Sunday, March 31, 2013

"I cannot believe that any religion has been revealed to Man by God. Because a revealed religion would be perfect, but no known religion is perfect; and because history and science show us that known religions have not been revealed but have been evolved from other traditions."
 Robert Blatchford
God and My Neighbor (1903)

Is it any wonder....

"It's 11 p.m. Do you know where your atheist child is? An alarming number of Catholic parents these days have seen their deepest fear come true. Not only have their children rejected Catholicism, they no longer believe in God"

This is the opening paragraph to Brian O'Neel's recent (April 2013) Catholic Digest piece, "My child the athesit." Not only is he comparing atheism with drug abuse by riffing on one of its 80's-90's anti-drug campaign catch phrases he reveals just how fucked up his own parental priorities are. "Deepest fears"? Really?! He's such a self centered arrogant prick that failing to blindly accept his beliefs is somehow more worthy of concern than any number of disorders/diseases that children end up with or any number of accidents than can occur? Is it any wonder atheists end up becoming hostile towards religion?

This asshole follows this up a handful of paragraphs later with, "....a Pew center study shows they [teens] become more likely to abandon religious beliefs. This all seems alarming, as if atheism was some contagion preying on children and rapidly spreading throughout the nation." Why do so many religious people find atheism so alarming? We aren't the ones using our beliefs to harass, smear, and outright persecute others. In fact, virtually every atheist I have ever come across routinely points out that everyone has the right to believe whatever they choose! As for "preying on children", this is absurd coming from a CATHOLIC. The Catholic hierarchy has all but instutionalized pedophilia. And, it's not an opinion. How many ranking officials have either been reprimanded internally or have now been investigated or indicted by civil authorities? How about that letter that got leaked a few years back that has Ratzinger ordering his fellow Bishops not to investigate any sex abuse allegations and ordering them to impede any such outside investigations?

O'Neel's piece never gets any better. He goes out of his way to find (assuming they are not outright fabricated) individuals who fit some of the worst stereotypes about atheists in order to present them as proof that we are all horrible. It's rather convenient there are no literary mirrors. This asshole's level of ignorance and bigotry is astounding. The pinhead actually thinks he's doing something good by offering advice based on lies and the most outrageous smears. Maybe if Catholics cleaned up their own faith they would have no reason to be "alarmed." Oh wait, they can't. Catholicism like all faiths are built on deception, delusions, and coercion. Maybe that's why people like O'Neel despise us so much: our refusal to be blind ignorant sheep.

Happy Zombie/cannibal day!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

"Faith-Based Office" is Anti-Secularist

A few weeks back Obama announced the new head of the White House's Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. This appointment seemed to be greeted with some enthusiasm among religious moderates and liberals and even among some in the freethought-humanist-atheist-etc communities. I have to admit this has confused me a little bit. She sounds like a decent person and Obama's handling of the office is better than Bush II, who created it. However, I still see no reason to be happy about.

For me, a title of one of Hemant "Friendly Atheist" Mehta's blog says it all, "The New Director of Obama’s Faith-Based Office is a Supporter of Church-State Separation." Let me repeat that, "The New Director of Obama’s Faith-Based Office is a Supporter of Church-State Separation." The very existence of the office is an innate affront to the basic principle of separation of church and state.

I sincerely hope Melissa Rogers does a decent job dealing with the problematic aspects of her new office. However well she runs the office it does not diminish the criticism that it should not exist in the first place. Her leadership will not change the fact that the Faith Based Office makes a mockery of one of the foundational concepts of our constitution.

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Question of Stupidity?

