Saturday, 31 October 2009

Threats and a Dialog

A dialog:

Consumer (C)
Boat Vendor (BV)

BV: (Pointing to an empty space) Buy this boat.
C: What boat? There's no boat to be found.
BV: Well, I don't actually have anything to show you, but I have a book that was written long ago about people who saw the boat and think it's great.
C: Which people? How do you know they are telling the truth, how do you know the report is accurate?
BV: It just is. You should buy this boat, because if you don't, you'll die a horrible death.
C: So, all you have for evidence is a book of questionable authenticity?
BV: Well, you've just gotta believe me that this boat exists. Now, give me some money and you can have it.
C: How do I even know this boat is going to work as planned? Maybe it has holes in it, maybe it'll sink.
BV: It won't sink, it's made of flat steel planks.
C: But, flat steel planks don't float.
BV: If you believe hard enough they will.
C: So, I'm supposed to believe in this boat that you have no evidence for, that you describe as something that won't work, and I'm supposed to buy this from you with no assurance that it'll work or that it actually exists.
BV: If you don't, you'll die a horrible death.
C: I think I'll pass.

Later that night, BV blows up the local dam and floods the town killing C.

Did C ask for the dam to be blown up and be drowned? Did C ask to die horribly by not buying the boat? Isn't this extortion? Would anyone agree that BV's actions here are moral, just, or good? Then, why would we use those descriptors when god essentially takes BV's place in the story.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Defending Genocide (Part III) - What about the Children?

So, what about the children? When the Israelites went a-slaughterin', they also killed all the children. What does our apologist have to say?
Small children did not share the guilt of their parents.

No, but god had them share the same fate anyway.
The Bible describes small children as not knowing right from wrong (Is 7:15-16) [ed. note, this passage is a reference to Immanuel, not children in general], and in some cases, this meant that they were spared the earthly punishment their elders received.

Which is pure conjecture. There's nothing about an age of accountability in the Bible.
The Bible also clearly teaches that one person is not held guilty for another's sin (Ezek 18). Therefore, the children who were killed would not face the same punishment in the afterlife as their parents.

O Rly?

Tell that to all the descendants of Adam and Eve (all of us) who are held as sinful by nature because of their actions. And, let's not forget Ex. 20:5 and 34:7, Deut. 5:9, 23:2, and 28:18, Num. 14:18, 1 Sam. 3:12-13, 2 Sam. 12:14-15, etc.
Why were the children killed, if they weren't guilty? Apparently, they were considered as morally neutral, since they weren't yet old enough to be held accountable or to have done much right or wrong. While not as corrupt as their parents, they were part of the society that was judged, and shared its earthly (though not its eternal) fate.

Again, there's no support for an age of accountability in the Bible.
Couldn't the children have died painlessly?

One would think so...I'm betting the answer from our "loving" god is, "No."
Why didn't God translate the children into heaven instead of having them die by the sword? Since the children lived in a world affected by sin, they faced its earthly consequences (Rom 5:12-14).

And, here is where we blame the victims. The Earthly consequences that the children had to face (brutal death) were imposed by god himself. So, the argument here is that god was fine in doing this because he set up the world to require this brutal death and then carried it out. And, somehow it's the humans caught in his sadism that are to blame?
Only a few righteous people were translated into heaven, namely Enoch (Gen 5:24, Heb 11:5) and Elijah (2 Ki 2:11). As noted above, since the children had not shown themselves to be righteous, they were not spared the common fate of death.

Sorry to all the newborns, but you haven't acted like a saint yet. Oh, so sorry.
It's worth noting that being killed with a sword (perhaps beheaded) was at the time one of the quickest ways for the children to die (as opposed to suffocation/strangulation, starvation, disease or being torn apart by wild animals - see Ex 23:28-29).

Oh, so that makes it OK?

And, this raises quite a few problems. If killing children is good because they get to go to heaven, then why is abortion or infanticide considered bad? Why would the author claim that god was enraged at child sacrifice if it sent those children to heaven? Why would god be enraged by them killing children if he was going to kill them anyway (possible answer is that he was mad that the humans killed the children before he had a chance to).

