Friday, December 31, 2010

In the year of Our Lord, 2010...

Of course to be au courant in academic circles we now say "common era," to distinguish European dating from Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic and all sorts of other calendars. And anyway, "our lord" probably wasn't born in the year zero or one, if he existed at all.

Deconversion is such a gradual thing. This year's 'revelation' was that Christianity is perhaps the most selfish, amoral religion ever. It has taken me over 20 years to come to this realization.

"Salvation" from either one's own sins or Eve's (it's debatable, apparently) is "bought" with the "blood" of an innocent god-spirit-man, who knowingly or unknowingly becomes the "sacrificial" lamb to replace the sacrifices at the temple for all the Jews, and later Greeks, Ethiopians, Lebanese, and Europeans etc. who believe in him and don't fuck people of the same sex.

This is supposed to be a wonderful thing. In my reading this year (thank you, John Loftus) I found out that the term is "penal substitution." Instead of punishing the guilty person, someone else is put in that person's place. And it seems this year I've seen more evidence of evangelicals' embrace of this concept.

One of my facebook pals posted recently about how grateful she was that Jesus was all-forgiving. Being a nice person, I bit my fingers-tongue and didn't type out "unless you're a fig tree." Of course Jesus doesn't have the power to forgive, but you don't have to actually think through theology if you're enveloped in a feel-good movement that's all about YOU feeling relieved of your guilt.

This week Governor Bill Richardson decided not to pardon Billy the Kid. Apparently during Billy's lifetime a pardon was promised, then renegged on, and then Billy continued killing people. Richardson decided on the pardon on the terms he would if the Kid were still alive: based on his behavior subsequent to the original crime. My question is, why didn't he reject it on the pure ridiculousness of the request? It's not like the Kid was on Death Row! I think the answer is that we care about our reputations after our death. We want to be remembered well, and we can't guarantee that we will. We can leave all kinds of instructions for our funerals, pre-engrave our epitaphs, and publish our story in a self-serving autobiography, but when we're gone we won't be able to defend ourselves.

This is where "God" comes in. The trial takes place immediately upon death, and it's quick because there's only one matter to take up: whether we accept Jesus as Lawd, or God, or whatever. (The evangelicals have confused me on this point, I admit) Anywho, if we "ak-Tsept JEEE-zussss" into our hearts at the last possible moment, all the rest is pardoned. And that should be enough.

The Billy the Kid case reminded me of another, Karla Faye Tucker. She was still alive when her earthly fate was being decided on by none other than then-governor George W. Bush. I had just moved to Texas that year and the case really represented Texas for me. Karla Faye had converted to Christianity in prison. While reading the Bible, she was "asking God to forgive" her." She became a cause celebre when she tried to escape the Death Penalty on the basis of her conversion.

She had already something of an evangelical celebrity as her conversion and subsequent good behavior, so she had the Army of Gawd on her side. (This, of course, is quite opposite to what Christians should have wanted for her -- the best she could have hoped for was life without parole, but if she'd been executed she'd be in Heaven with Gawd). But perhaps her jailbird testimony was just too delicious for them, and they wanted her to stick around for their purposes.

The conflict for Dubya: the death penalty, which is almost sacred in Texas, vs. born-again Christianity, which he himself professed. He chose not to forgive her, and Karla Faye was executed. Her last words included the following: "I am going to be face to face with Jesus now." Yes, Jesus forgives murder.

I don't remember any debate about whether she would in fact be forgiven by God for her part in the murder of two people. It's convenient that Christians are all about the Ten Commandments when they want them posted in courthouses or recited by school children, but when one of their own has violated one, they suddenly don't care so much.
The true common element for Billy the Kid and Karla Faye Tucker is time. Christians will forgive if enough time has passed without further ill will. Billy the Kid stopped murdering people ... upon his death... and hasn't broken any laws since then. Karla Faye was a youngster and had spent many years in prison waiting for her lethal injection. After so much time has passed, m'eh they're okay.
Supposedly hell and heaven are forever decisions. God doesn't forgive, and he doesn't forget, either. His judgment isn't mitigated by time or good behavior. Either you're with him or agin'im, and that's forever.
Yet somehow the Ten Commandments only matter when we want them to. Forgiveness is not God's to give or retract, but ours. The whole judgment-in-heaven concept is a projection of our desires. It's 100% cultural, and has nothing to do with eternal spirits, burning bushes, or any of the rest of it.
What it comes down to is this: We want to be forgiven, and we also want to forgive. The Christian theology of forgiveness is a reflection of our human nature, not the cause of it. Society holds together based on whether members of the community can trust each other to behave in a way that supports the community. We have that trust at birth, and we can lose it. It can be lost forever, or it can be regained after a time-out, or some act of redemption. Folk stories from around the world reflect the very human need to keep the very human community intact.
Sometimes we can't control whether we get that trust back. If we've killed someone, they can't turn around and say "aw it's okay I know you're really a nice person." Or if someone holds a grudge we can only do so much to get back into their "good graces." So we ask the Sky Daddy to forgive us. How that happens depends on your interpretation of the Sky Daddy. Evangelicals don't have to do much at all, though they will tell you they base their morals on a fear of Hell. Episcopalians mumble contritious words at weekly services. Catholics go to confession and do some act of penance to make up for whatever they've confessed to.
My absolute #1 favorite religious tradition is the Jewish New Year tradition of self-reflection for acts done during the previous year, then doing an act of charity to erase those deeds. It's all done in one's lifetime, and within a brief time span so guilt doesn't accumulate. Lazy Jews donate money to "the building fund," but a lot donate to actual charities or give their time to the needy. Animal Sacrifice went the way of the dinosaur after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. (oops, C.E.), and God has stopped punishing entire cities and countries for group misdeeds. This is their substitution. I think it's a great idea. When it was explained to me it was called "mitzvah" and I even like the sound of the word.
Last year I had the means and opportunity to do an act of charity that directly made up for something I regretted. It cost me a lot of time and money but when it was done it was a very "clean" feeling. My mitzvah had been accomplished and though I could never set right the original situation, I had done the next-best thing. My guilt for what couldn't be righted (don't worry, I didn't break any laws, just felt guilty) was matched by my satisfaction of making a real contribution in a parallel situation. I can start the New Year with a clear conscious, knowing that what's past is past and I've done my best.
When Christians ask me why I'm not worried about Hell, I don't go into all this detail. I simply say I'm not afraid of something that doesn't exist. They're not really interested in a "sermon" about guilt, retribution, redemption, making the most of one lifetime, paying for your own "sins," etc. but I wish they were. Atheism is liberating, but in a grow-the-fuck-up and take responsibility for yourself kind of way. That's much more frightening than Hell to them.
So Happy New Year, atheists. Let's make the best of the time we have and not worry about our 'afterlife' here or in the sky.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It's *not* a Wonderful Life!

Well, it might be or it might not be. I love the sentiment of generosity in that movie but the rest of the message, well...

Let's summarize the plot: George Bailey gets whacked upside the head, loses his hearing, and can't join the army. Fortunately, the whack didn't destroy his ambition; love did that. So instead of going to the big city to be a little fish, he stays "home" and works at the family's savings & loan, then has a few kids and fixes up This Old House.

