Mapping the Apocalypse

“Is this the end of the world?”  The question came up often early in the pandemic.  The end.  It’s so logical that just about every religion addresses it.  It bookends “the beginning” with the symmetry that we so covet that it’s almost impossible to think the world won’t end.  Even astronomers tell us the sun will betray us, eventually becoming a red giant and consuming our home planet.  Apart from being the greatest equalizer, however, religious speculation places the end way, way before then.  A friend sent me an article in National Geographic by Greg Miller titled “These 15th-Century Maps Show How the Apocalypse Will Go Down.”  It describes literal maps of the eschaton, and guess what?  It was right around the corner back then too.

Maps to the end of the world have been around for a long time.  With a bizarre Schadenfreude, many Christian groups eagerly anticipate the end of all this.  I grew up with charts and maps telling just how it was going to happen.  Like all of you, I’ve lived through many ends of the world.  These folks must be the strangestly optimistic bunch on the planet—when it fails to come on schedule they pencil in another date, preferably in their own lifetime.  They want to see it.  It will, after all, prove that they were right and the rest of the world was wrong.  Who wouldn’t want that kind of validation?  The apocalypse has been around since long before the fifteenth century.  It started in the New Testament, if not before.

This eagerness to end the world would be considered pathological were it not religious.  We’ve been about the closest we’ve been to a human-made apocalypse under Trump.  Make no mistake, some Christians were banking on it when they cast their ballots.  We tend to overlook this destructive way of thinking because some biblical literalists (and they don’t all agree, just put a premillennialist together in a room with a postmillennialist and watch what happens) claim that it’s what the Good Book says.  The rest of society, disinclined to look it up for themselves, accept that roadmaps to the end of the world exist in the Bible.  They don’t, but that doesn’t prevent everyone from fifteenth-century monks to present-day televangelists declaring when it will be.  That there is an end is taken for granted.  The astronomers look at their watches and sigh that we’ve got a couple billion years left, at least.  No, the pandemic wasn’t the end of the world although many Christians were hoping it just might be.


Meanness

There’s often a meanness to literalist religions.  A sense that if they can keep their particular interpretation of God’s will, then anybody can.  No compassion.  No forgiveness.  Considering the base messages of nearly all those religions that harbor fundamentalists, that attitude is quite surprising.  Indeed, it ceases to be religion at all and becomes merely a facade of one.  The recovery of the body of Khaled al-Asaad is what brought this to mind.  Back in 2015 al-Asaad, an 82-year old archaeologist, was beheaded by the extremist Islamic State group in Syria.  Al-Asaad had spent his life excavating and attempting to understand the site of Palmyra.  The Islamic State was determined to destroy what they considered “idols” or offensive images.  When the octogenarian refused to tell them where they could find further antiquities to destroy, they beheaded him.

This isn’t finger-pointing at Islam.  Islam is a highly moral religion that values peace.  What it has in common with Christianity, apart from some shared history and theology, is that it fosters extremists.  Extremism may be fueled by religion but it’s not religious.  The adherents are often mean, hard-line individuals who have trouble distinguishing the shades of gray that make up so much of life.  As a result of the Islamic State movement, many antiquities that had survived for thousands of years were destroyed forever.  There were heroes like Khaled al-Asaad (we might even call them saints) who tried to protect these irreplaceable artifacts.  Religion has no feud with the past.  In fact, religions consciously build on their pasts.  Continuity is important to them.

Extremism of this kind is a fairly new blending of religion and politics.  As recently as the sixties it was felt that religion and politics should be compartmentalized.  Kept separate.  When the Republican Party realized in the seventies that evangelicals could be made into a voting bloc, religion became politicized.  This happened elsewhere around the world.  “True believers”—the very term suggests the rest of us believers aren’t true—tasting political power, realized they could use their meanness to make the rest of the world in their own unforgiving image.  We’ve been living with the consequences ever since.  Even now Republican lawmakers fear reprisals of Trump supporters if they dare accept the truth.  In other words, extremist religion has pitched its battle against the truth itself.  That would be ironic if it weren’t so terrifying.  No religion that I know has meanness among its central tenets.  It takes literalism to make it one.


