My Review of the First Three Chapters of Paul W Sharkey’s “The Gospel According to Paul: The Apathetic Agnostic”

I just spent an hour on my deck enjoying a fine cigar and reading the first 40 pages of Paul W Sharkey’s “The Gospel According to Paul: The Apathetic Agnostic”. I barely spent as much on this outstanding book as I did on that fine cigar. My money was well spent on both!

I cannot overstate the wealth of extensively researched, well thought out, and masterfully presented material contained within these first three chapters of Sharkey’s work. I anxiously look forward to continuing my read; but after completing the third Chapter (“Paul Who?”); I already feel compelled to write my thoughts regarding the material I have read thus far.

My enthusiastic endorsement of Sharkey’s material says quite a bit, if for no other reason than the differences of opinion that I have with his views regarding certain relatively insignificant personal perspectives: a) I don’t believe in the historical Jesus; whereas Sharkey seems to; b) I don’t believe in the historicity of Paul; whereas Sharkey seems to; c) subsequently, I don’t regard any of “the Pauline letters” as being authentic; Sharkey seems to adopt the general position of modern scholarship that 7 of the Pauline letters were actually written by Paul.

So why would I endorse Sharkey’s material; when he and I differ on these perspectives regarding Jesus and Paul?

Basically because these differing views seem minor in the light of our common thinking with regards to: a) the nature of the NT literature itself (I highly recommend his sections on the theories of “Biblical Literalism” and “Biblical Inerrancy”; pp 17-19); b) due consideration given to non-canonical Gospels (I furthermore recommend his sections on “Non Canonical Gospels”, including such writings as “The Testimony of Judas” and “The Testimony of Thomas”; pp 19-23); and c) his theories regarding the influence of the Pauline material on Christianity as we know it today (See Chapter 3: “Paul Who?”; pp 27-39.)

One of the most profound features that appeals to me regarding Sharkey’s style is his most capable and timely utility of the good old fashioned thought provoking QUESTION!!

Just to cite a few of his questions which I have already highlighted in my own personal copy of Sharkey’s book:

“Dare we question the truth of the Gospels? Why not?” (p. 16)

“So, how should the Gospels be understood? Literally?” (p. 17)

“Who authorized the King James Version of the Bible?” (p. 17)

“What difference might it make if we were to consider the testimony of any of these other gospels?” (with reference to the non-canonical gospels; p. 21)

“Is the moral to the story of the gospel one of incompleteness with things unfulfilled and the indefinite expectation of things yet to come or is it one of definitive fulfillment, already whole and complete? What difference does it make?” (p 25; this question directly relates to the section on “The Testimony of Thomas; pp 22-23)

“What does Paul say about himself in his own words?” (p. 28)

“what are some of the other things people think they “know” about him (Paul), but really don’t?” p. 29

“Did Paul have an agenda and if so, what might it have been?” (p. 34)

“Must we have faith in Paul before we can have faith in Jesus?” (p. 37)

“What was his (Paul’s) real personal motivation or agenda in preaching the resurrection?” (p. 40)

CONCLUSION:

If your curiosity is as peaked by any or all of these most pertinent and thought provoking questions as mine has been; then I sincerely suggest you do as I have wisely done: BUY THE BOOK!! (It hardly cost any more than a halfway decent cigar; and won’t harm your health; though it just might expand some intellectual horizons!!!)

Dave Henderson
Denison, Texas

Christian Persecution? PLEEEZ!!!!

These County representatives who are crying “Christian Persecution” because they may have to actually perform a marriage ceremony or issue a marriage license to same sex couples; apparently lack respect for their own history, seem to have have no concept of “persecution”, and are apparently too immature to deal with real world situations that people of faith cope with each and every day.

The history of Christianity being that of both persecuted party, and persecuting puritans, one would would think that the contemporary Christian would at least have an understanding of what “persecution” really is.

Persecution is… well… it’s persecution! It’s being thrown to the Lion’s for refusing to do a silly token sacrifice to a cultural God (kind of like not taking the Pledge of Allegiance; something I refuse to do, but I doubt if I would allow myself to be mauled by a lion over my damned principles).

Or it’s like what John Calvin did to Michael Servetus when he burned him alive over a difference of doctrinal perspective regarding the Trinity.

