Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Time to get back to a system of laws

It's becoming apparent that many of the Guantanamo inmates will be getting away with no more punishment than time already served. Not only are many of the confessions tainted by torture (and therefore inadmissible), a new problem has come to light: thanks to incompetent record-keeping, we just don't have any evidence. And in the end, if you can't make a case, you can't prosecute.

At this point, it's difficult to ascertain why this situation came about. The command staff at Guantanamo may have been overwhelmed by the array of duties that they were being called upon to perform, they may have had no experience at the job and simply bungled it, or they may have assumed that the military courts would simply hand down "guilty" verdicts without actually considering the evidence.

In the words of one former prosecutor (.pdf) who resigned in disgust:
Similarly, neither OMC-P nor CITF maintained any central repository for case files, any method for cataloguing and storing physical evidence, or any other system for assembling a potential case into a readily intelligible format that is the sine qua non of a successful prosecution. While no experienced prosecutor, much less one who had performed his or her duties in the fog of war, would expect that potential war crimes would be presented, at least initially, in "tidy little packages," at the time I inherited the Jawad case, Mr. Jawad had been in U.S. custody for approximately five years. It seemed reasonable to expect at the very least that after such a lengthy period of time, all available evidence would have been collected, catalogued, systemized, and evaluated thoroughly -- particularly since the suspect had been imprisoned throughout the entire time the case should have been undergoing preparation.

Instead, to the shock of my professional sensibilities, I discovered that the evidence, such as it was, remained scattered throughout an incomprehensible labyrinth of databases primarily under the control of CITF, or strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks vacated by prosecutors who had departed the Commissions for other assignments. I further discovered that most physical evidence that had been collected had either disappeared or had been stored in locations that no one with any tenure at, or institutional knowledge of, the Commissions could identify with any degree of specificity or certainty. The state of disarray was so extensive that I later learned, as described below, that crucial physical evidence and other documents relevant to both the prosecution and the defense had been tossed into a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten. Although it took me a number of months -- so extensive was the lack of any discernible organization, and so difficult was it for me to accept that the US military could have failed so miserably in six years of effort -- I began to entertain my first, developing doubts about the propriety of attempting to prosecute Mr. Jawad without any assurance that through the exercise of due diligence I could collect and organize the evidence in a manner that would meet our common professional obligations.
Although certain pundits are pushing the "61 who returned to terror" meme as a reason to keep them imprisoned, it's been easily debunked. (Of course, even if it were correct, their stated 11% recidivism rate is significantly lower than the Bureau of Justice statistic telling us that 67.5% of criminals released from US prisons are "rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within 3 years.")

The Republicans, of course, are going insane about the upcoming closure of Gitmo, screaming about "what are we going to do with the TERRORISTS!?!?"

I'm not clear why this is a problem. There are federal facilities all over the place. It's time to just ignore the whining of the congresscritters, and stick them in there. (That's what "exclusive jurisdiction" means, after all — the state authorities don't have any pull in there unless they've been granted some.) If Brownback wants to complain, tell him to figure out where these boys would be welcome, which is already set up as a detention facility, and we can send them there.

In the meantime, tough. Stop knuckling under to the GOP, Obama — they're already proving to be classic Republican contrarians. Just roll over them, and let them get all stampy-feet angry for a while. It's not like they were planning to agree with you any time in the near future anyway.

Once the Guantanamates are safely stowed away, you can give them the trial that they've been denied so far (not that that's going to be an easy matter, of course, since the policies of the Bush administration has made many of them unindictable).

Trial outcome? Easy stuff. If it's determined that they're guilty and sentenced, they take the punishment. If not, we drop a moderately fat check on them, and send them back to their country of record, or to a third country, if necessary. If we don't even give them a chance to settle in the USA, it defuses the arguments of the unhinged right.

All Obama needs to do is fix each problem as it comes up, and move on. Call it the Whack-A-Mole Theory of Governance.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Fun with Christians II-B

Well, that game seems to be over. Sad, but there it is. He responded, and his post ended:
I wouldn’t bother continuing to post comments, there is plenty for others to read and I’ll post some links to refutations of your assertions so those who wish can do the research themselves, after all…that’s why I let your comments stand in the first place.

I won’t link to Cynic’s blog, there is too much horrible language used there. If you want it you can search it.
That was a clue for me that he'd actually gone to my blog. It wasn't like I hid it. It was included in every post; the post headers link to it every time.

Obviously, in retrospect, that was much too easy a clue. But I always post linked to this blog; I wasn't hiding who I was, just what my personal beliefs are. Ah, well. Life goes on...

Anyway, I sent the following final shot, which (outside of here) will never see the light of day:
Although I suspect that this response will never be seen, let just point out a few inconsistencies (or misunderstandings) in your post.
I’m going to assume from your comments that you have no issue with the bible calling Homosexuality a sin, it’s just that Leviticus 18:22 has been mistranslated, and taken out of context.
Not quite. I do not believe that homosexuality is a sin. I believe that much of the Old Testament has been mistranslated or taken out of context, and this is what leads to the prohibition against homosexuality.
I believe that ALL scripture is “breathed out by God” and is as described in 2nd Timothy 3:16.
But you ignore Colossians 2:14, where he "canceled out the written code." Further, although you once again bring up the now-canceled dietary laws, you continue to ignore other strictures laid out in the OT, which, having been "breathed out by God," should be just as valid today. I mentioned a few of them - this is by no means exhaustive, though. Particularly Leviticus and, to a lesser extent Exodus, are full of these ignored Lesser Commandments:
Have you killed a teenager for yelling at their parents lately? Leviticus 20:9:
"For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him."

