Monday, August 11, 2008

If You Don't Know About This... You Should

I've been following the story in Postville, Iowa and I realize that if there is any public issue important to both humanists and theists, this is it. There is such an immense humanitarian concern for the people involved in the ICE raid that took place back on May 12, that I really wanted to call attention to it for all who are unaware of what happened and who may feel called to add their voices in prayer or protest.

I have seen very little about this story in the mainstream media, but there are many resources with information about the ICE raid on the internet. Here is just one of those resources from the United States House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary: The Statement of Dr. Erik Camayd-Freixas, Federally Certified Interpreter at the US District Court for the Northern District of Iowa regarding a hearing on "The arrest, prosecution, and conviction of 297 undocumented workers in Postville, Iowa from May 12 to 22, 2008" before the Subcommitte on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law on July 24, 2008. The statement is 20 pages long but I urge you to read fully, as an American. The details are important. A few excerpts below:

"In my capacity as the court’s expert witness I observed that the arrest, prosecution, and conviction of 297 undocumented workers from Postville was a process marred by irregularities at every step of the way, which combined to produce very lamentable results."

"In every instance, detainees who cried did so for their children, never for themselves."

"To him we were part of the system keeping him from being deported back to his country, where his children, wife, mother, and sister depended on him. He was their sole support and did not know how they were going to make it with him in jail for 5 months. None of the 'options' really mattered to him. Caught between despair and hopelessness, he just wept. He had failed his family, and was devastated. I went for some napkins, but he refused them. I offered him a cup of soda, which he superstitiously declined, saying it could be 'poisoned.' His Native American spirit was broken and he could no longer think. He stared for a while at the signature page pretending to read it, although I knew he was actually praying for guidance and protection. Before he signed with a scribble, he said: 'God knows you are just doing your job to support your families, and that job is to keep me from supporting mine.'"

"SSA actuaries now calculate that illegal workers are currently subsidizing the retirement of legal residents at a rate of $8.9 billion per year, for which the illegal (no-match) workers will never receive benefits."

"Several families had taken refuge at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church, terrified, sleeping on pews and refusing to leave for days. Volunteers from the community served food and organized activities for the children. At the local high school, only three of the 15 Latino students came back on Tuesday, while at the elementary and middle school, 120 of the 363 children were absent. In the following days the principal went around town on the school bus and gathered 70 students after convincing the parents to let them come back to school; 50 remained unaccounted for. Some American parents complained that their children were traumatized by the sudden disappearance of so many of their school friends. The principal reported the same reaction in the classrooms, saying that for the children it was as if ten of their classmates had suddenly died. Counselors were brought in. American children were having nightmares that their parents too were being taken away."

"A line was crossed at Postville. The day after in Des Moines, there was a citizens’ protest featured in the evening news. With quiet anguish, a mature all-American woman, a mother, said something striking, as only the plain truth can be. 'This is not humane,' she said. 'There has to be a better way.'"

Special thanks to blogger Border Explorer for her continued reporting on these events and links to many sources of information. Unfortunately, the federal raid on the workers dissected a state investigation into the unfair labor practices of the company, Agriprocessors. The sleaze there was wide and deep--the good news? As BE reported, "Iowa state labor officials are turning over 57 cases of 'egregious' child labor violations to IA Attorney General with the recommendation that they are prosecuted to 'the fullest extent of the law.' Each of the 57 cases has multiple child labor violations in each case. Further investigation results may unturn additional cases, they say." Finally, please take five minutes and watch this video.

Eaters’ Bill of Rights from the National Catholic Rural Life Conference

Eaters have a right to food.

Eaters have a right to safe food.

Eaters have a right to nutritious food.

Eaters have a right to food with country of origin labels.

Eaters have a right to food with labels for genetic modification.

Eaters have a right to know whether food has been genetically modified.

Eaters have a right to food produced without harming air, water or land.

Eaters have a right to food produced under socially just circumstances.

Eaters have a right to know the conditions of their food production:

• Is the environment harmed?
• Is the food safe?
• Are the animals treated with dignity and respect?
• Is the food produced on farms by family farmers?
• Is the food produced by factories?
• Are the farmers paid a just wage?
• Do farm workers have safe and healthy working conditions?
• Are production contracts fair or one-sided?
• Are processing plant and warehouse workers paid just wages?
• Are processing plant workers given reasonable work schedules?
• Is the food produced locally or transported for thousands of miles?
• Is the food system controlled by a few agribusiness cartels?

