Kevin Andrews suddenly learns that everyone else knows Catch The Fire are batshit #auspol

Minister for Putting Single Mums in Their Bloody Place Kevin Andrews, among other Team Australians, has recently learned that the people of Australia don’t particularly like that the “World Congress of Families” is run by well-known slavering extremist anti-choice homophobic bigots Catch The Fire Ministries and has decided not to open their adorable little Hatesturbate For Jesus for them after all.

Catch The Fire Ministries, whose head douche Danny Nalliah infamously linked Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires to that state’s abortion laws (and will now have to find other high-profile fundamentalist scenery-chewers to mix the green cordial [red is SINFUL!] and run the games of “pin Satan’s pitchfork on the eternally burning lesbortionist,”) have since thrown K-Drews under the bus for being a sad wuss. Because how dare any public official in a secular democracy respond to public outcry over lending explicit government support to a pack of fringe-dwelling cultists whose lunacy is only exceeded by their self-importance.

I suspect that, much like a pair of cling-wrap Y-fronts, this is a transparent arse-covering on the part of Kev and his fellow Tory wingnuts, Eric “I Am The Politican Every Sketch Show Bases Their Politicians On” Abetz and Cory “Looky, I Wrote A Book Just Like God Did” Bernardi, who would surely have gone along had the public not had something of a issue with members of our government explicitly validating the dark-ages lunacy of extremist evangelist hooligans.

Not Catch The Fire but close efuckingnough, amirite?

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Noah’s Ark – retold for realism #noah

You may have heard that Rusty Crowe is starring in a new film about Noah’s Ark – you may also have heard that some Christians have a problem with its historical accuracy and have forced it to be edited.

Yes, really.

I won’t spend any time discussing the sheer hilarity of the idea that an obvious and clear myth – which is itself an obvious and clear reboot of at least one prior Babylonian flood story – could be at all “accurate” in any meaningful sense of the word.

However, I do believe a Noah film could be shot realistically. Make it from the point of view of one of Noah’s neighbours. It’d start off with Noah being a normal, decent chap but a little quiet. After a little while, he starts being a bit withdrawn, even reclusive; you don’t see his family much any more either. When you do see him he’s furtive and glances at you sideways; he’s always hurrying somewhere, always ushering his wife or family members back inside. People start talking – is he drinking? Does he hit his wife? Then the noises start. Sawing. Nailing. Is it a house extension? Eventually something takes shape. It’s big. A barn? You go over to ask Noah what he’s doing. He’s up a ladder and shouts something unintelligible; he seems angry. You leave it for the moment.

Months later, Noah’s construction is still growing – but it’s still just framework. Noone knows what it is but noone bothers to ask anymore. It appears he’s spending all his time and money on building whatever it is. It’s too big for a barn. A marketplace? A new temple? Maybe, but of wood? Surely stone or even mud bricks would be more appropriate. You ask the local elders and merchants and priests but none have any idea what’s going on. The whole family seem to be involved now; always up ladders, fetching tools, timber, following instructions barked by an increasingly preoccupied (and dishevelled) Noah.

The thing – now called “Noah’s Folly” by the people in town – is taking shape and there’s cladding on it now. It’s shaped like a boat but there’s no rudder, no masts, no oarlocks, barely even a porthole. It’s also far too big to be practical as a river boat – you’re not even convinced it’ll float, let alone be able to manouevre downstream where it becomes shallow. The smell of pitch now fills the air; Noah’s sealing it against the water. It’s a boat after all.

Eventually curiosity, and hatred of the smell of pitch, gets the better of you. Over you go to ask what Noah’s up to; this time you’ll not leave without an answer. Noah arcs up, enraged and perhaps a little terrified. He rages on and on about how all are doomed, including you; only Noah and his family are righteous and deserving; all will be judged by God and washed from the Earth. You glance at his wife; she just looks haunted and avoids your gaze. Noah’s children don’t even look up from their tasks. Something very curious – very wrong – is happening at Noah’s house.

After a while, things go quiet. Construction appears to have stopped. No more hammering, no more smell of pitch. You think maybe it’s over and Noah’s giant boat – which must surely bankrupt him if it hasn’t already – will sit there as testament to what you now assume is his madness (or perhaps his well-known love of wine) until it rots.

