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Unless…

January 31, 2017 Leave a comment

I’ve started a hashtag, though I don’t know if it’s used before as I rarely check the things myself. The hashtag is: #ivereadyourbook,  and I use it to point the flagrant hypocrisy of the religious right in my country. I’ve mentioned this numerous times before, I was not always an atheist but was raised Catholic. More than just that, I was a true believer up until I started having serious doubts sometime in late high school (11th or 12th grade). One thing about Catholic school is that they make you read the bible, and I took it on myself when I was bored to read more of it than necessary. Ironic I know, but if you actually plow through that book you get a much better idea of what’s in it than you would if you only paid attention during your weekly service. For example you get the idea that the story of Noah is about five paragraphs long (it spans only three chapters in Genesis, and while that seems long, the myth greatly outweighs it). You also get a bare conception of the contradictions the book has internally, man cannot see god or else he’ll die (Ex. 33:20)except the many times that this occurs and he doesn’t (e.g. Job 42:5, Amos 7:7, Ex. 4:5, 6:3, Ez 20:35, the list goes on) . The many different times god loses (for instance he can’t defeat chariots of iron Judges 1:19), or the simply overwhelming number of laws and rules that are utterly pedantic and senseless.

I’m not a biblical scholar, and while I do have a good idea of what’s actually in the book I do have to look the stuff up to find the specific locations. No one, I mean this sincerely, builds a searchable book database like the bible people. If I knew how to build a website I would totally copy their method for Aristotle, Hume, or even Shakespeare (and the last one I can’t believe doesn’t exist as Shakespeare hub.com). This is a tool that works against the believers in the book though, and I don’t think–and research is beginning to back this up–that they even consider this effect. Whenever I find some kind of story in the news that is making the Christian right upset, either because they are against something or because they are enraged that other people are against it, my memory usually clicks telling me ‘I bet that’s in the bible.’

The biggest example is the Christian right’s anger regarding the use government money on the poor–whether it be welfare, unemployment, or healthcare. I should probably caveat this: I’m not speaking about all Christians, there are plenty of them out there that are concerned about the welfare of others. However, there is also a strong group of them–Trump supporters primarily now–who believe that poor people are either too stupid or too lazy to not be poor. That it’s their fault and they should suffer for it, or at the very least these people are arguing that it’s not their fault the person is poor so why should their money be given in the form of taxes to these people. Now this is where my biblical knowledge falters, because I haven’t found the part of the bible where there’s any exceptions to the command “help the poor and suffering.” For example Galatians 2:10 says that we should remember the poor, Luke 14:14 that we should invite those who cannot repay to our meals and feasts, Luke 3:11 Jesus tells his followers that the person with two tunics is to share with him who has none as well as to share their food, at Ezekiel 16:49 the sin of Sodom is declared as the people having plenty but not sharing with those in need, or just in one quote that sums it all up from Jesus himself: “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren you have done unto me (Matt 20:45).”

So I guess my question is, what is the version of the Bible that where the quote is followed by “…unless you feel that they deserve it than woe unto them for their lot”?

Given that immigration is big in the news, I posted the list of the times the bible mentions how to treat immigrants: Lev. 19:10, 33-34, 25:35; Exodus 22:21, 23:9; Deuteronomy 10:19, 24:17-21;  Jeremiah 7:6, 22:3; Zechariah 7:10; also Matthew quoting Jesus at 25:35. In each case the writer of the various books is commanding the believers to treat immigrants with compassion and welcoming. In all the various translations that I have and perused online I can’t find the version that follows any of those quotes with “unless you have reason to fear them in which case you should turn them away.”

As far as I can tell it’s not there.

The point of this is that these people are the ones that claim the moral high ground and at every opportunity they have to express it they fail. They only resort to their book when it comes to denying homosexuals equal rights because of one line in Leviticus, or pretending that the book says something about abortion (it doesn’t even though the practice was alive and well at the time of the events in the Bible). They try to remove science from schools because of Genesis or use the book to try pushing prayer in schools despite Matt 6:5 telling them that prayer should be confined to the home. The issue is that they have not read their book, they are only cherry picking the parts that augment their argument and because it’s the BIBLE no one dares question it. They are the ones that are supposed to know, supposed to be the experts on it, but they can’t have read it. Or if they have they are only using it as a club to beat their position into other people. Then they have the nerve to claim that others aren’t moral because they don’t follow the same book they do.

