Tag Archives: religion

I’m going to try and write a book.

24 Feb

A few months ago I decided to try and make a set of “atheist flashcards” to help other atheists increase their general knowledge of religion and better prepare for any debate encounters they might have. In that project I focused on memorizing common bible verses, common arguments for the existence of god, and just general religious trivia.

My first attempt was a disaster. I made the flashcards to be printed out on paper and then attempted to piggy back my templates onto a third party flashcard application for smart phones. The user experience was abysmal. After getting some helpful input from people who bought my flash cards, I decided to try and make a stand alone smart-phone application. I spent the next month to two months of my life focused on writing this application. I had no coding experience and no idea about writing apps. I stumbled upon PhoneGap, a site that lets you drag and drop items in a graphical interface to build an application. This application could then be ported onto any smart phone. The downside (that I realized only after spending a month on this app) was that PhoneGap doesn’t create a finished stand alone program. It creates a “web app”. It looks and acts like a stand alone app for a smart-phone, but it’s not. It’s actually a cleverly disguised webpage. As such, you need a constant internet connection to use it. I got as far as having a working app on my phone, but the disappointment of not having a stand alone app after all that work (and the daunting task of trying to learn to program) combined with life events to kind of side-tracked me after that point.

It was while working on that phone app that my project began to change. It was no longer about just creating a smart-phone version of debate flashcards. I realized that what I was working on had the potential to be something much more. There was also just so much information that I was having trouble fitting into a flash card format. Furthermore, the flashcards seemed kind of arbitrary given that they weren’t tied to anything. Usually when one creates flashcards it’s because they’ve read or studied something and are making the flashcards based off of what they’ve studied. Well without something to study, there was no way anyone could get the flashcards right the first time through. The only way to begin to get the flashcards right would be to get them wrong over and over again.

Well fast forward a few months till now and I’ve started thinking about picking up the project again. I started watching more courses on how to program specifically for smart-phones and pulled some more books out of the library. It was at this time that my girlfriend suggested that perhaps an ebook would be a better format for the information I was trying to convey. I could always follow up with flashcards if I really wanted to. This got me really excited. I could do an ebook. I could get all my information across much more easily that way, and I wouldn’t necessarily have to learn to program an app.

The biggest problem I’m having right at the moment is that I don’t know what the focus of the book should be. I’m not entirely clear on what I’m trying to accomplish, and what the scope should be. I’m also not entirely sure of my target audience.

Originally I thought I would focus on orienting “new” atheists (or anyone for that matter) to the atheist community/movement/whatever. Whenever anyone becomes interested in something for which there is a community, there’s always this difficult period of orienting one’s self and discovering who’s who, what’s what, and what the current issues are and where the community is headed.  At the time I felt really connected to and current with the atheist community and figured I could use this in my project. However, it was a few months after I started this project that I decided to stop listening to the news and politics because I was just in a constant state of rage. Incidentally, I stopped really listening to atheist podcasts too since many of them talk about infuriating news reports relating to atheism. I kind of dropped out of the community then. I hadn’t done anything since the Reason Rally, and I stopped going to my local atheist meetups. I feel like I’m really out of touch with what’s going on in the community at the moment, and that kind of scares me when trying to write this book. So maybe orienting people in the community shouldn’t be my main focus.

Instead I think I’m going to try and orient them to religion and atheism in general. Sure I’ll point them to community things, but my main focus is going to be closer to the original intent of the debate flashcards, education.

I would like to direct my book at people who either just left a faith, or who have always been non-religious, but never took an interest until now. I would like to give them a good foundation of things they should know to in order to be a well rounded person when it comes to religion. I’m going to expand on the topics in my debate flashcards and cover things like general religious terminology, the well reasoned argument, logical fallacies and argumentation structure, the scientific method, a general overview of philosophy and the various fields, comparative religions including how the religions are structured, core tenets and beliefs, sacred texts and their history/characters/themes, and religion in a modern governmental/societal context. (Just to name a few)

The biggest issue I’ve run into so far is trying to keep the right scope. There are volumes and volumes of books written about everything I just mentioned. I’ve really got to fight the researcher in me that wants to write 20-30 page term papers on each subject. I’d never get my book done that way. I need to force myself to be general. This book is meant to orient people, to make them aware of things they might not be aware of, and to point them in the right direction if something in particular interests them. At the same time I’m worried about making it too general. I want to make something of value, something I won’t feel wrong asking people to pay for.

