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Apr 24, 2016

Bible Written Earlier Than Previously Believed? 2,500-Y-O Archaeological Discovery Reveals New Insights

By Stoyan Zaimov

Parts of the Bible from the Old Testament could have been written earlier than scholars previously thought, a discovery relating to a handwriting analysis of a text on pottery shards has suggested.

Researchers from Israel's Tel Aviv University posted their findings Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, where they revealed that 600 BCE pottery from the Arad citadel suggested that not only the elites in society were able to read.

Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist and biblical scholar at Tel Aviv University in Israel, said the handwritten analysis represents new information about the people in the ancient kingdom of Judah.

"We're dealing with really low-level soldiers in a remote place who can write," Finkelstein told Live Science. "So there must have been some sort of educational system in Judah at that time."

Finkelstein explained that the significance of this discovery is that it shows the kingdom had the intellectual resources to write and compile parts of the Old Testament during this period.

Haaretz noted that there is scholarly dispute about precisely when the different writings of the Old Testament were composed, with one key question being whether the oldest books were made before or after the destruction of Judah and its capital Jerusalem in 586 BCE.

"There's a heated discussion regarding the timing of the composition of a critical mass of biblical texts, but to answer this, one must ask a broader question: What were the literacy rates in Judah at the end of the First Temple period? And what were the literacy rates later on?" Finkelstein added.

The research, carried out by a team of archaeologists, physicists, and mathematicians, used specific imaging tools and algorithms to photograph, digitize and analyze pieces of pottery that were initially discovered in the 1960s in the ruins of the Arad stronghold.

The inscriptions contain information about troop movements and distributions of provisions that were addressed to the fort's quartermaster, Eliashiv.

Barak Sober, one of the mathematicians on the team, explained details about the process: "We designed an algorithm to distinguish between different authors, then composed a statistical mechanism to assess our findings. ... Through probability analysis, we eliminated the likelihood that the texts were written by a single author."

A significant find was that a sample of 16 potsherds was written by at least six different hands, which suggests that literacy was widespread in Judah's army.

Physicist Eliezer Piasetzky said while it was hard to tell the exact percentage of people in the kingdom who could read and write, the pottery shows that it trickled down to some of the lower levels of society.

"We found indirect evidence of the existence of an educational infrastructure, which could have enabled the composition of biblical texts," Piasetzky suggested. "Literacy existed at all levels of the administrative, military and priestly systems of Judah. Reading and writing were not limited to a tiny elite."

Finkelstein added: "Following the fall of Judah, there was a large gap in production of Hebrew inscriptions until the second century BCE, the next period with evidence for widespread literacy. This reduces the odds for a compilation of substantial biblical literature in Jerusalem between ca. 586 and 200 BCE."

Still, some scholars remain skeptical.

"There is no such thing as consensus in biblical studies these days," said professor Edward Greenstein of Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, according to The New York Times. "The process of transmission was much more complicated than scholars used to think." -Christian Post

World's 'Oldest Christian Church' Discovered In Jordan

By Tim Butcher

Archaeologists claim to have found the world's oldest church dating from shortly after Christ's crucifixion

If tests confirm that it dates back to between 33 AD to 70 AD, as the archaeologists claim, it would make it the earliest known place of Christian worship by around two hundred years.

According to a report in the Jordan Times newspaper, a very early underground church was found beneath the ancient Saint Georgeous Church, which itself dates back to 230 AD, in Rihab, northern Jordan near the Syrian border.

"We have uncovered what we believe to be the first church in the world, dating from 33 AD to 70 AD," Abdul Qader al-Husan, head of Jordan's Rihab Centre for Archaeological Studies, said.

"We have evidence to believe this church sheltered the early Christians – the 70 disciples of Jesus Christ."

A mosaic found in the church describes these Christians as "the 70 beloved by God and Divine". Mr Husan said they believed to have fled persecution in Jerusalem and founded churches in northern Jordan.

