Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What to Give Up for Lent

The season of Lent begins tomorrow, and even if you're not a Catholic I challenge you to give up one (or all) of the following for the next forty days (or for as long as you live).

  1. Superstitious thinking - Maybe you're the sort of person that thinks walking under ladders or breaking mirrors is "bad", or maybe you own a lucky sock, penny, shirt, or animal foot. Perhaps you're afraid of certain numbers, or think something will happen on a given day just because of the numbers in the date. Maybe you think crackers can become human flesh, or that talking to yourself can help you find your car keys or cure your cold. For the next few days, attempt to willfully break yourself of whatever mental habit you have that can be labeled superstitious. Put away belief in magic and learn about the laws of nature.

  2. Credulity - If you're the kind of person who accepts things you're told without checking into the details, try for the next month to instead check into what you hear. Think about something you feel you know and actively check it out. For many faith is a virtue, but for these next few days, let it be a defect. Instead seek to back up claims you hear or ideas you come up with. The key point here is that you learn the what a reputable source is. The best sources are backed up by evidence. Gullibility won't get you as far as you think in this world.

  3. Apathy (especially towards the "god question") - If you'd rather not ponder on the existence of a Supreme Being, over the coming days I urge you to do so. A lot of people are apatheists; they don't care or just don't ever think about their position on theism. For this season of Lent, take some time and gather your thoughts on this matter. It's important to understand what you think about theology, because if there is no such thing that could be called "God", millions of people are wasting their lives (and hurting the lives of others). But if there is a god, it's the most important thing for us all. If you've already made up your mind on the matter, again toss aside apathy and speak out about it. If you haven't approached the question before, take the next few days and just think about how you feel. Do you really believe in God?


Friday, February 20, 2009

A Conversation with Yahweh

Just thought I'd share a video from a fellow YouTube user called NonStampCollector (if atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby)! It's actually his first video, and his twenty-two others are just as awesome. Enjoy!


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

For Goodness Sake

Once again, I'm going to piss Christians off. Specifically, Christian parents.

They don't seem to understand that they should teach their kids right from wrong. Instead, they want laws and restrictions put in place for every conceivable frowned-upon action; they want the government to do it.

If We Don't Chain Them Up, They'll Run Naked!
They seem to think that unless there are laws in place, kids will do whatever they want. Even their own kids will become swayed by the evil influence of non-believing children! Christians don't realize that they should be the ones teaching their children about morality. There's a novel idea, huh? That way, when the children grow up, they won't want to do just anything -- not because it's illegal, but because it's simply not the right thing to do.

This is the common false moral argument from theism: if kids learn there is no invisible God watching their every move (and thought), then they'll become evil, bloodthirsty savages. I've written pages on secular morality so there's no need to rehash it here. I instead want to focus on the reason why somebody would think this way.

He Knows If You've Been Bad Or Good...
More than likely, the problem originates from their mindset -- their religion and theology molds this sort of thinking. In the Christian worldview, God places rules and laws on you because you're innately evil. According to their Master, they would do whatever they want if they ignore God. This is obvious to any Christian who uses the "just look at the horrible state of society these days!" argument. They blame humanity's "rejection" of Jesus for everything wrong with the world (even though over two billion people believe in Christianity).

Theism fundamentally changes your way of thinking and leads to this sort of mindset. Ethics, morality, and integrity therefore fall in to fit this worldview. Christians necessarily believe in punishment for thought-crime (and take their moral lessons from horrible scripture stories). It's all according to God's List, so you'd better make sure you're on it!

Giving a child the sense to take responsibility for himself is one of the jobs of being a parent. If you're teaching your child that they can be absolved of their responsibilities simply by talking to their ceiling, they're not going to develop a sense of integrity. They won't have that pain in their gut when they realize they've done something wrong...nope, Jesus will forgive them! They won't understand that they need to make up for the wrongs they commit in this life. They won't learn to avoid behaviors that are "wrong" not because they're afraid of hell, but because they're afraid of the sour taste of guilt and injustice it leaves.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Darwin Day '09

As most of you probably know, today marks Charles Darwin's two-hundredth birthday. Sharing his birthday with another great liberator, Darwin helped us to understand where the diversity of life came from: small changes over time.

Today, why not take some time to explore the world around you? Go visit a zoo or aquarium. Or sit in with a good book. Here's some of my favorite videos discussing Darwin's wonderful theory.

Those videos should help you get started if you don't know what evolution is (or if you think you do). There are many others -- visit my YouTube channel for more. Hit talkorigins.org for facts on how evolution works and what it does for us today.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Unholy Word: Rape My Daughter

Today's Unholy Word is one of the most disturbing stories I've ever heard. It can be found inside a book that Presidents place their hands on as they swear to uphold the values of our country. This same book is read to children as bedtime stories, and then to adults as a fountain of good moral character. This book is a backbone to the three biggest religions on the planet; millions seek guidance and wisdom from it. Here's a taste of what's in the Holy Bible.

