Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman, Narrated by Steve West

Christopher Buehlman’s Between Two Fires transports readers to the region now known as France during the peak of the Black Death. The world was ending. Sickness had emptied whole villages, leaving nothing behind but decaying remnants and ghosts that haunted the vacant homes. The survivors, few and far between, were living through horrors no one had ever seen. Amid this nightmare of disease and human predation, a war unlike any witnessed on Earth was taking place. This tableau of terror, both human and spiritual, is the world Buehlman brings to life.
When Thomas, a crude and disgraced knight, takes it upon himself to shelter and protect a young girl–who knows things she should not know and sees things others cannot see–he knows he’s set himself on a path that might end in tragedy. But nothing can prepare him for the madness and cruelty awaiting them on their journey to Avignon.
The boundaries of reality are repeatedly blurred throughout the narrative, forcing the reader to question–as Thomas does–whether he’s awake or dreaming. The dead haunt the living, tormenting them with cruel assertions and distorted recollections of the past. Ghosts appear and disappear, leaving us to wonder which of these apparitions are truly beyond the veil, and which are drawn from the memories of Thomas and the weary priest who joins him on his quest.
Will the trio arrive where they intend, or will the gates of Hell await them instead. Is there a difference?
Steve West narrated this audiobook almost perfectly. The delivery of dialogue and narrative components were both handled with great attention to detail. The narration was almost as gripping as the story itself.


The Scream by John Skipp and Craig Spector

Skipp and Spector captured the zeitgeist of the late 1980s in an unflinchingly visceral and gritty tale of worlds colliding in a catastrophic and terrifying nightmare brought to life. Heavy metal, Christian fundamentalism, and the horrors of a war most people wanted to forget–though it was less than two decades in the rearview–combine to create a tense and dizzying descent into the depths of Hell. But Hell isn’t content to remain in the depths.
The Scream is the fictional band the Christian right believed all heavy metal acts to be, sinister occultists using the devotion of their fans to bring Hell on Earth. Fronted by the beautiful and mysterious Tara, the band pushes the limits of technology, performance art, and irreligious symbolism. But there’s more going on than performative evil, and it all has something to do with a presence at work during the Vietnam war.
Jake Hamer, Vietnam veteran and frontman of the Jacob Hamer Band, is no stranger to pushing limits and pushing buttons. He’s developed an extreme dislike for the brand of Christian fundamentalism promoted by the likes of Pastor Daniel Furniss, and that sentiment goes both ways. As conservative voices in the political world seek to stifle and curtail the free expression of artists like Jake Hamer, these two men find themselves on opposite sides of a battle neither of them knows is coming, with stakes that they couldn’t imagine.
Skipp and Spector’s novel hits the ground running with a barrage of violence and insanity that sets the stage for the nightmares still to come. Packed with as much social commentary as violence, the authors force readers to confront some unpleasant truths, the most striking of those being the light shone on the performative nature of evangelical Christianity being not so different from the performative Satanism of heavy metal artists of the time.

It’s Been A While: More Politics-Deal With It

This is to be another political post, which makes me think that perhaps I should just get it out of my system altogether and become a politician…since I happen to be so damn opinionated on the matter and hate being an armchair political analyst. I know that plenty of you (assuming anyone actually reads these posts) have entirely different opinions from me…and that’s great, that difference of opinion is what allows for discourse to take place…without diversity of thought an opinion we have no room for meeting of the minds.

Our former mayor posted something earlier today regarding what he perceives as backwards morality from “Christians” that constitute the far right wing of the Republican Party…the invocation of Christ whenever they are rallying against issues that Jesus had no opinion on (at least nothing mentioned in the Gospels) such as gay marriage, abortion, taxes, and numerous other things while actively working to upset programs that coincide with the actual teachings of Christ (caring for the poor and the hungry, the sick and the elderly). You all know that I am not a Christian…that I’m not even remotely religious…but I do have a bit of knowledge about these things.

I initially wanted to do no more than let our former Mayor know that there are still Republicans like myself who don’t feel that these individuals speak for the party as a whole. I was going to leave it at that until someone opted to refer to Romans: Chapter 1, where there are some statements that could be interpreted as being opposed to homosexuality.

