Genesis 1-20

I’m about halfway through Genesis, now. Lots of interesting stories. I decided to summarize what I read and then share my reaction to it below.

God makes the world in seven days. Adam and Eve live in Eden until they eat the fruit of the forbidden tree. God curses Adam and Eve and the snake that tempted them (which seems to be a literal talking snake in this story, although I’ve always been taught that they were tempted by Satan, or something), and he throws them out of Eden so they won’t be able to eat from the tree of life and live forever.

Adam and Eve have two sons, Cain and Abel. God likes Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s, and Cain kills Abel. God curses Cain but also puts a mark on him so that no one will kill him.

There’s a long bit about who fathered who, almost exclusively focusing on fathers and sons. It also mentions who lived how long, with most of them living to be almost a thousand and few only living to be a few hundred years old. Eventually the genealogy stuff gets to Noah. God decides he is going to wipe out the human race because they are all so wicked, but he decides to spare Noah and his family because Noah is righteous. He tells Noah to build a boat and gather his family and a pair of each kind of animal on it. Then it rains for forty days and nights, flooding the whole earth and even covering the mountains, wiping out everything that breathes that isn’t on that boat. Eventually, the waters recede, and God promises that he will never again flood the entire earth.

Noah gets drunk and ends up lying naked in his tent. One of his sons sees his nakedness, but his two other sons cover him up while being very careful not to look. When Noah wakes, he curses the one son and blesses the other two, saying that the one shall be the slave of the others.

There’s another bit about genealogy, which again focuses on fathers and sons.

Some people get together to build a city and really tall tower, and God decides to confuse their languages (they all spoke the same language before), so they can’t all work together to accomplish anything they wish.

More genealogy stuff, just mentioning firstborn sons’ names, this time. It starts with Noah’s son Shem and ends with Terah’s sons, including Abram. God tells Abram he will make a great nation out of him. Abram goes where God tells him and he is shown a land that will belong to his offspring. Abram and his wife Sarai go to Egypt to avoid a famine. Abram is worried that he will be killed because his wife is so beautiful, so they decide to pretend that she is his sister. Pharaoh decides to take Sarai as his wife, but he is afflicted with plagues. When Pharaoh finds out Sarai is Abram’s wife, he demands that they leave.

Abram and his nephew Lot decide to split up because they have so much livestock that the land can’t support them both together and their herders don’t get along with each other. God shows Abram more of the land he will give to his offspring. Lot is captured in a war, and when Abram hears about it, he leads the men of his household against them and rescues his nephew. Abram complains that he is childless and that one of his slaves is his heir, and God tells him he will give him countless descendants. He says they will be slaves in another land for four hundred years, but they will come out of it, and he will give them the land he showed Abram.

Abram has a child with his wife’s slave, Hagar, at his wife’s suggestion. Hagar gets pregnant and looks with contempt upon her mistress. Sarai complains to Abram, and Abram tells her to do what she wants with her slave, so Sarai treats her badly, until she runs away. God tells the slave-girl to return and submit to her mistress and that she will have countless offspring through her son Ishmael.

God tells Abram again about the many countless offspring he will have. He tells him that his name will be Abraham, now, and his wife’s name will be Sarah. He tells Abraham that every male of his people, including the slaves, must be circumcised. He tells Abraham that he and Sarah will have a child, and Abraham laughs at the idea of having a child when they are both so old. Then Abraham circumcises himself and his son Ishmael and all of his male slaves. God tells Abraham again about how he and Sarah will have a son, and Sarah laughs.

God decides to destroy Sodom, and Abraham pleads with him, asking if he will spare the city if he can find only 50 righteous men in it. God says he will. Abraham continues to plead, reducing the number bit by bit, until he asks if God will spare the city for ten, and God says he will. Two angels go to Sodom, and Lot convinces them to stay at his house. The men of the city want to rape these two newcomers, and Lot pleads with them, saying he would let them do what they wish with his two virgin daughters, instead. They attack Lot, but the two angels rescue him and tell him to leave the city with his family and not look back because they were sent to destroy the city. His future sons-in-law think he is joking, so Lot leaves with only his wife and two daughters. God rains sulfur and fire on the whole area, except for the city that Lot fled to, but Lot’s wife looks back and is turned into a pillar of salt.

Lot moves into the hills with his two daughters. His two daughters despair of ever having children, so they get him drunk and get pregnant by him.

This seems pretty sexist and pro-slavery to me. It’s like women just aren’t worth mentioning most of the time, and slavery is just a normal thing, as if it’s a matter of course that Abraham owns slaves. God doesn’t seem have a problem with slavery; when Hagar runs away, he tells her to return. Abraham literally tells Sarah, when she is angry with her slave, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” And how is it ok for Lot to offer his own daughters to be raped instead of two strangers? I mean, obviously it’s a good thing to try to prevent two people from being raped, but to offer his own daughters?

