Aractus Puphlicus

Blog of Daniel Baxter

My scathing review of Star Wars the Force Awakens

This post contains SPOILERS, however I keep specific plot details out of it until the “plot” section, so that’s the most spoiler-heavy part of the post. Proceed at your discretion…

Star Wars VII Crawl

Charm and Enthusiasm

None, whatsoever.

Atmosphere and Cinematography

Terrible. Hands down the worst cinematography in a Star Wars film, and there’s a complete lack of atmosphere throughout the movie (with little exception).

I’ll break down the problems. By far the biggest problem is the constant use of the moving camera, and close-ups/zoom-ins. It just doesn’t allow the audience to absorb the atmosphere of the galactic worlds. In fact the final scene in the film is just about the only time we actually get to see a reasonable depiction of an interesting looking planet before we meet its inhabitant, much like how we’re introduced to Dagobah in Empire Strikes Back, however none of the other planets got this treatment in this film.

The cinematography is like comparing “Man of Steel” to Donner & Lester’s Superman films. And that’s no exaggeration, it just doesn’t look at all like a Star Wars film. Say what you want about Lucas, but he knew how to balance different scenes and different filming and camera techniques: he simply has a better sense of cinematography. With JJ’s film there’s just no elegance or subtlety to the camera work, allowing the audience to absorb the atmosphere. To compare it directly to another SW film, consider the “speeder chase” sequence in Attack of the Clones, except now imagine that the camera hardly ever pulls back to show you what’s going on properly, and never sits still (which it does quite a few times in the speeder chase scene), and there’s constant zooming and close-ups throughout the scene, and that kind of cinematography lasts not just for that one sequence, but the entire film even when there isn’t an “action” scene.

The close-ups are the biggest sin in terms of the cinematography. This film is not in Academy ratio, it’s not even 1.85:1 which still allows for close-ups – it’s in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio like all other Star Wars films, and that widescreen format is not suited for close-ups. If you don’t believe me, watch any Disney animation older than Lady and the Tramp, like Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi, or Alice in Wonderland. Then watch Lady and the Tramp. You will see two distinctly different styles, especially when it comes to the use of close-ups. Lady and the Tramp was exhibited in the 2.55:1 widescreen format, and so the animators didn’t make the same use of close-ups that they would have if it was to be exhibited in academy-ratio.

There is one part in the film where a General is making a speech to the troops of the First Order and the camera – starts close on his face, and then zooms right in (not even subtly or anything, just a fast extreme close-up zoom), it then cuts away to show the troops being addressed, then cuts back to the General and repeats the exact same zoom from the same starting position again. Utter shit, that’s no way to use the “zoom” function, and it’s completely overused throughout the entire film, and even if the film was in academy ratio it would still be oversaturated with close-ups and zoom-ins.

Sound & the Laws of Physics

By far the worst musical score in a Star Wars film. Hands down. There’s just no elegance or subtlety to the score at all.

Furthermore the sound effects are atrocious. Sound cannot travel through space, and yes in the other films they do sometimes break this basic law of physics (for example when Alderaan is destroyed). But JJ just makes it appear as if space is full of different sounds travelling together, despite the impossibility of this.

And by the way, that’s not all JJ does to defy physics – oh no – now whenever a character is hit by a blaster they get blown-away. Yes that’s right, they fly backwards 12 feet or so, again defying the laws of physics – and it just looks goddamned awful. We’ve already established that blasters don’t cause people to be thrown back 12 feet in the previous 6 films, so why start now?

In another part of the film, the characters who are travelling at light-speed decide the only way to penetrate the shield that the First Order has surrounding a planet is to penetrate the planet atmosphere at light-speed and then slow to a nice safe landing. Yes really. It breaks two different laws of physics really, the first is g-force that a human could survive when the breaks are applied , and the second is that objects can only travel at the full speed of light in a vacuum – not through air! Never in the original trilogy does anyone try to travel at light-speed through air!!

This is of course science fiction, so I’m not going to criticise the use of “lightsabres” etc, that’s part of what makes Star Wars special, but at least get some of the basic physics right – especially when previous films have either got them right or have done much better at not bending them as far. The simple fact is that this movie breaks the suspension of disbelief with such appalling use of physics-defying manoeuvres.

Special Effects

Really there is no regard at all for trying to marry practical effects with special effects in a seamless way, the special effects are obvious and overused just as Lucas himself would have done. And as if that’s not bad enough, Kylo Ren’s lightsabre has a new a unique look to it – instead of its edges being smooth and straight like every other lightsabre we’ve ever seen, it looks like it’s jetting out flames.

Characters

Bland and two-dimensional. There’s no real character development from the leads. Oh and Kylo Ren, who I guess is like the Darth Vader of this movie, communicates with his “overlord” similar to how Vader communicates to the Emperor (except of course that he doesn’t in the original SW, they save that for ESB just like they probably should have saved this one for later), and unlike the subtle depiction of the Emperor that we get in ESB, we instead get an extreme close-up of the commander that Kylo Ren serves. And probably one of the things I hated most was seeing Kylo Ren take off his mask, and he then looks like Anakin in Revenge of the Sith and reminded me of the relentless whining that Anakin does in Attack of the Clones: “Waa Waa, I couldn’t save my mamma, Waa, so I slaughtered all the Tuskans, Waa, they’re ANIMALS and it’s all Obi Wan’s fault, Waa, Waa, Waa”, you get the picture. Why oh why unmask him? Vader never got unmasked until he was 2-minutes from death, had killed the Emperor, had denounced the dark-side, and wanted to see his beloved long-lost son face-to-face. Not only that, but many of the greatest villains had their faces hidden throughout movies, like Michael Myers, or Leatherface, or Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

The lead character is strong, and stronger than Luke in the original film, and certainly better than Hayden Christensen’s Anakin. So credit where credit’s due. But every single supporting character is inferior to a comparable supporting character from any of the other 6 films, without exception. The supporting characters in the original 1977 Star Wars film included Ben, Tarkin, Han, Leia, and of course Vader. All had great performances from their respective actors. If we think back to The Phantom Menace the supporting characters included Padme, Obi Wan, Qui Gon, Palpatine, and Darth Maul. And again all great performances from those characters. Even Daniels delivers a bland performance for 3PO in this film, it just felt off.

And, yes there was a blatant overuse of CGI characters as well in this movie. For comparison I think of the scene where Anakin and Obi Wan chase down the assassin working for Jango Fett in Attack of the Clones. From the moment she leaves her crashed speeder and enters the bar we don’t see any CGI characters all the way through Obi Wan and Anakin going into the bar, exploring, finding her, lobbing off her arm with a lightsabre, and then exiting the bar. Much like the cantina scene in the original film (well of course there wasn’t CGI in 1977, but you get the idea). In this film, however, there’s a scene where the characters enter a bar of some sorts and pretty much 1/3rd or even half the characters in it are CGI.

Traditions

Some SW traditions, for example only using Subtitles for dialogue and never for place names, were respected. Others were thrown out the window, for example the iconic SW depictions of holograms.

Humour

This is the one thing I have nothing but positive things to say about for this film. The film’s humour was pretty much spot-on.

The Plot

Warning this section contains explicit story-related spoilers, scroll down to continue.

Movie Ticket

What can I say? The most unoriginal Star Wars film sine Return of the Jedi. Strike that, it’s even more unoriginal than that. The plot is basically a complete remake of the original Star Wars. There’s a droid carrying information important to the Rebels/Resistance, that finds its way onto a desert-like planet, only to be unwittingly put into the hands of one of the planet’s inhabitants who just happens to be an excellent pilot, who then escapes from an attack by the Galactic Empire/First Order by fleeing from the planet in the Millennium Falcon, and then makes their way to the Rebel Base on the Millennium Falcon accompanied by Han Solo and Chewbacca, and meanwhile learns to use a lightsabre and the force. Also, Darth Vader/Kylo Ren kills a senile old man with his lightsabre.

Then there’s a Death Star for them to destroy, or in this case a Death Planet which is several times larger than a Death Star, but as it turns out just as easy to destroy with a few tie-fighters flying down a long straight trench to mount their attack – coordinated of course by Leia Organa. Again, of course, goodbye suspension of disbelief as a few tie-fighters destroy an entire planet (and I thought that only the Death Star/Death Planet had enough fire-power to achieve that!) In the original film the Death Star only destroys one planet, but in this film the Death Planet destroys a handful of planets all at once, from a far further distance away. Basically it’s the same, except that the Planet is “more powerful” and the corridors are painted a darker shade of battle-ship grey.

Conclusion

If you’re expecting a “better” movie than the prequels than don’t. I don’t think the prequels are awful movies, but I do think that the original trilogy are the better films. I like the diversity in the prequels: they do build great atmosphere and show us different places, and their stories go in quite different directions. On of the problems with the Original Trilogy is that Return of the Jedi duplicates much of the story from the original Star Wars. My favourites location introduced by the prequels has always been Naboo. It’s just such a beautifully designed planet, and it really draws you to it. Those iconic looking buildings, and the beauty of the landscape make it a beautiful addition to the Star Wars universe. In this film, the planets we see are pretty bland quite frankly. We don’t get to explore them in the way we do in other Star Wars movies, and consequently they don’t rally have any character or atmosphere to speak of.

The Force Awakens just does not feel like a Star Wars movie. The whole design of the movie just feels off, for the reasons I’ve already mentioned. And the fact is that Force Awakens just blatantly duplicates the story of Star Wars instead of building its own plot line, and that’s just awful lazy writing. In my opinion the Force Awakens is by far the worst Start Wars movie yet.

My rating: 1.5 stars out of 5

1.5 Stars

Is Mental Illness a Sham?

Well this post will cement my return to tackling the far more controversial and “difficult” topics on my blog. I want to acknowledge that this post does not provide all the answers you may be seeking, but after doing 2 low-level psychology units at university I feel it is imperative to share with you some of the contradictory information that set off alarm bells in my head, by highlighting some of the large unanswered questions the discipline leaves us. But firstly consider this: I’m asking the question “is mental illness a sham”. A sham does not mean that it doesn’t exist, what it does mean is that at some level there is a misalignment of priorities, a miscommunication of fact versus theory, and at least some level of deception.

I want you to consider a peer-reviewed journal article titled Spirituality, religion and health: Evidence and research directions, by Williams & Sternthal (2007), you can read the text online here. It talks about the evidence that exists for the connection between religion and health. Overall the effect is positive, but there are some negative effects also. This is not controversial, this is something very well known. For all the bashing I did to Christianity in recent posts, note that I’ve never denied the evidence that does show conclusively that religion generally brings participants better health. Doesn’t matter if it’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

There are two main responses that critically thinking people have to the above. The first (the point of view I subscribe to) is that community involvement in solving health problems and promoting positive health should be valued and nurtured. The World Health Organisation also shares this view, as does the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation. Some benefits include that it is cheap and can break through barriers that prevent people from accessing other health services. I would further argue that strictly from an evolutionary point of view as it applies to human culture (game theory etc.) it predicts that behaviours and structures that benefit the whole should ultimately rise and prevail above those that don’t. To put it in a nutshell, religion and culture exists because the people who practised them outperformed the people who didn’t. Religion does create barriers as well, and that’s one of the negatives.

The other main point of view is that although religious beliefs have a positive correlation with health they do not benefit society overall. This point of view could suggest that religion has been a powerful force for good in the past, but that now its benefits do not have the merit that they once had. And it’s certainly true that people slip through the cracks when religion gets involved. At one time Christians believed that all illnesses were caused by daemons as per Acts 5:15-16. Later this belief was changed to daemons causing some illnesses but miasmas causing others. In Romans 1:26-27 Paul writes pretty clearly that homosexual desires are caused when people turn away from God and his truth. This type of primitive mythology for explaining so-called ‘deviant’ human behaviour is the seed from which discrimination and oppression are grown and has caused a great deal of suffering for different people. It creates barriers between people. But I would argue that although that is true, in every society there are marginalised and disadvantaged people. You can’t judge a society just because it has disadvantaged people, but you can judge it on their attitudes and whether they minimised the number of people who would be disadvantaged.

