Oh yeah, I forgot to mention …

I got Jehovah’d the weekend after Easter! It was short and sweet.

So, anyway, a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses rocked up to my door the Saturday morning after Easter. As per usual (going by my personal experience of their visits), there was an older, experienced woman who did all the talking and a young girl in her teens, standing behind her. Often the younger sidekick in these situations looks domesticated and completely converted but this girl looked, well, embarrassed. She plainly did not want to be there. After I shut the beagle up, the elder began her friendly spiel. I present our conversation in its entirety:

“Good morning! We’d like today to ask if we can take a few minutes to discuss the amazing sacrifice of Jesus and perhaps leave you with this newsletter. We know that lots of people have been celebrating Easter with the usual bunnies and eggs and – “

“Ah, yes, that would be me. Not today, thanks!”

And then she politely thanked me and left, politely shutting the gate behind her, to a fusillade of raucous barking from the beagle (anyone who’s been bayed at by a beagle will know that, for their size, they can make a mofo of a racket – even mine, who’s a bit wee. I think it’s that big barrel chest they’ve got). For her troubles, the beagle got way more cuddles than she usually gets for barking at visitors.

It occurred to me immediately afterwards, especially in light of the extreme boredom and embarrassment on the face of the sidekick, that I could have played the curmudgeon (actually, to be fair, it occurred to Mrs M first, who was listening from the bedroom). I could have raised, for example, the fact that the reason we celebrate Easter on a different day each year and not the actual day of the execution is because (a) noone knows the “real day” for very good reasons and (b) the Romans – who killed Jesus – later appropriated for Jesus’ death the vernal equinox and end of winter, originally dedicated to the spring goddess Esther (whence cometh “Easter” and eggs as symbols of new life) and which was based on the pagan lunar calendar, exactly as they did with Winter Solstice and Jesus’ birthday (no doubt this was done to cover the most important pagan events with the most important Christian events, entrenching Christianity as the official state religion). As an aside, I always thought it very clever how the Romans appropriated these pagan festivals: “Alright everyone! Attention please! Continue what you’re doing with the feasting and revelry and raucous behvaiour. Just know that it’s no longer about the moon or anything – it’s about Jesus! OK? Whaddya mean “who”? Never you mind, just put your face back in that roast boar and we’ll talk about it on Sunday! Goodnight everyone! See you at winter sols – I mean ‘Christmas!'” I might even have raised the logical silliness of a god needing to have his own self/son/avatar tortured and sacrificed to himself in order to forgive his entire creation for an ancient sin he, in his presumed omniscience, had to know the first two humans would commit and whose preconditions (a tree containing forbidden fruit which was nonetheless openly accessible to naive humans who didn’t actually know right from wrong, pain from pleasure or life from death) and antagonist (serpent) he created. Well, maybe El Shaddai/Jehovah/God wasn’t omniscient in the Garden of Eden (which is pretty lame), but still … leaving the most dangerous tree in the forest unguarded and in full view of (a) your naive human pets and (b) the only malevolent creature in existence? Dude, SERIOUSLY. You don’t have to be omniscient to see a clusterfuck of significant magnitude happening in the near future. I’m not omniscient and I know enough not to paint a smiley clown face saying “feed me” on a power point and leave a fork next to it.

But honestly. Who can be buggered? Once you’re knocking on doors – on a frickin perfectly decent Saturday morning – trying to convert scruffy idiots like me, you’re likely too far gone for reason to be able to reach you. However, I do wonder about the sidekick on this occasion. That she looked bored and embarrassed like a normal teenager, rather than wide-eyed and domesticated like your average Fresian, makes me think I should have kicked something off, at least just to give her a giggle. Maybe she was just doing a favour for her grandma and wasn’t a total convert, after all. Maybe I could have pushed her toward the “light”. Oh well, too late now. But it does make me wonder about all the other sidekicks out there and how many are going along with their faith just to make the olds happy. Probably, optimistically, loads. If mine were religious, it’s likely what I would’ve done, keeping my heathen thoughts secret. Well, maybe not if they made me get up and bother people on a Saturday morning. That would have started some shit.

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Re-post Theatre: July 2009!