And the atheist stereotypes continue.

11 Feb

My boss often has CNN on a monitor playing throughout the day at work. Well I’m sitting at my desk and suddenly I hear a familiar voice. I look over and The Amazing Atheist is on CNN. “How the hell did TJ get on the news?” I asked. My boss and his friend just laughed. They didn’t know who he was, and perhaps I shouldn’t have opened my mouth and given it away that I did.

CNN was having a segment on “Atheism in America.” TJ was their atheist, and then they had a panel of hostile guests there to rebuke the atheist. After the first guest started going on about how much he respects the soon to be ex pope for fighting against secularism and radical Islam, I put on some jazz and turned up my headphones.

Listening to that fake discussion with TJ as the representative of all atheists was just going to make me rage. I also really don’t want to have the religious discussion with my coworkers. I’ve long since realized it’s not productive to try and have conversations with them on religion, the intricacies of foreign politics, or anything for that matter. They’ve never really been outside of South Carolina and they get all their news from CNN and Fox.

Anyways, so CNN picks the most combative, scruffy looking atheist they could find, put him in front of a camera and then has a panel of respectable looking, family loving, wholesome adults attack him and how his views are a danger to your children. It’s almost like attacking a strawman. Then CNN’s viewers just eat it up.

I feel the same way about anarchism. People’s mental image of an anarchist is probably some punk kid with a bandana over his face, throwing rocks at storefront windows and just “making things shit for the hell of it.”

Either way, I’m tired of having to live with these stereotypes. The sad thing is that I feel the public would be hostile even if we did have some “respectable, family loving, wholesome adult” person to represent us. The news agencies would most certainly frame the discussion in a negative light for the atheist or anarchist. You could have someone like Daniel Dennet or Noam Chomsky on as the representative and they’d still be hostile.

There’s really just this temptation to embrace the stereotypes out of exhaustion of having to fight them, but that’s not productive.  The only way it gets better is to continue to fight them over and over again. It’s a war of attrition. That’s the only way anyone gains acceptance in a hostile environment. Ex. Black pilots in WWII or women in the workplace.

Still sucks though.

UK justice system terrified of Muslim minority.

30 Jan

Here we go again. A man, Adil Rashid, from an insulated Muslim community in England raped a 13-year old girl and was exonerated by a UK judge for “not knowing it was wrong to rape.” Judge Michael Stokes set Rashid free saying “you are very naive and immature when it comes to sexual matters.”

Rashid’s defense was that he was from an insulated community and “educated” in a madrassa where he was taught that “women are no more worthy than a lollipop that has been dropped on the ground.”

Assuming this guy honestly didn’t know it was wrong to rape a child (and let’s not bullshit ourselves, he knew), since when has ignorance of the law been a valid excuse? Oh I’m sorry officer, I’m from an insulated community and didn’t know it was wrong to speed. Yeah, that should get me out of a ticket. But this isn’t something minor like a speeding ticket. This man raped a child.

The UK justice system, just like so many other politicians, media outlets, and universities are terrified of enraging the Muslim communities that refuse to integrate into society at large. They are afraid that if they piss them off they will become violent and begin rioting and killing like they’ve done in the past over cartoons and low budget bullshit films on youtube.

Fear and cowardice disguised as a misguided sense of cultural relativism is at the heart of this matter. It’s not about race or immigration, as some might claim. No, immigrants and race have nothing to do with this. That’s a smoke screen put up by people who are terrified at the notion of calling someone else’s culture wrong.

Well guess what. Their culture is wrong. It’s fucked up. It’s backwards. Ours is fucked up too, but it’s a whole hell of a lot less fucked up than theirs. We don’t hold that half the population is worth the same as a “lollipop that has fallen on the ground.”

