Arab Israel

07/24/2017

Sounds funny, doesn’t it? Arab Israel. Isn’t Israel suppose to be the homeland of the Jews? What’s wrong with this picture?

The other day, terrorists at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem attacked and killed two Israeli policemen. What is not widely reported, though, is that the two Israeli policemen were actually Arabs, members of the Druze minority sect. Yes, Arab Israeli policemen.

People who have not visited Israel recently would never suspect that Israel has become such a boiling pot of diversity.  It’s one of the few  places in the world where diversity actually has had some success. Two of the largest groups of Israel citizens, about 20% of the population each, are Arabs and people of Russian ancestry. Those of Russian ancestry are generally not religious which means that nearly 40% of Israelis do not practice the Jewish faith (Judaism). In addition, there is a large group of secular (non-religious) Jews as well as atheists, Christians and a plethora of minor faiths such as Bahai. It’s fairly safe to say then that a majority of Israeli citizens do not practice the Jewish faith.

As for Israel being a Jewish homeland, that’s true but incomplete.  It is a homeland for Jews, but it isn’t the “homeland” of the Jews. The homeland of the Jewish people is actually the ancient kingdoms of Judea and Samaria which lie next door (immediately east of what is now Israel). Israel was formed by the United Nations out of a swamp-infested tract of land that ran along the Mediterranean plus the Negev Desert. It wasn’t much to write home about and it certainly wasn’t the historical Jewish homeland.

That true homeland of Judea and Samaria for the most part encompasses what is referred to as the West Bank (the lands lying immediately west of the Jordan River). For example, Bethlehem, Masada, Jericho, Qumran and Jerusalem were part of ancient Judea and Samaria. Of course, the West Bank was ceded by Jordan to Israel as the result of Jordan losing the Six-Day War in 1967 and have effectively been part of Israel ever since, a period of 50 years.  Does anyone really think that Israel will give up their homeland after having these lands for the last 50 years?

As for the Arabs who live in Israel and are citizens of Israel, with all the rights of Israeli citizens, they enjoy a better life than in any Arab nation in the Middle East.  Second place isn’t even close.  Arab women, especially, have freedom in Israel that is unparalleled throughout the Middle East. I recently met an Arab waiter in Israel who was moonlighting from his day job as a school teacher to pay for his daughter to go to medical school. Education for an Arab woman! Are you kidding, and a doctor to boot.

Arab Israel isn’t what you think it is nor as it has been portrayed by the media. Some Arabs are Israeli policemen who sometimes die for their “country.” They are represented in the Israeli Knesset (Congress/Parliament) and an Arab sits on the Israeli Supreme Court. Maybe, the world should take notice of the Arab Israeli dynamic.  They just might learn something from it.

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Here’s the three things that you need to know about the Bible, at least from one person’s perspective:

What’s the most important part of the Bible?

That’s easy. It’s Genesis. Why? Because, above all, man needs to understand his place in the universe. That is, why do I exist?

What’s the most interesting part of the Bible?

It’s Genesis, again. Why? Because we get to eavesdrop on God during the creation process.

What is the importance of the Bible to religion?

This one is trickier. It’s moral authority. That is, man needs to be able to distinguish between good and evil, right and wrong and arguably this can only come from God.

 

With respect to Christianity, Genesis is central to their faith. So, there are three things that one ought to know about Genesis, as follows:

The God of Genesis is the God of the Hebrews

The God of Genesis is Yahweh who is the Hebrew God. In fact, Christianity does not have a God that is unique to its own religion.

Genesis is not an original Christian story

That is, like Yahweh, Genesis was borrowed from Judaism.

The author of Genesis is unknown

Genesis was written by Jewish scribes shortly after the Babylonian exile (6th century BC), however, the exact author(s) is unknown. Contrary to popular belief, though, it was not written by Moses.

 

All of which leads to three things that one ought to know about Christianity.

Who were the very first Christians?

Obviously, the disciples, themselves, were the very first Christians (i.e. followers of Christ).

What did the disciples believe in?

The disciples’ beliefs were based on their first-hand experiences from being around Jesus. What Jesus taught them, they taught others. The disciples were Jewish and they lived their lives strictly in accordance with the Jewish Written Law, the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). The scriptures that they studied were from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament); as for the New Testament scriptures, they had not yet been written as of that time.

Who decided the official church doctrine?

There was a lot of diversity in early Christian thinking. After much debate, the core tenets of Christianity were officially decided by a series of church councils beginning with the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, which was convened under the auspices of the Roman Emperor, Constantine I.

