Tuesday, May 29, 2007

In defense of Dawkins.

The god-botherers are on the defensive and they don’t like it one bit. Most of us have had to deal with these people our entire lives especially if one lives in the god-besotted United States.

These people grab us on the street corners to preach at us. They will invade the peacefulness of our homes to pound on our doors until we answer so they can ask their deceitful questions. I say deceitful because they are often taught to ask a fake question in order to start conversation and then taught to switch the conversation over to religion.

If one is in the hospital they roam the corridors like vultures wanting for death to creep down the hallway. Unlike vultures they don’t have the decency to wait until you are dead they want to get to you just before you go so they can tell you how you will be tormented for eternity in unspeakable misery by the all-loving deity they worship unless you convert immediately

Some are cheap bastards who stop in restaurants and instead of leaving a tip leave a track that says “Here’s your tip”. The “tip” is a lecture on religion and how one must be saved or off to the eternal torture room of Jehovah for you. For years we were told man was made in God’s image. Now we find out that the “man” that sentence refers to is Dick Cheney.

We can’t even change television channels, in the US, without have one moronic evangelist or another screaming at us about our sins and then begging us for our money. These con men tend to do more begging than preaching. But I’m not sure that is any improvement.

What about the loyal opposition? For the most part we talk to each other. We don’t knock on doors or go out recruiting new atheists. Now in recent days several intellectuals have written books debunking the god mythology. Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Dennis Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens have each penned their rebuttals to religion. All have sold well. They get some publicity and are asked to speak on campuses or appear on television or radio. All relatively mild compared to the theological onslaught we experience on a regular basis. And the religionists are apoplectic.

Once again a writer at the left-wing Guardian has waded into water far too deep for him to handle. Martin Kettle makes a small attack on Dawkins. It is small in volume and small in intellectual content. In reality is devoid of any substantial rebuttal to Dawkins, it is more of a sneering type of reply than an intellectual one.

Kettle sets up the story by saying Dawkins “doesn’t, can’t and won’t do faith.” But, “a lot of other scientists find ways to live and let live with religious people. Quite a lot of scientists are even religious themselves.”

First, Kettle is wrong when he says a “lot of scientists are even religious themselves.” This is a standard claim made by religious folk but not really accurate. First, they don’t define scientists and then don’t define “a lot”. They prefer to use the term scientist as loosely as possible. A high school teacher who teaches chemistry, for instance, may qualify. But if we mean individuals of high academic standards in science then only a very small percentage are religious.

It may be argued that there are “hundreds” of scientists who are religious, maybe thousands. And that could be correct but then the number of scientists is much higher than that. And the evidence shows that the more knowledgeable the scientist the less likely he is to be religious. In a poll of members of the National Academy of Sciences only 7% said they believed in a personal god. In the UK a similar poll of the Royal Society found that just 3 percent agreed strongly with the statement that there a personal god and 79 percent strongly disagree. The rest fall somewhere in the middle but more on the disbelieving side.

The fact is that only a few eminent scientists believe in a god. So believers concoct facts. Dawkins found a website that listed six Nobel Prize winning scientists who are Christians. But the problem was that four of them never won a Nobel Prize and one that did is a friend of Dawkins and has told him he is not a believer but attends church with his wife for social purposes. But people who believe in walking on water can believe anything.

Kettle then says that Dawkins is “one of the best things that has happened to religion”. This sort of comment is prevalent among religious types in particular. Why? Because they want to dismiss Dawkins and the others. They want to pretend that this challenge to a divine security blanket is of no consequence, or better yet, good for religion. This is the equivalent of whistling in the graveyard to prove you aren’t afraid when in reality you are terrified.

I watched a video of Dawkins speaking at a university campus, a real university, near the campus of Jerry Falwell’s religious indoctrination center called Liberty University -- which in my opinion is misnamed twice over as students have no liberty and it really isn’t much of a university either. Of course the Falwellian faithful turned out in large numbers at the other university to make snide remarks to Dawkins during the Q&A period. One such student commented in a way that it sounded precisely like a prepared speech being read word for word. It wasn’t so much a question. Why ask questions when you believe you have all the answers anyway?