Imagine the World

Biblical CosmosRobin A. Parry’s, The Biblical Cosmos: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Weird and Wonderful World of the Bible is a fun trip through territory already familiar. Familiar, that is, to anyone who has studied the biblical world on its own terms. Fundamentalists, I think, would benefit from taking this guided tour seriously. The fact is, most people have no real sense of how mythology might inform a scientifically inclined world. Not that Parry will convince everyone, but the dangers of literalism are best disarmed by a believer. This little book endeavors to demonstrate just how odd a world produced the Bible we still use today.

Although the point of the book may not be what I took away from it, I would suggest that the most important aspect is that times change.  A biblical worldview, unless one is mentally able to hold two realities simultaneously in mind, is simply not possible today.  I told generations of students that the world described by the Bible does not exist.  It is a flat world, held up by pillars and with a solid bowl inverted over it for a sky.  At the same time, those who lived in the biblical world were not simpletons.  The basics of science were well understood and their engineering capacity easily bypassed that of the current writer.  It was a world based on different assumptions than ours.  The problem occurs when people who know better (i.e., anyone born since about the time of Copernicus) try to pretend that the Bible can be taken literally.  It is disingenuous to say so.  The Bible, regardless of divine status, is a document of its time.  No dinosaurs had been discovered.  The processes of geology were understood only in the most rudimentary of ways.  Stars were not millions of light years away.
 
So what are we supposed to do with this information?  Parry concludes his book by describing ways in which the biblical view of the cosmos might fit, conceptually, into a modern theology.  For many of those starting out in the academic study of the Bible such a demonstration can be quite valuable.  Those who’ve been at it a while will surely have come up with their own systems.  When books become sacred, in the minds of the believing community, the “truth” attributed to the book is the truth of that era.  As any scientist or historian will attest, truth is contingent.  We haven’t learned everything yet.  Given the limitations of the human mind, we likely never will.  We should accept our universe with a little mystery.  Humility can be a good thing, and it is more effective not having to make excuses for what will surely become outdated information sooner than we think.


In Praise of Eve

Resurrecting EveI once told some colleagues that reading even basic children’s books as Dick and Jane or The Cat in the Hat was a different experience for girls than it was for boys. Although Dr. Seuss was far more enlightened than much of the standard children’s literature from the era, there’s no doubt that the Cat is an active male, as are Things 1 and 2. The human girl (and her brother) are somewhat more passive, and thus the raring, rollicking action is mostly male. I try to stop frequently and notice how the message is still broadcast too widely that gender stereotypes contain the truth. Back when the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature met in San Francisco, a west-coast publisher, White Cloud Press, showed up. One of their books, Resurrecting Eve: Women of Faith Challenge the Fundamentalist Agenda, seemed appropriate for someone who’d been at Nashotah House as long as I had. Written by a psychologist and a pastor, Roberta Mary Pughe and Paula Anema Sohl, it raises many points that, while not new, again reminded me that men have to take responsibility to learn how women experience the culture that masculinity continues to dominate.

Reading stories of women who’ve suffered at the hands of a hyper-masculine fundamentalist Christianity, it is difficult not to cringe. Young girls molested by ministers in a culture where no one’s voice trumps that of the preacher, have no chance of justice. The mere thought of the few who’ve managed to build the courage to speak out suggests that far more choose to suffer in silence. The abuse isn’t always sexual. Damage to the esteem is rather a specialization of literalist groups, but males get off comparatively easy. Women and girls are provided with a unfair framework from the beginning and they often spend their entire lives conforming to it. These stories, even with the new age-ish kind of framing the book gives, must be told. More importantly, they must be heard.

In a world where our technology is so advanced as to make a Wright brother’s head spin, we still refuse to admit the equality of women. The United States comes nowhere near the top of democracies that have a significant portion of women in government positions of power. We like to think we’re advanced, but we still keep half of our people back from their true potential. We sent a satellite out of our own solar system before a woman president was ever elected. We call ourselves civilized. Of course, Pughe and Sohl are mainly concerned with fundamentalist Christianity. When we look at the demographics of government officials, however, the picture in this regard is not encouraging. Fundamentalism won’t be changed by scholars, for they are easily ignored. It will be changed by everyday men who pick up a book, perhaps because of the seductive painting of a woman on the cover, and realize that there’s far more at stake than cheap thrills and Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues. Treating women equally is merely the first step in becoming truly human.