 

All of which takes us back to the literal beginning…to Genesis. That is, what makes Genesis so important to Christianity? Does it answer the age-old questions of how and why were we created?

How were we created?

Well, for starters, Genesis has an explanation of how life was created. The Bible’s concept of God creating the heavens and earth is sometimes referred to as Creation Out of Nothing. Interestingly enough, that concept is actually supported somewhat by science whose own Big Bang Theory is also, essentially, creation out of nothing.

Why were we created?

Almost everyone I know has, at one time or another, wanted to know the reason for their existence. That is, what is the meaning of life? Genesis has a reason, but it isn’t exactly what you might think or have been taught to believe. Genesis actually says that man was created to care for the Garden of Eden.  As for the woman, she apparently was an afterthought as she was created later (to be a companion for man).

 

In search of God

Man has been forever in search of his origins, in search of his creator; in other words, in search of God. God, of course, is the main character of the Genesis story.  However, there are some age-old questions that Genesis doesn’t answer about him.  For example, although much has been said about God, we still don’t know what God looks like. How could that information have possibly been left out of the Genesis story…unless the author didn’t know.

Further, did Adam really have a fireside chat with God and did Eve really have a conversation with a talking snake? The answer to those questions is that Genesis should not be read literally (rather it’s allegorical in nature).  Luminaries such as Paul, St Augustine, Philo of Alexandria and Origen all agreed that certain parts of Genesis should not be read literally. Accordingly, down through the years, there have been a myriad of interpretations concerning the Creation.  Even people who still read Genesis literally have different interpretations from each other.

As a result, everyone has an opinion and they say that they’re the only one that knows the truth. Perhaps, in the final analysis, that’s the only thing that you really need to know about the Bible.

 

Epilogue

The Hebrew scribes that penned Genesis no doubt relied on older sources for their story.  Among other reasons, I can say that with full confidence because Genesis was written some 3,000 years after-the-fact. Yes, 3,000 years if you can even imagine that. Besides, as the Talmud says, some Genesis passages were taken from tradition (in other words older belief systems) or older writings. So, Genesis, while it may be an interesting read, is not even an original rendering of the creation story.

 

“For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? And again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.”

– Origen, Christian theologian

Paradise Lost

09/21/2015

Man has been forever in search of Shangri-La, or paradise as most people think of it. The Bible’s rendering of the Garden of Eden story was not the first written story on the subject – far from it. Hundreds of years earlier, the ancient Sumerians wrote The Epic of Gilgamesh which is considered by some scholars to be the first great work of literature, as well as an influence on the Bible and the epic works of Homer (the Iliad and the Odyssey).

However, the Bible story is the one that most everyone knows and loves. It centers around a man named Adam and a woman named Eve.  Interestingly enough, they were both referred to as adam, since adam was not a name but rather a designation for mankind (see Genesis 5:2). Adam was created first and Eve was created (cloned, as it were) afterwards out of Adam, even though Adam was a man and Eve was a woman.  No doubt, the author of Genesis had little to no understanding of genetics.  

 

The Tree of Knowledge

At first, God gave every tree to man (Genesis 1:29) but later put one tree, the Tree of Knowledge, off-limits. The change of heart was not exactly what you would expect from an omniscient being. However, the Bible later reveals God’s concern. That is, in Genesis 3:22, we learn: “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.” So, God was afraid that man, who was created in his own image and likeness, would become exactly like him, a god.  Is that even possible? There’s really only two ways to slice it; either man was created with the potential to be a god or the god of Genesis was not really God (the prime creator). Take your pick.

Aside: According to the Bible, the serpent confirmed that God was afraid of man partaking of the Tree of Knowledge, as follows: “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:5).”

An interesting part of the story is that God told Eve, under no uncertain circumstances, that they would die if they ate from the Tree of Knowledge. When God found out that they had eaten the fruit of the tree, he punished them for their disobedience even though, at that point, they could not have comprehended the difference between right and wrong.

Aside: Where’s the morality in that?

 

Good guys and bad guys

Further, God also punished the serpent for telling the truth (as opposed to God who lied about dying if one ate from the tree). Every story has to have a bad guy and in this case the serpent was so honored. After all, if there was evil in the world, someone else other than God had to be blamed. Never mind that an all-knowing God created both man and the serpent. So, obviously, the god of Genesis was the source of evil no matter how you look at it. Besides, as it says in the Bible, “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it (Amos 3:6)?”

