Sunday, December 14, 2014

Quotation

"Scientific hypotheses are always tentative; they are designed to be held only so long as they conform to the evidence. Proponents of the theistic hypothesis, on the other hand, are already sure that their hypothesis is correct; they only seek evidence to buttress a foregone conclusion."
"Is There a Case for Christian Theism?"
Does God Exist?
Keith Parsons

AU 2014

Unfortunately, the fight for basic rights is always necessary. Part of the problem is people fail to understand the basic premise of many of these rights. Secularism is, despite claims to the contrary, of great benefit to everyone. It is meant to maintain/guarantee everyone's freedom of conscience and thought. Anyone who wishes to worship the way they want in their personal lives or be free from being coerced into worshiping in any form should wholeheartedly support secularism. Americans United for Separation of Church and State* is just one organization committed to this basic freedom. If you are not familiar with their work I strongly encourage you to take a look at what they do and why.
Below is a brief graphic summary of some of AU's work over the past year.
*Full disclosure: I've been a member of AU since the 90s

Not intended as satire

When I first read Jeffery Krall's "The 12 Difficulties of Christmas" I was pretty sure an atheist had managed to dupe the Christian Post into publishing a spoof. Nope. Krall is serious. The piece really is intended to be some type of amateurish apologetics. He really seems to think his ponderings are deeply meaningful. The level of self-deception easily loans itself to my initial impression.

His first four seem to be aimed at some of the more conservative Christians but is so shallow I don't see why even the most devout right-winger would bother with them. Krall also seems oblivious to how unnecessary such an approach is since many theists of this stripe have already fully deluded and insulated themselves from any serious questions let alone his trivial take on them. The initial set of his difficulties are:
"1- A virgin conceives…God does something that has never been done before.
2- God uses a peasant teenage girl to bring His only Son into the world.
3- God impregnates someone’s daughter.
4- God impregnates another man’s woman."

To start with, virgin births are not uncommon in mythology. The Jesus narratives do not in fact contain any unique features. Virtually every aspect of the Jesus tales are variations of common elements found in legends and folklore throughout the Middle East/Levant. Also, if he were looking for serious questions why not ask about how God can hold to a lower standard than we pathetic mortals. Krall implies that the question of infidelity and/or adultery can be brought up but never really goes into it. God did knock-up a teenager who was at the very least promised to another man. By other passages of the Bible (Old Testament) Mary should have been stoned to death for a variety of reasons. Depending on your flavor of Christianity this is also potentially an instance of incest. According to some Jesus is God incarnate which would mean that God impregnated his own mom. That's some pretty twisted metaphysical baggage. Labeling that as "Difficulties" seems to be rather superficial and even flippant.

Those disturbing aspects are just from the first third of his list. Most of the others are just as silly and nonsensical. I'll only bother with a few more. His 5th difficulty, "God does this in the most religious culture on the planet", is completely baseless. What makes this part of the world the most religious is not elaborated on. His criteria would have to be either incredibly feeble or non-existent. In ancient times religion was woven into the very fabric of society. Even today that level of theocracy is still being felt.

"6-They were required to submit to the government decree to get registered." is just as full of shit. This one is a reference to one of the elements of the Jesus narratives that can be definitively proven false. We have more than enough historical records to establish not just that the Romans did conduct censuses but how they carried them out. They did not conduct them in the manner the Gospels describe. The Romans didn't give a shit where you were born. They only cared about where you were living at the time of the census. They wanted to know what they could count on for resources and labor within specific geographic boundaries of their empire. Of course, once you accept that this part of the Jesus narratives is a complete fabrication many of Krall's points after this one are nullified.

The real difficulties related to Christmas have far more to do with accepting that it is just a mash up previous myths, legends, and customs. No atheist I know could have done a better job ridiculing "the reason for the season" than Krall's bumbling list of silly inept questions.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Quotation

"If the evidence supports the historical accuracy of the gospels, where is the need for faith? And if the historical reliability of the gospels is so obvious, why have so many scholars failed to appreciate the incontestable nature of the evidence?"
Honest to Jesus
Robert W. Funk 

It's a twofer!

While reading online a recently posted interview at Christian Century I could not stop laughing. The combination of two ridiculous approaches created such an absurd tapestry of nonsensical bullshit I had to laugh. David Heim's interview with Francis Spufford, "Right-brained apologetics", is so surreal I can't begin to think of how to adequately describe it. I will just state the main premise and then leave it to others to read.
Spufford insists that apologetics as a whole relies far too much on reason and rationality. He believes that injecting more emotion/sentimentality into the field is necessary. Seriously! I'm not kidding. He really believes that apologetics is based on reason.

It's fucking hilarious! Keeping in mind the title and it's allusions to the false right brain-left brain dichotomy just adds to the unintended humor. Though, I would caution readers not to apply too much reason of their own. If you think about it in any meaningful way it could lead to the opposite effect. Once I did re-read it I was a bit depressed. That people can be this idiotic is rather disheartening. So, it's better to laugh than cry. Read it once for its absurd humor and move on.

Meta-study on "charitable" giving

I'm very pleased to find that someone has finally done a systematic review of the studies that purport to show that religious people are more generous than non-religious individuals. I have commented* on how pathetic the methodologies and incredibly biased the interpretation of such studies have been not to mention how bogus the notion is to start with. If anyone is interested in a more rigorous and scientifically based review of the major studies in this area I highly recommend Roy Sablosky's "Does religion foster generosity." It was published in The Social Science Journal. It can be accessed online for free at researchgate.net (http://www.researchgate.net/publication/261918362_Does_religion_foster_generosity). I would advise downloading it sooner rather than later. I don't believe it will be free indefinitely.


*
 Generosity: A Perennial and Misleading Question (8/25/12)

Humbug! (12/22/13)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Quotation

"There is one notable thing about our Christianity: bad, bloody, merciless, money-grabbing and predatory as it is - in our country particularly, and in all other Christian countries in a somewhat modified degree - it is still a hundred times better than the Christianity of the Bible, with its prodigious crime- the invention of Hell. Measured by our Christianity of to-day, bad as it is, hypocritical as it is, empty and hollow as it is, neither the Deity nor His Son is a Christian, nor qualified for that moderately high place. Ours is a terrible religion. The fleets of the world could swim in spacious comfort in the innocent blood it has spilt."
"Reflections on Religion"
Mark Twain

Bad dichotomy.... No reason for you

The false dichotomy of Spiritual vs. Material has always seemed to be one of the most ridiculous and easiest to refute. Unfortunately, it is an incredibly pervasive one. A recent piece on the Elephant website, "The Truth About Spirituality & Materialism", once again reminded me of why I have such a low opinion of this type of tripe.

Really, what exactly do people think they are being "spiritual" about and how do they think they are even capable of contemplating such nonsense? Don't people realize that all thinking and feeling are dependent on the mind? It has been pretty well established at this point that the mind is a direct product of the brain. The brain, put simply, is a physical organ. Despite claims to the contrary, the mind is material. The mind cannot exist without the brain. The mind cannot function without any number of physical, hence material, processes carried out by the brain. The conclusion seems so blatantly obvious that I have a hard time understanding why so few can figure it out. What people talk about when they refer to the spiritual cannot be separated from the mind. It is a product of the brain just as much as the mind itself is. Quite literally, everything is material. Spirituality is not a separate thing. That's the truth.

"Spiritually conscious" = reality impaired

Apparently, Neale Walsh of Conversations with God (Patheos) is planning to write a five part series. On what this series is supposed to cover I'm not quite sure. The first part, "How can spiritually conscious people respond to our world?", seems to be an exercise in spewing as many vague and incoherent phrases as possible while simultaneously being as contradictory as possible. It makes no sense, so, I really don't have any idea what it is supposed to be an introductory piece to.

Even after you set aside the first obvious question posed by the title itself; what the fuck does he mean by "spiritually conscious", the initial paragraph just demonstrate how clueless Walsh is.
"I cannot remember a time during my half century of adulthood when the average human being on this planet found herself or himself looking directly into the face of more stressful events, circumstances, and situations than those now presenting themselves daily around the world."
Umm, does he have some issues with memory/retention or is he being incredibly disingenuous? Walsh is only a little older than I am but does not seem to remember that period of US history we labeled The Cold War. I guess the constant threat of nuclear annihilation just slipped his mind.

Ignoring the tail end of the Cold War is ridiculous enough without him spending a few paragraphs talking about how uniquely disturbing the current era is. He crosses the line from being willfully ignorant to the point of stupidity into being out right contradictory when he immediately follows this claim with "This, of course, is not a new inquiry. Shakespeare put it this way, asking in the famous words of Hamlet 'whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them'…?"
Huh? So, we are living in a unique era despite a late sixteenth century playright commenting on many of the same issues and themes.

About the only consistencies I noticed in the whole piece were Walsh's ability to carry-on in random and meandering directions as well as a penchant for empty phrases incorporating the word "spiritual."