Leviticus 19 is pretty straight-forward, Ten-Commandments-like stuff, but there are a few exceptions: not planting your field with two different seeds won’t come up a lot for the average city-dweller, but have you worn a cotton-poly shirt? Forbidden. (Lev 19:19) Haircuts and shaving are right out (Lev 19:27), as are tattoos (Lev 19:28), astrology (Lev 19:26) or fortune tellers (Lev 19:31).

...the daily animal sacrifices were stopped by the selective reading of Hebrews 10:2-11 (of course, it doesn’t say that you should stop, just that it can never “take away sins” – oddly, the purpose is not simply to take away sins, but because the Lord Thy God commanded it, so is that really a good argument?)

Leviticus 12:1-8 declares that a woman is unclean for 33 days after giving birth to a boy and for 66 days after giving birth to a girl. It goes on to demand that certain animals must be offered as a burnt offering. Read Leviticus 23 to see the detailed regulations concerning “complete rest” on the Sabbath day, and the demands of animal sacrifice. Leviticus 18:19 forbids a husband from having sex with his wife during her menstrual period. Leviticus 19:19 forbids mixed breeding of various kinds of cattle, sowing various kinds of seeds in your field or wearing “a garment made from two kinds of material mixed together.”

For that matter, Leviticus 25:44 says that you may own slaves, as long as they’re from neighboring nations (which would be, for Americans, Mexico and Canada). On the other hand, Leviticus 21:20 says that you can’t approach the altar of God if you have a defect in your sight. I’m pretty sure that would include glasses.

Exodus tells us some interesting facts. For example, 21:7 tells you how to sell your daughter into slavery, while 35:2 tells you to kill someone who works on the Sabbath.
And those are the ones I've mentioned before, that you choose to ignore. Entirely non-dietary, but ignored. I could go on, but why? Based on your responses so far, you'll continue to ignore these requirements that were "breathed out by God."
I was right, though. He moderates which responses he allows, and if I hadn't engaged with him in the first place, the original debate wouldn't have taken place. But go to the original post, and way down at the bottom, you'll find the final response, under my name, which now reads:
You are right. I’m tired of posting your rants disguised as “proof” of your assertions. Your “proofs” haven’t changed since your first comment post…assertions and no support.

Category error ring a bell?

Context of passage ring a bell?

All you’ve done is show you can cut and paste from your favorite Homosexual revisionist tracts…nothing more.

I was naive to believe you were actually looking for my exegesis…you are looking for an excuse to spew your hate and your unfounded views of scripture.

Spew them on your own blog…not here.
I challenge anyone to find anything I wrote which qualified as a "rant." All passages were taken in context. All translation issues are accurate.

Hypocrisy is a lovely thing, isn't it?

But, yeah. I think he's ticked at me.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Fun with Christians II-A

You know, I've had a lot of arguments with christians over the years. I've used logic, insults, scholarly analysis; I've reduced them to tears and impotent rage. It's never worked. Little fuckers are too pigheaded. Plus, I have this suspicion that, once they start arguing with a heathen, they automatically discount any argument, regardless of how obvious or reasonable it seems, as coming from a poisoned well. So I decided to do a very bad thing.

I was going to lie, and pretend to be another christian, but one with a different slant on the scriptures.

There were challenges involved (for example, I was going to have to remember to capitalize "Christian" and "Scripture"). But I figured I was up to the challenge.

(Oh, by the way, if you didn't read the original post, now might be a good time. And feel free to borrow any of the following arguments that you like. Few of them are original to me, anyway.)

I'm not going to go over the entire argument. You can read it on your own if you want. What I explained seemed quite reasonable to me, and between years of arguing with Christians, and with the benefit of having the internet for research, I figured that I could throw down with the best of the theocrats.

But here's how it went. With our boy Bobby interjecting variations on "I don't understand what you're getting at," I wrote pretty much the following thesis. Feel free to use it, but give me credit. I'm relatively proud of it.

I mentioned the tired old "shellfish" argument, but only as one piece of a set of three. I’m fully aware of Matthew 15:11, where He cast off the kosher rules ("Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man."), but on that same subject, you should remember Matthew 5:17-19, where Jesus upheld the Jewish dietary laws:
"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."
However, let’s put aside that argument. There’s more to Leviticus than just chapters 18 and 20. Why are you demeaning gay people, but not the other abominators? Because seafood and gay sex aren’t the only abominations in the Bible.

Have you killed a teenager for yelling at their parents lately? Leviticus 20:9:
For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him.
(KJV, of course. I’m normally an NIV kind of guy, but you can’t beat King James for the beauty of the language.)

For that matter, all of Leviticus 20 is a killer. Literally in some cases; in others, the violator is left either childless or shunned: adultery or marrying your mother-in-law or daughter-in-law, are apparently capital offenses; weirdly, having sex with your sister just gets you shunned.

But, of course you know that, since that’s one of the chapters you quoted.

