Tuesday, October 31, 2006

You knew they wouldn't stop with the kids.

The Theopublicans have squandered hundreds of millions of federal funds to preach their own personal morality in the government schools. We all know about the abstinence programs that government is funding which brings Christianists into the school to preach Christian morality. But why would you assume they'd stop there.

They haven't.

Now the government is spending millions to preach an anti-sex message to grown adults. Under new federal guidelines millions will become available to preach the abstinence message to adults between the ages of 19 and 29.

One teacher's nightmare with fundy parents.

This is an unsual post for me. Unsual because most of it is written by someone else. I was alerted to a discussion on a website by one of our readers. Here a female teacher outlines the problem she had with a couple of fundamentalist parents of one of her students. The father is a fundy minister. The teacher lives in the Theocratic Republic of Texas where morons elect the brain dead to high office. I will make some comments after you read her message.
I teach 10th grade world history. My students are 15-16. I had a very interesting conference with parents today.... I have to tell you about the first conference I had with these BAPTIST MINISTER parents... They came to me with concerns that their son, in their opinion, was not reaching his academic potential. David failed the test we took over World Religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Chinese philosophy, Zoroastrianism, Islam) because what were were studying was "evil" and "wrong" and he refused to study the material. He chose to fail the test rather than study something "immoral." The parents told me that what I was teaching (which is mandated by the Texas Education Agency and is LAW and I am REQUIRED to teach it or lose my job) was "inappropriate" and I should be "ashamed of myself" for PROMOTING these "false" religions. They then wanted to know if there was an alternative assignment I could give their son to make up for his low test grade. Of course, I refused to give another assignment because of inequity. I told them that I did NOT preach these religions but presented them objectively as historical fact. We then discussed how this test was not the root of his low average but rather how he sleeps in class, fails other assignments which have nothing to do with other religions, basically turns in no homework, and does not participate in any classroom activities. They also informed me that they monitor very closely who their son associates with, will not allow him to have friends who aren't "active Christians," and that he is not allowed to even speak to girls until he is 18. We worked everything out and I thought all was well....until today... Second conference... Now it's not subject matter why David failing...apparently it is ME These same parents told me, and I'm not shitting you, that the reason their son is failing is because and I quote, I am too pretty. I distract him with my looks and they even suggested to me that I not wear make-up and dress much more "matronly." Apparently, he cannot communicate with me that he doesn't understand something because he is so intimidated by me. He also doesn't want to stay for tutorials because he is "afraid to be alone with me." I wanted to SCREAM....no, the reason for this is because you haven't allowed your son to socialize with females appropriately and he doesn't know how to act around a member of the opposite sex!! The parents then demanded that their son be moved into a classroom with a teacher who was much less attractive and proceeded to go around the school looking at all the teachers.

Here are my observations. Notice that this is a course which teaches what the world's religions believe. Now it is often argued that the fundamentalists want God in the schools. False. Nor do they want religion in school. What they want is their god and their religion and only their god and their religion. That folks is the nature of fundamentalism. They don't respect the rights of others because others don't have rights. To them their god is sovereign and you have no right to disobey him. In other words you only have the right to live according to their religion. Anything else would require having the right to disobey god and they don't believe that right can exist.

Second I have long noted that fundamentalists tend to be dominated by underachievers, by the lacklustre, the failures, the lower classes of society. The less successful an individual the more likely they are to be a fundamentalist. Survey after survey shows this to be the case. Fundamentalists are more likely to have dropped out of high school, more likely to be unemployed, more likely to have been in jail. In one word they are more likely to be failures.

I think this has a lot to do with the religion they pick. First, these people can then claim to be better than others. They are the "saved" while the rest of the world are sinners doomed to hell. They are "walking with God" while the rest of us are not. They have the full "truth" in "the book" while the rest of us have false ideas and false idols. In other words they have a belief system that takes people who more likely to be failures and tells them that they are in fact superior to everyone else.

But if they are better than the rest of us and failures at the same time how do they explain that? One thing they are doing more and more is finding scapegoats. Fundamentalist Christians are more likely to divorce so why does this happen? Well they want to say marriage is under attack and gays are at fault. Why do they do less well in general? Try the line that they are victims of discrimination by secular humanists. They are constantly looking for excuses.

These parents are classic cases. They are willing to blame everything and anything for their son's failure. What they won't accept is that the fault lies closer to home -- actually the fault lies at home. It is a combination of their antiquated parenting, their absurd theology, their son's lack of interest, etc. The fault is not the course or that the teacher isn't ugly enough. They could find a teacher ugly enough to teach Sunday School and the boy would still be doing poorly.

In the past I've posted about David Hyles, the preacher son of Jack Hyles, a leading fundamentalist nutter. Rev Hyles, the father, pretended his son was this paragon of virtue. Those of us who knew David knew this was the truth. Far from it in fact. But Preacher Hyles would hear none of it. It didn't fit his world view of himself and his faith. Eventually David got out of control as women in numerous fundamentalist churches can testify. What he did in high school was mild compared to the kind of adult he became and a few minutes on the internet will confirm that. But if you turn a blind eye to reality once you will turn a blind eye to reality again and again. And fundamentalism is built upon the premise of turning a blind eye all the time.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Enslaved by the book.

The Muslim moron who compared women to meat deserving to be eaten (raped) has apologized. Sort of.

But it is clear he still doesn’t get it. He said that his comments were “inappropriate and unacceptable for the Australian society and the western society in general.”

Now read that again. He doesn’t say he was wrong. He doesn’t say that the remarks themselves are totally unacceptable either. He merely says they are unacceptable in Australian and the west.

This is cultural relativism at its worst. And please note Left-wing relativists who read this blog. This is the sort of thing your ideas are supporting.

For the record the idea that women deserve to be raped for not covering themselves completely is unacceptable anywhere. It is unacceptable in the west, the east, the north and the south. It is wrong. It is vile. Just because Islamic nations accept this view doesn’t make it right. This sort of treatment of women is wrong across the board.

This man, the Mufti of Australia, doesn’t seem to recognize this. All he has said is that he can’t get away with this sort of remark in Australia. He has not apologized nor does he recognize that what he did is wrong. All he acknowledges is that people in the west don’t like it. We know that already.

But how can he acknowledge he is wrong? He is a follower of “the book”. In this case the Koran. His reading of the book doesn’t allow him the liberty to make up his own mind regarding such matters. He has to follow “the book” and he thinks the book says that women must cover themselves.

He is as restricted as the fundamentalist Christian with their antigay prejudices and hatred. They can’t accept that gay people are human beings with the same rights as other human beings because their copy of “the book” tells them otherwise. Mufti al-Hilali can’t be a decent human being since his version of “the book” won’t let him. Fundamentalist Christians can’t be decent human beings and respect the rights of others because their version of “the book” won’t let them. Orthodox Jews can’t see how stealing land from Palestinians is wrong because their reading of their “book” won’t let them.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

If you meet this man have a tape recorder.

A dispute between two Christians is drawing some attention. Bill Moyers is a liberal sort of Christian and he did a television interview with born again type E. Calvin Beisner. Beisner later claimed that Moyers told him that he (Moyers) was a Democrat and was using his show to help the Democrats win. That’s pretty serious a charge under the circumstances.

Moyers wrote Beisner saying:

“You are not telling the truth. In fact, what you wrote in the ISA newsletter is an outright lie. You claim that "When Moyers interviewed me for the documentary last spring, he very candidly told me that he is a liberal Democrat and intended for the documentary to influence the November elections to bring control of Congress back to the Democrats." I said nothing of the sort -- nothing. To the contrary, I told you that I am an independent - members of the crew remember my saying that to you specifically (there were, remember, three other people in the room.) You yourself taped the entire session with your own recorder; show me where in the transcript such a conversation occurred. I also told you, as I told everyone interviewed, that we of course could not use the entire interview but that I would post it on our Website when the broadcast aired, as was done. If I had said anything approaching what you claim I said, if you perceived any bias on my part. you could have -- and should have refused to participate. But you did participate freely, you were treated fairly and honestly, and for you now to bear false witness is not only unChristian but astonishing. What am I to make of the many friendly emails you have sent over these months, signed: "In Christ, Cal"? Or our exchange on how much I have enjoyed your daughter's CD that you sent? Your conservative evangelical brothers who were also interviewed in the documentary – from Richard Cizik to Tri Robinson to Allan Johnson (not a liberal among them) have written in praise of how they were treated. You and you alone have chosen to bear false witness to our conversation and to defame – in your own words –the ethics and journalistic balance of the documentary. You owe me arid my team an apology and a public retraction.”