Literally Biology

In a New York Times opinion piece on a recent Sunday (ironically, always on a Sunday), college biology professor David P. Barash submitted an article entitled “God, Darwin and My College Biology Class.” Barash notes that increasingly students come to his class thinking evolution is more or less optional. I found the same thing teaching religion classes. When student presentations at state universities addressed Genesis it was fairly common to have a large number of undergraduates suggesting that evolution is “just a theory” and “intelligent” design was a viable option. I tried to show them in class that the Bible does not support the shenanigans that creationists impose upon it, but the message rolled off like rain from an evolved waterfowl. Still, I do have to take exception to some of Barash’s broad strokes. He feels that religion and science cannot coexist. I wonder, however, what he means by religion.

Religion is an ill-defined word. One of the most pragmatic usages I’ve heard is that religion is what people use to give meaning to their lives. Religions may be theistic or a. Religions may be anti-science or pro. Religion, per se, is no threat to science. Fundamentalism is not religion. Fundamentalists use religion to further their ends, which are often political. Since many religions grew up around sacred writings the urge was there from the beginning to take these holy words literally. They gave meaning in a pre-scientific era. Newton, Galileo, Darwin—and even before them Plato and Aristotle—simply shifted the angle of illumination. The problem is that many religious believers feel they have the answers already. New facts only confuse the issue. Left to their own devices such beliefs quietly go extinct.

Charles_Darwin_aged_51

It is only when a conscious decision is made to champion archaic writ against empirical evidence that science and religion join combat. Most religious people in scientifically advanced societies have no problems with evolution or particle physics. They simply show the way the world is. The vastness of the universe should give us all pause, but it does make you wonder which way to point your telescope to spy the almighty. I sympathize with Barash. It is not easy to find many of your students, in either science or religion classes, with their minds already made up. Still, it might help to realize that religion is not the culprit here. Literalism is a kind of mental problem. Until it is rightfully separated from religion we will all be left wasting valuable class time trying to convince students of the facts of life.


Back to School

“We want to make certain that we view culture through the eyes of faith, that we don’t view our faith through the eyes of culture.” The words are those of Stephen Livesay, president of Bryan College, according to a recent New York Times article. Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee, already famous as the school that evolved out of the Scopes Monkey Trial, has been toying with adding a more specifically fundamentalist statement to its panoply of faith. Instead of stating simply that humans (more precisely, “man”) were (was) created by God, Livesay wants to clarify that this means by special creation, no evolution involved. Hey, we’re all thinking it. Why not just say it?

800px-Ape_skeletons

With the characteristic, journalistic eye-rolling that inevitably accompanies stories about creationism, I frequently wonder why there aren’t more calls to try to understand this viewpoint. It’s easier to condemn and say that narrow minds can’t widen out, but some of us who had believed in Bryan’s hypothesis at one time have managed by dint of reading and reason to climb our way out of the slime. If we understood what made literalism so appealing, we might be able to figure out why only America lags behind the developed world in accepting what is otherwise universally regarded as a fact. Instead, faculty members nationwide willing to call this into question are summarily fired and nobody bothers to do a thing to support them. Collateral damage of the culture wars. Perhaps we should add a statement about not letting the door hit you on your way out.

Evolution through natural selection stabs very deeply into the heart of human self-worth. We still refer to other animals as “lower” than us, and we exploit them in any way we see fit. Then we don’t wonder why being told you’re just like them isn’t disturbing. This is trench warfare. Lines in the sand dug deeper and deeper. Those who believe in creationism aren’t simple. Even with all our space telescopes and Mars rovers, we’re told the most complex thing known to humanity is still its own brain. And that brain makes people with Ph.D.s think that they’re special—either a separate creation by an invisible god, or because they can recognize how irrational our own brains make us. No intelligent being would want to understand why this is so by studying it rationally. That would make far too much sense.


Sun Devils

Unbelievable. The unrelenting sun of Arizona is unbelievable. Even a “cloudless day” back east is only an approximation. Here it is literal. And like all things literal, it attracts the Fundamentalists. I spent the day on the campus of Arizona State University, the country’s largest university by enrollment. Outside the student union, a couple of bands were banging away in the heat, but when I passed by in mid-afternoon they’d been replaced by a street preacher. He was nattily dressed and provocative. When I first walked by he was talking about students being either “a wicked homosexual, a wicked pot-smoker, or a wicked feminist” and went on to throw in some choice words such as “Obama-loving sinner.” Nobody seemed to be paying him much mind. I went on to a couple of appointments and when I passed that way again, at least ninety minutes later, he was still at it. Now he had a small crowd. Students virtuously challenged him as he claimed that he was without sin, “yes, I am Christ-like” he said to one question, and proceeded to tell anyone that challenged him that they were not children of God and that they should run to Hell because they would enjoy it so much.