In the mythologies of cultures around the world, the serpent/snake/dragon has been revered and even considered sacred. In Greek mythology, which predated the writing of Genesis, Ladon was the serpent-like dragon that was coiled around the tree in the garden of the Hesperides protecting the divine golden apples. Sound familiar?

Aside: Jesus, himself, said that men should be as wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16).

Upon further reflection, the worst dude in Genesis is hardly Cain. Rather, it’s God himself. If you don’t believe me, let’s recap:

  • God promised man all the trees in Creation, and then reneged concerning The Tree of Knowledge.
  • God lied about dying if man ate from The Tree of Knowledge.
  • God punished Adam and Eve unfairly for what they unknowingly did.

The clincher is that when God saw that man had “become evil”, he wiped out almost his entire Creation from the face of the earth.

Aside: So, I’m pretty sure that when Moses received the Ten Commandments from God that Moses might have asked God about why man should have to keep commandments which God, himself, violated and God probably replied, “Do as I say and not as I do.”

 

Final thoughts

Why did God kick man out of the Garden, anyway? It couldn’t be because of eating the apple since that story was a complete subterfuge. After all, what kind of a god would have expected that man would know the difference between good and evil even though he was denied access to The Tree of Knowledge? The real answer as to why man was banished from the Garden of Eden was to deny him access to the other “tree”, The Tree of Life (Genesis 3:22). You wouldn’t want your creation to live forever just like you, would you?

Obviously, being all-knowing, God knew in advance that the entire affair would unfold exactly the way it did. Actually, he knew even before he created mankind. Yet, he created man anyway, promised him paradise and then took it all away. That’s the real story of the adams’ family, a talking snake and how paradise was lost. John Milton would have been proud.

 

 

 

 

In my last post The Pascal Wager, I may have left you hanging a little bit (intentionally). I said that Christianity does not have its roots in the Old Testament. To understand this, you have to go back to the beginning – of the Old Testament, that is.

However, first let’s digress and spend a minute discussing the core teachings of Christianity. Since Christianity comes in many different forms and flavors (denominations, that is), there is a difference in beliefs between some of these denominations. Despite their differences, they mostly (most, but not all) believe in the concepts of the Trinity, Original Sin and salvation through Jesus.

The problem is that none of these concepts can be found in the Old Testament, notwithstanding later reinterpretation by the Church.  The Old Testament was written by Jews, about Jews and for Jews. It was never even intended to be read by gentiles. If you want to adopt the Old Testament, that’s one thing but adopting only certain parts is intellectually dishonest. Otherwise, Christianity should also have adopted (among other things) Jewish law, which is based on the Torah. The fact is that Jesus and the disciples led their lives according to the Torah and if people are to be followers of Jesus they need to follow in his footsteps. Don’t you think?  After all, Jesus said that he had come to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17).

 

Back to the beginning

The concept of Original Sin is linked to the story of Adam and Eve which is sometimes referred to as “The Fall of Man.” Unfortunately for those who want to hang their hat on that story, it’s wholly allegorical in nature. Anyway, who believes in talking snakes? The allegorical nature of Genesis was confirmed by early Christian theologian Origen of Alexandria who had this to say about the Genesis story, “For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? And again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.”

So, exactly why does Christianity have a need to have a concept like Original Sin as a central tenet of their faith? Why, indeed? If Jesus didn’t teach it, how is it possible that it ever became such a big part of Christian theology? The answer is that without Original Sin there is no logic as to why Jesus had to die on the cross. He had come to save us (as the story goes) from the consequences of our sins. However, Jesus would have never had to make the sacrifice if we never had to be saved in the first place.

The reality is that Original Sin is a byproduct of Church dogma. As for the Bible, it actually refutes the concept of Original Sin.  For example, in Deuteronomy 24:16, it clearly states that: “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.”  Even the god of Genesis denied the possibility of Original Sin. He stated that man is inclined towards evil but is not sinful by nature (see Genesis 8:21). Of course, the whole issue is moot because Judaism doesn’t believe in Original Sin and they wrote the Old Testament – it’s their bible.

Aside: Even Jesus didn’t believe in Original Sin as can be clearly seen in John 9:2-3, as follows: “And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.'”

 

A question of moral authority

Above all, what’s required in any religion is moral authority. Anybody can stand on the street corner and pontificate about the Creation. However, who would believe him? Even more to the point, who would put some money in his hat because he supposedly imparted some divine wisdom? However, what if you put the fear of eternal damnation in people? Would they put some money in the hat (read: church coffers) if you offered them salvation from their sins? Many would, of course, has history has clearly demonstrated.

