Tag: Religion

Expansion of police powers- now are you upset??

| February 28, 2012 | Reply
Expansion of police powers- now are you upset??

In the years since 9/11, America’s police state has been expanding rapidly. The “Patriot Act” gave nominal legal approval to a vastly expanded surveillance and detention authority, but in some startling new cases, police are not even seeking legal justification for working in areas that are clearly illegal and unconstitutional.

The latest abuses come courtesy of the New York Police Department. New reports indicate that the NYPD has been surveiling and profiling Jewish and Christian communities and individuals, often in areas that are far outside of NYPD’s jurisdiction, including Buffalo, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. As always, the bogeyman of “terrorism” is cited as the justification for these acts.

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Republican candidates beckon us to the gloomy future

| August 31, 2011 | 2 Replies
Republican candidates beckon us to the gloomy future

“Vote for Me because we are in the End Times!” That is the battle cry of several prominent Republican candidates. Matt Taibbi comments:

The Christian candidates are also influenced by rapture theology. Both Bachmann (who once led a Rapture-ready “We are in the last days” prayer ) and Perry (who famously has a relationship with my old pal John Hagee Perhaps America’s most powerful Rapture/End Times preacher) have dabbled seriously in Left Behind belief systems, under which the righteous will be whisked away to heaven just before God comes down to earth to kick ass and dispense justice to unbelievers via End-of-World troubles like wars and natural disasters.

All of this helps explain why Republican rhetoric in this election season often coincides with eerie frequency with End-Times preachery. If you want to see what either of the two apocalypse-merchant wings of the Republican Party will be squawking about tomorrow, all you have to do is check to see what End Times fanatics are freaking out about today.

Rapture-talk is nothing new for conservatives, many of whom flock to gatherings where they are warned that the end of the world is imminent; I attended one of these gatherings myself–led by conservative radio talk show host “Doctor” Larry Bates. And as Max Blumenthal revealed a few years ago, prominent Republicans have long worked hard to formulate U.S. foreign policy relating to the Middle East based on End Times theology.

If you’re having trouble understanding the fine points of what the End Times will be, review this diagram. Or this one from Truth in Love. Or this one. It’s apparently more complicated than pro football offensive play diagrams.

Did I hear someone say church and state?  Amen to that!  We might not be living in the End Times, but we do seem to be living in Crazy times.

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God is on MY side now

| August 16, 2011 | 21 Replies
God is on MY side now

I’m tired of justifying my actions based on moral and pragmatic grounds; it’s too often too much work trying to explain that I am motivated to make my tiny corner of the world a better place, or that I’m trying to avoid needless suffering. Justifying my actions based on real-world consequences often requires planning, empathy and evidence-gathering, and I’ve decided that this is too much work.

What’s the solution? I have quite recently realized that I am a believer in God, which makes me special and unquestionable.

My new outlook germinated about a month ago when I noticed Rick Perry having such an easy time justifying anything he desired, based on things God allegedly told him. Why are you running for President? Because God told me to. Why are going to dismantle social security? Because God told me to. What are you going to do about Wall Street Banks? God will tell me after I allow those nice men to wine and dine me.

Such freedom! I was jealous of Rick Perry, so I adopted God too. I like this new power. Because I am now one of God’s special people, when you question me, you question God Himself . . . so you’d better not ever have the arrogance to question me or God. You want to fight me buddy? God’s me Buddy. I like being God, Jr. It’s armor to protect me from all forms of intellectual and moral challenges and evidence. Having God as my Pal lessens my cognitive load, making life much easier, and it’s going to allow me to quickly cut through a lot of moralistic red tape. It’s going to let me invoke my program without having to explain myself.

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Republican mythology

| June 26, 2011 | 7 Replies
Republican mythology

I have often written that Democrats have been thoroughly corrupted by our campaign finance system, which encourages bribes and graft.   Equally so, have the Republicans been corrupted, but Republican politicians carry the weight of a long litany of absurd beliefs that they espouse with religious zeal.  This St. Louis Post-Dispatch opinion piece lists eight of the big ones, including:

• They must believe, despite the evidence of the 2008 financial collapse, that unregulated — or at most, lightly regulated — financial markets are good for America and the world.

• GOP candidates must scoff at scientific consensus about global warming. Blame it on human activity? Bad. Cite Noah’s Ark as evidence? Good. They must express at least some doubt about the science of evolution.

