Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Court Takes Daughter Away from Christian Bigot

Christianity has many wonderful teachings, but its intolerance meme is not one of them. The so-called "evangelical" version of Christianity teaches hate and bigotry.

Today, it's a mother who can't see her own child, because the other mother (they were lesbians, legally married in Vermont) converted to evangelical Christianity, rejected her former lifestyle, and refused to let her divorced partner see their child. The Court ordered visitation, the biological mother refused, and in exasperation, the Court had to take custody away from the biological mother completely. Sadly, the woman's Christian bigotry was so strong that rather than obey the Court and the law of the land, the biological mother stole the daughter away and disappeared.

I can understand someone who has a change of heart about their sexual orientation, or adopts a new religion, or both. But I suspect in this case there's something more sinister afoot: I'd lay odds that her fellow Christians encouraged her lawless behavior (which is probably a criminal act in itself). They believe that the lesbian lifestyle is so hateful that it's justified to break the law, and your own promises to your former partner.

Why must these conservative Christians be so hateful of other people's lifestyles? This is not true Christianity, and I hope real Christians across the nation condemn this act, and all acts of intolerance and bigotry.

Christians go Nuts: Bible Says God Did NOT Create Universe!

What happens when you insist that the Bible be taken literally ... and it turns out there is a big mistake in the translation? For example, what if the original doesn't say God created Heaven and Earth?


It's a perfect example of what happens when you let irrational faith trump scholarship and rationality: every time a new fact comes along, your defense of your beliefs has to get even more contorted and far-fetched than before.

According to Professor Ellen van Wolde, the story of Genesis was mistranslated, and badly. God didn't create the universe, it was here already. He just sorted it all out and made sense of it. Sorting out the heavens and firmament, and the waters from the land, and so on, would be a mighty task, one worthy of any ordinary god. But it's a far cry from creating the universe itself ex nihlo.

If Professor van Wolde is right, it puts Yahweh in the same league as gods like Thor, Zeus and Baal: mighty gods, but of-this-universe rather than creator of the universe. Instead of being omniscient and omnipotent, Yahweh would just be more like an ultra-magical human. Quite a downfall.

While this academic debate over a single Hebrew word is interesting and amusing, it's the reaction of Christians and Jews that I find far more instructive, and sad. Professor Van Wolde's short thesis has spawned hundreds of replies on the newspaper's web site, and some of them fill pages with their arguments.

To a scholar, this sort of thing is fun and fascinating, and the debate is just part of an ongoing, somewhat esoteric, effort to expand knowledge. If this were any book other than the Bible, it would be left in the dry, dusty attics of just a few linguists and historians.

But because it affects one of the core beliefs of conservative Christians and Jews, it has to be refuted. Never mind that in a scholarly debate, everyone might eventually conclude that the professor is right (or not ... that's what scholarship is about). No matter what the facts are, these conservative Christians and Jews have to concoct dozens of reasons why the experts must be wrong.

The refutations fall into three main camps:
  1. Professor van Wolde's translation is wrong (this from people who don't even speak Hebrew).
  2. The word "separate" can be taken to mean "create."
  3. The original Hebrew is irrelevant, because the Bible is God's inerrant word and the current translation is His divine will.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog that is relevant again:
There is no objective truth for religion, no foundation. When religious people argue, they're arguing about opinion, and they can argue forever. But when scientists argue, it's over facts, and sooner or later, the facts prevail. One theory will win out because it is true, and the others will be forgotten. And the scientists will then move on to the next question, to expand our knowledge even more.
That's the beauty of true scholarship, that ultimately, through hard work and clear thinking, and by ignoring our own wishes about what we'd like to be true, we find a core truth that everyone can verify for him/herself. And we move on to the next question.

