Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed”? Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.
  — Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 1997, p. 50

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Billy Beck makes some observations about Glenn Beck, with which I tend to agree. I don’t get the ubiquitous hostility and charges of craziness directed at him. His emphasis on faith at the Lincoln Memorial rally pretty much proved most of the pre-event hysteria dead wrong. It wasn’t a “right-wing” political festival. Instead, it was a boring gathering of milquetoast religious speeches, something which isn’t going to do any good to further the individual rights of Americans.

I’ve never listened to or watched Savage or Levin. I can’t really argue too much about Billy’s opinion of Hannity. For one thing, he tells people who phone him “great Americans” without knowing anything about them, other than the fact that they call him a “great American”. But he’s still smarter than Bill O’Reilly or any of the chumps at MSNBC. (Yeah, I know, that’s not saying much.)

I was, however, surprised to see faint praise for Rush Limbaugh. I don’t agree, because I don’t think you can put your finger on “the bounds of his logic” because he so often makes ridiculously specious arguments with no logic. When Limbaugh is on the right side of an issue, or making a valid point about freedom and individualism, most of the time he’s backing into it by accident, or at the very least, unable to universally apply such principles across party boundaries.

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Balko puts himself somewhere around

Despite the common misconception, Richard Dawkins and other atheists do not have an absolute, 100% disbelief. In The God Delusion, Dawkins has a [Spectrum of theistic probability] scale from absolute belief to absolute disbelief, with agnostics in the middle. He puts himself close to, but not actually at, 100% disbelief. The common analogies are comparing a rational consideration of the possibility of a deity to the rational consideration of the existence of a teapot in orbit between Mars and Earth, or the existence of fairies in the bottom of the garden. Strictly speaking, I can’t rule out the teapot or the fairies, because tomorrow someone could actually provide proof. But I feel quite safe in disregarding such a “possibility” as too trivial to concern myself, like an infinite number of other similarly trivial “possibilities”.

That’s not agnosticism, either.

I identified as an agnostic for about 15 years. I considered atheists to be smug and often hostile to good people of faith. But I realize now that what tethered me to the theist side of the fence was residual Christian fear and guilt, as well as a kind of desperate hope that there was some kind of higher power. I even described myself as an agnostic leaning towards Deism.

I cut the tether [see #75 for more details] when I read someone point out how cruel it is to convince a child that their beloved grandfather would be burning forever in fire because he wasn’t baptized. All of the seemingly “well-meaning” traditional religions are poisoned with such hideous fundamental ideas, because it is necessary to inculcate people with fear and/or hate in order to keep them from “straying”, i.e., using their rational mind and dismissing religious tales as ridiculous fantasy–not to mention identifying the truly horrible aspects and applications. Leaders can only control the minds of religious followers so long as they use such despicable ploys. Even the Eastern and New Age religions are often poisoned with a worship of death over life. (Without such poison, they’re just silly fluff, mere fads.)

So, once I freed myself of that irrational anchor, I decided that, while I can respect people of faith who treat others respectfully and appreciate how much their beliefs mean to them, I should never again respect their actual beliefs. I don’t include the non-supernatural, rational beliefs like the ‘Golden Rule’ and [rules like] don’t commit murder. But I give no special exceptions for brises, religious education, slave garb for women, etc.. No, it’s not for me to decide how other people raise their children or treat their wives, but I also don’t have any reason to overlook cruelty and deception just because it falls inside some conceptual fence of “faith” (a wholly unvirtuous human quality).

I regret wasting my time on the agnostic fence and I would highly recommend that anyone who now considers him/herself an agnostic to critically question why. Read god is Not Great (Hitchens) and The God Delusion (Dawkins) if you haven’t already, rather than relying on hearsay about these people. I have a couple bones to pick with both, such as Dawkins’ utilitarian approach to morality and Hitchens’ occasional broad brush condemnations. But they do make excellent arguments against theism and agnosticism.

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Chris Muir's Day by Day Cartoon

Chris Muir sets the bar high for entries in the first annual Everybody Draw Mohammad Day. This follows on the heels of the 2005 Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten publication (and 2008 reprinting) of various cartoonists’ renderings, which triggered riots by savages in which more than 100 people were killed.

