Posts Tagged ‘atheism’


June 5, 2017 3 comments

Mythicism is the belief that person: Jesus of Nazareth, was not a real person. Now, every atheist rejects the notion that Jesus was anything other than a regular guy. The belief that a figure named Jesus may have existed, who was also a an apocalyptic preacher may be accepted. However, to restate the definition, there are those who think that the actual figure was just a character alluded to by a handful of individuals trying to create a new system of belief.

I, am not sold on Mythicisim. My belief tends more strongly along the lines of real person/real preacher guy than likening Jesus in the same vein of Harry Potter or Gandalf. The reasons for this are many, but to be clear: I reject the notion that there is any supernatural aspect to the figure as I reject all supernatural aspects to anything.

Possibly this is due to my Catholic upbringing wherein I, for nearly half of my life accepted that Jesus was not only real but divine. There might a vestigial attachment that I am unwilling to reject. On the other hand we must get into what it means if the Mythicist position it true: and it would be a conspiracy on a grand scale.

Outside of the blogging, I am a PhD candidate in Philosophy. I teach at a college in NY, and the class that I teach the most is a course on conspiracy theories and skepticism. While I spend most of the semester going through informal fallacies and pseudo medicine, the first few weeks of the course are spent in defining conspiracies and how, prima facie, most of them couldn’t be true. The reason? People, in large numbers, are untrustworthy, fickle, and terrible at keeping secrets.

Not one person mind you. You can always find one person that’s good at maintaining secrecy. You can also find one person that can keep a consistent story in their head. Add another? It gets less likely, and with each person the secret gets less likely to be kept secret. In fact, if enough people know a thing, by definition, it’s no longer a secret. All of that being said, I find it unlikely that the figure of Jesus would be an entire fiction. There’s got to be at least some historical persona that the stories are attached around, or else, why would they be so contradictory?

Let’s assume, for the sake of falsification, that the mythicist position is true. What, exactly does that imply? First off it implies that the entire religion is based on a lie. Ok, fine, I’m an atheist and in some respect that’s true of all religions. However, that’s not what I’m driving at. That the religion is a lie, would mean that the central figure for whom the religion is based on is foundationless. This would be perplexing for a number of reasons. The first, and perhaps most important, is that it is completely unnecessary to base the religion on a figure in the first place. Daoism, while based on the teachings of Lao Tzu, doesn’t rely on the character of Lao Tzu for its teachings, it relies on the teachings themselves. Judaism, doesn’t rely on the fact that Moses wrote the laws, or brought the law to the people of Israel, but rather that the law itself is derived from God. You don’t need a “Jesus” for a religion, you just need a message that people are willing to believe, maybe you dress it up in some spirituality and a promise of extra-life reward, but the central preacher character need not be central to it.

Secondly, it seems that if a group of people got together to fabricate this character in order to create a religion, why wouldn’t they do a better job of it? Jesus does some pretty contradictory stuff in the tales of his life on Earth. He talks of peace, but then of bringing a sword. He talks about turning the other cheek, but raises his fist to those that he feels have defiled the temple. Everyone is saved, but there are those who are not. If a conspiracy is a foot, they didn’t do a great job of it. The first gospel is dated at around 70CE while the only contemporary writings are from Paul and he admits none of it comes from eye witness accounts but from “revelations.” So if this thing is being made up, perhaps have “Paul” put in a reference to when they were hanging out together. Conspiracies of this magnitude wouldn’t leave clues to the lie, despite what internet sleuths say regarding the moon landing, JFK, or 9/11. We might also have stories of his childhood, or something like that: cool stuff with dragons and raising birds back to life or whatever.

Finally, and this is probably my weakest assumption: where is the documentation of the argument over this character? Unless there was a guy in the second century named Jesus, who just backdated a bunch of stories with his name on it, there would have to be some kind of conflict over what that person did. Now maybe this is an explanation for the contradictory stuff, but I’m going to apply Occam’s razor and just say, “while contradictory, the multiple stories are best made up by individuals dressing up stories they heard from a guy who knew a guy who dated their third cousin.”

