Saturday, December 31, 2011

"The skeptic has no illusions about life, nor a vain belief in the promise of immortality. Since this life here and now is all we can know, our most reasonable option is to live it fully."
Paul Kurtz
The Transcendental Temptation

Misused and Abused: Correlation

One of the phrases I have frequently heard being both misused and abused is "correlation is not causation." Technically that is a true enough statement. Unfortunately, the way it is used is frequently misleading, contradictory, and hypocritical. Theists, or theists of a certain stripe, tend to wield it like a ignorant cudgel. Their intention is to change the subject at hand or end the argument outright. They do not get the subtle difference between saying it does not automatically follow that correlation indicates causation and the notion that with further investigation it may turn out that the specific correlation may actually mean causation.

Correlation of events, phenomena, etc. is more than enough reason to investigate. The correlation may indicate causation. There is no way to know whether it does until further investigations are made. Simply stating, "correlation is not causation", does not prove or disprove anything. Using that one set of words to end a discussion/debate or an inquiry of any type is an abuse of the concepts innate to the phrase. It is intended to convey the basic principle of the scientific method. Until you observe, test, review, and retest the statement is essentially hollow.

It is also contradictory since most of the theists who enjoy using the phrase to attack any science based arguments they come across will never apply it to their own beliefs. Nearly all of our understanding of the early formation of Christianity is based on correlation, at least to some degree. Many of the religious based reform movements we now associate with the early Christian church contain elements that predate the time frame that Jesus Christ presumably lived.  A number of early scriptures that reference Christ can also be read symbolically. There is reason to believe that they require a physical being. Some of the specific early groups may not have actually been "Christian" when they initially formed but rather became "Christian." Correlating all these elements is widely seen as the cause both of the "Christ" figure we eventually named Jesus and the early Christian faith. This may be true or it may not be. It may be true that without correlation there never would have been a Christ figure to latch onto.

Correlation should encourage and inspire inquiry not stifle it.

Monotheism and Christianity

Even though many Christians assume that their religion is monotheistic by nature it is not. There are Christian monotheists but there are many sects/denominations within Christianity that are by their nature not monotheistic. Any fundamentalist or evangelical group that believes in a literal reading of the Bible is not monotheistic. Aside from the numerous passages that imply the existence of other gods, the acceptance of the devil as an independent being automatically negates any claim to being a monotheist

True monotheism requires that God be perfect and all powerful. To claim otherwise leaves room for the existence of other gods which by definition would contradict monotheism. If the devil is an independent entity with the ability to command evil forces and influence humans then the devil has some power. God, therefore, does not have all power and is not perfect. This god would then not be the one true god of monotheism. To be a monotheist requires the rejection of even the possibility of any other source of power beyond God.

It could also be debated as to whether any Christian individual or sect/denomination that accepts the idea of saints and/or angels is truly monotheistic. Whether you pray to or through a saint or angel, if it is accepted that they have power or influence of their own it would similarly negate the requirement that God be all powerful.

With these two scenarios in mind it may be more accurate to both belief and practice to consider groups of Christians to be dualistic or polytheistic. Most Christians would vehemently argue against this characterization but in all likelihood would ignore the contradictions at the heart of the argument. In some ways there are many who would have to ignore it. At least those who tend to view polytheism with contempt would find it necessary to do so.

How Atheistic is Buddhism?

Buddhism has often been characterized as being atheistic. This is due to its lack of a personal god. Does that really make it atheistic? As I have noted on numerous other occasions there is more than one version of the God concept. Lack of belief in one version does not exclude the other. I find it difficult to accept this characterization since I see a number of instances that imply that Buddhism does accept the abstract version of the God concept.

The concept of Nirvana can be rather complicated and nuanced. There are debates about the true nature of Nirvana. One aspect that is not agreed on is whether the personality of an individual is annihilated or somehow subsumed by the state of Nirvana. Most descriptions of Nirvana, however, include references to consciousness. To me, by definition, this would indicate some type of personality/persona. Nirvana is frequently describe as the ultimate/cosmic consciousness. Many modern Christian theologians describe God in very similar terms. I do not find it a stretch to see Nirvana as a slight variation of the abstract version of God. If the primary goal of Buddhism is to achieve Nirvana how is it not theistic? If you wish to become one with the consciousness of the cosmos is that not essentially the same goal of Christians becoming one with God?

Reincarnation also seems to defy the characterization of Buddhism as an atheistic faith. It is true that some sects claim not to believe in souls (the mechanism by which you are reincarnated) but still cling to the concept of Karma. They do believe that you can not escape the earthly bounds of physical being until you achieve Nirvana. They do accept that you keep coming back in physical form and that each form is bound by Karma. Each form somehow records the individuals progress towards Nirvana. Even though some Buddhist groups deny having a soul I fail to see how they can honestly do so since there has to be a mechanism (fantasy or not) to transfer Karma from one form to another. Sounds like a soul to me. The notion of some type of eternal metaphysical entity, whether labeled soul or not, smacks of the God concept.

There are other aspects of Buddhism that indirectly seem to hark back to the God concept. The very structure of religion seems to do so at least to some degree. The doctrines and rites/rituals are usually described in divine terms and are frequently ascribed to a divine source. This is as true of Buddhism as it is of any other religion I've ever read up on. Examine the myths and legends around Siddartha Guatama and you will see many of the same elements of any founding figure of the various world religions.

Buddhism may be somewhat atheistic in comparison to specific world religions but when viewed in light of all belief systems it really isn't atheistic at all.

Friday, December 23, 2011

"The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved."
Victor Hugo

"Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one" 
 Jane Howard

"Friendship make prosperity more shining and lessens adversity by dividing and sharing it."
On Friendship

Happy Holidays

Festive links.

Homie Claus - In Living Color

Christmas at Ground Zero - "Weird Al" Yankovic

Ho! Ho! Whoa! (Dog Boy and Mr. Dan - Mark Fiore

Present Face - Garfunkel & Oats

Jingle Bells, Batman Smells - Robot Chicken

White Wine in the Sun - Tim Minchin

Bollywood Goes Christmas

Away with the manger — in with the Solstice! - FFRF

Christmas - Atheist Cartoons

Saturday, December 17, 2011

"The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it is conformity."
Rollo May

Hitchens Ambivalence

I find it hard to view Christopher Hitchens death as tragic. It is sad when any fellow human being dies before they are old and decrepit. However, he did not exactly live a healthy lifestyle. I don't think I ever saw him without a cigarette and he admitted to drinking to excess. I also think he was highly over-rated in terms of both his writing and his speaking ability. Of all the so called New Atheist he was by far the weakest intellectually. I was somewhat fascinated by him. I started reading his work in High School.

I got the impression early on that people who ended up taking a liking to him did so due to style rather than any particular talent. My own initial impression of him was that he was booze fueled windbag. Of the books, articles, and columns I read of his over the years only one impressed me, The Trial of Henry Kissinger. It was the only thing he ever wrote that was actually good from start to finish. Far too often he either went off on tangents or failed to support whatever point he was trying to make. Many atheists seemed to be awed by God Is Not Great. I was a little disappointed. I probably would have been very upset had I not already had low expectations. There was nothing in it that other had not already written about and written better.

It is sad that he died but I did not think much of him while he was alive and see no reason to pretend otherwise now that he is dead. Praise for him has already spread throughout the blogosphere and I have no doubt he be eulogized glowingly on any number of websites and podcasts over the next week or two. Having been a prominent atheist figure I understand that. I just wish people had more perspective. He stood up for atheists and I respected him for that. But he was not nearly as great as he is now being made out to be.

I have to thank PZ Meyers for at least acknowledging that Hitchens had his flaws in one of his Pharyngula posts, The dark side of Hitchens.

Christ?mass ConFusion

It never ceases to amaze me how clueless and credulous the average Christian can be. The holiday season inevitably leads to a heavy dose of all sorts of ridiculous pieces on Christmas and Jesus. All of them contain massive amounts of sentimentalized delusions. Most scriptural scholars, many are themselves believers, will freely admit that the odds of Christ having been born in December is virtually zero let alone being born specifically on the 25th. Nearly every aspect of Christmas has its origin outside Christianity. Yet, every December we are deluged with the same types of stories that inevitably lead to various groups of Christians whining about either not having the season go the way they want or bemoaning the various hassles that they themselves have created.

If you want to celebrate the "birth of Christ" and forgo Santa and the "secular" intruders on the season, go ahead. No one is stopping you. If you don't want to shop, bake, clean, or have company, don't. No one is making you do those things. And if you want to recount for the zillionth time the nativity story, go ahead. Don't assume, however, that the rest of us are interested or have to show any care for it.