Being a little soft-hearted (or -headed) he lets his "special" employee take cash to the big bank and the retard loses it to the mean old crippled guy. Yes, Tiny Tim has grown up to be a selfish, mean-spirited MoneyBags who wants nothing less than to destroy all competition and be King of Bedford Falls. Bwahahahahaaaa!!!!!! And we all know that when you put two people with disabilities in the same room together hilarity ensues!

This is Mr. Potter's moment! He calls in feckless George's loan, and now George, Mr. Ambition, contemplates suicide. Because of course we all know that when you have a wife & kids the best thing you can do for them is jump off a bridge. Naturally they'd rather have money than a husband and father.

Oh wait! Here comes an Angel straight from HEAVEN to convince George he shouldn't jump. Why? Because George is popular and lots of people are praying for him. Now we know that all those people who jumped from the Twin Towers on 9/11 were unpopular anyway, since nobody could have been praying for them or else they'd have been rescued.

So this angel, instead of saying "it's only money and there are worse things than being in debt," grants George the wish to know what Bedford Falls would have been like without him. Oh my it's terrible. Mr. Potter is rolling all over everyone, his wife is *gasp* an old maid and *BIG GASP* a LIBRARIAN! *faint* He regrets his wish, his life is restored, and he finds out that he's POPULAR! How does he know he's popular? People shower him with cash to bail him out of a tough spot.

The moral of the story: what goes around comes around? If you're popular God will intervene? Money is the most important sign of love?

Here's what this atheist would like to see:
George Bailey doesn't even know the money's missing yet. God is pissed by what Mr. Potter did, and of course he saw the whole thing. He doesn't have to wait to hear about it on the prayer party line. He smites Mr. Potter, perhaps with a good smack upside the head, and the wad of cash falls to the ground in full view of everybody. The retard who misplaced it is suddenly cured of his affliction, grabs the money and tells everyone exactly how much money it was to prove it belonged to the Baileys. Mr. Potter goes to jail, the retard is now qualified to take over the business, and George moves to TheBigCity with his family after scoring a hostile takeover of Mr. Potter's bank.

That's how a powerful, omniscient, loving, just god would handle the situation. Clarence would get his wings upon arrival in Heaven just for being a nice guy, because that's what God really wants to see -- nice people getting their reward.

Instead, we have a God who needs to be implored for mercy, and is so powerless he has to employ trickery to save a life. He runs heaven like the army, with ranks and seemingly impossible tasks to complete to get promoted.

Theologians probably don't like this movie much, either, but it resonates with people even decades after its release because it fulfills the fantasy role that religion has in so many lives: prayer works, God works in mysterious ways, the "reality" one person experiences is really true no matter how bizarre, and even though money doesn't matter, in the end it really does.

Of course this could never happen today. Banks have security cameras now so they don't need God looking in on them.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Feelings Aren't Facts

"Debbie," in the discussion here, insists that her feelings are justification for the "knowledge" that God is "real." One of her posts seemed so insane to me I was sure it was sarcasm, until I read more posts by her. It's worth copying here:

I care and seek to know the truth. Jesus claimed to be the Truth. To know Jesus is to know the Truth. He is the answer to the Big Questions of life. So it seems to me.

This is posited like some kind of logical argument but in the end she waffles with "So it seems to me." That's the key. The rest is baloney. She trusts her intuition, so the rest is irrelevant.

Later she posts: "Truth by it's very nature is narrow. A fact is a fact period. Broad is the road that leads to destruction. Narrow is the gate that leads to life. Isn't it interesting that Jesus claimed to be the Truth?"

Yes, very interesting. We all care to seek and to know the truth. It's human nature. SO ... of course if you want people to follow your religion you need to convince them that it's TRUE. And apparently SAYING it's true is enough for some people.

So "Jesus is God" is true because I feel good about Jesus, and Jesus supposedly said it's true, and there can only be one truth. Therefore, any other truth claims must be false.

This kind of thinking drives me crazy. But the "thinking" is irrelevant because she really wants to 1) respect a predictable authority figure, 2) belong to a social group that validates her feelings, and 3) believe that her feelings are facts. "A fact is a fact period." Debbie believes that her feelings are facts. She has positive feelings about authority figures, her church spokespeople & writers, the Jesus of her imagination, and of positive feelings themselves.

If Debbie were the only one, I'd just reply to her rather than blogging about this. Sadly, she's just one of thousands, possibly millions, of people who think that her feelings justify her faith. It's more likely the other way around. Theologists with Ph.D.s call their beliefs "properly basic," which amounts to the same thing.

Believers who pepper me with questions after finding out that I'm an atheist often start by questioning my answer to uncomfortable feelings, such as fear of death, fear of a chaotic society, fear of nothingness... All bogeymen invented by the church to keep the fearful in the flock. It's simple: create good feelings for insiders, create bad feelings about outsiders.

But it really just comes down to feelings. They "feel the spirit," or so they believe. If I felt the "spirit" of Heidi Klum enter me and started doing runway walks in my underpants, I'd be considered "insane." If I said I felt the spirit of Jesus enter me and started speaking in tongues, I'd be welcomed into a few cults.

Feelings aren't facts, and they are no proof of the supernatural in any way. This is why atheists can't reach most believers: we don't manipulate people via an opposition of positive and negative emotion. And being the moral people we are, we find it difficult to ramp up the rhetoric the way that religions have done. Many of us self-identify as "free-thinkers" and resent others' attempts to impose their beliefs, so of course we wouldn't commit that offense either.

The irony for me is that after decades of non-belief I find that there are some emotional benefits. Life means more because it's limited to time on Earth, and death is less scary because I've accepted the inevitability of it.

Many of the "comforting" parts of Christian theology have actually become anathema to me:
  • ritualistic cannibalism (yech!)
  • penal substitution (how unfair!)
  • "original" sin carrying through to every human (yet we're "innocent" at birth?)
  • eternal existence without a body (how boring!)
  • "bad" people going to hell (somebody loved them!)
  • God listening to our thoughts (if he didn't like them why give them to us?)

The rest of them were distasteful to me even while I was trying to be a believer! Fortunately for the ticket-takers at the Pearly Gate, most Christians don't think too hard about these things. They've been offered a self-centered fairy tale future, and it feels pretty good to them.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Is Charlie Brown a Christian?

Every time Lucy holds out the football, Charlie Brown takes the bait and tries to kick it. Then Lucy pulls it away and poor Charlie lands on his back with a *thud.* Predictably, Charlie Brown blames himself for his gullibility. As a woman, I say, "Go ahead and kick her in the crotch!" Yes, getting kicked in the crotch is painful for women too. We won't barf but we will double over, and this Lucy bitch deserves a taste of her own medicine.

Would an atheist version of Charlie Brown be such a sucker? He'd say "fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice..." and he'd turn to the side and kick Lucy in whatever body part happened to be within range. Because despite not having any god-given morals, even an atheist knows that HURTING OTHER PEOPLE ISN'T FUNNY!
We have the other example of pro football players intentionally giving concussions to the other team's players. How charming.
I have read comparisons between football and religion, and there are some remarkable similarities, it's true. It's us vs. them, break the rules for a good cause, drop everything on the appointed day, and make pilgrimmages to partake of ritual foods. There are heroes and villains. And after hours of "play" nothing has really changed except a few numbers that will be erased in a few months.
...and quite a few people will have new scars and debilitating injuries.
Yep, football is just like religion.
So, Christians, don't blame yourself if you crack open the Bible and it makes no sense to you. It's a nonsensical piece of dreck written by bronze age superstitious tribal leaders and propagated by generations of Lucy's who make it your fault for taking the bait. The next time someone tells you to read the bible, kick them in the crotch!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Can an atheist pray?

