Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bible Murder Mystery

In the spirit of Halloween, I thought that I'd spark a discussion of something truly horrific... murder most foul, and in the Bible, no less!

The mystery is a unique one, since the identities of both victim and murder are known- Balaam son of Beor, killed by the Israelites under Moses' command.

"So what's the big deal?" you might be wondering. "Tons of people were killed by the Israelites in those stories. Why is this particular man so special?"

While it's true that the ancient myths of the Israelites are chock-full of blood and gore, enough to make even modern stories like Hostel or Saw look mild by comparison, the intent behind all the death is usually made apparent. This person dared to touch the Ark of the Covenant, for example. Or this group of young boys made fun of a bald man. Or an entire town was particularly inhospitable.

But for Balaam, the continuing mystery is: what exactly did the guy do to deserve death? He's first introduced in Numbers 22, and meets his end in chapter 31 of that same book. I have some thoughts regarding the rationalization of his fate, but in the meantime, I'll entertain anyone's best guess.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Pope Nazinger: A Worthless Motherfucker

Look what Pope Swastika recently said:

Pope Benedict XVI said Monday that pharmacists have a right to use conscientious objection to avoid dispensing emergency contraception or euthanasia drugs and told them they should also inform patients of the ethical implications of using such drugs.

Benedict told a gathering of Catholic pharmacists that conscientious objection was a right that must be recognized by the pharmaceutical profession.

The Pope forgot to add that if you object to filling out prescriptions of any kind, then you shouldn't be a fucking pharmacist!

And he also forgot to add that while objection to contraception is a right that must be recognized by the pharmaceutical profession, getting fired for not doing your fucking job is also a right that must be recognized by the employees that refuse to fill said prescriptions!

Oh man does this piss me off, not only morally, but business-wise. I feel like I can't even use enough bold text in here to convey how outraged I am. If I got a problem defending criminals, then I shouldn't be a defense attorney. If I don't like condoms, then I shouldn't work for Trojan Condom Company. And if I got a problem filling up birth control prescriptions, then I shouldn't work in a pharmacy! How many different ways can I phrase it so that it will make sense to these retarded motherfuckers?

Hey, I'm an atheist. So I don't go around trying to get a job at your church, do I? I'll keep my atheist ass off your church employee roster, and you can keep your superstitious ass out of my pharmaceutical labor pool!

One final note: I know that pharmacies have to have provisions to get an alternate to fill the order if one clerk refuses, but if some asshole refuses to give a girl her Plan B pill, and she gets pregnant as a result, then that piece of shit should be financially liable for child support! It's only fair.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Happy Halloween

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Butchering the Sacred Cow

I should preface this by saying unequivocably that I am no fan of J.K. Rowling or her books. I haven't read one, nor seen any of the derived movies (aside from commercials). And yet, I'm utterly fascinated by the furor surrounding the casual announcement that a key character was "always thought of as gay" by Rowling.

It wasn't just the howls of dismay, it's the sheer nastiness that accompanies them that's so odd. That an author so popular and so beloved would be told to shut up her big fat mouth since she's just plain wrong is remarkable, to say the least.

Most people are trying to couch their indignation in the language of art and literary theory, claiming that once she had finished the book, her input had ended, and no way is she gonna tell me who is and who isn't gay if I don't like it.

The reality is, of course her input doesn't end the minute she puts down her pen. Even the high-brow literary types have to admit that her opinion counts at least as much as the next reader, and that's all she was really offering anyway: her opinion about one of the characters.

In this age of printed text and copyright, storytellers have much more control over their characters than in ages past. These days, ideas have currency, and all of five minutes spent germinating a character with potentially international appeal could translate into a massive fortune. For those storytellers who have found popular success, special dispensation is given to the stories that they themselves create, even as their characters leave their aegis at first telling. The term 'canon,' more familiarly applied to Biblical stories, is even used to wall-off and separate those truly "authentic" stories from the cheap knock-offs crafted by those who have borrowed the characters, either legitimately or otherwise.

And 'canon' is the right word, to be sure. Imagine a similar situation occurring to a key character in the stories of the Biblical canon... let's say, Jesus. Is it that difficult to predict what might happen if, for example, an old text from a church father were to make the suggestion that Jesus was gay? Oh, right- that happened. It's not likely to be accurate, but I can't think of a single Christian who finds it plausible... because it conflicts with the picture of Jesus interpreted from the 'canon.' Never mind that no mention is made there of Jesus' sexuality one way or another, nor the fact that he's middle-aged and unmarried, hanging out with a bunch of guys all the time.

