Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Please, Just No Film at 11:00

Oh No! Think of the shame if a hard core religious figure gets caught in a sex/drug scandal.

No. I don’t mean Ted Haggard; not even Colorado. Virginia gets the honors.

Fans of gospel music likely know the name Tommy Tester well. He’s a staple at WZAP 690 am in Bristol, Virginia, and has been for almost 25 years, but his recent arrest, has put his station in a tight spot.

Johnson City police arrested Tester Thursday night on charges of indecent exposure and public drunkenness. Police say the preacher was driving drunk when he stopped at a car wash and urinated with children present. Investigators say prior to his arrest, Tester, who was wearing a skirt at the time, made sexual advances to them.

Aren’t they even trying anymore?

(Hat Tip: Wonkette: with Mugshot – boy does he look sheepish)

If Abortion Were Illegal…

what should happen to the women who have abortions?

That question was asked of a number of abortion protesters. They seemed stumped. From the Anna Quindlen column at Newsweek

Buried among prairie dogs and amateur animation shorts on YouTube is a curious little mini-documentary shot in front of an abortion clinic in Libertyville, Ill. The man behind the camera is asking demonstrators who want abortion criminalized what the penalty should be for a woman who has one nonetheless. You have rarely seen people look more gobsmacked. It’s as though the guy has asked them to solve quadratic equations. Here are a range of responses: “I’ve never really thought about it.” “I don’t have an answer for that.” “I don’t know.” “Just pray for them.”

You have to hand it to the questioner; he struggles manfully. “Usually when things are illegal there’s a penalty attached,” he explains patiently. But he can’t get a single person to be decisive about the crux of a matter they have been approaching with absolute certainty.

Here’s that “curious little mini-documentary”

Best exchange.

Q: And what should happen to those women who have illegal abortions?

A: [pause]
A: [shrug]
A: Well…
A: I don’t know what should really happen to them. I would hope that they would in time come to see what they’ve done and be sorry for it. But, I think we need to treat them with love.

Q: If abortion is made illegal, should women be sent to jail who have abortions?

A: [pause]
A: [shrug]
A: I’ve never really thought about it.

Q: How long have you been working in this movement?

A: A couple years.

Hmm. Does anyone else see a minor disconnect here?

Of course the video, produced by AtCenterNetwork.com, might have cut out all the really amazingly clever answers outlining the exact penalty structure, but if you watch the video, you notice this is not a major theme in rallies. Only one of protesters actually managed to come up with a minorly coherent answer.

According to Quindlen, George H. W. Bush was asked the question over 20 years ago and came up with the answer, “I still haven’t worked out the penalties”. Quindlen’s full column should be read in full and needs more links, blog time and – um – links. A little love thrown at AtCenterNetwork would be nice too. Help me out here folks.

Perhaps this is something the far right needs to work on. Just a hint guys. You can use the prairie dog video for practicing “the look” but you’ll have to get ghetto blasters for the scare music…

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHjFxJVeCQs]

(Hat Tip: Wonkette)

Don’t Try This at Home

According to AP reporter Paul Davenport, police responded to an out of control exorcism in Phoenix. It didn’t go well.

Officers responding to a report of an exorcism on a young girl found her grandfather choking her and used stun guns to subdue the man, who later died, authorities said Sunday.
The 3-year-old girl and her mother, who was also in the room during the struggle between 49-year-old Ronald Marquez and officers, were hospitalized, police said. Their condition was unavailable.

The relative who called police said an exorcism had also been attempted Thursday.

“The purpose was to release demons from this very young child,” said Sgt. Joel Tranter.

Now there are a couple of things to think about here.

I’d start by asking what rituals were being used here? Obviously we need more information to be able to avoid this doctrine. I mean, it obviously can’t be a Catholic exorcism because the child was the granddaughter of the exorcist. So, we need much more information here.

But while we’re at this. Let’s take a look at some of the possible ramifications.

Has anyone considered the idea that the exorcism was a partial success? The child was saved and the demons hopped over to the grandfather, who, unable to defend himself, died?

His death obviously can’t be brought in connection with the stun guns. I mean those folks have been telling people for years just how safe stun guns are. Wouldn’t to see want all that PR money get wasted, just because one little exorcism went awry.

But more seriously, just like skeptics always say: <b>these kinds of beliefs</b> (not to mention non lethal weapons) <b>do cause harm</b>. Sometimes the harm is immediate and causes national headlines. Sometimes the harm is low level, causing economic turmoil and unhappiness in an individual family. But these things do cause harm – every day.

When we have a president in the White House who isn’t fact but faith based; when we have an Attorney General whose only connection with reality is the point where his butt meets the witness chair; when we have newspapers, radio and television stations increasingly hammering on the idea that there are always two sides to any story and there is no objective reality; is there any question that this will happen?

I don’t really know what’s worse. The fact that the grandfather died. Or the thought of that young girl growing up in that environment.

But I do know one thing. Don’t try exorcism at home (or anywhere else) !

Evolution is not just a theory!

Evolution is not just a theory.

Pass the word! Digg it! Memorize the arguments!

That is all.

(Hat tip: Phil Plait/Bad Astronomy)

Baby Got Book (Updated)

God there are terrifying YouTube videos out there…

Listen to the rap really closely, there is so much bible trivia in that video it makes me woozy. For those of you who haven’t really “gotten big booked,” most of the references made won’t make any sense. Here’s a handy, dandy little study guide for you.

“I like big bubbles and I can not lie…”
Refers to the Message Remix 2.0 Hypercolor vinyl: Bubble Bible. Translation in modern, hip language with an obnoxious soothing blue cover. Still doesn’t drop the F* bomb though.

Notice His KJV chain?

Got her name engraved, so you know this girl is saved!
Do people still do this!?

You say you want koinonia?
Koinonia comes from the Greek and is used to mean partnership or fellowship. Wikipedia is your friend; Conservapedia – not so much. Koinonia is also used the name of an amazing number of bible colleges.

Bless me, Bless me, and teach me about John Wesley.
He doesn’t mean this one. But otherwise, I won’t increase your education. I. Just. Don’t. Go. There. But for those masochrists out there, here you go.

NIV – With a ribbon bookmark
NIV = New International Version, as opposed of course to
TNIV = Today’s New International Version,
NIrV = New International Reader’s Version or
NIVI =New International Version Inclusive Language Edition.

I ain’t talking about a paraphrase, caus Paul wouldn’t use those anyways
Yet another bible version from 1971. The Living Bible put together by Kenneth N. Taylor (while on the train to work) Was quite popular at the time but has since gone out of style. Note the contempt – tossing the bible aside – for shame, sir, for shame!

I like em real thick and red lettered. You can’t find nothin’ better
Just in case you’ve never noticed, some printings of the bible went with red lettering in order to highlight the places where God actually speaks. I have no idea whether that is the origin of the phrase red letter day but it does give a whole new spin to the phrase scare quotes.

A word to the Christian sistas, I can’t resist ya. I do God’s time with ya. But I gotta be straight when I say I want to pray til the break of day.
And people wonder why the American public is frustrated?

We might just get it on. Like the wife in Proverbs 31
I bet he’d like that! *Shutter* On the other hand Proverbs 31 does make a nice case for drinking your misery into the gutter.

6 Give beer to those who are perishing,
wine to those who are in anguish;

7 let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.

Thomson Chain with the big red letters
No, the chain is not referring to blink. You guessed it. Yet another version. (How can there even be people who want to be biblical literalists?) In this case it is a handy reference bible for those who need to cross check their daily dose.

When it comes to a good book Steven Kings resume just can’t compare. 39 + 27 = 66 books. And if you’re Catholic, there’s even more.
Maybe that’s what Benedict was getting at with his “church” snarking last week. But seriously, he does have an interdenominational point. (Note: clever little chart at Wikipedia)

Protestant: O.T 39 + N.T 27 = 66
Catholic : O.T 46 + N.T 27 = 73
But the winner is – Orthodox Christians: O.T. 53 + N.T. 27 = 80! Go bearded guys in Siberian monasteries!

Of course to try to go up against Steven King? Let’s take a look shall we? 45 Novels, 33 movies, 11 TV movies, 3 non fiction, 7 serial novels, a screen play, a childrens book… Need I go on? Steven King!? Bad choice – at least he didn’t go up against Perry Rhodan.