In one of my former cities I had a friend who was in A.A. He was a believer of sorts but he said "We have atheists in A.A., but they pray." At the time I was trying to be a believer, and I was praying as part of that attempt. His promise that atheists can indeed pray gave me hope that I would get something out of prayer, if not a connection with a supernatural entity. I decided that even if it was mental masturbation it was mostly harmless as long as this "God" guy wasn't answering. I think if he answered I'd have worried that my family gene for psychosis.

A little while later I realized trying to be a believer was a hopeless task. I just couldn't accept the supernatural in any form and the religion thing was just one of many pieces of supernatural goofiness that humans had made up. But the prayer thing really did feel good and I do sometimes miss it when I have a hard decision to make. I can't for a minute think that "God" speaks to me and gives me an answer from "above" but being quiet and reflective seems to be helpful.

Part of my quest involved looking into "Eastern" religion, and I tried meditation. Curiously the effect is pretty much the same. Nobody answers but I feel more relaxed and sometimes make progress on a life issue. Have one currently, a life or death decision about my beloved diabetic dog. I have been feeling the urge to "pray" about this, and I'm embarrassed to admit it. Well, really meditation... still, it's embarrassing because I know it's 100% natural and in my head. We atheists don't talk about our mental needs. I think this is why we meet with such resistance.

My family wasn't big on prayer except when we were all together. Even at the time it felt phony and forced. Any public declarations make me snicker even now. We all knew it was really about convincing everyone else that you're a Christian, not so much about communicating with the Deity. If God can read your mind when you're coveting, He should be able to do it while you're praying. Still, it had to be done before digging into the Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey. Some branches of the family still keep up the pretense. Nothing wrong with expressing thanks, and thankfully, my family keeps it brief: God is Great, God is Good, and we thank him for this food. Amen.

Being puzzled, being grateful, being quiet... nothing wrong with any of these things. They're part of the human condition. Sometimes writing (like here) helps me sort things out. Sometimes talking it over with someone helps me come to an insight (note: in-sight not outside my head at all!) Sometimes I just need time away from my routine, such as when I'm driving.

Recently I figured out how to drop my unhelpful therapist while driving. Curiously she felt the need to tell me that she was Christian & that her whole workgroup also was. This was at my first meeting with her, and she promised she wouldn't hold my atheism against me. Of course I can't hold out for an atheist therapist in FundyTown so I didn't expect any trouble either. She turned out to be judgmental, talky, scolding, and bossy. Just a coincidence that a self-professed Christian was like that, of course. ;-) She seemed flummoxed by some of my answers to her questions. I sometimes went away wondering if we'd come to the point where she'd usually jump into religion. On her workgroup's website all of the therapist bios say they work on "spiritual issues." I snickered when I read that -- did that mean they would help people who had been abused by crazy fundies, or by crazy fundy issues? I'm not curious enough to ask, but it made me go "hmmm."

So anyway, I dropped the therapist just as I'd dropped the Sky-Daddy, but I haven't dropped self-reflection and talking to other people as means for finding "answers." I consult "facts" as well as my feelings. I won't always do the "logical" thing, and sometimes there are two competing logical choices anyway. In the end I'll consult my feelings and objective reality equally. It's probably not a girly thing to do this, but it's a girly thing to admit to it, and even be proud of it. I have made a few decisions lately that I can proudly say are both logical and emotional.

So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I will admit to doing what "prayer" really is - looking inside my head to figure out what I want. The only difference is that I take credit for what I "hear" instead of attributing it to Sky-Daddy or his rape victim or their psychotic bastard child.

I find in the craziest of places that I"m not completely alone in being an atheist who admires the better psychological qualities of Thanksgiving and ritual in general:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Why don't Christians adopt abandonned embryos?

This has been on my mind since the Octomom hoopla began. Octomom became the mother of octuplets for various reasons depending on your point of view: she's an irresponsible welfare mother, she's nucking futs, her doctor is irresponsible, she loves baybeees....

My view is that religion is at the root, and nobody in the media was willing to touch it at the time. I saw her horrifying defense of her actions in an interview: the embryos were her babies, and she could only get pregnant one more time. She had to have them all implanted, or some would die!

While everyone else was vilifying her, I had to admire her. She is the only Christian I've heard of who puts her uterus where her mouth is, so to speak. While many oppose stem cell research on the grounds that the embryos are human beings, I have yet to hear of any coming to their rescue the way she did. It's immoral to use stem cells to save the life of another human being, but apparently it's perfectly okay to throw them in a dumpster or keep them frozen for eternity (or until a power failure).

"Snowflake" babies are embryos implanted into women who want to become pregnant. Where are the women who don't want to raise these "children?" They aren't offering up their uteruses (uteri?) to incubate the little snow people for other people to adopt. The Snowflake "parents" are getting bargain adoptions, and they get to have healthy white babies to boot. (Note there are probably some nonwhite embryos, but if you look closely at the fundy propaganda, all the ones they care about are white).

There are supposedly 400,000 frozen embryos with no place to go. You can imagine how picky these "parents" are. They can even pick the religion of the adopters. But the number of willing donors hasn't kept pace with the number of people who want to adopt baybeees. I say Christian women who have all the children they want should offer up their uteri to these embryos for incubation. Surely with such a huge numbers of fundies overruning the country, we ought to be able to "place" these "babies" in a few underutilized uteri. Or how about prisoners? Let's implant into them. They could make a few bucks to help them when they parole out, and the adoptive parents get some pretty good quality offspring (IVF costs a bundle, and the Bible tells us that rich people are better quality than poor people).

This would have been the best possible reason for keeping Teri Schiavo "alive" too. How many other functioning uteri are being kept "alive" on "life" support? They're draining precious financial resources that could be put to better use. I say, make them earn their daily tube feeding!

Mass production usually brings down prices, so the average 40ish couple that would ordinarily have to resort to an inferior Chinese baby girl or handicapped African "orphan" due to competition from younger parents could get approved for some higher quality Amurkin babies! And then the rest can just go whereever. Since they were ordained by God to be whoever they're going to be, they can grow up anywhere. Sure, they might grow up in a doublewide, but with their inherent superiority they'd go on to be doctors, lawyers, engineers, or maybe even people who can make real money -- politicians & preachers!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

R.I.P. Religious Right

I watched some of tonight's election coverage, first on MSNBC, then on NBC, and then on the local news. MSNBC had only their liberal talking heads on, which was amusing. Lots of hand-wringing over the loss of the House. Some pontificated about the implications of the Tea Party groundswell for the future of the Republican party. Some played armchair coach and mused about the new division of labor in Congress. Who will be the quarterback? Who will punt? Will the Dems get to the finish line with a crippled offensive line? Tom Brokaw spoke about today's zeitgeist, the anti-incumbent sentiment, the average person's view of the economy, the high cost of war.

I didn't hear anything at all about what I think is the most important take-away this election season:

FINALLY... voters who don't believe in selecting politicians based on a misguided attempt to impose Christianity on the whole country are in the MAJORITY!!!

"Taxed Enough Already" a.k.a. Tea Party, has displaced the Religious Right as the engine behind the Republican Party.

