Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Like It or Not: Reflections On Skeptical Literature P. 2

As in Part 1, there will be a picture of the book cover on the left, followed by Like It or Like It Not, a summary, and finally, a small evaluation.

Like: Religion is a pervasive poison that undermines and corrupts everything it takes part in. From the anti-intellectual fundamentalist to the highbrow theologian, the influence of religion is expressed in bankrupt notions of faith, false notions of our origins, unnecessary strictures on our human condition, hostility toward free inquiry, and by pre-disposing people toward violence and unthinking submisison to self-assumed authorities.

Christopher Hitchens has grown on me. I will admit that I found his eloquence and wit arrogant at first, but grew to understand that his concerns and expressions are genuine, sincere, and often quite valid. This is not to say that Hitchens' critical appraisal of religion is, shall we say, gospel, but he is more often right about his observations than not. I have been disapproving of Hitchens in the past on this blog, but as I stated above, I've grown fond of him. god is not Great is a poignant reflection on the intersection of religio-political realities that, I think, every thorough-going Christian would benefit from reading, and re-reading.

Like: Based off of Thomas Hardy's poem of the same name, God's Funeral is a striking exposé of the decline of faith in the Western world. By the time the 19th century had rolled around many, if not most of Europe's leading intellectuals had discarded traditional Christianity. Why? A.N. Wilson explores the causes of disbelief by investigating the lives of Europe's luminaries such as Hume, Carlyle, Mill, Hegel, Gibbon, et al.

on is rigorous in his scholarship, and gives a first-rank account of the dwindling life of faith in Western nations. I found myself drawn in by Wilson's avuncular tone and subtle humour. This book is not easily accessible to the non-academic -- in fact, it might prove rather dull for such a person -- but it is invaluable to the serious student of religious history.

Like: Michel Onfray presents an incindiary account of religious extremism, the rise of fundamentalism around the world, and the necessity of atheism as a reasonable antidote to religiosity. Humanity's health, happiness, and welfare depends on our willingness to reject religious extremism, and accept atheism.

I was a little apprehensive at first with this slim essay given that it's original title was Atheist Manifesto, a title that sounded more political than philosophical. However, after a few pages, I was enthralled. Onfray's criticisms of religious fundamentalism are at once shocking and necessary; humorous and poignant; incisive and well-rounded. His pace is fast, unforgiving, and tough-minded. In particular, I enjoyed Onfray's post-modern style; a nice contrast to the soothing eloquence of typical brit-lit (british literature) I typically gobble up.

Like: Traditional answers to the problem of suffering and the existence of an omni-benevolent God fail. Judeo-Christian attempts to wrestle with theodicy are a noble, but otherwise failed enterprise. Suffering works against the notion of a good God, and the Holy Bible does nothing to ameliorate the dilemma of continued suffering and the simultaneous existence of a personal, loving God.

Bart Ehrman is not a difficult read. This is not to say that he is less penetrating in his observations; he is simply more personal, given to less arid prose in this volume. I'm sure this is due in large part to his personal encounters with his subject material: evil and suffering co-existing with a supposedly good God. At the same time, his scholarship is difficult to argue with, and his logic reasonable (though, I must admit, not air-tight). I think this volume would be perfect as an introductory level study into the seeming disparity between raw reality and Judeo-Christian claims about God's benificent nature.

Like: A compendium of some of the most controversial, most insightful essays, poems, and declarations against the existence of gods/God, and the continuance of religion.

Christopher Hitchens has accomplished an excellent work in this book of secular treatises. There isn't a page where a serious reader cannot turn and find some kind of hard-hitting logic, or poignant but witty rejoinder to the typical ideologies enshrouded in religious thought. More, writers from many different genres, scholarly fields, and artistic disciplines contribute highly intelligent accounts of their personal, and sometimes scientific reasons for disbelief. Certainly, if a person wishes to have an account of life, reality, and sundry other things, but from the perspective of the anti-religious, then this book is perfect.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Step Down Ratzinger

More needs to be said about the current scandals attending the Catholic Church. But saying more is difficult when the lasting effect of such moral depravity is to be slackjawed and shocked. Keeping close to developments is impossible, since the scandals are widening relentlessly across Europe, and sources are turning out information at an alarming pace.