Where You Goin', Woman?!
If you open to Judges 19, you'll read tell of a Levite who had a concubine (that's a woman who lives with a man and takes care of, other than his wife). She gets mad at him for some reason and wants to go back home to her father. Women, huh.

Sorry for the joking. It's the only way I've found to dull the appallingly sick feeling I get when I read this tale.

Anyway, the man goes after her and chases her to her father's house. The Levite brings with him another servant girl -- 'cause hey, I guy can't travel without his servants. When they arrive, her father welcomes the Levite and his servant girl in to stay for a while.

They stay for three nights and on the morning of the fourth day, as they were planning on leaving, the father insisted that they stay longer. Poor guy...maybe he just liked having company? So they stayed. Even on the fifth day they're trying to leave and the man is asking them to stay and rest and eat. They agree to eat dinner, but then they finally leave afterward, even though it is sunset and the man asked them to stay, again. Maybe he was having fun helping smooth things out with his daughter and her pimp?

Okay, up to this point all seems fairly okay. But now things get interesting.

What's for Dinner? Gang Rape? Oh...Okay
As I said, they set out around sunset after dinner, and as it got dark the man's servant asked if they could stop at the approaching Jebusite city and spend the night there. The Levite says that he doesn't want to stay "in a city of foreigners with people who are not Israelites" (19:12), and that they'll stop in Gibeah instead. Racist prick.

They trudge on and get to the city square of Gibeah, and eventually an old man offers to take them in for the night. He's real nice to them -- he takes them in, feeds their donkeys, washes their feet and gives them food and drinks. As they were enjoying themselves, the bible says "some worthless men of the town surrounded the house and pounded on the door, saying, 'Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him!' " I guess not everyone in the city was as courteous as the old man. Or perhaps they were a little too courteous, hmm?

The owner of the house comes out and says "No, my brothers, do not be so wicked! This man is my guest, so do not do such a shameful thing!" Finally, some sanity here.

"Here is my virgin daughter and [my guest's] concubine. Abuse them and do to them whatever you wish, but do not do such a disgraceful thing to this man!" Oh. Never mind.

The book relays that the Levite had to physically drag his concubine outside. Judges 19:25 says "The men raped her and abused her all night." Thanks, God!

Special Delivery
As dawn comes, they finally let her go and she crawls up to the door of the house and falls down. When her master awakes and goes outside, he sees her and tells her "Get up. Let's go!" but there was no response. So he put her corpse on his donkey and headed home.

Now, if you're any sort of dignified, sane, moral human being, you should be disgusted by what you've just heard. It should have curdled your stomach and made you second-guess reading a book like this to children. But oh no folks, it doesn't end there.

Chapter 19, verse 29 says that when he reached his house, the Levite took a knife and carved up his concubine and mailed the pieces all over the land of Israel. We're not told why or if anyone was damned or punished in any way for the events in this story.

God's a Terrible Editor
In fact, many feel that the story in Judges is actually a retelling of Lot's adventures in Genesis 19. The story is almost identical, except Lot's daughters (whom he gave to the angry mob for raping) weren't hacked up and sent around the coasts at the end. The story is most likely a retelling that got edited and added on to and mixed up during copying. This of course doesn't excuse any deity from wrong-doing either. On the one hand, if the story is accurate, gang rape and dismemberment is a sick way to provide moral guidelines, especially if this Levite was on God's team. On the other hand, if this story was a mistake, then you must admit that the bible contains errors. Either way, God doesn't look like a very respectful guy.


Monday, February 9, 2009

Indulge In Lunacy

In today's modern age, we're used to getting things fast. Our food, our money, even our social interactions can be brought to us at the speed of light and in the comfort of our home. And now, from the guys who first invented and then abolished Limbo, you can get to your afterlife faster.

The Catholic Church announced today that they're bringing back Plenary Indulgences. According to the church teaching, sinners still face Purgatory (an imaginary place where they have to face punishment before going on to heaven). Even if you are absolved in the confessional and say your Our Fathers or Hail Marys as penance, you still gotta stop by heaven's waiting room when you die. But now, thanks to the Church, you can receive an indulgence that reduces or eliminates the your stay in Purgatory.

This idea of indulgence isn't new; back in the 1500's, the Church would literally sell them. But now they come free with one confession per year. Dioceses are hard-up for people to go hold fast to their traditions and keep the Church as the number-one authority of matters of sin and afterlife, and they're offering this incentive to try to reclaim their dwindling numbers. As said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, "We just want to people to return to the ideas they used to know."

