Thursday, December 29, 2011

Another Take on "It's A Wonderful Life"

Last year I took on America's most favorite Christmas movie, which has dubious values.

This year, Craig Ferguson dissects it in a very post-modern way (starting at 5:10):

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book Review: The Religion Virus

The "New Atheists" have described religion as a delusion, a poison, and now apparently a virus.  The author says at the end that he hoped people would view their religions differently, but I doubt many religionists could get past the title of this book:  The Religion Virus: Why We Believe in God, An Evolutionist Explains Religion's Incredible Hold on Humanity.

Craig James applies Dawkins' theory of memes to the main concepts of religion.  In many ways I found this convincing, but he tries a little too hard to force the meme concept onto the book.

The concept in this book that has stuck with me most of all is the transition from pantheons of single-function gods to almighty, multi-dimensional single gods.  The All-Powerful god meme, which replaces the Warrior God Meme, the Protector God Meme, and the Loving Father God Meme, or rather conflates them all into one god-meme.  This transition wasn't ever complete with Catholics, at least.  They continue to pray to patron saints for help with their specialties. 

Still, it's a powerful idea.  It explains how God could be so contradictory, taking both sides of a football game for instance.  It also explains how the various stories and phases of the Old Testament portray different concepts of God.

The memeplex lost me a bit, but I get the concept of multiple memes sticking together and supporting each other.  I imagine a herd of gazellish ideas sticking together, which would be very adaptive.

Essentially, the analogy states that ideas that are advantageous to themselves will survive.  The most obvious is missionary work, of course.  Religions that prosletyze survive and those that don't, won't.  Christianity & Islam prosletyze and they number in the billions.  Judaism doesn't, and hence comprises a tiny minority in the world.

The virus analogy enters only at the end: religion is a parasite on society, needing to be passed from person to person to survive and yet destroying some of them.  It survives for its own purposes more than for the benefit to society... or something.  I found this part a little bit of a stretch.  A virus spreads through unconscious mechanisms, and religion spreads through prosletyzing, brainwashing, and "educating" young children.  Some of the memes seem to infect other memeplexes a.k.a. religions, though.

Some of the book oversimplifies, especially the virus analogy.  Religion has helped or hurt its societies to varying degrees.  Of course you can claim that there are beneficial parasites as well as destructive ones, and some that are only destructive under the right circumstances.

It's definitely a thought-provoking book.  Anyone who has read the Bible knows that the "unchanging" God has changed quite a bit from the beginning to the end.  Even the commandment "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" implies that at one time Judaism was not monotheistic.  "The" God just wanted to be Numero Uno.  The warrior god seems to have softened his approach.  He wiped out the world, then he wiped out entire peoples or countries in genocidal rampages, then honed in on cities and eventually individuals.  "An eye for an eye" was a big moral improvement over genocide.  Then later there's no payment at all thanks to penal substitution.  God went from destroying the whole world to saying "fuhgeddaboudit."  This book frames a theory that explains these changes.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The War on New Year's

We used to say "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year."  The phrase has been immortalized in song.  We send greeting cards with this message.

Then we got lazy and started saying "Happy Holidays."  A two word catch-all greeting was much less of a mouthful than the six-word greeting that covered the whole holiday season.

And that worked for quite some time.  Many years.  Our hustle-bustle lifestyle fit with our holiday spirit just fine.  We could do Christmas shopping the day after Thanksgiving, then come home and eat leftover turkey.  On the day after Christmas we'd be back at the mall, shopping the sales in the same spirit as "Black Friday."  Then by New Year's Eve we'd be ready for a party that didn't include eating too much or giving gifts that people don't really need.  Just pure partying.  No baggage.

And then the next day we could start thinking about Valentine's Day.

But then certain people got concerned that our abbreviated greeting was giving short shrift to Christ's birthday.  After all, without Christ there would be no holiday season.  They don't celebrate all those holidays.  They just celebrate one, but they start it on Thanksgiving and finish up sometime after January 1.   So they took offense at the suggestion that there was more than one holiday in the "season."

It's bad enough that Thanksgiving gets the smack-down when it is clearly part of the Christmas season now, but New Year's is no longer recognized either.  These people want us to say "Merry Christmas" without adding "and Happy New Year."  They are rewriting history, claiming that "Merry Christmas is all that was ever said.

New Year's Eve used to be about getting drunk, kissing strangers, and waking up with a horrible hangover.  Now it's not even its own holiday anymore.  If it's a holiday at all, it's part of the endless marathon of Christmassing that starts just before Thanksgiving.  It's not about getting drunk and waking up in a fog the next day.  Now it's about organizing your shit into color coded Rubbermaid bins and making impossible resolutions.

But some of us know better, and it's up to us to stand up for what's Right and True.  If you know any sanctimonious Christians who claim that "Christ is the reason for the season," walk right up to them from December 26 through January 1, and say "HAPPY NEW YEAR."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Death of a God

The death of Kim Jong Il has brought to light a lot of information I didn't previously know.  I'm surprised he isn't mourned by more people.  His birth was accompanied by a heavenly miracle.  He talked within a few months and walked way ahead of schedule.  He authored thousands of books as a college student, and composed an opera. He made several holes in one on his first time on a golf course. But don't just trust me.  Read it here.

Or check out the movie:

So many people couldn't believe something so untrue, could they?  Sure, they were all taught to believe that, but they were taught it because it's true

Skeptics dispute the details of his life, of course.  Bitter hopeless people with nothing to live for but the evil wish to hurt the reputation of a beloved god will always try to dissuade the true believers.  The tears of the faithful should be proof enough that he is indeed a good and beloved leader.   

I prophesy that he will appear again to his people and tell them to obey his holy son's commandments. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

"She's in God's Hands Now"

Last week a seven-year-old little girl and her 21-year-old uncle were killed in what seems to have been a burglary.  Their funeral was on Saturday and the TV news showed several people making comments about it.  And of course someone said the inevitable "She's in God's arms and God is taking care of her now."

I've heard that sentiment a million times but this time I realized.... why would you want a crime victim to be in the hands of the same god that let her get murdered?  I mean, if being "in God's hands" was some kind of protection, then obviously God isn't all-powerful or else he'd have protected her on Earth.  Not much of god if he can only keep her safe after she's shed her corporeal self and starts hanging out with him and the angels.  I thought there was no suffering in Heaven, so he's protecting her from what?  Boredom?  What a challenge!

Sometimes when a child dies they say "God needed another angel in heaven so he took her."  (Usually just the girls.  I suppose when boys die the Devil gets them?  *shrug*)  What?  Why would he need another angel?  What do angels do besides sing his heavenly praises?  There's no work in heaven, and if there was, why make children do it?  And why would God need an angel?  Why would God need anything for that matter?

