Archive | March, 2009

White Jesus

31 Mar

The other day in religion class we watched “Jesus of Nazareth.” Something that caught my attention was just how white and European Jesus looked. Now I was raised as a christian, and every picture of Jesus that I had seen while growing up was of his as white and blue eyed.

white jesus 1white jesus 2

The movie took this to a new level, making his eyes glow blue. It was as if he was radiating white blue eyed-ness, like some subtle Nazi master race propaganda.

white jesus 3Blue eyes is a genetic characteristic native to Europe and sometimes Northern Africa, not the middle east where Jesus is from. People in the middle east would also have had a darker skin tone, something more akin to olive, not Caucasian white. And don’t forget, Jesus was a jew, so he would have had their genetic characteristics as well.

Not the wonderful white savior you thought eh? There is an interesting article on how they came up with the above likeness of Jesus here.

Jesus = get out of jail free card

30 Mar

I had an Atheist epiphany yesterday. My religions professor once tried to tell me that without god, people can do whatever they want with no consequences. I rebuked her on this well enough (I think I have a post about it somewhere on here) but I thought of another good reply. How is having a god that will forgive you every time, no matter how heinous your crime any different? At least Atheists take responsibility for their actions. Atheists don’t have some magical being to absolve them of guilt for having done something terrible.

What it is to be American

29 Mar

Today I went with my girlfriend to her Unitarian Universalist Church. I was a little apprehensive at first, but I went before and it wasn’t too bad. The cars in the parking lot have a lot of “Obama/Biden” and “End this endless war” stickers, so the congregation is on the whole pretty liberal, which makes me a bit more comfortable. The trappings are church like, but with a noticeable lack of crosses anywhere in the building. The word “god” is also noticeably absent from many of the hymns and sermons. They tend to focus more on “togetherness” and stuff like that. It’s very humanistic.

I was still a little uncomfortable because everything appeared to be church like at first glance, people dressed up, pews, hymns, candles, a minister, music, the usual. I still have a lot of angry baggage with my old church, and that takes a while to get over, yet it seems the more I go to her UU church the easier it gets. The sermon today was about Facebook. It was pretty interesting, just talking about the technology, how it helps people to stay connected, and how relationships are changing. There was no angry denouncement of the site, or how kids these days are becoming more materialistic, or anything like that.

What kept bugging me the most was how the aesthetics didn’t match up with the message. My eyes kept seeing “church” and my ears kept hearing “not church.” I couldn’t help but think how a conservative christian would have felt in this setting. They probably would have thought “You un-American heretics!” And that brings me to the main topic of this post, what is it to be American?

Brainwashing really messes you up. Ask anyone who once strongly believed in something, but no longer does. I still have the problem of feeling like I’m a bad person for not being a christian , despite what my rational mind tells me. I grew up in an extremely conservative area of Virginia, and as such, I still feel the nagging voice of “you’re un-American” in my head whenever I vote democrat, or take pleasure in a liberal victory.

The problem is that the conservative right has long been on a campaign to redefine “American” to conform to their image. So, what does the conservative’s true American family look like? Well I’ve searched all over the internet, and I can’t find a picture that exactly fits everything, so let me try to describe what it would look like. In the picture would be an upper-middle class white family, a mother, father, and 2-3 children. They would be standing in front of a large, suburban home with a nice lawn, and an SUV in the driveway. The father would be dressed in business attire, holding a rifle, while the mother, dressed conservatively, would be holding a cross and bible.

Their little blond hair, blue eyed children would also be conservatively dressed and neatly arranged before their parents.

To the conservatives, this is the quintessential American family. Rich, white, christian, gun owning, SUV driving, and conservative. If you don’t fit these qualities, then you are un-American. In fact, Sarah Palin on the campaign trail even mentioned how she enjoyed visiting the “pro-American” parts of the country, and her “pro-American” supporters, implying that all the liberals who supported the “terrorist” were un-American. The clip of her making those statements is here. Later, after realizing how her statements could bring bad press, she tried to clarify, but the cat was out of the bag.

The sad thing is, this image of America is about the furthest thing from what the founding fathers had in mind, especially when it comes to religion. I could ramble on a list of Atheist/agnostic quotes by the founding fathers, but rather I’ll just provide a link to that list. Unfortunately a majority of Americans agree with the conservatives at least in regards to Atheists, as a 2006 study by the University of Minnesota shows.