He cited historical sources which suggest they both lived and practised religious rituals in the underground church and only left it after Christianity was embraced by Roman rulers in the fourth century AD.

The claim was treated with some disdain in online chatrooms focusing on biblical knowledge with most contributors suggesting the claim was made up to boost Rihab's tourist status.

There is no clear holder of the title of oldest Christian church with various sites claiming the title without definitive evidence.

 In 2005 Israeli archaeologists claimed to have found the earliest Christian church when they uncovered a floor mosaic dating from the first part of the third century.

It was found inside the perimeter fence of a top security prison built by Israel in Megiddo or, to use its ancient name, Armageddon, where, according to the New Testament, the final battle between good and evil will be fought before the return of the Messiah.

The bishop deputy of the Greek Orthodox archdiocese, Archimandrite Nektarious, described the Rihab discovery as an "important milestone for Christians all around the world."

Researchers recovered pottery dating back to between the 3rd and 7th centuries, which they say suggests these first Christians and their followers lived in the area until late Roman rule.

Inside the cave there are several stone seats which are believed to have been for the clergy and a circular shaped area, thought to be the apse. There is also a deep tunnel which is believed to have led to a water source, the archaeologist added. Rihab is home to a total of 30 churches and Jesus and the Virgin Mary are believed to have passed through the area, Husan said. –Telegraph

When You Believe - Maccabeats

The Old Wall Telephone

Author Unknown

When I was a young boy, my folks had one of the first telephones in our neighborhood. I remember the polished, old case fastened to the wall. The shiny receiver hung on the side of the box. I was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when my mother talked to it.

Then I discovered that somewhere inside the wonderful device lived an amazing person. Her name was "Information Please" and there was nothing she did not know. Information Please could supply anyone's number and the correct time. My personal experience with the genie-in-a-bottle came one day while my mother was visiting a neighbor. Amusing myself at the tool bench in the basement, I whacked my finger with a hammer, the pain was terrible, but there seemed no point in crying because there was no one home to give sympathy. I walked around the house sucking my throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway. Then, I spotted the telephone! Quickly, I ran for the footstool in the parlor and dragged it to the landing. Climbing up, I unhooked the receiver in the parlor and held it to my ear. "Information, please," I said into the mouthpiece just above my head. A click or two and a small clear voice spoke into my ear.

"Information." "I hurt my finger..." I wailed into the phone, the tears came readily enough now that I had an audience.

"Isn't your mother home?" came the question.

"Nobody's home but me," I blubbered.

"Are you bleeding?" the voice asked.

"No,"I replied. "I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts."

"Can you open the icebox?" she asked. I said I could. "Then chip off a little bit of ice and hold it to your finger," said the voice.

After that, I called "Information Please" for everything. I asked her for help with my geography, and she told me where Philadelphia was. She helped me with my math. She told me my pet chipmunk that I had caught in the park just the day before, would eat fruit and nuts. Then, there was the time, Petey, our pet canary, died. I called "Information Please," and told her the sad story. She listened, and then said things grown-ups say to soothe a child. But I was not consoled.

I asked her, "Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to all families, only to end up as a heap of feathers on the bottom of a cage?"

She must have sensed my deep concern, for she said quietly, " Wayne , always remember that there are other worlds to sing in." Somehow I felt better.

Another day, I asked Information Please, "How do I spell fix?"

All this took place in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. When I was nine years old, we moved across the country to Boston . I missed my friend very much. Information Please belonged in that old wooden box back home and I somehow never thought of trying the shiny new phone that sat on the table in the hall. As I grew into my teens, the memories of those childhood conversations never really left me. Often, in moments of doubt and perplexity I would recall the serene sense of security I had then. I appreciated now how patient, understanding, and kind she was to have spent her time on a little boy.

A few years later, on my way west to college, my plane put down in Seattle. I had about a half-hour or so between planes. I spent 15 minutes or so on the phone with my sister, who lived there now. Then without thinking what I was doing, I dialed my hometown operator and said, "Information Please."

Miraculously, I heard the small, clear voice I knew so well. "Information."

I hadn't planned this, but I heard myself saying, "Could you please tell me how to spell fix?" There was a long pause.

Then came the soft spoken answer, "I guess your finger must have healed by now."

I laughed, "So it's really you," I said. "I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time?

"I wonder," she said, "if you know how much your call meant to me. I never had any children and I used to look forward to your calls."

I told her how often I had thought of her over the years and I asked if I could call her again when I came back to visit my sister. "Please do," she said. "Just ask for Sally."

Three months later I was back in Seattle . A different voice answered, "Information." I asked for Sally.

"Are you a friend?" she said.

"Yes, a very old friend," I answered. "I'm sorry to have to tell you this," She said. "Sally had been working part time the last few years because she was sick. She died five weeks ago." Before I could hang up, she said, "Wait a minute, did you say your name was Wayne?"

"Yes." I answered.

"Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down in case you called. Let me read it to you. The note said, 'Tell him there are other worlds to sing in.' He'll know what I mean."

I thanked her and hung up. I knew what Sally meant.

Never underestimate the impression you may make on others. Whose life have you touched today? Why not pass this on? I just did.... Lifting you on eagle's wings; may you find the joy and peace you long for. Life is a journey on your own, not a guided tour.

I loved this story since I first heard/read it, and I felt I just had to pass it on. I hope you find it a "lovable story", too. –Contributed by Ralph

Islamic Influx: Why A Religious Test For Immigrants Is Moral And Wise

By Selwyn Duke

With the Paris terror attack and flooding of Western nations with Muslim migrants, Senator Ted Cruz and others have proposed limiting Muslim immigration into the U.S. In response, Barack Obama and John McCain have said that having a “religious test” for newcomers would be un-American. It’s a belief betraying dangerous philosophical juvenility.

Before getting to the deeper issues, it doesn’t take an Aristotelian mind to grasp the following: If one million Chinese Christians immigrated to our nation, the probability is decent that not even one of them would turn to terrorism. The same cannot be said of Muslim newcomers. And as I’ve pointed out repeatedly, if 1/10th of 1 percent of 1,000,000 of them are terrorists, that’s still 1000 dangerous jihadists. Terrorism today is a Muslim phenomenon.

Even more dangerous, though, is the modernistic phenomenon of false moral equivalence. Would you say it was un-American to apply an ideological test to immigrants and deny entry to Nazis or communists? People will say that’s different; on an instinctive level, we view our ideology as superior to others and some ideologies as downright evil. But what is the substantive difference among them? It’s that they espouse different values. And unless we’re moral relativists, we understand that because of this they cannot all be morally equal.

Now consider: different religions also espouse different values. This is largely why we can call them “different” religions. Conclusion?

They cannot all be morally equal.

You’ll only say otherwise if, again, you’re a moral relativist. But if relativism is “reality,” it then follows that no ideology can be better than another, either. If Christianity and Hinduism were equal despite their different values, so would liberalism and conservatism be; if Judaism and Islam were, so would libertarianism and Nazism be. “Values” are either relative or they’re not -- you can’t have it both ways.

What follows from this is that religions, like ideologies, can run the gamut from the good to the bad to the ugly, from the ethereal to the excremental. The Aztecs’ religion, like so many pagan ones, required human sacrifice on a massive scale, and the Christian religion put an end to it. The Romans’ pagan religion allowed for the brutality of the arena, and the Christian religion put an end to it. I’ve heard many conservatives say “Islam is not a religion,” but the truth here is a bit simpler: similar to ideology, religion isn’t bad, but there is bad religion.

In point of fact, the distinction between “secular” and “religious” is, in the most important sense, a false one. Many today, awash in militant “secularism,” talk and behave as if the labels “secular” and “religious” alone are enough to qualify an idea for or disqualify it from the public square and the stuff of laws. This notion has no basis in reason and ignores the only distinction that really matters.