The fact of the matter is that 'canon' is just opinion, too. It's just the way the story happened to be told by one person, or agreed upon by a group of people. Nobody's confined to it, and it's subject to change. Just think of how the interpretation of the Tanakh changed after the Christians added their scriptures to it. But if those of us who are interested in figuring out the root of the Christian story deviate from 'canon,' what do we hear?

No way are they gonna tell me who is and who isn't myth if I don't like it!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Google #1 Meme

With a hat tip to World's Fair (and Larry and PZ), I'll indulge in the new meme:

Five Googled Phrases That Return This Blog As The #1 Site
  1. lee strobel fake atheist
  2. rush limbaugh anti religion
  3. does Christianity glorify death?
  4. religious moral systems
  5. sexual goosing meth

...interesting, and that seems about right. While I'm at it, I'll check out which phrases list Evolution 101 as the #1 hit:

  1. do men have milk ducks
  2. how homosexuality evolved
  3. time before a woman orgasm
  4. why men have mammary glands
  5. do all mammals have nipples

Filthy stuff, that. Clearly, the popularity of the podcast is due to its prurient interest.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Creation Museum Pics

It's been a while in coming, I know, but I finally made room on my website for all my Creation Museum thoughts and musings. These include several pictures that I haven't displayed before. You can find them here... enjoy!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Atheists and Anger

From Greta Christina's Blog.

I get angry when religious believers make arguments against atheism -- and make accusations against atheists -- without having bothered to talk to any atheists or read any atheist writing. I get angry when they trot out the same old "Atheism is a nihilistic philosophy, with no joy or meaning to life and no basis for morality or ethics"... when if they spent ten minutes in the atheist blogosphere, they would discover countless atheists who experience great joy and meaning in their lives, and are intensely concerned about right and wrong.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Clash of Faiths: Muslims in Texas

The Islamic Center of Irving, Texas (just outside Dallas)

This past Sunday, after the NTCOF service, I had planned to meet a new friend at the Jason's Deli fellowship lunch/blood drive, so that I could give him a copy of the William Lane Craig presentation on DVD. When he stopped by, I asked if he had any time to stick around and chat with the friendly Freethinkers, but he said that he wanted to head over to the Islamic Center of Irving for their (regular) Open House event. After spit-taking my chocolate soft-serve/root beer float (it's delicious), I quickly inquired where it was located, since I've been looking for an excuse to interact with some Muslims on thier own turf recently, and this was just about as good as I was going to get.

The ICI Entrance and Foyer

This group of Muslims has been active in Dallas for well over 15 years, and have somewhat recently built their own masjid, after meeting in private homes, hotels, and rented commercial space. It ranks in size with most of the more moderate Christian megachurches in the area, and is at least as architechurally attractive as the best of them. Having a strictly geometrical aesthetic tradition, it's not too terribly surprising that their architecture is so impressive. Aside from that difference, there wasn't that much about the place that didn't remind me of any other average Christian church- bulletin boards, pamphlets, warm lighting all around. There were plenty of masjid members immediately outside and in the foyer, all with smiling faces and friendly attitudes, happy to welcome any and everyone inside and direct them to the registration table, where we received gift bags containing a (English translation of the) Qur'an, a number of informational pamplets and brochures, and a booklet detailing all the (groan) scientific discoveries that were predicted by the Qur'an.

The main prayer room

One of the things that was somewhat disquieting to me personally was the obvious evidence of gender segregation in the place. There's a separate "Sisters' Entrance" and "Sisters' Prayer Room," and all the female members were wearing hijab. Of course, I reminded myself that one really doesn't have to look far from orthodox Christianity to find a lot of the same stuff- Mormonism, especially the fundamentalist variety, gets very close to this same concept, and you probably don't have to try very hard to find similar female roles in hard-core fundamentalist orthodox Christian communities either. Hell, the Shaker movement claimed complete segregation of the genders to be an article of faith, and even built it into their architecture!

