Wacky White Wednesday #12: Prohibition Will Totally Work

Christian Temperance and Bible Hygiene p.29

So long as the sale of liquor is sanctioned by law, the victims of appetite can receive but little benefit through inebriate asylums. They cannot remain there always; they must again take their place in society. The appetite for intoxicating drinks, though it may be subdued, is not wholly destroyed; and when temptation assails them, as it must on every hand, they too often fall an easy prey.

 

What can be done to press back the in-flowing tide of evil? Let laws be enacted and rigidly enforced prohibiting the sale and use of ardent spirits as a beverage. Let every effort be made to encourage the inebriate’s return to temperance and virtue. but even more than this is needed to banish the curse of inebriety from our land. Let the appetite for intoxicating liquors be removed, and the demand for them is at an end.

 

If this were written by any other author, I would dismiss it. But this is a woman who claims to have had visions from God, telling her the future.

Ellen did not live to see prohibition. She did not live to see that it did not work, that people wanted their booze, legality be damned.

When the sale and use of liquor was prohibited, the demand did not go away.

You’d think that God would have shown her all that?

Ellen White may have gotten a lot of things right. Nevertheless, she was a product of her time. Nothing more, nothing less.

Case for Christ Chapter 1 Part 3 (end Chapter 1)

Trigger warning: Holocaust appropriation

Last week, if you recall, we left off with the author interviewing Dr. B about the reliability of the gospels. We just established that they were totes written by who they are claimed to be, and that now we are discussing a little bit about the gospel of John is different from the other 3 gospels.

 

After some more discussion about Jesus’ claims to divinity in the 3 synoptic gospels, talk again turns to GJohn.

“Doesn’t the fact that John was writing with more of a theological bent mean that his historical material may have been tainted and therefore less reliable?”

Dr. B starts talking about how GJohn is not more theological than the other 3 gospels. The author and I both recognize this as not really answering the question, so the author presses the point.

“Ok, but don’t those theological motivations cast doubt on their ability and willingness to report what actually happened? Isn’t it likely that their theological agenda would prompt them to color and twist the history they recorded?”

Finally, a good question!

Dr. B admits that the possibility exists. However, his response is that just because it could happen doesn’t mean it did happen. Which…. I guess? I mean, sure, maybe the actual writer of GJohn wasn’t twisting things, either on purpose or by accident. That doesn’t mean his gospel didn’t get some slight editing at some point. A word or two here and there across the centuries…. it sounds like a little thing, but huge fights can break out over the wording in just one bible verse. I’m not kidding.

I smiled. “I suppose you could say that makes everything suspect,” I suggested.

“Yes, at one level it does,” Dr. B replied. “But if we can reconstruct reasonably accurate history from all kinds of other ancient sources, we ought to be able to do that from the gospels, even though they too are ideological.”

But how do you find out if the gospels are historically reliable? Are there any sources outside the biblical cannon that corroborate the things said in the 4 Biblical gospels? What other ancient sources confirm these?

The author doesn’t ask these questions, and I am once again disappointed by his lack of asking any questions that I would.

If Dr. B had stopped talking here, I could maybe concede the point. I could at least move on without getting angry at him. But he goes on talking.

Dr. B thought for a moment…finally he said, “Here’s a modern parallel, from the experience of the Jewish community, that might clarify what I mean.

Some people, usually for anti Semitic purposes, deny or downplay the horrors of the holocaust. But it has been the Jewish scholars who’ve created museums, written books, preserved artifacts, and documented eyewitness testimony concerning the Holocaust.

I’m sure this is somewhat true-I’m sure a lot of Jews have created museums and contributing testimony-I’m really glad that they are doing that. I have no problem with Holocaust history coming from the Jews, because it’s their story to tell and we desperately need their perspective.

However, I wonder if it is true that the majority of museums, books, and other artifacts are from Jews. I highly doubt that Jews are the only ones studying the Holocaust. I am not going to look up every single Holocaust museum and see who owns it and what their religion is. That would be tedious, also, I really don’t care. I just wonder how true this claim of Dr. B’s is.

Now, they [the Jews] have an ideological purpose–namely, to ensure that such an atrocity never occurs again–but they have also been the most faithful and objective in their reporting of historical truth.

Christianity was likewise based on certain historical claims that God uniquely entered into space and time in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, so the very ideology that Christians were trying to promote required as careful historical work as possible.

He let his analogy sink in. Turning to face me more directly, he asked, “Do you see my point?”

I nodded to indicate that I did.

I am hugely uncomfortable with this. I don’t like Holocaust appropriation, and I certainly don’t like the way it is being used here. Dr. B is essentially saying, “if you think the gospel writers were biased, then you also have to admit that the Jews might be a little bit biased, too.”

And I am not ok with that.

Set that aside. Let’s see exactly how well this analogy works. See, the thing about the Holocaust is that, for now, there are still people alive who remember it. Not only do we have actual eyewitnesses, we have other evidence outside the eyewitness testimony that corroborates that. I could book a trip and go tour Auschwitz(sp). At one point, the crematoriums probably still existed, and people saw them. . There is lots of evidence that the Holocaust happened, and that it was horrific. Even if the Jews weren’t telling their story, we would still know about the Holocaust (though I will concede that we may not know the extent of the horrors thereof.)

Can we say the same thing about the Bible? That’s debatable, and I’d be interested in hearing from both sides. But the author isn’t doing that. He’s only presenting one side.

There’s a section break, the title of the next section is:

 

HOT NEWS FROM HISTORY

Having established that the gospels were totally written by eyewitnesses, the author turns his attention to when the gospels were written. At some point, I should seriously pick a less biased book to review, because this would be very interesting if both sides were being presented. But this book is an attempt to convert people, so we only get one side.

The author asks Dr. B if he thinks the gospels were reliably preserved. Since stories were mostly handed down by oral tradition, he argues, things could have changed a little in the time it took the gospel writers to actually write this shit down.

That’s a very valid argument.

The author quotes from a book in which the author states that GMark wasn’t written until the year 70AD. If you remember from Bible class, Jesus died circa AD30. This is a time gap of approximately 40 years, which seems rather significant.

The author is talking:

“Some scholars say the gospels were written so far after the events that legend developed and distorted what was finally written down, turning Jesus from merely a wise teacher into a mythological Son of God. Is that a reasonable hypothesis, or is there good evidence that the gospels were recorded earlier than that, before legend could corrupt what was ultimately recorded?”

Oh good, I think. They’re going to go into a lot of detail about why exactly GMark is thought to have been written in AD70, then refute it.

What actually happens is a let down.

Dr. B says there is evidence that the gospels were written much earlier, but even if they were not, he still thinks the argument isn’t valid.

“The standard scholarly dating, even in very liberal circles, is Mark in the 70s, Matthew and Luke in the 80s, and John in the 90s. But listen: That’s still within the lifetimes of various eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus, including hostile eyewitnesses who would have served as a corrective if false teachings about Jesus were going around.”

People do live that long, but I wonder if they were living that long in AD30. Weren’t lifespans drastically shorter back then? You probably would not have as many people living into their 60s in the ancient world as we do now.

Set that aside, it’s irrelevant. What I want to focus on is “hostile eyewitnesses” that Dr. B is talking about. I have no doubt there were some such people…but would they have served as much of a corrective against false teachings? Well, in today’s world, maybe. In today’s world they could write books, start blogs, talk about it on social media.

But in Jesus’ time period? What even was the literacy rate at that time? How many of these hostile eyewitnesses could even read? Sure, you’d get a lot of people saying “bullshit, I was there,” but ultimately history remembers that which is written down. So unless somebody sat down and wrote about Mark being a false gospel, no, I don’t  believe that these hostile eyewitnesses would have served as “a corrective.” At least, not in the long run.

That being said, it is possible that some of these “hostile witnesses” did write books to correct the lies in the canonical gospels. However, Dr. B dismisses these as “fanciful apocryphal gospels,” and so in his mind, they don’t count.

Dr. B is still talking. He says that the dates for the gospels aren’t really that late, and then compares the gospels to the books about Alexander the Great.

“The two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written by Arrian and Plutarch more than 4 hundred thousand years after Alexander’s death in 323 BC, yet historians consider them to be generally trustworthy. Yes, legendary material about Alexander did develop over time, but it was only in the centuries after these 2 writers.

In other words, the first 500 years kept Alexander’s story pretty much intact. Legendary material began to emerge over the next 500 years. So whether the gospels were written 60 years or 30 years after the life of Jesus, the amount of time is negligible by comparison. It’s almost a non issue.

