Thought of the day

I find it amazing that I’ve yet to meet a Christian who has interpreted a piece of the Bible in a way which doesn’t match with his or her own personal views. Just imagine what technology and knowledge would look like if scientists behaved this way. Our streets and buildings would be as dark as North Korea’s.

Thought of the day

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Christianity is the fact that in roughly 2,000 years it hasn’t been able to produce a single piece of scientific evidence for its entire basis.

The state with the fewest Christian adherents

A study was done in 2010 which quantified the number of Christian adherents in the US by state. It defined Christian “adherents” as including all those with an affiliation to a congregation (children, members, and attendees who are not members). In other words, this study, as best as I can tell, looked at the number of people who are affiliated with a church or other religious organization in some official capacity. That tells me this isn’t that useful if we want to know which state has the most believers in a particular, cultural god, but it would seem to indicate something about how devoted people in a given state are. And the good news is, Maine appears to have relatively few devoted citizens:

The researchers found Utah to be the most Christian* state with around 78 percent of population identifying as Christian adherents. The researchers found Maine to be the least Christian state with only about 27 percent identifying as Christian adherents.

*Christians include Mormons and Unitarians / Universalists who self-identify as Christians.

I’ve seen other studies where Vermont is listed as the least religious state in the Union whereas Maine is in the bottom tier but not usually topping the list. I tend to believe those, if not for the number of studies that have been done which, if I recall correctly, have given those results, then for the fact that Maine is speckled with the quaint New England churches that decorate so many calendars, not to mention its fairly conservative voting record in certain social areas; my observations as a resident of this state tells me that there are more Christians than the above study indicates.

Here’s a terrible idea

I bet it passes:

A bill put forward by Gov. Paul LePage proposes allowing religious schools in Maine to qualify for public tuition dollars.

LePage unveiled the proposed bill with the state’s education commissioner Stephen Bowen in Skowhegan on Wednesday. Currently students in ‘school choice’ communities can attend some private schools and have their tuition paid for by the school district they live in.

I can see both sides of this argument. I went to a Christian school from K through 8 and I know it was an excellent education (minus the time wasted on religion). My class alone produced 4 high school valedictorians around the area. That’s 30 students who spread into various high schools with hundreds of kids per class and managed to succeed at a very high rate. That point acknowledged, none of this justifies using public dollars to send children to such schools. This is little more than an excuse to promote Christianity.

It’s too bad I fully expect to see a few more “Christian children” (as if there is such an absurd thing) running around in the coming years.

When theory becomes practice

When Christians make a stink about their religion being targeted, it is often put to them how they would react if the religion in question was Islam or Scientology. (See the teaching of creationism.) Alternatively, when another religion is seeking to do something which Christians don’t like, it is often put to them how they would react if it was their religion in question. (See the Ground Zero mosque.) The usual response is to either ignore the question or pay it lip service. The former is what I most commonly see, but every so often Christians will give the latter a little air time. I’m sure it is genuine for some, but most are so oblivious to their majority status in everything except science that they’re just espousing principles they pretend to hold but really ignore in practice.

One place where Christians often fight to keep their special treatment is at legislative meetings. They’ve become accustomed to beginning their sessions with Christian prayer. Moreover, elected officials rarely, if ever, reflect the actual population; it isn’t often a state or federal senator will challenge the idea of prayer before commencing (secular) lawmaking. What this means is that people assume they have a legitimate podium for promoting Christianity. However, since they do not, this is often one of those places where it will be put to Christians, What if the religion in question is something other than Christianity? What if Islam is being espoused? And, again, the response is usually to either ignore the question or pay it ever-so-empty lip service.

But there is a third, a-historic option.

This strategy is to claim this is a Christian nation by way of the values encoded in our constitution and the intention of the founding fathers. It is a demonstrably false claim, but it is made nonetheless. And it goes further. In addition to stating such falsehoods, Christians will follow through on their poor grasp of history and actively seek to prevent equal treatment of other religions and non-religious groups. Don’t believe me? You should:

(This is a few years old, but it was recently brought to my attention.)

This sort of thing doesn’t surprise me. It isn’t that people are merely acting like dolts in the name of religion. They are doing it at the behest of religion. It is fanatical shows of theater like this for which religion calls its sheep. Luke 17:3, for instance, tells followers to rebuke evil. Titus 1:10-16 tells believers that non-Christians can’t do anything good and should be, once again, rebuked. I’m sure if I wasted more of my time reading a book which has failed to provide a shred of evidence for its primary thesis I could find several hundred examples without problem. The point is, this is what Christianity (and most other religions) command of its followers. Spreading the word and shouting down ‘evil’ is half of the point. It shouldn’t surprise anyone when Christians and other religidiots do exactly that.