Indeed. If Beisner did tape the interview as Moyers claimed happen then he should be able to produce the tape. If he taped the interview and can’t produce the tape then it would seem that the tape doesn’t support the accusations he made.

Now I find Beisner’s reply pretty sleazy in fact. His attorneys replied to a letter from Moyers’ attorneys which said the accusation was defamatory. Now what is the proper response to this for Beisner. He could say that he told the truth and thus it is not defamation. But Beisner does not do that at all. Instead his attorneys claim that the accusation doesn’t amount to defamation.

Then Beisner pulls religion out to play the thing down. Instead of admitting he made the story up or instead of saying he was telling the truth he avoids the matter of his own honesty and instead says that they should meet privately “to restore that relationship outside the civil courts as Christians are admonished to do...”

Beisner is quick to claim that he remembers the conversation from times when his tape recorder was not running presumably. Where Moyers says he was there with other people Beisner claims it was a “private conversation... that was not recorded prior to the interview on camera” and that his recollection “may have been influenced by a conversation” he says he had on the way to the airport with Moyers after the interview. In other words Beisner does not have a tape of said remarks and is not even sure when he thinks they were made. But Beisner’s attorneys say he accepts that Moyers is not a Democrat but an independent.

Moyers seemed genuinely hurt that a fellow Christian would treat him this way. A second email to Beisner, when his first was ignored, almost pleaded for some sort of explanation for this attack. Moyers emailed Beisner: “I immediately emailed you to ask whether you actually said such a thing. I wrote again later that day, asking: “What has come over you?" I said you were not telling the truth and I asked for a retraction and an apology as your lie gained speed across the Internet. You replied the next morning only to say that you were busy and that you "should" be able to send me a reply at the end of that day, in your own good time. I was furious and wrote back immediately asking how you intended to rectify this lie. You were undermining my reputation and credibility, not to mention my livelihood, and were blasé about it. You then replied with no substantive response but a definition of the word "lie," as if you proposed to avoid responsibility on the basis of a dictionary definition! Given your rebuff of my appeal, I asked my attorney to contact you immediately and put you on notice that if you did not act forthrightly to retract the lie, I had no alternative but to seek recourse by other means.”

This makes it appear that the moment Moyers knew the story was being circulated in Religious Right circles that he wrote Beisner for a reply. Beisner apparently ignored the email. The story kept spreading and Beisner apparently refused to give any substantive reply at all. He later admitted that some of what he said was false., that Moyers is a Democrat but Moyers was upset that Beisner was now refusing to retract the claim that Moyers said he intended his show to help the Democrats win the election. Moyers seems amazed that Beisner would ignore his emails requesting clarification for why Beisner said these things and for a retraction and then have his attorneys send a sanctimonious reply about how they should resolved it in private like good Christians. Beisner had several days to resolve it, if these emails are accurate, and choose not to do so.

Beisner is not coming out of this well. It certainly appears as if he may have invented an accusation for political purposes. Moyers is a Christian but one who has been deeply troubled by the theocratic movement in America. Beisner is an ally of the theocrats. And he gives me the impression he is not a very honest individual. He definetly comes out on the wrong end of this one. Shame on him. The photo is of Beisner. If you meet him tape record everything you say.

The cult behind Intelligent Design Guru

I just watched a discussion between Michael Shermer of Skeptic magazine and Jonathan Wells of the Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute is the front group for the creationist movement under the pretence of science.

Now Wells has credentials in some fields of science, which doesn’t mean he knows what he is talking about outside those fields. Nor does it mean he is a honest scientist who looks at the evidence and draws conclusions. In fact the case is very strong, in my opinion, that he did just the opposite. He drew a conclusion and went into science only to gather credentials in order to to further his theological goals.

You can find the admission that this was a case in Wells’ own words. Wells was a member of one of the more bizarre cults around and it was the cult which pushed him in this direction. Here is what Wells has written:

“At the end of the Washington Monument rally in September, 1976, I was admitted to the second entering class at Unification Theological Seminary. During the next two years, I took a long prayer walk every evening. I asked God what He wanted me to do with my life, and the answer came not only through my prayers, but also through Father's many talks to us, and through my studies. Father encouraged us to set our sights high and accomplish great things.

“He also spoke out against the evils in the world; among them, he frequently criticized Darwin's theory that living things originated without God's purposeful, creative activity. My studies included modern theologians who took Darwinism for granted and thus saw no room for God's involvement in nature or history; in the process, they re-interpreted the fall, the incarnation, and even God as products of human imagination.

"Father's words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father chose me (along with about a dozen other seminary graduates) to enter a Ph.D. program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle.”

In this little confession the man called Father by Wells is the cult leader, with the invented name of Sun Myung Moon. His actual name was Mun Yong-myong. Father claims that Jesus appeared to him. Of course Moon, as he now calls himself, claims he is the new Messiah. Conveniently, he claims, all the leaders of the great religions of the world met in heaven and declared him the Messiah. This is the man that Wells follows. This is the cult with mass arranged marriages where “Father” picks the spouse for the cult members and then marries. Often the members have never even met their spouse they are told to marry.

Moon wrote in 1992 that he and his wife “are the True Parents of all humanity. I declared that we are the Saviour, the Lord of the Second Advent, the Messiah.” Of course Wells believes this himself. He wrote: “Although there may be members of the Unification Church who do not believe Reverend Moon to be the second coming of Christ, I think it is fair to say that such people must be a small minority; indeed, it is difficult to imagine anyone persevering in the rigorous life of a Unificationist without believing that Sun Myung Moon is to our generation what Jesus was to his.” Wouldn’t the fundamentalist at the forefront of the Creationist movement just love knowing that there guru in science thinks Moon is the new Messiah, the Jesus of our age. Wells is not just a member but a major member of this cult. His work is on theology is pushed on what appears to be a Unification cult website (tparents.org). Tparents refers to the claim of Moon that he and his wife are the “True Parent” of all of us.

Now read carefully what Wells wrote. He was an active cult member. He was not a scientist. He was picked by Moon to go to University. He began with his conclusion -- that Darwinian evolution must be destroyed. He says that “Father’s words.. convinced me I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism.”

So the reason he studied science was to destroy Darwinism. Now I might be mistaken but I thought he said in the debate that he rejected Darwin because the science just doesn’t support it. Of course the overwhelming number of experts in the field do think it make sense. But the main point is that Wells was not being fully honest. He did not study the evidence and then conclude that Darwin was wrong. He started with a conclusion drawn based on the teachings of his cult and then went in search of anything he could to accomplish his life goal -- to destroy Darwinism.

Count me in Sam's club.

The Washington Post has published a lengthy article on Sam Harris, the author of The End of Faith. It is a typical journalistic profile piece which is meant to entertain even if it has to distort the facts a bit to do so. If you look past the journalistic techniques to “be interesting” you will find a somewhat decent story here. But there are still many problems with it which I will try to dissect.

The headline is “Atheist Evangelist: In His Bully Pulpit, Sam Harris Devoutly Believes That Religion Is The Root of All Evil.”

The reporter is clearly uninformed as to what “bully pulpit” means. The term came from President Theodore Roosevelt who called the presidency a “bully pulpit” and the phrase has come to mean any political office sufficiently high enough that the holder of that office will get attention on issue about which he speaks regardless of what he says. George Bush has a “bully pulpit” but Sam Harris does not. If the reporter did not know this (and they may not be responsible for the silly headline) then surely the editor overseeing this section of the paper should have noticed this glaring error. If he didn’t the author should have noticed and complained about it.

I won’t bore you with a long discussion as to whether an atheist can be an evangelist or not. But I will note that I read the book by Harris and I did not get the impression that he thinks religion is the “root of all evil” as claimed in this headline. There is much evil in the world and a good deal of it is religious in origin but not all evil is religious. I don’t believe Harris has ever said this. I consider it a bad start when an article, attempting to be cute, gets two glaring distortions in the subtitle for the article alone.

The “hook” to get the reader interested is that if Sam Harris is right then millions of Christians, Muslims and Jews are wrong and if Harris is wrong he is “so going to hell.” Again cutesy but not accurate. First the reporter has to learn that there are more religions out there than the three he mentions. Second, most Jews and many Christians clearly don’t believe in a hell. And those who do are equally convinced that other believers in a god are going there because it is the wrong god. Many a fundamentalist Christian says all Jews and Muslims are going to hell as well.

