The true story.
From Abracadabra to Zombies
is a commentary on
mass media treatment of issues concerning science, the
paranormal, and the supernatural.
Skeptimedia replaces Mass Media Funk and Mass Media Bunk. Those blogs are now archived.
Doing a god's Work
(a day in the life of Abraham's god)
June 6, 2009. I didn't really plan to write this piece. All I wanted to do was sit down in my favorite chair with my morning cup of coffee and read the newspaper (The Sacramento Bee). Listed among the top stories of the day was "teen infected with HIV by his own father's deliberate injection...." I didn't finish reading the teaser. What kind of person would inject his son with the AIDS virus? According to the article, a person who didn't want to pay child support injected his 11-month old son with tainted blood. The father is in prison for life and the son, now a young adult, says he's forgiven him because "God wants us to forgive people." I stopped reading the story with that line. Despite the noble sentiment expressed by the young man, who is graduating from high school despite his disease, I could not help but think of the implication of his belief. Did this god want his father to try to kill him so he could grow up and show forgiveness? Did this god use both of them for a "teaching moment"?
On the same page as the "Teen Triumphs Over AIDS" story was one about a "struggling South Dakota rancher" who won $232 million in a Powerball lottery. I stopped reading that story when the 23-year-old winner was quoted as saying: "I want to thank the Lord for giving me this opportunity and blessing me with this great fortune." Does he really think "the Lord" had anything to do with his winning the lottery? I suppose he does, and I began to wonder what else people might think that this lord god has been up to recently. All of what follows came from just one day's news. (Here you can bring in the background music...I read the news today, oh boy....)
Some folks might think the Lord God is really messing with people's heads by giving them contradictory advice on economic issues. Clearly, this god favors some companies over others. He certainly likes CEOs more than he likes laborers. Maybe they have better prayer rituals or practice secret human sacrifice like the ancient Jews, Inca, and Maya.
Some think the lord wants PE classes cut from community colleges' curricula; others think the lord wants people to exercise. Some think the lord wants to give people in the community a chance to be virtuous by closing down mental health facilities and dumping the mentally ill on the streets where they can depend on the kindness of strangers. (Soul-making is one of this god's chief reasons for allowing evil, according to some philosophers.)
Some think the lord watched over a local high school speech and debate team and led them to some sort of championship. Some are sure the lord wants us to rid our state (California) of undocumented workers (also called illegal aliens) to solve our budget crisis. Some think that this god led a movie star to withdraw as commencement speaker at UCLA so other scheduled speakers, Arianna Huffington and Oliver Stone, could get more attention. California legislators are divided on the lord's will regarding cutting college financial aid programs. Some think this god wants to do away with all financial aid. Others think this god wants us to continue to help the poor.
Some think this god inspired a pyromaniac to set a forest on fire that killed five firefighters, allowing a jury to sentence him to death and remind us that we reap what we sow. This god also led a police detective to murder the wife of her ex-boyfriend—the lady cop shot the wife a couple of times and beat her to death—so she could be caught twenty years later and demonstrate that this god's recent action that has led to a lull in the murder rate in Los Angeles was purposive: it gave investigators time to review cold cases (unsolved murders). This god seems to like cold cases. They remind us of our weaknesses.
This god may have led a trucker to sexually abuse his two stepdaughters with the knowledge of his wife (the children's mother) for some mysterious purpose. He also let a 90-year-old woman remain stuck in a bathtub for three days to give her the chance to show her resilience and ingenuity at surviving by drinking water out of a rubber duck. This god also caused $10,000 in cash to be blowing about on a local highway, and killed two people by running them over with trains in the Bay Area. In one case, He used a pit bull (perhaps named Son of Sam) to pull a woman into the path of an oncoming train. This god is also giving a Broadcom co-founder a chance to redeem himself by having him charged with all kinds of bad things involving sex and drugs.