A lot of Leviticus 19 is pretty straight-forward, Ten-Commandments-like stuff, but there are a few exceptions: not planting your field with two different seeds won’t come up a lot for the average city-dweller, but have you worn a cotton-poly shirt? It's forbidden (Lev 19:19). Haircuts and shaving are right out (Lev 19:27), as are tattoos (Lev 19:28), astrology (Lev 19:26) and fortune tellers (Lev 19:31).

While you’re at Leviticus 19, please note that you are allowed to have sex with another man’s slave, but you have to sacrifice a ram to do it. (Lev 19:20-22).

And that’s just Leviticus. Why do you choose to selectively follow some parts of the Old Testament, but not others? The dietary laws were pulled (or not, depending on your reading of Matthew 5), and the daily animal sacrifices were stopped by the selective reading of Hebrews 10:2-11 (of course, it doesn’t say that you should stop, just that it can never “take away sins” – oddly, the purpose is not simply to take away sins, but because the Lord Thy God commanded it, so is that really a good argument?). But I’ll bet you still get haircuts, and I’ll bet that, even if you have a wool suit, the thread holding it together is cotton.

You can't just selectively decide which parts of the Old Testament to follow. Particularly not when (as I said before) you aren't even necessarily following an accurate translation.

Being straight myself, I don’t have any particular stake in the question, other than Christ’s exhortation to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Like I said, I may use NIV [New International Version of the Bible] simply for clarity, but I love the KJV [King James] language.)

But I’ve found that most arguments regarding homosexuality being a sin are simply mistranslations and phrases taken out of context.

One of the words mistranslated that way is arsenokoites. It’s a Greek word formed from the words for “male” and “bed.” It isn’t not found anywhere else in the Bible, and has not been found anywhere in the contemporary Greek of Paul’s time. We don’t know what it means. Although you can see where some translators might have decided on that meaning, it could also refer to male prostitutes with female customers (a common practice in the Roman world - look at Pompeii).

Furthermore, the word often translated as “effeminate” (1 Corinthians 6:9, for example; the Greek word malakoi) means “soft” or “vulnerable.” The same word is translated as “soft” in reference to clothing (Matthew 11:8, Luke 7:25) and as “illness” (Matthew 4:23 and 9:35). It is not used anywhere else in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 6:9, it probably refers those who are “soft,” “pliable,” “unreliable,” or “without courage or stability.” The translation of malakoi as “effeminate” is incorrect and impossible to justify based on ancient usage.

One of my very good friends was kicked out of the Air Force because of her beliefs and her lifestyle. The mealy-mouthed phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” makes very little sense when you consider that the “sin” in question is an important part (possibly the most important part) of someone’s personality and emotional life.

I can’t change anyone’s beliefs. But I can point out some logical inconsistencies in your arguments.

First of all, marriage in biblical times was not based on romantic love but on a legal contract usually entered by parents on behalf of their children. The Biblical view held that the role of women was property belonging to their father or husband. Women were members of the people of God only because of their relationship to their father, brother or husband; women could not carry circumcision (the “sign of the covenant”) in their bodies, and were therefore less important, except as breeding stock. (Women were listed in there among the “do not covets,” right next to the house, the servants and the animals - Exodus 20:17.)

People had children specifically to continue the family; the only way a man could live on after his death was through his children, and should never remain unmarried (one of the many words that ancient Hebrew did not contain was any term for “bachelor”). And if you want to see a blatant demonstration of male dominance over women, check out Genesis 38.

The Greek word for romantic love (eros) is never used in the New Testament, though it was the most common word for love in the Greek-speaking world. In fact, the Biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek do not have a word for “homosexual.” Old Testament Hebrew is a primitive language, the first step above picture writing (some historians think that it might be the first alphabetic language). Like Egyptian, it originally had only consonants (no vowels). It had about a 30,000-word vocabulary (modern English has over 300,000 words). One Hebrew word could be used in dozens of different ways, with the meaning determined by the context. Each word was made up of 3 letters of the alphabet and usually expressed some form of activity or action. It is impossible to translate most Hebrew words exactly into modern English. Linguists and translators end up having to guess a lot.

The Greek of the New Testament was more complex than Hebrew, with a 250,000-word vocabulary and several words for “soft” concepts (feelings, philosophical concepts, and so on) which were somewhat beyond the Hebrew language. For example, Greek had four different words for “love.” The Greek used in the New Testament is different from classical or modern Greek. For many years, some scholars thought that New Testament Greek was a special language created by the Holy Spirit. Then, in the late nineteenth century, documents from the time of the New Testament (letters, bills of sale, and news reports) were discovered written in exactly the same kind of Greek (called koine) that the Bible used. The King James Version of the Bible, on the other hand, was translated in 1611, long before these manuscripts were discovered.

The reason that there are so many different Bible translations (about 30 major ones) today is because the exact meaning of many words is still in question, and even what should be included as original material is hotly debated by Biblical scholars. To read bits and pieces of biblical material into present-day culture is to misrepresent the Bible and to distort its message of God’s love in Christ for all people in today’s world.

For example, “sodomy” is a modern word, and its origin is taken out of context. A “Sodomite” in the Bible is simply a person who lives in Sodom (which includes, by the way, Lot and his family). The term “Sodomite” in the King James version of Deuteronomy 23:17 and I Kings 14:24 is an incorrect translation of the Hebrew word for “temple prostitute.” (See “The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology” by Mark D. Jordan, University of Chicago Press, 1997.)