So how do we apply this information to modern medical thinking then? Well an effective medical treatment will either alleviate symptoms or cure an ailment. It should improve the quality of life, and reduce the burden of disease. But it does come with a similar expense to that of religious participation – medical treatments also have negative health effects. And as you will see, Psychology cannot always offer any improvement to existing techniques for treating certain mental illnesses.

If a person has been diagnosed with a mental illness, there are an array of theories behind how or why that illness has developed. Behavioural, Cognitive, Biological, Evolutionary, Genetic, Physiological, Psychodynamic, Naturalist. The only two theories that have absolute conclusive proof for causing a mental illness is physiology and genetics. We know for instances that brain damage can cause an irreversible impaired mental state. We know that roundworms in the small intestine can cause clinically significant depression. Impaired foetal development can also cause lasting mental illness. Autism and Alzheimer’s have strong genetic predispositions, but both are thought to be due to an autoimmune disease (i.e. triggered by an environmental factor such as an infection).

Now that’s all fine and well, but we also know that life events can contribute to or cause mental illnesses. There’s really not a debate that this happens – even the social gradient effect on the cognitive ability of children has been established – the question however is why it happens. So let’s take something like Gambling Disorder. How should it be treated do we think? With medication perhaps. What about interventional therapy? Okay, well the most researched forms of therapy are cognitive therapy (CT) and cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). But there’s also behavioural therapy (BT), motivational therapy (MT), and “minimal intervention” (MI), a striped down intervention that simply has a therapist deliver targeted advice to the patient just once for as little as 10-15 minutes or as long as an hour. There’s also the 12-step program that’s refused to change or update the 75 year-old method – Gambler’s Anonymous (GA). Surely CBT and CT based treatments did best, right? WRONG! CBT, CT, BT, MT and MI all performed essentially equally well according to Toneatto and Gunaratne (2009). Well there’d at least have to do much better than Gambler’s Anonymous anyway. WRONG AGAIN! Marceaux and Melville (2010) found that GA was just as effective as CBT after 6-months (their results are from a controlled study). Petry et al. (2009) conducted a study with one cohort receiving CBT in addition to MI, one receiving just the MI session, and a control group, and found that both of their groups that received the intervention showed improvement with no significant difference between the group that received the CBT and the one that didn’t!

How can this be? If you don’t know what a mental illness is to begin with, then how could you possibly know how to treat it? The disciple of Natural Psychology argues that mental illnesses are non-existent:

The question is not, “What is the best definition of a mental disorder?” The question is not, “Is the DSM-5 definition of a mental disorder better than the DSM-IV definition of a mental disorder?” Those are absolutely not the right questions! The first and only question is, “Do mental disorders exist?” The phenomena certainly exist. The birds and bees exist; pain and suffering exist. But birds do not prove the existence of gods and pain does not prove the existence of mental disorders. Let us not play the game of debating the definitions of non-existent things. Let us move right on. (Eric R. Maisel Ph.D. on Psychology Today).

So if we don’t understand how mental illnesses occur, and we can’t clearly define it, and all of our wildly different treatment options performed equally well as each other, wouldn’t that tell you that something is seriously amiss? Now I want to acknowledge that I’m not saying I know either – but I do know that the risk can be reduced environmentally. That is through policies that provide better safeguards for people who are at risk of developing an addition, and ensuring early proactive intervention rather than reactive intervention.

Pharmaceutical companies are some of the most immoral in the world.

Certainly more immoral than tobacco companies – at least tobacco companies can’t advertise their products on TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines. And yes, the risks are stated on the label, supposedly, the label that you see AFTER you buy the medication. Many of the patients who are currently dependant on pharmaceuticals were never told that in the first place, because the development of dependency wasn’t known at the time. Over-medication, dependence, and people accessing the wrong medications for their health issues, as it is, creates a huge amount of pharma-waste. Pharmaceutical advertising encourages people to self-diagnose, and self-select the medications they think they need. This is a massive problem with non-mental medical disorders; so you can just imagine how big a problem it is with mental-health related diagnosed “disorders”.

If you see a psychiatrist here, in Australia, they will diagnose you according to the DSM-V. If you go to China, and see a psychologist they will diagnose you according to the CCMD-3. That’s right – there are two completely different diagnostic manuals, that define mental illness differently to each other, and designate a number of different illnesses. Each has illnesses that are unique to their manual as well – in other words there are illnesses that exist in CCMD and not in DSM (and vice versa)! Mental health illnesses are also defined in the ICD-10 (maintained by WHO) with some difference to DSM.

So then, is mental illness a sham?

Yes I believe so. Hypothesises are presented to clients as medical fact and that means it’s falsely presenting mental health issues as sure and certain factual illnesses. Now I just said before that there are some mental health issues that we know are illnesses like Autism and Dementia. But those are believed to be autoimmune diseases; they’re a physiological disorder that causes mental health problems. But the mental health problems that are purely mental health related with no known link to physiology or bacteria or viruses are not proven to be illnesses per se. They may masquerade themselves into a diagnosable condition; but that’s not an illness. Think about this: we still call gender dysphoria an illness because all conditions in the DSM are mental illnesses by definition (DSM-5 = Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5); yet this is offensive to many people who suffer from the condition, and the French government actually declared that it is not to be considered a mental health condition whilst guaranteeing that people who suffered from the condition would still be able to receive subsidised healthcare.

So I personally welcome a clear delineation between illnesses and other states of mental health, and I look forward to the day that we stop using the word “disorder” to refer to people’s health problems that we don’t understand.

References

Check back they will be edited in. :)

Dismantling the Pillars of Christian faith

This post follows on from “Why I’m not a Christian any more” which I wrote a year ago. I drew a picture to demonstrate what I’m talking about, I’m very sorry it’s not very nice, I’m not a good drawer, it was difficult for me. I’m sorry it was the best I could do. The pillars of Christianity that I imagine in my head are obviously much nicer than the picture I drew. Please don’t comment on how bad it is, I know it’s terrible, I didn’t have a chance to have someone more qualified (an inexperienced child for instance) draw it for me. It probably would have looked nicer in ASCII art. It would also have made more sense if the picture was three dimensional and circular because then it’s clearer that all the pillars have an equal structural support of Christianity, you’ll have to use your imaginations because I had enough trouble drawing a two-dimensional picture.

Pillars of Christianity

I wish to describe what to Christians is my “fall from grace”. This picture illustrates what I think of when I think about the pillars of Christian faith. Other people might have different pillars – they might have less or they might have more. Pillars that other people might have are “Tradition” and “Authority of the Church”, for example. You see I started out very strongly fundamentalist – not so strong of course that I would believe 6-day creationism, but certainly strong enough for me to deny the validity of things like the discipline of psychology – or to use it selectively which is really what all Christians still do today to some extent since doing otherwise is admitting that the God of the Bible doesn’t have infallible wisdom for mental health problems. That said, I still feel quite apathetic towards psychology, and I think that’s healthy given its recent past and the great harms it has done throughout the 20th century, however it is a science and it is improving. The alternatives – such as Scientology (or for that matter Christianity) – are far, far worse. Of course over the past 12 years or so I’ve learned a great deal from psychology – such as understanding the confirmation bias and overcoming it.

We all have our own confirmation biases. Once we have a belief in something it is very difficult to alter that belief – even when presented with hard facts and rationality. So although over time the pillars you see above would weaken, and some would even crumble under the overwhelming weight of evidence – the others were still strong, and when one would weaken another would strengthen – just like in Newtonian Mechanics. So the remaining pillars were always enough to support my Christian faith. The greatest problem with fundamentalism (and evangelicalism in general) is that it is unsustainable. It didn’t take long before I wanted nothing to do with being judgemental towards others. Not simply because I didn’t like it – but because it reinforced a part of my personality that I didn’t like, and endeavoured to change. The threat of becoming a sour, bitter, judgemental person was overwhelming.

Pillar #1 Biblical Infallibility

I really hate when atheists use bad arguments. Just as much as I hated when Christians would use bad arguments. As a Christian, every-time you hear an atheist say “the bible has been translated so many times you can’t possibly know what it originally said” or “somebody made it up” or “the text has been altered significantly” it would just reinforce the conviction in ‘infallibility’. The fact is the Bible hasn’t changed significantly, at least since 200 BC for the OT and 100-200 AD for the NT. But that doesn’t make it infallible. Without infallibility the Bible has no moral authority, and it has no wisdom or knowledge to share with believers. It is based on the belief that all authors of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit in their writings. It is bound to the view of biblical-inerrancy, the belief that all teachings are without error.

Dispensational Theology and internal Biblical Contradictions disproved this pillar for me. Dispensationalism never sat well with me to be honest, and when I re-read the Pentateuch it was forever disproved. In Genesis 12 God promises Abram his descendants shall possess the land of Canaan forever, it’s an unconditional promise made by God that according to the Bible itself God breaks. In Mark Jesus casts out a Legion of daemons in the city of Gerasa. But in Matthew the city is Gadara. They are two completely different locations, so both cannot be true at the same time.

Map showing Gerasa and Gadara

This is an internal contradiction – not a contradiction with external evidence. Neither city is close enough to the Sea of Galilee for the story of the pigs drowning in the sea to make comprehensible sense. Hippus however is right on the sea, so it has been suggested that Matthew actually refers to Hippus rather than Gadara itself, primarily because the gospels specify the “region” instead of specifying in the city, and that Gadara may have had rule over Hippus. Although that solves Matthew’s problem, Mark clearly says in no uncertain terms that the location is Gerasa, and even raking into account the possible “region” it may hold sway over, it is nowhere near the Sea. Clear evidence that he was not led by the Holy Spirit his writing. To make matters even worse, Luke agrees with Mark’s version, not Matthew’s! So it can’t possibly be an early scribal error since Luke makes the same error.

Their geographical ignorance is consistent with non-Jew Christians writing the gospels of Mark and Luke outside of ancient Palestine with a lack of knowledge about the location of Israeli cities. Matthew is a more Jewish gospel, and his changing the location to make the miracle possible is consistent with a Jewish-Christian who has knowledge of the landscape of ancient Palestine. Gerasa is 50km away from the Sea – that’s longer than a marathon. To say it would have taken the pigs 3 hours to “stampede” their way into the sea is an understatement.

There are even more problems though for the doctrine of divine inspiration of the Bible. The doctrine states that the Holy Spirit, or perhaps Jehovah, guided the authors of the Bible’s 66 (or 73) various books. But this becomes impossible when we discover, for example, that the synoptic gospels are all copies of other texts – plagiarised wholesale; and that would mean the previous texts that were written and copied into Matthew/Luke and perhaps Mark were the truly inspired works. Moving our way though the Bible we discover several pseudonymous works: that is works where the author has lied about his identity. This includes a number of pseudo-Pauline epistles and 1 and 2 Peter. This is a huge problem for Christians because from the second century to the fourth, pseudonymous works were weeded out and discarded by early Christianity as being false teachings and fraudulent. Yet we now know they did not identify all the fraudulent works. In four out of the seven authentic epistles of Paul, he writes one part himself (and says so). Presumably so that the recipients of his epistles will recognise his hand writing. There’s not much other reason to disrupt the flow of the nicely written neat and tidy letter with “big” and uneven writing.

An infallible Bible does not contain these problems, thus infallibility is disproved conclusively.