Christianity is a philosophy, not a religion.

4 Dec

Bill O’Reilly is an idiot. In other news, water is wet.

The other night Bill’O had atheist David Silverman on again to discuss Bill’s annual attention grab war on Christmas. The last time Silverman was on, Bill admitted that he, and probably most of his viewers, failed basic high school science and are unaware of the scientific explanation for tides. On this show, however, Bill said that Silverman was a facist for trying to keep the government to enforce its own laws, and that Christianity is not a religion. (A statement that he later recanted on after it was clear that nobody was going to march of the cliff with him.)

Yes, trying to get the government to remain religiously neutral is the same things as fascism.

Since Bill seems to be so confused, here is the definition of fascism:

Fascism (play /ˈfæʃɪzəm/) is a form of radical authoritarian nationalism. Fascists seek to unify their nation based upon suprapersonal connections of ancestry and culture through a totalitarian state that seeks the mass mobilization of the national community through disciplineindoctrination, and physical training.

Fox News has a lot more in common with actual fascism than any campaign to keep the government out of religion. The claim that what Silverman and his ilk are trying to do is fascism is just  mindbogglingly absurd. Unfortunately, every year we go through the same crap. Christians somewhere try to erect a Christian display on government grounds and then cry oppression when they’re told they can’t be plastering their crap all over government property.  I don’t understand why it’s so hard for them to understand that not being given special treatment does not equal oppression.

But on to Bill’s other blunder: Christianity is not a religion. Jon Stewart has a good little bit in response.

On his show, Bill’O goes on to say that while Christianity is not a religion, groups like the Methodists, Catholics, and  Baptists are. What Bill is describing are sects within a religion. A sect is a subset of a religion, a strain of the religion, yet still part of that religion.

Jesus-Facepalm

Unfortunately, Bill’s not the first to try and pull this “Christianity is not a religion” crock of shit. In the past I’ve heard people try and claim that Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. Quit trying to manipulate and muddy language in order to protect your position. The fact that you have to resort to attempting to obfuscate the meaning of words is a dead give away your position is shit to begin with. No, your religion is a religion. What you believe in is, by definition, a religion. Call it what you like, it is what it is. Don’t want to be part of a religion? Fine, then give up all the privileges that come with being a religion, starting with your tax exempt status.

Muslim reaction to Muhammad video highlights free speech disconnect.

24 Sep

I’m not sure where I stand with writing more posts on religion since I decided to stop writing about politics. The problem being that religion and politics are so often mixed, it’s very difficult to separate the two. However, we haven’t seen riots of this scale in the Muslim world since the 2006 Danish cartoon riots and I wanted to write about it.

In situations like these there are inevitably individuals who will attempt to downplay the role of religion in the conflict. Instead they would rather focus on the political aspect of the riots. While there is no doubt that politics was a major factor in fueling the outrage, to try and dismiss the religious aspects is both disingenuous and deceptive. I believe the urge to downplay religion arises from fear and a general unease with discussing religion. In the realm of politics one can at least point to events and statistics, whereas in religion there are no physical facts to take comfort in. It’s much more open, much more susceptible to “well that’s just what I believe.” Ultimately facts are irrelevant in either realm, but at least in politics people go through the motions of acting as if real world facts mattered. In religion it’s “no citations needed.”

So in case you haven’t seen it, the video catalyst for these riots is a really shitty 14 minute film called “The innocence of Muslims.” The production quality is horrible and the acting is even worse. Think 80’s porno acting and you’ll get an idea of the depth of personality portrayed by the characters. According to CBS, as of September 21, 49 people, including a US ambassador have died as a results of the unrest set into motion by the film.

Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects for me whenever an incident like this occurs are the people who attempt to take a middle ground stance; as if that inherently makes them somehow above the conflict like a wise and rational arbitrator. These people are full of shit and need to get off their high horses. I wish there were a singular word to describe them, but I can’t think of any. Self-righteous for sure, but to me that connotates someone with more fury and passion for their “non-position” position than what I’m trying to convey. The type of individual I have in mind is usually more reserved, attempting to project a calm, stately attitude, but none the less is a complete idiot on the subject at hand.

