Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The difference between religious and secular humanism

Here's Tom Flynn on the key difference between religious and secular humanism:
There's the difference between religious and secular humanism in its essence -- in a nutshell, if you will. Religious humanists yearn to "express transcendence and connection with others." Secular humanists are fine with expressing connection with others, but inasmuch as they are secular, they attach great importance to the recognition that ... hang on now ... there is no such thing as "transcendence" or "the transcendent."

Essential to the secular view is the insight, rooted in science, that reality is mundane. It's the domain of matter, energy, and their interactions -- and nothing else.

On that view, words like divine, spirit, and transcendent share one essential quality: they have no referents in the real world. There is nothing to transcend, because the domain of everyday experience is -- so far as we can see, and the range of our seeing has gotten pretty good in recent decades -- the whole of what exists. Being all that is, it cannot be transcended. There is nothing "above" it, nothing "beyond" it ... there's just reality.

Secular humanists recognize that "the transcendent" is an empty set. We say to those who yearn for a realm beyond that can never be, "Just deal with it."

Flynn is responding specifically to this post by Suzanne Moore in The Guardian (UK), and I'm definitely on Flynn's side in this (to the extent that, as fellow atheists, they're on different sides at all).

It's not that I don't value aesthetics. It's not that I don't value beauty, that I don't have feelings, or that I never get emotional. But the "magic" of life is that it's not magic. It's real. "Nature" is real, too. That's what's so neat about it.

"Spirit" is... well, that's a word I avoid, because all too many people use it in a literal sense, and there's simply no good evidence that a spiritual realm even exists. I know that some atheists use the term in a more general sense, and maybe they're just trying to find common ground with the faith-based, but I don't like it, myself.

Still, that doesn't mean, necessarily, that I dislike ceremony or ritual. When I was a kid, we had our traditional family practices at the holidays (we had oyster stew and chili on Christmas Eve, for example, which might not be typical for other families), and if I'd had kids, I would have wanted to continue them (no doubt merged with the favorite practices of my wife).

But magic isn't real. Some things are magical, in a sense, but it's not really magic. Social bonds are real, so even we atheists welcome them. Even we atheists feel emotions, and we're glad we do. We just don't make judgements about what's true and what isn't on the basis of unsupported feelings.

All too many people who've given up religion still have this fuzzy idea about a spiritual realm. Not Moore, I don't think, though she's getting too close for my tastes. And what do you make of a question like this?
This is what I mean about aesthetics. Do we cede them to the religious and just look like a bunch of Calvinists?

Say what? Did she forget that Calvinism is a religious movement? If John Calvin rejected aesthetics (and I can't say one way or another, myself), he did so for religious reasons. So what does that have to do with us atheists,... especially since we don't reject aesthetics?

Moore concludes with the observation that she's "not a good atheist." Well, she's not an atheist at all if she believes in a god. Otherwise, there aren't 'good atheists' or 'bad atheists,' because atheism doesn't work that way. Atheism is just a label for not believing in a god. Period. We don't have dogma, so nothing else is required.

Humanism is a lot fuzzier, which is why I don't use that label, myself. And, of course, you can be a 'good person' or a 'bad person,' whatever you believe about gods. But 'good atheist'? What does that even mean?

Anyway, I'm with Tom Flynn on this one. We know a great deal about the real world. We don't know everything, true. You can always add "as far as we know" to every statement about the real world. (As far as I'm concerned, that's just a given.)

But let's not start throwing around fuzzy terms - or even clear terms, if there's no good evidence backing them up - just because they might feel good. If we start doing that, what makes us any better than theists?

Monday, December 30, 2013

My dragon ran away

You don't believe I ever had a dragon? Trust me, I did. I really did. I couldn't see her (she was invisible), and I couldn't touch her (she was immaterial), but I could feel her in my heart.

Anyone who's ever owned a dragon knows exactly what I mean. What, you don't believe them, either? Why do you hate dragons so much?

This is from the Atheist Experience TV show, episode #699, with Tracie Harris and Matt Dillahunty.

Yahweh's amazing test

You know, I've been reading the Bible, and this is remarkably accurate. Except, maybe, the rational angel. (There don't seem to be many of those in the Bible.)

And yes, if you're wondering, I'm still cleaning out my Temp folder. :)

If at first you don't succeed,...

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Proteus - the basics

Proteus isn't exactly my normal kind of game. In fact, I'm not sure it's a game at all. But this is neat, isn't it?

And right now, it's 66% off on Steam - only $3.39. So I really think it's worth checking out.

When I heard about Proteus (here), I did a search on YouTube, just to get a better idea of what it was. And some people are actually posting a "full walkthrough" or "full playthrough" of it. Heh, heh. Can you imagine anything that really misses the point more than that?

This video, on the other hand, was exactly what I needed. And I must admit that I saw places I wanted to go, while I was watching this. Proteus isn't a game, not really, and I wouldn't spend a huge amount of money for it, but I think it's going to be neat to look around there.

This particular sale ends January 2nd. Just sayin'...

Minecraft (How Video Games Changed the World)

This is a brief excerpt from How Video Games Changed the World, a recent two-hour special on British TV.

I haven't seen the show and likely never will. I've heard different things about it, good and bad. But this brief clip about Minecraft was very interesting.

I've never thought of Minecraft as a children's game. But then, I don't have kids. And I've never played it multiplayer. For me, it's always been a single-player survival game. And sure, building elaborate structures is a huge part of the game, but there's elaborate and there's elaborate.

I've seen very elaborate structures, sure. And I knew that some people play in shared worlds, where they both compete and cooperate in building the most incredible things. But that's been a part of the game I've never investigated. And I never really thought about how easy it would be for children to express their creativity in Minecraft.

Now, that's not how I play Minecraft. For me, Minecraft is a survival game, where I've got to find shelter before night falls and the zombies, skeletons, and creepers come out. For me, Minecraft is also a game of exploring and digging and crafting and, yes, building, but there's always danger. I don't play it as a pure building game, and I don't play it multiplayer.

But the neat thing about Minecraft is that it's open-ended enough to be anything you want. If you just want to build, if you just want to be creative, you can set it up to do that, without worrying about any of the rest of it.

Child-friendly or not, Minecraft has had a huge impact on indie computer games. This was a game developed by a single person, with no vast corporate resources behind him, which has sold more than 33 million copes, so far, in just the last three years or so.

And although Minecraft took a great deal of inspiration from Dwarf Fortress, it's a lot easier to play and a lot more appealing to the general public. So it's probably done more than Dwarf Fortress to make crafting and building and mining cubes a part of other games, too. Certainly I see a lot of games these days which have been inspired by Minecraft, as unique as they might be otherwise.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Bible, Pt. 20: Exodus, Chapter 18 - 23

Continuing with my commentary on the Bible from Part 19. (The entire series is here.) All quotes come from the King James Bible.

Chapter 18:
1 When Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses' father in law, heard of all that God had done for Moses, and for Israel his people, and that the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt;

2 Then Jethro, Moses' father in law, took Zipporah, Moses' wife, after he had sent her back,


5 And Jethro, Moses' father in law, came with his sons and his wife unto Moses into the wilderness, where he encamped at the mount of God:

Apparently, Moses had sent his wife and sons back to live with his father-in-law (first called Reuel in Chapter 2, but since then, Jethro) during the plagues. They'd gone to Egypt with Moses in Chapter 4 (remember that "bloody husband" stuff?), but now we learn he'd sent them back to her father.

