Author Archive

12 Out of 21

April 23, 2018 Leave a comment

GQ is a magazine that I have never purchased, I’m only familiar with it in passing. By that I mean that I literally pass it at the checkout line in the grocery store. I only really notice it when there’s a pretty woman on the cover which is a rare event. It’s a fashion magazine for men in all the ways that Maxim wasn’t, and it’s a magazine that has little appeal to me personally.

Nothing about the magazine is off putting either, I don’t hate it but I have read some interviews and articles from the magazine then guffawed at the amount of money some people will pay for toiletries. Like any magazine these days they need to put out some articles that will make sales, and this month they posted an iconoclastic article titled: “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read.” The general thesis of the article is that the literary canon is full of boring, dated, sometimes sexist/racist books that were products of a different time but that the intelligentsia class (I know this is me) has said are the “great books.”

Some of them I have read, and some of them I hated. For instance I’ve never understood either the appeal or the controversy of “Catcher in the Rye.” He’s a whiny douchebag from the upper classes who goes slumming one day because he’s bored, gets a prostitute, doesn’t pay, upsets his sister, then reconciles that he belongs in the prison that he spent the entire book condemning. I guess the book was popular in its day because it used language that was representative of actual teenagers who attended boarding school, but the appeal is just lost on me. The controversy is even more of a mystery but I think that it might be due to a generational thing. The language he uses is not vulgar to me, but back then it was. “Huckleberry Finn” is on there, which sure, it’s been a long time since I’ve read it but I think the author of the submission missed the point: Twain isn’t a racist, he portrayed “Nigger Jim” the way he did to make a point about slavery, racism, and the attitudes of the South. However the entry made a point, that if all you know about Twain is Huckleberry Finn, then you really are missing out.

This brings us to #12 on the list: The Bible. The entry says, “The Holy Bible is rated very highly by the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality haven’t read it. Those who have read it know there are some good parts but overall it is certainly not the finest thing man has ever produced. It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.”

Basically all of that is true but you should still read it. I know very few people who didn’t go to seminary school who can claim that they’ve read the Bible. I’ve read all of it, skipping the genealogy chapters because who cares, I wanted the stories and the morals. I was told to read it in Catholic school, a task to which I willingly assented due to my religiosity at the time. Whenever I hear some pundit talking about the problem in this country is that too few people read the Bible, I agree. More people ought to read it, it does not belong on this list. They ought to sit down and read it from Genesis 1:1 to the very end of Revelations, skipping only the copyright and font page at the end. Read the footnotes if your book has it, read all of it and then come to me and explain why the GQ author was wrong because there’s little doubt in my mind that you will disagree.

Look, the Bible has some good stories…sort of. However, for every one of the good stories in it, there’s ten that are boring, five that are horrible, and then an entire book filled with either genealogy charts or a whole bunch of laws regarding who can and can’t enter the temple on a certain day. The good stories are derivative. The story of Sampson, is the story that a drunk person who overheard the Greek Myth of Hercules tells when they try and retell it (seriously, what’s the point of the fox thing it doesn’t make sense). Moses is probably the best written character in it and he’s kind of a monster. The Jesus character would be better if we didn’t have four books that contradict each other. He’s also very odd, and I don’t mean in that “savior of man-kind so he’s going to be odd” odd, I mean that this is a guy that curses a tree because it isn’t producing figs (and I wonder what time of year it is, should that tree have had figs?). There’s boring letters and the entire book ends with an insane fever dream full of impossible things (stars can’t fall into the ocean) but to its credit is very vivid. If you don’t cherry pick, the book is unreadable which is why you should try and read it, especially if you are a believer.

