Sunday, November 9, 2014

Belief Doth Compel Thee: Why It’s Important to Be Reflective

Religious beliefs can impact people in different ways. In fact, our beliefs can influence our behavior and thinking to a startling degree. One of the things that helped me leave my religious beliefs behind was that I took a step back and looked at them as an outsider would, as someone who didn’t particularly share the same sets of beliefs as me, and who might even be critical of them.

What I learned by doing this was that many of my beliefs defied common sense, others were uncertain, and many others still were just flat out false. This retrospective of looking from the outside in allowed me to see things I haven’t before and eventually it came down to the hard decision to abandon the beliefs that didn’t compute and start from scratch. 

I’m very glad I did. 

The deconversion process wasn't always easy. Sometimes it was downright painful. But in the process I learned to be more selective, more mindful, of the sorts of beliefs I chose to hold on to. 

I became doubly reflective about precisely how my beliefs were influencing me and I started considering how my beliefs guided my thinking and so too behavior. And it is here where I learned the clinical precision matters when evaluating your own beliefs, and subsequently, the beliefs of others.

Not all beliefs are created equal. Some beliefs are absurd. Some beliefs are backed by evidence and appear solid as rock. Sometimes beliefs that appear sturdy are actually built on sand. 

There are all kinds of beliefs and to each belief a different quality, a different level of certainty, and a different level of knowledge about the nature of the belief and the consequences of holding it to be either true or false.

I have learned the hard way, however, that it’s not so much what you believe that matters but how you get there that counts. 

Anyone can believe anything they want, but believing in something because you vetted it and it passed the test, well, then that’s what we might call a sound belief. 

That’s a belief worth holding onto. 

Beliefs that are unproved or uncertain, they are more problematic, and the best we can do is simply keep an open mind, always considering the fact that we could (very likely) be wrong.

But the fact remains, our beliefs help mold how we perceive the world around us, how we engaged with it, and what we will choose to do in the future. This is why I place a strong emphasis on the importance of taking the time to take a step back and look at our beliefs reflectively, critically, and even skeptically if necessary.

Now, there are certain systems of belief in place with rigid architecture that comes prepackaged with standards of what constitute good and bad beliefs. We call such systems of belief ideologies. Now, there is no more a powerful ideological fountain than that which religion provides, so it serves us good to examine how religious belief impacts us and to what ends, both the good and the bad.

Sometimes religious beliefs motivate us to the good, as Arnold Abbot, a 90 year old homeless advocate in Florida, is proof of. Abbot stood up against a Florida law that refuses to allow him to feed the homeless. After being arrested and then given a citation for feeding the homeless, Abbot stated that, “It’s our right to feed people, it’s our First Amendment right and I believe in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, and we should be allowed to feed our fellow man.”

This is a clear case of a man allowing his personal convictions and religious beliefs to compel him to do good. Although I admire his humanitarian efforts, I think it needs to be said that Abbot also represents a religious person who isn’t all that reflective. After all, he hasn’t really given any consideration to the fact that his actions, although well meaning, risks setting a bad example for others when he teaches others to defy the law in the name of their religious beliefs. Sadly, this makes Mr. Abbot just as reckless as those crazy religionists who take their sick kids to faith healers – often in defiance of the law - instead of getting them the necessary medical attention they need from real doctors at real hospitals that can really cure whatever ailment their child needs.

If Abbot wanted to be a better example, he could start a fundraiser to build his own shelter. His recent media attention would only bolster his fundraising campaign and he could continue doing his good work without breaking the law or setting a bad example. Just a suggestion.

Christopher Hitchens lamented that religion poisons everything. I can’t argue with him, because his observation is simply that religion compels people to do bad more often then it does good, and this bad has a way of hurting us all, like a bad poison. More often than not, people’s religious beliefs compel them to hold beliefs that, if acted upon, lead to the unfair treatment, and sometimes even harm, of others.

Take the Shi’ite Muslim religious custom of Muharram, where they mutilate their wailing and crying children with sharp knifes in the name of their religion, for example. There is nothing in this Muslim tradition that is healthy, sane, or beneficial to the children of the people enacting the barbarism. It simply is an expression of faith based on bad ideas and even worse behavior as a consequence of holding these bad ideas.

Or consider infant circumcision, which is an undeniable form of genital mutilation. Or, for that matter, female genital. All of these acts of horrible violence against children have been, and continue to be, enacted in the name of religion by the religious.

I too, having been raised Christian, am circumcised. But I never asked to be. You may not think it is a big deal. But I tell you, part of my penis is missing, and you can’t tell me that that’s a good thing. Undeniably, this is a decision my parents made, thinking that it was normal, because the practice was a religious custom that everyone simply followed without question. But I refused to allow my own son to be circumcised. Mainly because, I never wanted to harm my beautiful baby boy, but also because circumcision has no proven medical benefits – and that’s a fact we have to deal with when we choose to either uphold the belief that circumcision is something we should do to our children or whether it is an outmoded religious customs that needs to go by the wayside. I vote for the latter.

Another recent case of religion compelling people to think and act in ways that poorly reflect on their ability to critical evaluate their beliefs and the consequences of acting on them comes in the form of Gordon Klingenschmitt, a Republican official elected to Colorado's House of Representatives, who is so convinced that President Barack Obama is demon possessed that he wrote a “non-fiction” book about it. (I literally laughed out loud when I read that it was categorized as non-fiction. Non-fiction my ass!) Further, according to Right Wing Watch, Klingenschmitt, who is a former Navy chaplain, claimed in an interview that he once conducted an exorcism on a young woman that “cured” her of being a lesbian. (Darn those lesbian demons!)

This is clearly religious ideas, concepts, and beliefs impacting uncritically minded people’s behavior and thinking for the worse.