But the idea is to show a massive conglomerate of people against one man and to do that he has to ignore that the believers don’t believe that the others believers really do believe. Many believers are sure that other believers are really heretics doomed to hell. So it is not a question of do you believe in a god and thus get heaven or, not believe in a god and thus get sent to hell. Ask around and it quickly becomes apparent you are supposed to believe in the “right” god.

Now the author, and the critics he runs to for support, clearly think that Harris is wrong for going after all faith. After all, they say, isn’t the problem really extremism? Harris says even moderate believers, as the journalist puts it, have “immunized religion from rational discussion by nurturing the idea that faith is so personal and private that it is beyond criticism, even when horrific crimes are committed in its name.”

Well Harris is right there. We aren’t supposed to challenge another person’s religion. It is considered taboo to do so. But more importantly, as I will argue in an essay I’m working on for later, the believer justifies beliefs without evidence and that is dangerous. He also, usually, advocates the “one true god” theory which automatically makes all those outside his camp into opponents of the one true god and thus dangerous. Exactly how far they are willing to go to stamp out the evil of heresy varies but the concept of a monopolistic deity does mean that other beliefs are dangerous.

Religion is inherently intolerant if taken seriously. And the idea that the holy book contains the truths is a dangerous one. Your only choice is to take the book seriously and literally. The moderates are usually embarrassed by the book and prefer to find allegories and symbols not literal lessons. But the fundamentalists can beat them in that war. Either the book means it or it doesn’t they argue. And the believers move in the fundamentalist direction while the moderates see their numbers dwindle.

When you have “the book”, as Jews, Christians and Muslims do, then the fundamentalists are going to grow and moderates and liberals will see their numbers constantly diminishing. The choice, as I will explain later, really is between fundamentalism and reason.

The article does mention that the books by Harris have sold very well. The End of Faith sold 270,000 copies. Now I have stated that I think fundamentalism in the US has overplayed its hand. It has become so intolerant and hateful and power hungry that I think it will be in for some rough patches. I believe the numbers of people clinging to fundie fantasies will diminish. Unbelief, true unbelief, will grow in America. I just hope it does so quickly. I think the sales of the Harris book is just one indication of the backlash against the fundamentalists.

Another indication we will see when Americans vote in November. The Christianists in America have tainted the Republican Party with their intolerance and viciousness and voters seem to have become sick unto death with it. The only thing preventing an absolute landslide for the Democrats is that the Democrats are equally out of touch with people and cling to antiquated left-wing economics and are trying to buy off special interest groups. They don’t realize that it is those policies that drove voters to the Republicans and which gave the Religious Right, who controlled the GOP, the power they now have. People are moving back to the Democrats but not because they like what they are saying but because they are disgusted with Republicans. The extreme Left in the Democratic Party is rubbing their hands with glee anticipating all the absurd and destructive policies they can implement. The net result will be that one or two terms of such stupidity will drive voters back to the Republicans unless the Democrats learn from this that the extremists on the Left are just as dangerous to them as the Fundamentalists are to the Republicans.

The Post article, of course, rushes off to religious folk to get their impression of Harris. When wss the last time you read an article on religion where the journalists rushed off to get quotes to the contrary from atheists? An article on moronic Mormonism might discuss two strains of the Morons contending with one another. But you won’t typically find a paragraph on how atheist so-and-so has this to say on the topic.

This really does illustrate the point Harris is making about not being allowed to question religion and how moderates give cover to extremists. Any article which dares criticize religion must have the view of the religious presented. But articles that present the religious view never have to be balanced with the atheist view. The faith mongers get special treatment.

The Post says that Harris “oversimplified scripture, they [the critics] say. He has drawn far-reaching conclusions based on the beliefs of radicals. As, bad, his stand against organized religion is so unconditional that it’s akin to the intolerance he claims to be fighting.”

Let’s dissect this crap. And it is crap. You have “the book” from “the god”. It is the only book and he is the only god. It has “the truth”. And you need to follow it, believe it, cherish it, etc. Does it mean what it says or not? The fundamentalist says yes. The “moderate” tries to ignore the parts that are a bit scary. And in this case the Post only interviews “moderates” and no fundamentalists. That skews the article to prove the point that Harris is wrong. But who actually holds political power in America? Is it the religious moderates or the fanatics? Polls of the beliefs of American Christians would seem to indicate that the Post interviewed the advocates of the minority opinion.

The Old Testament says that if a man lies with a man as with a woman (they lie in the OT they don’t “have sex”) both men should be put to death. It is there. This is not an allegory. You might argue that it doesn’t apply now but it says what it says and if it every applied it shows the author of that book to be a tyrant. What to do? The fundamentalists says: “Of course the Bible means what it says.” The moderate says “well sometimes it means what it says and sometimes it doesn’t.”

How do they know which is which? Well if it sounds awful then it doesn’t mean it. If it sound nice then it does. They use current moral values to judge the Bible and don’t use the Bible to judge current moral values. The fundamentalists uses the Bible to judge modern society. Now I think the fundamentalists are silly and the Bible is false. But the moderate doesn’t want to say that. He wants to have his cake and eat it too.

Harris does not “oversimplify scripture”. Scripture is scripture. The moderates over complicate it in order to try and weed out the vile parts that infect that book. They want an inhumane book at the center of their life and they want to ignore the unpleasant parts. So now god doesn’t want believers to kill gays. That he wanted to do so at any time in history is an indication he is a monster (an imaginary monster but still a monster).

A retired professor of religious studies says that Harris is making “a very crude mistake” by “pushing moderates into the same camp as fanatics.” No, the moderates, while rejecting the fanaticism, endorse the book from which the fanaticism flows.

Imagine “moderate Nazis” using Mein Kampf to forge a political system but rejecting the anti-Jewish views as fanaticism. The anti-semitism is in the book. No interpretation or revision removes what it says. The fanaticism the moderates hate is in the book. They are the ones ignoring the very book they claim to believe in one form or another. And as long as they are endorsing the book there will be a good number of “moderates” who find the anti-Jewish parts and be willing to put them into practice.

Remember the Bible is not “man’s book” but “God’s book”. Man may make mistakes and errors. But God? Well, did a god inspire it or not? If he did why let errors creep in? Couldn’t he keep it error free knowing how such errors would lead to misery? Didn’t he have the power to preserve his own words? So the fundamentalist counters and claims the book means what it says. And, taking the false premises of religion, the logic is on his side.

The idea the Bible contains the word of a god but is not the word of this god is silly. If it merely contains the thoughts of the deity then how do we discern what are ideas from heaven and ideas from fanatics? How do we pick and choose what to believe? We can’t. The fundamentalists know this is the weakness of the moderates. The fanaticism the moderates hate is in the book they preach. By holding up that book as something special they encourage people to rush to it for answers. And when people do that they find the fanaticism and the numbers of fundamentalists grow.

Religious moderates are like army recruiters. They make enlisting sound all nice and pleasant. But when someone enlists and goes off to boot camp they are turned into a fanatic. The moderate gets people into the Bible and then the Bible quite effectively turns people into fanatics. If you don’t believe this is the case then check out church membership statistics.

The moderates are seeing their members, in large numbers, going off to the fundamentalist churches. Very few “converts” to fundamentalist Christian are unbelievers, Jews of Muslims. Fundamentalism grows because it finds it so easy to move moderate Christians into their camp.

The most absurd quote comes from Reza Aslan author of No God but God on Islam. He says that: “Religion doesn’t make people bigots. People are bigots and they use religion to justify their ideology.” Aslan writes about one of the most bigoted and hateful religions on the planet and tries to claim there is no correlation between that hate and that religion.

If religion doesn’t make people hateful then why are the suicide terrorists all so religious? Why aren’t secular humanists strapping dynamite to their chest and blowing up children on buses? Not all hateful people come from religion. But many people are hateful because of their religion.

The state of the Islamic world is no accident. They live in a world ruled by theology and they suffer accordingly. It is said that for good people to do evil they need religion. I know good people who are very bigoted against various groups. Why? It is not in their nature to be this way. They really are nice people. But they believe that “the book” tells them they have to be this way.

I have seen too many people who were not hateful and bigoted get “converted” into a religion and become bigots. I have also seen people who were in those religions abandon their faith and become tolerant. Aslan is full of it. There is a very strong correlation between hate and theology. The theologically inclined are more intolerant and the less theologically inclined are less intolerant. If you increase the level of religiosity you increase the level of prejudice and bigotry.