I felt it was necessary to point out that Romans was not a Gospel and did not have any statements made by Jesus attached to it. At best it was the writing of Paul the Apostle (not one of the Twelve Apostles, something that I suspect many Christians are unaware of), quite probably half a century after the death of Christ. It might also be noted that Paul was never in the presence of Christ (not being born until after Christ had died) and that his conversion came about from a vision of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. So Paul had no firsthand experience of Christ or his teachings…in fact he actively persecuted the early Christian cult during his life up until that conversion took place; and this is the man responsible for the bulk of the non-Gospel New Testament. He was just a man, nothing more…as fallible as any other.

The individual also pointed towards 2nd Timothy: Chapter 3 and I felt compelled to point out that these verses still have nothing to do with the teachings of Christ…and are even further removed. 2 Timothy has unknown authorship but it is traditionally attributed to some random (unnamed) follower of Paul the Apostle…somewhere in the vicinity of a century after Christ’s death.

This individual then expressed that they had assumed I might believe in the divine inspiration of scripture.

I felt the need to disillusion him of that; considering that it is only in those pieces of writing that it mentioned that the scripture was divinely inspired…I question it a great deal. I question the veracity of anything that changes dramatically in meaning when translated from Hebrew to Aramaic to Greek and further. If divinely inspired, the meaning would remain constant. That is far from the case. I can write a piece of scripture today, tack on something about how all scripture is valid and inspired by god, and people are supposed to accept that? What is in the commonly used Bible today is nothing compared to what is found in the Catholic Bible, and that only consists of what a handful of humans determined would best suit their needs as scripture. Who gets to determine which scripture is valid and which is not…because neither God nor Jesus ever made any statements to that effect?

I didn’t mean to come off as being cynical there, but recognize that I really am a bit cynical when it comes to those things. I can understand how that whole statement could be considered highly cynical, and I was sorry about that. I just wanted to express my concern regarding the mindset associated with scripture being divinely inspired. Bart D. Ehrman has addressed these issues far better than I ever could, being Professor of religious studies at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill…he has been able to go far more in depth than I am able where the veracity of Biblical scripture (and especially the New Testament) is concerned. I highly recommend anyone who has the means should take the time to procure and read some of his books on textual criticism of scripture. That is neither here nor there though.

It was after this that another individual made some comments about how there isn’t really much of an actual difference between big government Republicans and socialist Democrats as far as he was concerned, and he isn’t entirely incorrect. He commented on the fact that there is no article of the Constitution that speaks of equalizing pay or for providing healthcare or education.

To me, it has nothing to do with either Republicans or Democrats really…but I could see where he was coming from.

Those of you who know me are aware that I happen to be a small government Republican. I think we need fewer laws and interferences into the daily lives of the American people. I don’t think it is the place of government (state or national) to define marriage or anything else. We need to step back and trim the fat from our overbearing obsession with legislation.

Regarding protection of wages, healthcare, education, and similar bones of contention I had to disagree…as these are issues that directly impact the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of the very population this government was developed to protect. Those issues weren’t salient at the time this country was founded and would almost definitely have been taken into consideration by the founding fathers had that been otherwise. The US government was designed in such a way as to allow for alterations and modification with the passage of time. It has never been a static creation and wasn’t intended to be. Our government has the sole function of providing for the well being of the populace that supports it…to uphold the rights and liberties of the American population. Nowhere is it stated that we are expected to become involved in political or social reform in other nations, but that isn’t often something that we hear complaints about from the same people who are so concerned with the programs that aid the American people.

Regarding the Christian uproar from the far right wing of the Republican party as far as these issues are concerned, John Adams and George Washington were pretty clear on that very point when the Treaty of Tripoli was signed. There was no ambiguity in the wording. Those persons in the US government who are so concerned with their distorted form of Christianity and the almost rabid desire to impose it upon everyone else are suffering from delusions of what Christ taught as well as basic lack of understanding regarding the history of the United States.

That same man recognized that we are, of course, entitled to our differences of opinion and went on from there to express his concern over what he sees as an inflated Executive branch, stating, “Who needs congress when presidential decree gets the job done?”

