Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Not Giving a Fig!

Me not giving a fig.

This year I stopped blogging about religion almost entirely. Well, for the most part anyway. I just ceased having any interest in it. 

The debates are worn out. The theistic arguments still lack any convincing or falsifiable evidence. The history is too well known to be ignorant of, especially with the existence of things like books and the Internet. Besides, all the debates sans Hitchens just aren't as fun to watch anymore. 

Religion is pretty much done for, if you ask me. Atheism is on the rise, and although there is a political area of interest here, beyond fighting the privileged religious classes so that others might be allowed the same privileges, it's just a stupid battle against self-entitled idiots as far as I'm concerned. Oops, there I go being negative again. Enough of that.

Now I try to blog more about my perspective as a Freethinking, Atheist, Humanist, Critical Thinker, and Skeptic. I'm not good at any of these things, apart from my excelling at not believing in things, but you know how it is. Always a work in progress.

Don't get me wrong, I think religion is fascinating. The history. The theology. You know... all the stuff believers tend not to know anything about. At least, the majority of them I have talked to just don't seem interested in the richness of their own religion's past and development.

In the past five years I have only met two believers who knew anything about history, theology, literature, philosophy, and science. Only two. My good friend John Jay is one of them. The other guy was just some random fellow I met on the Interwebs.

The rest have turned out to be what you might call "cultural Christians," "cultural Muslims," and "cultural Whatevers." 

They acquired their religion.  They were raised religious or came out of religious families and switched over to other similar religious beliefs systems. And that's pretty much that. 

But writing polemics and rhetorical rebuttals to the often highly inane philosophies of just a few zealots and dimwits began to grate. I even stopped visiting other atheist blogs for the same reason. It was all negativity and religion bashing. And although I think it's healthy to get it out of your system, I don't understand those that continue to do so with a religious like fanaticism for years after their deconversion.

It's time to move on, I say. Let bygons be bygons. 

Spell out your grievances  make your amends (wherever possible), and dust your hands clean and be rid of it.

It's precisely because I wanted to break free of that ever bothersome pessimistic mind-set of the religious-whiplash which all of us apostates inevitably are stricken with, I have tried (to the best of my ability) to write more positive, constructive, pieces. Essays which might help others begin their own journey of post-theistic freedom and discovery.

Now I'm just waiting around for the Internet to kill off religious superstition for good. I don't think religion will die out anytime soon. But I do think that the Internet will make it extremely difficult for people to nurture unhealthy delusions. Which is always a good thing.

Now when faced with a religious argument, I just throw GOOGLE at people. Granted, that's not a discussion, not really, but you know what? Here I go again ... not giving a fig.

Sometimes it's just nice to simply say "To hell with you," and go your separate ways.

So to hell with God and religion.

Forget them.

They're relics of the past which serve no relevant purpose to our present lives and don't add anything meaningful to our existence. I know, that sounds pretty harsh, almost like a criticism. It's not. 

What I am saying is, you can take from religion what you need (and most people do) and leave the rest. No problem. What my experience has taught me is that you can find meaning and purpose enough without it too. My experience has shown me that religion is holy unnecessary to live a good, rewarding, and meaningful life.

So instead of dwelling on the past, and nagging all the time about how indecent and damaging religion has been, perhaps it's better to learn from it and move on. 

Let's work toward making a better and brighter future for our children. That's the legacy I want to leave behind.

So say we all.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

How Do Atheists Cope with Grief? Part 2: Dealing with Depression

Bruce Gerencser asked a rather interesting question over on his blog The Way Forward.

"For those of you who are secularists (atheists, agnostics, humanists, non-religious) , how do you handle tragedy and grief? What have you found to be helpful? Not helpful?"

Part 2: Dealing with Depression

I have a lot of experience with depression. More than I'd like.

And it's not because I suffer from depression. I am lucky enough to have escaped the 'depression gene', if there is such a thing.

My mother, on the other hand, was not so lucky.

I grew up in a broken family. My parents divorced when I was five. My mom entered a deep depression which she wouldn't fully recover from. 

She's stable now, but highly medicated, and although her meds work to stop her depression they also make her emotionally unresponsive, slower to think, and she always seems to be in a confused state. 

I don't know if that's a fair trade off or not, but I'm glad she's still around. Because a few years ago, she tried to kill herself.

It was back in 2005 and I was finishing my last year of college. One day I am walking home and a car pulls up and my younger brother jumps out.

Now if you knew my brother you'd know that he hates to drive. A car accident when he was a teenager traumatized him. He drives now, sure, but he hates it. At that time he alway tried to avoid driving if possible. But here he was, jumping out of the driver's side of the car.

"Get in," he said. "We have to get mom."

"What?" I asked. "Where's mom? What's going on?"

"She's been arrested for self endangerment and is now being shipped to the ***redacted*** mental institution. Either they will take her or we can, but she has to be there by six tonight."