And for the record, fighting over the true nature of Christ and the details of his life is just plain stupid. He never actually existed. You can make up whatever you want. You can find a passage in the New Testament to support just about anything since it is alternately vague, contradictory, and incoherent. So when someone says Christ was ______, just nod and grin. You are both right and wrong. Once again, Christ is a myth. Get over it.

It is also rather ironic that both camps of whiners fail to see that, just maybe, if they spent more time enjoying the Holiday Season festivities with their loved ones and less time bitching they might end up living the ideals they claim the season is about. Personally, I don't care if they want to treat it as some type of metaphysical superstition laden birthday party. For me it is all about spending time with family and friends. It would be nice, however, if the various disgruntled Christians complaining about the season as it is would take a long look in the mirror and shut the fuck up.

A Question of Civil Rights?

I agree with much of what Eboo Patel says in his recent post "Attacking Mitt Romney, Attacking Faith" but with a few caveats. I firmly believe that everyone has a right to believe whatever they choose, which includes religious ideas. However, Patel seems to be confusing the idea of respecting an individual's rights with respecting the ideas that individual subscribes to. There is a huge difference. I can easily agree that you have a right to believe in faeries but that doesn't mean I am compelled to accept or tolerate that idea. In fact, it's my right to think you are complete moron for believing such nonsense.

Patel also makes an incredibly idiotic comparison when he states, "...our society has, again for the most part, recognized that counting someone's race against her in a political election is an act prejudice, and it's bad. So why is counting someone's religion against him any less an act of prejudice?" Why? You do not choose your gender (at least not till you are a legal adult) or ethnicity. Gender and ethnicity also do not come with a set of beliefs. Simply being a male Caucasian does not mean I have to believe x, y, or z. You choose a religion. Whether you end up following all the doctrines or practices is a separate matter but by choosing the specific religion you are at the least publicly endorsing those ideas and behaviors.

He is right that no one should be denied rights because of the faith they have chosen but that is not what is happening with Romney or any other politician who publicly proclaims, and rather loudly, their particular religious beliefs. I see no reason to apologize for thinking that Romney is not qualified to run the country I live in because among other things he is a practicing Mormon. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who thinks their underwear (look it up) is magical is too fucking ignorant and stupid to run a country. I don't really care what the source of such a ridiculous notion is. If you endorse a system of beliefs that contains a huge amount of ludicrous ideas I'm going to assume you are an intellectual cripple incapable of making important policy decisions. I fail to see that as being a civil rights infringement. If there is evidence that clearly demonstrated that those ideas are sound I'll be happy to apologize and reconsider my own position. Till that time I'm going to reserve my right to think that Romney is an incompetent delusion ass.

Phil Zuckerman Interview

Recently on Culture Shocks Barry Lyn Interviewed Phil Zuckerman. It was a very interesting interview that I would recommend listening to highly. There were a number of questions and points I thought should have been elaborated on but in a set time frame it is impossible to cover everything.

One point I would have loved to have added to involved the question of whether the belief in God has to include the idea of perfection. It does not. However, removing perfection as a trait of God does change quite a bit. Many theists seem to think removing this trait solves a lot of inconsistencies and contradictions. It might but it also opens up a whole other set. It, among other things, opens the door to polytheism. If God is perfect and therefore all powerful there can be no other source of power. This eliminates the possibility of other gods. If God is not perfect then God is not all powerful which means there is no reason not believe other gods are not possible. After all, there is no other species that is limited to a single specimen. It also leaves open the implication that the Christian god is not eternal, is not the source of all things, and can be supplanted by another being. All points that Christian theology, regardless of sect/denomination, all vehemently deny. Basically, if theists want their god to be God, the one true god, then perfection is required. Back to square one and all its absurdities.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

“Ethical teaching is weakened if it is tied up with dogmas that will not bear examination.”
Margaret Knight
Morals Without Religion

"Ordinary heroism"*

"...when someone does dedicate their lives to helping the poor, we tend to think that they have gone beyond the call of duty, not simply done what morality requires. It could be, of course, that we like to think this because it gets us off the hook. After all, if morality required that we did the same, then we are moral failures..." (Baggini 44)

This poses a number of interesting questions and thoughts. I think it is true that our heroes are never quite as heroic as we make them out to be. That isn't to say they don't deserve to be admired. It has more to do with how we idealize those who accomplish more than we do ourselves. It makes me wonder if an individual's flaws can be as inspirational as their strengths. Do we need to idealize others? Can we respect their accomplishments while acknowledging their shortcomings. Can we use both sides of our heroes to spur ourselves to greater goals and deeds? Can it it help us see our own flaws if we acknowledge theirs?" I don't really know but I think it is well worth contemplating.

*Baggini, Julian.  "15. Ordinary heroism" The Pig that Wants to Be Eaten: 100 Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher. New York: Penguin Group, 2005.

Atheist Scientists and Religious Traditions

I've come across Elaine Howard Ecklund previously and can say I'm not impressed. She comes across as a pleasant enough person but she really does not know much about one of her favored topics, Atheist Scientists.

It will probably takes some time to get a copy of her latest work (with Kristen Schultz Lee) in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion , "Atheists and Agnostics Negotiate Religion and Family." I can get it free through a library database if I were willing to wait a year (publisher has a 12 month "embargo"), which I'm not. I will find a copy.

In the mean time the brief review I have read leads me to think it is probably as sloppy as her previous work.  There are a number of things implied in's piece on her latest article that don't add up. The title itself has implications that I'd be shocked to find were accurate to the answers given by the scientists Ecklund and Lee interviewed. The statement that scientists "embrace religious traditions" does not seem to be supported even by what little is described. It sounds more like these individuals feel pressured by the prevailing culture to participate. That is not the same as embracing something. I also want to see their specific responses since I find it hard to believe any atheist let alone a scientist would view religion as a "source of knowledge." I can see them commenting on it being a source of tradition, sense of community, or comfort.

There is also an interesting embedded video clip that reveals her own ignorance and bias when it comes to atheists. She seems to be genuinely shocked that atheist scientist are not "against religious people."  I have never come across any atheists that are against religious people. Many of us may be opposed to religion but that is not the same thing. Most of my family and friends are religious. I love them dearly and would not want to change them. The institution of religion is despicable. I loathe it's doctrines and its grip on society. I would love to have the majority, including my family and friend, to come to that realization but I would want them to come to that realization on their own terms.

PZ Meyers has commented on this article as well. He makes a pretty good point about how Ecklund skews her findings. He notes that her own findings only note 17% of the interviewees participating in religion.  So the truth is that the overwhelming majority of atheist scientists reject rather than "embrace religious traditions." That, of course, is never emphasized by Ecklund. It seems obvious to me that all her conclusions on atheists is a result of preconceived notions and ulterior motives rather than the data she collects.

Monotheism and Morality

I not only would disagree that religion is the best source of morality I would go so far as to say it is not a source of morality at all. I do not believe that people actually get their values and ethics from religion. Theists may believe that they do but if you examine what each religion's doctrines and scriptures pass off as moral lessons it becomes clear that they can not be where individual believers are actually getting their morals. There is a huge disconnect even among the more fundamentalist theists. All believers interpret and pick and choose what they accept and apply.

In regard to monotheism I do not even accept that it is possible to gain morals from faith. I see monotheism as being amoral by its nature. I would emphasize that is amoral not immoral. I am in no way implying that monotheists lack morals, they do not. Most monotheists I know have excellent values and ethics. Despite what they themselves see as the source I would argue that it is not from their faith.

As I see it, to have morality requires two main components; knowledge of right and wrong and the ability to act on that knowledge. Monotheism fails on both counts. God as portrayed in scriptures is a hideous and quite hypocritical monster. The more abstract version of the God concept is too amorphous to be of any practical use. The moment you contemplate this God beyond a very basic definition you ended up running into all sorts of inconsistencies and contradictions. The more you attempt to describe/explain the more limitations you place on God. Since God is supposedly perfect this is self-defeating. I fail to see how such a vague and frequently divisive concept can lead to any practical knowledge of right and wrong.

It is also difficult to see how any true monotheist would have the ability to act on any knowledge they do gain about right and wrong. I do not see that the concept of free will is in any way compatible with the concept of God. This, of course, assumes God being defined as perfect and all powerful. Despite claims to the contrary, such a God would negate the notion of free will. For God to grant free will would require giving up both omnipotence and omniscience but that would immediately negate God itself by definition. An individual can not act in a way that is contrary to God. Since theists can not act contrary to God they have no free will and no responsibility. Basically, if God exist we are merely meat puppets. If you can not choose and can not be responsible you can not be either moral or immoral. Each theist simply is and must do what God has determined.

