Tuesday, March 27, 2007


I've often heard preachers talk about God as being 'the God who heals' and making statements to the effect of 'God doesn't want you to be ill, He wants to heal you'.

But, to be honest, I don't know anybody who has been genuinely healed - and by this I mean that they had a confirmed medical condition, were healed, and then they were checked by a doctor and found not to have any trace of the condition at all.

My friend Chris tells of his healing experience on his blog. But while I accept that God did something for Chris in his illness, there was no full healing - medical intervention and a pretty major surgical operation were also required.

The skeptic James Randi has devoted some time to following up people who have claimed to have been healed after attending 'healing' services, etc. He visited folk a year after the alleged healing and found that in every instance the people fell into one of three categories:
  1. People who had never been medically diagnosed with anything prior to the 'healing'
  2. People who were still medically diagnosed with the condition, but were often in denial of the fact, and
  3. People who had died (often from the condition) in the intervening period.
Furthermore, he has done some 'behind the scenes' investigation of these big 'healing events' that do the rounds in the USA and elsewhere. He says he frequently observed people who had no mobility issues being ushered onto the stage in wheelchairs and then encouraged to stand up and walk to the 'healer'. The audience sees this and thinks 'wow! that person in the wheelchair is walking' but this is not healing - this is deceit. Furthermore, people with genuine mobility issues were kept so far back in the queue that they never made it to the stage during the meeting.

OK, there are charlatans out there who do the fake thing and deceive the gullible, but what about real healing? Does this happen anywhere? I want to believe that it does, but I haven't seen it. And I have seen several 'good Christian' people suffering and dying with diseases like MS and cancer without any healing. Yes, they may be given strength to endure and have periods of remission, but I have not known anyone to be fully healed.

Does God heal absolutely?

What are the 10 commandments?

You know the story: Moses went up the mountain, met God, got the 10 commandments on stone tablets, came down the mountain, broke the tablets in anger, later on went back up the mountain and carved the 10 commandments onto new tablets...

But the thing is, the first 10 don't seem to match with the second 10. Huh?

Exodus 20
The first 10 commandments

And God spoke all these words: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
  1. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.
  3. You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
Exodus 34
The second 10 commandments

Then the LORD said: "I am making a covenant with you. [...]. Obey what I command you today. [...]
  1. Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
  2. Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land [...].
  3. Do not make cast idols.
  4. Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread. [...].
  5. The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock. [...]. No one is to appear before me empty-handed.
  6. Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.
  7. Celebrate the Feast of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year. [...].
  8. Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast, and do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Feast remain until morning.
  9. Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God.
  10. Do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk."
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant — the Ten Commandments.

Which are the real '10 Commandments'? In the bible it is the second list that are actually referred to as 'the ten commandments', the first list are not.

Or do we have 17 commandments? Or do we only really have the three that are common to both lists?

Anyone got any inspiration here?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Did God ever want sacrifices?

Its amazing what you notice when you read a different translation of something for a change.

I have read the (whole) bible several times through, but most of this has been using the New International Version (NIV). So probably every time I have read Jeremiah 7v22 before, I'd have read these words:
For when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, [23] but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you.
However, I read that verse in the Revised Standard Version (RSV) today and it says:
For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. [23] But this thing I commanded them, saying, Hearken unto my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people; and walk ye in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.
What? The apparent meaning is totally different! The NIV translation implies that God gave the Israelites the command to obey Him AND instructions about sacrifices, while the RSV clearly states that God did NOT give instructions about sacrifices, but only gave the command to listen and obey ('hearken').

So I had a look at several other translations (NASB, NKJV, ESB, NLT, ASV,... isn't the internet really useful sometimes?). Almost all of them agree with the RSV; God did not give instructions or commands about sacrifices ('in the day [that they came] out of Egypt').

I know that it is a joke that 'NIV' stands for 'Nearly Infallible Version' but I had always been lead to believe that it was a good translation.

Anyway, all this by means of introduction...

While all the translations (except NIV) say that God did not give instructions about sacrifice 'in the day', it seems to me (from context) that the meaning of the prophecy of Jeremiah here is that God never gave any instructions about sacrifice to the Israelites - because God doesn't want sacrifice! (see also 1 Samuel 15v22, Psalm 40v6, Psalm 51v16, Hosea 6v6).

But if God doesn't want sacrifice and He never gave instructions or commands about sacrifice, then who on earth wrote all the stuff in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deutoronomy?!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Good God?

This challenge came from an atheist on another podcast...

Except from the act of creation, can you (the reader of this blog) give chapter and verse for any 'good' act of God, as recorded in the bible, that did not have negative consequences for someone?

For example, God was good when he helped the Israelites escape from Egypt, but the effects of God's goodness towards the Israelites resulted in bad experiences for the Egyptians.

Does God not play 'win-win' game theory?

According to the atheist guy, there are only three instances of God's goodness being good to all involved in the old testament. Can we prove him wrong?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Polygamy, polyamory and the bible

Um, sorry about this one in advance... the correct response to this post is "you really should stop listening to so many of that guy's podcasts..."

I listened to another of the Infidel Guy's podcasts yesterday. This was one of his 'Debate Hour' shows rather than a conventional IG show. The distinction is that the IG show generally takes the form of an interview about religious or atheistic subject matter, whereas the debate hour is generally a fairly formal debate between two parties with opposing views on a topic, which may not be related to religion at all. Generally each party has an opening statement then a chance to comment on the other's opening statement than a period of rebuttal and finally a question and answer session. This format was intended here but, due to the debaters, did not happen.

