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And a Happy George Day to All! November 26, 2011

Posted by Dindy in atheism, Christianity, Religion, Religious Right.
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The Thanksgiving leftovers haven’t even had time to get cold, and already the opening salvos have been fired in the annual war between those Christians who are outraged that people dare to celebrate the Yuletide season without reference to Christ and, well, everyone else. I see at least three posts a day from Facebook friends:

“I’m inviting all my Facebook family and friends to join me in returning to the traditional greeting of “MERRY CHRISTMAS” instead of the politically correct “Happy Holidays”!! If you agree with me, please re-post this message…..MERRY CHRISTMAS! We need Christ back into our lives GOD IS WELCOME IN MY HOUSE.”

This is actually one of the tamer of the Facebook posts floating around. Others are more emphatic, with one person shrilling, “People shouldn’t celebrate Christmas if they aren’t going to recognize Christ!”

Woof. Okay. So you don’t want anyone celebrating Christmas but Christians, but you want everyone to acknowledge and pay homage to YOUR celebration of Christmas. Gotcha!

Let me go on record here as saying I don’t really care what you call it. If someone wants to wish me a happy George Day instead of a Merry Christmas, I’m fine with that. I appreciate the sentiment behind it. Someone wants me to have a happy day. How nice. Not only that, but they want my cat, George, to have a nice day. I’m so glad they care about him, because he really is a very nice cat even if he does keep me awake at night when he does the monster mash on my chest.

I guess that’s where I just really don’t understand the Christians. Why is their happiness about the celebration of Christ’s birth dependent upon everybody else also celebrating that birth? Never mind the fact that Jesus is actually not the reason for the season, that the mid-winter festival was around for centuries before it was co-opted by the Christians who were trying to make their faith palatable to the pagans in northern Europe. For people who are supposed to be immersed in the joy of their savior’s birth, Christians seem to be mighty unhappy people. Instead of being glad that someone is giving them a pleasant greeting, they choose to grind their gears because they are not being wished a “Merry Christmas.”

As an atheist, I never used to mind it when people wished me a Merry Christmas. I admire many of the teachings of Jesus, and I don’t mind taking a day out to celebrate his birthday as a time of joy, love, peace and giving. However, I did think it was nice when merchants and other people started noticing that not all of their customers were Christian and started wishing people “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

Now, though, when someone wishes me a “Merry Christmas,” I stop to wonder if they are doing so to make a statement about how their religion should be the only one to be acknowledged. What I used to think of as a pleasant little greeting has been robbed of any nice sentiment it may have had.

Christians lament the “good old days” when nobody complained about being told to have a “Merry Christmas.” Well, there were a lot of things that people never used to complain about—blacks never used to complain about having to drink from separate water fountains, and people never used to complain about eating in restaurants without smoking sections. The world has changed, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that our society here in the United States is made up of people of many different beliefs, or no beliefs. So what if people never used to complain about being subjected to the religious practices of another group? Now that people have complained, it is just plain rude to continue to ignore the fact that other people may not wish to listen repeatedly to exhortations to celebrate a Christian holiday.

There are actually many celebrations that occur during December. Solstice, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Bodhi, Al Hijra, Hogmanay, Omisoka, St. Lucia Day, and La Posada, among others. For any group to insist that their particular holiday be celebrated among all others is not only arrogant, but short-sighted for those merchants who want to convey the message that they value all of their customers, not just the Christian ones.

However, it really is no skin off my nose if you want to wish me a Merry Christmas. I need all the good wishes I can get, so Mele Kalikimaka and a Happy George Day to you too.

Good News October 3, 2011

Posted by Bill in atheism, Christianity, Constitution, critical thinking, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Schools, Science, Uncategorized.
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One of my passions is keeping up with creationist (and I include Intelligent Design here) attempts to  change what science is.    They wish to supplant the reason and evidence that is the basis for good science with faith instead – specifically their faith. 

Sometimes, actually often, it can become discouraging looking at how many battles must be fought to ensure our schools continue to teach good science; listening to all the politicians expressing their ignorance of science by expressing doubts about evolution; and seeing all the letters and forum responses from those who let their religion totally blind their ability to reason and fairly judge evidence. 