I definitely feel that our last two presidents have set an unwelcome and disturbing precedent as far as overstepping the bounds of the office is concerned. I’m not a huge fan of our “do nothing” Congress either. It is my opinion that we need a complete overhaul of Washington, but not the variety that the Tea Party has been pushing for…the last thing we need in Washington is more people who don’t understand how the government works (or is intended to work) and who believe that Christ hated the poor and needy.

These are just my opinions of course. I am just some guy who happens to feel that some of this should be common sense.

Not So Much a Religious Discussion as a Monologue This Time.

I ask my friend how he can look at extremists and see them as being representative of all of Islam when he can overlook the rapid, violently insane voices within Christianity as being far from indicative of what Christianity is and what it stands for.

He responds by spitting out the generic, “Because Christianity is rooted in love and Islam is rooted in death.”

These discussions have been going on for far too long, and with no resolution, I think. Finally, it’s time to stop pussyfooting around the real issue. “Christianity, throughout history,” I begin, “is responsible for more death than Islam could hope to become responsible for even with another dozen 9/11 type attacks. There is no more or less promotion of violence or love in either of the religious texts that you refer to.”

Not that I expect that to get through to him, similar arguments have just slid right off of him like his religious convictions and ignorance regarding his own faith are Teflon coated.

Weary with expecting better of him, I express what I suspect is really the substrate behind all of his rabid anti-Islam, anti-Hebrew, and anti-science rhetoric, “The fact of the matter is that you’re simply a narrow minded, uninformed bigot who simply accepts what some equally uninformed bigot claims about a religion that isn’t your own.”

I continue, “Rooted in love or not, your own faith is responsible for thousands of deaths during the Spanish Inquisition, hundreds more in Christian on Christian violence in Ireland, thousands more during the various Crusades, hundreds more during the witch trials, and tens to hundreds of thousands more during the imperial expansion into central/south America, Africa, Asia, and the rest of the world…all for the glory of your God…to spread his holy word at the tip of sword and sting of bullets.

“Islam has never even come close to those numbers…and never will.”

Turning my eye to the current American military action in the Middle East, I go on, “And there are still people being killed, by Christians, in the middle east for no better reason than that the people there don’t want to bow down and pray to the God that you do.” Admittedly, that isn’t the root cause for our involvement there, but there is no question that it is a motivating factor for a good number of the violent acts that we have witnessed.

Before he replies with some ignorant statement about how we are simply defending ourselves from Islamic aggression, I follow my previous comment with, “You’d fight with no less single minded determination than they are against us if roles were reversed.”

Once more, I opt to go after the source behind all of the things that he plasters online and argues against, “You’re a hypocrite and a bigot…you can distort it and twist it around all that you like…but anyone with open eyes and a trace of sense would be as aware of that fact as I am…and you aren’t blind or stupid enough to be ignorant to that reality yourself. Somewhere inside, beneath the layers of self-delusion and brainwashing, you know better.”

Choosing to address the way that everything is distorted to fulfill his own worldview I continue by saying, “Christians commit murder on a daily basis here in America…against other Christians, against Muslims, against Jews, against every different sort…the only reason it doesn’t tabulate the way you twist things around is because we don’t call it, “Christian violence.” It’s only because we brand any violence performed by a practitioner of Islam as “Islamic violence” that you even have news articles to share and targets for your finger pointing.

“Hell, that’s just common sense…to anyone. If we go through news articles and check the religious backgrounds of the murderers and rapists in American prisons, you’d have far, far greater incident rates of Christian violence than Islamic violence to read about.”

Momentum built up, I go on, “And hate speech like yours just spurs it on. You condemn Muslims for waving signs that Christians wave around on a regular basis…while protesting the funerals of military personnel…men who sacrificed themselves for this nation in a way that none of those jackasses with picket signs would ever dare to do.”

Thinking back on how this man used to be a friend of mine, I find myself both frustrated and disappointed, “Your religion of “love” produces and promotes no less hate than Islam. So give it a fucking rest already…you’re not that stupid. No matter how brainwashed and deluded you might be, you simply can’t actually be that stupid.”

