Sunday, April 30, 2006

Wishart: the sequel

Mr. Wishart has once again responded. He regrets not being able to post here “unless one sets up an entire blog with Blogger.” Few of the people who post here actually have blogs so he is wrong on that count.

He says: “Boy, a short post really set you off, huh?” You just can’t win with Christianists. If you don’t respond it’s because “you can’t reply can you” and if you do that is indication that something set you off. Consider this however, I was minding my own business quite happily and blogging away with no notice of Mr. Wishart. He is the one who responded to me first and I thought it polite to respond in turn. So who was "set off"?

His full response can be found here.

He says I miss his point, “possibly deliberately”. Right! When some disagrees with you question their motive first thing off. Christians are so compassionate.

He argues: “The analogy of teaching kids manners is a good one. No parent is going to let their child thirst, but imagine the world we would have if learning to be gracious was tossed aside.” Now he ignores entirely the point I made. I actually am stunned with this response because it shows a complete misstatement of my view. So I can see this will be a bumpy ride. I did not say that graciousness should be tossed aside. I said that we have etiquette to avoid misunderstandings and that such misunderstanding is impossible with the god that Wishart invents. So I said the analogy is silly since a deity can’t misunderstand.

He then resorts to the old canard that the deity actually knows what is good for us so maybe all those nasty things are really good. “God knows what the future holds for every individual, so he knows that declining a prayer request or answering it will have an impact. But he alone knows what that impact will truly be.” So if the deity refuses to give water to his children it is because he knows that dying of thirst is better than living, ad nauseum.

This is a real cop out. There is no evidence that dying is better than living or that X result is better than Y result. It is circular reasoning. He presupposes a deity and then assumes the deity must be good. The other alternative, that he is malignant, is too horrible to contemplate. From that he supposes that any result must therefore be good.

Wishart then writes: “You blame God for thirst or famine or all manner of evils. In fact you rage against him, and say that if it was up to you you'd answer all those prayer requests with a yes.”

“The planet would have died a horrible death a long time ago if everyone's personal prayers were all answered. Overpopulation would be one aspect, probably.”

I did not say I would answer all requests with a yes but that requests regarding living, health and basic care would be answered with a yes. He resorts to the Green religion and tries the old overpopulation canard. It is really good for us to die off and suffer in the process because this balances things out. As he says: “God has to balance things.” Of course the all powerful deity could have done this quite easily without causing suffering in the process. I can think of several such options.

One he could strike down the evil governments that create policies that starve people as is done in Africa. Killing a Mugabe is far more humane than letting children starve as a result of his policies. Second, if there is a real over population problem (and there isn’t) he could have increase the abundance of crops the way he supposedly multiplied bread and fishes. Third, he could have made it so that humans can’t reproduce so easily and so prolifically.

Of course the reason population continues to grow in the world is not high birth rates but low death rates. So Wishart has it backwards. God, who balances things out, is apparently derelict in not killing enough people.

He is correct in saying that “raging about the existence of death, disease and misery does not disprove the Bible, per se.” It doesn’t and I didn’t say it did. That silly book falls apart entirely on it’s own. What I do say is that these things prove that there can be no deity who is all loving, all knowing and all powerful at the same time.

The viciousness of Christianity and the Christian god is attested to in the following statement from Wishart: “I would far rather be a starving Ethiopian Christian than a godless contented atheist, if Christianity is indeed true.” It isn’t so I’m not worried. But I have to wonder why these Ethiopian’s are starving while Wishart is well fed. Maybe he offers no charity because he imagines they are going to a better place and that death is better than life? I personally don’t think charity can help when institutional structures, such as are found in Africa, create famine as a matter of public policy. That is how socialism works. It creates famine in the breadbasket of Ukraine and can do it in Africa as well even though it is the least densely populated continent on the planet next to Antarctica.

He then comes up with rubbish arguments. I mean utter rubbish and irrational. “To disprove the existence of God, you must disprove ALL miracles. To prove the existence of God, I must establish only one. The issue of whether God has answered other people's prayers only goes to his agenda, not his existence. To prove his existence requires just one miracle.”

What is a miracle? Anything we can’t explain. Since we are not omniscient there is much we can’t explain. That there are things we can’t explain at this time does not prove the existence of a supernatural being. One unexplained event proves nothing. That is a leap in logic unwarranted by the context of the debate but one necessary to sustain the belief in the absurd.

Now I am happy to continue this debate as time allows. But I will be away for several days and may not have access. However, we may wish to find some other way of doing it. I am sure that neither Mr. Wishart nor myself want to clutter our blogs with such a thing as they will quickly become tedious to our readers.

P.S. I will be away for a short trip and may, or may not, have easy access to the Net. By easy I mean cheap. Since I will be a hotel that may not be the case. This usually means either free or very expensive. I do wish to address an issue that Mr. Wishart brought up though this is not a response to him per se. I want to discuss the issue so-called miracles. I will write it on my journey and will post it as soon as I can.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

One Christian's response to our prayer article

One of the really odd birds in New Zealand politics is a species called Ian Wishart. He is one of the creationists, Christianist conspiracy-mogering, antigay folk that inhabit the lunatic fringes of the Religious Right. What makes Wishart a real oddity is that his species, thankfully, is endangered down under. Very few of his fellow Kiwis buy into his agenda. He publishes a magazine called Investigate. And he has decided to respond to one of our readers who sent up our posting on the purposelessness of prayer. His response was passed on to me by our reader.

The thesis of my piece was that prayer is "without purpose except perhaps to make the believer feel good." I said that prayer can not tell a god anything he doesn't already know. Nor can it get such a deity to change his/her/its mind as he/she/it would already know precisely what will happen. Thus the only possible function it can have is to make the believer feel better. Of course some actually think they can change the intentions of such a supernatural being. Now in this case I was arguing from a borrowed premise --- that is from a premise I do not hold --- that such a being exists. Using my premise the entire thing is nonsense and about as efficacious as incense, crystals, Tarot cards, chanting, spell-casting, sacrificing, etc.

Wishhart said, in response "The act of praying establishes a line of communication with God. Those who genuinely pray find their prayers are usually answered, far more often than not." Tell that to people who starve to death, die of cancer, lose their children to disease, etc. Now the weasel phrase here is "genuinely pray". I have seen this vicious term inserted often in the diatribes of religionists. It is meant to take the burden off their deity. If people starve to death, in spite of their prayers, it is because they didn't pray genuinely. Yet who would not pray as genuinely as possibly under such circumstances? Or they resort to the idea that their god answers the prayer with a "no" preferring, for some divine purpose, to have children die, people to suffer cancer, etc.

In fact when scientific tests of the results of praying are conducted it turns out that there is no difference in results at all. Believers who are ill, and prayed for, don't get better in higher numbers than those for whom no prayers are offered. In my years in religion I never saw Christians getting better results out of life than others. In fact there is plenty of evidence to show that they are worse off. They are worse off because the less intelligent in life tend to get attracted to religion and those who are really intellectually challenged tend to be fundamentalists. And life is a game of intelligence like it or not. The less intelligent simply tend to be worse off than the more intelligent. Fundamentalist Christians have a history of being poorer than average, less healthy than average and even more crime prone. It is not because they are religious. Their religion per se neither makes them better off nor worse off. But their religion like their poverty, health and criminal tendencies come from the same source --- their lack of intelligence. This is not to say there are no religionists who are intelligent. That would be a daft statement. Of course there are.

But as one goes down in IQ one tends to increase in religiousity. As one goes up in IQ one tends to be less religious and definetly less orthodox. Fundamentalism of any kind appeals to the least intelligent.

In the next sentence, following the one I quoted above, Wishart says: "This isn't because God necessarily changed his mind, He already knew you would ask the prayer, so he could have manipulated future events to give you the outcome you sought." Can human wants supercede those of this deity? Can man actually force a god's hand? If a deity is sovereign and his will is done then nothing that is not his will can happen. And if the deity has perfect knowledge then he knows his will and the outcome long before they happen. Nothing we do can change that. It couldn't be that such a being tinkers constantly with the future changing his mind as people inundate him with requests. For him to change direction, tinker with results, swap conditions, etc., implies a lack of perfect knowledge. Now if Wishart wants to posit an omnipotent deity with imperfect knowledge that would be a different case but it would not be the orthodox Christian position.

Now I will quote Wishart at length to keep the context before responding.

More to the point however, it builds faith. Those who pray, and learn to truly pray to Christ, find that step of faith is rewarded over and over, which in turn generates fresh prayer and worship.

It is a little bit like teaching kids good manners. Once they get the hang of please and thank you, they realise they get what they want more often.

