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February 22, 2007

Tithes

With megachurches increasing the traditional 10% tithe to 15%, Benny Hinn becoming a multimillionaire out of preaching, I think it's time to look at what the Bible actually says about tithing.

Deuteronomy, Chapter 14, 22-29, King James Version:

22 Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year.
23 And thou shalt eat before the LORD thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the LORD thy God always.
24 And if the way be too long for thee, so that thou art not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from thee, which the LORD thy God shall choose to set his name there, when the LORD thy God hath blessed thee:
25 Then shalt thou turn it into money, and bind up the money in thine hand, and shalt go unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose:
26 And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household,
27 And the Levite that is within thy gates; thou shalt not forsake him; for he hath no part nor inheritance with thee.
28 At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates:
29 And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest.

In other words, keep back a portion of your food, and eat it in a feast dedicated to the lord. Invite the poor and the preists ("the Levites" were the priest caste).

Numbers 18:26 clarifies how much the priests should get of this money held back:

26. Thus speak unto the Levites, and say unto them, When ye take of the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then ye shall offer up an heave offering of it for the LORD, even a tenth part of the tithe.

Not a tenth part of your income! A tenth part of the money and goods held back for this grand celebration.

Worse, why have a lot of modern churches upped even the semi-traditional (if unjustified) 10% to 15%? How on earth can they justify this?

...I suppose, in the end, it comes down to this: not only is 15% tithes unbiblical, and motivated by sheer greed, even the traditional 10% tithe isn't biblical, though there is a reasonable case for 10% towards charity and fellowship (a party being fellowship, and inviting the poor, widows, and so on to the feast being charity). If the church is highly active in charity, and has a strong social aspect not given over to somberness ("thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household"), it may be justifiable as a modern interpretation of the older social format, and 10% might be appropriate. If it is not, particularly if the pastor is getting rich off of it, then this church is failing at the basic reasons for a church to exist: fellowships and good works. It is thus a scam, a hypocrite, and motivated by greed.

March 6, 2007

The Problem of Evil

"Mama, he says himself that all troubles and pains and miseries and rotten diseases and horrors and villainies are sent to us in mercy and kindness to discipline us; and he says it is the duty of every father and mother to help Providence, every way they can; and says they can't do it by just scolding and whipping, for that won't answer, it is weak and no good -- Providence's way is best, and it is every parent's duty and every person's duty to help discipline everybody, and cripple them and kill them, and starve them, and freeze them, and rot them with diseases, and lead them into murder and theft and dishonor and disgrace; and he says Providence's invention for disciplining us and the animals is the very brightest idea that ever was, and not even an idiot could get up anything shinier. Mamma, brother Eddie needs disciplining, right away: and I know where you can get the smallpox for him, and the itch, and the diphtheria, and bone-rot, and heart disease, and consumption, and -- Dear mamma, have you fainted! I will run and bring help! Now this comes of staying in town this hot weather."
-Mark Twain, Little Bessie Would Assist Providence

Is the "Problem of Evil" really compatible with omniscience and omnipotence? Let's consider the options:

1. The omniscient, omnipotent deity allows evil to happen because he doesn't really care about it, or is, in fact, evil. A possible answer, but not one that's compatible with most religion.
2. It's all for a higher purpose, to punish us. I can't help but think Twain's satire is all the refutation of that needed.
3. It's all to test our faith. This would make said omniscient, omnipotent being a sadist. Anyway, wouldn't he already know the result if he was omniscient under most definitions of the term?
4. It's all unknowable. Why?
5. Free will. There are several sub-possibilities

5a. When combined with the standard "he creates us individually" arguement, this means that the deity is creating people he knows will turn out to be evil. This again hits the problem of the sadist god.
5b. If the deity doesn't create people individually, then we still run into problems: Do diseases have free will? If not, why does the deity allow them? Are accidents important parts of free will? Is it restricting free will to prevent a car hitting an icy patch that sends it careening off the road? There's a lot of suffering out there that has nothing whatsoever to do with free will.
5c. Looking at willful acts, we still hit problems. At the Columbine High School Massacre, several bombs failed to explode, which prevented the massacre being even worse. Isn't this, and any other event that prevents anything being even worse than it is, an implicit restriction on free will? And if it's acceptable, why shouldn't all human-led acts of that sort be similarly restricted? Why shouldn't acts of great evil be blocked at every turn, with, say, passports of the 9/11 hijackers having gone missing, so they couldn't board? Hitler having a sudden heart attack?

6. In the manner of Krishna, the universe is merely the biological processes of a giant being. I'm actually rather enamoured by this option, but it's hard to see why a specific actin fibre, even a single neuron should expect the body to care about it than any other protein or cell.
7. Any higher beings that have any real interaction with us are not omnipotent, and have extremely limited omniscience, if any. I honestly can't see any other option than this, and thus am forced to reject most of the glib assumptions of standard religious faiths.


March 15, 2007

Quick links for Thursday

Noteworthy things I've read today:
Digby on religious literacy in the US.
Amanda Marcotte on guns, bad faith arguments and pleasure as a positive good.

April 24, 2007

Bill O'Reilly's interview of Richard Dawkins

Bill O'Reilly, an American right-wing pundit recently interviewed Richard Dawkins about the God Delusion. There's a Youtube video here

I think what's most surprising is how nice things were. Yes, most of O'Reilly's points were pretty stupid, but he was calm, polite, and in the end said "I will say, your book is fascinating and thank you for coming on here." O'Reilly's views are probably not far off from a good proportion of his audience's, so having them brought out in the open and the reasons why they're wrong explained politely can only increase the acceptance of atheists and agnostics in America. Given the recent incident of atheists being hounded out of their home and job, this can only be good.