No Jewish scholars before the first Christian century taught that the sin of Sodom was sexual. None of the biblical references to Sodom mention sexual sins, but view Sodom as an example of injustice, lack of hospitality to strangers, idolatry and as a symbol for desolation and destruction (see Deuteronomy 29:22-28 and 32:32; Ezekiel 16:49-50; Jeremiah 49:18; 50:41; Isaiah 13:19-22 and Matthew 10:14-15).

And not only are you misunderstanding both the language or culture of the time, many aspects of the Bible are completely ignored.

Leviticus 12:1-8 declares that a woman is unclean for 33 days after giving birth to a boy and for 66 days after giving birth to a girl. It goes on to demand that certain animals must be offered as a burnt offering. Read Leviticus 23 to see the detailed regulations concerning “complete rest” on the Sabbath day, and the demands of animal sacrifice. Leviticus 18:19 forbids a husband from having sex with his wife during her menstrual period. Leviticus 19:19 forbids mixed breeding of various kinds of cattle, sowing various kinds of seeds in your field or wearing “a garment made from two kinds of material mixed together.”

For that matter, Leviticus 25:44 says that you may own slaves, as long as they’re from neighboring nations (which would be, for Americans, Mexico and Canada). On the other hand, Leviticus 21:20 says that you can’t approach the altar of God if you have a defect in your sight. I’m pretty sure that would include glasses.

Exodus tells us some interesting facts. For example, 21:7 tells you how to sell your daughter into slavery, while 35:2 tells you to kill someone who works on the Sabbath.

That’s why I prefer to take my faith from the New Testament. (For example, Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”) After all, it says right in Colossians 2:14, “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” (This of course, ignores the “jot and tittle” argument, but I have no problem reconciling that.)

Jesus and Paul both spoke against the misuse of Leviticus, both in Mark 7 and Colossians 2. In fact, I kind of like part of that last bit from Mark. “And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.”

Of course, on the subject of Paul, let’s remember that he only came around after Jesus was crucified, and like many people who end up “born again,” he went a little overboard. He wrote more than any other author of the Bible. Paul’s writings have been taken out of context and twisted to punish and oppress every identifiable minority in the world: Jews, children, women, blacks, slaves, politicians, divorced people, convicts, pro choice people, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals, religious reformers, the mentally ill… the list goes on and on.

Paul is often difficult and confusing to understand. Since most of his letters were written in response to news from other people, reading Paul can be like listening to one side of a telephone conversation. We know, or think we know, what Paul is saying, but we have to guess what the other side has said. As 2 Peter 3:16-18 pointed out, we have to be on guard against using Paul’s writings in unhealthy and destructive ways.

A few final verses, and I guess I’ll be done (and it’s about time, isn’t it?). Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” It doesn’t specify where they find love, but merely that they love God and His Son. That is the path to deliverance.

Romans 2:1: “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.” That must be an important message - it’s repeated several times.

Actually, I’ve quoted enough. For further reading, you can look up the following (in no particular order). John 12:47; 13:34-35; all of Acts 10 (but specifically verses 28 and 34); I Corinthians 13 (yes, the whole thing); all of Galatians (especially 3:1-5 and 23-28; 5:14-15 and 22-23); all of Ephesians (especially chapter 2); Philippians 2:1-13; I John 3:13-21; 4:7-19; and, most of all, Romans 15:1-7.

(Final update, if anyone cares.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Fun With Christians II

OK, so awesome inauguration today. Great speech. Tears. The world is suddenly a better place. I'm... what is this feeling? Is it "happy"? I've heard that word. I know that there are people who think it means something...

Ah, to hell with them. I've got bigger fish to fry.

As anyone who knows me (which includes the three people who regularly follow this blog) can tell you, I love a good argument. The ebb and flow of intellectual discourse, or simply devastating a particularly unthinking opponent with simple logic - I can't help myself.

So when I find a blog calling itself Go Share Your Faith!, obviously, I had to check it out, and... well, you know, share my faith.

Specifically, let's look at this entry, amusingly entitled Uh…Being Gay is NOT a gift; it’s a sin…period. Which, right off, shows you that they're open to divergent viewpoints, right? But it starts like this.
Yes, you read that right. Being Gay Homosexual is an abomination…not a “Gift from God.”

I’m not sure which bible this “Pastor” is reading but he evidently doesn’t read very closely. How does one discount, or totally miss the following scriptures?

Leviticus 18:22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

Leviticus 20:13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.
He also quoted two other Bible verses (1 Corinthians 6:9, and 1 Timothy 1:8 - feel free to look those up on your own if you want to. They aren't really germane to this discussion.)
Now, lest you think that I’m picking unfairly on you…Mr. Homosexual, notice that others are condemned by God also; murderers, sexually immoral, liars, perjurers, etc.

None of these actions are acceptable to God.

So what to do?

Repent of your wicked ways.

Believe the Gospel you currently mock.
And then, only at the end of this entry, do we get the Youtube video that this guy objects to. Which is pretty much the definition of "putting the cart before the horse."
Basically (if you have video issues), it's a little less than 2 minutes long, and it's a bit from the Oprah show where a minister is telling a gay man that it's OK, and "being gay is a gift from God."

