Thursday, December 13, 2007

And They Say Atheism Would Permit Anything

Just another great example of Christianity in action.

In Niger, the local preachers have been turning their parishoners against young children for the crime of witchcraft. From The Observer:

But an exploitative situation has now grown into something much more sinister as preachers are turning their attentions to children - naming them as witches. In a maddened state of terror, parents and whole villages turn on the child. They are burnt, poisoned, slashed, chained to trees, buried alive or simply beaten and chased off into the bush.

Some parents scrape together sums needed to pay for a deliverance - sometimes as much as three or four months' salary for the average working man - although the pastor will explain that the witch might return and a second deliverance will be needed. Even if the parent wants to keep the child, their neighbours may attack it in the street.

Now, I know the vast majority of Christians would find these events abhorrent, but it points to a fundamental problem of religion. We've always heard the argument that without God, anything is permitted. Now, in the most realistic sense, I suppose that would be true. However, human institutions and the general sense of empathy we all have create very real consequences, whether it comes from the legal system or a crushing feeling of guilt for having harmed another. Without God, we have to answer for our crimes in this life, even if it's only to ourselves.

It seems clear the unbeliever can easily turn that standard charge against atheism back towards the faithful. In its basic doctrine (as far as the monotheistic religions are concerned), religion gives you a get out of jail for free card, so long as your crime has been sanctioned by the faith. Even if it hasn't been explicity sanctioned, as long as a person believes he or she is doing God's will, anything is permissable.

The situation in Niger makes an excellent case and point. It seems quite clear these parents feel they are doing God's work when they torture and murder their children for the laughable crime of being a witch. This is something no self-respecting mother would do without the irrational baggage that comes with faith.

What's worse is the preachers getting rich off the hysteria they themselves have created. Do they have no sense of decency? Do they have no respect at all for their fellow human beings? Clearly, this is the second major problem that religious belief creates. Charlatans in positions of religious power find it all too easy to benefit at terrible cost to their unquestioning followers.

It's certainly arguable whether the preachers' motivations came from their faith or merely their greed. However, I think most of us can agree that if these people had not been such slaves to their religion, none of this would have happened.

So my question is, what exactly did faith prevent these people from doing? Besides keeping them from asking much-needed questions, I find myself without any answers.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Huckabee's Medieval Mindset

Everyday, new bits of information come to light concerning the positions presidential candidate Mike Huckabee took while he was governor of Arkansas. From Think Progress:

In June 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a “statement on the family” that asserted, “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.” Two months later, then-governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee was one of 131 signatories to a full-page ad in USA Today specifically endorsing the Convention’s view on marriage:

You are right because you called wives to graciously submit to their husband’s sacrificial leadership.

I sincerely hope this and Huckabee's other archaic statements drive all the Republican moderates and idependents towards more rational-thinking candidates. Surely the moderate Republicans can see that Huckabee would lead with the Bible first and foremost in his mind and constitutional considerations would only come as an afterthought. Surely they can see that Huckabee would create a virtual theocracy where only the Southern Baptist version of Christianity would have any real say.

However, I think the progressive bloggers' efforts to bring these sort of facts to light will go a long ways towards sinking Huckabee's campaign by driving away any independent who might have considered him a decent candidate. Furthermore, I doubt any self-respecting woman who isn't deluded by her church would support a candidate who stands behind such a blatant violation of women's rights.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Follow Up On the Religious Shootings

Over the past day, a clearer picture has emerged concerning Matthew J. Murray, the shooter in Colorado who killed four and wounded five at a missionary center in Arvada and New Life Church in Colorado Springs.

Murray had been kicked out of the missionary school in 2002 for mental problems that included hearing voices in his head, which made it immpossible for him to go on the group's mission trip to Bosnia. Eventually, he started sending hate mail to the school where he revealed a deep seated resentment towards Christians in general:

You Christians brought this on yourselves. All I want to do is kill and injure as many of you ... as I can especially Christians who are to blame for most of the problems in the world.

It's hard to say what he based his hatred on beyond his mere expulsion. Besides his time at the mission school, Murray's immediate family are all deeply conservative Christians, which might have played a role. But I doubt this shooting has much to do with faith. Murray obviously had mental problems that caused him to hold a deep resentment which he eventually tried to resolve through violence. Faith or lack thereof doesn't really factor into the picture.

As expected, pastors have taken advantage of the incident to further their ends. Pastor Gino Geraci of Calvary Chapel South Denver said:

We're taking a journey away from moral responsibility. We live in a culture and society that want to share the blame rather than holding people accountable and responsible for their actions.

And Rev. Andreas Hock, professor of Sacred Scripture at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary said:

Losing sight of God can mean losing sight of the value of human life.

I don't want to stoop to their level and use this shooting to toot the horn of atheism. As I said earlier, faith obviously has nothing to do with it. But I will use these pastors' comments because Christianity does the exact opposite of what they suggest it does. The central tenet of Christian faith is that Jesus will absolve the believer of all his sins, which is just a way of saying that Jesus will free the believer of all moral responsibility, so long as he believes. It does not hold believers accountable for their actions, so long as they're "born again" and put their faith in Christ. Second, this notion that religion is the only thing that allows us to value human life is absurd. If anything, it creates a sense that we are worthless creatures whose only purpose in life is to appease a seemingly indifferent diety, and it clearly segregates people into believers and nonbelievers, where the believers obviously have more worth than the infidels.

No, I don't think religion is the answer to society's problems, especially in this case when you have a young man who hears voices in his head. What he needed was proper medical care, not fantasies.

Click here to read more from The Rocky Mountain News.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Religious Shootings in Colorado

Earlier today there were two separate shooting incidents at religious centers in Colorado. The first was in a missionary training center in Arvada, a suburb of Denver, where two people were killed. The other was in the New Life Church in Colorado Springs (coincidentally, the one founded by Ted Haggard) where one victim was murdered before a security guard shot and killed the gunman. Police think the two might be related, but it's too soon to know for sure.

Of course, this is no different than the murder of innocent people going about their lives in any other shooting, but it just strikes close to home for me since I went to the New Life Church a couple of times when I lived in Colorado Springs. I found their particular brand of theology distasteful (even before I was an atheist), but I would never wish this upon them, ever. After all, even the biggest theocrat ultimately feels his or her actions are for the greater good. The truly evil are only the inhuman murderers such as the gunman who would indiscriminately murder innocent people. I think we can agree that we're all human and we can only make the world a better place if we all find a way to work together, regardless of our religious views or lack thereof.

My thoughts are with the families with the hopes that they will find the strength to overcome this difficult time.

You Should Probably Cleanse the Blog Readability Test From Your Site

Charles Arthur at The Guardian has brought to light the fact that the Blog Readability Test so many of us have used is not exactly what it seems. If the site that provides the image ever goes down, it will default to an advertisement for an obscure company that is certainly a proxy. You can edit out the code that would default to the ad (I did when I first posted it because I thought it was annoying).

However, the site it is hosted at, Critics Rant, seems to have no knowledge of the test. It all seems kind of shady to me, so I'm removing it from my blog. If you've utilized the meme as well, you might want to read Arthur's article and see what you think.

H/T to Pharyngula.

Carnival of the Godless

The 80th Carnival of the Godless is now up at The Jesus Myth. Yours truly made the cut, but there some great essays over there, and I've only just begun. So, if you want to enjoy some great godless thought, go check it out.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Mike Huckabee: An Ignoramous on History

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee recently did an interview with GQ Magazine. He said a lot of theocratic crap that made me wince, but the historian in me just died a little when I read this part:

GQ: Is the strategy shifting because social conservatives are losing on those core issues? Ten years ago, it would have been unimaginable to have gay marriage even in liberal Massachusetts. Now it’s there.

Mike Huckabee: I don’t think the issue’s about being against gay marriage. It’s about being for traditional marriage and articulating the reason that’s important. You have to have a basic family structure. There’s never been a civilization that has rewritten what marriage and family means and survived. So there is a sense in which, you know, it’s one thing to say if people want to live a different way, that’s their business. But when you want to redefine what family means or what marriage means, then that’s an issue that should require some serious and significant debate in the public square. And if you look at states that have had it on the ballot—I know in our state it was a 70-percent-against issue. Most states are similar to that.

First off Mike, you sure as hell didn't articulate the reason it's important. You just said the standard Conservative Christian line that it will cause the downfall of our civilization because it's happened before. That's nice rhetoric, and I'm sure it works with the ignorantly faithful, but give me one example of a civilization that collapsed because it deviated from what you consider the basic family structure. Furthermore, name a civilization that had our modern concept of family.

DevilsTower at Daily Kos did an excellent job addressing my second challenge to this propaganda:

Was it the many civilizations were marriage was arranged and decided long before children were of marriageable age? Was it the Jewish civilizations of Jesus' day where brothers were required to marry their brother's widows? Was it civilizations that allowed siblings to marry? How about first cousins? Could be it civilizations who adopted the silly idea that you should marry for love. Perhaps it was the Mormons who decided to practice polygamy. Perhaps it was those who decided to stop. Or maybe it was the polyandrous cultures in many mountainous or arctic regions.

To start with, "marriage" is merely a word with a culturally defined concept behind it. Committed homosexual couples are already in a "marriage" state on an emotional and philosophical level. Just because you attach the legal term marriage to it doesn't change anything. The stars won't realign, the mountains won't crumble at their foundations, and the seas won't rise and swallow us all. No, homosexuals' serious relationships will just have a legal word attached to them that makes it easier for them to deal with things such as retirement plans and untimely death. Plus, you don't have to recognize it in your church. That's your right. But realize they are already in a state of marriage whether you attach the word to it or not.

But, the fact remains that our modern concept of marriage is exactly that, modern. Before the 20th century it was virtually unheard of that a man and a woman would marry for love. Far more often than not, marriage was used for political reasons to strengthen family alliances. Of course, maybe that's what Huckabee supports, since it is what we find throughout most civilizations at the height of their success. Maybe Huckabee doesn't believe in marriages based on love. After all, that's what led homosexuals to want marriage in the first place. They can't help who they fall in love with.

I seriously doubt Huckabee stands behind arranged marriages, so I'll leave it at that and move on to my other challenge: did any civilization collapse because it altered family structures?

To start with, civilization is a fairly vague term. It can be incredibly broad, such as: Western Civilization. It includes a plethora of societies going all the way back to the ancient Greeks. It's had its difficulties, but it's never completely collapsed and disappeared. The same goes for the other broadly defined civilizations as we see them today. The only large scale civilization that has really collapsed and disappeared was the Meso-American civilzation. However, we know fairly well why it disappeared, and it had nothing to do with family structure. No, it was ravaged by the worst plague in human history and then subjected to a slow genocide at the hands of invading Europeans. I don't think making sure only men and women are "married" would have saved it from either one of those problems.

Perhaps Huckabee means something more specific, focused more on individual nations. Perhaps he sees the United States as its own civilization. Okay then, let's look at a few nations (or entities that resemble nations since the modern concept of the nation-state didn't appear until the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648). To keep this post a reasonable length, I'll only consider the superpowers in history. I say it's a fair truncation since, following Huckabee's line of reasoning, weak nations obviously didn't have strong "family values".

We'll start with the Persian Empire, the world's first superpower. Unfortunately, we know perfectly well what brought about its demise: Alexander the Great. And it wasn't because the Persian family structure had been changed. No, the Macedonian army was simply superior in battle, forcing King Darius III of Persia to flee, bringing about a collapse in his empire.

That leads us to Alexander's Empire, but it only lasted as long as its king. Once he died without an heir, his generals turned on each other for control of the throne. I doubt family values had anything to do with it since the Greeks were comfortable with homosexuality long before Alexander's day.

Next we have Rome. But it didn't collapse until after it became Christian. Obviously, Christian family values didn't save it. Of course, they were Catholic and Orthodox, so that doesn't count for Baptist Huckabee. But looking at the families, they were usually the standard form that Huckabee calls for with a patriarchal hierarchy, but marriage in Rome was arranged to create family alliances, and that never really changed throughout its history. However, that "traditional" family structure probably hurt more than it helped. Towards the end of Rome's existence, it simply didn't have enough soldiers to guard its extensive frontier against a growing number of incursions on all sides. The only thing that really would have saved Rome is more babies, and monogamous societies almost always have lower birth rates than polygamous ones.

Then I can point to the Mongols. But they were brought down by internal stuggles due to their highly tribalized political structure. Plus, field cannons made cavalry archers, the most potent weapon in the Ancient and Medieval worlds, obsolete, removing the Mongol Empire's only advantage.

Then we come to the British Empire, but its civilization still exists, just in a liberalized form without its colonies. Even then, Britian didn't allow gays to marry before it started losing its colonies, so there's clearly no correlation there.

Then I suppose that just leaves us with the Soviets and the US. Since Huckabee is a Republican, I'm sure he knows it was Ronald Reagan who single-handedly brought down the Soviets. Even though that's not entirely accurate, it was obviously economic reasons tied to the communist market system that brought the USSR down and not gay marriage.

As for us, we'll decline eventually. But it won't be because homosexuals get a legal term attached to their relationships. No, it'll probably come when China supplants us as the richest nation in the world. Saying that civilizations collapse because they allow gay marriage is worse than saying the decline in pirates causes global warming. At least the latter has a correlation.

Update: If you'd like to learn more about Roman family values over time, Richard Saller from the University of Chicago has an excellent essay on the subject. Then, like today, conservative Roman politicians decried the decline in Roman family values and harkened back to a mythical era that never actually existed. So, before I get accused of poor historical scholarship, there were cartainly Roman writers who spoke of a decline in family. But we have the same thing today, and, unless you think the Cleaver family was real, it just doesn't correlate with reality. Similarly, the evidence doesn't support conservative Roman propaganda.

Romney Doesn't Get It

If you've been following the presidential campaigns at all, you know that Mitt Romney has recently been spending considerable time defending his Mormon faith, on the grounds that it shouldn't matter. In a speech earlier today he said:

There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution.

No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes president he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths.

On that point, I have to agree. It shouldn't matter what a candidate's religion is as long as he doesn't let it interfere with his job so he or she can stay fair to all the nation's citizens.

However, Romney goes on to show that he has no idea on how to maintain that fairness when he lambasts separation of church and state:

It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America -- the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

I'm going to look past the fact that secularism is, by definition, not a religion.

However, Romney wants to have his cake and eat it too. Secularism is the only way to ensure that no religious liberties are trampled upon. If Romney refuses to adhere to secularism when governing, then what religious philosophy does he propose to utilize? Governing through any type of religion convictions will immediately infringe on other religious beliefs, due to their mutually incompatible doctrines. Secularism is the only way to maintain any sort of fairness.

And I'm not talking about oulawing any sort of belief system. I'm not even talking about atheism. That's not what secularism is about. People are free to have their beliefs. I want to be very clear on that. But people can't have their beliefs uninfringed so long as the government rules through specific religious ideologies. No matter how vague, these religious ideologies will only appeal to a fraction of the nation's citizens. Only a secular government that rules through reason and clear evidence can be truly fair. After all, beliefs are subject to interpretation. Facts are undeniable.

The only way Romney's faith would become a non-issue is if secularism were the name of the game in our government. However, since he seems intent on pushing religion into our governing process, his Mormonism will never cease to matter.

Although, he'd be a far better choice than Mike Huckabee. The last thing we need is a former Baptist minister in the White House. If you think Bush has been bad, he'd be nothing compared to the theocratic crap that Huckabee would bring to the executive branch.

Anyway, you can read more on Romney's speech at CNN.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Message to Chuck Norris: You Suck

There was a time when I enjoyed the Chuck Norris jokes that made their rounds on the internet. But now I just can't help but think about how much his faith has made him an ignorant bastard. If you want to take a walk down Stupid Lane, just read his column at World Net Daily.

To get an idea of how rediculous he is, he's a few paragraphs from his column "How to Outlaw Christianity":

Once upon a time, years ago, it seemed that the only major fire for atheism burned from the anti-Christian work of Madelyn Murray O'Hair and the American Atheist organization, whose claim to fame was the banning of prayer and Bible reading in public schools in 1963.

Today many more antagonist groups and individuals to theism abound, and they are using every means possible for global proliferation – from local government to the World Wide Web. Such secular progressives include the Institute for Humanist Studies, Secular Coalition of America, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Internet Infidels, the Atheist Alliance International, Secular Student Alliance, Society for Humanistic Judaism, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, etc. Of course no list of atheistic advocates would be complete without mentioning the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, as well as the anti-God militancy of men like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.

Though the U.S. Constitution outlaws religious discrimination, these organizations and individuals would love nothing more than to help society look with distain upon Christianity and, ultimately, make its components illegal. In fact, right now, they are coalescing and rallying at least 5 million of their troops to mount counter offensives to Christianity.

For that reason I believe theistic patriots need to be wise to atheists' overt and covert schemes, exposing their agenda and fighting to lay waste to their plans.

Okay Chuck, why can't athiests share their thoughts with our fellow citizens? There are hundreds of thousands of Christian organizations that do the exact same thing for their causes. If you want to be consistent, you'd want them to cease their efforts as well. Of course, you agree with them because you want a Christian theocracy imposed on this country.

Second, you are laughably hysterical. For someone who is reputably so tough, you seem downright terrified of a few academics whose only "militant" actions have been to publish books, give speeches, and take part in debates. I wish we were as powerful as you seem to think we are. In reality, we're a loosely connected group of people who can hardly agree on anything. It's the price we pay for thinking for ourselves.

As for thinking for ourselves, it shouldn't surprise you that so many people are leaving the faith. If you ever actually read the Bible, you'll find it's a self contradictory work hoplessly caught up in first century thinking. I'm amazed it's taken people so long to look at the more consistent philosophies with better morals written in the 2000 years since.

Finally, just because you think athiesm and secularism is immoral doesn't mean jack. I think Christianity is immoral, but I certainly don't want to outlaw it. I just want Christians to stop forcing their beliefs on the rest of us. These "counter offensives to Christianity" are simply efforts to remove the special status the religion has within our government, a status it received by default, not merit. Just because most of the founding fathers were Christian does mean the rest of us have to be. You don't want atheism imposed on you, so you'd damn well better expect that I don't want Christianity imposed on me. It's called freedom, get over it. And it's real freedom, not the kind where only fundamental Christians are allowed to do what they want at everyone else's expense.

Wow, Just....Wow

As a history major, this just makes me shudder in terror:

How does someone like this end up on television? Just goes to show it's not all that it's cracked up to be.

I could correct her errors, but I don't want to insult your intelligence.