This didn’t sound right to me, so I looked it up. It turns out to be a half truth. Yes, the earliest books we have about Alexander the Great are written by Arrian and Plutarch. However, what the author of this book is not telling us is that Arrian and Plutarch were quoting from earlier books that had been written during Alexander’s lifetime. Unfortunately, we do not have copies of these earlier biographies of Alexander. I think we have fragments, but not the whole books. For further reading, see this link. And this one.

I’ve also been reading that some historians do doubt that Arrian and Plutarch are all that reliable, though I don’t know how true that is.

So, Dr. B and the author of this book are giving us a half truth, at best.

Now, I don’t want to outright call Strobel a Lying McLiarpants, but at the very least this is sloppy journalism. And if this is the type of journalism I can come to expect, why should I read the rest of your book?

The author is still asking about the dates the gospels were written. Dr. B thinks the gospels were written much earlier than most scholars believe.

We can support that by looking at the book of Acts, which was written by Luke. Acts ends apparently unfinished-Paul is a central figure of the book, and he’s under house arrest in Rome. With that the book abruptly halts. What happens to Paul? We don’t find out from Acts, presumably because the book was written before Paul was put to death.”

Dr. B was getting more wound up as he went. “That means Acts cannot be dated any later than AD 62. Having established that, we can then move backward from there. Since Acts is the second of a 2 part work, we know the first part–the gospel of Luke–must have been written earlier than that. And since Luke incorporates part of the gospel of Mark, that means Mark is even earlier.”

Dr. Be goes on to say that he believes Mark was written in AD60, with a 30 year gap between the events and the time they were written down.

He sat back in his chair with an air of triumph. “Historically speaking, especially compared with Alexander the Great,” he said, “that’s like a newsflash!”

Ummmm from what I have been reading, Alexander the Great had someone writing about his exploits as he was doing them. It really is too bad we only have fragments of these early writings about him.

So no, Dr. B, that’s not a newsflash. Also, it does not take 500 years for legends to spring up around a person. Remember George Washington and the cherry tree? Yeah, that never happened. George Washington is only 280 years dead, so clearly it takes less time than 500 years for false hoods and legends to spring up. (In fact, I read an article online suggesting that this myth was created a mere 7 years after GW’s death, though I can’t verify that.)

Next the author asks Dr. B about when people began to believe certain things about Jesus, for example, in what year did people start to believe he was resurrected?

To summarize, Dr. B reads 1 Corinthians 15, and says that oh yeah, early Christians totally believed Jesus was sent to die for our sins, that he was the son of God, that he was resurrected.

I have read this argument 3 times and I still don’t get it.

“Here’s the point….if the crucifixion was as early as AD30, Paul’s conversion was about 32. Immediately Paul was ushered into Damascus, where he met with a Christian named Ananias and some other disciples. His first meeting with the apostles in Jerusalem would have been AD35. At some point along there, Paul was given his creed, which had already been formulated and was being used in the early church.

Now, here you have the key facts about Jesus’ death for our sins, plus a detailed list of those to whom he appeared in resurrected form–all dating back to within 2-5 years of the events themselves!

Wait, huh? I have to say, the more I read this, the more I remain utterly baffled. Is it just me, or is Dr. B stretching a little?

Dr. B goes on

“That’s not later mythology from 40 or more years down the road…a good case can be made for saying that Christian belief in the Resurrection, though not yet written down, can be dated to within 2 years of that very event. This is enormously significant, he said, his voice rising a bit in emphasis. “Now you’re not comparing 30 to 60 years with the 500 years that’s generally acceptable for other data–you’re talking about 2!”

Um, what? No, 500 years is not what is generally acceptable for other data. If I want to write about an event that happened 500 years ago, I need to go find primary sources.

The author accepts all this as proof that the early Christians believed in the resurrection. This is important because some say that belief in the resurrection developed over time, and was not something the early Christians believed in at all. Apparently that was one of the author’s huge stumbling blocks to accepting Christianity: he was sure that the belief in the resurrection of Jesus was a result of the legends and myths that would have circulated over time. His mind is BLOWN.

My mind is not. It is very possible that the early Christians did believe that Jesus was resurrected. Does that make this belief true? Well, no. Just because a bunch of people believed it a long time ago doesn’t make it true.

The author of the book ends the chapter here, thinking it’s a good place to pause.

Now, I have done some reading, and one of the articles I read claimed that Dr. B claims to have been misquoted all over the place in this book. Exactly how he was misquoted wasn’t stated, and I do not know how true the claim is. Take it with a grain of salt. (Or a whole shaker.)  Since I can not know the veracity of the claim, I am merely going to note it and move on. (You may have noticed I have been a little bit kinder when writing these blog posts, just in case the claim is true.)

The author has posted discussion questions at the end of each chapter. I’m going to post the questions here, and then my responses will be in a separate blog post, which will get posted later.

That’s it for this post. I’ll try to get chapter 2 (or part of it, at least) up soon.

Deliberations

(Questions for Reflection or Group Study)

  1. How have your opinions been influenced by someone’s eyewitness account of an event? What are some factors you routinely use to evaluate whether someone’s story is honest and accurate? How do you think the gospels would stand up to that kind of scrutiny?
  2. Do you believe that the gospels can have a theological agenda while at the same time being trustworthy in what they report? Why or why not? Do you find Blomberg’s Holocaust analogy helpful in thinking through this issue?
  3. How and why does Blomberg’s description of the early information about Jesus affect your opinion about the reliability of the gospels?

A Mountain To Climb Chapter 10: She Did

Last week, we left off with the medic being unable to find Pearl’s pulse. What happened? Did she lose consciousness and die? Can you be alive without a pulse? For how long?

These questions will not be answered in this book. Also, I lied, because this isn’t the chapter where we find out if Pearl’s alive. I keep forgetting that the author keeps switching perspective.

Which, to her credit, is done well. The author has a good sense of timing and pacing, and knows where to end her chapters and where to place the cliffhanger. I can not say the same for a lot of other Christian books, and I want to note that this is done well.

Back at Caribbean Training College the prayers continued. Never had the teachers seen anything like it. Students were making wrongs right, becoming reconciled to each other and the faculty. There was no loud, boisterous talking, no foolish jesting, just the constant pleading, “Please save Pearl’s leg and make her well, if it is Thy will.”

We are meant to see this as a time of spiritual revival…. this doesn’t work for me. Students are not making wrongs right because they are being convicted that they have done wrong. They are making wrongs right because they are scared that if they don’t, they will be the ones responsible for, at best, Pearl losing a leg. Whenever they see Pearl afterward, they would see her lost leg, a constant reminder of the sin they forgot to confess.

So no, I don’t find this inspiring, I find it horrifying. What kind of a monster are they praying to?

Anyway, we are told that at this point, Pearl has been in the hospital for 3 months. Seems like an important detail to have left out.

Arthur is meeting up with some of the other men under a tree in the hills to pray for Pear.

“I can’t feel that it’s God’s will for Pearl to become a cripple,”Aaron said. “This experience is probably for us as much as for Pearl.”

Yes. God gave Pearl this experience to teach the students a lesson. That is not at all horrifying. And yet, it is common for an Adventist, and possibly even a non SDA Christian, to think this way.

“I’m sure there’s a lesson in it for us,” Arthur agreed. “It seems as if the students are closer to God now than they ever were during the Week of Prayer.”

No, no they are not. The students are praying under duress. They feel like, if they do not get closer to God, their friend will not be healed.

If I put a gun to your best friend’s head, (let’s call your best friend Jane), and tell you that if you become my best friend, if you make me your closest confidant, I won’t shoot Jane, what am I doing? Are you going to become my best friend? Are you going to make me your closest confidant? Well, sure….until I take the gun away from Jane’s head. Then what?

But in that scenario, you weren’t really my best friend. You were only pretending to be so I wouldn’t shoot Jane in the face.

And so not only does this tactic not work, it only pretends to work temporarily.

And any God who would require this sort of thing out of his followers is not a deity I could worship. Because this kind of God is an asshole. Actually, asshole is too nice a word for that, but set it aside.

Arthur says that maybe the students didn’t bare their souls enough toward God during the week of prayer that happened like 6-9 months ago, and he stops short of saying that that’s why this is happening….

Not even the author wants to finish that thought. Instead we get this.

The men read several promises from the Bible; then they knelt for prayer. When they had finished, each looked at the others with awed expressions.

I highlighted this because it made me snicker. Because I am 12.

I get that it can be hard to portray a religious experience in writing. So for the record, I’m glad the author doesn’t try. That being said… this doesn’t work for me. Why were they looking at each other with awed expressions? What were they feeling? What did they experience?

I have always said that it would be better to not attempt to do this than to try to do this and fail, so I will not knock the author too much. I’d rather be a little bit confused than sit here cringing at every sentence, which is what usually ends up happening because usually authors who try to describe a religious experience end up doing it badly. Usually I give points for trying, but in this case, I give points for not trying.