Most recently, the pope has issued an apology to Irish victims of clergy-enforced sexual abuse. The contents of the letter certainly do make note of the fact that abuse has happened, and that it is terrible that such a reality exists. Says Ratzinger (I now refuse to call him by his self-decided honorific name):
Like yourselves, I have been deeply disturbed by the information which has come to light regarding the abuse of children and vulnerable young people by members of the Church in Ireland, particularly by priests and religious.
I would be remiss to suggest that Ratzinger is not sincere in his lamentations but for one peculiar quibble: he is directly reponsible for the reason why the disturbing information regarding child-rape is only now coming to light.

Within the matrix of Catholicism, priests and bishops who make grave offenses against the public are to be tried infront of a church tribunal. That tribunal is sworn to the strictest secrecy upon threat of excommunication if any of the tribunal leaks information regarding offending clergy (see, Crimen Sollicitationis).
As, assuredly, what must be mainly taken care of and complied with in handling these trials is that they be managed with maximum confidentiality and after the verdict is declared and put into effect never be mentioned again (20 February 1867 Instruction of the Holy Office, 14), each and every person, who in any way belongs to the tribunal or is given knowledge of the matter because of their office, is obliged to keep inviolate the strictest secrecy (what is commonly called "the secrecy of the Holy Office") in all things and with all persons, under pain of automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication...
Crimen Sollicitationis received backing by Ratzinger in 2001, and was, in fact, enforced by Ratzinger for 20 years prior to his election to pope in 2005. Confidentiality itself is not bad conduct, but when it is used as a control mechanism -- as Ratzinger, in fact, has used it -- to suppress the goings-on of serial abusers, to cover-up mortal crimes, and divert the attention of the public away from alleged abusers, one has to call into question the actual purpose of that confidentiality.

Says Father Tom Doyle, Canon Lawyer, in a BBC Documenary, Sex Crimes and the Vatican,
Crimen sollicitationis is indicative of a world-wide policy of absolute secrecy and control of all cases of sexual abuse by the clergy. But what you really have here is an explicit written policy to cover up cases of child sexual abuse by the clergy, to punish those who would call attention to these crimes by churchmen. You've got a written policy that says the Vatican will control these situations, and you also have, I think, clear written evidence of the fact that all they're concerned about is containing and controlling the problem. Nowhere in any of these documents does it say anything about helping the victims. The only thing it does is say that they can impose fear on the victims, and punish the victims, for discussing or disclosing what had happened to them.
Indeed, Ratzinger has consciously orchestrated the scandal he is now the centerpiece of: by enforcing crimen sollicitationis, priests and bishops have stood with toothy grins in front of a 'holy' tribunal and, at worst, come away defrocked, but more likely scuttled-off to another parish with full access to children (future victims).

Given Ratzinger's 'disturbance' that the crimes he fought so desperately to keep secret are now in the public eye, I wholeheartedly reject his milquetoast apology, and call on him to step down. Nevermind the juridical reign of the Roman bishop, the in-office-'till-death mentality; have the moral fortitude to resign your office and be done with your hypocritical charade. Prove you have some quality left in you by removing yourself from 'supreme authority' over the church, and standing trial in a secular court for your brazen obstructions of justice, and your intentional use of truth-suppression and diversionary tactics.

Christopher Hitchens
, reporting on this issue once again in his recent article Tear Down That Wall, states,
Pope Benedict's pathetic and euphemistic letter to his "flock" in Ireland doesn't even propose that such people should lose their positions in the church. And this cowardly guardedness on his part is for a good and sufficient reason: If there was to be a serious criminal investigation, it would have to depose the pope himself.
So while the fact remains that all of this abuse has happened, an equally disturbing fact has surfaced: the "vicar of Christ on earth", the pope himself has led a charge into purposeful lying, deceit, and evasion. If we were to remove the religious motif from this scandal just for the purpose of speculation, what do we think would be the result of these abuses and cover-ups in the real world? Trials would be held, people would be jailed, recompense (if that is even possible given the nature of the crime) would be levied, and in some places the criminals might even be executed.

