Room Inside a Box

"There is no room inside a box." ~Doug Pinnick

Location: Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, United States

I started this blog as a soundboard for some much needed therapy during my separation with my wife throughout much of 2005. It was truly a blessing to get my thoughts out there through the writing process. Thankfully things have worked out between us. I would have continued to blog, but ever since I started my teaching career, I have found it impossible to do as much blogging as I would like to. So now I hope to periodically post as time and energy allow.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Reading Rosenblatt in Reading

The poet asks God, "Where do you go to get away?"

Standing in the halls of Reading High School, watching a kid yell at another smaller than he, "what, What, WHAT!" I am paralyzed. When Pilate did the same thing to Jesus, he was paralyzed, too.

God took thousands of years to send Jesus to earth because the fear of what he had created paralyzed him. Jesus and his dad can still feel the sting. If Jesus ever does come back, it won't be for an extraordinarily long amount of time.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

On Fools and Folly... And Other Belated Mindspeaks

Since the comment that I started to write on Jason's post entitled "What the Fuck?!?!" became too long and complicated to write in one sitting, I thought I'd post it here. Besides, I need to post more, but that damn playroom I'm working on is kicking my ass....

Before I write anymore, though, let me say that my direct response to the post does not begin until Part III, so skip ahead if that's all you want to read. I've separated this post into four parts. Part I will serve as a public congratulations of sorts to Jason, Part II will be a reiteration of a conversation we had the other night, Part III will be a direct response to the aforementioned post, and Part IV will be related comments to this post.

Part I
I already privately told Jason how well I thought his "Homosexuality and the Bible" posts were, but I didn't do it publicly. So here it is. You're welcome. They are good drafts that are well researched and logically argued. Their only major drawback is that they are biased to the extreme, and some people wanting to take them seriously--as I know Jason does--might have a problem with that. Most liberal xians already know what he's talking about and would probably agree with them, bias or no bias; but moderate to right christians--and especially fundamentalists, apparently his direct audience to whom he seems to wish to convince--will either not take the posts as seriously or, at worse, scoff at them completely, because of this severe slant. If the intention is to convince moderates and fundamentalists, then the rhetoric needs to be toned down and the bias needs to be either minimized or eliminated. Liberal xians and the general thinking public who likes to read up on ideas outside the mainstream can overlook such things, but fundamentalists are bad readers and cannot get past that stuff. In general, they are good posts, but if your target audience is the fundie, then you need to take a different approach. But overall, keep up the good work.

Part II
I was trying to tell you the other night that when you rail against the fundamentalist for trying to legislate his/her morals or values, you are being a hypocrite. Everyone in this country has a right to introduce legislation that promotes his/her morals and values. The fundamentalist does, and so do you. Your only defense was that your morals and values respect a wider plurality than do those of the fundie, but that is beside the point. It doesn't matter what their morals are versus yours; what matters is that you are trying to do the same thing that they are trying to do, which is legislate your own morals and values onto the general public. You can't get angry with the fundie for doing that which yourself desires to do as well. You can get angry at them for what it is they are trying to legislate, but you can't get angry at them for trying to legislate. All you need to do is redirect your anger and you won't sound so hypocritical.

And another hypocrisy I wanted to touch on that I think I didn't get to was that when you write posts like your Proverbs one or your Paul one, you are unknowingly acting just like those whom you hate: the fundies. For the most part, fundies are terrible readers and even worse thinkers. I heard fundamentalism boiled down to me a number of times, and it oftentimes goes something like this:

Me: But couldn't it mean this?
Fundie: No. The bible says this. These are the words.
Me: But you're not taking into account cultural context, historical background...
Fundie: None of that matters. The bible says this. These are the words. God is all-eternal and all-knowing and none of that matters except his words, and these are his words. It's right there in black and white.
Me: But human beings wrote the book, and they live in cultures and are bound to be influenced...
Fundie: But the words are inspired by God, who is not bound by this insignificant stuff.
Me: But that's circular reasoning, isn't it? I mean...
Fundie: The only thing you need to know is that these are the words. You can't change the words. This is what it says so this is what I believe. If you don't believe it, then you have a problem with God and his never-changing, infallible word.