Then we get….this.

Arthur was the first to speak. “Pearl will not have the operation, I’m sure. I know the Lord has heard us, for just now He told me so.”

Ah yes. “God” told me many things, too. Not all of them turned out to actually be true.

Reuel cut in eagerly, “I feel the same way. I’m sure God spoke to me just now. Pearl will get better.”

“And I have had the same experience,” Victor added.

“I have too.” Harvey nodded his head as if to assure himself that he really had heard an answer from the Lord.

Reuben didn’t speak for several seconds. The others waited. When at last he spoke, it was a whisper. “Our prayers have been answered.”

Do you see what’s happening here? Let me spell it out for you: nobody wants to admit that the Lord didn’t speak to them, so they’re all just agreeing with each other.  This is called “Group think.” As I no longer have my psychology textbook with me, here’s the definition from Wikipedia:

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.

Now, it is possible that each of the men wanted so badly for Pearl to be healed that they believed God told them she would be. But I think it far more likely that Arthur wanted very badly for Pearl to be healed, and he convinced himself that God told him she would be.

Nobody wanted to disagree with Arthur. Not only that, nobody wanted to be the odd man out. Nobody wanted to admit that God hadn’t spoken to him, because that could make for some awkward conversation. It could result in him being ostracized from the group. It could lead to rumors starting that the person in question hadn’t confessed all his sins, which would then start rumors about what exactly those sins could be.

And so no one says anything.

All this, of course, is assuming that this event actually happened as described. In reality it may have played out differently. But I am not concerned at this moment with what actually happened. I am only concerned with reviewing this book. I’m not going to try and speculate too much on what really happened. Not yet, anyway.

The boys decide to go tell the others, but then Aaron says that hey, maybe we should stop and thank Jesus for saving Pearl’s leg and life. Makes sense.

They all dropped to their knees again, this time to offer quite a different prayer.

When they get up, someone asks what time it is. It’s 11:30.

“Just about 20 minutes ago we all had the conviction that God had heard and answered our prayers. That was the very hour scheduled for the operation.”

11:00, 11:10….. pretty much the same time, right? Sure. I’ll allow it.

“Let’s tell the rest of the students, then meet in the chapel at 12 for a praise service.”

They’re….gonna hold a praise service…without first figuring out if they’re right. What….what…. that is not the way it happened at my academy.

The students all eat dinner, and then thank the cook for the excellent food. This makes the cook’s day, and is a very nice gesture.

Arthur, Aaron, and Victor decide to try and visit Pearl in the hospital. The principal gives the ok, and they all go. On the way, the principal tells them that he is as positive as Arthur is that Pearl won’t have had the operation. Oh boy. It’s one thing for the students to delude themselves, but the teachers should be a little more reserved.

They reach the hospital and ask at the front desk if they can see Pearl.

“I’m sorry, but Pearl had an operation this morning, and I’m sure she isn’t awake yet. No, you won’t be able to see her.”

What?! What is… is… is this a plot twist? Is this not actually going to be the predictable outcome I thought it would?

Tune in next week to hopefully find out.

 

Wacky White Wednesday #11 Mental Inebriates

I’m cutting stuff out for brevity. I encourage you to read the context, that you may know that Ellen is spending an entire chapter of this book talking about the evils of reading fiction.

Christian Temperance and Bible Hygiene

Chapter 15

 

What shall our children read? It is a serious question, and demands a serious answer. I am troubled to see, in Christian families, periodicals and newspapers containing continued stories that leave no impress of good upon the mind.

I have watched those whose taste for fiction has been thus cultivated. They….live in an unreal world, and are unfitted for the practical duties of life. I have observed children allowed to come up in this way. Whether at home or abroad, they are either restless or dreamy, and are unable to converse, save upon the most common-place subjects. …

The mental food, for which he has acquired a relish, is contaminating in its effects, and leads to impure and sensual thoughts….

[The Youth] cannot be truly Christ-like, and continue to feed the mind upon this class of literature. Nor is the physical effect less disastrous. The nervous system is unnecessarily taxed by this passion for reading. In some cases, youth and even those of mature age, have been afflicted with paralysis from no other cause than excess in reading. The mind was kept under constant excitement, until the delicate machinery of the brain became so weakened that it could not act, and paralysis was the result.

When an appetite for exciting, sensational stories is cultivated, the moral taste becomes perverted, and the mind is  unsatisfied unless constantly fed upon this trashy, unwholesome food.

I have seen young ladies…who were really unhappy unless they had on hand some new novel or story-paper. The mind craved stimulation, as the drunkard craves intoxicating drink….I am pained to see young men and women thus ruining their usefulness in this life, and failing to obtain an experience that will prepare them for an eternal life in heavenly society. We can find no more fit name for them than “mental inebriates.” Intemperate habits of reading exert a pernicious influence upon the brain as surely as does intemperance in eating or drinking.

 

Ellen then goes on for a while about the importance of Bible reading. It’s fairly standard Christianity, and thus we are skipping over it.

 

A Mountain To Climb Chapter 9: I’m Ready

In the last chapter, we showed that the students at Caribbean Training College are praying like the devil himself is after them. Now we return to Pearl, who is in the hospital suffering greatly.

The doctors and nurses did all they could to relieve the pain. When Monday dawned, Pearl felt that she would die. The searing agony shot up her leg, making the bones ache.

“Can’t you operate today?” She pleaded. “I can’t stand it any longer!”

It’s a good question: why can’t they operate today? What is the doctor doing that he needs to wait two whole days to operate? Pearl’s very life hangs in the balance. The longer they wait to operate, the greater the chance the infection will spread. When that happens, Pearl could fucking die. I could understand waiting 12 hours or so to make sure Pearl has digested anything that she’s eaten or drunk. But other than that, I can’t see a good reason to wait so long.

Mrs. Smith tells Pearl that they can’t do the operation today because the specialist hasn’t arrived yet.

Wait, so, I’m confused: The doctor at this hospital isn’t equipped to do the surgery? Wasn’t amputation kind of a basic operation? Are doctors not able to do any surgery at all by themselves? What if someone a burst appendix comes in, are they going to have to bring in a specialist for that too?

Set that aside. I didn’t catch this on the first read through, but the incompetent doctor in the next few chapters is probably not the same asshole Pearl has been seeing. So, maybe the first doctor wasn’t incompetent, just an asshole.

Mrs. Smith tells Pearl about the pray-a-thon (no the book doesn’t call it that) at the school. Pearl chokes out a thank you, and Mrs. Smith reads Bible promises to Pearl.

I will always be grateful that when Adventists did visit me in a hospital, nobody read me the Bible. For future reference, please don’t. Ever. Read me Star Wars. Star Wars is a lot more comforting.

Pearl tells Mrs. Smith that the students’ prayers are helping her.

And you know what, I believe it. No I don’t  believe there’s a deity using the power of the students’ prayers to help Pearl. BUT the fact that the whole student body is rallying behind her, the fact that that many people are praying for her, well, that would send a message to someone. It would send a message to Pearl that her fellow students are in her corner. This large pray-a-thon is a show of support. And that is probably exactly what Pearl needs at the moment.

We are told that restful sleep was impossible, but that Pearl dozed off and on all day. When she is awake, someone reads to her from the Bible. Don’t they own any other books?

At 10am, the nurse comes to prepare Pearl for the operation. Pearl is feeling quite optimistic. She is sure that afterward her suffering will be over.

The nurse finished with the preparations and then took Pearl’s temperature and blood pressure. Both were normal.

I am highlighting this, because it will be important in….I dunno, chapter 11? There are a lot of chapters in this book that could have been condensed into section breaks.

Pearl begs Mrs. Smith to read her more “Bible promises.” I get that some people find the Bible comforting, but hasn’t she had enough of that yet?

“My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in Glory by Jesus Christ.

“That must be especially for you, Pearl,” Mrs. Hamilton said. “God is able to supply the courage you need just now. He’ll take care of you through the next few hours.”

Yes, God put that verse in the Bible just for Pearl. Who, by the way, does not need courage from her Sky Daddy. What she needs is for God to heal her leg right the fuck now.

There’s more prayer, and then the nurses come for Pearl, who is feeling a lot of relief in spite of her nervousness.

The nurse checked her pulse, respiration, and temperature again, and reported. “All OK.”

Hold onto that.

It took five of them–the nurse, two medics, and the two women–to get Pearl safely onto the cart.

If this is true, her condition must be absolutely terrible.

“I declare, Pearl,” one of the interns teased, “you’ll be easier to get back in bed without that monstrosity of a leg”

This works. It’s kind of a dark ish sort of humor, but sometimes you just have to find some humor in situations like this one. And I had to find something positive to say about this chapter.

