Archive for November, 2015

Round Up

November 24, 2015 1 comment

Last week we talked about Paris and ISIS. Then we discussed what ISIS really wants. Unfortunately we are going to have to continue with the current events.

After Paris everyone was understandably shocked and worried. That’s to be expected in the event of a sudden terrorist murder spree. The fear that came afterwards is also to be expected. However, the fear is supposed to subside. Everyone is supposed to realize that, yes, unfortunately these things do occur but our response should be vigilance not outright panic. I get the trepidation regarding the refugees, not to say I agree with it, but that the US has historically been a country that fears waves of immigrants. I’m sorry to say this, but if you are Syrian and reading this: it’s your turn and it’s not your fault.

A majority of governors in the US have publicly stated that they will not accept refugees from Syria because of terrorism fears. It’s something of a non-issue because they don’t have the authority to do that, and even if they did it’s not like the states have the ability to prevent people from moving from one place to another. It’s also a non-issue because of the so far known assailants in Paris not one of them has been proven to be from Syria (although there is one suspect but it remains to be seen as to where that individual came from).

The current rhetoric in the US has returned to discussing Muslims and whether or not they count as Americans. It’s a stupid question because the answer is “of course they are.” If they are US citizens then they are US citizens no matter what denomination, if any, they belong to. The current front runner, Donald Trump, is saying that he would consider creating a database of Muslim Americans and subjecting them to special surveillance whether or not they have committed a crime or have known ties to terrorism. As of this writing he has not walked back this position. What’s even worse is that the third place candidate Dr. Ben Carson, seems to agree. I should note that these two individuals are ahead by a long margin. (The second place contender Ted Cruz disagrees with the database but only wants to allow Syrian Christians into the United States.) What’s worse than all of that is that there seems to a deafening silence among the GOP for these views. They should be denouncing the plan as not only Un-American but for being horrifyingly anti-human.

The problem that no one advocating this plan seems to be aware of is that this is exactly what ISIS wants. They have framed their ideology on the basis that Europe and the United States are engaging in a war against Islam. In their view the attacks are self-defense against an enemy that wants to eradicate them. When people like Donald Trump advocate for a surveillance, databases, and the shutting down of Mosques it gives them an example they can point to while claiming, “we are right, look what this man is saying and he’s a favorite to be president.”

Every proposal, every politician, every reasonably famous news pundit that speaks about these policies are necessary are playing directly into their propaganda. As the days have progressed I’m actually seeing more of it rather than less. The day of, I’m willing to accept a certain level of angry discourse, that’s just emotional response but as the shock subsides more sober discourse should take its place. Instead the insanity is just increasing. If we want to disabuse the Islamic world that we are not their enemy it’s a better course of action to welcome in their tired, poor, individuals yearning to escape the civil war hell that is Syria. We should be advocating to help them rather than tell them that they’re all terrorists and murderers. If our civilizations are truly the greatest then exposing them to that should do more to quell hatred than all the bombs, drones, and bullets we can send at them.

Does this mean that the Western World should ignore ISIS? No. It just means that it should painfully apparent that we consider the problem to be them and not everyone who happens to think that the Quran is the divine book of god. I advocated for giving ISIS the one thing it does want: open war last week. I’m not sympathetic to their cause or even their existence. What I am against is the discrimination and persecution that is wrapped up in claims of security and common sense.

Make no mistake it certainly is that. It requires a consistently incredible cognitive dissonance to maintain the position that people like Trump have while simultaneously ignoring several aspects of reality. The first being that no refugee from any country has committed an act of terrorism on US soil. It simply has not happened. To those people who had reply, “yet,” I would merely retort that the US doesn’t treat any other group, individual, or ideology in the same way. There have been two major bombings of buildings in American history: the WTC in 1993 and Murrah building in Oklahoma City 1995. The former was a small group of Islamic terrorists but the latter was a member of a far right Christian militia and no one entertained shutting down groups of people who hadn’t committed any crimes for that one despite how much they hated the government.

There is no possible way that these plans, if enacted, would lead to anything other than tragedy. We’ve seen it before in the US. During our involvement in WWII we locked up people of Axis power descent just for being born to the wrong family despite the utter lack of any kind of evidence that these people had done anything. Not only that, but a complete lack of evidence that anyone had committed sabotage or espionage on behalf of Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. Those affected were paid 20,000 in 1988 to the total of 1.6 billion dollars. The legislation, signed by Ronald Reagan, said that internment was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” It hasn’t been thirty years and already we’ve forgotten.


