Monday, May 31, 2010

What if...

...Christianity isn't true? What would change? I mean, what practical, visible, hands-on realities would change?

People would feel a loss. A tremendous loss, no doubt. I imagine it might be like an unbearable funeral where everyone is gathered at the six-foot plot weeping and gnashing their teeth, but with nothing to bury. The anxiety, the angst and confusion fixing everyone to their spots would seem at once tragic and amusing. Like watching a mime.

Would anyone feel relief after they buried their mistaken beliefs? I know I've never felt relieved when I've found out I've been horribly mistaken. I've felt awkward, socially spent, emotionally void, confused; I've wanted to hang on to my denial.

So, what if Christianity isn't true? Then what?

Thursday, May 27, 2010


...I've put some of my philosophical readings on hold to concentrate on fictional literature. Admittedly, I'm feeling the pangs of withrawal. I absolutely love reading philosophy, social commentary, and religious history. But I also love reading fictional literature. In fact, I think that Christopher Hitchens is entirely right when he notes that philosophical themes, and morality are best meted out in fiction.

So, because I am a nerd, and because I don't want to stray from my healthier habits (philosophy) and immerse myself entirely in fiction (which can be a negative form of escapism for me), I have settled on some philosophical fiction. Specifically, I am going to embark on two modern classics by the wonderfully innovative and insightful philosopher, Ayn Rand.

To begin with, I will tackle the massive story (1070 pages), Atlas Shrugged.

From there, I will read The Fountainhead.

And finally, I will take on a much shorter novel by Rand, Anthem.

This should be quite a trip down Philosophy Lane, while at the same time being a purposeful break from heady academics. At the same time, I'll be learning about Rand's philosophy, Objectivism, and growing in my understanding and appreciation of how other's look at the world around them.

I'll leave you with this penetrating quote from Ms. Rand.

"Damnation is the start of your morality, destruction is its purpose, means and end. Your code begins by damning man as evil, then demands that he practice a good which it defines as impossible for him to practice. It demands, as his first proof of virtue, that he accepts his own depravity without proof. It demands that he start, not with a standard of value, but with a standard of evil, which is himself, by means of which he is then to define the good: the good is that which he is not.

It does not matter who then becomes the profiteer on his renounced glory and tormented soul, a mystic God with some incomprehensible design or any passer-by whose rotting sores are held as some explicable claim upon him - it does not matter, the good is not for him to understand, his duty is to crawl through years of penance, atoning for the guilt of his existence to any stray collector of unintelligible debts, his only concept of a value is a zero: the good is that which is non-man.

The name of this monstrous absurdity is Original Sin. A sin without volition is a slap at morality and an insolent contradiction in terms: that which is outside the possibility of choice is outside the province of morality. If man is evil by birth, he has no will, no power to change it; if he has no will, he can be neither good nor evil; a robot is amoral. To hold, as man's sin, a fact not open to his choice is a mockery of morality. To hold man's nature as his sin is a mockery of nature. To punish him for a crime he committed before he was born is a mockery of justice. To hold him guilty in a matter where no innocence exists is a mockery of reason. To destroy morality, nature, justice and reason by means of a single concept is a feat of evil hardly to be matched. Yet that is the root of your code.

Do not hide behind the cowardly evasion that man is born with free will, but with a 'tendency' to evil. A free will saddled with a tendency is like a game with loaded dice. It forces man to struggle through the effort of playing, to bear responsibility and pay for the game, but the decision is weighted in favor of a tendency that he had no power to escape. If the tendency is of his choice, he cannot possess it at birth; if it is not of his choice, his will is not free.

What is the nature of the guilt that your teachers call his Original Sin? What are the evils man acquired when he fell from a state they consider perfection? Their myth declares that he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge - he acquired a mind and became a rational being. It was the knowledge of good and evil - he became a moral being. He was sentenced to earn his bread by his labor - he became a productive being. He was sentenced to experience desire - he acquired the capacity of sexual enjoyment. The evils for which they damn him are reason, morality, creativeness, joy - all the cardinal values of his existence. It is not his vices that their myth of man's fall is designed to explain and condemn, it is not his errors that they hold as his guilt, but the essence of his nature as man. Whatever he was - that robot in the Garden of Eden, who existed without mind, without values, without labor, without love - he was not man.

Man's fall, according to your teachers, was that he gained the virtues required to live. These virtues, by their standard, are his Sin. His evil, they charge, is that he's man. His guilt, they charge, is that he lives. They call it a morality of mercy and a doctrine of love for man."

Thank you to Atheist Media Blog for bringing this to my attention.

Now off to reading...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Saturday Quote

"Only religion could suppose an unjustified certainty to be an improvement on ignorance." ~Victor Stenger, Philosophy Now, Issue 78, What's New About the New Atheism?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Catholic Collusion

The Catholic “Declaration on the Production and the Scientific and Therapeutic Use of Human Embryonic Stem Cells,” makes a fitting irony alongside its other inclinations, wouldn't you agree?

Yes, that's right: they're fine with covering-up the rape and torture of children, but you damn-well better leave those stem-cells alone.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Religious Oppression

PZ Myers is usually a little too terse for my tastes, but I found myself really enjoying this particular article.

Caveat: If your religious beliefs are sensitive and delicate, read at your own risk. You have been warned.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Belting Ford In The Head

A little over a week ago, I picked up a copy of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) magazine called, Acts & Facts (v. 38, no. 5, May 2009). I was interested in finding out what is being said at the forefront of evangelical culture as regards evolution, that maniacally controversial hypothesis.

The opening article was a letter from the editor, Lawrence E. Ford, called “Time to Tighten Our Belt”. Ford's premise is that religion and politics have strayed from the conservatism of yesteryears. He disparages of the reality that in Texas, the 'buckle' of the Bible Belt, Christians have become more liberal. Ford identifies this drift away from religious and political conservatism as “battles raging against truth,” the antidote to which is to have a “commitment to truth – uncompromising biblical truth.”

And just what are these battles “raging against truth”? First, Ford states that Christians are accepting a diluted worldview that is a result of how scripture is read and interpreted. But that speculation stops with a deferal to Dr. Henry Morris III who has furnished Acts & Facts with an article dealing with the “Conflicts Between Text and Theology”. Morris's ½ page précis of classic Christian hermeneutics does nothing to validate Ford's deferal; it clarifies even less. What Morris's article does do, however, is admit that, “Interpretation places a filter on the words of Scripture so that one can 'rightly divide' (according to one's theology)” [italics mine].

So when Morris's article is taken alongside Ford's concern for the dilution of the biblical worldview in Christian culture today, we are left with two results: the interpretation of scripture is necessarily a free act done by individuals, which warrants liberalism in religion and politics; and, a justification to pick freely which side of the battle one will fight on. For if scriptural interpretation is a free act that every individual can do, then the interpretation that individual accepts may, or may not bolster the cause of evangelicals for or against evolution.

Second, Ford identifies the nature of 'science' as another battle. Says Ford, “'Science' is the critical word in this fight. Who has the right to define science and how it should be conducted and taught?” At this point, Ford unwittingly reinforces Sam Harris's crucial point that there is a “social disorder, a conversational disorder” between religionists and secularists. There will necessarily have to be disagreement on the scope and definition of certain fields of study like 'science' if the starting points of meaning are fundamentally opposed. Science does not start with religious assumptions; religion does not start with scientific assumptions. So saying, secularists are not beholden to religious definitions of science, nor are religionists bound to secularist definitions of science.

This really should come as no surprise to Ford, since he more than likely swears by a certain denominational creed. At the same time, he probably tips his hat in a warm and loving hypocritical nod to other Christian traditions not his own. Ford begins his religious definitions with the assumption that his current loyalties are correct and – in true missionary fashion – other's religious convictions are either incorrect, or somehow misguided. The point is that Ford has a different definition for his religion than others of the same faith. How much more the difference in definition between the religious and non-religious?

To see this as a battle, however, is really just blustering and propagandism. Ford has deliberately used the word 'battle' to muster the emotions of his religious cohorts and “spur [them] on to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24). By trumpetting out the battle-cry, as it were, Ford has bypassed the human intellect and relied solely on the reactionary emotionalism of others sympathetic to his cause. Ford does his readers a great disservice at this point by rendering conversation mute; who can levy definitions when they're too busy shouting to listen? How are secularists and religionists going to come to a place of agreement, even on such paltry items as definitions, if at least one of the two camps is stuffing the air with empty-headed emotionalism?

Nevertheless, Ford's blowhard rhetoric does put his point across, even if that point is blunt and ineffectual: Christians need to counter the claims of the non-religious scientists. There is no point of contact between creationists and evolutionists, and the sooner evolutionists admit their dunderheadedness the sooner we can get on with some real 'science'. You know, the kind of science that starts with a literal reading of Genesis, that doesn't blush at the notion of talking snakes, and willingly accepts that the earth only appears to be old, but it's actually young. The kind of science that betrays its own principles of verification by faithfully accepting a non-empirical god who currates the minutiae of the universe. The kind of science that disregards what is relentlessly provable (in this case, evolution) in favour of speculative gaps (i.e., intelligent design). The kind of science that is, in fact, religion.

Despite Ford's congenial triumphalism, his shameless plugs for ICR would read just as disingenuously if he were editing Skeptic Magazine. The fact of the matter is that Ford's whole premise rests on his presumption, nay, his faith that his religious perspectives are more science-minded than that of non-religious scientists. Because he can double-distill his scientific knowledge through his religion and his position as a spin-doctor/editor, he thinks he can afford the luxury of writing as though the irreligious are a pack of petulant bias-mongers out to stunt and stilt human growth. It does seem somewhat non compos mentus, however, to believe that evolutionists are out to harm or destroy the intellectual health of our species, when the whole point of their publications is to illuminate about the mechanisms of health and survival.

This point is lost on Ford, unfortunately. He's not interested in intellectual expansion, or socio-philosophical health and survival; he's interested in preserving his campy religious ideologies, receiving blind support from the emotionally volitile, and waging a war against evolutionists. He's interested in survival at any cost. Which is funny, overall, since that's exactly what the people he's fighting against are trying to teach, and what he's actively denying.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Friday, May 7, 2010

Karen Armstrong: What Is Religion?

Here is a presentation by Karen Armstrong -- perhaps the most respected historian on religion alive today -- on the topic of What Is Religion?

Shameless Plug: If you're still interested, I wrote on this topic not too long ago. I don't have the same level of erudition as Armstrong, but I'm working at it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Demotivational Poster: Blasphemy

Totally Me

That's exactly what I would've done if I was given that question! Glad to know I'm not alone.

In Christ(ianese)

Self-actualization is a long process. Maslow was well-aware of the difficulty in achieving an individuated selfhood. One must climb, as it were, "up" the eschelons of self-awareness until, by degrees, one is a fully realised, fully actuated person with all personal potentials being utilised. It is an existential reality everyone must grind through, and it is often fraught with vast pains, remorseless joys, and common experiences between those extremes.

More, our interactions with others add to, or detract from our self-actualization. However, our self-realization and self-actualization happens, on a fundamental level, alone. No-one else self-actualizes for another.

With that in mind, I cannot help but call into question the teachings I was attendant to at a Pentecostal church recently. The subject was, essentially, identifying who you are and becoming fully you. The catch was that in order to be who you fully are, you have to be that person "in Christ".

Well, far from being a religious critic, I must admit that this phrase put me off straightaway. I was ripped out of my nostalgia by a sudden sense of urgency; urgency that perhaps I had just listened to an interesting preamble about self-identifying and self-actualizing, but that such a disposition could only take place "in Christ".

What does the phrase "in Christ" even mean? Are we somehow enwombed in this man, Jesus, people call "the Christ"? And given that last question, how can we relate to the preposition in Christ, when what is being suggested is that we are included in his title of 'Christ', or 'Messiah'? Linguistically, the phrase simply doesn't make sense. What does it mean to be "in Christ"? No-one really knows, but we acknowledge it on a notional level, we give the connotation a favourable nod; we feel all soft inside, as if we've been rolled in a giant warm-fuzzy. But the phrase means literally nothing on a practical level. It is wanton Christianese.

Particular idioms like "in Christ" should be expected in Christian assemblies, however. In-groups have their own fashionable expressions, their own method of meaning that out-groups simply cannot partake in. And it's not as if the inability to partake of in-group lingo is forced on out-groups; I'm sure this particular Pentecostal church would like nothing more than to swell its ranks. The difficulty is that in-group lingo is fixed against the sensible notion of making what one says intelligible. Or, as Paul put it in 1 Cor. 14:10-11,

"Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me."

So while it is that in-group lingo is fashionable and expected, I can't help but wonder why any church would allow it if the net result is that outsiders feel alien? The church's mandate, as far as I've been educated, is to make Jesus the Christ understandable, convincing, persuasive, graspable, intimately familiar, not vague, imperceptible, elitist, and contradictory. And it is phrases like "in Christ" that do just that: remove understanding from outsiders and render communication bleak.

Another catch-phrase was thrown at me when I asked a couple questions of the leaders. The phrase "prayed-up". I was struck by the overt insincerity of this nugget. In essence, the phrase "prayed-up" implied that one can simply go to the prayer-bar, in much the same way one would go to a gas-bar, and fill their spiritual tank. Simply drop to your knees, pump the spiritual sagacity in, and then carry on your merry little evangelistic way. Rubbish and poppycock!

Look, if the context of a lesson is going to be about how a person can self-realize and self-actualize, then importing confusing mumbo-jumbo about how that can happen in somebody else as long as they are filling up on prayer (spiritual gas, that is) is contradictory and inane. There's no sense trying to convey large concepts like self-realization and self-actualization by speaking about them in connotative language that means literally nothing to outsiders, and is internally contradictory, even when examined from the perspective of an insider. Why add confusion if what you're trying to do is bring clarification? Lingo should never trump the content of the lesson. When it does, as it did in the case of my experience with this Pentecostal group, all that's left is to state firmly, "do not speak unless you can improve upon the silence." In other words, shut-up.