It is no accident that lynching in America was mostly confined to the Bible Belt states. It is no accident that so many Klan leaders were fundamentalist Christians and many of them were fundamentalist preachers. At the very least, if the Bible does not create bigots, it cheers them along the way.

The Post writer says “To find religion so scary is like being terrified of cellphones -- there is no end to the potential for fright.” What? Maybe cute but nonsense. Bad writing, bad editing. Let us recount some facts. Religious nutters rammed air planes into the Twin Towers and killed a couple of thousand people. Religious nutters across the Middle East, and now elsewhere, are killing innocent civilians in their holy war. Throughout history hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people have died in religious conflicts. And to worry about this influence, and these results, is like being “terrified of cellphones”!

The author of the article clearly believes that “moderates are a bulwark against fanatics” and that we are in a “war between moderation and extremism, which is a war one needs moderates to fight.” While I would love the moderates, small as they are, to fight the fanatics what does history show us.

Are moderate Nazis the answer to fanatical Nazis? My forthcoming essay on why fundamentalism is winning will discuss this topic in detail. Suffice to say for now that this author in fact concedes ground to evil in every conflict. He would fight communism by adopting socialism. He would fight Nazism by adopting fascism. Any compromise between good and evil is a victory for evil. Fanaticism is not fought by compromising with it and being only partially fanatical.

The retired professor quoted at the beginning of the article is brought back to say “You’re not going to convert everyone to atheism.” Exactly where does he get this information? Everyone might be an exaggeration. But as Harris noted many formerly religious nations in Europe are now dominated by unbelievers. Calvin once roasted people alive in Geneva but the Swiss today are mostly secular, mostly non-religious. The Calvinists once ruled Holland but most Dutch today are not believers. Something like only one out of ten English bother with attending any church.

The religious values of a nation can change and they can change rapidly. I am still optimistic that America is turning away from religion much the way it turned into a religious country in a relatively short period of time, from about 1900 to 2000. Contrary to common myths America was less religious in the past and church attendance only reached 50% of the population in the 1940s.

The Post article takes on Harris for being an advocate of reason. They find a theology professor to say this is an error. Of course he would, he’s an advocate of believing without evidence. A theologian is someone with a license to invent “facts” about the universe and use them to tell others how to live. By nature a theologian can pontificate on anything with nothing more than his imagination as the foundation of what he says.

This theologian says that the “Bible was inspired by God” but limited by the knowledge of the authors. It contains God’s word but isn’t God’s word. He’s back into the nonsense that every Christian moderate has to claim in order to remain a Christian. A Christian moderate is someone too humane to be a fundamentalist and too frightened to be an atheist.

The Muslim nutter says Harris is equally wrong about the Koran because “the Koran is by far the most tolerant of the views of other religions.” Right! We believe you. Those are tolerant beheadings that get filmed by Islamic fanatics. The two gay teens hung in Iran were executed tolerantly. What bullshit! Islam is evil. Christianity is evil. Lies are evil. Faith is evil. Any claim not rooted in reality is destructive and dangerous.

Aslan says that the Koran is intolerant of polytheists but says we shouldn’t worry as there are not many of them around these days. What rubbish. First, in many places of the world there are lots of polytheists around. Second, there are not many in Islamic nations since the tolerant Islamists killed them. Third, Islam is intolerant of freedom. It will endure as second class citizens monotheists of other faiths but it will harass them and use the state to infringe on their rights. And if a Muslim converts to one of these other religions or becomes an atheist he will be killed. Islam around the world is killing people for converting to other religions and Aslan must know this. He is a dishonest advocate for a vile religion.

In closing I want to tackle one other claim made in this article. Is atheism as intolerant as fundamentalism? Did atheists drive jets full of people into buildings full of people? There are plenty of people who do evil directly as a result of their religion. No atheist has done evil directly as a result of being an atheist. Atheism is the lack of a specific belief. You don’t organize well around a “lack of a belief”. There is no cohesion in the absence of a belief. Nor is there any “fuel” that drives people to action from the lack of a belief.

Born again nuts can gather together because they have a common belief uniting them. There is no common belief uniting atheists. There is the absence of a common belief. So most attempts to gather atheists never amount to much.

To be intolerant in the way fundamentalists are intolerant requires a believing foundation of some kind. The few atheists in history who were mass killers were almost exclusively the communists. (HItler was not an atheist.) Their desire to kill came from their shared belief in communism not from their lack of a shared belief in religion.

It is critical to properly understand that atheism is not an assertion to a positive belief. I don’t use positive in the sense of “good” but in the sense of existence. A positive belief then is a belief making an assertion where as atheism merely denies an assertion. It is merely the lack of a belief and it is hard, if not impossible, to get motivated to act about what you don’t believe.

The people demanding censorship in America are not atheists but Christians. No atheist has demanded that churches be shut down. It is not atheists attending Christian rallies demanding that believers be put to death. But Christian groups do picket others they consider to be sinners demanding they be executed. It is easy to find a religious leader saying how the state should kill or strip people of their equal rights. Atheists don’t want to kill Christians. We aren’t trying to to use the law to close their churches or burn their Bibles. But the Christian can’t help himself in wishing to impose his will on others.

Is Sam Harris as intolerant as the people he condemns? Obviously not. Is he adamant they are dangerous? Yes. This journalists seems to think that any strongly held belief is the same as any other strongly held belief regardless of the reason for holding it provided it is strongly held. And he thinks any strongly held belief is inherently intolerant. Thus the Jews who strongly opposed the Nazis were no different than the Nazis who strongly opposed the Jews. Obviously that is false. And just as obviously it is false to equate Harris’ respect for reason with the intolerance of fundamentalists who would engage in the wholesale violation of the rights of others if given half the chance.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Women are meat, says cleric

I contend that at the heart of many religions, particularly fundamentalism, there is a contempt for human beings. From the Calvinists with their belief in human total depravity to the Muslims. Perhaps I should not use the “from.... to” saying there as the Muslim fanatics and the Calvinists fanatics are a very similar bunch.

A Muslim cleric in Australia
has unleased an outrage by blaming women, especially western women I think, if they get raped. If you think he is just a male chauvinist he was pretty contemptable about men as well.

In a sermon he preached “If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden, or in the park, or in the backyard without cover, and the cats come and eat it... whose fault is it, the cats’s or the uncovered meats?” The cleric, Sheik Taj Aldin al Hilali made it quite clear: “The uncovered meat is the problem.” He says that if womam “was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred.”

So not only did he compare women to hunks of dead meat tempting cats he compared men to animals who act on instinct and who can’t be said to possess moral abilities.

He is saying that woman who gets raped got raped because she deserved it. She was the uncovered meat tempting the helpless men who have no moral ability to choose good over evil. Perhaps this is how Muslim men act but it not how most men in the West act. But the West is civilized. Now if a non-Muslim portrayed Muslim men as being more inclined to rape women who don’t follow Islamic lunacy they would be accused of hate speech.
So what to do when a top Muslim cleric they says publicly something indicating that Muslim men can’t resist the urge to rape women who aren’t covered totally up?

Of course I’ve heard similar comments myself from fundamentalist Christians. Girls at the Christian school I attended would be hauled out of class and lined up in a hallway and told to kneel upright on the ground and then some school official would walk down the line with a ruler. A dress was not allowed to be more than two inches off the floor in an upright kneeling position. If it was 2 and one quarter inches off the floor she was sent home to change immediately and given demerits which, if accrued in sufficient numbers, would lead to his dismissal from the school.

The purpose of this dress code was to stop girls from “tempting” the boys. The meat can’t tempt the cats is how they saw it. But then their view was not about rape per se. They were horrified if a boy and girl merely held hands -- which was forbidden. Bob Jones University required male students and female students to remain more than 6 inches apart at any one time. No doubt any male who could boast of 8 inches of anatomy was highly in demand. But then I guess that doesn’t change even without the 6 inch rule.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Should religion get special privileges in court?

Ginnah Muhammad is a god addict. She is not in recovery but is addicted quite badly. She thinks some deity has told her to cover her face. Well, and good if she wants. But where are the limits?

She wanted to sue a car rental agency which charged her $2,750 for repairs to a vehicle in her possession which was broken into. Now I personally think any car agency that rents a car to a woman who is going to drive while looking through tiny slits is daft. Almost as daft as this woman. Sadly this woman was not even born into this faith from the Dark Ages. She converted.