Religion's reliance on faith, and belief in things that can't possibly be true, makes it impossible to move forward. People waste days, years, and even whole lifetimes, concocting silly explanations to justify two-thousand-year-old mythology, simply because some priests or rabbis declared it to be from Yahweh's own mouth. It's a terrible waste of human intelligence.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Foul Language

When you write a blog, it's there for all the world to see ... friends, enemies, strangers ... and family. And sometimes you discover your readers unexpectedly, like when over Christmas dinner your Mom gives you grief about using strong language!

She reminded me (and of course, she's right) that any time you want to use a word that some might find objectionable or course, there's almost alway a better, and even more powerful, way to express the same thing. So from now on, I'm going to endeavour to do so.

So Joe Lieberman, I'm sorry I called you a bad name. I should have been more clear: you're an arrogant, ignorant, insensitive jerk who should retire from politics.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

How to Enslave a Modern Woman

My brother-in-law posted a beautiful, inspirational video called The Invisible Woman by Nicole Johnson. It really is a very moving story ... and I despise it. It illustrates perfectly how religion is used to subjugate women.

Karl Marx got many things wrong, but he famously wrote, "Religion is the opiate of the people." The message is simple:
You work your ass off, and nobody cares. But God cares, and He sees you even if you are everyone else's invisible servant. So be a good girl, accept your fate, and get back to work.
But no woman should take this crap from anyone, much less her own husband and children. It is wrong to be treated like dirt, yet this "God cares" message is nothing more than an opiate, designed to get women to shut up and get back to their tasks.

What horrifies me about these messages is how insideous and alluring they are. A woman works sixteen hours a day, her children, husband and friends are disrespectful and uninterested, and she begins to feel worthless. But wait! There's a man, not just any man, but a kindly, loving, fatherly man, who loves her with all his heart. This man is everything her husband and children are not – appreciative, admiring, concerned, thankful, and probably handsome too. Who wouldn't want to believe this, true or not? So she goes back to her chores, happy that at least one person cares about her.

But step back for a moment, and think what might happen if women around the world rejected this opiate. Instead of feeling that inner contentment, knowing that God cares, some would surely become more depressed than ever. But maybe some would actually do something about their mistreatment.

Maybe instead of being invisible, they'd demand the respect that they deserve. And maybe they'd actually get it. Wouldn't that be novel?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Moving day...

A brief note to all my faithful subscribers: I'm moving, so I haven't been posting as frequently as usual. Stay with me, I'll be back!

Lieberman is an Ass

Joe Lieberman is an ass. I can't believe I once contemplated voting for that man. He is now acting the little bully, holding the entire Democratic Party hostage for his one vote on the health-care reform bill, because if he doesn't get his way, he's going to go running to his Republican buddies and join their filibuster, which would bring the Senate to a halt and derail the entire bill.

Last week, the House and Senate worked out a compromise in a way that exemplifies good politics and government. The two sides, who had very strong opinions about the issues, took some hard choices and worked out a deal that was satisfactory. It included a semi-public option that was not the liberals' first choice, and it extended Medicare to the 55-65 crowd.

That was democracy and good politics in action, an illustration of how the country should be run.

Now Lieberman, who already abandoned the Democratic Party that put him in power in the first place, has single-handedly decided that he, not the voters who elected all the Members of Congress, should get his way. He is bullying the entire country, simply because he can. Instead of participating in the debate, and respecting the compromise worked out the men and women who were elected by the majority of voters, Lieberman is forcing his opinion on the entire country.

Lieberman has single-handedly forced the removal of the two key elements of the compromise, gutting health reform. As far as I'm concerned, without at least some public option, the whole exercise is worthless. Why bother.

I have never once seen a filibuster that was good for the country. Why hasn't the Senate ended this despicable process that lets a minority of Senators hold the whole country hostage to their demands?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Will Immortality piss off God?

So, birthday. Fifty six – is my life half over? What are the chances I'll live to be 112 years old? Oy.

