Monday, April 30, 2007

Catholic Church on What Happens to Babies in the Afterlife

Commenting on the recommendation of the Vatican International Theological Commission to eliminate the concept of limbo, Michelle Tsai, writing for Slate, offers some interesting thoughts on past efforts by church leaders to resolve the final destination of baby souls in the afterlife. It's nice that today there is a growing theological awareness of God's mercy, because just a few centuries ago St. Augustine was offering this:

The fate of unbaptized babies has confounded Catholic scholars for centuries. According to church catechisms, or teachings, babies that haven't been splashed with holy water bear the original sin, which makes them ineligible for joining God in heaven. At the same time, as innocent beings, they surely don't deserve eternal torment. St. Augustine concluded in the fourth century that the babies must be punished in the fire of hell, but only with the “mildest condemnation.”

(original piece here)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Perfect God

From BlogCritics:

Have you ever tried to have a conversation about religion with a devout Christian only to find them completely unable to debate rationally? It seems no matter how many sound arguments you make or how many glaring contradictions you bring up, they still hold hard and fast to their beliefs and give you that "you are SO going to hell" condescending kind of look?


Science Must Destroy Religion

I really struggled with the title of this item originally published by Sam Harris in the Huffington Post, coming to us via Machines Like Us. While essentially correct, it strikes me as unnecessarily inflammatory toward the large body of our population who still accept religion at some level, extreme or not, in their lives. Inflaming people who cling irrationally to any idea may get their attention but it's perhaps not the most effective way to open their minds; to help them to examine those ideas closely in order to evaluate honestly whether they're really believable.

The substance of the article, however, is well written and right on target.
"We must find ways of meeting our emotional needs that do not require the abject embrace of the preposterous"

Maher on Religion

From: Scarborough Country via EvolutionBlog:
"The Bush administration has 150 graduates of Pat Robertson's law school. That's right, Pat Robertson, the man who believes that hurricanes are caused by gay people."
Maher on Religion

Know Them By Their Deeds: Southern Baptist Abuse Cases Getting Attention

From Athiest Revolution:
According to The Christian Post, sex scandals involving Southern Baptist clergy are receiving increased attention, with some fearing that we are looking at a similar pattern as the widely known epidemic facing Catholicism. I find this fitting because my experience has been that Southern Baptists are among the first to condemn other denominations as not being "real Christians."


Look Inside

Do you know what you believe?

It sounds almost silly. Your initial reaction may be an emphatic "Of course!", but have you ever taken a moment to examine any of the ideas in your head up close? Have you ever considered the assumptions on which are predicated your whole understanding of the world as you know it? Where did you get these ideas? On close examination, do you even agree with them?

Or perhaps they were just there in your environment as you grew from an infant to an adult. Assumptions absorbed early in life and reinforced through continued exposure to the people around you, who themselves held those assumptions, very likely also without ever examining or questioning them or their origins in their own minds.

Folk wisdom? Some. Folk folly? Some. The point is not that these ideas are inherently good or bad, right or wrong, but that we are generally unaware of their influence on our lives. Recognizing ideas for which we cannot account is the first step toward taking control of this situation and of our thoughts.

Once we identify one of these "unexamined assumptions", the next step is to examine it up close and in detail; to consider what it means and whether it makes any sense. For any such assumption, this process can result in rejecting that assumption entirely, in which case it becomes necessary to begin to reexamine ideas we may hold that are in some way predicated on that assumption. That can take quite a while but the good news is that it usually happens subsconciously, in the background. It can be unsettling, as it may require certain assumptions to be discarded, undermining whole sections of our understanding of fundamental aspects of our world-model, rather like the realization, usually during our adolescence, that our parents are just regular people. In other cases, this close examination can result in a greater understanding of the assumption and why it's valid, transforming a previously unexamined assumption into a stronger, well supported one. In either case, this process is very empowering.

Religious assumptions rarely survive this process. In fact, religious assumptions generally don't stand up to even minimal scrutiny. They are imprinted on most of us early and often, sometimes reinforced by vehement and urgent admonition; something we are pre-programmed to respond to in our early childhood and many of us never completely outgrow.

The religious establishment asks-- no, demands that we accept their stories basically "because they said so", or because it is written in books that they hold as sacred or insist were written by whichever deity they identify as their one true god. What does that mean? It means shut up and don't ask questions. This alone should set off our bullshit detectors, but so early and often subtly we are indoctrinated to these influences that they are in us before our bullshit detectors develop.

It's not too difficult to understand how ancient people could have come to accept the notion of gods in the first place and later of a single omnipotent god. If that progression had continued, that too should by now have passed. Instead, we now have a huge portion of the population that accept an absurd story involving a whole "new" pantheon.

When questioned, many very religious people resort to formulaic responses drummed into their heads by whatever clergy they've been listening to or reading; responses that often miss the point of the questions presented. They often counter by insisting that the nonexistence of their gods cannot be proven. But when presented with the reality that not only is there no evidence to support or prove that their gods do exist, but there's nothing even to suggest it, they often resort to making dismissive and hostile remarks.

The one thing most cannot be inspired to do is to think for themselves, examine their assumptions, ideas, beliefs, and see how they look in the light of day. Somewhere deep inside, they must know that to do so would destroy this fragile, often self-contradictory web of acceptance on which they rest their lives. But if this is so, then their professed belief is disingenuous. Do they think they are fooling their omniscient, omnipotent god?

The various religious establishments all claim to be the source of morality. Each faction within each religion has its own interpretation of what this moral behavior is. Most of them involve a considerable amount of denial of our basic nature. This is a recipe for repression that may be responsible for squeezing out some of the most abhorrent human behaviors that otherwise might not develop.

Moral behavior does not arise out of religion; it arises out of humble introspection. This should be a moral imperative for each and every one of us.

Look inside. Really, honestly look. You will find a whole lot of unexamined assumptions just waiting to be investigated. It's scary at first. Don't let that stop you. The fear will pass as you realize how empowering it is.

The Trouble with "Atheism"

The trouble with the whole concept of Atheism is that its very name only makes sense in the context of a society where religion is widespread or at least fairly common. Atheism literally means the absence of god or god-concepts. If religion ever went away, what would the word Atheism mean then? Why should people be characterized by their nonacceptance of one particularly absurd, albeit popular proposition, in this case, the existence of a god or gods, from among so many other bits of nonsense they undoubtedly also don't believe?

Perhaps a more positive name would make more sense - a name that would still mean the same thing if there were no religion. Some have proposed other -ism type names, such as secular humanism. I think though that the concept of an -ism suggests an exclusivity, a tribalism or grouping, clique or elite of sorts, when what we really need is a way of thinking that embraces reality and appeals to everyone.