After the nurse tucked the blanket around Pearl, the long journey began.

Hold onto that, too. For next week. Or the week after next, I’m not honestly sure which chapter, but this is relevant, I promise.

The intern wheels Pearl down the hall to the operating room.

[Pearl] was drowsy from the shot the nurse had given her, but still awake enough to tell the doctor, “You can have it, and welcome.”

The nurse gave her some kind of shot. Whatever it was made her sleepy. Hang on to that, too.

The specialist, Dr. Pierre, lifted his gloved hand in salute to his patient.

I am not 100% sure it is the same person, but it seems like this could very well be the doctor Pearl saw. It says that he was in the UK “on study leave” in 1938, which could be why it took him so long to get to Pearl. They probably flew him in especially for this. Maybe there wasn’t a surgeon closer to home at that time, I don’t know.

In any case, it seems like this guy is somewhat of a legend, and not at all incompetent. Which makes the events of this book even more inexplicable.

Then he asked the intern to take the pulse and respiration one last time before starting the anesthetic.

The young medic was at Pearl’s side. “You haven’t changed any since we left your room, have you?” He smiled at her as he reached for her wrist.

His usual jovial expression slowly turned serious as he probed here and there along her arm. “Doctor,” he finally said, “I can’t find the pulse!”

Wha–what? Is this…. is this a plot twist? Is Pearl dead? Can you be alive and still not have a pulse?

Tune in next week to find out if Pearl is still alive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Case For Christ Chapter 1 Part 2

Credit where credit is due: I am finding that the claims in this book require more effort than I usually put into these posts. This book is probably going to take me a while, but I am ok with that. I am ok with taking the time to research things carefully.

Because of the fact that this book is intense, and requires me to do a lot of research, Case for Christ posts will only occur once a month. I’ll try to start another book soon so that we can get another weekly one going.

We last left off with the author interviewing a man I’m calling “Dr. B.” They’ve been establishing the reliability of the canonical gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The author and Dr. B have just established that they believe the gospels are written by the people who’s names are their titles. The author seems to be under the impression that this a burning question atheists have. I never did, but sure, maybe some atheists out there do, who knows.

We pick up after a section break to talk about the Q documents. What the fuck are the Q documents? According to Dr. B:

“It’s nothing more than a hypothesis…with few exceptions, it’s just sayings or teachings of Jesus, which once may have formed an independent separate document….it was a common literary genre to collect the sayings of respected teachers, sort of as we compile the top music of a singer and put it into a “best of” album. Q may have been something like that. At least that’s the theory.”

Is it a theory or a hypothesis? These are not synonyms. A theory is something that, after much testing, we know to be true. The theory of gravity, for example. A hypotheses is something that we do not know to be true, that still needs testing.

In any case, from what I have read, Dr. B’s explanation is pretty much correct. There’s disagreement over whether or not the Q documents actually exist (or ever existed), and I have not yet read enough to form an opinion one way or the other.

The author of this book starts to wonder what exactly the Q documents would have to say about Jesus. If you only read the Q document, would it be similar, in any way, to the gospels?

Dr. B says that Q was just a collection of Jesus’ sayings. Without any narrative context, sure, we might get a very different picture of Jesus. And you know what, fair enough. If you just take the things Jesus said, and you don’t have any context for it, you could wind up with some pretty crazy interpretations.

“A significant scholarly book,” [said Dr. B] “has argued recently that if you isolate all the Q sayings, one actually gets the same kind of picture of Jesus-of someone who made audacious claims about himself-as you would find in the gospels more generally.”

It does not state which “significant scholarly book” is being referred to. Set that aside. Note that Dr. B seems to believe in the existence of the Q documents, and that Q wouldn’t be all that different from the gospels we have today.

Dr. B then points out that, even in Q, there’s evidence of Jesus’ miracles because Jesus talks about his miracles once, very briefly. Dr. B seems to think this is evidence that Jesus actually did these miracles.

I mean, whoever wrote Q could have put whatever he wanted in there. Yes people could have protested, but it’s what gets written down that gets preserved.

Next the author decides to ask Dr. B a few questions about how the gospels were put together. This could be fascinating… but not particularly relevant?

It’d be even more interesting if done by a non biased source.

I need to go find a non biased source, because I think that would be fascinating.

“Why..would Matthew–purported to be an eyewitness to Jesus, incorporate part of a gospel written by Mark, who everybody agrees was not an eyewitness? If Matthew’s gospel was really written by an eye witness, you would think he wold have relied on his own observations.”

That…. is actually a good question.

If this were not the Bible we were talking about, I would say something like, “people don’t always have the ability to put what they saw into words. Some people just aren’t good at writing. It makes sense, then, to find someone who can write well to help you express yourself.”

But this is the Bible we are talking about, and it is believed that “holy men spake as they were moved of God.” Most Christians believe that the Bible was written by men, but dictated by God.

Couldn’t God have told Matthew what to write? Wouldn’t he have made Matthew write in a style completely different from that of Mark?

When you look into it, the whole thing really falls apart. In an attempt to establish the reliability of the gospels, this chapter ends up doing precisely the opposite.

Dr. B’s response:

It only makes sense if Mark was indeed basing his account on the recollections of the eyewitness Peter…as you’ve said yourself, Peter was among the inner circle of Jesus and was privy to seeing and hearing things that other disciples didn’t. So it would make sense for Matthew, even though he was an eyewitness, to rely on Peter’s version of events as transmitted through Mark.”

Sorry, this doesn’t work for me. If men wrote as God dictated, why would Matthew need to check with Peter (through Mark) about anything? And what if Mark, intentionally or not, made a mistake? Would that have crept into Matthew as well? Why wouldn’t Matthew just skip reading Mark’s book and go ask Peter? Well there may be reasons why this wasn’t possible, but still.

The author thinks back to when he was reporting on a person. He heard the person say something, but not very well, so he asked another reporter who had a tape recorder if he could please listen to the recording. He did this even though he heard the person speak, because the author wanted to be sure he was reporting accurately.

This I do not have a problem with. However, there is a world of difference between listening to a tape recorder and reading a book. Tape recorders record what a person says. That’s fact. But memory is extremely faulty and unreliable, and just because a person wrote it down doesn’t make it true. (I am aware that voice recording can be edited and faked, but it is still more reliable evidence than things written down years later.)

I personally don’t think this analogy holds water.

For some strange reason, the author is satisfied with the answers Dr. B has given him, so he moves on to talk about the gospel of John, which is different in some way from the other 3.

I’m gonna have to go re read the gospels. I feel like I need to see this for myself. I personally noticed no differences the first 5 times I read the gospels, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It has been a while since I’ve read the Bible, and my memories are probably a little less than accurate at this point.

Anyone who reads all 4 gospels will immediately recognize that there are obvious differences between the synoptics and the gospel of John, and I wanted to know whether this means there are irreconcilable contradictions between them.

Oh trust me, there are plenty of irreconcilable differences between the other 3 gospels. Whether or not you believe these differences matter is something I’d be open to discussing. I have heard that there are Christians out there who don’t believe that the writing in the Bible is exactly how things happened. These Christians don’t really care where Jesus was born or how, as long as the basic facts remain the same: that Jesus was born and that he died for our sins and was then resurrected. I would be interested in hearing more from these types of people, partly to satisfy my curiosity as to whether or not they actually exist.

Dr. B admits that, yes, the gospel of John is a little different than the other 3.

“Only a handful of major stories that appear in the other 3 gospels appear in John, although that changes noticeably when it comes to Jesus’ last week. From that point onward the parallels are much closer.

This makes sense. All 4 gospel writers would have thought that the events leading up to Jesus’ death, the death itself, and the resurrection were a lot more important than whatever miracles he had been performing. Dr. B continues:

There also seems to be a very different linguistic style. In John, Jesus uses different terminology, he speaks in long sermons, and there seems to be a higher Christology….”

The author of the book asks what accounts for the differences. Dr. B says that, since John wrote later than Matthew, Mark, and Luke, he would have known that some things were already out there, and he would have felt no need to repeat himself.

More recently it has been assumed that John is largely independent of the other 3 gospels, which could account for not only the different choices of material but also the different perspectives on Jesus.

In Bible class, I was always told that the 4 gospels were marketed to 4 different audiences: Matthew wrote to the Jews, Luke wrote to the Greeks, and then Mark wrote to the Romans. But not John. No, John was actually writing to us.

I will agree that theological differences don’t necessarily have to mean there are contradictions. It’s not a stretch to think that the actual gospel writers, whoever they were, actually were marketing themselves to different audiences, and would have tailored their messages accordingly. The audience the writer of GJohn was actually writing to may not have cared about the circumstances of Jesus’ birth, hence it is not included.

