Sunday, September 30, 2012

What Makes a "Fake"

That the Vatican has refuted the "scrap" of papyrus that seems to claim Jesus was married is not surprising in the least. The AP story in itself really isn't that interesting. What is worth thinking about is the manner in which the Vatican has sought to refute this potential bit of scripture, not that the Vatican alone suffers from such poor thinking skills and blatant double standards. The Vatican has effectively shown their hand. They not only pick and choose what standards to judge the claims of others when it suits their interests they consistently fail to hold themselves to any set standards.

This passage from the AP story is an excellent example:
"The absence of any reference to Jesus being married in historic documents 'seems more significant than the literal interpretation of a few expressions from the new text, which by my reading should be understood purely in a symbolic sense,' he wrote."

See how that works? When they do not like the potential interpretation they insist it is meant to be taken symbolically. Of course, when a more literal interpretation is favorable to their interests it is obvioulsy meant to be taken literally. They also tend to be selective when relying on "historic documents." They routinely gloss over the fact that there are no contemporary eyewitness accounts of Jesus or any authentic historical records from the time that even vaguely reference Jesus. They also avoid acknowledging that the few elements from the Christ narratives that can be checked against the established historical record have shown to be false.

I am by no means saying I accept that this Coptic scrap of scripture is not a fake. I honestly don't know and as far as i can tell most scholars in the field are still looking into it. In then end it really does not matter. Rather, it does not matter in regard to the "historicity" of Christ. It is a good example of how historically illiterate, incompetent, and hypocritical most religious institutions are. There have been numerous instances where there is ample proof that a particular "scrap" or relic is a hoax and yet the church most closely associated with it refuses to come out admit that it is a fraud. The Shroud of Turin is a good example. The Vatican was involved with the various test that have been conducted. They know it is a forgery but have never publicly conceded that it is.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

"I wish to propose for the reader's favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe in a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true."
Bertrand Russell
Skeptical Essays

The Snake as a Symbol

"Was the Snake in the Garden of Eden Satan?" It is potentially a very interesting story in terms of symbolism and the underpinning philosophical stances that early Judaism and other ancient religions may have taken. There are a variety of ways the storyline itself can be interpreted and then there are the individual components that can further be scrutinized.

Personally, I see only two meaningful interpretations coming from the overall story. In one view it clearly shows what an incompetent "father" the God of scripture is. If you put God in the role of father and Adam and Eve in the role of toddlers (having been recently created but showing the tentative ambulatory and curiosity level just beyond an infants) then most of the story that follows should horrify any responsible parent. The garden of Eden is essentially a "play-pen". Rather than making it safe God creates an environment that is rife with all sorts of potential hazards. He also changes the rules without any rhyme or reason. Not a smart thing to do with any child let alone toddlers. If you don't recall (or never read it to begin with) God initially tells the pair that they can eat anything they want, then amends it that they can eat all but the fruit of one particular tree, and then adds the fruit of a second tree as off limits. So when the snake show up they probably already had some doubts about what to go by. Think about the situation. Why not remove the trees if you thought they would cause problems? Also think about what the trees are suppose to represent. One of them was a source of "knowledge of good and evil." If these toddlers had no knowledge of right or wrong why would you put them in a situation where they would need such knowledge to make the proper decision? And how'd the snake get in, anyway? Bad parenting!

Then there is the snake itself. If it is Satan that would lead to a couple of questions right up front. Is Satan and independent agent with his/its own will and power or is he/it simply an errand boy doing God's dirty work? In the case of either answer it does not bode well for the God of Scripture or the believers who favor this version of the God concept. If independent then this cannot be viewed in monotheistic terms. You have essentially created two gods. God would not necessarily be all that mighty if he can be thwarted by an outside force. If an agent of God then there isn't much reason to be that concerned with Satan. it also makes God look pretty bad. He would be little better than a toddler prone to temper tantrums. God created the setting and rules that Adam and Eve had to operate within and then blamed them when there was no way they could mature successfully. God needlessly causes problems (sin) that would later need to be "solved" (people still "sin" so it really didn't work) in an equally disturbing way (Jesus crucifiction) later. So in terms of the symbolic story God is not only incompetent, God is also vindictive and sadistic.

Christian Nation?

When people ask whether this is a "Christian Nation" or state that it is they may have a tentative point. This is assuming that what they mean is that the majority of believers in the US happen to be Christian. That is true. The majority of religious citizens do identify as Christian. However, even this perspective on such a statement is highly misleading. Christianity, like all religions, is not unified. As I have pointed out before ("Shepherd of a Wayward Flock" March 12, 2012) there are at last count 33,000+ identifiable denominations/sects within Christianity. I fail to see how the phrase "Christian Nation" is useful as a description of our country.

