Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Mardukian Nation

I have already explained why Marduk of Babylon is the ultimate god and why everyone should believe he exists. I have already explained why the Enuma Elish is the ultimate authority on the creation of our world, the creation of humanity, and Marduk's power, making it a very clear blueprint for how we should live our lives.

But did you know that the "God" referenced so often in the government and culture of the United States is supposed by many to be some other strange god? For this reason, I propose (below) some changes that will make the god we are meant to be worshipping absolutely clear.







Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Demons!

Growing up with God is often rough enough, but I also had the opportunity to grow up with his evil counterparts: the Devil and his evil underlings. In a lot of ways, demons were more real to me than God. God never spoke to me, but evil spirits did, and they manifest themselves in a variety of ways, while God never quite managed to solidify as even one satisfying image in my mind. And devils might show up anywhere, during almost any time.

In the very early days, I didn't put as much stock in the supernatural (not counting God, of course) as some of my immediate family. Perhaps it's because didn't watch horror movies, knowing they would scare me. My brother, however, would wake up in the middle of the night to see some little green hobgoblin jump into our chest of drawers. Or he would open his eyes and see Freddy Krueger sitting in our desk chair, right next to our bunk beds, menacingly curling his bladed glove. My sister's visions were even more odd, since they involved seeing me walking through the hallway or hearing my voice in her ear when I was -- in reality -- in the other room sleeping.

As for myself, I've always been able to open my eyes at night and see all kinds of visions: as a kid, little hopping gnomish creatures would appear and -- today -- spiders. I once woke up screaming, thinking our cat was clawing me, and it took a long time to convince me that the cat was outside, since -- even while this was being explained to me -- I felt the pain of claw marks on my skin. But I knew enough about dreams back then to know that that's what they were: nightmares, waking dreams, mind tricks.

Unfortunately, however, simple childhood dreams, in my house, were often given immense power through the backing of religion. (And no wonder, since religions are based on dreams.) Sometimes, luckily, nightmares were quickly and lovingly dismissed as "just a bad dream," but -- other times -- they were not. The Freddy Krueger episode, for example, did not lead to a speech about how maybe my brother shouldn't watch scary movies if he couldn't handle them at age fifteen. Instead, it led to a speech about how God was more powerful than the Devil and that our family, with God's power, could defeat him. I was nine years old and this was happening in my bedroom. I was learning not only that the Devil could bother you at night, but he could do so in the form of a cheesy movie character. I woke up annoyed at all this commotion in the middle of the night, but by the end of the overheard conversation, I was certainly leaning toward the idea that this could be real.

One does not always become more rational or intelligent as one grows up and -- sure enough -- I did eventually buy into the idea that demons existed, even if I could still distinguish dreams (and movies) from reality. Unclean spirits were in the Bible, so I pretty much had to believe in them. So what did I think I was dealing with? The usual: fallen angels. God created angels before he created humans. Lucifer rebelled against God and he became Satan (just as Milton told us). He gathered other angels to his side and, together, they became very interested in sticking it to God by tormenting his beloved humans, looking for bodies to possess and souls to thwart before one day -- at the end of time -- they would be cast into the Lake of Fire.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Martyrs

A friend of mine told me a dream he had:

"I was in church and a man burst in with a gun. He walked right up to an elderly saint, someone I always figured was ready for Heaven, held a gun to her head, and said, 'Deny God or I'll pull the trigger.' She smiled and said, 'That is something I could never do,' so he killed her, her brain flying out of her skull."

"I think I've heard this one before," I said, but he continued:

"Next in the dream, the shooter found a person in the church who I considered 'lukewarm' where Christ was concerned, on the fence about his faith. 'Deny God or I'll pull the trigger,' the shooter said. The man hesitated for a moment, then -- though he seemed nervous about it -- said, 'No, I can't deny him.' So his bloody brain ended up everywhere too. I knew that he had finally made the correct decision and that he immediately went to Heaven. Everyone in the church was slaughtered in the same way: they wouldn't deny God and they were killed for it. Then suddenly, in the dream, I was at a convention for atheists..."

"Ah, here comes the punchline," I said.