Preachit

The more I watched this charade, the more trouble I had believing that the preacher was sincere. He quoted, out of context, of course, chapter and verse. He literally thumped his Bible. His hatred for anyone who disagreed with him was plainly evident. I felt embarrassed on so many levels. This is a state university, and the man had a clear agenda of hatred and intolerance. I was here to meet the religion faculty. Everything students were being taught in their classes was being shot down by an ancient book that had relevance only by being quoted out of context. And all of this on a campus whose mascot is the Sun Devil. Devils abound on campus, but the worst, it seemed to me, preached loudest.

Somewhere along the way to enlightenment, this kind of Christianity slipped the rails to become its own self-righteous force. What right had this man to tell students they were wicked? To me they seemed hospitable, peace-loving, and kind to the stranger in their midst. The preacher, self-fascinated, claimed to be without sin. I guess that gave him the scripture-sanctioned right to cast the first stone. Good thing he wasn’t in the crowd when Jesus rescued the woman caught in adultery. When a few students pointed out his flaws in reasoning, which were many, others applauded before he flew back to his out-of-context biblical backbone. More quoting, more thumping. The sun was out in full force in Arizona, but somehow it failed to fall on one man who proclaimed himself better than all others.


Hemlock and Crucifixion

Rhetoric is dying a slow, painful death. In this world where literalism reigns, the use of words to elicit an illicit truth deeper than the factual is no longer recognized. We see it both in the humorless antics of the New Atheists and in the ravings of the Fundamentalists. Writers have always known—serious writers at least—that truth is so much more than an objective ticking off of what really happened. The post-modernists may seem insufferable at times, but they have taught us that true objectivity is false, a mythic holdover from imperialistic thought processes that believed here, in this single mind, bias does not exist. We all have biases. Except me, of course. Rhetoric again.

I do not get many comments on this blog. Usually it takes someone to disagree with my ramblings to gussy up the energy to dispute what I write. I try not to distort facts, but facts are rare commodities these days. George Orwell is not really dead, I mused as I stood by his gravestone in Sutton Courtenay. Should someone deny that I was there how should I prove it in this day of Photoshop and pixelated truth? And that wasn’t even his real name.

When I regularly taught, students would ask me what I believed. What I believe, I would respond, is not important. I am teaching a subject, a field of study. When is the last time you asked your chemistry professor what she believed? Would it matter? Of course, thoughts, I’m told, are only chemical reactions that lead to electrical charges. Miniature storms inside our skulls. Literally. Rhetoric folds its hands across its metaphorical chest and lays quietly, awaiting the pall.

Socrates had his method. He ended up an enemy of the state. Jesus told parables. He also ended up an enemy of the state. Rhetoric, make no mistake, is a dangerous game to play. The hearer, or the reader, hears or reads what s/he wants to hear or read. And in a literal world, people would rather not have to read too deeply, for truth, it is believed, lies plainly upon the surface. There used to be a word for such a surface reading, but should I write it here I would be guilty of using rhetoric. And rhetoric awaits the delivery of the flowers but few are the black-garbed mourners. It is best not to disturb the dead.

Photo credit: Eric Gaba, Wikicommons

Photo credit: Eric Gaba, Wikicommons


The Good Magazine

IMG_0902I saw this magazine in a store recently. The temptation to buy it was compelling, but with international trips and a child about to start college to pay for, it felt a little superfluous. Presumably what was meant by this jaunty title, “The Bible: 50 Ways it can Change Your Life,“ was that by reading and applying the Bible and its precepts respectively, your life will be transformed. The problem is that there is no expiration date. Not to be too entrepreneurial with scripture, but how long do you have to apply all this before the blessings take hold? One of the criticisms atheists frequently bring to the discussion is that in order to explain the truly difficult aspects of the universe, the faithful often resort to laying claim to the divine mystery. God works in a mysterious way. Rationality squirms with discomfort at the thought of unsolvable mysteries. In our cause-and-effect world you might expect a fairly quick turnaround with the almighty. I know the Bible has changed, indeed, shaped my life. In more than 50 ways.