Incidentally, Moses was supposed to have been 80 years old at the start of this (Chapter 7), so you really have to wonder about the age of his sons, don't you? When Zipporah took a sharp stone and bloodily circumcised their son, was the child a sixty year old man at that point? Is that story even creepier than it seems at first? :)

Or didn't Moses even get married until he was 75 or so? Either way, he must have been atypical in only having two sons at that age, given the incredible birth rate among the Jews (which supposedly took them from only 70 people to several million in just four centuries.)

Anyway, Moses seems to completely ignore his wife and two sons. It's only his father-in-law who he talks to and takes advice from:
8 And Moses told his father in law all that the LORD had done unto Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel's sake, and all the travail that had come upon them by the way, and how the LORD delivered them.

9 And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which the LORD had done to Israel, whom he had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians.

10 And Jethro said, Blessed be the LORD, who hath delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of Pharaoh, who hath delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians.

11 Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them.

Hmm,... Yahweh has demonstrated that he's greater than the other gods, huh? "For in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them." That seems to indicate that the plagues of Egypt were a matter of God competing with other gods - specific Egyptian gods - doesn't it? Either way, note the clear implication that Yahweh, the 'LORD,' is just one of many gods.

Of course, Jethro is a priest of Midian (we don't know exactly where that was), not one of God's chosen people. Indeed, a little later, God commands Moses to kill all of the Midians - the men, women, and children, excepting only the virgin girls who they should "keep alive for yourselves."

Nevertheless, Moses never objects to this idea that God is simply a stronger god than the others. In fact, it seems obvious that he agrees with that. As I've noted before, their god isn't the only god, he's just theirs. And they're proud of his strength. What God has just done in Egypt demonstrates his power. Indeed, as the story continually emphasizes, that's why he did it.
12 And Jethro, Moses' father in law, took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God: and Aaron came, and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses' father in law before God.

Note this verse, too. Jethro, the priest of Midian, sacrifices a burnt offering to their god right along with the Israelites. Has he converted to their religion? Of course not. All gods are just tribal. No one even thinks of attempting to convert the Midians, not even God himself. And so, in a little while, God will command that they all die. Why not? They're not his people.

How can Christians read this stuff and not wonder why their holy book presents such a different version of God than the one they've always been taught to believe?

Anyway, while he's there, Jethro watches Moses spend the entire day settling disputes, and he's got a suggestion:
17 And Moses' father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good.

18 Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone.

19 Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God:

20 And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.

21 Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens:

22 And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee.

So that's what Moses does. He appoints men to rule over the Jews, men to judge the lesser disputes, while he decides the big issues. This seems to be the introduction to God's commandments, which will take up most of this post. (I hope it's not too boring.)

Chapter 19:
1 In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai.

It's less than three months since they've left Egypt, and they're already in the Sinai Peninsula. So you really have to wonder why it takes them 40 more years to get to Israel, don't you?

At any rate, they've now come to Mount Sinai, where God is going to give Moses the Ten Commandments (although in Deuteronomy, this is said to happen at Mount Horeb, which is where God first appeared to Moses in a burning bush).
9 And the LORD said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever. And Moses told the words of the people unto the LORD.

10 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes,

11 And be ready against the third day: for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai.

12 And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death:

13 There shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live...

God wasn't so shy back then, I guess. He's willing to show himself to everyone, to prove that he really exists and that Moses is his spokesman. Of course, for the lesser people, anyone who dares even touch the border of the mountain will be put to death. You can't let the rabble get too familiar. Even their livestock must be killed if they get that close.

But guess what? This doesn't actually happen. As it turns out - at the end of the next chapter - the people are too afraid to get close enough to hear God themselves, anyway. So only Moses gets close enough to hear God, who supposedly tells him, "Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven."
18 And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.

19 And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.

20 And the LORD came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the LORD called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up.

21 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish.

22 And let the priests also, which come near to the LORD, sanctify themselves, lest the LORD break forth upon them.

Hmm,... it sounds like a volcano, doesn't it? And like every volcano among primitive people, it has a god (or is a god). Furthermore, it's a sacred place, so it's taboo for most people. Only Moses can go up the mountain, but the priests can come near, since they have to keep the rabble at a distance.

(I'm not saying that Mount Sinai is a volcano, you understand, just that whoever created this story had clearly heard of volcanoes. Gods tended to live on the top of mountains anyway, and volcanoes were obviously magical. Of course, as I noted previously, the Bible contradicts itself by also claiming that these events happened on Mount Horeb, not Mount Sinai.)

Chapter 20:
1 And God spake all these words, saying,

2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:

5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

I'm not going to copy the whole chapter here, but I did want to make a few comments. For example, note this verse, where God promises to punish not just the people who 'hate' him, but their children and grandchildren, too. Does that really sound like a just god?

And that first commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Are they free to worship other, lesser gods then, as long as they keep Yahweh on top? (Apparently not, from later passages.) Certainly, there's not the slightest indication that this god is the only god. Just the reverse, in fact. Even 'God' acknowledges that there are other gods. He just wants to be the top dog. His people had better put him on a pedestal, above all those other gods.

Note that there's nothing about the "Ten Commandments" here. This chapter includes those commandments which are commonly considered to be the Ten Commandments, but they're not numbered or anything. Indeed, God's commandments continue for several more chapters, and they number far more than just ten. Do we just assume that these are listed in order of importance?

Furthermore, there's nothing about stone tablets, not here (later, yes). Here it's just God telling his people what he expects, what they should do and not do. And what later became the "Ten Commandments"? Isn't that just normal human behavior, widely seen even today, of creating "Top Ten" lists?
7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

From what I understand, this did not mean profanity or blasphemy, but more like perjury. If you swore on God's name, you'd better not be lying. As time went on, though, it became a warning against using God's name at all in ordinary usage (which is one reason why he's commonly called "God," instead of his actual name).
13 Thou shalt not kill.

Obviously, the Bible has nothing against killing! Heh, heh. Really, the whole idea is laughable. This is clearly a mistranslation. It should be "Thou shalt not murder." (Killing is fact; murder is just opinion.)
17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.

There goes the entire economic basis of modern society, huh? :)

Note that the King James Bible always says "servant" when referring to a slave. Don't be confused by "manservant" and "maidservant." These are slaves. They're property, and you're not supposed to covet your neighbor's property (including his wife).
23 Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold.

24 An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.

It's odd that we don't kill animals for burnt offerings anymore, isn't it? Did God finally get civilized? Or did he just lose his taste for blood and burnt flesh?

God's instructions go on for several more chapters. And remember, the chapters and verses themselves are relatively new additions to the Bible. Originally, there weren't even periods at the end of the sentences, or even spaces between the words. So it's hard to see any big significance in the first commandments, except that they are first.

Again, I'll just comment on some of these things. If you want to read them all, you know where to find them. :)

Chapter 21:
2 If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.


4 If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself.

5 And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free:

6 Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.

These are God's rules for slaves, if they're Hebrews. (Elsewhere, they're encouraged to buy foreigners, since they don't have to treat them even this well.)

Male Hebrew slaves have to be set free after six years, but that doesn't include their wife and children, if the master has given them a wife in the meantime. If that's the case, the slave gets to make a decision. He can abandon his wife and children, while getting his own freedom. Or he can stay with them, by agreeing to be a slave forever after (and his wife and children, too). Nice choice, huh? What a loving god!
7 And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.

