Anonymous asked: It looks as though you haven't been on this blog for about a year, and that you left pretty abruptly, so I don't know if you will see this, but I hope that you will. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for the way the church, Cru, and the Christians in your life have treated you. I am sorry for my actions as a Christian that might have had a negative affect on other non-believers and doubters. I am sorry that your view of Jesus has been so distorted by those that claim to follow Him.

Thanks for message but I think you need to read a little deeper. This blog was to vent my frustration at the fanatical behavior of my former roommates but I assure you that I stopped being a Christian for purely intellectual reasons. During my freshman and sophomore year of college I studied the Bible intensely and took many academic classes about biblical criticism. Christians did not drive me to atheism, the Bible did. The poor arguments put up by Christians to support their faith also drove me away from Christianity. But the Christians themselves, no matter how crazy, had nothing to do with it. Science and reason just present a better argument than religion, so I decided to focus on what was real.

paigesinabo0k asked: Just found your blog. I am on my way home after having been away for 5 weeks of a 10 week long summer project with cru. I couldn't do it anymore and I left. I had to take myself to the metro in the town I was in and find my own way to the airport, no one even offered me a ride. Sad thing is I feel free and like there is a real life again. Cru is a cult, there is no denying it. I'm glad I could get out, even though I met manipulation and guilt tripping on my way out the door.

This is such an amazing story, I don’t even know what else to add.  I’m so glad you had the courage to walk away, I’m sure that was a great feeling.  Even though you had to walk away alone, there is a whole community of like-minded skeptics and atheists out there to welcome you, so good luck.

And you call yourself a scientist

This past semester I have been taking a course on “Evolution, Diversity, and Ecology”.  It’s a simple overview course prerequisite to the Honors Evolution course I’m taking this fall and it has been sort of a joke.  I have disliked the professor’s teaching style all semester; he just rambles and tells stories that aren’t relevant to any of the three topics of the course and the tests are so easy I don’t even bother to take notes.  For example, he spent one whole day talking about mushroom hunting because he is a mycologist.  It had nothing to do with the class, he just likes mushrooms.

More importantly, I have a serious philosophical disagreement with him on many issues.  He was afraid to step on the toes of religion and was so wishy-washy the whole semester with the ID debate and never addressed the unfalsifiability and unscientific nature of the God hypothesis.  It really made me question his scientific credentials that he didn’t just come out and say, “This isn’t science.  Evolution is science, ID is not.”

We had a “Debate Week” in discussion section earlier this semester and I, of course, took the ‘Evolution only’ stance for the question “What should be taught in our high schools?”  Naturally, I eviscerated the ‘teach-both-theories’ people and the ‘teach neither’ group because those positions are untenable.  Everyone agreed by the end of class that our group (the evolution only group) killed it and that it wasn’t even a competition.  It felt pretty good because I think we changed a few minds that day.

Then, as I’m studying for the final by looking over some old exams from previous years, I come across this gem:

The “official” take home lesson from Debate Week, formalized in lecture, is that:

A. Evolution should be taught in public high schools with no alternatives

B. Evolution and multiple alternatives should be taught in public high schools

C. Evolution should not be taught in public high schools

D. Evolution and Intelligent Design should be taught in public high schools

E. None of the above are correct.

"Surely the answer is A!" I said to myself.  Then I checked the answer, which had an explanation:

E. (thoughtful arguments on all sides)

WHAT?! He calls himself a professor of biology and a scientist and he thinks there are “thoughtful arguments” in favor of teaching ID in public schools?!

This is ridiculous.  I just disliked this professor’s teaching style before, now I realize that I have a mistrust in his critical thinking abilities and scientific training.  Our university has one of the top biology programs in the nation and they let this guy teach a course on evolution.  As if you can’t tell, I am so pissed off.

Anonymous asked: After reading your blog, I'm glad that my roommate isn't one of those extreme Christians who try to shove their religion at non-believers like myself. Of course, she always invites me to her KCCC socials, but I always find an excuse to decline. However, I did go to one of their fundraisers, and a member did try to set up a time so he can "discuss God" with me even when I told him multiple times that I was Buddhist. Luckily my roommate came to the rescue and told him I was busy.