Theists like atheist gain their ethics and values from a wide variety of sources. Genetics, environment, socio-cultural factors, and parenting among others all play a role. And yes, indirectly religion as an aspect of culture and social interaction can play a role. It is not, however, the religion in itself but rather the ways the individual adherents interact.

Monotheism is amoral.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

"The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it."
George Bernard Shaw

Lobbying for God

$390 million a year! That's how much money is spent on lobbying for "religion-related advocacy" according to the Pew Research Center. Why? Doesn't it strike any of these theists as a little odd that so much money is needed for matters they themselves claim God wants? Doesn't it ever occur to them that the effort is a complete waste and for a variety of reasons. If God intended things to be a particular way why wouldn't they be that way already? If it is not God's intention how can you possibly succeed? Isn't it a tad bit arrogant to assume you know better or can do better than God? Unless, they aren't really lobbying for God but rather are just using religion as an excuse or a ploy to do what they themselves want to do.

Righteous Vote Rigging?

Republican, Conservative, Religious Right; these terms are not synonymous but there is a considerable amount of overlap. All three are certainly interested in gaining power by any means. Over the past few years they have routinely pushed for restrictions on voting. Sometimes these restrictions are in the form of regulations (which they usually oppose rather vocally) or laws. Sometimes it is in the form of social activities. They have pushed politics in the pulpit. It is also not uncommon for many voting wards/precincts in "red" states to be locating in places of worship. This seems to contradict the view that the "almighty" is actually all powerful. After all  if God wanted a specific politician elected or law passed why would they need to try rigging the results?

An article in this month's American Prospect, "Who Stole the Election?", summed up the Right's need for vote tampering pretty well. The quotation from Paul Weyrich is quite telling, "I don't want everybody to vote. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."

If you don't know who Weyrich is I would encourage you to look him up. He was a longtime Republican/Conservative activist and a founding figure in the rise of the Religious Right.

Christians Don't Own December

Why do some Christians think they own the whole concept of Holidays. While surfing radio stations the past few weeks I have heard some rather obnoxious whining about how terrible phrases like, "happy holidays", "seasons greetings", and "holiday tree" are supposed to be. Really? What a bunch of arrogant cry babies. These ignorant assholes seem to think that not only is Christmas the only holiday that occurs in December but that everyone should bow down to their personal whims.

Just for clarification there are a number of other holidays that are occurring this month. Among them, in no particular order, are Hannukah, Omisoka, Muharram, Ashura, Bodhi Day, Winter Solstice, and Kwanza. I haven't heard any Hindus, Muslims, or Buddhists whining that no one is wishing others a happy Ashura or some other specific holiday.

Most of the traditions these same pinheads bitch about not being taken seriously anymore are not even exclusively or originally Christian. The tree was used as a religious symbol long before Christianity ever formed. It is also not as if Christianity doesn't already dominate our culture. We can't even get through Halloween anymore before being barraged by all sorts of Christmas themed ads and "news" puff pieces on the networks and every other media outlet.

It also seems a pointless rant since if they want to use the term Christmas nothing is stopping them. No one is even attempting to ban the word. So why complain? Do they have to be so arrogant as to insist everyone, whether Christian or not, conform to their narrow ways? Maybe non-believers should start a holiday label campaign. What about happy incestuous adultery day? After all, God the "Father" knocked up a young woman who was at the time either engaged or married* in order for her to give birth to himself, the "Son." That's right he slept with another man's bride who ended up being his own mom. There's a festive thought for the holidays.

*Scripture does not seem to support Mary being married at the time but I've heard a few religious right windbags trying to make the case. I assume they got fed up with jokes about her being an unwed mother. It's amazing the contortions that the "literal word of God" variety of Christians go through to make the Bible say what they want it to say.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

"As scarce as the truth is, the supply is always greater than the demand."
Josh Billings

Sin and Sinner

"Love the sinner, hate the sin."

Unfortunately, we will be hearing this ridiculous crap a lot more over the next several months. Maine will in all likelihood have a referendum on same-sex marriage. I have already heard various conservatives and narrow-minded theists drag out this old phrase as if it has any connection to reality. Science has a little way to go to definitively prove that homosexuality is biological but the link is very strong. A variety of studies on genetic and hormonal links have already produced a huge body of data that all leads to the conclusion that homosexuality is not a "choice."

Basically, religion's favorite dodge when it comes to discrimination, persecution, and just being assholes has been pretty well demolished. When it comes to homosexuals you cannot separate the "sin" from the "sinner."  Being homosexual is an innate part of their humanity. If you hate their supposed sin then you hate them. If opponents of gay marriage want to openly admit to being hateful I would be fine with that. It would make it easier to deal with them and their barrage of lies and bullshit.

I, however, am fed up with their denials of reality. If we had a functional media the general public might have a better idea of just how full of shit these purveyors of lies and hypocrisy are.

No Fury Like a Pissed-off Theist

I found Jonathan Ree's review of Navid Kermani's Terror of God pretty interesting. I may have to find a copy. I have never understood why theists insist on slamming atheists for criticizing religion and God when it is theists who tend to be the biggest whiners about all things theological. At least when we complain there tends to substance. When theists go at each other or some sacred text or God it tends to be over comparatively petty details. Theist critiques of religion also come across as rather silly to me since they're the ones who created what they then turn around bitch about.

God the Economist

It seems that God is not only a bungling creator and dead-beat dad he is also an incompetent economist. In another absurdly amusing piece on Huffington Post one of the more liberal theists blogging there attempts to connect God to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Rev. Lewis' "In God's Economy, Everyone Has Enough" suffers from the same predictable disconnect so rampant in most theistic thinking. She references wage discrepancies and violence but never in any way associates them with God (creator and source of all things) then turns around and makes the statement, "Just when I feel overwhelmed with the violence of poverty, I find inspiration and instigation in the picture of God's Economy in Christian Scriptures."

What?! First off, what is the source of this "violence of poverty"? The freewill dodge is old, tired, and thoroughly debunked. If God isn't the source how can any Christian even attempt to claim that God is perfect and all powerful. Second, the scriptures are not the shining example of equality that most Christians have deluded themselves into believing. Christ himself on more than one occasion acts like a selfish prick. He also endorses in a few places an "us and them" mentality which last I knew is not a particularly good way to promote equality. This all, of course, leads to the question that if "God's Economy" exists at all why is it not showing better results?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"All men who have turned out worth anything have had the chief hand in their own education."
Sir Walter Scott


Unity is an illusory but potentially useful goal. I would emphasize that it should always be viewed as a goal since it is itself not possible. The idea that any group or organization has ever been 100% united is a blatant myth. As human beings we are simply too individualistic to completely agree all the time. That is not a bad thing. We need diversity. Without differences there can be no change and no progress. However, it is also true that in order to make those very changes toward a positive change(s) we need to work together.

Why am I writing about this now? A column in the Novemeber-December 2011 issue of the Humanist brought to mind the various disagreements that the media has seen fit to harp on within the non-religious community. For instance, the argument between "accommodation" and confrontation is real but has been hyped. I favor a more confrontational approach but I do not view those with less confrontational approaches as accommodationists. Overall, I see the non-religious community as being very collegial not despite our difference but for the sake of them.

Michael Werner's Humanist column Humanism 101 talks about an incident that occurred between himself and a fellow humanist.  The individual he had a brief conversation with seemed upset that there has been more than one Humanist Manifesto. Werner's response is wonderful, "So, if we can't get our philosophy exactly "right" it's because we know that knowledge of the world is fallible, probabilistic, and tentative. The fallibility of our knowledge requires we admit that everything we know may actually be wrong. Accepting this requires humility and, at the same time, courage to stand up for what we best believe without dogmatism or fear of being proven wrong." He goes on in the column to comment on a major difference between attitudes among liberal and conservative believers. He does not talk much about, at least not directly, the differences between non-religious and religious humanists. There is a difference.

In terms of unity the difference does not have to be completely divisive but we do need to acknowledge the difference. I do not know whether the person he had the conversation with was religious or not. I assume the individual was a believer. It seems to be an innate assumption among the religious, liberal or not, that if something is true it is always and in all circumstances. If the religious and non-religious within any given group or cause are going to work together successfully these differences must be acknowledge. Cooperation does require a basic level of understanding among individuals. Werner's response is an excellent start but the individual it was aimed at probably did not have any sort of epiphany from it. It is essential that we repeat and restate such ideas. The non-religious may not accept our views but at least they will have a better understanding of where we are coming from and may be more willing to accept us as individuals. It could put us one step closer to unity.

