Class Warfare Blog

October 24, 2014

Do Religions Cause Wars?

The question posed in the title of this post is one which has created a great deal of debate over the past decade or so and, really, a great deal farther back. (Karen Armstrong has a new book coming out entitled “Fields of Blood: A History of Religion and Violence,” for example.) I am not going to address this question because I do not have a glimmer of how to go about answering it and I suspect very few other people do, too (including Karen Armstrong, and I like her work). When it comes to what causes any particular war to happen, I am not sure that any single definitive explanation has ever been made. Books are still being written about what caused World War I. And while I think you could lay much of the “cause” of WWII in Hitler’s lap but saying “because Hitler” isn’t much of an explanation and it certainly doesn’t explain Japan’s participation.

“I am not going to address this question because I do not have a glimmer of
how to go about answering it and I suspect very few other people do, too.”

Basically I do not care whether religions start wars or not, or whether they continue them longer than they might otherwise or not, or make them more violent or not, etc. As an atheist, I object to any effect religion has upon violence and warfare because any religious argument is an argument about nothing, about competing fairy tales, or competing moral codes. Hey, that’s a great rationale for war: whether one religion is more moral than another. (That does seem to be a theme in the dialogue between the “moral Islam” and the “decadent Christian West.”)

The good news is that per capita violence of all kinds is on the decline. Yes, including wars. Yes, including the NRA. Yes, including Boko Haram. As we become more civilized (or more urban, or more modern, or more populous, or less religious, or ????) we are becoming less violent. I think this is partly because we are also becoming less different. If you listen to a news broadcast from California, New York, Texas, or Georgia, you would be hard pressed to determine the location of that broadcast without some visual clue. Regional accents just are not as pronounced as they once were. We speak, dress, and act much the same all over the country. We watch the same movies and TV shows and YouTube channels and communicate at a distance more than we ever have. The desire to fit in with one’s peers is a strong urge. And the less different we are, the less inclined to violence we are, my opinion, of course.

Can you imagine the U.S. making war on Canada? Neither can I. Can you imagine making war on Mexico? Maybe a little? Can you imagine making war in the Middle East or in Ukraine? A lot more. As you get away from a shared appearance and a common language and a shared religion, it becomes easier and easier to “think war.” Consider how easily many Americans wanted to go into Ukraine or after ISIS with guns a blazin’.

The main point I wish to make is that the question “do religions cause wars” is irrelevant. If religions contribute at all to wars or violence (and a good case can be made that they do, ask Salman Rushdie) then we are allowing an argument over nothing to create vast pain and suffering. Compare that question with “do fairy tales cause wars.” Atheists are responding from a feeling that the two questions are equivalent. And that leads to exaggerated claims regarding religion and everything wrong with the world, including war. I say exaggerated claims as how could we really know the real cause of any war? Take Hitler’s word for it? Or the leader of Boko Haram’s? Or George Bush’s?

 

Again, if you wonder why I am writing about religion in a Class Warfare blog, it is because I believe that religion has been a tool of those who started and prosecuted the class war here in the U.S. And now that they have won the class war and are mopping up, I think they will turn their eyes elsewhere.

October 22, 2014

Why Are People Still Religious?

As a scientist and a teacher, I believe that if you believe something that is wrong, it can actually harm you. I am not talking of ignorance, I am talking of believing things to be a way that they are not. (It ain’t what you don’t know that will hurt you, it’s what you know that ain’t so.” Who said that?) Mixing those two chemicals is harmless, you think, so you do and suffer dire consequences. (This is true for chlorine bleach and ammonia by the way.) Believing that “if a little is good, more is better” can get you into serious trouble. For example, all medicines and drugs (illegal and legal) are effective at particular dosages. Too little and they don’t work well enough; to much and you can suffer or die from the maldosage.