I'm not sure that would have been my message, but I'm no minister. But you know me (OK, statistically, you probably don't - let's just move on), I had to post a comment.
You know, if you're going to quote the Old Testament, you should live up to all of its requirements, like not eating shellfish, shaving or wearing clothing made from two different threads (you know, like a cotton-poly blend). And, incidentally, you should probably study it a little closer.

Both quotes from Leviticus, for example, in the ancient Hebrew, are mistranslations - they refer to homosexual rape, not homosexuality itself.
The author applied the Hebrew term shakab to the "thou shalt not lie with" sequence and mishkab to the "as with" woman sequence. Mishkab occurs 46 times in 44 verses, all in the books of Moses. Mishkab generally means "bed," as in Leviticus 15:4 when the scripture states if a man lies in a bed [mishkab] and a woman has bled on the sheets, he is unclean, or as in Numbers 31:17 where God commands that every woman who has been to "bed" [mishkab] with a man (and therefore might be carrying an "unborn baby") should be slain. Yada, yada, yada: all pretty self-explanatory.

Shakab occurs 213 times in 194 verses, so we have plenty of context from which to draw a closer definition of the term. I looked through each of these verses and found that in 101 instances shakab meant to go to bed, or to sleep, in the most innocuous sense. In 51 instances shakab means to "sleep with the fathers," not in any perverse Christian sex fantasy sense, but meaning that they died, as in the "Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes" sense.

...In 52 instances (virtually all of the sexual instances) the term shakab is used to describe a sexual encounter typified by deceit or force, in other words, some type of rape. Consider the following examples:

"Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie [shakab] with him, that we may preserve the seed of our father." (Genesis 19:32) Lot's daughters rape their father, at least that's his story, and he's sticking to it.

"And Abimelech said, What is this thou hast done unto us? one of the people might lightly have lien [shakab] with thy wife, and thou shouldest have brought guiltiness upon us." (Genesis 26:10) Here Isaac tries to pass his wife, Rebekah, off as his sister. Rightly assuming that Rebekah would not have willingly had sex with any Philistine who offered, we can assume that among the Philistines it was considered a boys-will-be-boys type of issue to rape unmarried Jewish women. Even so the king, Abimelech, delivers an edict forbidding anyone to "molest" Isaac (again with the male rape thing), or his wife.

Previously, in Genesis 20, Abraham had practiced the same deceit with his wife, Sarah. Abimilech, thinking Sarah was Abraham's sister, kidnapped her, with the intention of raping her. He was forced by God to return her to Abraham, to whom he paid a fine.

..."And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay [shakab] with her, and defiled her." (Genesis 34:2)

"That she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to lie [shakab] with me, and I cried with a loud voice:" (Genesis 39:14) In this story Joseph, living as a trusted slave in the house of Potifer, is sexually harassed by Potifer's wife. She's after him to have sex with her and he'll have none of it. One day he ends up alone with her and when he realizes this he rushes to get out of the house only escaping by shedding his coat which she has hold of. When Potifer comes home she cries rape, claiming as evidence the coat he "left behind." Joseph is sent to prison.

"Whosoever lieth [shakab] with a beast shall surely be put to death." (Exodus 22:19) Assuming that no ewe is "asking for it" we can assume that "lie with" in this instance refers to nonconsensual sex, or rape, albeit of an animal.
And everything else you quote is the same. But it takes more room to prove that than it does for you to (mis)quote it.

Perhaps you should worship the Word of God, not the Mistranslation of God.
I thought it was a good point. It covered a basic flaw in the argument. I was happy with it.

And it almost didn't get posted at first. I got an email from the blogger, Robert Pavich, who said
do some research before you bring this old tired one out will you?
I kid you not. That was the sum total of his response. No capitalization, limited punctuation.

Out of curiosity, I went back to the post, where I found that my name was used, followed by
Next time do your homework…the shellfish argument is a dead end.
Now, that annoyed me even more, because, aside from the fact that shrimp were a throwaway argument within the first two lines (specifically, one argument in a set of three), do you mean to tell me that that's the only point that he picked to dismiss? The Shrimp!?!!?

And further, without my response in there, a casual reader might think that I was telling a previous poster (who also mentioned the shellfish argument) that he was wrong. And since it's a very valid point (Leviticus does ban a lot of things that are being ignored here), you might be able to see where I was a little bit annoyed.

So, I hit "reply" on the email, and told our boy Bobby:
I find it fascinating that you would dismiss my comment out of hand, without arguing. Do you have a point?

I used a scholarly analysis of the translation of Leviticus in as an argument. And your response is "Do your research"? Do you even listen to what you say? I gather that you're too hypocritical to allow an argument that you can't refute.

It's sad that you are allowing your personal prejudices to blind you to the word of God. "But in vain do they worship me, Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men." (Matthew 15:9)
I really love throwing scripture quotes at them to refute their ignorant points. (Not, admittedly, that this guy had anything like a point...)

Apparently, throwing around words like “hypocrisy” makes Bobby cranky. Because, after a brief email exchange, I went back to his site, to find my post, preceded by:
Blog owner’s note: I didn’t approve this comment at first because it’s a rehash of an old argument but after some reflection, I thought that it would be useful to let it be posted. I say this for one reason. I’m going to assume that the commenter is trying to find the truth of what scripture actually says on the subject and is not just trying to “make his point.”

I think that it would be beneficial to play this out no matter how it goes.

So with that said, here is his comment:
And he then even responded.