Despite the theological differences in GJohn, Dr. B doesn’t believe there are any contradictions between the gospels. (To give the author some credit, he will talk about the “supposed contradictions” later in the book. They do not appear in this chapter.)

The author then asks Dr. B what he believes is a really important question:

“John makes very explicit claims of Jesus being God, which some attribute to the fact that he wrote later than the others and began embellishing things. Can you find this theme of deity in the synoptics?”

The writer of GJohn would not have to be knowingly “embellishing” things. He may have just heard the stories and legends going around, and even tricked himself into believing that they were true. Human memory is extremely unreliable and faulty, and it is possible that the writer of GJohn believed everything he wrote.

Now, maybe I’m wrong and the writer of GJohn was intending to decieve people in regards to what Jesus said about himself. I couldn’t say. But I can say that there is more than one option, and that we can’t really know.

“[Claims to divinity are] more implicit,” [says Dr. B] but you find it there. Think of the story of Jesus walking on the water, found in Matthew 14:22-23 and Mark 6:45-52. Most English translations hide the Greek by quoting Jesus as saying, “Fear not, it is I.” Actually, the Greek literally says, “Fear not, I am.”  …..”I Am” is the way God revealed himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14. So Jesus is revealing himself as the one who has the same divine power over nature as Yahweh, the God of the old testament.”

I don’t think the Bible translators were trying to hide anything. It’s entirely possible that they thought that was just how Greek grammar was, and that by changing it, they were making it more readable to an English speaking audience. I know it’s nitpicky, but the way Dr. B is speaking here implies that he thinks someone did this on purpose to hide the fact that Jesus claimed he was God.

All that aside….huh. That is really interesting. Of course, as the gospels were probably not written until many years after this actually happened, I wonder how exact the wording is. But no matter.

Dr. B then proceeds to talk about the term, “son of man.”

The author points out that that doesn’t sound like a claim of divinity to him, and Dr. B gets defensive.

“Look,” he said firmly. “Contrary to popular belief, ‘Son of Man’ does not refer primarily to Jesus’ humanity. Instead it’s a direct allusion to Daniel 7:13-14.”

13 I saw in the night-visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. 14 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.

I looked this up in multiple versions, and the wording is the same. “Son of Man” is present in at least 4 Bible translations, so it’s probably translated correctly. Now the question exists: was Daniel retroactively edited? You know what, set that aside. It’s not important. Even if Jesus was referring to this verse, even if he was using it to claim to be God, that in no way supports his claims.

Just because some guy said something a few thousand years ago and someone wrote it down doesn’t make it true.

So the main question I have is this: WHY DO I CARE? How does this prove the existence of God? How does this prove that Jesus is the son of God? This is like using the Bible to prove the Bible: The Old Testament to prove the New. Which….might make sense if,  maybe, the author is trying to market to Jews, under the mistaken impression that “Torah” is synonymous with “Old Testament?”

In case we are not convinced that the title “Son of Man” is a claim to divinity, the author quotes from another interview he did. I’m assuming we’ll get more details of this other interview later in the book.

“Son of Man” is often thought to indicate the humanity of Jesus, just as the reflex expression “Son of God” indicates his divinity. In fact, just the opposite is true. The Son of Man was a divine figure in the Old Testament book of Daniel who would come at the end of the world to judge mankind and rule forever. Thus, the claim to be the Son of Man would be in effect a claim to divinity.”

We’ll stop there for now. I will have to think of a different way of breaking up these posts, because if I do them chapter by chapter they are going to get long… really long… and to be honest, the material isn’t all that interesting. It would be if the author were presenting both sides of the story, and then explaining why he prefers one explanation over the other, but he’s not. Instead he’s trying to prove the existence of God by using the Bible.

And that’s not something atheists are interested in.

 

Wacky White Wednesday #10 Masturbation Part The Last

Original article can be read here. This post is part of a series about the 1864 article, “Appeal to Mothers.” It is about masturbation. We pick up roughly where we left off.

In order to not seem like I’m the one going off on jumping around, I skipped a few paragraphs last week. I would like to go back to them now.

After talking for a bit about the perfect people of heaven who have  never masturbated, Ellen White talks specifically about female masturbation. Points to her for admitting that women can masturbate. For 1864, this was probably progressive.

Females possess less vital force than the other sex, and are deprived very much of the bracing, invigorating air, by their in-doors life.
The results of self-abuse in them is seen in various diseases, such as catarrh, dropsy, headache, loss of memory and sight, great weakness in the back and loins, affections of the spine, the head often decays inwardly. Cancerous humor, which would lay dormant in the system their life-time, is inflamed, and commences its eating, destructive work. The mind is often utterly ruined, and insanity takes place.
Place #2 where Ellen White….doesn’t exactly say masturbation causes cancer, but that it causes the dormant cancer to become malignant.
Honest question time: does cancer work that way? In psychology class last semester, we learned stress doesn’t cause AIDS, but it can speed up the process of turning HIV into AIDS. But I didn’t think cancer worked that way? I thought cancer was either something you had or you didn’t.
I don’t think cancer was well understood in 1864. I do not think it is well understood now. However, I think scientists have safely ruled out masturbation as one of the causes.
The practice of secret habits surely destroys the vital
forces of the system. All unnecessary vital action will be followed by corresponding depression.
Depression, another thing on the long list of things caused by masturbation.
Among the young, the vital capital, the brain, is so severely taxed at an early age, that there is a deficiency, and great exhaustion, which leaves the system exposed to disease of various kinds. But the most common of these is consumption. None can live when their vital energies are used up. They must die. God hates everything impure, and his frown is upon all who give themselves up to gradual and sure decay.
Except that we now have a cure for some forms of “consumption,” which we now call tuberculosis. Not everyone who gets it dies.
Ellen White goes on for a while about how focusing on God and nature can help you not to masturbate. Then she says this:
Some young persons who have knowledge in the vile
practices of the world, seek to awaken the curiosity of other inquisitive minds, and impart to them that secret knowledge which ignorance of would be bliss. They are not content with practising themselves the vice they have learned. They are hurried on by the Devil, to whisper their evil communications to other minds, to corrupt their good manners.
Note that she says some young persons. That word “some” is inclusive enough that this sentence has to be true. I’m sure there are some who would educate their peers about their habits of masturbation. But are these people a majority? I honestly don’t know.
Anyway, that’s really the end of most of the fuckery. The next few pages are just Ellen going on about how God can help you, God forgives you, and that now is the time to make sure your children never develop the habit of “self abuse.”

My Journey Out Part 1 (when Is part 2 coming? I dunno, like, 3 years from now?)

I was born into a Seventh Day Adventist family. Even within the SDA church there are layers to things. In my particular corner of the country, Adventists tend to be pretty conservative, though “conservative” is a term that’s pretty subjective. The term “conservative” to an Adventist from California (you left cost liberal elites you!) is going to mean something different from the way an Adventist from Wisconsin or Florida would use the term. (Generally the further west you go, the less conservative any group of Adventists is. Please don’t ask me why this is, I don’t know and I don’t care.)

That being said, my parents were what I would consider “pretty damn liberal,” at least from an Adventist perspective. We were not liberal by Californian standards, but by the standards of the Adventists around us, we got away with a lot.

For example, one of my parents drank coffee, we read a wide variety of books (my reading material was limited only by its age appropriateness), and I was allowed to wear jewelry around the house. But my parents also were believers in Ellen White, thought dancing was like having sex standing up, only ate clean meat, and flipped the fuck out when I decided I wanted to listen to music made after 1979. They would have absolutely flipped out if they knew I drink alcohol on occasion.

If we’re only talking about Adventist standards, I wasn’t really raised in that extreme an environment. Yes a lot was prohibited, but a lot was allowed, too.

I was a true believer in childhood, and I even prayed that god would choose me as his next prophet. I dreamed about being the youngest person ever to be baptized, and I even fantasized about them adding a book to the Bible that was all about me and how good I was.

8 year olds think about dumb shit, give me a break, ok?

There were some of my parents’ rules that I pushed back against, but overall I was a good kid, and a true believer.

And then high school happened.

Some people talk about being forced to go to an Adventist school. This was me all through the 8th grade. Once I graduated the 8th grade (Yes, Adventists have 8th grade graduation ceremonies), I did a complete 180 and decided I wanted to get an Adventist education, lest I be confused about what the Bible actually said.

And so I enrolled in Academy. I am not at this time going to mention the name of the Academy, partly due to my wish to remain mostly anonymous and partly because I don’t, at this time, feel a desire to name and shame. But I did attend a Seventh Day Adventist boarding school for all 4 years of high school.