• They must insist, statistics and evidence to the contrary, that most of the nation’s energy needs can be met safely with more domestic oil drilling, “clean-coal” technology and greater reliance on perfectly safe nuclear power plants.

• They must believe that the Founding Fathers wanted to guarantee individuals the absolute right to own high-capacity, rapid-fire weapons that did not exist in the late 18th century.

Stunningly, none of these beliefs is founded on facts or self-critical thinking.   As Eric Hoffer pointed out long ago, this lack of objective evidence presents no problem for true believers.

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On dealing with the lack of hell

| May 14, 2011 | 21 Replies
On dealing with the lack of hell

I sometimes listen to AM religious talk radio because I’m amazed at the sorts of the things I hear. Today, while listening into local St. Louis 24/7 “TruthTalk” Christian radio station KJ SL in my car, I heard a bit of contentious discussion between a radio host and a caller. I believe that the host of the radio show was Bob Dutko. Dutko has long held the position that “Jesus really is the only way and He really did rise from the dead, physically and historically.”

When I first tuned in, the caller was talking, saying something much like this: I believe that the spirit of God resides in every person, and that people can live good and meaningful lives without belonging to any church. I believe that God will reward them based upon the good things that they do, and based upon how they treat others, regardless of whether or not they follow any religion. Good-hearted people who do not believe in Jesus or follow a religion will not go to hell.

The host told the caller that his “new age” religious outlook was hopelessly naïve, and that he needed to read the Bible, whereupon he would see that there is only one way to avoid hell is by accepting Jesus Christ as Savior.

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Separation of Church and State?

| October 1, 2010 | 23 Replies
Separation of Church and State?

I was on my way to lunch today, when I saw an ad on a local ‘mega-church’ billboard. It was promoting a “Restoring America Conference”.

This is a church. It pays no taxes. It should have no say, as an entity, in our political process.

Based on the speakers, this will not be about Restoring America in any social sense – something that a church should indeed participate and lead. This ‘conference’ will undoubtedly be a rabidly right-wing diatribe from start to finish.

I have absolutely no problem with free speech, not do I have a problem with Partisan speech. I do have a problem when political speech is not only associated with religion, but sponsored and promoted by a religious organization.

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Tolerance of Religion Scale

| September 25, 2010 | 10 Replies
Tolerance of Religion Scale

In The God Delusion (at page 50), Richard Dawkins presented the following spectrum of theistic probability:

1. Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung, ‘I do not believe, I know.’
2. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. De facto theist. ‘I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.’
3. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism. ‘I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.’
4. Exactly 50 per cent. Completely impartial agnostic. ‘God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.’
5. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism. ‘I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be sceptical.’
6. Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. ‘I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.’
7. Strong atheist. ‘I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung “knows” there is one.’
Incidentally, Dawkins placed himself at a “6″ on his 7-point scale. See also here.

This above scale is quite useful. How sure are you that there is no “God”? Now you can rank your own confidence level based on a scale that quantifies your beliefs; you can then compare your degree of beliefs to that of others.

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Exploring reasonable doubts by listening to “Reasonable Doubts” podcasts

| September 24, 2010 | Reply
Exploring reasonable doubts by listening to “Reasonable Doubts” podcasts

If you are interested in hearing well-considered podcasts putting religious claims under the microscope, here’s a good source: Reasonable Doubts. The site is a labor of love by the following three individuals:

JEREMY BEAHAN is an Adjunct Professor teaching classes on: Philosophy, World Religions, Biblical Literature, Aesthetics, and Critical Thinking through FSU.

LUKE GALEN is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Grand Valley State University. He teaches classes on: the Psychology of Religion, Controversial Issues in Psychology, and Human Sexuality.

DAVID FLETCHER is the founder and former chair of CFI Aquinas College. He is an English and Speech teacher as well as an adjunct professor of Mythology.

What distinguishes this site from many other skeptic/freethinker sites is that the authors offer dozens of carefully-reasoned podcasts putting specific religious claims under the microscope. There is no ranting or bloviating here; the tone is academic and the presentations are clear. Listeners will come away with thorough understandings of the topics addressed:

What distinguishes us from many other skeptical podcasts is our special focus on counter-apologetics. We provide detailed counter-points to the fallacious logic and blatant misinformation used by religious apologists when attempting to discredit skepticism and provide rational arguments for their dogmas. We also defend the sufficiency of reason, science and naturalistic philosophies to provide a satisfactory and morally compelling understanding of the cosmos, human nature, art and culture.

