Sin

Christians like to speak about sin. A vast amount of definitions has been given so far and I do not venture to list them all. I’m just going to quote an often overlooked verse from Leviticus 5.17:  “If anyone sins and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, even though they do not know it, they are guilty and will be held responsible.”
Yep, if you sin even without knowing you are guilty.
For most Christians and theologians (at least starting with Abelard) sin is some conscious wrongdoing. You know the commandment and then you decide to break it – that’s the sin.
But not so in the Bible. There you can be guilty even when you do something unconsciously, without any malevolent intention. Sorry, mate, you did it, no one can help you. You are to pay for it, man. “They are to bring to the priest as a guilt offering a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value”, says the next verse.
So, you all may be accused of sinning and you’re all automatically guilty. And guilt is the essence of biblical morality and of the religious morality in general. You are guilty, believe it or not. Whatever you do is wrong. So, shut up, you blew it all.
Of course, since you are guilty, you are to pay for it. And when you pay for something you’ve done, even unintentionally, then you’re moral again.
I mean, in everyday life, we all do something unintentionally wrong. We step on someone’s shoe and we say: “Pardon me, I didn’t want to.” A reasonable person should accept such apology.
But not so with God. You are to pay for it. “Clean that shoe or die, bastard!”, he would say. “But I really didn’t mean it”, I can hear your trembling voice. “I don’t gave a damn whether you wanted that or not, you’ve done it, my shoe is dirty now so you are to clean it!”, says God of love.
So, my Christian brethren, do not ever excuse anyone’s guilt. Intentional or not, it is sin and you are to pay for it.
Just don’t call that morality and do not feel morally superior.
Sin

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The biblical verses I like

Yep, sometimes I really like a biblical text. Hither and thither. But, mind you, it’s usually from the completely different reasons than the Christians usually have them.

Consider these verses in 1 Samuel 16.1-3:

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.” The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”

Here, again, as usual, we have a merciless God. He rejected Saul and no tears of the prophet Samuel will save him. Saul is doomed to die, in short. Of course, this is not what I like. Fed up with merciless people, let alone with a merciless deity.

What I like is what follows. Samuel is sent to anoint a new king. A pretty dangerous task, if you rethink it. He is going to commence a sort of coup d’état. No doubt, a serious feat and Samuel is getting nervous. What if Saul hears about it? No jokes with that tough king ready to kill instantly, sometimes even without a visible reason. So, what do you, frankly, expect of God’s response to Samuel’s justified fears?

I’ll tell ya what many Christian would expect here. Something like this:

“No worries, Samuel, I’m with you, and my hand will protect you from Saul’s anger and his brandished sword.”

Or, in a more extreme way:

“Dear child, you are to suffer from my name, telling the truth even when it is dangerous.”

Well, I’d like to see Samuel’s face after receiving such “soothing” responses.

However, the things go into utterly different direction.

“Well”, says the Lord Almighty and the source of all truth, “just pretend that you’re going to celebrate a sacrifice.” In other words, cheat Saul, mate. Fool him, and stay alive.

Blessed answer, if you ask me. Let me be clear – I don’t like liars and cheaters. Neither you like them, I suppose. But, what a man is supposed to do in this situation? If you’re a Christian freak, really believing that a host of angels surrounds you for your protection, then your answer, I suppose, would be: speak truth, although the heavens fall.

However, if you’re just a reasonable person, admitting that our moral actions in the world sometimes need to be ambiguous, you know well that sometimes truth doesn’t save you, on contrary, it might kill you. Is that my own opinion? Well, Lord Jehovah says it. “Do not die naively, Samuel. Find the way to escape from the Saul’s sword.”

Exactly the same words I’d like to tell you all.

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Our demons

The last post – on Luther and his view on changelings – should have a short appendix. An appendix that goes back to the Bible.
What made Luther so convinced that the unfortunate child should be drowned in the river? Demons did that, we could say.
Perhaps you noticed that already, if you had read your Bible carefully. No demons in the Old Testament. There’s Satan, however, I admit that. We’ll have a chat on him once. But – no demons. No one in the Old Testament was possessed by demons, consequently no one tried to cast them out. Don’t try to find them, or to read them into the text. No, those “sons of God” (Genesis 6:2), whoever they were, were not demons. Perhaps they had some sex with “daughters of humans”. But they did not possess them, if you read the text as is. Neither the “evil spirit from God” that came upon King Saul (1 Samuel 18:10) was a demon (see some in depth comment upon that obscure verse).