All of that is premise to my introduction to a series I’m going to do whereby I read through a book titled, “Jesus By a Preponderance of the Evidence” by Robert Palaszewski. This book is going to prove the divine Jesus and the truth of Christianity. The summary on the back says that it’s for “seekers and open minded skeptics alike.” This entire post’s point has been to show that while I’m an atheist, I’m also not susceptible to an argument just because I want it to be true…and believe me nothing would warm the cockles of my heart more than finding out the entire thing was based on what a couple of guys made up way back when.

I’ve done no pre-reading, and will only prepare as much as necessary for each post. Ill be posting these on the first Monday of every month. Starting now (by that I mean this is post 1).


Blasphemy Law

May 16, 2017 Leave a comment

The charges have been dropped against Stephen Fry, but that does not mean we shouldn’t be having this discussion. Let’s be frank, this is from a person living in a country that voted Trump into office and I get to look down at another country (thus far…) because that’s how backwards and borderline insane this law is. I can try and make fun of the UK, but that’s some pot-kettle bullshit, but Ireland!? You don’t get a pass. Sure, by popular vote, they legalized gay marriage nationwide in 2015, but we only have to go back 6 short years to find the passage of the blasphemy law.

Not 1009, where it would still be wrong, but it’d be understandable, but 2009. Where everyone is starting to get on board with smart phones, where wifi is pretty much expected, and where the global economic collapse had just started to abate.

My oldest daughter had already been born. Which means that she was born into a world where there were fewer blasphemy laws on the books. That’s not progress, that’s regression. Not to sound ethnocentric, or Eurocentric, or whatever-centric; but this is the kind of law you expect that they have in Saudi Arabia…because they do. Which, if we must find some good in this, it’s that this law is proof of what happens when religion and the state mix. It apparently doesn’t matter what religion is mixing with what state. Ireland is a Republic not a monarchy or a dictatorship. As America’s incompetent president continues to talk randomly about churches and freedom, the Irish example is one that needs more conversation because as innocuous as it turned out to be, it’s still abhorrent that this kind of law exists in the first place. Especially, I must stress, that it was passed in 2009.

This story of the Irish blasphemy law goes back to 1937 and the Constitution of Ireland. The Constitution mandates according to article 40.6.1.i:

This continues with article 44.1:

These articles mandate that the Irish government set up a legal statute prohibiting blasphemy passed in 1937, the law was only applied to Christian religions. Also, it’s important that these articles specifically mention blasphemy as a crime that needs to be outlawed. I haven’t read the entire Irish Constitution (my family isn’t that Irish) but I’m pretty sure that it will lack any mention of other crimes.

Note: It does mention one more, treason (article 39).

So the law, passed in 2009 states that (I’ll omit irrelevant portions):

(a) he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and


(b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.

The only defense the law offers is that if the utterance or publication has serious value that a reasonable observer would judge. This would mean anything in an artistic, political, scientific, literary, or academic value. The crime is punishable with a fine not to exceed 25,000 euros (approximately 27,000 US).

Was Fry in violation of this law? You be the judge, in the interview Fry is asked about his atheism and what he would say if, when he died, he found himself standing in front of the god he denies existing. Fry replied, “Bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain. That’s what I would say.”

He then goes on to explain that if it were the Greek Pantheon, it would make more sense as those gods didn’t pretend to be all good, all knowing, or the creators of the world. Here’s the entire 2.5 minute exchange. 

I’m not an Irish detective, nor am I a lawyer. However, given that the definition of “blasphemy” is a “grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion…” it seems like a slam dunk. However, his utterance did not correlate to the second half of the statute requiring an outrage of a substantial number of adherents to the relevant religion. So perhaps that’s why the Irish government dropped the case.

Fry’s comments are nothing new. They are not exactly the most eloquent way of putting the old “problem of evil,” but I do like his delivery. His way of making it a personal conversation in which he scolds the maliciously capricious god. Perhaps it has some kind of performance value. Perhaps that is another reason they dropped the case.

Yet none of this matters because the state should have no compelling interest in the crafting these kinds of laws in the first place. I’ve said it more times than I care to link to: there is no harm in blasphemy. There was no harm in the Charlie Hebdo cartoon, the Danish newspaper cartoons, in Piss-Christ, the Last Temptation of Christ, or the Life of Brian. There are literally no sacred cows.

