By HonestDiscussioner

Religion, Philosophy, Politics, and anything else I'd like to talk about

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

I Want to Play a Game

A while back Bionic Dance played a game where she described a movie in a unique way that made it not immediately apparent what the movie was and everyone had to guess which movie she was talking about. Let's play that game now.

I saw this movie once about a society that implemented a strange social experiment. Men were encouraged to engage in the sexual conquest of women, while women who engaged in any sexual activity were shamed and chastised. The society pushed forward a conflicting message of sex being taboo and shameful yet glamorous and cool. Since sex was taboo, contraception was as well, especially for women. This increased the number of pregnancies in the society, and the response was that these women needed to be shamed and given as little support as possible, especially if they were poor. Since much of the society was also against abortion, they tried to make it as difficult, as expensive, and as inconvenient as possible to get one. Therefore, many women chose to hide their pregnancies or abortions, but because they could only obtain abortions in a secretive and dangerous manner, or because they could not afford any other means, the number of fatalities from abortions increased. The portion of society that was against abortion approved of this, because if a woman was stupid enough to engage in the activity that was not only part of her biological nature but constantly shown to be glamorous and fun, while not using the contraceptives she had been told were shameful and uncool, while being unlucky enough to be poor, which increased her likelihood of not understanding her situation and how to protect herself . . . well she wasn't worth saving was she?

This is the part where I'm supposed to say "Huh, weird movie" but most of you by now probably know I'm not describing a movie so much as our current situation.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

LadyTigerLily and Antitheism Part II

LadyTigerLily was nice enough to take the time and send to me a long, thoughtful, emotional, and in my opinion very well-written and well-reasoned response to my last blog post on anti-theism. What I find very encouraging is that, despite our disagreements, we tend to actually agree on a majority of the issues we have been discussing. I'm going to go over her response and point out where I agree and disagree. I apologize ahead of time but I am going to go back and forth between addressing TigerLily herself and the audience in general.

"Yes, I am against dogma, but I am not of the opinion nor support the opinion that one should assume that every person who is religious is also dogmatic."

Neither do I. A recurring theme here is the difference about being antitheISM and antitheIST, the former being against religion and the latter being against religious people. TigerLily understands this concept, and I hope that I can make it clear that I'm not against religious people, but that I feel religion is a net detriment to society.

"I don't really think that one's capacity to be a good or a bad person is dictated by what their faith is."

Again, I agree. The "capacity" for good or evil is an interesting concept though. We all have good and bad in us, and some are naturally predisposed to one or the other, while others are taught to be more inclined in one of those directions, but there always exists that dichotomy. Even Hitler loved people, and even Ghandi was guilty of hate at one point or another. Now as the late great Christopher Hitchens was fond of saying, it is very easy to think of something evil that only a religious person could think of and yet it is at best difficult to think of something good that only a religious person could do. Now it is easy to jump to the conclusion that this implies that religion is always harmful, or always will be harmful, and therefore dismiss the original proposition because clearly religion isn't always harmful, but that would be a misstep. The point here is that religion is capable of causing good people to do bad things that they otherwise would not have done, it is a special motivating factor that is unique in its ability to cause harm but is not unique in its ability to do good. It is unique to religion to strap bombs onto children that you otherwise love, believing they will go to heaven. It is not unique to religion to love your neighbor, promote goodwill, and participate in charity. I have no doubt that if I were to remove all religious knowledge from people like Rational Roundtable or UNFFWildcard or any member of my family that they would cease being decent people, just as how I have no doubt that doing to same to a certain number of religious people would cause them to cease doing harm on such a large scale. Again, this is about religion being a net detriment to society.

"Judging from your comment responses to some people on your video, I am willing to say that in your eyes, I am probably an "antitheist", while in my eyes, you are not."

I cannot comment as to how you, TigerLily, see me, but I don't see you as an antitheist. You separate religion from dogma and don't believe that religion really matters in the end as to the actions of an individual. I am trying to convince you otherwise, however.

"From what I hear from most antitheists, what they seem to be against is theocracy and other blendings of public policy and religion. But not even religion. Most folks' experience with religion is specifically Abrahamic. When people say they're antitheist, what it often sounds like to me is that they're really just against Judeo-Christianity."

I am against Judeo-Christianity and Islam, but that is not the extent of my position. I am also against Hinduism and its advocating the caste system. I'm also against the Shintoism used during WWII (though I am aware this was a perversion of traditional Shinto). I am against religion in general because I see it as something that will inevitably lead to dogma. Perhaps Wicca is an exception to this rule, but that topic will come a bit later.

"One of the biggest problems I have with religion in general is proselytism."

It may surprise you to know this, but I'm not against proselytizing in and of itself. If you were convinced that super powerful aliens would rain down death from above against anyone who did not conform to their rules, you'd certainly want to try to convince your family to follow those rules for their own sake. I am against many of the methods though, especially the indoctrination of children that TigerLily alludes to. I am also against pushiness, hounding people who have already said they are not interested. However going to a public square and expressing your views is fine, as is wanting others to commit to your cause, so long as it is something the individual wants to try out or is open to discussing trying it out.

"In HD's blog post, he said that he was anti-theism rather than anti-theist. To me, this smacks too much of "love the sinner, hate the sin" that many pseudo-accepting Christians use about homosexuality or those who don't fit into their set of gender norms."

I can understand why someone would make this connection, partially because it is an accurate analogy. The thing is, on its surface there is nothing wrong with the "love the sinner, hate the sin" sentiment. If there really are demons in this world that are warping people into things that they aren't "supposed" to be, then the correct position would be to hate the thing that warped them, and not the individuals themselves. However this is only on the surface. Peel off the thin veneer and you see this phrase being used to actually "hate the sinner" and justify condemning them as individuals and taking away their rights or preventing them from getting them in the first place. If this is what I am doing, if I am actually using this as a way to undermine religious people, then I deserve as much condemnation and criticism for my position that is usually reserved for the "hate the sin" crowd. I would assert, however, that I am not behaving in such a manner and that I am very consistent in my beliefs that religious people be free to worship however they please (assuming it does not affect the unwilling) and to enjoy the same rights and benefits that any non-religious person may have.

"I don't think that the good things anyone does necessarily excuse or make up for the bad things anyone does. But they shouldn't be disregarded. Yet I think it's interesting that, just as the Christian who says people who kill and are jerks in the name of Christianity are not "true Christians", plenty of antitheists or people who hold antitheist sentiments can say that the good someone does in the name of their religion is, in fact, not to do with their religion."

This is a fair point to make. "Give the devil its due" would be an ironic yet apt phrase to use here. Some people have been moved towards good acts due to their personal faith. This is undeniable. The caveat though comes from my good friend themanofearth, the same one TigerLily mentions in her blog post, and this is that religion in general is something that causes people to do both good and bad things, but for bad reasons. It goes along with my own sentiments of religion so often being a crutch, that it may have been a necessary one where we were little more than a few hundred groups of huddled masses hiding from the lightning we did not understand. However we no longer need that crutch, and our continued use of it only inhibits us from improving. Again, to come back to my overarching point, religion isn't always harmful, but it does seem to have a net detriment on our society.

"From what your standpoint seems to be, you don't have issue with people who are moderately religous or religious and keep it to themselves and don't hurt anyone by trying to force their view of the world on others and don't try to justify hurting others with their religion."

