Saturday, February 25, 2012

"When one reads Bibles, one is less surprised at what the Deity knows than by at what He doesn't know."
Mark Twain

"Sciences of Sacred Scriptures"?

The title of William Grassie's Huffington Post piece "The Sciences of Sacred Scriptures" is rather misleading. What he is talking about is not really a field of "science" so much as a single isolated method used within the social science field of Theology. It is singular and has little that can be applied outside the study of religion. As he notes, it is the method of historical criticism within scriptural studies.

It is an interesting and potentially thought provoking method. I am in no way trying to belittle it. I just prefer when discussing it that it be expressed more accurately. There are, unfortunately, numerous myths that this method has in some ways helped prop up. Though, in fairness, it has also stripped away a few of those myths and misunderstandings as well. Grassie does not seem to be aware of this fairly ironic situation. Even when he concedes certain points he clings to other myths. For instance, in the second paragraph he states:

     "The truth is, we really don't know much about the historical Moses or the historical Buddha. The evidence for these persons from the ancient past is quite sparse and filtered largely through centuries of oral history, mythological elaborations and sectarian biases, before they were even recorded in written form by religious partisans."

He is right about Buddha having little evidence and none that is not tainted. Moses is different story altogether. Moses is, quite literally, a series of stories. There is no "evidence" of his existence. In point of fact, the aspects of the Moses myth cycle that can be checked against historical evidence has been clearly demonstrated to be false. This is something Grassie and a number of other scholars fail to realize. In many, if not most, instances where those studying scripture invoke the historical criticism method what they are really using is literary criticism.

What little history is contained in scriptures is largely cultural aspects. They may aid in understanding the overall circumstances/environment of a particular time frame but in no way establish "historical" facts. Grassie does seem to imply this to some degree but continues to use vague and misleading phrases. "...what we call here Big History, can be read as a kind of revelation", this choice of wording is horrible. History is not "revelation." Revelation is by definition already determined information. It is simply handed down. History comes from careful study and investigation. Science is also not a form of revelation for the same reasons.

Grassie also mentions that there are believers who view historical criticism as a form of heresy. It seems to be in this context he finds it necessary to comment that, "Historical criticism does not necessarily lead to atheism..." It never occurs to him that this statement is loaded with bias. Even if it did lead to atheism, why would that be bad? It also partially reinforces the interpretive nature of the method. It definitely has its uses but is best understood within the context of cultural studies.

Is Paranoia a Religious Tenet?

I've long suspected that paranoia and conspiracy theories are an integral part of conservative interpretations of Christianity. The link below definitely helps confirm this view. The video imbedded in PFAW's Right Wing Watch blog post is both amusing and disturbing.
"Religious Right Activists Warn Parents Against Sending Students to Communist, Atheist, Gay Public Schools"

Wow! I'm at a loss to comment on this one, which is pretty rare for me. So much bullshit, bias, and falsehood in such a short segment is just astounding.

Proof of God: Scenario 1

One of the false accusations theists like to level at atheists is that we are just as faithful as they are. They insist that no amount of proof would change our point of view. Bullshit. I'd set aside the fact that theists have no proof but that is, in part, the point of this post. Other atheists have talked about what would constitute proof but I'd like to add a few more.

The first scenario I would accept as proof of God's existence is a simple message conveyed in a not so simple way. A message along the lines of, "I am God, I exist," would be sufficient provided it was delivered simultaneously all over the world in every possible language and medium for no less than an hour. Every written media (newspapers, magazines, books, billboards, etc.) spontaneously becomes re-written to contain that one message. Also all TV, cable, satellite, phone, radio, and internet venues carry the message. For good measure, it should also be broadcast telepathically. If God exists I see no reason this should not be possible. In the same token I cannot conceive of how an individual or group of individuals could possibly pull off such a message. Creating and coordinating a message in such a wide variety of media for even a short space of time would be virtually impossible. Re-writing and altering already created content in even one media would be impossible. And, since there is no such thing as telepathy (this avenue of  message delivery could be shorter to avoid long-term harm) there could be no human agency involved. Group delusions have occurred but never on such a massive scale. It is also highly unlikely that after a half hour or more that a decent chunk of the Scientific community would not think to record the message in various ways. The skeptic/atheist/free thinker community would also probably seek to record it in various ways. It would then be verifiable beyond reasonable doubt.

