Sunday, August 26, 2012

Romans, Chapters 7 & 8: Not my sins

Chapter 7

Men are bound by the law until death, but women only are until their husbands die. This also means she can remarry, which she couldn't do before, if I recall correctly. Why? Babies.The old laws are dead, which means we will be able to keep our pants on and think of new ways to serve god instead. My prediction: that edict didn't even last until he'd finished saying that sentence.

Is the law sin? No, but it's how we know what sin is. Can't argue with that. Also, it will kill us. So: keep to the laws, which are holy. It's humans that are sinful. The author admits that he's a little confused: he doesn't do what he knows is right and instead wastes a lot of time playing Angry Birds like the rest of us. But the fact that he knows it's wrong proves the law is right. These people really need to learn what tautologies are. Then he claims that when he sins, it's the sin, not him what's doing it and he wants to do what's right, but can't because of the sin. And this is yet another one of those chapters that makes me so glad I'm not a Christian.

Chapter 8

Now, thanks to Jesus, there is no sin. Also because if you require people to wear tassels on their sleeves and kill goats all the time, your recruiting numbers go way down. People who only think about the flesh only do fleshy things, but people who are more spiritually-minded only do spiritual things  For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace (v. 6) because if you're always thinking about sex, you can't think about god. Or go to heaven. This must have made Christianity awfully hard on teenage boys.

People filled with the spirit are children of god and co-inheritors along with Jesus. And they don't even have to go through that whole nasty crucifixion bit! Nope, they just leave this terrible world for the spiritual reward beyond it. The description is vague, of course, because paradise is boring. Hell is much more fun to describe.

The spirit is right alongside us the whole way, because we're so dumb we don't even know what god wants us to pray for. Also, your fate is sealed, a concept I've never understood. If god already knows what's going to happen to me, why shouldn't I sleep until noon every day and steal from my neighbours? It's not like not doing those things will get me into heaven.

The author asks another question that has always been a personal bugbear: If God be for us, who can be against us? (v. 31). How do people who think god told them to run for president then justify it when they lose? Or on a simpler level, people who pray for their football team to win, only to be disappointed? Anyway, nothing can separate us from god.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Romans, Chapters 5 & 6: Sex and Death

Chapter 5

You know when you have a bad day and you take it to Facebook, and one of your weirdo Christian friends comments something like, 'God never puts more on your shoulders than you can hold?' I'm pretty sure they have Romans 5 in mind, which is all about how everything is leading up to the big moment when you'll be reunited with Jesus in heaven, so suffering is a good thing, because it makes you patient, which gives us experience, which gives us hope, and we can never be disappointed, because Christ died for our sins. Ugh. There has to be some point where you can no longer play that card.

Paul further points out that most of us would not be willing to die for a good person. That's true. I, for one, would not die for most people, good or bad. Anyway, the end result is, now Jesus will protect us from god's wrath. Again, not by giving us vaccines or clean water or anything. And now we're even sort of friends with god through Jesus.

Apparently, all the people before Moses sinned, but it doesn't count because they didn't have the Ten Commandments yet, and the punishment was death. Now, though, the circle has closed and we'll no longer die or something. Or we'll go to heaven, where we'll be immortal. As long as Jesus likes us. Or something.

Chapter 6

So does all this mean we can go on sinning and achieve grace? No, that would be fun. Rather, we parted ways with sin when we all died with Jesus, and we'll go on to eternal life like him when we die.

Did you know that old man  (v. 6) is a biblical expression? I did not. But it doesn't refer to your father, it refers to your self before Jesus, the one who sinned. And what is sin? Giving into lust, basically. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God (v. 13). Alas, it does not specify how one might wield one's penis as a holy weapon.

But now we have a choice: we can be slaves to sin or slaves to obedience and we can use our naughty bits accordingly. Except if you choose wrong, you'll die because the wages of sin is death (v. 23). It's like an abstinence video.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Romans, Chapters 3 & 4: Endless discussion of foreskins

Chapter 3

Paul asks what the advantages of being a Jew, i.e., of being circumcised, are. Well, if you're going to narrow it down to the presence of a tiny band of skin, there aren't any, are there? But according to him, that little penis covering punches way above its weight, because Jews have been entrusted with god's own words, and because god is faithful to them even when they're not faithful in return.

Then he starts asking rhetorical questions about humans and god, like if we sin, doesn't it just show how righteous god is? So isn't it unfair for god to judge us? And answering them with God forbid (v. 4, 6) which I did not know was a biblical expression. By the way, the answer is, god can't judge the world unless he's totally fair, which he is, because he's god. Apparently they knew about rhetorical questions then, but not tautology.

Anyway, Paul concludes that Jews aren't any less sinful than gentiles, no one is righteous, no one understands, no one is actively searching for god, and everyone is a dangerous, murderous liar. Also, the purpose of the law is to show that we're all sinners. I love the positive view of humanity this book is taking, don't you?

Oh, okay, at the end of the chapter he gets mor positive, saying that now there's a way to be righteous without cutting off a part of your dangly bits, and that is believing in Jesus, whether your foreskin is intact or not. So being righteous now is based on faith, not on actions, which does make things significantly easier. Therefore, god can be both for Jews and for gentiles and this new faith will make its own super-fun laws for the rest of us to resent.

Chapter 4

Paul asks us what Abraham would make of all of this. If he really did good things (like what? exiling his child? raping his slave? selling his wife?) he'd have something to boast about, though not to god. But what does the scripture say? According to Paul, that god liked Abraham because he was faithful, and when people work, they get paid because they've earned it. Righteousness doesn't come from work, but from faith. If all of this is confusing, it's because the text is also confusing. I think Romans is the hardest book since Job.

Now we're on to David, who apparently said that you can be righteous without working for it and it's a blessing to be free from sin. Was David ever without sin? That's not how I remember Psalms.

And now we're back on foreskins. It all comes down to how much skin you have on your penis, you know. To repeat: Abraham was righteous because he believed. And did he believe before he was circumcised? Conveniently, yes! So now it's no longer necessary to cut off that pesky bit of skin, you can still inherit the earth, because what is the point of faith if you can achieve salvation just by following the law? To Paul, the rules are just there so god can get angry with you, so there's no point in having them. Abraham was the father of nations because he kept up the belief that his wife would father sons that would found nations, and it happened, never mind that whole laying with the handmaiden bit. Anyway, the point is: Jesus.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Romans, Chapters 1 & 2: Idol worship leads to homosexuality

Chapter 1

Paul writes a letter to a congregation in Rome. He starts off with a very flowery, very flattering, very long introduction that includes the expression God is my witness (v. 9) which I seriously thought was something Margaret Mitchell made up. Learn something new every day.

And why is this letter so full of praise? Well, see, Paul is coming to Rome but lacks funds. He entices them to contribute by telling them that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift (v. 11). This isn't the first time he's promised to come, but this time he really means it.

He assures us that he isn't ashamed of the gospel and thinks all believers can be saved, Jew and Gentile alike. You can show you're saved by living by faith (v. 17). If you don't: wrath of god, which you ought to know for God hath shewed it unto them (v. 19) and there's no excuse for not seeing it. Some people, according to Paul, knew god, but ignored him or made things up, and are confused as a result. They claimed to be wise, but really were foolish, worshipping god in the form of an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things (v. 23) so clearly this is a dig at all those pagan religions, what with their many gods that allow you to hedge your bets, rather than the Jewish god, who forces all your eggs into one highly unpredictable basket that's subject to random divine temper tantrums.

God eventually gave up on those pagans, who had an orgy and worshipped idols as a result. Sounds pretty accurate. Now we get to the fun bit: Paul specifically condemns lesbians and gay men, although if you read the passage carefully God gave them up unto vile affections (v. 26), so homosexuality isn't a choice, it's a punishment from god. I'm sure that's very comforting to the LGBT community. Anyway, god abandons them, and they turn to all sorts of sins. There's a list you can read, and if you haven't done every single thing on it at least once today, you're just not trying. Paul condemns them all to death.

Chapter 2

If only the bible weren't otherwise full of vile bullshit condemning people to death for things god makes them do, I might agree with the first verse of chapter 2: 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.  We're assured that god will judge us any day now, so there's no need to do it for him. People who follow him will be rewarded, people who ignore him will be punished. This is regardless of whether you ever had the chance to find out about god because apparently gentiles can obey the law by instinct, which is probably easier to do now that they don't have to get circumcised. 

As for people who call themselves Jews and claim to know the law, well teach yourselves and don't disobey it by committing adultery or robbing temples. Apparently this has got so bad that gentiles are blaspheming because of the Jews' hypocrisy and breaking the law is the same as de-circumcising yourself. In fact, uncircumcised gentiles who follow the law are better than circumcised Jews who break it, because circumcision is really of the heart, not the penis. Is it not kind of creepy how much attention god pays to a half-inch long piece of skin?  

Friday, August 3, 2012

Acts, Chapters 27 & 28: Lost at Sea

Chapter 27

The Israeli officials decide to wash their hands of Paul and send him to Rome for his trial in the custody of a friendly centurion named Julius. They cruise around the Mediterranean for until it's nearly winter, when Paul goes completely stir crazy and predicts the ship will be wrecked.  Julius sensibly prefers to believe the ship's owner and captain, who thinks they shouldn't winter where they are (someplace called Lasea in Crete), but rather they should go on to another port.

But of course, they run into a wind so strong they give up fighting it and just drift along until they come to an island and manage to drop an anchor. The storm continues for a few days, and the sailors lose their heads and start throwing valuable stuff overboard, like the cargo and tackle.

After another few days of being battered by the storm, Paul, with no sense whatsoever of what an appropriate time and place might be, stands up to say, 'I told you so!' Ironically, no one throws him overboard. He continues that although their lives will be spared, because god wants him to meet Caesar, the ship will be lost. They spend another two weeks floundering about, looking for a port, until they realise the water is getting shallower. They're not sure if it's an island or rocks, tough, so they put the anchors down and wait for day. Some of the sailors let down a lifeboat, pretending to check on the anchors, but Paul tells them god will only rescue the people who stay on board. Rather than putting him on the lifeboat and cutting the ropes, the sailors set the boat adrift.

As morning draws near, Paul urges everyone to eat, so they do, having fasted for 14 days. We are also told there are 276 people on board, which I am skeptical of, but not enough to go and look up the history of shipbuilding.

In the morning, they find an island and beach the boat. The soldiers debate killing the prisoners to prevent them escaping by swimming away. Julius convinces them not to, though, and those who can, swim to shore, while those who can't are towed in.

Chapter 28

Our little band of prisoners realises the island they've come to is the modern-day Malta. Although the people who live there are barbarous (v. 2), they build them a fire. Paul gathers some wood, and as he throws it on the pile, a viper jumps out and bites him. The Maltese people think he must be a murderer, to have survived the sea and yet be killed by a snake. However, when he fails to die, the decide he must be a god. This is what a lack of science education leads to, people.

After the welcome bonfire, Paul & co. are invited to stay at the headman's house. His name is Publius and his father is sick. No worries, though, Paul lays his hands on him and he's cured. Because they don't know anything about how illnesses work, everyone else who's sick shows up for the faith healing.

At the end of the winter, the Maltese people provision them again and they slowly make their way to Italy and on to Rome. On the way, they meet some fellow Christians, but that story doesn't really go anywhere. A few days later, they arrive in Rome. All of the prisoners except Paul are given over to the captain of the guards. Paul is handed over to another centurion.

Paul manages to send word out to the Jewish leaders of the city, to whom he puts his case. They say they haven't heard of him, though they have heard of his new cult. They arrange to meet again soon, and on the appointed day, Paul immediately sets to the hectoring. Some believe him, others are just bored stiff because he talks for an entire day. They all perk up when he announces he's converting gentiles. They go off to argue about what he said. Paul himself stays in his house for 2 years, harassing people constantly.