A golden oldie on bloggage from when I was blogging on Dangerous Intersection (a place you should visit!):

Want to know what I think?

That’s why you’re on the internet, cruising the interblargosphere. You’re looking for things to read that you might not necessarily agree with but which spark your interest because you’re always on the lookout for a new take or new point of view on something. It might even be something you already have a definite opinion on, but you read on because you like reading things that make you think regardless of whether you agree with them. You’re all about soaking up as many differing viewpoints as you can, but you’ve no interest in entering a comment-battle so if you do object, you do so in silence (possible but unlikely). You may be looking for things to read that you already know you agree with and very little else (more likely). You may even be looking for things to read that not only contradict you but flat-out piss you off in order to inspire you to write a post for the blog you’ve been neglecting (if you have a blog, that’s almost a given).

I’ll admit I’m one who trawls for material to inspire my personal outrage, vicious condemnation and inordinately long & verbose sentences, but it’s not a new addition to my activity budget. Long before the internet I was fond of writing essays, treatises, critiques, manifestos, poems (gah!) or comic strips about things which annoyed or intrigued me, or into which I’d put an inordinate amount of idle thought. They were many & varied: a convoluted comparison between the dangers of running red lights at a pedestrian crossing on my BMX with doing the same in a car; a detailed essay on the specific mechanisms of “clown evil” and the macro-karmic reasons for their hideousness; my pseudo-Freudian theories on why some men spend inordinate lengths of time reading in the toilet, delaying every other resident not currently using a colostomy bag and glorying in their own pungent stench; a series of unnecessarily graphic limericks featuring my best friend, a busty wench and zombies. Before 1994 and my first experience with electronic mail I’d fax (yes, fax), post or hand these missives to my friends and see what reactions I’d get. They ranged from “meh” to humouring me, the occasional laugh, occasional indignant defensiveness and – more often than not – sideways looks and quiet voicings of concern for my mental stability (especially when my letters were illustrated). I didn’t know it then, but with my unsolicited opinionated ranting, arguments for or against things noone was actually discussing in the real world and blatant & ridiculous attention-seeking behaviour, I was in Gilbert & Sullivan’s parlance the very model of a modern major pain the arse. In today’s terms: a blogger.

So, no, it’s not a new thing for me and certainly not a new phenomenon for humanity either, this public sharing of opinion with people who don’t care. Celebrated Protestant Original Gangster, Martin Luther, is famous for publicly posting his disagreements with Catholic dogma (except for the parts dealing with hating the shit out of the Jews, he was sweet with that). I shall distill his arguments thusly: “OMFG ppl teh p0pe is GHEY, Jezuz dont wan’t U 2 b @church!1! Jus spk 2 Him IRL! WWJD LOL ^_^”. Understandably, the Vatican was well shat with such blatant protest-trolling and, once the Pope had written wrote “FIRST!” and been flamed for being a n00b, the ensuing comment thread took off and still rages today (putting some of PZ Myers’ threads-that-will-not-die to shame).

Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park is another great example: any munter with a half-baked opinion can stand up and voicecast it to the passing masses, as long as he’s prepared to be transported to Australia should he criticise the Queen’s hats or to be pelted, just for a lark, with empty Newcastle Brown Ale bottles or full Foster’s Lager cans (usually by expat Aussies working in London bars who know well enough to not drink that swill except in dire emergencies, such as being far, far away from a pub – fortunately not a likely occurrence in England, hence the reason for the strong Aussie presence in that small nation).
Of course, as we know, the interweb “changed everything” (much the same as those Biggest Loser surprises would, if they didn’t happen so often and so regularly that noone has any chance to get used to how things are meant to be normally before more surprises yet again crop up and “change the game forever”, yet again).

Now, thanks to the anonymity of the wuhwuhwuh, you don’t have to run the risk of getting pelted with sub-par alcohol containers or rendered extraordinarily to a Delfin estate in Melbourne’s outer-outer-outer suburbs for saying something wrong, stupid, treasonous or contrary to Buffy mythology. You just get pelted with textual abuse by people who are generally as anonymously smug and full of shit and semi-literate as you are. Unless of course they actually agree with you, in which case they link to your post at their own blog because they don’t have any profundities of their own to share that day (woohooooo trackbacks! WIN!) or because they can’t be arsed linking to the latest xkcd comic because their favourite blog already did that.