What would this be? Well, if Marxism is a destructive lie (in sum), what is more significant, that it’s labeled “secular” or that it’s untrue? If God’s existence is a reality, what is more significant, that we label the idea “religious” or that it is true? There’s only one distinction of any consequence whatsoever: the true and the untrue. Everything else is water-muddying, pseudo-intellectual verbiage.

In other words, at bottom people don’t believe in “ideologies,” “religions” or “philosophies.”

People believe in things.

Some of those things are good and true, others are bad and false. And if what people believe is bad and false -- whatever water-muddying label it wears -- there’s every reason not to vote for them. There also may be good reason not to befriend or hire them, depending on the degree and nature of the badness. There may be reason to keep them out of your home.

And there certainly may be reason to keep them out of your national home.

It should be noted that when Charles Martel saved Europe from a Muslim invasion in 732 A.D. and when the responses to Islamic aggression known as the Crusades were launched in 1095, people understood the above well. In fact, the earliest known uses of the terms “religious” and “secular” were, respectively, 1200 and 1300; even so, they didn’t have their current meanings. “Secular” as in “in reference to humanism and the exclusion of belief in God from matters of ethics and morality,” only dates from 1850.

Thus, during Christendom’s formative years, adolescence and rise to dominance, people did in fact view the world more clearly in the most important sense: they understood that there was simply the true and untrue. Maybe now we can understand why Pope Benedict XVI identified the 13th or 14th century as the West’s high water mark.

So what changed? Why are we confusing ourselves with terminology? Well, a prerequisite for believing something is “true” or “untrue,” in a real sense, is believing there is a yardstick for thus measuring things, namely Truth. And most contemporary Americans (and other moderns), as this 2002 Barna Group study shows, don’t believe in it. They are relativists.

Since many well-meaning readers occupy this group, I ask you to bear with me and consider the following carefully. Here’s how I always explain this matter: who or what determines what we call right and wrong? There are only two possibilities: either man does or something outside of and above him does -- namely God (if the agency outside us weren’t above us, there’d be no reason to defer to its “law”). Consider the implications of each position. If an omnipotent, omniscient, perfect and benevolent being that created the Universe -- the physical reality we see -- also created moral reality (Truth), then we can say right and wrong is a real thing, unchanging, nonnegotiable and inerrant. It’s not merely a matter of “perspective” or feelings.

But what if, as the ancient Greek Protagoras said, “Man is the measure of all things”? Well, if you learned that the vast majority of the world liked vanilla but hated chocolate, would this make chocolate “bad” or “evil”? Of course not. We know it’s merely a matter of taste.

Alright, but how is murder any different if the only reason we believe it’s “wrong” is that the vast majority of the world dislikes the idea of killing others in a way they consider “unjust”? If it’s merely consensus preference -- if there’s nothing more we can cite as evidence of this thing called “wrongness” -- then it occupies the same category as flavors: taste.

Some may now say, “C’mon, Duke, we’re talking about finishing off people, not dessert! This is a moral issue.” Again, though, absent Truth, the category of “moral issues” would also be man’s invention, also just a result of the consensus preference that some preferences should be classified differently from other preferences. And, hey, to echo that popular relativist refrain, “Don’t impose your values on me, dude.”

This helps explain why many people subscribe to the ObaMcCain no-religious-test notion. We have become so relativistic that we, at bottom, view religions merely as flavors of the day. Why don’t we apply the same to ideologies, whose “values” would also be relative? Simply because, absent a belief in Truth, people’s tendency to operate based on emotion is exacerbated. And emotion isn’t logical. Most relativists haven’t truly thought their ideas through carefully and applied them consistently. If they had and nonetheless wouldn’t dispense with their relativism, they’d conclude what Friedrich Nietzsche and occultist Aleister Crowley had, expressed by the latter as “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” (And in this case they’d realize they, logically, could treat “religion” and “ideology” differently because relativism dictates that consistency can be no better than inconsistency. Few people would make this logical but foolish decision, though, as opposed to the millions who can be influenced wrongly by emotion.)

