Thursday, January 22, 2009

Yale Debate Yields Sad Results

The latest issue of the Secular Humanist Bulletin has a lead article by Ronald A. Lindsay, the editor of this, the members' newsletter of the Council on Secular Humanism. It's titled "Religion Has No Place in Government," which was a debate resolution at a Yale Political Union, a debate in which Lindsay participated. Sadly, the resolution was defeated, and by an almost two-to-one vote. With Lindsay, I say the results were "regrettable." Lindsay's article, however, was thought provoking to say the least.

For example, he asks rhetorically how useless it is to argue at all with a believer; the debate is on an uneven playing field:

That Jesus was simultaneously both divine and human seems on the face of it impossible -- even more than some being having the identity of both a rhinocerous and a worm -- but that does not prevent Christians from asserting this belief because at the end of the day they can always invoke 'faith.' 'Faith' means not having to supply reasons. You cannot argue with someone's faith....

As some of us provincials would say, 'nuff said. It occured to me, and I adopt Lindsay's logic and his position on the issue, that this is the swiftest, most cogent, most essential argument we have with theists: their case is not susceptible to proof. As an attorney, I believe that proof is accumulated and made manifest only by the introduction of facts. In a trial, for example, the facts must be such that credible witnesses are given greater weight than those whose testimony is of questionable veracity.

But at least there is an introduction of testimony. Factual assertions, representations and, at least when liars are on the stand, misrepresentations. But, at least something bordering on fact. No "God" fearing person can support his or her belief in "God" with anything vaguely resembling "fact." In a way, I am thankful to Lindsay. He has provided me with calm and patience with those Schiller once said were so ignorant even the Gods fought in vain.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Headline: "Jewish complaints excessive, Vatican says"

George Harrison (of Beatles fame) wrote an anti-war song on one of his solo albums whose lyrics contained a line that went something like, "[countries at war] are acting like big girls." Although spiritually a devotee of Krishna, George had a cynical, sarcastic streak -- astrology buffs might call it the Piscean in him -- and when he targeted someone for criticism, he did it obliquely but trenchantly, as when he warned of "greedy leaders/Who take you where you should not go." (George was prescient, since the last line obviously refers to George W. Bush and his Iraqi misadventure.) Sometimes religious groups act like big girls, too, as witness the current spat between Jews and the Catholic Church.

Our paper yesterday carried an AP story the copy desk decided to headline as "Jewish complaints excessive, Vatican says." It was a story originating in Vatican City and published in its daily paper, L'Osservatore Romano, a story about a spat between Jews and Christians. If I can put things in chronological order, it appears that an organization called the Assembly of Italian Rabbis pulled out of the Italian Catholic Church's annual celebration of Judaism. Why were the rabbis splitting? They were offended by the Vatican's restoration to the old Latin Mass, including a prayer for the conversion of Jews!

As a friend observed recently, it's difficult to imagine how anyone could claim membership in a religion that teaches that non-Christians are condemned to Hell just because they are non-Christians. This effectively eliminates 2/3rds of the world's peoples. But the Catholic-Jewish clergy's ongoing spat-then-kiss-and-make-up spectacle has deep roots and isn't likely ever to be resolved. It goes back to the blood libel of Jews being responsible for the crucifixion, an insanely illogical grudge when you consider that the Jewish people who condemned Jebus were merely fulfilling Christian prophecy! (For the same reason, I've never understood why they demonize Judas of Kerioth.)

In the new documentary film, The God Who Wasn't There, which is quite brilliant, I might add, we're treated to "borrowed" footage from the silly Mel Gibson film, The Passion of the Christ. Brian Flemming, the documentary director, shows us the blood-fest torturing of Reb Yeshua, more violent than your average spatter movie, but my complaint was that it was made cheaply at Cine Citta with inept actors; that, and the fact that Gibson seemed to equate having everything in Aramaic with English subtitles. But the film prompted pre-release controversy because some groups saw it as a son's homage to a dad: Gibson's father is a well-known anti-Semite.