Eaters around the world have a right to a secure food system.

Eaters have a right to good food at a fair price.

Eating is a moral act

O, Lord
Help us to remember where our bread comes from
and why we yearn for living waters.
Teach us your guiding principles
for reverence of your Creation and justice for your People.
Help us make a place at the table for everyone.
Grace us when we eat with justice on our plate.
Then fill us with joy.

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Fat Man

Take 90 seconds to watch this:

Got this from Border Explorer, who got it from Jan--pass it on.

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The Theological Center of the Old Testament

Crime and punishment, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; that’s the sort of theology I expect from Deuteronomy. Some would say I lack an appreciation for the subtleties and layers of meaning buried in the context of that book. And so I did. Until I heard Lawrence Boadt speak about the book of Deuteronomy at the Castelot Summer Scripture Series.

I have come to discover that in Deuteronomy there is a theology of repentance and hope; of reconciliation and restoration; that there are the beginnings of the theology of Jesus in this book. Deuteronomy is the beginning of the theology of love.

And that is a message I can embrace archeologically, historically, and theologically.

“Lawrence Boadt,” I said looking over the brochure. “I don’t think I’ve read anything of his. Why does his name sound familiar?”

“Look in the front of your Bible,” said Gloria.

“Ohhhhh. Lawrence Boadt.”

Yes, the man is brilliant. I would first say that Fr. Boadt has a very classical sense of order and style, evidenced by the organization of his notes and outlines. I really like that kind of nerdy intelligence and wry sense of humor he brings to his lectures.

Some of what I learned wasn’t exactly a surprise. Yes, Moses is the narrator, and yes, it was written after Moses died, so no, Moses didn’t write it. If you are shocked by this, take a deep breath. Biblical scholarship is not about undermining faith or truth, but about being open to the deeper message the text is trying to convey to you. So what if Joshua was made up?

So yes, Deuteronomy was written by a variety of authors who edited it and added to it to respond to what was going on around them at their time.

There’s nothing wrong with using a variety of literary forms, including myth, to illustrate a theological truth. To quote the Jewish Rabbi Rami Shapiro, "The transformative power of faith is not rooted in outward signs and historical facts, but in inner awakenings and literary narratives. Only in our day has the human imagination become so degraded as to reduce truth to fact, and myth to falsehood. Only in our day does story pale before history."

Okay, look at Numbers 36:13. “These are the commandments and the ordinances that the Lord commanded through Moses to the Israelites in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.” That’s the last line before the book of Deuteronomy. Now look at Deuteronomy 34:1. “Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan.” Chapter 34 is the last chapter of Deuteronomy. Look at the two sentences again. Num 36:13, then Deut 34:1. It’s the next sentence. They go together. That means everything in between, that is basically all of Deuteronomy, was inserted later as part of the Pentateuch. There are other particularities, such as the use of singular and plural forms, or phrase and theme comparisons with other contemporary writings, which to the trained scholar indicate changes and additions and help to make connections to various times and sources.

But what are the important themes and connections? Well, look at it this way: justice in the ancient world could be very arbitrary and ruthless. Downright nonexistent. When men looked to other men for justice more often than not they did not find it. Only the God of Israel brought justice to the world, and the men who feared Him and followed His laws. The people of Israel were obsessed with justice—and the way to find it was through God, and his prophet Moses. In Deut 4:5-8 Moses said, “See, just as the Lord my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!’ For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?”

So justice and righteousness, yes. The punishment attitude was a natural outcome of this evolution of theology to the one God of Israel. Unlike the Greeks or Egyptians who had multiple gods to praise or blame when things went right or wrong, having only one God and struggling with the problem of evil brought people to the idea that when bad things happen it must be because we deserve it; it must be that we did something wrong and we are dominated by sin. But the theology of love is introduced as well—the people of Israel knew God loved them—it appears over and over. God has chosen the people of Israel because he loves them and he offers them justice as they did not have in Egypt: Deut 10:17-19 “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” The God of Israel even loves strangers, and commands us to do so as well. The greatest commandment of the people is to love God. The Shema comes out of Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Deuteronomy 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37-41.

