Archive for November, 2012

The Road To Atheism XX: Death Cults

November 23, 2012 2 comments

As an elementary school kid I used to get into trouble with my teacher on a more frequent basis than I would have liked. Mostly, it was for the typical kid stuff: not doing homework, talking in class, gum, etc. There were of course the religious disputes that I have discussed before but there were also different times. I suppose with the religious stuff the teachers figured that they could steam roll me into just accepting the dogma for the assignment’s purpose, I’m not really sure but these other times had to do with the content of some of my assignments. They concerned what was then deemed to be a prevalence of violence in my creative writings and art assignments. 

I believed then, and still do that this was an overreaction. It’s not like I was making violent images of specific actual people, the content no where near approached the level of a torture porn movie like Saw. It was more of the comic book variety, which makes sense given that I was really into comic books then. What concerned the teachers, and then my parents, was the source of the violence. So after several of these meetings they sought to root out my inspiration and begin to remove various entertainments from my life for weeks at a time. Unfortunately for them they little understood that all a kid really has on their side is time, and if they have patience they can simply play the game. I remember doing that, I remember that they would take something away and I would complain but then I would just wait until everyone forgot. I’m getting ahead of myself: they would take away the usual suspects: comic books, television, movies, video games. They never took away my music because I was never into music in the way that people who say they are into music are into music. If you think about it, they just went down the list of things they didn’t understand. 

This is actually typical if you look at the succession of generations in, at least, American society. “Seduction of the Innocent” was a book aimed at demonizing comic books because of an alleged rise in juvenile violence during the 1940s and 1950s. The rock and roll panic in the 50s and 60s, Satanic cults, Dungeons and Dragons, Doom in the late 90s, etc. Everything was seen as a bad influence on my developing brain. Learning video games then has actually helped me now, because once you get passed the shooting and the explosions alot of video games are about problem solving…at least then they were. Now, they have more of a focus on narrative and are more like interactive movies than in the early 90s, which isn’t bad it’s just different. Although, as an aside, some of the narratives are so well done I would rather they just made a movie than force me to play it, but that’s a different story. Taking away my comics was just odd, because comics really foster the desire to read and the ability to tell a story which I suppose is bad. You get where I am going though, they seemd to think that something must have been wrong and that I had the idea that violence was a way to solve problems.

All of their attempts and meanwhile every day I went to school, every classroom, I was forced to stare at the image of a beaten, tortured man, being hung to die on a stick; all the while being told that it was good that this happened to him. Being forced to look at an image of supreme violence and then wandering around clueless as to why the person you have forced to view it has violent imagery in his writings shouldn’t be this much of a mystery. A lot of Christianity is about focusing on death, moreso than I think any other of the current religions. If you’ve ever been to a Catholic school, every classroom has the image of Jesus on the cross hanging from the wall somewhere. It’s grotesque and to force children that young to view would be considered child abuse in any other context. Don’t believe me? Fine go up to child and show them a graphic depiction of torture. Normal people should shirk at the idea but if you are a minister in a church doing the same is somehow necessary to the moral fiber of the individual. 

How can staring at death, worshipping death, in fact making the most significant holiday in your religion about death not be about the denial of life for the individual? Any religion that promises an eternal reward is one that focuses not on the life of the individual but on the death of that individual. The idea of death is so tied in that it should be no wonder that a just teenager has a focus on it. Especially one that was, at the time, so devoted to his religion. Isn’t the birth of the savior more important than the death? Yet it’s the death everyone focuses is on, the “passion,” it’s so important they even made a movie where they torture and kill a man for two hours. That movie was required viewing for members of many congregations, many of whom told me how terrible the violence was but it made their faith stronger. Huh? Isn’t the whole point of these religions about the message of peace and understanding; but to celebrate it we get to watch a man get whipped, hung, and speared? Sure I guess. 

The main problem with all of the death worship is that it’s built on a fallacy. See, everyone calls it a sacrifice but how is it really a sacrifice? Odin plucked out an eye, stabbed himself with a sphere, and hung himself on the Yggdrassil for 9 days to gain wisdom but despite the pain involved it wasn’t a sacrifice because he knew he would come out in the end. Same with the guy on the cross. Beaten, tortured, and nailed to plank of wood is nothing if you know what the end result is going to be. If the Christians are right, then there is no sacrifice because knowing that immeasurabe pleasure awaits you makes any suffering basically a layover in Atlanta. It’s like watching Aliens and having to endure the part where Paul Reiser tries to pretend anyone wants to see him. We know the good stuff is coming, it’s just a matter of time. 

If the message, which is a good one as long as you leave out the divide the family against itself part, was more important than anything else why is it focusing so much on the horror and violence of the third act? Why tell toddlers and children that they have to stare at this gruesome image (as happened to my daughter a couple of month ago) and think that it won’t have the effect on them that would be anything other than beneficial? Charity and peace ought to be the lesson here but I haven’t really heard anything about helping my fellow man from the alleged Christians who have the loudest mouthpieces. Instead the entire thing comes off as nothing more than another cult of death. 

