Abortion, and Christian conservatives.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 May

Abortion doesn’t come up in the bible. At all.

Infanticide does. Many ancient cultures used to strangle or smother a baby after birth. Ex 1.16 Or drown it, either in a nearby river Ex 1.22 or the local bathhouse. The Romans were notorious for exposing their unwanted kids to the elements: If a patriarch didn’t consider their child healthy enough, or simply didn’t want another kid, he could order it to be abandoned in the woods, to die of exposure.

The scriptures don’t specifically condemn such practices as murder… but neither do they treat ’em as if they’re not murder.

Miscarriage does come up in the bible. Again, it’s not condemned as murder. But it’s not like the ancients didn’t know how to trigger a miscarriage. There were certain herbal poisons you could take, and a miscarriage would result. Sometimes the mother would die too, but them’s the risks. Since people didn’t care for these risks, what they usually went with was infanticide.

Now there is a command in the Law which indicates God doesn‘t approve of triggering a miscarriage.

Exodus 21.22-25 KJV
22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

“Her fruit depart” implies a premature birth; “mischief follow” implies the baby is born dead, or dies. So the guy who punched the mother could merit a life-for-life penalty. Unless the judge or her בַּ֣עַל/baál, “master”—her patriarch, meaning her husband, father, brother, father-in-law, or whatever man had the care of her—had mercy, the perpetrator would be executed. Usually by her closest male relative, who was instructed to take vengeance in such cases. Nu 35.19

Now obviously there are Christians who read this passage differently. They figure “her fruit depart” means of course the child died, and “mischief follow” actually means the woman had complications, which varied. Hence that list of “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” etcetera: These were all the types of “mischief” which might follow. If the man knocked her eye out, he’d have to pay with his own eye. But if the man knocked her fetus out… he’d only have to pay a fine. Because a fetus doesn’t count as a life. And hey, they could always make another.

So, some Christians are adamant this passage proves a fetus is a baby, and other Christians are adamant this passage proves just the opposite. Which one they go with, largely depends on their abortion politics.

Because, like I said, the bible is mum on the subject of abortion.

Not that people don’t try to read abortion into all sorts of verses. And frequently they take the scriptures out of context—because they’re not really interested in what these passages are actually about. They have an ax to grind. They’re entirely sure they’re right, and God has taken their side. True of most political issues, but abortion especially.

Christians who don’t believe God’s a trinity.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 May

God’s a trinity. Jesus is God, his Father is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; yet there’s only one God, an idea which shoulda sunk in after read in the Old Testament about the Hebrews trying to worship multiple gods. Nope, there’s just the One God—and these three are the One God.

And that’s a hard concept for a lot of people. It’s a paradox, and they simply can’t allow God to be a paradox: God is reasonable, rational, logical. Not impossible. And when we’re trying to explain our belief in God to other people, it’d help a whole lot if he didn’t sound impossible. So they downplay trinity as much as they can… and in some cases, dismiss it altogether. God, they insist, is not a trinity.

Some of these people happen to consider themselves Christians. Sometimes really good Christians, as opposed to Unitarians who consider Jesus and his teachings to be optional. They actually strive to follow Jesus’s teachings. They just… don’t really care for the trinitarian idea. Lots of them lean more towards modalism, the belief God isn’t three people (or in theologian-speak, “persons”), but has different modes—and sometimes he’s the Spirit, sometimes the Father, sometimes Jesus.

Problem is, modalism—and any other theory about God which denies the idea of trinity—is inherently flawed. We Christians didn’t just make up the idea of trinity. We found it in the bible. We tried to explain it, couldn’t, and came up with a doctrine which states what little we do know… and likewise what we can’t say trinity is, ’cause it goes too far, and it’d be wrong. God’s not a three-headed, three-bodied, three-pronged being. He’s not a committee of three gods which speak in union, like the Mormons posit. He’s not one guy with three personalities, like someone with dissociative identity disorder whose three alters happen to also be nice guys. He’s not working in three modes.

These alternative ideas are wrong, and often so wrong it gets in the way of people’s relationship with God. (And may get in the way of their salvation.) That’s why we call ’em heresies.

