Does Morality Come With Any Solid Lines?


In one of my classes my professor has set up a survivor like game. Basically, it is a series of competitions between two teams where the losing team has to vote someone off. But the game itself isn’t the point. The class is about religion and morality, and the point is to see what people are willing to do to win. In survivor, the one who wins is often the one who is willing to stab people in the back the most, but only if they don’t get caught. My professor wants to show us how the lines we draw around morality get moved and fudged as we find such behaviour beneficial. So, are there any solid lines where morality is concerned? Or can all of the lines we draw be fudged? And, if so, what does that say about morality? What does it say about us as moral agents?


Confessions of a Social Justice Warrior


  1. I’ve never been on tumblr…yep, that’s it. I don’t tumble…er, tumbl? Apparently I’m supposed to spend all my time there or something. Like I get my social justice warrior card removed if I don’t, or it’s the only place I could have possibly learned all the well-known terms I use, or something. I’m not exactly sure, but that’s it really. I don’t tumble.
  2. As a self-proclaimed social justice warrior, I don’t actually find it insulting when you call me a social justice warrior. Like, oh no, how could I possibly handle your accusation that I take injustice seriously? Who could ever do that? I should be ashamed of my humanism!
  3. Every time you say “political correctness,” I hear “treating others like humans.” So when you say “You’re being too PC,” I hear “You’re treating too many other people like humans.” And when you say “Society has become too PC,” I hear “Society has started treating too many other people like humans.” And when you say “Stop being so PC,” I hear “Stop treating so many other people like humans.”
  4. I don’t think that we, as 7 billion human beings, can only accomplish one task. So often people say things like “why are you worried about trans issues when there are people starving in Africa?” I’m sorry, I didn’t know it was either or. Are you gonna start holding a gun to people’s heads like “Stop helping all those trans people or the Africans are gonna get it”? Or am I allowed to care about both? Again, there are 7 billion of us. You’d think with those numbers we could deal with multiple issues.
  5. I’m not a hippie, nor am I an emotional wreck. I have my issues, but I tend to be a fairly levelheaded and logical person. In fact, I’m accused of being overly logical more often than I’m accused of being overly emotional. So can you stop picturing me as a weeping heap in the corner? I’m trying to make the world a better place, not create my own in-door lake!
  6. I don’t want to put trigger warnings on everything. I also don’t have much respect for people who say things like “If they put a trigger warning on that when I was a kid, I never would have watched/read it.” There were trigger warnings on things when you were a kid (at least, there were if you were a kid in the 80’s and later). We just called them ratings! We still have them. They say things like “Warning: graphic content.” I don’t know about you, but that never stopped me from watching anything. In fact, it made me want to watch a lot. And listen to certain bands. Why on Earth would trigger warnings on books be any different? Are we going to set up a series of tests where you have to follow the clues until you find the key attached to the outside of the Eiffel Tower before you can read the book or something? Of course not. If you let a warning on a book prevent you from reading it, isn’t that decision on you? Maybe you don’t want to have a panic attack. Personally, having had those in the past, I can’t fault anyone for trying to avoid them. Or maybe you’re just scared. Whatever your reason for not reading a book, that’s your decision. I won’t blame you for it. But if you’re going to regret not reading the book, read the damn book! That said, I don’t want trigger warnings in my University classroom. I don’t want my professors to feel like they can’t bring up something. The problem is, they already feel this way. Why should my professor lose his job because one student complained to the dean about a slight they think he made about their religion? One of my professors had that happen. Trigger warnings don’t cause that phenomenon, treating schools like businesses does. I’m not a bloody product for your consumption! Stupid society…
  7. It’s really hard not to hate some people. I don’t like hating, because I don’t want to waste my energy on people who don’t matter. But some people…it’s like they’re trying to be social pariah. Like, seriously. MRAs? Let’s insult as many people as possible and see how long it takes everybody to realise we’re nothing more than a hate group. Women are clearly in control of everything. They control men with their bodies! Men who get raped clearly need to be mocked. LGBT people are delusional. Only straight white cis men who hate women as much as the MRAs deserve respect. Anti-choice (Pro-life) activists? Let’s tell people who have had abortions how they are murderers who deserve to be burned and then lie to them so they abide by our personal beliefs. Donald Trump? Just…seriously? Trump? Why? Why would you do that to yourselves?
  8. Yes, I’m biased. I realise this. There is no way around it. We’re all biased. But at least I’m aware of my bias. I’m aware that, as an atheist, I have a bias against theists. I’m aware that, as a feminist, I have a bias against non-feminists. I’m aware that, as a member of the LGBT community, straight cis people are just fucking annoying. Um…I mean…cis straight people confuse me. Seriously, how can anyone fit so nicely into a box? Doesn’t it get crowded in there? I realise that, as a mentally ill person, I hate your brains! They work so nicely. You can go out and network without having a panic attack. Do tests make you want to throw up? Because tests make me want to throw up and I really wish they didn’t. Can I have your brains? Then again, I like how I think. I like me quite a lot actually. I think I’ll keep my brain. What was I saying? Oh yeah…I’m biased. And that’s actually a good thing when kept in check. After all, I wouldn’t have any reason to want to make the world a better place without my bias.
  9. I have privilege. And yes, I check it. I don’t just tell you to check yours because you have more than me. We all have to check our privilege. After all, I’m white, educated, and middle class. I live in one of the richest countries in the world. I speak English.
  10. I’m not always sure what to do or say when it comes to social justice issues. That’s why I listen to the people in the group. I don’t know what racism is! Not really. I’m white. I’ve never had to experience it. So if a black person says “that’s racist” I sit up and listen. They obviously know better than I do, and who am I to say their experience doesn’t matter. Likewise, I want people to listen to me when I say something is transphobic. Unless you’re trans, how do you know if what you said is transphobic or not? Dialogue makes progress possible, but dialogue doesn’t work one way. We need to let others talk, and we need to listen to what they say. And we need to be open minded about what we hear. That doesn’t mean we agree with everything we’re told, but it does mean we’re willing to consider it.