Update (Missed one)
Your girlfriend quotes Bill Hybels?
Bill Hybels is the founding minister at the the Willow Creek Community Church. This is a very small, cozy congregation having, according to their press release, 17,500 attendees (yes, you read that right) every weekend.

Finally. Did you count the number of abstence references?I lost count. There were just too many.

When is someone like Skepchick, Rebecca Watson, or the Friendly Atheist, Herman Mehta, going to fight back and do a “Oh, Baby, Baby, Bookless!” rap?

Since I can’t leave you completely, utterly traumatised, use this as a small piece of balance.

E Plurbus Unim

*sigh* From the floor of the Senate during the first Hindu invocation on the floor of the Senate.

E Plubus Unim – “Out of many, One.” And people wonder why I think Europe is more tolerant?

More and hat tip to Eric Kleefeld at TPMCafe

Searching for Neo-Gnostics

The Passion of ChristSure, I pick Lost Christianities for my summer reading and what does the Pope do?

That lovely former Hilter Youth brings out another document “clarifying” the Catholic positions produced during the Second Vatican Council. (The first okayed the Latin mass which is fine by me but has gotten some more liberal Catholics a bit grumpy.) The new clarification is posed as a series of questions and answers. The fifth answer is a doozy. From the official Vatican web site

Fifth Question: Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of ‘Church’ with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?

“Response: According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called ‘Churches’ in the proper sense. [scare quotes in the original, my bold]

Oh, Snap! Bad Protestants! Bad. Go – um – stand in a corner or something.

This works wonders for all those people trying to create a dialog, not only among people of no faith but even among those of faith.

The really ironic part is that the Church Benedict is claiming goes right back to that little barn in Bethlehem, didn’t really get started until some time in the fourth century.

My favorite early Christian sect is turning out to be the Gnostics. They thought the world had been created by a bad, corrupt Deity, God of the Jews and creator of this oh-so-imperfect world and who was an offspring of a higher more perfect being, Sophia. She, in turn, existed between the One True God and – well – everything else. The One True God send Jesus to bring this information to the uniformed masses and by doing so, save them.

The Gnostics thought all you had to do was figure out everything is a shame and that everyone has a “divine spark” part of that original True God. Once you know about it, your physical body becomes unimportant. A little like Scientology but without Zenu, the alien thetans, DC-3s and volcanos. Well OK; not at all like Scientology.

These ideas didn’t go over well in Rome. The proto-Catholic church did everything it could to discredit and destroy the Gnostics. Once the Gnostic church was destroyed, the orthodox Christian faith then faked the evidence to make it seem like nothing else ever existed. (Think Alberto Gonzales and the constitution. “First Amendment? What Amendments?”)

But hey. Why let historical facts or science get in the way of your religion? It’s not like religion is something you’d fight over right? Oh. Yeah.

Is Monotheism Itself a Cause of War?

That’s the question posed by James Carroll in today’s Guest Voice in the On Faith segment of the Washington Post. (Actually the entry is titled Is God The Root of All Evil?” but Carroll answers looks at war.)

Is monotheism itself a cause of war? Does the radical intolerance of “other gods” lead to intolerance of those who worship them? Are religious wars built into the structure of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam?

This has been the main charge lodged against all three Abrahamic faiths at least since the Enlightenment, yet ironically, this divisive notion of monotheism is itself a product of the Enlightenment. The very word, with that tell-tale “ism,” wasn’t even coined until the modern era (The OED dates it to the 17th century). Christians affirm the “Credo,” Jews the “Shema Yisrael,” Muslims the “Shahadah” – all declaring that there is one God. But what does that word “one” mean? In a scientific age, it is taken as a number. God is thought of as a solitary entity, standing apart from all others, and therefore, it is thought, against all others. If this is the meaning of monotheism, then, yes, such belief is inherently a source of conflict, not peace.

Contemporary Jews, Muslims and Christians may themselves have been influenced by univocal Enlightenment thinking, but in fact their traditions affirm the oneness of God not scientifically or philosophically, but religiously, which is the opposite. A religious fundamentalist who goes to war against modern “secularism” shows the spirit more of that secularism than of ancient religion. Thus, Moses Maimonides, the 12th century Jewish sage, rejected the idea that God’s “oneness” is a category of quantity. Instead of a unit, the “oneness” of God affirms a unity. Oneness in this sense means not the Being who stands apart, radically different and superior, but the Being who is present as the reconciliation of all oppositions. That God is one means, as Isaiah saw, that the God of this people is the God of all people.

*Sputter* Excuse me. Enlightenment thinking brought about all the evil “isms?”

First Carroll sets up a straw man; there is never a single cause for any war although the war might be justified simply by pushing one cause. But I’ll get to that in a moment. Religion (and not just monotheism) is a wonderful tool to separate two peoples; to create an identifiable Us vs. the easily demonized Them. It can be used to extend and create hatred. That is the charge being leveled, a charge Carroll ignores.

But let’s just examine the comment for what it claims. That the religious traditions affirm the oneness of God. This got tossed out the window for secular scientific and philosophic thinking. Now one can quibble about the exact dates, but I’d pencil the dates the Age of Enlightenment in at around 1650-1800. You could add or subtract a couple of decades here or there, but that’s roughly accurate.

Now. Let’s see.

  • Muslim conquests: 632–732 (Islam vs. everyone)*
  • Crusades: 1095–1291 (Catholics vs. Islam)
  • Spanish Inquisition: 1478 – 1834 (Catholics vs. Judaism)
  • Thirty Years War: 1618 – 1648 (Protestants vs. Catholics)

*Carroll even makes point that the Muslim conquests weren’t really Islamic because they didn’t follow the teachings in the Koran. Oh. Right. I wonder if the people fighting the battles knew that.

So all this “religious warmongering” not due to faith, but due to misguided – um – church leadership?

No war is ever fought solely due to one issue.

The US didn’t invade Iraq just for the oil; it was simply an added condiment. The Muslim conquests used Islam as one factor to greatly increase the power of the Caliphs. The Crusades were as much about keeping Western influence in the Middle East as keeping routes for pilgrimages open. The Spanish Inquisition was just fine confiscating Jewish property for the greater glory of the Church and the Inquisitioners. Finally. Luther’s theses made a nice excuse for the northern European nobility to finally break Rome’s economic and political strangle hold.

And Carroll’s claim that people only define Monotheism as the problem. Perhaps he should take a quick tour through the history of Japan 1850 to 1945. There the rise of Japanese Nationalism was directly tied to an extreme (fundamentalist) form of State Shintoism.

Were any of these “wars” purely religious? No student of the Enlightenment, someone trained to believe in science, philosophy and history, would say so. No, that takes a person of faith. It takes a person of faith set up a strawman that can be taken down in a few short paragraphs.

BTW. You should read the comments. They are hilarious.

Fred Thompson Doesn’t Read the Bible

And Wonkette doesn’t Google (for shame Wonkette!)

You see Wonkette is having a ball reporting on the data dump found in the Thompson archives now being scanned for scandals and semen stains cigar wrappers. Now Newsweek’s Holly Bailey is reporting in the Gaggle about what seems to be a minor analogy train wreck.

In 2001, New York Times columnist William Safire wrote Thompson to ask what he had meant when he said “the ox is in the ditch” when it comes to postal reform. “Once again, you remind me that the rest of the country doesn’t necessarily use the same phrases as a country boy from Tennessee,” Thompson replied, confessing he’d actually never seen an ox in a ditch–or frankly, an ox. “As usual, I have no idea where this comes from. All I know is that when the ox is in the ditch, it is a very serious matter–very serious. A big ox, a small ditch, a big load and a hot day–well, you can see the problem.”

Big ox, small ditch?! Bwahahahahah!

This is rich and might just have to cost Thompson the hard-core Dominist vote.

Why? The reference to the ox in the ditch isn’t about “big oxen and little ditches”, it is a reference to working on the Sabbath. Luke 14-5 (KJV),

And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day?

But Luke doesn’t mention a ditch, just a well. (And what exactly was your livestock doing gallivanting about a well on Sunday anyway?)

Well, according to the handy, dandy Sermon Notebook, the law is Jewish and not Christian.