The only thing that these laws seek to protect is the insecurity of the believer, their fear that other people might have seen what they have and rejected it. What else could it be? Words shouldn’t be able to hurt an all powerful being, but somehow nations and people have deluded themselves into thinking the creative being behind the entire Cosmos needs protection from a few air vibrations if they occur in a certain order.

Sure, to repeat the opening point: some people may think that it’s fine because they didn’t prosecute Fry. Even the wording of the law allows so many excuses that it’s nearly unenforceable. Yet that’s not the main issue, it’s that the Irish Constitution felt that this was necessary enough to mention the need for the law in the first place. Of course if they decide to charge him again, article 16 of the defamation law offers Fry the best defense*:

(1) It shall be a defence (to be known and in this Act referred to as the “defence of truth” to a defamation action for the defendant to prove that the statement in respect of which the action was brought is true in all material respects.



*Though again, I’m not a lawyer, not Irish, and certainly not an Irish Lawyer. Don’t take legal advice from a blog.

How to Convert an Atheist III

May 9, 2017 2 comments

Part III of our story…(Primary source here)

Part 3: Keeping the Dialog Open

Step 1: Walk the walk

Walk the walk is an interesting piece of advice, and it seems like it should have nothing to do with the current situation. The author recommends that Ned does not try and convert with words but to demonstrate with “spirit and power.” This an interesting intersection or words versus deeds, and there’s some conflict amongst the various sects of Christianity as to whether it is actually merely belief, or belief and actions, or actions. Pragmatically, this would be great advice at Part I step 1: Just be a good person and shut the hell up, they might come around. End of guide. It ends with this gem: “Some atheists are atheists because of their often-justified perception that Christians are hypocritical. But you know they’re not all that way. Prove it.”

You know like all of those anti-immigration, anti-helping the poor, Christians who think you need to believe in Jesus in order to be a good person but then have a political platform that states “what’s is mine is mine and no one else can have it.” Directly contradicting the actual words of the Bible and the Jesus character in it that they like so much. So don’t be a hypocrite, generally that’s good advice.

Step 2: Invite Your Friend to Come with You to Church

Yeah, thanks, no.

I can find other ways to be bored on Sunday…watching a Bills game for instance. Or listen to someone talk about a Bills game. I’d say sleeping, but I like doing that.

The advice goes on to say that Ned should invite the person to a non-service function, more of a social event than an actual mass. Even I go to these things, but isn’t that just being a nice person? I like doing X, you want to come to X? Personally I’d stay away from fund raisers, because that’s not going to help the atheist to the cause. Unless there’s beer and fried chicken, because then you actually get something out of it. The author stresses that Ned be clear to their friend that it is a religious function.

This is excellent behavior. When Passion of the Christ was in theaters, one of the mega-churches near Toledo roped a friend of mine into going. He was Pakistani and non-religious, but also very lonely. A very pretty girl chatted him up at the gym he went to and asked him to a movie. He, rightfully, thought that if it was not a date, then it was at least a friend type thing, but it wasn’t just the two of them: it was a church function. They sent people out to trick them into seeing the movie. You start out with a lie, or deception; it’s not going to end well. My friend thought the movie was “meh,” but was super pissed that he had been deceived.

Step 3: Be Patient

Don’t be pushy. Good advice.

Yet the general tone of the guide has changed here. The assumption is now that the religion has something the non-believer wants and just isn’t aware of. Look, this is America, and though we do not have an official religion and were not founded on religious principles of Christianity; the odds are 7/10 people you meet are Christian. This is a very religious country…at least in words. If an Atheist, who is statistically the child of a religious person, isn’t aware of Christianity there’s something very odd about that. Ned having a special club that he goes to once a week, might make his friend want to go, but other than the “I’m into Jesus” part what else is being offered  that the atheist doesn’t already know?

Step 4: Be Persistent

Ned is supposed to show how practical the religion is through his relationships with his Christian friends. What about when this backfires? I have relationships with all kinds of friends of various backgrounds. I can pal around with whoever I want: people that plant different crops in the same field, women that deign to have authority over a man, idolaters, I even met a Satanist. Like Machiavelli said, the hell bound are a lot more interesting.

Variety is the spice of life, as the adage goes, why on Earth would I only want to hang out with one kind of person?

