June 1

Fumbling for the Key

Quite a few people in my life have struggled with the simple fact that I am an atheist. For me, it is a simple fact; I do not believe in any gods. But, family members, friends, and online strangers strain at this with varying degrees of difficulty, depending on how much they care about me. Some passively post articles about atheists who found their way to faith. Some argue with me at length, using everything from simple, easily shredded arguments such as the “Look at the Trees” argument to the much more subtle “From whence cometh self awareness.”

Each of these are attempts to find the key that unlocks the door to my spirituality, as if I will suddenly snap bolt upright and raise a finger to the sky and proclaim, “Oh, yes, now I get it! I believe in God now!”

For a long time, I did precisely the same thing with atheism, hoping that I could come up with the exact right thing or sequence of things to get those I cared about to shed their religious beliefs. However, the only “Ah-ha!” moment that arrived was my own.

It took nearly three decades for me to arrive at atheism after concerted study of religion, studying the Bible. the Qur’an, and a slew of other religious texts. I spent time as a pagan priest. It was not an easy journey.

What it took me a while to realize is it never is easy. No one reaches their equilibrium point quickly, or easily, or by stepping through a single door. There is no single key to unlock, no single barrier to get past. The friend that asked me the question that brought me to atheism didn’t bring me from hard core belief to absolute non-belief. I was nearly there already, a deist seriously examining all my beliefs. I am never going to come up with a single phrase that will convince my religious father to become an atheist any more than he will come up with a phrase that will convince me to become a Christian again.

All I can say is that one of the primary reasons that I am an atheist is that it is important to me that I believe as many true things as possible. If something is an unknown, I don’t want to believe in it until it is known to be true. No religion fits that description.

May 21

There are no Christians supporting Donald John Trump, Part I

Quite a claim, I know. And I am sure to get some angry responses.

But the fact is that Trump stands against everything Jesus stood for. He is a con artist who has convinced the religious right that he is the exact opposite of what he actually is.

Let’s compare Trump’s statements with those from the Bible.

  1. “When someone crosses you, my advice is ‘Get even!’ That is not typical advice, but it is real-life advice. If you do not get even, you are just a schmuck! When people wrong you, go after those people, because it is a good feeling and because other people will see you doing it. I love getting even. I get screwed all the time. I go after people, and you know what? People do not play around with me as much as they do with others. They know that if they do, they are in for a big fight. Always get even. Go after people that go after you. Don’t let people push you around. Always fight back and always get even. It’s a jungle out there, filled with bullies of all kinds who will try to push you around. If you’re afraid to fight back people will think of you as a loser, a ‘schmuck!’ They will know they can get away with insulting you, disrespecting you, and taking advantage of you. Don’t let it happen! Always fight back and get even.” (Trump: Think Big, 2007)

    compared to
    Matthew 5:43-48

    43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

    44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

    45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

    46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

    47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

    48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

    Simply put, Trump is pro-revenge. Jesus is anti-revenge.

  2. “I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me –and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” – Donald Trump, June 2015

    compared to
    Matthew 22:39

    39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

    Simply put, Trump is anti-neighbor, and Jesus says to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.

  3. “I’m putting people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, they’re going back!” – Donald Trump, October 2015

    compared to
    Matthew 25:31-45

    31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

    32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

    33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

    34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

    35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

    36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

    37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

    38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

    39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

    40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

    41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

    42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

    43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

    44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

    45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

    Trump is against refugees. This contradicts the words of Jesus.

To be continued…

December 3

A formal critique of “God exists scintifically. How???”

First off, I will not be attacking grammar or spelling. I believe this person to be a non-native English writer, so I congratulate him on attempting a difficult subject in a language that is not his native tongue.

We will be examining the arguments alone.

First, the pertinent links:

Main argument: http://g-e-s-how.blogspot.com/

Secondary definition of God: http://g-e-s-how.blogspot.com/p/defining-god.html

Summary of claim:

Claimant asserts that God must exist based on the following argument:

To prove whether god exists or not, mankind must have total knowledge of all of reality.

However, the universe is expanding. Therefore, that which can be known is constantly expanding, and we can never know everything. We can never conclusively prove that god does not exist.

Probability that a god does not exist is therefore finite knowledge / infinite possible knowledge and therefore 0.