And anyway, you'd think God would know how many angels he needs to surround himself with and not have to change his mind after letting one be a child for seven years.  There's no death or disease in Heaven, so it's not like one of the angels came down with laryngitis and had to drop out of the Heavenly Choir.

I can understand the need for comforting thoughts in a time of grief, but how can these fairy tales be any kind of comfort?  I find it rather dismissive of the absolute horror that the child experienced.  "Oh yeah she was terrified and then she got shot and maybe she bled and hurt for a little while, and maybe she saw her favorite uncle take a bullet too, but it's all okay now."   Uhhh yeah, her suffering is over, but not that of her family. 

When challenged about it, most people would admit that their fairy tales are just made up to soothe their feelings.  People say these things without any thought for the theology of it, or even the logic of it.  They make up a way to reframe their situation in a way that makes it less painful.

It reminds me of Dissociative Disorder.  The abused child has been taxed beyond their ability to cope, so their mind supplies them with another personality that can take the lumps for them.  We've all probably been in situations where we mentally "check out" because it's so uncomfortable.  The next phase would be imagining you're watching yourself taking in the pain.  After that, dissociation.  And then after that.... dissociate the entire universe.  Make up a universe in which the unfair becomes fair and pain is turned to comfort.

Life is tough.  Death is also tough.  We atheists comfort ourselves that Hitch left behind his writings and the fond memories people have of him.  We had the luxury of being able to prepare for his loss, but  we still miss him.  The little girl's life was cut so short that there wasn't much of a legacy there.  It was truly horrific, and we can empathize with the grief of her family and friends. 

Thanks to vaccines, water treatment plants, sewage systems, and food safety inspections, the girl's family was not unrealistic in believing she could have lived into her eighties.  But life still has its risks, however small, from day one through the "natural" ending.  This is one of those times when a rare event happens.  We wish they were even more rare, of course.

In the Middle Ages people seemed to believe in Fortuna, the Roman goddess of luck.  (Yes, even in the supposedly most religious age of Christianity there was a lot of pagan stuff floating around!  Who'da thunk it?)  She turned her wheel (The Wheel Of Fortune) and people rose or fell according to where they were on the wheel.  Even though they had a thousand or more years of Christian theology to turn to, they still had to admit that in the end sometimes shit just happens and it's out of your hands.  They didn't imagine that it was in God's hands, either. 

Medieval theology was based pretty much on the Bible, unlike the theology of the ultra-religious of American society (who claim to be "Biblical").  They believed in salvation of the soul, but as for the rest, shit happened.  I have to admire the fact that they spun off their dissociation into a different deity rather than rewriting the theology of The God to ameliorate their pain.  I think Christianity was as successful as it was in converting "pagans" in part because it originally lacked that promise of making things happen on Earth in the same way that pagan gods did.  The pagan god of harvest, childbirth, or whatever, was fickle and could let you down.  The Christian god of damnation and forgiveness wasn't interested in those things, just what you believed about him.  Of course, this left open the door to pagan ideas and celebrations, such as Fortuna, and yule logs and gift-giving at the Solstice.

Now, apparently, instead of reverting to Pagan gods or studying The Problem of Evil, people just make shit up about God.  You don't have to have a theology degree or even to have read the entire Bible to do it.  Here's the formula: 
  1. Feel bad. 
  2. Imagine a Hollywood fairy tale ending. 
  3. Attribute the fairy tale ending to God.

The End.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Goodbye, Hitch

Although I disagreed with some of his opinions, I will miss his voice in the atheist world.  He was one of the few outspoken atheists not to come from academia or the sciences.  His  voice was the voice of the common sense human being who looks at the world's superstitions and the damage done and says "This is crap."

Of course as an atheist blogger who isn't a scientist I appreciate that voice.  I also admire his way with words and I believe he opened the door for other voices to join in.  With Dawkins and Hawking we have representatives of the "answers" that counter the creationist worldview.  A lot of believers take the Genesis story with a grain of salt, anyway, so we need to point out the many other reasons why religion is false.  Hitch took on the "Religion does good things" meme. 

His "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" was one of the "New Atheist" books of the past few years.  I had never heard of him until I picked up that book.  It's worth the read just for his writing style, but also gives you plenty to ponder.  I'm a fan of religious art and music, and I have often had to deal with friends who point out "If it weren't for religion Bach wouldn't have comnposed his B Minor Mass!"  [so there].  It's tedious to have to point out that Bach composed a lot of secular music and DaVinci's Mona Lisa is just as important as the Sistene Chapel ceiling.  Without religion, Bach and DaVinci would still have been great artists, just not with religious themes.

So... I don't necessarily believe that religion poisons everything but I admire Hitch for expressing himself and showing another side of the atheist spectrum.  He will never be replaced, but his niche will be filled by some of the people he inspired.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

YAY for Team Atheist!!!

Athiests on reddit got together and donated to Doctors Without Borders.  Awesome!

Doctors without Borders (DWB), also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres, gets about 4,000 hits on its U.S. website on an average Sunday. Last Sunday that number ballooned to 50,000 as a horde of redditors, subscribers to the social media site, thundered across the DWB homepage.

Thousands more clicked through from the atheism sub-reddit, a site normally given over to finding holes in religions and picking fights with creationists, and headed for a dedicated site at, where they have so far given $180,000...

DWB normally gets a few million dollars a year from about 250-300 third party fundraising events, anything from reddit to a child selling home-made lemonade on the street corner. Reddit has contributed about 10 percent of that total in a few days.

I have never posted at reddit so I took a quick glance.  It's kind of overwhelming.  But google came to my rescue and I found the actual donation page.  It's at $194k now, just shy of the $200k goal.  Open your wallets if you can and help Team Atheist reach the $200k mark!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Nerds and Male Privilege

Men in the nerdlier professions tend to be atheists.  They are the ones who study the logical subjects but yet still have the instincts of any normal human being.  Sadly, they don't get the exposure needed to learn as much about women as they do about computers, computer games, and whatever science they love because women are typically discouraged from them even today.  (We also develop language skills earlier, possibly to the detriment of the parts of the brain necessary for science)

So... anywho, having observed Elevatorgate and contributed my two cents, I had some deja vu while reading this essay:

Completely different corner of geekdom, completely similar issues.  A brilliant, brilliant essay, from a man who "gets it."  Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What do Atheists Feel?

Believers, especially evangelical Christians, seem to be immune to logical arguments against their beliefs.  My theory is that they believe for emotional reasons, as their emotional "arguments" for belief indicate.  I have enountered many completely emotional responses to my rational arguments.  It's like we speak two different languages.  Atheism as a non-belief position rather than a systemic response to existential fears and feelings, so it offers nothing for them.  In fact, they actually accuse atheists of believing in "nothing."  To them, our worldview is dark, depressing, and nihilistic.  So I thought I would answer some of the questions I've heard and seen coming from the other side.

