other theist does today), I stand by my original statement that theism has not advanced, unless you consider the modern “new atheist” movement an advancement of theism.

        You say it’s been in “constant development” for thousands of years, yet it is no more able to communicate with or interpret the actions of god than it was thousands or tens of thousands of years earlier. Science has been in constant advancement and we can see how modern science is a clear advancement from the science of decades or centuries ago. The same is true of architecture, medicine, history, watchmaking… these are all legitimate intellectual endeavors. Theology is not. You also claim that the bible isn’t “random conjecture”, but until some reasonable evidence surfaces to suggest that the divine is real, it is “random conjecture”. In other words, you’re assuming your premise in order to justify your premise.

        And in the future, if you’re not up for debate, don’t make a three paragraph comment that tries to refute a bunch of points and THEN a comment about how you don’t want to debate. I’m not sure if it was your intent, but it sends the message that you want to debate, you just don’t want anyone to debate back.

      • June 3, 2013 at 6:49 PM

        Theology is about entering into a relationship. Until there enlightenment nobody was interested in the empirical finding of god like they are now. Looked at as a relationship, you’re no more able to determine the likelihood of me meeting a given future wife/husband than you are the likelihood of me meeting god, because it has absolutely nothing to do with enlightenment type thinking. I’m more agnostic than anything anyway.

        But you mistake me. The Moses story in question IS crazy, but I don’t think the entire Bible is crazy. The New Testament and much of the prophets were authors of protest manifesto. God is secondary. They’re a tough crowd to disagree with put into their historical context.

      • June 3, 2013 at 8:02 PM

        I don’t want to come off as overly combative, but as the Scathing Atheist, I have something of a reputation to uphold. So I have to take issue with the first paragraph. You’ve equated a very small likelihood with an undefined likelihood. The odds of you meeting a given future husband/wife are infinitesimal, but they are calculable, as we are able to quantify all the variables (how many people there are, geographic proximity, how often you meet new people, etc.). And then you try to mash this together with a claim about meeting god, which is an undefined variable. In other words, there is a huge difference in 1 in a trillion and zero in a trillion.

        But this is a minor point and wasn’t the basis of your rebuttal, so let me also take issue with the central thesis. Of course, by saying that you’re “more of an agnostic” and couching it in the term “enlightenment type thinking”, you are playing exactly the role I outlined before about the only sane way to define a defensible god belief; give that god no properties.

        Further, the philosophical quality of the New Testament (or my ability or inability to disagree with it) is a non-factor in a discussion about the truth claims of the bible or about theism in general. I’d say I won’t have much trouble at all disagreeing with them when they say things like “Jesus rose from the dead”, “Jesus was the divine son of god” and “slavery isn’t really that bad”. The fact that some or even most of what they said (a concession I’m making only for rhetorical purpose) is good does no more to establish divinity than the quality of Thoreau or Shakespeare.

      • June 3, 2013 at 8:46 PM

        I’ve made myself unclear yet again. Theology is about qualia. It is not about proving a claim, but experiencing a claim.

        As for the New Testament, that’s what I mean by enlightenment era thinking. Whether Jesus really was born of a virgin (he wasn’t) isn’t the point of the text. Don’t read it purely as a claim about an event, but as a story with a meaning, in this case a very political one. The literal rendering of a text is important, but never as important as its underlying meaning!

      • June 3, 2013 at 11:54 PM

        So by your definition, what makes theology different than an earnest reading of Aesop’s fables? If the bible is just political fiction then theology is simply a very narrow examination of political fiction. And, of course, the “meaning” is subjective and is subject to constant reinterpretations, all of which suffer from the aforementioned inability to distinguish the good from the bad when you’re dealing with claims that set themselves outside the realm of evidence. If I want to read the bible as a directive to kill all Muslims, I can do so and I’m just as justified as any other interpretation, as no metric exists to measure the quality of a theological claim (the relative truth of an untruth).

        What’s more, if I chose to make this claim (or any other equally abhorrent claim), I could use precisely the same argument you just presented to justify it. I would offer that theology is, at best, an attempt to elevate one’s opinion to the opinion of the divine.

      • June 4, 2013 at 5:45 AM

        Of course not. Let me put it this way–the Bible is old as dirt. As such, its texts carry metaphorical connotations that, while hidden for us, would have been exceedingly obvious to its initial readers. To make a very random example, 2,000 years from now people would probably rather read a very loaded and specific statement like, say, “Bush lied, people died” as referring to some sort of bush, and not George W. Bush. Those people would have no conception of 9/11 or the Iraq War, and may very well just take it as a reference to the burning bush or something. Only a careful scholarly reading with an attentive ear to history would pick up on the nuance that, for us, is exceedingly obvious.