I still think Giovani di Modena’s 1415 depiction of Mohammad burning in hell, as part of a fresco about Dante’s Inferno takes the cake:

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South Park creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, were the target of threats by a group called “Revolution Muslim.” These ridiculously stereotypical angry Muslims produced a video intimating that Parker and Stone would end up murdered, like Theo Van Gogh, for depicting Mohammad in a “blasphemous” way. Well, the joke was on the angry Muslims:

Mohammed appeared on Wednesday night’s US episode of the cartoon with his body obscured by a black box, since Muslims consider a physical representation of their prophet to be blasphemous. Last week, the character was believed to be disguised in a bear costume. When that same costume was removed this week, Santa Claus appeared.

The very idea of blasphemy against any religion is such an obviously human one. There is no god. But if there were a being of such awesome unimaginable power, would it really be necessary for people to protect this god from ridicule? It’s not like this alleged creator of the universe would have the emotional constitution of a fragile young child being mocked on the playground for having a goofy haircut. This is supposed to be an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent deity. Few other human attitudes do more to highlight the absurdity of blind faith than throwing a temper tantrum and demanding that everyone else give respect to the irrational belief in imaginary beings.

In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed”? Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

The plot of episodes “200” and “201” are quite convoluted and silly, in true South Park fashion. But as with many episodes, it’s a subversive, intentionally offensive morality play. Buddha is depicted snorting cocaine, Jesus admits viewing porn on the internet, but a box covers Mohammed at all times and even the mention of his name by the characters is bleeped in the audio. The closed captions, however, weren’t altered. Even more absurd, a “lessons learned” speech at the end of the show, which made no mention of Mohammed, was completely bleeped out (including the closed captions). Apparently, Comedy Central completely caved to what can only be described as terroristic “warnings.”

Before the September 11, 2001 attacks, and years before the murderous riots by angry Muslims, pissed over a few Mohammed cartoons, the episode “Super Best Friends” (July 4, 2001), showed an apparently innocuous cartoon version of Mohammed as part of the plot, but there were no riots, no death threats then.

On April 5, 2006 and April 12, 2006, a two part episode “Cartoon Wars” had terrified characters throughout the US burying their heads in sand to show Muslims that they had no part in the airing of a picture of Mohammed on the show Family Guy (well, the South Park parody of Family Guy). They built the suspense, first showing an episode within an episode with a black censorship box. The next week, they were supposedly going to show it unedited, but Comedy Central wouldn’t air it:


I still prefer the “Douche and Turd” episode, in which Stan decides not to vote for a school election, and is threatend by Puff Daddy to “Vote or Die” (an actual slogan he used in pro-voting commercials). As usual, their over-the-top theme serves to illustrate the stupidity of people feeling obligated to vote in an election, even if they don’t like either candidate.

P.S.: Balko links to a story about a call to ink pens, for cartoonists everywhere to draw Mohammed on April 20, 2010.

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Balko writes:

Here’s a tough one for you: Do parental rights extend to denying potentially lifesaving chemo for your kid? What probability of success does the treatment have to carry for a parent to be allowed to decline it on behalf of his kid? I don’t have an answer. I don’t think Christian Science parents should be permitted to let their kid die of an ear infection. But if chemo is going to make your kid’s last 3 years unlivable, and only has a 25 percent chance of success, I think parents should be able to say no. I just don’t know where or how you draw the line.

I’ve been kicking this one around in my head since I read about it. What galls me the most here is that this involves government functionaries making decisions, when they lack the incentives to appreciate the values of those involved. I would be far more comfortable with a grandparent, uncle, or sibling who took a child away from a parents who were neglecting to get their child medical treatment, in order to have the child treated. I don’t buy the rule of thumb that an outside party is a better judge, when those closest to the conflict have the most to lose or gain and thus have intimate reasons to make their choices.

As an atheist, I don’t care for making irrational choices based upon faith. Nor do I care for inculcating children with anti-reason. But I completely part ways with Richard Dawkins, for example, when he argues that outsiders should take away children from religious parents, on the grounds that brainwashing them with fundamentalist religion is abuse. The outsiders to which he would defer are likely to be completely irrational when it comes to politics, economics, and diet–to name some obvious examples. They would be government functionaries, who are not motivated to do their best, who often have incentives which run contrary to the interests of the children. If our culture hadn’t been corrupted with dependence on government to solve social problems, to the point of near helplessness, perhaps private individuals close to the scene would be more inclined to do the right thing.

Obviously, if a parent is burning a child with a cigarette, sexually molesting the child, or doing other similarly monstrous things, I think outsiders have a right to step in. I agree that choosing not to go through with chemo isn’t child abuse–especially when the teenager at issue doesn’t want it, since he or she is old enough that his or her opinion should hold some weight, even if it isn’t the final word.

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