No, I have a problem with you, Jackass! Fundamentalists are narrow-minded, thick-headed, oftentimes unloving creatures. Yet I'm called to love them nonetheless (and I find it strange that you, too, uphold this calling... I wonder why...) and I do my best. I'm sure you've heard this line of reasoning and find it equally repugnant. So why do you sometimes--not all the time--argue from their narrow lenses? You point out surface-level contradictions like that of Paul's conversion, Jesus' teachings, or certain proverbs without considering that there are things to be taken into consideration, things like cultural context, literary context, historical context, etc. The fundie says, "These are the words!" without critically thinking about them or putting them in the proper contextual framework. He only sees certain words or phrases, points to them over and over again, and does not deviate from his narrow view of them. And when you write posts like the ones I just mentioned, that's what you are doing, too. You, too, say, "These are the words! See how silly your belief system is, you illogical fundie? Look at all these obvious contradictions and loopholes!" You don't consider, at least in some posts, that there are logical explanations for these supposed contradictions.

Furthermore, and again related to how you are sometimes like the fundie (but please keep in mind, not all the time), when someone comes along and offers a well-stated, logical, and researched refutation of your narrow viewpoint, you, just as a good fundie would, revert back to your own illogical and narrow viewpoint that, at least in this case, is very poorly argued. To wit, when I go and point out that indeed Paul's multiple conversion stories are not contradictions, you still insist they are in the face of all the evidence I just pointed toward. You called them all moot points, especially when considering that your target audience was the fundie. Well, to be frank, they were not moot points at all. They were researched, documented, and logical points that need to be taken into consideration when presented with surface-level contradictions in the bible. (And lest anyone think I'm a bible-thumper, please remove such thoughts. I will always defend literature when it is frivolously attacked. Whether it's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Color Purple, the bible, or whatever; literature is my passion and I will always defend it from those who wrongly attack it.) You erroneously discarded the logical points in favor of your own narrow-minded opinion, that being that a surface-level contradiction exists in a bible that supposedly is inerrant. But that's exactly what fundies do; they disregard logic in favor of their own narrow-minded opinions. You disregarded most of my points, illogically and wrongly argued against them, and stuck you your guns, just like the fundies do. And the ironic thing is that you hate when fundies do that, yet you did it yourself (in this case). You said, "All of that [my logical and documented points] is moot, though, when held in the view of 'inerrancy.' To be 'innerrant' or 'devoid or errors,' there should in fact be no inconsistencies or half-truths or contradictory passages." And there isn't!! I just proved it to you!! Yet you still claim that it is an error and a contradiction, in the face of all the evidence I pointed toward!! If that doesn't sound like a fundie, I don't know what does. But you go on: "My lack of pointing out historical facts and figures which would have clarified to non-inerrant position holders would have been nice, but not important considering the target audience." No, your lack of pointing this stuff out is important for all readers who want to read well and form educated opinions. It doesn't matter if you're preaching to the choir or if you're preaching to the unconverted, the onus (yes, I said it!) is on you to get your facts straight--or at least do some research and have something more to say than surface-level stuff that is poorly argued and extremely biased. No matter your audience, you always want to be well informed and knowledgeable when presenting an argument. How does it serve you to be like the fundie, arguing from their camp? If they can't rise above surface level sweeping condemnations of the homosexual lifestyle based on a levitical code they know nothing about, why should you not rise above surface level contradictions yourself? They stick to surface level stuff--which you abhor--when they condemn homosexuality, but then you stick to surface level stuff and make a sweeping condemnations of the bible based on a seeming contradiction of which you know very little about. Meeting the fundie where they are at serves you no purpose at all. You attack their illogical rationale, but then practice that illogical rationale (at least here). What's on you is to live up to your own standards of being a thinking, logical, intelligent reader (which for the most part you are). Don't lower yourself to the fundamentalist's standard. Let them be narrow-minded, illogical, circular, uninformed, dogmatic, and impoverished of the mind. Don't argue from their point of view. You'll never get anywhere that way. You just sound as dumb as them. Like this:

"True. No argument form me, actually. But we are talking about two specific passages which aren't separated by hundreds of years, but from (perhaps) two authors who were each others "contemporaries," and probably knew of each other, and maybe even met once or twice toward the end of each others' lives (if we assume Luke and Paul as the actual authors). They may not have, but they were close enough to each others historical time line that it is possible. For two such differing accounts in such a brief period of time amounts to one of two things:
One of them was lying for purposes of either self-protection or mass deception
One of them was flat-out wrong"