Pillar #2 Moral Authority

Heathens without god are depicted as morally corrupt. Even today we associate the word “Sodomite” with “anal penetration” even though in Genesis there is no direction to the ancient Hebrews not to partake in whatever sexual pleasures they please. There’s no law against homosexuality, that doesn’t happen until Leviticus – many centuries later. God instructed the ancient Hebrews to enslave people. God treated women as inferior. God instructed his people to practise the death penalty. These are examples of things that most of us understand to be immoral – by that God has lost his moral authority.

As far as “sexual immorality” goes, I previously pointed out that God’s definition of “adultery” just means married women who sleep with people other than their husband, and that men were allowed to sleep with their wives, their sex slaves, prostitutes, and unmarried women without being guilty of adultery. I have never met a Christian that wants to accept the Old Testament definition of adultery. Christians claim that Jesus came to “fulfil” the OT and bring a New Testament, but he himself affirms the OT definition of adultery. Yahweh’s rampant misogyny shows that he is not a moral authority. Allowing the Hebrew people to own sex slaves is an example of this misogyny – but in this age sex slavery is considered one of the most heinous crimes imaginable.

There is simply no moral teachings in the Old Testament that are not directly reflective of the primitive wisdom of the age. And even then there are examples of other nations such as Egypt with a more advanced sense of morality – including greater equality for women, greater rights for non-citizens, and treating all slaves equally.

Pillar #3 Historicity

Christians will often point out that the facts that Jesus was born, lived, got baptised, preached, and died are all sure and certain facts of history. And they are – but they would still all be true if all we knew was that Jesus got baptised and began preaching. You see the circumstances of his birth are certainly not certain – he had to have been born, otherwise he couldn’t have preached – but to suggest he was born of a “virgin” during a census that either didn’t exist or happened in 6AD is stretching belief to say the least. Mark, the earliest of the canonical gospels, does not include the nativity. He also does not include the resurrection. James, Jude, and Paul also never talk about a physical resurrection. Paul does talk about visions of Jesus and that Jesus was ‘raised’, and Mark says that he was ‘raised’. But ‘raised’ does not mean ‘resurrected’. ‘Raised’ simply means taken up to the heavenly realm by Jehovah. There are eight people taken up by Jehovah in the Old Testament: Enoch, Eliezer, King Hiram, Ebed-Melech, Jaabez, Bithiah, Serach, and Elijah. They are all ‘raised’ without experiencing death. Jesus taught though that people get raised to heaven after death.

What Christians don’t tell you, and often are entirely ignorant on, is that the resurrection of Jesus is anything but historical-fact, and so are the Patriarchs, and the Conquest of Canaan. The death of Jesus by Roman Crucifixion and even the discovery of the empty tomb by the disciples are reasonably well attested to. However, there are plenty of explanations for the disciples discovering an empty tomb – perhaps they went to the wrong tomb? Perhaps Joseph of Arimathea had it moved for some reason that evening before the morning? Perhaps the family of Jesus moved it in the evening and didn’t want the disciples to know where it was.

As for the Patriarchs, the enslavement in Egypt, the Exodus, the crossing of Sinai, and the great conquest of Canaan, sadly none of it is real. The Bible describes a kind of slavery in Egypt that Egypt simply didn’t practise. It describes it precisely how you might expect a rival nation to be describing it for the purpose of propaganda. You have to remember that these people were so primitive that they thought the city 15 kilometres away from them held people of a different “race” (and there are examples of this in the Bible). But even had they practised the kind of slavery suggested by the Pentateuch, there is simply no evidence outside of the Bible that there was ever an enslaved nation in Egypt, or for the rest of the Biblical tale. Furthermore, modern archaeology has disproved conclusively the conquest of Canaan, and shown that Israel as we knew it at the time of Jesus rose in a very different way.

Pillar #4 Just and Righteous God

Vengeful God

As discussed earlier, the lack of moral authority of the Hebrew scriptures teachings alone should be enough to demonstrate that the Hebrew god is neither just nor righteous. But there are even more problems with Jehovah’s righteousness.

Even by the Bible’s own account, Jehovah deceives and lies to his followers. For example he tells Abram he shall give to his descendants the whole of the Land of Canaan as an everlasting possession, only to later decide to let Rome occupy and control the territory anyway. It is made explicit in Jeremiah 34 that God hands his people into plague famine and invasion for not obeying the Mosaic Law – he does that despite the fact the covenant he originally made with Abram was unconditional and didn’t require obedience, and the Mosaic covenant had not yet been made. Read for yourself:

Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I made a covenant with your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I said, “Every seventh year each of you must free any fellow Hebrews who have sold themselves to you. After they have served you for six years, you must let them go free.” Your ancestors, however, did not listen to me or pay attention to me. Recently you repented and did what is right in my sight: each of you proclaimed freedom to your own people. You even made a covenant before me in the house that bears my Name. But now you have turned round and profaned my name; each of you has taken back the male and female slaves you had set free to go where they wished. You have forced them to become your slaves again.

‘Therefore this is what the Lord says: you have not obeyed me; you have not proclaimed freedom to your own people. So I now proclaim “freedom” for you, declares the Lord – “freedom” to fall by the sword, plague and famine. I will make you abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth. Those who have violated my covenant and have not fulfilled the terms of the covenant they made before me, I will treat like the calf they cut in two and then walked between its pieces. The leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the court officials, the priests and all the people of the land who walked between the pieces of the calf, I will deliver into the hands of their enemies who want to kill them. Their dead bodies will become food for the birds and the wild animals.

-Jeremiah 34:12-20

In fact God routinely lies to people, or has his prophets lie to people, all throughout the Old Testament. In fact he even lies to Adam about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and in fact the Serpent tells Adam the truth (that his eyes will be opened and he will know good and evil). He also manipulates people in order to control the outcome. When God tells Moses to go to Pharaoh and ask him to set the Hebrews free, he hardens Pharaoh’s heart in order to make him refuse. He does this ten times and each time he then sends a hideous plague upon Egypt as punishment for Pharaoh not recognising his authority. But this is a dictatorship – why is Jehovah punishing the ordinary citizens and residents of the land who have no authority to influence their government? How can a manipulative liar like Jehovah be “just and righteous”?

Pillar #5 Covenant with God

In its purest form this is just a ruse for convincing people to comply with the ruling religious authorities. The Pentateuch represents the earliest known text upon which a religion was based. There is no other ancient religion in the world that we know of prior to Judaism that was based on a written collection of texts. There are plenty of other religions, and many had writings about them, but they weren’t based on them. Now granted, most people will tend to say that the Tanakh (more commonly known as the Hebrew Bible)  is in fact the oldest known authoritative religious text upon which a religion was based, however the Pentateuch represents the core of the religious teachings and the earliest of the Tanakh scrolls to have been penned. More books were added over a number of centuries until we have the complete Hebrew scriptures as they exist today.

The Covenant that Christians accept and believe in is that God sent Jesus to redeem them from their Flesh through either faith, and/or grace, and/or works. The New Testament uses the term ‘Flesh’ to mean ‘Sinful Nature’, it’s a theme that runs through all Paul’s epistles. Many Christians are in fact unaware of this and even deny it due to reading translations such as the NIV which have scrubbed the whole of the NT of that word and replaced all instances with either “sinful nature” or “worldly”. All Christians believe that Jesus is the mediator of this covenant to redeem them from their Flesh. There is disagreement about exactly what it means whether it is by “faith alone” and whether Jesus is deity or a prophet. The majority of Christians today view Jesus as divine deity, part of the holy trinity, but this was not a first century belief shared by everyone in the early church, although some must have had the idea since it’s a concept that the writers of John and Revelation had. They didn’t really say it explicitly though, and that could indicate that the authors didn’t want their works to appear to be “Gnostic nonsense” – that is containing “false” Christian doctrine.

Dispensational theology, previously mentioned under Pillar #1, poses a significant problem for Christians. Essentially most Christians believe that Jehovah has a progressive revelation, displacing previous revelation and covenants. Even nondispensationalists believe in some sort of progressive revelation, although their explanation will be different. In any case, dispensational theology provides the justification for discontinuity of the Law of Moses and some older covenants such as the Abrahamic covenants. Now here’s where the complexity comes in. The reason why Christians need a way to discontinue the Law and covenants made with Abraham, Moses, and David. This is because in 50 AD the Church in Jerusalem held a council to address the fact that the old land promises made by Jehovah to Abraham, Moses, and David did not have any relevance to gentile Christians from Syria and other places outside of first century Palestine (/Canaan).

This theology poses irreconcilable problems though. The Abrahamic covenant is unconditional, it is where God promises to Abram that his descendants shall possess the land of Canaan forever, and yet even by the Biblical record it has never been fulfilled by God. Some people say “this is a covenant that will be fulfilled in the future”, but this was made to Abram as an Israelite – what relevance does it have to the modern world with a population of 7 billion, and hundreds if not thousands of distinct Ethnicities? 7 billion people cannot all live in the “promised” land of Canaan (the land previously belonging to Palestinians and currently illegally occupied by Israel).

So the simple fact is the Covenants God makes make no sense, they are not universally applicable (even the New Covenant isn’t which I’ll discuss in the next section), God hasn’t kept any of his Covenants other than the Adamic covenant in which he asserted his authority to be the judge of all mankind, and explaining away these problems requires convoluted reasoning and a very liberal interpretation of what the Tanakh teaches.

Pillar #6 Redemption in Jesus

Jesus welcoming you

The redemption in Jesus relies on the Christian interpretation of the New Covenant, so let’s discuss it. There are some things we can say about, but firstly let me tell you what it is not. It is not a covenant between God and the World, it doesn’t require repentance from sins, nor does it require people to choose to believe in God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Moses, Abraham, or anyone else.

So what is it then, and how did Christians get it so wrong? It is a covenant made between God and Israel, pertaining to the restoration of Israel. And there’s actually a very strong biblical bases for discontinuing the Mosaic covenant, and for the provision of a New covenant:

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD,
    “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband to them,”
        declares the LORD.

-Jeremiah 31:31-32

But this is not where the passage ends. Read on and it explains in explicit detail what the New covenant will be:

‘This is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,’ declares the LORD.
‘I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbour,
    or say to one another, “Know the LORD,”
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,’
        declares the LORD.
‘For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.’

-Jeremiah 31:33-34

The “New Covenant” has five properties. Firstly and, perhaps most importantly, it is an unconditional covenant – it does not require repentance from people or anything else. Secondly it is between God and the people of Israel and Judah – not between God and gentiles. Thirdly, God’s law will be placed directly into people’s heart so that they do not need to be taught them. Fourthly the knowledge of God will also be given directly from God so no one needs to teach about who God is. Fifthly, God will forgive all and forget about the sins of the people he will make the covenant with. This is confirmed further in Jer 32. It discusses the regeneration of Israel, not the generation of a new movement separate to Israel.

So the Christian covenant that they call the ‘New Covenant’ is in fact not at all what was promised the Jews. With the Christian New Covenant forgiveness has to be earned in some way – typically by accepting Jesus as your saviour and repenting of your “sins”. This is the core theological belief from which all other theology regarding Christianity is built on, so in a sense this one Pillar is absolutely fundamental to Christianity in any form, no matter the denomination, and without it the validity (however limited) of Christianity cannot stand.

That whole passage (Jeremiah 31:31-34) is quoted wholesale in Hebrews 8:8-12, so Christians can’t claim that it’s not relevant. Instead they make the claim that “it simply hasn’t been fulfilled yet”. But how can it ever be fulfilled? The ancient kingdoms of Judah and Israel were completely destroyed – there’s no one for God to make the covenant with any more. Furthermore, the Old Testament gives guidance on how to spot false prophets in the book of Deuteronomy, and in Jeremiah itself as well:

If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.