Categories: philosophy, religion

Why I Predicted that Mitt Romney Would Lose the Election

November 15, 2012 Leave a comment

I did too. 

I’m not going to claim superiority of some really complex, really interesting, but in reality really boring statistical model that I understood because I understood math. Nor am I going to claim psychic powers, because they don’t really exist. Nope, I predicted that Obama would win, as well as Kirsten Gillibrand (especially since I only discovered that she had an opponent the day of the election), Robach (my state senator), and Brooks for Congress (although that last one was a mistype, I voted for her opponent and thought she would win but I wrote down the wrong name for my FB post. Since there is no way that I can prove that, I’m going to just chalk that up as myself being wrong—in the interest of fairness). 

There were also some judges and such on the local level, but since I do not feel qualified to vote for judge I never do, thus do not make predictions. 

Anyway, the one that everyone cared about even though the president actually has very little influence on the average American’s day to day life, was that I knew Mitt Romney would lose. I didn’t base my conclusion on anything that the talking heads spoke of, it wasn’t the first/third debate, it wasn’t the storm, it wasn’t Benghazi; it was very simple to me that from day one he wasn’t going to be a winner. 

The reason: well before we get to that let’s do some history. I made my first presidential pick in 2000, when Bush won the presidency (He did too, that’s how the system works). Gore was too uptight, he distanced himself too far from Clinton who everyone liked and his ideas floated from being really complex and hard to follow to being too vague. There was no personality to him either. I didn’t feel he would win–I voted for Nader. 

Four years later there was a pretty reviled president on one hand, and people that really loved him on the other. This was my first experience with being an “Independent Voter” and Bush’s opponent, John Kerry, was the guy that the Democrats picked to be their guy not because he was the best candidate, but because he seemed like the guy that could beat Bush. Kerry was a disaster, but a predictable one. 

Then came 2008, in which a candidate for the GOP who was once pretty reasonable (and who would have had my vote in 2000) had to begin running to the right to appease a militant, zealous base of a party that thinks feelings trump reality. He nominates easily the worst VP candidate in my lifetime (which is saying something considering in my lifetime Perot was a candidate). If anyone thought McCain was going to win that election, I have a zombie survival kit to sell you. 

So finally 2012. See: 2004. I based it on the same reason. No one liked Romney, they just hated Obama. I still haven’t met someone that actually wanted Mitt Romney to be president. The year long primary season was basically an American Idol for the candidate that could accomplish two things: 1) beat Obama and 2) appease the American Taliban that is also known as the Tea party. What was forgotten, in my opinion, is that 1 and 2 are mutually exclusive. That’s why we saw the rise and fall of so many candidates over the past year. They either satisfied 1 or they satisfied 2 but not both.

Take Rick Perry for instance, since he got the TIme Cover in the summer. Executive experience, check. Christian, check; really really Christian check, not an intellectual, check; against Obamacare, check. So far, he’s hit everything on the Tea Party list, he even brings that I’m one of you swagger that people liked in Bush. What was his problem? He kind of liked government to the point that when his state was made aware of an HPV epidemic he took steps to end it by instituting a mandatory vaccination protocol in Texas. A move that set aside politics for the common good. This was somehow seen as a weakness by the crazies, and especially their spokesman Michelle “I’m actually a lunatic” Bachmann who claimed that the vaccine made a child mentally retarded, despite medical science saying that it was impossible (Down’s Syndrome is genetic). They didn’t like that government acted for the common good and made people do something. Because, you know: freedom. His qualification at 1 folded when it became apparent that he was either laying the dumb on too thick or was actually too dumb, and couldn’t remember one of the three departments he would cut out of the budget if given the chance. Too effective for 2 too dumb-seeming for 1 (I actually have no opinion of the man’s intelligence but those are the only two options). 

It was like that for all of the candidates. Bachman, Santorum, Perry, Gingrich. The only candidates that were never given their fair chance were Paul and Hunstman. Paul, was never going to be it, his ideas are untenable for one but he also manages to piss off both sides at the same time. On the one hand he wants to cut the federal government out at the knees. On the other he also wants to end all foreign involvement by the US. I’m against both of those ideas, and do not get me started on returning to the gold standard or his economic ideas. I do think his foreign idea bears some debate, we could close too large bases on foreign soil given that Germany can fend for itself, and that I doubt China needs us to protect them from Japan. He was probably the best person for Romney to have picked for VP given that Paul really brings out the youth vote, but his whole, ‘let’s legalize all of the drugs’ idea doesn’t appeal to the tea party at all. 

John Huntsman, in my opinion, was probably the best guy to have beaten Obama. He was a better looking, less irritating Romney with none of the weaknesses: he didn’t create Obamacare, he had foreign experience as an ambassador in China, he didn’t run Bain capital, every single attack that was leveled against Romney couldn’t have worked on the guy. I’m sure that he had other issues, but those were big ones. His problem: he wouldn’t run to the crazy like Romney did. Huntsman made the error that he accepted science, which apparently is fatal if you are a Republican and that science doens’t come from the Discovery Institute. 