So what it is about us humans that makes us want to ejaculate our opinions onto all & sundry, like so many stars of adult films, regardless of any possibility that neither all or sundry will even give the tiniest smidgen of one thin damn? Are we all just attention whores who think we’re completely absolutely freaking right most of the time and crave either adulation or arguments? What possible evolutionary benefit could this opinion-spewing possibly bestow? The answers, of course, are: “because STFU, that’s why”, “yes” and “who cares?”
It certainly goes back a long way, long before papyrus, long before Mayan relief sculpture, long before writing your name in the snow. Aboriginal cave paintings in Australia, for example, have been dated at tens of thousands of years old. In other parts of the world, much older. They are quite often depictions of ancient theology; daily life; everyday objects; legends; favourite foods or even current events (wife from tribe A married man from tribe B; tribe B leader died; new wife cooked mullet for the wake; mullet was the deceased’s totem animal and off-limits; tribe B got mad at wife and punished her; wife’s tribe, A, got even madder as the law said they should be doing the punishing; tribe A punished the living shit out of tribe B and nobody won the Great Mullet Wars except the mullet, who didn’t get eaten for a couple of months). It seems that as soon as our ancestors gained some sort of self-awareness, they developed in parallel a need to share with everyone the insights that awareness gave them, regardless of whether anyone asked them to. Fair enough. Got something to say? Say it! Hell, noone asks a dog to bark, right? But there he goes, “woof woof, and furthermore: woof.” Until another dog pipes up and says “Barkin: ur doin it rong!”, his neighbours chime in and there goes a good night’s sleep. Damn dogosphere.

So, what about the actual benefits of doing such a thing? Would it have been a mark of stature that you were able to draw on a wall and share knowledge? I suppose, with the transition from a nomadic & subsistence lifestyle to a more sedentary and reflective one with less time required for food-gathering and more time for making stuff up, individuals with intelligence who were able to impart knowledge and offer explanations were prized and respected. I think this gels with and goes some way to explain the honour bestowed on elders in many cultures – they’ve been around long enough to know what to do, what to eat, how to get it, where to go when it’s cold, how to avoid being eaten, exactly what to say in a letter to the Herald, etc., so they’ve earned an elevated position. They’ve earned the right to teach us about the world and tell us stories that explain the unknown. They’ve earned the right to tell you to get off their lawn because they fought the bloody Japanese so you could have a bloody lawn to run around on and get kicked off of, so go and finish mowing the lawn before you get your ears boxed.

Perhaps that’s it – we crave the respect of elderhood. We bloggers, we unbidden nailers of opinion to the doors of the internet, we sharers of wisdom of dubious value – we think we’re the elders of this online tribe. We think people should look upon the walls of the enormous foetid cave that is the internet, squint through the clouds of barely-legal teens and cheap Mexican non-prescription V1agr4 and see our stories, our favourite foods, our explanations, our silhouetted handprints, our Star Trek/Robocop crossover erotic fan-fiction. We want people to see for themselves the proof that we existed; the proof that we were individuals with unique qualities, unique thoughts, unique insights, unique reactions to “2 Girls 1 Cup” (link – language warning); proof that we were here and made an impact on someone else’s life or mind, even if it were only once or just long enough to make them write “lol u dumbass” in the comments thread and never return. We know things and think things and invent things that cry out to be shared because someone out there may find them useful, interesting or, hopefully, disagreeable in the extreme, sparking off a healthy exchange of insults and links to Wikipedia and World Net Daily/Huffington Post articles. We may seem a little self-centred, even a little narcissistic in wishing for internet immortality in this way but really, it’s very natural & very human. It’s as natural as a hairy Cro-Magnon smearing his handprint on the wall of his dining cave with a mixture of blood, faeces & clay as if to say ” … um, so, that’s my wall”. Natural as laying your eggs into the brain of your host organism and flying away, leaving your offspring to burrow through its cherished memories. Natural as those bonobo chimps who have sex with each other, all day and all night, all riiiiiight…

What I’m trying to say is: blog on, my brethren! Share your knowledge! Share your Illuminati breakthrough! Share your link farms! Bombard your readers with your favourite lolcats! May the walls drip with our wisdom! One of us will eventually be so right about something that noone will dare question us again.