Isn't atheism depressing?

Not unless you're being discriminated for it.  Depression is depressing.  Grieving is grieving no matter whether you believe in God.  Believers must really work their rationalization skills when bad things happen to them.  Whatever happiness or comfort they get is as much from their social network as from the "answers" they get in their religion.  Why else would funerals be universal amongst religious practices?  Religion gives comfort, and we atheists recognize this.

But whether a belief is comforting doesn't have anything to do with whether it's true, and my atheism is based on a desire to know what's true, not to hear comforting words.  I suspect that many believers, when pressed on the tenets of their belief system, would deny quite a bit of it, but they cling to their religion as a salve for their uncomfortable feelings.  The "Problem of Evil" (which is really the Problem of Things Not Going My Way) is a real conundrum for Christians.  Why would a loving God allow child rape, plane crashes or cancer?  Those things aren't "fair."  For the Christian whose rationalization muscle isn't strong enough to answer this question, their worldview actually causes them more sadness and angst than the atheist position would.  Chance occurrences are "fair" in that all of us are equally at risk for bad things.  When something devastating happens, it doesn't "mean" anything except that something devastating happened.  That "fairness" brings me quite a bit of comfort.

Depression with a big "D" is a disease, and also a chronic mood.  The extent of "depression" depends on genes and other factors for atheists as much as it does for believers.  In the modern age there are proven psychotherapies and drugs that can address depression.  Social networking has also gotten a bit easier.  An atheist who is an avid racketball player may find a social network in this activity that is comparable to that of believers' networks.  The fact that so many staunch believers in the U.S. live in rural areas with fewer opportunities outside of their churches tells me that the community aspect may be the real reason they cling to belief.  As more people live in urbanized areas, they will find more ways to connect with others of similar interests, and the need to belong to a religious group will decline.

Aren't you afraid of hell?

Nobody wants to die.  It's an instinct.  And so of course the idea of an afterlife is very appealing.  Justice is also a universal desire.  We want to think that we will be rewarded for our goodness and that horrible people will be punished even if they got away with their crimes in life.  Christians have the odd theology that states that belief itself is enough to decide who receives reward or punishment.  They seem only to hold that belief when encountering atheists, however.  When they encounter believers who have done something terrible, they want them to go to Hell.

Judgment Day for me is my last moment of consciousness.  I want my last thought to be "I did what I could with the time I had."  I think a lot of atheists feel that way.  Having a finite lifespan makes our actions in life that much more urgent and important.  I don't want to think that Gandhi is in Hell for disbelieving the Bible but Karla Faye Tucker is in Heaven for accepting Christ.  Hitler never renounced his belief in God.  As a Catholic, he would be in Hell for committing the mortal sin of murder.  In evangelical Christianity, he'd be in Hell for not being "born-again" rather than for his actions, if he were to go to Hell at all.  Where's the justice here?  As far as I'm concerned, Gandhi, Hitler and Karla Faye Tucker are all dead and that's that.

You just want to sin.

Most prohibitions that are called "sins" are just common sense in a human society.  Other sins really don't matter in the grand scheme of life.  Is it really a big deal for women to go out with their heads uncovered?  Is it really a big deal to eat shellfish?  Is it really a big deal to decide which day of the week you want to take off from work?  No.  As the diversity of societies proves, these religious practices don't affect society at all, nor do they affect the individuals.  Men who are bald should cover their heads to prevent skin cancer.  People with shellfish allergies should avoid shellfish.  And all people should take a day off from work at least once a week to refresh and rejuvenate themselves.  You can decide these things for yourself without any penalty whatsoever.  People do it every day.

But... is it a big deal to kill people, lie to others, and make enemies of your neighbors?  Of course it is.  Any society has rules like this, including secular societies.  And atheists on the whole don't really want to do these things any more than believers do.  Note that believers have been guilty of many things considered "sins" universally, so being a believer doesn't really protect them from acting on their baser feelings.  The odds are pretty good that most people in prison were indoctrinated with religion as children, considering how overwhelming the "majority" is.

Not to mention, what about all the pedophile priests & ministers, the evangelical preachers caught practicing homosexuality or cheating on their wives with a prostitute?  "You want to sin" is a case of psychological projection.  They refrain from antisocial behaviors because they want to refrain from them, not because God is looking over their shoulders.  Atheists refrain from hurting people for the same reason.
Atheists are just angry at God.

How many Christians are angry with Vishnu or Thor or Zeus?  A lot of atheists harbor anger toward religion or individual members of their previous religions.  But it's impossible to be angry toward a god that you don't believe exists.  And yet this is one of the most common accusations I've heard.

This meme comes from the God-as-Santa-Claus fantasy held by many Christians.  They themselves wrestle with the issue of God not answering prayers, so they assume others have failed to adequately rationalize this for themselves and then left the church in a huff.  It's certainly possible that some people came to their atheism from this starting point, but from the atheists I've known it just doesn't happen often.  Christians will switch denominations or parishes out of anger, or they'll stop going to church for awhile, but they usually don't stop believing altogether.

A lot of things do anger atheists, but this has more to do with Christian hypocrisy (in the U.S. especially) and intolerance.  Check out Greta Christina's long list of things that make her angry.  Believers should be angry at these things too.  There are also some atheists who feel they were snookered by their former religion.  After you come up for air, you realize what you've missed during the years of needless self-deprivation and emotional self-abuse.  The more extreme the former religion, the more snookered former adherents may feel about it.

Rejection of God is an intellectual position rather than an emotional one.  This is hard for believers to accept.  As long as their religion makes them feel good they can't understand others not deriving the same happiness from belief.  Evangelical Christianity understands this, and this is why love-bombing features so prominently in their activities.  The other trick they use is to offer so many activities through the church that members' entire social lives depend on their church membership.

Believers "think" with their feelings, so they project onto us atheists the only feeling they can imagine driving them away from their feel-good God.  As Matt Dilahunty often says on The Atheist Experience, it matters to us whether something is true.  An atheist doesn't find the "arguments" for religion compelling, and believers' appeals to emotion do nothing to prove their religion true.

Doesn't atheism make you feel lonely?

Yes, it does sometimes, especially in the Bible Belt.  This is why there are so many "closet athiests," who belong to a church and take part in its activities despite not believing in any of the tenets.  Some of these closeted atheists are even pastors, priests and rabbis.  They are perhaps the loneliest atheists.

Fortunately for us, this is changing.  We have the ability via the internet to find each other, and there are groups popping up everywhere.  This includes schools.  We don't have rummage sales, spaghetti dinners, or softball leagues, but that may come some day!  We do have "retreats" in a sense, with the few conferences we can attend.