Sunday, November 23, 2014

An odd sense of "facts"

Once again Catholic Online firmly demonstrates why no one should look to a Catholic run media outlet for anything resembling accurate information. Either they are incredibly willfully ignorant, mind bogglingly delusional, blatantly deceitful, plain stupid, or a combination of all of these. A recent piece, "Here are 10 Very Interesting Facts About the Catholic Church You Probably Didn't Know!", contains a handful of false claims as well as a number of rather dubious ones. Two of the ten immediately jumped out because they were so clearly wrong.

"2. The ONLY Christian church in existence for the first 1,000 years of Christian history was the Roman Catholic Church. All other Christian churches which exist today can trace their linage back to the Roman Catholic Church. Most non-Catholic churches which exist today are less than a century or two old by comparison."
Wow! To claim pride in your faith and not have a fucking clue about it's history takes some serious balls. This is, of course, complete bullshit. The Roman Catholic church isn't even the oldest identifiable Christian group. The Copts (Egypt) do not trace their linage to Roman Catholicism. They emerged as a church by the end of the 1st century/beginning of the second century. Even the most basic math skills should help these dumb asses figure out they are wrong by at least 800 years. That's just one example of how truly bogus the above statement is. Any one interested in Christian history should at least have a vague familiarity with the various Synods that shaped the early Christian communities. The Council of Chalcedon, for instance, took place in 451. Representatives of the Roman Catholic Church were not the only participants. There were also individuals from the various Eastern Orthodox churches as well as the Assyrian/Syriac Church. Some of, though not all, the Eastern churches did break off of the Roman Catholic Church. The Assyrians developed independent.
So #2 is completely false.

"5. The Catholic Church is entirely responsible for the composition of the Bible, which books are included, as well as the breakup of the chapters and verses."
What the fuck!? Who in their right mind would believe this statement? How can any one be that fucking stupid? The "Bible" as it is generally known contains the Old Testament which is not Christian in origin. Yes, the Catholic church has produced it's own versions of the what we call the Old Testament but they are far from "responsible for the composition." Unless the Vatican has a time machine stashed away somewhere there isn't even the slightest possibility of this statement being true. The Old Testament was produced by the Jews. In Judaism it is actually known as the Tanakh. Later in this section CO seems to denigrate Protestants for making alterations to the Bible but that's rather hypocritical since the Catholic Church did the same thing to the Tanakh (ex. the order of the books is different).
#5 also completely false and even hypocritical and bigoted.

Most of the other points do not contain such blatantly false statement but there isn't a single one that could be said to be completely factual either. Many rely on assumptions and very specific interpretations of terms. All are quite dubious and serve no purpose beyond trying to make the Catholic Church look good while implying that others look bad in some way.

Congratulations Catholic Online for denigrating your own history while making yourself look like petty whiny self-centered assholes.

Torching another strawman

Louise Ridley's "Does Religion Really Cause War - And Do Atheists Have Something To Answer For?" is yet another example of how theists find the need to distort a common atheist criticism in order to attack it. Ridley seems to think that claiming religion is the primary or sole cause of war is "the most common comeback from atheists to people of faith." Given that I am an atheist and I frequently read the works of other atheists as well as listen to/and or watch podcasts, interviews, documentaries, etc., that are about or by atheists you might think I'd have come across this "common comeback" quite often. I haven't. That is in fact not the argument/point that gets made. Religion is very often a cause of war or used as a justification for war. It also is frequently used to promote or rally support for a war already underway. Those are the points I'm familiar with and they are well founded.

Ridley never seems to notice that one of the quotes she uses to try to tar and feather Richard Dawkins with this bogus claim actually refutes her premise. She points out that he has stated that in the absence of religion's influence there would be "a much better chance of no more war." Notice it is not the definitive statement the strawman requires. Claiming there is a "better chance" is not that same as stating that religion is absolutely the one and only cause of all wars. It is far from the same thing.

Ridley also tries to make it sound like she has ample evidence to disprove the connection between religion and war. She draws nearly all her information from a single report, "Five Key Questions Answered on the Link between Peace and Religion?", of the Institute for Economics and Peace. The report is loaded with bias and methodological issues. One problem is that the report itself assumes a number of myths and stereotypes about atheists and about the perceived connection between religion and war. Even upon an initial reading it is hard to miss the authors favorable bias toward religion. They want to find a way to claim that religion is not only not violent but that it is essential to promoting peace. Even if all the finding were sound, which they are not, it still does not provide the type of evidence Ridley thinks it does. At best it would refute the claim she thinks atheists commonly make about religion's role in war. But, as I've already pointed out, that is a false argument.

Later in the piece she does at least get a few things correct. She does concede that the Communist leaders who committed various atrocities, though atheists, did not do so in the name of atheism. I will give her credit for not falling pray to that all too common fallacy that many theists seem to enjoy throwing around. Overall the piece was interesting but a bit irritating.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Quotation

"So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence."
Bertrand Russell

....not unless you are very ignorant

"These converts challenge everything you know about religion" is the opening title of a piece that is incredibly ignorant and stupid. It plays into the basest fears and misconceptions that so many use to harass and denigrate others. The authors, or at least the re-posters, seem to realize this since the title you see once you click on the story changes. The actual title, though an improvement, "Where Do The Converted Find Their Fervour? The Different 'Selling Points' Of Faiths", is only slightly better. The contents are as skewed as the the banner found on the main page of Huffington Post's Religion section.

The very first paragraph sets the tone and never wavers from massive doses of idiocy and bigotry.
"Picture a typical religious convert and you are likely to conjure up a zealous American-style preacher, or the ginger-bearded jihadi fronting recruitment videos for Islamic State in Syria. The phrase 'the fervour of the converted' is common parlance, giving the impression that converts are attracted to extreme aspects of faith."

I have known many individuals from acquaintances to family and friends who have converted from one faith to another, sometimes more than once, and none of them have ever turned out to be zealots or jihadis. It never would have occurred to me to automatically connect "convert" with extremists of any stripe. Why would I? Why would anyone?

It's funny how many theists insists that atheists are bigoted and ignorant when they come up with nonsensical shit like this with such regularity.

More dishonest theistic cheerleading

The factually impaired "news consortium" Catholic Online has once again resorted to what is commonly referred to as a lie-by-omission. In their short piece entitled "Holy Bible edges out Darwin's 'Origin of Species' as most valuable book to humanity'" they imply and even outright state that the British people have chosen the Bible as the most valuable book ever written. Slight problem with this characterization: it's false. If you read various other sources the intent of the survey conducted by the Folio Society is made quite clear. They did not ask about the actual content of the 30 books they asked individuals to rank. They actually wanted to know what books people thought have been the most influential on society as a whole. That is a huge difference. The directions make it clear that they were not being asked to evaluate the books on their merits. Two examples of reporting that did a far better job include:
The BBC's "The Bible tops 'most influential' book survey"
and The Independent's "The Bible voted more valuable to humanity than Darwin's Origin of Species in Folio Society poll

As a side note: I found it rather entertaining that conservative Catholics tend to be the loudest whiners when it comes to the perception that the society has become far too materialistic. Their short piece was very difficult to read but not because it was so poorly written, though it was that as well. It was difficult getting through because of the massive number of ads inserted throughout the page. Seems the revenue stream definitely trumped the message they were trying to peddle.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Quotation

"I'm an atheist, and that's it. I believe there's nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for each other."
Katherine Hepburn

A not so cute WWJD story

The story that Mick Mooney creates in his piece "WWJD: What Would Jesus Do? Do You Really Want to Know?" is intended to be a cute demonstration of what it means to follow Jesus and how some people misinterpret the real Jesus' central messages. The problem is it isn't cute at all. It is, in fact, as dishonest as it is arrogant and condescending. Mooney passes judgment on the mother in the story as if he actually has definitive knowledge of the Jesus figure. He doesn't. He can't. As I have pointed out so often the only available information about the Christ figure is contradictory and in places incoherent. To make matters worse, there isn't a single verifiable fact about Jesus. Mooney is ridiculing the notion that there can be other valid interpretations of the Jesus narratives without ever considering his own views are as baseless as any others. Apparently, he is among those who don't "really want to know." Then again, there probably isn't actually anything "to know" about Jesus.

An early appearannce

That fun annual phenomena that is best labeled Christmas cultural arrogance has made an early appearance. One advice columnist has already answered a reader's concerns about the upcoming Christian silly season. I largely agree with Amy Alkon's response in her "When atheist meets pious: A Christmas story." However, I think she let's the boyfriend in the scenario off way too lightly.

