Intro to the Documentary Hypothesis

Ever wonder how and when the Christian Old Testament / Jewish Bible (divided into the Torah "Law," Neviim "Prophets," and Ketuvim "Writings") were written? There is a large body of scholarly work on the subject, and it's all pretty fascinating. Especially if you like studying history and culture. The first thing I would recommend is this brief introduction to the Documentary Hypothesis. This covers the very basics behind scholarly understanding of the Torah.

Thanks to heterodoxism and his hard work making these abridged lectures a visually interesting jumping off point.

If you enjoy this short playlist and want to delve deeper, OpenYale Courses has this entire lecture series from Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) available online.

I share this because there are two ways to read holy books.

The first way is to assume that you are the intended audience, and to assume that the theology of the authors is the same as what you were taught.

The second is to take a critical approach to the text and to the history and culture of the authors. In the Five Books of Moses alone we have evidence for the four distinct cosmologies/theologies of J, E, D, and P; each so old that modern Judaism and modern Christianity are closer to each other than they are to their ancient source material.

When I studied the Torah in college I entered the class committed to truth and hoping to strengthen my religious faith by delving into Christianity's origins. I saw several students that would rationalize away or simply ignore the historic and archaeological evidence and continue to argue the "truth" of their churches explanation for the text. They couldn't defend their positions, but they wouldn't budge. This bothered me greatly. If my fellow Christians were honestly opening themselves up to the truth of God's word, why did they feel threatened by long documented and well understood facts about the Hebrew history? Interestingly, their faith in their particular church's doctrine led them to disagree with each other almost as often as with the professor.

On the other hand, I understood and accepted my ignorance of the subject and approached the class with an open mind. When I saw that my position didn't match the evidence I accepted that I was wrong. I abandoned the assumptions that I had been taught by volunteer Sunday School teachers with no scholarly background, and accepted the position that was supported by verifiable historic facts. Ironically, this eager commitment that I made to learning the true roots of my religion was also my first step to seeing it as it really is: a human construct that stands in contradiction to the natural world.

"The bible must be seen in a cultural context. It didn't just happen. These stories are retreads. But, tell a Christian that -- No, No!
What makes it doubly sad is that they hardly know the book, much less its origins."
~ Isaac Asimov

In search of reason,


From Sexual Guilt to Sex Positive

Note: This post contains information about my sexuality or sex life, if you would rather not know these things about me move along and check for another blog post on another day.

Mike and I took a trip to the three-story Lovers adult store in Tukwila the other day, and had a really great time. The salespeople were all very friendly and helpful, and there wasn’t a hint of awkwardness. They knew their stuff and were sincerely looking to help us enjoy our time shopping. It took me once around the store to relax and be able to talk to Mike about the products we were looking at, but once I did I was really comfortable and appreciated the atmosphere. It got me thinking about how nice it would be if sex wasn’t such a stressful taboo in our society, if we could always relax and talk with others with the same ease that Mike and I could in the store.

Lovers mission statement is “To provide an exciting environment to explore human sexuality and to acknowledge the freedom to do so."

Now, how is that possibly a bad thing?

We once went to a lecture by Dr. Darrell Ray where he talked pretty extensively about The Guilt Cycle, and how it plays such an important role in religion. The Church latches on to sex as a really great way to control their members (no pun intended). They find something that people are naturally programmed to do – in this case masturbating or experimenting as they mature sexually – and tell them that it’s wrong, a very serious sin. When Churchgoer masturbates or experiments with a friend or partner, they feel intense guilt that has been programmed in by the Church. They turn to the Church or prayer, to absolve them of their guilt, which the church will happily do… while reinforcing the idea of how bad this sin is. Churchgoer feels a little bit better, at least until their hormones kick in and they ‘slip up’ again and the cycle repeats. I’ve watched several Christian friends and even a few relatives anguish through this cycle. It’s incredibly powerful.

If you want to control someone, control their sexuality. Sex is one of the most powerful urges that we have, next to eating and sleeping. We become sexually viable in our young teen years, and it’s completely unnatural to abstain from sex until your early 20s. There is a reason that teenagers are so horny, it’s not a choice, its basic biology. It’s generally mentally and physically unhealthy to abstain from sex for so long, especially if you try to eliminate masturbation as well. There may be people out there who can do it, and I’m impressed. By the time I was 18, I was chomping at the bit. Depending on your definition of virgin (mine was vaginal sex) I was a virgin until I got to college, but at that point I was ready to fuck just about anybody. I’m lucky enough that I met my future husband and he didn’t take advantage of that, but let’s back up a bit to get the whole picture.

My own sexual growth and knowledge has been stunted on one side, and accelerated on the other, which has forced me to do some painful growing and balancing in the past few years. Let me explain.