Public Faith = Public Problem

I am more than happy to concede that Reverend Howard Bess is an intelligent well intentioned gentleman. However, it is rare that I agree with much he writes about for Consortium News. Recently, I found myself agreeing with him on one important point but with an equally important caveat. In "The GOP's Unasked 'Religious' Questions" he points out that since all the candidates have at some point emphasized their faith that the public has a right to know how that faith will impact policy decisions.

He is absolutely correct that since they have made their faith so public that the public has every right to ask questions about their faith. However, Bess implies a number of things in the course of the article that I would take issue with. The title itself is somewhat pointed. Putting religion in quotations implies that the candidates may not be as faithful as they claimed. I see no reason to do that. Just because their views are not the same as Bess' does not mean they are less religious. Bess also does not seem to have a problem injecting his own faith into public policy. It seems to come down to the false notion that only "true" or "authentic" faith should be used to make policy.  That is the caveat I referred to above. Faith should be left out of public policy entirely. It should be a completely private matter. It should not matter what a person's personal religious views are unless those views are going to be used in a way that will end up affecting others.

I say let people believe whatever they want so long as they do not use it harass others or make policy that will impact others.

Humanist/Atheist Military Chaplains

The notion of Humanist/Atheist chaplains makes me rather uneasy. I do understand why those pushing for it find it necessary to do so. I do not want to belittle those intentions and efforts but there are some serious issues that should not be set aside.

I would start by pointing out that a common definition for chaplain (in terms of military) is, "a priest, minister, or rabbi attached to the armed forces." This has been expanded over the years to include a wider variety of religions but all chaplains represent a religion. This is where my first concern comes in. Atheism is not a true "ism" let alone a religion. I can easily see the push for chaplains being used to confirm and further push the myth that atheism is really just another faith. By definition it not only is not a religion it can not become one. It is the absence of a supernatural belief system featuring a god or gods. Some may argue it is a game of semantics but they would be wrong. Words have meaning for a reason. We could not communicate and express anything without them. Outright changing the definition of something to suite your own specific goals is not a matter of semantics.

The other major problem I have is that this push could also be used to further blur the concept of separation of church and state. I have never been comfortable with taxpayers footing the bill for military chaplains. I understand that our soldiers have a right to worship and stay connected to their faith no matter where they are performing their military duties. But, why should we pay for it? The various churches, mosques, etc. should be paying. After all, it is their faith community being served by the chaplains.

With those two objections in mind I would point out that I do agree with many points made by the advocates of Humanist/Atheist chaplains. Our servicemen and women are themselves grossly under-served. In many instances the only thing resembling psychological or social services are being performed by chaplains. If a soldier or officer is in need of counseling of any type they should have access. It should not be by chaplains unless the individual sees the problem/issue as one of faith. I also acknowledge that the chaplaincy can convey a number of privileges that would otherwise be lacking. Non-religious personnel should not be deprived simply because they are non-religious. There are issues of equality that need to be addressed. I just don't think it should be through chaplains.

I realize that many of the services and privileges non-religious military personnel currently are lacking are not likely to be gained through any source other than the chaplaincy until military policy and practice are changed.
Perhaps the push for including non-believers will lead to greater reforms in military personnel services. I hope it will. If that does not occur I fear that if non-religious gain their own chaplains it will end up hurting the non-religious community in the long run.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"People who believe in absurdities are in danger of committing atrocities."

Not the definition of a Rabbi

Most definitions of Rabbi include something along the lines of a religious scholar. Though, I do not doubt that Rabbi Adam Jacobs is religious is he is certainly not a scholar. As his most recent piece, "The God Test: Why Really Everyone Believes," on the Huffington Post makes clear he is not only incredibly ignorant he lacks even rudimentary critical thinking skills. Most of the arguments he makes are so preposterous it is hard to believe the man can walk and talk at the same time.

Right from the start he makes assertions that are blatantly foolish. His complete lack of thinking is clear early on. In the first paragraph he offers this gem, "Often, I've inquired of non-believers if it at all vexes them that nothing they have ever done or will ever do will make the slightest difference to anyone at any level?" What?! Apparently, if you do not accept a one-size-fits-all meaning of life your life can not possibly have any meaning at all. It seems that Jacobs can not grasp that atheists have family, friends, interests, causes, etc... He goes on in much the same vein. The implication is that atheists must, by their nature, be miserable nihilists or else emotionless robots. I seem to recall that being a favorite tactic among anti-semites. Characterize Jews as less than human so you can then attack them with impunity.

Jacobs' piece only gets more absurd from there. He list three major points that he seems to think make his case that we atheists must either really believe or else be less than human. The points are framed in rather childish scenarios. The first is entitled, "Would you be willing to sell your parent's remains for dog food?" It seems that respect for the recently deceased requires belief in God. He seems to think that atheist have to think simply in terms of unemotional uses and needs. Atheist do have personal ethics and morals. In fact, I'd argue ours are stronger since they are primarily internal. We do not require any sort of external force to make us behave. The "God is watching" scenario is not necessary for us to do what is right. As for bodies, I personally do see burial and/or cremation as a waste. But I do not feel that I have any say over what happens to other peoples bodies. My own, I intend to be made useful. I am an organ donor and have thought about donating what can not be harvested for medical or scientific purposes. To me this "argument" is a rather negative reflection on Rabbi Jacobs both in terms of ethics and reasoning.

His other scenarios are no better. The next has to do with the imminent death of two enemies who happen to be stranded together on a desert island. A natural disaster is going to kill both men. Jacob asks whether it matters if they comfort each other or kill each other directly. He asks, "As no one will ever know what transpired and it will soon be over in any event..." Basically, he's gone back to the idea that you need some sort of big sky daddy to make you behave. He fails to see that in fact some one will know, at least briefly. The two men will know how they behaved in the face of their deaths. What they choose will matter to them. As a human being, I see that every choice I make matters. It matters regardless of there being no God.

His last point is probably one of the older canards routinely dredged up by fools like the Rabbi Jacobs. "Is love, art, beauty or morality intrinsically significant?" Yes, and it does not require belief in God to think so. He tries to use, in a rather distorted way, a naturalist perspective to show that if we are just "an arbitrary series of chemicals, atoms and other blind and indifferent forces..." that atheists should not find such things valuable. In terms of the big picture they do not have any ultimate value or meaning. But, once again, from the point of view of an individual they most certainly do. We have minds. Our perceptions are what give us meaning. It is from the individual point of view that love and all our emotions gain their power over our lives. That does not imply nor does it require the divine. It also does not mean that a materialistic/naturalist view is wrong. Try feeling anything with a severely damage brain.

I'm left with the impression that Rabbi Jacobs article is more about soothing his own fears by childishly attacking others than it is about making any points of substance. He does seem to dwell on death quite a bit. Whether it is his direct intention or not he also in various places implies that atheist are devoid of some of humanities most basic traits, that we are sub-human. The piece is essentially a work of bigotry without any support outside of myths, stereotypes, and other baseless misguided opinions. He is not a scholar and not, as best as I can tell, a very happy person.

Slow and Steady But not Guaranteed

I tend to read Huffington Post's Religion section for a variety of reasons. It is a fairly decent gathering of liberal views on religion. There is an odd notion that liberal forms of religion are more tolerant and reasonable. They are not. But if you want to be informed about a variety of religious views this is one of the sites that should be perused. It is rare that I find a piece that I mostly agree with but recently I found such a piece.

Nigel Barber's "When Will Atheism Prevail Over Religion?" is pretty good. It is not because of any new or original insights. He references a handful of individuals who have conduct research on religious belief. He does a good job reviewing their work and I appreciate his positive outlook. Unfortunately, I'm not as convinced as he is that non-belief will at some point in the near future be the majority view. There is one passage in particular that I would suggest holds the key to whether this future ever materializes or not. Barber states, "If we assume that prosperity is responsible for declining religiosity in the world, and that prosperity will continue to increase, it is possible to estimate the date at which the world will switch over from being a majority believing in God to majority atheist." I would not "assume" anything about "prosperity."

According to the studies, many noted by Barber, prosperity does diminish religious belief. That is the problem. Prosperity is not guaranteed. The wealthy seem determined to corner prosperity for themselves. Many of these greedy assholes are either themselves religious or have found that religion can be a useful tool. It is in their short term interest to continue to prevent the masses from becoming prosperous and to continue to encourage religious belief, or at least public displays of belief. I think it is in the best interest of atheists to fight for economic equality as much as it is to oppose religion with rational arguments.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

"It is only the ignorant who despise education."
Pubilius Syrus

Even Opinion Pieces Should Be Fact-Checked

A recent post on CNN's Belief Blog was so ludicrous that I found it hard to believe that I was actually reading what was written. When I was still teaching I used to point out that opinions are in fact not always valid. There are two ways to hold a false or wrong opinion. Either you express an opinion that contradicts known facts or you in no way provide support for your opinion. Dan Merica's opinion in "In age of political vitriol, opposing Christians call for civility" proves to be false on both counts. He certainly didn't do any fact checking. If he had he wouldn't have taken Richard Land at his word that he favored civility in political discourse. Anyone who has followed Land's career would be well aware that he is rarely civil when it comes to preaching against those he doesn't like. There are plenty of people he doesn't like. He has outright demonized Muslims and Homosexuals, among others. You also would know right away that Land's agreement that faith should not be associated with a particular political party runs counter to everything he has done. He is a staunch Republican activist and always has been. The piece defies all known facts. So what is it based on? Apparently, a single discussion. Not much to base such a far reaching assessment on.

I do not know what motivated Land to claim he favors civility beyond potential gains in the are of public relations. I would speculate that whichever of the Republican candidates he favors has taken more of a political beating than he cares for. I admit I have not paid as much attention to Land during this election cycle so I do not know which candidate he is endorsing. I do know that he does seem to be following his usual routine. He did attend this years Values Voter Summit, which is a Religious Right and Republican event. I have no reason to believe his behavior has changed in the least.

Science Vs. Religion

It seems that this debate will never end. I think part of the problem is that there are actually two very different perspectives that people tend to argue from without being aware or acknowledging it. Those who insist that there either is no conflict or does not need to be one tend to argue from an individualistic perspective while those that insist there is and must be a conflict argue from an institutional perspective.

When approaching the question of whether science and religion oppose each other from an individualistic perspective the answer becomes as varied as there are individuals making the argument. It is true that from this view the two do not need to conflict. However, it is very subjective and misleading. We, as human beings, are capable of rationalizing and harmonizing what ever we want. This does not mean the conflict does not exist it just means for specific individuals the conflict does not exist. A scientist may be very good at conducting research within their given field without ever mixing personal views into it. It is possible to compartmentalize different aspects of our lives. It amounts to keeping two aspects as separate as possible. If they never intermingle or only mix to the slightest degree then avoiding conflict is rather easy.

If you look at the argument from an institutional perspective there really can be no argument. The two conflict and must conflict. In most respects science and religion are opposites. In terms of structure, religion is top down while science is bottom up. Most religions do not allow the average believer any say in who leads the religion or in what doctrines or rites are to be followed. It is determined at the top and those below are simply expected to adhere. Without multiple individuals and groups constantly conducting research and experiments there is no science. Constant testing and review by those within a field create the consensus that leads to further developments. It is this process of constantly reviewing what has come before while seeking further information that makes science what it is.

Science is as much a process as it is a body of knowledge. It is constantly self-correcting and therefore changing, progressing. Religion does change but very slowly and usually with a great deal of resistance and difficulty. It is not self-correcting. In fact it tends to be self-insulating. It frequently claims infallibility and that it possesses eternal unchanging truths. When forced to change most religions rarely admit to error they just make a preposterous claim that it has found new insights or perspectives based on the old one. Usually, this new "insight" amounts to a semantics game. The terminology and presentation change but the underlying philosophy is essentially the same.

Despite frequent claims to the contrary, Science does not have any sacred texts. Origin of the Species is not the bible of evolutionary biologists. It is an important work for historical reasons but the theory of Evolution has progressed far beyond what that one book contains. Every work of science no matter how important a role it may have played is subject to scrutiny. Virtually every religion has at least one sacred text. Religions may seek to interpret the text in slightly different ways over time but in the end it is never question that the text is divinely inspired and therefore must contain truth. Scrutiny is generally avoided if not outright forbidden. In science, the very notion of "received wisdom" is abhorrent. Wisdom can not simply be handed out like a door prize. Simply following a text, doctrine, or leader is no way to discover what is true.

Science has no holy men. Those who are afforded considerable respect are done so for their work. If they do not follow the strict standards of scientific research they will lose respect. Clergy are given respect simply because they are clergy. They need never demonstrate any insight or skill. That isn't to say there are not talented clergy. I know there are but that is not the same as earning respect rather than having it handed to you simply because of the position you hold.

In the end the knowledge gained from science is tested and reviewed constantly. It is based on objective standards. the "knowledge" from religion is based on faith. it is based on blindly following those who happen to be in leadership positions or have gained a following. Religion is highly subjective and therefore with little foundation. From an institutional perspective, science and religion really are opposites and do conflict. In this way the argument is foolish. Individual rationalizations do not make religion rational. Religion is simply a matter of opinion and can never rise beyond it. Its structure does not allow it to ever rise above its own subjectivity.

Science must conflict with religion. I only hope that it will eventually supplant religion entirely. Religion is one of our species dead ends.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

"The difficulty of course is that loyalty is not necessarily a virtue: it is only as good as the object of the loyalty is. Many putative human virtues are equivocal in that way: good if the project they serve is good, but not if it isn't"
Ophelia Benson
"Political vs. Scientific Truth" 
Free Inquiry, June/July 2007

Why ask, "Why are you here?"

I have to admit that Eliot Daley seems like a nice enough guy. He seems to genuinely want to understand what motivates atheists, at least in regard to reading religious based articles and commentaries.  He may be nice but his article on Huffington Post, "Welcome, Atheists. But, Really, Why Are You Here?", reveals him to be, like so many others, ignorant and bigoted.

The question itself, though understandable, implies a number of ignorant assumptions. Why would someone have to believe something to be true in order to find it interesting? I like stories about all sorts of fantastical creatures. Just because I know they are fictional does not mean I can't enjoy them. Religion plays an important role in many peoples lives. I don't understand why but that only increases rather than decreases my interest in reading about it. Daley also admits to be shocked at the "knowledgeable references to elements of faith" made by atheists commenting on his posts. Even worse, he then jumps to the conclusion that these atheists must have been religious at some point. It never seems to occur to him that an atheist just might be as knowledgeable or even more so than a theist without ever having been a believer. I have never believed but have always been fascinated by religion. By the time I graduated high school I had already read cover to cover the sacred texts of a handful of Religions.

Daley also seems to think that atheists are not aware of there being more than one version of the God concept. It is ironic since in his expounding on this view he mixes the versions without realizing he is doing so. His grasp of science and natural history comes across as being as flimsy as his understanding of atheists which he then projects onto the atheists who comment on his posts. This confusion and misunderstanding apparently is partially why Daley gives in to the stereotype that atheists are arrogant.

I also find it interesting that in a few places Daley talks about avoiding judging atheists who comment on his posts. He passes judgement throughout. The question is also somewhat hypocritical since he, and many others, prefer to believe that atheists have come to non-belief through ignorance and lack of understanding. Wouldn't such people want atheists to read religious materials? Why question us when we choose to do so?
Perhaps, it has occurred to him that we are well informed and our understanding surpasses his own. It may be easier for theists to stomach the idea of ignorant atheists rather than well informed ones.

Wayward Christians?

Will Christians ever outgrow their delusions? Perhaps if they actually paid attention to what the Gospels really say while they are "reading" them they might figure out a few things. Yet another article, "Explaining Wayward Christianity," drones on about how the faith has been distorted. Rev. Bess whines that people have once again failed to live up to the teachings of Jesus. Bullshit! The Gospels are pretty clear that the figure of Jesus was not all about love and forgiveness. He definitely had a mean and vindictive streak. There are plenty of passages that easily loan themselves to violent and intolerant purposes. There are also a few passages where Jesus comes across as being selfish and dismissive of the poor. Don't like that? Too bad. It's your "Good Book."

So Christians, read and pay attention to what you read in the New Testament. Enough with the "wayward" dodge. Christianity has always had a violent streak. It is not just a matter of bad people using religion to justify themselves. The religion itself has a rather dark side. The sooner the average Christians stops denying it the better off we'll all be.

Note: In a numbers of prior posts I have cited numerous passages that support everything I have repeated above. I see no need to cite them again. If interested in exact passages you can read my prior posts or comment and I will dredge them up yet again.

Blame the Translation

Over many years the average Christian has gradually moved away from the idea that the Bible is literally true. For the most part Christians view the text in a more symbolic way. They still can't quite admit to themselves that the "Good Book" is really not good at all. There are, of course, those who cling to the ignorant delusional notion that it is the literal word of God. As pathetic as that is there will probably always be a fraction of believers who cling to this blatant falsehood.

There does seem to be a new way to reconcile the overwhelming despicable passages of the Bible with the idealized version people tend to prefer. You simply blame the translations. A piece on the Huffington Post a few weeks ago is a good example of this relatively new attempt at apologetics. Hoffman's "Five Ways Your Bible Translation Distorts the Original Meaning of the Text" has quite a few problems, to say the least. He fails to note that the difference in content from one translation to another is rather tiny. He also does not get into exactly how we are suppose to find the "original meaning." Considering we do not have a complete text from centuries during which the Bible emerged it is virtually impossible to find any such meaning. Then  there's the problem of what would constitute a "good" translation. I get the distinct impression that what Hoffman really wants is a translation that suits his own preferences.

The only possible way to make the Bible palatable to anyone who actually pays attention to what they read is to completely rewrite it. Of course, it would cease to be the Bible at that point. Throw in the towel already! The Bible is a work of fiction and not a particularly good one.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"Whatever we cannot easily understand we call God; this saves much wear and tear on the brain tissues."
Edward Abbey
Vox Clamantis In Deserto (A Voice Crying in the Wild)

One Conclusion from Two Versions

One of the criticisms frequently leveled at Atheists is that we simply don't understand who/what God is. I say this assessment is bullshit for two reasons. I would argue that atheists in general have spent far more time and effort analyzing the God concept than the average theist. I also have observed that even those theists who have come to realize there are two main versions of the God concept tend to mix them together without realizing they are doing so. Two recent articles on Huffington Post seem to have had this unacknowledged amalgamation at their center. Both "Killing the Church by Denigrating the Immediacy of God" and "'God Is': From Biblical Literalism To A Mystical Understanding of God" seem to imply that one of the biggest problems in religion today is that not enough people think in terms of an abstract version of God.

Personally, I would love to see theists move in that direction. It would put people one step closer to giving up the absurd concept entirely. When you exam the more abstract version it becomes clear that it is just as contradictory and is even more irrelevant to our lives. Once you move away from the personal/scripture based God the question should arise; what are you worshiping and why? It can no longer be a who. The most common construct of this abstract God is easier to define in terms of what it is not rather than what it is. For that reason the simplified definition is the most useful. If God is accepted as Perfection and the Eternal you immediately run into all manner of difficulty with virtually every other religiously based concepts. If God is an abstraction it can not be a Being. All entities have a mind. Since all minds are generated by a physical brain it is not an abstraction. In this way God can not consciously do anything. God can not have intentions and did not actively or knowing create anything. It is also impossible to see rationally how an abstract can physically intervene in our reality.

Critics who insist they are following a more sophisticated abstract God are really mixing different versions. They refuse to reevaluate the possible roles/functions of God in light of what a purely abstract concept entails.
It is clear that they are doing so since most of these "modern" theologians still endorse the standard rites and rituals of their chosen religion. Why? Even if you assumed God has a mind, as an abstract that is highly unlikely, God being perfection itself leaves no room such notions as free will. Everything is exactly as it has to be or else perfection is a myth. No mistakes or corrections/alterations can be tolerated. It is also, for argument sake, not likely that religious practices have any bearing on anything. How could they? Such practices can not have an impact on anything since everything is exactly as it has to be. Also, assuming God has a mind and is perfect and all powerful God would have to be aware of precisely what an individual's thoughts, feelings, and intentions are which makes such actions redundant at best.

Critics of atheists have always projected their own misunderstandings on us. This is nothing new. It is to some degree amusing that when they talk about our lack of insight that they then get angry (another accusation falsely projected on us) when we challenge them to demonstrate their own insights. They have a tendency to quickly shift definitions and rationalize the inevitable inconsistencies and contradictions. The truth is that the level of thought involved in analyzing the God concept among theists has never gone beyond the superficial. I have yet to encounter any philosopher or theologian among theists willing to follow the God concept in either of its two main versions to its logical conclusion: a construct that ultimately has no relevance to reality.

Premarital Sex and Religious Delusions

A recent post on CNN's Belief blog, "Why Young Christians aren't waiting anymore", seems to have fallen for one of the favorite myths of the Christian Right. As the nation slowly but steadily shifts to a more secular outlook the nations morals have not really changed that much. Even if, premarital sex is an indicator of lax morals, there is nothing to indicate that the rates of sexual activity among the unmarried have changed in any statistically significant way. In general Christians are no different than any other identifiable group when it comes to sexual activity*. They may come across as more repressed and tend to deny publicly having sexual relations but that is not the same as actually abstaining. Maybe young Christians are becoming more honest and accepting of reality, at least as it relates to sexual behavior.

* Among conservative Christians there are actually some statistical differences when compared to more liberal Christians. Conservatives have higher rates of teen sex, teen pregnancies, and STDs in their general population (teens and adults). Conservatives also tend to have higher criminal rates related to sexual activity and personal relationships. They exceed their more liberal counterparts in rates of incest, adultery, domestic abuse, and rape.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

"Men are most apt to believe what they least understand."
Michel DeMontaigne

God's Approval Rating

Yes, God has an approval rating. The most recent (September/October 2011) "Given The Evidence" feature in Humanist magazine includes some rather odd polling/survey results. According to Public Policy Polling God has a 52% job performance approval rating. Later in the piece they cite Gallup results that indicate 92% of Americans believe in the existence of God. Anyone else see the problem with these numbers? If you really believe in God how do you come up with an approval rating at all? The supreme being hardly seems like the kind of entity you'd want to piss off. Rating a president is one thing but a being that knows your every thought and can do anything is not a being you want to cross? How do even begin to evaluate an entity like that assuming doing so is a good idea? Most ratings are essentially comparisons. What do you compare God to?

Is my wise ass crack about God as the ultimate deadbeat dad (October 1st blog post) not far off the mark from how theists view the Supreme being? Is it a matter of theist not thinking through what they really believe and why or is it that they don't believe as much as they claim to? It just seems odd and disturbingly amusing that people who accept a perfect and all powerful being and then turn around and express disappointment in that very being's competence. Has the thought not occurred that if there is even a possibility of being dissatisfied with God's performance it would by its nature indicate that God is not perfect? Not perfect = not God. Perhaps that 48% need to re-evaluate their views on God.

Lifeway's Bible Readers Survey

The results of Lifeway's Bible readers survey seems to be another instance of people asking for something they probably don't really want. The results include 61% preferring a "word-for-word" translation and 75% preferring a translation with "total accuracy." Assuming these individuals have actually read a bible cover to cover it would be a shock to me if they paid attention to even a fraction of what they actually read. There isn't a single book of any translation of any version of the Bible that can be read literally. The whole thing is a mass of confusing contradictions and outright refutations of reality. Most "events" and even the supposed moral lessons have two or more versions that not only don't match but in some instances nullify each other. Most of them have to be read selectively in order to get anything resembling a positive moral message. People think it promotes moral behavior but it can just as easily be read to justify any number of heinous crimes and atrocities.

As for "total accuracy", that is not even remotely possible. These readers are also very ignorant of the history of the Bible. There is no single version or translation and never has been. The multiple versions currently available are constructed from roughly 3,000 fragments. We do not have a single book of either the old or new testament that is complete. All of them have been reconstituted from a wide variety of sources. Even if they really wanted a word for word translation, setting aside the horrors contained therein, it can not be done.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

"If the world were good for nothing else, it is a fine subject for speculation."
William Hazlitt

Is America Moving Away from Religion?

It would be nice if it were true but I don't see it quite the way Tana Ganeva does in her Alternet piece, "5 Signs That America Is Moving Away from Religion". In the introduction she talks about how fed up people are with the "Tea Party" and the GOP, especially the manner in which they use religion. It does not seem to occur to her that she is conflating a loss of faith in the Religious Right with a shift away from religion itself. Just because people are gradually come to realize that mixing religion and politics is a terrible idea does not mean they as a whole are becoming less religious.

It also seems obvious, once you take a moment to analyze them, that the 5 signs really end up being 2 signs. Again, those two don't necessarily mean there really is a move away from religion. The first sign listed by Ganeva, "American religious belief is becoming more fractured", may help some theists realize that religion is a very personal and subjective aspect of life. This may in turn lead to the conclusion that religion should not be involved in public policy. I would certainly encourage such a process but do not think it helpful to misinterpret it as a sign of irreligion. It isn't. The last "sign" listed, "Getting married by friends", also may indicate a softening of religions influence on peoples lives but then again it may mean something else entirely. It is just as likely an interpretation that people want a more personal ceremony. Most faiths allow some choices within how they conduct marriage ceremonies but civil ceremonies offer far greater options. Part of the trend does seem to correlate with choosing family and friends as officiates. How many people have family members that happen to be clergy?

The last point leads to another distinction that should be made but alludes Ganeva. There is a difference between religion and organized religion. Many mainstream Christian denominations/sects are shrinking in membership. This coincides with a growing trend that amounts to little more than a shift in semantics. A lot of people who end up being classified as "non-religious" in various surveys and studies really are not. The tend to self identify as "spiritual" rather than "religious." What that indicates, apparently, is a move away from a specific denomination/sect. Those who claim to be "spiritual" are still religious they just don't like the term. They are still believers and therefore not "non-religious." It is this lack of distinction and confusion of labels that basically nullifies her second and third "signs."  How you identify yourself is important, of course, but that does not change basic facts. If you believe then the label "non-belief" does not make sense.

Ganeva's forth sign, "Hate group that exploited religion to bash gays hemorrhaging funds", makes no sense to me. It is almost entirely focused on one group and it really does not say anything about religion in general. It is revealing only in regard to one version of one faith and even that is more about mixing politics with religion than about anything strictly theological.

It is still an interesting article and in its own way encouraging. Moving away from religion being so influential on public life is certainly a good thing. It is a positive direction for everyone, theist and atheist alike. Strengthening separation of church and state can only help guarantee freedom of thought. The sooner those seeking to use religion for political and economic gain are exposed for the scum they are the better. They may never completely go away but if we can keep them as powerless as possible society will be better off.

Ultimate Dead-beat Dad?

"Not every desire, urge, want, or chic cause is automatically a 'right'"*

I agree. I have no interest in financing a frivolous "want" with my tax dollars. If religious people truly believe in God then they should be fine with doing away with tax support of all religious activities and organizations. Make no mistake, we do support them from our wallets. Tax exemptions are a form of subsidy. The various religions run their affairs from buildings that are tax exempt yet use public services. Public roads lead to them and if there are problems public servants, fire and police, deal with them. Since God is most frequently defined as the supreme being, perfect and all powerful, churches are not only unnecessary but a huge waste of resources. After all, how could an all powerful being fail to know what everyone of us is thinking and feeling. Where you are and what you are doing seems irrelevant. So why maintain places of worship and clergy on the tax payer's dime?

This seems much more like a desire or a want than a necessity. I know that is not what the arch bishop meant but when has the Catholic church not been led by liars and hypocrites?

Makes you wonder just how powerful God is if theists constantly need hand-outs. Does this make God the ultimate dead-beat dad? Do we really need to fork over our allowances so poppa can continue to neglect and abuse us with the proceeds?

*part of a statement made by New York Arch Bishop Timothy Dolan in opposition to gay marriage.

Another Thing Hitler Was Not, a Secularist

Right wingers are notoriously deluded when it comes to history, or facts of any kind. Hitler and the Nazis seem to be a favorite source of ad hominem and guilt by association type attacks. Conservatives, especially the religious right, have for years tried to portray secularism as an invention of Hitler and the Nazis. Below are just two examples of this false idea:

"Next time your liberal friends talk about the separation of Church and State ask them why they're Nazis."

"Did it turn out that by reason of the separation of church and state, the Jews were safer in Europe than they were in the United States of America? I don't think so." Associated Press 11/23/2004
Antonin Scalia 

The problem is that history clearly indicates the exact opposite to be true. Not only does the concept of separation of church and state go back to the founding fathers of our country it also predates even them.
Ironically, the Bible itself contains passages that allude to the basic idea (Matthew 22:21, Matthew 6:5-6, among others). It is also a problem since Hitler actively sought the merger of religion with his government. His own writings and speeches are laced with religious ideas and he states in more than one place in Mein Kampf that no government can be successful or be seen as legitimate without God. Below is a rather telling quotation from Hitler's Germany:

"A state that once again rules in God's name can count not only on our applause but also on enthusiastic and active cooperation from the church. With joy and thanks we see how this new state rejects blasphemy, attacks immorality, promotes discipline and order with a firm hand, demands awe before God, works to keep marriage sacred and our youth spiritually instructed, brings honor back to fathers of families, ensures that love of people and fatherland is no longer mocked, but burns in a thousand hearts. ...We can only plead with our fellow worshipers to do an they can to help these new productive forces in our land reach a complete and unimpeded victory."
Easter Sunday Blessing from Protestant Pastors in Bavaria, April 16, 1933 

Whatever else Hitler may have been he was definitely not an atheist or a secularist.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

"Books are the bees which carry the quickening pollen from one to another mind"
James Russell Lowell

"'Tell me what you read and I'll tell you who you are' is true enough, but I'd know you better if you told me what you reread"
Francois Mauriac

"A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man's mind can get both provocation and privacy."
Edward P. Morgan

Banned Books Week, September 24 - October 1, 2011

Feel free to say Fuck You to all the anti-intellectual zealots by reading. It's fun and educational. The odds are pretty good that no matter what book you pick some yahoo out there has tried to ban it. If you want to take a look at what books have been attacked by the narrow minded check out the American Library Association's pages on Banned Books. This year YouTube is also hosting a Banned Books channel.

I think it's also important to point out that any belief system, whether religious, political, or economic that relies on restricting or distorting information is weak and cowardly.

Think for yourself.

Read what you want.

The Atheist Threat (Cue Evil Laugh)

"I know you are but what am I?!"
And various other playground taunts sprang to mind as I read this recent Chortle piece, "Atheists are as big a threat as climate change deniers." I have to admit I know nothing about the comedian Frank Skinner. He may actually be funny. Fortunately for him you don't always have to be smart or insightful to be funny, though the best comedians are both.

Basically, the whole thing is a rehash of various myth and stereotypes that have been refuted and debunked countless times. The only new aspect is his comparison of atheists to climate deniers. I find this both disturbing and amusing. I'm an atheist in part because I prefer to acknowledge reality rather than deny it. My views are guided by what can be reasonably proven. Climate deniers are, as the phrase implies, deniers of reality. It is also an odd comparison since there is no reason denial or acceptance of climate change needs to have a direct connection to religion or non-religion.

The irony of the claim provides a bit of entertainment. The whole tone of the piece also loans itself to a type of playground theology. The bully is right because if you say otherwise he'll taunt and smack you around some more. In a weird way it is also flattering. Theists are the majority. Theists dominate every aspect of life with the majority of top leaders in politics, economics, society being religious. Yet, atheists are a threat. I find that pretty impressive. Foolish and delusional but it would be nice if it were true.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Myths and Stereotypes

No matter how often the various myths and stereotypes about atheists are shown to be ignorant fallacies they continue to be thrown about. It is essential that we not get discouraged. The only way to deal with them is to steadily pick away at them. Even if it seems redundant and pointless we need to continue talk and write about these myths and stereotypes.

A recent piece on Alternet, "10 Myths Many Religious People Hold About Atheists, Debunked" by Amanda Marcotte, is a good example of this type of persistence. Other excellent pieces on this topic include Sam Harris' "10 Myths - And 10 Truths - About Atheism", Greta Christina's "Eleven Myths and Truths About Atheists", and David Silverman's "The Top Ten Atheist Myths"

There are more than ten or eleven myths but you get the idea.

Sympathetic, But Only Slightly

Unfortunately, even those who are generally sympathetic towards atheists tend to harbor various misconceptions and biases. A recent post on one of the Atlantic blogs is a good example. Ta-Nehisi Coates post, "The Most Effective Argument for Atheism That I've Ever Seen" is not outright hostile, at least in comparison to what others have written, but it is laced with myths and ignorance. He characterizes atheists as fundamentalists and as being angry. He also makes it pretty obvious that he knows very little about atheists/atheism. The argument he refers to is not a bad one but it is by no means the most effective.

It is also interesting that he ends his short post by stating, "If you can't talk without driving into the margins, or insulting someone, try not talking. You don't have to speak on everything." It never seems to occur to Coates that perpetuating myths and misconceptions is insulting. The last sentence seems design to insulate himself from criticism. Personally, I think if you are willing to comment publicly then you should not only be open to criticism you should encourage it. Just try to make sure any critical comments are actually supported by reality.
"Delusion is the child of ignorance"
Bhagavad Gita

Hail to the Theocrat?

In the past few weeks most media outlets have proclaimed Rick Perry to be either the front runner or one of the top three contenders for 2012 GOP Presidential race. This prospect should not only scare atheists but also anyone who cares about separation of church and state.

Perry's prayer-a-palooza event "The Response" got quite a bit of attention but was essentially portrayed as a single event. It was not. It is just one example of Perry's theocratic mentality. Many of the groups and individuals he went out of his way to invite to the prayer rally are either explicitly part of the Dominionist Movement or  sympathetic to it. It is also telling that the Religious Right actively pushed Perry to run for president and that his primary financial backer is James Leininger. They didn't pick him for a one-shot publicity event. There is no reason to doubt that Perry believes what he claims. He is an incredibly ignorant, intolerant, anti-science wacko who would enjoy forcing everyone to abide by his violent destructive notion of right and wrong.

Be afraid, very afraid! Better yet, be proactive. Get the word out that this man is bad for everyone whether they are religious or not.

Note: Point of Inquiry recently had a podcast on Dominionism

Saturday, September 10, 2011

CFI - Living Without Religion

I love this ad from the Center For Inquiry. CFI is building a website for one of its current campaigns, Living Without Religion.
"Tyranny never has much trouble drumming up the smiles of prompt agreement, but a democracy stands in need of as many questions as its citizens can ask of their own stupidity and fear... dissent is what rescues the democracy from a slow death behind closed doors."
Lewis Lapham
"Cause for Dissent" Harper's Magazine, April 2003

Hitler Was Not An Atheist

"Grace of God," "divine grace," God forbid," "God be thanked," and "God knows," are not phrases likely to be used by an atheist certainly not on a regular basis. Yet, Mein Kampf, the book by Hitler that most scholars view as the blue print for Nazi Germany is littered with these phrases. The false notion that Hitler was not only an atheist but epitomizes what it means to be an atheist has been used by Christian critics for decades. I am not sure whether it stems from ignorance, willful or otherwise, or from something worse. This myth is not promoted solely by right wing religious critics of atheism. There are numerous liberals and moderates who have promoted the lie as well. Why? Anyone with a functional brain and an interest in the truth could easily figure out that it is a blatant falsehood. Is it a defensive projection? It can easily be debated whether Hitler was a "good" Christian or not but it is no way debatable that he was Christian. Get transcripts of his speeches or read Mein Kampf. They may not be easy to stomach but they are pretty clear on Hitler's personal views.

Some examples:

"Therefore, I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator: By warding off Jews I am fighting for the Lord's work." (V.1 Ch.2, p.84)

"This perseverance is only and always the result of a certain spiritual conviction alone. All force which does not spring from a from spiritual foundation will be hesitating and uncertain." (V.1 Ch.5, p.222)

"The result of any crossing, in brief, is always the following:
a. Lowering of the standard of the higher race,
b. Physical and mental regression, and, with it, the beginning of a slowly but steadily progressive lingering illness.
To Bring about such a development means nothing less than sinning against the will of the Eternal Creator" (V.1 Ch.11, p.392)

"Should not the same renunciation be possible if it is replaced by the admonition finally to put an end to the permanently continuous original sin of race poisoning and to give the Almighty Creator being as He Himself created them?" (V.2 Ch.2, p.611)

All excerpts from the annotated edition of Mein Kampf

So if you hear anyone state that Hitler was an atheist make a point of correcting them.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

An Inflatable Chapel

Anyone else come across news stories on the inflatable chapel? I think it does a pretty decent job summing up religion as a whole. It is a little unsightly, definitely silly, and is far more likely to cause controversy and conflict than it is to be beneficial.
"Art is not a handicraft, it is the transmission of feeling the artist has experienced."
Lev Tolstoy

The Arts are also rife with Anti-atheist bigotry

A recent example of the blind prejudice and ignorance in the arts can be found in Quentin Letts recent review, "Hallelujah! Miracles Do Happen." In praising the play The Faith Machine he notes that, "the Royal Court's latest play is a breakthrough in the religion v atheism battle." Yet, he never provides any breakthrough. Lett's seem to think the play is unique since, "It does not serve up the sort of pro-Darwin propaganda pumped out by the BBC."  If he means pro-evolution he should say so. Using Darwin just shows from the start how ignorant he is. This, of course, makes me wonder if he'd prefer pro-creationist/fairy tale propaganda.

Letts also seems to intentionally ignore some rather major details of the play in order to push his claim that it is unique. He doesn't seem to notice, for instance, that the major character who is the least likable with the most questionable personal ethics and morals happens to be the atheist. The character who is not only the most likable but the moral center of the play is the religious girlfriend of the atheist. This is Letts "breakthrough." It sounds like standard anti-atheist bullshit to me. The moral/ethical dilemmas that drive the plot all seem to be fairly standard both in their presentation and theatrical usage. A slightly more revealing and accurate review can be found at The Guardian.

It is interesting to note that both the play and reviews are from England which is generally viewed as being more open to atheism

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Soulful Atheist"? Really?!

Like so much of what gets put up on Huffington Post this latest from Dori Hartley made me laugh for a good five minutes or more. I'm not sure if what amused me was that she seemed to think what she was writing was so profound or that she was so clueless about every label and concept she threw around. She is, put bluntly, not "The Soulful Atheist" for the simple reason that she is not an atheist at all. Her own words clearly demonstrate that she is not an atheist.

"I do not represent any particular way of thinking, other than my own. And as an 'atheist,' I can tell you this:
I pray.
I have faith.
I believe in the cosmic consciousness.
I live in gratitude.
I am moved to tears by the beauty that is nature.
I feel the intensity of great love."

"Cosmic consciousness"? Sounds like the abstract version of God to me. Hartley may not believe in the God of scripture but that is only one version of the God concept. She doesn't seem to realize that the concept is not limited to that one interpretation. She goes on to dismiss other aspects of a more personal scripture based deity while clinging to the notion of a higher divine consciousness. She also goes on to muddle a number of other definitions and concepts like faith, energy, prayer, spirituality, militant...

Whatever else she wants to claim she is definitely not an atheist. She does not seem to get that despite there being very little that makes a person an atheist, really only one thing, belief in a supreme being definitely prevents you from being one. It doesn't matter how you define such a supernatural being since it is still the same basic concept, God.

Personally, I would probably label Hartley a new age spiritualist. She may come to realize that you don't have to belong to a denomination or church or even stick to one definition of God in order to remain a theist. I wouldn't mind her using the label atheist as long as she stopped associating so much supernatural crap with the term.
"Says little, thinks less, and does - nothing at all, faith."
George Farquhar

I have a response

At this point I have heard a variety of responses to Rick Perry's day of prayer. Most of the critiques I agree with completely. It was a disgusting display of ignorance and contempt for both our constitution and our system of governance. Had he acted as a private citizen it would have been perfectly fine. He didn't. He used his office to organize and conduct the event. If you've followed the story you no doubt have heard this and more.

There is one criticism I have not come across, one from the perspective of scripture. I, of course, think the Bible is utter garbage but Perry and his prayer warriors claim otherwise. The Response, the group that helped organize the rally, does list in its FAQ what they believe. They list the following:

  1. We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
  2. We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  3. We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  4. We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  5. We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.
  6. We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost;  they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation. 
  7. We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Notice what #1 states? Well, this is my response:
"And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." Matthew 6:5-6

Did they overlook this little tid-bit or is scripture only "infallible" when it says what they want to hear?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

"In the last analysis, it is our conception of death which decides our answers to all the questions that life puts to us."
Dag Hammarskjold

"Always Go to the Funeral"

Another piece from This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women that made me pause and think was Deirdre Sullivan's "Always Go to the Funeral."  I really do not like funerals but I do go. I go for a variety of reasons. Some I think about while others are more subconscious and only occur to me after the fact. Sullivan's father once told her, "Always go to the funeral. Do it for the family." I agree. It is for the family and for friends. It is also for each of us.

I don't believe in any sort of afterlife. My consciousness does not continue after death. I know the deceased has no idea as to whether I attend the memorial or any ability to care whether I am there or not. But I know. It is about supporting those still living who were close to person who just died. In a strange way it is also comforting to me. I do not want to cease to exist. It is inevitable. Since I can not change it I seek what comfort that can be found: other people. I go because I want to remember and hope that when my time comes others will do the same for me.

No one should feel alone. Deep down I know that in some respect we will all end alone. However, the idea of others being around and remembering me helps. I may not completely understand it but it works as well as anything can. It may not work the same way for everyone but everyone does seem to draw strength from the presence of others at such tragic moments. So if you can go, go. It's a simple yet profound gesture. Just be there.