I decide to wrap it up, receiving no response or inarticulate defense from him; I feel that maybe I have said enough. I don’t suspect that it will get through to him, but I hope that maybe some of it might. It is with that in mind that I conclude, “I consider what you believe to be insipid, primitive tripe…but I give you more benefit of the doubt than you give to people who believe something quite similar to what you believe.”


Another Religious Discourse Brought About By A Friend’s Blind Hatred of Islam

The same friend that led to the previous religious discussion happened to post something depicting Islam as a vicious, intolerant cult and I couldn’t help myself. Names have been omitted in order to avoid coming across as too much of an asshole.

I responded with, “Yeah, because there aren’t numerous people around the world or even in this Midwest region who haven’t been just as brutally mistreated by Christians, my friend. You let your bias cloud your judgment far too readily with your anti-Islamic nonsense. There are no more people who have been hurt by Islamic violence throughout history than those who have been by Christians behaving the same way or worse.”

It was in response to this that a friend of my friend chirps in by suggesting that I am either misinformed or choosing to spew lies and further, that, “Virtually all conflicts in the world are caused by Moslems killing those who do not agree with them. Fighting back is demonized by the ignorant.” The choice of spelling was not mine, but that of the individual who made the statement. She followed that by quoting an article from FrontPage Magazine by a Buddhist author who expressed fear that Islam would sweep away the cherished practices and people of the Buddhist traditions if it were to gain ascendancy and that Islam is the only belief system that propagates itself by the sword.

I responded to her claim that I was misinformed by saying, “The crusades, the inquisition, and countless other examples of Christian violence exist…and in recent years doctors, homosexuals, and other individuals have been beaten and even killed by Christians in direct relation to what they believe. The only misinformation comes from bigots like you hypocrites.”

She replied by informing me that those episodes from history that I mentioned were reactionary, in defense against Islamic barbarism; and that the more recent incidents that I alluded to were the work of extremists (which can be found in every culture) who don’t represent the majority except (in her opinion) within Islam, where they are fulfilling the wishes of the majority. She further suggested that I need to get educated before I spew my hate and that I really “need to read something.”

To which, I said, “I will give you the benefit of the doubt and operate under the assumption that you are merely Ill/uninformed rather than being a willfully ignorant hate monger. Either way, you clearly know less than you think you do.”

She mockingly thanked me for giving her the “benefit of the doubt” and indicated that she realized that my stance was derived from a government edited public school system, which had deceived me.

I found the condescension irritating and replied by saying, “You literally know nothing about me or the topic at hand. For your information I attended Catholic school for part of my education and spent three years at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology as a double major in physics and chemistry before having to put my education on hiatus because I got custody of my (then) kindergarten age daughter who was in school for half days and her education took priority when it came to the schedule conflicts between our respective schools. I am not one of these uneducated individuals that you can hope to sway without actually knowing what you’re talking about.

“In addition to my own education (and being exceptionally well-read) my best friend’s PhD work is in Middle Eastern Language and Culture, he (another white man of European descent, like myself) is fluent in numerous dialects of Arabic (to the extent that he is paid for translations to and from those languages), Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and others. I do know what I’m talking about when I disagree with the uninformed statements that individuals like you and my friend are so eager to plaster online.”

She replied by saying that she was proud of me. I can’t quite tell if it was sincere or derisive. I’m opting to err on the side of caution and presume it was intended to be derisive though.

I continued, “Earlier in this dialogue you made a comment about how Islam propagates via the sword, and I feel the need to remind you of what Jesus said in Matthew, ‘Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.’ And Christian history is filled to the brim with examples of that being quite true, no less than the examples that you can provide of/for Islam. You claim that it’s only extremists within Christianity who spread hate and promote violence and the same is true of Islam or of Judaism. There are extremists within each of those cultures and they are no more representative of the whole. Islam is not the enemy. If our nation were to be invaded by a primarily Islamic force, Christians would be reacting with no less violence and hate than you are seeing from extremists over there when invaded by a primarily Christian force. After 9-11 there was a great deal of violence perpetrated against Muslims and individuals who simply appeared to possibly be Muslim (including both Hindi and Sikh practitioners) here in America, violence perpetrated largely by Christians; imagine how much worse it would be if a primarily Islamic army had invaded our nation and began exercising control. I don’t assume that those individuals are representative of Christianity as a whole…you should think a bit more about extending the same courtesy to Islam.”