Then there is the problem that what many really mean by this phrase is not related to comparative prevalence of Christianity in the US. Many are trying to assert that our country was founded through, by, and for Christianity. In this case the answer is a resounding NO. Christianity had little to do with our founding as a country unless you mean as a negative example. Many of the founding fathers, though religious themselves*, had seen first hand what terrible things can happen when you mix religion into politics. We were, in point of fact, intentionally founded as a secular nation. It is not an accident that there isn't a single reference to God or Christianity in the constitution any more than it is intentional that there are only two reference to religion in general. Both negate the notion of a Christian founding. Article VI includes, "...but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." And, of course, there is the 1st Amendment which does establish the essential principle of separation of church and state.

Simply having a majority of Christians does not alter the nature of our government or change our history. We can only be said to be a "Christian Nation" in the most narrow and superficial sense of the phrase.

Thinking Atheist recently put out a pretty good video that addresses this topic:

*Many were Deists. Most who like to talk about the founding father's faith or the country being Christian would be horrified at what the deists of the time thought about God and religion.

Not All Experiments are Equal

One of the bloggers at Patheos, Cross Examined's Bob Seidensticker, has decided to join an "experiment" being promoted by a Christian group who were inspired to start this venture by a philosophy paper. It is interesting to note that the primary organizer, Justin Brierley, erroneously attributes the paper. He states that it was authored by someone named Mortimer. It was not. "Praying to stop being an atheist" was by T.J. Mawson and was published in the International Journal of Religious Philosophy in 2010. It is utter crap. The "experiment" is a pretty good reflection of the incredibly high level of nonsense contained in Mawson's paper. It is far from being scientific. They are both riddled with assumptions and contradictions. For the sake of brevity I will stick with one each of the most blatant examples.

I'll start with the fact that the whole project relies almost entirely on a very large assumption: prayer works. The overwhelming majority of studies that have looked into whether prayer has an effect or not have reach the same negative conclusion. Prayer does not work. Not only does it not work there is no reason to believe that it can work. The only "evidence" advocates can come up with is anecdotal. Until a body of evidence emerges to support the claim that prayer works there is no basis from which Mawson or Brierley can draw any substantial conclusions.

Even setting aside such a fundamental flaw as the assumption that prayer workers there is another glaring defect in the project. It is an innate contradiction. It is not even remotely possible to run as an experiment. Mawson does make a few feeble attempts at getting around this but fails completely. The simple truth is that by definition an atheist cannot "pray." So there can be no misunderstanding, it should be pointed out what the actual definition of prayer is. According to the Penguin English Dictionary a prayer is, "a personal request, confession, or expression of praise or thanksgiving, addressed to God or a god." Think about it for a minute and then ask how is it possible to pray to entity you have no belief in. To further get a sense of just how ridiculous of a premise this is replace God with any other figure you do not have a belief in. It would end up sounding something like, "Of great Wizard of Oz please make me believe in the Wizard of Oz." Prayer cannot work even theoretically unless you already have a belief in its efficacy which would then require a belief in God. By definition anyone who genuinely prays cannot by definition also be an atheist. This is not an example of the "True Scotsman" fallacy since it is the established definitions that make it a contradiction. It is rather an example of trying to claim something along the lines of a square simultaneously being a circle. The conditions rather than the interpretation make it impossible to be reconciled.

So what's the point? I have no idea. At least, not when it comes to those atheists who have chosen to participate. It sounds like some are hoping to get a few Christians to finally concede that prayer doesn't work or to get them to stop pestering us about our supposed lack of understanding. I wouldn't hold my breath on either. Those who insist of prayer efficacy will find a way to blame us for their own failed notions. They always do. As for Brierley and his group, I have a sneaking suspicion that this is more about PR than any possible results. It would not surprise me if a few of the "atheist" participants are not in fact atheists. I have no reason to doubt Seidensticker but he can be duped and already gave a few hints that he has already been suckered. He makes a reference to Leah Libresco in his initial post on his joining the project that I find a bit foolish. She was not an atheist. Reading her early blog posts should make that point pretty well.

I will be following his updates on this project. I fail to see how it can be anything but  waste of time but I suppose it could be amusing if nothing else.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

"In a pluralistic society, no group, no matter how numerous, or powerful, has a right to prescribe a set of beliefs or a code of ethics for all."
Bishop James Armstrong
Address to United Methodist Church
Pheonix, AZ, 4 February 1975

Is there a spike in religious restrictions?

According to a recent post on the CNN Belief Blog there may be a rise in restrictions on religion. I don't buy it. At least, not in the US. A couple of the examples/areas cited in "Spike in religious restrictions in U.S. and world, Pew Center finds" actually seemed to indicate something quite different.