Again, feelings don't prove the truth of a position.  Feeling comfort from your religion is very, well, comforting.  That doesn't mean there's a supernatural sky-daddy looking in on you.  It's a comforting fantasy, but just a fantasy.

Belonging to a megachurch that offers dozens of weekly activities may stave off loneliness, and that's a good thing.  Having a "prayer circle" that checks in on you when you're in the hospital is a very nice thing.  Having dozens of people show up at a loved one's funeral makes it easier to go on with life.

We don't dismiss the comfort that religion brings, only the tenets that religion requires.

You worship Dawkins (or Darwin or whomever).

Atheism is a rejection of supernatural religious beliefs, and for some people those beliefs are grounded on respect for authority.  If you have an authoritarian viewpoint, naturally you would expect to substitute another authority for the law-giving God.

"Worship" for many Christians is really just synonymous with admiration, or else this accusation wouldn't come up so often.  It seems to have lost its supernatural definition for them to think we could "worship" a mortal being.
So if we use the word "admire," Christians have a long list of people they admire, and not all of them are church leaders.  Likewise, atheists can admire any number of people.  We can also admire ideas, laws, principles, and even religions.  Once you open your mind to looking for the best that humanity has to offer, you can experience an even greater sense of awe than you experience from a fairy tale.

How can you look at the stars (nature, babies, etc.) and not feel that there is a God?

Easy.  We look at these things, admire their beauty and feel awe without giving that feeling a supernatural origin.  The mind is a tricky thing.  You can have an aesthetic experience that seems supernatural, but it really isn't supernatural.  That takes nothing away from the good feelings you get from these experiences.  If you are open to beauty you will be open to beauty no matter what your cultural upbringing or system of beliefs.  The beautiful things of life are admirable on their own.  In fact, imagining a supernatural being behind it all takes away some of the awe.  Billions of years of astrophysical events are much more amazing to me than the thought that some superpower caused it with a wave of a magic wand.

We do feel that there's something bigger than ourselves, but we don't personalize it.  Gravity as a force is pretty awesome.  The circle of life is awesome.  The delicacy of a hummingbird or a flower is awesome.  Period.  That's good enough, and it's pretty good!

You are your own God

I assume from this accusation that they don't mean the supernatural aspects of their deity.  From conversations with believers, I have deduced that this accusation refers to the law-giving God.  Rejection of the supernatural is the one and only thing that atheists agree on, and we don't attempt magic tricks to substitute for your God. It's true that without a cultural God, atheists must figure out right from wrong on their own.  The good news is that most of what believers take to be wrong is wrong for everybody.  Killing other people is considered wrong everywhere, with the exception of killing during war, which is considered right virtually everywhere.  Telling a lie is considered wrong.  Not keeping your word (e.g., cheating in marriage) is considered wrong.  The belief-centered Commandments and the food rules of the Old Testament can be thrown out without changing much about how people get along in society.  And getting along in society is what gives people, atheists and believers alike, a sense of security and well-being.

A lot of Christians are more like us in this respect already.  Christ's sacrifice supposedly granted them forgiveness from breaking God's laws, so what really keeps them from running amok?  Parents can inculcate a conscience in their children without reference to "What would Jesus do?"  After all, Jesus did some strange things so he's not the best role model anyway.  If you feel like having a fig and the fig tree isn't due to produce figs for several more months, would you set it on fire?  No, of course not.  You'd eat something else.  Christians should give themselves more credit for their own common sense and respect for humanity.  If they did, they'd realize atheists are pretty much the same.

But what about things like homosexuality and abortion?  Some sects of Christianity leave it to their believers to figure out their own positions, and some are "liberal" in the sense of not viewing these things as sins.  Atheists can come to various positions based on the way they frame the questions, just as Christians can.  For a lot of us, not being told what to believe by a supernatural authority figure presents an interesting intellectual problem.  But some of us are as emotional as believers are, and may decide that homosexuality is wrong based on projection of feelings: i.e., fighting their own urges, or feeling revulsion at the idea of sex with someone of their own gender.   As the high number of anti-gay evangelicals who have turned out to be gay themselves shows, there is more to the question than reading some ancient text.  Anyone who has actually read the Bible knows that there are many, many prohibitions against a lot of things that modern Christians don't pay any attention to at all.  How many evangelicals refuse to eat shellfish because the Bible says it is an abomination?  In reality, believers pick and choose which "laws" they will follow based on whether they want to do those things or not.  Personally, I don't eat shellfish because I think it's icky.  I don't have sex with women because I think that is icky too.  I don't care if other people do either of those things, though.  My own feelings on the subject guide only my own life, and I don't think I should dictate the actions of others.

Monday, December 5, 2011

10 Reason Why Libertarianism is Bullshit

NOTE:  Comments are CLOSED 
for this post

I have encountered some libertarian atheists, and a video of Penn Jillette talking about his version of libertarianism I screamed BULLSHIT!

1.  It's impossible.  Libertarianism is impossible except for survivalist nutters and hermits.  Humans need a social structure because we're a social species.  Trusting that humans can moderate their own behavior on their own is just a fantasy.  If we were as sparsely distributed as wolf packs, we could get along in our small groups without intervention from a higher authority in theory.... but the matriarch or patriarch would be the higher authority so even that isn't strictly libertarian.  Anyway, we're long past the point in evolution where we could manage our behavior without a formal structure.  Michael Shermer theorizes the optimal size for a human community to manage without any oversight is about 150.  Those days are gone.

2.  It's naive.  It assumes people are basically good.  This is a nice thought, and a refreshing break from the Christian belief that all people are sinners who need to be saved, but it's just plain wrong.  Just as we differ in our DNA we differ in our personalities.  Some of us will go through life making very few decisions that negatively impact others, and some of us are sociopaths.  At its best, government protects the truly good from the sociopaths.  Without a government, we would be reduced to lynch mobs which can only avenge bad deeds, not prevent them.  And we certainly wouldn't have something like the FBI, which can trace the path of a serial killer from one area to the next based on DNA evidence, etc.  I think the people who believe that "survival of the fittest ergo libertarianism" probably assume they are the fittest themselves.  They don't think that they would be the victims of a sociopath.  Bernie Madoff counted on this kind of hubris to make his illegal millions.

3.  It's cold-hearted.  For example, regulations about safety in cars aren't needed because over time car companies would be forced to make safer cars or they'd go out of business.  So the people who died in fires caused by exploding gas tanks in Ford Pintos, or in wrecks caused by the design of their Corvair were just collateral damage in the evolution of better cars.  People who died because of unregulated businesses did nothing to deserve that fate, except perhaps not be able to afford better cars.  And the pseudo-Darwinism of libertarianism really doesn't care what the strong do to the weak.  Rich and powerful people are good and deserve to be rich and powerful.  The poor and powerless deserve what they get.