Local Poltics in Alberta Canada: A responce to a post on Bill 6.


This is a response directed at natashamintram that I’ve put together for the benefit of a friend and besides it caught my interest.

natashamintram’s full article can be found here.

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“Their roots go deep. It is so sad to see what’s happening to Alberta’s agricultural history: a major part of our thriving economy. Historically, the government has used the divide between urban and rural Alberta to its advantage by “pleasing” either one or the other. This isn’t right: the government must work with both to bring unity, not division.”

Alright I go a clear idea on where the author stands on this issue, but one question. Which Government are you talking about? people reading this article are likely going to assume you mean the current Alberta NDP, however you haven’t actually been clear enough for me to say one way or another.

“Bill 6 is a combined bill, which means it amends more than one bill. It will affect the Workers’ Compensation Act, Occupational Health and Safety Act, Employment Standards Code and Labour Relations Code for the Agricultural industry.”

Yes and it sound like you’d need to make adjustment in all those area to affect the work place protections that the current government has said they want to do.

“This bill infringes upon the rights and freedoms of farmers and ranchers to work their land. As Bill 6 is written, it will remove most farming and ranching activities from their current exempted status.”

Without a lot context this sound less like “rights” and more like “privileges” but yes if your take away someone’s exempt status they are probably going to argue they will lose their right to something, but that alone it’s terribly concerning. Not too long ago men lost the right to beat and rape their wives and people complained about that too, the question I have is? Are these privileges ones we ought to fight for as a society, or at they simply protecting a few while allowing for some sort of exploitation.

(by the way thank you for using citation I do appreciate it)

For your second citation it doesn’t seem that you’ve really offer much proof that the government hasn’t been contacting experts, or farmers, but I will take your word for it on the farmer at least. That’s problematic is the NDP are not following through on their promise I agree.

“As the Workers’ Compensation Act and Occupational Health and Safety Act are currently written, these measures will both take effect on January 1st, 2016. This is an inadequate amount of time to prepare for such drastic changes.”

Fair enough hopefully a good deal of leeway will be given over the next year or two, so that this will not be an issue.

“What about the farms and ranches that hire seasonal workers who aren’t family members? Now, due to that fact alone, Occupational Health and Safety will have complete jurisdiction over their operations, and they will have to make some serious decisions.”

 

“These farms and ranches will have to be brought up to OH&S standards, a process costing hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, which will be nearly impossible for small farms and ranches to afford.”

Really a small ranch or farm? can’t afford hundred or even thousands of dollars? No I understand that your typical farmer is not rolling in money, but if the costs are really only in the range of hundrends or thousands of dollars then there are likely enough financing options to pay for those changes. Now if the costs are a good deal higher then I have a question. does that make safety standards overkill, or does that mean that farms are ramshackle death traps? I’ve been to my fair share of farms over the years and some look like they won’t have an issue meeting most standards while others are in fact ramshackle deathtraps.

