Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The "Thinking Atheist" on how he deconverted

This is an audio-only youtube video. And sadly, you may have to sit through a Mormon commercial before getting to it!

He is another former fundy who came to atheism from a close study of Christian theology.  His family was deep into it and they were not pleased with his atheism, to say the least.  This is the story of his coming out to his family.

If you don't already subscribe to his podcasts I recommend them. He often interviews very interesting people.  This is the first one I've heard that has his own story.  Afterward, some callers read the letters they've written to family.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Good night and good links

Yes, the dead can come back to life.

Camp Quest receives national coverage.  It's too bad they had to add something about spirituality being beneficial for children.  Some so-called expert thinks children's proneness to fantasy makes believing in a supernatural eavesdropping bully a good thing.

The new face of Jesus, a new meme inspired by a decrepit old woman possessed by Satan (or poor eyesight)

Seattle is one of the least religious cities in the U.S., but incredibly they have more anti-vaccine nuttery.  And Mississippi, which is one of the most religious states and one of the most ignorant, doesn't allow exemptions from vaccines.  Sometimes this country just makes me want to scream.

I don't get this.  The National Cancer Society is using churches to enroll participants in an epidemiological study.  Why???  Do they think Catholicism is a risk factor for cancer?

Puerto Ricans were victimized in a Ponzi scheme run by evangelicals.  Seems like church-goers of that stripe were a wee bit gullible.  Who'd a guessed that?

Chicago eliminates city jobs in order to shift care of the homeless to Catholic Charities.  ... basically replacing hard-working paid employees with hard-working volunteers?  Oh wunnerful.  Well, at least when the laid-off workers become homeless they will have three hots and a cot.  I wonder if the CC can resist prosletyzing.

Anti-gay "Fundamentalist Christian Patriot" who promoted stronger laws against exposing private parts gets caught whacking off in a public park... near children. You can't make this stuff up!

Being in a church parking lot is no protection from a bad driver.  It's also apparently no place for teaching a teen to drive, especially if you don't know better than to stay in the car with the driver.

Huffpo essay on the Texas Republican Party's anti-science platform.  There's a link to the platform there, but I don't have the stomach to go there.

Bill Maher holds nothing back attacking the religious right for magical thinking.  "The symbol for their party shouldn't be an elephant -- it should be a unicorn."

This article on religiosity and non-religiosity in Central Florida is worth a read, and really worth point-by-point commentary which I don't have time for now.  There's just so much in there - narrow-mindedness vs. inquiry for starters.  I wonder how many fundy republicans will read this when they come to the convention.

If you haven't already read this, I recommend this New York Times profile of Jerry DeWitt, former fundy pastor and now executive director of Recovering from Religion.

Al Jazeera interviews feminist author Naomi Wolf about abortion.  Unlike U.S. media, they have the balls to do an episode about abortion in the U.S.  (the link goes to a promo)

One blogger's answer to the question:  Is Israel succombing to Jewish fundamentalism?

CNN just ran a one-hour special on Mitt Romney's life.  I couldn't find a link but you can imagine:  blah blah daddy was a great man blah blah went to France as a "mission" blah blah wife is pretty blah blah blah  The narrator really tried to make Romney sound like an interesting person but it just didn't work.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bertrand Russell: Why I am not a Christian

I read this awhile ago but it's worth a re-read and linkage:

He addresses the "First Cause" argument... in 1927...  decades before William Lane Craig made it the cornerstone of his career.  Can't WLC do a teensy bit of research on his pet theory?  The gaping hole in that argument is "Who made God?" He never seems to remember that people have been pointing out that flaw in this "argument" for a long long time

I may say that when I was a young man, and was debating these questions very seriously in my mind, I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill's Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: "My father taught me that the question, Who made me? cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question, Who made God?"

The old Argument from Design is still haunting us today, too.  Russell summarizes it this way:  "You all know the argument from design: everything in the world is made just so that we can manage to live in the world, and if the world was ever so little different we could not manage to live in it. "  This is also called the teleological argument.  I have to *lol* at this point he makes:

Really I am not much impressed with the people who say: "Look at me: I am such a splendid product that there must have been design in the universe."

