Friday, November 30, 2012

A Dozen Christmas Specials

It has become somewhat of a tradition that every year towards the end of November or beginning of December I buy a Christmas album or video. My taste is a bit eclectic. Some of my favorites are fun for the whole family while others are definitely not meant for kids. Perhaps in a another post I'll list some of my favorite music but in this one I'm focusing on the videos. Below is a list of some of my favorites. They are in alphabetical order since I don't think I could rank them any other way.

Black Adder Christmas Carol

A Christmas Story

Emmett Otter's Jug Band Christmas

Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank

Muppet Christmas Carol

Muppet Family Christmas

Robbie the Reindeer

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

White Christmas

Wish for Wings That Work

Year Without a Santa Claus

There are, of course, plenty of other excellent Christmas specials. These happen to be the ones that I find the need to watch if not every year at least every other. If it isn't obvious from the list I love Jim Henson and the Muppets. I also enjoy those specials that mix nostalgia and humor. Rankin and Bass are always fun as are a healthy dose of crooners and cheesy fun.

Evangelical Ceasfire of Sorts

In a recent blog post Mark Silk has commented on Richard Stearns apparent concession in the "Culture War." I emphasize apparent since it is not uncommon for various religious leaders to say one thing and then behave in a completely contradictory manner. Even if Stearns means what he says it will probably not make much of a difference. Others will continue to fight their self-imposed bogus "war."

What I find far more about such comments is how grandiose, absurd, and self-deluded they are. The theists who either participate in or tacitly accept this culture war never see how well it reveals their own foolishness.
Take for example the bit he quotes from Stearns' HuffPo piece:
"As this cultural shift has occurred, many Christians have reacted in frustration. We have fought to place the Ten Commandments in courtrooms and Christmas crèches outside town halls. We have sued over public prayers and crosses in state parks. One court recently weighed in on whether cheerleaders at a Texas school should be allowed to post Bible verses on their banners."

Neither men seem to ever question why such legal fights were seen as necessary to in the first place. Is God the supreme being or not? Why would the "Almighty" need puny mortals fight his battles for him? Why would a true Christian need any external support for their faith? Personally, I've always seen theists need to create and then fight a "culture war" as a sign of how truly pathetic religion is. It cannot survive on its own so it has to constantly find ways of entangling itself with other institutions (like Government and Education). It has always been that way.

I'll be surprised if Stearns doesn't revert to some degree to insinuating faith into everything else, which is the real struggle that is taking place. It doesn't hurt that the bogus "culture war" is an excellent source for fundraising.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Pope's "Research"

Apparently, the Pope has a new book out that according to a CNN story "debunks several myths about how the nativity unfolded." That he is admitting to some of the various false notions surrounding the Jesus narratives is not that impressive when you consider that every point mentioned in the piece has long been recognized as mythical/folkloric elements real scholars. The overwhelming majority of scriptural scholars, many of them believers, reached consensus on a number of these myths decades ago. Most of the details that have been "debunked" don't really matter. The overall purpose of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus regardless of the day and/or year he is supposed to have been born. Going by scripture it is almost certain that Jesus was not born in the month of December (by adjusting to modern calendars). It has also long been acknowledged that the discrepancies in the Bible make it impossible to claim any specific year for Jesus' birth. It is estimated to fall within a 10-12 year time-frame, depending on which version, translation, and interpretations are used.

As far as I can tell all Ratzinger has done is repackage settled scholarship. I won't be looking to get a copy of this book.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

"You can choose a ready guide
In some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide
You still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears
And kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that's clear
I will choose free will"
"Free Will" (Chorus)


Anyone who has spent any time considering the question of whether God exists or not has probably come across the inter-related terms omniscience and omnipotence. There is a third related term that does not seem to get nearly as much attention. Omnipresence. It is interesting to note that the idea that God is somehow present in a single location is shaky at best. In most instances that someone refers to God being present they are usually commenting on an emotional response to something that they then retro fit to their already established religious beliefs. Such experiences are generally in response to an event or circumstances, or even a delayed reaction.

Given that it is virtually impossible to establish an actual "presence" it is odd to think of an entity that can simultaneously be everywhere all the time, which is the basic principle of omnipresence. If God is an entity and does physically interact with us in some way then you would assume there would be physical evidence. There isn't. It would also violated numerous laws of physics for a physical entity to be absolutely everywhere all at once. The only materials science is aware of being capable of anything similar are sub-atomic particles. Such particles do have an effect on us but cannot be sensed as present in any practical way. It is rare that God is not described in terms that relate to a sentient being. It is hard to image that it is even remotely possible for a being that has the characteristics of sub-atomic particles necessary to be omnipresent could maintain the type of coherence necessary for a single entity to exist.

Basically, in physics the only things that might be capable of omnipresence cannot directly be perceived by human beings and is virtually impossible to have such a trait and still have a coherent body of any sort. There is no reason to presume that sentience, let alone a more advanced sentience than that of humans, can exist without a physical brain (the only known source for a mind). If omnipresence is a necessary trait of God, which it arguably is, then God would seem to be highly unlikely on this basis alone.

A Course on Atheism?

I have to admit I find the notion of an entire class on Atheism fascinating and potentially a little futile. As I have pointed out on a few occasions, Atheism is not a true "ism" since it does not have an innate set of beliefs or even a structure that a set of beliefs could easily be attached to. By definition it is a lack of a religious (especially one focused on or includes a God or gods) based belief system. That is not to say atheists don't have beliefs or follow one or more overlapping belief systems. Atheism just does not tell you what those beliefs are.

After hearing an interview of Peter Boghossian on Freedom From Religion's Free Thought Radio I have decided that it is time to revisit my assumptions on this topic. During the interview Boghossian mentioned a course he teaches for Portland State University and that the syllabus can be found on Skeptic magazines website. I have only briefly skimmed through it at this point but I am going to follow it through. I already own one of the required texts (I've ordered the second) and have read quite a bit of the recommended material. I will read/reread them in the order he has laid out. The questions laced throughout seem to be pretty good.

I am not sure how much of the experience I'll bother to post but I will probably write a few updates along the way. It should be interesting in any case.

A Listing of Wishful Thinking, Ignorance, Delusions...

The editors of the religion section of Huffington Post recently put together "50 Things to Love About Religion." Not surprising the introductory paragraphs set the tone rather well. It immediately alternates between being misleading and contradictory. Notice how the title is worded? They state and then imply that the list is meant to be about religion as a whole. In other words, it is not initially suppose to be about things that are "true" of only one or two Faiths but of all of them. It also implies that it is about Religion rather than any other aspect of culture/society or humanity in general. The first sentence of the last paragraph, however, is: "What is it that you like about your faith?" It is not hard to see why a number of readers ended up contributing things that relate only to their preferred religion rather than the institution Religion. It also reflects how Christians are the dominant voice in this section.

Less than half of the list actually pertains to religion as a whole. Many are highly debatable as to whether they have that much of a connection beyond the desire of individuals and groups to make them have one. Among this grouping includes: 11. Confidence, 13. Music, 24. Hope, 26. Forgiveness, 28. Compassion, 31. Joy, 32. Unity, 33. Courage, 34. Service to Others, 42. Simplicity, 43. Tranquility, 47. Food, 49. Tradition, and 50. Hope (oops, they listed that one twice). Yes, all these can be experienced through religion but they can just as easily be found outside religion. It is also easy to argue that a few of them are hindered by Religion(s).

There are a number of others that are even easier to argue as being exaggerated or false bordering on delusional. These include: 3. No one preaches at me, 10. Freedom to question, 12. Openness to ideas, 15. Pure transparency, 18. Gender equality, 22. No dogma, 27. Hatred for none, 28. Compassion, 29. Inclusive
32. Unity (Yes, I also included this one in the list above), 40. No more guilt*, 46. Not being forced. The first one really makes me laugh consider how Christian-centric the whole post seems to be. Apparently, the readers have forgotten one the most basic principles of Evangelism (a rather large branch of Christianity) is to preach to others. I am also unaware of any Faith that handles criticism or non-conformity well. Have they not come a cross fun terms like heresy, infidel, blaspheme, apostasy, etc. I have also yet to come a cross a major world religion that has not contained massive doses of sexism. Many are still very sexist and still do not always play well with other Faiths. There are positive examples that can be said to represent these readers hope but that is all they tend to be. Unfortunately, they are exceptions not the rule. Claiming otherwise is just dishonest.

Then there are those on the list that are only associated with Christianity or are phrased in way that favors Christianity. For example, a variety of religions venerate "saints" but the phrasing of #20, Communion of saints, is used among Christian denominations. Some of the others include: 8. Jesus, 9. The Beatitudes, 21. The cross, 23. Mass, 44. The Eucharist, 48. Free wine.

There are a number of other problems with the list as it relates to what it is suppose to represent. Personally, I'd love to see them create a similar list but with more thought involved. Creating separate lists for each represented Religion and then one that is correlated and annotated, a master list of sorts. They might even include a few non-theistic groups listing what they love about Culture/Society and/or Humanity. It would require more work so I doubt HuffPo would ever bother. Still, It would be very interesting to see such comparative lists.

*Considering how dominant Christians are on HuffPo this one made me laugh for a good 5-6 minutes. What did Christ die for? What is Original Sin? Doesn't that imply that at the very least a handful of essential Christian doctrines are laced with "guilt"? And then, I can't count the number of Catholics I've met who half-joke about "Catholic Guilt."

Stop Messing with the Dead

Once again people are trying to make claims about some one who cannot confirm or deny the assertions because they are dead. Mansfield's "Abraham Lincoln's Atheist Period" is just the most recent example of living assholes trying to use the dead like they are some type of puppet. Personally, I don't have a problem with bring up someone's religious beliefs or lack of beliefs if it is relevant in a given discussion. I do have a major problem when a particular belief or trait of the deceased is either brought up for no good reason or is used for a personal agenda. It especially pisses me off when the trait or belief in question is exaggerated misrepresented, or an outright fabrication.

There may be some reason to believe that Lincoln went through a period where he became anti-religious but that does not mean he was an atheist. Mansfield references a few sources that claim he was hostile to religion. If you look at the details it would be more accurate to say he was opposed to a specific brand of Christianity not religion in general. It is also notable that he is described as hating or being angry with God (or rather a Biblical version of the God concept). If you are not a completely ignorant fool that should have caused you to rethink the use of the term "atheist." You can't get angry or hate an entity you do not believe exists in the first place. You can get angry at people around you for how they use the concept but that is not even close to being the same thing.

If Lincoln had been an atheist I would have no problem adding him to the list of positive role models related to non-belief. But he was not an atheist. So why does Mansfield want to make him out to have been one? Does he have an agenda? I don't honestly know. I can think of a few possible reasons others might want to do so. The article makes it clear that it was a passing phase in Lincoln's life. perhaps this is another attempt at smearing atheists. Somehow our thinking is immature or lacks any real thought. This is often what is implied when people talk about going through a phase. It could just be an interesting idea that caught his attention. I'm not sure. What I do know is that the piece exemplifies a variety of myths/stereotypes about atheism (we can't hate God, anti-religious sentiment is not synonymous with atheism...) and lack of understanding how historical research should be conducted. It is also galling since theist tend to be the loudest when calling for respecting the dead and yet they are usually the first to pull this type of propaganda-like bullshit.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Corruption. The surest way to corrupt youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently."
Frederick Nietzsche
The Dawn (297)

A Humanistic Dualism

As human beings we seem to be attracted to dualism in one form or another. The notion that two parts or aspects form a greater whole appears to be instinctive. Some of these variations seem reasonable while others are far more speculative and ungrounded. One variation that I have always found to be more interesting and reasonable revolves around our sense of self.

Most of us are caught between two points of view that, at least superficially, seem to be at odds. Most individuals want to think of themselves as unique. In many ways this is true. We have a variety of traits/characteristics that makes us distinguishable from any other person we meet. We are individuals. Yet, we are also all human. We are part of a distinct species with a variety of overlapping/common traits. Most of us also want to be part of a greater whole. We want to fit in in some way. We want to be special and simultaneously alike. How can that be?

Personally, I think it is reasonable and not nearly as contradictory as it first appears. We are sentient socially driven animals. Like all primates we have a strong instinctive drive to favor social interaction. We do not do well in isolation. This is not to say that we can not function on our own for long periods of time. However, a variety of experiments and observations have confirmed over the centuries that the longer an individual is deprived of social interaction the worse their mental and physical health becomes. We are also conscious beings. We are aware of ourselves and others in ways no other species are (or at least as far as we can confirm at this point). Being able to distinguish our selves, the self, is a useful adaptation. One practical example of this melding of self and community is the "Division of Labor." We hear a lot about how culture evolved and impacted human biological evolution but one aspect that usually does not get nearly enough attention is the Division of Labor. Thinking about how we work together for both personal and communal gains is an excellent way to frame this seeming contradiction of perspectives.

In the end I cannot fully explain this type of duality. Perhaps we will never understand it or the components that seem to contribute to it. It is still quite interesting to ponder. Self and consciousness are each topics well worth exploring in and of themselves. Throw in the impact they have on a variety of other topics and concepts and you have multiple life-times worth of questions.

Friday, November 16, 2012


I recently finished reading a rather unsettling novel by Philip Roth. Everyman is as well written and profound as it is frightening and unnerving. The main theme is human mortality. It starts at the funeral of the main character and from there slides into a type of disjointed collage of flashbacks. Even though these episodes do not occur in chronological order they do not make the overall story difficult to follow. In fact, in some ways it helps to reinforce the main theme and draw out a number of related ones. Each slice of life further explores how mortality is intrinsic to our sense of self and to our humanity. Roth manages to pack into a short novel a life time of experiences so realistic that you can't help being emotionally drawn in. It is virtually impossible to fully explain the novels impact. It is one I would highly recommend.

Oath both Inspiring and Disturbing

Part of me was glad to see that Tulsi Gabbard was able to choose to be sworn in with a copy of the Baghavad Gita rather than a Bible. There does not seem to be any real backlash from this. In a way it seems to speak well for pluralism and tolerance especially in light of the ridiculous episode that grew up around Keith Ellison*. Another part of me very quickly jumped in with the question of why anyone should swear an oath to serve a public office on any piece of scripture. He may be a positive gesture, superficially, to greater acceptance of minorities but it still is an affront to one of our most important democratic ideals: separation of church and state.

 *A handful of years back a variety of right wing assholes had a hissy fit because the newly elected Congressman, Keith Ellison, supposedly had sworn his oath of office over a Quran rather than a Bible. He actually did no such thing. He posed with Nancy Pelosi after the official ceremony. They each had their hand on a two volume Quran set that had been owned by Thomas Jeferson. The horror!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Credulous Evangelicals

Huffington Post noted the results of a somewhat interesting but not particularly surprising survey of evangelical Christians regarding news sources. The evangelical denominations tend to be conservative so their preferred source of news being Fox was not shocking. Conservatives seem to favor the hyper-partisan factually challenged Fox News. There were  two aspects of this short post I found most interesting. The first was the question as to whether the failed election results prediction would lead evangelicals to choose a better source of news. They won't. Probing why they chose Fox and why they will most likely stick with Fox could be fascinating. The second was who the runner up to the most trusted news source ended up being. PBS came in at 31% compared to Fox's 47%. The discrepancy seems to small to be a reflection of the more liberal minded among evangelicals. If it was simply a matter of the liberal factions among the denominations picking the outlet perceived to be more liberal than you would expect PBS to be towards the bottom of all the listed media outlets. That would reflect the political leanings of evangelicals according to decades of similar polls and surveys. It seems mildly ironic that it is the second choice among a largely conservative grouping that tends to bash PBS.

This could be a reflection of the fine but observable line between political conservatives and religious conservatives. In any case, it would be interesting to see someone follow up on these results with a more in depth study of political, religious, and philosophical attitudes among this same group of evengelicals.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"Whatever conclusions we reach about the reality of God, the history of this idea must tell us something important about the human mind and the nature of our aspiration."
Karen Armstrong
A History of God

Simple, Obvious, Contradictory...

It never ceases to amaze me just how contradictory and delusional some theists can be. Greg Carey's "Jesus and the Bible" post, however, seems to have set a new record. This is probably the fastest self contradiction I've read in the past few years. Paragraph two essentially negates the opening paragraph.

Paragraph 1:
"When we Christians are tempted to lob Bible verses at one another like hand grenades, we might do well to consider Jesus' example."

Paragraph 2:
"On a certain day, Luke tells us, Jesus was in his hometown, Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30). He stood up in the synagogue to read, and he was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. Scrolling through, Jesus read from two verses. Actually, a verse and a half."

See what he did there? He failed in not being "tempted to lob Bible verses." To prove his pointed he has to use Bible verses which completely undoes the initial point. It is not completely his fault since it is literally impossible to discuss Jesus in any significant way without referencing the New Testament. He cannot acknowledge that Jesus' very "existence" depends on scripture.

Later he gets into the need to interpret scripture by again using Jesus as an example. Again, he fails to acknowledge where that train of thought has to lead. Since the Bible cannot have any real meaning without massive amounts of cherry-picking and interpretation then it is really no more valid as a source of inspiration and/or authority than, say, Harry Potter.

Blind faith and delusion is quite the combination.

God Votes!

Do theists ever realizes just how idiotic captions like this are? It is bad enough that so many candidates find the need to load their rhetoric with "God talk." The constant analysis and speculation over how faith translates into votes gets really irritating after a short while. It would be nice if theists, at least a few, would just once concede that if they believe in God than all the analysis and speculation is moot. If God exists than nothing really matters. If God is the Supreme being and is perfect than you cannot have free will. If God exists all humans are, or can be, is a bunch of meat puppets. The election and its consequences lose meaning for the simple fact that everything that has happened and will happen has to occur exactly they way the have and will. God does not have to vote since we can do nothing. We mean nothing. Your every thought and action would have to originate from God since God is all, the source of everything. That is rather disturbing. I guess it's a good thing God is a fabrication of the human mind.

Apostasy and Blaspheme

What does it say about Religion and the God concept that so many around the world still seem to think that Apostasy and Blaspheme are important issues?

According to the Chambers 21st Century Dictionary:

noun: (apostasies) the relinquishment or rejection of one’s religion or principles or of one’s affiliation to a specified political party, etc.
[14c: from Greek apo away + stasis standing.]"

verb (blasphemed, blaspheming)
1. transitive & intransitive to speak disrespectfully or rudely about God, a divine being or sacred matters.
2. intransitive to swear or curse using the name of God or referring to sacred things.

Does this give further indication at how truly pathetic and weak religion is both intellectually and philosophically? Does it demonstrate theists lack of confidence in their own claims about God? If Religion and God need special considerations (laws, norms, taboos,...) how well founded can they really be?

Personally, I think it does show how weak religious ideas are. It may be just another way people can make themselves feel better about harassing and persecuting each other. Either way, it is worth questioning and thinking about.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

"Theology: An effort to explain the unknowable by putting it into terms of the not worth knowing"
H. L. Mencken

Damn Godless Commies! Oh, wait....

"Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need (Acts 4:34-35)...But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,
And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?(Acts 5:1-3)...And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. 'Three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.' 'Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.' And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. 'Peter said ... How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.'Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost.'
'And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.'
'By the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people.' Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things." (Acts 5:5-11)

Basically, a couple convert to Christianity and sell their property but start to have second thoughts. They decide to hold back a portion of the proceeds. Even though they give the bulk of their money to the group they both end up dead. It is an interesting story considering that conservative Christians insist that the Bible is the definitive authority on ethics and morals. These same Christians tend to rail against "redistributing" wealth. It seems the early Christians not only liked the idea but the message in the above narrative is give up everything to the common group or face death. The same group of religious right nuts also seem to alternate between insisting Obama is really a Muslim or else a commie. Which seems really bizarre to me since they frequently use, falsely, communism as a synonym for atheism. Contradictory? Inconsistent? Very! It is fascinating that their beloved source of authority seems to favor some of the more basic elements of communism. Private property and the free market are definitely not favored by God in this part of the Bible. So, does that make communism godly or free market fundamentalists ungodly? I fin that is a very entertaining theological dilemma.

Voting Against Secularism

The Democrats are not exactly champions of Separation of Church and State but anyone who considers this to be an important issue should not even consider voting Republican. As weak as Democrats can be on the topic it is ingrained in the GOP platform. Don't take my word for it read the platform and you'll find that not only is the Republic platform an affront to one of our nations most basic principles it is also chock full of ridiculous crap.

There are two sections that are especially telling. "We The People: A Restoration of Constitutional Government" and "Renewing American Values to Build Healthy Families, Great Schools and Safe Neighborhoods" are both loaded with examples of the GOP's incessant need to insert religion into politics. In the former the subsections "Defending Marriage Against An Activist Judiciary", "A Sacred Contract: Defense of Marriage", "The First Amendment: The Foresight of Our Founders to Protect Religious Freedom", and "The Sanctity and Dignity of Human Life" are all clearly motivated by faith. If it were simply a matter of personal motivation and action there would be no problem. Unfortunately, this is the parties blueprint for how they intend to govern. Their views on religion have been and will continue to drive their public policies. They seek to enforce their personal take on faith on the rest of us. It is a bit ironic since they start this whole section with, "We salute Republican Members of the House of Representatives for enshrining in the Rules of the House the requirement that every bill must cite the provision of the Constitution which permits its introduction." The constitution not only does not "permit" injecting religion into government the only passages that mention it restrict its use.

The second major section I referenced above is no better. The level of deceit and hypocrisy is astounding. They make a few feeble attempts at claiming their motivation comes from sources other than religion. There are no studies and no scientific basis for these religious based claims. It is also interesting to note that the GOP frequently tries to portray itself as a champion of freedom and personal responsibility. How those two are compatible with legislating a rather restrictive dictatorial code of conduct routed in ancient folklore on everyone is beyond me. Insisting on such a high level of religiosity does not seem to improve their own ethics. So if you consider Separation of Church and State an important part of our democracy please think twice before casting a ballot for any Republican candidates. It is not just the national party that has such a terrible platform. Virtually every state platform abides by the national one. Maine's is slightly watered down and is poorly written. It reads more like talking points than anything else. Yet, it does manage to touch on all the same points and rams faith into many of the platforms planks.