"Who is on God's side of the marriage debate?" If you're a non-believer the answer is pretty obvious: neither. Who can really be on the "side" of an imaginary being? Since God doesn't exist the question is itself moot. For the sake of argument, if God exists the question is still a ridiculous one. God by definition is suppose to be perfect and all-powerful. God is the creator and source of all things therefore nothing can be without God. Effectively God is the debate itself. It cannot exist without God. Both would have to be on God's "side." Yet, neither can be. See the conundrum? Both sides are what they are because they have to be. God has created them precisely in that manner but logically this is an untenable condition since they must simultaneously be both and neither.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

"What I want to happen to religion in the future is this: I want it to be like bowling. It's a hobby, something some people will enjoy, that has some virtues to it, that will have its own institutions and its traditions and its own television programming, and that families will enjoy together. It's not something I want to ban or that should affect hiring and firing decisions, or that interferes with public policy. It will be perfectly harmless as long as we don't elect our politicians on the basis of their bowling score, or go to war with people who play nine-pin instead of ten-pin, or use folklore about backspin to make decrees about how biology works."
P.Z. Myer in an interview in the 2008 documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pope and the Nones

The idea that the Pope is going to play nice with the Nones, especially atheists, is a bit far fetched. I will be pleasantly surprised if he lives up to his rhetoric. Alessandro Speciale's Religious News service piece (reposted on HuffPo), "Pope Francis: 'Nones' Can Be 'Allies' For The Church", seems to take it as a foregone conclusion. He may not have had a hand in how this short article was titled but I'm sure he saw it before it got put out. The title does give a hint as to the motivation. I'd point out that it states that Nones can be allies to the church rather than vice-versa.

I do not assume that Pope Francis is sincere. In fact, I assume the opposite. If he really wants to make friend with atheists he could start by apologizing for his predecessor. Benedict in a handful of speeches blamed atheists* and secularist for the worlds cruelty and injustice. He could really take a positive step by pledging that the church will stop demonizing non-believers. I have been to plenty of masses and can remember numerous occasions where "non-believers", "unbelievers", "the faithless", etc.. were used as pejoratives. Somehow I do not think that is going to happen.

Basically, he's looking to spruce up the Church's image.

*It is important to note that he specifically chose the term atheist(s) rather than atheism. In other words, he was attacking the people not the ideas.

A Pope like Any Other

"Pope Francis signals new course for the papacy." Really?! Virtually everything people have been saying about what can be expected from the new Pope boils down to wishful thinking. Maybe he will be an improvement over the last one but there is nothing substantial to back that assumption up. Many have noted the tone and/or manner of the new Pope without ever acknowledging how superficial that observation is. There has been no hint at all that Francis has any intention to reform the hierarchy, alter doctrines, or make any changes to policy and practice. There is absolutely no reason to see this Pope as being different from any previous Popes in any practical way. His "tone" is just as likely to be purely a public relations ploy.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

“. . . when individuated consciousness comes up against the idea of individual death, something’s got to give. That’s why people invent afterlives, and versions of the afterlife, which there is absolutely no evidence for whatsoever [laughs]. . . . I think God is the name of a question. God is not an existing thing.” 
James Taylor
from Blue Railroad interview

"Can" but Won't

A recent HuffPo piece by Mark Sandlin is pretty interesting. I agree with him on most of the "10 Things Church Can Learn From Geeks." It might make the title slightly more accurate to replace "can" with "should." Though it is technically true that Christianity* can learn any or even all of these 10 things but the odds are against it. Most of his points relate, to some degree, to tolerance, change, and self-evaluation/criticism. Very few churches have proven to be particularly good at any of these. Even the more liberal versions of Christianity tend to fail. They may pay lip-service to such ideals as tolerance but in the end they tend to resist putting them into action. This is not limited to Christianity. Religion as an institution tends toward both authoritarianism and divisiveness. It is exceedingly rare that a church, synagogue, temple, etc. gives the average believer a say in either leadership or doctrine. When changes do occur it tends to be very slowly and with great reluctance. They also tend to think that their way is the best way, if not the only true one.

It would be nice if religion as a whole could adopt even half of these. I might actually reconsider showing some respect for the institution. I'd also love to ride a Pegasus but that's not going to happen, either.

*He does not expressly limit this to Christianity but does imply that is the religion he is aiming this piece at. He is himself Christian and he makes references to Jesus. Church is also generally a Christian term.

Do These People Own Mirrors?

Damon Linker has done an excellent job demonstrating just how much of an arrogant, ignorant, hypocritical asshole he can be. His recent piece in The Week, "Where are the honest atheists?", is so full of shit that is a  feat that he has not collapsed from dehydration.

