Saturday, June 30, 2012

Rebutting the Bishops

The Freedom from Religion Foundation has posted online their refutation of the US Catholic Conference of Bishops white paper "A Statement on Religious Liberty." The FfRF's "Our First Freedom" is excellent. Unlike the bishop's shoddy propaganda and faux history it is well written and well documented.

The hierarchy's pathetically weak grasp on religious liberty is somewhat understandable, though not excusable. Religions are, as I have repeatedly pointed out, authoritarian and as often as not intolerant. The founding scriptures of Christianity are loaded with passages that are unambiguously intolerant and hostile to other belief systems.

A small sampling of these passages include:

"Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;" (Exodus 20: 3-5)

Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.
Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you;
For the LORD thy God is a jealous God among you lest the anger of the LORD thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth. (Deuteronomy 6: 13-15)

If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers;
Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth;
Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him:
But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people." (Deuteronomy 13: 6-9)

Basically, you are not to so much as think about another religion or you'll be severely punished (ie killed). Furthermore, you are expected to openly discriminate, persecute, and even murder those of another faith. Not a cornerstone of religious liberty or tolerance.

To this I'd add one more for good measure. After all, we wouldn't want to ignore the New Testament.

"But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me." (Luke 19: 27)

That's right, that cute and cuddly love-thy-neighbor Jesus is also an intolerant homicidal bastard. When the founding figure of your faith is on record, so to speak, condemning all those of another faith to death it's time to throw in the towel on the claim that Christianity is a champion of tolerance and liberty.

Friday, June 29, 2012

"Faith is a cop-out. It is intellectual bankruptcy. If the only way you can accept an assertion is by faith, then you are conceding that it can't be taken on its own merits."
Dan Barker
Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist

One Year

It has now been a full year since I start this blog. Initially, I started it as an experiment. I was curious to see if I could stick with writing even short pieces regularly. So far, so good. The post may be basic but they are a start. To what I'm still not sure but it should be interesting to see if I can do more.

A far more notable milestone that also occurred this past week is the 50th anniversary of Engel V. Vitale. The Supreme Court heard the arguments to this important case on April 3, 1962 and handed down its decision on June 25, 1962. It declared that state-sponsored school prayer as part of a public school's instruction was unconstitutional. An essential victory for the separation of church and state.

"New Theists"

I appreciate that Michael Dowd has publicly expressed support for science and has set himself up as a sort of evangelical champion of the theory of evolutionary. However, that's no reason to avoid critically reviewing what he says and writes. In a recent HuffPo piece he makes pretty clear a point I have made on more than one occasion: liberal theism is not automatically better than more conservative forms of theism.

In the June 16 piece, "New Theists: Knowers, Not Believers", Dowd seems to alternate between contradictions, fallacies, and absurdities. To start there really isn't anything "new" in it. What he writes about seems to be a rehashing of liberal theism that begins with a string of bullshit.

"A new breed of theist is emerging around the globe. We are religious naturalists: Reality is our God, evidence is our Scripture, integrity is our religion, and contributing toward a healthy future is our mission."

I don't think he fully understands the term "naturalist." Religions are by their nature focused on supernatural rather than natural explanations so the phrasing is contradictory. It is interesting to note that he move from a contradiction to a more redundant choice of wording. For a theist God is real so why state "Reality is our God." It sounds like you are just saying God is our God. If he really means to say that he and others like him worship reality then that is not much better. It's silly. Who worships facts or existence? Why would you? I am happy to emphasize the importance of evidence but comparing it to or equating it with scripture is just plain wrong. Evidence is not sacred. It is not infallible and unchanging and should never go unquestioned. That would defeat the whole purpose of seeking evidence in the first place.

His writing doesn't get much better. Dowd talks about not being believers yet insists on using terminology and concepts that only make sense if you are a believer.

"New Theists are not believers; we're evidentialists. We value scientific, historic and cross-cultural evidence over ancient texts, religious dogma or ecclesiastical authority. We also value how an evidential worldview enriches and deepens our communion with God-Reality-Life-Universe-Mystery-Wholeness."

The use of "theist" and "God" belie the rest of what is being said. And from here it only gets worse. He continues to mangle various terms both religious and secular creating a confusing mish-mash of nonsense. Towards the end he sets out to describe each of the phrases in the first Quotation I excerpted above (reality is our god, evidence is our scripture, integrity is our religion, contributing toward....) but it really is not particularly helpful.