What’s more: Cry me a river over these state employees’ dilemma of having to “get involved” in something they don’t believe in as they DO THEIR JOBS

How about the minimum wage Christian Checker at the local store who has to sell cigarettes and alcohol, but whose faith teaches such to be worldly vices. Does she cry “Christian Persecution”, because she has to actually do her job? Hell no, she doesn’t, because she does not want to lose her job that she needs so bady.

Of course, if the Checker at the local store, or the County employee at the local Court House, is sincerely that sensitive to what he or she perceives to be sin; then the solution is simple:

Quit your job to save your soul.

But don’t go cry babying about “Christian Persecution” in the process.

Persecution? PLEEEZ!!!!!

The Individual, Civilization, and Moral Goodness

Per the reasoning of many Christians (not all, but many), it would seem that atheists should murder, plunder, and steal at will, yet such has never been the case as a general rule. Granted, there are Atheists who do harm to their fellow human being, yet I am unaware of any evidence that they do so more than any other demographic representatives of the human race.

Now, my observation regarding such is that people seem to be naturally equipped to know how to treat each other kindly, courteously, and decently; although some admittedly choose to do otherwise. Yet in a collective sense, as in any given society, most people have figured out a way to do so in a civilized manner. Furthermore, in these societies, those who choose to live otherwise almost always represent extreme exceptions to the general practices of the society so represented. (This is one of the reasons I attempt to avoid grouping and classifying various religions and or cultures based upon the doings of extremists within their respective ideology. For those who practice violence are almost always the extreme exception to the general lifestyle of the overall majority within any respective group/culture. This was true of even Nazi Germany, and I don’t doubt this rings true for most any society one could consider)

Now, in light of the various and differing religions, ideologies, cultural distinctions, economic theories, social theories, and political ideologies ever present in any and every culture which has or ever will exist, the fact that most people within any such respective culture figure out a way to live together in peace and harmony, leads me to conclude that separate from each respective cultural ideology of all societies of all time, there seem to be qualities of humanness which are universal to our species, which serve as a foundation for peaceful and harmonious relationships.

Such as they are, these are my thoughts on the matter of individuals, civilizations and morality.

My Southern Sentiments and My Personal Conclusion Regarding The Confederate Flag

June 28, 2015

Two nights ago I watched the complete Eulogy which President Obama delivered in the memory of one of the nine victims of last week’s terrorist attack in Charleston; the good Reverend Clementa Pinckney.

Now, I have heard many sermons, speeches, and eulogies in my life, but I am not sure that I have ever heard a more moving and effective Eulogy than that delivered in the memory of the good Reverend, when President Obama spoke on his behalf Friday afternoon in Charleston. President Obama not only eloquently eulogized Reverend Pinckney himself; but he likewise spoke on behalf of the other 8 victims of the terrorist attack, and in the process he quite passionately represented an entire race of people who were actually the overall intended victim of a terrorist plot hatched in the mind of one who was raised to hate, and who then acted accordingly. (That is the scariest aspect of hatred. The only thing which distinguishes the murderer from the hater is that the murderer acts in accord with the hate. That is a scary and a sobering thought. Or so it seems to me.)

As my wife and I watched the President’s speech unfold; we periodically wiped tears from our eyes as our Nation’s leader proceeded to lay out before the entire nation; a case based upon the pain of being the victim of systematic social terrorism. And a clearly emotionally charged and inner afflicted President Obama soberly challenged us to think our way past the hatred and hostility of our era, in search of peace and harmony. The lump in my throat that night seemed a constant reminder of the obstacles that our President so clearly cited, and the challenge which he put before us all to overcome and conquer those obstacles which seem to so constantly beset us has laid heavily on my mind ever since.

Now, among the topics which our President so eloquently addressed in Reverend Pinckney’s eulogy, was that of the Confederate Flag. And, under the circumstances, with good reason. For the climate of white supremacy and racial hatred which abounds all too ever present in my beloved Southland, did in fact influence the thinking of, and the subsequent actions of Reverend Pinckney’s murderer. Consequently, the good Reverend and eight other innocent victims were maliciously executed, and now a lot of innocent people mourn. And whether we white Southerners choose to acknowledge reality or not; the fact is that our Confederate Flag is in fact a symbol of white supremacy and racial hatred, and furthermore is in fact a rallying symbol for those who choose to think thusly, and finally and fore mostly such did in fact influence the shameless murder of nine innocent people in Charleston last week.