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A cartoony voice from the past

I humbly present a cartoon I drew in 2005 which clearly illustrates the pseudo-deist leanings I had at the time. I had been wavering between unconcerned atheism (apatheism!) and soft deism since 1991 when I was still at high school but really, in hindsight, I was more or less living as a person who had no belief in gods of any kind. Shortly after drawing this I received as a Christmas gift from my mother a certain book about religious delusion, written by a certain eloquent evolutionary biologist. Upon reading it I began to think (always the first nail in the coffin of religious ideas) and eventually crystallised my beliefs. I was an atheist and more or less had been for many years and didn’t really know it – mainly because I didn’t really know how to describe my thoughts on religion – again, mainly because I hadn’t thought about them. Nevertheless, enjoy.

Click to embiggen!
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On ethics and morals and Sunday School

Somehow and for some reason, when I woke up this morning I was in the middle of thinking about ethics and morals and how my parents taught them to me. The key point which kept rolling around in my head was along these lines: if my parents were able to teach me how to behave ethically and morally, without invoking deities as their inventors or enforcers, it stands to reason that anybody with any knowledge of morals and ethics should be able to teach them to anybody else, also without invoking deities.

The obvious religious objection naturally & instantly arose: where did your parents get their morality? That they taught you good behaviour without using Scripture as source material means nothing; they had to get theirs from somewhere and so did their parents and so on. Even if your family are all a bunch of atheists going right back to Noah, they nonetheless followed religious morality. Morality is a gift from God and you can thank Him for it or not, it’s your free will (which is also a gift).

The above paragraph probably isn’t going to be representative of the entirety of religious moral arguments. Consider it an amalgam of all the things I’ve heard most frequently from religious people about morals over the years; take or leave what you will when reading it, as you like. Basically it boils down to “religion = morality.”

But here’s the problem. Some variants of the “religion = morality” stance would have us believe that positive behavioural codes didn’t exist before Jesus or the Ten Commandments (apparently we’re meant to imagine some hedonistic free-for-all where people ran around the entire planet Earth raping, killing and generally being unpleasant with no consequences, just because noone had heard of Hell or God’s wrath yet). Well, that proposition is easily debunked by pointing in the general direction of two great civilisations that were both contemporaneous with and predated Jesus & Moses: Rome & Egypt. You don’t get to be a continent-spanning Empire without some kind of behavioural code which prevents & punishes destructive behaviour and encourages beneficial behaviour. You might also point to the ancient Athenians, with their Golden Age of scientific inquiry and philosophy; the Chinese, with their economic, philosophical and military strength or the Persians, whose empire once rivalled that of Rome. Yes, they were brutal societies a lot of the time, but that was how things got done in the BC’s – and need I mention the thousand years of brutality of the Christian empire which later grew from the ashes of Rome? There didn’t seem to be much Christian love on display during the early years of Roman Catholicism and, frankly, there still doesn’t. The Mesopotamians, Celts, Aborigines, Mayans, Native Americans & countless others were also all thriving and all had detailed societal codes governing individual and group behaviour long before any of them had heard the stories of Jesus or Moses (indeed, it wasn’t until one and a half millennia after Jesus’ life that far-off civilisations like the Native Americans and Aborigines were introduced to Jesus, yet there they were, in possession of morality, ethics and part of thriving, successful, complex societies).

The obvious objection to the above examples: all those ancient civilisations and tribes had gods! They all had their mythologies & sacred stories & fables keeping their behaviour in check. They may have been the wrong gods and the wrong stories, but they wouldn’t have had their laws and their functioning societies without them.

Apart from ignoring the obvious point that human societies across the world developing independent codes of conduct which have many key aspects in common is evidence of morality being a natural development of human society and not a top-down heavenly imposition, such a position also puts the cart before the horse. It’s pretty simple to imagine beneficial behaviours arising in a group long before anyone had the ability to verbalise what they were. Considering even ant colonies and schools of fish behave, comparatively unconsciously, in ways that benefit the wellbeing and safety of the group, it’s no great stretch to imagine that our hominid predecessors would have, as social creatures living in groups, arrived upon a system of behaviour that worked to keep their group safe, fed and together, all without a single word of English or Latin or Arabic or Hebrew needing to be spoken. You see it today in our cousins, the apes, monkeys, lemurs and other primates. You see it in little meerkatswatch over each other can develop in a less intelligent species, why should you ascribe to a highly intelligent species like us the need for a celestial code of conduct? Why should humans, the smartest creature on the planet, need to be told how to behave by a god when chimps, ants and fish can figure it out for themselves?

We’re humans not because we’re bald apes that can talk; we’re humans because we use our unique verbal ability to discuss & codify & disseminate existing positive behaviour in ways that other humans can understand and accept. Since “humans” as we know ourselves first walked through Africa a million-ish years ago, we’ve carried with us the unspoken behavioural codes that kept us alive & kept us together in the face of extreme weather, rival groups and any number of predators, long before we had words for any of those things. We survived a million years because, just like our hominid ancestors, we looked out for each other and played within rules that worked – even before we spoke them. To think we, unlike every other species on Earth, needed to be told not to murder each other or steal each others’ food or mates by a god, is ludicrous and insulting to our intelligence.

And now, to close, I think it’s worth pointing out a couple of things. First, whenever my parents were giving my young self a serve for doing something stupid, careless or hurtful, one very effective question always posed was: “How would you feel if that happened to you?” That was always a showstopper (although I wouldn’t admit it at the time). A simple appeal to empathy – or just naked self-interest, which is all sometimes children of very young age can process – is often all a child needs to make them think about the effect of their actions. With this simple approach, a god or his stories are not needed. That’s not to say mythology isn’t useful: a fable by Aesop can be a useful illustration and a way to encourage children to think empathically, but there’s no reason to dress a talking tortoise as the absolute truth. In fact, I think a book of Aesop’s fables would be a lot more use in teaching morals to children than either of the Testaments, considering the questionable and sometimes outrageous “morals” displayed in those books by God and his chosen. Not to mention the lack of talking tortoises.

Second, up until I was about six years old, I attended Sunday School at the local church. The reasons were twofold: my grandmother liked my mother to accompany her to church and my mother thought Sunday School would be a good place to learn some moral lessons (and probably keep me busy for a morning). My parents didn’t necessarily want me to be Christian as such but mum thought some Bible stories might give me pause to think about some of my more demonic behaviour (for the record, I thought it was all incredibly dull except for the stories about guys like Samson & David hacking their way through the Bible). Eventually, my brothers and I were removed from Sunday School. At the time, and for years afterwards, I thought it was because of a successful campaign to allow us to watch Sunday morning cartoons. Only last year did I find out from my mother that she’d removed us the moment she discovered that we small kids were being taught about Hell (I don’t remember it, but I was only six and I probably wasn’t paying attention anyway). Religious or not (well, dad’s a godless heathen but I’m still unsure of my mother’s affiliation – I suspect it’s because there are and always have been more important things to discuss), my parents could not abide small children being taught the vicious & hateful doctrine of infinite torment for finite crimes. The concept of being tortured for billions of years was so despicable that my mother removed us from the church the family had patronised for years without a second thought. Yet Christians, who invented a punitive afterlife worse than a billion Auschwitzes, would have me believe that without them and their teachings the human race would have no morals!

And they wonder why we look at them sideways when they make this claim.
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Leave the Catholic church to the rats that run it

As noted by John Wilkins here, the Vatican and its ranks of wizards have been blaming everything and anything they can think of for the decades of child rape that have occurred within their institutions at the hands of their allegedly holy men and the subsequent negligence of successive Papal administrations in dealing with it. After all, God knows a sexually repressed man in a position of power & authority should have to take absolutely no responsibility for raping a vulnerable child; nor should that man’s managers, once in full possession of the facts, have to do anything at all to prevent that man from becoming a serial child rapist. It’s the height of impertinence to suggest otherwise and pure hate-speech to suggest the CEO of the organisation in question should take any responsibility for how that organisation has handled each and every instance of such criminal violence, even if he has been personally dictating how the organisation should respond to such crimes for decades.

