Tag Archives: Christianity

Why does religion exist and why does it matter?

If religion, that is to say the existence of a personal God, is a fabrication of the human mind then a logical question might be: Why does religion exist at all? I’d like to discuss a few reasons I believe, based on my own experience and observations, that religion exists and thrives.

1. The Victors of War, Justification, and The Persistence of Myth

The conquest of men by other men, by all religions and creeds, have been vast and well documented. However, justification by God is a uniquely religious invasion.

1a. Kings and Crusades

During the Crusader’s invasion of South America the Spanish called upon God to justify their pillage of native villages. Their purpose was power, greed, and glory, but their excuse was conversion. Religion has always been an excellent excuse to do evils, but ironically these evils also serve to spread and preserve the institution.

Today, for example, South America remains one of the most religious nations on Earth (90% Christian). The very religion that their conquerors practiced hundreds of years ago. There is a common phrase among historians that “the victors write the history books” and it seems no coincidence to me that powerful Christian nations have been so successful at preserving the ideology that justifies their imperialism.

1b. America: A religious colony

And it should be no surprise that the United States remains a religious country seeing as the first inhabitants fled here to escape religious persecution. It seems obvious why America is predominately protestant and not Catholic or Church of England. These traditions have been carefully handed down from generation to generation slowly perpetuation religion in our very culture.  Were they handed down because the believes are accurate or because they are part of the culture? The answer seems clear.

So perhaps it seems obvious how and why religion spreads across the world, but why does it exist in the first place?

2. Religion provides answers to hard questions.

One of the greatest comforts of religion, even today, is that it answers some of the hardest philosophical and scientific questions our human minds can devise.  Questions about the creation of the Universe, why bad things happen to good people, and so on are addressed in the form of an all powerful entity we have named God.

When early man gazed at the Sun and the Stars and were unable to fathom their existence a supernatural answer seemed logical.  Over time the supernatural answer to difficult questions became stories that village elders passed down from generation to generation. Soon those stories became modern religion.

2a. Why being settling for mythical answers to difficult questions is a weakness of religion:

My problem with accepting the mythical as fact in the modern day is a practical one: It hinders progress. Where would we be if modern man accepted the Sun as a God, or ceased to find answers to evolution, DNA, and history because they believed that all of the answers lay in the literal interpretation of the Bible or Koran? We would probably be dying of plague and accepting it as God’s will.

Furthermore, I think of all the great minds that are engulfed in Religion. I myself know more than a few intelligent people who reject good science on the grounds that it conflict with the Bible. Where would we be if all the great minds today and in the past dedicated themselves to the progress of the human condition and rid themselves of the hindrances of religious mythology?

3. Religion provides a sense of community.

One compliment I will give many practitioners of religion is their sense of community. I have seen, on more than one occasion, a man consumed by vices change his life for the better thanks to the support and love of the religious community. And isn’t everyone searching for one such place or another?

Every human being wishes to belong. To be a member of something larger than oneself, bonded by a common goal and ideology. Whether that be a sports club or a religious institution all men desire such a thing – and most churches, mosks, and temples fill that role. These institutions are free and readily available.

But why do we rely on such institutions as the primary source of community? Why do we send our most vulnerable in society (the poor and uneducated) and question why religion is such an ingrained institution? Is there a better way?

3a. Why finding community among the religious can be detrimental to progress:

The danger of utilizing religious organizations as our main source of community is the advantage such an organization has in maintaining and building a society that believe their mythologies. How can we expect great minds to abandon the very institution they were raised on, or that accepted them in their darkest hour? We can’t. How can we expect society to generate great ideas, solve complex problems, and utilize reason when we are indoctrinated by an institution that promotes feel good mythology over truth? Again, we can’t.

Rather, those of use in the community who find reason, kindness, and truth to be our only form of religion should form similar such institutions to provide alternative sources of community and human service. What good would we do society if such institution promoted values based on logic, reason, and justice rather than pretend?

4. Religion makes us okay with perceived injustices and failure.

My life has been plagued with individuals who are completely satisfied with societal injustices and personal failure. I have family members who are plagued with vices (laziness, alcoholism, drug abuse, ignorance) that will proclaim with pride that “As long as I am right with God everything will be alright in the end.” This line of thinking is illogical, even to most religious scholars, but none-the-less a favorite among the religious.

