Saturday, April 30, 2011

Immorality of Christianity

Christians love to claim that they are more moral because of being Christian, which of course is debatable.  The U.S. is a "Christian nation" and yet it has a higher murder rate than Japan, where Christianity is a tiny minority.  When you point out to them that once you've accepted Christ as your "savior" there's no reason not to sin, they cite Jesus' teachings about how to live, but there is no punishment for not following those teachings.  You're supposed to do those things because you want to once you've been "saved."  But good works can't get you into heaven; only believing in Christ can, supposedly.  So Gandhi is in Hell and Hitler is in Heaven.  How is that moral?

If I were to suddenly believe in an immortal soul and decided to align myself with a religion to protect its future, Christianity would be the least appealing choice for these reasons:

Scapegoating.  Instead of individual repsonsibility for bad actions, Christ was "sacrificed" in our place.  If you are Catholic, you have a shot at going to Hell anyway if you commit a "mortal sin," but in general you get off scot-free.

Eternal reward / punishment.  Eternity is a very, very, very long time.  And you have at most 100 or so years to get it right here on earth.  Why should someone be rewarded or punished with eternity for a finite life's decisions?

"Grace."  Being a Christian isn't necessarily a matter of choice.  A lot of evangelicals believe their religiosity is a gift from God.  So not only do they get off scot free for eternity for being believers, they didn't even make the right choice on their own and yet they get the credit for it.

Predestination.  In Calvinistic Christiantiy God is believed to to have chosen who gets the gift of "grace" in advance.  Curiously, he seems to grace only people who were brought up in Calvinistic churches.  Very convenient.  Even non-Calvinists believe in some predestination if they consider the prophecy claims of Jesus to be true.  In that case, Pontius Pilate and the Jews who demanded Christ's crucifixion were merely carrying out God's will.

Demented ideas of "parenthood."  God the good "father" has decided all humans deserve to die for eternity because of Eve's sin, but then he changes his mind and sacrifices his one good child in exchange for all of them... oops some of them, depending on if they accept the whole redemption story.  Before that, he wipes out thousands of innocents along with the sinners in his genocidal rampages.  You can inflict any amount of physical harm to your children that you want as long as you don't kill them.  Is that any way to treat your "children?"

Justice denied.  If you sin, then you are forgiven because you believe you have been forgiven, your victim receives no redress for what you did to him/her at all.  If the sin can be wiped clean, why not the harm done by that sin?  There's nothing in the New Testament that shows any concern for the victim of a sin.  If you murder someone then "accept Jesus as Lord and Savior (hallelujah)" their family still suffers that loss.

Problem of Evil.  "Evil" in the theo-philosophical sense of pain, misery, death, destruction, or basically anything you don't like happening seemingly at random.  God (and Jesus) can perform miracles but seems more interested in sending disaster to the world.  Sure, it's a miracle for you if you survive a tornado, but what about the person next door who died?  Weren't they also praying to be spared?  It seems so random.  heh heh oh right.... it is!   Fortunately the power of rationalization gives God a pass on things like this.  If he spares you it's because he has plans for your life.  If he lets a tornado kill a 6-year-old it's because he wants her to "be with the angels."  Either way, it's not based on whether you're a good person or not.

If Christianity were to start as a cult today, it would be so thoroughly laughed at and discredited it wouldn't stand a chance.  It only survives today because of childhood indoctrination and a long tradition of rationalization (oops that's called "apologetics").  If there had never been any religion before today and you suddenly had to pick from among the ten or so biggest religions, choosing Christianity would be selfish and amoral.  There's nothing noble in being a Christian.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

God Seeks Revenge on Republicans

After punishing Japan for not being Christian, God has turned his wrath to the American South, where his people have been voting for Republicans, often in his name.  Dozens of neighborhoods have been wiped off the map, and hundreds have died.

The following interview explains why:
Interviewer:"Why did you take the lives of so many who were well loved?"
God: "My ways are mysterious."

"What about those who escaped with only minor injuries or were spared altogether?"
"It's a warning.  Stop voting for Republicans, or you're next."

"You sent tornadoes, which could have killed innocent babies and fetuses.  Isn't that unfair?"
*shrug*  "Collateral damage happens."

"What message do you have for those who were severely injured and will go through their lives as amputees or paraplegics?  Should they be grateful to you that they survived, or angry about their life-altering injuries?"
"My ways are mysterious."

"No, seriously.  Half will be grateful and half will be angry.  Who's right?"
"Listen, singling out individuals for retribution is too much like work.  I sent tornadoes, not arrows!  I don't really care one way or another who gets kills, maimed or spared.  It was a message to all of the Republicans."

"That answers my next question: wouldn't some of the victims have been Democrats?"
"Probably.  But they're to blame, too.  Did they volunteer in voter registration drives?  Did they contribute enough money to the campaigns?  Probably not."