The Jews too this Commandment very seriously. Dr. Ken Trivette shares the following insights concerning the Jewish mindset – “The observance of the Sabbath was strictly observed and strictly enforced. Whereas, they took God’s command to rest on the Sabbath seriously, as the years passed they added their own rules and regulations about the Sabbath. There were approximately 1,521 things that were not permissible on the Sabbath. For example: you could not rescue a drowning person on the Sabbath. Untying knots that needed only one hand was permissible, but if two hands were required, it was forbidden. If a man’s ox fell into the ditch, he could pull it out, but if the man fell in, he had to stay there. One could take a sup of vinegar for food, but if he took a sup in order to help his aching toothache, he had broken the Sabbath. If a man was bitten by a flea on the Sabbath, he had to allow the flea to keep on biting. If he tried to stop the flea from biting or killed it, he was guilty of hunting on the Sabbath.”

Oh. Got it. Pulling the ox out of the ditch is allowed and you should solve the problem even on your day off.

But WTF was Thompson saying in the first place. Well he was talking about Postal Reform and we find the following blerb from the Association for Postal Commerce (whoever they are).

The Associated Press has noted that “upset by two postal rate increases in six months and discussions of delivery cutbacks, some congressional leaders have said the mail agency must be overhauled. Postal Service officials, dealing with rising fuel costs and shrinking demand for their services, said they also want new postal laws to make the agency more competitive. ‘It’s obvious that the ox is in the ditch big time,’ said Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.”

Note: the context of this quote can be found by Googling. This is just the most succinct version I found.

So. I would interpret this to say that while Thompson was chairing the GAC, the Postal Service fell into a ditch while the commitee was taking some time (six months) off. Now, they have to fix the problem, even though it’s Sunday. It is all perfectly clear to me. No?

Yet again, this is a tick against Fred Thompson and points to him being the anti-Christ candidate. Pass the word. (The word of God of course. ;-))

I’m Just Too Stupid…

I’m glad that got cleared that up.

John Safran, who some people claim to be “Australia’s most exciting guerrilla filmaker,” has finally explained to me why I can’t be an athiest. *sniff*

I’m just too stupid.

I wasn’t even clever enough to even buy Steven Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” much less make it to page 3. I guess I just have to stick with the non-theist position (which for those with dirty minds has absolutly nothing to do with missonaries!).

Even so. I will take up the Friendly Athiest’s challenge of trying to explain the Big Bang in the shortest number of words.

Big Bang: Sciencespeak for “Poof – God did it. “

Lobbyists vs God Squad

From what I am hearing, Thompson, is the lobbyist candidate. Hey, 20 years of K-Street, a Senate quicky and a role in a top rated television series should qualify anyone to work in Washington.

OK. It probably didn’t come as too much of too much of surprise that Ann Coulter doesn’t support Fred Thompson. He didn’t actually vote for Clinton to be crucified (he split his vote) , which makes would make him a really, really bad person in her eyes.

But the real question is * gasp * does he go to Church enough?

That is the horse WorldNetDaily and the Christian Broadcast Network are starting to flay.

First, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson was reported to have said the Republican presidential hopeful is not a real Christian. Thompson shot back that he’s not only a Christian, but a member of the fundamentalist Churches of Christ.

Now a political science professor at a Church of Christ-affiliated college charges Thompson is a “lapsed member.” And he has issued a challenge on the Internet to anyone who can come up with evidence that Thompson, now an actor, is active in the Church of Christ.

Is the Hollywood star-turned-politician a true believer?

What do they want you to have done to be a “real” Christian?

  • Taught a Bible class,
  • Presided at the Lord’s table,
  • Served as a greeter,
  • Or led singing (“If it was 728b and you can prove it, I’ll give you $100,” he wagered, referring to the hymn, “Our God, He Is Alive,” which is considered an anthem in the Churches of Christ).

So, all those people who seem to think people like Dobson, Roberson or (perhaps the IRD simply want a nice world), with fluffy bunnies penquin farms, should think about the definition of a “real Christian”.

What should happen to the rest of those people. Perhaps one finds the answer in other writings. Like those clever attempts to point out that the real Bible doesn’t support slavery because – um – they were being nice back in the old testiment. All those non-believers should have been killed.

Creationist Poll Dancing

Monday’s Gallup poll has gotten some attention lately.

PZ Myers and Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist and author of I Sold My Soul on eBay, both weighted in on the issue. People seem very surprised at the fact that a majority of Republicans support the creationist viewpoint. Actually this was to be expected and any other result would have been the earth-shattering bloggable result.

The first thing I would point out is that the majority of Americans do believe in evolution, even if the graphs being tossed about on Pharyngula and FA don’t seem to show it.

This is my graph of the Gallup data reformatted to highlight the belief in evolution over time.

gallup-polls-small.gif

Note: “Present Form” corresponds to the Gallup answer “God created man in present form.“ These numbers are roughly equivalent to the answers found when you look at the belief in the literal six-day creation story (35% in 2006 according to a Pew Research poll) and other indicators of fundamentalist religious tendencies.

There are a couple of comments you can make here. First, it is getting better. Not quickly, but it is getting better. If you consider that a belief in God will almost require dropping into either the creationist camp or into some kind of theistic evolutionary theory, the results aren’t too surprising. Also, depending on how the questions are phrased, the relative percentages within the evolution camp can shift significantly.

Perhaps far more surprising is the following result from the Gallup poll.

It might seem contradictory to believe that humans were created in their present form at one time within the past 10,000 years and at the same time believe that humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. But, based on an analysis of the two side-by-side questions asked this month about evolution and creationism, it appears that a substantial number of Americans hold these conflicting views.
[…]

  • 24% of Americans believe that both the theory of evolution and the theory of creationism are probably or definitely true
  • 41% believe that creationism is true, and that evolution is false
  • 28% believe that evolution is true, but that creationism is false
  • 3% either believe that both are false or have no opinion about at least one of the theories [my emphasis]

The means that almost a quarter of the American population have probably never taken any time to actually try to match up religion and science. Both are “true,” each in it’s own frame. You could probably pick 1 of 4 people and by deep discussion and questioning achieve nothing but irritation. The ideas would not compute. They don’t want to think about it. One could argue that they aren’t in their right minds. Which brings me to the political aspect of the poll.

According to Gallup, only 30% of Republicans believe in evolution with 68% towing the Creationist line. These numbers are almost reversed in Democratic (61%/37%) and Independent (57%/40%) camps. In the same poll, Gallup found Americans evenly split between Republicans and Democrats (31% each) and 36% mostly democratic leaning Independents.

Does this mean that being conservative means you are religious? One blogger thinks so.

People aren’t conservative because they believe in unrestricted gun ownership, and they aren’t liberal because they believe in the right of a woman to make choices about tissues in her own body. No, if this is right, people choose their beliefs because of their political temperament and not the other way around. ‘Liberal’ and ‘Conservative’ need to be seen as clusters of personality traits and stable overall worldviews, and not political creeds consisting of enumerable doctrines.

While this might be true, the skewed data might also be the result of 30 years of effort the fundamentalist religious right has put into taking over the Republican party. You might be religious and conservative. There was a time when you might also have been a Democrat. The Republican party has become so conservative because it has gotten such an influx from the Religious right.

Since the days of the Moral Majority, fundamentalist religious leaders have insistently attempted to get their followers to move into the Republican party. Not because they agree with all issues; Jesus “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God (Mat 5:9)” Christ might not have voted red in the last election. No they are Republican because that is the party the church is supporting

Jerry Fallwell said back in the 1980’s, “get them saved, get them Baptized, and get them registered.” That is why the difference between the two parties is so dramatic. The hard core believers who make up about 36% of the Republicans consider themselves a members of the Religious right as opposed to 16% in the Democratic party and 7% of Independents (Pew)

Nothing has changed, no real news here. The Republican party is made up of conservative, religious, church goers. Perhaps more surprising is that only 3 Republican candidates didn’t agree with the base. After this poll, that might change.

Let the the political poll dancing begin.

God sends Bush an SMS

Maybe George W. Bush doesn’t have a hotline to the really big Guy.

This didn’t get much coverage in the major media, but a funny thing happened on the way to the forum Vatican. Cadillac One stalled.

