Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Cheer

Hey everyone! I hope you're enjoying the holiday season. We'll pick up the posts next year, but for now I just wanted to pass this along from mattbors.com.



Merry Christmas, and Fuck the Pope!

-STA

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Best Explanation Never

I recently received the following email. My comments to it are in italics.

-----------------------
BEST EXPLANATION EVER!

This is one of the best explanations of why God allows pain and suffering that I have seen:
Oh? Well you'd first need to prove that God exists in the first place, but I'll let that slide for now. I've been waiting for a "good" explanation.

A man went to a barbershop to have his hair cut and his beard trimmed. As the barber began to work, they began to have a good conversation. They talked about so many things and various subjects. When they eventually touched on the subject of God, the barber said:

'I don't believe that God exists.'

'Why do you say that?' asked the customer.

'Well, you just have to go out in the street to realize that God doesn't exist. Tell me, if God exists, would there be so many sick people? Would there be abandoned children? If God existed, there would be neither suffering nor pain. I can't imagine a loving God who would allow all of these things.'
For those of you who are not familiar with it, read the PROBLEM OF EVIL

The customer thought for a moment, but didn't respond because he didn't want to start an argument. The barber finished his job and the customer left the shop. Just after he left the barbershop, he saw a man in the street with long, stringy, dirty hair and an untrimmed beard. He looked dirty and unkempt.

The customer turned back and entered the barber shop again and he said to the barber: 'You know what? Barbers do not exist.'

'How can you say that?' asked the surprised barber. 'I am here, and I am a barber. And I just worked on you!'

'No!' the customer exclaimed. 'Barbers don't exist because if they did, there would be no people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards, like that man outside.'
I'm guessing that if barbers did exist, you wouldn't be able to find a pair of scissors?

'Ah, but barbers DO exist! That's what happens when people do not come to me.'

'Exactly!' affirmed the customer. 'That's the point! God, too, DOES exist! That's what happens when people do not go to Him and don't look to Him for help. That's why there's so much pain and suffering in the world.'

That's your "best explanation"?? Permit me to jump in for the barber here. So I'm to believe that there exists a supremely powerful, all-loving magical force that would gladly stop all the pain and suffering in the world, if only we'd first acknowledge its existence? Um...isn't that *conditional love*?

If this being is so powerful and all-mighty, why does he give a flying fuck what his supposed "creation" thinks about him? Why would it matter, if this "God" really loves us and wants to help us? That's like watching someone drown and saying, "if you only acknowledge my presence, then I'd save you. I don't want you to drown...I love you...but you don't believe in me, so I can't help you."

If such a being exists, it is morally bankrupt, as are the people who subscribe to such teachings.


If you think God exists, send this to other people--If you think God does not exist, delete it!
I'll do better than just delete it. I'll tell anyone who thinks this trash represents "good, wholesome moral values" -- or that it represents "proof" of anything -- that they need to stop and think.

-----------------------

Hey, Where Did All The Barbers Go?
Let me get this straight...you're "proving" that the Judeo-Christian "God" Yahweh exists (that is the right "God" we're talking about here, isn't it? It's not Zeus or Anu, right?), with all the magical qualities generally attributed to him, by hinging it on a lack of belief it said being? So that means if we just believe, then we'll believe?

If you're shaking your head, I'm not sure you realize this one important thing: what you believe cannot change what is and what isn't real. You can believe all you want that there's a billion dollars in your bank account, but your beliefs cannot affect reality. (Of course I'm not saying that you shouldn't hope to one day be a billionaire, and that you shouldn't strive to become one. I'm saying that because you believe you have the money right now doesn't make it magically so. But this is getting a little off topic.)


Belief Beats God
I don't think such a god exists (and not just because of the Problem of Evil). If there is a "higher power", it 1) doesn't know about the pain, evil, and suffering -- in which case it isn't omniscient; 2) knows about the pain, but can't stop it -- in which case it isn't omnipotent; or 3) it knows about the pain and has the power to stop it, but chooses not to -- in which case it is not omnibenevolent. Again, read about the Problem of Evil if you can't quite understand where the barber is coming from.


The fact is, it cannot be proven that a "higher power" with any of these qualities exists. This spam's so-called "explanation" hasn't provided a single SHRED of evidence to support its absurd claims. Maybe you're worshiping the wrong god. Maybe we should go to Odin or Shamash for help. Not only that, but it promotes the callous and harmful belief that the world is fucked up because it's your fault. Try this: next time you see a two-year old, give it a razor blade. Then wait until it comes to you bleeding and crying for help before you do anything. Like I said, even if such a god exists, I wouldn't want to worship its sick, misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent, ego-stroking self

The email above basically amounts to: You know why there's bad stuff in the world? Because everybody doesn't believe in my God. So, God exists!

By that logic alone, believers should NEVER experience pain or suffering.


The Devil Made Me Do It!
A "god" is not the reason there's pain and suffering in the world. There are several reasons, perhaps several for every type of pain or every cause of suffering (viruses, hatred, greed, ignorance). It is sad though, to think that a large portion of pain and suffering since earliest recorded history has been the divisive concept of a God.

If we want to help rid the world of suffering, we should start doing more to be good to each other and help one another--not because some "god" said so, but because we don't want others to suffer. I wonder if the unkempt man on the street was homeless. Did the customer offer him something to eat, or help him find a shelter? If so, did he do it because of an idea of god, or did he do it for goodness sake?


Think about that as we approach the Winter Solstice.

(PS: thanks for the quote, Professor!)

-STA

Friday, November 30, 2007

Islam: The Loving, Peaceful Religion

My Teddy Bear's Name is Bush

In yet another outstanding example of militant Islamic extremism, a British teacher working at the at the Unity School in Khartoum, Sudan has been arrested and sentenced to 15 days in jail, then deportation.

Gillian Gibbons, the 54-year-old teacher from Liverpool, England, was spared the 40 lashes normally accompanying the crime she is charged with.

"This an arrogant woman who came to our country, cashing her salary in dollars, teaching our children hatred of our Prophet Muhammad," Abdul-Jalil Nazeer al-Karouri told worshipers at a Friday sermon.

So what was Gibbons' "crime"? Well, during one of her classes, she allowed her 7-year-old students to take a vote on what to name their stuffed teddy bear. Being the most popular male name in the Muslim world, the class chose 'Muhammad'. Some of the kid's parents learned about it, and they promptly arrested the teacher.

"Imprisoning this lady does not satisfy the thirst of Muslims in Sudan," al-Karouri said.

That's right, these delusional extremists rallied in Martyrs Square outside the presidential palace. Protesters waved sticks, knives, axes and swords, and chanted "Kill her, kill her by firing squad!" and "No tolerance, execution!"