For example, consider these quotes from various prominent politicians:

“There are clear indications from our people who have amazing intellectual capability that this didn’t happen by accident and a creator put this in place,”

“Now, what was his time frame and how did he create the earth that we know? I’m not going to tell you that I’ve got the answers to that,” Perry said. “I believe that we were created by this all-powerful supreme being and how we got to today versus what we look like thousands of years ago, I think there’s enough holes in the theory of evolution to, you know, say there are some holes in that theory.”  Governor and Presidential candidate Rick Perry

and

“[Schmidt] knew my position: I believed in the evidence for microevolution – that geologic and species change occurs incrementally over time. But I didn’t believe in the theory that human beings – thinking, loving beings – originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea. Or that human beings began as single-celled organisms that developed into monkeys who eventually swung down from trees; I believed we came about through a random process, but were created by God.

“But your dad’s a science teacher,” Schmidt objected.

“Yes.”

“Then you know that science proves evolution,” added Schmidt.

“Parts of evolution,” I said.

“But I believe that God created us and also that He can create an evolutionary process that allows species to change and adapt.”

Schmidt winced and raised his eyebrows. In the dim light, his sunglasses shifted atop his head. I had just dared to mention the C-word: creationism. But I felt I was on solid factual ground.”  From “Going Rogue“ by Sarah Palin, conservative commentator (definitely) and Republican Presidential Candidate (who knows). 

I know that I have quoted Republican and conservatives here for my examples, the reason being is that they have the largest numbers of creationists.  However they do not have the exclusive franchise on creationism. 

According to a 2008 Gallup poll, 38% of Democrats also believe that God created the world and all that is in it only 10,000 years ago.   Independents come in at 40%.  Overall almost 40% of Americans are creationists.

This can be readily seen in the many attempts to sneak the teaching of creationism into our public schools.  Every time we review biology textbooks in Texas creationists try to supplant evolution with creationism or at the very least get both taught as if they are both scientifically valid.  And this is just not a Texas thing.

In 2011 so far there have been at least 11 anti-evolution bills presented in various state legislatures.  This includes the states of New Hampshire (actually had to anti-evolution bills submitted), Missouri, Florida, Tennessee, New Mexico, Alabama, Kentucky,  Texas, and Oklahoma (another with two anti-evolution bills submitted).  Louisiana actually passed an anti-evolution bill and so far it has not been repealed. 

And this doesn’t even consider all the creationist activity happening at the local level – school districts, individual schools or even individual teachers. 

So much determined ignorance is enough to make one discouraged at times. 

But then this comes along – a light piercing the gloom of my discouragement.

Believe it or not my good news came from a Christian radio station.  In fact it came from Ken Ham, the President/CEO and founder of Answers in Genesis.   

He and the host interviewing him were lamenting on the sad state of Christian Colleges.  They went on and on about how good Christian families are sending their children to these colleges expecting them to receive a good Christian education and instead find them being taught things that are totally unbiblical. 

Apparently Mr. Ham had a hunch about this and hired the Beemer’s  American Research Group to do a survey of 90 American Christian colleges associated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and who require their professors to sign a personal statement of faith.  In addition over 100 more Christian colleges that were associated with a religious denomination were also surveyed.   What he found shocked him and delighted me.

While most of these college said the right words in their literature – the Bible is the inspired word of God, it is foundational, etc. when they probed further they discovered that their definitions and interpretations of these words differed from that of Ken Ham and many conservative Christians. 

What I found very interesting is that these differences are not apparent in the teachings of the New Testament.  On that these colleges and Mr. Ham basically agreed.  However the problem came in when they taught science and taught about Genesis.    The great majority of these Christian colleges taught an old earth and evolution as science – NOT a young earth creationism!

So, while we are still fighting, so far largely successfully, to maintain science standards in our public schools it appears that science has made some significant inroads in unexpected places – conservative Christian colleges.   To me this is great news, on many levels. 

First off it shows that the evidence for evolution and how it works is so overwhelming that even those in what has traditionally been a hostile environment for science have to acknowledge it.  Either that or cease to reason and blind themselves to the evidence.  

They apparantly have realized the truth of what St. Augustine said in his ‘On the Literal Meaning of Genesis”  

“Even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens,… the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.  Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsens on these topics;  and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.”