Lest I be accused of being too cynical, I feel obligated to explain that I grew up utterly convinced that the Bible was literally factual. Even working around the contradictions I studiously denied, it seemed that the goal was more to make your after-life better, rather than the one here and now. Too many nasty things attended living by the word. People were dying in the Good Book, in droves. The trade-off was a better world coming. If something transformative, in the prosperity gospel sense, were going to happen, it had plenty of time to come along in my younger years. Instead, the Bible led me to a foreshortened career in teaching it and a job in which applying its principles is a sure path to getting fired. Can the Bible change your life? It sure can.

The ways listed on the cover—live with eternity in mind, embrace your weakness, and love your enemies—all fit parts of the Bible. They are all part of “the secret” that makes for best-selling self-help books. The Bible, however, isn’t a book about making your life better. Taking Holy Writ at face value, you obey because that is what is demanded of you. Commandments have no suggestion of option about them. It’s not that I take the Bible lightly; quite the opposite. Something tells me, however, that if I need a magazine to help me figure it out, I must be missing something. Instead of reading the Bible, this is reading about the Bible. The iconic book is alive and well, even in this secular society.


Dracula’s Dinosaur

It must be October when a dinosaur with a parrot’s head, porcupine quills, and fangs is announced. Yesterday’s issue of Time online featured a drawing of the creature and a nifty animation of reconstructing the aptly named Heterodontosaurus. Well, that’s actually the genus name. The species goes by the delightful name Pegomastax africanus. Last I checked, however, space on the ark was filling up. Dinosaurs create a unique embarrassment to Creationists. One suspects that if they didn’t have kids they’d dismiss dinosaurs all together, but the troublesome fossils just won’t go away. What’s more, although they’ve been extinct for 65 million years, they keep producing new species for us to recover, describe, and name. When I was growing up (and I have it on good authority that the argument is still used) Creationists told us that no transitional forms had ever been found. Therefore evolution simply could not have occurred. This was generally followed up by a reference to Genesis. Excuse me, a fanged porcupine-parrot? If that doesn’t count as a transition, what does?

Religion loses nothing by admitting to an ancient earth. Nothing but literalness. One of the joys of reading is the exploration of metaphors, similes, and hyperboles—writing delights us with its constant surprises. Even those who claim to read a text literally are engaging in a form of interpretation even earlier than the first wedge mark pushed into clay. Written texts give us something to ponder, to think about, and occasionally, to obey. Just when it looks like the cover has slammed shut on the black book we find a new set of dinosaur tracks running across our clay tablet. The literal-minded might not see these as being a message from God, but surely the endless variety of creatures that have walked this planet more than make up for it.

We used to have a pet parrot. His name was Archie, named after Archaeopteryx, the feathered dinosaur. Although Archie was cut off by disease in the prime of life, he was a curious bird and when I reached into his cage to try to get him on my finger he would dole out what he meant as a painful bite. I always took it as a sign of affection. Had our little friend had the fangs of Pegomastax africanus, I would’ve thought long and hard before risking the finger-perching trick. I like to think it would have reaffirmed my fascination with the amazing adaptability of nature. Evolution, unlike God, has no purpose. An endless tinkerer, it gives us thousands of differing dinosaurs that had been gone many, many millennia before Moses ever even thought of Noah. Pegomastax is safely extinct now, and the only ones who have to worry about this perfect Halloween dinosaur are those who think that one particular view of one particular book is the only way to find truth.

We still miss you, Archie.


Honor Thy Mother

Earth Day should be an international holiday. Perhaps the most disturbing attribute of some varieties of Evangelicalism is their tendency to read the “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it” of Genesis 1 to be a mandate not tempered by a literal reading of Genesis 4. As I noticed when tweeting the text yesterday, Genesis 4.11 has God say to Cain, literally, “And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand.” Her mouth? What is this if not a biblical affirmation of Gaia? The earth, according to Genesis 2, is literally the mother of Adam. Yahweh is the male element, the fingers molding the dirt (those who have ears, let them hear), while the womb of this bizarre conception is the earth itself. She has a mouth to receive the blood of Abel. The planet beneath our feet, according to the Bible, has not only a mouth, but also hands (Psalm 89, for those who doubt). It is our duty to grasp these hands and save our mother from ourselves.