The religious fighting of Nigeria

As I have pointed out a number of times here, severe violence in Nigeria has long been based in or exacerbated by religion. In many cases we see Islamic sects bombing Christian sects, causing eye-for-an-eye retaliation. The motivation is sheer religious fervor, belief that one’s faith is more important than others’ lives. In other cases we see a division of goods and farmland which leads to disagreements. These disagreements often escalate into violence. Of course, no one would see such systematic violence were it not for religious labels. It would certainly still be there – Nigeria has distinct ethnic groups and that can and does cause problems – but much of the bloodshed would disappear. For, why would Nigerians fight other, for all intents and purposes, random Nigerians? (Looking at the situation this way, this arbitrary nature of division resembles the one between different Christian sects of Northern Ireland in relatively recent years.) No rational, fair-minded person can look at what is happening in this West African nation and deny that religion is a significant problem, often even at the base of the problems. We may see things come to a head in coming years:

Northern Nigerian Christians said on Tuesday they feared that a spate of Christmas Day bombings by Islamist militants that killed over two dozen people could lead to a religious war in Africa’s most populous country.

The warning was made in a statement by the northern branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), an umbrella organization comprising various denominations including Catholics, Protestant and Pentecostal churches.

Some political-religious leaders are denying as much will happen, even going so far as to lie about the nature of the conflict. But the facts are the facts. People are fighting and religion is making things worse. There are surely solutions, but I’m not going to pretend I know what they all are. Nigeria has democracy, the usual curing agent for much violence. It could be strengthened; rooting out corruption and greed would be a start – these things inevitably lead to someone’s oppression and that leads to as much violence as religious fervor does. But this is a small piece to the problem here and, again, I’m not going to pretend like I know all the answers. Nigeria is a complicated nation which is going to have to wait many, many years before it sees peace between its two violent religions.

The origins of morality and Christian arguments

Christians have two primary arguments for the origins of our morality. Both fail to be logically convincing. (That’s sort of a theme with Christianity, isn’t it?)

The first argument I want to address is the one that says we get our morality from the Bible. This is the easiest one to dismiss; simply pointing out that people cherry-pick what they consider to be good and bad in the Bible shows that, at the least, even Christians disagree that the Bible is even entirely moral. (The Christian excuse that some of the evil things in the Bible were only culturally relevant falls on its face. God still commanded evil things, including rape and forced marriages as a result of rape. Christians don’t get to argue for objective morality and then make their figurehead into a cultural relativist.)

The second argument from Christians is one designed to address secular claims. That is, we know that many of the good things found in one religion will be found in another. In fact, such things will be found without any religion whatsoever. Humans converge on common ideas of what is right and wrong quite often (and this, incidentally, also goes to defeating the first argument). The Christian answer to this is that God has put within us an innate knowledge of what is right and wrong – we just need to access it, something Christians presumably have done better than others. What’s amazing about this argument is that its proponents don’t seem to realize that it is entirely vacuous. Let’s break it down:

Bill the Christian: We get our morality from God.

Denise the Skeptic: But what about those who don’t believe in your god? And those who don’t even know of your god?

Bill: God put that morality within them at birth. They just need to find it.

Denise: Okay, but how do you know that?

Bill: I just believe it.

Denise: So then do you agree that your argument is equally valid in the hands of anyone? Do you see that anyone can say ‘My god gave us morality. I know so because I believe so.’?

Bill: Well…wait a minute…hm…

Denise: Or I could say I believe our morality comes from unicorns. It’s all the same, isn’t it?

Bill: UNICORNS?! How dare you! I can’t believe you would compare my LORD to unicorns! Why can’t you engage in a civil argument? I don’t even have to answer you because you’ve proven you’re wrong by offending me! So militant…


Okay, that last part took a real wild swing, but I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve had Christians use offense as an excuse for why they are unable to argue their case.

The fact is, arguing that our sense of morality comes from God because he put it within us at birth is a non-starter. Obviously it will not work for a non-Christian because it assumes the existence of the Christian God, but it shouldn’t even work for Bible-thumping Christians. It pretends to have knowledge of something but when push comes to shove, it turns out the entire premise is mere faith. That is literally the furthest possible thing from evidence and is entirely useless to logic.