There is a lot of smiting of the wicked going on here, although, especially in the case of the flood, it doesn’t really say much about what people do that makes God decide they are wicked or righteous. Some of the punishments seem fairly arbitrary to me. Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt merely for looking back when she was told not to, while Cain wasn’t even killed for murdering his own brother.

God talks directly to quite a few people in Genesis. This doesn’t seem to happen nowadays, though, and that always bugged me when I was Christian. I mean, people talk about how they ‘feel’ God is telling them something, but that’s hardly the same as a literal conversation with literal responses. I have to say, if God talked directly to me, I wouldn’t have any trouble believing in him. Believing that a person exists while I am in the middle of having a conversation with them is a matter of course.

Update on Reading the Bible

Well, I’ve almost started reading the bible. I finally got my hands on a copy, anyway. I asked my brother if he had a spare I could borrow, and he said they probably have one and that he’d look for it, but I haven’t heard back from him yet. I asked to borrow one from my roommate, but she said her spare was only the new testament. One of the commenters on the previous post offered to send me a copy in the mail, free of charge, but I’d really rather borrow one. I don’t like having my own copy of a book unless I think I’m going to either read it multiple times or use frequently it as a reference (my parents are pack rats, and that’s one particular trait that I have been trying very hard to not emulate). I suppose I could read the bible on the internet or in ebook form, but I really do prefer having a hard copy when I’m reading a book. As per usual, the combination of my desire to not own many books and my strong preference for reading physical books led me to the library.

I like the library. I live within walking distance of a fairly large public library. I don’t think there has been a single day when I have not had books checked out of the library since I moved here. Every time I go to return the books I have out, I can’t seem to make it out of the building without a whole new pile of books. Libraries are awesome. They have tons and tons of books, and they just encourage you to read and borrow them, free of charge (aside from overdue fees. oops).

Well anyway, today I decided I should get on with this bible reading thing, so as not to disappoint my readers (hey, that’s right, I actually have readers, plural, now). So I looked up the call number for the bible (220-ish), and headed off for the library. There were quite a few shelves to sort through, both with bibles and with books about the bible. I ended up picking up a copy of “The Green Bible”, which is a New Revised Standard Version with a bit of stuff about environmentalism thrown in for an introduction. It met my very strict criterion for picking out a bible- it’s the whole book (both new testament and old), it fits nicely in my hands (it’s not too heavy or bulky), and there were two copies on the shelf (so I shouldn’t have to worry about returning it early without using the maximum number of renewals if someone puts a hold on it or something).

One of the nice things about going to the library and browsing for a book, is that you also get to look at a variety of related books. I also picked up a copy of “The Bible: A Very Short Introduction” by John Riches, which talks about a variety of things, such as how the bible was written and its influence on culture and politics. Then I got the idea in my head to also check out a copy of Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” because I keep hearing people mention it in the atheosphere. Sadly, all of the copies were checked out. They did have “The Dawkins Delusion” on the shelf, which might be interesting to read, just to see what criticisms people have about Dawkins’ book, but not if I can’t also read Dawkins’ book for myself. Instead, I ended up checking out “A Short History of Western Atheism” by James Thrower, “The Atheist Debater’s Handbook” by B.C. Johnson, and “The Atheist’s Handbook to Modern Materialism” by Philip A. Stahl. Should be interesting stuff. I really have not done much reading about atheism, aside from a few blogs. I’m especially looking forward to the book about materialism since, unlike the majority of atheists, I am not actually a materialist (although it is most certainly a very useful viewpoint for accomplishing practical things like, say, science).

Well, I have a very large pile of books to be reading, considering I didn’t even return the previous pile of books before getting the new pile, this time. I think I’ll get started on that, now.

Dream Pseudoscience

I’m always a little worried, on this blog, that people will find their way here from the atheosphere and then dismiss me because I talk so much about dreams and lucid dreams (dreams in which the dreamer knows they are dreaming). To be honest, lucid dreaming is connected with a whole lot of pseudoscience stuff. It’s often talked about together with things like astral projection and out-of-body experiences. Then there’s ideas like shared dreaming, which would be pretty cool if it could happen, but I’ve never seen anyone produce any actual evidence of it. Most of the time when I go to the library to find books on lucid dreaming, I find shelves full of books on dream interpretation* and unlocking the unconscious mind and New Age-y sounding stuff (there are maybe one or two books about lucid dreaming, if I’m lucky). There’s also the people who claim to have precognitive dreams. The lucid dreaming forum I hang out on has a few separate sections for most of these topics (which I think is great, because it makes it very easy for me to avoid them).

It really bothers me that there is so much woo surrounding dreams. It seems like, in this culture at least, dreams are either dismissed as insignificant or treated as an important spiritual and/or psychic thing. Neither of these attitudes is likely to result in much good research about dreaming.