"This isn't a joke. It's a dream," he said. "The gunman walked up to the keynote speaker and held the gun to his head. To him, he said, 'Say that you believe in Jesus with all your heart or I'll kill you.' The atheist actually laughed a little, but then repeated the words, as if to humor the gunman. 'Again!' the gunman screamed, so he said it again: 'I believe in Jesus with all my heart.' 'Again!' 'I believe in Jesus with all my heart!' Then the atheist started sobbing, saying, 'I believe in Jesus with all my heart, with all my soul, and I give my life to him!' Everyone at the convention began sobbing, repenting, and professing, and the killer opened fire on them all, a bloody massacre, sending them immediately to Heaven. It was like God's mercy. Then, in the dream, I was alone... just me and the man with the gun..." He stopped.

"Yes?"

"Eh, the rest of the dream isn't important. Never mind."

"C'mon. Tell me."

"Well, the truth is, the dream ended there. The man held the gun to my head, he told me to deny God or he'd pull the trigger. But before I had the chance to say anything, I woke up in a puddle of come."

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Adam and Steve

I think I finally figured out why people keep saying "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." It's so clear to me now, as it should have been all along: it was right there in the book. Yes, Adam and Eve.

God doesn't want anyone to get married whose names aren't Adam and Eve. These are the only two name pairings that God wants. It's traditional marriage!

So is your name Adam? Then you can only marry a person named Eve. Is your name Eve? Then you can only marry a person named Adam. Is your name neither Adam nor Eve? Sorry, you can't get married... unless you want to offend God.

I know this inconveniences a lot of people, but the Bible is pretty clear on this. For a long time now, this garden story has been held up as the example for how we should live our lives, whom we should marry, how we should treat women, the importance of obeying our parents, the existence of original sin, and many other things. But it's time to stop overlooking the obvious: wedding registries at Williams-Sonoma are for Adams and Eves only.

Either that, or the Bible forbids all marriage except between males who were created from dust and women who were made out of those males' ribs. Also a possibility.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Tao of Jesus: A Spiritual Analysis of the Gospel of John

"There was something formless and perfect before the universe was born. It is serene. Empty. Solitary. Unchanging. Infinite. Eternally present. It is the mother of the universe. For lack of a better name, I call it the Tao. It flows through all things, inside and outside, and returns to the origin of all things." --Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

CHAPTER 1

The Word

Heinrich Zimmer said (as Joseph Campbell was so fond of quoting) that the best truths can't be spoken and the second-best are misunderstood. This quotation sums up my spiritual analysis of the Gospel of John (and I'm afraid this is going to be one of those essays in which the thesis is stated over and over again with different examples). The Tao is the name for the former (can't be spoken, beyond all words) and Jesus' words are the latter (misunderstood, attempting to express inexpressible through metaphorical words and actions).

To explain what I mean, I'd like to walk us through the book of John, the most spiritual of the gospels, beginning with its cryptic opening:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."

You can see already that we're dealing with concepts that are difficult to explain with words. It is no accident that the word Word (sometimes translated as Logos) is used, as both a proper name and a concept, attempting to explain what Jesus is, re-writing (or at least clarifying) Genesis to declare that "in the beginning" Jesus created the world and was apparently the subject of "Let there be light." And lest we begin thinking that these things are physical (and how can they be, since the Word is described both as being "with God" but also God himself?), John writes that those who accept the Word/God become "children of God, who were born, not of blood... but of God." So we're not talking about bodies. We're not talking about "the world" as a planet. We're talking about the inner life, otherwise known as the spiritual life.

On the other hand, John is constantly blending these spiritual words with things that are "worldly" indeed. Jesus Christ is a specific, presumably historical human in this book, and -- throughout -- Jesus can't seem to decide if he's a full-blown Taoist guru attempting to explain the unexplainable or if he's a reformer of Judaism, beholden to those traditions while desiring to make them less dogmatic and more spiritual ("The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ"), even if it requires him engineering his own literal and metaphorical death.

