Thursday, April 30, 2009
He starts with the psychological, delving into the issue of things like Hell. Terrorizing children witht he prospect of eternal torture and damnation for disobedience and religious infidelity. I too wonder how many children have been harmed by these and similar practices by well meaning, and not so well meaning authority figures.
As Hitchens demonstrates, the institutions of religion have long understood how impressionable young children are, and that the key to having a hold on the adult is to indoctrinate him as a child. Overall, when it comes to the psychological damage section Hitchens writes a good piece, but in this exercise was well overshadowed by Dawkins in The God Delusion.
Regardless, Hitchens goes next into discusssing the physical abuses children suffer as a consequence of religions. He points out, of course, the issue of circumcision first as it is perhaps the most obvious. I can't help but agree with Hitchens, particularly with regards to infants. There is no good reason to mutilate a child's genitalia without their having a say in it, or even more importantly, without their even ever having known of the option to say no. It seems immoral to make a decision like that which is basically irreversible.
One place that Hitchens goes that is not covered in others (to my memory) is the masturbation taboo and the psychological and sexual repression that comes with it. Overall, a small section but somewhat poignant.
Overall the chapter didn't provide alot that was new, or illuminate much. It was a good read, but I would still stand by my personal opinion as stated previously.
Ignorant assertion for the win!
I already replied to him on his blog, but as usual he completely ignores my points, probably because the kid has nothing even resembling a cogent answer.
Now, Aj there has raised what is really an obnoxious lie common to the fundamentalist Christian position. Eugenics was certainly an outgrowth from the ideas of evolutionary theory, but that does not make it inherently atheistic. Studies of various hominids yielded information regarding things like general skull measurements and other empirical qualities that led people to start applying those measurements as benchmarks regarding what races were more evolved than others. This was done worldwide, from bible believing American Christians, the British, The Chinese, Japanese, etc. Its association with the Nazi agenda simply hastened its departure from acceptable science.
Were there Atheists involved? Hell yes. Was it racist? Damned straight. Denying that would be revisionist claptrap like claiming Hitler wasn't a Christian (forgive my Godwin* breach). Now, I've pretty much come to expect this from current fundamentalists since they generally only know what they're taught which is usually a very white-washed version of history painting Christianity as some kind of heroic underdog despite being the establishment for about 1500 years in the west.
The second part of what AJ says really bothers me and shows palpable ignorance of the Tanakh. The bible supports outright genocide of non-believing neighbor nations and encourages erradication and/or enslavement. You know what, AJ, you're right. Reading the Bible would have stopped them from starting Eugenics. It would have encouraged outright slaughter rape and enslavement instead. Good point!
Of course, we all know that those Christians involved in Eugenics weren't true Scotsmen... err Christians. Right?
*Thanks ExPatMatt and Beamstalk
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
The argument that religion being put forth to children is child abuse, and I am very much of two minds about that position. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion presented the argument in a way so as to demonstrate that there are no "Catholic Children," or "Marxist Children," and such trying to justify that religious indoctrination of children is immoral and abusive. I agree with this insofar as I think deep indoctrination of children into just about anything is wrongheaded and an affront to reason as it pushes the child in a prechosen direction before they have developed the reasoning skills to comprehend the enormity of the decision.
But then I also have to disagree. Indoctrination is a loaded word in this case, and is particularly poignant when applied to religion. That said, at some point we have to think about where can we draw a line at what values and beliefs parents can instill in their own children. While I, and no doubt many people reading this, view religion as a hostile and caustic influence in the world the parents of the religious children literally believe they giving them "truth" whatever that may be. The same goes for a parent instilling capitalistic values, or stoic values or, whatever values, beliefs, and opinions you may wish to look at.
Do we draw the line of abuse at obviously harmful values, like racism and bigotry? Or do we start dictating the majority status quo with the ability to decide what is abusive? Take it to the courts? But any of these options bothers me. I'm not currently a parent, but someday I intend to be; I would not want the government or some other external authority telling me I could not teach my own child from my own experiences and values. So i'm really at a loss here. We can't just limit it to religion since that's far too narrow, and hardly the only indoctrinating philosophy category available.
I personally think it to be impossible to not indoctrinate children, even unintentionally. If, as parents, one does not teach their child, the child won't learn anything. Its also natural that in any environment a young child will learn by adopting something from the actions, words, and habits of his or her parents. Children from different backgrounds will obviously develop differently in this respect, but we can't really expect every religious parent to stop all religious habits to protect their child and give him a free development without influence. Its not realistic, and its questionable whether it would be moral.
So, is religion child abuse? Possibly. But I personally don't see that there's anything that can be done to stop it as a whole without violating a thousand other rights, and that I'm not ok with.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
The largest part of this group is what is commonly called an echo chamber. They all tell each other what they want to hear while bouncing their own ideas back at each other and keeping any dissenting opinoin out. But this group never looks outside the chamber to make the obvious conclusion: If we're the only ones who don't believe something and we all happen to share one certain belief system, perhaps its not the other side that's closed-minded.
Of course, that would be an admittance of severe cognitive dissonance that the average fundamentalist simply cannot accept. It's world-shattering in their view after all. But when we look at modern evolutionary theory which is generally accepted by (non-fundamentalist) Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, Shinto etc. you have to look at that and wonder how the recalcitrant deniers of evolution can possibly make their case when they are basically the lone voice of dissent. If their absurd dating was correct certainly someone outside the echo chamber would have come up with something supporting it, but that's never the case. And then, of course, the ones outside the echo chamber are considered to be either consipiratorial, or just plain closed-minded.
I think its important to avoid an echo chamber mentality, wchich is why I listen to dissenting media quite a bit. I like to make sure I'm analyzing the other side which gives my personal convictions a stronger basis through reasoning. For example, I hate Michael Savage. I think he's an ignorant alarmist who is riding solely off of sensationalism. But I listen to him because every once in a while an interesting point pops up that I can't reasonably dispute. Then i research the claim and see how valid it really is. If it is, I've learned something. I may come a to a different conclusion than that asshat, but I did learn something. When you're in the Echo Chamber its rarely learning something new. Its regurgitation of what you already believe, and what you want to hear.
