Sunday, October 17, 2010

Tim Minchin's Storm

It's one his best. The creative energy coming from atheists who love to entertain is just awesome.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Satan by Deidzoeb of AvC

A lot of stories in recent decades give a postmodern twist to classic works of literature (or pop culture) by retelling the story from the perspective of a minor character. For example, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" is a play that fills in some of the gaps of Hamlet from the perspective of those characters. "Grendel" by John Gardner tells the story of Beowulf from the monster's viewpoint. "The Wind Done Gone" tells the story of "Gone With the Wind" from the perspective of Scarlett's half-sister, a mulatto slave from that plantation. They're all kind of remixing or mashing up earlier stories in order to make new stories, or the same story from an interesting new POV.

I've only seen the movie of that first example, haven't read the others, but I assume they all rely on some of the exact same scenes from the original works, while inserting new scenes or new narration that wasn't in the original.

That's what came to mind when [name removed] mentioned a little about a "Gap Theory", including some assumptions that Satan did something important in between Gen 1:1 and Gen 1:2. It sounds like this important bit with Satan was left out of the Bible, or perhaps we are supposed to infer that it happened at that point even if it wasn't spelled out in Gen 1:1-2. [name removed] wrote: 'Now if you believe in a Gap Theory which states that there is a Gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 - (where Satan sinned) then Gen. 1:2 makes sense when the *was* is translated *became*.?'  [reference removed]

I razzed her about it and moved on.

Later I got to thinking about these mashup, remix stories that involve minor characters, and how the story of Satan has gradually developed that way from a combination of the Bible and these supplementary stories or traditions.

Plus there's the idea of the "retcon" from comic books. It means "retroactive continuity" and involves either changing or adding to a character's history. For example, let's say you're hired to write Batman, a character whose story spans 70 years of comics, movies, tv, novels, etc. But you don't like some of the baggage that comes along with this character, the fact that he's rich and has a butler. You want him to start off poor. You rationalize this change by saying "It was all a dream, everything you've read about Batman up to this point didn't really happen that way. Now we can tell the real story of impoverished young Bruce Wayne..." That would be a cheesy way to do it, but you'd be able to explain why his history is being changed.Or you could mess with time travel or alternate universes. Why did Batman kill the villain in issue # XIVLM? That seems a little out of character. (Or I don't want that to be part of his character.) So I change the continuity by saying it was really some other person disguised as Batman, it wasn't the real Batman who killed someone. Or you say that was a story that happened on alternate Earth #4, and we here on Earth #1 had a totally different experience.The changes could be large or small, or they could be rationalized well or poorly.

The point is that they're sometimes jarring, a way of rewriting a story or character that the earlier authors or contributors might not have intended.

Before we even consider [name removed] suggestion that Satan did something that was overlooked by Genesis, there are already aspects of the character of Satan that have been retconned or built up later by remixing and mashup. A lot of the history of Satan was really described in Paradise Lost, and not all of it comes from the Bible, or can be inferred from reading the Bible. It was a remix that used characters from the Bible and created a new story, or “filled in” a lot of details. Now people get them all mixed up and think of Satan in terms of Paradise Lost as much as they think of the statements from the Bible.

What I mean by “retconning” Satan is the interpretation that the Serpent in Genesis is a manifestation or avatar of Satan. It’s an interesting theory, but is there any clear scripture elsewhere in the Bible where they say “By the way, that Serpent character in Genesis is totally the same one referred to later as Satan”?

Maybe Satan is the Whore of Babylon too. Why not? Maybe Satan was the character Cain who killed his brother Abel, as long as we're taking every bad guy from the Bible and assuming they are manifestations of Satan. Maybe all the Jews or Romans who supposedly condemned Jesus were other manifestations or avatars of Satan. Maybe Satan is also "Leviathan" and "Rahab" the sea monsters.

How far do you want to take it? It seems to me that those interpretations would be assuming more than what the text says, but go ahead and have fun with it. Just don't pretend that it's a literal interpretation, or that any text of this length in any language is going to have a clear literal message which can't be interpreted or misinterpreted.