For example, in the podcast titled “Which Jesus?” (a presentation originally given at CFI), Jeremy Beahan discusses the many contradictions within the Gospel narratives. The lecture includes a powerpoint (see a sample slide below, setting out difference in the Christmas narrative):

I also listened to a second podcast discussing Ernest Becker’s work, leading to the modern theory of “terror management theory” (TMT) (this is a topic that fascinates me). Becker’s general idea is that we are electric meat with large brains that can project into the future by generating “what if” hypotheticals. This makes us self-aware, but also tends to create a mind-body dualism riddled with anxiety–we deeply worry about death. Because we face our inexorable deaths, a paradox is created: we put lots of energy into denying death. We spin elaborate defenses through our symbolic systems (religion, capitalism, political). Becker argues that these defense symbols constitute buffers to our self-esteem, and we can only read self-esteem through our interactions with others. We latch onto group-based symbolic ideologies such as religions that offer simple steps to fend off death in order to enhance our self-esteem. All of our cultural strivings are to achieve a “heroic” feeling (even by serving a powerful Being, or by joining into warmongering) and a system of ready-made ethics for being a “hero” and “transcending death.” Cultural striving = immortality striving. I was here and I mattered. But any threat to these immortality strivings threaten believers. Therefore, being presented with a contrary world view (e.g., atheism) is inevitably threatening to our self-esteem and our mortality. Converting others to one’s own world view is a way to enhance one’s own world view. If one can’t convert others they still might be able to convince others to downplay their differences in public ((or even destroying others). About 20 years ago, many social scientists began testing these theories, with notable success (Judges reminded of their deaths set prostitution bond of $455; control judges–not reminded of their deaths–set bonds of $50). Reminders of death profoundly affect our behavior (e.g., 9/11 was a profound reminder of our impending deaths that dramatically kicked up our embrace of religion and patriotism–it urged people of all political persuasions to embrace others like themselves and to embrace more simplistic beliefs than before). Some of these experiments are described in this excellent lecture (I also described some of them in my previous posts on “Terror Management Theory). Beahan highly recommended viewing a documentary exploring Becker’s ideas: “Flight From Death.”

Here is the menu of podcasts currently offered by Reasonable Doubts. I highly recommend a visit.

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A former Christian describes his former Christianity

| September 20, 2010 | 1 Reply
A former Christian describes his former Christianity

Mike Baker submitted a few comments to DI over the past few months. Then, after I published yet another installment of my favorite quotes (read: I took a night off from actually writing), Mike offered me his substantial collection of provocative quotes (we’ve published them here and here, and there’s more to come). We started an email correspondence a few weeks ago.

When Mike told me that he was formerly a Christian, but no longer, I asked him a few follow-up questions. It turns out that there is an unexpected twist to Mike’s story. He is no longer a Christian, but he believes in God. Yet he believes that organized religions are generally harmful to society. Yet he also admits that good things are sometimes accomplished by religious organizations.

After a few rounds of back and forth, I asked Mike whether he would be willing to allow me to share his thoughts with the DI community, and he agreed. I think that you’ll enjoy reading Mike’s genuine thoughts and his engaging writing style. Without further adieu, here is that email conversation:

Mike:

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on religion in that five-part essay you wrote. As a person who has always called himself a Christian (albeit a loosely wrapped one), I’ve recently walked away from my “faith”. In large part by the inactions and apparent acquiescence of “Christians” to G.W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Feeling somewhat “lost”, I began reading Bertrand Russell, Sam Harris and C. Hitchens just to name a few. I was totally engrossed and amazed too at what is not discussed in church. I now see religion (almost all of the brands) as a brake on human advancement at best and quite possibly the catalyst for civilizations’ destruction at worst. I guess you could say I am in the Sam Harris camp there. I do agree, however, with your summation that bridges need to be built.

Here’s a little on me. My mother grew up in Nazi Germany and brought me up to fully appreciate the meaning of our Constitution and what true freedom and democratic principles represent. Much to my mothers chagrin (something I didn’t fully understand at the time) I joined the Marine Corps after high school and served for eight yrs. Believing that we were the “good guys”, bringing peace and freedom where ever we went I served proudly. Time and a better understanding of history have taught me that that is not always the case.

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