Do you mean to tell me that you probably know all your contemporaries? Granted the population today in any given square mile might be larger than it was two thousand years ago, but still, do you actually think that what you just said is valid? Dude, I don't even know all the people on my street, let alone all the contemporaries in my town or state. So why should they "probably know each other", especially given the very limited transportation and communication methods they had back then. That's absurd to make such an assertion. I remember when Oriol (spelling?) was living with us for a little bit and he said he met a dude from his hometown on the plane ride to America, a dude he had never met before. I said, "But if he's from your hometown, how could you not know him?" He looked at me with a look that said "duh!" and plainly said, "Do you know all the people from this town?" But you go further than this absurd argument of saying that they probably knew each other, and from this absurd argument come biased and undocumented assertions that in rhetorical terms can be classified as logical fallacies: in short, your closing points cannot stem directly from your assertions due to the fact that no correlation or relationship exists between them. So you're guilty of both gross bias and logical fallacy, two very big no-no's when it comes to making a sound point. But you go even further: "Irrelevant. It's a fucking three year difference of Paul's conversion. Even if Paul was speaking to separate church entities (which he was), it doesn't explain why he would "forget" or even "change" the story of his blessed salvation unless he were lying or had something to hide." You just made the claim that Paul forgot or changed his story, when just before you made the correct claim that Luke wrote one account and Paul wrote the other. So if two separate guys wrote two separate accounts, how can one man forget or change both of them? This makes no sense. And again, you are guilty of a logical fallacy by claiming that one of them was trying to hide something. That again is bias and unfounded.

In short, the fundie makes sweeping generalizations without properly analyzing the text. You come along and say, "Hey, what about historical context this and cultural context that and Hebrew word this?" And they ignore you and stay in their narrow worldview, arguing from their dogmatic viewpoints. You hate this. You, though, make sweeping generalizations without properly analyzing the text. I come along and say, "Hey, what about historical context this and editing process that and ancient authorship this?" And you ignore me and stay in your worldview, arguing from your dogmatic viewpoints (at least in this post). I hate this.

You are a very intelligent person who does not have to resort to dogmatism to defend your points. That's what the fundies do, and that's what you did. You got it in your mind that this is a contradiction in the bible, come hell or high water, and by god (or whomever) you were going to stick by it, no matter how illogical you sounded. That's what the fundies do. You don't have to do that. I'm no biblical scholar, and the bible may or may not have contradictions. You may even uncover one. That would be just dandy. As stated, I don't believe in the inerrancy of the book and it would not shake my worldview if one were to be found. After all, there are many, many candidates (just read the gospel accounts of the Resurrection... but indeed, there are logical explanations for those contradictions, as well, so forget them and try something else). But you have not as of yet uncovered a contradiction. You can defend this one till you're blue in the face, but you'll just end up sounding like a fundie, and I don't think that's how you want to sound.

Part III
What the Fuck?!?!

Good title! Anytime you can drop the F-bomb into a title, I say go for it.

Riddle me this, riddle me that...


Pro 26:4: Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.
Pro 26:5: Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.

Which version is this? I don't seem to have this version, but I didn't look through my entire library, either. It's all in shifty piles in the corner of the living room, waiting to be put back on the bookshelves...

It is pretty much a given that "the wisest man in the world" wrote this book... or, at least, most of it...

Depends on who you talk to. Of course, the fundies say Solomon wrote/compiled it all, but that is erroneous given some of the proverbs and some of the context. It's likely he had a hand in some of it, but that's a far cry from even "most of it." It was most likely compiled over hundreds of years and edited and redacted sometime around 300 b.c.e. That seems to be what most scholars can agree on.

Perhaps his "traditional marriage" to 700 wives and 300 concubines (I Kings 11:1-3) had addled his brain?

Not quite, though he probably had a great time with all those ladies around... Who wouldn't? (Oops! Forgot who I was writing to for a second...)

Talk to the fool and become a fool, or talk to the fool and prove him a fool?

Well, something like that. Read on for the commentary on this...

Of course, some of my regular audience members will say I am the fool...

Right now, you certainly are playing the part well, but as I am answering you, then at least you are not the worse of the two kinds purported in these proverbs.