4.  It ignores history.  We haven't always had a U.S. government.  It's only a little more than 200 years old.  But we do know earlier forms of society.  We've had monarchies.  We've had theocracies.  We had the ancient Roman & Greek systems that privileged people with money.  Modern democracy certainly has its failings, but we really be better off returning to "less" government considering what our previous systems gave us?

5.  It's not natural.  The underlying assumption of libertarianism is that government is an artificial construct that interferes with natural behavior, which they believe works just fine on its own.  There's no evidence that humanity could have survived without some form of social organization.  The instinct for survival that causes some to climb to the top of the heap and others to hide from the climbers just doesn't result in a society that works for large numbers.  It probably won't work for small numbers, either. 

6.  It ignores human failings.  We no longer live in family groups in tiny villages, and if Libertarianism became the "law" of the land, we would pretty much have to go back to that.  In our distant past, we helped each other within our own group and competed against other groups for resources.  Surviving without a government would require all of us to gather into small groups for protection and predation.  Child abuse and spousal abuse would again be perpetrated with no recourse.  Victims of alcoholism or mental illness would have no access to services, and their families would suffer.  A small group's only hope of survival when "infected" with a defective member would be to ostracize that member.

7.  It ignores human compassion.  Libertarianism denies the instinct to help others, which has been shown in other species as well. Government taking a role in "lifting up" the poor is an extension of the instinct we would follow individually in a smaller group.   By blaming the victim, libertarians can imagine themselves the agents of their own good luck.  There's no place in their worldview for helping the blind, the deaf, the physically impaired, or the children of these people.  The mentally ill who are incapable of working for a living due to their illness?  *shrug*  At least religions have charities that make a dent in these issues.  Secular libertarians leave the powerless to their own devices as if blindness or mental illness were somehow the victim's own fault.  There have been hundreds if not thousands of examples of other animals helping each other or even other species, so compassion seems to be instinctual.  I have yet to meet a libertarian who has a relative that needs help to survive.  If I had the power to curse people, I'd curse libertarians with multiple sclerosis.  Let's see how many ways they make use of the ADA law's provisions.

8.  It ignores Somalia.  Somalia is the perfect example of libertarianism in action. There's basically no government in Somalia so we can see what would happen.   Without a government, pirates and tribal groups terrorize others.  Women and children are mistreated.  Disease is rampant.  There's no viable business other than crime.  It's a chaotic mess.  Why would anyone want to copy that model?

9.  It's selfish.  On the surface, Penn Jillette saying that he doesn't know what's best for someone else seems humble and charitable.  But really, sometimes he would know what's best.  He would know that a woman being beaten on a daily basis by an abusive husband would be better off if she could get out of that situation.  He would know that someone with asthma would be better off in a world with less air pollution.  His pseudo-humility covers up a basic unwillingness to get involved.  Or, he's got his head in the sand when it comes to the problems of society and of individuals that are just too big or complicated for a family or small group to help with.

10.  It's provincial.  It ignores the fact that the economies and socieities of all the world's nations are now interconnected.  If someone lives in the country with well water, septic tank and a burn pit for their garbage, they can fantasize they are not relying on the government.  But then when their four-year-old comes down with cancer, they're only too happy to take him to the big city hospital for chemo that was studied using federal funding.

So...  I call BULLSHIT on libertarianism.  It's a stupid position to take.  Even if it could be implemented it couldn't succeed.  Its thinly veiled social "darwinism" but without any of the nuance of true evolutionary theory.

Penn Jillette on libertariansim:

Ford Pinto video:

Friday, November 25, 2011

"Ungodly Discipline" on CNN

As if we needed more reasons to hate nutty Christians, they have created cults and cultish beliefs that permit or even encourage gross forms of child abuse.  This isn't the "child abuse" that some of the "New Atheists" talk about, in which children are infected with scary images of hell.  This is systematic beatings, slavery, and psychological abuse by supposed religionists.  CNN's Anderson Cooper's special, "Ungodly Discipline," seems to have been inspired by the tragic story of a girl who was killed by parents influenced by the crazyass book, To Train up a Child.

The show was on earlier today and I was semi-shocked to find that a  horribly abusive "school" is in Indiana.  (Of course nothing would shock me about Indiana after living here for three years).  The place is called Hephzibah House, and it calls itself a "school" for teenage girls.  Some of these girls are coming out about their experiences here:  I could only stomach reading a few of these stories, and they seem to report the same type of mistreatment, so I decided not to subject myself to it.

The main themes:
  • The goal of the school is to "break the will" of the girl
  • New girls are forced to have amateur pelvic exams
  • Girls who don't finish their repulsive meal will have it served to them again, cold, in addition to their next meal
  • If a girl throws up her meal, she will be forced to eat her vomit
  • Girls' communication with family is extremely limited, and all communications are monitored
  • Girls are used as slave labor for hours a day, including cleaning and renovating homes of the church's pastor and his friends
  • Beatings were frequent and random, and left bloody welts on the backside
  • Girls who failed to live up to the "standards" could be isolated from all other residents except the staff member they're "shadowing."  They even have to sleep with this staff member while on this punishment.
  • The girls have to go to the bathroom on a schedule, and yet they are forced to drink large quantities of water.  If their bladders can't obey this commandment, they are forced to wear diapers
  • Escape is impossible.  They are imprisoned by high privacy fences and watched closely.
The school and the author of the heinous book are members of the oxymoronic network of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches.  They believe in "spiritual spanking," but it's hard to believe any child feels more spiritual after hours of spanking.

The guy who runs this school for teenage girls also runs a "college" that offers "degrees."  Notice that most of the faculty are graduates of that same college?   Doesn't that say something about the place?  Who would send their kid to that kind of place?  What is wrong with Indiana parents?   This subculture is pervasive and just plain creepy.  They are worse than anything that's been proven to be going on in Islamist or Catholic schools, including terroristic rhetoric and pedophilia.

Well... after learning about all this I'm even more ashamed to live in Indiana.  I lived in Texas for seven years and never saw anything this creepy.  (The Branch Davidians were before my time there - and they were non-Texans)  What's even worse than these places doing what they do and people believing this nonsense is that the authorities have turned a blind eye to it.  The child protective services peeps say they would need to have a current resident make a complaint, but the current residents are not allowed to communicate with the outside except through monitored phone calls to their family and mail that the prison school redacts with black magic marker.  WTF? How can this happen in America?

