Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Thursday, September 24, 2009
People living in the real world are continually faced with the contradictions between the biblical stories to which they’ve been indoctrinated on the one hand, and their own direct observations of the world on the other, augmented of course by the enormous and continually growing body of scientifically explored and documented evidence. Even as they are exposed to the false controversies promulgated by those with an agenda to perpetuate religious ideas, attempting to present science’s inherent strengths, significantly the necessity to discard or refine earlier theories to explain new evidence, as though these were some sort of weakness – a lack of certainty, of strength of belief, held as a virtue by the religious but in fact a recipe for ignorance and stagnation – most people at some level recognize the basic flaw in the religious thinking and partition their own minds to try and accommodate both the religious ideas and their own limited understanding of reality. While the average citizen’s understanding of science and the scientific method is quite limited and most religious people’s scientific understanding is muddier still, the practical results of scientific examination of the world are real and have enabled great accomplishments that cannot be ignored. Faced with this contradiction, many will take refuge in their religious teachings, publically insisting on their “truth” while privately knowing that this position is untenable, incompatible with reality. Even (perhaps especially) clergy members, steeped in religious teachings and traditions, must be exerting considerable energy to shield their religious ideas from the onslaught of the obvious.
The battle of course is not between religion and science. Science is merely the most effective means we have yet developed to investigate reality, challenge and verify what is discovered, to discard whatever does not withstand the scrutiny, and document and disseminate the resulting information. Science is the messenger. The message is what the world really is, exposed through science to ever increasingly fine resolution and accuracy. Unable to provide substantive arguments against the message, many who have a vested interest in perpetuating existing religious establishments and the ideas they represent and the power they wield over the masses, instead target the messenger, treating science as though it were their enemy.
In order to survive, religion must keep its adherents ignorant. Until relatively recently this was much easier, but with the advent of the modern media and the growth over the past decade of the Internet and the World Wide Web, cultivating ignorance requires inoculating the ‘faithful’ against the torrent of information so widely available today, and tainting that information to whatever extent possible with ‘alternative’ interpretations, no matter how silly. To that end, they actively and deliberately misrepresent what science is and what it can teach us, in the various media including the Web, and in many cases try, in effect, to vandalize the teaching of science by attempting to insert religious nonsense into the curriculum. This tactic, at best disingenuous, ultimately cannot succeed. Reality is what it is. Insisting it is otherwise is an enormous waste of resources that would be better spent learning. Actively damaging our educational system threatens the very future of our civilization.
Even people who outwardly profess strong religious beliefs are privately driven to question the veracity of those beliefs as they struggle to reconcile them with their own experiences. Often they consult their clergy and others they’ve been raised to believe are knowledgeable in such matters. This of course serves to reinforce the ideas that underlie the conflict they seek to resolve. Others cling on moral grounds*. Left to their own devices, without professional reinforcers, most would eventually reject the religious ideas, contradicted as they are by nearly everything in their actual experience, their insistence otherwise notwithstanding. As human society becomes farther and farther removed from the days when the religious texts were written, they become progressively more difficult to apply to modern reality.
Even as religion seeks to survive and adapts and evolves to that end, its obsolescence is upon us and well entrenched. Religious beliefs become increasingly marginalized as their relevance to day-to-day reality becomes harder and harder to find. Already today, in many circles, religions survive merely as familiar and comfortable traditions, but even their leaders and practitioners no longer accept their teachings as truth. Though there are movements that expend considerable resources attempting to combat this, the trend is clearly toward diminishing acceptance of religious teachings as anything more than comfortable traditions, some of which may indeed be worthy of preservation in that capacity but not as a substitute for reality. Short of a catastrophic development, this steady erosion will eventually cause current religious beliefs to dissolve into the background of history much as did beliefs in other ancient god systems. Though it may take generations before mainstream religion is finally buried, it is pretty much already dead in the minds of people in modern societies. As modern technologies and communication capabilities increasingly penetrate developing societies, the pressure to modernize becomes irresistible. These societies too will eventually follow suit, though it may take further generations
* Religion as a vehicle for teaching moral values has shown itself to be flawed at best. As has been pointed out far more eloquently elsewhere, people pick and choose from among the various teachings, attempting to adhere to those that seem applicable and appropriate in their lives while discarding those based on obviously outdated contexts. The ability to do so demonstrates an innate capacity for moral judgment independent of religious guidance. While moral choices should probably be guided in early child development, the ability to do so doesn’t rely on religion and indeed many of its metaphors are so far removed from the experience of a child as to be of little or no instructive value.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
... I am so shocked and dismayed over the debilitating pathology that has gripped much of the organized Jewish community today--particularly those of my friends who proudly call themselves "pro-Israel."