I'm old enough to remember the so-called "Moral Majority." The movement was started in the late 1970s by Rev. Jerry Falwell, who also founded Liberty "University." (He died recently and if I ever go to his grave I'll be sure to save up a big loogie and drink a quart of water so I can show my appreciation properly.)

Anyway, this "majority" was supposedly "moral" because a vast majority of Americans are Christians and believe in the Ten Commandments. Jerry Falwell and a few other religious misleaders thought it was time that this sleeping giant woke up and imposed Christianity on the country. The Republican Party thought this was a fine idea and exploited these idiots because of the vast numbers they could command. And command is right! After all, Jimmy Carter was a "born-again" Christian and that seemed to give him an edge with this supposed majority. In order to defeat him, they had to take the South. Racism was not a winning strategy with enough districts to do the trick so they needed a new master plan.

This unholy alliance accomplished its goal. In 1980 Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter and politics seemed to have changed forever. Poor Ronnie was forced to pretend to be religious in order to stay in their good graces. Fortunately, his experience in such winning films as "Bedtime for Bonzo" taught him how to cuddle up to subhumans. And the subhumans who parroted their televangelists and pastors really only needed to hear him parrot the same few things once in awhile. Their misleaders could fill in the blanks on a need-to-know basis.

From then until now, politicians have pandered to the fundamentalist wing of Christianity in order to gain power. First it was just the Republicans, but eventually the Dems figured out that they had to spew the same words in order to stay in the race, literally. "God Bless America" is the final line in almost every speech or press conference nowadays. Because you know how a Jewish song really represents a "Christian" nation!

The 1970s also brought the feminine side of the Religious Right the fore, with Phyllis Schafley in the lead making a career of telling women not to have careers. Uppity women had started something called the "Women's Movement" in the 1970s. They weren't satisfied just to be able to vote. They wanted to do EVERYTHING and ANYTHING that a man could do! Of course the "Moral" majority objected to this on Christian grounds. Nevermind the three Marys at the tomb, Christ letting two women wash his feet over the objections of his apostles, and a few other passages that could be lassoed into supporting women's rights. But on the whole, the Bible is not on the side of women, and the Religious Right made sure to incorporate suppression of women's rights into their agenda.

I have known a lot of religious women who voted the way their husbands told them to. They quote about how a woman should be subservient to men in all things, the man is the "head" of the household and blah blah blah blah. If women wanted their place in society, what would the place of the man be??? The doghouse? Shining shoes? Changing diapers?

Uhhhh sometimes.

They lost that one, too. Ineffectual men now have to compete with blacks AND women for jobs! What next? Illegal aliens who don't even speak English? FAGS???? Oh noes!!!


After the end of the Reagan administration, the Moral Majority folded as an official group, but the damage had been done. They had brought Christianity and politics together and they gave ineffectual men a megaphone to drown out the people they wanted to victimize. These are the people who often decry the silliness of "political correctness" but they have successfully bullied politicians and pretty much everyone in the country into showing respect for their backwards beliefs. Out of 365 Representatives, only one is openly atheistic. How many are "in the closet" thanks to the Religious Right and its many bully pulpits?

30 years after the rise of the Religious Right they are now reduced to being represented by dumbasses like Christine O'Donnell and Sarah Palin, and they both lost their respective elections. The movement is now a cariacature of itself, with nobody taking their promises seriously. Dubya gave them everything they wanted and yet there are still uppity blacks and women going to college and working in high-paying fields. Mexicans are working in low-paying fields. Gay people want to make their relationships official in the eyes of the state. Dubya put evangelicals into high-level government positions, assured us that God had called him to trump up the evidence for blowing Iraqis the hell up, and praised God openly. Ahhhh they finally had "their man" in the hot seat.

At the same time many of their televangelists and the megachurch preachers have turned out to be not quite what they thought. Apparently being "moral" isn't guaranteed when someone is born again. The politicians they elected were just as bad. They had gay sex, gay anonymous sex, gay sex on crack, sex with hookers, sex with foreigners, sex with subordinates, sex with married people, sex with kids, and who knows what else? And some of them also got into money trouble despite "prosperity theology" offering such promise.

So now the fundamentalist voter is not voting on "social" issues. Now that they've had a taste of theocracy they're not so hot for it. Now they want a prosperous nation. They want competent (if smaller) government. They want to "take their country back" from the black guy, the libruls, the foreigners, the people they don't like, but Christianity is in the back seat with the exception of religious bigotry, which is always popular.

That's the big news of the mid-term election, in my opinion.

There are probably more Sarah Palins and Christine O'Donnells waiting in the wings for their turn to embarrass themselves, but I think we're in the end-times for fundamentalist control over American politics. The strange bedfellows that elected Ronald Reagan seem to be having marital difficulty.

Wiki article:

Friday, October 29, 2010

I'm not a witch, either

Illustration of Pendle Witches

I wonder if trick-or-treaters will be coming to Christine O'Donnell's house this weekend. She would be a particularly scary neighbor for many reasons, witchcraft being the least of them.

So anyway...

I was curious about the witchcraft persecution so I looked for some sites. I found some interesting stuff about European history, including my favorite period, ca. 1150-1300:

During the period I have studied, I learned about the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathar Heresy. The Cathars were "heretics" who believed what is pretty much accepted by the fundamentalists of today: God & Satan are engaged in a war. They lived in the South of France, and they were stinking rich. They also had highly developed musical and poetic artistry, which also made them suspiciously un-Christian.

The Albigensian Crusade put an end to Catharism, supposedly. The Dominican Order had the charge of ensuring that only "correct" theology was available to Europeans. They apparently didn't care about the Eastern Orthodox Church or the North African & Middle East versions of Christianity. This probably wasn't a racist decision. *wink wink*

So under the guise of the Albigensian Crusade they could slaughter them and plunder their wealth, and then when they were through with them they went after the Muslims with a goal of taking over Jerusalem... and plundering the wealth of anyone in their way. Hey, in a Holy War you can pretty much do anything. In the Middle East there were Christians, but they were rather brown, spoke the wrong languages, and wore funny clothes, so they deserved to die. Killing Christians isn't wrong if they live in a desert. They also didn't deserve to be rich, so the fine knights of Europe brought back goodies when they were through.

What makes this period interesting to me is the art and culture that spread throughout Europe as those with the means to escape settled in Northern France and Germany. And contact with the learned Arabs of the Middle East brought Greek philosophy and mathematics to the nascent universities of Europe. If not for them there might not have been a 13th-Century Renaissance in Paris.

medieval illustration of knights fighting Arabs

Back to witches... Superstitious people who want to stay in power can believe or be made to believe almost anything. Not surprising considering the general stupidity of 99% of humanity.

But here's a scary statistic: Over the 160 years from 1500 to 1660, Europe saw between 50,000 and 80,000 suspected witches executed. About 80% of those killed were women.

Why would tens of thousands of women be more scary than their fathers, brothers, and husbands? Apparently, whenever things don't go your way, you can blame women you don't like and kill them to set things right. Connect them to an inconvenient thunderstorm or a tragic death in the community and voila! You're safe again! If they are practitioners of "traditional medicine," that's a good reason, too. And if they're mentally ill, they're possessed by devils and that's reason enough.

Today, "witches" are imprisoned in Africa. Praise be to the missionaries who brought Christianity to the heathens of Africa! People who wouldn't dream of resurrecting this superstition and its resulting murder, are going to Africa and other countries spreading the "Good Word." And this is the result.

