Saturday, March 31, 2012

“Gods are fragile things; they may be killed by a whiff of science or a dose of common sense.”
Chapman Cohen

Anti-Abortion and Pro-Gay, Maybe

It seems that a favorite Bible passage among anti-abortionists has become a favorite among advocates for Homosexual rights. A few verses of Psalm 139 are being used to support both groups goals. While I support the idea that all people should be treated equally I find it a bit disturbing that Gay rights groups are citing the Bible. I realize simply repeating the Bible is a worthless piece of shit doesn't really accomplish much and I'm not holding out much hope that specific examples like the drivel found in David Van Biema's "Psalm 139 Used By Pro-Life, Gay Rights Group" will be more successful. I still find the need to make the attempt.

The fact that two groups who not only share no common ground but are generally opposed to one another can use the same Biblical passage should send up red flags. The verse specifically cited is not from the King James edition but is fairly similar. There are some nuances that make the King James version a little less useful but that is, of course, one of the points I have often made. There are a multitude of variations just in terms of edition and translations. Even if everyone could agree on one version (good luck with that) most verses are still vague enough to be interpreted numerous ways. This is all before you get to the problem of context, or more accurately a lack of context. Most verses are cherry-picked from the larger passage in order to avoid anything in the same chapter that may confuse or contradict the desired purpose.

The favored passage discussed in Van Biema's piece is Psalm 139 verses 13 and 14, which reads in King James as follows:
"For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother'swomb.
I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well."

The marvelously made bit is pleasant enough. I can see latching on to that but what is with the fearful part?
Perhaps if you continue reading you might come up with an interpretive answer. I did. Verse 19  seems as good as any for explaining the fear referenced previously. It starts with, "Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God." Of course he will. If you've read the Old Testament and familiarized yourself with Mosaic Law you should be aware of the massive number of behaviors and even lack of behaviors that make one "wicked." If I actually believed in God I'd be scared shitless since it is virtually impossible to not be wicked and the God of scripture routinely initiates rather savage murder sprees.

You don't often see Christians cite those fun verses.

Any text that requires a massive amount of cherry-picking and interpretation to make it palatable should not be seen as a source of authority for anything. Whether the goals are worthy or not mixing passages from the "Good Book" in can only make the cause seem weak, desperate, and inhumane. Liberals, please stop doing it. Let conservatives have the scriptures. After all, it seems to suit their knack for hypocrisy, contradictions, and corruption.

Science Vs. Religion, Revisited

I have posted on this topic on a handful of occasions. The first such post was November 6, 2011. Unfortunately, not much has changed. The topic keeps popping up with the same old misunderstandings and misdirections. Among the recent examples is a post on on the Patheos aggregator. Connor Woods March 5, 2012 post, "Religious Americans: science is mostly okay", rehashes a few specific fallacies but also adds a slightly new perspective to one of them.

Despite the blog being titled Science on Religion, it is rather light on the science. Wood falls for the assumption that if most Americans are religious and most believers in America claim to be supportive of science then the conflict between science and religion must be overly hyped. Not necessarily. As I have previously pointed out the fact that individuals can find ways to reconcile different and contradictory views does not mean there is no conflict. Even though individuals can and do find ways to mitigate these contradictions in their own minds does not mean that science and religion as institutions are not still by their nature opposites. They do clash and must clash.

The interesting twist doesn't seem to be fully understood or even noticed by Wood. He points out that the average American supports science right up to the point that scientific findings fail to fit their personal beliefs. It never occurs to Wood that this actually indicates the opposite of what he is trying to demonstrate. Supporting science only so long as it does not make you uncomfortable is not really an affirmation of science. Science is intended to be as objective as possible. The scientific method does not change to accommodate your feelings.

I don't want anyone to become less supportive of science but I also see no reason to make false claims about public support for science. To my way of thinking this confirms that the two institutions and ways of thinking are not compatible. The "a-la-carte" approach to religion seems fairly common and does not seem to reduce the effectiveness or appeal of faith. On the other hand, this approach outright negates scientific study.

Religion is still entirely subjective and unfounded. It continues to be a top down institution that resists change and encourages ignorance. Science still remains the only method capable of leading to an outlook that is as objective and verifiable as humanly possible. They are not equals and they are not compatible.

Bad Advice even Hypothetically

Even if you take Birdsong's advice hypothetically it is still horrible. Setting aside that over the past decade or so more and more Americans have become fed up with politicians interjecting their personal faith into public policies, Dan Birsong's take on "civil religion" is idiotic and his insistence that Romney is somehow not religious enough is just as wacky.