Prayer is not for God's sake but for our sake. It teaches us how to ask from the heart, and it strengthens faith when those prayers are answered.

It is not about making us feel good, it is about helping us re-establish contact with the deity....."

At this point Wishart has resorted to magic. Tribesmen believe that if they perform rituals they can manipulate reality. They hold a sacrific-a-virgin-to-stop-a-volcano view of the world. Wishart holds something similar. He says "Once they get the hang of please and thank you, they realise they get what they want more often." God can be manipulated. Prayer is a mechanism by which the believer manipulates the deity. If you simply have the right formula and practice it enough you "more often" get what you want.

Now the "please and thank you" analogy doesn't work well for one reason. When we speak to one another courtesy works. It works because we are humans with feelings who can be pricked and pained. We lack a pefect understanding of the world so etiquette is used to minimize misunderstandings. God can't misunderstand, not if he has perfect knowledge. He can't get your intentions confused. He must know them completely and perfectly.

A child who says: "Mommy, I'm thirsty" may be told to ask politely for water with a please and a thank you when finished. But what mother would let the child thirst if it were missing? A good mother gives drink to the child while teaching at the same time. It's not as if the child can drink more often if using these words. The purpose is to help the child in the future because he will be dealing with imperfect people who can take requests as orders and who can feel insulted. God can't make these mistakes. He doesn't need the ritual and neither does man. But Wishart thinks that man can control the deity with these rituals. Do it right and you are more likely to get what you want. This is that old black magic thinking that ritual can control existence. It is only slightly more sophisticated than those used by sangomas and shamans.

He says that it strengthens faith. Ritual reinforces beliefs. That is one reason that primitives the world over use ritual. So there is no doubt it reinforces faith. All rituals do that. There is nothing unique to Christianity in this regard. The Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, and Mormon all have rituals and they all will say it reinforces their faith. Wishart would have to concede that rituals such as prayer reinforce all faith whether real or not. He does not concede that all religions are true hence when the Hindu says his faith is reinforced by offering food to the gods, or the Tibetan monk says faith is reinforced by spinning his prayer wheel, Wishart would have to say that false faith is reinforced. It is not true faith like his own. But I argue it is precisely like his own. Faith is merely beliefs that people hold because they want to hold them, because they feel good holding them.

And I am sure that engaging in faith enhancing rituals makes them feel better. In Wishart's case it obviously gives him the illusion of believing that he manipulate the creator of the universe. It is a means by which he can get more of what he wants. That is what he said. Personally if I were the god to whom Wishart prayed I would find that a bit insulting.

Imagine the child who is over heard telling another child "Say please to mom and you can get what you want." The purpose of the please and thank you is not to get more things but to respect the other person. A deity so easily manipulated is hardly a deity in my mind. Of course I don't think such a thing exists. I don't think prayer communicates with anyone. It is air talking. It does make the believer feel better. It may even make them think that they have a greater likelihood of getting what they want. That has to make one feel good. But then that was my point.

Friday, April 28, 2006

What are these people thinking?

I have to confess that sometimes these religious nutters on the Right baffle the hell out of me. One of the loosest screws on the Right is the one belonging to James Dobson of Focus on the Family. Remember that when the word family is used by these people they mean one thing primarily: antigay. Apparently homosexuals don't have families but sprang into existence out of nothing.

Loony Dobson passed on some advice on how fathers can prevent their sons from being gay. This came from a so-called "reparative" therapist who uses Jesus and bullshit to try and change people who are gay into being straight. Now here is some of his suggested techniques to prevent a son from being gay.

"Meanwhile, the boy's father has to do his part. He needs to mirror and affirm his son's maleness. He can play rough-and-tumble games with his son, in ways that are decidedly different from the games he would play with a little girl. He can help his son learn to throw and catch a ball. He can teach him to pound a square wooden peg into a square hole in a pegboard. He can even take his son with him into the shower, where the boy cannot help but notice that Dad has a penis, just like his, only bigger."

It's that last bit that has me aghast. The man is saying that one way to stop young boys from turning gay is for their fathers to strip naked with the boy and take him into a shower so the boy can look at the man's genitals! Explain that to the police in America. "Oh officer, no I only took the boy in to look at my dick because I didn't want him to turn out gay! Dr. Dobson said it was okay." Flashers now have an excuse. They aren't perverts. They're therapists!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Islamic religionist try to kill young girl.

The ugly face of religion has again been shown. Noor Jehan is a 14-year-old girl in Pakistan. She has the misfortune of being born in a Muslim family. Worse yet they are a family that believes Islam fervently and traditionally.

Now here is what monsters these religionists can be. A cousin of Noor wanted to marry her. She said no. No wonder they are such ignorant fools with in-breeding like this. When the slimy cousin was refused he said Noor had sex with another man. Obviously this counsin was upset he was refused though it now apparent why he ought never to marry and should be in jail. The man the cousin accused was killed.

Noor and her parents fled. The cousins declared Noor guilty of adultery and said she must be punished. They found the family and beat the parents. Noor was taken by her cousins and then shot four times. She survived. Hundreds of women per year are killed in Pakistan by Islamic religionists protecting the "honour" of women.

Repeat after me: The DaVinci Code is a novel not history.

I have avoided posting regarding The DaVinci Code until now because I have not read it, until now. I could have written a review of the thesis earlier but not the novel itself. And to review this as a piece of history would be silly as it is not history at all. It can only be discussed as a novel since it has very little factional material in the plot.

As a novel with a religious theme it is fitting to discuss on this blog. The most important factor to keep in mind is that it is novel. It is fiction. Where the book gets into trouble, and I presume the film as well, is when it boldly proclaims at the beginning that the main organization in the story, the Priory of Sion, is real along with all the documents and rituals it describes.

Now if you want to know nothing about this story before you read the book or see the film then you better stop reading here.

In a nutshell the story goes like this: there is a secret society, founded in 1099 called the Priory of Sion. They have some information about Jesus that the Church (by which they mean the Catholic Church) wants destroyed. Hidden throughout Western religious art is the truth that Jesus was just a man, that he married Mary Magdalene and that he had a daughter. The daughter and his wife fled to France after the death of Jesus and that the descendants of Christ live to this day. The Priory is meant to protect these people. from the Church. The Church wants them destroyed because they are evidence that the Jesus is God claim is false.

Now I am not a supporter of Catholicism, though it is preferable to the nutty fundamentalism that pervades the US, but a commitment to truth has to underlie all atheism. And this book is rubbish when it comes to history. The Priory was not founded in 1099. It was made up within the last few decades. There is no line of descendants of Christ that we know of.

That the story line is entirely false when it comes to history is different from whether it is accurate as history. As fiction it is a bearable work to read. I can see why it was a best seller. First, the author smartly created chapters that are consistent with the attention span of lot so readers. Often they are less than two pages long. And since we live in a world that is becoming less and less interested in the written word and prefers passive visual learning this increases the readership for the book. It allows readers to think they have accomplished something by finishing two pages. They can delude themselves by saying: “I read a whole chapter yesterday.”

Second, people love violent stories and this one has it’s fair share of violence. It opens with a string of murders. That should be enough for many readers. In addition the entire plot takes place over a short period of time with few flashbacks to clutter things up. Even those that are included are done in a manner that the average reader doesn’t find it too taxing to keep track of what is going on.

The story line is thus not too taxing and one that people can follow. Unfortunately this does not make The DaVinci Code a great book but does help make it a best seller. A friend recommended the book to me because it really let the church have it. True. It does. But it lets the church have it over fictional issues for the most part. There are small sections that get it right but not many. It does argue in places that Christian theology is mainly an adaptation of pagan beliefs. This is most assuredly true. Christianity is not some revealed doctrine from a god but stolen beliefs from various cults and sects that existed long before Jesus. Here the book is on strong ground but this plays only a small role in the book.

I have read the books on which The DaVinci Code builds its theories. In fact I only recently got rid of them from my overly large library. I got rid of them because they are rubbish from start to finish. My impression is that the main book presenting this thesis, Holy Blood, Holy Grail is more than just false. I couldn’t help but get the impression it is dishonest.

And various books and documentaries have exposed the thesis for what it is: wrong. And in this sense I think the book does Christianity some good. When you make a false accusation that is easily refuted your strengthen your opponent in some circles. You do so by discrediting critics of your target. That the main thesis of the Priory is a lie from start to finish, however, doesn’t mean that the counter theory, that Christ was divine, etc., is true. But some will take it that way.