“Many times they have small profit margins and sometimes no profit at all.”

Yep and if that’s the case they like most business that teeter on a fine edge will eventually fail, this could be the catalyst for some that’s unfortunate, but that’s the capitalistic society we live in. Now I’m all for arguing if this is wrong on some moral level, but given how our society function do these small barely profitable farms and ranches actually bring significant value to society? Will the these changes causer enough fallout to warrant legitimate concern? I don’t know, but maybe you do and I’d like to hear what you have to say if you do.

“Currently, as the law is written, an OH&S Officer can enter the premises without notice or a warrant to search and seize anything that they deem in violation of the regulations, at any time of the day. This includes farmers’ and ranchers’ homes because they have their office inside which would be considered a worksite. If a farmer or rancher is non-compliant with the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, they’re subject to many penalties, and fines up to $500,000 or imprisonment.”

Yep regulation sucks, but if they can’t search business spaces then some farmers will undoubtedly hide questionable or illegal activates in their homes to prevent detection. Not all farmers by any means, but business is business and anyone who has lived in a rural community in Alberta knows there is no shortage of people who will go to great length if they think “they can screw the man.” It probably means in the long run there be more out building on farms, or extensions to preexisting homes, and for the first while there will be inconveniences. Though for routine inspection I doubt most OHS officers are not going to abuse their powers or try to make enemies with farmers, I’m such some will, but they will in turn end up suffering for it.

“WCB is being forced on farmers and ranchers, taking away their freedom of choice when most already have their own 24/7 private insurance with superior rates and benefits. Don’t you think they should have a few options to choose from when it comes to workplace insurance? To ensure the companies stay competitive so they can choose the best coverage possible? WCB will have complete control over how they provide coverage to the Agricultural Industry, without any competition. How would you like to have one sole provider of health insurance, auto insurance or home insurance?”

This is interesting do you have any more information on exactly what kinds of options farmers will and will not have?

 

“Farmers and ranchers already take safety precautions on their farms. The problem is that this bill moves way beyond “enhancing safety”4.”

Explain?

“Any person at any job can refuse unsafe work. We are free to choose where we work, who we work for and say no to something that could put us in a dangerous situation.”

Sadly the real world is not that simple, sometime people cannot refuse work because they can’t afford to be fired, and some time people won’t recognize the extent of the danger they might face. They reson why we have worker protections is to help counter balance for the imbalances of power that can occur which typically favor the employer.

“If it had truly only ever been about improving farm and ranch worker’s safety, there would never have been these major pieces of legislation. The appropriate way for the government to have addressed this would have been to document consultations, prepare proposals to farmers and ranchers, and begin improving safety programs through the farm safety programs that are already available.5

None of that really follows from what you’ve presented thus far. Farmer are people, some a good some a bad, and that means some farmer will ignore safety program and mistreat employees (to various levels) if they are able to. If you rules don’t have teeth they are only guideline and can’t be enforced. And if you can’t enforce there’s a risk that undue harm can be done with no recourse available to those harmed.

“There never would have been such a huge uproar like what you’ve seen in the media, or in person these past few weeks.”

Uproar can be manufactured or misplaced and often is, I’m interested in the facts as they are currently available not in how people feel about it as that is already quite clear.

“This didn’t happen over “safety precautions,” it happened because this bill threatens their entire livelihood. This is not an exaggeration.”

I happen to question both of those sentences, so far you haven’t really given a compelling case that peoples likely hood are a risk, only that people won’t like the changes. Which in all fairness is certainly true. People don’t like change, and people really don’t like change if has a chance of affecting the bottom line negatively. Though so far you have not offer a proper case for this risk, but have only asserted it.

I want to understand your real concerns what prevision are going to cause things to really hurt for farms. The only one so far that seem to have merit is the issue surrounding enforced WCB. And even then how is that actually going affect farmers how much will they have to put into those programs? And why should they be except in the first place?

” Here is a great analogy that was shared on the Facebook group: “I asked how my urban friends, many of whom live in beautiful but older houses, would feel if the Government passed legislation requiring all homeowners to have their houses brought up to 2016 Building Codes by January 1, 2016, or risk fines of up to $500,000?”

