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Anti-Islam T-shirts in Florida

Dove World Outreach Center T-shirt It seems that some Florida students were sent home or required to change their clothes when they wore t-shirts to school that violated the school’s dress code policy. The shirts, which had a verse from the Gospel of John on the front along with a plug for the Dove Outreach Center, a local church, had the words “Islam is of the Devil” on the back.

Tom Wittmer, the school district staff attorney, explained that the t-shirts could be offensive or distracting to other students.

I can understand that. It’s inappropriate for a public school setting. In other venues, all bets are off. I would think it would be relatively well-established that t-shirts spouting anti-religious, sexist, racist, or profane slogans shouldn’t be worn to a public school. If not because of policy, then maybe out of consideration for fellow students who are trapped in the same building for seven or eight hours a day. Students can take a stand if they want to, but they need to make sure they’re aware of the appropriate time and place. in this case, sending them home to change (or having them change at school) was the best course of action, since the time and place was definitely not appropriate.

Evidently, the students and parents who attend the Dove World Outreach Center are unaware of (or perhaps dismissive of) what constitutes an appropriate time and place. They also seem to have a fairly large bigoted streak.

Wayne Sapp’s daughter, Emily Sapp, 15, was the student sent home from Gainesville High on Tuesday. Both Faith and Emily Sapp said it was their decision, not that of their parents, to wear the shirts to school in order to promote their Christian beliefs. Emily Sapp said the “Islam is of the Devil” statement was aimed at the religion’s beliefs, not its members.

“The people are fine,” she said. “The people are people. They can be saved like anyone else.”

Wow. That’s both ignorant and offensive. She seems entirely ignorant that when she says, “Islam is of the Devil” and “They can be saved like anyone else,” she’s not just attacking the beliefs. That statement also implies that those who believe in Islam are following the devil. But in her Christian-centered world, those people are “fine” because they can be taught that their beliefs are nonsense and that her beliefs are the way and the light. Her statement implies that Muslims are lesser people who need to be saved… that they’re currently just Christians who have strayed from the path and who desperately need her help.

Let me make a distinction here. I personally think that Islam is just as vacuous as Christianity… or Catholicism… or any other theistic religion. However, I’m not of the opinion that they’ll be “fine” if they just give up their beliefs. They are “fine” regardless of what the believe. The only time they’re not “fine” is if they try to impose their beliefs on me or my government. So I am probably offending someone when I say that Christianity is mythological, but I’m actually attacking the belief system, not the person. Young Emily Sapp is attacking the belief system and the people by implying that they’re lost until they accept Jesus.

Her father, unsurprisingly, seems to be the same.

He added that his children decided it was time to “stand up for what they believe instead of saying the rules might not let me do it” and said that society has grown “so tolerant of being tolerant” that free speech is eroding.

Free speech does not erode from greater tolerance. It erodes due to a lack of tolerance. Wearing a shirt with a caustic, offensive, anti-Islam message (or anti-Christian, etc) is saying, “I don’t want your religion to be heard. My religion should be the only one.” Follow that up with “They can be saved like anyone else” and you’ve got yourself some grade-A bigotry… and probably one of the most anti-free-speech attitudes imaginable.

To top it all off, here’s a quote from the church’s senior pastor, Terry Jones.

Jones said that, to him, spreading the church’s message was “even more important than education itself.”

That’s pretty much what religion is all about, isn’t it? Studies constantly show that the religious convictions tend to be inversely proportional to the level of education. The church doesn’t want people who think for themselves. They want people who spread the word and follow the church’s teachings. They want people who feel that those of other faiths “can be saved like anyone else.”

They certainly don’t want free speech.

Fireproof Could Have Been Good – Review Part 2

Fireproof... Never leave your partner behind In part one of this review of the movie Fireproof, I gave my overall view that the movie wasn’t as bad as I’d expected, but still squandered the potential it had to be a decent love story. In part two, I’ll focus on some specifics as well as address some of the religious issues of the movie.

Despite the potential for a nice romance movie, there was so much wrong with the entire script (even setting aside the religious aspect) that any chance for a decent level of watchability was destroyed. Irrelevant scenes, undeveloped characters who suddenly seem important, stilted and contrived dialogue, female stereotyping, and a myriad of other problems all effectively screen the underlying story from being the focus.