"The study does however take into account a 'number of reports involving people who were prevented from wearing religious attire, like beards, in the judicial settings and prison,' he said.
There were also more reported restrictions on zoning permits to expand or build religious centers."

To interpret the above as an indication of "restriction"* you would first have to make an assumption that indicates the opposite. Namely, you would have to have jumped to the conclusion that religion should get special treatment and/or should be allowed exceptions the rest of our institutions and organizations are not allowed. Are we not suppose to abide by rules, regulations, and laws regardless of our personal opinions and preferences? There is nothing that automatically indicates the above dress code and zoning rules is meant for religion alone. By the basic standards of society they are not being singled out or persecuted. If your company has decided you can't have a beard because it looks unprofessional, which I find offensive in terms of individual right, should a religious person be allowed to disregard it just because they are religious? No! If the rules or laws are unfair/unjust they should be challenged and hopefully eliminated. If they are not unfair or have sound reason for existing then everyone should abide by them. That means everyone!

The notion that we are restricting religion simply by not allowing them a special privilege or exception is ludicrous. This is just an example of how skewed society's perception is when it comes to religion.

*In all fairness, I should mention that part of the problem is due to previous standards of behavior. A rising level of "restriction" is true when compared to prior reports. That is not to say that they should continue to be viewed as actual restrictions. The fact that religion has gotten away with ignoring the rules by which the rest of us are expected to live does not make it right or acceptable. Pew does an excellent job in terms of social research. I am in no way trying to belittle or dismiss the work they do. The biases I occasionally find in their reports is merely a reflection of the norms of our society.

Is It Just "God rhetoric"?

"I will not take God out of my heart, I will not take God out of the public square, and I will not take it out of the platform of my party."

The first comment doesn't bother me in the least. Romney is free to believe whatever he wants. However, the second and third part I have major issues with. Insisting God belongs in public policy and/or politics is not acceptable. Whether it is simply a matter of rhetoric as Merica questions in "On campaign trail, Romney ratchets ups God rhetoric" or not it is still ample reason to distrust Romney. It still, at the very least, implies that he is willing to use a divisive topic like religion to get what he wants. It means that as a leader he will be intentionally divisive and manipulative right from the start.

Then again, if he is sincere he is on the edge of being a theocrat. That is even worse. Anyone who can justify policy/governance on what they subjectively believe God wants is a threat to our well-being and way of life. Either way Romney and all the others who are part of the religious right or pander to them scare the shit out of me. They should scare the shit out anyone who believes in freedom.

Do Gods Have Bachelor Parties?

Whether gods have bachelor parties is a more interesting and potentially amusing question than the one that's been popping up about whether Jesus ever changed his marital status. First off, it has the advantage of prompting slightly more accurate and realistic assumptions. Most people would probably assume you were joking and that you were referring to mythology even if you weren't being silly. Most of the early reports on the discovery of a papyrus fragment that purports to prove Jesus was married were rather light on details and anything resembling scrutiny. Within a few days more details started to emerge and a half-assed attempt at critical thinking.

A few of the more interesting pieces, though not necessarily that impressive either, include:
"Jesus' Wife Papyrus Authenticity Questioned By Scholars" Huffington Post (repost from AP)
"5 questions and answers about Jesus' 'wife'"CNN Belief Blog
"The Gnostic Noise Machine and the 'Wife' of Jesus UPDATED" God and the Machine blog on Patheos

Each piece has at least one or two half-way decent points but overall does not provide much in the way of context or insight. McDonald (God and the Machine) is at various points laughably ignorant and self-deluded. He tends toward being dismissive from a rather sexist perspective.

All fail to even acknowledge the first and biggest assumption that the whole thing is premised on: Jesus' Historicity. More accurately, Jesus' complete lack of historical basis. There is not a single verifiable fact about Jesus. The few aspects of the Jesus narratives that can be checked against the known historical record fail miserably. Basically, arguing about whether he was or was not married is about as useful as speculating whether Papa Smurf secretly had a fling with Hefty Smurf. Christ really is whatever any individual Christian or group of Christians want him to be. There are not set facts or even interpretations to go by.

As for the scrap of papyrus, even if it is proven to be "authentic" will have little real impact. If it is not a hoax it is a single fragment written three centuries after Christ is believed to have lived with no further corroboration. It would be a highly speculative piece of scripture, at best.

Misused and Abused: Miracle

The term miracle has a distinctly religious origin and use yet over the years its common usage has been altered. It seems that people generally still want it to mean something extraordinary and special. Its overuse takes away from its apparent intent. I do not believe in miracles at all but it is even more ridiculous of an idea now that it is so commonly applied.