What type of society do we promote when such a number of our inhabitants believe, even if subconsciously, that ultimate justice and happiness is yet to come – in another life! How can we earnestly expect to improve upon the land of the living when so many are anxiously awaiting to die?

4a. Why accepting injustice and failure is problematic:

We cannot accept injustice and failure in this life, thus we cannot promote an organization that passively does so itself. We create a society that believes, even if they will not admit it, that their shortcomings in this life are okay because they will be resolved in the next.

This line of thinking is immoral and unjust in itself. How can we justify regression to our children, and to our children’s children, and their children? If you are a conservative, which most religious claim to be, isn’t such an ideological fallacy a liberty-stealing one for future generations?

Instead we should demand organizations that promote morality, reason, and justice. Such an organization that tolerates all ideas and creeds, but forces one to examine them reasonably. One that teaches one to think – rather than what to think.

Guatemala: A brief history of Christian conversion by force

In July of 2012 my wife and I visited Guatemala.  We traveled around the country and visited ancient ruins, religious sites, and learned much about the history and culture of the people living there.

One phenomena I found especially interesting was a unique form of Christianity practiced throughout the region – especially prevalent in the rural regions of the country. This form of Christianity incorporated Christian and Mayan traditions and symbols – a unique and beautiful presentation of religious history right there in front of us.

History: Christianity brought to Guatemala by the Spaniards

Much of the Spanish inquisition of Central America centered around greed, not religion. Spanish explorers used religion as an excuse to pillage and destroy villages for resources, land, and glory – rather than in the name of Christianity.

None-the-less religious leaders permitted this behavior in the name of God and Christianity was spread by forced conversion – a convenient  mechanism for the Spaniards to promote their imperialistic goals in and around Guatemala.

“Maya communities under immediate pressure to conform to imperial designs…Under the policy of congregacion…thousands of native families were coerced from their homes in the mountains into new settlements built around churches…For the Spaniards, congregacion promoted more effective civil administration, facilitated the conversion of Indians to Christianity, and created centralized pools of labor to meet imperial objectives.” [Source]

In all, hundreds of thousands of Mayans were killed, millions displaced from their homes, and incalculable history destroyed. “Mayan-Christianity” persist to this day.

Guatemala religion

Mayan Christianity

And though most Guatemalans in these rural villages consider themselves Christian -traditions left over from native Mayan culture remain potent. One example is the Mayan headdress and shirt (shown above) worn by only the elder women in Santioago Atitlan. The fashion is fading away, but remains one of the clearest examples of local culture entrenching itself into modern Christianity.

Spanish Priests also incorporated Mayan symbolism into the churches (shown below). My local tour guide pointed out the altarpiece inside the church:

“Maya traditionalists familiar with this structure merge the Christian symbols in this large carved wood sculpture with their traditional worldviews. The altarpiece is seen concurrently as “a sacred mountain from which divine beings emerge,” the three volcanoes surrounding Santiago Atitlan, and, in the broadest sense, a referent to ancient Maya temples and architecture” [Source]

Guatemala relgions 2

Modern Guatemala

Modern Guatemala is a mashup of native and imported traditions. In the small town of Antigua, Guatemala, for example, there are nearly 40 churches representing different Christian denominations. Each a beautiful, yet painful reminder of the costs of imperialism and religious zealotry.

Note: All photos belong to me.

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Atheists and Heaven: “But do good: we will meet one another there.”

Pope Francis gave a homily recently that changed things. It forced the world to have a conversation: to think about what it means to be a good person and the value of doing good.

“They complain,” Francis said, “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.” He explained that Jesus corrected them, “Do not hinder him, he says, let him do good.”

The disciples, Pope Francis explained, “were a little intolerant,” closed off by the idea of possessing the truth, convinced that “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.” “This was wrong… Jesus broadens the horizon.” Pope Francis said, “The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation.”

“Even them, everyone, we all have the duty to do good, Pope Francis said on Vatican Radio.

“Just do good” was his challenge, “and we’ll find a meeting point.”