My first commitment is to the truth not to atheism. I am atheist because I believe that is consistent with the facts. Had this book merely presented itself as fiction I would have little problem with it. It is adequately written and the plot does keep one’s attention. It is not particularly well written but then well written books don’t sell to what is called “the reading public”. People have been sufficiently dumbed down by government provided education to avoid well written books --- one reason they elect people like George Bush.

The author, Dan Brown, did an adequate job combining the absurd thesis of the Holy Grail (supposedly Mary and her descendants) into a coherent story albeit a false one. It is mildly entertaining even though I thought some of the plot a bit obviously ---- anyone who didn’t think that Sophie was of the bloodline of Christ wasn’t paying attention even if Brown tries to throw one off the track. If one reads this a purely fiction one could do worse. However, if one reads this as history they are in trouble.

One problem I have with mass market entertainment is that too many people think that “historical” pieces are actually historical. They rarely are. Hollywood in particular is too keen to rewrite history to make it more interesting. You are not getting church history from Brown any more than you learn the truth about the Kennedy assassination from Oliver Stone.

For those interested in some history regarding this matter I recommend this article,
this article,
and finally here.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

German Islamists threaten violence

No doubt emboldened by the cowardly response that Europe gave to the controversy over the Danish cartoons of Mohammed, some Muslims in Germany are now using intimidation to get their way in other areas as well.

Pascha is the largest brothel in Europe and its home country of Germany is hosting the World Cup for football (called soccer in the US). As part of an advertising campaign the brothel published a poster of a woman's torso and showed the flags of participating nations in the contest. Included in the ad were flags for the nations of Saudi Arabia and Iran, both of which are controlled by religious totalitarian governments.

Local German Muslims threatened the brothel claiming that the ads, by using the flags of these dictatorships, were insulting to Mohammed. Apparently now all a Muslim nut case need do is whine "insult to the prophet" and Europe shits in its pants. Some of the same Muslims later returned, this time wearing masks, and threatened more violence. They wanted the flags blacked out on the ad and they also wanted some flags the brothel had installed on flag polls removed as well. Under threats the brothel did both.

Expect more of the same. As long as Western leaders shiver in fear when Islamists issue threats the threats will increase in frequency. If a nation caves into terrorists it can expect more terror. And here the brothel's removal of flags as being an insult to Islam's so-called prophet will only guaratee more such threats in the future.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The purposelessness of prayer

Believers in the Christian god advocate prayer. But what is the purpose of prayer?

The typical response I hear is that it is talking to god. But why? These same people argue that the god they believe in is all-knowing. So what precisely could one tell this god that he doesn’t already know.

God allegedly knows everything before it happens. Perfect knowledge, which is what one would need attribute to a perfect being, means knowledge of everything that was past, everything that is current, and everything that is yet to come. So there is absolutely nothing one can tell this god that he doesn’t already know. It is communication without purpose except perhaps to make the believer feel good.

But why would they feel good? Here the main reason given is that in praying the believer is making requests to the god. But again the deity knows these requests already. Could it be that one can then persuade this deity to act differently. There are incidents in the New Testament that imply this is possible. That Jehovah/Jesus made one decision and by pestering the diving creator one can get this being to reverse decisions.

But perfect knowledge works against that concept. Humans change their minds all the time and the reason for that is the lack of perfect knowledge. We don’t know all that was, is, and is to be. We make judgements based on very limited knowledge. As such we are always refining our judgements based on new knowledge or because we felt our old decision was wrong.

A perfect deity could have no new knowledge and make no errors. Thus he/she/it is incapable of changing his/her/its mind. It would seem that supplication or begging, pleading or prayer could change the mind of humans prone to error. But a being with perfect knowledge would make the correct decision right from the start.

But what we have here is not a theological concept that makes sense. Theology and sense don’t go together. What we do have instead is a leftover from man’s dark past. In the past men believed in gods that were merely super versions of humans with all the foibles of humans. Such a deity could change his mind, make errors, etc. This is not the case for the Christian god. But when the culture accepted Jehovah/Jesus as god it never refined its concept of the prayer. Prayer merely implies a fallible god and the theist usually needs things to be explicitly obvious before they see the connection. This is one step removed from the obvious. So people continue to pray for no apparent reason at all --- and that means no apparent reason even if one thinks their god exists. Which I don’t.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The totalitarian temptation of faith.

It’s late here and I should be in bed. I fly out tomorrow on the first leg of a long trip that will eventually land me in Europe where I hope to take up residence. But sometimes my mind won’t let me sleep. I ponder on things and then find this compelling need to write it down. In the process I clarify my thoughts and and expand on ideas I’ve held.

And unless I write this down I won’t sleep no matter how badly I need it. So here are the ranting of a very tired man. Tonight I had dinner with about 20 friends, almost all atheists. There were one or two exceptions but not strong exceptions. And during the dinner I was thinking of why it is that I consider religion dangerous.

It is true that some faiths are far more dangerous than others. But all are dangerous to vary degrees. The least harmful as those religious ideas which are purely personal. They are least harmful because what harm they impose is imposed only upon the believer. The Christian Scientist who avoids medical care may die but it is self inflicted. It is another matter when they refuse medical care to their children.

This is the second level of harm. That is harm which religious folks inflict on their own friends and family. It can be mild in the form of pestering them about their faith to detrimental such as the case I just mentioned. It is more harmful than which is entirely personal as the circle of victims is larger.

The largest degree of harm that religion does is when it has theocratic goals. In this case the religious intend to inflict their faith on the entire society around them. In the US you hear the rubbish “this is a Christian nation”. Nations have no faith only people do. But they don’t mean the nation collectively holds a faith. What they really mean is that they intend to use the coercive, violent powers of the state to inflict their moral code and beliefs on everyone around them.

And this is where religion becomes most dangerous. It becomes an authoritarian ideology akin to communism or fascism. Its moral code is no different from both those barbaric faiths. Why do I say that? Because theocracy, fascism and communism all believe in using the heavy hand of state coercion in order to force society in a predetermined mould. None of the three can allow for individuality or dissent.

Religion, especially the monotheistic variety, is potentially susceptible to the totalitarian temptation. This is especially true when the believers have the urge to “save” people from themselves. They are motivated by the belief that they are actually helping others. That makes it very difficult for them to consider the idea that they could be wrong and that they are actually harming others.

And by what marker do they determine if they are harming or helping? The Inquisition killed people. You would think that was a clear example of harm. But not if you weigh in the sincere believe in an eternal soul. If one believes that there is another realm which is a higher realm and one of much greater importance then to pay the price on earth for eternal happiness is not hard to do or to inflict on others.

The Mormons believe in blood atonement. Some sins are so bad that one’s own blood must be shed into the ground in order to forgive sins. For this reason Utah will allow prisoners to be executed by firing squad --- so the blood is shed thus saving the soul. In older days the secretive Mormon militia, the Danites, inflicted blood atonement on faithful who had strayed from the path. The earthly death of the sinner, in this manner, saved their soul. So what appears bad in this world is good in the next.

The 9/11 Islamic terrorists believed that in dying they were guaranteed eternal life and happiness. It’s not so bad that they took their own lives but they believed that the process required they take the lives of thousands of others as well.

This higher realm makes all earthly values of no importance. The harm that may be caused here is but a small price to pay. And since the higher realm is found by faith, by the simple desire to believe it, there is little one can do to shake the faith of the true believer.

This is the second problem. The higher values that come from this belief in the after life are virtually arbitrary. From one true believer to the next they differ. All claim they are receiving wisdom from a god, a holy book, a divine spirit, a prophet, etc. But what these higher values are differ radically from Muslim to Jew to Baptist to Mormon to Catholic and on and one.

Religious folk have the unique ability to have insights into what the deity wants even if the deity doesn’t seem to tell them the same thing. They are convinced. But this is nothing more than the will to believe. They believe it because they want to believe it. They are not being guided by a god but they are creating their own gods justifying their own beliefs.

You really do end up with them believing anything they want to believe. And since there is the realm of higher values which we can’t see they are then able to impose their own whims on the rest of us and feel good in the process.

Again I don’t want to be misunderstood. Almost all these people honestly believe that what they are doing is for the good of others. They can’t see how their good intentions are tyrannical. How can they? They indulge the fantasy that they know the mind of a god. And they honestly believe that they have to save others from themselves.

It really doesn’t matter the faith. This thread runs through almost all of them to some degree. The Old Testament Hebrews, if that book has any validity, wanted to take the land of other people. So their god ordered them to steal what was not there’s and to kill everyone in sight in the process. The Hebrews had a revelation that they were the chosen people of some god. Not very impressive really. I would be far more impressed if they had the revelation that another group were the chosen people. It’s easy to believe such ideas when you are the one who gets to pillage everyone around you.