At best they’re ignorant, at worst they’re liars. However, if they read this post they don’t have the former excuse anymore. I’ve read defenses of this saying that the immigration ban is for our safety, but that’s not what the bible says. So they either have to admit that they only use their religion when it’s convenient and doesn’t conflict with their preset prejudices. In other words they have to admit “my religion should inform public policy unless that policy will help people that I don’t like.”

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II: Fairy Tales

January 25, 2017 Leave a comment

Last week I responded to a post from a Christian blogger that listed a series of complaints about arguments from atheists he has encountered. A friend of mine posted this on her facebook and I took a look because if I can’t understand what the other side is saying then I cannot engage in a knowledgeable debate. For the most part I agreed with his sentiments, though I had some differences (one extremely pedantic one), but then one of his points I said needed its own post.

Please Stop Referring to Our Belief System(s) as Fairy Tales

This entry gets its own post because the response to this is more complicated then just agreeing or disagreeing. Yes, of course, there are some atheists that refer to the stories that come from the books as “fairy tales.” But no, the belief system is not a fairy tale. That’s just another pedantic distinction and I can’t stop there. Obviously he means to say “stop referring to our belief system as based on fairy tales.” I seriously don’t know any atheist writer, blogger, or podcaster that refers to the belief system as a “fairy tale.”

That being said, his explanation that we are comparing those stories to Mickey Mouse is a straw man. No one is doing this that has any kind of reasonable knowledge. No, what most atheists are comparing the stories in religion with, are myths. The books, all of them, are full of myths and unfortunately those myths serve the background for most of the beliefs. Here, though, is a matter of perspective. If you believe the religion, in some way, you believe the myths. For the non-believer this means that the stories of the bible are no different than the stories from Norse Mythology. I don’t believe that Odin sacrificed himself on a tree any more than I believe that Noah and the Flood really happened either. From my perspective there’s no difference between the two regarding their category. The only difference is in effect: no one built a theme park with tax payer money in order to advertise their belief in Odin and Yygrdrassil.

Did Moses exist? Maybe, I don’t know. What I do know is that research into the historical nature of the story all come up empty. Perhaps there was a guy named Moses, but the story of the Exodus is certainly an embellished fiction, if I’m being generous that is. Again, the problem isn’t the lesson from the story (yet) it’s that the religion uses those stories in order to provide a foundation for its rules. Without that foundation the belief system needs a new justification.

Now Corey claims that by doing so we are comparing those who follow the rules of Moses or Jesus (and he cherry picks which rules) to those who think Mickey Mouse is a real talking Mouse. However, if we accept as fact that the rules are good then we have to look for one of two things: the first is some kind of ethical basis on which those rules stand. Some kind of argument is needed, it’s not enough to say “don’t steal” because mitigating factors may apply: such as the cliché of stealing food to feed a starving family. What constitutes stealing? Why is stealing wrong? While the latter question seems silly, it’s important to understand. The same goes with “thou shalt not kill.” Does “kill” apply in war, self-defense, law enforcement? Without a definition we just have to hash it out for ourselves making the rule rather useless as no society really needs a god to tell them to not to go around murdering. Without that argumentative basis, the rules are merely autocratic fiat and then we have to look at the other requirement: who is the person giving the rules? If the person is imaginary, mythical, or an embellished historical figure it matters because then it’s no different than getting your rules from Mickey Mouse.

So we have to ignore the myth for the message, fine but don’t cherry pick the message out of your myths. Corey says that by saying it’s all a fairy tale we are ignoring the importance of Jesus’ rule “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mat 22:39 quoting Lev 19:18). Good rule, rarely followed by the conservative Christians of this country, but we should also consider that just above it Jesus tells a story about a king who has a man tied up and thrown out into the night for the crime of not having the right clothing at a wedding he was told to show up for (Mat 22: 11-13). The lesson here is supposed to be the line at verse 13, that many are called but few are chosen, yet this conflicts with the love your neighbor as yourself lesson following it. Unless that lesson is, love your neighbor as yourself unless they don’t wear the right clothing to the wedding they didn’t know they were attending until that day. Never mind if they are too poor to afford the right garment.

Small details aside, the issue here is one of belief and this one is going to be an “agree to disagree” type of situation. I’m not going to cease calling it a myth, because I don’t have what you have: belief in the book. Just as Corey, and other religious people don’t believe that Hercules was a real person who underwent a series of trials. Christians, Jews, and Muslims would rightly agree that the story of Hercules is just an Ancient Greek myth told to entertain and impart a lesson about not upsetting the gods. However, the companion story–that of Sampson–is only different in some minor details (Hercules used a club, Sampson used a donkey’s jawbone). There’s no lesson in the Sampson story, there’s no point to it other than it being just a story (and unlike most of the stories in the Bible this one is actually a complete story). What’s the moral point of it, why does it matter that he killed a thousand Philistines with a bone? It’s a myth and there’s nothing wrong with it being so.

The problem is in basing an entire system on a myth and then demanding that everyone else respect your myth as though it were true. When that happens, we are not wrong to point this out. We are not wrong even if you don’t believe it’s a myth because, and as I said before, the non-believers which includes believers in other religions still don’t have your faith and you can’t demand that we treat it as true.

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized

Shit I Wish Atheists Would Stop Saying: a Response

January 18, 2017 2 comments

“Some of my best friends are atheists” begins the column by Dr. Benjamin Corey on Patheos.com. One of my conservative friends posted this last week, knowing this person I figured that it would be at least worth a look through. I went into great detail writing a response to a similarly themed article on Cracked.com last year, and wondered if they would be retreading the same ground. The difference between the two articles, primarily, is that one was written as an Atheist and this one by a theist. While I am an atheist, I’m a rational person first, and think it my responsibility to check in with the criticisms of my side of an argument.

It’s not a good start. The “some of my best friends are X” is usually a statement that gets followed by something like “so it’s ok if I insult you because I can’t hate you right?” Luckily, (or unluckily for writing because it’s easier to rip on someone who isn’t trying to be helpful) he doesn’t go that route. That’s good, it’s also nice to see that he recognizes problems in his own camp and claims to have been regularly writing about them as well. I have not read any other of his blog posts so I can’t speak to that, I will, because I’m not a villain (well a total villain) take him at his word. As an Atheist let’s see how he does.

Right off the bat though he makes a mistake. Admitting that his side has plenty of people who make the conversation difficult he claims that my side has “rabid fundamentalists too.” I have a pedantic correction for him, because I hear this all of the time, we don’t have fundamentalists because we don’t have fundamentals. There’s no book you have to read, no person you have to worship, no practices you have to abide by. One of the highest percentages of atheists in an ethnic group are Jews that still go to synagogue, do Hanukah, and read the Torah. Yet they still deny a god that exists. What he means to say is “zealots.” To be an atheist is to admit that there is a lack of evidence to affirm the statement “god (or gods) exists.” His side has fundamentalists because they have rules, books, and people that are to be followed. It’s a distinction of definition.

1: His first point is that we should stop saying that “religious people are uneducated or unenlightened idiots.” I don’t do this for the general population of religious people. This is something I save for a specific subset of the religious that I’ll get to in a minute. The reason this gets tossed around is because of a distinction between knowledge and belief. If someone believes that there is a god, there is no way that they can explain why without either appealing to a tradition or to a social/familial reason. Thus, we, who can look at the Cosmos and say, no there needs to be no divine being for this to exist get frustrated. He’s right, calling someone an idiot for believing in something they’ve always believed in or because their family has raised them to always believe in it, isn’t helping. The people I call idiots, are the literalists. This is because the books themselves require you to accept, not only disproven statements about the world, but contradictions which have to be meaningless. Jesus, for instance, can’t have two different inerrant genealogies. You can’t just say they are both true. Even Pat Robertson criticized Ken Ham saying that he’s making Christians look bad with his blind adherence to literalism. When Pat Robertson is on my side, it’s tough to say that we’re wrong (because of the things he says about my side). Make you a deal: we’ll stop committing this crime if you stop calling us immoral by virtue of not having faith.

2: Next he wants us to stop lumping all Christians with right wing fundamentalists. Another good point and related to the point above. The biggest reason we do this is because your side tries to justify passing laws based on one cherry picked line out of the whole book. Gays can’t marry because Leviticus says it’s an abomination, but then when we point out that mixed fabric wearing is a death sentence too, we’re the ones being unreasonable? No, you can’t say the inerrant word of god says one thing is wrong but that we get to ignore the other thousand or so laws because they would be too inconvenient. The other reason we do this, is because more often than not, your people haven’t read your book, while we have. They claim it’s perfect book of knowledge and morality, and then we point out all the crazy stories or all the immoral actions by its heroes for the sake of proving them wrong ala Thomas Paine.

And look, I get it, it’s not all of you. In fact it’s not the majority of you. But it’s a significant bunch that seems to get laws passed that prevent science from being taught in science class. I’ve got to swallow the whole Nietzsche had syphilis thing (even though he doesn’t inform my atheism at all) and that means you’ve got to swallow the time God commanded his people to murder the Amalekites (1 Sam 15) until their extinction. I wasI raised Catholic, I know that they read the bible more metaphorically than anything else, and that most Catholics don’t abide by the biblical rules. That’s fine, but like how Muslims need to disavow acts of terrorism that they had nothing to do with, your camp needs to start shouting down people like Westboro Baptist and Pastor Manning.

3. Please Stop referring to our belief system as fairy tales

Tune in next week, this one gets its own post.

4. Maybe lay off the whole “religion hasn’t done any good for humanity

I was going to stop at the second one but this point he makes I can respond quickly. He’s right. This argument is as wrong as it is futile. It comes from our history classes (everyone’s we don’t have special schools…yet) where we were taught about the Dark Ages, that middle period between Rome and the Renaissance. Like most of our history classes this was wrong, but I think that at the time I was taught them it was the best we had. The misconception is that the Medieval period was marked by little intellectual progress because the church controlled everything, and while they held a great deal of power in Europe they didn’t stall progress though they did stifle some things. Even if we accept the myth that they did, you still had the Muslim empires to the West developing medical techniques and spreading literacy, further West you have Hindu mathematicians refining abstract concepts like infinity and zero. This claim is just wrong, and while we can point to Galileo (and the usual incorrect story that it is) there has been plenty of good that has come from religious people, or people working within a religion. The Big Bang was theorized by a Catholic priest.

Part 2 next week.

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Prayers

January 10, 2017 Leave a comment

In some ways religious people have it easy. A person they know gets really sick, or has an operation, or is in dire straights; and they can always say “I’ll pray for you,” and that means that they are doing something. I’m not trying to get into a whole thing about how it is just masking laziness or whatever…I’ll do that later, but the religious person the true believer, honestly has an understanding that if they concentrate on a thing that they have done something–even if the answer is counter to their intent they can still, at the very least, say that they tried.

I was raised Catholic and we had this whole intercession thing that was very convoluted but it was a system that required you to do a bit more work than the direct line the Protestants have. So if you had a desire that you needed supernatural help with, you had to find the saint that was the patron of it, figure out what kind of prayer they liked, and then they would talk to god on your behalf. Someone with cancer, Peregrine; risky air travel, Joseph of Cupertino (died in 1663–before air travel, but he’s the patron saint of flight); or video on the internet loading choppy, toss a prayer to Saint Isidore (died 636–before even the printing press). It’s a bit of work, and as a kid I had to learn the various saints and what they were the patron for, or else I could skip the middlemen and just appeal directly to the big guy. It was a confusing system but I believe that I was told we weren’t supposed to bother god with the little things and just go through these other people. Which is weird when I think about it: were they telling me that god’s inbox got too full?

I wasn’t Catholic anymore by the time I got married, but we still did the Catholic wedding. That meant that we had to go to their day long wedding class. A concept which still makes me chuckle as the person in charge of it was never going to have first hand experience getting married. The day was broken up into various sub-classes and one of them was about conflict resolution. It was being run by a married couple who were putting on their best portrayal of a marriage and explaining that if you have a fight you should each take a second and say a prayer, then come back to the topic (probably praying to either Saints Priscilla, Monica, Joseph, and my favorite of the bunch Thomas More). This way you get the help to resolve the topic. Lo and behold, you will have a clearer head and be able to, hopefully, solve the problem. I got the trick almost immediately, it wasn’t a prayer it was the time it took to say/think it that was the real causal factor here. It wouldn’t matter if we each took a few minutes to say a prayer, get something to eat, or play a video game. Taking a few minutes and letting the emotions calm down allows cooler heads to prevail.

Then there were the things I wasn’t supposed to pray for. Couldn’t pray for money, to get free stuff, or for my enemies to suffer. The last one makes sense, I get that. The first two though don’t. They’re selfish was the reason that I was taught, and god doesn’t grant those kinds of prayers anyway. So if there is no hope in getting them then why say I can’t do it? All I’m doing is wasting time, but I wonder what the difference really is perceived as. If I’m sick and I pray to get better, it’s a selfish prayer: I just want to get better. Whereas if god granted my prayer for more money I could have used that money to help other people. What if that was truly my motive? The world would be better served if I could help the poor, and I would have to give the credit to god. I was told that’s not how things work, just as someone who lost an arm can’t pray for the arm to grow back. God isn’t going to grant that prayer, but no one has ever explained why. I have my own theory and it’s the same reason that Wiccans aren’t supposed to use their spells to harm people.

Not because it will work, but because it won’t.

See, the guy’s arm is never growing back. God isn’t doing it. It requires too much of a subversion of the natural order and biology for this to ever be the case. It’s why that as soon as we started keeping good medical records, miracles became internal. It’s no longer a blind person being able to see or a paralyzed person walking again. Now the miracles which give saints their titles are all about a strange form of cancer that disappeared for a bit. Or the disappearance of a cyst, in the case of Monica Besra (the miracle that precluded the beatification of Mother Teresa), despite the fact that Besra had been treated with conventional medicine for a year that had the specific intention of curing the tumor. It’s just a case of confirmation bias, and in this case not even the patient believed that it was anything other than a result of the treatment. Miracles as the result of saintly intercession have an exceedingly low bar to clear.

This is because prayer is not about the intent, it’s about the subject getting hope. Which is why you aren’t supposed to pray for things that give a tangible, extra-ordinary result. In those cases, like that of the Wiccan trying to smite their enemies, the result will be nothing greater than a coincidence. Convicted fraudster Jim Bakker claims that it was his prayers that allowed the miracle of Trump’s election. Never mind that the pollsters gave Trump the same odds as winning as the Chicago Cubs in the World Series (according to 538), god subverted the true results, causing Trump to win, and now we don’t have to buy Bakker’s slop buckets. Ok, that last part is definitely a good thing.

Categories: Uncategorized

Math

January 2, 2017 Leave a comment

Happy New Year…I guess. Last year it was 2016 and this year is one more than that so it’s 2017. Because that’s how numbers work right? I mean it’s universal and there is no reason to think otherwise…

Unless of course you meet several criteria each more confusing and elaborate than the last. I have actually been sitting on this story for a few weeks for a few reasons, but none as near as confusing as the “reasoning” that I am about to elaborate. The first is that it is so utterly absurd that I didn’t believe it. I came across this gem from the Cognitive Dissonance Podcast episode 332, and while I love the podcast the way they cover their stories means I have to double check. I’m not calling them out for spreading false information, just that they take a humorous tone with everything and inflate the absurdities because they cover the absurd. Once I confirmed the story was as crazy as they made it sound I had grading to do. Lots and lots of grading. After that was done, I was burnt from grading and posted my rant about it last week. Now I feel I can cover the story.

1 + 1 = 2. That’s how numbers work, if you have 1 thing and another thing, you have 2 things. There is only one way this simple formula doesn’t work, and that is if two people disagree on the meaning of the symbols. That however is an epistemic problem and/or a linguistic problem. Which is a legitimate issue, and why we send out pulses of prime numbers and geometry when trying to communicate with extraterrestrials. Merely scrawling pi = 3.14 on the side of Voyager doesn’t mean anything if the creatures which find it have no comprehension of what any of that means. There’s also the post-modernist problems with math in that it tells a euro-centric narrative (they do this with science as well which Alan Sokal pointed out in his famous hoax). It’s a ridiculous notion because the thing with math is that it is independent of the external world. You might argue the inherent unfairness of language, and that could be a debate, but math isn’t about language it’s about reason thus we never need two things to prove that 1 + 1 = 2. We can have an entire rule set regarding math which never applies to the actual world, e.g. negative numbers aren’t things. They can’t represent things because we are talking about not only emptiness but positive representations of emptiness which isn’t possible. There can be no existence below existence.

However these are not the problems that are being presented in “Why Math isn’t Religiously Neutral” by Israel Wayne. The problem being presented here is that math is contingent on Jesus. The post begins with Johnny asking why 2 + 4 = 6 all the time. Why is it 6 today, but never 7 on another day. The article goes on to explain that the teacher must repeat the official government story that the story of math begins 14 billion years ago at the Big Bang, then proceeds through random chance to evolution, which also for some reason includes math. Evolution apparently, created math and this is what we teach to the kids unless we want to just say “math simply is.”

Or, we can give the “true” story which is that Jesus created  math and it’s not the process of random chance, evolution, or whatever Nihilism that the government and “Big Math” wants us to teach. See only the Christian can give the true understanding of math, which is Jesus did it. The reasoning is that if you combine a few unrelated bible quotes Col 1:15-17, John 1:1-3, and Romans 1:20 the religious interpretation of math is superior because only it understands why.

The reasoning behind this is so absurd I don’t even know if it’s not even wrong. Let’s get this out of the way right now: 2 + 4 = 6 always. It’s not up for debate. If everyone involved understands the definitions of the numbers that’s how it is, we don’t need a god to underlie the meaning of it.

Secondly, math is independent of Evolution. Even if nothing evolved, if everything merely popped into existence then math would still be the same thing. It wouldn’t matter if there were no people. It’s purely rational. It’s so utterly rational that all civilizations independent of each other (and Jesus) have come up with it, barring their different symbols used in place of course. Math has nothing to do with the results of evolution, other than allowing us the brain power to come up with the symbols and the principles behind it.

Thirdly, there is no government “story of math.” Math text books might begin with a little history about the development of mathematics from Archimedes, Euclid, and Pythagoras in the Greek world, perhaps the addition of Babylonian, Indian, Arabic, and Mayan influences in the development of arithmetic, but usually it’s just an introduction and then on to the numbers.

Finally, the author is incorrect that the Christian zealot is better equipped to teach math, or anything other than the bible (and really, not even then), to kids. Their primary, and indeed only, book is littered with scientific inaccuracies that don’t measure up the real world. This normally wouldn’t be a problem, I study Philosophy, and Aristotle’s science has large holes in it, just as Hippocrates’ medical books have errors. However, two important facts separates those authors from the Bible. The first being that they present arguments/evidence for the claims they make. Aristotle reasons that things fall down because they are heavy, which he has in reverse if we are being generous (things are heavy because they fall). Hippocrates attributes the illness of various groups to the climate they live in his work “Airs Waters Places” which could be correct but he has no idea about germs and such. The second and most important difference is that neither individuals are claiming to be reciting the inerrant mind of god or claiming that their words were the literal words of god. They can be wrong and no one is going to lose sleep over it.

However the bible claims that Pi = 3 (1 Kings 7:23 – 26) or its claiming that Solomon’s cauldron did not exist, by virtue of the contradiction negating the existence of the thing. It’s also worth pointing out that math as a measurement doesn’t proscribe a thing it just defines it. A circle doesn’t correspond to Pi because Pi makes the thing, it’s just how we measure the ration of the diameter to the circumference.

Although all of this misses the unintentionally funniest part of the story: which is what was math like before Jesus? Did 1 + 2 = 6 for the Indians, while 1 + 2 =10 for Japanese? I’m not understanding why we need Jesus for this whole operation as the societies without him, and contemporaneous with the ancient Israelites were able to come much closer to the real measurement of Pi then the group that literally, according to them, carried around god in a box.