Sunday, October 28, 2012

Not Hateful but Still Harmful

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

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

Saturday, October 27, 2012

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

Confession of a Former Christus-phile

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

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

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

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

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

Lying for "Values"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Respect or Not to Respect

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

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

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

Short and to the point.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

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

Are Weak Allies Better Than No Allies?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Religious Reading without Much Else

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

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

"May you live in interesting times."

"May you live in interesting times," is purported to be an ancient Chinese proverb/curse. It immediately popped into my head as I read, "But I haven’t given up on the Bible because I think that Christianity without the Bible is uninteresting. To put it in the positive, the Bible keeps Christianity interesting." Actually, the answer to Jones' Theoblogy post "Why I Haven’t Given Up on the Bible" I would put forward is more blunt. He doesn't give up on it because he can't. It is the same reason virtually all Christian sect/denominations are stuck with the Bible (or at least the New Testament) whether they like it or not. Jesus Christ, for whom the religion is named and supposedly founded, does not exist outside scripture. The Bible is also the source from which all Christianity draws it authority and justifies its doctrines.

Jones' conclusion seems to be more about glossing over the problems he notes about the Bible rather than any real thinking on the matter. It also demonstrates not only his own ignorance but that of many Christians.
"I’m not saying that you’re not a Christian if you’ve abandoned the Bible. Constitutive of Christianity is faith in Jesus, not commitment to the Bible — simply the early church confession, 'Jesus is Lord!' suffices for faith." Since the New testament is part of the Christian Bible and the Christ narratives are contained in the New Testament it is quite fair to say if you don't accept the Bible, to some degree, you are not in fact not a "Christian." It is, of course, possible to continue believing in many of the values and principles Christians automatically associate with Jesus Christ apart from the Religion. They were never uniquely or originally "Christian" to begin with so there really is no reason to attach them to a mythical figure or a "faith" of any type. No horror riddled baggage is required for a moral life.

I'm not sure if Mr. Jones has ever come across the proverb or not but I find it does fit his take on the Bible quite nicely. An ambiguous and easily misunderstood curse that can easily be spun to fit whatever your preferred interpretation might be. In other words, the essence of most scriptures.

Note: Theoblogy is one of the blogs listed on the Top 200 Church Blogs. I have commented on his posts previously.

"Saviors" in Literature

My preference is for the portrait(s) of saviors and/or prophets found in literature over those found in scripture probably has a lot to do with the fact that I am an atheist. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that even many believers find the literary take on such figures to be both more interesting and enjoyable, or would if they have not read this type of literature*. I have read quite a few novels and short stories in this area and have liked virtually everything I have come across. Other than the presence of a savior/prophet figure(s) there is a wide variation among them. I may at some point in the future recommend other works but for now I would like to recommend three novels in particular.

Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Idiot.

Rudolfo Anaya's Jalamanta: A Message From The Desert.

Christopher Moore's Lamb: The Gospel According to Bif, Christ's Childhood Pal.

I have listed them in order of publication since I did not, could not, list them in order of preference. Each work is quite different in style and theme and each is wonderful in a variety of ways. I have also intentionally left out any description. I suggest that anyone interested randomly choose one and start reading. If you want to share what your reaction is I'd love to hear it. I'd also add that whether you end up liking any of these novels each author is well worth reading further works. The above are not necessarily my favorite work by that respective author.

*The works found in "Christian Inspired", "Christian Fiction", or similarly labeled sections of book stores does not count. From what I've managed to read of that "genre" it is all mindless homogenous crap. They all seem to use the same tired techniques. The elements (especially plot and character) are unimaginative and uninspiring. How anyone can tell one from another is beyond me. It is just bad writing.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

"Wandering in a vast forest at night, I have only a faint light to guide me. A stranger appears and says to me: 'My friend, you should blow out your candle in order to find your way more clearly.' This stranger is a theologian."

This Could Be Your Brain on Religion

Religion can definitely turn a person's brain into tapioca. A recent post by Roger E. Olson could certainly be used as exhibit A on this assertion. "Reasons for Believing the Bible is God’s Word" is equal parts confusing, contradictory, and delusional. Better than half of the post seems to confirm reasons not accept the Bible as the word of God. The little tid bits that Olson seems to think pass as reasons apply a warped sense of logic that is so tortured it would make the Marquis de Sade blush. Then there is his conclusion:

"Having said all that, I will go on to say that there is a vast difference between the Bible and other      so-called “holy books.” The difference between the Bible and others book people claim to be inspired is a difference in kind, not just in degree. The Bible only is supernaturally inspired and authoritative for Christian belief (doctrine). Other books for which people make that (or similar) claim are, in opinion, unworthy of it as they contain not only errors but simple nonsense. Of course, I can’t prove that to their adherents, but to anyone open-minded enough to investigate them objectively, their lacking the normative dignity of the Bible is easy to show. That is the role of apologetics—not to prove the Bible is the Word of God (let alone inerrant) but to show its superiority to competitors. Emil Brunner called this “eristics”—the task of comparing world views with the aim of showing that Christianity (and I would add the Bible) is superior in addressing the human condition and revealing God’s solution."

Wow! So many words and phrases raced through my head as I read this last paragraph I could hardly latch on to any of them. If there were a prize for blatant projections, double standards, faulty logic, delusions, or just being bat-shit crazy Olson would be the top contender. If nothing else, he serves well as a cautionary tale about what can happen to an individual who never questions or scrutinizes what they believe.

Deceit by Headline

Once again, "secularism" is not a synonym for "atheism", "irreligion", or any other term that has to do with a lack of religious belief. It is notable that the initial headline that appears on the main page of Huffington Post's religious section, "Is This The Secular But Spiritual Person's Church?," changes to "Unitarian Universalists See Chance For Growth In Growth Of Secularism" when you actually go to the piece. Notice the discrepancy and its implications.

It is yet another example of the pervasive bias and distortion of what secularism actually is. Secularism in no way infringes on the right of an individual to believe what they want. Though it is true that among secularists, non religious (not necessarily atheists) make up the majority it does not mean that religious people cannot be secularists. Many are. The person who leads Americans United for Separation of Church and State, one of the most prominent secularist groups, is the Reverend Barry Lynn. That one particular denomination finds secularism useful to them is not really that significant in and of itself. It is interesting and in some ways hopeful but still cannot change the basic meaning of Secularism.

For the record, Unitarian Universalists are no more unified than any other denomination. Overall, they are fairly liberal in their outlook but they do vary within that framework. I have met UU members who are agnostics and atheists and others who believe in God as wholeheartedly as any other Christian.

One-Size-Fits-All Politics

"Atheists should not be organizing as a political party" is bullshit! This is not to say that there are not any valid points made in the piece or that there aren't a few difficulties involved in organizing atheists into a political party. There are. However, most of the reasons given in this short article and that have been used since the National Atheist Party first started forming (since it isn't even two years old yet it is still a work in progress) are at best superficial and hypocritical.

One of the main arguments is based on the false assumption that a political party must meet all the needs and interests of every constituent. What political party has ever managed such a thing? It is not possible. That atheists tend to be very individualistic and very diverse does not necessarily loan itself to large scale organizing but that does not mean it can't be done or that the attempt is not worthwhile. The notion that we should not try, as far as I'm concerned, is only one step removed from insisting that we "shut up" and "stay in the closet."

That this piece was written by an atheist does not make it any better or excusable. In some ways it makes it more disappointing and irritating especially since it is apparent that they really did not bother to look into the NAP before making up their mind. A few of the discussion questions used display a lack of understanding regarding the party. For example, "Would you vote for a poorly qualified candidate simply because he or she is an Atheist?" What? Why would any intelligent person vote for a poorly qualified candidate? That is not what the NAP is about or for. In fact, currently the NAP cannot run or endorse candidates. It's non-profit status is based on issue advocacy. Eventually, the goal is to upgrade its status but simply running a candidate because they are atheist is not among its goals and does not represent its principles.

Another such question betrayed the author's (and the atheist/freethought group he's associated with) lack of knowledge of the US' political landscape. "What would we feel about a 'Natioanl Christian Party?'" I'm not sure how feelings have any value when it comes to reality? Whether we like it or not there is a national Christian party. They may not use that name but that does not change their purpose or goals. The grossly misnamed Constitution Party has been around for a while and they do want to turn the US into a Christian theocracy. On that note, I would point out that unlike a "Christian" party (or any other religious based party) the NAP would not come in conflict with separation of church and state.

It is also important to point out that despite our many differences there do seem to be a number of issues and principles that the majority of atheists do share. Most us are supportive of separation of church and state, free speech, and civil rights among others. Each of those alone is well worth fighting for and therefore organizing around. Ultimately, the goal is provide atheists with more of a voice in local, state, and national politics. That alone is worth the attempt.

Note: for the sake of disclosure I feel obligated to point out that I am a member of NAP and am also on one of its committees.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

"That is all religion is - some principle you believe in... man has accomplished far more miracles than the God he invented. What a tragedy it is to invent a God and then suffer to keep him King"
Rod Steiger

This Mass Certainly Made Me Red

"Six of the nine Supreme Court justices attended the annual Red Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington on Sunday. The event’s speakers spoke about using faith in decision-making but largely stayed away from the controversial issues the court will face in the coming months."

What the fuck!? The Supreme Court Justices, the men and women who are charged with defending and upholding the very foundation of our government, The Constitution, are being encourage to defile one of its most important principles and that is not "controversial"? Despite claims to the contrary from ignorant assholes separation of church and state is not a myth. It is one of the cornerstones of our democracy. Dan Merica's failure to comprehend something that basic is truly astounding. "Record number of justices attend Red Mass" is nothing to crow about. It's very purpose is despicable. I am not saying anything about people's personal beliefs or their right to believe whatever they choose. This mass has nothing to do with religious freedom or with spirituality for that matter. It's goals are political! It has always been about lobbying to those in power.

"strive to be instruments of a new evangelization." That is what this is all about. Turning our democracy into tyrrany with our elected officials serving as instruments of religion. Religions, in case you had not noticed, are not democratic in any way. They are authoritarian. They are the antithesis of democracy. That so many have attended without so much as a second thought is shameful.

Top 200 Church Blogs

Church Relevance has put out a listing of top church blogs. It is fairly interesting. Some I am already familiar with since I routinely read them (some appear on Huffington Post and/or Patheos). Others I have heard of but have not gotten around to perusing them and many more that I have never come across in any way. It will take some time but I intend to explore them all.

I am not certain whether I will bother commenting on them or not, assuming I have not already. I will refrain from doing so before having read at least six or more posts. I feel it is only fair to withhold judgement before reading enough to have established what the blog is really like. We are all prone to lapses in reasoning. Bad Catholic, #12 on the list, is a good example. The first few post I read infuriated me. I wanted to completely skewer that ignorant fucker but didn't since at that point I had only read a few posts. Yup, I have continued to read him and can state with confidence that he is an incredibly ignorant, bigoted, moronic asshole. Since he is on the list I may find the need to expound on why I find him to be such a waste of human flesh.

Simple Contradiction or Oxymoron?

I can't seem to make up my mind whether Beal's HuffPo piece, "BibliFact Roundup: Conventional Snippets of Uplift and Hope," is just another religious based contradiction or an oxymoron. The sticking point is that within a fictional work you can still have facts. Within the Harry Potter stories, for example, that Potter was attacked and given a scar on his head would be considered a "fact." Beal seems to be relying rather heavily on this somewhat counter-intuitive approach. There are, of course, other problems with his thinking.

"As we make our way toward the 2012 elections, many feel tossed to and fro by often contradicting claims about what the Bible says on this or that political issue. Most people just don't know the Bible well enough to say whether these claims are right, wrong, correct, incorrect or a matter of interpretation. How can we keep political Biblespeak honest? Inspired by, BibliFact roundups aim to do just that."

Actually, as long as the passage being presented exists in one translation/version of the bible or anothernit really can't be "wrong"  or "incorrect" since the whole thing is dependent on "interpretation" to some degree. He inadvertently makes the point himself. 4 out of the 6 claims he exams are evaluated as "yes, but" which means they exist as quoted but are open to interpretation. He implies that this will be the first in a series of biblical fact checking. I am interested in seeing whether he keeps up with it and how he will choose t interpet further examples. That is yet another flaw in the basic premise. It is not any where near an object view but rather is his preferred interpretation of specific passages. That is not "fact checking." I'm leaning towards "BibliFact" being an oxymoron but I'll freely admit that is due to my own bias.