And, voila, the moment you turn the pages of the New Testament – the world is filled with demons. Jesus casts them out abundantly, the apostles continue with chasing them out, but they are everywhere. The world becomes a huge demonic resort. What a giant change – just within a few centuries between the two Testaments.
Of course, the first problem one believer (I’m not the one) may face is a matter of coherence. How come, he or she could ask, that demons almost all of a sudden appeared on the pages of the Christian Bible? Like it or not, but that was due to the Jewish encounter with Greek and Roman civilization, in which demons (daimonion is a Greek word) were all around – although they were not considered evil. All these demons in the New Testament are not, in a word, a product of Satan, but of a certain culture.
The second problem is simply experiential. Do you see so many demons around us as New Testament declares? Nope. Be sincere, don’t try to tamper with reality. You see demons in some scary movies, you hear about them in some sermons, but you do not see them in reality. But, according to the Gospels, encounter with demons should be a regular part of your quotidian life. Are they? If you answer is “yes”, take another pill and think it over.
And there is a huge moral problem. That’s really big issue to me. Once you “see” demons, everything is possible. Evil demons serve as an excuse for our own evil practice. We chase witches, we kill the intellectually disabled, just like our venerable Luther was about to do that. Why did they burn young women on the stake? Because they were demon possessed. Why did Luther want to drown a 12yr old “changeling”? Because it was a demon. Just say that magic word and you can kill anyone.
Demons are, in my view, the most horrible and immoral invention of religion. They are precursors of Holocaust and all other unimaginable crimes against humanity. They are the crime – every other crime becomes an easy thing to do. When God is on your side and the demons are against you, you are free to be more evil than Satan.
Think about this mate, before demons of religion possess your soul.

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A Protest against Luther

Let’s take a break from the Bible for a while. Just a short intro: I work for the intellectually disabled people. The main purpose of my work (I’m just a small wheel within a much larger mechanism) is to give that people an opportunity to live a life worth living. But, here you can find that a biblical Christian had a pretty different viewpoint. I take this whole enlightening passage from epochal Wolf Wolfensberger’s The Origin And Nature Of Our Institutional Models (Washington, DC: President’s Committee on Mental Retardation, 1969), p. 5. Read this book rather than the Bible.

Luther, in describing what appears to have been a severely or profoundly retarded child, denied the child’s humanity as follows: “Eight years ago, there was one at Dessau whom I, Martinus Luther, saw and grappled with. He was twelve years old, had the use of his eyes and all his senses, so that one might think that he was a normal child. But he did nothing but gorge himself as much as four peasants or threshers. He ate, defecated and drooled and, if anyone tackled him, he screamed. If things didn’t go well, he wept. So I said to the Prince of Anhalt: ‘If I were the Prince, I should take this child to the Moldau River which flows near Dessau and drown him.’ But the Prince of Anhalt and the Prince of Saxony, who happened to be present, refused to follow my advice. Thereupon I said: ‘Well, then the Christians shall order the Lord’s Prayer to be said in church and pray that the dear Lord take the Devil away.’ This was done daily in Dessau and the changeling died in the following year. When Luther was asked why he had made such a recommendation, he replied that he was firmly of the opinion that such changelings were merely a mass of flesh, a massa carnis, with no soul. For it is the Devil’s power that he corrupts people who have reason and souls when he possesses them. The Devil sits in such changelings where their soul should have been!” (2)

(2) There are several versions of this account, derived from the various editions of Luther’s Tabletalks, e.g., Luther’s Works, Vol. 54, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1967, p. 396, and Aurifaber, Jr., Tischreden, Vol. 5, Weimar Edition, p. 9. In all editions the account is item No. 5207.

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And All the Children Die

I still haven’t watched Noah, starring Russell Crowe etc. Shame on me, yet, as a rule, I don’t have a Hollywood blockbuster on my personal “must see” list. Perhaps I’ll watch it during this summer, if I find a decent theatre around.

I see that lots of discussions are going on concerning the content of the movie. Actually, most of them are dealing with its accuracy – is the movie a faithful rendition of the original biblical story? More precisely, what to do with obvious impreciseness of the movie, of its “creative liberty” with which it reinterprets an old story?

No, you won’t see me involved in such discussions.  That word “accuracy” doesn’t belong here. Firstly, movies are not expected to reproduce literally the stories and novels they’re based upon. Secondly, and that’s the gist of the present discussions, the biblical story is not an accurate description of the real event. There was no real Flood, there was no a huge, universal deluge that blotted out the whole humanity. You want argue about that? Take some classes in geology first (like Geology 101) and then find someone else more willing than me to waste his or her time on such futile discussions.