What was once a proud, smart, intelligent, nuanced, and diverse movement has devolved into a combination cult-booster club championed by a handful of amazing people who lead a throng of angry, paranoid, one-issue folks with tunnel vision who often blur the difference between being a player and a fan.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
(CNN) -- For the past eight years, the White House recognized the National Day of Prayer with a service in the East Room, but this year, President Obama decided against holding a public ceremony.
"Prayer is something that the president does everyday," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday, noting that Obama will sign a proclamation to recognize the day, as many administrations in the past have done.
Asked if Obama thought his predecessor's ceremonies were politicized, Gibbs said, "No, I'm not going to get into that again.
"I think the president understands, in his own life and in his family's life, the role that prayer plays."
The National Day of Prayer is an annual observance for people of all faiths.
Bravo Mr. Obama. Prayer by public officials should always be a private matter. Even the appearance of promoting a particular religion or religion in general is a tacit violation of the separation of church and state.
Monday, March 30, 2009
This past Shabbat my family and I hosted Rabbi and Mrs. Nachman Holtzberg, parents of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, the head of Chabad in Mumbai who was brutally murdered with his wife Rivkah. You'd think that a family that watched their son and daughter-in-law slaughtered on TV by Islamic terrorists would feel hatred and a desire for revenge. But what this saintly father asked of our many guests was simply their participation in rebuilding Chabad of Mumbai so that his son's selfless work would continue.
What a shame Christopher Hitchens did not join us. It might have dissuaded him from penning yet another ignorant and slanderous article about the murderous intent of Orthodox Jews. To read Hitchens these days is to be transported to an alternate universe where religious Jews are often terrorists inspired by racist Jewish ideology that is fomented by their rabbis. Of course, those who live in the real world and who never read about Orthodox Jews setting off bombs in Bali and Baghdad might be a trifle confused by Hitchens' regular rants against Judaism.
(read full article)
You should be. Most of the time he is simply fabricating, like this famous quote taken from his 2007 book God Is Not Great. "Dr. Baruch Goldstein... killed 27 worshipers... While serving as a physician in the Israeli army he had announced that he would not treat non-Jewish patients, such as Israeli Arabs, especially on the Sabbath. As it happens, he was obeying rabbinic law in declining to do this, as many Israeli religious courts have confirmed."
For this particular blood libel against Jewish courts Hitchens relied on a well-known hoax perpetrated by writer Israel Shahak, which was exposed as a fraud more than 40 years ago by Lord Immanuel Jakobovitz, chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth. This is the same Israel Shahak who once accused Jews of worshipping Satan. When I challenged Hitchens about his use of a well-known forgery, and when he could not cite a single other religious court to have ever ruled that a non-Jewish life could not be saved on the Sabbath, he wrote to me and agreed to amend the item in the next edition of his book.
He did not.
I've read some of your writings and generally agree with most of the basic points you make; however we as atheists must hold ourselves to a higher standard of truth than our ideological opponents, lest our arguments be as easily dismissed. Quoting from dubious sources, much less sources that have been widely discredited, only serves to undermine your credibility specifically and damages the credibility of other atheists by inference.
When attacking the foundational beliefs on which most of the major religious systems are predicated, stick to the facts, check your facts, and agressively seek to correct errors you may have made in the past. That the whole premise of a supernatural being objectively makes no sense and is self-inconsistent is a position strongly supported by the facts. But if you wish to engage in comparisons between the complex belief systems built on these dubious foundations, and the actions historically and in the present of the practitioners and supporters thereof, you clearly need to get your facts straight.