8 If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.

9 And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.

10 If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.

11 And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.

And these are the instructions for Hebrew women who are purchased as slaves (again, just the Hebrews). Note that there seems to be little difference between being a slave and being a wife. In both cases, you're sold to a man, without anyone really caring about your own wishes. In both cases, you're expected to have sex with him.

As I read this, if a Hebrew slave doesn't please her master in the bedroom, her father is supposed to buy her back. Her master isn't allowed to sell her to foreigners, at least. (That restriction doesn't apply if the slave isn't Hebrew.)

If he gives her to his son, then she shall be considered a daughter-in-law. And since bigamy was legal and socially acceptable (for men only, of course), she'd still get food, clothing, and "her duty of marriage" even if her master took a second wife. But what if he doesn't do that? "Then shall she go free without money."

Tell me, what options are there for an ex-slave - or an ex-wife - without money? And keep in mind that these are the instructions for Hebrew slaves. God doesn't give a crap about anyone who isn't an Israelite.

And what about other instructions involving slaves? This one doesn't specify whether it's talking about Hebrew slaves or not:
20 And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.

21 Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.

These verses come after several which specifically impose the death penalty for a variety of crimes (including striking - or even cursing - your father or mother). So that clearly indicates that the punishment for killing a slave, while it's not specified here, is not that severe. Killing a slave is not considered murder.

Furthermore, this punishment is only if the slave dies immediately. If you beat your slave - man or woman - so severely that he or she dies a day or two later, that's not a crime at all. (Yes, you really need religion for morality, don't you?)
22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.

23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,

Clearly, according to God, abortion isn't murder. Even forced abortion isn't murder, because the punishment for murder is death. As long as no "mischief" follows (rape? or does this mean her death, too?), causing a woman to miscarry isn't a capital crime. It's merely a property crime.
26 And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye's sake.

27 And if he smite out his manservant's tooth, or his maidservant's tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth's sake.

Well, here's another way a slave can attain his freedom - if he (or she) loses his sight, or has his teeth knocked out. I'm not sure if this one applies to foreign slaves, or just to Hebrews.

The rest of the chapter is about liability (when your ox gores someone). I'll just skip that, since this is getting too long already.

Chapter 22:
1 If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.

2 If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him.

3 If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.

As you can see, we're moving on to theft and arson and other crimes.
16 And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.

17 If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.

This doesn't refer to rape, apparently, but only seduction. Still, it's clearly considered a property crime. Virgins are worth a certain amount of money. If a father can no longer sell his daughter as a virgin, he should still get her bride price, one way or another.
18 Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

19 Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death.

20 He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed.

Oh, yeah. Death to witches. Death for bestiality. Death to heretics. Note that other gods are clearly assumed to exist. That's not the issue. The issue is that 'the LORD' is a jealous god who wants the Hebrews worshiping only him.

Oh, and maybe now is the time to point out that there's absolutely nothing about homosexuality here. Why not? Did it just slip God's mind?
22 Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child.

23 If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry;

24 And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.

This is nice, I suppose. But note the difference between this and all those other crimes: this doesn't specify a punishment which God's people are supposed to carry out themselves. No, if you 'afflict' a widow or an orphan, they're supposed to cry to God, who'll take care of it himself. (Yeah, good luck with that.)

So why doesn't God take care of all those other crimes himself, too? If he wants witches to die, why doesn't he kill them himself? Heretics, likewise. Why doesn't God just take care of that himself? That would have saved humanity a great deal of pain and horror, you know.

But no, it's only in the protection of widows and orphans that we're supposed to leave everything to God. Funny, huh?
28 Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.

Again, "gods" - plural, not singular.

And "Thou shalt not... curse the ruler of thy people"? Hmm,... I wonder if Republicans need to have this pointed out to them? :)
29 Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me.

Um,... I also wonder what use God has for ripe fruit and liquor - to say nothing of firstborn sons? But these are just more sacrifices, right? In Chapter 13, we saw how you were supposed to redeem your firstborn son by buying, and killing, a lamb. So I suppose God has just decided that he wants some dessert to go along with that (or his priests do, at least).

Chapter 23:
15 Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread: (thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded thee, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it thou camest out from Egypt: and none shall appear before me empty:)


18 Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread; neither shall the fat of my sacrifice remain until the morning.

19 The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring into the house of the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.

Again with the unleavened bread! Just one brief line about killing witches, but God has to drone on and on about unleavened bread?

Well, you can see ("Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk") that we're getting into picayune details now, so maybe these commandments are listed in order of importance. This is the last of them - for now, at least.
20 Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.

21 Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him.

22 But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries.

23 For mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites: and I will cut them off.

Remember, God is giving the Israelites a land which is already owned by lots and lots of other tribes. Well, might makes right, huh? And Jehovah has already shown them that their god is the toughest god on the block.
24 Thou shalt not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works: but thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images.


27 I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee.

28 And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee.

29 I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee.

30 By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land.

31 And I will set thy bounds from the Red sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee.

Nice, huh? This is the Hebrew tribal god, so of course he has no concern for anyone else. But remember that I'm reading the Bible here. This is supposed to be the Christian god, too.

God is giving his favorites someone else's land. And he specifically tells the Israelites (in verses 32-33) to make no agreements with those other people and definitely not allow them to stay. Drive them out or destroy them, and their little gods, too.

Again, those other gods exist, just don't have anything to do with them. Yahweh is a jealous god, and you don't want to make him angry!

In the early years of Christianity, there was immense debate about... well, pretty much everything (including the nature of Jesus). The orthodox view which ended up dominant was far from the only Christianity, certainly not before it finished suppressing all those other sects and burning their manuscripts. But one of the debates was about how much Judaism to include in the new religion (and even whether the Jewish Yahweh was their own God or not).

When the Bible was being created from various sources, centuries later, there were still Christians who thought that the Old Testament shouldn't be included at all. (Even today, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches disagree on which parts are really canon.) You can understand that, can't you? After reading this far, I sure can.

But then, the Christian God back then wasn't as most Christians think of him today, either. Back then, burning witches and stoning heretics were doing God's will, and slavery was positively approved by the Lord. So I'm sure the Old Testament Jewish god is harder to explain away these days, not because he's so much different from the Christian god, but because he's so much different from today's version of the Christian god.

Note: My entire series on the Bible can be found here.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Holiday emergency - Christmas Vacation remix

I meant to post this yesterday, but better late than never, right?

This was a very funny movie, though it doesn't match my own experiences with Christmas in the slightest. But then, I've got a great family. (You, too, I suspect.)

The problem with miracles

I'm cleaning out my Temp folder this morning. And trust me, I'm deleting the vast majority of it. (I'd love to blog about everything I've saved, but there's only so much time in a day. And you guys probably can't keep up with everything I post already, huh?)

But some of it is just too good to skip. So here's Sam Harris on the problem with miracles (one of the problems, I'd say).

Speculum, a mirror for humanity

Phil Hellenes, the guy who created this, hasn't posted anything on YouTube for eight months. But it's probably just a lack of time, because there's still activity on his channel.

Anyway, this is neat stuff, isn't it?

The Bible, Pt. 19: Exodus, Chapter 14 - 17

This continues my reading of the Christian Bible, King James version, directly from Part 18. The whole series can be found here.