And there is a point at which someone who is so unquestioning, and so gullible, that their religious beliefs compel them to think and act in ways that are unfathomable, such as this lady, who explains in great speculative detail how the anti-Christ and Satan are brainwashing you through the fancy advertising of a popular energy sports drink. (Apparently Satan's diabolical message is that milfs love big fucking cans - I kid you not, this is the woman's conclusion about this secret, anti-Christian, evil conspiracy of subliminal messages. The most evil thing Satan could think of to day, apparently.)

Ultimately, religious beliefs influence our everyday lives, whether we are religious or not. This is why it is important to reflect on what holding a specific ideology does, and we must always take a healthy step back from our own beliefs to examine them from the outside looking in. Maybe we’ll see something we hadn’t before. Maybe we will see why other people are overwhelmed or shocked by our way of thinking or behavior due to the kinds of beliefs we hold, good and bad.

But to deny the fact that religious belief doesn’t compel or influence our thinking or behavior is simply to choose to be uncritical, unreflective, and closed minded. Such people have no standard for gauging what is good or bad, because, well, if their religious beliefs dictate that mutilating their children is a good thing, they go right ahead and do it—regardless of the consequences.

This is the danger I want to avoid. Being uncritical of one’s own beliefs, of one’s own behavior, often leads one to folly. If we don’t want to be foolhardy then it pays to be mindful of our beliefs, of the ideologies we accumulate, the teachings we adhere to, the political as well as the religious beliefs to which we subscribe. The more mindful we are, the more we can use our common sense to see that harming children for any reason, even religious ones, is never good. If people were more mindful, they would be aware of the fact that the illuminati is not sending secret messages through the labeling of a popular soda beverage company or that the President of the United States is demon possessed.

You see, we have to be aware of how our thinking and behavior impacts others, not just ourselves. And if necessary, we may have to alter our thinking or behavior so as to not make the mistakes of those who, in their obstinacy, refuse to be mindful and continue onward in their persistence of blind, pig-headed, faith and conviction - doing what they thinks is right but is harmful or incomprehensible simply because they neglected to give the proper amount of retrospective, introspective, consideration of their beliefs.

All we have to do is pause, take a deep breath, and then take a step back. If you can do this much, then you will gain a whole new perspective on life. You will be able to see the landscape more fully. You will be able to plot out your choices and your actions instead of just acting upon them as if by instinct.

Being mindful and reflective is important least of all because it’s how we learn to gauge the quality of our beliefs. It’s how we learn to stop taking our beliefs for granted. It may not always be easy, but I think it is necessary – especially if you want to say that, in the greater scheme of things, your beliefs matter.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Questions About GOD: What Are They Good For?

After some considerable thought, I have come to the conclusion that questions like "Does God exist?" and "What is God?" are completely meaningless.

Having deconverted from Christianity in 2008, I quickly got swept up in what has been, unfortunately, called "The Great Debate." Immediately after my deconversion I entered into my anti-theist phase. As I have come to understand it, leaving an oppressive and controlling ideology often leads to feelings of anger and resentment. Part of the healing process is venting one's frustrations, and sharing the abuse one has endured with others who have experienced the same and who can sympathize. This is one of the reasons I began this blog. Most often, however, such healing can only happen after a painful disillusionment.

At the time I deconverted the mislabeled "New Atheism" which is and never has been a new form of atheism but rather a resurgence of secular values, many of them hailing from the Golden Age of Freethought, was in full swing in America and picking up speed elsewhere. This resurgence was largely brought on by the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the concerns raised about how much an acquired religious ideology is capable of compelling one to bad conduct such as the ones which compelled Islamic literalists to fly jets into the World Trade center towers in New York.

Not only how much do one's subscribed to beliefs compel one's behavior, but whehter or not there are detectable patterns or trends, rituals, rights, or ways of thinking which would make one more prone to being receptive to false information who wouldn't normally be is their beliefs didn't erect numerous biases that interfere with good critical thinking and evaluation.

In other words, do our beliefs, especially our religious beliefs, influence our choices, our behavior, and our very personalities to any discernible degree? I hold they do. And furthermore I think there are detectable patterns of influence.

I have found these kinds of questions to be the more pertinent questions when it comes to religion. Sadly, these kinds of questions are the ones that all too often get pushed aside in the name of religious tolerance. People don't want to ask how much do my beliefs impact my thinking, my behavior, and the way I reason through everyday problems. Frankly, thinking is just hard work. Understanding why we think or why we believe what we do, that's going the extra mile. People don't really care to be critical or evaltate their own beliefs. They have better things to do. 

It's less of a hassle to just go with the flow. But I have found this leads to the cult mentality which often manipulates people by using their religious beliefs against their better judgement. It pulls the wool over their eyes, and they feel fine doing things in the name of religion that they would decry if it weren't for the already attach notion of sacredness with which they give religion a free pass. If massive corporations weren't paying taxes and had zero transparency, didn't provide healthcare for their women employees, and discriminated against same sex couples the people would have a field day. But when a church does it, it's all in the name of God's goodness, and everyone looks the other way.

It's important to investigate why we have such biases, and how these biases come to exist. It gives us insights into the quality of beliefs we hold, but only if we can first learn to be reflective and critically evaluate our beliefs.

Questions such as "Does God Exist" are rather quite useless. As St. Thomas Aquinas once noted:

But because we are not capable of knowing what God is but only what He is not, we cannot contemplate how God is but only how He is not. (Summa Theologiae I, 3, prologue)

This is the ultimate in human knowledge of God: to know that we do not know God. (Quaestiones Disputatae de Potentia Dei, 7, 5, ad 14)

I guess the problem, as I see it, is that everyone who believes says God is like the elephant in the room. We can comprehend parts very dimly, but never can we comprehend the whole. I suppose the analogy is crude, because if Thomas Aquinas is correct, then we can only feel out the negative space and discern a vague form of what God might be like through recognition of what he's not. In other words, we can see what fills the space that isn't God, and rule it out.

That's a much more difficult way to go about detecting God.

In fact, it has led me to strongly feel there is no such thing as God. What inevitably happens is people who want to believe begin to fill in the negative space with their ideal version of God. 

They try to justify the beliefs they already hold because they are the beliefs they grew up with, the beliefs they were raised on, the beliefs they forged their identities from, and in many cases the beliefs they get their notion of purpose or self worth from. These are not easy beliefs to challenge, to analyse, to dismantle. 

In fact, to challenge such beliefs head on often has the opposite effect. People recoil and begin trying to find ways to salvage their faith, their belief in God, their right to belief what they want to believe, regardless of whether it is right or wrong or makes any sense.

So one begins to rationalize why believing in God is reasonable or why maintaining an antiquated and outmoded religious belief is a religious right. In the end, it is because they feel that they have the right to believe whatever they want that they no longer care to ask whether what it is they profess to belief is even a belief that has any value beyond the sheer desire to believe it. They've convinced themselves believing is important, and so they do. That's a hard state of mind to break away from. It is a lot like the battered woman convincing herself the reason she doesn't leave is because she still loves him, or even because he might still love her. They're just going through a rough patch. It never crosses her mind that he doesn't love her, because she desires to be loved. It never crosses her mind that believing he might love her might not be the best thing for her, but might lead to her ruin.

Holding bad beliefs for  even good reasons doesn't necessarily lead to good results. This is why I think it is vital we take the time to be reflective and not take our beliefs for granted.

I cannot say with certainty there isn't a God. I just don't think it's a very important question to ask. If there is, fine. If not, also fine by me.

From my study of science and history, psychology and the great works of literature I am led to believe that God is mainly a fancy of human imagination. One that has, over time, grown into an elaborate and very real experience for many people, but an experience that I have decided merely reflects human desires, psychology, culture, and the social ties that bind these together into one communal religious experience.

I guess, in that sense God is a very real aspect of life for me, because people make him real. I think the need to be recognized, be loved, and feel secure in the face of a vast, nihilistic existence is what drives people to the inclination to desire a God in the first place.

I think people who are prone to want to love, or be loved, or who feel the is purpose to life beyond life itself all will be compelled toward that inclination.

People who want answers will also be happy to go in that direction.

But people who want truth, well, they must remain open minded. In fact, I think you'll find our intellectual honesty depends upon it.

God may exist. I don't find the question pertinent, but interesting. I am fascinated by people's social and cultural ties with the concept of God. I am curious as to what the affects are of superimposing archaic religious beliefs onto modern beliefs. What kind of strange hybrid beliefs are borne out, or whether the two sets of beliefs compete, interfere, or cause stagnation. Maybe all of these, depending on the circumstances. But this is the more interesting question. Not whether or not a God outside of space and time could create space and time. That's a nonsensical question and therefore largely a meaningless one. 

This is why I find the more pressing concern should be with asking how do the beliefs I hold, and the beliefs of others, compel or influence our actions, choices, and capacity to reason? 

Likewise, what biases do we innately have? What does it mean if someone believes differently that us? What if we find there is an ideology which consistently compels bad behavior and instructs its followers to disregard the safety, freedoms, and well-being of others?  

This is the conversation we should be having. Not what it takes to believe something, but how the quality of beliefs we prescribe to influence and guide us. 

Until then, I remain yours truly,

The Advocatus Atheist

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Over 500,000 PAGE VIEWS!!!! WHHHAAAAT?! This is NOT the End!!!

It seems that running a blog, which takes time and energy, is rather difficult to do when these isn't anyway to finance the time one spends writing what one likes to write about. This inevitably causes delays in publishing fresh content.

My brothers-in-blog Mike D. and Bud Uzoras at the A-Unicornist and Dead-Logic respectively, have taken indefinite hiatuses from their regular blog publishing schedules. I was going to try and buck the trend by sticking around like a sore thumb, but then something strangely peculiar yet wonderfully amazing happened.

I got signed to a 12 book deal with Permuted Press and their bran spanking new new imprint Winlock Press.

No, no. You read that right. A 12 book deal! I am beside myself, because being picked up by a competitive press with the output and quality, not to mention industry reputation, that Permuted Press has and to be part of a new publishing push to get more Indy authors into the mainstream publishing world just makes me ecstatic beyond belief.

I have to give a special thanks to the lovely Monique Happy who now heads Winlock Press and who made it all happen for me. She is one great lady!

But I hope you know what this means. It means that, although this is NOT the end of The Advocatus Atheist, it does mean that I probably won't publish regularly. I say that fresh off the heels of hitting a milestone of over half a million page views! So I obviously am not throwing in the towel. 

Just don't expect weekly or even monthly updates. But stick around. Enjoy the archives. And if you want to keep track of my other published works, make sure you add my official author page to your favorites list:

I still have the Swedish Fish book coming out in the near future, and I probably will be doing more self published works alongside my contract work, but the contract work takes president over everything, including this blog, because it pays the checks.

Additionally, I have a new son, and babies eat up a lot of energy, time, and money too. So blogging just becomes less and less feasible. It makes me sad, because I love this blog. I love adding my two cents to the public discourse and providing valuable social commentary (I'm sure). But, it doesn't pay the bills. 

Also, my dream of writing full time won't be achieved if I sit around blogging all day. So getting to work on the 12 novels I've been signed to do is what I will be focusing on from here on out.

I just felt that I should let you all know, since you know, it takes some real loyal readers to get to 500,000 freakin page views. So thank you, all!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

8 Questions I'd Ask God: If He Existed

8 Questions I'd Ask God: If He Existed

1. What's with man-nipples? Are they for just in case we got captured by Amazonian warrior women and needed to blend in so that we could make our great escape? I bet that's it. Really, there's no other reason for them.

2. What's the deal with Salmon's reproduction? You make them so they have to swim up stream, leap up freakin' waterfalls, only to lay all their eggs and die. Some kind of sick and twisted joke perhaps? 

3. What's your obsession with beetles, bugs, parasites, viruses, and bacteria? I mean, sure, they're neat and all, but if it's the human soul you are concerned with, what's this obsession with insects and the like? Just a weird hobby, perhaps?

4. Why did it take six to seven days to create the world? If you're all powerful it should have been a cinch, right? Didn't get it right the first time maybe? Had to make a few corrections perhaps?

5. What's with all the ugly people? There are over 7 billion people on the planet and most of them are ugos. I mean, no offense, if that's your thing. I know beauty is only skin deep, in the eye of the beholder and all that, but it seems to me if you were a wise creator then you would have made everyone physically attractive so that ugly people wouldn't be hurt by so much rejection and beautiful people would have no teason to be so vain.

6. If 90% of scientists and philosophers don't believe in you and go to hell (what's up with that anyway?) then what does that say about the quality of people you like to hang out with when you segregate 90% of the worlds intellectuals, thinkers, inventors, men of words and science. Afraid of the competition, maybe?

7. Couldn't have made a few other planets closer by for us to travel too? Have to make everything so freakin far that we'd have to rely on the aforementioned brilliant minds to get us there? Is that why you send most of the worlds population to hell? You simply don't want us to spread to the stars and become godlike in our own right? 

8. Why create sin, knowing people will sin, then damn them for it? Why not accept the fact that people sin, learn to forgive and forget, and let bygones be? It seems most of us do just fine without you--namely every culture, every race, every group of humans that haven't believed or have believed in the wrong gods throughout all history--and so you're going to trim down your chosen few to even fewer? To people who can't think, are scientifically ignorant, and who only want to pray to the sky all day? I have my reservations on such a fetish, but to each his own, I suppose.


9. Does it bother you that science can answer all of these questions, from social behavior of humans and animals, to the universe, to the proliferation of insects (including beetles) and, yes, even man nipples but you can't? 

10: I'm not even going to ask you for a sign that you exist, because it's clearly obvious that you don't. 

Sorry, that last one was more of a statement really. But oh, well. The brevity was worth it.


To the believer who rightly informs me that I am merely critiquing the simplistic, iron-aged, conceptualization of a Creator God and not the theologically superior God of all things, that winked the universe into being ex nihilo and that willed evolution via natural selection to be the engine of his wondrous variety of life, I only have this question to ask: What's the use of a God that hides behind the veil of nature, that makes himself undetectable, and in all likelihood irrelevant? It seems that such a God would be a rather useless kind of deity. 

Of course, if your answer is that God wanted a personal relationship with us, please try again. It's obvious that if the majority of the people who ever lived and died didn't believe in your God, well, then he wasn't a very important God and he certainty didn't demonstrate he wanted a relationship with all those (in the billions) who died not believing. 

For that matter, why are there atheists? 

Do you really think all nonbelievers are rebel sinners? Hedonistic, do what they want, rotten to the core people who are simply in defiance of God? If that's what you think, you need to get out more. Make a few friends. And open your eyes to the great and hard working humanists out there who do so much good without believing in God. Ever hear of Doctors Without Borders? 

If you still think my objections are juvenile and ill conceived, just know that I was a devout believer for three long decades. Maybe it's not a rhetorical jab of acerbic criticism I am dolling out, maybe it is the hard to handle conclusion after years of deep and reflective thought on the subject. 

If you still don't think my questions are all that worth bothering about, that's fine. Best not to think about it too much. Speaking from experience, that's one of the best ways to become an atheist. 


Saturday, October 4, 2014

On the Ben Affleck, Bill Maher, and Sam Harris Debate: Some Thoughts

I hunted down a longer clip of the heated debate that occurred on the Bill Maher show between Ben Affleck, Sam Harris, and Maher. If you haven't seen it, watch the longer version here before reading my own thoughts.

After giving it some thought, I think it was a big example of miscommunication on top of talking past one another.

Affleck wasn't wrong about Maher and Harris painting all of Islam with broad strokes. They are guilty of this virtually every time they open their mouths. But in this case I think Sam Harris made a more than valid point that just went over Ben's head.

Harris' point about the number of Muslim practitioners estimated at around 1.6 billion adherents and the fact that 20% of Islam is practiced by legalistic, fundamentalist Muslims, and a fraction of that percentage being a radical element, means that there are over 200 million Muslims who believe in the literal interpretation of the Koran and Islam's core tenets, which include calling for the death of apostates, gays, and non-believers who will not convert by force.

On a second viewing I finally got what Affleck intended by his "Shifty-Jew" analogy. He was basically claiming that Maher and Harris were guilty of making a genetic fallacy. That because all Muslims are Islamic then they all must be Islamic radicals because all Islamic radicals are Muslim.

But I don't actually think that's what Harris had in mind, which is the point they began talking past each other.

Harris was simply concerned with the bad ideologies present in the religion of Islam which statistics show 200 million people take literally. Contrary to what Ben Affleck thought, Harris wasn't making a genetic fallacy. If there is any doubt as to the issue, Jerry Coyne over at his blog Why Evolution is True shares some depressing statistics with regard to current trends and attitudes within Islamic countries.

At the same time, I have to say this debate is just another reason that I have recently come to feel Sam Harris is not a good platform speaker, and in my opinion a little thick-skulled. He simply throws out statistics and broad generalizations and neglects to actually *listen* to his opponent's criticisms.