The schizophrenia of this book might be due, in part, to the retro-fitting of the more established Christian religion (this book wasn't finished until about 100 years after Jesus lived, and of course everything was gathered second-hand, at best) into what may have once been a more pure Toaist-like (or at least Eastern or mystical) teaching, one in which "God" is not an actual entity but only a symbol of the transcendent, a name to help us experience things we can't understand. But, tempting as it is to use this to explain the inconsistencies in Jesus' teaching (Western vs. Eastern, legal vs. mystical), I have to admit that Jesus seemed to have his feet in both worlds: the spiritual and the literal/physical/historical. So I will tackle both as they occur.

If you want to see what a pure version of Taoist teaching looks like, look at the first chapter of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching: "The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name. The unnamable is the eternally real. Naming is the origin of all particular things. Free from desire, you realize the mystery. Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations. Yet mystery and manifestations arise from the same source. This source is called darkness. Darkness within darkness. The gateway to all understanding."

Note the similarities but also the contrasts between this and the opening of John. "God" may be a good simile for the Tao, but John claims that the Word/Jesus is God, something named, something that "can be told." And while Lao Tzu says that darkness within darkness is the gateway to all understanding, John says that the Word defeats this darkness by being the light. One offers truth only through a passive uncertainty, while the other offers truth through a rather specific entity. One thing is agreed upon by the two sources, however, which is that the Word did create everything, since "naming is the origin of all particular things." Before the Word, there was the Tao (a name for the unnamable), and nothing but it, but through the Word came everything else.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

God-Man

Ruben Bolling is the best comic strip writer working today, and I don't read any other comic strips to even be able to properly judge, so you know it must be true! When I had the idea to do Bible Stories five years ago, I first did some searches to see if anyone was doing anything similar already. No one was (luckily), but (also luckily) I ran across "God-Man," a character that appears from time to time in Bolling's strip, Tom the Dancing Bug.

The major complaint about Superman is that he's too powerful, even spinning time backward when things don't go his way. Ruben Bolling takes this flaw to the extreme with God-Man, the superhero with omnipotent powers. Usually God-Man gets the bad guy or "narrowly" escapes by changing the laws of physics or blowing up the world and starting over or moving characters to an alternate universe. Bolling also uses God-Man to comment on perceptions of God himself, such as the strip where God-Man refuses to save a woman who doesn't believe in him, or when Science-Hero is "defeated" when the people thank God-Man for "causing" Science-Hero to develop a vaccine to save them from an outbreak of disease.

Recently, to show my appreciation of Bolling's work, I bought him a compilation of Archie comics. I received this in return:


A rare case where the thank you card is worlds better than the gift. His drawing was in black-and-white, but I decided to color it (in Photoshop--don't worry: I preserved the original drawing) so that I could pretend that we collaborated on something... and because coloring is fun.

Being thanked by God-Man is the next best thing to being thanked by God himself.

Read Tom the Dancing Bug each week, or go to this fan site if you wanna get caught up on your God-Mans. God Blog approved!

Monday, May 28, 2012

My Path To Atheism

Introduction

I feel the need to make the following clear in print and in public: I don't think that God exists. I write about God and lot and think about God a lot and use the word God a lot, but when I do so, I'm often taking advantage of the flexibility of the word and the concept. To clarify, then: I don't believe in a supernatural being who's behind all this. I'm not a deist who believes that a god created the universe and became uninvolved, and I'm certainly not a theist who thinks that there is a god who answers prayers or performs miracles or has any direct effect on our lives. I don't believe that such a thing as Yahweh from the Hebrew Scriptures exists or that Jesus is his son and died for us or that Allah is the one true god. I don't even believe in a more abstract "force" that guides us in any way. There is nothing.