From the very first sentence he reveals himself  to be grossly biased and disingenuous.
"Does the world really need another 'new atheist' manifesto?" It doesn't matter that books written from  theistic points of view vastly out number those by atheists. The question only matters when aimed at non-believers. Books on angels alone are published with far more regularity than all atheists works combined (including works not about atheism). He follows up this thinly veiled bigotry with another idiotic and unsupportable statement, "The style of atheism rehearsed in these books has reached a dead end." Really? Atheists may not get published as easily but when they do their books sell. Linker is specifically attacking A.C. Grayling's newest book which is set to be released March 26th. Somehow I don't think publishers would bother unless they thought it would sell at least as well as his previous works.

Of course, his apparent lack of faith in the market place of ideas/free market isn't the worst thing about his piece. His ignorance, hypocrisy, and delusional double standards are even more blatant. What really seems to upset him about atheism and therefore atheists seems to come out in the third paragraph.

"If atheism is true, it is far from being good news. Learning that we're alone in the universe, that no one hears or answers our prayers, that humanity is entirely the product of random events, that we have no more intrinsic dignity than non-human and even non-animate clumps of matter, that we face certain annihilation in death, that our sufferings are ultimately pointless, that our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense, that those who commit horrific evils and elude human punishment get away with their crimes scot free — all of this (and much more) is utterly tragic."

I have no problem admitting that Atheism is not all peaches and cream. Yes, there are disturbing aspects but that is true of any belief. Nothing is perfect. Linker also intentionally exaggerates and distorts. Why insist there can be no meaning even if you accept the randomness of nature? Why do we have to give up dignity the moment we realize that the odds of God or an after-life are low to the point of being nearly impossible? Why not place greater value on what you have while you have it?

Again, it is not atheism alone that has draw-backs. From my point of view anyone who truly believes in God would have to concede that we are all just meat puppets or else they are the ones being dishonest. The perfection of God is completely incompatible with the idea of Free Will. Simply being something or someone's play thing is rather disturbing. Then again, an idea or belief's pleasantness or disturbing nature has nothing to do with what is true. Honesty has no direct correlation with pleasantness. Children die horribly everyday. I hate that. I don't want it to be true but it is. Who's really being dishonest?
Linker's implication that wishful thinking is better than accepting reality as it is seems to be very ignorant, delusional, and disingenuous.

As I've already pointed out, he also refuses to hold himself or other theists to the same standards he seems to think he has a right to impose on atheists. Linker concludes with:
"That godlessness might be both true and terrible is something that the new atheists refuse to entertain, no doubt in part because they want to sell books — and greeting cards do a brisk business. But honesty requires more than sentimental, superficial happy talk, which is all readers will get from A.C. Grayling and his anti-religious comrades in arms."
It is true, though misleading, that atheists do not necessarily focus on the negative aspects of their beliefs. That does not mean they do not acknowledge them. I have read and heard atheists talk about how disturbing and scarey death can be. I cannot think of a single theist I have read the works of who even acknowledges the draw-backs of belief in God, the after-life, or other major metaphysical concepts. They certainly do not go out of their way to draw attention to such matters.

So, Mr. Linker if you want to drone on about the honesty/dishonesty of other I have just one suggestion: Look in the fucking mirror!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

"Faith and knowledge are related as the two scales of balance; when one goes up, the other goes down... The power of religious dogma, when inculcated early, is such as to stifle conscience, compassion, and finally every feeling of humanity... For, as you know, religions are like glow worms; they shine only when it's dark. A certain amount of ignorance is the condition of all religions, the element in which alone they can exist."
Arthur Schopenhauer
Parerga and Paralipomena

"History" in the Bible

I did not have a chance to watch the new History Channel mini-series I mentioned last week. However, I have noticed some rather entertaining responses to the initial airing by theists. I especially found Joel Hoffman's take on it quite amusing. In "The Bible Isn't The History You Think It Is" he tries to sound scholarly but what he really does is employ a type of literary sleight-of-hand. He seems to be comfortable admitting that the majority of the Bible's contents are not historical. However, this concession seems to be mainly about making his opinion that there is a part of the Bible that is historical more plausible. The Bible does not contain any "history" in terms of verifiable facts. None. There are aspects of the bible that can be useful in terms of understanding the mind-set and sociological circumstances of a particular time-frame. That, however, does not seem to be what Hoffman means.