-Deuteronomy 18:22

But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognised as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true.’

-Jeremiah 28:9

Right, well then prophet is false, but at the same time is ratified by the New Testament. Interesting. The punishment for false prophecy, as well as for sorcery, is death, given in many places including Deuteronomy 18:20 in exactly the same passage quoted above! So how exactly do we put false prophets to death if we’re willing to wait more than 2,000 years to see if the prophecy comes to pass? The “redemption in Jesus” is a different “New Covenant” to the one prophesied in Jeremiah 31. When Theologians and Priests discuss or preach about the justification for Christians to ignore the Law, they never look at Jeremiah 31/Hebrews 8, even though it specifically says it will displace the Mosaic covenant and gives justification to remove it.

Redemption in Jesus is simply another false promise. It doesn’t mean Jesus was a bad person, but like all prophets he was a false prophet.

Pillar #7 Power of Prayer

The Bible makes it explicit that Prayer has great power. Such as having authority over all disease and physical impairments such as blindness or paralysis, as well as being able to cast out wicked daemons that plague humanity and cause all kinds of unthinkable suffering. But it just doesn’t work. For one, no amputee has ever been healed by prayer. No paralytics have been healed by prayer in modern times either, nor have people who were born blind or deaf. So what’s going on here? Well there are three possibilities – 1. God exists, but like usual isn’t keeping his covenants or promises; 2. God exists, but displaced that healing covenant with some other covenant; 3. God does not exist. None of them show a just and righteous God who keeps to his word. Since this is a long entry I’ll leave it there for now on this pillar.

Pillar #8 Wisdom and Knowledge

The Bible, including the New Testament, doesn’t contain any knowledge or “wisdom” that is any greater than the conventional wisdom of the age. As per the moral authority, there’s nothing in the Bible that shows a grand morality not found elsewhere, nor is any specific knowledge ever revealed that the Israelites or first century Christians couldn’t have worked out for themselves. And what used to be taught as “knowledge” such as creation of the world, is now largely viewed as a “symbolic story” by the majority of Christians. Jesus has some wise teachings, such as recognising greed as a root of evil when he encounters the rich young ruler, the parable of the prodigal son, and the parable of the good Samaritan are all great teachings.

But look at where he fails: he discusses divorce legalistically. Yes he has a point that men shouldn’t divorce their wives just because they decide they want to get rid of them, and that’s valid, but he goes on to say the only justification for divorce is “sexual immorality” (without explaining what he means by that) and that any other reason isn’t valid. He never once challenges the status of women as property in the Tanakh, including being listed among a “man’s possessions” in the tenth commandment. Nor does he say why it is that Judaism forbids women from divorcing their husbands (something legal in Ancient Egypt and other places). He also has nothing to say about domestic violence/abuse; something he should have had insight about if he was truly wise. Why is it that according to Jesus domestic violence isn’t a valid reason for divorce?

Jesus gives the parable of the Good Samaritan – one of his best. It talks about showing kindness to other people; well if he was really wise how come he didn’t have insight enough to say that “race” is a false-concept, and that the ancient Hebrew laws that specifically treat non-Hebrews differently were wrong? Why doesn’t he say something about why women weren’t allowed to inherit property under the Law?

See the points Jesus makes are generally good, but they’re all within the Law of Moses. What he does is he says “actually this is lawful, and the Pharisees, Scribes, and other religious leaders have twisted the meaning”. But he doesn’t say “women aren’t property” or that “all people belong to the same human race” or anything that show true wisdom beyond the conventional wisdom for first century Palestine.

How to claim your online privacy

This follows on from my last post. In my last post I provided some broad information on internet privacy, and why it is important. People need it for all kinds of legitimate reasons – whether you’re watching some kinky 80′s porn in privacy, or whether you’re seeking debt consultation, you have every right to privacy. The legislation in Australia does not require detailed activity statements about your internet connection; however it does require email providers store all metadata associated with individual emails. Essentially your email provider now has to treat your email account like a phone account where call records are kept (and are also now made mandatory under the legislation). When you sign up for debt consultation, they might send you an email or call you. The fact that you have received an email or phone call from them now has to be stored. If you phone 1800-333-000 (Crime Stoppers) which is an anonymous service, you phone provider now has to store the details of you call. The police now have a way to find out that you called them using their anonymous service. The information that is retained by your service provider is the phone number you dialled and the exact time and duration of your call – that’s enough to fingerprint your unique call and trace it back to you. This is the kind of information that should be immediately removed from your phone records, not stored for 12 months.

No self-respecting email provider has ever kept detailed logs of your email activity. Even privacy-invading GMail doesn’t keep that kind of information. It’s just as useful as keeping browsing history via DNS logs or similar. Why? Because when you sign up for that kinky 80′s porn you receive an email confirming your account. When you sign up for debt consultation, they send you an email or a phone call. When you access mental health services, or help for addictions, or food relief charities, or religious services, or specialised legal services, you will receive an email or a phone call. Is this an invasion of privacy? YES! Of course it is. It’s nobody’s business to know who contacts a legal firm, or who they speak to – and they may have a specific non-disclosure agreement with the service provider intended to protect the privacy of their clients … now these agreements are all invalid.

What the law enforcement agencies learned is that much less data is being kept and stored by service providers now compared with the past. And they didn’t like that. So without going over everything in the last post, I should remind you that your ISP is not required to log your DNS or browsing history – however that doesn’t mean they won’t or that they don’t. It is well known that OpenDNS logs all DNS activity forever. You need to use services that respect your privacy, not services that “might” invade it.

  1. Move off your ISP email address, and move off any email that is provided from Australian provider. I cannot understate the importance of this – your account activity will be logged and stored for 24 months by your service provider. This includes the details of all incoming and outgoing emails associated with your email account!
  2. If you have a website hosted in Australia, change your email settings so it is provided from a USA data-centre. Your registrar might provide you with a free service, there are plenty of cheap options out there, and there are many webhosts who would provide this for free to non-profit organisations. Hopefully Aussie webhosts step up and provide options or advice for their customers.
  3. Get the MVPS HOSTS file.
  4. Get a VPN. Websites I suggest visiting are Choice, TorrentFreak, Whirlpool, and Reddit/Vpncoupons.
  5. Change your router DNS servers to privacy-respecting alternatives. Do note that this can break free-bandwidth allowances on certain streaming services.
  6. Install DNSCrypt (and do not use an OpenDNS provider since they log usage). I recommend using the winclient to manage it (on Windows). Unfortunately installation is not completely straightforward. Be careful as you may not be able to access the internet if you install it wrong. DNSCrypt encrypts your DNS requests, preventing spying spoofing and man-in-the-middle attacks.
    • First download dnscrypt-proxy, then the winclient. Extract both to the same location (e.g. “C:\Program Files (x86)\dnscrypt-proxy-win32\bin”), and make a link to the winclient it in your start menu or on your desktop.
    • Open Network Connections (Start > Settings > Network Connections).
    • Right-click your network card and select Properties.
    • Select Internet Protocol Version 4 and click Properties.
    • Select “Use the following DNS server addresses:” and type 127.0.0.1 into the “Preferred DNS server” input box. Leave the second blank and click OK.
    • Open dnscrypt-winclient (you may need to run it with admin privileges).
    • There are two buttons at the bottom, if the first one says “Install” then click it.
    • If the second button says button at the bottom says “Start” button then click it and wait for the server to start.
    • Select the “Config” tab, and choose a provider (e.g. “CloudNS Canberra”).
    • Close the winclient. These settings are now saved and you do not have to open the winclient again, even after restarting Windows, unless you want to change something (e.g. if the DNS sever you selected goes down).
    • For good measure press Winkey-R and type “cmd/c ipconfig/flushdns” (without quotations) and hit OK.
    • Test the internet. If you can’t connect even after changing the provider in winclient then something with your settings is wrong. Open your network card and change the setting back to “Obtain DNS server address automatically”. Open the winclient and uninstall the service. Press winkey-r and run “cmd/c ipconfig/flushdns” again, and the internet should work as it did before.
  7. Use Firefox. Setting Firefox up for maximum privacy is fairly straightforward:
    • Click Options – Privacy. Under History select Firefox will: “Use custom settings for history”. Change the “Accept third-party cookies” option from “Always” to “From visited”.
    • Click Options – Search. Change default search engine to DuckDuckGo.
    • Install the Google double-click opt-out plugin.
    • Install the Google Redirects Fixer add-on. There are other add-ons that do the same job, what it does is prevent Google tracking which link you click by removing their redirection links.
    • Install uBlock Origin. Third-party ads and privacy do not mix, full stop. uBlock is far superior to AdblockPlus in every way, it is leaner and doesn’t come with “acceptable ads”. Open the uBlock settings (click the toolbar icon and then the version bar), select the 3rd-party filters tab, ensure all three options under Privacy are selected, then click “Apply Changes” and close the options.
    • Optionally install NoScript – it is aggressive and takes patience since you will regularly need to white-list new domains.

Of course you should also have Avast or another anti-virus program running. Security and privacy go hand-in-hand. Privacy cannot be understated – imagine if it was your credit card number that these companies were being directed to retain by the government! It would be a huge security risk to the customers, and not to mention go completely against best practise policies regarding the handling of such information.

Data retention: The invasion of privacy

Privacy is a basic human right, defined in Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (see also Right to Privacy in the Digital Age). We should all be very concerned with invasions of our privacy, or where our privacy is not guaranteed. Or when our data is accessed illegally (as in PRISM) by foreign government agencies and then passed to our law enforcement agencies. Or when your data is invaded because somebody else uses your network and is under investigation. Or when your data simply falls into the wrongs hands because it’s been stored inadequately and has been accessed by a hacker (as happened to the Ashley Madison website). People don’t necessarily feel sorry for Ashley Madison – they quite rightly feel apathetic towards the company – but they certainly feel sympathetic to innocent users who had their accounts hacked (note it’s not our place to judge anyone’s guilt based on the services they use).

Now imagine instead that your ISP was hacked, and hackers revealed everyone who had accessed services such as Ashley Madison, or mental health services, or Lifeline/Beyondblue, or domestic violence help, or financial assistance, or family planning and abortion services, or drug rehabilitation services, alcoholics anonymous, gambling help online, or emergency food relief charities, or specialised legal services, or religious services, or other sensitive services a person might feel self-conscious about and rightly expect they have a right to privacy about. Virtually all of the services I just mentioned promise to provide either confidentiality or anonymity. If your data is stored by your ISP, by law, then it becomes a target for hackers. Once the data is obtained by a hacker (or a disgruntled employee) it can be mined and sold. Vulnerable people can be selectively targeted. For example, people suffering from gambling addition could have their details (their full name and email address) sent to advertisers who could then target everyone on the list with online gambling services. Identities can be stolen wholesale. This list of horrendous possibilities goes on. You might want privacy for all kinds of genuine reasons, but you need privacy in order to be able sure of your security as well as to access sensitive services that require anonymity or confidentiality. I highly suggest listening to the recent IQ2 debate Only The Wicked Need Fear Government Spying.

Government spying is not legal in Australia. The metadata honey-pot for the various law enforcement agencies to access cannot legally be stored by any government agency – yet the Federal Government and law enforcement agencies wants this information stored indiscriminately by service providers so they can access it whenever they need it. Many have argued, including Malcolm Turnbull, that this data is “already available”. Well that’s not entirely true. If it was already available there would be no cost associated with storing it. The reality is the law forces ISPs and Telcos to store more data and for longer. For example all email providers have to now store metadata relating to your emails! That’s a list of everyone who you contact, and when, and everyone who contacts you, and when. You have no control whatsoever over what comes in to your email address! In Europe, where similar data retention laws were passed in several countries, the duration for the storing of metadata was usually much less than 2 years – typically around 6-12 months.

