Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Monday, April 28, 2008
At its root, it's a question of questions. Who can ask them, why they do, who/what/where to ask, and the kinds of answers you can expect.
My religious experience was bounded by a healthy respect for science. In my most religious days, I wanted to be a forensic scientist (this is WAY before CSI made it sexy). It involved the coolest bits of police work and detective work, asking questions and getting answers. Getting answers from the evidence, but also from other people. Getting answers from math, and from physics, and from experiments, as well as from interviews and other scientists. I saw no contradiction between my faith and my aspirations. Chiefly, I think, because I would be using the "how does is work" questions' results to answer the "what happened" question. There would be no big fundamental questions, only minutae and details.
I've since moved on, but the disconnect between the technical applications of science and the higher orders of thinking, and how that relates to religious belief, has become more evident over time. In fact, every time I read someone's hateful venom directed at scientists, I'm struck by the fact that the computer the attack was written on owes a great deal to science.
A few notable theologists aside (and I apologist to hardcore atheists for putting the words "notable" and "theologists" together), the greatest religious virtue is that of being unquestioning. Faith, by its very nature, makes assumptions that cannot, indeed should not, be checked. God is real. God loves you. God cares what happens to you. God will answer your questions, and will listen to your prayers. God made you.
None of this is provable, to put it simply. There is no proof. I once taught at an Islamic school (an interesting time, to say the least and to give a nod to the Taoist saying), and the children offered me proof that god was real, he should be called Allah, and the Quran is his holy book. Apparently the lines on your palm look like the numerals "90" and "9", and apparently there are 99 names for god. Therefore, he made you.
I pointed out that the lines on people's palms predate written Arabic, and that it wasn't proof. I also pointed out that religion doesn't require proof. I was summarily dismissed (about this and a great deal of other things).
And that's the difference. Religion doesn't require proof. That's supposed to be the point. It was alluded to in the movie Constantine. John Constantine says he believes. Gabriel points out that he doesn't believe, he knows, and that makes all the difference (movie's not great, but the point is sound).
The conflict we see is greater than the church (in its various incarnations) railing against the loss of authority. The problem is deeper than the ethical misuse of scienific advances. The crisis in faith is far more serious.
In the last 200 years, science has done a great deal by encouraging investigation, by searching for theses and theories, by testing them and by modifying them. The basic model is much like evolution itself, where theories are found strong enough or useful enough to survive and propagate, or they are found weak, and ill-suited to the rigours of the environment, and they either adapt or fail. It's a profoundly simple analogy (and wrong, chiefly in that it's an intellectual exercise, where natural selection prizes intellect as a survival trait, rather than an evolutionary force), but it'll do.
Religion, by its very nature, prohibits this kind of discourse, investigation, testing and evaluation, if only because the most fundamental aspects of it are NOT, most emphatically NOT subject to investigation, and that is supposed to be their strength.
And this seems to have been okay for a while. Obviously people (religious ones) were upset at the constantly expanding knowledge base that scientific enquiry was providing, but for the most part, they were content to reap the benefits (I say for the most part. There are obvious bones of contention: contraception, blood transfusions, heliocentrism, germ theory. And initial resistance has usually given way before evidence.) of scientific advances. They have been smug and content in, initially, the gaps in scientific knowledge, and now in the sort of "exclusive" domain of priests and clerics. Even scientists have made concessions to religious folk, as Stephen Jay Gould did with his "non-overlapping magesteria". And in a sense, he was right. But not in the way that he or the religious folk prefer to think of it.
Science and reason are tools in the search for truth. Empirical, verifiable, testable, repeatable, and useful truth. Religion is the guardian of Truth. Mysterious, unknowable, untestable, ineffable, and ultimately useless Truth. It's theirs, and they can have it. Science doesn't want it. You can't measure it or use it to discover anything else, so, meh. Religion's all about being certain about things you can't know for sure. A contradiction (one of many), to be sure, but not one that seems to bother the believer.
Religion's turf has been constantly receding. It's been a controlled retreat, for the most part. The funny thing is that, a few notable instances aside, as far as science is concerned, it's not a contest. It's just figuring shit out. Unfortunately for clerics, when you figure shit out on your won, you don't need an authority as much. But religion sees it as losing the war, and has opened up another front. At least in public perception in North America, they are. And in the muslim world. And this, as much as everything else I've written, is the point I was getting to.
Religion is fighting science with science. They're equipping themselves with degrees, and they're taking on "big science". They're claiming that their own religious science is just as good. We ask a question, we check the scriptures, and then we (and this is the part that I have yet to see any evidence of) run some tests. If the science is in accordance with the Holy Book, the science is good. If not, we must have made a mistake, because of the inerrancy etc., and so we do not run the test again, because what if the tests are right? That's the purpose of ID. To give a scientific veneer to dogma.
But what if the tests are right?
Another attack on "big science" is an attempt to turn science's greatest strength into a weakness in the court of public opinion. Scientists are never sure, because the next test or theory or whatever might change things. But religion is ALWAYS sure, because some old book or some old man said so.
Finally, another attack is to jealously guard religion's last bastion (and the walls are eroding), and claim that religion is good, and everything else is evil. Science is the fruit of the devil. The forbidden fruit was knowledge. Ignorance is bliss. Stem cell research makes baby Jesus cry. Atheists kill people. Darwin was a Nazi. Science is dogmatic, and ID researchers are just squirrels trying to get a nut.
The problem (for religion) is that all three tactics will eventually fail. They must fail. If they don't, people are dumber than a bowl of socks. Religion is playing a game it doesn't understand with equipment it doesn't know how to use. They're severely handicapped. First, you can't not ask a question in scintific discourse for any reason as obscure or banal as religious truth. If that were the case, there'd be no germ theory.