His whole mini sermon was that the comments made by Dawkins only made his more firm in his beliefs. Of course the pubescent preacher “knew” that would be the case when he prepared the comments, no doubt some time before he even heard what Dawkins had to say. Why do this? The reason is simple. The religious types actually think that if they say this sort of thing the atheist will suddenly have an epiphany that speaking against religion actually makes people religious. Thus the atheist will shut up. Like their theological fantasies they are wrong here on every facet.

The reality is that a rational, well thought out rebuttal to religion, as Dawkins has written, doesn’t enhance faith. It may make the fundamentalist more determined but the net result in society is a weakening of faith. As a former fundamentalist, who changed his beliefs from reading just such a book, I can attest that is the case. And I’ve seen it happens with lots of other people as well. Debunking religion does not enhance religious beliefs at all.

Second, the non-believer isn’t so stupid as to fall for the irrational logic the believer uses. He isn’t going to close his mouth merely because some religious type pretends that such attacks help his religion. He sees through the strategy and realizes that these scared religionists just want him to shut up. The one thing the faithful can’t endure is doubt. They need certainty in their life and they want atheists in the closet because it reassures them that they must be correct since no dares disagree with them.

Kettle says Dawkins is good at exposing the irrationality of religion but “he cannot engage the millions who just feel better with some sort of confused belief than with nothing at all.” Kettle, who says he is an atheist, argues that Dawkins just doesn’t understand this. I suspect he does.

People feel better holding lies than recognizing the truth. There are people too afraid to live in the world as it is so they invent an imaginary world to comfort themselves. They want to believe there is a magic man in the sky who can change reality. And they want to believe that there are things they can do to get this magic man to do their bidding. If they pray hard enough he will cure cancer or even raise the dead. Most importantly they want to believe that he can endow their drab lives with some sort of divinely important meaning. They want to believe in a god for the same reason some people want to believe in healing crystals. It gives them a false hope.

The problem is that the comfort is a lie. And lies make life harder not easier. The sick individual relying on “Dr. Jesus” too often ignores the real doctors who can actually help because to go to them shows a lack of faith. The net result is that something curable becomes lethal due to neglect.

This “faith” not only causes them to live their lives with false hopes it causes them to hate and condemn others who challenge that faith. It isn’t just those faithful who fly airplanes into buildings either. It is the vile Falwell's preaching hatred against entire classes of people. It is the Ratzinger’s covering up abuse for the sake of the church and denouncing condoms in nations plagued by AIDS. It is faith filled politicians who think God wants America heavily involved in the Middle East because of his secret plan to bring Jesus back to earth.

You can see the faith in the face of people like Rev. Paul Hill, a killer who shot to death a doctor for performing abortions. Hill said he knew Jesus would welcome him to heaven and went to his execution looking forward to death. He enjoyed the death of others and his own. This concentration on the after life always reduces the value of this life. But there is no evidence of an after life which means that religion is inherently anti life. It opposes the only life we have entertaining fictional existences instead.

Kettle makes one comment that was not just wrong but inherently dishonest. He said “other scientists find ways to live and live with religious people” implying that Dawkins doesn’t. Live and let live usually means respecting the rights of others. Dawkins has done nothing to violate the rights of religionists. Live and let live doesn’t mean that one must shut up and say nothing. Oddly Kettle seems to have no problem with religionists preaching constantly at atheists. That isn’t a violation of “live and let live” but he has a problem if atheists reply. His version of “live and let live” is to allow religion to do as it wishes and offer no opposition and no public disagreement.

There is one comment that was left on the site running Kettle’s little piece that amused me to an end. I will reprint the sentence in question. It says far more than the author intended:

As a christian, I do not have the intellectual capacity to respond to Dr. Dawkins or his ilk, for which I am grateful, because the question of why religious belief refuses to die, can best be answered by a believer.

If one writes that “as a Christian, I do not have the intellectual capacity to respond”. She did not say that she is a Christian and is intellectually unable to respond. She said she is intellectually unable to respond because she is a Christian. The sentence is confused but then her entire comment was confused.

She says the evidence for a god is all around us because god made it evident. Nice circular reasoning. She writes that the “invisible attributes” of god “have been clearly seen”. So the invisible is clearly visible. Any more nonsense like that and she could be a bishop, if she wasn’t a woman. In fact maybe she can write Andrew Sullivan’s next column on why doubt is faith and faith is doubt.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

The dark side of Amish Pt. !