The moral argument goes back that far too.  There is apparently nothing new in the modern Christian's argument arsenal.  "Kant, as I say, invented a new moral argument for the existence of God, and that in varying forms was extremely popular during the nineteenth century. It has all sorts of forms. One form is to say that there would be no right and wrong unless God existed" This form seems to be the most popular at least from what I've seen.  Or maybe I think it's popular because I find it so utterly stupid.

If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God's fiat, because God's fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God

Next he examines Christ specifically, which I haven't heard Christians really talking much about.  I think they avoid quoting Christ because they really don't follow much of his purported teachings.  They're much more fond of "John" of the 4th gospel, and Paul.  They conveniently forget that Christ failed to predict his return, or that he wanted them to give up their possessions.

His observation that people believe for emotional reasons still rings true:  "do not think that the real reason that people accept religion has anything to do with argumentation. They accept religion on emotional grounds. One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion, because religion makes men virtuous. So I am told; I have not noticed it."  haha  I can just hear him say this in his British accent.

I'm not sure what this argument is called.   Argument from pragmatism?  Christianity has a good effect on (some) people therefore it should be followed even if you don't believe it's true.  Of course the same could be said for all the other religions of the world.  He doesn't mince words at all here:

You find as you look around the world that every single bit of progress of humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step toward the diminution of war, every step toward better treatment of the colored races, or ever mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized churches of the world. I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.
I find his observation about fear & cruelty very profound:

Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing -- fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand-in-hand.

There's no reason to attack someone you don't fear, so that makes sense.  I do agree that homophobia is real - it's a fear that acceptance of homosexuals in the world would either 1) make their own suppression of their homosexual impulses seem silly or 2) make their own heterosexual impulses seem silly.  Either way, attitudes toward differences are really self-centered fears turned outward.

His ending reflects my attitude pretty well including my guarded optimism that rationalism and reality will win out:  . We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.

It's a good thing people can't really roll over in their graves.  He'd be so ashamed of what America has become.

I think he's a good example to point to when Christians accuse us of having a depressing worldview.  From their own impoverished view, life without hope of an eternity in Heaven kissing God's ass must seem pointless.  They need to read Russell.
Here is his message to the future, taped 30 years after "Why I am Not A Christian"

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Links Links Links and news news news

Not new, but it seems that liberals and conservatives really do think differently, with different parts of the brain.  Or rather, liberals think, and conservatives feel.

Atheism is increasing in the Persian Gulf.  The responses are similar to responses you'd get writing about atheism in the Gulf of Mexico area.

In the U.S., not enough of us signed a petition urging Obama to take on the case of an Indonesian atheist jailed for expressing unbelief.  I find the number eerily low, but I also find it ridiculous that the State Department isn't already smacking Indonesia for this, or Amnesty International.

There was an atheist film festival in San Francisco last week.  Sounds like a great idea for other cities to emulate.

Gone With the Wind heir donates rights to the Catholic church.  Not the movie, just everything else.  Very strange and now I wonder if I should continue to point out to Christians that just because Atlanta really did burn during the Civil War that doesn't make GWTW true.

Both VP candidates are Catholic.  Will Catholics care more about caring for the poor than "culture war" issues (translation: anything remotely having to do with sex)

Orthodox Christian Church & Catholic church are taking steps toward reconciliation.  I wonder how they'll settle the issue of married priests.

Hank Williams, Jr. calls Obama a muslim who hates farming among other all-American things.  He really looks like someone whose opinion I should adopt... NOT!

Other lovely "Christians" are desecrating muslim graves in Chicago.

On the other hand, non-muslims were among the donors who raised $375,000 to rebuild a Joplin, Missouri mosque destroyed by a mysterious possibly hatred-fueled fire.  I wonder how all the Christians who patted themselves on the back for helping out after the tornado feel about this.

I have pointed out to friends that this election could be very different due to the lack of a Protestant on the Republican ballot.  I'm not the only person who has noticed this.  Not only is there no Protestant, there's no evangelical protestant though Ryan's creds with that group are probably pretty good.  He seems not to mention the papacy in public.  That will go a long way.  Several news outlets commented on this unique event this week including CNN.  (Prothero has written some very interesting books on religion I've read his book, Religious Literacy which has a lot of interesting history)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sciency Basics for the Newly Deconverted

Both believers & atheists seem to put science at the core of atheism at times, when it really doesn't have to be, at least not as you deconvert.