Anyway, the subject of the show was 'Alternative Relationships' - specifically Polyamory.

For those of you who don't know, the dictionary definition of polyamory is:
"participation in multiple and simultaneous loving or sexual relationships"
(Webster's New Millennium Dictionary)
The two debaters were 'Rayven', an atheist living a polyamorous lifestyle, and 'Deacon Greg Cooper' a Presbyterian with very strict bible-based beliefs. However, Rayven didn't really get the chance to say much as the bible-thumping deacon ate up most of the airtime.

In between Greg's rants, the Infidel Guy, Rayven and folk calling in managed to make some quite valid comments, which the deacon ignored or dismissed without thought. He really was an awful advert for Christianity. Anyway, I want to comment on some of the issues raised.

And just to be clear on this point, just because I am raising the issue and posing the questions here does not mean that I am in support of the alternative lifestyle or the opinions expressed. OK?

Greg made it quite clear that his opinion was entirely based on the bible and it is this: that the only non-sinful sexual relationships are those between one man and one woman within the confines of a marriage. Greg also voiced the opinion that his interpretation of the bible could not possibly be wrong on any issue. He was that kind of guy. In fact, his attitude and manner made me inclined to take the other side in the debate when I really don't agree with it.

The others pointed out to him that many important characters in the old testament: patriarchs, kings and prophets, had multiple wives and were not condemned for it at any point in the bible. Indeed many of them were held up as being 'men of faith' and even 'righteous'. Indeed, the sins that the Kings David & Solomon were taken to task about had nothing to do with their multiple wives. Furthermore, in Exodus 21v10 there is a law which clearly governs the behaviour of a man taking a second wife. This practice is not condemned in the old testament, it is regulated.

This is true, whatever Greg said to dismiss it. If we believe that the old testament law came from God, then we must accept that God allowed and regulated multiple marriages. Also if God does not change his mind then this allowance still is in place... right?

Or is it one of those cultural things that God allows because it neither helps or hinders his agenda? Is it morally neutral?

During one of the moments that she was allowed to speak, Rayven said a few things that really surprised me. These related to the beliefs of 'polyamorous Christians' - I wouldn't have thought that such a group would exist, yet apparently it does. A simple websearch took me to their wesite too... Rayven took their side in the debate, primarily to annoy the fundamentalist, even though she said that she cannot see how you can reconcile the bible to a polyamorous lifestyle. The poly-Chrisitian apparently accepts that when people are united together to become 'one flesh' this needn't necessarily be a union of only two people - they see no biblical reason why three or more people cannot enter into a commited relationship with each other... I'm so gobsmacked there that I actually can't come up with a rebuttal!

But anyway, as I was generally inclined to find fault with the fundamentalist's position, I was quite miffed that nobody pointed out one of the key beliefs of the fundamentalist's belief structure - that of the Trinity. While the concept is not made fully explicit in the bible, the generally held belief amongst Christians is that there are three distinct characters in the Godhead - God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit - and these three are eternally united in a loving, intimate relationship. Now I'm not saying that sex is involved there, but from my understanding of what was said on the show, sex is not an essential of the polyamorous relationship either - it is a loving union of more than two people... sounds like the Trinity to me...

So how can we defend the position that our loving relationships should only involve two people, when our God apparently exists in a three-way relationship?

(and yes, I know what some answers to that question might be, but I thought I'd ask anyway...)

Sunday, March 04, 2007

My non-deconversion...

The Infidel Guy is re-posting many of his old radio shows on his podcast stream at the moment. Last week, I ended up listening to an old show that I had listened to over a year ago. I even commented on it back then. The show was an interview with an ex-fundamentalist (her word), ex-wife of a Baptist pastor. She 'deconverted' and is now an atheist.

When I re-listened to the show one thing struck me - she had had all the same doubts as me, all the same issues that I have raised on this blog. Yet she abandoned her faith as a result of the questions. I didn't.

Why is that? How can the same questions lead to different answers for two different people?

I keep coming back to the same conclusions that I commented on the first time round - it is the difference between head-knowledge and experience. For her, Christianity was entirely a system of belief, built on things she knew from a book. For me, there is much more to it than that, I only became a Christian when I saw the effects of God in people's lives. I know he is there, not from a book, but having seen and felt him.

Now I'm not saying, as many have said to her, that she can't have been a real Christian in the first place. What makes you a Christian? Well, the biblical answer (Romans 10v9) 'if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved'... As far as I can tell, she used to satisfy those criteria. But when she lost her faith in the historical accuracy of the bible, she lost her faith in Jesus.

When trying to get my head around the differences between her and me, I came up with this (probably not very good) analogy:

Strange as it might seem to us non-Americans, there are a great many supporters of President Bush in the USA. Many of them will never have met him; does that make them not-real supporters? Of course not. Now, with carefully presented arguments and evidence, it might be possible to convinvce one of those supporters who have never met the man that he is, in fact, an entirely fictional character - devised by the government to fool the people. Policy decisions are made by other folk in the administration and the face on the TV is just an actor. Someone who has never met him might be persuaded by this reasoning. However, if you tried that reasoning on somebody who had actually met him or knew him, it wouldn't work because their experience of the man would hold a greater weight than any body of evidence presented. Does that make sense?

I'm just saddened that the woman interviewed on the Infidel Guy show never actually experienced the real Jesus. Maybe she will yet.