22 February 2009

Christianity is torture

Crucifixions vs. mediaeval tortures, who wins?

The other day I was watching a series on the Discovery Channel about various torture and execution devices from a number of different era.

The first featured ancient devices (including wicker men) but focused on crucifixion. The show mentioned that crucifixion was extra horrible and painful due, strangely, to the way the victims are stretched out on the crucifix, which causes compression of the diaphragm. This encouraged victims to try to push up with their legs and create room for their lungs to breathe, but that only put more pressure on the ankle nails; hence victims control their own intense pain. Pretty neat.

But the followup mediaeval show had much more crazy stuff, including iron maidens, racks, pears1, and thumb/head screws. These are dementedly thoughtful and intentionally painful, and the show didn't even mention some of the even more painful methods.

Crucifixion does have advantages in that it is pretty much a 'fire and forget' device. That said, the extra effort the mediaeval devices required enabled executioners to play on the minds of their victims, letting them anticipate the agony, thus making the torture that much worse. This isn't to deny that crucufixion wasn't horribly painful - it certainly was - yet when you hear most Christians talk about it, crucifxion usually "the most horrible, painful punishment" that humans have ever devised. Why is it that so many Christians deny the even more painful later inventions?

I have two guesses:

1) Christians always like to make their god-related stuff superlative - God is unstoppable; omnipotent-scient-benevolent; loves us like a parent, but to a greater greater extent than any parent, etc. So they make it sound like Christ's crucifixion has to be the most painful thing ever.

2) They ignore the mediaeval execution devices because these were the creation of other Christians. So they are conveniently neglected.

I have a third guess that, depending on how you look at it, is either less or more charitable: they simply don't know much about mediaeval torture. Maybe they just aren't as twisted as guys like me, who love this stuff (and gave a speech about it during a grade 8 public speaking contest).

1Sadly, the mediaeval pears are not thought to be able to break jaws or kill people; they are merely painful gagging devices.

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17 February 2009

Phelps, pot, and overzealous police

Depending on how you look at it, the good news for today is that South Carolina police have decided not to pursue drug charges against competitive swimming superstar Michael Phelps.

As a former competitive swimmer, I kind of feel like I should weigh in on the Phelps bong photo issue. I don't view the world through rosy enough goggles to seriously entertain the notion that Phelps wasn't properly enjoying his bong. I doubt many others don't either. So we'll go with the assumption that Phelps is occasionally 'doping,' in the 'up' sense, not the performance-enhancing way.

You'd have to think that if Phelps was Canadian, we'd happily turn a blind eye to the incident. Remember Olympic gold medalist snowboarder Ross Rebagliati who was temporarily stripped of his medal for having marijuana in his system? We all supported him. I'm not sure though if our support was due to a more permissive attitude towards drugs in Canada or to the fact that we're so desperate for gold medals that we're willing to let a lot slide. Certainly though, we'd be willing to overlook a lot for a guy like Phelps who wan more gold than Canada in the last summer games.

You have to wonder about how much this situation hurts the camp of the war on drugs. "Kids! Don't do drugs or else you'lll never be one of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen. Oh, wait... shit."

FYI: The ten most successful potheads on the planet cool enough to admit it

Actually, speaking of Ross Rebagliati, there may actually be a performance enhancing aspect to marijuana for athletes of a certain psychological disposition. Some people get too tightly wound-up in pressure situations, too aggressive, and it causes them to tighten-up, lose control, and make mistakes. My wife is that way, and I've often joked that if she toke a little before a big game, she'd perform better. Perhaps in a smooth and rythmic sport like snowboarding slalom, the weed gave Ross an advantage.

Note: I'm not a recreational drug user, and don't encourage it, except for copious quantities of alcohol - and even then I don't get truly wasted as I tend to prefer keeping my mental faculties intact. It just seems that in a society that accepts tobacco and alcohol it is congongruous that marijuana would be stigmatized. There are many, many other more important things to worry about the mild drug lives of young adults.

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Happy XXXXXX Day!

Nothing new here. Just pointing out that three of my last five posts have had "Happy [some special day] Day!" as the title. I'd better get to some real posts, eh?

13 February 2009

Happy Valentine's Day!

Have a heart!

12 February 2009

Happy Darwin Day!

I guess in commemoration of the event, the National Geographic TV channel was having a bunch of evolution-themed programming over the weekend. Specifically, they had three episodes of the show "Evolution" featuring whales, birds, and bears, respectively. They were pretty interesting, though I had many peeves.

First off, they used language with heavily Lamarkian connotations. An animal "decides to push its boundaries" or a feathered dinosaur "attempts to leap to a branch that's just out of reach." That's not what it is at all, rather, certain microraptors found they could leap and glide farther than their colleagues, thus outbreeding them and passing on the genes that allow for improved flight characteristics to their offspring.

Secondly, they did a really poor job in portraying evolution as occurring within a single individual instead of the gene pools of populations.

Third, too much filler graphics and not enough content.

National Geographic followed this up with a program called Darwin's Lost Voyage, which was an interesting program covering the Beagle voyage. Good show, but the title makes no sense. In what way has Darwin's voyage been "lost?" I already have three books on the subject. There is tonnes of info on the internet. Hell, Darwin gained fame as a popular writer for publishing an account of the Beagle's adventures upon his return to England. The only place where the voyage is being lost is deep in creotard territory where they are actively suppressing Darwin.

