On voting.

Once again, it’s the season where I’m absolutely inundated with requests — no, demands — that I vote. I’m told it’s my civic duty. I’m told in haughty, self-righteous, proud acrimony that if I don’t vote, I have no right to complain, as if my freedom of speech is revoked should choose to not select a career politician who I despise less than the other guy to “represent” me — when none of these people I’m told to select from actually represent me.

So, am I going to vote next week? Actually, yes. But, with caveats, and I’m more than happy to explain why.

First, a little parable:

Three wolves and six goats are discussing what to have for dinner. One courageous goat makes an impassioned case: “We should put it to a vote!” The other goats fear for his life, but surprisingly, the wolves acquiesce.

But when everyone is preparing to vote, the wolves take three of the goats aside. “Vote with us to make the other three goats dinner,” they threaten. “Otherwise, vote or no vote, we’ll eat you.”

The other three goats are shocked by the outcome of the election: a majority, including their comrades, has voted for them to be killed and eaten. They protest in outrage and terror, but the goat who first suggested the vote rebukes them: “Be thankful you live in a democracy! At least we got to have a say in this!”

Voting is a right. People fought and some literally died for he right to be able to vote in fair elections for such things as fair taxes, appropriate laws that are meant to help society function, and people who would represent them in a government by, of, and for the people.

But on most scales, that’s not what we have. We have a government where the higher up you go, the less you, as a person, are being represented so much as being governed in the interests of corporations. The congresspeople, the president, the massive support system that runs the federal government, are paid for by corporate profit — sanctified by the recent Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to spend as much money as they wish to make sure the politicians vote in their interests. In fact, the only politicians at all that get to that high of a level, that get their name on the ballot, are politicians that, regardless of the R or the D next to their name, will support corporate interests over those of the people.

These people do not represent me. I don’t not wish to associate a vote, by right and purchased by many people braver than I who gave their lives to give me the privilege and not the obligation to do so, to any of these people. A vote for a less vile, less corporate-owned, less dishonest, politician is not an exercise in freedom and liberty and civic duty — it is an insult and a mockery of freedom and liberty.

My right to vote quite certainly includes my right to choose to not vote, if that represents my opinion that the people who are my forced choices do not represent me. If I despise both options I have to vote for, I will complain about either one of them regardless of whichever one wins, and I should not have to be compelled to associate myself with either repugnancey in order to be granted the boon of being able to complain about them.

Especially when what I complain about is not just the puppets that I’m forced to choose between, but the entire corrupted and perverted system that puts only bought-and-paid-for corporate tools as my choices for representation.

Indeed, there are people who don’t vote, not because they are exercising their right not to, but because they’re too uninformed, detached, and unconcerned about the process, the system, civil rights and duties. You know what? They too have a right to complain! All people have an inalienable right to speak their mind (granted, so long as it does not directly incite harm to others), regardless of whether they participate in the farce.

I may pity and scowl at them in my own elitist, condescending way for not being involved and interested and engaged in the process, the events, the system that essentially controls their lives. But they still have a right to complain.

The parable above is often used to illustrate what’s called the tyranny of democracy. The idea that the minority must concede to will of the majority for no better reason than because they’re the majority. We all know this is on many levels wrong and unethical. It was seen during segregation, where the racist views of the majority violated the rights of a minority. We can see it today in such things as California’s Prop 8 in which the rights of a minority were eliminated by a majority vote.

If you ever found yourself in a vastly outnumbered minority, and the majority voted that you had to give up something as necessary to your life as water and air, would you comply? When it comes down to it, does anyone really believe it makes sense to accept the authority of a group simply on the grounds that they outnumber everyone else? We accept majority rule because we do not believe it will threaten us – and those it does threaten are already silenced before anyone can hear their misgivings.

–From THE PARTY’S OVER: BEYOND POLITICS, BEYOND DEMOCRACY
http://thecloud.crimethinc.com/pdfs/democracy_reading.pdf

I agree with the position. Majority rule; minority suffers. That’s all well and good so long as you’re part of the majority. But everyone belongs in someone else’s minority group. What happens when the majority on a given position, or condition, votes to remove a right of yours? How fair is democracy to you then?

