Tempest – reduced to a teapot

So the Reduced Shakespeare Company wanted to stage their play The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) in the town of Newtownabbey, only to find that the city council’s artistic board pulled their support after complaints from the Democratic United Party DUP. When the decision became public, the council pulled a 180, and allowed the play to go ahead.

Enter Rev Brian McClung of the Newtownabbey Free Presbyterian Church, who is also known for his protest against the 40th anniversary celebrations of the play Jesus Christ Superstar. I don’t know, but if you protest the 40th anniversary of something, you are pretty much 39-and-half years late. Anyway, as with his last protest, the good reverend is beside himself:

We are offended because people are mocking the scriptures and we are here to show our offense.

This reminds me of a quote from the great Christopher Hitchens:

If someone tells me that I’ve hurt their feelings, I say, ‘I’m still waiting to hear what your point is’

So a play mocks your scrolls. Don’t buy a ticket. It really is that easy.

Atheists are easy…

Many a believer thinks that debating with an atheist is easy – after all a religious person ‘believes’ that they know the truth: that this universe was created by their god(s), and it’s just a matter of showing this truth to the unbeliever. There’s always holy scripture to fall back upon (which the believer may have read), and if all else fails, there’s always Hitler. Debating atheists is easy.

Until, that is, they actually meet an atheist. Trying to convince these ungodly creatures can be a rude surprise:

  • unlike for the believer, chances are high that the atheist has read the Scripture – it’s usually why they’ve become atheists
  • most are usually just aching to pull out the issues of slavery, homophobia, genocide and misogyny. And you just gave them the perfect pretext.
  • they aren’t deterred by big words like ‘objective morality’, ‘first cause’ or ‘cosmological argument’; worse, many can counter with even bigger words.
  • they’ve also read other religion’s holy scripture and can quote choice passages that makes your religion look really bad. The ‘love’ Christianity preaches, for example, pales in comparison to that of Jainism.
  • they can point to intentional mistranslation (e.g. Metanoeite) or plagiarism (e.g. Golden Rule ripped off from Confucius) in your scripture
  • plus, most atheists break into that disconcerting grin when you mention Hitler, Mao or Stalin

It’s usually much easier just to tell them: ‘I believe because I don’t know what else to do’. That saves a lot of time.

It’s also more honest.

‘… the whole Bible’

Every once in a while, I encounter one of the most presumptuous, condescending, pompous, and ostentatious comments a Christian can make while arguing their belief:

To understand, you need to read the whole Bible.

I usually encounter it as a reply to a (perhaps snide) quote from the Bible I make. The comment is ostentatious because it insinuates that the one uttering it has read the whole Bible (usually it turns out that they haven’t). It’s presumptuous because it assumes I didn’t read that book in it’s entirety. It’s stupid because even after reading it, at least one of us hasn’t understood it – plus, it’s certainly news to the Jews who can make do with essentially only half of it: the Old Testament. And it is condescending because whoever says it believes that not only have they understood, they believe they have read the only correct version.

So why do people try this when they are forced into a corner? The comment is designed to stop the average Christian from further discussions: 99% of all Christians haven’t read the Bible. But why is it that so many Christians haven’t read the Bible?

Because it’s boring.

Most who try are already sound asleep long before all the begetting begins.

Sarah Palin: Taking the road less traveled

How do you annoy a Christian? Give him Sarah Palin’s “Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas”. Giving it to an atheist will garner you a wink and a wide grin: it’s purest atheist porn. Of course Palin is stupid enough to bring up Hitler, Stalin and Mao, and of course she asserts that only religion has god-given morals. Her single-digit IQ ensures fresh perspectives on common things, and it is exhilarating to read how she mixes guns with Christmas and the message of Jesus. Personally, I’m not sure she hasn’t accidentally confused the ‘Peacemaker’ Colt with Jesus, but I digress.

To her, the ACLU is a hate group, and ‘the seculars’ are so godless (go figure) that they are personally responsible for the american disease of hyper-correctness that make people say ‘happy holidays’ instead of ‘merry christmas’. As expected, the book’s a light read, consisting of only simple words, simpler ideas and only two colors: black (secular gun-hating peaceniks) and white (Sarah Palin). In her love for God & Guns, she quotes JFK slightly out of context – and blithely forgets that he, I suspect, would probably also be gun-averse today. But, again, I digress.

So, yes, in many ways, this book doesn’t disappoint: Just like we expect her to, Sarah intellectually wanders the roads less traveled, and makes the arguments most people try to avoid. The laughs begin even before you can open the book:

The cover shows an Advent wreath. If Sarah knows that the Advent wreath is an ancient pagan symbol that was lit around winter solstice in anticipation of spring, she sadly fails to point this out in her book. But she does make the point about Christmas being on solstice – even though her wording mysteriously makes it sound as if she’s somehow managed to look down history the wrong way: in her mind those godless liberals are trying to supplant holy christmas with a newfangled solstice celebration.

There’s something in there for everyone – even the cynics get a good laugh – and, they too, don’t have to wait long:
In a somewhat surreal introduction, Sarah first recounts how great and loving Christmas has been for her in the past, only to serve up the heart-warming story of Christmas 2012 when she gifted her husband a gun, finishing off this cute-as-a-bunny bon mot with a pun about her tits:

Last year, however, I think I was able to pull off a good one for him. To combat the anti-gun chatter coming from Washington, I surprised him with a nice, needed, powerful gun. I then asked him for a metal gun holder for my four-wheeler. Not only was this small act of civil disobedience fun, it allowed me to finally live out one of my favorite lines from a country song: “He’s got the rifle, I got the rack.”

Jeez, that’s Christ’s message of peace right there! Even better: that ‘anti-gun chatter’ she was talking about? That was the backlash over the Adam Lanza school shooting that happened a week earlier and left over 20 children dead.

Comic gold.

No more happy endings?

Recently I watched a movie depicting a dystrophic future. A line from one of the protagonists stuck with me:

There are no happy endings any more.

Ultimately, there never is, and never will be, a happy end. In the end, we will die. It has always been that way. There never were truly happy endings. People don’t like this, and they are afraid. That explains why so many people become religious: they crave a happy ending. But deep down they know perfectly well that there isn’t going to be one.

And so they play make-believe. They waste inordinate amounts of time preparing for the end. And doing that, they become miserable and miss the great time they could have had. When you obsess with your end, you quickly stop living and start dying. That’s the real tragedy. We all know that the end will come – but it will be neither happy nor sad. It will simply be the end.

Stop focusing on the end. Enjoy the brief time we have here before the end.

Live.

Achmed the dead killer question

Achmed the Dead Terrorist is an incredibly funny routine by world-famous ventriloquist Jeff Dunham. Achmed’s catchline is ‘I Kiiiiiiiiill you!’

That sketch reminds me of another funny routine, which – out of kindness – we should abstain from pulling on religious people (unless they seriously annoy us).

Ask a devout believer ‘would you kill me if your god commands it?’

Then either enjoy the uncomfortable silence while the poor believer tries to find a suitably equivocal answer – or run like hell (ha, ha) if the answer is an unflinching ‘Yes’: you just met a sociopath, or a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, which is pretty much the same.

Asking this isn’t nice because it poses a dilemma for the believer – who is usually a good person: a morally sound person would answer straight: ‘No. Killing is evil.’ Morally good, but devout believers try to wiggle out of this because it opens them up for questions of morality: if you refuse a command from your god you place your own moral compass above that of your deity. Plus, it acknowledges that you have your own moral – a moral that now significantly diverges from your god. That ripping sound? That’s either the pages from the bible or the fabric of the faithful’s worldview.

The equivocal answer is usually ‘if god commands it, it must be good. Therefore you must be evil, and I would be justified in killing you’ or ‘God would not command what is evil, so he would not command me to kill you’.

But these answers are also not helpful: the Bible tells the story where Abraham is commanded to sacrifice his son. Isaac wasn’t evil, yet God told Abraham to kill him – God was testing Abraham’s faith. We therefore have a precent. So, would you kill me if He commanded it?

A ‘Yes’ opens the hapless believer up for the meanest question:
How do you know it is God who is commanding you to kill, not some voice in your head or, perhaps, Satan? How do you differentiate between a voice you want to hear (God’s) and one you hope not to hear (Insanity, Satan’s)? How do you tell the difference between Insanity and God?

And again, would you obey?

Eric doesn’t know Jack

A few days ago I witnessed a – let’s be charitable – ‘attempt’ to prove the existence god. It’s central tenet went like this

You can only know anything if you know everything. But somebody who knows everything can tell you what’s true, and then you know that.

From this eventually we derive that you

  • can only know what an all-knowing God tells you
  • since you do know something, a God must have told you whatever you know
  • hence God exists.

At first I thought it was a joke – but it turns out to be the central idea of fundamental christian apologist Eric Hovind (son of ‘Dr. Dino’ Kent Hovind, scientific hyperfail – for some entertainment watch Phil Mason aka Thunderf00t’s deconstruction of Hovind Sr.’s theories – or here, here and here).

The logic behind Hovdind Jr.’s ‘thesis’, unfortunately, befits his lineage.

In logic terms it assumes two premises:

  • ‘you don’t know anything unless you know everything’, and
  • ‘someone who knows everything can tell you something that is true, and then you would would know that something.’

Unfortunately, this kindergarden-level attempt at proof presupposes two (rather important) additional items: God exists, and God knows everything. From this it is then ‘proven’ that only whatever God tells you can be true, and since you know something to be true, God exists.

Of course it follows that God exists if you first assume that he exists.

But even if we allowed for the silent presuppositions to be true (we now assume that God exists), this tragically inept line of reasoning still doesn’t work. First, the second premise is a direct contradiction to the first – once God tells you something, you can know something without knowing everything.

But again, we’ll let that slide. The logic still doesn’t hold water:
The problem with the second premise is exactly the problem every religion has with truth. We’ll walk through this one step by step:

Let’s assume you don’t know everything. By definition you therefore know nothing. Now an omniscient god comes along and tells you: ‘X is true’. Can we now say that you know that ‘X is true’?

By ‘Hovind Logic’: Yes. By rational thought: No.

Why not? God could have lied. So even though the omniscient being could tell you the truth, you can’t be sure. Assertions do not replace proof. Assumptions aren’t proof. It’s one of the elemental aspects of Logic, and Hovind has yet to master that.

It’s almost impossible to believe that a grown man would spout this kind of nonsense just to prove the existence of his god. If anything, it makes it his god appear even less likely to exist than before.

On the other hand, it does make it easy to believe that Eric Hovind really doesn’t know anything. And it makes it obvious that his God hasn’t yet spoken to Eric. Or he’s is pulling a cruel joke on him

Becoming the Lord of the Flies…

An abominable fundamental Christian book on raising children – written by a pastor and his wife – advocates corporeal punishment using plastic hoses (because they leave fewer marks, but hurt as much as canes do), cold showers, exposure, and ‘a little starvation’ to train children to be as obedient as, well, trained dogs. The book is distributed by churches in the US.

Small wonder that a number of children have died as a result from parents that adhered too closely to this horrific book.

The book states that it’s our job to toughen up our children so they can face a cruel and heartless world.

That’s not our job.

It’s our job to make this world less cruel and heartless – for them and everyone else. Because one thing is certain: if there was a God, he didn’t bother to do so himself.

The Christian Eskimo

Christians don’t get tired of touting their moral superiority, and use that as convenient justification for proselytizing. They assert that spreading their belief is the best thing they can do to other people, that it is a moral thing to do.

In ‘Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’, Annie Dillard writes:

Eskimo: ‘If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?’

Priest: ‘No, not if you did not know.’

Eskimo: ‘Then why did you tell me?’

The above quote exposes in just three short lines the lie that lies behind the belief that proselytizing is moral. If the priest didn’t tell the Eskimo (I’ll skip the ‘Inuit’ politically correctness BS) about god and sin, he would have lived happily, and – supposing that god existed – after his death would not have gone to hell. But now, after the Eskimo gained that knowledge, he now has to change his life to worship a god in order to not be tortured after death for all eternity. Objectively, the life of the Eskimo has become worse. The priest has done something immoral: he significantly lessened the Eskimo’s quality of life, needlessly adding to his worries and fears.

If any Christian believed in what they were saying about Hell and Sin and whatnot, they would be careful not to spread this dangerous message, lest they ruin someone’s life. But they do. Why? Two likely scenarios: They either don’t believe their own religious claptrap, or they want as many of those carefree, happier people go down with them.

Moral my ass.

Meena

Meena sits in a chair.

“My brother used to tell me that the place for a woman is either at home or in the grave”, she says. “My brother told me to carry out a suicide attack.”

“They attached a bomb to my [9 years old] sister Nahida.” A single tear runs down her face. “She told my brother the bomb was heavy and she could not walk. He said she would be comfortable once she was sitting down in the car. I heard my sister saying: ‘Where is Meena? I want to see her.’ But I didn’t have the strength. My heart couldn’t take it. My mother fainted when they put her in the car.”

Meena is 13.

Her brother, a Taliban.