Sunday, February 23, 2014

Quotation

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

Deceitful Self-Righteous Assholes on Facebook

Anyone with a functional brain should have long ago figured out that Facebook is not well suited for anything resembling in-depth conversations. It is good for quick simple exchanges. Hopefully, when serious topics are introduced such exchanges can lead to further discussion and thought elsewhere. Some individuals not only don't seem to understand that they seem to thrive on it for the purposes of harassment and disinformation.

A "letter to the editor" piece in Harlingen,Texas' Valley Morning Star seems to illustrate this type of use pretty well. An asshole named Matthew Schoonover made some rather biased ignorant comments and then got all pissy when others called him out on it. I honestly don't care that much about what he said. You can throw around whatever malicious lies you want. What irritates me is when dip-shits like Schoonover get ridiculed for their stupidity then turn around and whine about it.

Apparently he posted that old canard, "If God doesn’t exist, then everything is OK and there is no such thing as evil." After getting criticised for it he then wrote "Clarifying a Facebook comment" for the Valley Morning Star. It is nothing but a series of half-assed excuses, bullshit, and, interestingly, further attacks on atheists.

In his short screed the most revealing paragraph is probably the third one.
"What surprised me was that atheists seemed to take offense at this. They were outraged that I’d say they don’t know right from wrong (I didn’t), or that they weren’t moral (I hadn’t — yet). It was here I pointed out the difference between morals and ethics. Morals deal with God and sin; ethics deal with society and taboos. For them to claim morals would be stealing from the religious camp. The two terms are not synonymous. Things can be legal and still be immoral, and vice versa — think Rosa Parks in the front of the bus. It didn’t seem to help."

Though it is true he did not directly accuse atheist of being immoral he certainly implies it rather strongly. Of course, a moron like Schoonover wouldn't register the importance of such a distinction. He is self-deluded and self-righteous to the point that even the most basic definition of terms cease to exist. Notice how he defines moral? I, out of curiosity, tried to find a basic definition for moral that included God or religion. I couldn't find one. There were no such references in the Penguin English Dictionary, Webster's, Oxford's, or Chambers 21st Century.

The Chambers 21st Century Dictionary was probably the most comprehensive and a good summary of the other three as well.
"Moral
adjective
1. belonging or relating to the principles of good and evil, or right and wrong.
2. conforming to what is considered by society to be good, right or proper; ethical.
3. adhering to or based on conscience or a knowledge of what is right a moral obligation.
4. having a psychological rather than a practical effect moral support.
5. considered in terms of psychological effect, rather than outward appearance a moral victory.
6. said of a person: capable of distinguishing between right and wrong.
7. supported by reason or probability, though not provable a moral certainty.
noun
1. a principle or practical lesson that can be learned from a story or event.
2. (morals) a sense of right and wrong, or a standard of behaviour based on this, especially in relation to sexual conduct loose morals.
Derivative
morally adverb.
[14c: from Latin moralis, from mores, plural of mos a custom.]"

Basically, he got called out for being a dumb-ass piece of shit and couldn't handle it. If you can't deal with criticism you shouldn't start messing with others.

Can Religiosity be Measured?

Personally, I don't believe that religiosity can be reliably and objectively measured. I think it is relatively easy to determine whether someone is religious or not. Beyond that I find it hard to conceive of any way to measure a persons level of belief. Religion is too subjective and amorphous to assume you have come up with universally acceptable criteria. Most people can't even agree on a basic definition of religion let alone a set of principles and traits that apply to every religious individual and group. I'm also not sure that it is necessarily all that useful. What people do with their beliefs seems far more important than what those actual beliefs are, or how those beliefs are perceived by the individual espousing them. Since "level of belief" does not seem to reliably correlate with the behaviors and actions of believers it does not seem to have that much practical use.