Pray and Pass the Ammunition

I almost don't have the strength to rant about this. Here in America, we have the freedom to name our teddy bears 'Muhammad' or 'Shiva' or 'Jesus Christ' if we want to. But in their own little world, these Sudanese Muslims are "thirsting" for the blood of a 54-year-old white woman because her class's toy bear has the same name as their great prophet. Even in Britain, the reaction is that of shock and disbelief from both non-Muslims and Muslims. Those of us in the "free world" understand that this kind of reaction is insane. Gibbons shouldn't have even been arrested, let alone charged for any "crime".

Really, what's the deal? I want someone to explain it to me. Who does it insult? Are the Great Prophet's feelings hurt? Gibbons said that she wasn't trying to insult Islam, and the kids chose the name anyway. But even if she was trying to insult, is his wondrous might incapable of surviving reticule?

Is it worth killing for?

Any religion, world view, or lifestyle that gives you a "thirst" for the blood of another human being IS NOT LOVING, TOLERANT, OR UNDERSTANDING. Stop defending Islam. Read. Learn. Fucking THINK.


Being Mark Twain's birthday today, here's an excerpt from his book, "The War Prayer":

"O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it..."

-STA

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Help Us Rain Man

A man clenches his hands together and squeezes his eyes shut, deep in thought. Another lifts his hands toward the sky and weeps, while a woman kneels and gently rocks.

"You visit the earth and you water it," says a man. "The River of God is full!" he declares.

This might sound like something out of weird occult ritual or maybe an early pagan ceremony, but in fact it happened in the year 2007. Today, Georgia's top officials -- that's right, GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS -- officially prayed for rain on the steps of the Capitol building to end the devastating drought that's lasted over a year.

And if you need water, Yahweh knows fuckin' water.


Wash Us In Your Watery Wetness
Georgia Governor, Sonny Perdue, teamed up with lawmakers, ministers and supporters to pray for rain at the State Capitol. THE STATE CAPITOL!!! There's a church, mosque, synagogue, or tabernacle on just about every corner of Georgia, and these are the places where religious rituals and practices should be held.

Since this drought's been around for a year or more, I'm sure God's inbox has several prayers with "Need Rain Now" as the subject. Are those not working? Apparently not. Rocky Twyman, the guy who organized a concert two weeks ago at an Atlanta church (where shit like this NEEDS to be) said: “We need a different approach. We need to call on God, because what we’re doing isn’t working.”

So, exactly how long is it supposed to take for God to make it rain? How long will rain for? And if it rains, you've proven what...that it rains sometimes? Can you make Him do it again???

Don't for get that back in July the Governor of Alabama declared a full week to “Days of Prayer for Rain”. And back in 1986, Georgina's prayed for rain and God came through!

Look, it rains sometimes, and sometimes it doesn't. But it isn't some magical Sky Daddy that's "makin' it wet", it's natural processes -- some of which we understand and some of which we don't yet -- that control our weather patters. Things like the Jet Stream, atmospheric radiation, snow, tornadoes, even lightening are things that we've discovered scientifically. Remember way back when people thought that lightening was thrown down by Zeus because he was pissed? Do the hicks in Georgia or Alabama still think that?

I'm not trying to be divisive or insulting here. But just wanting rain or anything else isn't going to make it happen. There's some things you can do to conserve water (take shorter showers, turn off the tap while you brush your teeth, etc.) but there isn't a lot you can do to make it rain.

And that's the issue here. The people of Georgia are at a loss. They got nothing left, what could it hurt?


Hey, Get Away From My Wall!
Well, I've covered this before not three posts ago, but our government was founded on secularism. State politics are not to get involved with Church matters. Yes, Governor Perdue declared this to be a "non-denominational" event, though I'm not sure exactly how many Muslims, Hindus, or Jains attended. It was mostly Southern Baptist with a couple of Protestants thrown in for extra spiritual spice.

This is a violation of the U.S. Constitution, the Georgia State Constitution, and a public mockery of the government. Was public money used to fund this, or any religious event?

And when it doesn't rain, will you people stop this bullshit?

-STA

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Thanks for the Grub

Greetings. You may have noticed that things have slowed down around here. I missed last week's Fallacy Friday, and I believe we'll skip the coming one as well. No, I'm not going away...the theists haven't won yet! Things have gotten a little off-balance around home and work, but I will try to post at least every week or so. As I alluded to in my first post, I can't always be certain when I'll get the time to rant about the idiocies and atrocities of religion, but I'll do my best.

Tis the season for the "holy-days" (Halloween having past, Thanksgiving and Christmas coming soon), and while I'll be taking more time off for friends and family, I will attempt to provide appropriate posts on these and other festivities as the need arises. If I can't, be sure to check my friends on the blogroll to the right. I'm sure they'll have some great things for the holiday season.


With all that out of the way, let's get down to business. As usual, something in my personal life will spur the need to rant, and so is the case for this post. Time to bitch about the efficacy of prayer!

Better authors (and scientific researchers) than I have refuted the idea, process, and need for prayer, and I'm almost not sure how to best go about it. But this isn't a book or a news article; it's a weblog about what it's like being the one fish in the pond who does not believe as the other fish do. So I won't spend time rehashing their books; I'll focus this blurb on family prayer, particularly that which arises around holiday gatherings and the saying of "grace".


Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Cornbread
If you've ever gone over to a relative's house and gotten into a situation where you had to hold hands in a circle while someone said a prayer, what did you do? If you're a nonbeliever like me, you might agree to hold the hands of the people next to you, depending on how close you are with your kinfolks and the level of "outness" you may have with them. I'm often respectful of my kin and elders--not necessarily their ideas--but just placating for the time.

I don't close my eyes or pray. Instead, I usually find myself looking around at the other people in the circle, their eyes squeezed shut as they nod in agreement with the redundant utterings of the group leader. My thoughts are concentrated on the goings on at the present time; I could chose to think of whatever I want (focus on the food we're about to eat, think about the last episode of Heroes I watched, or ponder the thought processes of the ant scurrying across the floor). But I find myself being respectful in thought as well. That doesn't mean I think about how wonderful Jesus is for letting us buy a ham, or praise the Great Spirit of the pig that gave up its life so that we may eat of it.

No, I think about the people in the circle. I study their actions, the language of their body, and the words they use as they talk to themselves. It's more of a people-watching exercise; I get to study humans in the act of worship. Of course I'll often think of something amusing, and I'll have to try to keep from laughing out loud. Sometimes it's because of what the leader says, sometimes it's the blatant fallacy they use, or the general idea of it. I don't say 'Amen' after the sweaty cousin finally lets go of my left hand, and I don't feel a sense of pride of being part of a family that prays together.