What pleases me even more about this is that it also backs up my contention that evolution and atheism are not synonyms and that one can be a good Christian and still acknowledge the reality of evolution and of how it works. 

To my mind a reasoning, rational Christian should realize that if God exists then the evidence of the world cannot conflict with that of Biblical revelation.  If they do then there is something wrong with either the understanding of how the world works or with the understanding of God’s revelation.  

What this means is that if the facts accumulate to such a degree that it is no longer rational to deny a fact of the world then a good hard look needs to be taken at how God’s revelation is understood.  After all, humans are fallible creatures. 

Rational Christians realize that human fallibility applies not only in regards to knowledge of the world but also to understanding revelation.    The latter possibility never seems to occur to creationists.  

This just highlights the fact that the debate between scientists and creationists is NOT that of the atheism vs. Christianity.  Instead it is between science vs.  non-science.  And it seems that science may be winning. 

Ken Ham published his findings in a book called “Already Compromised”.  I may have to read it just for the good news.

Why I Don’t Say the Pledge July 3, 2011

Posted by frrobins in activism, atheism, Christianity, Church and State, critical thinking, Current Events, Memories, Personal, Pledge, Politics, Religion.
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I don’t say The Pledge of Allegiance. I haven’t since I was in junior high school. One day I’m hoping I will get the guts to not stand during it. Why? Because I find saying the Pledge rather anti-patriotic. I feel that to be an active participant in a democracy you have to think critically and keep yourself informed on issues. Patriotism is not a passive process for me but an active one. Saying someone someone else wrote does not employ critical thinking nor does it illuminate one on important issues facing our country. In fact, I think it discourages critical thinking by inducing everyone to say the same words without thinking about what they are saying.

And since most of us started saying the Pledge in elementary school, this just reinforces the idea to me that it is a rote habit rather than something we are thinking about.

I was probably five or six when my parents explained to me that while they would say the Pledge, they would be silent during the “under God” part. We are atheists and don’t believe in God, and feel that saying “under God” violates our conscience. So for awhile I would say the Pledge and stay quiet during “under God.” Until the third grade when other kids found out I was an atheist and teased me for it. Until then it never occurred to me that I would be teased for not believing in one less god than everyone else, and it never occurred to me that my religious convictions were something to be hidden. Yet when I started a new school having people find out I was an atheist was something that terrified me.

So then I was caught in a trap. I know a lot of people would say that I should have just said “under God” and shut up about it. Yet I have always been driven by the need to live my life truthfully. Even as people around me rejected me, I could never stop being who I was without causing myself extreme mental anguish. So on the one hand I was terrified that if I didn’t say “under God” people at my new school would notice and ask why, yet if I said it I felt that I was being dishonest. It was a horrendous dilemma for an elementary school student to find herself in.

Sometimes I’d say “under God” other times I wouldn’t. One time I even noticed another kid nervously refrain from saying “under God”. I remember wanting to ask him so badly if he believed the same way I did but was too scared to.

Then one day, I’m not sure when, I just stopped saying it. Some days I would, others I wouldn’t. I would always stand so as not to draw too much attention to myself, yet I was quiet the whole time. By the time I finished junior high it was a habit. By the time I was in high school, I’d even stopped putting my hand over my heart.

I’ll make no bones that it started out as a way out of my dilemma and that it is now, as an adult, that I rationally justify my actions. And the reason is that no one should be compelled to say something they don’t believe in. This is America, after all, where we have the freedom to worship one God, or one Goddess, or many Gods and Goddesses, or none at all. This is America where we have freedom of speech, which includes the freedom to not be compelled to spout views you don’t agree with. Yet every morning we compel children to recite words as if they are automatons.

And it’s not just atheists who have moral dilemmas concerning the Pledge. Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Christian groups experience a conflict because their beliefs prevent them from pledging allegiance to anyone other than God.

My questions to people who support forcing others to say the Pledge is, how is democracy served by forcing people to say a pre-written pledge? What do schoolchildren learn about being active participants in a democracy by saying the Pledge? How are we teaching kids to think critically when we are forcing them to spout words unthinkingly from their mouths? How does saying the Pledge foster patriotism? What is gained by forcing people to say things they don’t agree with? Seems to me like it’s just a good way to incite them to rebel.

