Archive for the ‘Modern Christian Mythology’ category

Modern Christian Mythology: The Rapture on 5/21/11

May 19, 2011

5/21/11 ‘ism

Harold Camping, a former civil engineer and current president of Family Radio has predicted that this Saturday, 5/21/11, the Christian event known as the Rapture will occur. Camping has made predictions of the imminent end of the world before, in 1994. Thought, at the time, he was careful to claim human fallibility. This time he is sure. He knows that he cannot be wrong.

The Rature, is the Christian belief that Christians, including the dead ones, will be taken up into the sky to meet Jesus Christ (the word “rapture” means “caught up” or “taken away”).

The basic concept appears in the early Christian writing “1 Thessalonians” (traditionally dated to the 50’s, CE), in which the Christian convert Paul of Tarsus predicts that:

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air,”

Beyond that, the specifics are not agreed upon by Christians. There are three other principle events to account for in the Christian timeline, the 2nd coming of Jesus (actually , third according to the gospels), the “Tribulation”, and the “Last Judgement”. Pre-Tribulation, Midtribulation, and Posttribulation sequences have been proposed for the Rapture, and only a fist fight will determine the winner. The Rapture could also be prior to or during the 2nd coming of Jesus. All events will be prior to the Last Judgment, of course, since, as the name implies, it is Last.

Camping’s specific prediction for the Rapture is that it will happen on 5/21/11, at 6PM local time (so, it will follow the earthly invention of the Time Zone). He got this number by taking three numbers, multiplying them, and multiplying that by itself: (5 x 10 x 17) x (5 x 10 x 17) = 722,500.

Camping then adds 722,500 to April 1, 33 CE, the date Harold Camping believes is the death date of Jesus (note: there is no actual historical record of the date of Jesus’ death). According to Camping: 5 stands for atonement; 10 stands for perfection; and 17 stands for heaven. Atonement Perfects Heaven. Funny, huh? Anyway, you can dig through you Bibles all you want. These numbers are not important to anyone but Camping.

The Rapture, if there is one, would be a highly visible event, with Jesus floating down from the higher heavens, possibly all the way down to our realm, trumpets blasting (presumably supernatural trumpets, though earthy trumpets are very loud as well), eclipses, earthquakes; everything that good Christians think of as chaotic and anxiety producing.

Finally, on October 21, the earth will officially end. What a 5 month delay in destruction will do for a supernatural creator/destroyer god is one of those little mysteries of life, I suppose.

Camping’s claim seems ridiculous to most people, including other Christians, but many are taking it seriously, leading to anxiety, and over all irresponsible behavior.

A pre-Rapture interview with Harold Camping can be found here: BuffaloBeast.

As soon as a post-Rapture interview is found, I’ll post it.

Modern Christian Mythology: Prayer is Banned in Public School

March 24, 2011

Is Prayer Banned in Public School?

When I was in kindergarten, our teacher would enforce a mandatory prayer time for class every afternoon. Officially, it was supposed to be snack time, a cup of milk and a graham cracker. She would walk up to the door, close it, dim the lights. She would then walk around the room, checking on each and everyone one of us to make sure we all had our hands clasped and heads lowered. I didn’t really know what to pray for since I already had a graham cracker, but I did know that I felt pretty damn uncomfortable. Like I needed to pretend to be religious. All I did, though, was wait anxiously to not have to pose anymore.

Once I got older and learned about Murray v Curlett, I realized that what our teacher did was illegal. As well it should be. More so, I realized that she knew it was illegal. It was the only time she closed the door to the classroom. Even if everyone in the class was a Christian, no one else should tell you to pray on cue.

And that is what Murray v Curlett was all about. It does not stop a Christian from praying in any way shape or form. It does (or should) stop teachers from intimidating children. I took it all pretty easy; after all, I was only an atheist. If I actually had a belief in another religion, I would have been terrified that my god was going to punish me.

Murray v Curlett has been the bane of evangelical Christian groups since 1963. They talk of it as the ruling that banned prayer in  public school. Prayer is not banned. School sanctioned prayer is, i.e., a prayer that is actually led by school staff, announced over the intercom, etc. Students can feel free to pray as they wish (speaking in tongues in the middle of biology is a bit rude), and students can lead other students in prayer.

So, what aspect of this ruling is difficult to understand? If it wasn’t for the constant barrage of misinformation from church groups, nothing. Christians do not feel the need to fall down on their knees and pray in the middle of Wal-Mart, or at restaurants and movies. So, some part of them does knows about appropriate behavior. But, if you tell a people they’re oppressed, they can come to believe it’s true, even if all the evidence says otherwise.