The very nature of religion is exposed in that statement. After all that we've learned since the Bronze Age, why on Earth would anyone want to return to the ways we used to do things? I'll tell you why: it's because they want to live in their fantasy. They don't like the fact that we're learning more and more about how reality works, and they just wish we could go back to the days of witch-burnings, bloodletting, and the iron rule superstition. We're dragging them, kicking and screaming, into the twenty-first century's light of reason and science -- and they're scared to death.

I hope this backfires, and more and more intellectually inquisitive people continue to doubt the ridiculous ideas that the Vatican comes up with. If they can just make this shit up without any sort of evidence, there's no reason at all for agreeing with them. It's like the saying goes, "if you give a mouse a cookie, he'll want a glass of milk". If we continue to keep a mindset of "Well, you can't DISPROVE it" then this and anything else is fair game. Hell, maybe tomorrow they'll say that members of the Church get a free t-shirt when they enter heaven. You gonna buy that too?


Friday, February 6, 2009

Why We Can't Communicate

Like many of you who debate the lofty matters of religion online know, the arguments have a high probability of degenerating into little more than shouting matches of "Nuh-uh!" and "Uh-huh!" To avoid such situations on Gather.com, I've created a group there called Debate Faith (no, it's not related to the Stickam chat room run by AtheistAtLarge). Come join us if you like to discuss these affairs within the context of proper argument.

And argument is what I wanted to blog about today, namely the question of why theists and atheists have such a hard time understanding one another. I suppose the reasons I'll state go beyond the "God debate" and touch any opposing viewpoints that are so at odds with each other that a conclusion seems impossible.

Code Words
We communicate through the language of logic. If a language exists, then by definition logic exists, otherwise we wouldn't be able to communicate a thing (or even understand a thing). If I want to communicate a sentence to you, we must both first agree on certain fabricated rules; a type of code that we mutually 1) either invent or borrow from someone else, and 2) agree upon. In order for you to understand the sentence, "I play drums", you have to know what the sounds "I" and "play" and "drums" stand for. These code words point to our experiences, things we have seen or otherwise experienced before, and the rules that are encoded to relate these ideas. The words we use are important. If we substitute another meaning for an idea we're trying to convey without first agreeing up the new meaning, the communication breaks down. So if you hear me tell you "I play the drums" but you don't think of me banging around on a musical percussion instrument, then you cannot relate to what I'm trying to convey. Likewise, if I tell you "I play drums" but mean instead that I engage in a game utilizing a large metal cylinder used for storing liquid, then I'm responsible for the ambiguity.

Humans created the language of logic. All the symbols, formulas, statements, rules -- logic is man-made, yes; but logic itself is a representation of something else: the behavior of existence. It's a reflection of the way the universe commonly behaves. We don't just arbitrarily decide its rules, but rather they are built upon the framework that the universe provided to us. Something cannot both be and not be. Something must either be true or its negation must be true. When two things are the same, they are the same. We get these rules out of observing the nature of nature. If nature wasn't consistent then we couldn't have logic and thus we could not have the language to express it (or we'd have a completely different version of logic). Either we have contradictions but no language, or we re-write contradictions, change the rules and meanings of things, make contradictions no longer contradictions, and communicate.

There may be things that exist but cannot be communicated or described. But if they can be experienced then they can be given a code name and the idea can thus be communicated to anyone who has experienced the same thing and knows the code word for it.

If It Happened To You
This brings me to the idea of personal experience as justification for believing something (a topic I've written about extensively), specifically when it comes to subjects of theism and faith. It may very well be that your personal experience is genuine and that your perception and conveyance of the event is flawless and true. I could rightly argue against it by citing the way people tend to shade their experiences based on what they know, the way the mind can be tricked, the numerous different and contradicting accounts of that type, my own personal experience, and the simple fact that it's subjective and untestable. Regardless, there is no possible way for me to refute that idea sufficiently enough to a believer who is positively sure it is real. I couldn't convince such a person to even try to imagine otherwise. No one could.

The problem then, lies in the fact that I have not experienced what you're talking about -- I don't have the same rule in my rulebook for that code word. If you are ever to express your ideas to me, then I must either agree to accept your rules as my own, or I will have to experience it for myself.

This may sound obvious -- we either mean two different things (your red is my green, for example), or one of us has a code word for an experience which the other has neither -- but understanding what limits us from reaching agreements is key to creating a better, healthier, more tolerant and connected world. We need to learn to identify what stifles conversation; what brings our relatable experiences of reality to an impasse...and I feel in no other arena than the domain of faith is this needed most.