My deconversion was due to skepticism about the supernatural in general, and due to learning about other cultures in Anthropology courses in college and by meeting people of other backgrounds as an adult. Science to me was the antithesis of pseudo-science, not of religion... at least while I was still going to church trying to "connect" with the religion of my childhood.

The skeptical literature I read at the time concerned things like:
  • the numerical impossibility of souls being reincarnated
  • fake faith healers' "miracles" no more than magic tricks
  • "chi" of Eastern pseudo-medicine has no basis in fact
  • psychics use "cold reading" to fool people
It took some time for me to realize the claims of my religion were just as ridiculous as the claims of pseudo-science.  I didn't consider for a moment whether the Earth was 6,000 years old, or whether the Bible contradicted itself, or whether Noah's Ark was a total impossibility (well, I'd figured that one out in childhood).  I just realized I'd gotten the same "results" from believing in God as I would believing in almost anything else.

...then I went trippingly through life free from the burden of wondering whether I'd go to Hell or whether some supernatural judge was eavesdropping on my thoughts.  I let people know I was an atheist, but unless they were part of a batshit crazy denomination or tried to convert me, I didn't press the issue.  (Heh heh, do NOT send me Godspam!  You've been warned!)

...and then I discovered atheist stuff on the interwebs.  ...and then the "New Atheist" movement created a few books for me to stumble across at Borders Books  (*sniff* still miss the place)

If you are new to atheism, you'll notice that the "professional atheists" tend to come from a few scholarly disciplines.  Only Christopher Hitchens could be counted as a "regular guy" who just told it like it is, though he was a professional journalist so only semi-regular.  Here are the disciplines some bullies think you have to be conversant in to have an opinion:
  • Philosophy
  • Ancient History
  • Apologetics
  • Cosmology
  • Evolutionary Biology

...and possibly a few others. Fortunately, you don't really have to be conversant in a bullshitter's favorite form of bullshit to call them on their bullshit. But it helps. For the most part, though, we encounter believers who ask the same rather inane questions of us. Sometimes there are some sciency answers to the questions they ask, because they think their religion explains sciency things.

Here are some "answers" for newbies:
When you die, your brain cells stop doing what they do and you stop being who you are. It's hard to accept but "we" are our brains. Just ask someone who's been shot in the head and survived.  Oh wait, ask their family for a better answer.

Near-death experiences just prove that the brain has a process during death, not that there is a bright light in another plane of existence.

Where we came from is a series of totally natural processes that took millions of years. That includes possible abiogenesis (life from nothing) from chemical building blocks of what are now cells. It includes evolution, which the process of advantageous variations giving a few individuals an edge, while most variations are neutral.  You don't have to know every detail of all these things to know that "God did it" is a cheap and superficial answer.

Why are we here? We just are. If you need a reason for your existence, find one for yourself. Nobody gave it to you.  That's okay, because the people who find a "reason" in their religion have really found it for themselves, too.  They all find different purposes even when they supposedly believe the same things.

Yes, most of the stuff of religion is factually wrong. Sometimes it's accidentally wrong, and sometimes it's intentionally wrong. Just because some historical details from the Old Testament are true doesn't make the supernatural details from the Old Testament True. Atlanta really burned during the Civil War, but that doesn't make Gone with the Wind a true story.

There is wonder and mystery and poetry in the Natural World. You don't need to add a supernatural dimension to find that. It's there if you look.

Your brain is a fabulous thing, but it can deceive you. Under certain conditions you can see or sense other beings, feel a warm comforting feeling, or give yourself the will to continue under stress. Much of that you can get from relationships with other people. Cultivate your relationships and you'll find you haven't lost much by disbelieving in the supernatural.

Knowing the classic fallacies helps to see through nonsense when it's presented to you. "False prophets" are everywhere, but now you can call them what they really are: charlatans.

Trust in the scientific method and the people who use it is not the same as faith in a supernatural deity.  If the scientific method didn't work, it would be thrown out because scientists care about what's true.  Believers will cling to what is demonstrably false..