Francis explained himself, “The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart, do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can… “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ, all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!” We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

The impact of this homily is less about “who get’s into heaven” and more about the necessity of ALL PEOPLE doing good, the value of compassion, and humanity. That is an example all people, all religions, and all dogmas can respect and learn from.

Since then the catholic church has slightly redacted that statement, but it’s none-the-less interesting.

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How to have a relationship with an Atheist

My wife is Catholic. She was born and raised in church. She finds comfort in the community, the family bond, and the idea that God is actively involved in her life – keeping her safe. She enjoys the traditions, loves Christmas time, uses prayer as a form of meditation when life is tough. She’s also married to a non-believer. Me.

My wife is aware of my agnosticism and honestly she doesn’t like it. She can’t relate to my way of thinking. She says I’m all logic and reason with no emotion. Of course that is partially true, but on the same token I fail to understand why she is pure emotion. In a way we balance each other out nicely. I remind her to think it through while she reminds me to have a heart. I don’t think this dynamic is unusual in a relationship.

Discussions on Religion

Sometimes we have brief discussions about religion, but I’m a bully. My thoughts are logical and well thought out – I have data points and examples to prove my thesis. My wife relies heavily on the emotional aspect, faith, and why religion just “feels” right. We quickly realize we aren’t speaking one another’s language and aren’t likely to convince the other of anything.

I don’t want my wife to be Atheist though. There’s something about her conviction that I really love. If religion is where she finds her source of strength and balance who am I to take that away. She’s peaceful and doesn’t use religion as a weapon – overall it’s a positive thing in her life. I suppose it’s no different than the way I use my own thoughts and moments of meditation to get through life.

Finding Happiness with Difference

Sometime people wonder how a believer and a non-believer can live a happy life together. The two ways of thinking seem almost diametrically opposed to one another. They’re not.

We still share the same morals. In principal I believe that many of the moral lesson taught by Jesus were good ones – just as I believe the lesson taught by the Buddha or Gandhi are good. So often instead of focusing on our difference – I focus on what works for us.

Good and Bad on Both Sides

While I am basically against the brainwash of organized religion I do not deny that there are good and bad people on both sides of the religious spectrum.   The Priest that married my wife and I is one of the most wonderful people I have ever met. He is thoughtful, educated, and everything a man of the cloth should be. Carl Sagan, an Atheist, was by all accounts also a great man. I’ll bet if the two of them met they would have a lovely conversation.

I think my overall point, from a non-religious perspective, is that life is more about who you are as a person than what your particular beliefs are. Be a good person – religious or not religious. That is how my wife and I treat our relationship (though we’ve never officially said that). My wife is a wonderful, caring, beautiful person – much better than me. I try to be a man of integrity who puts his family first – treat people with respect. We both WANT to be good people, that’s an important step.

What about the Kids?

How will I raise my kids? I’ll raise my kids with truth and without bias. I’ll teach my children what the historians say, I’ll teach them to about the world’s religions, and a variety of viewpoints. My wife will undoubtedly teach them about Christianity, the tradition, the love, and the comfort of religion. Both are important.

I have complete trust in my future children’s ability to choose what life suits them best – without my wife or I forcing them into anything. What is important to me isn’t if my children are Christian’s or Atheists, but rather if they are good people.

Giving my children the ability to think for themselves is the greatest gift a father can give. Along with that comes the trust that my future children can make decisions for themselves. Love, support, trust, and freedom – that is what my children will receive. I don’t think anyone can ask much more than that from their parents.

Where they fall on the religious spectrum will be up to them.

Thoughts?

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Jesus the Sun God?

There are undeniable correlations from religion to religion. For example, almost all religions have a flood story. In the story the creator flooded the earth because of our bad behavior, but a few chosen were spared and left to repopulate the earth. This theme can be found across the Globe from the Mayans, the Greeks, and of course in Christianity.

Some might argue these correlations are evidence of the truth of the story. Obviously the flood happened because sparse populations all across the globe are talking about it. Right?