I would accept that as proof. Anyone care to hold their breath waiting for this one?

Santorum's Bible

Mike Lux recently posed an ignorant laced self deluded question in the form of a post. In his Huffington Post piece, "What Bible Is Santorum Reading?", he counts up the various verses that lead him to assume there are few if any aspects of the Bible that can be used to justify a conservative political interpretation.

He fails to note one rather significant verse that can be seen to either cripple or outright negate his claims

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." Mathew 5:17

In other words, the Christ figure claims to be in favor of all the laws contained in the Old Testament. If you haven't read or paid attention to what you read in that part of the Bible, it is by no means favorable to liberal positions. I am not trying to claim that Christ was a conservative. Rather, my point is that the Bible is highly subjective and can be interpreted to mean virtually anything you want it to mean. The same is true of Jesus.  There are no verifiable facts about him. He never existed. As a mythical figure it is easy to shape what little information there is in the New Testament to suit any purpose you have in mind.

There should be little or no concern paid to Santorum's personal interpretation of an ancient work of fiction. What people should be concerned by is his insistence on making public policy based on it. Religion has no place in the governance and policies that effect all of us, period!

If people wish to shape their own lives around what may or may not be in the Bible they have every right to do so. Just leave the rest of us out of it.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

"A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business."
Eric Hoffer
The True Believer

Religious Liberty a la Bishops' Conference

"Among the challenges we see is a pattern in culture and law to treat religion merely as a private matter between an individual and his or her God.Instead of promoting toleration of differing religious views, certain laws, court decisions, and administrative regulations treat religion not as a contributor to our nation's common morality but rather as a divisive and disruptive force better kept out of public life.  Some invoke the so-called doctrine of separation of church and state to exclude the Church from public policy, thus ignoring the historic role of churches in ending slavery, in securing civil rights, in promoting just labor practices, including the introduction of child labor laws."
            from section "III. What We See" of  Address on Religious Liberty
            by US Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty

I fail to see how treating faith as "a private matter between an individual and his or her God" is in anyway intolerant. In fact, I'd argue that that attitude is the corner stone of religious freedom. The moment you begin favoring the idea of religion's involvement in public policy it becomes inevitable that specific aspects of a particular religious sect gains dominance over others. Religions, even the sects/denomination of a single religion, are too contentious to all be given equal weight in public matters. Nothing would ever get accomplished since each would be pushing the policy in different directions.

It is also interesting to note the committee's denial of a long standing foundational concept of US democracy, separation of church and state. They refer to as "the so-called doctrine of separation of church and state." It is possible to argue that the church contributed to a number of social justice issues. However, there can be no argument to the contrary that the church helped to create and prolong all the above social problems referenced. Slavery is a good example. The Bible clearly supports slavery. The Bible was used to excuse and justify slavery. Believers who opposed slavery ended up having to do some creative interpretation or else focus on doctrines without the use of biblical allusions. Basically, the church's "historic role" is a poor foundation to make an argument about anything.

"This aids and abets the erosion of religious liberty, which is expressly recognized and protected by the First Amendment, by the imposition of court-mandated "rights" which have no textual basis in the Constitution such as those that pertain to abortion and same-sex marriage.  Refusal to endorse the taking of innocent human life or to redefine marriage is now portrayed as discriminatory.  As a result, the freedom of religious entities to provide services according to their own lights, to defend publicly their teachings, and even to choose and manage their own personnel is coming under increased attack."
            also from section "III. What We See"

The Bishops use a rather blatant and self-serving double standard. There is nothing in the constitution that grants religious believer the right to dictate to anyone else what they should accept as right or wrong. They falsely claim they are forced to defend their views. From what are they defending against. There are no public policies that force anyone to have an abortion or to think it is moral to do so. The bishops are free to think that abortion is immoral just as the are still free to teach in every parish across the country that it is immoral. They do not have the right to insist that I agree with them or the right to prevent others from seeking abortions. That right is not in the constitution! It is the Bishops who are provoking others to attack their opinions.

