Sunday, February 27, 2011

Are Christians Different from Scientologists?

Awareness of cults such as Scientology was part of the deconversion process for me.  In them I saw the process that early Christianity may have undergone:  charismatic leader, incoherent yet appealing myth, and devoted followers convinced that to leave the cult would mean death.

This article from the New Yorker made me think of Scientology again.  ...and why learning about Scientology put a few more nails in the coffin on any credibility Christianity had for me.

First, there's the whole issue of personality.  L. Ron Hubbard & Jesus both claimed to know the big Truths of Life and how to avoid pain and spiritual death. That's true of all cult leaders as far as I know.  They have to offer some insight that their victims adherents can't find elsewhere.

The point where Paul Haggis knew his religion's leaders were full of crap was when he saw one lie about whether they had a policy called "disconnection."  "Disconnection" is when the Scientologist has to sever ties to relatives who are anti-Scientology.  Sound familiar?  Perhaps it's because you are familiar with Christianity:  "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple."  (Luke 14:26)

Reading through the article I find more parallels.  Scientology bragged on itself in its publications:  "participation in Scientology brings to many a broader social consciousness, manifested through meaningful contribution to charitable and social reform activities."  I hear this kind of thing from Christians.  They justify their belief system by its effects rather than proving their deity exists.  They have a lineage of creativity backing them up, too.  From Michelangelo to Bach our society has been enriched by their belief system.   ... as if Michelangelo and Bach were incapable of coming up with ideas for secular art.  The Brandenburg Concertos are probably Bach's most famous works, and they're not at all sacred.
Scientology got its foothold by cultivating celebrities:  "In 1955, a year after the church’s founding, an affiliated publication urged Scientologists to cultivate celebrities: “It is obvious what would happen to Scientology if prime communicators benefitting from it would mention it.”
Christianity benefitted from Constantine and later rulers adopting it as their official religion.  Back then, there were no movie stars, so they had to settle for kings and emperors. 

The following could easily be said of almost any believer in any faith:
“I had such a lack of curiosity when I was inside,” Haggis said. “It’s stunning to me, because I’m such a curious person.” He said that he had been “somewhere between uninterested in looking and afraid of looking.” His life was comfortable, he liked his circle of friends, and he didn’t want to upset the balance. It was also easy to dismiss people who quit the church. As he put it, “There’s always disgruntled folks who say all sorts of things.”
Once you've been sucked into (or born into) a religion, what keeps you there has nothing to do with theology, historicity, or any "proof" of the supernatural.  It's the comfort of belonging to a community, probably the most human need we have.  It's evolutionary: we are social creatures that depend on community for the survival of individuals, and our communities depend on the loyalty of the individuals for the survival of the community.

Yet Christians will point out how great their communities are as if other religions can't make the same claim.  (Americans will also brag on how great Americans are in a disaster, as if people in other countries won't rescue their neighbors during a natural disaster)

Some aspects of Scientology baffled him. He hadn’t been able to get through “Dianetics”: “I read about thirty pages. I thought it was impenetrable.” But much of the coursework gave him a feeling of accomplishment
Boy does this sound like the typical Christian.  Most have not read the Bible, or if they have they did it through coursework, being led to pay attention only to the convenient portions.  Bible study is one of those things I can respect because at least they're not just nodding their heads once a week on Sunday, but now that I'm an outsider, I realize there is no study of alternate viewpoints.  Of course any religion seems valid as long as you intentionally ignore all other viewpoints.
Haggis says: "I think I did, in some ways, become a better person. I did develop more empathy for others." 
This is also true of other religions.  The leaders and community can provide valid psychological insight and help adherents to develop empathy.  Again, no proof at all of the validity of claims of the supernatural.  Just a benefit of belonging to a community.  In the case of Scientology they suck you in with a promise of psychological help, and perhaps they really do help.  But do they help more than other types of therapy?  Or even confession? 

And how do they deal with doubt?  About the same way that Christians do:
Haggis expected that, as an O.T. VII, he would feel a sense of accomplishment, but he remained confused and unsatisfied. He thought that Hubbard was “brilliant in so many ways,” and that the failing must be his. At one point, he confided to a minister in the church that he didn’t think he should be a Scientologist. She told him, “There are all sorts of Scientologists,” just as there are all sorts of Jews and Christians, with varying levels of faith. The implication, Haggis said, was that he could “pick and choose” which tenets of Scientology to believe.
You might make the case that Scientology charges its victims adherents for religious instruction, but Christ told his victims followers to give all their money to their communal pot.  He also advocated a life of poverty, which rich people conveniently forgot.