Modern Christian Mythology: Hebrew Slaves Built the Pyramids

March 17, 2011

Did Hebrew Slaves Built the Pyramids?

The belief that Hebrew slaves built the pyramids is pretty popular. Many secularists even believe it. But, the belief does start with the belief that Jewish religious scriptures are actually historical documents. Not that the Bible ever actually says that the Hebrews built the pyramids. Just do a word search on any online Bible for pyramid. It’s never mentioned. But, if one believes that the Hebrews were in Egypt, and one has a strong desire for a romantic and fantastic version of history, one may want to connect the dots and say that the Hebrews were the builders of one of the Wonders of the World (hey, why just one?). But, the fact is, that the evidence shows this belief to be very doubtful. No primary source backs is up, and the primary sources we do have refute it.

  • The Pyramids were built 2,500 BCE
  • The earliest reference to Israel is 1,200 BCE (Merneptah Stele, in which they are barely a footnote)
  • The earliest Hebrew writing is the Gezer Calendar and the Khirbet Qeiyafa potsherd, both dated to around 1,000 BCE and both very primitive early forms of the language.
  • The first mention of Jews being in Egypt is in the 5th century BCE, in the Elephantine papyri. They do mention a Jewish temple previously build, but they do not mention how far back.
  • The first mention that the Hebrews build the pyramids were in the histories of Herodotus, 450 BCE, Herodotus is, unfortunately, well known for his historical inaccuracy.(That, by itself, of course, does not say that Herodotus was wrong about it. It could have been one of the things He got right.)

So, where does this leave the Exodus. The Exodus, as recorded in the Bible, was huge.

There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. Many other people went up with them, and also large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds.

-Exodus 12: 37b-38, NIV

600,000 MEN. Double that for wives, add a few kids, and who knows how many “other people”, we quickly get millions of people with their livestock. Sorry, that’s just ridiculous. There’s just not enough quail in the desert to feed them.

And to top off the logical and negative evidence against an historical Exodus, as excavations continue we are gaining a lot of positive evidence against the slave theory: We found the tombs of the workers! (link: Egypt unveils more proof that Jews did not build pyramids).

Modern Christian Mythology: Giants Lived in the Past

February 17, 2011

Giants in the Past

People do believe some odd things. And for some odd reasons. When I was young, for instance, I had heard from adults around me that, at one time, there were giants living on earth. It’s true, you know!

The past existence of giants wasn’t believed because of any extant evidence (very large human bones, for instance), but rather because of a story that appears in the Hebrew Bible. In 1 Samuel, the character of Goliath fights a young David, future kind of Judea.

The story, tough, is more likely myth than history. We think this because of a couple of  issues.

Firstly, the famous battle between David and Goliath does not appear to be the original appearance of the Goliath character. Hidden away in another section of Samuel (well after most readers have glazed over into a catatonic state)  it is mentioned that the giant Goliath was slain by a soldier named named Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim (2 Samuel 21:19). Since the accomplishments of an unknown individual will be credited to a known individual more often than the reverse, we have reason to believe that the battle with Goliath was credited to David as a result of legendary embellishment at a later date.

Secondly, the height of Goliath, it seems, has been greatly exaggerated. Up until 1948, the oldest copy of the Hebrew Bible that we had were the Masoratic texts, which were from the medieval period. In that version, Goliath clocks in at amazing 9 1/2 feet tall. In 1948, however, the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of Hebrew scriptures dating from the 1-2nd century BCE, gave us an older, thereby closer to the original, version. The description of Goliath in those copies had Goliath described as 6.5 ft tall, Still tall for a people that didn’t eat a lot of meat, just far short of any world records.

A desire to believe in giants despite the lack of evidence lead to one of my favorite frauds of all time: the Cardiff Giant

To hear an actual archeologist talk about the sorts of things that people mistake for evidence of giants, as well as the history behind the Cardiff Giant, listen to Dr Ken Feder being interviewed on an entertaining episode of Monster Talk.

Modern Christian Mythology: The Garden of Eden

February 10, 2011

The Garden of Eden

Who wouldn’t want there to exist an earthly paradise? Especially one that not everyone knows about; you know, to keep the real estate affordable.