As an anarchist, I believe ultimately in the removal of all coerced obeisance to the will of another group, whether that group has the force of greater numbers, or a monopoly on violence (the state). But, like Marx who understood that capitalism was a necessary step on the road to socialism, then communism, I understand we’re likely not going to have mass anarchism (nor communism) within my lifetime. The state is here, and it’s not going anywhere, any time soon. And the structure of representative government, as corrupt and flawed and manipulated as it is, should at least somewhat be made to work for the people and not for corporations, whenever possible….

So, I’m going to vote next Tuesday, despite the fact it will be a violation of my integrity. (I don’t believe in the very system itself, I shouldn’t support it with my participation.) But, living completely on the grid, within the culture, subject to the will of the hegemonic cultural logic, and millions of other people have no choice — so I’ll go ahead and cast votes where, and only where, I have a choice in which I think one option is ethically acceptable, and not because it’s the alternative to a worse option. If neither option represents my beliefs, it’s not getting my approval simply because of some non-existent obligation to have to choose one.

What gets my goat, is how so many of the people who wallow in self-righteousness and decree that you’re unAmerican and not worthy of the right to free speech if you don’t vote, are people whose entire civic consciousness, entire political activity, entire involvement in the world around them, begin and end with that 30 minute exercise once every couple of years — maybe only every four years. And of course, that just the way those in power like it. Convince people that they’re actually capable of changing things, get rid of bad and install good, improve the system, by making them think that all they need to do is vote for person A or nearly identical person B, whose differences are those that make people bicker while ignoring the fact the rot goes down to the roots. Make people think that voting equals change, and just shuffle the same agents of corruption and dominance through the offices while the very system itself that underlies the main problems gets blissfully ignored.

So, if you’re one of those who sticks your nose into the air with superiority because you go out of your way to vote for a new boss, same as the old boss, save your breath on me. I’m going to participate in the farce. But you better anticipate some write-in names on my part.

In space, no one can hear you Trick or Treat. Sad, really.

Ah, Halloween! Sadly, as an adult, I find October passes by much too fast with my barely able to enjoy the season before it’s gone.

But in my mind, Halloween will always evoke the memory of grade school in Westminister, Colorado: paper skeletons with brass brads for joints and bloody paper weapons taped onto their hands; lawns of dead and crackling leaves; gray skies and a chill air, sometimes with a little snow on the ground; that big, old house several blocks away with the unkempt yard and odd, metal star attached to the chimney, a house that begged to have a role in a Bradbury story with overly inquisitive kids. Halloween was my favorite holiday in the middle of my favorite season.

I don’t do much to celebrate any more, and that’s my loss and my fault. But often, when possible, at the last minute on that Halloween night, I’ll try to at least watch an appropriate film before the clock ticks into the month that begins the season for family and food. This year, I have a weekend in front of me and no thesis or papers to keep me from taking a couple evenings to enjoy the spirit of the holiday.

Here’s what I think I’m going to try watching:

“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” is an absolute requirement, period.

“Coraline” should be a good one. We’re hoping to get the kidlet to watch that and maybe “9” (the animated film, not the musical) with us.

Then, once she’s off to bed, the pool of possibilities are: “Shaun of the Dead” (hilarious, plus Wife likes it, too); “Zombieland” (though I did already watch it again a few months ago); haven’t seen “Splice” yet (supposed to be good); “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (hey, I liked it [despite Keanu], lay off); “Alien” (more on that in a moment); “John Carpenter’s The Thing” (haven’t seen that since I was 13); maybe “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (also been a long time, and it may be another with-the-kid movie).

Something you didn’t see in that list — slashers. I hates slashers. Ridiculous plots, horrible acting, nihilistic and pointless violence, no redeeming qualities whatsoever. With a couple exceptions: The first “Scream” was not bad, but mainly because it was the first postmodern slasher with a unique take on the genre. And I’ve seen a couple of the “Saw” movies, and while it’s nihilistic violence wrapped in a veneer of moral didacticism and life affirmation (ROTFL), the mechanized tortures remind me of the computer games “7th Guest” and “Phantasmagoria,” and the convoluted and complicated plot with looping timelines is really kind of intriguing. I’m curious to know if the clever yet highly impossible timeline coinciding-plots were planned from the beginning or have been kludged together for each film.