However, it is even weird for me to put in a review of the book like that because the reason it’s a “great book” is because we’ve been told for centuries of years that it is the “greatest book” by people who initially opposed its mass publication, and opposed its translation into the common tongue. It’s like watching “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Look, that movie is boring, unnecessarily long, and tedious at points. There’s some good parts and without it we wouldn’t have science fiction films the way we have them today. Yet, we’ve all been told that it’s one of the greatest movies ever so we kind of just accept it. The difference between the two is that 2001 is a marvel at filmmaking (just not in storytelling) while the Bible is just not a well written book. It might have something to do with multiple authors who aren’t compatible, telling a historical story centuries after the fact, or the fact that it is a compilation of things that don’t quite fit in (what the hell is Ecclesiastes doing in there anyway?).

As Mark Twain (allegedly) said about the book, the road to atheism is littered with pages of the Bible. So by all means disagree with the article and read it.


Don’t Call Them Liars

April 16, 2018 1 comment

I’ve mentioned that I have a student who is outspoken regarding being a Muslim. She’s not disruptive or in any other way a bad student, in fact, she’s one of my better students. A prior post related how she forced me through debate to familiarize myself with some Islamic translations in order to argue the point that the Quran believes the world to be flat. It came down to one translation of one word in one passage that says “egg shaped” regarding the Earth. However, this translation of 79:30 translates the word “dahaha” as Ostrich egg rather than the more common translation of “spread out.” What’s troubling for this position, and my student’s as well, is that this isn’t consistent for the 19 instances that the shape and position of the Earth is mentioned. We had our discussion and then it was left. I’m not entirely sure what she took from it, other than that I as her instructor was willing to delve into some thing that I wasn’t sure about.

Last class though, we were wrapping up a discussion on limitations on free speech. I was trying to get the class to admit that we ought to be able to censor things that aren’t true (As much as I want to believe this should be the case I know that the arguments against it are much better and was playing devil’s advocate). The aforementioned student raised her hand, not my policy–it’s college, they can just talk, and said that it makes some sense because there are a lot of people that claim Islam creates terrorists and that causes people to hate Muslims, and that’s not true.

Her phrasing of the sentence was odd or perhaps I misheard she’s very soft-spoken in class (but not one on one). I replied that I didn’t quite understand what part of the sentence wasn’t true as they both seemed true to me. She replied that Islam does not proscribe violence, that terrorists are not true Muslims, and that people who hear that it does commit crimes against Muslims who haven’t done anything. I’ll say this, it was probably the best clarification I had ever heard from a student.

How to respond to this became the issue and my mind was racing for an answer. The first issue is that I’m not going to censor the truth, we literally put that subject to bed during class and had moved on to censoring falsehood. I explained that like all religions, Islam does have a call to war for the unbelievers, that we it’s a difficult problem because despite the 99% of non-violent people that 1% makes the rest look bad in countries where that religion isn’t the majority but I would hesitate to say that they aren’t real Muslims.

She replied that it’s not in there, and that you can’t be considered a real Muslim if you commit acts of terror. Now at this point I knew that I was stepping into a problem, without consulting my phone to look it up I couldn’t, from memory, recite the lines from the Quran that advocate violence to the non-believer (2:191, 3:28, 3:85, 5:33, 8:12, 8:60, 8:65, 9:5, 9:30, among others) but I needed to address a different problem. The reason was that we had spent part of the philosophy of religion section on rules in the Bible that Christians ignore routinely. For instance, conservative Christians are the most virulent anti-immigrants in politics right now despite the Bible telling them to welcome immigrants with open arms and to take care of them (lev 19:10, 33-34, Lev 24:35, Ex 22:21, Ex 23:9, Deut 10:19, Deut 24:17-21, Jer 7:6, Jer 22:3, Zech 7:10, Matt 25:35), but we don’t call them fake Christians…well, not everyone does. What we should concentrate on is how they identify themselves. If I blow up a bus in the name of the one true faith, it’s reasonable to assume that I believe in that true faith and think that I am doing the best for it. It really doesn’t matter what religion it is, as long as there is a reasonable interpretation of the religious tenants that motivated my action I should be considered as telling the truth (even Jainism justifies violence in certain cases but if I start killing apple growers because I believe they contributed to the Fall of Man, then that’s probably on me and not the Bible in that instance).