        You can’t just read anything you want into the text. I mean, you can, but that’s not the intention of its authors. Rather, ancient audiences were very, very familiar with metaphor. Ancient genres like “apocalypse” (Ezekiel, Daniel, Revelation) don’t even exist any more, but in their own time were essentially a way to write out extended metaphors for then-current political situations. 2,000 years post Revelation, however, we have ceased reading it as a condemnation of the Roman domination system, and assume it’s a purposefully esoteric document detailing, well, whatever we want.

        As far as theology itself goes, well, yes, there’s nothing stopping you from saying whatever you want, really, but the same is true of other branches of philosophy as well, like ethics. Ultimately, the goal of theology is to grow through relationship, and so if you think that the key to that growth is genocide (like the authors of Deuteronomy, or Joshua, or Ezra) then there’s nothing stopping you from building that philosophical system and then living through it. If you think that the key to that goal is love and the abolishment of xenophobia (like Jonah, which is literally a parody of the book of Ezra) or the establishment of love (like James) then you can do that too. How tenable your conclusions are rest on the experiences of those living through your claim.

        Let’s face it: American fundamentalist Christians, with their very exclusivist and extremist interpretation of New Testament theology are having a bad time. Their unwillingness to change their tune is a result of (recently developed) dogma that they pretend is entirely inflexible and impossible to change. It’s as if a college student believed that you must always put “Bros before hos,” and then found himself exceedingly lonely as a result, but refused to change his understanding of relationships because he believes that “Bros before hos” is a universal, unchangeable truth.

        In New Testament theology, our entire relationship with God is contingent on our relationship with other people. If our relationship with people is in the gutter, our relationship with God is seen to be, well, in the gutter. And this follows naturally from the NT’s panentheistic assumptions which hold that God is not somewhere out there, but rather that we are “in” God. That’s not to say that God IS everything, but that God is IN everything. From that assumption, the conclusion is derived that if God is in everything, and God is love, we can tap into a greater happiness by creating a system of distributive justice–that is, equality, although one should not mistake it for socialism or communism (both later constructs unfamiliar to first century thinkers).

        So yeah, basically, nothing is stopping me from saying that “God is farts, and farts are good,” but sooner or later, people are gonna notice that farts smell like shit. If my theology invokes a divinity of danger (like our Zipporah narrative) then maybe it’ll fly for a while to paint farts as a divine retribution for “sin” or what have you, but eventually people are going to figure out that farts are just the worst part of dinner, and then you’re back at square one again. It is by focusing on the intangible–the qualia–that one ultimately derives useful conclusions. And you are very correct in stating that those conclusions are never conclusive. However, for an individual who embraces a very forward thinking theology like, say, “process relational theology,” that person, whether God exists or not, is likely to see a sort of bounty of happiness in both their own lives and the lives of other people they’re around, where as those who embrace a theology of “700 Club” are likely to get sick and die. At the heart of it is attitude, and you would be correct in saying that there is no definitive, scientifically proven attitude either, but we all know (both through experience, and scientific inference–not ultimate conclusion) that having a shitty attitude gets you shitty results.

        I don’t hold that theology holds some monopoly on happiness, and that it is the key to our happiness as people. I do hold, however, that theology operates under a certain principle and that people aren’t going to hold to awful theology’s forever just because they’ve been told to. Eventually, like the women who, for centuries, were married off by their dads into servitude due to the divine decrees of the Torah, people are going to say “Hey, fuck this, I want a better relationship.” And even if God doesn’t exist, which is very possible (!) people can still use theology to seek better relationships with themselves and with others. They can use it the wrong way, too, but it only lasts so long.

      • June 4, 2013 at 6:54 PM

        So 7 paragraphs there and you really didn’t say anything you hadn’t already said. I’ll refute a few of the points you made, but I’m afraid I’ll have to do a bit of repeating myself as well:

        Again, you claim theology is about a “relationship” with a being that there is no logical reason to believe in. You assume your conclusion at the outset, you wash your hands of all the negative aspects of religion by invoking the “No True Scotsman” fallacy and then you make the horribly unjustifiable claim that people will not stay with “bad” theology forever without defining what makes theology good, beyond it being the things that you currently think.

        You then attach theology to happiness, but, of course, only your theology because all the other people who disagree with you are doing it wrong. This means that your personal theology only gets the good stuff and none of the bad stuff. This is an extraordinarily weak defense.

