Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Worst Decade Ever?

Maybe not, but lordy, lordy, it wasn't good.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas presents

For my neglected readers... first, 60 stunning satellite photos of Earth , and "Do You Here What I Hear" performed on non-traditional instruments:

Friday, December 18, 2009

Overheard at lunch today:

"You know why you never hear of Quakers getting a DWI? Because Friends don't let Friends drive drunk."

Friday, December 11, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I need a translator

If this is a fashion statement, what's it trying to say?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Please give to the SAADL

The Snowish-American Anti-Defamation League, that is... Frosty is getting no respect this year!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A better use for drones

We've heard all the stories about the uses that newest of military technology, the aerial drone, has been put to recently. Well, Texas A&M has found a better use.

More details here

Monday, November 23, 2009

"The Top One Reason Religion Is Harmful" Part Three

In my previous two posts, I addressed The Top Ten Reasons I Don't Believe In God , as a lead-in to discussing The Top One Reason Religion Is Harmful by Greta Christina, my favorite atheist writer. Here, finally, is my direct answer to "The Top One Reason Religion Is Harmful"

The heart of Greta's thesis is this: "I'm realizing that everything I've ever written about religion's harm boils down to one thing. It's this: Religion is ultimately dependent on belief in invisible beings, inaudible voices, intangible entities, undetectable forces, and events and judgments that happen after we die.

It therefore has no reality check.

And it is therefore uniquely armored against criticism, questioning, and self- correction. It is uniquely armored against anything that might stop it from spinning into extreme absurdity, extreme denial of reality ... and extreme, grotesque immorality."

She correctly notes that religion is not unique in having true believers- any institution does. But, she argues, other intuitions have a reality check: does it work? Communist countries adopt capitalism to increase wealth; capitalist countries adopt socialist policies to better serve the public, etc. But, she says, "Religion is different. With religion, the proof is emphatically not in the pudding. With religion, the proof comes from invisible beings, inaudible voices. The proof comes from prophets and religious leaders, who supposedly hear these voices and are happy to tell the rest of us what they say."

The flaw in this argument is in the difference between "religion" and "faith" They are separate things, and the difference is crucial.

"Faith" is what people believe. It is in fact "...ultimately dependent on belief in invisible beings, inaudible voices, intangible entities, undetectable forces, and events and judgments that happen after we die." Faith changes little, if at all, over the centuries. Faith has no objective reality check. But faith is NOT religion.

Religion is not what we believe; religion is what we do. For example, the Catholic faith can be communicated in the Bible and the catechism. But the Catholic religion is much, much more. Nothing in the Bible tells you how to conduct a mass, how to organize the hierarchy, how to ordain a priest, or what color smoke to use when you pick a Pope. Or even whether you should have any of those things. The Bible describes a church as "Wherever two or more are gathered in his name"- it gives no instruction on how to build a church, or whether you should have a standing church at all. It doesn't tell you whether you should be led by elders, or by elected leaders, or whether you should just sit still until the spirit moves someone. The Koran tells us to be modest; whether that means wearing a space suit or just "For God's sake, will you put a shirt on already?" is a matter of culture, not faith. Religion is a culture.

Faith doesn't deal with these things. Faith tells you how to retain your humanity in the face of pressures that could break you. Faith gives you a reason to go on when you are despairing. Faith is about what you are.

Why is this important? Because cultures ARE subject to reality checks. Cultures DO evolve. You may decide that your religion requires celibacy. Reality check: last I heard, there were only four Shakers left on earth. Faiths are directed by doctrines that only change, if they do, by new prophets and revelations; religions are directed by rules, habits, and traditions that may be admittedly hard to shake, but are, in the final analysis, recognized as such and changed as necessary. This is why Greta is also wrong when she says, "Yes, Even Moderate Religion Still Does Harm". Moderating the behavior of a culture is a good thing- and as I said, religion is a culture. Saying that moderate religions, even if not so bad themselves, are bad because they perpetuate bad institutions reminds me of the anarchists and communists of the last century who fought against social reforms because they would perpetuate the system.

God is not the problem. Belief in God is not the problem. In the final analysis, everyone is devoted to something larger than themselves. A secular humanist is devoted to humankind- that's why atheists are as moral as theists. But that, too, is an irrational devotion; no one has ever presented me with a purely logical reason why I should give a damn about my fellow man. We're both irrational- why claim that your irrationality is better than mine?

Friday, November 20, 2009

"The Top One Reason Religion Is Harmful" Part Two

6. The physical causes of everything we think of as the soul.

This is confusing hardware with software. If you damage a computer, the software won't run- but that doesn't deny the separate existence of the software. The mind, and presumably the soul, are dependent upon the brain for existence, yes- but then, I think the Divine may have a physical presence, too, as I speculated here . Please keep in mind, however, that it is only idle speculation to explain observed phenomenon, not a doctrine.

7. The complete failure of any sort of supernatural phenomenon to stand up to rigorous testing.

Scientific testing assumes a consistency of result you don't always find when dealing with autonomous sentient beings. For example, if tested under laboratory conditions, one might conclude that my cat doesn't know his name because saying "Here, Garfunkle" has erratic results in producing said cat. Calling "Here, Goddy Goddy Goddy" is unlikely to be any more reliable. But that doesn't mean that neither one has ever responded when addressed.

8. The slipperiness of religious and spiritual beliefs.
"If things go the believer's way, it's a sign of God's grace and intervention; if they don't, then, well, God moves in mysterious ways, and maybe he has a lesson to teach that we don't understand, and it's not up to us to question his will. That sort of thing. No matter what happens, it can be twisted around to prove that the belief is right."

As with "The increasing diminishment of God.", this is a problem with certain specific religions, not all religion as a whole. Those of us who believe that the Divine does not punish by causing natural disasters, nor rewards by salvation from natural disasters, don't have this problem.

9. The failure of religion to improve or clarify over time.

There's a lot of things in this category, not just religion. We have no better understanding of love or life or even how to live together without oppression and war than we did 35,000 years ago. Like all of these things, the Divine is something experienced personally, new and different for each person. Centuries of trying in this arena is meaningless, because your experience- the only one that counts for you- is only decades old. All of Man's literature on love doesn't tell me how to live with a broken heart, and neither the Bible nor the Bhagavad Gita told me how to deal with my own religious experiences.

10. The complete and utter lack of solid evidence for God's existence.

Greta, I'll agree with you completely if you rephrase it: You have no solid evidence for God's existence. In fact, I'll even say you'd be a fool to believe in a flying spaghetti monster if you've never seen one. I'll also agree that it's not up to you to prove that God doesn't exist. I agree that it's an extraordinary claim. But I'm not trying to convince you. I know I cannot convince you; my evidence is non-transferable. Moreover, I don't care what you believe; I do not proselytize. Since I don't believe in the inherent depravity of man, or Hell, I don't even have the altruistic motive of trying to "save" you.