According to Chambers 21st Century Dictionary:
"miracle" noun
1. an act or event that breaks the laws of nature, and is therefore thought to be caused by the intervention of God or another supernatural force.
2. colloquial a fortunate happening; an amazing event It’s a miracle you called round when you did.
3. colloquial an amazing example or achievement of something a miracle of modern technology. Also as adj miracle drug.
Derivative: work miracles to have an amazingly positive effect She’s worked miracles on him - he hardly drinks at all now.   [12c: French, from Latin miraculum, from mirari to be amazed at.]"

The first is what most people seem to want to imply but the second and third uses are what they usually mean. Even if it is the second or third use of the term that applies it is still more often than not misused and abused. Roughly 80% of the American population believes in Miracles. Many of those participating in the Pew research report not only believing in Miracles but insist they have experienced one either directly or through the story of a family member or close friend. The problem is that when you get the details they end up not being miracles, at least not in the first sense of the term. People will talk about 1 in a million type circumstances not bothering to realize that since our population is now over 7 billion that that is not such an impressive number anymore. People frequently talk about miraculous rescues and recoveries without giving nearly enough credit to the human activity involved or the likelihood of other non-divine circumstances playing a role. It should also be noted that these types of events happen so often to so many that by definition they are not really miracles.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

"It is sometimes said that science has nothing to do with morality. This is wrong. Science is the search for truth, the effort to understand the world; it involves the rejection of bias, of dogma, of revelation, but not the rejection of morality."
Linus Pauling

Jesus is.... amorphous

I have to admit I do tend to find it amusing when Christians smack each other around, metaphorically, about Jesus and the Gospels. Bethany Blakely has a few valid points in "Jesus, Taxes and Proof-Texting" but she subscribes to just as many fallacies. In the end her interpretation of Jesus and the scripture is no better or worse than Erika Christakis. The only reason I can see for this dispute at all is that Blakely is a conservative and finds the need to attack her liberal counterpart. There can be no substantial debate on the topic of Jesus or what makes a true Christian since it is so highly subjective and riddled with inconsistencies and outright contradictions. There is no "true" Jesus. Even if you start from the assumption that such an individual ever existed it would not change the fact that there are no verifiable "facts" about him. The only information that does exists was created for the purposes of promoting various religious ideas and doctrines. They are not biographical and do not adhere to anything resembling historical standards of research.

In the end, I fail to see why it should matter that much. Ryan is running for a political office not for a position among the clergy. Of course, it would also be nice if he remembered that.

Wrong Story

That the DNC initially left out "God" and "Jerusalem" should not have been a story at all seems to be lost in all the back and forth among the partisan windbags. Get Religion's post "Mea Culpa: DNC platform story was a big deal" seems to be as good a summary as any I've seen so far, which isn't saying much.

"So I pooh-poohed the idea that the editing of 'God' and 'Jerusalem' out of the Democratic National Convention platform was a big story. I wasn’t denying that the story of how religion and religious adherents are treated in the party was big — in fact, I stressed that I’d like to see more coverage of that. But I was wrong. It turned out that awkward efforts to tweak the platform — restoring “God” and “Jerusalem” — became one of the biggest news stories of the day."

Why? Why is reference to God necessary in a political platform? Jerusalem I understand somewhat since it is related to a sovereign nations right to choose its own capitol (there is great deal of political baggage that comes with this one). But God? I fail to see the practical purpose. The majority of Americans are believers, but so what. Are they somehow going to forget they believe in God if it isn't rammed into every aspect of public life? It also seems a bit divisive. Setting aside that not everyone believes in God, not everyone views God the same way. Making it an issue inevitably leads to the need to define what is meant and that can only lead to divisions when it comes to such a subjective personal topic.

This brings up an aspect of the story that does not seem to have gotten much attention. The problem amending the platform led to was not directly related to "God" or "Jerusalem." Conservative nut-bags like those at Fox were practically salivating over the chance to claim that democrats were "booing God" despite the fact that they did no such thing. The real cause of derision was the manner in which the amendment was made. Party officials called for a voice vote to pass the amendment. They did not get the approval they apparently assumed they would get. After calling for a voice vote three times the party representative falsely claimed the amendment passed. It was then that the delegates began booing. Had the topic of the vote been anything else I have no doubts that Fox would be cheering on the delegates and crowing about a rift between the members and the leaders.

Basically, the real story was about partisan politics using religion to beat each other up. Yet another reason religion should never be injecting into politics, it degrades both.