Maybe there is some truth to that, but I think a more likely scenario is that over time these legends and stories have been borrowed and integrated. It’s important to remember that much of religion and culture is based on oral tradition – and if you’ve ever played the telephone game (where you pass a sentence around a group of people until it gets back to the original person and laugh at how much it has changed) you know that ideas and “truth” can change drastically in a short period of time.

Historicity of Jesus

One thing a lot of people fail to realize is that the history and story of Jesus was not written down until almost 100 years after his life and death. Most of these stories (some compiled in the bible) come from corespondents and letters written by Christians. (i.e., Letters of Paul).

Some people have the mis-understanding that the Paul, John, Matthew, etc. from the books of the bible are eye witnesses – Jesus’s disciples. This is just not accurate. No Priest or Pastor would disagree with me there. So ask yourself: how much of the story was changed, exaggerated, mis-remembered, and manipulated after 100 years of oral tradition?

Edit: The information to follow is highly disputed and for the most part subject to interpretation. After you watch the video give this website a once over and decide how serious to take it.

In general, describing Jesus goes something like this:

1. Born of a Virgin
2. Performed Miracles
3. Known as the light, the truth, God’s Son, etc.
4. 12 disciples
5. December 25th: Star of Bethlehem, followed by three kings on his birth night
6. Sacrificed himself for the sins of the people
7. Resurrected after 3 days

It turns out this story, like the flood story, is pretty common. See the video below.

A Religious Journey: Searching for Faith

I’ve struggled with religion and faith my entire life. My studies began early and continue today. It started before I can remember as my Parents dropped me off at Church. Some of my fondest memories are those in a little Baptist Church as a child. Sunday school, church plays, and of course the plethora of Southern banquets featuring some of the finest dishes Grandmothers from around the county could muster.

Religion and the church community gave to me what everyone desires in life. An absolute truth, the warmth of love and affection, family, the kindness of a stranger smiling at you from a few pews away, and of course belonging. In a word: Comfort.

But from the time I can remember “believing” was always difficult. I would constantly struggle with the nagging feeling religion is make believe. I felt out of place and wondered how everyone else seemed to believe so whole-heartily and so easily while I struggled with my faith constantly.

I didn’t give up. As in life, the things that didn’t come natural to me (faith), I worked twice as hard as the next person to achieve. So I prayed daily for God to help me “believe”.

“Dear God – Please help me with my struggles in faith. Please help me find the evidence I need personally to find strength in my faith in you. I am sorry for my lack of faith and I am working hard to  find it.  Please put me on the right path.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

So my days would go from about the ages of 12 – 18. There were even times I believed strongly that God was there. Sometimes my hard work seemed to be paying off – though my doubts were never far behind.

Search for Faith

When I first arrived in college I decided to get serious about religion. I started watching videos that I hoped would strengthen my faith. I met a “preacher” who taught young people. And so intense self-indoctrination began – seemed to work – but eventually failed.

At one point I was ready to testify to my fellow college students on campus. I had almost convinced myself it all made sense. I painted an almost clear picture of what I had come to believe. But what I found mostly radicalized me and I saw in myself the symptoms of any individual induced to delirium.

Most of what I found I could not reconcile with my own personal thoughts and feelings.  Everything seemed overly radical, lacked evidence, and seemed almost loony. Though I learned many good lessons – those lessons were not independent to Christianity and proved nothing.

There were young earth creationist, those that claimed religion was about faith and not proof, those that claimed man and dinosaurs roamed the Earth together, and worse. Even those whom I admired failed in their efforts to provide reasonable evidence.

So, as a college student I decided to seek knowledge the best way I knew how. I enrolled in a few religion classes and finally I found what I was looking for, but not what I expected to find.

The scholarly approach to Religion was exactly what my personality craved. I learned about the history of the Bible, I found evidence of scholarly research, and was surrounded by people seeking the same information I desired. I had Christian Professors, Professors of different faiths and belief systems, and Professors with no beliefs at all.  I was truly left to gather the evidence and for the first time decide for myself rather than be told what I should believe by a Spiritual/Intellectual leader.

My Decision in Faith

I have become comfortably Agnostic. I’m an Agnostic because after years of searching for the information to strengthen my faith in Christianity, after giving it all I have to feel the right emotions, and after an entire youth spent in the indoctrination process of religion – it all failed.  I still came out hopelessly unable to believe.