Of course people regularly, incorrectly think “heresy” means bad. (Usually ’cause certain cultish heretics are really bad people.) So they’re gonna be offended by my calling them heretics. “I’m no heretic. You are. You’re the heretic. Trying to get people to believe in three gods…” No I’m not; three gods is a heresy too.

But okay, in the interest of fairness I’ll present their point of view. Generally they stick to five points.

Levites: A tribe of priests.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 May

If you’ve heard of “the 12 tribes of Israel,” I remind you ancient Israel had 13 tribes, not 12. Yet the bible regularly, consistently refers to the 12 tribes, because it’s referring to the tribes which had land, which had territory we could see on a map, designating their borders and landmass. One of the tribes had no such territory. Just cities—which were located without the boundaries of the other tribes. The tribe wasn’t on the map, so it wasn’t listed with the 12.

This tribe would be Levi, the descendants of Levi ben Israel, Jacob and Leah’s third son. He’s notorious for plotting with his elder brother Simeon to kill a Canaanite who raped their sister… and while they were at it, kill every last man in the rapist’s city. Ge 34 Jacob greatly disapproved of his homicidal sons, and as patriarch he could’ve totally punished them for it, but it seems he did nothing. The only thing he did was “bless” them by prophesying Simeon and Levi (really, their tribes) would be scattered.

Genesis 49.5-7 NKJV
5 “Simeon and Levi are brothers;
Instruments of cruelty are in their dwelling place.
6 Let not my soul enter their council;
Let not my honor be united to their assembly;
For in their anger they slew a man,
And in their self-will they hamstrung an ox.
7 Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce;
And their wrath, for it is cruel!
I will divide them in Jacob
And scatter them in Israel.”

Bible doesn’t say anything about them hamstringing an ox, so I can’t speak to that. Maybe it was something they did while murdering Canaanites; maybe it was some sick ’n twisted fun they had as kids—some kids get off on torturing animals, and it’s no surprise when they grow up to be mass murderers. But that’s pure speculation.

In any event Simeon’s descendants, or tribe, were granted a territory which was wholly surrounded by Judah—and the Simeonites were eventually absorbed into that tribe. As for Levi’s descendants, the Levites (Hebrew לֵוִיִּי/Levyíy, or לֵוִי/Leví for short), they were granted cities, not territory.

Seems rather harsh to curse Levi’s descendants for their murdery ancestor. But in fact this wasn‘t a curse. The LORD did this to designate Levi’s tribe—yep, the entire tribe—as his priests.

Israel was God’s chosen people. Levites became the chosen of the chosen. They weren’t to become farmers (well, other than farming their own gardens), nor merchants, nor builders. Instead they were to worship God, maintain the worship sites, carry out God’s rituals, and otherwise help their fellow Israelis follow God. Priesthood, not land, was to be their birthright.

So whenever we find the word “Levite” in the bible, it’s considered a synonym for priest.

And of course Christianity has a parallel. Every Christian is likewise a priest.

“Praying right.”

by K.W. Leslie, 03 May

Prayer is, as I’ve said, simply talking with God. But for many Christians, it’s a profound ritual which connects us with the divine… so that we can get stuff from him.

This is why their focus is so much on effective prayer. On powerful prayer, and how “the power of prayer” can change one’s life. On appeasing God… as if he’s a petty human oligarch who won’t give us what we want unless we suck up to him in just the right ways, and if we get any one part of the ritual wrong, “Whoops! Didn’t do that right. No grace for you.”

From time to time I get rebuked for “praying wrong.” For not being formal enough, not bowing my head, not closing my eyes, not being solemn enough (or at all; I have no problem making jokes with God), not taking my hat off. I remind you when the LORD first spoke to Moses, he never told him to remove his keffiyeh; only his shoes. Ex 3.5 But y’know, different cultures.

The idea that we activate prayer through our good works, is of course crap. But popular crap. And because the people who practice this crap will actually get their prayers answered—not because they did the rituals right, but because God is good; it’s correlation not causation—they’re convinced the crap works. You’re never gonna change their minds about it. I’ve tried; I’ve failed.