I also find it the height of hypocrisy that this group of pampered individuals think they can take a morally superior position when they have not only failed to protect the well being of children but have continually aided and abetted sexual predators. Before lashing out at others for what they believe to be moral lapses they aught to take a long look at themselves. Enabling, concealing, and then refusing responsibility for the rape of countless children is truly despicable. Setting aside the hypocrisy and arrogance laced throughout the address, it is astonishing to me that anyone can view this group of men as having any legitimate moral authority. I have no doubt that if it were not for their Roman collars and miter hats they would all be under investigation if not already locked up for their crimes. Make no mistake, they have committed crimes. Bishop Dolan, who head the conference, among others has conspired to conceal the crimes of others and in  so doing has not only committed multiple crimes but has behaved in ways that can not possibly be seen as anything other than immoral.

When expressions are seen as appeals....

... and subtitles trump substance, intelligent public discourse is in serious jeopardy!

"Oh,God!", "Jesus H. Christ!", "Holy Shit!",...
Does making such exclamations automatically make one religious? Does this mean that shit is holy whether I stub my toe or not?

Apparently, Giles Fraser, BBC Radio 4, and the Huffington Post think so. It also seems that forgetting the subtitle to a book indicates a lack of knowledge of what that book contains. Like most theistic critics of outspoken atheists Fraser wields a variety of long debunked myths and stereotypes as if they are some type of talisman. The Origin of the Species is an important book but not for the reasons he and other such ignorant fools think. It helped establish a new field of science, evolutionary biology, but is not the field in and of itself.

Giles can't help but call Dawkins "the high pope of Darwinism" thus exposing himself as a stupid bigot and an asshole as well. Atheism is not nor does it resemble a religion. Dawkins is not even a spokesman let alone a holy man for atheism. He is an outspoken atheist, period. While we are at it, Darwinism is not a synonym for evolution. There is no Darwinism except in the minds of those who can't quite figure out that the theory of evolution has progressed far beyond what Darwin was capable of in his time. He laid the early groundwork and deserves respect for what he did accomplish but evolution has evolved.

Dawkins momentary memory lapse over something as trivial as a subtitle probably would never have been noted if theists like Giles could actually construct a decent argument or provide anything resembling proof. He can't. Instead, he lashes out like a spoiled child. The feeble attempt to equate it with the questions of the survey that was suppose to be the point of the radio exchange fails miserably. You don't have to actually know what is in Origins of the Species to learn about the contemporary version of Evolutionary Theory. On the other hand, most major religions insist you must not only know but practice specific doctrines to be part of that faith. Giles insistence that it is "not fair to ask people these questions" is preposterous.

It is not those posing the questions who came up with the defining tenets of Christianity. They are simply noting that many self-described Christians don't live up to the standards set up by the doctrines and leadership of that religion. Don't blame us for your delusions, hypocrisies, and double standards. As I have stated in previous posts I am fine with people self-identifying with whatever they want so long as they accept responsibility for that identity. I do find it odd that people continue to identify with a system of beliefs they clearly do not believe.

So far as I can tell the survey is not about telling people they cannot self identify. It does expose the foolishness of linking oneself to group you tend to disagree with on a fundamental level. It also seems intend on taking away some of the authority religious leaders like to claim based on the number of their followers. I fail see anything wrong with such an approach.

Why the Controversy?

Why is it that a billboard with an atheistic message is automatically controversial but one with a Christian message is not?