But then the noise starts again – it’s different this time. Livestock. Goats, geese, camels, sheep. Maybe this boat is a barn after all! It will be the rainy season soon – maybe he’s starting a new career as a breeder and wants to protect his investments. But it doesn’t end with livestock. Noah’s even bringing creatures in from the wilderness: wolves, ostriches, even a pair of lions. All restrained (barely) with ropes. Maybe it’s a menagerie like the ones you’ve heard princes and kings keep! They keep coming, brought in by his family. You marvel at how eight people could do all this; you notice how tired, hungry and defeated they all look – all except Noah, who seems consumed, obsessed – perhaps possessed. Noah ushers or just drags all the creatures into the boat. At night you can hear them complain – has he any water or food for them? You hope the ropes on the lions are strong, lest they roam the decks in search of prey. How do they even breathe with just a single window in the top cabin? How can they not suffocate on the stench of their own waste? This isn’t constructed like any barn or boat you’ve ever seen – even in this winter weather, it must be like an oven during the day and a dank, stinking cave by night.

Noah stops bringing the animals after a while. Then all he does is stand atop his boat and watch the sky all day, as if waiting for something. He becomes increasingly agitated. After a week, the rains come – just like they always do. The river floods, just like it always does. It’s a little bigger than last year (though smaller than some you can remember from your youth) and you thank God you built your house halfway up the hillside instead of moving further down on the valley floor, like Noah (you recall asking him why during the last planting season; he just smiled and continued pushing his barrow).

The river widens and deepens as the rains continue. Eventually the water laps at the sides of Noah’s boat. He hurries his family on board, carrying what seems to be a bare minimum of supplies. The water keeps coming (it’s definitely a big one this year!) and consumes Noah’s yards, enters his house. He seems unconcerned, just watching the sky. Some of his other neighbours wade through his submerged yard to confront him; they plead with him to get to higher ground. They’re very concerned about the safety of this boat or floating barn or whatever it is. Noah curses them and spits at them. They retreat back up the hill and watch the water rise.

Two days later; nobody’s seen anybody on the top deck but Noah and the water’s a few feet up the side of Noah’s boat; you’re wondering if the pitch will keep such a large thing watertight, let alone whether it’ll float. You’re not the only one; the hillsides are packed with people curious (perhaps morbidly so) about the fate of Noah’s boat. After a few more hours of steady rain, the boat shifts a little. You hear a gasp from the assembled spectators. More rain. More water. Just before dusk, the giant craft creaks, groans, protests and is finally shifted from its cradle of gopher logs. No sound from the crowd – everyone’s just staring, breaths held. Noah’s boat is now floating. Maybe it’s seaworthy after all! Maybe Noah’s some kind of strange, misunderstood genius (though that still wouldn’t explain the animals).

As the boat is taken downstream, you hear Noah bellowing something over the sound of the rushing water and falling rain – you can’t make it out but it sounds triumphant. Then you hear a sound that chills you to the bone. A creaking, groaning sound. It graduates to a cracking, splintering sound. The vessel is visibly twisting as it’s turned by the current – as if some unseen giant is wringing it out like a large wet cloth. Cladding bursts free from the side of the vessel. Water rushes in, animals fall out. You see a lion, an ostrich, a goat, all fall in to the river. Then a man – one of Noah’s sons? Frantically they paddle and kick but more cladding and beams fall on top of them. You and the crowd are now running down the hill to the riverbank. Perhaps you’ll be able to help save one of the crew. The stricken craft, now waterlogged, runs aground on a sandbar downstream, but it doesn’t stop dead. It starts to tip over, one side dug into the sand. The weight of its own timbers and waterlogged lower decks makes it collapse in on itself. Above the roar of snapping timbers you can hear the desperate screams of animals and people alike.

When you draw level with the sandbar you see among the cracked, twisted ribs of the boat some of the dead: sheep, an ox, some people floating face down. From your vantage point on the riverbank you see Noah on a small patch of sand. As he was on the top deck he was thrown clear by the impact. He’s on his side, still moving. The wreck of the boat is forming a dam, diverting the still-rising water around him. You and some neighbours start talking about a rescue plan – how can we get across the river to the sandbar? Will the wreck hold long enough for us to bring him back? Another grisly cracking sound answers your question as the rest of the hull begins to give way. You and your neighbours rush back up the hillside and turn just in time to see the hapless Noah engulfed by the merciless grey river and the shattered remnants of his creation. You and the other villagers sit in silence as the wreckage flows beyond the sandbar and out of sight down the river. Some of it remains where it fell, stuck in the sand or snagged on the riverbank. As the rain eases and the river subsides, the full extent of the carnage is revealed. Gopherwood beams, planks and logs and the carcasses of animals and people litter the riverbank from the sandbar onward. Noah’s body is never found.