So Christians must have how many religions?

I’m used to Christians making the claim that atheists have faith and religion. It’s a dumb statement that is easy to knock down since atheism makes no positive nor normative claims. But I recently saw a cartoon that made a very obvious but easily missed point: If atheism constitutes a religion as so many (often dishonest) Christians claim, then don’t Christians have several religions? One for their god, one by virtue of their denial of, say, Allah, one by their denial of Judaism, one by their non-atheism, one by their lack of belief in Thor, one by their….? Where does it end?

It’s almost as if, if we define everything as faith and religion, we’ve really defined nothing. Except maybe some political goals.

Irony much?

I recently made a status update on my Facebook wall which mocked Christianity. As sometimes happened, it soon gathered together a small chorus of people who feel nothing mean should be said about religion. “Why, live and let live, Michael!”, they will say. Of course, then we get faith healing laws in the U.S. and imprisonment of gays in Christian Uganda. For that sort of reason (and more), I think it’s perfectly reasonable to mock religion; it is a hell of a force for evil in the world. (In democratic nations where the populace has been able to rid itself of most of the religious nutbags – our mainstream – life is far, far better on the whole.) I would love to see religion go away.

But out of that status update came a common cowardly Christian. Instead of diving into the discussion, he went to his own wall and made a passive-aggressive response. (In terms of my own status, it was probably for the best. My wall actually fostered (and is still doing so) a pretty good discussion amongst a number of intelligent individuals.) First let me show the comment that spurred the passive-aggressiveness. This was made by a friend of mine:

1.) Respect for beliefs and respect for the people who hold them are often confused with each other. Demanding that we respect each other’s beliefs is silly. I respect my room mate. However, I don’t respect his belief that it’s ok to leave the bread bag open. Similarly, I respect my girlfriend. But I don’t respect her belief in God. To ask someone to respect a belief with which they disagree is essentially asking them to agree with it. The very reason people disagree with something is because they don’t respect it.

2.) Religious beliefs often bring with them the encroachment of others’ rights. It’s the belief of many that gays shouldn’t be able to marry. And you think that deserves respect?

3.) Condoning such wide-scale subscription to superstition is a huge impediment to progress.

That was a response to a variety of points, but the part which caught the attention of the cowardly Christian was number 1. Here is his passive-aggressive status update:

Evidently I’m supposed to tolerate your beliefs but mine are to be mocked.

Rather than explain the rather simple distinctions between toleration, acceptance, and respect of beliefs, I decided to point out that he was being passive-aggressive. If he wants to respond to what he sees on my wall, he should grow a pair and make a post in the proper, adult location. (It’s like all those Christian blogs that make response posts but refuse to link back to the original posts because they come from atheist blogs.) This then turned to another Christian saying I was passive-aggressive. It was a stupid reflection of my rhetoric and it had no basis; people may think what they wish about me, but imagining that I’m passive-aggressive is just silly. I quickly dispelled the notion:

[Name of Second Christian], I think you are a genuinely stupid person who cannot understand the majority of arguments you hear. I think your anti-science bend comes from your quack of a mother, and I sometimes pity your ignorance.

How’s that?

(That person is a creationist and his mother is an alternative ‘medicine’ practitioner.)

Well, you can imagine how that went over. “Why, you, sir, have insulted a person’s mother! That’s just awful!” It’s a silly complaint, really. I insulted her ‘profession’ and used her as a proxy to do so. Since the attack portion of my comment is hardly that specific to her, it’s just people having a knee-jerk reaction. It’s like getting upset over “Yo momma” jokes, except the momma in this case really is a quack.

But I’m used to whines about tone. People who can’t argue their points bring it up as if it’s legitimate. Sometimes it’s because of thin-skin. Most of the time it’s a way to demand respect. If it is off-limits to be disrespectful towards something, whether it be religion or quackery, then it will quickly appear as if that something is worthy of an academic or intellectual discussion. And so whines about tone are aplenty. Of course, that gets boring pretty quickly. Just about the only thing that can make those whines worth reading is when they come with a splash of irony. That happened about 50 comments into the status update with this gem:

Ok ‘michael hawkins’, you dont have to believe anything you dont want to, and im not trying to convince you because frankly, from the things you have said in this entire blog, you should burn in hell because its EXTREMELY disrespectful how you are talking to us.

How Christian.

I imagine if this person recounted the Facebook comments to a friend of hers, it would go something like this. (Let’s call her Suzy.):

Suzy: So yeah, this guy called a person’s mother a quack.