Okay so again lets clear this up does the government actually expect farmers to meet all the requirement by Jan 1st? I highly doubt it, and I and quite sure they couldn’t enforce it even if they where insane enough to try. In addition companies typically get warnings long before any fines are handed out so why would we expect the Albertan government to hand out fines starting Jan 1st? I don’t think we would, analogies can be useful, but I think here you’re leaping to the worse possible scenario without giving any reason too. I don’t think further fear mongering is useful in already tense situation, and weather you indented it or not I think that’s what happening in this paragraph.

That said I do think there will be adjustment period and that means some people with have to change how they are doing things, but I remain unconvinced that many even older farmers will be hurt by this. That said however I am still happy to be swayed if you can convince me that harm is a real possibility.

” Farmers and ranchers didn’t give the government a blank cheque to sign – the government did it themselves, and robbed the former of their entire livelihood.”

Uhmm that is quite the leap. It is not like the government has taken away farmers property rights or something equally crazy. Also do remember this is a democracy you do have some say, and if the NDP do royal mess this up then you, me, and everyone else will have to vote a new party in, but I honestly do not buy the constant fear monger that the NDP are going to destroy the province, they really isn’t evidence for it. The only real problem the NDP have is that people only like to vote them in when shit has already hit the fan and they need someone new to clean up the mess, and people get upset that they can’t magically fix everything over night. And do political parties NDP included make mistakes, yep, but as humans what do you expect?

Again fear mongering, a good tactic for getting people riled up, but it isn’t going to convince me that your right, only that you’re afraid or at least want other to be afraid.

” Farmers, ranchers and workers aren’t benefiting from these new legislation – the government is. It’s not that Alberta was the last province to have “safety and basic protection rights” for farm and ranch workers, it was the last province that the government didn’t control.”

really to me is should like it’s going to cost both money, and time, I think the legislation is there to help unrelated employees and give them protections already afforded to employees in other industries. You continued to talk about how this will affect famers, but so far you’ve paid next to no attention to paid employees. That’s why I I think you’ve allowed your biases to blind you to the third party in all this.

” How is that creating job growth? Not to mention all the oil field workers who have been laid off.”

That has literally nothing to do with Notley fun fast the middle east controls the price of oil and Saudi Arabia is paying for a war at the moment and is selling oil cheap to pay for it. That and the oilfield are a boom and bust to begin with that just the reality of having an economy base on oil, and they only people who can be blamed for that are the PC’s.

——

 

The rest of the article is made of excepts about concerns and fear from other farmers and ranchers, I think there are some legitimate concerns in there, but I don’t not have any expertise in many complex issues which, so in conclusion it may be very true that this legislation is being pulled through the house far too quickly, and I’m sure that the full extent of the bill has yet to be determined. I think I will discuss this topic with my local MP and see what he has to say about it, but otherwise I think I don’t enough working though the issues I have with this article and why I think we still have way more question then answers.

Thanks to natashamintram for taking the time to write there article and I hope they don’t take this as any sort of personal attack, and it is intended only as a critique. additionally I do not expect a response, but would be happy to receive one if that ever where to suit natashamintram‘s fancy.

 


Is Knowledge Justified True Beilief?


Been awhile since we’ve posted, but I’ve been enjoying the heck out my course of epistemology, so I might as well share some of that love.

So what is knowledge? Well that’s a open question, but for the better part of the last 3 millennia one suggestion has been offered up. Possibly starting with Plato’s Theaetetus we’ve had the idea of Knowledge being justified true belief. The Idea looks like this.

  1. If p is true,
  2. You believe that p is true,
  3. and you are justified in believing p

then you know p.

Now there are all kinds of problem you might have with this definition of knowledge, but I’d like to see if anyone has thoughts, or wants to discuss the topic. If you do write a comment down below!

Withteeth


Quick Question: Would you be willing to…


Would you be willing to pay more taxes to help pay for cost of immigrants moving to your country, making sure they had a fair chance to make a life for themselves. Lets also assume that these immigrant are emigrating from their home country due to serve social and economic instability.

I’ve left it fairly vague so feel free to leave your deeper rational, and what qualifiers are informant for you.