I think that's valuable for many skeptics and rational thinkers. Many of us do fall into the same problem, but to a less severe degree. Luckily, particularly with evolution, the facts and science are very much on our side. But that's not always been the case, and while most of us are open-minded to new theories and ideas, but we need to keep it that way.
And that doesn't mean giving pseudoscientific garbage a fair shot. Homeopathy, ID and such are pretty much objectively garbage. But even so when a reliable source presents dissent we need to (and usually do) listen.
Monday, April 27, 2009
This one kinda hurts my head, but more because its so close to having a semblance of truth to it, then it just fails miserably. Sadly it demonstrates an absolute zero understanding of what argument from incredulity is. The pictured "evolutionist," were he anything but a poor caricature would point out that given enough time and possibilities the potential for our evolution becomes far less improbable, and becomes much more about how we evolved, not about the probability of whether we evolved.
Of course, that's why argument from incredulity is a fallacy. If i roll a 1 billion sided die, every result has a 1 in a billion chance, but when I roll a 426,325,201 I just beat 1 in a billion odds of rolling that. If we know something happened against probabiliy we want to know how. We already know whether it happened or not.
As an aside, their artist has a really weird obsession with those lame ass fish that people put on their cars. I mean just in the last month we've had the one above, as well as this one, and just this year so far there's those plus this, this, this, this, and this. I mean really they do about one a week, and almost half of them for the year feature those stupid things.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Fundamentalists have made some pretty fantastical claims about the historicity of the bible. They love to say things like, "Archaeology has never contradicted the bible," and "historically the bible is the most accurate book ever written," and plenty of other nonsense. But does it really hold up? Of course not.
Firstly, lets look at what the bible gets right, because there is a significant amount that it does do well. It is an excellent reference on the cultures of Israel and Judah, including their religious practices, their social customs, as well as their laws. Also, after the unification of Israel and Judah (reunification is as best I can tell ahistorical)it is a reasonably good history.
Archaeology has confirmed some of the history, including the existence of Jericho, the existance of Nebuchadrezar of Babylon, and other bits of information that we can confirm. There's even a possibility (if dubious) that two cities potentially analgous with Sodom and Gomorrah were discovered.
But what has never been proven? Well, lets start with anything supernatural. There is no real evidence other than legendary of even the existence of Moses or his supposed miracles, let alone any evidence of divine intercession at places like Jericho. Search as they might, archaeologists have found no proof of Solomon or David beyond the biblical legends, and have also shown that if Solomon was real his empire was greatly exaggerated in the biblical texts. Archaeology has also shown no evidence of inhabitation at oasis in the Sinai desert where the Israelites supposedly stayed for 40 years. If they were there, surely there would have been something left behind, but there are not even pot sherds. The history of egypt has never recorded the mass use of slaves, let alone any record of an entire nation of Jews enslaved. In the real world, egyptian monuments and great buildings were mostly public works projects as evinced by discovered workers' camps.
The problems in Genesis alone are innumerable for archaeology and historians alike. It is obvious to the historians who know that many of the legends of Genesis were cribbed off of earlier successful civilizations' mythologies, like the sumerians. This is particularly obvious in things like the ages of the patriarchs and the Sumerian kings, as well as the tower of Babel.
But what should we take from this?
Actually, its very telling. not so much saying that the bible is inaccurate, but it tells us that archaeology is confirming exactly what we should expect it would. The supernatural claims remain unsubstantiated, but the cultural cues and traditions, which the authors would have been very familiar with are relatively accurate. And this is of no surprise, yet fundamentalists treat this as if it were some amazing proof of the bible's accuracy. Its inevitable, when a book is written within a culture that those cultures specifics will be available. This is not proof. It is not even evidence. It is simply the way archaeology works.
I'll use an analogy.
If I were an explorer in India, and discovered an island off the coast (sri lanka) and went there, discovered that the cultural details and such conformed to what was written in the Ramayana. Should I then conclude that Ravana the demon lived on the island and that Rama went there to save his wife Sita from him? No, of course not. It means a text written within the context of a culture follows the norms of the culture, and the mores of the culture. It speaks nothing to supernatural claims whatsoever. This is not exceptional, this is expected.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
- The doctrine of blood sacrifice
- The doctrine of atonement
- The doctrine of eternal reward and/or punishment
- The imposition of impossible tasks and rules.
In the analysis of blood sacrifice Hitchens largel discusses the Judeo-Christian scriptural blood sacrifices of animals, but is quick to also discuss the ghastly story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. By Hitchens' view, whether the sacrifice was stopped before it occured or not, it does not change that such orders from a tyrannical deity do not make for a good rationale for worship. I, myself, in fact find the very concept repulsive, when the presumed intent of the story is to inspire faith and trust in God.
All in all this section was less than it could have, and probably should have been, ironically because it focused so heavily on the most well known religions. It could have benefitted gretly from a discussion of the infant sacrifice of Carthage for example, or perhaps the ever so common Aztec human sacrifices (although he mentions them under atonement). Blood sacrifice of both humans and animals is in enough religions that 2 pages is insufficient coverage in my opinion.
As he hits on atonement it is clear that it is mostly targetting the Christian traditions. He discusses the very immorality of vicarious redemption, which I agree is absurd. Nobody can take responsibility away from someone, and as Hitchens would probably say, it would be immoral for someone to ask, and immoral for me to accept. He rails rightfully against the idea that we are all as humans responsible for the torture and subsequent crucifixion of the mythical son of God, and that to require us to atone for this, and the "original sin" of Adam is like the proverbial situation of god making one sick and then telling him to heal himself. It is absurdity in the highest degree. Hitchens also takes the opportunity to take a bit of a shot at the Christian tradition of blaming the Jews for Christ's execution.