It sounds like your roommate is the tolerable kind of Christian.  Not all Christians are close minded sheep who try to convert everyone they meet… but a certain proportion of them are, and those people give me the willies.  My roommates last year definitely were the kind of people who walk up to strangers on campus and tell them that they need Jesus in their lives.

The best defense against any type of Christian, I have found, is to have a working knowledge of the Bible.  If you admit that you have never read the Bible or don’t know anything about it, they will assume that you are not a Christian (yet) simply because you have not heard The Word.  If, however, you ask them something specific or point out a problem in the Bible (see my previous posts for some ideas), nine times out of ten they won’t even try to answer you.  Likely they will give you a vague answer or tell you that they’ll have to get back to you or simply end the conversation.

So it sounds like your roommate is pretty tolerable.  When they ask you to go along with them to religious events, just politely decline and be thankful that they aren’t forcing you to pray with them.

acherontichubris-deactivated201 asked: Hey! I've seen your posts about Cru and I'm SO glad I'm not the only person to see it's cult-like qualities. I'm a former skeptic turned Christian, but being a part of Cru actually made we want to move away from Christianity! But then I realized that not all Christians are like that. And yeah! I'm a girl and all we talked about at my bible study was masturbation! And my mentor talked about it at my sessions.... It was super awkward, esp since I only knew these people for about two weeks lol

YES, CRU IS A CULT.  It is scary how much Cru people try to cut themselves off from the rest of campus.  They really creep me out.  If they’d stop focusing so much on how evil and terrible masturbation is maybe they’d actually get something useful done.  Our campus secular group just raised $600 for Doctors Without Borders at a banquet last Friday and they also do charity volunteer work every week.  In all my time with Cru, we never did any fundraisers or volunteer work.

I’m not going to yell or tell you that you’re stupid for being a Christian.  The fact that you are reading a blog such as this that is so critical of Christianity means that at least you are thinking about your religion and are not just a blind sheep like all those Cru people. But I encourage you to check out my previous biblical criticism posts and really engage in the conversation, whether with others or internally, about why you are a Christian and why Christianity is any more legitimate than all the other religions out there (or why your brand of Christianity is more legitimate than any other sect).

Thanks for the message!

-UGS

Anonymous asked: This isn't really a question but I'm in this exact same situation. I got involved with campus crusade for christ last year. I was wholeheartedly seeking God, and I wanted to feel his presence. I admired my completely faithful, surrendered friends and longed to have faith like theirs. All it took was a biology course and lots and LOTS of research to change my mind. Now, in my sophomore year, i'm a closet-agnostic/atheist.

Good for you!  I get quite a few messages like this because it’s such a common experience for our generation, especially in ‘m’rica because atheism has such a bad stigma in the states.  The good news is that non-belief is the fastest growing “religion” in the US and the atheist movement is becoming larger and more visible.

Take my advice:  get away from your old Campus Crusade friends.  Find new friends who don’t care that you’re an atheist and when/if you’re ready, be honest with your family.  Become comfortable with having ‘atheist’ as an integral part of your identity and be proud of your decision to follow reason and shrug off superstition.  You will feel much better; I know I did.

Twelve: The Evolution of Jesus

On the twelfth day of XXXmas, UGSkeptic brings to you:  Jesi, the plurality and multiplicity of Jesus in the Bible.