So did man really have to be saved? One could argue, I suppose, that if man violated God’s laws that he should be punished. However, who is to say what those laws are or if, in fact, any person violated them? This all presupposes, of course, that there is a God and that he has laws and that he would want to punish his creation with eternal damnation for any violations.

So, there remains the question of man’s violation of God’s laws because without any violation, salvation would not be necessary. Remember, religion requires moral authority. Therefore, it needs to be proven that a violation did happen, and that God, in fact, condemned man. Enter Adam and Eve.

Now, the Genesis story does provide some elements of moral authority. For example, God tells man not to eat from the tree, man disobeys and God punishes him. Of course, there are a number of things wrong with the story, not the least of which is that it was allegorical. Further, the story was written by an unknown author(s). Like the person on the street corner (see above), why should anyone believe him?

Then there’s the “damnation conundrum.” By that, I mean that salvation is only relevant if man was originally condemned to eternal damnation. In Genesis, we find that God did punish man but it’s not exactly what you might think. According to the Bible, this was God’s punishment:

To the woman he said, ‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful

labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will

rule over you.’  To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from

the tree about which I commanded you, You must not eat from it, Cursed is the ground

         because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It

will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.  By the

sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it

you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.’”

– Genesis 3:16-19

Therefore, according to the Bible itself, man never was condemned to hell.  How’s that for a lack of moral authority?

At this point the logic becomes rather irrefutable. Since there was no eternal damnation, salvation is not required. No salvation means that a savior is not necessary. No savior means that a religion is not needed. On a more practical note, no religion means that tithing is no longer mandatory. Hallelujah! Now that’s something that I can truly sing praises about.

 

Epilogue

Religions are all different, but they generally have one thing in one common. They provide their believers with the hope of an afterlife. I refer to it as the selling of salvation. When someone says “come to my tent”, you have no reason to go unless they offer you something; especially since you will no doubt be contributing to their coffers. So religions must convince you that God talks to them, and to them alone, and that he has revealed what the afterlife is like and what you have to do to receive eternal salvation. After all, without the promise of an afterlife, who needs religion?

 

 

“One of the problems is that the average Christian in the average church who listens to the average Christian broadcasting has such an oversimplified understanding of both the Bible and of church history – it would be deeply disturbing for them to really learn church history.”

– Brian McLaren, Christian pastor and writer

 

 

 

The Pascal Wager

09/07/2015

In the seventeenth century, Blaise Pascal, a French philosopher and mathematician, devised what has been referred to as The Pascal Wager. The Pascal Wager laid out the probability of the impact on one’s life if they accepted or rejected the idea of God. Christians like to point to the Pascal Wager as if to say, “What do you have to lose if you convert to Christianity?” The inference is that if Christianity is right you’ll be saved (if you converted) and, if they’re wrong, you’ve lost next to nothing.

Without getting into the ramifications of the logic of the Pascal Wager itself, I believe that Christianity has overlooked a very important point of a philosophy which they have embraced. You see, Pascal (a Christian himself) stated that, “If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible.” Let that soak in for a moment. Stated in other words, man has absolutely no idea what God is like (assuming, of course, that he even exists). The Gospel of John is somewhat in agreement with The Pascal Wager in this regard, as it says that no man has ever seen God. Yet, despite this, deists are absolutely certain that they know God.

The Old Testament is a particularly sticky wicket. The reason is that the Old Testament is actually the Jewish Bible, which Christianity adopted as part of their own Bible. It’s a twisted road as how we got from Judaism to Christianity, but it goes something like this. Jesus and the disciples were Jewish. They led their lives according to the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Many years after the crucifixion of Jesus, their small, religious sect would morph into Christianity.

However, here’s where the road gets treacherous.  Although Christianity arose out of Judaism and adopted the Jewish Bible as part of their own Bible, there are surprisingly major differences between Christianity and Judaism, as follows:

  • Christianity believes in the Trinity, Judaism does not.
  • A core concept of Christianity is Original Sin, which they claim arose from Adam and Eve. Judaism does not have such a concept. Further, the Adam and Eve story was theirs. They wrote it. Yet, Christianity claims that they fully understand the story, but the people who wrote it don’t.  How bizarre is that?
  • The god of Judaism is a quasi-physical life form that made appearances to various people like Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Ezekiel, Daniel, Isaiah and Joshua. The God of the New Testament, according to Paul and John, is an invisible spirit.
  • Christianity has a divine messiah (Jesus) which they consider to be a universal messiah for the whole world. They believe that the coming of their messiah was foretold in the Old Testament. The problem is that the Old Testament prophecies were written by Hebrew (Jewish) prophets concerning the coming of a Jewish messiah. This Jewish messiah was to be simply a man rather than some divine entity, like say the Son of God, and he would be both king and messiah much like King David was.  Interestingly enough, one of the most important Old Testament prophecies was that the Jewish messiah would come to reestablish the Kingdom of Israel as opposed to the universal messiah that Christianity was expecting.