I don't have a problem with them, but I still generally have a problem with their religion and would prefer if they came to the conclusion that it is false. Take, for example, RationalRoundtable. He goes, last time I checked, to a pretty liberal\moderate pentacostal church. He calmly and reasonably expresses his views and does not hate on anyone. However his monetary contributions to his church go to an overarching pentacostal leadership which promotes harmful policies around the world. Even if that wasn't the case, I have on several occasions noticed some positions of his based on biblican dogma that I disagree with, and for which there is no evidence other than the biblical dogma. I cannot recall these on the spot, but suffice to say I believe his energies are being misappropriated due to his religion, due to beliefs that are in my opinion not based in fact. Now he has the right to hold to these positions, and I will make no move to force him to believe or behave otherwise, but it doesn't change the fact that I disagree with those beliefs and actions, and attribute their existence to the religion of his choosing.

"I think I would not be incorrect to say that you would consider them to be taking a more philosophical approach to religion rather than being truly religious."

I regret to inform you that you would be incorrect in this case. The difference lies in whether "truth claims" are made. "Do what you want if it hurts no one" is a prescriptive statement, but it isn't a dogma because it is based upon a understanding of human interaction that we can study and critique and not an objective and unquestionable written standard. No matter how much we look into homosexuality, no matter how much we find how harmless and natural it is, the Old Testament will always say it is an abomination. No matter how many faithful die of snake bites, the New Testament will tell you you'll be okay. Those people you mention may have an interpretation that allows them to not be a direct burden or harm on society, but they are still constrained by the book itself. There are avenues that will, assuming they intend to try to follow that book, be forever closed off to them. The more they advocate for the truth of their holy book, the stronger the fundamentalist's claims become, despite the fact that they disagree on interpretation. The idea that this book is correct and cannot be wrong is strengthened. Now if a person says "I read this Jesus, and I agree with what he has to say, and therefore I follow him" THEN it is a philosophy. It is not based on any claims of objective reality that cannot be verified, and divine providence is not behind this position. That is where the difference (and the dogma) lies.

"I feel that blaming religion for WHY people are shitty to other people robs them of agency and responsibility."

Well that depends on the individual circumstance. Clearly, were to attribute everything good a religious person does to something inherent to their being and everything bad they do to their religion, we would be rather foolish. However you earlier stated this:

"So when they do good things based off what kind of values they consider important as they have been taught in a religious context, I don't belittle their faith by saying, "No, you do good things because you're a good person, your religion has absolutely nothing to do with it.""

Now here you are quite willing to give credit to religion for the good things people do, and in some (perhaps even many) circumstances you'd be correct to do so. The problem comes in when you are willing to give credit to religion for the good things people do but claim it is robbing them of agency when we credit religion for some of the bad things they do. Rather, I recommend a balanced approach, and evaluate each individual action as to whether it can be tied to their religious belief. I believe we will see a mix in each person, some of their good actions will be due to their nature and some to their religion, and some of their bad behaviors will be due to themselves and others a product of their faith.

Take for example a recent conversation I had on the HHS Mandate that Catholics were up in arms about. They were rather upset that they would have to partially pay for health insurance that will give women the option to use birth control. I spent hours debating that and other topics when the youtube user known as KabanetheChristian posted an attack on Sandra Fluke, and that debate covered many topics other than the HHS, including comprehensive sex education vs. abstinence only and the morality of using birth control. What was evident was that many of the anti-sex opinons were clearly based on the religion of the person advocating them. I can say this with confidence because some of them stated that as their actual reasons. Without their church telling them that life begins at conception, without the philosophical underpinnings of the church informing its congregants that sex without the intention of getting pregnant is immoral, they would not have those harmful positions. Kabane himself said that he had no basis to convince me otherwise other than to convert me to Orthodox Christianity. Therefore it is the case that the religion an individual possesses is often (but not always) the direct root of some of their harmful beliefs and actions.

"In my original video, . . . [I] mentioned that if your parents force religion and dogma and hate down your throat, if they beat you and they claim it to be in the scripture, I say you don't have a religion problem, you have a parent problem."

Again, it depends on the situation. Some parents have mental problems so severe that they do such things and latch onto religion as a good way to carry them out. Others are told that their child will go to hell if they don't do this, and they will too for being bad parents and letting the life God trusted with them turn away from him. So sometimes it is religion and other times it is merely a bad parent.

See, even if you have a bad parents, we have to ask . . . why are they bad? What made them that way. In most cases, when we delve into human behavior we find it is a combination of both nature and nurture. Now I do not wish to deny the nature side of it, but it would be equally unfair to deny the nurture, to deny the effect the environment has on an individual. If we take into consideration the nurture side of things, then clearly we must also consider the effect religion has in that regard. Sometimes it will be positive, and sometimes negative, but again my argument is that overall it will have a net negative impact on our society.

"Parents who would disown and shame and hurt their children because they're gay don't have a religion issue. They have a parenting issue."

I would ask, is it the case that every single parent who has disowned their children due to being gay would still have done it had they not been religious? That is a bold claim to make, and I think an inaccurate one. When you go to church every week and hear your pastor talking about how evil and sinful homosexuality is, and are told lies about how they tend to recruit people, or that they can being evil into your household, I believe that may have a large effect on some parents. Not all, some just find it icky, but given that many of them double check with their pastors before kicking their children out should tell you that this isn't ONLY a parenting issue. It's both that and a religious issue.

"Muslim men hijack planes and fly them into the World Trade Center in 2001, we say it's because of their religion. Stalin systematically starves the population of Ukraine and other satellite states of the Soviet Union in 1932 and 1933 but we don't blame Atheism. Augustinian Friar Gregor Mendel gained encouragement and inspiration from his professors and fellow friars, which led to his experiments with pea plants that gave rise to modern genetics, and we don't blame religion then. In 1937, a group of Western missionaries, based off a Jesuit priest's example in Shanghai, and a Nazi businessman created the Nanking Safety Zone during the Second World War to keep people safe from the invading Japanese. But we don't blame religion then."

As I advocated earlier, we should take instances on a case by case basis. Clearly 9/11 was religiously motivated, as that was the claim made by those who took credit. I doubt they would have done that if they didn't believe they would be rewarded in heaven, nor would the young children who have blown themselves up or ran across a minefield had they not been told that. Now should we blame atheism for Stalin? I don't see how. There are numerous things that could have prevented Stalin from being such a butcher, religion is not the only "prevent person from becoming murderer". To blame the lack of one particular belief would greatly over simply the situation.

Should religion get some credit for Friar Gregor? Perhaps, I'm not too well versed on that part of history. Let's assume that religion should get some credit for that. So too does it deserve credit for pushing against so many scientific advancements that contradicted the religious worldview. Religion does good things, but at too high a price. We can get a better deal elsewhere.

For example, Catholics do a lot of charity work. What is the cost though? Between all of the robes, the fancy buildings and other expenses, for all the money they spend on actually helping the poor they spend more on themselves, and in addition their help comes with an additional price of their message being spread to desperate people. When my brother goes to poor countries as a missionary, he isn't just going to help them out, he's helping build churches which will spread around false beliefs to people who are too uneducated to critically evaluate those claims.

"Devchelle came out with a response to a tag video from ZOMGitsChris saying that he used to practice Wicca because he found it to be beautiful and found it to be roughly in line to what he held to be important, but later turned away because Wicca offered no answers to his questions, which arose through questioning his previous faith. I understand that and can see why it wasn't for him, but I honestly don't care and am not offended by his criticism of Wicca. It's true that Wicca "offers no answers". It's not really supposed to. "

This is why I believe that Wicca may be inappropriately classified as a religion. Now the first thing one may think when I say this is that I am in some way passing judgment on Wicca. That I don't think it is serious enough to qualify as a religion, or that it is lacking in some way. Instead, I'm strictly speaking in the terms of taxonomy. There is no judgment passed between whether a hominid was a member of one species or another, but instead they each have different features that make them distinct. When TigerLily says:

". . . .Wicca has no deity it demands anyone worship and no practices it demands anyone perform."

I must wonder by what measure should we classify Wicca as a religion? It may be an incredibly meaningful entity in a person's life, even moreso that some other person's religion is to them. Again, this isn't a judgment as to what is better or more detailed, but simply a matter of classification. To determine whether it is a religion or a philosophy, I'd like to put it to what I call "The Difference Test". So let's assume that Wicca is a religion, I would ask TigerLily to explain how it would be different if weren't a religion. What features of it would change if it was instead a philosophy on life? If there aren't any, then it is a philosophy and not a religion, and if there are, then we can discuss whether those different features make it a religion or not.

This is a long paragraph to quote but I feel it is very meaningful, well written, and relevant to the discussion:

"ManOfEarth and I got into many spats about culture and religion being tied together. For me, it's difficult to separate religion from culture. My first experience with Christian intolerance was in second grade. My first friends were from many different backgrounds, and we were encouraged to learn about other cultures and other religions from each other, and no one ever had a problem with it. One of my best friends is Jewish, and at that time she and her family would talk about Jewish traditions around Hanukkah and Passover and we would play with dreidels and eat chocolate coins and latkes. A Native American friend of ours talked about her family's Cherokee traditions a different day. We learned about different holidays around the world, like Diwali and Ramadan. And everyone thought it was fine. That is, until second grade, when one of my other best friends (also a Chinese girl) and I talked about Chinese New Year traditions, where we explained Chinese phrases and customs, such as lucky numbers and symbols, like the Dragon and the Phoenix. I explained the numerous gods whose portraits we hung up and the ancestor-reverence we had and still have. One popular example is the Kitchen God, whose job it was to oversee the family and at New Years, a sticky candy is placed on his portrait's mouth and burned, so that he can report to our ancestors and to the Jade Emperor that we have been a good family (the candy is so he will only say sweet things). A boy named Scott, who I had up until then been rather close to, confronted me saying that my gods were stupid, they were false, and there was only one god: his. It ended in a shouting match that was broken up by a teacher and me crying. He gave me a WWJD bracelet that he'd made, which I wore home. My mother saw it and made me take it off, asking who gave it to me and why I was wearing it. She sat me down and said that if I became a Christian, that was my choice. But don't let anyone insult what you believe, or don't believe. What would Jesus do? Not base his choices off a bracelet. You do what you do because it's right to do, not because someone tells you. I never wore that bracelet again. Consequently, I never really spoke to Scott again either."

I would very much agree with your mother in this case, and your actions. This would sorta seem to speak towards my point though. It was religion here that broke up an otherwise close friendship, and at such a young age! Now you could point to dogma as the true culprit here, but then we have to go back to my earlier point that religion is a dogma producing machine.

As for culture being difficult to separate from religion, I understand where you are coming from and why you would think that, but in reality it is very easy to separate those two out. Just look at the secular celebration of Christmas. Mostly every aspect of it is a pagan tradition or has its roots in a pagan tradition or belief, and yet almost everyone who celebrates Christmas, even Christians, don't believe in paganism.

The difference is, while traditions and culture can have their roots traced back on religion, they don't rely on them. They don't need them. Religion is the baggage, not the culture or the traditions. I imagine you still put that candy in the Kitchen God's mouth, but if one year you accidentally place what you thought was candy but was in fact something quite bitter, you wouldn't actually be worried that the Jade Emperor would hear bitter things, because you aren't doing it based upon some claim of truth, but simply because you enjoy the action and its benefits such as the fact that it binds your family together and creates many happy memories. This is what culture does, and there isn't anything wrong with that from my perspective in the least.

"My point in relaying this story is not to denounce faith. ManOfEarth has made some comments about superstition and the like, which he is as against as official established religions. I get a bad taste in my mouth when I read those things, because it brings me right back to Scott, even though ManOfEarth isn't a Christian. It's the belittling of something that I don't even believe, in the sense that I worship or consider these figures to be real. It's part of my tradition and my heritage as an ethnic Chinese. It's part of my language. Don't lecture me about how dragons and phoenixes aren't real. Don't look down your nose at me about how firecrackers don't scare away evil spirits because evil spirits aren't real. Don't piss and moan about how my ancestors aren't floating around above us watching everything we do and keeping track of whether we've been good or bad. I don't care that you're not Chinese and you're not a "theist". Neither am I. But this is part of my culture. Don't tell me how there's no such thing as luck and that eating chicken and pork won't bring luck to you. Don't bitch about how numbers are just numbers and how colours are just colours. I fucking know that."

If it is indeed the case that theManofEarth is against those traditions, then this will have to be one of the very few times I've disagreed with him. If you are under the impression that to be an anti-theist, one would have to look down your nose at such practices then please allow me assure you that it is not the case. When one thinks of the quintessential anti-theist, I would assert that you would be hard-pressed to come up with a better example than the late great Christopher Hitchens, so please allow me to quote him here:

"I once wrote a book about George Orwell, who might have been my hero if I had heroes, and was upset by his callousness about the burning of churches in Catalonia in 1936. Sophocles showed, well before the rise of monotheism, that Antigone spoke for humanity in her revulsion against desecration. I leave it to the faithful to burn each other’s churches and mosques and synagogues, which they can always be relied upon to do. When I go to the mosque, I take off my shoes. When I go to the synagogue, I cover my head."

—Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great, p11

Hitchens was very much against trampling on traditions, at least when those traditions did not barge in on other people's freedoms or have some other type of harm (he was obviously against traditions such as female circumcision). If you think that I would look down my nose at such practices, you would also be mistaken. Who the hell wouldn't want to light a firecracker anyway? Other than phonophobes of course. However, if you were to actually believe that those things were real, that the numbers were lucky or that there were Gods looking down on you, would that not inform your behavior towards others? If I was a Christian, of course I would be concerned with your immortal soul and work to convince you to believe to prevent you from an eternity of suffering.

This whole time we've been focusing on dogma; while dogma may be bad, it only because a real problem because it is a truth claim. It is an bald assertion of the way the universe works, and thus has prescriptive power. If it is indeed the case that hell awaits those that that don't ask for forgiveness, then one should advocate that people ask for forgiveness. If numbers really are lucky, then likely the way your traditions work should become the norm, or at least one should advocate that they become the norm.

The problem with religion though is that the truth claims cannot be challenged or changed. When people I know on facebook argue against gay marriage, it doesn't matter what evidence I bring to show that gays are a-OK, because the Bible will always condemn it. Thus your inclusion of Wicca doesn't really discount any of my arguments, for it doesn't really seem to make any truth claims. There are no prescriptions, and if there are, they are not asserted dogmatically. At best, Wicca is the exception which proves the rule.

"I want to take this time to point out a huge hypocrisy among even the most level-headed of my atheist friends on YouTube. Before, I didn't want to rock the boat and play nice, but this really grates me. SchizophrenicQueen's displeasure with the user BionicDance has largely stemmed from BD's equating being religious to having mental illness. "

The "religion is a mental illness" meme seems to be something relatively new. If you stretch the meaning of the term "mental illness" the argument could make some sort of sense, but then you'd have to classify my love for the color purple and virtually every other personality quirk as a mental illness, thus removing any bite to the argument. I will agree that it is a bit insensitive to use this line of attack, as well as inappropriate given that those that make the case are rarely qualified to make mental diagnosis. I have a BA in psychology and I'm not even qualified to make a serious diagnosis like that, not to mention that it is a great large brush stroke that could hardly be considered a nuanced opinion.

While I stand by all of what I just said, it should be noted that some religious belief is likely caused by a malfunctioning brain. There is a great deal of evidence that religious visions are simply tricks of the mind, but then again so is deja vu that we all experience, so again the point is moot.

"ProportionalResponse came out with a video entitled "Abby", in which he s defended our mutual friend Abbynormal0ne and what a great friend she is, what "internal fortitude" she has to stand up to Greg Monroe for saying shameful things about the suicide of an atheist, William Cardno. He turns around 6 months later and comes out with his video "Faith". In this video he says, "I have said many times, I cannot stress enough, that I believe faith is poison. Faith is the antithesis of every inch of progress that we upright apes have dragged up from the depths of the unknown. ...The point where faith transcends one's own fallibility is WHY faith is poisonous."

I don't actually see anything wrong with PR's position here. I can see similar things about my brother. I love my brother dearly, and I truly believe he is a good young man with a lot of potential. However, his mind has been poisoned by faith, and it dictates his life in almost every detail. It is a prison for him, one he has been told is his place since birth, and one he has come to enjoy and relish. It is still a prison nonetheless, and the fact that religion is a poison, one that he has taken, does not diminish his other qualities.

There are many people I appreciate that are people of faith, but their faith doesn't define them. It defines their actions often, it defines their beliefs even, but not necessarily their personality or their abilities. Nurture can only do so much, nature will always be able to balance that out to varying degrees. Thus, one can still hold that faith is the most terrible thing ever invented (not my position) while still maintaining a love and appreciation for those that practice it. One can be against abortion and still love and appreciate those that support it.

Now perhaps Greg is only against Christianity, I won't comment as to whether that is the case because I don't know him well enough to state either way for certain, but that doesn't speak ill of anti-theism itself, even if true.

"My point is and has always been that one's faith doesn't make or break you as a person. This goes for believer and nonbeliever alike. Fanaticism, jingoism, dogmatism, proselytism, and people who would rather put their heads in the sand than care about the welfare of themselves or others. That's what I have a problem with. Not theism."

Sure, it doesn't make or break you as a person. I still think the average theist would be better off not believing, as would society as a whole. That will speak more towards my future video\blog about religion being a crutch, but it would be too much to include that here, we'll just leave it right here.

Thanks for sticking with me on this discussion, TigerLily and readers alike!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Embellishment Should Destroy Faith

I was reminiscing through some old memories of my "discussion" with my ex-step father. If you've been with me for a while, you may remember him as the person who said he was not interested in listening to what people who disagreed with him had to say, and when I said that was close minded, he retorted "No, it's not closed minded if you're right.". That was the quote of 2010, in my book. When dealing with such immensely poor logic, it should be no surprise that he parroted the argument made somewhat popular by Lee Strobel, the "Wouldn't Die for a Lie" argument.

As the argument goes, we should believe in the Bible because those that saw the resurrected Jesus died martyrs, they were given a choice to either confess Jesus was not resurrected and live, or stick to their guns and die, and they all chose death. Since so many people wouldn't die for something they knew was false, it must be true! Now I had only been involved in the religious discussion for a year or two at the time, so I had not heard of this before, and it was this argument that led me to the always wonderful ProfMTH, who did an excellent series attempting to debunk the "Wouldn't Die for a Lie" argument.

Within Prof's video, he mentioned a number of stories of early Christian tradition where members of the church were purported to have experienced violent deaths, but only after several miracles occurred preventing earlier attempts at taking their life. For example, bathing in boiling oil that did not hurt them, or falling from a very tall height and receiving no damage, only to be finally done in by a blunt trauma to the head.

That such miracles would occur and none of those witnessed to it would find it odd or compelling strains credulity, so I think it's best to assume that these stories are embellishments at best and downright lies at worst. It makes sense to me that, were a Christian leader killed back in those times, people might ask why God didn't save them. They couldn't lie outright and say he's still alive, so they do the next best thing and describe how Jesus intervened numerous times to save him. These types of stories appear rather often it seems as well.

This, in my opinion, should be more than sufficient to crush any faith in the story of Jesus. If they were willing to embellish these things, what else were they willing to embellish? Perhaps when their Messiah was killed, they embellished his death to mean that he was resurrected in spirit, and then further embellishments occurred later on to include a bodily resurrection. It makes sense, as the later the gospel, the more gracious the claims become. The oldest gospel doesn't have Jesus appearing at all after his death, and in the youngest gospel, people are poking him in his wounds and he's chowing down on some fish.

Why have faith in this? Those were incredulous times, people made stuff up and others repeated it as fact. Even in today's world where cameras are in everyone's pocket and everything is documented online, this still occurs. That this was beyond the capabilities of men with a clear theological and later political agenda seems to be of the utmost level of ridiculousness.

Consider whether you really are justified in believing in the story of Jesus, because from where I am sitting, there is no such justification.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

LadyTigerLily vs. Antitheism

Let's face it, antitheists get a bum rap. So often it is associated with the utmost vitriol and disgust with religion, with people who do everything they can to piss off, hurt, or otherwise get in the face of people who advocate religious principles. Certainly, such people exist, and they would accurately be called "antitheists", but they'd also be accurately referred to as "human" and no one would suggest that all humans are like that.


Some people like to define their terms and insist to everyone that their definition is the one true or at least the most accurate definition available. Instead, I'm going to be giving a definition and ask that we operate under that definition for the duration of the discussion. If you have a different definition or find fault in my own, that's fine, outside of this video use the word however you see fit, but for the purposes of communication, let's try to operate under a single definition and not get involved in semantics.


See I have this idea, this concept, and that is the idea that religion, while certainly having done some or even a lot of recognizable good, has had an overall net negative impact on our society and planet, and that therefore religious ideas and beliefs should be fought against (nonviolently, of course). Now, when referencing this idea, this concept, instead of repeating it verbatim I will apply a label to it to ease communication, and that label is "antitheism".


Enter LadyTigerLily (LTL) on Youtube, who has over the past few months, expressed a number of criticisms of anti-theism. Now to be fair, her criticisms seem to target a different version of antitheism than I am defending, but they still tangentially apply so I feel they warrant addressing. For example, she argues "I've had plenty of people talk to me . . . who are just on and on about how 'theism is the worst thing in the world, and nothing good has ever come out of theistic thought, and nothing good has ever come out of people who are religious'. Really? Well, considering the clergy were some of the only educated people back in the day and without these institutions, based in religion, we wouldn't have a lot of things, you can't really say that".


Now I'm not going to defend the idea that religion has done "nothing but harm", but LTL's criticism actually highlights an excellent argument for antitheism. Why was it the fact that the clergy were the only educated people "back in the day"? Why was it that almost the entirety of philosophy was generated around or on the foundations of Christian theism? Well, religion instituted a monopoly. They didn't allow thought that disagreed with their own to flourish. They crushed opposition, and used religion to take hold of the entire European region. They didn't want the laity to be able to read, they wanted them to have to go to the church to read the holy texts to them.


While LTL is correct that there are certain things that we wouldn't have today, certain philosophical ideas would never have come about and certainly particular pieces of artwork and architecture wouldn't exist, that's about where it ends. Without the church, there would have been a much wider field of philosophy to draw on, and if we're talking technology, we'd actually have a much greater level of technology today without religion. It is no secret that the church frowned upon much of science, and Galileo Galilei is only the tip of the iceberg. It's no coincidence that the Dark Ages coincided with the rise to power of Christianity, with much of ancient knowledge at the time being destroyed by the early Christians.


So yes, religion produced much thought, some of it positive, but without religion, we would have been far better off.


She then continues. "It is true that people use religion in terrible ways, and it is true that people hide behind religion because it gives you an overarching scheme that says I didn't do it (points up) they did . . . but that can be said about anything, religion doesn't make people assholes. Assholes use religion to justify their being assholes."


Here we come to a problem. LTL was quick to point out how the majority of western thought came from a religious foundation, but here we are to assume it plays no part in how the majority view the world? That without religion, people would still hold views just as damaging, but with a different (or lack of ) justification? Now this may be the case with some, some people are genuinely assholes, but others are affected by religion and indoctrinated into a highly organized belief system by which the associate deviation from that system with eternal torture.


Let's look at the hot button issue of today, women's reproductive health. LTL has (rightfully) been railing against the "Summer of Hate" we've seen from Republicans the country over. What we should keep in mind is that many of these politicians (and much of the republican party) to religion, when religious conservatives sometime around the 80's decided to back religious candidates and effectively became a very powerful force in American politics. While there would still be idiotic people in congress without religion, they wouldn't have the teeth that they do today. The country wouldn't be so focused on the Christian perspective and these ideas would lose a lot of their popular support.


LadyTigerLily later opines "None of us are really that different from each other, none of us are really that much better or worse. Whatever we may believe, whatever background we may come from."


This I wholeheartedly disagree with. While we may all share some fundamental values, even if with some they are only as basic as the avoidance pain and pursuit of pleasure, there is a wide spectrum when it comes to people and how good or "assholish" they are. There are some who dedicate their lives towards helping people, and others that dedicate their lives towards hating people, and most of us fit somewhere in between on that spectrum. Now I'm not interested in "judging" everyone as much as evaluating the potential of their ideas and the impact they have on society. Some people have wonderful ideas, and other rather terrible ones, and usually these ideas originate from their background. Again, there may be similarities, but "the devil is in details".


Finally, we come to her arguing "There are plenty of religious people who are not ignorant yahoos, that are not benighted individuals with their heads in the sand, but there are plenty of atheists I know of that are exactly that way."


This is all true. Being religious doesn't mean you are a bad person and being an atheist doesn't give you an automatic "I'm always logical" sticker on your forehead. However this is mistaking antitheism with antitheist-ism. I'm not against individual religious people, antitheism is directed towards theism as an institution. The way I look at it is as answering "no" to the question "is religion worth it". Now LadyTigerLily is Wiccan, but I know so little of Wicca that I can in no way assess whether it fits into my own views of what constitutes "theism", as my concern isn't with philosophies and ways of looking at things as it is truth claims that cannot be verified and used as a basis for action.


Overall, my position is that we'd be better off without religion, and that in general theistic belief should be actively opposed through rational discussion and public activism (but no government intervention or force). I'd really like to know what LadyTigerLily thinks of this proposition?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

MrRepzion - Faith & Prayer

Deconversions are rarely an overall pleasant experience. Even if the final admission that you've lost your faith is liberating or exciting, there is generally a lot of struggle and pain that comes along with it. Our minds tend to try to hold on to our beliefs and ideas as long as possible, and when a new idea comes along that contradicts an old and long-held belief, your mind can become a literal battlefield, and no matter the victor you are likely to suffer emotional scarring.


Such is the case with the recent example of MrRepzion on Youtube, who recently deconverted from Christianity to deism. As of this writing, he has made two videos on the subject, and if anything is clear it is that this has been a tumultuous experience for him. I feel for him, my own deconversion was just as painful. Like him, I prayed many a prayer with no response. My prayer was such that I would challenge anyone to find fault in it from a Christian perspective: I read the Bible and simply prayed for understanding and guidance. If my prayers were answered, then I was guided away from Christianity, for the more I read and prayed the less convinced of Christianity I became.


This isn't about me, however. This is about MrRepzion. I had numerous reasons to no longer hold Christianity as valid, and while MrRepzion appears to have a few, the lack of efficacy of prayer appears to be the cornerstone of his non-theism. This is quite evident in his first video, and is further expounded upon in his follow up. While I believe he is on the right track, if I am being honest I would have to conclude that his arguments against Christianity from issues with prayer miss the mark slightly.


Please don't think me insensitive for criticizing someone who is obviously going through a rough time, especially when they have moved closer to my own camp. I do this because my critique is something that I feel he is bound to hear at some point, and to avoid a painful mental tug-of-war with wounds so fresh, I would prefer if he was actually prepared for them. Recall, I said his issues miss the mark slightly, not that they were entirely unjustified. It is quite possible that he has no need of my assistance, that he in fact is already well aware of the devil's advocate style arguments I'm about to present, and could have even better responses to them than I do. In case he doesn't though, I would like to go over what I expect he's going to hear at some point.

Up until now, I have been addressing my audience as a whole, but from here on in I will addressing MrRepzion himself. Hiya MrRepzion, HonestDiscussioner here.


I understand your frustration with prayer, and identify with the feeling of talking and/or pleading to an entity that gives no indication that they are listening. Likely, they aren't there and aren't listening, but that's beside the point. From the perspective of Christians, they will generally find this unconvincing. You've already experienced some of their less eloquent (and incoherent) reasons on your first video, such as the accusation that you're simply being selfish and demanding metaphorical treats.


However the more accomplished apologist won't assault your ego in this manner. They know they aren't as familiar with your experiences as you are, and they certainly aren't as familiar with how you perceive your overall experiences. Blanket assumptions won't convince you, and they know it.


What they are likely to do, however, is to try to reframe your experiences to make it look as though God is working in your life no matter what those experiences may be. They won't accuse you outright of being selfish, but they'll lead you to that conclusion so that it seems you came up with it on their own, all while they gently smile understandingly and without judgment, knowing that you'll be able to make yourself feel guilty enough on your own, if they are successful.


This will generally be centered around the premise that God and\or Jesus has a plan for you. Yes, you prayed for help on your tests, or your you prayed for someone else's benefit, for simple healing. Whatever it was, it doesn't really matter, it could be a prayer that innocent baby seals not get bludgeoned to death with a rusty nail board, the apologist could argue that it is all part of God's plan.


See, what you should obviously conclude from you not passing your math or geology test, is that God has a different plan for you. He's telling you that your current path is not the right one, and you're trying to get him to change your path to what you not, not what "He, the almighty and source of all that is good" wants.


This is where you are lead to feel guilty over wanting anything at all; that in all things you must put your faith in God and just trust that things will turn out okay. It's the only way they ever will in fact. Prayer isn't meant for you to appeal to God for intervention, but merely as a way for HIM to tell YOU what to do, though I doubt it would be put that way. Technically, this idea isn't wholly inconsistent as a theology, no less consistent than most modern popular theology anyway. As I said earlier, I'm playing devil's advocate here, to the end of giving you a heads up on what I expect will be coming your way at some point. Again, I fully acknowledge that this may be unnecessary on my part. You may be able to poke 101 holes in the proposition I laid out for you just now. If that's the case, then I apologize for wasting your time, but otherwise I hope you will indulge me in breaking down what I just said.


What is the long-term prescription for your current issues, from this modified prayer perspective? Well, to fix your situation, of course your should continue to pray until an answer comes forth. Now if the Christian God doesn't exist, what you are doing when you pray is searching your unconscious mind for answers. This can indeed be an excellent tool for problem solving complex matters, as is evidenced by people who do just that outside the context of prayer (usually it is called "meditation"). Eventually, you will come up with something, a course of action of some sort. You are to try that out. If it succeeds, great! It works, God told you want to do and you did it. Now if it fails, well you just didn't understand what God told you, so get back to the drawing board and continue praying until you get another idea. Rinse, repeat until something works, and then thank God for allowing you to finally understand him. It's all part of the plan.


Hopefully by now, the problems with this should be evident. It's a classic example of only accepting positive results for your claim and dismissing negative ones. When things go well, God did it. When things don't, it's your fault for not doing what God wants. It thrives on making the proposition of God and prayer as unfalsifiable as possible, and shouldering as much of the burden as possible while giving any and all credit to God. This is something actively taught in churches around the world, and if you are anything like me, you will be sickened by that prospect.


Fortunately, the prospect isn't entirely falsifiable. Try as they may to avoid it, even this can be subjected to the scientific method. Now perhaps your "lack of faith" is strong and you have no need to test the proposition; you find it insufficient on its own. If so, great. Otherwise, I would suggest that you attempt this version of prayer. Pray to Jesus Christ for guidance as to what to do, for the entire month of August. Then, in September, do exactly the same as you did before, but pray to something else. Pray to Vishnu, or Buddha, or even the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Heck, pray to an inanimate object you know has no special properties, all while saying you have no desire to know what Jesus wants for you. Do this over a couple months, switch the entity that you pray to. Then, view your results. If Christianity is true, or at least if this proposition of how prayer works is true, you should expect that the month of August was crucial towards your actions, and nothing that you came up with in the other months was entirely helpful (in fact, it should set you back).

This is, admittedly, asking a lot. However you don't really need to actually go through with this. If an apologist actually makes this argument, simply ask them what they think of your little experiment, if they'd be confident the results would work in their favor, or if in fact there would not be much of a difference in your life between the various months. Some may argue for the former, but I find it a much more likely prospect that they'd take issue with the overall endeavor, that to do anything other than simply accept what they are saying is a terribly ungodly thing to do, that questioning it is itself wrong.


Then, you will know they truly have nothing to offer you.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Chick-Fil-A-Bigotry

I doubt I have to catch you up. Most people have heard by now. In case you missed a few details, however, allow me to relay some of the recent events involving Chick-Fil-A and the "gay agenda" as is sometimes substituted for the phrase "wanting equal rights".


Earlier this month, the President of Chick-Fil-A admitted to a number of things which included more than only being an advocate for heterosexual marriage, but that his company actively gave millions to anti-gay organizations multiple times. This wasn't a surprise to some, but enough people were caught unaware that it created somewhat of an internet firestorm, prompting Jim Henson Company (and their Muppets) to cut ties with Chick-Fil-A, and doing so rather publicly. In turn, some Chick-Fil-A restaurants displayed this message, claiming that a toy Jim Henson toys (ones that passed all safety inspections) was being voluntarily recalled due to kids getting their fingers stuck in them.




This is generally referred to as "lying for Jesus".



It's been public knowledge for quite some time that the southern-based fast food chain is largely Christian, or at least has strong ties to Christianity. They stay closed on Sundays for just that reason. This was an inconvenience to some, but certainly no moral or social issue. Companies can open and close at their own whim for whatever reason they'd like, it's not as though they were forcing other restaurants to close on Sundays. What wasn't known was that the business itself was pushing a social agenda (a very negative social agenda), and using their profits to do so.



As such many people, myself included, are calling for a boycott of Chick-Fil-A. This call has received mixed responses, some quite favorable, and others highly critical. I will be presenting some of the criticisms and responding to them in kind so that people understand, even Christians who may currently support Chick-Fil-A, that it is a good idea to not frequent their stores.



Criticism 1: Can't people have opinions anymore?



The idea behind this is a mix of claiming a boycott unfairly punishes free speech and that it is unfair to hold a company accountable for one person's beliefs.



The former part of the argument completely misunderstands free speech. People are of course free to speak their mind, and the government cannot put them in jail or fine them for it. This is why I don't support Boston mayor Thomas Menino in his attempt to ban Chick-Fil-A restaurants in his city. However the public is free to act according to their beliefs and boycott a company whose actions they disagree with. Free speech is free to all, but not free of consequences. I can dislike you for the things you say, and I can dislike the Chick-Fil-A President for his statements.


This leads us to the second part of the criticism, that it is wrong to punish the whole for the beliefs or actions of one. This I actually whole-heartedly agree with, but it doesn't apply to the boycott. Were it simply the President of the company funding groups, and holding positions I don't like, then I wouldn't be calling for a boycott. I'm not going to delve into the personal lives of every board member of every company whose products I buy. However, if the company decides to take actions, then I can base my buying decisions off of those actions, and such is the case with our chicken selling neighbors to the south. It isn't just the President, but the company itself that donates money to groups that are specifically against what I believe and actively lobby government to prevent people from doing things I personally believe they should be allowed to do. Every dollar I give them increases the chance that they will donate further money towards an agenda that I dislike, so why should I be compelled to ignore that fact?

Criticism #2: Chick-Fil-A doesn't discriminate against homosexuals, so they aren't anti-gay.

Not in their business practice, sure. They will take the money of gay people as easily as anyone else, but they'll use that money to further the cause against them. Is this supposed to be better?



Imagine if there was a restaurant that took a portion of their profits and put it into a group who actively lobbies the Government to ban all Christian prayer, public or private. Yes, such a ban would be a terrible idea and completely unconstitutional, but they are still pushing for it, even going as far as to lobby to amend the constitution to allow such a ban. Would you say that they aren't anti-religious because they will let Christians eat at their restaurants? What if they gave Christians a 10% discount, would that convince you that they aren't anti-Christian? I would hope not. Would you honestly frequent their establishment, especially if you thought that they had a chance at succeeding? I certainly wouldn't, and I'm an atheist who has no need for prayer.



Criticism #3: So you're going to boycott OPEC gas and every other company that is bad to homosexuals?





Well no, not entirely, but this is a clear case of comparing apples and oranges. Overall I do try to avoid gas from the Middle East, but it sometimes can't be avoided. Chick-Fil-A can be avoided, and quite easily. I've actually been avoiding them for quite some time, but for different reasons. A few years ago I saw they were putting Veggie Tales DVD's in their children's meals. Veggie Tales is a children's show that goes over various bible stories with anthropomorphic vegetables playing the characters from the Bible. To my knowledge, there was nothing to indicate to the parents buying the meal that it was religious material without a close examination of it, meaning parents may be unknowingly giving their children religious material.



You may think that's perfectly acceptable, but let me ask you how you'd feel if it was a Muslim company giving children's videos about the Qur'an? Had that been the case, and all other factors were identical, there would have been a firestorm of outrage so large as to make the one about Chick-Fil-A seem like an impolite burp at a tea house, but I digress.



The point is that Chick-Fil-A is easily avoidable, and by advocating that people avoid them we have a chance for them to change their policies and not do harm to innocent people just trying to marry the person they love. It is an opportunity, and with all of the public attention on it, a very good opportunity. You are not required to boycott everything you disagree with on every level, but if you see the opportunity to make a difference, you shouldn't have to be stop because you don't feel you are up to making that difference at every conceivable level.



Could you imagine if we actually held ourselves to that standard? We'd never be able to do anything that wasn't entirely self-serving. Oh, you want to give your friend a ride? So you're going to give all of your friends rides to anywhere they want to go now, even if it's a much more difficult endeavor, right? Well if you're not, then you shouldn't give your friend a ride at all, you're not being very consistent otherwise.



Truth is, this is a live and active battleground. Some states are passing legislation to allow gay marriage while others are passing legislation to ban it. It is important for our social progress to ensure that gay marriage becomes something socially acceptable on a large scale and a legal scale.



Why, you might ask, should that be the case? Perhaps you don't believe that gay marriage should be allowed due to your religious beliefs or some other beliefs?

I challenge you to provide a secular reason why gay people should not be allowed to marry. Something not based in your religion. If all you have is a religious claim, then that claim should only apply to your particular religion. If religion is to be the deciding factor in who gets married, then you must also allow religions that are okay with gay marriage to marry them. Your individual religion doesn't get to dictate what the country does. So either the State can marry gays, or religions that are okay with gay marriage can. Either way, there is absolutely no reason to ban gay marriage overall, other than to control the lives of others in ways that has absolutely no affect on you.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Gun Violence Means We Need MORE Guns??

Normally I try to give a shout out or some sort of credit during a blog post. I enjoy giving back to those that clue me in on the latest on the internet. This time is different; anyone I shout-out here is going to be the target of the criticism of this post.

In the wake of the tragic shooting of dozens of people during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado, where at least thirteen of those victims lost their life, that last thing I expected to see were arguments for less gun control. Yet on Facebook, I saw a slew of people begin arguing just that, and seemingly blaming liberal anti-gun policies for these tragic deaths. One took a situation in which someone with a concealed carry was able to stop the perpetrator in an armed robbery with no loss of innocent life thanks to his trusty concealed weapon and compared it to the recent Colorado slaughter where no such individual was present.

Let's ignore the fact that these are anecdotes for a moment and ask ourselves . . . so what? Seriously, if we are to follow the logic to its intended conclusion, what actions should we take? Perhaps we should allow for concealed carry in Colorado? If you are reading this, and are a gun advocate, ask yourself if you believe that would improve the situation in Colorado.

I ask this because Colorado already has a concealed carry law. In fact, the only state in all of the U.S. that doesn't allow for concealed carry is Illinois. If anything is clear about this situation, allowing for concealed carry is not an effective prevention measure against gun violence, unless we are to follow only the most favorable anecdotes. If you're really not convinced, I'd be happy to provide my own anecdotes, like the citizen who had a concealed carry that almost shot the retired Army Colonel who had wrestled the Tuscon shooter to the ground. That's right, in case you didn't know, the guy responsible for finally taking down the Tuscon shooter almost got a bullet to the head by someone trying to be a good Samaritan.

Now my example is also an anecdote, so don't think I'm arguing we should base all of our conclusions on that one example. I will point out that, in my research, I couldn't find any examples of "the lone shooter" scenario where the guns were purchased illegally. By "the lone shooter" I mean situations where one or more people go into a crowd and start shooting indiscriminately. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tuscon, and the recent Batman shootings were all done using legally purchased weapons. Certainly, other criminal activity done by professional criminals will likely be performed with illegal weapons, but that's because such criminals have criminal connections, they know where to go. There is no 7-11 convenience store equivalent for illegal gun sales. The type of people plotting such crimes generally lack the social skills to get such connections, which is why I think they all acquired legally purchased weapons.

*Note, check the bottom of this post. If anyone knows of any shooters that purchased black market weapons, leave a comment I will include them at the bottom.

One facebook post, reiterated by my friend good friend Adam McConnell (I shouted someone out after all), pointed to Switzerland as a good example for how we should handle gun laws. In Switzerland, there is compulsory one-year military service for all males once they reach 18 years old, and most if not all own a state-issued rifled that they get mandatory regularly training on. They have a very low level of gun violence in the country. The facebook post I learned this from was mostly accurate, enough that any criticism of its accuracy wouldn't change its overall message.

The problem with this actually resides in one of Adam's defense of low gun restrictions. ". . . given the established gun culture in this country and the extreme lack of broad education on the use of firearms; (mandatory) education on the use (not regulation of legal sale) of firearms should be the rallying cry."

The fact is, we already have a gun culture. Switzerland has had a healthy respect for guns institutionalized with very little tolerance for deviation from the laws respecting them. While most in Switzerland own guns at home, those not currently in service don't get to carry their guns around in public. Only those with a permit can do that, and only those in occupations that require weapons (such as security) can get a hold of that permit. You can go to the shooting range, but only directly, and you can only transport your gun and ammunition separately (i.e. no loaded guns while traveling). In a way, despite the massive amount of gun owners, Switzerland actually has more strict gun ownership laws than the U.S.

Frankly, if we were to institute a policy like the Swiss, I wouldn't be entirely against it. However given our gun culture, even with a significant push for education, it would be slow going to get to a point where the benefits actually outweighed the harms. We're talking decades.

All of this, is really getting away from the point, which is that concealed carry permits are not the answer and lowering the deadliness of the weapons allowed to be legally sold will certain do some good. Such suggestions have traditionally been dismissed out of hand by strawman arguments that equivocates any attempt to control guns as removing them entirely. To that end, I would like to ask gun advocates to consider the following provisions, and to frame the discussion as to whether they should be implemented wholesale, and not whether other more strict laws should be considered. This is what I propose:

• If you own a gun, keep it. That includes any guns that may later be illegal to purchase.
• If you want to carry your gun, open or concealed, get a permit and go right ahead.
• If you want ten guns, go ahead.
• If you want a hunting rifle, go ahead.
• If you want a nuclear weapon, no.
• Now here is the big one: Future legal sale of automatic weapons and extended magazine clips to citizens will no longer be allowed on the Federal level. Perhaps a "shots per minute" rate could be established, where a gun cannot fire more than 120 shots per minute (discounting loading times) in order to be legal.