So what have we learned about Jesus these past eleven days from tearing apart the birth stories (or lack thereof) of the Bible?  Let’s look at each book as a distinct unit in chronological order:

  • The letters of Paul:  Paul does not mention the virgin birth of Christ and, in fact, Paul’s theology of Jesus as the adopted Son of God at the resurrection implies nothing special about Jesus before the crucifixion and therefore nothing special about Jesus’ birth
  • The Gospel of Mark:  Not only does Mark not mention the virgin birth of Jesus but Jesus’ family thinks that Jesus is out of his mind and they do not believe him to be the Son of God, implying that nothing unusual happened during Jesus’ childhood to signify his position as the Messiah
  • The Gospels of Matthew and Luke:  Matthew’s and Luke’s birth accounts contain similar elements (genealogies, the revelation of Jesus birth, Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem but life in Nazareth) but Matthew and Luke approach those situations in different ways.  It is obvious that Matthew and Luke seek to harmonize Jesus’ life with Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah (i.e. being born in Bethlehem) but find different ways to do so.
  • The Gospel of John:  John does not seem to know about the virgin birth of Jesus but as the representative of the latest gospel tradition of Jesus, Jesus’ origins have gone beyond virgin birth to absolutely cosmic in scope.  John is not concerned with Jesus’ Jewishness and does not seek to fulfill Old Testament prophecy in Jesus’ life.

So where does this leave us?  Was Jesus born of a virgin?  I’m skeptical.  Not only is it medically problematic, but the earliest Christian sources don’t even support a virgin birth.  And later mystical traditions (The Gospel of John) don’t mention the virgin birth either.  The only accounts that talk about the virgin birth of Jesus (Matthew and Luke) have some major discrepancies between them because they are obviously trying to create a story from scratch according to some Old Testament specifications for the coming Messiah.  Of course the biggest prophecy they sought to fulfill in Jesus was the virgin birth of the Messiah, a tradition steeped in the translation clusterfuck of the Greek Septuagint which mistranslated the Hebrew word for “young woman” as “virgin”.

And with that, my fellow doubters, I hope you have been enlightened to the evolution of Jesus and religion.  Just as modern Christians adapt their arguments and theology in the face of new evidence (“Intelligent Design” comes to mind), ancient Christians also adapted their message to different audiences and in the face of new challenges.  So when you meet someone who claims to love Jesus, worship Jesus, and bask in the saving power of Jesus, I want you to explain the evolution of Jesus in the Bible and ask them this question:

Which Jesus?

Keep doubting and happy XXXmas!

-UGS

Eleven: Lost in Translation

On the eleventh day of XXXmas, UGSkeptic gives to you: translation clusterfuck.

Ok, so this one may be old news to a lot of you, but let’s jump into something that has BIG consequences for the Christian faith.

Let’s start with the original prophecy, Isaiah 7:14 (NRSV):

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel [God is with us].

Ok, this verse has frustrated biblical scholars for years and this is where the bias of your translation may show through (NRSV is the scholarly favorite, although it’s not perfect). Now, Isaiah was originally written in Hebrew and in Hebrew the verse indeed says “the young woman”. The Hebrew word (ha-almah: העלמה) in no way implies virgin. However, when the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek to make the Septuagint, the word was mistranslated as “virgin” (forgive me for now knowing ancient Greek-if your translation of the Bible is honest, this discrepancy should be noted somewhere-if it just says “virgin” with no footnotes, it’s because you’re reading a Christian-biased translation). As we know, the New Testament is written in Greek and the NT authors ALWAYS quote the Greek of the Septuagint, NOT the original Hebrew and in fact evidence seems to show that they didn’t even know Hebrew.

And so of course when the NT authors read that the Messiah was to be born of a “virgin” in Greek and since they believed Jesus to be the Messiah, they obviously worked backwards and assumed that Jesus must have been born of a virgin. I would argue that the virgin birth was not originally part of Jesus’ story, as attested by the fact that Mark, the earliest Gospel, and Paul, the earliest New Testament author, MAKE NO MENTION OF A VIRGIN BIRTH OR ANYTHING SPECIAL ABOUT JESUS’ CHILDHOOD WHATSOEVER. The story of the virgin birth was only added as an afterthought when the followers of Jesus read the Greek version of Isaiah’s prophecy and thought that the Messiah had to be born of a virgin. As we have seen though, the original prophecy makes no mention of a virgin and therefore the immaculate conception was itself immaculately conceived in the minds of the early Christians long after Jesus’ death as a rhetorical ploy to make their Messiah, Jesus, seem legitimate. Unfortunately, in their attempt they misread prophecy and exposed their religion for what it really is: MYTH, FABRICATED IN THE MINDS OF HUMANS.