Since they are still legitimately talking with God, I figure that’s the important thing. Yeah they’re wasting their own time and effort in trying to talk with him “right,” and they unnecessarily agitate themselves over the rest of us who “boldly approach the throne of grace” He 4.15 i.e. approach God informally, ’cause we can, ’cause he’s Dad. But don’t let them bug you. Talk with God, and don’t fret at all about making sure you’ve prostrated yourself properly. He doesn’t care about that, and we shouldn’t either.

The long ending of Mark.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 May
Mark 16.9-20 KWL
9 [Rising at dawn on the first of the week,
Jesus first appears to Mary the Magdalene,
out of whom he had thrown seven demons.
10 Leaving, this woman reports
to the others who were continuing with Jesus,
to those mourning and weeping,
11 and they’re hearing that Jesus lives—
and was seen by Mary!—and don’t believe it.
12 After this, as two of them are walking,
Jesus is revealed in another form, going with them,
13 and leaving, they report to the rest.
The rest don’t believe them either.
14 Later, as the Eleven are reclining at table,
Jesus appears, and rants against
their unbelief and hard-heartedness,
for people had seen him risen up,
and they don’t believe it.
 
15 [Jesus told them, “Go into the world
and proclaim the gospel everywhere to every creature.
16 Those who believe and are baptized will be saved.
Those who don’t believe will be judged.
 
17 [“Miracles will accompany the believers:
In my name, people will throw out demons.
People will speak in tongues.
18 People will pick up snakes in their hands,
and if anyone drinks poison, it won’t injure them.
People will lay hands on the sick,
and they will be well.”
 
19 [So after Master Jesus’s speech to them,
he’s raptured into heaven and sits at God’s right.
20 Leaving, these apostles proclaim everywhere
about the Master they work with and his message,
confirming it through the accompanying signs. Amen.]

This passage—often found in brackets in our bibles—is called the Long Ending of Mark. I already wrote about the Short Ending. Mark wrote neither of these endings. Some eager Christian, unsatisfied with the abrupt way Mark ended—or unhappy with the brevity of the Short Ending—tacked it onto Mark in the 300s or 400s. Speaking as someone who’s translated all of Mark, I can definitely say he doesn’t write like Mark.

However. Even though Mark didn’t write it, it’s still valid, inspired scripture. Still bible. No, not because of the King James Only folks; they have their own reasons for insisting it’s still bible, namely bibliolatry. Nope; it’s bible because it was in the ancient Christians’ copies of Mark when they determined Mark is bible. It’s bible because it’s confirmed by what Jesus’s apostles did in Acts and afterward. It’s bible because it’s true.

Those who insist it’s not bible, are usually Christians who insist it’s not true. And like the KJV Only folks, they have their own ulterior motives.

Portable bibles.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 April

For convenience, we Christians oughta always have a bible on us, or near us. And now we technically do: We have phones. Our phones have web browsers. And those web browsers can easily call up Bible Gateway, or one of the other bible websites—and voilá, we got bible.

But before phones with internet access became so ubiquitous, I encouraged Christians to get a portable analog bible. One they could always have on them, or carry with them. Not just stash extra bibles everywhere we usually go—like an extra bible at work, in the car, in one’s gym locker, and so forth. I’m talking about a convenient portable bible. I tend to get ’em pocket-size, and call ’em “tiny bibles.” But they don’t need to be tiny. Just portable.

Yes, bible apps have kinda made the portable bible moot. Our phones are already portable, and they’re usually on our person. Plenty of women keep their phones in their pockets, not their purses (assuming they’re wearing pants, and their pants have decent phone-size pockets), so for many people our bibles are always on us. Always immediately accessible. More so than a portable bible.

Still, I’m kinda partial to tiny bibles. Even though I read my bible app way more often than that tiny bible, I still stash a tiny bible in my duffel bag.

Trinity: The paradox in the middle of Christianity.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 April
TRINITY 'trɪn.ə.di noun. The godhead as one God in three people: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
[Trinitarian trɪn.ə'tɛr.i(.)ən adjective.]