So she has accused the rental agency of ripping her off. She goes to court. But she wants to testify on the stand with her face covered. Remember that we have a right to face our accusers in court. We have the right to look right at them and see them when they make accusations against us or testify against us.

The judge in the case actually tried to accommodate this Allah addict but she was not to be accommodated. He said she could sit there looking like a rumpled pile of sheets all she wanted but when it came time to take the stand she needed to remove the veil. He said that his job is to try to figure out who is telling the truth and watching people’s faces while they testify is an important part of his job. That makes a lot of sense to me. But the religiously addled had hissy fits whining that they are being persecuted.

Now remember these lunatic Muslims argue that if a Westerner visits one of their sand hills called a nation that they, the Westerner, must respect Islamic customs. So Western woman have to wear whatever silly head covering the local women wear. There are no civil liberties for Westerners in Muslim countries. It’s toe the line, get out or perhaps be stoned to death.

So if we go to the hellholes created by their theology we must respect their customs. Fair enough. But then they say that if they live in the West we must also respect their customs. Their religious fantasies are supposed to govern their nations and rule in our nations as well.

Now another the president of the American Judges Association said: “If it’s a person’s legitimate religious belief, we have a duty to try to reconcile these competing interests.” Once again the only beliefs offered these sorts of special privileges are the religious fantasies of people.

Now when it comes to religion the whole thing is rather easy. You can make up what you believe, claim that some prophet or deity whispered it into your ears. You can’t tell when someone is a schizophrenic or when they are just being inspired by god. They both hear voices and do strange things. So what if they are sincere? From what we can tell many a nut case sincerely believes he is Jesus Christ.

So I ask why it is that the legal system must bend over backward for the fantasies of people when it comes to gods but no other sincere belief gets this sort of respect? Why is there one set of rules if you belief in the divine tooth fairy and another set of rules if you don’t? Do we, or do we not, believe in equality before the law?

Some cults are very protective of their own members. If there is a conflict between a cult member and an outsider other cult members are expected to do anything they can to protect their own. And sometimes that includes lying. They believe quite sincerely that the are the true followers of God and they are obligated to defend one another. They are very, very, very sincere. Does this sincere belief give them the right to lie in court just because it is religious fantasy mixed with sincerity? If we can suspend the right to face our accuser in court for religion why not that little bit about the “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”? There certainly have been sincere religious groups that practiced nudism as part of their faith. Should they be allowed in court unclothed? Should a sincere Nazi have the right to lie in court about Jews? Exactly why are legal obligations exempted for religious beliefs but no other form of beliefs?

Of course Muslim groups are screaming this prejudice. Not a one of them raises a voice of protest when Western women are forced to cover their heads in Muslim countries. Then if the woman doesn’t want to do it they again scream that we aren’t respecting their religion. Well here’s news for you. I don’t respect your religion. I’m not singling you out I don’t respect any fantasy that people simply make up. There is no reason I ought to respect it unless it is earned and simply claiming that Jehovah, Jesus or Allah told you what to do doesn’t amount to much in my eyes. For all I know some anti-psychotic drugs and a few years on the couch is all you need to be cured of this problem.

I think the judge was fair. He allowed this woman to drag her 11th century theology into 21st century court room. But there is no reason to allow her to drag it into the witness box. He did not deny her the right to a fair trial. She denied it to herself. Or maybe we should say that Allah kept her from testifying.

This is similar to the case I discussed about the bus driver who wanted the right to pick and choose which buses she would drive based on the advertisements and how they coincided with her faith. But this is far more serious. This is asking the legal system to grant exemptions to special classes of people based on what they make up to believe.

And to top it off, for your amusement, here a video of some of the absurd lengtht that god addicts will go to in order to practice their fantasies.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Religious demand special rights aat work.

Here is the question. Should an employer, any employer, accommodate employees who refuse to do their job because of their religious beliefs? If so, why?

I am not saying an employer may not choose to make such accommodation but I question whether they must do so. Here is how I see it.

An employer advertises a specific job and with that job come various conditions of employment including work hours, tasks, behaviour, etc. No one should force an individual to take and a job and no one does. It is a contract between the employer and the employee where both agree upon the terms.

But the god addicts among us are now asking for special privileges. They want legal protections that exempt them from having to fulfil the employment contract they entered into. Here are a few such cases of recent weeks.

In Minneapolis a bus driver has refused to drive a bus because an ad on the bus was for a local gay oriented news publication. The local city owned bus service said: “The decision has nothing to do with the content of the advertisements. It has everything to do with the employee’s religious beliefs.” Oh, really. Yeah, I but that. The man attends a church that has a creed about which buses he may drive. I’d like to see the doctrinal statement on that one.

Of course it had everything to do with an exemption because the driver opposed a paying ad on the side of the bus. The local union was amazingly rational, something unions rarely do. The president of the union said: “If you start saying this or that ad is inappropriate, you’re offending other people, and that can create a difficult environment for people to work in. We have Muslim employees. Now if there’s an ad for alcohol on the side of a bus, should Muslim employees be allowed to not drive that bus? And is the next step that mechanics don’t have to work on the bus?”

It is argued that this accommodation is a simple one and that this driver can be reassigned other buses that don’t carry the ad. True. But if the principle is put into effect how do we draw the line? Should the company keep detailed records of the individual prejudices, biases, and beliefs of each driver and then screen the buses in advance so that each and every driver is given the same rights at this one man? In principle the concession to one lone bigot is not particular burdensome. But the concession becomes a policy and then has to be applied to all employees equally.

In Minneapolis as well it is reported that Muslim taxi drivers at the airport are refusing service to customers who are carrying alcohol. My view is that if the taxi owner wants this policy then so be it. But if the driver is imposing that policy unilaterally on a taxi which he does not own then fire his ass on the spot. I don’t care how often he yells, “Jihad.” He’s out of there.

In England Britain Airways has run into a problem with a Christian. Airline rules say that employees in uniform may not wear jewellery or religious symbols of any kind on the uniform. Any such jewellery must be underneath the uniform. The policy applies to everyone and to any kind of jewellery.

Nadia Eweida thinks her beliefs are so special that she should have special privileges denied all other employees. She is on unpaid leave because she refused to comply with long-standing company policy. She says that employees should have “their say in the way they express their faith.” Apparently that overrides British Airways right to determine how employees do their job. Eweida is not on her own time. She is paid by the company to be there. If she wants to express her faith then she should do it off the clock and not at someone else’s expense.

The Airline didn’t say she can’t wear the cross she wanted to wear. They just said it needs to be worn insider her uniform and not on top of it. She refuses.

And Muslim have been demanding that their women be allowed to wear veils in Western nations at all times. Consider the problems this poses. A Muslim woman comes into a country with a passport -- but why bother? You can’t check to see that the person under the veil is the person in the passport and the passport photo would only show someone looking like an pile of sheets. They even want the right to drive while wearing veils and say it is discriminatory if they aren’t allowed to do so. A Muslim woman can cover her face in court, they argue. In all these situations the identity of the person is critical and this stamps out individual identity.

They argue it is bigoted not to accommodate their beliefs. Yet their own nations impose Islamic standards on Western visitors. As far as I can see, like most fundamentalists, their idea of tolerance is: In an Islamic country you must respect Islamic customs and in non-Islamic countries you must respect Islamic customs as well bugger your own values and customs anywhere.

Of course the Islamists jumped into say they supported this woman’s “right” to impose religious symbols on a company uniform because everyone must “respect the right of a Muslim woman to wear the Niqab.” They know that that when companies can’t set their own policies that their own agenda benefits as well.

We already have special laws being pushed through to grant privileges to Christians in various fields. Pharmacies distribute drugs legally to people with prescriptions. But we have pharmacists who are refusing to do their job when it comes to certain medications which prevent pregnancy. Now maybe if they can’t do that job due to their own myths and dreams they ought to seek out another profession? An employer should not be required to hire people who won’t do the job that is needed.

Neil Noesen is a mystic. That is he believes in Jesus and gods and miracles and the supernatural. And his mythical friend tells him that birth control pills are evil. It’s right there in the Bible --- well, maybe it isn’t but it ought to be. He works at a pharmacy at Kmart and a woman came in to fill her prescription for birth control pills. He refused to do it. And he also refused to transfer the prescription to another pharmacy. Typical loving Christian that he is.