My freshman year of high school was good. My first or second month of school we had a week of prayer. I’ve already talked about Week of Prayer in another post, but basically “week of prayer” actually means “week of sermon.” A visiting pastor comes in and preaches 2 sermons a day, 3 on Sabbath. I do remember the pastor’s name, but I’m withholding it for obvious reasons.

This pastor was what I now recognize as a very conservative pastor. He preached ideas that I had never preached before.

Now, when you go to an Adventist school and you live at home, your parents can kind of step in and say, “what so and so said is extreme, you don’t have to be that way.” At Academy, there is no one to step in and do that for you. Academy was much more conservative than my parents, and I don’t think my parents quite understood that they wouldn’t have quite the same ability to mitigate some of that if they lived 300  miles away. By taking me away from my parents’ more moderate influence, the Academy basically placed me in a position where I had to make my own judgements. I was 14. This was an absolute recipe for disaster.

And so I followed the pastor down the rabbit hole of extreme Christianity. I was on fire for Jesus, and I was willing to do whatever he asked of me. Pastor J preached that we should all read Ellen White, so that’s what I did. I would go to the school library, plant myself in the White section*, open a book at random, and start reading. And I read. And I read. And I read…. .and eventually my reading started to get a little less random, as I realized I was probably missing some much needed context. But the disturbing thing was, sometimes the missing context made it worse, not better. With horror, I slowly realized that Ellen White was probably a false prophet.

It disturbed me even more when I read the Bible and Ellen White together. I noticed a lot of things just didn’t match up or make sense.

And so, at the age of 15-16ish, I was no longer a Seventh Day Adventist. I was out mentally, but not physically. And when you’re not out physically, you start to doubt. To wonder if everyone else is right and you’re the crazy one because you can’t see it. To wonder if you’re stupid, or if everyone around you is deceived. You start questioning what is and isn’t real.

I don’t think you can quite underestimate the damage that does to someone’s mind.

Then there was reading the Bible itself. I still believed in the Bible, but at 15-16ish, I was starting to notice that God was kind of an asshole. Up to this point, most of the Bible stories had been filtered through child appropriate lenses. Now the lenses were removed, and I was starting to see things for what they actually were.

I still believed in God, but what I was beginning to doubt was whether or not I wanted to worship him. I struggled to reconcile 2 conflicting opinions: God is good and loving, and God is an asshole in much of the Bible. I couldn’t do it, so my main strategy was not to think about it.

And so, for the majority of my teenage years, I bounced back and forth between wanting to be a Christian, and not wanting to be a Christian. I also, at this time, really really wanted to be convinced that Adventism was true. And so I stayed in the community for probably longer than I maybe should have.

This bouncing back and forth lasted for a period of, oh gosh, I dunno, about 5 years.  I decided I was fed up with bouncing around, and I was going to worship God, and so on December 31st, 2010, I gave my heart to Jesus for what I was convinced would be the last time. **

After this, I would go to Adventist churches because I was simply too scared to go church shopping. I am not the type of person who is comfortable just walking into a church by herself and meeting new people and being smiled at and hugged and given what I considered “the 3rd degree” by well meaning people. I am the type of person who wants to walk into a church, not talk to anybody, and leave. Maybe stick around for potluck if I feel like meeting people. Unfortunately, there were no mega churches in my area, so, Adventism.

But was I an Adventist? No. Did I want to be? Well…. yes and no. I wanted someone to convince me I was wrong, but I did not want it so badly that I was willing to start lying to myself.

And so off I went to college, a little bit later in life than I’d have liked, but sure. I fell in with both an Adventist group and another Christian group that I don’t really talk about much. The name of the non SDA Christian group I was part of is being withheld. What I was trying to do was have a foot in both worlds. I saw that as a good way of balancing things. I thought that I would have no problems trying to fit into the non denominational Christian group.

But I didn’t fit in there, for 2 reasons. Part of it because, as a former/semi current Adventist, I didn’t know how to fit in anywhere. And so I didn’t really have any friends in the non denominational group because I was just plain weird.

Another reason I didn’t fit in is because, quite frankly, the non denominational church’s sermons were very different from the SDA church’s sermons. At the Adventist church, sermons were what I would call meatier. They  had depth. You really felt like you learned something, even if you may not have agreed with everything they were preaching. The non denominational group, in comparison, preached sermons that were, from my perspective, kind of shallow.

Except for that one crazy sermon that we should really talk about at some point… but I am getting off the subject.

The summer after that, when I went canvassing, I again had the chance to study the Bible and Ellen White. There are a lot of reasons I decided to go canvassing, but mostly, I was just trying to convince myself that Ellen White was right and that Adventists were the true church.

It backfired. It backfired horribly. I wound up questioning everything.

There was a time when I wanted to be convinced Ellen White was a real prophet, and that the SDA church was God’s one true church. That time is over and done with. It’s all gone. I no longer want to be convinced. I am no longer convinced that I can be convinced. I am no longer convinced that Adventism is what it claims to be, and the more I read Ellen White and the Bible, the more convinced I am that Planet Adventist is synonymous with “weirdo fringe religion that makes no sense once you dig past the surface.”

Not only did my reading of the Bible in my early 20s convince me not to be an Adventist, It’s also why I began to doubt Christianity. There were just too many gaps, too many contradictions, and you begin to suspect that some of it never happened at all.  Add to that the fact that when you start reading about how the Bible was formed, what the historical period was actually like, how there’s different manuscripts, different languages, etc etc, it’s just hard not to come to the conclusion that the Bible was probably just written by people thousands of years ago for people thousands of years ago.  I noticed that things made more sense when put in that perspective. (The Biblical writers were not thinking about 21st century Americans, ok?)

In my search for truth, I read other books. I read books like The Case for Christ, creation vs evolution books, and The God Delusion. All of these books disappointed me. None of the answers were there. I did find that The God Delusion at least asked the right questions, but there was nothing in that book that convinced me one way or the other.

So what did convince me to become an atheist? A slow, dawning realization that Christians didn’t have the answers either. Not only that, the Christian literature that was supposedly marketed at people like me (people who doubt God’s existence) didn’t even ask the right questions. They didn’t address my concerns at all. It was like they’d only read about skeptics in a book without ever having actually met any in real life.

And so I guess you could say I became an atheist by default. Now, that’s not why I’m still an atheist. I’m still an atheist because the more I read, the more I think, the less likely it seems that God is real. I think God was something that was invented by mankind for a variety of reasons, and I’ve so far read nothing to disprove that.

Now, you may have noticed that I left something out, and you’re probably going to ask:

Could I, at this point, be convinced that God does exist?

Yes, I think at this point I think I could if someone put forth a convincing argument.

Do I think that will happen? Probably not.

Part of the reason I write this blog is because it is so healing.

But is part of why I blog about Christianity because I want to be convinced there’s a God? Well, that depends: Am I on an airplane? If the answer is yes, then I would LOVE to be convinced that there is a god and that he does care about me and that there is no way he’d let the plane crash and that even if he did, there is a heaven for me to go to.

But I am not currently on an airplane, and so the answer is a solid “maybe.”

 

 

 

*That’s White as in “Ellen White,” not “this part of the library is only for white students.” The Academy, at the time I attended, was not segregated.

**To date, this is still true.

A Mountain To Climb Chapter 8: Involved

We last left off with Pearl about to have an operation to remove her leg. She school principal is in on it, one of the teachers knew about it before Pearl did, and now the whole school is about to find out.

That Sunday evening the teachers and students held a joint worship. Since the students usually had separate worship periods–the women in their dorm and the men in theirs–these students sensed that something serious was about to happen.

I can’t speak for Adventist colleges, but Adventist Academy in my day was exactly the same way.

We are told that a “Professor Smith” gets up and tells the students exactly what is going on with Pearl. I guess he’s the school principal, because he tells the students that

“This morning Mrs. Lindsay and I gave permission for the doctors to amputate her left leg at the knee. Gangrene has set in and will kill her if the leg isn’t amputated.”

Why did the doctors need your permission? Is this a sexist thing? Did the doctors need a man to sign the papers? There’s just no other reason I can think of for the school principal to be involved.

We are told that the surgery is scheduled for 11am on Tuesday. It’s currently Sunday night. If the operation is so necessary for saving Pearl’s life, why the delay? When I needed emergency life saving surgery, there was debate on whether or not they even wanted to wait 12 hours for me to digest my french fries. They did not make me wait two whole frickin days.

There’s some talk among the students, and Arthur Ward comes onto the stage to talk.

“Teachers and fellow students, a few of us have a plan. We’ve pledged that we will not eat, work, or attend classes until we have the assurance that God has heard and answered our prayers in Pearl’s behalf. That is, if the teachers are willing.”

