SCOTUS’s Big FU to JC

SupremeandSupremeIt’s not every day that the US Supreme Court gets an amicus brief from their Lord and Savior. Even more surprising is that conservative Christian justices would ignore Jesus’ opinion so completely, as was the case in their Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway decision of May 2014.

My strong suspicion is that Jesus has no immediate plans of coming back to Earth, otherwise he couldn’t have picked a better time to appear as a surprise witness at the Supreme Court reminding the “Christians” that Christian public prayer is an oxymoron, the very definition of “UN-Christian.”

When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most certainly, I tell you, they have received their reward. —Matthew 6:5

But wait, Jesus isn’t done yet:

But when you make your prayer, go into your private room, and, shutting the door, say a prayer to your Father in secret, and your Father, who sees in secret, will give you your reward. —Matthew 6:6

Pretty clearly the Son of God and King of Kings says only pray in “your private room” where you’re not “seen by men.”

But if Jesus says you can’t pray at your city council meeting, where else could you possibly pray? This time Jesus leads by example:

But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray. —Luke 5:16

In every gospel, Jesus heads off to the desert or the mountain to pray. That’s fine for him, but he never quite imagined his followers would eventually number in the billions. It really is impractical to start your governmental meeting with a quick trip to the desert.

The “Ceremonial” Argument

The 5-4 decision, by and for conservative Christians, claims that these prayers are acceptable since they are “ceremonial” and “part of the Nation’s heritage and tradition.”

As is often the case, these religious prayers or governmental references to God are claimed to be harmlessly “ceremonial” or “patriotic.” But yet at the same time the prayers are fiercely defended by the religious majority. So which is it? Are they negligibly religious or deeply meaningful and important to the believers?

It is just way too convenient that on this one issue these prayers and phrases are decreed to perfectly straddle the line between meaningful and meaningless. Meaningful enough to continue, but not meaningful enough for non-believers to complain about.

To get a sense of how “ceremonial” the Greece, NY prayers were, here are a few quotes from the prayers that were featured in Justice Kagan’s dissent:

Prayers evoking “the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross,” “the plan of redemption that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ,” “the life and death, resurrection and ascension of the Savior Jesus Christ,” the workings of the Holy Spirit, the events of Pentecost, and the belief that God “has raised up the Lord Jesus” and “will raise us, in our turn, and put us by His side.”

The amicus brief from the Freedom from Religion Foundation reminds us that the American “traditions” of miscegenation and sodomy laws had been on the books for a ling time, but that “a longstanding practice can simply be a longstanding violation.”

“We do it that way because we’ve always done it that way” leads to this reasoning from Warren Burger’s 1986 (!) Bowers v. Hardwick opinion:

[H]omosexual conduct ha[s] been subject to state intervention throughout the history of Western civilization. Condemnation of those practices is firmly rooted in Judeao-Christian moral and ethical standards. . . . To hold that the act of homosexual sodomy is somehow protected as a fundamental right would be to cast aside millennia of moral teaching.

Religious Lack of Empathy

Why then are so many (though definitely not all!) Christians unwilling or unable to imagine how it would feel to be a religious outsider when public prayers are being said?

With any religion, just like with any sports team, there is an in-group who shares your core beliefs, and an out-group who doesn’t. What always amazes me is the callous attitude some believers have about the effect of their public prayers on their fellow citizens who don’t share their religious beliefs. What kind of religion does not teach and foster empathy, the ability and willingness to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see the world from their perspective? Either that message just does not get through to some congregants, or some churches don’t see it as a priority.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled this month that the phrase “under God” could stay in the Pledge of Allegiance when public school students are told to recite it. Again, their attitude toward these children is fairly callous: “Participation is entirely voluntary,” as if to assume there is no downside for a child who sits out the Pledge of Allegiance on religious or constitutional grounds.

Which brings us to Bible Funmentionables’ Core Principle #3: If your religion makes you a better person—more empathetic, understanding and accepting of others—then great! If your religion allows or encourages you to be hateful, self-righteous, and intolerant of your fellow human beings who are just trying to get along on this planet, you may have missed the point of your religion entirely.

Michael Morris is the author of Bible Funmentionables: A Lighthearted Look at the Wildest Verses You’ve NEVER Been Told!, which features all of the shocking and hilarious verses that your minister, rabbi, or charismatic cult leader is afraid to preach.