Isn't that convenient?

What is?

It seems Solomon may have been the fool for putting these verses back-to-back...

Who said anything about Solomon writing this? Are you arguing from the fundie point of view again?

Or is it so wise it is above our feeble brains to comprehend?

No quite. Read on.


Okay, I will.

Part IV

What if you were talking to some wise dude--or at least someone whose opinion you trusted--and you are discussing some future plan to do something. You want to tackle this thing head-on, balls to the wall, and this dude says, "Now Jason, haste makes waste." You think about that for a few seconds or so, and after some quiet moments this dude says to you, "He who hesitates is lost." Is this guy an idiot, or is he trying to get you to think about this prospect some more, showing you two sides of the same coin?

Again, what if you are single and consulting an online dating service and some respected doctor writes this column saying something like, "Birds of a feather flock together." You think about this a little bit and start to think of all the people you know who are in good, healthy relationships and the thought comes to mind: "Opposites attract" (and then you get Paula Abdul and that damn cat in your head all the rest of the day!). Do you say to yourself, "That guy's a quack because he contradicts my reality," or do you synthesize these ideas in your mind, thinking that it takes a little bit of both for a relationship to work?

By their nature, proverbs are meant to be true only in a given context. Sometimes a proverb might fit a given situation perfectly, while in another it might fall flat on its face. All wise men know this, and it is wisdom that best guides the fittingness of a proverb. This is why wise men and those enlightened who teach little grasshoppers like us love to use proverbs, especially proverbs that are surface-level contradictions. They are wise and know that different proverbs mean different things in different situations. Life is complex--extremely complex--and no one saying or proverb or law or answer will fit all situations in all times. Wise people know this about life, and thus when they juxtapose two opposing ideas like this together, if we don't see the wisdom in it, then shame on us.

Orson Scott Card, one of my favorite writers, says this: "Sickness and healing are in every heart. Death and deliverance are in every hand." That's powerful stuff, especially when he fleshes this surface-level-contradictory idea out in the rest of the novel, Speaker for the Dead. Again, one of my favorite guitarists and lyricists writes, "Honesty can kill/ Honesty can heal/ Honesty, be free." Human experience will tell you that this is true, in both situations. Even though on the surface these two ideas oppose each other, the complexities of life leave room for both instances to be true simultaneously, given different situations. And again, I read a zen monk say, "Before I studied zen, I thought mountains were just mountains, and trees were just trees. After I studied zen a little bit, I learned that mountains were more than mountains, and trees were more than trees. After I studied zen some more, I learned that mountains were just mountains, and trees were just trees." One does not have to be fully enlightened to imagine a case where this seemingly impossible notion can actually be--at least I can imagine this idea being true, after concentrating on it for a while before going to sleep one night.

The point is that two contradictory notions can happily fit together under the order of fittingness. In fact, if you look at the context in which these proverbs are written, you will see that that is what the writer is trying to stress. The proverbs mentioned fall under the second solomonic collection of sayings (notice this is a collection of what is believed to be his sayings; these are not things he wrote down in a book somewhere, though he very well may have... it's all lost in antiquity), the first of which appeared in Proverbs 10 -22. This second collection comprises chapters 25-29 (what's in between are general sayings of the wise, which are not attributed to any one person in particular). The particular proverbs you mentioned themselves appear within a framework dedicated to fools and fittingness, and in particular we want to look at chapter 26:1-12, for these verses encapsulate a theme of fittingness, using the fool as a foil to wisdom, teaching about the need to properly navigate through the complexities of life. Of course, how can one do this thoroughly except by living day by day with a person, and in each situation explaining to them which decision to best make through wisdom in a given situation. That is obviously impossible, so the next best thing is to literarily mirror the complexity of life in all of its tediousness, and one way to do that is through paradox.

To introduce this paradox, the writer introduces the idea of fittingness in verses 1-3. Having introduced the theme, he hits you with the "climax" so to speak. The writer presents the problem of fittingness in a radical, paradoxical way, which thematically speaks of the complexities of life. In one situation, one might make this decision, and in another, one might want to make the other decision. It all comes down to fittingness, which itself is guided by wisdom. If one is wise, one will know when to answer (and in the course of answering enlighten), and when not to answer (for if she answers, she will most likely be sucked down to the fool's level). All proverbs are situational, and by juxtaposing these two together, the writer is driving home this very point through paradox. Verses 6-11 present two sets of three metaphors/similes (depending on one's translation) which spell out various ways one might make the wrong kinds of decisions, using the fool as an example of how not to live fittingly in accordance with wisdom. The theme is summed up in verse 12, wrapping up this idea of fittingness and moving onto a certain class of fool: the sluggard or lazy person.