Have we white Southerners no shame? Can we not connect the dots of reality without forming a Confederate symbol in the process? Are we so obsessed with an antiquated symbol which inflicts pain and which incites hostility that we cannot honor our ancestors by merely living good and decent lives?

As I see the situation; we white Southerners can put our heads in the sand and tattoo the Confederate Flag on our butts in such a way as to exhibit our ignorance and our insensitivity for all the world to behold, or we can wake up and realize that the year is 2015, and Richmond is no longer the Capital.

Now please understand my perspective: I am a born and raised Texan of multi generational Southern roots, and am of an ancestral heritage which ties me directly to the Confederate States of America on both sides of my family. As such, I hate to even carry a Five Dollar Bill in my wallet, because when I see the image of Abraham Lincoln, I see the image of a man who is in my judgment beneath contempt. As far as I am concerned, Abraham Lincoln was a cruel and insensitive tyrant who should have been brought up on charges as a War Criminal for utilizing his role as President to endorse the inhumane oppression and systematic efforts of regional genocide of innocent Southern citizens; especially during the last year of the War (I have a similar opinion of George W Bush with regards to endorsing the torture of my fellow human beings during the Iraq War). Furthermore, I cringe every time Abraham Lincoln is given credit for freeing the slaves, since he did not free a single slave at any point in time. (The truth be told, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave, nor was it effected to that end. In fact, the Emancipation Proclamation actually AUTHORIZED the ongoing practice of slavery in the North and in specific regions of the South which were already under Northern control). And so it is my personal opinion, that if Abraham Lincoln had actually been the beacon of humanitarian concern that his image has come to represent in the history accounts, that he would have neither endorsed shameless and inhumane acts against innocent citizens of the South (which he did); and he would have freed the slaves under his jurisdiction (which he did not).

In addition to my low opinion of Mr. Lincoln as a person, my sympathies for my beloved Southland are as natural as anyone else’s love for their home and their heritage. Consequently, I have a hard time withholding further feelings of resentment for the free pass which has traditionally been given to the Northerners who were regularly involved in the slave trade, while my ancestors serve as the scapegoat for the national sin of human trafficking and institutionalized slavery. Thus, my shame for the crimes of my southern ancestors against humanity, is matched with my contempt for the Northern mariners who enabled the process and who profited handsomely by the transport and the sale of captured and maltreated African people. The fact is that slavery was a national sin; and was a shameful act of cruelty and insensitivity for which everyone actually involved should be forever known as shameful representatives of the human race.

Now all that said, I ask of my fellow white Southerners just how the displaying of the Confederate Flag in any way affects a change as to the injustices against the Southern people during the war, or how such in any way corrects the Northern biased misinformation and revisionist history regarding the same?

Will the displaying of the Confederate flag somehow enlighten the general public to the fact the Ulysses S Grant owned slaves until he was forced by law to free them (after the War); or to the fact that Robert E Lee was an Abolitionist who released the slaves that he received as an inheritance (before The Emancipation Proclamation)?

Will the displaying of the Confederate flag somehow spare our Southern women who were raped so routinely by General Hooker’s men that the very term “hooker” evolved from these heinous and barbaric war crimes which took place under his jurisdiction?

Or will the displaying of the Confederate flag somehow resurrect those countless Southern families who starved to death because their homes and all means of producing food were systematically destroyed by the likes of Sherman and Sheridan?

Speaking for myself, I have no problem thinking of the likes of Lincoln, Hooker, Sherman, and Sheridan as no good damned Yankees whose graves I would spit upon were it not for the fact that I have higher standards for my bodily fluids than the resting place of their long gone bodies.

However; I will be damned if I will justify being party to ongoing hostilities and hatred in the here and now, by displaying a symbol of such due to my contempt for the likes of Yankee war criminals who lived way back then.

Nor will I justify to myself the display of a symbol which, over the past 150 years has become a rallying cry for public torture, lynchings, church bombings, burnings and mass shootings; under the guise of honoring my ancestors by such a display.

And so I speak from the heart, as one Southern male to all my compatriot white Southerners, when I write these words:

The Confederate Flag has got to go!