When it comes to religion I have been trying to convince people to give it up, to “Just say no!” There is no benefit and the manifold of potential harms is large. Slick preachers bilking old people out of their money is just one manifestation. Greater is the psychological harm done. So, I and many others have made reasoned argument after reasoned argument against religion … to no avail, at least in the U.S. Religious influence over people’s lives is slipping elsewhere (in general, please do not bring up militant Islam). And you can’t argue effectively without knowing what exactly it is you are arguing against (hence the title of this post). We have argued that religion is irrational. Well, all kinds of things are irrational. Currently the 2014 World Series of Baseball is going on and I am rooting for the S.F. Giants. I have rooted for them for over 50 years. That’s not rational. Many of our beliefs and actions are not based upon reason, instead they are based upon habit, training, tradition, etc. A quotation popped up that explained some of this for me. here it is:

You can’t reason someone out of something they weren’t reasoned into.
Jonathan Swift

I don’t know anyone who was “reasoned” into their religion. I know some who were reasoned from one sect into another, but the decision was based upon which fitted the beliefs already possessed by the person in question, so that is not an “in or out” kind of decision.

This a major bummer because I am an aficionado of reasoned argument. Well, out that goes—not effective. (I will probably continue doing it … as a sport.)

So, why are people religious? Right now I think it is fear, fear that affects people a particular way. A recent poll on what people fear drew this comment:

Some of his team’s other findings were more disturbing. Many respondents reported being afraid of natural disasters, yet relatively few said they had an emergency kit at home to help them weather such disasters. ‘Despite a lot of fear,’ Dr. Bader said, ‘there is very little preparation.’”
(“What Are You Afraid Of?” by Anna North, N.Y. Times, 10/22/2014)

Fear is a useful survival tool. It evolved to protect us from immediate threats. As we created societies and they became more complex, fears branched out from being more immediate ones to being ones that could develop in the near future (that guy over there doesn’t like me; he seems to want to hurt me, I had better not end up being alone with him …). And, over time those fears extended and extend into the future, into the realm of imagination. I have often commented that a survey of third-graders found their greatest fear was being eaten by wild animals, uh, Chicago third-graders. So, maybe some fears are hard-wired or our imaginations can extrapolate a scratch from a house cat into being eaten by a wild cat. The more imagination is involved in our protection matrix, the more flights of imagination can lead us astray.

Christianity provides an interesting mix of protection and fear. One such is the belief that a father figure exists who is all-powerful and looking out for you. This is immensely reassuring because you have much to be afraid of. This is also a very juvenile position in your relationship with your god. A child expects to be protected by his parents. He doesn’t take any action of his own to protect himself, at least until the parental protection proves false. I wonder if the “despite a lot of fear there is very little preparation” aspect of our nature is related to religiosity.

Then, on top of the protection Christianity offers, there is the fear. The fear of Hell, the fear of God (a vengeful god), the fear of not going to Heaven, the fear of being excommunicated, shunned, shut out from your church circles. There is a lot of fear to go around in Christianity. So, there is built-in to Christianity “protection” from fear and new sources of fear, making it, what? a self-perpetuating protection racket? (Youse wants to be able to use dose kneecaps in Heaven? Father Luigi asked.)

So, apparently the way to a less religious society is to reduce fear. This seems to be the case in Europe. The countries with the least religiosity are also the happiest and healthiest. I admit to thinking that the lack of religiosity was the cause and the happiness and healthiness was the effect but I think now that I got it backward.

So, our only task is to reduce fear in a culture that is steeped in the politics of fear. Sheesh! Fear is used as leverage in our everyday lives like never before. I have gotten several hundred emails to date (I am not kidding … or exaggerating) threatening dire consequences if I don’t support this petition or that candidate in the Fall elections. Fox (sic) News and many of the conservative “sources of information” seem to be driven by fear mongering. There are more cable news channels, more Internet news sources … and they are all pedaling fear: ISIS! Ebola! the Border! Black men! the New Black Panthers! They’re coming to take your guns! Watch for the Black Helicopters! Obamacare will destroy our country!

I think I now know where to focus my efforts and it does not look easy from here.

 

October 20, 2014

Warren: “The Game is Rigged”

Elizabeth Warren is building up a great deal of political capital by being willing to tell the truth, albeit in narrowly confined areas. In a speech last Saturday in Minnesota, Warren said “The game is rigged, and the Republicans rigged it.” Warren is focused on Wall Street reform, student loans (being not dischargeable through bankruptcy and overly expensive), and currently voter-suppression efforts and not the bigger picture.