He creates an artificial division that I do see as being potentially useful.
"One way to understand the difference between history and fiction in the Bible is through the Old Testament's natural division into three parts:
    The world and its nature (Adam to Terah).
    The Israelites and their purpose (Abraham to Moses).
    The Kingdom of Israel and life in Jerusalem (roughly from King David onward)."
This can be a handy delineation when approaching biblical studies within its own context, as literary analysis. It still isn't history. His reference to King David is a pretty good indication of his lack of critical thinking or ability to approach historical research from an un-biased fact-based position. There is no extra-scriptural support for David as an historical figure. There have been many claims to the contrary but not one has ever been confirmed by anthropology, archeology, or geology. I have previously written post on various "historical" figures in the Bible and about the supposed archeological proof for such legendary figures.

Hoffman makes even more ridiculous claims further on in his piece.
"The situation not unlike a modern newspaper, which combines news with opinion, puzzles, comics, etc. The news can be accurate even if the comics are not. The same is true for the different parts of the Bible."
Actually, there is no comparison. Who cannot distinguish the pieces intended to be factual from those intended to be opinion and/or entertainment in today's newspaper? It should also be pointed out that any news story can be fact checked. There are any number of sources external to the newspapers that can be used for this purpose. There is plenty of documentation that can be reviewed and pieced together to establish fact from fiction.

Personally, I think the following does an excellent job summarizing his whole rationale and approach:
"All of this is important for people who want to believe, for instance, that a man named Jesus was crucified in ancient Jerusalem (as described in the Gospels) even if they don't believe that a donkey spoke aloud (Numbers); or that Jews lived in Jerusalem during the first millennium BC (Kings, for example) even if they didn't leave Egypt 600,000 strong (Exodus)."
He believes that parts of the Bible are historical not because there is evidence supporting such an idea but because he wants to believe it.

An Apology Can Say A Lot

Can you remember a single instance where a theist or group of theists said something inaccurate or misleading about atheists and then apologized for it? I can't. Yet, there have been numerous examples where atheists have admitted to exaggerating or misrepresenting something theists said and apologized for it. Just such an incident recently occurred. American Atheists apologized for misquoting Sarah Palin on one of their billboards. I am pleased that they corrected their minor error. I find it rather telling. It seems to me to be further evidence that atheists are generally more concerned with accuracy, intellectual integrity, and ethics than their theistic counterparts.

I think it is also worth noting that the error they made in the quotation did not actually change the meaning or intent of Sarah Palin. American Atheists quoted Palin as stating, "We should create law based on the God of the Bible", when in fact she claimed that our founding fathers believed such a thing. Basically, she was making shit up. In some ways it makes her look worse since it is clear that that is what she wants to believe and she is willing to lie about. The idea that the US was created as a "Christian nation" has been debunked over and over again. Accuracy is important so it was right of American Atheists to make the correction and apologize for their slip-up.

It would be nice if the religious right cared at all about accuracy, honesty, and personal ethics. I'm not counting on that happening any time soon.

Decent post, horrible title

For once DiDonato has a half way intelligent post that does not completely defy the name of his blog. Unfortunately, the title, "Does God accept the real you?", is chock-full of stupid. Even though it is about how diverse views/perceptions of the God concept can be I have never come across a version that did not have God as the creator and source of existence. Accept you? If God created us how can it be otherwise. Everything we are would be due to God; good, bad, or indifferent. Wouldn't that be like Gepetto get pissed off at Pinochio for being made of wood?

Otherwise, the post actually references and talks about some interesting research on people's perceptions and beliefs.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

"God is the only being who does not have to exist in order to reign."
Charles Baudelaire

A New Twist to an Old Stereotype

Marcelo Cicconet's February 26 piece is as odd as it is short. In "New Atheism offers better philosophy, faith than religion" he seems to be able to see through a handful of myths and stereotypes about atheists/atheism and yet he still seems intent on promoting a new one.