Her response was to insist that there was not one reported case of violence against Moslems following 9-11, that I “drank the Cool Aid.” She further queried that if what I was saying were true, then why is Europe being lost to Islam? Her assumption was that I obviously only have an education in the areas that I was allowed to see and that I should check the other side for a while.

She also suggested that I check out Eric Allen Bell, an individual who previously worked with Michael Moore. He had been turned around while filming about the bigotry associated with the mosque in Tennessee.

I felt the need to correct her by saying, “Yes, there were numerous accounts of violence perpetrated against American Muslims and others who simply looked like they might be Muslim. Someone has indeed been drinking the Kool-Aid, and it hasn’t been me. Europe isn’t being lost to Islam. I know a lot of people in Europe, and there is no such nonsense transpiring there. However, if we wanted to pretend that was the case, Europe was already lost to the Christians not altogether that long ago as they went through and subjugated, killed, and converted everyone in the path. The same thing happened here in America even more recently. The same thing happened numerous times during the various Crusades. And there damn well is anger in Islam against Europe (as well there should be) since most of Europe was standing behind America and the UN as invaders throughout the Islamic world. In addition to that, it was Europeans who decided to arbitrarily determine that the Palestinians didn’t need the area that was then delineated as Israel…as if they had any right to reorganize political and social boundaries like that. I know a great deal about history, and about world events.”

In addition I felt it necessary to say, “Michael Moore is a hack who cherry picks and conveniently edits interviews to say what he wants…and Bell learned a lot from his time working with him.”

Her response was to imply that I was somehow missing a whole other side to the story and that I should educate myself and not simply, “read the approved text.” She followed that by insinuating that I might, myself, be a Moslem.

I was flabbergasted, to say the least, “Approved text? What sort of mental gymnastics are you performing? I read everything, everything that I can ever get my hands on…and I have large hands. I’m not a practitioner of Islam, I don’t subscribe to Christianity or Judaism, I’m not Mormon, I’m not a Buddhist (though I do actually admire some elements of the Buddhist philosophy, I recognize that it isn’t actually a religious practice in any real sense), and I’m not a Sikh or Hindu either. But I have read the major (and a lot of the minor) religious texts for each of those religions and more.

“The difference between you and I is that I don’t subscribe to some mindless Conservative agenda, I don’t read only those articles and texts that are recommended by the individuals working to further that agenda and I can change the channel and watch something other than Fox News.

“And before you start condemning me for being some sort of liberal brainwashing victim, I might want to let you know that I voted for G.W. Bush both terms (because I felt that neither Gore nor Kerry had a fucking clue how to run a country and Bush at least had his father to help guide him along, sadly that didn’t seem to happen, but it was what I was hoping for since G.W. himself was borderline retarded).”

I admit, I am ashamed to have admitted that part, seeing as how god-awful G.W. Bush was as both president and a human being…but mistakes were made, and I do still have to stand by my decision in voting for that insufferable jackass.

I continued, “I am the dirty little secret that the Republican Party wants to pretend doesn’t exist…I’m a primarily conservative atheist. 🙂 I’m an independent voter, but most of my political views tend towards the conservative rather than liberal bent. Hell, I didn’t start having issues with the Republican Party until they started pandering to the outspoken religious right, those people creep me the fuck out. If McCain had actually run when he was up against Obama the same way that he was running during the primaries that he lost to G.W. Bush, he might very well have gotten my vote…but he seemed to have tossed common sense and critical thinking out the window in order to cater to the vocal minority that is the religious right, and I was sorely disappointed. McCain used to be a sensible, intelligent, and well-spoken individual…but then he somehow lost his way, and the nail in his coffin was picking Palin as a running mate.

“So no… I’m not expressing the thoughts that I express because of some political agenda of my own…and it certainly isn’t because I’m a proponent of Islam. I think all of these religious traditions are ridiculous and that the world would be a better place if people would just grow up and stop obsessing about imaginary friends and the conflicts that they promote.”

