Wednesday, May 30, 2012

This is why I speak out against religion.

   This is a post I started drafting in early May...figured it was about time I finish it.

   JT Eberhard posted a four-part series of email exchanges between his dad and a Christian from his home town. The Christian made a lot of baseless claims, but also said something I find quite scary (emphasis mine):
I feel no guilt about potentially damaging the world with this information, because it contains the very power of God to save those that are lost, and offers to believers glory in the Lord. What is wrong with that?
I, of course, realize that not all Christians agree with this. However, (1) there are likely many Christians who do and (2) such a statement is actually consistent with not only Christianity but basically any religion that promotes a personal god with a plan for humankind. In a recent post, I made the point that conservative Christians could argue that, in reference to gay rights, "God's law is higher than, and therefore trumps, human's law." (And they have.) A similar argument can be made here. In this case, it is reaching heaven that is the goal.

   The problems of this are so enormous, it's hard to know where to start except with where it should be most obvious — managing the resources of our planet. Just over a year ago now, I was hosting a party mocking the idea of the rapture. Yet, "41 percent of Americans think Jesus Christ is returning by 2050." Chances are, this guy is part of that 41%. When you put these two concepts together, why would such a person be concerned with global warming? What do they care if we run out of oil? In another 40 years or less, we won't be here anyway, according to these people.

   For anyone who cares about what we leave behind for future generations, religion should concern you.

"I'm again' it!"

   A few weeks back when there was that win for bigotry in North Carolina, I saw on a comment board somewhere of this argument bigots think is clever about putting gays and lesbians on an island and showing that they'll eventually die out because they can't reproduce. That particular argument is stupid because (1) actually they often can reproduce, so if you put men and women together, even if goes against their sexual preference, they'd probably work it out to reproduce. And (2) why is this relevant? There seems to be two routes this argument is supposed to take: (1) This is supposed to show that homosexuality is "unnatural" and therefore should be condemned and, if that argument doesn't impress, (2) gay people should not be allowed to marry because they can't have children. The argument is horribly flawed. It's an appeal to nature, which is a fallacious argument and can be seen more clearly when the same argument can be made for people who are infertile or people who are intersex*, like my wife. Are these people "unnatural"? Should they not be allowed to be married? What about adoption? And since when was marriage primarily about procreation?

   This last question is something that I feel was addressed adequately at Alethian Worldview.
...In the first place, unless adoption or premarital sex is involved, there’s going to be at least some portion of the marriage in which there are no children present to be raised. And then they grow up and leave home, so they’re not part of the child-rearing environment anyway. So does the couple still have a marriage? ... Again, you’ve got a definition of marriage that tries to divert attention away from the relationship between the people getting married, and onto some contrived and disingenuous criterion intended to deny equal rights to a certain segment of society. Bad definition.


...And did you notice? Changing the definition of marriage so that it refers primarily to child-rearing is, ta-da, changing the definition of marriage...
That last bit is for those who want to "define" marriage. Interestingly (not really), their reasons for marriage being between a man and a women end up redefining their own definition. That's how bad the argument is. Still, I get quite insulted by these people who suggest marriage is about raising children. What about love? And the argument encounters other problems: Besides people who are intersex or infertile, what about elderly people who marry past their child-bearing years? (Well, I guess that technically makes them infertile, but most people probably don't view it that way.) And, more disturbing, what about teenagers? Is it OK for them to get married as soon as they can start reproducing? Why not? Remember, any reason given for this must be applied to everyone.

   And, finally, there is the pastor in the video below who inspired the title of this post. He's still essentially trying to make the same argument. Except that he seems to think that homosexuals are never born from heterosexuals. So he's got to separate the men from the women to ensure they don't reproduce for the sake of reproduction. Once again, the same argument can be applied to people who are intersex or infertile. So to limit the rights of one of these groups and not the others is discriminatory, plain and simple.

* I was discussing recently with Amy that it surprises me that the topic of intersex people does not come up seemingly at all in the discussion of gay rights, especially as a counter to these naturalistic arguments. I suppose intersex people are more rare than homosexuals and, from my experience, it seems intersex people tend to not talk much about their condition, leading to people being unaware that they know an intersex person. So this could create an "out of sight, out of mind" problem.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The low-effort thought of John Archer

   I've been seeing a number of signs and TV ads for John Archer, who is running for Congress in Iowa's 2nd district. With the redistricting, this does not include Linn county, so this will not apply to most of my Rockwell Collins coworkers. But this does include Johnson county, so I do know a few people in that district. So here's the TV ad I've been seeing; let's go through it.

Some people act like you need a PhD from Harvard to run our government. (0:00 - 0:04)
   Is that supposed to be a shot at Obama? Does this guy realize that Romney went to Harvard, too? In fact, I think Romney spent more years at Harvard than Obama. In reality, I suspect he knows exactly what he is doing and his goal is for the conservative viewer to think about Obama and forget about Romney. In other words, he's taking advantage of flawed human thinking (or that low-effort thought I referred to in the title).