        And then you talk about how “bad” theology can only last “so long” when I could take you to a neighborhood in NEW YORK CITY TODAY where women are still married off into servitude by their fathers. I’m sorry, but when you’re not being logically incoherent, you’re simply being incorrect. I’m sure that this is how you justify the horror of religion in your own mind and clearly it works for that purpose. This line of argument will never be convincing to someone standing outside religion, as you are simply carving a hole in the Venn diagram and pretending none of the other stuff counts when it comes to you because you’re better at religion than all the people who do bad stuff with it.

      • June 4, 2013 at 10:20 PM

        I’m not 100% sure what you think I said (or even what you think you’ve said) but it bears very little relation to what I was getting at. The inherently incorrect practices of our forefathers, by both social and theological means, are shaped over time. Essentially, yes, bad theology CAN only last so long. I’m not impressed by your example of NYC purity rituals, when only 50 years prior to our Common Era the Roman Empire was debating over whether or not to ban child sacrifice. Things do change, and religion is one of them. To deny that is to deny the nature of religion and theology outright. I point you to “The Evolution of God” by, I think it’s Robert Wright.

        Further, I have made no claim that my own theology is either better or correct. Yes, I will have to concede that my belief that “God wants me to be a good person” is better than the theological belief that “God wants me to burn my children alive on an altar.” Whether or not God exists, one belief is inherently less harmful, and there is no way to argue otherwise without showing an enormous bias. Where I believe my theology gains its footing is in my insistence that I am not necessarily right. I don’t ever want to say “I know how the world works,” and indeed, my entire philosophy on theology is that I’m using it as a way to entertain philosophical notions in relation to constructs. Theology doesn’t necessarily invoke an omniscient, monotheistic god, and neither do I.

        Again, I am agnostic. I entertain theism not because I need it, but because I want it. I have no interest in converting other people or believing I am right. Rather, I utilize theism as a thought experiment in order to try and think beyond my own boundaries. Correctness (and no, theology does not necessarily invoke moral correctness) is irrelevant compared to results. That is, the result is not to prove God, but to experience growth.

        The people who do bad stuff with religion would be bad with or without it. Bad is bad, whether it be religious or secular in nature. I’m sorry, but a person who uses religion in order to feed the homeless is better than people who use religion to justify xenophobia and genocide and racism and sexism and homophobia and all else. This is a notion predicated on justice as it is–static, not possible to change–and not whether or not somebody fits into my beliefs club.

      • June 4, 2013 at 11:14 PM

        I’m starting to think that you’re just pretending not to understand the core argument I’m making just so that you can avoid refuting it. You keep saying things like “The result isn’t to prove God, but to experience growth”. But, again, as you cannot measure one theology against another (and keep in mind that there is no “dominant thrust” in theology… sacrificing children is no more or less vile than the acid attacks that Muslim women still deal with), you cannot claim any kind of growth. You are simply asserting your correctness whether you choose to admit it or not.

        Note that my objection is not hinged on the improper nature of your assertion (though it is improper). It hinges on the fact that the exact same justification can be used to moralize any action or belief at all. In other words, any theology can lay claim to the same nonsensical justification and every one can point to an even worse thing that was once done by some other religion. Keep in mind that terms like “I utilize theism as a thought experiment in order to try and think beyond my own boundaries” is completely devoid of meaning. Read back through that sentence. It actually means absolutely nothing… it is simply a string of pretty words and could thus be applied to any argument. I’ll give you an example:

        I utilize the giant sock-people that secretly rule the world from my tool shed as a thought experiment in order to try and think beyond my own boundaries.

        Both statements are equally meaningless and say nothing about the inherent value of a belief in theism or giant sock-people.

        I do hope that if you respond, you do so for a reason other than restating your thesis. If you’d like to simply offer some sort of refutation or objection to my core point about the impossibility of measuring the relative “truth” (and thus the relative value) of any theological claim, that would allow the conversation to move forward. And it would be best to do so in a way that doesn’t assume beforehand that religion (or theism) has value, as that is the point you’re attempting to defend, and thus cannot be a premise within that defense.

      • June 5, 2013 at 6:44 AM

        How silly. First, yes, we can say that a god literally commanding his followers to sacrifice their children to him is worse than a “defender of the faith” as they may be throwing acid on a woman. One is commanded and the other is not. One involves the violent, sacrificial death of a child and the other involves a woman suffering extreme facial damage. Both are terrible, but one is clearly worse. Even still, the YHVH of Genesis who commands the sacrifice of Isaac (but takes it back??) is less immoral than the YHVH of Joshua who commands an absolute and complete genocide. The sliding scale exists.