You'd think that Christians would be on the forefront of putting an end to the persecution of the "witches" of Africa, considering the embarrassment of their history with this. After all, most are either mentally ill and thus deserving of pity, or practitioners of native healing "arts" and thus great targets for being "saved." But no, guess who is coming to the rescue? Secular Humanists! and

Most of the "witches" are elderly women, and children are the witnesses against them! WTF???

This is a perfect evolutionary tactic - dispose of the infertile women who are dragging down the community and put the next generation in charge even if it means putting words into their mouths.

...but oops... children aren't immune either:

SO ... is anyone safe from witchcraft hysteria? Anyone at all....?

Let's look at the evidence: Cathars, traditional healers, people we don't like, senile old women, a few old men, even children: victims

Adult men who are in positions of power: immune

If witchcraft really were a supernatural or heretical act, wouldn't men in positions of power be the first ones to go to witchcraft school? Why rely on trials, stoning, burning and mob violence to ensure nobody messes with their mojo? Just whip up a few incantations and put a hex on your enemies and then....

oh wait.... they do that. It's called "prayer." Apparently it's not as powerful as the incoherent babbling of senile old women.

If I lived in their world I'd be scared, too.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Do you "love God?"

famous photo of Beatles fans being watched by security

This site is a hoot: It's supposedly a multi-religion site about loving your god, whoever he may be. Of course it's mainly Christians that go there. And how open-minded of them to acknowledge that all gods that are loved are equal. If they're all equal how can their god be the one true one? They can only be equal if they're all false!

So anyway...
It has a poll, do you love god? Naturally, I voted, just to see what the results were. The clever little site has rigged a pop-up text box to ask me why. So I answered:

God is a fairy tale, and I don't love fairy tales. Even if God weren't an amoral jerk who punishes the innocent, allows us to slaughter each other by the millions in his name, and "speaks" so ambiguously nobody can tell which of his holy "texts" is correct, I wouldn't love him because supposedly the purpose of having a god is to have someone who loves YOU. If he's an almighty omnipotent omniscent omnipresent non-corporeal force, he shouldn't have such a weak ego that he needs to be told how great he is every day. I don't love narcissists!

Apparently we are no supposed to tap into our oxytocin reservoirs to get flushed with ecstacy whenever we praise any god, not just jebus and his genocidal daddy.

The sadder thing, is that the pop-up also asks the cretins who vote "yes" why they love God. Here's a sampling of some of the pathetic answers:

  • anonymous loves God because God is there

  • AC loves God because he keeps me on the right path

  • because whenever I feel that I am at my lowest point, he shows up just in time to save me

  • because he has given me everything

  • because God gave me life. He runs the world, and he wants good things to happen

  • because he knew about me even before my grandparents were born

  • because he is my father

  • he offers hope, meaning and purpose to my life

  • because he shows love in very strange ways. But now I am starting to see them. Even through a [sic] mp3 sound. It's still a good sign.

  • because he died on the cross for my sins (also, because he sent his son to die on the cross for my sins)

  • because God is love

  • because He/She is love!

  • because I am a sinner but he forgives me. I love God most of all because he is my light and saviour

  • because he loves me the way I am, even if I don't deserve it

  • Becoz he loved me 1st

  • because he never gave up on me!

  • because he's jesus duh!

  • because he died for me, so I live for him!
They go on and on, all on the same few selfish themes. I have read through pages and pages of these and haven't found one post saying "because he helped me become a better person." This is despite the frequent protestations of Christians that it's impossible to behave in a moral fashion without believing that their sky-daddy is looking over their shoulders and adding up reasons to throw them into the fiery pit. All the posts are about what God has done for their well-being, sometimes also the well-being of others, but never about personal improvement.

Another common thread is the immaturity of the posts. At times it sounds like lovestruck teens talking about Justin Bieber (or Bobby Sherman, or Elvis, or Frank Sinatra, or Caruso...) Other times they sound like little kids saying why they love Santa Claus: "Because he gave me everything!"

The most pathetic ones, in my opinion, are the self-berating posts. These poor souls have been convinced that they are worthless sinners, and that they really lucked out in having god forgive them. Why on earth should someone love an abuser who tells them they're a piece of crap then turns around and says it's okay that they're crap?

"You're a horrible horrible person and you're worth nothing and everything you do or think sucks and I know this because I'm super wonderful and so fantastic you're totally unworthy of my attention so I really should kill you... I should but I won't! I'll punish Jesus here instead. He doesn't mind. It'll only be for a few days anyway."

Uhhh gee thanks!

Well I guess being a better person really isn't a goal here. Nothing you could do could change your initial status from "sinner" to "pretty nice person." And nothing you could do to redeem yourself could match the ultimate redemption of Christ to take on your sins for you. So why bother trying to be a better person? Why worry about the commandments, morality, taking care of yourself or others?

I can think of only one word to describe this theology: mindfuck. What a messed up way to live.

Friday, October 15, 2010

What is a "miracle?"

I've been reading John Loftus' Why I Became an Atheist lately, and had just started on the chapter discussing theories of miracles when I broke one of my own rules: not to debate religion with FB friends.

Well, I didn't really debate religion so much as dispute the assertion that the safe rescue of the trapped Chilean miners was a "miracle." Instead of biting my internet tongue, I asked whether the engineers didn't deserve some credit. My friend responded, and I just pointed out that her post seemed to give God 100% of the credit. She agreed that the engineers had done a great job and all is happy again in Facebookland. *whew*

But then... I had CNN on while making dinner and one of their interviewers was saying what a "miracle" it was. So apparently, "miracle" is synonymous with "happy ending" since this guy wasn't invoking God particularly. A search of the CNN website yields several hits for the word "miracle" relating to the miners' situation, but not this particular broadcast. I wonder now just how often it was used.

So what is wrong with simply having a 'happy ending?' CNN is the worst for obsessing on one topic and overdramatizing it, yet they did show the planning and logistics of the rescue in great time-filling detail. They had diagrams, experts, people on the scene, and every resource they needed to tell this very human and natural story. And yet they called it a "miracle," not a "triumph of engineering."

Perhaps the lack of serious supernatural claims in our time has watered down the concept to the point that any good thing that happens in the presence of Christians can be termed a miracle. We haven't seen Moses parting the waters, eight days of light from a one-day supply of oil, or dead people walking around (unless you count Elvis). So Christians have to take their "miracles" where they can find them, or invent them.

I have CNN on now, and they're reliving the whole thing. Can't waste all that good video! One commentator says it reminds him of watching Neil Armstrong landing on the moon. I remember the moon landings too. I don't remember calling them "miracles" though. Our heroes were computers, dorky men in white shirts, and the brave men who volunteered to make the trip. I credit these same heroes for the safety of the Chilean miners too.

What would a real, supernatural, old-fashioned Old Testament miracle have looked like in Chile?

For starters, perhaps the mine wouldn't have collapsed in the first place. If God is so great, why did he endanger all those Christians?

Another good one would be opening a crack in the earth, without dropping any rocks on the noggins of the miners of course, then having the miners fly upwards and land on a soft bed of uncharacteristic fluffy white snow that had fallen just at the same moment.

Or how about this? The miners die, and then their bodies be brought back to the surface in body bags, and then one by one you hear "hola" coming from under the zippers. That would be chilling, and it would make great video too, as the frantic relatives unzipped the zombie body bags and hugged their resurrected loved ones.