You also can't go from "no proof needed" to "seeking proof to verify the unverifyable" without sacrificing what's most fundamental about your beliefs. For millenia, you've said you can't know god. That reason is the enemy. That god did it. And now you're trying to use scientific language to "prove" the unprovable.
The second attack contradicts the first. They're working at cross-purposes. You deride the scientific method for it's uncertainty, and then you try to use it to prop up your fairy tale.
And finally, the last one is just stupid and deliberately obtuse. God has ceded to man in most things: the causes of sickness, the nature of the mind, the nature of the universe, the design of living things, the age of the planet, the efficacy of prayer, and almost anything else that we've tested. To say that science is evil, that it causes human suffering, is to ignore the bulk of the evidence. Sure, science has given us better ways to kill, but it's also given us better ways to communicate, to travel, to heal, and to think. Science, to put it bluntly, is kicking god's ass.
Fukuyama said that history was over (so did Marx). It was the end of Marxism, and capitalism would lead all into a bright, shiny utopia. First, he was wrong about Marxism. It's still kicking around. And the arrogance to think that anything as small as economic theory would define history is laughable.
The battle between the real and the imaginary is still being waged. The imaginary is losing. That MIGHT be the end of history, but I doubt it.
I have faith that we'll find new things to fight about.
- Baby Teeth: My daughter's teeth are coming in, and they're very cute. However, they are useless, and often inconvenient. Almost every baby gets their incisors first, followed by canines and then molars. Incisors are for cutting, canines for tearing, and molars for grinding. For a largely immobile and completely dependent organism, one that can't hunt, for instance, are incisors or canines really a priority? Shouldn't the molars come in first? I can easily provide and cook her food, and I can even cut it for her, and I suppose I could chew it for her. For hundreds of thousands of years, humans have provided their young with food, but we've only had food processors for a half century or so (unless you count slaves). Reducing food to a pulpy, easily swallowed texture would have a huge survival benefit. If her molars were in, she's be far less likely to choke. Further, any woman who has breastfed could point out another benefit to having molars come in first.
- Male Pattern Baldness: I don't miss my hair. However, what kind of designer makes men who can grow hair on virtually every part of their body except the top of the head? How is it intelligent to have testosterone, which is responsible for triggering some follicles to start, trigger the ones you've always had to stop?
- Myopia: Why are so many of us destined for corrective lenses if god made my eyes? Why did write that little gem into my recipe?
- Sex: Why is my asshole so close to my fun zone?
- Testicles: I'm actually quite fond of my testicles. They've provided me (and a few others) with hours of free entertainment, the means to grow a goatee, and a daughter. That's not my issue. My issue is with placement. What kind of a fucked up sadist puts such important and delicate machines on the outside of the body, and not INSIDE the pelvis? And why do you design them so that they will specifically not work at body temperature? And if sperm can't survive at body temperature, why do we hat to put sperm inside a woman whose temperature is likely close to ours (and elevated if you're doing it right), in order to have the little guys search for days to find a single cell?
We are clearly not intelligently designed. Until fairly recently, we were just getting by.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Michael Coren, while he does not deserve our audience, nonetheless gets it, probably because his thinking is so stridently backward, and his theories, while couched in compassion, are simply hateful.
I hesitate to give him any more blog space. I know that every time I comment, I simply direct more traffic to his column, and therefore give him more currency. But at the same time, I am compelled to draw attention to his latest vile misdirection, and comment on it. We need to know that men like this are still taken seriously. We need to know how his misrepresentations are accepted, spread and occasionally encoraged. We need to know that this bile sells newspapers, and presumably, many Canadians think like him.
We shall start with the beginning:
...It's come and it's gone. One of the most important and significant days on the
calendar. April 22.
No, not because it was Earth Day. That contrived absurdity founded by hateful Marxists, a convicted murderer and a bunch of cliched, bearded activists is irrelevant and should in fact be the one day in the year we try to pollute a little more than is absolutely necessary -- just to annoy them...
The mindless spite in the second paragraph is baffling. If he really does care for human life, to pollute more simply to annoy people who advocate sustainable development is insane. I also like that Marxists are self-evidently hateful.
...Life matters much, much more than the planet, which is merely a place on which humans live. We need to care for Earth not because of it, but because of us. Pure self-interest. If humanity did not exist, to hell with the planet. It's a means to an end. We're the end; Earth the means...
In some ways, he has a point. We need to save the planet because it's our collective ass, and it's also our fault that everything is fucked up. Since he clearly is so concerned for our collective ass, he polluted a little more on his daughter's birthday, just to make her feel special. And it's interesting to note his definition of life: human life. And, I suppose, he might even have a point there (since culturally we use virtually everything else for our own benefit, the morality of such a stance aside). But I find it astounding that he claims to value life, when later on, he will call for measures that will in fact cause the horrible deaths of billions of people, and claims that humans have dominion over the planet.
...Problem is, fashionable thinking has reversed the equation. The planet is to be saved because it is precious in itself and we, dangerous intruders, are the problem. Earth is to be revered, loved and even worshipped. Like some perverse replacement theology...It's simple minds that have reversed the process. And it's a cheap shot but I can't leave it unsaid, simple minds like his. Granted, I feel guilt for my abuses of the ecosystem. The reasons for that are twofold. First, I feel bad that other species are dying so that I can have an iPod. So that I don't have to walk to work. So that I can eat fast, greasy food that'll kill me. I also feel bad that humans are dying so I can have an iPod, drive, and get a Big Mac. Most of the people paying the cost of my lifestyle live somewhere else, so it's easy to not think about them. Mr. Coren makes this point admirably. People are already dying so that the west can have more oil, to point out the most obvious example.
But my irresponsbility has a long half-life. I fuck up the planet now, future generations pay the price. Most notably, and heartbreakingly, my daughter.