While there have certainly been examples throughout history of terrible things being perpetrated in the name of virtually all major religions, an examination of the underlying reasons and of how the practitioners and leaders of each such religion grapple with these issues is instructive. In particular, and all too often lost in modern discourse, whether deliberately or through abject ignorance, it is of critical importance to distinguish honestly between conquest and defense; between violence for its own sake and efforts to contain action to what is necessary to achieve a specific military objective, minimizing "collateral damage" as much as possible; between deliberately placing civilians at risk to take advantage of the other side's revulsion at the prospect of harming "innocents" and being that other side, struggling to protect itself while doing as little harm as possible; between deliberately targeting random civilian noncombatants with the goal of harming as many as possible and earnest efforts to avoid civilian casualties despite the counter-tactics of the other side. It is also critical to distinguish the open and heated debate on one side from the widespread support of random terrorist violence on the other.
In any military conflict, no side has completely clean hands. This is just an unavoidable reality of war. But holding one side to unrealistic standards, tying their hands from doing what any of other country would consider its right and responsibility in its defense, while tolerating, ignoring and even denying the egregious behavior of the other only serves to deepen the divide and prolong and exacerbate the conflict.
So, Mr. Hitchens, I would hope that you could publicly acknowledge your errors and in the future, stick to the facts. Argue the fallacy of the foundational beliefs underlying all these religious systems. Argue against the blood spilled in defense of these beliefs. Argue against acetic practices and denial of our nature and our most basic needs. Argue the obsolescence of using supernatural explanations as a substitute for legitimate scientific inquiry and learning. Argue against religious dogma. Argue against nonsense like "intelligent design", and efforts to undermine our educational system by injecting such garbage into our curriculum. But when taking on the details of the more complex ethical systems bult upon these clearly faulty foundations, don't start with a premise and seek "evidence" however weak, to support your conclusions. Instead examine the facts and draw conclusions from those facts. And when something worthwhile has arisen from a religious context despite its foundational fallacies, acknowledge that too, and move on.
Above all, please don't rely on bullshit in support of your arguments. Let's leave that to the religious.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
(CNN) -- Along the Rust Belt and in cities dotting the Northeast and Upper Midwest, Catholic communities are mourning the loss of parishes. It's a five-year trend of sweeping church closures that most recently hit Cleveland, Ohio.
Wally Martens, a Cleveland native, can look out his kitchen window and see the spiritual home that has served his family for five generations. St. Ignatius of Antioch has been with him and his loved ones through life and death.
"It's the place where most of us were baptized, most of us got married, most of us graduated from grade school and some of us were buried," Martens, 68, said of the west side urban parish that serves 1,200 households. To find out that the building is set to be shuttered is "like losing somebody in your family."
Earlier this month, Bishop Richard G. Lennon of the Diocese of Cleveland, which serves more than 750,000 Catholics, announced that 29 parishes will close and 41 others will merge. The reconfiguration plan, which will effectively cut 52 parishes in the current tally of 224, is scheduled to go into effect by June 30, 2010.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
(CNN) -- The African-American religious community deserves considerable praise for taking leadership of the civil rights movement during the first half of the 20th century.Sure, sex is only for procreation; food is only for sustenance; play is only for exercise; song is only to aid memory; stage is only for communication... and anyone would want to live such a life... why?
But there is no doubt that toward the end of the 20th century, the black church, primarily because of its opposition to homosexuality, has abdicated its responsibility and totally disregarded the human toll that HIV/AIDS has had on the members it largely serves. It only has been recently that pastors have opted not to turn a blind eye to what is clearly a state of emergency.
Unfortunately, we are seeing the same kind of ignorance of reality from the Catholic Church and its leader, Pope Benedict XVI.
The church has long been opposed to the use of condoms and other forms of birth control because it strongly believes the only purpose for sex is procreation. But for the church to continue to ignore the definitive research that condoms play a huge role in decreasing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases is mind-boggling.