Christianity arose from Judaism, it’s true, although to be even more precise Christianity hijacked Judaism.  Yes, hijacked. That is, they adopted it but then radically changed it. For example, Christianity borrowed the god of the Old Testament (and changed him in the New Testament), they borrowed the messiah concept of the Old Testament (and then totally changed it) and for good measure they discarded the core concept of Judaism, the Torah. To add insult to injury, they took a story about a talking snake, which was meant to be allegorical in nature, and turned it into a literal interpretation complete with a concept (Original Sin) which is not even mentioned in the Torah.

Bottom line: Even though Christianity claims that their religion has its roots in the Old Testament – it really doesn’t.

Exactly how did we get in such a mess, anyway? Well, for starters, Christianity claims to have a more perfect understanding of the Old Testament than the people who wrote it (Jewish holy men). For example, assume that you had written a great work, like The Wizard of Oz, and that you were explaining to a group of people who the Wizard of Oz really was (since he was the man behind the screen that nobody ever saw). Imagine how you might feel if someone in the group jumped up, claiming that they knew all about the Wizard, although they had never met him, and that they disagreed with your explanation even though the Wizard was a character that you had personally made up.  That’s Old Testament reinterpretation in a nutshell.  It’s always convenient to prove one’s religious dogma by claiming that the Bible means what you say it does, as opposed to what the words actually say.

So, the next time you hear someone say that God is omnipotent, omnipresent or omniscient, just remind them that The Pascal Wager states that God is infinitely incomprehensible. According to Pascal, there is no way for us to know what God is like; He transcends the power of human conception (i.e. the finite cannot conceive of the infinite). Yet, some have been so arrogant and presumptuous as to state otherwise. No doubt, Pascal is rolling over in his grave.

 

Epilogue

The concept of Original Sin is antithetical to the core beliefs of the Torah.  This is confirmed in Deuteronomy 24:16, “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.”  Even the god of Genesis denied the possibility of Original Sin. He stated that man is inclined towards evil but is not sinful by nature (see Genesis 8:21).

“Since no one really knows anything about God, those who think they do are just troublemakers.”

– Sufi mystic Rabia Basri

The Two-Faced God

08/31/2015

Both Paul and John wrote that God was an invisible spirit. Yet, other parts of the Bible say otherwise. So which is right?

According to the Bible, you have any number of people who physically encountered God, starting with Adam and Eve and including Ezekiel, Daniel, Abraham, Isaiah, Joshua, Moses and Jacob (who supposedly wrestled with God) and then, of course, there is Revelation. Isaiah is an interesting case because the renown prophet described God as seated on a throne wearing a long, flowing robe – and absolutely nothing else. If you’re reading the Book of Isaiah, you’re waiting for the prophet to describe his once-in-a-lifetime encounter with the Ancient One and all he has to say about God is that he was seated on a throne wearing a robe. There were so many things about God that people were dying to know… and yet he basically said nothing! How is that possible?

It kind of makes you wonder if Isaiah actually met God. Even if one accepts his story at face value, Isaiah obviously didn’t know what God looked like so how did he know that it was really God? It was an other-worldly apparition, to be sure, but God? Why not an angel, a demon or the devil himself (perhaps in disguise)?

Aside: Perhaps it was even the Gnostics’ evil Ialdabaoth himself.

Yet, Paul and John said that God was spirit and John elaborated by saying that no man had ever met God. That raises questions about the veracity of the stories about people having contact with God.  Were theses stories pure fiction, such as one’s minister opening his sermon with “and last night God talked to me”, or might they have been based on real-life events, events where the participants might have believed that they had come in direct contact with the Absolute?

For most people, the answer to this question is irrelevant. As Stuart Chase so aptly put it, “For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.” In any event, though, the God of the Bible has been shown to be a two-faced god.  On the one hand he is a physical life form who is jealous, vengeful and prone to violence; on the other hand he is an invisible spirit who is described as being all-loving. With two such totally disparate concepts, the Bible could hardly be considered to be the unerring Word of God.