Basically, a dilemma is created by the boyfriend of this relationship when he tries to guilt his girfriend into attending Christmas mass with his very religious parents. He himself is not religious but tries making it seem that it would be disrespectful not to attend mass with his parents. Bullshit. Amy points out that it is not disrespectful and does a decent job explaining why that's the case. She should have noted that it is the boyfriend who is belittling other people's views, namely those of his girlfriend. He's being the disrespectful one. She, the girlfriend, has not indicated that she has in anyway sought to dissuade or interfere with the parents beliefs. He is doing to her what he falsely perceives she is doing to his parents.

Not being religious himself has not prevented a common misconception from clouding his judgment. The notion that everyone should approach Christmas from a Christian perspective is pervasive. Christians rarely bother to consider how weak and pathetic their claims on winter celebrations are. Even those of us non-believers who are generally comfortable celebrating Christmas don't necessarily want to constantly deal with the theological baggage that comes with it. Why should we? "Christmas" is not unique and doesn't have to be.

An "ordinary" Jesus?

It is true that people find it easier to relate to those individuals who more like them rather than less like them. That does seem to be a part of human nature. So, for marketing/public relations purposes much of what Kevin Emmert writes about in "You Need a More Ordinary Jesus" does make sense. However, it only makes sense in that specific context.

It is rather entertaining that this piece appears on Christianity Today's website. Promoting Jesus as a sort of every-man is not all that new. It is very problematic from a philosophical and theological perspective. This is what amuses me so much. If you think about it critically for more than a minute the innate contradiction of this approach should be blatantly obvious. To virtually any Christian the most import aspect and message of the Jesus figure is the resurrection. Coming back from the dead is about as far from ordinary as you can get. And, through your death and resurrection "saving" all humanity is an equally extraordinary feat.

Accepting all the supernatural elements infused in the Jesus figure is rather preposterous but it is equally foolish to try to trick yourself into believing that stripping out all those elements somehow makes the reputed messiah more palatable to current and/or potential followers. How? Who really expects the guy next-door to be a savior of all humankind? If you are looking for a messiah wouldn't you want a bigger-than-life figure to serve that function?

Sorry Mr. Emmert but a "more ordinary Jesus" is just as alien and untenable as a fully supernatural one.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Quotation

"The question of the truth of a religion is one thing, but the question of its usefullness is another. I am as firmly convinced that religions do harm as I am that they are untrue."
Bertrand Russell
My Religious Reminiscences

Lecrae: neither humble nor honest

The Blaze's "The Simple Question This Famed Christian Rapper Has for Atheists Like Richard Dawkins" is a rather laughable attempt to pass off a blatantly propagandist puff piece as an actual news story. Both the author of the written part and the interviewer in the embedded video all but stick their tongues up Lecrae Moore's self-righteous ass. And, he is quite self-righteous.

The pretense that he is sincere, humble, and honest is ludicrous. He constantly contradicts his own supposed message/points. He doesn't actually want to ask questions or interact with atheists at all. He wants to insist on his own views while denigrating and belittling others. In fact, he does look down on atheists and does view the world in an us-vs-them mentality despite claiming the opposite. Throughout the video he speaks in a manner that is dismissive and confrontational. His claim to having been an atheist is just as disingenuous as the rest of his act. Lacking interest in religion and having a lack of morals is not part of the basic definition of an atheist.

Any one with a functioning brain should be able to see through this pathetic charade.

"Me & Dog"

I think I'm going to have get a copy of "Me & Dog." It sounds like a pretty good kid's book. It sounds like Weingarten took a well balanced approach to the topic of God. I'm glad he didn't take the possibility of others being offended too serious. I do think he is fooling himself a little about the potential responses. Despite not intending to be offensive it is all but guaranteed that conservative theists will hear about it and viciously attack not only the book but Weingarten himself. The majority of them will probably never read it themselves, he's right about that, but that won't keep them from ramming their views about it down other peoples throats.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Synod Silliness

It is nice to see that at least a few people are paying more attention to details during the latest round of "Pope-a-palooza." Far too many are still being incredibly naive and delusional about the Synod Pope Francis has been heading. Many of the reports in the mainstream media have taken the minor step of pointing out that the document being talked about is "preliminary." Sadly, virtually none of the mainstream sources have acknowledge that it is at this point strictly a matter of rhetoric. A few sources have even confused this report as having actual substance. The subtitle to a Salon piece read "The Church issued a document indicating a profound shift in doctrine on civil marriage and homosexuality." It is not only misleading but blatantly false. The "document" in question is a draft and does not contain anything that will alter official doctrine or practices.

One of the most talked about phrases from the draft that relates to the church's views on homosexuals is about the “gifts and qualities to offer.” Few have really looked at what that really means. Many of the mainstream sources are still bending over backwards to make it seem like this is a major breakthrough for homosexual rights. They have used terms like "earth shaking" and "revolutionary." It isn't. Even if it is taken at face value, which there is little reason to do so, it is at best a very, very tiny step in the right direction. Again, there is nothing to indicate a change in doctrine or policy. There is nothing to bar the church from continuing to lobby against homosexual right on a variety of fronts (marriage, adoption, workplace, housing, etc.). Homosexuality is still viewed as a sin. Basically, it is the equivalent of the clergy smiling at homosexuals while explaining they are welcome to sit in the pews, donate to the church, serve as volunteers for the church, but that they will still be receiving a one way ticket to hell from the church.

I still don't see how the current Pope is that different from his predecessors. There isn't any reason to see this latest round of reporting as an intentional move to generate positive PR for the church after decades declining membership and increasing criticism.

Below is a short list of some of the more intersting pieces floating around about the synod.

At the Vatican, a Shift in Tone Toward Gays and Divorce (New York Times, 10/13/14)
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/14/world/europe/vatican-signals-more-tolerance-toward-gays-and-remarriage.html

Vatican urges Catholics to recognize “gifts” same-sex couples have to offer (Salon, 10/13/14)
http://www.salon.com/2014/10/13/vatican_urges_catholics_to_recognize_gifts_same_sex_couples_have_to_offer/

A new welcome for gay Catholics in the church (CNN Belief Blog, 10/13/14)
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/10/13/a-new-welcome-for-gay-catholics-in-the-church/

Under conservative assault, Vatican backtracks on gay comments (CNN Belief Blog, 10/14/14)
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/10/14/under-conservative-assault-vatican-backtracks-on-gay-comments/

Never Mind, Catholic Church Will Probably Just Keeping Hating Gays Like Always (Wonkette, 10/14/14)
http://wonkette.com/563359/never-mind-catholic-church-will-probably-just-keeping-hating-gays-like-always

Everyone Keeps Falling for the Catholic Church's Good Cop/Bad Cop Routine (Slog, 10/14/14)
http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2014/10/14/everyone-keeps-falling-for-the-catholic-churchs-good-copbad-cop-routine

Initial Report From Vatican on Families Is Criticized (New York Times, 10/16/14)
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/17/world/europe/initial-report-from-vatican-on-families-is-criticized.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Quotation

"It takes two to speak the truth - one to speak, and another to hear."
Henry David Thoreau

Prayer can be entertaining

Kevin Drum's review of a recent Life Way survey was pretty amusing. I agree that the survey result for which his piece is named, "5 Percent of Religious Americans Routinely Try to Fool God", is both interesting and revealing. I would, however, go further than Drum and point out that praying for "Success in something you knew wouldn't please God" can be interpreting in a number of different ways. None of them are flattering to the individual theists or to religion as a whole. It does imply that some theists may not believe as deeply as they themselves think they do. It also seems to imply that God is a rather demanding grumpy asshole. It is possible that they intuitively realized just how unlikely it is for the average person to live up to many of the ludicrous and dehumanizing constrictions religion often places on its adherents. There are a number of other survey results that can be interpreted in different ways, Similarly none of those interpretations bode any better for the faithful. I also really liked what I would deem the "lazy bastard approach." 20% of the respondents prayed for "Success in something you put almost no effort in." Yup, religion does a great job shoring up peoples ethics.


The "disconnect" isn't new

Michael Boorstein's Washington Post piece, "Catholics find disconnect with divorce doctrine but are drawn to faith", should not be surprising to anyone who knows more than a handful of Catholics. The majority of Catholics I'm familiar with don't really seem to accept any of the church teachings that distinguish the Roman Catholic church from other Christian sects and denominations. Divorce is not the only doctrine that many self-identified Catholics disagree with the hierarchy over. It has often baffled me that many "Catholics" remain in a church that they share very little in common with. As far as I can tell many simply stay out of sense of tradition and misplaced loyalty.

A shroud of stupidity

At least a small percentage of theists are just plain stupid. Maybe that is harsh and judgmental but I don't see any other way to put it. There is yet another conference on the Shroud of Turin. This fraud has been so thoroughly debunked from a variety of angles that it is just mind-numbingly dumb to think it has any merit. The cloth has been dated to the middle ages. The pigmentation has been shown to be ink NOT blood. Applying basic geometry has proven that the individual pictured would be grossly misproportioned and excessively tall for the era.

