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.