Let me pull away at that point, because it never made sense to me. The Christians (traditionally), both Catholic and Protestant (don't kid yourself Ray) have historically blames the Jews for the crucifixion. The crime of deicide. But looking deeper, what they're really saying is the Jews fulfilled Christ's purpose on Earth, since without his crucifixion he a. wouldn't have been the sacrifice he was purportedly intended to be, and b. could never have resurrected which, according to Paul is what the entirety of their faith hinges on. So, they blamed the Jews for giving them their religion. How grateful.
Onward to Eternal Punishment and Impossible tasks. I've personally discussed the absurdity of eternal punishment for temporal crimes many places, but Hitchens doesn't really delve into that. What he does do, however, is beat up on pascal's wager a bit for good measure, mention ways religions have profited from people terrified of damnation (i.e temporary brothel marriages in muslim countries, and papal indulgences) and then discuss the issues of Judeo Christian law that impose impossible restrictions on people.
He starts with the most obvious, the commandment not to covet. This is of course, as we all know, impossible. This goes also for the common argument of, "have you ever lusted?" that some evangelists love so well. If you make the rules impossible of course its impossible to meet the standard. Its a similar situation in Buddhism that I feel Hitchens is remiss in not mentioning. One of the biggest points of the philosophy is overcoming and rejecting all want, which is pretty much impossible.
This is, again, actually a very good chapter with some regrettably big flaws. It could benefit significantly from more research and historical understanding, as well as a broader religious view. While the focus on the most commonly known religions is important to the book's accessability, if your thesis is "religion poisons everything" a better universal case needs to be made.
From here, Hitchens actually segues directly into his next chapter, which is also a favorite topic of Dawkins': Is Religion Child Abuse? Should be an interesting review.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
We have one planet. Just one. Now, we have systematically since the beginning of the industrial revolution devastated the ecology of our planet, damaging, destroying, or making uninhabitable rivers, lakes, forests, plains, and just about any other ecosystem you can imagine. This disgusting lack of respect for the planet has led to mass deforestation and subsequent desertification.
Your "comic" here serves to illustrate a profound level of ignorance and complete arrogance. You think this is about your God? You, who in your anti-abortion furor claim to promote a "culture of life" are basically promoting the idea that environmentally sustainable living is an affront to your God regardless of how many will die to support your "culture of life". How utterly pompous and self-important.
Let's break it down a bit...
You say that Earth day promotes:
We exist because of the earth: This is undeniable. As stated previously, we have one planet on which to live at our current level of technology. If you can think of somewhere else we can currently exist, give me a call.
The earth is our mother: This is mostly metaphorical, and is, when used literally a bit of a pagan thing. But generally Earth day is populist, not religious.
Celebrate the Earth: Why not? Its where our crops come from, it feeds the animals that we eat in turn... Oh that's right. It doesn't explicitly mention YOUR god. Well, it doesn't explicitly remove your god from the equation either. Whether you believe god gave dominion over the Earth to you or not, if you don't take care of it, its not going to last.
Love the Earth: See above.
Why does it always have to be about your religion? If you stop and think about it for two seconds maybe you'd look less idiotic, but that might be asking a bit much. If you think Earth Day has anything at all to do with your religion positive or negative, you need more of a reality check than even the average YEC wingnut.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Monday, April 20, 2009
That said, you never know how things can change in a week, but I am planning ahead.
He uses this chapter to discuss several personages and groups as examples in support of his thesis. Dr. Martin Luther King, Mohandas Gandhi, the Christian, but Muslim backed LRA, and the Rwandan genocide's catholic supporters.
In the cases of the individuals he shows that their good acts were never founded on religion so much as raw morality, and particularly in the example of Dr. King how the religious allusions he used were from a religion that in innumerable instances had been used textually to oppose exactly what his goals were. This of course creates an inconsistency wherein the religion cannot be right on all sides, and someone is immoral either way.
He exposes Gandhi as a hypocrite in his passifism, feeling somewhat justly that he was perfectly content to let the Japanese do his fighting for him. At the same time Gandhi's efforts to keep India village based, and his status as a Hindu Mahatma directly hurt the ability for India to remain one nation after the British occupation ended. It seems a good argument from Hitchens that religion has a tendancy to color our morality and often make things acceptable that normally would not be, including slavery, inquisition, torture, and murder.
Perhaps the nastiest case he discusses is the genocide in Rwanda where, while the Vatican was likley not complicit, the Catholic population and clergy had served as aiders and abetters to horrific genocide.
It is of course important to note that Hitchens does not make the argument that relgions do not do any good. He does however heavily lean to imply that they don't do any good that could not, or would not, be done without them. And there I certainly agree with him. One of religion's most powerful aspects is by far its ability to take perfectly good people and make them capable of the atrocious.
Perhaps my favorite recounting of Hitchens in this chapter, and maybe the most telling was his brief discussion of a debate between A.J Ayer and a Bishop Butler where after a comment of Ayer's notes he sees no good reason to believe in god the bishop replies that he could not see why ayer did not lead a life of "undridled immorality." This of course speaks volumes about how this bishop feels he would act did he not believe in god, and says nothing that makes Ayer in any way immoral by fiat.
Friday, April 17, 2009
I recently listened to an evangelical broadcast saying that Christians support this so they have more money because Christians with more money are more effective witnesses. I must have done a triple take. Soooo... becoming wealthy is an absolute plus in the religion subscribing to the guy who said (paraphrased) "Give up all your worldly riches and follow me." And he meant it literally.
You can argue ephemerally that it is your God given right to be a capitalist, or to do as you like. According to you, God gave you free will, and the option to do as you like. That said, don't pretend that God told you that you should become wealthy and serve him, or that God favors Capitalism. This is a relic of the cold war mentality, and completely without merit In your own scriptures.