My favorite editor, Ellen Datlow, discusses her Halloween film pick, “Alien” on this page. Interestingly, one of my favorite SF authors, John Scalzi, dismisses “Alien” as unscary in his Filmcritic article. (While I disagree with him about its non-scariness, I have to say, I’m completely with him on why he finds the kind of film he does find scary, to be so.) I first saw “Alien” when I was about 13 or 14, and it scared the flip out of me.

(Although, not as much as seeing Kubrick’s “The Shining” did at 12. To this day, the image of Nicholson’s Jack limping through the snow with the shiny-bladed ax, chasing Danny, gives me jeebies of the heebie variety. That said, I still think Kubrick totally f-ed up what truly made the novel frightening, even more so now that I’m a husband and a father — the idea of a good man who slowly crumbles into insanity, and you’re not quite sure how much of it is within him and how much is supernatural influence. Kubrick’s “The Shining” starts out with an unhinged Jack and puts all the horror on the actions of the hotel. Even as a teen, reading Stephen King’s novel, I could understand the brilliant way he made the horror come from out of the character drama. But I’ve really digressed….)

Yeah, “Alien.” It scarded me! I’ve always realized because, even though it was sci-fi, it was entirely believable and realistic. Plus the hard SF’ness was uber-cool. But, I started watching it again a couple weeks ago, and I realized something disturbing: The script for the movie, the dialog, really sucks! Bad. Yet, the acting is superb! So natural, so believable, that they were able to take a bad script and make you believe it despite. The directing was so well-done, the pacing and mood and film-work, that it entirely enhanced the actors’ valiant effort — culminating in a truly effective film that one remembers as perfect despite the near-embarrassing script. Man, if Joss Whedon had been a script doctor back then, I can’t imagine how truly perfect it could have been. (I understand Ridley Scott is planning to make a prequel film. Note: he wasn’t involved in any of the sequels (although Joss was). I hope he gets as good of a cast as “Alien” had and even a marginally better script.)

Between that film, and OMNI magazine (hey! An Ellen Datlow degree of separation!), I’ve loved H.R. Gieger’s art ever since.

So, those’re my thoughts on Halloween at the moment. I think I might read some Poe to kiddlet this weekend. That’d be a cool tradition to start. 🙂

Bloggy update

In case I have anyone new watching the blog, especially coming for the Alpha Course reaction posts, I thought I’d give a quick update:

I’m currently working on the big-ole Weekend Retreat Alpha post. It was a 3-for-1 weekend of Nicky videos and some interesting group discussion — so look for that (and a regular weekly Alpha post) sometime during the evil spooky weekend.

I’m also working on a post about voting that may be heretical to some. That’ll be good for some laughs, and coming in a day or so.

And breaking from religion and politics (well, religion at least), I have a reaction to SF author extraordinare Charles Stross’ reaction to my beloved sub-genre of steampunk coming up.

Lots of goodies; stay tuned!

The devil’s in the details.

(This is part 7 of my, a non-believer’s, reaction to The Alpha Course, an introductory course into Christianity. The beginning is here, and the previous entry, part 6, is here.)

(Update: I just read Stephen Butterfield’s reaction to this night’s topic — if you have to read just one, read his! It’s much better written and entertaining, and the core of our reactions are almost identical!)

(Update 2: I just discovered my iPhone’s WordPress app renamed my blog post the same as a previous post. I just fixed it. Sorry for any confusion.)

Was thrown for a bit of a loop at first: we were supposed to do the section on the Holy Spirit this night, but evidently the two-part Spirit section is being saved for the “retreat” this weekend. This night we discussed Ol’ Scratch, El Diablo, Mr. Mephisto, Dick Cheney, or, the devil.

Before I get into mocking, er, critiquing this night, a word about this weekend’s retreat. I’m looking forward to, in this extended and casual setting, to maybe get into some real discussions with people. I hope so. On the other hand, being a weekend in which people have to drive for 2 hours and spend half a weekend out in the quasi-woods, I have this slight guilt-pang that makes me not want to ruin anyone’s weekend by being a caster of doubt and skepticism. (In a moment, you’ll see why after this night, that lack of desire to spread guilt is increased.)