So on the surface, these verses seem like they are a prime example of how the bible contradicts itself, but when one looks at what is really going on, one can see that there is much to be discovered--the least of which is that there is no contradiction. What it is is a prime example of how well-written and poetically beautiful some parts of the bible really are. There's a reason this book is the number one best-seller of all time: it's a damn good work of literature.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Long Delayed Response to Ergo

If you want to know why it takes so long for me to respond to things sometimes, just look at Jason's dialogue with his nephews, and imagine that as taking up 12 hours of my life EVERY DAY. But I feel rested enough now so here goes...

Ergo said this:

After all those things you pointed out as limitations to the Bible, why then do
you still consider it of any value to you? What can you glean from it and be
certain that it is the truth of "God"? Can you be certain of *anything* at all
in it?? Despite all the limitations that you acknowledge the Bible has, you
still hold it as the holy book of your religion, and for the most part, follow
its prescriptions. Why!?

In as small of a nutshell as I can, let me say that I am postmodern enough to say that we will never fully know ultimate truth (Truth) but not postmodern enough to say there is no such thing as ultimate truth. I believe that Truth is out there somewhere, but we see through a glass darkly and only see shades of Truth, or truth. In this life, all we will ever know is truth, and what your truth is might be different than my truth. If our truths are genuine--that is, they reflect Truth and are not just the latest humanly concocted paddywagon handing out the flavor of the month--they will help provide a snapshot of Truth. I believe Truth can only come by revelation and only a few people in history have been able to distill it in such a way that our fallen senses can handle it. This is where we get our great religions throughout history. Of course, people being as they are fuck it up along the way, so much so that sometimes genuine seekers become so frustrated that they say to hell with it all and lose their religion, as our bald buddy Michael Stipe might say (Disclaimer: I am not and never have been an REM fan and have no idea what that song is really about, but being a partaker of our popular culture I have had the chorus drilled in my head and it just came to me and I use the reference loosely knowing full well my allusion might be unfounded and downright wrong.)

So while the bible has a lot of truth in it, it was written by people. Inspired by God to be sure, but still written by fallen human beings nonetheless. So it's going to have its fallacies and limitations. But should I throw it all away just because of that? No way! I can most assuredly be certain that it contains truth, but remember, not Truth. I'm neo-orthodox that way. Barth is my hero in this regard. I look to Jesus, not to the bible for Truth. The bible tells his story, so I have to accept it within a certain framework of limitations and idiosyncrasies of culture and values and belief systems. But everything ever written down has these limitations. Nothing in our human world is free from them. But that doesn't make all of our writing-things-down in vain; it just means that we need to tread carefully when we deem something as containing truth and not mistake it for Truth.

Also, keep in mind the bible was not written to be a collection of books called the bible. The bible was written by tent-dwellers and vagabonds--from servants to kings and from lowly farmhands to high-court officials. It was written by storytellers spinning yarns and minstrels singing around campfires. I scoff at the naivete of the fundies when they claim it as the inerrant word of God. It's nothing more than a collection of poems, myths, legends, folklore, stories, and history written by hundreds of people over thousands of years. Its compilation spanned millennia, too, and even that is in dispute to this day, some sects adding books while others taking books away. All of it, though, is to be revered simply because it has survived all that time! How many preserved writings do we have from the ancients? The answer is not that much. It's difficult for our Internet-inundated minds to fathom what that actually means. It's a treasure trove of ideas and insights into a culture so alien to us that these people just as well might have come from Mars. So we can glean truth about God from it simply because those writings were where they were at that time in history. Different from where we are, obviously, but put it all together and you come up with a better truth than they had. It's not Truth; it's truth. Their truth. Let's discover our truth and put it all together and come up with something closer to Truth than we have been.