OK … back to the real world now, where adults are adults, children are children and any who cross that boundary sexually are unbalanced criminals who need to be locked away from society. Any Catholic with what they would consider a good heart has to take some responsibility for what happens next. If they didn’t know about this Vatican-approved paedophile ring before, they surely do now. To continue to support this organisation spiritually, financially or in any way while having this knowledge is surely not the act of a good Christian. As the Vatican shows no signs of approaching – or even wanting to approach – this problem honestly, openly or in an adult way, it is the responsibility of Catholics to let the Vatican know in no uncertain terms how they feel.

You’re not to blame, folks. I may disagree with you about many things, but I don’t say that you are bad people. Most of you had no idea what was going on. Still, you’ve been duped and betrayed – and it’s time to vote with your feet. Just leave the Church. Stop giving them your money. Stop giving them your support. Stop listening to their excuses; and whatever you do, don’t protect them. Just leave. Go anywhere at all, within reason, because you can’t do much worse. Walk away.
The word to good-hearted Catholics from Russell Blackford:
You’re not to blame, folks. I may disagree with you about many things, but I don’t say that you are bad people. Most of you had no idea what was going on. Still, you’ve been duped and betrayed – and it’s time to vote with your feet. Just leave the Church. Stop giving them your money. Stop giving them your support. Stop listening to their excuses; and whatever you do, don’t protect them. Just leave. Go anywhere at all, within reason, because you can’t do much worse. Walk away.

You’re not to blame, folks. I may disagree with you about many things, but I don’t say that you are bad people. Most of you had no idea what was going on. Still, you’ve been duped and betrayed – and it’s time to vote with your feet. Just leave the Church. Stop giving them your money. Stop giving them your support. Stop listening to their excuses; and whatever you do, don’t protect them. Just leave. Go anywhere at all, within reason, because you can’t do much worse. Walk away.

You’re not to blame, folks. I may disagree with you about many things, but I don’t say that you are bad people. Most of you had no idea what was going on. Still, you’ve been duped and betrayed – and it’s time to vote with your feet. Just leave the Church. Stop giving them your money. Stop giving them your support. Stop listening to their excuses; and whatever you do, don’t protect them. Just leave. Go anywhere at all, within reason, because you can’t do much worse. Walk away.

And do it quickly.

Losing bums on pews seems to be the Papacy’s singlemost pressing concern – far more than making amends with their victims or aiding authorities in punishing the perpetrators of the most widespread paedophile ring in history. So, speak to them in a language they understand. Put the fear of God in ’em – perhaps the Vatican will respond to a million lost customers a little more rapidly than to fifty-plus years of children broken, torn & damaged at their hands and swept under a rug.

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That’s just your opinion!

It’s something atheist commentators hear a lot when attempting to debunk mythology: “that’s just your opinion!” It’s a conversation-stopper meant to illustrate that something being a personal opinion in and of itself has no value.

Well, ok then, that’s true and, well, not true. Opinions can indeed be valid; the validity of an opinion is entirely dependant on what evidence, expertise, facts or logic (or combination thereof) the opinion is based on. I’ve seen many religious arguments cover the age of the Earth, evolution, the veracity of the Exodus account, Noah’s flood and the Gospel accounts. When presented with contradictory evidence or inference, all too often the response received is along the lines of “that’s just your opinion!” It seems that because someone’s opinion is that countless lines of scientific enquiry converge on evolution being a fact, history contradicting or not supporting Exodus, the Gospels & the Earth being both global flood-free and billions of years old, that opinion is worthless. Well, as not many people have the time or inclination to dedicate to actually inventing a time machine or gaining expertise in all of those different lines of inquiry, a considered, reasoned opinion based on available evidence is all most people have to go on in most arguments. The fact of the matter is that, a lot of the time, we must defer to people who understand these lines of inquiry & the evidence they reveal and who are able to disseminate this information effectively.

However, when you’re an atheist/agnostic/humanist, the very basis of your opinions (science, logic, history) may be precisely what your religious opponent objects to (or flatly deny) from the outset. After all, we’ve all heard that science and religion are really just “two ways of knowing” or “deal with different questions” or that science simply isn’t equipped to answer questions relating to the supernatural (that last one is in fact the case, but probably not for the same reasons an apologist would think).