I’m an Agnostic because I am a Scientist of sorts. Not a Rocket Scientist, of course, but a Scientist in logic and methodology. I am open to new evidence, new ways of thinking, and new interpretations. For or against religious belief.  Thus far all evidence points toward the non-existence of a God – especially the one described in Abrahamic religions.

I’m an Agnostic because for the first time in my life I feel like I am not lying to myself. I’m not struggling to force myself to feel a certain way or to believe a certain idea because that’s what I’ve been taught is right.  I think that’s something I can live with.

* I have written in length on religious topics on this blog.  You can check them out here.

The Planet is NOT 6,000 years old you Young Earth Dummy!

If you choose not to believe in evolution, fine. The theory isn’t perfect and there are a few scientific alternatives to our arrival on this earth as a species.

Hell, you can even believe God put all of this into action. Believe that God created these processes that eventually and inevitably lead to our very existence. You can believe in big-foot, the tooth fairy, monsters, the paranormal, and whatever else you want too, but PLEASE can we give up this young earth creationist bullshit?

Christian’s are the only ones clinging to this idea too (not all of them, even Catholics are laughing). Why? Because apparently you can trace the linage from Adam to present day at about 6000-10000 years. Taking the bible, a book whose stories existed as oral tradition for 100s of years, as historical fact is your first problem, but I won’t go there. The real question is how are you ignoring all the scientific evidence to the contrary?

Dinosaurs

One evening when my wife was out to dinner with and old high school friends, catching up, the friend brought up the young Earth theory. She said:

“Well, the bible talks about dinosaurs. It mentions behemoth, which is the description of a dinosaur…and you can’t refute the bible.”

No. I’m not fucking joking. This individual is responsible for another human life and is attempting to reconcile the existence of dinosaurs to a fucking verse in the bible. If God exists he is as disappointed as I am.

If Dinosaurs existed during the time of man humans would have worshiped them. We wouldn’t have drawn sketches of buffalo or lions on the side of caves and pottery, there would be monuments dedicated to T-Rex! Who the fuck gives a shit about a puny antelope when there are goddam brontosaurus roaming around!

I would rather believe fucking ancient alien theory than this shit.

Brainwash

Let me get serious for a second because I know a thing or two about religious brainwash. Why? Because it almost happened to me.

I was raised to believe that the bible is the literal word of God and when you are told to believe a certain thing your entire life the bullshit isn’t always obvious. For the first 12 years of my life I’m not sure I realized there were other religions (or lack there of) at all.

When all of the people you love and respect teach you the same thing, drill it into your head, it seems real. Of course they never bring up the holes in their arguments – no one EVER teaches you about that – not until your brain is so full of mush someone could show you a monkey transform into a human and you would deny seeing it.

Anyways – that’s pretty much how I grew up. Not forced to believe, not abused, just never shown anything different. So by high school I was doing my very best to believe, but I always had problems.

Looking back I could never fully commit myself to a belief in the God I was taught about. I tried though – and I was a hard worker so I did my studies. I read every argument, searched for videos, read articles.

By the time college came around I bumped into an evangelist who almost sucked me in. I might have been a fucking campus street preacher – one of those annoying bastards. That not happening may be proof there is a God after all.

Luckily at the same time I was also taking my first religion class. The women teaching it was actually a Christian. The class blew my mind. I had no idea how the bible was put together. I had no idea so many religions were so much older than Christianity. By the end of the class I wanted more – I eventually earned my minor in religion, but that was only enough to make me realize I know exactly nothing about it.

So here I am now – a guy saved from religion – by studying religion. I find that ironic.

Chick-fil-a and Measuring the Pulse of Society on Gay Marriage

It looks like Mike Huckabee declared today “Chick-fil-a appreciation day” to honor their opposition to Same Sex Marriage and to honor their traditional Christian values.   I didn’t think much about it until I logged onto Facebook today.  I hate Facebook.

My news feed was covered with posts about Chick-fil-a.  People were quickly choosing sides and declaring their love or hatred for Chick-fil-a.  Sitting in an office in California – 2468 miles away from my home in Atlanta, GA – it became obvious to me that the South is  in transition.