No, the main difference is that the delusional ramblings of L. Ron Hubbard are of more recent vintage, so more easily dismissed.  Ancient beliefs seem to hold more sway.  If a text was written by long-dead writers who can argue with them?  Lao Tsu and Moses didn't leave paper trails, unlike Hubbard, whose military career and writings are available for investigation. 

But even though Scientology's claims have been proved false, its victims adherents cling to their false beliefs because belonging to a "religion" is more important than knowing whether its claims have any validty.  That's the main thing Scientology has in common with Christianity.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Now *this* is "militant atheism"

Oh noes someone didn't want to pray!

Good for him for raising a ruckus and getting arrested! Going to court is just too damn expensive and time-consuming.  Let the fuckers know to their faces that what they're doing is unconstitutional and that not everyone in their community is a fucking Christian!

 I hope he doesn't have to pay court fees or get a felony charge.  If the meeting hadn't officially started, then what was he disrupting?  It's not against the law to disrupt prayer.  Ask Fred Phelps!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

God lets down Christians.... again

God hates evangelists

The Adams' website chronicles their worldwide voyage, which included trips to New Zealand, China, Cambodia and Panama.

One aspect of their travels, according to the site, "is friendship evangelism -- that is, finding homes for thousands of Bibles, which have been donated through grants and gifts, as we travel from place to place." They also say their mission is to "allow the power of the Word to transform lives."

Despite their own prayers and the prayers of people that God really listens to (i.e. pastors, as in the video linked on the news page), these people were killed by the Somali pirates who overtook their boat. 

I don't experience any schadenfreude from this, but it does make me wonder what the people who went public with their prayers are going to say now.   If you were to make a statistical study of people in danger who were prayed for by others, compared to people in danger who were not prayed for (or maybe those prayed for by the wrong religionists!)... you would probably find that the outcome was no different.

You can't make a study of people who prayed for themselves because you would get the worst kind of confirmation bias: only people who survived a life-threatening event would answer your survey.

Do Christians ever think about why they only hear about people who prayed and were delivered from a life-threatening event or disease?  Don't they realize that the people who prayed and died anyway aren't talking to them?

If they do acknowledge that their prayers weren't answered (as opposed to conveniently forgetting that they prayed), they have a real problem on their hands, as their imaginary Sky Daddy was supposed to make everything all right.  Here are some website explanations for why prayer doesn't work:

You're not a good enough person.

Your prayers aren't good enough

You don't want the right things

You didn't tell God how great he is first

God did answer the prayer by doing what's best for you, not what you want

This last one is the default for a lot of the Christians I've met.  God knows what's best.  His ways are mysterious.  One door closes, another door opens...   blah blah blah 

All these excuses have one thing in common:  blaming the person doing the praying.  God is all-powerful but apparently you have the power to change his mind if you do everything just so.  If God doesn't answer a prayer it's because there's something wrong with you, not with the Somali pirates.

Someone at work the other day said she met the leader of a local atheist group and "she was one of the happiest people I've ever met."  I tried to explain how liberating atheism is, but I don't think her brain got past "you too?"

Liberating, yes.  Sure, being powerless in distressing or dangerous situations is frustrating, uncomfortable, and scary.  But we don't carry any shame for the situation or the outcome.  We don't allow ourselves to be belittled by fairy tale Sky Daddies and their spokespeople who will do everything to put the blame on the believer.  Those of us who were brought up to believe this nonsense are free to put the blame where it belongs: on the person committing the evil act, the cancer ravaging a body, or plate tectonics causing an earthquake.

It doesn't say anything about you that the pirates killed their captives, or that people died in the New Zealand earthquake, or that a four year old dies from cancer.  In the long run, we atheists are in a much better position to recover from horrible events than Christians because we don't hold false hopes of a fairy tale ending or blame ourselves when things don't come out the way we think they should.

We also don't have to spill a lot of ink wondering why things came out the way they did.