I have had a similar experience to that of these students. One day, in an assembly, we were told that we were going to have a day dedicated to prayer and fasting for J, a student at our school who had recently been diagnosed with cancer. (Unfortunately, however, we did not get excused from work and classes.) Like these students, we were praying for a miracle. Did we get it? Maybe I’ll do a blog post on it sometime, if there’s interest. The main thing to note about this is that assemblies like this happen at Adventist academies. They happened to us. To J.

But this is Pearl’s story, not J’s. All the teachers readily agree with Arthur, so Professor Smith gives the students permission. All the students and teachers agree to join Arthur and his friends in praying and fasting for Pearl.

Which is a nice gesture… as an atheist Even as a Christian I usually found prayer to be a way of pretending (to yourself, not necessarily to other people) to do something when you’re actually doing nothing. But not all situations are identical, and in a situation like this, where there really isn’t anything you can do personally, I can understand why a Christian would pray like the devil himself was after them. Even though I don’t believe prayer actually does anything, I think it’s a nice gesture.

Professor Smith takes Arthur Ward to his office and asks Arthur to explain his plan.

“We want to form a chain prayer band in each dormitory tonight. That is, someone praying all night. When one room is finished, they could notify the next room, and so on until all who care to join have opportunity. Then the cycle will start over. That way the students would get some sleep. Then tomorrow we could form regular small bands for prayer. We could pray and study and search our hearts all day. Tomorrow night the chain cycle would start again, and Tuesday regular prayer bands. That way, between now and 11 o’clock on Tuesday someone would be praying all the time.

This is not how it was done at my academy, but set that aside. Essentially, Arthur is asking to have a day and a half off from school to do….well, a whole lot of nothing. No matter how sincere they all are, they can’t just cancel classes like that. It would be very easy to set up something like what Arthur is describing without canceling classes. Our academy managed.

It also doesn’t really portray that great an image of God. The implication is that they want round the clock prayer for Pearl… because otherwise God won’t listen?

And then he says this:

“We don’t believe it is in God’s plan for Pearl to be a cripple for the rest of her life.” Arthur paused.

I get that disability would have been viewed very differently in the 1930s… but seriously?

You know what, set that aside. This bothers me for another reason. Arthur, here, presumes to know what God’s plan is. Even as a Christian, while you can be reasonably sure you know what God’s plan for you is, you can not in good conscience say that you know God’s plan for someone else. YMMV, I think this comes across as arrogant.

It bothers me for another reason: If it isn’t in God’s plan for Pearl to lose a leg, then Pearl isn’t going to lose her leg, and all your praying won’t have any effect on it. By saying that you’re sure you know what God’s plan is, you’re pretty much admitting that all your prayers are useless.

And what if it is in God’s plan for Pearl to lose a leg? Then what? Are you going to have a crisis of faith? I’m not saying she is going to lose her leg, but I think that Arthur as a character needs to prepare himself for that eventuality.

The principal disagrees with me. He thinks that this is a brilliant plan, completely ignoring the fact that, logically, if it is not in God’s plan for Pearl to lose her leg, then there is no need to beg him to heal Pearl, because that is already going to happen.

In any case, Arthur explains all of this to the student body, saying:

“We want this to be at time of heart searching to be sure that everything is right between us and God. Then He will be able to hear and answer our petition.”

There’s this belief in Adventism that, if you have some sin you’re holding onto, that God won’t answer your prayer. So, you don’t believe it’s God’s will for Pearl to lose a leg, but God might allow Pearl to lose a leg just because someone prayed for Pearl not to lose her leg but had some secret sin they forgot to confess….

My brain hurts. I give up. Just accept that this concept exists, ok?

I do not remember this concept being brought up on the day of prayer and fasting for J, for what it’s worth. At no point did I ever feel like I was going to kill J if I didn’t confess something.

So the prayer chain starts with Florence. Florence reads Psalm 139:23 and 24.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:

24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Florence then says they should take a few minutes to pray and search their hearts for any, um, wicked way.
After they each silently pray individually, Florence starts talking again:
Remember that we’re looking for a miracle. We want the Lord to save Pearl’s leg if it could be His will. But we must  pray for His will to be done.
You hear this a lot in Adventist prayer circles. Nobody ever asks what would happen if, say, it was in God’s will that Pearl lose a leg, but then Satan intervened and she doesn’t lose a leg. Does that make Satan the good guy? Adventists would abhor that logic, but it does fit with this thing about praying for a miracle to be done, but only if it’s God’s will.
This way of thinking also gives you a  bit of a loophole that I never understood how to close: If we are praying for a miracle, but only if it’s God’s will, then it was clearly not in God’s will for a miracle to occur. And yet, you are also supposed to pray with complete faith, or you will not get a miracle. Just a smidgen of doubt is enough for you to not get your miracle. But of course you have a smidgen of doubt, because it might not be in God’s will.
It’s all very confusing and as a Christian I found it best not to think about it for too long.

 

We are told that this continued all night and straight on till morning, where they move the prayer groups to the river.

Toward noon Edith began to cry. “I must go and see Professor Hamilton,” she blurted out. “I cheated in one of his classes, and I don’t want to be the cause of God not hearing our prayers. I’ll be back.”

The author is presenting this as a good thing. I…. am not sure. don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that Ethel confesses…. but I don’t like the fact that Edith confesses to the teacher because she is scared that if she doesn’t, God will kill her friend or cause her friend to lose her leg. That feels like some serious emotional blackmail. But I dislike this for a more important reason: Edith is not confessing to the teacher because she believes cheating is wrong. Edith is confessing because she is afraid of what God will do if she doesn’t. That is not morality.If that is your system of morality, you’re doing it wrong.

We are not told the outcome of this conversation. In some schools you can get expelled for this sort of thing. We are only told that Edith returned after a while and continued praying.

I can see why the author wouldn’t have wanted to go on eleventy billion tangents on what exactly each character did and the outcome –assuming that she herself even knew, but this still feels incomplete to me. I think this is one part where the book suffers from being a work of creative non fiction. Because if it was fiction, one might be allowed to have, Rosalind or Florence be the cheater. We have seen quite a bit of Rosalind and Florence so far, and it would give the author an opportunity for character development. But because this isn’t completely a work of fiction, Edith appears–and that’s the last we see of her.

We are then told that the men are praying in the hills near the school –because men praying with ladies is a sin? I guess?

Tuesday morning the boys again sought the hills, and the girls the river. Not much longer until zero hour.

The chapter ends here. Credit where credit is due: this was a really boring chapter. All that happened was that the students prayed for Pearl around the clock. And yet the author somehow manages to make it sound interesting.

If Ms. Maxson hadn’t been stuck on Planet Adventist, what might she have become? Would she have written a decent work of fiction? We don’t know. We never will. Oh how much potential this wretched church has stolen!

 

Parable of the Sower Critique: Chapter 8 (Final)

I wrote this story as a Sophomore at an SDA boarding Academy. Yes, I know it’s terrible.

This is the last chapter (finally)

I am soooo ready to be done with this. So ready that I started the next book before writing these posts. I figured we all deserved a break from end times stories.

I think I’m going to wait a long time to do another End Times novel. In fact, I kind of want to move on to something a bit more generally Christian rather than specifically Adventist. That’s not to say I won’t do any more Adventist books (I absolutely will) just that I’d like to switch it up a bit.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We still have one more chapter of awfulness to plow through.

Holly is still in a prison cell with 8 people and one bed. Normally, she is told, people take turns sleeping on it. But, as Holly is pregnant, the girls insist she take it.

Holly tries to argue, but is shot down. She doesn’t protest much. She’s beginning to feel ill. I’m honestly surprised it took her this long to feel anything, given how much stress she is under.

The guards wake us all up the next morning right after I have closed my eyes. We are given no food, just march us off too an adjoining factory where they force us to work. I am so hungry I feel I’ll die right there, and the baby needs food too. I feel it kicking inside of me in protest.

What factory? Why? What–oh never mind.

Matt visits me every day to see if I’ve changed my mind. Sometimes, I want to give in to him so badly. Some of the girls in our cell have already given up and decided to renounce God, which always brought on crying and lamenting in the cell. Soon, Tori, and I are the only ones left.

I… don’t even know what to say about this. Ummm yeah no, I don’t know what to say about this.

But I pray for strength every time I feel that. I will not give in to Satan. I’ve tried him, and his way is no good. Its either jail now and heaven later, or heaven now and jail later. I’ve made my choice.

Teenage!me thought that reading the Satanic bible meant that she had tried every alternative to Christianity.

