Our monthly meeting for January 24, 2017 – Religion evolves?

This is the first post about the content of our monthly meeting in quite some time. Meetings in the recent past have focused on live presentations and discussions which were difficult to present in written format, but the most recent meeting featured discussion about the video embedded below.

The topic was the differences between christian churches representing different denominations and displaying very different views of what is important. Many churches cling to a very fundamentalist orientation while others have more flexible and “modern” versions of the dogma, rituals and atmosphere. Yet most of them are seeing a continued decline in membership as the number of people claiming no particular religious affiliation continues to grow. The “nones” as they are typically described don’t necessarily lose all their faith, they just don’t find church involvement to be particularly important.

In this environment, many churches are seeking answers as to how they should change or evolve to make themselves relevant for the future. This has often led them toward increasingly liberal positions on issues such as women’s rights, gay rights, etc. This evolution has been slow and sometimes painful as membership can decline further when members find the liberal positions less to their liking.

At our meeting we watched a video made in 2013 in which the pastor of a church in Toronto, Ontario Canada responds to question about here decision to define herself as an atheist and the difficulties reconciling this with the members of her church. While many left, others have stayed and the church has continued to explore its new role as a welcome place for those who have not faith or have a very limited faith.

The West Hill United Church of Canada has now begun exploring joining the Oasis program which connects other churches or groups embracing a secular humanist view and seeking to redefine Sunday morning services as serving a primarily humanistic purpose. We shall see if this evolution helps to preserve their existence or if they are just another step on the extinction of religion.

In which I take a stab at returning to the blog

It has been a long time since I added anything to the blog other than links to videos we have watched at our monthly meeting. I’m not entirely sure why I found it less appealing. Perhaps it was feeling overwhelmed with the ability of people like Jerry Coyne to produce a mammoth volume of well written and interesting posts on a daily basis while I struggled to do any kind of post more than once a week. Guess I should approach it more the way I do learning to play the guitar. I’ll never be all that great, it’s just fun to be able to do it at all.

So what is happening now? Well, next week I will meet with a guy named Jerry Nagel who is involved in a project with the Blandin Foundation in which some people (I don’t know who), will receive training (I don’t know what) to be influential in leading groups to achieve a broader understanding of their world views and how those views act as a lens through which they perceive the world…or something. It was suggested that he meet with me as a “leader” of a group with a “world view” and as someone who had entered into a discussion with others holding different world views, i.e. the CPC group now known as World Views Uniting.

My initial response after agreeing to meet was to take a look at the website for his consulting business which is WorldViewIntelligence.com. It seemed the best place to gain an understanding of whether this was mostly woo or something more substantive. It looked like woo through much of what I read. Lots of stuff about world views driving us hither and thither via an unconscious channel. While I suppose you can demonstrate an unconscious channel in various situations, I’ve never been overly fond of the idea that we are walking around clueless to our real thoughts, emotions, brain events, etc. I’ve known plenty of clueless people, but I’m not sure they were clueless because they were unconscious. I think they were clueless because they lacked an interest in developing and nurturing a self-examined life. I for one don’t really think I stumbled into a secular/humanist perspective and remain unaware of how it colors my view of the world. I spend the better part of my life examining and evaluating that perspective.

So what will I discuss with Nagel? I’m actually supposing that he will take responsibility for aiming the conversation in one way or another, but have been making guesses as is my style. So here are some thoughts.

GRAF as a group does represent a world view of sorts, but what we share is mostly discomfort with the idea of a g*d and after that things get a bit messy. A fair number of us value a scientific view of the nature of reality and how to learn more about it, but that isn’t a dominant feature of the thinking process of everyone in the group. We also have a pretty strong skeptical orientation and avoid buying into other ideologies without evidence or reason and logic, but there again, we have different levels of skepticism in the group. The list of differences that exist within our group and between members is substantial after you get through the shared stuff.

So what I think is that I will have less to say about our world view and more about how the larger community is clueless about us, assigns qualities to us that aren’t accurate and often views us a threatening presence. I am reminded of that almost daily as I read the scary stories being presented by the religious announcing that the coming election may be the last one if they don’t shove a g*dly candidate down our throats (an image they seem overly fond of for some reason). Cruz will save the world by finally bringing the theocracy into being. Or maybe it will be Rubio or even Jeb!. Trump won’t save us at all even though he now claims to be as g*dly as anyone else. They don’t seem to realize he is a religious pretender. He certainly isn’t one of us. Just a sociopath who says whatever he thinks might make the con work. The “take our country back” meme is prominent in this political season, but I wonder if it reflects a dim awareness that religion is losing on a lot of fronts.

With these thoughts in mind, I returned to the World Views Intelligence website and then did a short search for videos to get a bit less of the woo and more of an explanation of what they are up to. It seems to come down to helping people overcome their prejudices, the use of stereotypes and other sorts of clouded thinking. Could such problems exist in this community?