The biggest point, though, one not being made, is the political apathy being engendered in much of the electorate because of the dysfunction of government, which is the result of an orchestrated campaign on the part of Republicans. This very theme: government is not the answer, government is the problem, we need to shrink the government, do away with many of its functions, while being not quite treasonous, is certainly un- and anti-American. Appallingly the motivation behind the effort is greed. Those who have made huge fortunes under our system want to make even greater fortunes. Republicans are just the medium of exchange … money for power.

October 19, 2014

Food Processing, Information Processing, Child Processing?

When I was teaching I often decried the tendency for “educrats” to address education as something we did “to” students rather than something we did “with” them. One viewpoint includes students as passive recipients and the other includes students as active participants. One is disempowering, the other empowering. I could go on but I think you get the point.

Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899, “the Great Agnostic”) had something to say about this topic (from various of his writings at various times):

“Do not treat your children like orthodox posts to be set in a row. Treat them like trees that need light, and sun, and air. Be fair and honest with them; give them a chance. Recollect that their rights are equal to yours. Do not have it in your mind that you must govern them; that they must obey. Throw away forever the idea of master and slave.

“Teach your children the facts that you know. If you do not know, say so. Be as honest as you are ignorant.

“The whip degrades; a severe father teaches his children to dissemble; their love is a pretense, and their obedience a species of self-defense. Fear is the father of lies.

“All children should be the children of love. All that are born should be sincerely welcomed.”

Now Ingersoll was primarily concerned that children not be indoctrinated into a religion through “education” (his statement “Do not send them to where they will contract diseases of the mind—the leprosy of the soul.” was a reference to church). His philosophy was that “greater happiness” is the path to progress for all people. He stated often that the rights of children were the same as the rights of adults under the Constitution.

I don’t know what those words sounded like to 19th Century ears, because then children were essentially chattel, the property of their parents, but all of these statements ring true and appropriate to our time, a time when corporations sponsor educational reforms from which they can make a great deal of money and which turn education into a system for processing students into workers, meek and malleable workers at that.

The Common Core Standards project is an attempt to do just that and is an abomination thereby. And this comes from someone who is in favor of national standards. I am an archery coach and I believe in standards. Most archery “rounds” are set up so that a perfect score is very, very difficult and occurs very, very seldom. Consequently, each archer needs to look at the kinds of scores that have been winning particular events and, if they want to win that event, they have to be capable of shooting such scores. So, in practice they shoot that round to see if they can shoot such a score and typically they fail. But this is not a pass-fail exercise. With their coach, the archer can assess which parts of their shooting process are strong and which are weak and devise drills to strengthen the weak parts. They then practice some more and then “take the test” again by shooting a practice round. The normal result is that they fail again. But is progress being made? Are their scores getting higher and higher and closer and closer to what they want? The “standard” of what constitutes a winning score at a particular event is actually transformed into a goal that leads to other goals. That goal may not even be appropriate, but it is there … as a challenge. Such challenges need to be there to direct aspirations. And they cannot be held up as exemplars of excellence and used as a standard for punishment at the same time.

I am in favor of national educational standards, against which students can measure themselves.

I am against national educational standards imposed by people uninvolved with education and upon which judgments are made as to the accomplishments of students, and amazingly: teachers and schools. This is not only bizarre, it is demeaning and the worse form of education as “child processing.”

Too many children have the thoughts “I am dumb” and “I am bad” running through their minds. These thoughts, like an archer’s thought of “I can’t do this,” stop progress and truncate possibilities.

To “All children should be the children of love. All that are born should be sincerely welcomed.” I would add “and encouraged to learn and grow as much as they are capable.”

 

October 16, 2014

Delusions About Belief

I was reading the book “Atheism Explained” recently (highly recommended, by the way) and the following statement jumped out at me:

… belief is always involuntary. You can’t choose to believe one thing or another. The evidence strikes you a certain way, and you spontaneously reach a conclusion; you can do nothing about that. And you shouldn’t try. You can certainly study logic and philosophy, and thus your skill at detecting bad arguments. You can search for new factual evidence …

This statement was made as a critique of an atheist’s argument that “belief in God is ‘irrational’.” Hello? Belief is always involuntary? Uh, maybe. You can’t choose to believe one thing or another. Really?