How any religion that teaches the Messiah has come and will come again can get along with a religion that teaches that He hasn't come yet is a mystery to me. So, I suspect the on-again, off-again palling around by the Vatican and the rabbis has some reconciliation ahead of it (if you know what I mean). Obviously, both religions cannot be right.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Parallel Universalist Paradise

How many preachers did we endure during the Obama inaugural, I quit counting. The thought did occur to me, though, this "God" they're all talking about, is he the same god known as Allah? Why is it that one god has some in the audience abstaining from pork but not another? Why does one god insist you keep Saturday holy, but another says to go to church on Sunday? I think this inaugural was more focused on religion because, as Obama has said, when things get tough people turn to their guns and their religion. He was widely castigated for saying that, but I think it is true.

Friday, January 16, 2009

"God" Hates Phred Phelps

Shhhhhhhhhh! Don't tell Rev. Phred this, but many Biblical scholars now claim that the sin of Sodom was not the "vice" that gave "sodomy" its name. There is plenty of reason to believe that the only sin of the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah was that they were inhospitable. That's right, the Sodomitic sin was their xenophobia. These were nomadic peoples who came to expect a welcome mat. After all, they were welcomed by every other oasis except Sodom and Gomorrah, welcomed not only with free room and board, but also the wife or concubines. The men of Sodom simply acted like Procustes of old, who welcomed strangers to a bed that was either too long or too short, in which case Procustes simply stretched them to fit or cut off their feet.

Not only that, but geologists working in that part of the Mideast have found conclusive evidence that the infamous "Cities of the Plain" were destroyed not by "God" but by fissures in the relatively-young earth, fissures that emitted mephitic gas. Yes, Phred, "God" made a Sodomite light a match. Kaboom! The whole damned place went up in flames, accompanied by seismographic activity no doubt. I should think that Lot, experiencing something like that, would have been half out of his mind, so he looked back and thought he saw his wife turn into a pillar of something.

Then, again, Lot may have wanted to be rid of her. When bigots like Phred and Rick Warren rant on and on about the evils of homosexuality, ask them if their "God" is in favor of father-child incest. Naturally, they'll say, "Of course not!" To which, you may want to remind them that Lot impregnated his daughters with his own seed to propagate his tribe. I don't mind Phelps and his ilk picketing gay and military funerals, I just wish he'd quit practicing cafeteria Christeranity.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Bumper Sticker of the Month


Friday, January 2, 2009

The Anti-Church Militant Manifesto

1. I am an atheist; there is no "God" except the one between my ears.

All science informs the correctness of this proposition. All arguments for the existence of "God" stand on one premise, false and illogical: that although there is no scientific facts tending to prove the existence of "God," he certainly exists because millions of people have faith in "him." (By casting "God" as male, as do all of the major monotheistic religions, advocates of the god hypothesis admit to the failure of language to communicate anything; Wittgenstein thought that such failure of communication was the basis of all philosophical speculation and debate and that if we could communicate we probably wouldn't be debating. How does one know "God" is a him? The usual answer is, because the Bible tells us so. That is not a fact. No facts can be offered in advancement of the hypothesis, since it has no basis in fact.)

All this was beautifully illustrated by an exchange of letters to the editor in our local (and disappearing) daily paper, an oft-irrelevant rag that is, occasionally -- as in this case -- a stimulating read despite itself. In what would seem to be typical op-ed layout, the paper puts its own in-house editorials on the far left hand page, with readers' letters appearing next to them. On the facing, opposite (right hand) page, the paper runs columns by in-house editorial writers and from feeds. Occasionally, they print guestitorials, including one, this issue, by Dr. John Crisp, an English professor at a local junior college.

The letter writer, one Jeremiah Valerio, objected to a previous letter claiming that the open dome of Texas Stadium allows God to watch his favorite football team. Mr. Valerio took umbrage, writing: " God doesn't even care about football or any other sport, and He doesn't need a hole to look through to see something. Why say or mention God when you don't even know the facts about him?"

What facts, Mr. Valerio? Darwin presents facts; theologians rely entirely on metaphysics. You might want to take a peek at what that word means in the dictionary, Mr. Valerio. "...speculative philosophy...." No facts, Mr. Valerio, just guess work.