So why do I even do it? Why don't I just speak up and call out the ridiculousness of the whole thing, or just refuse to participate in the first place? My answer can only be: family. I'm at someone else's house, at a private gathering that I was invited to, someone whom I care about to some degree or another, someone who is taking their time to spend with me, wish me well, and feed me. I'm not petty enough to get tied down by a recitation of grace before I eat the meal that this person spent money and hours on. It frankly doesn't mean that much to me. Sure it pains me to hear this person whom I love say such mind-numbingly stupid things, and if the situation warrants it, I may make my thoughts known. But this person is doing what they believe to be something good and wholesome for the ones they love, and that includes me. It's almost like visiting a native tribe in a far-off jungle, and joining in their rituals of celebration. I also think of it as just a tradition. True, a bad one, but one that I grew up with, and most likely the relative I'm visiting did too. It's like when we carve pumpkins or color eggs. It doesn't "mean" anything, it's just a family thing. I don't think its doing anything supernatural, its the natural things I focus on.

Still, it would be nice not to have to put up with such bullshit. It'd make more time for family.

-STA

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fallacy Friday: False Compromise

This week's fallacy (more of a grey fallacy than a logical one) comes as a caveat to that of last week. In the attempt to avoid extremes and seek compromise, the "safe choice" can sometimes be viewed as the middle ground, as our previous fallacy suggests. But what if the middle ground isn't always the best choice? Welcome to the False Compromise.

A Little of Column A...
In simplest terms: X and Y are opposite alternatives. So there must exist some Z, a middle path, which is the best choice.

It should be clear to you that the problem with the false compromise fallacy is that it implies that both extremes are always wrong; that only the middle ground is correct. This is not always the case. Sometimes only X or Y is acceptable, with no "middle ground" even possible.

I want to live; my enemies want me dead. I suppose my being "half dead" would be the correct approach, because it is a compromise.

For obvious reasons this is wrong. You can't be "half dead" (although sometimes I think my little town is!). Here's another example where you can't choose both:

Fred wants to eat lunch; Joe doesn't want to eat lunch. Therefore we should eat half a lunch.


In these instances you just cannot compromise, but there are others in which you can. Yet you may find that your compromise is just plain wrong:

Jim wants to go north, Tim wants to go south. West or east must be the right choice.


They'll just have to pick one! Here's another:

Betty is deciding where to build her house. Her husband wants to build it on the east side of the river. Her son wants to build it on the west side of the river. The house should therefore be built on an island in the river.

That's really all there is to it, but we make these fallacies all the time, especially when arguing about religion and theism. I'll leave you with a final false compromise that those fence-sitters seem to favor...

Al Sharpton says there is a God. Christopher Hitchens says there isn't. The truth must lie somewhere in between.

Sorry folks, either there is or there isn't...ain't no middle ground there!



-STA

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

U.S. of J.

I suppose that even though it's been refuted again and again on the websites listed to the right (as well as countless others not listed), and by numerous authors in major best-selling books, articles, columns, videos, and blogs, I guess I'll have to make my own rant for those not yet aware of reality.

America was NOT FOUNDED ON CHRISTIANITY!!!!

Please don't take me yelling it as a reason to trust it. I'll prove my point with evidence.


Nature's God
I will not deny that a lot of our Founding Fathers were religious; many were Episcopalian, some Presbyterian, even a Catholic or two. In reality, there were over ten different "faiths" among the lot.

But most were Deists. A Deist believes in a God who created the universe and everything in it (including humans), and then just sort of "let it go", like a wind-up toy. The Deist God doesn't answer prayers, write holy books, or care about your sex life. Some modern Deists take the explanation of evolution by natural selection as the way that this "First Cause" God set things up. I think Deism a cop-out answer, because there's no evidence for the claims of God, but it's one of the steps most people take when reconverting from a religion where God cares what you think.

But we're not talking about Deism today, and I'm not suggesting that America's founders were idiots or deconverters. I wanted to make it clear that most of these men thought of God in the Einsteinian sense of "Nature's God"; an idea synonymous with the way nature works. This obviously has nothing do with anyone being nailed to a cross because the first humans ate off-limits apples. It has nothing to do with any religion.


The 10 Command-stutions
Of course, the Christians never cease with there claims that America is a Christian nation, and anyone who doesn't agree should just leave. They also claim that the Framers of the Constitution used God's 10 Commandments as a cornerstone to our nation's laws.

Really? Let's look at a couple real quick:

Commandment #1 (about not worshiping anyone 'cept Jesus's Daddy) is contrary to our right to freedom of religion and against the establishment of State-sponsored religion. As Dan Barker puts it in his book "Losing Faith in Faith": This is better suited to establishing the nation of Israel, not the USA.

Commandment #2 is contrary to freedom of speech, and the Catholics don't seem to mind it at all!

Commandment #3 is also against free speech, and dissenting opinion is what built this country.

I'll cover the rest in an upcoming post more suited to attacking these commandments, but needless to say these are not good morals, wise guidelines, or American law.


The Words of our Forefathers
The Fathers of our country understood what it was like being ruled under a theocratic dictatorship. They knew how it felt to have absolutely zero church-state separation, and having to support the religion of the King. They wanted to be free to worship as they saw fit and to think and debate concepts of God and other taboo conceptions. They knew that in order to have freedom of religion, there must also be freedom FROM religion. These brave men deliberately set up a secular Constitution--which makes no mention of a God, and certainly no Christ.

Sure, Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that men are endowed with inalienable rights "by their Creator", but this document did not establish US law. The Constitution does.

And the Puritans wanted a Christian Nation, but they preceded the founding of the nation by more than a century.

"In God We Trust" was established as the national motto in 1956, the phrase "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 (62 years after Francis Bellamy wrote it) -- all as a reaction to "godless communism" during the Cold War McCarthyism era.

Let me allow our Forefathers speak for themselves:

"What has been Christianity's fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution." -James Madison

"This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it." -John Adams

"There is nothing which can better deserve our patronage than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness." -George Washington

"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion..." -John Adams, Treaty of Tripoli, Article 11


One Nation, Indivisible
Freedom of religion helps churches -- you're free to go into any church anywhere and believe whatever the hell you want (or don't want). Think of what life would be like if the Constitution said that we must support Jainism.

If you honestly have a "love it or leave it" mentality toward people of opposing faiths, I'd implore you to look into the empathic teaching of your own religion. Sure, the Founding Fathers weren't 100% right or "good" in everything they did (Washington, Jefferson, and others, owned slaves). But that doesn't mean that we have to accept things the way they are. Why not "make it better"? That's what those men (and indeed, women) of the past fought and died for. For our freedom to believe, to question, to think, and to change.

And just because the majority of Americans are Christian doesn't make it right to call the United States of America a "Christian Nation". The majority of Americans are also white. Does that make America a "white nation"?


-STA

Monday, October 22, 2007

God Is My Hairstylist

I was sitting around the other day and one of my relatives was commenting on how curly her young child's hair was. "Where did you get such pretty curly hair?" asked the relative. "Say, 'God gave it to me'," instructed the mother.

I of course held my tongue to keep the peace, but it was another slap in the face to science that made me cringe. I took issue with the remark on two levels.