If that works to include us along with all the other loathed, hated, despised and feared minority groups, maybe that is a good thing. I suspect that as we have found in our conversations with the CPC group, it may be a revelation of sorts to him to discover that atheists actually exist in rural America and can be the object of unconscious or conscious fear. He may also be surprised that there are enough of us to raise a stink with the help of the FFRF in a tiny town like Grand Rapids. Might be fun shaking his World View. More to come after next week….

All Things Happen for a Reason??? No way!

One thing that really raises my blood pressure is when theisst who believe in the traditional model of the 3-0 god assert that all things happen for a reason.  Really?  If such a god exists, this must mean he had a reason for cancer, malaria, and smallpox, along with tsunamis, earthquakes, and other “natural” disasters (are they truly natural if they are part of an omnipotent deity’s plan?).

But some people just don’t seem to get the point in abstract, but need a concrete example. So here’s one: Little Bella Bond, only a toddler, was punched in the abdomen repeatedly by her mother’s boyfriend until she died; her body was then kept refrigerated for a month before the culprit finally disposed of it.  If all things happen for a reason, and if god is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, then he must have had a reason for allowing that to happen.  Why did he not protect this child?  What prevented him, in his supposed might, from sheltering her from these vicious blows?  I have been punched in the abdomen, and it is not a pleasant experience.  Imagine the suffering of this poor, innocent, defenseless child as she was repeatedly pummeled by a grown man.

I defy anyone who believes in good, kind, and also all-knowing and all-powerful god to argue that there was a reason according to which the supposed loving almighty had to allow this to happen to little Bella.

Why Can’t I Own a Canadian?

Let’s be honest, the religious in this country have an awful habit of cherry-picking from the Bible in order to add authority to whatever powerfully wrong claim they are making at the time.  Faced with this idiocy, I must assume that we’ve all wanted to call them on their crap, or take their arguments to absurd levels.

Well, someone did.

In response to Dr. Laura Schlessinger, an Orthodox Jew at the time, citing homosexuality’s evil by quoting Leviticus, an unknown person wrote an incredibly snarky letter that went on to become an internet meme.

We know not who wrote this letter, and I find it irresponsible to throw in the names of commonly assumed  perpetrators, but here is the letter in full (copied and pasted from RationalWiki).

 

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to follow them:

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Leviticus 1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness – Leviticus 17:19-24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

Leviticus 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination – Leviticus 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?

Leviticus 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Leviticus 19:27. How should they die?

I know from Leviticus 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

My uncle has a farm. He violates Leviticus 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? – Leviticus24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Leviticus 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted fan,

Jim

 

Hope you all enjoy the snark.

Faith vs. Fact – Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible

Jerry Coyne’s new book referenced in the title above has now been published. I have a copy and I’m reading through it in my usual style of two or three pages at a time which guarantees that I won’t remember most of it and, therefore, can be excused for reading it over and over. He is starting to go through various book tour events and one of the first was held at Politics & Prose, a famous book store in Washington, D.C. A recording of his presentation is available here and is worth a listen.

The talk runs about 35 minutes and then is followed by another 30 minutes of Q & A. His publisher/agent advised him not to talk about what was in the book, but about why he wrote it, thereby being more likely to entice audience members to buy the book since they’d be more curious about what was in it. So Jerry tried to do this although he does give away some of the contents.

If you’ve followed Jerry on his “Why Evolution Is True” website for any length of time, you are probably familiar with his arguments about the incompatibility of science and religion. The book goes into more detail on some of his points and is an easy read so far. The position he takes is that science and religion make competing claims about the nature of reality even if religion also delves into issues of meaning and purpose. It’s the religious claims about reality that are most invidious because they are never supported by any evidence at all; they are simply assertions. There is no way to detect or correct errors within religion itself. It has no tools, no tested process by which to ascertain which of those claims, if any, is true. Hence, we have thousands of religions each making claims denied by some other religion. Science on the other hand, has a highly refined and thoroughly vetted system for searching out and identifying what is likely to be true. Hence, there is only one science, not American science or Chinese science or German science, etc. There is just the one system and it has succeeded in spectacular ways.

Jerry knows his book will be controversial and draw all sorts of challenges and complaints. His first presentation at the University Club of Chicago a couple of weeks ago gave him a taste when the wealthy old white men who make up the club invited him in to talk about his book. They were not amused. I wonder how they managed to invite him in the first place?

Back to Politics and Prose. The Q & A is also worth listening to primarily because of two people who wanted to make speeches instead of ask a question. The first is a nurse who claims that her work with patients relied heavily upon her faith and without said faith she fears she wouldn’t be successful in caring for others. Jerry points out that the word she should be using is ‘confidence’ rather than faith. She has confidence in her skills and those of her co-workers based on training, experience and knowledge. She misattributes this sense of confidence to a religious faith that really seems to play no real part. She is unconvinced.