But because the criminals are dyed-in-the-wool clergy, they can somehow claim religious immunity and be insulated from the world courts. This alone is criminal, and should be loudly protested. The pope's letter is a disgrace. I don't think I'm alone in suggesting that the only way any of this can get better is if the pope relieves himself of his office, and the entire system of Catholicism itself gasps its last breath.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Pope, the Gates of Hell, and Useless Apologies

The devil's in the Vatican. Paedophile priests. A history of ambiguous relations to some of the most despotic and villainous leaders of all time (Hitler and Pius XII, for example). Residential schools. Witch-hunts. The selling of Indulgences to Europe's poor to facilitate the building of St. Peter's basillica. The Inquisition. Sociopathic Popes more inclined to murder and rape than teach doctrines of love and charity. Cover-ups and scandals heaped on cover-ups and scandals.

All of these things and more coming out of a church that claims a laughable duology of doctrines that it is the "one true church", and that "the gates of hell will not prevail against [it]". Assuming Catholic claims are true that it is the 'one true church', it would seem stupidly obvious that hell has not needed to prevail against its gates: hell has been rather successfully living itself out within the church for quite a while now. If there's to be any gate crashing, let's hope it will eventually be by an internal movement to get the hell out.

Fortunately, there has been a recent spate of sex abuse scandals in Europe that expose the current pope's collusions and cover-ups, and a rather wide ring of child-raping priests. The current pope, Benedict XVI (formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and oft-named Pope Palpatine) has, for a long time now, been indisputably involved in not only shuffling off psychopathic priests, but also shuffling off the justice that should be visited upon them.

As Johann Hari reports:
Far from changing this paedophile-protecting model, Ratzinger reinforced it. In 2001 he issued a strict secret order demanding that charges of child-rape should be investigated by the Church "in the most secretive way... restrained by a perpetual silence... and everyone... is to observe the strictest secret."
It doesn't stop there, however. As Christopher Hitchens points out in his article The Great Catholic Cover-Up
The accusations, intoned Ratzinger, were only treatable within the church's own exclusive jurisdiction. Any sharing of the evidence with legal authorities or the press was utterly forbidden. Charges were to be investigated "in the most secretive way ... restrained by a perpetual silence ... and everyone ... is to observe the strictest secret which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office … under the penalty of excommunication." (My italics). Nobody has yet been excommunicated for the rape and torture of children, but exposing the offense could get you into serious trouble. And this is the church that warns us against moral relativism! (See, for more on this appalling document, two reports in the London Observer of April 24, 2005, by Jamie Doward.)
It would be fair of a Catholic apologete to question my sources. Both Hari and Hitchens are, admittedly, atheists. However, given the history of Catholic deceptions, and the urgent spot Catholics find themselves in at present, I have no reason to trust Catholic sources at all. Too much is at stake, and their practice of moonshining the public about their moral turpitude gives them all the more reason to diminish the impact of the situation through sophistry, and doublespeak (e.g., the Catholic church never errs in matters of faith and morals).

And the fact that Benedict XVI has delivered an apology to Ireland's abused today (March 20th, 2010) does nothing more to ameliorate the problem than an abusing husband's repeated apologies for kicking the shit out of his wife: the offense is still alive, and will likely continue to happen. Why? Because it's not the fact that paedophile priests exist in the clergy of the Catholic church that is the greatest concern -- though it is certainly an incredibly important concern. The reason why these kinds of offenses will continue is because the system of the Catholic church that enables and harbours paedophile priests is not likely to change. That, to me, is the greatest scandal in all of this: that there is no way to get rid of the abuse problem unless the Catholic system dissolves itself, a reality we know will not happen, but we'd all be better off with if it did.

Like It Or Not: Reflections on Skeptical Literature P. 1

As readers of my blog, you already know that I've been digging through a host of atheist literature this past year-and-a-bit. A workplace colleague of mine is convinced my decision to undertake atheist writings is Freudian: I'm reading their writings because I'm subconsciously looking to change my mind, alter my views on religion, or something to that effect. That could be the case, I'll admit, but unless that motivation graduates from the subconscious to the conscious, I will continue on not knowing if it's actually the case.