It’s a sentiment that I first brought up when criticizing Obama’s statement that ISIS was not a religious group: they were because they believed themselves to be, were using the Quran to justify their actions, and were taking part in attacking those that they deemed heretics. I explained to the student that all religions do this, it’s just that now most religious people don’t adhere to those parts of their books. She disagreed in the case of Islam by which I had to move on because without the proper lines I couldn’t press the point further. However I did concede her point that claiming that all Muslims are terrorists does lead to crimes against Islam which is why both Obama and Bush were very careful to separate which was which.

A side issue having to do with this is that the religious want it both ways when they invoke the argument from martyrdom apologetic. They claim that their religion must be true because there exists a number of people who have died for their religion, thus their belief cannot be a lie. However they don’t accept this premise when someone kills other people including themselves for the same purpose. Then it’s a the Scotsman fallacy all the way. It’s a poor apologetic because all it claims is that the person believed it, not that their belief was justified. After all we shouldn’t say they were lying.

Categories: atheism, religion, School


April 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Friday night I met Lucien Grieves, the founder of the Satanic Temple, at the CFI Headquarters in Buffalo. The Satanic Temple is a non-theistic religious group (meaning they are defined by law as a religious group) that has a couple of goals. The first is helping to maintain the separation of church and state by suing over laws that favor one religion over another or that privilege religion over non-religion. The second was the purpose of the talk on Friday night: to expose an ongoing pseudo-scientific strain that has infected the study of psychology since the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s and 90s.

Their focus has primarily been on the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD). This is a group that focuses on dissociative identity disorder (what we used to call multiple personality disorder) and the relation between that condition and abuse related trauma. On the surface it seems like this is actually science or at least a proto-science that they are seeking to gain credibility with. I’m not a psychologist so I can’t speak of the truth of DID only to say that the general consensus amongst experts is that it is a real condition but it is controversial as to what the condition actually is. The problem lies in whether the alternate personalities (alters in the literature) are socially constructed or a direct result of the trauma itself. In either case, again, I’m not qualified to weigh on this part of the debate.

What I am qualified to speak about is where it comes from or where it doesn’t in actuality. How DID manifests is a difficult issue, but we know one thing: that Satanic mind control, Illuminati training, and witch rituals aren’t the origin. This is what the Grieves spoke about: that this otherwise normally sounding organization, the ISSTD, looks on the surface to be tackling a legitimate subject just below the surface are the panic mongers instilling fear of groups which do not exist who have powers beyond the scope of the normal world.

This is all related to the Satanic Panic. The allegations during the panic where that children could be psychologically abused in such a way that the abuser could force their minds to forget the abuse and to create an alternate personality that would shield their true self from the memory. The members of the ISSTD, medical professionals, all believe that this is true. In 2014 Rachel Thomas presented on patients being abused by lizard aliens, which I suppose is one step above David Icke’s theory since they at least live in this dimension.

The general problem is not whether DID exists, it is not research into childhood trauma, it is in where that trauma originates. Aliens, Lizard Aliens, Satanic Cults, and Witch Covens do not kidnap children for these purposes because these groups do not exist in this fashion. The hysteria over it does, and a culture that believes in these things will treat them as though they are real. ISSTD presenter Neil Brick, claims that he was a programmed psychic assassin by a joint operation of the Illuminati and Freemasons (because why not check all the boxes in my conspiracy bingo card). None of this is happening, it isn’t now and it wasn’t in the 80s.

I remember that the original panic well. I followed it on the news because it was weird and to be honest I can’t honestly say that I was doubtful about it. When people those days said something on television, I didn’t have my skepticism/cynicism that I have today. I do remember the church that I attended taking it much more seriously than they should have. However given the current Pope’s endorsement of the exorcists I guess nothing has really changed. They gave us a work sheet full of Satanic symbols, lectured us on the necessity of being aware of Satanists in our neghborhoods, and then brought a local cop out to inform us about the legal ramifications. I will note that the cop was not buying it but she said we should look out for drug use and vandalism.