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My Thoughts On Chick-fil-a and Gay Marriage

First of all I think its great that we live in a country that is free enough where people can have peaceful disagreements without killing each other or going to jail (for now).  I think Chick-fil-a is perfectly within their rights to speak out against Gay Marriage – they are idiots for their beliefs – but perfectly within their rights.

If customers are unhappy with their Truitt Cathy’s beliefs and the companies Christian values then they can let their feet and money do the talking and stop going to the restaurants, urge people can stop buying Chic-fil-a franchises, and soon enough the economy will tell Chick-fil-a and their owners all they need to know.  I do think it is worth mentioning that many franchise owners of Chick-fil-a DO NOT agree with Mr. Cathy.  So that might be worth considering too.

As far as gay rights – well I support them.  No one should be able to tell two consenting adults what type of personal relationship they can have.  I have written extensively about that before.  You can read about that here and here for starters.

Morally, I do not think same-sex marriage is wrong.  If two people love and respect each other, have integrity, are socially and personally responsible, have good values, and practice them – they have my support.  Their race, faith, creed, gender, sexual preference, relationship status, etc. means little to me.

My Problem with Calvinism

Our destiny is decided.  What we want doesn’t matter.  Whether we follow the path of righteousness and enter heaven or follow a path of evil and find hell awaiting us after death is all predetermined.  Hell, whether we choose Frosted Flakes or Lucky Charms for breakfast tomorrow morning has already been decided too.  Predestination – one of the illogical pillars of Calvinism that I despise.

Calvinism is even illogical from a religious perspective.  Double predestination assumes not only does God choose a few elite persons  (at random?) to go to heaven, but that the rest of us poor saps are going to hell, forever, and there’s nothing we can do about it.  What kind of loving creator creates something to ultimately be tortured for eternity?  If we go by that logic, assuming there is no such thing as free will, then not only is God himself responsible for sin and evil, but also for our eternal damnation.  Surely this can’t be the case.

I mean seriously.  Does it at all seem logical for an all loving, all just, creator to build something, specifically programmed to behave a certain way – then arbitrarily choose most of them to spend the rest of time in pain and agony.  When you created them to be exactly as they are!  Free will seems infinity more logical and just.

The Dangers of Calvinism

The Calvinist way of thinking is a dangerous one.  It’s essentially a hopeless one.  Why do anything when you are doomed to hell or blessed with heaven by no actions of your own?  (Although I’m sure all people who are actually Calvinist believe they are part of the elect selected by God to go to Heaven.  How convenient.) If you do not feel the call of God, you are going to hell anyways, so why live?  Calvinism essentially leads to an overall environment of moral nihilism.

In fact, it only makes sense that people who believe they are going to heaven are Calvinist.  Is anyone a Calvinist who actually believes they are doomed to Hell?  What a bunch of elitist pricks.

The Undeniable Logic of Free Will

If you are a Christian you MUST believe in free will.  If not, what point was it for Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of all mankind?  The fate of the people have already been decided. By the Calvinist’s logic: God decided in advance who goes to heaven or hell, then sent himself to earth to die on the cross for sinners, sinners who he had already decided were going to heaven or hell anyways. Right?

This is all Bullshit Anyways  

Look folks, if we are going to start cherry picking versus from the Bible to support our way of thinking we may as well consider ourselves screwed anyways.  Calvanist pull versus like “…also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will…” to demonstrate clear references to predestination.

Alright, fine. I’ll pull this one “Yet she increased her prostitution, remembering the days of her youth when she engaged in prostitution in the land of Egypt. 23:20 She lusted after their genitals – as large as those of donkeys, and their seminal emission was as strong as that of stallions. This is how you assessed the obscene conduct of your youth, when the Egyptians fondled your nipples and squeezed your young breasts.” (Ezekiel 23:19-20)  The only thing I’m wondering is – are my genitals supposed to be “as large as those of donkeys” or am I missing something?  Wow.

In the End

If you are religious and believe in God – use a little common sense.  The Bible isn’t literal and once we understand that – Calvinism starts falling apart.  If you aren’t religious – well, you know.