Step 5 If you Want to Pray for Your Friend, Do it in Private

Sure, if reasoned debate doesn’t work, try hoping.

Ending a conversation wherein Ned has failed to convince the atheist with “I will pray for you,” the author remarks can be seen as rude. And yes, it certainly can. As often times it’s a condescending remark that implies the person’s soul is going to be eternally tortured and Ned hopes that it’s not. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying “god bless you” after someone sneezes. It’s really a contextual thing, but it’s best, if you’re unsure to just keep it to yourself. The author gives the reasoning: “If God is going to answer your prayer and convert the atheist, then he would do so whether the atheist hears it or not. 

We kind of know the answer to this don’t we: He’s not or else he would have by now. Remember this is an all-powerful being that could very easily come on the television/internet/radio and just proclaim its existence. Instead, it decides to hide behind a 2000 year-ish old book, through several dead languages translated into several other languages in the hopes we decipher the clue like a shitty version of the Da Vinci Code. Maybe the Christian should remember that if god wanted to convert the atheists he could easily do so with an obvious sign and the attempting to convert people who are otherwise happy with their lives isn’t necessary. Just live and be happy. Stop worrying about what other people do or believe in as long as it harms no one.

As a summary though: this guide wasn’t as bad as I feared. Most of it was just talk, keep an open mind, and don’t be a dick about it. Unfortunately it runs under an assumption that people who aren’t Christians, don’t understand it. It’s endemic to the guide, because in their worldview, if you knew about it you would have to be one. That’s ultimately the problem with this guide.






How To Persuade An Atheist to Become a Christian II

May 2, 2017 5 comments

Continuing last week’s post. Here’s the primary source.

This is a weird instruction manual. It’s broken up into steps, that’s obvious, but it’s also broken up into parts. Yet there’s no real indication that each part/step should be building off of the previous. I’m not sure I should even call them “steps” but I did last week so I’m going to continue with that.

Part II: Talking About Your Faith

Step I: Tell Your Friend What Christianity Means to You

This one comes with a picture of the atheist wearing blue rectangular sunglasses. It’s just weird and I have no further comment on it. I just want to know if he’s supposed to be blind, and if so, is that metaphorical? The advice here is for Ned (remember that’s the name we’re using for the Christian), to just say that being Christian is making him happier. He knows people, there’s a community, etc. Just like how we’re all vegans because a recent convert explained how awesome it is that they don’t eat meat anymore, the cool people they meet at the co-op, and how paying three times as much for arugula is so totes awesome. This isn’t really advice for Ned because everyone hates that person who won’t shut the hell up about the new thing they do. Whether it’s the person who just quit drinking, the aforementioned vegan, or the douche in the soul patch that totally doesn’t get why people watch television. However there’s a further bullet point, “In general, it’s best to avoid discussing the concept of eternal punishment for non-Christians with an atheist, which will turn into a debate. If someone feels like you’re trying to “save” them, it can seem condescending and frustrating for your friend.”

Yeah best to avoid the bad parts, once they’re sucked in they can deal with all of that then. Look, the Hell thing is integral. The reason it starts the debate is because the atheist isn’t going to go along with the plan. Hell is a problem because depending on the type of Christian there are different reasons you get eternally tortured. Is it because you weren’t a good person? Maybe, but “good” is a vague concept, and if you didn’t say the right magic words it doesn’t matter how good you are. If you weren’t baptized, according to some versions, you go to hell no matter what you did in life. Then there’s the question of purpose: eternal torture = justice. How? There’s no possibility of parole, even if you fully recant all of your sins. Best to avoid the tricky subjects we wouldn’t want Ned to begin questioning his own religion.

Step II: Establish a common language

Another excellent point, and not just for this conversation. In any kind of debate it’s best to lay down what the words mean. I do this in my conspiracy course, and it’s especially important in religious conversations.

Step III: Don’t try to debate the specifics of the Bible

A discussion between a believer and a non-believer doesn’t need to be a debate about science, or creationism, or an intricate dissection of the creation of the world as discussed in Genesis. Discuss faith in terms of your church, writings of Early church and personal experience of it. What does it mean to you, to be a Christian? That’s got nothing to do with dinosaur bones and the age of the earth. Avoid these subjects. 