A survivor of a similar church set up a website here:

Kind of makes me wonder what other horrors Christians are perpetrating on helpless children.   I'd be tempted to say "God help them," but clearly God hasn't been any help to the victims of his followers.  I hope the Anderson Cooper exposé lights a fire under the authorities here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Winter Depression and Depression in Winter

My theory about solstice holidays is that people need to be cheered up and reminded that the long dark nights are over and the days will start getting longer.  It doesn't really matter how you couch it in theology, lights are part of the magic somehow.  Hannukah has the menorah.  Christians have Christmas lights.  The cult of Mithra believed the sun was born on December 25.  The Hindu calendar begins on the winter solsticeRomans believed the happier times in the past were when there was no winter, so they celebrated Saturnalia, when the length of the day reverses and starts getting longer.

When I showed up for college in Northern Wisconsin the RAs warned us that the winter is incredibly depressing there.  I was totally skeptical, but by my fourth year I was convinced. Besides the brittle, unforgiving cold and wind, the days were just a bit shorter in winter than they had been at home. 

Fourteen years later after yo-yo-ing in mood and weight and energy, I was diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder.  I participated in a study of the prototype of the light visor that is now standard treatment for SAD and jet lag.

I remember when they fitted me with my test visor.  The light seemed rather dull to me, and I thought "oh crap, I got the placebo!"  I went along with the protocol because they promised me proven treatment afterward for free.  By the end of a week my mood had totally changed.  To someone who doesn't have SAD this probably doesn't make sense, but the only thing that explains it for me is that it was winter on the outside but summer on the inside.  I never knew that other people didn't feel the same way.  Of course, in normal Spring the change is gradual, but it's very definitely a different feeling from winter for me.

I have since bought a light box, a desk lamp for work, and a visor for home and  travel.  But over the years there have been a few really, really deep depressions that weren't related to the change of seasons.  I just don't bounce back from grief very well, apparently.  The first really bad one was after 9/11.  I became homesick for the East Coast and it just didn't lift.  I had started on Prozac in grad school because my schedule was so crazy I couldn't follow might routine with lights.  In June of 2002 I finally went to a shrink because I'd expected my mood to lift by then and it kept getting worse.  That's when I was switched to Effexor.  I felt better in a little over a week and by the end of the second week I wondered why I'd been so sad.  The next time was the loss of my beloved dog in January of 2005.  That time the grief just hung on and wouldn't lift for the whole year, but it did lift the following Spring.  In December of 2007 my job was eliminated and I felt really betrayed because I'd worked my ass off there.  I asked my doctor about changing my dose of Effexor because winter was the WORST time for me to have a devastating loss like that.  She increased it, and I also went to therapy.  By the Summer I was feeling a lot better.

Science comes through again!

Now, considering my history with depression, and my family history of schizophrenia, you can imagine how pissed off I get when believers assert that atheism causes misery.  The corollary, of course, is that their religion protects them from depression.

It's just not true, but it does appear to be:

In fact, of Protestants who do not attend church at least weekly, mainline Protestants are more likely than evangelicals to say they are very happy...

David Myers, a psychology professor at Hope College and author of The Pursuit of Happiness, said people who attend church regularly tend to be happier partly because church provides social support.

"Humans have a need to belong, to be connected in close, caring relationships, and North America's 350,000 congregations are a significant venue for social support," Myers said. "If something bad happens, like a devastating sickness, you stand a good chance of getting love-bombed by your faith community if you are an active member of it."

Around here that "social support" is an almost obsessive level of participation.  One of my friends has "meetings" several times a week and goes to weekend retreats and week-long classes.  Another basically has no social life at all outside of his church and family.  One of my co-workers is married to a pastor, and she leads youth group meetings, takes the girls on "Chrysalis" weekends, and of course plays church league softball.  The love-bombing in the evangelical church is a powerful tool not just for "happiness" but also for creating an unhealthy dependence on the church.  The more wrapped up they are in the church, the more devastating the loss would be if they quit.

When something dire happens to someone in this type of church, they do indeed have a network of social support, but it has to be something dire not a mental illness or a depression.  Like, if your relative is in a helicopter en route from her accident scene to the hospital, an alert goes out and everyone drops everything to pray for her safe arrival.  I can just imagine pagers and Facebook pages going berserk over these things.  And then the person arrives safely, and everyone texts and posts and calls everyone else to say how great God is that he heard their prayers.

I never have the heart to ask them whether their pastors admonish them for not praying hard enough at the funerals of those who God doesn't choose to save.  They are my friends, after all, and they have the good manners not to tell me that they're praying for me, so I return the favor.

One day last year a coworker said she'd met the head of the local atheist group and "she seemed really happy," as if that was some kind of total impossibility.  She didn't know I was an atheist, so I piped up and said that I have been a lot happier since being an atheist because I don't have to worry about some higher power reading my mind and passing judgment on every little thing I do.  Not to mention, it's very comforting to know that when my life is over it's over.  No boring Heaven.  No boring Hell.

I have considered asking my few atheist friends here if they'd be willing to start up a group that could fill that social support niche.  We could also do some charitable activities, which the churches here have a monopoly on.  We would never be able to raise enough money for our own homeless shelter but we could find something helpful to do.  The Universalist-Unitarian "church" has filled that role for some atheists around here but I consider them the opposite of atheism.  They believe all religions are equally good rather than my view that all religions are equally bogus.

Anywho.... depression is caused by genes, winter, grief, and loneliness.  It's not caused by disbelief unless believers shun non-believers and refuse to offer them the same kind of friendship and support they offer each other.  I suspect they also shun people within their church who belie the fantasy that belief confers happiness.  It may address some existential fears, but it doesn't cure clinical depression.

The Pew Report finds a few patterns but what they fail to note is the commonality amongst the happiest people: a feeling of control over their lives.  People who have more money are happier than people with less, but that money doesn't translate to goodies and luxuries; it translates to having the power to influence the events of our lives.  Rich people can travel to visit distant relatives, pay for expensive treatments for themselves and their pets, live in a home that they haven't had to compromise on, etc.  Likewise, the lack of a difference between retirees and employed people reflects the fact that both choose to be in that status.  The unemployed are less happy, because unemployment is not a lifestyle choice, at least for people with phones.  Presumably, the Pew survey wasn't able to reach people who willingly choose to live in a cardboard box under a bridge.

So the second part of the happy religionist formula is that religion gives people a feeling of having more control over their lives.  They have assured their afterlife will be happy by saying the right things and forcing themselves to believe the right things (or by choosing a church whose beliefs match their own so that they can feel righteous and "safe").  They have the power of prayer to affect outcomes, and when God in his "infinite wisdom" decides to do the opposite, they rationalize away the disappointment.  Those that can't manage to rationalize away the hurt just leave.  They either find a church with better love-bombing, lower standards, or a more realistic approach. Or they go away completely.

This is the source of the "angry atheist" myth.  "You're just angry with God (for not doing what you told him to do)" is one of the Christian mantras.  It's an accusation, really.  "You didn't rationalize as well as you should have, or else you'd still be coming to church" is what they really mean.  It's projection of course.  They work very hard at swallowing disappointment and betrayal themselves, so they think you were just less successful at it.  I have known people who left their church out of anger or disappointment, and then "got saved" and returned.  These people perpetuate the myth.  They just don't want to admit that there are angry Christians, so they call them atheists.

So... we're potentially more isolated, and we feel more powerless to change events.  Those things could exasperate a depression compared to a Christian, but we're not angry at a non-existent being and we're not worried about going to hell for feeling sad.  All humans are equally prone to clinical depression or any other problem, and lacking a fairy tale or love-bombing community, we do have a bit of a struggle, it seems.  But... I have come through the tough times without prayer and without wishing there were a supernatural force that could solve all my problems if only I said the right words.  Some churches have "counseling" that might be helpful, but so do health plans.

Having come through it and now being on the other side of depression, I can say that admitting that I need help to get over it is the "first step," but also not an admission that I need magic.  Religion doesn't offer magic, just the illusion of magic.  Strip away the fairy tale and whatever good they do comes from people caring about other people.  That's why they're losing their hold on society.  Atheists can be just as caring as church-goers, and now that we're more open, we can find each other more easily and find (and offer) that support even if we live in Fundytown.

 I hope you have a happy, or at least non-depressed, Thanksgiving, my American atheist pals. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Review: Forged by Bart Ehrman

On my travels I read Forged: Writing in the Name of God, why the Bible's Authors are not who we think they are, by Bart Ehrman.   According to the reviews on amazon, none of the information in it is new, but it was new to me.  I knew in a general sense that the Bible had been codified hundreds of years after Christ's death, and that there was controversy over what to put in, but I didn't realize the extent of the bogus material floating around during the first few centuries.

As the title suggests, some of the Bible was not written by the people credited with it.  Not all, but some:  the gospels, Timothy 1&2, Peter 1&2, Corinthians 3, Acts, and the Apocalypse.  The basis for discrediting author attribution is mainly the mention of events too recent to be known to the supposed authors, and theological points that contradict Paul but are in line with later theology.

One big point is the anti-semitism of second century Christians, with the result that successive versions of the crucifixion story put more blame on the Jews and less on Pontius Pilate.  Another is the expectation of Christ's imminent return by the early believers, and of course later believers having to rework the theology of the second coming in light of Christ's failure to fulfill his prophesy of returning before his followers have died out.

Some of the most virulent anti-women stuff is in the two Timothy letters, so I was glad to see them discredited even though I don't have any plans to become a preacher.  I want to like Christ and his followers, even if I don't believe any of the supernatural stuff in the fairy tale.  Bart Ehrman redeems them quite a lot in this book.

The writing is a bit repetitive, especially in his frequent insistance that forgery was neither common nor condoned during the period the Bible was being written.  I got the impression that there's some great war going on in scholarship and he believed if he shouted often enough his side might win.  But... if you were to pick up the book and read a single chapter, it would make sense to you because some of the repetition sets the stage for his look at individual cases.

Chapter Four should really have been Chapter One, since he refers to it so often in the earlier chapters.  This is the chapter in which he debunks the alternative theories one by one: no, an ignorant Aramaic-speaking fisherman couldn't have dictated the gospel in perfect academic Greek style, no, scribes wouldn't have been able to make up stuff with the author's content yet in their own style, no, it wasn't common practice for followers of a teacher to use the teacher's name for their own work, etc.

Ehrman is a scholar who has read and studied the earliest texts in the original languages.  Apparently there are quite a few people who dedicate their lives to such study, and they argue amongst themselves quite a bit without the rest of us ever knowing who they are or what they argue about.  This book gives us a glimpse of that world and also the results of years of close study of Biblical and even non-Biblical texts.  Despite being a member of the ivory tower, Ehrman is able to write about his life's work in everyday language and he organized the book in such a way that a person could keep it on their bookshelf for future reference.

I recommend it with the caveat that a straight through cover-to-cover read could be a bit tedious and repetitive.  If you have an interest in how the Bible came to be and what it's really made of, you'll overlook the flaws and find this book fascinating, as I did.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Je suis arrivée

I was in Paris for the past few weeks.  It was partly business, partly fun.  I have never been there before so I was a classic American stupid tourist, but I did have a list of things to see in my free time and I saw them.  Just being there for so long I got a taste of the lifestyle there, and it wasn't really what I expected.

I was disappointed at how Catholic the country still is.  November 1 is a "national holiday."  And why would that be?  Because it's All Saints Day.  I considered going to Notre Dame Cathedral that day, but I decided to sleep late and relax instead.  That's what holidays are for!  And anyway, if I want to see how the French Catholics celebrate a holiday, I'd rather see how they celebrate St. Denis, the patron saint of Paris, who was beheaded.  I love Catholic art!  The beheaded saints are pictured holding their heads.  Kind of makes me wonder what the ceremony would be like. 

Where I was staying there were lots of immigrants from Africa.  They're presumed to be from "Morocco" but I rather doubt they all are.   Anywho, supposedly there is bigotry against the "Moroccans" but they have only themselves to blame.  If you invade a country and force the natives to learn your language you can hardly blame them for choosing your country to migrate to after their way of life has ceased to support them.  Their national motto, Liberté Egalité, Fraternité, is all over the place.  They should read it more often.

On the other hand, they were nice to me for the most part, despite my horrible pronunciation of French.

Now that I'm back, I'll do a few book reviews of the books I put on my Kindle for the trip.  Some interesting stuff on my kindle!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Taking a break

Life got super busy & will be for the next couple of weeks.  Comments will be disabled until I can blog again.  Happy Halloween, heathens!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

"Fields of Faith" for Paranoid Christians Only

The "Fellowship" of Christian Athletes came up with idea to take over an athletic field in order to prosletyze and call it a "community" event to get around the Religion Clause.  One such event took place in lovely Muncie, Indiana today.  I didn't go.

According to a spokesperson who was quoted in the local paper, I was welcome.  You don't have to be an athlete to come to this.  Well, duh... it's not an athletic event, it just rents an athletic field so it can have a cool name.  It could just as well be a tent meeting.

They make sure that students run it, so they can split that hair and stay out of legal trouble too, though adults (including coaches) can help push this thing.

•The FCA has the right to access an athletic stadium, field, and/or gym for Fields of Faith just like other community organizations.

•Coaches and teachers have the right to participate in Fields of Faith as private individuals.

•Coaches and teachers have the right to actively participate in Fields of Faith if it is characterized as a community event and not a student group meeting. This includes praying, reading the Word of God, and freely expressing their religious beliefs.

•Students have the right to pray, to read the Word of God, and to freely express their religious beliefs at Fields of Faith.

•An outside speaker has the right to lead prayer, share the Word of God, freely express his/her faith, and give an invitation.

•Students have the right to distribute Fields of Faith brochures and posters to other students on the same terms as they are permitted to distribute other literature of community organizations.

•Students have the right to wear clothing and accessories advertising Fields of Faith if clothing is permitted to contain other types of speech.

•Students have the right to use religious words on the advertisements for Fields of Faith

uhhh So you can call it a "community" event because why?  Because there isn't one specific church that's sponsoring it?  From their webpage on "partners:"

We desire to see athletic fields covered on one night with students challenging each other to read the Word of God and come to faith in Jesus Christ. We embrace this ministry purpose. We believe that partnering together with other ministries and churches can only strengthen the impact in communities across the country for Jesus Christ. As Kingdom-minded co-laborers, we realize that we can not do it alone, but together we commit to the following agreements:

"Kingdom" minded? Uhhh we're a democracy, not a monarchy.  Is this some dominionist code?  They repeat it again:  "We agree to help students become lifelong followers of Jesus Christ through active involvement with a local church. We are Kingdom-minded, which serves the purpose of the Church."

I really can't wrap my mind around this doublespeak.  WTF is "Kingdom-minded?"  How can something be community based and student led but yet partner with a bunch of churches with the goal of getting kids to join these churches?

The part I found particularly chilling: 

Fields of Faith follows the method used by King Josiah. Most modern rallies are built around entertainment with professional speakers and this tends to create a separation. Fields of Faith highlights local students in the program creating a powerful connection. The success of this event is rooted in its simplicity:
•Bring many people together at one time.

•Read Scripture and share personal testimonies.

•Be challenged by fellow students to read the Word of God and to follow Jesus Christ

In case there's any doubt, they explicitly state on the "overview" page: Students invite their own classmates and teammates to meet on their school’s athletic field to hear fellow students share their faith testimonies, challenge them to read the Bible and to come to faith in Jesus Christ

This sounds like peer pressure to me.  What a rotten thing to do.  We had a small group in my high school.  Out of like 4,000 students there were at most about 50 in the "God Squad."  One of them invited me to a house meeting and it was the most laughably stupid thing I've ever seen.  Apparently they've sharpened their tools and now they have "faith bands" and their own rap stars.

Student athlete doesn't really have an option to resist this pressure.  I look at it like the military prosletyzing.  Can a soldier really decide to be the only member of a unit not to participate in prayer and still be part of the unit?  Can a college football player really be a concientous objector when the prayer starts?  If you were a football player at the University of Georgia, how comfortable would you feel saying thanks but no thanks to this? 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Do the Jesus Jive

I replied to another blog about music & religiosity and it reminded me of some videos I've seen in the past.  This one is typical of voudun spirit possession.  (It starts at about 3:35)

Too white and male to get dressed up and let the spirit enter you through dance?  Then try it the Pentecostal way:

Too hot for running around? Maybe the spirit will go easy on you and let you wander around in a haze:

If you want to do your badass Jesus Jive, just be sure some people with full control of their faculties are around to catch you when you fall, and wear your emergency alert bracelet because after Gawd knocks you on your ass, nobody will call 911 until the Jesus Jive is over:

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Religiosity isn't Rational

It's been proven through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI):

Their findings:

A comparison of both stimulus categories suggests that religious thinking is more associated with brain regions that govern emotion, self-representation, and cognitive conflict, while thinking about ordinary facts is more reliant upon memory retrieval networks

This is why you can't talk believers out of their belief with reasoning.  They have their emotional lives and self-image involved.  You can only chip away at it.  Their leaders are so resistant to anything contrary to their "facts" being taught to their children because they know that faith can't be overturned, it can only be undone in pieces.  If children learn the truth about the real world, they'll have a self-image based on the real world, not on their fantasy world.  They will grow up, and religion doesn't want grown-ups.  Grown-ups won't get out of bed on Sunday morning and put hard-earned money into the collection plate.

They also perceive themselves in a different way than non-believers do.  They use a different part of their brain when judging themselves and others.  They also use different parts of their brain when imagining God's positive or negative emotionsThere are two parts of the brain involved for the task of self-judgment vs. putting oneself into another's mind

Later in life, the hippocampus shrinks more in born-agains than other believers or in non-believers.   This can lead to Alzheimers.  Why am I not surprised?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Is Ghandi in Hell?

Despite what the Bible says about "salvation," apparently American Christians are more willing to forgive people for not accepting Christ than God is:

The most striking divergence from orthodoxy, however, was first revealed in the 2007 US Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. That comprehensive survey of 35,000 Americans found a majority of Christians saying that people of other religions can find salvation and eternal life.

So they've figured out what atheists already knew: sending good people to Hell is bad!  But if you don't have to believe in Christ to get out of going to Hell, they why do you have to believe in Christ at all?  It's not just everyday Christians anonymously admitting their disbelief, there's a controversial pastor preaching this message too:  (I love his quote that Christian theology teaches that Jesus rescues his followers from God!)  He wants to believe that Ghandi made it to Heaven.  He also acknowledges how messed up Christianity is, and then he love-bombs.

I think the love-bombing and social network of Christianity outweighs all other considerations for a lot of Christians.  I overheard a coworker say that he gets really anxious when he travels unless he knows there's a church nearby.  That's crazy.  If he's one of God's children and God is everywhere, what difference does it make if there's a church around the corner?  The difference is that Christianity is a salve for his anxiety disorder, not a pathway to Heaven.  After all, if Heaven is so great, why not just off himself and hurry upstairs before he thinks some heretical thought and ruins his chances?

Evangelicals may be their own undoing.  There are so many splinter "denominations" and start-up churches founded by one person (like Rob Bell's) that people can pick and choose whichever one they like, or make up their own theology and appoint themselves the head of a new church.  Any storefront will do.  I've seen a jillion of these.  The megachurches are the opposite end of the spectrum.  They're not under the thumb of a central authority, either.  Even the Southern Baptist conference is losing its grip.  Mean-spirited bigotry may finally be driving believers away, but they can't let go completely, so they hook up with nicer churches.  And these new churches provide what people who no longer need to feel "chosen" need for psychological fulfillment:  a social network, a feeling of being loved, and some guidance on what constitutes right and wrong.

I admire the trend.  These people will be easier to live with than the monsters who are trying to undermine the First Amendment, turn the military into a Christian crusader army, and set science back by hundreds of years.  Now if only they will take on their nastyass cousins in court and get them to STFU about the "Christian Nation," maybe we can move on as a culture.