"Mental institution? What's going on?"

With tears in his eyes, my brother informed, "She tried to kill herself."

I'll spare you all the details. Mainly because it's not my story to tell. But it's something I've dealt with my whole life. Caring for a mother who is depressed. Or, rather, failing to do so.

The good news is that I no longer resent my mother for closing down and going in and out of 'misery comas' as one of my friends once called it. There were just days that my mother was so depressed that she wouldn't even call in sick to work. She'd just sleep.

I remember two times I called her work for her.

It always felt strange. Because parents always called their kid's school when the child got sick, but I hadn't ever heard of the child calling the work for the parent. Maybe some do. I hadn't heard of any that had.

So I was left to make mac-and-cheese for my brother and I on those dark days where are mom would disappear into her room, close all the blinds, and vanish away beneath a pile of covers.

Then there was the crying. The please for death to take her. Bouts of hysteria, wailing, and screaming. Followed by more screaming.

This is about the time I began spending more time at my friend's houses than my own. My brother, who was a homebody, retreated to the downstairs living room and lost himself in video games.

It's all we knew to do.

I feel bad now, knowing that I could have done more to help, but at the time I simply didn't know what to do. I wasn't equipped to handle having to take care of an adult.

But being a single mother of two isn't easy. The bad days are bad. The real bad days are practically unbearable. And my mother, she dealt with that the best she could on top of depression.

That makes her strong like no other, in my eyes.

But depression, it has a way of seeping into your bones, it eats away at you like a cancer, and weakens your spirit day by day. What's worse, if you have a genetic disease like my mother's, there is no way to escape the specter. It haunts you daily.

And then a day comes when it's just too much to bare.

My brother and I drove my mom to the mental health hospital in a nearby town. It was a four hour drive. But we got her there, and for several weeks they worked with her doing counseling and medication based therapy.

When they released her, they released her as "balanced." Not stable, mind you, but "balanced." I still don't know what that even means. But I guess because she cannot be cured of her depression she's destined to be forever bouncing from stable to unstable, like a sea-saw or teetter-totter. At least she's balanced though.

It's a hard knock life. Harder for some than others.

How I coped with her depression then was to run away from it. It worked for me. It didn't work for her.

Now I see that wasn't perhaps the best choice. If I would have stuck around, been there more, well, maybe I could have stopped her from attempting to kill herself.

I think of all those who suffer from depression and are alone. I mean, truly alone. Who will be there to stop them when that fateful day comes when all the world becomes too much to bare?

How do we cope?

With love. Being there for the other person. It's simple really.

No need for prayers to God. My mother is still a believing Christian, but if there is one prayer that God has consistently ignored, it's her prayer to be free of the darkness that descends upon her and seeks to ruin her from the inside out.

Answering the Question: How I Deal with Depression

So, as an atheist, I now realize that WE need to step up. 

We need to be there for each other. 

We need to open our arms and lovingly take in our brothers and sisters, our fellow humans, and be with them in their time of need.

How I have coped with depression over the years may not be the best advice I have ever given. But it's what I know. Granted, everyone's situation is different, so all considered, please bare with me.

Some are like my mother, always battling the dark demons that perpetually haunt them. Others, like myself, rarely ever get depressed.

Although suicide has never crossed my mind, personally, I still have had one serious run in with depression.

About a year ago I experienced my first real bout of depression. Although, at first, I was unaware of what was happening to me.

All I knew at the time was that I was fatigued,  I had begun a horribly strenuous new job, I had no money, I couldn't take any sick days off for a year, and I had a two year old to take care of. On top of this we had fallen into debt. What's worse, I had nobody to talk to. And so, I fell into a perpetual bout of serious boredom.  

For whatever reason, everything seemed boring to me, and for two long weeks I was so bored by everything that I was downright sick of everything and everyone.

I felt like a zombie, walking sluggishly through a murky sea of mediocrity and blandness. Whenever I tried to cheer myself up by watching my favorite comedy or going for a jog, I'd give up after just a few minutes. 

I just had no interest. No drive. Everything was so blah.

Then somebody suggested to me that I might be severely depressed and that I needed to find somebody to talk to.

At first I tried talking with my wife. But every-time I tried to talk to her about it our conversation degraded into a serious discussion about our finance woes. The stress only worsened my condition. So talking to my wife was out of the question.

Because we had recently moved to a new city, I didn't know anyone yet, and had no friends to confide in. I had nobody to talk to.

But the Fates favored me, for at my lowest, I received a phone call about a part time gig working on a tropical island doing a multicultural summer camp for children.

Since we desperately needed the money, I took the gig. 

It was five days of hiking, barbecuing,  playing with kids, and getting to meet new faces. 

The counselors all bunked together. Men in one cabin. Women in the other. We stayed up all night talking. We shared. We griped. We laughed. We sang a few songs. We had a grand ole time.