Much of the acting was bad, but none worse than the young doctor who attempts to woo Catherine, despite her being married. In his case, the bad writing was not the sole cause of his lackluster performance. He came across as decidedly creepy, with pickup lines that deposited a virtual oily slime on the camera. In the end, there’s an implication that he is married as well, so he becomes a double scumbag… but his complete lack of appeal and disturbing stalker-like creepiness were the worst parts.

There were many useless scenes in the movie that added nothing to the story and were simply time-killing distractions. The gag with the hot sauce and the egotistical fireman, Wayne, seemed to have no point. The minor interaction with the one firehouse atheist was pointless. The entire religious “message” seemed secondary. It would have worked if it had been more of a focus (or at least shown to be the reason for the marriage being saved), or had been addressed in a less heavy-handed, clumsy way.

The religious dialogue that was scattered throughout the movie didn’t seem to contribute to the story. The dad, John, made some comments here and there. When Caleb commented on his long drive, he said, “It gave me time to think and pray.” …hopefully not with his eyes closed. Caleb’s “don’t tell me about Jesus” protestations seemed weak. The father’s dialogue was generally badly written and poorly acted, but other than the main conversion scene, didn’t really offer much of a message of Christian goodness.

What about that message? There was really very little, if any, explanation of why Christianity had anything at all to do with the saving of Caleb and Catherine’s marriage. That’s what made the message so weak. All the actions shown from the “love dare” book were secular in nature, except the day where Caleb was supposed to pray for Catherine, which he admitted he didn’t do… which seems to be showing that, even without the religious parts, the marriage was saved. Caleb has his conversion, but it’s ignored for the better part of the second half of the movie, so there was no connection there, either unless the implication is, because he’s accepted Jesus, he’s willing to clean the house, wash the dishes, and buy his wife flowers.

Addressing the religious points from an atheist perspective, I’d have to say there was a lot of silliness.

  • Caleb’s father says, “[Jesus has] become the most significant part of our lives. When I realized who I was and who he was, I realized my need for him. I needed his forgiveness and salvation.” To me, that’s sad. If a dead guy is more significant than your wife and children, not to mention a myriad of other joyous things in life, then your priorities are so far out of whack that a serious reality check is in order. Need his forgiveness? Need his salvation? What?
  • The conversion speech John gives to Caleb is right out of Cameron’s Way of the Master evangelizing program. “God judges by his standards.” … “His standards are so high he considers hatred to be murder and lust to be adultery.” … When Caleb asks about all the good he’s done, his father replies that it doesn’t matter because “You’ve broken his commandments and one day you’ll answer to him for that.” … “Jesus loves you even though you rejected him.” It’s creepy and the message that you can’t know what love is without Jesus is just offensive.
  • When the oncoming train almost hits the lieutenant while he’s helping move a car off the tracks, he sits down and says, “Thank you, God. Thank you, Lord.” I think it would be more appropriate for him to be thanking the other folks who helped get the car off the tracks before the train came by. If God had wanted to help, he could have just stopped the train… or moved the car… or perhaps kept the car accident from happening in the first place. To give thanks to a god who almost kills you is just absurd.
  • When Caleb is rescuing the young girl from the burning house and gets trapped in a room, he says (uncharacteristically, I might add), “God, get us outta here!” He then proceeds to use his axe to hack through the wooden floor and escape safely from under the house. This almost made sense, because, even though he asked God for help, he got out by himself. Quick thinking and taking action saved his life, not a benevolent god. Again, if God had wanted to help, he could have kept the building from catching fire in the first place, or at least gotten the girl to go outside before burning her home to the ground.
  • There was an implication that, unless you give your life to the Lord, it’s all about “my rights and needs.” I don’t think the “Lord” has anything to do with that. Just the opposite, in fact. If someone is “accepting Jesus” because they want eternal salvation or to avoid eternal damnation, that seems pretty self-centered to me.
  • Caleb tells Catherine, “God has given me a love for you that I had never had before.” What he’s telling her is that he can’t possibly love her without divine intervention. That’s insulting on a grand scale.
  • Caleb says, “The love dare changed my life.” and his father responds, “God changed your life. The love dare was just a tool he used.” That’s classic Christian thinking right there. Don’t give credit where the credit is due, but credit God for working in mysterious ways. It’s brilliant because it fits any situation and it’s irrefutable. You can’t prove that God didn’t use the love dare to save your marriage!
  • When Caleb finds out his mother did the love dare on his father (and not the other way around) and now knows that she’s all Jesus’y, he’s sorry for treating her badly and runs to tell her how much he loves her. “Dad, I have treated her so wrong!” Caleb cries. The implication is, of course, that only the godly folks are worthy of good treatment. His mother didn’t change in the past month, but when he suddenly finds out that she’s “all in,” his attitude toward her is completely changed. It’s hypocritical and repugnant.