Chapter 14:
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

2 Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baalzephon: before it shall ye encamp by the sea.

3 For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in.

4 And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, that he shall follow after them; and I will be honoured upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD...

Nope, God's bloodlust hasn't been sated. Even after killing every firstborn son in Egypt, he's determined to do more, in order to demonstrate his power and be "honoured upon Pharaoh."

So he sets a trap, first by making sure the Jews camp alongside the sea, where they appear to be trapped themselves, and then by again hardening the Pharaoh's heart, so he'll attack them.
8 And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel: and the children of Israel went out with an high hand.

9 But the Egyptians pursued after them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen, and his army, and overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pihahiroth, before Baalzephon.

10 And when Pharaoh drew nigh, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them; and they were sore afraid: and the children of Israel cried out unto the LORD.

11 And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt?

12 Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.

OK, God has just performed miracle after miracle for these people, thoroughly trashing Egypt in the process. He's forced the Pharaoh to let them leave the country, not just with all of their flocks and herds, but with the jewelry and fine raiment they've stolen from the Egyptians, too.

But they're barely out of Egypt before they're complaining. It's almost as if they didn't witness all of those miracles after all, isn't it? Why didn't you leave us alone? We were perfectly happy serving the Egyptians!

But, you know, there's even more to it than that. The Pharaoh is bringing 600 chariots with him, and I'm sure that's a potent military force. But the Jews have a thousand times that many men on their side. OK, maybe they're not trained soldiers, but those are still pretty good odds, don't you think?

Of course, they've also got a very bloodthirsty god on their side:
15 And the LORD said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward:

16 But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.

17 And I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them: and I will get me honour upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.

18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten me honour upon Pharaoh, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.

This was why God killed all those Egyptian children, too. He's just showing off. He's demonstrating his power. He's killing people just to show that no one can stop him.

He doesn't have to do this. Remember, God was appearing as a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night.
19 And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them:

20 And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night.

He's a god. He has no problem that night keeping the Pharaoh's men from attacking the Israelis. Indeed, they're only attacking in the first place because he keeps hardening the Pharaoh's heart. God wants to kill them. God insists on killing them - not for any good reason, but just to show that he can.

And he does:
21 And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.

22 And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.

23 And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.

24 And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the LORD looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians,

25 And took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the LORD fighteth for them against the Egyptians.


28 And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them.

Read that again: "Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the LORD fighteth for them against the Egyptians." The Egyptian soldiers tried to run away. And they wouldn't have been able to follow, not with the entire Red Sea between them.

But God didn't let them run away. Heck, they probably wouldn't have been there in the first place if God hadn't kept hardening the Pharaoh's heart. Right from the beginning, through plague after plague, it was God who kept the Pharaoh from releasing the Jews. And at the end, it was God who goaded the Pharaoh into following, just so he could kill again - not the Pharaoh alone, but all of his men, too.
31 And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses.

Hmm,... you have to wonder if this wasn't the point, don't you? It's not just to the Egyptians that God demonstrated his power and his bloodlust, but to the Jews, too. "And the people feared the LORD."

Chapter 15:
1 Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.

2 The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him.


14 The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina.

15 Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away.

16 Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of thine arm they shall be as still as a stone; till thy people pass over, O LORD, till the people pass over, which thou hast purchased.


20 And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.

21 And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.

This is another short chapter, and almost all of it is just a song of celebration. Ding-dong, the Pharaoh is dead! After this, everyone else will fear them.

Chapter 16:
1 And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt.

2 And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness:

3 And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.

OK, they've just seen another miracle! They've seen the sea itself part for them, and the ocean bottom become dry land. They've seen the Pharaoh and his whole army being swallowed up behind them, and witnessed the dead Egyptians littering the sea shore.

But in less than two months, they're already wishing they'd stayed in Egypt! Well, this isn't the first time, and it won't be the last. But it's really pretty funny, don't you think? I mean, back then, religious believers didn't need faith, because God was always there doing miracles for them. But a few weeks later, they've apparently forgotten all about it.

So God comes through for them again:
10 And it came to pass, as Aaron spake unto the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and, behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.


13 And it came to pass, that at even the quails came up, and covered the camp: and in the morning the dew lay round about the host.

14 And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground.

15 And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the LORD hath given you to eat.


31 And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna: and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.


35 And the children of Israel did eat manna forty years, until they came to a land inhabited; they did eat manna, until they came unto the borders of the land of Canaan.

This was manna - very tiny white stuff which they gathered up from the ground every morning, before the sun melted it, which they ate for forty years. And there was always twice as much available on the day before the sabbath, so they could save some of it, and they wouldn't have to work on the sabbath.

On the other hand, if they tried saving it overnight any other day, "it grew worms, and stank." (There's a lot of speculation at Wikipedia on what manna really was, but that misses the point. The point is that this is just a story, and that manna was simply supposed to be magic. You don't need a natural explanation for magic. Indeed, if there were a natural explanation, it wouldn't be magic.)

Chapter 17:
1 And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the LORD, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink.


3 And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?

4 And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me.

Heh, heh. Here we go again! But you've got to feel for Moses, don't you? God has just given them magic food, which they simply pick up off the ground every morning, yet now they're back to bitching again. "Wherefore is this that thou has brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?"

Of course, God finds water for them (which he did at the end of Chapter 15, too, though I didn't bother to mention it then).
8 Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim.

9 And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand.

10 So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.

11 And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.

12 But Moses' hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.

Hmm,... they have a surprisingly hard time with this Amalek tribe, don't they? (Amalek was the grandson of Esau, Jacob's twin, and the Amalekites were supposedly his descendants.)

I mean, they've just pretty much destroyed Egypt, the most powerful nation in the Middle East. Besides, they've got 600,000 men! But a bunch of desert nomads give them problems?

Now me, I have to look at it from the Amalekite point of view. Here are at least three million people, with all of their flocks and herds, moving into a desert - the Amalek's home - which probably couldn't fully support the people who already lived there.

But, of course, God can fix them up with food and water, so there's enough for everyone, right?
14 And the LORD said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.


16 For he said, Because the LORD hath sworn that the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.

Oh, yeah, I forgot. God doesn't give a crap about anyone else, huh?

OK, that's enough for now. Next time, we'll take a look at God's laws.

Note: This entire series can be found here.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Case Against The Case for Christ

The sound quality isn't good in this interview, but it's still fascinating. Well, I'm not surprised. I've been listening to Robert M. Price's The Human Bible podcasts, which do have an excellent sound quality and are just as fascinating.

Note that, when it comes to Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ, I'd highly recommend this YouTube series by Steve Shives: An Atheist Reads The Case for Christ. That's really entertaining, but it certainly doesn't inspire me to read Strobel's book myself!

Price's book, on the other hand, sounds rather appealing. :)

The Bible, Pt. 18: Exodus, Chapter 10 - 13

This will continue my Bible commentary from Part 17. (There are links to the entire series here.) All quotes are from the King James version of the Bible.

Chapter 10:
1 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might shew these my signs before him:

2 And that thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son's son, what things I have wrought in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them; that ye may know how that I am the LORD.

As I noted last time, God has already brought seven plagues to Egypt, but he continues to harden the Pharaoh's heart, because he doesn't want the Pharaoh to relent, not until he can kill a whole bunch of kids first. That, you see, will show everyone how powerful he is.