The second is a fellow who describes himself as a rabbi and wants to lecture Jerry on how he needs to study religion even more since he doesn’t really understand his Jewish heritage. Too bad that Jerry didn’t talk at length about what was actually in his book. The rabbi falls into the trap of claiming that you have to read every single book on religion before you can criticize it. The correct reply of course, is for the rabbi to read every science book and then come back to talk.

These two speech makers take up a chunk of the Q & A time and Jerry has to be a little testy with them given the total number of people wanting to actually ask a question during the time available. It always amazes me when people try to use a Q & A to launch their own presentation instead as though their perspective is so important that they can impose it on the entire audience without permission or invitation. Jerry will likely need to practice his skills at telling people to shut up and sit down. I don’t think he enjoys doing that, but he doesn’t want to listen to the rants either.

 

Atheists: Inside the World of Non-believers – Our Monthly Meeting on May 26, 2015

This month’s program was a documentary produced by CNN in response to the continued rise in the number of those in the U.S. population who choose “none” when asked for their religious affiliation. While most of the “nones” seem reluctant to go as far as declaring themselves to be atheists, the percentage of atheists in this country continues to inch up. Combined with those who have simply walked away from organized religion, all of the “nones” constitute the fastest growing segment of the religious population, now outnumbering Catholics. It seems a bit odd to identify the “nones” as a religious group, but that’s how they tend to be portrayed in the media.

The documentary is a fairly balanced look at what atheism entails, the consequences one can encounter when giving up their faith and being open about it in public and how atheists remain decent people without god. So, a decent presentation that may counter some of the misunderstandings that are often encountered by those who are now part of the “nones”.

Duck Dynasty Dips**t

Phil Robertson is a bearded waste of flesh disguised as a cuddly Southern patriarch by the A&E show “Duck Dynasty.”  Fanatically Christian, Robertson has come under fire for the foul (foul/fowl pun not intended) comments he has made in the past about Muslims and gays, but I think his most recent comments take the cake.

Warning, these comments are graphic.

“Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot ’em. And they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?’ ”

He continues with:

“Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun. We’re sick in the head. Have a nice day.’ If it happened to them, they probably would say, ‘Something about this just ain’t right.’ ”

These comments were made at a prayer breakfast in Florida (it’s time to let that state go) about the supposed need for religious rules.  The problem is that all this does is prove that Robertson is a psychopath.  Seriously, what kind of man thinks about this kind of stuff?  It’s horrible; Salon, the Huffington Post, and Patheos have all slammed him for these horrendous comment, but Breitbart came to his defense, insisting that he was just making a parable (though they consented that it was extreme) and that the attacks on him are “ignorant” and “bigoted.”

Seriously, decent people slamming this scum for commenting on the torture of a man, the murder of his wife, and the rape and murders of his daughters are bigoted for being good people?  And what kind of mind-fucked asshole decides that his parable needs child rape to make a point!?

To put it more plainly: if you need to bring up rape–whether it be of a man, woman or child–to make your point, then your point is wrong.

Faith – Our monthly meeting on February 24, 2015

Matt Dillahunty is an increasingly well known atheist from Austin, Texas and the principal host of the weekly TV show, “The Atheist Experience”. He has recently announced that he is going to be working full-time on making presentations on atheism and engaging in debates as requested. In short, Matt is going “pro”.

Matt has been doing presentations and debates for a long time, but in the past it was mostly on a volunteer basis and he wasn’t asking for compensation or honoraria, etc. Now he has found that groups are willing to help fund his participation and he can make a living at it. His skill and popularity from the TV show has made him a bit of a celebrity.

In addition to his public appearances as an individual, Matt is also 1/3 of the “Unholy Trinity Tour” with AronRa and Seth Andrews who have also become “pros”. Matt has also begun producing short videos in which he articulates his ideas on various aspects of apologetics and other issues that are frequent sources of discussion and argument on the TV show. At this meeting we watched his presentation on the topic of “faith”. He does an excellent job of explaining how the concept of faith as a source of knowledge, understanding or confidence is without merit on every level. In the long run, the use of the word has become meaningless and ultimately an admission of ignorance or incoherence. So, not a great idea. Watch below for Matt at his best.

I suspect that at some point our discussions with the CPC group will bring us up against the notion of faith as a basis for holding on to a religious belief. I know that it is an idea at the core for at least some of the religious people participating. I don’t think I will push to have the group confront the notion of faith and I hope other GRAF members will be cautious too. We didn’t enter into the conversation in order to disabuse them of their beliefs. The goal was to have them become more supportive of us by virtue of discovering or confirming that religion and faith are not prerequisites for living a good and moral life. I think we have gotten a good portion of that accomplished. What remains to be seen is where that can take us in broadening the size of the religious community who “tolerate” or even support our right to non-belief. We need to find out how far we can go in getting the community to become “friendly” to those who have set aside any religious faith. We need to have being openly atheist considered of little or no significance outside of conversations about their religion and our lack of it.