If anything, Yeshua was a socialist.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
But let's look at the bigger picture on rality. Atheism is a skeptical view at its heart. Atheists (at least intelligent atheists) do not claim a perfect knowledge of any of the following:
1: Is there a god and/or gods?
2: What Caused the Universe to Spring Into Being?
3: What Happens After We Die?
Atheists try and answer as best we can, and to that end we end up with plenty of "likely's" "probably's" and "I thinks" which is in stark contrast to the surety of the monotheists who claim to -know-. Now, this is not universal. Many monotheists simply claim it is what they believe, and hedge in many of the same ways as we atheists do. But the ones who claim to know, like Ray Comfort for example, are all too willing to call atheists arrogant (or insane*) for what we know to the best of our ability through reasoning and science, while they claim to know with absolute surety on the basis of their own personal convictions and no real evidence outside of a highly flawed book dating anywhere from 1400-2500 years ago (pick your poison).
And we're the arrogant ones. Ok, right, gotcha. There area arrogant people on all sides of the fence and in all walks of life. But when it comes to theological views (or lakc thereof) it certainly isn't the atheists whose beliefs are on their own arrogant. The only reason the theists consider it arrogant is because it offends their religious sensibilities that we not only don't believe in their sky daddy, but are loud about it, and proud of our atheism. I guess when you have a good argument it can seem arrogant.
*Dawkins has certainly said the same of theists, so this doesn't really offend me, but the theist grounding for such an assertion is so weak that it is basically laughable.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
For the basics I was raised, as I have stated previously, in a Mormon household. That said, it was not terribly cultic as far as things go. While many of the doctrines were in force our family was overall pretty lax when it came to the prohibitions on caffeiene and such (alcohol was a huge no though). We were a convert family, so its not terribly odd that we were never really perfectly adapted to that lifestyle or the amount of indoctrination that some were.
Anyhow, it was an interesting way growing up. I can honestly say that for quite some time I actually believed pretty much everything that was said about Joseph Smith, the history of the church, and whatnot. It was ironically their intense teenage indoctrination program, which they call "seminary" that broke me of the spell. Seminary was basically 4 years of deep scriptural study with a preapproved church curriculum.
In addition to being a Mormon, I was also a history nut, and too many things in the Book of Mormon just didn't work. The main one that tipped me off was mention of Horses in the Americas B.C.E. From there it was just downhill, andby the time I turned 16 I didn't really believe in all the crap anymore, and shifted away into an agnostic/deist stance for awhile, and "came out" to my parents about my agnosticism the month before I turned 18. Going to university changed my perspective even more, and after a brief stint of disingenous paganism and pantheism I went full on Atheist. Having throughly researched history I'd realized that my pantheism was only half right; religions were all equal, they were just equally false.
From there I somewhat lost interest in religion until I picked up The God Delusion last November, and since then the entire subject of positive atheism and active, "out" atheism has drawn me in, and I've been going ever since. And now we're here.
I know, pretty dull stuff, but if anyone has any quesitons about mormonism or anything else up here, feel free to ask!
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Pirates are not terrorists.
Yeah, they're unsavory, they do terrible things to people, steal cargo, ships and pretty much do whatever they want, but that doesn't make them terrorists, and here's why: they aren't motivated by intimidation, but by profit. Islamofascist terrorists are motivated by intimidation, religious furor, and often martyrdom. So a terrorist wants to fuck you up to cow us, a pirate wants to fuck you up because you have shit he wants. That said, a pirate sure as hell plans on walking away from his job with his ill gotten gain, a terrorist may or may not.
People need to get this through their skulls, because labelling every enemy who is not an official nation a terrorist is both foolish and inaccurate. Now, I have no problem with having similar policies for dealing with pirates as terrorists, but in all seriousness you aren't going to see a pirate come over and suicide bomb a school. By labelling pirates terrorists we are assigning to them an ideology and objective they most likely do not subscribe to.
Oh wait, that's right. I'm talking about right wingers. Good luck on getting through their thick skulls
Hitchens chooses Sabbatai Sevi as his subject. To those not familiar with him, Sevi was a mid-seventeenth century candidate to be the Jewish messiah. He had a large backing from people as well as Jewish religious figures, but in the end was imprisoned and forced to either convert to Islam or die (guess which he picked), and left Jerusalem never to return, dying in relative obscurity. Hitchens declares "So the Sabbatai Sevi religion came to an end," but that's not entirely honest in my opinion.
Yes, Sevi failed spectacularly in converting to Islam, and by extension he was clearly no messiah for the Jews. That said, however it was not an end to Messianic Judaism by any means, and calling Sabbatai Sevi a religion is a bit of a stretch in my opinion. What Sevi is a very good example of is how easily myths arise around a messianic archetype both within their lifetime and shortly after. Miracles were attributed to him, supposed eye witnesses vouched for him, and he had no shortage of followers. If his Muslim captors hadn't been as wise to history and the power of martyrdom as they were, we very likely could still be hearing about Sabbatai Sevi today. The parallels of him to Yeshua up until his conversion to Islam are that Stark.
All in all, it was an extremely short (4 pages) chapter that sadly didn't set out to show what it said it did. It is so far, probably Hitchens' weakest showing.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Anyone who has read The God Delusion should already be familiar with the ideas of the cargo cults and the ease in which religions can create themselves in the right situations. Hitchens demonstrates how easily in this case primitive superstitions and a simple lack of understanding regarding how something works can even over a short amount of time result in a full blown religion around such. What is terribly striking about this, of course, is the difficulty it takes for them to give up that belief once it has been shown to be a fraud, which Hitchens rightly points out, and is certainly telling as far as other, more mainstream religions are concerned. The age of thsoe religions may make their beginnings less transparent and certainly a bit more mysterious, but that doesn't mean, by any account that there is some real difference between them in their initial formation.
