The love of God?

A few days ago I watched a rather uncomfortable, oppressive movie that narrated the tale of a woman and her abusive spouse. The actors where rather good, which made the movie so difficult to enjoy. Even more frightening, though, were some of the things the man said:

  • If you leave me, I will hurt you!
  • You are not worthy of my love.
  • I know what you think.
  • I’m the best thing that ever happened to you!
  • You are nothing without me.
  • Love me, or I’ll kill you!
  • I love you more than anyone else ever could, and that’s how you repay me?
  • You’ll never be happy with anyone else!
  • If you want to leave me, you are insane!

The truly alarming thing about this? Replace ‘I’ with ‘God’.

Do you still think your ‘relationship with god’ is healthy?

Dark Horse

US pop star Katy Perry has produced a video for her song ‘Dark Horse’. In it, she portraits a Pharao or queen with magical powers who, among other antics, turns people bearing gifts into sand – and keeps the gifts. Simple imagery, simple melody, everyone gets it.

Except, it would seem, for some stuck-in-the-mud hardline Islamists. UK citizen Shazad Iqbal has started an on-line petition asking YouTube to withdraw the video. Why? Blasphemy of course. From the petition:

The video is considered as highly controversial to its viewers as a result of its portrayal of blasphemy.

At 01:15 into the video Dark Horse; a man is shown being burned, whilst wearing a pendant (also burned) forming the word ‘Allah’, which is the arabic word for God.

Such goes to show, that blasphemy is clearly conveyed in the video, since Katy Perry […] engulfs the believer and the word God in flames.

A couple of things:

  • what’s with the self-righteous passive wording? If you think the video is controversial, Iqbal, just say so. And ‘highly’? I think not. 50 thousand signatures vs. 50 million views – that’s not even a minority. That’s a rounding error.
  • have you watched the video? The actor at 1:15 is turned to sand, not burned. Not that it should matter.
  • you obviously do not object to other people being ‘burned’ – yet burning an inanimate pendant that spells ‘God’ is too much for you to watch? You definitely have your priorities wrong. 

More than 50’000 like-minded have signed the petition within three days. What is wrong with these people? Just don’t download the video if you don’t like it. Religious freedom means that Katy Perry does not have to bow to your beliefs. Just because you feel offended does not make you right. I feel offended by people wearing white socks. Does anyone care? And where’s the moratorium on people not using deodorant?

This whole thing is as absurd as if someone starts a petition to force YouTube to withdraw the video because they don’t like the song.  

Well, except that I would probably sign that one.

Hell’s bells!

A believer recently told me that I was ‘going to hell’ – not because of something I did (even though there are enough crimes listed in the bible that would make me a prime candidate for that journey: for example, I work Sundays), but because of something I am not: religious.

All the urgency and obvious distress my friend was having notwithstanding, I wasn’t overtly concerned. I really like her, and usually heed her advice. But when you threaten an atheist with hell, it’s even less effective than when a child threatens to persuade the bogeyman to eat you tonight.

Now, unfortunately I’m also not diplomatic.

So I encountered hell there and then.

Moral’s low watermark

When discussing the obvious shortcomings of biblical morals (slavery, misogyny, homophobia, genocide), I often hear a peculiar argument, one that never sat well with me:

‘you have to understand that biblical morals were meant for the people at that time’.

That argument is peculiar for multiple reasons:
First, it is a tacit admission that the morals as written in the bible aren’t up to today’s standards, and should, therefore, not be used today.

But underlying this is a much bigger issue. Unfortunately, most people are caught up in their biblical history; we often don’t realize that we can’t see the forest for the trees:

According to the bible, God made us. But if he made us, why did he make us the morally backward people we where then? After all, we were able to improve to the point we are today. He could have saved us a lot of suffering, had he poofed us into existence with the morals and ethics we have today.

Yet he didn’t.

Why not? And why make the situation even worse at some arbitrary point in time and encumber us with written rules that from that point on forward were retarding moral progress? If God had wanted us to be moral, shouldn’t he have used the bible to proscribed advanced morals, instead of the de-facto barbaric standards of the time?

Since all we got were primitive morals, that only leaves one conclusion: when he gave us the ten commandments, God thought that we were nearing the apex of morality; that apex was his own moral standard.

If you argue that biblical morals have to be interpreted in the context of time you therefore also argue that god’s morals represent the low watermark of human morals; that we have long surpassed him.

A bad trend

The Guardian has an extraordinarily well written report on a disturbing trend where french girls are brought to England to be mutilated in the horrific tradition of ‘female circumcision’. This monstrosity, officially called ‘female genital mutilation’, is banned as a crime against humanity; the ban is sharply enforced in France. The fact that parents take their children to England to have it performed there casts a dim light on the UK and their handling of human rights. This is a trend that has to be stopped now.

In the report Dr. Emmanuelle Piet says that

tiptoeing around religious or social traditions has no place in the FGM debate.

I fully agree. But this leaves an important question: where does it have a place?

Nowhere where people are subjugated, hurt, or exploited.

The EU should take note, and finally pass strong legislation to end FGM in Europe.

Observational vs. Historical idiocy

Aside from the documentation HBO produced, some Creationists are actively trying to spread their idea of ignorance over fact. That is required in order to claim with a straight face that there is scientific proof that the whole universe is only 6000 years old, and that the story of Genesis, as narrated by the Abrahamic Bible is literally true.

In a recent debate, Creationist Ken Ham asserts that instead of science, we really have two kinds of sciences: ‘observational’ and ‘historical’. The ‘real’ science Ken claims, is the ‘observational’ one, with ‘historical science’ being a lesser discipline. To someone who doesn’t know what science is, his words may even make sense.

Alas, they don’t. Ham simply tries a semantic sleigh of hands, hoping that his audience doesn’t know better. He even tried this in the debate. He asserts that the word ‘observational’ is closely linked to ‘eye witness evidence’, hence ‘observational science’ is science where you see the result with your own eyes.

Now, in science – and in court – evidence from eye witnesses is generally regarded as the least reliable form of evidence. Need I really detail the eye witness accounts of UFOs, Yetis, Loch Ness Monsters and Alien Abductions? No, the human eye, memory and mind are easily fooled.

The brouhaha surrounding the issue of ‘observational’ science results from Ken’s deliberate misrepresentation of what the words ‘observational’ and ‘historical’ mean in scientific terms. The truth is that all scientific evidence is observational, including indirect evidence that can’t directly be seen with your eyes. Paleontologists never saw a living dinosaur – but they observed their remains, and deduced, after correlating lots of similar evidence, how these animals looked and lived. That knowledge then was used to predict future findings, most famously when paleontologists predicted that they should be able to find smaller dinosaur remains in the footprints of Argentinosaurus huinculensis. And they were, equally famously, able to deduce how fast such a large beast could walk.

So why the false distinction? According to Ken, only experiments that can be reproduced in a lab should be accepted as ‘observational science’, all other is ‘historical’. Any science dealing with the past is therefore merely conjecture, not science. So if a scientists comes up with some findings in a lab today that nevertheless touches upon something of the past (say age of Earth), Ken is now free to dismiss that as ‘historical science’, and, therefore conjecture.
Plus, that’s where the Bible comes in. For everything in the past, we should use eye witness accounts, and Ken asserts that the Bible is full of accurate eye witness accounts. If all historical science is conjecture, he argues, the Bible is as accurate as the Big Bang theory (not the series).

Put that way, it’s actually quite pathetic. Too bad so many fall for it.

When Creationists speak…

You know, talking with Pentecostals is already strange; it feels like talking to someone over a cell phone with bad reception. Talking to New Earth Creationists, however, is the intellectual equivalent of an out-of-body experience: Surreal. A recent video on youtube shows excerpts from HBO’s documentation ‘Questioning Darwin’.

It begins with Pastor Peter LaRuffa

‘If the bible said that two plus two equals five, I wouldn’t question it – I would believe it, accept it as true, and then do my best to work it out and understand it’

Again, that’s a pastor talking. The video is an impressive document that shows how unquestioning faith, willful ignorance, and stubborn self-righteousness can make you dangerously out of touch with reality: these people know the (scientifically) correct answers, they even quote them, but then take a step into la-la-land to assert the most disingenuous, stupid and narrow-minded fantasy as the truth.

Dr. Charles Bonner (obviously not a scientific degree)

“To put man down as just an animal […] is totally preposterous. God made us in His image. […] Are you saying God is nothing more than an animal?”

The rhetoric question Bonner poses illustrates that he not only completely missed the boat, but showed up at the airport instead. Darwin must be wrong because Bonner thinks he himself looks like a god? If you watch the video, you’d see how even god would object to that.

Angel Dague:

“I just can’t fathom it. [Evolution] just sounds crazy to me”.

… because making the first human from clay, and the second from a rib of the first doesn’t? This is the caliber of thinking we are dealing with here. Then again, Angel burned her brain with drugs during her youth, so we’ll cut her some slack.

So let’s examine this Creationist’s analysis:

“If that’s the way the world works […] then you believe in a God that doesn’t intervene in nature. That takes away any possibility of miracles, any possibility of answered prayer, or any possibility of the resurrection. In reality, you take away the possibility of Christianity to be true at all”

Spot on! Unfortunately, this was meant as an argument against Darwin.

I recommend you watch the video. See how people over and over say “if [some basic truth] was true, then that would mean that God doesn’t exist”, only to conclude “I don’t like it, so I don’t believe it”.

An interesting study of how wishful thinking replaces rational thought. I feel sorry for these people.

Religious food rules

In Switzerland, the federal council just decreed that insects are not a food group, and thus can’t be sold as food. As insects are an established food source for millions of people, this decision has probably more to do with personal preferences than anything else. Or was it perhaps religion? Possible, but unlikely in Switzerland.

Yet, some religions do have dietary laws. For example, neither Jews nor Muslims must eat Pork. Arguably, some of these rules made sense at the time and context they were passed. For example, the Jewish rule to forbid lobster or shrimp can be read as a cautionary tale: meat from these animals spoils quickly, and not eating it can prevent some severe illness. Most Jews and Moslems at the time lived in hot countries, where the temperature significantly shortens the time until food goes bad. Also, high temperature favors infections, so adhering to the dietary laws increased your chance to survive; at the time they were good rules.

Today, these laws are completely irrelevant: we know about infections, and refrigeration technology allows us to keep meat fresh for a long time irrespective of the weather and temperature outside. Whoever still adheres to kosher or halal diets does so either in ignorance of their origins, or out of tradition.

Or, of course, for religious reasons: because your God said so. In this case, though, you’ll also have to contend with the fact that the god who gave you these rules did so simply because he was too cheap or ignorant to spring for the refrigeration- and hygiene know-how. So which isn’t he: ‘all-knowing’ or ‘loving’?

Sssssnake Oil!

Ah, faith healing. And dumb-as-doornail Pentecostals. They make good examples of how evolution works: if you are too stupid to stay alive, it’s curtains.

What happened? Pastor Jamie Coots was known for his ‘Snake Salvation’ church services. In it, he used snakes to demonstrate his faith, and to promote faith healing. Like so many other idiots, he believed that faith could suspend the laws of nature.

He believed a passage in the Bible suggests that church members cannot be harmed by venomous snakebites as long as they were anointed by God,

The foundation of his belief: the Gospel of Mark 16:17-18

17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

Guess what? It doesn’t work. The sick don’t recover, and snakes are dangerous. Coots was bitten by one of his snakes, refused treatment from paramedics, and died from the venom. His death is tragic, agreed. On the other hand, people like the late Pastor persuade others to refuse medical treatment in favor of ‘faith healing’. There is some poetry here, just not the inspiring kind.

At least Coots didn’t die in vain: he gave tangible proof that his belief was dangerous bullshit.