Wednesday, August 20, 2008

More Tim Minchin

Continuing on my somewhat maudlin mood for the day: a Tim Minchin clip that I had not previously seen.

Today, I am No Longer Catholic

I've tried: lord, I've tried.

I was raised in a fairly moderate Catholic family. No idiocy like that which has surrounded Crackergate, or the story coming out of the UK about how demons cause STD's and are spread by in-vitro-fertilization. No belief in trans-substantiation (though the same cannot be said of my grandparents), demonic possession, or hell. In short, fairly open-minded, middle-of-the-road white-bread Christianity. My mother's family are very conservative Opus Dei, John Bircher types, but both of my parents are fairly mellow.

But is there any particular point in being such a Catholic? I can't find one anymore. I simply can't accept that God would send himself down to Earth in order to sacrifice himself to himself to try to convince himself not to punish every man, woman, and child that has ever lived for non-sins that were never committed by two people who never existed. That a being capable of creating the cosmos would take a deep and abiding interest in what parts of our bodies we rub on whom. That there is value in sacrifice, or suffering, or the rote performance of sacraments. If one cannot accept these things, is there a point in remaining a member of such a faith group?

I used to find value in the performance of the rituals, the taking of the steps themselves whether or not one accepted the dogma. Kind of like doing yoga or Taiji Chuan without believing that you have invisible energy lines running through your guts (Qi). But the older I've gotten, the more pointless it all seems to be. If there is a God, how could such actions or such belief possibly be of any value to it?

I started drifting away from the Church over two decades ago, in high school (a Catholic, Jesuit high school, before anyone starts babbling about how secular public schooling leads to a loss of faith). The Jebbies taught us to question our faith: that doing so was a healthy part of one's spiritual development. I guess I just questioned a little harder than they intended.

So I really haven't been much of a Catholic for some time, but I guess the garbage that's been coming out of Church leadership and out of loose cannons like Bill the Perpetually Offended has pushed me over the edge. I just can't have any respect for the Church as an institution, as a philosophy, or even as a theraputic set of rituals. I give up. I quit.

I don't think that I can call myself atheist or even agnostic at this point: giving up on the comforting idea that there might just be a guiding purpose behind the universe is something I do find myself shying away from, though I'm not entirely sure why this should be so. I guess I'd test out as a Taoist Deist, if one were to examine my remaining beliefs. But I think I'll stop describing myself as having been "raised Catholic" when people ask about my religious beliefs, as I have been doing for years. I like many others, answer this way to avoid starting religious conversations with family and others which we would rather not have. From now on, it's just "I don't belong to any church".

Of course, the Catholic Church would contest me on that. They marked me at my Baptism like a dog spraying a bush. There's an invisible mark on my soul, and as a 16-year old I dutifully and without significant consideration reinforced that mark by going through Confirmation, like all good Catholic boys did at that age.

But so what, says I, If I no longer believe in invisible marks (or souls, for that matter)? Just another bullshit article of faith on the pyre.

Turtles All the Way Down: Why Mt Vernon, Ohio Will Learn No Lesson from the John Freshwater Mess

In perusing the interwebs today, I came across a couple of articles which rather succinctly illustrate the forehead-smacking futility of trying to deal with hard-core theists on the subject of religion in education. Both are from the Zanesville Times Recorder Opinion page. The first, by managing editor Len Lacara, explains the situation as both sides see it: from the point of view of Freshwater's supporters, and his detractors. He provides links to web sites defending the teacher's actions (or attempting to), and then explains that the defenders are wrong.

Enter concerned citizen Jeff Fraunfelter a few days later. I won't bother with a fisking of Fraunfelter's letter, as a casual perusal of it's content should be sufficient for any reader to see that it neither addresses the content of the original editorial, nor does it offer support for any cogent argument: it is merely a string of tired creationist tropes, from the label 'liberal' in the first sentence, to the 'why don't you go pick on Islam' gripe to the 'only a theory' saw. Not impressive.

But this illustrates the core problem: one side of this argument is just not interested in learning anything. He has been handed a set of talking points by the religious leaders he trusts and is simply asserting them as unassailable truth. Anyone who might provide information contradicting his claims is dismissed as 'liberal', 'secular-humanist', 'anti-Christian', or 'a member of the elite'.

One of the unfortunate results of the internet age is that religious conservatives, particularly creationists, have created a virtual reality of their own, a misinformation network in which they make bald assertions, and then refer to each others' assertions as 'evidence' in later writings/arguments. The phenomenon started with talk radio, which allowed them to ignore the newspapers and television, and spoon-fed them filtered Truth
. Now that we have the Web, they've got the WorldNutDaily, One News Now, Answers in Genesis, Conservapedia, and so on.

Which, of course, only drives home the argument that we need quality science education so we can drag these poor kids out of the morass of ignorance their parents live in. To do otherwise is not only to turn our backs on them, but to seriously hobble our future and that of our own children. And I don't give a rat's ass if that makes me an anti-Christian liberal commie pinko fascist Nazi atheist Satan-worshiping member of the homosexual agenda, or whatever.

Tim Minchin on Being Open-Minded

This blog is in danger of turning into an appendage of YouTube, but I had to share this: I love Tim Minchin's comedy.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Arkansas Sen Mark Prior: " Maybe Snakes Can Talk"

A clip from Bill Maher's upcoming movie "Religulous". The look on Maher's face at the end is priceless:

As the saying goes, sometimes the jokes write themselves.

