Archive for June 2, 2010

All the Angry Atheists

June 2, 2010

Cries of “Angry Atheist” have been going around on the ol’ interwebs, lately. Only now they are being picked up by all kinds of folks. Notably, David Sloan Wilson seems to be upset that “certain atheists” (he mentions Dawkins, but then uses Hitchens as an example for some reason) believe that science is a perfectly suitable tool for getting along in the universe (not sure if religions that make the claim get a free pass or not). He makes an appeal to the “beneficial” aspects of religions. These claims usually refer to individuals feeling of belonging, good will, and such, even though these feelings are far from being any sort of a unique contribution of religion.

It most certainly does not do any harm for individuals to gather together to sing songs and join hands. To live out a piece of meaningful theater. If they were aware that that’s what they were doing. The problem is, most of them do not. And even those that do are perfectly happy letting letting others hold on to age old belief systems that do not apply to the world we live in. And that’s just plain wrong. When people hold irrational beliefs, it affects us all.

Would I handle the mild irrational beliefs of a UU member the same as the more irrational beliefs of a fundamentalist? Well, yeah. I would also treat any irrational belief an atheist had the same. I usually ask them if they really believe what they say, and why. And, perhaps, to clarify it, if it’s a belief I’m not familiar with. I probably shouldn’t go that far, but I guess that’s the angry atheist in me.

Micheal Dowd recently gave a very good example on the Infidel Guy show (paraphrased): Imagine you’re driving from Pittsburgh to Portland Oregon and your GPS hasn’t been updated for 150 years. It would most certainly make your trip a lot more difficult, full of unnecessary turns and dead ends. Since religious belief systems are usually based around the predominant understanding of the world at the time of their creation, religious institutions, and those that adhere to their beliefs, are driving with an outdated GPS. In the case of Christianity, a 2,000 year old one.

Anyone who’s understanding of the world is that out of date will be making irrational decisions in their life: voting for unqualified political candidates merely because they sell themselves as religious,  ostracizing homosexuals, holding racist views, etc. Their entire world view will be warped. And, whether their world view is peacefully warped (they keep to themselves), or violently warped (such as with suicide bombers), it is only the right thing to do to attempt to share any insight you have. We see good, beneficial governmental reform strategies continuously undermined by a religious view point of the world, and most of those people voting that way are not violent or crazy. But, their outdated mode of thinking does make a difference in the world.

PZ Myers recently put up a post about Jainism, a “peaceful” religion that never harmed no one (specifically it was about a con man that was Jain, who was trying to get the world to believe that he can survive without eating). Despite that claim of religious accommodationalists, Jains, mostly the priests, are ascetics that have been known to injure and even starve themselves to death to attain religious insight that, according to everything we’ve been able to ascertain about the world so far, simply does not exist. It’s perfectly crazy. Why do people have to pretend to respect such viewpoints? And it’s not stupid in the way the the religious practitioner is a stupid person (well, they might be, but they shouldn’t be treated as such). It’s stupid in that it’s a wrong world view that keeps being held on to and taught as “Truth” to a whole new wave of followers so that they too can get a skewed version of “what is real” imprinted into their brain. Why are we not supposed to challenge religion?

We all owe it to each other to be truthful. True, there is no need to beat on each in the process of doing it, but letting others believe that demons inhabit the world, or that dreaming of falling will kill you is just as abusive, IMO.


Modern Christian Mythology: The End Times

June 2, 2010

Modern Christian Mythology: The End Times

What’s better at kick starting a religion than a lot of talk about the end of the world? Nothing.

Beginning with post Exilic Jewish religious writings like Jeremiah and Daniel and continuing into early Christian writings, the end of the world has been coming for quite awhile.

The gloomy outlook on the future (or lack thereof) is most prominent in early writings from the 1st century CE, like the Pauline Epistles (the authentic ones), Revelations, and the Gospel According to Mark.

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light,and the stars shall be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory …

Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, until all these things be accomplished.

-Mark 13: 24-30

and, to reiterate

Verily I say unto you, There are some here of them that stand by, who shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God come with power.

-Mark 9:1

Paul himself thought he would be alive when the end came,  as shown in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.

However, by the second century, Christian writings began to pull back on the eminence of the end, falling back on the excuse that, well, maybe god didn’t mean what he said:

Where is the promise of his coming? for, from the day that the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.

… But forget not this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

-2 Peter: 4-8

I guess 50 years or so was as a bit too long to wait for the end.

But, some folks still haven’t given up hope. The End can still be nigh. Long after “this generation” passed away, Hal Lindsey made quite an impact with The Late Great Planet Earth, a book that compared the present day’s news (that present being 1970) with Biblical predictions of the imminent apocalypse.

So, why was there all this doom and gloom talk in Christian writings from the last quarter of the 1st century? Well, during the Jewish Roman Wars (66-73 CE), the Romans killed about 1 million Jews, and that’s bound to make any peoples think the world was about to end. I don’t think we need to look much further than that