Exercising my right of Free Speech and also your right to leave this site if you disagree.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Note of Support to Christopher Hitchens

I will not bother with any of the usual clichés about being brave and strong and battling the enemy that is cancer, you get enough of all that.
What I do want to say is thank you.
Thank you for all the writing you have done over the years and for the profound affect you have had on forming my current stance on politics, religion and ethics. You have been a powerful voice for reason in the face of an insane world and always with a great sense of humor.

I sincerely hope that you get to add cancer survivor to your lengthy resume and can give the world many more years of the honesty and ruthless wit that it needs. There are still too many nasty characters on the public stage needing to be skewered by your word processor.

I will not bother to pray for you but you will be in my thoughts.

Paul Kalbach

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Refutation of article about supposed former atheist

This Article below appeared on zionica.com on 04 Aug 2010 and was reproduced in full from its original posting on chrisianpost.com. It is fully reproduced below with comments inserted in bold. The post this was taken from is at http://zionica.com/2010/08/04/former-atheist-christianity-really-does-make-sense/

Culture|Mon, Aug. 02 2010 08:25 PM EDT
Former Atheist: Christianity Really Does Make Sense
By Lillian Kwon|Christian Post Reporter

Holly Ordway was a highly educated atheist who thought Christianity was "a historical curiosity" or "a blemish on modern civilization," or both.
"Smart people don’t become Christians," she thought, according to Biola University.
Her worldview, however, began to change at age 31. She recounts her journey from atheism to Christianity in the recently released Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith.
"It is no light matter to meet God after having denied Him all one’s life," she writes in the book. "Coming to Him was only the beginning. I can point to a day and time and place of my conversion, and yet since then I have come to understand that He calls me to a fresh conversion every day."

This is a rather classic example of theist prattle, we have an assertion of the gravity of the matter that is design only to get a head nod and an amen from the faithful while being based on nothing. This is then followed by a non-sense statement that is supposed to sound deep. What does it mean to be called? No one knows or can define it. What is this conversation, is it literal? No one knows or will say or will every question her on it. The reporter just regurgitates the line without asking, you really think you hear god? What exactly did he say?

Ordway, a professor of English and literature at a San Diego-area community college, wasn't raised in any religious faith. She never said a prayer in her life and she never went to a church service. Her exposure to Christianity while growing up was minimal and her few encounters with Christians involved televangelists or hellfire and damnation preachers.
"Religion seemed like a story that people told themselves, and I had no evidence to the contrary," she said in an interview with Biola University, where she is currently studying for her second MA, in Christian Apologetics.
To her, the Bible was a collection of folktales and myths – no different than the stories of Zeus or Cinderella.
"I was a college professor – logical, intellectual, rational – and an atheist," she writes.

Now we get the good atheist credentials to make it sound really plausible, say a few things to shock the faithful into hating the bad atheist that she was and draw scorn on logic, intellect and rational thought. Ok, set up done now lets go for the punch.

Though she knew next to nothing about Christianity, she began to mock Christians and belittle their faith, intelligence and character.
"[I]t was fun to consider myself superior to the unenlightened, superstitious masses, and to make snide comments about Christians," Ordway writes.
She was convinced that faith was by definition irrational.
Evangelical invitations to "come to Jesus and get eternal life" sounded like "believing something irrational on demand to get a prize."
"I thought I knew exactly what faith was, and so I declined to look further," she writes. "Or perhaps I was afraid that there was more to it than I was willing to credit – but I didn’t want to deal with that. Easier by far to read only books by atheists that told me what I wanted to hear – that I was much smarter and intellectually honest and morally superior than the poor, deluded Christians.

Now we get the punch of making atheism out to be smug and self-superior but based on ignorance. Forget the fact that most atheist know more about the bible and theology than Christians do; I suggest you test this assertion by talking to a few atheists. Most are what they are because they sought knowledge and could no longer support faith. Sure, some atheists are self-superior. You get them in any crowd but for a Christian to make this accusation of another group goes beyond any statement involving pot and kettles.

"I had built myself a fortress of atheism, secure against any attack by irrational faith. And I lived in it, alone."
Ordway wasn't looking for God. She didn't believe He existed. But she began to be drawn to matters of faith.
One reason for her interest, she explains, is that her "naturalistic worldview was inadequate to explain the nature of reality in a coherent way: it could not explain the origin of the universe, nor could it explain morality."

Here it comes, the grossly unfounded and unsupported claim. The "naturalistic worldview was inadequate to explain the nature of reality in a coherent way: it could not explain the origin of the universe, nor could it explain morality." We are supposed to just nod and amen this comment and not look behind it. The naturalistic worldview has in its favor all of observation in any field of inquiry you can choose. When it makes an assertion it is based on evidence and withholds judgment in favor of agnosticism when there is not enough evidence to decide. The origin of the universe has been explained very well back to the singularity of the big bang and no claim of religion can make a better or more convincing explanation. As for morality this statement simply ignores all of secular philosophy on the subject and ignores all of the intensely moral atheists and agnostics.

"On the other hand, the theistic worldview was both consistent and powerfully explanatory: it offered a convincing, rationally consistent, and logical explanation for everything that the naturalistic worldview explained plus all the things that the naturalistic worldview couldn’t."

This is nothing short of a lie. This is not a different point of view, it is patently untrue. The internal text of the bible is not consistent by any measure and theology differs so radically from sect to sect as to make them irreconcilable. It is only convincing if you are willing to suspend all respect for reality, evidence and rational thought and blindly accept that that which flies in the teeth of all honest inquiry.

After a series of conversations with a mentor and exposure to the writings of authors like J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Ordway went from denying God to committing herself to Christ.
"I was startled to find that Christian theism had significantly better explanatory power than atheistic naturalism, in terms of explaining why the world is the way it is, and in accounting for my own experiences within it," she recounted, according to Biola. "Learning more about the Incarnation and about God, the most holy Trinity, has further reinforced my confidence that Christianity really does make sense of the world in a way no other worldview does."

It took a mentor? Funny how free inquiry and logical thought stands on its own, but maybe I am jaded. “Learning more about the Incarnation and about God, the most holy Trinity” I have grave concerns as to whether this constitutes learning. For one thing, mentioning the trinity which is nothing more than a construct of theology and doesn't even occur in the bible rather undermines even the biblical claim to authority.
And the claim that Christianity makes more sense than anything else is a purely subjective and unsupportable claim.

She found that "St. Paul's forthright declaration that Christianity is based on the historical, witnessed events of Christ’s death and resurrection," that "theology and philosophy offered real answers" to her questions and weren't an appeal to blind faith, and that "the history of the Church did not conform to [her] image of the Christian faith as a self-serving, politically useful fiction."

The problem is the Paul's declaration is just plain wrong. There is no historical accuracy at all. Most of the history that does appear in the New Testament is wrong and there is no way the writers of the gospels ever met Jesus or witnessed a thing. They clearly were fabricated after the fact and built off of each other in attempts to close holes the others left.
She had it right and then walked away from the truth.

Her intellectual pride was broken and she was humbled by God's goodness as she began to see herself as a sinner.

This is such a patently religious cliché I shouldn't even waste time refuting it. All I will bother saying is, show me the goodness...

"I don’t 'believe' because I like the idea and want it to be true. I don’t 'believe' because I think Christianity makes sense intellectually (although that was a necessary foundation to my faith). In fact, I wouldn’t say that I 'believe' in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or that I 'believe' I have a personal relationship with Him: I would say that I know these things to be true," the former atheist emphatically stated in a 2007 blog entry.

Again, this is so programmatic and templated I am not sure if I even believe there ever was a conversion. I just doesn't pass the smell test. It all reads like something made up out of whole cloth to try to convince the already faithful that there is nothing outside the church walls worth looking at. There is no 'knowing' possible in this realm and intellectual sense is one thing it doesn't make.

Ordway currently attends St. Michael's by-the-Sea in Southern California where she says she has grown in her Christian faith. She's hoping her book will help Christians – who may be familiar with the ideas that atheists believe but not understand what it's like to believe those things – in their evangelism.

And here they give away the game. As predicted, this is aimed at the faithful in an attempt to spray paint the church windows lest the congregants have the audacity to look at the world.

Offering some advice to those who approach atheists, she said, "Really, it doesn’t matter whether we like Christianity or not; what matters is, is it true? That approach may not resonate with everyone, but it was what opened the door for me."
Moreover, discipleship is critical, she said.
"I think one of the central elements of my own discipleship so far has been my pastors’ focus on the Cross," she said in the Biola interview. "The way of Jesus is the way of the cross. It is terribly painful to give up one’s sins and self-will, to allow one’s old self to be crucified along with Jesus ... and I have been very grateful to my pastors who acknowledge how hard and painful it can be along this Christian journey. But the way of the cross is also the way of life and peace."

I know that is does no good ultimately to refute this sort of non-sense but I feel compelled to say it anyway. I suppose this is because I wasted so much of my life grovelling before this cross of hers and uttering prayers into empty space. She is right about on thing, “what matters is, is it true?” And the emphatic answer is NO.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Morality and Its Origins

I had a comment on my last blog entry that the reader wished I had dealt with the basis of morality. This was not the subject of the last post and would not have been apropos but I will try to take a stab at it here.

The reason for this even being a subject of discussion is the fact that religion has arrogated to itself the basis for human morality. I primarily pick on Christianity as it is the religious system I am most familiar with, having been raised in it. The assumption is this, the bible teaches us how to be moral and without it as a foundation there is no morality. This is, to steal a phrase from Douglas Adams, a load of foetid dingos kidneys.

Morality is nothing more or less than a set of behaviours that allow us to live together in society. Does this definition tend toward moral relativism and declare no absolutes? No, it does not. There are certain moral rules that are inherent in human societies and if ignored destroy the fabric of society. Taboos against murder, rape, incest and theft are examples. These are not religious rules, they are common sense rules for social animals living in an ordered community. Violating them undermines the security of other members of the community. Violation of these rules also violates what I believe to be the basic foundation of morality - empathy and compassion.

The claim that the bible is the basis of morality is absurd. If you actually read the bible you will come to a few unavoidable conclusions, that god as described in the old testament is a viscous psychopath and that the new testament tries very hard to tip toe around the cruelty and caprice of the old testament god without actually refuting it. In the old testament, god orders his people to commit genocide on numerous occasions, sanctions the taking of sexual slaves as spoils of war, orders women to marry their rapists, demands the killing children and teenagers, sanctions the rape of women to save the dignity of male guests, and personally kills entire populations not only of whole cities but supposedly of the entire world. This just scratches the surface of god's villainy in the old testament and I didn't even get out of the Pentateuch. He called David a man after his own heart after David had multiple wives, committed murder and committed adultery. I suppose for a god that is capable of all the horrible actions attributed to him, a man such as David would be just his sort. See a woman you want, murder her husband and take her; why not, this is mild compared to burning entire cities full of innocent children.

This is the book that we are told is the basis for our morality. This is the book that is held up as the foundation for all right action. No, any morality that is actually claimed by followers of the bible is done in opposition to the bible, by ignoring the sections that urge evil behaviour. If the bible is truly the measure for morality, even for Christians, they would be demanding the legal right to murder witches, stone their own disobedient children, murder anyone that doesn't follow their own sect, demand the right to own slaves and to keep as concubines the virgin daughters of their victims for this is the morality the old testament condones.

The new testament, people will shriek, is a whole new game. The harshness of the old testament was necessary then but Jesus brought in new rules. Hmmm, let's see. Jesus said that he did not come to over turn the law but to fulfil it. He at one point declared that you had to follow the law to the letter plus his new program of poverty and meekness and impossible love for all. He then goes on to tell us that we are to hate our parents and abandon our families and follow him (how this is to be done while obeying the commandment to honour father and mother is utterly beyond rational grasp), and all this before introducing the worst and most vile horror of all, the concept of hell. We now have an eternal torture chamber where, if you take the rules seriously, about 99% of all humanity will be subject to horrors and pain beyond imagining for the crime of not believing in the god that created the hell... but were probably created predestined to this hell anyway so believing doesn't matter...

My point in this rant is to show that the morality supposedly based on the bible is no morality at all. The very god that supposedly is the basis for morality, were his actions and encouraged actions removed form the bible and put before any modern human as a template, would cause revulsion. Our native moral sentiments recoil at the notion of murder and rape and genocide and the abandonment of family and of eternal punishment. Christians impose their own native morality on the bible by ignoring the horrors of it and by constructing theological structures outside of it to rationalize and explain away the evils in it. To then turn around and try to claim that that which has to be mostly ignored is the foundation is absurd at best.

So, where does this leave us? Morality is something that just exists in humans. We have a social sense that evolved in us. Is it absolute in fine detail? No. There are constantly shifting lines of what is and isn't acceptable in a society but the basics remain the static. The big taboos remain and compassion and empathy reign. There will always be those who violate the rules of society. There will always be criminals and sociopaths. We don't need a book of violent and capricious savagery to teach us to be human. All books like the bible do is justify in the minds of criminals and sociopaths their behaviour. The bible makes a great foundation for antisocial behaviour.
Want to burn women at the stake and feel good about it? I got just the book.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Questions I sometimes get asked...

There are several questions that, as a vocal atheist, one inevitably gets asked. To avoid setting up straw men I will not get overly specific and I also have no intention of being comprehensive. I am going to address two basic questions here that come up repeatedly. Regardless of wording or tone, these questions boil down to this; why are you so anti-religion and why do you hate God?
The second question is easily disposed of thus, I do not. I do not believe that there is a god to hate. As I do not hate the tooth fairy, so I do not hate god. It is an absurd question.
The first question however does demand a bit more attention. Why am I so anti-religion? There are several facets to this answer. In short, it is false, it allows humans to justify vile behaviors and it retards growth of knowledge and understanding.

Religion is false. Religion attempts to make real claims as to the nature of the universe. It does so based not on observation and experience but on revelation made to an individual or group. (I am aware that there are religions that are more philosophical forms than revelations but lets put that aside for the moment) These revelations are invariable at odds with history and science. If we accept the revelation we disregard the observable nature of things, be it the age of the earth and the fossil record, the vastness and expansion of the universe or our own origins. Revelation demands that we place ourselves in a position of central importance in this 'creation'. There is no evidence in biology, geology, astronomy or any other branch of study to support the claims of revelation.

Religion allows humans to justify vile behaviors. Need I submit any evidence beyond the rubble of ground zero in New York? How about the ruins of the Khobar Towers or the bombing of PanAM 103? What about the crusades and witch trials or the bombing or abortion clinics? How about the ritual mutilation of infants all over the world or the oppression of women and homosexuals? It is hard to find a clear example of suffering inflicted by one group on another that does not, at its root, have religion motivating it. There are at the time of writing 38 wars going on around the globe. 36 of them are religious in nature or motivation. Religious groups and regimes are constantly at war to convert or punish or just eliminate those who disagree with them.

Religion retards growth of knowledge and understanding. What motivation is there to investigate the universe and probe the fabric of reality if we take it for granted that all things come from god and there is nothing to learn beyond holy writ? All progress in human knowledge has been gained not with religion but despite it, usually in the face or persecution and torment. It is only because religion has lost its coercive power in certain times and places that we have what we have today. All modern advances in technology, medicine and life quality are had against the pull of religion. Religion is now actively seeking the return to the squalor and ignorance of the middle ages; the jihadist bent on murdering anyone who doesn't follow Islam's 15th century ideals and the Christian fundamentalist trying to crush stem cell research, ban abortions and undermine separate church and state are just two sides of the same coin. No good comes of looking backward to old books that are not even internally consistent.

I could go on and elaborate more on each section but I think I made my points.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ruminations on the cause of a persistent facial expression observed on a person of passing aquaintence

Andrew stood middle distance from the center of activity and the corner of the room, not separate but not mingling, his face utterly blank and expressionless, his eyes dead and empty as blighted ponds. The sound of someone calling his name slowly penetrated and he turned to see everyone in the room looking at him and Big Dave, the youth pastor saying, “Here’s our song leader kids. He’s gonna lead you in a few your favorites. Won’t that be fun?” Andrew turned and bounded happily to the center of the room with a smile and a boisterous call to the children, to a casual observer a happy bubbly person. He clapped and sang with the children and moved with extreme animation for 24 and a half minutes until he was sweating visibly through his Fishing for Jesus Summer Camp tee shirt and his hair was wet and running down his cheeks. He then walked back to his position between the center and the corner and switched off, sliding back into a deep funk behind a blank exterior. No one in the room noticed or cared, their attention focused on the activities of the children.

Andrew Jason Screwturn Jr, the only child of Andrew Sr and Emily Elizabeth Friddle, his high school sweet heart, was the baby that was supposed to save their marriage. This was a hollow and cynical joke that his parents stayed together just long enough to firmly imprint on his consciousness. They then split up in a way you couldn’t call amicable in the furthest reaches of hell. They spent the next ten years passing Andrew back and forth between them like a football, making the only crystal clear impressions of his childhood the facts that he was only wanted to deprive the other and that he was a constant burden to both. He attended every summer camp, weekend retreat, scout camporee and lock-in his parents could find between his school, two churches and local social organizations. The turmoil of the divorce and the financial burdens it place on both warring parties cause repeated relocations and he changed schools numerous times ending up a year ahead here, a year behind there, always the new kid, never fitting anywhere. He had no single childhood friend and only vaguely understood what it meant to have a friend. The camps and the outings his parents used to get him out of their way was the only model he knew, short term servings of friends in a structured environment, planned activities that filled up the time and kept the mind from turning inward. He grew up toward an inevitable future of working and counseling in a summer camps. It was a form of inertia or gravity that sucked him in. He related to every lonely upset child that came along. The songs and activities were written in his brain stem just like walking and talking. The Mountain Harbor YMCA camp and surrounding off season charities became his home after high school, the youngest full time camp counselor in their history, only seventeen. This was his universe, his safety zone and where he returned between semesters of college and where he returned after graduating.

Two weeks before the start of the fall session in 08, Melissa Costaine came to the camp as an activity director. She could not have more utterly destroyed the sanctity of Andrew’s safe haven if she had set out to do so with malice of forethought. She had not done so. She had in fact fallen in love with him from the first; the cruelest stroke of all was the simple truth of this.

Melissa grew up in as normal an American home as could be imagined. A strict but loving mother who pushed her daughter to excel without bullying and a father who doted on her without being soft. There were a few “cracked nuts” on the family tree as her father always put it but they were on the outer limbs and not near the trunk. She knew stability. Emily dated a lot throughout high school and college as any pretty and popular girl would but she never fell in love. She liked them well enough but she was too independent and self possessed to ever actually need anyone in her life.

Her independent spirit and vitality born of a truly normal and stable childhood made her irresistible to men but in the end drove them away. Men have a need to be needed and when it is apparent that they are not needed, most do not have the ability to accept that with grace.
When Melissa met Andrew in the dining hall at Mountain Harbor she felt something alien to her. She actually felt a need and desire to be with him. It was immediate and urgent and she pursued it without reservation and with gusto as she did everything in life.

To Andrew, this was as alien an experience as the feeling was to Melissa. He knew all too well what it was to need another person, to feel the size of that echoing hollowness inside when the need is unmet, to feel it like you can feel the vastness of a cavern though the walls vanish in darkness. He knew need for family, for friends, for lovers, for companionship. The need was why he had stuffed every available moment of life with activity and campers and sing-alongs; why, on the off seasons he volunteered at innumerable charities. The need was also the reason why he could not bring himself to trust anyone, bricking up the windows of his soul with a thousand cynical rebuffs to any serious situation and avoiding intimacy with anyone likely to take a chisel to the mortar, why he surrounded himself with children. The little ones droned on and on in and endless chord that prevented closeness or self-examination.
Melissa Costiane didn’t take a chisel to the mortar, she dynamited it.

There was no defense against her invasion. All of the carefully constructed defenses were ripped down in under a week and Andrew did something he never allowed himself to do, he trusted. Her open and obvious interest and desire to just be with him and the casual flow of conversation that ranged topics from the banal to the deepest intimacy had its inevitable affect. He fell. Hard. The howling spaces of his interior landscape were silted full with layer on layer of experience that ran contrary to his expectations and reinforced the trust he felt until it began to be second nature and the veneer of happy that he wore for so long began to penetrate like stain into wood and he was happy.

For Melissa’s part, she loved him. She couldn’t help herself. He wasn’t exactly an Adonis in his collection of cheesy tee shirts and khaki shorts and sandals, with his slightly excess weight and pale complexion and his uninspiring features. What she found irresistible was his earnest desire to do and be good, to toe that line. She respected him at once, he reminded her of her father while being nothing like the man in any tangible way. She found these things and the defects and fears that he was unable to hide from her as he did from the world at large a compelling combination.

For seven months they spent every possible moment in each other’s company and lived each other’s thoughts. Andrew was out of his mind with happiness and would have ignored the little voice of time honored cynicism that kept saying that a fire stoked too hot burns out, had he even heard it.
The first time Melissa canceled plans on him he disregarded it as just a part of life and forced himself to ignore the gentle breeze through the valley of his interior landscape.

When no tangible thing had changed, but the easy expectation of time spent together was replaced by an unspoken need to ask, he chastised himself for not trusting and for being a paranoid fool. She wouldn’t be like everyone else. She wasn’t like his parents, like the kids at schools or the girls in college. She was Melissa and that was all there was to it. He dragged himself up and forced the ‘happy’ back in place. After all, she was still there. It was only a few things, a few times here and there. But there was that intangible shift. What was it, a momentary flash in her eye, the set of her mouth that said ‘oh god here he goes again’? Even though the words were kind and the result usually as he would have liked, there was that something in the air between them, something he couldn’t put his finger on. Or was it that he was afraid to put his finger on it? He feared he knew and it only added to the gulf widening between them.

Melissa had looked at him one morning and found a little voice in her head mocking him. His earnestness and internal battles that made him him were just too much work. She didn’t want to think or to feel the things that he made her think about or feel. She just wanted to go through life enjoying moment by moment and never examining too deeply. She had no ghosts or tormentors under her mental bed, no skeletons in her closets. To her the past was a series of fond memories peppered with a few wistful losses, not the horror show of recurring nightmares that Andrew’s was. She couldn’t get her mind around it and couldn’t understand why he couldn’t just let it go and live in the moment. She started to find it a burden and a misery. The weight of his past that her presence had so lightened for him was slowly crushing her.

Melissa loved him, the truth if this he had seen in all the experiences they had shared. It cut far more deeply, bruised far more painfully than it could have otherwise when she began making excuses he could see through, avoiding his company. She loved him too much to just end it and walk away; she wanted him, just the lighthearted and non-emotionally demanding part of him. The part she could understand. He loved her too much to confront her about her feelings lest his greatest fears be made real. So they descended into the silence of people who avoid all subjects for fear of broaching the one subject. They argued the petty arguments of people avoiding the one argument. And he cried with nearly suffocating intensity when alone after the first conversation between them that descended to small talk. For her part, she thought it a victory; they had had a pleasant conversation that hadn’t taxed her one bit.

One day in late June Andrew was dealing with a child who reminded him too much of himself at that age, coming from a lonely and broken home; the child and the stress of the lost communication with Melissa was just too much and he sank down deep into the well of his own mind. No one would know it without knowing him well for he hid well but he was hurting badly and the part of his mind that was waiting for Melissa to appear and make it better as she had every time since he had met her was arguing with the part of his mind that cynically pronounced that 'she wouldn’t be there this time'. Not this time. It was one time too many. A third part, the wounded and hurting part, the needing part just kept repeating, ‘I trust her, I trust her, I trust her’.

When Melissa rounded the corner of the hallway leading to the activity center and saw Andrew’s face, she knew he was battling inside with something, probably something about the past and it would take a lot of listening and time. She sighed and turned and slipped away, thankful he hadn’t seen her.

He had.

And he knew in a way even an experienced self-deluder cannot deny that she would not be there this time or any time again. The wind howled down the canyon of his mind, carving out the layers of Melissa laid sediments and turning them into adamantine bricks. He froze in his spot mid way between the center of activity and the corner and listened to the agonized refrain of the wounded, ‘I trusted you, I trusted you, I trusted you’.
And from somewhere deep below the happy mask was handed up and firmly affixed to his face.

It was needed now.


About Me

I am a husband and a father of two. I work as a network administrator. I am interested in religion and philosophy, though mostly from an external perspective.