Hitchens next addresses the issue of Marjoe, the Pentacostal youth who was abused into preaching by age four. Hitchens goes on to explain that he finally rebelled and even later showed exactly how miracles and such are created for the unwitting observers. Its an obvious case of group encouraged delusion when the preacher admittedly knows its a fraud and demonstrates its a fraud, but people believe anyway, mostly because they want to. Marjoe is a case of showing how the charismatic movements in Christianity are absolutely corrupt, and despite even one of their own showing how its done publicly and on film they still prosper and profit off the donations of ill informed dupes.
Then, of course, Hitchens addresses the Mormons. The demonstrably man-made Book of Mormon has spawned a religion spanning the world and around ten million followers. Joseph Smith, the founder, was as most know, a polygamist as well as a con-man from his youth, but apparently was a good enough con-man to get people to believe his religion despite its obvious flaws, and his previous criminal convictions.
The benefits to Smith are obvious. He got tithing money for doing essentially nothing other than reinforcing the religious propaganda he started, and making a strict social structure with him at the top. He got multiple wives due to his so-called "revelations" from God, much to the consternation of his first wife Emma. Smith even referred to himself as a new Muhammed, showing a great cunning and understanding of exactly what his intent was from the outset.
All in all the Mormon section of the chapter packs the greatest punch as well as the most pages. And its easy to see why. Of all the religions that have arisen in modern times perhaps only scientology could lay claim to greater corruption and transparent falsehood. That said, while Hitchens does demonstrate ways in which religious movements arise, he doesn't demonstrate a universally binding necessity for corruption.
This is of course the problem with the really hisorical religions, like Judaism and Christianity where we cannot pin a single founder, and lack a good history of the events surrounding the rise. Christianity, and to a lesser extent Islam suffer from the same issues in criticism.
All said, the chapter supports the hypothesis that religions are parasitic, but whether they poison everything by their very existence may be a bit of a stretch.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Friday, April 10, 2009
Like being an "out" Christian is an oddity anywhere in the English speaking world to begin with.
Thankfully Hitchens early on defines what would be viewed as a miracle calling it "a disturbance or interruption in the expected and established course of things." This is about as fair of a definition of a miracle as one could probably come up with.
To explain his title regarding miracles being "tawdry" he discusses the typeds of people who have debunked miracle workers and magicians using laboratory conditions such as James Randi. This serves for Hitchens as a segway into criticising the sources reporting miracles, particularly the New Testament wherein he explains the problems in the miracle narratives, as well as demonstrating via Bart Ehrman's work there is significant evidence of the greatest miracles (i.e resurrection) being added well after the initial writing. All in all, once again, things all skeptics and atheists are fairly familiar with, and among the many things that make us non-believers to begin with.
Once again the part that is most interesting comes from Hitchens' personal reports and experiences. His anecdotes this time come from his experiences regarding Mother Teresa. He opens the section with an old miracle associated with her which was shown to just be a matter of film choice, and not deific preference, and then he goes on to discuss when he took position of Devil's Advocate against Mother Teresa's beatification.
This I found personally fascinating as he showed how willing people are to believe in miracles despite all evidence that something was natural; the film incident, or even more stark the recovery of a patient from tuburculosis and an uteran growth which had greater claim to the doctor's skill than divine intercession via Mother Teresa. Despite this, the subject swore up and down that it was a miracle, not medicine that had saved her.
Overall, this chapter was a bit of a reality check for the faithful, but just an amusing read for the skeptic.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Now, let's talk history. The Declaration of Independence, being one of the founding documents of the United States, is held in high esteem on these shores as a message of freedom from tyranny, combatting taxation without representation, and a declaration of war against our erstwhile parent state. That said, the DoI cannot be repealed or negated by any act less than directly and abjectly becoming subjects under the British crown. Even then, technically the DoI as far as in legal force has never existed, and the wars which it began have been considered resolved as of the end of the War of 1812. You know. 200 years ago.
Remember, the constitution guarantees no such thing as "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness," or any such thing in so broad terms. It guarantees specific rights and freedoms to citizens of this nation. None of which are corporate. None of which guarantee that international oversight will never be necessary. This is of course not to mention that the DoI was written at a time when the concept of our current global economy wasn't even a blip on the radar.
And even if the Declaration of Independence were a legal document, I think most of you right wing nutters would be even more unhappy. Life as a right? Well, there goes the death penalty you're so fond of. Liberty? Can't have prisons can we? Pursuit of Happiness? I guess rape and murder and various horrible things (like *gasp* gay marriage) would be ok as long as it would make you happy.
Aren't we all glad for what the Declaration was? It was a declaration of independence from Great Britain. That's it. Perhaps you remember reading about a war regarding that document. Yes, the phrasing was beautifully Lockeian, and it was powerfully written, but its still just a declaration of war with no legal precedent setting power.
And while we're at it, what the hell is with the tea party crap? Do you even understand what the boston tea party was about? Do you understand what kinds of injustice it was a response to? Unrepresented taxation and a willingness to turn on the people violently with tyrannical force. This was not an elected government like we have today. Legitimately and legally put in place by the people. Pretending these two situations are even comparable is not just a mockery of our history, but a descent of this country into a gross self parody. Let's close with an Image comparison:
This, is the Boston Tea Party:
This, is how you guys look by comparison:
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
As a completely silly aside: The picture of Savage on that article makes me think he's going to be begging me for change on the street.
Hitchens, in his usual style, beigns by targeting the weakest points of Islam. He alludes to the previous two chapters in noting that because of how much Islam borrowed from its elder siblings, the failure of them to be valid contributes directly to a failure of Islam. He even goes so far as to compare the supposed annunciations of the virgin Mary and Muhammed specifically as both "unverifiable and unfalsifiable."
An interesting comparison Hitchens makes is between the resistance of all three of these monotheistic traditions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to having their scriptures translated into the common languages of various nations. The Torah by tradition is still hand written almost exclusively in Hebrew when for liturgical use(although Hitchens notes that many, if not most, of the rituals have been abandoned) the Koran is still considered only correct in Arabic. The only one of these three that has broken out of the linguistic stasis is the Christian scripture, and the largest denomination, Roman Catholicism, only stopped doing Latin exclusively in the 1960's.