There is a dark side to the Amish faith, one that doesn’t correspond with the quant, peaceful reputation of the Amish themselves. And I shall explore that some here and in other posts I plan.

The thing that strikes me most about the Amish religion is how it is structured to give the church almost absolute control over the individual. It uses the same techniques that most cults use to control members but they go much, much further. The one major difference is that cults tend to be based on recruitment. The Amish don’t recruit they procreate -- often.

One of the most important control techniques of a cult is to alienate the individual from the world in general. Make them rely on the cult for everything. If they have no friends or support structure outside the cult they can be controlled.

The Amish go much further. If you are born into an Amish family the family and the church community surrounding you is almost all you know. Your education is intentionally stopped at 8th grade, sometimes sooner. Thus you have no education worth speaking of that limits your ability to leave the cult.

You are also unfamiliar with all modern conveniences. You most likely can’t drive. You don’t have computer skills nor are you familiar with any major technological advances except indirectly. This lack of education and skills makes you unfit for any decent job restricting you to farm life, which is the life of the Amish.

One reason for this restriction of technology is that technology is inherently individualistic and that doesn’t sit well with the church. They intentionally want people to have to rely on the community of fellow Amish in order to survive. By making life labor intensive they force individuals to kow-tow to the community as well as have large families to grow the church.

In addition the church actively works to alienate you from your neighbors and the world around you. You are intentionally dressed very differently from the rest of your peers. They know such actions causes some ridicule, especially among children. But then this serves the purpose of keeping the youths under control. Young people who might wish to challenge the authority of the church fear they would never be accepted outside the church. They feel no connection with their peers except those who are also under the same strict rules of dress and behavior.

In addition to this there is no life for the Amish outside the church. While there are two dozen Amish sects in the United States, with some variance in the rules, shunning is a common practice. Shunning can alienate an individual completely from every aspect of life as they know it.

If a member is shunned he is to be ignored by everyone in the community. Sometimes this is for short periods of time for non serious offenses, like rape! Sometimes it is for life. Individuals can be excommunicated and lose the entire existence they know.

With no farm equipment they need the community to help them. But the community refuses to do so. With excommunication they may find that their spouses and family leave them. Every aspect of life is strictly controlled by the church. There are explicit rules about what clothes one may wear, right down the width of the brim on the hat. Sex is regulated, or at least is supposed to be.

But given their extremist conservative views on morality there is a practice that many outsiders would find bizarre: bundling or “bed courtship”. Teens of the opposite sex are allowed, sometimes even encouraged, to spend the night together. Teenage boys are allowed to go to the room a girl and climb into bed with her. The rules say they are supposed to keep their clothes on but those are easily broken. And since the boys, in the strict sects, aren’t allowed to wear underwear the only thing they have to do is unbutton a couple of buttons. Now, why would the church seemingly have this “liberal” view of teenaged boys and girls spending the entire night together in the same bed (boys are only required to leave when it’s time to milk the cow)? One reason is that this encourages the youngsters to get married, or end up in a situation where they have to get married. The church found this makes it more likely that they will stay with the faith. It is another means of control. About 12% of all Amish first borns were conceived out of wedlock.

On one hand the Amish speak of the importance that each church member join of their own free will. But on the other hand their entire social system is built in such a way as to strip people of the ability to make any other choice.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Sometimes what you don't see is important.

There is an old card trick. The magician shows his mark four face cards and asks them to concentrate on one of them, to memorize the card and to repeat it to them self mentally over and over. He then removes the cards from the table and tells the individual that based on his thoughts alone he will discern what card the individual picked and delete it from the deck.

After a few seconds with the cards he puts three face cards back down on the table and asks the mark if his face card is still there. Of course it isn’t.

What else isn’t there? What is also missing is the three other face cards that he didn’t pick. The magician has no idea which card the individual picked so he removes all four cards entirely and replaces them with three other face cards. The mark has memorized only face card so he doesn’t notice the other missing cards. And of course the one he picked, which the magician said he’d remove, has been removed. A very successful trick indeed.