So unless these dip-shits think that Jesus was a time traveling mutant giant with mismatched limbs and huge head that bled ink, I fail to see what they could possibly have to talk about at such a conference. Blind faith really can make some people stupid.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Quotation

"As humans, we are so prone to false memories that you can sometimes induce one simply by casually telling a person about an incident that didn't really happen. Over time, that person may 'remember' the incident but forget the source of the memory. As a result, he or she will confuse the imagined event with his or her actual past."

Leonard Mlodinow
"3 Remembering and Forgetting"
Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior

Confusing bias for substance

The folks over at Teaching Nonviolent Atonement definitely have problems with reality. I'm all for nonviolence but I take issue with delusions, willful ignorance, double standards, and plain old deceit. Yet another of their Patheos blog posts is chock full of all of the above. The title,"How Christians Reject Jesus: On Trying to Outsmart God", implies a number of things that Adam Erickson not only never establishes but also has no objective way to establish.

When he writes "reject" what he really means is that there are Christians who do not accept his preferred version of the Jesus figure, which is true. It is also true that his views of Jesus are highly subjective, debatable, and unproven. Virtually every paragraph of the piece shows that he is writing solely from his own biased views without any substantive thought. In the very first paragraph he insists, "We take seriously the words of Jesus that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us." No, they do not. The selectively choose which bits of scripture favor their own preferences. There are plenty of passages where Jesus acts in a hostile and violent manner.

Throughout the post Erickson makes similar comments. Among them, "Excuse me for stating the obvious, but Christians are not Biblians. We are Christians. As Christians, we should be putting Jesus first...And Jesus calls us to nonviolence." Problem is that it is not obvious. It in fact is false. If you strip away scripture Jesus literally disappears. As I have on numerous occassions pionted out, Christians to some extant have to take scripture literally if they want to preserve belief in their messiah. I have also on numerous occssions challenged any Christian to come up with a plausible way to reconcile Luke 19:27, ""But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.", with the notion of a peace-loving Jesus. Last I knew dividing people up with a an Us-vs.-Them mentality and then oredering mass murder is the opposite of "nonviolent"

The writing never gets any better. However, it does become a bit more entertaining towards the middle. His observations about wisdom gave me a pretty good chuckle.
"Notice the distinction being made between God’s wisdom and human wisdom. The wisdom of God is the way of nonviolent love in the face of violence that often leads to the cross...Human wisdom, on the other hand, is the wisdom of retributive violence."
There are so many things wrong with this that I can't possibly write about all of them. I'll stick with just a few of the more blatant flaws with Erickson's line of thinking.

It seems to me that even the most devoted theists would have to realize that the only way a flawed human being could perceive "God's wisdom" is through the filter of "human wisdom." So how can you possibly make any "distinction"? And how can you know you aren't completely fucking it up? Then there's that gem about God being non-violent. What?! Even if you discount the whole of the Bible how do you account for human violence. Isn't God suppose to be source of everything? Isn't everything suppose to play out by God's grand design? I also have to marvel at the implication that all human wisdom supposedly leads to "retributive violence." Did Erickson just inadvertently admit that he and everyone else at Teaching Nonviolent Atonement are a bunch of dumb-asses?

Believing in the proto-hippy Jesus is better than the tight-ass obey me or go to hell version but that is still no excuse for blathering on in such a blatantly error laden ignorant way.


Friday, October 3, 2014

"Lukewarmness"?

Apparently, one of the editors of The National Review Online seems to think comparing atheism to a disease is a good way to express the dangers of "lukewarmness". I assume Kathryn Lopez means to use the term "apathy" but lacks the intellectual ability and honesty to manage it. Her brief post on Patheos, "Avoid the Plague of Practical Atheism", is lazy and stupid. She basically throws a couple of quotes with just a few of her own sentences. Isn't a lack of effort sometimes seen as evidence of apathy? The quotations themselves aren't all that impressive either. The first has Pope Benedict XVI commenting on how superficial peoples views of God can be. That's pretty entertaining given that like virtually all Popes his behaviors have not matched his rhetoric.

Basically, this is just another instance of conservative asshole attempting to dress up what amounts to a "fuck you" to atheists.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Quotation

"I would ask whose historicity was questioned in antiquity, when both pagan historians and Christian Fathers accepted pagan saviour gods as historical personages? (Herodotus says Attis was the son of a king of Lydia and that Horus, son of Isis and Osiris, was a ruler of Egypt. Clement of Alexandria regarded pagan saviour gods as 'mere men' and Firmicus Maternus called Osiris and Typhon 'without doubt' kings of Egypt). Can one expect much in the way of critical scepticism when, even in modern times, Wilhelm Till long passed as a real person?"
G.A. Wells
The Jesus Legend (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1996), p. 47.

Note: William Tell is at present the more familiar name of the legendary character referenced as Wilhelm Till

Yup, Everyone gets it wrong (including Amy)

Amy-Jill Levine's recent CNN Belief blog post,"4 teachings from Jesus that everybody gets wrong", was rather entertaining. It is usually somewhat amusing to read theists go another round of linguistic and logical gymnastics but this one was exceptional in that she manages to imply standards that would in effect erase the Bible (both Old and New Testament) entirely. Her arguments were as subjective, ignorant, deluded, and self serving as they were just plain stupid.

Setting aside for the moment that the whole piece is simply a review of her opinions on specific sets of scripture backed by nothing beyond her own personal preference, the four sections of the post essentially self-destruct almost immediately. In the first part, "The 'Parable of the Prodigal Son'", one of her first objections and supposed proofs that "everyone gets wrong" is incredibly foolish and quite telling. Levine writes, "It is not, however, what first-century Jews would have heard. Jesus’ Jewish audience already knew that their “Father in heaven” was loving, forgiving, and compassionate."

It sounds rather innocuous until you think about what it implies. She seems to be saying that only original/unique messages are worthy of being written down and becoming scripture. Seriously?! Not only does she not establish that all Jews would have been familiar with the messages current theists favor, which is possible, but she never seems to notice that there were numerous cults, sects, and religions around both before and during the first century. Not all of those would fall under the label of Judaism or Christianity. How can she possibly determine the origin of any given concept or teaching given that every faith we are aware of has been built on the faiths that came before them and on their contemporaries. Many of the teachings did overlap and were by no means unique to any one faith.

The scriptures themselves are fairly repetitive on a number of points. If you follow this premise to its logical conclusion the Bible should not exist. Each "Testament" is internally largely redundant. The New Testament is in some ways even worse since it rehashes a number of stories, lessons, and concepts from its predecessor before restating them over and over again. According to Levine's low standards, the New Testament should be viewed as "wrong."  That would be somewhat convenient since it negates the foundation of Christianity (she's Jewish) but it also basically destroys her arguments related to Jesus' teachings. She herself has to be "wrong" since her supposed insights are also not original. Even if you could still make the assumption Jesus existed without scripture, which you can't, his teachings are not unique. So why argue about others getting his messages wrong when there are no worthwhile messages or no messages at all to interpret?

Levine not only reinforces this flaw in her writing, she makes a number of similar ones. She clearly thinks she is helping people better understand the true nature of Jesus Christ. I believe she does actually mean well but that doesn't change the fact that it is just as clear that she really doesn't have a clue what she's talking about. She ends her piece by stating, "I am not a Christian, but I hear profound messages in these parables. If I as an outsider can be so moved by Jesus’ stories, surely people who worship him as Lord and Savior can appreciate them even more."

I have to wonder what her definition of "profound" is. I got the distinct impression that she wrote the piece for herself more than anyone else. She seems to need to convince herself of her own interpretations. Perhaps deep down she realizes that it really is completely subjective and devoid of any substance.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Quotation

“I never yet have seen the person who could withstand the doubt and unbelief that enter his mind when reading the Bible in a spirit of inquiry.”

Etta Semple
"A Pious Congressman Twice Answered"
Truth Seeker, Feb. 23,1895

"Is new atheism dead and is it even a term worth saving?"

The so called "new atheism" never had any merit to begin with. I have never understood why any atheist would view this term as anything more than yet another attempt to pigeon-hole and dismiss atheists. In most instances when it has been used by theists it has served as a smear and a way to maintain and spread a wide variety of myths and stereotypes about us. Dan Arel doesn't seem to get it. His use of the "Four Horsemen" is another example of this mindless crap. Just because the media and hostile critics insist that guys like Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Dennett are the spokesmen of atheism doesn't mean the really are. There are plenty of other publicly vocal atheists who could be said to be leaders, again, not that that makes them our official spokespeople. How often does the media pay attention to individuals like Ophelia Benson, S.T. Joshi, A.C. Grayling, Greta Christina, Steve Novella, Anni Laurie Gaylor.....?

To be clear, the only thing "new" about the supposed new atheists was that they were able to get mainstream publishers. In the past, no mainstream publisher would touch works by or about (unless they were negative) atheists. Basically, it can't be said to be dead since it was a fabrication to begin with. The label is definitely not worth saving. The momentum that this media attention has helped to spur is worth keeping, however.