...well, for awhile they do.  Welcome to the World of What's True, newbie!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Christianity is a Totalitarian State

Some of the sects in the U.S. take their beliefs to a ridiculous level.  These fundamentalists are really totalitarians without a government.  The definition of totalitarianism is:

Of, relating to, being, or imposing a form of government in which the political authority exercises absolute and centralized control over all aspects of life, the individual is subordinated to the state, and opposing political and cultural expression is suppressed.
Some denominations are decentralized in the sense that they don't have popes or bishops declaring what they should believe, but they consider The Bible their centralized authority (not necessarily God).  The individual is subordinated to the cluster of beliefs they're required to believe, and woe to anybody who breaks the rules!  There are some of these churches around here and it's been an eye-opener for me.

The women won't cut their hair or wear pants, the kids can't watch TV, nobody is allowed to wear jewelry, they spend hours and hours in church every Sunday and more hours on other days, they're not allowed to marry outside of their denomination....  And there are the Mormons, who wear magic underwear, can't drink coffee or booze, and forbid the women from wearing pants.

None of these silly rules can possibly make someone a better "Christian," just a more obedient one.  One of my coworkers who went to a religious school pointed out that some of those "rules" are based on Paul's letters to people in cities that had very specific problems.  I can't remember the particulars but it had to do with not wearing the same kind of outfits that prostitutes wear in that locality.  Not dressing like a prostitute is pretty good advice for all women who don't want to be mistaken for prostitutes.  Not dressing like a first-century prostitute in the Middle East, uhhhh

Indiana also has Amish & Mennonites, who are kind of the Wahabists of Christianity.  They look like they stepped out of the 1850s.

What I find crazy is that they think this totalitarianism is a good thing. If Papal totalitarianism is bad, and Hitler's totalitarianism was bad, and Stalin's totalitarianism was bad, how can they justify this form?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

This is the week that was

CNN's Ungodly Discipline revisits Fairhaven church in Indiana, where the church gives parishoners paddles to use on their kids and grown children of the pastor accuse him of abuse.  (thanks to fundamentally reformed blog for the link -- it's good to see Christians taking other Christians to task for a change)  Perhaps they should adopt a Fosdickian philosophy. (No, I didn't make that up!)

Catholic Ethical financial fund fails to make money.  Perhaps God is trying to tell them something.

Scottish Catholic bishop claims homosexuality cuts life span by 20 years.  Seriously.  God told him.  Or something.

Running on a platform of being against an Islamic center that's not even in your own district is apparently not a winning strategy, even in Tennessee.  Quote:
Zelenik pledged during the campaign that if elected she would "work to stop the Islamization of our society, and do everything possible to prevent Sharia Law from circumventing our laws and our Constitution."
... wouldn't that mean that would mean that the Fairhaven Indiana child-abusers who claim God wants them to paddle children will be subject to child abuse laws?

Malaysia's prime minister claims to be guided by his faith in Allah.  He says "Islam guides our nation."  Sounds like some American Christian politicians, no?

Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church are in bed together and a female punk rock group called Pussy Riot is now on trial for objecting.  Could the world get any crazier?  "Mr. Putin, tear down that wall... between church and state!"

Syrian Christians at risk.  Well, Syrian Muslims are at risk too.  All damn Syrians are at risk.  What a messed up place.  Oh wait, they've been warmongering barbarians for about five thousand years.  Carry on, Syria.  I really love it when I read the New York Times and I think I'm reading the Bible.

If they flee, they shouldn't go to Egypt!  The U.S. is demanding that Egypt crack down on attacks against Christians, because you know, the Christians of the U.S. are so kind-hearted toward the Muslims in the U.S.  (okay, they're not killing them, but it's not like they embrace them, either)  Funny how we're coming to the rescue of those Christians, but the Christians in Muslim-controlled Bosnia were on their own.

In Brazil, the Assemblies of God and Foursquare (yes) branches of Pentacostalism are growing.  But they're not teh crazee like in the U.S.: 
"Evangelical leaders in the country have expressed their concerns that some neo-pentecostal churches, which experienced large growth, are known for holding a liberal viewpoint and some controversial theological doctrines"

An Episcopal Church in NJ observes a one-day Ramadan fast.  Rather interesting idea.  At least it's a walk-a-mile-in-their-shoes kind of thing.  I'd do it myself but I'd postpone it until the winter, when dawn-to-dusk is only about eight hours!