My question about the biblical story is not how historical it is (let me repeat, it is not). My real issue is, in fact, about morality. And I’m appalled that we usually deal with accuracy.

So, Genesis 6 as tells it, humans as the whole screwed it up. I really do not know what exactly was that about (neither you know that, be aware), since the text is somehow impenetrable. Some men married some girls – and I’m not sure who these men were (fallen angels?) and who were these girls (you think you know? Enlighten me then). And then there were some giants or some heroes of old. And then all thoughts of all humans became perpetually evil. To put it this way: some strange genetic disorder, affecting the way the people think, was in place. Perhaps I got something wrong here – just like all the commentators of the text. Anyway, as a result, the earth was full of violence.

But what is more interesting is the reaction of Yahweh. I can only guess what he was doing while the things were continuously worsening. Yet, (at least) now the time has come for his reaction. He set up his mind to drown all the humans. Not only humans, but, in addition, “the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground”, all inclusive. “For I regret that I have made them”, explains Yahweh. Very short explanation for such an event. And very lame, if you ask me. If you ask me as a parent (and a grandparent).

Yahweh decides to save Noah and his family alone. Noah is blameless, says the text, and the thing has been settled. No one else was warned. No one else was given some time. Yep, I know that some Christians believe that Noah was preaching his Flood Gospel for 120 (a hundred and twenty!) years. Offering, primarily, the people a free entrance to his ark. Nice thought, it would give some credit to Yahweh’s action. But the Bible doesn’t say that. Read it carefully, if you want to. Read some decent commentaries and find if for yourself. Originally, the Bible simply says that Yahweh shortened the human expected lifespan to 120 years (well, not many of us make it). And, more importantly, N O B O D Y was warned – apart from Noah. Noah said no word to his neighbors, but was patiently building his monumental ark.

And then – all humans, except Noahsons family, and most of the animals (precisely, 99,99% of them) were wiped out. They were literally drowned in the unprecedented 40 days rainfall. If you take the Bible verbatim (cheers, mate!), all the children (not 99,99% but 100% of them) died. Noah’s sons were not kids (as it is clearly implied by that disgusting Genesis 9 event, you know what I say).

You want this story to model our lives? Then, in a case of a violent crisis in, say, an African country, you should send (preferably, NATO) troops there, help the deliverance of a single family (no kids, please, just grownups), and then – kill all the remaining guys. No prisoners taken. You’ll see that, as the result, the violence will totally cease. The crisis has been solved, praise the Lord!

Or, you think that such a nasty solution would be, somehow miraculously, justified if the Lord supported it? Well, I have no word for you, mate, you should see your doctor and stay away from the Bible and from the firearms. And stay away from me, as well, please…

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Brotherhood

Mankind as a brotherhood – that’s the dream. Perhaps, never to come true.

However, once upon a time, says the Bible, the dream was realized. And we had two brothers, Cain and Abel. Of course, we don’t think of them as of the supreme example of brotherly love. You know that story already, I assume.

They bring their sacrifices and Abel’s animal sacrifice is preferred by Yahweh over Cain’s vegetable sacrifice. Does Yahweh prefer flesh meat over vegetarian cuisine? I don’t know. And then Cain is angry. And then Yahweh sees that anger. And then Yahweh says to Cain to calm down. And then he leaves Cain and Abel alone. And then Cain kills Abel, and then Yahweh says curse over Cain.

The story sets forth some of the old semitic beliefs. For example, old Semites rather avoided spilling of the victim’s blood on the floor. Because, says that superstition, the blood spilled on the ground demands vengeance. So the old Arabs used to slay their victims over a vessel that will collect the blood, preventing it from being spilled. Yak!, I hear you saying.

But, this is not about blood. This is about morale of the story. It’s completely clear that Yahweh sides with the innocent victim. And that’s all he’s doing for Abel. Yahweh knows in advance what Cain is up to. Did he prevent him from murdering his brother? Did he, at least, warn Abel what’s going to be? Unfortunately, nope is the answer to both questions. Moreover, Yahweh is strangely absent when murder occurs. Just like he wasn’t there by the tree when Adam and Eve were tempted by the snake. He is absent just in the moments when his presence is most needed.

Furthermore, Cain is sentenced to nomadic life, not to death. Plus, he is protected from any eventual revenge. Revenge by whom, you may ask? Adam and Eve? His siblings not mentioned before? None of the answers is satisfying. Clearly, the writer is not concerned with that question. However, what we are concerned about is that the punishment is actually not carried out. Cain marries a woman, has a son and builds a city. Not some punishment, you know.