 

“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (emphasis mine)

 – Romans 1:21-25

This is the last of my four part series on Genesis – Making Sense Out of Genesis, The Debate, Why Genesis Is Not Believable and lastly Why They Believe.

The origin of religious belief is simple; it’s because they were told to believe.

In Saudi Arabia, people grow up with Islam because they are told to. They are told that Islam is the Word of Allah. Questioning of their faith is not allowed. The same picture develops in other parts of the world. In India, they are primarily Hindus, in China they are Buddhists, in Israel it’s Judaism and in western civilization mostly Christianity, despite having freedom of religion. I say despite freedom of religion because where I grew up Catholics and Protestants would live next door to one another and yet their kids would also be Catholics and Protestants, respectively. So a person’s religion is simply based on the religion of their parents whose religion was based on the very same religion of their parents, and so on. It’s a social phenomenon based on cultural indoctrination. Rarely, does anyone ever question their faith.

If you’ve ever seen a video of life inside a madrassa, you know exactly what I mean. In a madrassa, young children are taught to recite from their holy book by chanting scripture. They don’t even know what the words mean. Actually, it’s not important what the words mean. It’s only important that one follows along with the mindless exercise. The same picture repeats itself at The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. As adults, these very same children who were taught to mindlessly chant from their holy book are still doing the same thing. Talk about brainwashing.

Behind every belief system is a subconscious need to believe, or perhaps more accurately – to belong. That’s how clubs and cults operate. It’s also how the family system works. People are social creatures who need to belong (whether they realize it or not). The price of belonging is to follow the rules. In religion, it’s to be true to your faith – or to be more exact, to its dogma that was formulated by who knows who a couple of thousand years ago.

The beliefs of the various religions have some similarities and some things which are totally different. However, they generally have one thing in common. The origins of their beliefs usually started with some sort of extraterrestrial intervention. That is, Joseph Smith (the Mormon religion) received writings from an angel, Mohammed (Islam) received a revelation from an angel, Zoroaster (Zoroastrianism) received his holy Commandments on the top of a sacred mountain as did Moses (Judaism) and Paul (Christianity) had an unearthly encounter with Jesus. In cults, the usual story is that the leader is supposedly the reincarnation of some holy person, as if there even is such a thing. Of course, there would have been no way for any of  them to know for certain who or what they were dealing with. They simply accepted what they were told from some extraterrestrial entity. That is, that they were led to believe that they were being visited by an angel, by God or by Jesus, as the case might be.

So believing is easy. We all do it, all the time. Knowing the truth is altogether another matter. As wise a man as Socrates realized that the truth is ultimately unknowable. With respect to religion, the Pascal Wager sums this up quite nicely as follows, “If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible.” Further, in the field of science, Einstein realized that the universe (creation) was unknowable, even to him. Despite this, religions of all stripes claim that they, above all others, are privy to the Word of God and believe that their holy book is the one and only authentic Book of God. In the final analysis, religion is really a no brainer for most people. Knowingly or unknowingly, they just accept what they’re told and they have faith that it’s right. That’s why it’s called a leap of faith.

 

” How can you say that you are wise and that you have the LORD’s teachings? The scribes have used their pens to turn these teachings into lies.”

– Jeremiah 8:8

 

 

In my last post, I said that there was a debate about Genesis, but in reality there is no debate. Genesis simply is not believable.   Let’s break it down.

  • According to the chronology given in the Bible, Adam and Eve were created some 5,000 years ago. Science says that man (homo sapiens sapiens) was created at least 100,000 years ago, if not much longer. For that matter, there is no scientific evidence of a global flood (as stated in the Bible) in the last 5,000 years.
  • Scholars aren’t exactly sure just who wrote Genesis. If Moses wrote the Pentateuch, which includes Genesis, then he wrote about something (Genesis) that occurred some 2,000 years before he was born. That’s akin to someone trying to write the New Testament today. It would also have been pretty difficult for him to have written the entire Pentateuch because parts of it relate to periods after he had already died! Since no one knows who wrote Genesis, why should anyone believe it? In fact, scholars are not even sure who compiled the Old Testament (or exactly when for that matter). One thing is absolutely true, though. That is, Genesis was not written until long after the events were suppose to have occurred; events that had no eyewitnesses.
  • Who was there at the very beginning to hear the words that God supposedly uttered in Genesis 1? Obviously, no one was there. Man hadn’t even been created yet.
  • Adam and Eve were seemingly created simultaneously (see Genesis 1:27).  So how was it then that Eve was created from Adam’s rib? For that matter, the Bible says that both Adam and Eve were called adam (Genesis 1:27) as it was, in reality, not a name but rather a designation for a human life form. Yet, that distinction is never made clear in Genesis.
  • God gave the Tree of Knowledge to man for food (see Genesis 1:29) and then later prohibited him from eating from it (see Genesis 2:16,17). This after he said that all of creation was good. Obviously, then, Creation wasn’t perfect as God had created something which had to be placed off-limits to man. As it turns out, the creation of man wasn’t perfect either as God later decided to destroy his own imperfect creation with the Great Flood.
  • To believe in the Genesis story, one has to believe in talking snakes. Further, God created the serpent so God is obviously the source of evil in the world (according to the Bible itself).
  • Cain, the first child, was banished from the garden and left and found himself a wife. Further, before Cain left the garden God put a mark on him to protect him from enemies. According to the Bible, there would be no one for Cain to have married nor would he have had any enemies because nobody else existed – there was just Adam, Eve and Cain (with Abel having been killed by Cain).