There seems to be a disconnect with reality here. The author, who seems to be spot on in quite convoluted philosophical arguments seems to have veered off course here. Consider the “normal,” that is most common, pathway for Christians to come to believe in their god.

First children are taken to church on Sundays to hear music and see a whole bunch of others dressed up like they are. This must be special. There may even be cookies and a drink in the basement later. They may be enrolled in Sunday School classes to learn about their religion. They are told they have been baptized so that they have been protected form some evil things that could befall them. They are encouraged to make friends with other children at the church. Later when they get close to “joining” the church, the pressure from parents, relatives, and clergy increases. It is not malicious or ill-intended but the path is clearly painted for one. Plus there are special Easter services and Christmas services and summer camps and Christian bookstores with Christian storybooks and, and, and …

At what point is the evidence presented and one is asked to judge it?

The evidence as I see it, from one who took that path as a child and left it in high school, is this:

1. my parents think this is really important
2. a lot of others/friends think this is very important
3. everyone else is doing it and I want to be “special,” too
4. it will make Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa happy.

Arguments? Evidence? Does anyone come to Christianity by such a path? I certainly did not. No part of Sunday School as I remember it had to do with evidence, it was only learning about the religion I was to believe in. I had no mystical religious experience, no revelation, no blossoming of faith in my heart, no scriptural awakening. I had the above. C.S. Lewis was one I thought had done so, so I read of his conversion which equated to: part of this might be true and, well, in for a penny, in for a pound. That was disappointing because I actually thought an intellectual like Lewis might show me a rational path to Christian Faith. (Still trying to appease my mother’s wishes even as an adult and after my mother had died.)

When it comes to belief in God “you can’t just “choose to believe in one thing or another” has two sides. One side is that your most likely religious belief is the one you were indoctrinated into. You were wheedled, cajoled, urged, nudged, pushed, or required to have those beliefs by some quite sophisticated “educational” systems and networks. There was no choosing that I could see. Another side is that you can “choose to believe in one thing or another” in that it is perfectly acceptable for you to amend your ideas of what or who “God” is. There is a taboo in place so that your personal definition of “God” is never discussed, so you can believe what you want. Which is why when people are polled anonymously about their concepts of “God” there is such a huge range of beliefs (including the 6% of Catholics in a recent survey who did not believe in “God” at all).

I can imagine that some people come to a religious belief through a process that is primarily rational but I can’t imagine that there are more than a very, very few of them. Heck, we don’t even choose what car to buy or a mate to marry in a rational process. (My father always owned Chevys so that’s what I buy.”)

Is religious faith irrational? I’d say more so than it being anything else. The atheist argument that religious faith is irrational is not false, but neither is it pertinent. Many, many things are irrational, that doesn’t make them dispensable at whim.

Defining God

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 1:35 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I have been reading a great deal lately regarding the arguments for and against the existence of a being people refer to as God. Part of that study is the difficulty in defining what each person means by the word “God” as there seems to be a wide range of definitions, none of which settle anything. Let me explain.

There is a phrase, used in many circles; here it is: “it is just a theory.” We use the word theory for a great many things but let me confine the discussion for the moment to scientific theories. With regard to scientific theories this phrase makes no sense. It has a mocking tone to it but it is equivalent to saying something like LeBron James is just the greatest living basketball player or Bill Gates is just the richest man in the U.S. Scientific theories are not something that the word “just” couples with. Theories are awesome.

Theories of the scientific sort are indeed stories, stories that make sense of our experience with nature. This confuses people because they know that stories can be made up, stories can be right or wrong. This is true for theories, too, but with a major difference: in order to continue to exist a scientific theory has to be less and less wrong over time; it can’t just be educational or amusing. Consider the Atomic Theory. A couple of thousand years ago in the Western Tradition, some thought matter to be made of four “elements:”

fire
air
earth
water

And while this was naïve it was only because we had very little evidence of elements and atoms and as human beings, we were not going to wait for all the data to come in to start theorizing, which is a good thing because the theories point us toward better ones. And, while the list above is naïve, it isn’t stupid. The four “elements” are representatives of what we today call:

energy
gases
solids
liquids

The atomic theory got its start not too long after the above scheme was invented and one of the major advances can still be read in the poem “On the Nature of Things” by Lucretius. (That we have that book is a story as fascinating as the book itself.) According to Lucretius, atoms are the tiniest bits of matter and they are indestructible. This is starting to sound more like the modern atomic theory.