I grew up in a sexually repressive Evangelical Christian church, though thankfully not as repressive as it could have been. Sex was something wonderful and awesome - a perfect gift from God - as long as it was saved for marriage and you only ever had sex with your permanent heterosexual partner. You give up a part of yourself whenever you have sex, a part that you never get back, so don’t you want to be whole for your spouse? If you’re not, all of the other partners that you have will basically be in the bedroom with you every time you have sex. (What a load of bunk.) I got the idea that you didn’t need to work at sex, your wedding night would automatically be amazing since you’d waited patiently for so long. Real life turned out to be just a bit different, but we’ll get to that.

So, from my verbal schooling about sex, I got a good education on what was happening to my body through puberty, the basics on the mechanics of sex, the ‘icky’ knowledge that gay men had sex by sticking it in the butt (I was young and it was said with such disgust), and the idea that sex was perfect when God brought the right man into your life and you ‘became one’ with him. This is the stunted half, there’s so much that I didn’t learn about the way sex really is.

The other half started silently when I was 5ish. I discovered my body and “Hee, that tickles! … Hey, that feels really good!” at nap time and at night. I had my first fantasies, and ‘played doctor’ with the neighbor girl down the street. Young-me was told that pornography was a terrible sin, degrading for women, something that should be avoided at all costs, etc. I was either never told, or could never remember, what pornography actually was. Curiosity eventually won out, and one night when I was home alone, I turned to the internet. I went to (remember that search engine?) and searched for “pornography”. With my heart pounding, and looking paranoid over my shoulder, I was faced with my first “You must be 18 or older to enter” screen and feeling like I was breaking the law, I pushed “ENTER”. I panicked and quickly closed the window. I sat there for a moment, heart racing, sure I was somehow going to get caught. Once I calmed down a bit, I repeated the process and I was hooked. I think I was 12.

I was insatiable for a while, learning and looking at everything I could get my hands on. I found a site full of erotic stories that captured my imagination, AOL chatrooms where I pretended to be twice my age and quickly got frustrated with guys who couldn’t figure out descriptive writing and that ‘I give you an orgasm’ wasn’t exciting (which I still find hilarious). I also had a 30-something guy tell me he was newly married but he loved me and his wife said that it was okay if it was just on the internet. Right. That scared the pants off me, I told him I was 13 and then blocked him, and that killed cybering for me. I learned pretty early on what I liked, what got a rise out of me, and what didn’t do anything. I was increasing my sexual knowledge by leaps and bounds, but I didn’t have anything practical to temper it against, and I wouldn’t dream of talking to anyone about it. This is the accelerated half, and the silence of it all has made my sex life unnecessarily difficult.

As I became sexually active, I found that I had no idea if the things that I read about in porn were the way it actually worked and I also quickly realized that I couldn’t vocalize the things that I wanted, including saying no when things were moving too fast. I had good boundaries in mind, but enforcing them was nearly impossible for me. If I had stumbled into a less amazing guy than my future husband when I first got to college, this could have ended very badly for me. As it was, I got off with only days of stress, guilt, and frustration at myself afterwards. Yeah, there’s still something wrong with that picture.

As our relationship grew, we struggled pretty mightily creating a happy and healthy sex life. Some of it was the fact that being on the pill killed my libido, but I think a lot of it came from my lack of ability to communicate. Some people might be lucky enough to get it right the first time, but from everything that I have heard, read, and experienced: it’s all about communication and practice. If you’re missing the communication, the practice isn’t going to help much either.

So many couples are incredibly self-conscious talking about sex, even though they are actively engaging in it. Why is talking about it more embarrassing than doing it? I still have a problem talking openly about the specifics of sex with my own husband. I get embarrassed and shy and it’s damn frustrating. The unrealistic expectations from the church, mixed with feelings of guilt from my Christian peers and teachers, self-imposed guilt from my parents teachings (Don’t make our mistakes!), and silence through my sexual development have been huge hurdles that I’ve had to face in coming to terms with my sexuality and in working with my husband to create a healthy sex life. I read blogs about parents raising their children in sex-positive environments and I’m jealous. But I can only take what I’ve learned and move on.

I am sex positive, working hard to become vocal about it, and I think the world would be happier if everyone else was too.

Never stop questioning,



Here's a little bit on the sex positive movement to help clarify things:

"The sex-positive movement does not in general make moral or ethical distinctions between heterosexual or homosexual sex, or masturbation, regarding these choices as matters of personal preference. Some sex-positive positions include acceptance of BDSM and polyamory as well as asexuality, transsexuality, transgenderism, and other forms of gender transgression in general. Most elements of the sex-positive movement advocate comprehensive and accurate sex education as part of its campaign."