We white Southerners simply must wake up to the reality, that whether we would have such to be the case or not, that over the course of the past 150 years the Confederate Flag has become the symbol of racism and hatred by those who have ignorantly claimed racial superiority, and yet who have conducted themselves in base and shameful ways as they have subjugated, tortured, and murdered African Americans, in their misguided efforts to cling to the antiquated myth of white supremacy.

Like it or not; perception is reality; and we cannot undo the history of the Jim Crow era ,of the beatings, of the torture, of the lynchings, and of the climate of hostility and hatred towards the black race in general and the black male specifically, which has been all too readily represented in our beloved Southland over the entire 20th Century, and even up to the present time. Surely anyone who is even vaguely socially aware must realize that the maltreatment of the black race by our Southern culture of assumed racial superiority has been an ongoing social ill, which unfortunately has been continuously represented by the symbol of the Confederate flag.

With these thoughts in mind, as a son of the South; as a descendent of several confederate veterans, but more importantly as a human being, I offer this heartfelt and passionate appeal to my fellow white Southerners:

Let us put aside that which unfortunately has become a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and racism; and let us so live as to sustain peace and harmony with all the family of humanity; instead of inciting hostility in the name of honoring our ancestry.

For the sake of humanity, and for the cause of social harmony:

The Confederate Flag has got to go.

And so I challenge my compatriot white Southerners: Choose ye this day how to honor your ancestors, but as for me, David Lee Henderson, a proud Son of the South; I will choose mine. For I choose to honor my fallen dead the best way I know how, and that is by simply being the best person that I know how to be on a daily basis, in the here and in the now; and by loving all people with no distinctions nor partiality, in the here and in the now, and by as far as is possible in me, to live peaceably with all my fellow members of the family of humanity, in the here and the now.

And for the life of me people; I simply do not see how I can do so, while at the same time displaying a symbol of ongoing hatred and hostility in the process.

The Confederate Flag simply has got to go.

And to quote another famous yet fictitious Southerner:

That’s all I got to say about that.

Dave Henderson
Denison, Texas

On Our Innate Qualities Of Social Behavior

I find the following two common philosophies among many Christians disturbing:

1. That every person is born in sin.
2. And/or that humans are somehow incapable of distinguishing right from wrong on our own, without some external aid from a celestial deity.

I find both premises lack merit, and quite frankly make no sense.

Every thing that exists has principle and function.

A rock has the natural qualities of a rock, and albeit its function may be dormant; nonetheless the rock provides a surface for things of different qualities to rest upon. To that end the rock is naturally equipped.

A tree has the natural qualities of a tree, and among its functions are those of being a source of feeding and shade. To those ends the tree is naturally equipped.

Water has the natural qualities of water, and it functions to provide sustenance and life for many beings; including our own species. To a variety of such ends, water is naturally equipped.

Humans have the natural qualities of humanness, and among our functions is that of social behavior. To that end we humans are naturally equipped.

To conclude otherwise would make no sense.

How is that, that of all the myriad of things in all the universe, we; who appear to be of the highest degree of level of communication, creativity, and compassion; are somehow incapable of one of our most basic functions, that of social behavior, without some external aid of an alleged celestial deity?

I maintain that everything that naturally exists, is naturally equipped with certain distinctive qualities to function so as to effect certain basic principles, which are unique to each such thing.

To conclude otherwise with reference to a mere one among the incalculable things in all the known universe, simply makes no sense to me.

Hence I conclude, that we humans are naturally equipped with all necessary qualities to distinguish right from wrong, which is of course a most basic aspect of proper social behavior.

And thus my personal perspective is, that the cultivation of my natural qualities of goodness, is both the most natural of all endeavors, and the most noble of all efforts.