Decent intentions can still be arrogant and negative

I would emphasize "decent" since I can't completely tell what Nicole Fulgham's intentions are from the interview Jonathan Merritt conducted in "What Christian parents need to know about America’s schools" or from the video embedded in the piece. There are a few instances where it seems like her support for education is conditional on its ability to proselytize for Christianity.

Even if that is not the case I do have some concerns about Fulgham's approach. With or without implied, or worse overt, indoctrination she makes it clear that her message is geared toward Christians. This is disturbing. Does she think non-Christians don't care about their children or education in general? Her constant repetition of "Christian children" and "Christian parents" seems to be very arrogant, bigoted, and misguided. Everyone should be concerned about the well-being of children and of education. If this is the message she is trying to get a cross she is doing a shitty job. At times it does seem like she wants to exclude, even discourage, non-Christians from being involved.

Whether her intentions are good, at this point I'd give her the benefit of the doubt, the results are not likely to be so wonderful. I can't imagine that her manner of presenting issues and concerns won't automatically alienate most non-Christians. Sadly, I can easily see her doing more harm than good

Exceptioanlly weak Apologetics or Mental Diarrhea?

The overwhelming majority of apologists seem to share the same penchant for willful ignorance, self-delusion, and logical fallacies. Yet another example of this intellectual bankruptcy is clearly demonstrated by Brandon Jones in his recent piece at The Global Dispatch, "Evidence of Jesus Christ’s life, resurrection and how atheists are foolish." Jones lobs numerous definitive statements without the slightest reference or support. It is hard to summarize the massive doses of bigotry, bias, and plain stupidity contained in this rather short piece but I'll give it a shot.

"Jesus is on ancient Roman records to have been crucified in 28 AD.  Even Orthodox Jews, who still hate Him, acknowledge His existence and death, but have trouble with his birth and resurrection....The tomb of Jesus, which can still be seen today in the Garden Tomb area (not the Catholic traditional site), still has the metal spikes which were sheared off when the angel rolled the stone away....The tomb of Jesus, which can still be seen today in the Garden Tomb area (not the Catholic traditional site), still has the metal spikes which were sheared off when the angel rolled the stone away....Why was the body of Jesus never found…, at least by unbelievers?  How is it that God managed to have the Ark of the Covenant hidden for 600 years, right under the place where Yeshua was crucified, so that His blood would flow down the earthquake crack of the hill of rock, and drip 24 feet down upon the West end of the Ark?"

All of that came from the first page of his two page rant. The first thing I noticed was that unlike many other apologists he makes no attempt at citing anything. Usually, they try to make some bogus claim that this historian or that stated something about Christ in one of their works. In each instance it is either a completely fabricated "source" or the source actually refers to what Christians said about their beliefs, which the historian was simply conveying. The historian makes no value judgement on the beliefs themselves. It's pretty pathetic that this asshole is as lazy as he is deluded. There are no Roman records related to Jesus Christ. In point of fact, Roman records discredit most aspects of the Jesus narratives. The supposed court case against Christ, for example, never would have proceeded the way it is described in the Gospels. There are certainly no accounts of such a noticeable event as an earthquake of the magnitude and consequence that he recites.

Then, of course there are all the other ridiculous things he manages to cram into such a short space. The Jews knew/know Christs existence and hate him. Really?! Jones knows this, how? Even if another group of theists accepted something as true what makes that factual? There is a lot of blind bigotry that Jones conflates with historical fact. The Garden Tomb, as he implies, is one of a handful of sites theists have speculated is the site of Jesus resurrection. There is no archeological evidence for this assertion. There isn't even any remotely objective reason to favor his preferred site over the various other proposed one. Also as Jones implies, many Christians refute this as a legitimate holy site. A fact about the Garden Tomb that can be easily confirmed is that it is a highly profitable tourist trap. Just follow the link to it's official website to check it out.

And, what the fuck is with his reference to the Ark? The supposed Ark of the Covenant, if it were real, would have pre-dated Christ and has no direct connection to any aspect of the Jesus narratives. Referencing multiple mythical events and figure does not provided reinforcement to any of them being historical. Its almost as if he contracted some type of mental diarrhea that he was then compelled to put down in writing. And remember the excerpts above are from just a handful of paragraphs on the first page. It doesn't get any better. You really have to read it to fathom the level of stupidity it contains. There is far more to ridicule than just what little I've pointed out.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Quotation

"Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived."
Isaac Asimov

An Apt Corollary

A recent CNN Belief blog post by Matthew Paul Turner, "5 ways America changed God", seems to pair quite nicely with Jonathan Merritt's "Have American's made God in their image." Had these been written as speculative pieces by non-belivers as a way to explore the variations of the "God" concept they might not have been so preposterous. But they weren't. I pointed out how foolish Merritt's piece was in my own post "Duh, of course" (August 31, 2014) and many of those points are equally true of Turner's. I would, however, go even further. Turner unintentionally brings up aspects of the God concept that are innate contradictions.

As a supreme being it seems a bit ludicrous that such fallible limit creature like human being could have even a slight affect on such an entity. To change God implies quite a lot of power on our part. But, wait, isn't the supreme being "all-powerful"? How can humans have any power if God has all the power. Yes, it is true Turner is largely talking about perceptions and interpretations but not entirely. There are implications that God might be changeable. Even internally this is inconsistent and contradictory. God is supposed to be eternal and perfect. How can you change from a state of perfection without becoming imperfect? It is a conundrum that cannot be resolved without dismantling God.

It also seems a bit myopic to, even superficially, focus on America. Doesn't every culture have some variation of the the God concept. Haven't those variations been subject to a variety of interpretations over time. The ideas Turner ascribes to America are not original or unique to America. His summary of American relgious history is as pointless as it is brief. It seems to be little more than a handful of examples wandering around in the hope of finding some cohesive theme to bind them all together.

How many assumptions can be squeezed into one title?

The title of a recent post by Jonathan Merritt seems to be attempting to answer the question, "how many assumptions can be squeezed into one title?" rather than the one posed in his September 11th "Have evangelicals diluted Jesus’ radical message?"

By the title you would have assume: 1. Jesus existed, 2. there is a single interpretation of who the Jesus figure was, 3. that it is possible to know which interpretation of the Jesus figure is accurate/correct, 4. that those who identify as "evangelicals" among Christians are incorrect or inaccurate in their views of Jesus, 5. that there is a clear "message" attached to the Jesus figure, 6. that message is uniquely Jesus, and 7. that message is "radical."

It is possible I may have missed a few assumptions. Even so, that's a lot crammed in one short question. And, yes, they are entirely assumptions. There is no sound evidence to support a single one of the assumptions enumerated. In point of fact, a few of them are refuted by Christians themselves. The overwhelming majority of religious scholars who happen to also be Christians concede that there were any number of itinerant preachers and reformers roaming around the middle east before, during, and after Christ's supposed life-time. Many of them conveyed very similar ideas and practices. John the Baptist, an equally historically suspicious character, is said by many Christians to be a precursor to Christ. According to scripture there were even groups of theists who mistook John for the Messiah.

Then, of course, there's a problem with characterizing Christ's message. I have heard many Christians reference Mark 12:17, "And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. And they marvelled at him.", for a variety of purposes. This is just one of many that I would personally interpret as a very conformist stance. Last I checked conforming to conventional norms is the exact opposite of being a radical. But, once again, this is just one possible interpretation. There can be no definitive views on Christ or Christ's message since the only available information is highly dubious and completely subjective.

Basically, if you adhere to standards of historical research the answer to Merritt's question is no since Jesus did not actually exist and therefore did not have a "message" at all. If you take a theological approach, no discernible standards at all, there can be no answer.

"Why atheists should be...."

Any time a sentence starts with "Why atheists should be_" you can be reasonably sure that what follows will be nonsensical crap. In this regard Vlad Chituc's "Why atheists should be vegans" post on Patheos does not disappoint. From start to finish it is some of the dumbest bullshit I've read from a fellow atheist in quite sometime. Even after setting aside that atheism isn't an actual "ism" and therefore has no identifiable set of beliefs that any of his ideas can be supported from, he makes a number of incredibly blatant errors.

Not only does Chituc fail to make any type of connection between atheism and veganism he grossly characterizes and conflates a variety of issues. It is highly debatable as to whether veganism is more ethical especially when you apply what this dumb-ass actually says about it. He actually isn't making a case against eating meat in general. He makes this clear from the very first paragraph which he ends with "...most atheists nonetheless have no good reason to consume factory-farmed animal products." It is true that the majority of meat consumed is from factory farming and it can be argued that this is unethical. However, this is misleading in that it cannot presently be used to advocate for "veganism." The overwhelming majority of produce consumed also comes from "factory farming" which has a whole boat load of ethical issues attached to it as well. Does Chituc really think that industrial scale agriculture has a squeeky clean record when it comes to labor rights or environmental issues?