Categories: Uncategorized

Paris and ISIS

November 17, 2015 3 comments

It really seems like I can just rehash a post from earlier in the year in which I responded to President Obama’s comments about ISIS not being an Islamic group, but I can’t because that would be merely retreading old ground. They are an Islamic group, not because Muslims are fundamentally violent or because there is something endemic to them to cause violence; but because their leader and their members claim to be an Islamic group. Who are we to say that they are lying–indeed, the one thing that we can usually count on from them is that they aren’t lying.

Of course I don’t want to get people inflamed against Muslims, I’m just stating an observable fact. It should go without saying (but it unfortunately doesn’t) that the great majority of Muslims in the world have no intention of harming other people. Even among the majority of those that do want to harm someone else the great majority of them don’t. In short, people are people and there is a general reluctance to murder each other. All of that being said you can’t separate religion from the attacks on Paris.

Lucretius wrote “so potent was superstition in persuading men to evil deeds” between 99-55bce and he was as right then as he is now. If a person wants to claim that the attacks were not the work of true Muslims you need to explain what makes them not-Muslim. At this point the temptation is to run a search for all the passages from the Quran which justify violence and then show that they are contradicted by all the passages which strictly limit those violent actions. At which point I’ll explain that the book is open to interpretation and can’t be used to justify either position categorically: QED you can’t say they aren’t Islamic because there’s no definitive definition. Likewise to those out there who think they’re agreeing with me I can do literally the same thing with the Christian Bible, the Hindu Upanishads, or any other religion who has had members commit atrocities in the name of their divine powers (in case you are keeping score, it’s all of them).

Back to religion: the problem isn’t that Islam or any other religion automatically turns followers violent, it’s that it is a convenient mechanism by which a person can do so. ISIS is an example of that mechanism, and the attacks on Paris are a great example of the mechanism in action. By what other method can a person convince others to kill a large group of random people with the full expectation that those agents are not going to survive the attack? The only benefit to the individual must be that their soul (or whatever the different name for it) will be rewarded for dying in service of their god. There is no other motive than religion which is able to accomplish this.

ISIS is an Islamic group, their members (citizens?) abide by a version of Islamic code and the fundamental nature of this group is that it is a doomsday cult. Unlike other Islamic terror groups who want either the destruction of Israel (in accordance with Christian doomsday cults) or merely to gain control of various parts of the world (the Arabian Peninsula most notably) by increasing their reputation; ISIS wants the end to be here. Their ideology is rife with end of the world doctrine and this facet is used to recruit foreign fighters. What ISIS wants is the last Caliph, a person named or titled “Mahdi,” and it’s current Caliph Baghadi is four from him.

The plan, foretold according to their interpretations, is to fight the army of Rome in the town of Dabiq which is in Syria. This is where ISIS believes the final battle will take place. However this final battle is a bit different than the battle in the book of Revelation, in that ISIS is supposed to lose. You read that correctly and I typed it correctly. According to the interpretation, ISIS is to engage the armies of Rome (which I suppose is going to be the French army which statistically is full of Catholics) become whittled down to approximately 5000 fighters and then divine interference will arrive to destroy the infidel leader ushering in a new age of Islamic dominion. My question to the world is, why don’t we give them that fight? Not aerial bombardments, but the land battle they not only couldn’t win, but don’t want to win. Let them lose troop numbers until they see that Jesus isn’t going to kill the enemy commander (it’s seriously Jesus), as the battle is already engaged they will be forced to give up.

This is a weakness in the ideology that I think gets too much ignored and it’s one that is integral to their existence. The worst thing a religious leader can do is be specific with regard to prophecy. It’s why televangelists like Pat Robertson always warn that something is coming because of our bad behavior, e.g. we allowed homosexual marriage in the US and the markets will crash eventually. Robertson and his ilk always use the phrase “eventually” because it’s unfalsifiable. Of course there will be a market downturn, it’s inevitable and they’ll shoehorn any situation to fit so that they appear to be correct. They can’t afford to be specific because everytime they are they turn out to be wrong.

ISIS hasn’t given a day and time, but they’ve crossed that threshold with the who and where. Their final battle takes place in the real world, not the metaphorical one as the Catholic interpretation of Revelation. They can be pressed into this. As the Atlantic reported: ISIS Twitter accounts exploded when they thought that American soldiers were seen in Dabiq (they weren’t, it was a mistake). It’s not their forces that need to be destroyed, it’s their ideology, without that they have no binding power for the followers. If so many of their members believe that this will be the final battle and their prophecies are not fulfilled they will have no choice but to question this interpretation. Every action of theirs has been to goad the Western powers into a fight to bring about this divine interference. France may just give them that battle but ISIS can’t hope to win–and they won’t. Their ideology is corrupted by a precise eschatology that will not come true.