African Americans for Humanism are starting a billboard campaign that is actually rather mild in tone. But tone never seems to matter when it comes to atheism. The most outspoken among atheists are always characterized as shrill, angry, and/or militant. It never matters how civil they are. Dawkins is a great example. He is often forceful in his speaking style but I have yet to see him lose his temper or behave in a rude uncivil manner yet that is how he tends to be described.

So what is going to be on the billboards?

"Doubts about your religion? You are one of many."

That is what the controversy is over. How pathetic are those who protest over such a simple question.

Religious Whining about Secularism

It is somewhat surprising that a professor of comparative religion like Arvind Sharma would so thoroughly misunderstand the structure and nature of organized religions. In his Huffington Post piece, "The Religious and the Secular in the Modern World", he also clearly doesn't quite grasp the basic definition of secularism.

So here's a quick review of the term:
"secularism (noun)
1. Philosophy a doctrine that rejects religion, especially in ethics.
2. the attitude that religion should have no place in civil affairs.
3. the state of being secular.
Derived words: secularist noun, adjective, secularistic adjective."
Collins Collins English Dictionary, HarperCollins Publishers 2000

Essentially, it is about keeping religion out of public matters. There is nothing about denying individuals the right to believe or worship how they see fit so long as they don't drag the rest of us into it. Sharma's insistence that there must be a balance between the religious and secular is ignorant for two main reasons. He admits to the dominant role religion played in society but fails to realize that this was not due merely to a few misguided leaders. Religion by its nature is authoritarian. It will always try to dominate. Secularism is not a mirror image like he implies. Secularism, by definition, has no interest in what people personally believe or do outside the realm of public policy. It can't dominate religion. I have never heard of any secular advocates seeking to strip individual rights away from others. I know there are those who would love to do that but what is it they are seeking to impose? It is not secularism.

Unfortunately Sharma is not alone in his misunderstanding/misrepresentation of secularism. Elizabeth Hunter fails to grasp a few things as well. In "Courts Confuse Our Thinking on What 'Secular' Means" she does seem to make a valid point but once you examine it closer it falls apart. Perhaps simply using public space for worship services does not then make that venue a "church." So what? A religious body is still using a publicly paid for space for non-public purposes. Did they pay to use it? How often do outside groups without any connection to public education get to use public school grounds without paying some sort of fee? Basically she is whining that a religious group failed to gain special treatment. How is that an abuse or over-extension of what secular means? Seems pretty appropriate to me.

Religious people need to get over themselves. Your beliefs are no better or more special than anyone else. Go ahead and worship how you choose. You can even do it in a publicly available venue if you do not currently have a church, temple, synagogue, etc. However, you don't deserve to get it for free. In a lot of ways religions are already getting a free ride since they don't pay taxes yet still use public funds and services. So stop whining already!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"Freedom of thought and the habit of giving weight to evidence are matters of far greater moral import than the belief in this or that theological dogma."
Bertrand Russell
"Is There a God"

The Tyranny of Absolutes

"Man will never be free until the last king is strangled in the entrails of the last priest."
Denis Diderot

I want to be clear that I am in no way encouraging or condoning violence. It is not violence that I take to be inspirational from the above quotation. It is a passion for freedom that strikes me the most. It is provocative and exaggerated but that, I do believe, was intended. It also is explicit in its application to both secular and religious sources of authority.

In effect, I see this as a call to action for all human beings to resist the urge to grant special status of any other individual or group. No one should ever be viewed as infallible or beyond question. No one should ever be seen as an absolute authority in anything. There is no legitimate excuse or circumstance that should allow any person or group of people to escape accountability or shirk responsibility. Such special status inevitably leads to corruption and to stripping others of their rights and freedom.

It is sad that today the institutions of Government and Religion (especially religion) are still routinely allowed to usurp authority that does not truly belong to them while dodging responsibility for the negative consequences of their actions.

"Real" Catholics

I certainly agree with Stephen Prothero that it is important to "distinguish between the Catholic hierarchy and rank-and-file Catholics". However, I'm not sure I fully accept some of the other implications of his CNN Belief Blog piece, "My Take: 'Real Catholics' not opposed to birth control." It is true that there are a number of differences between the leaders of the Church and the followers of the Church. I have noted in previous posts that Religions, Catholicism among them, are not democratic. The average Catholic has no direct say in how doctrines are created and enforced or who leads the Church.