I keep thinking I should write an in-depth post about this or that kind of dream woo. It’s kind of a natural topic to pop up in a blog that combines the topics of atheism and lucid dreaming, after all. In this post, though, I just want to establish that I am not a fan of woo, and that lucid dreaming (which I am a fan of) is actually a real thing that has been proven scientifically. Here’s a link to a study by Stephen LaBerge about lucid dreaming. LaBerge, who hasĀ  Ph.D in psychophysiology, came up with a technique to prove the existence of lucid dreaming using eye movement signals. During REM sleep (which is the part of sleep during which most dreaming happens), the body is paralyzed, but the eyes move. These eye movements seem to correspond to the direction of gaze in the dream. For the experiment, eye movements of the dreamer were monitored and when the dreamer became lucid, they used a previously agreed upon eye movement signal to indicate that they had become lucid.

* While there is probably some meaning that can be gleaned from dreams (even if it’s nothing more complicated than, gee, maybe I had a dream about pizza because I have been absolutely obsessing about pizza lately), I’m really skeptic of the majority of people/books that claim to be able to interpret dreams. This is probably something I’ll write an in depth post about later, but for now, I’m just going to link to somebody else who wrote about some of this stuff, starting with Freud. I haven’t finished reading it, but it looks quite useful from what I’ve read so far, and the presence of references for further reading is always a good sign.

I’m Going to Read the Bible

I have a strange desire to read the Bible from cover to cover. Because I’m an atheist. That just seems so odd to me, on the face of it. I mean, plenty of atheists read the Bible in order to be able to argue better with Christians or to point out inconsistencies or whatnot, but I’ve been figuring, as an atheist, I don’t have any obligation to read anyone else’s holy book.

It’s just that this particular holy book has always been such a big deal in my life, whether I want it to be or not. As a kid, I would read the Bible because it was the Good thing to do, and I would read it as the Holy Word of God, not as simply a book. I read the part about the Israelites committing genocide at god’s command and filed this away as the Right Thing to Do because God Said So, instead of considering the implications of a “loving” god who wants an entire people to be wiped out, including innocent newborn babies. I was reading the book with a basic assumption that I’d inherited from my parents, that “the Bible says so” is a good reason to do something or believe something or a way to demonstrate the truth of something. With that assumption, the book can’t be wrong, because it is right. With that assumption, I couldn’t see the inconsistencies because the assumption was that there aren’t any. If it seemed inconsistent, then it must be because I was wrong about something.

I did notice some inconsistency though, but it wasn’t in the book, it was in real life. Like, if we claim to be followers of Jesus, shouldn’t we be out sharing the word and healing people and stuff? Why weren’t we dedicating our entire lives to these endeavors, like the early followers of Jesus? If we really believed this stuff, shouldn’t we be doing stuff about it, besides just sitting in church listening to a guy talk and then doing some singing every Sunday? The Bible says that if we have faith, we can move mountains, so why weren’t we moving mountains? And I’ve never understood why there are so many different varieties of Christianity. If we are all following the same god, shouldn’t we all be working together?

I remember one time, while I was with my family waiting outside a restaurant until we could get seated, I saw another little girl, but she was in a wheel chair. I thought, I should ask god to heal her. If I had faith, it would happen. It should be something that Christians do, because that’s how it is in the Bible. I could just walk up to her and say ‘be healed’ or something and she would be able to walk again. But I hesitated. And hesitated. Because I wasn’t really so sure that it would work and just kept thinking how awful it would be (incredibly embarrassing for me, and really rude to her) if it didn’t work, and I felt like a bad person because I wasn’t following the teachings of Jesus wholeheartedly.

And another thing, if we Christians believed that we went to heaven when they died, why were we so sad when other believers died? Weren’t they in a better place? Wouldn’t we see them again when we died? Why were we still afraid to die? If a person really believes that they will go to a wonderful paradise when they die and that life is nothing more than a short test, they why should death be the least bit scary?

But, even with all these uncertainties just below the surface (I never dared to voice them out loud, only barely daring to think them), it never occurred to me to question the holy book itself, only the actions of those who claimed to follow it. The book remained firmly on a pedestal, untouchable. Rejecting the pedestal, rejecting the book which was the core of my parents’ beliefs, would be tantamount to rejecting my parents themselves, something wholly unthinkable to a child.

I made it my goal, at one point, to read the whole thing from cover to cover. I didn’t quite make it all the way through, but I’m pretty sure I read all of the new testament at least once and probably got half or two thirds of the way through the old testament before just giving up due to boredom. I want to make this my goal again, only this time without the assumption that it is right because it is right. I want to read it to see what it actually says. I want to read it so I can get over the way it was held to be above everything else when I was a child. I want to get over the way I step carefully around it even now. I want to be wholehearted and consistent between my beliefs and my actions. If I really don’t believe that god exists, then why I am still tiptoeing around this old book? If I’m right and this old book is just stuff made up by humans who believed odd things, then giving it a fair read through will only strengthen my (un)belief.