(please read full piece at CNN.COM)
Monday, March 9, 2009
(CNN) -- America is a less Christian nation than it was 20 years ago, and Christianity is not losing out to other religions, but primarily to a rejection of religion altogether, a survey published Monday found.Well, it's not much ... yet ... but it's progress. Someday perhaps a majority of Americans can remove the blinders and look at the world as it actually is instead of through the filter of fairy tales.
Three out of four Americans call themselves Christian, according to the American Religious Identification Survey from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1990, the figure was closer to nine out of 10 -- 86 percent.
At the same time there has been an increase in the number of people expressing no religious affiliation.
The rise in evangelical Christianity is contributing to the rejection of religion altogether by some Americans, said Mark Silk of Trinity College.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Will Wilkinson: … there's a lot of other things that I think people would call values that I think imply epistemic laziness. So the value for conformism, for example: people don't think of the value as being conformism, people think of it as” I want to fit into my local community. I want to have the access to the sources of meaning that all the people around me draw from him and if I actually learn about logic or decision theory and deploy it in my everyday thinking then I might end up alienating myself from the things I really do care about that really are values to me.”
So it might be the case that a certain kind of conformity which implies not thinking very hard...I mean not thinking very hard might be instrumental to being able to maintain your commitment to whatever the local norms are. So by saying to people that, “you have a responsibility to be a good cognitive citizen,” that has implications that if you are a good cognitive citizen you might have to give up some of the sources of meaning that, you think, make your life worthwhile.
Eliezer Yudkowsky: Well to be sure rationalists, pardon me: someone undergoing the transition to rationality from a supernaturalist – or non-naturalist base is going to lose some of what they thought were their sources of meaning. The question is, “do they get it back and is it better afterward?”
…So, to put it bluntly: someone who believes that morality comes from God is going to lose their god and get back an improved morality…
Monday, January 26, 2009
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (CNN) -- A megachurch paid a 20-year-old man to keep silent about a sexual relationship he had with disgraced evangelical pastor Ted Haggard, a senior church pastor said.
Haggard, who was fired amid allegations that he used drugs and patronized a male prostitute in 2006, had a sexual relationship with a second man -- a 20-year-old volunteer at his megachurch, the Rev. Brady Boyd, a senior pastor at the church, said Monday.
The church agreed to pay the man in exchange for his pledges not to talk publicly about the relationship, Boyd said, referring to a settlement reached by the man's lawyer and the church's insurance company. Under the settlement, the church provided the man money to pay his college tuition, moving expenses and counseling, Boyd said.
The monumental hypocrisy of Haggard is only one facet of this story, and it's certainly a big one, particularly as it reflects on communities of repressive religions generally. Another important facet is the hypocrisy of the Christian community at large, supposedly a compassionate bunch, shunning and ostracizing this man they once purported to revere, not for his hypocrisy but for his "immoral behavior". That's it. They're really that shallow. Imagine how conflicted, how self-consumed this guy Haggard must have been all this time, to say nothing of what he must be going through now that the truth about him is on display before the world; yet that's the best the "compassionate" Christans can come up with. In their eyes, his terrible sin is having had homosexual relationships. Pathetic. The hush money was, ostensibly at least, meant to help the young man to move beyond this experience, but the net effect and clear intent was to try and shut him up, to sweep under the rug, to the extent possible, the fact that this incident happened at all.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A number of atheists and non-religious organizations want Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony to leave out all references to God and religion.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
To our young friends in the region: be careful what you wish for, and be sure to study what has happened to those who've gone before you in places like Iran. By all means stand up, rebel, shake up the status quo, change the government, but make positive changes. When religion becomes the government and the government becomes religion, corruption doesn't abate. If anything, it tends to become even more entrenched.
AMMAN, Jordan: Muhammad Fawaz is a very serious college junior with a stern gaze and a reluctant smile that barely cloaks suppressed anger. He never wanted to attend Jordan University. He hates spending hours each day commuting.
As a high school student, Fawaz, 20, had dreamed of earning a scholarship to study abroad. But that was impossible, he said, because he did not have a "wasta," or connection. In Jordan, connections are seen as essential for advancement and the wasta system is routinely cited by young people as their primary grievance with their country.