Islam wants to conquer the world for Allah. They have an entire history of military conquest, or conversion by the sword. So that this trend still exists is no surprise today.

Christianity has always faced the totalitarian temptation of theocracy. It’s not enough they believe in a saviour born of a virgin they want a day which all are basically required to honour the idea. There is a strong tendency for them to believe that if something is a sin for them then it is a sin for all and if it’s a sin then it’s a crime or ought to be. They campaigned for Prohibition because they said drinking was sinful. They believe in creationism so they want it taught as science. They want to pray so they feel they should be able to force all students to pray. They believe it is a sin for them them to be homosexual so they want to criminalise all homosexuals.

Now it is true that some “liberal” sects don’t feel this way. But that does not come from the history of Christianity nor from the Bible itself. That tolerance has secular origins. It is the watering down of faith with reason. But in any debate between two individuals of the same premises the more consistent of the two will win the argument. And that is what is happening. The more reasonable faiths are losing members. The more strident and fundamentalist grow.

The well-meaning faithful liberal is at a loss. His premises justify the fundamentalists conclusions even if he, the liberal, does not wish to adopt them. Liberal religion is a hybrid. It is the combination of secular reasoning and religious faith. It wants to make the unreasonable reasonable. It is mixing oil and water and it can stir and stir all it wants but the moment it rests for a second the two will separate again.

Faith is not reasonable and it can not be reasonable. It is faith. I firmly believe that faith is not a means of discerning some deity. A man’s god is not a deity that actually exists. It is a mirror that allows us to see the man’s soul reflected to us all. A vile, vicious man has a vile, vicious god. Each deity that an individual worships is an exaggerated image of himself. The Bible has it backwards. Man is not made in god’s image. God is made in man’s image.

And with faith as the foundation this allows each man to feel safe that his faith is the right one. And this sense of religious infallibility very easily and quickly leads one into controlling the lives of others and all for some higher good that only the faithful truly understand.

It’s now very late so if there are typos please forgive.

Friday, April 14, 2006

What's so good about "Good Friday"?

One of the most incoherent of Christian doctrines, and the competition is very steep, is the concept of the atonement.

In a nutshell this is it: man has sinned; his sins separate him from god and damn him to eternal hell; the penalty for his sins have to be paid for; god is such a nice guy that he decides to pay the price himself; he does this by sending his son (who is also god) to earth; in the form of a man the son of god is tortured to death; this torture was necessary for sins to be forgiven.

Now all of this begs a very big question: why? Check the premises here. Why was it necessary to torture someone to death in order to forgive sins?

What exactly was it that bound god to this deal? Nothing. He is supposedly all powerful. His will is supposedly supreme. As for this “debt” for sin to whom was it due?

The Christians I know say the debt is owed to god. They wax eloguently about god pulling out his great ledger book---see the supreme being of the universe is just a glorified accountant---and marking “your debt” paid in full. Why is it paid? Because he had Jesus tortured to death in a most gruesome way.

But when a debt is owed the person to whom it is owed has the perogative to forgive that debt with out requiring anyone to pay for it. All one need do is mark it “forgiven”. The entire crucifixion was unnecessary. Consider the very concept of the sovereignty of god. If a god is sovereign then this deity can choose to do anything he wants. He can forgive sins without killing.

The Bible says that without the sheeding of blood there is no forgiveness for sin. But who laid down this law if not god? If god laid down this law he did so simply because it pleased him. There can be no law higher than the highest. There can be nothing that dictates to god what he may or may not wish. And that which he wishes he does. There can be no conflict there.

The only conclusion I can come to is this: god was offended that men had sinned. He decided that he wanted men to suffer in hell for doing so. After all if he didn’t create hell then men couldn’t suffer there so this was his choice as well. It then pleased him to send his son to earth as a man and have him tortured to death. The entire crucifixion can only take place if a sovereign god is pleased by it. He must find some satisfaction in this torture otherwise he would not demand it. This sadistic streak is deep and disturbing.

It was god that choose to create hell. It was god who decided that was going to send humans there. It was god who chose to have his son tortured to death. And it was all unnecessary. He could have accomplished all this in a more civilized way. He could simply say: “Hey you humans. I am offended by your sin. But I forgive you.” It is as simple as that.

Humans are sinful and evil, we are told. Yet they can say: “I forgive you.” And they can do it without torturing anyone. Yet supposedly the all-powerful, sovereign creator of the universe is incapable of forgiving sin with the same ease. Humans have moe ability to forgive than does god.

If god can’t simply forgive sin then he is not sovereign. There would have to be some force superior to him that restrains him and restricts his choices. But if he is sovereign then the only reason that Jesus was tortured to death was because this god enjoyed it. It pleased him in some manner more befitting a commandant in the gulag or a kapo at Auschwitz.

Imagine coming across a man beating a small child to death. You are horrified at the cruelty of what you see. You implore him to stop and beg him to explain what awful thing this child could have done to deserve this torture. He turns to you and says: “This is my son. He has done nothing wrong. In fact he is perfect.”

“They why do you torture him so?” you asked baffled by the cruelty of this man toward his own child. “Because the boy down the street broke a window yesterday. Somebody has to pay the price and I decided it should be my son.”

How much easier and how much more humane for this man to simply say to the neighbor boy: “Son, I know you broke the window. I forgive you.” Surely it is within the power of this man to make that choice. Surely it is within the power of a supreme being to make the same choice. What kind of being would prefer torture to simple forgivemess?

Forgiveness, without torture, without murder, is possible to man. It surely must be possible to the surpreme being of the universe. If it were not possible then god is not sovereign. If it were possible then god is not kind. No being that finds pleasure in torture can be considered loving.

But then this story of murder and execution is a tale from a barbaric people reflecting their values. It says nothing about god but much about the people who invented these stories. To put it mildly: they were not nice people. They were barbarians and they invented a god that reflected their own traits and thus was a barbarian as well.

If the cruxifixion story reflected the true nature of god we would have much to worry about. Such a being then would clearly be sick and sadistic. Then the deity would be one that enjoys pain and suffereing and took some sort of delight in the torture of his own son. He acted as he did because he wanted to do so. No more, no less.

But if god were such a sadistic being who takes pleasure in the pain of others, then why would he necessarily honor the arrangement to forgive sins after having his son tortured? Couldn’t such a sadist just as easily decide that those who put their faith in his son will burn in hell anyway? Who would be dumb enough to trust a sadist?

The advantages of believing.

One of the advantages of being a believer is that one is supplied with ready-made answers. All the really hard work of thinking is done for you. Now it may not be right, but the believer doesn’t care. In fact they have convinced themselves that the ready made answers have to be right. After all if they weren’t right they wouldn’t be answers. Circular thinking perhaps but that’s called faith.

Life, unfortunately is not simple. To assert that any one principle answers all, or perhaps even most, questions is not warranted by the facts. Sometimes I think the best we humans can do it chisel out some good principles that work most of the time.

We can accumulate evidence and draw conclusions and continue to refine our conclusions as new evidence comes to light. But for the believer that is not necessary. Some critics of the fundamentalists, from within their religious camp, call their system “easy believism” on the basis that many fundies think that merely “accepting Christ” is the be all and end of all of their faith. I think Christianists practice “easy thinkism.”

Faith removes complexity. It answers questions that evidence does not answer. To a very large extent it removes the necessity of even asking questions. This is one reason that theology appeals so much to the less intelligent in society. And the lower the level of intelligence, in general, the more likely said believer is to be a fundamentalist.

The so-called “liberal” faiths have a tendency to admit that life is complex. They actually think that there are baffling questions in life and that at best we have general principles to help us grapple with them but that we do not have ready-made answers only guidelines. To the fundamentalist this is borderline atheism. It goes against every thing the fundamentalist finds comforting in his faith --- the ability to coast through life without thinking.

Ready made answers come in so handy. What does the believer do when inconvenient facts arise? He dismisses them. He has no real need to consider them or even understand them. He has the assurances they are wrong simply because they go against the ready-made conclusions that he believes were handed to him by a deity.

I was amused to accidentally come across some blog of some fundamentalist child. I believe this boy was something like 17 or 18 years old. But he was an instant expert on a myriad of topics. His expertise comes because he is a fundamentalist, born again, cultist. So he knows the answers and that is so convenient especially to the young who tend to be arrogant and experts in general.

One of the drawbacks of youth is the certainty that one brings to any discussion. At 18 you are always impressed with how much you know. Then you spend the rest of your life discovering how much you didn’t know after all.