Or maybe a mudslide opens up a crack in the earth and pushes the miners out through an unknown fissure in the earth, and the earth poops them out in a geologic diarrhea of Biblical proportions? It would be even cooler if they came out at a nesting ground for penguins, and the penguins lie on their bodies to warm them up. An all-powerful all-knowing compassionate loving God could do that. A side benefit would be convincing the heathens of his existence. Might prevent another 9/11 as a side benefit. Wouldn't that be cool?

No, all this omnipotent being does is make sure that all the equipment works properly and that the engineers don't do something stupid like calculate in meters and engineer in inches.


I'm very impressed


Monday, October 4, 2010

Stupid Christian Women

The latest Christian idiot on the squawkbox has been Christine O'Donnell. Granted, her stupidity is in the past, as shown in clips from Bill Maher's old show, but she's yet another example of how a woman can go anywhere in our society as long as she 1) has rotten mulch where her brain should be, 2) claims to be a Christian and 3) has a pretty smile.

God forbid (literally) that a woman should be able to think for herself, have a thoughtful message, or need some help from Invisalign. She also needs long hair (also Biblical), and she should dress nicely.

She's being touted as a mini-me for Sarah Palin, but Sarah Palin herself is a mini-me for a long string of conservative religious American women. The irony of women who tout "old-time" values making a living doing just that seems to have been lost on them. They have decided they can't change things from the sanctuary of their kitchen and bedroom, and so they have stepped out of their Biblical roles to make the world a better place.

A woman who works to make her children's world a better place is still rather uppity to these people. If a woman has the misfortune to be dumped by her husband, she should live with family until she can find another man... that's if she can find another man, being damaged goods and all. And of course, despite the theology of "getting what's coming to you" in the afterlife, they believe that we get what's coming to us in this life when it suits them.

Sadly, her past includes a spiritual quest that resulted in becoming a "Christian." And she's now the brunt of jokes for her "dabbling" in witchcraft. Personally, I suspect some neo-pseudo Satanists may have had her eye on her for virgin sacrifice, but I digress.

What was she "seeking" anyway? Judging from the variety of Christianity that she found, she was looking for something that would exempt her from thinking too hard. Perhaps she had low self-esteem and being "loved" by God and Jesus gave her ego a boost. Maybe she felt guilty for something (existing, maybe) and wanted to be forgiven.

Because as a woman, her worth comes from outside not inside, and mainly from her value to men. Don't have sex before marriage, because your future husband won't want you. Don't go to therapy for your neuroses, because even a male therapist won't love you enough. Don't expect too much from the men in your life. You really have no right to expect anything at all, so Jesus' sacrifice for you is all the more miraculous.

Atheists are often accused of being arrogant for rejecting religion. Perhaps that says something about believers' self-perceptions. They are stupid and they know it, deep down. They are afraid to challenge themselves, so being given a value system and social group on a silver platter is a great relief. Don't worry that everyone else (justifiably) hates you. Jesus loves you, and because Jesus is supernatural, that counts more than all the other people who don't love you, including yourself.

So... is it arrogant not to need validation from an imaginary supernatural entity? I think my turnaround was when I realized that if you want self-respect, you have to do something worthy of respect. The more you respect yourself, the less you need to imagine you're loved by a sky-daddy and his rock star son.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"I'll Pray For You" -- Gee, thanks. Knock Yourself Out

Last week a friend's prayer circle prayed for someone who'd been in a car wreck, and the person got better. Too bad they didn't pray for her not to get into a car wreck! Well, maybe God wanted her to suffer so his believers would say a lot of prayers. Or maybe he sent a bunch of cars crashing into each other that day and whoever got the most prayers gets to live another day. They suffer more than the ones who die, but hey it's a small price to pay for being God's next American Idol.

Meanwhile, my little doggie has cancer, and was doing very poorly last week. I took her to her oncologist, who diagnosed the problem (not the cancer, but the cancer made it worse), took appropriate treatment, and now doggie feels better. Nobody prayed for her. I wasn't optimistic about the outcome, and I bawled like a baby. I know this doggie will die soon, and I thought this was "it." There's no chance that "wishful thinking" even played a role in exerting some magic woo toward the outcome.

"His eye is on the sparrow," and apparently also little doggies. Yet he lets people get into near-fatal car wrecks just to see if people will pray over them? What the heck?

It seems to me (not a scientific study!) that women are quicker to call up a prayer circle, offer to pray for you, or to credit the divine for the good outcome of their fervent mentations. I've never had to deal with the prayer business with men the way I do with women. When they blather on about how God saved so-and-so I don't point out the fallacy of confirmation bias or the fact that people die every day despite fervent prayers. I just nod and say "that was lucky" or something equally lame yet polite.

We atheists don't have the equal and opposite power to annoy. If I tell a believer that doggie got IV fluids and a different chemo, they won't think "oh that had nothing to do with it -- it was God!" And they probably don't get this uncomfortable feeling of wondering what's the right thing to say. I suppose some bite their tongue and refrain from saying "Praise God," but I wish more of them would do that!

Well, off to ebay to look for a divining rod. Perhaps I can influence doggie's fluids and save some money.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Unfairness on "Jeopardy"

Imagine you're a teenaged girl named "Hema Karunakaram," all-American non-white teen and possibly brought up in one of the religions popular in India or...?... and you've studied hard all your life and gotten onto Teen Jeopardy. You do well and make it to the semi-finals, competing against two anglo white boys. The game isn't going well for you but you've got some money to "bet" with... and then the Final Jeopardy category is announced: The Old Testament.

You bet all you have in the hopes it'll be something very commonly known. The question is "He was offered all the weapons of the first King of Israel but turned them down."

The answer you write: "Who is Moses?"

The answer the two white boys write: "Who is David." They come in 1st and 2nd.

Should this girl have known this trivia about David? Should Jeopardy have even used this question no matter who the contestants were?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Snippity" = "sniping" + "uppity"

I thought I'd disabused everyone on that theology blog of the idea that I was male, but the blog owner didn't get the message. I finally had to post point-blank to a post directed toward me in the masculine as such: "I am female."

I think it got through.

I was ignored for some time, apparently because I called this theologian a "dumbass" on another blog. Well, hey if the shoe fits...

Then I got a mention, and one of my posts was referred to as "snippity," whatever that means. It can't be nice, and I admit I'm not always nice but the brevity of my posts leaves the reader to fill in my intent much of the time. It's a variant of Poe's law: "it is hard to tell parodies of fundamentalism (or, more generally, any crackpot theory) from the real thing."

This Poe's corollary would go something like this: Christianity has so little basis in reality that when you repeat back to a Christian what they have said, or summarize it briefly, or even question it at all, you are presumed to be sniping. When they hear their own words or rationalizations they put up whatever defense is closest at hand.

Or.... is it a variant on the principle that women are bitchy whenever they're not bending over backward to be nice (heh, pardon the visual imagery - most men would probably prefer us to bend over frontward anyway).

Online posting being what it is, we can all be taken to be male or female, nice or "snippity" depending on the preconceived notions of the reader. You have to spell out your intentions if you don't want them to be misconstrued.

I like posting anonymously because of the expectation that women must always be polite, deferential, and never take the offense in an argument. I don't really want to be "feminine" when debating about religion. I want the same freedom as a man to say that the Bible is nonsense, that believers believe because they want to, etc. In the online environment, I can join in the fray without worrying that I'll be labeled a "bitch" or "uppity" by some man... until they discover I'm female.