In his CNN Belief Blog post, "My Take: How Romney could transcend Mormonism with civil religion", he lays out five main points. Each is at best misguided nonsense. I find it interesting that a political science lecturer could fail to understand the Constitution so thoroughly. The first few points he makes are made in complete ignorance, or possibly defiance, of some of the most basic principles our government in founded on.

"1.Talk about a sacred Constitution."
No! The Constitution is of great importance but is not sacred. The framers of the constitution intended it to change. Sacred scriptures are intended to be unchanging. It is also important to note that God/Divinity are not mentioned once in the entire document. That was not by accident. Despite claims from the religious right, our government was intended from the very beginning to be secular. There are only two references to religion in general and both are cautionary. The last paragraph of Article VI states "...but no religious Test shall ever be required as a qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." And then there is the more familiar First Amendment that does provide the basic concept of separation of church and state.

"2.Present himself as America's patriarch."
Again, no. I already have a father, whom I love dearly, and I don't need another one. In this context patriarch could easily be interpreted as an authoritarian figure. It seems to have slipped Birdsong's mind that we fought a war to establish our independence. Technically, Britain was no longer a monarchy at the time but the King of England was a potent symbol for tyranny that we used to recruit soldiers.

"3.Use civil religion to compensate for his Mormonism"
It is highly debatable that Religion can ever be truly civil. As for mixing religion in to politics, the results are almost always bad. It is also completely unnecessary and by its nature divisive. Does Romney really need to "compensate for his Mormonism"? If he does, what does that say about religion? If he makes it clear he won't use his personal religious views to make policy that impacts the rest of us it should not matter. Basically, keep religion out of public matters and everyone will be the better for it.

"4.Follow the lead of previous presidents."
Because they never fuck things up. Birdsong throws in a few quotations that don't really mean much and completely ignores the type of statement that show how horrible religion can be when it comes to "civil" matters. During a campaign stop in Chicago on August 27, 1987 George H.W. Bush stated in an interview answer, "No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God." What a wonderful example to follow.

"5. Look for a 'Book of Mormon' moment"
This section makes me suspect that this whole piece may be a joke. If it is meant to be satirical it is a little too subtle in the above sections. He doesn't seem to get that the Book of Mormon musical is intended as a farce. However, I find it hard to believe that anyone involved in the study of politics and/or the media could be so utterly clueless.

If this is a joke it is a really bad one. If it isn't then I have to conclude that Birdsong is one of the most ignorant and incompetent political scientists and campaign strategists on the face of the planet.

Flipside Jesus: The Divider

The image of Jesus as a peaceful unifying figure doesn’t make much sense since he, according to the New Testament, routinely and actively sought to divide people. The Jesus present in the scriptures frequently displayed an “us vs. them” mentality.

These are just two such examples of his divisive manner:
“For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.” (Matthew 10:35)

“And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive one hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” (Matthew 19:29)

It seems pretty clear that Christ is demanding believers sever all ties with non-believers. It even implies that Christians should more actively turn against non-Christians no matter what the previous relationship may have been. That is pretty divisive. Unfortunately, the “Savior” of mankind was not satisfied with creating conflicts where none need have existed.  Jesus found the need to go the extra mile.

“But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.”

Commanding his followers to round up and then slaughter anyone unwilling to submit to his rule goes well beyond simple divisiveness. This passage makes Jesus a cold blooded mass murderer. No amount of semantic gymnastics and apologetics can explain away such a blatant verse.

Rather than being viewed as the “Prince of Peace” he should be labeled a homicidal tyrant.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A question of Need

I like the perspective Jacob Kovacs presents in his Freethought Today (December 2011) piece, "A Different approach to religious debate" Even when non-theists bring up the idea of the need for religion it is usually focused on the theistic side. We tend to be preoccupied with either pointing out that theists don't really need such supernatural nonsense, or when that fails we ridicule their apparent insistence on the crutch of religion.

I like that Kovacs turns it around. Showing clearly that we do not need religion. The fact that all our personal need can be met, are met by other sources does seem to be a more palatable and effective approach.
“Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one”

Misattribution and Simplifications ≠ Insights

Jeffrey Small’s “5 Insights From the World’s Religions" are at best dubious claims based on misattributions and oversimplifications. This is not to say that the study of the various religions cannot lead to insights. I have no doubt that they can. However, the five points laid out by small are laughable in the shallowness the represent.

I’ll take them point by point as presented by Small.