God is now defined as equal to the unknown knowledge, so this god is also constantly expanding and is therefore infinite.

Claimant asserts this means that the probability that a god exists is therefore infinite knowledge / infinite possible knowledge and therefore 1.

I’m sure some of my readers have spotted some errors. Let’s see if I catch them all.

  1. Unsupported claim: Mankind must have total knowledge of all of reality in order to prove or disprove god’s existence.
    I’ve seen this one asserted by some religious people from time to time, although most limit it to God’s nonexistence. As an agnostic atheist, I find absolute proof of his nonexistence irrelevant. However, depending on the definition of specific gods, they can be ruled out, one by one, due to their impossibility or their internal inconsistency.
  2. Definition of god is irrelevant to the logic of the claim (Not to mention in contradiction to the other definition, but that comes later). I know the claimant would disagree, but the definition given of this god presumes it’s existence. It is a begging the question logical fallacy. Basically, it is stating “I define God as being X, and X exists, therefore atheists cannot disprove God.” Yes, this claimant is saying we would have to examine all of reality to make sure it isn’t really God, but in doing so he is shifting the burden of proof and lodging an argument from ignorance.
  3. The claimant’s understanding of the nature of infinity is rudimentary at best. He goes on to talk about things such as “2*Infinity”. Infinity is not just a variable. One cannot add, multiply, or divide infinities unless one is dealing with hyperreal fields and nonstandard analysis, well beyond the simple arithmetic this claimant is using.

    (EDIT: Another poster pointed out that using infinities in arithmetic gives undefined results, so his math is literally meaningless. Thanks atheist religionfree!)

  4. Probability is the study of the likelihood of events. These likelihoods are given numbers from 0 to 1. there are a variety of ways to calculate and manipulate the numbers to find out, for example, to probability of flipping a standard coin and getting heads ten times in a row (1 in 1024, or a probability of 0.0009765625). To break down his math, however, he is not dealing with numbers in the same field. In fact, he is not dealing with numbers at all. Finite is not a number, nor is infinite. You can’t divide one by the other, especially not to get a probability. Not mathematically, anyway.
  5. Finally, even if his math was correct, what he is proving is not the existence of god, but our ability to prove or disprove it. Because the base is our knowledge versus all knowledge, the existence or nonexistence of god never actually is in question.

Definition of God

After discussing this with the claimant on Twitter, he said that the definition of God for this claim was

And in this case God existence will be equal To the unknown Knowledge.

which is interesting, as he also has a page defining what God is. (Yes, I know he has a screen cap from Avatar and the logo from Game of Thrones. He’s trying to illustrate his point)

His definitions are rudimentary again. He compares people to computer avatars. (Avatar, get it?) However, there are a few problems with this analogy.

First, God allegedly made the entire universe and is omnipotent/omniscient/etc. In other words, he should be capable of creating humans that could understand him (Just as I could program an avatar that could understand what a computer is, and a programmer, and that they are inside a simulation. Or appear to. Where is the line, anyway?) And this is the sticking point; most theists claim humans cannot understand God, then go on to explain God. If we can’t understand God, how do they?

Divine will/gift? Then how do they hope to convince the rest of us that do not have such a wonderful gift of understanding?

His second definition is that God must have obviously created all creatures and living things. Not sure why this is a “must”. Oops, he cautions that it can’t be understood, just have to accept it as truth (This is called dogma. It is not a good thing). But, wait, it can be tested scientifically! This author seems to be a bit confused. He says we have to wait until the end of the article.

Third definition is that God must be alive, because, to sum up, life comes only from life.

Third definition (again) is that God must be a conscious mind. Because whomever created a human mind must be a greater mind.

Unfortunately, the author never gets back to the scientific test to show God created all creatures. I suppose he is not finished with the article yet.

September 8

When Atheists Become Disenchanted with the Atheist Community

I’ve been an atheist for about five or six year now; at least, identifying as an atheist. I could make the argument that it has been nearly thirty years, but let’s go from the point at which I said, “I am an atheist.”

In that time, I spent much of it running a religious debate group on Facebook. It’s gone now, taken down by Muslim activists (A story for another day), but one thing I tried very hard to maintain was fairness for all, regardless of their position. I found this was a very hard thing to do. It was not just from the theists who refused to abide by the rules; there were some atheists that couldn’t play fair, either.