Anyway, happy Darwin Day. May you not come down with any horrible, vomit-inducing mystery diseases like Darwin did.

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07 February 2009

Alpha Retreat Sermon 3: How Can I Be Filled with the Holy Spirit

This sermon started with going over the five types of responses the apostles encountered when preaching to others about the Holy Spirit. Some immediately longed for the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:2-4), others were receptive to the idea but weren't as certain as the first group (Acts 8:14-17), others were hostile towards them (Acts 8:17-19), some were uninformed and had no clue what they were talking about (Acts 19:1-6), and some were skeptical (Acts 10:44-46). Gumbel explained that all those in the audience also fall into these categories. The way he's structured the talk, it's painfully clear that he wants you to be in one of the first two categories, and casts a negative light on the others.

The funny thing is that he gives bible verses as references to these 5 groups, but only the receptive and the uninformed are actually unambiguously represented in the verses. The longing group were the first bunch at Pentecost, who we will see later; however, no real mention is made of longing and the second group didn't seem to be any less longing than the first group. Both groups were generally receptive. The hostile verse is actually the sorcerer who really wants the power to lay on hands and manifest the Holy Spirit but just doesn't understand the real point to it. The the unlikely group is actually not outright skeptics; rather they were Jews who didn't think the Holy Spirit should have been given to the gentiles.

What? Twisting the Bible to push another point? No way!

I'm really interested in the story of the Holy Spirit coming at Pentecost:
1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 5Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs-we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!"

That would be some pretty amazing proof. Actual, visible, tangible flame tongues; everyone able to understand everyone else regardless of the language being spoken. Pretty funky indeed. I don't know about you, but I'd be pretty damned impressed by this if it ever happened around me. Yet God doesn't see fit to provide this evidence anymore. Too bad.1

Also, in a lot of the early cases during the Acts of the Apostles, it was required that an apostle lay-on hands for someone to receive the Holy Spirit. WTF is that about? The rules just keep changing.

The most important thing according to Gumbel here is that the Holy Spirit automatically comes into every person the moment they accept Jesus as their lord and saviour. The problem is that most of the time, the Holy Spirit comes in only a small quantity. ie. you are unfilled. Gumbel used the analogy of a pilot light in a fireplace. The Holy Spirit is the pilot light. It's up to you to turn the gas on 'high' and get filled with fire.

Anyway, the rest of the sermon had to do with explaining what happened when you received the Holy Spirit. First, you "experience the power of the Holy Spirit" - a surprisingly vague statement that seems to encapsulate the general warm, excited feeling you get, but also the other "fruits of the Spirit."

Second, you are "released in praise," which basically means lots of emotional, spontaneous praying and worship.

Third, you "receive a new language" ie. speaking in tongues. Despite the biblical precedent, Gumbel went on to explain, like the good lawyer he was, that your results may very. According to him, not all Christians speak in tongues, it's not necessarily a sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit, you aren't less of a Christian if you can't speak in tongues, and it's not the most important gift.

Despite this, he then went on at length explaining about speaking in tongues. It's an angelic and human language that transcends language barriers (despite not making any sense to us), it's a form of prayer, it strengthens the individual, and it's under the control of the speaker. Apparently you can also sing in tongues.

And apparently we can receive this gift if we eagerly desire it, ask God, be cooperative with the Holy Spirit, believe, and persevere. The three most common hindrances are doubt, fear, and inadequacy. Certainly seems like those who can't speak in tongues are lesser Christians, doesn't it?

The way the sermon was supposed to be done, they were supposed to follow it immediately with a call to receive the Holy Spirit and people were supposed to start dropping to the ground in ecstasy and speaking in tongues, etc. To my great disappointment, the elder and group leader didn't even try. The elder simply lead an group prayer about praying to be filled with the Holy Spirit and that was it.

Damn, I wanted to hear some crazy ravings!

1 Note that this isn't plain glossolalia, it's more xenoglossy. Though, for what it's worth, there are plenty of "friend of a friend" examples, including one from my wife, who claims her sister apparently once had her pastor tell her to "be quiet, don't interrupt" in her family's obscure Chinese dialect. So make of it what you will.

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05 February 2009

Yes, I work with concrete

A friend on my floor hockey team was talking with my wife about their respective crappy job situations. He'd been temporarily laid-off for a week and was really hoping to get into a government job for which he had been turned down once already. My wife is just starting a 3 month contract job, but long term prospects are weak.

I'm not paying attention to the conversation too much, but my friend turns to me and says, "What about your job? Is it concrete?"

"Yes," I say, "I work with concrete. Also structural steel a lot, but mainly concrete."

"Um, what I meant was 'In this current poor economic climate, is your job stable?'"

"Oh. Ummm. Yes, very stable and busy, thank you."


03 February 2009

Happy Groundhog Day

Note that I have nothing interesting at all to say about groundhogs. All I know is that regardless of the groundhog outcome, this is Canada, and it will be damn cold for a long time yet.

I've still been way too busy to finish my Alpha Course posts or even read my favourite blogs. Too much work. Too much extracurricular activities.

I did, however, wear a tie to work (for a client meeting) for the very first time in my professional career, so that's got to count for something. Or not.

That is all.