These circumstances do not absolve "rank-and-file Catholics" of the consequences of the hierarchy's policies and behaviors. Leaders can not lead if there are not those willing to follow. I do agree that when evaluating and criticizing a specific religion the focus should be on the doctrines and the leadership. But the average follower should not be excluded from scrutiny. Just last week I pointed out that we are all responsible for the institutions we belong to. If Catholics find fault with the Church's doctrines and/or leadership they have an obligation to make those objections known. There is always the option of leaving the church. The simple act of joining a specific religion does carry with it a certain level of responsibility and accountability.

Personally, I consider any Catholic who self-identifies as such to be a "real" Catholic so long as they accept the consequences of that identity. Simply shrugging off what you don't like about the group you have chosen to be a part of does imply a lack of commitment. It is the individuals who take that approach that I would consider superficial rather than real Catholics. If you have a strong connection to your chosen Faith why would you not want to see it thrive. Nothing thrives without change and progress. Criticism and protest can be healthy and reinvigorating.

This approach does lead to somewhat of a dilemma since religions by their nature resist change, especially from below. I do not know if this innate conflict can ever be resolved. I just know that the average Catholic needs to accept their share of the responsibility. Otherwise, I strongly encourage them to just shut up and go away. When non-Catholics point out legitimate concerns about the religion you have no grounds to attack them since you yourselves have done nothing about the problems.

AVN Atheist Smear Campaign, revisited

After several months the assholes at American Values Network are still at it (originally posted on them "Christians do 'have it both ways'" August 6, 2011). Their "Ayn Rand Vs. The Bible" campaign is still underway. The fact that these so called liberals find it necessary to smear all atheist to achieve their political goals is pathetic. Doesn't seem to matter that her social and political views don't seem to have had anything to do with her being an atheist.

         A                                                Theism
non, or without             System of belief related to a god or gods

By definition atheism is open to virtually any other belief system so long as it does not directly relate to a god or gods (basically, all religions). I happen to be a liberal and an atheist who despises virtually everything Rand believed in. The fact that the AVN cannot make a case for its views without initiating baseless attacks on other only demonstrates their own lack of merit and values.

Please, email them to let them know what a bunch of scumbags they are being.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

"Being tolerant does not mean that I share another one's belief. But it does mean that I acknowledge another one's right to believe, and obey, his own conscience."
Victor Frankl
The Will To Meaning

What Would (insert legendary religious figure) Say About....

I have never understood why religious people would even want to seek the advice from individuals who died thousands of years ago. My background is in Social Studies so I understand the idea of learning from the past but that is not quite the same thing. Trying to figure out what some figure from the ancient near east might say about a specific issue is just silly. Most of the figures that people invoke, like Jesus, Moses, Job, Etc... in all likelihood never exist. Even if they did what could they possibly say about an issue that either did not exist or that the surrounding circumstances make any potential answer moot in today's world.  To learn from the past requires a sense of context. A lot can be learned from various themes, trends, and patterns. Specific issues are always tied to the historical conditions and rarely can be applied to present concerns.

Here's a thought, if you want advice on contemporary problems or issues you should seek current information and expertise. Why not apply a little critical thinking? Most humans have access to an amazing resource. It's called a brain. Anyone having trouble with the thinking for yourself scenario should do the rest of us a favor by staying the fuck away from public affairs. I do not want public policy being shaped by what some bronze age guy may or may not have thought about specific topics. I certainly don't want the imaginary views of mythical figures playing into how our country is governed.

Then again, Papa Smurf would probably be a better leader than any of the assholes currently running the country.