It is our shared experiences of reality that lay the tracks for our engines of understanding to run upon. If you tell me something purely subjective, like "Last night I dreamed about flying," for instance, there's no possible way for me to prove or disprove that (other than looking and brain scans while you slept, but even still I couldn't know what it was you were dreaming about). So why do we believe people when they say they dream? Because people dream. Because we understand what they mean when they use the code word "dream". Sure, it's subjective, but we all share it. Therefore, if you're going to use personal experience as a proof of a deity, your only hope to convince me with that argument is to pray that the god reveals itself to me in the same way it did for you. The only way for me to know and understand it is if I, too, experience it. After all, if you weren't convinced until it happened to you, why would anyone else be different?


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Unholy Word: Love Thy Father

To assume the truth of your opponent's worldview and then deconstruct their arguments from the inside out is a common and very effective way to argue. This series bypasses the need to first find out if the Judeo-Christian bible is credible and reliable. Instead it simply examines the stories and analyzes the flaws -- absurdities and all -- by taking it to its logical conclusions.

We continue the series with a story from Genesis featuring a man called Lot. This man was supposedly the most moral and upright person in the town of Sodom. In fact, everyone else in the town was so immoral that God sent fire to wipe it off the planet!

There's Incest In 'em Thar Hills!
After their city is destroyed and their mother is turned into salt, Lot's two daughters escape with him to a cave in the mountains. The night before this, Lot had offered his two virgin daughters to a mob to be raped (we'll cover this in a future Unholy Word). Apparently they're still really horny, because they proceed to get their father drunk and have sex with him...on two consecutive nights. Lot doesn't seem to be aware that these are his own daughters.

Genesis 19, verses 31-32 state: The elder said to the younger, "Our father is an old man, and there is no one here to marry us in the normal way of the world. Come on, let us ply our father with wine and sleep with him. In this way we can preserve the race by our father."

So the eldest daughter gets good ol' righteous dad hammered on enough wine to make him forget where he is and who he's with, and precedes to engage in a little father-daughter coitus. Any man of God would do the same, right?

When I Drink My Dick Hurts
The next day, the eldest tells her younger sister what she did, and advises that she do the same. So here's poor old Lot, just lost his wife, all his friends, and his hometown because of immorality. For the second day in a row now, he's getting shit-faced drunk and pleasured by some strange woman -- "though he was unaware of her coming to bed or leaving." (19:35) Have you ever been that drunk; so drunk you didn't realize you were having sex?

After that night, and presumably mysteriously to Lot, both of his daughters became pregnant. Maybe he thought that the guys from the mob knocked them up. Neither Lot nor his daughters are criticized here or anywhere else in the bible. He probably didn't know about Leviticus 18:6, so we should blame him, huh? Even 2 Peter 2:7-8 cites Lot as "just" and "righteous". Professor Richard Dawkins muses, "If this dysfunctional family was the best Sodom had to offer by way of morals, some might begin to feel a certain sympathy with God and his judicial brimstone."

Family Values From "The Good Book"
I suppose we are to look upon this fictional story as a metaphor of some kind. We're to understand that Lot's "race" seeded the nations of Moabites and Ammon, from each respective daughters' child -- two nations that are subsequently slaughtered by and/or for God. Some of you may be saying that it was the daughters who were wrong. If so, why did future-seeing God let them go when he was burning down Sodom and Gomorrah? Even still, I wouldn't call Lot blameless. Do you? After all, the poor girls just wanted their children to be good like daddy, and not heathen scum.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Through the Fire

After pointing out how immoral an all-powerful, all-loving God that doesn't remove human suffering would be, I received this quote from a recent disputant:

"Diamond cannot be polished without friction. Gold cannot be purified without fire. Trials and suffering makes you a better person."

I must admit that at first I was at a loss for words. Then I realized where the problem lay: an obfuscation of terms.

A Value Judgment
What does "better" mean in that context? Sure, in some sense it's true that overcoming adversities builds character. Is a person's character what we're talking about here? Is the inherent complex of attributes that determine a person's moral and ethical actions and reactions what is being referred to? If so, we can substitute that in and again ask the question: Does suffering build character?

As I said, in some sense yes, but we are again dealing with ambiguity, for what type of "suffering" are we talking about? Does stubbing your toe constitute a notch-up in moral character? What about true suffering...what about starving because you're too poor to purchase food? How does that build character? Does it make you a stronger, more resourceful individual because you have to find alternate was of getting fed? Most importantly, why does this particular "trial" a necessity from an all-loving God?

Betterment Without Horrid Suffering
As I see it, an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God could find a way to -- if not completely remove suffering and misery altogether -- at the very least lessen it. Why must humanity suffer so much? The more you suffer, the better you are? I don't see how that argument is cogent in the least. If your loving god requires affliction and suffering from his sheep, then count me among the goats.