Kmart does not discriminate against their customers based on religious beliefs. When this pharmacist refused to do his job he imposed his policy on Kmart. And he insists it is his right to do so. He, unlike all other employees, has the right to set policy based on his invented theology.

In the Theocratic Republic of Texas, once again, a pharmacist was fired because he tried to impose his religious beliefs on a customer. A woman came in with a prescription for a morning-after pill. It was given to her to prevent pregnancy because she had just been raped. Consider that! She had just been raped and was terrified that she might have to conceive her rapists child. And this loving, compassionate, Bible-believing Christian refused to help her because he thinks Jesus was whispering public policy into his ears.

A dozen US states have special laws, or are considering them, that allow pharmacists to not do their job if their religious beliefs conflict. Why are they exempt from their terms of employment due to their religion? Why not also due to any belief they may hold? Why exactly does the absurd embraced in the name of god get precedence over any other absurdity that someone may believe. Why is a bus driver allowed to refuse to work if the bus has a gay ad on it but not if it has an ad showing blacks?

Ah, that’s not religious. It could be. Most the major bigots in the US had theology behind their bigotry. I heard more fundamentalists who found excuses for their race hatred in the Bible than I can possible name. They said this was God’s will. And there are churches that preach race hatred. Every Sunday the worshipers come and hear how white people are the chosen people of God. Can these people refuse to deal with customers who are black when they are at work?

Consider this. What if a Christian Scientist became a pharmacist. Or a pharmacist became a Christian Scientist. Since they don’t believe in medicine are they exempt from handing out all medicines? What seems like a reasonable accommodation may not be reasonable once the nut cases start coming out of the woodwork.

Where exactly does this end? Can an employee at McDonald's who believes in Jesus and other such nonsense refuse to serve customers who he thinks are gay or are “sinners”?

There are federal laws which require US employers to “reasonably accommodate” employee religious beliefs. No such accommodation is required for other kinds of beliefs. One the religious are given the special privilege. And the employer may not even know what these accommodations require of him. He can not question potential employees as to their religious beliefs. So he only learns what the terms of his contract are when the employee decides to tell him.

Why can’t I use my political beliefs to determine how I do my job? Why can’t you? Why can’t a liberal refuse to give customer service to a Religious wing nut? it is a sincerely held belief. It seems that there is only one category of beliefs that get all sorts of special privileges and that is religion. Now I hear the Religious Right say that mere equality before the law for gays is special privileges and that they are against special privileges. So does this mean employers no longer have to accommodate the religious nutters? Federal law granting special privileges to religious employees ought to be repealed.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Fooling the faithful.

David Kuo is a Bible-believing Christian of the fundie/evangelical stripe. And he was one of the top people in the White House working on so-called “Faith Based Initiatives”. He has written a book about his experiences and it doesn't paint a pretty picture of the White House.

He shows a White House which used the religious groups for their own political ends. It played at being their best friend to their faces and often laughed at them and made of them behind their backs. He says: “I heard [White House] staff privately deriding evangelical Christians because they were so easily seduced by White House power.” He says many Republican operatives viewed Evangelicals “with undisguised contempt”.

In an essay for Time he wrote
about telling the president that the Faith-Based Initiative program really didn’t have any new funding at all to offer. All it did was make it easier to access old funding. He was asked about all the “new money” and explained that there was none. Kuo explained again to Bush that the $8 billion that the White House kept mentioning was the sum total of old programs.

Bush asked: “Eight billion in new dollars?”

“No, sir.” Kuo answered again explaining to the President that these were not new funds at all. But nothing seemed to break into the thick skull of Bush. He said: “Eight billion. That’s what we’ll tell them [Evangelical pastors]. Eight billion in new funds for faith-based groups. O.K., let’s go.”

And then Bush went out to the pastors waiting to meet him and told them that there was $8 billion in new funding available, even though he was just told several times that this was not the case.

Kuo says that Bush “is ultimately no different from any other politician, content to use religion for electoral gain more than for good works.” He says evangelicals would be better off recognizing that.

So why are Christians so easily duped? That is something to consider. Certainly if I wanted to con people and make a lot of money I could do it. I would have a “religious experience” and suddenly tell them I found Jesus. All my old sinful, atheist ways have been reformed. I’d even ham it up about how Jesus himself appeared to me and told me that I was going to bring countless other atheists to the Lord and that he was raising up in me a ministry to save the most hard core heathens in the West. The money would flow in.

People of intense faith don’t want evidence as much as they want verification. They want you to tell them things which prove to them they are right. Use the right phrases and you have them hooked. They are used to believing the most absurd things without any evidence.

In this blog we have covered some of the Christian urban myths that go around. Some so outlandish that one has to wonder how any sane person could possible believe them. We have discussed con men like Benny Hinn and Peter Popoff. Ministry after ministry gets caught red-handed doing the questionable and still they continue. Jimmy Swaggart got caught with a prostitute -- it was actually much more sordid than the media reported in general. Yet his ministry still exists. Jim Bakker goes to prison for his actions and gets out and is right back in the ministry. Marjoe Gortner could openly bilk believers out of cash by claiming to heal them. Before he went out to “minister” he recorded exactly how he would con these people and why they were happy to believe him. Mike Warnke claimed to be a High Priest of Satan and made lots of money off the gullible believers who actually thought he was telling the truth.

The fundamentalist Chick Publications published bogus accounts of a fake priest exposing the truth about Catholicism. Fundamentalists ate it up. Oral Roberts claimed that a 900-foot tall Jesus showed up one day and told him that unless believers gave Roberts lots and lots of money that Jesus would kill Roberts. Roberts told this absurd story to Christians and the money came pouring in.

The fact of the matter is that Christians are often the easiest people to dupe. But then believing things without evidence is central to their life. They have to be naive and prone to con jobs. After all they let George Bush con them for years now.

If you don’t believe let me tell you about this incredible experience where Jesus himself appeared to me....

Oh, I’ll tell you where to send in your love offering.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Forgotten Man in religion.

A little more than a century ago the great sociologist William Graham Sumner wrote a book, which unfortunately has been neglected, entitled What the Social Classes Owe to Each Other. (Be patient you will see how this applies to religion momentarily.) It is one of those books widely attacked but usually on the basis of a sad understanding of the content.

In that work Sumner discussed an individual he called the Forgotten Man. What Sumner was discussing was the common occurrence of some individuals deciding to use collective processes in order to ameliorate some problem for a specific person or class of people. In the debates over such matters they discuss how best to help the objects of their charity but they neglect a third party: the man they intend to fleece in order to pay for their vision.

Sumner noted: “In all the discussions attention is concentrated on A and B, the noble social reformers, and on D, the ‘poor man. I call C the Forgotten Man, because I have never seen that any notice was taken of him in any of these discussions.” The Forgotten Man is the one who shoulders the burden for the plans of the social reformers.

In many ways the Forgotten Man syndrome is quite similar to what Frederic Bastiat wrote about half a century earlier in his essay What is Seen and What is Not Seen. In this story a poor cobbler has his window broken but the locals cheer him up by telling him how his plight is a blessing in disguise since the glass maker will benefit and his profits will be spent on bread helping the baker, etc. Bastiat notes that such foolish ideas, still heard today from some prominent thinkers, ignores the fact that the cobbler, instead of spending money on a new window, might have spent it on a new suit. So while the one business benefited by his misfortune another was hurt by it. And in the end the cobbler is down one suit of clothes and still only has the same numbers of windows as he owned before. It was not a situation that created winners. The total number of losers went up.

So now how does this apply to religion.

Well what got me thinking about it was a situation of a Forgotten Man, who in fact was a forgotten woman. We have deranged religionists committing suicide in the name of Allah in order to secure martyrdom for themselves on the basis of a supposed promise by the equally deranged Allah that he will give them 72 virgins in paradise for their act. What about the virgins?

Exactly why is this a benefit to them? It appears that no one was thinking about these poor women given in sexual service by some demented deity to someone who only benefited humanity through his own destruction. (Unfortunately he took people who did have same value with him.) But apparently in all the centuries that this concept was discussed no one asked what the virgins thought of this deal. Sometimes the Forgotten Man can be a Forgotten Woman.

Sometimes planes crash and people die. Let us take a real example. Eugene Jones was 18-years-old and a freshman at Marshall University. He was on a work-study program and worked as equipment manager for the university football team. The team was to play a game at another university and a chartered flight was arranged for them, staff and some fans.