Perhaps this is why the female voice has been all but silent in real life debates. We are either obeying our sociological command to be "nice" and conciliatory, or we have been silenced by accusations that have misogynistic undertones.

You can call Dawkins a lot of things, but would he be called "snippity?" Would you call Hitchens "shrill?"

I keep my posts short & to the point (usually) because I want to get to the heart of things. It's too easy for a believer to sidetrack into non-issues and ad hominems. They don't do it intentionally. They have to, because they would risk losing their identity as Christians if they really faced the ridiculousness of their claims head-on. The directness of my questions has evolved over a few months of pointless debate, and it is very much not a feminine style of communication. I'll reserve that for my face-to-face interactions with believers. They already know I'm female.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day!

My dad was a deadbeat dad. My mother, brothers and I moved in with mom's mom, my rather religious grandmother. The five of us subsisted on my grandmother's widow's benefits from granddad's retirement, supplemented by the annual Thanksgiving & Christmas groceries from the church. With few exceptions, that's the only help we received.

Every week I was forced by my mother & grandmother to go to church, where I had to recite "Our Father..." Thankfully, we didn't have to recite it at home, so I only endured cognitive dissonance once a week. "Give us this day our daily bread..." just as our natural father would? Or as my female role models did?

Today it seems the metaphor comes at me more & more. My church never used the phrase "Your heavenly father will never let you down," but it seems popular with others. So let's see what the heavenly father does.

  • Gives Adam & Eve a great place to live then kicks them out when they eat an apple he himself gave them.
  • Razes two towns because he doesn't like the behavior of some of the men. Presumably women & girls are merely acceptable collateral damage. Lot, the good father, after offering his daughters to a marauding horde, has sex with them and impregnates them after taking them to a remote area where they have no hope of meeting an acceptable husband.
  • Drowns the whole world because his kids were bad. Bad kids, bad. He gives one father a heads-up and tells him to take his kids & some animals and put them into a boat.
  • Allows his one good kid to be killed in place of his bad kids. Bad kids, bad. Then he changes his mind & lets the one good kid wake up and walk around for awhile.
  • Even though the "sacrifice" of the one good kid is supposed to give the bad kids a free pass, he figures out a way to punish them. Unfortunately it's not clear why some kids will be sent to hell & other sent to heaven. We have to rely on the priest, or "father," to help us avoid this fate.
The Bible was written in a patriarchal society, and it promotes a continuation of that. There's nothing in the book that commands fathers to be good to their daughters. In most cases, if children are mentioned at all the boys will be mentioned. The exceptions are usually in cases where marriage or child-bearing features in a story.

So... we're supposed to trust our heavenly father, because we trust our earthly fathers, but our earthly fathers aren't instructed how to be trustworthy. YAY! Happy Father's Day! Let's all tell our dads how great they are, even if they aren't.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Christian Delusion, a book (chapter) review

I picked up this book a couple of weeks ago and I've been slow to get into it, partly because I don't need to be told that Christianity is silly. I just need to get older for religion to get sillier, it seems. I buy atheist books as a kind of vote for the cause. When arguing ad populum, some Christians will have to concede that atheism is indeed becoming more popular, based on book sales. After all, what other tool do we have to express our numbers? We have only a few organizations, and few of us bother to join them. A Christian parent might remind a grown child that membership in the church offers protection from Hell, but American Atheists offers a magazine and maybe a conference worth attending once in awhile. Atheists, on the other hand, don't need to argue ad populum. We have much better ammunition.

Unfortunately, women are still in the minority when lobbing the grenades. There are nine contributors to this book, and only one woman. She is Valerie Tarico, PhD, whose chapter is titled "Christian Belief Through the Lens of Cognitive Science." My first thought was "Oh great, the only woman is a psychologist, not a heavy hitting physicist or philosopher" but as I thought more about it, the woman's point of view does tend to be psychological. And my personal take on atheism is informed by that female experience. We have been brought up to be nurturing, understanding, considerate, and emotive. The "male" perspective from the hard sciences doesn't seem to be winning many converts. They are collectively called the "New Atheists" in derisive tones. Perhaps Dr. Tarico's voice is just what we need. Her PhD is in counseling psychology. What better perspective for examining a "delusion?"

Her lens is a bit broader than just a narrow view through the psyche, though. She considers evolutionary psychology (without calling it that) and recent advances in the neurobiology of religious experience. But the main focus is the psychology of belief, the reason being that Christians place a greater emphasis on believing the right things than do pantheistic or Eastern religions.

After a brief history of Belief with a capital B in Christianity, she reduces the human habit of self-serving bias to a wonderful metaphor: "each of us is the protagonist in a custom-made Hollywood movie with the best possible camera angles." (p. 51) The goal is to get to a "coherent plot line." (p. 52) The human mind as storyteller is a great analogy. We like stories with plots, art that "looks like something" and songs that have a beginning, middle and end. Having studied anthropology and the arts, I learned through other means that there are very few universals in human culture, but there are universal patterns amongst human beings. Blind spots and irrationality in thinking are part of the package.

She brilliantly summarizes the biggest problem for Christianity thusly: "Arriving at a belief in an infallible God by way of an inerrant Bible requires an unwarranted belief in yourself."

Sometimes things go wrong in the brain and people "know" things that just aren't true. I've seen this in my family and in other people I've known. She offers some examples and stories for those who haven't been fortunate enough to see schizophrenia in action, then cites research on how people achieve "certainty," including brain-washing techniques. The Christian "just knows" they're right, while the scientist learns to have a "healthy mistrust for our sense of knowing." (p. 55)

Next she discusses what I have tried to argue with theists: that humans' evolutionary success has come from having a "mental architecture" that makes us what she calls "social information specialists," and that our greatest threats have been from other people.

The same facial recognition skill that makes it possible for babies to recognize their caretakers gets transferred to inanimate objects and creates gods, demons ghosts... (she doesn't mention Jesus on Toast or Mary on an Office Building but I wish she had!)

"Theory of mind" makes it possible for us to put a mind behind the faces we see and even into stuffed animals or disembodied spirits. We can then recognize and attempt to anticipate patterns. Usually this is a helpful skill, thereby surviving long enough to reproduce (she doesn't say this but it follows). Credit and blame can be falsely attributed thanks to hyperactive agency detection. We want things to make sense! Naturally, our gods tend to think and behave as we do. Otherwise we wouldn't recognize them, I guess.

The rest of the chapter explores "The Born-Again Experience." She's too polite to call this a mind-fuck, but that's my opinion of it. Perhaps you have to know people with psychiatric disorders to know when someone is describing a neurological phenomenon.

Anywho... I love to see my opinions validated by an expert: "Conversion is a process that begins with social influence." (p. 60) Yep. I've never seen anyone have a conversion to a religion that nobody else in the room practices. Clinicians call the emotional-mystical experience "transcendence hallucination.|" I would call it the orgasmic part of the mind-fuck. She points out that seizures, migraines, drugs, and strokes can trigger this experience. 1,000 years ago the victims of these experiences were either mystics or witches depending on whether they agreed with the group. Hildegard of Bingen's drawings indicate that the headaches accompanying her spiritual experiences were migraines. But these symptoms can also be brought on by drumming, sensory deprivation, fasting, and crowd dynamics. (61)

So... add our pattern-making, meaning-making minds to our socially-driven unusual mental experiences and the result is a spiritual experience. She adds another factor almost as a side matter, but I think it's important: the authority figure. Their beliefs gain credibility after such an experience. "The authorities who triggered the otherworldly experience are trusted implicitly." Charitably, she doesn't attribute sinister motives to the ministers who induce these experiences, since the ministers themselves have likely had them and may not even be aware of the neurological processes.