So what do I want?

I want atheists to stop saying "there is no evidence", when what they mean is "I haven't seen any evidence". First of all, it's not logical to say that because you haven't seen it, it doesn't exist; the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. (I'm not speaking here of the existence of Divine itself, but of the existence of the evidence- the personal experience) This is why some theists get angry at the more activist of the atheists- if the theist has explained that his or her belief is based on actual experience, than repeating "There is no evidence" is a personal insult, an accusation that the theist is either lying or insane. A corollary to this is saying things like "Faith is believing what you know ain't so", as some of us know it is so. Why do atheists find it so hard to understand that calling someone a liar, a crook, or a kook makes them angry? I fully acknowledge that my proof is non-transferable and unconvincing to anyone else; why can't atheists acknowledge that there are those who have experienced the Divine and yet, by actual medical evidence, are not schizophrenic, nor have any neurological pathologies, and are not of subnormal intelligence?

I want atheists to be more specific. If you have a problem with fundamental Christians, say so; stop using the term "religion" if you mean Christianity. Funny how some of the atheists who are the most insistent on precise definitions of the words "atheist", "agnostic". etc., are the biggest offenders in painting all faiths with a broad Abrahamic brush.

These two concessions alone- and surely they are not too much to ask for- would take most of the heat out of the discussion. And by doing so, atheists might be surprised at how many allies they'd find among even the strongest of theists on issues such as Evolution, keeping religion out of schools, etc., just as I have been surprised sometimes by Christians supporting me, a Pagan, when attacked in forums by aggressive atheists.

Next: why religion is not harmful.

"The Top One Reason Religion Is Harmful"

Is the title of a recent post on Greta Christina's Blog , and a good read. For my money, Greta is the best atheist writer extant, better than Dawkins because she writes with human insight and without venom- rare and treasured qualities in any deep discussion. However, being the best of her genre doesn't mean I agree with her.
To attempt to refute her argument, I have to begin a little earlier than that post- "The Top One Reason Religion Is Harmful" is really a continuation of an earlier (equally excellent) pair of posts, The Top Ten Reasons I Don't Believe In God , so I will handle it as she did, with a two-part answer to "The Top Ten Reasons I Don't Believe In God", and then address "The Top One Reason Religion Is Harmful"

Greta's Top Ten Reasons I Don't Believe In God:
1. The consistent replacement of supernatural explanations of the world with natural ones.
There's a lot of things I could say to this, but none are better than a poem by J Huger :
The day we learned that The Sun doesn't go around the Earth, The sunset was still beautiful.

The day we learned that Evil spirits don't make us ill, The sick still suffered.

The day we learned that Our hearts are not where we feel, We were still in love.

Our world is not a conjurer's trick. Knowing how it's done Doesn't make the magic go away.

2. The inconsistency of world religions.
"If God (or any other metaphysical being or beings) were real, and people were really perceiving him/ her/ it/ them, why do those perceptions differ so wildly?"

Actually, it would be a lot more astonishing if the perceptions were consistent. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable; ask anyone in law enforcement, or has been through one of those class exercises where a crime is performed right in the room, and then the class is asked to describe it- no two versions are identical. The effect is magnified when faced with something totally outside one's experience; odd cloud formations become UFOs, a rhinoceros becomes a unicorn. And these are physical phenomenon; how much more difficult is it to describe something perceived not by sight, but by internal direct perception? Consider the differing descriptions of love. All things considered, it is the amount of agreement between religions that is surprising, not the differences.

3. The weakness of religious arguments, explanations, and apologetics.
"The argument from authority. (Example: "God exists because the Bible says God exists.")"

Argument from authority is weak, which is why so many believers don't depend on it- especially Neopagans, who don't depend upon the Bible, and have little respect for any authority.

"The argument that religion shouldn't have to logically defend its claims. (Example: "God is an entity that cannot be proven by reason or evidence.")"

Agreed- a weak argument... which is why good theologians don't use it. CS Lewis is famous for making a logical case for his God. Though I am no theologian, I have attempted to do the same for my own Pagan beliefs
here and here in posts, and intend to do more in the future.

"Or the redefining of God into an abstract principle -- so abstract that it can't be argued against, but also so abstract that it scarcely deserves the name God. (Example: "God is love.")"

Agreed that this is incredibly weak; I have a lot of trouble respecting this argument myself. I have long held that theologians who do this are really atheists grasping for something that will allow them to keep drawing their stipend.

"The argument from personal experience. (Example: "God exists because I feel in my heart that God exists.")"

Ah, here's the rub, the heart of the entire debate. This is not a weak argument, but the strongest argument of all- it is a primary source, and primary sources are the touchstone of logical argument... if it were phrased correctly. What's wrong with the way she stated it is the phrase "God exists because I feel in my heart that God exists."- there are tens of millions who don't claim "I feel in my heart that God exists", but "I know the Divine exists because I have experienced it directly." I "believe" in the Divine in the same way that I "believe" in the Earth; I have experienced both as concrete realities. John Franc describes such an experience; mine is similar in spirit, though not in exact detail.

I think Greta phrased it the way she did out of kindness; she didn't address it as a claim to have actually experienced the Divine to avoid saying "Those who have personal experience of God are psychos". Which, if you think about it, is a circular argument: "Those who have known God are psychotic. They are psychotic because they see things that don't exist. God doesn't exist because there's no evidence of God's existence. There's no evidence of God's existence no sane person claims to have seen God. There are no sane claims to seeing God because those who have seen God are psychotic."

4. The increasing diminishment of God.
"When you look at the history of religion, you see that the perceived power of God himself, among believers themselves, has been diminishing. As our understanding of the natural, physical world has increased -- and our ability to test theories and claims has improved -- the domain of God's miracles (or other purported supernatural/ metaphysical phenomena) has consistently shifted, away from the phenomena that are now understood as physical cause and effect, and onto the increasingly shrinking area of phenomena that we still don't understand."

This is only a problem for the modern religions of Abrahamic descent. When you look at the history of religion, you actually see very, very few claims of omnipotence. World mythology is full of examples of Man outwitting the Gods- Prometheus and Arachne leap immediately to mind. Even the Bible is full of incidents of God testing men; why test, if you know the outcome- a clear lack of omnipotence. The extravagant claims of omnipotence are a medieval phenomenon, of the church asserting its dominance. Many of the World's religions, including my own Pagan beliefs and Christians of the "Process Theology" sort, do not now and never have made any such extravagant claims to diminish.

5. The fact that religion runs in families.
"Very, very few people carefully examine all the religious beliefs currently being followed -- or even some of those beliefs -- and select the one they think most accurately describes the world. Overwhelmingly, people believe whatever religion they were taught as children."