Here's a tip, Christians:  if it has taken theologians thousands of years to come up with an explanation, that's a sure sign that the underlying concept is bogus.  The answer to the question of why prayers aren't answered is that prayer is a mindgame and has no influence on the outcome of events.  If it makes you feel good, that's about all you're going to get from it.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"symptoms of being pregnant by a supernatural entity"

I was looking through the search terms that led people to this blog and found this gem:  "symptoms of being pregnant by a supernatural entity."  I have no idea how that phrase led google to this blog, but starting today it will make sense, because it inspired this post.

This is something the Bible should have dwelt on just a bit.  If they want us to believe that Mary didn't just make up a story about getting knocked up by a deity, she should have had some supernatural symptoms.

It also made me think of Rosemary's Baby, the book and the movie about a woman who is impregnated by Satan when he wants to propagate himself.  I read the novel as a teen and I remember that it terrified me so much I didn't want to see the movie.

Then there was the immaculate conception episode of Star Trek, which was rather amusing.  The womb that got appropriated was that of Counselor Troi, and the "supernatural" being was a ball lightning kind of being that wanted to see what it was like to have a body.  The pregnancy lasted just a few days and after the birth Troi's body was completely healed, as if she'd never had a baby.

It's disappointing that the Bible didn't dwell on the pregnancy and birth.  It would have made the whole immaculate conception thing more believable to me.  ... but not to the people of the times.  Virgin birth and gods inseminating human women were well-worn tropes for them.  They would expect anyone claiming to be part god to have this kind of story.  In fact, if it weren't part of the family lore, it would have been added by the prosletyzers to lend credibility to their claims.

...and with so many gods about, not to mention Satan and all the angels, how would we know that the pregnancy was really caused by the god, and not SATAN?????  It's not like there's a DNA test for it.

It comes down again to wanting to believe what your authority figures believe.  Your parents, pastor, teachers, and the writers of the Bible know what they're talking about, right?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

10 Reasons why the Christian God isn't worth Worshiping

If I were to believe in an ancient fairy tale of supernatural entities reading minds, interfering with fate, and setting down rules, I don't think I'd worship *the* God of my culture.  Why?  There are many many many things wrong with this "god" but I have a top 10 list for starters:

10.  Weak ego.  He needs to be worshiped to the point of expecting people to behave themselves in order to do what? Spend eternity worshipping him in Heaven.  What a loser.

9.   He's perfect, and he created us in his own image... really?  He has a tailbone and weak lower back?  He is allergic to the plants and animals that he himself created?  Does he forget where he put his car keys?  Well, maybe he likes puppies.  That would be a point in his favor.  But seriously, how can a superior being create inferior beings and then say they're in "his image?"

8.  Supposed to be unchangeable but keeps changing his mind.  If you trace his approach to punishment from the "Fall" through the End-Times, you would never know what theory of justice he subscribes to.  He has wiped out the whole "world," countries, cities, and punished the children of sinners to the seventh generation.  Then he decides, nah, sacrifice an animal to the priests at the temple and I'll let you off.  Then he decides to spare the animals and sacrifices Jesus.  ... but then he threatens everyone with Hell.  Which is it?

7.  Stopped talking to us.  He used to talk to prophets.  Now he only talks to schizophrenics.  What gives?  Doesn't he love us anymore?

6.  Can't get his people to agree on anything.  There are three religions that supposedly believe in him.  Each of them has numerous large and small branches.  Is this the big ego at play again?  Being so obtuse that billions of people argue about what he's like?  Is that how he gets his attention?  Why not spell it out?  He's GOD for Pete's sake.  He could engrave the whole *CORRECT* bible on the walls of the Grand Canyon!  Why hasn't he?

5.  Poor communicator.  See #6 above.  He could speak plainly if he wanted to.  He supposedly made Ronald Reagan and Dubya Bush, who were plain-speaking idiots who knew how to reach "the folk."  If he could make people who could communicate like that why can't he speak like that himself?

4.  Bad parenting skills.  Right from the get-go he's a jerk as a parent.  "Don't touch that apple!!!  Oh darn you touched the apple!  Now I have to condemn you and all your children and their children for eternity.  Bad kids, bad."  WTF?  He made the apple!  Why put temptation within reach?