The seventh day soon approaches. It is the sabbath, but it is also the day that Matt will give up on me. Tori, and I join hands and pray earnestly that the Lord will give me strength to resist. I’m crying. I don’t think I can do this. I’m 8 months pregnant and I’m being forced to lift heavy boxes and I haven’t been fed for the last week except for lunch break and that’s not good for the baby. And I’ve been experiencing some pains in my stomach lately…. Could it be contractions? Am I beginning to go into the early stages of labor? Is it possible that all this physical work has brought on premature labor? My baby is going to be premature?

To be honest, with all the physical and emotional stress Holly is going through, I’m kind of surprised that hasn’t happened already.

Set that aside. Holly, here, is under duress. There is literally a gun to her head. She is starving sleep deprived and therefore not fully in control of her mental faculties.

Can Holly really be said to have a choice? If someone points a gun to your head and tells you to do something, most juries are going to agree that you do not have a choice, you have to do that thing.

The God of this story, of all end times stories, actually, is kind of an asshole.

Matt visits Holly, and he literally gets down on both knees and asks her to marry him. Teenage!me gets a bit of a pass for not knowing that men get down on one knee to propose marriage.

When Holly refuses, Matt starts crying. Holly feels terrible for making him cry, and we get this sexist bit of drivel.

He’s crying! See! He wouldn’t be crying If he didn’t mean it! I mean, come on Holly, do you know how hard it is for a guy to cry?

Then we get this godawful cringe inducing vomit worthy scene.

Jesus! Help me! Immediately I feel something. I can’t quite describe it, but it was like this…. This force surrounding me, telling me I was gonna be ok. Telling me that Jesus still loves me. Telling me that its gonna be over soon. I’m happy.

Matt isn’t. he can feel the force only he doesn’t feel its love. Only its perfection and holiness and his own shame and guilt. He is slumped against the wall, his eyes wide in fear and his mouth open to call for help, but no sound comes out.

The guard feels the same emotions Matt does. She throws herself face down to the ground, “No!” she screams, “No! please! Take me back! I’ll love you! Take me back!” she’s in tears.

And inside I feel such waves of compassion for her and Matt. And I can tell that God is feeling them too, because the force around me has a sadness that I can tell is mixed with love.

And then, as soon as it begins, its over. The Force leaves, and I feel energized. Everyone else feels depressed and depleted. The guard is still weeping her heart out. Matt is still staring in shock and shame. I quietly excuse myself from the room and return myself to my cell, which is locked, of course (duh, what was I thinking!) so I sit outside the door, feeling refreshed and loved.

It’s the presence of Jesus…. simultaneously terrifying and uplifting  people since the dawn of time.

A guard sees Holly outside her cell, and wonders why she’s too dumb to escape. Yeah, why doesn’t Holly try to escape? Teenage!me thought that would be some kind of sin? I guess?

Despite the fact that Matt says he’s giving up on her, he doesn’t. He keeps visiting Holly, trying to get her to change her mind. Holly keeps refusing.

Meanwhile, the contractions are getting closer and closer together. An hour, 30 minutes, 15 minutes, and then, one terrifying day; 10.

Teenage!me knew it could take a while for a woman’s first baby to come out. Teenage!me thought it took days, I guess? Is that ever true? Adult!me still hasn’t ever been pregnant.

Anyway, a girl named Casey–hang on, where did Casey come from? It’s been established that Tori was the only other girl in the cell with Holly.

Then in another paragraph, I change Casey to “Cassie.” This is the girl’s real name, and I wish I’d edited it before it got onto the blog. Whatever. Anyway, sticking Casey/Cassie in was important because teenage!me needed to include as many of her friends as possible, whether or not it made sense.

“What am I gonna do Case?!” I cry as I clutch my abdomen. “I mean, it doesn’t hurt, but…”

“It doesn’t?”

“No, why is it supposed to?”

“Yes.”

“Oh.”

“Is it bad that it doesn’t?”

“Might be.”

That scares me.

That night in my cell bed I was having them every 7 minutes, then 5.

“Tori, Cass, I think…. I think this baby is coming.”

Holly’s labor doesn’t hurt because Jesus is about to show up. That’s what teenage!me was thinking. At this exact moment, there’s a major earthquake. This is why earthquakes, the idea of them, scared me. Because if you felt one, that meant Jesus was coming. This is especially true if you don’t live in an area that usually gets earthquakes.

One by one the concrete slabs crumble and break down around us, but surprisingly, none of it lands on us. Everything is dark outside, as dark as the cell, so at first we see no thing, then, a rainbow, shining with glory from the throne of God, spanning the heavens and surrounding us with God’s love.

I forgot about that little black cloud about the size of a man’s fist. Maybe I thought it would take a while to break us out of jail, so we missed that part.

Holly again says that the baby is coming, and Casey/Cassie says, “well shove him back up there, Jesus is coming!”

Because that’s totally how babies work.

No, no it isn’t. Teenage!me knew that, which is why Holly doesn’t shove the baby “back up there.”

“I don’t think the baby cares!” I groan. This is not how I pictured meeting Jesus. I did not picture meeting him pregnant.

Sweety, if that baby’s coming, you won’t be pregnant when you meet him.

Technically.

Tori makes a really stupid comment on how the baby wants to come out of the womb because it knows that Jesus is coming. That’s…. exactly how babies’ minds work…

Suddenly, I notice that I am rising. We all are. Jesus himself comes over to me, and lies me down on a bed of air. He gently delivers the baby, cutting the umbilical cord. He cradles it gently in his arms as he sings to it a song of love. He is telling it that he loves it, and that it is perfect. Then, he hands me my brand new baby girl.

This…. doesn’t fit in with what Adventists believe will happen at the second coming. But Teenage!me didn’t really care. She came up with this idea all by herself, and thought it would work out great.

It’s…. not that bad…..

Jesus smiles, and says, “So, what are you going to name the first child ever to be born perfect?”

“The first one?”

He nods. I feel so special. I can’t believe that God turned something so awful into something so… good!

Because pregnancy is awful, I guess. Whatever. We’re almost done and I am beyond giving a fuck.

Jesus and Holly have a talk. It comes across like Jesus is saying he is the baby’s actual biological father… that’s not what teenage!me had in mind. Teenage!me was thinking of the verse, “I will be a father to the fatherless.” Because Matt, of course, is now in hell, so the baby is technically fatherless. But not with Jesus in the house!

Jesus then explains that Matt was part of the worst conspiracy theory ever.

“Well,” Jesus continues, “Matt was offered a huge sum of money from the government to wrench the child out of your arms.”

I’m stunned.

“Then he would have killed you.”

Except…. Holly was in jail… the government already had access to the baby. So, the government paid Matt huge sums of money to get them a child they already had.

Worst. Conspiracy. Ever.

On second thought, maybe this story does take place in the United States.

Jesus gently pulls me off to two people who I almost remember but have been transformed. They are wearing red on the hems of their robes

“Mom! Jaimie!”

This was my attempt at subtlety, and it works. For those of you who don’t know, Adventists believe that those who were martyrs will have white robes with red hems in heaven. The rest of us just get regular old white robes. By stating that mom and Jaimie have red hems on their robes, Teenage!me is telling the reader that mom and Jaimie were brutally murdered at some point after their arrest.

Everybody’s happy to be in heaven, to see each other, to gush over the baby… the first perfect child…. bla bla bla. Over the top, terrible writing. Teenage!me has to have Holly meet every single person in the entire story. It’s…. repetitive. could’ve been skipped. Where is the 8 year old child? I wish we could skip half Holly’s friends and meet her, just to reinforce the reassurance that little children with no control over what day their parents drag them to church on can still be saved.

All the angels are assembling. Everyone is coming together. Tori hands me back my baby, and we join them in singing their song: Holy Holy Holy, is the Lord almighty. The one who was, and is, and is to come.

That’s taken from the book of Revelation. All very Biblical. Yawn.

The story concludes with these paragraphs:

And so the end is here, and it turned out happier than I thought. For the longest time I was so sure I was going to hell because of all the things I was doing and that I could never pull out of it and come back to God.

But you know, your heart may be dry and crusty, or it may be moist and soft. But it doesn’t matter to God. He still loves you and he wants you to be with him, and no matter what the soil in your heart is like, Jesus can plant seeds of love, and watch them grow.

Wow, we’re finally done! That was a helluva ride.

So, was this any better than Now! by Merikay? No. It wasn’t edited nearly as well as Merikay’s story was. However, neither one of them are great literature. Both teenage!me and Teenage!Merikay do show talent. Sadly, it is not really a talent that will be nurtured by Adventism. I can’t speak for Merikay, butTeenage!me, at least, was really stunted as a writer by her Adventist education and the brainwashing. I am worried that my skills are still at the level they were at when I was a teenager.

Re-reading this, that is indeed a horrible thought.