After the funerals are held for Noah’s family, the dead animals disposed of and the remnants of Noah’s vessel cleared away (and reused – it was good timber!), people start retelling the tale of Noah and his “ark”, as people are now calling it. Each time you hear the story, whether in the marketplace, the tavern or via some passing travellers, it appears to grow in magnitude. Some giraffes here, two hippopotami there. By the time you hear a version where Noah’s floating menagerie is an astonishing three hundred cubits (!) long, contains a breeding pair of every animal on the Earth, endures forty whole days of rain and spends a year afloat without any creatures starving to death, you give up trying to correct people. Yes, you were actually there, knew Noah personally and saw the whole thing unfold, but noone wants to hear that. Nobody wants to hear the truth when it’s so much more fun to tell a good story. Next thing you know people will be saying he was called on by God!

______________________________
Update 16 March 2014: Yo, Aronofsky – this is the film you should have made, brah! 😀

On Alienating Moderate Believers

At Evolution Blog (a site you should visit) author Jason Rosenhouse discusses a review of his recent book Among the Creationists (a book you really should read) by Panda’s Thumb contributor Matt Young. In the review, Young claims that Rosenhouse “has the same narrow view of religion as the creationists – that it is all or nothing – and he risks alienating moderate theists who are otherwise on his side.” As it turns out, this claim isn’t really accurate (as is often the case with such claims) – as you’ll learn when you read Rosenhouse’s entire response.

I felt compelled to leave a comment (slightly edited here for syntax), as I find the notion of alienating moderates during honest discussions of science to be a non-issue – and if it is an issue, well, anyone who’d feel “alienated” by an honest discussion of scientific facts probably isn’t a moderate anyway!

My comment:

If a “moderate” is so easily offended by a frank discussion of the current state of evidence for X that they would prefer to side with fundamentalist X-deniers than participate in that discussion, it is neither the fault of X nor the fault of those doing the discussing.

We do no favours to moderates by coddling them; in fact, we infantilise and condescend to them when we do so. Were I a moderate and someone patronised me by soft-peddling the truth about something that happened to sail near the waters of my faith, I’d be a lot more offended than if they just presented the facts and the evidence without qualification. You simply don’t read about this aversion to “offence” when discussions of particle physics arise; it’s inevitably biological subjects that get this special treatment because a large proportion of the population still objects to being apes. Again, that’s not the apes’ fault, nor is that the fault of the scientists whose lines of inquiry cross over this topic.

I’m aware that the religious culture in the US is different to that here in Australia, and that accommodationist positions regarding the discussion of [theologically] uncomfortable scientific facts seems prudent given the vehement fundamentalist opposition to them. Having said that, I think that anyone calling themselves moderate should be treated as though they have the requisite intellectual honesty & courage to be able to see a fact as it is and not require an abridged, sanitised version of it designed to assuage any fears [of theological conflict] or doubts they may have. If a religious believer is unable to comprehend and appreciate a scientific fact (and its metaphysical implications, if any), without storming off to join the fundamentalists in “shooting the messenger”, then I must question any person who would describe that believer as “moderate”. As an aside, I would also question the harm done by alienating a person who behaves in such a childish manner.

Given the well-known extremist elements of religious culture in the US – and that country’s overtly religious nature when compared with other first-world nations – I’m of the opinion that the only way to combat the influence of religious extremism [in science] and the only way to encourage more input from moderates is to be honest about scientific facts, theories and processes, give said moderates some credit for maturity and intelligence and not to allow the discussion of said facts to be plagued by frets about who will be offended.