I think this is a result of the perceptual difficulties referred to in point 2. If you have a religious experience, (and I agree there's little reason to believe if you don't), how can you understand what you experienced? As in my rhinoceros/unicorn example, you try to find a context for what happened... and if you were raised with such a context, why look further? The only reasons to look beyond what you have been taught is if your experience directly contradicts in an undeniable way what you had been taught, or if you had not had confidence in your initial instruction. (both, in my case)
End of part one.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cop keeps his cool

in the face of relentless attack by a wild animal

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

If you don't mist up at this,

there's something missing in you.

Note- my posts are going to be erratic for a while; dontcha hate when real life intrudes into important things like blogging and surfing? Seriously, it's a good thing; details at a later date.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

I guess it wasn't only me

who kept thinking of President Obama while watching "V" last night- look at this montage from Breitbart TV

Monday, November 02, 2009

Three short videos

of safe, environmentally friendly windmills

Friday, October 30, 2009

A new feature

I'm adding a new feature to this blog- I'm trying my hand at a weekly comic strip. I'm calling it On Any Sunday; it's the adventures of Uugene Eric, a member of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ourtown. (any ideas sent in will earn a grateful tip of the hat)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Looking for a Halloween costume

you can do quickly for a party? Watch this woman become a zombie in 45 seconds!

I've never thought of it that way before

But a Canadian writer makes some interesting points about right wing women

Friday, October 23, 2009

Just how complicated is healthcare, anyway?

I happened to see a reference to the actual bill before the Senate, and noticed how long it is, and decided to compare it to works in my personal library, plus a couple I don't own but are available from Project Gutenberg :
Original handwritten Constitution of the United States of America, 6 pages
The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx, 23 pages
Relativity, The Special and General Theory, Albert Einstein, 194 pages
Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Sir Isaac Newton, 253 pages
Canterbury Tales, Chaucer, 627 pages
The Complete Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes, A. C. Doyle, 636 pages
Crime and Punishment, Dostoevski, 718 pages
The Novels of Dashiell Hammett, 726 pages
Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, 1,069 pages
War and Peace, Tolstoy, 1,225 pages
New King James Bible, 1,426 pages
Senate health care bill, S. 1796, 1,502 pages. Three times as long as the Constitution, Communist Manifesto, Theory of Relativity, and Principia combined. What do you suppose the odds are that your Senator has read and understood it?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Invention needed

A light for desk drawers that comes on automatically, like the one in the refrigerator. If there were such a thing, never again would someone fumbling around in the drawer for a Vicks Inhaler use a AA battery by mistake.

Rape as a preexisting condition

According to this article in The Huffington Post, women are being refused health insurance as a consequence of being raped. The reason is that rape victims are given anti-AIDS drugs to prevent them from developing AIDS if they have been exposed- which leaves a record of having been treated for AIDS in their medical records. Afterwards, whenever they try to get health insurance, all the insurance underwriters see in the record is "AIDS patient", and they are rejected for this "preexisting condition".

Outraged? So was I- and I could feel a special sympathy because I, too, have a "haunting diagnosis" in my medical record. Not anything like that severe, nothing that would cause me to lose health insurance, but it has caused me to be later misdiagnosed by doctors who glanced at the chart and made the "obvious" diagnosis without further thought- and once it was a life-threatening condition that was missed, only caught by (lucky!) accident.

After I got over my initial rage at this story, I started thinking about causes. Why do insurance companies disallow preexisting conditions? "Because they're heartless, profit obsessed bastards" is the standard answer, but misunderstanding this is one of the reasons why we have the healthcare problems we do. Lets not single out AIDS; there are a lot of diseases that are both expensive and long term- call it "condition X". Suppose you're an insurance company, and one of your clients develops "condition X"- no biggee, one or two such patients divided by thousands of customers isn't so expensive, and anyway, every other insurance company will have the same percentage of "condition X" patients; you can stay competitive with the market.

So if it's no big deal, business wise, why then refuse them if it's a preexisting condition? Because if you're the first to allow the preexisting condition, everyone with "condition X" will flock to your company, costs will soar, and all your healthy customers will be outraged at your high rates and sign with your competitors instead- you'll be out of business in a year. So you must screen out any preexisting condition that might be expensive; a bankrupt insurance company doesn't help anyone.

This is why requiring all health insurance companies to accept all applicants regardless of preexisting conditions must pass, if nothing else does. Doing that will restore competitive balance; if nobody has to bear the burden of being first, then all insurance companies will have the same mix of customers on average, and so be able to cover any such "condition X" without fear- or outrageous rates.

If we passed the preexisting condition regulation and also licensed the insurance companies nationally, rather than state-by-state, so that we don't have the situation President Obama spoke of with entire states having only a couple of health insurance companies to choose from, half of our healthcare problems would be fixed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Penn Jillette meets his childhood idol

and wonders whether the feet of clay are the idol's or his own. It's a long video, but very much worth it.

If I could speak to Penn, I'd tell him this story: A preacher was once asked why he took his ministry to prisons, the streets, the seedy neighborhoods. "Because that's where the sinners are," he answered.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Too busy for a real post...

but here's a cute video I was sent:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Pagan publication for children

Something I found online- a free magazine for Pagan children called The Pooka Pages (Pooka is a cat; there's a photo album) It's full of stories, crafts, artwork, recipes, many fun things for kids. RE's might find some activities there, too. Check it out!

Another National Health Service story

It can't be said any better than the first four lines from the Daily Mail story: "A grandfather who beat cancer was wrongly told the disease had returned and left to die at a hospice which pioneered a controversial 'death pathway'.

Doctors said there was nothing more they could do for 76-year- old Jack Jones, and his family claim he was denied food, water and medication except painkillers.

He died within two weeks. But tests after his death found that his cancer had not come back and he was in fact suffering from pneumonia brought on by a chest infection.

To his family's horror, they were told he could have recovered if he'd been given the correct treatment." The kicker comes halfway down the page: "Despite the fact that no tests were carried out to confirm the diagnosis, his family say doctors instructed nurses to stop giving him food and fluids."

If you're thinking this will result in a massive malpractice suit, think again; remember that this is government healthcare, and governments don't usually permit themselves to be sued- "The hospice and the doctors who treated Mr Jones continue to deny liability, but his widow has now accepted an £18,000 out-of-court settlement after being told she would otherwise lose her legal aid." And they could scarcely fail to back the doctor- after all, he is the one who wrote the "dignity means being denied food and water" policy in the first place. And I'm sure if you own a microscope, you could find some comfort somewhere in the statement from the hospice: "The hospice's lawyer, Dorothy Flower, said it had settled the case to enable Mrs Jones to grieve for her husband, but did not accept liability. 'Some things are done for economic reasons, and a case like this costs a huge amount of money, which would do nobody any good,' she said." See- they were looking out for her best interests.

I hope our "public option" will be written a hell of a lot more carefully than England's was.

Update to "That must have been some beer"

In that previous post about President Obama receiving The Nobel Prize , I speculated, as did many other bloggers, that they must have awarded the prize on speculation, for things he will do. Turns out they and I were wrong, and Bill Baar was right when he said to take the Nobel committee at face value- they did award it for his accomplishments, not his potential.

