Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Curse of Modernism, Rationality and Atheism

"Modernism and Rationality had its reign at the top and what do we see? School systems failing, suicides increasing, unliveable [sic] inner cities, and to add insult to injury: post-modernism has arrived; everything a product of aethism, [sic] thank you very much. "

This insightful comment was offered up by a religionist who has reached his tolerance level with the evil secularism of the modern world. Satan used to be blamed for the world’s ills, but now it’s this curse of modernism. Atheists are the New Satan.

If only this Christian had himself fallen victim to a touch of rationality maybe he’d have tempered his fervor and looked at things a tad more broadly. The following was my attempt to help him in that endeavor:

Dear Hand Wringing Xtian,

Mississippi is the most religious state in the nation . Over 90% of its citizens have total belief in God. What has their devotion to God and lack of rationalism brought them? Mississippi is blessed with among the highest unemployment, lowest education level, highest crime, highest teen pregnancies and highest poverty rate in the nation. Interestingly New Hampshire is tied for least religious /most secular state in the nation and our ratings in those indices are exactly the opposite of Mississippi's. So much for the postive effects of theism on society

Perhaps you think things are much better in the theocracy of Iran where religious dictators reign supreme, modernism is reviled and atheism is a crime? Or in the Vatican where money laundering and institutionalized child molestation cover-up is rampant; and where denial of the efficacy of condoms is complicit in the deaths of millions in the third world? Or in some African nations where the new Christian zealotry is resulting in modern day witch burnings and the wholesale execution of homosexuals? I don't know, maybe that's your vision of the good life.

I suppose you'd like our society to be the way things were when religion was the predominant force in society -the Dark Ages, the Inquisition and the Crusades. The Church had “its reign at the top” in those days and what was the product of that reign? Church sanctioned anti-Semitism and the propagation of “inner city” ghettos; unbridled genocide; dictatorial control over education, the banning of free thought, death for questioning the inerrent "Truths" of the Church; wholesale murder of innocents who were branded as “heretics” and “witches;” the imprisonment of scientists or threat of same; centuries of religious wars that made today’s jihads and intifada’s look like a day at Disney World.

Without secularism's rational thinking, reason, logic and dedication to reality your life span would still be what it was in the 12th century - and you'd likely be dead by now; or you'd be busy praying to God to save your ass from the wrath of his / Satan’s plagues (i.e. Polio, Leukemia, bacterial infections, draught, pneumonia, et al).

So, here are a a couple of recommendations for you: A) Think before you type, if you are at all capable of such a thing. B) Thank our Founding Fathers' modernism and rationality and the overwhelmingly non-believing scientists for your freedoms, health, comfort, well fed fat ass, relative safety and the fact that 30%- 50% of your offspring will not die in childhood.

Reflect on that then get back to me and let me know how you think modernity compares to life under Pope Urban II and Pope Gregory IX.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Redefining God out of Fear and Desperation

I was reading the Huffington Post and came across an article from Jeffery Small, an author and contributor to the Post. Jeff has come to realize that the image of the old man in the sky God just isn’t sustainable anymore. The guy who watches everything we do, and influences the world, and listens to your prayers for the Cubs to win the World Series and rejects it constantly, none of this holds water anymore. Science killed that old dude.

But that’s not the end of the story. Just because the god of his parents has been offed doesn’t mean Jeff is ready to abandon fantasy. Not by a long shot. Jeff absolutely needs a god. And if the Judeo-Christian God concept doesn’t work, then damnit, he’ll redefine god.
To get a flavor of his reasoning (such as it is) and the new age gibberish that ensues, here are some choice extracts from the article :

“Unlike the age of the Biblical writers, we live in a world ruled by science, technology and secular thought ... we understand that our world is governed by physical laws from the subatomic realm to the cosmic, so where do we find room for God to act? Is God still relevant ?”
“God as the potter, the watchmaker or the chess master has lost its relevance for many in our post-modern world.”

So far so good. Then ...

"How can we conceive of God today in a way that is honest to our intellects while satisfying to our hearts?"

“I do not see God as a separate being, but rather God is the center of being within me and everything around me.”

“God must not just be consistent with scientific and rational thought but must embrace it. I have come to understand God, not as a transcendent Zeus-like figure, but instead as the infinite creative source of existence.”

“I’ll pose a question ... What symbols or metaphors might we use to open our minds to a new way of thinking about God that works in the 21st century?”