3.  Poor designer.  "Intelligent" design my arse, literally.  When I fell on my arse I broke my tailbone.  WTF?  Why do I have a tailbone and why is it so easy to break it?  And then after I broke it I was told that nothing could be done for it that wouldn't make it hurt worse.  It hurt for TEN YEARS.  What kind of "intelligent" designer would give us tails that you can't even see and then make them hurt like crap?  Despite designing perfect people they sometimes come out with real tails.  Sometimes their spines are outside their bodies.  Sometimes they have no legs or hands or feet.  WTF?  That's pretty stupid design.  Would you let him design your car?  or your 747?  I wouldn't let him design a dishcloth.

2.  Supernatural.  He created a natural world then expected us to believe in magic.  But the only thing understandable to us is the natural.  We can't figure out his magic... except when we can of course.  There are too many weaknesses in the supernatural claims for anyone who has paid attention to the natural world to believe.  God needs to do something demonstrably supernatural to smart people, not just spring happy coincidences on his dunces once in awhile.

1.  Too much like the other gods of other religions.  They're all waaaay too much like insecure human despotic rulers and not enough like actual magical beings.  They're all vague.  They all made an imperfect world.  They all allowed their believers to splinter.  They all resemble the leaders of their own cultures way too much to be above those cultures.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

I saw this on Facebook this morning:

Happy Valentine's Day everyone. Just remember, Married, Single, or Dating, Jesus will always be your Valentine :-D He loves you regardless :)

This kind of crap drives me nuts, but it goes a long way toward explaining the appeal of "fundamentalist" religion.

Apparently we don't pay attention to John 3:16 anymore.  God doesn't love us, then make himself human and kill himself and then undead himself and wander around as a zombie for a few days then disappear after promising to be right back.
Religion isn't about being a good person, or saying the right words at the right time, or participating in ritual cannibalistic ceremonies.

Noooo it's about being loved by a bronze age rabbi.  If he ever did return would he be greeted by swooning screaming women and tweens?  *sigh*

Sunday, February 6, 2011

"No woman could or would ever f*** things up like this"

Too many awesome quotes in this video.  "God is either incompetent or just doesn't give a sh**"

"A long time ago God made a Divine Plan... now you come along and pray for something... what do you want him to do? Change his plan just for you?"

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Right to Die vs Right to Life

The abortion issue revived my memory of the ridiculous battle over the living corpse called Terri Schiavo.   To refresh your memory, Terri Schiavo was a pretty woman married to a loving husband.  According to the religious ceremony she probably had to submit to, she was "given away" by her father.  From that point on she belonged to her husband and his family (as the Book of Ruth demonstrates by example).

...until she entered a persistent vegetative state, with only her brain stem working and not all that well at that.  Hubby wanted to pull the plug, erm, feeding tube, because supposedly, Terri would never have wanted to be kept alive as a blind, paralyzed, fat, stupid-looking stalk of broccoli in a hospital where her mewling parents could delude themselves into believing every drop of drool was some loving utterance.

...and then the stupid Christian dolts who believe "every life is sacred" (until it isn't) decided that this was wrong.  They had nothing to go on other than the Ten Commandments, which were written thousands of years before electricity and feeding tubes were invented.

Sadly, the shell continued breathing on its own, and this is where I still have to facepalm occasionally:  one of the Christians interviewed on the telly said that the soul resides in the breath.  The picture to the left shows a horse thief that has been stoned to death.  His soul is a teensy human body being regurgitated out of his mouth then rising to heaven.

Now, if only they and their cretin followers had the insight to know how ridiculous that was.

...and if only they knew that they were arguing for abortion with that statement!

If the Catholic Church believes that the soul resides in the breath, then any fetus that has not taken a breath has no soul and therefore killing it is equal to killing an animal (they also believe that animals have no soul, as evidenced by the belief that a horse thief can get into heaven).

To be consistent, the Church's position should be that euthanasia of a human body shell or abortion of a fetus does not involve the separation of a soul from a body and is therefore not murder.  They should have envisioned Terri Schiavo coughing up a Barbie Doll version of herself, which would be hauled up to heaven by angels or saints or something.  The silly court battle over who had the right to decide what to do with the shell, the husband or parents, could have been prevented.  Congress could have done the people's business instead of interfering with these peoples' business, and the president could worry about how he could stop killing thousands of muslims instead of how he could prevent the death of one Christian.

Yeah, this issue still pisses me off.  What a colossal waste of time, money, and angst.  Christians should really worry about more important things, like being kind and taking care of poor people and shit.
Anywho, I always love the expression on theists' faces when we have this exchange:

Theist:  so you're an atheist?  Then where do you go when you die?
Me:  I don't believe in the concept of a soul so that question is irrelevant to me.
Theist:  [blank stare]

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The big "A"

I follow several blogs and this post on Richard Carrier's blog piqued my interest:  Abortion Redux.  The "25 most influential atheists" have been polled on the subject of personhood of infants, which was inspired by a PZ Myers post on his blog.

The critical thing for me is that of the 25 most influential atheists, only three are women.  Sure, women can be either pro- or con- in the abortion debate, but it seems to me that people with wombs should be consulted a little more often about this.  Asking 22 men who are atheists about their opinion is about as valid to me as asking 22 Catholic Cardinals.

In deference to the seriously influential atheists, if these are important questions, then why aren't all atheists being asked?  It seems to me that important social issues that religions have laid claim to deserve thought from all of us, being free-thinkers and all.  I mean, why on earth would I need 22 men and 3 women to influence my thinking?  I am willing to consider their positions and justifications but I'm not so stupid that I can't come up with my own thoughts.

Here are the questions:

(a) Do you believe that a newborn baby is fully human?

(b) Do you believe that a newborn baby is a person?

(c) Do you believe that a newborn baby has a right to life?

(d) Do you believe that every human person has a duty towards newborn babies, to refrain from killing them?

(e) Do you believe that killing a newborn baby is just as wrong as killing an adult?

I have a problem with all of these questions because 1) the womb is out of the picture, therefore the woman's right to control what happens to her body has been made irrelevant for the purposes of questioning these men about how women's bodies should be treated and 2) what about mercy killing/euthanasia?

This presumes that all newborn babies / former fetuses are equal in viability and "humanity."  But what of the former fetus that is born without a head?  What of the former fetus that has a head and all the nerve structures necessary for feeling pain but no skin?  or no kidneys?  Parents have two choices in these cases: they can take extreme measures to prolong the suffering of their former fetus in an effort to keep themselves from going to hell, or they can have the nurses pump morphine into the fetus and let "nature take its course."

Option #3, euthanasia, almost never comes up in these situations.  If you can keep a former fetus from feeling the pain of its death after you let it linger in the ICU for days or weeks destroying its parents' finances, why not give it some morphine and then a little extra to relieve its suffering forever?

The questions are almost always loaded on the side of normal, healthy pregnancies, the type that never get aborted in the final few months when the fetus has the viability to become a former fetus.  Late-term abortion is the agonizing choice of women who face their own death.

So let's ask these other questions with this ultimate question in mind:
If a woman has six children and her husband has died, and her seventh pregnancy will most certainly result in her death and the death of that seventh fetus, is it wrong to deny her the option to terminate that pregnancy?

(a)  Do you believe that an adult woman is fully human?

(b)  Do you believe that an adult woman is a person?

(c)  Do you believe that an adult woman has a right to life?

(d)  Do you believe that every  human person has a duty towards women, to refrain from killing them?

(e)  Do you believe that killing a woman is just as wrong as killing a man?

If you answered "yes" to any of the above, how could you deny a woman the right to a life-saving abortion?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

God hates "God's Country"

My college years were spent in Wisconsin, which I was informed by some townies is "God's Country."  Since then I have lived in a few other states that claimed to be "God's Country."  In the Northeast the word "country" signified hick music and toothless miners, so they made no such claims.  (I suspect a superiority complex - no need to assign a deity to the best city in the world)

And now 100,000,000 people, mostly in "God's Country" are being tormented by ice, sleet, snow and wind.  God hates the Midwest, obviously.

It's up to the atheists to make that declaration.  Fundy televangelists were quick to blame Katrina on New Orleans' lack of morals, but where is God's wrath when the midwest is attacked by an "act of God?"

If they look hard enough they can find reasons why God would smite the people in his "country." 

I think hubris is reason enough.  Bigotry is a good one. 

I was going to make a list but I live amongst these people.  Suffice it to say, winter sucks, and that's all there is to it.  And New Orleans is in a part of the country that's subject to hurricanes.  And California is prone to earthquakes.  These things aren't "Acts of God" because 1) there is no god and 2) there is no agency to any of this.  Weather just happens.