Which brings me to my point. I have found that there is a range of atheists, from the comfortable, “live and let live” non-believer to the rabid, foaming at the mouth anti-theist. To be honest, I was expecting a bit more cohesion in the atheist community than what I found. I suppose it was my own foolish hope, thinking that a group thinly tied together by a single attribute would somehow be more homogeneous than other groups I had been in. What I did find, though, was interesting.

Many atheists who were theists keep the same emotional level that they had as theists. Rabid fundamentalist theists become rabid anti-theists, comfortably introspective theists become comfortably introspective atheists. Some very few go through an evolution, especially if, as theists, they were not a single type of theists. Pagans who become atheists seem to be the most even keeled, perhaps because they have already worked through their anger at major religions when they were pagans.

But, like the theist community, and most communities, it is the loudest, most aggressive atheists who end up being up in front, and being the most noticed. There are a few exceptions, like the ACA which runs The Atheist Experience, but people like Richard Dawkins end up being the face of atheism to people who don’t know much about the community.

And therein lies the rub. I don’t particularly care for Mr. Dawkins. He’s a great scientist, but he tends to shoot his mouth off without much care as to the consequences of what he is saying. Like many atheists, he doesn’t see atheism as anything more than an attribute, even though theists see it as a movement, a menace, a cohesive whole. And that means that what he says tends to reflect onto atheists. When he goes off on a sexist rant, it looks bad when I am trying to have a conversation with a fundamentalist woman. Never mind that her religion is ten times worse towards women; she’s learned to deal with that. I’m the bad guy because Dawkins said something bad. I’m not saying Dawkins and others should not speak out, it is just that moderate atheists need to speak out, too. And we need to bridge gaps, even with theists.

Many atheists see all religion as being bad. However, there are many religions which do not have all of the horrible baggage dragging along behind. Take, for example, earth based religions such as Wicca, Druidism, and the like. For the most part, relatively innocuous, and rarely evangelical, yet some atheists attack them just the same.

I say that it is time for moderate atheists like myself to reach out to moderate religions and form friendships, alliances, and bonds. I think that we will be able to temper each other, and both end up better in the long run. We must do so without derision, and without fear or anger. If we don’t I fear that the atheist community will become merely reactionary and extremist.

Category: Atheism | LEAVE A COMMENT
August 6

Aggressive Atheism

Over time, I have been accused of being an aggressive atheist.

Oh, the terminology has changed. I’ve been called an asshole. I’ve been told I am “proselytizing”. I’ve been told that I am too open and vocal about my atheism, even once by another atheist (or so they claimed at the time).

“Oh,” you are thinking, “You must be one of those anti-theists. You hate religion and the religious.”

Nope. I don’t hate anyone, and find religion to be, at best, annoying, and, at worst, an excuse for people to treat each other badly. Why, then, am I labeled like that?

Because I speak truth to believers. I point out the flaws in their belief, in their logic, and I ask questions that challenge their worldview. Let me give you an example.

Recently, a Facebook friend posted a meme of a “white Jesus” with the question, “Is there room for me on your wall?”

If I had been an anti-theist, my response would have been something along the lines of, “Sure, let me go get some nails.” or “Fuck no! He isn’t real!”

Anti-theism is not about speaking truth. It is about reacting negatively to religion. It can be dogmatic (All religion is wrong and evil!). It is usually very aggressive

What I did was ask why I would want a portrait of Cesare Borgia on my wall. For those of you who don’t know, the images of Jesus used in mainstream Christianity are of Cesare Borgia, a disgusting man from the 15th century who was given a PR makeover by his father. He had a variety of images created with Cesare as Jesus Christ. The campaign was super effective, and very, very few people today know that White Jesus is not Jesus at all, but Borgia.

By the end of it, I was threatened with violence, told by one person they had no idea what I believed (and then went on to tell me what I believed. Or, more accurately, what they thought I believed), told my parents had failed somewhere with me, and then blocked by someone who has known me since I was about eight years old.

Did I throw any insults? Not one.

Did I call people stupid? Nope.

I didn’t even really challenge their faith. But, I made them question it themselves, and that horrifies people. So, while it is acceptable for some Christians to say that other people deserve to be tortured for eternity, inciting thought and critical thinking is a crime worthy of banishment.

CHRISTAIN WARRIOR 1
At least I’m not one of these guys.