I will say this, though: I ventured into Atheist-land because I (consciously) wanted to research the reasons people reject supernaturalism and religion. I wanted to harvest from their writings a working knowledge of their philosophical and pragmatic decisions to be disbelievers, doubters, freethinkers, skeptics, even anti-theists.

Here is a small review of the books I read. I will classify each book beginning with Like or Like It Not. I will then sum the book up in italics, and follow-up with a small commentary.

Like It Not: The notion of 'god' and the faith that people claim are bad memes (culturally assumed bits of information and meaning passed down in an imitational evolutionary fashion; much the same as genes, but non-physical). Faith is a virus, and God is the delusional state of mind the faith-virus brings about.

Dawkins, in my opinion, is the least capable of the popular atheists. He is philosophically shallow, intellectually sophmoric, and unnecessarily aggressive. His summations of classical theistic arguments for God are simple-minded and, for the most part, the product of long hours playing in the straw. I agree with David Berlinski, who he called Dawkins out as a "crappy philosopher", and with fellow atheist philosopher Michael Ruse who expressed that Dawkins is "brazen in his ignorance of philosophy and theology", and "a man truly out of his depth."

Dawkins is a very good writer, to be sure, but style does not win-out over content when dealing with challenging philosophical issues. One simply cannot afford to throw away valuable insight for winning prose unless one intends to write sophistry. Still, I'd like to give Dawkins the benefit of the doubt that he wrote The God Delusion with the desire to be more than simply a literary snake-oil salseman.

The one redeeming quality Dawkins' book presents is that it provides a great deal of working material for the closet logician. It would be a great book for a Philosophy 101 class to play "spot the logical flaw".

Like: A sweeping narrative about the dangers of setting aside reason for religious claims. Harris examines the extreme ends of religious fundamentalism (particularly in Islam), and by association the culpability of moderate faith expressions, and builds a case for why religion itself is a vehicle for destruction, and moral regression.

Harris is eloquent, straightforward, and unmistakeably angry in this polemic against fundamentalist religions. His position that religion spits in the face of reason is backed by clear quotes from historical religious leaders, such as Martin Luther who averred that "Reason should be destroyed in all Christians." This is an unacceptable proposition for Harris, who, as I'm sure you've already figured out, argues that reason should take its primacy in people over above religion so that we can get on with practical progress in areas like physical and emotional health, social solidarity, and peace.

As an aside, Ravi Zacharias' paltry return, The End of Reason, is a horrific attempt at countering Harris' anti-religious, anti-faith stance. I don't recommend it at all. Save your money, and your time.

Like: A personal, and upset letter to fundamentalist Christians questioning the reasons, motives, and political interests of belief in America today.

Harris' second anti-religious volume, Letter to a Christian Nation, is a much easier read than his first installment, The End of Faith. It's something more akin to a Socratic interrogation, and hinges on hard-hitting, utilitarian premises expressed in rhetorical questions that reduce religious doctrines to the absurd. Still, it's uncompromising stance, while being admirable in itself, will not serve to edge fundamentalists toward reason, but, because of the book's harsh polemics, will more than likely drive the militant believer further into his/her camp.

Like It Not: Armstrong examines the origins of Judeo-Christian scripture, its use in early Jewish and Christian communities, the varying hermeneutic traditions, and the ways in which people (clergy and laity) applied holy writ to the formation of doctrine, and their personal lives. This highly detailed account forces the conclusion that no single religious group has the ultimately correct interpretation of scripture.

I had a hard time putting this book in the 'like it not' category because there were many highly enjoyable moments throughout its pages. I think it fair to say, however, that the book requires the reader come to it with a wide base of knowledge already in place. In my case, I already have that base in place, but I found myself glazing over when Armstrong meandered into obscure references, and long drawn-out examinations of traditions that may have had an indirect impact on the composition of sacred scripture. While marginally relevant, those meandering and drawn-out sections seemed, for the most part, like non sequiturs. I'm sure if I re-read the book, I could see how those sections fit the overall scope of the Bible's composition, but on first read, the book really ought to be apparent enough that I don't have to go back and map my way through.