I could go on but at that this point you have either stopped listening or its patently obvious to you why Genesis doesn’t make any sense. One last point, though. Christianity holds that man is the point of Creation. Long ago, scientific theory stated that the sun rotated around the earth, with man then the center of the universe (creation). Of course, that wasn’t true, was it?

However, the Bible says that man was created to till the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 2:15). His fate, then, was to be a worker, tending to the garden. The Bible further confirms this saying, “Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground…” (Genesis 2:5) – emphasis mine. In the very next sentence in Genesis, God creates man.

Further, the garden was only a small part of Creation -“Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden” (Genesis 2:8). Man hardly had dominion over all the animals and all the plants. All that he was supposed to do was to tend to this one garden.

Real or not, why should the Genesis story matter? Well, the central tenet of Christianity is salvation and the Garden of Eden story (eating of the apple) is the stated basis of the Original Sin concept. Without a need for salvation, there is no reason for a messiah. Bottom line: No original sin, no salvation, no messiah, no Christ…no Christianity.

 

Epilogue

The writers of Genesis did not believe in the concept of Original Sin. It’s antithetical to the core principles of Judaism. Even more to the point –

  • Jesus didn’t believe in it: “And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus responded by saying, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” – John 9:2,3
  • Paul didn’t believe in it: “Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.” – Romans 5:14
  • The Bible doesn’t support it: “ … and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth….” – Genesis 8:21

 

“For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? And again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.”

– Origen of Alexandria (the first theologian of Christianity)

 

So much arguing with so little information. Different people have different things to say about what one should take away from reading Genesis. The all-pervading question, though, is how would anyone really know what the writer(s) of Genesis intended?

For example, did Moses write the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch)? Scholars are not in agreement as to whether Moses wrote the Pentateuch or not. For that matter, there is no proof that Moses is a real person. Certainly, there are no ancient Egyptian records which refer to Moses by name. If Moses did write the Pentateuch, how come he knew so much about the Creation and Flood stories that happened over 2,000 years before his time but almost nothing for the more than 1,000 years after that until the day of Abraham?

Aside: Unless, of course, the Creation and Flood stories were based on older sources.

Since we don’t know for sure who wrote the Old Testament, how do we know what the writer’s intent/message was. For example, rabbis typically wrote in a Midrashic style of writing that was not intended to be read verbatim. Yet today, religious scholars, non-Jewish scholars at that, think that they know exactly what was meant.

Scholars pretty much agree that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are based on older sources, however nobody bothers to ask if Genesis might also have been based on older source materials. You would think that someone would ask that question particularly because the Talmud says that some Genesis passages were taken from tradition (in other words older belief systems) or older writings.

Bottom line: Are we to accept some vague, undefined old tradition, unnamed older source or a writing from an unnamed author as the undeniable Word of God? If so, why?

In addition, nobody thinks to ask the following questions:

  • Did the writer(s) of Genesis write the truth (or did they have an agenda)?
  • Did the author(s) even know the truth?
  • Has Genesis been edited; that’s particularly relevant since there is no original version of Genesis.
  • Who was there in the beginning when God supposedly said, “Let there be light”? Certainly, not Moses.

Moreover, the god of Genesis walked in the Garden of Eden (Adam even heard him walking) and talked to Adam and Eve who obviously, then, saw him. This, then, is the very same God that Paul and John said was an invisible spirit. The very same God you understand. It was the very same God who in the Old Testament was feared by the Israelites because he was jealous,  vengeful and prone to violence but in the New Testament was considered all-loving.