Why don’t I insult believers? For the same reason I don’t blame women for being raped, or the elderly for getting ripped off. Religion is a scam, and blaming those that have been scammed does nothing positive. The best thing for me to do is plant the seeds of doubt. In those that have a mind open enough to it, maybe they will realize the scam and get free. Forcing them with insults is not my style.

So, call me an aggressive atheist for challenging worldviews. It could be worse…

 

 

Category: Atheism | LEAVE A COMMENT
July 31

Reasons why abortion is not murder, a primer for Christians

There has been a lot of press recently about the attacks made against Planned Parenthood, both by video, by hackers, and by politicians.

I thought I would make an attempt to clear up some confusion some Christians have about the issue, namely, the simple phrase, “Abortion is murder!”

It’s not. Legally, scientifically, and, yes, even from a Biblical standpoint.

I know what you may be thinking, “But, Aaron, you’re an atheist, how can you possibly know what the Bible says about abortion/dare to interpret my holy book/read the Bible without bursting into flames?”

I can read/I have nothing to fear but the opinions of Christians/you’re thinking of a magical realm of sorcery, not reality.

So, let’s start with the legal reason, first.

  1. Legally

    Legal issues come down, in many cases, to the definition of words. Some words have very clear legal definitions. Murder is one of those words. Let’s go to law.com for our definition (emphasis added by me):

    murder

    n. the killing of a human being by a sane person, with intent, malice aforethought (prior intention to kill the particular victim or anyone who gets in the way) and with no legal excuse or authority. In those clear circumstances, this is first degree murder. By statute, many states consider a killing in which there is torture, movement of the person before the killing (kidnapping) or the death of a police officer or prison guard, or it was as an incident to another crime (as during a hold-up or rape), to be first degree murder, with or without premeditation and with malice presumed. Second degree murder is such a killing without premeditation, as in the heat of passion or in a sudden quarrel or fight. Malice in second degree murder may be implied from a death due to the reckless lack of concern for the life of others (such as firing a gun into a crowd or bashing someone with any deadly weapon). Depending on the circumstances and state laws, murder in the first or second degree may be chargeable to a person who did not actually kill, but was involved in a crime with a partner who actually did the killing or someone died as the result of the crime. Example: In a liquor store stick-up in which the clerk shoots back at the hold-up man and kills a bystander, the armed robber can be convicted of at least second degree murder. A charge of murder requires that the victim must die within a year of the attack. Death of an unborn child who is “quick” (fetus is moving) can be murder, provided there was premeditation, malice and no legal authority. Thus, abortion is not murder under the law. Example: Jack Violent shoots his pregnant girlfriend, killing the fetus. Manslaughter, both voluntary and involuntary, lacks the element of malice aforethought.

    Read more: http://dictionary.law.com/default.aspx?selected=1303#ixzz3hTZvn7NU

    Note, this definition specifically touches on the point I was going to make. I didn’t actually realize it until I read through it, but I will attempt to explain further, just to clarify.

    Abortion is not murder, legally, because abortion is legal. In order for it to be murder, it would need to be illegal.

  2. Scientifically, let’s discuss the term “human being.”

    Imagine Vitruvius. He is an average human being in every way. For sake of brevity, I’ll refer to him as V.

    So, we cut off V’s arms. Is he still human? Yes.

    Next, his legs. Still human? A bit difficult for him to do traditional gymnastics, but, yes, still human.

    How much of V do we need to remove in order for him to stop being “human”? Is it his heart? Then people who have had artificial hearts are no longer human? Is it some other organ? Lungs, pancreas, liver, stomach, intestines, kidneys? Nope, all of those have been able to be replaced. Is it his face? So, people who have been severely injured facially are no longer human? Eyes?

    Okay, enough gruesome vivisection. *waves magic wand and reassembles V to go on his merry way*

    The brain, which stores the sum of all of the experiences a person has gone through in their life, isn’t even it. There have been cases of severe brain trauma and birth defects that have either badly damaged the brain or, in some very rare cases, ended up with people who have no brain. There was a math student who had an I.Q. of 126 who had no physical brain.

    So, what is it? Many people would say “soul” but no soul has ever been found scientifically, so we can nix that. Well, sort of. Let me ask a different question.