And indeed, when Jesus is asked, he singles it out as the greatest commandment. “'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31

Another of the great themes is that of repentance and hope, reconciliation and restoration. God is always faithful. God recompenses for what you lost; just wait, you will be restored. Return to the Lord, return to the covenant. The message is that God will not fail you or forsake you—you may forsake God when you do not follow his commandments, but you can always repent and come back to the Lord. He will never forget you.

“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life.” Deut 30:19

Now, if you view the Commandments through the prism of the Beatitudes, you’re really starting to get it.

Books by Fr. Lawrence Boadt, CSP:
Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction
Why I am a Priest
“Scriptural Exegesis” in Paulist Liturgy Planning Guide, Years A, B and C
And the forthcoming The Life and Missions of St. Paul (2008)
Along with many others.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Genesis 11:10-32, Yeah More Theology… Bo-ooring

“If the Bible is indeed the literal and inerrant word of God, one might wonder why God thinks it so important that we know the names of these long-dead non-entities and their familial relationships.” Some Christians do believe the Bible is the literal and inerrant word of God. But, as Cervantes keeps showing us over and over again, if you take the Bible literally, it is easy for a person of science to make a fool of you. Believing scripture is inspired by God isn’t really the same thing as believing it to be literal and inerrant. There are lots of contradictions in the Bible, but if you look at the whole through the prism of the Gospels it’s possible to see the bigger picture, the fuller meaning. And it’s possible, even, to understand the purpose of all of these “begats,” despite the context of their original cultural and the differences with which we view women and individuals in a free and open society such as America today.

There is a small but important point to be made here: every life matters. Every life is important in the overall mosaic, in the generations of individuals, and in the fulfillment of God’s promise. All of these “begats” between the generations of Noah and Abraham that make our eyes glaze over as they are read aloud serve as a reminder that just as most of these people were ordinary folk who nevertheless advanced God’s plan, so too ordinary people today can contribute to God’s grace in the world in the midst of everyday life.

Maybe as a person of science you might think Albert Einstein was a very important individual. But what about his father? Or his mother? If his mother had never been born, then Einstein would not have existed, nor would all of his thoughts, and his contributions to the world would have been that much slower in coming, if they reached us at all.

Today is All Saints Day, and what better day to write about this—the communion of saints, the great “cloud of witnesses” whose lives challenge and inspire our own. Remembering all of those people who came before us raises the proposition that we connect with them as our companions in life and struggle. It is a multigenerational community of redeemed sinners that geographically encircles the globe. It stretches historically backward and forward through time into eternity; it crosses boundaries of language, culture, race, sex, class, sexual orientation, religion, and all other human differences.

In the Bible, the work of Wisdom is described in this way: “Although she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets” (Wis 7:27).

A friend of God isn’t just someone who enters into a relationship with God, but also someone who loves the world the way God does. You imagine how it should flourish, and are moved with compassion by the suffering. A prophet raises her voice in criticism of injustice and creates possibilities for resistance.

Here still, in Genesis 11:10-32 we have a completely androcentric list. Other than Eve, the women who did the work of bearing the sons and daughters of each generation go unnamed and hidden. Yet soon there will be a break in this pattern. We will learn of the daughters of Lot, of Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel. Sarah, who laughs at God. According to David Rosenberg’s translation, “Sarah’s sides split.”

Also given name are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah. These women all found themselves outside the patriarchal structure and taking unconventional steps that put their lives in danger, yet advanced the generations that led to the Messiah.

So maybe my life is ordinary. Then again, maybe it’s not. Maybe I’m teaching a saint. Maybe one of my own children will do something great for the world. Maybe generations from me a great leader will be born. Maybe Cervantes will think I’m finding meaning where there is none. Meh. You know, whatever. I’m okay with that. If I find meaning in Sacred Scripture for my own life, then I think I’m taking a healthy approach to reading the Bible.