Myanmar Buddhists & Muslims duking it out.  Buddhists?  Really?  What is the world coming to?  Hey guys how about dropping that whole supernatural baloney and being neighbors?  Sheesh.  "nothing to kill or die for..." 

Global Islamic Body urges aid for Myanmar Muslims.  Seriously?  How about not attacking Christians in Egypt and Jews anywhere, and then let's talk about others not attacking you.  Or how about this?  Nobody attack anybody else?

Missourians will vote on a right they already have.  Dumbasses.  The quotes in this article are priceless.

...and Chik fil-A, in case you didn't know, is run by someone who is a fundy and toes the fundy line, including the part about not learning how to spell.  He's against gay marriage and some people are surprised and shocked.  Oh my.  Hey, he has a right to be a religious jerk as long as he follows the law.  He hasn't broken the law so just boycott his joints (which I have always done) and leave him alone.  We can't win the "war" if we are as bullying as they are!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Causes of Rampage Killing

As the child of a schizophrenic and the sister of another schizophrenic, and the step-daughter of someone with MS-related psychosis, I naturally follow the news whenever someone with a mental illness commits a crazy act of violence.  My own brother scared me when he became ill, because he exhibited some of the features common to mass killers:  an interest in firearms, an interest in mass murderers who used firearms, and loss of a job.  Of course, he lost his job due to his mental illness.  After this, he no longer saw his psychiatrist because he no longer had insurance  (a bogus excuse on both of their parts imho).   And then, being unemployed with time on his hands, his thought process had no brakes on it.  I was afraid he'd shoot up his workplace, but I knew him and knew he just wasn't a vengeful person.  In all the time we were growing up he never used direct or redirected revenge against anybody that I knew of.  I feared suicide more than homicide.  He wound up doing neither, but he never got treatment and is now homeless.  You can't force treatment on someone who poses no threat to himself or others, so his crazy choice to cling to his delusions and be unemployable is his to make.

Still, I want to learn what I can from the few experts that have studied rampage killers just in case.  There is very little written for lay people, and not a lot of peer-reviewed literature either, that I could find.  The popular press tends to focus on just one case, for example Whitman in Texas.

Of course, any time something bad happens in the U.S., some evangelical nutjob will claim it's due to our degraded morality.  We can dismiss this hypothesis out of hand because the Bible doesn't say anything about mass murder happening in Sodom and Gomorrah.  God took them out himself, he didn't rely on mass murderers to punish those sinful sinners!  But I'll add this to the long, long list of hypothesized causes for mass murder:

I may have missed a few, like Big Pharma or Communist conspiracies, but I think those are the ones I've seen the most. Mass murder seems to be a kind of Rorschach test that inspires people to attribute their pet theory to a sensational event as if to say, "See?  See?  I told you the world was going to hell in a handbasket!" Fortunately, there are people who have investigated the cases themselves to find commonalities.  I'm putting some of these on my reading list.  You may find some of them interesting too:

My pet peeve with society, at least in the treatment of the generation that's been responsible for school shootings, is that teachers were taught to give kids empty praise, just for "trying." And everyone is included and nobody gets disappointed. Besides being dishonest with children, it didn't give them enough opportunitities to learn important life lessons. Sometimes things don't go your way. Sometimes you're not as good as you think you are. During my brief college teaching career, I encountered a lot of terrified students who really didn't know whether they were any "good" at something. They knew they could get away with cheating (at that school) but even when they didn't cheat, some of them felt like frauds. I was a demanding teacher and the feedback I got from students was that I was very fair. The students who passed felt a sense of accomplishment and the ones that failed knew it was their own fault. They seemed genuinely grateful for a real challenge in which their self-perception and my feedback were totally in synch.

I was at the University of Iowa when Gang Lu shot up the Astronomy department there. He was disappointed not to have received an award he felt he was entitled to. Well, sometimes you get disappointed in life. Kids should learn about that in kindergarten so they can handle it later.

Well, that's my rant, but it's mere opinion. Next I'll be reading some of the linked material to see what the people who have actually met mass killers have to say about what drove them over the edge.