Misused and Abused: Ockham's Razor

Over the past decade or so more and more contemporary theologians and apologists have attempted to co-opt Ockham's Razor. Even though it is true that William Ockham was himself a theologian, the principle that carries his name is now being used in ways that pervert and undermine his important contribution to critical thinking. Many of these contemporary theists do not seem to grasp the basic premise of Ockham's Razor. Quite a few seem to have the impression that it amounts to the "simplest" explanation being the correct one. They then misapply even this false characterization.

It should be noted the the razor only comes into play when there are two or more potentially valid explanations or hypotheses. In other words, each idea or explanation should be supported before they can be seen as competing with each other. Once that is established the razor is meant to help weed out the lesser of the possible explanations. The principle is that the explanation that contains the fewest assumptions (unproven or unprovable elements) is more likely to be the correct one. It is not, in the end, about being the simplest. It has far more to do with being careful not to introduce unnecessary and unprovable components into an argument/explanation. Many fail to adhere to the various caveats contained within Ockham's Razor. They tend to start with a single explanation in mind not a set of potential ones and then dismiss that the razor is about what is likely to be correct not a definitive conclusion.

One of the most irritating misapplications that keeps cropping up is the notion that the God concept is supported by the razor as an explanation for existence. I will admit up front that I am simplifying this argument to some degree but the basics are accurate to what has been claimed by many apologists and theologians. It has been insisted that scientists have made more assumption about how the universe or existence (these are not actually the same thing but they don't seem to get that either) came to be. By their way of thinking that automatically means that since God's intervention is the simpler explanation then it must be correct. It is interesting to observe, by their own low standards they have essentially proven them selves wrong. If you "assume"* that the universe can self create it would be the explanation with the fewer assumptions. God would have to self-create then actively create the universe. That means an extra step. How would that qualify as fewer assumptions? I also don't see why it can be assumed by them that God can self-create but not even concede the possibility that the universe could do so.

*This does not really qualify as an assumption since a wide variety of observations, experiments, mathematical models, etc. demonstrate that it is quite possible for the universe to self-create


Unfortunately, misogyny* still exists. That it exists and should not is about the only thing that Rebecca Hamilton gets right in her Public Catholic post "The Atheist Boys Club and Online Misogyny as Sport." She gets so many things blatantly wrong that I will have to stick to just a few.

The implication in the title and throughout this short piece is pretty clear: Atheists as a whole are prone to sexism. Actually, that is a blatant lie. Atheists seem to have a far better record on civil rights as a whole and specifically on gender issues than virtually any other group that can be identified. This is not to imply that we should be patting ourselves on the back. There are still sexist individuals among us and we should be dealing with that. Hamilton also never bothers to get into what might contribute to an individual developing a sexist mind-set. There is nothing in atheism that would lead to or maintain such a view. This failure of insight is particularly irksome considering that she is Catholic. You know, that church who's hierarchy recently found it necessary to attack Girl Scouts and Nuns. The same church that steadfastly refuses to even consider ordaining women as priests. How is that not institutionalized sexism? Atheism has never done that.

There is, of course, what seems to have sparked her willfully ignorant rant and serves as the whole basis for her bogus claims. Hamilton sites two female bloggers as proof without ever looking much further. Even though I do not agree with Jen McCreight's manner of dealing with the sexism she has had to put up with I do respect her. I have read Blag Hag and will miss her contributions there. Hamilton's use of this situation is rather disingenuous. There have been a variety of other atheist bloggers who have written in support of her and in opposition to sexism in any form. One of the loudest and most frequent defenders of civil rights and gender equality has and continues to be PZ Myers, a man. Hamilton also lamely attempts to use Leah Libresco, "Leah Libresco, who blogs at Unequally Yoked and bills herself the 'geeky convert' wrote a fascinating post last week about online misogyny from the atheist perspective." Leah is not and never was an atheist. Her "conversion" was no such thing. As I have commented in a previous post, I read her blog when it was in the atheist section of Patheos and never understood why it was there. Even though she did seem to have some doubts that is not the same as outright disbelief in God. Basically, she was not writing on sexism from an "atheist perspective." If Hamilton had any interest in such a perspective she could have easily found any number of female bloggers. How about Greta Christina? No, that would not serve the purpose of painting all atheist as sexist. Back in 2008 Greta wrote, "And yet I'm finding that I feel more at home -- more welcomed, more valued, more truly understood -- as a queer in the atheist community than I do as an atheist in the queer community." What? She, according to her post "Being an Atheist in the Queer Community", felt welcome in our community as a lesbian (a female homosexual)? See how easy it is to use a single example.