To continue that line of thought, placing such overwrought concern over who may be offended by an unequivocal discussion of the current state of scientific knowledge merely validates the frequent claim of fundamentalists that there are some scientific facts that are indeed devastating enough to a person’s faith to render it mute, dilute it to meaninglessness or destroy it. But if someone does abandon or modify their faith because it, or crucial aspects of it, have been falsified by verifiable knowledge, I must again question whether any real harm is being done. A person led away from fundamentalism (which, being inherently dishonest, intentionally ignorant and therefore unavoidably harmful) to a more moderate faith – or away from faith entirely – by facts and evidence should be celebrated. In fact, isn’t leading people from a state of ignorance to a state of knowledge the primary goal of science and science education? Should really we spend much concern on people who will turn their backs and sulk when presented with knowledge?

I do not advocate getting in the faces of religious people and barking at them that Scientific Theory X proves their god is a bunch of hooey and nonsense and that they should abandon it; but I will advocate frankness when discussing any & all aspects of scientific inquiry. If there happen to be metaphysical or theological implications that make some believers feel uncomfortable or ask questions or experience religious doubts, that’s for them to grapple with. Scientific familiarity among laypeople does not advance when facts are cushioned; moderates gain nothing when they’re pandered to by well-meaning science advocates acting as if they know what’s good for others.

The bottom line: we should show people enough respect for their intelligence and maturity that we present the unvarnished truth as it is currently known.

To close, a note for Matt Young: when reviewing a book, we should show its author enough respect to present their arguments and views as they are written; to do our best not to project whatever existing opinions we may have onto the words of others.var gaJsHost = ((“https:” == document.location.protocol) ? “https://ssl.” : “http://www.”); document.write(unescape(“%3Cscript src='” + gaJsHost + “google-analytics.com/ga.js’ type=’text/javascript’%3E%3C/script%3E”)); var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker(“UA-5094406-1”); pageTracker._initData(); pageTracker._trackPageview();

I know how to make Christianity more logically coherent

Yes, I do. I can fix it so it’s less ridiculous. It involves a couple of major changes which would likely get me burned at the stake, but at least it’d make more sense.
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First, let’s recap the current story: God creates man, man defies God, God condemns man to death (first by eviction from Paradise and eternal life, next by global flood), God (as his own son, the avatar Jesus) later returns to earth to a) try and convince everyone he’s God and b) have himself executed as the ultimate scapegoat in order to take on all of man’s sin against himself and spare man from the eternal Hellfire he presumably created. Got that? God sacrifices himself to himself in order to save mankind from his own wrath (with the proviso that man believes God did precisely that, otherwise the deal is off).

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the story. I’m equally sure we’re all familiar with the objections: God is all-powerful – in fact, the supreme power in and outside space and time – so he shouldn’t have needed to be tortured and killed as a mere man by other mere men and have those same men believe he did so in order that they be saved from him. God is all-loving – in fact, we’re led to believe that even Hitler might be in Heaven if he recanted his many sins – so if he chose he should be able to simply forgive us all our imperfections, without demanding we accept his sacrifice. God is all-seeing – in fact, we’re told God can see all of us, all the time, all the way into our hearts and minds through and past all our thoughts and feelings – so he shouldn’t need us to pray or worship him or abstain from sex or wear certain things or not eat other things or even do good works in order for him to see the truth of our characters.

If God is the god, the most powerful god, the only god, he shouldn’t have needed to make such a horrid spectacle of himself in order that we all be spared hellfire. If he loved us all and wanted to forgive us all our trespasses and keep us from torment, he has the power to do so without imposing upon us rules & beliefs unsupported by evidence. So, the logical conclusion is that God probably isn’t all-powerful, all-loving or perhaps … he’s simply not alone.


What I suspect is this: the one named “God” is not the only god out there and Christians have been lied to for thousands of years. God did not have himself (as avatar Jesus) sacrificed to himself in order that we be saved. Instead God, out of his all-consuming love for man, had himself sacrificed to another, at least equally powerful god – a god he had been at war with for thousands of years up to the point of the crucifixion. A god who he expelled to Hell in the Beginning. A god who was once an angel, one of God’s own children, who he then left alone in the deep darkness and who then became more powerful, more vengeful and more evil than even God himself could predict or prevent (otherwise, being all-powerful and all-knowing, he could have done so): Lucifer. Also known as Be’elzebub, Satan, Lord of Evil, Prince of Darkness – The Devil Himself. God, who created the world and created life, left the dead and the underworld to Lucifer as a bargain, to do with what he wished as he did with Adam and as he did with Noah’s wicked neighbours. Lucifer, at the beginning, accepts this. But, Lucifer being Lucifer, wishes an advantage. As men die, his numbers increase & his new damned souls – the demons – outnumber the angels. God notices what Lucifer does to souls in Hell and God does not like it. God becomes angry and vengeful. War is inevitable. Souls, angels, devils are thrown together in battle between Heaven and Hell. Neither gains an advantage. Even if God is indeed all-powerful and could smite Lucifer in the blink of an eye, his very love for Lucifer – his first son, older than man – stays his hand from annihilation.