I'm also pretty certain about this, so I'm not an agnostic. I only hesitate to use the other "A" word because it merely describes part of what I am -- not all that I am -- where gods are concerned. I don't believe in gods in the same way that readers of The Catcher in the Rye don't believe in Holden Caulfield. Readers, of course, take their disbelief of Holden as a given (no special term needed), since his nonexistence doesn't prevent him from being talked about, analyzed, or loved. I feel this way about mythology. I love Zeus and Christ and Ra and Krishna. They're important to the world and they're important to me and the way I think. And while I think the literalism of religion misunderstands what gods actually are, I often take issue with the dismissive way that nonbelievers treat gods as well. But, in spite of this hesitation and disclaimer, atheist is an accurate label for me. I'm an atheist. Here's my story.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Loud Cymbals: 18 Gospel Songs

Almost ten years ago, I recorded a gospel record. I'd already recorded a Christmas album, a children's album, a re-recording of the entirety of 69 Love Songs, and an album of songs in the style of other artists, so why not? Gospel songs are the among earliest songs I heard, since it's almost entirely what my folks listened to, so I love those old ones, and some of those are here. But I didn't just want to do the oldies, so I also recorded "gospel" songs by pop artists as well as songs that certainly had nothing to do with God until I declared that they did.

I decided it was time to make the album available for everyone.


Click album cover to stream all.

1. I Just Feel Like Something Good Is About To Happen -- A Bill Gaither song. That Gaither Homecoming thing bombarded the TV in the 90s and was truly crappy, so I thought I hated him, but when I was digging around for old gospel songs I liked, two of this turned up, so I guess I don't. I changed the word brother to the word baby.

2. Jesus -- A Velvet Underground song, which gives the album all the cred it needs.

3. He Touched Me -- Back to Gaither.

4. My Sweet Lord -- A George Harrison song, from his first may-as-well-be-gospel album, and more of a Hindu song than a Christian one, which I like about it. This turned out to be the "hit" of the album, which makes sense as it was track four.

5. The Man Comes Around -- This Johnny Cash song was released within the two months that I was recording the album, so it's the newest one on here.

6. The Holy Ghost Song -- I don't know who wrote this song. It's an old song about the Holy Ghost, which is the hillbilly way of saying the Holy Spirit, so it's the term I prefer.

7. Goodbye, World, Goodbye -- This was the first I recorded for the record, a song by Hovie Lister, and it set the mood for the other songs: non-ironic, but not cheesy, and in my style. This one, which I'd always heard performed as extremely upbeat, was slowed down by me and ended up sounding like a suicide note by someone delusional enough to think they were immediately going to Heaven as soon as the overdose kicked in or whatever.

8. Jesus, Name Above All Names -- A song by Naida Hearn, chosen primarily for its prettiness.

9. Let My Love Open the Door -- Pete Townshend has lamented that this song about God ends up sounding like a sappy love song. It's a lament I wouldn't have.

10. To Know Him Is To Love Him -- A Phil Spector song (recorded by The Teddy Bears) and the first one on the album that certainly had nothing to do with God in the original incarnation, but my mother once had the idea that my sister and I should sing this at church (we never did), so I took her idea for this album.

11. Hosanna -- Two Andrew Lloyd Webber songs in one: one from his Requiem and the other from Jesus Christ Superstar. The latter is still my favorite version of the gospels (probably more than the gospels themselves) and was very influential in my early thought, so Webber (and Tim Rice) fit well here.

12. Jesus Was An Indie Rocker -- The first original song on the album, and probably the worst, but what are you gonna do? Sometimes I like the song, and sometimes I think it's flawed, which is why I was hesitant to even write one in the first place. Rather than being a moving or spiritual song, it does what I tend to do, which is bitch. In this case, I'm bitching about religious expectations, personal ones I found myself experiencing.

13. I Would Die 4 U -- A Prince and the Revolution song from the equally spiritual and sexy (not that the two are exactly distinct things) album Purple Rain, one of the first pieces of art that connected with me in a holy way.

14. The Halo -- The second original on the album, an instrumental this time to play it safe (unless you count the non-words I'm singing).

15. Put Your Hand In The Hand -- A song by Gene MacLellan, another of the old songs I grew up with, recorded in the most old-fashioned way I could pull off. Includes bottle blow.

16. Gone -- I don't know who wrote this song either. I think of my grandmother singing this song when I think of this one, though this version might have been too rocking even for her. I include an excerpt from Neutral Milk Hotel's "The King of Carrot Flowers" in this song.

17. Two-Headed Boy Part Two -- A song from my favorite album, Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, another song that wasn't necessarily meant as a God song, but I like to think of it as a gospel album. "The King of Carrot Flowers" (featured briefly above) would have been a more obvious choice (the one that screams "I love you, Jesus Christ"), but this one worked better for me.