So what would my idea picture of the American family be? Well, I can’t really describe it. There are too many people who would fit. I prefer to be inclusive rather than exclusive.

god bless americagod bless america 2

Freedom of Speech vs Religion

25 Mar

Trying to talk about this is like opening the door to a large blast furnace and stepping in. Before you can even say anything people are extremely emotionally charged and ready to attack. The issue of freedom of speech vs religion is very complicated and full of venom. One of the biggest problems when it comes to talking about religion is the fact that there are so many sects within each. What might apply to one sect might not apply to another. It’s extremely difficult to make an argument that naturally requires some generalizations because the first thing people will do is to say “well that’s not true of my beliefs.” It’s almost impossible to make an argument about religion because the religious often keep changing between whatever definitions are most opportunistic at any given time.

That being said, I must acknowledge that not all Muslims are jihadist extremists. The majority are not. The same is true of all religions with their own respective sects of fanatics. Unfortunately, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and these minority extremists have been very vocal as of late. They have been vocal and organized enough to start causing real changes in how some western countries operate. If these minorities were ineffective in their demands, just screaming in the wind, they wouldn’t be a problem. Yet they are gaining ground in their cause.

The United Nations recently passed a non binding resolution to make “blasphemy” a crime. It was a measure pushed by the Organization of Islamic Conference which is hoping to make the measure binding this April when the U.N. meets again in Geneva. The passing of the non-binding resolution is already a disaster for human rights because it puts the U.N.’s stamp of approval on all the arrests of people charged with blasphemy in various countries where this extremist minority has power.

One of the big issues of debate is where to draw the line between freedom of speech and hate speech. The Islamic extremists are trying to move that line to include any criticism of their religion as hate speech. I would like to argue that the line between the two hinges on inciting violence. For example the statement “I think gay people are immoral and wrong.” would fall under freedom of speech (despite how much I disagree). On the other hand, the statement “I think gay people are immoral and wrong, and therefore we should stone them.” would fall under the category of hate speech. One statement is advocating violence, the other is not.

Yet this then brings up the sticky issue of defamation. In arguments involving empirical data, things are clearer. Either X is supported by the facts or it is not. But religion is a special case because it is an area devoid of empirical facts. All claims made by religion are based on faith. This makes proving or disproving a claim difficult. I can say that Islam is a false religion, but I can’t prove it. They can also say that I am wrong, and that it is the only true religion, but they can’t prove that either. I think the solution lies in the fact that “defamation” is aimed at people, or a group of people, and not ideas. One can make remarks critical of an idea without attacking the person holding the idea.

In fact, this is the cornerstone of all types of academic debates. The notion that you can openly discuss a concept without resorting to “ad homine” attacks, that an idea should be able to stand on its own merits. If ideas were protected from questioning like the measure seeks to do with religion, all advancement would collapse. People would no longer be able to question and explore new ideas without risking punishment.

The people pushing this anti-blasphemy law say that the goal is to curtail extensive bias against Islam in the west. Now I’m normally supportive of trying to be politically correct, yet in this case I’m afraid the champions of PCness have gone too far, into the realm of appeasement. Why do you think there is bias in the west against this minority of Islam? Because these people are the ones who fly planes into buildings, murder journalists, and blow themselves up on crowded busses. This minority moves into western democracies and demand they compromise their values and in act Shari law, while the whole time they take advantages of the freedoms they so vehemently oppose.

Some people try and defend these extremists by trying to paint the issue in a multi-cultural light. They’re deceiving themselves. I love multi-culturalism, I think it enriches life and provides a wider range of experiences and understanding, but this is not multi-culturalism. This is one extremist group’s culture demanding that the other cultures change and submit. They use fear and violence to bully the other cultures into submission. The Netherlands is a prime example. That country, once a beacon of progressive liberal values, has been hijacked by these extremists in the air of appeasement. It is now a crime to criticize Islam in that country. Geert Wilders is now being prosecuted for making anti-Islamic statements, and a film. While I disagree with some of his statements, he has the fundamental right to make them, as long as he is not inciting violence. But consider this, Mr. Wilders is under 24/7 protection because thousands of angry Muslim extremists want to murder him, simply because he offended them, and he’s the criminal?

The ironic thing is that if I talked about Muslims the way their holy book talks about me (a non-believer) I would be guilty of hate speech and inciting violence. And yet an army of these Islamic fundamentalists are ready to go straight to violence at the drop of a hat, just as the Danish cartoons proved.

I think Johann Hari put it rightly when he said “All people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. I don’t respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead. I don’t respect the idea that we should follow a “Prophet” who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn’t follow him. I don’t respect the idea that the West Bank was handed to Jews by God and the Palestinians should be bombed or bullied into surrendering it. I don’t respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice. This is not because of “prejudice” or “ignorance”, but because there is no evidence for these claims. They belong to the childhood of our species, and will in time look as preposterous as believing in Zeus or Thor or Baal.”

It’s hard nowadays to turn on the news and not see some group of Islamic extremists angry over something, be it free speech, women’s rights, or what have you. What I don’t see is moderate, normal Muslims getting up on a soap box challenging these extremists that give them a bad name. Where were they to defend free speech when the angry mobs killed people in response to Dutch cartoons? Where were they to express outrage at the murder of Theo van Gogh? They must stand and take back their religion from the extremists. The world too must stand up against these tyrants instead of prostrating themselves like the Netherlands. If we don’t, soon the extremists will establish even stronger footholds in their efforts to erode our freedoms.

The people you meet at reenactments

24 Mar

There are a lot of interesting people you meet at living history events. Here are some archetypes:

The armchair general: Usually a slightly overweight white guy in his 20’s to early 40’s. He’s a big military history buff despite never actually having served. Often these guys are old wargamers and model enthusiasts.

The spoiled fat kid with delusions of grandeur: This kid usually is out of sight of his irresponsible parents and loves to run around at high speeds through the camp. Your camp is his playground. “Don’t touch without asking” is a phrase this kid has never heard, nor understands. Watch your food table because he’ll help himself if he thinks he can get away with it. Often he asks to join your group believe himself to be very important and a great fighter.

The veteran: One of the more enjoyable visitors. This guy actually served in the military and as a result is much more subdued about your weapons and armor. He usually asks educated questions about your equipment’s weight, trying to make comparisons to his experiences.

The teenage girl: She’s usually with all her girlfriends and loves to put on the helmets and take group photos with their cellphones. A pleasant enough visitor, but usually doesn’t ask too many questions.

The young family: Usually only married a few years with one or two young kids. The kids are often scared of you especially if you’re in armor with a helmet on. Usually to get the kids to warm up to you you have to take off the helmet, bed down and let them touch the armor. The parents are moderately interested and ask good questions.

The boyfriend: He usually is a fit, hip guy who has to wear the armor and hold the weapons while flexing his muscles to show off to his girlfriend. Usually he doesn’t ask very many questions because he’s too busy trying to show off.

The fantasy nerd: Usually a scrawny white kid who plays World of Warcraft while watching Lord of the Rings extended edition. He loves the armor and weapons but is not to interested in the actual history. He believes he knows all there is to know about fighting based off of fantasy moves in the Final Fantasy cut scenes.

I’ll add to this if I can think of anything else. Feel free to suggest archetypes.

Stop trying to make church “hip”

24 Mar

Quit trying to make church “hip”. There are a lot of new churches springing up in this country aimed at attracting young people. To do this they try to change the trappings of the church, the music, the dress code, even the way in which the pastors speak to the crowd. Yet despite all this the message is the same: you’re a worthless sinner who is going to burn for eternity in hell if you don’t buy our product by accepting Jesus.

There is nothing hip or new about this message. I can’t stand all the contemporary christian rock/rap music masquerading as cool modern music, when a closer inspection of the lyrics reveals that it’s just a redressing of old religious bullshit. That or redressing church logos to look more modern, like this one:

The basic substance hasn’t changed, and there is nothing “hip” or “current” about a book written by desert goat herders thousands of years ago. There is nothing “hip” about self denial. There is nothing “hip” about guilting yourself, locking yourself away in a convent, purposely starving yourself, denying sexual desires and teaching children to deny theirs, that those natural urges are somehow disgusting, wrong. There is nothing hip in bigotry, or wishfully awaiting the destruction of the planet. Nothing any form of christianity preaches is ever “hip”, since the basic message is still the same, no matter how you dress it.

It just makes you come across as an idiot and fraud, like the kids at christian rock concerts. If you’re going to go to a rock concert, then go to a real one, not this fake lite shit that mimics the style but in the end is something your grandmother approves of. This whole mock rebellion against authority is just ridiculous. It’s set up and condoned by those authorities to keep you in line. Kids can feel as if they’re breaking out on their own, being adventurous, but in the end they’re still tightly on the chain. It’s an illusion just like the rest of the religion. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Atheists must be wrong, and I rather not deal with them

23 Mar

I just don’t get some people. They just say Atheism is wrong without being able to give strong reasons. There is a woman in my religion class who is like this. I can tell she doesn’t like me, she tries to dismiss everything I say. I feel as if these people just refuse to consider the possibility that the Atheists might be correct.

I can picture her thinking “No, they can’t be correct, I can’t put my finger on it but they’re wrong, and I rather just not even deal with/think about them. They just don’t get it.”

These types of people irritate the hell out of me. The ones who just dismiss you entirely without even bothering to explain their reasons and open those reasons to debate. They’ve already made up their minds that premise X is true, and enjoy debating the details of X instead of whether or not it is valid in the first place.

Reenactment Politics

22 Mar

So I just got home from Military Through the Ages (MTA) which is a timeline event (multiple groups from different periods set up in a chronological order) hosted in Jamestown VA, and I am exhausted. I didn’t have sun block (mistake) and so I covered my self by just standing around in armor most of the day trying to lure people into our camp. Wearing turnshoes that were a size too small and standing on wooden pastons (attachable wooden soles) which were also too short on me heels left my entire body aching.

Besides all that the event went REALLY well. The weather was perfect, clear skies and a bit on the cool side. Usually every year it rains horribly, giving MTA the other meaning, Mud up To your Ass.

The only thing that sucked during the event was the politics. Normally I love politics, but when it comes to friends and living history groups, I HATE it. I’m a realitivley new member in my group, and so sometimes I still feel like I have to prove myself; usually by doing as many chores as possible, but then it’s no longer any fun for me, it’s like work that I pay to go be a part of. (I’ve only been in the group for 2-3 years but I’ve been doing living history for almost a decade)

Yet the biggest stressor has to be group to group politics. A few years ago I left a group I spent 6 years with because I felt I’d taken enough bullshit from the head lady of the group. (She ran several people out of the group over the 6 years, just being a total bitch) The sad thing is I really like the other head of the group, a guy she shares a house with. It was great growing up in living history with him around.

I haven’t talked to him since I left the group in protest of her. Unfortunately for me, they’ve started coming to MTA the past couple of years with another group. Our time periods are far enough apart that we’re not camped next to each other, but we’re still close enough to see one another.

It’s been forever, but I still avoid her like the plauge. I’m not scared of her, I just hate confrontation. I’d always be purposely looking in the other direction if she walked by, if not just go inside a tent all together. I just wish I could see the old guy again and ask how he was doing, but the politics of it kinda prevent me from stopping by.

The pope and condoms

17 Mar

Well, the pope is at it again. He’s in Africa preaching the evils of condom use. In the most AIDs ridden part of the planet he’s denouncing condoms as “not the answer.” This is appalling because condoms are the most effective strategy to fighting AIDs according to the World Health Organization. When used correctly condoms can prevent an infection 98-99% of the time!

The pope’s answer? Just don’t have sex. How realistic. Just come on in Africa and try to impose your twisted ideas of sex and morality of a people suffering from a humanitarian crisis. People are going to have sex. They always have and always will. That’s a fact! Ideally the pope would like all the Africans to have christian marriages, join the catholic church, have copious amounts of children, and pay as big of a tithe as possible to fill his coffers. Not going to happen.

What the pope is doing is nothing short of encouraging mass death and suffering in the name of his fucked up ideas on sexuality and his invisible make believe god. As such he should be arrested and tried for crimes against humanity.

The difference between science and religion

16 Mar

There is a fundamental difference in the ways science and religion operate. For religion, something just is. That’s it. Either you believe X and the religion or you do not. There is no testing or experimenting with the religion or it’s claims. Now sure there are doctrinal debates and the theologians who have them, but in the end it’s still just another flavor of X which the believe must accept to be part of the faith.

Science, on the otherhand, works in the opposite way. Every statement about how something is must be backed up with evidence, evidence that is testable over and over again.

Religion and science both try and provide answers about existence. I think there is an issue with the way science and religion give these answers. Religion gives answers with an attitude of smug, absolute certainty. The answers, whatever they are, are definite and unchanging.

Science gives answers that have an asterisk on the end with a note saying “subject to change if new and compelling evidence is found.” This makes science very fluid, open to revision. Scientists in no way claim they have all the answers. Unlike religion, science welcomes questions. If a scientist has their hypothesis proved wrong, it is just as exciting for them as if it had been proved correct. To them and advance in either direction is still an advance.

But I think this upsets people who are looking for absolute answers. They see science and they see uncertainty, where as when they look at religion they see absolute certainty. A lot of people don’t like uncertainty in their lives. They like to know what is going to happen. Yet it is a false certainty that they have. People have been certain about a great many things since the dawn of time, but that never made them correct in those certainties.

Look at the track records of science and religion. Religion’s entire history is a history of making “matter of fact” statements on just about everything, only to have science come along (relatively recently) and slowly, but steadily, prove many of religion’s “certainties” wrong. The first example of this was when Galileo proved that the earth was not the center of the solar system as the bible said. (He was later convicted of heresy and imprisoned under house arrest for the rest of his life and his works banned by the church)

Given these track records, which one would you rather put your “faith” in? Religion and it’s smug (and misplaced) sense of superiority and absolute certainty? Or science, and its humble skepticism, where ideas are open to debate and experimentation in an atmosphere of free inquiry?

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