And why do people’s emotions today influence them toward the double standard in question? First, people again are creatures who believe “things”; they need something to give their lives meaning, real or illusory. And in this godless age, “ideology” has taken the place of “religion,” which is why we see leftist protesters exhibiting jihadist-like fervor. Second, people often see how “ideology” affects them, the connection between it and how they’re governed. They know that putting liberals or conservatives in office can make a difference.

What they unfortunately don’t realize is that worldview, “First Things,” influence whether one will be liberal or conservative -- or something else. It’s no coincidence that the Founding Fathers were Christian. It’s no coincidence that the mass-murdering Marxists were atheists. It’s no coincidence that the Nazis were neo-pagans. And it’s no coincidence that the Muslim world never birthed democracy. It makes a big difference whether your credo is “Do what thou wilt,” “Do what Jesus wilt” or “Do what Allah wilt.”

So, yes, a religious test, if not in law but in citizens’ minds, is appropriate for lots of things. And immigration is no exception. –American Thinker

10 Misconceptions About Evolution

By Jim Stump

One of the difficulties people have with coming to accept the science of evolution is that they have absorbed incorrect or only partially correct information.  Over the last few months, I’ve kept a list of the mischaracterizations I’ve come across, and I present ten of them here today in no particular order.

1. Evolution claims that we evolved from monkeys.
No it doesn’t.  It doesn’t even claim we evolved from chimpanzees!  Rather, evolution predicts that all life on the planet is related.  That is to say that if you go back enough generations, you’ll come to a common ancestor for any two life forms.  For humans and chimpanzees, the best evidence strongly suggests that the line leading to humans diverged from the line leading to chimpanzees six or seven million years ago.  That original population was neither human nor chimpanzee.

2. If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys around?
Start with the same correction as given in #1—apes are closer relatives than monkeys.  And then there is a similar misconception.  The theory of evolution does not say that currently existing species came from other currently existing species.  The most recent common ancestors between humans and Old World monkeys (those from Africa and Asia) were about 25 million years ago (the New World monkeys in South and Central America split off earlier). 

3. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics disproves evolution
The reasoning here seems to be that the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics says that disorder (a.k.a. entropy) increases over time.  So evolution cannot be correct, since it claims that there is increasing complexity over time.  For example, buildings if they are left to themselves become dilapidated over time, rather than remodelling themselves into something better (increasing in order and complexity).  But of course the key here is “if they are left to themselves.”  The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics applies to closed systems in which there is no external source of energy.  But the earth is not a closed system!  There is massive energy being poured into the system constantly from the sun.  The sun’s energy is converted through natural processes into other forms of energy and powers the development of life on earth.  If you include the sun within our system, then yes, things are running down.  But we’ve got a few billion years left before the usable energy from the sun is gone.

4. No new information can be added to DNA through natural processes.
Yes it can.  Any reasonable definition of “new information” in this context has to mean something like “instructions to build something useful that weren’t there before.”  That happens a lot through genetic mutations and gene duplication.  Here’s a short YouTube video that explains how.

5. Evolution is a theory in crisis.
No it’s not.  Of course scientists debate and argue about the specifics—that’s how science works.  But the general framework of evolution including the common descent of all species is overwhelmingly supported by scientists.  98% of the members of AAAS (and 99% of research scientists) accept human evolution (see study).  Some of the confusion on this point is that the term “Neo-Darwinism” is often used to mean the specific proposal that there is nothing more to evolution than random genetic mutations and natural selection.  There is a lot of debate and dissention among scientists about that point.  But it is completely illegitimate to go from “There is vigorous debate about Neo-Darwinism” to the conclusion, “Therefore evolution is a theory in crisis.”  That is only rhetoric.