"You're not sure?  But you're God!"
*shrug*  "That's too much like work, too.  Listen, if I really wanted to make lists of who did what, would I make Heaven or Hell such a simple proposition?"

"And that is...?"
"If they believe in me, they're in.  If they don't, they go to Hell.  I don't give a crap about all those individual sins.  I wait until a critical mass of sinning pisses me off then I send a tornado or earthquake or plague to tell them all to straighten up."

"Or a Great Flood.  What did all those animals do to deserve drowning?"
"Hey, listen.  I'm God.  I make up the rules.  I spared a few of each species to kickstart the recovery."

"Some animals probably died in the tornadoes too."
"Yeah, probably.  Hey, I miss the days when they'd get barbecued for me at the Temple.  That was some good eatin'.  The ninnies thought that Jesus was supposed to substitute for that, but could I eat my own son?  THEY'RE not supposed to eat the sacrifice, the priests and I get it all.  But that's for another day."

"Another 'act of God' you mean?"
"I'm trying to decide.  I mean, tornadoes & earthquakes are getting old hat.  And you humans are getting too good at sanitation and vaccination for my plague trick."

"You're God, can't you overcome those minor obstacles?"
"heh heh  just keep overusing anti-bacterial soap and you'll see..."

"See what?"
"heh heh my ways are mysterious.  Well, gotta book it. A little kid just got hit by a car and his whole family are praying for him."

"You're going to cure him?"
"Hell no, I'm going to give him a raging infection that will slowly kill him after he 'miraculously' survives emergency surgery.  I love those switcheroos.  Gotta get my laughs somewhere since Seinfeld was cancelled."

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Zombie Jesus Day

If I had had doubts about the zombie Jesus sightings reported in the Bible when I was a teen, I don't remember.  The question of whether he rose from the dead didn't really figure into my doubts about the validity of Christianity.  If there was a God, Christianity might be valid.  If there were no god, then it didn't matter what the Bible said, even if some supernatural-seeming resurrection did indeed happen.

But then Elvis died.  Or maybe he didn't.  I was a fan but not a rabid fan.  I had other things on my mind, like boys I knew in person.  But some fans just couldn't accept his ignoble death.  How prosaic of a "king" to die from something as ordinary as a drug overdose.

It didn't take long for him to appear to people, or near people, or near people who knew people, who would then report that he was in fact alive.   I don't recall if the media reported on the similarity between Elvis sightings and Zombie Jebus sightings, but I certainly noticed it.  And I've never forgotten it.  It completely threw the Easter story into doubt for me. If people could imagine they see Elvis in our modern, rational times (heh, my thinking at the time), then certainly superstitious ancient peoples could have made the same mistake.

So now, every Easter, I think of Elvis.  A hunka hunka bloated drug-addicted zombie gobbling up the brains of the gullible.  I wish he hadn't died, but he did.

And then Jesus, like David Koresh, did indeed die from the inevitable backlash against possibly psychotic hubris.  Very sad in both cases.

So, for your Easter reading, I offer an article from one of my favorite organizations, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal: 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Review: The Belief Instinct, a.k.a. The God Instinct

Jesse Bering's book on the psychology of belief was titled "The God Instinct" in the U.K. but released as "The Belief Instinct" in the U.S.  I would love to hear the story of how they decided to change the title.

This is a rare book that cites verifiable research sources and yet reads like something you could pick up at Waldenbooks.  I'll link to some of these sources in this review.

The book starts off rather tedious, but I didn't know a lot of this stuff so I stuck with it.  The main point seems to be that "Theory of Mind" (i.e., theory that others have minds) is behind the need to believe in some intelligence in the universe. 

The next section talks about the concept of having a purpose in life.   I've heard this argument many times from theists:  If you don't believe in God, then your life has no purpose.  Their purpose?  If they're glassy-eyed fundamentalists, it's to glorify god, or perhaps just worship him.  But in reality their purpose is to stay on God's good side so they won't go to Hell.  Ask a Christian sometime if they would still worship God if they knew with 100% certainty they would be going to Hell anyway.  I bet they've never considered that.   If you've never encountered such a theist, I suggest having a listen to this caller (Clifton) on the Atheist Experience.  He demonstrates both of these first two psychological needs perfectly.  Note that it doesn't matter whether any of Christianity is true, only that it supposedly gives one a purpose. Believers don't cling to their religions because they really believe in everything in the ancient texts.  They cling to them because these religions fulfill an existential need and they can't imagine going through life with that need unmet.

The chapter that particularly intrigued me is called "When God Throws People off of Bridges."  There is a remarkable history of people plunging to their deaths from bridge collapses, and preachers afterward trying to defend God's decision to dump them into the drink.

