Need

June 18, 2018 Leave a comment

So I got a bit of facebook scolding the other day, and it wasn’t about politics or anything like that. It also wasn’t from some fundamentalist religious person telling me I was going to Hell. It was in reference to this article here.

My take on the article was that no, none of this is right, and we shouldn’t be advocating the belief in long discredited pseudo-sciences just because we want to fill in the hole that not having a religion offers. Now I conceded one point in a response comment that said, basically, what bothers me is not the person who lays down on a mat with a crystal on their head to relax. My problem are the people that push it for healing purposes. I say the same thing to my skepticism class, if you go to acupuncture because it gives you a half hour in which no one bothers you–just make sure the person is wearing gloves and everything is sanitized–but if you’re going to get a cure for anything other than being stressed see a fucking doctor.

However, on further reflection I began to wonder why the author of the opinion piece felt the need to write it at all. The author admits that these kinds of practices have been around for a long time, however she conflates terms: “New Age” hasn’t been around for that long, but astrology is older than any civilization that currently stands. However, that’s my pedantry talking what really got me thinking was the following observation, “The meteoric rise of New Age practices may be trendy, but it’s one way millennials are acknowledging that the current system isn’t working. We’re trying out new things that are actually old things; we’re seeing what else could make life a little more meaningful, a little more bearable.

I’m not a millennial–I missed that boat by only a few years. However the thought that current system isn’t working is something I understand completely. The concept of religion being the only source of any kind of spiritual life is disappearing at a rate much faster than anyone could have anticipated. However, I the need for something like that is where I get confused. I have been told my entire life that religion provides three things that you can’t get anywhere else: structure, morals, and a greater connection to the spiritual. The first one I never understood, what structure? If it’s the going to a service once a week, you can get that from a myriad of other sources. The second one, I’ve burned a lot of pixels and lectures arguing against that false promise. The third one though is harder to argue against, but not for the reason that it’s true–rather because the need isn’t real.

My biggest problem with the claim is that I don’t know what the crave is, and not because I’m some ultra-rationalist that needs a logical proof of everything before I’m willing to even accept the existence of the concept. Rather, I don’t know what it is that people think they are missing. When people tell me that they feel sorry for me because I don’t believe in ghosts, I don’t get it (this is separate, but not necessarily so, from the same that pity me because of my atheism) because the usual justification is that I don’t feel that there’s anything more here than the physical realm.

But, why does there need to be? The Cosmos is a pretty interesting place, much more interesting than most people give it credit for. I get the appeal of physical crystals, they’re solid but you can see through them and their color is actually a bug not a feature. That’s pretty amazing in itself, and it doesn’t take an advanced degree in physics or chemistry to just grasp that concept.

I think this is a subtle insidious desire that religion has implanted in us. It’s worse than all of the others because we don’t actually know it’s there. We can look at religion and disabuse ourselves of the notion that we need it for morality, we know we don’t need it for information on the natural world, we can get a sense of community from other sources. However, the implanted notion that there needs to be something more comes from the underpinning of all religion: that life in the physical world is somehow deficient or that we are flawed for the mere fact that we are alive.

Where else could the need come from? We all have the desire to make some kind of lasting impact in the world and to be important to the people around us, but this need for a ‘spiritual connection’ goes beyond the physical. If it weren’t for the indoctrination that there is something “more” than this physical world, would we naturally come up with this desire that the columnist wants to fill with Mercury in retrograde or jade chakra eggs?

I stand by my immediate comment though: whatever works for the individual person is fine, I’m not going to criticize only inquire. If sitting in a lotus position while contemplating “mu” makes you happy, hell, you don’t need the permission of an anonymous blogger. What bothers me is that people think their lives are unfulfilled because they aren’t delving into the quasi-religious pseudo-scientific world to fill a hole that religion used to have the monopoly on filling. As corny as it will sound, meaning in life is what we make of it. The thought that there needs to be something more is usually accompanied by someone who is trying to sell that thing or, at the very least, trying to justify the thing they bought to fill it.

Contrary to what the columnist closes her article with, we do actually know a lot about a lot. While there’s a great deal that we know nothing of, we should at least rest assured that we can make ourselves apart of a greater thing without having to check our signs.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Taboo

June 12, 2018 2 comments

The real difficulty in writing a weekly blog about atheism is that it is hard to come up with interesting takes on topics that have been done to death. I listen to several atheist podcasts who are all better at making the applicable news interesting and worth reading. I’m not fishing for compliments, I have a small reader base but enough of one that I am satisfied that this is worth doing. Also, I need to be in the habit of writing about a thousand words a day and this is good for getting Monday’s obligation out of the way. It also has the advantage of not being academic so it’s a bit easier.

What can I say about the “cake shop decision” that hasn’t already been said? It’s narrow but not narrow enough, of course it’s unfair because we all know that if I ran a cake shop and refused to sell a wedding cake to a Christian couple the decision wouldn’t have gone the way that it did (further: what the hell was Kennedy writing? The law was to mean to religion? You can’t be mean to a concept).

So the option here is to look for the odd and then I found a wonderful little story on the Friendly Atheist blog at patheos. The story concerns a game show I had no idea ever existed hosted by comedian Jeff Foxworthy, who I used to find funny but haven’t listened to his standup in over a decade…not for any particular reason either, it just hasn’t happened. The game show was called “The American Bible Challenge” and it was trivia game about the Bible.

I’ve railed against this book in the past, as recently as a month ago, but this is a clever idea for a gameshow. While I’ve railed against the book I do think that everyone, especially in the United States, should know it. But here’s where I differ from the usual Christian politician/preacher/”real true Christian”: I think people should know all of it. People in the US know the Bible like they know American Presidents, they can probably list the first three and the last four or five (depending on their age) but ask them about Andrew Johnson and they shrug their shoulders trying to figure out if you named a president or just some random guy. The same with the Bible. Look, I went through 13 years of Catholic school and my elementary school bible education was Garden of Eden, Noah, Moses, Saul (sort of), David, Solomon, Sampson, Jesus. That’s about it. That’s what most people know, most people think of when they hear about the Bible but there’s so much more to the OT that would work for a game show. As David Ellis Dickerson puts it in the video embedded in the article above, “It’s like an incest, concubines, genocide drinking game.”

I would ask on the show, “Who did God command the Israelites to kill every last one of them including the infants and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass”?

It’s kind of a trick question because that happens more than once, but the literal command here is for the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15). What? It’s in the inerrant, 100% moral word of god, so what’s off limits here?

Dickerson says that the producers of the show first trashed what he called the “who cares” questions. These are the questions probably relating to the genealogy books, the books of the laws, and probably Numbers…though Numbers has the talking Donkey in it so that’s definitely a question people should care about (Numbers 22: 28-30: note that this isn’t God talking through the Donkey it’s the Donkey talking). The second thing they mandated for the questions is that they be family friendly, why? So they could avoid getting angry letters from Christian conservatives that they had “exposed their children to the Bible.”

No concubines, no genocide, no incest; in other words nothing any of the OT main characters indulged in whatsoever.

Podcaster Eli Boznik of the Puzzle in a Thunderstorm network(?), made an observation on the show God Awful Movies (I forget what episode) that there’s two responses to the question “have you read the bible, all of it?” the first is a groan and the second is elation. The latter person is lying to you. It’s a complete slog, it doesn’t make sense, and there’s no way that someone could read that entire book coming away with what modern Christianity looks like. There’s too many laws about the very boringest of minutiae. At least Greek mythology can weave a coherent narrative through one thousand pages.

The real kicker is that the producers of the show knew that the audience didn’t want that book. They wanted the package deal that was taught to me in elementary school. The history of Catholicism was like that as well, other than the Pope commissioning the Sistine Chapel I don’t think we covered anything from the Renaissance. Why would we? That history just shows that the entire organization is not a religious one but a political one.

Which circles us back to the Cake shop. See the anti-gay thing is convenient for the people that own the shop because it’s part of the package deal that already fits their world view. They don’t like homosexuals so their going to cry a religious freedom thing but they aren’t applying the other laws. God may be against homosexuality in Leviticus but he’s also against taking trees inside your house and decorating them with gold and silver (Jeremiah 10:3-4). Somehow I doubt that the cake shop in question is not going to have a Christmas tree during the holiday season. In one way I respect the fundamentalists who abide by all of the laws and rules, but it’s hard to respect them for two reasons: a) the book they are basing their beliefs on is very bad in every respect and b) those people don’t actually exist.

By A Preponderance…who cares we still aren’t done.

June 4, 2018 Leave a comment

It’s been a few months since I’ve tackled this book, and the reasoning is varied. First, a couple of things happened on the days I’ve designated for doing this. Nothing serious but literally any excuse to not have to read this thing. Secondly, school ended and I had a lot of grading to get done, that pays me money and reading this book somehow feels like it costs money even though it doesn’t. We left off with his argument against naturalism which wasn’t well written but he almost gets naturalism right which is a high point for accuracy. Now, we enter the chapter titled: “The Bible: Truth of Fiction.”

A chapter on the literal truth of the bible, great this ought to be terrible. I’ve read the Bible, the whole thing, and its brutal. In every way that description can be applied. The second paragraph of this chapter is worth probably an entire series of its own, so we’re going to have a short section to pull from but let us power through.

“It was a book written over the span of 1100bc to approximately 100AD by about 40 different authors.”–I could quibble here on times and authors, but I’ll save that for later.

“Somehow, throughout all that, it maintains a unity of themes and a consistency of purpose.” No it does not. I’ll take one theme in that book, any theme and it will be loudly contradicted by the rest of it. Even the most generic theme of “god cares about us” is contradicted by the book of Ecclesiastes. “God is love” is contradicted by the first five books, “Jesus cares about all of us” is contradicted by the conditions that are put on that. The purpose of the book? I guess you could say that this is consistent, if you could tell me what the purpose of the book is. If the purpose is to communicate the beliefs of a particular religion, well that’s straight up question begging isn’t it. It would be like saying that the manual that came with Civilization V is remarkably consistent in its ability to tell me how to play the game. Otherwise, again, I ask: what’s the purpose of the book?

With a sharp left turn our author then describes that the historians and archaeologists have not been able to contradict the people and places in the bible, that scientific inquiries have not done so either. To this I ask, is there a stronger word than “lie?” Literally none of these claims are remotely true. Historians have failed to find any solid evidence for King David, all of it is disputed. We know that the massacre of babies by Herod “the Great” didn’t happen either as no other historian records the event, and importantly not even in the other three gospels is it recorded. The census given by Augustus, did happen, but it did not require the lengths that Joseph and family had to go to in order to fulfill it. Archaeologically the bible is even worse, because no one, in conflict with our author, has been able to ascertain the existence of Sodom. Archaeologists have also failed to find any evidence of the mass exodus of Moses and company. To be clear, none of this evidence states that the events or people did not exist only that the claim that they are proven by academics is false.

I’m going to skip the part about the Bible’s accuracy on the functioning of the natural world, because that’s as wrong as the Bible is about the natural world.

“The Bible has that record of fulfilled prophecy on which to stand.”

Claims like this are how you know that the person speaking has never done anything more than a superficial glance at the Bible. Sure they might have covered all the pages but they haven’t read it. Here’s the problem: first off the prophecy argument is circular. The Harry Potter series is prophetic in that the author makes certain predictions that come true at the end of the book: that’s the first problem. The second is that the prophecies in the Bible are non-specific to the extreme. When they are specific, the context reading of the prophecy will exclude the final event from actually being a fulfillment. Then there are the prophecies that are completely wrong.

For vague, we need only look at the entire book of Revelations. This book is so full of metaphor that hundreds of interpretations exist today which are trying to shoehorn the meanings of the non-sensical fever dream of John. For example, during the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, some viewed that as the star “Wormwood” which falls to the sea in Rev 8:10-11. I mean, sure whatever, but the end of the world didn’t happen. The vagueness also applies to what I mentioned last week with the phrase “King of Kings” referring to Cyrus of Persia and not some future messiah as Cyrus did free people from Babylon while Jesus failed to free the Jews from Rome.

Context: Isaiah 7: 14 is THE prophecy which is alleged to foretell the coming of Jesus. That only makes sense if you don’t read the rest of the Isaiah 7. The story here is that there’s this war between some asshole named Ahaz and the kingdom of Jerusalem. It’s a civil war kind of thing, and all very confusing and super boring. However the point is that Isaiah tells the king to ask god for a sign. The king refuses saying that he won’t tempt the Lord, but then Isaiah says, well fine, if there’s a virgin who conceives you’ll acknowledge the rightful owner of the land…then, boom, does the acknowledgement because they found one. (Isaiah 7: 1-25) There’s the linguistic point of “virgin” being a mistranslation of “young woman” so even the miracle here is doubtful.

Incorrect: Sticking with Isaiah, and not going along the list of incorrect prophecies because they far out number the other two problems, God predicts that Babylon will never be occupied again (Isaiah 13:19-20), that’s not even true for Isaiah’s time.

Again, I could go on for a long time picking apart these prophecies but that’s not the point. The point is that by the author’s own rules the Bible is inaccurate. It contradicts itself on history, science, and prophecy if one just reads the book and takes notes. The devastating problem is that the author isn’t looking at the book trying to prove anything, he’s already made his conclusion and then figures that no one is going to double check the claims. Next month, (I hope, I’m moving but I should be able to find a few hours to write this) well get into some of the more specific examples that he gives.

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Conflict

May 29, 2018 Leave a comment

This will be, perhaps the last time that I mention the JWs and their weekly visits to my house. The first reason is that I’m moving and I doubt they’ll follow us wherever we may end up (it’s further complicated by the fact that I don’t exactly know where I’ll be living). The second is the situation that I will know describe.

We had some people over last week. During dinner, through the blinds I could see people in our driveway. Now, my street is rather isolated. It’s primarily used to bypass the main boulevard with its high density traffic and frequent traffic lights, so when a person is in the driveway it’s rather noticeable for the scarcity of the event. However I could see who they were and I laughed telling my wife, “Your friends are here.”

She looked at me confused and I explained that it was the older JW couple that were about to ring the doorbell. One of the guests looked confused and then became all panicky. I should note that this was not unexpected, a conversation ensued about the JW church when they had found the astrology pamphlet from a week ago. However the person got up, mouth still full of food, ran to the door and shouted at them something along the line of “we don’t ever want to talk to you.”

The older man, whose name I will never be able to remember, said, “Ok, thank you have a nice evening.”

I want to note an important detail, this was close to 7pm. The JWs, whom I am in the awkward position of defending, were not coming during our normal dinner time. The guest then sat down and asked us if “we could believe they did that.”

I for my part, was aghast. I’m obviously an atheist and I think their religion is a bit more kooky than others, but that’s only in practice not belief. Their beliefs are just as kooky as every other religion. However, there’s a weird PR thing that my mind raced through. Those two JWs and the younger person (apprentice?) that sometimes comes along with them know who I am and they know that I am an atheist. Atheism, has a bad reputation amongst the general religious as well as the more insular groups like the JWs. My problem is that they don’t know who this person is, so they will probably assume in their heads that they were like me because they fit the stereotype of angry-atheist that is predominant based on a few public figures. This was not the case at all. The confronter is a Catholic believer, but is largely non-practicing.

To be fair, it wasn’t a competition thing. The person was just annoyed that a group of people were knocking on the door, but once it was found out, they remarked, “I want to claw their faces off.”

Why? Why does it matter? I’m far enough along in disbelief to take the proselytizations in relative stride. I know that no angry conversation is going to convert them away from being a Witness. I’m also aware that as misguided as it is, they do think they are doing the right thing. Their intentions are not bad, they want to convert people to what they see is the right path toward the thing they regard as a savior. It’s the same with the people who hand out tracts on the sidewalk, and the same with the ones that protest outside of hockey games (though I really don’t understand the choice of venue for that one since I never see them outside other sporting events). Sure, I’ll argue with them if they get in my face about it, but in general I just take their pamphlets–usually for blog topics–and move on.

Let me absolutely clear, I wish they didn’t exist. I wish none of it existed and we could move past these types of superstitions. However, those two are always polite and nice to me despite the fact that we both know how much we fundamentally disagree with other’s world view. I found the cognitive dissonance in their last pamphlet as hilarious as I think they assume that my willful blindness to the truth is bad for my soul. I think the fact that they’ve basically ignored my existence in the last six months and instead are focusing their conversion efforts on my wife to be as creepy as they probably assume that I’m raising two atheists to be immoral.

Nevertheless, the fight against religion isn’t won with facts. If it were, it would be over. I mentioned this last week, it’s really about planting a seed of inquiry. If you’re going to say that ancient prophecy is wrong because it’s ancient ala astrology, then you can’t turn around and use the Bible as an example of prophecy (in either case that’s a reverse argument from antiquity fallacy, ancient prophecies are wrong because they don’t become true not because they are ancient). The second fork to the attack is to get people who have an ingrained stereotype of non-believers to realize that we aren’t monsters. The only confrontations I’ve had with them is when I displayed a wealth of knowledge regarding not only Christianity in general but their religion in particular. That’s why they stopped talking to me about it. With a stranger confronting them angrily they can now retreat back to believing that the stereotype is true but that for some reason I was holding back for the last year or so. That causes more damage than anything else.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Prophecy

May 21, 2018 Leave a comment

For the last few years I’ve been regaling you with the stories of the Jehova’s Witnesses that come to my door. Each time they’ve dropped off a copy of their magazine, “The Watchtower” which I usually flip through and then drop in the recycling bin. It’s full of the usual stuff: a non-controversial opinion on some topic, a lead in bible quote, then lots more bible quotes, and then it goes full JW at the end with some contact information. It is, I have learned, not the full “Watchtower” but the Miller-Lite version designed not to offend or truly engage but to give just a tasted of what could be.

This month’s visit was accompanied by a dropping off of a magazine that talked about prophecy and boy was I in. Instead of walking casually to the recycling bin with the express intention of throwing it in their, I grabbed a coffee and sat down. I was not disappointed.

First off, the JWs, reject Astrology. First, that’s rather obvious; but second, I agree, so that’s nice we have some shared common ground. Their reasoning though, was not what I expected…it was rather logical and reasonable. This confused me. I just thought they would begin quoting a series of bible verses about divination and astrology (Deut 18: 10-12) but instead they offered  nuggets like this, “The planets and stars emit no force that could affect humans the way astrologers say they do.”

I really wanted to nit pick, but I can’t. That’s one hundred percent accurate. Sure gravity is emitted but not at any noticeable effect. Desperately wanting something to criticize I moved on to the second piece of advice, “Often predictions are so general they could apply to anyone.”

What the shit Jay Dub (JW), have you been reading Carl Sagan lately? This is the horoscope prediction issue. Alright surely number 3 has something silly in it, “Astrological calculations today are made according to the ancient belief that the planets revolve around the Earth. In fact, the planets revolve around the sun.”

Finally I get something. See the Bible doesn’t know the planets revolve around the sun, I would dispute that the bible even knows the shape of the Earth. Still, the JWs aren’t Bible literalists anymore than Catholics are so it’s hard to make a criticism based on the Bible here. In either case, their attack on astrology holds up again though one could be pedantic enough to say that this is poisoning the well, or a genetic fallacy; that would be a stretch given that while our scientific knowledge of the stars and planets has changed Astrology has not.

“Predictions made for the same individual by different astrologers don’t match.” Another home run for the JW crowd. This applies to a great many pseudo-sciences feng shui, touch therapy (and it’s related psychic medicines), if it was legit it should be consistent. The bar where I host a Drinking Skeptically group has a book called “the Astrology of Birthdays” and every person born on a particular day should have the same qualities but that doesn’t bear out.

The final piece of advice declares that because the Zodiac signs were set up in ancient times, and the stars have shifted positions since that time, today’s Zodiac signs bear no relation to their ancient counterparts but the signs still cover the same spread of time. So I’m an Aquarius (it’s an Earth Sign even though it means literally “the Water Bearer”) , which is covered from Mid January to Mid February originally, but not really because those months didn’t exist back then. According to the International Planetary Society I’m not an Aquarius, the sky has shifted and Aquarius covers February 16th- March 11th. Which means I’m actually a Capricorn and my youngest daughter is now an Aquarius instead of whatever the hell she was before.

Vague, incorrect science, bad foundation based on an ancient source that knew nothing of the natural world. These are all very good criticisms of Astrology from the Jehova’s Witnesses…but then there’s the cognitive dissonance. See, they quote the Bible to criticize Astrology using the Deuteronomy passage from before but then a curious one from Joshua, “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

This passage proves that God has given us free will to choose. Or something, I don’t think it says that at all, but that’s their claim. Fine, let’s roll with it. If the lord has given us freedom of choice then it’s another nail in the coffin of astrology. What is really confusing is that the magazine closes with an example of Biblical prophecy coming true, meaning that this whole free will thing is now in doubt.

In class, I often describe the problem of omniscience versus free will. However, this isn’t a general omniscience problem, this is specific to individuals with regard to a specific future event. Isaiah 44: 24, 27-28 and 45:1, speak of Cyrus conquering the Babylon (source of the Zodiac) and freeing the Jews. Cyrus, called “the Great.” The Persian/Medeian/Achmaneid Empire was the greatest in the ancient world until the rise of Hellenic empire under Alexander. The Greeks called him “law-giver” the ancient Jews called him “The Anointed One” or “Messiah.” All biblical references to a figure known as the “king of kings” are references to Cyrus the Great of Persia (modern day Iran). Why? Because Cyrus conquered Babylon and freed the ancient Israelites from captivity…only to make sure that they know lived underneath the yoke of the “King of the Four Corners of the World.” Though it is important to note that life under the Persian empire was much better as they didn’t care who you worshipped or what, as long as your tax money and loyalty went to the Great King of Kings.

The magazine says that Isaiah wrote his lines 200 hundred years before Cyrus was born. I don’t know where they get this, modern biblical scholarship places the writing of Isaiah in two periods. The first being at the beginning of the captivity while the second being toward the end (e.g. when Cyrus was already on his military campaign and heading for the inevitable destination of Babylon). It’s also noteworthy that the prediction does not come true, Babylon isn’t destroyed by the Persian military and the river is diverted not dried up (according to Herodotus).

Still, it is strange that the magazine would end a rather good, but succinct criticism of astrology with a prophecy that doesn’t add up factually. They should rather have picked something that isn’t so easily historically verifiable, like the resurrection.

The Grading Woes

May 15, 2018 Leave a comment

No post last week, as I was up to my eyeballs in grading papers…well figuratively of course, because they are almost all digital submissions. I graded until I realized that I wasn’t reading the papers anymore, then put everything aside until the next day.

Grading is the worst part of my job, until I get a TA in which case it becomes their worst part of my job. Given that I’m an adjunct, it’s unlikely to happen that I will get a TA, so I just had to plow through it. Perhaps I don’t understand the rationale behind the scheduling, but it seems to be a disservice to the students to have the last week of exams end with the date grades are due. In the case of my Conspiracy course, the papers were due on Wednesday with the final grades due by the afternoon on Friday. This means that I have to peruse (look up that word it doesn’t mean browse), 24k words by the time the grades are due in roughly a day and a half.

This however is an atheist blog and not a complain-about-being-an-adjunct blog. So I’ll merge the two and talk about the two toughest papers to grade: the overly religious paper, and the overly atheist paper. I received one of each this time.

Both papers test my objectivity in ways that I don’t want to be tested. Mainly because of the worry that I might fail the test and then overcompensate in the other direction. Which then sends me into a spiral of self-doubt until I need a drink and a day to look at them again. The latter is actually easier to deal with because I don’t feel the lingering guilt for trashing a paper that should be better. Intro to Philosophy atheist papers are almost always bad.* They reek of “rookie atheist,” which I can sympathize with. What that means is that the student latches on to a simple argument, Epicurean dilemma, and then tries to stretch that four sentence paragraph into one argument. Which, ok, you can do it but it’s difficult to do competently. Sure you might be able to trip up uncle Frank at the dinner table during Summer break until he stumbles upon the phrase “free will” but any theist who has read a book other than the bible, is going to have a quick and devastating answer to the mindless parroting. The stereotype of people like me is that I will give a better grade to someone that agrees with me–but that couldn’t be further from the truth. If you and I have the same belief, I’m going to know everything about that argument that you don’t. It’s much harder for me to hold back while reminding myself that “this is only intro” before I grade it as such.

The overly religious paper is just as difficult but from the opposite angle. The problem isn’t that I’m overly familiar with those arguments (though I am), it’s that I know where the objections lie and the papers that don’t at least address those are going to have an uphill battle. However, it’s rare that I get an argument for the existence of god final paper. Not sure why this is the case, I have course evaluations where students think that I flaunt my Christianity too much (seriously, I have a friend who is a serious Catholic and was accused of being too atheist as well). This time around I received a paper that wanted to argue the value of libertarian free speech from a Biblical justification.

Now I wanted to fail the paper outright given that the Bible is pretty anti-free speech. Four of the commandments are literally about not being allowed to say something. The paper was all over the place and was a fail. However, the student luckily (well it wasn’t luck she was just doing a good job) turned it in as a draft. Now a draft can be ridiculed, beheaded, and quartered. In fact, it should be, because the student is asking me, “make me a better student.” Again, though the comments I wanted to write were not the ones that I could write.

The problem that I ran into was in crossing out paragraphs in her submission was whether I was doing so because I know she’s wrong, or because my perspective is against hers. In this case I was on solid ground but it’s a difficult line to walk. Eventually, I had to tease out her other argument (another problem with the paper was that it had two at the same time: one being the weird biblical one while the other was a much better, though still flawed, natural law argument) while slashing out the Bible stuff. She was able to preserve a religious based argument, which I still disagree with, but able to formulate the Natural Law position to support free speech which is a much better argument to stand on.

In the end that student earned an A because she thankfully turned in a draft ahead of time. The other student earned a C, which could have been easily fixed with the same behavior. As well as a paper that could have addressed the free will “solution” to the Epicurean paradox, and turned into a much better and as robust as a five page paper in an intro to Phil class would allow. In both cases it’s much harder to grade those simply because my reason becomes subservient to my passion for the subject. Which is ironic because that’s one thing that my students typically commend me for.

 

*By far the worst papers are “legalize weed” papers. They have no argumentation, are terribly written, have bad sources, and are written with what I call “pot logic.” The worst part is that I want to agree with them, but they never make a solid case.

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This is Why

April 30, 2018 Leave a comment

There’s a quick rebuttal to those that claim that the United States was founded as a Christian country. No, it doesn’t have to do with citing two centuries of court decisions, we don’t have to cite the famous letter of Thomas Jefferson where he explicitly says wall of separation, and no we don’t need to get into the unanimously ratified Treaty of Tripoli where John Adams makes it very clear that the United States is not a Christian country. None of that is necessary to shut down the argument, all you have to do is respond with a simple question: “Which Christianity?”

This will force the arguer to the realization that the idea of a “Christian” defined as someone who believes in Jesus, is a new phenomenon and a very tenuous one at that. For the most part the “Christians” in the United States believe in almost none of the same things. My usual go to example for this type of argument is the candidacy of Mitt Romney for president in 2012. He had to give a speech in which he assured the GOP voters that he would not be a Mormon president but a president that happened to be Mormon. When he gave that speech, I criticized it, because it shouldn’t be an issue. The press called it “Kennedy-like” which was appropriate because forty years prior Kennedy had to make a similar speech in which he had to assure voters that he wouldn’t be taking orders from an Italian guy in a pointy white hat. Now though I have a new example from very recent events.

The House Chaplain, which is a position that is a waste of tax money, was recently forced out by outgoing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Ok, so the problem with writing this story is that we don’t know why he was forced out. The first report was that the Chaplain, Fr. Conroy, had willingly retired. Then the news changed saying that he resigned at the request of Ryan. This raises an interesting question of whether or not you can be fired from the office of House Chaplain. I assume the answer is yes, but what do you have to do?

Today, Ryan said that the reason was over complaints about pastoral services and not politics or prayers. So let’s break it down, it’s not about politics. That remark is only interesting if you believe the commentary that he was fired for criticizing the GOP tax bill in November. Conroy offered a prayer before voting on the bill that pled lawmakers to keep in mind the growing disparity between rich and poor so that the new bill wouldn’t make that worse (it didn’t work). While many, on my side of the fence, think this is the reason I doubt it since there is substantial time between that prayer and his forced resignation. This would also mean that it probably isn’t about prayers since there is only one that comes up as being controversial.

Unless it’s because Conroy invited a Muslim to give an opening prayer back in October (4th, 2017). However, again, there is too much time between the two events for this to seem reasonable. Though it could be asserted that the pressure was building and the two events in conjunction led to a series of complaints that eventually caused Ryan to fire the Jesuit Priest as chaplain. That might be a reasonable claim but again, the time delay makes it a strange series of events.

Ryan said, to quote, “This was not about politics or prayers, it was about pastoral services. And a number of our members felt like the pastoral services were not being adequately  served, or offered.”

His explanation is nonsensical. “Pastoral services” is a term that could mean a great many things, and without context this is just another example of Ryan not explaining anything. Was Fr. Conroy derelict in his duties? We can assume not because if it were the case then there’d be no reason to obfuscate. Was he not saying the right things? Maybe, but what would that even mean? Was it that the last bulwark of support the current GOP government has comes from those people that don’t believe that Catholics are real Christians? I’m thinking maybe.

The most wide ranging conspiracies, the globalist ones, put the Catholic church in the same league as the Illuminati. Conspiracies surrounding them spring up around the same time as the illustrious organization. Author Eugene Sue in the 18th century French novel “The Wandering Jew” has the Jesuits seeking to steal a secret fortune and usurp control over the world (interestingly, he also wrote the book by which “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” was plagiarized from).

Evangelical fundamentalists in this country eat this kind of thing up. While it’s rare that I take the defense of the Catholic church up, here academic honesty compels me. None of this is real but, and more importantly, it is thought to be real and is preached by ministers that it is real. Yet, both groups are underneath the umbrella category of “Christian.”

Which brings us back to the original question, “Which Christianity?” While a belief in Divine Jesus, anti-abortion, and putting the “Christ back in Christmas” are shared amongst all of the denominations the other differences are so great that it would make sense not to call them the same religion. For instance the Catholic church is opposed to the death penalty. Baptists aren’t Christians according to Mormons because of a whole host of reasons, while Ken Ham style Christians don’t accept the very nature of physical science (though I’m unclear as to whether or not they are flat earthers), some Protestants consider Catholics polytheists because of their focus on Mary. So which of these “truths” makes one a real true Christian? One could claim that it doesn’t matter since everyone has a right to their own beliefs, to which I respond sure, that’s why we have the first amendment–to guarantee it.