Everything I need to know is in the United States Constitution. (0:04-0:07)
   Ummm...not even a course in economics 101? What he's doing here is again targeting his conservative base (he has a primary to win yet, after all) by throwing out this buzzword of ignorance. Need I point out how a lot of conservatives view themselves as fierce defenders of the constitution these days? All a politician needs to do is mention the word and their constituents will automatically get a hard on. (Yet, even the's a metaphor!)

Respect life, preserve the 2nd Amendment, restore power to the States so that we the people can govern ourselves. (0:10 - 0:17)
   Translation: "I'm against abortion and contraception, and you can reasonably suspect I'm against women's rights in general. I think white people should have unrestricted access to guns. I want the States to have more power so those good 'ol red states can more easily follow their archaic ways of life — making abortion and contraception illegal, suppressing women and minorities, discriminating against the homos, teaching the Bible as literal Truth™, which then includes teaching creationism instead of evolution and, yes, teaching that the earth is 6000 years old." Note that I suggested that people like him only want to preserve the 2nd Amendment for white people. I would imaging that if I were to speak of someone of Middle Eastern descent wanting to buy a dozen assault rifles, many conservatives would lose their shit. That would not be OK with them. Yet, if a white guy would want that many assault rifles??? Meh.

And you know what's not in here? That's right — government run health care. (0:17 - 0:22)
   So what? The implication here, of course*, is that government run health care is unconstitutional. I'm pretty sure the constitution says nothing specifically about Social Security, Medicare, and Medicade, so we can expect Archer to be against these programs as well. The same goes for things like radio, TV, and Internet. Better get rid of the FCC. I don't recall anything in there about environmental protection. Good bye, EPA. Seriously, though, it bothers me a bit because this whole "That's not in the constitution" game is only about opposing things conservatives dislike. There are probably a number of government policies that conservatives like — they probably don't mind the FCC keeping profanity off of the TV — that they don't mind despite being "unconstitutional" based on this false standard of anything that is not explicitly stated in the constitution being unconstitutional.

   On a side note, the book he is holding also includes the Declaration of Independence, according to the cover of the book.

   Overall, I find the video quite cheesy. As I mentioned earlier, he has a primary to win first, so this particular video is likely aimed at conservatives. Yet, I'll give him some credit for doing a decent job of using code words to allude to his positions instead of being straight forward about them, which could likewise hurt his chances in the general election. So, that's why I'm here to help decode Archer's commercial. I see "Tea Party" written all over him.

   Your thoughts?

* Perhaps I should not say "of course." There is a conservative posting in the comments that either doesn't get the implication or hir's playing dumb. I suspect the later, but maybe they really don't get it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

They never see the irony

   So there was a state representative from Mississippi calling for the killing of gay people in the news just the other day...but that's not what I'm really here to talk about. What he said included, "The only opinion that counts is God’s: see Romans 1:26-28 and Leviticus 20:13." Leviticus is the verse that calls for the killing of gay people, which I already knew. I was curious about the Romans verse. It states the following:
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.
   So I became curious as to the context. Apparently, Paul is telling the Romans how the Big G is taking out his wrath on the nonbelievers...nonbelievers who are supposed to be able to see invisible evidence.
20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
   This is essentially the argument from ignorance. (You can't explain the tides; therefore, God.) Yet, this is still not what I am here to discuss. It is rather the next three verses that I find interesting. (Emphasis mine.)
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
   That sort of sounds familiar...

   Of course, there are a few differences: (1) Christians didn't "exchange the glory of the immortal God" for this image. Instead, they strangely conflate the two. They treat Jesus as both god and mortal human. On the one hand, they try to claim that Jesus "died" for our sins, but then on the other hand they try to claim that Jesus is part of that "immortal God." I'm sorry, but something that is immortal, by definition, cannot die. So either Jesus is (was) mortal and could have died on that cross and then not be part of that "immortal God" or he is immortal and therefore could be part of that "immortal God" but could not die on a cross. It can't be both; that would be a violation of the law of excluded middle. And, finally, (2) there are no "birds and animals and reptiles" in the image. The big irony, still, is that the main Christian image is "made to look like a mortal human being."

   Then again, I already knew Christians are pretty oblivious to irony. They are, after all, very good (or bad, depending on perspective) about ignoring Matthew 6:5-8
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Monday, May 21, 2012

"Organized" religion isn't the problem!

...Well, it isn't, but not the way some Christians suggest.

   It pleases me — PLEASES, I SAY! — when Christians (typically of the more liberal variety) attempt to claim that religion isn't a problem, it's just that damn organized religion that's problematic! To which I say, "Bollocks!"