Those few who subscribed to this theory (the “atomists”), that is they thought it was a promising story, one that would lead to greater truths, started asking it to go beyond explaining what was known to asking it to explain what was not known, that is too make predictions. Before that could be done in earnest, though, questions had to be answered such as: why were gases so easily compressed and expanded, that is when pushed into a smaller container, they compressed and when allowed access to larger containers, they expanded to fill the larger one evenly? Some thought that possibly atoms of gases were like tiny coil springs. Others thought that the atoms of gases were like tiny cotton balls which were easily compressed and popped back when released. Neither of those ideas proved out.

Others addressed the question of how it was that the atoms of different elements could bond to one another. One “story” that made sense of that was that atoms had little hooks upon then and also eyes and that the hook of one atom could engage the eye of another. That idea didn’t last either.

The modern atom theory was born in the early 1800’s by a Quaker gentleman named John Dalton who compiled what was then known and guessed at and added a little of his own. He wanted to present his theory to the Royal Society in London, then the preeminent scientific establishment in England, but it was considered so controversial that he was required to give his presentation alone to the Society President Michael Faraday. (Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that meeting!) faraday gave Dalton the “go ahead” and the modern atomic theory was launched … to much skepticism.

Many people don’t realize that the atomic theory had detractors into the 20th Century although they were few. Their argument was that the atomic theory, while useful to help organize things, couldn’t possibly be the correct view of actual nature. They were wrong. The atomic theory is so well established now that there is no doubt, none, that it is correct. We are deep into exploring the Theory of Atoms, that is the theory of what are atoms made and why they behave the ways they do, which is a whole layer of understanding beyond the theory that simply says that “all things are made of atoms.”

You see, when trying to describe nature, if a story does it well, it is a good story, a good theory. If it does not, then that story fails and we either amend it or move on to another, one that has promise to be a better story. We still remember our failed stories and retell those stories around the campfires of history of science courses because we think we can learn from our mistakes.

Contrast this with the search for God’s properties or the best definition of “God.”

God is omnipotent. No, He is not. God is omnibenevolent. No, He is omnimalicious. God is omniscient. No, He is not. God is. . . . I don’t know how many millions of words have been written on the topic of defining/describing God but I am sure that it is many, many, many millions of words. Every possible configuration of powers, attributes, attitudes, and abilities has been explored and then the jump from what we call “reality” into “metaphysics” occurs and we have a whole new panoply of properties that cannot be accessed by science. How one could possible know something to exist outside of human examination is not explained but it must (it must, it must, it must).

What is characteristic of all of these discussions is that a process like theorizing, the creation of a story that makes sense of what we observe, is occurring but this is not theorizing. It is storytelling but not theorizing because there is no final arbiter of our “theories” of God. There is no testing in reality or even hypothetically that will tell us if our story is any good or not, or even to give us clues as to how to adapt our stories to make them more accurate. Even when theists use scripture as an arbiter there are problems. The Old Testament shows God to being close to omnipotent but also a being who changes his mind, makes mistakes, and gets frustrated which doesn’t exactly portray omniscience. (The power of omnipotence—the ability to do anything—is often focused on because if a god has that, then it can give itself any other power it could imagine. And how could some entity be “all-powerful” if they didn’t know what was going to happen in the future, so omniscience would be the first power an omnipotent entity would give itself, no?). So scripture doesn’t seem to be a good arbiter, plus it is limited to a specific religion.

To make a long “story” short, there is a name for these definitions and it is not “theories,” or “hypotheses,” or “conjectures.”

It is fiction.

October 15, 2014

Why God Still?