And to those who say you can just say quiet while everyone else says it, I will point to my above experiences. Staying quiet while everyone else says the Pledge is a good way to paint a target on yourself in school. Kids should not be put in the position between following their conscience and fear of being bullied for being different. Period.

If you want to say the Pledge every morning, go ahead. I won’t stop you. If you want your kids to say it, then say it with them in the morning before they leave for school. Yet everyone else should not be forced to say the Pledge if they are not amenable, and I for one am not.

The Times Have Changed – A Belated Thanks May 30, 2011

Posted by Bill in atheism, Family Values, Personal, Uncategorized.
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I am rather behind the times in writing this.  But then that is hardly surprising.  Normal day to day living can put a person behind on so many things – from the mundane such as yard work and learning Spanish to the more important such as telling loved ones that they are loved. 

This falling behind the times is even more pronounced when the times themselves are changing drastically.  Even if those changes are good and wonderful as well as scary and concerning. 

This is my attempt to catch up on one of the more important items that I am behind on – about six months behind in fact. 

I was updating my profile today to reflect some changes that occurred over seven months ago.  A mundane update.  However in starting this I realized that I really needed to do something more.   This change demanded something be done more important than just updating my profile.   

This is the something more.

In my blog profile I mentioned working as Operations Manager at a production facility.  I also made it clear that while it brought in some good money it was not one of my passions.   It was, however, OK and I didn’t hate it.  I did well, receiving good evaluations, promotions, nice raises, and had the respect of my people and peers. 

Things changed though a few years ago when our then Plant Manager left to take a new position with another company.  I was made interim Plant Manager and asked if I wanted to be among those considered for the position.  Given my lack of passion for it, the fact that I already was working more hours than I really cared for, and the fact that I did not wish to travel as much as the position would require – I declined and thanked them for seriously considering me.

After about four months of being interim Plant Manager they hired someone to take the position permanently.  Two months later I was beginning to regret my decision not to go for it.  As were many at the plant. 

I will not go into the details here other than to say that the man had good and innovative ideas, was very knowledgeable about the budgetary details and processes so important for Plant Managers, had extensive experience in setting up data bases that were useful in tracking the Plant’s process.  However his people skills and management style were abysmal.  He made the workplace very difficult to work for and, for me, turned what was a tolerable situation into one that was a nightmare.

He tended to accuse first and if you successfully defended yourself there was no apology.  He came across as abrasive, so much so that I had two or my people within the space of a month burst into tears under his questioning – and he wasn’t even in full chew out mode.  He either did not know or did not care to compliment people on what was done right, only chew on them.   He also was a poor communicator on his expectations and although he made the right noises about being willing to help if asked, his help was not really helpful.   

However, despite these flaws, he did make sure that the Plant was profitable and turned out a quality product.  As long as he did that no one at our corporate office was going to do anything about the manner in which he accomplished this. 

Given our financial situation at the time I did not feel that I could just quit without having another job with comparable pay in the hand.  And it needed to be in the area since Dindy had a nice job making the same amount of money I was.   I was looking but not having much luck in finding anything. 

So often the word “change” is a scary word.  Something to be avoided if at all possible.  Many, if not most, people usually use the word change in reference to bad things happening – such as my new Plant Manager.  However something happened then that proved that change can also be a good thing.

My wife changed jobs. 

Dindy had been looking for a few years for a different position in her chosen career.  Given what we were both making she could afford to be patient and she did like both her work and her employer.  Her patient looking paid off.  She found her dream job. 

It was in her career field, it was a promotion, the work atmosphere was great, the job more challenging and responsible – in short it was the best job she could imagine.  And what was even better, in terms of my situation, she was going to get a substantial raise.  One that would allow us to again start taking vacations to spots further away than the Texas coast or the Oklahoma parks.  One that would allow us to make some needed repairs on the house and even to improve it.  One that would allow us to build up our very low savings account.  One that would allow us to make investments and really start saving and preparing for a possible early retirement. 

Substantial enough where I no longer had to worry about getting a position that matched my current salary.   That was wonderful enough for me in and of itself. 

However the changes were not finished yet. 