God, after two thousand years of stalemate with Lucifer, decides that the obliteration and torment of souls must stop and begs a parlay. Lucifer halts his armies and demands a sacrifice: God is to manifest as human, live a human life and suffer and die as a human. He may try and gain as many souls for Heaven as he can – he may even perform what miracles he can to as many people as he can to save as many as he can from being conscripted into Lucifer’s army or consigned to his pits – but he only has one human lifetime in which to do it. Whosoever accepts the sacrifice of God may be granted Heaven for eternity; whosoever denies it will join Lucifer in Hell to suffer or serve as Lucifer sees fit. Lucifer, being outside time & space just as his Father is, chooses ancient Palestine & Judea as the setting: the region is occupied by Roman forces; written communication is possible but difficult to disseminate quickly; word-of-mouth reigns but the languages used will soon be dead; existing religious & political powers will be hostile toward any radical philosophy; lives are short and punishment is brutal. God knows the odds are against him but, out of love for mankind, he agrees. God knows this is the best chance – the only chance – that he has to save man. But even as he agrees to the terms, he knows that most people will not accept his sacrifice and will join Lucifer – either as solider or slave – once they die.

The rest we know: Lucifer chose wisely. Romans and Pharisees identify the charismatic rabbi named Jesus as a threat to both the political and religious status quo, torture him and later have him executed in a most brutal and agonising fashion. Although God, working as Jesus Christ, is able to perform great deeds and gain traction among the Hebrew population, his life is short even by the standards of the time. Though he cheats even death itself and tales of his deeds spread it takes a generation, long after Jesus’ disciples were dead, before written accounts surface. Once they do the going is slow, but eventually the cult of Christ the Anointed One is adopted by the very people who murdered him. The Roman Empire, almost five hundred years after Jesus’ execution, make Christianity the state religion, eclipsing Roman paganism (but appropriating the major pagan festivals as markers of Jesus’ birth and death – a shrewd political decision as it leaves Romans free to indulge & feast in the same way at the same times of the year).

In time however, the Roman Empire declines and is replaced by numerous self-governing states around Europe and the Mediterranean. But the Empire is not dead: building on what wealth and power it has left, the Roman military empire becomes a boundary-crossing spiritual empire, spreading and defending Christianity (and gaining more wealth and power than the early Romans could have dreamed) by word, deed, fire and the sword. But, since the fifth century, they have always been careful not to speak of God’s deal with the Devil. You cannot admit weakness in the face of your flock – equally in the face of your enemies. Any texts describing God’s pact with Lucifer are hidden in vaults or crypts or simply burned (as are heretics who dare to speak of such things) and only selected texts are allowed to become Gospel – even texts which do not agree with each other or have little spiritual value are preferable to those which belie God’s supremacy.

And so, we come to today: the Empire still exists, but has challengers and dissenters: even after many years of Inquisition, torture and death there are still Jews who do not accept Jesus as the saviour and a different type of Christian, the Protestant (of which there are countless varieties), does not agree that the only way to Heaven is through the Empire. Persecution has been carried out and war has been waged over differences in theology. A prophet named Mohammed, who claims to have received the last & final version of God’s word, is revered in the places Christianity could not reach and again, wars are fought. Lucifer’s forces become strong, as do those of God but once again God, seeing so many join Lucifer’s ranks in both servitude and suffering, is reaching his breaking point. He ponders another sacrifice. God became man’s sacrificial lamb at Lucifer’s demand but after two thousand years of losing more souls than he gains he wishes something more definite. He wishes confrontation. He wishes an end to the war. For the first time, God desires victory – to defeat & if necessary vanquish his son, Lucifer. He long ago revealed his desire to John, who wrote it down for all to read – a final battle between Light & Darkness on the plains of Armageddon. Lucifer also knows what’s coming, but he does not know when, so he too builds his forces in preparation. For thousands of years, Christians are told “when God decides the time is right, he will return as Jesus the Conqueror and vanquish the Devil and his minions; the righteous shall be forever blessed and the wicked forever damned”.