In this Associated Press story, "...committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland tells The Associated Press that "we simply disagree that he has done nothing. He got the prize for what he has done." Jagland says Obama reached out to the Muslim world and "modified" a Bush-era proposal for an anti-missile shield in Europe."

Ok, that explains a lot. Mahatma Gandhi reached out to the Muslim world, but he never did anything about Star Wars; that's why he never got a Nobel Prize- it takes the combination to do it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I only see two possible reactions:

Either you'll want to run out and adopt a kid just so you can buy this for him, or you won't understand and wonder just how sick I am for recommending this Tauntaun sleeping bag

Friday, October 09, 2009

Ok, they're really, really cute...

NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams - New Pet Craze: Tea Cup Pigs

NBC Nightly News with Brian WilliamsMySpace Videos

... but I can't help thinking about the Classic Star Trek episode, "The Trouble With Tribbles"...

That must have been some beer

President Obama is doing a good job. Although he wasn't my choice- I wanted to see a race between Giuliani and Clinton- I have to admit he's performed well so far; he hit the ground running, and has had a good 8 1/2 months. Yes, I oppose some of his programs, but they are the programs he ran on, and he won; he has every right to push them. But that doesn't explain today's surprise announcement: President Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Heavens to Hecate. The Nobel Peace Prize? I don't understand. Guantanamo is still in business. We're still at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran and North Korea are still pursuing nuclear weapons. He hasn't re-submitted Kyoto to Congress, or negotiated a replacement. He hasn't negotiated a peace treaty to settle anyone else's war. He hasn't negotiated a new Middle East accord. He didn't improve our national image enough to even get Chicago to the second round of voting for the Olympics. His only peace accomplishment has been to get a hotheaded college professor to sit down with a hotheaded cop to share a beer. That must have been some beer.

I realize I'm out of step with the world today. Everyone else is singing songs of praise to Obama. Celebrities are pledging to be a good servant to him. And the Nobel committee has such faith that they have awarded him a prize for what he will do. It's ridiculous of me to ask why; nothing I say will stop the chorus. If every tongue were stilled, the songs would still continue- the rocks and stones themselves would start to sing. Obama, Hey Bama, Bama Bama Obama, Hey Bama, Obama...

UPDATE: Turns out it wasn't the beer after all. The Nobel nominations have to be in by February- President Obama had been in office only 12 days.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The dangers of gay-bashing

One night in Swansea, Wales, three burly street toughs went strolling down the avenue picking fights. After losing one altercation, they decided to regain their manhood by beating up a passing drag queen. Other men might have struck up a conversation with the cross dresser instead, getting to know him as a person. Had they done so, they would have learned what the drag queen did for a living: he is a professional cage fighter. Other men wouldn't have the surveillance video of the three of them getting beaten up by one guy in a classic black evening dress posted on YouTube for the whole world to see.

UPDATE: Here's more footage from ITN. Notice that it takes only 12 seconds for the man in the black dress to put the thugs down, retrieve his purse, straighten his dress, and walk away.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Getting between you and your doctor

One of the biggest complaints against health insurance companies is that they deny claims on the basis of cost, rather than medical reasons- that's why we need a public option, healthcare that looks at medical necessities rather than profits. Now someone has published the actual numbers to show the extent of the problem.

Researcher Pat Tuohey has collected the raw numbers from the eight largest healthcare providers, and the results are interesting. The number of denials vary considerably- the average is 4.25% of claims denied, with the low being 2.68% denied (UHC). The second highest denier of claims, Aetna, has a denial rate more than double UHC's- 6.80%.

So if Aetna is second highest, what unfeeling, money-grubbing, profit obsessed healthcare group is the worst? With 6,938,431 claims denied- 6.85% of the total- the prize goes to Medicare. Article with links to the raw data here

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Light Bulbs vs. The Nanny State

I experimented with the CFL a couple years ago , and found every flaw listed in this video. Since writing that post, someone suggested another explanation for why all my CFL bulbs blew so fast: they were all mounted inverted in downward-pointing sockets. CFLs create much less heat than incandescent bulbs, but they do create heat- and when inverted, the heat rises to cook the circuitry in the base of the bulb, dramatically reducing their lifespan. Incandescent bulbs have no circuitry to cook, and so last longer than CFLs in this usage.

Big deal, you say, just change the fixtures? This house was built in 1870; the chandeliers are the original gas chandeliers, wired for electricity, and they hang several feet down from the 13" ceilings. And the house is in an historical district- I would have to find five matching chandeliers, two front porch fixtures, and kitchen fixtures that are or look period, but are all wired with all sockets facing up, then have them all installed- even if possible, it would cost many, many thousands, which I don't have- especially for something that ridiculous. I suppose I could fill the house with floor lamps and never turn the chandeliers on except for company, but I don't have enough wall sockets to do that, either.

So come 2012, I will have to set aside a couple hundred dollars a year for the government mandated CFL bulbs- dramatically increasing my carbon footprint for inferior illumination- and make a special recycling basket that will cradle the bulbs without breaking them for the trips to the recyclers, so my congressman can feel he's doing something about greenhouse gasses. Something, good, I mean, rather than increasing them as it actually turns out. I will also be harming our balance of trade, as not a single CFL is made in the U.S. But as Al Gore has shown us, it's better to look green than to be green.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Friday, October 02, 2009

Countdown to Halloween

One of my favorite blogs is Sexy Witch , a collector of artwork depicting witches through the decades, and even centuries. (warning, not completely work friendly) Unsurprisingly, this month there is a theme:. Countdown to Halloween. Today's entry, Halloween in Melbourne is about the difficulty of getting Halloween decorations in Australia.

I am an American Conservative

My thanks to Wayside Chapel for providing the link I had lost to an amusing piece entitled "I am an American S***heel" that's been quoted now and again in the blogosphere since it first appeared some five years ago. I thought I'd post a version of it with some commentary included.