He provides an amusing anecdote of a discussion he had with someone in Washington DC where a man bemoaned the fundamentalist muslims who were (and still are) vexing the US. Hitchens gave his explanations and noted there was more proof for Muhammed than Jesus, and his acquaintance threatened him with violence.
Whether the story is true or not (and I don't see hwy he would make it up), it does illustrate well how touchy religion is. Islam in particular is reactive and much too often violent. It was born in violence, and thirved on conquest for the first few centuries of its existence after all. But if a Christian cannot withold threat of violence in defense of his own faith, how could he not expect the same of a believer in another faith?
Our author does make one claim that is of probably the most importance in the entire chapter: All three books, the Tanakh/Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Koran each have one common problem, that being that they were all penned significantly after the events they allude to take place, or, in the case of the Koran, significantly after they were said to have been recited. By this problem, none of the three have a good claim of authority. Each makes some claim to the divine, but none have the hard evidence needed to prove it. The Christians claim eyewitness writers of the gospels, but they were written decades after the events, and the claims of apostolic authorship are dubious at best. The Jewish scriptures claim to discuss events from well before they were written, and the evidence for their original writing dates indicates likely centuries after when they claim. The koran, worst of all three, claims it was passed on perfectly orally before finally being written down.
He concludes the chapter discussing how religions like Islam stifle inquiry regarding the religion itself, particular in these days of much greater scientific understanding where we can examine the claims more accurately. Hithens posits that this is most likely a fear of being proven wrong, which would be insurmountably detrimental to the faith.
All said, it was an interesting chapter. Perhaps his best of the three holy book chapters. He supports his thesis well, and makes many good points. All in all it was quite worth reading.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Seriously? You think we believe that scientific journals are 100% accurate all the time? Hate to break it to you, but we all know very well that science makes mistakes. So let's try this from the reverse perspective, simply because I think we know which case is stronger.
"Please note that this evidence is conclusive because it is going to be published in a scientific journal which is always 100% accurate."
I found a dinosaur bone. After long hours of analysis, fact checking, and reading my bible I came up with some fascinating conclusions!
Firstly, of course, I wanted to date the bones to find out how old the fossils I was dealing with are. Well, I ran some tests, and wow, guess what? The dating method said the fossils were at least 65 million years old. But then i thought to myself, no way. That's not possible. The earth is only 6 thousand years old, so I revised the dates, and decided there must have been something in the great flood that caused the apparent age to be much greater. So with estimates modified, i found the fossil was still amazingly about 5800 years old! Fantastic, its almost as old as the Garden of Eden!
Secondly, I examined the DNA of the fossil to analyze it further and found that it had DNA remarkably similar to our own! Clear proof that God designed all his creatures from a similar base. That makes total sense. So much more than common descent!
Finally, looking at the bones i couldn't determine a cause of death. I found this perplexing, but then realized it must have died in the flood. How fortuitous to find such amazing proof of the deluge. Why else would it be bured like that? No possible way could it have been because of thousands of years of sediment and tectonics andbuilding layers on layers. That's absurd.
Also, please note that this is all completely reliable because it fits within biblical interpretations of reality. I even got it posted on AiG! Also, don't worry. If any parts of the bible are contradictory its ok, because God is infallible and there has to be a reasonable explanation why it doesn't fit with actual history.
Wow. Isn't building straw men fun?
Monday, April 6, 2009
Does this even remotely resemble the development of modern Easter celebrations? Not remotely. AiG, or whoever does their poor comics seems to think that the celebration of Easter is based on Christianity, and not the Pagan Eostre from which the name Easter is taken. It demonstrates a lack of understanding how the fusion in Anglo-Saxon culture and European Christian culture fused.
Surely there has been a gradual shift away from the solemness of either tradition, but the cartoon itself is neglecting the primary tradition that led to its final image, as well as all the celebratory traditions that the Christian church assimilated and adapted. It is entirely disingenous, and frighteningly ignorant, not to mention that it is (once again) being foisted upon children.
This is also of course a lack of understanding as to what devolution would be. This is, in fact evolution of an idea and the culture. Evolution does not mean "better"; even if evolution did mean unilateral improvement it would not necessarily mean what one demographic wants. Now, in theory devoltution would mean reverting to a preivous state. So, wouldn't that mean full on pagan worship as opposed to a fusion of the Christian and Pagan praxes? Of course, using their definition, I'd consider that Evolution.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
If God really does exist and He created hell as home for sinners, then can you afford to be wrong about whether or not you will end up there? If one person believes in God and that He created hell as a home for sinners and is therefore terrified over the possibility of ending up there, and another person does not believe in God or hell and therefore lives comfortably, how can you tell which one is correct? Can you afford to be wrong? If God does exist and created hell as the destination for sinners, then not believing in Him or in hell has absolutely no effect on their existence. What if you are wrong? If a Christian is wrong, then they are wrong for their lifetime but if an atheist is wrong, then they are wrong for eternity. Are you willing to make that gamble? Are you willing to challenge the Creator of the Universe? Is it easier to believe that nothing created everything or that creation must have had a creator? You know that your house exists, it is a building and must have had a builder. Perhaps you were that builder. You know that the cars on the road exist, they too had a creator, Ford/Chevy/Dodge/Honda/etc. You know that sun exists, you can feel its warmth and see its light every day, it too was created. So is it really so hard to believe that God created everything? You know the answer.
I reasonably reply countering the standard absurdities of Pascal's wager:
Pascal's wager has never been a good case.
First of all, you have narrowed things down to only two possibilities ignoring all others. This is what is known as a false dilemma. What if the muslims are right? A muslim could present the exact same argument to you and you would think it absurd, would you not? But according to them you would be going to hell. Can you really afford that risk? Of course you can.