I had this weird thought. We, you and I, are all in a peculiar spot: we don't know if we'll ever die at all. It is conceivable that, before I die, scientists will discover the secrets to biological immortality. In fact, it's almost impossible that science won't someday achieve immortality for humans. Maybe not in my lifetime, but certainly within 100 to 500 years.

So what happens to Heaven and Hell when people stop dying? Seriously, this will be a real problem for the the Big Three, the Abrahamic religions. Christians, Jews and Muslims all rely on that life-after-death concept to keep believers in line, and as a sort of antidote for all of the trouble that we find here on Earth.

Life sucks? Don't worry, you'll get your reward. Saddam Hussein killed a couple hundred thousand of the Iraqi people? No problem, he's going to suffer forever in Hell.

The Heaven and Hell memes bring a balance into people's lives. They're very comforting, and assure people that, in spite of the apparent unfairness of life caused by government, society and "acts of God," everything will be smoothed over in the end.

But what happens when nobody dies? This is going to be a huge theological problem for Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

I'll make a wager, any amount of money you like, that when the day arrives that science defeats old age, religious leaders will declare that it's a sin, that it violates God's design for us. I'll even bet that it will be taken as yet another sign of the approaching Armageddon.

Of course, I can only pay up if I live that long...
If I knew I'd live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.
– Mickey Mantle (American baseball player)
For those of you interested in reading more about immortality, I'm not the only one who thinks we may live forever. Raymond Kurzweil even wrote a book about this immortality, Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever. He claims that if we can manage to live long enough (like, to 120), science will have cured most or all diseases and even conquered old age itself. And it's actually not an unreasonable claim. I fully expect to live to 100 just by taking care of myself.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Green is a Conspiracy to Overthrow Christianity!

Damn, we've been caught! Cliff Kincaid over at Right Side News finally saw through our ruse, to the true purpose of the green movement and environmentalism: It's just a cover to subvert Christianity and begin "the reconstruction of a pagan world order."

Wow, and I thought environmentalism was about ... the environment! You know, trying to ensure that there's something left for my grandchildren besides a hot, stinking mess. But ol' Cliff set me straight:
... these forces "have infiltrated Christian higher education by careful placement of teachers and teaching materials on environmental activism in [Christian] schools... Many of these schools are conservative in politics or theology. What they teach ... will surprise their supporters. ... Little by little wolves try to douse Christian resistance and lead sheep by troubled waters to accept the inevitability of a divine environmental movement.
And if that's not enough to convince you, consider this:
...attempts by Church leaders and Christian organizations to synthesize a Christian environmentalism can succeed "only by exorcising truth, and ultimately, by expelling Christianity..."
In other words, Christianity and environmentalism are incompatible.

According to Kincaid, environmentalism is nothing more than a new religion (I wish it were so, maybe it would have a chance!)
[Environmentalism] is a religion with a vision of sin and repentance, heaven and hell. It even has a special vocabulary, with words like 'sustainability' and 'carbon neutral.' Its communion is organic food. Its sacraments are sex, abortion, and when all else fails, sterilization. Its saints are Al Gore and the InterGovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
If only it were true. Religious memeplexes are, without a doubt, the most persuasive and persistent in history. Hey, maybe Kincaid has something there. Maybe I'll be the founder of The Church of Green, and I'll be its Pope! Hey, Saint Al, you ready?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

American Home Grown Terrorists - Islamic Roots

Among atheist bloggers, I'm a misfit: I don't believe religion is the root of all war. Atheists tend to blame religion for most of the world's evils, especially war, but not me. I believe wars are really about power and money, not religion, and that religion is merely used cynically by military leaders and dictators to achieve their ends. It's a tool, not a cause.

But with the rise of a new brand of home-grown American terrorists, it's hard to see how religion, Islam in particular, can escape the blame.

These new terrorists are Americans who have taken up the radical Islamic calling, and hope to kill Americans using terrorist tactics. (I, along with the vast majority of Muslims, am very careful to distinguish between mainstream Islam and radicals, just as I don't lump all Christians in with the likes of McVeigh).

These are not desperate young men with no future who were recruited by the Taliban, nor are they well-educated middle-class Saudis fighting colonialism (i.e. the 9/11 terrorists). These new American terrorists are ordinary young men who have been seduced by religion into a life of crime and terrorism.

It's hard to see how religion can escape the blame for this new brand of home-grown terrorism. The holy texts of all three Abrahamic religions have so many conflicting, confusing, and ambiguous passages that anyone can interpret them to justify anything. Combine that with the idea that God is on your side, and it's easy to justify mass murder. Not right, but easy.

Without religion, these young men (and it's almost always men) would probably be radicals, malcontents, and other types of societal misfits, but they wouldn't be mass murders. It takes religion to turn a malcontent into a terrorist.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Christian Judges and Lawers - Constitutional Idiots

Instead wasting the Supreme Court's valuable time, let me see if I can explain this clearly to the Christians: DISCRIMINATION SUCKS, and you DON'T have right to force others to support your ancient, outdated "morality."

The Christian Legal Society (CLS), a group of Christian lawyers and judges, bans gays from becoming voting members or officers. The problem is, they're not satisfied just discriminating – they want to force Hasting College to endorse their anti-gay policy by making CLS an official college group.

Now I'd be the first to defend CLS's right to discriminate, based on any criteria they like. A lot of people think discrimination is illegal in all circumstances, but it's not. I'm perfectly free to ban anyone I like from my own home for any reason at all, be it race, religion or the color of their hair. You and I can form a club and be as hateful as we like, ban anyone we want for any reason, however despicable, and it's nobody else's business.

But what we can't do is force someone else to share our bigotry, and that's exactly what these Christian judges and lawyers are trying to do. They want to discriminate against gays, and they also think Hastings College should be forced to support their discrimination, with money and official recognition.

According to CLS's press release:
"Public universities shouldn't single out Christian student groups for discrimination. ... It's completely unreasonable–and unconstitutional–for a public university to disrupt the purposes of private student groups by forcing them to accept as members and officers those who oppose the very ideas they advocate."
Do these guys think the Supreme Court justices are stupid? Nobody is forcing the CLS to do anything. They're free to discriminate all they like, as long as they do it within their own organization. It's the CLS that is trying to force Hastings to violate its own ethical standards.

I have faith in our United States Supreme Court, and I predict that the Christian Legal Society's case will be thrown out, as it should be.

And the Christian Legal Society should be ashamed of itself for demonstrating such an egregious misunderstanding of the United States Constitution.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Facebook Hate-Islam Groups

Warning: Adult Language

Where does free speech end and hate speech begin? Is it OK to say, "Fuck Islam" or "Fuck Christianity" or any other religion? How about "Fuck religion"? (And let's not forget "Fuck atheism"!)

If you go to Facebook.com and search for "Fuck Islam", you'll find over 500 groups. And many, including several with large memberships, are Islam-bashing groups with lots of nasty things to say.

But just scroll down a bit in the list and you'll find lots of "Ban the 'Fuck Islam' Facebook group" groups. Or boycott, protest, demand-censorship, and so on. And paging down through the groups, you find "fuck the fuck Islam group" and even deeper parody.

When I first saw the "Fuck Islam" group on Facebook, I was up in arms. Although I am an atheist and don't care for most religion, I try to always keep the debate respectful (except in the rare case where I believe religion hurts or kills people or appears fraudulent).

So is "Fuck Atheism" a form of hate speech? I don't know. One comment I read says no – hate speech has to suggest violence, some sort of action, and this expression merely indicates contempt. I thought this was an excellent point.

On the other hand, this sort of speech surely doesn't help anything. It further divides an already-divided world, it ends dialog, and it angers Muslims (or whatever group is being insulted).

Should "Fuck Islam" groups be banned from Facebook? If I were in charge at Facebook, I suspect I'd favor free speech over censorship.

But I would never join such a group.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Is Christianity Dying?

The other day I wrote about the shortage of young priests in Ireland, which started me thinking (again) about the more general question: Why is Christianity slowly dying? It's clearly on the wane, especially in Europe but even in America things look grim. Just google for "decline of Christianity" and you'll even find major Christian writers lamenting this trend.

There are many hypotheses, most of which include news reports of pedophile priests, "militant" atheists, or a vague "decline in morals" of some sort. And I'm sure these are all contributing to some degree.

But I have my own theory, which I can sum up in one word: Education.

Education is the enemy of religion, plain and simple. Hundreds of years ago, it was easy to keep people "in the fold," because many couldn't read, and priests could pretty much tell them anything plausible and they'd believe it. The Bible's many inconsistencies and immoralities were easy to cover up.

Then came literacy, and with it a lot of questions. My fellow blogger Sarah Trachtenberg writes wonderful stories of people's journey from religion to atheism, and a large number of them tell of how, when they really read the Bible, it raised more questions than it answered, and when they tried to ask for help, were rebuffed, told to pray for guidance, or that "God works in mysterious ways." Julia Sweeney's Letting Go of God is a wonderful example of this.

So literacy itself proved a problem, but that was just the beginning. I believe the real decline of Christianity (and all organized religion) started in the 1950's when science became a priority in our schools. World War II had shown the world's leaders that scientists were critical to the war, on every front. Submarines, nuclear bombs, jet engines, cryptography, radio, and so many more scientific contributions were crucial to defeating the Nazi and Japanese war machines. That was followed by Sputnik and the "space race." American children started learning about science in record numbers.

And the simple fact is that, in spite of what the Pope and Francis Collins claim, Christianity is incompatible with science. You can believe one, or you can believe the other, but very few people (Collins being a notable exception) who truly understand science can believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God, performed miracles, and was resurrected. It just makes no sense.

Furthermore, the most fundamental rules of science teach us that amazing claims require amazing proofs, and the Christian religion is full of amazing claims that have no proof whatsoever. When someone is given a solid education in science, they almost inevitably begin to question what they learned in church.

To me, the decline of Christianity is no mystery at all. As long as we, as a society, continue our quest for knowledge, and continue to educate our children, to fill their heads with the latest wonders of science and mathematics, religion will continue to fade. I doubt it will ever disappear, but I predict that within my lifetime, America will become at least 50% non-Christian.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ireland Running Out of Priests

Ireland, once called the "most fruitful of mothers" as a breeding ground for Catholic priests, is now so short on priests that it's turning into a crisis. The Diocese of Dublin, the center of the country that Pope John XXIII once considered a bastion of Catholicism, now has 46% of its priests over 80 years old, and just two who are under 36 years old.

The reasons for this are obvious to anyone with a brain. The Church itself is focusing on the celibacy requirement; it doesn't take a genius to figure out that asking a young, intelligent man to be celibate isn't exactly a win. The Church leaders are actually contemplating a change in this requirement, which is amazing.

But I think the biggest problem facing the Catholic Church is all of the sexual abuse scandals over the last decade. It seems that every time we turn around, there's another horrifying story of a priest who molested 10, 50, 100 or even more children, and lately the stories have turned to how the Catholic Church itself was complicit in shielding these child abusers, and worse, placing them in positions where they could repeat their crimes.

It used to be that being a Catholic priest was an honor. Mothers would beam with pride when introducing their priest sons. Now, imagine Mom telling your friends that you decided to enter a seminary to become a priest – your Mom would be embarrassed. It's rather sad.

There's a third reason for the decline, too. Christianity, and religion in general, is in a massive decline throughout Europe, and Catholicism is just part of that general trend. But I don't think that fully explains the shortage of priests in Ireland. This one is the Catholics own fault.