Eventually he does get to purely animal rights arguments which do not depend on the methods and techniques used to raise, care for, and slaughtering of animals. It seemed to be more of an after thought than part of his main points. Perhaps he realised how weak and feeble his argument up to that point had been. They are still far more debatable than he seems to realize. He references science but in vague and misleading ways. Utimately, he fails to make a connection between a lack of religious beliefs with advocacy of veganism or animal rights.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Quotation

"No discourse whatsoever, can end in absolute knowledge of fact."
Thomas Hobbes
Leviathan

Still Logically Untenable

Even though I am sympathetic to TJ Montoya and I tend to favor more liberal strains of theism over their conservative cousins, his overall message is just as willfully ignorant and self deluded as the narrow minded pin-heads who condemn him. Montoya does a pretty good job with his Youtube video but he really does not accomplish what he seems to think he has. Demonstrating that conservative interpretations of the Bible are generally hypocritical self serving forms of bigotry does not itself prove that homosexuality is compatible with either the Bible or Christianity. The simple truth is that Christianity does condemn homosexuals. It just happens to also condemn a wide variety of other behaviors and practices common among all those currently alive. The brief HuffPo write-up on Montoya's video is actually rather annoying since they just pile on another layer of unnecessary bullshit.

"In this video, 18-year-old TJ Montoya discusses the conclusions he has reached as a self-identifying gay Christian after being out of the closet for five years. This well-researched and nuanced discussion serves as a response to Christians who don't necessarily understand what the Bible really has to say about same-sex attraction." Again, Montoya does produced a nice short video. However, it is laced with a wide variety of logical fallacies. It certainly isn't that "well-researched and nuanced." It appears to be more profound mainly due to that fact that the average theist, including nearly the entire stable of HuffPo writers, knows next to nothing about the Bible or Christianity. Reading the Bible cover to cover and paying attention to what it says is merely a small step in the right direction. Montoya probably also read a little further. He probably did a little more research than the average curious person but I don't get the impression he went much beyond that. Simply noting the opinions of others isn't really research.

Sorry TJ but the Bible really does condemn you. Christ also in more than one place reiterates support for Mosaic Law, which also condemns homosexuals. But, if it's any consolation, you and all other homosexuals will have lots of company in Hell. Virtually the entire human species are, according to Biblical standards, sinful "abominations". It's probably a good thing that Hell is as imaginary as God and/or Jesus (depending on whether they are a single entity or not).

Stick with comedy

     "As a comedy website, we tend to stay away from too much talk about religion. Sure, we'll run the occasional article about Jesus riding dragons -- but no way are we going to start declaring huge aspects of major religions 'wrong.' That's just not our place, and we'll never do it ... after today.
     Oh, relax. We're just going to point out some popular misconceptions about certain religions. Of course there's no wrong religion.*
*Except for Scientology."

Above is how Cracked.com kicks off "5 Myths You Probably Believe About Major Religions". It is still somewhat tong-in-cheek but overall is meant to be taken seriously. So I will. Though, they are not outright "wrong" they are themselves assuming far too much. The whole piece is based on a specific set of interpretations and biases. The "myths" described in the piece are just as accurate a portrayal of the various concepts and beliefs as those expressed by the author, Pat Carnell. Basically, in the strictest sense of the term "myth" they are not any such thing.

The 5 "myths" Carnell claims to be setting the record straight about are (the appear in descending order):
#5. The Amish Do Not Use Technology
#4. The Star of David Is the Official Ancient Symbol of Judaism
#3. Creationists Have Been Dragging Down Scientific Progress for Millennia
#2. Muslims Reject Jesus
#1. Buddhism Has No Heaven or Hell

I'll use #2 as an example of what I mean. It isn't a myth. It is a misunderstanding that is sometimes used  to bash Muslims. Most Muslims accept Jesus as a prophet. That much is true. If you stopped with that little factlet it would seem to be a myth that Muslims reject Jesus. The problem is that the Jesus figure means different things to different groups. Just accepting that Jesus is one prophet among many other prophets does not express his significance to Christians. Muslims DO REJECT the idea that Jesus was more than another prophet. They do not accept him as a savior. They do not accept him as an incarnation of God/God made flesh. In effect they do not accept Jesus in the way that Christians do. Stated more plainly, they do reject the Jesus virtually every Christian means when they invoke the name. So, yes, in fact from a Christian Theological perspective Muslims definitely reject Jesus (the Messiah).

Most of the other explanations of these "myths" are similarly flawed. They can only be seen as true from a very specific and narrow interpretation. This should not surprise any one who has spent any time studying religion. Religion by its nature is highly subjective and amorphous. What may be viewed as "myth" or "stereotype" in one set of circumstances ends up being true in others, at least to the practitioners of that religion.

Cracked probably should stick with their usually comedic take on subjects. Comedy does not have to be accurate to be funny. You don't have to back up what you write or say with anything substantial. Carnell doesn't seem to have the interest or ability to really comment on religion in a thoughtful manner.

Doubt doesn't automatically mean....

Simply having doubts does not make an individual an atheist. Having doubts from time to time also doesn't mean a person's surviving beliefs are particularly profound. I'm glad that overall Paul Jesep is comfortable enough to admit to having doubts and to at least think about them to some degree. However, he seems to have fallen for a number of foolish notions that seem to go hand-in-hand with many theists' doubts. One of the more annoying falsehoods implied in his Rainbow Times piece "Faith, Family and God: Dancing with Atheism as a Person of Faith" is the idea that Jesus is an excellent role-model even without religious ideas. That's not just nonsensical it's actually a bit arrogant.

He writes, "It may surprise some readers of this column, but I struggle with faith. There are days I’m a Christian and others when I lean toward deist, or “c”hristian-atheist—a person believing in the principles of Jesus, without a belief in Christ’s divinity, an afterlife or higher authority." Even after setting aside the silly view that occasional doubts somehow automatically strips him of his Christianity, the view that Christ has any merits outside the context of Christianity is ridiculous. There are no "principles" that are uniquely tied to Christ. Most of the supposed ethical teachings of the Christ figure pre-date the advent of Christianity. With or without divine traits the Christ figure is not that different from any number of religious figures from ancient traditions. Christ is not exceptional. The assumption that he is is both ignorant and arrogant.

Throughout the piece it seems pretty clear to me that Jesep firmly maintains his supernatural beliefs. I don't see how he can think he is "dancing with atheism." Jesep does seem to be a good person who genuinely wants to understand and encourage further thought. I applaud him for that but see no reason to withhold valid criticism. Ultimately, his muddled notions of doubt, faith, and what distinguishes belief from non-belief are far more likely to maintain a variety of myths and stereotypes than to help eliminate them. It is somewhat sad given his apparent intentions

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Quotation

"The advancement and diffusion of knowledge...is the only guardian of true liberty."
Thomas Paine

Listinng things don't make them true

Mark Sandlin's "10 MORE Things Churches Can’t Do While Following Jesus" is complete crap. There isn't a single on on his list that can't be debated. It is true that you can find scriptural passages that support his favored claims but you can also find passages that contradict his views. I have written about this numerous times. The "truth" is that there is not a single Jesus in the the New Testament. There are a variety of personas that get portrayed under the name Jesus. Pick the Jesus you like best and you can find support for that version. There are a handful from Sandlin's list that I find rather entertaining since there are blatant counter-examples.

"3) Turn the poor away....
4) Narrowly define who is and who isn’t a Christian....
5) Define yourself more by what you’re are against than what you support....
9) Love the sinner hate the sin."

A couple passages I've referenced before immediately spring to mind. Mark 14:3-7 is Jesus' cute self centered "fuck you" to the poor that I have commented on previously. If Jesus can decide on a whim to ignore the poor why can't another self-righteous asshole do the same? Then, of course, there's Luke 19:27 where humanity's savior orders his followers to round up all non-followers and slaughter them. That rather short passage seems to kick the shit out of Sandlin's 4,5,9 and most of the other "10 more things..." to boot.

It is really pretty simple. Followers of Jesus can do just about anything they want in Jesus name and justify it with scripture. This might account for why Christianity became and continues to be so wide spread.

Duh, of course

The title question of one of Jonathan Merritt's most recent posts is so blatantly stupid I wasn't sure wether to bother commenting on it. In the end it was too ripe for ridicule to resist. "Have Americans made God in their image?" is yet another example of how willfully ignorant Merritt continues to be. Even the theists in fields like sociology, anthropology, and psychology have long since conceded that to some degree the cultural traits of a given society shape that society's views of God(s). Even when they are unwilling to admit that God is entirely a construction the admit that a great deal of projection goes into the concept. it also isn't a recently reached consensus. This understanding was establish before Merritt was even born.