I’m going to ask what I already asked in the email that I sent to you just to get us started on an even keel so everyone reading can follow along….ok? bear with me.

I’m going to try and understand your arguments so I’m going to restate them and you tell me if I have it ok?

1.) Shellfish. Because homosexuality is called an abomination in Leviticus then anything else that’s prohibited (like the eating of shellfish) should be outlawed also and I’m hypocritical to just pick on those that practice homosexuality.

2.) The word “lie” shakab in Leviticus is mistranslated and really should be “homosexual rape” due to it’s inclusion in passages where forced sex occurs.
It just means “to lie down” as in “go to sleep.”

Have I understood your arguments correctly?
And since I figured we were off to the races, I got right into it.
Well, because I’m just a backwards sort of guy, I’ll take your arguments in reverse order. Tonight, we’ll talk about your second point.
2.)The word… shakab in Leviticus is mistranslated and really should be “homosexual rape”
Well, technically, we don’t speak ancient Hebrew, and so the translation gets tricky. For example, when two different words are used, is it possible that they mean different things?

Or, let’s put it another way. Let’s take the phrase “compare apples and oranges.” Only, just to make things interesting, let’s take two different words from another language, and replace them. What that means is, Leviticus 18:22 now reads, “Thou shalt not eat apples, as thou do oranges: it is abomination.”

See, the ancient Hebrew word shakab doesn’t translate directly. And neither does mishkab, if you want to be totally honest about it. They are (let’s be real) two totally different words.

Now, there are three distinct versions of Hebrew in the Bible, usually called “Archaic Biblical Hebrew” (10th to 6th century - Exodus 15 through Judges 5), Biblical Hebrew (most of the Old Testament), and “Late Biblical Hebrew” (Ezra, Nehemiah - mostly the same as Biblical Hebrew, with a few adapted words from other cultures). There’s other forms - Dead Sea Scroll Hebrew (from about 300 BC through about 100 AD) and Mishnaic Hebrew (from about 100 AD through 300 or 400 AD) come to mind, but we’ll ignore them.

Each of these versions of ancient Hebrew only had a few thousand words. In comparison, the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (pub. 1989) contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. This doesn’t count 10,000 sub-entries (derivative words), or medical and scientific terms, Latin words used in law and religion, French words used in cooking, German words used in academic writing, Japanese words used by martial artists and anime fans, or any slang or computer terms (like, say, iPod or email).

With that difference in the depth of the language, why would the Biblical writers use two different words for one thing? Why would you not eat apples, as you do oranges? Unless we were talking about two different acts.

If the Hebrew word shakab is used in the Old Testament to refer to the act of sex 53 times, and in 52 of those times, we’re talking a forcible act, what does that say? (And, to be honest, since the woman in ancient times was a piece of property, the one, single other instance could be a forcible sex act as well. Do you really want to get into the specifics of Old World sex in this forum?)

I listed a few specifics to show that shakab was the word for “forcible sex” in the Bible. Feel free to point out where I might have erred.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about Old Testament abominations.
We'll see where this gets us.

Update: And, surprise! He didn't back down - he actually responded. Part 2

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Real Bush Legacy

On January 12, 2009, outgoing President George W. Bush gave the last press conference of his presidency. In it, he reminisced about his view of the last four years, joked with the press corps, and blatantly ignored the longest-serving member of the White House press corps, despite the fact that she was front row center with her hand raised the whole time.

He made some intersting statements. He never admitted responsibility for anything that happened: he claimed that the economy was tanking, for example, because he "inherited a recession."

When asked to revisit whether there were any mistakes he had made, he managed to come up with three this time around:
1. "putting a Mission Accomplished on a aircraft carrier"

2. "could I have done something differently (during Katrina), like land Air Force One either in New Orleans or Baton Rouge."

3. "I believe that running the Social Security idea right after the '04 elections was a mistake."
So, one purely cosmetic thing he did, one purely cosmetic thing he didn't do, and one substansive issue, but one that he completely failed to do when he tried. But at least he's learned to prep for questions that he wasn't able to answer the first time around. (Unlike, say, Sarah Palin.)

Weirdly, in talking about his third mistake, he said "As an aside, one thing I proved is that you can actually campaign on the issue and get elected. In other words, I don't believe talking about Social Security is the third rail of American politics."

Yeah, George. Sure. Two things, though.
One - you didn't "campaign" on it, you started actually working on privatizing after the 2004 election. (You even mentioned that ten seconds earlier. Please don't spin around that fast any more - you'll make yourself dizzy.)

Two - George, they shut you down on this issue, even after your stage-managed "town hall" meetings. Do you know what "third rail" really means?
He followed that up with two "disappointments."
Abu Ghraib obviously was a huge disappointment during the presidency. Not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment. I don't know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were -- things didn't go according to plan, let's put it that way.
He wasn't responsible for Abu Ghraib, his policies or those of his cabinet didn't lead to the abuse of detainees: it was just "didn't go according to plan." And the non-existance of WMDs, despite having been briefed repeatedly that those weapons weren't there, wasn't really a "mistake" - just a "disappointment."

In response, Marketwatch published a column entitled Seven Most Horrible Things About Bush Presidency, subtitled "Commentary: An alternative to commander-in-chief's view of his time in office." It starts:
Contrary to the president's own assessment of his tenure earlier this week, it was an astonishing eight years - and not in a good way. The country suffered two recessions, and two shooting wars. The government botched its response to a brazen attack by terrorists on two cities, and then four years later utterly failed to react when another city was consumed by a natural disaster.

