Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays!

Whether you're celebrating the winter solstice (in the Northern hemisphere), Hannukah, Christmas, Yule, Saturnalia, Festivus, or any other holiday, I hope you have a good one.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tim Minchin - If You Open Your Mind Too Much...

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Reason For The Protest

Translation: "Merry Christmas, you hard-hearted, enslaved idiots!"

Yeah, it's kind of a dick move.

Granted, the Christmas holiday is but one in a long list of holidays that have co-opted the solstice season for a chance to make merry, and was itself rejected as sinful by large swaths of historical Christianity, and is for the most part now wholly secular in our society. But it is one of the few times in the year that Christians can feel like being open about their religious orientation doesn't make them into annoying proselytizers, because, hey, everyone's doing it, too!

And granted, the Freedom From Religion Foundation's plaque was placed in response to a Christian nativity scene being allowed to be placed in the rotunda previously, which is itself a breach, at least in spirit, of the "establishment" clause of the First Amendment. And in fact the Christian who lobbied to place that nativity scene there himself recognized the FFRF's right to have their own installation alongside his.

But it's still a dick move. As a counterexample, see the December newspaper advertisement for the North Texas Church of Freethought:

Translation: "Holy cow, there's an atheist Santa?"

The most offensive phrase is probably "silly superstitions," but then again, everybody's Christmas celebrations include silly superstitions of some kind or another. My Polish family always passes around oplatek (a large, priest-blessed, communion wafer) to bring good luck into the new year. Yeah, it's a silly superstitious act that has nothing to do with whether or not the next year will be a good one, but but the larger message is one of showing affection for one's loved ones- precisely the freethinking (and secular!) message that the NTCOF promotes.

And I could imagine that the average Christian who breezes past this advertisement might be miffed at reading the NTCOF's opinion on "the real reason for the season," but couldn't take umbrage at it's similar snipe against "mindless materialism" nor disagree with the sentiment I already mentioned about sharing our lives with those we love. And that's really how I would prefer it to be taken, because proclaiming the explicit antithesis to orthodox Christianity tends to not be helpful for the average believer.

But then there's this story. Just this past week, a young couple in East Texas, believing their 13-month old daughter to be possessed by demons, proceeded to beat (and bite!?) her to death with a hammer. They can be added to the growing list of people (in Texas!?) who have murdered their children at God's presuming behest. Andrea Yates, Deanna Laney, Dena Scholsser, and now Jessica Carson. The first three women were found to be under psychotic delusions; it remains to be seen what is found regarding the latter. What troubles me is not knowing if their respective psychoses were independent of, or cultivated by, their religious convictions. And if the former, did their religious convictions provide a conventient catalyst to action?

You see, whether or not the FFRF has taken the most diplomatic path with their message, they're not operating simply on the principle of humbug. When they say, "may reason prevail," I think of people like Jessica Carson. When they say, "there are no devils," I think of people like Jessica Carson. And when they say, "religion hardens hearts and enslaves minds," I think of people like Jessica Carson, who hardened her heart to her daughter's cries of pain, and gave her mind over to a dogmatic belief that encouraged her to crush her daughter's skull with a hammer.

Nobody likes a village atheist. But I would happily take that role if it meant that one fewer person would give him or herself over to murder because of a "silly superstition."

Monday, December 01, 2008

"Stanford Challenge" Founder Dead

Some of you may know Kelly Tripplehorn as the founder of the "I53 Network" and more specifically, the "Stanford Challenge." The latter was so-called because to collect a certain amount of prize money (initially $1000, then raised to a symbolic $5300) the successful challenger would have to have their 'solution' to the problem of induction accepted and published in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Most people recognized this as a trite regurgitation of presuppositionalist Christian apologetics, and more than a few engaged with Tripplehorn, although his was just one of several absurd challenges offered by cocksure theists like Harun Yahya or Kent Hovind.

Alas, Tripplehorn's challenge is now defunct. According to his obituary, he passed away over Thanksgiving weekend, cutting short educational plans to complete his masters in religion and potential study for a doctorate in Israel. He was only 26, and though no details are given for his manner of death, there is a suggestion to donations to mental health charities, particularly those dealing with bipolar disorder. I can only infer from this that Tripplehorn himself was plagued by this disorder, and I wonder if his death was a result.

As a fellow D/FW resident, I had hoped at some point to interact with Tripplehorn in some capacity. He seemed to be an enthusiastic and friendly individual, if horribly misinformed, and I had thought that we could have at least had a good exchange. Strangely enough, I do feel a bit of a loss at his passing, even though we never met; I felt compelled to make a donation on his behalf to the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation.

I don't know if his religious experiences were in any way connected with any mental illness he may have been struggling with, but I know that this has been the case for others like him. I plan to spend this month reflecting on the theological confrontations in which I've been engaged in the past; while I may at times mock the ridiculousness of theistic superstitious claims, I should not forget that they are taken quite seriously by many people, and that a life lived superstitiously is usually preferable to a life cut short by self-imposed tragedy.