That said, it is a fascinating question and well worth exploring. Over past few months there have been a handful of pieces that touch on this subject. Three of those pieces that prompted me to think about this notion again are:
"Most And Least Religious States In 2013, Gallup"
"This Is the Year Liberals Take Back Religion from Conservatives"
"Understanding Why Americans Seem More Religious Than Other Western Powers"

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Quotation

"I am a humanist because I think humanity can, with constant moral guidance, create a reasonably decent society. I am terrified of restrictive religious doctrine, having learned from history that when men who adhere to any form of it are in control, common men like me are in peril. I do not believe that pure reason can solve the perpetual problems unless it is modified by poetry and art and social vision. So I am a humanist. And if you want to charge me with being the most virulent kind—a secular humanist—I accept the accusation."
James Michener
Interview, Parade magazine (24 November 1991)

There is no "inner atheist"

Jonathan Merritt recently posted on his Faith and Culture blog (at Religious News Service) an interview with a man named Daniel Taylor. I don't know much about Taylor and have little reason to learn much about him based on this interview. He seems to think that by dressing up his own biases and willful ignorance in all sorts of made up jargon he can pass himself off as a thoughtful well intention individual. My impression is that he is little more than a self-righteous bigot.

Merritt initially describes Taylor as a "Christian Humanist." I actually do not take issue with this despite the attitude Merritt himself seems to take. In a few places it is implied that the term maybe controversial and even contradictory. I can see a few reasons why some may see it that way but I don't think that would be an automatic response. However, Taylor definitely has serious failings when it comes to the labels he employs. He tries claiming that he supports skepticism as a way to explore faith. I would encourage such an approach to faith. Sadly, that is not what he is really talking about. Taylor makes it clear from the start that he doesn't even have a basic understanding of skepticism.  His response to the post's second question reveals this quite nicely.

"RNS: You grab readers with the seemingly contradictory idea of a “skeptical believer.” What does this mean?
DT: A skeptic is one with a habitual resistance to accepting truth claims—you could say a knee-jerk doubter, though skeptics like to think of themselves as people who look before they leap. A believer is one who accepts something as real or true or worthy of affirmation, often without proof. Sometimes skeptic and believer go together. I use the term “skeptical believer” to refer to Christians who want to believe the claims of faith but whose minds and will are constantly raising objections."

Right off he implies that "truth claims" should simply be accepted. That is the antithesis of skepticism. Also, a "skeptic" actively tries to avoid "knee-jerk" responses to anything. The whole idea is that if a claim is made then the claimant should have support for their claim. You do not automatically assume extraordinary claims are either true or untrue until it is examined and a body of evidence is established from which you can determine whether it is true or not. Another red flag to anyone familiar with skepticism comes from his statement about those "who want to believe." What you want to believe is also a concern for skeptics. We actively try to separate what we want from any attempt at determining what evidence says reality actually is. Basically, this guy hasn't a fucking clue what skepticism is. He certainly does not apply it to his own opinions.

His use of "inner atheist" is also flat-out self-deluded crap.

"RNS: What’s an “inner atheist,” and why do you maintain that having one is compatible with a life of faith?
DT: My “inner atheist” is that part of me that wants to play it safe (though in reality it’s not safe at all) by forestalling all commitments until one has proof or certainty. He gets especially jumpy about committing to ultimate things, which he rightly argues can’t be proven (though lots of evidence can be marshalled, a different thing)."

What he is actually referring to is doubt. Lots of theist have doubts. Lots of non-theists have doubts. There is nothing wrong with having doubts. Personally, I see it as a key trait that separates self-righteous willfully ignorant assholes like Taylor from decent thoughtful human beings. The interview never gets any better. He constantly mangles all sorts of terms and concepts. Most of what he claims to be a proponent of he undermines almost immediately. He constantly states or implies numerous beliefs and opinions as if they are foregone conclusions. I found very little in the interview that even remotely connects to humanism, skepticism, or atheism despite his use of these terms.

Another poorly worded rhetorical headline

Over all, "Why a band of American heathens is fighting to protect atheists — and Christians — abroad", is a good piece. I am glad that it was produced. I also would like to state up front that of all media outlets focused on religion/philosophy Religious News Service does a pretty good job presenting the views of non-theists.

That said, even when RNS publishes generally positive pieces on atheists any number of myths and stereotypes do to some degree slip in. The headline does imply that it is unusual or surprising that non-believers would actually be interested in fighting for the rights of everyone. Why? Being an atheist does not automatically mean that you are also a humanist but it is fairly common. As a humanist I feel an obligation to look out for my fellow human beings regardless of any other trait or characteristics. Human/Civil rights should be universal. I find this approach and attitude to be rather standard among atheists.