Monday, October 29, 2007

More Theology: Genesis 11:1-9

Well, first let’s ask ourselves if this legend of the Tower of Babel necessarily follows chronologically the legend of the Origin of Peoples. It doesn’t necessarily, and that’s a way of taking the Bible literally. There is a bit of jumping around in the Bible and this seems to be another instance. I would point out that we get another new list of Shem’s descendants as a means of introducing the narrative of God’s calling of Abraham (Gen 10:21-31 and Gen 11:10-26). But I’m getting ahead of myself now. I guess my point is these are legends and it’s not really a contradiction to say once upon a time everyone spoke the same language just because once upon a time Noah had sons, and his sons had sons and so on and they divided and became nations with their own languages and after ten generations along comes Abraham.
Okay, so the Catholic perspective on Genesis 11:1-9…It’s about pride. It’s about the growth of evil. The division of languages is seen as a sign of division and misunderstanding between individuals and nations. The Navarre Bible commentary states, “We have here an instance of literary devices being used to expound deep convictions—in this case the view that disunion in mankind is the outcome of men’s pride and sinfulness.”
Babel becomes a counterpoint to the Pentecost event (Acts 2:5-13). But that’s a fuller theology I’m not going to expound on here. Essentially the Catholic view is that this is a legend; it’s not intended to teach us about God as much as it is intended to teach us about mankind and pride and sin; just as Adam and Eve wanted to be like God, so do the people of Babel. And you know the ancients probably understood that they couldn’t reach God with a “puny tower.” It’s a story told by men to teach about the pride of mankind. St. Augustine pointed out that such a tower would simply go beyond our atmosphere, not really reaching anything, and that God had nothing to worry about from any attempts by man to physically reach Him.
I like this quote from Josemaria Escriva about the sin of pride: “The eyes of our soul grow dull. Reason proclaims itself sufficient to understand everything, without the aid of God. This is a subtle temptation, which hides behind the power of our intellect, given by our Father God to man so that he might know and love him freely. Seduced by this temptation, the human mind appoints itself the centre of the universe, being thrilled with the prospect that ‘you shall be like gods’ (confer Gen 3:5). So, filled with love for itself, it turns its back on the love of God. In this way does our existence fall prey unconditionally to the third enemy: pride of life. It’s not merely a question of passing thoughts of vanity or self-love, it’s a state of general conceit. Let’s not deceive ourselves, for this is the worst of all evils, the root of every false step. The fight against pride has to be a constant battle, to such an extent that someone once said that pride only disappears twenty-four hours after a person dies. It is the arrogance of the Pharisee whom God cannot transform because he finds in him the obstacle of self-sufficiency. It is the haughtiness which leads to despising other people, to lording it over them, and so mistreating them. For ‘when pride comes then comes disgrace’ (Prov 11:2)” (Christ Is Passing By).
The legend of the Tower of Babel (Babel, by the way, actually means “gate of God,” although it has been popularly connected with the Hebrew word balbalah which means confusion) illustrates that man has long been ingenious and long realized the power of working together. In looking at our accomplishments and comparing ourselves to every other living creature on the planet we can be consumed with the kind of pride that makes gods of men. But the truth is we don’t need God to sow division and misunderstanding.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Theology of Genesis 10

Hello Peeps. I’ve been gone a while, but I seem to have found the time to come back. I no longer have internet service at home, which is a huge drawback. And my conscience prevents me from spending too much personal time on the computer at work. But now I have a memory stick, so I can do some file sharing that way. I can write at home, and upload at work, which is what I would call a blessing because I really need the intellectual stimulation in my life right now. I suppose if little things like this make me happy I must not be clinically depressed. (snort) Gotta look on the bright side.
So yes, my personal life… I’m going through a divorce. Very un-Catholic of me, I know. But the fact that I’ve tried for eighteen years to maintain my marriage despite the obvious pathologies going on is indicative of my commitment to the institution and sacrament, if not the man. And that’s all I have to say about it here.
What I really want to get down to is Genesis 10—a short little account of the generations of Noah. The Catholic perspective is that this is pre-history. This is a story. The Bible is expounding the fact that the whole human race is of the same stock. This is the most complete ethnographic map to come from the ancient world, and again, if we all come from the same stock, if we are all really members of one family shouldn’t we live together in peace? According to the Navarre commentary, “These genealogies we’re worked out by reference to the geographical positions of the various nations, similarity of names, and popular traditions about certain heroes. However, the main thing about this list is that it is a way of showing how God’s blessing on Noah has come true: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth’ (9:1).”
And so the theme of Covenant is woven once again into the Bible’s narrative. We see it over and over again, from Adam and Eve up to the everlasting Covenant of Jesus. God keeps trying to cut a deal with us: I will be your God and you will be my people and our souls will reside in beautiful Communion. The original sin was disobedience, and the original punishment was being banished from the presence of God, from the everlasting communion with God that our souls crave. But God keeps trying; He wants to be with us. The legend of Noah is another example of this Covenant—people are bad—can’t deny that. God keeps up His end of the deal, it’s us—we people, who keep letting Him down; doesn’t stop Him from trying again and again. Genesis 10 is a way of showing how God kept up His end of the deal once again. God was faithful to Noah, faithful to His promise and blessing.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Genesis 11:10-32