    What is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony? Is it the paper and ink where the notes are printed? Is it the musicians and instruments playing the piece? Of course not. It is the music, the pattern of notes played in a specific order and in a specific way.

    My conjecture is that a “human being” is the pattern of experiences and thoughts, carried out through the physical processes of life. We are, in essence, the sum of our experiences and translated through our brain (or other structure serving that purpose). Some might call that the soul, but, like the music in a symphony, once the instruments and at rest and the performance is over, that symphony does not continue to exist on its own. It requires a medium in which to exist, whether paper and ink, magnetic tape, or in a digital format. It also exists in the memory of the people who heard the performance. The same can be said of humans when they die.

    Back to the topic of abortion. Hypothetically speaking, if my conjecture is true, it is not a human being until birth, possibly not until permanent memories begin to form between two and three years. Oddly enough, that’s the Bible’s standpoint as well. But, I will get into that in the next section.

    When the case was brought before the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, a specific moment a fetus went from human tissue to human being had to be set. So, they did made the most sense: they set it to the average point where the brain is functional and the fetus can be removed from the mother’s body and survive. This is good enough for me and most pro-choice people. It is more conservative than the Biblical view, but it works with today’s understanding of physiology.

  3. The Biblical Perspective

    Let’s start with Exodus 21:22-25.

    22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
    23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,

    24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,

    25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

    So, according to the law, abortion as a side effect of violence was not considered to be murder, or the Bible would demand the offender be killed. Instead, a fine levied by the judges was sufficient.

    Next, Hosea 9:11-14.

    11 As for Ephraim, their glory shall fly away like a bird, from the birth, and from the womb, and from the conception.

    12 Though they bring up their children, yet will I bereave them, that there shall not be a man left: yea, woe also to them when I depart from them!

    13 Ephraim, as I saw Tyrus, is planted in a pleasant place: but Ephraim shall bring forth his children to the murderer.

    14 Give them, O Lord: what wilt thou give? give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.

    So, it is perfectly okay to ask God to perform abortions.

    And then there is the word Nephesh (נֶפֶש). Nephesh is a interesting word. It is translated as “soul”, but the problem is that it is used several times in the Bible to refer to animal life, not human. And the word itself means “breath of life”. Meanwhile, the word “ruah” (רוח) is used to denote the spirit of mankind. Hence, we come to Ezekiel 37:5.

    Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live

    But, wait, that means the Bible considers life to begin at the point when breath begins. Actually, it goes a bit further than that.

    According to the Bible, God tells Moses that children are not even worth counting until they are a month old.
    Numbers 3:40

    40 And the Lord said unto Moses, Number all the firstborn of the males of the children of Israel from a month old and upward, and take the number of their names.

    In fact, they are worthless as far as human sacrifice. Oh, did I mention there were specific rules for human sacrifice in the Bible? Not really my point here, but included for context.
    Leviticus 27:1-7

    27 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,

    Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When a man shall make a singular vow, the persons shall be for the Lord by thy estimation.

    And thy estimation shall be of the male from twenty years old even unto sixty years old, even thy estimation shall be fifty shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary.

    And if it be a female, then thy estimation shall be thirty shekels.

    And if it be from five years old even unto twenty years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male twenty shekels, and for the female ten shekels.

    And if it be from a month old even unto five years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male five shekels of silver, and for the female thy estimation shall be three shekels of silver.

    And if it be from sixty years old and above; if it be a male, then thy estimation shall be fifteen shekels, and for the female ten shekels.

    Finally, the Bible even goes so far as to provide instructions on how to perform abortions. Granted, it’s more of a magic spell than an actual medical procedure, but that’s common in the Bible (see the cure for leprosy or how to get stripes or spots on livestock).
    Numbers 5:21-28

    21 Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The Lord make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the Lord doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell;

    22 And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot: And the woman shall say, Amen, amen.

    23 And the priest shall write these curses in a book, and he shall blot them out with the bitter water:

    24 And he shall cause the woman to drink the bitter water that causeth the curse: and the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter.

    25 Then the priest shall take the jealousy offering out of the woman’s hand, and shall wave the offering before the Lord, and offer it upon the altar:

    26 And the priest shall take an handful of the offering, even the memorial thereof, and burn it upon the altar, and afterward shall cause the woman to drink the water.

    27 And when he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass, that, if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse among her people.