“1.Judaism’s monotheism”
For the sake of argument I’ll set aside whether a single God is that much of an insight to begin with.  It is rather debatable that Judaism is the first monotheistic faith. I’m sure many are aware that the Egyptians dabbled somewhat unsuccessfully with monotheism. That is not the only culture to do so. It can be argued that Hinduism is actually a form of monotheism. All the various “gods” are considered incarnations of three specific gods who are themselves incarnation of one god. It is also possible to argue that if all sects/denominations of Christianity are automatically considered monotheist than Zoroastrianism should also be considered a monotheistic faith. As I have commented in previous posts (  ) the views of many fundamentalist/evangelic denominations regarding Satan should place them as dualists not monotheists. If that is not the case then the comparison to the Parsi system of positive forces represented by Ahura Mazda (Ohrmazd) and negative forces represented by Angra Mainya (Ahriman) with the similar division between God and Satan is by no means a stretch. Basically, there is no reason to give full credit for the development let alone any possible insights of monotheism to Judaism. Depending on how you define God there are a wide number of other cultures that could easily lay claim to the concept.  Researching the actual history of the various world religions just might lead to far more substantial insights than the superficial regurgitation of commonly accepted beliefs. This all, of course, assumes that monotheism is in itself something to be impressed by.

“2.Hinduism’s view of the soul”
In terms of the theological concept I have to give Small this one mainly because he is careful to throw in a few qualifiers. He points out that as the “oldest surviving religion” its views on what we commonly call the soul is unique. However, there is no way to know that such concepts did not occur in even older forms of religion. Some of the elements that go into this concept are not, strictly speaking, religious in origin. Questioning what it is that makes each individual unique is one of those big questions that seems to go back to the earliest days of our species. It is only when you insist that this essential “you” is immaterial and/or eternal that you cross into theological territory. I question whether any real insights can be found over that line since it is by its nature completely subjective and often vague and contradictory to the point that it causes far more confusion than clarity.

“3.Buddhism’s nature of human suffering”
The idea of human suffering being the result of human nature rather than being supernatural in origin is not unique to Buddhism. There is plenty of reason to believe that atheists have existed as long as theists. Atheist by definition do not tend to subscribe to supernatural sources for anything. So, why should religion get credit for these insights? It is also notable that Buddhism contains it own contradiction when it comes to suffering and most of its basic tenets. Elimination of all desires is viewed as the way to achieve enlightenment and nirvana. The problem being that you cannot pursue any goal, even selflessness, without having some basic level of desire and selfishness. So if desire is suffering we are all pretty well fucked. Even throwing in some supernatural mumbo jumbo can’t dodge this problem. Small also points out the notion that Buddhism favors the idea that change is universal and constant. I actually do agree. However, this causes another contradiction within Buddhism. Nirvana tends to be viewed as the ultimate reality. It is perfection. If something is perfect how can it change? What can it change to without becoming imperfect?
“4.Islam’s peace through surrender”
This and the 5th point made by Small are the worst. They both lead to horrible consequences. The idea of “surrendering” to God is vague to the point of being useless. Unfortunately plenty of groups have put the concept to uses that have generally not turned out well. It is these individuals and groups who have decided not only who/what God is but what “surrender” means. Even if you genuinely wanted to find peace through Allah how do go about doing that? If God is our creator and the source of all things aren’t we already part of God? Logic would say you shouldn’t have to do anything further. So, does that mean we should do nothing? I do mean literally nothing. We, of course, would dehydrate, starve, and die. After all anything you do would be your own choice not God’s since you would have no way of knowing what God’s will is (this assumes there is no problem with the concept of Freewill). The point may be extreme but the premise is sound if you accept the basic definition of surrender. How is any of this insightful when it is so reliant on subjective individual interpretation? Why is it seen as good?

“5.Christianity’s love”
Small starts this section by pointing out what Jesus said was among the greatest commandments of the scriptures. This is manipulative and dishonest since in most of the passages he is not, in fact asked about commandments but rather the greatest commandment. He alters it apparently to dodge the fact that the Christ figure of the New Testament is frequently inconsistent and contradictory. Where are the insights? People didn’t love before the advent of Christianity? As for his general characterization of Jesus and Christianity being about “unselfish love”, I say Bullshit. There are multiple passages where Jesus acts like a spoiled selfish brat and worse. I have referenced a number of these in various other posts. Jesus notions of “love” include dividing families from each other, instilling an us-versus-them mentality, and even hating and killing entire groups of people. I can do without “Christianity’s love”, thank you very much.

Proof of God: Scenario 3

The complete eradication of all diseases and disorders would also be pretty good proof that God exists. By eradication I mean that not only would there be no new cases of things like AIDS, Cancer, Autism, Epilepsy, etc... but all previously diagnosed cases are cured. We have been fighting diseases and disorders for as long as our species has existed. We have made progress, to be sure, but we are no where near having the ability to wipe out all such ailments. There is also no reason to believe we ever will be. If it all just went away I would have to seriously consider divine intervention as the source.

I can foresee some theists objecting to this on a couple of points. The standard free will dodge would no doubt be attempted. I have pointed out how pathetic this approach is on numerous occasions so I won't go into it here beyond stating that a perfect being is incompatible with free will. Another objection I can foresee is the negative affect such a cure-all would have on the planet's limited resources. Overpopulation, which is already a problem, would become intensified. I'd point out that since we are talking about God there is no reason fertility rates couldn't be adjusted. Instead of a monthly menstral cycle why could women not have an annual cycle. I doubt there are any women who object to only having a period once a year. Men reach maximum sperm production within three days. Why not stretch that out as well. Spent seamen being replaced over the course of months rather than days would also seriously drop fertility rates. If God does exist and did create us then God should be able to make such adjustments.

In any case, the sudden and permanent disappearance of all diseases and disorders would definitely constitute proof of God's existence in my opinion.

Martyrdom Contradiction

Is Christian martyrdom a contradiction of terms? It certainly seems to be. One of the basic tenets of the Christian faith is that through the acceptance of Jesus Christ as savior Christians gain eternal life. This would imply that a Christian cannot truly die. However, according to The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions a Christian martyr is “one whose testimony for Christ results in death at the hands of unbelievers.” Death seems to be a requirement for martyrdom. The moment the person testifies on behalf of Christ they are guaranteed life everlasting. Since this profession of faith precedes the act of violence it cannot actually result in their “death.” Unless, of course, this continued life is meant symbolically rather than literally. That would then cause another problem. Eternal life is symbolic and therefore not real.

If the Christian tenet of eternal life through Christ is true then there can be no martyrs. If martyrs are possible then eternal life is an illusion used for metaphorical purposes. In either case, Christian Martyrdom would be an oxymoron.

Shepherd of a Wayward Flock

I have to admit I do find the metaphoric use of sheep rather amusing. There are far too many Christians that resemble those bleating unquestioning conformist critters. The image of Christ as the Good Shepherd on the other hand doesn’t quite work for me. I have to question the notion that a shepherd whose flock is so unruly and scattered is really that “good.” After all, the main job of a shepherd is to keep his flock together and out of harm. Jesus, even as mythical figure, has failed miserably at both.

According to the World Christian Encyclopedia there are an estimated 33,000 sect/denominations within Christianity. It has taken some time for such a large number to diverge but there is absolutely no evidence that Christianity was ever anywhere near a unified faith. If Jesus was such a great and inspirational leader why where there dozens of sects bickering within a handful of decades after his supposed demise? You would think that if he set such a wonderful example it would be easier to follow.

Not only has Jesus’ “teachings” failed to create anything resembling a unified “flock” they have also not prevented all manner of death and destruction. Christians have always found ways to use their differences to harass and even attack each other, not to mention non-Christians. Frequently, their faith has played a key role in such abuses.

So what makes Jesus a “Good Shepherd”?

Monday, March 19, 2012

“Why talk of spirits when you don’t understand men?”

It’s not All Shamrocks and Green beer

Even for a woo woo peddling Huffington Post denizen loon like Byrne, her “Spirituality of St. Patrick’s Day” piece is way over the top. I’m fine with people making any manner of nonsensical claims they want about their own beliefs but applying them to an entire ethnic or national groups is unacceptable not to mention idiotic and false.

She opens the post with this gem:

“Every one of us who has even a drop of Irish blood has a special spirituality engrained within us – a flame that burns deep down within our souls, connecting us to the deep spirituality of our roots. This is what we celebrate on St. Patrick’s Day.”

She’s wrong on both counts.  My ancestry happens to include Irish, Scottish, Welsh, English, and French. I can assure you I have never been “spiritual” and barring unforeseen circumstance will never be spiritual. I guess Irish blood isn’t quite the magical elixir Byrne thinks it is. I also have serious doubts that most American’s think in terms of spirituality while they dress in green and down green food-colored beer. I actually don’t have much of a problem with the silly campy celebration that St. Patty’s is for most of the country. I take issue when people begin rambling on about the origin and “true” meaning of St. Patrick’s Day when it is so obvious that they have not bother to do the slightest bit of research or fact checking.

Byrne certainly did not bother looking into it despite writing as if she had. I suppose this level of error should be expected from a woman who repeatedly reminds us of her claims to “see angels every day.” I might actually consider it plausible that it’s her “angels” who do her research. Regardless, her grasp on church history is just as weak as her grasp on reality. At various points she reveals her blindly ignorant acceptance of all the various myth and legends attached to Patrick. One such statement has her regurgitating, “St. Patrick brought the wisdom that there was only one God and that they each had a soul that would live forever.” Despite some apocryphal tales of Patrick converting specific individuals he did not convert Ireland. Ireland was already predominantly Christian by the time he arrived. Ireland had already received numerous missionaries, had at least one Roman Catholic Bishop, and is on record as having various disputes with the Holy See in Rome.

That last point actually seems to be the main reason Patrick was sent Ireland. There can be no doubt that there were still pagans on the island but their numbers were declining. The Roman Catholic Church viewed the majority as heathens more because they did not belong to the “one true” Christian faith, their own. The Celtic Christian Church was established before Patrick was ever born. There is very little known about Patrick’s history but what is known seems to support his main mission to be the reigning in of another theologian that the Vatican deemed a heretic. Pelagius was hated by the Roman Catholic hierarchy not because he did not accept them as having authority, he did, but because he refused to accept that they were The authority of all Christians. The Celtic Christian Church had its own liturgy. Patrick brought in the monastic system and through it began dismantling the Celtic Christian Church's influence.

Somehow, I don’t think Byrne’s idea of spirituality includes Christians, harassing, abusing, and even killing each other. At least I hope it doesn’t. I have to assume that my assessment of her complete lack of knowledge regarding the religious history of Ireland is accurate. It just so happens that the Roman Catholic Church succeeded in wiping out the Celtic Christian Church. This was done largely through social and political maneuvering, with occasional violence. Patrick seems to have been canonized and sainted more as a thank you to the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland and as a “Fuck You” to any remnants of Celtic Christian culture than for any actual merits of Patrick. Patrick does seem to have hated the Irish. Oh yeah, Patrick was not Irish. He was kidnapped and sold into slavery by Irish raiders. Details are a little sketchy about his early years. He was probably from either the northern coast of modern France or the southern shore of modern England. He was probably in his early to mid teens when taken. Holding a grudge against the Irish is understandable but does not excuse some of the stories, assuming they are as accurate as those related to his saintly behavior, of his brutality.

Despite not necessarily knowing for certain many of the details that have attached themselves to St. Patrick there are quite a few we know are not true. Patrick did not drive the snakes out of Ireland. There weren’t any. Patrick did not convert Ireland. It already had two Christian churches vying for control of the island’s faithful. Patrick was named “patron saint” of Ireland by the church that won out. That does not actually make him a “patron” of the people.  So if you want to dress in green and talk about leprechauns go for it. But if you want to talk about Irish history and culture please do some fact checking first. And for goodness sake stop repeating the false notion that a guy who apparently hated Irish culture is somehow a patron of the Irish.

Whether you believe in such things or not, an excellent book on Celtic spirituality that I would recommend is:

Davies, Oliver and Fiona Bowie. ed. Celtic Christian Spirituality: An Anthology of Medieval and Modern Sources. NY: Continuum Publishing Company, 1995.

It even has a few pieces from Pelagius.

Don’t Sound So Certain, Mr. Giberson

It is time again to play the irritatingly amusing game of wack-an-ignorant-weasel. In Karl Giberson’s most recent Huffington Post piece, “Take an Atheist to Church”, he makes a number of statements with a great deal of confidence. He really shouldn’t. He clearly knows little about atheists.

In the first paragraph he rather ironically states, “Atheists, however, speak with great confidence about the evils of a religion that they seem to have encountered only in headlines…” Really? Setting aside for the moment the fact that there are a number of prominent atheists who started out as fundamentalist/evangelical Christians (like Robert Price, John Loftus, Dan Barker…), how does he know that so few atheists have ever attended church? I consider myself to be a natural born atheist since God and religion have never made any sense to me. However, I have been to plenty of church services. I have also read multiple versions of the Bible and more importantly paid attention to what I read. Then, of course there is the fact that I have been studying religions in general since middle school. I can’t think of a single major world religion that I have not read at least one sacred text, multiple commentaries on (from perspectives of both believer and non-believer), and text books on individual faiths as well as comparative texts.

So when Karl Giberson, Ph.D, further states, “Atheists should go to church and do some research if they want to keep talking about religion.” I feel confident in answering that I have and continue to do so.  These days I prefer not to set foot in church, especially a Catholic one. If the current Pope ever apologizes for all the nasty things he’s said about atheists I might reconsider.  I’m not holding out for that unlikely event.

Giberson manages to dispel any doubts about his ignorance regarding atheists when he throws in, “Even Richard Dawkins charitably – and honestly – admitted recently that his atheism was less than 100 percent certain.” There are so many things wrong with this comment I’m not completely sure where to start. Why is it “even Richard Dawkins”? If he ever read Dawkins, did “some research”, he may have pick up on the fact that Dawkins has never claimed 100 percent certainty. This is not new so it is not “recently”.  The implication that Dawkins is dishonest smacks of an ad hominem attack. Not a particularly scholarly approach to the subject of atheism. I also wonder what makes Dawkins long established views on his own beliefs “charitable”? What is charitable about seeking to understand the world around you?

It seems to me that Giberson is trying to paint a picture of atheists as being ignorant antagonists while he himself is just passing off tired old myths and stereotypes as if they are facts. Not exactly an inspiring approach. Then, again the point clearly isn’t to inform atheists but to attack them.

Well Mr. Giberson, here’s my 100 percent certain statement: You’re an ignorant hypocritical whiney asshole!

Flipside Jesus: Anti-Intellectual

Since Christians seem to love speculating about the “true” nature of Christ and what Jesus would do I figure why not throw in my own interpretations. After all, any discussion/commentary on Jesus is a matter of interpretation. Assuming, and it’s a huge assumption, that Jesus ever existed the details of his life and works as portrayed in the New Testament is laced throughout with discrepancies and contradictions.

The first aspect of Jesus I’d comment on is the view that he was a wise teacher. A a former teacher I have always felt that beyond specific content a teacher should instill a love of learning or at the very least seek to increase students ability to think. There are numerous passages that lead me to believe that not only did Jesus fail to do this he actually sought to do the opposite. Jesus seems to prefer followers that were both childish and ignorant. For the sake of brevity I will only include two such passages. There are others. I encourage people to look for them. You’ll probably find all sort of other interesting tid-bits along the way.

“And said, verily I say onto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 1:3)

“In that hour Jesus rejoiced in Spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them onto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.” (Luke 10:21)

If anyone can offer an alternate interpretation I’d love to hear it. Please, do not use the tired “humble” apologetics. It was lame the first time I heard and I have heard too many equally pathetic variations. If you’re creative I promise not to grade too harshly.

I should also add that it is the King James version that I quote.  I don’t necessarily have a preference. I don’t want to give the impression that I favor Protestants.  I tend to go with the King James because it is the first version I read cover to cover and the one I have most often re-read (and therefore the one with the most book marks and notations).

Misused and Abused: Sin

I can't count the number of times I have come across the term "sin" being used as if it meant unethical, immoral, or criminal behavior. It is possible that any or all of those could be involved (generally by coincidence) but they are not synonyms of sin. Sin has an expressly religious meaning.

According to The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions sin is:
"Anything, including attitudes, actions, or omissions which separates a person from God. It is a theological or religious term in distinction to crime, a legal concept. Most conventional definitions such as 'disobedience' or 'rebellion against God' are too limited in scope."

I fail to see any reasons beyond ignorance and laziness to use sin in such a general and erroneous manner. The media should certainly not used it the way it frequently does. There are a variety of better more accurate terms that can and should be used. The constant use of sin only accomplishes dumbing down discourse and reinforcing a number of myths and stereotypes.

Ironically, it is possible to interpret this and other definitions of sin to mean that atheists by their nature are incapable of sin. The tense of the definition implies that is to become separated that results in sin. If you are already separated you can't become so at any future point. Therefore, I cannot sin. I have also heard others define sin as a "losing of God's way." Again, I cannot lose what I never had and therefore am completely without sin.

I would also point out a contradiction that arises from the basic premise. If the church insists that we are all born with sin and need Jesus to absolve us how do the basic definitions of sin not become a contradiction. If theology insists we are all connected to God to begin with how can we then be born with sin?

Monday, March 12, 2012

"Faith in God necessarily implies a lack of faith in humanity"
Barbara G. Walker

Oh No, Creationism

I've said it before and I'll keep saying it, creationists are idiots.

The March episode of the Oh No, Ross and Carrie! podcast takes a closer look at a few aspects of creationist nonsense. If you've never come across this particular podcast it is well worth listening to. Ross and Carrie are great at taking a serious look at a variety of beliefs. They actively try to look at the beliefs of others in an objective respectful way without simply shrugging off silly aspects as just "opinion" or excusing such views from scrutiny.

God is in the Brain, Sort of

Douglas Fields makes some decent points throughout his short Huffington Post piece, "Is God in the Brain?" However, roughly half way through he ends up giving in to various common fallacies. Despite pointing out earlier that science and religion take opposite approaches he weakens an otherwise decent post with such nonsensical statements as, "Science and religion are different worlds, but fundamentally they are not antagonistic..." First, we only have one world. Even if you take this metaphorically it is still silly. He points out in an earlier sentence that religion relies on faith. How can baseless opinions be used to accurately "explore and comprehend the world around us"? In the second place, if two approaches are opposites by nature, which Fields does imply, how can they not be antagonistic?

Shortly after this he adds that, "One would not look to scripture for the secrets of subatomic particles, but having discovered nuclear energy through the scientific method, one would not look to science for answers about how to use it." Really? Without sound scientific information you want to create policies concerning something that is potentially lethal? It seems to me that a greater understanding of how such particles work is what you need to figure out how to use them.

He ends his piece in a tone that is nearly the opposite of its opening. He seems to give up all pretense at critical thought for the sake of an overly sentimental notion devoid of any merit.

"Yes, Mr. President, you can see God in the brain; just as you can see it in the hand of a child or in a stunningly beautiful sunset that steals one's breath."  Actually, the beauty argument for God's existence is among the weakest. It has been picked apart and trashed so thoroughly that it still amazes me than anyone with half a brain tries to trot it out so regularly. As for the Brain, yes you can see God there but only in terms of how we construct and use concepts. This, of course, makes God as real as Puff the Magic Dragon or Papa Smurf. Mention either of these two characters to anyone my age or older and odds are they know exactly what is being talked about. They could probably give a more detailed description of either of them than they could for God. They may even have some rather warm and fuzzy feelings about them. Does that mean they are more real than God?

The Myth of Q

If you have never come across references to Q in scriptural study it is a hypothetical and highly speculative construct. It is sometimes also referred to as the Q Document or Q Gospel. A number of scriptural scholars have asserted that to explain the similarities between the Mathew and Luke Gospels as well as the disparities between these two and Mark there must have been a source earlier than Mark. Think about that for just a minute.

If it makes sense then you might have a lucrative career in Christian apologetics. If Q is an earlier source to all three why focus on disparities with Mark alone. For that matter, why would the disparities be so obvious to begin with. These three are often labeled the Synoptic Gospels for the similarities that exist among all three. This too makes very little logical sense since the differences are as numerous as the similarities. They are only "synoptic" in comparison to the 4th Gospel, John. Lets face it, that one is just flat out crazy.

So where does Q come in and what is its usefulness? It comes in as an attempt to make sense of something that does not really need much explanation. Most scholars who have promoted the Q hypothesis will freely admit that the Gospels most likely started out as oral tradition. It is also virtually impossible to deny that there are potentially multiple written versions. I say "potential" since it is hard to verify. Nearly all of the books of the Bible (Old and New Testaments) only exist in fragments. Much of scriptural study amounts to cobbling together pieces that are most alike. If you are looking for similarities odds are good that you will find them. One aspect of Q that few scholars ever address is why they see a need for such a document to exist. It really does not make sense to insist it has to be so.

No one has ever found let alone verified any candidates for being part of this supposed lost gospel. Actively looking for Q seems like a tremendous waste of time and resources. If while seeking out and studying other sacred documents a candidate is found I would be the first to encourage renewed investigation. Finding Q would be an amazing discovery. Though, it would still not be the proof of Jesus existence that some seem to think it is. That, however, is another matter altogether. I would end by pointing out that this type of wild speculation seems to be limited to scriptural/theological study. Folklore has no problem coping with differences and similarities within narratives that do not seem to have one original source. Stories of dragons make a good example. There are tales of creatures around the world that are generally viewed as being about dragons. There is no one written source that all others are drawn from and I'm unaware of a single folklorist having a problem with that.

If anyone is interested in Scripture studies or the history of the early Christian Church (Judaism as well) I consider the follow books to be good introductory materials:

Karen Armstrong The Bible: A Biography
Tim Callahan Secret Origins of the Bible
Alan Dundes Holy Writ as Oral Lit
Bart Ehrman Lost Christianities
Stephen Harris Understanding the Bible

Ehrman actually has a new book that is due to be released March 20th that I am anxious to read.

Proof of God: Scenario 2

It can and has been argued that aggression has served a variety of evolutionary purposes. However, it no longer seems to be of any benefit to our species in today's world. We also don't seem to be able to prevent it.

Another scenario I would accept as proof of God's existence is the cessation of all forms of human aggression. Since it no longer seems to be of benefit to us and we can't seem to end it ourselves there is no reason God could not solve the problem for us. I am fully aware of the rationale many theist use to contradict this idea. Free will has always been a pathetic excuse. I do not know a single person who has chosen to be mugged or asked for children to shoot other children. Since, I and others routinely push for crime prevention measures and gun control why are we made to suffer along with those who refuse do do anything useful about these problems. If God created us and our world then there is no reason God cannot make such a modification as the elimination of all aggression. There would still be plenty for us to disagree and make decisions on. So assuming that free will is even possibly in the presence of a supreme being, which it isn't, it would be unaffected by the absence of aggression.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Misused and Abused: Nihilism

A number of the critics of the "new atheists" seem to think that atheism either automatically leads to nihilism or else is a synonym for nihilism. Neither is the case. Nihilism is an attitude in which all philosophical and ethical systems of belief are rejected whereas atheism is simply the lack of theism (system of belief related to god or gods). How do you jump to the conclusion that a lack of belief in God means a lack of belief in anything?

Yet, fools like John F. Haught in his horrid little book God and The New Atheism make statements like,
“Go all the way and think the business of atheism through to the bitter end; before you get too comfortable with the godless world you long for, you will be required by the logic of any consistent skepticism to pass through the disorienting wilderness of nihilism. Do you have the courage to do that?”

Chock full of bullshit and idiocy. It never occurs to him that it is nearly impossible to be a skeptic and simultaneously be a nihilist. Skepticism is not simply a matter of being contrarian. It amounts to caring enough about what is and isn't true to demand evidence before committing to a belief. It also eludes him that even if it were true that atheists like me "long for" a godless world rather than simply acknowledge it that the statement implies another self-contradiction. Why long for anything if nothing matters?

Yet, year after year there are at least a few narrow minded assholes who find the need to slap the nihilist label on atheists. There may well be a few atheists who happen to be nihilists as well. There are also probably a few theists who end up becoming nihilists. So what?
"To surrender to ignorance and call it God has always been premature, and it remains premature today."
Isaac Asimov

Tacky vs. Violent

Imagine that, the violent theist's "rights" trump those of the atheist with poor taste. Doesn't seem to matter that the Muslim admitted to the arresting officer what happened or that it was caught on video. The guy who committed an act of violence gets away with it since the person he attacked was an atheist.

The judge's bias seems pretty blatant to me.

"If I were a Muslim, I'd find it offensive. But you have that right, but you're way outside your boundaries or first amendment rights. This is what, and I said I spent about 7 and a half years living in other countries. when we go to other countries it's not uncommon for people to refer to us as ugly Americans this is why we are referred to as ugly Americans, because we are so concerned about our own rights we don't care about other people's rights as long as we get our say but we don't care about the other people's say."

So which is it, asshole? Do we have the right of free speech/expression or don't we? I admit, I would probably not choose to dress up as "zombie Muhammad" for a parade but that does not mean it is illegal or should excuse acts of violence. Since when is one individual's case dismissible due to how others may perceive Americans in general?

As far as I can tell this is simply an instance of a bigoted judge refusing to do his job.

Projecting Ignorance and Inattentiveness

Why are so many theists such pinheads?

Only those who have never paid any attention to what the so called "New Atheists" have been saying for decades (just because you didn't notice them till after 9/11 doesn't mean they weren't around) would find "Richard Dawkins, Famous Atheist, Not Entirely Sure God Doesn't Exist" to be an intelligent headline. Dawkins, like any one with anything resembling critical thinking skills, has always admitted to not being one hundred percent certain of God's non-existence. This is not new. In fact, there are a couple passages in his book the God Delusion that point this uncertainty out. Only ignorant bigots should find this surprising in any way. It is actually not that difficult to grasp the notion that an individual can be confident in a position without being completely certain.

I do not believe in unicorns. There is not a scrap evidence nor the slightest reason to believe in such a creature. Yet, I have not been to every potential habit where such an animal might exist. I cannot definitively disprove it. I can, hypothetically, concede to ways such a creature could exist without believing it does.
I know what a horse is. I have seen creatures with horns. Why couldn't a horse develop a single horn or horn-like appendage? Narwhals look like they have a horn despite it actually being an overgrown protruding tooth. See, it is remotely plausible. Still silly and still not true.

If theists actually paid attention to the arguments atheists have been making for years such moronic headlines would not be so inevitable. Maybe, we could have a decent conversation if fewer theists behaved like such self-deluded malicious assholes with the attention span of gnats.

Another religious hypocrit, shocking

I find it interesting that the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, would make this statement, ''The honourable estate of matrimony precedes both the state and the church, and neither of these institutions have the right to redefine it in such a fundamental way.'' Apparently he is too blinded by his own self-righteous bigotry to see the hypocrisy. He doesn't think anyone should "redefine" marriage but he is certainly fine with forcing his preferred definition on everyone else.

I do agree that the church has no right to tell the state how to handle civil marriages. This is not, of course, his real aim. I wish it was. If the religious bigots who oppose marriage equality would get it through their thick skulls that we don't give a shit what they do in their places of worship maybe they'll leave the rest of us alone. I doubt it but it is a nice thought.