This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock powered by electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the US department of energy. (Whose regulations have prevented the construction of any new nuclear powerplants for nearly forty years, ensuring that 75% of our electricity would come from burning fossil fuels, making us the second largest polluter on Earth) I then took a shower in the clean water provided by the municipal water utility. (Whose pipes leak a quarter of what they pump, wasting precious clean water and energy, because it's easier to raise rates than fix it) After that, I turned on the TV to one of the FCC regulated channels (One of the dozen-odd they permit per market, despite the fact that off the shelf technology would permit there to be hundreds of broadcast and thousands of narrowcast channels per market- must be a limit to how much freedom of the press we're allowed) to see what the national weather service of the national oceanographic and atmospheric administration determined the weather was going to be like using satellites designed, built, and launched by the national aeronautics and space administration. (Who, by next year, will be out of the manned spaceflight business because they couldn't plan ahead for the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet. Despite spending only $5.7 billion out of their $18 billion dollar budget on manned spaceflight, they couldn't find the extra $3.5 billion they needed to keep their core mission functioning... by the way, did you know NASA dollars are spent in all 50 states, and all 435 Congressional districts? That's the way you keep your funding!) I watched this while eating my breakfast of US department of agriculture inspected food (Assuming it wasn't on one of the regular recall lists because yet another E-coli contamination slipped through the cracks) and taking the drugs which have been determined as safe by the food and drug administration. (Like thalidomide, the anti-nausea drug that caused all those birth defects... while the most effective of the anti-nausea drugs, the one cancer patients need, medical marijuana, is banned so strongly that they're preventing states from legalizing it on their own)

At the appropriate time as regulated by the US congress and kept accurate by the national institute of standards and technology and the US naval observatory, I get into my national highway traffic safety administration approved automobile (That the government required explosive devices be installed in, which hopefully will be contained by the airbag before it blows your face off- though occasionally they fail to do so. The government claims you need explosives so powerful that possession of them outside your automobile would get your arrested for terrorism to be safe, despite the fact that we regularly see racecars slam into brick walls at 250MPH without airbags and without fatalities.) and set out to work on the roads build by the local, state, and federal departments of transportation, (Which are maintained so inefficiently by local governments that here in Indiana, we leased a major toll road to a private company, who is maintaining it at a profit cheaper than the government did as a service) possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the environmental protection agency, (Using standards created by Rockefeller, who became a millionaire by producing oil of uniform standards) using legal tender issued by the federal reserve bank. (Which receives criticism from both the right and the left because it's too independent, not answering directly to elected officials- many claim it's actually unconstitutional because of that) On the way out the door I deposit any mail I have to be sent out via the US postal service (The only delivery service in the country to routinely run at a deficit- $7 billion last year- despite having a total monopoly on first class mail) and drop the kids off at the public school. (Which here in Indiana, recently got into trouble for using creative numbers to disguise the fact that less than 30% of its students were graduating high school, despite spending more, on a per student basis, than elite private schools)

After spending another day not being maimed or killed at work thanks to the workplace regulations imposed by the department of labor and the occupational safety and health administration, enjoying another two meals which again do not kill me because of the USDA, I drive my NHTSA car back home on the DOT roads, to my house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes and fire marshal's inspection, (Lucky guy; hundreds of house burn every year because not one state in the union requires sprinklers or any other active fire suppression system in private homes, despite that being century-old technology. Many lives are lost because they do not require fire escapes on multilevel homes, either; we bought a roll up ladder that can be lowered from the window) and which has not been plundered of all it's valuables thanks to the local police department. (Lucky guy again; care to see some burglary statistics?)

I then log on to the internet which was developed by the defense advanced research projects administration (An advanced version of the BBS system, which had been run by nerds from their homes since 1978 until the internet ran them out of business in the late nineties) and post on and Fox news forums about how SOCIALISM in medicine is BAD because the government can't do anything right.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lying, even in a good cause, is wrong

The latest News from UUA Advocacy and Witness ,"Act Now to Pass the Employment Non Discrimination Act!", does just that when it says, " shows our elected officials that as Unitarian Universalists, we stand on the side of love for equality AND religious freedom.", and "ENDA's opponents say that it interferes with their religious freedom, but we know that this is not true." It IS true, it DOES interfere with their religious freedom.

For many Christians- especially the more fundamental ones most likely to be affected by this act- the term "religious institutions" is not limited to a church or a church bookstore. The law may make a distinction between a bakery owned and staffed by Christians and a monastery whose monks bake bread, but they do not- they take "Wherever two or more are gathered in my name" seriously. The government may say the banner on the wall of the construction company that says, "Everything we do is dedicated to the greater glory of God" is mere decoration, but they do not. They do not compartmentalize their faith from the rest of their lives; they believe that religion is not just for Sunday in just this building, but something they must live every moment.

Perhaps the people who wrote that advocacy letter are unaware of this, despite being college graduates working in a religious institution, but my Congressman, being Muslim, is well aware of it, as are both my Senators. Were I to take that tack in a letter to them, they would presume it to be just another email generated letter from a special interest group... which, in fact, it would be; and they'd know that if my name is in their Farley Files, and it might be as I've met all three of them.

Much of what I hear in church, and much of what I read from bloggers and the UUA tells me that many UUs have never studied and don't really understand their Christian neighbors. They lecture Christians over social justice issues, assert "truths" that Christians know ain't so. I often feel like beginning every such discussion by quoting Benjamin Franklin from 1776: "These men, no matter how much we may disagree with them, they are not ribbon clerks to be ordered about - they are proud, accomplished men, the cream of their colonies. And whether you like them or not, they and the people they represent will be part of this new nation that YOU hope to create. Now, either learn how to live with them, or pack up and go home! In any case, stop acting like a Boston fishwife."

Far better to argue from the truth- yes, this is an infringement of your rights- but none of our rights are absolute. Freedom of speech and press have restrictions, ranging from shouting "fire" to McCain-Feingold. Freedom of assembly is restricted by the requirement of permits. And freedom of religion has restrictions, too; we forbid human sacrifice, even when voluntary; we forbid the use of certain drugs, we require parents to get medical care for their children. Rights are an always fluid balancing act between the individual and the compelling interests of society- and at this time, the balance must be drawn here, for these reasons... Don't tell him "all seriously religious people agree..." (as our previous president was wont to do), because he knows it isn't true.

Honesty really is the best policy. Even if you don't win the first round, you'll win respect, and your words will gain weight in the process. Acting like politicians will only get you the same respect that politicians get- surely we want more than that.

Addendum: CC's comment shows that some clarification of the Christian opposition to ENDA is in order. Many Christians believe that someone who is actively homosexual cannot be a Christian. Homosexual desires, they feel, are a temptation of Satan; one is not responsible for such temptations- ask Job. But acting on those temptations is a conscious decision. Therefore, an active homosexual who feels no remorse and has no intention of trying to change, is unrepentant and cannot be Christian. Therefore, the owner of a Christian company, who has dedicated his endeavors as a testimony to how one can succeed by living God's word feels he cannot hire a homosexual. (this describes many of my former customers) He feels his rights of free association and freedom of religion are abridged by being forced to hire non-Christians. He feels that if the courts have found otherwise since 1968, it only means that the courts have been wrong since 1968.

He is right- it is an abridgement of his rights. It simply isn't rational to say that the freedom of association doesn't mean you can decide who to associate with, or that the freedom of religion doesn't mean you can use your religion beliefs in the exercise of your freedom of association. But, as I noted above, we abridge rights all the time in the public interest. My position is that by getting a business license, society has granted him certain rights and privileges, such as the ability to buy wholesale, to not pay sales tax on most items, etc. He has become a public institution, and owes society certain favors in return- such as complying with anti-discrimination laws. The price of the right to discriminate is to forfeit the special advantages and privileges of a public institution.