I’m not a politician, or a political analyst; but look at the path Romney took. He spent the entire primary season running to the right and then the last month running back to the center with all of this supporters shaking their heads trying to deny that he had flipped on so many issues that even an IHOP run by John Kerry would have rolled its eyes. When Akin and Mourduch said their shit about rape? Well Romney had courted that opinion in primary season. 

In short, Romney was merely Kerry eight years ago. That’s why I knew he wasn’t going to win. 

Categories: politics

Being an Atheist VI: Let’s Continue with that Counter-Argument Idea or Standards of Evidence

November 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Last post was largely about an argument that Atheists really need to stop making. Arguing from atrocity does nothing to attack god, or even the concept of religion, or even–dare I say, specific religions (exceptions to this are noted). For the most part all they do is attack what people can do with religion, i.e. control others and get them to do horrific things. If, as Atheists, we want to talk about, and really talk about, the idea of whether god exists or not the first thing that we have to do is level the playing field on standards of evidence. This is really important if the conversation is to move from childish name calling to the more rational adult level conversation where we can talk about things equally. The fact is that, as a percentage, our population is growing and has been for the last several thousand years but now we are starting to become significant in a way that we don’t have to hide behind the shield of terms like “agnostic” or “deist.” So let’s begin with this one step. 

The importance of this step is that if one side is going to have a conversation with the other there has to be some common ground. For the most part, and this is entirely anecdotal, the violation of this rule comes from the theist side (check the comments in the previous post). If a common ground or at least an understanding is to be attempted we must first agree on what counts as evidence and what doesn’t count. 

In order to prove X one cannot use X as evidence. It’s a violation of at least three of the informal fallacies in argumentation. The first is that it is an appeal to a false authority. Now this one is a bit tricky but follow along. If I don’t believe in X how can appealing to X to convince me work? In other words let us say that John is trying to turn me Jewish, and in order to do so he just throws Torah quotes at me. The problem is that the Torah bears no relevance to my life, I don’t have any particular regard for its words so why would a story of Moses make me all of the sudden turn Jewish? It wouldn’t unless I already had leanings to be Jewish. The only caveat to that would be that the Torah had some sort of argument within it, which it doesn’t. It just assumes its own truth. 

The second fallacy is that it begs the question. Begging the question is not when a claim forces you to ask another question, that’s called a leading claim and there’s nothing wrong with that…mostly. Begging the question is when a claim assumes part of its conclusion inside the claim. So when the John up above there quotes the Torah, he’s already making the assumption that the Torah is true. It begs the question because it entirely skips any controversy that I might have regarding where it gets the authority. 

Finally, as students of critical thinking will realize, it’s circular. If pressed Jim will be forced to explain where his book derives its authority from. Now he can explain that it is tradition (another fallacy, after all slavery was an institution far longer than not), that he personally gets solace from it (subjective evidence doesn’t count, in other words you can’t communicate a feeling into another person so that they feel it), or he can say that god said it was true. In which case his evidence for god is the book that god says is true. It’s circular reasoning and it cannot work as a matter of proof. 

Now certain people can claim that atheists engage in circular reasoning as well…and I will admit that this is certainly the case, but this isn’t typical of atheism or atheists, as much as the literal holy book interpretations are not typical of theists. The assertion is that atheist say there is no god, and that is the evidence that there isn’t one. That fails the same test our Jewish friend did up there as well. However, most atheists that I know of (again anecdotal evidence, I know) and myself are not saying that there is proof that there is no god, but merely that there is not compelling evidence for the existence of god. While the old adage is true: that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence (that would look kind of interesting in logical notation) the point is that the atheist isn’t going to pretend something exists that he/she isn’t convinced that it exists. Again, for the confused: the atheist position is that there is no compelling evidence that god exists. Which is why the atheist argument, as correctly formulated, is not circular.

Another standard of evidence which must be shed is the appeal to subjective belief. The word “subjective” should be a clue there, and this one works both ways as well. Let’s say Jim has renounced his Judaism and is now an atheist, Jim is in a bar trying to convince the person next to him that religion is bullshit and that there is no god. When asked why Jim replies, “I used to believe in god never did anything for me so why would you?” It should be obvious that Jim’s personal feeling is only evidence of what Jim feels. It’s not evidence that his feeling has anything to do with the reality of the outside world. This is what Creationists do, evolution feels wrong to them so they ignore the mountains of confirming experimation, and then expect the rest of the world to conform to their feeling. Feelings don’t prove anything because they are all internal. I’ve only really heard this type of argument coming from specific strains of religiious people who all fail to understand that I can’t believe what you believe because you believe it.

Evidence has to fall into one of two categories: rational or empirical. Rational, as in a proof that cannot be doubted without violating a principle of logic. Empirical by way of something which is objectively true and accessible by anyone, this could be an object like a crystal and some golden tablets written in Egyptian hieroglyphics. Or an experiment which proves the Earth’s sattelite doesn’t generate its own light. These are evidence which can lead us on the road to conclusions. It’s important that we start here. 

Categories: philosophy, religion