So Fawaz decided to rebel. He adopted the serene, disciplined demeanor of an Islamic activist. In his sophomore year he was accepted into the student group affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan's largest, most influential religious, social and political movement, one that would ultimately like to see the state governed by Islamic law, or Shariah. Now he works to recruit other students to the cause.
Secular government may seem anathema to Islam, but when a religious establishment must coexist with a secular government, each helps to keep the other from being hijacked by a corrupt few. When the two become one, there is no such balance. Each benefits from the existence of the other.
Under the George W. Bush presidency, the US (and the world) got a taste of what can happen when religion and government start to become entangled in a context where this is explicitly prohibited. The global reverberations will likely continue for a generation.
Also worth considering is the utter vacuum of evidentiary support for the foundational beliefs underlying religion. As university students, you are young and intelligent, and curious. Never let anything suppress your mind or misdirect your thinking.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
A question the so-called mainstream media has utterly failed to raise is why in a secular government, constitutionally separated from religion, an "invocation" is allowed to be part of the inaugural festivities at all. While that same constitution guarantees freedom of religion for individual citizens (and by inference, freedom from religion for those who do not subscribe to ancient myth), whether or not serving in public office, conflating personal religous beliefs with official governmental functions, be it the inauguration of a new president, the opening and/or closing of governmental proceedings such as congress, or whatever, stands as an abject violation of the principle of separation of church and state; an endorsement of religion in general, and an at least tacit endorsement of the specific religious denomination of the participants, by official sanction.
By focusing on the controversial nature of the particular selection of the pastor, the mainstream press has once again missed the point and failed in its duty to keep the politicians in line. Even the chatter on much of the atheist blogosphere seems to miss the point but for a few of the comments.
Wake up, people. Notwithstanding protestations to the contrary by the christian "right", the United States of America is not a christian nation; it is a pluralistic society, populated with believers of every major religion and many minor ones, and with believers in reality as well. The atheist community's apparent willingness to accept the notion that some sort of religious invocation is a regular part of a presidential inauguration is disturbing. Granted, not every battle can be fought at once, but if we're going to concern ourselves with this issue at all, we should take it on as the affront it is to the separation of church and state, regardless of the particular pastor involved and his archaic social positions.
Monday, November 24, 2008
What is killing the Republican Party? Well, for one thing, Pretend Christians
Supreme Conservative Republican Evangelical American Moralizers -- S.C.R.E.A.M.
The "Christian" War President
"God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them."
"Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
"This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while."
--George W. Bush
And what about "real" Christians? Where are they in all this?
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
PLEASANT GROVE CITY, Utah: Across the street from the city hall here sits a small park with about a dozen donated buildings and objects - a wishing well, a millstone from the city's first flour mill and an imposing red granite monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments.
Thirty miles, or 48 kilometers, to the north, adherents of a religion called Summum gather in a wood-and-metal pyramid by Interstate 15 in Salt Lake City. Followers of Summum meditate on their Seven Aphorisms, fortified by an alcoholic sacramental nectar they produce and surrounded by mummified animals.
In 2003, the president of the Summum church wrote to the mayor here with a proposal: the church wanted to erect a monument inscribed with the Seven Aphorisms in the city park, "similar in size and nature" to the one devoted to the Ten Commandments.
(read full article)
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Moving beyond the argument in its present form, examining the question of marriage in modern society, several things quickly become apparent:
- Marriage, though related to the institution from which it descends, has drifted in its ceremonial and legal implications into territory that can be very difficult to navigate, particularly when dealing with marital difficulties and divorce.
- Government and court involvement in the administration and dissolution of marriages is mostly detrimental to all parties concerned.
- Religious implications make this a hot-button issue making it much more difficult to address the parties' needs more pragmatically.
Marriage would revert to the domain of religious and secular social institutions. Ceremonies could be performed by whatever figure the parties respect for this purpose, and would carry only ceremonial significance.