But Jones received word that his grandmother died. To attend the funeral he had to miss the flight. And the plane crashed. Jones is apparently hooked on religion and like other drugs it clouds his mind. He says he knows what happened. “We often don’t understand why things happen when they do, but I’m firmly convinced that my life was saved by God and divine intervention. People told me how lucky I was, but I know luck had nothing to do with it.” As Jones sees it some deity left him alive so he could do things like raise a family, take care of his elderly father and so forth.

That is what is seen. But what is not seen? What about the Forgotten Man?

First, to accomplish his intervention the deity that Jones is talking about killed the grandmother. After all it was her death that caused him to miss the flight. If the divine intervened to cause him to miss said flight than the same deity intervened to kill off the grandmother. Surely a flat tire on the way to the airport could have been as effective and less cruel? But maybe this god didn’t think of it.

Now Jones says that he was spared so he could be a father, a son, a brother, etc. But what of all the forgotten men on that plane who never had children because they are dead? What of the elderly parents who miss their children and have no one to care for them because a deity supposedly killed them in plane crash? They are truly forgotten in this nonsense.

If we assume some deity wanted Jones to do these things we still don’t get how killing a lot of other people accomplished it. Jones could have been a father without killing the entire football team of this university. What would prevent him from caring for his elderly father if the players had not died that day in 1970?

Jones is not alone. Often individuals who miss a flight that crashes attributes their missing the flight to divine intervention. With millions of flights and hundreds of millions of passengers it is inevitable that people will miss flights for many reasons. And sometimes the missed flight will crash.

To attribute divine intervention as the reason for missing the flight would seem to warrant the view that divine intervention crashed the plane as well. Why exactly does the one person who missed the flight think he is so much more special than all the other people who didn’t miss the flight? Why did a god want him alive and want everyone else to die? And why do we think sparing one person is divine mercy when to do that he had to slaughter as many as 300 other people.

During World War II the Nazi regime rounded up Jews and sent them to their deaths. One Jew who was never incarcerated was Eduard Bloch. Bloch had been a small town physician. One day a patient of his came to see him. The woman, Klara, was complaining of pain in her chest. But she had avoided the doctor until it became too much for her. He examined her and discovered a very advanced tumor.

He summoned her children to him and told that this woman was severely ill and even surgery was unlikely to help. Klara’s son wept at the news. Later during the surgery Bloch, at the woman’s request, stood by her side. After watching the surgery he reported to the children. The son begged to know: “Does my mother suffer?”

But the surgery did not help and Klara got worse. The pain increased and Bloch would visit the home and give her morphine injections to ease the suffering. Klara held up well but “it seemed to torture her son. An anguished grimace would come over him when he saw pain contract her face.” The son remained grateful to Dr. Bloch for years to come and would ask about him on occasion and even sent him greeting cards and gifts. After Klara’s death the son took the doctor’s hand and said: “I shall be grateful to you forever” and then bowed to him.

Over the years the situation became grim for people like Dr. Bloch. Anti-semitism was on the rise. Jews were persecuted but Bloch seemed to be spared. He was not forced to wear the Yellow Star that marked Jews on the streets. Nor did he have to give up his practice or his apartment. Apparently the matter of Dr. Bloch had been resolved in Berlin. Klara’s son was Adolph Hitler.

Now compare this story to the football team that died in the plane crash. One man was spared and it shows the mercy of God. Would we argue that Hitler was a merciful man because Dr. Bloch was not exterminated? If sparing one is mercy then what is killing hundreds? There is this disconnect when it comes to the alleged actions of the deity. He crashes a plane killing many people and nothing is said about his genocide while the one man who missed the flight proves his mercy! Anyone who argued that Hitler was a nice guy because of the treatment of Dr. Bloch, but who ignores the anti-Jewish measures pushed through by Hitler at the same time would stand accused, with good reason, of being pro-Nazi.

There is one other area I immediately can think of where the Forgotten Man is found in religion. Consider the prayers of believers. They ask their deity to perform a certain task. They even say that these requests can be effective -- odd when you think about then moving God around with their words.

But often prayers that “get answered” require the god to deprive one person of something so another may have it. It is a bit like divine redistribution of the wealth with God as a the ultimate bureaucrat deciding who shall have this job and who shall be denied the position.

The supplicant asks Jehovah, Allah or the Flying Spaghetti Monster to grant their request. Say they want to be work at Wal-Mart at the cash register. And they know that 50 people have applied for the position. So they beg Jesus, the saints, Mary or whoever to get them this job. And they get it! They praise Jesus, the saints, Mary or whoever for answering their prayers. And they ignore the 49 other people, many of whom were also praying for the job.

“God answers prayer,” we’re told on the basis of the one person who got the job. But wouldn’t “God does not answer prayers” be more truthful based on the 49 other people’s experience of not getting the job?

One of my favourite examples of the Forgotten Man in prayer is the biting, satirical work by Mark Twain The War Prayer. I urge people to read it in full themselves. In this story a town is all excited as the young men prepare to go to war. Of course the good Christians in the story gather to pray for the soldiers and the minister prays. Twain describes it this way:

Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory – An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there, waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, "Bless our arms, grant us victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"

Well the old man Twain described in this section did what Bastiat and Sumner did. He noted that there are things which are prayed for explicitly and those things which are prayed for but not stated. In other words there is that which is seen (or heard) and that which is not seen (or heard). The old man said there were two prayers. The “one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this – keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.”

He noted that when you pray for military victory there are things “you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory – must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!”

And then the old man put into words the unspoken prayer.

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle – be Thou near them! With them – in spirit – we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with hurricanes of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it – for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen."
It seems to me that the divine has not solved the problem of the Forgotten Man or that which is seen and that which is not seen. Central planners on earth haven’t solved the problem and the central planner in the sky is apparently no better at doing so. And when we start looking deeper we find the problems. Instead of merely seeing the one man who lived by missing the flight we see the hundreds who died.

To me the real miracle would be if this one man missed the flight, the plane crashed and everyone survived. I’d take that to be a stronger case for divine intervention than the killings of so many innocent people.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Another profamily church breaks up family

Here is a story from New Zealand about one of the really odd fundamentalist sects you find here and there. It is about the Exclusive Brethren, the modern day descendents of the Plymouth Brethren who invented all the bullshit about raptures, tribulations, etc. They are a rather demented lot.

A young man who grew up in this sect speaks out for the first time. His parents and grandparents were members. When his mother and father were having difficulties in their relationship they let the children live with her parents. But the marital difficulties were enought to get them sanctioned by the cult. The grandparents, on church orders, tried to keep the children away from the parents..

Of course this led to a high profile custody battle with the church actively involved behind the scenes while publicly lying about what was going on. The young man, Vincent Field, says he remembers the church leader calling his grandfather. “Grandpa got off the phone and said: ‘Beloved Mr Hales says we don’t need to worry because the Lord is going to take care of them and they will have a car accident.” Apparently Mr. Hales or the Lord got his wires crossed. The parents didn’t have a car accident. But imagine telling this to the children! What immoral monsters these people were.

Vincent says: “I was just forming this picture of my parents dying and Grandpa was saying ‘don’t worry’, even though it was his own daughter. It was like, ‘what the hell?’. We were supposed to take some consolation from it.” Ah, the loving Christians strike again.

The grandparents tried to convice the children that their parents were evil but Vincent quickly learned that they were decent and good people. When the children were returned to the parents the church had the grandparents cut them off. Vincent says he has seen maybe once or twice since the custody dispute 14 years ago and when his grandmother died they were not allowed to attend the funeral.

Another “profamily” church that destroys families.

The New Zealand Herald says that Vincent “has decided to give religion a miss.” Smart boy Vincent, smart boy.

The photo is Vincent with his father.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The sins of forgiveness

According to the Bible we are all sinners. In one context I can agree with that. We all make mistakes, we are prone to doing things we don’t think we ought to do. We sometimes hurt other people. Call it what you may we do wrong. Sometimes we do it unintentionally. Sometimes we do it knowing full well we doing so.

My goal is not to debate or discuss what is right or wrong here. Instead I am addressing the incentive to do right and wrong provided by a secular, rational view compared to the faith-driven, mainly Christian, view.

The Christian will tell us that without God there is no morality. They operate on a very low level of Kohlberg’s scale of moral development in most cases. For them the fear of punishment in the hereafter is what keeps us moral.

If we didn’t believe that we are going to go to hell for our sins then we would sin ever more, harm more people, do more evil, etc. It is the fear of punishment that keeps us from doing evil. That is the moral thinking of a small child. As we grow we realize there are other reasons not to hurt others. In fact we can even accept there are general moral principles applicable to all.