In the spirit of the day, I decided to fix that pesky leak in the bathroom sink yesterday. We rent, of course, and our landlord—the nicest I’ve ever known—can be a bit slow when it comes to non-emergencies. I fixed the kitchen sink a year or two back, so I stuck my head under the cast-iron monster, baptized by the drips that continued to appear above my head from pipes far older than Methuselah, to see what I could do. After trips to every hardware store in the area, watching bemused DIY experts scratch their heads at photos on my phone of the Byzantine arrangement under my sink, I finally had to admit defeat and reassemble the old faucets again. The drips that fall are Gaia’s tears.

When I was in college I learned of Pascal’s wager. A philosopher who liked to hedge his bets, Pascal deduced that if God exists then our eternal fate relies on our obeying him (always him). If God does not exist, we have lost nothing by behaving ourselves, Pascal concluded. While many Evangelicals find that reasoning attractive, they do not apply it to their mother planet. If God is not coming back any day now, we’d better take care of the planet that sustains us. If God does show up, against all odds, what have we lost? Watching the plants burst back into life after a gray and dank winter, who can help but wonder at it all? Literal or not, the earth is so maternal that we should all pay her the reverence she is owed. Even if it means being a literalist for a day.

NASA's picture of our mother.


Darwin’s Descendents

The plague that goes by the name of Creationism has been attempting to spread its reach to the shores of Britain. Proponents of a biblical literalism, whether overt or covert, have championed the idea that the world is terribly young—a mere cosmic toddler, in fact—compared to the vast geological ages of actual fact. When I unfolded my first ten-pound note and found Charles Darwin on the back, I smiled. England may claim a lion’s share of the heritage of one of the great unifying theories of science. In my brief jaunts between bouts of work I came across the tombstone of Herbert Spencer, the man who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest.” On a visit to Kew Gardens I strolled through the Evolution House. When I paid for my lunch, Darwin passed hands as the common currency of the realm.

Ten pound note

A school of thinking exists among many religious believers that insists that if science makes its claims justly then God cannot condemn them. Evolution runs as close to fact as does atomic theory. Those who doubt the latter should visit Hiroshima. Or Three Mile Island. Our literalist companions certainly don’t doubt nukes, but then, the Bible is mum on the subject of what things are really made of. Well, almost. According to Genesis 1, everything is made of chaos and divine words. The Bible doesn’t describe the origin of chaos—it is the natural state of things. God’s word, when it generates uranium, can be very deadly indeed.

Evolution House

Creationists selectively choose which science to believe and which to reject. Fundamentalism can trace its origins to Britain, but the culture rather quickly outgrew these childish fantasies. In America literalism sank deep roots, roots deep enough to withstand the hurricanes of reason that would otherwise clear the air. Can an American imagine Darwin sharing the money which reads “in God we trust”? And yet, Darwin lies scarcely two meters from Isaac Newton in England’s holiest shrine of Westminster Abbey. Science and religion have here embraced one another. Perhaps when we put all the monkey business aside, we will come to realize that we may still have a thing or two to learn from the nation of our founders. Literally.

Darwin at rest


Algernon Sydney v. Estelle Walker

A headline in yesterday’s paper read “Mom expected God to provide food, daughter testifies,” regarding a New Jersey court case on child endangerment. Back in 2006 an unemployed mother decided, based on what her religion dictated, that God would sustain her family. Her children nearly starved to death after eleven days without food. In a society where those who take their religion literally like to wear it on their sleeves, and politicians receive excessive adulation for their piety, this case is a splash of ice-water honesty. Reality is, people starve to death. Many of them children, many of them religious.

The non-biblical adage “God helps those who help themselves” can properly be traced to Algernon Sydney, a seventeenth-century British philosopher. Quite apart from this noteworthy comment, Sydney was also aware that taking the verses of the Bible out of context you could prove just about anything. He famously wrote, “If you take the scripture to pieces you will make all the penmen of the scripture blasphemous; you may accuse David of saying there is no God and of the Apostles that they were drunk.” Found guilty of treason for his own words taken out of context, Sydney was sentenced to death. Today many people believe his words are biblical.

God help the man who speaks the truth

Perhaps the reality is that people do not want to own up to responsible religion. Believing that God dabbles almighty fingers into the realms of physics, biology, and chemistry every day, violating the laws of nature, they suppose that our little planet is the focal point of a grand cosmic scheme. Meanwhile, a glance at the paper reveals evil perpetrated in the name of God, and a glance at history reveals sensible thinkers facing the gallows.