It was great therapy for me. It was exactly what I needed.

On top of this, the physical exerciser of hiking nearly from sun up to sun down, up and down a mountain, across treacherous terrain whilst having to keep a gaggle of school kids together, was some of the best exercise of my life. 

It did me good.

I came back from that summer camp more refreshed than ever.

So now, whenever I get down in the dumps, I go for long walks. Real long. I'm talking pack up my iPod, put on the headphones, and come back at night when the final track has played.

It really helps to clear my mind. And thanks to the summer camp, I now have friends I can talk to if need be.

I know, I know, this anecdote boils down to having people to talk to, taking walks, and getting a bit of fresh air.

Still, it works better than prayer. As an atheist, I guarantee it.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Art of How to Pick a Fight: And Win!

The Art of How to Pick a Fight: And Win!

I often will post my blog articles on Reddit to increase my blog stats. Hehehehe. I'm sort of a blog whore. I like big numbers, for no reason.

But also I like to argue with the idiots. Like that one time I posted an anti-gun rant on the gun page. Classic me!

Granted, I only pick fights with the ones who directly insult me.

I won't pick fights with those who disagree. Those who simply disagree are within their right to do so. These people want a conversation, so I let them talk.

On the other hand, if some wise guy or smart-ass tries to start something, by calling me names and belittling me for no other reason than they disagree, and can't seem to do so cordially because they are vile soulless individuals without a conscience, which surprisingly far too many are (at least online), then I like to think of the MEANEST possible thing to say to them and then say it.

Oh, I'm such a hoot! lol lol LOL

It may not be moral, or even healthy behavior, but it sure is fun!

Heck, someone today called me a disgrace of an ex-pat for SIMPLY living in Japan.

Oh, ouch! I'm soooo multicultural... what an insult. Stupid fucking idiot.

Then he told me I am no good because I don't spend my time helping the Japanese regain the freedoms they had lost.

Not knowing what the hell this idiot was talking about, and clearly it wasn't important since he didn't try to make any clear or level-headed point, I told him to do everybody a favor and take his gun he's so in love with and shove it up his... well you get the point.

If people want to play insult games... I crown myself King. Just like in checkers. Because I'm a baddass man, haven't you heard?

Also because I simply don't care. Not if they don't.

I mean, if you cannot care about others enough to even be civil, then to hell with you, I ain't gonna be civil... to YOU. If you're going to act like an idiot then I'm gonna have fun with that at your expense.

But don't feel bad, you made yourself the butt of the joke. Congratulations! You're laughable.

Hell, the worse that could happen is you feel so bad you go out and sign up for an evening course at your community college to learn how to stop being such a dunce.

Luckily, none of you here are in danger of my cold-hearted yet extremely likable wrath. I know you're thanking God right about now, but don't. I don't like the competition.

But, hey, I'm a good guy. No, really, I am. Those that know me seem to agree (regardless of whether or not they're not being forced to--that says something, doesn't it?). 

So if you know any idiots, send them my way. I'll clobber them with WORDS.

Cuz you know what?

Maybe then they will wish they were a little bit smarter. 

But, you know, probably not.

Since, well, the cold hard fact is, nobody as smart as me. Not nobody not no how! You know this. I know you know. How? It's a law of physics. It would be entirely IMPOSSIBLE to be as awesome and intelligent and good looking as me.


So the moral of the story is, if you want to pick a fight and win, then that's simple, just be me. Then you'll be so awesome you'll always win, no matter what. 

I know what you're thinking, that's impossible too! Not if you were me. But for those who can't be me, just try to be like me, and that's a step in the right direction.

Good luck! 

The Gun Problem in America: Further Reflections

'Merica! Sometimes you make me so proud I could just cry.

A Reflection on the Gun Problem (Because it's not a rant except that it kinda is) 

WARNING: This Article is LONG. Like Moby Dick long. However long a Moby's Dick may be. Badda-bing! Consider yourself warned.

"Why would anyone in their right mind want to own a gun?"

A question I got asked by one of my elementary school teachers the other day. She's Japanese.

[I live and work in Japan, but I am a tax paying citizen of the United States, and so I care about such things related to America, because I care about America.]

"They want a gun for self defense," I responded.

"Why would they need a gun to protect themselves?"
"Because other people have guns." 

"That's why we don't have guns in Japan," she said.

I actually had to laugh to myself, because she's exactly right. The only reason anyone would need a gun is if another person had a gun and intended them harm. 

Yeah, yeah, I know... people will kill you with knives, bats, and cars too. Nothing new here. But these things cannot kill dozens of people at once, like a gun can, and the carnage is rather disproportionate to the act of using such a tool. 

What I would like to point out, however, is that you can run away from these things. A bullet is a lot harder to outrun. Just saying. 

So I think the comparison here is probably more between those who kill rather than the type of item they choose to kill with. In which case "guns" is just a sub-topic for discussion. 

Different Situations Call for Different Measures: But There are Still Good Ways and Bad Ways of Doing Things

Japan still has skeet shooting and shooting for sport, but these guns remain in a secured locker at the shooting range or sports club AT ALL TIMES. 

It is illegal to remove the gun from the premises. So 'gun enthusiasts' in Japan who have guns have them in lockers (and they are locked up tighter than Fort Knox! Which is a good thing I'll think you'll find).

In Japan they RARELY ever have a problem or incident regarding self-defense matters that would ever need to be resolved with a gun--even as their population density is far greater per capita than any other modernized nation (this matters).

Japan also does a good job at keeping their crime rates down. Americans are more violent in general, and statistically speaking, and there is behavioral data to support this. I don't know what that means for sure, but I am pretty certain that putting the guns into the hands of an already violent people is probably not a good idea.

Most matters/disputes/conflicts can be resolved without guns. It's called conflict resolution, people. It works, which is why there are people who specialize in it. 

Even dangerous or violent incidents can typically be resolved without the need for guns. I know this because we no longer live in the Wild Wild West, even though some like to think so.

I am not denying certain situations require the use of a gun, or even deadly force, but what I am saying is that you probably will never even witness such a situation, at least not outside of an active war zone, let alone be caught up in one

Lots of Excuses to Own Guns But Very Few Worthy Reasons to 

The person who states that it is the crazies (bad guys) who are hell bent on killing you with a baseball bat or a knife are the reason to have a gun on your person simply over estimated their chances of getting into a situation where a wild-eyed lunatic wielding a knife or a bat is breaking into their home to do them harm or kill them. 

Even if this rare occurance should come to pass, usually you can avoid getting killed by... you know... running away. 

There is some kind of macho hold your ground don't be a coward attitude that makes me uncomfortable about those who insist they need a gun to hold their own. 

Run away! Why even risk the chance of injury or death?

Now there is no guarantee that you'll always be able to get away. But then again, the odds of getting caught in such a situation, a dangerous no escape situation, are even LESS than getting caught in a general self-defense situation. 

So being prepared to run away is clearly more rational than going out and buying gun so one can feel "prepared" to defend oneself against... what? The government? Such arguments amount to little more than white noise in my mind, the noise of black helicopters perhaps, but still not a good enough reason to own guns, sorry to say. 

But I understand, every situation is different, so that's why I want to learn about the reasons why a person feels they need to own a gun. We need to start adjudicating the reasons, if you will, and begin to ask gun owners to justify their reasons for having guns. 

A Frightening Catch-22

I believe in the right of self preservation. Self defense is a technique to aid in self preservation.  But NOT owning a gun doesn't mean you won't be unable to properly defend yourself, unless that person happens to have a gun. Then that's a problem. Because the only way to defend against a gun is to have another gun. 

This is the catch-22 of having guns. You see why that's a problem, right?

This is the fight fire with fire type of thinking which I find dangerous, because it only adds to the fire, and creates a greater chance of getting burned.

Besides this, pulling out a gun in an emotionally charged situation, on top of a dangerous one, only adds fuel to the flame and escalates the risk factor that someone will likely use their gun. Our mental states can easily be changed, especially in intense, dangerous, or emotionally charged situations. "Emotionally responsible" doesn't mean much when your emotions are compromised.

There are a lot of responsible drivers out there too, I know, because I am one, but also a lot of road rage. Nobody is impervious. We all have our good days and our bad days. We all experience these things. So let's not equate "responsibility" of gun ownership with an unyielding bill of mental health and level-headedness. This just a fantasy to make the excuse of owning a gun for no valid reason sound more credible.

But the question remains: How do we avoid the Catch-22?We could avoid this by going the way of the Bat. Yes, I am making a Batman reference. He doesn't use guns because his parents were killed by them. Gun proponents will never understand Batman for that reason, and I feel sorry for them.

Breaking News! Gun Rights are NOT Universal Rights

I hate to break it to the gun rights people, but the "right" to own a gun is only a U.S. law. That is, you're "right" to own a gun is a lot like your "right" to drive on the 'right side' of the road. It's a legal right enforced by the law, at least in the U.S. where people tend to drive on the right and have guns. 

In other countries though, those same "rights" don't count for much because the laws are different.

Move to Sweden or Japan, for example, and the right to own a gun does not exist. The right to own a gadget, or a gizmo, or a tool simply isn't a universal right in the same way my right to living a life without the threat of violence or death is a universal right.

But we already knew that different cultures are... well... different.

It's not about them having more or less legal rights either. 

It's about reasons for why we think we need guns, or the reasons for really needing guns, for that matter. That's the issue at the core here.

So although stating your legal right to bare arms is protected under U.S. law, and it is, that isn't the same thing as saying you have an 'innate' right to own a gun. I'm sorry, but you don't, for the very simple fact that universal rights and legal rights are not always mutual.

On Owning A Gun: 
What's the Reason? I wanna know.

It's clear that the answer to the gun problem is
not more guns. Asking for more guns to fix the gun problem is like asking for more AIDS to fix your HIV problem. It's so obviously not part of the cure. It hurts my head anytime anybody mentions it.

My father owns a gun, because he used to be a criminal attorney, and still gets death threats now and again, by real criminals.  Not just random crazies, mind you, but people who are goolish thugs and all around bad eggs.

I can understand why this type of person would want to keep a gun in their home. And he does. I get it. I do.

But you see, he has a valid REASON for owning a gun. Not everybody does.

If a person has a valid reason to own a gun, such as getting death threats, and fearing for their life, living in a dangerous neighborhood with lots of break-ins and theft, or being the victims of abuse (i.e., rape), or being a public target (such as law enforcement, criminal lawyers, or political figureheads) then I totally think they ought to be allowed a gun if the need be.

Other valid reasons for having a gun that I was made aware of include: For example, being an avid wilderness hiker/camper and needing it for protection from the angry critters of the wild, seems to be a valid argument. I would think that because it deals with a situation of imminent potential danger, a gun would be a good way to address such a situation and the potential danger/level of threat the hiker/camper may encounter.

Conclusion: Let's Look at the Reasons 

For the average citizen, like myself, I don't intend on owning a gun anytime soon, for sport or otherwise. Why? There's simply no need to own one. I hope it stays that way. 

So when I hear talk about "responsible gun owners" my first thought is to ask, like the teacher at my school did, "Why would anyone--particularly this person--want to own a gun?"

What is the reason?

Is the reason good or bad?

If they are just some random person that wants to have a gun for now good reason, however, then I have to seriously question their motives--and no matter how responsible they may be.

In the end, for me, it really depends on whether the REASON for owning a gun is justifiable

That's what I am talking about here. I want you to have your guns... if your reasons are justifiable. If not, then you're just a person with too many guns, in my opinion.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How Do Atheists Cope with Grief? Part 1: On Death

Bruce Gerencser asked a rather interesting question over on his blog The Way Forward.

"For those of you who are secularists (atheists, agnostics, humanists, non-religious) , how do you handle tragedy and grief? What have you found to be helpful? Not helpful?"

Part 1: On Death
Since my own atheism, I have only had one relative die. My wife's grandfather. 

The difference this time around was that I was able to watch the funeral and customs (he was Shinto) as an anthropologist and a sociologist. It was educational for me.

My daughter, who just turned three, wanted to know where her great Granpa went. We took her to the casket and showed her the dead body.

She became obsessed with seeing it. She wanted to see his body again and a again.

So we got back in line 6 more times.

"Where did he go?" she asked me.

This implied that, even at three years old, she recognize that the "soul" or the mind was gone.

"No," I said. 

She then asked me, "Well, where is he now?"

I replied, pointing at her heart, "He's in here." Then pointing at her head, "And in here. In our memories."

Earlier that week, and the week before, we found a dead bird in the driveway and a dead rat in the park. At the end of the week the ants were eating both of the dead animals and carrying them away bit by bit.

"Will great grandpa come back?"

Mind you, we're still standing over his body, so she is making the connection that he's not here any longer.

"No, honey. He's dead. Just like the little bird we found. And the silly ole rat."

"The ants ate them!" she said with a big smile.

"Yes, yes they did." I chuckled. 

"Will the ants eat Great Grandpa too?"

"No, hon. We're gonna cremate great grandpa."

We went to the cremation service after that and she got to put his bones/ashes into the urn. 

So just by being honest, and going through the entire process with her, she knows that death means you go away.

The way I see it, it is easier to deal with death when you don't romanticize it, when you don't create the false hope of an afterlife, and entertain the lie.

That's why I wanted to be completely honest with my daughter.

I wanted her to know the reality of the situation. Everything else is conjecture. And it doesn't help. Sure, believing your deceased loved ones are enjoying eternal bliss might make you happier in the short term, but ultimately, it sets you up for an even bigger disappointment. That's the nature of false hope. 

I'm not going to lie to my daughter. I want her to be equipped to handle the world as it is, not as we'd like it to be. This in itself gives me solace. Because it is about coming to terms with our place in life, and not wishing things were different so badly that it is easier to delude oneself with fancies of the imagination instead of coping with reality. Religion is an unhealthy way of coping with grief.

Letting go is easier when you don't cling to the fairy tale ending.  

Monday, January 14, 2013

Biblical Studies, Confirmation Bias, and the Quest for the Historical Jesus

A confirmation bias is when you agree with something because it appears to support your already preconceived conclusions (conclusions you made before testing the claim and thereby verifying the conclusion).

One of the best examples of confirmation bias comes in the form of religiously reinforced beliefs. The believer will often times selectively choose to use the information they have collected in a way which only confirms their beliefs.

You might have heard anecdotal stories about a sick patient thanking God, rather than their doctor, for their expedient recovery. They are ignoring all the medical science, medicine, technology, and hard work of dedicated and well trained professionals simply to thank God for their miraculous healing. This is a form of confirmation bias. They are selectively choosing what comports to their beliefs, and that which doesn't is deemed unimportant, which is why so many devoutly religious forget to properly thank their doctors.

Another type of confirmation bias can be readily found, sometimes to shocking degrees, in the area of Christian and Biblical studies. 

It has always amused me that the majority of nearly all Christian scholars that profess a belief in the truth of the historicity of Jesus Christ all happen to be card-carrying members of Christianity. As convenient as it may be, it has also led Christian and Biblical studies to become overridden with fallacies tainted both by theological assumptions as well as confirmation biases galore.

The evidence most Christian scholars swear supports the historical truth of Christianity is spotty at best. I am mainly talking about the claim that Jesus was born of a virgin, died on the cross, and was resurrected. This is the backbone of Christian history, for if these claims were not historical, then Christianity would be rendered false. It is no wonder then, that there has been more time and energy spent trying to safeguard Jesus Christ from disproof than any other figure in history.

Historians from other fields often look at this mess and shake their heads in the realisation that Biblical studies has never been more than a form of strained Christian apologetics.

For example, an archaeologist might discover the remains of a few buildings from the first century near the assumed location of Nazareth, and then suddenly, from the Christian community of scholars, there is a claim that Nazareth actually existed! 

Therefore Jesus' town did exist in the day he lived. But the historians selectively choose one specific discovery to hang all their precious hopes, and then imaginatively reconstruct a whole city around what may have been one farm house, and then this mino of barely anything to write home about turns into a whopping whale which nobody can ignore. Suddenly, finding just the foundation of a house that possibly resided in the area of Nazareth becomes evidence that what the Bible says about Jesus having been from there is the undeniable truth.

This is a confirmation bias specifically because such scholars are ignoring all the evidence which shows the contrary, that there wasn't any Nazareth during Jesus time, is actually much more likely to be the case. 

Rene Salm, for example, has collected all the archaeological and historical data on Nazareth he could find, and his conclusion is that there was no such place during the time of Jesus. I've looked at the data, and I agree. A little after Jesus' time, however, a town emerged that would go on to become the Nazareth of the Gospels. But the historical Jesus (should he have existed) was not from any such place.

This has led the historian Robert M. Price to theorize that Jesus was a Nazorean, because Naorene and Nazorean are two terms that are easily confused. This is a valid theory, because if there was no Nazareth, then why would we even make that mistake to begin with? Price's theory attempts to explain away two problems, while those who persist in the belief that Jesus was from Nazareth are simply working overly hard to ignore the two problems.

Knowing about confirmation bias then, is it so strange that mainstream Bible scholars call Price a quack while affirming the contention that Nazareth existed regardless of what the evidence should say?

Who is trying to be the more objective historian here?

The more objective Christian scholars say something more like this: we cannot know if Jesus existed or not. There's not enough information to piece together any trustworthy model of his person. We remain agnostic on that question.

That's what honest Christian and Biblical scholars say. What is it that the majority of Christian and Biblical scholars say? It's certainly not that!

For three decades before the supposed Son of God was born of a virgin (who probably wasn't even a virgin thanks to a better translations of the text which render it 'young woman') we have a very detailed account of Queen Cleopatra's suicide. 

We have so many extemporaneous details about Cleopatra's high profile exit from this mortal coil that it is practically shocking that we have absolutely NO extemporaneous writings about Jesus, the supposed Son of God, the redeemer of all--a guy who is said to have died and come back to life. We've got nothing.

What? The son of God wasn't worth writing about?

Well, the Christian historian plays the role of the apologist by making rationalizations to account for why we have no mention of Jesus Christ outside of the Bible. They strain credulity by citing sources like Josephus' Antiquities which has mention of a Christus, but which many historians believe to be an interpolation. But they cite it none-the-less.

This is the problem of Confirmation bias cropping up again. An otherwise level headed historian would log that evidence as anecdotal.  Interesting, sure, but until the interpolation business can be cleared up, it's simply not admissible as evidence. 

To make matters worse, an alternative translation of Josephus lacks that exact inscription altogether, so it really raises more questions than it answers. And when one is attempting to reconstruct history, one is trying to illuminate possibilities and make the best inference to the best representation of what most likely happened in history.

This is not what scholars of Christianity are doing when they weight their models with precisely selected pieces of evidence. It makes me wonder, do Christian and Biblical scholars understand that part of the reason they are so certain that Jesus existed is because they have spent hundreds of years making it look that way?

This problem also happens to be the reason why the mythic view needs to be taken seriously. If you weed out all the Confirmation bias from classical Christian studies, history, and archaeology, and Bible scholarship then all one is left with is very little in the way of anything which could support the claim that Jesus of Nazareth, a man from a town which is known not to have existed, is anything remotely close to an accurate portrayal of past events.

Historians, after settling upon the best representation of history, then go about trying to poke holes in that theory. It's called peer review. I find it highly suspect that after several thousand years of diligent research, most of it focused on the existence of Jesus Christ, we still aren't any closer to finding out if he was a real person or not.

It seems to me this is rather telling. Being so focused on this man, yet having nothing to say he existed, seems to suggest the mythicist view might be correct. Correct in the view that Jesus existed, not as a real man, but as a literary or mythical figure. 

If there was a real man, then the best we can say, as honest historians, is that we know nothing of him.

What about the Gospels, one might ask? You mean those collections of stories which have been mistaken for history? Sure, they're evidence that there was a man named Jesus Christ that many people told stories about. That's all they're evidence for. And that's why so many Christians had pinned their hopes on Christian and Biblical studies. They were wishing, praying, for anything that would support their religious beliefs.

That definitive evidence is still lacking.

What this suggests to me is that the quest for uncovering the historical Jesus is mainly a waste of time. We've collected as much data as we are likely to get on this one person. No other person in history has garnered so much interest, or had so much attention paid to them, and still have left us completely in the dark as to their existence. It seems that the search for anything substantial will continue to go on endlessly, because if the thousands of years of searching up to this point are any indicator, there is likely nothing substantial to find. Therefore, the question is forced to remain open by a firmly built wedge fully dependent on Confirmation bias.

Hector Avalos has observed that we have truly come to an end of Biblical studies for similar reasons. I do not think he is wrong. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Years Resolution and Why I Hate Slut Shaming

This is a woman I respect and admire greatly. She's my friend. And yes, she just happens to be an ex-porn star. But that's not all she is. She's much, much more. She's a real human being with real feelings, dreams and aspirations, and she's true to herself. So you will respect that fact, and you will respect her, or I will shut you down.

My New Year's resolution is simply to become a bigger smart-ass.

I know what you're all thinking. Why on earth would he choose that as his resolution?

Those who know me know that I am extremely nice. However, my online persona makes me out to be more "argumentative" and "challenging" than I actually am in real life.


Probably because I try to argue for clear reasoning, better knowledge, as well as better critical thinking skills.

I view stupidity as an injustice. As you can imagine the Interwebs are filled with hordes of unthinking mindless, zombie-like, people who simply refuse to turn on their thinking caps. So I often try to right all the injustices. Hey bro, I've got tiger blood.

Sadly, this argumentative streak often gets me into trouble. It also makes me come off as some kind of bad guy.

I often get the whole "You think you're better than everybody else?" speech from people I've corrected.

But that's not the case. I don't think I'm better than everyone, just stupid people.

The question becomes, why would I care so much if people thought critically or not? Why should the way in which others go about thinking bother me in the slightest? 

Because uncritical thinking means you are accepting bad or poor information as correct. It means you aren't checking your facts. It means, that if you share this bad information, you are misinforming others. Which means you and others are formulating the wrong opinions and jumping to conclusions that are, most likely, false.

And the dissemination of false or misleading information is damaging.

It can be hurtful.

And the next thing you know, you're getting emails asking why you cheated on your spouse with a porn-star.

I kid you not. I received one such email last year.

It's things like this that are the reason why I want people to THINK before they speak, or just plain ole think, for that matter.

The Background Details Matter
I have a good woman friend who just happens to be an ex-porn-star. She's retired now, but she still does nude modeling and she is extremely active on Facebook, often challenging the status quo by posting risque pics of herself.

But because I enjoy her personality, her friendship, and support her choice as an self actualized woman--with the right to express herself as a sexual person however she chooses--I will defend her choice to do so.

This is not just some case of a casual Facebook fan-boy, mind you. She's a person I've talked with. I know that she's not just some promiscuous woman. She's a real person with real dreams and aspirations. Right now she's getting a law degree. She works as a paralegal at a prestigious law firm  she's passionate, energetic, and she's smart as a whip.

When you see her provocative images, you don't know any of this, which only goes to show if you're first gut reaction is to be disgusted by her over-exposed beauty, and jump to conclusions that she's some ditzy self-defacing slut who sold herself out because she couldn't hold down a real job, well, you couldn't be more wrong.

Your assumptions aren't just wrong, they are damaging. It's one of the reasons I despise "slut shamers" so much. Whenever a person calls a sexual woman a slut, the accuser is the ONE who is forcing the stereotype onto the accused.

If you've ever called someone a slut, for whatever reason, then you're saying that's what they are in your eyes. YOU ARE THE ONE turning them into the sexual object--and not allowing them to be anything more than that--you are the one forcing them to the hurtful stereotype.

Calling a woman, any woman, a slut is the same as calling a homosexual a faggot or a black person a nigger. It's disrespectful, it's hurtful, and it needs to be knocked the fuck off.

Context Matters
So one day my friend leaves a rather risque photo of herself on her public page, and I leave a comment on it saying something like, "Wow! Gorgeous as always," or some such offhand remark.

I probably didn't need to state anything at all. In fact, one FB acquaintance said I was being a little insensitive for commenting on a scantily clad woman's page, because then that implied I'm thinking about this woman instead of my wife.

I consider that thinking old fashioned. I also consider it part of the problem.

It implies my friend is only there to be exploited. 
It implies that porn-stars, or rather, ex-porn-stars aren't real people, because who would ever be friends with them?

What's more, it implies my wife is stupid or ignorant, when I know she's not. Not at all. So I don't appreciate the implications, and, so, fuck you (you know who you are). 

Luckily I hang around a good bunch of intellectual and opinionated people and a friend of mine jumped in and said, hey, porn-stars are people too. Don't be a hater.

Word, bro. Word.

The Controversy
But my wife, feeling uncomfortable with the risque pictures popping up in her news-feed, openly complained to me about it on her page, stating she'd rather not see them.

This had nothing to do with my viewing such material, mind you. This had to do with OTHER people seeing such material unexpectedly pop-up on their FB news-feeds and getting upset because their child saw it--or whatever the scenario might be.

So I helped my wife, at her request, change her FB settings to stop my FB likes/views from popping up in her news-feed. You can do this without de-friending your friends by the way, so if you don't like seeing something someone keeps posting on FB, but still want to remain friends with them, just do what my wife did, ask someone who knows how to USE Facebook to help you.

My wife
 was simply worried about her friends becoming offended by age inappropriate material. I totally get that. So we fixed the problem.

Then I get a letter asking why I'm having an affair with a porn-star. Wait a minute, when did this happen? Because this was news to me.

The Misinformant
A woman--who I have grown to despise as a petty, self-centered, drama queen and gossip monger, and overall duplicitous personality but who married into the family--came onto my wife's page and told my wife, in front of all our family and friends, that she DESERVERS BETTER than to be married to a guy like me.

She literally said that. Before I could say FUCK YOU, however, my wife complimented my open-mindedness then took down the post, as not to cause any further confusion.

Apparently, in this woman's narrow minded worldview, being friends with a porn-star equates to being a "cheater." It's okay to like them (cuz I sure know her husband does). Just don't associate with them. 

But since I had the audacity to make friends with a real life porn-star, then that is grounds for her to give my wife marriage advice, advising her to divorce me for no other reason than I'm friends with a porn-star.

And to make matters worse, she spewed this idiotic opinion on my wife's FB page so all my family and friends could see, without ever allowing them the proper context to get the full story
. You see, this petty woman has me blocked, so when she posted on my wife's page I didn't know about it until my wife informed me.



I was content to let it slide. I'm not going to argue with someone who is clearly a petty, narrow-minded, jingotistical sexist, woman-hater. It would only be a waste of my time.

So Imagine my consternation when, out of the blue, I receive a concerned letter from a family member asking how on earth could I have cheated on my wife with a porn-star.

That's when I realized someone had seen that accusation before my wife had taken it down and, not having enough information, jumped to conclusions.

Setting the Record Straight
Sticking with my New Year's resolution of being a smart-ass, I just wanted to reply to this person who feels she has the right to open her cunt-face and give my wife marriage advice by informing her that her husband isn't marriage material and that I don't deserve my wife.

I'm made of rubber and you're made of glue, anything you say bounces off of me and sticks to you!

Luckily, my wife and I love each other very much.

What's more, we understand each other. We have good communication. Heck, we even understand the other person is allowed secrets and privacy--even in marriage. It's the people who think you have to share-all who end up being the most insecure.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying you should start lying to your significant other. I'm saying that not all information needs to be divulged. You know that time you had diarrhea and spoodged your pants a little, well, nobody needs to know that. Really.

The moral to take away is that honesty is good, but too much honesty is bad.

Besides, if I ever did cheat on my wife with a porn-star, you sure as hell would never find out about it on Facebook. It just wouldn't be public information. Why? Because that's none-of-anybody's goddamn business.

Lastly, before I get the religious conservatives telling me that simply looking at another woman is 'coveting her in my heart' and that watching pornography is a sin, I have this to say:

Sin isn't real, and coveting implies that I want sex with porn-stars, and the only way you could know what I wanted is if you were me, and since I know for a fact that you're not me, do yourself a favor and shut the fuck up.

Happy New Year everyone!

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist