Sunday, December 30, 2012

"As the customary distinctions between religion and magic confronted strong evidence, scholars have been forced to rethink the relationship between religion and magic....Some religions, by emphasizing miracles and rituals, tend to be magical in style, and others that downplay such beliefs and practices tend not to be magical in style. One of these religious styles is not better than the other, just different. These two religious styles, the magical and non-magical, are a matter of degree. No religion, for example, is completely devoid of magic-like ritual activity."
Gary E. Kessler
Studying Religion: An Introduction Through Cases (2nd ed.)

Religion is Innately Supernatural

Recently the question of whether religion is automatically supernatural in nature and whether it is possible to deny the supernatural and still be Christian came up on Roger Olson's Patheos blog. It was an odd piece in that I found myself somewhat impressed by Olson's immediate admission that Christianity and religion are, or at least contain elements of, supernatural.

I was rather less impressed with the reason it came up and how he set about writing about the connection. He seems to have just assumed that one of his readers assertion about a notable theologians position on the subject was precisely what the reader claimed it to be. This reader claimed that Karl Barth did not believe in the "supernatural" and insisted that Christianity did not require it. I am by no means an expert on Barth's work but I have read some of it and don't recall his making such a definitive claim. Not only does Olson not indicate that he bothered to review any of Barth's writing to determine if the claim had any merit (being dead we can't just ask him), he spends most of the piece trying to reconcile Barth's supposed view with his own.

Though the mental gymnastics were amusing it seemed rather futile. Even if Barth did make such a claim it would not be the first time a theologian had deluded himself into believing something that is blatantly incoherent and contradictory. There is no aspect of Christ's supposed life and ministry that is not laced with the supernatural. Miracles, for instance, are by definition outside the natural laws. So is one of the most important aspects of the Christ narratives: resurrection.

Basically, whether Barth believed that religion, specifically Christianity, was innately supernatural does not change the fact that Christianity has to be. Without the miracles, the resurrection, and the transfer of sins as a result Christ would be just another itinerant preacher/reformer.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Why Take Offense

Tim Suttle offers a possible explanation for why people are so easily offended on his Paperback Theology blog. It would probably be more accurate to point out that he is endorsing the explanation of another person in his post "Why Do We Become So Easily Offended?" In either case the rationale provided has some limited use. It is a partial explanation that may work in some instances.

Chocking it up to issues with an individual's "ego" may have some merit but is by no means universally applicable and is far from an adequate approach. "Ego" is such a subjective and unsubstantiated construct that it has very limited explanatory qualities. It also borders on Freudian psycho-babble. The piece is too short to determine whether Suttle is using the term in the way Freud intend or if he is trying to use a more modern interpretation.

Personally, I think it has as much to do with insecurity and fear. At least some theists probably realize to some extent that their views are not well founded. Many cannot stand even the slightest critiques of their religious beliefs for fear of where any real examination might lead. Though, I would also point out that insecurity and fear are also not complete explanations. The question, like so many, is far to complex to adhere to a single explanation.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Year Late and Still Garbage

DiDonato never ceases to demonstrate just how much of a misnomer Science on Religion is for his Patheos blog. Last week's post "Why atheist scientists bring their children to church" seems like a complete waste of time. It isn't just that he is reporting on supposed finding that are over a year old, it is more notable that the research he notes was shoddy crap when it first appeared and it hasn't been improved upon.

I commented on the this "research" in a previous post of my own ("Atheist Scientists and Religious Traditions" December 10, 2012).

Friday, December 21, 2012

"There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy, we sow anonymous benefits upon the world."
Robert Louis Stevenson
Since I mentioned The Atheist's Guide to Christmas I thought I'd post a few excerpts. I randomly chose two pieces I particularly liked.

from "I'm Dreaming of a Green Christmas" by Sian Berry
     "Which brings me to Christmas - a time of year with plenty of communications mantraps for both greens and atheists. these days, it's a Christian holiday in name only for most of us, and most believers would probably agree it's gotten well beyond everyone's control.
     What started as a few days of festivities now lasts about nine weeks and seems to involve a quarter of a million different acts of marking the occasion. And it's impossible not to take part because everything to do with the Christmas season, no matter how newly invented, becomes instantly "traditional"...
     And there I go, moaning like scrooge. But, believe it or not, I do enjoy a lot of things about Christmas...At its simplest and most secular - as a family get-together to mark the end of the year - Christmas can be a joy... I would love to be able to reclaim this essential midwinter break from religions on one side and from commercial interests who have turned it into a festival of waste on the other, but it's very hard to do this without sounding like you want to spoil everyone's fun."

from "How to Stop Worrying and Enjoy Christmas" by Mitch Benn
     "What it all comes down to is a question: what is Christmas? And the answer - for all of us, believer or otherwise - is that Christmas is whatever you want it to be.
     You see, Christmas, like all living things, is evolving. It's been through many phases and guises and it'll go through many more. Given that the 'eat drink, and be merry' aspect of Christmas predates the 'O Come, All Ye Faithful' bit by a considerable margin, and could even be said to take precedence over it, what then is the 'true' meaning?
     The answer, again, is whichever you prefer. Those of you who wish to restrict your participation in Christmas to reverent, even solemn observances of the rites and customs pertaining to the day in your particular faith, knock yourself out. Those of us who choose to celebrate Christmas in the traditional, pre-Christian manner (at least as it manifests itself in the modern era - basically eating forty mince pies and then slipping into unconsciousness on the sofa) may do so with a clear conscience. Spiritually, anyway. Nutritionally, that's another matter."

There are over 40 pieces, altogether. While poking around the internet to see if there were any pieces of the book that could be accessed free online (I struck out, sorry) I discovered that Wikipedia has an entry on the book.

Or is it a Heathens Holiday

Winter season celebrations have been around seemingly for as long as our species has been around. In some sense Christians are late-comers to the party. It really doesn't make sense to try to hoard the festivities especially in light of the fact that the ideals Christians frequently claim include compassion and empathy. Why get hung up on labels? Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings,... Whatever you want to say, or however you want to celebrate shouldn't be an issue. I happen to be a "Winter baby." I was born on the Winter Solstice and brought home on Christmas day. Atheist or not, this is still my holiday(s) as much as it can belong to anyone or any group. I'm willing to share the joy.

A few related snippets from around the web:

‘Taking Christ Out of Christmas’ Is Nothing New, Historian Says 

Away with the manger, in with the solstice!

Grim Momentary Fantasy

I would never actually wish such a thing to happen but I still can't resist briefly daydreaming about putting assholes like Bryan Fisher in the middle of shooting range and then challenging them to pray away the bullets.

"Bryan Fischer: God Did Not Protect Connecticut Shooting Victims Because Prayer Banned In Schools"
Shit like this really pisses me off. I find it hard to believe it is a coincidence that the overwhelming majority of psychos who go on killing sprees are NOT atheists. Religion not only does not prevent violence and/or murder, it is frequently used to justify, condone, or encourage it.

Actually, Christ does Need Christianity

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will once again point out that without "Christianity" there would be no Jesus Christ. Shane Hipps makes a feeble attempt at the opposite claim in his HuffPo piece, "Why Christ Doesn't Need Christianity." Like so many before him he simply ignores the most relevant details. That there are no accounts of Christ* outside of scripture should bother anyone interested in legitimate historical research.

I found the third paragraph particularly amusing. It is a single sentence but serves as an excellent example of his mindset.

"Just because Christianity claims Jesus as its own does not mean that Christ automatically claims Christianity as his own."

Setting aside that the likelihood that Christ ever really existed is near zero, it is an odd comment considering the consensus among Biblical scholars is that the earliest pieces in the New Testament are at least one generation removed from the time Christ was supposed to have lived. Having been dead for a handful of decades it would be rather difficult for Jesus to claim anything about Christianity whether he wanted to or not.

Which brings me back to the main point. Whether real or mythical, the odds that anyone would know anything about Jesus Christ had the Christian religion not formed is very low. Christ does need Christianity. On the other hand I can see Christianity outliving the notion that Christ was real. Daoism (or Taoism, if you prefer that spelling) is still around despite scholars coming to the consensus that its founding figure, Lao Tzu, never actually existed.

*There are accounts of Christians but that is hardly the same thing.

Monday, December 17, 2012

"God has called them home"

Normally, I try to refrain from commenting on such horrific tragedies for at least a week but I can't take this shit any longer. Do theists ever think about how things like, "God has called them home" to non-theists? We get bashed, falsely, for being cold, angry, rude, etc... Look in a damn mirror! To me what that phrase really says is that "God" is a cruel homicidal selfish scumbag. Theists are "His" apologists/enabler. Even if God exists and needed those children and adults why did they have to die like that. You're going to tell me the Supreme Being couldn't have arranged for them to die in their sleep while dreaming of all sorts of amazing things? If you want to use the lame-ass excuse that it's suppose to teach us something, think again. This shit isn't working. We haven't learned yet. God being the Supreme should have known that. There's another for the list: incompetent.

Enough with the bullshit. It's horrible. It should be seen as a catastrophe. Until we get our shit together and actually do something to stop this senseless violence stop trying to justify it with God or any other such religious/spiritual platitudes. You want to feel better then do something productive about it. Grow up and start dealing with the problems we are all responsible for. As scary as that may be the simple truth is that WE are responsible.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

"The beginning of thought is in disagreement -- not only with others but also with ourselves."
Eric Hoffer

Friday, December 14, 2012

Misused and Abused: Natural

The term "natural" has been modified and expanded over the course of a century or so. Because of this progression in the number of potential uses and variations it is not always easy to spot when the term is being intentionally misuses or when it is simply a poor choice of wording. To get an idea of just how diverse the term has become I've copied the definition from Chambers 21st Century Dictionary,
1. normal; unsurprising; 2. instinctive; not learnt; 3. born in one; innate a natural talent; 4. being such because of inborn qualities Christian is a natural communicator; 5. said of manner, etc: simple, easy and direct; not artificial; 6. said of looks: not, or apparently not, improved on artificially; 7. relating to nature, or to parts of the physical world not made or altered by man natural sciences areas of natural beauty; 8. following the normal course of nature died a natural death; 9. said of materials, products, etc: derived from plants and animals as opposed to man-made natural fibres; 10. wild; uncultivated or uncivilized; 11. related to one by blood one’s natural parents; 12. euphemistic see illegitimate his natural son; 13. music not sharp or flat.
1. colloquial someone with an inborn feel for something She’s a natural when it comes to acting; 2. a person or thing that is the obvious choice for something; 3. someone or something that is assured of success; a certainty; 4. music (a) a sign (♮) indicating a note that is not to be played sharp or flat; (b) such a note.
naturalness noun a natural state or quality; being natural.
[14c: from Latin naturalis from natura nature.]"

So, depending on context and intent there are any number of correct ways that the word can be used. There are still plenty of blatantly wrong ways to employ the term. One of the most common and irritating ones I routinely come across is its misuse as a synonym for "good" (as in morally good). There is nothing in the above definition that places a moral value on Natural. Being natural does not describe something in terms of moral values. Anything natural can be good, bad, both, or neutral. Unnatural often gets a similar treatment and is just as irksome.

"Coping" with the Holidays

I don't think I'd use terms like "coping" or "refuge" in relation to the Holidays. The noticeable and somewhat dramatic uptick in religious fervor can sometimes be a little irritating to me as an atheist but I also can see why it happens. Like I have pointed out on numerous occasions, I don't have a problem with the average believer. That said, all the religious connotations and expressions can get overwhelming at times so it is nice to have some humor and/or anecdotes around this time of year. A recent piece on Religious News Service noted that there is now an annual holiday comedy show geared to the non-Christian. It would be nice if eventually the show is either broadcast or made available on DVD or through streaming video.

In the meantime another "refuge" for those who enjoy reading may be found in an anthology that was published two years ago, The Atheist's Guide To Christmas. I haven't seen it stocked in any bookstores so far this year but it was still on shelves last year and is easy enough to order. The pieces are pretty varied in terms of style and theme. All are worth reading.

"Biblical" End Times

Seriously? "One in three Americans see extreme weather as a sign of biblical end times." Setting aside that the "end times" as portrayed by many evangelicals and fundamentalists is basically a fabrication even by the low standards of Religious believers*, that many people credulously accepting that God is prepping to wipe us out while still not fully accepting humanity's role in global warming is bat-shit crazy.

If this actually leads to a more proactive response regarding climate change it might not be such a bad thing. Unfortunately, I doubt that will happen. As the weather becomes more severe the consequences will become progressive more catastrophic. The cost in lives and resources are nothing to scoff at. Mixing myth into such potentially devastating realities is bound to make things worse.

*The Christian "End Times" which incorporates slightly different but inter-related mythical events like the "rapture" and "tribulations" is only very loosely based on scripture. The overwhelming majority of what believers talk about when referring to the End Times is largely a creation of Christian pop-culture. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' Left Behind series is largely responsible for popularizing this kind of nonsense (in the past few decades). Robert Price's Paperback Apocalypse is an excellent critique of this genre.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

"We do not write what we know: we write what we want to find out."
Wallace Stegner

If You Have to Talk Yourself into It....

While reading Sarah O'Leary's "12 Reasons Why God is Nice" I got the distinct impression that she wasn't really writing something for others to think about. It sounded more like an attempt to convince herself of things she feels she should and/or wants to believe. In any case, her rationalizations are as naive as they are ridiculous. Nearly all of her twelve "reasons" outright conflict with the most basic definition of God. This is, of course, without establishing whether she accepts the Bible as having any authority or not. If O'Leary accepts the Bible even on symbolic terms her reasons become even more tortured but I'll set that aside.

Sticking with the basic definition that God is the supreme being who is perfect, all-powerful, and the creator of all things all but a few of her 12 reasons fall apart after only the slightest scrutiny.

1.God is NICE, 4.God loves everyone, 5.God doesn't get angry, or hold grudges, 11.God is a huge fan of kindness, compassion and generosity
In each of these O'Leary relies predominantly on the assumption that God has emotional states. How can that be the case when emotions are most certainly flawed. In order for God to experience emotions such a being would have to be flawed and therefore by definition not be God. It can not occur otherwise and still be an emotion. Human emotions are largely understood and experienced in comparison with other known emotion so you cannot have a perfect emotion. Her #1 is also interesting since it seems to imply that there can be no connection between God and hate. Where does hate come from? Wouldn't this suggest that God is not the source of all things?

A few of the above also share a few aspects in common with the next set I found to be inter-related.
2.God doesn't want us to feel threatened by Him, 6. God wants us to find peace, and be happy, 7. God doesn't like people who act like they are closer to Him than the rest of us
These all depend on the idea that God wants or doesn't want us to feel certain ways or  to behave in specific ways. The biggest problem with this formulation comes from the notion of "want." If we as humans want something what does that really mean? Either we lack something or we do not have enough of something. If you have that something then you don't want it. More to the point you can't really want it if you already have it since that would be a contradiction of terms. If God is both perfect and the source of all things what can God possibly want? Nothing.

Again, the above leads into the next point which regards free will. God doesn't have to want anything because everything that is, is a direct result of God. This is also true of our behaviors. If God exists there can be no free will since that would negate God's perfection. God is all knowing and therefore would know what was, is, and will be. God cannot lack any knowledge and still remain perfect. Similarly, as the source of all things God would also be the author of all our ideas and behaviors which means the following are pretty much null and void.
3. God isn't a control freak, 8. God is the only one wearing a watch that matters, 9. God doesn't keep a score.
I should probably clarify #9. Without free will there is no morality which means we really can't be held responsible in any meaningful way. Any ideas about a final judgement with preceding punishments or rewards is moot.

Only two of her reasons cannot be completely refuted by definition.
10. God isn't relaxing in Heaven, He's everywhere, 12. God never leaves us
Even if you are a believer the last two standing are not all that impressive considering how vague and superficial they are. It seems somewhat redundant and unnecessary. To my way of thinking it is the equivalent of simply stating that existence exists. Yes, it does. And? Where is this train of thought going? You have to take the statement further otherwise what is the point of making it.

O'Leary concludes with,
"I believe God lives in our human-to-human connections. The God that is in us is the love that feeds us.
Yes, I'm certain, God is Nice."
It is a pleasant enough sentiment but where does she want to go with it? It really does seem to be a sort of motivational letter to herself.

Build-A-Bear Theology

I have to admit I find this phrase very entertaining. I agree with a few of Schmidt's minor points in his Patheos piece, "The Dangers of a 'Build-A-Bear' Theology", but his overall message falls flat. He is willing to concede that Americans catering ideas or behaviors to our own specific interests is not that new but can't seem to admit that Religion as an institution has also always done so. No religion is completely unique since each builds on what came before it. They also tend to adopt bits and pieces from contemporary faiths they come in contact with.

I also don't quite see why he is so disturbed by this common approach since no religion has ever been unified. There are always factions. Even at the individual level it is rare to find any believer that agrees 100% with their chosen faith. At one point he seems to think being an individual is itself somehow wrong, "We create something that is deeply meaningful to the one who crafts it, but predictably it lacks any deep relevance to others." So? I will never understand the one-size-fits-all mentality that seems to be so pervasive among theists, or rather among theologians and religious leaders.

G Word

I agree with Philip Goldberg that it is quite interesting to explore what people really mean when they use the word God. However, I'm not as convinced that "the G-word has undergone a radical change in recent decades." I think theists and atheists alike have always used the term in varied ways. He references a few sources that are well worth reading and even provides links to them. There are a wide range of materials that are excellent for spurring further thought on the concept of God. At this point I'd like to recommend two books in particular.

Andrew Pessin's The God Question provides a wonderful overview. I read it a few years ago and have re-read it a few times since. The only thing that would have made it better was if he had added in a few choice excerpts from the works he references.

Froese and Bader's America's Four Gods provides a very readable and fascinating analysis. Personally, I would divide the God concept into two fairly broad versions: concrete and abstract. I tended to think of their four as fairly distinct variations that contain elements of both but with each leaning towards one or the other.

Whether you believe or not the concept of God with all its variations and implications is an interesting topic of study.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

"Guardianship is not to give an order but to give one's self"
Nyika (Kenya and Tanzania) Proverb

"Faitheist" Crap

Yet another self-deluded putts with a messiah complex who happens to be an atheist is making the rounds. Not long ago Chris Stedman's book Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious was published and seem to find a small following almost immediately. It is a little baffling why ignorant fools like this get anywhere. Even though I have not read it and probably won't I have read a few reviews and have read/watched/listened to interviews of Stedman and a few of his devotees. He, like many before him, has apparently based most of his own views on both atheists and theists on a slew of myths and stereotypes.

Reread his book title. Notice anything? The implication is that atheists routinely fail to find common ground with those around them. This is based on what? He also specifically uses the word "Religious." Virtually every atheist I have ever come across does not have a problem with religious people. I and many others have issues with Religion. Religion, as in, the institution. I do not like the doctrines, hierarchy/leadership, and rites and rituals. One of Stedman's dip-shit acolytes went further by stating in a HuffPo piece: "There was no venue for atheists to join in interreligious dialogue, so Chris created a space where believers and atheists alike could share their stories, humanize one another, and promote pluralism among conflicting voices." If he had modified that statement by saying there was no "formal venue" he might have had a point. It would have been weak and rather debatable but it would not be the blatant lie that it is as worded. Atheists have family, friends, coworkers, who are believers. Have these fools deluded themselves to the point that they think the rest of us are some type of secular hermits? Of course, the topic sometimes comes up. It is also not unusual for atheists to work with theists towards common goals. We have always done that and always will.

That bring me to another aspect guys like Stedman never seem to get. They routinely pay lip service to "plurality" without ever being aware that there approach is self-defeating. They'll insist on "interfaith" cooperation without acknowledging that by definition and attitude atheists are being excluded or denigrated. I do not have faith. Atheists do not have faith. If we wanted that we wouldn't be atheists. Is it okay to tell African Americans that they can join a new Civil Rights movement if they first bleach their skin? Why should we find "common ground" on strictly religious terms? Finding common goals is actually pretty easy. How many people want others to suffer and die? We can build housing, push for cures to diseases, oppose the abuse of others all without a religious structure. That in no way implies that the religious can't remain religious. The insistence that religion should set the rules for cooperation seems to be a doomed approach. If people want to they can come together for a common purpose without any extra baggage. Want to stop child abuse? I know I do. Why can't we work together for that positive outcome. I won't talk smack about religion and no one else needs to talk about religion at all while working on such a worthy project. It isn't necessary.

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Dozen Christmas Specials

It has become somewhat of a tradition that every year towards the end of November or beginning of December I buy a Christmas album or video. My taste is a bit eclectic. Some of my favorites are fun for the whole family while others are definitely not meant for kids. Perhaps in a another post I'll list some of my favorite music but in this one I'm focusing on the videos. Below is a list of some of my favorites. They are in alphabetical order since I don't think I could rank them any other way.

Black Adder Christmas Carol

A Christmas Story

Emmett Otter's Jug Band Christmas

Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank

Muppet Christmas Carol

Muppet Family Christmas

Robbie the Reindeer

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

White Christmas

Wish for Wings That Work

Year Without a Santa Claus

There are, of course, plenty of other excellent Christmas specials. These happen to be the ones that I find the need to watch if not every year at least every other. If it isn't obvious from the list I love Jim Henson and the Muppets. I also enjoy those specials that mix nostalgia and humor. Rankin and Bass are always fun as are a healthy dose of crooners and cheesy fun.

Evangelical Ceasfire of Sorts

In a recent blog post Mark Silk has commented on Richard Stearns apparent concession in the "Culture War." I emphasize apparent since it is not uncommon for various religious leaders to say one thing and then behave in a completely contradictory manner. Even if Stearns means what he says it will probably not make much of a difference. Others will continue to fight their self-imposed bogus "war."

What I find far more about such comments is how grandiose, absurd, and self-deluded they are. The theists who either participate in or tacitly accept this culture war never see how well it reveals their own foolishness.
Take for example the bit he quotes from Stearns' HuffPo piece:
"As this cultural shift has occurred, many Christians have reacted in frustration. We have fought to place the Ten Commandments in courtrooms and Christmas crèches outside town halls. We have sued over public prayers and crosses in state parks. One court recently weighed in on whether cheerleaders at a Texas school should be allowed to post Bible verses on their banners."

Neither men seem to ever question why such legal fights were seen as necessary to in the first place. Is God the supreme being or not? Why would the "Almighty" need puny mortals fight his battles for him? Why would a true Christian need any external support for their faith? Personally, I've always seen theists need to create and then fight a "culture war" as a sign of how truly pathetic religion is. It cannot survive on its own so it has to constantly find ways of entangling itself with other institutions (like Government and Education). It has always been that way.

I'll be surprised if Stearns doesn't revert to some degree to insinuating faith into everything else, which is the real struggle that is taking place. It doesn't hurt that the bogus "culture war" is an excellent source for fundraising.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Pope's "Research"

Apparently, the Pope has a new book out that according to a CNN story "debunks several myths about how the nativity unfolded." That he is admitting to some of the various false notions surrounding the Jesus narratives is not that impressive when you consider that every point mentioned in the piece has long been recognized as mythical/folkloric elements real scholars. The overwhelming majority of scriptural scholars, many of them believers, reached consensus on a number of these myths decades ago. Most of the details that have been "debunked" don't really matter. The overall purpose of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus regardless of the day and/or year he is supposed to have been born. Going by scripture it is almost certain that Jesus was not born in the month of December (by adjusting to modern calendars). It has also long been acknowledged that the discrepancies in the Bible make it impossible to claim any specific year for Jesus' birth. It is estimated to fall within a 10-12 year time-frame, depending on which version, translation, and interpretations are used.

As far as I can tell all Ratzinger has done is repackage settled scholarship. I won't be looking to get a copy of this book.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

"You can choose a ready guide
In some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide
You still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears
And kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that's clear
I will choose free will"
"Free Will" (Chorus)


Anyone who has spent any time considering the question of whether God exists or not has probably come across the inter-related terms omniscience and omnipotence. There is a third related term that does not seem to get nearly as much attention. Omnipresence. It is interesting to note that the idea that God is somehow present in a single location is shaky at best. In most instances that someone refers to God being present they are usually commenting on an emotional response to something that they then retro fit to their already established religious beliefs. Such experiences are generally in response to an event or circumstances, or even a delayed reaction.

Given that it is virtually impossible to establish an actual "presence" it is odd to think of an entity that can simultaneously be everywhere all the time, which is the basic principle of omnipresence. If God is an entity and does physically interact with us in some way then you would assume there would be physical evidence. There isn't. It would also violated numerous laws of physics for a physical entity to be absolutely everywhere all at once. The only materials science is aware of being capable of anything similar are sub-atomic particles. Such particles do have an effect on us but cannot be sensed as present in any practical way. It is rare that God is not described in terms that relate to a sentient being. It is hard to image that it is even remotely possible for a being that has the characteristics of sub-atomic particles necessary to be omnipresent could maintain the type of coherence necessary for a single entity to exist.

Basically, in physics the only things that might be capable of omnipresence cannot directly be perceived by human beings and is virtually impossible to have such a trait and still have a coherent body of any sort. There is no reason to presume that sentience, let alone a more advanced sentience than that of humans, can exist without a physical brain (the only known source for a mind). If omnipresence is a necessary trait of God, which it arguably is, then God would seem to be highly unlikely on this basis alone.

A Course on Atheism?

I have to admit I find the notion of an entire class on Atheism fascinating and potentially a little futile. As I have pointed out on a few occasions, Atheism is not a true "ism" since it does not have an innate set of beliefs or even a structure that a set of beliefs could easily be attached to. By definition it is a lack of a religious (especially one focused on or includes a God or gods) based belief system. That is not to say atheists don't have beliefs or follow one or more overlapping belief systems. Atheism just does not tell you what those beliefs are.

After hearing an interview of Peter Boghossian on Freedom From Religion's Free Thought Radio I have decided that it is time to revisit my assumptions on this topic. During the interview Boghossian mentioned a course he teaches for Portland State University and that the syllabus can be found on Skeptic magazines website. I have only briefly skimmed through it at this point but I am going to follow it through. I already own one of the required texts (I've ordered the second) and have read quite a bit of the recommended material. I will read/reread them in the order he has laid out. The questions laced throughout seem to be pretty good.

I am not sure how much of the experience I'll bother to post but I will probably write a few updates along the way. It should be interesting in any case.

A Listing of Wishful Thinking, Ignorance, Delusions...

The editors of the religion section of Huffington Post recently put together "50 Things to Love About Religion." Not surprising the introductory paragraphs set the tone rather well. It immediately alternates between being misleading and contradictory. Notice how the title is worded? They state and then imply that the list is meant to be about religion as a whole. In other words, it is not initially suppose to be about things that are "true" of only one or two Faiths but of all of them. It also implies that it is about Religion rather than any other aspect of culture/society or humanity in general. The first sentence of the last paragraph, however, is: "What is it that you like about your faith?" It is not hard to see why a number of readers ended up contributing things that relate only to their preferred religion rather than the institution Religion. It also reflects how Christians are the dominant voice in this section.

Less than half of the list actually pertains to religion as a whole. Many are highly debatable as to whether they have that much of a connection beyond the desire of individuals and groups to make them have one. Among this grouping includes: 11. Confidence, 13. Music, 24. Hope, 26. Forgiveness, 28. Compassion, 31. Joy, 32. Unity, 33. Courage, 34. Service to Others, 42. Simplicity, 43. Tranquility, 47. Food, 49. Tradition, and 50. Hope (oops, they listed that one twice). Yes, all these can be experienced through religion but they can just as easily be found outside religion. It is also easy to argue that a few of them are hindered by Religion(s).

There are a number of others that are even easier to argue as being exaggerated or false bordering on delusional. These include: 3. No one preaches at me, 10. Freedom to question, 12. Openness to ideas, 15. Pure transparency, 18. Gender equality, 22. No dogma, 27. Hatred for none, 28. Compassion, 29. Inclusive
32. Unity (Yes, I also included this one in the list above), 40. No more guilt*, 46. Not being forced. The first one really makes me laugh consider how Christian-centric the whole post seems to be. Apparently, the readers have forgotten one the most basic principles of Evangelism (a rather large branch of Christianity) is to preach to others. I am also unaware of any Faith that handles criticism or non-conformity well. Have they not come a cross fun terms like heresy, infidel, blaspheme, apostasy, etc. I have also yet to come a cross a major world religion that has not contained massive doses of sexism. Many are still very sexist and still do not always play well with other Faiths. There are positive examples that can be said to represent these readers hope but that is all they tend to be. Unfortunately, they are exceptions not the rule. Claiming otherwise is just dishonest.

Then there are those on the list that are only associated with Christianity or are phrased in way that favors Christianity. For example, a variety of religions venerate "saints" but the phrasing of #20, Communion of saints, is used among Christian denominations. Some of the others include: 8. Jesus, 9. The Beatitudes, 21. The cross, 23. Mass, 44. The Eucharist, 48. Free wine.

There are a number of other problems with the list as it relates to what it is suppose to represent. Personally, I'd love to see them create a similar list but with more thought involved. Creating separate lists for each represented Religion and then one that is correlated and annotated, a master list of sorts. They might even include a few non-theistic groups listing what they love about Culture/Society and/or Humanity. It would require more work so I doubt HuffPo would ever bother. Still, It would be very interesting to see such comparative lists.

*Considering how dominant Christians are on HuffPo this one made me laugh for a good 5-6 minutes. What did Christ die for? What is Original Sin? Doesn't that imply that at the very least a handful of essential Christian doctrines are laced with "guilt"? And then, I can't count the number of Catholics I've met who half-joke about "Catholic Guilt."

Stop Messing with the Dead

Once again people are trying to make claims about some one who cannot confirm or deny the assertions because they are dead. Mansfield's "Abraham Lincoln's Atheist Period" is just the most recent example of living assholes trying to use the dead like they are some type of puppet. Personally, I don't have a problem with bring up someone's religious beliefs or lack of beliefs if it is relevant in a given discussion. I do have a major problem when a particular belief or trait of the deceased is either brought up for no good reason or is used for a personal agenda. It especially pisses me off when the trait or belief in question is exaggerated misrepresented, or an outright fabrication.

There may be some reason to believe that Lincoln went through a period where he became anti-religious but that does not mean he was an atheist. Mansfield references a few sources that claim he was hostile to religion. If you look at the details it would be more accurate to say he was opposed to a specific brand of Christianity not religion in general. It is also notable that he is described as hating or being angry with God (or rather a Biblical version of the God concept). If you are not a completely ignorant fool that should have caused you to rethink the use of the term "atheist." You can't get angry or hate an entity you do not believe exists in the first place. You can get angry at people around you for how they use the concept but that is not even close to being the same thing.

If Lincoln had been an atheist I would have no problem adding him to the list of positive role models related to non-belief. But he was not an atheist. So why does Mansfield want to make him out to have been one? Does he have an agenda? I don't honestly know. I can think of a few possible reasons others might want to do so. The article makes it clear that it was a passing phase in Lincoln's life. perhaps this is another attempt at smearing atheists. Somehow our thinking is immature or lacks any real thought. This is often what is implied when people talk about going through a phase. It could just be an interesting idea that caught his attention. I'm not sure. What I do know is that the piece exemplifies a variety of myths/stereotypes about atheism (we can't hate God, anti-religious sentiment is not synonymous with atheism...) and lack of understanding how historical research should be conducted. It is also galling since theist tend to be the loudest when calling for respecting the dead and yet they are usually the first to pull this type of propaganda-like bullshit.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Corruption. The surest way to corrupt youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently."
Frederick Nietzsche
The Dawn (297)

A Humanistic Dualism

As human beings we seem to be attracted to dualism in one form or another. The notion that two parts or aspects form a greater whole appears to be instinctive. Some of these variations seem reasonable while others are far more speculative and ungrounded. One variation that I have always found to be more interesting and reasonable revolves around our sense of self.

Most of us are caught between two points of view that, at least superficially, seem to be at odds. Most individuals want to think of themselves as unique. In many ways this is true. We have a variety of traits/characteristics that makes us distinguishable from any other person we meet. We are individuals. Yet, we are also all human. We are part of a distinct species with a variety of overlapping/common traits. Most of us also want to be part of a greater whole. We want to fit in in some way. We want to be special and simultaneously alike. How can that be?

Personally, I think it is reasonable and not nearly as contradictory as it first appears. We are sentient socially driven animals. Like all primates we have a strong instinctive drive to favor social interaction. We do not do well in isolation. This is not to say that we can not function on our own for long periods of time. However, a variety of experiments and observations have confirmed over the centuries that the longer an individual is deprived of social interaction the worse their mental and physical health becomes. We are also conscious beings. We are aware of ourselves and others in ways no other species are (or at least as far as we can confirm at this point). Being able to distinguish our selves, the self, is a useful adaptation. One practical example of this melding of self and community is the "Division of Labor." We hear a lot about how culture evolved and impacted human biological evolution but one aspect that usually does not get nearly enough attention is the Division of Labor. Thinking about how we work together for both personal and communal gains is an excellent way to frame this seeming contradiction of perspectives.

In the end I cannot fully explain this type of duality. Perhaps we will never understand it or the components that seem to contribute to it. It is still quite interesting to ponder. Self and consciousness are each topics well worth exploring in and of themselves. Throw in the impact they have on a variety of other topics and concepts and you have multiple life-times worth of questions.

Friday, November 16, 2012


I recently finished reading a rather unsettling novel by Philip Roth. Everyman is as well written and profound as it is frightening and unnerving. The main theme is human mortality. It starts at the funeral of the main character and from there slides into a type of disjointed collage of flashbacks. Even though these episodes do not occur in chronological order they do not make the overall story difficult to follow. In fact, in some ways it helps to reinforce the main theme and draw out a number of related ones. Each slice of life further explores how mortality is intrinsic to our sense of self and to our humanity. Roth manages to pack into a short novel a life time of experiences so realistic that you can't help being emotionally drawn in. It is virtually impossible to fully explain the novels impact. It is one I would highly recommend.

Oath both Inspiring and Disturbing

Part of me was glad to see that Tulsi Gabbard was able to choose to be sworn in with a copy of the Baghavad Gita rather than a Bible. There does not seem to be any real backlash from this. In a way it seems to speak well for pluralism and tolerance especially in light of the ridiculous episode that grew up around Keith Ellison*. Another part of me very quickly jumped in with the question of why anyone should swear an oath to serve a public office on any piece of scripture. He may be a positive gesture, superficially, to greater acceptance of minorities but it still is an affront to one of our most important democratic ideals: separation of church and state.

 *A handful of years back a variety of right wing assholes had a hissy fit because the newly elected Congressman, Keith Ellison, supposedly had sworn his oath of office over a Quran rather than a Bible. He actually did no such thing. He posed with Nancy Pelosi after the official ceremony. They each had their hand on a two volume Quran set that had been owned by Thomas Jeferson. The horror!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Credulous Evangelicals

Huffington Post noted the results of a somewhat interesting but not particularly surprising survey of evangelical Christians regarding news sources. The evangelical denominations tend to be conservative so their preferred source of news being Fox was not shocking. Conservatives seem to favor the hyper-partisan factually challenged Fox News. There were  two aspects of this short post I found most interesting. The first was the question as to whether the failed election results prediction would lead evangelicals to choose a better source of news. They won't. Probing why they chose Fox and why they will most likely stick with Fox could be fascinating. The second was who the runner up to the most trusted news source ended up being. PBS came in at 31% compared to Fox's 47%. The discrepancy seems to small to be a reflection of the more liberal minded among evangelicals. If it was simply a matter of the liberal factions among the denominations picking the outlet perceived to be more liberal than you would expect PBS to be towards the bottom of all the listed media outlets. That would reflect the political leanings of evangelicals according to decades of similar polls and surveys. It seems mildly ironic that it is the second choice among a largely conservative grouping that tends to bash PBS.

This could be a reflection of the fine but observable line between political conservatives and religious conservatives. In any case, it would be interesting to see someone follow up on these results with a more in depth study of political, religious, and philosophical attitudes among this same group of evengelicals.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"Whatever conclusions we reach about the reality of God, the history of this idea must tell us something important about the human mind and the nature of our aspiration."
Karen Armstrong
A History of God

Simple, Obvious, Contradictory...

It never ceases to amaze me just how contradictory and delusional some theists can be. Greg Carey's "Jesus and the Bible" post, however, seems to have set a new record. This is probably the fastest self contradiction I've read in the past few years. Paragraph two essentially negates the opening paragraph.

Paragraph 1:
"When we Christians are tempted to lob Bible verses at one another like hand grenades, we might do well to consider Jesus' example."

Paragraph 2:
"On a certain day, Luke tells us, Jesus was in his hometown, Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30). He stood up in the synagogue to read, and he was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. Scrolling through, Jesus read from two verses. Actually, a verse and a half."

See what he did there? He failed in not being "tempted to lob Bible verses." To prove his pointed he has to use Bible verses which completely undoes the initial point. It is not completely his fault since it is literally impossible to discuss Jesus in any significant way without referencing the New Testament. He cannot acknowledge that Jesus' very "existence" depends on scripture.

Later he gets into the need to interpret scripture by again using Jesus as an example. Again, he fails to acknowledge where that train of thought has to lead. Since the Bible cannot have any real meaning without massive amounts of cherry-picking and interpretation then it is really no more valid as a source of inspiration and/or authority than, say, Harry Potter.

Blind faith and delusion is quite the combination.

God Votes!

Do theists ever realizes just how idiotic captions like this are? It is bad enough that so many candidates find the need to load their rhetoric with "God talk." The constant analysis and speculation over how faith translates into votes gets really irritating after a short while. It would be nice if theists, at least a few, would just once concede that if they believe in God than all the analysis and speculation is moot. If God exists than nothing really matters. If God is the Supreme being and is perfect than you cannot have free will. If God exists all humans are, or can be, is a bunch of meat puppets. The election and its consequences lose meaning for the simple fact that everything that has happened and will happen has to occur exactly they way the have and will. God does not have to vote since we can do nothing. We mean nothing. Your every thought and action would have to originate from God since God is all, the source of everything. That is rather disturbing. I guess it's a good thing God is a fabrication of the human mind.

Apostasy and Blaspheme

What does it say about Religion and the God concept that so many around the world still seem to think that Apostasy and Blaspheme are important issues?

According to the Chambers 21st Century Dictionary:

noun: (apostasies) the relinquishment or rejection of one’s religion or principles or of one’s affiliation to a specified political party, etc.
[14c: from Greek apo away + stasis standing.]"

verb (blasphemed, blaspheming)
1. transitive & intransitive to speak disrespectfully or rudely about God, a divine being or sacred matters.
2. intransitive to swear or curse using the name of God or referring to sacred things.

Does this give further indication at how truly pathetic and weak religion is both intellectually and philosophically? Does it demonstrate theists lack of confidence in their own claims about God? If Religion and God need special considerations (laws, norms, taboos,...) how well founded can they really be?

Personally, I think it does show how weak religious ideas are. It may be just another way people can make themselves feel better about harassing and persecuting each other. Either way, it is worth questioning and thinking about.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

"Theology: An effort to explain the unknowable by putting it into terms of the not worth knowing"
H. L. Mencken

Damn Godless Commies! Oh, wait....

"Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need (Acts 4:34-35)...But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,
And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?(Acts 5:1-3)...And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. 'Three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.' 'Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.' And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. 'Peter said ... How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.'Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost.'
'And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.'
'By the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people.' Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things." (Acts 5:5-11)

Basically, a couple convert to Christianity and sell their property but start to have second thoughts. They decide to hold back a portion of the proceeds. Even though they give the bulk of their money to the group they both end up dead. It is an interesting story considering that conservative Christians insist that the Bible is the definitive authority on ethics and morals. These same Christians tend to rail against "redistributing" wealth. It seems the early Christians not only liked the idea but the message in the above narrative is give up everything to the common group or face death. The same group of religious right nuts also seem to alternate between insisting Obama is really a Muslim or else a commie. Which seems really bizarre to me since they frequently use, falsely, communism as a synonym for atheism. Contradictory? Inconsistent? Very! It is fascinating that their beloved source of authority seems to favor some of the more basic elements of communism. Private property and the free market are definitely not favored by God in this part of the Bible. So, does that make communism godly or free market fundamentalists ungodly? I fin that is a very entertaining theological dilemma.

Voting Against Secularism

The Democrats are not exactly champions of Separation of Church and State but anyone who considers this to be an important issue should not even consider voting Republican. As weak as Democrats can be on the topic it is ingrained in the GOP platform. Don't take my word for it read the platform and you'll find that not only is the Republic platform an affront to one of our nations most basic principles it is also chock full of ridiculous crap.

There are two sections that are especially telling. "We The People: A Restoration of Constitutional Government" and "Renewing American Values to Build Healthy Families, Great Schools and Safe Neighborhoods" are both loaded with examples of the GOP's incessant need to insert religion into politics. In the former the subsections "Defending Marriage Against An Activist Judiciary", "A Sacred Contract: Defense of Marriage", "The First Amendment: The Foresight of Our Founders to Protect Religious Freedom", and "The Sanctity and Dignity of Human Life" are all clearly motivated by faith. If it were simply a matter of personal motivation and action there would be no problem. Unfortunately, this is the parties blueprint for how they intend to govern. Their views on religion have been and will continue to drive their public policies. They seek to enforce their personal take on faith on the rest of us. It is a bit ironic since they start this whole section with, "We salute Republican Members of the House of Representatives for enshrining in the Rules of the House the requirement that every bill must cite the provision of the Constitution which permits its introduction." The constitution not only does not "permit" injecting religion into government the only passages that mention it restrict its use.

The second major section I referenced above is no better. The level of deceit and hypocrisy is astounding. They make a few feeble attempts at claiming their motivation comes from sources other than religion. There are no studies and no scientific basis for these religious based claims. It is also interesting to note that the GOP frequently tries to portray itself as a champion of freedom and personal responsibility. How those two are compatible with legislating a rather restrictive dictatorial code of conduct routed in ancient folklore on everyone is beyond me. Insisting on such a high level of religiosity does not seem to improve their own ethics. So if you consider Separation of Church and State an important part of our democracy please think twice before casting a ballot for any Republican candidates. It is not just the national party that has such a terrible platform. Virtually every state platform abides by the national one. Maine's is slightly watered down and is poorly written. It reads more like talking points than anything else. Yet, it does manage to touch on all the same points and rams faith into many of the platforms planks.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Not Hateful but Still Harmful

Personally, I have nothing against the Treworgys nor do I have any sympathy for them. They put up a political sign and now they are upset with the consequences their support for "No on 1" has caused their business. Some seem to think that refusing to visit or buy products from their farm is somehow an act of discrimination that should not be allowed. That's utter nonsense. The very implication is horrifying. How can you force private citizens to buy specific products or services from any business? The various individuals who express support for the Treworgys also tend to mix the idea of the rights individuals are, and should be, afford with businesses. Despite some of the more ideologically driven decisions of are pathetic Supreme Court, business (Corporations or others) are not human beings. If someone decided to target the couple for their opinion that would be a different matter. No one is seeking to deny the Treworgys any services or rights.

Of course, the article also touches on another misguided and foolish notion that I have commented on in previous posts. A person or group does not need to be hateful to do others harm. I don't have any reason to doubt what the couple have said about not being hateful. Ultimately, it does not matter. They are still supporting an effort that itself is designed to restrict and/ or deny the rights of our fellow citizens. By its nature that is harmful. "No on 1" is about continuing to treat homosexuals as second-class citizens. You can come up with any manner of justifications and excuses, all of them quite feeble, but it does not change the underlying principle. Opponents are seeking to deny other the very rights that they themselves enjoy. It is despicable.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

"The instant we admit that a book is too sacred to be doubted, or even reasoned about, we are mental serfs."
Robert Ingersoll
"The Gods"

Confession of a Former Christus-phile

You won't find the word Christus-phile in any standard dictionaries so I'll start by pointing out its construction before writing about how it relates to myself.  Christus is the Latin from which Christ is derived while the suffix phile means love of or passion and/or appreciation for. Basically, the word means a love of or appreciation for Christ.

What does it have to do with an atheist? Even though I never accepted the supernatural elements of what I'd been told about Jesus Christ when I was a child, I had assumed that Jesus was a real person.  I didn't bother to think much about the stories until middle school. At that point I generally admired what I had heard of the Christ figure. I thought of him in terms of a precursor to the hippies. I continued to view Jesus as a teacher and peace activist right through high school and into the first year of college. It was not until college that I really bothered to think about the Christ figure in any serious way. I went through a brief phase where I considered myself a sort of atheist Christian. I considered such a seemingly contradictory label for two main reasons. First I really did think the hippy version of the Christ figure was pretty cool and in the second place I felt my values and high ethical standards more closely fit the ideals that most Christians espoused than those that most Christians actually practiced.

During this brief phase I decided to look into the real history of Jesus. I genuinely wanted to know more about the figure I had come to admire. I was a bit surprised and somewhat disappointed when my research turned up nothing. It was not for a lack of trying. Throughout college I continued to apply the various methods and techniques of historical research I had been learning. I was a double major: English Education and Social Studies Education. It was not until a few years after graduating that I accepted that Jesus was a myth. I always knew that most of the story elements were fabrications but I had thought the basic human aspects were probably based on a real person or, perhaps, a group of people. Even now I am open to any new evidence that may be discovered. I'm not counting on that ever happening and I'm fine with that. Of course, I never had much invested in the Christ figure.

To some degree I can sympathize with the majority of people, Christian and non-Christian, who seem compelled to deny reality. That sympathy, however, only goes so far. I don't take issue with Christians claiming Christ as a religious figure or as their savior. They can believe whatever they want. I definitely now take issue with the insistence that Christ is an historical figure. He is not and never was. There is not only a lack of evidence to support such a claim the few elements in the Christ narratives that can be tested against known history fail. I am no longer a Christus-phile since I have learned way too much about the Christ figure, or more acuurately the Christ figures since there isn't a single version or possible interpretation.

Note: I'm pretty sure the reason a word like christusphile (or christophile) do not appear in any dictionary is due to an ingrained bias. I think many assume that anyone who has a love of or appreciation for Christ would be a Christian, and since that word already exists why bother with another. It is a silly reason, if indeed that is the reson, since there are a number of non-Christinas and non-religious individuals who do admire the Christ figure. Though I am no longer among them I am still fascinated by Christ.

Lying for "Values"

I've always found it odd how easily some are able to justify the use of deceit for supposed "values." Then again, when all you've got to work with are lies and fear-mongering what is a self-righteous bigoted asshole to do? Donald Mendell has been answering that one in a new round of absurd TV ads. This time around, however, he's added to his routine. Now he's using the faux-victim ploy.

On top of claiming that extending basic rights to homosexuals (in this instance marriage equality) will somehow negatively impact anyone, Mendell is falsely stating that people tried getting him fired because he has defended traditional marriage. Bullshit. Setting aside that there isn't really any such thing as "traditional" marriage since society has always defined and redefined it, no one tried firing him. An ethics complaint was lodged against him that could have stripped him of his counseling license. Even though the complaint could have had a negative impact on his career it would not necessarily have cost him his job. He also happened to be a teacher. He could have easily continued on teaching. Then, there are the reasons for the complaint, which he also lied about. Appearing in an ad for the anti-gay marriage camp is what brought him to the attention of one of his colleagues at another school. However, there were a number of factors involved. Some of them were debatable while others were not.

Whether Mendell's negative comments about another colleague (not the one registering the complaint) rose to the level required by the Office of Licensing and Registration to revoke his credentials was debatable, the rules of ethics did make the complaint a legitimate one. The code does state, "...treat colleagues with respect and ...should avoid unwarranted negative criticism of colleagues in communications."  He did not have to diss a colleague to make his point. The idea that he was persecuted for his beliefs is nonsense. He was being held accountable for his behavior as it related to others. Another aspect of the whole 2009 affair that Mendell omits is that he identified himself as a teacher and counselor of Nokomis High School. In effect, he gave the impression that he was representing the school. That is not only highly misleading it is grossly unethical. Unless the school administration had chosen to take a position on same sex marriage and then authorized him as spokesperson his presenting himself in such a way was extremely unprofessional. The school could have sought his resignation on that point but it never did. The complaint was dismissed.

There are any number of details in both the 2009 TV ad campaign and in the present one that are either grossly misleading or outright false. Mendell is just one example of the anti-gay scumbags onerous tactics. They have no legitimate argument so they resort to underhanded slimy attacks.

Unfortunately, I couldn't access freely online the few articles that covered the 2009 incident but if you have an interest in them I have listed two of them below.

Monroe, Scott. "Yes on 1 Backer Rebuts Claim."  Morning Sentinel. 23 November 2009

Monroe, Scott. "Same-sex marriage critic fights effort to pull social work license."  Portland Press Herald. 
        23 November 2009

Yes, they are variations of the same story. Each does have slightly different details. Most of the other articles I could find were even skimpier.

To Respect or Not to Respect

As I have previously written, I firmly believe that individuals should be given the benefit of the doubt in regard to being respected.Until an individual gives you reason not to show them respect their is no reason to withhold such consideration. Ideas and institutions, on the other hand, should earn respect before it is granted.

With that basic premise in mind I would suggest that not only has the Bible (Old and New Testament) not earned my, or anyone's, respect but  has made such consideration quite difficult. I see no reason to grant respect to an idea, institution, or individual when there is no chance of reciprocity. There are a handful of scriptural passages that make it clear that the God (or rather the authors writing in the name of) has no respect for us. Two such examples are:

"Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34)
"For there is no respect of persons with God." (Romans 2:11)

Short and to the point.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

"Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition."
Adam Smith

Are Weak Allies Better Than No Allies?

There has always been a question of whether atheists and theists can really work together to solve problems and/or achieve goals. To some degree I think it is possible. However, there are topics on which I'm not sure that such an alliance is really viable. I do appreciate that there are many religious people who are willing to stand up for science, at least to some degree. I am not saying I want them to give up on science but I'm not convinced that they are as supportive of science as they seem to think they are.

A recent post by Karl Giberson, who is a physicist himself, serves as a pretty good example. In "Is Evolution Satan's Great Lie?" he does seem to take Paul Broun's idiotic comments about science to task. The impression is only on the surface. At heart, Giberson does seem to be more of a creationist in a lab coat than a scientist. The third paragraph says quite a bit about his thinking and biases in a very short space.

"It is one thing to claim, invoking some authority from outside the mainstream, that evolution has weaknesses. Or that the evidence does not warrant the absolute certainty with which scientists embrace the theory. Or that some of the evidence for evolution has been compromised by recent discoveries. The Discovery Institute, where the heart of the intelligent design movement has been beating for some time, does this every day on its website. In principle one can have a conversation on those grounds."

Yes, evolution has its weaknesses. There is no perfection so that is not particularly insightful and scientist don't tend to think in "absolute certainties." I may not be a scientist myself but I do follow science news fairly closely and I am unaware any recent "discoveries" or "evidence" that compromises evolution. I am aware of a variety of apologists and pseudo-intellectuals claiming to have found new discoveries and weaknesses but they have all been shown to be religious BS wrapped up in science sounding language. I also would point out that if Giberson really believes that the Discovery Institute is conducting scientific research then his grasp on what constitute science is rather shoddy.

He goes on to talk about what some prominent fundamentalists believe to be true without much in the way of criticism. He seems to tacitly accept that Satan is real and that, though they are misguided, these individuals hold opinions that should be humored to some degree. Giberson, of course, never explains why they should be humored beyond the usual tropes and certainly never tries to explain how a supernatural figure can possibly be compatible with science at all.

Giberson's conclusion is also rather disturbing in its implication.

"Responding effectively to what look like crazy rants from people like Broun requires that we understand that, whatever we think of the rant, the viewpoint is widespread and shared by many of America's religious leaders. Evolution and the Big Bang will never win the allegiance of America's millions of fundamentalists on the basis of evidence. This conflict is a culture war pitting good against evil and the stakes are much higher."

They don't just look like "crazy rants" they are and they are potentially very dangerous. Science and reality don't bend to wishful thinking. It should not matter how popular an idea is. He offers no way to deal with this problem. In fact, he seems to be saying that we just let these nut-cases have their way. Is this really supporting science? How much help can someone like Giberson really be in the long run?

A Religious Reading without Much Else

"Lectio Divina: A Critical and Religious Reading of the Bible" definitely fits a religious reading but it ain't that critical. Harrington does apply some logic and reasoning in his approach to scripture but not nearly as much as he seems to think. Most of what he talks about still relies on heavy doses of assumption, bias, and delusion. He references historical-critical methods but blatantly fails to apply them consistently. Moses is a prime example. He talks about the various possible interpretations and contexts for reading Exodus 3:1-6 and even compares it to another related passage but all the while treating Moses as if he had previously been confirmed as an historical figure. Most of his interpretations require Moses to be historically sound. Problem is there is no reason to accept Moses as anything other than a mythical/legendary figure. He analyzes many other elements rather well but never seems to think to apply the same scrutiny to one of the most important aspects, Moses. Ooops. Unfortunately, this is pretty typical among theistic scholars. Those that are willing to  examine scripture usually stop short of any thorough analyses that would actually challenge their preferred views.

Note: Harrington references Peter Enns, which is one of the blogs listed on the Top 200 Church Blogs. I have previously commented on some of Enns' posts.