January 24, 2016

In the past few days, I’ve had several chance encounters with what seems to be an increasingly common interpretation among some Christians, relating to the teachings of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is, of course, one of the most recognizable sections of the New Testament and indeed the Bible itself, consisting of interrupted teaching material by Jesus, where he’s at his most poetic, radical and memorable. The particular set of teachings in question here is prefaced by (and… Read more

January 18, 2016

I’ve noticed recently that an old video from consummate magician/entertainer Penn Jillette has resurfaced again, making the social media rounds anew. In it, Penn talks about a time he was doing a meet-and-greet with fans after a show, when one of them came up and gave him a “Gideon pocket edition New Testament.” Penn starts off saying some complimentary things about the guy and his sincerity and kindness; and then eventually, Penn goes on to say that he doesn’t “respect people who don’t proselytize.” His ultimate point is that if you thought that someone really was destined for… Read more

January 11, 2016

  This is now, in effect, my third post—and hopefully the last one—in a series on the multifaceted and indeed counterintuitive early Israelite attitude toward child sacrifice, and how this is reflected in the Old Testament. I’ve tried to structure all these posts to stand alone, so you won’t have to go back and read the others. Unless, of course, you want to. Just a recap on the last post, then: this focused on the connection between Ezekiel 20:25 and 20:26, two verses that often have pride of place in… Read more

January 6, 2016

About a month ago, I wrote a post entitled “The Legacy of Child Sacrifice in Early Judaism and Christianity.” Although that post was ultimately intended to look at Israelite child sacrifice in a fairly broad context, one of its centerpieces was Ezekiel 20:25-26, which gives us some of the most unambiguous evidence of an originally positive attitude toward (firstborn) child sacrifice in early Jewish religion.¹ I looked at those verses at some length there; but still, there were a couple of things I left out, as well as other… Read more

December 30, 2015

  There are some people today—many, in fact—who believe that the Bible is totally without error, whether it be moral, historical, or even scientific error.¹ Now in some ways, this view may be on the decline, as more progressive and “personal” forms of Christianity become more popular around the world. Yet in other ways, it’s stronger than ever; and in fact there’s evidence that the doctrine of total Biblical inerrancy is indeed irreformable dogma in Catholicism.² Of course, for those who aren’t inerrantists, the very idea… Read more

December 15, 2015

(Some of the impetus for this post was inspired by a similar one on Reddit’s /r/Christianity from about a year ago. Since I mainly market my Patheos posts on that subreddit, well then…  if you’ve already seen the original one, just consider this a friendly yearly reminder.) Quite a few months ago, I was involved in an exchange that’s in some way stuck with me ever since, for several reasons relevant here. In discussing some of the teachings of the prominent 19th century German rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, someone wrote that “[p]rayer is more than… Read more

December 9, 2015

Yesterday I made a post questioning conspiracies and inaccuracies about the recent acquisition of National Geographic by 21st Century Fox—that crucial members of the NatGeo team were fired and that a new pro-supernatural/religion bias was rather immediately introduced into the magazine, etc. At least part of the post mentioned the most recent issue of the magazine, focusing on Christian veneration of Mary, the mother of Jesus, around the world. Judging by the vote count and comments on /r/atheism, my post was received rather tepidly. And while this wasn’t totally unexpected—we always… Read more

December 8, 2015

  The top of Reddit’s /r/atheism is currently graced by a post titled “WTF… National Geographic runs a 30-page story in the Dec. 2015 issue about the Virgin Mary & her alleged miracles,” linking to a Catholic news site that reports on the lead topic of the latest National Geographic issue. The top comment on the post reads “here’s why,” followed only by a link to an article reporting on the recent acquisition of National Geographic by 21st Century Fox, the massive media corporation founded by conservative bogeyman Rupert Murdoch. Other comments bemoan this new (purported) religious turn or legitimization of Christianity…. Read more

November 30, 2015

  “Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum…” In this post I want explore how in the earliest strata of Israelite religion, it was understood that the Jewish god, YHWH/Elohim, commanded ritual sacrifice of the firstborn child from his followers—and that this was not originally considered a heterodox rite, but indeed what we’d call an “orthodox” or official part of the Jewish religion of the time.¹ This idea is sometimes thought to be so inherently implausible that it’s often assumed (erroneously) to be a fringe theory by non-academic audiences.² In this particular case, it also doesn’t help… Read more

November 19, 2015

Over at Unfundamentalist Christians, Chuck Queen has written a post questioning whether Christians necessarily have to believe in the “second coming” of Christ as an integral part of their faith. The second coming is, of course, the idea that at the “end of history”—whenever that may be—Jesus will make his grand return to earth to… well, to do several different things, not all of them good. Queen refers to a few different verses in the New Testament itself that unambiguously suggest that the authors of these texts expected the second coming to take… Read more

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