In the scriptures, from the very beginning of the scriptures, it’s strongly emphasized that YHWH, the LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, is one. Israel was to have no other god.

Deuteronomy 6.4-5 KJV
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: 5 and thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
 
Exodus 20.3-6 KJV
3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5 thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

One God. No other gods. Got that?

Well, Israel didn’t always get that, which is why the LORD let their enemies conquer them, drag them off to Assyria and Babylon, and keep ’em there till it finally sunk in. After which, idolatry wasn’t so much the problem anymore; hypocrisy was. Still is. But I digress.

Okay, one God. Till we get to the gospels, and the teachings of Jesus, and the rather obvious statements from the gospels that Jesus is actually, literally, YHWH. Jn 1.1 But, y’know, he’s now human. Jn 1.14 He came to earth and walked among his people, and explained who God is so we’d understand him better. Jn 1.18

Yet Jesus talks about his Father, “whom you say is your God.” Jn 8.54 They’re two different people. But wait… wasn’t it spelled out in the Old Testament how there’s only one God? Weren’t the Israelis dragged off to exile because they refused to acknowledge this?

Then Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit. He’ll pray to the Father, who will send us this παράκλητον/parákliton, “helper, assistant, advocate” (KJV “Comforter”) who’s gonna both dwell among us, and in us. Jn 14.15-17 It’s also made pretty explicit this Holy Spirit is likewise God. So there are three different people who are God. But wait… one God, right? Unless the Israelis got sent into exile for nothing.

This idea of three people (or to use the way theologians much prefer to put it—and rebuke me all the time for not putting it—three persons) who are nonetheless one and only one God, is called trinity. And it’s the hardest concept in Christian theology. It’s brought far wiser men than me to ruin. It’s based on two ideas, both of which are absolutely true. And both absolutely contradict one another.

  1. There’s only one God.
  2. Three individual people—Jesus, his Father, and the Holy Spirit—are God.

Got that? Good. Hold both ideas in your head at once. Accept and believe both. Never dismiss one idea in favor of the other, or try to explain away one by using the other. And there ya go. That’s the trinity.

The sermon.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 April
SERMON 'sər.mən noun. Homily. A lecture on a moral or religious subject, usually presented to a church.
2. A long, boring lecture.
[Sermonic sər'mɑn.ɪk adjective, sermonize 'sər.mən.aɪz verb.]

In sermon-focused churches, the central part of their Sunday morning worship service (or Saturday evening, or Wednesday night, or whenever they hold it) is duh, the sermon. If they didn’t have a sermon, or if the sermon wasn’t impressive enough, they “didn’t have church.” They could shorten the music; they could skip holy communion entirely. But they’d better have a sermon.

I should point out neither Jesus nor his apostles instructed us to preach sermons as part of our worship services. Seriously; they didn’t! But I suspect that’s because they presumed religious instruction would automatically be part of the services anyway. Christians are expected to strengthen, encourage, and comfort the church, 1Co 14.3-5 and good religious instruction does that.

And religious instruction was the whole point of synagogues. Pharisees invented them so Israel wouldn’t be religiously illiterate, and fall into sin. Early Christian churches behaved an awful lot like Christian synagogues: At some point someone would go up front, read the scriptures, sit down, and answer questions about what was just read. Over time this instruction got less interactive, and more lecture-y.

For many Christians, sermons are the entire point of attending a church service: They wanna learn about God! They don’t know enough about him… or do, but wanna hear more. The newbies need to learn the basics, and the oldtimers need to be reminded to stick to these basics. As knowledgeable as we might get about theology, bible history, religious practice, and our own experiences with God, we need to be regularly reminded: Love God, love your neighbor, pray, share Jesus, be fruity, do good works, and grow his kingdom.

Pray!

by K.W. Leslie, 26 April

Prayer is talking with God. No more; no less; that’s all.

Yeah, you’d be surprised how many people, including us Christians, claim it’s way more, and way more complicated, than that. To them, prayer is a profound mystical and spiritual undertaking. It’s a connection with God which links our entire being to him. Done right, we don’t just communicate with him, but commune with him; we become one with him. It must only be done thoughtfully, seriously, soberly, and ritually. Only then will it work.