Why Do Atheists Debate The Topic of God

Today, I was challenged on a discussion board as to why we Atheists debate the topic of God, since we don’t believe in such. My response:

I can understand your perspective. There is a side of me that would just go on with my life and not ever address the topic. For those who do so, I tip my hat to them. But there are many reasons why I personally pursue the topic (I speak just for myself):

1. The concept of God has historically been a propaganda tool. I grew up learning about “Westward Expansion” and “Manifest Destiny'”; instead of being taught about imperialism, torture, enslavement, and genocide. To me, accurate history is important, hence a realistic perspective as to our national sins of the past 500 years will be helpful to hopefully guide us to a more humane way of life in the fortunately

2. In that regard, unfortunately, the concept of God is a contemporary political tool; both in our country and elsewhere. And when I say a political tool, I mean a tool which results in and which justifies inflicting suffering. So long as monotheism continues, then god might as well be alive to represent the nationalist zealots who support torture and killing in order to “protect their way of life’. If that “way of life” is perceived to be “God blessed”, then the concept of God is detrimental to peace, harmony, and good health.

3. People kill in the name of God. So long as the concept of God is unchecked, unaddressed, and unopposed, then people will go on killing in the name of their gods.

4. The concept of God is the justification for many racisms and bigotries. So long as there is homophobia and misogyny in the name of God, then the concept of God continues to play a role in subjugating minorities and justifying the denial of basic human rights to all.

Concl: The issue from my perspective regarding my personal quest to reason and dialogue regarding “god”; is not that which is not real (God); the issue is that which is all too real: Revisionist history, justified ongoing human atrocities in the way of war, murder, torture, homophobia, sexism, and many other such bigotries; IN THE NAME OF GODS.

So long as such continues, I personally feel morally obligated to to do what I can to reason against ignorance, and to attempt to be the best person I know how in the process.

The Gospel: A Terrorist’s Terms

One thing about the whole gospel message thing that does not add up. Always did bother me.

So the basic scenario; at least as I was taught it:

1. Sin is our own fault (even though god made us this way)

2. Death is the consequences of sin (but that’s not good enough, you have to be eternally tortured as well)

Now, when you start questioning the ethics of the God for creating a scenario which leads to sin and subsequent eternal torture, invariably you get the whole “well, God gives you the freedom to choose, because you are a free moral agent. So if you die in sin, then it’s no ones fault but your own”.

Choice. So God gave me a choice, did he?

Well. I don’t recall ever having a choice in whether I got to live in the first place.

I don’t recall ever having a pre-birth orientation explaining the full scenario, and being allowed to read the fine print before I signed on the dotted line and gave my free will consent to this arrangement.

And what is this arrangement? What details would I like to have been privy to before being thrust into this situation?

Well, let’s cut to the core, so to speak.

The arrangement per life is that you have a 50/50 shot at winning the Celestial Lottery, a grand sweepstakes at an all expenses prepaid stay at the Grand Heavenly Hotel; while the suckers in life who did not make the right choices will be eternally tortured in the dungeon below.

But don’t worry, the eternal torture chamber is sound proof, so the endless screams and agony of your friends and family members (perhaps even your own children) who made the wrong choices in life will not disturb the solace and serenity of eternal life in paradise with the other grand sweepstakes winners who were like you, and knew how to kiss up properly, and who were scholarly enough to know which holy book to believe in, and therefore you knew which deity’s butt to kiss sufficiently so as to be named a winner when the drawing took place.

No…..

I don’t recall having such an arrangement explained to me before giving my consent to live.

Hence, this 50/50 gamble was thrust upon me, even as I was thrust into this life involuntarily, and without giving my consent to such.

I don’t know about others.

But being thrust into such an arrangement hardly seems fair or even just to me.

And so as to the possibility of my being eternally tortured being my own fault because God gave me a free choice?

Poppycock!!

God never gave me, or anyone else a choice under such an arrangement.

God gave me a terrorist’s terms under such an arrangement.

And I don’t care much for being blackmailed by anyone.

And it is certainly not a matter of freedom of choice.

For if the terms would have been explained to me sufficiently, and had I been give the free will opportunity to choose to simply not live, then I would not be typing these words even now.

And so that is what bothers me about “the gospel”.

The gospel are a terrorist’s terms which dictate that I kiss his royal butt sufficiently, or be eternally tortured.

I am a victim of circumstances. And without giving my consent to such.

And so is everyone else.

That is: If the Bible is in fact true.

Alone And On Our Own

One of the most basic realities that leads me to maintain my secularist views is the sad reality that we exist in a universe which is simply indifferent to effect and outcome. The universe simply does not care.