The biggest mystery of the panic to me is where it came from and why it took hold. My research has it starting with the book “Michelle Remembers” by Lawrence Pazder and his former patient/future wife Michelle Smith about her experiences of being a sexual abuse victim in a Satanic cult. The book has been thoroughly disproven not only by the incredibleness of the claims but the impossibility of them as well (Events in the book could not be corroborated  by outside sources but also it would require Michelle to have been in two places at the same time given the 61 day ritual described in the book). Fiction is usually the place to look, and with the popularity of The Exorcist a few years prior that seems likely, just as reports of alien abduction immediately followed the success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (similarly fear of nuclear power following the movie The China Syndrome which just preceded the Three Mile Island accident [of which the latter harmed no one]).

The why question is more mysterious though, why did this take hold at the time that it did rather than any other time before or after? The majority of Americans seem to recognize the crazy now. People are getting smarter, but before the 80s this didn’t happen either. A couple of sources I’ve read point to the rise in television evangelism, but that seems to be a symptom rather than the cause. What drove the profitability of television evangelism to the point where they could push a paranoid view of a world where Satanic cults kidnap and murder children? Why was it accepted? These are the important questions as we ponder how this incredible phenomenon still has ripples that affect the world today.

Hell is Other People (Apparently)

April 2, 2018 Leave a comment

The Atheist news sphere was abuzz last week about the Pope’s apparent declaration of two things: that the soul is not eternal and that hell doesn’t exist. These comments were made to La Republicca reporter Eugenio Scalfari, a frequent interviewer of the Pope, atheist, and editor of the newspaper in question. He’s also 93 years old and doesn’t take notes or record his interviews (we’ll put a pin that for now).

So, this creates a problem because the typical story that has been happening since Francis has been in obvious is that he says something reasonable like Hell doesn’t exist, that God isn’t a wizard who can make creation out of nothing, or that atheists aren’t intrinsically bad people: then people cover the comment upon which the Vatican, not the Pope himself, begins walking back the comment.

Scalfari reported that the Pope said, “Hell does not exist–what exists is the disappearance of souls.”

Let’s assume he’s quoting faithfully. What are the implications? Well, first off this would be in line with the Renaissance belief noted in Dante that upon final judgment those in Hell are oblivated. They suffer their punishments in Hell, but then everything is washed away and those souls no longer exist after that event. This is noted in Dante as the souls in Hell can see the future. It’s an ironic punishment because they can see the end and know that though they wish their suffering to end, they also are aware that when the suffering ends they do as well.

As a philosopher it’s hard for me reconcile the comment that “what exists is the disappearance…” I mean, how does a disappearance exist? First off it’s an event, not a thing, but secondly it’s a lack not a presence so it can’t truly exist. None of that is important right now, so we will have to move on.

The problem with Hell is that it is a punishment that does not fit the crime, and this is true no matter what the crime actually is, simply because the length of time is infinite. We take this eternal situation and we place it against the notion of divine justice and we are thrust right into the Euthyphro dilemma. Divine justice would necessitate that punishment not only fit the crime but that it is done for the purpose of atonement. If I am a perpetual thief, I spend my entire life stealing, then I should be punished for it. In the afterlife, I should spend a certain amount of time being chased and bitten by reptiles. There has to be a certain amount of time by which a rational being would say that I have atoned for that crime. To say that I deserve eternal torture at the hands of these reptiles isn’t justice it’s vengeance.

Now, the apologist may claim that vengeance is the privilege of the Divine. Alright, that’s a fair point but it can’t, under any circumstance, be weighed against the crime or be called justice. The two are not related, and it is more reminiscent of Thrasymachus’ claim that justice is whatever the powerful say it is than some other metaphysical notion of justice.