In the middle of October 2010 I had taken two days off for a four day weekend.  I did so because I was about to lose a key person for maternity leave and I would have to help fill in and do a substantial amount of her work since we had no substitute who could do all of her functions.  Given that I wanted a few days off before starting on 70 hour weeks. 

I received a call from my work on my first day off, Thursday.  They told me that I needed to come in Friday because my worker was going to be starting maternity leave then instead of the scheduled Monday.  I knew that this might happen, so while disappointed was not surprised.  What did surprise me was the fact that my Plant Manager told me this came about because of my bad management decisions and then also questioned my ethics, implying that I had been hiding some information.   I was not given specifics on the phone.

After hanging up I spent a few moments ranting and raving to myself.   And cussing my Plant Manager.  After calming down a bit I decided that I needed to go talk to him and find out what management “mistakes” I had made and what information had I hidden.  First though I talked to Dindy.  Well, actually I ranted for a bit more.

I had made mistakes before – who hasn’t.  Although in this particular case I could not see that I did make any mistakes.  But I had never – never – never – had my integrity questioned by any Plant Manager (and I had been under three others before the current one) nor at any of my other jobs.  

After I had started to calm down enough where I felt I could go talk calmly with my Plant Manager Dindy then surprised me.  She told me to quit. 

She told me to quit even though I had no job lined up or even one on the horizon.

She told me to quit even though we had not had a good vacation in years.

She told me to quit even though we had not built up our savings or even started on our investments for retirement.

She told me to quit even though we had not done any of the repairs or improvements on the house. 

I was dumbfounded.  Delighted.  And scared.  We talked for quite a while about this.  She told me that she wanted me to enjoy myself again.   She told me that I had been difficult to live with – moody, short tempered, and not laughing as much as I used to – ever since this new Plant Manager had come on board.  She told me she was greatly concerned about my health and happiness.  She told me that my happiness and our happiness together mattered more than the money. 

She told me that she wanted me to look and pick a new career that I would enjoy and not worry about the money. 

After a great deal of assurances from her that she meant this I hung up and went to talk with my Plant Manager.  I did not go intending to quit.  I did go though to find out what he thought I had done wrong and why he was questioning my integrity.  And if I did not agree with the answers, then I would quit.  If we could work it out, then I would stay.

Needless to say I did not agree with his answers.  And so, when he told me I had to make a decision in regards to continuing to carry on the conversation we were having and making things more difficult for me or to just shut up and just deal with it I made a decision that he did not expect.  I quit my job of 15 years on the spot. 

Now I have decided, for various reasons, to take up a new career in medical technology – specifically radiology.  Although it will pay about half of what I used to earn once I attain my degree (in a couple of years) it will be enough.  And it will provide me much more satisfying career than the one I had.    

I have completed my first semester at TCC (all A’s – hoozah!) and as I write this am getting ready to start my first summer semester. 

Dindy’s salary is large enough to keep us going, along with whatever I bring in from a part time job.  Our house still needs repair.  I have a car with about 120,000 miles on it.  We will not be taking any long, exotic vacations.  We will not be retiring early (although we will not have to work beyond attaining our social security either). 

I am though much more relaxed and happier now.  Dindy and my daughters find me to be more fun to be with than I was before.  My life is not centered around my work and how to deal with the problems therein – problems made worse by having the most difficult boss I have ever had in 40 years of working. 

Both Dindy and I account this trade off a total win for ourselves. 

It is interesting that we are told that we live in a materialistic society.  To a great extent that is true.  Further, one of the charges that is often leveled against atheists by believers is that we are materialists and value only the material things of the world. 

This is further evidence, if more is needed, that many theists really do not understand atheism at all.  Humans are humans whether atheist, theist, or pantheist.  We share the same needs and desires, many of the most important of which – personal connections and satisfaction – go far beyond just the material.

Dindy’s support for me is just one example of this truth.  And one that I am and will be forever grateful for.

Thank you Beautiful. 

 

Better Late Than Never February 9, 2011

Posted by frrobins in atheism, Christianity, Memories, Personal, Religion, Schools.
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Like many people, I always think of the perfect comeback long after a discussion has subsided. I’ll usually be driving home, replaying the conversation in my head when the perfect response will come to me. Well, this one came about ten years too late. It’s such a good one that I felt the need to share.