But this hasn’t completely escaped the focus of the media. From the – ehem – Russian News Agency

After braving an upset stomach in Germany and being greeted by crowds of protesters in Poland and Italy, the U.S. president probably thought things could not get much worse – and then his car broke down Saturday.
[...]
On Saturday, Bush arrived in Italy, where he held talks with Pope Benedict XVI, but later during his tour of the city his limousine broke down and a reserve vehicle had to be rushed in.

Moreover, the new limo was too big to squeeze through the gates of the U.S. Embassy, and the U.S. leader had to walk the remaining distance.

Since GW did actually make it to the Vatican meeting, this was probably more of an instant message that a formal signal from God.

But I can see where this is leading. The only question is in which direction the message is going. Tim LaHaye thinks the Pope is the Antichrist. The pope refuses to consider joint church services between Catholics and Protestants.

I just wonder who exactly was the intended recipiant of this holy hiccup?

Yes readers and readettes. This is obviously a sign. Perhaps the best evidence of God I’ve seen recently.

(Hat Tip Amara Graps, guest blogging at Asymptotia)

Creationist Museums – Get em while they’re hot

Ok. The evolutionary blogging community has calmed down briefly after the splash created by Ken Ham’s 27 Million dollar Creationist museum theme park. Of course there are still a few ripples.

Like the actor who played Adam in one of the Infotainment videos being the former owner and occasional star of BedroomAcrobat, a porn site. (Hey, has anyone thought about the fact that no one else in the Christian community had that much practice being fig-leaf-less? In public? Maybe the choice wasn’t that bad!)

Then there is the increasingly open spat between the organisation that built the museum theme park, Answers In Genesis – US (AiG-US) and the organisation formerly known as Answers In Genesis Australia. (TOFKAAIGAus)

TOFKAAIGAus recently published the completion of a 40 page report outlining how the AiG-US first took over AiG-Canada and then eviscerated and finally killed TOFKAAIGAus forcing it to lose the AiG name. AiG-US and particularly Ken Ham apparently marginalized the Australian CEO Carl Wieland after which the Australian Board of Directors to signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) and a Deed of Copyright Licence (DOCL) which “seriously disadvantaged” the Australian ministry.

The report makes interesting reading and highlights the behind the scenes manoeuvring that goes on in many large organisations. Interesting is how former Chief Magistrate Clarrie Briese, author of the report, indignantly points out how, um, unbiblical this behaviour has been. Scandalous.

TOFKAAIGAus has apparently filed suit so we’ll have to wait for results but, in the mean time, they have found a new shorter acronym, Creation Ministries International – CMI.

But what do you do if you don’t have 27 Million dollars or another country’s ministry to plunder?

No matter, you open a Creationist museum theme park anyway. According to Canada’s Globe & Mail ,

Harry Nibourg wasn’t sure what to expect when he opened Canada’s first permanent creationist museum to the public yesterday, so he asked volunteers to act as security guards just in case.

But there were no protesters or trouble, only about 20 people eager to see what all the fuss is about these days in Big Valley, a southern Alberta village of 350 people that’s surrounded by green fields, oil-well pump jacks and cattle.

Mr. Nibourg’s tiny Big Valley Creation Science Museum, which still smells of fresh paint, is crammed with material that purports to debunk evolution and prove that the universe was created by God some 6,000 years ago and that dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth together. Located about 200 kilometres southeast of Edmonton, the museum, which has attracted international media attention, has been both condemned and praised on the letters-to-the-editor pages of Alberta’s two largest daily newspapers.

So for those of you closer to Canada than Kentucky, you can go to Big Valley and visit the slightly scaled down house of propaganda.

While visiting wonderful Alberta, you could also visit the correctly famous Royal Tyrrell Museum which houses one of the worlds largest collections of fossils and is only 600 kilometers away in Drumheller, Alberta.

After all, who needs Ken Ham to get ham fisted Creationist propagnda? Creationsit museums – perhaps cheaper by the dozen.

(Hat Tip Don Spencer’s Artifacts)

What Need Forgiveness

One argument often brought against atheists is that they can present no ultimate authority for ethics. This, apologetics argue, will lead down a slippery slope where relative ethics become no ethics; genial coexistence leading to genocide. Should the secular ethicist present the idea of an evolved morality, the apologetic will riposte again with the relativistic argument that evolution implies change – ergo the slippery slope beckons yet again.

But what if there is an ultimate morality. What if ethics is a framework not for prescriptive morals but descriptive reality? What if moral feelings are as “natural” as sight? What if the sense of righteousness is often overlooked, not because it does not exist, but because it is perhaps most easily overridden and ignored (maybe because it is most recently evolved)?

Before I embark on an exploration of morals, I’d like to detour into the realm of our more well understood senses; moving from the precise to the relative, in order to give myself a framework for discussion.

Let us start with that most important sense, sight. If you take an atheist and the most fundamental Christian (or Muslim) out on a beautiful summer day, both would agree that the sky is blue. Before the work of Newton, Foucault and others, the description of light wasn’t understood as a physical phenomena; the sky was “just” blue; now we understand the manner in which the light is scattered giving us a physical understand of such a beautiful backdrop.

As the day passes into evening, the sky might turn a beautiful shade of red. Let us bring a third person to our group. Discussing the evening sky, the first person comments on the beautiful hue, the second agrees. But the newcomer disagrees and says the sky is simply gray. You see our third individual is color-blind, physically unable to detect the color red (a condition far more common than you might think).

Irrespective of our group the sky still has a color, be it blue, red or gray. Key here is that the physical ability of each person limits the capability to see color. That ability is not only inborn but changes from person to person. We accept it as a fact of life, like the fact that some people are taller than others, with no further thought.

We can continue our thought experiment by moving to the idea of smell. Let us take our group and lead them to a flower, asking each to partake of its wonderful aroma. The first, a parfumeur, pronounces the scent exquisitely unique and breathtaking, the second, consumed by a bad cold, smells nothing. The last refuses to consider the idea in the knowledge that the mere attempt will likely produce an allergy attack and literally take his breath away.

Again the flower has not changed. The smell is still there but the reactions: enjoyment, indifference and rejection, all based on secular realities, all completely different.

Finally, our imaginary group chooses to dine together, each preparing a dish for the others. The first makes a vegetable curry, the second roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and the last a wonderful white wine sorbet, creamy and perfectly chilled. But again in our experimental world, all is not right. You see, one is unused to eating spicy foods and the curry is hot enough to make the eyes water; the roast beef unacceptable to the vegetarian and the sorbet unpalatable to the other who refuses alcohol preferring to remain abstinent.

Here the problems arise not from the physical characteristics of our merry band, but the cultural ones. Each person has learned behaviors and proclivities added to physical characteristics inherited at birth and acquired through illness or training.

This brings us back to morality.

Let us assume for a moment that morals are the cognitive translation of right-ness as just as sight is a cognitive translation of electomagnetic quanta, smell and taste the interpetation of minute chemical concentrations in air, liquid or solids.

We accept the existence of color blindness and intuitively understand that height changes from individual to individual; illness, medication or alcohol might temporarily heighten or dampen certain scenes. We all live happily (?) in largely multicultural societies. If we assume all these things are normal, why appeal to a higher power to justify the existence of morality? Could not the perception of right, a sixth “moral” sense, have evolved much like the other senses? And couldn’t that sense differ from person to person, culture to culture? None of the earlier discussion implied that the thing itself changes, the sky remained red, the curry – spicy. It means that we might all differently perceive a single, definite moral reality.

If sight, smell and sound evolved to react to certain specific, concrete environmental conditions, why must one assume morals be a different beast? One might comment that it because morals seem so ethereal; there is no physical “there” there.

Unfortunately perception is not necessary for existence; describe “red” to the blind man; try to prove the existence of “red” to the blind man. You might collect a group of people in a double blind (no pun intended) experiment each telling the blind man whether the color on the card is grey or red. You would do better than chance, so there is something there. But the hits wouldn’t be perfect – color blindness – remember? You might present the theoretical and physical characteristics of light and explaining that red can be found somewhere around a wavelength of 630nm; the blind man would still not feel the emotional majesty of a crimson sky.

If one assumes the other senses, sight, smell and the rest, all evolved in order improve the chances of genetic survival, couldn’t morals self assemble in much the same way? The simplistic argument that unbridled selfishness leads to evolutionary advantage seems neither to be born out by experiment nor perception. Doesn’t unbridled selfishness lead to short term gains but ultimately to failure (see for example Jared Diamond’s Collapse)? Might one of the very steps on the path of evolution to “man” been the development of a different long term understanding of right-ness; a way of knowing as genetically ingrained but as variable as eye color? Those who did not “see the light” slowly losing out to their more moral competition?