Now tell me, what is the harm in this? Why can't we do this? What is the harm? I'm not expecting a land invasion of a foreign power anytime soon. And no, it's not because we have so many guns, it's because America is freakin' huge and would be next to impossible for even China to occupy even if our military suddenly vanished. Just look at the problems we have in Afghanistan.

*So far, no one has cited any instances of illegally purchased guns used in a shooting-spree scenario.









Monday, July 16, 2012

The Sad State of Christian Apologetics

If you are a believer, let me tell you what I won't be doing here today. I will NOT be arguing that God does not exist. I will not be asking you to abandon your religion. Nothing I say here will is intended by me to lead you to the conclusion that God or gods or the supernatural cannot or does not exist. What I will be doing, is trying to show you the sorry state of affairs in apologetics, specifically Christian apologetics; that while your belief in Jesus or God may be perfectly reasonable given what you personally know and understand, that much of the faith placed in the apologetics community seems ill-placed.



On my friend Shaun's blog polyskeptic that he shares with a number of his partners, he went over some of the mishandling that members of the Christian community were guilty of in regards to the implications of the Higgs-Boson discovery (or incredibly 99.9%+ certainty of said discovery). Since the Higgs-Boson was labeled "The God Particle", many a believer have assumed that the particle is evidence for a god, or even the Christian "God". I agree with Shaun when he rhetorically asks "How can theists claim that a discovery that demystifies a major, previously unanswered, question about the physical world is bad for atheism?"



Despite how off-base such conclusions as the pro-theism God Particle claims are, that's not what I want to talk about. Moreso, it is about the implications of the arguments made in this blog Shaun cited as making that claim.



I can forgive a certain amount of ignorance. I think we all should be aware that many people have reached false beliefs based off of faulty information, and that I am certainly included in that category, and it is likely you are as well. Bad conclusions based off of information (good or bad) however, is a far worse crime, and we find the author guilty of this as well.



Consider the following statements made on the blog in question:



"If you're a Christian, then you're enjoying the Higgs boson news because it only confirms what you've already personally experienced: There is a God and you can have a relationship with Him by believing in Jesus Christ."



Let us assume, for the moment, that the Higgs-Boson particle does indeed point to some sort of supernatural entity. Even if we take that clearly inaccurate statement as fact, why in the world would we assume that it is confirmation of not only Jesus's existence and place as the one and only God, but that belief in him will certainly create and encourage a relationship with him?  While the author prefaces his statement with bible verses that claim Jesus is that which holds the universe together, the discovery of just such a thing in no way implies that it is Jesus that is behind it. Again, even if we assume it is a supernatural force, nothing about the force would imply that it had anything to do with Christianity.  There would have to be SOMETHING that causes things to work the way they do, so what the author does here is set it up so that ANY discovery no matter what it is would confirm Christianity in his eyes.



Ay, there's the rub. When any and ever possible state of affairs will lead you to one single conclusion, when there is absolutely nothing that could happen which would disconfirm your belief, then every justification you have must be called into question. If I argued that a specific sports team was the best, and cited both great victories and crushing defeats as evidence for this belief, would you not be skeptical of my ability to reason? If I said "Wow, did you see how they tied in every single statistic? They really showed they are far superior to their competition!", would you not question whether I knew what I was talking about? I'd say so, and towards that end, I think a similar question should be levied against such apologists of whom see everything as a confirmation of their God, such as the author of this blog.



You may think I am being too harsh, after all I am only citing a single instance. I understand that sentiment, and in a way you are correct. Not every person who argues for the existence of God is like that. Each individual should be measured by their own actions, there is no question in that. This author is, however, far from the only example we can find of such single-minded reasoning. Over and over again, when I read Christian blogs that discuss some new type of evidence, the only thing they can see is how it so obviously confirms their beliefs on the most detailed level, and frankly I find this is indicative of the sad state of affairs in Christian apologetics. The once proud institution that produced the vast majority of western philosophy throughout the middle ages now more closely resembles the political spin we see on the 24 hour networks, where even the greatest defeat or embarrassment is pretended to mean nothing short of total victory for your team.



If there truly is a good amount of reason and evidence for your belief system, you do not need to use such tactics, you can afford to say something doesn't entirely help your case. Nobody sees a tree fall down in a storm and cite that as showing how bad deforestation is.



I submit this to you as a cautionary tale against putting blind faith in people merely because they profess similar beliefs to yours and actively defend them.  Maybe there is a God, and maybe that God is named Jesus Christ, but even if that is true, it doesn't mean that every argument in favor of Jesus is a good one, and promoting bad ones hurts the entire cause, and causes those opposed to the idea to introduce their head to the wall several times over.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

How the Native Americans Disprove Christianity

Since this is my first post, it seems right that the subject matter have something to do with a beginning of sorts. Luckily for me, I had just such a topic in mind.

It was almost four years ago that I uploaded my first Youtube video, a three part series (yes, three parts. Remember when Youtube had that pesky 10 minute time limit?) made from my initial writings on religion that I had dubbed "Philosophical Proofs: Paradox of Religion". I covered many topics, but there was one point that I made that I felt was pretty much irrefutable, a bit of our human history that all should look at and say "this makes no sense under Christianity". According to the Bible, God and/or Jesus wants people to know Christianity, wants people to be aware of the supposed truth that the religion preaches.  Reality would seem to contradict this sentiment.

Consider the fact that for well over an entire millennium, Christianity (along with many other religions) was only found in the eastern hemisphere of our planet. For hundreds of generations, those that lived in North and South America had zero contact with Christianity. They had never heard of Jesus, Abraham, or Moses. Never read Genesis, Psalms, or the Gospels. They had relationships with "spirits", but mostly no actual deity like the classical monotheistic or pagan traditions. Basically they were as far away from Christianity as one could expect.

How can anyone reconcile this fact with 1 Timothy 2:3-4: "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."

If the Christian god exists, it should not be the case that half the world would remain ignorant of his word for so long. He supposedly downloaded the gospels into Paul's brain, and not only did he avoid doing that in the Western hemisphere, but if the Christian god exists he let his loyal followers remain ignorant of the millions of people living on the other side of the world, let them believe that there was an edge they would fall off from if they tried to cross it. Humans had the nautical technology to cross the Atlantic long before Columbus, a mere whisper in someone's ear could have brought the gospels centuries earlier.

I bring this to you now because it was one of the first public points I made against religion, and it is the one that I have received the least amount of response from in these past four years. The best anyone has been able to do is to appeal to a sort of Universalism or in some way argue "God is fair, they aren't going to hell since they didn't know any better". This may help their case, but it misses the main point. It isn't just about who does and does not go to hell, even if there is no such thing as hell, it is about whether we see any evidence of God informing people outside of the reach of Christian missionaries of his one true religion. To my knowledge, we have no instances of this happening.

To further illustrate my point, an analogy: A man with infinite resources and connections writes a book and declares "I want every person in the world to read this book!" but he only prints it in South Sudan and then only in Latin. Would you believe that individual is intelligent, rational, and sincere about his declaration? Unless you can answer "yes" to that question, then you cannot believe that God wants all humans to know his word.