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Looking in the Mirror

The now (in)famous London bus ads which read “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” are about to work their way onto the Toronto Transit System in Canada. As with similar ads in other places, the ads are drawing kudos and complaints from interested parties.

One such complaint came to my attention today via an article on globeandmail.com. It seems that Dr. Charles McVety, president of the Canada Family Action Coalition and the Canada Christian College in Toronto, is claiming that the ads are “attack ads.”

This bit from the article is what really caught my attention (emphasis mine)…

“These ads are not saying what the atheists believe, they are attacking what other people believe,” [McVety] said. “And if you look at the dictionary definition for … bigot, that’s exactly what it is, to be intolerant of someone else’s belief system.”

First, I’d like to point out that the ads specifically do say what atheists believe… there’s probably no God. That’s pretty straightforward and unambiguous.

The major point, however, is McVety’s statement about bigotry. This man, who is complaining about an atheist statement by calling it an attack, whose group, the Canada Family Action Coalition, fought against the legalization of same-sex marriage,  and who is a “prominent evangelical leader” according to the article, has the audacity to accuse someone else of bigotry? His statement is a bald-faced example of classic hypocrisy.

Sadly, however, it’s not an uncommon example of hypocrisy. It’s all too common. Fundamentalists who make accusations of bigotry need to first look in the mirror before opening their mouths.

Learning Fear

DespereauxI just saw the movie The Tale of Despereaux tonight for the first time. The movie is very cute… definately a great one to take the little ones to.

General enjoyability of the movie aside, I found that it had a story point that easily applies to atheism and religion. Watching it, I found myself feeling slightly subversive, which added an extra dollop of glee to my movie experience.

Despereaux was an unusual mouse who didn’t do the normal mouse things… like cower or scurry in fear. This was something that was very troubling to his parents and to his teachers and (I think) the school principal. They were trying to figure out how to get him to be fearful like his older brother and all the other mice.

Speaking of cowering and scurrying (in fear), the principal said something like…

Sometimes the younger ones just need to see the older ones doing it to learn it. Nobody is born with a sense of fear. It’s something that has to be taught.

That was the line that smacked me in the head. The parallel to religion is so “in your face.”

Nobody is born a Christian… or a Muslim… or a Catholic. Nobody is born fearing God or fearing Hell. Nobody is born thinking that they are sinners. Nobody is born feeling that they’re not worthy. Nobody is born thinking there is a grand magician in the sky. Nobody is born believing ancient dogma.

Nobody is born with a sense of fear.

It has to be taught.

Would that more people were like that little mouse Despereux. Then perhaps the world could have a happier story like the movie… where all the mice realized that their “taught” fears were unfounded, freeing them up to enjoy so much more of life’s joys.

Good for you, Depereaux.

Swearing on the Bible

Steve Wells over at Dwindling in Unbelief has a great post about Obama’s second round swearing in.

During “Take Two” of the Oath of Office, there was no Bible used for the ceremony. “So help me God” was still tacked on the end, despite the words’ glaring absence in the Constitution, but the lack of a Bible was a step in the right direction.

As Steve puts it…

The Bible, of course, is worse than useless when it comes to consistent advice on morality. But the New Testament (to avoid confusion, ignore the Old Testament on this one) is pretty clear about one thing: Christians shouldn’t swear. Not to God and not on the Bible or on anything else.

He then quotes Matthew 5:34-37

34 But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

…and James 5:12

12 Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.

…to back up his argument. That seems pretty clear to me. Not only shouldn’t the Bible be used (according to the Bible itself), but the swearing in shouldn’t happen at all! Evidently, it’s a pretty UN-Christian thing to do.

So if our Constitution requires our President to take an oath of office, which is contrary to what the Christian religion allows, does that mean that our country isn’t a Christian nation?

I love irony.

Attempted Christian-Imposed “Morality”

From Reuters UK: Another example of Christians attempting to force their prudish ideological morality on others.

A group of conservative politicians is making headway towards a ban on topless bathing on some of Australia’s best known beaches.

Christian lawmaker and veteran morals campaigner Reverend Fred Nile has won backing from key politicians in New South Wales state, home to Sydney and its famed ocean beaches, to tighten existing laws covering nude sunbathing.

The move has provoked strong reaction from easy-going sun worshippers.

Penny Tweedie reports.

I particularly like that Reverend Fred Nile claims that a woman who sunbathes topless “demeans herself” and is “taking away her own self respect.”

Isn’t that something you should ask the woman sunbathing? How could he possibly know? Could it be, rather, that he himself somehow finds the issue titillating (pardon the pun) and is afraid it might awaken some inner urges that he feels are not proper given his “Christian” morals? And if so, could it be that he wants to impose restrictions in order to keep others from feeling the same amoral urges that he’s feeling in order to save their souls? It can’t be that he feels God’s creation is appalling, can it?

Politician Dave Clark also feels that children would be offended by seeing a woman’s breasts. He claims that there are people who want to be at the beach, but can’t because they’re concerned about their children “seeing it.” Amazingly, he said it with a straight face, too, which might indicate that he actually believes the nonsense he’s spewing. What child (who is not an evangelistically brainwashed fundamentalist Christian) would be offended by a woman’s breasts? “Taking offense” is a learned behavior.

The article says that topless sunbathing has been common on most beaches since the 1960’s and that nobody really complains about it. Perhaps the only ones complaining are the morally questionable Christians and politicians. Everyone else seems to be having a grand time getting a nice all-over tan.

Bunk

I’ve been following the John Freshwater trial, mostly via the write-ups by Richard B. Hoppe over at The Panda’s Thumb, but also through following some other articles on the case. For those of you unfamiliar, John Freshwater is a 8th grade science teacher in Mount Vernon who is accused of teaching Creationism and burning crosses on students using a Tesla Coil. I’m a bit skeptical about the crosses after seeing pictures and reading about the trial, but the “teaching Creationism” accusation seems to be spot on based on the evidence so far. The trial isn’t over, though, so no jumping to conclusions.

What I found blog-worthy tonight was a writeup by Lee Duigon on The Chalcedon Foundation’s website. Mr. Duigon focuses mostly on the branding issue, which is fair since that is one of the accusations levied against Freshwater. He starts by showing some early reactions from a number of sources about the branding issue and they (as one would expect, sadly) over-react in a grand fashion based on little evidence. Assuming Mr. Duigon is disgusted by this type of “string him up” reaction, I share his disgust.

I don’t have all the facts of the case. Nobody does at this point and the case is still ongoing. However, based on Freshwater’s reputation, my guess would be that he’s a good guy and probably a good teacher and there isn’t really any kind of underhanded conspiracy that he’s heading up to delude students. I don’t agree with teaching creationism (or intelligent design… same thing) in a science class, but I doubt Freshwater is any kind of monster.

However, there is some side commentary in Mr. Duigon’s article that shows a lack of understanding about science and the scientific process.

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A Dark Journey

Unreasonable Faith is in the top three of my favorite blogs and Daniel Florien has completed four parts (so far) in a series called “An Evil God? A Journey Through the Dark Parts of the Bible” in which he points out some (many) of the problems with the Bible… especially when it comes to using it as any kind of moral guidebook.

He does a great job of laying out his arguments and it’s definately worth a read.

License to Sin

Anyone who’s been an atheist for more than a few weeks has heard the accusation that without religion, there’s no basis for morality. Therefore, we’re told, we can run around like crazed hedonists, raping, stealing, and killing to our hearts’ content. We know it’s nonsense and generally speaking, the person who makes the accusation must know it’s nonsense, too, because it’s just not happening.

What I find ironic is that religion provides the biggest license to sin that any self-respecting, lascivious, lusting hedonist could possibly wish for. Atheism, having no dogma (since it’s not a religion and is purely the lack of belief in a deity), gives no free pass. Because of that, atheists must maintain a much higher interest in practicing moral behavior than religious folks do.

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Christian Bashing?

From the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission comes this list of the top ten instances of Christian bashing in 2008.

Ebonmuse over at Daylight Atheism wrote a nice piece about the absurdity of the whole claim of Christians being persecuted. intelekshual hits on the topic with her (I think) customary acerbic wit.

Christian Oppression?The whole idea of Christians being some sort of persecuted minority is just absurd. The criticisms generally only come when Christians attempt to push their ideology and dogma onto the real minority groups. The blind arrogance of acting as if they are somehow the underdog, as if they have a lock on the “Truth,” as if they’re better than those with different beliefs, as if they deserve pity for withstanding so much persecution… it’s just incredible.

The CADC’s mission statement is this:

The mission of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission (CADC) is to advance religious liberty for Christians by protecting Christians from defamation, discrimination, and bigotry from any and all sources by means of education and selected legal services including litigation, inside the United States and internationally.

“…protecting Christians from defamation, discrimination, and bigotry…”

Who will protect the rest of us from their defamation, discrimination, and bigotry? That remains the much larger issue.

Omnipotence in Question

God is omnipotent… or so we are told.

Dictionary.com defines “omnipotent” as:

1. almighty or infinite in power, as God.
2. having very great or unlimited authority or power.

I’m going to go with the first definition since this is the one that would undoubtedly apply to “God” of Christianity and Catholicism and to “Allah” in Islam. I’ve never heard a religious person say that their god has only limited power, so I think it’s a fair assumption that the first definition is applicable.

The question is often posed to theists, “If God (from here on, also meaning Allah) is all-powerful, why is there disease (or imperfection or evil or disbelief, etc)?” The answer invariably boils down to a “free will” argument. Summarized, God created everything in a state of perfection, but gave man free will to choose his own actions. Man then chose the “wrong” path (eating the apple) and that was pretty much the end of perfection. After that, we basically drove off the genetic cliff which explains why some people wear glasses, some get cancer, some need braces, etc.

(I’m going to leave aside the argument that perhaps Adam wasn’t perfect if he was capable of choosing the wrong path, therefore God didn’t make a perfect creation, therefore God isn’t perfect… or omnipotent.)

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Vague God

The definition of “God” is something that I’ve seen debated and discussed quite a bit. There’s the Biblical god (both Old and New Testament versions), the deist god, nature’s god, and scores of others. They range from strict “holy text” depictions to vague and nebulous “universal energy” concepts. Christians of most stripes usually go for the Biblical depiction, though I’m sure there are exceptions.

I came across an editorial by Lisa Earle McLeod titled The Vague God of Your Understanding Is Good Enough and was intrigued… somewhat. Summarized, her premise seems to be that even though people wait too long to ask for divine help, hard times bring people to their knees to pray, and even though you might not have a great grasp on what “God” is, whatever you understand it to be is good enough.

That’s meant in a good way and her tone comes across as such. I read it as something very searching and very humble… in that your search for the divine is very personal. I like her tone and can actually relate to some of her examples, but as I’ve become more and more educated about religion and the supernatural, there are some things to which I take exception.

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