There was no further dialogue. Perhaps I shared a bit too much about myself in those last few bits of conversation, but I felt the need to avoid the individual trying to claim that I was somehow perpetuating some myth put in place by liberals.

I thought that my few readers might enjoy having this conversation shared with them; I hope that I was correct in that assumption.

If you happen to have any opinions on the matter, feel free to comment, I enjoy conversation and would love to know what you readers happen to think.

An Interesting Religious Discourse

This afternoon, before leaving for work, I became invested in a conversation that an old friend of mine was having. The conversation began when he posted something on Facebook that claimed that the Islamic culture condones rape, murder, terrorism, necrophilia, pedophilia, and bestiality; while simultaneously arguing that no such thing could be claimed with respect to the Christian faith which he adheres to. I couldn’t resist becoming involved.

“Actually”, I replied, “Rape is condoned in the bible…in multiple places throughout the Old Testament. Murder is repeatedly condoned and even pushed upon the chosen people as the right course of action; in fact, Abraham was asked to murder his own son only to have God step in and tell him that he was only testing him. Bestiality wasn’t and neither was necrophilia, you’re right there, but neither of those things are actually condoned in the Koran either…and pedophilia was condoned in all cultures at that time, up until recently (because what we consider pedophilia was nothing more than the usual time when children were of age to marry and bear children).”

At this point, someone else involved in the conversation stated that what I was saying would make no difference as the ‘friend’ in question does not believe in the Old Testament and considers it to be the word of the Jews.

To which I was forced to respond, “Well, Jesus himself stated quite clearly that he didn’t come to change a word of the law that came before him, that he wasn’t changing anything about what God had bestowed through the Old Testament.”

The response to my statements was to suggest that he was glad that I knew my Bible and that it was also a curse for me, he was sure.

Not knowing what he meant, I had to ask, “A curse? I’m afraid that I don’t follow your reasoning behind that.”

His response was that I would forever struggle, while suggesting that he would like to know of any ‘rape’ that could be found in the Bible.

“Struggle?” I asked, “I don’t experience any struggle from knowing the Bible or any other holy books. I guess that I just don’t know what you mean. As far as incidents of condoned rape…you can look to Judges 21, Deuteronomy 20, 21, and 22, Numbers 31, and easily another dozen or so places. Some of the same chapters have some very straightforward references to murder and infanticide as well. I’m curious as to how the repeated pushes for the murder of infants corresponds with the anti-abortion sentiments expressed by modern Christians.”

Another participant in the conversation then mentioned a Biblical reference from Numbers 31 which included multiple rapes, some genocide, as well as a great deal of murder and destruction.

“2nd Samuel has some really pleasant imagery regarding what was just stated,” was my follow up to that.

My ‘friend’ stated that none of this was condoned.

I was forced to return with, “God told them expressly to commit the rape. How is that not condoned?”

I opted to share the following verse:

Deuteronomy 21: 10-14:

10When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the LORD thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive,
11And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife;
12Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house, and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails;
13And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife.
14And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her.

“That, my friend, is rape. Forcibly taking a woman from her home after slaughtering her family (including possibly her husband), keeping her as property and having your way with her…that is rape. Try it today and you will spend a long time in prison (for murder, kidnapping, and rape).”

He replied by saying that those actions were not condoned by God or by Jesus.

I felt compelled to remind him, “That was God issuing those commands…according to the Old Testament. That is more than condoning it, that is forcing it.

“I hate to say this, my friend…but you really don’t seem altogether too familiar with anything pertaining to the Bible…seems a bit absurd to call yourself a Christian while knowing almost nothing about what your holy book happens to say about pretty much anything.”

He replied by insisting that those actions were from the Old Testament which was meant for Jews who were the only ones saved at that time and who got mad when God game the same grace to gentiles and changed the rules, that the old rules were no longer true. He continued by suggesting that those who know the Bible and do not live by the word and humble themselves before God are twice as bad off as those who do not.

I had no choice but to respond with, “There is no Christian faith that doesn’t accept the Old Testament. And Matthew 5 makes it very clear that Jesus did not change a word from the law of the Old Testament or of the prophets. And there is no place that says that those who know the Bible and do not live by the word are worse off than those who do. I do a better job of living a moral and respectable life than most of the Christians that I know…maybe because I actually do know what their Bible says and they simply accept the word of a man who interprets it and spits out twisted variations to suit their desires.”