The first of these happened in Britain in 1845.  A crowd of women and children gathered to watch a stunt on the river below.  The bridge collapsed and about sixty children and as many as forty adults lost their lives.  The local reverend urged the grieving townspeople to reflect on their sins, which he blamed for the disaster.  (A local inquest blamed the design of the bridge)

Piaget's theory of the moral development of children to the rescue!  We want JUSTICE!  We want things to make sense.  We want some parental surrogate to sort out the good from the bad and mete out the punishment to those who deserve it.  This is somehow tied to a concept called "intentionality."  Things happen for a reason, and someone intended things to be that way.  When good things happen, it's because we're good people and we deserve it.  When bad things happen we must be to blame, and some supernatural entity metes out the punishment.

So... the more you suffer, the more you believe in God.  If you live in Northern Europe, you're fairly comfortable and you don't need God.  If you're unhealthy and living in poverty in Mississippi you're likely to be part of the overwhelming majority in that state that believe in God.  This whole thing also explains what I considered a surprising denouement in PBS' Nova episode "The Bible's Buried Secrets," that I reviewed here.  When the Jews were defeated and dragged off to Babylon, they became more religious.  It also explains the (false) idea that "There are no atheists in foxholes."  If you believe in your own religion because it helps you deal with existential fears, the fear of death would be the ultimate.  Psychological projection takes it into the realm of the other's mind (theory of mind again).  It's hard to imagine another mind that isn't like our own.

I'm still only halfway through the book but I thought I'd post this half-book review, seeing as I keep digressing into my own ideas anyway!

I recommend it for anyone who is tired of the Science vs. Religion debate.  The scientific method plays into this because of the studies the author cites, but it's about the psychology of belief, which I think is at the root of religion.

While you wait for me to get around to the rest of the book for the second half of my review, check out The author's site

What is the Square Root of a Tomato?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

PBS Nova: The Bible's Buried Secrets (a review)

This is must-see TV for Christians, not just because it's about the Bible, but because critical thinking and the scientific method and *gasp* evidence are weighed against the stories of the Bible.  Brilliantly, they take up leads that seem to confirm Biblical stories then look for further confirmation.  Often they find interesting disconfirmation.

Right off the bat, they dismiss Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers as myth.  They also point out that they are so full of discrepancies that they  couldn't have been written by one person (i.e., Moses), more likely five.  Not to mention, Moses couldn't have described his own death.  Incredibly, nobody pointed this out (publicly at least) until the eighteenth century.  They do get back to these books at the end, which I found to be a kind of cool denouement to the story.

They confirm what I've seen on atheist sites, that there's no evidence of Israelites being enslaved in Egypt.   They find that there were indeed people who had been enslaved in Egypt, but they were Canaanites, not Jews.  They returned to Canaan as refugees, and the theory is that these people hooked up with people who had escaped from  slavery in deteriorating city-states in Canaan, and together these cultures became Judaism.  The population in the few settlements in Canaan, ca. 1200, would have been from 3,000 - 5,000.  After the collapse of the city-states there are more sites and the population could have been as much as 45,000.  Sites now have "israelite" houses in egalitarian societies.

Interestingly, the Canaanite earth-mother goddess is Asherah, God's wife.  A gajillion statuettes of her are found in the area.  She has ginormous tits and sometimes is portrayed with a baby on her knee.  Kind of spooky after seeing so many Mary images with the baby Jesus on her knee.  Mary's tits have never been anywhere near as impressive as Asherah's.   She was one impressive fertility goddess.

The show goes to the digs that may have been Solomon's palace, and they theorize about the extent of the Jewish kingdom based on some six-chambered gates (as described in the bible).  Some of the virtual architecture is really impressive and well done.  I appreciate the imagination of it all.

Some things I take exception to:  A Babylonian king who bragged that he'd "killed the king of the House of David" is taken to be proof that David existed.  No, it proves that the expression "House of David" was in use by that time.  The discovery of that phrase would still be significant.  I don't know why they feel they have to take that leap.

In the end, the Babylonian captivity after a humiliating defeat is the catalyst for Judaism to take its final form.  Exiled communities figure out how to practice their religion without a temple to take burnt offerings to, resulting in synagogues.  And the writings that had been rescued from the destruction of the Temple were put together as the Bible by Josiah.

This is where the show takes a crazy turn:  the destruction of Israel and the Temple threw the people into an existential crisis.  Why had their god not protected them?  Rather than adopt the god of their captors (a tradition amongst captives-turned-slaves at the time) they decided to dump Asherah and obey the one-God rule.

Now comes the Torah, a.k.a. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy.  Other than a brief prayer found in a grave, there's no evidence of any of these texts until about this time.  If they were cobbled together from folk tales during captivity, that would explain the angry God of these books.   It would also explain the picky-picky god that has hundreds of rules to follow.

The result is a two-part bible:  The Torah, which is myth and morals, and the historical Bible, which starts with David (if he really existed).  This is the other reason I wish all Christians would watch this.  The stupid fundamentalists who want to believe in an six-day creation and a worldwide flood could take this division as evidence that it's not historical.  I don't see why they would find that so threatening.  If Josiah was as infallible as the Council of Nicea, then does it really matter if the Flood never happened?   Christians are powerful rationalizers.  They believe God's ways are mysterious, he has his reasons, blah blah blah.. why can't God have his mysterious unknowable reasons for putting fairy tales in his holy book?

The timeline of Judaism turns out to be much briefer than I would have expected.  The Canaanite settlements that may have marked the beginning of a Jewish identity dated to ca. 1200 B.C.  The Torah dates to 800-900 B.C. 

The show seems to go backward and forward in time, which makes it a little hard to put together a timeline.  It's based on a book, which makes me want to check out the book.  The book may lay things out in a more linear way.  The book won't have the cool interviews and virtual architecture, though.  So... it's the kind of thing that a book *and* a DVD would be necessary to fully comprehend.

My biggest problem with the whole thing is that the starting point is always the written word.  I wonder what they would conclude if there were no words leading them toward specific conclusions.  For example, they find a huge palatial building just where you'd expect to find Solomon's palace.  I don't think that makes Solomon real.  Imagine someone going to the ruins of Atlanta in 3,000 years, finding evidence of a fire, and then concluding that "Gone with the Wind" was a true historical document.  They would also find several mansions outside of Atlanta that could have been "Tara" too.   At least this shown seems to look at the Bible as the work of human hands rather than divine intervention, but I wish there had been a little more skepticism about the findings.

Except for that, it's fascinating and worth a look-see.  You can see it online here:

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

PBS's "Nova" tonight: "The Bible's Buried Secrets"

It's a rerun from 2008 but I caught part of it and I'll DVR it to review here.  The part I caught traced the origins of the Jews to Canaanites enslaved by Egypt, who escaped and together with other refugees they created Judaism.  The first reference to a god with a name like "Yaweh" is an Egyptian reference to one that sounds like "Yahoo."  Cracked me up!

I like how PBS ignores religion until right before Easter and Christmas, when they feel obliged to air non-Christian shows for some reason.  Strange, but interesting.

You can get the DVD here:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How many of the Old Testament Stories Really Happened?

Christians pick and choose what to believe based on whether the OT stuff conforms to their prejudices.  And then there are the nutters who want to believe the Bible is "history."  Using this timeline, let's see how the OT's Greatest Hits stand up to archaeology, textual criticism, and history:

Creation StoryDisproved
Adam and EveDisproved
Flood / Noah's ArkDisproved
Sodom and GomorrahCities possibly proved
... but the people? probably fablesNo evidence
Slavery of the IsraelitesDisputed
JobDoubted by believers
The PlaguesNot true

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Secular Bible?

Sounds a lot like the Jefferson Bible.  

There's some good stuff in the Bible.  Lots of things worth keeping for moral instruction.  Such as:

Yeah, sounds good to me!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Another local idiot speaks out

On the front page of The Star Press on Tuesday, March 22 was an article, "Straight Allies Stand Up for Gay Rights."

The featured speaker was Claire Buffie, an advocate for gay rights.

In the Bible, the inspired word of God (that never changes) states that in the beginning, God created in his image both male and female. He blessed them and told them to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. (Genesis 1:27-28).

Leviticus states that homosexuality is an abomination to the Lord. By no means is this to say that God hates homosexuals, but does mean that he hates and is disgusted by the sin of homosexuality. He states very plainly that homosexuals (among others) will not inherit the Kingdom of God (I Corinthians 6:9-10).

Can homosexuals be fruitful and multiply to fill the earth?

I'm proud to report that commentors have ripped this shit to shreds.  Someone pointed out that the Bible has changed many times.  Someone else pointed out that other people who can't reproduce have the right to be married.  Another person listed all the rules in Leviticus that Christians are happy to ignore.  And finally the first amendment got a backhanded nod.

The article appeared on April 1.  It should have been a Poe, but apparently this idiot is the real thing.  They seem to get published every time the paper reports on something they don't like.  They don't like a lot of things.  They need to grow up.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ray Comfort on The Atheist Experience

Ray Comfort is a leading (?) Christian bullshitter.  He agreed to do a phone interview on The Atheist Experience, much to the LOLz of the chatters online at the time.  I have to admit, I was shaking my head a lot.  Can someone really be that stupid and be willing to let other people see their stupidity first hand?

He probably thinks he "won" but his sputtering indicates otherwise.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Bertrand Russell Interview

Very cool.  I especially like his message to future generations (at the end)