If Sam would have simply told Ben that he was concerned predominantly with the 200 million fundamentalist Muslims, not a small number mind you, and not the moderate majority of Muslims overall (as it seemed at first) then Ben would have probably backed off sooner. But as it turns out, Harris just sticks to his guns, and keeps forcing the same point home again, only clarifying later when it's already too late, doing nothing to diffuse the earlier confusion regarding his criticism.

Sam's telling Ben that he (Ben) didn't understand his (Sam's) argument on national television was plainly rude. It made me lose a little respect for Harris, whose slip up revealed his passive-aggressive calm demeanor to be little more than an act, pointing to the fact that he is just as worthy of an actor as Ben Affleck is. 

It was clear to me too that Ben didn't quite get the criticism, but pointing it out toward the end of the argument just to get the last word in seemed to me a little crass. You don't understand my argument, so your prior criticism isn't valid, you goddamn idiot Ben!, Sam seemed to be saying.

But Ben Affleck's previous criticism, although missing the side of the barn, is not a bad point and it is one worth making (perhaps at a more appropriate time in a similar debate).

Many Muslims do get painted with too broad a brush, especially by intellectual liberals like Harris and Maher who refuse to back down from their ideological position so adamantly that you'd be forgiven for mistaking them for ideologues instead of genuine critical thinkers.

Ben's comment that we shouldn't bunch Muslim women into the radical, fanatic Jihadist category if they are of the peaceful Muslim majority who just want to go to school and eat sandwiches, was a good point.

At the same time, Harris' point that Islam is the mother-load of bad ideas isn't entirely wrong either. Well, it's a bit poorly stated, but his point that Islam contains a disproportionate number of sinister and pernicious teachings as compared to the good ones is apparent to anyone who has ever read the Koran or listened to the teachings contained in the hadith.

There is indeed a wealth, or mother-load, of bad teachings and ideas for modern Muslims to contend with, but this is mainly due to the fact that the Koran, like the Bible, is a man-made text written in an ignorant and warring age by men who held what we consider today to be archaic and outmoded views.

The fact that many Muslims will undeniably cite the Koran, just as Christians do their Bible, as a guiding moral source goes all the way back to one of Harris' most scathing quotes about the Bible probably being the world's worst sources for morality humanity has ever invented, if we didn't also have the Koran, that is.

As for the debate on the term Islamaphobe, I think this should have been the key focus of this particular discussion.

I agree with Sam that the term Islamaphobe gets bandied about needlessly. Also, to call people genuinely fearful of the threat of violent and extremist elements of Islam "Islamaphobes" is like calling a person with a petrifying fear of spiders an "Aarachnophobe." In other words, the term accurately reflects a very real fear, even if that fear isn't always entirely rational.

The problem is, the term Islamaphobe has become a dirty catch-all word to silence any detractors of Islam who would seek to offer widespread criticism for Islam's more pernicious tenets. So the broad brush strokes are being painted on both sides of the canvas here.

Even so, this doesn't mean there aren't racist or bigoted attitudes which exist with regard to Muslims and what they believe. There are. And many do fit the negative definition of Islamaphobe, just as many fit the catch-all phrase homophobe, for their intolerant and bigoted views of homosexuals and gay rights.

The key difference, however, I would point out is that there isn't an underlying homosexual ideology that calls for the conversion or death of all non-homosexuals and seeks to impose violence on anyone who disrespect the holy gay pride rainbow. Such a vocal minority, however, does exist within mainstream Islam. So the term Islamaphobe is muddied by the fact that both intolerant bigots and genuinely fearful people exist with regard to the Islamic religion.

All this is just to say there do exist valid reasons to fear certain aspects and interpretations of Islam.

But this discussion didn't happen. Instead, Ben Affleck, Bill Maher, and Sam Harris simply had a ball talking past each other and not taking the adequate amount of time to listen to what the other side was trying to say. It was a perfect display of the religious debate being interrupted by overly domineering personalities that, although well meaning, failed to comprehend the most important part of any debate--understanding the other side's position.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Story of a Teen Who Humped a Jesus Statue in the Face: Or Why Legally Punishing Someone for a Non-Crime IS Criminal

Channel 6 WJAC news in Pennsylvania has reported the follow up to the Pennsylvania teen who was earlier charged with criminal misconduct based on an obscure PA law and threatened with up to 2 years in prison for doing nothing more criminal than posing in front of a Jesus statue.

The poses were sexual in nature, sure, but this lewd act done in jest was quicly forgiven by the party offended. It was only the radical religionist district attorney Bill Higgins that decided to mount a holy crusade against what he perceives as a ideological war of 'us vs. them' and theist vs. atheist.

I have talked to Mr. Higgins personally and I have come to the rational minded conclusion that Mr. Higgins isn't, in fact, in his rational mind. He is quite delusional. 

I am going to analyse the comments he made as reported by WJAC Channel 6 news on the court ruling along with my own personal commentary.

First off, Higgins is not wrong, there is an ideological war being waged, but I'm afraid it's being wage by theocratic bullies like him who wish to impose his religious belief system on others regardless of what the law may state, obvious by his startling and complete disregard for the First Amendment.

Channel 6 WJAC reports as to the final sentence of the teenager:

The boy was admitted into juvenile diversionary program after being charged with desecration of a venerated object stemming. He posted a picture of himself performing lewd acts on a statue of Jesus Christ that was outside the Love in the Name of Christ church in Everett on July 20.

The boy appeared before Judge Thomas Ling and agreed to a consent decree signed by all parties involved, including the boy, his mother and his attorney, Karen Hickey. The boy must not use social media during a six-month probation period as well as perform 350 hours of community service.

Among the other punishments, he must obey a curfew of 10 p.m., no alcohol or other controlled substances monitored by random drug testing and stay in school.

District Attorney Bill Higgins presented the decree to the court.