Categories: current events Tags: ,

Red Cup

November 10, 2015 5 comments

I don’t like to take such a confrontational tone on this blog, I actually do like having readers and being overly insulting is merely the most hackish way to get followers. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let me say this: if you are really upset about Starbuck’s red cup you are an idiot who wants to be upset.

In case you haven’t heard, the coffee chain’s winter paper cups are now sporting a solid red color instead of the normal white. Every year they have a design by which we can tell it’s winter aside from determining that the average temperature is lower than usual and for those of us in the North of the world that there is a mysterious white flaky substance descending from the sky. Instead of a decorative cup, the company has just gone with a simple red.

I should caveat this by saying that if you are upset about the cup because the design seems lazy maybe I’m being too harsh, but then again, this post isn’t about those with aesthetic problems.

The apparent problem is that some people think that without specific Christmas reminders that the chain is anti-Christian. They feel that the coffee chain has been ignoring their duty to remind people that Jesus was a thing by neglecting to put a single Christian image on their disposable cups. Images like snowmen, trees, or musical instruments as they have in the past. Images that are in no way Christian, have nothing to do with Christianity, and would probably offend some of these religious zealots for not being Christian enough anyway.

As near as I can tell the entire “controversy” begins (and ends) with a former pastor named Joshua Feuerstein who posted a video in which he claims that “Christmas” has been removed from the cups because the company hates Jesus. Which is a nice way to get people to click on your video and thus inflate his sense of self-importance. Josh seems to think that not being constantly reminded of Jesus means that everyone hates Jesus, which must make talking to him very annoying. He claims that employees aren’t allowed to say “merry Christmas” and that all references to the holiday have been removed.

There’s not one point he makes which can be considered objectively true. Sure, they don’t say Merry Christmas on them but when have they? The cups have always had imagery invoking winter but they haven’t been “Christmas” themed since I’ve started going there…which has been several years now. Most of my friends have been long time employees for the company and they have never been forbidden from saying “Merry Christmas” to any customer…although it’s a little early to be saying that now. Even though the video seems to indicate that Joshua has recently been inside a Starbucks, I seriously wonder about that because the store I frequent has the word “Christmas” all over it. Again, the problem here, is that Josh wants to be upset.

Why does he want to be upset? Because he’s bored or because he thinks that if he pretends to be persecuted that people will like him more or because his hold on his faith is so tenuous that without a constant reminder that other people believe the same thing he does he’ll suddenly turn into me? Any of those three or all of them I’m sure covers it. His suggestion in the video (which I’m purposefully not linking to) is to report your name to the Barista as “Merry Christmas” then they have to write it on the cup. An idea which I’m sure he stayed up very late thinking up and considers very clever. The problem with this idea is that if everyone does it then no customer will be able to tell who’s drink is up when the barista yells the “name” out. The second problem is that the company doesn’t hate it, they don’t care because they are primarily concerned with your purchase of their products which you have to do in order to get your name on the cup. Even Joshua’s followers are going to be contributing to the coffers of what they consider to be an anti-Jesus company.

Finally, is this even a real problem? I know it isn’t, that the color and the decoration on a cup do not really matter, but that’s because I’m a reasonable individual who knows that if a store does something that I don’t like, I won’t shop there. Starbucks isn’t selling insulin to diabetics, they are selling an entirely optional item that I can get from three other businesses which are closer to me than Starbucks. It’s not a necessity. What I mean is that on both my facebook and twitter I have seen no one complaining about Starbuck’s red cup. The only reference to it, are people claiming outrage that people would be outraged. The video has a lot of hits, but I wonder how many of those are because of the reporting on this issue rather than the issue itself. I think this story is stepping into the water of “manufactured controversy.”

We must also remember who Josh Feuerstein is: he’s the former pastor who routinely posts cell phone shot videos despite having had a gofundme campaign to raise 20,000 dollars for a new video camera. He’s also the person who recorded a phone conversation with a baker wherein the baker refused to bake him a #hatecake then posted the conversation online, in violation of Florida law. This is merely one more attempt by him to grab attention so that he can pretend that Christians are being oppressed and he the first of them.

If the color of the cup that your Christmas latte comes in makes you upset. That’s your fault: you could easily go somewhere else or organize some kind of boycott. It’s hypocritical to say that this is so offensive to your god and then go in with the express purpose of still purchasing their product while snickering to yourself at a joke that is going to be forgotten as soon as the worker is done rolling their eyes. Remember, it’s just a paper cup that isn’t going to last the day.

Oh, and red is a traditionally Christian Christmas color and I doubt the company’s pick is a coincidence.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

Questions for Atheists II

November 3, 2015 Leave a comment

Part I can be found here and the original post wherein I found the questions can be found here.

9: Do you consider yourself a weak atheist or a strong atheist?

As I understand the difference a strong atheist is one that strictly denies the exist of a divine being. In other words, this is an active position. A weak atheist is one that reserves the possibility of a divine being but has yet to see evidence or proof of it. I disagree with this terminology for the connotations that each qualifier carries with it. I’ve read many books and papers, I can argue against and show the problems with the proofs, and am knowledgeable on many different religions but would have to sit myself in the “weak atheist” camp even though my intelligence on the subject is greater than many of the people that can claim to be “strong atheists.” Further my problem with “strong atheism” is that you cannot prove a negative; they can’t know there is no divine being just as we can’t know there isn’t a teapot in space, but we can suspend affirmation until we see proof that either of those things exist.

While I’m open to the possibility that there is a divine being, as there is no necessity that attaches to either its existence or not, I do not have doubts that I’m wrong. In some cases this would make me more aligned with the strong camp but that’s only in the most pedantic definition of the term.

10: How can you prove that God doesn’t exist?

See above. I can’t prove that there is no god, but the crux of the issue is that I don’t have to. The burden of proof is on the one making the affirmation not the denial. You can’t prove that there aren’t Jotnar who live in Nifleheim but it would be foolish for me to say that without proof of non-existence you must believe that they exist. However, I can show alternative explanations for the claims of particular religions, oftentimes without having to go outside of those religions’ texts to point out contradictions and absurdities.

11: Do you believe in miracles?

This depends on what you mean by “miracle.” If you mean something awe inspiring then the answer is yes. Our existence is awe inspiring given the incredible probability against it happening. If you mean that something which violates the laws of nature then the answer is an unmitigated no. The miracles in religious texts are almost always reported either well after the fact or with no corroborating witnesses. Medical miracles have nearly completely ceased since we have started keeping medical records, those that remain always regard internal and unseen conditions that are usually self-reported or given no follow up. Sightings of Saints or spirits in the sky have nearly vanished since the advent of the camera and now that we all carry one in our pocket they have ceased altogether (just like UFO sightings).

12: Do you have a support group/system?

Not particularly. I listen to a lot of atheist podcasts and read a lot of blogs. I’ve also never really felt the need for one. I don’t live in an area where being an Atheist is a problem and for the most part the topic of religion doesn’t come up.

13: Do you try to get others not to believe?

Depends on who you ask. There are some people that think my blog is my attempt to convert others, but I’m just writing about the subject because I find it interesting and it also helps to clear my head if I read a story that I find interesting or frustrating.

The only times that I have tried to convert another person is when they have tried to tell me that I am wrong. In cases like that, the gloves come off. I was an active member of my graduate department’s Christian Philosophy Club and there was no friction either from me or toward me. The only time recently I began to have the argument was when a couple of Jehova’s Witnesses came knocking on the door. I don’t particularly care what a person believes unless they are trying to force their beliefs on me.

14: Do others tend to view you differently when they discover you’re an atheist?

Sometimes people look at me with shock, but that’s very rare. Usually they just ask a quick afterlife question and then the subject gets dropped. I know a few people that knew me for years but didn’t know I was an Atheist, when they found out they merely nodded and nothing changed.

15: Do people tend to try to convince you that your views are wrong?

It has happened, but it’s quite rare. On those few occasions they usually try and explain some aspect of their religion (it’s only been Christianity thus far) that they think I’m unaware of–but then they quickly find out that not only am I aware but that I find it not compelling. I find this tactic to be remarkably impotent, you can’t be an American and unaware of the basic beliefs of Christianity so quoting John 3:16 isn’t going to suddenly turn me around. Often times they become very aware that I have as much religious knowledge as they do, once that threshold is met they give up because outside of just referring to doctrine or text they have no reason to believe. The problem that they have is that they are merely regurgitating arguments that they are taught to be effective (e.g. the person doesn’t believe because they are unaware of what we believe) and will be engaging with caricatures of atheists who are easily swayed. Neither of these are effective. Admittedly,  I’m dealing with a very small sample size and have no desire to increase it.

16. How does your family view your beliefs? Are they supportive?

If I’m not the only Atheist in the family (I’m counting my extended family as well) I’m the admitted one, but it has almost no effect on familial relationships. Some expressed a surprise but that was about it. I’m very lucky in this respect as I do know some atheists who constantly have to fight about it with their relatives and have heard some atheists talk about how they have been completely shunned by their families.

17: What are your views on Madalyn O’Hair?

Full disclosure: I have only heard her name mentioned on some podcasts and that she was a founder of American Atheists. Other than that I would have to look her up which I feel would be dishonest to do so in order to answer this question.

That settles the questions. I’m interested in seeing what other good questions theists would have for someone like me as long as they were in good faith and not thinly disguised attempts at reassurance. Perhaps a list of similar questions going the other way would be appropriate.