It is also rather telling that she only briefly speaks about atheists. Just enough to smear us and then moves on to talk about society and "misogyny" in general terms. Apparently she was confident that the association would carry on without question. She ends with a list of what "Christians" should not do. Catch that? Not people, citizens, or human beings. Apparently, the rest of us don't really matter. The list is still worth noting, though. First on the list is "Do not engage in misogynist attacks against women." Does this mean Hamilton will now be compelled to oppose all Catholic bishops? The second on the list, "Do not go to websites that do this," is also rather convenient in light of the fact that most of her examples come from atheist or atheist associated sites. It would be difficult for people reading her post to figure out that she is a bigoted hypocritical lying asshole if they follow her advice.

*Misogyny is an extreme form of sexism but is not actually a synonym for it. In the first place, sexism can be aimed at men as well as women where as misogyny is specific to women. Also, as horrible as sexism (no matter who it's aimed at) misogyny is far worse. It goes far beyond discrimination and harassment. It frequently involves physical abuse and even murder.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

"All religions promise a reward for excellences of the will or heart, but none for excellences of the head or understanding."
Arthur Schopenhauer
The World as Will and Idea

"Death of God"

The "Death of God" both as a phrase and as theological movement has always baffled me. It's complete nonsense whether you are a believer or a non-believer. If God, defined as the supreme being who is both perfect and all powerful, exists such an entity cannot die. An incarnation of perfection would in theory be eternal by definition. If you don't believe in God then death is also not a possibility. You cannot die if you never existed in the first place. And, yes, I have heard numerous individuals comment along the same lines and be criticized for it. Most critiques are along the lines that that way of thinking is too literal. Is it really? Even symbolically the phrase has no real meaning and it still translates poorly into a theological movement.

The moment you moved towards a more symbolic frame you are essentially conceding, whether you admit it or not, that God is purely conceptual. From this perspective I would argue that "death" is not possible. Once introduced, concepts are virtually impossible to completely eliminate. Concepts can be modified and altered but are rarely eradicated. The fact that people still think and talk about God proves that the concept is still "alive." So long as even a tiny fraction of the population are aware of a version of the concept it will not cease to exist.

I have routinely come across references or pieces on the topic over the past few decades and expect that I will continue to run into them for the foreseeable future. The most recent piece that prompted me to comment was a Edges of Faith post on Patheos, "The Foolish Death of God"

Moses: More than Myth?

The simple answer is no. Like many of the figures found in the Bible he cannot be found anywhere outside of scripture. Despite bogus claims to the contrary there is no historical evidence for his existence. But, as many are aware, life is not always that simple. As a legendary figure Moses has had a huge impact on society throughout history. For that reason I was not surprised to find Moses listed in the current special issue of Time's The 100 Most Influential People Of All Time.

I tend to read any number of their special editions despite having cancelled my subscription years ago. Magazines like Time, Newsweek, etc.. really are not about history or anything resembling research. They are pop-culture magazines. Douglas Brinkley, as an editor for the issue, implies as much in the introduction:
      "But how do you determine that Louis Armstrong is more significant than Duke Ellington? Or that Steve Jobs is more revolutionary than Bill Gates? The answer is, gut instinct and a belly full of hubris. While such lists serve no essential high purpose and can sometimes distort the past, they're great fun to compile - and worth doing."
With that in mind I am willing to cut them some slack on being oversimplified and in some instances borderline erroneous. It is fun to read and is not a bad place to start. I encourage people to read them as a way to stumble across individuals (or in the case of other issues; events, concepts, etc.) you may not have been aware of previously. Then find other sources on any you find interesting enough to bother with.

In regard to Moses, there were a few thing that annoyed me enough to further comment on. As I have already stated, there is no factual basis for his existence. The brief write-up implies the exact opposite. It portrays him in a way that would suggest to an uninformed reader that not only was he real but that we know a great deal about him. It is also notable that he is not in the "Beacons of the Spirit" section despite being an expressly religious figure. Instead Time chose to put him in the "Leaders of the People" section.

This leads into my second major issue with the Moses figure. He was not a good leader! Suggesting he was sets up a horrible model for leadership. It isn't just that, according to scripture, he was reluctant. he was also somewhat incompetent and little more than a puppet. If you actually read the Bible he generally did not accomplish anything on his own. You could even argue that he actually did not accomplish anything. Basically, it was God using him as a proxy. God sent the Jews into bondage and it was through God's power/manipulations that they were freed again (in point of fact there was no mass influx or exodus of Jewish slaves in Egypt). Whenever God leaves the stage Moses loses control. He couldn't lead himself let alone groups of people. Yet, he is included as a leader of people.

Dear hoopoe, welcome! You will be our guide...