        But no, you are 100% wrong. I can claim a kind of growth. These things are not immeasurable, as you may think. If a person’s theology causes them to become an acid throwing fundamentalist who hates theme parks, we can say that theology is a hindrance to their being as well as to others. If an acid attack victim uses their theology in order to overcome their pain, and their fears about their appearance, about going in public, and whatever else may follow, that is measurable personal growth. One theology causes a negative reaction, and the other causes a positive reaction. This is not deniable, whether God is or not. Theology is not the argument that God exists, but that God exists a certain way.

        If you want to make a Flying Spaghetti Monster argument, that’s fine. There’s still a wide and clear gap between a tool-shed-sock-puppet that tells you to throw acid and a tool-shed-sock-puppet whom you (possibly mistakenly) believe is helping you to overcome the trauma of having had acid thrown on you.

        If you want to understand the inherent value of a theistic belief and a given theology, then I’d suggest looking into (as I’ve already mentioned) process-relational theology. The belief that God is a divine therapist who is there for you to turn your problems over to. The belief that, even if no one else does, God understands. This sort of theology cannot be replaced with an atheistic equivalent, as it requires a partnership that cannot exist outside of a belief in an all-seer. This sort of theology has also been more than aptly shown to make people happier overall. God or not, the idea holds a legitimate power and has, and will continue to, help people.

      • June 5, 2013 at 11:02 AM

        Hey, I have a great idea. Why don’t you just say the exact same thing again (but make sure you use several paragraphs to say it)? Make sure you pretend that the points you’re making aren’t the exact same ones I just refuted over and over and over and over again.

      • June 5, 2013 at 11:12 AM

        Surprisingly, most people don’t see the assumption that all theology can be summed up by the Flying Spaghetti Monster as an adequate refutation. You’ve also failed to refute my argument that my mentioning that I’m a theist doesn’t mean you need to ignore my initial points towards an early, undeveloped Jewish henotheism grounded outside any sort of moral philosophy. That’s interesting stuff. The Spaghetti Man is not.

      • June 6, 2013 at 12:31 PM

        See, that’s our problem right there: one cannot actually use a phrase like “X is interesting stuff, Y is not” if one is trying to establish a point. Obviously, interest is a matter of opinion, not fact. You simply assert that the jabbering drivel of dead Jews is interesting. Well, I would disagree. The only thing that makes it interesting in my opinion is that millions of people are stupid enough to believe it to be divine. That is (lock, stock and barrel) a refutation of your initial “point”. It isn’t actually a point; it’s an assertion that can only be validated by a consenting opinion. As I do not consent in opinion, you have been “proven” wrong.

        And, of course, you’ve failed to address my chief concern once again (I’m no longer surprised by this), so let me give it to you once more:

        Theology cannot advance, as it is based on a false premise (the divine). Without TANGIBLE EVIDENCE of the divine, nobody can make any assertion about the nature or intent of the divine that cannot be discarded. If I say god has red hair and you say god has white hair, there is no way to measure the relative value of the two statements. I use hair color here as a variable, but ANY assertion made about the nature of the divine would be the same. You say “The divine doesn’t want you to throw acid at women” and I say “the divine does want you to throw acid at women”. And how do we resolve this? Traditionally it’s through a holy war, but there’s no way to intellectually hammer out these differences.

        Your assertion that theology has and is advancing cannot overcome this fatal flaw. Until there is an objective measure to use as a theological metric, it cannot advance any more than homeopathy, phrenology or tea-leaf reading can advance.

      • June 6, 2013 at 2:24 PM

        Then here’s where we stand:

        1) You clearly do not know what theology is. It is not the study of God, but the discussion of God. It makes no attempt to ascertain universal truths in and of itself as a topic, but rather it is a method of discussing “what-if” critically. Similar to theology is its big brother, philosophy, which also cannot be “proven” except through purely logical means, but similarly holds the power to shape our perceptions.

        2) Kay, well, you don’t like the Bible. Then why read it? Because billions of people read it and you want to prove them wrong? Okay, fine, but you’re not good at that. Anyone can point to a passage in the Bible and say “Oh, bullshit!” but the foundation of Christianity is not the Bible, but the church. People in scholarship and educated laymen like myself have been able to go into the Bible and tears it every word asunder, dislodging every nuance of the divine in search of its human authors… and still come out Christian. Your unlearned attempts offer nothing, and when somebody comes in pointing to critical surveys of the text, you jump down their throat because they don’t believe exactly the same way as you, which is the heart of religious intolerance anyway.