After registering at the entrance, guided tours commenced that wound through the masjid, showing us the washing areas (used by the men prior to prayer), the masjid store (sold hard-to-find treats, candies, and Muslim literature), the prayer rooms, some of the schoolrooms (they run a K-12 educational program), and upstairs to a sort of fellowship hall (serving Middle-eastern refreshments), which led into a room set up with lots of chairs ready for a presentation.

Yaseen Black explains that Muslims love Jesus too

My friend was already in the room, and since it was packed (with people from apparently a wide variety of backgrounds), I sidled around the back and took a spot near the front right. I was somewhat surprised to see two white guys sitting at the table in the front while the Imam recited verses from the Qur'an, but I figured they were there as representatives of the community or local government, there to lend their support to the Muslims during a time of inter-cultural and -religious interaction. Imagine my surprise when they were introduced as Khalil (Eric) Meek and Dr. Yaseen (Jason) Black, two Muslim members. In fact, Khalil Meek is active with the Dallas chapter of the Council for American-Islamic Relations, being somewhat uniquely qualified for the role after converting to Islam while studying to become a Southern Baptist preacher.

They took turns talking to the crowd about Islam, with the major points being:

  1. Islam is a religion of peace
  2. Muslims love Jesus just as much as (if not more than) Christians
  3. Muslims don't mistreat women.

Regarding the first point, they stressed that Islam is nothing more than submission of one's will to the One God, which I have to admit, sounds a lot like any of the other two large monotheistic religions, and of course, they claimed all of the Jewish prophets (as well as Jesus) as good Muslims. Regarding the second point, they claimed that as a good Muslim (and second only to Mohammed), respect and reverence for Jesus is important to all Muslims. It's just that the Christians who wrote down his words later added to them (I'm on board with that) either intentionally or inadvertently obscuring the fact that the historical Jesus preached Islam (not so much on board with that). To bolster their third point, they claimed that the hijab is a directive from God, and so Muslim women are showing their respect and worship towards Him when they follow his orders (it just happens to be a coincidence that this also follows sociological patterns of female ownership).

Why don't Muslims accept the historical truth of Jesus' resurrection?

After the presentations, they opened the floor for questions from the audience. I was somewhat expecting the questions to be genuinely curious about Islam, but they ended up being largely confrontational, or at least somewhat accusatory. They amounted to, essentially: "Why don't you believe in Christianity?" There seemed to be a genuine bafflement among those Christ-followers in the audience as to why, if these Muslims worshiped the One True God, respected all the prophets from Adam to Jesus, rejected evolution and equitable gender roles, they wouldn't just go the whole hog (so to speak) and become Christians?

This was perhaps the most entertaining part of the experience for me. Given my perspective, there's very little in terms of fundamental theological differences (just the identity of Jesus, really) between them. It was also interesting to see crossed apologetic swords, as in the video above- my friend asks why they deny the resurrection of Jesus, and the Imam gives the classic Muslim docetic response. It kills me when religious apologists from different faiths use their standard arguments on each other, expecting them to be bulletproof. At any rate, it was bizarre to see Christians walk into a masjid and take Muslims to task for their religious beliefs... it'd be like a Protestant walking into a Catholic church and asking the priest why he believes in the doctrine of transubstutation. Or like an orthodox Christian walking into a Mormon temple and asking why they believe Jesus appeared in America. Apparently Muslims are just different enough that they have to make an extra effort to justify their presence in America... and Austin Cline suggests that the sense of Christian nationalism may have something to do with this.

From where I stand, though, this is just one more sign that religious diversity is on the rise here in the states (even in Texas!), when there almost as many Muslims as Presbyterians. I see this as an even stronger indication that common understanding needs to be sought among all parties, theists and nontheists, as well as every variation on either side. That's the only way we're going to be able to make progress without succumbing to violence and immorality.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Borrowing the Silver Lining

It's been a while since I've been to a Christian church service... essentially, since I've found myself an atheist. But as I've gotten more involved in the North Texas Church of Freethought, I've become more and more interested in "rediscovering" the Christian church experience, if only to find out if there are religion-neutral qualities to them that might be useful to the NTCOF.