Which leads me back to the difference I see between Alpha host Nicky Gumbel and the fellow classmates. I have no problem saying that Nicky seems like one of the nicest fellows you could meet, and I would love to spend a day with him. But make no mistake, he’s the enemy. He’s a promulgator of bad reasoning, uncritical credulity, logical fallacies, and out and out lies. Yes, lies. You can’t be as steeped in Christian apologetics as he obviously is, and not have encountered factual contradictions to the things he’s telling earnest listeners as truth. For example, using Tacitus, Josephus, etc. as “contemporary sources” for the historical events of the gospels, when that’s demonstrably, factually not true.

Continue reading The devil’s in the details.

Does God guide us?

(This is part 6 of my, a non-believer’s, reaction to The Alpha Course, an introductory course into Christianity. The beginning is here, and the previous entry, part 5, is here.)

I’m going to try something new this time and write my reaction less than 5 days after the event. Like, the next day, maybe. Well, I’ve started it the day after session 6, but I have recordings of Stargate: Universe and Caprica calling me….

(Update: I failed. See mid-way for a bonus Interlude.)

How Does God Guide Us, Nicky attempts to explain in this session. In general, this was a session full of special pleading and bad rationalizations. Which is a shame, because Nicky seems like a real nice guy, but his logic and critical thinking skills are nearly non-existent.

He starts by telling us that the Bible is a clear-cut explanation of what God’s will is. Nevermind that the Bible is neither clear-cut nor direct, and is responsible for a great many bloody conflicts among Christians over how the Bible should be interpreted. The book has been translated and re-translated into English alone scores of times, each one with some significant differences in literal meanings let alone what someone can infer from them. And countless denominations of the one religion have branched off with different interpretations of key passages. Like I mentioned last essay, putting your instructions in the form of a book written by many authors is probably the least wise method of communicating to your loved children, that I can think of.

Continue reading Does God guide us?

Don’t confuse human ability with miracles.

(Update: As usual, Roger Ebert does a far better job discussing the issue; and, he has person experience with it.)

As I write this, the last of the Chilean miners, trapped underground for more than two months, has been rescued successfully! I can’t even imagine the trials they must have faced, and the joy and relief felt by their family and friends must be overwhelming.

It’s a wonderful, amazing accomplishment of human determination, courage, and ingenuity. What it isn’t, is it isn’t “a miracle” as many are professing.

I understand that many say things like “it’s a miracle!” figuratively, and don’t actually mean a deity has altered the laws of reality to willfully change events in the world in ways that can’t be explained in any naturalistic manner — which is what a miracle is. Some people throw the term around when they really mean to say something is wonderful and amazing (as this story is), without thinking about the physics-altering nature inherent in “miracle.” I and other non-believers have been known to exclaim a “thank God!” now and then, but we shouldn’t be accused of being closet believers.

But there are many who do refer to the Hand of God when they say this rescue is a miracle, and I find that horrifically insulting, belittling, and dismissive of the enormous work, toil, cost, tenacity, and bravery of those who did all the work and shouldered the cost of the rescue.

What kept the miners alive was that there were caches of food and supplies placed throughout the cave because hey, mining is dangerous and collapses happen. Humans thought to do that.

Some of the men were well-experienced professionals who had the skills and abilities to keep them organized and calm and able to ration and stay positive.

Human skill and industry drilled the air and supply holes down to them. And enormous human skill and labor went into drilling and constructing a rescue tube and cage that worked flawlessly.

Human compassion and ability kept those men alive and saved them. Human skill and ingenuity has continued to battle nature and make a dangerous industry somewhat less so, not divine intervention: how far mine safety has come. (Ironic article source.)

If the mine had collapsed and an unknown person appeared among them from nowhere, staying with them and helping them through the 69 days, only to disappear before the rescue tube was finished, that’d be miraculous. If their store of food literally never depleted, that be a miracle. If the ground had shook and a perfectly straight tube opened up from the surface to the miners on its own: miracle. If the 33 miners had suddenly been poofed to the surface, instantaneously, definite miracle. But instead, every component of what saved them was purely natural, explainable, human. Wonderful and amazing! But human nonetheless.

And to give credit to an unseen force that has no marks of having done anything, is to crap all over the very human bravery and fortitude, intelligence and experience, strength and will everyone involved added to the rescue. We should rightfully be celebrating life saved, as well as human qualities that help us, more often than people realize, rise to the occasion!