Thing is, when you’re just talking with anyone, like your parents, kids, spouse, best friend, whomever: Sometimes these conversations can likewise feel like a profound thing. Sometimes you feel so connected with them, you feel like you’ve connected on multiple deep levels; you might even feel like you’re one with them. These conversations work. That’s why we can say the very same things about praying to God—because it is the very same thing.

These folks simply have an over-romanticized, over-spiritualized idea of what prayer is. Which is why they’re so loath to give up the idea and admit we’re just talking.

Our English word “pray” used to mean “beg,” as in the King James Version’s many uses of “I pray thee.” Ge 18.3 KJV, etc. Most instances of “pray” in the Old Testament have to do with begging God—same as a lot of instances nowadays. Most prayers are requests. Nothing wrong with that, but this idea of begging is pretty deeply embedded in our ideas about prayer. Begging is why humans have all these rituals and postures involved with praying: It’s what humans demand of the people who came to them with requests. They want us to humiliate ourselves and suck up to them. So we basically teach our fellow Christians we oughta approach God the very same way.

And we don’t need to. God is not a dick!

Hebrews 4.15 KJV
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

Y’know what “coming boldly unto the throne” means? It’s not like serfs approaching their feudal lord, with bows and curtseys and facing the ground lest they make eye contact. It’s like when the lord’s 5-year-old daughter comes into the room, climbs into his lap, and hugs him while he’s trying to be all lordly—and he lets her ’cause he loves her. We don’t have to be formal and ritualistic with God when we pray: He’s our dad. Acting like he’s not—like he’s that feudal lord whom we have to appease before we can get anything out of him—means we don’t really know him at all.

And not all prayer consists of begging God for stuff. Sometimes we’re thanking him. Sometimes it’s praise. Sometimes apologies: We screwed up, and we’re acknowledging this. Sometimes we’re sharing with him what we’re going through, or venting our frustrations or outrage. Sometimes we have questions and know God has answers.

Basically all the same reasons we humans talk to one another, we talk with God.

Yeah, sometimes prayer even consists of lying and gossip. Shouldn’t, but we don’t always realize what we should and shouldn’t tell him. But even so: Prayer is just talking.

Mark’s version of the resurrection.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 April
Mark 16.1-9 KWL
1 After Sabbath finished, Mary the Magdalene,
Mary James’s mother, and Salome
buy fragrances so they can anoint Jesus
when they come to his sepulcher.
2 Very early, on the first day of the week,
the women go to the sepulcher at sunrise.
3 They’re saying to themselves, “Who will roll away for us
the stone at the sepulcher door?”
4 As they look, they see the stone was rolled away
—for it’s very big.
 
5 As they enter the sepulcher they see a “young man”
sitting on the right, clothed in a white robe.
They’re alarmed.
6 The “young man” tells them, “Don’t be alarmed.
You seek the crucified Jesus the Nazarene.
He is risen! He’s not here. Look at the place he was put.
7 But go; tell Jesus’s students and Simon Peter this:
‘He goes before you to the Galilee.
You’ll see him there, like he told you.’ ”
 
8 Coming out, the women flee the sepulcher,
for they’re shaking and ecstatic.
They say nothing to no one, for they’re afraid.

This is all Mark has about Jesus’s resurrection. Seriously: The book ends with καὶ οὐδενὶ οὐδὲν εἶπαν· ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ/ke udení udén eínan—efovúnto yár, “and nothing to no one they say, for they be afraid.” Done. The end.

Since it’s kind of a sucky ending, Christians came up with two better ones. One is the Short Ending, which I’m gonna include here. The other is the Long Ending, which I’ll discuss later. You’ll find the Long Ending in the King James Version and most bibles. No, Mark didn’t write either of them; they were written centuries later. Even so, Christians are agreed both of them are scripture. (I’ll come back to that.) And now, the Short Ending:

Mark 16.9 KWL [Short Ending]
[The women concisely inform those with Peter
everything the “young man” commanded.
After these things, Jesus himself sends them forth
from the place of sunrise to the place of sunset,
with the holy and immortal message
of salvation in the age to come.
Amen!]