Also – and this is no small part of the problems involved in entering into these debates – a lot of religious apologists seem to think that all opinions are equal regardless of their basis (a lot of modern mainstream mass media also thinks this, which is why there is usually, for example, a spokespriest giving a soundbite whenever a question of morality or ethics or related legislation enters the public sphere). In other words, it doesn’t matter that your opinion is based on verifiable fact/supported evidence/sound logic; it’s still just your opinion.

But if that’s the case – if indeed all of these arguments simply come down to a mere difference of opinion, like some beer-fuelled discussion of the best [insert sport] player of all time & if all opinions are equal – why even bother? Isn’t religion itself simply an opinion passed down through the ages, disseminated & propagated and into which children are inculcated & indoctrinated? I’d hazard a guess that the vast majority of religious people (a) conform to the faith of their parents and (b) do so not out of any commitment to evaluating whether it’s a reasonable proposition, but precisely because of (a). I would hazard a further guess that most people who claim to have evaluated the claims of their faith and made a rational decision to adhere to it have mixed up their terminology and are instead experts at rationalising. But of course, that’s just my opinion and, however reasonable and regardless of what it’s based on, it can only ever be equal to, for example, the opinion that “Science” is a monolithic global cabal of atheist eggheads out to discover “everything”, define God out of existence and ruin “mystery” and “wonder” for everyone (sidebar: obviously if God does get defined out of existence, that’s his fault for either (a) not existing or (b) existing and choosing not to provide evidence that he does).

So, I ask again: why even bother? If all opinions – from “the Earth is 6000 years old” to “Genesis is long, wrong and dull” are supposedly equally valid, why do religious apologists feel compelled to argue their case at all? If these atheist/religionist debates are really just like smashing two identical bricks together, I struggle to think why apologists don’t just say “Oh well, you don’t agree with my opinion, so let us leave it at that,” and go off to privately practise their faith. Surely if my non-religious position is “just an opinion” it can’t be trumped by another mere opinion, regardless of how many people have held that opinion through the ages. Surely there’s no point arguing with an atheist over whose opinion is “most correct” if all the thoughts someone has on any subject are purely subjective and not to be trusted because, logically, that has to include the opinions of the religious person.
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Naturally, I think (I opine!) that there’s another answer. The opinion of the religionist in question is of course the absolute Truth and the revealed wisdom of the one true God and any contradictions, regardless of basis, are absolutely false. But this, of course, opens up another can of theological worms: which particular God are you talking about anyway? Which scripture, which religion, which sect & which Truth? Further, how is that specific one different (and, more importantly, more believable) than the others you don’t hold to? Until terms are properly defined & agreed upon before the argument even begins, smashing our opinions together like a Mythbusters experiment is just pointless (and not nearly as entertaining as when the MB’s do it). There’s no point starting a game where each side has different rules – for example, you don’t get to start arguing about a vacuous deist god when we’ve been talking about the one with definite characteristics who intervenes all the time and literally existed as Jesus. But that’s sort of another post. So here’s one I prepared earlier which partially addresses that (and here’s one I was linked to on the subject of subjectivity in the comments – it’s from the Atheist Climber. Go check him out).

So in the end, you’re just left with my considered & hopefully rational opinion that peoples’ opinions are not inherently equal. Furthermore, if you’re going to attempt to destroy or shut down an opposing argument by dismissing it as your opponent’s mere opinion and not address it honestly & reasonably, my opinion is you’ve already conceded the argument.

Short n’ sweet: Quote of the Week

[note: this will not become a regular feature as I’m far too scattered to do such things]

And now: the quote!
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Evil is a little man afraid for his job.

Roy Scheider, Blue Thunder

 Awesome. I nicked it from a speech Adam Savage (the Mythexploder) recently gave at Harvard.

I think this quote pretty much sums up every depostic/totalitarian/fascist regime & brutal theocracy in history; an endless series of small men with undeserved (often usurped) power & attendant enormous yet fragile egos; every last one of them cowering in abject terror of any opposition & brutalising anyone they even think might pose a problem to their position. Of course it applies to the present as well – Saudi Arabia, North Korea and the Vatican are all brilliant case studies in paranoid old men afraid of people who disagree with them.

Happy Wednesday.