To some degree I think the surprise stems from the false notions that atheists are immoral and/or apathetic. I would pose the rhetorical question; why wouldn't you fight for the rights of all?, to anyone who didn't find the headline odd or slightly misleading.

An Impossible "ism"

Technically speaking, Nihilism is only impossible if you use one specific definition for the term. Unfortunately, a conditionally impossible "ism" just doesn't have the same punch in a title. That said, Nihilism has all too often been used as a smear. It is usually aimed at atheists but has been leveled at various other individuals and groups.

Before going any further it is essential to establish a basic definition, or set of definitions for the term in question. According to the Penguin English Dictionary:
"Nihilism
1
a view that rejects all values and beliefs as meaningless or unfounded.
2
the philosophical view that nothing has real existence; extreme scepticism.
3
(often Nihilism) the doctrine of a 19th-cent. Russian revolutionary party that social conditions are so bad as to make destruction desirable for its own sake.
4
terrorism or anarchy

nihilist noun and adj nihilistic /-สนlistik/ adj [German Nihilismus, from Latin nihil nothing]."

The majority of theologians, apologists, and rabid right-wingers who choose to wield the term like a cudgel usually are using 1, 2, or both. Their usage of the term tends to be related to the absurd notion that if an individual does not believe in God then they cannot possibly have any beliefs at all. It is in the sense of a complete lack of beliefs that Nihilism becomes impossible.

Everyone has beliefs. In practical terms you cannot function on a day to day level without beliefs. Believing in nothing is an innate contradiction.* How could you do anything? Why would you even bother trying to do anything? Even if an individual thinks they have no beliefs they have just contradicted themselves, They have in effect expressed a believe in nothing. If you choose to interpret the meaning to pertain to profound beliefs or a set of beliefs that can be used as an actual "ism", a sort of philosophical guide, then that would not be impossible. However, that is an interpretation and is not reflective of how the term is commonly used.


*Believing in the concept of "nothing" is not what I am talking about. Nothing as a mental construct is quite useful. Complete emptiness (i.e. oblivion, void, absolute zero....) has spurred numerous debates, discussions, and explorations.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Quotation

"It is well known by researchers that what we think we see can be strongly influenced by images and ideas we have been exposed to previously as well as our own thoughts and imagination. This is probably explains why it's the people who already believe in ghosts or UFOs who keep seeing ghosts and UFOs, and why so few nonbelievers do. Seeing things that are not there can happen to anyone because the brain constructs and interprets the visual reality that is around it."
Guy P. Harrison
Think: Why You Should Question Everything

A Better Question for US Catholics

I found Adam Lee's recent piece on Patheos, "Who Speaks for American Catholics?", to be very thoughtful and well written. Even though he seems to use the title rhetorically he does skirt around a far better question for US Catholics. The question is itself pretty simple. Why are you "Catholic"?

Numerous studies and surveys have revealed that the average American Catholic does not agree with the policies of the hierarchy. They also do not seem to either know or support those practices and doctrines that separate the Catholic Church from the various other Christian sects/denominations. So why stay in a church that doesn't really represent what you actually believe and practice? It is not as if you have to be specifically Catholic to uphold your perception of Christian values and practices.

The rationale that it is cultural or traditional is only partially acceptable. It cannot be all that is in play. Americans both as a whole and with the context of the American Catholic community have altered or even set aside other traditions and customs over the years. A sense of identity as a rationale is also only partial.

This situation is very baffling. If anyone has any further thoughts on why so many choose to remain attached to an organization that clearly does not represent them or serve their actual values I would love to hear them.

The Bible (OT&NT) says....God is a Liar

That's right, the big guy is a manipulative deceptive asshole. God himself says so.

"And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the LORD have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel." (Ezekiel 14:9)

Isn't that sweet. God deceives his own prophet to the point that said prophet deceives others. God then destroys the poor fool for doing exactly what God made him do.

Even in the New Testament which is by many Christians considered to be the superior and ethically more sound of the two "Testaments" God comes across as a vicious psycho.

"And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:
That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12)

So, if you as a mere mortal can't see through the divinely created delusions you get a one way ticket to eternal torment. The cause, if you care to read the prior verses, is God's word.

Wow! This fucking homicidal bully is supposedly the benevolent creator that Christians venerate.