Europe is an interesting case. The European Union came up with a directive instructing member states to enact mandatory data retention by Telecommunication companies, after 8 years the directive was struck down by an EU Court by a finding that found that the directive was illegal. Across Europe, in response to the EU Directive, similar laws were passed, and in a number of countries they have since been retracted – and in many countries on constitutional grounds. The list of European countries I know about that had data retention laws struck down by a constitutional court includes Austria, Germany, BelgiumBulgaria, Czech, Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania, Cyprus, and Argentina. Note that in the Slovenia ruling the court ordered Telcos to destroy retained data immediately! And that’s just a list of EU countries where it was revoked on constitutional grounds alone. The Netherlands scrapped their law, Hungary’s law may be struck down constitutionally, and the UK’s has been suspended by court order with a suspension on the suspension order until 31 March 2016! In the majority of cases in Europe VPNs were included along with ISPs in being forced to log data.

The United States, of course, does not have any mandatory data retention laws. Canada does, and the law appears to apply to VPNs as well as ISPs (it has not yet been tested in court).

So where does that leave us – here in Australia? Well our legislation is set to come into effect on October 7. It’s now widely viewed all across Europe, and in the USA, as a clear breach of privacy. Most Australians don’t understand what data is to be stored (see iiNet and journalist Quentin Dempster‘s article). ISPs, Email providers, and Telcos all now have to store “Metadata” in Australia. That’s right – even your email provider – so you can get a foreign email and the data won’t be stored, but if you use an Australia email provider from October 7, the provider is required to log all activity on your account. Local providers cannot compete evenly with overseas providers, who are able to offer greater protection for privacy not just for your emails, but also for voice calls. This could also push companies who host their websites in Australia overseas so they can avoid having their company email “medata” logged and stored by providers. The retained data can be accessed without a warrant, and for the reason of suspicion of any crime. The government argued there isn’t a need for a warrant because that’s for the content proper – however, iiNet points out the so-called “metadata” provides as much information (or more) as the content itself does. And mentioned earlier – your data may be accessed along with every else who used a shared internet connection (such as a family or workplace internet connection). Imagine this, there could be 6 people in your household, and one person for some reason becomes under suspicion of a crime by law enforcement. When the ISP data is accessed, everyone’s data is accessed at once – the one person under suspicion, and the five who are not. If you use public WiFi – that data also has to be logged and your data will be accessed when anyone who used it is under suspicion!

How to go about securing your privacy online will be the topic of my next post.

I’m NOT sorry BBC: I WILL pirate!

Around this time last year the BBC was trying to influence Australian policy (see the TorrentFreak article, the BBC website article, and the submission itself). They claimed that Australians were pirating Doctor Who (OF COURSE THEY ARE!), despite the show being simulcast, despite the iView service, and despite being broadcast in a prime-time timeslot on ABC as well. The BBC also said VPNs are “Pirate tools” allowing people to circumvent geo-blocking “technology” and ISPs should monitor their usage and assume that people are using them for illegally obtaining BBC material. They also want ISPs to slow bandwidth and even disconnect their customer’s accounts for “the most serious” cases. I shall quote from their submission so you can see for yourself:

It is reasonable for ISPs to be placed under an obligation to identify user behaviour that is ‘suspicious’ and indicative of a user engaging in conduct that infringes copyright. Such behaviour may include the illegitimate use by internet users of IP obfuscation tools in combination with high download volumes. …

ISPs need a policy to deal with repeat offenders.  The exact parameters of what would be the agreed measures or procedures should be the subject of an ongoing dialogue between the industry and ISPs. Possible sanctions could include subjecting repeat offenders to a slowing down of their bandwith but stopping short of cutting off the internet service, save except in the most serious and egregious circumstances, as is the case in the United States.

Well. As you can imagine, I have a number of things to say. Before I do please note – and really this should go without saying – I’m not advocating piracy. And I’m certainly not suggesting there’s justification for pirating other things like games, books, music, applications, etc. I’m all about supporting authors… not so much publishers, but I’m not advocating in this post not to support content creators and copyright holders. So without further ado, here’s my first thought:

get iplayer launch

get iplayer nabbing doctor who

Here’s the second:

Doctor Who Files

Okay, there are four versions of the episode in that folder. Two that I acquired perfectly legally, and two that might have some questionable legitimacy. The top file is downloaded from The Pirate Bay (ARR), it is a BBC broadcast recording. The second file along with the subtitle is downloaded from ABC iView using iViewRipper. The third file is a digital recording of the ABC broadcast still in its original broadcast format. And the bottom one is from the BBC website ripped using get_iplayer as you see above.

Peer-to-peer sharing has been around a long time. In 2002 I missed an episode of The Mole, one of my favourite shows. Luckily I had a friend in WA and I had him record it (onto VHS) and mail it to me. I believe it was either Episode 2 or 3 that I missed (although I don’t think I have the VHS anymore). Torrents however allow anyone, not just your close personal friends, to receive a copy you made for them. So it’s not all about the “what”. I have mentioned numerous times about what copyright publishers have tried to do in the past – they tried to ban the photocopier, they tried to ban the VCR by boycotting releasing commercial movies on the format (that didn’t last very long because pornographers were more than happy to release their films on VHS), they tried to print “this disc is not for rental” and lost (although apparently in the UK they won that somehow), and yes they also oppose public libraries where people can view copyrighted works without paying any contribution to the original authors.

This battle has gone on so long now that they began tiring the commercial releases of their releases as well. “Rental” DVDs (with a much higher wholesale cost to retailers) were released 3 months prior to “Retail” DVDs, and now Digital releases get released prior to DVD because – you guessed it the copyright publisher gets the lion’s-share of the purchase price. What does that remind you of? Cinema! Cinematic films also have the publishers receiving the lion’s-share (with cinemas making most of their profits from the sale of food and drinks). So you have: Cinemas, Digital, Library/Rental, Home Video, and Peer-to-Peer; all with varying degrees to which the publisher receives royalties. In the Library or Rental outlet they receive no royalties other than the original purchase of the work. Same with Peer-to-Peer. Retail releases they have to share the profits with retailers. Digital and Cinema, they get the lion’s-share of sales and only have to share a small amount with vendors. We won’t discuss broadcasting licensing right now, because that goes beyond the scope of this blog entry. Right, so now we know what publishers want: they want to always receive as much of the profit from works as possible, and to find ways to get them more profit and vendor’s less.

They also want to be able to sell things forever and have copyright never expire – this frightened actors in the 1960′s when video tape was invented. So the Screen Actor’s Guild had a contract stipulating that episodes must be destroyed after their original broadcast, and any sales to foreign broadcasters. So, the BBC should not be making any profit from any TV shows made under those terms – and that includes much of Classic Doctor Who – which actually they do still sell and profit from. Interesting isn’t it? The contracts clearly stated they could not keep broadcasting or selling these shows – it was done in order to protect actors so that they had to continue producing more new shows and could never just run re-runs.

Now I know this is going to be really really boring, but here’s the screenshots we’ll be looking at (BBC on top, ABC on bottom) and you can click either one to view in the original size (for BBC that’s 1280×720, for ABC it’s 720×576):

Doctor Who (2005) S09E01 BBC iPlayer

Doctor Who (2005) S09E01 ABC Broadcast

At this size you probably can’t tell the difference too easily. It is exactly the same frame from each source, and it’s about 40mins into the episode. One thing I noticed is that the ABC version (both the broadcast above and the iView version you’ll see below) are missing the dalek’s glowing-eye effect. But the difference in quality is all too clear. The ABC broadcast is standard definition – 576i. It has interlacing artefacts from the interlaced MPEG2 encoding. The BBC broadcast and iPlayer versions are both 720p (BBC iPlayer has other qualities too but that’s the “best” quality version). The ABC iView version is 1/4 the resolution at 640×360. So I will show you how they look when resized to 720p (again you can click the images to view the original size for each version). This time the order is ABC iView on top, then BBC iPlayer, then ABC broadcast, and finally the BBC broadcast (from The Pirate Bay).

ABC iView:

Doctor Who (2005) S09E01 ABC iView (resized and cropped)

BBC iPlayer:

Doctor Who (2005) S09E01 BBC iPlayer (cropped)

ABC Broadcast:

Doctor Who (2005) S09E01 ABC Broadcast (resized and cropped)

BBC Broadcast (from The Pirate Bay):

Doctor Who (2005) S09E01 BBC  (The Pirate Bay, cropped)

The clear winner in terms of video quality is the BBC iPlayer version. The torrent on The Pirate Bay’s of a digital recording of the BBC broadcast is almost exactly the same file-size, and there’s no channel logo, the video quality very close to the iPlayer version, but I’d say the iPlayer has a slight edge. But it is nicer because there’s no god-damned channel logo!! The ABC broadcast has interlacing artifacts and is lower quality because it’s standard definition, the file-size is huge because it’s MPEG2, and the ABC iView is terrible quality because it’s only 1/4 the resolution of HD (640×360). By the way audio is another matter – the peer-to-peer version is the ONLY one of the four to have 5.1 audio. But out of the other three the ABC broadcast has the highest bitrate audio.

I transcoded the ABC broadcast using avisynth, QTGMC on its default settings to remove the interlacing artefacts, and x264 to encode. It took about 2 hours. So even getting it to decent watchable quality to put in your media file folder takes some time. By contrast it took just 2 minutes to download the 720p file from the BBC servers.

So let’s look at the BBC’s arguments again. Yes the show was being simucast last year – but this year it isn’t. We don’t get to see it broadcast at 4:30 AM, we get it at 7:30 PM (15 hours after the UK) and as far as I know the iView version doesn’t become available until AFTER it airs in the UK. Yes the iView service is timely enough – but the quality is horrendous. And the effects are INCOMPLETE! Why do we have an incomplete version of the show??? What possible justification does the BBC have for that? What kind of a Doctor Who Enthusiast is going to watch the show in 360p? The customers that might use the iView service to view the show before it airs are the enthusiasts – yes – so it needs to be in comparable quality. I’m old enough to remember when anti-piracy campaigns used to tell consumers that illegitimate versions are inferior quality to the genuine products: now the exact opposite is true. The best quality versions are the so-called illegitimate pirated versions, and the worst quality are the so-called genuine ones.

At this point I have just about lost all respect for the BBC. Their arguments are no different to the people complaining about adblock and calling all of us blockers “thieves”. You know in June last year OpenDNS removed all ads from their site saying that advertisements represent a security threat, and are an invasion of privacy. I’m not some newly converted blocker – I’ve used the MVPS HOSTS file for over a decade!

I won’t discuss the politics in detail this post, I’ve already done that multiple times in the past, so I leave you with this thought. The only way to enjoy the show as it was originally intended (in HD with 5.1 audio) in Australia is to download a digital BBC recording through peer-to-peer networks. Until that is addressed, until the BBC and the ABC respect their customers, their customers aren’t going to respect them.

We can be certain of NO resurrection

The cornerstone of Christianity is the resurrection of their apocalyptic patriarch Jesus. Jesus actually had much less to do with Christianity than you might think. Paul was significantly more influential to the birth and spread of Christianity as we know it than Jesus was. And not Just Paul – John the Baptist, Simeon Peter, and James the Just all may have been more influential than Jesus himself was. Two entries ago I showed you that it was James Peter and Paul who changed the rules in 50AD – 20 years after Jesus had died. Many Christians argue that “Jesus changed the Old Testament order”, but Jesus does no such thing. Jesus in fact says in Matthew 5:17-18 “Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished.” Most Christians don’t even know what a Jot or Tittle is. Jot is the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and sometimes you see this translated as ‘iota’ as if Jesus is talking about Greek – when in fact he is clearly talking about Hebrew. Tittles are tiny marks at the ends of Hebrew letters – they aren’t found in Greek or other scripts. So this statement that Jesus gives in Matthew 5:17-18 is very strongly in support of keeping the Law of Moses – it couldn’t be much stronger. It wasn’t Jesus that said you don’t have to keep the covenant of circumcision – that was James 20 years later. It wasn’t Jesus that said you can eat meat with blood in it – that was Paul 25 years later.