The most recent topic for this child was the discovery of the Tiktaalik. This is considered a major find for fossil hunters as it is one of the species bridging the evolutionary gap between fish and mammal. But our child expert was able to dismiss the whole thing with hardly any personal knowledge of the field he was dismissing.

Why? Simple. God’s word doesn’t mention evolution. It says man was created and that’s all he needs to know. So those fossil experts, who spend decades studying the field, are easily dismissed by this child who is still wet behind the ears. He is absolutely convinced that he is right and that these men of science are all wrong. What a wondrous thing faith is; it turns children into instant experts on palaeontology.

If you don’t think that faith turns children into instant experts try reading the rantings of the chickenhawk Benjamin Shapiro. He’s a darling of the nutty Right because he’s young and tells the Right exactly what they want to hear. He puts himself forth as a virgin but is an instant expert on human sexuality --- something which he says he has no personal experience with. He’s a rabid hawk who wants other kids his age to go to Iraq and die but totally unwilling to go there himself though he is of age. But he’s an expert.

I read Christians attacking films they have not seen. But they don’t need to see the film since they have a ready set of answers in hand. Their faith tells them what they need to know.

Now I’m no fan of the Left in general. But I would rather talk to someone on the Left these days than someone on the Right --- well the American Right in particular. And the reason is that people on the Left, on a whole, don’t think they have a ready set of answers. They do have an over confidence in man’s ability to order his society. But they are a bit more reality based.

They think globalization is evil and bad for the poor of the world. They are wrong. But at the very least I can sit down and go over the facts with them. I can show them that the evidence overwhelmingly shows net benefits for the poor of the world from global free trade. They accept that facts matters.

But a conversation with the Religious Right is almost impossible. They don’t need facts. They are oblivious to evidence. They have faith. If I debate the issue of gay marriage with a religionist they will normally make some apparent “fact based” statements which are usually false. And they are usually easily shown to be false. But those arguments are merely the smokescreen. When you blow away the smoke they resort to their real argument: “God says it, I believe it, that settles it.”

They are immune to reason. And those “facts” they used were picked and deemed “facts” because they apparently supported the faith-based conclusions that were handed to them by their religion. It was not this way in the US before. Before the rise of the Religious Right but Left and Right could be reasoned with. But as the Right began repealing the Enlightenment it became more shrill. And the Left, idiots like Michael Moore, started yelling back. And things degenerated to the point where they are today. Dialogue is gone. Reason is abolished and screaming is considered argumentation.

But at least if you calm the American Leftist down enough they can rediscover the deeper, all be it, hidden acceptance of facts and dialogue is possible. But at the core of today’s conservative is faith and that shuts off dialogue. That’s what it’s meant to do and it does it well.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Conservative takes on theocons.

Kevin Phillips is a long-time conservative pundit. But he is troubled with the trend in the Republican Party toward theocracy and away from it's older view of limited government. Phillips authored a new book American Theocracy arguing that the US is headed into decline and that the rise of the theocratic right is one sign of this decline. I keep carrying it around with me intending to read it but having trouble finding the time.

Phillips has a new article in The Nation and here are a few excerpts:

The essential US conditions for a theocratic trend fell into place in the late 1980s and '90s with the growing mass of evangelical, fundamentalist and Pentecostal Christianity, expressed politically by the religious right; and the rise of the Republican Party as a powerful vehicle for religious policy-making and eventual erosion of the accepted degree of separation between church and state. This transformation was most vivid at the state level, where fifteen to twenty state Republican parties came under the control of the religious right, and party conventions in the South and West endorsed so-called "Christian nation" platforms. As yet nationally uncatalogued--a shortfall that cries out for a serious research project--these platforms set out in varying degrees the radical political theology of the Christian Reconstructionist movement, ranging from the Bible as the basis for domestic law to an emphasis on religious schools and women's subordination to men.

More telling still, in the years since 1988 dozens of reports have quoted Bush the Younger telling ministers, supporters and foreign officials that God wanted him to run for President and that God speaks through him. In mid-2004 one Pennsylvania newspaper reported his telling a local Amish audience, "I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn't do my job." Reports that he told Middle Eastern leaders that God told him to invade Iraq have been denied by the White House, but this is clearly the sort of language he uses from time to time.

Here's a little suggestion.

Zacarias Moussaoui is the Islamic sicko who admits being involved in the plot to attack the Twin Towers on September 11th. Moussaoui is on trial for his role in the genocide. He admits he was involved. He admits that he is not sorry. In fact he said he wished more people had suffered. It appears that he thinks his god wants that to happen.

He says that he wished more attacks on taken place on "September 12, September 13, September 14." During the course of the trial he exhibited open satisfaction of the deaths that he helped plan. Originally he said the "greatest jihad in Islam is to speak the truth in front of the tyrant and be executed for it." But when it got to the point that he could see that he might get his wish he had a sudden revelation that his death might violate Islamic beliefs.

But at the same time he has done his best to insult family members of the people who died when they were in the court room. And he appears to be pushing the jury to give him the death penalty. I'm pretty much against the death penalty but can be persuaded to make exceptions.

In this case I wouldn't mind if Mr. Moussaoui is sent to the here after. I think the judge ought to give him his wish. But I think Mr. Moussaoui deserves to suffer. But I think he ought to suffer according to his own beliefs. Now I am not suggesting torture or anything like that. How about something that will cause him to torment himself because of the nonsense he believes?

In this case my modest proposal would be that they inform this lunatic that he will be executed. But he should be made aware that before the needle is inserted he will be wrapped in the carcas of a dead pig. He will die inside the carcas of the pig and he will be buried inside the carcas of the pig. Let him figure out how he's going to get into paradise with a porkophobic Allah. And starting about two weeks before the execution I suggest he only be given bacon, ham, pork chops, sausages and the like for his meals. His beliefs are not worthy of respect because he is not worthy of respect. In fact I suggest serious research be done to find as many ways as possible to make him unclean. And it ought to be made known that anyone who engages in such attacks will be executed in a similar manner.

Shame on Comedy Central

Comedy Central television wants the world to know that violence works. Yes, that's right! They are sending out a clear message that killing, bombing, threatening and all acts of violence are a legitimate way to get what you want. Remember the vile Islamists rampaging through the streets because of their own theological bullshit. They don't like the image of Mohammed being published. Well, boo hoo! And most civilized people don't like the image of fanatical bearded bitching boobs with their shrill, women-like voices, invoking that comic book invented by their prophet. But the world puts up with it. People are free to be complete wankers. But they are not free to be violent. And when the act violently they ought to be slapped down good and hard.

Not so says the cowards at Comedy Central. They prove that such violence works and thus they encourage it. If you give into blackmail you keep paying for the rest of your life. If you submit to the blackmail of theological terrorists you will pay for it for the rest of your life --- if you are lucky enough to live.

South Park is one hell of a funny show. It ridicules everything and everyone but it often has some really important and sane points underneath the satire and crudeness. A recent episode quite openly ridiculed George Bush (sort of unfair since Mr. Bush makes that so easy to do), Jesus and Mohammed. Well, it didn't actually ridicule Mohammed. Comedy Central had the few seconds devoted to this fraud deleted.

The creators of South Park left the image out and instead inserted a message saying that Comedy Central had pulled the plug on those few seconds. At first the clowns at CC denied that was precisely the case. Then they confirmed it saying: "In light of recent world events, we feel we made the right decision." This is where I am tempted to get really obscene but I can't think of the words that would express the total disgust and contempt I feel for the bastards at Comedy Central. They are quite explicity here. Because a bunch of Koran-reading psychos from the Dark Ages threaten to act like the savages they are Comedy Central will bow down to Mecca and give the West the finger.

The same episode showed Bush and Jesus doing some rather disgusting things. Of course if the disgusting things that Bush is shown doing were the only disgusting things he really did we'd be better off. Mohammed was shown pretty much standing around doing nothing. Unlike Jesus who was portrayed in a very negative way. Comedy Central saw no reason to stop airing that part of the show in spite of it being far more offensive. The only reason for them to act in such contradictory ways is that they are caving in to threats of violence.

Fans of the show are getting sick of Comedy Central. They are urging the creators to pull the show off the network when their contract ends. Some are suggesting that they go to an entirely web based program by subscription. I know many people would pay to continue to watch the unedited versions because of their biting humor and spot-on political commentary. If you want the clowns who run this network to know you are unhappy go to this page and file a complaint.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Another bad day for creationism.

It’s another bad day for the creationists and their theory of “Intelligent Design”. One of the main arguments the Christianists have used to attack evolution was the concept of the “missing link”.