It's also an amusing misdirection to claim that ecology is now a theology. Especially since his wastefulness is justified using his own theology. Other theologies directly contradict his. Jainism, Ba' hai and Wicca, for instance. Ecology as a subset of humanism may meet that criterion, but that's using the term "religion" loosely. I want to save the world, not because of any higher calling, but for my little girl, and all the other little girls and boys.
...This is why some of the leading spokesmen for the green movement are calling for the world's population to be reduced by 75% and see every birth, particularly in the developed world, as an ecological disaster rather than a living miracle.
This view also shapes their attitude towards the relationship between human and animal. I cannot tell you how often on radio and television I have been told that babies and puppies have equal worth and that if the choice had to be made between one and the other the person would "opt for the species that has done less harm to the planet."...
Calling for population reduction is simply a good idea, and only a man blinded by theology would claim that it is not. If contraception is a sin, clearly god wants us all dead. If contraception was widespread, easily available, and not condemned by men (and almost always men) who hold silly and dangerous superstitions, then population would decline, slowly, sensibly and sustainably. It would cause some economic difficulty, but that's simply evidence that current economic models are unsustainable and will kill a good many of us. Coren is saying that we MUST increase, yea, until we cover the earth, and the ground trembles before us. Never mind the fact that the human population is already unsustainable, and that MORE people will make things worse.
Coren's logic, if he follows it through, is this. We must have more people, even if most of them die. Clearly, he actually values human life, too.
It's also interesting to note that every birth is apparently a miracle, which devalues miracles a great deal. Birth is a natural process, and if natural processes are miracles, then so is every zit or shit I've ever had.
Hallelujah! It's a floater!
As for the relationship between human and animal, we are simply very clever and very destructive animals. We are consuming, polluting and violating our planet in the way that many other animals do to their own environments. Viruses and yeast are good examples. As for shoosing a puppy over a human baby, that is sick, and anyone who would force that choice is clearly fucked. Especially if it's god.
...It was all rather inevitable. As we abandoned the capacity to think and the desire to know, we simply believed anything and everything. How ironic then, that the day after Earth Day, April 23, is Shakespeare's birthday. The same ideologues behind the public school system that has worked so hard for years to expunge classical education from our children and prevent them learning about true greats such as Shakespeare, are obsessed with promoting Earth Day and guaranteeing that if kids know nothing else, they will know how and when to reduce their carbon footprint...
Shakespeare is a victim of Earth Day. He must be spinning in his grave.
I see a correlation, maybe, but not a connection. There's also a funny little nod to Chesterton here that only regular readers of Coren's column will see. When you stop believing in god, you lose critical thinking skills, is the argument. God was a victim OF my critical thinking skills, incidentally. I decided that god was a jerk by thinking about what I was taught about god, and by observing the world. Then I decided that god can't be a jerk, ergo, no god. He has this connection backwards.
And this might be the best part:
...We have a right to use the planet, animals, plants and flowers, the sea andBecause god said so. And theists accuse nonbelievers of arrogance.
Friday, April 25, 2008
- I love the spring. Everybody takes their clothes off. I especially like it when women take their clothes off.
- I think I like Big Sugar's cover of Let it Ride more than BTO's original. And the original kicks ass. It's one of several covers that are better than the original. I'll get you a list soon. I'm composing it in my head, and should provide links. Sneak preview: Fine Young Cannibals makes the list!
- I actually read a comment on a blog at lfpress.com that suggested that religion was keeping it's nose out of the presidential election. I was amazed by the obtuseness. I stepped in with a rebuttal that won't be posted until Monday. Wait for it. It's worth the price of admission.
- This should be 3b, but I don't care enough to try. lfpress.com online editor Dan Brown will be appearing on CTS this Sunday to talk about faith in media. The idea that faith gets in media gets its own program kinda rubs me the wrong way. In the interest of impartiality, shouldn't faith stay out of the game? I'm also annoyed that cable and satellite carry this channel. Shouldn't christians have to pay for this? Why do I have to subsidize?
- Every time the Conservatives do anything, I get madder.
- And this is just awesome. It is also NSFW, so be careful.
But to be honest, I'm not sure I could read them all at once, anyway. I found myself agitated and upset while I read Delusion, and again this morning as I finished off Letter. I need to go back and read them both again, and soon, because I found emotion often clouding my perception, and certainly fogging my memory. It all seems so fucking obvious while I read it that I don't internalize it as much as I ought to, and while the reactions and ideas are cemented forever in my brain, the actual substance of the arguments and evidence are lost.
Atheism came to me after little actual conscious thought, really. I've discussed before the argument by Epicurus:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?It's quite simple really, and it's more or less the way I came to my atheism. If god does exist, he's clearly an asshole. I'd rather believe in nothing than in that kind of god. The god that everybody told me about is a merciful, just, kind and loving god. That guy doesn't exist.
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
So it's interesting to me to read the logical arguments, see the evidence, and get reassurance that what my gut told me was in fact my brain telling me that I was delusional.
It's just so fucking obvious. I can't get past the fact that people can't see that belief in god requires such nimble fallacies and denials of fact. It's the first of many things that apologists have to apologise for, and it makes me nuts that otherwise sane and sensible people believe in a just and merciful god that actually gives a shit about them, when the evidence is so obviously contrary.
Based on this false premise, their logic only gets more twisted:
- If something horrible happens to me, god is teaching me a lesson, or making me stronger.
- If something horrible happens to me, god is teaching someone else a lesson, or making them stronger.
- If something horrible happens to me, god loves me but is punishing me.
- If something horrible happens to me, god loves me but is punishing someone else.
- If something horrible happens but I am spared, god saved me.
- If something horrible happens, and I am uninvolved, it is an opportunity for me to be compassionate. Once again, god is teaching me a lesson.
- If something horrible happens when I asked god for help, I obviously don't have enough faith.
- If something horrible happens to an entire population, it must be divine retribution for something. Like a gay person choosing to live there.
- If something horrible happens, god has nothing to do with it. It must be Satan (which puts aside god's infinite grace, ability and mercy).
- If something horrible happens, it's our fault, because god gave us free will.
And these are only the mental gymnastics required to deal with the existence of pain and suffering. These contortions are non-denominational (unless you worship an actual evil deity and recognize their evil as part of the package; then there's no problem). When it comes to believing in the inerrancy of their chosen holy book, it get even more fucked than that.
I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. If you're reading this, the odds are pretty good you've already realized that faith is craziness, but accepted craziness:
Lisa: Poor Maggie. How many insanity hearings have you been to in your
short little life?
Psy. 2: Mrs. Simpson, before we begin, I just want to assure you that this is
not a trial.
[other psychologists groan]
Alright, it's a trial.
[all high five]
Psy. 1: [opens a file] Now, Marge, according to this, you recently went
berserk in a ice cream parlor.
Psy. 1: And, Marge, did you ever have an unhealthy fixation on Ringo Starr?
Marge: It was healthy; he reciprocated.
[psychologists take notes]
He reciprocated! [mumbles a prayer]
Psy. 1: Excuse me, what are you doing?
Marge: Oh, I was just praying to God that you'll find me sane.
Psy. 1: I see. And this "God", is he in this room right now?
Marge: Oh, yes. He's kind of everywhere.
[psychologists exchange disapproving looks]
Psy. 2: Marge Simpson, you give us no choice but to declare you utterly--
Marge: [rising] I'm not insane!
Psy. 2: You didn't let me finish. --insane!
Monday, April 21, 2008
So that's my partisan attack for the day. Moving on.
What I want to talk about today is this:
Be fruitful and multiply," says the book of Genesis, and Lord knows we have. To the tune of more than 300 million at home and more than 6 billion abroad. But as we go about the heavenly task of multiplying, a poignant question arises: Might our religion be killing us?
This brings up a lot of issues, and I'd really like to talk about all of them, but it's too much for one post, and I've addressed some of them before (mostly as snarky cheap shots, so they deserve more treatment), so I think I'd like to address one issue as it relates to climate change. This'll be long enough anyway.
There are a number of ways in which religion finds itself at odds with science. Examples? A heliocentric solar system, for instance. The age of the earth. Natural selection (apparently). Germ theory. Psychiatry. Blood transfusions. Life-saving medical techniques. And now, climate change. I can think of a myriad of reasons for most of the other conflicts. The Bible says one thing, and we have found something else to be true. Rabbits, for instance, don't chew their cud. Women menstuate because that's what female mammals do, not because Eve was cursed. The sun does not rise in the east, the earth is spinning that way. Homosapiens sapiens has been around for twelve thousand years or so. And Jesus lied when he said that if you ask for it, it shall be given. Benjamin Franklin had it closer to the truth when he said that god helps those who help themselves.
There are also problems when a proscriptive verse is used out of context. A blood transfusion, for instance, is not eating human blood. Same with organ transplants. The high and mighty Lot who offered his daughters to appease the mob (and was later date-raped by those same daughters) seemed to me to be more concerned about hospitality than buttsex. And since he offered up his daughter to them, there's the possibility that they'd have been raped anally, so it clearly wasn't the buttsex that was the problem. The sin of Onanism, also, has come (pun intended) to mean masturbation. Onan refused to get his sister-in-law pregnant, and pulled out, spilling his seed on the ground. Therefore, spilling your seed is the sin.
But wait a minute. Onan was breaking Hebrew law. That was his sin. When your brother died childless, you were supossed to knock up his wife so he could have an heir. Spilling his seed on the ground wasn't the problem, it was NOT spilling it in his sister-in-law. So billions of young men have felt lik shit for all of history because they were told that playing with themselves was dirty and sinful, and god would kill you for it.
But sometimes, the issue is simply one of prioritizing. I think this article is one situation where this might be the case.
There are a number of rules that god has apparently given us. Don't work on the sabbath. No other gods. Don't covet. Don't mix fibres. Don't touch the untouchables. Take care of the place. Be fruitful and multiply. Oliver "Buzz" Thomas is pointing out the fallacy in that last one.
Seriously. Six, seven thousand years ago, it might have been good advice. If you want to start a civilization, you need to farm. That means you need labour. That means you have to have babies. When the human population of the planet was numbered in the tens of thousands, babies seemed like a good idea. We had the babies, we farmed, we founded civilization, and we were able to stop focussing simply on survival, and were able to turn our overdeveloped brains to larger pursuits, like figuring out the world we were in. Eventually, we figured out how we could have control of our own reproduction. Coincidentally, we really got the hang of it about the time that there started to be too many of us. We are victims of our own success, and it's time we started behaving like adults.
Two thousand years after a guy named Jesus supposedly got nailed to a tree, we find ourselves numbering 6 billion. And counting. Our population has doubled in the last 40 years. Doubled in the 40 before that, too. And though we seem to be killing each other in record numbers (interestingly enough, usually over resources), we're fucking even faster than we're killing. So resources which are already scarce enough to warrant three trillion dollar wars are going to get even scarcer.
But we're not allowed to use birth control, because it's a sin.
As I say, this is a question of priorities. Supposedly, god said we had to have babies. He also said to take care of the place. He's going to be pissed if he comes back and sees the mess we made. It'll be like "The Cat in the Hat", but no super cleaning frenzy by the Things can get us out of this mess. Part of the problem is that Jesus said he'd be right back, but instead of calling ahead, he'd give us hints, like droughts, wars, starvation, disease and genocide. In addition to this, there's a comforting little line in Psalms 104 that indicates that god won't let us destroy the earth. (Thanks to the Jehovah's Witnesses that shared that with me on my doorstep on Sunday!) I'm sure King David was a smart guy, but I'm going to trust the International Panel on Climate Change.
So in a nutshell:
- The bible says we have to have babies.
- Not having babies is a sin. (This is also used as grounds for denying homosexuals the right to marry, so it's a twofer! As an added bonus, we'll send you grounds for denying women reproductive rights and the grounds for bombing fertility clinics at no extra charge!)
- The bible says god said he would protect the planet.
- The bible also says that god will provide for us, so resource depletion is godless, commie propaganda or something (because Jesus was a capitalist, you know).
- There's also the gospel of prosperity, which means that wealth indicates goodness.
- As a special bonus feature, all the nasty shit that results from overpopulation, resource depletion, the greenhouse effect and the over all assholery of the human race are all signs of Jesus' imminent return, so who gives a fuck?
- Making women get pregnant (or denying them the means to prevent pregnancy) also gives an added misogyny bonus, not available in stores, that makes us feel like manly men.
Religious folk'll throw up a bunch of nasty bullshit about killing babies and euthanasia, but really it's just to provide a moral smokescreen for their superstitions. They say that thinking like this means eugenics and mass murder, but it really means taking responsibility for our actions, and doing what we can to not breed until we drown in our own filth. Seriously, we're behaving like yeast in wine. They multiply until the alcohol level actually gets too high, and they drown in their own shit. We ought to be smarter than that. People who use god as an authority to deny us the ability to fuck recreationally are not smarter than yeast.
Tradition, for these people, trumps reason, compassion and responsibility. They wail about unborn fetuses, but they don't give a shit about entire populations starving. They claim that this world is beautiful evidence of god's love, but they want to eat it up and shit it out. You can't use a condom because the bible says so.
The bible does not say so. The things it does say about sexual health are destructive and hateful. There's a lot of raping. There's sexual abuse and incest. There're admonitions against adultery (admittedly, good advice), and there are rules about when you can have sex, when a woman's unclean, and how to get clean after bleeding (craziness).
Quite simply, on sex, the bible is fucked up, but overpopulation may well be the most dangerous thing it has ever led to.
If there is a god, I don't think he wants billions of people starving. If he does, he's an asshole, and he doesn't deserve to be god. Makes me want to go have protected sex just to spite him.
I don't care what the pope says. Use a condom. I don't care what you were told. Masturbating is just about the most fun you can have alone (it can be even better with company), and it's not harmful, sinful or dirty. I don't care what your mother, mother's mother or her mother did. You do not have to have babies. In fact, if you wanted to have only one or a couple, or none at all, I, for one, would thank you. It is not your duty to multiply, or to protect the unborn, or to make sure that every poor suffering bastard lives the length of his natural life. You need to be nice to people, do the best you can to make the world a better place, and to somehow, if you can manage it, to live sustainably. Breeding is not part of that plan.
This will likely convince no one, I know. The chances that my snark and stats will overcome religious indoctrination are slim. But it needs to be said. This is one case where your religion is actually and actively adversely affecting me.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
I'm really glad we're taking this step. Seriously. BPA causes prostate cancer, and I was really worried about my daughter getting prostate cancer. So this is good, because now all I have to do is go buy new baby bottles, without BPA, and she'll be just fine.
Unless we keep her food in a plastic container, or give her bottled water, or let her stick stuff into her mouth that might possibly contain BPA.
Now all we have to worry about is the pesticide and heavy metal in my wife's breast milk, the pesticides in the grass in the park, the artificial hormones in meat, the additives in her food, the literally millions of other chemicals that have been integrated into our daily lives as flame retardants, fabric softeners, air fresheners, dyes, disinfectants, preservatives, paints, stains, stain removers, electronics, car parts and deicers, as well as a trillion other things I can't think of.
Once we've got all that shit licked, it's just peak oil, mass extinctions, food shortages, climate change, new resistant diseases, old diseases that are coming back strong, corrupt governments, economic iniquity that breeds resentment and violence, resource depletion, and the recession.
But BPA is right at the top of my list.
Thanks, Canada's New Conservative Government©!
Do you hear me? He preempted the Saturday morning cartoons! Millions of kids (and me) across North America tuned in to watch Skunk Fu and Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get A Clue! and there was the pope, mumbling and looking scary.
So, I have another reason to be pissed at the pope. He's claimed the soul of my daughter (fortunately, I don't think she has one), shielded abusive priests, insults secularists and atheists like normal people have bowel movements, and now he deprived me of The Batman.
To be fair, Canadian television did not (at least I didn't see it) preempt any regularly scheduled programming to show a former HJ praying in a foreign language.
Anyway, I watched Outbreak instead, which is an astonishingly poorly written film:
Casey Schuler: I hate this bug.I can't believe this didn't win an Oscar!
Colonel Sam Daniels: Oh, come on, Casey. You have to admire its simplicity. It's one billionth our size and it's beating us.
Casey Schuler: So, what do you want to do, take it to dinner?
Colonel Sam Daniels: No.
Casey Schuler: What, then?
Colonel Sam Daniels: Kill it.
Friday, April 18, 2008
I recently read about this:
Location of Mass Graves of Residential School Children Revealed; Independent Tribunal Established
Squamish Nation Territory ("Vancouver, Canada") - At a public ceremony and press conference held today outside the colonial "Indian Affairs" building in downtown Vancouver, the Friends and Relatives of the Disappeared (FRD) released a list of twenty eight mass graves across Canada holding the remains of untold numbers of aboriginal children who died in Indian Residential Schools.
The list was distributed today to the world media and to United Nations agencies, as the first act of the newly-formed International Human Rights Tribunal into Genocide in Canada (IHRTGC), a non-governmental body established by indigenous elders.
And there it is. Concrete, tactile, physical evidence of Canada's dirty little secret in bits of bone and decomposing flesh. The skeletons in our closet, if you will. And I am pissed off.
I am pissed off because this amounts to genocide. We came to the New World, and were strangers in a strange land. We were sometimes welcomed, sometimes driven off, sometimes traded with. We brought our God, our laws, our weapons and our diseases, and we used all of them to take this new land from the people who already lived here (who didn't really own it, really, because they didn't understand the concept of real estate, so they must have been subhuman), and then plow it under and eventually pave it over. We used all means at our disposal because Europeans were greedy, selfish, self righteous assholes.
A fun little aside about residential schools. When killing the locals got to be too big a pain, and breeding them out or outbreeding them wasn't working, we stole their children, put them in schools, punished them for speaking their language, beat them to teach them obedience, raped them because we could, hid the bodies when they died, and we were doing God's work. As far as I know, none of my ancestors were involved in this bullshit, but I still feel culpable.
I am pissed off because the government did this with the church. Not with the church's blessing, but with the actual fucking church (I've got puns coming out my asshole today). This one pretty good reason why the church needs to keep its hands off the state. Because the state does ugly things, and the church is supposed to be better than that. The church's hands are hardly clean, but the active extermination of a population of people should remain the exclusive purview of the Old Testament god, and self-righteous assholes motivated by profit.
I am pissed off because I had no fucking idea that this tribunal was taking place. I realize that it has little or no actual power, but the symbolism of trying the Government of Canada and these religious institutions is powerful, moving, and newsworthy. Why the fuck hasn't this been covered? We all need to feel ashamed by this, and we can't until we know what happened. I'm aware of the limitations placed upon individual reporters and the news media in general (mostly financial), but I'd like to think that some plucky journalist would defy the odds and the powers that be and stick a finger in the eye of the establishment.
We are NOT holier than thou. We have blood on our hands. We have acted despicably in the name of god, and we have kidnapped and killed children, and said that it was in their best interests.
We are a nation of monsters. Today, I am more ashamed of my country than I have ever been.
I laughed out loud when I read this. Loving pastoral attention, if I'm not mistaken, is the problem, and I fail to see how more of the same will get anyone out of this mess.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
However, if I'm right, it'll be worse, so there's that.
I got distracted. Excuse me.
So, I can't vote, but that's okay. I have more choices up here, anyway. And there are actual differences between our political parties. For instance, we have a credible Green Party. And a substantial labour party, then our own neo-cons, and a party that only wants to get Quebec out of Canada, and other than that, they're quite reasonable. The Liberals used to be really electable because they had no core values, and looked like the party you wanted in power. Now they look like a bunch of pussies.
See? Way more interesting. It gets even better if you understand that until about five years ago, we used ot have two conservative parties, and then the mean one ate the other one (which was slightly less mean, but still mean enough to sign NAFTA).
All three major candidates are Christians in the US, and apparently Americans like it that way. Fine with me. I ran provincially here as an out atheist, and it was largely a non-issue. You can keep your bigotry, Americans. That and your supernova economy, though I bet you'll feel obliged to share that with the rest of the world. Thanks, by the way.
Some goofus named Medved says that it's very reasonable for Americans to be afraid of atheists with political power. PZ Myers points out that Medved is stupid, but I feel I have something to add.
Medved's arguments go thusly:
- Atheists would be hypocrites because the trappings of office in the US are often religious.
- Most Americans are religious, and they like to elect people like them.
Allow me to rebut.
- Hypocrisy seems to be part and parcel to politics. I shall use the Republicans as an example. (Though the Democrats, Conservatives, Liberals, NDP and the fucking Labour Party would all likely serve just as well. In North America, and in Europe, the Greens have not had the chance to be hypocrites yet, though I like to think they'd be different.) The Republicans say that big government is bad for the economy. They shrunk the government, privatised most of its services, and went to war with their private army. The economy has not responded well. In fact, for this bunch of geniuses, a smaller government costs WAY more. Republicans don't like poor people, and resent them mooching off the state. But when rich people mooch, it's cool. Republicans hate gay people. Many of them, however, like gay sex. Republicans enacted a bunch of laws called the Patriot Act to catch terrorists (the Democrats helped). As far as I can tell, the laws have been used to catch two Democrats. Some Republicans are pro-life, but don't mind killing people, so long as they're not fetuses. I can't imagine any atheist president being more hypocritical than this, especially since they can just opt out of religious stuff, or have a religious cabinet member take the hit, but feel free to offer your suggestions.
- If Americans like to elect people like them, then most presidents are lower middle class, right? Oh. How about blue collar workers? I see. How about second- or third-generation Americans? No? Then most presidents must have only a high school education, or a diploma from a trade school or community college. No. Well, to be fair, all presidents have been white, because all Americans are white. And men. Most Americans are white men, right? In fact, they aren't. Americans pick the best of a bad lot every four years. What happens is the two wings of the corporate party offer up a choice between this Christian white guy or that Christian white guy (occasionally, they offer a different kind of Christian, like a Catholic or a Quaker, but for the most part, these guys are WASPs). And to be fair, many Americans are considering a woman or a black guy for the top spot, but ideologically speaking, there's little. Bottom line: there's hatred in them thar hills, and it's no surprise. Canada's not really any better. We already had our first female PM, but we didn't elect her. No brown, black or yellow guys yet. I'd like to think that if a smart, charismatic, and electable atheist offered themselves up, they'd have a shot at it.
- And finally, terrorism. It seems to me that the thrust of this argument is that since Islamo-Nazis are crazy, we have to be a little like them, or they'll hate us even more. They have their imaginary friend, and if the POTUS says their friend is imaginary, they might do something rash. That even smells stupid. And how is it better to say, "Sure, we're trying to kill you, but we're Christians. We're just like you! Not like those dirty atheists..."
My two cents. Not even worth that, I'd wager, because I don't even get to vote.
It was called, you guessed it, "Terror Train", and it starred Jamie Lee Curtis, back in her slasher film heyday. It came ou about the same time as "Prom Night", a kickass little film in which Leslie Nielsen plays the bad guy. You don't see that every day. The movie takes place during a train ride on new year's eve, while a masquerade party is in full swing (I kept thinking of "Trading Places", though this was a lot less funny). Some loser they pulled a bad prank on years before is killing people. Though I never finished the film, I feel confident in my assessment.
Near the beginning of the film, the conducter and the engineer are talking about the conducter's side business. He sells motor homes.
The conducter is confident in his choice. There's little future in rail, he figures, and the wide open highway is a road paved with gold. The engineer is more sceptical. "With gas prices the way they are," he suggests, "you won't be able to afford that tin can." I'm misquoting. He merely points out that rising fuel costs will soon render RVs pointless, inefficient, expensive and a losing proposition. "Sooner or later, people'll return to the rails."
The conductor counters, "When was the last time you saw them build a shopping mall near railroad tracks?" (the answer is probably more than he thinks, but it's simply because the road and the tracks are often nearby).
Nearly 30 years have passed, and this shitcan little flick predicts peak oil. The conductor was right: for the next quarter century, highways were the way to prosperity and wealth. Twenty-five years, three-and-a-half wars in the Middle East, peak oil and climate change later, the engineer is right.
Sooner or later, we're going to have to return to the rails.
Less than 100 years ago, this continent was crisscrossed with railroads leading to, through or near every small, medium or large sized community. Residents of Buttfuck, Rhode Island could get on the train and visit their relatives in Whogivesashit, Saskatchewan, and see Backwater, Ontario, on the way. It took a few days, but they got there, and I don't know that they complained a whole hell of a lot.
In the century of the automobile, we stopped subsidizing rail, and built roads. We left the rails to rust, and patched the asphalt every spring. We demanded the "freedom" that an automobile gave us, and gave the finger to the community that was supported by the railroad.
In essence, we told sensibility, sustainability and our children to go fuck themselves.
Now that the train is becoming economically viable again, we have to rebuild all those fucking rail lines, and those god-forsaken highways are still pitted and shitty. And our society is structured around the road, so that there'll be pain when we try to go back to the old way.
I'm annoyed, for the usual reasons. We were short-sighted and impetuous, and the fuckers who decided that old-fashioned was square don't have to pay for their mistakes. I will, and my daughter will even more. I'm also annoyed that the cost of maintaining those rails would have been a fraction of what it will cost to rebuild them.
I'm also annoyed that some half-assed little slasher flick from 1980 was so fucking sensible, so prescient, and so wise as to see this coming. I feel like I did after watching Rambo III. Why did no one listen to these screen writers? Rails are good, and wars in Afghanistan never work out for the occupier.
How the fuck did we get to be the dominant species on the planet when we're so spectacularly stupid?
What do Conservatives want to conserve?
Seriously. It occurred to me the other day when I was fuming about something or other that "Canada's New Government" did, or the stance of "The Conservative Party of Canada" that I didn't really know the answer.
So I thought about it. They're obviously not concerned about conserving energy, or resources in general. Especially Canada's Conservatives. Canada's conservatives might be interested, but if they vote for the Conservatives, then they don't. So they're not interested in conserving a viable economy or ecology.
Are they interested in conserving traditional values? Values like misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, contempt for the poor, religious mania, senseless nationalism and other forms of bigotry? That seems closer to the truth. Many conservatives, based on rants caught on tape and revealed years later, or their back-door strategy to ban abortions, or their insistence on abstinence-only education, their resistance to mainstream biology, their wars of profit against brown people, their fanatic demonization of illegal aliens, their inability to reach out to minorities of all kinds, their constant claims that their "way of life" is under attack (which it is, and that's probably a good thing, because their way of life consisted of privelege for straight, white, Christian, rich men) and other behaviuors, that these values might be what they're mostly interested in preserving.
Are they interested in conserving money, and running a tight financial ship? Not in the States, certainly, and in Canada, Conservatives are riding the surpluses that the Liberals created to score cheap points with the electorate.
Are they interested in conserving government? Definitely not in the States, and it seems that our cons are following the lead on this one.
Are they interested in conserving the power of a ruling oligarchy? Fuck yes.
Are they interested in conserving an unsustainable economic model? Oh, fuck yeah.
Are they interested in conserving the model of a "traditional family" that has only existed for the last hundred years or so, and only in affluent societies? Is the pope a conservative in a funny hat?
Are they interested in conserving voter confidence and accountability? No fucking way.
It seems to me that conservatives are mostly interested in conserving what's worst for society at large: traditional values based on hate and fear, the power of a ruling elite, even in a democracy, and the political influence of corporations.
Conservation and conservatism are at odds. The conservatives need to change their name.
Monday, April 07, 2008
However, it just occurred to me that tit for tat could mean that a woman was offering her breast for inking.
One of the more annoying things that I hear from otherwise intelligent theists (aside from when I hear it from the stupid and credulous) is that as an atheist, I am somehow less moral than they. "How can you tell", they ask, often gasping a little, "what's right and wrong without god?"
Except that they'd capitalize god, and if they were Jewish, they'd even do something cool like G_d, or YHWH. And of course, Arabs would not only say Allah and capitalize it, but then they'd say something obsequious like : "Peace be upon him," or "Allahu ackbar". I'm certain my spelling is wrong on that second one, but I think I'm going to leave it so that any men of a certain age will be fondly reminded of the assault on the Death Star.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, forget it.
To return to the point at hand, however, let me say this. Don't be a fucking idiot!
No, I don't say that. Especially since these people who ask me this question, all wide-eyed and breathless, are friends of mine.
But, really, it's a valid point. Don't be a fucking idiot. Here's the thing. I was raised Baptist, and here's what I was taught:
- I am a sinner, and bound for hell.
- You are a sinner and bound for hell.
- Gay people are really bad, and really bound for hell.
- Gay sex is wrong.
- Swearing is wrong.
- Much of pop culture is wrong.
- The devil is always waiting for me to fuck up. The prize of my soul is a really big deal to Satan.
Conversely, god seems to have a live and let live philosophy. We're all sinners, and he killed a guy (and himself at the same time, which I never questioned too closely) so that I didn't have to go to hell if I was scared and/or smart. I got the impression that he preferred scared. So here's the deal. You are going to hell. That's all there is to it. God'll be a little sad if you do, but he's not going to interfere. He did that once already, and it went very badly. Some guy got nailed to a tree, and then some asshole started a letter campaign to start a church. So that's it. That's the offer. Apologise, and be sorry, and admit that you're evil, and you don't deserve mercy, and you'll get it.
I admit that my religious upbringing may have been a bit twisted, or I am.
Anyway, to return to the list, there's nary a moral commandment among them, except about swearing and gay sex. I don't normally have much gay sex, being straight and all, so I seem to make up for it by cussing.
There were rules of course, though only a couple seemed to be actual moral precepts: don't kill, don't steal. The rest tend to be about god or getting inside your head, which I think is a pretty good way to fuck with people.
And I was taught that no matter how bad you are, if you ask for forgiveness, you still get to go to heaven. There's a good Chick tract about a cop and a criminal, and how the criminal repents and goes to heaven, and the cop goes to hell.
So there was my moral teaching. If I'm sorry for my evil, then it's okay. In retrospect, it's kinda fucked up.
Of course there are other rules, but many of them are irrelevant: plowing with both an ox and an ass, and wearing mixed fibres. And turning the other cheek is usually not a good idea, either. Seriously, look where it got Jesus.
But there is a moral foundation that predates Jesus, and probably YHWH, and whomever else. Probably not the ancient ones that Lovecraft warned us about. But Cthulu probably wasn't big on the Golden Rule anyway:
Do unto others as you'd have done unto you.
What does it mean? Put dismissively, as it was by a theist I call a friend, "Whatever you want, that's morality?" I guess, yeah.
I don't want to be killed, so I don't kill people. I don't want to be stolen from, so I don't steal. I support freedom of speech and assembly and religion and all that other shit because I want those freedoms, too. Empathy is the basis of my morality, and god has nothing to do with it.
In fact, the god I learned about was decidedly a- or anti- or immoral. He was a bigot, a mass murderer, he supported incest and rape, war and genocide, committed genocide once or twice, killed himself, condemned everyone because two people made a mistake, engineered it so some people couldn't help but be damned, and then calls himself merciful, so he's a liar, to boot.
People kill other people because of religion. People discriminate because of religion. People hate because of religion. They steal in the name of religion, and occasionally for religion. They rape in the name of religion. They are pedophiles and back it up with religion. Apparently, morality has nothing to do with religion.
So why are people concerned that I'm amoral and evil? Because I have no god? It's a tired argument, but religion is hardly a fair indicator of a person's moral position. I, however, have an iron standard of morality. I empathise. I don't want to be judged harshly. I don't want to be abused. I don't want my loved ones to suffer. And because of empathy, I want the same for other people.
God's an asshole, and he has nothing to do with it.
If you're like me, you want to see it just because you like doing things that annoy yourself, which is a disturbing trait. However, I implore you to wait. Weeks, nay, days after this movie is in theatres, there'll be pirated shit on the 'net.
Get your blood pressure up for free. Don't support these wingnuts.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
It will be my first birthday as a father. What does that mean? One more birthday present, for one thing. It's cool, because I know it won't be Mickie getting me that DVD or CD or shirt or whatever, but it will be my wife getting it for me, and thinking of both of us, which is sweet.
I'd like to spend more time on this someday, but being a dad isn't what I thought it was going to be. It's supposed to change your priorities, and it does. I come home right away now. Almost always, because the wife needs a break, and Mickie needs to see me. Great. But I didn't change. Not at all. In fact, the hardest part of being a dad is changing into someone else. I'm trying to be (or at least pretending to be) the man that I expect a father to be. I'm still a bum. But now my bumminess can really hurt someone, like fuck up their life, and I need to be a stand up guy so her childhood doesn't suck.
Right. So this birthday, in many ways, is symbolic. I have to work on my birthday, which happens to every five out of seven people, and to every person every five out of seven years (except the first fourteen or so) I'm woefully average in that way, as far as North Americans go. If I farmed, or lived in a nation with shitty labour laws, those ratios become 7:7. I have to get up early on the morning after my birthday (slightly lower averages on that one, because people work nights and shit, but the ratios remain more or less unchanged). I am cooking my own birthday dinner (because I like to cook). There'll be nothing special about the day (except maybe sex and almost certainly presents). On the weekend, my wife and daughter will be out of town, so I take a backseat to other plans.
And that is probably the most symbolic thing about it. It doesn't bother me that I will be alone on the weekend after my birthday (partially because I can go out without guilt), because my life is now, in many ways, about the lives of others. My daughter, chiefly, but also my wife, my dog, and the rest of my family.
There's more to it, I'm sure, but I'm kinda sleepy. Someone remind me to expand and expound.