Three Englishmen in Mecca (2002)
History / Islam / Religion

Three Englishmen in Mecca (2002)

In the following examination, I will relate the stories of three Englishmen, each from different historical eras, who made the annual pilgrimage, forbidden to all non-Muslims, and entered the city of Mecca in the heart of the Hijaz. This pilgrimage is known in Arabic as the Hajj, and the travels of the men, separated by two hundred and fifty years, reflect an evolving and interconnecting relationship taking place between England and Arabia in particular, and Europe and its developing notions of the Orient in general. Continue reading

Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and the Crisis of Capitalism
Atheism / Christianity / History / Politics / Religion / Society

Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and the Crisis of Capitalism

Stephen K. Bannon is a public figure shrouded in mystery. He’s arguably the person most responsible for the Trump presidency. He is to Donald Trump what Karl Rove was to Bush’s brain. Being the executive chairman of Breitbart News and soon-to-be Counselor to the President, his impact upon our culture is undeniable. Continue reading

Christianity / History / Religion

Historical Jesus Files: The Rationalistic View of Biblical History

Nearly 180 years ago David Friedrich Strauss analyzed what he called the rationalistic doctrine of historical Jesus studies.  It is here where the biblical scholar peels back the layer upon layer of myth and legend associated with the Jesus story in order to arrive at the true kernel of some past individual from which the entire … Continue reading

Christianity / History / Religion

The Great Commission: How can anyone take the New Testament seriously?

Here is the famous closing to Matthew, describing what the post-resurrection Jesus said to his disciples (and all subsequent believers):

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20 (RSV)

Here’s Paul talking about his calling from God: Continue reading

Activism / Atheism / Politics / Religion

On Freethought, Atheism, Politics and Dogma

I came into the skeptical/freethought/atheist community from an already-establishing, somewhat radical left political perspective. For some time I felt most leaders in the community were simplistic and uncritical in their views of political economy. And they are.

But you know what? We all are. Any honest, skeptical starting point should begin here, acknowledging our own ignorance of the near-infinite complexity that is social life. That’s not to say we can’t understand aspects of social reality, culture, history, psychology, human desires, drives, etc. We can and do. That’s also not to say humanity is powerless in its attempts to make the world a better place in the most non-controversial sense. Science has greatly expanded our knowledge of these things. Life has gotten better for more and more people.

Slavoj Zizek in Liverpool, cropped version of ...The difficulty comes in interpreting the world. There’s something to be said for philosopher Slavoj Žižek‘s reversal of Marx:“Don’t Act. Just Think.” He’s not recommending silence in the face of injustice. He is recognizing the inherent limits of our answers to society’s problems and that we need to think more deeply before confidently establishing doctrines in our efforts to change the world for the better. Finding answers to how, why, and what to do (politics) is a tremendous undertaking fraught with countless, unforeseen problems having real-world consequences.

For example, in the United States, levels of violence have been dropping since a peak in the early 1990s. In trying to solve the violent crime problem at the time, numerous solutions were undertaken, particularly the “tough on crime” movement of many states and municipalities. So we saw increased incarceration rates and harsher sentencing. Lo and behold, violence levels fell. But they fell regardless of policies implemented. Why? (The tough question.)

Well, there is growing evidence that decreased amounts of lead in the environment may have much to do with lessening rates of violence. If true, this is something all the dominant theories of violence spanning the political spectrum failed to account for and are still largely silent in addressing.

Violence in society is obviously a vast topic. And certainly environmental lead is not the only component. I think we all recognize this truism. But in my opinion, when operating within a limited political framework people tend to privilege one or more interpretation, those which reinforce a pre-existing political outlook, while ignoring or denouncing anything that falls outside their limited interpretive perspective.

Political beliefs tend to ossify and resist alternative explanations. Internally their logic is self-apparent to the believer and should therefore be so to everyone else. But that’s not how the world works, whether one is right or wrong. Critics are correct in warning against dogma when it comes to discussions of politics and economics. Even well-meaning, skeptical, intelligent people can easily slip into a type of moralizing that ultimately demonizes opponents, real or perceived.

Let’s continue, humbly aware of our limits, willing to change even the deepest held beliefs if the evidence takes us there. It’s what we expect of others and we should expect the same of ourselves. Continue reading

Atheism / Christianity / Religion

Antichrist and the End of the World

Sermon and Deeds of the Antichrist, Luca Signorelli, ~1499-1502 (Source: Wikipedia)

Let’s look at the Christian concept of “antichrist.”

Using my bible software to search the term I came up with four verses: 1 John 2:18, 1 John 2:22, 1 John 4:3, and 2 John 1:7. Let’s start with 1 John 2:18, RSV:

Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore we know that it is the last hour.

Right away you see a problem for Christians, at least if you want to apply notions of the Antichrist to current events. The anonymous author of this passage was probably writing somewhere around 1,900 years ago yet claims to be living in the final hour before Christ’s return. He’s not talking about some date way off in the future. To any honest reader the last hour can only mean one thing: the author assumes he and his readers were living in the end times. Continue reading

Reading the Apostle Paul Without Gospel-Colored Glasses
Atheism / Christianity / Religion

Reading the Apostle Paul Without Gospel-Colored Glasses

This post is revised from a comment I made over at Reddit on r/DebateAChristian.  The original Reddit post, by the brilliant, concerns whether Paul actually preached about an earthly Jesus, the Jesus defined by and understood through the gospels of the New Testament.  My argument is that Paul’s letters make far more sense if read in isolation from the gospels. Continue reading