But first, how about some locusts?
7 And Pharaoh's servants said unto him, How long shall this man be a snare unto us? let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God: knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?

8 And Moses and Aaron were brought again unto Pharaoh: and he said unto them, Go, serve the LORD your God: but who are they that shall go?

9 And Moses said, We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds will we go; for we must hold a feast unto the LORD.

10 And he said unto them, Let the LORD be so with you, as I will let you go, and your little ones: look to it; for evil is before you.

11 Not so: go now ye that are men, and serve the LORD; for that ye did desire. And they were driven out from Pharaoh's presence.

Now wait a minute! The Pharaoh has just agreed to let them go, hasn't he? Or am I misinterpreting this? Moses threatened him with locusts (I'm skipping that part, but you'll get the gist of it in a moment), and the Pharaoh's servants urge him to let the Hebrews go.

After all, God has already plagued Egypt with frogs, lice, and flies, with horrible diseases that wiped out their livestock and hail that flattened their crops, not to mention painful sores and all the water in Egypt turning to blood. "Knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?"

And the Pharaoh seems to agree, doesn't he? "Let the LORD be so with you, as I will let you go, and your little ones." Am I missing something here? This isn't like the previous examples where God hardens his heart, causing the Pharaoh to change his mind. As far as I can tell, the Pharaoh agrees to let them go,... but God sends the locusts anyway:
13 And Moses stretched forth his rod over the land of Egypt, and the LORD brought an east wind upon the land all that day, and all that night; and when it was morning, the east wind brought the locusts.

14 And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt: very grievous were they; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such.

15 For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left: and there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt.

Note that the hail (mingled with fire) of the previous plague had already "smote every herb of the field, and brake every tree of the field," and now the locusts devour everything else. Of course, the cattle have already died - twice! Can you imagine the famine in Egypt?

If this had actually happened, this would have been the greatest disaster ever to befall what was easily one of the most powerful countries on Earth. There's no way this wouldn't have been recorded somewhere by Egyptian scribes,... unless this is all just fiction, of course.

Well, to get back to the story, you can guess what happens now, right? Yup, it's just like last time (and several times before that). The Pharaoh apologizes, so God removes the locusts. Then God hardens the Pharaoh's heart again, so he changes his mind and gives God the excuse he wants to continue plaguing the Egyptian people.
20 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go.

21 And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.

22 And Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days:

23 They saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days: but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.

Darkness? Yeah, that would be scary, I suppose, but compared to everything else God has done to them - and to what he does next - this was probably like a vacation to the Egyptians, don't you think?
27 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let them go.

28 And Pharaoh said unto him, Get thee from me, take heed to thyself, see my face no more; for in that day thou seest my face thou shalt die.

29 And Moses said, Thou hast spoken well, I will see thy face again no more.

Hmm,... this threat seems to be forgotten completely by Chapter 12.

Chapter 11:
1 And the LORD said unto Moses, Yet will I bring one plague more upon Pharaoh, and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go hence: when he shall let you go, he shall surely thrust you out hence altogether.

2 Speak now in the ears of the people, and let every man borrow of his neighbour, and every woman of her neighbour, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold.

This is a very, very short chapter, which just sums up some of what's been going on here. But trust me, given how often the text repeats itself, that's pretty much the last thing we need. Anyway, it's only ten verses long, and I don't know why anyone even bothered with it.

But note that the chapters and verses of the Bible are a very late addition to it. Heck, there wasn't even any separation between words in the ancient Greek manuscripts. (The Hebrew of the Old Testament might have separated words, but it didn't include vowels.) My point is that what we think of as the Bible is very different from the collection of short stories and other manuscripts it was created from.

Chapter 12:
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying,

2 This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you.

Thus Nisan, when Passover is celebrated, is the first month of the Jewish year. It's not, however, the Jewish New Year, which is seven months later. Funny, huh? Actually, as an Israeli friend of mine frequently reminds me, there are many Jewish "New Years."
3 Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house:


6 And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.

7 And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it.

8 And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.

9 Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the purtenance [entrails] thereof.

10 And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire.

Very elaborate instructions here for killing and eating this lamb, huh? And I haven't even included it all. (Don't even get me started about all the emphasis on "unleavened bread"! Given the amount of repetition here, unleavened bread must be the most important thing in the world to God.)

Of course, you don't want to make any mistakes, not now, certainly.
11 And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD'S passover.

12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD.

13 And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.

Keep in mind that this isn't just the Jewish god now, but the Christian god, as well. In both beliefs, their god is supposed to be omniscient. So why does he even need this blood smeared on the doors to remind him of who to kill and who to spare?

Furthermore, most Christians believe in a loving god. (Jews, not so much, apparently.) Well, note that this has been the plan of their 'loving' god all along. He kept hardening the heart of the Pharaoh specifically so he'd have an excuse for killing their kids. How in the world can Christians read this stuff and not be completely disgusted by it?

(Incidentally, when it says "firstborn," it means firstborn sons. Daughters don't count, because women aren't important enough that God even cares whether they die or not. Even when it's the firstborn cattle, God is only talking about the firstborn males, as he makes quite clear later.)

OK, there's lots more about unleavened bread and about how God wants Passover to be celebrated forever (so you have to wonder why Christians ignore that, too, don't you?), but I'll skip all that, because it isn't a part of Christianity (not that I've ever seen, at least).

Instead, we'll get directly to the heart of the matter:
29 And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.

30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead.

Well, I guess God really showed them, huh? He killed all those innocent children in every innocent family in Egypt. Indeed, even the Pharaoh should be considered innocent here, shouldn't he? After all, the reason he didn't let the Jews go after experiencing one of the other nine plagues is just because God kept "hardening his heart."

God loves the little children. (They're delicious!)

Note that God killed all the firstborn of the cattle, too - the Egyptian cattle which had already been killed twice previously in Exodus, once by the diseases of the fifth plague and once by the hail of the seventh. (Hmm,... did the Hebrews have to splash blood on their barn doors, too, so God could figure out which cattle to spare? Or was the fact that theirs were the only cattle left alive in Egypt enough of a clue for him?)

At least he's finally had enough of death and destruction now. (Or has he? Just wait!) The Pharaoh agrees to let the Jews go, and this time, God doesn't harden his heart.
35 And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment:

36 And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians.

Here's that plan again, which we saw clear back in Chapter 3, where God has commanded them to steal. They're "borrowing" expensive jewelry and clothing from their Egyptian neighbors - those neighbors who are now too terrified to resist - and they certainly don't plan to return anything they "borrow." (That's the meaning of 'spoiling' the Egyptians - as in the spoils of war.)

This is nothing but theft, not just condoned by God, but commanded by him. And it was very definitely premeditated. In fact, it's mentioned three times in Exodus, just to make sure to drive the message home: that when you've got the most powerful god in the land on your side, you can take whatever you want.
37 And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children.

38 And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle.

39 And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt, for it was not leavened; because they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any victual.

40 Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.

More about unleavened bread! (I'm skipping the vast majority of it. Really, someone was just obsessed with unleavened bread. I suppose it would be like me writing about bacon, huh?)

OK, the Jews lived in Egypt for 430 years (which you could reasonably say rounds off to the 400 years God told Abram). And in those 430 years, despite the oppression they suffered, they went from 70 people to... several million? (Note that there are now 600,000 Hebrew men, so there must be roughly that number of women, too - women not being important enough to even bother counting - and who knows how many children.)