      • June 6, 2013 at 2:49 PM

        Refutation of point number one:

        You could make the same argument to justify and “ology” you wanted. Once a study abandons the need for reality, it loses all value. I know what theology is; it is useless mental masturbation. The fact that you don’t like my definition doesn’t discredit it, as, if you think about it, we both defined it the same way, you just used complimentary terms.

        Refutation of point number two:

        I am quite proud of being intolerant of religion. “Faith” is the single greatest worldwide obstacle to freedom and human excellence. It is a cancer that must be excised for the sake of knowledge and science. I spend about 40 hours a week being actively intolerant of religion and the rest of my time being passively intolerant of religion. The fact that you spend enormous amounts of time studying one incredibly vapid book isn’t something to be proud of… think about how much you could have learned if that time was spent on some meaningful endeavor? Something that you don’t readily admit has only “what-if” wisps of theoretical value at best?

        The entire point of this blog (and my podcast) is to be intolerant of religion. You empower the thing that causes good people to murder other good people. You should be ashamed of yourself. You’re not, so I’m ashamed of you for you.

      • June 6, 2013 at 7:10 PM

        You’re apologizing for your own ministry. Look at you, reading the Bible to disprove it, while also claiming that people who have read enough to disprove YOU are wasting their time. You set yourself up as the only possible victor, because anyone who actually knows what they’re talking about is just a nerd who is contributing to the problem that is “faith.” I also know that you don’t know what faith is, because a world without faith would be near functionless.

        To say that good people murder other good people over “religion” is a silly thing as well. People murder one another as a result of intolerance. To argue that I am aiding intolerance by saying that I’m not sure whether there is or isn’t a God is not only ludicrous, but completely untenable. You’re so bogged down in atheist polemics that you haven’t even thought to try and defend your silly point.

        I am a textual critic. I give no fucks about theology, generally, but that’s what you’ve made this. My interest is purely in the text as it is, and in interpreting it through a lens of historical-critical exegesis. Here is why: because I like the texts. Amazing as you may think it, some of us actually take enjoyment in reading old boring snoozefests like the Bible and Homer, and we don’t all do so based on either a pro- or anti-religious stance, but simply because we like the texts, and we like history. Your argument that I’ve wasted my time is about as meaningful as if you were to say “World War II historians could have taken up plumbing instead.”

        Textual critics are responsible for reforming religion into a tolerant institution. Atheist rhetoric is responsible for creating one more dividing line. Rather than trying to bring people together, you’re doing exactly what the religious do: refusing to tolerate the other side, polemically asserting that everyone on the other side is either doing bad or helping bad, and trying to win as many corpses over to your own side as possible. Congratulations on your religion.

      • June 7, 2013 at 9:58 PM

        Let me explain the problem here:

        I am reading the bible because it’s long, I do a weekly podcast and I need new shit to make fun of on a regular basis. I have no interest in it except as fodder for a podcast full of dick and fart jokes. You are a textual critic. As you can see, our goals are in opposition. If you want to talk about the bible, go talk to somebody who gives a shit. You won’t find that here. I’ve made that perfectly clear. And yet you keep coming back out of some pathological need to get the last word.

        You’ve laid bare your tactic in the debate. When you’re defeated on a point, you simply pretend it’s an invalid point:
        “WHAT?!?! People killed in the name of religion!? I’ve never heard of such a thing!!! A ridiculous accusation, I say!”
        “What!?! People who support the thing that oppresses women, opposes science and inhibits education is part of the problem?!?! The hell you say!”

        When this is inconvenient, you create a massive straw man:
        “What!?!? You say devoting one’s entire life to studying the same book over and over again is a waste of time?!?!? Well clearly you hate history!”
        “WHAT!?!?!? You reserve belief for only things that can be demonstrated by evidence!?!?! Well clearly you are dogmatically faithful!”
        “WHAT!?!?!? I’ve still failed to address the only point that you’ve shown any interest in talking about on any level at any point in these 97 replies!?!??! I better write 5 more paragraphs where I make a bunch of assertions and then make no attempt to justify them!!!”

        If that’s all you’ve got, I’m done.

      • June 8, 2013 at 9:33 AM

        I didn’t say a single one of those things.

      • June 8, 2013 at 8:54 PM

        Well, no, I was sarcastically rephrasing the actual “refutations” you offered for humorous effect. But you did say that the notion that people murder over religion is “silly”, which is far more asinine than any of my sarcasm. When you divorce yourself so far from reality that you pretend that holy wars aren’t about religion (or never happened… not sure what you’re trying to pretend, honestly), it’s hard to respond seriously. It’s also pointless.

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