There are more things like those, of course, but those are some of the highlights. None of those things added anything to the story, but their poor execution just hindered both the Christian message and the quality of the movie. The writer’s attempt to make the connection between Christian beliefs and the success of the marriage failed on a grand scale. However, it did (if you could wade through all the muck) make quite a good connection between kind, secular actions toward your spouse and the success of a marriage. Caleb started doing nice things for Catherine and it made him a better person… and she noticed.

That was the real message.

Religion as a Weapon

The Holy Qur'an There have been a rash of deaths recently in Pakistan due to accusations that the victims desecrated the Qur’an. You can read about some of them here and here.

The population in general, and Christians in particular, is dealing with cases of intimidation because of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. The laws, one of which carries the death penalty for "defiling the Koran and images of the Prophet Muhammad" are suspected of being used "to settle personal scores."

The second article (the BBC one) says that the blasphemy laws were introduced in the mid 1980’s and "hundreds of people have been lynched" because of them. Blasphemy laws are absurd to begin with (do you hear that, Ireland?) and in this case, seem to fuel the fire of religiously-inspired righteous indignation. They practically invite abuse.

The BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says there is recurring evidence that people have sought to settle personal scores with victims by inflaming religious feelings.

From the first article:

Hundreds of armed supporters of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an outlawed Islamic militant group, set alight dozens of Christian homes in Gojra town at the weekend after allegations that a copy of the Koran had been defiled.

[…]

Tension started mounting last week after Muslims accused three Christian youths of burning a copy of the Koran. They denied the allegations, but clerics called for their death. On Saturday hundreds of supporters of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an outlawed Sunni sectarian group, poured into the town from surrounding districts.

A mere accusation of destroying a book, made without proof, was sufficient to rouse a mob of hundreds of Muslim people angry enough to burn down houses and fire their weapons indiscriminately. In another case, a woman was almost attacked because a shopkeeper accused her of throwing the Qur’an. In yet another, a factory owner and a co-worker were killed because he removed an old calendar from the wall that had verses from the Qur’an (though was accused of desecrating the Qur’an).

Whatever the motives behind these actions (in the case of the factory owner, it’s suspected it was spurred on by wage disputes), the fact remains that unsupported accusations of Qur’an desecration are all that’s needed to whip people into a blind rage of pious, violent, fury. Because someone possibly "disrespected" a book… a mere copy of a book… Muslim religious fundamentalists will kill… and feel vindicated. That’s horrific, repugnant, and morally reprehensible.

Christians vary in degree only. Witness the recent outrage over the destruction of bibles in Afghanistan by the United States military this past May. There was no rioting in the streets… no throwing of molotov cocktails… no firing of guns… no violence. But the religious indignation was there. The sense of pious outrage, the outcry of revulsion at the act, the self-righteous bible thumping, the gathering of like-minded protestors, the wailing about persecution… it was all there. It simply didn’t progress to the same level of violent action as the Muslim outrage did.

And that feature of religion, that ability to easily create a wild frenzy of devout, sanctimonious outrage, is one of its more dangerous aspects. It’s a feature that is easily abused, as shown by the recent activities in Muslim Pakistan. In the United States, it’s abused for political and monetary gain, among other things. It’s used by religious leaders all around the world… that exploitation of blind faith.

It’s the foundation of religion.

Putting the “Good” Book in Context

god fire

I have had many theological discussions with Christians and inevitably at some point during our discussion the comment, “you’re taking the meaning out of context” is dropped. I think that a contextual understanding of the bible and Christianity is important also. Let me take this opportunity to try and put the bible and Christianity in it’s proper context.

There is plenty of terrible un-Godlike behavior in the new testament, but for sure it is easier to quote better examples of God’s loveless actions from the old testament. I have had people tell me, “…well yeah that’s the old testament but the new testament is much more peaceful”. I will be taking quotes for most of this article from the old testament.  I will be doing so because the old testament is particularly brutal. If you are a Christian and you believe the inspired word of God is infallible (and you have to), why does it matter that only the brutish old testament is mentioned? Having been written first, it has the distinction of being perhaps more timely and therefore more accurate (disbelief appropriately suspended) to the events that it describes.

Let’s start with the bronze age’s answer to Las Vegas, Sodom and Gomorrah. God was not happy with the evil taking place in the twin cities so he decided to rain down upon them “burning sulphur.” This is odd and cruel at the same time. Odd because if you were God, do you think burning sulphur would be the best way to completely wipe out two cities? Cruel because it involves burning men, women and children. Wouldn’t a 30 mile wide plasma beam be more efficient or at least more humane? It’s also a lot more cool than… burning sulphur.  Keep in mind bronze age construction had advanced from an earlier technique of packed clay walls to actual bricks made from mud.  Mud bricks don’t burn well, in fact heat is what is used to dry them. Weird God would choose such an incredibly inefficient way to smite people… unless the bible was written solely by men who didn’t know what a plasma beam or anything else more advanced was than… burning sulphur. Hard to keep this story any more in context than that.

Next, let’s talk about God’s quirky sense of humor. Just imagine if you had a neighbor whose name was, oh I don’t know, ahhhh… Abraham. Let’s say some “guy” showed up at Abraham’s house one day and put a gun to Abraham’s head and tried to force him to kill his son, ahhhhh… Isaac. Then right before Abraham did it the “guy” stopped him and said “Wait! I just wanted to see if you’d do it!”  Would we think this “guy” was funny, smart, all knowing, all powerful, peaceful, kind, or loving. No, we’d think this “guy” was vicious, cruel and twisted. I think you get the point. If God was omniscient, he would have already know what Abraham was going to do or he’s just a malevolent jerk who gets off on yanking mankind’s chain. Not very Godlike… unless God was a creation of mankind who from time to time does suffer from these character flaws. Hard to keep this story any more in context than that.

Now, Exodus 2:29-30 :

At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.

Does anything here strike you as odd? Yeah I know, “why should God kill the children for the wrongs of their parents?”. Sure that’s unforgivingly evil, but that’s not even the “odd” part. I’m talking about killing the firstborn of the livestock! The livestock? Here is context for you. Throughout the bible, God has penalized mankind by killing his children and/or his livestock. In an earlier article I quoted Leviticus 26:21-22.

If even then you remain hostile toward me and refuse to obey, I will inflict you with seven more disasters for your sins.  I will release wild animals that will kill your children and destroy your cattle, so your numbers will dwindle and your roads will be deserted.

God sure has a thing for killing livestock… or does he? Seems to me far more likely that mankind in the bronze age recognized how valuable livestock was to the other bronze agers of the time and decided to use livestock as leverage in the good book. Sounds again like mankind was truly doing the story telling here. Hard to keep this story any more in context than that.

I could go on…but I think it is clear that contextually these stories and most likely the entire bible, were man made from start to finish. How modern day rational people can’t see that the bible is riddled with un-Godlike, but very human, behavior is astounding to me.

…Sometimes a burning bush, is just a burning bush.

Ignore Probability & Logic, Just Take It On Faith!

funny-picture-1142018091Let’s suppose you had knowledge of an impending storm that had the potential to destroy everything in its path. This very same storm was 24 hours away. What would you do to spread the message to your family, friends, and neighbors? You might phone them, email them, drive to find them or tell everyone you know to spread the word. All rational, sensible actions to take. Would you quietly call just one person and tell him to secretly meet you so that he could pass your message on for you?

This is exactly what we are meant to believe God did. With our eternal salvation on the line, God chose to speak in secret with one person at a time (Moses, Abraham, Joseph Smith, etc.) in order to spread the word. Convenient that for most of God’s or his minion’s appearances there weren’t many or any witnesses.

We are told that Jesus was born by an immaculate conception. Says who, Mary? How difficult would it be for a woman who may have bore another man’s child without the knowledge or, I’m assuming, consent of her husband to lie? Is this really that difficult to believe? Remember this was the bronze age, a time period filled with illiterate and ignorant people ruled more by superstition than reason. Imagine further that to keep up the subterfuge upon his birth, the child is told he is the son of God and was born from a virgin mother. The lie becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

Am I suggesting this is what happened? No. I don’t know and neither do you or anyone (I’m talking to you Christians) who suggests they do. I do believe that this is FAR more plausible a foundational story for Christianity than Jesus being born of a virgin mother, curing the blind, walking on water, dying on the cross and resurrecting three days later thereby washing away all my naughty deeds. This leads us to the title of this article, religion is a setup.

Why would a God purposely put into motion a set of circumstances so preposterous, so witness-less, and then penalize mankind for not following it blindly; and by blindly, I mean just on faith. Think about it. If you were going to hold people eternally accountable for their actions, wouldn’t you at least give them reasonable assurances that what they were being asked to do was what you truly intended for them to do? You wouldn’t leave your true meaning shrouded in mystery . Your expectations would be clearly defined and verifiable.

You would never couch something so important in riddles and decades old hearsay. If there truly was an all powerful and all knowing God, he/she wouldn’t either.

Ray Comfort: Tasteless Religious Businessman

Michael Jackson Commemorative BillI have written several articles about Ray “The Banana Man” Comfort. Most of them have in one way or another dealt with him being obnoxious, ignorant, egotistical or all three. This article deals with his utter lack of taste.

Since Michael Jackson died there have been an abundance of jokes at his expense circulated around the Internet.  Some of them are really funny. Hell, I’ve told a few to friends. Was I in bad taste? Maybe to some but I’m not a Christian minister like Comfort. I also will not be profiting from the telling of my jokes.

Comfort’s, Living Waters Ministries, is currently selling these adorable dead Michael Jackson tracts on their website. That’s right folks step right up and purchase your “commemorative million dollar bill” tracts.  Yep, one stop shopping, tasteless religious propaganda and snake oil all on one convenient website!

All joking aside this is incredible. Not only does Comfort shamelessly use Michael Jackson’s image to promote his agenda, he’s PROFITING from it.

The million dollar question: Will you go to Heaven when you die? Here’s a quick test. Have you ever told a lie, stolen anything, or used God’s name in vain? Jesus said, “Whoever looks at a woman …etc.,etc.”

Since the death of Jackson they are actually promoting the sale of these tracts by calling them, “commemorative”. As much as I don’t care for Comfort’s smarmy way of pointing fingers at sinners on street corners, even I did not think he was capable of stuping this low. Truly shameful. I guess Comfort forgot Matthew 21:

Matthew 21 -And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,  And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

Look out Ray Comfort. If Christ does come back  (disbelief suspended) I think he’s heading right for your ministries.

God Hates Children

God told me to!

In the Indian village of Solapur, residents mark the birth of a new child by tossing the newborn from a 50 foot Muslim shrine onto a sheet below. The bizarre tradition is over 500 years old.

God has ordered some pretty despicable things to be done during his tenure over mankind. The destruction of entire cities, blights, plagues, multiple smitings, disease, pestilence, and genocidal floods. It’s an impressive resume by any mass murderer’s reckoning to be sure but there’s more! God loves to torture and kill children or gutlessly order his minions to torture and kill children.

Every night on the evening news we hear about murder, rape or any number of brutal crimes being committed.  Horrible to be sure but society does become immune. Rarely is the water cooler abuzz with talk of any but the most disgusting of these crimes, unless a child is involved. Our society finds, rightfully so, that crimes such as this involving children are of the most heinous nature. It’s a fact that more often than not, child predators are the first to be beaten or killed by their fellow inmates once incarcerated. Even criminals agree that these choice individuals are fair game for a rather rude introduction into our penal system. God help himself should he ever take up residence within the American penal system, for he would certainly be due a beating.

God has always had a special place in his heart for children. I suppose that’s why he at times singles them out for his own particular brand of cruelty and barbarism. Jesus may “love the little children” but God…not so much. Here’ s some of God’s greatest hits:

  1. In the name of God, Jewish males have the grand fortune of being subjected to ritualistic genital mutilation.
  2. Children who fall ill are medically neglected by those of the Jehovah’s Witness cult.
  3. Children are tossed off buildings in parts of India for good luck.

These are examples of a modern day misinterpretation of God’s will by man, you say? These are not actions that God would ever have endorsed, you say? Nice try. These are actually rather “meek and mild” examples of God’s depravity. We can look to God’s divinely inspired instruction manual, the bible, for some of his most horrid and genocidal greatest hits.

    Do not withhold discipline from your children; if you beat them with a rod, they will not die. If you beat them with the rod, you will save their lives from Sheol.
    (Prov. 23:13-14)
    Pardon me if I don’t begin singing, “My God is an Awesome God”. God is not only in favor of strict discipline but he fully endorses all out beatings.
    From there Elisha went up to Bethel.  While he was on his way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him.  “Go up baldhead,” they shouted, “go up baldhead!”  The prophet turned and saw them, and he cursed them in the name of the Lord.  Then two shebears came out of the woods and tore forty two of the children to pieces. (2 Kings 2:23-24 NAB)
    God  only knows what he would have done had the small boys taken his name in vain. Maybe he could have resurrected them and killed them twice. …”my God is an awesome God”…(keep singing, keep singing).
    If even then you remain hostile toward me and refuse to obey, I will inflict you with seven more disasters for your sins.  I will release wild animals that will kill your children and destroy your cattle, so your numbers will dwindle and your roads will be deserted. (Leviticus 26:21-22 NLT)
    NO, not the cattle!! Yes in God’s eye the loss of children is equated with the loss of one’s livestock.
    I could continue in this same vein, citing example after example of God’s pitiless hatred for those who are weak and guiltless but I think you get the point. I haven’t even begun to touch on all of the instances where God ordered the death of children for the inequities of the parents or their parent’s parents. God’s big on generational smiting.
    A society can often be judged on how it treats its weaker members. How a civilization treats its handicapped or helpless children can tell you a lot about that civilization’s foundational morality.  Christians love to suggest that God provides society with a moral compass and that atheists are immoral. Well I don’t kill, mutilate or maim helpless children. I don’t order others to do what I don’t have the guts to do myself, while holding eternal damnation over the heads of my witless  accomplices and I don’t worship anyone who does.
    If these forementioned acts are the acts of the loving Christian God then I want nothing to do with him or his ignorant, mentally retarded followers who would support such cruelty. Make no mistake, to be a Christian means you DO support these acts. The bible is allegedly the inspired word of God and is therefore infallible. You simply CAN’T be a Christian without believing God is omniscient and  omnipotent. If you truly consider yourself to be a Christian you are a willing supporter of all of these vicious decrees.
    …”my God is an awesome God”…(keep singing, keep singing)

More Trouble for Texas Education

schooldesk Texas just hosted a long, drawn-out debate about science standards (specifically pertaining to biology and evolution) which resulted in a mixed bag of results. Some major points were made in favor of actual science while other points in favor of non-science (ie… creationism) were slipped in as minor addendums to the policy.

It seems that the shenanigans are now heading over to the subject of American history.

Outside “experts” (quoted because obviously some of them aren’t) reviewing the Social Studies curriculum in Texas evidently want to make changes in the history classes. As this article in the Wall Street Journal states:

Three reviewers, appointed by social conservatives, have recommended revamping the K-12 curriculum to emphasize the roles of the Bible, the Christian faith and the civic virtue of religion in the study of American history. Two of them want to remove or de-emphasize references to several historical figures who have become liberal icons, such as César Chávez and Thurgood Marshall.

This is beyond absurdity. These are people who are obviously driven by a fundamentalist agenda that want to insert their religious dogma into, it seems, every aspect of public education in an attempt to force it down the throats of our children. Not only do they want to indoctrinate their own children with their baseless beliefs, but they want to indoctrinate everyone else’s children, too.

There are some voices of reason involved in the issue, fortunately.

But the emphasis on Christianity as a driving force is disputed by some historians, who focus on the economic motivation of many colonists and the fractured views of religion among the Founding Fathers. “There appears to me too much politics in some of this,” said Lybeth Hodges, a professor of history at Texas Woman’s University and another of the curriculum reviewers.

However, if the science debates were any indication, some on the Texas Board of Education (think McLeroy, who thankfully is no longer the board chair) think that there needs to be someone who stands up to these real experts. It seems they think we can’t have experts making determinations about issues relating to their fields. That would evidently be crazytown.

In that one little WSJ article, there is so much infuriating ignorance. Here’s a small sampling.

  • The conservative reviewers say they believe that children must learn that America’s founding principles are biblical. For instance, they say the separation of powers set forth in the Constitution stems from a scriptural understanding of man’s fall and inherent sinfulness, or “radical depravity,” which means he can be governed only by an intricate system of checks and balances.
  • “The foundational principles of our country are very biblical…. That needs to come out in the textbooks.”
  • “We’re in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it,” said Rev. Peter Marshall, a Christian minister and one of the reviewers appointed by the conservative camp.
  • Reviewer David Barton suggests swapping out “republican” for “democratic” in teaching materials. As he explains: “We don’t pledge allegiance to the flag and the democracy for which it stands.”

Evidently, David Barton is ignorant, not just of American history, but of the different between “democratic” when used to refer to a form of government and “Democratic” when used to refer to a political party.

This nonsense has to stop. Texas, because of its size, has a huge influence on the textbook market, and the crass, ignorant, fundamentalist proselytizing by these right-wing school board members and their advisors is hurting not just children in Texas, but children across the country. I wrote recently about how education is the key to overcoming theistic intrusion into our government, schools, and private lives… but I specified that it needs to be real education, not this kind of god-soaked, ideological make-believe that some of the Texas BOE are proposing.

Texans should be up in arms over this.

(thanks to Hemant at The Friendly Atheist)

Book Review: Reason to Believe

Reason to Believe by R. C. SproulIn his book Reason to Believe, originally published in 1978 under the title Objections Answered, R. C. Sproul states in the preface that purpose of the book is not to “provide a technical study in the science of apologetics” but to “offer basic answers to the most common and frequent objections that are raised about Christianity.” He wants the book to lead the reader to further, more detailed investigations of the problems he addresses. The book does give basic answers. It’s relatively short and is very easy reading.

Reason to Believe was recommended to me by a Christian friend who said that Sproul is one of his favorite apologists because he uses logic and reason to answer the questions rather than simply appealing to human emotions. Whether Sproul actually succeeds is something I’ll address as I go along.

There is a foreword by Lee Strobel from 1993, so even though the book is over thirty years old, it has evidently remained relevant and, according to Strobel, is the perfect book to recommend to skeptics, Christians who may be doubting their faith, and Christians who need to be able to respond to questions about their faith. It does date the book somewhat when Sproul, stating that the bible is not a textbook of science,  says that man’s origins “can never be determined by the study of biology. The question of origin is a question of history.” There have been huge leaps in the biological sciences in the past thirty years that have done amazing things to explain and confirm the origins of the human species, so I was content to let that statement slide, though it pains me to know that many of the readers of this book will take that statement at face value.

The book is divided into ten chapters, each chapter addressing a single question or statement. They include the topics of biblical contradiction, people who never hear of Christ, the existence of God, evil, suffering, and death, along with a number of other issues. Sproul does use techniques of logic, but he frequently uses them incorrectly, bases his initial premise on invalid assumptions, or makes imaginary connections from point A to point B. As promised, however, he does give basic answers, and many of his answers would raise the chins and straighten the shoulders of Christians who have some mild doubts about their faith. Those who are more prone to critical analysis, observable evidence, and reason won’t find much here to persuade them about the validity of Sproul’s Christianity.

Sproul makes frequent use of the “let’s suppose” technique throughout the entire book. When discussing miracles, for instance, he says, “On the other hand, if there is a God who is omnipotent, then miracles are possible and accounts of them cannot be gratuitously dismissed as myths.” I don’t disagree with that statement, but it’s really not answering any questions about miracles. It’s merely playing a game of “What if.” He says that the claim about the bible being full of contradictions is a “radical exaggeration” and stems from the misunderstanding of what contradictions are and how the bible is read. A few examples of biblical contradictions are “explained away” in some apologetic hoop-jumping, though not in any real depth.

I mentioned earlier that Sproul’s use of logic leaves something to be desired. A good example is his case for the infallibility of scripture. His opening premise is “The Bible is a basically reliable and trustworthy document.” That’s a flimsy, unsupported premise to begin with other than a few preceeding paragraphs about some historical accuracy, but he then moves to “On the basis of this reliable document we have sufficient evidence to believe confidently that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” That’s a pretty huge jump, one that I and anyone else who’s using some critical thinking would thoroughly reject. However, Sproul continues on with four more jumps, leading us to the conclusion that the bible is infallible. His logic resoundingly fails, and frequently does so throughout the rest of the book.

One reason why the book is good for Christians who want a bit of support and not so good for non-believers is that Sproul frequently begins his answers with theistic assertions. When discussing whether the “poor native who never heard of Christ” is doomed, for a large part of his argument, he relies on the biblical notion of original sin, stating that nobody is innocent. So the question, “What happens to the innocent person who’s never heard of Christ?” is dismissed partly by a theistic technicality and partly by semantic games. He plays other semantic games when discussing the existence of God, modifiying definitions of “chance” and “created by” so as to suit his needs.

Sproul also seems to espouse the all-too-common, yet blatantly ignorant and offensive, claims that people reject religion because of mistreatment or abuse, and that atheists reject God to unburden themselves from guilt, to indulge their own desires at the expense of others, or because they don’t like the idea that they are “ultimately accountable to a just and holy God.” While that may be true in some cases, it’s much more likely that atheists reject religion simply because there is no evidence to support its theistic claims. However, Sproul continues his argument for religion for almost an entire chapter based on this faulty premise.

The last tactic that is frequently used throughout the book is the setting up of “straw men” to knock down. Sproul defines the problem in such a way as to make it easy to refute, but by doing so, skirts the actual issue in question. He defines humanism in this way and then proceeds to use biblical quotations to refute it (another reason why the book is better for current Christians than it is for non-believers).

There are so many issues I have with the “reasons to believe” given by the book, that it would take far too long to address them here. Reason to Believe, however, is an easy read, partly due to its small size, but also due in large part to Sproul’s competent writing style. If you’re a non-believer looking to see how Christians tend to address questions about their faith, it’s a quick and interesting read. As Sproul says in his preface, however, if you’re looking for a book on serious apologetics, you won’t find it here.

You will be shaking your head a lot, though.

Creationism = Intelligent Design = Not Science

Man and DinosaurI’ve done a lot of reading recently about Evolution and Intelligent Design (Creationism) and really, the arguments for Intelligent Design, whether they’re being put forth by unqualified supporters in Texas or by biologists like Michael Behe, are all non-starters. ID supporters have yet to come up with any evidence to support their theory. Their arguments consist solely of attempts to cast doubt upon the scientifically supported theory of evolution, attempts which always fail, but sadly seem to take hold of those who really have no knowledge of evolutionary theory or the evidence that supports it.

I was delighted to find this article at Evaluating Christianity about the nonsense put forth by Young Earth Creationists. It’s witty and insightful and definitely worth taking the time to read.

Here are some highlights. I’ll quote this bit for starters.

If creationists are correct, then not only do we need to scrap all of biology, but we need to throw out everything we think we know about archaeology, anthropology, astronomy, geology (no plate tectonics!), chemistry and physics (since radiometric dating is supposedly unreliable), and probably a few dozen other scientific disciplines. Think about that for a minute. If young-earth creationism is correct, then every single scientist in any of these fields of study is either an idiot or a fraud.

If you find that hard to swallow, you’re not alone.

I find it interesting that, of the Young Earth Creationists that I know (only a few), none of them reject science out of hand. I don’t think any of them deny that the Earth revolves around the Sun or that the Earth has shifting plates that cause earthquakes when they change position or many other science’y ideas. They seem to, out of necessity to support their views, only deny the science that contradicts their bibles. It’s “pick and choose” science… somewhat like “pick and choose” biblical religion, it would seem.

Anyway… here’s my favorite part because it really hits the nail on the head with regard to arguments about evolution and science.

This is why I don’t take creationism seriously. Not because I “reject the Bible” or “have differing views of the evidence,” or whatever. I don’t take it seriously because the people who are qualified to weigh in on these claims — people of varying backgrounds, races, religious and political beliefs — have done so and reject your claims.

I imagine that some (like longtime EC commenter Nathaniel) may try to draw the same analogy to Biblical historians versus Jesus-mythers. But here’s the main difference: by their own admission, 30% of Biblical historians concede that there was no empty tomb. If 30% of biologists denied common ancestry, or 30% of astronomers thought that the stars were 6,000 years old, then we would indeed have a real controversy and those ideas should be engaged on their merits.

For example: a small minority of paleontologists, led by Jack Horner, contend that T.rex was a scavenger rather than an apex predator. This is a highly contested hypothesis and is subscribed to by only a tiny minority of palentologists — but it is, nevertheless, a respectable scientific dispute.

It’s a simple and clear explanation of why some disputes are valid and others are really not (check out the rest of the article for context and additional arguments).

If you’re going to make attempts to refute scientific theories, then you’d better have a scientific argument. Creationists don’t have one, and never will, because the basis of their entire position is thoroughly unscientific. You can’t propose “it was magic” as your explanation and expect to be taken seriously.

Not even by magicians.