10 This is the account of Shem.
Two years after the flood, when Shem was 100 years old, he became the father of Arphaxad. 11 And after he became the father of Arphaxad, Shem lived 500 years and had other sons and daughters.

12 When Arphaxad had lived 35 years, he became the father of Shelah. 13 And after he became the father of Shelah, Arphaxad lived 403 years and had other sons and daughters.

14 When Shelah had lived 30 years, he became the father of Eber. 15 And after he became the father of Eber, Shelah lived 403 years and had other sons and daughters.

16 When Eber had lived 34 years, he became the father of Peleg. 17 And after he became the father of Peleg, Eber lived 430 years and had other sons and daughters.

18 When Peleg had lived 30 years, he became the father of Reu. 19 And after he became the father of Reu, Peleg lived 209 years and had other sons and daughters.

20 When Reu had lived 32 years, he became the father of Serug. 21 And after he became the father of Serug, Reu lived 207 years and had other sons and daughters.

22 When Serug had lived 30 years, he became the father of Nahor. 23 And after he became the father of Nahor, Serug lived 200 years and had other sons and daughters.

24 When Nahor had lived 29 years, he became the father of Terah. 25 And after he became the father of Terah, Nahor lived 119 years and had other sons and daughters.

26 After Terah had lived 70 years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran.

27 This is the account of Terah.
Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot. 28 While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth. 29 Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife was Milcah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milcah and Iscah. 30 Now Sarai was barren; she had no children.

31 Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there.

32 Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Haran.

I stopped posting for a while in part because my interlocutor Missy has been taking a break to deal with some personal issues. (Don't we all have 'em?) I hope she'll be back soon, but meanwhile, I've decided to press on.

Here we have a lengthy stretch of begats. If the Bible is indeed the literal and innerant word of God, one might wonder why God thinks it so important that we know the names of these long-dead non-entities and their familial relationships. The reason the Torah is full of this stuff is, of course, that it was not a Bible for all people, but rather the putative record of a specific people, the Hebrews. As we see elsewhere, the Hebrew God (excuse me, G_D) was not a God for all people's either, but exclusively the God of the Hebrews. Back in the times we are revisiting now, the Hebrews did not believe their God was the only God, just that he was the only God they were permitted to worship.

So, this is their specific, individual history, or rather legend. Note that the society was patriarchal, which is why we are given only the male line of descent and the names of women aren't even mentioned, until we get to Abram and his family. The barrenness of Abram's wife Sarai turns out to be an important plot element, so she requires an introduction.

In the strict social science sense, patriarchy means only that the people trace descent through the male line, but in ancient Hebrew society, it meant far more than that. Women were chattels, with no economic or political rights. The action in the Old Testament is heavily male dominated. Men make all the decisions, issue all the laws and commandments, and women are their property. These patriarchal begats are just one manifestation of what was a man's world.

As for the people living hundreds of years, pish tosh. The life expectancy in that era, based on skeletal remains which have been extensively studied, was in the 40s.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Genesis 11:1-8

1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

3 They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."

5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 6 The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."

8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel —because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Hmm. That's funny. Remember Genesis 10:4, just a few paragraphs back? "From these the maritime peoples spread out into their territories by their clans within their nations, each with its own language." And 10:20? "These are the sons of Ham by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations." And 10:31? "These are the sons of Shem by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations."

Well, that's inoperative. Suddenly there is only one language on the earth. But, we know that isn't true, because by this time -- according to the Biblical chronology, sometime around 2,400 BC -- there had already been written languages for almost 2,000 years, and uhh, there were many different ones. If you're interested in this subject, I would just start with the Wikipedia article.*

The history of spoken language is obviously more difficult to reconstruct, but if you're willing to ignore the biblical timing and just want to know whether it is true that there was once a single, original human language, that's actually controversial. Spoken language left no trace until the early 20th Century (thanks to Mr. Edison), except for whatever can be deduced about it from writing systems. Since early systems did not use phonetic alphabets, they are of limited use for reconstructing spoken language. But what is more important is that language pre-dates writing by tens or hundreds of thousands of years.