I do not know if this was the reasoning in the 1968 decision that said employers may not discriminate on the grounds of religion. If it was, then the court admitted that it was interfering with the right of free association and free exercise of religion, and I agree with the court; it was a balance between individual rights and society's needs. ENDA would be a further abridgement of those rights; justified, yes, but still an abridgement. If the courts ruled that there was no right of free association in the first place, then they came to the right decision via the wrong path. It wouldn't be the first time.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Of racism, protestors, and the greatest virtue

Much has been made of the role of racism as the motivation for the "Tea Party" protests. My position has been that of course there are racists; it is a human failing and all the protestors are human beings (to the best of my knowledge, but that's a different conspiracy theory), but the opposition to healthcare reform is genuine, as evidenced by past opposition when Presidents Nixon and Clinton tried it. Others, from Janeane Garofalo to President Carter to a number of UU bloggers believe that race is THE motivation of "the overwhelming majority" or even "That is racism straight up."

I noted in this post that President Obama also believed that opposition to healthcare reforms and his other political projects were the motivation, not racism. It was suggested that this was a political position, that he knows that demonizing the opposition is not the way to win hearts and minds. This is a reasonable supposition, as it's quite true- something that many people never seem to get. Now President Clinton has also defended (at least as far as the charge of racism) the protestors. From an article in Politico 44 : "Asked for his response to former President Jimmy Carter's statement that Obama critics were motivated by racism, Clinton walked a careful line. "You can't — but if you're president, you have to be exceedingly sensitive to the fact that not everybody who disagrees on you on health care has a — has a racist bone in their body. Some of the extremists do, but most of them don't. This — let me put it this way: If Barak Obama were a white president, I believe virtually 100 percent of the people who oppose him on health care today would oppose him on health care anyway." A longer video clip is here

Perhaps he was only being political; again, it would be a reasonable assumption. But something about the way he said it, and the way it agreed with things he has said in the past, (I've followed him closely for the better part of two decades), makes me believe he was sincere. Call me naive and Pollyanna if you wish, (it wouldn't be the first time ), but I find that touching. Here is a Southern Baptist- a faith most UUs would call "judgmental"- possibly the most skilled practitioner of a profession even the most generous would say is rife with cynicism, a man who has taken more personal attacks than any President in history save Nixon... and he still has more faith in the goodness, dignity and worth of his fellow man than many UU bloggers- including some ministers.

In the past, I have often said, "Conservatives believe Liberals are wrong; Liberals believe Conservatives are evil"... when and where I formed my political beliefs, that seemed to be the mindset. I have learned over the years (hat tip to CC) that this mindset is not the exclusive province of Liberals, but if you substitute "my side and their side", it most certainly applies to the assumption that Tea Party folk are racist. The belief that the opposition is evil is a dangerous mindset; it shuts off debate, (why listen to evil?), it hardens the heart, darkens the vision, (a large percentage of mankind is evil!), it stops examination of your own beliefs (why pay attention to the arguments of evil?)

One could easily believe it to be the mindset of an extremist- but that's not necessarily true, either. I have studied the writings of many extremists, both political and religious, and many concede the sincerity and good will of the opposition. There are even terrorists who believe in the sincerity and good will of the opposition- they only use violence because they believe the stakes are so high; the consequences of the opposition's errors justify it.

If extremism is not the source of this mindset, what is? For some, (cough, cough, Garofalo), it's seems to be sheer ego- "I am a superior lifeform; I cannot be in error- even the dimmest bulbs must realize that I'm their better. Therefore, they must be evil" But there are many who are modest and self effacing who still hold that mindset. I have known those who not only tithe to their church, but spend the remainder of their disposable income on charity, and all their free time on social justice work who hold that mindset... and therein lies the clue: this mindset is the result of absolute conviction.

Note that absolute conviction is not the same thing as faith. Faith is the belief in that which cannot be proven. The scientist and the theologian alike have faith; any honest scientist will tell you that many things are taken on faith, in that they are assumptions not yet disproved. But any good scientist or theologian has a measure of doubt... a scientist will accept new discoveries, even if they run counter to lifelong beliefs; a theologian will accept new revelations- the Mormon church, just as one example, has had many. Someone with absolute conviction, however, will not accept anything counter to those convictions. A scientist with absolute conviction will not accept new discoveries, claiming instead that there is some error in the methodology- there were those who went to their grave denying atomic energy because it violated the laws of conservation of energy. A theologian with absolute conviction will deny a new revelation as a ruse of Satan or a hallucination, even if they realize the irony that many believed their convictions were a ruse or hallucination.

The world's religions have long debated the greatest virtue; courage, faith, hope, love, charity all have their proponents. I wish to add doubt as a candidate. Not enough doubt to cause analysis paralysis, (all virtues become flaws in their extreme), but enough to make you pause when the stakes are high enough... enough doubt in your rightness to not automatically call your opposition racist or fascist... enough doubt in your Biblical interpretations to call a doctor for your child if faith healing is not working... enough doubt in your faith to not push the button on your suicide bomb vest... enough doubt to constantly revisit your conclusions to see if they still make sense.

Doubt, in that measure, may be the greatest virtue.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Keeping them coming

The latest church bulletin from my congregation, All Souls Unitarian Church (Indianapolis) , made me think of the recent election of a new UUA President. The biggest issue was how to grow our membership- and I thought most people were looking at the issue the wrong way. Most of the discussion was about how to get people in the doors; I maintained that the problem wasn't getting people to visit- I can't think of a Sunday we haven't had visitors- the problem was getting them to keep visiting. That, I believe, is the problem- after all, if the average UU congregation picked up a single new member a week, they'd double their membership in two years.
The connection to the church bulletin was the teaser for future sermons:
"Sunday, October 4, 10:30 a.m.
"The Religion of God"
Rev. Bruce Clear
Over the years, I've enjoyed preparing religious biographical sermons, and spoken on "The Religion of... " Some examples are Walt Whitman, Albert Einstein, Susan B. Anthony, Kahlil Gibran, Charles Darwin, Beatrix Potter, and so forth. It is time to
quit playing around and go right to the heart of the matter. What religion does God practice?"

Does anyone think I'm going to miss that sermon? I've mentioned before that Bruce's sermons are somewhere between a chat with that favorite cousin or uncle whose visits you look forward to and a lecture by your favorite professor. Here's a few sermons of recent years I remember fondly:
Roots and Branches of Religious Liberty
Eyes On the Prize

Feeling At Home in the Universe
Searching for Truth: A Detective Story

A Harmony of Science and Religion
Heartbreak, Healing, and Hope
The Anatomy of Happiness

Competition and the Game of Life
Our Most Intractable Sin
Are All Religions Really the Same?
The Heart and Art of Unitarian Universalism
Was Jesus a Christian?
To Keep Alive the Covenant

What Values? Whose Values?
The Anatomy of the Soul

Give Them Not Hell, But Hope and Courage
The Sacred Feminine

Yes, social justice is important, and we must never let it out of our thoughts... but do we have a single social justice issue that isn't addressed by a secular organization that's more efficient, and has more clout? So why would one go to a church to clumsily, ineffectively engage the issues?