Like other parts of the book of Genesis, the Eden story is paralleled in Sumerian mythology, specifically the Epic of Gilgamesh, which predates the compilation of the Hebrew sources by over a thousand years:

The Sumerian poem “Enki and Ninhursag: A Paradise Myth” begins with a eulogy of Dilmun, describing it as a place that is pure, clean, and bright, where there is neither sickness nor death. Similarly, the characterization of the serpent, the eating of the fruit of the tree, and the deprivation of human immortality, are all paralleled in the Babylonian “Epic of Gilgamesh”, in which the legendary hero succeeds in obtaining the “plant of life” only to have it stolen by a serpent, thus depriving him of immortality.
“From Ancient Writings to Sacred Texts: the Old Testament and Apocrypha”By Solomon Alexander Nigosian

Modern Christian Mythology: Out of Body Experiences

February 3, 2011

Out of Body Experiences

The belief in Out of Body Experiences (OBEs), Astral Projection, or Near Death Experiences (NDEs) is not a belief held exclusively by Christianity, though the religion does have a vested interest in the belief. After all, if you can prove that there is consciousness outside of the human body, then it would be a very small leap to propose a literal existence of the soul, a key, yet unproven, concept in the Christian belief system.

While a casual Sunday afternoon spent watching In Search Of or the “History” Channel, may lead one to believe that OBEs are well known in the medical world, closer scrutiny at the actual data makes it clear that all we have are the vague recollections of personal experiences, usually of a time when a patient’s body was under extreme duress, like during surgery or after head trauma of some sort.

So, how would we, as researchers, test the claims made by an individual about an experience they had while in a disorientated state? Modern ethics keeps us from going around hitting people on the head with lead pipes, of course, so we have to wait until people have these experiences naturally. And, the only controlled environment in which OBEs happen with any regularity is in a hospital. Next, we would need to verify what they are experiencing what they believe they are experiencing. If we take the claims of OBEs seriously, they float above their body, looking down. If that is the case, they should then be able to see objects that are on top of shelves and cabinets that they could not see while they are lying in bed looking up.

And that is exactly what Dr Sam Parnia is doing. In an intense study of OBEs, cards with easily descriptive pictures on them are being placed on top of shelves in an hospital resuscitation area. As of yet, no one has been able to describe the cards.

On the laboratory side of the research, experiences similar to NDEs have been replicated by electrical stimulation and virtual reality simulations, and researchers from the University of Maribor, Slovenia have found that there appears to be a strong correlation between Near Death Experiences and the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood stream.

What really amazes me, is that anyone that experienced a severe blow to the head would be so insistent to believe that anything they experienced while in a diminished capacity had to be real.

Modern Christian Mythology: A Young Earth

January 26, 2011

A Young Earth

The belief that the Earth is 6 to 10 thousand years old is a common myth derived from a literal reading of the book of Genesis in the Hebrew bible. In order to find out  the date when Adam and Eve where molded out of dirt, the ages of the patriarchs listed in that book can bee added up and, presto. With only a little remedial math and a lot of really dull reading, you too can prestidigitate the date that Bishop Usher derived when attempting to discover the age of the Earth using nothing but ancient Hebrew religious works (October 23, 4004 BC).

Modern archeology, though, has shed some light on the origin of the patriarchs list in Genesis.

An ancient Sumerian “kings list” has been discovered that matches up with the ages of the Genesis patriarchs. The reigns of the kings were extraordinarily long (pointing to the mythical nature of the kings listed, of whom no historical trace has ever been found). The kings were assumed by that ancients to have lived before the Gilgamesh flood myth. This Sumerian flood story was so popular, copies of it have been all around the Mediterranean, including translations in Hittite and Hurrian. The reigns of the kings listed lasted into the thousands of years, though the units they used were a base 60 measurement that could easily have been confused with the Hebrew base ten numerals. Once the conversion is done, the reigns match up with the Biblical patriarchs too close to ignore.

Babylonian influence is evident more than any other in the primitive legends. We can demonstrate this in the case of the legend of the Deluge, of which we possess the Babylonian version; and we have strong reasons for accepting it in the case of the story of creation, which agrees with the Babylonian story in the characteristic point of the division of the primeval sea into two portions; also in the legend of Nimrod, and in the traditions of the patriarchs, the ten patriarchs of the race as given by P being ultimately the same as the ten primitive kings of the Babylonians.

-“The Legends of Genesis” by By Hermann Gunkel

see also, “From ancient writings to sacred texts: the Old Testament and Apocrypha” By Solomon Alexander Nigosian

For a detailed list of the Babylonian “Kings List” with the Biblical patriarchs, see “Long Lives of the Patriarchs