Fossils of various extinct species have been found. And with the fossil records scientists have pieced together, bit by bit, a relatively coherent theory of how life evolved. But certain species that would bridge some of the gaps were missing. For instance it was theorized that fish eventually evolved into amphibians which eventually became reptiles, etc. But a species that was a fish with the traits of amphibians was missing.

This gap was used by the creationists to dismiss the theory of evolution and to replace it with a theological concept instead of a scientific one. But then, as we reported, one of these species had been uncovered and studied and the results released.

As the saying goes: when it rains it pours. A new fossil find has now been reported in Nature. This find links two early species of ape-man. The author of the paper, Professor Tim White from the University of California, Berkeley says: “This new discovery closes the gap between the fully blown Australopithecine and earlier forms we call Ardipithecus. We now know where Australopithecus came from before 4 million years ago.”

The creationists were rather sure that such links would not be found. But then they have also been predicting the Second Coming of Christ for some 2,000 years without getting that right either.

The case of People vs. Jehovah

Welcome to our jury. Your task is to pass judgement on the defendant. We will present the pertinent facts and you will decide whether the he is guilty or not guilty.

Our defendant, J., asserts he is a loving father who cares for his children well. The prosecution contends that J. is guilty of egregious examples of child abuse. The defendant admits being the father of numerous children yet he has frequently neglected those children.

Child #1 was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, the precise nature of which is not pertinent to the case. All that we need know is the child’s life was in danger and J. was made aware of this fact. A cure was readily available and it was within the means of J’s ability to provide. J. refused to offer the treatment to the child who subsequently died in a most horrific way.

Child #2 was playing the front yard. She was bouncing a ball with her dog. The ball went over the fence into the street and the dog chased after it. The young girl ran after her dog. J. was sitting on the porch watching the entire event. He saw that a truck was a short distance away. He did not try to stop the girl. She was struck by the truck and paralysed for life.

Child #3 was hungry. In fact the evidence shows that this child was severely malnourished. J. had the ability to feed the child. In fact he fed some of his children quite well. But this child was neglected. This child starved to death.

These are just three cases where J. neglected his children. They are not the worst cases but they are three we shall focus on today. Here is J’s defence as given by witnesses for the defence.

In the case of Child #1 J asserts that it is the right of a father to say “no” to a request from a child. “Children constantly ask for things and a good parent has to tell them ‘no’ sometimes. All parents refused their children periodically otherwise they would be pestered to death.”

In the case of Child #2 J responded that he had posted a series of rules in the kitchen where all his children could see them. One such rule was that they must not run into the street. On a regular basis the children were told to read the rules. Either this child neglected to read the rules or ignored them. Either way the consequences are hers and hers alone.

In the case of Child #3 J. claims that the food was in the pantry and while this child was incapable of getting into the pantry this is not relevant as J. had a servant whose job it was to deliver food to the children in the part of the house that did have access to the pantry. J. argues that the servant neglected his duty. J. admits he was aware the servant was not doing his duty and that the child was hungry as a result. He said: “If I step in each time the servants refuse to do what I have told them to do they will never learn their lessons. I have to teach the staff how to behave responsibly and I am sorry that Child #3 died as a result. But what else should I have done?”

In cross examination J. admits that he knew of the circumstances of each child. In two of the cases the children specifically asked him for help. But he said he had a reason for refusing to help them which the jury is incapable of understanding. He said jurors must simply trust him and not ask questions as his ways are too profound for them to comprehend.

Now you are the jury. J. stands before you charged with child abuse, child neglect, child endangerment and a host of other similar crimes. How say you in this matter? Guilty or not guilty?

I suspect that most of us, if facing a case like this, would find the defendant guilty as charged. In fact the court would have to restrain us from lynching the s.o.b. And we would hope the judge would pass the maximum sentence.

Yet the religious folks among us say that we have a heavenly father who loves us and who wants to help us. And when he doesn’t help us, or he allows awful things to happen, they have excuses.

People are supposed to pray and ask their god for the things they need. But this alone is absurd in many cases. A good parent feeds his children even if they don’t constantly ask for food. A mother will wash the child when he is dirty whether he requests it or not. The loving father will pick up the hurt child and care for her simply because she is hurt and needs care. Good parents don’t wait for the children to ask.

It is often said that after we ask our heavenly father for the things we need that he will answer our prayers. God always answers prayer we are told. The smug religionists then says: “But sometimes he says no.”

It is true that parents do sometimes say no to their children. “Daddy, can I have a pony?” may elicit a chuckle and a “no” from daddy. “Mommy, can we go to Disneyland?” “No, Disneyland is far away and you have school today,” may be an appropriate response. There are all sorts of things where it is perfectly sane for a parent to refuse a request from a child.

But the religionist takes this sane response to one category of questions and then applies it insanely to other categories. “Daddy, my appendix burst and I’m going to die. Can I please have surgery?” “Mommy, I’m really hungry please can I have a piece of bread?”

Not only are there situations where it would be criminal for a parent to refuse the child it would be considered ridiculous for the parent to demand that the child even ask them for such things. Yet we are supposed to believe that in cases like this we are to pray to god and ask for such things and if we neglect to pray it is our fault if we don’t receive them. In addition we are told that if we do beg god to save our lives that it is perfectly fine for him, as our loving parent, to say no. The religionist basically puts a request to save one child’s life on par with another child wanting a pony. Apparently neither the faithful nor their deity can see the moral difference in equating, and denying, both requests.

In other cases the loving father in heaven is watching us make mistakes that will cause harm or death. The religionist says that a good parent lets a child learn by their mistakes. But that doesn’t mean you allow the kids to play with loaded guns so they can learn that if you pull the trigger they will die. It doesn’t mean you allow a child to run in front of a truck. And even if you give them a clear cut set of rules and they ignore one of them you don’t allow them die as a result.

In fact the rules that are given are not always clear cut. They are often obtuse or contradictory. They are buried among hundreds of thousands of words. Some may be precise such as “thou shalt not steal” but they don’t address vast areas of human existence. There are actions that children can take where no rule applies and there is no obvious negative consequence. But if the parent knows there is a horrible negative consequence and simply watches a child act in this dangerous manner anyway we would say the parent is negligent.

Well Jehovah is negligent. He allows his children to starve. He ignores pleas from dying children to give them care which is available and affordable for him. (After all he is omnipotent and omniscient. So he knows the needs of the child, even if they don’t ask. And he has the ability to care for them.) That he refuses to give this care is negligence.

Another excuse given by the defenders of Jehovah is that he has charged his servants with caring for the needs of his children. These servants may be rulers, ministers, parents, etc. But he has a large household with many servants to care for his many children. And they must learn to do their duty. He is aware when they are not doing their duty but has decided they should learn the lesson the hard way. Of course it is not the servant who really suffers but the child. Jehovah could replace the servants as he has all power but he chooses not do so. He hears the pleas of his children to help them because of the actions of his hired servants. He ignores the pleas.

And in conclusion he simply asserts that he knows more than any of us. He claims a “higher purpose” which is “unknowable” and “beyond human comprehension”. And we are supposed to buy that.

When we are dealing with humans acting in this way we would find them guilty of child neglect at the very least. We would throw the book at them. When it comes to some deity religionists flop around looking silly trying to come up with excuses. They simply can’t assert that the deity is actually guilty of child neglect.

But now let us go into the courtroom again. We hear this evidence. But there is no defendant sitting in front of us. He never speaks on his own behalf. Only others speak on his behalf. We ask them where he is. They say he is everywhere. We ask them to describe the defendant and they all have different descriptions.

In fact we have trouble charging him because all the witnesses disagree as to his name. None of them have actually ever seen him. They read a rule book which some people say he wrote but they have no actual evidence he wrote it. Others hold up an entirely different rule book also attributing to the defendant. They disagree among one another as to which rule book he wrote or which parts he actually authored. They claim to have seen the results of his actions but all the actions they point to have other explanations for them as well.

One could well be excused for starting to wonder whether the defendant exists or not. We may just have to conclude that the reason these children were in bad straits was because, instead of having a loving father, they were orphans.

Now that is the conclusion I have to draw. It is not that I don’t want a heavenly father who would care for me in my time of need, or who would comfort me when I am troubled. It is that I have no verifiable reason to assume he exists. He doesn’t act as if he exists. He doesn’t exhibit the love that is ascribed to him.

Now there is some slim chance that there is some deity (but I doubt it) but there is no chance that there is the deity of the Christians. We know this because the Christians describe their deity and we can see that no deity is actually acting in the manner they describe. The all-loving, all-carrying heavenly father is clearly a hoax. So if that slim chance exists then the deity who is there is very different from the one most people imagine.