6. There are no transitional fossils.
Well, that depends on what you mean by that.  My ancestors are mostly from Germany, but if you went to a cemetery there from several hundred years ago (even in the hometown of my 8th-great grandparents), it would be pretty remarkable if you picked out one tombstone at random and hit upon a direct ancestor of mine.  Many of those “fossils” could be fairly close relatives of mine (much closer than those found in Japan), but they represent different lineages that did not lead to me.  The same goes for fossils of the ancestors of a species.  When we find a specimen that appears to have “transitional” characteristics between two species, like a whale-ish creature with tiny legs, it would be rare if that organism itself led directly to modern whales.  But when it is found in the right place and right time period, it is undoubtedly closely related to the truly transitional organism.  We might better call these “intermediate” fossils.  And there are gobs of these in the fossil record.  Together, they make an impressive picture of the transition that occurred between species.

7. Evolution is merely “Historical Science” and therefore can’t be tested or confirmed.
This is so widely proclaimed, and it perpetuates massive misunderstanding about science.  There are lots of different “sciences”, and lots of ink has been spilled attempting to give a precise definition of what it is to be science (often called the demarcation problem).  And there is no one sanctioning body who has the authority to determine what counts as real science and what doesn't.  Evolution begins with careful observations (e.g., I found this bone in this layer of rock); then hypotheses are offered for why those specific observations were made (e.g., the bone belonged to a species that lived 65 million years ago); as the hypotheses are developed, they give rise to predictions of other observations (e.g., we should be able to find similar bones in these other layers of rock); and the hypotheses are tested by making those new observations.  When the new observations turn out as predicted, they count as confirming evidence (not absolute proof--that doesn’t happen much in any science); when the observations are different than expected, we have to rethink our hypotheses.  That kind of process is as scientific as you get.  The new science of genetics shows even more clearly how the theory of evolution is tested and confirmed.

8. Evolution is man’s word, Creationism is God’s word
First, it should be noted that there are lots of women working on evolution too.  Then, if the claim is that Young Earth Creationism (or Old Earth Creationism or Evolutionary Creationism, for that matter) is God’s Word, that is dangerously close to blasphemy.  These theories of origins are put together by people.  All of them attempt to interpret the Bible responsibly.  None of them were handed down from Heaven.  If the claim instead is that Young Earth Creationism is taken directly from a plain reading of God’s Word, see the next misconception.

9. The plain reading of Scripture clearly supports six day Creationism

If “plain reading” means “what the words clearly mean in my language and culture”, then I suppose Exodus 20:11 could be used to support six day Creationism.  But if that is really how we’re supposed to read Scripture, then 1 Samuel 2:8 means the earth is set on pillars, and Deuteronomy 21:21 means we should stone our rebellious sons, and John 15:5 means Jesus is a plant, and Roman 16:16 means we should kiss everyone we meet.  The “plain reading” of Scripture leads to picking and choosing which verses we like and which we ignore.  That is not a responsible way to read the Bible.  There are reasons we don’t take the plain meaning of those other verses as the best interpretation of Scripture; that makes us at least ask whether there might be reasons not to take Exodus 20:11 and Genesis 1 in their plain sense.

10.    Christian scholars accept the Evolutionary Creation position out of the desire for professional advancement.

The thinking here is that they want to hold on to their Christian faith, but accept evolution in order to be accepted by their professional peers.  I’d be interested in seeing any actual data that supports this claim.  I can produce a lot of data that refutes it.  Christian scholars typically work at secular universities or Christian colleges.  For those at secular universities, to admit they hold to Evolutionary Creation can call their scientific credentials into question.  And for those at Christian colleges, showing any sign of being open to the evidence for evolution is not the ticket to career advancement.  Believe me, I know this one personally.  I don’t know anyone who has accepted Evolutionary Creation for reasons other than being persuaded by the evidence.

I Want Jesus To Walk With Me - Alex Boyé & the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

The Refusal Of Love

By G.D. Williams

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”  James 1:17 NASB

This verse presents a wonderful statement of reality. Our Father has a deep, loving interest in each of His sons and daughters. We behold this interest in the blessings that come our way day by day. These gifts are the tokens of an immeasurable love which is as vast as eternity. The daily progression of nature unfolds new wonders about our Father. His tender care is seen in the minute as well as the colossal things of His Creation.