Same with when someone says, “God/Jesus/angels/happy-thoughts fixed my organ/cured my cancer/brought me back to life.” No, ungrateful: a staff of humans who spent years and ridiculous money in medical school and nursing school, and years in residencies and practice, who read journals and attend conferences to learn latest techniques and treatments, and who spent significant time and energy and effort on you and your condition, fixed/cured/saved your whatever.

If a deity is to be thanked for being responsible for the rescue, it should also get the blame for the collapse:


The Instruction Manual?

(This is my reaction to session 5 of the Alpha Course. The first reaction and explanation is here, and last week’s is here.)

Well, I hate to say it, but I think I may have to give this session short shrift; it’s been a week, (such a week), and all I have is my scant notes on the session. (No wonder Stephen Butterfield uses a tape recorder.) And the worst part is that this session is the one I finally spoke up and got involved in conversation!

Ironically, I can impart less about that small group time than any other as I was so busy being involved, I didn’t write any notes. But I’ll try to see what I can recollect. In any case, I’m sure you’re not too disappointed, dear reader, considering the novellas I’ve been writing for my last four session reactions!

So, this session was entitled, Why and How Should I Read the Bible. Nicky Gumbel makes a summary argument for why to read it with the points: It’s the most popular book, the most powerful book, and the most precious book.

First of all, the fallacy of the appeal to popularity can be dismissed by simply pointing out how popular Harry Potter, the Twilight series, Stephen King, and Greek myths are 3,000 years after their original believers, but the popularity of these things makes no difference upon the reality of the material. Popularity does not make a thing truthfully valid. Hey, the Koran is as popular with almost as many people, does that increase its validity and necessity?

Continue reading The Instruction Manual?

Debates may change, but some things never do.

As I’d mentioned in my part three to my Alpha Course reaction, How Can We Have Faith, I volunteered to help judge a high school speech/debate tournament. It was a blast, and I learned some things, myself.

I was hard-core speech and debate in my high school days. (Probably no surprise to anyone who knows me), but full disclosure — by “hard-core” I mean relative to me, not to other kids who were hard-core. For me, speech and debate was the most important activity in my life, and I was decent at it (pretty good in Lincoln-Douglas debate, humorous interp’, and storytelling; not bad in cross-ex [team] debate and some other interp’ stuff). But there were a great many kids much better than me, due to both talent and living and breathing it more than I did. (I must not have been too bad, I was offered a full tuition scholarship from the debate team and accepted a full-ride scholarship from the theatre department a a local state college.)

But anyway, for me, debate was the “good” in my life. It was the only way I had friends, both in my squad and from other schools; it got me engaged in the world; developed some amount of appreciation for logic and proper argumentation; the value of evidence in claims; and gave me a social life. (Even though I was an idiot then, and played the goth/emo attitude before there was such a youth sub-drama, er, sub-genre. Somehow I had it in my head that being depressed and melancholy would somehow make me more appealing to girls and make me seem “deep.” Needless to say, I didn’t get laid until college. Go fig.)

So, this weekend. I judged some tourneys back in my undergrad days, but I think I was still too close to the scene (chronologically) to have different feelings about it. Now, years later, 20… years… later (oh gawd!) I’m a true outsider to the scene, looking back at a snapshot of my youth through the new batch of high schoolers going through the same trials, tribulations, joys, fears, thrills… metamorphosis I and my peers had. And I saw among these kids, versions of me, of my friends, and took comfort in the fact some things don’t really change! The activities, the behaviors, the prater, of these kids were the same as they were 20 years ago (well, except I did overhear one girl explaining to a couple guys what polyamory was; that didn’t happen back then, but that’s not to say we didn’t talk about love and sex back then! Boy-howdy, did we). I was amused by seeing once again all the briefcases and file boxes littering the cafeteria and hallways, and (most) everyone dressed in their best.

And their rhetorical skills still range from pitiful to three-years-away-from-being-a-guest-talking-head-on-MSNBC. I have to tell you, the champion LD debaters were quite impressive! Their level of argumentation, reason, and logic was enviable! It was interesting that in the regular LD rounds, where whether states should eliminate nuclear weapons was debated, the affirmative side OK and the negative side could never make a decent case. But at the champion-level, the affirmative side was calling upon claims to logic and fallacy I didn’t learn until 10 years later, and the negative side made such exceptionally strong cases for keeping nuclear weapons, I had to truly work to determine a winner — and sometimes it was the negative. I’m here to tell you, the kids are alright.