It took me a long time to recognize that sad reality. Back in my days as a Christian, whenever I encountered people who were suffering, and questioning God in the process; I would fall all over myself attempting to apologize for God, and attempting to convince the naturally afflicted not to blame God, nor to lose faith, but to see that there is a purpose for everything which happens in life; ours is not to question god, ours is not to reason “why?”; or any other number of my “Christian cop outs” in order to shield god from responsibility for natural atrocities.

But at some point reality set in for me: We are alone.

We have been thrust into a state of existence without our consent. Our existence is random. Our setting is random. And our daily angst is the reality of our own frailty, and that we are constantly “sitting ducks” for some unexpected yet natural disaster to strike. Be it a tornado or a deadly disease; or be it a falling tree in our direction. Natural disasters and natural atrocities happen all the time.

In addition; this earth operates by a cruel feeding chain. Humanity eats the meat of a being, which ate the carcase of another, which may very well have fed off the the carcase of another being while that being was still alive The spider sets a web, and feeds off living creatures. Is the spider cruel? No, but the natural system by which the spider survives surely is.

Now, were there a mind behind this feeding chain, were there a personality which designed such a process, then such a mind would be cruel and insensitive. Were there a mind behind a process which thrusts beings into an involuntary state of existence, only for that person to suffer as we of humanity so oftentimes suffer, and then if that great mind dared to judge us and condemn us to some eternal torture chamber because we failed to live up to “his standards”, then such a mind would be a cruel and insensitive tyrant. But the reality is that there is no such mind to blame for the suffering and cruelties of the system of survival on this earth. There is simply an impersonal universe which does not care because it CANNOT care.

The simple fact of the matter is that ours is a universe which is indifferent to effect and outcome.

Which is why we of humanity should care. We have evolved the capacity to care. We cannot control the universe, but we can care. That may be the best thing any of us ever accomplish in this brief and relatively meaningless existence:

To simply care

Misogyny and Myth: Genesis 19

There is a Bible story that has always bothered me, and it was one of the stories that lead to my doubts regarding both the validity of the story itself (as fact; it works fine as a myth, though still a myth with lousy values), and regarding the values which the story teaches (reveals the sexist thinking of that day and time). The story I refer to is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, as recorded in Gen 19. Among my issues with this story:

1. As a father of a daughter, I have always found this story disturbing. Lot, who is later referred to as “righteous” in the NT; offers his daughters to be gang raped. That REALLY bothers me. How can any decent father offer his daughters to be gang raped; and to protect two perfect strangers at that? Horrible values taught here.

2. The very next day, “Lot’s wife” is murdered by God on the spot; for the sin of looking back. Okay, so firstly: Why is Lot’s wife not named? And secondly: Why kill her for merely looking back; and yet never say a word to Lot about offering his daughters to be gang raped? (Daughters also not named. Very bothersome).

3. THEN; after their mother is murdered by God, Lot’s two daughters are so concerned about their father’s progeny, that they get him drunk and have sex with him. Where is the grief for their mother? And why be so concerned about father’s progeny, when he had offered them to be gang raped?

Conclusion:

This story reveals itself to be mythical and misogynistic. I regard the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Lot and his family; as a horrible story which totally disregards women as mere commodities; and is clearly patriarchal and sexist.

The lesson to be learned in my judgment from this story is that we should be cautious about forming our values based upon the writings of ancient Hebrew myths. Our natural sense of compassion, kindness, and fair play will guide us to be a better person than sexist material such as Genesis 19.

Dave Henderson
Denison, Texas

Everything Is Relative

Christianity and Islam are each Monotheistic religions based upon antiquated Hebrew myths. They each worship one God. They each preach heaven and hell. They each cherish their own holy book. Each of their holy books teach peace and love. Each of their books teach violence and murder. Christianity and Islam are each represented mainly by good and decent people who want to lead good lives and go to heaven. Yet both Christianity and Islam have extremist terrorist groups which maim, torture and murder those who do not believe as they, and who kidnap children and convert them to their cause. In my mind, the Christian terrorists in Africa are no more representative of the good and decent Christian; then the Islamist terrorists in the Middle East are representative of the good and decent Muslim. I believe that when the Muslim and the Christian each take the finer and more refined passages of their holy books as their guide for daily living, then neither are a threat to anyone, and each represents themselves and their respective religions with honor and dignity.

That said: Everything is relative.