“But there was an empty tomb” … seems to be the strongest arguments Christians have for the historicity of the resurrection. The priest at my ex-church would always proclaim that Christians can be certain of the resurrection historically because it was the only logical and sensible explanation for why the tomb was empty three days later. His argument was that if the Romans stole it then they would have displayed it publicly to put an end to the rumours of resurrection and break the spirit of his followers. That argument is probably fair enough. If the Jews stole it they would have done the same thing. And if the disciples stole it then why would they believe in a resurrection? And why would they risk breaking the Roman Seal (an offence punishable by death) to steal the dead body of their saviour? How would they have overcome the Roman guard? They didn’t have the means or the opportunity or the motive to pull off such a stunt. And finally he, and many other Christian leaders and apologists would make the claim that there is overwhelming historical evidence to prove the resurrection of Jesus.

Here are the problems. Firstly we know nothing about the man who took the body in the first place and who owned the tomb: Joseph of Arimathea. It could simply be that Joseph had the body taken out of his tomb and put elsewhere – in an ossuary, or in a grave, or maybe he had the body embalmed, or perhaps even cremated. Maybe he handed the body over to the family of Jesus and they did one of those things – on Sunday evening before the morning and before it was “discovered empty”. It’s even possible that the disciples went to the wrong tomb. Maybe a grave-robber took the body for the jewellery or other valuables that had been placed in the tomb alongside Jesus. He was buried in a wealthy person’s tomb and the tomb was guarded by the Roman guard – so they must have been guarding it for a good reason.

Here’s another problem – several New Testament authors never mention the resurrection of Jesus. Paul never once mentions a physical, bodily, resurrection. He never mentions the empty tomb either. He doesn’t even mention the ascension of Jesus. The most critical cornerstone of the Christian faith today, and he doesn’t have anything to say about it. In Galatians 1 Paul says he had a revelation about Jesus on the road to Damascus – at this stage he doesn’t even say that he saw Jesus in a vision. In the creed he recited in 1 Corinthians 15 all he has to say is that Jesus died for our sins, that God raised him, and that after that he appeared to people (as in visions). In 1 Cor 15:44 he specifically says that God doesn’t raise your physical body but provides you with a “spiritual body”, completely contradicting the later gospel versions of a physical resurrection. His letters are the earliest in the Bible. The epistle of James may also be as early as some of his letters and it doesn’t mention the resurrection of Jesus either. The first of the Christian Gospels to be written is Mark, which does mention the empty tomb but not a resurrected Jesus. Mark simply says that Jesus was raised (this is inline with God taking people up in the antediluvian period in Genesis). Matthew and Luke both include a full bodily resurrection, as does John. If you were able to put the books of the Bible in chronological order it’s not until the later ones are written that you see the bodily resurrection. This is strong evidence that the belief in the resurrection was progressive, it cannot be traced back any earlier than the gospels of Matthew and Luke written after Paul’s epistles, the gospel of Mark, and the epistle of James.

The Bible itself is not always a reliable source for history. Most critical scholars would point out what I have just pointed out and that is that the “Empty Tomb” is only attested by one independent source and that is Mark. Matthew, Luke, and John all used Mark to some degree. Furthermore, one ancient document is never enough to establish any historical facts. It is useful of course, but there are countless examples of things written down much sooner than the Gospels (within 5-10 years of events) containing dubious information that most historians reject. The Gospels were all anonymous. Yes we have some idea about who the author of Luke-Acts is, however knowing that he was either “Luke” or a companion of Luke doesn’t really tell us anything of value when it comes to validating his work. From Acts 13 on the narrative is contemporary, which means that the author probably knew first-hand about some of the events from Acts 13 to the end. From Luke 1 through to Acts 12 however the narrative is historical – the author didn’t have first-hand knowledge of the events. Which is why he needed to use an early copy of Mark as well as at least one other written document in order to write the gospel of Luke. So we know that all of the information is second-hand at best in this gospel, and the same goes for Matthew.

And Mark is not a first-hand account either, it’s a second-hand account – at best. There is no contemporary eye-witness testimony. There are no first century accounts independent form Christian texts – from the Romans or Jews – of such an event. Josephus didn’t write about it. Pliny the Younger doesn’t write about it. There’s no physical evidence to speak of. A historically-valid resurrection is not required to explain the expansion of Christianity – I already covered this two entries ago, Christianity succeeded because it had leaders who met in 50AD and were determined to see their religion grow and spread the gospel of salvation independent from being shackled to Judaism.

So does the resurrection of Jesus actually have any historically-valid evidence at all? Well yes it does. It has one single original account written by an unknown anonymous writer who is biased, religiously-motivated, and writing based on word-of-mouth hearsay. In scholarly terms it’s about the worst level of evidence you could expect. Furthermore it’s riddled with supernatural activity which would lead any historian towards further scepticism.

In contrast, the crucifixion of Jesus itself is actually well attested to. We have one gospel account that forms the basis for all the other four gospels, but there is sufficient detail added to the other gospels to show influence from other narratives, we have Paul attesting to it, Mara bar Serapion’s letter, and it’s mentioned in The Annals by Tacitus. Finally, of course Jesus had to have died somehow, and there no alternative accounts of how he died.

People in these times were hugely superstitious. It’s not unusual to find ancient writings attesting to magnificent supernatural things. There was no scientific process, there was no way to verify the claims that were made by ancient people. Many peasants throughout history would refuse the care of physicians and prefer the quackery offered from spiritual leaders – even when physicians were willing to treat the poor for free. What’s interesting is that the healing talked about so much in the New Testament no longer happens now that we would be able to verify divine intervention scientifically. Jesus instructs his disciples to go out and heal the sick. James says in his epistle that the prayer offered in faith will heal the sick. Not “might” or “could if God chooses to” but “will” heal the sick. Today we have physicians who can transplant organs or even limbs from another body. When someone has prayed for healing has God ever regrown their organ? Has he ever regrown their limbs? If the answer is no – then what exactly does God do? Is this just yet another broken promise – Jesus claimed to have healed the sick during his ministry, he instructed his followers to do it, and his brother James writes that a righteous person can heal the sick through prayer! So perhaps the fact that God is incapable of performing healing tasks that today’s surgeons can perform is the strongest evidence of all that he actually doesn’t exist. And if Yahweh doesn’t exist there is no one to resurrect Jesus following his crucifixion.

The Biblical claim that eyewitnesses attest to the resurrection is in itself useless. Matthew 28:17 says that some of these supposed eyewitnesses didn’t believe it. As I already pointed out none of the eyewitnesses who apparently bore witnesses wrote down anything anyway, and the gospels don’t mention anyone independent actually attesting to the resurrection either. But the Gospel of Matthew itself admits there are eyewitnesses who say that a resurrection didn’t take place! You can hardly expect the doubters to bother writing anything down – as far as they’re concerned the tale is nonsense and they don’t want to hear any more about it. As another example in Acts 7:54-60 Stephen is stoned to death. Yet the author tells us that Stephen sees Jesus – or at least he thinks he does. No one else saw him, so he can’t be physically present in Acts 7, and who knows what he really saw because he never met Jesus when he was alive. No one can question Stephen about this vision because he was stoned to death there and then. Was it simply a hallucination? Was it simply that the tale of his stoning had become embellished by the time Acts was written?

In 50 AD the church appears to have been controlled from Jerusalem. Whatever leaders in the Christian church were alive after the Jewish war (and it appears Paul probably wasn’t), they probably weren’t the main leaders of the Christian church before the war, because the war completely destroyed Jerusalem. What’s interesting is that Jesus seemingly makes a prophecy that Jerusalem will soon be destroyed, and he makes it twice according to Luke. Yet the early church didn’t even seem to believe this prophecy because 20 years later in AD 50 the church was still based in Jerusalem. Either that or they literally believed the prophecy to signify the end of the world, or Jesus hadn’t actually made the prophecy in the first place. These are all possibilities that we need to consider, and the least likely one is that Jesus’s followers believed the prophecy but didn’t see it as apocalyptic.

As I mentioned two entries ago, Paul and Barnabas have to travel from Syria to participate in the Jerusalem Council. Furthermore Nero persecuted the church in Jerusalem in the two years leading up to the war. These facts help explain why there is a huge gap in the chronology of the early church – we know somewhat about what happened in the first century up to 61AD because Paul and Luke wrote it down, and their narratives end around that time. From that time through to the end of the first century there is no information whatsoever to inform us about what the early church was doing. What seems very likely is that all the main authority figures in the early church – Peter, Paul, James, Barnabas, and even Luke had died, as well as every other important leader based in Jerusalem.

This left the early church in ruins – and it seems it slowly rebuilt itself in its gentile territories. Perhaps this goes someway to explaining the origins of the Deutero-Pauline epistles, and the other Gnostic texts perhaps written to reassure the frightened Christians that their leaders were still alive – when really they weren’t. But in truth we will never know what really happened in those decades. I believe that during this time the church reformed itself moving further from the hard-line apocalyptic origins (which in response prompted someone to write the book of Revelation). We don’t know who came up with the bodily resurrection or why. It wasn’t unique though – other legends before Christianity in the region had their own bodily resurrections too. The only difference between those ones and the Christian one is that there are still people alive today that believe that latter. What we do know, however, is that is never mentioned by Paul, James, Jude, the author of Hebrews, the author/s of the Deutero-Pauline epistles, or the author/s of the gospel of Mark. In particular it is difficult to believe that “Mark” and Paul would have left out the resurrection – the cornerstone of today’s Christianity – if they had known about it and believed it.

Yahweh’s sacred covenants

I want to make this clear from the onset. These are my arguments – just like the last post. I’m not repeating something I read by some militant anti-Christian atheists – I don’t read books by people like Richard Dawkins. I don’t visit anti-Christian websites or care for their arguments (as I’ve previously pointed out many of their arguments are often weak at best). Until I wrote the previous blog entry I’ve never seen anyone on the internet explain what the Bible’s definition of adultery is. The reason I know what it says is because I read it from the Bible for myself – not because I read some criticism by third parties. It’s not my intention to take anything in the Bible out of context – I believe I’m being very fair in assessing what the Bible itself actually says. And you don’t need to take my word for it – read it for yourself.

Last entry I finished with the line “Yahweh is a woman hating misogynistic deity who views women as the property of men”. Yahweh’s character is what I’m examining here at the moment. Christians say that we have to learn about the character of Jesus to learn about the character of Yahweh, however as I pointed out in the last entry Jesus was just a first century apocalyptic preacher. Even for Christians who believe that Jesus is the begotten son of god, without the Old Testament there are no divine judgement from God, there are no covenants with God, there are no prophecies to fulfil, and there is no scripture for Jesus to preach from. Perhaps most importantly of all, without the Old Testament there’s no basis on which for God to judge us, there is covenant with Adam that makes him our Judge, there is no original sin, and therefore there is no need for a saviour. I believe that sums up why Christians can’t simply discard the Old Testament.

There is nothing in the Old Testament beyond the conventional wisdom of the ancient world. There are clearly immoral parts of the Old Testament, for example where Yahweh instructs the Israelites to enslave nations when you invade them in battle. The tenth commandment certainly should offend women today, yet many Christian women read it and do not understand what it is saying simply because we have theologians who take what the Bible says and what the meaning has been for centuries or millennia and change it to fit a new theology.