"Sex-positivity allows for and in fact celebrates sexual diversity, differing desires and relationships structures, and individual choices based on consent."

Being raised sex-positive would mean that all forms of consenting sex and gender combinations would be viewed as normal and healthy, and would include a well-rounded education about the dangers and benefits of sex, physically and emotionally. I definitely don't advocate all teens running around sleeping with each other, I agree with you that most aren't emotionally ready yet, but we can better prepare our children for how to safely have positive sexual experiences when they're ready.

Guest Post: Is it any wonder

As some of you are aware, a few months ago there were a number of high profile cases involving gay teens committing suicide. This included Tyler Clementi, a college student that jumped off of the George Washington Bridge after two of his peers humiliated him by videotaping him having sexual relations with another man. This prompted many prominent members of society, including President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and many others to participate in the “It Gets Better” campaign. The idea was to send a message that it is possible to have a happy life while being a member of the LGBT community.

Ultimately, even though I am straight, I had no problem understanding why a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered teen would want to kill themselves. All I had to do is think back to elementary and middle school days. “Gay” was used as a derogatory slur the other kids would call each other. Throughout high school, and even every so often in college, the word “gay” was used as a synonym for stupid. Growing up in the 90s, I thought being gay was something sinister. And to think, I was by no means living in a conservative household or in a conservative part of the country.

High profile religious leaders have blamed gays for terrorist attacks. Many choose to practice selective literalism and hide behind passages in Leviticus to justify their intolerance and sheer hatred for the LGBT community. Gays are currently not able to get married in all but a handful of states, and those marriages are currently not recognized by the federal government. The LGBT community is not covered by the Fair Housing Act, and is not immune from employment discrimination by federal law and 30 states. Is it any wonder that some gay teens can’t picture a happy life for themselves?

What I believe is most telling is not a single prominent Republican produced an “It gets better” public service announcement. I would like to think that we would all be on the same page and believe that it is a bad thing for people to be committing suicide, regardless of who they are. It is important to remember that silence is acceptance, and that we must condemn not only those who perpetrate the hatred, but those who remain silence and allow the hatred to live and fester in our society. Martin Luther King Jr. often remarked that “the ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” Unfortunately, some have taken it upon themselves to prevent others to share the same rights that heterosexual couples already enjoy; this opposition baffles me. I have yet to hear a single good reason as to why we should not legalize gay marriage, and eliminate any law that actively discriminates against the LGBT community.

For starters, it seems that the attempt to stop gay marriage is futile, and I do not see how it could be stopped from becoming an American institution. Although most point to Biblical scripture as the reason for their opposition, last time I checked we were not a theocracy, but a constitutional republic. The American Constitution clearly defines a separation between church and state. Furthermore, the 5th Amendment prevents any person from being “…deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…” Also, section 1 of the 14th Amendment states “…No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” It should be noted that the 5th Amendment applies directly to the federal government, whereas, the 14th Amendment applies to the states. In a modern context, that could easily include the right of marriage.

Social conservatives often grumble that allowing gay marriage would be “redefining marriage.” The fact of the matter is, if we hadn’t redefined marriage Catholics would be unable to marry Protestants, Christians would be unable to marry Jews, and blacks would not be able to marry whites. Marriage is something that has been in flux over the years; changing to reflect the social changes of the era.

Another issue people should think about is “Why do you care if two people you don’t even know of the same sex want to marry each other?” How exactly would this affect your personal life? The answer is little to nil. I have to say that it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest if same-sex marriage became the law of the land. Some may worry that their church may be forced into recognizing those marriages. This fear is unfounded. The separation of church and state works both ways; other than laws like not killing the parishioners, and abiding to building codes; the state has no business in the affairs of the church.

Some may worry that allowing same sex couples to marry would hurt the sanctity of marriage, since Americans are all about upholding the sanctity of marriage. That is why 1 in 2 marriages end in divorce, according to the Kinsey Institute 50% of men and 26% of women have engaged in extramarital sex at least once, and Britney Spears’ 72-hour just for fun marriage is allowed to happen. I am not saying that marriage should not be respected. What I am arguing is that when so many do not respect the love and commitment that corresponds with marriage; why not allow marriage to a group that does?

History tells us that when ever there is some social change that becomes obvious to the mainstream, there is always a group that will fight it until the very end. I am convinced that the LGBT community deserves full and equal protection under the law. In that sense, 30 years from now when they make the documentary about the gay rights movement and they need a bad guy that fought it every step of the way, that person certainly won’t be me.