A Catholic Version of Wu Wei

My interpretation/translation of the Taoist concept of Wu Wei is somewhat simplified. In a nut shell, it is "action through inaction." Lately, I've come to think that many religions contain a distortion of this principle. Catholics are exceptionally good at it. Many religious believers seem to just go along with the Faith's hierarchy whether they agree at all. The Catholic clergy has continued its massive temper tantrum over insurance coverage of reproduction rights. In none of the mainstream articles and news segments have I heard even a passing acknowledgement that a large percentage of Catholics disagree with the Vatican's stance on reproductive rights, especially contraception.

Many Catholics claim they do not agree and do not support religious or government interference in such personal choices as using or not using contraception. Yet, no Catholics are publicly standing up to their own clergy. Personally, I see this as tacit acceptance. Catholics may not see themselves supporting repression but they are. Any consequences that come from a religions actions are the responsibility of those who make up the religion. If there were not so many Catholics who would actually give a shit what the Pope thinks?

To the Catholics and the various other believers who's Religion routinely interfere in our lives, the next time you hear about the horrors of forced pregnancies and unwanted children look in the mirror. You helped it happen. If you don't want that responsibility then speak up. Don't just shrug off the doctrines you disagree with, oppose them. At the very least ask yourself why you remain in a religion that does not support your personal beliefs.

In fairness, this principle applies equally to religious and non-religious alike. As citizens of a democracies we are all responsible for the actions of our government. When it comes to any number of US policies I am as guilty but at least I try to do something. Can you say the same? Try? I do not think that is too much to ask.

To Debate or not to Debate

I have all too often heard people claim that since religion is so personal it should not be a subject for debate. As often as I have heard it it has never ceased to amaze me at how truly pathetic of an excuse it is. Anyone would be hard pressed to find a topic worth debate that was not personal. So why make such a lame statement? It seems to vary. Some individuals just don't like conflict while others are either cowards or ignorant. I have come across a few who seem to think that discussing or arguing religion is by its nature rude and disrespectful. I see it as being the other way around. Making exceptions for religion that they would never think to do for other institutions and subjects is arrogant and insulting.

I find this classic dodge particularly offensive since the various religions have no trouble interfering in the personal lives of others. Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and any other religion or sect/denomination within have always and continue to take public positions on a variety of issues. Reproductive rights (not just Abortion) is a good example. I fail to see how such a topic could be more personal.  Yet, various religious groups have always sought to tell others, not just their own believers, how the should think and behave when it comes to sex.

It is rare that I hear the individuals making the claim that religion is too personal to debate hold the various religions to the same standard. No matter what their motives for such a false assertion it remains a feeble attempt at avoiding critical thinking.

Impersonal nature of Organized Religion

I can understand the conclusion Kerry Egan reaches after the incident she describes on CNN's Belief Blog. Since it is her experience she writes about in "My Faith: What people talk about before they die" I will not disagree with her.

However, I will offer another possible interpretation to the type of exchange she experienced. I was in no way surprised by the professor's reaction to her response to being asked what she talks about as a student hospital chaplain. I was also not surprised by how he used her for his own purposes. He is an excellent example of the nature of organized religion.  The professor takes the approach encouraged by all formal religions, one-size-fits-all. By its structure religion tends to be cold and impersonal, not to mention arrogant and manipulative. What better time to reinforce the institutions favored concepts then when its followers are at their most vulnerable and impressionable.

Despite claims to the contrary, I do not believe religion focuses on the weak and vulnerable out of goodness alone. The average believer probably does but not the leadership. Those seeking to promote the faith seem to have far more selfish motives. So, the professor's ridiculing Egan is rather predictable. Her approach seems to be the better one, at least if your goal is to support the sick/dying patient. After all, who would know better what a sick patient wants to talk about aside from the patient him/herself. It is certainly the more humane and decent approach.

In the end, I fail to see organized religion as being all that concerned with the wants and needs of individuals. I see this as one of the main reasons more people are leaving organized religion. I also think it would be of great benefit to all if atheists did more to point this out. Many of us tend to focus on the irrational nonsensical nature of religion, which is certainly justified, but the cold impersonal nature of organized religion is just as important to note.