The overarching view of today’s churches is one of dispensationalism. This is certainly the theological basis for my former church, and at its core it teaches Christians the God’s revelation is progressively unfolding, slowly being revealed, and each time God reveals something new something more. This is why churches today tend to focus on only the New Testament writings, and many Christians seem to believe that the Old Testament no longer applies or has the meaning that it once had since it’s been displaced by newer revelations. Of course there are many problems with this theology, the biggest one in my view is that God never keeps of his sacred covenants so should why should we bother worrying about them?

Dispensationalism picks and chooses between which of the sacred ancient covenants that God made in the Old Testament that “we” think still apply. It is a contradiction because the covenant with Adam is still applied, yet the covenant with Moses isn’t. Essentially, God is still punishing us because Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – if he wasn’t, if he decided to move on and nullify the covenant, then there’s no need for salvation. The covenant that God makes with Adam is where and when he asserts his authority to be the judge of mankind. Without this covenant that God made with Adam, there is no basis for him to pass judgement on humanity.

The next sacred covenant God makes is with Noah. Noah is the first human being instructed to eat meat. God tells Noah that he will make all animals fear mankind. He instructs Noah, and the generations to come, to carry out capital punishment for the crime of murder. He promises never to destroy humanity again by flood. God clearly no longer keeps this covenant – there are plenty of animals that don’t fear humans for example. Also why I was a Christian I had this burning question – is Noah really real anyway? There are only two arguments that Christians can make – yes he was or no he wasn’t. If he was real and we go by what the Bible says in Genesis 6 through 9, then God tells Noah to spend 100 years building an Ark. That’s a very long time, and yes it is possible a natural basin in the Ararat Mountain range could indeed cause a flood so catastrophic that Noah would not be able to see any land. But here’s the thing – God would have known it was an illusion. He would have known he could just send Noah on a day’s hike or two-days at the most to get out of the flood range. Instead he has him build an ark for 100 years and tells him he’s saving all the world’s animals which isn’t really true.

It’s when we get to Abraham though that God truly reveals his true character. In Genesis 15 he tells Abram that his people will be oppressed and enslaved for four hundred years but that he will deliver them out of the land (of Egypt) with great possessions and they shall enter the land of Canaan, the land where Abraham is now, to possess. In Genesis 17, 24 years after Genesis 15, God renews the covenant with Abraham. He says that in his old age he will be fruitful and ancestor of a ‘multitude of nations’. God promises to keep the covenant for every generation to come as an “everlasting covenant” (Gen 17:7). In Gen 17:8 Yahweh says he will give the whole of the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendants as an everlasting possession. He seals the covenant with the instruction for Abraham to keep the covenant of circumcision.

There are many problems with this divine and sacred covenant, as we will see. The biggest problem is that Yahweh doesn’t keep the covenant. He isn’t faithful to his people. Modern Israeli archaeologists have determined with certainty that at no time between the late bronze and iron ages was the land of Canaan ever possessed by a single unified nation. In the Iron Age it was briefly held by the Neo-Assyrian Empire, and of course by the time of Jesus it was under Roman control. Theologians over time have suggested that the ancient Jews weren’t ‘faithful enough’ that they somehow failed to receive this promise that God made to Abraham. Yet the book of Joshua makes it clear that from the Biblical point of view the ancient Israelites did inherit the land by conquering it. This would suggest that at least from the Biblical point of view God is keeping this covenant. Even if we ignore the hard archaeological evidence that shows this never happened, Christians and Jews cannot ignore the overwhelming evidence that for at least several centuries prior to Jesus the Canaan land was not under Jewish control.

So why doesn’t Yahweh tell Abraham the truth? He’s God, he knows the future, he knows that the covenant is a lie. He says it will be an everlasting covenant that the Canaan land will be an everlasting possession. Going by the Biblical account the “truth” is that God is going to become displeased with his people and let other nations come in and take control of the land from the Israelites. So why doesn’t he just tell Abraham that in the first place?

The Abrahamic covenant was re-affirmed several times. First with Moses, then with Joshua, then with David. It has been demonstrated pretty well that the covenant with Moses on Mt Sinai was actually based on ancient Hittite-vassal treaties. There are three ways to look at this, and Christians unsurprisingly always claim that “oh that just proves the Bible” any time there’s a similarity between something in the Bible and something in the real ancient world. That’s one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is that the treaties influenced the Mt Sinai covenant and therefore not a divine being. And the third and final way to look at it is to say that well yes it could been arrived at independently of the Hittite-vassal treaties, but the existence of said treaties show there’s nothing particularly unique or special about the divine commandments given in the Old Testament. They’re ordinary and you find them elsewhere. Throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy God reaffirms the covenant that he made with Abraham.

In 2 Samuel 7:12-14 God again reaffirms the Abrahamic covenant to David who is now possessing the land, according to the Bible.

Also, Moses is mentioned some 80 times in the New Testament. Yet his historicity has been clearly shown to be invalid by modern archaeology. Many Christians actually accept this, because all they care about is whether Jesus was real or not. But without the patriarchs there is no sacred covenants, without Moses there is no Law, and without the Law there are no instructions for the Jews to find too difficult to keep and require salvation from.

I don’t think many Christians really actually care about this. A godless atheist heathen like myself can’t possibly have any real insight into what the Bible says. Denialisim is rife among the faithful – you don’t have to go to the extremes of fundamentalism to find it, you will find it in every single church. Neil Silberman notes that believer’s minds are “hardwired to believe that THEY are the authentic heirs of the biblical tradition”. Others scholars have noted that believes feel entitled to their own history. Something that rightly frustrates academics who devote their lives to the study of the ancient world. It’s not a very nice thing to say to a professional archaeologist or historian or scholar that their expertise isn’t needed because the Bible tells you the “truth”. It’s quite funny because Christians have largely backed off from their criticisms of other scientists such as astronomers, biologists, geneticists, palaeontologists, and geologists. Yet they still claim to be the enlightened ones, the ones who know “the” truth as if it’s some great secret kept from the rest of us. And with that I will leave you with this quote from biblical archaeologist Neil Silberman.

There is no difference whatsoever between Scientific Creationists (who twist every possible bit of empirical evidence to show that Darwin MAY be wrong and that the world COULD have been created in seven days 6000 years ago), with those fundamentalist biblical hardliners who INSIST that every single word of the Bible is inerrant, divinely inspired and that every historical story it contains is as reliable as a news report in the New York Times– no, sorry– the Fox News Network. -Neil Silberman

Does the Bible really say THAT?

Have you ever talked to a hardcore fundamentalist? They will justify anything and everything written in the Bible and claim that every other idea that comes along and challenges the Biblical view is wrong and nothing more than the futile pathetic loathsome concoctions of poor lowly mortal man, which can’t possibly improve upon God’s truly marvellous, righteous, and supreme ways.

This is something that as a Christian bothered me for a very long time. And in a moment I’ll give you some examples that no extent of creative interpretative theological manoeuvring can disguise for what they are.

But first I want to go back to where it all started. Cast your minds back to 50AD …

You’re in Jerusalem and a meeting is about to take place between the early Christian leaders. They are going to discuss whether we really need to follow the Law of Moses any more, or if we can start cutting our Jewish roots and carve out a new pathway for our apocalyptic movement. You see Barnabas and Paul arriving with some newly converted Syrian Christians. You see some Christians belonging to a more traditional Jewish wing of the church go over and begin arguing with the men over the need for circumcision. The apostles and the elders of the church break up the dispute and agree to discuss and settle the matter formally.

A fiery debate soon ensues, and after some time you see Simon Peter one of the original twelve disciples get up and attempt to draw the debate to a close. Peter stands up and addresses the apostles and elders in a loud strong voice, and makes dramatic, startling, and unexpected argument that shocks the crowd. He says that the Law of Moses is a yoke on the necks of believers that our ancestors have been unable to bear. The apostles and elders are drawn to an eerie silence – not knowing how to respond to such a bold anti-Jewish assertion. Even Peter’s brother and fellow Apostle Andrew is silent. James and Judas the brothers of Jesus are silent, as is John the son of Zebedee, and all the other church elders. In the silence Barnabas and Paul stand up and as the eyes of the church elders turn their way they begin testifying before them about the great numbers of Syrians and other non-Jews they have been converting – gesturing towards some of them that are sitting quietly with the other church laity.

You think to yourself just 20 years have passed since Jesus was killed by the Romans, the apocalyptic preacher who started the movement. He probably wouldn’t have agreed with such a radical shift, but he was gone now. In his place you see his brothers Judas and James sitting together quietly listening to Barnabas and Paul give their testimony regarding gentile conversions to the Christian gospel of salvation. You have to admit to yourself that even though Jesus probably wouldn’t have done it, it was still consistent with the gospel he preached when he was alive.

After Paul and Barnabas had finished speaking James stood up ready to make a decision on the matter at hand. He agrees with Peter that the yoke of the Law of Moses is an unbearable burden, one that has shackled their ancestors. He quotes a passage from the holy book of Amos, and another from Jeremiah. James hands down his decision saying that the church in Jerusalem will write to the Gentile churches and instruct them to keep only the following sacred Jewish laws: Not to eat of anything that has been polluted by idols, not to practise sexual immorality, and only to eat meat that hasn’t been strangled and has been drained of blood (kosher). The elders and apostles agree to James’s decision, as you leave you see Luke the Physician taking notes and perhaps preparing to write these letters.

The Jerusalem church then sent Judas Barsabbas and Silas to go with Barnabas and Paul to Antioch to ensure that the message is delivered to the gentile churches of the region. A few short years later Paul will disobey this decision by telling his congregation in Corinth in writing that they shall eat whatever they want. What I’ve just described to you above is essentially Acts 15 also known as the Council of Jerusalem. I only introduced three things into my rendering of it that are not strictly in the Bible – can you spot them?

The first is I simply named more people than is named in Acts – Judas and Luke for instance. The second is I said Jesus was killed by the Romans – this is now the overwhelming scholarly view and even the Pope has acknowledged this. The Bible however says the Jews killed Jesus. And the third is that I said that Jesus probably wouldn’t have done this – there is some evidence for my assertion though. Jesus does say the Law shall be upheld in the gospels, and if he wanted them to do this (tell the gentiles not to keep the whole of the law) he could have said so in the “Great Commission” or at any other time so the disciples didn’t have to wait until 20 years after his death to make this decision.

You see this is revisionism. It’s the church adapting, and that’s what virtually all regions have always done, even if they refuse to recognise or acknowledge it. The church reached an untenable position, an immovable obstacle – and that was they were preaching the “gospel of salvation” and people were willing to convert to Christianity but not to Judaism. You see Judaism was never itself an evangelistic proselytising faith – it was far more inwardly focused. The ancestral roots of the Patriarchs didn’t hold any meaning to the gentiles. Nor did the Abrahamic Covenant (which God hadn’t kept anyway), since Christians didn’t care about inheriting the land promised to the patriarchal ancestors of the Jews. It simply wasn’t designed to be proselytised, and that’s why it wasn’t working in 50 AD.

With this much insight you could almost mistake me for a scholar! No I’m just a sceptic and one that reads his bible and scrutinises it with critical thinking. So on we go.

1. The Bible doesn’t say Christians need to eat kosher meat.

Acts 15:20 “write to them to abstain foods offered to idols, sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled and from blood”. The only type of meats that don’t meet the ‘don’t do’s’ are kosher meats. Yes you could argue that James didn’t specifically say “don’t eat unclean meats” but it’s implied by instructing them to abstain from blood. Did you notice that after the council Paul went back to Antioch, and from there he wrote 1 Corinthians. So his letter to the Corinthians is quite soon after the council in Acts 15 – it’s only about 5 years later. In 1 Cor 8 Paul specifically tells the church in Corinth they can eat meat that has been offered to idols because idols aren’t real. In 1 Cor 10 he tells the church in Corinth they may eat anything sold in the market and not to question it.