To this end, I've spent the past few weekends visiting some Southern Baptist churches in my area. Southern Baptists, of course, being the predominant Protestant demonination in the state, outnumbering the next-highest demonination (Methodists) by 3 to 1. I've been to most other major demoninations in my time (Presbyterian, Catholic, Lutheran) as well as any number of non-denominational churches. But I've never really been to a good ol' Texas-style Southern Baptist church. Part of this is because I have some good friends that are members of this denomination- staying away from it has been partially intentional, almost like I would for a friend who desperately loves a movie that I find completely distasteful- not watching it means that he never has to hear me say how little I regard something in which he finds deep meaning.

But, these guys are pretty popular, so I thought that I would check them out to see if there was anything helpful they offered. I was somewhat surprised at how similar the services were among different churches- the basic formula went something like this:
  1. Worship songs
  2. Prayer
  3. Announcements
  4. Sermon
  5. Altar Call
  6. Offering
I'll point out a few details that I observed, and the silver lining that could be applicable to my needs:

Worship songs: These were generic, upbeat, and repetitious. I suppose it's somewhat cliched to criticize the use of contemporary Christian pop instead of hymns, but I still felt queasy having to listen to them. Of course, having grown up on "A Mighty Fortress is Our God," "And Can It Be That I Should Gain," and "I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art," that may just be my own personal preference. Still, I couldn't help but notice that although their repetitiousness and simplicity is useful to help the (lazy? amelodic?) congregation sing them, they also lend themselves well to a kind of psychological... I'm not sure if I want to say "conditioning," but I'm not sure what else to call it when two hundred people repeat "He knows my name" time after time after time. This is definitely a big draw- there's almost always a multi-intstumental band, a choir, and a choir leader that seems to channel (to varying degrees) the Reverend Cleophus James- with the congregation clapping along and (horror!) applauding after each song. The last song tends to be a huge crescendo, both musically and emotionally, and once it ends the congregation is clearly excited, happy, and ready to hear anything that comes next.

Silver Lining Factor: I don't think that the content of the songs really matters that much. People just enjoy being part of a show- it was very much like being at a concert. This is definitely something that can be reproduced without supernatural content.

Sermon: These were all delivered by well-rehearsed, talented public speakers. The basic undercurrent of each was (in various ways) to provide a sense of meaning and purpose to life (by becoming better Christians, natch). There was also a recurring theme of distinguishing the congregation ("the church") from everyone else ("the world"). This made me a little uncomfortable, because (although I realize this recalls psychological conditioning practices) it struck me as the kind of in-group/out-group conceptualizing that has supported all kinds of religious and social problems throughout human history. Happily, I also heard an emphasis on doing good works as a congregation, particularly as a way to become a better person (by being a good Christian).

Silver Lining Factor: I don't think it would be difficult to have good public speaking skills, and I think it would make sense to emphasize meaning and purpose for Freethinkers and atheists. I also think that there are plenty of oppurtunities for the NTCOF to engage in more charitable activities, and these could give the congregation a stronger connection to each other.

Altar Call: There's no way that anything like this would be possible in a Freethought church, but I did find it fascinating nonetheless. The best pastors moved seamlessly from their sermon into the altar call, usually by carefully crafting the emotional content of their message to peak right before the altar call was made (although there is no altar, and it was not called such). At this point, a handful would march to the steps around the pastor, usually break down crying, and pray. I noticed that most of these individuals usually came from the front row, and was reminded that it tends to be the most pious who are most concerned with their sins. Invariably, the music returned just before this began, and was kept at a subdued level throughout, as the emotions flowed out. It seemed to me that the entire congregation enjoyed a collective cathartic expiation through those that did find the courage to prostrate themselves in front of everyone else... and this gradually waned as the music transitioned into a feature song to be used as an offeratory.

Silver Lining Factor: Clearly, it makes sense to ask for money at the end of the performance, especially after taking everyone through the emotional roller coaster ride of the initial worship songs, then the sermon, and then the resolution of the altar call. It would probably make the most sense to pair any request for money with whatever emotionally-variable content is is the service.

Given my outsider perspective, the psychological content of the average Southern Baptist service appears more clearly, and I'm not sure if I want to use the same kind of methodology in a Freethought context. Even though all supernatural content can be stripped out, it does seem to me to be unethical to use such a manipulative technique- even though it very well may be the most effective way to get a message across.

I'll put it to the readers here- how far is too far to go when borrowing techniques from a Christian church for use in an equivalent situation for Freethinkers?