Think of it this way: When you were a child, you thought and spoke like a child. You went with what you had at the time. You fucked up and made mistakes all along the way. Then when you got older, if you were wise, you learned from those mistakes, held onto your truth, and added someone else's at various stages along the way. Before you die, if you are wise, you will continue this process. Truth is what we aspire to, and truth is all we have to work with. The OT, then, might represent a select people's view of truth in times we cannot even imagine. Furthermore, humanity moved along and the NT represents more truth than their predecessors. Then the church comes and adds more and more. And this is only from the Judeo-Christian realm of humanity; think of the scores of other people's whose truths reveal more and more. Mistakes along the way? Absolutely. We are human. We're like blind, lame people feeling different parts of the elephant in the room. Your truth is a leg and mine is the tail and his is the snout and hers is the ear. The elephant is the Truth, and as long as we keep searching and are wise and prudent with our truth, we'll all become enlightened someday.

So then why am I not a zen buddhist or a taoist? This philosophy might sound quasi-eastern, and it is in many ways. After all, these traditions are all reflections of Truth, are they not? I would say yes, and you may not. That's fine. We'll find out when we die, if we find out at all. Who really, truly knows? But why am I a xian? Why do I follow Christ and not the buddha? While I greatly admire and even whole-heartedly believe certain teachings of Lao-tzu and the Buddha, neither of those two men died for me. The Buddha certainly suffered--that was the core of his teaching, and I honestly don't know much about Lao-tzu, but I know he didn't suffer and bleed for what he thought he was doing for humanity. But Jesus did. His life is an unadulterated radical and rebellious movement against the dominant paradigm of his time, and I dig that. If everything he says is true, then he died so that I might live. If he was just dreaming all this stuff, then at the very least he lived and died by his convictions and you have to respect that. The more I learn about him, the more he grows on me. It's actually something I can't explain too well. The more I learn about certain people, the more I love them, too, especially our founding fathers and guys like Lincoln and even Reagan (sometimes). But all of these guys have flaws somewhere that I learn about and am repelled by these, and I have to remember that they were just dude's living and reacting to the world around them. Jesus is different, though. I have yet to come across any repugnancy or alarm that says, "Okay, he's just a dude living and reacting to the world around him. Get over it." That hasn't happened yet. The dude kicks ass in every way. His life and death are at the very least a fascinating story and at the most a cause to die for. I don't know if I can say that about anyone else, though maybe if Washington was leading me across the Delaware I might die for him and his (which would be mine, of course) cause--who knows? I don't think I'd die for Lincoln, though, and save the Union, as much as I admire the man. But again, who knows?

So that's where I am right now. It's not where I was last year (okay, it probably was!), and it might not be where I'll be next year, but it's where I'm at today. I also could say more, but I must next devote my writing time to Jason, who has been on the right track recently and needs to be recognized.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

What is a double dog?

If it was anything less than the ultimate double-dog dare--no wait... it was the double-dog dare--I'd be cool. I'd be chilling, probably playing Civ III (alas, I'm too poor for the new Civ IV...) while waiting for Ann to get home, but he (that is, Jason) just had to break out the double-dog--excuse me, the double-dog--and I don't even like dogs!

So since he'll probably get nothing in his comments but people agreeing with him, let me be the lone dissenter--but allow me a few introductory qualifications:

1) I do not believe the bible is completely inerrant, yet at the same time I do believe many--not all, but many--of its supposed errors and contradictions can be quite readily explained through close reading and scholarly research.

2) I do not believe the bible was written by God. It was written by men perhaps inspired by a higher power, but it certainly has the idiosyncratic footprint of a humanity fucked up, albeit with good intentions.

First things first: It is silly to expect the bible to be written in such a precision as today's books are written. First of all, it was written by probably hundreds of different men over a span of probably 5000 years (give or take a couple of hundred or so) and completed just under 2000 years ago. Think about that.

Go ahead. Think.

Think hard. That's a lot to swallow. That's a long, long fucking time ago, in a place and culture that might as well be on an alien planet. Hell, even the historical time period covered in the bible spans many diverse cultures alien to one another. But even the foreignness that these cultures and societies would experience with one another pales in comparison to the foreignness we would experience with any of their respective cultures.