 

Withteeth


Why I Don’t Agree With the Bible: Ezra


As I said in a different post, I skipped 2 Chronicles because it is basically just an overview of what has already happened. As such, I will be starting back up with Ezra.
Ezra begins with Cyrus, the Persian king, helping the exiled Israelites return to Israel. “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfil the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing.” Yet another example of God’s apparent disregard of freewill. Why couldn’t Cyrus make his own decision about whether or not the temple should be rebuilt? Why does God have to “move his heart”? Cyrus then says “‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’” Um, Cyrus wasn’t an Israelite. The God of the Bible was not his god. While he likely would have believed that a god or gods made it possible for him to rule such a vast empire, it is unlikely that he would have told the Israelites that it was their god who gave him is power. He was, however, known to be a fairly liberal ruler. It is not strange that he would have allowed the Israelites to rebuild their temple. After all, he gave members of other religious groups equal freedom.
The people then returned to Israel. The Bible then spends a good deal of time focusing on how the temple is built, what is in it, and the process of sacrificing. It states that “When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, the people assembled together as one in Jerusalem. Then Joshua son of Jozadak and his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his associates began to build the altar of the God of Israel to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, in accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening sacrifices. Then in accordance with what is written, they celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles with the required number of burnt offerings prescribed for each day. After that, they presented the regular burnt offerings, the New Moon sacrifices and the sacrifices for all the appointed sacred festivals of the Lord, as well as those brought as freewill offerings to the Lord. On the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord, though the foundation of the Lord’s temple had not yet been laid.” This bit isn’t really all that interesting, other than the claim that they were afraid, which makes sense given the circumstances. But then it is stated that the priests say “He is good;/his love toward Israel endures forever.” But this can’t be true. After all, weren’t they exiles because God got mad at them and let them get taken over? How is that loving? Especially when then weren’t doing anything shocking or even unexpected for the time. It is then said that “When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, ‘Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.’ But Zerubbabel, Joshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, ‘You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.’” How do the Israelites know that those people were enemies? How do they know that they didn’t legitimately want to help with the temple? This makes the Israelites look like jerks.
In order to stop the Israelites from building their temple (though I don’t really know why anybody would be so concerned about another minority religion building a temple in a time when temples were a dime a dozen), some people apparently wrote to the king: “Furthermore, the king should know that if this city is built and its walls are restored, no more taxes, tribute or duty will be paid, and eventually the royal revenues will suffer. Now since we are under obligation to the palace and it is not proper for us to see the king dishonoured, we are sending this message to inform the king, so that a search may be made in the archives of your predecessors. In these records you will find that this city is a rebellious city, troublesome to kings and provinces, a place with a long history of sedition. That is why this city was destroyed. We inform the king that if this city is built and its walls are restored, you will be left with nothing in Trans-Euphrates.” This sounds like modern day fear-monguring: “If taxes are raised, businesses will go bankrupt and the economy will enter a recession!” It’s silly and not worth considering. The king apparently replies “The letter you sent us has been read and translated in my presence. I issued an order and a search was made, and it was found that this city has a long history of revolt against kings and has been a place of rebellion and sedition. Jerusalem has had powerful kings ruling over the whole of Trans-Euphrates, and taxes, tribute and duty were paid to them. Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order. Be careful not to neglect this matter. Why let this threat grow, to the detriment of the royal interests?” Really? You can’t just, I don’t know, go to the Israelites and say “Hey, I know you want to be independent, but you’re still living in our Empire. Here’s the deal: you pay taxes to us and our army protects you from attacks. Deal?” Seriously, at no point do they discuss any sort of give and take. That is basic policy from all ages. The Bible goes on to say “As soon as the copy of the letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and Shimshai the secretary and their associates, they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them by force to stop. Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.” Uh huh. But why? Where is the logic in any of this? Does anybody else smell a persecution complex here?
The Bible then goes on to mention a prophecy: “Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Joshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, supporting them. At that time Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates went to them and asked, ‘Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and to finish it?’ They also asked, ‘What are the names of those who are constructing this building?’ But the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews, and they were not stopped until a report could go to Darius and his written reply be received.” Is there any evidence to show that this prophecy actually happened? Or that it happened before the temple’s completion? Why should I believe that this is a legitimate prophecy?
Later on, the Israelites begins building the temple again. And again people have an issue with it. Once again, they write to the king: “The king should know that we went to the district of Judah, to the temple of the great God. The people are building it with large stones and placing the timbers in the walls. The work is being carried on with diligence and is making rapid progress under their direction. We questioned the elders and asked them, ‘Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and to finish it?’ We also asked them their names, so that we could write down the names of their leaders for your information. This is the answer they gave us: ‘We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the temple that was built many years ago, one that a great king of Israel built and finished. But because our ancestors angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar the Chaldean, king of Babylon, who destroyed this temple and deported the people to Babylon. However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree to rebuild this house of God. He even removed from the temple of Babylon the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to the temple in Babylon. Then King Cyrus gave them to a man named Sheshbazzar, whom he had appointed governor, and he told him, ‘Take these articles and go and deposit them in the temple in Jerusalem. And rebuild the house of God on its site.’ So this Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundations of the house of God in Jerusalem. From that day to the present it has been under construction but is not yet finished.’ Now if it pleases the king, let a search be made in the royal archives of Babylon to see if King Cyrus did in fact issue a decree to rebuild this house of God in Jerusalem. Then let the king send us his decision in this matter.” Okay, but why is this temple such an issue? The Bible goes on to say “King Darius then issued an order, and they searched in the archives stored in the treasury at Babylon. A scroll was found in the citadel of Ecbatana in the province of Media, and this was written on it: Memorandum: In the first year of King Cyrus, the king issued a decree concerning the temple of God in Jerusalem: Let the temple be rebuilt as a place to present sacrifices, and let its foundations be laid. It is to be sixty cubits high and sixty cubits wide, with three courses of large stones and one of timbers. The costs are to be paid by the royal treasury. Also, the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, are to be returned to their places in the temple in Jerusalem; they are to be deposited in the house of God. Now then, Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and you other officials of that province, stay away from there. Do not interfere with the work on this temple of God. Let the governor of the Jews and the Jewish elders rebuild this house of God on its site. Moreover, I hereby decree what you are to do for these elders of the Jews in the construction of this house of God: Their expenses are to be fully paid out of the royal treasury, from the revenues of Trans-Euphrates, so that the work will not stop. Whatever is needed—young bulls, rams, male lambs for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, and wheat, salt, wine and olive oil, as requested by the priests in Jerusalem—must be given them daily without fail, so that they may offer sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven and pray for the well-being of the king and his sons. Furthermore, I decree that if anyone defies this edict, a beam is to be pulled from their house and they are to be impaled on it. And for this crime their house is to be made a pile of rubble. May God, who has caused his Name to dwell there, overthrow any king or people who lifts a hand to change this decree or to destroy this temple in Jerusalem. I Darius have decreed it. Let it be carried out with diligence.” If a deal has been made, then looking for the recording of the deal makes sense, but how did the deal get forgotten about so quickly? And why was Darius so willing to let the Israelites have their temple? If he had wanted to, he could have just forced them to stop building again.
Once the temple is built, we are finally introduced to the man for whom the book is named. The Bible begins by boring us with more names that mean nothing: “After these things, during the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah, the son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub, the son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth, the son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki, the son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the chief priest— this Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him. Some of the Israelites, including priests, Levites, musicians, gatekeepers and temple servants, also came up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes. Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month of the seventh year of the king. He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” Okay, so he was a priest. Ezra says “Praise be to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, who has put it into the king’s heart to bring honour to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem in this way and who has extended his good favour to me before the king and his advisers and all the king’s powerful officials. Because the hand of the Lord my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leaders from Israel to go up with me.” Then there are more lists of names.
Now it all shifts from third to first person with no explanation: “There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, ‘The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.’ So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer. Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests, namely, Sherebiah, Hashabiah and ten of their brothers, and I weighed out to them the offering of silver and gold and the articles that the king, his advisers, his officials and all Israel present there had donated for the house of our God. I weighed out to them 650 talents of silver, silver articles weighing 100 talents, 100 talents of gold, 20 bowls of gold valued at 1,000 darics, and two fine articles of polished bronze, as precious as gold.”
Once again, the focus turns to how horrible the Israelites are: “After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, ‘The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.’ When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice. Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to theLord my God and prayed ‘I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today. But now, for a brief moment, the Lord our God has been gracious in leaving us a remnant and giving us a firm place in his sanctuary, and so our God gives light to our eyes and a little relief in our bondage. Though we are slaves, our God has not forsaken us in our bondage. He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia: He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem. But now, our God, what can we say after this? For we have forsaken the commands you gave through your servants the prophets when you said: ‘The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. By their detestable practices they have filled it with their impurity from one end to the other. Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them at any time, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it to your children as an everlasting inheritance.’ What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins deserved and have given us a remnant like this. Shall we then break your commands again and intermarry with the peoples who commit such detestable practices? Would you not be angry enough with us to destroy us, leaving us no remnant or survivor? Lord, the God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.’” Well he certainly has a flare for the dramatic. Also, does God actually know that the Israelites are marrying women from different cultures? Because, if he does, he doesn’t seem to care. Why would he let them rebuild the temple if they are still being disobedient? Wasn’t that the issue in the first place? It goes on to say of Ezra “While he was there, he ate no food and drank no water, because he continued to mourn over the unfaithfulness of the exiles.”
The book of Ezra finishes with more lists of names, this time they are the names of every man who married a non-Israelite women. Given the number of Israelites there presumably are, the list isn’t very long: “Among the descendants of the priests, the following had married foreign women: From the descendants of Joshua son of Jozadak, and his brothers: Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib and Gedaliah. (They all gave their hands in pledge to put away their wives, and for their guilt they each presented a ram from the flock as a guilt offering.) From the descendants of Immer: Hanani and Zebadiah. From the descendants of Harim: Maaseiah, Elijah, Shemaiah, Jehiel and Uzziah. From the descendants of Pashhur: Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethanel, Jozabad and Elasah. Among the Levites: Jozabad, Shimei, Kelaiah (that is, Kelita), Pethahiah, Judah and Eliezer. From the musicians: Eliashib. From the gatekeepers: Shallum, Telem and Uri. And among the other Israelites: From the descendants of Parosh: Ramiah, Izziah, Malkijah, Mijamin, Eleazar, Malkijah and Benaiah. From the descendants of Elam: Mattaniah, Zechariah, Jehiel, Abdi, Jeremoth and Elijah. From the descendants of Zattu: Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Jeremoth, Zabad and Aziza. From the descendants of Bebai: Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai and Athlai. From the descendants of Bani: Meshullam, Malluk, Adaiah, Jashub, Sheal and Jeremoth…All these had married foreign women, and some of them had children by these wives.” Why does it matter if they had children? Given that fathers were the head of the household, couldn’t they ensure that the children grow up to be good little Israelites?