I did find interesting in CX (cross-ex, team) debate some different protocols from when I was doing it. During the first affirmative constructive (the presentation of the case and plan to be debated, and the only speech in the debate that is (should be) completely scripted, the speaker would hand each read page off to the opposition, pro forma. They didn’t ask for it, it was just something that was done. Likewise evidence cards. Back in mah day, if the other side wanted to clarify points you made, they’d ask during the cross-ex portion, and if they wanted to see you evidence, they had to ask (and you had to give it). But there was none of this standardized sharing back then.

I guess that’s good; it forces transparency and honesty. But, in a way, I was kind of peeved. I mean, the old way of having to write fast and listen faster taught me a very valuable skill: tiny, quick writing with lots of shortcuts. OK, not sure how valuable that skill is, but I was proud of it. 🙂

Prayer? Cheese! Ah, that’s power!

(click to read)

(This is part 4 of a 10-part reaction to The Alpha Course. Part One: Twisted history; Part Two: The cruel illogic of substitutional atonement; Part Three: Faith makes mountains of of molehills.)

This week’s Alpha Class was on the power of prayer. This was a particularly… interesting.

But before we get into it, some preliminary info: As you may know, uber-blogger Friendly Atheist mentioned my blog recently! In the comments, someone mentioned a much better British atheist blogger who chronicled his own Alpha Course experience: Stephen Butterfield’s “Alpha Course Reviewed”. If you’re here to read a non-believer’s reaction to Alpha Course, go read his! He’s a better writer and actually had dialog with other attendees. If you’re here reading this because you know me, still go read Stephen’s — it’s better and he writes with a sexy British accent. 🙂 I’ve only read the first few posts of his; I want to be able to write my own reactions unaffected by a better one.

And now, before I discuss problems with prayer, another interlude:

Continue reading Prayer? Cheese! Ah, that’s power!

I am the Alpha and the… Beta.

I’m working on the fourth installment of my reaction to the Alpha Course, (which will feature the concept of the efficacy of prayer!), but I wanted to make a quick post that’s a little meta.

First, I got a mention on Friendly Atheist! OK, full disclosure: I asked him about it. 🙂 But he was kind enough to make a mention on his site. I’ve been a reader of Friendly Atheist for quite some time now, and I’m quite the fan. So, I’m gleeful.

From the comments on that post, I’ve discovered that a lot of atheists and other non-theists have come in contact with the Alpha Course. And their reactions have generally been similar to mine. But one person posted a link to a blog by a fellow (Stephen Butterfield) who’s also been posting his reactions to the course — and it’s fantastic! He’s so much more succinct and clear and interesting to read than my babbling rants. His 2nd post, “Why Did Jesus Die?”, is really a great read. One of the reasons is because Stephen actually engages his discussion group in challenges and dialog — something I’m having a very hard time trying to do. But his doing so makes for some fun, and educational, reading. Check it out!

Oh, and I just came across a link I blogged about a couple of years ago, on the subject of God “never gives more than you can handle” drek. That sentiment keeps popping up in discussion. Here’s an essay I read in ’08 that I think is the best response possible to that canard: Reasonable Doubt About the Problem of Evil/Needless Suffering As A Test

Discover… The Power of Stuff!

My daughter (and I, when I’m too lazy to work on writing like I should), watches a lot of Discovery Kids Channel. It has a lot of non-U.S. programming that’s a few years old, but much of it is educational or at least semi-educational while still being entertaining.

Well, I discovered a couple of days ago that Hasbro acquired controlling ownership in the channel, and they’re giving the channel a complete makeover including a new name (The Hub) and programming line-up. I took a look at the new line-up, and saw something interesting, but not surprising considering who bought them: the educational programming is being replaced with high quality shows like “Transformers”, “G.I. Joe”, “Pound Puppies”, “Family Game Night”, “Clue”, and the like. Your basic 30-minute product commercials.

I took a look at the shows that my daughter watches on the channel, where they’re made, and their focus, and found this:

Continue reading Discover… The Power of Stuff!

How Can We Have Faith; How Do We Debate Ideas?