This guide is telling Ned to avoid the subject of talking about the specifics of the book which lay down the foundation for the entire religion. I’ll say this to Ned, it’s probably best you heed this advice but not for them, for you. Pew Research polls indicate time and time again, that atheists/non-believers know the most about the Bible coming in second only to Orthodox Jews. So Ned, don’t get into this fight it won’t work for you. You don’t want to find out that there is no Old Testament prophecy regarding Jesus, and the one everyone keeps referring to, within the context of it being given, has to do with an utterly different situation. You also don’t want to get into an argument that reveals an omniscient deity getting very little correct in his book and making some egregious errors (rabbits chewing their cud for instance). That’s before we even start on the contradictions, the weird laws, the horrible moral advice, treatment of women, and the rules that are laid out that the average evangelical wouldn’t want to follow anyway. Definitely avoid the book, at all cost.

Step IV: Try to understand the perspective of your friend

Good solid advice here. The author even assumes that not all atheists are mad at god, or were hurt by someone religious pushing them into non-belief. This is a huge step. Occasionally when someone finds out that I’m an Atheist, they’ll ask, “so what happened?” They expect that I have a dead relative or some kind of abuse, and I just say I had lots of questions and then there’s Tom Cruise (seriously). No tragedy pushed me into it but Christian media seems to think this is the only path for a believer to apostasy. The problem with the questions, I’ll explain, is that no one had answers other than “we don’t ask those types of questions.” Ned, if he’s coming at me, will have to answer those questions, and yes I’ll want empirical evidence as well.

Step V: Let your friend try to convert you

This is also good advice. See things from both sides, I think my side will always win because there’s no faith at work over here, but nevertheless I can turn each one of these examples on Ned. What’s so great about being an atheist? I get to do all the things you do, and I can sleep in on Sunday. I do all the holidays, but don’t have to go to Church for any of them. It’s fantastic. I get to read whatever book I want, and only like the books that mean something to me, without having any of them forced on me. It’s good stuff. My morality isn’t bogged down by Bronze age agricultural rules and tribal law, I can adapt to changing circumstances. If someone isn’t bothering me, I don’t have to think about it or condemn that person. Now, Ned, what have you got?


How to Persuade an Atheist to Become a Christian

April 25, 2017 Leave a comment

I’m not entirely sure how I stumbled upon this article. In my personal life there’s been significant changes, and it was probably an idle search for something that led to me go down a hole…you know how that goes. Anyway this is an article written on wikihow as a step by step instruction for a Christian (assuming evangelical) to convince their atheist friend to abandon their non-theistic ways. I quickly bookmarked the page for use here. Usually these kinds of guides are full of bible quotes: which are genuinely ineffective because it’s a clear case of special pleading. You have to believe in the authority of the Bible to be convinced of the quotes to begin with. Same goes with people who claim “you should be a [insert religion here] because my [priest/imam/rabbi] said you will find only eternal suffering if you don’t.” If you don’t believe these people have any authority, their words aren’t going to convince you either. It’s why I’m always skeptical of stories of atheists who are convinced by the Bible or story of Jesus: that story isn’t convincing unless you already accept a number of premises which by doing so means you were already a believer. I haven’t read through this in anything other than a brief skim so it’s happening in the closest thing to real time for this medium. It’s broken into subsections which I’m labelling with letters and then steps that I’m using numbers for. My readers aren’t stupid, you’ll figure it out. Also we’re just going to call the Christian “Ned” (as in Flanders) for the sake of brevity.

A: Approaching the Subject

1: Put yourself in your friend’s shoes: The writer notes that Ned should imagine that someone is trying to convince them “to reject your salvation in Christ.” This should show Ned that high pressure sales aren’t going to work, and that this may be a long process. They shouldn’t lecture either. Alright, that’s good advice. If you’re going to have the conversation this is a good starting point. An outright attack will make anyone defensive, it’s not a good strategy and it cuts both ways. Pointing out contradictions and inaccuracies in the bible, for instance, only confuses people who think that it’s a literal record, but it doesn’t convince them to be atheists. So far so good but then this happens: “Realize that a large percentage of atheists used to believe in God, but was hurt somehow in their faith (at church, by another religious person, church goer, such as a Christian, etc.) and have converted to atheism. This is not true for another large percentage of atheists, of course.”

There’s a lot to unpack here. First off, yes a lot atheists used to be believers, that’s just simple numbers. Atheists in the US are between 9-18% of the population so a simple numbers game would tell us that the odds of a person being born and raised atheist is low. However, the “hurt somehow in their faith” is bullshit. This is an accusation that goes around popularized by movies like “God’s Not Dead” and it’s sequel. I was never hurt in my faith by a person. I’m not angry at god, I don’t believe that it exists or that if it does, it has any interest in us or our religious devotion. This is a problem of definition, if a person isn’t Christian because they are angry at god, it doesn’t make them an atheist. You also don’t convert to atheism, you just top being religious. There’s no organization to join, or book you have to buy. You just stop going to Church and stop praying. Ned’s going to have a weird conversation if he walks into it thinking this. Another point is that the author is just making up percentages. A large percentage are this? Give me a number, or a citation. Then we should also note that this isn’t true for a different large percentage either.

2: Choose a Convenient Place and Time to have a Dialog on Matters of Believing in God

Another solid piece of advice. I worked at a cable company in Toledo OH, and once some co-workers found out I wasn’t religious they just wanted to chat and chat about it. I wasn’t even a solid atheist then but they really went after me about it. No real criticism on this point.

3: Have a Genuine arms-length conversation

In short, the idea is to actually have a conversation and not lecture the other person about sins, accusations, or getting preachy. I guess here, the author should have written: “don’t make it personal” because I’m not entirely sure what a “arms-length” conversation is. Also I’m unclear about what a shock-jock approach is supposed to be as well. Ned is supposed to be open and honest or else he could end up causing irreparable harm to the friendship. Yeah that might be something to worry about while you are thinking that despite your friend’s good behavior he’s still going to hell because he doesn’t believe the right words. If you want to avoid harming the friendship maybe don’t try and change their entire way of thinking. Then this happens, “Discriminating tastes in food and in life’s issues, for some good stuff, means you have an angle (a stand), a point of view.” I don’t know what this means.

4: Don’t Try to Convert Your friend or to Present Ultimate Ideas (don’t ask for conclusions or offer stark dilemmas of Heaven versus Hell)

Ned is supposed to get the person interested by presenting “Jesus Christ as the Son of God in your personal, fulfilling life, following Jesus. Show the Christian life as fulfilling, exciting, attractive to others and they’ll be more interested, curious to learn more about the way you live your life as a Christian.”

In other words Ned is supposed to make his pitch by saying that it works for him. He’s happy and wouldn’t you like to be happy as well? Alright, it’s not a bad method but I don’t see how that will work. The problem that the author has, is that he doesn’t understand what an Atheist is. I lead a fulfilling life, it’s relatively exciting, but I also get to sleep in on Sundays and I don’t have to avoid eating meat on Fridays during Lent. I’m also not afraid of Hell, or Demons, or whether or not two guys get married. Ned isn’t offering me anything here. I could also say that I get to read/watch whatever I want (depending on the sect of Christianity). As an Atheist, you’ve got to give me something more than just “I like X, so you should do X as well.” That doesn’t work when Mac users try to convince me it’s not going to work here either.

Again the author has some decent advice, one is to realize that you should not be arguing facts. Yeah, that’s a good point: because Ned won’t be arguing facts, he’ll be arguing religion. Now there are facts regarding religion, but not observable, independent facts that don’t require a shared perspective for them to be true. Ned is cautioned against getting into a “tic-for-tat” conversation. What the hell is that? I think he meant to say “tit-for-tat” but couldn’t. If you’re going to try and make the conversion as an adult you have to be unafraid of talking like one. This isn’t about dropping “fuck” every now and then, but if the saying is “tit-for-tat” use that. Otherwise it comes across as childish and silly.

We’ll break here and continue next week. There’s some good stuff coming in the next section so be sure to “tune in.”


Wizard Battle!!!!!

March 14, 2017 Leave a comment

So Donald Trump is president. That much we know, and I promise this post isn’t about him. This also has a lot of people riled up, not just people that voted for Hillary Clinton, or wanted Bernie Sanders, or even those actual Republicans who are now in the unenviable position of not knowing what exactly they are supposed to do. His supporters are also riled up, wondering why people who don’t support him have the gall to not support him. They ironically think that questioning the president is wrong somehow, or that opposing his positions and proposals is treason. Lots of people are riled up, witches included.

Yes I said witches, but if that term is offensive include also wizards, warlocks, mages, bards (+9 level only). A group, or a coven, began passing around a document with the material components of the spell, the invocation, and a bunch of explanations of what kind of spell it is (binding). The purpose of this is to harangue the presidency from a spiritual side, which is probably overkill at this point–but then again maybe it’s working (it’s not, it’s really not).

I never got into this aspect of religion. I’ve both heard and read other atheists journey toward unbelief and they follow a certain 4 step pattern: raised religious, began to question, angry rejection, adoption of a different religion, realization that too was bunk. Step three is where we sometimes drop for a bit. I went the Eastern route: Taoism (or Daosim); but I personally know some of those who parked in Wiccanism, the Occult, or whatever we are supposed to call it. Part of the appeal is that the rules are different. For me, one of the appeals of Daoism was that there were no ceremonies, with the Occult religions it’s the exact opposite.

One can argue the differences between one religion and any other: but one thing they all have in common is that you aren’t supposed to ask the divine for revenge or to harm another. In the Catholic tradition, it’s a sin and god doesn’t grant those kinds of requests. Most of the religions of the world have a similar prohibition. Sure one can ask for strength to defeat one’s enemies, but not direct interference. My theory on this is two fold: the first is to make forbidden that kind of desire, a legitimate concern for the well being of others. The person shouldn’t have the kind of anger/hate in them that would cause them to need the very underpinning of the world to go against a particular individual. The second is not because of what will happen if it does work but rather what will happen when it does not. It brings out into the light the fact that prayers/spells don’t work, that saying the right combination of words in a particular order has no bearing on the outside world. Whether you are saying it with a large group of people on a Sunday morning, or by yourself in front of four bowls holding representatives of the elements (how is a feather representative of air? It’s not part of air, it’s just a thing that moved through it at one time).

From the atheist perspective it’s pretty silly and not worth taking any more serious than I have given it. Except of course unless you do…

The information about the spell/curse from the witches of the world came from the BBC, and I just followed the link to the original source. The BBC, among other news agencies, just covered  as a puff piece. A “look at this silliness” kind of story. However other groups are taking this as absolutely serious. Most notable conservative Christians who think witchcraft is a real thing. Why shouldn’t they? The bible treats it as real. Just scrolling through a couple of forums discussing this subject is both amusing and depressing. People on these forums are genuinely concerned that the curse will work. So what’s the answer to a magic spell? More magic of course.

In what has to be the least interesting magic battle since the end of the first Harry Potter movie (when we already knew there were going to be a bunch of movies and the series of books that followed the story) the fundamentalists are encouraging their zealots to counter pray against the spells. The last link is a facebook group for people opposing the curse and to join in for the counter spell.

In this corner we have a small group of people all reading the same poem in front of a series of bowls, a pinch of Sulphur, and a picture of the president…and in this corner we have a larger group of people all hoping they fail. The confrontation on the pinnacle of Orthanc this is not. Witchcraft isn’t a thing, which is problematic because when the spell, even if the spell was to sow chaos in the administration, doesn’t work the prayer warriors are going to count it as a victory. If events of the world coincide with what the spell was supposed to do (i.e. sow chaos in the administration) then the witches will count that as a win. However, there’s no winners here because the spirit world cannot interact with the material world. For one, immaterial cannot influence material, and two, there’s no such thing as the spirit world to begin with. The gods, or whatever, are beyond the cares of our fickle lives and experiences so why, to ask the Epicurean question, would they care? How does saying a thing move them to action.

For the prayer people, why do you give credence to these people? Your god’s plan cannot be so tenuous that a bunch of people you would regard as “losers” or “worshippers of a false religion” can say the right combination to upset it. If so, why is that your god? To the witches, you don’t need spells, you need action. Townhalls are erupting with people who are going to do a great deal more to influence this administration than your talking. Maybe you should cast a “I’m going to vote this time” spell and see if that works.


Better to be an Atheist?