And doesn’t this model seem to fit the “facts” better? The Golden Rule is almost universal. Only the most radical fundamentalist denies that “unbelievers” lack any grounding in moral thought (or they read far too much into Ps 14:3). If one assumes that it is not morality itself but moral sensibility that changes from person to person, culture to culture doesn’t that answer many questions, not of how the world should be, but at least of how the world actually is? Do religions claim to be reality or merely an improvement, optional?

Finally it should be noted that the existence of God is neither explicitly accepted nor denied in this model.

A Deist might make the argument that an omnipotent (and perhaps omni-benevolent) being loaded the dice in order to force intelligent creatures to develop moral feelings. This might be called the Anthropic Gambit. Just like God tweaked all the other constants in the Universe, the speed of light, the various forces, masses and frequencies, She also tweaked the ‘goodness’ constant. Like the Anthropic argument for God, this idea is undeniably, well, undeniable but it is also unprovable. And of course Ockham’s razor warns us to steer clear of these kinds of uncharted waters (but people sink in them every day).

Critical is that the existence of God isn’t necessary. There is no necessity for a God-given authoritative morality any more than there is a necessity for a God-given authoritative blue. There is no need for Kant’s argument that “ought implies can.” (Since we ought to achieve moral perfection it implies that we can achieve moral perfection. But we always fail, we always make mistakes. Thus the only way that moral perfection can be achieved is through God or God’s forgiveness. I call this the Forgiveness Gambit.)

There might be an ultimate morality waiting to be discovered, understood and researched. By refusing to ask the question, indeed by denying the question itself, Deity-based moral systems perhaps lock themselves into an intellectual trap no different than that experienced by Creation “scientists.”

If one assumes that the failing is not in existence or authority, but in perception, what need Christian forgiveness? Must one forgive the color-blind, allergic vegetarian?

You will waste your cancer…

Carlos Wilton, Presbyterian pastor and cancer survivor, has an excellent post up where he comments an article by a second ministerial cancer survivor. This time the cancer survivor is John Piper, mega-church pastor and Prostate cancer survivor.

Piper’s article, Don’t Waste Your Cancer, lists 10 ideas for using cancer to affirm and strengthen faith. Wilton comments on the 10 ideas, agreeing with 7 and eviscerating the others.

You might want to go read the original first article and Wilton’s response before moving to my non-theist response which you can find after the fold. I am not as nice as Wilton.

Continue reading

Whence cometh evil?

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”

Epicurus – Greek philosopher, BC 341-270

The Gore Delusion? (Updated)

Al Gore is still trying to get America Republicans to believe in Global Climate Change.

According to one attendee of his talks, he’d like you to believe in more than just that.

During his live slideshow today, however, he showed his true colors. One of his slides was a quote from Genesis, which he used to show that humans are the stewards of biodiversity. I have no problem with people quoting from the bible (as long as it makes sense), but I found it kind of funny that he went out of his way to announce that he did not mean to push his religious beliefs on people by using the scripture in his slideshow. I didn’t really see the need for this disclaimer, because I actually agreed with the use of the scripture.

The slide I found particularly interesting/shocking/sad, was his new(?) slide containing a graph of human population growth over the past couple hundred-thousand years. It started off good. He pointed at the beginning of the graph, showing the population of humans on Earth from 200,000 years ago, and referred to the “rise of humans.”

Cool beans. So he believes that Homo sapiens evolved from other hominid ancestors, right? Nope. In the very same breath, he then continued to explain that according to his religious beliefs, this “rise of humans” was God’s creation of mankind – apparently 200,000 years ago. His graph then changed to include the caption “Adam & Eve” above this starting point.

Has anyone else seen this slide? I have no reason to doubt this – but ouch!

I also find it very interesting that despite Al Gore’s activist side, there doesn’t seem to be any way to download his information. Arguably the official web site, The Climate Project is a nice looking, easily sold usability train-wreck. That shouldn’t make me too sceptical.

Nevertheless, can anyone confirm this? It would nice to see Adam and Eve left out of this issue. I mean what did they do wrong? Oh – yeah – that apple thing. *sigh*

[Update]
I just watched the video of the presentation (not the movie) and it seems to be one of his standard depreciative humor points.

First off. The video is of the presentation given to MoveOn.Org so it is not in front of a big religious crowd. Nevertheless, Gore starts by saying it was his religious beliefs that brought him to environmentalism – stewardship, not activism is the driving force.

But at one point of the presentation, Gore is talking about the three factors leading to the environmental collision with civilisation. The first is population. My transcript from the video.

There are three factors responsible for [the collision] and the first is population

We’re seeing some success in slowing the momentum of population growth, but it is still growing rapidly all around the world.

And if you look at a graph of population from the beginning of the human race until now. Uh. If you go back… now I don’t want to get into a debate about when. We had a trial in Tennessee [Scopes] about this and um. And we lost and I’m very sensitive about it. And uh. But for purposes of argument, if you accept the scientific view that we emerged in our current form 160 thousand years ago, it took more then 10 thousand generations, before we reached a population of 2 billion people when my baby boom generation was born.

So, yes. He might be pointing out a YEC standpoint. On the other hand it doesn’t seem either dogmatic nor terribly serious. I suspect he tailors the talk to the audience.

Mr. President? God, Line One.

All those “Secular Humanists” have been complaining for years that President Bush thinks he has a direct line to God. Might I point out that if the people in the Pentagon think the same thing, that might not be such a bad thing?

In a recent book With God On Our Side, Michael L. Weinstein and Davin Seay illustrate the serious inroads made in the American military and specifically in the leadership of the Air Force Academy by evangelical Christians. Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, Air Force Academy graduate and father of two former cadets and one son currently attending the academy, is head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. The MRFF is lobbying to try to prevent further evangelical Christian proselytizing in the military. (The rather annoyingly loud homepage can be found here. You have been warned.)

An excellent summary of the history of how evangelical Christians have targeted the military and specifically chaplains and officers is given in an excerpt of the book.

The most effective wedge for the insertion of evangelicals into every rung of military life was the NAE [National Association of Evangelicals] and its influential chaplain-endorsing agency, the Commission on Chaplains, which worked tirelessly as a liaison for a wide array of fundamentalist denominations, from the Assemblies of God to the Southern Baptist Convention to the full index of offshoot and splinter congregations. Notwithstanding the military’s policy of allotting chaplaincies on a quota system designed to roughly reflect the religious affiliations of society as a whole, by the late ’60s evangelical denominations were regularly exceeding their allotments.

The phenomenon mirrored, in part, the explosive growth of fundamentalist Christianity in America and, in part, the assiduous efforts of the NAE and its Commission on Chaplains to fill posts left empty by the Catholics, Jews, Orthodox, and others who were regularly failing to meet their allocations. In what Loveland terms a “quota juggling act,” the NAE and others aggressively lobbied to fill chaplaincies left vacant by other denominations, resulting in a marked shift in the selection process weighted more and more to religious demographics within the military itself, where evangelical numbers continued to swell. This consolidation of power would result, by the late eighties, in the NAE Chaplains Commission’s acting as the endorsing agent not only for established denominations but for hundreds of non-aligned individual churches.

This proselytizing has been surprisingly effective and I have blogged about Mikey Weinstein before, but in light of John McCains ‘official’ presidential candidacy there are a couple of points I’d like to extend..

First. There was the mini-scandal of the Christian Embassy video that came out last December. You remember that?

The Christian Embassy is a Washington based organisation who “provide safe places and practical resources to help national and international leaders working in D.C., their spouses and staffs integrate their faith and their work. [Their text]“

One of the safe places they provide is in the Pentagon and until it got exposed, they had a promotional video on their website displaying nine senior Pentagon officers, in uniform, in the Pentagon, praising the work the ‘Embassy’ has been doing. Uncovered by the MRFF and leaked to the Washington Post. It made a minor kurfuffle in December,

In the video, much of which was filmed inside the Pentagon, four generals and three colonels praise the Christian Embassy, a group that evangelizes among military leaders, politicians and diplomats in Washington. Some of the officers describe their efforts to spread their faith within the military

“I found a wonderful opportunity as a director on the joint staff, as I meet the people that come into my directorate,” Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack J. Catton Jr. says in the video. “And I tell them right up front who Jack Catton is, and I start with the fact that I’m an old-fashioned American, and my first priority is my faith in God, then my family and then country. I share my faith because it describes who I am.” [my emphasis]

After the issue broke, the video was removed from the official CE website but not from those pesky little watchdog organisations. It is a good watch and well worth the ten minutes. (If you have the stomach)

The bit about God, family and country in the quote should worry you. It should be said that the official Oath of Enlistment sworn by all members of the US Armed Forces follows,

“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

That last sentence is optional and is a plea for assistance and not a justification for ignoring the rest as Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack J. Catton Jr. seems to think.

As an aside, I’d also like to point out that the Christian Embassy does not only target the Pentagon but any powermaker in Washington; several congressmen are also featured in the video. One, John Carter, R-TX (who would have guessed), while discussing a ‘fact finding’ trip to Ethiopia is on tape saying “We’re congressmen going over to represent the Lord, and our message is very simple. ‘We are here to tell you about Jesus of Nazareth and what he teaches and we are not here to talk about religion. We’re here to talk about the love and demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ.’ And that’s it.”

This pretty much shows how these people tick. Talking about Jesus isn’t talking about religion. Religion means whether you are Baptist or Catholic; religion is not what you believe as long as there is this J-C guy involved. That’s why they aren’t establishing a religion. Get it?

Anyway. The leak led to a kurfuffle which led to an investigation, which, as far as I can tell, isn’t finished yet. I will keep you up to date if I find anything.The next thing came at the end of March when the Air Force back-pedalled on new guidelines limiting the amount of proselytizing by senior officers. From an editorial in the Washington Post,

Unfortunately, facing a barrage of complaints from evangelical Christian groups and pressure from members of Congress, the Air Force backed down. It has issued a revised set of rules that pose the potential for inappropriate religious pressure on cadets and service members. This pushes the balance in the wrong direction, especially in light of disturbing reports from the Air Force Academy about religious intolerance and inappropriate proselytizing.

One troubling issue in the revised guidelines concerns the ability of superior officers to proselytize or otherwise promote their faith. The original guidelines emphasized that “individuals need to be sensitive to the potential that personal expressions may appear to be official expressions,” adding, “the more senior the individual, the more likely that personal expressions may be perceived to be official statements.”

The new guidelines move away from this common-sense approach and emphasize superior officers’ rights over the dangers of coercion. For example, the guidelines say, “Nothing in this guidance should be understood to limit the substance of voluntary discussions of religion . . . where it is reasonably clear that the discussions are personal, not official, and they can be reasonably free of the potential for, or appearance of, coercion.” But reasonably clear to whom? What looks uncoercive to an officer can look awfully official to a cadet.

The final straw is John McCain’s absolute embrace of the TheoCon position which to some (Ted Haggard perhaps?) seems to involve McCain taking a strong grip on his ankles.

The visible McCain move to the dark side began last year when he agreed to give the much reported commencement address last year at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.

Going from the frying pan into the fire (or perhaps the ejector seat into the cloud), McCain started meeting with the crème de la crème of the religious right including John Hagee. Who is John Hagee? From the BBC

John Hagee is the pastor of the 18,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, and a long-time fervent supporter of Israel.
[...]
His latest book, Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World, interprets the Bible to predict that Russian and Arab armies will invade Israel and be destroyed by God.

This will set up a confrontation over Israel between China and the West, led by the anti-Christ, who will be the head of the European Union, Pastor Hagee writes.

That final battle between East and West – at Armageddon, as the actual Israeli location of Meggido is known in English – will precipitate the second coming of Christ, he concludes.

Then McCain goes on Meet the Press and says things like this

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Iran. You said this to the Financial Times.

“‘Everyone knows we’re not going to have two wars (at once),’ [McCain] said…

“‘I do not think [using force against suspected Iranian nuclear facilities] would be successful. There is no guarantee we would get all those facilities. If you have a strike and leave them with nuclear capability, you have got a hell of a challenge on your hands.’”

SEN. McCAIN: I also said that there’s only one thing worse than using the option of military action, and that is the Iranians acquiring nuclear weapons. And we must, as the president has very correctly stated, not removed the military option from the table. We cannot remove that option.
[…]

MR. RUSSERT: But The Washington Post said it would unleash Iranian agents already here in the United States and bring on terrorist attacks here and worldwide.

SEN. McCAIN: The president of Iran went to the United Nations and announced his dedication to the extinction of the state of Israel. The—they are in clear violation of the NPT, which they were signatories to. This is one of the most dangerous challenges we’ve faced since the end of the Cold War. And put yourself in, in the position of the government of the state of Israel: a near neighbor who has announced his—their desire to put you out, into extinction, and they have the capability to do so. This is one—a very serious challenge. And for us to say under no circumstances will we use the military option would be the height of foolishness in my view. And again, I want to applaud the president’s handling of this issue, keeping our European allies with us.

MR. RUSSERT: So we could have two wars at once?

SEN. McCAIN: I think we could have Armageddon. [My emphasis. Note: further blathering snipped, he has set the context. Israel and Armageddon.]

Lastly there was the McCain “Bomb Iran” um bomb (bomb bomb).

For those not taking notes: we now have an overly evangelized military; an Air Force officially refusing to produce balanced guidelines; John McCain’s religious right pandering; his overtures to evangelicals including hard core Armageddon hopefuls like John Hagee; and finally McCain’s spouting of absolute idiocy on Meet the Press and his public singing engagements.

All this culminates in McCain’s appearance on the Daily Show last night in an attempt to relive past approval and his spinning the occupation of Iraq for what it’s worth. Because if you ‘lose’ Iraq, it gets difficult to start more wars in the Middle East thus Armageddon moves into the slightly more distant future it’s just really, really bad.

So. You choose.

You have an army of Christian soldiers overly evangelized military with people on the Joint Chiefs of Staff claiming allegiance to God first, country third and no mention of the constitution.

You have a candidate for the Republican Party who is also starting to get those pesky little ‘God Calls.’

And on the other hand, you have Clinton, Obama or Edwards.

Which would you prefer?

(Hat Tip: Bruce Wilson aka Troutfishing/dailykos )

One Mind at a Time

I recently watched Morgan Spurlock’s 30 days as a Muslim and realised it would make a great example of how framing works as a cultural tool.

In the standard 30 Days tradition, the episode took a someone out of their normal lives and forced them into a situation they are completely unprepared for. Here Dave Stacy, a Christian from West Virginia is sent to Dearborn, Minnesota where there is a large Muslim community to ‘become’ a Muslim for 30 days. It is not a pretty sight. His conflict and unease are apparent as he slowly overcomes his preconceptions. His frame for what Islam is and what Muslims think and do is difficult to for him to overcome.

It is wonderful to watch Dave’s opinion shift from him asking the question, “Do you guys think that there are – like – any sleeper cell activity around here?” to him being forced to answer the same question. And to finally understand how wrong the question itself really is.

I realised that the link between terrorism and Muslims is an excellent example of framing and re-framing. Not framing in the form of spinning an embarrassment but in the sense of changing cognitive reactions to certain words.

This is also shows how framing needs to be fought with framing. Let’s look for a second at that the connection between a religion and terrorism. A connection, today an almost immediate mental reaction to either word, is a fairly recent creation.

According to the online etymology dictionary,

General sense of “systematic use of terror as a policy” is first recorded in Eng. 1798. Terrorize “coerce or deter by terror” first recorded 1823. Terrorist in the modern sense dates to 1947, especially in reference to Jewish tactics against the British in Palestine — earlier it was used of extremist revolutionaries in Russia (1866); and Jacobins during the French Revolution (1795) — from Fr. terroriste.

Thinking about the evolution of the connection is interesting.

If I had used the word terrorist ten years ago in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombings, while the spectre of Muslim extremism was on the sidelines, many Americans would have thought of intellectually challenged, white supremacists living in a cabin in Montana or on a compound in Texas. (One could even debunk those connections, but I won’t go there today.)

Going back thirty years into the 1970’s there were again two types of terrorists; one secular – socialist, exemplified by the RAF in Germany and the Red Brigade in Italy, and one religious – the religion Christianity, Catholics and Protestants, the battlefield Ireland. (The Palestinian conflict and the PLO might have also come to mind but that was about territory and not religion.)

Going back another 30 years, into the late 1940s, one finds the first use of car bombs in the Middle East, not by Muslim extremists but by Zionist organisations fighting for the creation of Israel.

Another twenty years back and the terrorist threat morphs into a communist plot – connected, tenuously, to the creation of the labor movement.

Finally we arrive at the end of the 19th century. Here the true terrorists aren’t religious but anarchist. Fighting for a social revolution to end government, to end centralised control, elected or otherwise.

All these movements were thought to be terrorist. And all would have been the immediate mental image to the word terrorist for the times described. But times change and the framing changes. The scaffolding, the mental pattern matching superhighways change through reinforcement. The news of bomb after bomb in northern Ireland made the entire emerald isle a suspicious den of religious extremists. Not exactly the image created today when one thinks less of guns and more of Guinness when Ireland is mentioned.

To say the world Russia today may produce many thoughts but communist drone or some variant thereof won’t be one of them.

Frames have changed. The mental scaffolding reformed to produce different pathways. Reframing happens. Slowly, almost without people being aware of it. It happens because enough information reinforces differing imagery.

And notice, during my discussion of terrorism, I didn’t use the word Muslim. I didn’t reenforce the pathway I am trying to break. Ideally one would turn on rant mode when someone makes the connection explain the emotional reactions the word terrorist had created – never mentioning the other side. You don’t reenforce frames by denying them. You connect one thing to something else. Terrorism – lots of things secular and religious. Not terrorism is not muslim. (Big, bad no-no.)

Despite the central imagery of terrorims in the episode, 30 Days is one step towards trying to reframe the right wing stranglehold on the American psyche. Showing how wrong the current cognitive scaffolding in American thought really is.

Both the Muslim episode and a film called After 30 Days as a Muslim with an interview with Morgan Spurlock and Dave Stacy can be found on YouTube.

But this battle can only be fought piece for piece. From an awards ceremony featured after the interview, Spurlock brings the issue to the forefront,

[W]e managed to reignite a debate that, to me, resonates as much in the nation today as it did hundreds of years ago. What does it mean to be an American? In post 9/11 America, we have become a nation divided; a nation divided by race, by religion by belief, and country of origin. A divide that is further perpetuated by biased news gathering and biased news reporting. What this show has managed to accomplish is amazing. By showing the simple actions of honest people we have stirred a dialog that is not rooted in Red state Blue state rhetoric, that is not a soapbox for policy or politics, but is something missing from today’s television landscape, the real voice of American citizens.

Dave Stacy will defend the Islamic faith in the future because his frame of the religion was radically altered. Some of the people who have watched this show will understand that the simplistic model of Islam hammered into the minds of the heartland, might not be as simple as one would like. Others will have shifted slightly.

This minor shift – this one small step – is reframing. Reframing works – one mind at a time.

For God And Country

Memo to all those ‚Islamo-fascists’ out there:

You kept claiming the American invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan were the start of a new Christian crusade? You were right.

According to an official PRESS RELEASE from the Combined Task Force 82 stationed in Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, they just finished their spring revival with the theme “Having faith that pleases God;” the idea apparently taken from Hebrews 11:6 – “… without faith, it is impossible to please God.”)

The PRESS RELEASE finishes with the following uplifting summary,

Today, many churches and religious groups host revival services at the changing of the seasons – spring and fall.

“I enjoyed the services and the message was comforting, especially being away from home under these circumstances,” said Sgt. 1st Class Terrance Williams, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade.

“It is time to take a stand. A stand for faithfulness, a stand for understanding, a stand for guidance, a stand for love, a stand for learning and doing God will,” Thompson said. “No longer is it our will, but allow His will to be done.”

* sigh * And “Islamo-fascists” are the bad guys trying to bring their religion to America?

(Hat Tip and obsequious grovel to Sharon Weinberger/DangerRoom)

A Defense of Faith

I finally got around to reading [Sam] Harris’s End of Faith.

On the one hand, it is an astounding document, a frontal assault on religion and faith. On the other, it is clear that Harris is writing from the heart. (I am sure he would resent my using the phrase ‘with heart and soul’ but it would reflect my opinion.) He seems most concerned that the irrationality of religious beliefs is not only dangerous but the most fearful threat facing mankind today.

He spends half the book with broadside after broadside directed at religion; Christianity and Islam being the primary targets. Judaism is attacked primarily as a precursor to these two and Hinduism is only mentioned in passing. Buddhism as a belief structure is left largely unscathed and Apollo, Zeus and Athena merely dismissed as myths. Wiccans are left unmentioned.

I found this part of the book to be the least balanced. Perhaps I will devote another post to the problems I see in that part of the book, problems which are far too numerous to be listed here. His main attacks seem based on a literal reading of the various holy works. He therefore makes the connection, since the scriptures are not consistent, not only are beliefs based on them irrational, but any idea taken from them dangerous. He seems fascinated by the more graphic portions both of the Bible and the Koran and dedicates page after page to debunking any belief that could use these works as a basis. Fine.

In the second half of the text, Harris looks at the connection between ethics and religion and asks the important question of whether research will be able to find a science of good and evil; a clear delineation between what is right and wrong without discourse to holy books (or constitutions). Further he looks at the connection between spiritually and consciousness arguing that spiritually and mysticism are possible without the fetters of religion. These chapters are designed to show a path out of the horrors of dogma and into a more structured and intellectual understanding of the world.

This part of the book was more balanced and less polemic; he wants to reconstruct the social order torn down by the removal of religion. I found Harris treading well understood ground here, he studies neuroscience. In the acknowledgements, he mentions two chapters on the brain that were cut from the final version of the book. While I think this would have explained both Harris’s impatience with religion and his hope for the future, they were probably too complicated and erudite for the audience Harris reached otherwise.

As a bridge between the attack and the reconstruction, Harris shows two of examples of how dangerous religions can become – the Inquisition and the Christian origins of anti-Semitism as a precursor to the Holocaust. I think both of these examples show Harris’s distortion of truth and use of polemic to make marginal or invalid points.

He describes the Inquisition as an example of the tortures used to extract confessions from innocent, religious prisoners while leaving out the fact that similar methods were used to extract information from secular prisoners as well. The idea that pain and suffering might induce people to give incorrect or misleading information wasn’t religious doctrine but common knowledge at the time. Trial by fire was not merely a platitude in the middle ages. The only thing particularly spectacular about the Inquisition was its targeting of a relatively peaceful and prosperous segment of the population. And note, the emphasis is on prosperous. Most pogroms were carried out for financial and not purely religious reasons.

Harris’s explanation that Nazi anti-Semitism was rooted in Christian faith is as true as it is trivial. The Nazi’s were chasing a mythical racial purity that had nothing to do with faith as such. Indeed one of the principal goals of the Nazi’s was to replace existing religions with a new (or as they pretended – old) religion. This wasn’t out of any dogmatic belief but because the Nazis knew the power of using that from of emotion. The racial discrimination that has been and is being carried out in the United States is arguably not of religious nature. The concentration camps set up in Colorado during the Second World War had little to do with Christianity but a lot to do with race. While the group selected by the Nazis was based on age old religious predudices, the problem wasn’t the religion but the predjudice.

Harris might be described as a neocon to religion looking for dogmatic WMDs wherever they might be found and disregarding any evidence to the contrary.

The neocons were certain Sadaam and Iraq presented a threat and played up every possible hint of danger while passing over any evidence that it might not be so. While getting Sadaam out of power might have been a good idea, the neocon ‘strategy’ was focused on the destruction of a dangerous regime and on the democracy that would bloom in its place. The fuzzy part was the path from dictatorship to democracy and it is that fuzziness that is what is ending life after life in the Fertile Crescent today.

Harris makes a similar mistake. While he points to a proud new world, a world of science of ethics and an understanding of how and where feelings of spirituality can be nurtured and supported, he makes no concession to reality. Not only does he not tell us how to achieve these goals; it is unclear whether there is a ‘there’ there. In a sense Harris sees religion as a kind of social WMD. Extremists driven by frenzy of religion will seek not metaphorical WMD’s but real ones and the world will be destroyed. I would argue that lacking religion, any of the other traditional excuses – race, nationality, etc. – will be used to foment hate and dissent.

The book makes a startling and excellent case for the danger the world is in today. Wherever peoples with differing religions come into conflict, the religion will be used to magnify and define the suffering. But if the only option is to condemn all religious thought, to ‘outlaw’ beliefs and myths, then we are doomed and no book can save us; not Harris’s, not the Bible, not the Vedas, not the writings of Confucius – none. We are doomed.

We live in a world where we are permanently bombarded with the message that, we should be satisfied with our lives (but are not) and that dissatisfaction is a condition to be combated, something to be exercised – preferably through conspicuous consumption and greed. The feeling that dissatisfaction is ‘curable’ leaves the human mind open for anything that offers relief. There are those few blessed with the ability to fill that void with intellectual pursuits: Eugenie Scott, PZ Meyers and Richard Dawkins to name a few. There are others less fortunate who use alcohol and other substances to deaden the ache. But nature does indeed abhor a vacuum, and religion and belief are used by many to fill the gap.

If Harris does not offer a substitute for belief, his attempts at dismantling organised faith, if successful, would leave a chaos making Baghdad look like a children’s party.

There is no doubt that spirituality and belief are experiencing a renaissance in the world today. Not only are religions growing, but belief in New Age silliness like Integral thought and Therapeutic Touch are increasingly trusted despite the rational arguments of scientists.

I would argue the true danger to the world is not religion per say but the use of extremism in any form. To portray religion as the driving factor in all the world’s woes and conflicts, either implicitly or explicitly, is mendacious. Dogma did not drive Napoleon to Waterloo; the American Civil War was not a conflict driven by faith; neither WWI nor WWII were set in motion by theological discourse; the Soviet purges and the McCarthy show trials were not done for God.

For me, someone who is firmly in the strong agnostic camp (not only do we not know whether God exists, I feel the question is unanswerable as such), I would have to say I found Harris’s book reprehensible

I found his descriptions of religion to be cartoonish and his use of exaggeration, polemic, and a combination of truth and well spun opinions presented as truth distasteful. Harris discounts all theological activities performed in the last 300 years. He carefully mixes generalisations about the beliefs held by splinter groups with the larger group of moderates.

His rhetoric is often flawless, attacked on any specific point he can truthfully explain that no, go back and read that passage exactly – any resemblance to what you understood and what he wrote is solely the responsibility of the reader. I felt I was reading denialist literature of the highest calibre.

But I did have a personal revelation while reading Harris’s book – don’t take a break and watch cable news. During a report about the latest Iranian/UN tug of war, the CNN announcer pointed out that Iran claims that all its nuclear efforts are peaceful. Then, in a tone dripping in irony, he pointed out that Iran also “claims that CNN is simply a propaganda arm of the American government.” I found myself yelling at the screen “But you are an American propaganda tool!” Harris’s book and tolerance do not mix.

I believe the CNN announcer would have as little use for my comment as Harris will for the rest of my comments. But both are only beliefs. And I will hold faithfully to them.

Sharia Court

Imagine your husband beats you. Imagine you have had enough and file for divorce. Imagine requesting an expedited divorce because your husband has made death threats. Imagine the judge turning down your petition, not because the secular law isn’t clear – but because the Koran allows husbands to beat their wives.

Sad case right?

A case from the Sudan, Iran, Afghanistan? No. Germany. According to Spiegel Online [German],

The case sounds too bizarre to be true: a 26-year old mother with two young children wanted to free herself from the captivity of her [abusive] marriage. After a physical altercation in May 2006 in their joint apartment, even the police had determined that her husband, who comes from Morocco like she does, was abusive. The husband had to leave – but the terror continued. After separation her still-husband threatened to kill the young mother.

An expedited divorce seemed the only escape – the twenty six year old didn’t want to wait through the legally required one year separation. She hoped that as soon as she wasn’t married, her husband would stop harassing her. Together with her attorney, Barbara Becker-Rojczyk, they filed a motion for expedited divorce proceedings with the Frankfurt district court in October last year. That the violence and death threats presented a hardship case, the only foundation for an expedited divorce, seemed clear to the attorney and client.

But then came a letter from the judge assigned to the case. And with the letter the scandal was perfect: using a reference to the Koran, the judge rejected the divorce motion. “The use of corporal punishment is not unacceptable cruelty under paragraph 1565 of the BGB [the appropriate civil code],” was to be read in the letter from the judge. One needs to bear in mind that both partners come from the Moroccan culture. [my translation, my emphasis]

Basically, since the Koran allows men to beat their wives, women should accept this as a part of marriage. At least if the woman is Muslim and comes from Morocco.

The passage being used here is from Sura 4:34 which has been translated to English as follows.

Husbands should take full care of their wives, with [the bounties] God has given to some more than others and with what they spend out of their own money. Righteous wives are devout and guard what God would have them guard in the husbands’ absence. If you fear high-handedness from your wives, remind them [of the teaching of God], then ignore them when you go to bed, then hit them. If they obey you, you have no right to act against them. God is most high and great. [Oxford University Press (2004)].

While this seems pretty clear to me (and hey – what do I know?), there seem to be other translations and interpretations. It’s religion after all. You have to interpret everything. It seems people have determined that you don’t have to beat them. (It’s probably only optional.)

This doesn’t mean that the judge is being excused from a little verbal ‘beating’ herself. (Yes, it’s a she-judge.) For some reason, people don’t seem to think this judgement was a terribly good idea. The judge recused herself (or was recused) on Wednesday after this case became public. The case will be re-examined and it can only be hoped that 26 year old woman will have a more settled future.

The future of the judge might not be that clear. Politicians are already very grumpy over this issue. (Of course the politicians are already under fire for not doing more to stop and prevent forced or arranged marriages in Germany but that’s a different story.) But getting rid of German judges is not an easy thing to do.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the courts.

One only hopes it’s not a Sharia Court: Germany.

Not Secular Humanist = Depression?

OK. I admit it. I think online quizzes are a bit of meme silliness. (Obsequious grovel to Richard Dawkins)

This one was kind of cool. The Belief-O-Matic™ over at BeliefNet. (And if you are wondering what I was doing there. I was reading this ‘conversation‘ between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan trying to answer the question “Is Religion ‘Built Upon Lies’?”)

Anyway before ‘I show you mine,’ I would like to share the warning label even though suing after the fact and after the life is a real bitch. (Where do you find the lawyers? What? Oh yeah. Right. I forgot.)

Warning: Belief-O-Matic™ assumes no legal liability for the ultimate fate of your soul.

And my beliefs are most closely aligned with…

1. Unitarian Universalism (100%)
2. Liberal Quakers (99%)
3. Secular Humanism (97%)
4. Neo-Pagan (96%)
5. Taoism (89%)
6. Nontheist (82%)
7. Theravada Buddhism (79%)
8. Orthodox Quaker (77%)
9. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (76%)
10. New Age (73%)
11. Mahayana Buddhism (70%)
12. Sikhism (70%)
13. Bah�’� Faith (68%)
14. Jainism (63%)
15. Reform Judaism (60%)
16. Scientology (54%)
17. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (50%)
18. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (50%)
19. Hinduism (48%)
20. New Thought (48%)
21. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (43%)
22. Seventh Day Adventist (43%)
23. Eastern Orthodox (36%)
24. Islam (36%)
25. Orthodox Judaism (36%)
26. Roman Catholic (36%)
27. Jehovah’s Witness (10%)

I hang my head in same. I am not a pure secular humanist.

Oh for shame. For shame.

Galactic Tsunami

Well. Since we are obviously doomed today, just thought I’d say. It’s been nice.

On the other hand, I suspect we’ll be reading each other on Monday. So could someone please give me somewhere to sort this rather bizarre video about the “Scientific Verification of Vedic Knowledge.”

This sounds like someone who has had way too many Quaaludes and is making a case for the a literal reading of the Vedas. Actually he seems to be pointing out that ancient India was like way ahead of our science. Oh. And they had nuclear weapons. So here’s my WTF?!!!!

Is fundamentalist Vedic thinking an issue? Do we need a literal reading of the Vedics. Does this mean they will stop teaching evolution in India now?

So. I hope to get better informed by Monday.

Or we’ll all be dead – killed by the Galactic Tsunami . So whatever.

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