I like birds. No, I'm not turning into Bubba Gump. I thought I'd bring up another religious based book that I have read and found very interesting. "Dear hoopoe, welcome! You will be our guide;..." is the opening line to Farrid Ud-Din Attar's The Conference of the Birds. I have heard over and over how beautifully written scriptures tend to be and that they are worth reading just for literary elements. Personally, I have have never found that to be true of the Bible or of the Qur'an. They just don't impress me on any level. However, The Conference of the Birds I will state is a literary masterpiece. Even though it is not technically scripture it serves a similar purpose.

I may disagree with its religious meaning but the structure is quite interesting and it does manage to introduce a number of philosophical ideas and questions as well as making some rather insightful social commentaries. Like many allegories it makes use of animals, in this case birds. The "conference" takes place as the birds embark on a pilgrimage. In places the structure varies and the conversation gets a little choppy but overall it is well worth reading.

Having been translated from Persian and in some instances Persian and Arabic I cannot be sure of the degree to which editions/translations may vary. Personally, I have only read one translation:

Attar, Farid Ud-Din.  The Conference of the Birds. Trans. Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis. New York: Penguin, 1984.

Liberal Disconnect on Religion

The September 1st edition of MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry show provided yet another example of where liberal religious perspectives on faith are just as ridiculous, biased, and ill informed as conservatives. On a segment focused on Romney's Religious beliefs within the first minute or so Harris-Perry contradicted herself,
“[45 seconds] I do think certain things are off limits, making fun of magic under wear or odd beliefs.  I mean religion is quirky so lets put that aside … [1:05 seconds] and ultimately how his religious beliefs might influence how he wants to govern…” Huh? So, it's not okay to talk about the individual beliefs that some might find silly within the official doctrine of a given faith but you can talk about the that faith in the broadest terms possible? How does that work? What kind of meaningful analysis can you do with no details? I also find the use of "quirky" to be  a bit cowardly. There are plenty of aspects of religion that are intolerant, ignorant, authoritarian, and destructive. Shrug that off as "quirky" is, quite frankly, a despicable self-serving dodge.

She goes on to further show how truly disconnected this perspective is. She talks about the fact that official doctrine of the Mormon church, or as they prefer Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, endorsed racism right up into the early 1980s without mentioning the origins of that doctrine. It stems from passages within the Book of Mormon. It claims that the dark skin of some was to set them apart as defiant of scriptural revelation and therefore evil. Their holy book sanctions racism. The manner in which those revelations were made would be comical if they did not have such horrible effects. Most rational people should view the creation of the Book of Mormon itself as "silly" yet the faith is built on it. How is that not relevant?

"True Father" is dead, Long live "True Father"

Sun Myung Moon died September 3rd at age 92. In light of a couple millenia of religious history, this will not be the end of the "Moonies." I hope I'm wrong but I seriously doubt it. Some may wonder why it matters at all. After all, Moonies are a minority religion. It matters because of the vast resources Moon accrued and his blatant interference in politics here in the US and around the world. If you want a few more nightmares do some research on the now deceased Moon and the religion he created that will live on for at least the next generation or two.

A few pieces on his demise:

"Rev. Moon, religious and political leader, dies in South Korea at 92" CNN Belief Blog

"'Moonies' founder Sun Myung Moon dies" BBC

"Sun Myung Moon dies at 92; led controversial Unification Church" LA Times

Saturday, September 1, 2012

"The supernatural is a failure of human imagination and an insult to the majesty of the real."
Edward Abbey
Confessions of a Barbarian

There's No God in My Genome

James McGrath doesn't seem to understand that even brilliant people can have foolish ideas. His whole piece, "The God of the Bible and the Genome," is centered around the notion that faith must be reasonable since a notable scientist like Francis Collins thinks it is. McGrath is enamored of a particular quotation of Collins, "The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. He can be worshipped in the cathedral or the laboratory."

There are two main problems with McGrath's approach. First off, it is a common and particularly idiotic logical fallacy* that he is operating from, Argument form Authority. Just because Collins is well versed in the science of genetics does not mean he knows what he is talking about when comes to other topics. An individual can be an expert in more than one field and still be completely ignorant in any number of others.

Put bluntly, the other problem is that it is a steamy pile of bullshit. There is nothing in the genome that implicates the necessity for a God. The quote itself is quite revealing. It clearly shows how disconnected Collins' ability as a scientist in the field of genetics is from his personal religious beliefs. Not only is there nothing in science to "worship" the very idea is contradictory. Science is a continuous process of investigation. If you are glorifying science you are actively allowing bias to taint and therefore negate the process.

For the umteenth time, Science and Religion are not compatible. People can reconcile them within their own minds but that does not make the institutions of Science and Religion any less the polar opposite that they are.