I am re-reading some writings of Robert Ingersoll, a passionate 19th Century U.S. agnostic (most called him an atheist). The man was brilliant and a good man and he wrote about the same topics over and over so sometimes one has to plow through quite a bit of chaff to get to the grain, but the effort is more than worthwhile. Here is an excerpt from “God and the Constitution” from 1890.

“In this country it is admitted that the power to govern resides in the people themselves; that they are the only rightful source of authority. For many centuries before the formation of our Government, before the promulgation of the Declaration of Independence, the people had but little voice in the affairs of nations. The source of authority was not in this world; kings were not crowned by their subjects, and the sceptre was not held by the consent of the governed. The king sat on his throne by the will of God, and for that reason was not accountable to the people for the exercise of his power. He commanded, and the people obeyed. He was lord of their bodies, and his partner, the priest, was lord of their souls. The government of earth was patterned after the kingdom on high. God was a supreme autocrat in heaven, whose will was law, and the king was a supreme autocrat on earth whose will was law. The God in heaven had inferior beings to do his will, and the king on earth had certain favorites and officers to do his. These officers were accountable to him, and he was responsible to God.

“The Feudal system was supposed to be in accordance with the divine plan. The people were not governed by intelligence, but by threats and promises, by rewards and punishments. No effort was made to enlighten the common people; no one thought of educating a peasant—of developing the mind of a laborer. The people were created to support thrones and altars. Their destiny was to toil and obey—to work and want. They were to be satisfied with huts and hovels, with ignorance and rags, and their children must expect no more. In the presence of the king they fell upon their knees, and before the priest they groveled in the very dust. The poor peasant divided his earnings with the state, because he imagined it protected his body; he divided his crust with the church, believing that it protected his soul. He was the prey of Throne and Altar—one deformed his body, the other his mind—and these two vultures fed upon his toil. He was taught by the king to hate the people of other nations, and by the priest to despise the believers in all other religions. He was made the enemy of all people except his own. He had no sympathy with the peasants of other lands, enslaved and plundered like himself. He was kept in ignorance, because education is the enemy of superstition, and because education is the foe of that egotism often mistaken for patriotism.”

The man understood the role of governments and churches before people decided it would be a good thing to govern ourselves and skip over the rapacious, grasping, malicious, and venal middle men.

Upon reading this my thoughts immediately jumped to Great Britain’s royal family and from there to god. Why, on Earth, I wondered would a people who have thrown off the yoke of despotic “royals” want to keep them around? Granted, said royals had all kinds of propaganda machines available to them, but think about it. The royals stomped all over “common” people as their inferiors. They did not care what they thought, possibly even going so far as to questioning whether they actually thought at all. They lived in luxury unimaginable to ordinary people at the expense of those people with very little given in return. Granted, there was a considerable time during which monarchs were reigned in by various republican institutions but the French Revolution shows quite clearly what the popular response was to having the heads of offensive royals off; ordinary folks didn’t exactly complain about it, shall we say.

So, why the “God luv ’er Majesty” passion of ordinary British folk for the Queen of England come from? My guess is that the Queen represents stability, a connection with the past, part of a sense of inertia that keeps things going (Keep Calm, Carry On).

My jump to thoughts of belief in god took the same channel. People were told that everything came from god and that they would go back to god (or roast in Hell more likely) unless they accepted their rather lousy (literally) lot in life. Going to church was mandatory. Being told that god will punish them for their transgressions was ordinary. The royals literally fucked peasants/serfs over as if it were the divine will of god, because they said it was.

Now god is a kinder deity and there is not so much hellfire preached and we are told god is good, only you are bad, and even gay people may have a shot at heaven (maybe), etc. So, the nastiness of religious authority has been reduced, a kinder, gentler Word is now being preached, yet I wonder where the animosity is. In this country, in our time, preachers preached that the proper place for Black people in our country was as slaves. (Yes, other clergy argued just the opposite, but they didn’t have scripture to back them up.)

Where is the call of “Off w’ff ’is haid!” Not only haven’t we guillotined any priests/preachers/ministers but we also haven’t lopped off god very effectively. Quite likely the same inertial effects keeping the Queen of England’s arse firmly on the throne are keeping the Christian god in his heaven. But signs are showing the revolution, albeit a slow and rolling one, is on—young people are turning away from religion in droves. Vive la Révolution!

Well, Well, Well—Gays are People!

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:44 am
Tags: , , , ,

Who knew?

The Catholic Church has decided that gay people and divorced people are welcome in their churches, acknowledging them, in essence, as people. This is an abrupt change from recent stances where they were only referred to as scum and abominations.

This does not mean the Catholic Church is changing any of its policies. If they were to do that they would have to admit that (a) either they were wrong before or (b) they are wrong now and (c) either way the Pope is not infallible. Also they would have to explain when and why God changed His mind.

How is it possible to change an organization which is based upon books written 1700 years ago. The books don’t change … do they?

October 14, 2014

You Can’t Prove a Negative, Neener, Neener, Neener!

This is a catch all for comments on a number of atheist-theist debates I have been following so there is no one consistent theme.

You Can’t Prove a Negative
We have gotten from a place in which it was life-threatening to express a disbelief in the Christian god to a point where all of the “proofs” of god’s existence have been debunked and theists have resorted to weak, whiny claims like “well, you can’t prove god does not exist because you can’t prove a negative.” This is, of course, nonsense. You can prove negatives, scientists just prefer to establish new learning on positive evidence. For example, if I say “there is a second moon, made of green cheese, and it travels right next to the ordinary moon,” I think that could be safely disproved, that is we could prove that there is not such a moon.

This is just sad for theists, once secure in their knowledge, reduced to using juvenile arguments to make it still rational to believe in invisible gods.

God is Beyond Human Understanding
Ah, this one is a claim that god cannot be found through scientific searches. God is only knowable through metaphysical arguments or by religious experiences. The word metaphysical was invented by people who believe that there is something other than what can be found by science (known as reality) but have yet to demonstrate such a thing since that word was invented. According to my OED, metaphysic(al) was coined in 1387, so we are talking over 600 years now.

And if god is beyond human understanding, how could a human understand that? How would they be able to acquire that understanding?

Atheists Need to Stop Telling Theists What to Believe
Theists are apparently insulted by atheists’ claims. They say that it is presumptuous to tell someone else why he believes what he believes. If we want to know, we should ask. Okay, a recent poll of Catholics revealed that 6% of those polled do not believe in god. In fact, if you asked Catholics about their actual articles of faith, I would guess that fewer than 5% (I suspect many fewer than 5%) would subscribe to all of the things the Catholic Church minimally requires for one to believe to be able to claim they are a member of that church.

So, we have asked and we go on to ridicule theists for their ridiculous beliefs. We don’t tell you what to believe, we tell you what you believe is really, really stupid.

We Don’t Need No Stinking Proofs
Then there are those who don’t hold to a personal god or maybe even a metaphysical god. The Lessons of Christ’s Life are enough for them. They say things like “The fundamental revelation is the moral ideal expressed in the biblical account of Christ’s life. Whether or not that account is historically accurate, the New Testament Christ remains an exemplar of an impressive ideal.” To which I can only respond: just what is that example? The accounts we have from the bible show a person who goes around trying to get people to believe in a god. He doesn’t build anything, he does not educate anyone in practical matters, he does not do anything but preach. (Either that or the bible writers left that out.) In fact, he doesn’t make sense much of the time. Think about the example his life could have been if he had convinced people to wash their hands after taking a shit or some basic ways to treat disease. What if he taught that we are all the same, that our differences are superficial and, you know, slavery is wrong. (All mentions of “servants” in the bible are actually references to slaves.) What if he taught safe systems of providing drinking water and safe ways to get rid of fecal matter? What if he taught that women were never unclean and that witches didn’t have to die.

For those of you theists who say that the model of Jesus’ life is good enough for them, take some time to reconcile that model with how you raise your children, or do your job, or interact with strangers. You know that Jesus said that what he was teaching was not for gentiles, don’t you?

(For those puzzled by such a post on a Class Warfare blog, please realize that religion has been a class warfare tool of plutocrats for, well, ever. The basic message of Christianity is that your reward comes after you die … so don’t expect it now; this is perfect for plutocrats who want what you have to be theirs, in this life.)

 

God is Good! WTF?

I have come across another interpretation of the bible that makes more sense that the one we have been given. When one begins to read the bible one begins at the beginning with the chapter of Genesis, and in that chapter we find god. First he is the creator of everything. He creates Adam to tend his garden and Eve to tend Adam. Then he shows Adam and Eve around the Garden of Eden and shows them a tree from which they must not eat for surely they will die. Then god places a snake in the Garden (he is the creator of everything) which convinces Eve and Adam to eat the fruit and Bam! Adam and Eve are out on their asses, exiled from the idyllic life in the Garden. Did they die as promised? No, another cockamamie punishment was dreamt up on the spot.

Then Adam and Eve have a couple of boys (they only have boys, so where the rest of us come from is an absolute mystery). Nothing is said about the raising of the boys or how Eve learned motherhood skills having no mother-in-law, but they reach a point where their two boys, Cain and Able, are working the fields and flocks and they make offerings to god, because apparently he was still mad at them even though they themselves had nothing to do with Adam and Eve’s “error,” still they want to make him happy. (Since a god doesn’t need to eat, the happiness apparently stems from the inability of Cain and Abel to eat what they are giving away.) Cain brought to god his offering of the fruit of the ground (veggies and grain presumably) and Abel brought of “the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions.” And god accepted Abel’s offering, but “for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” And you know what happens next, with no thanks to the bible because something was definitely left out. There is a gap in the Hebrew text (an unfinished sentence): after god rejects Cain for no apparent reason, the brothers go into a field and we read, “Then Cain said to Abel.” Then … nothing. The next thing written is that Cain kills Abel. Ancient translations of this passage into Greek, Syriac, and Latin include Cain’s speech, but only up to: “Let us go into the field.” So, there was more and seemingly even more because why would Cain get so pissed at god’s behavior that he kills Abel when Abel had nothing to do with it. I suspect that there was a long, brotherly disagreement filled with epithets but we were deprived of the details.

Later, as we all know, god demands “the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions” and demands that those offerings be burned … in huge quantities and around the clock, 24-7. Consistency is apparently a disease of small minds.

This goes on and on, with god constantly stirring the pot and the poor Israelites (and all of the others in the cast of characters) being jerked around by Yahweh.

Setting aside that an all-powerful, all-knowing god existing outside of time and space cannot feel anger or disappointment (or curiosity—he already knows everything—or confusion, or vengeance, or jealousy, or …) these stories make no sense … of god. Aren’t these stories supposed to introduce god to potential believers? Aren’t they supposed show off why god is worth worshiping, something He apparently really, really wants? And we are told over and over by the religious that “god is good,” that he is good by definition. Hello, that’s not what it says in the bible.

The god described is arbitrary, capricious, vicious, and quixotic which tells us that this entity cannot be all-powerful, all-knowing, or exist beyond space and time. (You can’t have both, you see.) This is not good marketing.

So what is the “real story” here? As others have concluded (I am somewhat slow) god is the cosmic trickster, a bored powerful entity (I won’t use the word “god” any more as it is too loaded a term), in other words an alien who is tormenting us. He caused various ignorant scribes to write down biblical nonsense and now is laughing uproariously that we believe it, even though he has filled the bible with his contempt for human beings. So contemptuous is he that he makes the scribes write a story in which He is responsible for all (99.999999%) of humans being drowned like rats. He requires the Israelites to murder men, women, children, goats, oxen, sheep, dogs and cats. He creates diseases with which to kill whole armies of men. He causes other natural catastrophes and also makes sure there are plenty of lethal diseases and ailments to inflict people with (he invented the Black Death and Ebola). Yet the scribes wrote rules about not wearing garments made of multiple fibers, yet somehow leave out simple things like “be sure to wash your hands after taking a shit.”

Clearly this entity is malevolent. This “god” is not good. His bible proves it.

(For those puzzled by such a post on a Class Warfare blog, please realize that religion has been a class warfare tool of plutocrats for, well, ever. The basic message of Christianity is that your reward comes after you die … so don’t expect it now; this is perfect for plutocrats who want what you have to be theirs, in this life.)

 

 

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