My point is that you often don’t notice what is absent. It’s hard to concentrate on that which you don’t see.

This is also true regarding the Bible. There are lots of criticisms about what the Bible does contain. It is filled with barbarity, atrocities and genocide. Believes tend to ignore those things and concentrate on those sections that seem noble and moral; ideas like “love thy neighbor.” But what about those things which are not in the Bible?

Understand the claims made about this book by its fans. They argue this is a holy book, inspired or written by God, filled with the sort of wisdom and knowledge accessible to us only through a deity. We are often told that morality is not possible without a god. Without these commandments we wouldn’t know what is right or what is wrong.

What is interesting however, is that there is nothing in that book which is unique to that book. It makes no claims which, while unbelieved in that era, are today seen as true. It does make many claims which we know today are not true. But it doesn’t give us one piece of knowledge unknown to the people that era.

It speaks only of the world known by the authors and their mythical beliefs. You don’t find any mention of South America or Australia or North America. They didn’t know about them. Presumably God would have known but decided to reveal nothing new in the Bible that wasn’t already known to the general public. For instant it doesn’t mention that the earth revolves around the sun. It quite clearly says that the God stopped the sun at one point from moving. But it is the earth that moves around the sun and not the other way around.

Imagine if there were one passage of the Bible that spoke of something that was unknown to man for centuries -- for instance what if it mentioned something that we would clearly see today a virus or a germ? What if the Bible said such things caused sickness. Certainly when humans discovered viruses and germs this would be a great affirmation of the divine inspiration of the Bible.

But God didn’t see fit to include one single fact like that.

The Bible supposedly includes many prophecies all of which seem to become clear to people only after the fact. Could you imagine if Joshua or Paul, Moses or Jesus, had made one comment about man walking on the face of the moon. The idea back then would be absurd but it happened. God choice to make no such clear-cut, verifiable prophecy.

Jesus supposedly made comments about the end of the world and how their would be signs. The signs he gave were pretty typical events in the world. Nothing really out of the unusual, mainly things like earthquakes. But imagine if he said something like: “When you see man walk upon the face of the moon know that the end is near.” Wow! That would get the point across.

There aren’t even any great moral advancement that one can find in the Bible. The authors of the book had a view not dissimilar to those of the heathens around them. They killed rather regularly and quickly. Jehovah showed no advance on the other heathen gods when it came to virtues or morality. He was just as cruel and just as vindictive except he was worse in the sense that he demanded absolutely worship demanding that other religions be put to the sword.

At the time the Bible was written slavery was prevalent around the world. The Bible makes no moral advancement on that. It assumes slavery. No one in the Old Testament or the New Testament saw fit to actually condemn it. The commandments it did give for morality with actually rather typical for that day.

Even on the issue where the deity was supposed to be most needed, morality, he does nothing to improve morality. God apparently didn’t see fit to suggest to his followers that they free the slaves. Nor did he instruct the cultures to treat women as the equals of men. While he spends a fair amount of time speaking about what people should do with their genitals he never saw fit to point out that one shouldn’t rape children. And in some verses he seems to imply that raping virginal girls after military conquest was a good idea.

His great moral codes were quite limited in scope. Don’t kill unless he tells you to kill and then you must kill. Killing witches, approved of. Killing homosexuals, approved of. Killing adulterers, approved of. Killing disobedient children, approved of. Killing members of different ethnic groups, approved of. Killing members of different faiths, approved of.

There is no great moral advancement found in the Bible that was revolutionary for its time. There isn’t one statement about reality that is inconsistent with the knowledge of the day. There is not one prediction that was clearly astounding.

It reads entirely as a book that could have been written by the type of people alive in that day. It reads that way because it was written that way. It lacks entirely the touch of the divine.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The appeal of incoherence to the intellectual.

I’ve discussed the wacky nature of Andrew Sullivan when it comes to religion before. His political commentary is often endowed with his ruminations on the spiritual. While he often contradicts himself politically, the price one pays for having few clear principles, his religious opinions are even more absurd.

He is one of those “intellectuals” who falls for the con game of the incoherent. What do I mean? Take as an example an “artist” who creates his “art”. I refer to the non-representational, “modern” artists in particular. One might, for instance, paint the inside of a room white and hang one light bulb from the ceiling. Voile, it is suddenly declared “great art” and intellectuals line up to “oh” and “ah” over it. Another might throw some loose change randomly into an empty room and it is proclaimed a masterpiece. It is the type of thing a monkey can do. And has! Andy Warhol once took a canvas, slapped copper paint on it and then invited a group of friends to piss on the painting. You can find a long, intellectual tribute to this piss art here.

The more incomprehensible the “art” the more valuable it becomes. Theology is rather similar. The more incoherent the opinion the “truer” it must be. I should add that philosophy often falls into the same category. The artist learns to speak in “aesthetic babble” and the theist learns to use “theobabble”. It has to sound religious. It need not actually express a coherent, rational thought.

In a recent blog entry of his Sullivan takes a swipe at the loony Dinesh D’Souza saying that his new book “is called What’s So Great About Christianity.’ Er: that it’s true?”

That is the whole comment. Well, one good thing about that entry is that he wasn’t talking about himself again.

Now what does Mr. Sullivan mean when he is noting that what is so great about Christianity is that it is true? In actuality nothing.

How is Christianity “revealed” to people? Well, first there were a group of men who supposedly went around preaching and they laid out what God was saying. None of them are alive today. But there were manuscripts written decades later which purported to tell people what these men said. But none of the original pieces of those survive as well. What there is of them are copies of copies of copies, each hand-written and open to human intervention, that were found decades after that. Then centuries after that the Catholic Church evolved. They like to pretend they existed right from the time of Christ onwards but that is as bogus as the Pope’s smile. And then various people through the centuries concocted their own brands of the same faith. Some like Joseph Smith invented entirely new versions of the faith.

No individual church was there when Christianity was founded. No denomination was there. All are later inventions. And since none of the prophets exist all we have is the Bible. And here is where Sullivan gets weirder. He dismisses the Bible acknowledging that it is not the literal, inerrant word of some deity. So what other source for Christianity is there for him?

He is a Catholic who doesn’t believe in Catholicism and a Christian who doesn’t believe in Christianity. Try to pin him down on any theological doctrine of Christianity in general or Catholicism in particular and he’ll evade and slide around trying to say absolutely nothing. And when it comes to religion he slides around saying absolutely nothing very well. In fact I think he says more absolutely nothing than anyone else I can think of writing on the topic today.

He says “it’s true”. But what is the “it” which “is true”? He actually evades defining the “it”. Is “it” just theism? At times he sounds as if that is precisely what he saying. He asserts there is a God but what makes that God uniquely Christian is left vague. He would look askance at miracles, revelations, encyclicals, and dogmas. He strips all of them out of his Christianity and asserts that what is left is what is “true”. And what makes it true? It makes him feel good.

He admits there is no rational foundation and goes into theobabble about the incomprehensibility of the deity. He says Christianity is true but has a Christianity which is indecipherable from general New Age mysticism. He likes the “drama” and the “ritual”.

The problem I have is that he takes the individual components of Christianity and dismisses them and then asserts the entity as a whole is true. Imagine owning an antique chair which the expert proclaims is a “masterpiece” and quite valuable. You start to ask him some questions.

First, you ask about the veneer. He tells you it is not the original and reduces the value. You point to the legs of the chair and ask him to tell you the name of their style. He informs you that they didn’t come with the original chair and were added on later. That’s something of a blow.

You run you hand on the seat of the chair and he tells you that it was reupholstered, which is too bad since the original is very rare. You point to the arms. “Recreation, I fear,” he says. And what about the back? Also a recreation.

So what makes the chair a masterpiece and valuable? In fact what makes it the style of chair it was proclaimed to be? It has nothing original left. It is a collection of all modern additions with no genuine pieces left. To proclaim it genuine is dishonest.

Sullivan’s Christianity is like that chair. He dismisses piece after piece of his own religion and sect and then says the religion as a whole is “true”. No doubt at his birthday parties he eats his cake and has it too.

Photo: The photo is of a "masterpiece" done by a chimpanzee. It sold at an "art" auction with two other such paintings for $25,000

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Bureaucrats, Nanny and God

The deity of the Old Testament was both a Republican and a Democrat. He was a Democrat in that he was a big advocate of eminent domain. He would order around his followers and tell them to confiscate the land of other groups for themselves. Sometimes he generously applied that eminent domain to the livestock of others as well as their women, provided they were still virgins. Jehovah had no hesitation in ordering genocide of others and the theft of their property and turning young girls into sex slaves for his followers. So, in some ways he was far more generous than Democrats today.

But he was also a Republican. He had a list of sins that would make the Moral Majority proud -- and did. Again he went one step further than the Republicans. He had a one penalty fits all sort of mentality. His solution to most every problem faced by the Old Testament folks was capital punishment. He was particularly fond of stoning people to death. The Jihadists at least cut off your head. Compared to stoning that is merciful. Stoning usually takes much longer. Of course if you are lucky then Jehovah might direct a particularly large stone to your skull and snuff you out right away. Otherwise with smaller stones it could take some time.

So adultery was a sin. Kill them. Homosexuality was a sin. Kill them. Talking back to parents was a sin. Kill them. Not honoring the Sabbath was a sin. Kill them. Said unkind things about Jehovah. Kill them. Astrology. Kill them. Wrong religion. Kill them.

At times he was even willing to kill children because of the sins of their parents. A real mensch this Jehovah. When Pharaoh didn’t listen to Moses then all the first born of Egypt were allegedly slaughtered by Jehovah. When the people of Sodom and Gomorra sinned then Jehovah burned them, along with their children, alive in a major divine barbecue. Let’s just say Jehovah was not a contributor to “Save the Children”.

God had a collectivist mentality. If one person sinned his entire family or tribe, for numerous generations, could be punished for it. When David decided to have a census Jehovah got upset. He did upset easily. So he slaughtered 70,000 people.

And he was litigious. Jehovah had the mind of a bureaucrat. He not only regulated life but regulated it in minute details. Let’s be honest, the Nanny State started in the Old Testament. Jehovah didn’t just regulate the big sins like adultery and homosexuality. He also regulated when men could sleep with their wives, what sort of foods they could eat, what sort of clothes they could wear, etc. He had shop closing laws for the Sabbath and took them seriously -- that stoning thing again.

Now these multiplicity of laws and regulations concern a lot of Christians today. Well, they should. Strictly speaking almost no one lives by those Old Testament laws. Most believers realize they are a crock of bull and ignore them. But some of them they like.

That thing about killing homosexuals for instance. Fundamentalist Christians get practically orgasmic over the idea of God-sanctioned fag bashing. On the other hand that bit about killing fornicators and such worries a lot of them -- well it should too. And while they want laws forcing people to honor the Sabbath they aren’t so quick to enforce the rules about wearing clothes made out of two different fabrics or forbidding shellfish in one’s diet.

So they concoct elaborate theories over which laws they can enforce and which laws should be ignored. They create nice categories into which they can place the bureaucratic Nannyism of Jehovah. Shellfish is under the laws of purity and those don’t apply any more. Never mind why they don’t apply they just don’t. But being queer, now that is an eternal moral law.

Other laws are just ceremonial laws applicable to only the Old Testament days. But the Bible isn’t always that clear which is which. Killing witches was not ceremonial or involved with purity rituals. Neither was blasphemy, adultery or honoring parents. So presumably those are eternal moral laws. But if the law is still valid then why isn’t the penalty valid?

So the next time Junior mouths off to Dad the church should take the child and stone him to death. And astrologers and witches -- stone them to death. The Old Testament ex-gay program wasn’t prayer and invented psychotherapeutic techniques. It was execution. Exactly how is it that the laws still apply but not the penalties?

Christians ought to be out there lobbying for laws to exterminate witches, adulterers, fornicators, sabbath breakers, gays, etc. Now the problem is that the Old Testament laws wanted to bump off believes in a god other than Jehovah so maybe the Jews should be out there executing Christians who think that Jesus was a god. Even if we only followed the moral code of the Old Testament we’d still be awash in the blood of the dying millions of sinners that would have to be stoned to death.

Others just invent an Old Testament/New Testament dichotomy. There is the O.T. law which was done away with when Jesus came along. Jehovah liked to complicate things. So he’d have one set of laws for one period and another set for a different period and let you try to figure out which ones applied and which didn’t. But if you figured wrong you might end up in Hell so you better be careful.

But Jesus didn’t seem to see this sort of dichotomy. He had all sorts of nice things to say about the law. He never said the Old Testament laws were abolished. Quite the opposite:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Of course none of this convoluted form of apologetics is necessary. It is only required when you entertain the unsupported theory that the Bible is a consistent, coherent, book inspired by Jehovah with a message applicable to all ages. If you look at scripture reasonable you could merely acknowledge that it is the writings of men saying what they believed about life. It is fallible, errant and entirely human. It may contain some of the best of humanity from that age but ti also included much that was the worst.

I can read passages from ancient texts without worrying about whether or not those passages need to be binding today. I can take wisdom as I find it and ignore the crap. But the Biblicist is stuck. If he wants a divine book he has to justify why it is that he is ignoring entire sections of that book. And to do that he needs to invent complicated, complex arguments.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Doing the Sharpton Shuffle

For those interested here is a debate between Al Sharpton and Christopher Hitchens on religion and god. I watched bits and pieces while working on other things. But each time I saw parts Rev. Sharpton seemed to be doing what I call the Sharpton Shuffle. And in the parts I saw Hitchens didn’t really call him on it.

Here is the Sharpton Shuffle in a nutshell. Sharpton argues that without a deity there is no right and wrong. We need a god to tell us what is moral or immoral. Hitchens would discuss various scriptures and the sort of immoral acts advocated in them. And now the Sharpton Shuffle is used. Rev. Al would then say that is dogma not god, that is scripture not the deity and he is not there to argue about dogma and scripture but about the deity.

Now in a sense he has a point but in another sense he has shuffled away from the issue although rather skilfully. The issue for Rev. Al is then where does this morality get revealed to man. If there is no right or wrong without a god how do we know what this deity says is right and wrong? Outside of religious scriptures what other source do we have?

Sharpton might argue that it is the heart of each man where right and wrong is revealed. But isn’t that just another version of the scriptural problem of each man “doing what was right in his own heart”? Thus we still have no definable right or wrong merely the opinions of billions of people. If god is the only source of morality then he must reveal that morality somehow.

If Sharpton dismisses scripture for the evil deeds then how can he appeal to it for the “good” morality? And if we don’t use a scripture then what is the source for this revelation?

Any other source doesn’t prove a deity. In the hearts of men for morality is precisely what we would expect in a natural world without a deity. If the source is found in nature the answer is still what you would expect in a godless world. What source exists which is inherently divine and not natural? I didn’t hear Mr. Sharpton discuss that. Perhaps I missed it and if so I would appreciate anyone having time to watch the full video to point out my error. But in the parts I saw Mr. Sharpton never once explained how the “right and wrong” of god is communicated to man if, as he did, he throws scripture out of the mix.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Government employees use positions to promote fundamentalism

David Miller is a Navy veteran and as such qualified to seek medicare care from Veteran’s Affaris. He sought such treatment at the VA Medical Center in Iowa City. Because he is an Orthodox Jew he was targeted by staff members at the facility for conversion attempts to persuad him to become a fundamentalist Christian.

Over a period of two years he has required hospitalization three times and each time he says the chaplains and staff made repeated attempts to convert him. In addition he says that because he is an adherent to Orthodox Judaism he had to go hungry as the staff refused to provide kosher food to him and refused to call his rabbbi who would provide such food. He also described a waiting room where all patients, no matter their faith, were subjected to Gospel music extolling a fundamentalist view of Christianity.

The chaplain at the center, David Brown, is a minister with the extreme fundamentalist Assemblies of God and he has refused to comment on the allegations against him.


Falwell is dead.

Jerry Falwell is dead. His body has caught up with his brain. He died of heart problems, how appropriate.


Monday, May 14, 2007

700 Club Wrath Weather Report


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Boston Legal says it so well.

Monday, May 07, 2007

What it's to do with England anyway?

Madeleine Bunting of the left-wing British tabloid The Guardian has rushed to defense of religion everywhere. She is upset about the flurry of best selling books excorating the realm of irrationality and faith. Her’s is a long, tiring piece and to deconstruct the entire article would take far too long but a few points can, and should, be made.

Let us look at the thesis of this silly piece as outlined in the headline, “The New Atheists loathe religion far too much to plausibly challenge it. Anti-faith proselytising is a growth industry. But its increasingly hysterial flag-bearers are heading for spectacular failure.”

First, we should be clear as to whom she is referring. She specifically mentions the four best selling books by Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

I’m not sure “loathe” is the proper word but it is the word Bunting would want people to have in mind. She has to exaggerate her case considerably in order to make it. Now if someone said that “Jews loath Nazism far too much to plausibly challenge it” we would find that remark absurd. Throughout history there have been people who have “loathed” certain ideas and who have challenged those ideas very well.

Certainly when it comes to loathing these so-called “New Atheists” have a long ways to go before they could catch up with fundamentalist Christians or Islamists.

Bunting claims: “Meanwhile, critics in America argue that the polarisation of the debate in the US is setting the cause of non-deism back rather than advancing it.” What could this possibly mean? Leave aside the fact she is more precise to say “non-theism” than “non-deism” but I suspect she doesn’t know the difference.

How would the books by these four men set the cause of “non-deism” back? She never says. Like many faith statements she simply asserts it. So what possible meanings are there.

1. One the books could be converting atheists to religion. There is no indication that this is happening. Nor does Bunting offer evidence it is.

2. Perhaps she means that none of the religious people reading the books are abandoning their faith. There is an indication that some are. But even if none were that wouldn’t make things worse just not make things better. It is a draw not a set back.

3. Perhaps she means that a few are deconverting while most aren’t. Not a massive win for reason to be sure but an advance not a set back.

4. Or she could mean that there is some significant number of religionists ready to abandon religion who, because of these books, fail to do so. But again there is no evidence of this happening.

Certainly in the American context it appears that these books have no ground to lose whatsoever. Put this in an election context for a second. An unknown challenges an incumbent. The unknown, of course, wants to debate. The incumbent tend not to want to debate. Why? Because the unknown can only gain ground while the incumbent can only lose ground.

In the religion debate in the United States, the context used by Bunting, atheism is a minority opinion. It is the unknown challenger and thus is only likely to gain ground even if badly argued, which I don’t thinks these books do (I have not read Hitchens yet). Bunting appears to be using a specific tactic here. She wants atheists to think that promoting atheism is a bad idea in the hope of them shutting up. It sounds as if she is worried that in a public debate she will lose ground not the atheists.

She also implies that religious beliefs can’t be challenged successfully regardless of what happens. She refers to the “durability and near universality of religion”. Again what does this mean? It is durable in that there are people who are religious. But certainly in most Western countries, the US being the main expection, religion is a minority activity. And in some advanced nations atheism is the dominant position.

In fact Bunting herself admits as much. She says that in Britain, “Church attendance continues its steady decline and the Christian evangelical boom has never taken off.” In fact the numbers of Britians who say they are non-religious is rather high. Even more oddly a good number of them are clergy in the Church of England.

She wants to attribute these books to “a particular kind of American atheism that feels victimised.” Alas, two of the authors she labels “New Atheists” are her fellow Brits.

She writes: “The whole New Atheist publishing phenomenon is like eavesdropping on a blistering row in the flat next door: one's response alternates between fascination and irritation, but is it really anything to do with us?”

Currently the world is witnessing radical religion in the United States and in the Islamic world. That has lead to conflicts, some of them rather unpleasant to say the least. And there is certainly something outlandish, if not totally absurd, to her acting as if none of this impacts England. Her glib “but is really anything to do with us” comment is the height of intentional stupidity or dishonesty.

What does it have to do with England? Let us look at the London Tube bombings. Bombs exploded on several underground lines and on a public bus. In total 52 people were killed and in excess of 700 peple were injured. And this woman stupidly wants to know what any of this debate has to do with England! Nor should we forget that 148 British solider have died in Iraq, a war that was entered into, to some degree, because of the conflict between American fundamentalists and Islamists.

It is a moral outrage that this woman is so dishonest as to pretend that the conflict between competiting fundamentalisms has nothing to do with England. And to remind her as to what this has to do with England this post contains the pictures of some of the victims of this conflict. What does it have to do with England! Indeed.


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