Thus, it seems that the morale of the story is that we are left on our own. No one really protects us, no one really punishes us. Is that what the Bible believers actually believe?

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THE FALL

Once upon a time I was teaching ethics for students age 15 to 18. Ethics was alternative for the students that didn’t want religious education. So, instead of Creation, Israel, Jesus, Church and so on, you could opt for topics on human rights, morality, corruption, etc.

Having before me students without religious education, I decided to make an experiment. How would they interpret Genesis 3? What happens there? That was their homework, to figure out what is this story about.

To my utter disappointment, virtually all the students offered the same interpretation: the text about speaking snake and a naked couple eating a forbidden fruit is the story about human fall into sin, from which we can be saved only through baptism. “OK, where do you find such words in the text?”, I asked them. They remained silent. Contrary to theologians who are very talkative when being asked the same question. “You see”, I can hear them, “Adam and Eve were sinless, they had no shame, because they had no lust, they walked freely with God, but, then, they listen to Satan’s voice and after that they cover their nakedness, flee away from God’s voice, become mortal” etc.

Well, to me Adam and Eve look like typical teenagers. You know that: “Kids, I’m just leaving a classroom for five minutes, please, sit down, be silent…” And what usually happens: turmoil and noise the moment you leave.

Thus, in this story, Yahweh leaves his garden for a while. Before that he sternly warns: “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (2.17). No, he didn’t say: “You’ll become mortal”, but “You’ll die”, the very day you eat it. Remember that, mate, or you’ll misunderstand the whole story.

And in the beginning of the chapter we have someone who talks the human couple to a prank. This is a snake, but a talking one, something you’ve never heard of at your biology classes. Moreover, this snake knows in advance that 1. Adam and Eve will not die; and, 2. they will become like gods, knowing good and evil (meaning that they will know everything).

Both Adam and Eve fall for that story. Remember that they go together. Later theologies attempted to exculpate Adam, making of him a romantic hero who takes the fruit just because of Eve. But in the text, he is just as willing as Eve to eat this strange fruit. And then they start feeling stupid. They, firstly, become ashamed of their nakedness. Then they try to escape Yahweh. But you don’t need to be God to discover what some naïve teenagers did. Each of the culprits receives their due: the snake will have the problem with the dust and men’s heels; the woman will have the problems with childbirth and with men; the man will have the problems with tilling the ground. He is the dust, and he will deal with the dust all his life (just like the snake) and end in the dust. Finally, they have to leave the Garden. Now! You hear me?! They must not eat from the tree of life, for, as the snake predicted, they’ll become like God. A comforting thing is that they get leather garments. Animal rights societies, obviously, were not around. “Whoosh”, said Adam and Eve relieved. They didn’t die, as you may clearly see.

Therefore, a few words on later theological (Christian) constructs. Firstly, the text never implies some sinless nature of Adam and Eve. They’re as human as we are. Secondly, the text is not about the Fall into sinful nature, but about expulsion from the Eden. As the consequence of that expulsion, says the myth, we have to work hard, to deliver babies painfully, to wear clothes, etc. Next, Adam and Eve were already seen as mortal. But they escaped this time the death sentence. Yahweh in this story reminds to some stern parent or a pedagogue that threats with severe punishment, but, when a transgression really occurs, calms down and punishes in a milder way. Actually, it would be extremely stupid to kill anyone because of taking a single fruit, whatever it was. When theologians, beginning with apostle Paul, see in this text a verdict upon all humanity, some may really doubt their sanity. Why, on earth, all of us should suffer such terrible consequences of one pretty innocuous prank? Even if we agree with the interpretation I offer here (and I’m just leaning upon other biblical experts), the punishment was anyway exaggerated. Had I been Yahweh (had you been Yahweh) the punishment would be very simple: some yelling, no Internet today, no going out in the evening, and “The next time you do it…. Well, just try me, you little pranksters!” Chasing your kids from home for doing what Adam and Eve did would be too much. Killing them would me even more too much, right?

Lastly, a word about snake. In the book of Revelation it has been (probably) identified as Satan. Yet for the writer of Genesis 3 (nicknamed Yahwist) – it is just an animal. A strange, talking, divine-minded animal, but animal. And did you notice one thing? When Yahweh finds out what was done, he lets both man and woman to speak. But the snake has no such privilege. It has to remain silent while receiving its due. Really, no animal rights here. At the end of the story, Yahweh repeats the snake’s words.

And we’re left unsure whether the snake was not Yahweh himself.

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