Have you ever imagined a day without light or a meadow without flowers? There would be an immense loss to our daily experience of existence. The tokens of love abound around us in extravagant display. Only eyes, draped in a sable tapestry, can fail to see them.

Going from nature to divine revelation given in the Word, we have our Father’s message to us. This is truly a perfect gift because it reveals Jesus, our Elder Brother in such simple, clear words. It was when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us that the supreme manifestation of love was given. A gift only has meaning if the giver bestows it in love. Without love a gift is only a thing. Things may hold value, but their value will soon be forgotten in the annals of time.

Forgotten and lost is a condition of tragedy. How sad it is that such a gift of infinite cost should be refused by those who need it the most! There can be no greater poverty than to refuse the gift of a living experience with Jesus. Man who can boast of his wonders can never substitute the nothingness of nothing for the meaningfulness of loving; this is the saddest condition of man.

The seasons may change on a continual basis, but our Father never does. His love is ever constant. Calling to us in the strands of melody, He offers us the invitation to come to His house. His house is now ours if we have accepted His gift of love. Our Father wants us each to possess that experience. He wants our communion, our love, and our selves without reservation. If He gave all of Himself in Jesus, can we withhold one iota from Him? The answer must be “No, No!” -Spectrum

How Gods Are Born And Borne In Human Culture And Cognition

By Ryan Bell

One of the most fruitful ongoing conversations I’ve had over the past two years has been with LeRon Shults. We recently met up in Newport Beach where he was attending the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

LeRon is Professor of Theology and Philosophy at the University of Agder, Norway, the author of Theology After the Birth of God: Atheist Conceptions in Cognition and Culture, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion.

In the latest episode of the Life After God podcast, I speak to LeRon about how gods have been born and borne in human cognition and culture. He is committed to empirical research around the intersection of culture, mind, and religion. One of the most exciting things I’ve heard about from LeRon is the Modeling Religion Project of which he is a key part.

I hope you take a minute and listen to this episode and check out LeRon’s book. He has also has many free articles for download on his website.


Ask the Dust: Do Queer People Have To Explain Themselves To Religious Conservatives?

Dear Dust,

My question is this: do queer people have any obligations to the very religious?

I know the intuitive answer to this is “no,” but let me elaborate.  I’m a 22-year-old gender non-conforming male person who was raised in the Church of Christ.  I think, because I’m genderqueer, they’ve always been paranoid that I would be gay; they sometimes policed my gender expression when I was a child (though not as heavily as some other parents, happily) and sometimes they’ll say things that make me think they believe I’m “sexually broken” somehow.

For most of my life, I thought I was asexual, so I figured I would let them assume whatever they wanted about me and live my life however I wanted (which I still intend to do). Now, though, I feel lonely, and I think I want to date people–whether men, women, or other genderqueer folk.

It makes me feel dead inside when I go home and have to be around people who speak to me as though I am a heterosexual, cisgender Christian.  The thing is, though, that I’m too ambiguous to claim a particular, standardized identity, and I really have no desire to correct assumptions that people shouldn’t be making about me in the first place.  I don’t want to have to be the person to let my parents know about the variability of gender and sexuality, I don’t want to have conversations with judgmental people that make me uncomfortable, and I don’t want to invite my family to say incredibly offensive things directly to me.

In theory, though, I think I have some responsibility to dispel ignorance about queerness and make the world a more tolerant place.  Do I really have to?  I’m constantly depressed already, and communicating with my family has always been one of the most difficult things for me in this life.

Are there any standard guidelines for how a socially progressive queer person should speak to people who are very religious and don’t like to be disillusioned?


Drained and Melancholy


Dear Drained and Melancholy,

What a tough and exhausting situation. Being drained by it is a very reasonable response.