   What can I say? There was a vote on a ban of gay marriage in North Carolina recently and I found an article about it and in that comment section (it was on MSNBC, but I'm not sure which article or where to find the exact comment now) some Christian was going off about how Christians can't take the moral high-ground because of prior moral failings (agreed), but then seemed to blame this on "organized religion" and had to make it clear he was not an "Atheist" (with a capital "A" because, I suppose, he thinks atheism is a religion). This really causes me to facepalm when I see that there is one survey (how well this was conducted, I do not know) that found about 97% of atheists/humanists support legal gay marriage. (Also, Gallup finds that 89% of non-Christians support gay marriage.) And this guy seemingly wants to distance himself from such a group to make it clear he belongs to the Christian club, or at least a religion. Or maybe he thinks atheists eat babies or are communists who worship government? Most of all, I suspect he's trying to make himself feel superior. It reminds me of the xkcd comic.

   Which brings me right to my biggest point on this issue: there is really no such thing as religion without organization. This commenter goes out of his way to point out he's not an atheist. Why? Seriously, why? As I already suggested, I suspect he's trying to make it clear that he is himself a Christian (without having directly said so). But why is that important? If you think organized religion is so horrible, why imply that you are a member of the group? Perhaps he's afraid of social consequences for denouncing religion. Which brings me to the reality that religion needs organization to survive. I credit the fact that I am an atheist much to not having a religious upbringing. I didn't have to fight off years of people telling me that a god is real. Granted, my parents could have brought up religion in the home more often than they did (which was virtually never), and if they had, I might not be an atheist.

   But what about my children (when Amy and I get around to adopting)? I'm not going to be teaching them religion as literal truth. I doubt Amy would, either. So where could they possibly pick up religion? I mean, without organized religion? Could some friends teach them about religion? Maybe, but those friends might also believe Spiderman is real, too. So when Spiderman becomes fake, so does religion. At best, I would say, they might come up with something of their own, but would they get into anything like Christianity? Probably not.

   I raise this because there have been cases of the children of atheists becoming religion. Some, even pastors (i.e, William Murray and Stephen Kagin). But would this have happened without organized religion? So often I hear stories from atheists who began life as non-religious or not devoutly religious and then got pulled into church or a college prayer group through friends. That's organized religion, even if the organization may be relatively small in comparison to, say, a juggernaut like the Catholic Church. Never have I heard anyone claim that they became religious from a friend merely telling them about Jesus. No, it seems to take some sort of church experience to convert.

   Think about that. If parenting were the primary way to pass on a religious belief and there were no effective conversion methods, specific religions would gradually fade away as parents, such as mine, fail to pass on their beliefs. Now, new religions may — and probably would — spring up from people creating new religions, but even those wouldn't last. About all that might last are the simplest of beliefs. People still believe in astrology, for example, but it is relatively simple. At least it seems to be that way anymore. At one time, I think it used to be quite more complex, by which I mean people spent much more time actually looking at the alignment of the stars and planets because they actually thought that mattered. Today? It wouldn't surprise me if many astrologers know the position of planets, but recognize that all they really do is make up stuff in horoscopes. More importantly, though, there are no scriptures or really any dogma that is tied to such a belief. Just think about that for one, brief minute. What is the Bible, after all? It is an organized collection of stories, poetry, and letters.

   Yet, I can imagine there would be some objections about how that is not what they mean by "organized." Then what do they mean? Why do I get the feeling that their particular brand of Christianity is not organized but everyone else's is???

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Penn Jillette when his is right.

   I wrote an earlier post where I was not pleased with a quote attributed to Penn Jillette. Now I have to turn the tables and post something from Penn that I find to be really great. Below is the video message he presented to the Reason Rally back in March. I'll highlight some of the great parts below.

It's about time we grabbed the moral high-ground. Many people who are religious—they are sometimes doing their good deeds: their charity, their kindness. Sometimes comes from reward and punishment—going toward reward and away from punishment. I can make the argument—and I have—that the only ones with true morality are us, the atheists. We are doing good because it is good and we are doing right because it is right and not for reward or punishment.


We are the people who believe in this life. We are the people who believe in morality. If you are doing something for reward or punishment, you do not have morality. Morality must come from inside you—from your mind and from your heart. You can't say "Don't hit your sister and I'll give you an ice cream sandwhich;" "You must not hit your sister because it's wrong to hit your sister."
   My only thought is this is a bit contradictory to that quote from that earlier post. That quote implied getting "moral credit" and "great joy" from helping people. But aren't these rewards, especially the moral credit? The great joy is something internal, but could I not call that a self-reward? It would seem that either Penn did not say that quote or he is holding contradictory ideas. From my writings, it should be clear that the Penn in the video above is the Penn I agree with.

UPDATE: I found the source of the quote from my earlier post. It appears to be a response to his interview with Piers Morgan back around August of last year, which is actually the interview from which I based some of my thoughts of Penn in that post, particularly with how he used anecdotal evidence during that interview. (I actually posted the first part of that interview on this blog. The video I embedded is apparently no longer available, but the links to other videos still work.)