His response was to say that he accepts Old Testament teachings as well as all Christians, that what he didn’t accept is my using the laws of the Old as those of the New because I know that this is not the truth.

“You really should take the time to actually read the book that you base your faith upon, I replied. “I was raised in a Catholic household, attended catechism classes every weekend throughout my childhood, and even attended Catholic school for two years. I have read the Bible from beginning to end, and snippets of different versions of it to compare them…as well as English translations of numerous other religious texts from other cultures. It is precisely because I am so familiar with these books and that I have studied various sciences and happen to use a good amount of common sense and critical reasoning that I don’t believe what you believe.

“The words of the Old Testament are no less valid than those of the New…nowhere in any version of the Bible does it claim that the New Testament supersedes the Old, replaces it in any way, or invalidates anything written within it.

“In addition to reading the Bible, my friend, I would recommend that you read Misquoting Jesus by Bart D. Ehrman…he’s a religious scholar from Chapel Hill. You might benefit from reading that as well. And, on the subject of reading, I’ll use this as a chance for shameless self promotion and recommend that you read Unspoken, by yours truly…there is no correlation between my novel and anything referenced in this conversation, but I’m trying to weasel in a plug for my book anyhow.”

His immediate reply was to state that Jews don’t believe in or study the New Testament and yet they still do not practice the same way that they used to. Further, he stated that Jesus never paid attention to the laws of the Old Testament, which was why the Jews were mad, and eventually had him killed.

“The Romans actually had him killed,” I returned, “the Jews were subordinates to the Roman rule of Jerusalem. There were some of a scholarly class of Jew that weren’t pleased with Jesus, but they didn’t have him killed. They had neither the political pull to force the Romans to do such a thing nor the sway within even the Jewish community.

“They don’t follow the New Testament because they don’t believe that Jesus was the promised messiah…and early Christianity was hugely conflicted on what they believed as well. It was only because of a Roman, Constantine (hundreds of years after the death of Christ), that the modern form of Christianity exists today…if you were to look back at the various forms of Christianity that existed prior to that, you would consider most of them absurd.”

My ‘friend’ accused me of cherry picking the Bible for the bits that best fit my argument and then proceeded to do precisely that with the Koran, pulling up references to Aisha and using them to promote his earlier argument about Islam condoning pedophilia.

I replied with, “Numbers chapter 31 has multiple references to young girls being taken by the chosen people at God’s behest. But I’m not saying that the Bible promotes pedophilia, nor the Koran. These young girls are no younger than the girls who were getting married during the settling of this country…it wasn’t pedophilia or considered to be at all wrong or unnatural until recently (and only in some cultures, even today).

“To try and state that either the Bible or Koran promotes pedophilia is to misinterpret what was said through a lens of our culture today. Today, it’s not acceptable for a man to take a 12 or 13-year-old girl as a wife, but that was totally fine less than 200 years ago, here in America. You’re wasting your time trying to argue that the Koran promoted pedophilia, my friend…it’s apples and oranges at best…and your own religious heritage promoted the same behavior.”

His retort was that I could condone anything when I believe in nothing.

“I don’t condone it,” I stated, “not in the least…but had any of us been living during the times of Jesus, Muhammad, or Abraham that is precisely what we would have been doing. It was the cultural norm for essentially every culture of the time…and it is still the norm for numerous cultures around the world.”

At this point he returned to commenting on Aisha, stating that she was 6.

I replied with what I had always believed to be true, “Actually, she was either 9 or 10 when she married Muhammad…which was a common age for marriage in the culture…and it wasn’t consummated until after that.”

His reply, which may be correct, was that she was 6 when she married Muhammad but that he didn’t penetrate her until she was 9 and that this sort of thing was still in practice in Islamic culture.

I was getting frustrated by this point when I responded by saying, “Hell, throughout European and American history we have countless examples of girls being promised to men well before the age of maturity…which is the same thing.”

His response was to insist that by arguing for it, I did in fact condone it.

“No, I argue that you’re distorting the facts in order to claim that there is a cultural precedent for pedophilia within the Islamic people…when the same precedent could be argued for your own faith and culture. There are still religious sects within Christianity (not mainstream, by any means) where young girls are promised to older men before they reach physical maturity as well. To argue that there are still Bedouin sects that do the same and apply it to all of that culture is no better than someone looking at those splinter branches of modern Christianity and accusing you of being complicit because you are also a Christian.”

I continued, “I don’t condone a number of things that are practiced in countless different cultures. I don’t condone a lot of what is done by our own culture here, but I’m not blind to it happening. Being aware and non hypocritical about it doesn’t equal condoning it. I’m in no position to judge the actions of a culture that I am removed from by a millennium or more…I can’t even properly comprehend the lifestyle of the people that lived in those days.”

He opted to change the subject then, by stating that he was glad that our morals come from Christianity, and that it was for this reason that I find those things to be wrong.

With no small amount of irritation, I said, “No! Most of the things that Christianity took as a moral code were well established centuries before there was anything even remotely like Christianity. In fact, a lot of the morality derives from pre-Judaic cultures of Babylon and Assyria…hell, Babylon was where a lot of the Old Testament stories and myths were derived from; during the time that the Jews were enslaved there, they adopted a lot of the myths of the Babylonian captors and then rewrote them to correspond with their own beliefs after being released.

“Our morals come from simply knowing what we don’t want to have done to us and applying that same judgment to people external to ourselves (an inverse of the golden rule). Kin selection and in-group, tribal components still apply, which is why it is easier for any culture to commit acts against another culture that they would never allow internally. We practice immoral acts against other cultures on a regular basis, and Christianity is guilty of that same thing just as much as any other religious or nation-state culture. Outsiders are still considered to be “something less” in a number of respects, and that sort of mentality is a remnant of our primitive origins.”

I took a brief respite from the conversation, and during this time my ‘friend’ said something about how God doesn’t want us to go to Hell and that the reason there is a Hell in the first place is because of our own sin and the disobedience of the Devil.

I found myself compelled to return to the conversation long enough to say, “Actually, regarding that whole Devil and disobedience thing; it couldn’t have happened, part of what separated man from angel is free will, angels didn’t have it. That was what it meant to be made in God’s image, to have will and to be able to shape the world according to that will, not that we looked like God…but that we were given volitional consciousness, something angels didn’t have. There could have been no rebellion without will to do so, and though this Lucifer was supposedly cast into the pit, he is right there in Heaven with God in the book of Job, testing the faith of God’s most loyal servant on Earth.”

That was the end of the conversation for me. I had no interest in continuing any further. For those of you who are unaware, I am an atheist and not the least bit apologetic about it. I wasn’t participating in the conversation to be antagonistic or mean spirited, but because the subject interests me.

What scares me is that my ‘friend’ is far from the only person who believes the things that he does believe, and he votes. I have plenty of religiously inclined friends and acquaintances, but it’s this sort of uninformed and ignorant belief structure that my ‘friend’ exhibits that terrifies me.

To Hell With Them

I am appalled, to put it nicely. I just read an article from The Huffington Post where I was informed that those clowns from Westboro Baptist are being called on to picket the Stallone funeral.
I am not a violent man, but if I were ever present at any of the military funerals where those monstrous cocksuckers were rallied…I might just have to give it a shot.
What perplexes me is how Fred Phelps has gone this long without taking his whole troupe of illiterate, functionally retarded followers out in a Jonestown fantasy camp sort of finale. It would save the rest of us a great deal of pain and suffering (perhaps not me personally), and they could haul their sorry asses off to this insipid afterlife that they expect to find waiting for them.
I am not a believer…and in fact I have some rather negative perspectives regarding religion in general…but even I am fully aware of the fact that these assholes don’t speak for Christianity as a whole. I’m sincerely surprised that other Christians haven’t simply decided to wipe them out just like one would remove spoiled fruit from a basket…if only to keep this most vocal minority from waving the banner for the whole damn group.
It saddens me that people like this exist at all because it makes me realize that the world we live in will always be a miserable place as long as people like that are out there doing their best to ruin it for us.