As long as he asked I felt compelled to comment on Jeff’s proposition. Here is my response:

So basically what your saying, Jeff, is that since the "god of the gaps" has been reduced to a shadow of its former self, you now have to invent, devise, create and otherwise conjure a new kind of god that fits in with discovery reality and 21st century science; as though that's less absurd than a bearded psychotic in the sky, or a dead Jew on a stick, or Ganesh the four armed elephant god. It isn't. It's simply more imaginary mental masturbati­on, and just as meaningless.

The old model god too hard to maintain? Not worth trying to repair? Outlived its usefulness? Might as well cut your loses and find a newer model that’ll satisfy your craving for something spooky somewhere, eh?

Here's a thought: be a big boy Jeff - try dealing with the natural world with out wishing and hoping and conjecturi­ng a supernatur­al, disembodie­d creator force or something indescribably delicious to replace the defunct God image. Try reality. I know it sounds terribly frightening to someone who has always clung to some form of spookdom, but you can do it. Just keep repeating “I think I can, I think I can ....”

As for your question as to symbols for a new way of thinking about God - how about a big steaming pile of equine fecal matter. Or an empty glass.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cults: Scraping the Bottom of the Spiritual Barrel

"I was in a cult for 34 years. Everyone else could see it. I don't know why I couldn't... "

The above is a quote from Paul Haggis; Oscar winning movie director and thirty-four year devotee of the Church of Scientology. His story as to why he left the church as well as some choice bad mouthing of the church hierarchy appeared in New Yorker magazine this week. He expects fall out since the good folks who run Scientology don’t tolerate apostates well, and have long memories.

I imagine Haggis’ quote is uttered at sometime or other by every cult escapee. Why couldn’t he / they see what the rest of us could? What draws otherwise intelligent, productive and mentally stable people to devote their lives; donate their fortunes; accept isolation from not cultist family members; and accept the most transparently bizarre claims of known charlatans, madman and spiritual fanatics? There are a number of theories espoused by psychiatric medical professionals that purport to explain this phenomenon. I won’t rehash them here.

But what’s important is this: that same statement of incredulity made by Haggis could be and likely has been uttered by every escapee from any cult, religion, or spiritual community. After all, what makes a cult different than a religion? Typically the answer is the size of the group’s bank account and cash flow. And what makes an eastern ascetic guru who is credited by his adherents with having vast knowledge and insights and thus can provide them with a path to unique spiritual knowledge different from praying to a disembodied man-god to give one health, wealth and guidance; or asking some priest for forgiveness through penance? Not much.

The Romans perceived early Christians as cultists. No doubt main stream Christian sects would take umbrage with that label now. That can be attributed to their lack of understanding of the word which in fact defines the three major religions precisely.

On the other hand those same Christians are quick to dismiss Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormon, Santeria, Christian Science and other offshoots of Christianity as cults, using the word as an epithet - just as they all (indeed we all) dismiss Scientology as a cult. Never do they see their own “... particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.” as a cult.

I’ll admit to a similar prejudice, albeit for different reasons. I tend to reserve the term cult to describe all new age “higher power / enlightenment seeking” movements and all of the 19th century Christian hybrid religions. I have no basis for that, since Catholicism and the protestant sects are as well defined as cults as are any of them according to definition. But I justify the difference because by the 19th century, and certainly by the 20th, the progression of human experience should have by now rendered the invention of new nonsensical, non-material, irrational movements obsolete.

One could almost [note I said almost] forgive mainstream religionists for accepting Bronze Age,1st century, and 7th century supernaturalism. Developed by primitive thinking peoples and ingrained into succeeding generations by indoctrination it’s a virus that spreads and sustains itself. But I can’t even feign anything approaching understanding for people who embrace modernistic supernatural fictions, fallacies, frauds and fantasy. They have abandoned ancient pre-scientific ignorance and blind faith, replacing it with a modern version of stupidity.

Dig into the dross at the bottom of the barrel of religion, and just below the scum layer of fundamentalist religionists you’ll find cultists.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Abandoning Reason for Ratings: What’s Happening to Educational TV?

Something has happened to those television programs that once were the bastions of intellectual curiosity and learning. They seem to have run out of genuine historical events, scientific discovery and meaningful learning, opting to fill their programming schedule with religiously based bullshit.

“Science of the Bible,” “Angels: Good or Evil?”, “History of the Bible,” “Science of the Soul,” are a few of the titles presented by The History Channel, History International, The Learning Channel, and the Discovery Channel. The Discovery Channel is going one step further, teaming up with the Vatican to create an exorcism reality show.
All of them purport to be educational, but in airing these programs they are exactly the opposite of education. They breed ignorance by promoting opinion and/or fallacious “evidence” as fact or viable possibility. They blend science with religious faith and attempt to use it to support myth. They give credence to absurdities simply by lending their once credible reputations to pseudo-science, distortions, and make believe. And they confuse the hell out of the less discerning and intellectually deprived.