Suzy’s Friend: Whoa! Someone’s mom?

Suzy: Yeah, I couldn’t believe it!

Suzy’s Friend: So what did you say?

Suzy: Oh, I told him to go to hell…out of respect, of course.

Suzy’s Friend: Of course.

(I realize that by not naming names, it may seem as though I am ironically being passive-aggressive. If these comments came from a public page, I would post names. Given that I know this person’s Facebook page is only visible to his friends, it would be wrong for me to say who said what. But worry not, each party involved will get the message.)

Punching bags

Aaaand the very first winner of my new series Punching Bags is Wintery Knight. Congratulations, Mr. Knight! This is the probably the greatest thing you’re ever going to accomplish in your blogging career.

There’s a lot of silliness out there, but what really grabbed my attention by standing heads and shoulders above the rest was a series of posts by Wintery Knight about atheism and morality. It’s astonishing just how poorly pieced together it all is. Let’s take a peek at WK’s methods:

First of all, I wrote up a list of questions to use to interview atheists about their views.

Second, I posted the raw results of my survey.

Third, I listed the minimal requirements that any worldview must support for in order to ground rational morality.

Fourth, I argued that atheism does not ground any of these requirements.

Fifth, I argued that Christian theism does ground all of these requirements.

Sixth, I posted my own answers to the questions.

I really recommend taking a look at that first link; the arrogance and snobbery drip from every word:

Who is safe to talk to?

In this post, I am going to explain to you clearly how to engage your atheist friends on these issues. But be careful. Some atheists have fascist tendencies – when they feel offended, some of them want to bring state to bear against those who make them feel bad. Atheists struggle with morality, it just doesn’t sit well on their worldview, even though they sense God’s law on their hearts, like we do.

1) Thank goodness WK is here to help everyone know which atheists are okay. Some of us bite, don’t you know.

2) It’s good to know he has already defined morality when he declares that atheists struggle with it. Of course, we all know this is just another case of a theist assuming “objective” in front of “morality”.

3) Of course atheists sense God’s law in their hearts. Just like how Christians really hate science and reason deep down, amirite?

But WK’s interviews appear to be entirely irrelevant. They aren’t necessary to any of his further posts in any way. Besides that, his questions are statistically meaningless since he, um, doesn’t obtain any statistics; his ‘survey’ holds no value and is nothing more than an exercise in condescension. Let’s move on.

His next move (third link) is to try and tell us what is required for “rational moral behavior”. Gee, I wonder if he’s going to assume “objective” anywhere, gaming the issue in his favor.

1) Objective moral values

There needs to be a way to distinguish what is good from what is bad. For example, the moral standard might specify that being kind to children is good, but torturing them for fun is bad. If the standard is purely subjective, then people could believe anything and each person would be justified in doing right in their own eyes. Even a “social contract” is just based on people’s opinions. So we need a standard that applies regardless of what people’s individual and collective opinions are.

Whoa! My whole world view has been devastated! And in only 5 sentences. How could I have been missing something so obvious?!

Oh. Wait. Woulddya look at that. We need a way to tell good from bad. Well, wouldn’t that require that there is an objective good and bad in the first place? Or maybe WK is just making an assumption, causing him to beg the question. Could it be that our ideas of “good” and “bad” have a basis in our cultures and societies and human nature and our emotions and physical bodies and relationships and intelligence? And if so, couldn’t we use ethical and moral theories, applying them to the facts of the world and our derived definitions of “good” and “bad”, thus shaping how we behave? And wouldn’t this be the very definition of rational? (Hint: The answer to all of my questions is “yes”.)

But despite being so far off, WK trudges onward:

What difference does it make to you [an evil stupid dumb butt atheist] if you just go ahead and disregard your moral obligations to whomever? Is there any reward or punishment for your choice to do right or do wrong? What’s in it for you?

Bracketed clarification added.

I’m not so sure I would trust someone who thought the point of morality was to get something for himself. (Oh, who am I kidding. I trust a ton of Christians and they all necessarily believe that the point of being good is to get a big pretty prize at the end of the road.) I guess I just prefer to act out of genuine reasons, not for the sake of enriching myself in some unevidenced afterlife.

Anyway. WK goes on and on with his blog, sometimes saying dumb things about evolution, other times promoting science that makes him feel special. He’s an old Earth creationist, perhaps the most nebulous of all creationists (tell me again, when did humanity begin?), but in the end he’s just another punching bag.

Don’t forget to submit other potential punching bags.