Like: As any good theologian should, Bart Ehrman closely examines the issue of suffering, the continuance of suffering, and the supposed 'goodness' of God. In particular, Ehrman walks through scripture showing how the 'good book' does not answer to the reality of suffering and evil in this world.

At times, it seems like Ehrman plays fast and loose with logic on the issue of suffering. Overall, however, I enjoyed Ehrman's blending of personal experience, theological insight, and philosophical acumen. An ex-Christian, now agnostic, Ehrman doesn't take any shortcuts when dealing with the common explanations for why God would allow suffering. He is courteous, but exacting, and he simply doesn't think that Judeo-Christian scripture gives any reasonable justification for why suffering exists alongside a supposedly 'good' God. Ehrman's examination of the issue of suffering and the existence of a personal, good God goes a long way in showing that we either don't really know what we're talking about when we talk about God, or that suffering co-existing with the goodness of God are undeniably problematic, even contradictory.

Like: Religion is a natural phenomenon arising out of pre-scientific needs to explain events and realities we do not understand (e.g., death). Our gradual gains in understanding are met with an ever-developing mythology about divinity, the afterlife, and seeming miracles, until, at some point, our common notions of ancestor-worship blended into tribal gods, and finally the monotheistic religions. Continuing to hold to outdated, pre-scientific notions of divinity should be met with evidence-based dialogue that emphasizes naturalistic explanations for the world we occupy.

Daniel Dennet is given to wandering prose. He is often not very succinct, and seems to want to lull people into agreeance with him by presenting the options available for discussion and then sharply cutting off the options he doesn't wish to discuss. Despite this, however, he is sincere and not as inclined to cudgel the religious as, say, Dawkins.

His tone is grandfatherly and comfortable, and he is a wealth of interesting ideas that synthesize evolutionary notions with religious inclinations. This is not to say that he advocates a blending of naturalism with religion, but that he can envision plausible ways in which the evolution of the human species necessitated the development of religion, and how our continuing evolution as a species might mean that we now need to purge ourselves of religion. Of all the skeptical literature I've read this past while, I will likely re-read Dennet's book, if only for its conversational rather than adversarial tone.

Like It Not: The universe appears just as we should expect it would if there were not God. The physical sciences demonstrate that a deity governing the universe is a failed idea; the supernatural is in absentia. Classic theological argumentation fails the tests of science, and the incredible claims of religion are not supportable by any measure of evidence.

Victor Stenger is a notable physicist, and a half-decent writer. He is succinct, forward, and uncompromising. But as much as these qualities are strengths of his, they are also his weaknesses. As in all scientific dealings with the divine, there is a missing middle ground between examining the physical evidences and then concluding that because of those evidences of the material world, there must therefore be no non-material existence. This is Stenger's tact, and he expresses it well. Unfortunately, the strength of his convictions, measurements, and writings is betrayed by the fact that his scientific positivism cannot account for itself: there is simply no logical reason to agree that only physical data is valid because there is no physical data to support such a proposition (a proposition is inherently non-physical). Thus, from the outset, Stenger's hypothesis (scientific positivism) fails to show that God is a failed hypothesis.

To be continued in P. 2...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Happy Meal Half-Life

If you leave food on the counter, or somehow exposed, the best predictions would assure us that that food will rot. How long it takes may vary. But the long and the short of exposed food is that it will rot. Simple wisdom.

How complicated things must get then, when that wisdom is confounded by McDonald's Happy Meal. Author Nonna Joann Bruso has been keeping an online journal about the half-life of the Happy Meal. So far, a year has gone by, and the meal has shown no signs of rot, moulding, or decay.

My Conclusion: Food that doesn't break down is not actually food. The infamous Happy Meal may be one of North America's most gleefully recognised packages, but if it defies natural order, it is a paragon of sickness, uselessness, and a plague more than a food. The FDA really ought to have pseudo-foods like this incinerated. Permanently. McDonald's may have the golden arches, but it is inescapably obvious that "all that glitters is not [actually] gold."