Last night out of curiosity I forced myself to watch “Science of the Soul.” The primary interviewee was the religion editor of a national magazine who clearly was a religionist or “spiritual person” - whatever that means. She traced the origins of the concept of soul to pre-Xtian Greeks, then to it’s perception in Christian doctrine. She then descended into speculative quasi-scientific horse hockey. So much for history or science.

The only “science” presented was referencing a doctor who, in the early 1900’s, measured the weight of five people as they lay dying. Upon their death four of the five showed no change in weight. The fourth showed a weight loss of 21 grams, which the good doctor presumed to be evidence of the “soul” leaving the body. Naturally, the four with no change were dismissed.

That was in 1910 and it was the only “scientific” (if you could even call it that, I can’t) study of the soul concept. Yet this woman kept referring to science’s never ending quest to find the soul. No such scientists’ names or work were presented; at least not in the 30 minutes I could bare to watch this idiocy. And how could there be, since no self respecting accredited scientist is going to waste his time or grant money chasing ghosts, ghouls, gods, or souls.

On another show they parked a fan powered air boat on shore and position it so as to blow its high speed fan into a pond to demonstrate how the wind “could indeed” have parted the Red Sea per Exodus. A recent episode proffered that a giant asteroid or meteor shower could have been the cause of destruction for Sodom, Gomorrah and surrounding villages. What ... aliens shooting death rays isn't plausible? Please.

What’s next: the “science” of how gamma rays and electrical current mixed with the injection of alien DNA could have resurrected a three day dead corpse? Or perhaps an archeological dig at the official Garden of Eden; tracing the blood line of Satan; or reconstructing the talking donkey’s genealogy (Numbers 22)?

The only explanation I can come up with to explain the pimping of superstition by these otherwise credible programs is ratings. If they can’t attract an audience with real science, real history, genuine educational programming, they will prostitute their good name and appeal to the lowest common denominator: half witted, gullible biblical literalists who will gobble it up and saySee its true, scientists say so, I saw it on the History Channel!!”

And we wonder why American students rank 17th in the world in math and science; why 90% of high school students don’t know about the Spanish American War; or who John Adams was, or that Jefferson coined the phrase “Wall of Separation.” Here’s just one more reason.
Thanks History Channel.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Child Manslaughter is Almost Legal in the US, If You're a Christian

In 2009 Herbert and Catherine Schaible watched their helpless two year old son die of pneumonia. They didn't watch as emergency room doctors used their medical training and modern pharmaceuticals to try and save the boy, they couldn't because they never sought professional help. Instead, they prayed over the boy, asking God to heal him as he wasted away and succumbed to this treatable disease.

The Schaible's are members of the First Century Gospel Church of Philadelphia, PA. They perceive using medical aid as a lack of confidence in God. They believe in faith healing exclusively. If this was the first century I'd understand their ignorance and dependence on the supernatural, they'd have had few other choices. I cannot, I will not accept this as anything less than voluntary manslaughter. The courts agreed.

However, today the sentencing judge gave them a virtual pass. Instead of holding them accountable, emphatically establishing that society will not tolerate the death of a child who is at the mercy of his parents, the parents were given probation and made to promise they will seek medical help for their remaining seven children should they fall ill. Period.

What is the message this sentence sends? That if you have belief in a the god of Abraham as a healing agent then allowing a child to drown in his chest fluids who could have been saved isn't all that bad. Oh, it wasn't a good thing it's just not as bad as watching as your kid drown in a bathtub. So, go about your business; continue to think and act like a first century cultist; raise your kids in this archaic superstitious faith so they too may some day kill their kids with prayer. Go, and sin no more.

I wonder had it been a voodoo practicing family who depended on incantations, eye of newt, chants and magic smoke to heal and their child succumbed, would the judge have been so forgiving? I doubt it. One can only guess what would happen to an atheist who would watch a kid die while reciting from a Carl Sagan book: "That's right your honor, I put my confidence in Sagan's ability to heal my child ... problem?"

After their sentencing Mr. Schaible said this: "With God's help, this will never happen again." With god's help?! For Christ sake man ... it was the lack of help from your non-existent God that convinced you to kill your kid in the first place!! So much for any lessons learned by this sentence.

This is 21st century America where the death of a child at the hands of their parents is treated like a first time shop lifting conviction just so long as you're Christian and sufficiently deluded. A pox on them, their church and that judge.