Now think of this. Firstly, books today are primarily written by one person who has a birth certificate, social security number, a paper trail a couple of miles long, etc. In other words, most people today who write books are historically validated because we do that kind of thing nowadays. Secondly, books written today are scrutinized by a small army dedicated to making them errata free--and even then most books lucky enough to be published still contain a handful of errors which sometimes might not even get fixed when they get to paperback. And thirdly, books written today are written and edited by contemporaries who know one another. In other words, the writer is in a relationship with the publicist who knows the editor who hires the lawyers and the proofreaders who knows the compositor who knows the printer so on and so forth. These people all have the benefit of calling one another up on cell phones, doing lunch with one another, e-mailing one another. In other words, they are not only contemporaries but have the advantage of instantaneous feedback on whatever it is that's going on in their lives, which is, in this case, putting together a book that is as well-written and close to error-free as possible.

And now this: the people who compiled these ancient writings are not historically verifiable. They were much more worried about getting enough food for their tribe or warring with a neighboring clan to bother with birth certificates and the like. Hell, up until very recently, people didn't even keep track of something as simple as a birthday, if for no other reason than the infant mortality rate was so high, people just thought they were lucky they lived that first week. (BTW, the only reason we know when Shakespeare was born was because the church recorded when he was baptized, which by custom was three days after one's birth because even then the infant mortality rate was exorbitantly high. So as late in human history as the sixteenth century, people didn't care about birthdays nearly as much as living on after one was born. And Shakespeare had a stable home, town, and country. Imagine a nomadic tribe in the desert 5000 years ago. How stable is that? But I digress). Also, it's not like these people, even as late as Jesus' day, could walk into a Barnes & Noble (NOT FUCKING BARNES & NOBLES!!!!! Sorry, had to get that off my chest) and just buy a couple of books from among thousands. These people had stones and rocks, and later ink and papyrus. And they only had a handful of originals, if they had any copies at all. This is all they had, mind you, for thousands of years while the bible was being recorded by hundreds of men who didn't know each other and could call one another up and say, "Hey, did you get that tablet I sent you regarding your contradiction on tablet 42?" (Forty-two! Ha!) Now, mind you, the Old Testament was written by a solid group of people who handed the tablets (and later scrolls) down very, very carefully from one generation to another, which is why you have a lot less contradiction in the OT than in the NT. Nevertheless, the Jewish priests did not have the benefit of calling up their fellow scribe who wrote whatever down however many hundreds of years ago. It's when you get to the NT that you really see all these supposed errors and contradictions, but we'll get to that soon enough.

Like now. The New Testament is compiled from thousands--yes, thousands!--of various scrolls, some of which have holes, are illegible, ruined beyond repair, etc. And yes, many do contain contradictions. So scholars went with the ones that matched the most, laid aside those that didn't quite fit theologically or that just were obvious forgeries. It's a fascinating undertaking to look at all of this editing, redacting, compiling, and canonizing--but that would go beyond the scope of this post. To get to the point, you pointed out some--what you feel, I'm sure--are blatant contradictions in Paul's conversion experience. You cite three passages: two from Acts and one from Galatians. Let's look at this idea of yours.

It is pretty much agreed upon by most scholars that, of all the NT books, Paul's letters were the first to be written, probably around 40-50 a.c.e. (And BTW, I'm going off of memory here, so I might have some dates wrong or mixed up, but I feel confident enough to write this without looking any of it up, so I'm pretty sure I'm at least close to historical accuracy, but you are more than welcome to fact-check me.) And of those letters, only about half are agreed upon as authentically Pauline. Remember, we're talking about a culture far different than our own, and in those days it was very common to evoke the name of a famous person in order to lend some credence to what was being written. So many in the infant church, seeing that Paul was a rising star, would invoke his name in order to get people to buy into what was being written. So many of the "Pauline" letters preached to the masses on Sunday mornings are just some dude's ideas, and he was using Paul to get his opinion heard. So Paul really isn't the patriarchal misogynist, lay-down-the-law-of-the-church type dude we all make him out to be. But again, that's for another time in another place. However, most scholars do contend that Galatians was in fact written by Paul. So out of all your examples of Paul's conversion, the one in Galatians is probably the most closest to the truth (even though it's not so much an example of his conversion so much as an explanation to the Galatian church of his street cred with respect to the gospel as he knew it).

And this is where we get to the point of people not being contemporaries--or at least not knowing each other. I find it hard to imagine one of your background not knowing that Paul did not write Acts. You say, "from Paul's own mouth" when speaking of what's written in Acts, and I found that quite disconcerting. You did clear some of this mess up at the end when you mentioned that some "claim that Luke wrote the book of Acts," but even that evidences your lack of knowledge when it comes to who wrote what NT book, when it was written, to whom it was written, and why (not that I'm an expert, mind you... like I said, I'm going off of memory from stuff I learned a while back, so I might have some things mixed up, but I'm pretty sure I'm close to what the latest scholarship is in a nutshell). It's pretty much agreed upon that whoever wrote Acts also wrote Luke beause they are the same book that got broken up when the canon was being compiled--in other words, Acts is Luke Part Deux. But no one is clear on who wrote any of the gospels. John probably wrote John, and Mark was probably written first--soon after Paul's epistles--but that's the best scholars can do. And all of these gospels were written after Paul's letters, the one attributed to Luke decades after Paul penned his epistle to the Galatians. (And BTW, Paul was writing these letters to individual people in individual small churches in individual circumstances. He probably would not want these specific letters to be universally applied, and he certainly had no idea that they would be canonized and thus scrutinized to death for thousands of years, else he probably would've been much more careful with what he said and how he said it!)

So, what do we have? We have an authentic (as best we can determine) letter, followed decades later by an anonymous book traditionally attributed to Luke. Which one am I going to give more credence to? I think that's obvious; I'm going to go with the account in Galatians. But to accuse Luke (we'll just call this author Luke for argument's sake) of lying is just silly. These two writers probably never even knew each other, they were writing to different audiences with different agendas for different purposes, and their writings are separated by decades at best. Furthermore, Paul was quite the charismatic young up-and-comer in the infant church. Everyone knew about his past, and his new vocation just stunned people. And, taking into account the idea that telephones, radios, books, newspapers, magazines, television, the Internet--you know, the places we get our information--didn't exist back then, people made up stories, told tall tales, exaggerated. It's always more fun to embellish, miss this fact, gloss over that one, not hear this one but exaggerate that one. So, taking into account that the letter and the book were not written by the same author, they were not written with the same intent or purpose, they both had a different audience with different issues, the two authors probably never even met, they were separated by decades of time, the writer of Luke had no media from which to gather information and instead relied on hearsay, and people back then were storytellers first and fact-checkers later (remember, this is a completely different culture!), the accounts shouldn't be expected to match up except by those who don't really know what they are reading. It's like when my tenth graders tell me that Shakespeare is dumb. They can't understand the Elizabethan language, and because of their lack of understanding and need for immediate gratification, they spout off these crazy notions which only expose their lack of education. That's what reading your last post was like: "Mister [that's what my students call me], Shakespeare is so dumb!" Not that you are uneducated; you are obviously a very intelligent dude (you're a fucking Hughes for crying out loud), but in this area of knowledge I believe you are lacking some information, which I am trying to lay out in the briefest way I can without skimping.

So there it is. Most of your posts I agree with. Fundies suck (most of them, anyway). People should know this about them. But where you do such a good job of investigating and researching and validating and exposing these claims against them like the Pulitzer-seeking muckraking journalist you could be, you do an equally bad job of writing about a book you spent your youth being hit upon the head with but never really examining. I find it continually amazing how many people bad-mouth the bible but probably can't even name ten books it contains (it's like when Stephen Colbert was interviewing a representative who introduced legislation to have the Ten Commandments posted in federal courthouses, and Colbert asked him to name the Ten Commandments, and he couldn't even name four!!!). Not that you are that uneducated about the bible; I'm sure you're more educated than most. But I thought you knew more about it than what you have shown in your most recent post. And like I said, I'm no expert by any stretch of the imagination. I might know more than the average person, but I am far from an expert. I just wish you'd put all that investigation and research you put into your fundie diatribes and perhaps incorporate them into your bible diatribes. You really do such a good job with them, exposing their hypocrisies and such. I can tell you put a lot of time and thought into them, and it shows by your consistent readership, the mark of a good writer.

So let me know what you think. I've tried to cover as much as my brain would allow me to recall. I think most of what I wrote is somewhat accurate, but you are more than willing to check up on all this stuff I just glossed off the top of my head. I'd like to know if I'm wrong so I can correct my thinking and ideas. After all, I have more of a stake in this stuff right now, at least for the time being.