The type of people I’m envisioning are the ones who say things like “I fully support free speech but… 

“Free speech”

This week’s unfortunate example is U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who stated to the UN “Voices of moderation and calm need to make themselves heard at this time. We all need to speak up in favor of mutual respect and understanding of the values and beliefs of others.” Free speech, like other human rights, is not something that should be had “in moderation.”

If you say something offensive, even with the intent of offending, and then someone who takes offense and then goes out to murders people, you are not at fault; the person murdering people is. To say otherwise is in the same twisted realm of reasoning that would argue that rape victims are complicit in their rapes by dressing provocatively or walking down a dark street at night. No, if you’re not adult enough to control yourself and your reaction to stimuli then you are at fault.

I’m not sure if you watch Game of Thrones (you really should), but there is a quote by George R.R. Martin as spoken through Tyrion Lannister that I feel is relevant to this whole censorship debate:

When people advocate limiting free speech to protect the fragile egos of insecure people who can’t handle criticism it’s censorship, plain and simple. It might be dressed up and repackaged in the guise of “respect” and a general “let’s all hold hands and sing kumbaya” feeling, but at it’s core it remains draconian censorship.

The riots and killings resulting from this obscure piece of shit movie just go to highlight the disconnect between how some in the Muslim world (and the Western one) understand free speech, and how it is understood in the West. People insult science and reason every day in America (politicians are particularly bad offenders), yet I don’t go out and kill people for it. People insult Christianity every day in the West, but Christians here don’t go out and burn things. (Though depending on where you live, you can get death threats and have shit messed up, but those tend to be more isolated incidents as opposed to the thousands of rioters marching on Western embassies around the globe.) The point is, people in the West have learned to just deal with it and ignore it. Someone says something you find offensive? Fuck em, just ignore it and move on with your life. They’re not worth getting worked up over.

What we have happening here is a society (that is unaccustomed to human rights as we conceptualize it) suddenly having to interact with another society’s concept of human rights in a way two societies have never interacted before. Something like this would have been much harder to pull off in a pre-internet world.

My passion never left, it just changed forms.

3 Aug

Back around the time I was graduating college I started to lose my passion for history, archaeology, and everything I loved. Why? Well I think there were a variety of factors, but I haven’t got that all sorted out yet. What followed was this period of listlessness, of being adrift with no idea what to do. For the 2+ years following my graduation I had no idea what I wanted to do, no idea where my passion had gone.

But then I had an epiphany the other day: My passion never left, it just changed forms.

This occurred to me when I realized how my passion used to manifest itself. Back when I was in love with history, archaeology, etc, those were the things I constantly thought about. When I wasn’t actively talking to someone, or focused on completing a task my mind would inevitably wander back to those subjects. That’s how I knew I was passionate about them, I would always be thinking about those subjects.

Well after my personal collapse in 2010 I stopped thinking about those things by default. Instead my thoughts shifted to religion and politics. I had always been interested in these things, but they had previously taken a back seat to history and archaeology. I created this blog a long time ago as a way to nurture those thoughts that manifested themselves from time to time, and to give them a home, yet history was still my main focus.

Why did I feel my passion had disappeared? It took me two years to figure it out: Rage.

My passion for history and archaeology was built on love. I genuinely enjoyed talking about those things. I got excited to discuss them with others and they made me happy.

As things in my personal life started to fall apart, the happiness was replaced with this rage. I stopped thinking about things that made me happy and started thinking about things that infuriated me. It was not something I could consciously control, it was a byproduct of what was going on in my life.

Religion and politics were two issues I had always cared about, but now they had become toxic. I was consumed by them. I was constantly furious as my idle thoughts always returned to these poisonous subjects.

I felt lost and adrift because, unlike history and archaeology, religion and politics did not have a productive goal.