He would be someone who watches the innocent suffer and does nothing about it. If he is all powerful then he is cruel. He would have to take some sort of pleasure out the suffering of others since he could stop it but prefers to witness it instead. There is this assumption on the part of religious folk that a deity must be kind and loving. Every day we see evidence that this kind of deity can not exist.

We do see evidence that another kind might exist. He is one that cruel and violent and vicious. He is one that takes pleasure in the pain of his children. He is one who enjoys forcing them to beg him for the basics of life and then refuses their pleas for help. The case for such a demonic deity seems far stronger. That it is not embraced by religionists is not due to the evidence. It is due to the fact that to contemplate such a god would strike utter terror into the hearts of those who believe. It would make life itself unbearable.

I look at the evidence and do not assume that god is negligent or cruel or violent or vicious or demonic. Nor do I assume that god is loving, compassionate, caring, etc. I look and find the god who is not there. And then I say to myself: “I am not a pawn. I am not at the mercy of an all powerful demon nor am I the ward of some divine welfare state. I am a man responsible for the choices I make. If this world is to be a better place it will come, not through prayer and supplication, but through work and human effort.”

Rejecting the concept of a deity does not make one powerless “and afraid in a world I never made”. It means that one must use their rational faculties to discover the best means of living. It means that good and evil are in our own hands to a very large measure. And it means we have no other choice but to make this world better. If we don’t do it no deity will. It is up to us and us alone. A bit scary for some? Perhaps. But it is empowering as well. Get off your knees. Stop begging a deity. Do what needs to be done yourself. As Ronald Reagan put it: “If not us then who? If not now then when?”

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Ride 'em cowboy

A couple of days ago I mentioned how some group of wingnut fundies went after Wal-Mart for the crime of selling the DVD for Brokeback Mountain. Now one problem with fanatics is they never learn their lessons. They are terminally dumb.

When Islamists screamed about the cartoons of their so-called prophet they managed to spread the cartoons around the world. What would have been ignored in most places was reprinted the world over and even now the images are easily found on line. This is what I mean by terminally dumb. One is terminally dumb when acting in a manner that elicites the complete opposite of the goal you are attempting to achieve.

So the fundie nutters went out screaming about Brokeback Mountain again for being on DVD. The net result of the extra publicity: it sold 1.4 million copies the first day it was being offered. Interestingly when the DVD was released the film was still in theatres and still grossing in the top 20. Go back to the pre-release days and you will see the Jesus-addicts were claiming the film would be a total flop seen by no one. It has grossed over $170 million while costing $14 million to produce.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Bible belt suffers acts of God

It is sad when natural disasters strike. They are called "natural" disasters because they are natural. They are not supernatural. And today tornados struck states known to be hotbeds of fundamentalism.

Now when California suffered from a drought some years ago the nut cases on the Religious Right said it was God punishing California for not beating up on gays. When Katrina hit New Orleans the same wingnuts said it was because a gay celebration was planned in the French Quarter. God didn't get the message since he missed damaging the French Quarter but did manage to knock down a bunch of churches.

Of course hurricanes like Katrina hit those regions of the world before any gay festivals existed and even before there were any cities. But these hurricanes keep hitting Florida where there are a lot of fundie crackers living and which keeps voting Republican. And now these tornados are killing people in the Bible belt.

Is it God? Of course not. It's nature. It happens. There is no divine retribution. That people believe a god is running around killing people, destroying homes, executing children, destroying families and ripping up lives tells you a hell of a lot about the malignant psychological traits of these people. They are real sickos.

Wingnut of the week award goes to...

Fundamentalist ministers tend not to wear robes, at least not in the pulpit, but one gets the impression that they do wear them with pillow cases over their head when they are meeting the Klavern. Whatever Jesus may, or may not, have stood for these Christianists have turned him into a symbol of hate and raw bigotry. Not to mention the utter stupidity of these people.

Take the insanity of Rev. Flip Benham. This is a man who is trying to make Fred Phelps look reasonable. Benham is a god-addict who hates gays. I mean hates. He despises, slanders and lies about gays. He can't help it. He had a theological induced lobotomy and can't think rationally any more. Benham runs a theocratic group called Operation Save America. It used to be called Operation Resuce and was an anti-abortion "ministry". But the group decided there was more political hay to be made by some old fashioned Christian fag bashing. Much to their chagrin the founder's son came out as gay. He was duly thrown out of home by his father and damned for being gay. The father also publicly said the most vile things about his son to the media and in print in right-wing rags. So much for family values.

Rev. Benham has a severe Jesus habit that has clouded his ability to lead a normal life. It is shame. His habit is so bad that he has become a pusher and wants to recruit young children to his cause. The most recent objects of his hatred are three high school students in North Carolina who formed a group to deal with gay oriented issues for other students.

But Benham attacks the students for having "sinister objectives" and claims the group they formed on campus is meant "to spread its agenda of hatred toward God, parents and teachers." They might be adverse to assholes, which may be what worries Benham, but I doubt they are against parents and teachers. This is just hateful rhetoric. He argues that gay people don't have rights because "a moral wrong must never become a civil right." And theocratic bullshit is not morality either.

Benham attacks the students and says insane things, I mean insane, I think he is absolutely unhinged like Phelps. He argues "it is better to die free than live under the bondage of homosexual slavery." What the hell does this nutcase mean? Is he saying that if gay people are afforded the same rights as other people that means enslavement of bigots like him? That is the same kind of logic used by the Islamic fundamentalists. Or is he saying that being homosexual is slavery and it is better to "free" them from that slavery by killing them? You tell me. He's incoherent when he rants about his silly god.

Other activities of Rev. Flipped is to harass the annual gay festival Charlotte Pride. Supposedly the bigots would show up in large numbers and harass people attending the event. Of course in the warped world of the bigot their harassment is called "witnessing". Can't they realize that most people want nothing to do with these escapees from the asylum? Can you imagine how these bigots would feel if several hundred gay people "witnessed" inside their church during a service? They would cry how they are being persecuted for being religion addicts. But when they do it it is okay because they imagine some deity tells them to act like jerks. But so far I can find no confirmation that anything that was scheduled has been cancelled. All we have are the rantings of Rev. Flipped. I will report what I find out.

But don't let anybody fool you that fundamentalist Christianity is about "love". It is not. It is about hate and all you have do is open your eyes and watch these Christianists to have it confirmed. The photo is Rev. Flipped protesting outside Disney World but who the hell knows why. Maybe he thinks Mickey Mouse is gay.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

There they go again...

When it rains it pours and when one Christian group of bigots get riled up other groups of Christian bigots get riled up. As I said I honestly thought that they were over with the issue of Brokeback Mountain. Clearly not.

Now I read that the film is banned in the Bahamas because some outfit called the Bahamas Christian Council filed a request to have the film banned. Now let us be very clear what this means. It means that showing this film is against the law.

And what does "against the law" mean. It means that something nasty will be done to you. At the core it means violence. Every law is a threat of violence. If one does not obey the law then men who are allowed to use violence against you will come visit you. If you assert your rights as a human being and resist them they are allowed to hurt you. If you defend yourself they are allowed to shot you or even kill you. Of course this does not apply to real crimes. One is allowed to use violence to prevent rape. But there is no real crime here. There is no victim.

So the Bahamas Christian Council is saying that they are willing, if necessary, to use deadly force to stop a film. Now these bigots may think they are removed from the violence because they get someone else to do it for them. But the man who hires a thug is as guilty as is the thug. In this case the Bahamas Christian Council hired the thug to ban a film. Yet if someone attempted to ban them they would whine like pigs at the slaughterhouse. Shame on them. It is actions like this that help show that Christianity differs from radical Islam only in degree not in kind.

That these people are driven by hate is clear. Bishop Sam Greene, head of this Christianist group, has previously engaged in open hatred of gays. His group said they didn't even want tour ships with gay passangers visiting their country. And he said that if the Bahamas ever passed marriage equality for gay couples that he would blow up parliament. Oddly this old fart said it even though no such measure was even being considered. I guess this means he is not just happy to have others use violence for his moral agenda. Apparently he is quite willing to do it as well.

When a cruise with gay passangers showed up the Christianists there got employees from hotels there to go on strike. Some even claimed that gays were having sex on the beaches in full view of everyone but that turned out to be a lie. And the hotels there did the right thing to the bigots who went on strike. They fired them.

Now the question I have is this: if a specific group refuses to recognize the human rights of others then why should others recognize the rights of the this group? I'll be interested to hear what they have to say on the matter.

The Gospel according to who?