    28 And if the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed.

     

To sum up, legally, it does not classify as murder. Scientifically, there is no evidence that a fetus is a “human being” until it is capable of having cognition. From the Bible, fetus are not counted as “life” in terms of crimes, is not a life until it breathes for the first time, and children under a month old are worthless, anyway. Oh, and priests have an incantation that can cause abortion.

April 6

In the Wrong Gear

Setting aside theological concerns for the moment, this is a real and serious concern with the majority religion of the planet, namely, Christianity.

Whether it is a marketing issue, a difficulty in distribution, apathy, a dogma problem, or a little of all of these, some of Christianities core competencies are failing. Where there was once an organization that publicly helped those in need there now exists an organization that is more generally devoted to telling people how they are doing it wrong, trying to regain control, and support those that push hateful agendas.

22109_686827548105850_3688404719116650903_nTake, for example, the recent RFRA law in Indiana. Set the law aside for a moment and examine the immediate result of the law, the case of one Memories Pizza. The Blaze, a conservative website run by Glenn Beck, set up a Gofundme campaign for the restaurant, who had publicly stated they would not cater any gay weddings, then closed their doors under the social media backlash. In two days, they received nearly a million dollars of funding. Meanwhile, dozens of other campaigns for people, families, and businesses with legitimate needs went unfunded or underfunded. People in need. Families in pain. Instead, money went to support a pizza restaurant standing up for exclusion, because of their myopic view of the Bible.

Here’s some facts. Jesus never said anything directly against homosexuality. Some people stretch some of his words to cover it. Paul used coined terms that may or may not have had something to do with homosexuality, but were more likely dealing with temple prostitution. The Old Testament talks about it, about the same time it talks about pork, shellfish, and mixed fabrics being just as bad.

What did Jesus say? He said not to judge. He said not to lay heavy burdens on others (Matthew 23:4). He said not to lock others out of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 23:13). He said not to preach hateful attitudes (Matthew 23:15). He said some people are born different (Matthew 19:12). He said he loves weddings (Matthew 22:1-14).

Finally, I’m going to quote another website:

There is a detailed description of this interpretation here. The first time I read this interpretation of Luke 17:34-35, I thought reading gay and lesbian sex into it was pretty wacky: “In that night, two men will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. Two women will be grinding; one will be taken and one will be left.” But now I find it impossible to read the passage without seeing the possibility that Jesus is saying homosexuality is irrelevant to salvation. The fact that the passage begins with a reference to Sodom and Gomorrah may reinforce this reading—if Genesis 19 is really about homosexuality.

This interpretation does interesting things to our arguments about the Bible and LGBTQ issues. In our modern debate, anti-gay Christians claim that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is about homosexuality. The counter-argument is that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is really about xenophobia and violence toward strangers. The inhabitants of the towns threaten visitors with rape. So, the counter-argument goes, this is a story about violence and exploitation, not a story about consensual sex between people of the same gender.

But because Luke’s apocalypse references Sodom and Gomorrah and two men in one bed, then I think it’s reasonable to claim that if one is about homosexuality, then so is the other—and if one isn’t then neither is the other.

The other common New Testament debate is about what Paul meant by the word “arsenokoites” from 1 Corinthians, 6:9. It’s often translated as “male prostitutes” or “homosexuals” or even “Sodomites,” but it is really a compound Greek word formed by the word “man” and “bed.” Anti-gay Christians claim that the word is clearly Paul’s reference to homosexuality. The counter argument is that it could be about any kind of sexual abuse or exploitation. The anti-gay response is that no, really, man-bedders has got to be a reference to the Greek translation of Leviticus 18:22, “lying with a man.”

But Luke’s gay apocalypse also turns this argument on its head. If “man-bedders” is “clearly” Paul’s reference to homosexuality, then Jesus’ similar language about two men in a bed must also be about homosexuality. This is one of those interpretive situations where you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Either Paul isn’t talking about gay sex and Jesus isn’t either, or they both are. Either the story of Sodom and Gomorrah isn’t about gay sex, and Luke’s gay apocalypse isn’t either, or they both are. Either way, Jesus trumps both Genesis and Paul.

So, what happened?