February 28, 2017 Leave a comment

I suppose it’s what I deserve for skipping a week. Last Monday I had a mini-conference on fake news at the University where I teach. It was rather informative though I think they could have spent more time concentrating on the purpose of fake news rather than just some techniques on how to teach students to avoid it. After that, I had a doctor’s appointment (everything is fine), and by the time I returned home I was too exhausted to write my entry. The thing about habits, with me anyway, is that if I miss the day I normally do something then it’s pretty likely that I won’t get to it. Still though, I persisted, and went to work searching subjects.

Then the Pope made the news. This is usually what I call a ‘freebie.’ I’ll spend only a paragraph so as to not bore long time readers familiar with my perspective on him. Pope Francis has this annoying habit of doing one thing right and then within a few days negating the net gain with a wrong thing. For instance in the same week news broke that he endorsed both the theory of evolution and the big bang (the latter if we remember, first theorized by a Catholic priest), he then authorized the ordination of a whole bunch of new exorcists (science/reality +1, -1). One step forward, one back.

Last week he said that (paraphrasing) it would be better to be an atheist than a hypocritical Christian. I agree, and I spent three weeks on this blog posting about Christian hypocrisy towards refugees. I claimed, by quoting their book, that Christians have a command by god to welcome refugees and help those in need. Further that they can’t say they are against homosexuality because of their book and simultaneously be against immigration because that’s abject hypocrisy. Cherry picking your moral commands isn’t morality. Not only did I say that but the three leading Christian denominations in the US agreed (Catholic church included).

Pope Francis was referring to those types of people who dutifully go to church, join advocacy groups, donate their money and time to the church, but then ignore the needs of the poor, immigrants, and other causes the church believes Jesus would have advocated for. It’s in line with what he said a few years ago regarding us non-believers: that as long as we’re decent people we can win too. Now, he’s gotten some kind of shit storm about this from the Trump supporters who think he’s attacking their icon (and they’re probably right about that). It’s the usual sound and fury, from this group of people that attack anyone who criticizes their dear leader. I doubt the Pope is chain smoking in the Vatican wondering what canon law he needs to exercise in order to return things back to the 15th century in order to get revenge.

One might wish to argue that this isn’t a step forward. That it’s just like the atheists can be good people too comment. However that person has to realize that he’s not making the proclamation to us atheists but rather saying that the standard isn’t just belief. Which is a good call because it impresses on the faithful that merely having faith doesn’t make you good. An idea that is so prevalent in this country that atheists are at the bottom of the pile when you ask about trustworthiness among believers. Even in Trump’s America, Muslims are viewed as being more trustworthy simply by virtue that they believe in something.

However that wasn’t enough for a full post. So, knowing history, and having the pattern recognition that has been essential to our survival as a species I waited. Then, with the predictability of Newtonian mechanics it happened: he took a step back. Yesterday the news broke that he was now lessening the punishments for priests convicted of pedophilia. This isn’t a blanket order, it applies to a handful of cases, and he’s doing it as part of an atmosphere of mercy that he wants the church to represent.

The problem here is that there is a certain measure of justice that needs to be put in place if we’re supposed to be trusting these people. Benedict was more stringent, and even Francis’ own words on this matter have been one of “zero tolerance.” However, just as the Medieval church was resistant to the very concept of zero so apparently is Pope Francis. I’m not claiming that he needs to send these people to the square to roast inside an iron bull, but the very least you could do is remove them from your organization as well as those that hide them. Instead of, you know, promoting them to the position of Chief Financial advisor or just telling them that they now have to do a lifetime of penance and prayers.

I was raised Catholic, a lifetime of penance and prayers is kind of the default. They’re priests so a lifetime of penance was going to be more their thing than otherwise. So how is this at all a punishment? Well they can no longer perform public ministry, which is a big deal for them, and they can’t be around children, which isn’t a punishment but rather a safety measure for any future victims. Five years of psychological counseling? I’m sure that’s the minimum, and this one I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, yes absolutely, since we aren’t sure what is causing this and why the percentage rate among Catholic priests doesn’t track with incident rate among the general population. Getting to the bottom of what the causal mechanism is should be a priority. However, not doing this from the inside of a prison but rather the full protection of the Vatican seems to be, again, on the outside of the concept of justice. I get the mercy thing, but there needs to be justice for the victims.

You almost made it a week buddy.