I do understand that for Merritt the topic came up largely due to his interest in interviewing Matt Turner about his latest book that has this aspect of God as it's subject. He still selected Turner. He also does little to probe the author in any meaningful way. The interview doesn't come close to any new or even vaguely interesting insights. It seems designed more to make both men feel good about themselves. It is mostly unearned self-adulation. This topic has been written about repeatedly and in many instances with far greater depth.

If anyone is interested in the "American God" Froese and Bader's America's Four Gods is a much better choice. It is well researched and researched. It provides more insight and depth into this area theological study.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Quotation

"Don't let us forget that the causes of human actions are usually immeasurably more complex and varied than our subsequent explanations of them."
Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Idiot

Another pseudo-scandal?

To be honest I know very little about the details of Kendra Turner's expulsion. However, given the track record of such incidences it is relatively safe to assume that the media has once again fucked-up the story. I seriously doubt she was expelled for just saying "bless you" after a classmate sneezed. Considering how most of these stories play out I'd be willing to bet that either she has a track record of interrupting and causing disturbances in class that led to the teacher's actions or she has a record of attempting to proselytize during school. In the end the details once they finally come out won't really matter since the religious right will latch on to their preferred version of the story either way.

"Student Says She Was Punished At School For Saying 'Bless You'"
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/21/kendra-turner-bless-you_n_5697629.html?utm_hp_ref=religion

Pondering Faux History and Whiny Assholes

Right from the start David Gibson's "Analysis" is full of ridiculous shit. As a title, "America’s Christian conservatives ponder a ‘Babylonian exile’ (ANALYSIS)" sets the tone quite well. Comparing the US's religious right to the Biblical "Babylonian exile" of the Jews is utter non-sense. No one is forcing these self-deluded hypocritical assholes to do anything. They also still wield influence and resources far beyond what you might expect from their numbers.

It isn't just the stupidly of the title that irritates me. The implications of the very first sentence should annoy anyone who knows the actual history rather than the elementary-school rendition of it.
"From the moment they set foot on North American soil, the Puritans who came to the continent viewed their “errand into the wilderness” through a biblical lens, seeing themselves as modern-day Israelites building a New Jerusalem in the New World."
The "Puritans" fled England for the Netherlands in order to gain religious freedom. They got it. The left the Netherlands for the "New World" for expressly economic reasons. They came to find better access to resources and develop their personal wealth. It may seem nit-picky but it is common myth that the willfully ignorant religious right insists on using to make all sorts of other baseless claims.

Even though Gibson does not completely buy into all the bullshit the individuals he wrote to and spoke with about this "exile" he does very little to set the record straight. He even seems somewhat sympathetic to what all their griping really boils down to: their ability to bully other without question or limitations. I just don't get it. I do not understand why comparatively (emphasis on comparative) reasonable theists keep giving these overprivileged jerks yet another soap box. I also find it rather telling that Gibson and company don't see the innate contradiction. The religious right whines about not being taken seriously enough yet every mainstream outlet bends over backwards to give them as much of megaphone as anyone can possibly have.

Condoning and codling these dip shits doesn't help anyone.

Yoffie Vs The Strawmen

Over the years I have gotten the impression that Rabbi Yoffie is a nice guy who means well but really has no grasp on anything resembling critical thinking skills. He also comes across as somewhat complacent and lazy when it comes to many of the topics he chooses to write about for Huffington Post. His recent piece, "The Three Mistakes Atheists Make", is another example of his shoddy bias laden tripe. His "three mistakes" are a mixture of logical fallacies with little to no substance.

According to Yoffie these three are:
"1. They dismiss, often with contempt, the religious experience of other people.
2. They assert that since there are no valid religions but that religions do good things, the task of smart people is to create a religion without God -- or, in other words, a religion without religion.
3. They see the world of belief in black and white, either/or terms."

Even setting aside the vast sweeping generalizations that can be compared to equally stupid stereotypes like; "greedy jews" and "violent/criminal black", his three don't stand up to even the slightest examination. Even if every atheist automatically dismissed, contemptuously or not, so what? He destroys his own point without ever realizing it. For instance according to him, "Such arguments are legitimate, but they tell us nothing about the way that much of humankind experiences God...." Why does he single out this type of experience? People take hallucinogens and then claim all sorts of profound "insights". Are those automatically legitimate? Can't those be viewed as worthwhile "experiences". Most atheists I'm familiar with are unconcerned with such personal experiences so long as they are not used to influence public policies that will then effect everyone.

His second point is even more debatable and is far more nuanced than he allows. We don't all agree that religion in and of itself does good things. As I have commented on previously, most of the positive elements and effects are not innate to religion. Rather, the benefits are a side-effect of close social interaction. We certainly don't agree on approaches to dealing with religion when they encroach on social or political aspects of our society. I can only think of a few who seem interested in recreating religion without God. Idiots like Alain deBotton have been soundly refuted by numerous other atheists for just such an approach.

In point of fact, it is Eric Yoffie who sees things in black and white. There are very few atheists that use only a single argument let alone a single variation/approach to just one argument. This insistence is more of a reflection on theists like Yoffie then on atheists. Yoffie and others like him routinely fail to actually pay attention to the arguments and counter-arguments that are used by atheists. He seems to misunderstand and/or misrepresent what we say and write then turns around using such ignorance-laced crap to try to criticize us. These "three mistakes" are in fact not ours but his and his fellow travelers.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Quotation

"Men are most apt to believe what they least understand."
Michel DeMontaigne

Irony of "In God we trust"

One of the aspects of the drive to defend and further push the phrase "In God we trust" that I have always found both irritating and amusing is the innate contradiction it embodies. The pin head subset of theists who so zealously advocate for it utterly fail to see the irony. They insist that it must be endorsed by government and non-government institutions and agencies alike. They never acknowledge that by it's nature their drives rely entirely on humans. If they really trusted in God they wouldn't lobby for the phrase so vigorously. After all, if it were god's will wouldn't it just be the way it is. There shouldn't be any need for government endorsement. There shouldn't even be any thoughts of seeking government endorsement. To co-opt another favorite phrase of these idiots, doesn't this approach at least imply that they are "playing God"? Are they not implying that God can't accomplish things without human intervention? Judging by their behavior God doesn't seem to be all that much of a supreme being.

He started out so well....

The headline of Eric Simpsons HuffPo piece seemed so promising. The first two paragraphs of "Spiritual or Religious? False Dichotomy" were also pretty encouraging. Then it all turned to shit. The initial subheading, "In the first place, we are all spiritual", was a clear indication of were the rest of the piece was going to end up: right down the toilet. The next few paragraphs were excruciatingly stupid. It only got worse the further I read. The second subheading was "Next, we are also all religious." No we are not. Basically, Simpson's understanding of basic terminology was about as challenged as his grasp on reality.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Quotation

"I should scorn to shiver with terror at the thought of annihilation. Happiness is nonetheless true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting."
Bertrand Russell

Changing the debate, really?

Despite all the verbiage used by Sarah Bailey in her Religious News Service piece "Gay, Christian and … celibate: The changing face of the homosexuality debate" this whole mass of bullshit can be summed up in one word: suppression. Bullshit is also a pretty good encapsulation. A lot of people may agree that encouraging celibacy is more humane than most of the "ex-gay therapy" programs being used but that doesn't mean it is in itself humane or acceptable. It isn't. It certainly does not change the "debate".  It still amounts to a select group of theistic busy-bodies seeking to impose their ridiculous nonsense on others, in this case homosexuals. I fail to see how suppressing homosexuality among homosexuals is in any way a new approach to something that is not a problem and should not be a matter of debate. In the end this seems to be more about pretending that suppression and harassment of homosexuals isn't bigotry.

If they think that homosexuality is a problem then the solution is simple. They shouldn't participate in any sexual acts involving their own gender. What other consenting adults do in private is generally of no concern to anyone else. We have a variety of laws dealing with public sexual acts that apply to all preferences already. Problem solved. These assholes should mind their own fucking business.

Still Credulous Connor

After reading his blog for a couple of years it would be nice to think that Connor Wood is finally going to attempt to put some "science" in his "Science on Religion" blog. Unfortunately, reality and skepticism prevent such a welcome idea. Connor has finally found a study that he can apply something resembling critical thought. I actually do agree with many of the points he makes in "Informal Study Finds Bloggers Can’t Tell Fact from Fiction" but his motives are highly suspect and there is no reason to believe he will from this point on be more critical of the studies, surveys, and reports he comments on. It is notable that the one study he actually offers decent criticism of just happens to be the only one he's written about that does not agree with his personal views. Being critical of only those works that you dislike is in no way a scientific or skeptical approach.