*I have made numerous references in the past to logical fallacies. If you're not familiar with many of them the New England Skeptical Society has a pretty good summary of the 20 most common fallacies on their SGU site.

So, Jesus Walks into a Sake Bar and....

Hearing about Jesus' life in Japan sounds like a joke but is it really that much more far fetched than what the average Christian believes about Jesus? I'm sure any number of Christians will ridicule the idea without every stopping to think about what they accept as fact about the Jesus narratives. What's sillier: a guy performing miracles and rising from the dead or a preacher migrating to Japan to become a rice farmer and raising a family?

At least the Japanese fairy tale has a happy ending.

Is Opposing GLBT Behavior “Hate”?

"Is Opposing GLBT Behavior 'Hate'?" It is an interesting question and far more nuanced and complex then you might think at first glance. It's rather unusual that I agree with the Theoblogy blog but in this instance I think Terry Jones was on the right track. There are a few points he doesn't get to in his short post that I feel should be made. Though there are many religious individual who oppose equal rights for the LGBT community I don't think they are all "hateful." I think they are all wrong, and are all ignorant hypocritical fools but that's not the same thing.

From my perspective, in order to hate someone you have to want them to come to harm. You don't necessarily have to want to do it yourself but just have a desire to see that individual(s) hurt. I've met quite a few religious people who oppose gay rights and the rights of various other minority groups but don't actually want them to be harmed. They don't realize that denying people the same rights you take for granted is a form of harm. They are not hateful. They're just horribly wrong. They should be, when possible, brought to see reason or else opposed. There is nothing wrong with having some empathy for them since most are well intentioned but their views do not need to be respected or valued. That does not mean disrespecting the individual who holds those views. It is a fine line but it is there. It may seem to be a bit contradictory but it is possible to confront and oppose people you care about.

Another Rand Wielding Moron

The implication that Ayn Rand was a selfish bitch is pretty much the only thing Reverend Chris Glasser gets right in "Ayn Rand was Consistent." There are so many ludicrously false ideas in this short piece it is hard to know where to start. Since I tend to pay close attention to terminology, I suppose that is the most logical place to start. Glasser's grasp on definitions is about as weak as his ability to think critically. He seems to believe that "individualist" is a synonym for "selfish." Though it is true that taking individuality to an extreme will lead to selfishness that is not a given. With that false equivalent he sets about creating another one. He apparently has it set in his mind that atheists by their nature should be extreme individualists, AKA selfish. This is the whole basis of his claim that Ayn Rand was consistent. I also see no basis of how a person's lack of belief on a god or gods plays any role whether individuality or community is of greater importance. Basically, his premise is complete crap and it only gets worse.

The idea that "belief in either God or spirituality goes hand in hand with collectivism" is debatable. I'm guessing he's never bothered trying to speak with any mystics or religious hermits. It is nice that he left out another favorite false equivalence among right wing bigots: Communism = Atheism. The very next paragraph starts with a line that leaves very little to debate: "In biblical understanding, not even God is an individualist."
What "biblical understanding"? Scholars of scripture routinely debate what version/translations best represent the bible let alone what the scriptures actually mean. There is no universal understanding of it, period. As for God, how is the God of the Bible not the ultimate individual? God never consults anyone or acts in accord with anyone else. God isn't part of a community but rather the ruler of a community he alternately abuses, ignores, or neglects. The God of scripture is also not much of a role model considering on more than one occasion he orders or commits genocide.

This leads to the idea that collectivism is always such a wonderful thing. "God treats us collectively: if one sinned, all are collectively responsible in the Old Testament; in the New Testament God makes rain and sunshine fall on the just and the unjust." Obviously, the good reverend has no problem with the idea that Noah's flood senselessly drowned countless innocent people. It's in the Bible, so how could it be wrong?. Yet, he talks about global suffering today. Applying the same attitude it should be okay to go into any country with a leader we dislike, say Syria, and massacre not only the leader and his followers but all the citizens of that nation. Does he really think that is okay?

What is his conclusion to this muddled garbage? "Something else I am NOT saying: I am not saying that Christians who claim individualism over collectivism are not Christian. I am saying they are inconsistent"
Assuming he was even vaguely correct about his claim I would have to favor being inconsistent. The reverends notion of  being "consistent" leads to justifying all manner of heinous acts and then revels in it.

Titles Alone II

Reading the Bible as Reason Not Revelation 

 Redefining and coopting terms doesn't make something true.

Friar Suggests Teens Seduce Priests In A Lot Of Sex Abuse Cases

 Wow! There are no explicatives strong enough for this piece of shit!

 The End of Compassionate Conservatism? Why Jesus and Today's GOP Don't Mix

End? When did it begin?