Naive Rationalizations

When I’m talking to a theist about religion, I am sometimes stunned by arguments I’m presented with that I can only describe as childish. When I say childish arguments, I am not implying that they are either stupid or immature, nor am I calling the person presenting them childish, stupid, or immature. Rather they demonstrate to me that this person, otherwise very intelligent, logical, even skeptical when talking about other topics, has an innocent or even naïve credulity behind their religious superstitions. I’m sure everyone that has been proselytized for one time to another to has heard something similar to the statements below:
“God tells us that he is just.”
“God tells us that he wants none to perish.”
“I know that the Bible is God’s words because it says so.”
“Jesus wouldn’t have claimed to be the Son of God if it wasn’t true.”
The implied argument behind these statements is that decrees or properties attributed to one’s god are not only true; they cannot even be challenged or investigated. I find this idea to be a horrifyingly low standard to set for truth. Where else in life do we take important claims solely on faith, or as I should say, with unquestioning obedience? Foreign leaders? Our own politicians? Our courts? Safety inspectors?

The more power that one can potentially wield over our lives and well-being, the more we expect that they can back up their claims. And if evidence to the contrary arises, then we become even more skeptical. In short, our trust in those who wield power over us is contingent on them demonstrating that they have earned our trust. So why does a god get a free ride? I ask this with all sincerity: shouldn’t an omnipotent being be held to the highest of standards? If it can do anything then proving its own claims should be a trivial exercise for it. We should expect a perfect being to do so clearly and without contradiction or room for error of interpretation. I want to go back to those statements, and explain why – to a non-believer – they sound naïve.

“God tells us that he is just.”

We may not have a perfect grasp of justice, but there is strong consensus amongst humans with modern sensibilities about what constitutes a just punishment. When Yahweh is said to have sent his flood, he did so to kill every man, woman, and child. With only one family left living, this flood would have been the worst genocide in all of human history. Even if every adult was provably an evil and immoral criminal, no one can claim that it was a just punishment to slaughter the millions of infants born to these criminals by no fault of their own. Christians claim their god is perfectly just to imply that it is our fault for not understanding his justice. But a perfectly just god would never have committed such an evil and unjust act as global infanticide.

“God tells us he wants none to perish.”

How one can say this with a straight face when they claim to know their god through the Christian bible is beyond me. As an omnipotent being that created all things, Yahweh could have chosen to not create man as mortals, or to not create a hell. But throughout the Christian bible it is clearly stated that Yahweh intends to stoke the furnaces of hell for all who refuse to glorify his name. Ignorance is no excuse for non-Christians either. The most generous estimates are that one third of the world’s population are self-described Christians. Let’s ignore the contradictory and mutually exclusive theology. Let’s also ignore the fact that many who describe themselves as Christians are not practicing, or only identify as such because of the oppressive social stigma that some societies (much of our own included) puts on someone for not being Christian. This means, at Christianity’s high point in world history, Yahweh will only prevent one-third of the world’s population from perishing. The vast majority of humans that ever have and ever will live shall suffer eternally the fires that Yahweh created for them. Clearly this god doesn’t mind that men and women perish, or he would have created different rules to run eternity.

“I know that the Bible is God’s Word because it says so.”

This is a basic example of circular reasoning and special pleading. Every holy book claims that it is divine revelation, but believers only buy that claim from the book they were raised with. If you are a believer, then ask yourself: Is the Koran the word of God? Is the Book of Mormon? Are the Gnostic Gospels? All of these books make the very same claims to divine origins that are made in the the Old and New Testaments of the Christian bible. Normally only the gullible accept a claim of authority at face value, but it is a universal deception of religions that accepting their unreliable claims at face value is a virtue instead of a vice.

“Jesus wouldn’t have claimed to be the Son of God if it wasn’t true.”

Because clearly no one in history has falsely claimed to be related to a deity. In Roman occupied Palestine alone there were over thirty Jewish prophets who were executed for their claims that they were the messiah. Even John the Baptist was a martyred messiah figure; today a small Middle Eastern church still worships John the Baptist as the Christ. And in our own lifetimes we have seen several cult leaders claim to be a god, or at least one of his or her relatives. Besides any god we were raised to believe by an accident of geography, we dismiss as wild and baseless proclamations any of these other claims that men make about their godhood. Our special preference is simply a naïve impulse that has been reinforced by a lifetime of group-think.

Belief in religions and gods is not a harmless thing. Followers devote time and resources throughout their lives for the purpose of glorifying an entity that (if it’s as perfect as they claim) should have no need to be glorified. In the worst case scenarios we see that this blind obedience to a belief can compel otherwise good people to commit horrible crimes: terrorism, murder, war – in fact the very patriarch of the Abrahamic religions is a hero for his willingness to murder his son in cold blood. This unquestioning acceptance is dangerous. If you believe your god is the most powerful and good being in existence, then you should hold it to a higher standard of proof than anyone else. Your god should be plenty capable of rising to this simple challenge, and you should expect it to do so before devoting your entire existence to it.

In search of reason,