On a personal note, I would be quite happy if the study Connor attacks turned out to be accurate. I'd love to see a set of better designed experiments and better collection of observational data in this area. This does not, however, prevent me from acknowledging that "Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds” is very shoddy and nowhere near conclusive.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Quotation

"The whole of life is but a moment of time. It is our duty, therefore to use it, not misuse it."
Plutarch

Creepy and arrogant

"Nursing home evangelism: Preaching at the last ‘bus stop to eternity’" is very disturbing. If groups like Celebrate America were primarily concerned with providing our senior citizens with companionship I would applaud them without question but that isn't their focus. The very first sentence of the piece sets the tone quite nicely.
"Rhonda Rowe and her team gathered around a diagram of the nursing home’s floor plan and determined how to split up to avoid praying with anyone twice."
Assuming that the seniors being visited were interested in praying what difference would it make if someone prayed with them more than once? Clearly it is not about spending time with seniors who just might be lonely and wants some company. It really is about imposing a specific brand of Christianity on what amounts to a captured vulnerable audience. That is seriously fucking twisted. Even more revealing is that these assholes can't even be genuinely personal about it. Just a few sentences later we are told that: "Rowe knelt between them and went through her 'Nursing Home Gospel Soul-Winning Script.'" So this vultures are not just insincere in their goals they are equally disingenuous in their approach as well.

It also seems a tad bit arrogant. Why are they assuming that these senior citizens are in need of saving? Is there any reason to believe the residents of nursing homes are a particularly sinful bunch? Throughout most of the article it seems pretty clear that these nursing home evangelists understand that what the residents crave most is company. If they were really living up to the values they claim why not just visit and pay return visits. Wouldn't genuine companionship achieve the goals they profess to actually work better? Why not look into creating programs that foster interaction between seniors and the rest of the community?

But, no, compassion and companionship don't seem to be their real goals. These self-righteous vultures are simply looking to make themselves feel good while pushing their beliefs on others. If I actually believe in such nonsense I would have to assume these sick fucks are themselves headed for the very place they use to scare others.

Political, discriminatory, but still correct

Salam Al Marayati's CNN Belief blog piece "President Obama's Ramadan slap at Muslims" does seem to get a few things correct. I agree with his assessment that Obama has at times treated Muslims somewhat differently than other religious groups. I also do think that this not only politically motivated it is also discriminatory. I take issue with any government official behaving in such a way. Despite the horrible reason for it, it is still correct. It is correct in that no religious leaders, Muslim or otherwise, should be invited "into the Oval Office for substantive discussions on domestic and international policies." As I have frequently pointed out, it is grossly inappropriate to inject religion into public policy.

Lots of people

Lots of people; That's the answer to the rhetorical question posed by Trey Lion's "Who Would Jesus Shoot?" I do agree with quite a bit of his commentary but find it rather silly and ignorant to appeal to religion for support. The assholes who oppose even mild gun control/gun regulation are just as religious as those who support such restrictions. It is also the height of self-delusion to turn to the Christ figure on such matters. As I have pointed out there isn't a single Jesus in scripture. At least one version was, according to the New Testament, a tempermental violent bastard. Luke 19:27 is a pretty blatant example:
"But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me."
Sorry, my initial answer is slightly inaccurate. Jesus would kill all non-Christians. Given that the Christians worldwide number around 2 billion, that means Christ would be just fine with slaughtering around 5 billion people. Somehow I don't think genocide is a good answer for reducing gun violence.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Quotation

"...the more we pursue the implications of mathematical rules, the more flexible a rule-based universe begins to seem. Conversely, the more we understand biology, the more important its physical aspects become - because life isn't a special kind of matter, so it too must obey the rules of physics."
Terry Pratchett et.al.
The Science of Discworld

Another piece of assumptions and biases

From start to finish the Atlantic's "Is Evangelical Morality Still Acceptable in America?" comes across as being rather superficial and idiotic. After reading through it a couple times I still fail see much of a point. Alan Noble does a pathetic job of defining or explaining what he really means by either "Evangelical Morality" or "Acceptable." Theists of all stripes whether Christian or specifically "evangelical" are free to worship any way they choose.

He never gets beyond any of the rather large assumptions he makes right from the start. Why he assumes that there can even be said to be an "evangelical morality" is beyond me. I am in no way implying that Christians of any type are automatically immoral. In fact, that is part of the problem with the whole piece. He writes as if there is something innately moral in theism and that each variation of theism somehow has produced its own unique moral structures. I don't buy it. Human beings are capable of being moral or immoral. Groups, though they can be influential, are not innately moral or immoral.

I also seem to have missed the part where being "acceptable" really matters to theistic claims and beliefs. Even if he ever got around to what defines being acceptable, which he doesn't do a very good job, what impact would it really have on evangelicals or any other group. Why the special treatment? Haven't there always been minority beliefs/groups? I'm unaware of there being an active campaign to marginalize or strip the rights of evangelicals. Assuming such a campaign could actually get anywhere given the power and influence evangelicals still wield.

The piece is just silly and ultimately pointless.

"Abortion: Whose Religious Beliefs Should Prevail?"

The answer to the question posed in Georgette Bennett's HuffPo piece, "Abortion: Whose Religious Beliefs Should Prevail?", seems both very clear and obvious to me; no one's. When it comes to medical questions, and she is talking about abortion in both a medical and religious context, no one's religion should be allowed to interfere in other people's care. If, as an adult, an individual wants to either confer or defer to religious doctrines when making medical decisions for themselves they have that right. However, they should never been allowed to enforce their highly subjective religious views on other people in any context and escpecially not in a medical one. It should also not be allowed to be the sole basis of any laws or public policies.

Most of what Bennnett writes about is completely irrelevant and relies almost entirely on the assumption that religious beliefs should automatically come into play when making medical decisions. In other words, it's laced with bullshit.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Quotation

“Man is the only religious animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion—several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat, if his theology isn't straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother's path to happiness and heaven.”
Mark Twain

And, the answer is...Superficial

That's right the answer to the (sort of ) question "What the Pope’s popularity says about American culture" is the superficial nature of many Americans' understanding of theology. As I have commented before, the only real difference between the current Pope and the past few is a matter of style not of substance. Fawning over the current Pope doesn't really seem to be the main point of this recent post by Jonathan Merritt.

Like many of Merritt's post the piece is really just another opportunity to spread all sorts of deceitful and malicious bullshit. He repeats and promotes a variety of myths, stereotypes, and smears about nonbelievers.
Merritt's disingenuous post includes some of the most common misconceptions and misrepresentations. He provides a platform for such whoppers as the "anti-Christian bias in American news media" and that "Hollywood is rabidly anti-Christian." Conveniently he uses what others have said on such things as a cover for his own endorsement for these two idiotic tropes. Since it is still safe to outright attack atheists he doesn't bother to veil his hostility when directly commenting on us.

An excellent example comes towards the end of the post.
"Some secularists and atheists, of course, despise Christians just for being Christians. But the Richard Dawkins brand of adversary is the outlier and the exception."
Umm, no. Dawkins has family and friends who happen to be Christian. Dawkins, like many of us, has repeatedly pointed out that it is Christianity not Christians that is the topic of debate and criticism. Respecting individuals does not mean the ideas those individuals hold deserve to be respected. Ideas are not people. It is sad that intellectually dishonest twerps like Merritt so often get away with this type of sleight-of-hand trickery.

It says little and means even less

Huffington Post and a variety of other aggregators routinely run pieces on the latest polls and surveys. There isn't anything wrong with doing so so long as you provide some context and even a few caveats. Unfortunately, nuance is not to be expected from such venues as HuffPo. "Majority Of Americans Believe Religion Can Answer Most Of Today's Problems: Poll" is a case in point. Antonia Blumberg never really probes the results in any significant way.

The results themselves are not surprising at all. The average American still identifies as religious so why wouldn't they respond positively about religion being able to cope with problems. There is never any attempt to parse what the respondents believe religion entails or how it might solve problems. Polls of this nature are interesting but in terms of practical use they tend to be too vague and amorphous. In regard to social research "religion" is as tricky as the term "God" since there are so many different views and interpretations that may come into play.

Basically, as a self-contained piece Blumberg's post is crap. It only has any meaning when you take the results referenced in comparison to other polls, surveys, and studies that have been conducted over decades. Pretending that one poll is profound is just silly.

As Credulous as ever

As reported in a July 2nd Guardian piece, "Vatican gives official backing to exorcists", the Pope once again demonstrates that he is just as conservative, superstitious, and credulous as his predecessors. He is neither modern nor a reformer. He abides by all the same ridiculous doctrines and policies that the last handful of Popes have blindly followed.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Quotation



“The sum of historical knowledge has always been held by a small number of educated people at any given time, and this has not changed. But our world is geared at keeping up with a furiously paced present, with no time for the complex past; and the fact that a very large number of literate people with unprecedented access to advanced education and scanned sources has no sense of what the world was like only yesterday points to the possibility of eventually arriving at a state of collective amnesia. We risk remaining stuck within a culture where everyone ignores the sundry causal connections that make the present what it is…”
Noga Arikha
“Present-ism”
What We Should Be Worried About