Sins of the Father
First off, I mean really, has it not become common knowledge by now that we get our physical make-up from our genes?

Practically speaking, most people say things like, "Oh look, he has his father's nose," and "I got this round ass from my grandma!". Yet it is also common to hear the occasional "God did it", especially when the question is deemed too hard.

The major issue I had with her remark is rooted in the grounds of teaching a child--one too young to even comprehend the answer--that they should respond to questions like that with an appeal to something called "God".

On page 340 of his best-selling book 'The God Delusion' professor Richard Dawkins talks about this activity as a form of child abuse:

Our society, including the non-religious sector, has accepted the preposterous idea that it is normal and right to indoctrinate tiny children in the religion of their parents, and to slap religious labels on them - 'Catholic child', 'Protestant child', 'Jewish child', 'Muslim child', etc. - although no other comparable labels: no conservative children, no liberal children, no Republican children, no Democrat children.
...Let children learn about different faiths, let them notice their incompatibility, and let them draw their own conclusions about the consequences of that incompatibility. As for whether any are 'valid', let them make up their own minds when they are old enough to do so.



A Gapping Problem
Now, I realize that not everybody understands how genes work, especially not this child. But by answering the question of 'How come your hair is curly?' with 'God' promotes a fallacy called the God of the Gaps (no, not the chain of stores).

For millennia, anything we didn't know we'd give credit to a god of some kind. What causes the rain? Why do we get sick? Where did the plants and the animals come from? Who created the Big Bang? These questions can all be answered with: God did it.

Even when we discover that rain isn't caused by any deity, but by the condensation of evaporated water, there are still more gaps in which people stuff god into: Where did the water come from? Who set up the rules to determine how heavy the water needs to be before it falls? Who made gravity?

God is just inserted into the gap as a non-answer that stops all questions from being asked. Once you silence yourself with, "Well I don't know, I guess God did it," you stop right there. You don't inquire any more about it. You stop caring about what the real answer is.

Why do some people feel that it isn't okay to answer something you don't know with 'I don't know'? The insufficient explanation of 'God' is a cop-out answer, because you must explain how and what exactly this 'God' is.

Like I said before, I know that not everyone understands or can understand the nature of the universe and everything it in. As we learn more an more about how things work--through the use of science--we close up more and more gaps for a god to hide in. One day, perhaps god will have no place left.

"From momma," would have been a more proper answer.

-STA

Friday, October 19, 2007

Fallacy Friday: False Dichotomy

Love and Marriage
Today's fallacy is also known as the 'Black-or-White Fallacy', the 'Excluded Middle', or the 'False Dilemma'. The False Dichotomy is a fallacy of distraction, because it is used to limit the number of options to two, when in reality there are many. The phrases "America: love it or leave it" and "Jesus says you're either with him or against him" are examples of this fallacious reasoning.

Of course, in cases where the two options are in reality the only two options, then this line of reasoning is not fallacious. But when you have two extremes and you're saying that it's got to be one or the other--that there's no middle ground--you need to check your logic.

Suppose you want to buy an iPod and your mom (or wife, depending on who controls your finances ::wink::: ::wink::) says:

"Either you decide that you can afford an iPod with the money you have now, or you decide you are going to do without music for a while."

This seems like sound logic at first glance. But give it a moments thought and you realize that those are not your only two options--not your only two ways of listening to music. You can stream it off the internet, you could listen to your CD player, you could go to a concert, or play your piano. The argument against you offered you two choices, yet while they are legitimate, are not your only two choices.


All That Glitters
Creationists love to use a form of this ruse in the 'fallacy of negation'. Here, they attempt to discredit one side of an argument (say, evolution) in the hopes that the opposition must accept the other side of the argument (say, creationism). This pet ploy is weak because a theory needs to be supported via evidence in favor of it, not via evidence against its alternatives. Any proposition -- not just creationism -- must stand on its own two feet. Even if there is no support for the opposition to a claim, this is NOT justification for the claim itself. Creationism, or theism for that matter, is not the victor "by default". There is no "by default"; you must PROVE your claim.

I can feel this growing into a topic for a different post, so I'll calm down for now. The lesson for today is to be sure and check for a bogus dilemma when forming your argument's statements. Intermediate possibilities often do exist within the spectrum of two extremes.


-STA

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Unholy Word: Alcoholism Leads to Slavery

After finding another religious tract on a park bench where I was dining, I decided it was time to do another rant on the Unholy Word of God. This time we'll look at Noah, the guy with all the cute little animals.


Righteous Insobriety
Chapter nine of the bible's first book describes the events of one of that book's (supposedly) most righteous humans. This man called Noah was such an honorable man that God saw fit to save him and his family from his holy extermination. Some time after that, when the earth was replenished and the smell of billions of bloated carcasses had subsided, Noah gets drunk and, as a lot of people tend to do in that state, passes out naked. His son Canaan comes into his father's tent and sees him and then runs outside to tell his brothers, "Haha, dad's in there shit-faced and naked!"

A couple of Canaan's brothers walk into the tent backwards so they can't see Noah's nakedness, and cover him up with a sheet out of respect. At this point, like most bible stories, you should just quit reading if you want to get a good moral message out of it. Unfortunately, like most bible stories, it gets insanely worse.


Like a Good Father Should
When Noah wakes up from his drunken stupor, he finds himself lying there naked under a sheet and thinks, "Hmm...those kids must have come in here and covered me. That means they saw my hoo-hoo!"

Noah goes outside and gathers his sons, and finds out that Canaan saw him naked but the other two who covered him up did not. Because he was such an honorable and righteous man of God, he does the only rational and noble thing a good father could in that situation: he curses his son Canaan and declares that Canaan and all of his descendants will be slaves to his brothers and all of their descendants. And Noah, being so upright in the eyes of the Lord, lived to be 950 years old.

Christians, I'm not making this shit up! It's in your holy book. Read Genesis 9 and tell me if you think Noah did the right thing. Fucking sick book.

More to come soon. And stop leaving your religious tracts in places where I'm trying to eat!

-STA

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Day In The Life: God Bless You

Yesterday was a horrible day. Vehicle problems, money problems, phone problems...a really bad day. After several trips to the nearby Wal-Mart, I was about to lose my mind.

As I was leaving the store (around trip number three) I was confronted by an elderly woman in the parking lot. She was very short, in her 60's I guessed, and fairly well dressed -- nothing old and ragged, anyway. "Excuse me, sir," she said as I opened my door. "Could you spare a dollar?" She didn't look homeless or overtly poor. She even had a Wal-Mart sack with a few things in it already; I thought a couple of cans of tuna. She didn't look lost or helpless, mental or an experienced beggar. And she didn't smell of cabbage.


Those Three Little Words
"A dollar?" I asked. "What'cha need a dollar for?"

"Groceries," she said, folding her hands. I reached for my wallet.