This god also caused a sheriff's deputy to cross a double-yellow line and kill two bicyclists so He could send the cyclists to heaven and the deputy to a civilian desk job. Making people feel special seems to be one of This god's purposes in choosing people to rise from adversity like being paralyzed for life by a drunken driver or surviving a train crash in which hundreds of others were killed.
This god was really busy with a money manager who faked his own death in a plane crash to avoid charges of bilking people out of millions of dollars. He got the guy to plead guilty, thereby saving the taxpayers lots of money. Also, we now know why this god had Flight 93 crash in Pennsylvania on 9/11. It was so the government could seize the land to build a memorial. And Normandy, it turns out, was part of this god's plan to provide a photo-op for Barack Obama. Also, those 25 children who died in a fire at a day care center in Mexico? Part of this god's plan to remind people of their dependence on him. He could have put out the fire, but then nobody would have learned the lesson.
Even theological experts are having trouble understanding this god's purpose in allowing Syria and Iran to process uranium, but it may have something to do with inspiring Israel to keep building warplanes in preparation for Armageddon. More certain is that this god allows extremists to develop so they can rehabilitate themselves and become inspirations to others. And it's obvious that he lets government officials who cheat on their expense accounts get caught so he can use them to exemplify a moral lesson: don't get caught cheating. More mysterious, however, is this god's continued use of North Korea to taunt the world community. Some things, perhaps, are beyond human scrutiny.
An actor killed himself accidentally by hanging himself with ropes tied around his neck, wrist, and genitals while trying to have a special kind of orgasm while masturbating. The euphemism is "autoerotic asphyxiation." Apparently, this god was interested in making it known that even 72-year-old famous people have sexual needs. In other news, apparently this god likes racial profiling in American law enforcement. An expert at the United Nations says that it's rampant here. So, it must be a good thing, right?
This god's lesson plan this week also included the mid-ocean crash of an Air France passenger plane carrying 228 people. Apparently, the plane went down in a vicious thunderstorm, a known divine method to remind us of His power and keep us in line. His continued support for trouble with Israel and its enemies reinforces the message that this god loves a struggle, and nothing seems to please him more than giving His creatures a chance to overcome major obstacles. Another example along these lines comes from the revelation of the arrest of a married couple in their 70s charged with spying for Cuba for three decades.
God also had one of Obama's picks for security work withdraw to call attention to the U.S. policy of torturing people under the Bush/Cheney administration. The evidence is conflicting here, however, and it is hard to know for sure whether this god is telling us that we should torture more (Cheney's view) or we shouldn't be torturing at all (Obama's view). This god's support for unions was shown in the decision by the White House not to send anyone to a national mayors' conference in Rhode Island because of a picket line being set up there by firefighters.
Some people might think that the this lord god has been messing about with class sizes in public schools and moving local firefighters to demand a raise even if it means laying off 50 people. He helped a dentist who is a U.S. Army reservist increase her business by 10% while she was in Iraq. He had a 14-year-old boy run over and killed by a van so He could rally the neighbors to an outpouring of love. He led a local flood control board to back off giving hefty pay raises during a budget crisis.
This lord frequently exposes physicians, dentists, chiropractors, etc. who take sexual advantage of their patients or who use drugs on the job. Today was no different. The examples this time were a plastic surgeon with 40 complaints of sexual abuse against him and an anesthesiologist who demonstrated very suspicious behavior in the operating room. Another common lesson, also in today's news, is the story about someone in law enforcement arrested for drunken driving. This time this god told the DA not to go to trial since the first trial ended in an 8-4 deadlock.
This god has also led several advertisers to withdraw their support for a local radio show whose hosts called transgender people "freaks with mental disorders." This god wants us to know that he created some women in men's bodies and some men in women's bodies for a reason. Deal with it, he seems to be saying. The fact that the hosts advised hitting kids who express transgender notions also played a role in lifting their ads, said one of the company's spokespersons. This god's view on hitting children is a bit ambiguous, however. Some say since He uses violence himself to get people to obey him, he is telling us to do the same. Others think differently, but who cares what liberals think?
this god is also encouraging local (El Dorado county) homicide investigators to take advantage of some stimulus money and a lull in the murder rate. He wants them to offer cash incentives for people to come forward with information about 48 cold cases. This god doesn't like all murder cases to be solved. If we solved them all, we might get cocky and discourage would-be murderers. What would be the profit in that?
This god is really active in the economy right now, cutting jobs right and left. There weren't any stories in today's paper about plants closing or massive layoffs by large corporations, but there were several stories about city, county, and state layoffs. About 1,000 Sacramento county jobs are on the line. Other nearby counties are experiencing the same challenges. This will teach many people many valuable lessons. One lesson that might be taken from losing your job is to realize that there are other ways to make money besides working. You could, for example, do what one Hindu group did: sue. In this case, the group didn't like how Hindus were depicted in a textbook. They only got $175,000, however.
I probably shouldn't even bother reviewing this god's activities as revealed in the Business section of today's paper. This god is lucky He is all-powerful because these stories indicate a sort of madman on the loose. One story even refers to a man as a "savior" because of his actions regarding a car named after a gas-giant planet. Stores are closing; stores are opening. Unemployment is the highest it's been in many years, but the number of jobs being lost is decreasing. Companies are closing. Companies are revitalizing. The government is becoming a large owner in many private companies to save the free market economy. Oil prices are up after being down after being way up. Advertisers are pulling out the stops.
The weather page indicates that this god likes variety. And the sports page shows that this god really does like some teams and players more than others, and that team prayers really do help some teams win.
Finally, the Home & Garden section demonstrates once again this god's wonderful sense of humor. The feature story is about a local guy who turned his house into something that looks like a 1930's gas station. I've been to this house and have admired it for years. I especially like the fake skid marks and rear end of a car growing out of his backyard fence. Every time I pass by I am inspired to laugh. As an added benefit, I get instant amnesia of all the things I read in the paper that morning, including stories about this god choosing a lottery or basketball game winner, or ordering a father to kill his son.
My erudite editor thinks this god might have other reasons for intervening in people's lives. He's probably right, but I wasn't sure. So, I consulted Bill Maher's "Religulous." Maher interviews several practicing Jews, Christians, and Muslims about their Abrahamic religious beliefs. (He also does a short section on the beliefs of Mormons. Wow. And he mentions the even wackier notion about Xenu & the volcano in Scientology. No mention was made of the Raëlians, however.) Jews, Christians, and Muslims agree that their god is a providential god, one that listens to even the stupidest of requests (like filling a cup with water), is constantly watching our every move, and is on everybody's speed-dial at all times. I found the film interesting but not very helpful in trying to figure out why any god does what he does.
Like Maher, I was raised Catholic and was never subjected to the lunacy of literal fundamentalism. We may have been taught some strange stuff, but our teachers at least knew that there would be little point in teaching science to illiterate people millennia before science existed. We were taught that Biblical stories about the days of creation, talking snakes, living inside a giant fish for three days, or collecting all the animals of the world on a boat were allegories, not science lessons. On the other hand, we were also taught that when we took communion we were eating a two-thousand-year-old god. It turns out that others before us practiced eating their god in rituals. The worshippers of Dionysus, for example, were infused with the spirit of the god by partaking of his live flesh and blood.* Dionysus was represented as a bull. One ritual involved sacrificing a live bull or calf, "which was torn to pieces and eaten by his devotees in the belief that they were killing the god, eating his flesh and drinking his blood."*
Maher seems to have thought that at least one of the many people he interviewed might be the slightest bit uneasy at believing stories that are incredible on their face. But even Francis Collins, when asked why a significant event like the virgin birth didn't make it into two of the gospels, said that such an omission is exactly what you'd expect if the gospels were true. That befuddling answer was matched by a fellow who plays the role of Jesus at the Holy Land Experience theme park in Florida. When asked about the idea of the trinity, three persons in one god, he said it was like water being liquid, gas, or solid. I guess that's at least as good as the brush-off I was given as a kid. It's like a shamrock: one clover but three leaves.