Keep doubting,

UGS

Ten: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”

On the tenth day of XXXmas, UGS brings to you:  virgins, virgins, virgins!

Ok, I’m going to step away from the Bible today.  We all know many Christmas traditions originated in paganism but even the story of the virgin birth has surfaced in other cultures independent from (and even predating) the story of Jesus.  Realbiblestories had some great posts last year on the connections between HorusBuddahMithra, and Krishna and the virgin birth of Jesus, so check those out.  We all are also aware of the deity status of many ancient rulers, who may have been born of human fashion but were adopted as the “Son of God” and praised as the empire’s “Savior” (sound familiar?).

I don’t want to go into too much detail here because my expertise is in biblical exegesis and I don’t know much about paganism or other religions.  The fact that other heroes were born of virgins should be devastating to Christians though.  When I learned that Jesus’ story was not unique, I had my first crisis of faith because I realized I had no reason to believe in the virgin birth of Jesus and at the same time reject the virgin birth of other ancient figures.  In order to accept Jesus’ virgin birth without proof I had to accept every virgin birth without proof, which also meant acknowledging the divine power of those other figures.  And too often that clashed with anything and everything taught in the Bible.  Which of course led me to realize that I had no better reason to trust the Bible than I did to trust the Quran or the Veda except that I had been raised never to question the Bible and never to trust anything else.  And you can’t believe in them all; they’re too contradictory.  You have to have a legitimate reason to believe in one over the rest or admit that they’re all myths.

And so this pluralistic debacle coupled with the topic of my next XXXmas post coming tomorrow were two of the major reasons I began to doubt the Bible.  So tomorrow I will return to some proper biblical scholarship with one of the biggest screw-ups ever to survive in the Christian tradition.  If you haven’t been convinced that the virgin birth was fabricated by Christians long after Jesus died, tomorrow should cinch the deal for you.

Keep doubting,

UGS

Nine: Paul

On the ninth day of XXXmas, UGskeptic brings to you:  the Apostle Paul.

We’ve dealt already with the earliest canonical gospel, Mark, so now let’s look at the earliest writings in the New Testament, the letters of Paul.  Unfortunately for Christians, Paul, much like Mark, says nothing special about the birth of Jesus.  The only comments Paul makes about Jesus’ upbringing are as follows:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. —Galatians 4:4-5

Ok, so Paul could mean a virgin woman, but Paul could also mean that Jesus was born naturally of a woman, just as Jesus was born naturally under the law.  This verse is inconclusive in my opinion.

… the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord… . —Romans 1:3-4

Again, this verse is somewhat ambiguous but maybe we can get a clearer picture of how Paul perceived Jesus’ birth and childhood.  Now in my mind, being descended according to the flesh means he was a son of Joseph according to the flesh and Joseph was a descendant of David.  However, as we saw in the genealogies of Matthew and Luke, even with the virgin birth Jesus’ ancestry was traced through Joseph so apparently this was not a problem in the ancient world.

The next part is a little tricky but I took an entire class on the Apostle Paul last semester so let me see if I can explain.  Paul’s idea of the relationship between Jesus and God and whether Jesus is God or whether Jesus was always the Son or was adopted as the Son is under debate by scholars and theologians alike.  I tend to think that Paul believed Jesus was adopted as the Son of God when he was resurrected and no sooner.  This explains why Paul is so obsessed with Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection and says virtually NOTHING about Jesus’ life before the crucifixion.  Jesus was a good guy who was wrongly executed and so then God adopted him as His Son.  There was nothing special about Jesus before the resurrection in Paul’s mind.

And therefore Paul’s Jesus most likely was born under normal circumstances:  Joseph had sex with Mary and nine months later out popped the little Savior.  Paul is our earliest source in the New Testament; his letters were written before any of the gospels were composed.

It’s not looking good for the myth of Jesus’ virgin birth.  And I’ve got more.  Stay tuned.

Keep doubting,

UGS