Even in the modern world, with modern medicine, this would be a ridiculously unbelievable rate of population growth. (That's a 4,000,000% increase. I wish my stocks would do that!) Admittedly, they didn't have birth control back then, but they hadn't discovered the germ theory of disease, either. Back then, you'd be lucky if half of your children survived to become adults - and if their mother survived all that childbirth, herself.

Furthermore, can you imagine several million people walking out of Egypt - with their vast herds of cattle, too - and then wandering 40 years in the desert? Can you imagine the logistics of that?
41 And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.

And they all walk out of Egypt, in their stolen jewels and fine clothing, driving their flocks and their herds before them, in one day.

Chapter 13:
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

2 Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine.

Since he's killed the firstborn son of all those Egyptians (again, although it usually says just "firstborn," other passages make it clear that we're only talking about their male children - you know, the kids who actually matter) and the firstborn of all those dead cattle, God demands the firstborn of both man and beast forever after.
12 That thou shalt set apart unto the LORD all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the LORD'S.

13 And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem.

Luckily, you don't actually have to kill your firstborn children. If you can afford it, you can just buy a lamb and kill that instead. But one way or another, God wants his blood sacrifice for all of them.

OK, there's still more about unleavened bread here. (I'm not kidding.) But I'm going to skip all that.
17 And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt:

18 But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.


21 And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night:

So the Jews have suffered horrible oppression in Egypt, and God has worked miracle after miracle to set them free. And now, several million of them are walking to a new land, with all their livestock and their stolen loot. But God is afraid they'll turn around and go back to Egypt if they actually get a look at what civilized lands elsewhere look like! Funny, huh?

So he takes them through the wilderness, instead. Well, I'm sure it will work out just great. But I'm afraid that will have to wait for the next episode.

Note: This entire series can be found here.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

20 gallons of blood


This morning, I made another deposit at the bank - the blood bank. That's seven times this year, 160 donations (since 1982, maybe?), for a total donation, so far, of 20 gallons of blood. Woo, hoo!

I'd have a higher total than that, but I was deferred for three years. (On the advice of my doctor, I took an anti-malarial drug before traveling to Guatemala. It was the drug, not the trip, which required a three-year deferral, though they don't restrict donations for that now. Still, the malaria preventative was undoubtedly a good idea, anyway.)

Of course, I've been lucky enough to be able to donate all these years. I started because my place of employment let me leave in the afternoon to give blood (with pay). Then, I worked 12-hour shifts for more than two decades. That meant I always had time free during the week sometime.

When I turned 55, I retired, so I've got all the time in the world now (assuming I can pull myself away from the computer long enough), and I don't have any medical issues which prevent me from donating blood. So this is something that's been very easy to do. Also, I'm O-Positive, which is the most common blood type, so they always need it.

Frankly, it feels good to donate blood. It's not a big deal. It's quick, it's easy, and I don't even notice the loss of a pint of blood every eight weeks. Plus, there are free cookies. What's not to like? :)

After years of donations, though, I had to switch arms. Believe it or not, you build up scar tissue when you poke your arm with a needle 160 times. That's what they tell me, at least. I don't notice anything different myself, but apparently it gets a little harder to find a good spot for the next poke.

Or maybe I'm just getting old, huh? They don't have much trouble with my left arm even now, but it's generally easier to use the right these days.

Afterwards, I'm encouraged to eat heartily and to do nothing strenuous - neither directive being particularly difficult for me. (They also tell me to drink liquids, but I ignore that, I'm afraid.) Note that they don't put a time limit on those things, so I just assume they want me to eat heartily and do nothing strenuous until the next time I come in to donate blood.

That works for me. :)

Monday, December 23, 2013

War (on Christmas) correspondent, Bill O'Reilly

"All due respect to your parents..."

"I covered four wars with a pen. ... I covered four wars with a pen. So don't impugn my courage ever again. You're a weasel."

Heh, heh. Is Bill O'Reilly trying to look ridiculous?

Note that, according to Wikipedia, O'Reilly "covered the wars in El Salvador and the Falkland Islands from his base in Buenos Aires, Argentina" (my emphasis). Brave man, huh?

I don't know what other wars he's claiming to have covered with his pen, but it hardly matters, unless you think that sitting in your office is supposed to be courageous.

Being a war correspondent can indeed be a dangerous profession. Many have died in the wars they were covering. But O'Reilly wasn't on the front lines. He wasn't anywhere near the front lines, certainly not in a position of danger. (Note that the Falklands War lasted a whopping two months, and Great Britain was never going to bomb Bill O'Reilly's office in Buenos Aires.)

The NFL - the Nonprofit Football League?

OK, this is just nuts. Check out this article in The Atlantic on "How the NFL Fleeces Taxpayers."

Now, the first part of it is just as you'd guess, how local governments cut sweetheart deals to keep NFL franchises happy. Keep in mind that pretty much everyone involved in professional football, from the owners and the NFL executives on down, makes vast sums of money, but they've got the clout to demand taxpayer funds, too.

However, did you know that this wealthy corporation is also officially non-profit? Yeah, and it's something Congress has done just for them:
In his office at 345 Park Avenue in Manhattan, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell must smile when Texas exempts the Cowboys’ stadium from taxes, or the governor of Minnesota bows low to kiss the feet of the NFL. The National Football League is about two things: producing high-quality sports entertainment, which it does very well, and exploiting taxpayers, which it also does very well. Goodell should know—his pay, about $30 million in 2011, flows from an organization that does not pay corporate taxes.

That’s right—extremely profitable and one of the most subsidized organizations in American history, the NFL also enjoys tax-exempt status. On paper, it is the Nonprofit Football League.

This situation came into being in the 1960s, when Congress granted antitrust waivers to what were then the National Football League and the American Football League, allowing them to merge, conduct a common draft, and jointly auction television rights. The merger was good for the sport, stabilizing pro football while ensuring quality of competition. But Congress gave away the store to the NFL while getting almost nothing for the public in return.

The 1961 Sports Broadcasting Act was the first piece of gift-wrapped legislation, granting the leagues legal permission to conduct television-broadcast negotiations in a way that otherwise would have been price collusion. Then, in 1966, Congress enacted Public Law 89‑800, which broadened the limited antitrust exemptions of the 1961 law. Essentially, the 1966 statute said that if the two pro-football leagues of that era merged—they would complete such a merger four years later, forming the current NFL—the new entity could act as a monopoly regarding television rights. Apple or ExxonMobil can only dream of legal permission to function as a monopoly: the 1966 law was effectively a license for NFL owners to print money. ...

While Public Law 89-800 was being negotiated with congressional leaders, NFL lobbyists tossed in the sort of obscure provision that is the essence of the lobbyist’s art. The phrase or professional football leagues was added to Section 501(c)6 of 26 U.S.C., the Internal Revenue Code. Previously, a sentence in Section 501(c)6 had granted not-for-profit status to “business leagues, chambers of commerce, real-estate boards, or boards of trade.” Since 1966, the code has read: “business leagues, chambers of commerce, real-estate boards, boards of trade, or professional football leagues.”

The insertion of professional football leagues into the definition of not-for-profit organizations was a transparent sellout of public interest. This decision has saved the NFL uncounted millions in tax obligations, which means that ordinary people must pay higher taxes, public spending must decline, or the national debt must increase to make up for the shortfall. Nonprofit status applies to the NFL’s headquarters, which administers the league and its all-important television contracts. Individual teams are for-profit and presumably pay income taxes—though because all except the Green Bay Packers are privately held and do not disclose their finances, it’s impossible to be sure.

For Veterans Day last year, the NFL announced that it would donate cash to military groups for each point scored in designated games. During NFL telecasts that weekend, the league was praised for its grand generosity. The total donation came to about $440,000. Annualized, NFL stadium subsidies and tax favors add up to perhaps $1 billion. So the NFL took $1 billion from the public, then sought praise for giving back $440,000—less than a tenth of 1 percent.

In the NFL, cynicism about public money starts at the top. State laws and IRS rules generally forbid the use of nonprofit status as a subterfuge for personal enrichment. Yet according to the league’s annual Form 990, in 2011, the most recent year for which numbers are available, the NFL paid a total of almost $60 million to its leading five executives.

Can you imagine the uproar if any other 'non-profit' group paid $60 million to it's top five executives? (Salaries a lot less than that get criticized!) Whether you're a football fan or not, you're paying for that. Taxpayers are subsidizing a very, very lucrative business.

Sure, it's entertainment, though not for everyone. So why shouldn't football fans be the ones paying for this, if that's what they want?

Here's something that's kind of interesting, too:
Football fans know the warning intoned during each NFL contest: that use of the game’s images “without the NFL’s consent” is prohibited. Under copyright law, entertainment created in publicly funded stadiums is private property.

When, for example, Fox broadcasts a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game from Raymond James Stadium, built entirely at the public’s expense, it has purchased the right to do so from the NFL. In a typical arrangement, taxpayers provide most or all of the funds to build an NFL stadium. The team pays the local stadium authority a modest rent, retaining the exclusive right to license images on game days. The team then sells the right to air the games. Finally, the NFL asserts a copyright over what is broadcast. No federal or state law prevents images generated in facilities built at public expense from being privatized in this manner.

And the rich get richer, all the way up the line.

There's lots more to the article (although it doesn't even mention how college, and even high school, teams have become preparatory schools for the NFL), but I really enjoyed this small bit:
The reason NFL executives’ pay is known is that in 2008, the IRS moved to strengthen the requirement that 501(c)6 organizations disclose payments to top officers. The NFL asked Congress to grant pro football a waiver from the disclosure rule. During the lobbying battle, Joe Browne, then the league’s vice president for public affairs, told The New York Times, “I finally get to the point where I’m making 150 grand, and they want to put my name and address on the [disclosure] form so the lawyer next door who makes a million dollars a year can laugh at me.” Browne added that $150,000 does not buy in the New York area what it would in “Dubuque, Iowa.” The waiver was denied. Left no option, the NFL revealed that at the time, Browne made about $2 million annually.

Yeah, this poor guy! He claims he only makes $150,000 a year, so his neighbors, who make a million dollars a year (this guy has a lot wealthier neighbors than I do!), will laugh at him if he has to disclose his pitiful salary. And let's face it, he can barely scrape by on $150,000 a year, anyway.

But when - miraculously - their lobbying effort fails, so the NFL does have to say how much it's paying him, it turns out that he's actually making $2 million a year! Well, I guess he can laugh at his neighbors now, huh? (Actually, I think he's laughing at all of us.)

Of course, even at $2 million a year, he's clearly not one of the top executives at this "non-profit" organization. Remember, they split $60 million between the five of them.

Note that this is the only reason we even know how much they make, because the IRS moved to strengthen disclosure requirements. The NFL fought that, of course, but they lost. (Wow, that must be an unusual experience for them, huh?)

I don't like the giveaways to professional sports teams anywhere, but since I don't live in a city with an NFL franchise, I figured that it probably didn't affect me. But it turns out that it does. It turns out that the NFL is really the "Nonprofit Football League" - just not for everyone involved with it.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Bible, Pt. 17: Exodus, Chapter 7 - 9

This continues my Bible commentary from Part 16. The entire series is available here, and all quotes are from the King James Bible, 1769 revision (for the modern spelling).

Chapter 7:
1 And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.


3 And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.

4 But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments.

5 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them.

OK, previously, we saw how God recruited a reluctant Moses, with his brother Aaron to do the talking, to be the Lord's instrument in delivering the Jews from Egypt.

But now, God is saying he will "harden Pharaoh's heart," so that the Pharaoh won't agree, until God has had a chance to show off (and kill a whole bunch of Egyptian children, as it turns out). Yeah, those Egyptians will certainly know who he is after that!

But for what purpose? God isn't trying to gain converts here. There's absolutely no indication of that. There's no missionary intent whatsoever. As I said, he's just trying to show off, to demonstrate that he's the most powerful god around. He wants the Egyptians to fear him, but not because he wants them to start worshiping him. Funny, isn't it?

This is the Jewish tribal god, their god and no one else's. Back in those days, he was one god among many. Indeed, I've heard speculation - even from Christians - that the ten plagues of Egypt were targeted attacks on specific Egyptian gods. God hardened the Pharaoh's heart so that he could do more damage to the Egyptian people, thus demonstrating that he was stronger than their other gods.

This was before even monotheism, let alone the Christian idea of a god who wants - demands - to be loved. This god demonstrates that he doesn't give a crap about the Egyptians, because he's not their god (and he doesn't want to be). Yet this is part of the Christian Bible, whose god is supposed to be far different from that.

Is it any wonder that Marcionism was so popular in early Christianity?
10 And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the LORD had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent.

11 Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments.

12 For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods.

13 And he hardened Pharaoh's heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.

Note that Moses and Aaron had tried to convince the Pharaoh in Chapter 6, but without success. So now God is going to demonstrate his magic.

Is their first attempt a bust? Sure, Aaron's rod becomes a serpent, but that's no big deal. Everyone can do that - the other wise men, the other sorcerers, the other magicians. But no, Aaron's serpent is the biggest. His serpent eats all those other serpents, thus demonstrating that his god is the strongest.

This is, after all, Jewish mythology, so of course their god is going to be stronger than all those other gods. What else would you expect? There's absolutely nothing surprising about that. The surprising part is that all those other people - who worship different gods - can do this magic, too. Aaron isn't demonstrating that his god is the only god, but just that his god is the strongest.

And God hardens the Pharaoh's heart, so he won't listen. This becomes a pattern.
19 And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.


21 And the fish that was in the river died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river; and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.

22 And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, neither did he hearken unto them; as the LORD had said.

So God ups the ante, turning the waters of Egypt into blood. But again, the Egyptian magicians can do the same thing ("And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments..."). This time, there's no indication that God's power is even any stronger than theirs. That's a bit surprising. But, either way, the Pharaoh's heart is once again hardened.

Chapter 8:
5 And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch forth thine hand with thy rod over the streams, over the rivers, and over the ponds, and cause frogs to come up upon the land of Egypt.

6 And Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt.

7 And the magicians did so with their enchantments, and brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt.

Again, it's the same thing. This time, it's a plague of frogs, but the other magicians can duplicate that one, too. So far, there's been nothing special about God's tricks, and only once has God even demonstrated that he's the strongest.

Still, the Pharaoh doesn't want all those frogs everywhere, so if Moses and Aaron can get rid of them, he'll let the Jews go.
15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.

... Or maybe not.
16 And the LORD said unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and smite the dust of the land, that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt.


18 And the magicians did so with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not: so there were lice upon man, and upon beast.

19 Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.

Finally, the other magicians fail to match one of God's tricks. They can't bring forth lice. (Really? I'll bet they all had lice anyway. A far better trick - from either side - would have been to eliminate lice from Egypt.)

But the Pharaoh's heart has been hardened, so he still won't listen.
20 And the LORD said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh; lo, he cometh forth to the water; and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Let my people go, that they may serve me.

21 Else, if thou wilt not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies upon thee, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thy houses: and the houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground whereon they are.

22 And I will sever in that day the land of Goshen, in which my people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there; to the end thou mayest know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth.

So now it's swarms of flies, but this time, the Jews aren't affected by it. Only the Egyptians. (Apparently, when the water turned to blood and there were plagues of frogs and lice, God's people suffered just as much as everyone else!)
25 And Pharaoh called for Moses and for Aaron, and said, Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the land.

26 And Moses said, It is not meet so to do; for we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians to the LORD our God: lo, shall we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, and will they not stone us?

27 We will go three days' journey into the wilderness, and sacrifice to the LORD our God, as he shall command us.

28 And Pharaoh said, I will let you go, that ye may sacrifice to the LORD your God in the wilderness; only ye shall not go very far away: intreat for me.

Again, the Pharaoh agrees to let them go (and again, he changes his mind, after they get rid of the flies).

Remember, Moses is lying here. He claims they need to go three days into the wilderness, but that's so they can escape entirely. Obviously, they don't intend to return.

At first, the Pharaoh tries to get them to do the sacrifice locally, but Moses has a reply for that, too: the Egyptians will be upset if they see it. Note that these are blood sacrifices. The god of the Old Testament loves the smell of burning flesh. And remember, in Genesis, how shepherds were an 'abomination' to the Egyptians? This seems to be similar.

As an aside, do you wonder how much God loves burning flesh? Here's a quote from Paul Johnson's A History of Christianity (1976), referring to Jewish practices in the Temple of Jerusalem:
But the God of the Jews was still alive and roaring in his Temple, demanding blood... (N)othing could hide the essential business of the Temple, which was the ritual slaughter, consumption and combustion of sacrificial cattle on a gigantic scale. The place was as vast as a small city. There were literally thousands of priests, attendants, temple-soldiers and minions. To the unprepared visitor, the dignity and charity of Jewish diaspora life... was quite lost amid the smoke of the pyres, the bellows of terrified beasts, the sluices of blood, the abattoir stench, the unconcealed and unconcealable machinery of tribal religion inflated by modern wealth to an industrial scale. (p. 13-14)

That might indeed be an 'abomination' to Egyptians, especially poor Egyptians. (Remember that Joseph's family had been given the best land in Egypt, and the Jews had prospered from that.) If nothing else, it's a horrendous waste of food.
31 And the LORD did according to the word of Moses; and he removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people; there remained not one.

32 And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go.

Not one fly left in Egypt? Wow! That might be the most unbelievable thing we've read yet. Heh, heh.

But the Pharaoh changes his mind again. (This time, it says that the "Pharaoh hardened his heart," instead of making it clear that God is doing that to him. Either way, he's being incredibly stubborn, don't you think? There's a reason for that.)

Chapter 9:
3 Behold, the hand of the LORD is upon thy cattle which is in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: there shall be a very grievous murrain.


6 And the LORD did that thing on the morrow, and all the cattle of Egypt died: but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one.

7 And Pharaoh sent, and, behold, there was not one of the cattle of the Israelites dead. And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.

The fifth plague kills all of the cattle in Egypt (and the horses, asses, camels, oxen, and sheep, apparently), excepting only those owned by the Hebrews. But still, "the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go."
10 And they took ashes of the furnace, and stood before Pharaoh; and Moses sprinkled it up toward heaven; and it became a boil breaking forth with blains upon man, and upon beast.

11 And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils; for the boil was upon the magicians, and upon all the Egyptians.

12 And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had spoken unto Moses.

Then it's sores breaking out on people, as well as beasts, but still God hardens the heart of Pharaoh. What's the point of all this tragedy?
14 For I will at this time send all my plagues upon thine heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth.

15 For now I will stretch out my hand, that I may smite thee and thy people with pestilence; and thou shalt be cut off from the earth.

16 And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.

Well, it seems pretty clear, doesn't it? God is doing this to show off: "that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth... for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth."

Again, this is not to get the Egyptians to worship him. This is not to change their existing religion. This is not to get them to abandon their old gods. Yahweh has absolutely no interest in that. The Egyptians aren't his chosen people. He's made a covenant with the Jews, and he has zero interest in doing the same with anyone else. He's their god, and that's all.

This is just to show his power. That's literally what it says here. Whether God is taking on a succession of different Egyptian gods or not, in these ten plagues, is not even particularly important. His reason for doing this - and his reason for hardening the heart of the Pharaoh, so the Egyptian leader won't give in earlier - is just so God can demonstrate what he can do to people he dislikes.

Again, this is the Christian Bible I'm reading, and this is supposed to be the Christian God. But it sure doesn't sound like it, does it? At least, it doesn't sound like the kind of god they say they worship today. So what happened? Did God repent of this Old Testament stuff? Did he finally get religion? :)
18 Behold, to morrow about this time I will cause it to rain a very grievous hail, such as hath not been in Egypt since the foundation thereof even until now.

19 Send therefore now, and gather thy cattle, and all that thou hast in the field; for upon every man and beast which shall be found in the field, and shall not be brought home, the hail shall come down upon them, and they shall die.

20 He that feared the word of the LORD among the servants of Pharaoh made his servants and his cattle flee into the houses:

21 And he that regarded not the word of the LORD left his servants and his cattle in the field.

Um,... but note that there weren't supposed to be any cattle left in Egypt - not belonging to the Egyptians, at least. After all, Chapter 6 said "all the cattle of Egypt died" during the fifth plague. So how can they die again now?
23 And Moses stretched forth his rod toward heaven: and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and the fire ran along upon the ground; and the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt.

24 So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous, such as there was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation.

25 And the hail smote throughout all the land of Egypt all that was in the field, both man and beast; and the hail smote every herb of the field, and brake every tree of the field.

26 Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, was there no hail.

So, has the Pharaoh finally learned his lesson?
27 And Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time: the LORD is righteous, and I and my people are wicked.

28 Intreat the LORD (for it is enough) that there be no more mighty thunderings and hail; and I will let you go, and ye shall stay no longer.


34 And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants.

35 And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, neither would he let the children of Israel go; as the LORD had spoken by Moses.

These are the ten plagues of Egypt, so we're not done yet, huh? Forget about that magic trick with the staff. (After all, every Egyptian magician could do that.) God has turned all of Egypt's water into blood, then plagued the land with frogs, lice, and flies, livestock diseases, boils, and hail, but it's still not enough.

Well, it's enough for this post, I guess. But remember, right from the start, God has said that he's the one keeping the Pharaoh so intransigent about this. It's God who is deliberately hardening the Pharaoh's heart, apparently so he can keep inflicting these disasters on the Egyptian people.

And why does he do that? It's simply because he wants to demonstrate his power - not for any particular reason, not to encourage them to change gods or anything, but just to show them how tough he is. Nice guy, huh?

Note: Links to this entire series are here.