But does this fear of hell keep Christians from evil? Not at all. Even if they were as morally developed as a five year old they would have no reason to avoid sin. They also believe in forgiveness of sin. They say that because Jesus was tortured to death 2000 years ago that their sins are forgiven. They are “as white as snow.”

I don’t believe that at all. I am aware that when I have caused others pain that nothing wipes away that action. What was done was done. I can ask forgiveness from them. But I can’t undo it. I can’t remove the knowledge that I did it. I can’t change the past. I can only change my future. I can make amends to those I hurt but nothing I do will make the hurt vanish as if it never existed.

And I know that. And it is something I am aware of daily. And for me that is a very strong incentive to do right. There have been people I loved very deeply who I have hurt in my life. We’ve all been there. And I regret it constantly. I wish I could I undo the pain but I can’t. So I live with it. I don’t like it. But it is reality and reality is king in my universe.

I also know that those there is no second chance to heal the pain in another life. Once the person is gone they are gone. There is no way to ask their forgiveness then.

All this tells me that it is critical, for my own sanity, to act morally today. If I don’t I am the one who lives with the knowledge of my actions. Even if I “don’t get caught” I still live with the knowledge.

I can’t get on my knees and be “washed in the blood”. The torture of Jesus won’t wipe out any wrongs I have done. I can’t live a lifetime of “sin” and find salvation on my death bed. My sins stay with me for my entire life.

But consider the Christian who knows that whatever sin they commit it is covered “by the blood”. They confess and seek forgiveness and it is given. They get second chances. Screw up once and try again. Screw up again and try again. A few magic words on your deathbed and everything is forgiven and eternal salvation is yours.

No wonder Christians are so often malicious and vicious and so willing to inflict pain and suffering on others. I can’t do that myself. I don’t believe in magic bullets where sins vanish. If I hurt someone that hurt is part of them for as long as they live. And that pain is part of my memory for as long as I live.

It would seem to me that those who believe in the magical forgiveness of God are the ones who have the lest incentive to act morally. They may argue that we atheists are the immoral ones. But we find Christians are more willing to engage in torture than atheist. As I’ve shown they are more likely to be criminals, more likely to get pregnant outside marriage, more likely to have all sorts of problems.

Why? Could it be that one reason for this is that they also feel that no matter what evil they do they can always have the penalty paid by someone else: Jesus.

They often say that God looks on the spread sheet of our life and he sees the evil we have done. And it is so bad that no amount of good can outweigh it. He prepares an invoice for us. It is eternal damnation. But his son comes along and in his own blood writes on the invoice: paid in full.

It is sort of divine socialism where you rack up the costs and somebody else pays the bill. But what is the lesson of the welfare state? That when you separate consumption from payment people over consume. When the penalty for your sins are paid for by someone else you will tend to sin more not less. The same incentives that screw up how people act financially also screw up how people act morally.

If Jesus, not you, is responsible for the moral debts you rack up you will overspend and rack up more debts than you would otherwise.

I don’t overspend my credit card because I’m the one who has to pay it. I am also careful about what I may do that harms others since I’m the one who has to live with it. Without someone else paying my debts for me I have to watch what I do carefully. But give a teen a credit card that daddy will pay, no matter what, and what how reckless they become with their spending. Christian morality is much the same thing.

Also consider this other incentive that works against morality within the Christian framework. Punishment for sins today in a life hereafter is a very weak incentive to do right. If you don’t have to pay the bills you rack up now for several years you will overspend.

Notice how governments that lend students money for university encourage heavy debt by the students. As the debts get heavier they make it easier to borrow because the funds are “more needed”. The result is growing debt burdens on students not lessening ones even though they argue that their plans will reduce debt. Students don’t see how quickly the time will come for them to repay those debts. So they max out their credit limits since $1 today is worth more to them than $1 in five years.

As I see life we pay for our sins from the moment we commit them. We are the ones who live with the knowledge of what we have done. For the secularist the punishment begins immediately. For the religionist it won’t start for lifetime and even then, if they pray for forgiveness before they die, they won’t have to pay it back at all.

This is nothing but a system which encourages evil not good.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Worth a thousand words

Perhaps my readers aren't fans of Gospel. And atheists tend not to own many Christian albums. So here is one for you to ponder. Funny thing is I came across it accidentally looking for something else. One look and I thought "it has to be a Christian album." A closer look confirmed it. If I had to guess Pentecostal or Holiness but that's neither here nor there. Now I don't believe in we ought to make fun of the way people look. But then I don't thank applies to what they intentionally. That's a whole other ball of wax. But that hairdo is self-inflicted. In facts it's what makes me suspect the theological bent of the singers. Obviously it's old but come on! Those awful suits were in style for something like two weeks in the real world and survived in fundamentalism for decades right along with the white shoes and Pat Boone. Scary.

If they weren't so antigay maybe they'd have someone to give them some fashion tips.

Fundies lament loss of teen recruits

According to fundamentalists teenagers are walking away from their fanaticism in droves. Certainly it would be good news if it were true. First, let’s cover the story.

The New York Times reports that the big Imams of fundamentalism are holding meetings in 44 cities to warn their fellow mullahs that “if current trends continue, only 4 percent of teenagers will be ‘Bible-believing Christians’ as adults.” Supposedly 65% of the W.W.II generation were and 35% of baby boomers.

But one never knows if a trend will continue or not but we can hope if this trend exists it remains this way. But I don’t believe these figures. Fundamentalists can’t help but exaggerate and fib. It’s in their nature. Two thirds of the older generation were not fundamentalists. That simply is not true. So they exaggerate a trend by first distorting the starting point. Typical when people are playing fast and loose with the facts. And the paper reports that critics “say the statistics are greatly exaggerated.”

This doesn’t mean people aren’t leaving the fanaticism of fundamentalism. The National Association of Evangelicals passed a resolution acknowledging “the epidemic of young people leaving the evangelical church.” Note often is a cure referred to as an epidemic.

And I think the fundies have overplayed their fanaticism. I think people are slowly, too slowly to be sure, getting sick and tired of their extremism and intolerance. But that is a trend that I think has yet to start. One researcher on religion says that the fundies are distorting the facts. “[I]t just kills me that it’s [their claims] framed in such apocalyptic terms that couldn’t possibly hold up under half a second of scrutiny.” True, but that is the fundamentalist mind set. Everything is exaggerated and made to appear dire.

The Times interviews the young and indoctrinated about their faith and reports that they all lament the absence of other Christians. One female recruit replied: “At school I don’t have a lot of friends who are Christians.”

Now what is wrong with that statement? People need to remember that the extremists in fundamentalism don’t think other Christians are Christians. Only their fanatical, intolerant sect or variety of mania is considered “true Christianity.” So all you Catholics are not Christians. Neither most Methodists, most Presbyterians, Anglicans, most Lutherans, etc.

I drove through the parking lot of a large fundamentalist church a few months ago in the US as a shortcut to different road. At the exits they had a huge sign saying, to their members: “You are now entering the mission field.” Mission field? Most the people in town were Christians. But not to the fanatics. And not enough people question these nutters about that.

I remember a debate where a fundamentalist minister was debating the existence of God and he was using, as an ally, a friend of mine who is a Catholic. I knew this Catholic had no idea exactly how vicious these fundies can me. So during the Q&A I asked the minister if a faithful Catholic was a Christian. It was a public debate to a non-fundie crowd and he was started looking for a way to not answer.

He sort of stuttered and stammered a bit and then said: “I’m trying to think of what to tell you.”

I replied: “How about the truth?”

He finally conceded that faithful Catholics are not Christians and are doomed to hell. Yet these fundies forge alliances with other religious people to push their agenda and the other religious groups don’t realize that if the fundies ever have power that they too will be a target for the wrath of the theocratic state.

And it was pointed out that the main “survey” done by an evangelical front defined “Bible-believing” “so narrowly that it excludes most people who consider themselves Christians.” Correct.

I hope the trend is true. I certainly escaped the clutches of these fanatics and I know lots of other people who have as well. Fundamentalism is not something that can’t be cured. And there are lots of ex-Christians.

But watch the future. I do think you will see a great reversal in the fortunes of fundamentalists. They have been so vicious, so cruel, so intolerant and so openly and utterly stupid that anyone with half a brain has to question what they are doing. And if there is one thing fundamentalists of any stripe can’t endure it is open scrutiny.


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