Bug Poop

I have made an amazing discovery. I have discovered soil.

I bought a composter. The one I use is from Lowe’s. I had the opportunity to purchase a simple, box-like affair, but as usual, I went for the gusto. I bought a self-turning composter. Very cool!

I started composting my family’s vegetative waste. Since my wife and I are now juicing heavily (more on this later), we are generating vast amounts of pulp from juicing. Thus, composting was really the only reasonable solution. So I started putting stuff into the composter, and then made regular trips to the composter to add material, and check on the progress. In the process of doing this, I discovered what soil is.

It’s mostly bug poop.

Technically, bug poop in soil is called frass. Compost is almost entirely made up of frass eventually (as well as the waste products of various other critters like fungus, mold, etc.). Soil is a mixture of compost and fine rocky material, basically sand or clay.

It’s really interesting (although rather gross) to watch waste material from human food production turn into compost. Eventually, all of the green, orange and other colors turn to a deep brown, almost black. There is a lot of fiber in my compost. This makes it a bit stringy. But it works extremely well at growing plants. Wow! Do plants ever like bug poop.

Which gets to my point of discovering soil: Every human on the planet has the responsibility to create and nurture a certain amount of soil. There is no escaping from this requirement: We must all eat. In the process of consuming food, we are effectively (either directly or indirectly) using soil. There is no other place (other than hydroponics of course) where food can come from.

The problem with soil is that it must be maintained. There are only two ways to keep soil fertile: Either use compost (or manure with is just another form of poop) to enrich the soil, or else use chemical fertilizers. We all know where that leads.

In the end, the conclusion is clear: Either we are all going to eat food grown in dead soil with a chemical fertilizer keeping it alive, or else we are going to have to make a lot of bug poop. We either hire someone else (a farmer) to do this for us, or we do it ourselves. Historically, in my life, I have been a soil hirer: I have bought my tomatoes at the grocery store. Now, I am going to grow them.

I actually have to. What else can I possibly do with all of that compost?

More later.

Faith

What is faith? The bible describes it as:

Faith is the now the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1 KJV)

I will actually accept that definition with no problem. It says exactly what I believe faith to be, what it has been in my own life: Believing passionately things for which there is no physical evidence, and which may actually violate the laws of the physical universe. These things we believe are not provably untrue, mind you. They are simply profoundly unlikely.

Now, how is it that really, really, really believing stuff which is really, really, really improbable makes you a better person? I just don’t get it. Does it, like, spruce up the old brain cells somehow?

Please help me out here.

Stephen Hawking

My wife just posted this exceptional quote by Stephen Hawking:

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.

In the context of religion, this statement is very compelling, at least to me. I have been awash in knowledge about doctrine, theology, and all the rest, for much of my life, and all of it seems to be illusion to me now. I thought I was so intelligent and well educated, when actually I knew nothing. Now that I know that I know nothing, I am much happier, oddly.

I asked my wife an interesting set of questions last night:

What if you could simply decide that the things that happen in church buildings on Sunday morning are precisely the same thing as going to the Durham Performing Arts Center to see the Nutcracker Ballet? What if you could simply decide that it is all simply a human invention, and nothing more? What would that mean? Wouldn’t you then be able to stop believing what another person (generally a religious authority figure) told you, and instead start believing whatever seemed real, meaningful, and comfortable for you?

Hawking is famously an atheist. I have read several books by Hawking, and he has been instrumental in my understanding of modern physics, a subject about which I am very passionate. While I respect his position as an atheist, I do not share it. I may blog more on why I am not an atheist at a later time.

Doubt

I had a random conversation with a guy named Josh yesterday. This occurred at Devil’s Pizza in Durham on 9th Street. I wandered in there while I was on 9th Street shopping. I was hungry so I ordered a slice and sat down. Josh was sitting on the next table over, and was facing me. He proceeded to engage me in a conversation. He brought up the issue of religion, and told me that he was attending a big Evangelical mega-church near where I live. I have been to this church. It repels me. I find this form of religious expression to be simply a form of entertainment and nothing more.

I suppose he tweaked me. Also, he was quite insistent that he wanted to have a conversation with me on the subject of religion. Every time I tried to turn the conversation away from religion, he turned it back. Eventually, I surrendered to the inevitable, came over, sat down with Josh and told him the truth.

Bottom line: When Josh walked into Devi’s Pizza yesterday, he was a Christian. When he walked out, he was not so sure. Not that he abandoned his faith at that moment, but he was absolutely sure about what he believed when he met me, and when he walked away, he was filled with doubt.

Here is the thing: I really like doubt. I think doubt is great. It keeps you humble. The only thing I know for sure is that I don’t know much. What I did in that man’s life was to demolish myths and shine the light of doubt into his heart.

When I was a Christian, doubt was considered a bad thing: We were to do everything possible to root doubt out of our hearts and lives. Now, I embrace it. Interesting. Josh, if you are out there, I would love to hear from you, and how you are doing. Let me know how that doubt thing is working for you. It works for me, that’s for sure.

More later.

Strange Doctrine

In my previous post, I rather crudely described a painful experience I had with Christianity early on. As a divorced man, I was invited by my Christian friends to become a totally non-sexual being. I apologize for my rude language on that post. Generally, I try to keep things nice here, but of course that one got the better of me.

In this post, I would like to more thoroughly explore why it is that many Christians (including myself, in times past) believe some manifestly ridiculous and absurd notions, including the whole sex / divorce thing. I need to nuance this though: I have readily admitted on this blog that Christianity also probably saved my life. Certainly, I received lots of love and support from other Christians during my early Christian experience. (Later on, not so much.) So my experience with religion has not been completely negative. OK, let’s move on.

Why is it that Christians often believe very unlikely things? Simple: It comes from an obstructed view of the bible. I will use myself as an example. While I was enmeshed into the system of Christianity, I viewed the bible entirely through the lens of Christian theology, as shown in the following graphic:

Strange Doctrine 1

Note that I unified my approach to the entire bible: Like any other Christian, when I was is reading the bible, I attempted to reconcile the various books of the bible with each other. Thus, I approached the bible as a single work by a single author, because that is what I believed it was.

Also, notice that I looked at the bible alone. If I read anything other than the bible (and there were many years when I read nothing else), they were works by Christian authors that basically trumpeted the Christian point of view, quoting heavily from the bible in the process. Not very helpful in other words. I certainly did not consider the bible in the context of the culture in which it was written. (Heaven forbid!)

This approach worked for me for a while, but eventually I found it very frustrating. The contradictions were simply too numerous to count. I also found myself believing propositions which frankly are mind boggling. More on this later. Once I became aware of these issues, I considered the following idea: Whatever else the bible is, it is certainly a work of human culture. So why not simply approach the bible in that manner? This required me to remove the lens of Christian theology from my view of the bible.

In the process, the bible became deconstructed into its various books. Of course, once I ceased to approach the bible as a single unified work, I became aware that the bible is simply a collection of ancient documents, nothing more. I ceased trying to reconcile the author of the Gospel of Matthew (who was undoubtedly a Jewish Christian who believed that you must follow the Law of Moses and be circumcised in order to be saved) with the author of the Gospel of John (a gentile believer who was deeply influenced by pagan Greek philosophy). The following graphic illustrates this approach:

Strange Doctrine 2

Now for the final step. Once I had deconstructed the books of the bible, and approached them individually, and simply as works of human culture, I then began to investigate the other works of human culture (especially literature) which were contemporaneous with and adjacent geographically to the books of the bible. These works amplify and illustrate the books of the bible in a manner than simply cannot be replaced any other way. The final graphic shows this approach:

Strange Doctrine 3

This is, of course, the exact approach used by academics who study the bible and other ancient documents as their profession. Eventually, I discovered academics like Richard Elliott Freidman, Karen Armstrong, and the like, and those have certainly helped me on my way.

Now, let’s examine the process whereby my Christian friends concluded that I, as a divorced man, would never be allowed to marry or have sex ever again. This is based upon a very literal and restrictive reading of several passages in the New Testament, such as 1 Timothy 3:2 which reads:

Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,…

This passage describes the qualifications for an overseer (Greek: episcopas), which includes the injunction that he must be the husband of one wife. Given that Christians hold a theological position that God’s plan for marriage is for one woman to be married to one man, and to remain faithful to each other their entire lives, their interpretation of this passage is colored by this doctrine. It is manifestly obvious, once you look at the context of the culture of the times, that what was being referred to here was that the overseer could not be the husband of more than one wife simultaneously. That is, he could not be a polygamist. Before you react, bear in mind that polygamy has been by far the most common form of marriage in human history. To this day, many cultures are polygamous. Only in the former Roman Empire and colonies of powers which were previously part of the Roman Empire (such as the US), did monogamy prevail as the norm. In the case of 1st century Palestine, of course there was widespread polygamy, including among Christians. What the writer of this passage is saying (it is rather unlikely that the author of this passage was Paul, so instead he is generally referred to as pseudo-Paul) is that an overseer must be a monogamist. That is not to say that polygamists were not welcome in Christian churches. They were, and we know this from abundant contemporaneous literature from that time. But pseudo-Paul was simply expressing the prevailing Christian view that monogamy was best (as a result of the influence of Roman paganism, from which monogamy emerged).

Now, in my case, this very restrictive reading (again in the light of the Christian theology regarding marriage) meant that we had to read polygamy out of the passage: That is not what that passage could possibly mean, because we know that God would never countenance polygamy! (Never mind that every single patriarch in the Old Testament with the possible exception of Isaac was a polygamist, including Adam.) If we read the passage in the light (or darkness!) of this strange doctrine then the reading becomes obvious: In order to be an overseer, you must be the husband of only one wife in your entire life.

Now, how do we get from this to an injunction against anyone becoming married for the second (or third) time. Simple: God must want us all to be able to qualify as overseers. It is therefore God’s will that we maintain the highest standards of excellence, especially in the area of sex. Thus, I was told: You can get married if you want, but that’s not God’s will for you. If you pray hard enough, you will eventually learn to live as a eunuch for God.

Never mind that I am aggressively and stubbornly heterosexual, and deeply passionate. No problem. God will give you grace. Eventually, you will become able to bear this burden.

Hence my FtS reaction in my previous post. I simply refused to go along with this absurd notion. In the process I was attacked physically once, and was pretty roundly persecuted for a while. But eventually, I found my amazing and wonderful wife, Ruth, and we discovered each other. The rest is blessed history.

This is not the only ridiculous notion that I allowed myself to believe for many years while living as a Christian. Others included:

  • Evolution is a theory, nothing more.
  • The earth is only a few thousand years old.
  • We all descended from two individual humans who were miraculously created by God.
  • The entire universe was created by God in seven days.

You get the idea. Once you remove the lens of Christian theology, these will eventually fall away. At least they did for me.

More later.

No Sin

I have told the same story twice today: Once to Susan Powter, one of my dearest and oldest friends, who I talk to about once a decade, and the second time to my once-estranged, but now forgiven, daughter. Apparently, this story was important to me.

It was about my experience as a “baby Christian”. That is, just after I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. In fact, my wife left me for this reason. It seemed that she preferred a drinking buddy to a Christian husband, so she split. After I dealt with that loss, my Christian friends (i.e. members of my religious community) informed me that:

  • I could not have sex outside of marriage.
  • I could never get married again.
  • And, oh yes, I could never masturbate.

In other words, I could never have a non-spontaneous ejaculation for the rest of my life. At the age of 28, I was done. I call this solution: No Sex.

It’s simple: Just don’t have sexual feelings of any kind. Just try that for about 60 seconds. OK, there now. I think you see the problem.

This was my first rebellion. At that time, to Christianity I said: Fuck that Shit.

More later.

Fraud

In my previous post, I outlined my views on the Shroud of Turin, and how it is very likely that this is the genuine burial cloth of the historical figure we refer to as Jesus Christ (not his real name, but we will use that name for convenience). In addition, I pointed out that the Shroud contains many, many layers. The most well-known image, though, is the negative photographic image, which creates huge challenges for us, both as secular observers and as religious folks. For purposes of reference, I include my favorite image of the Shroud, which is the photographic negative image which reverses the image back to positive:

Full_length_negatives_of_the_shroud_of_Turin

In another area of my study, I looked in depth at the development of Roman Catholicism and the rise of the Emperor Constantine. I am not a fan of Constantine, actually. Several books have led me to this conclusion. One of these is a particular favorite: Cities of God by Rodney Stark. Although Stark writes from a Christian perspective (which I respect, actually), his conclusions are telling: The rise of Christianity as a world religion was a process of social forces which made the events of the Medieval period inevitable. Basically, Christianity prevailed because (as I have said before on this blog) it replaced the ancestral village life for many people in ancient Rome who had been ripped out of their homes and sold into slavery. During the first three centuries CE, Christianity grew steadily within the Roman empire. There were several plagues during this period, and Christianity increased sharply (at the expense of paganism) during each plague. Stark points out that the Christians were venturing into the homes of their plague infected pagan neighbors and bringing them food and warm blankets. If the pagan family survived, they certainly were not pagan anymore after that! Because of their loving care for each other and for their neighbors, the survival rate of Christians was much higher than pagans during each of these plagues. Fundamentally, the big jump in numbers during these plagues would have resulted in Christianity constituting about 55% of the urban Roman population by the beginning of the 3rd century, when Constantine comes onto the scene.

Clearly, from the perspective of Constantine, he simply bet on a winning horse. The conclusion was inescapable and obvious by the time Constantine converted: If he did not become a Christian, eventually he would have been overthrown. Trouble is, as Stark points out, once Constantine co-opted early Christianity and made it an instrument of Roman power, all distinctiveness between the Christians and the pagans was lost. In the next plague, no Christians visited their neighbors bringing warm blankets and food. The Christians died as the same rate as the pagans. Thus, it is very obvious that much of the momentum and credibility of Christianity was lost once Constantine took over. (Most of the “Christians” who converted after Constantine were nominally Christian only, by and large, as Constantine provided many incentives to convert once he became the effective head of the Christian faith.)

This gets into the issue of Constantine’s mom, St. Helena. I have read several books on Constantine, and one on his mother. The best book by far that I have found on St. Helena is The Living Wood: Saint Helena and the Emperor Constantine by Louis de Wohl. Although he again writes from a Christian perspective, de Wohl points out some facts which, when combined with what we know about the Shroud, are extremely telling about Constantine, his mother and the rise of Medieval Christianity.

One interesting fact which I should point out before going on: The Shroud is the best and most convincing physical evidence of the facts surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. That should theoretically make it the most important relic in all of Christendom. But instead we find that the Shroud is being systematically suppressed by the Roman Catholic Church. The silly and inane Carbon 14 dating in 1988 is an exceptionally good example. This Carbon 14 dating was so fatally flawed that it is simply astounding that it was even taken seriously. The scientists in charge insisted on a minimum of six samples: They got three. They wanted to take the samples from different areas of the Shroud: Instead only one area of the Shroud was used, and those samples were collected in private by only two men, both Roman Catholic clergy, who provided the testers with the samples, plus false samples from another source, without anyone other than the two Roman Catholic clergy knowing which was which.

When the Carbon 14 dating project produced a date in the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic church immediately caved: The Shroud is a fraud! It is an interesting relic, but obviously not the burial cloth of Jesus, etc. In other words, the Roman Catholic church has done everything humanly possible to simply make the Shroud go away. The interesting question is: Why?

Once you read Louis de Wohl’s book, and combine it with the books on the Shroud, the answer becomes obvious: The Shroud makes the crimes of Constantine and his mother obvious and apparent to anyone. Let me explain.

I said a moment ago that the Shroud should have been the most important Christian relic, but it wasn’t. Instead that relic was a piece supposedly found by St. Helena in Jerusalem in the mid-4th century: The True Cross. This was supposedly the cross of Christ. It was used by St. Helena and Constantine to enrich themselves and solidify their power. Constantine always carried the True Cross with him into battle. His troops believed that with the power of God behind them, they could not lose. And sure enough, they never did. In this way, using the power of Christianity, Constantine was able to consolidate the entire Roman empire under his rule, the last Emperor to accomplish this. Also, St. Helena sold off pieces of the True Cross to every cathedral in Europe. In the process, she and Constantine became the two wealthiest individuals in all of Christendom.

There is a serious problem with the idea of the True Cross. This relic was in the form of what is referred to as a unitary cross. The use of the cross as the symbol of Christianity dates from this time. This is a cross as we normally think of it: Two pieces of wood permanently attached to each other. Supposedly Jesus was nailed to this cross, and then the entire arrangement was hoisted into the air, as shown in films like The Passion of the Christ.

Looking back at the Shroud, the figure shown in the Shroud was not crucified in this manner. Instead, his arms were tied to a cross beam. Once he reached the crucifixion site, he was nailed to the cross beam, and then the cross beam was hoisted onto a vertical post (similar to a telephone pole), which had a hook mounted on top. A small angle bracket was then nailed to the vertical post, and his ankles were nailed to this piece. This is all completely consistent with archeological finds of other Roman crucifixion sites. Bear in mind that crucifixion was the dominant form of execution in the early Roman Empire, so we have lots of textual and archeological evidence to fall back on here.

When you think about it, the manner of execution shown in the Shroud is much more likely than the traditional Christian view. A unitary cross would simply be too heavy for Jesus to successfully carry from the trial site to the crucifixion area (referred to in the Gospels as Golgotha). A unitary cross would probably have weighed on the order of 400 pounds, far too heavy for even a normal person to carry that far, even if he had not been nearly beaten to death. A cross beam would have weighed between 50 and 80 pounds, which is quite doable, even for an injured person.

Thus, the Shroud speaks to us concerning the crimes of Constantine and his mother: Apparently, they faked the find of the True Cross, and foisted this fraud upon the ancient Christian world. In the process they made themselves incredibly powerful and wealthy. They also created phoney miracles (referred to as the Holy Fire) which were conducted in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (the cathedral that Constantine and Helena built in Jerusalem) every Easter from the 4th century  all the way to the 18th century.

At the end of the day, the conclusion is inevitable: The church created  by Constantine was a fraud. He cynically and knowingly faked his conversion, the various miracles surrounding the True Cross, his victories in battle, and all the rest. It boggles the mind, actually.

Now, what does this say about Christianity as it exists today? Certainly, the legacy of Constantine must be dealt with. This is a process which is still going on in my own mind. More on that later.