Throw a Reporter “Off This F—ing Balcony” Day

BalconyAN OPEN LETTER TO THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

On January 28, 2014, Representative Michael Grimm (R-NY-11) issued a direct verbal threat to a reporter inside the Capitol building by saying “I’ll break you in half” and “throw you off this f—ing balcony,” which was a direct violation of D.C. law (District of Columbia Official Code, Division IV, Title 22, Subtitle I, Chapter 4, § 22-407).

Threats to do bodily harm.

Whoever is convicted in the District of threats to do bodily harm shall be fined not more than $ 500 or imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both, and, in addition thereto, or in lieu thereof, may be required to give bond to keep the peace for a period not exceeding 1 year.

Rep. Grimm was never arrested for his actions, and Congress has taken no punitive action against him. By its inaction, the US Congress is essentially condoning a Congressperson’s right to threaten to kill average Americans, though conversely, when average Americans threaten the life of a public official, they are prosecuted to the full extent of the law. In keeping with this double standard and to codify for all time this special status, I propose the following:

RESOLUTION

Expressing support for designation of January 28, annually, as “Throw a Reporter “Off This F—ing Balcony” Day”.

Whereas Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY-11) has never been expelled, censured, or even reprimanded by Congress after he threatened to kill a reporter who displeased him by throwing the reporter off a balcony inside the Capitol and to break the reporter in half: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the House of Representatives, that Congress–

(1) decrees the designation of “Throw a Reporter ‘Off This F—ing Balcony’ Day” (also known as “Break a Boy in Half Day”);

(2) allows, and indeed encourages, each Congressperson to threaten to do bodily harm up to and including death threats to any one (1) reporter or other American citizen or resident alien who displeases the Congressperson;

(3) denies the right to make such threats to another Congressperson or member of the current power structure including influential or potentially influential staffers, donors, lobbyists, or government contractors. Making threats on any day of the year outside of January 28th is forbidden and may result in having to issue an “If I offended anyone…” type of half-assed apology; and

(4) establishes that no Congressperson shall ever be expelled, censured, reprimanded, in any way criticized, or given the evil eye for threatening to kill a reporter who would have the gall to ask a difficult question that might actually help inform the voting public.

Please sign the White House petition to bring this issue to their attention.

As this is the Bible Funmentionables blog, I offer the following passages which lend biblical support to the idea of breaking your enemies and throwing them down to their deaths. (illustrating the Bible Funmentionables’ Core Principle #5: In American politics, nothing trumps a well reasoned political argument like a quote from the Bible.)

Break the arm of the wicked and evil man. —Psalm 10:15

And Indian burns to the mischievous.

I will break you in pieces, and ye shall fall like a pleasant vessel. —Jeremiah 25:34

Questionable translations make for the most perplexing analogies.

The army of Judah captured another 10,000 men and took them to the top of a cliff and threw them off, dashing them to pieces on the rocks below. —2 Chronicles 25:12

At some point wouldn’t they not be landing on rocks anymore?

Throw her down!” Jehu yelled. So they threw Jezebel out the window, and her blood spattered against the wall and on the horses and Jehu trampled her body under his horses’ hooves. —2 Kings 9:33

The Bible rarely leaves out a pointlessly gory detail.

When the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the boy. Two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, so that she might be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. —Revelation 12:13-14

The book of Revelation probably made sense once upon a time, and times, or maybe it was just half a time.

Now I have always been reluctant to believe that we have what you would call a Ruling Class in this country—a political establishment that is collectively more concerned about holding on to their own positions of power and sources of wealth than they are about the welfare of the country as a whole. When a reporter can be given a death threat by a sitting a Congressman annoyed by his question (in the Capitol and with cameras rolling, for God’s sake!) and there is no official reprimand, it begs the question: Do we now have an American Ruling Class that prefers to operate by its own set of rules, that expects not to be held accountable by an inquiring press, and that is more responsive to the needs of big money donors which keep the Ruling Class in power than to average Americans?

The answer to that question is revealed daily by the actions and inactions of those in power.

Please Sign the Petition here!

Michael Morris is the author of Bible Funmentionables: A Lighthearted Look at the Wildest Verses You’ve NEVER Been Told!, which features all of the shocking and hilarious verses that your minister, rabbi, or charismatic cult leader is afraid to preach.

The Beatles Foretold: The 12 Bible Verses That Prophesied the Coming of The Beatles!

BeatlesForetoldYou say you want a Revelation!