The National Georgraphic Society has a new documentary coming out on the Gospel of Judas. The document in question goes back to at least 300 AD but is believed to be a copy of an earlier manuscript from around 150AD. Now the earliest clear example of a piece of anything from the New Testament is also from around this time, that is the St. John's fragment which is dated between 100 and 150 AD. But this early dating has been challenged. There is a disputed fragment from Qumran which would be slightly earlier but there is no widespread acceptance that it is actually part of what became the New Testament. Other than that the next earliest piece of "Gospel" is from the late Second Century but it contains material not found in any of the Gospels as they are now accepted by Christians though they are closes to the Gospel of John.

But of course when they say the Gospel of John they meant a gospel attributed to John since they don't know if John wrote it. In fact there is no clear evidence as to who wrote any one of the four Gospels appearing in the New Testament. Seven of the books of the New Testament were written by Paul and generally conceded as such. But of the Pauline books another seven are in dispute. There are a number of Epistles that appear in the New Testament and no one knows who wrote any of them. And then there are numerous other manuscripts that were considered part of Scripture by some Christians and dened by others.

Now it is believed that copies of some of these manuscripts existed prior to the those we now have. However, none of them date to the time of Christ. All were written years afterwards. All in all this Gospel of Judas has about as much claim to authenticity as any of the others. What it says is that Judas did not betray Christ but obeyed him.

The argument is this: Jesus supposedly had to be tortured to death to appease God and forgive sins. This was necessary and it was God's will for this act of torture to take place. Without it there could be no forgiveness. (Odd that, if God is omnipotent then he could have forgiven sin without murdering anyone.) So for the sins of the world to be paid for Jesus had to die. For Jesus to die he had to be betrayed. Judas was following the will of God and obeying orders and without his action there would be no forgiveness of sins.

Now James Catford of the Bible Society (British) says this manuscript was not written by Judas. No biggie. None of the Gospels that exist were actually written by Apostles either. He says: "there's nothing here to undermine what Christians have believed throughout the centuries." Well, technically it would be hard to undermine what Christians have believed through out the centuries since they have believed about everything one can imagine. If Catford means today's orthodox view then he is wrong. But he said this doesn't undermind Christian beliefs over the centuries. Well those beliefs varied. Some said Jesus was god in the flesh eternally. Some say he became god in the flesh at some point. Some said there was a trinity. Others said there was no trinty. About every major Christian doctine held by one group has been denied by another group of Christians. Good luck trying to sort them out.

And if you read Charles Freeman's The Closing of the Western Mind you will find that some of the doctrines that eventually won out in mainstream Christianity did so, not because they were the historical doctrines of Christians but because they had the backing of the Roman Emperor. The canonization of the New Testament and the forging of "orthodox" Christianity was heavily influenced by the political needs of the Roman Emperor after Rome recognized Christianity as the official religion. Many of the resolutions were not theologically determined at all. They were political. And unless a real miracle happened the chance of any government getting such a matter right is highly unlikely. Just based on a realistic view of government alone you can almost safely bet that the "correct" doctrines were the ones rejected and that "orthodox" Christianity is probably nothing like the Christianity of the early church.

Christianists want to boycott Wal-Mart

I thought this story had finally died out. After all the Bible bigots from the lunatic Right shot their wad when it came to Brokeback Mountain. They fumed and fussed and the film did very well in spite of, or perhaps because of, all this ruckus. I confess that a large reason I went to see this film myself was because escapees from Bedlam were so wacko over it.

But what I didn't consider was what would happen when the film was released on DVD. Now remember that these Christianists (the Jesus worshipping equivalent of Islamists) are not just refusing to see the movie. They don't want anyone to see it and they want to prevent others from seeing it. Now they are going after retail giant Wal-Mart for daring to sell the movie. Now be very clear about it. It is not that the film has explicit sex in it. It doesn't. It is rather tame by modern standards. Of course these are people who think showing an ankle is encouraging fornication. They are the kind upset that the Muslims came up with the idea of the veil first otherwise they would be pushing it.

It is merely that it is about two gay men that upsets these haters. Wal-Mart's response is precisely what a retailer's response ought to be: "We simply offer the latest titles that consumers want." Notice the last part of this: "that consumers want." That is what free enterprise is about. And that is why the Christianists are ultimately at war with free enterprise.

American Family Association spokeman, Rand Sharp, who's middle names must be "not so", said that by selling this film Wal-Mart "is trying to help normalize homosexuality in society.” Of course they only use "normal" to mean the statistical norm. Homosexuality is normal as it is found in all cultures at all times and does not violate the rights of others. The only use of "normal" they can mean is the statistical one. Then they equate "normal" is the statistical sense and then imply that anything not "normal" is now "absnormal" but now they jump categories to mean in the psychological sense. It's a clever bait and switch that allows them to smuggle in their silly little beliefs.

Mr. Sharp (sic) incoherently said of Wal-Mart: "But how many copies are they going to have to sell to recruit the losses of customers who they've offended and will no longer shop at Wal-Mart." What? Maybe in Bible-speak that makes sense. In English it doesn't. What is "recurit the losses"? Now here is my bet. Wal-Mart won't see any change in sales at all. These tactics are merely threats. What does the Bible bigot have to do to boycott Wal-Mart? Well, why did they shop there in the first place? They shopped there because it was the best deal for them considering the options they had available. So to boycott Wal-Mart means that they have to now go to their second-best option.

They have to pay more for their goods. Their costs go up. To illustrate let's assume they spend $1,000 a year at Wal-Mart stocking up on grits and Bibles. They now move down to "Joe's Jesus Respecting Emporium and Revival Center" instead and buy the same goods for 10% more. That means to respect Jesus they have to spend an extra $100 for the same goods. If they are earning $25,000 workin' down at the feed store a $100 is a lot of money. That means their standard of living will drop. One hundred dollars to someone earning $25,000 means a hell of a lot more than the lose of $1000 in sales to a company that is taking in a third of a trillion in sales.

What the fundies count on is that if enough of them do this that it will ultimately hurt Wal-Mart. They hope that maybe 1 million of them of them will each pay $100 more but Wal-Mart loses $100 million in sales (profits would be far less of course). But the problem is that the incentives for the boycotters is to cheat. After all if the kids need shoes the kids need shoes and if you can't afford the prices somewhere else what other option do you have but to cheat on the boycott. The Christianist who ignores the boycott receives immediate rewards each time they buy. And I suspect the savings will be enough to encourage cheating.

I recently wanted to pick up some jeans but gave no thought to Wal-Mart. I did some on-line research as to the best place to buy jeans in my area. I was seeing prices ranging from $25 to $50 a pair. A friend in Europe suggested Wal-Mart. I had to be in the mall where the Wal-Mart was located so I figured I would look. Now I was resigned to paying $25 and up for jeans. I figured I would get two pairs. But instead I found a good brand of jeans at Wal-Mart for $12 a pair. And another brand was $10 a pair. Instead of two pairs I bought five. The boycott bigots might find such savings too hard to resist. And since they usually shop on their own "who would know" if they cheat. I predict that almost all of them will cheat. The boycott is an empty threat and about the only ones who would actually avoid Wal-Mart are the people who don't shop there anyway. Meanwhile I'm feeling a bit better about buying those jeans.

The evidence accumulates.

Are there gaps in evolution? Apparently. From that the fundamentalist Right has, as normal, jumped to unwarranted conclusions. Take some of these comments from the Institute for Creation Research:

“If some type of fish evolved into some type of amphibian, there should have been distinct steps along the way of 90% fish/10% amphibian; then 80% fish/20% amphibian; etc., leading to the 100% amphibians we have today.”

They are quite adamant that no “missing link” could exist because every species was separately created by a god of some sort. As they put it creationism “says they never existed.”

The recent find of the Tiktaalik roseae seems to say otherwise. This extinct species, af first, looked like a fish. But on closer inspection they found much more. In the forward fins they found the beginnings of limbs. Other aspects of the fish also resembled those of four-legged animals more than those of fish. Nature magazine says this is clearly a “link between fishes and land vertebrates.”

Numerous skeletons of this species were uncovered in that last few years. And it appears that the appendages in the fins could be used for motion on solid surfaces. It is thought the species may have spent brief times out of water. It also had a neck that allowed the head to move in ways that fish could not do but a trait common in land animals.

That humans have not found all the various species that evolved over hundreds of millions of years is no surprise. We don’t even know how many species exist in the world today. But what we do find continues to support evolution as a plausible explanation of how life came to exist. And it is far, far more consistent with the evidence than the idea that all of life is only around 7,000 years old.


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