It seems that Dowd wants to be a secular humanist but cannot seem to completely break free of religious doctrines, especially the terminology. I assume he has fallen for some of the same bullshit fallacies that guys like Alan DeBotton keep spouting. Religion has no innate value. There is nothing it can offer that can not be found elsewhere. Even though I do tend to prefer more liberal forms of religion over the more conservative ones, religion as a whole is still worthless crap. Theism is folly.

Atheists Don't Lack Humility, Imagination, or Curiosity

Even though I agree with Rabbi Yoffie that the likelihood of religion disappearing completely is highly unlikely most of his criticism of Nigel Barber's recent HuffPo piece range from disingenuous to outright moronic. His short but ignorant laden attempt at rebutting Barber does more to demonstrate his own short coming than the author in question. The title of Yoffie's piece kicks off a cascade of double standards and dubious accusations. "What Atheism Lacks: Humility, Imagination, Curiosity" would be more honestly titled if he replaced the three words after the colon with "Silence." I did not find anything that would indicate Yoffie actually paid attention to Barber's piece as a whole. I seriously doubt it would have made the slightest difference if Barber supplied limitless pieces of evidence. He does, by the way, support his assertions. Yoffie, not do much.

One of the rabbi's objections, "Mr. Barber professes to offer proof for his thesis, most of it drawn from his own writings..." This would be legitimate if those writings were not themselves supported. Apparently, he does not realize that when you are among the few conducting original research in a specific area of social science you, by nature, end up being a primary source of citations. Barber does not cite himself alone. If he read through Yoffie might have noticed that Barber does cite others in his short HuffPo piece, which is rather rare among the regular writers on the site (Yoffie certainly doesn't). This is also a bit of a double standard. Where does Yoffie get his authority as a Rabbi? Studying scripture, perhaps. What is that based on? What research have religious authorities conducted on the "truth" of their faith? Religion is self referencing and its original sources are based on quite literally nothing.

Yoffie goes on to demonstrate his own lack of humility and imagination when he asks, "how do these atheism-obsessed individuals measure holiness? How do they distinguish the holy in life from the ordinary and the profane" I'm not sure how he reaches the conclusion that atheists are automatically obsessed for thinking about religion while theists are not. Even setting that aside, his questions are bogus. The terms he uses are expressly religious. It doesn't take much effort to see that an atheist is not likely to think in those terms. Holiness is meaningless. If he is asking what amazes us or fills us with wonder that would be a legitimate question. The fact that he intentionally words it the way he does without ever considering it is inherently  biased seems to indicate a level of arrogance and/or a failure of imagination on his own part.

He then has the nerve to "marvel at how limited Mr. Barber's intellectual horizons are." Are you kidding!? Yoffie never indicates that he has made any effort to read or fact check Barber's writing. Skimming through the brief HuffPo piece, which is meant to bring attention to externally published works, does not count. He also never mentions having looked into the few other researchers working in the same area. Barber cites Phil Zuckerman among a few others. Yoffie would do well to read Zuckerman's works since they are not only well researched but also written with the average person in mind. I doubt he'll bother. Where's the rabbi's intellectual curiosity?

As he approaches the end of his critique the level of hypocritical self-deluded bullshit increases. The last few paragraphs are loaded with the likes of, "even if the language of faith is not our language, it may be the language of others. Thoughtful liberals are almost always curious; knowing that different people recognize different truths....there are still substantial pockets of otherwise distinguished scholars who fail to understand religion and, more importantly, fail to acknowledge their own lack of understanding." I fail to see any examples of Yoffie recognizing an atheist point of view being legitimate in any way. His use of expressly religious terms and ideas actually is in direct contradiction of this point. He also provides no examples or proof of these scholars misunderstanding religion. I think it is more likely that he wants to believe, has to believe, such scholars are mistaken. The thought that a group of highly intelligent people who are skilled researchers reaching negative (from Yoffie's perspective) conclusions about religion seems to be too much for the rabbi to accept.

As I implied at the beginning, I doubt it is the way Barber writers or even the details that really bother Yoffie and like-minded critics. That an atheist speaks or writes at all is what they object to. Simply projecting their own shortcoming onto us does not excuse their own blatant flaws. It certainly does not loan andy credence to their baseless accusations and criticisms. Being human, we atheist are flawed and fallible, but thiests never seem to be able to mount any legitimate critiques. Maybe if they actually paid attention to what we write and say they'd pick up a few. We certainly don't pull punches when criticizing each other.

The Vatican and Fox News

I don't think it's necessary to say much about this one beyond how appropriate it seems that the Vatican is using a Fox News correpondent for PR purposes. One factually dubious right wing group of scumbags shilling for another batch of lying hypocritical scum bags. They could not have chosen better.

The Silly World of Biblical "Archeology"

That some are taking serious the claims that a set of six bones found in a stone reliquary with an inscription reading "God, save your servant Thomas. To St. John. June 24" might be the bones of John the Baptist gives you an idea of the nonsense that will follow.

Donald Barthelme could not have written a more surrealistic or absurd story on his best day. The premise is laughable from the start. Even setting aside that there is virtually no evidence that John the Baptist existed, which I'll get back to, the basic scenario laid out in the CNN story defies reason. The reliquary states that it is the remains of someone named Thomas. There is no amount of linguistic gymnastics that can turn Thomas into John. Being dedicated to John, the Patron Saint of the church it was found in, also does not magically alter the meaning of the inscription. Then there is the problem with cultural norms. John would have been, according to scripture, an itinerant Jewish preacher. He is said to have been decapitated but otherwise his body would have been in tact. In Jewish tradition that would have been very important. Disfiguring your body while alive was abhorrent, dismembering a body after death would have been horrifying. How did John's body come to be separated (a variety of other Religious sites claim his relics)? How was his body found to begin with? Digging him up would have been sacrilegious. Who among his followers would have had the motivation to do so and who would have had the means to acquire proper vessels to house his "holy" remains? Look at the reliquary pictured in the news piece.

Despite the claim that, "There is reasonably good historical evidence that John the Baptist, whom Christians believe baptized his cousin Jesus, did exist..." the basic assertion that John existed is not supported by historical research. There is only one reference to him outside scripture anywhere near the time-frame he is believed to have lived. The passage in Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews (Book 18 Chapter 5) is highly suspicious. If this sounds familiar, it should. Christian copyists are known to have embellished and altered his works. Even if it was authentically written by Josephus it is essentially here-say. Josephus did not witness it and it does not sound like anything more than a retelling of a folktale. This should also not surprise anyone who has spent any time researching early scripture or the various interpretations of them. The only "proof" that seems positive is actually very superficial. The bones in question have been dated to the 1st century which would put them around the estimated time of John the Baptist' life-time. Again, this says nothing about whose bones are actually in the box. One of the few somewhat accurate commentaries in the article points out, "But the mere fact that the testing didn't prove the bones are fakes is unusual." There's a big hint right there. Biblical Archeology enthusiasts will no doubt see that as very encouraging. It wasn't immediately proven a fake like virtually every similar claim. What a triumph!

That, of course, does seem to be the mentality and tone of the whole article. I think the second sentence is actually a good example of this, "The most famous of them all, the Turin Shroud, is widely regarded as a Middle Ages forgery, and even the Catholic Church does not insist the shroud was actually used to wrap the body of Jesus himself." Notice "widely regarded." The only people who haven't accepted that it is a forgery are religious zealots and ignorant fools. It's been carbon dated, twice. It has been chemically analyzed. Mathematicians have subject the measurements to basic geometry. Unless you believe Christ was a time traveling mutant with a freakishly huge head, was unusually tall, and bled ink, the Shroud can only be a fake.
The bones, though real, are almost certainly not John the Baptists. The odds that these relics are what some have claimed them to be are so astronomically negative that it is hardly worth the effort. But for the sake of history I sincerely hope they are able to trace the bones journey. The identity will probably never be known but the research could reveal valuable information.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Slightly More Interesting Jesus Film

Though I have to admit I find Verhoeven's interpretation of the Christ narratives fascinating, and it's nice to see a slightly more realistic variation, it is still essentially crap. Mixing up and re-imagining various story elements will probably make for an interesting film but it still will not be "biographical" or "historical." The fact that there isn't a single verifiable fact about Jesus Christ and that there is no documentation outside scripture has not changed.

What must passes for research in Verhoeven's mind is pretty laughable. Even if you're willing to make the huge assumption that Jesus actually existed his assessment that "'s clear you have a person who was completely innovative in the field of ethics," is ludicrous. First off, Jesus' teaching as outlined in the Gospels is not that clear. The Gospels are alternately vague, confusing, and contradictory. Christ himself is at times shown to be selfish, intolerant, bigoted, and hateful. It is true that there are more passages where he talks about being loving and compassionate but that does not erase those where he encourages persecution and even murder.

Omit all the nasty crap and Christ is still not innovative let alone "completely innovative in the field of ethics." Virtually all the moral lessons that Christians have managed to squeeze out of the New Testament already existed in one form or another. Most of the values associated with Jesus were already commonplace in nearly every religion that came before. The "Golden Rule" is as close to universal as you can get. It is widely believed among religious scholars that Judaism (the source that Christians adapted it from) in all likelihood lifted it from the Zoroastrians. Variations also existed in ancient African and Asian cultures. Christ's "teachings", like the various sects/denominations that followed, is a mish-mash of a variety of concepts and philosophies that were already around.

I will still be interested in seeing Verhoeven's film, assuming it gets a release. If nothing else it should be entertaining and thought provoking.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

"In religion,
What damned error but some sober brow
Will bless it, and approve it with text,
Hiding the grossness with fair ornament?"
William Shakespeare
Merchant of Venice
Act III Sc.ii

Does religion make us moral?

The question pops up far more often then it ought to. Recently, the somewhat science challenged Science on Religion blog devoted a post to the question. The answer is both simple and more complex than most people seem to realize. The simple answer is NO. Religion, in and of itself, does not make people moral. That is not to say that religion does not indirectly contribute to the development of morals. It contributes in the same way it contributes to an individual's happiness (another foolish supposition that gets tirelessly repeated). It is a side-effect of religion that allows for morals (and happiness) to develop. That side-effect would be more accurately labeled "social interaction."

Humans are social animals. We need interaction with one another. Virtually every study that has been conducted on religion's impact on society has discovered the same thing. Social interaction within a church is the greatest factor. The level and quality of interaction within a specific religious group says far more than the the doctrines, rites and rituals, or structure in terms of whether the individuals find their "faith" valuable. There are also ample reasons to believe that it is this interaction that informs individual morality within religious groups and even correlates with levels of contentment and happiness.

Religion does not make people moral. Social awareness and interaction helps guide individual morals.

Did she really "Convert"? Does it Matter?

Some seem to be both surprised and disturbed by Leah Libresco's "conversion" to Christianity. I don't really see it as that big of a surprise or even remotely significant. I have nothing against her but I never really cared for her Patheos Blog. I always wonder if she really was an atheist. Leah nearly admits to such without really being aware of it. In "This is my last post for the Patheos Atheist Portal" she acknowledges something I had noticed despite having only previously read a handful of her posts. She routinely referenced "soul" and "sin" as if they were real. It is possible, though highly unlikely, that an atheist could have some supernatural based beliefs. However, those two would be difficult to take seriously without a belief in God. Personally, I don't think she was ever really an atheist. I think she found it hard to accept organized religion's rigidity and intolerance.

In either case, I wish her well. If identifying with atheists was not working for her then it makes sense for her to stop doing so.

Path Dependence

Although the social science term "path dependence" is generally applied to economics, after reading John McWhorter's contribution to the most recent Edge question book This Will Make You Smarter I have considered a new application. Reading in the first paragraph, "'Path dependence' refers to the fact that often something that seems normal or inevitable today began with a choice that made sense at a particular time in the past but survived despite the eclipse of its justification, because, once it had been established, external factors discouraged going into reverse to try other alternatives", the institution of religion immediately came to mind. This basic summary of the term fits religion very well. There seems to be a rather large percent of believers who are so more out of habit/tradition than out of any serious thought or conviction.

The institution itself is built largely on unfounded beliefs and the force of habit. Religion may have served a useful purpose in the past but has long since outlived any such usefulness. Virtually every positive attribute ascribed to religion is not innately religious. All the benefits can be gained from other sources with far fewer potential negative side-effects. Perhaps if religion were thought of in terms of path dependence it may help some believers break free of religions' authoritarian trap.

Art Does Not Depend on Theism

The title of Dori Hartley's June 14 HuffPo piece, "The Atheist Who Loves Angels," is a little misleading. Not exactly shocking to anyone who has spent more than a few minutes perusing the site. What she actually writes is fine if rather uninspiring. It is the tone that I find most interesting. She seems to play into, perhaps unwittingly, one of the more ridiculous myths about atheists. The idea that since we have no religious beliefs we can in no way appreciate religious inspired or themed art is a long standing myth. Hartley is almost apologetic about loving artwork that has such themes. That is silly to the point of being laughable. Theists never seem to turn such "standards" inward. How many religious people today believe in unicorns or faeries? There are still creative works (paintings, films, writings...) being produced that either use them or even focus on them. And besides, what makes beauty and creativity or the appreciation of them the sole domain of religion? It is an absurd point of view that I will never understand or care to.

Friday, June 15, 2012

"Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours."
John Locke

Categorizing Non-Belivers and Atheists

The idea of creating a set of sub-categories or classifications within atheism is not new. Others have commented on the possible usefulness of providing narrower labels within atheism. I can see how it might be useful but I can also see ways in which such a system of labels could perpetuate a variety of myths and stereotypes or be used to further denigrate and marginalize us. Two recent pieces reemphasized these pitfalls.

An anonymous woman wrote in to the New Haven Register on June 2 with what she seemed to think was a novel idea. Her intentions seemed to be positive but she definitely had not thought very deeply about the labels she was suggesting. She only offered three but each had some problems. "Observant Atheist" reflected both the title of the short piece, "Atheist 'denominations' helpful, reader suggests", and her ignorance. She claims to be an atheist herself but then talks about her desire "to find the divine in myself." She also seems to fall for the false notion that atheism is itself a religion. It isn't.*

"Classic Atheists" seems rather redundant. It sounds like she intends it to be the default/catchall for those who don't fit the other two labels. Her final label is as ridiculous as the first. "Science as Religion Atheist" aside from being an awkward mouthful is an oxymoron. It plays into the myth of "scientism." Science, as defined by the scientific process, cannot be a religion. Though there are some ignorant fools who happen to be atheists, I find it hard to believe that those who have enough respect and interest in science to be placed in this label would ever use it. Lie me they would probably find it an insultingly preposterous term. Her labels may have been intended to help but they don't.

Valerie Tarico's June 3rd Alternet piece, "No Religion? 7 Types of Nonbelievers", is longer and more thoughtful. However, it too has some glaring shortfalls. I particularly disliked her second type, "anti-theist." There are two major implications that are both blatantly wrong. First, the term suggests that atheists are the only anti-theists. I am unaware of anyone doing a study on this subtopic but I would be genuinely shocked if the number of theists who were also anti-theists did not outnumber the atheists who might fit the term. Think about it. Who has harassed and out right persecuted Jews, Muslims, and Christians the most? It isn't atheists. All three groups have done far more harm to each other than atheists ever have. I'd also object to the term on semantics. Most atheist I'm aware of are not actually opposed to theists. "Anti-theism", though still misleading, is a little more accurate. We tend to despise the institution of religion not religious people.

The next handful of terms (Agnostic, Skeptic, Freethinker, Humanist) are already in wide use. Her usage of them would probably only make matters more confusing since it is not necessary to be non-religious to fit one or more of them. Non-religious individuals are far more likely to identify with those terms but that's not quite the same. Another problem is that if you are trying to delineate types of non-believers these terms are non-starters. It is quite easy to fit into each label simultaneously. What's the purpose if it doesn't distinguish?

Her final term is just plain annoying. Pantheist as a term can be debated about its true definition not unlike the other terms Tarico tries using. However, Pantheism is still a religious outlook. Tarico herself alludes to this in an otherwise mistaken comment, "...self-described humanists seek to reclaim the ethical and communitarian aspects of religion, pantheist canter in on the spiritual heart of faith..." I consider myself a humanist but I do not seek to "reclaim" anything from religion. There is nothing innate to religion that I want or need. It implies that certain values and traits are inseparable from religion. Bullshit. Anthropomorphizing the universe, which pantheism frequently does, is not something I would associate with non-belief.

If any useful labels are ever going to be produced, I'm not convinced that's possible, it should be non-believers who come up with them.

*The fact that atheism is not a belief system would make classifying it with labels somewhat pointless. Atheists are rather individualistic and fractious but there are some areas that we tend to gravitate toward. In any case, any labels or categories would have to be used loosely and would only be of value when comparing atheists to other atheists.
"The Church of Satan Interviewed by Televangelist Bob Larson: Not the Conversation You Think It Is" video clip on HuffPo is pretty amusing but I don't quite get why it has been posted. The article itself does not explain why there is any interest in Bob Larson now. He is still around but I have not notice any significant media attention being paid to "Satanism" recently.

The video doesn't really provide any insight just cheesy entertainment. All three in the interview are complete morons. It also has nothing to do with Satanism in terms of theology. Larson does not seem to understand that the Church of Satan is actually a misnomer. It would be more accurate to relabel it the Church of Hedonism. Though some adherents seem to believe in Satan I have not gotten the impression that they are the majority. I have heard interviews with a handful of Church of Satan members over the years and most of them view Satan as a useful symbol. They did not actually believe in Satan as an entity nor did they have any interest in "evil". Basically, they were not Satanists in any theological sense.

Something that is never really clarified but should be whenever Satanism gets brought up is the fact that it is an offshoot of Christianity. Satan as a concept is a creation of Judeo-Christian scriptures and doctrines. In early Old Testament passages Satan is of little to no significance. Satan as a major figure does not emerge until Christian doctrines develop to make it so. Acceptance of Satanism as being real in anyway also negates the whole idea of monotheism. If Satan has power independent of God, God cannot be all powerful. In effect you end up with two opposing gods.

A Happily Married Gay Mormon?

A am a bit skeptical about this self-professed "happy" married gay Mormon. He states quite clearly that he is still attracted to men even though he is married to a woman. I have two major reasons for being rather skeptical of this situation.

I find it hard to believe that anyone could be content let alone outright happy if they were in constant conflict with a major aspect of their personality. The other seemingly contradictory aspect of his married life is his claim to having "an extremely healthy and robust sex life." How? He says has no attraction to women. Sex without attraction sounds rather mechanical and devoid of emotion to me. I certainly would consider that healthy.

I'm not buying it. That is not to say I don't hope that he really is happy. Like Hemant, who's June 12 Friendly Atheist post brought the story to my attention, I would wish him the best. If he has found a way to be happy while in conflict with his own nature, good for him. It is still sad that he finds it necessary to live in such conflict. I suspect he may be confusing contentment with genuine happiness.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

What "God" Wants

It never ceases to amaze me how often theists talk about what God wants or doesn't want. This is both amusing and useful. For me it demonstrates how truly ignorant theists tend to be about their own beliefs. If you accept the basic definition of God as, "The supreme being, perfect and all-powerful," then the whole notion of God wanting anything is preposterous. Think about it. If you want something, anything, what does that really mean. There are only two options. Either you lack something or you do not have enough of something. Otherwise you would not want it. If God is everything and the source of everything what can God possibly lack? Nothing! Quite literally, God cannot "want" anything.

Basically when people like J.E. Dyer* write pieces along the lines of "Does God Want America to Fail?" what they are really writing about is what they believe, or think they believe. Stop hiding behind your imaginary friend and just say what you think. Make your decisions and have the courage and decency to admit that it is your decision. And, please, stop and think before you start spouting off about "what God wants." Even if it were remotely possible for the "Supreme being" to want, which it isn't, how the fuck would a finite being have a clue what that is?

"God wants" is simply an expression of the innate contradictions and fallacies contained in the God concept itself along with the self-serving projections of the theists who use the phrase.

*Dyer's piece on Patheos is just a current relevant example. I do not intend to single him out. There are far too many who have written similar pieces to list or note.

Friday, June 8, 2012

"The good life is inspired by love and guided by knowledge."
Bertrand Russell

Sad Disturbing View of Love and Faith

It was nice to read how quickly Maren Stephenson responded to her husband's admission that he no longer believed in God by saying, "You are more important to me than the Church." Some of her doubts about that expression are both sad and disturbing. In the end she seems to handle his and her own transition pretty well.

It still is upsetting to think that there are those who have such doubts about the value of love. I won't pretend to understand what either of them went through since I have never had any faith. That said, I find any "church", "religion", or "faith" that actively seeks to diminish the value of love or impede it in any way as truly despicable. We need more love in the world not less. Claiming that love is somehow sinful or wrong only serves to demonstrate the pettiness of that particular version of religion. 

It also seems strange since virtually every aspect of Faith is intangible and therefore unproven. If you love someone there is proof of it all around you. Just the fact that your partner is quite literally right there with you. People can talk about God and religion in anthropomorphic terms but that is all metaphor and symbolism. Even as a believer, you cannot literally hold God's hand. I happily go to bed and wake up next to my wife. Even if I was a believer I find it hard to see how I could view religion as more important.

Any religion that seeks to place itself as being greater than love is not deserving of any respect from believer or non-believer

Just Talk or....

I don't get the impression that Teo Bishop's HuffPo piece is really about "How Do We Talk About Paganism." Reading it actually irritated me a little bit. He seems like a meddlesome self-absorbed asshole. I could be wrong and would like to think I am. However, his approach to wanting to talk about his religious beliefs seems rather forced. It does not sound like anyone in his family is belittling his views or holding them against him. In some ways it seems to be the reverse.

     "This is not the first time that I've felt slighted by one of my parent's lack of interest in the mystical. I may be the only member of my family who would rather talk about religion than football."

Teo seems to think that his family's lack of interest is a negative attribute. Why? If people don't want to talk with you about a particular topic then leave them the fuck alone. There are other people in the world. Find like-minded people or even just those who are interested in similar topics. Talk to them. It sounds like what he really wants is external validation of what he wants to believe. He needs to get over himself. Believe what you want and feel free to talk about with those who choose to engage with you but leave everyone else alone.

A little further into the piece he references a few incidents where members of his extended family say some terrible things. That is different. If they have no reservations about expressing and applying their religious views then Teo is perfectly justified in engaging with them. This still seems more of a side-note than the basis of the piece. The second to last paragraph is a jumbled confusing mess. He seems to be all over the place.

     "When you take on a new religious tradition, a new spiritual name, a new title, or when you develop a new set of ritual practices, how do you go about communicating that to the people who knew you as something different? How do you open up a dialogue about transition and change with someone who finds it more comfortable to remain where they are, where they have always been? How do you testify about your own, individual truth, and can you do so without making your loved ones feel inferior, or judged?"

He seems to be mixing together a number of different ideas and approaches. There is nothing wrong with telling those around you about changes in what you believe. Once they acknowledge and accept the change it should not matter if they want to talk about it further. If they are not using your beliefs against you or belittling you there is no reason to force the conversation. If they want to "remain where they have always been" let them. Again, if their beliefs and attitude are not harming anyone then you should respect their right to think (or not to think) the way they choose. As for "testify", why? A simple way to not make others feel "inferior" is to not act like an arrogant self-absorbed prick. Basically, Teo needs to back off. If they don't want to share your interests leave them be.

Is Fundamentalism (or specific versions of it) Hateful?

Below is an excerpt from the short AU news blurb on "'Death Prayers' Are Legal, Texas Judge Rules"

"According to the suit, Klingenschmitt urged his followers to pray for the destruction of Weinstein’s Military Religious Freedom Foundation. He used Psalm 109, an 'imprecatory' prayer text that calls for the death of an enemy and curses for his family....Klingenschmitt’s attorney John Whitehead praised the April 2 decision, saying that banning these types of prayers could force the shuttering of 'half the churches, synagogues and mosques in this country.'"

Is it me or did Klingenschmitt's lawyer just admit that their brand of Christianity is hateful by its very nature?

Majority of Christians on Welfare

Majority of Christians are on welfare. If that sounds fishy to you, congratulations you have a functional brain. It is blatantly false. But according to David Barton's logic, or lack there of, it should be true. According to a recent statement by this notoriously reality challenged right wing wind bag the reason people are on welfare is they don't read the Bible.

"Wouldn't it be interesting to do a study between those that are on welfare and see how much and how often they read the Bible. You know, if Booker T. Washington is right that Christianity and reading the Bible increases your desires and therefore your ability for hard work; if we take that as an axiom, does that mean that the people who are getting government assistance spend nearly no time in the Bible, therefore have no desire, and therefore no ability for hard work? I could go a lot of places with this. I would love to see this proven out in some kind of sociological study, but it makes perfect sense."

Since there have been numerous studies and surveys that have all concluded that the majority of Christian's have not actually read the Bible it would make "perfect sense" that most of them should appear on the welfare rolls. But they don't. Hmm, maybe the Bible has nothing to do with it?

I'd be interested in seeing a study that looks at the correlation between reading the Bible and church attendance. It has been demonstrated a handful of times that those who are most literate when it comes to sacred texts tend to be the least religious. That's right, Atheists and Agnostics tend to score the best out of any demographic when it comes to religious literacy. Think about what that might say about faith.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

"The garb of religion is the best cloak for power."
William Hazlitt
"On the Clerical Character" Political Essays

Trifecta of Depravity

I'm starting to wonder if the Catholic hierarchy's constant assault on women and freedom of religion is in part an attempt at distracting the public from their horrible behavior. To anyone who has bothered to pay attention this is nothing surprising and certainly nothing new. The only real difference I can see is in the media's willingness to cover the Catholic churches many moral lapses. Over the past few months there has been a sort of media hat-trick regarding the churches despicable behavior.

The ongoing pedophile/pedophilia cover-ups is unfortunately a given source of shame. Why more Catholics have not played a more active role in going after these scum-bags is truly mind boggling. I remember hearing about such cases when I was a kid in the 1980s and it goes back a lot further. The most disturbing aspect is the level of complacency that the hierarchy has shown and continues to demonstrate. It goes all the way up to the Pope (both current and past).

The Legionaries of Christ order is such a disgusting den of shameless, harmful, immoral behavior it is hard to know where to start. The combination of corruption and secrecy that enabled so many to commit a variety heinous acts and crimes is sickening. The fact that the Vatican knew about many incidents dating back into the 1950s is simply unforgivable.

Then, of course, to top it all off is the scandal(s) involving leaked documents. I find it quite interesting that the Vatican has spent so much effort at finding the whistle-blower and preparing for prosecution rather than addressing the level of corruption the leak has revealed in the the Holy See's finances. I never saw anything Holy about the Vatican. I doubt it will lead to most Catholics re-assessing their allegiance to that den of criminals but it is still a nice dream.

In then end, the Catholic hierarchy have about as much moral authority as Jack the Ripper. On second thought, they have less. At least Jack only managed to destroy a life or two at a time. How these bastards have the nerve to preach to the rest of us is astounding. They are not moral authorities. At best they serve as negative examples.

Further readings

Pedophile/Pedophilia scandals

Legionaries of Christ


And there is plenty more.

Biblical Trivia Game Show

It seems somehow appropriate that a red neck comedian will be hosting a trivia game show that is entirely about the Bible. Jeff Foxworthy will be hosting the "American Bible Challenge." From the brief clip it looks like it should be somewhat amusing in a cheesy superficial way. There is apparently no context or thought involved. But in all fairness that tends to be the format of all game shows. People do seem to confuse being good at trivia with being very intelligent. Memorization definitely comes in handy but says very little about a person's level of intelligence. It is the ability to evaluate and make use of information that matters.

I do have mixed feelings about trivializing, quite literally, Biblical passages. Not because I have any respect for the "Good Book" but because it has and continues to be used to justify horrible beliefs and actions. When people trivialize something they tend to not critically think about. Most religious people already fail to critically evaluate the scriptures upon which their religion/faith are built. I'm afraid this will only contribute to that lack of thinking.

I am curious to see how this game show will play out.

Why I Despise the Wealthy

I will admit on the outset that this has nothing to do with atheism. However, an NPR story I listened to really pissed me off. Bill Koch does not seem to be as blatantly an asshole as his two brothers but he is still a greedy selfish prick. One of his achievements cited is a good example of his character and the character of far too many rich people.

"In a documentary for ESPN, Koch later said the America's Cup victory cost him $68 million.'Financially, I would say win or lose, it's not worth it," he said. "If you asked me ... if I knew what I know now, would I do it, the answer to that would be no.'"

$68 million for a fucking trophy! He seems to have some regrets about that but doesn't say why. Either way he obviously did not notice or care about the amount he was spending at the time. Think of all the problems that could have been worked on with that type of funding. Poverty, Cancer, AIDS, Homelessness, Local/State Infrastructure, and Resource Development just to name the ones that come to mind first. But no, he had to waste it on a meaningless boat race.

Even the so-called philanthropists are no such thing. The amount they tend to spend is a pittance and if you actually pay attention, most of the problems they give funds to tend to be problems their own economic behaviors helped contribute to in the first place. Bill Gates is a good example of that. He's given to environmental groups in Africa but never acknowledges that some of the biggest polluters there are companies he owns significant stock in. That is without looking at the human rights records of those same companies. Here's a thought, if you own substantial interest in the companies that cause the problems change the fucking policies.

You're wealthy and you want to do something good that's wonderful but actually do something worthwhile without any ulterior motives. If you're filthy rich giving money or resources as a tax write-off or for positive PR is not philanthropy. It's just being more of a pampered over-privileged piece of shit.

Sorry, Buffalo

It may seem a little silly to apologize to an entire city especially over something I had no say in. However, I feel really bad for Buffalo, New York. They will be inheriting a truly horrible individual. Bishop Richard Malone has been reassigned to that unfortunate city. Being the meddling asshole that he is it does not matter whether you're Catholic or not he will be a pain in the ass regardless of your faith or lack of faith. He on occasion will pay lip service to social issues that are deserving of attention but he will NOT devote any time, effort, or resources to them. He will, however, routinely interfere in local and state politics and public policy. He will continue to oppose what should be seen as basic human rights. He will actively oppose, with tax free church funds, reproductive rights, women's rights, and homosexual rights. As for the poor, they're not going away so why waste time on them. Pedophilia? Malone never met a depraved child rapist he wouldn't defend and coddle.

Sorry, Buffalo. Though I'm glad this lying, hypocritical bastard will be leaving my state I do feel for you. Who knows, maybe the Catholics of your city will grow a collective spine and/or conscience and put put this piece of shit behind bars where he belongs.

Like most mainstream media the pieces below are rather sugar-coated but they do at least acknowledge that he was not universally liked and admired. You do have to read through quite a bit to find the brief references to his critics/criticism.

New England Cable News "End of an era in Maine, Bishop Malone leaves for NY"
Bangor Daily News "Maine Catholic Bishop Richard Malone appointed bishop of Buffalo"