Christians still wait and the Cold War between Heaven and Hell continues.

But at least now it makes a bit more sense.

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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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What if you’re wrong?

“What if you’re wrong? Atheists encounter this question from time to time – some more than others, depending on the extent to which they’re prepared to suffer the slings and arrows of internet theists.

It’s the simple form of and often a precursor to Pascal’s Wager – a seemingly clever intellectual exercise which makes belief in God the only logical option. Basically, the wager goes like this: believe in God and, if he exists, you’ll go to heaven when you die. Don’t believe in God and, if he exists, you’ll go to hell. If he doesn’t exist you will have lost nothing regardless of whether you were a believer (except some time spent on your knees when you could have been doing something fun or interesting). When all is said done, apparently you’re better off being a believer.

What Pascal missed here, by a long way, is the obvious followup: what if you, the believer, are wrong? What if God indeed exists but isn’t actually the god you think he is? Belief in the wrong god can put you in hell just as quickly as if you didn’t believe in any god – Christian theology tells us that much. What if you’re spending your life worshipping a god who isn’t there and what if this behaviour is destined to earn you eternal damnation at the hands of the real god? Pascal, a philosopher and mathematician, seemingly overlooked a key component of philosophical (and mathematical) discussion: the prior definition of terms. Which particular god are we discussing here and how do we know he (a) actually exists and (b) has the qualities attributed to him. Further, even if you can show (a) and (b), how is it you know that it’s your particular denomination that has the True story of your religion? If it’s your god we’re betting on, how do you know you’re not a heretic in his eyes? What if you’re wrong, Pascal? Soft, wishy-washy “there is some kind of god somewhere” deism isn’t going to cut it if the real god wants to be recognised and worshipped in a specific way. Even the most highly specific religious practices will get you roasted if you’re unlucky enough to be raised by people of the wrong sect.

I’d now like to broaden that question to every religious person currently alive: what if you are wrong?

The odds are that your religion is completely, utterly wrong and everything your holy men have told is equally false, mistaken, mendacious and un-freaking-true are actually pretty good. I’m not saying that from a purely atheist perspective; I’m looking at it from the perspective of any religious person. Look around you at the different religions in the world. Look at all the tribal animism, sun worship, pantheons and other systems of belief that have dominated over the years, only to fall under the trampling feet of human progress. Look at all the odd little cults that spring up here and there, flare up and take peoples’ money and sometimes their lives & then vanish as soon as law enforcement or mass suicide spoils the party. Can they all have been right? No, you say, because noone worships David Koresh or Jim Jones or Thor or Zeus or Jupiter anymore. Those religions were shown to be false and their leaders liars. As if there’s a giant bearded man living on top of Mt Olympus who can throw thunderbolts! As if aurora borealis is Thor’s campfire! Jim Jones was clearly a criminal madman!

Well, obviously, extinct religions and insane cultists are an easy target. So, let’s concentrate on the sons of Abraham: Judaism, Islam, Christianity. They’ve sprung from the same well, branched off and made something of themselves in different parts of the world. They have launched brutal wars against each other in defense or furtherance of their Truths. This is because, despite being directed toward the same god, they are diametrically opposed in spirit and in purpose and brook no disagreement. If Jesus was the messiah & son of God, the Jews are all wrong and they’re wasting their time. Every last one & every last second. If Jesus was not who he said he was, the Jews might be right and the messiah may still be on his way, except of course if Mohammed was God’s last true prophet, in which case the Jews lose again. But what if Mohammed was just an illiterate warlord with a taste for jailbait and delusions of grandeur? Does that automatically make Christianity the real deal? If it does, which kind of Christians will go to heaven? Well, all these questions have made people torture and kill each other countless times over the years and I could on at length about that, but I won’t. I’m going to look just at Christianity.