After accepting the agreement and while settling the number of community service hours, Judge Ling focused on the religious rights of Love in the Name of Christ, noting that the juvenile’s actions infringed upon their rights to practice their faith. Upon successful completion of these terms and conditions, his case will be dismissed and the juvenile will have no criminal record.

This should frighten anyone within their right mind, because it shows that an unconstitutional law put into the hands of overly religious zealots can be used to inflict an unjust tyranny upon the populace. 

Bill Higgins is a theocratic bully, because he is making a scapegoat out of a legal minor to serve a not so subtle religious agenda. Mr. Higgins should really try to pick on somebody his own size. But instead he is contended to shoot fish in a barrel. I think this tells us all we need to know about the character of Bill Higgins.

The problem is, I'm afraid, that Higgins holy crusade reflects the very lack of empathy, compassion, and understanding that most theocratic societies lack. This should come as no surprise, but it is no less disconcerting.

Notice that the teenager has been banned from using social media. On the surface, this appears like a trivial sentencing, no big deal. In fact, it is the punishment most concerned parents would administer to their own rebellious children if they caught them doing something like the teen did in this case. But such a notion would be wrong. Unlike a concerned parent's punishment this punishment is a legally binding sentence as part of the boys parole.

It's not simply an act of stern parenting, it is the legal imposition onto the boy's daily habits and choices as a free citizen. If he even gets caught using social media once in what appears to be an abnormally long period of banishment (a full half-year? Really?) the incident would risk becoming criminal and therefore give the zealot Bill Higgins all the incentive he needed to legally charge the teen with a criminal misconduct thereby placing a black mark on the boys permanent criminal record.

Needless to say, the conditions set--done so rather arbitrarily I might add (a full half-year? What's the logic behind that?) could lead to sentencing the teen to a stricter sentence if he fails to adhere to all the conditions of the sentence. 

First off, this is not okay. 

Second of all, banning a kid from social media is like banning a kid from video games and hanging out with his friends. Does Bill Higgins seriously think that is a realistic or even worthy punishment? If so, Bill Higgins has more to worry about than just his total lack of empathy.

Thirdly, does it not bother people that the judge seems equally brainwashed here? How does what the boy did infringe upon the religious group Love in the Name of Christ's right to practice their faith? 

What the boy did was symbolic of something else, and there didn't seem to be any malicious intent directed at the Name of Christ organization, which is why they dropped all charges.

Yet this teenager is facing strict punishment and legally binding parole?

Do we need any more proof that America is a theocracy? How can this even come to pass?

Well, it requires a legal understanding of very specific laws. If it wasn't for Bill Higgins legal knowledge, or the fact that he practices law in Pennsylvania, this case wouldn't even be a case.

You see, most states do not have such laws because they recognize them as unconstitutional if not completely outmoded. Additionally, even if such laws exist on the books, they tend to be ignored because they are recognized as either unconstitutional or completely outmoded.

Unless you happen to live in Pennsylvania, that is, which has too many old blowhards in top authority positions who also happen to be right wing fanatics who care more about witch hunts than they do protecting the legal rights of the citizenry. How is punishing this boy protecting the legal rights of Christians? It's almost as if Bill Higgins and Justice North (please don't pardon this intentional slip) believe that Christians being offended is a crime worth legally punishing.

If so, then they clearly have their work cut out for them, because offending people's feelings is only criminal in the most backwards of countries where theocracy reigns supreme. I find it rather telling that Bill Higgins doesn't beat around the bush to which version of America he fantasizes about living in--and to which he will go through extreme measures to ensure becomes the great land of intolerance and hypersensitivity which much of the Islamic nations have become and in which their people must constantly endure the fear of statewide retaliation to their mere thoughts and opinions, because in a theocracy, every little offense matters.  

This is cause for concern.

In the article Bill Higgins is reported as saying:

"I know that there are many groups that say this case is about religious rights, and quite frankly, they are right. But it is the religious rights of the Christian organization that owns the statue and has placed it for display on their private property that have been implicated. They have every right to practice their faith unmolested. In American, we all enjoy the right to freedom of expression and the freedom to practice our religious beliefs without interference, but that right ends where those same rights of another begin."
Bill Higgins is guilty of not only favoritism, by his own admission no less, but the fact that he views this as a holy crusade and has admitted as much--just so you know I wasn't being hyperbolic in my choice of words. 

Second of all, the teenager did not molest any Christians who were practicing their faith. He molested an inanimate object when no Christians were around. That is a key difference which shouldn't go overlooked.

Further, this so-called molestation (I say so-called because the statue never complained any--and it does look like that particular Jesus was begging for it) only was discovered online after the fact. So the only people who could feel molested were those who confused seeing something mildly offensive as obscene and then condemning it as pornography and then going about finding some obscure anti-pornography law to punish the teen after the fact.

All this is troubling, to say the least.  

Perhaps more obscene, however, is the amount of time, energy and money Bill Higgins has devoted to specifically wasting the time, energy and money of others. The channel 6 WJAC article goes on to report Higgins as having said:

“As I have previously noted, Facebook and street corners are not the proper place to resolve constitutional issues, and while there has been a whole lot of name calling, character assassination and threats of retaliation, there has been no effort by any of these advocacy groups to actually challenge the constitutionality of the statute in question through the legal process.” 

A couple of things.

Since this is an obscure state law then only those who reside in Pennsylvania have any legal authority to challenge the law, unless of course, for some reason, the case were taken to the Supreme Court in which case the Supreme Court would decide the constitutionality of the law, not the people of Pennsylvania. 

Furthermore, since this entire incident was found out about via Facebook it is hypocritical in the extreme to say that Facebook is not the place to resolve constitutional issues when you, in fact, are doing just that. Bill Higgins proves that he not only thinks people are dumber than he is, he also reveals himself to be the worst kind of hypocrite. But Higgins isn't done wowing us with his crass disregard for others quite yet. He goes on to inform:

“He is a 14-year-old boy with the potential to have a bright future. I am confident that if he applies himself, he can put this matter behind him and become a productive citizen.”

Apparently Mr. Higgins has appointed himself supreme dictator of what constitutes a productive citizen.

Never mind the fact that the teen may very well already be a worthy and productive citizen. It's just that, well, he did that one thing that one time that somebody didn't like.

And for that, a sea of endless troubles.

As a concerned citizen of the United States, if I were to offer Mr. Higgins any advice, it would be to get a life and stop wasting everyone else's time. We might also hope that he'd grow a conscience while he was at it. Although short of a genuine miracle, that doesn't seem very likely. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bibliography Update! The Swedish Fish: Deflating the Scuba Diver and Working the Rabbits Foot: Answering Christian Apologetics

It's crunch time as I near the end of my second wave of editing before the book goes out for eyes to see, then more editing. After ten months of research, I feel it has progressed quite well, and so I share with you and updated bibliography to the book. Since I have six more chapters to edit, the bibliography may expand a little more depending on whether or not I need to cite any more sources, but this is a good look at what the final Bibliography will look like. 

You may also notice that I don't cite any websites (unless they are an online journal). I chose to keep all my online references contained to in-text bibliographical material, so the links are contained in the footnotes rather than collected at the end. 

I know many books these days tend to have a special bibliographies dedicate to just the web-sources, but seeing as that is about half my citations it would run at least as long as the full bibliography, which would be too long, so I've opted to keep them in the footnotes only. 

You may see the final bibliography in the published version of the book once it is released. With that said, enjoy the extended bibliography! 

The Swedish Fish: Deflating the Scuba Diver and Working the Rabbits Foot: Answering Christian Apologetics


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Ayer, A. J. Language, Truth, and Logic. New York: Dover Publications, 1952.

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Bennett, Bo. Logically Fallacious: The Ultimate Collection of over 300 Logical Fallacies. Sudbury:, 2012.

Benson, Herbert Et Al. "Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in Cardiac Bypass Patients: A Multicenter Randomized Trial of Uncertainty and Certainty of Receiving Intercessory Prayer." American Heart Journal 151, no. 4 (May 5, 2005): 934-42. doi:10.1016/j.ahj.2005.05.028.

Bering, Jesse. The Belief Instinct. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011.

Blake, William. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: In Full Color. New York: Dover Publications, 1994.

Boghossian, Paul Artin. Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006.

Bonanno, Anthony.Archaeology and Fertility Cult in the Ancient Mediterranean: Papers... First International Conference on Archaeology of the Ancient Mediterranean, the University of Malta, Sept. 1985. Amsterdam: B. R. Gruner, 1986

Bowie, Fiona. The Anthropology of Religion: An Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2006.

Boyer, Pascal. Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. New York: Basic Books, 2001.

Byrne, Rhonda. The Secret. New York: Atria Books, 2006.

Carrier, Richard. Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn’t Need a Miracle to Succeed. United States?:, 2009.

Carroll, Sean. From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time. New York: Dutton, 2010.

Clifford, William Kingdon, William James, and A. J. Burger. The Ethics of Belief: Essays by William Kingdon Clifford, William James, A. J. Burger. Scotts Valley, CA: CreateSpace, 2008.

Cooper-White, Macrina. "People Who Believe In Hell Tend To Be Less Happy, New Survey Shows." The Huffington Post. February 25, 2014. Accessed March 19, 2014.

Corriveau, Kathleen H., Eva E. Chen, and Paul L. Harris. “Judgments About Fact and by Children from Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds.” Cognitive science 38, no. 5 (July 3, 2014):  doi: 10.1111/cogs.12138.

Cox, Brian, and J. R. Forshaw. The Quantum Universe: (and Why Anything That Can Happen, Does). Boston: Da Capo Press, 2012.

Damasio, Antonio. Self Comes to Mind. Toronto: Random House, 2010.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

Day, John. Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.

Demetriou, Andreas, Willem Doise, and C. F. M. Van. Lieshout. Life-span Developmental Psychology. Chichester: J. Wiley & Sons, 1998.

Dennett, D. C. Consciousness Explained. Boston: Little, Brown and, 1991.

Downey, Allen B. “Religious affiliation, education and Internet use.” Cornell University Library, arXiv.1403.5534 [stat.AP]; Accessed April 7, 2014.

Ehrman, Bart D. Forged: Writing in the Name of God: Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. New York: HarperOne, 2011.

Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Ehrman, Bart D. Misquoting Jesus: The Story behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005.

Fajnzylber, Pablo, Daniel Lederman, and Norman Loayza. “Inequality and Violent Crime.” The Journal of Law and Economics 45, no. 1 (12 2002): 1-39. doi:10.1086/338347.

Finkelstein, Israel, and Neil Asher Silberman. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. New York: Free Press, 2001.

Foote, George W. Seasons of Freethought: The Collected Works of G.W. Foote. Edited by Tristan Vick. Kumamoto: Hungry Word Publications, 2013.

Fosnot, Catherine Twomey. Constructivism: Theory, Perspectives, and Practice. New York: Teachers College Press, 1996.

Fox, James Alan., and Jack Levin. The Will to Kill: Making Sense of Senseless Murder. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2001.

Freke, Timothy, and Peter Gandy. The Jesus Mysteries: Was the "original Jesus" a Pagan God? New York: Harmony Books, 2000.

Funk, Cary, and Greg Smith. "‘Nones’ on the Rise." Pew Research Centers Religion Public Life Project RSS. October 9, 2012. Accessed March 16, 2014.

Glasersfeld, Ernst Von. Radical Constructivism: A Way of Knowing and Learning. London: Falmer Press, 1995.

Gockel, Galen L. “Income and Religious Affiliation: A Regression Analysis.” American Journal of Sociology 74, no. 6 (12 1969): 632. doi:10.1086/224714.

Goldstein, Sydney. “Socioeconomic Differential among Religious Groups in the United States.” American Journal of Sociology 74, no. 6 (May, 1969): 612-631. doi:10.1086/224714.

Grau C, Ginhoux R, Riera A, Nguyen TL, Chauvat H, et al. “Conscious Brain-to-Brain Communication in Humans Using Non-Invasive Technologies” edited Mikhail A. Lebedev. PLoS ONE 9 no. 8 (2014): e105225. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0105225

Grayling, A. C. The God Argument: The Case against Religion and for Humanism. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013.

Greene, J. D. "An FMRI Investigation of Emotional Engagement in Moral Judgment." Science 293, no. 5537 (01, 2001): 2105-108. doi:10.1126/science.1062872.

Greene, Joshua David. Moral Tribes. Emotion, Reason, and the Gap between Us and Them. New York: Penguin Press, 2013.

Hackett, Conrad, and Brian J. Grim. "The Global Religious Landscape." Pew Research Centers Religion Public Life Project RSS. December 2012. Accessed March 18, 2014.

Hansen, James E. Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to save Humanity. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2009.

Harris, Sam. Free Will. New York: Free Press, 2012.

Haycock, Dean A. Murderous Minds: Exploring the Criminal Psychopathic Brain: Neurological Imaging and the Manifestation of Evil. W W Norton & Co, 2014.

Heimlich, Janet. Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2011.

Heine, Steven. "Sacred High City, Sacred Low City: A Tale of Religious Sites in Two Tokyo Neighborhoods” published in Religious Studies Review 39, no. 1 (12 2013): 53. doi:10.1111/rsr.12020_6.

Helms, Randel. Gospel Fictions. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1988.

Hitchens, Christopher. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Twelve, 2007.

Hoffmann, R. Joseph. Sources of the Jesus Tradition: Separating History from Myth. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2010.

Holbach, Paul Henri Thiry. Good Sense. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2004.

Ifrah, Georges, and David Bellos. The Universal History of Numbers: From Prehistory to the Invention of the Computer. New York: Wiley, 2000.

Ingersoll, Robert Green. The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll. New York: Dresden, 1901.

Jensen, Gary F. “Religious Cosmologies and Homicide Rates among Nations: A Closer Look.” Religious & Society volume 8 (2006), ISSN 1522-5658. Kripke Center. Accessed September 21, 2014.

Jordan, Michael. Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses. New York: Facts on File, 2004.

Kahneman, Daniel. "JUDGMENT AND DECISION MAKING: A Personal View." Psychological Science 2, no. 3 (May/June 1991): 142-45. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.1991.tb00121.x.

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

Koons, Jeremy Randel. “Plantinga On Properly Basic Belief In God: Lessons From The Epistemology Of Perception." The Philosophical Quarterly 61, no. 245 (May 18, 2011): 839-50. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9213.2011.709.x.

Kraus, Lawrence. A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing. New York: Atria Books, 2013.

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Kuhn, Thomas S., and Ian Hacking. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2012.

Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

Lataster, Raphael Christopher. There Was No Jesus, There Is No God: A Scholarly Examination of the Scientific, Historical, and Philosophical Evidence & Arguments for Monotheism. Sydney: CreateSpace, 2013.

Laqueur, Walter. The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism: From Ancient Times to the Present Day. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 2008.

Levine, Amy-Jill, Dale C. Allison, and John Dominic. Crossan. The Historical Jesus in Context. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006.

Loftus, John W. The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is True. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2013.

MacCulloch, Diarmaid. A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. London: Penguin, 2010.

MacDonald, Dennis Ronald. Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? Four Cases from the Acts of the Apostles. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003.

MacDonald, Dennis Ronald. The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000.

Mack, Burton L. Who Wrote the New Testament?: The Making of the Christian Myth. San Francisco, CA: Harper, San Francisco, 1995.

Martin, Michael, and Ricki Monnier. The Improbability of God. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2006.

Mayes, Steve. "Judge Orders State Custody, Medical Care for Oregon Faith Healers’ Child." The Oregonian, July 2, 2010. Accessed March 19, 2014.

McCormick, Matthew S. Atheism and the Case against Christ. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2012.

Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus; Volumes I-IV. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

Meshel, Zeev. Kuntillet ʻAjrud, a Religious Centre from the Time of the Judaean Monarchy on the Border of Sinai: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Spring 1978. Jerusalem: Israel Museum, 1978.

Miller, Alan S. “The Influence of Religious Affiliation on the Clustering of Social Attitudes.” Review of Religious Research37, no. 3 (12 1996): 219. doi:10.2307/3512275.

Miller, Kenneth. Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2009.

Murray, Gilbert. Aristophanes: The Knights. London: Allen & Unwin, 1956.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Gay Science. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2006.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, R. J. Hollingdale, and J. P. Stern. Untimely Meditations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

O’Keefe, Tim. "Epicurus." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed March 19, 2014.

Oppy, Graham Robert. The Best Argument against God. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

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Paul, Gregory S. “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies, A First Look.” Journal of Religion & Society volume 7 (2005), ISSN 1522-5658. Kripke Center. Accessed September 21, 2014.

Picknett, Lynn, and Clive Prince.The Masks of Christ: Behind the Lies and Cover-ups about the Life of Jesus. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008.

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Polkinghorne, J. C. Quantum Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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Price, Robert M. Deconstructing Jesus. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2000.

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Price, Robert M. The Reason-driven Life: What Am I Here on Earth For? Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2006.

Price, Robert M. Top Secret: The Truth behind Today’s Pop Mysticisms. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2008.

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Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist