Monday, September 28, 2009
Watch found on bat cruise
Someone left a watch on the boat after the bat cruise ended on Saturday. I have it. If you think it may be yours, email email@example.com with a description, and we'll figure out how to get it back to you.
I'm sure this needn't be said, but please don't waste time trying to be funny and pretend the watch is yours when you know it isn't. Also don't claim it in the comments on this message, as it is more likely to be noticed via email.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Sorry about this, gang
...But I've activated comment moderation again, at least until a certain mentally ill Canadian gets bored and fucks off. It's just easier to run interference on his unhinged ravings than be constantly logging on all day to delete them. To all our loyal regulars, just consider things business as usual. Don't let moderation keep you from commenting. Either Kazim or I will approve your posts, no problem. Yes, "Mr FreeThinker," we'll even approve you, because even though you couldn't argue your way out of a wet paper bag, you are not to my knowledge a known psychotic or wannabe domestic terrorist. And your comments do keep the threads lively.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
E. J. Dionne report
Everything Else Atheist was also with me, and she might write up her own reactions later.
The lecture was about what I expected, which is to say, promising but ultimately disappointing. Dionne believes that religion has a solid place in public discourse, and it has been shanghai'd by the religious right unfairly. He told a joke in which a Republican asks a Democrat what the Democrat would do if Jesus ran as a Republican. The Democrat replies "Why would Jesus change his affiliation after all these years?"
Dionne was full of praise for the importance of religion in people's lives, saying that religion grapples with mysteries that science and politics cannot address. (Well yes, in the first place, many of those issues are addressed by science and politics; in the second place, just because religion grapples with them does not mean that it successfully addresses any of them.) He also leveled a great deal of criticism against what he perceives as the unfairly dismissive attitude toward religion by many liberals, saying liberals assume that all religious people are "busybodies obsessed with sex" based on the prevailing opposition to gay marriage and abortion.
Dionne did make a good point about the way that "moral values" tend to be framed in politics. He cited a clearly slanted 2004 exit poll which asked voters what issues most strongly influenced their vote. The options included such things as "moral values," "education," "the Iraq war," etc. Dionne rightly pointed out that if you describe either of the latter two as your most important concerns, then you are implicitly agreeing that moral values are less important to you. In reality, as he then pointed out, if neither education nor war is regarded as a moral concern, then there is something seriously wrong with our thinking. On the other hand, I of course believe that it is a mistake to attempt to unduly equate moral values with religious beliefs.
In the end Dionne suggests that it's important for Americans on both sides of the political spectrum to embrace their faith and accept it in public life.
There was a Q&A period where people walked up to microphones. Unfortunately I was not very nimble and wound up sixth in line, with answers to the first five questions taking up a good 5-10 minutes or so each. Luckily he still had time to answer my question, but after I went up he asked the remaining people in line to limit themselves to a brief, unanswered comment. I will try to reconstruct my statement/question from memory, and then summarize his response.
"Mr. Dionne, thank you for coming here tonight. My name is Russell Glasser, my father and I are long time fans of your column. I am also a member of the Atheist Community of Austin." [Dionne jokingly interjected "God bless you" to which I simply replied "Thank you."]
"Speaking as someone from the 15% of voters who do not claim any personal god, I feel that unbelievers are often caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to selecting a political party. I believe that somewhere around 80% of us voted for both Kerry and Obama. [Dionne nodded, indicating he was familiar with this.] Many atheists might be there by default, because frankly the Republican party is full of lunatics. I personally know only one atheist Republican, while most atheists who lean conservative gravitate toward the libertarian party.
"I think the reason separation of church and state is so important is not simply because it panders to people like me, but because religion is a deeply personal issue to many people. When political figures interject a religion into the dialogue, they are implicitly excluding other religions. As you pointed out, the religious right say that religious values are focused around gay marriage and abortion, which is different from the beliefs of many of the people in this church now.
"What I'm wondering is: Aren't you concerned that by encouraging politicians on the left to use more religious language, you are buying in to the notion that this sort of exclusion has a place in politics? It seems to me that even this much is conceding too much to the right regarding their perspective about the appropriate role of religion?"
I got a smattering of applause for this remark. Dionne answered that he understands my concerns, and mentions that he always says to believers that they ought to seek out conversations with atheists, because they should be prepared to defend their beliefs. Not quite the answer I was looking for, since I am more interested in wanting to engage with atheists at least partly out of recognition that there is no need to believe in God as a prerequisite to work towards shared social goals.
He then went on to say that it is possible to talk about religion without being disrespectful to nonbelievers, and it is important to do so. Finally, he added encouragingly that he would bet atheists are probably under reported by polling, since fewer people will admit to it.
After talk I saw a few familiar faces. Dr. James Dee popped up in the last set of people interjecting comments and made a comment about needing to read the Bible in the original languages. A regular commenter on this blog came up to me in the lobby and introduced himself, adding that he'll be joining us on the bat cruise this weekend.
In conclusion, I understand what Dionne is trying to do, but I still come away deeply unconvinced by the argument that the solution to religion in politics is more religion in politics. While I agree that it would be a mistake to ignore the role of religion in history, I see no compelling reason to believe that religion is a necessary or sufficient motivator to bring about positive changes. To give credit to God for human achievements is, in my opinion, an insult to human spirit. And considering the potential that religion always has to divide people, I really feel like Democrats should be especially wary of trying to use it for short term gain.
Kirk n' Ray's latest folly
By now I'm sure everyone knows about Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort's plan to give away their own edition of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, complete with their own 50-page introduction packed with contemptible creotard lies, at 50 college campuses this November. UT-Austin is one of those campuses, and you can bet I'll be there to get my copy! I heartily encourage Atheist Longhorns and literally everyone from the university's Biology department to snap up copies as well, until they run out. And of course, make sure the uneducated drones giving away the book's are appropriately humiliated and schooled. They evidently haven't considered the likely consequences of showing up in an environment where people are, by and large, well educated, and trying to spread their ignorant twaddle. Let's ensure they leave with a full understanding of those consequences.
Jim Emerson's Scanners blog (Jim edits rogerebert.com, and both he and Ebert are outspoken science supporters) offers a very funny takedown of Kirk and Ray's idiocy, and I think it's a good thing that this whole exercise receives as much derision in advance of the actual event as possible. What an awesome thing it would be if those dispatched to give away these books encountered, at all 50 universities (and I've read reports there may be more than 100 universities by now), a horde of fearless and outspoken experts in science who calmly shoot down their foolishness and lies, like shooting clay pigeons out of the sky. This ought to be an event they live to regret.
Dembski has Glenn Beck Envy?
You'd think it was lame enough that the [snort] "Isaac Newton [snicker...heehee] of Information Theory [hhahahaHAHAHAHA...ahem]" is so bereft of actual material to teach his hapless students at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary that he bases a full 20% of their grade on how active they are in trolling the comments of science blogs (seriously...click here and scroll down to "Spring 2009...AP410"). Now, can it be that, inspired by conservative histrionics and tantrums at recent "town hall" meetings on health care reform, he now wants them to disrupt science lectures? Say it ain't so!
SMU is hosting several awesome events this weekend celebrating Darwin's 200th anniversary, and Dembski has told his students he wants them going.
I don't want you going there merely as spectators but will indicate in class how you might actively participate and engage the Darwin-lovers you'll find there.
"Darwin-lovers." Cute. Very, erm, scientific.
Now, Dembski doesn't exactly say "cause a disruption and shout people down." But, here's the thing. It's obvious, at this point, that poor old Dembski has basically given up. That bold and courageous five-year plan indicated in the Wedge Document to undermine "materialistic" science and replace it with New & Improved Jesus Science hasn't gone so well. Yes, we have millions of uneducated and undereducated dimwits in the general public who reject evolution, but what Dembski wanted was academic respectability, and that has eluded him. Because neither he nor anyone in the late and unlamented ID camp ever produced any research, any science, any peer reviewed papers showing that the evidence for ID was more reasonable to accept than that for evolution.
So now he's reduced to asking his students to do his work for him, by trolling blogs and "challenging Darwin-lovers" at seminars held by real universities. As this exercise will lead to very embarrassing encounters for these poor deluded kids when real experts and scientifically literate people school them hard, one could almost call it cruel. I can see some poor 20-year-old kid, deciding to "actively engage the Darwin-lovers," raising his hand during the Q&A, confidently spouting some ignorant ID canard, and being met with gales of laughter and some steely cold facts. It's almost unpleasant to contemplate, like visualizing a squirrel being squashed by a semi. (Okay, I lie. It's actually funny to contemplate and not nearly that bad. But I'm striving for "positive atheism" here. Work with me.)
It's over, Bill. Your grade: fail.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
V Goes to Jesus Camp
“I've made about 300 videos on my [Youtube] channel, and most of them featured me, without any disguise. I started making the videos in September 2008, but after my most recent call to The Atheist Experience, my Youtube channel was suspended fraudulently. The Youtube atheist community is having a very hard time dealing with fundamentalist Christians and apologists, who falsely flag our videos as ‘inappropriate’ or file false copyright claims (which is, in fact, a crime). Once my channel was restored, I decided to play it safe and hide my identity, just to make sure that a cursory examination of my channel and videos would not draw suspicion from my family members or their church. Aside from that, the irony of a Guy Fawkes mask is not lost on me; though he was a Catholic conspirator trying to destroy a Protestant government, my use of the mask mirrors the motive of the V character. I am a strong supporter of free speech, and took up the mantle whilst Christians continue to infringe upon the rights of others on Youtube, and in the rest of the world.”
“Shwanerd,” as he bills himself on Youtube, originally surfaced during a phone call to The Atheist Experience. He gave the call screeners the name “James,” and described himself as a 16-year-old, from a Pentecostal home, living in Canada. Then, like V, live on the air, he proceeded to publicly broadcast his plans: to post a series of home-spun “Jesus Camp” styled videos chronicling his own experiences at a religious retreat over summer 2009.
He explained he had gone to camp as far back as he could remember, and said he had begun seriously investigating his faith only a few years prior to the call, with the intention of defending it against skeptics. Ironically, his research, intended to defend his faith, eventually led him to the conclusion that his faith was indefensible. He soon realized he had deconverted himself.
Asked to describe what he went through during that time, James said:
“My level of religious fundamentalism peaked around the age of 12, when I was watching Kent Hovind seminars and Ray Comfort’s Way of the Master series in church. My critical thinking skills must have been sorely lacking at the time, and much like Matt Dillahunty’s quest to ‘save souls,’ my efforts to reinforce my beliefs only made them less believable. I began to follow the Youtube atheism movement in late 2007, and by 15, I couldn’t reconcile my Christianity with real facts—real evidence.
“I was always interested in science, and when I truly grasped the concept of evolution, I realized how tenuous and foolish my religion was. I couldn’t compartmentalize my beliefs, as so many people do in the face of contradictory evidence. Rather, my whole worldview was forced to change dramatically. In the span of only about a year, I went from young-earth creationism to old-earth deism, ‘wishy-washy’ agnosticism, and finally the kind of ‘strong-atheism’ Matt often describes on the show (at least regarding all gods ever worshipped in human history).
“Even divorced from that scientific refutation of the Bible's teachings, I was also able to at last grasp the absolute moral repugnance of the God character in the Abrahamic religions. I just couldn’t bring myself to believe or worship such an evil concept.”
The videos are nearly all set to the same melodic, ominous tune. “The music you hear most often on my recent videos is the instrumental version of the song ‘Cells’ by a now-defunct band called 'The Servant.’ It is more commonly recognized as the theme song for Sin City. I think the music matched well with the current tone of my videos, as well as having a recognizable (and awesome!) guitar riff.”
Most of the clips include brief introductions by James, followed by simple video of the camp activities—consisting mainly of sermons by youth ministers. These preaching sessions are supplemented by religious messages in giant letters, presented on a projection screen on the stage behind the speaker. In the first video, Shwanerd zooms in to show the text:
“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow…Life is worth living, just because he lives.”
Presented to these children as a statement of affirmation, the group appears oblivious to what James is highlighting with his zoom, an ominous indoctrination “message behind the message” that without this religion, the adherent might as well be dead.
In other segments, we’re introduced to more “affirmations” that feature fear and control themes, to which the young audience also seems oblivious. The minister preaches on enthusiastically:
“Just be willing to go where god wants us to go.”
“You can’t have a casual relationship with Jesus…you ask him to come into your life and be your Lord…to be the one who is calling the shots. To be the one who is completely in control of what’s going on in your life.”
To some outside the faith community, these words may be either sad or frightening: a crowd of young people being instructed by a respected authority figure to relinquish responsibility of their choices and actions—to not dare to guide their own destinies. The question these segments present is, “If these young people do not guide their own lives, and there is no god, then who, exactly, inherits control over these myriad young minds?” It is the youth minister who acts as the mouth of god, telling receptive young minds what god demands of them.
Another indoctrination technique demonstrated in the videos includes taking advantage of something called compartmentalization, a mental technique of separating conflicting opinions and never considering them together—as a means to maintain two incompatible concepts within a single mind. In this way, an otherwise reasonable person can become unreasonable in isolated areas of his or her life. An example of this would include a competent professional accountant whose personal finances are in shambles due to poor money management application at home. The accountant has demonstrated money management competency, but fails to consider or apply this competency in a specific situation. Observers may be mystified at how someone so professionally competent with money, can exercise such incompetence in personal financial matters. But contradictions like this aren’t uncommon—demonstrated in our own lives and in the lives of those around us.
The minister shouts, “Put Jesus in a category all his own!” He explains Jesus is unique and unlike anything else these children will ever know. He encourages them to put this belief on a pedestal—to not place this belief on par with other beliefs. Other beliefs can be questioned or rejected, but this single, unique belief is special and cannot be viewed like, or compared with, other beliefs. It needs to be set in a specialized and separate compartment, away from other thoughts and ideas. The children can question or put aside belief in Allah. They can question or put aside belief in nationalism. They can question or put aside belief in family loyalty. But they cannot question or put aside belief in Jesus.
The next message James tapes is the minister telling the children that believing in things without justification is a valued attribute, that belief based only on belief, not on evidence or reason, should be their goal. Examples on the video include the following statement:
“Holy Spirit,” the youth minister prays, “…give me faith to believe.”
James understands that his skeptic audience will wonder why any person would request “faith” to “believe.” Beliefs, to the skeptic, are ideas built upon examination of evidence offered by reality—not on merely wishing to believe, what the minister calls "faith."
The videos are interspersed with visual messages of James’ own, skeptic humor borrowed from Internet sources. He often uses a cartoon image of a soldier in a tank labeled “Occam’s Howitzer: Blowing the [explicative] out of stupidity.” James credits a British Youtube atheist with the original idea.
He uses an unorthodox definition of Christianity that features a “Zombie Jesus” and a “rib woman” (Eve). James recognizes the images and text are inflammatory. He calls it a “crude…very humorous and blunt examination (more like, over-simplification) of the core beliefs in Christianity,” and adds that “it exposes the religion for its absurdity, and pulls no punches.”
Hits on James’ videos number in the thousands, with like-minded viewers posting comments like these:
Xphobe: “I couldn’t listen to the whole thing. I’d rather be waterboarded.”
Mickdornfad: “This is brilliant entertainment. I feel sorry for the people of the future (when religion will be gone) who will only get this sort of entertainment in the cinema.”
Percymate: “You should add a laugh track to this [explicative].”
James’ Youtube frankness is a contrast to his personal life, where most people have no idea what he believes or what he’s doing on the Internet. James’ father, a fellow atheist who only recently came out fully to his son, is also a victim of social pressure, and feels a need, for now, to remain closeted about his (lack of) belief.
“My father is definitely an atheist, albeit taking a less intellectual route in making his decision of nonbelief than I have. When I was a young child he rarely attended church, calling himself ‘Catholic,’ but being one in name only (not in practice). The family moved to my current town, and when my mother joined the largest Pentecostal church in the area, she slowly won my father over. He started attending church again—several years ago. I’d even go as far as to say he began to take Christianity seriously.
“As of late, however, we both confide in each other about our lack of belief. He’s always had trouble with tithing, and could never take Bible stories seriously—Noah's ark, Jonah and the whale, and so on. Like me, he is ‘in the closet,’ and, so far as I know, doesn’t talk to anyone but me about his atheism. The current situation in my family is our greatest concern; at this time it would be a bad idea to ‘come out’ as atheists, really for the sake of other family members. They would experience unnecessary grief and anxiety at a time when that is the last thing we want to do. It would also make it harder to 'deconvert' others in the family, if we wished to do so in the future.”
When I sent this article off to James for review, he added a brief note to his approval notice: “…the only other interesting news I have is the recent deconversion of a friend of mine. He used to be a Muslim and will be making videos that I'll be posting to my channel. He has to keep things even more secretive, since he knows his family has a 'moral obligation' to kill him for Allah if they found out!”
My initial instinct was to assume James was kidding about the killing statement. So, I asked. James wrote back, “Well, he has told me that very thing several times, in a way that seems like he wants to be joking about it—but he's actually concerned. He's much more afraid of being 'outed' than I am, that's for sure. He only became an atheist in the past month or so, but he certainly doesn't think he'd ever revert back to Islam again—knowing what he knows now.”
Don’t misunderstand. I know how parental threats or claims of disapproval can be exaggerated in the mind of a minor. I’d be the first to admit that I think it’s far more likely that James’ friend fears—and would face—a social familial backlash and not actual murder.
For the record, though, James and his friend, living as closeted atheist minors in their religious parents’ homes, do not represent a situation that is as rare as you might suspect. It’s fair to say that this represents one of the more familiar categories of letters we receive regularly on the AETV-list—minors writing in to say “I’m afraid my family will find out,” or to ask “how should I break the news to my parents?”
In the meantime, James will continue posting his sacrilege incognito, and hopefully keep us updated on anything significant at his channel.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
We get email: "atheists can be irrational too" edition
Remember Patrick Greene? He's the dimwit who took umbrage at Ray Comfort's website selling bumper stickers unflattering to atheists. He declared it hate speech and threatened to sue, called in to the TV show to defend his litigiousness, was roundly mocked for such silly and petty behavior, and yet insisted that his contact information be made available on the show despite warnings from both Matt and Kazim that this was probably not the best idea.
Well, here it is a year later, and Patrick is highly frustrated that you folks are still emailing him telling him what an assrocket he is. Evidently it didn't occur to him that, what with fans posting clips all over YouTube and the availability of the show on such services as Google Video and Blip.tv, his little announcement would be available pretty much in perpetuity. Never mind, though, because, in his narcissistic view of things, you're all the ones with the problem. So he writes us back in full-blown petulant-5-year-old-who's-been-told-he-can't-play-Wii-until-he-eats-his-broccoli mode.
I received another e-mail about the bumper sticker, after a YEAR of this shit going on, so I have decided to file the lawsuit, and send you a copy of it. I am so sick to death of people keeping this crap alive......!!!![Like you, Pat? —MW]
Because of this e-mail, and the hundreds of other e-mails I have received that say the exact same thing yours does, I have decided that I will file the lawsuit, because if ALL of you think it's a bad idea.........it must be a good idea...............because all of you around the world are acting like Christians. This idea I had is a YEAR old. A YEAR OLD!!!
And if you all are STILL talking about it, and taking time to send e-mails about it, then It MUST be a good idea......THANKS!!!!!
Well, you can't argue with logic like that, can you?
So, here's the email that our courageous defender of atheism's honor has fired off to Living Waters Ministry.
To Mr. Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron,
This is to inform you that over a year has passed since the incident of the threatened lawsuit against your bumper sticker. Since that time I have received e-mails by the hundreds, from atheists all over the world. These atheists have unanimously agreed that the lawsuit idea was not a good one, to put it mildly.
However, after spending the last year going through your blog and your store, and seeing the sheer volume of materials against atheists, I have come to the conclusion that your "free speech" constitutes hate speech.
So, since Christians by their own admission adhere to a "loving" faith, your biblical mandate of spreading the "word" must come in the form of loving rhetoric, not insulting people who do not share your belief, and not instilling hate to your followers.
Therefore, if ALL of your material against atheists is not removed from your website by October 20, 2009, I will file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Antonio, and ask the court to issue a restraining order to curtail your hate speech.
Oh yeah. That'll have them quaking in their boots and their lawyers scrambling to circle the wagons, for damn sure. Uh-huh. Like this thing won't be dismissed so fast it'll set off a sonic boom.
Patrick, if Ray Comfort is the World's Stupidest Christian™, then you are most certainly the World's Stupidest Atheist™. You guys are made for each other. If only you knew how good you're making him look. Moron.
Note to self and others
If you're going to start a religion, make sure you don't choose a name for it that can be anagrammed. One of our Swedish viewers alerts us to this bit of prankery, in which the sign on the building of a local Jehovah's Witnesses' Kingdom Hall — "Rikets Sal" — has been creatively edited to read "Skitarsle," which, we are informed, translates in English to "asshole."
Not that we approve of such petty vandalism. But I'm still chuckling.
You can listen to this discussion somewhere around the last fifteen minutes of the show. After you do, we'd like your feedback.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Once upon a time there was a little boy, apprentice to a shepherd, who lived in a small village. One day his mentor told him he was old enough to tend to the flocks alone. The boy was given a staff and instructions that if a wolf approached the flocks, he should shout out long and loud “Wolf! Wolf!” so that the villagers would know he was in trouble and rush to his aid with pitchforks and axes. But, the boy was warned, this was nothing to take lightly. It was important that such an alarm be raised only in the event of real danger—only upon seeing an approaching wolf.
Do you remember the rest of the story? The shepherd boy thought it would be quite funny to upset the town into chaos and watch the population scurry about excited and scared, running to his aid. And he exercised his new power by calling out “Wolf! Wolf!” in the absence of any real danger—much to the anger of the villagers. In the end, when the real wolf approached, no one answered the boy’s cries as the wolves stalked into the flock and killed the sheep.
The main moral to the story has always been that if you lie, people lose trust in your integrity—which could cost you later, when you need their help and trust. But there is something else to be learned. This is an old story. It’s so old that we can’t really say who came up with it. Certainly the “wolf” in the story is undeniably reminiscent of old European tales collected by the Grimm Brothers. But who knows?
Why did the boy lie? We all know what he lost—but we’ve grown so used to the tale that we’ve forgotten to ask the other central question: What did he gain? Before you read on, seriously, consider this question. On what level does the boy’s lie make sense? What did the boy gain? What was his motivation to lie? Does anyone really ever ask this when they remember this story?
To put it simply, it was fun for the boy to lie. It amused him to think that the villagers could be controlled by a word from his mouth—fooled by a simple shout: “Wolf!” An entire audience at his beck and call. So alluring to his mind, he couldn’t wait to test it out.
What I’d like to call out, though, is that in this old story we have an example of a general understanding of something we sometimes forget: Sometimes people don’t need a material motive or benefit to lie. Sometimes, psychologically speaking, lying is it’s own reward. When the boy lied he exercised control of others and amused himself. Why, when we hear this story, do we not respond, “But I don’t understand—why did the shepherd think the boy would lie—and so warn him not to do so? And why did the boy lie? The story makes no sense.” Nobody says this, because the story does make sense. The boy’s lie makes sense. We have no material benefit, but we totally understand the boy’s motive to lie.
We know that people sometimes lie for “no good reason.” Some people like to lie. Some people like to cause chaos. Some people like the idea of controlling others and being the focus of attention—having that small power over others. And we understand that.
In fact, as Munchausen by Proxy demonstrates, some people will kill their own children, lying all the while by claiming the kid is chronically ill, to get that sort of attention.
These are people who are married, who have jobs, who may be surrounded by friends and family who think they’re caring parents. But deep in their brains, these people are very, very needy—beyond anything I, and hopefully you, can imagine. They have a deep need for attention that overrides everything else—even parental instincts to protect their own children.
They don’t need a large audience, either. The Munchausen crowd usually only has immediate friends and family and some hospital staff at their disposal. Maybe a name in the paper if they’re caught. Just like the Boy Who Cried “Wolf!,” it’s extremely localized attention—but worth their child’s life. All it takes is someone to listen to them—to pay attention to them. And infamy works just as well as fame to fill this emotional void.
Consider the Salem Witch Trials. A handful of girls become the focus of a small community’s attention when they feign fits and attacks by local “witches”—knowingly responsible for the torture and executions of a dozen or so innocent friends and neighbors. And for what? For a game of “let’s pretend,” where the girls get to be the center of attention? Where the village listened to them—paid undivided attention to their every word? It must have been intoxicating—all eyes on them, waiting, breathlessly, for their next tale of terror—waiting to see who would be accused next of flying through the air, consorting with feline familiars or having sex with demons.
People who lie for attention will kill their own children. People who lie for attention don’t care if their lies cause harm and death to others. People who lie for attention don’t care if it’s just a handful of people giving it to them. People who lie for attention can be your next door neighbor. They’re among us. They’re not all locked in asylums somewhere. They function as working parts of our society. However “abnormal” they may be deep in their brains, they are “normal” enough to be socially integrated until, and unless, they are eventually discovered when they cross a legal line.
The Claim: “Nobody Would Die for a Lie”
Christian apologist Josh McDowell’s book More Than Just a Carpenter, so it’s stated online, has a chapter titled “Who Would Die for a Lie?” If you’re not familiar with this theist argument, here are a few theists explaining it. I like to let Christians speak for themselves when it comes to restating their claims, so I’m not later accused of building or responding to Strawmen. Emphasis throughout this article is mine.
“Nobody would die for a lie knowing that it was a lie. Many have died for a lie, but they did not realize they were dying for a lie. They thought they were dying for the truth. Fact is, all the Apostles, save John were killed for their preaching. Some were speared to death; some were killed with a sword; some were beheaded and some were beaten to death. Why is this a logical and reasonable validation of the New Testament? The answer is they had first hand knowledge of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.”If you’re like me, you may have had to read it more than once to realize he was actually arguing on behalf of the validity of scripture. You might have noticed that he rebuts himself when he begins with “Many have died for a lie, but they did not realize they were dying for a lie. They thought they were dying for the truth.” It sounds like something an atheist would say to rebut his later point—that these Christian martyrs believed these things happened, but were simply wrong. Still, his conclusion is not that a martyr’s death demonstrates their conviction, but that it demonstrates that what they were convicted of is true. See his last line.
—Pastor Bobby W. Leggett in the December 23, 2008, Blanco County News (TX) “Focus on Faith” section, contribution of an article titled “Is the Bible Reliable and Valid?”
“…the greatest testament to their honesty was the fact that they were persecuted under the Roman government and died for what they believed in. People may die for the truth, but nobody would die for a lie that they conceived.”Just like Leggett’s claim, Minich claims that it’s impossible that anyone would die for a lie if they knew it was a lie—if they, Minich qualifies, conceived the lie themselves.
—Timothy Minich contributed his article to the Christian section of a site called “bigissuegrou.com.” It has an atheist section that includes religious articles actually presenting religious views. Minich supplies an apologist’s view, above.
“This is one of the reasons, years ago, that I decided that the resurrection must have happened. Otherwise who would die for a lie? These were people who had a passion for the message of Christ, who were willing to take up their crosses daily to spread the word. Who goes into strange lands, traveling hot and dusty roads, with little money, into lands that are unsafe and where they could easily die a painful death, all for a lie?”Above, we can’t dismiss that the very first sentence of this theist’s claim undeniably connects the idea that if a person would die for a claim it is evidence the claim “must have happened.” As he notes, these people “could easily die a painful death”—and he cannot accept a person would be willing to risk that over a lie. He doesn’t even add the caveat that it could have been a lie they believed. But I’ll add that, myself, to give him the benefit of the doubt. Let’s make the claims all as reasonable as possible:
--Reverend Dr. N. Graham Standish, September 7, 2008, sermon, online at www.calvinchurchzelie.org.
If a person knows their claim is a lie—such as a claim someone made up himself—it is impossible that person would die for it.I believe this is not only fair, but a generous interpretation of the arguments, as stated, above.
I can think of three scenarios right off the bat that defy the claim above. I am going to explain them, and then discount them as “giveaways”—and I will explain why.
Coercion 1: This would be a situation where someone who knows you is being interrogated, and they name you as someone who was running around preaching the resurrection. It is a lie. You know it is a lie. You are brought in and beaten and questioned. You, like many people today who admit to murder due to police interrogations that I will wager are not nearly as horrible as what I would expect to encounter in antiquity, tell them whatever they want to hear to get them to stop beating you. You hope for leniency, but you are executed. You have now become a Christian resurrection martyr who died for a lie.
Coercion 2: This would be identical to coercion except that you know you will be executed. You tell them what they want to hear in order to die, because they are not going to believe you were not preaching, and ultimately you will either die painfully and slowly or be more quickly executed, which you deem is preferable. You confess and are executed. You have now become a Christian resurrection martyr who died for a lie.
Protecting Someone You Love: Someone reports to the authorities that a person in your house was preaching the resurrection. You know it was your child, who is involved with the Christians. You lie and say it was you. You are arrested and executed. You have now become a Christian resurrection martyr who died for a lie.
In any of the three situations above, somebody would, understandably, die for a lie. They would also be logged as a religious martyr, that is, someone who died for their religion. People would die for lies—even lies they knew were lies. And nobody can deny that people have offered confessions to capital crimes, under coercion, or to protect other people. Such people have been discovered and sometimes exonerated.
But, let’s overlook those demonstrated examples of people who are willing to die for lies they, themselves, have manufactured or understood were lies. Let’s overlook it because the first objection will be that martyrs were preaching the resurrection and refused to recant. So, the above only demonstrates people would die for a lie, but not that the specific Christian examples would have. Honestly, though, if all I do here is put “nobody would die for a lie they knew was a lie” to bed, or make people produce a more supportable and specific claim, I’ll have accomplished something monumental.
So, I give the theists, whether they state it or not, that they meant to offer that a person would not die for a lie without coercion or external pressure of some sort. Now we have a claim that looks more like this:
Nobody would voluntarily, and without external coercion or pressure, offer a false confession to a capital offense, knowing it was false—up to, and including, something he, himself, manufactured.And I can’t imagine being more fair than that with this claim. I am stretching to give every benefit of reasonableness I can imagine.
In a way I’m torn about even broaching this because some might say the best approach is to question the validity of the tales describing the martyrs. Like any ancient history—any such tale can only be taken with a grain of salt. I don’t mean, with this post, to lend undue credibility to the idea that there were actually “eye witnesses” to a resurrection, or that people who were martyred were actually martyred for refusing to deny a resurrection—versus, for social or religious persecution brought on in the same manner we see religious persecution today. You don’t have to be an eye-witness to be a martyr. And the fact someone dies for a cause doesn’t really tell me what specifically they claimed at trial and if that is the reason they were actually executed. In other words, a person might preach the resurrection, but be tortured and killed as a political subversive.
So, just to be clear, this post is not meant to address the question of whether or not there are legitimate claims of such martyr tales.
This post is only to examine whether or not it is justified to claim that “nobody” would voluntarily face death, without coercion, for a lie they knew was a lie.
As the claim is stated, using “nobody,” means a single example to the contrary, outside our three exclusions, is sufficient to render it failed. But I’m sure the apologists who issue it would want to see at least enough examples to account for multiple martyr accounts. One example will probably be insufficient to get them to lay this down. But we must keep in the front of our minds that we need not address all Christian martyrs. This claim can only be applied to a very narrow subset of historic Christian martyr claims—only those martyrs who we can reasonably claim professed to have seen the resurrection firsthand, refused to recant, and were executed specifically for refusing to recant their claim that a resurrection occurred.
I admit right off the bat that I have not researched the martyr stories. I am familiar with the death of Stephen in Acts 6-7, but the tale says he was arrested on lies against him, and, further, that his testimony that resulted in his execution was that he claimed Jesus had been murdered, not that Jesus resurrected. Just for the record, that is a very important distinction. And it means that Stephen is discounted as a person who died for the claim that Jesus resurrected.
I have no idea if there are records of early Christians dying for resurrection testimony. But at this point, it is not relevant. I’m only addressing the martyr apologetic, not examining the martyr stories: Are there people who would be willing to lie and put themselves in harm’s way, up to and including facing capital punishment, for an uncoerced absolute fabrication they created themselves?
Facing Execution for Infamy and Notoriety
The following quote is from the paper “False Confessions: Why?” (subtitled “A pathological need for attention, or blurring of reality, may underlie the phenomenon”) by Kathleen Doheny (reviewed by Louise Change, MD), found at the Willams College Psychology Department Web site (Williamstown, Mass.):
“Some false confessors have a pathological need for attention,” Saul Kassin, PhD, a distinguished professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and professor at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., says to explain confessions like [John Mark] Karr’s.Described above, we have a mind, motivated by an insatiable need for attention, very much like our shepherd boy, the Munchausen mother, and the Salem children—all of whom demonstrated that only a small audience is sufficient. But the individuals Doheny is describing, rather than harming others, are willing to accept harm to themselves, including death. Interestingly, the defense for the Munchausen patient could very well be the apologetic applied to the martyrs: “Surely, nobody would kill her own child and lie about it—just for attention?” And yet, she does. And “surely, nobody would put themselves in a situation where they’re lying and claiming to have done things that are known to result in execution?” And yet, they do.
“That is what everyone is speculating in the Karr case,” he says. “The pathology is such that that need predominates. And everything else fades into the background.” Even the risk of prison or death.
“They are driven by the limelight,” adds Eric Hickey, PhD, professor of criminal psychology at California State University, Fresno, and director of the Center of Forensic Studies at Alliant International University, Fresno.
And while even a small, immediate audience suffices for such a person, what a boon it would be to go down in history as a hero to a religious faith—still recognized for your sacrifice more than two thousand years later. If there were such Christian martyrs, could they have thought they were achieving this sort of fame at the time? Certainly history logged martyrs before Christianity. But, honestly, I couldn’t wager a guess. Suffice to say that I have no reason to doubt that their immediate fame or infamy presented sufficient audience to justify their lies and sacrifices. It is right in step with the examples of those who lie for recognition, listed earlier. In fact, in a few cases I came across in the literature, there was one for murder, and another for robbery, issued specifically to impress girlfriends—an audience of one.
These types of lies, were all the buzz right after John Mark Karr came forward in e-mails claiming to have been with JonBenet Ramsey when she died—earning himself a first degree murder charge. But there is some speculation about Karr's confession specifically. So, I am not using Karr as a shining example.
During his time in the limelight, though, CBS News highlighted the story and made public the issue of “Voluntary False Confession” (VFC). But it wasn’t the first time the U.S. public had seen this sort of weirdness. From the numbers I came across, 200 or more of these death-wish, attention-seeking liars, living as our friends and neighbors, came forward to take credit for the tragic and historically infamous Lindbergh baby kidnapping and murder in the 1930s. In a real ironic twist, the event was labeled as “the biggest story since the Resurrection,” by reporter H.L. Mencken. An event that inspired hundreds of attention-seeking liars to beg for execution is compared to the resurrection. Interesting.
In the CBS story, Alan Hirsch, a professor of legal studies at Williams College and founder of the blog The Truth About False Confessions, stated “As hard as it is to believe, there are just many, many false confessions for many reasons, and so [if] I hear that someone confessed, my reaction is not, ‘Oh, they did it.’”
As we’ve already discussed, Hirsch goes on in the story to say, “Voluntary false confessions can be motivated by a suspect’s desire for notoriety. In high profile cases, it is not rare for multiple innocent people to tell the police they are guilty.”
But lest we get too hung up on notoriety, be warned, that’s far from the only motive for a person to voluntarily tell a lie that could, realistically, get them killed.
VFC to be Heard and Imagination Inflation
Also in Doheny’s article, in talking about VFC, Hickey points out, “Other confessors are angry and want to be heard…They want a voice. They don’t feel like they have a voice.”
Hickey does not speculate this is what happened with Karr, though. He thinks it is possible Karr “wanted to be connected to JonBenet so badly. Maybe he thought about it so much he fantasized himself into believing it.” Kassin describes a situation where a person imagines an event, over and over, and becomes uncertain about whether it is real or not. In Doheny’s paper, he says, “The memory research on this is clear—it’s called imagination inflation.”
We even had a caller on the show not long ago who did this as a child. He imagined a vacation his family talked about very often. When he got older, he talked about his memories of it and was informed he hadn’t been with the family during the trip. It happens—to normal people. I know this doesn’t qualify as a “lie” in our context, but I feel compelled to note that part of religious indoctrination and ritual is repetition—to hear the stories over and over. Think: Imagination Inflation.
VFC for Thrills
But there are more recognized psychological motivations that drive otherwise socially integrated people to be willing to offer a VFC. Doheny’s paper describes something called “duping delight.” In plain terms, this is a rush some people get from lying to other people. PhD and a research psychologist Cynthia Cohen attributes eminent psychologist Paul Ekman with coining the term. Cohen adds, “In putting something over on someone, they get a thrill. It’s almost like someone who likes to do bungee jumping. Someone who has duping delight gets excitement from telling a lie and having someone believe it. Maybe they got rewarded for their tall tales in childhood. Perhaps their friends or even their parents thought the behavior was cute.”
VFC Because of Low Self-Esteem
There’s still more reasons for people to give VFC. The item below is from the chapter titled “False confessions, the Temple Murder Case, and the Tucson Four” from the book The Right to Remain Silent, by Gary L. Stewart, former editor of the Arizona Law Review:
“False confessions derive from several psychological conditions. A suspect may feel guilty about something he has done or failed to do, something completely unrelated to the crime in question.”Stewart talks about the frequency of such confessions as well:
“The frequency of false confessions is a vigorously debated question in the legal world. An even more complicated question arises in trying to determine how many wrongful convictions are based on false confessions. Estimates range from a low of 35 to a high of 840 annually.”Bear in mind that a false confession is not necessarily a VFC. There is a difference. But also keep in mind the Lindbergh case, alone, inspired around 200 immediate VFCs. People continue to confess to the still unsolved Black Dahlia murder. And some, like convicted murderer Henry Lee Lucas, keep confessing to murder after murder in which they had no involvement whatsoever.
While I’d like to think we wouldn’t actually convict such a person, the truth is we only know about the ones we know about. If any have been executed, we have no way to know that short of an extremely unlikely post-mortem exoneration. All I intend to offer here is that, based on what we know about reality, it is not unreasonable to reject the claim that “nobody” would, voluntarily, die for a lie, if he knew it was a lie.
More About Guilt
The guilt complex motive was one that interested me immediately, since Christianity and guilt have a well-known and often humorously portrayed love-affair dating back to its Hebrew religious roots, but amplified with the resurrection story. Anyone would be hard pressed to try and claim that people who feel unworthy aren’t drawn like files to a religion that preaches redemption that one cannot access through one's own worth. A religion that specifically reinforces a reality that all humans are wretched would offer a great deal of appeal, in the form of relation and identity, to someone with deep-seated self-esteem problems.
Someone recently referred to this as the “I am the Universe” fallacy on our tv list. The idea is that however I feel, whatever I think, whatever I would do, it’s the same for everyone. It’s not a rare perspective to exhibit. And I do get the irony of my next comment which is to say I can’t imagine that anyone hasn’t made this mistake at least once in their life. You generally get a heaping helping of reality slapped onto your plate after you make such a universal assumption, and find yourself corrected by someone who isn’t exactly like you. A mild example would be that you buy a chocolate cake for a dinner party, plop it down on the table and say, “Doesn’t everyone love to eat chocolate cake?!” The hostess replies, “I’m afraid I’m allergic to chocolate,” and you have a Eureka! moment where you realize that you are, in fact, not the universe, and probably should not have presumed something about others, without checking.
But if I’m riddled with self-esteem issues that I can’t free myself from, how could I even imagine a person without such issues? The fact is, someone who is motivated by jealousy will assume that they can make others jealous (that we all suffer that same fault). We think “this would motivate me, so it should motivate you.” Sometimes it works. Sometimes not. But if I am horribly insecure and can’t imagine what it’s like to be secure, odds are I will suspect the world, like me, is also insecure. And the religion that says, “Don’t we all realize, deep down, that we’re just not good enough, that we need a savior?” will reach into my brain and light me up like Christmas. It will speak to me and echo my self-imposed, delusional reality. And it will ring true—for me.
The guilt motivation for a VFC—a way of punishing myself—fits Christian martyrdom like a glove. If I think I’m a wretch who deserves hell fire, and that I killed the uniquely good messiah with my wickedness, then paying with my life while I witness to god would be the most glorious death imaginable.
Would a Christian saint lie, though? Someone so devoted to god? Absolutely, yes, if they were suffering from these issues. Good Christians have lied without gaining notoriety, redemption, or a rush. Every scribe that ever doctored a canon text to make it a little more orthodox is guilty of lying for the cause of Christianity. I’m sure they were aware it was dishonest. But a higher cause, a nobler goal was prompting them. The texts were revised. We have the notes in our Bibles today describing which passages have been added or altered from older or better manuscripts. Quotes were “fixed.” Characters were made more consistent or gentler. But it was all to improve on the message—all for the greater good.
Yes, people who subscribe vehemently to a doctrine will lie and die for it—even if the doctrine promotes honesty as a virtue. It’s weirdly hypocritical and contradictory—but since when have religious zealots (or any of us, for that matter) been immune, as humans, from hypocrisy or contradiction? Aren’t these, ironically, some of the very flaws Christianity says we’re all subject to? On that note, how ironic that an apologetic would be built around the idea that a human being couldn’t possibly act in a way that makes no sense. We see it all the time. The Bible condemns us for it and calls it sin and fault. I call it being human.
Would a reasonable person die for such a lie? No. But since when are humans—even most humans—reasonable? Where in the world was that fantasy bred?
Other researchers also noted the guilt motivator in VFC. In “The Psychology of False Confessions,” Richard P. Conti, PhD, Department of Psychology, College of Saint Elizabeth, Morristown, NJ, writes:
“…Other possible motives for voluntary false confessions include an ‘unconscious need to expiate guilt over previous transgressions through self-punishment,’ (Kassin & Wrightsman, 1985, p. 77). Gudjonsson (1992) points out that a previous transgression can be either a real or an imagined act. Gudjonsson further states that the transgression does not necessarily have to be identifiable, ‘some individuals have a high level of generalized guilt, which is not related to a specific transgression, and this may influence a range of their behaviours [sic], including their need to volunteer a false confession.’”The Link Between Guilt and Depression
The following quotes come from psychologist, Dr. Craig Bennell’s paper “Voluntary False Confessions: An Overview.” Among other things, this paper explains that the guilt that drives some people is actually part of depression—a very common psychological disorder that afflicts huge numbers of people:
“In cases where severely depressed individuals falsely confess, the confession is viewed as an attempt by the individual to relieve intense feelings of guilt. It is proposed that ‘the guilt is generated by past events and experiences and is projected onto some external event [eg. a crime] which becomes the focus for the patients guilt’ (Gudjonsson, 1992, p. 241). To relieve this guilt, it follows that the individual is motivated to seek out some kind of punishment. In the case of falsely confessing to a crime they did not commit, this punishment comes via fines, prison sentences, even death. These individuals seem to believe that once they confess to their ‘misdeeds’ and are publicly punished, their guilt will finally cease (Gudjonsson, 1992).”I’d Know If Someone Were Lying to Me
“It has been proposed, in cases of personality disordered individuals, that the false confession is motivated by a need to enhance an important psychological need, commonly one’ s self-esteem (Gudjonsson, 1992). Kassin and Wrightsman (1985) suggest that ‘the individual has a pathological need to become infamous, even if it means having to face the prospect of punishment...’”
“Certainly, in cases of voluntary false confessions where the confessor is clearly disturbed, perhaps even confessing to crimes that do not exist (Gudjonsson, 1992), the task of assessing the legitimacy of their confession, though time consuming, would seem less complex. However, for those voluntary false confessions that are more difficult to identify, it would be beneficial to have a system for predicting which individuals were falsely confessing—herein lies the problem. For as long as false confessions have been the studied, researchers have recognized that people, including those who deal with deception on a regular basis (Ekman and O’Sullivan, 1991), are not good at detecting whether or not someone is being deceptive (Horvath et al., 1994; Kohnken, 1987). This is not to say that research hasn’t identified observable behavioral differences between ‘truth tellers’ and ‘deceivers,’ only that the ability of people to recognize these differences is not very impressive.”
And here Bennell hits on something really interesting. Humans are not very good at recognizing liars. Remember that CBS News story? Hirsch, during that story said, “The rule of thumb is that everybody does overreact to a confession—there tends to be an assumption that it’s true.” In fact, in my reading on this topic, I read research demonstrating that people will say they would not be influenced by a confession if they found it was coerced; but when presented with a coerced confession, as the only difference in evidence in mock trial experiments, they convict more often than they did without the confession.
People’s brains love confessions. And people’s brains don’t work well when it comes to weeding out good ones from bad ones. No wonder the martyr argument sways so many. Apparently, even if I were able to show that all the martyrs ever recorded were killed due to coerced confessions—whether we’re proud of it or not—we’d still have a lot of people arguing that the martyrs were telling the truth about a resurrection.
But even more painful than the reality that we strongly tend to believe whatever lies and delusions flow from another person’s mouth, there is an embarrassing inverse correlation between how well we tell fact from fiction versus how convinced we are that we’re good at telling fact from fiction. The following breakdown comes from a paper titled “‘I’d Know a False Confession if I Saw One’: A Comparative Study of College Students and Police Investigators,” by Saul M. Kassin, Christian A. Meissner, and Rebecca J. Norwick, published in Law and Human Behavior, Vol. 29, No. 2, April 2005. Pay attention to the following, and don’t just let your eyes gloss over. This study asked convicted criminals to give both true confessions of their crimes and false, scripted confessions. They asked students and police investigators to review the confessions and judge whether they were true or false.
“Across participants, conditions, and items, the overall accuracy rate was 53.9%—a level of performance that is both unimpressive and nonsignificant relative to chance performance (z-test for proportions = 0.87). In signal detection terms, the hit rate (the percentage of inmates whose true confessions were correctly identified as true) was 63.6% and the false alarm rate (the percentage of inmates whose false confessions were incorrectly identified as true) was 56.1%. On a 1–10 point scale, the overall mean confidence level was 6.76. Interestingly, judgment accuracy and confidence were negatively correlated…”In plain English, the research found that none of the subjects did very well at recognizing fact from fiction. In fact, the results were so dismal that you’d have done just as well if you didn’t hear or watch the confessions and just categorized the “true” and “false” tapes using eenee-meenee-minee-moe. Law enforcement officers felt more confident than the students that they could tell a true confession from a false one. But the students, who were less certain, judged better.
In the end it’s my guess that the martyr argument persists for the following reasons:
1. The “I am the universe fallacy.” I am not the type of person who would die for a lie. And I don’t know people who would die for a lie. Ergo, nobody would die for a lie.
Even though we can easily demonstrate that “some people would face execution for a lie” is a realistic claim, it’s simply hard to get people to accept that it’s a big world out there with a lot of diversity, especially if you’re into a religion where diversity is condemned and conformity is rewarded and constantly reinforced. Who hasn’t heard that “atheists don’t ‘not believe’ in god—they know there’s a god. They’re just being defiant”?
“I am the Universe” lives! And I don’t see “I am the Universe” going away just because I posted this article; but, I hope to have demonstrated the claim “nobody would die for a lie” can absolutely not stand unchallenged in the face of demonstrated VFCs. “Nobody would die for a lie,” is along the same lines as arguing that “no woman would stay with a man who hits her.” If I didn’t know that this actually occurs in reality, certainly I would be inclined to agree it was reasonable to assert nobody would continue to live with someone who beats them if they could leave. It sounds reasonable. It makes perfect sense. And yet, every one of us knows it’s false and does not correlate to reality.
2. We put a high value on confessions, and we think we can tell when someone is offering us an honest or dishonest confession, even though we really can’t. And the more we believe we can, the more likely we can’t.
So, all a martyr has to do is make a confession. Right off the bat, some people will believe the martyr, simply because people believe confessions. Further, even if it’s a lie, a lot of people won’t be able to tell, but will feel confident they know the confession is true. In one article, it noted that some people will convict on a confession of guilt, even when confronted with compelling evidence of innocence. Our brains simply like to believe confessions. And the apparent validity of the confession and whether or not it correlates to the evidence is, to an uncomfortable degree, irrelevant to our brains.
Simply stated, a whole lot of people tend to believe what other people confess—too much and for horrible reasons—even for no reason at all.
In the end, though I have one rhetorical question about the martyr argument: What would be the point of any Christian dying for the truth? According to the stories, God knows whether you believe or not—doesn’t He? Would merciful Jesus condemn you to hell for avoiding torture by lying to evil men—and going on to spread his Word and save others, later? If you believe, repent, confess and ask for forgiveness—isn’t salvation guaranteed? “Not martyring yourself,” and “lying” are not unpardonable sins. What is the gain of martyrdom in Christianity? How, in the world did that catch on?
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
The dark, frightening abyss that is Brannon Howse's world
It always helps to be reminded of a salient fact when dealing with the fundamentalist extremist: literally every single aspect of their lives is governed by fear. It is a dark and frightening world in which they live, made all the more grim by the way the dark fearfulness of it is so easily embraced by the believer, who disguises it under a thin veneer of righteousness and the sense of empowerment that comes from believing one is part of an oppressed minority.
I have brought up Brannon Howse and his personal neurosis factory, the Christian Worldview Network, for mockery here many times. I regularly get their email newsletters, and believe me, this guy has never met an over-the-top paranoid Obama conspiracy theory he didn't like. His contributors are a rogue's gallery of the spiritually psychotic: David Noebel, Ray Comfort, Phyllis Schlafly, David Barton, Kan Ham.
Howse's latest ridiculous rant is one of those revealing moments in fundie bloviation that serves to remind those of us in the reality-based community just what this country has to deal with. It has the ominous title "Is America at a Dangerous Tipping Point for Receiving God's Judgment?", which is entirely in character, as Howse only does ominous titles. Remember when I said that every aspect of the extremist's life is governed by fear? Well, that doesn't just apply to Obama, teh gayz, libruls, evilutionists, or (Howse's favorite villain-of-the-week) "Fabian Socialists." There's one thing the Howses of the world are even more scared of than all those things: their God. This week, Howse cannot stop wringing his hands (mostly in fear, but one detects a hint of sadistic glee as well) over the destruction he is sure God is about to wreak upon America, because, apparently...
...our nation has murdered nearly 50 million unborn children, states are rushing toward homosexual marriage, God is outlawed in our nation's public schools, the criminalization of Christianity is greatly increasing, only 1% of adults have a Christian worldview and false-teaching and pagan spirituality has become mainstream.
I must say I found a lot of that surprising. Only 1% of American adults are Christians? If only! Of course, Howse really means that, by his estimation (and it's one that lets him play the "me so persecuted" card with shameless impunity), only 1% of Americans are True Christians like him. The others are all misled fools who've embraced false teachings and "pagan spirituality." Hmm. Okay. Though I must admit, this imaginary Scary America that exists between Howse's ears is one I wouldn't mind living in.
And what's all this about the "criminalization of Christianity"? Seriously? You'd think if this were the case, then law enforcement would have a hard time overlooking all these hundreds of churches that appear on every fucking block in every town in the country, and be about raiding them Waco-style with greater efficiency than they seem to be employing at present. I mean, let's look at something in our country that is criminalized, like drugs. So if we lived in some bizarro parallel universe in which drugs were "criminalized" to the same degree Howse thinks Christianity is, then this would be a parallel universe in which meth labs operated on every street corner like drive-in burger joints, vending machines sold both Coke and...coke, and you could pick up Master Kush and Purple Haze marijuana buds at your local nursery or Home Depot.
Truly, Howse is a silly, silly man. But the kind of fear he spouts — an all-consuming, comprehensive existential terror in which you are literally never safe from anything, including the God you profess to love — somehow hits huge numbers of people where they live. It speaks to them. And that, more than anything, is the tragedy of the religious mind. The brighter the beliefs look to the believer, the darker the abyss they actually inhabit.
PS: I just remembered...Howse did one of his Code Blue rallies here in Austin two days ago. No idea how it went yet. I'll do some digging.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
We get email, WTF edition
A charming fellow called Augusto sent us two of these thought-provoking missives, actually. This one is the more coherent of the two.
Just remember that atheism and materialism killed much more people than any cruzade before. Any. Atheism killed trillions, crusades was a joke. Fuck Mao tse tung, Stalin, Hitler, CIA.
Atheism and materialism killed billions in a curtain space of time than any cruzade before.
That's why atheists think that they are inteligent plaiyng chess - the criminal game for idiots who whant power. Kids play always chess because they have no brain, only ambition. Atheists never gonne out. Nor in.
Atheism and materialism killed much more people than any cruzade before.
Atheism and materialism killed billions, crusades a few, compared to atheist hate.
Atheism and materialism killed much more people than any cruzade before.
I have fear of atheism because atheism is fear, they use psychiatry and psychology to demonstrate theyr kid power, to control population to theyr chess game.
I love jesus christ because he is my friend.
Grow up and became FREE
Jesus, you really ought to screen your friends better.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
TFN Political event alert
From my inbox:
Could the religious right really be on the decline in America?
Come hear E.J. Dionne, the award-winning columnist for The Washington Post and author of the best-selling book Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right, at a Faith and Freedom Speaker Series event on September 24 in Austin. Dionne is one of the nation’s most respected voices on the intersection of faith and politics in America today.
As a liberal, I enjoy EJ Dionne's column in the Washington Post and appreciate any opportunity to tweak the religious right. On the other hand, as an atheist I have serious misgivings about any efforts by the left to "reclaim" faith and politics. I am not particularly concerned by candidates who mention their own religious beliefs as a personal matter -- frankly I appreciate the opportunity to find out who to be wary of -- but I think religion has no place ever being an explicit part of politics.
In any case, I'm certainly interested in going to see what Dionne has to say, perhaps armed with a few pointed questions at the end. If anyone wants to join me, click on the link at the top. It is free to the public, but you are advised to reserve your spot as seating will be limited.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
This is very rough and I doubt I'll ever bother to update it to a proper 'final draft' - but, here it is...
NOTE: HUGE DISCLAIMER - the 'Agnostic' in this story represents a particular type of intellectual agnostic that makes assertions about the unknown and unknowable (and sends me countless e-mails) - this doesn't represent EVERY type of agnostic or everyone who uses the label. Many of us have used or currently use the word agnostic to describe ourselves without ever approaching the nonsense represented here.
A very sturdy looking box rests on a table as two men walk up to it…
Theist: That box has a leprechaun in it.
Atheist: I don't believe that...why do you?
Theist: I heard him talking.
Atheist: I don't believe that either...in fact, I have no evidence that leprechauns exist.
Theist: Well, either there's a leprechaun in the box or there isn't, right?
Theist: So it's 50/50...and since I heard him talk, I'm sure that there's a leprechaun in there.
Atheist: Either there's a leprechaun in the box or not, but that doesn't mean the odds are 50/50.
Theist: Of course it does.
Atheist: Actually, it doesn’t, but could you offer some evide...
Theist: Hang on! He's just told me that if you don't believe he's in there, he'll chain you to a tree after you're dead and stick his shillelagh up your ass for 10,000 years!
Atheist: Um, wow, but I was asking if you could offer some additional evidence beyond your claim that you heard him. I didn't hear him say that, by the way.
Theist: Well, you're not listening hard enough.
Atheist: Ok (listens)...noth...
Theist: Give it TIME! You've got to sincerely WANT to hear him...
Atheist: If he's in there, I'd like to know it...I'll keep listening.
Theist: Did you hear that?
Atheist: Nope, nothing.
Theist: You're either lying or you're so closed minded that he's not letting you hear him.
Atheist: Not letting me? Leprechauns can choose who can hear them?
Theist: Of course! He could open this lid, show himself to me...and you'd never see it, you'd think the box was closed the whole time. They're MAGIC!
Atheist: Well, do you have any evidence for any of this? I mean, I've never seen a leprechaun...I have no reason to think they even exist and every time you tell me how to prove it, the tests fail.
Theist: No, YOU fail. It worked for me.
Atheist: (Motions toward a handful of people to one side) Well, there are other people here who have tried this...and it failed for them.
Theist: Yes, but these people (motions toward a huge group off to another side) heard it. In fact there are WAY more people over here who will tell you they heard it.
(The Atheist moves off to ask them a few questions.)
Atheist: I talked to some of them...they all have a slightly different take on this. Some say it's a leprechaun; others say it's a fairy; still others say it's a goblin. They don’t all describe the same voice and they apparently have conflicting messages that they claim came from inside the box. Most of them simply said that they knew other people who claimed to know what was in the box.
Theist: Ah, yes! There's actually a troll in the box with the leprechaun. He sometimes pretends to be the leprechaun, or a fairy, or a goblin in order to fool those other people - but you'll notice they STILL heard something.
Atheist: Yes, some say that, but others don't.
Theist: Well, that troll sometimes blocks the sounds so people can't hear it.
Atheist: So, how do you know, when you hear the leprechaun, that you aren't hearing the troll?
Theist: Don't be absurd! The leprechaun is my friend; he makes sure that I only hear him.
Atheist: But how can you be sure...if you think there's a troll there too, who pretends to be a leprechaun...how can you know? Maybe there's ONLY the troll and he's just fucking with you.
Theist: Now you're just being thick. Look, there's a box, right?
Theist: Now why would there be a box here unless there was something in it?? There MUST be something in it, right?
Atheist: No, the box could be empty.
Theist: No it couldn't, or there'd be no reason for the box to exist! Boxes are for holding things. We all know that.
Atheist: So you're claiming that the box could not possibly be empty?
Atheist: And you don't see that as a flawed premise?
Theist: No, and it's confirmed by the fact that I heard a leprechaun.
Atheist: How did you hear him?
Theist: He talks to me telepathically.
Atheist: Oh, so you didn't mean to listen with my ears, you meant listen with my mind?
Theist: Your heart.
Atheist: That doesn't listen...
Theist: Your metaphoric heart!
Atheist: Ok...but that guy says he heard it with his ears.
Theist: He's wrong...he's hearing the troll.
Atheist: But I don't even hear the troll.
Theist: He's blocking you.
Atheist: Ok...how do you know all of this?
Theist: The leprechaun told me.
Atheist: Ok, so you've made appeals to magic, telepathy, leprechauns, trolls and non-empty boxes....you've offered no evidence. I'm sorry, but I don't believe you.
Theist: Don't forget the shillelagh!
Atheist: Right… and you've made threats about things that'll happen after I'm dead - when there's no evidence that there's any 'me' to experience anything after I'm dead. I just don't believe your claim.
Theist: What if you're wrong? Isn't that a lot to risk? He says he's got a pot of gold for you if you believe...isn't that worth believing?
Atheist: Look, even if I could make myself believe, which I can't, why would I want to do that? If there's no leprechaun in there, then I've wasted the opportunity find out what's really in the box. And if he wants me to follow his instructions...
Theist: Oh, he does...I've written them down for you, here...
Atheist: (Looks at the list) Then I'll have wasted time doing things that...does that say "Do not eat poo"?
Theist: Yup...great rule, isn't it?
Atheist: Yeah, but what about "Drop money in the box"
Theist: He's got needs too...pots of gold don't grow on trees.
Atheist: I thought he was magic.
Theist: He is...but, well, the money is so we can tell other people what the leprechaun wants.
Atheist: Why doesn't he tell them?
Theist: He could, but...well, he will, if they're open too it. Some, like you, are fooled by the troll.
Atheist: Why doesn't he get rid of the troll.
Theist: It's a mystery, but we're sure he will eventually.
Atheist: Anyway, if this isn't true, then I'll have wasted a lot of time and money on something false...only to avoid a threat that wasn't real.
Theist: Yeah...but what if you're wrong.
Atheist: Ok...look, I'm done. I do NOT believe there's a leprechaun in the box.
Theist: How can you be sure?
Atheist: I'm not, but I don't believe there is.
Theist: How can you say there's no leprechaun in the box!
Atheist: I didn't...I said I don't believe there is one.
Theist: Same thing.
Atheist: No it isn't...however, now that I've considered and rejected your claim...
Theist: Don't do it!
Atheist: I'm willing to say that I actually do believe there is no leprechaun in that box.
Theist: NO! You're making an irrational claim...you think you know everything?!??!
Atheist: No, I'm not claiming that I'm absolutely certain that there's no leprechaun in the box...but I actually believe, to some degree of certainty that there isn't...because if there were, I'd expect there to be some evidence to support it, and investigations keep coming up empty. I'll be back with some tools...we're going to open that box.
Theist: You can't open the box.
Atheist: Why not.
Theist: You just can't, it's impossible.
(Another person walks up)
Agnostic: He's right. Neither of you know what's in the box. You're both equally absurd to assert that you DO know.
Atheist: I didn't assert that I'm absolutely certain, I simply stated what my belief is...and it's based on the evidence, or lack thereof
Agnostic: Don't be silly...you're just as dogmatic as he is.
Atheist: I'm not dogmatic about this at all - I'd just like to open the box and find out.
Agnostic: The box is impervious.
Atheist: How do you know?
Agnostic: Um, well, I don't...it just seems impervious.
Atheist: Really, do you have other impervious things to compare it to?
Agnostic: Well, um, no...but I'm sure it's impervious.
Atheist: If you'll forgive me, as we're essentially on the same side in that we reject his assertion...
Agnostic: I don't reject it, I don't reject anything
Atheist: Do you accept his claim?
Agnostic: I don't know.
Atheist: You don't know whether you accept his claim?
Agnostic: No, I mean I don't know if he's right or not.
Atheist: Well, neither do I, but that's not what I asked.
Agnostic: The box is impervious
Atheist: Well, you sound just as dogmatic about our inability to know as he does about his private communications with the leprechaun
Agnostic: Now you're just being rude
Atheist: Look, I'm going to open this box
Agnostic: Silly atheist....
(The atheist manages to drill a tiny hole in the box...)
Atheist: Look, it's not impervious! I've got a hole here. We may eventually be able to investigate this in more detail.
Theist: You switched boxes!
Atheist: No, this is the box.
Agnostic: It's STILL impervious; your little hole doesn't give you enough information to support your claim.
Atheist: I can continue to investigate...and so far, there's no evidence to support the theist's claims.
Theist: You switched boxes!
Atheist: No I didn't.
Theist: Then, um...he's hiding. He needs you to believe without seeing him, so he's hiding.
Atheist: That makes no sense.
Theist: The troll has created an illusory hole that is providing you with false information about what's in the box!
Agnostic: That might be possible, I really couldn't say.
Atheist: No, I bet you couldn't.
The theist walks away, to tell other people about the leprechaun in the box.
The agnostic tries not to be anywhere near either of them, while secretly keeping an optimistic eye on the atheist's activities.
The atheist goes about his life, occasionally finding new ways to investigate the box, but he tries to enjoy his life while preventing the theist from ruining it by imposing the leprechaun's rules on everyone.
Monday, September 07, 2009
Obama's education speech: a quick one
So, Obama's upcoming speech to students is now online, and it looks as if all the right-wing hysteria about how this is going to be an exercise in Marxist Hitler Youth Indoctrination (or whatever scary buzzwords conservatives have figured out how to pronounce this week) is, surprise surprise, a tad overblown. It's a nicely composed pep talk about the value of education, not the tiniest bit controversial, not even for me in its standard-issue "God Bless America" signoff. I know that kind of language has earned a sneer from PZ and some other atheists, but I'm not the kind of guy to think seven words of boilerplate political-speech language detracts from the actual content in any way.
I'm hopeful that, once this speech is out there, more people will begin to wake up to just how out of control the right has become in their reactionary scaremongering over our Eeebul Socialist Kenyan President, and a few hot heads start to come off the boil a bit. I'm also hopeful I'll find 10 million dollars in a paper grocery bag abandoned in a ditch and that Chris Jansing will knock on my front door tonight wearing nothing but baby oil. We'll see which of these little hopes pans out first.
Now, I do think there is a legitimate objection to the idea of making the watching of this speech a mandatory class event. Let's be honest, if Dubya had prepared a speech for mandatory school viewing, those of us who were less than his most ardent fans would have objected too, and probably voiced concerns about possible inappropriate political proselytizing. Some bloggers have made the point that, where the students are concerned, this will merely be a boring interruption in an already boring school day, something lame that the grownups want them to take part in, like eating vegetables, that you've got to do because it's good for you. I'd say that, with YouTube and other internet sources set up to make a speech like this available on demand, into perpetuity, there's no reason for watching it to be some kind of class requirement. Indeed, to make it one would smack of demagoguery, regardless of how inoffensive the actual speech content turns out to be. Better perhaps to encourage students to watch it, perhaps at home with their parents, and maybe earn extra credit for doing so and writing a couple of paragraphs of feedback. Sure, there is that terror-stricken element of the ultra-right freak fringe who hear Obama's name and immediately think of The Scary Nazi Communist Black Man Who Wants To Kill Grandma. But those people are not exactly big on the whole education concept in the first place, are they? If they were, at the very least, they'd know that the Nazis and Communists loathed each other.
Thursday, September 03, 2009
We get YouTubes (Historicity of Jesus part 2)
A little after the one minute mark, Aaron accused Jen of misrepresenting the argument that she was trying to address. Jen said: "The claim is the Jesus must have been divine because his disciples wouldn't have died for something that they knew was a lie. So they must have known that he was the son of God, and was resurrected." Aaron calls this a straw man, claiming that no apologist would say such a thing. Then he goes on to rephrase almost precisely the same argument.
The point, Aaron says, is that "because they died for it, that proves beyond any reasonable doubt that they really believed it. Which, then, you have to explain the origin of the belief in the resurrection." And of course, Aaron's explanation is that they were correct. Maybe you can tell the distinction between this and Jen's "straw man," but I think it's beyond splitting hairs and into splitting nanoneedles.
Why does anyone have to explain anyone else's belief? In the next clip, Jen points out, correctly, that the 9/11 hijackers died for their beliefs. As George from NY mentioned when he called, there's the Heaven's Gate cult. There's Jonestown. If you asked me whether those people died because they sincerely believed whatever nonsense their leaders were peddling, I would say "Absolutely yes!" Does that require me to explain that belief? Certainly not. Should the default position in that case be "They believed it because it's true"? It's a judgment call, but in that case I would certainly say no.
Aaron dismisses the reference to the hijackers by using the magic words "straw man" again, and describes it as "another stupid analogy." He explains that the difference between a disciple of Jesus and a 9/11 hijacker is that the disciples were eye witnesses to the events of their religion, while the hijackers were not.
Which, of course, is the whole problem. We have no way of knowing that, and no amount of eye-rolling, sarcastic inflection, or dismissal of the opposing claims as "ridiculous" is going to fill that knowledge gap. As I was saying in my previous post, whether or not you accept that a guy named Jesus existed doesn't say anything about whether the rest of the stories in the Bible were true. If the stories about Jesus' miracles were embellished after the fact, the martyrs who died wouldn't have been dying for "a lie," they would be dying for some holy cause that they believed to be true because they had been told that it was without requiring strong evidence for it.
Yes, just like Muslim suicide bombers. Just like Jonestown cultists. Just like Japanese kamikaze pilots who believed that Hirohito was a god. You simply can't make any claims about what they supposedly knew to be true without providing solid evidence for the specific part of the Bible that says that Dead Jesus showed up before the apostles. And folks, a brief mention in passing by a historian reporting secondhand information eighty years later is simply not going to do that, any more than a story told by a Greek poet will establish that there is an island where men get turned into pigs.
When Aaron actually called into the show, starting at around the nine minute mark of this clip, he took issue with Matt's point that Tacitus was not a contemporary of Jesus. Aaron challenged: "Contemporary evidence is not a requirement. You don't have to have a contemporary source. If you'd like to claim that, then could you please cite me a historian who specifically says that you need contemporary evidence?"
Aaron goes on to say, back in his framing video, that Matt had said earlier that contemporary evidence is the ONLY kind that can establish a claim. Then he accuses Matt of being hypocritical.
There's a problem with Aaron's understanding of historical standards here, and it goes way beyond what historians say. It really comes down to what people regard as proof of something. Yeah, it's true. Not everything in history needs to be verified by a contemporary source. There is a lot of secondhand information that is regarded as solid. But not uncritically. Once again, there's a huge difference between the kind of evidence it requires to insert Julius Caesar into the history books, and the kind it requires to insert "Julius Caesar was a God" into the history books. There's a difference between saying that Jeff Dowd is "The Dude," and saying that Jeff Dowd foiled a kidnapping plan orchestrated by a fake millionaire poseur. One is fact, and the other is embellishment.
Aaron tries to gloss over this detail by quickly blurting out that you certainly don't need a contemporary source to prove that something as commonplace as a crucifixion took place. Haw haw! How silly anyone must be to suggest that! But come on, be serious here. Aaron, like other apologists, wants to use the text of the Bible to prove a thoroughly unprecedented, unique, and unbacked-up claim like the resurrection. He wants to prove that this Jesus chap rose from his grave.
And in this case, I'm sorry, it's going to take more than a few passing remarks to prove that. If I told you, right now, today, that I saw a guy rise from the dead, I don't think you would believe me. And that's not even getting into the fact of whether I'm a primary source or whether I'm contemporary with the event. I suspect that even Aaron would balk at the suggestion that he should accept this claim on my say-so, and would want to hear more information before accepting this as true.
The fact that it didn't get written down until 70 AD is, in actuality, the least of the problems with this claim. And to say that the written word in the book is in any way proof that it happened, or that historians reporting several decades later about what Christians claimed of their savior provide independent corroboration of an event they never saw... yeah, that's gonna be good enough for the modern history books.
Just ask Julius Caesar, the god.