As Bruce said in his sermon, Are all religions the same , "It is relatively easy to identify the questions that religions tend to ask. What we find in studying the worlds religions is that each one has a different favorite question. Some of religions common questions are as follows:
First, what is the purpose of life? Why are we here?
Second, how can I cope with suffering in life?
Third, how do I find personal peace and contentment?
Fourth is the question of ethics. How do I know what is right and what is wrong?
And fifth, how do I know truth? On what can I depend?
These are five of many questions that human beings the world over ask themselves, and usually turn to religion to discover answers."

These are the questions being addressed by those churches that are actually growing. These are the questions people go to church for. They don't join churches to have a vehicle for the healthcare debate or abortion rights or immigration reform- those are political questions being much more effectively addressed by political organizations. Too much of the UUA is more PAC than church- and therefore performs neither function effectively. Churches that spend more time addressing these questions than asking you to write your congressman- the Pentecostals, say, or the Jehovah's Witnesses, have grown from 40-70% the last twenty years. One religion that addresses these questions AND encourages people to study and think for themselves- Wicca- has grown more than 140% per year for the last ten years.

Our numbers have been static for more than forty years.

Maybe doing what religions do isn't the best way for us to grow as a religion- but it's a great way to retain any growth we get from any other plan.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Race is not the overriding issue,

was the claim being made in an interview with CNN, and covered by Matt Spetalnick For Reuters. The interviewee was disagreeing with former President Carter, who had said, "I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man."

"I think there's been a long-standing debate in this country that is usually that much more fierce during times of transition or when presidents are trying to bring about big changes," he said. He likened it to FDR being called a communist or socialist when the New Deal was being debated. "Things that were said about Ronald Reagan when he was trying to reverse some of the New Deal programs were pretty vicious as well," he said.

While not denying there were some racists out there, he was quick to point out the flip side- that there were those who voted for President Obama only because of his race as well.

Now I know some of you are saying, "Yeah, we've heard you and CC both say these things before, and just because you've got some pundit to quote doesn't make any of you right- who was it, George Will or Charles Krauthammer? Actually, it was President Obama who said those things. There's a short clip here and a longer story here .

Friday, September 18, 2009

*Double sigh*

I've spent the last few hours working on the computer. Well, to be more accurate, I was watching while a Microsoft tech did the actual work via shared desktop. But hey, I had to click "ok" several times, so it was a joint effort! But that's not exactly what I was sighing about.

This started a couple days ago, with me trying to get a glitch fixed using the help chat. Within a few minutes, the tech said he's have to bounce this one up to the advanced help, so he connected me to the next level of experts. A half hour later the advanced tech admitted defeat, and said he'd take a copy of all my settings and they'd have a team try to duplicate the problem and figure out a fix: they'd call me in a couple more days with a solution.

Sure enough, I got the call today. True to their word, they'd done the research and had a fix for me- the tech kept me on the phone while working on the computer, confirming symptoms and such as she did her thing. I've got to say, every tech involved was cheerful and polite, and the job was done in good time- at no charge.
But the fix involved a number of reboots, and we chatted a bit while waiting. The subject turned to the hardware I was using, and the good buy I'd gotten for the price. I said, "Yeah, that's less than I paid for my Commodore 64!" She, after a moment's hesitation, said, "Is that a car?" I said, "No, that was my first computer, back in '83" She laughed, and said, "Oh! I wasn't born yet."

Sigh. Double sigh. I can understand a regular kid not knowing the mighty 64, but this was one of the bulging forehead geeks that the lesser techs deferred to... I'm not sure why this feels worse than knowing that the President of the United States is younger than I am, but it does.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


While I was writing my last post, our sabre-tooth tomcat, Garfunkle, came over to my desk yowling in his eerily soft voice, and deposited a mouse at my feet. I gave him an ear rub, finished the post, then got up to get a paper towel. When I got back to my seat, I found Garfunkle was very politely taking care of it himself.

It's just those little crunching noises that get to me.

Of Atheism and healthcare

CC and Jess have been continuing the discussion of the theist/atheist divide that started with the infamous ad in the latest UUWorld. I think the other subject du jour, the healthcare debate, can illustrate the point CC and I have been trying to make for years (only she usually does it more eloquently)

When you see a sign or poster with President Obama painted like The Joker, or calling him a fascist, are you convinced? Do you want to break bread with someone carrying a placard depicting Obama with a toothbrush moustache?

Then why do think I'll be convinced by a sign quoting Dawkins? Why would you think I'd listen to any argument that begins with "Faith is believing what you know ain't so"?

Everyone does it differently

You're thirsty. There's clean, sparkling running water. Some would cup their hands and raise the water to their lips. Some would turn their head sideways and slurp at the stream. And some would just shove their whole head in the waterfall and lick the dribbles running down their face...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Whose rights are they anyway?

There are two schools of thought concerning individual rights: one says that rights are granted to the individual by society (or the state, or whatever term fits the issue); the other says that rights reside in the individual, and society must show some compelling interest to restrict them. Conservatives like to say that this is the difference between a liberal and a conservative, but it upon examination, both sides sometimes argue both ways.

This thought struck me while listening to my favorite radio talk show, Abdul in the morning . The discussion was a proposed change in Indiana's liquor laws to allow Sunday sales. Many who would describe themselves as conservative were saying, "Are you incapable of thinking ahead and buying on Saturday? Why should we allow you to buy on Sunday?" But if you believe in the rights of the individual, the question should be, "What is the compelling state interest in restricting the sale of a legal product? Is alcohol more potent on Sunday than Saturday?" The same reversal of burden occurs in the discussion of gay marriage. If you believe in individual rights, the question is not "Why should the state recognize gay marriage?", but "If the state recognizes any marriage, what is the compelling interest preventing the recognition of this one?".

Conservatives are not alone in hypocrisy, of course. If the issue is guns, then the right to own and bear them resides in the state, to be extended to or withdrawn from the individual at the state's pleasure- but if the issue is abortion, then the right resides in the individual, and cannot be withdrawn by the state. The personal right of choice and the principle of competition are so important that there must be a public healthcare option to provide that choice and competition, with the proviso that the public choice must sink or swim on its own merits, so that the competition is genuine. Unless the issue is education, of course, in which case the public option is paramount, regardless of cost, efficiency, or effectiveness.