McCain: "The Invasion of Czekoslovakia is Off"

At least, that's what I'm taking away from this clip:

On Fundamentalists and Anonymous Blogging

Anyone familiar with the blog Atheist in a Minivan (aka Possummomma) knows that someone who admits to an absence of religious faith on the internet can draw some pretty intense and unsettling attention from the God-botherer crowd. The blogger, Possummomma, has been harassed by email and at her home, had her daughter stalked by a preacher on her way to and from school, and been subjected to other "spreading of the good news" which she is understandably reluctant to discuss. This, of course, is entirely irrespective of the endless parade of religious whackaloons who traipse through her blog and try to reclaim her for the Zombie Messiah. She is not alone in this: others, such as Prof. PZ Myers, have received death threats.

A few weeks before this post was written, an atheist blogger who had been going by the name William J. Isom revealed himself as Craig A. James and issued a call for others to "come out". He states in essence that previous civil movements promoting equality for minorities succeeded because of people who stood up and rattled the cages of the established powers that be.

While I'm entirely in agreement that this was appropriate in the case of the womens' and civil rights movements, I'm not sure I buy his argument as it applies to non-believers. The rights movements of the 20th century were able to succeed because the mistreatment was based on factors which the abused did not consciously choose: you are born female or black. Those of us who abandon religion, however, do so out of choice. This does not carry the potential for empathy which physical factors beyond one's control can draw out. In essence, the populace at large doesn't give a damn about non-believers, because our situation is seen as one of our own making. This is, I think, a big reason why abuse of atheists and agnostics does not make the news: no one really gives a shit. Non-believers are on their own.

Hell, look at what society does to homosexuals, because of the FALSE perception that being gay is a "lifestyle choice". Our decision is TRULY a choice: what fucking chance do we have?

So, I think I will remain anonymous, thank you very much. While I have no fear for my own safety (I actively practice my second amendment rights), I don't trust that some well-intended but bat-shit insane god-botherer from the boonies won't shine around and harass my family to try to use them as leverage to "bring me back to Christ".

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Latest on Crackergate: No Expulsion for Webster Cook

The insanity never dies: but there's at least one positive development: the UCF students at the heart of it all will not be expelled.

Now, one would think this would be a given: it's a public university, and any disagreements a student might have with a local religious group should not affect his status, unless he attacks someone or something (and NO, mishandling a host does not count as an attack on someone). But apparently the school's rules provide that if a complaint is raised using certain channels, the University has to hold a hearing and review the issue. This they have done.

As kind of a appertif' to the whole frenzy, Sastra weaves a rather apt analogy over at Pharyngula which is worth a read.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

StrangeBedfellows, or: a Bit of Sanity Returns to American Politics?

I'm admittedly a bit behind the curve on this one: I've spent most of my summer at a lake home I've rented outside of town, and haven't had Interweb access (or even much in the way of TV).

There's a new Left/Right political coalition forming in the US, based on citizens' exasperation with the repeated attacks by government on our civil liberties. BreakTheMatrix, an organization started by some of the folks involved in creating the Ron Paul "Money Bombs" of last fall, is raising money for the Accountability Now PAC. This PAC, which grew out of left-wing activism but now incorporates a lot of centrist and conservative elements, is dedicated to supporting candidates, regardless of party, who advocate the repeal of the measures the last few Congresses have passed that gut our freedoms and empower the imperial presidency.

The Art of the Possible has a couple of posts covering the effort, and I have to admit I'm both intrigued and heartened. I'm a big fan of the American Freedom Agenda (surprise) and the associated American Freedom Agenda Act, and the idea that people out there on both sides of the aisle are interested in actively and seriously pursuing a civil-liberties political agenda after years of partisan nonsense is refreshing, to say the least. I'll be watching these folks closely: should be interesting.

Via Unqualified Offerings, belatedly.

Aaron Rodgers Looks Solid in Debut - or, Can We Stop Moaning About Favre NOW?

The interception on the second drive was unfortunate, but not Rodgers' fault: the ball was tipped. Other than that, I think he put in a solid performance: his passes were on the money for the most part. Yes, two were overthrown, one of them badly: but we're used to having that out of old #4. He used to throw it into the stands his first couple of years.

I think this will be a good season for Green Bay. Even though the Packers' schedule is pretty tough, with a five-game stretch in the first half of the season including Dallas, Tampa, Seattle, and the Colts, I could see them taking the division and getting a game or two into the playoffs.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Preacher Kills Wife, Rapes Daughter: No One Cares

I'm hardly the first person to be posting on this story, I know. But there's a rather odd aspect to it I just don't get. Anthony Hopkins (obviously no relation), a charismatic preacher in Jacksonville, Alabama, had a problem. He was whiling away the evening molesting his daughter (surprising in clergy, I know), when his wife walked into the room and caught him in the act. For some reason, she was upset about this state of affairs (sorry), and kicked him out of the house.

After wheedling his daughter into letting him in through a window, he killed his wife and stuffed the body in a freezer chest.

Now here's the problem: he's a preacher, and both he and his wife are well known in local parishes. For her to suddenly disappear without a trace might raise some suspicion in some circles, no? So how does he explain it away? He claims she died as a result of the birth of their most recent child and prays that no one notices that he never had a funeral for her, (or, at least, never invited any of his friends to it).

Turns out he needn't have worried. The other clergy and parishioners seem to have been singularly incurious about her fate. His pastor, after inquiring about it, was suspicious, but not enough that he notified police. Neighbors said nothing. If she had friends outside their home, they said nothing.


These are all supposed to be god-afearin', caring, old-time family and neighborhood folk. Maybury types. Watch out for one another and such. And no one lifts a finger regarding this woman's disappearance for 4 blasted years. Meanwhile, I highly doubt that the sexual molestation stopped.

Is this what Jesus would do?

Spit Check!

Titled: "Frustration".

Thanks, XKCD!