Christianity. There are more branches of this particular Abrahamic faith than there are of Islam and Judaism combined (though there have been and still are brutal schisms within those brotherhoods). Hundreds, maybe thousands of denominations have sprung up since Augustine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire (accept no substitutes!) in the 5th century CE. Several of these sects claim their brothers in Christ are actually destined for hell despite sharing the same core belief – that Jesus was the son of the one true God and was allowed to be executed by Rome to spare us all from Hell, as long we believe that’s the case and thank him very much for it, frequently. The sibling rivalry between Catholics and Protestants is legendary in its length and ferocity. Evangelicals and moderate Christians clash at the drop of a hint and there are many sects that behave in ways that would make presumably Jesus blush, clear his throat and back out of the room, muttering “Ah, no, they didn’t come with me … “

So, back to the question: what if you’re wrong? And what if the odds of you being wrong are so astronomical that it would be a ridiculous waste of time to even be religious at all, let alone place all your eggs in a particular basket case? Let’s leave aside what could happen if you’re a Jew when it’s actually Allah calling the shots, or if you’re a Muslim and Jesus is actually waiting to kick your arse to hell after you die. You might think you’re safe being a liberal, moderate, wishy-washy Christian who doesn’t go to church or pray much, supports secular government, gives lots to charity and doesn’t drink too much – but what if the God of your New Testament is actually more like the God of your Old Testament? What if Yahweh is a bloodthirsty bastard like he was when he drowned the world, destroyed Sodom & Gomorrah or ordered Moses and his band of thugs to kill every Midianite man, woman and child except for the virgin girls, who were to be enslaved? What if the Westboro Baptist Clown College is the only church on Earth to have its shit together?

Every religion on Earth may have some “truth” at its core, as so many religious apologists are fond of asserting. Things like being nice to each other, helping the poor and taking a day or two off work. But most religions on Earth make other, more specific claims which more often than not flatly contradict each other. This invalidates the “religion in general is a good thing” trope that some moderates use. Many religions will tell you that being nice and charitable and neighbourly isn’t enough; if you don’t worship the right god in the right way on the right day, it’s curtains. Eternal curtains! How is it, apart from being raised in a particular religious environment by people of a particular religious bent, can you know your particular version of your religion is the right one? Faith? In what? Scripture? But the people in the church across the street do different things with the same scripture and they think they’re the ones with the key. Faith in the people who raised you and taught you this religion? You can’t have faith in people, especially if they’ve been doing it all wrong, like the guys across the street say they have been. Faith in your own understanding of what the scripture says? But it’s highly likely you’ve never sat down and read the whole thing and asked honest questions, let alone looked anyone else’s – the people across town have a completely different scripture, rules, ways into heaven and hellish punishments. What are you meant to think? How can you make an honest, free rational choice to be Christian, Jewish, Muslim? Back to faith again? How can you have any faith in any single set of rules when noone in your own brotherhood can even agree which ones are the right ones?

In short: just look at how many different religions there are in the world. Look at the things they claim. Compare them to the claims of your religion. Look at the differences within that single religion then look at the differences within your own. Consider the different points of view held by people within your very own church. One guaranteed result of such observation is that these people/sects/religions can’t all be right. Leave aside your strongly-held conviction that yours is – they can’t all be. What is it about your religion & sect that makes it more compelling than that of your neighbour? The standard of evidence? Surely your neighbour is as convinced of the Truth of their beliefs as you are of yours and on the basis of similar evidence. There really is only one conclusion you can draw from this, and that is that despite the strength of your faith and your convictions, your religion has an equal chance of being the wrong one as your neighbour’s does. If you think he’s going to Hell, there’s an equal chance he thinks you are. How can you even begin to know who’s right? Faith? In what – the sacred texts or the people propagating them? You’re essentially playing Pascal’s Wager against each other with no good reason to believe you’ll win, but you each have an equally strong conviction that you will. But you can’t both win – unless of course your god isn’t particularly fussed how he gets his props, or if he gets them at all – in which case you’re both wasting your time. Go read a book! No, not that book. A different book. Something fun. Or at least useful.

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Thunderf00t: Why the internet is bad for religion

Scientist, creationist vanquisher & Youtube legend Thunderf00t presents his thoughts on why the internets are bad for religion:

Check out the rest of his channel – I highly recommend his series “Why Do People Laugh At Creationists?”

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