(This is part three of a, likely, 10-part reaction to The Alpha Course. For an explanation of the course and a reaction to “Who Was Jesus,” see part one: Explore the Meaning of… Bitten Tongues. Night two was “Why’d Jesus Die?“)

Before I get into this night’s topic, “How Can We Have Faith,” I wanted to break away for a moment for…

An Interlude: Ideas, Identity, and Debate

I write these posts like I write all my blog posts — very stream-of-conscious. I write as fast as I think it, and I pretty much never edit. What that often means is that my musings tend to get tinged with a goodly amount of emotion and a lack of refinement. And reading through my posts, that often results in a certain negativity, snarkiness, perhaps an insulting attitude. And recognizing that in the writing, I want to state in no uncertain terms: I attack the idea, not the person who holds the idea.

Before the evening began, after we ate, a high school girl asked if she could ask all of us to consider judging at an upcoming speech and debate tournament. I jumped at the chance; it’s been years since I judges debate. When I was in high school, debate (and drama) was my life. I wasn’t great by any means, but I loved it, and it was really the only thing (aside from role-playing games and reading sci-fi/fantasy) that I had any interest in. And, appropriately for this Alpha Course reaction, and my reaction to my reaction, I recall some very important life lessons I gained from four years of debate.

Continue reading How Can We Have Faith; How Do We Debate Ideas?

Why’d Jesus Die?

…To get to the other side! HEY-OHH!

(This is part two of a (potentially) 10-part series on my response to the Alpha Course. Part one, with an explanation of what all this is, is found here: Explore the Meaning of…Bitten Tongues.)

(Post-pre Script: I’m finishing this at 3am and don’t plan on re-reading to proof-read, so please forgive errors and typos.)

So, night two. The first night I walked out with a thinly repressed feeling of ire and frustration. The second night felt like relaxing into the second half of a root canal. You know there’s no escape and it must be done, so you just relax into the Novocaine masking the pain, and allow yourself to float until it’s over.

OK, that was harsh; it wasn’t that bad, I just like the analogy. 🙂 Let’s just say it wasn’t as bad as last week, but I still had face pain from keeping from eye-rolling all night. It’s a few days since that night, so my memory is a little hazy, but here’s what I can recall from my notes:

So Nicky opened up this night’s video with a fatuous attempt to use an old George Carlin (or is it Sam Kennison?) comedy bit about how odd it is that people wear crosses. It’d be like wearing an electric chair or a hangman’s noose. He was trying to make a point as to why Christians revere the cross, which is this night’s theme of explaining why, allegedly, Jesus, allegedly, died as a gift to us all. But his reasoning (which are as old as apologetics itself) is barbaric (despite trying to deny it) and illogical.

The Problem

Atheist Meme of the Day: Atheism is not nihilistic


Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

Atheism is not nihilistic, cynical, or despairing. Most atheists experience great meaning and joy in our lives, and are passionate about engaging with the world and making it a better place.

Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Explore The Meaning of…Bitten Tongues

This last Wednesday I began attending a 10-session weekly Bible study course at the behest of my wife who wanted to involve my non-belief outlook and feedback. I’m going to give it one more shot, but if this first session is any indication of what the rest of it’s going to be like… *sigh*

The course is called Explore The Meaning of Life: The Alpha Course. by an English Anglican priest, Nicky Gumbel. Evidently, he’s taken this course, which has been around for decades, and turned it from being an introduction for new Christians into a study for people outside the faith looking to understand more about Christianity. (While I’m by far no expert, I can safely say that as a non-believer, I already know more about Christianity than I ever did as a believer and more than most of the life-long believers in the class.)

Here’s the nightly setup: provided food, then a video, then break into small groups (15-ish people each) for discussion. Let’s just say the food was OK and then it was downhill from there. Seriously, though, I went in with a positive attitude and hope for the best! I had reservations whether I’d feel comfortable speaking up at all, (aside from introducing myself, I didn’t), but I didn’t have much apprehension about the content. Until 2 minutes into the 30-minute video.

Continue reading Explore The Meaning of…Bitten Tongues

Atheist Meme of the Day: Society does not need religion


Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

It is simply not true that society needs religion. Countries with high rates of atheism tend to have high rates of happiness and social functioning. This doesn’t prove that atheism makes a society work better, but it does show that we don’t need religion to be happy or good.

Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Atheist Meme of the Day: “You can’t DISprove God” is not an argument FOR God.


Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

“You can’t absolutely prove that it isn’t true” is a terrible argument for God. Just like it’s a terrible argument for unicorns, fairies, Zeus, and the three- inch- tall pink pony behind my sofa who teleports to Guam the moment anyone looks back there.

Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Stop with the branches; get to the root of the evil!

This is a must-see video where Lawrence Lessig gets to the heart of the problem with our current government and what must be done to return or republic to something resembling a truly representational democracy (whether that’s a good or bad thing is a different topic).

(It starts looking like a video all about youth obesity, but keep watching — that’s just setup for the real discussion. He also spends a minute perpetuating the myth that high fructose corn syrup is somehow magically worse than sugar despite their being nutritionally and chemically the same and broken down and used by the body in the same way, but that’s also not the focus of this video.)

(Update: Quick addendum. I previously mentioned that high fructose corn syrup was chemically identical and metabolized identically to sugar. I was wrong. They are indeed different.
However, as this recent science blog points out in its refutation of the highly biased, inappropriate, and premature suggestion made in a study regarding HFCSs and possible pancreatic cancer connection, the end result between HFCS and table sugar is negligible at best.
Also, this science blog also points out the chemical and metabolic differences between HFCS and refined sugar, but likewise establishes that HFCS is not a significant factor (no more than table sugar) in obesity. It’s an easy to blame scapegoat that distracts from the fact that obesity and diabetes come from too many calories and too little exercise. Period.)

BP is THAT kind of neighbor


Roger Ebert once again reminds us he’s a journalist who happens to excel at reviewing movies. He wrote a recent article,”BP’s tree fell on my lawn,” in which he details exactly all the ways in which BP was negligent and irresponsible. But perhaps even worse, how they gamed the system to look victimized. How they got members of Congress to apologize to them. How they’re using police to hide the damage they’ve caused us. How much power and control they have over the situation to obfuscate and avoid responsibility.

Ebert makes the analogy:

“A big tree blew over over on our property. That was an act of God. Parts of it landed on my neighbor’s property. Another act of God. It was my responsibility to pay for its removal. If I’m going to go around growing trees, I have to pay if they get blown over. You can be sure my neighbor will pay if one of his trees blows this way. And if my neighbor could prove that I was trying to cut the tree down (for fuel, let’s say) and it fell the wrong way, he’d have grounds for a lawsuit. Especially if it fell on his house and he could no longer live there.
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BP had a very big tree that blew down in the Gulf. It was not looking after it properly. It ignored or evaded safety regulations. It possibly bore criminal responsibility. The tree fell on my property. BP should have to pay to remove that tree, right? What if it enlisted cops to prevent me from even walking over and taking photos of what they were doing on my property? What if they issued statements saying it wasn’t such a large tree, and my property would soon recover? What if it landed on my house, and BP said it wasn’t much of a house in the first place?”

Continue reading BP is THAT kind of neighbor

Swords into Tax Shares

(yeah, I’ve never claimed to be a blog title expert.)

kitty water balloonPeter Schiff wrote an article titled, “Why Not Another World War.” It’s actually an interesting article in which he explains how we all agree that World War II ended The Great Depression and sparked the greatest American economic trend, so why not have another? This Gulf War is too small to do the same thing again. Except, war sucks and has this annoying tendency to be deadly and break things — so let’s make it a great World Water Balloon War!

Go ahead and read the article; it’s short and entertaining. But, then at the end of it he takes a sharp turn into La-La Land.

After laying a good case for describing the World War as the biggest socialized employment program, evah, (major props to Schiff on this — most right-leaners usually berate the New Deal as being evil socialism and shout that it was the war that saved the country… and then conveniently ignore the fact that how the war saved the country was by creating government jobs for millions and spending truckloads of taxes on government programs known as weapons manufacturing), he explains how his proposed Fun War of the same scope of government spending wouldn’t work because the government couldn’t afford such a project like it did 70 years ago: We’re already too taxed and there’s no savings.

“Current tax burdens are now much higher than they were before the War, so raising taxes today would be much more difficult.”

(Keep that in mind for a moment.)

Continue reading Swords into Tax Shares

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