Back when I was in love with history I had the goal of becoming an archaeologist. It was something I was working towards, something to achieve. I had direction. When that mindset was replaced with rage, I lost that direction. There is nothing productive for me in religion or politics. I’m not about to become a religious figure since I think the whole thing’s bullshit, and I’m not about to go into politics because I have no faith in our system or the possibility of changing it through legal means.

So where does that leave me now?

I don’t know. I obviously need to replace the rage with love. I want so desperately to do that. I want to be happy again. I want to be somebody who’s excited about something, something positive. I just don’t know how to make that happen. I still have to figure that bit out, but this has been an amazing leap forward for me!

Prometheus sucked

12 Jul

*Spoilers*

I know I’m a bit late on posting this review, but I need to get this off my chest. Prometheus made no sense. The more I think about the movie, the more things I realize made no sense.

I went into it thinking it would be a prequel to the iconic feminist film of the 80’s. Instead I got a disjointed, poorly thought-out anti-science movie.

Throughout the film there is this strong faith vs science undercurrent, with the filmmakers falling firmly on the side of faith.

So a group of archaeologists find a similar painting that has been found on several locations all over the planet depicting a constellation. Somehow, from this, they come to the conclusion that this points the way to a planet where aliens exist, and that these aliens created us. Quite a jump from a couple of stick figures in a cave. Not to mention the fact that we already have an explanation for how life developed on the planet. Furthermore, it takes more than one star to be in a constellation. Stars can be in a constellation together, but in reality exist millions of light years apart. How did they know which star? How did they know which planet around that star? But whatever, moving on.

A dying multi-trillionare builds a spaceship solely for the purpose of going to this planet. He then staffs the spaceship with various costume scientists. I say costume scientists because none of them actually do any science, nor know any science as made evidenced by the token “biologist.”

Before they land on the planet there is an exchange between the “biologist” and Elizabeth Shaw, the archaeologist. Elizabeth Shaw explains her stick figure idea and the “biologist” laughs and asks her why she thinks that. “It is what I choose to believe.” is her reply. This line comes up more than once. The way it is used, and the way so much else in the film rests upon the concept it conveys, it’s as if the screenwriters thought this was some brilliant rebuttle to skeptics.

News flash: Choosing to believe something has no impact on whether or not it is true. None what so ever. It does not strengthen your claim. It only shows that you have nothing other than your own delusion with which to support your views. I can stand in front of a train and “choose to believe” that it won’t hit me. I could believe as hard as I possibly could, but it would be nowhere near as hard as when the train does actually hit me. Reality doesn’t give a shit what you “choose to believe.” Here in the real world, facts matter.

But back to Never-never land. After Elizabeth gives her lack luster response the “biologist” responds with “Yeah, like you’re going to disprove 300 years of Darwinism…”

This one line shows just how little of an actual biologist this “biologist” is. Darwinism? Who the hell calls evolution “Darwinism?” You know who? People who don’t understand evolution and attack it. Creationists in the US use the term “Darwinism.” The fact that this character used that term instead of evolution instantly showed the screenwriter’s hand. Secondly, the ignorance of the screenwriter is further revealed by having the character rhetorically ask if she was going to disprove “Darwinism” by showing that life was created by aliens.

Newsflash #2: Evolution has nothing to do with how life began. That’s the field of abiogenesis. Evolution deals with how life (surprise!) evolved. The fact that “biologist” doesn’t understand this shows that he really isn’t actually a biologist. Lastly, even if somehow you could prove that life was started on the planet by aliens, that wouldn’t disprove evolution. See Newsflash #2.

If I remember correctly, someone asks Elizabeth something to the effect of “Well if the aliens made us, then what does that do to god?” To which she replied “Well who made them [the aliens]?” Again the screenwriter shows that he’s an idiot. This is just an infinite regress. I could just as validly say “well who made god?” To which most theists just arbitrarily decide to break the cycle by choosing to suspend the rules of “everything must have a cause” and declaring their god above the rules that govern everyone else.