Now of course, I as an Atheist, have a bias interest in their not being a Hell and for there not being a eternal punishment. I have to accept that, but I also have to accept the numerous conflicting crimes that get a person into Hell, in the words of Reverend Lovejoy, “Have you ever actually sat down and read this thing, we’re technically not allowed to go to the bathroom.” I’m pretty sure that it’s all a role of the dice anyway.

The problem with the comment is that we can’t assume that it’s the actual words of the Pope to begin with. The Vatican does have a point and this reporter doesn’t take notes or record the interviews. We can add that he’s 93 but some people, even nonagenarians, have sharp minds so let’s leave aside his age. The pope may have said something wherein he was clarifying the notion of Hell, i.e. saying that “Hell doesn’t exist the way people have imagined it” denying that “Hell” exists, but not the Hell of Dante. The popular view of Hell is not one that appears until John’s fever dream of Revelation anyway so the Pope could just be clarifying.

The most important point is that if he said it, and it was reported accurately the Pope isn’t making a doctrinal statement nor is he pronouncing the sentiment ex cathedra (invoking his infallibility). From the Catholic position this means he’s merely offering a personal view but not indicating a policy shift regarding the beliefs of the millions of Catholics in the world. While a shocking thing for a Pope to say, it’s not important as far as reflecting the beliefs of the Church itself.

As the Friendly Atheist blog points out, just last week the Pope urged members of the Italian mafia to repent less they be condemned to Hell. Further the Pope’s endorsement of exorcisms seems to bely at least the tangential belief in the place since that must be where all the demons and monsters live.

It’s important that we take this comment and the implications of it with a health dose of the same skepticism we apply to everything else. It’s a literal fallacy to accept the words of an individual that we normally would deny just because he’s saying something that we want to hear.

Fortune and Popularity

March 19, 2018 Leave a comment

Let’s start with some good news. I assigned my introduction to Philosophy course to write a short one page essay on whether or not a person needs religion to be moral. I have 41 students in the course, and 0 papers responded in the affirmative. Even though I had some papers begin with “I consider myself a devout Christian,” “Being raised Catholic,” and “As a practicing Muslim…” not one person in the class was of the opinion that religion was a necessary factor in being a good person. This, coupled with my skepticism course in which I just asked the question as a yes/no/don’t know received all but one in the affirmative (the missing one didn’t answer the question so I pushed that into the “don’t know” category).

It seems to me that this is the last realm where religion has the upper hand and the new generation is killing it off. So what’s the next move; would it be to figure out what about the current message is turning people off, make whatever adjustments possible, and go for a kind of rebranding? That makes sense and is the most reasonable measure that an individual could take. Perhaps such self-reflection may make the people in charge realize that they refocus their efforts toward something that matters to the up and coming generations, dial down the rhetoric when it comes to apostates, atheists, and homosexuals. Perhaps allow women a higher position in the hierarchy or (in the case of the Vatican) allow priests to marry. I’m just spit balling here. The other option is to force the individual to come to you through the use of fear.

Italian Philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli is rather infamous for his line that it is better to be feared than loved when it came to how the Prince ought to be viewed by his subjects. Without getting into it too much, this is a serious misquotation of his sentiment. What he said was that being loved is the ideal, but that people are too fickle and too ready to take advantage that being loved by them is a difficult endeavor; while making the population fear you is much easier. Once love is lost it is quite difficult to reclaim it while fear is a much simpler emotion to get back. If the aristocracy loses the fear of the state, the state can just start making arrests and seizures, but to regain love it is a mystery as to what the state can do.

I bring it up because of two news stories coming out of the Vatican. The first is that the International Association of Exorcists, back in January were pleading that they needed new recruits to meet the demand for their services. The second piece of news was that the Vatican was blaming the rise in demand for exorcisms on fortune tellers. These two pieces of news are related of course. The one sees a need for demand while the other tries to explain the demand. However, is the motive the desperate need to drive up the demand for services through the emotion of fear? The concept of possession is a frightening one, that something can take over your mind and body, and especially so if that being is malevolent (interesting that we never hear of benevolent possession).

The problem is that in lieu of actually attempting to bring people in through the changes I mentioned above they are resorting to the fear of the unknowable. A fear that is based in a phenomenon that has no basis in reality. When religion was total, it served not only the moral explanation but also the worldly explanation. The things which happened in the world, in the environment, and in the body were explained through the nature of the religion. Possession, the transformation of an individual into something terrible, was explained through demons. Now, we have numerous other explanations for that same concept so this idea of demonic possession is unneeded. What’s even more unneeded is the solution to the problem: exorcists. If someone is suffering from “possession” they need to see a mental health professional not someone who is going to chant at them a magic spell.

The second part: the purported cause of the rise in demonic possessions is as absurd as it gets. This would be like hearing a Reiki practitioner blame a rise of cancer on touch therapy. Let’s make the bold assumption that fortune telling was a real thing: why would that be related to demonic possession? Are the fortune tellers learning the future from demons, if so, then the fortune tellers are performing literal miracles. Not only are they viewing that-which-has-yet-to-happen but they are also communing with the spiritual world.

Fortune telling isn’t new though, and a particular target of the Vatican are tarot cards, which aren’t new either. They date back to the renaissance Europe, and were originally just playing cards until the 18th century when they were almost exclusively used for the divination practice they are commonly associated with today. Unless there’s been a severe uptick in the amount of decks sold or people having their fortunes read by them, this only makes sense as a means to remain relevant. Sure, if morality is no longer the magisterium of the church, the physical realm is out, I suppose the last realm is defense against the dark arts. A person who believes in possession is probably also likely to contact a psychic so why not claim that the competition is the cause.

I will concede them one point though, fortune telling is responsible for demonic possession in the same way that unicorns are responsible for UFO sightings. (sorry for the lack of links–I’m having a computer issue that is forcing me to use a ten year old model and my patience for it to catch up is non-existent)

Theological debate

March 5, 2018 Leave a comment

I have just finished teaching the a-religious section of my intro to Phil course. It was prefaced by Cicero’s Design Argument (as well as a sub-argument within it) and the Anselm Ontological Argument. From there I move on to Paine and Ingersoll writing against the truth of religion. Both of them have similar complaints but it is Ingersoll writing with the benefit of a hundred years of scientific progress who really nails it down in his essay “The Gods.”

His point is that none of the “revealed religions” contribute anything to scientific discovery. At best, they are only as advanced in knowledge as the science of their day. He concludes this position by stating that an omniscient being communicating to his chosen prophet should have knowledge of the world that is more than the people know at the time or at least clear and unambiguous if it is to be limited to contemporary knowledge. In order to assist in the understanding of the argument I make two things very clear: the first is that the argument only applies to those reading their respective works literally. By this I mean Ken Ham build a boat in Kentucky literally. For example most Christians do not accept the Bible as an accurate gauge of the age of the Earth. They, in short, reject Usherrism (that the Earth is only 6000 years old). It’s not a doctrine of the religion generally. The same would apply to other religions and their creation stories. I find it doubtful that any of the Norse believed in Ymir and the giant cow as stories that were literally true and not just as stories.

The second thing I make absolutely clear is that this is not just some liberal anti-Christian bashing either and I bring in examples from other religions that also show a scientific ignorance of the world. Along with the Bible’s Flat Earthness I show the same problem with the Quran. Suras 13:3, 15:19, 18:86, 18:90, 50:7, 51:48, 79:30, 88:20, 91:6; all refer to the Earth as being “spread out” or “rolled out.” I’m not a Quranic scholar nor an Arabic scholar. I speak no Arabic, but I can however, recognize the letters as being Arabic (which means nearly nothing, I can point to something and say “Arabic” but that is literally it). All I can go by are the translations that are available to me and every one of those 9 verses of the Quran tell me that the book has the world being flat.

The first time I introduced this problem, this semester, after a class I student approached me. Let’s call her “Aisha” as that’s one of the most common Muslim names for women, Aisha disputed my claim about the Quran. She’s a practicing Sunni Muslim who went to Quranic school. I value the truth more than being considered correct and my only problem with the student is why she didn’t bring it up during the lecture, but I’ve been told by previous students that I can come across rather imposing so maybe it’s that. Anyway, she claimed that the Quran makes the claim that the Earth is “egg-shaped” rather than flat–this is something that I’ve heard before but never really looked too much into it. I didn’t feel that I had to with three verses backing me up on the flat earth. The general thesis that I was teaching was the book was wrong, and even if one verse claims that it’s egg-shaped I have three (eight with a full survey of all verses) claiming that it’s not. She repeated the claim during lecture a session later, having gained some confidence that I wasn’t going to rip into her for challenging me, and I publicly said that egg shaped would be far more accurate than flat giving it a point on the Bible, but then still missing the general knowledge when placed against the Greeks, Babylonians, and Egyptians of the same time.

After class, Aisha challenged the position again saying that since the Earth isn’t a sphere which the Greeks claimed but rather an oblate spheroid the Quran is closer to the mark. I told her honestly, I didn’t know, but that I would look it up. And thus here we are.

First problem: the Earth isn’t shaped like an egg. It’s not even close. The shape being described as an “oblate spheroid” is largely a geometrical description because it bows out a little in the center. For intents and purposes the Earth is a sphere, just an imperfect sphere. Sticking to the “oblate spheroid” description would be like telling my daughter that she drew a rhombus and not a square because I doubt all of the angles were 90 degrees. Eggs are narrower at one end than the other, that’s not the Earth so Ingersoll’s point would still stand here as the omniscient being should have that knowledge and ability to communicate it.

Second: I’ve already mentioned it, the book has one verse making this claim and eight others making the flat claim. Clear and unambiguous was the expectation Paine and Ingersoll had for the inerrant word of God. Even if we remove those qualifications it should not be contradictory.

Third: The Quran does not say “egg-shaped.” This took some digging to which I’m actually grateful to have been forced into doing. The three primary English translations of the Quran translate Sura 79:30 as “And the Earth, moreover, hath He extended (to a wide expanse);” “And after that He spread the Earth;” “And the Earth, He expanded it after that” this from the translation by Yusuf Ali, Pickthall, and Shakir respectively. “Egg” comes from Dr. Rashid Khalifa who translates it as “He made the Earth egg-shaped.” This translation is regarded amongst the orthodoxy as heretical, however that’s not my issue with it (this post would be considered heretical) though it is an important issue for the faithful, so I’m going to put a pin in that. What does matter is that contextually the verse doesn’t make sense. 79:29 discusses making the day and night, 79:31 details making the sea and the pastures.

If 79:30 doesn’t fit. “He made the dark therof, then brought for the the morn therof, he made the Earth egg-shaped, and produced the water…” It would be redundant to claim this egg shape as the dark and morning are already established to be cyclical. Further, the repeated claim that the sun circles the Earth (13:2, 18:86 [a repeat from the earlier list], 21:33, 35:13, 36:38, 36:40), actually makes more sense contextually with a flat earth than with a round earth.

It’s an interesting situation and it is clear to me that Khalifa is retrofitting a word that can be loosely interpreted as “egg-shaped” so that the Quran is more accurate than it seems to be. It’s also curious that this is the only time he makes this adjustment and not for the other eight times. No matter the case, the problem is that it falls further into the trap of Ingersoll as he points out the excuses the faithful make when defending the mistakes of knowledge in their holy book.

A Religious Duty?

February 26, 2018 Leave a comment

Well I’m impressed, we’ve managed to keep the latest mass shooting in the news for more than a week. If not for the effort of the school’s students this thing probably would have gone away by now, but those plucky young high school students have bitten back at a lobby group and the gun fetishists. What those people forget is while they might be good at verbal sparring, passive aggressive and aggressive social interactions, that’s all these kids know–they are in high school. If their high school experience was anything like mine, that’s four years of constantly having to come up with insults and rejoinders, it’s their life while their opponents just have to remember what they said two weeks ago after the last shooting.