The reason that serious scholarship in this area is so lacking is because people start with their existing belief system and work backwards to scripture. They believe that they already know the truth, so they never bother to look for it. They believe that everything worth knowing has already been covered within their belief system. Therefore, they never think to ask the questions that were posed above because questions are only for people who are still seeking the truth.

It’s almost a truism that the smartest people are those that realize that they will probably never find the truth (e.g. Einstein and Socrates). Even the Bible says that you have to seek the truth and it will set you free (of false belief systems). However, those that are married to their religious belief system have rarely, if ever, searched for the truth. The result, as Kevin Michel said, is that every belief system you have is a commitment to be stuck with that idea, and with aspects of that level of thinking, for the rest of your life.

So, in my opinion, the Genesis story is really nothing more than man’s feeble attempt to comprehend the Infinite with his finite mind. Not knowing God, man did the next best thing – he invented him. That’s how we wound up with the story about Adam and Eve, the serpent and the Garden of Eden.

 

“At the core of all well-founded belief, lies belief that is unfounded.”

           – Ludwig Wittgenstein

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is God clairvoyant? Is he truly all-knowing? Well, consider this. He didn’t know how his own creation would turn out. Let’s break it down.

According to the Bible, God created all things and saw that they were good (see Genesis 1:10,12,18,21,and 25); there was so much seeing without actually knowing. Why would God need to “see” that his creation was good? Wouldn’t an all-knowing God know in advance what he was creating? That is, God should have known, in advance, that what he was creating would have been good (or not) and he wouldn’t have had to wait to “see” the result of his creation. God also created the serpent (see Genesis 3:1). Didn’t he know that the serpent was evil? Actually, not. What God said was that everything he created was good (Genesis 1:31) – even the serpent then. Unless, of course, God was wrong.

Further, in Genesis 6:5, we learn that God saw that man had become evil. Obviously, he wasn’t able to anticipate this turn of events. Also, it means that God was mistaken when he created man and said that it was good. Mistaken, you understand.

Aside: That’s not exactly what one should expect from an omniscient god.

 

Segueway to Genesis 2:2,3 – God has to rest. Creating the world made this all-powerful entity tired.

Aside: That’s not exactly what one should expect from an omnipotent god.

 

In Genesis 3:11 and 4:9, God has to ask questions (of Adam and Cain, respectively) to find out what had transpired.

Aside: That’s not exactly what one should expect from an omnipresent God.

 

There’s only two conclusions that one can reasonably draw from Genesis. Either God is not omnipresent, omnipotent or omniscient… or the Genesis story is inaccurate and, therefore, cannot be taken as the unerring Word of God. Actually, there is a third possibility which you probably won’t like much either. It’s that the “god” of Genesis is not really the Prime Creator!

Aside: If one were to read the original source material that the Genesis story was based on, it would be obvious which possibility is correct.

 

It wouldn’t be fair to leave Genesis without a mention as to why Adam and Eve were created in the first place. It’s probably not what you think (or were taught). Genesis 2:15 says that Adam was created to till the garden (of Eden). According to Genesis 2:18, Eve was created to give Adam a helper. There is no mention of procreation until Genesis 4 with a reference to the birth of Cain (the first child). This only after Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden and could no longer serve the function for which they were created – to take care of the Garden of Eden. Perhaps, what’s more confusing is how Eve was created out of Adam’s rib. If Adam were a man, you couldn’t take part of him and make a woman… unless the species of man (at that time) was androgynous. Actually, Aristophanes, in Plato’s Symposium, said exactly that.

 

Epilogue

Modern-day Judaism is for the most part based on the Babylonian Talmud which was written after the Israelites’ captivity in Babylon in the 6th century BC. The Talmud originated out of Babylon because Babylon had become the major center of Jewish learning and religious thought after the captivity, as religious leaders did not relocate back to Judea. It was during this same period that the Old Testament (Jewish Bible) was edited and compiled (and in some cases written) by the Babylonian rabbis. Of the many texts at their disposal, one text in particular was the oldest creation story ever written, the Enuma Elish which is sometimes referred to as The Seven Tablets of Creation. The Enuma Elish was written on seven tablets with the seventh tablet devoted to honoring God. Thus, the origins of the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week, from the Hebrew word shabbath (that means day of rest).

Afterthought: So, perhaps, Genesis should have said that “on the seventh tablet God rested.”

 

“Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.” (emphasis mine)

   – Genesis 5:2