The proximate ancestors of humans, Homo erectus, persisted for about 2 million years. Their brains were considerably smaller than ours, and their vocal apparatus wouldn't have allowed for the complex, fluid speech we use today, but on the other hand apes communicate with meaningful, non-syntactical sounds, so they might have had a system of communication more complex than that of apes but less complex than ours. In any event, the evidence that it wasn't a real, fully developed language is that their material culture was essentially stagnant for all that time. We find no evidence of representational art, or ritual, and we find the same crude, disorganized kit of stone tools for all those millions of years.

Then, about 200,000 years ago, we find the first fossils of so-called anatomically modern humans. Not long after that, somewhere between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago, was the event called cultural take-off. Suddenly stone tools become much more finely made and specific. In various times and places, new toolmaking techniques are invented and tools are made very specifically for specific purposes. They are clearly designed to be hafted as axes or fitted to spears or arrows, there are fine blades and heavy choppers, etc. Just a little later is sufficiently close in time that more perishable materials are preserved, so we find bone tools and traces of fibers. Soon thereafter we also find musical instruments, statuettes, elaborate burials, cave paintings. Something extraordinary happened and it's clear what it must have been. The ape started to speak, and now we could preserve and transmit culture, explain how to do things, discuss ideas, describe what we had seen to others, plan together, share our ideas about why the world was as it was and what it might become, write bibles and build towers.

But did language arise once, and spread from a single time and place, or were our ancestors poised to develop it and it arose at multiple points? We just don't know, although there is strong evidence that humanity passed through a very small population bottleneck in Africa around 200,000 years ago, and that these few people were the ancestors of all humankind, and maybe this one small group was the first to speak and language as well as life is their legacy to all of us. The basis for this belief is too complex to go into here, but if anybody is truly perplexed by all means let me know.

Whatever may have happened in the dark backward and abysm of time, we know that language evolves over time and that the confounding of language on earth arises from a continual process of change which ultimately results in the descendants of people who start with the same language becoming mutually unintelligible. At one time the ancestors of the people who today speak Spanish, French and Italian all spoke Latin. The English spoke a language related to German, but then the French invaded and they wound up speaking what is called a creole, which is my first language today. Pero hablo español también. God didn't do this, history did, and we have a full and clear record of it.

But enough of the profound idiocy of people who believe that the Bible is literally true. What does this story tell us about God? First of all, he's physically up in the sky somewhere. He has to "come down" to see what the people are up to, which means he also is not omniscient. Furthermore, he's highly insecure. He's afraid they can build a tower that will reach up to the heavens. Apparently he's unfamiliar with the facts about the universe he created, because there isn't any sky, it's an illusion caused by the scattering of sunlight from oxygen atoms in the atmosphere. If you try to reach the heavens, you just go up, and up, and up, forever. Before you get very far at all on the cosmic scale of things, you're above the atmosphere and you die, but you still haven't gotten to the place where God lives.

Nevertheless, he's jealous even of that puny tower. He doesn't want the people to accomplish great things, so he does what he can to mess them up. Of course, if he really was all seeing and all powerful he would have foreseen all this and never let it happen in the first place. Anyway, that's just sociopathic. My parents always encouraged me. They wanted me to take chances and create and build and accomplish. If god is our heavenly father, he's a dysfunctional parent and we had better move out and stop paying any attention to him.

Fortunately, God's pathetic scheme has failed. Nowadays, we have built tens of thousands of towers that make the Tower of Babel look like an anthill, and cities that could swallow up Babylon a thousand times over. We fly through the air, send words and pictures from one end of the earth to another in a nanosecond, and we have even walked on the moon and sent our robots beyond the solar system.

So God ---

Na na na na na. You lose, sucker.

*Quite possibly the earliest writing, or at least the earliest true written language that was fully syntactical, did arise in Mesopotamia. I point this out because the Iraq National Library and Archive has recently been occupied by American and Iraqi soldiers, threatening part of the irreplaceable heritage of all humanity. For more on this, see recent posting at Iraq Today.