Staring Mr. Valerio right in the face so to speak (once the paper is folded back into its original state so that the two sheets are placed together), Dr. Crisp's op-ed piece expressed an opinion that Barack Obama should not have invited Rev. Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inaugural because Rev. Warren's message is offensive to gays and lesbians. In spite of my disagreements with Dr. Crisp as to the sagacity (or lack of it) shown by Obama in this choice -- you could argue it guarantees the most-watched inaugural since J.F.K.'s -- I found myself in agreement with many of the points made.

Upon reading at long last Dr. Warren's book, The Purpose Driven Life," and finding it one part religion and two parts "bland self-help," Dr. Crisp notes that: "...Warren often asserts his remarkably intimate knowledge of God's mind, and he talks with confidence about what God wants, thinks, and feels and even what gives him pleasure."

I am sure that Mr. Valerio and Rev. Warren are in complete agreement here, that when you "get right" with Jebus, "He" tells you all manner of things. President G. W. Bush talked to "God," too, and "God" told him to invade Iraq. Hitler talked to himself, mostly, because, in a theocracy like the Nazi Third Reich, the leader is god.

But what was especially fine in Dr. Crisp's piece is his conclusion that: "...[S]ome prominent proponents of Warren's brand of evangelism have their eyes on the reins of power and harbor a desire to re-shape our society according to their intolerant lights. It's a mistake to encourage them."

One might cavil about straw men here, but Dr. Crisp makes a good point, as witness Gov. Mike Huckabee's campaign pronouncements about interpreting the Constitution along Christian principles. (I don't know about you, but I don't want Walker, Texas Ranger helping make foreign policy.) These people see the separation of church and state as the key obstacle to realization of "Dominion." That is when the real anti-Christ (someone like Huckabee, for example) will rule the world and we finally learn why some people put bumper stickers on their cars saying "In Case Of Rapture, This Vehicle Will Be Empty."

Could this not explain why evangelicals were slow to join the green band-wagon, given that the more we damage the earth the sooner Armageddon will happen, so they can all be apocalypsed up to that Great Disneyland in the Sky. As I write, Faux News's Sean Hannity is presenting a "documentary" on TV about how some among us will live with the angels in heaven, which is certainly no less insane than bin Laden's exortations to young Muslims to kill themselves in jihad because Allah will cyberspace you in a nanosecond to the company of 72 virgins in Paradise. (The Muslim desire to deflower a maiden says an awful lot about Islamic misogyny as taught in the Wahhabist primary schools of most of the Mideast.)

And Hannity was presenting his "heaven" as fact! Ironically, it is entirely possible that Sean Hannity is himself godless. After all, he continues to demonstrate he has absolutely nothing between his ears.

2. I shall make for myself any idol I wish; everyone else does, too.

John Lennon was excoriated by the Christers when he said the Beatles were more popular than Jebus. Spurred on by fundamentalist evangelicals, even some teens went out and burned Beatles albums in bonfires, again redolent of Nazism. Elvis Presley was an idol. He was and is (at least in his apotheositic form) worshipped like a god by millions. Lord Buckley (Richard, not William F.) said: "I hope this doesn't offend your religion but I worship people. I like a god I can get my hands on. I like a god I can get my brains on...."

Our tendency to make gods of special human beings is almost as old as Methusala; it has come to be known as "euhemerism." Euhemerus was a 3rd century b.c.e. Greek who claimed (tongue-in-cheek?) to have voyaged to a faraway land called Panchaea and learned there that the inhabitants worship as gods the souls of the special dead, persons with some extraordinary talent, e.g. for healing. Euhemerus theorized that man creates his gods according to this theory.

Whom we idolize, we apotheosize.

3. As there is no "God," I may take his, her, or its name in vain anytime I wish.

Persons not brought up in practicing religious families and survive childhood without indoctrination are rare but lucky. The moment a child says "God damn!" and gets away with it, the frightful spector of the Old Testament boogie man is no more. She can walk into church and be assured that if a lightning bolt strikes her the moment she enters it will only be because weathermen predicted a strong possibility of a thunderstorm. Ditto the silly childish spectacles celebrated in conjunction with religious holidays and the equally silly creatures that come with them: little fat men in red riding reindeer-driven sleighs through the night Christmas eve, and the white bunny rabbit that plants jelly eggs in the garden in the springtime. Oh, and did I mention the Tooth Fairy?

Like "God," none of these invisible childhood friends presents anything susceptible of factual substantiation. Nothing factual. These things are merely daydreams, fantasies, wills o' the wisp. The let-down following a childhood of induced obedience to such non-reality is a habit of taking "God's" name in vain. It was thus that some of us were not shocked to hear the Rev. Jeremiah Wright almost scream from his pulpit: "God DAMN America!"

An impatient man in line behind me at the grocery line today, clutching two or three items and put out by a blind lady's tedious checking out grumbled: "Jesus Christ!" I only nodded slightly, but I was of a mind to ask him which evangelical church he goes to, since most don't seem to know that "Damn" is not "God's" last name. Again, demanding that people not "take God's name in vain" simply ignores human nature. Much to my shame and embarrassment, I do it all the time.

4. I shall keep the Sabbath holy by spending it any way I wish.

Before he quit the usquebaugh, a close friend of mine said, "I know God exists, but you can't find him in brick houses with colored windows." Now that he's off the sauce, he's afraid to say it. He still believes religion has value in making people think twice before breaking the law, but I always point out that so long as they can be forgiven by Jebus, they have no incentive to go straight. The Sabbath is kept holy by the three monotheisms on different days, reminding us of Saint George Carlin's observation "God" is a bit arbitrary and capricious: he can't make up his mind. Moreover, who wants to give up one's day off by spending an hour or two in a place packed by money changers and social climbers?

You thought people went to church to be closer to God? Maybe. But as the one-sheet theater marquee poster for Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets put it, it's "Go To Church On Sunday, Go To Hell On Monday." I've heard tales of Church of Christ members conducting commerce in the aisles and pews of their churches prior to and after the "service," and I know of one devout Catholic who has been warned by his church to cease and desist from prosecuting a suit against another member just because the latter is a deacon. Religion poisons everything. If you thought George W. Bush was a devotee of cronyism (remember "Brownie" of FEMA?), wait till you get a load of Huckabee (Palin, et al.).

Some reformed Jews do their sabbath on Sunday like their Christer neighbors. I personally like Fridays because they are sacred to Venus and therefore best for sexual magic. At least one Norse legend speaks of certain "Friday spirits" who excite the sexual appetite. I think it silly of devout Muslims and orthodox Jews to run a Friday by keeping it holy. The main reason most sabbaths are on Sunday in America is that the day was chosen for its adherence to the protestant ethic. Blue laws are designed to keep people sober and alert for herd mentality assembly line labor on Monday.

5. I shall kill only what I intend to eat.

Even Gov. Palin could agree with this, were it not for the fact that her apocalyptic faith dictates the necessity of making war on the world's peoples to bring about Dominion and Rapture. Judeo-Christers believe that it is alright to kill anyone if a politician tells them it must be done. Unlike the founder of their faith, Jebus, they turn the other cheek only to look for the nearest cudgel. When George W. Bush, the Hero of Evangelicals, invaded Iraq on phoney premises, they lined up to go kill Arabs for Christ. Nobody warned George W. about his rhetoric: before his handlers reminded him of its saddle burr effect on Muslims, he actually called what he was doing -- the so-called War on Terror -- a "crusade."

What is going on in the Mideast today is a resumption of 11th century antagonisms between Christians and Islamists, with bin Laden a sort of Darth Vader version of the otherwise historically chivalrous (almost "Christian") Saladin. One thinks of the marvelous moment in David Lean's film, Lawrence of Arabia, when Sir Alec Guiness, as Prince Feisal, chides one of the British visitors for wanting something from him and from his country. The crusaders of today do not fight to hold open for pilgrims the road to Jerusalem; they fight for oil. Indeed, oil is what first the British and now the world has always wanted of Arabia.

Killing someone for oil is perhaps the most obscene notion ever conceived. But even as they park their big "family" sized SUV'S in the church parking lot each Sunday --the ones with the yellow "Support Our Troops" ribbon decals that take the paint off when removed -- the true believers attend services to mouth meaningless slogans from a mostly forgotten faith whose prophet would be aghast at the things done in his name. As John Prine sang in one of his 1960's anti-war ballads, "Jesus don't like killin' no matter what the reason is/And your flag decal won't get you into Heaven anymore."

6. I shall commit adultery as often and in any way I wish so long as it is among and between consenting adults (or only with myself).

((To be continued.))