"However, despite recent attempts such as Dawkins’ 'The Magic of Reality' and Harris’ 'Free Will,' the New Atheists don’t have the same level of success they used to with laying the foundations of a fulfilling atheist life.
As it turns out, the pursuit of happiness is a journey far more complex than understanding the way the brain works..."

These two sentences are packed full of implied misconceptions and apparent projections. Is Cicconet trying to claim that atheists don't lead fulfilling lives? What would such a conclusion be based on? He makes no reference to any sort of survey or study. The false claim that atheists are miserable is not actually new. The idea that somehow an atheist's writing, activism, or engagement with other atheists (or theists, for that matter) leads to being unhappy is somewhat of a new twist. I have yet to come across any atheist who claims that simply being an atheist leads to fulfillment and happiness. I was also unaware that a better understanding of the brain is suppose to automatically lead to happiness. I've certainly never come across an atheist making such a claim.

It may be that Cicconet is looking for fulfillment and happiness in all the wrong places but that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with atheists or atheism. In any case, I fail to see how he can justify making proclamations about any group of people being happy/unhappy without even the slightest hint of doing any type of research. Since he names a handful of specific individuals he could have started by arranging to interview them.

The Bible: A Love Story told in Blood

I have to admit I am rather uncertain about whether I will bother watching an upcoming drama miniseries on the History Channel. I have seen ads for "The Bible" that make it look pretty good. The production values seem to be better than average. I will probably end up watching the first episode but with rather low expectations.

I am suspicious of its actual merits in part because it is being put on by History Channel. Despite its name they rarely offer anything of a scholarly nature. A huge chunk of their scheduling is consumed by paranormal crap (Ancient Aliens, MonsterQuest, Countdown to Apocalypse, UFO Hunters....) and "reality" shows (Pawn Stars, Big Rig Bounty Hunters, Swamp People, Ultimate Soldier Challenge....). Even when they offer a documentary or even a series that covers historical events or themes they end up being incredibly shoddy.

My skepticism was fueled further by a short review I read shortly after seeing a few of the ads. Religious News Service's Megan Sweas seems to think it's worth seeing. Her piece, "For Hollywood couple, 'The Bible' miniseries is a ‘labor of love’", reveals a little more about the upcoming series but none of it is as flattering as she seems to think. I don't necessarily have anything against either Roma Downey or Mark Burnett but I also am not impressed that they are the couple behind the production. I certainly don't think of them as "Hollywood heavyweights." In some ways it could be seen as a negative for the series in term of it being taken seriously (as a drama, anyway) since they clearly have an agenda. It doesn't help that Roma's biggest claim to fame is "Touched By an Angel." I found that show to be somewhat cute and entertaining for most of the first season. After that it was just incredibly predictable, overly melodramatic, and just plain boring. Burnett's only claim is to the horribly misnamed genre, "reality tv."

The content itself is also potentially problematic. Viewed strictly in terms of entertainment it may be quite good. If the few ads I've seen are an accurate indication of the acting and cinematography then it should be worth watching. However, if the message that the couple seem to want to convey gets too blatant and heavy handed it could easily turn to crap. There are a handful of hints in the review that make me think that the latter is far more likely.

"The project has received rave early reviews from evangelicals, who are a key part of the film’s marketing plan. Starting with Noah telling the story of creation aboard his ark, the film weaves through biblical epics and the life of Christ and the early apostles....
While they describe 'The Bible' as a 'love story' between God and mankind, the project is also rooted in their own love story."

Yikes! Only the most delusional of evangelicals/fundamentalists could fail to see such a contradiction. A "love story" demonstrated by a creator who refuses to own up to it's own errors but instead resorts to genocide to fix those errors is a pretty fucking twisted commentary. My curiosity will probably win out. I doubt I will watch it when it originally airs since it is set for Sunday nights and would interfere with The Walking Dead (a slightly more believable drama) but they will most certainly re-run it numerous times.