Her conclusion very specifically claims that cognitive research offers a "sufficient explanation for the phenomenon of belief." (I would have pluralized it to phenomena, because she lists several!)

The killer conclusion is one of my pet ideas. I feel so validated! It's that Occam's Razor applies here. "In fields of human knowledge other than theology, if we can find a sufficient explanation within nature's matrix, we don't look outside. We no longer, for example, posit that demons are involved in seizures or bubonic plague."

Exactly. Human psychology, neurobiology, sociology and anthropology have revealed enough to make possible a naturalistic explanation of religious experience without at all resorting to to fields of philosophy and 'hard' sciences at all. (well, neurobiology yes...)

These fields developed long after philosophy and physics had laid claim to the "Truth," or the ability to discern truth. Even today, these "old" fields are dominated by men, who tend to be (if I may overgeneralize) less interested in the social and psychological aspects of "reality."

The "famous" atheists today are still coming from physics and biology. Their arguments fall on deaf ears precisely because they appeal to "objective" reality and not the subjective realities of society, culture, and personality. Tarico points out that when backed into a corner the Christian often concedes by saying "I just know." That's an indication of the neurobiological "knowing." I've gotten a few into the corner using logic, & they said "It's a matter of faith."

This to me is proof that it's a matter of wanting to be part of a culture that says it "knows."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Naomi & Ruth

photo of wedding-themed luggage tag
It's wedding season again, and couples all over the U.S. will recite that inane quote from Ruth 1:16-17:

And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for wither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. (17) Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.

Ruth said this to her mother-in-law, another woman, not to her husband. After the death of both women's husbands, Ruth declares her intention to stay with her mother-in-law, Naomi, rather than be left behind when Naomi remarries. What other choice did Ruth have? Prostitution? Panhandling? In the end Ruth marries one of Naomi's relatives, has kids, and YIPPEE! God's plan is restored.

Family loyalty is supposedly mandated by the Commandment "Thou Shalt Obey they Mother and Father." There is no corollary commandment to parents to care for their children. Perhaps the Old Guy in the Sky assumed that even the most evil of parents would do this without being commanded to do it. The "moral" of this story is that once you've been given away to your husband's family, you belong to them forever. If you're going to use this at a wedding, it should probably be said by the bride while facing her future husband's family. It has nothing to do with a promise to him.

This of course derives from the comandment to honor thy father & mother. Naomi has become Ruth's mother by virtue of marriage. She gets married off to someone else in the family, which may have been due more to pity or obligation than to any love-matching. Again, nothing to do with modern marriage practices.

Ruth wasn't expressing loyalty or even love. She was expressing her obedience to an archaic notion that women are possessions. She was essential declaring that she was indeed Naomi's baggage and putting a tag on herself.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Is Logic the Opposite of Religion?

More about the debate ongoing in another blog. Occam's Razor is the current dispute, but what it comes down to in all these discussions is whether logic can be used to prove or disprove the existence of God or the Supernatural.

Because you can't literally prove a negative, merely deduce its likelihood, the theist automatically has the upper hand. The theist can come back with "just because you see no evidence for it doesn't mean it doesn't exist." When they resort to this it's tantamount to admitting that there is no proof that they could point to that would convince a skeptic (i.e., someone who is waiting for proof before deciding what to believe).

Now they're on the ropes. Having yielded ground on issues of the veracity of the Bible (some is myth, some is erroneously transmitted, some is inconvenient) and provability of the supernatural, there is only one place to turn: "It's a matter of faith."

I've boxed a few theists into that corner, and remarkably, they are smugly satisfied with it. In the end, they realize they believe merely because they want to believe.

Considering how inconvenient it is to be an atheist in American society, I'd kind of like to believe too. But believing in something that's not true just to fit in with society sticks in my craw. I have to wonder how many people make that ultimate choice between belonging to a big chunk of society and embracing reality at the risk of being despised, pitied, or worse.

As much as America admires the Lone Ranger and Rugged Individualist in theory, it doesn't have much use for them in theology.

Friday, April 16, 2010

On being mistaken for a male

I've been posting to the blog of a theology professor, under a rather bland screen name, for some time. I have only debated theology on this blog, nothing else. My posts have consisted of rather simple statements and questions that of course go unanswered.

Some examples:
  • If God declared all the world "good" in Genesis, then why was it such a big deal for Adam & Eve to be kicked out of the Garden?
  • Did Abelard really love Heloise? (our theologian quotes 12th-Century Abelard, who dumped Heloise after defiling her, on love)
  • Because you can't prove a negative (non-existence of God) therefore you should believe in God?
  • Where in the Bible is there a promise that the world would be any different (on the question of how God could permit "natural" evils such as earthquakes)
  • How can believers believe that God *just is* but not believe that tectonic shifts just happen?
  • If the Creation & The Fall are metaphors, how many other parts of the Bible are not to be taken literally?
Not particularly masculine, I think. By the time I asked about Heloise the theologian had decided I was male, along with the rest of his commenters. Most of them have very different styles than I do, debating issues point by point, citing mathematical & scientific principles, etc. My style of logic is more about pointing out the obvious, and if I quote anything it's more likely to be one of the less savory parts of the Bible than a mathemetician. It's clear from the theologian's responses to the other posters' challenges that he relishes them, though he has responded to a few of mine. Mostly, he dismisses my critiques as naïve or misguided. Often he accuses me of not understanding his posts. Okay, sometimes I don't, because he cites theories and philosophers that are so far into Nonsenseville that I've gotten off the train long before their depots.

So when I read a few references to myself using masculine pronouns I had a conundrum: admit that I'm female, and by my relatively "simple" or "naïve" mindset drag down his respect level for all other female atheists? or keep mum and see if he ever deduces my gender from my comments or style. Eventually I had to fess up, because other posters were writing about me in the masculine.

The line that shows I was "passing" for male was in response to my question about love, referencing seasonal mating patterns of ducks: "Do the male & female ducks 'love' each other in the Spring? They may have the same biochemical reactions to each others' company that humans do. Does that make human 'love' less real?"

So the topic that revealed I was passing for male was love, which I suppose should be a girly topic. Women are the primary readers of romance fiction, after all. But perhaps my skepticism about the theologian's definition of "true love" arises from being female. He created a scenario in which an 80-year-old man cares for his dying wife of 50 years.

How many times does that really happen? My mother has outlived three husbands, as did my great-aunt. Almost all of my friends have gotten divorced. I know many couples in which the man married a much younger woman after divorcing his wife. Is it only women who think of that when the topic of love comes up?

From my perspective, wife-as-family and family-as-community and community-as-protection explain the whole scenario, when it rarely does happen. No supernatural deity or unexplainable phenomenon necessary.

So I've finally outed myself as a female on the blog and there's been no response yet at all from the blogger. I decided not to make it an issue but not to be dishonest about it. After all, the odds are that in any random sampling of ten atheists only one might be female.

Now the important question: should I have been flattered or insulted to have been mistaken for a man?