The president took on tyranny by embracing torture. He fought a war for freedom by trampling human rights. He enriched the already rich, excused their excesses, and then bailed them out of trouble and handed us the bill.

He politicized everything, promoted incompetents, and -- whenever things got tight -- appealed to our basest instincts of fear, greed, ignorance and hate.
Bush had all the luck of Jimmy Carter, the attention to detail of Ronald Reagan, the adaptability of Lyndon Johnson, the abiding respect for the Constitution of Richard Nixon, the humility of Teddy Roosevelt, the rhetorical skills of Calvin Coolidge, the fiscal restraint of Franklin Roosevelt, the cronyism of Warren Harding, and the overreaching idealism of Woodrow Wilson.

And his election had all the legitimacy of Rutherford Hayes'.
It's a blistering commentary - I recommend you read all of it. And since 2005, MarketWatch has been a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dow Jones, along with the Wall Street Journal and several other internet properties. So it would take a truly cynical mind and a blatant rewriting of history to say that MarketWatch is a "liberal bastion."

Despite the Bush Legacy Project struggling to spin the positive aspects of the 43rd president's time in office, I think it's pretty clear what Bush's actual legacy is going to be.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Vocabulary Worksheet

I've been thinking about language a little bit lately. Specifically profanity.

Let's start with the term (one, in fact, of the Seven Words George Carlin Couldn't Say On Television), "motherfucker." Think about that one for just a second. Consider that it could easily be a synonym for "father." Why is that so bad?

Further, why is that a negative, but "fatherfucker" isn't? This sounds sexist to me. And actually, it is, but the reason dates back centuries. "Motherfucker" is bad, because if somebody besides Dad is having sex with Mom, then the matter of who is going to inherit the property and titles comes into question. (And in the days when that mattered, men often had mistresses, so there's no negative definition attached to the "fatherfucker." You just didn't talk about it.)

For that matter, why is it, when somebody is trying to explain that your situation has gone downhill fast, do they tell you "You're screwed"? Why do they say that like it's a bad thing? Is there such a thing as a bad screw? I mean, outside of prison rape, I can't think of one, really.

I've had a reasonable amount of sex in my life, and, while not all of it was particularly memorable, I can't say that any of it was bad. So why is the word synonymous with everything going downhill?

For that matter, you'll notice that "pussy" is mostly used as a term for cowardice. There's definite sexism there, and I've got to say, it's also misleading. Some of the people with the biggest balls I've ever seen are women (another phrase that's not only sexist, but in this case, an anatomical impossibility - we definitely need to figure out a term for bravery that doesn't involve the sex organs).

For that matter, why is it that "having balls" is usually a good thing, but "being a dick" isn't? Aren't the two somewhat intimately connected? (Of course, if you think about it, it can take real balls to really be a dick, so there are times when it all comes together. So to speak.)

Pretty much anything involving "shit" is negative. Which is as it should be, in my opinion. On the other hand, while some people have very attractive asses, it's usually bad to be an ass. Not as bad as being a dick - slightly more playful. Less serious, let's say.

A real ass will frequently talk shit. Which is a metaphor that holds together beautifully - if, in fact, "beautifully" can be used in this particular context. However, you can also talk shit while you're being a dick, which doesn't work as well. And if you're being a pussy and you talk shit, wouldn't that lead to an infection that you really don't want?

Religion is frequently invoked as profanity - in fact, the original meaning of "profane" comes from the Latin term profanare (to desecrate), which stems in turn from pro fano (not allowed into the temple - pro, "out in front of" + fano, the ablative case of fanum, or "temple").

(Again, don't ever say I can't be educational.)

For the most part, though, religious terms are invoked as interjections ("Oh, God, here she comes again"), often more as emphasis ("Jesus Christ!") than as a descriptive - there is no profane form of "Christ-like." Two of the few religious terms that have adjectival or adverbial forms are "hell" (as in "hellish") or "God-damned" - and weirdly, some more spiritually-minded people take more offense to "Goddamned" in the adjectival than they do to "screwed" as a descriptive. (Which, I would guess, emphasizes more their belief in the Invisible Sky Person than their interest in sex - a sad state of affairs, in my opinion, but there it is. You get your pleasure where you can: mine doesn't tend to be found in a church, but I believe that a good bed should be venerated, at least a little bit...)

Now, here's a question for you: if you have your head up your own ass, you're being stupid. But if you have your head up somebody else's ass, it can be good for your career. It seems to me that the results of the two situations should be pretty much the same: you can't see, you can't hear, and let's not even talk about what you smell and taste. And why would somebody reward you for making them uncomfortable? At least, I'm pretty sure that I'd be uncomfortable, especially with some of the bowling ball skulls I've seen on some people.

Plus, if you can get your head up your own ass, shouldn't you get applause for being flexible, at least? I mean, there's better things to do with your time, but at least you've been working out, right?

I like some of the more imaginative terms in the field of profanity: "ass-hat" brings you back to that "head up somewhere it doesn't belong" concept, in a reasonably original way. "Fucknozzle" for that matter, is both a great anatomical metaphor, and has the added advantage that nobody else uses it. So at least you get points for surprise.