Check out the different stories that were eventually merged to become the story of Satan. Isaiah 14:12 talks about an insolent Babylonian king who metaphorically "fell from heaven" like a morning star. (Lucifer is Latin for morning star.) But they don't clearly say that Lucifer is Satan or vice versa. Stories of other angels that fell from heaven were eventually transferred to Satan. As long as you're willing to say that every bad guy character in the Bible was actually Satan, why not assume that this Babylonian king was Satan, and an obviously metaphorical "morning star" was Satan too? see The Lucifer Story

You could do this with almost any character. You could say Daniel and Job and David were not separate humans, they were actually reincarnations of the same character, or they were all human disguises worn by the archangel Michael (or whoever, insert your favorite hero here). Like any other bit of wild interpretation of the Bible, you don’t need good reasons to make this claim. You just need a strong feeling that it’s true, and you bully your way past anyone who disagrees. "Of course Daniel and Job were different aspects of the same character. Just read this part and that part and you should be able to tell how similar they are. If you aren’t seeing that they are meant to be the same character, then you’ve let the Devil get into you," or you aren’t praying on it hard enough, or you don’t have the sincerest pumpkin patch in the neighborhood.

OOOO! Another example is "The Last Temptation of Christ," another story that tries to fill in a gap by showing what Jesus perceived when he was being tempted on the cross, or whenever he was tempted. There are probably lots of stories like this filling in parts of the Bible for fun.

So, we should keep in mind that some of the common modern interpretations of the Bible are based on stories and ideas that came from outside of the Bible, or narrow retcons to explain how the Serpent is really Satan, a star briefly mentioned in Isaiah is really Satan, etc.

Even people who try to keep strict literal interpretations of the Bible don’t realize how much their traditions have been influenced by sources outside of the Bible.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

To Question God by Steve of AvC

Theists all too often claim that atheists and freethinkers are driven by some innate and mindless hatred of religion, and revel in the collective denigration of peoples’ superstitious beliefs.  Still others believe that some traumatic psychological event, lurking in the basement of the atheist subconscious turned them away from a belief in religion.  And a few clutch at the idea that atheists reject god simply because they are afraid – of what I cannot imagine. Without question some atheists can be extremely confrontational and intolerant and I have been there myself.  However, I don't believe it is a question of hate or derision.  It is more an overwhelming sense of frustration from constantly being pummeled by the most inane and fatuous arguments that attempt to support a wholly untenable position.

Here we are at the close of the first decade of the 21st century and it is truly breathtaking – perhaps mind boggling would be a better word - the number of people who embrace a misogynistic, death-religion from over 2 millennia ago. Despite an overwhelming and ever-growing mountain of scientific research and evidence, millions still desperately cling to the fantasies concocted by desert nomads and embellished by religious zealots and power-hunger political despots.

If there is some semblance of fear, then it is fear of the escalating anti-scientific mindset and the raucous demand by all too many to embrace a theocracy that answers not to the law but to some imaginary deity.  The fear that reason will be continually kicked to the road side to accommodate the cacophonous hoards of religious camp followers who flaunt their supposed piety in the face of rational thought and believe it is better to burn a book than to actually read it.  And if that doesn't quash the voices of dissent then burn the author.  In part, there is the fear of an ever-diminishing sphere of rational discourse and logic in favor of close-minded religious cant and intolerance.

Science and reason have always illuminated the trail through ignorance and as such will always remain the mortal enemy of superstition, and hence religion.  The mystics profess knowledge they cannot possibly possess, and embolden their position and socio-political power base with endless doom-sayings of Armageddon, eternal damnation and hell fire.

For me, personally, that is what I find most distasteful of religion -the arrogant claim of divine revelation which can never be substantiated coupled with the threat of eternal destruction if even the most outlandish claim is remotely questioned.  Of course, it is always beneficial to the religious ring leaders if they can enlist the cooperation of the secular leadership. They can back up their spiritual demands of unquestioned obedience, and the incessant harangue of damnation and self- denigration with the imprimatur of the rack, the branding iron and the thumb screw.

As for a denial of god...well he has done that himself - so to speak. With each step away from superstitious ignorance the evidence for god dwindles.  Disease is not divine retribution; the universe despite its vastness is ultimately knowable.  The secrets of nature that once terrified our ancestors are taught in grade school textbooks. A high school student of today, having completed a basic First Aid or EMT course possess more legitimate medical knowledge than all the doctors combined of the great 15th century universities of Europe.  We can look up into the night sky with electronic eyes and glimpse the beginnings of the cosmos.  We peer into the shadows and find there is only the absence of light, not demons. It is the absolutist rejection of reason, science and the hard won gains of the unfettered human intellect that is most disturbing. 

Benjamin Franking once stated that ..."To see by faith is to shut the eyes of reason". 

And I could not agree more.

Steve in Virginia