And, how is that fair, equitable, or just to kill children before they have a chance to sin? For all of us who have grown beyond the age of accountability, we all have sinned and now need salvation. Children that die early get to go straight to heaven without the chance of sinning and ending up eternally tormented in hell.

Finally, does this excuse god's actions? Either it does, but then god is convicted on other accounts (unfairly sending others to hell) or it does not. I actually lean to the latter, because he still ordered the Israelis to put children to the sword. He couldn't do it himself, no he had to have others do his dirty work, using pain and violence when he could have snapped his fingers and avoided pain, evil, and violence. god is still not absolved of his crimes against humanity.

Other posts in this series...

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Howard Unruh - Murderer and Xian

Last week, Howard Unruh died at the ripe old age of 88 after 60 years of incarceration. For those who don't know who Mr. Unruh was, he went on a shooting spree in 1949 that killed 13 people in Camden, NJ. He had been in WWII and then came home to live with his mother. He often went with her to St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church and frequently read his Bible according to people who knew him. Apparently, he made a list of people he wanted to target, people that he felt were persecuting and belittling him, "that they were thinking of him as a homosexual." After the shootings, a search of his room turned up "700 cartridges, a book called the Shooter's Bible (he had used the building's basement for target practice) and a New Testament." [emphasis mine]

Yup, you can't be moral without god.

(note: All quotes taken from The Globe and Mail obituary report of Oct. 21.)

Friday, 23 October 2009

Armstrong and the Not-god

I recently happened to read an interview with Karen Armstrong that brought up some questions that I've had in the past, but not asked. For anyone who doesn't know Ms. Armstrong, she's "perhaps the world's best-known living writer on religion." So, what does she say? She says things like this:
Then came Newton. Newton is unable to think mythically. He claimed that the intricacy of the solar system required the existence of an intelligent being as creator that provided scientific proof for the God of the Bible. He said this being is clearly omniscient, omnipotent, massively powerful and obviously very well versed in mechanics and geometry.

Hitherto, people had said the natural world can't lead us to God. It can make us inspired. It can make us look and wonder. But it can't give us detailed information about God.

That's interesting, considering many believers claim that things like fine tuning and the world around us somehow constitute evidence for god. Or, take this:
You cannot think of God as a creator in a literal way: whoops-here's-a-robin kind of thing. God is not another being. So to ask, “Is there a God who created the world?” is a misnomer.

God is not a sort of thing. We can't say there's a God, as though he's an item in a species. God is the all. God is being itself, St. Thomas Aquinas says. Ipsum esse subsistens.

It's a misnomer to ask if there's a god who created the world? Huh?

Ms. Armstrong also tends to argue that the "New Atheists" are totally wrong, because no one actually believes in a real god that created the world, etc. etc. etc., and arguing against that is arguing against what Xians don't believe. Her god is some mystical force or something that simply is and doesn't really do anything. So, my question is this - does this describe what the Xian commenters here actually think about their god?
You can't feel God any more than you can think God.

I don't know many Xians that would say that.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Coming Together for Bigotry

I've said many times that we always see splintering of religious sects into more sects as people's ideas of god come into conflict and there's no way of telling who is right and who is wrong. Well, we may be seeing a case (perhaps the first) of two religions coming together.

It seems that the Catholic church has offered a chance for the Anglicans to come back to them, but not just any Anglicans:
[The pope's] plan announced Tuesday to welcome disaffected Anglicans means he will help an estimated half-million members of Christianity's third-largest sect disappear – Anglicans who have stuck to the flanks of their church like the boils of Job, rejecting its stance on issues like ordaining women priests and blessing gay unions but ecclesiastically having nowhere else to call home.

IOW, they've decided to set their differences aside so that they can unite in bigotry against women and gays!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Defending Genocide (Part II)

In the last installment I tackled the idea that the genocide of god was done as punishment for things like child sacrifice. The real reason for it was punishment for disbelief or belief in the wrong god. One can't very well obey god (which is really what god seems to be after) if one doens't believe in him.

So, let's continue where we left off. The next section talks about whether there were innocent adults.
Sadly, these were few and far between. If people grow up in a culture that accepts things like murder and rape, very few will listen to their conscience and go against what everyone else says. Children learn wrong things from their parents and the surrounding culture; as they mature, they become part of the culture and perpetuate it by participating in it and passing on its teachings to their children.

Yet, we know that societies don't tend to function that way. Some societies are more permissive than others, but societies that are free-for-alls of murder and rape don't survive. Why? Because they kill themselves off. It's why humans (and our animal cousins) are still around as social animals. And, worse yet, it's hard to make generalizations like this stick. Does the author really think that this would be the case, especially after the next paragraph where this person implies that righteous people do exist in societies that god doesn't agree with?
However, those who were righteous were spared from the destruction. In the destruction of Jericho, Rahab and her family were spared because she feared God and chose to help the Israelites (Josh 2:1-21, 6:22-25). Before the Amalekites were destroyed, their righteous neighbors were warned to move away (1 Sam 15:5-6). God promised not to destroy Sodom if there were but ten righteous people in the city (Gen 18:22-32), and in a later judgment against Jerusalem, promised to forgive the city if one righteous person was found in it (Jer 5:1).

OK, so let's talk about Rahab (the prostitute), shall we? In the passages cited, it's obvious that she's doing this because she's afraid. We can't really make any moral judgements on her because she's not given us a moral position. She's simply being pragmatic and trying to save her family. In fact, she has to lie in order to defend the spies, an immoral thing to do according to an absolute moral standard. All she's really done is helped god in his quest for blood, which apparently is "righteous" and worth being spared. Of course, she's left homeless and penniless, but she's alive with her family, right?

Do we want to talk about Kenites? I'm sure they were fully righteous people, right? I'm sure none of their adults were guilty of not being righteous, but god spares them because he has a personal grudge against Amalek's tribe. This isn't about righteous punishment (an idea that could be argued to be an oxymoron) but about settling a grudge.

Should we talk about Sodom and Gomorrah? god had to be convinced not to wipe out the "righteous" people by Abraham. Instead of showing god's mercy or justice, it's an example of a human showing god how to be (more) moral and just. And, for Jerusalem, he goes ahead and finds everyone guilty anyway.

But, there's a larger thing going on here, and that is a circular reasoning. god decides who is righteous and they are righteous because god decided they are. So, if god wipes you out, then that means you weren't righteous, and you're righteous if god doesn't wipe you out. It's OK for god to commit genocide because he gets to decide whether it's OK or not, and it has nothing at all to do with morality. We can look at the story of Lot again to see this in action. Lot offers up his daughters to the men outside his door, which can't be defended as moral (except to a society that thinks of women as property). Yet, Lot is supposedly righteous according to god. Of course the angels didn't search the whole city to find if anyone else would have helped them (nor did the spies in the case of Rahab - apparently just finding one person that is willing to help you means that you've found all the people that would be willing) but because god said so, it somehow becomes right, just, and good. Well, sorry, but that doesn't cut it.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Alpha Course Dissected

I've been reading a series of posts on the Alpha Course, which seems to be Britain's analog to the Way of the Master crap that Ray Comfort puts out. So far, I'm up to week seven, and I've thoroughly enjoyed the write-ups of the courses and the interactions. So, I thought I would pass it along. I would recommend that both atheists and theists take a look at this, as many of the unanswered atheist arguments spring up here, and the theists inevitably fail to provide anything approaching a compelling answer.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Defending Genocide (Part I)

About a month ago, Ebonmuse had a great post talking about how Xians invariably have to try and defend genocide in defending their god. In it, Ebonmuse touched on three different sites that try to do just that, but he didn't go into depth on each one. I did look at those sites, however, and what he presented was only the tip of the iceberg. So, I endeavored to give these sites a more detailed fisking. Now that my computer is not blown up anymore, I can get into it, so here's part I.

The first site I'll be looking at is called Rational Christianity, although I have a feeling that I won't find a lot of reason there. As example number one, it starts right out with a bang:
The primary reason was punishment for wrongdoing. The populations of the destroyed cities had long histories of grievous sins (Gen 15:16, Dt 25:17-19), which often included sacrificing their children to false gods (Dt 12:29-31).

Hmmm, I'm tempted to point out a few stories here. First, god commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, and he is ready, willing, and able to do so. The only reason he doesn't follow through is because god stays his hand at the last second. Let's also not forget the story of Jephthah in Judges 29..

Finally, the whole Xian myth is based upon god performing a sacrifice of his own child in Jesus. It seems that the sin wouldn't have been child sacrifice so much as doing it to the wrong god. Apparently, having faith in the wrong god is grounds to have your whole entire culture wiped out? Sorry, but this does not justify wholesale slaughter, especially for a god that has other means and ability to carry out those means, and is supposedly omni-benevolent.

In later parts, I'll examine some other apologies that Xians have used to try and defend this heinous act.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Truth vs. Safety?

The Bible is not a nice book. Beyond all the atrocities of the old testament (rape, slavery, genocide, misogyny, war, murder, animal sacrifice) the new testament is supposedly better. Yet, what we find is not much in the way of condoning the old testament and the addition of hell, the idea that we are all deserving of infinite torture, and human/god sacrifice.

Yet, most modern Xians today will say that the Bible is a wonderful book, filled with peace and love and all kinds of great moral lessons. I can only surmise that they are selectively reading both in which passages they read and how they interpret them (as there's no good way to spin genocide and those other things listed above). So, we are left with a serious disconnect between what people believe their holy book is about and what it's really about.

Well, maybe I've got it all wrong, right? Maybe it's all about peace and love and all that. Surely Xians have been peaceful and loving due to their Bible for the last 2000 years, right? Well, no, that's not right. It's only recently that this idea of the Bible as being a book about peace and love has been in fashion. Certainly early Xians didn't think this way, nor did Xians who participated in such things as the Crusades, Witch trials, the Inquisition, or even those Xians who participate in today's organizations like the KKK or any other white power movement. For them, the Bible could only be said to be about peace and love once you're done eradicating all non-Xians.

Still, many Xians do hold this new view of a more peaceful scripture and presumably a subset of them will act more peacefully due to it. We've seen what rampant hate among a Xian majority can wreak in terms of havoc, and while we still see problems from the Xian majority trying to unduly influence others, this idea of a peaceful Xianity seems to have a dampening effect. So, my question is, should we embrace this and push more Xians to act in accordance with peace, or should we lay out the evil that is contained within the Bible and proclaim the truth?

I can see benefits to both sides. As I talked about above, a more secure lifestyle for non-Xians is a desired goal, and if Xians think that their religion should allow for this, it would be beneficial to us not to stop them. Of course, the downside is that the irrationality of the belief system will be seen as even more acceptable and more congruent with morality, which would be a serious drawback for actual morality.

On the flip side of things, truth is its own reward. We should be truthful and honest, and help Xians see how vile and evil their beliefs/scriptures really are. Yes, if some Xians succumb to that and actually become more vile and evil, it will be detrimental, but I happen to believe that other Xians may wake up and see their religion for what it is. They may throw off the shackles of irrational and outdated thoughts and help us to drag ourselves out of immorality and irrationality.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Religion vs. Xianity?

Why do some Xians insist that they don't belong to a "religion" but have a "personal relationship" with Jesus instead? The very definition of religion seems to indicate that all Xians are part of a religion:
religion [ri-lij-uhn]
1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.
4. the life or state of a monk, nun, etc.: to enter religion.
5. the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.
6. something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: to make a religion of fighting prejudice.

I've been told that it is an attempt to bypass the negative connotations of the word "religion" but I simply don't buy that. In this country (the US) there are no negative connotations to the word religion, and there certainly isn't any in the dictionary definition.

Is this an attempt to somehow claim that their beliefs are more valid or more special than the mundane beliefs of "religions?" Does anyone know why some Xians claim they aren't part of a religion?

Monday, 5 October 2009

What is a True Xian?

Most Xians that one talks to have no trouble identifying who is a True Xian and who is not. So, maybe some of the Xian commenters and readers here can give us all a definition of what a True Xian is. So, let's hear some definitions.

What I don't want to see is something like this, "A Xian is one who is Christ-like," because that's not very descriptive.

So, have at it.

PS - For those wondering where I've been, I had a hard drive failure which incapacitated my computer for a while (prolly too much pron and baby eating recipes!) Hopefully I'll be back with regularity now.