"Don't smoke, don't drink." I got nothing against either one of those, but I understood that she was telling me that she wasn't going to spend it on booze.

Now as I've said, I was having a horrible day; but this was also payday, and after some troubles to get it, I did have a pocket full of cash. I gave the little old lady one more look over.

"Here," I said. "Take two."

"God bless you!" she said with a smile. Did I jump all over her and tell her that God isn't real? Did I yell at her for assuming that I was only a Good Samaritan following Jesus's teachings in Matthew 5:41, or that I was hoping to gather up some good karma? Did I ask her, "Which God? Zeus? Brahman? Amun? Ngai? Mot? I wouldn't want Mot blessing me..."


An Atheist Volunteer
No, I didn't say that and I wouldn't have -- ever. Even if this horrible day I was having had been thrice as worse. This stranger, this elderly person, asked for my help and was thanking me the best way she knew how. If I were visiting some distant tribe in the jungle somewhere, and they had asked their god to bless me, I would feel honored. I may not agree that it meant anything supernaturally, but it was a gesture of thanks and I took it as such. I just smiled and got into the car.

So why did I help this little old lady? Did I do it for Atheism? Of course not. I didn't do it "in the name of not believing in deities". I did it because I could. I saw a fellow human in need, and I could help that need. Something that all of us should do, not because some God says so, not to get something great in return, not even to further a cause or make a point; do it just because you can. And you know what? It made my day a little bit brighter.


-STA

Friday, October 12, 2007

Fallacy Friday: Post Hoc

Another Friday, another fallacy. This time we examine the confusing of correlation and causation, more formally named post hoc ergo propter hoc (latin for "after this, therefore because of this").

Gambler's Fallacy
The logical fallacy is committed when we fall into laziness and leap to conclusions about what caused something to happen. Have you ever blown on a pair of dice before you tossed them, and they come up with exactly what you wanted? If you were to conclude that your breath of "luck" made you roll sevens, then you would be guilty of Post Hoc reasoning.

And we've all done this at one time or another. You got up on the wrong side of the bed, and spilled your drink at lunchtime. Or you take an Advil and three hours later your headache goes away. Or you catch a cold and stay home from work, and two weeks later you're better. A lot of us jump to conclusions all the time, mostly because it's easier than checking all possibilities of causation.

Imagine an ancient tribe frantically ripping out the hearts of their human sacrifices to appease the gods and stop the phenomenon we now call a solar eclipse. The end of the eclipse would prove to them the efficacy of their actions, and year after year, they'd be cutting out hearts. You should be able to see here where the connection can be made with superstitious thinking, namely in the form prayer.


Close Your Eyes and Make A Wish
Suppose you ask your deity for a new car, and a month later you get a raise at work, allowing you to purchase one. Rather than ponder other factors, such as your job performance or your company's motives, you make the leap and confuse correlation with causation: the prayer caused the car. Or you lose your keys, so you ask Baby Jesus to help you. Then you go looking for your keys, and find them under the couch. Prayer must have worked, right?

Simply following sequentially from an event isn't enough to adequately say that it was the direct cause of that event. Shit happens. Consequences happen. Lucky charms and little stupid personal rituals all follow from this fallacy. It's the reason for any religious ritual or rite.

You do a funny little dance and it starts to rain. You're amazed so the next day you do it again, but it doesn't rain. What happened? Were you not doing it right? You alter your dance a bit, maybe bowing to the sky every other step. It worked! Now, do that any time you want it to rain. What's that? Didn't work again? Try something else. Maybe just wait till April, then try again.

Or you get a rather large wart on your finger. Based on a story your great grandmother tells you, you cut a potato in half, rub it on the wart and then bury it under the light of a full moon. Over the next month your wart shrinks and eventually vanishes. How right your elders were about the cure!

You get the point on coincidental correlation by now, I'm sure. We've come a long way from the time of the ancient tribes; we know better. Sequences don't establish a probability of causality any more than correlations do. If you want to know the real cause for something, do a controlled, scientific study. And GET OFF YOUR KNEES!

-STA

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Arguing From The Bubble

Recently, I was in a pseudo-debate with a Christian on an internet forum. After enduring several claims of "fact", appeals to emotion, and general lack of cohesive reasoning from said Christian, I reached the conclusion that he was either A) too ignorant--and too blissfully therein--to ever understand his fallacies, or B) he was simply disregarding logic and formal rules of argument for the, pardon the pun, hell of it. I hope the latter wasn't the case, but even the former brings me grief to consider. I also hope I planted at least one seed of doubt in him. Whatever the case, it spurred me to make this post.


Does Not Compute
Einstein once said, "Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere." My Christian opponent had an expansive imagination. He didn't (or chose to discard) the basic principals of logical reasoning, and I'm sure other apologists don't either.

Logic, as the study of the rules of correct thinking have shown, is fundamentally necessary for an argument to hold any weight or be taken as true in any useful sense. For it to remain consistent, an argument must provide set of statements, one of which is the conclusion, and the rest as premises supporting the conclusion. In other words, a statement along with the evidence that supports it. If your conclusion isn't held up by evidence, you've committed some kind of logical fallacy; you've broken the laws of logic. I cover these fallacies on this blog every Friday, so I need not go into them now.

Above I stated that most apologists don't hold to these principals, though I'm sure they all disagree. One might wonder how this could be possible. How could any religion survive for centuries if they aren't logically sound? The answers to these questions cover an extremely large amount of topics that I am not qualified to discuss (biology, psychology, sociology, history, etc.), and besides that it isn't the purpose of my blog. A more simple and purposeful answer: they are.


Superman, Hands Down
Yeah. Some religions are logically sound, but (you really didn't think there wasn't a kicker, right?) they are only sound internally; on the inside. Here's what I mean: If, for the sake of this example, Jesus really was the son of God...

Sorry, I nearly passed out just thinking of the number of leaps of faith that would take to believe. Anyway:

-If Jesus really was the son of God, then walking on water would be simple. He could do it.

-If the Hindu gods really drink soma, the moon would naturally wane because the gods are drinking away some of its properties.

-The angel Moroni must have told Joe Smith the truth, because the angel was from God, and angels can't lie.

-If Adam and Eve were oblivious to their nakedness, then eating from the Tree would indeed open their eyes.

All of the above logically follow from the premise. The problem is of course that the premises must be rejected outright, or at least backed up by something that, in turn is backed up by another thing, which is in turn backed up by another, which is itself backed up by another--how ever many or few steps this takes--all with sound reasoning. This is the labyrinth of logic that theists get lost in.

The point here is that yes, you can argue just fine within the bubble of your religion. This same principle is the reason why Trekkies can argue to the point of exhaustion regarding the layout of the Enterprise, or the inner workings of hyperdrive or whatever the fuck it is. The same goes for arguing a case for Neville Longbottom fulfilling the prophesy instead of Harry Potter, or what would happen if Spiderman fought Superman. The point is: THE SHIT AIN'T REAL.


A Ship of Corn Flakes Upon a Milk Sea
I don't give a fuck if you can convince yourself and your 8-year old daughter that humanity is suffering, and the only way to not suffer for the rest of eternity is to find Jesus. You must still show how any of that shit makes logical sense IN THE FIRST PLACE!!!!

I'm sorry for this rather blunt way of putting things, but this stuff really gets in my craw. Of course it's fine to argue and speculate on who would win in a fight between superheroes, or even what would happen if Jesus came back. The problems arise when you take these fanciful arguments as truth without backing up their underlying proposition. Even worse when you start taking actions against others for not agreeing.

It is in the best interest of your children, your countrymen, and yourself to learn to think critically, and learn how to logically get from A to B.


-STA

Monday, October 8, 2007

STA Movie Review – Inherit the Wind

This weekend I was able to watch the award-winning film 'Inherit the Wind', a 1960's movie directed by Stanley Kramer, starring Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Dick York, and Gene Kelly.

It's an amazing movie; one surprising for it's time. It's based on a play of the same name, which in turn is based on the famous 1925 Scopes 'Monkey' Trial, in which John Scopes was convicted for teaching Darwin's evolution of man to his high school science class. This was against a Tennessee law that forbade the teaching of anything besides creationism. The film isn't a documentary of that trial, nor does it accurately portray the events therein (though it did use some lines from the actual transcript of the trial). Nevertheless, it does its job at pointing out the absurdity of the now stricken Tennessee law and similar laws which try to arrest freedom of thought.

A Beautiful Mind
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind." This embodies the, forgive the term, 'spirit' of the film. The school teacher on trial was accused of breaking a law that prohibited thought. All he was trying to do was to show his class that there are ways to question, and that you shouldn't be afraid to at least ask.

This is the fundamental difference between religion and science. Where religion is content at saying, "I don't know how this happened, it must have been God!", science looks for a way to explain the phenomenon. Positing "God" as an answer is no answer at all; you've answered a mystery with another mystery. What is God? What are its properties? How do we know?

Children of the Corn
Religion--all religion--uses its mind-control to hijack our thought processes, and try to legislate or otherwise prohibit, any dissenting thoughts. Jesus supposedly said that being angry with someone was equivalent to murdering them, and looking lustfully at another person was just the same as rape. Thoughts aren't crimes; actions are. While Jesus didn't mean that we should put people to death for simply thinking about murder, his views represent a naïve morality that builds a doctrine where those thought crimes should result in eternal punishment.

The bible, and indeed its god's religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) is systematically engineered in such a way as to hinder critical thinking and questioning. You are not to question, but to trust. You must practice faith--accepting something as true without questioning it. Questioning is what brought me out of the fog of Christianity and into the "light" of individualistic critical thought. And this is exactly what the character in the movie, and his real-life counterpart, aimed to do.

The film depicted several scenes of the hatred, bigotry, and ignorance associated with religious thought. In one such scene, an angry mob marches down the street, holding signs that read, "Down with Darwin", "Don't Monkey With Us", and "Atheists Go Back to Hell" while singing hymns. In another, a preacher damns his own daughter because she does not agree with his ideals. I realize that these are fictional scenes for a Hollywood movie, but they nevertheless portray the contempt and ignorance that religion fosters.

I, Robot
As
geneticist Jerry Coyne said, "If the history of science shows us anything, it is that we get nowhere by labeling our ignorance 'God' ". Again, it's a cop-out answer; same as saying, "I don't' know, I'm stumped. So I'll give up on trying to find the answer, and fill in the blank with: God did it. Hmm...I think I'll have cake now." If we allow our minds to be pounded into the mold of religious dogma, we will lose that which makes us truly human.


The tangent is purposefully, trust me. I didn't want this to be a retelling of the film, or how it varies from the 1925 trial. My bigger reason was to relay the impact of the basic premises that make the film so great: the undermining of biblical authority, the separation of church and state, and the freedom of thought.
Please rent or buy 'Inherit the Wind' (if you don't like old black-and-white movies, I hear the three TV remakes are about the same quality.)

As an aside for the creationists who happen to get this far, please visit talkorigins.org for
info on why evolution is a fact.

-STA

Friday, October 5, 2007

Fallacy Friday: Straw Man

Stop putting words into my mouth!
One way of making your own arguments stronger is to anticipate and respond in advance to the arguments that your opponent might make. That's all well and good, but when you misrepresent a position in order to make it appear weaker than it actually is, then refute this misrepresentation of the position, and conclude that the real position has been refuted, you've committed this friday's fallacy: a straw man fallacy.

It's memorable name vividly illustrates the nature of the misconception. Imagine a fight in which one of the combatants sets up a man of straw, attacks it, then proclaims victory. The straw man won't fight back and it's easy to destroy.

You need to focus your arguments against the actual argument your opponent makes, rather than refuting a caricatured or extreme version of it.

Here's an example of this fallacy of ambiguity during a debate on evolution:
1) "Evolution is false! How could a fish evolve into a hippopotamus!?"
2) "There would have to be billions of changes for that to occur, and
nobody has ever seen speciation anyway!"
3) "So it's silly...who has ever seen a fish evolve into a
hippopotamus? Nobody!"
4) "Therefore, evolution must be false!"

1) The straw man is built. Some straw man arguments end here, but let's go on.
2) The straw man is "knocked down" by any means necessary, pretending that the straw man is the real argument and not the ridiculous caricature created with deliberate ignorance and made-up facts.
3) The original position is connected with the straw man. The arguer is attempting to equate the outlandish claims of his straw man with the original position's claims. This makes the defeat of the straw man seem more victorious.
4) The opposition's argument is claimed to be refuted. Problem is, it missed the point by missing the facts.


Just the Facts, Ma'am
It's easy for the perpetrator to knock down their own straw man because they built it themselves; it's a tailor-made position for the person using it. They'll easily destroy its distorted facts soon after it is created.

This subtle tactic can actually fool those who aren't looking close enough. To counter a straw man argument, simply point out the facts. You can point out to them that they just knocked down their own caricature of the argument, not the facts that support the argument. A real counter-position to the above would cite the facts to support the position of evolution.

So instead of being lazy or ignorant, argue with facts and not cowardly accusations. Stick to the point!

In debate, a straw man can be used strategically without creating a fallacy. If the straw man is not too different from the arguments your opponent has actually made, a carefully constructed straw man might entice an unsuspecting opponent into defending a silly argument that he would not have tried to defend otherwise.

But most of the time, it just ends up being a fallacy -- especially in a small town.


-STA

Monday, October 1, 2007

Shrek Wasn't Real

Silly Fundies, Fairy Tales Are for Kids!
Whenever I hear a fundie clinging tightly to the fairy tales in the bible, I sit in amazement at the thought that I was in his shoes. I mean, God is all-powerful, right? That means that anything you could dream up would be an afterthought for God. Talking snakes, talking donkeys, long hair improving strength, floating iron, dust into lice, water into wine; kid's stuff for God.

Talking donkeys. Kid's stuff. See the connection?


Fish Sticks
A person capable of equating the validity of, say the biblical explanation of the rainbow, with known scientific fact is a person who is operating with a delusional mind. It's important to understand that this delusion is a necessary byproduct of their acceptance of God. If you accept that there exists an invisible being that can do anything, you must accept ANYTHING. In the apple harvest of life, nothing can be left out of your possibility bucket.

And I mean nothing. Even with our knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of Cetaceas, coupled with our knowledge of the anatomy and physiology (and psychology) of a human being, a devout believer would have no choice but to take the story of Jonah and the whale as literary history. Just ask one: "All things are possible through God."

This kind of mental instability is dangerous.


The God-Deluded
I understand that to some people, having a God-will-save-you-from-anything, fear-no-evil attitude seems benign, but it corrupts knowledge and undermines others' safety. What's to stop you from jumping off the nearest tall building, "knowing" that God will catch you? I'm not meaning to commit a slippery slope fallacy here; I just think that's entirely the reason why most people don't go nuts and jump off buildings everyday. But that's where the logic takes it.

1) God can do anything.
2) Think up something that you KNOW will occur (drop a glass=broken glass, remove your head=loss of life, etc.)
3) God can invalidate or reverse Step 2.

Of course you do go crazy and kill people, they're not 100% sure that God will comply with Step 3. At least, most religious people don't. But the point I'm making here is that religious beliefs such as this are harmful to yourself and/or others. Faith can move mountains, but you should see what it does to skyscrapers.


Let's Get Back to Reality
I love a good fairy tale just as much as the next guy. I just hope the next guy will understand that talking animals and incredible, unbelievable events are to be, well, unbelieved. At the very least, we should be looking for a moral behind the story.


-STA

Friday, September 28, 2007

Fallacy Friday: Non Sequitur

New Series
Since argument is a large part of atheism, and life in general, we'll talk about a few major logic errors in argumentation every Friday. Being an atheist, I tend to argue a lot. These basic rules of rhetoric and argumentation are not strictly exclusive to atheists; these fallacies should be avoided by anyone trying to establish a correct, watertight argument. So if you're a theist, make sure you don't break these (and other) rules when defending your position. Ditto to you non-theists as well.


Not Followin' Ya
To get things started, we should cover the most basic type of fallacy of which most all others are a subset of: the non sequitur. Latin, it literally means "it does not follow". A big thing when dealing with logical progressions (ie, step-by-step argument) is that the conclusion must follow from the premise. I know, great idea, right? You'd be amazed at how Here's a few examples:

"Millions of people have seen unexplained lights in the night sky. Life on other planets is quickly becoming certainty."

"If I am in Tokyo, then I am in Japan. I am not in Tokyo. Therefore, I'm not in Japan."

Arguing at length, "My religion is of great help to many people." Then, concluding: "My religion is undoubtably true!"

If you're going to construct a chain of causation (A leads to B leads to C, etc.) without justifying each step in the chain, you're guilty of committing a non sequitur. For each step in the chain that you fail to justify, it will be obvious by the end that the alleged chain of causation is tenuous and implausible.

If have a habit of doing this, or you'd like to learn more about non sequiturs, Google is your friend. There are tons of sites on the internet that will show you how to avoid such errors in the future. If you can learn to argue without such incorrect reasoning, we atheists will be more likely to hear your position and, who knows, maybe even concede it!

-STA

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Unholy Word: No Laughing Matter

Disclaimer
Many Christians believe that the bible is the true "Holy Word of God", 100% inspired (if not written directly) by the Almighty Himself. With this new series, we'll take a look at some of the stories in this profane book and see just how "holy" it is.

Warning: Some may find this and other fairy tales in the Christian Bible to be extremely disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.


Can't Take A Joke?
The first bible story we'll look at is one of the sickest things one can read. If you'd like to follow along, open your bible to chapter two of the second book of Kings. Here we find Elisha, successor of the supposed prophet Elijah (who had just ascended into heaven). Elisha is going up the road into town when a group of youths gather around and start to make fun of him, particularly his lack of head-hair. (The phrase they used is reported to be "Go up, thou bald head, go up".)

Keep in mind this is a book supposedly written by God to tell us ignorant humans how to be good and get tickets to Jesus Land.

So how does the pious Elisha handle this mocking? 2 Kings 2:24 says, "
And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them."

I'll let that sink in a bit...

This wise "man of God" can't take being made fun of -- BY CHILDREN -- and asks the Lord to do something about it. As if that's not bad enough, the all-loving Creator responds by sending two bears to rip the kids apart!

This is one of the most obscene and objectionable stories in the bible. Any moral and wise adult would realize that children can sometimes be asses; why can't an all-knowing, all-loving, God understand that?

Of course, some bible versions try to soften the blow by referring to the group of kids as a "gang", but come on, he wasn't dealing with the Yakuza or the Hell's Angels. And even if he was, does it merit them being ripped to shreds by a couple of Kodiaks?


Good Moral Values
Think about how the parents of these forty-two kids would have taken the news. "Well, I guess it was just God's Holy Will. Little Billy always was a trouble-maker; I told him he'd get it one of these days!" They'd have one hell of a time trying to pick out the bloody pieces of their child from the rest. Have you ever seen a mauling?

What does this passage say about an omniscient, omnibenevolent God? What does it say about morality, or dealing with bullies? What does this say about a perfect, timeless book given by an ultimate moral law-giver? Maybe I should get in good with the Lord so I can use this trick the next time those damn Girl Scouts want $38 for cookies.

I personally think it's just another insane story told by delusional men in the desert over two thousand years ago -- back when people were even more stupid than they are today -- just to scare blasphemers or tempt readers with the awesome power of God. Wouldn't wanna make a man'o'God angry if you heard that they could call forth wild beasts at will, would you?

That's enough for now; my stomach is turning just thinking about the horrible stories that are in this book (that parents give to their children!!!). Believe it or not it gets worse. We'll look at some more immoral and objectionable passages in the next installment of the "Unholy Word".

-STA

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Operation Spread Eagle Needs Your Help!

Christian Warfare in Action


UPDATE: As of September 18, the Rational Response Squad's account with YouTube.com has been reinstated. http://www.youtube.com/user/RationalResponse

Thank you for all your support, and please continue to fight the CSE and any others who wish to illegally silence critics of irrationality.

-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-


video

For the last couple of days, the Rational Response Squad has been engaged in a war with Kent Hovind's "Creation Science Evangelism Ministries" over copyright infringements on YouTube.com.

It seems that someone from CSE has been claiming copyright infringements on several videos on YouTube pertaining to Kent Hovind, fucktard. YouTube has therefore banned accounts of several people, including the RRS.