Throughout the film people keep trying to take Elizabeth’s cross necklace of her neck, but she keeps putting it back. One character even says to her “Even after all this, you still believe?” Elizabeth just brushes off their criticism and continues to believe in the iron age god of the desert. I say that for a reason.

The symbol of the cross is not just  some amorphous symbol for a higher power. It is the symbol for a very specific deity with specific attributes. It is the symbol for the Christian god. Here is Elizabeth: on a planet in another solar system, after having discovered that aliens created life on earth, that those aliens then were going to destroy that life, and was recently attacked by said aliens. Despite all this she still feels that the story of a deity impregnating a virgin girl 2000+ years ago in the desert and then sacrificing himself to himself in order to forgive mankind for being the way he created them, she feels that all this is still reasonable and valid.

Sorry, forgot. Movie on, brain off.

A subplot of the story revolves around a robot man. This robot is having problems with the question “Do I have a soul?” For some unknown reason he decides that he wants to kill all humans and proceeds to subtly fuck everything up once they’ve landed on the planet. This is ridiculous because for the entire two years that everyone else was helpless in stasis, he was alone on the ship. He could have killed them at any moment, but instead waits till they land.

Furthermore, it’s hilarious that the multi-trillionare man doesn’t realize the robot is asking the same questions he is. It is clear to everyone in the audience that the robot is self aware and capable of feelings. He displaces amusement, concern, curiosity, and malicious intent. Yet at the end of the movie Elizabeth’s character reminds him that it is impossible for him to understand some things or have a soul because he did not come out of a vagina.

Speaking of vaginas, this movie has a very strange relationship with gender. I’m not sure if it’s an anti-feminist movie as well as being anti-science, but at the very least it’s just weird when it comes to gender issues.

The multi-trillionare guy gives a speech about how the killer robot is the closest thing he’ll ever have to a son.  Yet later we find out that the person in charge of the expedition, Meredith, is his daughter. Why snub your daughter like that? Some people believe she is a robot too, but this is not the case. She had to be woken up from stasis. If she was a robot, there would have been no need. She could have stayed up for 2 years with David watching Lawrence of Arabia.

Furthermore, she goes off and has sex with the captain of the ship. Why would her father’s company make a daughter robot with functioning sexual organs? Also, nobody questions her emotions when she shows them yet they all doubt David can feel anything.

So we’ve established that there are at least two human females on the ship. Oddly enough, the movie DOES pass the Bechdel test, but barely. These women speak to each other only for a brief moment. Either way, this brings us to one of the strangest parts of the film. Elizabeth gets impregnated with an alien baby via her infected lover. She runs to the super expensive auto-surgery machine on the ship to have it cut out of her. She tells the machine what proceedure she needs and it spits back the error:

“Sorry, this machine is calibrated for male patients only.”

What the hell? Why? Why even write that bit of dialogue into the film? She gets around it and the machine cuts the alien baby out, but still, wtf? We’ve already established that there are at least two women on board the ship. Why would a surgery machine in the future be biased against them? What if something happened, like it did in the case of the movie?

Throughout the movie nobody seems to be overly excited about making first contact with another life form, nor do they seem overly concerned when people start dying. There is one point where two crew members are trapped in the alien building and the captain sees that something is moving on the scanners. He doesn’t act the least bit concerned and instead just brushes it off. The two crew members die and nobody gives a shit.

Somehow the captain figures out that this planet is a weapons facility where the aliens that made us were creating the predator aliens for use to kill us all off. He must of had some of what the archaeologists had for breakfast because he figures this all out while sitting in his chair.

This fact is completely ignored at the end of the movie when Elizabeth wants to travel to the alien’s home planet. “I want to know why the decided not to kill us” she states to David the robot. Well clearly they didn’t decided not to kill you. What was the first thing the alien did when you woke him up? He tried to kill you then tried to fly his spaceship with the weapons towards earth to kill everyone else. That was the whole reason the Prometheus ship had to suicide ram the alien spaceship.

Yet the screenwriters ignore this and Elizabeth gets on another ship to sail off into the stars armed with nothing but a bag of cheetos she looted from the escape pod…

 

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