And this could go for any religion. Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Norse traditional, Roman pantheistic. In the end why is it your deity, of all those that have ever been created by man that would have to be right? WE skeptics and atheists believe that because there is no good evidence of deity, let alone the identity of which if any exist, why should we worship or follow any? If it is a just God then infinite punishment for temporal crimes is not reasonable, which makes an eternal Hell that much less believeable.
I have listened to and read many apologetics, but Pascal's wager is extremely weak. I would recommend building a foundation on something much more substantial than threat and intimidation, which believe it or not is exactly what the threat of hell is.
He irrelevantly retorts:
The "threat" of hell is a warning, much like road signs, it is meant to keep you from harm. I can think of no greater harm then to spend eternity seperated from all that is good. You can choose to ignore the warning signs and continue on your way, but sooner or later it will be too late and you fall off the cliff. So my question remains. How long are you willing to ignore the warnings? There was a man once who, during a massive flood, climbed up on his roof and decided to wait for a God to rescue him. After a short while, a boat came by and the occupants asked the man to come and join them and be safe from the flood. The man refused, saying that he was trusting God to save him and they went on by. After some more time passed, and the water has raised even higher, another boat happened by and again the occupants urged the man to join them and escape the flood. Again the man refused, insisting that God would save him. By now the water was almost over the roof and the man was getting nervous. Suddenly a helicopter came along but the man still refused to be rescued because he thought he would know when God would save him and a short time later, the man drowned. When he stood before the Lord, he asked, why did you not come and save me? The Lord answered, I sent you two boats and a helicopter, why did you not trust Me?
Eternal Critic said: If a muslim presented the same argument to you, you think it absurd would you not? and If it is a just God, then eternal punishment for temporal crimes is not reasonable which makes an eternal hell that much less believable.
First off, I would be completely contradicting my faith and message if I agreed with you and I do not agree. The message itself is valid and powerful no matter who presents it. Even for muslims, it is those who do not honor and worship God who are the infidels bound for hell. They honor and respect Christians and Jews, at least those who trully follow the Qu'ran and not the extremists who pervert it. My beliefs may differ slightly but I will still be going to heaven because I trust in and follow God.
Secondly, it is exactly because God is holy and just that He must punish sin and make no differenciation of it. Sin is sin and it must be punished. If you go before a judge, convicted of a crime and you say to the judge, jusdge, I know I have been found guilty but since you are a good and fair judge, I believe you should let me go, being that you are so good and fair. What do you suppose that judge would say to you? They might give a slight chuckle but they would likely say, "because I am a good and fair judge, I cannot let you go free. I must see that justice is served and if I let you go free it would show me to be corrupt." And that is based on our standards. God holds much higher standards than that because He is perfectly Holy and Just. You can claim that His ways are unfair and unreasonable all you want but it makes no difference. We are without excuse and will all have to face Him on judgment day, where He will test even our thoughts and seperate the goats from the lambs.
I reply once again:
You actually completely ignored the important part of the question. If a Muslim presented you with the argument: "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammed is his prophet. If you do not accept this and follow the tenets of Islam and submit to Allah's will you will be damned for eternity in Jahannam. If you do accept this you could spend all eternity in a heavenly paradise. What have you got to lose? If you choose not to believe, and are right, you lose nothing, but if wrong you lose everything! If you believe in Allah and his prophet and are wrong you lose nothing, but if you are right gain everything.
This is the exact same argument put from a Muslim's perspective. And because I know you won't accept that argument, why do you think someone should accept yours other than because that's what -you- believe? I'm not sure who taught you about Islam, but there is no ambiguity in Islam that you would be going to hell for not being a believer.
As for your claims of fair judgement you again avoid the actual question. How does one make eternal judgement on temporal crimes? If I stole a tee-shirt (random example) I would be punished based on the severity of the crime. If I steal a car, my punishment will be summarily more severe. Why would it be just to jusge a petty thief the same for all eternity as (forgive my Godwin) Hitler. Or, that being switched around, why should a great philanthropist who has contributed to the benefit of mankind and done many good works and little wrong (nobody being perfect) be punished for all time solely on not believing in something he has no good evidence for while a serial murderer in prison for multiple life sentences should be saved on the basis of one single belief in an ephemeral, unproven concept. If that's justice, any crime should be a capital crime punishable by execution.
He once again replies, hypocritcally this time, sure to point out that he is not a hypocrite despite the obvious hypocrisy of claiming Pascal's wager is gold for Christians but BS for Muslims:
In regards to Eternal Critic's comments: That is not what you said originally since you mentioned nothing of Allah or Muhammad which actually was not the basis of my original post to begin with. I will reitterate that if I rejected my argument because someone else made it, I would be a hypocrit and my argument invalid. But you are right in that I would not accept the argument as you presented it. As for your argument about fair judgment I would remind you to stop insisting on your own ideas about is fair. Sin is sin and has no place in the presence of God. HE does not tolerate sin no matter how small WE think it is, and no matter how unjust WE feel HE is. He is Holy and just and will punish ALL sin. As humans, we make our own judgments about making the punishment fit the crime but WE ARE NOT GOD!! He also gave us a precious free gift in that Christ died to take our punishment for us so that we would not have to spend eternity in hell seperated from HIM! This is GRACE and it is given to us by FAITH through CHRIST alone and not by works that any may boast but a free gift from God.
Think of it this way, if I am convicted of murdering someone for instance. The evidence is irrefutable and the case has been tried and I am found guilty. I know that I am guilty and so did the jury. The judge asks me if I have any last words before he passes my sentance. In a last ditch effect to appeal to his goodness, I say "judge, I know you to be a good and fair judge and I believe that because of that you should let me go since I have learned my lesson and it will never happen again. You are so good and fair so I think you will agree that I should be allowed to go free as this would show how good and fair you are. How do think that judge would respond? They would probably laugh at such audacity and then make it perfectly clear that it is because they are good and fair that they must see justice served. They would be corrupt if they let anyone go unpunished if they were guilty. The world seems to think that God is TOO GOOD to punish them for their sins but is exactly this,God's goodness, that will condemn them. Sin must be punished and the punishment is seperation in hell for eternity. Apart from trusting and following Christ as savior there is no escaping that punishment. But since Christ became that punishment for us and defeated death, we can go free in Him for He loved us so much.