And what’s interesting, to me anyway, is that Acts was written sometime between 61 and 85 AD. So between 10-35 years after that council, and up to 30 years after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Yet Luke’s account says that James handed down a decision that contradicts what Paul instructs the mid-first century Corinthian Christians in his letter. It’s interesting because there would be a clear motivation for a first century gospel writer to hide a potentially problematic conflicting decision, and yet they didn’t. So I think if it was Luke or one his close associates who wrote Acts that they had not seen Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. And with Paul clearly disobeying orders from Jerusalem it’s easy to see why his letters probably weren’t circulated outside of “his” regions until some time in the late first century or early second century.

  • VERDICT: Yes the Bible does say specifically that Christians should abstain from meat offered to idols, meat that has been strangled, and meat containing blood – and then it contradicts itself in another book.

2. The Bible doesn’t condone slavery.

Apologetics claim that the bible doesn’t really condone the practise, but rather tells the ancient Israelites they need to treat slaves with dignity and respect. I’ve even heard priests say that Israelite slaves enjoyed better conditions than the slaves of other nations. That is one fact that is easily refuted: Egyptian slaves could buy and sell property, could get married and divorced, could work their way to freedom, and privately owned slaves could not be made to do forced manual labour or demeaning tasks! Note there is some suggestion that convicted criminals could be made to do forced work, but not ordinary slaves. If slaves were mistreated or made to do forced labour then the owners could be made to be set them free. Slaves were treated equally regardless of their “race”. I have mentioned this to priests in the past and they have either denied it (since it contradicts the depiction of Egyptian slavery in Exodus) or have pleaded ignorance. Now how do we know this? Because historians tell us – they tell us slaves in Egypt were mainly prisoners of war and peasants who sold themselves into slavery.

The so-called rights that Israeli slaves have as outlined by Leviticus 25 do not amount to much. They can’t own or sell property and can’t work their way to freedom. Male slaves are to be given an opportunity to be freed after six years of service, but only one opportunity, and only if they are a debt slave (a Hebrew person), and they don’t get that opportunity if their owners give them a wife (and they want to stay married). Female slaves cannot be freed. Foreigners who are enslaved can be enslaved forever (Leviticus 25:46). And Israelite people are not to sell Israelite slaves to non-Israelites, but they can sell foreign slaves to non-Israelites. The instructions in Leviticus 25 on their own are enough to demonstrate that Yahweh clearly condones slavery, and is sexist, and also racist.

And yet priests and apologists still try to tell us God’s instructions were to give slaves better conditions. Admitting otherwise would be admitting that Yahweh is not perfect. But the question is better than what exactly? Better than some mythical primitive ancient Canaanite nations that we know next to nothing about? Even if such a thing were true, Egypt clearly had far better conditions. Egyptologists tell us that slaves had it better than peasants in Egypt.

As bad as Leviticus 25 is, there’s another part that’s even worse: Yahweh specifically instructs the Israelites to enslave people.

I’ve already addressed the crux of the apologist argument. Their argument that’s God’s instructions are not to go out and take slaves but rather to treat them fairly. Well yes that kind of addresses Leviticus 25, admittedly not very well (exactly what rights if any did foreign slaves have?), but in Deuteronomy 20 Yahweh does tell the Israelites to go out and enslave people:

Deut 20:10-14: “When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. And if it responds to you peaceably and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labour for you and shall serve you. But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. And when Yahweh your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword, but the women and the little ones, the livestock, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as plunder for yourselves. And you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which Yahweh your God has given you.”

So not only does Yahweh tell them to go out and conquer lands by warfare, but when they do that they are to enslave everyone. In Deut 20:16-18 he goes even further by saying that in the cities of Canaan they are to let no one escape and kill absolutely everyone – young, old, child, and livestock. So not only does Yahweh condone slavery, but he specifically instructs his people to practise it as well. He could have said “after you conquer a city and you have killed all the men you can let the women and children flee”, but instead he says to enslave them.

  • VERDICT: The Bible not only condones slavery but Yahweh specifically instructs his people to practise it.

3. The Bible doesn’t say women are property.

I have heard priests and apologists and even the laity say that the Bible has a very progressive outlook on the rights of women. And I don’t think it’s a stretch to admit that probably Jesus may have had a progressive outlook on the status of women. But Jesus was just a first century apocalyptic preacher. These arguments can be a deflection because the question isn’t what did Jesus believe – he may well have believed that women should have equal rights. But unless you believe the Nicene doctrine of the trinity (and unless you’re a Christian you don’t) then it doesn’t answer the question of whether Yahweh is a malevolent, psychopathic, misogynist god or not. And even if you do believe the Nicene Creed, the Old Testament itself existed in its completed form for at least 2 centuries in ancient Palestine before the apocalyptic preachings of Jesus. So then the Old Testament clearly needs to be able to stand on its own, and it needs to be the one that reveals to us the character of Yahweh. If Yahweh is kind, faithful, and just then the Old Testament alone will reveal this.

But of course he isn’t. His character can be openly attacked from many different angles, and many people have done this over the years. To deflect away from it the standard Christian answer is that Jesus fully reveals his character and that anything we learn about the character of Yahweh from the Old Testament without the New is incomplete.

But, doesn’t Yahweh “reveal” himself to the Patriarchs? Doesn’t he also reveal who he is by the sacred covenants he makes (and then doesn’t keep) and the sacred holy laws he decrees?

Yahweh allows the Israelites to keep concubines which is just a fancy biblical word for sex slaves. In the previous passage I quoted (Deut 20:14) he even calls enslaved foreign women the “spoils of war”. Christians don’t know how to answer this problem. Because once it’s pointed out to them that biblical concubines are in fact sex slaves they can’t escape the problem. So how do I know that they are sex slaves and not merely women with a slightly lower status than that of “wife”? Well precisely because they are women with a lower status than wife who are themselves property of men. And in a moment I will prove Israelite wives are property.

Genesis 2:18 Yahweh creates women to serve men: “Then Yahweh God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’” Now you might say, oh Daniel that’s just God saying men and women are made for each other. Well that would probably be true if it wasn’t for the context that the verse is in, have a look at this for yourself:

Gen 2:18-23: “Then Yahweh God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ Now out of the ground Yahweh God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So Yahweh God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“          ‘This at last is bone of my bones
               and flesh of my flesh;
            she shall be called Woman,
                because she was taken out of Man.’”

So women are just like animals. According to Genesis, the reason animals exist in the first place is to serve mankind, and the reason women exist is specifically as a helper for men. There’s no getting around it: God creates it and brings it to Adam just like all the animals; Adam names the woman just like he names all the animals.

The Tenth Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbour’s property: Ex 20:17 “Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Now some Christians think that the context is ‘don’t have unclean thoughts about your neighbour’s wife’ – don’t desire her sexually. But look at the list, it’s a list of your neighbour’s property. Many of them will try to claim it says servants not slaves – but most modern Bible translations are done by teams of Evangelistic translators – you can be well assured that it does say slave. The Hebrew words used are Strong’s H5650 (male slave) and H519 (female slave), and H519 also means concubine. By including wives in a list of property that “thou shalt not covet” Yahweh clearly establishes that women are property.

Furthermore, nor the ten commandments or the book of Exodus discuss sexual immorality – that’s in Leviticus 18. And as for adultery, that’s the seventh commandment (Ex 20:14). And note that Jesus says this: Matthew 5:27-28: “‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” So Ex 20:14 covers adultery both the physical act and the lustful intent, according to what Jesus says. Therefore the tenth commandment can only mean not to covert your neighbour’s property.

The difference treatment between male and female slaves I have already noted. Women were viewed as property which is why they aren’t to ever be set free. Female slaves that are Hebrews and are the wife of a male slave are to remain with the slave owner if the male slave is freed (Ex 21, Lev 25) it is very clear that in the Israelite society women are to serve men and are property. Ex 23:17 the feast of unleavened bread is a festival only for men, women are explicitly excluded. Lev 18:20 defines adultery as a man sleeping with his neighbour’s wife. Yet married men could sleep with prostitutes, concubines, or unmarried women and it was not adultery. It was only adultery if the woman was married. Male and females have different monetary values as slaves: “If the person is from one month to five years old, your assessment for a male is five silver shekels, and for a female your assessment is three shekels of silver.” (Lev 27:6).

Deuteronomy 22:28-29 says that if a man rapes a virgin he is to pay her father 50 shekels of silver as retribution and shall be forced to take her hand in marriage, and he cannot divorce her. This is an interesting passage for so many reasons. One is that Yahweh clearly doesn’t know about inflation, but also Christians will claim that ‘well it doesn’t say that the rape victim would be forced to marry her rapist only that he is forced to do so’. That’s true enough, but even so – in what universe is it okay to tell rapists to marry their victims? In any case the monetary value being paid to her father clearly establishes that she is her father’s property (until she marries and then she becomes her husband’s property). Another thing is that up to this point divorce hadn’t been defined in the Bible, but it is defined clearly just one chapter later in Deut 24:

Deut 24:1-5: “‘When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favour in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before Yahweh. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that Yahweh your God is giving you for an inheritance.”

Jesus does say that there is something wrong with this, and he apparently says so twice (Matthew 5:32 and Matt 19:9). “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Now what did I just cite from above – ah yes the definition of adultery is when a man sleeps with a married woman (Lev 18:20). So look at what Jesus doesn’t say. He doesn’t say that adultery includes women who sleep with married men. Nor does he suggest that women have any right to get divorced from their husbands. Deuteronomy 24:1-5 makes it very clear that divorce is for men to disown their wives. Because women are the property of men they have no right to get divorced from their husbands. He has the opportunity to say this in Matthew 5:27-28 (as quoted 4 paragraphs above), but he clearly cites the Old Testament definition of adultery. Sometimes apologists will say ‘well people in ancient times just didn’t know any better’ – but Egyptian women could buy and sell property, they could inherit from their family’s estate, they could get divorced from their husbands, they could participate in juries, and they could give evidence in court equal to men’s. So some people in ancient times did know better.

Let’s compare this to Yahweh’s women: They can’t inherit from the family’s estate unless there are no sons (Numbers 27:8); They cannot file for a divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-5); And they couldn’t participate in juries or give testimony in court (the Talmud). My former priest, and other clergy, and apologists always like to use the argument that the women’s testimony of the resurrection shows the Bible is credible because an author inventing it would have used men who are able to testify in court. What they fail to disclose to you and I is that although women couldn’t testify in court, there’s nothing to stop them running to their families and associates and telling them of things they’ve just seen, such as an empty tomb where the deceased Jesus had been laid.

  • VERDICT: The Bible says in many places that women are property. It says it very plainly and without any apology. There is no doubt about it whatsoever: Yahweh is a woman hating misogynistic deity who views women as the property of men.

What we atheists believe

The Aractus Creed (subject to review):

We believe in the prophet, our apostolic father, Charles Darwin;

Creator of wonder, evolutionary biology, and wonder;

We follow the teachings of the great holy book “Origin of Species”;

We follow the guidance of his disciplinary descendant, Richard Dawkins;

Towards truth, wisdom, discovery, and wonder;

Even though sometimes he can be a giant douche;

We believe in his ways of inductive reasoning and the holy scientific method;

We believe in his teachings written down in the academic journals of Science, Nature, and the Journal of Theoretical Biology;

We believe in the pursuit of Power, Wealth, Wisdom, Knowledge, Happiness, Health, Development, Advancement, and Progress;

We acknowledge the inspired work of secularists;

We strive each day to understand their teaching;

We believe that the Christian god isn’t really real;

And that when we die we don’t go anywhere we just rot in the ground.