Nothing happened. Christianity, like most religions, has been used to control others for thousands of years. It is the the positive fringe that look for the good in the religion and try to do good. Even some people whom the world considers to be positive forces are actually negative; Mother Teresa believed that suffering was good for people, so let people suffer when the suffering could have been alleviated.

If Jesus did exist, many of his teachings were very different, and there are Christians today that follow those teachings. Presbyterians, for example, seem to be a bit more aware of the times than most. Even so, I think that the Jesus of the Bible had a lot more in common with the hippies of the 1960s than with the bulk of Christians today.

April 3

How to Save the World, part I

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere’s the thing.

We all live on this planet. All of us. Hindus. Muslims. Christians. Black People. White People. Asians. Nerds. Jocks. Tall people. Short. Americans. North Koreans. Iraqis. All the humans.

We share the planet with millions of species of animals, plants, single cell organisms, some interesting things between.

Setting aside the natural world for now, we have a big problem. It’s a problem with our base nature as humans. We hate being wrong. Which means we love being right. Enough that we fight, sometimes to the death, to be right.

The worst fights are the ones over religion. The big problem with that is that there is no way to really know who is right objectively. Not a problem for the average believer, but it does cause a lot of division. enmity, and warfare between different groups.

Except one.

There is one group that does not fight about whose holy book is correct. One that does not bicker over translation or meaning, over interpretation or theology. Unfortunately, this group is distrusted by the largest groups of theists. That’s right, it’s the atheists.

No dogma, no leaders or text that must be followed without question.

So, what does this mean?

Every major religion promises that, at some point, it can bring about peace. Whether it is personal peace or world peace… the problem is that, with rare exceptions, none have delivered this peace. The funny thing is that I think that the only viewpoint that could actually do it is the only one that does not promise it. But, not as it is right now.

Atheism suffers from the same problem as all the others: the overwhelming desire to be right. This leads to a lot of office chair atheist warriors flooding online communities, itching for a fight. I myself have been embroiled in these fights, to my shame. I wrote a three part series on how to disengage from them (here, here, and here) but even I have a hard time resisting it.

In order for atheism to save us from the ten thousand plus years of religious warfare, we, as atheists, are going to have to rise above the petty squabbles and strive to be better at being mature about it. Stand up for the rights of all, even the religious, even when we disagree with the message.

“But, why? Their beliefs are silly!” I hear you say indignantly.

So what? Actions are what is important. Beliefs are less so. As long as they do not force others to do things, what does it matter? Do you mind what pagans do out in the forest if they aren’t hurting anyone?

Learn to live and let live. It’s what we want them to do, and we need to lead by example.

March 30

Saving Pence

019Indiana Governor Mike Pence has really done it this time.

The IRFRA was a bill intended to please his base constituency, the religious right, a powerful force in the state of Indiana. Recently, the state had been told that denying marriage rights to homosexual couples was unconstitutional, and Indiana joined the growing number of states in which marriage equality became the law of the land.

For many Christians (I will be the first to say, not all), this was a slap in the face. A small subset of these upset Christians decided to make sure that the slap to the cheek they received would not go unanswered.

Let’s talk about, for example, Curt Smith. He is in the picture of Pence signing SB101 into law, standing in the far back. In one photo, he is looking over the heads of the two men in front of him.

He’s the president of the Indiana Family Institute. He equates homosexuality with bestiality and adultery:

The Judeo-Christian worldview at the heart of Western culture and so our legal and governmental systems (Ten Commandments, an “eye for an eye,” the very concepts of mercy, justice and rehabilitation) promotes marriage and family while decrying other modes of sexuality — homosexuality, bestiality, adultery, etc.

He helped write the bill. This is the kind of person Pence was working with to pass the bill. Here’s a closer look.

The point is that Pence was working with and for these supporters, and believed he was working in the interest of the religious of the state of Indiana. It is clear he was not expecting the backlash he has received, nor did he foresee the financial implications of the decision to pass the bill into law.

What’s a governor to do?

Well, he cannot just let it ride, that’s for sure. Indiana has worked hard to not be the butt of jokes like the ones made in the era of Cheers. Thankfully, the work we have done has not been completely destroyed by this. Many of the jokes have been made about Pence and discriminatory businesses (Kudos to Saturday Night Live for not attacking the entire state!). The financial damage could range up into the billions, unless quick and effective damage control is done.