The lesson is that human nature dictates that the core guiding principle is "Whose ox is being gored?"*
*Do oxen gore each other? I thought bulls were made oxen and stallions were made geldings to calm them down so they wouldn't fight each other.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My kingdom for a spider

Many people dislike spiders, or worse- as this T-shirt says , "We have nothing to fear but fear itself... and spiders". But there's a couple flies in the house, and the cats are on the hunt- a combined total of more than forty pounds of ferocious carnivore are stalking, climbing, and leaping in the pursuit. Not all the bric-a-brac on all the shelves in all of Christendom will deter them from their self-appointed duty. *sigh*

Charlotte, where are you when I need you?

One doctor's view of healthcare reform

Dr. Marc Siegel takes exception to many of the things said in the debate on healthcare. "If President Obama thinks he's smarting from a rough August, he should try being a doctor. After all, we've taken quite a few shots in this health care debate, including a few from the president himself. When Obama accused physicians of taking out tonsils or performing amputations just for the money, he offended all doctors, not just ear, nose and throat specialists or vascular surgeons.", he begins. "...On the other hand, meet Zane Pollard, a pediatric ophthalmologist in Atlanta who works in a Medicaid clinic and literally saves children's sight or performs surgeries — often without payment. Pollard wrote a letter, published in the American Thinker in August and well-circulated since, that shows what is being done to help the uninsured rather than what is not being done: "I operate on at least two illegal immigrants each month who pay me nothing, and the children's hospital at which I operate charges them nothing also." Pollard notes that such treatment is delivered in "every community in America." Read more from My medical oath requires no government oversight

Monday, September 14, 2009

One last post about the FFRF ad controversy

I had not intended to say anything more about it, but judging by comments to many of the blogs that complained about the ad, and a couple blog posts supporting it, it appears to me that the nature of the offense and the complaints were not universally understood. Goodwolve, for example, in two posts- I am not changing my mind , and One more time - is there room in the UUA (or how fear is ruining everything) seems to believe that the entire issue is that theists hate atheists, want them to either shut up or convert, and want to insert the church into the government.

Steve Caldwell, in his post Anti-Atheism Ad in UU World That Criticizes Bishop Spong , seems to believe that theists can't take any criticism: "As one of my favorite bloggers (Greta Christina) has said in the past, people are so used to whispering around religion that an everyday voice sounds like a shout." (as a quick aside, I can understand how one might want to say that to a Christian, but we Pagans are kind of used to being shouted at. By Christians and atheists both.) Steve and Goodwolve are both misunderstanding the issue.

Let's look at the quotes so many of us found objectionable. Clarence Darrow: "I don't believe in God because..." So far, so good. I have no problem whatsoever with that; half- possibly more than half- of my friends are atheist or agnostic*, I have no problem with anyone stating their beliefs in a positive way. The problem comes in the second half of the quote: "... I don't believe in Mother Goose." To understand my problem with this requires a discussion of a distinction that has been largely discarded in modern discourse, especially politics: the difference between a mistake and a lie.

To make a mistake is to say something that is untrue, but you believed it was true when you said it. There was no intent to deceive yourself or others; you were simply wrong. A lie is saying something that you knew was wrong when you said it. The same distinction can be made between a mythical character and a fictional one. An example of a mythical character is the Urban Legend about the guy who bolted a JATO rocket to his '67 Chevy, flew off the high side of a turn, and crashed. It never happened... but it's very believable; JATO rockets do exist, and daredevils have in fact bolted them on cars and attained very high speeds. Foolish people really do try to duplicate stunts they're not experienced enough to pull off. There is no obvious reason to doubt the story, unlike a fictional character- say Mr. Spock- who there is no reason to believe to be an actual person, and the author never intended for you to believe to be an actual person. Thus when Darrow finished his statement with "... I don't believe in Mother Goose.", he was saying that God is as obviously fictional as Mother Goose, that those writing about God never intended their tales to be believable- but then asked us to believe them anyway. That is worse than saying that those who believe in God are gullible- I don't mind that, of course that's what an atheist believes- but he is saying that those who wrote about God are liars, and we who believe are dupes of the silliest kind.

The same thing is true of the Twain quote. Had he said "Faith is believing what ain't so.", I would have no complaint at all. His "truth" is that there is no God- of course he's going to say it ain't so. But that's not what he said- the quote is "Faith is believing what you know ain't so." He is calling people of faith liars, or worse.

Dawkins does Twain one better. He, too calls God fictional, but then adds another insult on top of that: "... is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction." And he goes even farther than that, he takes a step neither Darrow nor Twain took in his insult. Steve said, "However, I don't see either ad as a personal attack on any person but rather a criticism of different opinions about theology. From my perspective as a reader of both ads, I can see that criticism of a religious idea isn't the same as criticizing the person who may hold that idea." But Dawkins wasn't speaking in the generic; he was very specific- "The God of the Old Testament". That's saying, "Hey, you, Jews- YOUR God, the one you have a covenant with? HE is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction."

Goodwolve asked, "Why can't you let an ad that is defending your right to promote your religion in the confines of the law be part of our Unitarian dialog?" What about the ad is defending my right to promote my religion? It says not one word about defending my right to promote my religion- and it does insult me and my ancestors. One cannot even use the small-print boilerplate to establish that intent- it reads, "a 501(c)(3) non-prophet organization of atheists and agnostics working since 1978 to keep church and state separate." They clearly don't want me as a member; they specify atheists and agnostics, even to the point of making the pun "non-prophet". Given that, and they insults they quote- and the complete lack of any mention of the Constitution, or any church-state issues- how on Earth was I supposed to understand that they're defending me?

She also asks, "If personal experience is what really changes us I doubt it will happen that a theist will convince me that there is a god. I also doubt that I will convince them there isn't. And yet we feel the need to defend our position." This is a very important point that comes up in all the theist/atheist debates, and deserves attention.

Goodwolve, I'm not trying to convince you. I'm not trying to convert you. My faith is not evangelical; in fact, my beliefs say I couldn't convince you if I tried- the experience of the Divine (or the lack of it) is intensely personal, and can rarely translate from one person to the other; I have often said that in truth there are six billion religions. Nor am I defending my position, not to you or anyone. I do not need or desire your belief in my vision of the Divine. Nor do I need your belief to fellowship with you- Hell's bells, many of my fellow Pagans have deep differences with me. I treasure differences and new perspectives; one cannot learn anything by talking to a mirror. I love reading your blog, and Steve's. Driving you out of the church is not what i want.

ALL I WANT IS TO NOT BE CALLED A LIAR OR A DUPE AT CHURCH. That's all. It really, really is. Tell me God does not exist, and we're still friends; those are your beliefs, and I will defend your right to hold them. State your reasons for believing so if you wish, and I'll happily examine them- I don't know everything. I love hearing positive statements of a position to study. I want to hear it. But statements that do nothing to advance your position but merely denigrate mine I'll complain about.

Is that really so hard to understand?
*I'm using the terms in the commonly understood forms: atheist- there is no God, agnostic- I don't know. Yes, I know atheists say it isn't that simple, and the dictionary definitions are wrong, but the fine distinctions are not germane to this discussion.