*Thanks to the lads at BoingBoing for tipping me off to Bruso's experiment.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Armstrong vs. Harris

Karen Armstrong, a self-described freelance theist, and Sam Harris, a neuroscientist and ardent atheist disagree with each other quite sharply.

Armstrong contends (here) that human beings are meaning-seeking creatures and instinctively religious. She denounces the notion that religion is aback of all human woes, and encourages a sympathetic rendering of religion as essentially a message of compassion.

Harris, unconvinced (here) that human beings are instinctively religious, glides on updrafts of sarcasm, cynicism, and sharp observations that Armstrong may be glossing over the lived-out realities of religious fervour.

'Compassion', it seems, is a term used too freely if it means one religion can compassionately obliterate the lives of others, all the while claiming it was necessary to shine forth the kindly character of whatever god happens to be attending the blood-bath that day. Yahweh was keen on this tactic, as the Old Testament stories depict. He was wont to scourge the dirty unbelievers (i.e., those that don't fancy Yahweh) from the earth by means of fire, famine, war, rape, natural disasters, etc. At the same time, Yahweh desired mercy, not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6); and commissioned the doing of justice, mercy, and humility (Micah 6:8). How splendid to act in contradiction to the expectations held out for your followers! Compassion cannot be granted in the face of such brazen contradiction, can it?

In any case, read the debate yourself. I'm interested in knowing where you stand when you come to the end of the feud.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Vatican and the Devil

Apparently the Vatican is possessed. Well, maybe not possessed as such, but definitely not doing too well in its fight against the devil. At this point, some cynics might add the words of Christ that "a house divided against itself surely cannot stand" (Matt. 12:25).

But that's okay, really, because the gates of hell won't win out against the Holy See, right? 'Cause it was a religious city-state Jesus was talking about when he assured his followers that hell would do its best but fail in its attempt to replicate the falling of the walls at Jericho. Where's Linda Blair when we need some head-spinning proof?

E.T.A.: Is the Holy See really endorsing the "devil made me do it" excuse for all their misdeeds? Pedophile priests, ambiguity toward genocide (Pius XII), residential schools, witch-burnings, the Crusades, etc... It all falls under the clause "the devil made me do it"? What kind of wing-nuttery runs the Vatican? Who are these dottering fools that they can write-off their personal culpability, their responsibility and accountability by stating that it's the devil's fault?

Nevertheless, I think the chief exorcist is right: the devil is in the Vatican. He's a legion of priests, bishops, and deacons that use their position to exploit the vulnerabilities of others. And who can hold them accountable? No-one. They are an autonomous entity enveloped within the religious city-state called The Vatican. They answer to themselves, and hold court on their own, by their own terms, and in their own time. And despite how much they like to reach out and touch others, they are themselves completely untouchable.

E.T.A. #2: Christopher Hitchens has weighed in on the issue, and I have to say that I quite agree with his conclusions. Read for yourself here. And for a more in-depth depiction of the cirque du corps rampant in the Catholic church of late, here's Foreign Policy's article.

Dear Christians,

It may come as no surprise that gossip is not greeted warmly in Scripture. For those of you who may be having trouble with the concept, the words of James are ringingly clear:

"...the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water."

Yes, that dirty little wagger that rolls your food and picks between your teeth is a "world of unrighteousness" that sets "on fire the entire course of life" and is itself "set on fire by hell." It is, metaphorically, the instrument of hypocrisy, deceit and death.

The question now becomes, what is gossip? Simply stated, it is "idle talk or rumor (sic), [especially] about the personal or private affairs of others." Frivolous talking and rumouring about other people's personal lives is an active poison spat out by serpentine tongues. For a Christian, the allusion to being a snake should give pause for concern, yes? Afterall, who was it that hissed out his venomous words in the Garden? Just who's image and likeness are you living, anyway? Think about it.
But that only deals with direct gossip. That is, purposeful, knowing talk about other's lives that you don't have any business chattering on about. Then there's indirect gossip, or what I like to call "pastoral gossip." This is the kind of gossip that slithers its way into conversations because someone has a 'Christian concern', or 'needs advice', or 'would like an objective perspective', or a 'third-party look at the situation'. Let me save you the work of figuring out why this is not acceptable: because until you have approached the person you are 'concerned' about, you have no business involving anyone else. At all. Ever. Period. Your business, should you have a concern, is to lovingly go to the person you're concerned about, and express yourself. Meeting at restaurants, or on the telephone, or whispering through darkened windows, from car to car, or in the privacy of a confessional to keep people up-to-date, as it were, on why so-and-so needs 'prayer' is still gossip. When you disclude the person who is the focus of your thoughts, you are a gossip.

Quite simply, that makes you a betrayer, a hypocrite. When that sort of thing is done on a mass scale, say, for political purposes, we call it treason. People are executed for treason. We don't execute people for gossip, but people who gossip certainly execute friendships, trust, potential relationships, and on-going opportunities. If you measure your concerns by clauses such as "this is confidential," or "I'm not supposed to say this, but..." you are a gossip. You are more satanic than godly at that moment.

So, two pieces of advice before you start chin-wagging and jaw-flapping (directly, or pastorally):
  1. Go to the person(s) you are wanting to talk about. Then talk with that person(s). After that, unless you have permission from that person to talk with others, shut yer festerin' pie-hole.
  2. Since gossip seems to be the bar for many Christians, try raising it to something better (like honesty, just for shits and giggles. You can graduate to honesty as a principle as you are capable), instead of living under it as if it were a roof.

Gossip is something that the religious and the non-religious alike are guilty of. It just seems to be the rampant modus operandi, the on-going and preferred trend amongst Christians. Being a Christian doesn't cede the moral high-ground to a person with a concern; it doesn't award pastoral status to whoever is within earshot; it does absolutely nothing to endorse an open-mouth policy where others' personal lives are a possible subject. In fact, being a Christian should mean shutting-up, being respectful of other's privacy, and taking care to observe (according to Christian beliefs) with even more diligence than non-Christians that you are direct with the person in question. Anything less puts you more on level with Cain than Abel.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

IQ, Education, Scepticism and Religion

Skewing statistics is easy: choose a sample group, survey them, determine percentages, and then use those percentages to state a universal about the population at large. In logic it's known as a hasty generalization. In statistics, it's common practice. Its purpose? To connote the goings-on of our surrounding culture(s).

Unfortunately, those kinds of inductions are, generally speaking, far from accurate. For example, it is not uncommon for some sceptics to argue they have superior IQs to the religious-minded. Ad hominem aside, belief in the relevance of IQ is certainly a topic of increasing interest.

Which brings us to the next plausible progression in the intellectual culture wars between atheism and religiosity: what is the correlation between faith/disbelief and education? This article suggests there is no direct link between atheism and education. I'm inclined to agree; you?
I wonder if Richard Dawkins has any 'cranes' to help elevate our understanding of this issue? Was that harsh? Good. It was meant to be.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Anti-Facebook P. II

Thank you to Nnamdi Godson Osuagwu, I feel a lot more secure in, and sure of my decision to quit Facebook. While some people can brave the wave of e-social networking and come out just fine, it seems that many cannot. People are killing each other over 'wall' posts, perversion rings are utilizing Facebook, 20% of 5000 recent divorces are allegedly due to Facebook, and the list, sadly, goes on.

Facebook is simply not worth the cost that some people are paying by using it.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


I deactivated my Facebook account a couple of weeks ago. The reason: I find it to be an inexcusable waste of time. When I mentioned deactivating my account with Facebook to a friend of mine, he said, "Good! I was going to tell you to get off that thing. It's addictive. It's like crack cocaine. Besides that, you were being too conformist being on there."

Aside from the wry chuckle I enjoyed at his comments, I found his perspective on Facebook insightful: it's addictive, and it promotes conformity.

First, let's look at some behavioural characteristics of addiction.
  1. Obsession - person cannot stop thinking about an activity.
  2. Relentless Pursuit - person will engage in activity even to the detriment of his/her physical and psycho-social well being.
  3. Compulsiveness - person will engage in an activity despite not wanting to, and finds it difficult to stop.
  4. Withdrawal - once the addictive activity is stopped, person becomes irrational, irritable, depressed, restless.
  5. Lack of Perception of Time - person cannot control how long, when, or how much s/he will engage in an activity.
  6. Denial - person cannot, and will not accept that s/he has an irrational attachment to an activity, even despite the negative effects.
  7. Covert-Ops - person hides his/her activity from friends, family, and concerned individuals.
  8. Blackouts - person simply blanks-out during activity, which results in a lack of recall about what went on during addictive activity.
  9. Depression - person experiences depressed states surrounding, and even during activity.
  10. Poor Self-Esteem - person deals with personal anxieties and low self-esteem issues by "filling in their lack", as it were, with an addictive activity.

As a loose gauge for my own participation with Facebook, this list shows me that I fit at least 7, possibly 8 of the characteristics usually associated with addictive behaviours. As a family man, and a man with a conscience, I find that unacceptable. So, for this reason alone, I shut down Facebook.

Now, just so we're clear, I am not blaming Facebook for my problems. I am solely responsible for how I attend to an activity, how much time I spend doing it, and in what manner. Facebook itself is simply a computer application and has nothing to do with my addiction to it. But, as a vehicle for part of my social life, I cannot trust myself to use Facebook anymore because I was not able to control myself around it. Also, because I was allowing my time on Facebook to interfere with my family, my real-life relationships were starting to break down. So, for me, having parrotted the common sentiment that I would "take a bullet" for my family if I had to, why would I allow myself to shoot my loved one's down with an inordinate compulsion toward Facebook?

The answer to the rhetorical question above is an easy, "I wouldn't." But I did. And I did so unintentionally, and to my shame. But even unintentionally having hurt my family because of my own addictive behaviours surrounding Facebook, the result is the same: my family was hurt. Intentionality does not exhonerate me from the pain my family has felt this past while. My work is ahead of me; I have a lot of wounds to heal.

Coming at this from a different, more 'academic' angle, however, there is a certain conformity proffered in applications like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, et al. That is, applications such as the ones listed dole-up a common denominator people can easily access and use. The fact that applications like these offer the same basic templates for social interaction, aesthetics, and mindless pursuits (e.g., Farmville) now strikes me as a little creepy. I don't ascribe anything apocalyptic to it, but the fact that there is a definite sense of sameness across the board comes across a little Hux-Wellian.

Facebook is a little like a prototype for the 'Feelies' so excellently imagined in Huxley's Brave New World: slip into a virtual reality where everything surrounding you is a template for homogeneity, and predictability. The best part about it is that you don't actually have to carry on a real relationship with a real person. You can simply 'Add' and 'Delete' on a whim, and at will.

At the same time, Facebook is also a little like Big Brother. Mind you, the government is not prescribing Facebook as a means of mass-control, so the comparison is very loose. Still, people are screened for jobs by employers looking up Facebook accounts. Corporations actively monitor people's use of Facebook to keep an eye on the corporate reputation. Facebook does not protect your privacy, but instead, allows your information to be readily accessible to marketters (data-mining), industries, government, etc. It is a wonderful vehicle for corporate voyeurism (ever wonder why your stuff is hyperlinked without you having hyperlinked your information?). It is not quite Big Brother, but it is like having Big Brothers.

Facebook promotes uniformity not in people's ontology, but in people's expressions. That is, you don't stop being who you are by using Facebook, but you begin to alter how you express yourself to fit the mold offered. Eventually, this will impact who a person is. The same principle is illustrated in a positive light in the movie Patch Adams: if you change the conditions, or parameters of a persons environment, you affect their response. This in turn affects who the person is on a fundamental level. Seeing as Facebook is generally a breeding ground for poor grammar, thoughtless banter, useless games and quizzes, ambivalent attachments, and techonological distancing (i.e., moral ambivalence via technology), it shouldn't come as a surprise when people start communicating in real life as they do on Facebook. I imagine conversations would sound like Valspeak, but less eloquent.

I refuse that measure of conformity. I refuse that common denominator, which, as I see it, will continue to get lower and lower as the phenomenon of social-networking applications trim out the fat of human-to-human contact, and unwittingly inject us with the narcotics of virtual reality, and pseudo-relationships. I will not follow suit any longer. I am officially anti-Facebook.