On the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ First Coming to America, the Bible verses that predicted the incarnation of The Beatles are finally coming to light:

1. He sendeth among them the beetle. —Psalm 78:45
2. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. —John 1:6
3. John spoke out against the ruler. —Luke 3:19
4. Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region. —Acts 18:23
5. When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted. —Acts 14:11
6. He kept silent and did not answer. —Mark 14:61
7. A man of understanding remains silent. —Proverbs 11:12
8. And I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. —Ezekiel 16:12
9. As to these four lads, God hath given to them knowledge and understanding in every kind of literature, and wisdom. —Daniel 1:17
10. They will be holy. They must let their hair grow long. —Numbers 6:5
11. And Jesus came down with them to a level place, and a great band.” —Luke 6:17
12. Upon this rock I will build my church. —Matthew 16:18

Eerily accurate or extraordinarily unerring? The answer seems obvious.The Beatles Bigger Than Jesus

This may appear to be a frivolous exercise in cherry-picking Bible verses to fit a predetermined narrative, but in much the same way, the gospel writers scoured the Hebrew Bible to find quotes that “prophesied” Jesus’ life and death (coincidentally about 50 years afterwards). The gospel writers misquoted the Bible, took quotes out of context, and distorted Jesus’ biography to create their “prophecies.” And while fundamentalist Christians would scoff at the Beatles Prophesy above, they frequently point to the Jesus “prophecies” as proof that the Bible is true.

Which brings us to the Bible Funmentionables Core Principle #6:

If your holy scriptures can “prove” either side of any issue, it’s not really proof at all.

Now excuse me while I get back to my Bible to definitively prove that the Walrus really was the most ironically named member of the Beatles, Pete Best.

Michael Morris is the author of Bible Funmentionables: A Lighthearted Look at the Wildest Verses You’ve NEVER Been Told!, which features all of the shocking and hilarious verses that your minister, rabbi, or charismatic cult leader is afraid to preach.

Who Would Jesus Coldcock?

Boxing-Jesus-2008If we are to believe ancient, secondhand accounts, Jesus once said “Love your enemies.” Blissfully ignored by millions daily, this divine command for adversarial love is not easy, especially when you are facing the evil incarnate that we all try to avoid: the Salvation Army bell ringer.

Volunteer ringer Kristina Vindiola allegedly was attacked by a woman shopping at Wal-Mart in Phoenix for having the audacity to wish her happiness this holiday season. Unfortunately that happiness never materialized, as the shopper/vigilante Christian badgered the volunteer bell ringer by demanding, “Do you believe in God? You’re supposed to say ‘Merry Christmas’!” And in a fit of wonderful Christian irony and horrible Christian PR she slapped the well-wishing bell ringer.

Why do some Christians get it so wrong?

While the pugnacious Christian shopper is a bit of a rarity and a slap in the face to most Christians, this is what happens when Christians, currently about 80% of all Americans, are  repeatedly told by Fox News (sic) and televangelists that they are actually under severe religious persecution. Someone will eventually believe that they really are a victim and want to fight back.

I think something deeper is going on: Hyper-intolerant Christians are facing an increasingly diverse America. The idea that more and more of their neighbors are normal, decent Americans AND don’t worship Jesus is deeply disturbing to them. They kind of like kidding themselves into thinking this was, is, and always will be a “Christian nation.” (The framers of the Constitution just forgot to mention Jesus—it’s more of a typo than an intentional omission.) Living a delusion is great for a while, but sometimes that little bit of irrationality can burst forth like the dramatic final act of Judas.

Now Judas purchased a field with the reward of iniquity, and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. —Acts 1:18

If they choose to selectively read their Jesus quotes, they could stop turning the proverbial other cheek and instead dwell on this gem:

Don’t think that I came to send peace on the earth. I didn’t come to send peace, but a sword. —Matthew 10:34

While completely ignoring this bipolar opposite sentiment:

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. —John 16:33

Christians who bristle at the phrase “separation of church and state” somehow think that the only good thing big government can do is pick religious winners and losers…as long as it’s their savior whose picture is hanging in the public high school’s Hall of Honor.

Sadly there is no commandment that unequivocally states: “Thou shalt not attack a volunteer raising money to feed and clothe the needy just because they wished that you would find some happiness in late December.”

And though it would have really clarified things for us, Jesus evidently never said, “Love your enemies unless they wish you ‘Happy Holidays.’ Then slap ’em. Slap ‘em good.”

Michael Morris is the author of Bible Funmentionables: A Lighthearted Look at the Wildest Verses You’ve NEVER Been Told!, which features all of the shocking and hilarious verses that your minister, rabbi, or charismatic cult leader is afraid to preach.

The War on Festivus (and Why the Bible Commands It!)

PoleWake up, America: Festivus is under attack!

The popular Festivus tradition that goes back for many television seasons is the only purely American winter holiday tradition. The Founding Fathers, if they had just lived long enough to watch Seinfeld in 1997, would be frightening to look at and would have found it “eminently jocular, albeit a tad ribald,” —Thomas Jefferson, Senior Living(?) Magazine.

These fine, patriotic Festivus-Americans are just trying to celebrate their First Amendment rights this holiday season by doing what any American would do: demand that their display be prominently featured on public land. (I think that’s in the Constitution somewhere after the part about you have the right to a lawyer, a decent plumber, and a masseuse of the gender of your choosing.)

How Is Festivus Under Attack?

In Bartow, Florida, a Festivus pole was stolen.

And Fox News (sic) has actually begun attacking these fine Americans for making a Festivus pole out of beer cans!

Fox hates beer cans!?! The shining symbol of American consumerism! Even Jesus who was known as a drunkard

“Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”—Matthew 11:19

would be crying in his PBR over such blatant anti-American hatred.

Does the Bible Condone the Vandalizing of Poles?

Is the Pope Catholic? (No, really. This new Pope is such an adjustment from the last few.)

But to answer the question: God totally approves of pole destruction! In my book Bible Funmentionables I explain how the “disgusting” poles at the temples of the fertility goddess Asherah really bothered the writers of the Bible.

But this is what you are to do to them: their altars are to be pulled down, and their pillars broken, and their Asherah poles cut down, and their images burned with fire. —Deuteronomy 7:5

God didn’t appreciating other religions cutting in on his marketshare, and, in true mobster form, he wasn’t afraid to arrange for a little “market correction.”

And King Josiah brought out the Asherah pole from the house of Yahweh, outside of Jerusalem, to the brook Kidron, and burned it, and beat it to dust, and cast its dust on the graves of the common people. —2 Kings 23:6

So the War on Festivus is part of an ongoing fight for people’s hearts and minds. What’s most puzzling to me is how the manger-at-city-hall people fail to see how their use of the government to promote their religion caused the Festivus display backlash. I guess the one thing that is more American than expecting the government to give you a high profile location in front of City Hall is complaining when some other group gets that same special privilege that you got.

Michael Morris is the author of Bible Funmentionables: A Lighthearted Look at the Wildest Verses You’ve NEVER Been Told!, which features all of the shocking and hilarious verses that your minister, rabbi, or charismatic cult leader is afraid to preach.

The Original Blasphemy Ban

Since the release of “Innocence of Muslims”—the laughable (yet surprisingly unfunny) excuse for a movie that actually makes the film Blues Brothers 2000 look like The Blues Brothers—some Muslim leaders have sought to work with the U.N. to make blasphemy illegal everywhere in the world. This has provoked a lively discussion about freedom of speech vs. freedom from blasphemy.

In the U.S. many people, including President Obama, appreciate that our freedom of speech includes the freedom to speak our minds about the religions of the world without any government interference. In some other countries, where governments routinely control what qualifies as allowable speech, there is more of an expectation that governments should punish citizens for using insulting religious speech.

But let’s not get the mistaken notion that punishment for blasphemy is a uniquely Muslim idea. The Bible clearly comes down on the side of freedom FROM blasphemy as opposed to freedom of speech.

And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death. —Leviticus 24:16

and this

Thus saith the Lord God, “Yet in this your fathers have blasphemed me, in that they have committed a trespass against me.” —Ezekiel 20:27

And it’s not just the Old Testament that highlights blasphemy. Jesus himself warns:

Wherefore I say unto you, all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men, but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. —Matthew 12:31 

No one likes to be insulted, but why is it that only one institution, religion, has its own name for insults hurled against it. I don’t call it blasphemy when someone berates my kid’s soccer team or ridicules the all-time best movie trilogy ever made on planet Earth!

The difficult thing about blasphemy is that it is, like beauty, obscenity, and an appreciation for celebrity knitting, all in the mind of the beholder. There is no way to define exactly when an honest complaint or critique of religion become offensive enough to reach the level of blasphemy. A mormon may take offense at any reference to magic underwear, I mean “sacred garments,” and a Scientologist may violently disagree with my positive review of the latest Nicole Kidman film.

So when you hear Muslims talking about the need for anti-blasphemy laws in the U.S., remember that all this talk of blasphemy began in a book that predates the Koran. It took a few thousand years for most in the Western world to accept the idea of freedom of speech over freedom from blasphemy, so maybe there is hope that more people in predominantly Muslim countries will come around to this way of thinking, ideally before the next millennium is through.

Michael Morris is the author of Bible Funmentionables: A Lighthearted Look at the Wildest Verses You’ve NEVER Been Told!, which features all of the shocking and hilarious verses that your minister, rabbi, or charismatic cult leader is afraid to preach.

The 6 Most Boring Passages of the Bible (And Why You Should Avoid Them)

Most kids think church is boring. No news there. But now, in classic man-bites-dog style, it’s a Catholic bishop who has made headlines by complaining that church is too boring!

Retired Philippine Catholic Bishop Teodoro Bacani claims that boring sermons are hurting the church’s market share, as many are seeking out the El Shaddai Catholic charismatic movement instead of their traditional Catholic parish.

Boring sermons may cause drowsiness in the Philippines, but according to the Bible, boring sermons can kill!

A certain young man named Eutychus sat in the window, weighed down with deep sleep. As Paul spoke still longer, being weighed down by his sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. —Acts 20:9

To avoid boring their congregation to death, Bishop Bacani recommends that priests learn a more effective and “livelier” way of communicating their message. For a religion that claims to offer the ultimate truths of life, creation, and heaven and hell, it seems superficial to attempt to repackage those eternal truths to accommodate the short attention span generation.

A more reliable solution is to know which Bible passages to avoid in the first place! So as a service to preachers everywhere, I offer this Do Not Read List of The Bible’s 6 Most Boring Passages. Attempting to read these passages may not be mortally monotonous, but they could easily cause a loss of tithing churchgoers. And as most preachers know, to quote the church leader in the movie Help!, “without the congregation there’ll be no…more…me.”

1. The Table of Nations: Genesis 10-11 (Genealogies of People You’ll Never Meet and You Couldn’t Care Less About)

And these are births of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and born to them are sons after the deluge. Sons of Japheth are Gomer, and Magog, and Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras. And sons of Gomer are Ashkenaz, and Riphath, and Togarmah. —Genesis 10:1-3

2. Setting Up the Tabernacle: Exodus 40 (Moses Puts up a Tent)

And it came to pass in the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was reared up. And Moses reared up the tabernacle, and fastened his sockets, and set up the boards thereof, and put in the bars thereof, and reared up his pillars…And he took and put the testimony into the ark, and set the staves on the ark, and put the mercy seat above upon the ark. And he brought the ark into the tabernacle, and set up the vail of the covering, and covered the ark of the testimony…And he put the table in the tent of the congregation, upon the side of the tabernacle northward, without the vail. And he set the bread in order upon it before the Lord…And he put the candlestick in the tent of the congregation, over against the table, on the side of the tabernacle southward…And he put the golden altar in the tent of the congregation before the vail. And he burnt sweet incense thereon…And he set up the hanging at the door of the tabernacle. And he put the altar of burnt offering by the door of the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation…And he set the laver between the tent of the congregation and the altar, and put water there, to wash withal…And he reared up the court round about the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the hanging of the court gate. So Moses finished the work. —Excerpted from Exodus 40

3. Burnt Offerings: Leviticus 1-10  (Because the Lord Wants to Smell Burning Animals)

If the offering is a burned offering of the herd, let him give a male without a mark. He is to give it at the door of the Tent of Meeting so that he may be pleasing to the Lord. And he is to put his hand on the head of the burned offering and it will be taken for him, to take away his sin. And the ox is to be put to death before the Lord. Then Aaron’s sons, the priests, are to take the blood and put some of it on and round the altar which is at the door of the Tent of Meeting. And the burned offering is to be skinned and cut up into its parts. And Aaron’s sons, the priests, are to put fire on the altar and put the wood in order on the fire. And Aaron’s sons, the priests, are to put the parts, the head and the fat, in order on the wood which is on the fire on the altar. But its inside parts and its legs are to be washed with water, and it will all be burned on the altar by the priest for a burned offering, an offering made by fire, for a sweet smell to the Lord. —Excerpted from Leviticus 1

4. Curses for Disobedience: Deuteronomy 28 (Before Hell Was Invented, Curses Were God’s Way of Ensuring Good Behavior)

You will be cursed in the town and cursed in the field. A curse will be on your basket and on your bread-basin. A curse will be on the fruit of your body, and on the fruit of your land, on the increase of your cattle, and the young of your flock. You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out. The Lord will send on you cursing and trouble and punishment in everything to which you put your hand. —Deuteronomy 28:16-20

5. Historical Records From Adam to Abraham: 1 Chronicles 1-9  (It’s Like Hearing Stories About People You’ve Never Heard Of—But Without the Stories)

Adam, Sheth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalaleel, Jered, Henoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The sons of Japheth; Gomer, and Magog, and Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras. And the sons of Gomer; Ashchenaz, and Riphath, and Togarmah. And the sons of Javan; Elishah, and Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. The sons of Ham; Cush, and Mizraim, Put, and Canaan.  The sons of Cush; Seba, and Havilah, and Sabta, and Raamah, and Sabtecha. And the sons of Raamah; Sheba, and Dedan. And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be mighty upon the earth. And Mizraim begat Ludim, and Anamim, and Lehabim, and Naphtuhim, And Pathrusim, and Casluhim, (of whom came the Philistines,) and Caphthorim. And Canaan begat Zidon his firstborn, and Heth, The Jebusite also, and the Amorite, and the Girgashite, And the Hivite, and the Arkite, and the Sinite, And the Arvadite, and the Zemarite, and the Hamathite. —Excerpted from 1 Chronicles 1

6. The New Temple: Ezekiel 40-43 (Now You Can Build Your Own Temple Without the Benefit of Blueprints)

Then he brought me into the inner court through the south gate, and he measured the south gate; it had the same measurements as the others. Its alcoves, its projecting walls and its portico had the same measurements as the others. The gateway and its portico had openings all around. It was fifty cubits long and twenty-five cubits wide. (The porticoes of the gateways around the inner court were twenty-five cubits wide and five cubits deep.) Its portico faced the outer court; palm trees decorated its jambs, and eight steps led up to it. Then he brought me to the inner court on the east side, and he measured the gateway. It had the same measurements as the others. Its alcoves, its projecting walls and its portico had the same measurements as the others. The gateway and its portico had openings all around. It was fifty cubits long and twenty-five cubits wide. Its portico faced the outer court; palm trees decorated the jambs on either side, and eight steps led up to it. —Excerpted from Ezekiel 40

Left for theologians to discuss is the age-old question of why God felt it necessary to include these insufferably long, repetitive, spiritually-bereft verses in a book that many believe is the actual word of God. They say God works in mysterious ways, and evidently sometimes he works in mind-numbingly tedious and uninspiring ways as well. It doesn’t seem to have hurt Bible sales too much. You do have to wonder how much more popular the Bible would have been if God had deleted these chapters and focused on penning some practical solutions to day to day problems people face: reliable nutrition information, disease prevention strategies, or detailed instruction on how to build your own bicycle.

So remember, preachers, avoid these chapters in order to keep your congregation coming back for more, and keep people from falling to their deaths like Eutychus.

Who might actually want to seek out these verses?

  • People who never again want to be asked to choose the reading at their Bible study group.
  • Priests who are ready to hang up their collar for good and want to go out in style with the longest and most wearisome Bible recitation ever.
  • Insomniacs—even the Bible admits that it’s boring enough to put a king to sleep:

On that night could not the king sleep, and he commanded to bring the book of records of the Chronicles, and they were read before the king.—Esther 6:1

Michael Morris is the author of Bible Funmentionables: A Lighthearted Look at the Wildest Verses You’ve NEVER Been Told!, which features all of the shocking and hilarious verses that your minister, rabbi, or charismatic cult leader is afraid to preach.

Et Tu, Denzel?

Denzel Washington in Julius Caesar

Like a dagger to the heart, many atheists feel hurt and betrayed by Denzel Washington’s likening atheists to sociopaths. Photo by Sara Krulwich

Let me just preface this post with a statement that may shock some people: I personally know some real life, actual atheists who are the nicest people you’d ever want to meet, caring, loving, generous tippers—no horns, no pitchforks.

So I was a bit shocked to hear one of America’s (and my) favorite actors compare atheists to sociopaths:

“The traits of a sociopath: no conscience, no sense of remorse, usually atheist.” —Denzel Washington on the Today Show 2/8/2012

He didn’t say that all atheists are sociopaths, but how many viewers heard just that, given the vilification of the word “atheist” by many of today’s preachers and conservative commentators.

It turns out that Denzel’s conflation of the two terms may offend a few million atheists, but will certainly not offend the Big Man Upstairs (for all you atheists, I’m referring to God):

The law is made, not for the upright man, but for those who have no respect for law and order, for evil men and sinners, for the unholy and those who have no religion, for those who put their fathers or mothers to death, for takers of life. —1 Timothy 1:9

That’s correct, right there in the Bible they lump together atheists and patricidal sociopaths.  And when it comes to non-believers God does not mess around:

So shall ye perish, because ye would not be obedient unto the voice of the Lord your God. —Deuteronomy 8:20

But not all atheists are all bad, right?

The fool hath said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have done abominable works. There is none that doeth good. —Psalms 14:1

So does Denzel have a point? Sociopaths by definition don’t play by other people’s rules, so it would certainly be surprising to find them behaving as devout religious believers.

But by tying together the words atheists and sociopaths, I have to say something to  America’s coolest actor that I thought I’d never have to say: “Uncool, Denzel.”

Denzel wouldn’t think of saying any of the following factually accurate statements about Christians, would he?

Is it too much to ask that people drop the atheist-sociopath connection? It’s a bit like going up to an artist and saying, “You know who else was an artist? Hitler!” (BTW: also uncool.)

To avoid being confused with sociopaths, it’s not surprising that many non-believers avoid the “atheist” label and choose a more positive “freethinker,” “humanist,” or “skeptic” description instead.

US Army Major Ray Bradley recently made headlines by requesting that he be allowed to change his belief system designation in the military to “Humanist,” since the only other option currently available to him is “Atheist.” He prefers humanist because “Humanism is a philosophy that guides a person. It’s more than just a stamp of what you’re not.”

As Howard Katz, president of the Humanist Society added, “You could have an axe murderer who’s an atheist. Humanists have ethics and a philosophy.”

So in the spirit of good will, I call on atheists to refrain from mentioning the Inquisition every time they meet a Christian, and I call on believers to get out there and get to know an atheist, taking comfort in the fact that the odds are actually quite high that the person they meet will not be an axe-wielding sociopath.

And to give believers strength in reaching out to the atheists of the world, let’s let the Bible have the final word:

Now accept one who is weak in faith. —Romans 14:1

and

Live peaceably with all men. —Romans 12:18

Michael Morris is the author of Bible Funmentionables: A Lighthearted Look at the Wildest Verses You’ve NEVER Been Told!, which features all of the shocking and hilarious verses that your minister, rabbi, or charismatic cult leader is afraid to preach.

The Top 7 Bible-Themed Rides You Won’t Find at the Ark Encounter Amusement Park

Ark Encounter RideJesus expected his followers to have faith strong enough to command a tree to wither and die, and, for no particular reason, to send a mountain into the ocean. To date, no one has accomplished either of these destructive acts of faith.

But when it comes to showing Bunyanesque quantities of faith in the Bible though, it’s hard to beat the folks at Answers in Genesis who are now in the process of creating a life-size Noah’s ark and accompanying theme park.

Controversial to some, due to its proposed $43 million in tax breaks from the state of Kentucky, Ark Encounter may run into even more controversy as they create other Bible-themed rides for the non-ark portion of the park. Currently, their only other major ride in development—the way they plan to attract tourists away from Disneyworld and other parks—is The Ten Plagues of Egypt. You can almost hear the kids fighting in the back seats of cars across America:

“I want to see the plague of boils first!”

“No, I want to see the death of the firstborn first.”

Since this is the second best ride they could find from the Bible, they appear a little desperate for ideas. In order to help them avoid picking an even less appealing ride, I offer my Top 7 Bible-Themed Rides You Won’t Find at the Ark Encounter Amusement Park. If you’re a praying person, you may want to pray that these never get chosen.

1. Porkvalanche!

You loved how God killed off animals in the Great Flood, now see his son take a turn as Jesus makes 2,000 pigs commit mass suicide. Audiences will roar at the demons being hurled into the porcine herd, compelling them to jump off a cliff and drown in the sea. All the fun of a waterside, all the horror of a slaughterhouse!

The evil spirits came out of the man and went into the pigs. The herd of about two thousand pigs rushed down the cliff into the sea and drowned. —Mark 5:13

2. The Undead Jamboree

Even though Acts 26:23 insists that Jesus was the first person to rise from the dead, the Bible has over eight resurrections that predate Jesus’ return to the land of the living, and two that followed.

  • The widow of Zarephath’s son (resurrected by Elijah) —1 Kings 17:17–24
  • The Shunammite’s son (Elisha) —2 Kings 4:32–37
  • The corpse thrown into Elisha’s tomb (Elisha’s bones) —2 Kings 13:21
  • The widow of Nain’s son (Jesus) —Luke 7:11-15
  • Jairus’ daughter (Jesus) —Luke 8:49-56
  • Lazarus (Jesus) —John 11:39–44
  • The post-crucifixion saints of Jerusalem (Spontaneous and simultaneous revivals) —Matthew 27:51-53
  • Dorcas of Joppa (Peter) —Acts 9:36-43
  • Eutychus (Paul) —Acts 20:9–12

Kids would be thrilled to see recreations of their favorite dead Bible heroes being brought back to life, but parents may frown on their children quite likely getting the impression that Jesus was just one in a long line of back-from-the-grave Bible embellishments.

As a quick aside, though most Bible miracles such as talking bushes and snakes have tapered off in modern times, resuscitating people is more prevalent than ever. I saw it happen to my own father. The miracle worker that saved his life when he was down and out with a sudden heart attack is known by three initials: AED. If you are unfamiliar with how to recognize and operate a defibrillator, please watch this video. There are plenty of people walking around today who are eternally grateful to people who learned how to operate these simple and amazing machines.

3. Everybody Must Get Stoned

Imagine “It’s a Small World” but with better music and innumerable depictions of every capital offense described in the Bible. Here are but a few:

  • Cursing your parents —Exodus 21:17
  • Worshipping other gods —Exodus 22:20
  • Gathering sticks on the Sabbath —Numbers 15:32-36
  • Disobeying a priest —Deuteronomy 17:12

The ride could end in two different ways. Riders, now consumed by bloodlust, could exit through the “Stones for Every Occasion” gift shop and purchase rocks at prices way over wholesale, or you could have Jesus come on and spoil the mood by saying, “Let him that is without sin cast the first stone.”

4. Ye Old Testament Sideshow

“See God’s Back Parts (as shown only to Moses), watch the 99-year-old Abraham agree to get circumcised, marvel at Jacob, the Canaanite Casanova: two wives plus two handmaidens plus one septuagenarian = 13 kids and one exhausted Jacob!”

5. Tamar’s Wild Ride

Warning: Riders must keep there eyes in their sockets at all times.

There is never a dull moment as Tamar marries Er. God then kills Er because of an unspecified transgression. By law, Er’s brother Onan must then impregnate Tamar. Onan’s seed is spilled on the ground, so of course, God kills Onan. Onan’s brother is next in line to marry Tamar, but when that is delayed, Tamar is so desperate to get pregnant, she dresses as a prostitute and tricks her father-in-law into fathering her children. When he discovers she’s pregnant, he demands that she be burned to death, until he realizes he is the father.

So once we get off this ride and shake off our temporary PTSD, what is the moral lesson gained from this biblical soap opera? According to Genesis 38:26, between not giving your son to his widowed sister-in-law on the one hand and prostitution on the other, the thing that gets God murderously enraged is failing to impregnate a sister-in-law. So why is that legal but prostitution is illegal? God’s not going to be happy about that.

6. The All New Testament Sideshow

“Step right up and prove your faith in Jesus today by handling 100% poisonous snakes, drinking 100% poisonous poison, and treading on genuine serpents and scorpions.”

They will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them. —Mark 16:18

It’s not every religion that tells its followers that it’s absolutely fine to drink poison. You have to love the adaptability of Christians today who have decided to play down this test of faith, given how it has proven itself deadly to some of the most faithful believers who ever lived, and died.

A marginally safer route is snake handling, but sadly the County Health Department would shut down this carnival fare fairly quickly.

7. Noah’s Post-diluvian Carcass Roundup

You already had a chance to see all those cute animals that got saved on the ark. Now see what Noah found once the waters receded. You can’t just leave all those drowning victims, human and animal, lying all over the ground. Do you really want to go out for a nice, quiet stroll at night and have to worry about tripping over a waterlogged orangutan carcass? Faced with this massive cleanup effort and very few humans left to help him, Noah’s course of action when he finally hit dry land makes a bit more sense:

He drank some wine, got drunk, and lay naked inside his tent. —Genesis 9:21

The Bible is full of wild, evocative, and sometimes disturbing stories. Setting aside the Great Flood’s death and destruction that often gets swept under the rug, the story of Noah’s Ark has captured believers’ imaginations like no other. For someone like me, who sees biblical literalism as an intellectually untenable position, Noah’s story is a case study in the length believers will go to in order to preserve some highly implausible beliefs.

The list of questions that arise when challenging a literal interpretation of the ark account is long and intriguing. Biblical literalists are often willing to avoid these hard questions or to twist reality into knots in order to avoid admitting a possible mythic, non-literal component to certain elements of the Bible.

It is truly remarkable the absurd lengths that some people are willing to go to in order to defend the most absurd claims in the Bible. Jesus recommended casting a mountain into the sea, but he said nothing about throwing your common sense in as well.

Michael Morris is the author of Bible Funmentionables: A Lighthearted Look at the Wildest Verses You’ve NEVER Been Told!, which features all of the shocking and hilarious verses that your minister, rabbi, or charismatic cult leader is afraid to preach.