...This was a surprising polite debate, covering some of the (very) basic main points, and letting Dawkins have his say more than I expected. O'Reilly obviously differs strongly from Dawkins, but must deserve credit for allowing - even fostering - debate on his show. Good on him.

-Adam

July 29, 2007

Harry Potter and the Botherers of God

While we're on the subject of Harry Potter (and I suspect we will be for a little longer), Sara Robinson at Orcinus wrote a good piece on why fundamentalists are so bothered by myth-and-magic stories in general and Harry Potter in particular:

The common thread that runs through all of these is magic. And that, I think, is the real burr that gets under fundamentalist saddles. In fundieland, magic is the most frightening and legitimate of all the competing myth systems -- the Devil's own preferred alternative to prayer and submission. Other belief systems (Buddhism, Hinduism, the Greek myths) are viewed as sad and rather pathetically delusional; but anything that smacks of magic is feared as actively Satanic.

Why is magic such a hot button? The reasons go to the heart of fundamentalist theology. At their core, fundamentalists believe that humans are wretched creatures who aren't really even human unless touched by God's grace. (And, yes, this does mean that those of us who are unsaved can rightly be considered subhuman.) We cannot do anything right; we do not deserve to have control over our own affairs; and any notion that we have intrinsic power to achieve good in the world (or even the authority to define "good" or "bad" on our own terms) is a diabolical delusion. Left to our own devices, we will not only screw it up for ourselves; we will ultimately ensure the Devil his victory over the world -- including them -- as well.

Implicit in this is the idea that all authority is necessarily, rightfully external. The fate of the entire world depends on how completely we can give up our desire to control our destinies, and submit to God and his appointed earthly overseers. This obsession with the need for external authority is, in a nutshell, is why fundamentalism is a form of religious authoritarianism.

Stories about magic openly defy this whole belief system. Magic-using characters like Harry usurp the supernatural power and prerogatives of God -- a sufficient heresy in its own right. But it's worse than that: they're also exercising their own internal authority, and acting out of their own agency. And that's the last thing fundamentalists want their children -- or anyone else -- learning how to do.

That's why we're hearing all the shrieking hysterics from the fundie side.

Read the rest, and read the comments, as Orcinus is one of those sites where the quality of commentary is usually high.

August 4, 2007

Can the rest of us have our planet back?

Hear Marcus Brigstocke have a good rant about the Abrahamic religions. Or watch it on Youtube with amateurish but still entertaining graphics.

Or, if you're really in a hurry, read a transcript.
Via Pete Ashton by way of Squeezypaws.

February 15, 2008

Saudi government to execute "witch" after extracted confession

I've seen a lot of justified outrage over this: The trial and conviction of an illiterate woman as a witch in Saudi Arabia. Yes, the Saudi legal system and government really are that backward, vicious and barbaric. As Human Rights Watch writes in its original report on the case:

The religious police who arrested and interrogated Fawza Falih and the judges who tried her in the northern town of Quraiyat never gave her the opportunity to prove her innocence against absurd charges that have no basis in law.

“The fact that Saudi judges still conduct trials for unprovable crimes like ‘witchcraft’ underscores their inability to carry out objective criminal investigations,” said Joe Stork, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Fawza Falih’s case is an example of how the authorities failed to comply even with existing safeguards in the Saudi justice system.”

The judges relied on Fawza Falih’s coerced confession and on the statements of witnesses who said she had “bewitched” them to convict her in April 2006. She retracted her confession in court, claiming it was extracted under duress, and that as an illiterate woman she did not understand the document she was forced to fingerprint. She also stated in her appeal that her interrogators beat her during her 35 days in detention at the hands of the religious police. At one point, she had to be hospitalized as a result of the beatings.

The judges never investigated whether her confession was voluntary or reliable or investigated her allegations of torture. They never even made an inquiry as to whether she could have been responsible for allegedly supernatural occurrences, such as the sudden impotence of a man she is said to have “bewitched.” They also broke Saudi law in multiple instances, ignoring legal rules on proper procedures in a trial.

The judges did not sit as a panel of three, as required for cases involving the death penalty. They excluded Fawza Falih from most trial sessions and banned a relative who was acting as her legal representative from attending any session. Earlier, her interrogators blocked her access to a lawyer and the judges, and denied her the right to professional legal representation, thus depriving her of the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses against her. She claims that some of the witnesses were unknown to her and that others had made statements against her only as a result of beatings.

As I say, the outrage is justified, and Saudi-Arabia deserves widespread condemnation and ridicule. However, condemnation and ridicule aren't going to stop Fawza Falih from getting executed. So I've been asking myself and others "what are we going to do about this?"

And I don't have an answer. It's easy to think of fun things you can do to protest. We could threaten to reprint cartoons representing the prophet Mohammed until the Saudis relent, or we could boycott Saudi oil until you forgetthey relent, or, and I should stress that my next suggestion won't be any less feasible than the previous ones, we could collectively travel back in time to September 12, 2001 and put that loathsome backwater in our crosshairs along with Afghanistan and instead of Iraq.

The only thing I can think of that ordinary people can do is to talk to both the Saudi government and their own. Write letters to your Saudi consulate or embassy, write to your MP/congressman/whatever, write to your Foreign Secretary, and tell them, politely (in other words, don't borrow phrasing from this blog post), why you think Fawza Falih should not be executed. Unfortunately, neither HRW nor Amnesty International provide ready templates, but you and I can do this in our own words. Campaign.

By the way... I'm not suggesting that this is the only thing that can be done. Just that I can't think of anything else, but this is likely to be a failure of my own imagination as much as anything else. If you have a better idea, or even a hare-brained idea that might lead us to a better one, tell me. reinder.dijkhuis@gmail.com.

Contact info for the Saudi embassy in the Netherlands
HRW's letter to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

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