I guess my point is that people need to consider what they're saying. There's too much freedom in the English language for you to restrict yourself to the same seven tired terms.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Fun with Christians

So, thanks to another blog with the fascinating name of Happy Jihad's House of Pancakes, I stumbled across a post by a guy named Ray Comfort. Now, Ray, in some kind of weird Christian version of cynicism (which is, after all, my job, not his), calls his blog "Athieist Central" (can he be sued for false advertising?).

Anyway, his was a Chistmas Day post wherein he tried to establish that you can't prove that Darwin existed, any more than you can prove that Jesus existed.

No, I'm serious. He did. I was stunned, too. And his "arguments" were just sad.

1. There’s no corpse, because it decayed away - just a skeleton.

2. Comparing the DNA of the corpse to the DNA of his descendants, and to the DNA of a hair sample from his desk wouldn't work, because Comfort wouldn't accept that it was Darwin's. "Also, how do you know that those who claim to be his descendents are actually his offspring, without having faith in genealogical records?"

3. Same problem with photographs, books, papers and other evidence. He'd just say you can't prove it was actually Darwin. Just somebody claiming to be Darwin.

And the sad part is, there are undoubtedly people who think that argument is effective. So, of course, I posted a reply. I can't help myself.
So your "evidence" consists of just saying "No, you're wrong" to every piece of evidence pulled up? What are you? Three years old? They have evidence to prove Darwin existed. You have only belief that Jesus did. So which is it, Ray? Are you an idiot, or a three-year-old?

Oh, and two things, Ray. Your first line and (almost) your last.

Watch how atheists avoid answering this--there's good reason for their silence.
As I write this, there's 103 responses. Oops.

But 2,000 years after His death and resurrection, I can introduce you to Him. There’s my empirical proof.
Really, Ray?

empirical adj derived from experiment and observation rather than theory.
When you have no idea what the word means, you probably shouldn't use it.
And then, just because I hadn't annoyed enough people yet, I hit some guy calling himself "Da Bomb," who wrote ".... it sounds like you've made up your mind already, you want evidence that prooves something or else you WON'T call it evidence. The Bible's account is evidence and the article I gave you before. To reject it entirely would be willfully ignorant."

So I thought I'd tick him off, too.By getting all fact-based on his ass.
Da Bomb:
You said: "The Bible's account is evidence and the article I gave you before. To reject it entirely would be willfully ignorant."

Well, there's your problem right there. In fact, it's the difference between science and religion. Science, taken as an overarching field (rather than the specific specialties), calls upon s specific, proven set of fact libraries. It has proven, evidence-based fact that it can call upon.

In contrast to that, Religion (again, taken as a large field, and not any of the specific denominations) draws upon a variety of texts, some of which conflict openly with others. For purposes of this discussion, let's restrict ourselves to Christianity, just because it narrows the playing field a bit.

Now, your first argument comes in with which version of the "Old Testament" you're using. Do you accept the Septuagint translation, or do you go with the more common Masoretic text? Let's assume that you're going with the Masoretic text. You then ignore the Apocryphal or deuterocanonical books?

Remember, the Roman Catholic Church recognizes Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, and Greek additions to Esther and Daniel. The Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches recognize 3 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, the Prayer of Manasseh and Psalm 151.

Some other Eastern Orthodox Churches include a few others, like 2 Esdras and Odes. The Syriac Orthodox Church have The Apocalypse of Baruch and the Letter of Baruch. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has a few of their own, too, such as Jubilees and Enoch.

The Anglican Church, having been established by Henry VIII to allow him to divorce his wives, uses some of the Apocryphal books liturgically, but not as doctrine. So the Anglican Bible includes the Deuterocanonical books accepted by the Catholic church, plus 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh, which were in the Vulgate appendix.

There's also 4 Maccabees, which is only accepted as canonical in the Georgian Church, but was included by St. Jerome in an appendix to the Vulgate (and in an appendix to the Greek Orthodox Bible), so it's sometimes included in collections of the Apocrypha.

But then we have the New Testament. Most Christian sects accept pretty much the same 27 books, but there's little issues. Revelations, for example, is both accepted and disputed, depending on who you ask. (Which makes sense - it reads like it was written by some hippie dropping acid in the desert.)

Which leads us to the New Testament apocrypha. Only the Ethiopian Orthodox Church recognizes the Shepherd of Hermas, 1 Clement and the Acts of Paul. The Syriac Peshitta, used by all the various Syrian Churches, originally did not include 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude and Revelations; Western Syrians have added the remaining 5 books to their canon more recently, but the official lectionaries for the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church and the Chaldean Syrian Church still present lessons from only the original (22 book) Peshitta. The Armenian Apostolic church has occasionally included the Third Epistle to the Corinthians, but does not always list it with the other 27 books; they also didn't accept Revelations into its Bible until about 800 years ago. The New Testament of the Coptic Bible (which is used by the Egyptian Church) includes the two Epistles of Clement.

And that doesn't even deal with translation problems. Nor does it touch on the various infancy gospels, the Jewish Christian gospels (the Gospels of the Hebrews, of the Nazarenes, or the Ebionites, for example), the Gospel of Thomas, the Passion Gospels, or any of the Gnostic texts.

So, when you try to say that the Bible proves anything, first you have to establish which Bible you're chosing to use.
I don't know why I don't get invited to more parties...