Monday, February 27, 2012

Religious Consumer Protection

Earlier this month the Agnostic & Atheist Student Association of UC Davis held an event titled, “How to Get into Heaven (According to Mormons),” presented by Ted Cox, an ex-Mormon turned atheist.  Apparently a whole bunch of people got seriously butthurt by all this, if this article in their local paper is anything to go by.  Reading all the comments really had me perplexed.  Why was everyone so upset?  They were calling it "offensive" and "bigoted".  The Mormons were outraged, even some people claiming that they were atheists and totally not Mormons claimed to be very upset by such insensitive and bigoted talks discussing the actual inner workings of the Mormon Church.  Absolutely no part of that makes any sense to me.

Unless you have something to hide. 

Turns out the Mormons totally do.  In fact, their church even has a practice called "milk before meat", meaning that many of their actual beliefs and doctrines are hidden from outsiders and even new converts.  Much like with Scientology, you don't get to learn the actual story until you've committed a whole lot of time and money to the church.

You don't see Buddhists calling a discussion of the Four Noble Truths offensive and you won't even see Muslims calling an event explaining the Five Pillars of Islam bigoted.  Provided your information is accurate and factual, none of the major religions have any problem with you knowing what they believe in.  Say what you will about the different religions of the world, at least they're not this sneaky.  Islam doesn't present itself as a motivational speaking and leadership program where you only find out it's a religion when you reach level 18.  Christianity doesn't wait until you've given a certain amount of money before they spring the Virgin Birth and the talking snake on you.  Nope, the guy handing out tracts on the street corner will happily inform you of every belief, no matter how weird.  To do anything less is to admit you have something to hide.  That's never good.

Look, to me it comes down to consumer protection.  If you are going to sign up for something, don't you have the right to know what it's really all about?  Especially if you are going to have you change your lifestyle and sacrifice your time and money when you sign up for it.  If there is a brand of toaster that makes your whole house smell like burning leaves and the salesman doesn't tell you that up front, you would have every right to be upset.  But if you happen to be the kind of person who likes the smell of burning leaves and toast and you know this model will give it to you then you can buy it and enjoy it.  The important thing is that you at least got to make an informed decision. 

Or to use a more serious example that's recently been in the news in my part of the world.  Let's say there is this camp for young men that claims to be for game ranger training.  However it does a lot more than that, it's actually a cover for a bunch of white supremacists who teach race hate to the students after pushing them to their mental and physical breaking point.  Would you want to know that before you send your kids there?  Would these same people so shocked and outraged at Mormon laundry being aired in public also be arguing that what happens at these camps should be kept private and personal?  Somehow I doubt it...

I don't know what your opinion of religion is, it may very well be that you find all religions equally silly, but you would have to concede that any group that has to hide what they actually stand for is all sorts of creepy!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Unnaturally Natural

You know what's really unnatural?  Smoking!  Seriously, can you think of any creature that would stand around actively inhaling smoke?  Bet you won't!  Breathing in smoke is wildly unnatural but besides that one Bond villain, I've never heard anyone make that argument.

You know what argument you do hear all the time on the other hand?  That homosexuality is unnatural.  Male + Female = Natural.  Any other equation = an unnatural abomination!  It's weird then that something so unnatural would be so common in nature then!

It's guy love between two guys

Here's a quote from the recent Cracked article (which you should totally go read because it's funny AND informative), "The 6 Sleaziest Ways Animals Are Mimicking Human Sexuality":

"Homosexual activity has been observed in 1,500 species and is likely present in many, many more. These species range from turtles to bears to dogs to whales -- bonobo apes, for example, are largely bisexual.

... ,in one experiment in sheep sexuality, scientists placed a male ram in the vicinity of male and female sheep that had been deprived of sex (read: extremely horny). The ram had a ready and willing female standing right there ... and in 8 percent of the cases, he chose the sexual partner with a dong. That's right: According to this study, sheep are homosexual in at least as large a percentage as humans (about 8 percent for the animals, versus 8 percent of Americans who admit they've at least experimented).

But what if it's just a case of a species not having enough females to go around and the males turning prison gay until more show up? There's at least one species that proves that theory wrong: giraffes. You see, male giraffes have been observed having sex with other males even though 60 percent of giraffes are female. If a giraffe can't find a female to mate with it's probably because, like the gay penguins, they're simply not interested."

There's more in the article but I believe I've made my point.  Sure, is a comedy website but before you use that argument to discount all the above points, go ahead and click on those hyperlinks.  The claims it makes are pretty solid and very much supported by the facts.

Now I know that in an earlier post on lions and stepfathers I made the point that just because something happens in nature doesn't mean we should do it too.  You and me baby may be nothing but mammals but that certainly doesn't mean we have to do it like they do on the Discovery Channel after all!  But my point here is not that people should be gay because animals are.  My point was simply that there is clearly nothing unnatural about something so prevalent in nature.

From God Hates Checkered Whiptail Lizards.  Go read the whole thing, it's hilarious and makes my point better than I just did...

Monday, February 20, 2012


 If we are Facebook friends and you posted something along the lines of "Just believe in yourself, nothing is impossible!" at some point then you probably don't like me that much anymore.  Sure, right at the start when I replied "Believe all you want, impossible things are impossible" you were probably still high enough on positive thinking to to playfully challenge me to name something impossible.  See that was your biggest mistake.  I am an angry zen master and I take challenges like that pretty seriously as you no doubt figured out by the third page of my subsequently posted list of absolutely impossible things.

Look, I get that it was a pretty douche-y thing for me to do and I understand why you don't want to talk to me anymore.  I would apologize if I thought I could mean it at all.  Thing is I'm not sorry.  I wasn't sorry the first time it happened, I wasn't sorry the subsequent times it happened and smart money is on me never being sorry for any of it, ever.  Can't help it, this just brings out the worst in me.  For some people it's neglecting to use apostrophes or using "ironic" incorrectly, for others it's pronouncing "espresso" as "expresso".  For me - unfortunately for our damaged friendship - it's people saying "nothing is impossible".

Now I'm not going to go off on one of my fun rants about how pointless and destructive positive thinking (or its retarded cousin The Secret) is.  I think I've done enough of that.  Positive thinking has led to an epidemic of narcissism and entitlement.  We have an entire industry built around the fact that people believe they can do anything they set their mind to, no matter how untalented they may in fact be.  Not trying to be alarmist but all this endless self affirmation will destroy us all.  Seriously, when you start talking about how just by believing hard enough you can achieve the impossible, this is what you look like to me:

Yes, that is you, believing in yourself and looking like an idiot because of it!  Deeeeep breath.  Sorry, I got sidetracked there for a moment and started ranting again.  Said I wasn't going to do that, didn't I?  Right so all I really wanted to say that it's not so much the positive thinking bullshit that made go off on your Facebook status.  Sure, I despise it (as my brighter readers may have been able to deduce by now) but that wasn't it.  It was the fact that you said something really stupid when you said the impossible was possible.  Look, that simply isn't true!  If you can do it then it was never impossible!  It's a bit like that cheesy line from Roadhouse when Swayze says "Pain don't hurt".  Because, well actually, yes it does!  That's why we call it "pain".  If pain doesn't hurt then what do you call something that hurts?  Gah!  Sorry, that's a completely different rant!  Where was I?  Oh, right.  Impossible means something that cannot happen or cannot be done.  It does not mean something that is hard or improbable or slightly tricky to master.  Impossible means impossible.  If we don't use words right then we may as well just start inventing new words all the time and language would cease to mean anything and CIVILIZATION ITSELF WILL END!  Is that what you want?  Is it??

Yeah, didn't think so!  Getting a job, riding your bike to work, losing that extra weight, finding a parking space in the mall - none of these things are impossible.  Building a condo on the sun, running faster than the speed of light or literally consuming your own bodyweight in cheesecake - these things are actually impossible.  Which is why you can't do them.  Because they are impossible!  And that's what the word means!

In closing, here is a little poem I first heard on The Benny Hill show a long time ago that have always helped me to understand the distinction.  Perhaps it will help you out too! 

Benny Hill

They said that it could not be done,
He said "Just let me try."
They said, "Other men have tried and failed,"
He answered, "But not I."
They said, "It is impossible,"
He said, "There's no such word."
He closed his mind, he closed his heart...
To everything he heard.

He said, "Within the heart of man,
There is a tiny seed.
It grows until it blossoms,
It's called the will to succeed.
Its roots are strength, its stem is hope,
Its petals inspiration,
Its thorns protect its strong green leaves,
With grim determination.

"Its stamens are its skills
Which help to shape each plan,
For there's nothing in the universe
Beyond the scope of man."
They thought that it could not be done,
Some even said they knew it,
But he faced up to what could not be done...
And he couldn't bloody do it!


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Recent Ancient Beliefs

When I was a young fundamentalist Christian, I felt very secure in my beliefs.  After all, the things that we believed in MY church were the things that all real true Christians have always believed.  The rest of Christianity may fall away from the one true faith thanks to all their compromises with the fallen world, but not us!  No, we would always stay true to the things that Christianity have always taught and always believed.  We knew we were right because we were holding fast to what had always been right.  So it came as quite a shock to me to find out that so many of my age old beliefs were really quite modern!

I've blogged before on how some of our doctrine wasn't as Bible based and unambiguously clear as I once thought.  But it's really more than that.  It's not just about how "Bible based" my beliefs really were it's how recent they were, considering that these were the things that, supposedly, "Christians have always believed".

Christians have always been Young Earth Creationists.  Except they weren't.  This wasn't always an article of the faith, once upon a time it was totally acceptable to be a Christian and believe in an old Earth.  Throughout Church history there have been a variety of opinions on just how to interpret Genesis and the consensus was not always on the side of a strictly literal interpretation.  Some Christians fear that accepting science undermines the authority of the Bible (and therefore their own authority) and therefore we have the modern insistence on YEC as a tenet of the faith.  But listen to what the early church leader Augustine of Hippo (354 AD to 430 AD) had to say on the topic in his commentary on Genesis:
The full quote is even better!

So to paraphrase Augustine, if a literal interpretation conflicts with science then stop holding on to the literal interpretation because you will only embarrass yourself.  Or as he wrote elsewhere: "In matters that are obscure and far beyond our vision, even in such as we may find treated in Holy Scripture, different Interpretations are sometimes possible without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such a case, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. That would be to battle not for the teaching of Holy Scripture but for our own, wishing its teaching to conform to ours, whereas we ought to wish ours to conform to that of Sacred Scripture."  This also shows up the claim that, Christians have always been Biblical Literalists.  This just completely flies in the face the long history stretching all the way back to the Judaic Rabbis of debating and discussing the meaning of Scripture.  The whole strategy of throwing out all interpretation and only taking every verse at literal face value is a fairly recent invention. I believe that the strict literal approach arose in opposition to Higher Criticism gaining more mainstream acceptance around the 19th century.

Around this time a new doctrine also arose amongst Christians, that of The Rapture.  I was taught that Christians have always believed in the Rapture but no, this belief is only about 200 years old.  Christians may have always believed in the Second Coming of Jesus but the idea that all Christians would be snatched up to heaven some time before that is very new.  In fact the entire premillenial dispensationalist end times doctrine has very recent origins.  Before that time, most Christians were postmillenialists and if you go all the way back to the New Testament it certainly looks like the early Christians were amillenialists in they weren't following any kind of prophetic playbook, they expected Christ to return at any time.

Have you been following the current events in American politics?  Christian legislators are doing all they can to outlaw abortion and even contraception.  After all, Christians have always believed that life begins at conception.  Except it turns out this belief isn't even as old as I am!  As The Slacktivist points out, this is A ‘biblical view’ that’s younger than the Happy Meal.  Now just to be clear, yes Catholics have for centuries held this belief.  Catholics.  Not Protestants.  Up to the 70s evangelical protestants did not believe that abortion was murder or that contraception was evil and they even quoted from the Bible to back it up.  But I guess the sexual revolution and the rise of feminism was scary enough for Protestants to put aside their differences and start agreeing with the Pope.

Once upon a time, to be Christian you had to believe that Jesus was the Son of God and that He died for your sins.  These days it seems that to be Christian you have to believe that life begins at conception, homosexuality is a sin, science can't be trusted, every word in the Bible is literally true, the Antichrist is coming, sex before marriage is a mortal sin, Christian morality must be enforced through legislation, welfare is from the devil and oh yeah, some stuff about Jesus.  Seems to me like Fundamentalist Christianity has little to no relation to the fundamentals of the Christian faith at all.  Funny how ancient and eternal truth can change over time...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentines Day & The Golden Rule

Valentines Day is not a great day to be single on.  It's the one day of the year when the whole world seems to be conspiring to make you feel miserable about not having a significant other.  All the might of the Flower-Chocolate-Greeting Card-Industrial Complex is brought to bear against the singles of the world in an attempt to make them feel so single that they vow to change it so they can buy Valentine's stuff the next February 14th.  This year, I refuse to play that game.

Now there are a couple of options for those who want to stand up to the tyranny of Valentines.  You can go to the dark side and really embrace your anger at the lovey dovey people of the world, listening to anti-love songs and leaving bitchy, passive-aggressive comments on the social media platform of your choice.  Alternatively you can still use the day to celebrate all the love in your live - friends, family and everyone who makes your life better by being in it.  Or you can go even further and celebrate Single Appreciation Day (S.A.D), using Valentines Day to celebrate all the great things about being single and the joy of getting to do things the way you like it without having to compromise.  That is a great way to stick it to the shadowy overlords behind Valentines Day and I would probably choose the final option if I felt like expending all that energy.

I don't.

So instead, I'm just going to have a Tuesday and wish all my friends who are in relationships a very happy Valentines.  Hope it brings you nothing but joy, you deserve it!  Plus to show my goodwill, here is a public service announcement for everyone who has a date lined up tonight.  In the spirit of Valentines, it features Lady Gaga, love of my life, fire of my loins.  Enjoy!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Priest, the Witch and the Nature of Sin

One thing that virtually all Christians can agree on is that God hates sin.  From the fire and brimstone crowd fully expecting God to smite the heathen to the kinder, gentler "love the sinner" crowd, everyone agrees that God "hates the sin".  All this unity tends to fall apart when you ask the next logical question, what is sin?

Well if you go by the way it's used in conversation sin is almost always something sexual, most likely homosexuality.  When you hear someone talking about how Pastor X isn't afraid to call sin sin or how Church Y doesn't compromise on sin then they never mean gluttony or depriving widows and orphans of justice.  It almost always means extramarital sex and usually gay sex*.

But maybe I'm being unfair here.  Maybe a better place to look for a definition of sin would be in church doctrine.  Here sin is described as falling short of the will of God, the refusal to follow God's plan, opposition to God, something that alienates man from God.  Sin is disobedience to the Commandments of God or as 1 John 3:4 puts it, "sin is lawlessness".  Sin is wickedness and evil**.  The problem with all those definitions is that they are all frustratingly vague and prone to loopholes.  That's why, if you but a dozen Biblical scholars in a room you will probably end up with 15 different interpretations of Scripture and at least 4 new denominations and one new sect...

So no, I don't find Christians or Christian dogma particularly useful for a good, useful definition of "sin".  Instead I found what I consider to be the perfect definition in the writings of an Agnostic fantasy writer.  In Terry Pratchett's book Carpe Jugulum, you will find the following conversation between Mightily Oats (a priest) and Granny Weatherwax (a witch) on the nature of sin:

"And that's what your holy men discuss, is it?'
'Not usually. There is a very interesting debate raging at the moment about the nature of sin, for example.'
'And what do they think? Against it, are they?'
'It's not as simple as that. It's not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of grey.'
'There's no greys, only white that's got grubby. I'm surprised you don't know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That's what sin is.'
'It's a lot more complicated than that-'
'No. It ain't. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they're getting worried that they won't like the truth. People as things, that's where it starts.'
'Oh, I'm sure there are worse crimes-'
'But they starts with thinking about people as things. . .' "

Now THAT is a useful definition!  Sin is treating people as things.  Easy to remember, easy to apply and as a bonus, very hard to find a loophole in!  Abusing, exploiting, degrading, deceiving people are sins because it can only be done by treating other people as things for you to use for your own gratification.  See?  This works!  Well it works for all the actual sins, not so much the bogus ones and I'm fine with that.

*Worst sin of all?  Extramarital gay sex!  Though I guess you could totally fix that by legalizing gay marriage...

**But the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10) which may explain why the Catholics didn't take child molesting priests all that seriously - after all, raping a child has no root in the love of money so how could it be evil?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

God Hates { ... }

If you step into a church odds are really good that you would find something saying "God is Love" displayed prominently.  However if you listen to Christians talk or read what they have to say in the media you probably won't see that displayed prominently at all.  Instead the odds are really great that you would instead be hearing about how God hates things.

When I grew up, everyone seemed pretty convinced that God hated race mixing*.  In fact even when I was in college, the fact that I was friends with a black girl led to me getting a lecture about how God hated mixed race people. These days though, God mostly seems to hate The Gays.

Now granted, most Christians won't go around with "God Hates Fags" signs like the Westboro Baptists Church but they still share the sentiment.  Apparently "you will burn in hell forever for being gay" is considered friendlier than "God hates fags".  The litmus test for being considered "Christian" these days seems to be agreeing that God hates gays.  Gays get the blame for everything from earthquakes and terrorist attacks to the destruction of Western Civilization because God hates and punishes their sin more than any other.   At best some Christians will try to make the distinction that God only hates homosexuality but not the homosexual person.  However I could forgive gays for failing to see the distinction... 

Now everyone listing the things God hates seem pretty confident that they are 100% correct.  Whether it's desegregation, homosexuality or just sexuality in general, when someone claims God hates it they are pretty sure it's in the Bible.  Now I may be a lowly seminary dropout but something about that seemed off to me.  Probably because I've actually read the entire thing and didn't see any of that.  I could be wrong of course so I went back to check and I found this comprehensive list of everything that God explicitly hates according to the Bible (I used the NIV but other translations may differ.  Feel free to leave the verse in the comments if I missed one)

God hates:
The religious practices of pagans (Deut 12:31)
The erection of sacred stones (Deut 16:22)
All who do wrong (Psalm 5:5)
Those who love violence (Psalm 11:5)
Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community (Prov 6:16-19)
The religious observances of hypocrites (Isa 1:14; Amo 5:21)
Robbery and wrongdoing (Isa 61:8)
Burning incense to and worshiping other gods (Jer 44:3-4)
Unspecified sinful deeds in Gilgal - most likely idolatry (Hos 9:15)
Plotting and swearing falsely (Zec 8:17)
The practices of the Nicolaitans (A heretical sect that mixed Christianity with pagan idolatry) (Rev 2:6)

And that is all of it.  Every single instance in the Bible where God is explicitly mentioned as hating something or someone.  Notably absent are things like teen sex, interracial canoodling and gays.  Also weirdly absent are things like rape and child abuse.  Mostly God just seems to hate people not worshiping Him.  Well that and people who destroy the lives of others with lying and deception, which I am totally on board with hating.  Especially interesting was God's hatred for those who love violence.  I wonder when I can expect to see Christians start protesting boxing and MMA matches?

Now some may argue that while the Bible doesn't explicitly state that God hates the things they say He hates, He must nevertheless hate it because the Bible teaches that it is sinful and wrong and surely God hates sin!  Fair enough but this leads to a bit of a weird double standard.  By that ruling we should be telling everyone that God Hates Pork and also that God Hates Seafood Platters but since we love those things and consider them delicious those rules from the Holy Bible obviously don't count.  Same thing with God hating mixed fibers.  Surely God didn't actually mean that because those are super comfy!  Similarly we rarely argue that God hates people who work on the Sabbath.  Sure, that one is actually in the Ten Commandments but come on, our way of life would be soooooo inconvenienced if some people didn't work on Saturdays!  Plus there would be no weekend sport!  Surely God couldn't actually hate that!!  But two dudes getting it on?  Eeuuuwww!!  That's icky so God totally must hate that!!

It's weird, it's almost as if God only hates the things we hate!  But that would be crazy right?

Via Stuff Fundies Like

*The recent shitstorm that erupted around this poster shows that not much has changed.  Only instead of saying that God hates it people seem to be cutting out the middle man and going straight to "I'm not racist but I find this disgusting and wrong" - and those were the civil comments!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

If you can have anything, why do you have nothing?

The previous advertisement for magical services I posted was going to be the last one, I swear, but these things are just so amazing I have to share it again!

Isn't that amaaaaaaaaaaaazing?  I have to admit, I am confounded as to how Africa ever got colonized when the indigenous population had access to such INCREDIBLE MAGICAL POWERS!!!

Also, why am I not living in an Utopian paradise where everyone is rich and happy and has incredibly satisfying sex all the time and no one is evil?  If these things worked, that should be the case right?

Seriously, how are these people still in business?  How obviously wrong do you have to be before people stop giving you money?