This however isn’t a political blog, though sometimes it steps into that territory–and this post will be one foot in and one foot out. I want to talk about the mass shooting on Valentine’s Day, but I will do so by asking a question: why are Christian evangelicals so in love with firearms?

For those who consider themselves Conservatives, I get it, I don’t agree because they have lauded the 2nd Amendment to a status where it overwhelms all other rights, but it’s part of their political platform. For the conspiracy theorists with the delusional Red Dawn fantasies playing out in their heads, again, I get it–you’re wrong but I get it. It’s these Christians that I don’t understand. How is it that owning an assault rifle has become part of your religion?

One church had scheduled a blessing of assault-style rifles before the shooting but then refused to cancel or reschedule the event after it. Which, fine if they want to keep it going that’s up to them, my confusion is why this is even a thing? I’m willing to bet that there’s a strong overlap between the type of church that does this, the type of preacher that supports it, and the type of parishioner that attends and Apocalypse preaching. After every shooting we can count on these types to offer the same type of reasoning: taking god out of the schools, gay marriage, abortion, etc. They have a knee-jerk reaction to blaming access to these types of guns and want to blame it on literally anything else (even when the shootings happen in churches).

When I was religious, I wasn’t into the Apocalypse stuff. I read Revelations, a few times, but that was mostly because it was so weird. I was into D&D and mythology so that book fit in, though it wasn’t as well written. Being raised Catholic, I was taught that the book was not a literal check list of things that were going to happen before the end of the world but that it was just some of the usual metaphorical literature that was universal amongst end time religions in those days. My “New American Bible for Catholics” is specific in its introduction: “This much, however, is certain: symbolic descriptions are not to be taken as literal descriptions, nor is the symbolism meant to be pictured realistically.”

That’s the general message of every time I was taught this book. Interestingly, this book is where I started to realize that my religion was full of numerology which, at the time,  I did not know was a bullshit pattern recognition coupled with some good old fashioned consequent affirmation. Everything in the book has a number in it: Jesus is a seven horned, seven eyed, lamb for example. If I still had them, I could scan copies of my doodles of these monsters, the beast with seven heads, seven horns on each, and seven crowns on each horn was probably just a mess…especially if I was trying to fit it in the margins of a single subject spiral notebook.

Yet we know that there are those that take this book quite literally and I wonder if the reflexive defense of guns is related. The enormously popular “Left Behind” books and movies by La Haye and Jenkins seem to agree with me. Portraying a world in which all the real true Christians are raptured while those that are not wage a guerilla/terrorist war against the one world government fuels the idea that weapons are needed to fight the Anti-Christ. If this is so, then why is the focus on the war part of this kind of Christian theology rather than on following the teachings and then hoping to get raptured? It seems that this type of Christian has just given up hope and latched on to a “warrior for god” mentality that they, for some reason, believe will grant them eternal bliss in heaven.

No matter the explanation there is an intrinsic relationship with ownership of a gun and a particular strain of religious belief. If Jesus is love, then why do I need an AK, AR, or HK?

This strange bed fellowship is more than likely related to the false sense of persecution that these people feel whenever other groups are granted the same legal rights that they felt were exclusively theirs for the longest time. Pointing out why that perspective is flawed has been the subject of numerous other entries on this blog.

Then again, it could be much simpler. It could be that the religious right is just that in name only. We’ve already seen that they are willing to endorse our current president in the name of family values when he’s defaulted on that several times. It could very well be that these religious extremists will say anything that tightens their control and they’ve been using religion as a cover story for the last several decades. I wish I had an answer to this question, because it sure is mystifying that these sectarians who push a “Jesus is love” message have a unique and directed fetish for a weapon of war.