Legal implications of today's concept of marriage would be supplanted by a new structure: a family corporation, separate and distinct from the ceremonial notion of marriage. This special class of corporation would have to be designed specifically for its purpose. It would be required to set forth bylaws for the operation of the family corporation, procedures for how a party would terminate his or her relationship to the family corporation, procedures for total dissolution of the corporation, financial and other responsibilities of the parties, and rules for amendment of these bylaws. In effect, the law would require the equivalent of today's notion of a prenuptial agreement, though it would not take precisely that form.
It would be beyond the reach of law to specify the structure of a family corporation, the gender of its parties, or even the number of its parties. Financial and tax ramifications would have to be worked out, as would the tax status of this class of corporation. Boiler-plate articles of incorporation would become available that could be used as-is, fine-tuned, or modified wholesale, to reflect the needs and desires of the parties, but could in any case serve as a guide to the structure for such arrangements.
This would do nothing to inhibit government from exercising some regulatory function to ensure against abuses and neglect, of children or adult parties to the family corporation. Legal statute would continue to specify the age of majority when children become independent entities.
Such a system has many implications, including:
- Issues like gay marriage, polygamy, adoption, etc., are taken completely out of public debate and away from those who would seek to impose their ideologies on the public at large. They become, as they properly should be, a private matter between the parties involved.
- Government is once and for all removed from the bedroom.
- Church and State separation is strengthened and enhanced.
- The existing legal baggage and prejudice surrounding the current notion of divorce would be supplanted by clearly-stated procedures for what happens if it doesn't work out.
- No longer would the wage-earning spouse be inherently at tremendous disadvantage because of the current imbalance in this area.
- Tyranny of a non-responsible, non-wage-earning party over a responsible wage-earning party through blackmail threats to disrupt the marriage with ruinous consequences to the other would finally be ended.
- Legal responsibility would be contained between the parties and explicitly framed in the articles of incorporation.
- Matters of custody would be specified in advance in the articles of incorporation and bylaws.
Marriages originating in other countries where this is not (yet?) the tradition would have to be respected in some legal structure as well, but if the parties moved to the US, the transition process would apply to them for US purposes.
Finally, this would work best if implemented on the federal level, superseding all relevant state laws and regulations, however it could be pioneered by one or more states until wider acceptance could come about.
Though somewhat radical in nature, this kind of approach is much more in line with the values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to which we are supposedly entitled.
Such an approach has the advantage of enabling existing traditions to continue, supporting freedom of and from religion, while at the same time preventing the imposition of any marital ideology over those who do not share it. This is inherently fair and decent, but because of its explicit protections, it will likely meet with opposition from precisely those who would impose their beliefs on others - the very reason why it is so critical to implement protections of this kind.
It will not be easy to bring about this sort of social change, but it would solve a great many problems, while creating relatively few. It is not reasonable to expect quick change to something so radical, but it is reasonable to have the discussion and raise the issues this proposal attempts to address and discuss this proposal as a possible way of addressing them.
[In the interest of full disclosure here, it should be noted that the author does not support either side of this argument and is not a California voter, but would have voted against Proposition 8 on other principles]
None of this would have been possible without the awakening of our population from its long apathetic (and pathetic) slumber. It is reassuring that this eventually happened, but should we ever manage to get another incompetent administration in power, we must not sleep through eight years of it ever again. The price is too high. Convenient as it is to blame the Bush administration, we all share responsibility, particularly for the second term. We the American Public must continually remain on guard against further attempts, and they will occur, to transform this great nation into anything less than what we are meant to be. Leanings toward fascism such as the past 7-8 years have witnessed have no place certainly in this country and arguably in the world. If we cannot lead by example then we cannot lead at all.
Much work remains to be done. We must collectively repudiate the corrupt ways of so many entrenched politicians in DC and in our home states, counties, cities, etc. We must stand against bigotry and ignorance and promote education, investigation, learning, and sharing of knowledge. We must re-establish and strengthen separation of powers and separation of church and state. We have an opportunity here for a transformational period in American history during which we can regain and exceed our past leadership.
Carpe diem, people. Carpe diem.