The Dust resonates with the idea that we are each obligated to make the world a better place in some way. However, the way in which you improve the world need not include rescuing people from outmoded and harmful points of view, especially if they wish to cling tightly to them. There are no standard guidelines for how to harmonize these differences and there is an added layer of complication when dealing with your own family. Sadly, the unfair and unequal burden of resolving these issues seems to be placed on those who exist outside whatever oppressive norms dominant culture has developed.

Because, in this scenario, the unfairly burdened person is you, the Dust wishes to offer some ways to think through your family dynamic:

First, consider who it is in your family that we are discussing. Oftentimes parents put up a united front that belies differences just below the surface. As you come into adulthood, separating out the monolithic unit of ‘your parents’ into its two distinctive individuals (the Dust is assuming a mother and father, as hetero-normative as that is) may be helpful. Perhaps one shows signs of greater willingness and openness to loving you fully, just the way you are. The same could be true for siblings or extended family. There might be someone in that mix who could be ready to really see you. If so, invest more energy in those relationships. And, if your investment bears fruit, let that person play a strong role in bringing other members of your family into the conversation. A lot can change from just having one other person to walk with you.

Second, consider the ‘why,’ which can be a more challenging question to tackle. As in, why do they feel the need to say harmful and offensive things to you? Clearly ignorance abounds. But, not all ignorance is the same. It may arise out of prejudice, lack of exposure, laziness, or a horrible combo of all these mixed together.

There are, in Rumsfeldian terms, ‘known unknowns’ and ‘unknown unknowns’ here for you and for them as they attempt to relate to you. You are not obligated to educate them, especially in the time of google (why people can’t seem to google things on their own is a tremendous mystery). If part of this equation that results from sheer lack of exposure, you may want to pass along this helpful primer and this iteration of it.

Short of enrolling members of your family in a gender studies course, a little mapping of the conceptual terrain could go a long way to helping them understand some of the ‘unknown unknowns’ about gender, sexual identity and preference.

It may take them some time for them to expand their own vocabulary, if they are even open to learning. Be cautious about expecting their vocabulary to reflect your own right away. Our collective understanding of these issues is evolving and words like “cisgender” have yet to find their way into the lexicon of those who, because of their own identities, are coddled by its invisibility.

Third, consider the ‘how.’ Advice on approaching this aspect is hard to generalize. Most importantly, if you are going to embark on changing your relationship with members of you your family, go slow, get clear about your own boundaries, set and adjust realistic expectations as the situation evolves, and be prepared for responses to situations that may make you uncomfortable.

Sometimes, simply pointing out that you are uncomfortable can help create enough space in a tense moment to collect your thoughts before you might choose to respond. There will be setbacks along the way, and periods of separation may be necessary for your own sustainability. During those times, endeavor to keep some channels of communication open, even if it is not in person. Cards, emails, and other controlled options are good alternatives for keeping the relationship alive until there is an opening to work on improving it.

Most importantly though, the Dust wants to make sure that you are investing in a community where you can just be you, where you are loved and accepted without condition, challenge or assumption. It sounds as though you may need some help in this arena not just with your family but with your friends as well. Your family may not be the support system you would have wanted, so you may want to think about a chosen family as a supplement to the one you were given.

The potential upside is that if you work on building this chosen community for yourself, you will have done some work towards making the world a little better and a little brighter. Who knows, you may end up being the sibling or parental figure for someone else later on in life that needs solace and support and finds it in this little piece of the world you have beautified.

Because you’ve noted that you feel depressed and dead inside, seeking out some help for your own healing and support outside of these challenging relationships could be a valuable endeavor. Since the Dust does not know your location, you’ll have to do some digging to find services in your area. Many LGBTQI centers offer counseling and referrals to qualified individuals who understand the particular issues that queer folks face as they encounter a world in its current hostile manifestation. They may also be a good place to start as you work on building a chosen family.

Sending you hope for love for yourself, from whoever gives it unconditionally and wherever it is to be found.

The Dust