Thing is, these videos are NOT copyrighted by CSE or Hovind -- they wave their copyrights in the videos themselves, as well as on their website. These videos include a completely original animated satire of Hovind with original audio, and audio recordings of Hovind's court case, all public domain materials. This is a deliberate attack from someone within the CSE or supporters thereof, and it's got to stop. These claims are illegitimate and abuse the features of YouTube and the U.S. copyright law.

Please visit www.RationalResponders.com right now and learn more about this. Even if you're not an atheist; even if you don't believe in evolutionary fact; even if you have not had your account wrongfully banned; even if you don't plan to sue the asshats at CSE; please stay aware of the lengths these types of people will go to. We must protect our American laws and freedoms.

-STA

STA Movie Review – Devil’s Playground

Well, since I hold no belief in a deity, I obviously do nothing with my life except watch movies all day. (By the way, have you checked out Blockbuster Online? It’s great; they send me a movie, I watch it, take it to the store, trade it in for another move for free, take it home, watch it, they send me another movie....)

So I got some time to check out Devil’s Playground, a documentary about the Amish rite of Rumspringa. Again, since my life is meaningless without God, I decided to take the time to review some key points of the film for you here.

The documentary states that the Amish were born out of earlier Catholics who felt that the practice of baptizing babies and young children, and forcing the religion upon them before they are of an age when they’re able to make up their own mind, is wrong. And in this, I agree with them. It’s wrong to raise a child up as a "Christian child" or a "Muslim child" before it even knows what the hell it means. It’s wrong, and it’s child abuse.

Running Wild
In the Amish tradition, when a child turns 16, they are free to go out "into the world" and check it out. This Rumspringa custom (meaning literally "running around") frees the child from the church and its rules in the hopes that they’ll be making the decision to join the church out of true desire with an informed decision. These kids – who were raised without electricity, cars, TV, internet, t-shirts, phones, iPods, and beer – go completely apeshit. At least some of them do. Two teens in the film (Faron, a preacher’s son, and his friend Gerald) sell meth, have sexual relationships, smoke pot, get drunk nearly every night, and generally act like typical American teenagers who’ve been sheltered all their lives.

After they sample life outside of the Amish community, they, as well as all Amish children, are allowed to decide for themselves when and whether or not they want to join the church. The church actually prefers them to wait four or five years or much longer before deciding. I love this idea; I think everyone should be able to make their own decisions about religion. The only problem is that in most cases, the child’s whole family is within the church. And these are big families; a woman’s job is to have as many kids as she can. This is what makes the decision to join the Amish church so difficult. Could you leave your entire family and start a life on your own without their help? According to the documentary, after the Rumspringa period, 90% of the youth decide to rejoin the church.

No Backing Out
And once they commit, they are held to that promise. One ex-member, Velda, decided to leave the church a short time after dedication, and is now shunned completely by her family. Think about how horrible that would be for most people. No talking to you, no visiting on holidays, no birthday cards. Same thing with Mormons, you’re excommunicated from the church if you leave. This means that they won’t help you or try to "save" you anymore. (Good, no more banging on my door on a Saturday morning.) But the larger point remains: your family, in a sense, doesn’t love you many more. Velda still stayed religious. After all, there isn’t a whole lot of disagreement between Amish and other Christian faiths that some can’t overcome. They can still love Jesus and be "saved", they just have to wait to see their family until they all get to heaven.

Though this film follows teenagers in Indiana, the same applies to all Amish teens during Rumspringa. Some return to their families, others do not. Some are baptized but later leave the Amish church, resulting in their families' shunning them. The greater part to all of this is what I left the film with, and is what I wanted to post about. These kids are given the choice between all the stupid shit in the world, and the loving safety of the Christian church and the religious beliefs therein. At least, that is the choice they perceive.

Get Right with God
But this is the choice that many people, Amish or otherwise, feel they have. I’ve even had friends who would get into so much shit with the police, and they’d tell me how they needed to turn their life around. They see theism as the way to do this; as the only way to do this.

This can be expounded into a much larger discussion on God and morality, a topic that I intend to tackle in due time, probably in several instances. It’s a big issue. For now, suffice it to say that theism is NOT the only way to be "good", and in fact, it may do greater damage than it claims to fix.

Go check out Devil’s Playground, a non-biased look at the struggles of modern American Amish culture. The tug-of-war between the freedom and luxuries of the "English world" and the routines of religious faith and family play out in an educational and somewhat disheartening documentary.


-STA

Monday, September 10, 2007

An Exercise In Reason

"Jesus died for you, man!"

That's a phrase you'll hear all the time from Christian proselytizers (by the way, since my small town sits in the 'Bible Belt' of the southern U.S., I will most often be writing about the nation's leading religion: Christianity. Please understand that most, if not all, of my claims against a belief in supernatural entities can freely be applied to any religion. If you don't see how, send me an email and let me know!)


Not only is this phrase an "appeal to emotion", an attempt to make the listener feel bad, but it also makes no sense. That's right, I said it: It makes no sense.

HE'S ALIVE!
Think about it. I'll using the standard Christian beliefs as a framework, and this is very important -- this is from their own belief structure. Jesus is God...and is his son (I know, it's crazy). God created the world like it is. Don't try to tell me that it was Adam and Eve's fall that made the world like it is, because a) God created Adam and Eve, and b) he *knew* it was going to happen even before he started the whole 7-day creation. God has everything the way it needs to be according to his 'plan' or else it wouldn't be as it is. That's what omnipotent means. Therefore, in order to save humanity from hell (which he too, made), God sends his son Jesus (himself) as a sacrifice (to himself) to save humanity from torture (from himself). Not only that, but he waited for thousands of years to do it!

Your head stopped spinning yet?

Now that we have this kooky structure established, we can answer the basic question. What exactly did Jesus give up? He came to earth, died for a long weekend, then got to be God again and judge humanity for the rest of eternity! Who wouldn't want that? Christians, you sing it yourself: "He's alive!" What did he sacrifice? Even if he died for two weeks, he still came back to life. What kind of sacrifice is that?

Christians will try to hem and haw their way out of this bug-nutty story, but it's the foundation of their very religion. They'll say something like: "Jesus died so that we could all live." Again, what about those before Jesus? And why does God have to have some psychotic way of fixing a problem (which an omnipotent creator shouldn't have in the first place), when he could just, oh I don't know, LET IT GO? He could just snap is wrinkly, Caucasian fingers and forget the whole thing. He supposedly made us this way, how could he not know, and how could there be a problem in the first place?

The end result is that he gets to go right back up to heaven and send people to hell, and we're left with an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God framing his own lesser creation.

What a dick.

Good thing the whole story's not real, or we might need to start picketing. There's plenty more absurdities with trying to conceptualize an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent "being" in the first place, let alone the thousands of contradictions and ridiculous claims within the religion and texts of Western Christianity, which I'll get to in good time.

-STA

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