I’m sure he would like to stick by his guns, believing himself to be a martyr for the fight against homosexuality; he will find himself very quickly abandoned by everyone but the hardliners when businesses begin to suffer from bad press and boycotts. When the power of civil rights law stood behind gay couples, discrimination was rare. Now that Indiana businesses think they have a license to discriminate, a lot more people are going to come out of the woodwork on both sides.

So, what are his options?

  • Try to “fix” the law. Do a good job, one that actually does protect everyone, and piss off those select few who wrote the bill, but calm the people down. Do a bad job, and end up no better than having done nothing.
  • Work to repeal the law. Probably the best solution, and the one he is least likely to choose. It would take admitting he was wrong, which would be throwing himself under the bus. It might even save his political career. Heck, he could even move further ahead. Is it likely? Probably not. His current power brokers would abandon him. But the people might rally behind him.
  • Punt to the next governor. He might be run out of the state on a rail, with some of the residents of Indiana chasing behind with a bucket of tar and a bag of feathers, but it would be one for the history books.
  • Do nothing. Possible be recalled, possibly lose the next election, who knows what else could happen? This could be the start of a very dark chapter in Indiana history. This is most likely what he will do. He strikes me as coming from the George W. Bush School of Not Changing Horses.

It is unfortunate that we may have to wait until the next election cycle to fix this mess.

 

March 29

When is the RFRA not the RFRA?

Giving bigotry an RFRA paint job.
Giving bigotry an RFRA paint job. Image source: Morgefile

Answer: When it is the Indiana version of the RFRA.

I just finished watching our governor, Mike Pence, speaking with George Stephanopoulos.

To be honest, I am not sure if he was intentionally lying or just really didn’t know the truth. I will leave that determination up to people with more information on the issue than I have. However, I will dissect some of the misinformation he decided to state.

The Indiana RFRA is not the same law as the federal RFRA. As a matter of fact, even though, on the surface, they appear similar, the Indiana RFRA was carefully crafted to not only be different, but to be much easier to use as a bludgeon against those deemed to be undesirable. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Item Federal Law
(42 U.S.C. § 2000bb)
Indiana Law Difference
Section 5 the term “exercise of religion means the exercise of religion under the First Amendment to the Constitution. As used in this chapter, ‘exercise of religion’ includes any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief. The federal law is limited by the Constitution. In addition, the Indiana version uses the word “includes” instead of “means” which does not limit, but gives a single example. This is not a limit at all, but an example. Even if something is at the extreme edge of a religion, it will be protected by the Indiana law where it would not be by the federal version.
 Section 7 Person is not defined. The law was written before the SCOTUS ruled the term “person” could be applied to more than just a human being. As used in this chapter, “person” includes the following: (1) An individual. (2) An organization, a religious society, a church, a body of communicants, or a group organized and operated primarily for religious purposes. (3) A partnership, a limited liability company, a corporation, a company, a firm, a society, a joint-stock company, an unincorporated association, or another entity that: (A) may sue and be sued; and (B) exercises practices that are compelled or limited by a system of religious belief held by: (i) an individual; or (ii) the individuals; who have control and substantial ownership of the entity, regardless of whether the entity is organized and operated for profit or nonprofit purposes.  This puts into law that companies are people, and can have religious rights. No such protection was afforded at all under the federal law.Also, don’t forget Section 5, which means that “exercise of religion” can mean just about anything, whether or not it is protected (or limited) by the Constitution.
 Section 9  There is no Section 9 in the federal version; the closest to this passage is from Section 3: A person whose religious exercise has been burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against a government. Standing to assert a claim or defense under this section shall be governed by the general rules of standing under article III of the Constitution. A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding. If the relevant governmental entity is not a party to the proceeding, the governmental entity has an unconditional right to intervene in order to respond to the person’s invocation of this chapter.  As the intent of the original RFRA was to protect individuals from government intrusion on constitutional rights, this section would have made absolutely no sense in the original law. What this clause means, and this is the big problem with the IRFRA, is that religion is now a usable defense for discrimination in civil and criminal court cases. The case does not even have to involve the government. It can be between individuals (which, as you remember, this law also defines as companies)

So, no, Mr. Governor, this is NOT the same law. Claiming that it is, combined with your shameful acts leading up to and surrounding how you signed this, make it clear that the truth and the people of Indiana are two things you are not interested in.