Finally I give up, since this guy is clearly an idiot lacking any ability to reason.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Friday, April 3, 2009
"Deuteronomy 6:7 tells us we are to talk about God's Word everywhere we go. Vacations should be no exception. Opportunities to see and explore God's amazing creation abound, whether at a national park, a Christian-themed venue, or a natural history museum. Places with secular propaganda can easily be turned into learning opportunities, as we learn to separate truth from error. With some preparation, you and your family can enjoy a purpose-filled vacation as you gain a better appreciation for the Creator who made all things."
But let us look into this even deeper. I know we -all- want to obnoxiously chatter about Gawd all the time. Because who doesn't want to hear about the Word!? Well, according to Answers in Genesis(see map and list), apparently only people not living in two out of seven continents! You mean there's no creationist sites anywhere outside of the North America, Britain, an two locations off those continents? You can't even get a creationist friendly site in the middle east. This has to be the only group of fundy loonies that doesn't try and sell people on trips to Israel.
But here's the really fucked up part. Most of these sites are great sites. For rationalists and scientific minded people. La Brea tar pits for example are pretty amazing. But could you go anywhere that shows the age of this world more? Perhaps the Grand Canyon. But seriously, these guys never cease to amaze me with what they pull out of their collective asses.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Nietzsche viewed nihilism primarily as a philosophy of hopelessness, despair, and complete apathy. In my opinion this is an oversimplification of nihilistic philosophy, but a decent rough approximation of some of the adherents of nihilism, and also of how atheists are viewed by many (particularly fundamentalist) theists.
Moral nihilism posits that morality is nonexistent. That there is no inherent good or evil and that actions are personal in nature and reflect individual preference rather than a common value set. Its easy to see where this can be construed as an anarchistic, or apathetic view. The writings go much deeper, but this is the most basic point. Let us compare that with an atheistic view of morality. It is similar, but not the same as the nihilistic one. Atheism is primarily an individualistic philosophy in regards to morality; it does not necessitate a nihilistic world view, neither does it preclude one. An atheist is above all an individual, and morally tend to largely reflect the society that they grew up in. I have often seen legalistic views, as well as views that are focused on the what is best for the society as a whole. That said, there is no defining aspect in atheism that decrees a particular world view.
Existential nihilism is a bit trickier. Existential nihilism at its most basic premise is that life has no purpose. Life is, in and of itself fairly meaningless, and worthless, lacking any inherent value. Here, atheism and nihilism almost always diverge. Atheists mostly believe that life does have value in what we do with it; that what we do in our lives determines its value, and that having only one life, it would be a shame to waste it in apathy or doing nothing of value. Neither philosophy takes a god-given goal for life as granted, but atheism takes its (individualistic) approach towards making the individual life meaningful to society and the world at large.
This view comes largely (in my opinion)from the early 20th century view that nihilism was the opposite of Christianity. By extension the common belief is that atheism, being a rejection of God (vainly assumed to be the Christian God) not only rejects the existence of God, but also rejects anything it stands for i.e morality, charity, etc (ignoring all the terrible things about God we also reject). Yes, atheism rejects the god hypothesis, but does not reject our humanity, ethics, or personal moral principles. This, I think is why so many atheists today like the terms "rationalist" or "free-Thinker"; it separates them from the label that is so commonly used as derogatory.
So, remember. An atheist who is not nihilistic is not one who lays in bed mourning over what a waste life is and how pointless existence is. If we were, we would not have such vocal proponents as we have today, nor would the advancement of science and humanity be such a common goal among us. So remember, while nihilism is almost always atheistic, the reverse is not the norm, or even common.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
The first problem, unsurprisingly is the inconsistencies in the principle documents: the gospels. He notes that they are contradictory on accounts of the virgin birth, the genealogy of Yeshua, the infanticide of Herod, etc. This alone is a huge argument against the truth and reliability of the gospels, but even moreso are historical inaccuracies like the governorship of Quirinius, the lack of evidence for a census; many things were fairly obviously hashed together after the fact to adhere to the Jewish messianic prophecies.
He does address the apocryphal and heretical and gnostic gospels in this chapter, but only briefly, but does make a good point about them. It would would have taken very little in the course of history, particular in the councils deciding what the canon would be, to have a completely different version of Jesus, and having no proof or evidence of who authored any of the texts, none is more reliable than another, especially given inaccuracies.
Later in the chapter he gives a cursory refutation of C.S Lewis' Lord, Lunatic, or Liar false trilemma for the divinity of Jesus.
That said, there's not alot to this chapter to support Hitchens' thesis overall, but he does make a good case against the accuracy of the New Testament. There's not much here to say religion poisons everything, however it gives a good picture at how well grounded the faith is, and how little it has to stand on in reality.
The obvious truth of the resurrection, the empty tomb story, and all the clear proofs in the gospels that they were inspired and accurate accounts of the events is completely lost on Hitchens, who opts for an insulting and derogatory interpretation of the bible, twisting things out of context to make things seem inconsistent or downright ridiculous.
Do not be fooled! Hitchens is merely a charlatan. He preaches to his anti-theist audience denouncing hell, and calling into question the authority of the canonical gospels. He even brings up the Heretical gospels neglecting to recognize the inspiration of the church fathers who selected the canon with divine guidance. He delves into the heretical Gospel of Judas and even claims it to be MORE credible than the canon.
It is truly a testimony to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that even the best atheists have to offer have such little to defeat our united faith!