18. Randy Described Eternity -- Certainly a non-God song originally, as recorded by Built To Spill, but they present a view of eternity (using a scenario I'd heard all my life, the one about swiping a giant sphere) that seemed to end the album well. A beautiful lie to the self: "I'm gonna be perfect from now on."



More info about the album, from which you can find more info about my excellent music! It's all been a scam!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Heaven Is For Realz, Yo!

Judging a Book...

I can't wait for the movie!I first saw the Todd Burpo book Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back on display several months ago at my favorite rink-a-dink bookstore. I thought the manager was just promoting some dumb little book he liked, so I picked it up, looked at the goofy kid on the cover, read the description on the back, snorted, and put it away.

If the book had just been what I initially thought it was -- some cutesy religious family story that no one was reading -- I would have left it alone. It wasn't written for me. I could (contrary to popular wisdom) tell everything I needed to know about it from the book cover and other trappings. Nearly every blurb is from some pastor or friend. The picture of the little boy who made the "trip to Heaven and back" is of a little buzz-cutted four-year-old, one whom you can easily imagine growing up to be a preacher who bases his ministry on this one event, an event he'd eventually have to be reminded about, since it all happened before he could retain much of his memory. (Mentally replace his sweater vest with a preacher suit and stick a Bible in his hand.) The abstract on the back of the book gives you all the relevant "evidence" that they're basing this trip to Heaven on, and it concludes with the sentence "Heaven Is for Real will forever change the way you think of eternity, offering the chance to see, and believe, like a child." Yeah, no it won't.

Within days of my seeing the book for the first time, I started seeing it everywhere. As it turns out, it had shot up to the top of the New York Times nonfiction bestsellers list pretty quickly after its publication, and it's still there at number one as I write this. So apparently people are reading this thing, and apparently it's a big deal. There's even a children's version of the book now.

I usually enjoy attacking stupid things that gain popularity and make tons of money, but I still felt a reluctance to attack this book. For one, it would mean I would have to read it. But even after I overcame that hurdle, there remained a reluctance to attack. It felt like attacking innocence itself. Then I realized that this was the problem: the innocence of a four-year-old boy had trickled up, not only to his father and family, but also to these hundreds of thousands of readers who were buying -- and "buying" -- this silly little book. (I borrowed my copy from the library, just so you know.) Innocence is charming in a child, but ignorance in an adult is less so, and widespread ignorance is intolerable. Besides, anyone publishing is opening themselves to argument, so -- finally -- I felt justified in doing my small part: throwing my tiny pebble at this Goliath of a book.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Parable of the Magic Kingdom

Once there was a father who took his son to the Magic Kingdom. The father was very excited to take him there, and he anticipated that the son's face would light up at the sight of it. But, upon viewing Cinderella's Castle at the entrance, the son seemed unimpressed. "What's wrong? Don't you like the castle?" the father asked. The son replied, "It's okay, but I can't wait to see the real castle."

While riding the Dumbo Ride, the son was similarly not thrilled. "What's wrong? Don't you like flying around like this?" the father asked. The son replied, "It's okay, but I can't wait to soar on a real flying elephant."

Throughout the day, the son couldn't said that he couldn't wait to really be shot into space while riding Space Mountain, couldn't wait to really travel the world and sing with children of every nation during "it's a small world," couldn't wait to meet a real group of ghosts while touring The Haunted Mansion, and couldn't wait for an actual Mad Tea Party.

"But these are the real things," his father finally said. "Why don't you enjoy them while we're here?" The son replied, "If I thought like you, I'd be truly miserable. Fortunately, I have hope that I will see the real Magic Kingdom one day."

At the end of the night, during the spectacular fireworks display, the son was scarcely paying attention. But at one point -- late in the show -- the dazzling colors in the sky, the emotional music, the smells of the park, the taste of the turkey leg from dinner still on his tongue, and the sweat cooling on his skin finally filled him with wonder and awe. He looked up at his father with tears in his eyes and said, "Forgive me, Father. I almost missed it entirely."