What Can Churches Teach Atheists?


So life has been quite busy for us lately. I have been working and trying to get some writing edited. Withteeth has been testing out a job as well. As such, it has been difficult for us to find time to publish posts. However, I do have some Bible posts that I’ve been working on. I’ll start publishing those in a few days.

But first I want to talk about the conference we were at this weekend. Gateway to Reason was a first time conference that took place this weekend in St. Louis, Missouri. It was probably the best organized conference that we have been to. I would definitely recommend looking into this conference next year if you are able to make your way to St. Louis for it. It was fairly cheep as far as secular/skeptic conferences are concerned and it had a large number of speakers. Russell Glasser, Matt Dillihunty, Aron Ra, Vyckie Garrison, and David Fitzgerald are just a few of the many speakers who presented a talk.

But it’s Hemant Mehta’s talk that I want to really discuss. His talk took place this afternoon. Hemant’s talk was about how atheists are failing to attract members and convince people to give up their religion. He said that there are a number of things that churches do better than atheist groups: First, churches really do give their members a sense of purpose. They send people on mission trips, they encourage people to volunteer, and they get people thinking about how to solve real world issues that affect the members of the church. Atheist groups don’t do these things. As such, we can’t get people to join us. People want to feel as though their local group is for something. They want to feel as though their is a purpose in attending that group. So how do we give people that purpose? Second, Churches offer community. Atheist groups do offer community, but our communities are makeshift. Christians will take care of their people. If someone loses their job, Christian groups will help that person until they are back on their feet. Atheist groups don’t do that kind of thing. This means that asking someone to leave their church is asking them to leave their safety net. Why would they do that? How can we better protect each other and offer that safety net? Third, the church is very good at death. They have a good story. A comforting story. We don’t have that. We don’t offer the same inspiration. So how can we inspire people to not fear death? Fourth, Christians have great messengers. They have a terrible message, but their messengers are great. Atheists have terrible messengers. Our messengers insult and offend the people they are trying to deconvert. Our messengers ignore emotion and aren’t very good storytellers. The strength of our message is irrelevant if we can’t catch the peoples attention to share it. So how do we improve our messengers? Hement’s point is that we need to fix the way that atheists bring people in. So how do we do this? Is Hement right or is he completely off base? Does it matter?


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