Nobody even blinked when Maher noted that it seems strangely coincidental that there are a number of key parallel lines in the stories of Horus, Mithra, and Jesus. Maher was putting forth what is known as the "copycat thesis." Specifically, Maher claims that each story involves a virgin birth on December 25th to a savior who was a son of a god, each performed miracles such as healing the sick, and each died and was resurrected.
Mithra's birthday was celebrated on December 25th. "Mithraism was a degenerate form of Zoroastrianism, the national religion of the Persian-Iranian people, this in turn having stemmed from the more primitive Mazdaism..."* Mithraism flourished in the Roman Empire from the 1st through the 4th centuries CE. (Yes, Mithraism was a competitor with Christianity for several centuries.) Zoroastrianism is still practiced by a few adherents and has a strong belief in salvation and immortality.
In his classic work Man and His Gods, Homer Smith writes:
The doctrine of the virgin birth was thoroughly familiar to the pagans. A supernatural origin had been ascribed to Egyptian Pharaohs centuries before, and Attis-Adonis had been born of the virgin Myrrha. In the disguise of a serpent, the god Aesculapius had fathered Aratus of Sicyon, Apollo had fathered Julius Caesar and Augustus, and other gods had fathered Aristomenes, Alexander the Great, Cyrus, the elder Scipio, Mithra, Hermes, Perseus and Buddha. Juno, the wife of Jupiter, was supposed to become a virgin again each year, and as a virgin was said by the Romans to have born Cybele, Demeter, Leo, and Vulcan.*
I'm not going to try to understand what it might mean to "become a virgin again." In any case, Egyptians, of course, believed in life after death, which was one of the key claims of early Christianity. It was also a central feature of Mithraism and the cult of Dionysus.
The Resurrection is considered the key spiritual feature of the Christian religion, but stories of resurrected gods have a long history. Likewise for stories of miracle workers and magical healers. None of these historical parallels evoked the slightest bit of interest in Maher's subjects.
For all his efforts, Maher couldn't get any religious person to explain why they believe in talking snakes and other fish stories, but reject scientific notions like evolution. These people are living in the 21st century and seem to be functioning at a high enough level to get by. One of them is even a U.S. Senator and several of them sought the Republican nomination for president. Yet, they not only believe stories as incredible as the Pinocchio fairy tale, they reject ideas that are backed by solid evidence, such as the notion that homosexual desires are as natural as heterosexual desires. They also don't seem to be very honest about their beliefs. Most of them gloss over the nasty bits of their scriptures, the parts that order them to kill infidels or adulterers (by stoning), etc. Some of those he interviewed are clearly mentally challenged (e.g., the guy who thinks he's descended from King David and has 100,000 followers that think he's god). Some are clearly frauds, cheating people out of their money to enrich themselves while preying on the fear, ignorance, gullibility, and vulnerability of their followers.
Maher doesn't end with a whimper, however. These religious fanatics might think the end times are near and a great war between good and evil is about to unfold, but Maher is concerned that these folks might just make it happen because of their zealous irrationality that seems to drive them to beliefs on the other side of the edge of reality. What might save us, though, from the Abrahamic zealots is the belief expressed by a Jew for Jesus when Maher said to him: if being with god is so great, why don't you just kill yourself?* This god still has work for me to do, said the man with a straight face, as if he could read the mind of any god.
*note: For those who think Maher was taking a cheap shot by his question, consider the following:
In the early Christian era suicide was not only tolerated, but condoned by the church, as a result certain sects such as the Donatists and the Circumcellions jumped off cliffs in great numbers to hasten an afterlife that promised greater rewards than those found on jolly old earth.*
It wasn't until the sixth century that the Christian church got around to condemning suicide as a sin.