Way back in high school, I was sitting in my physics class, waiting for the bell to ring to signal the start of class. Beside me, one of my peers was reading outloud from a Bible. From her self-righteous bearing I know she was just daring someone to tell her to stop. I didn’t take the bait.

Yet now it occurs to me I should have said, “Hey, can you read Gen 19:30 for me please? It is one of my favorites!”

ACLJ In Africa February 1, 2010

Posted by Bill in atheism, Christianity, Church and State, Current Events, Islam, Muslims, Politics, Religion, Religious Right.
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Just found out that both Kenya and Zimbabwe are drafting new constitutions. From what I have read this is not necessarily a bad thing. However what concerns me is that the American Center For Law and Justice (ACLJ) is apparently going to help both countries out in drafting their new constitutions.

For those who may not know who the ACLJ is, they are a Christian right wing group that loves to take cases challenging the separation of church and state and also suits supporting challenges to evolution. They love all right wing causes from defending torture to stopping healthcare reform. They are exactly the wrong sort of group to provide information on how to write a constitution.

While much of their work may be good – for example their stand against making Sharia Courts a part of the Kenya Constitution – I am afraid that they will write in protections for Christian churches and in particular churches that follow most closely what they believe.   Or at the very least write in protections for views they support. 

At this stage this is more of a strong concern due to their track record on constitutional issues here in America and their strong ties to the Christian right wing. I have not been able to find any specifics on what their exact suggestions in regards to the Constitutions of both countries. I hope my concerns or misplaced but fear they are not.

What would be especially ironic in the case of Kenya would be if the ACLJ helped create a constitution that would allow fundamentalists churches and thoughts to have a greater say in the government. Can you imagine creationists in charge of the museums and science in one of the countries that has provided our clearest fossil evidence of hominid evolution?

I also am concerned about such things as reproductive rights (that includes birth control and is not just a code name for abortion people), gay rights, and religious rights.

As I said I do not have any information on exactly what they are suggesting for the Kenya and Zimbabwe constitutions. And to be honest, given the problems these countries have, the new constitution may still wind up better than what they have despite the ACLJ input.

I do know though that our Constitution was founded without help from Christian organizations or any religious organizations. I know that many of them were against our Constitution at the time of its ratification. And I know why the separation of church and state was instituted in our country.

Given the religious conflicts in Africa between Muslim and Christian that same sort of concern and sensitivity should be present in any attempt to create a new constitution. The ACLJ does not have that sensitivity.

Given the tremendous devastation that AIDS is wreaking in Africa government policies in regards to health and sex need to avoid being limited because of the beliefs of one religion.

The ACLJ does not have that expansive a view.

I only hope that my concerns are misplaced or that their role is limited and that other groups, more moderate, sensitive, and expansive, play a greater role.

Turning Science Into NonScience February 1, 2010

Posted by Bill in atheism, Christianity, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Science.
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Currently a hot tactic for creationists to use is to attack the assumption of naturalism that scientists have to make.  In fact that is the basis of the whole Intelligent Design movement, especially as popularized by the lawyer Phillip Johnson. 

Their argument goes that science assumes that there must be a natural explanation for how the world works.  Because of that science is blinding itself to the possibility that God is working directly in the world. 

 However is this assumption of naturalism really a self-perpetuated blindness on the part of scientists or is it a clear-sighted necessity for science to work? 

 Naturalism is basically the idea that there is a non-supernatural explanation for natural phenomena.  In other words any questions we ask about the world has to have a natural explanation.  Saying God did it is forbidden in scientific research.

 Before going further let me just say that just because a scientist assumes naturalism in his work (known as methodological naturalism) as a scientist does not mean that he or she assumes it in their total lives (naturalism).  They can be religious and still be a scientist. 

In fact a group of thousands of clergy from various religions such as Lutherans, Episcopalians, Catholics, Methodists, Baptists and many others got together and did up a statement in support of evolution.   There are also thousands of scientists doing good research in evolution – paleontologists, archeologists, geologists, biologists – who are also Christian.  Two good books written about evolution from a Christian perspective are Paradigms on Pilgrimage by Stephen J. Godrey and Christopher R. Smith and Finding Darwin’s God by Kenneth Miller.  Both are good books by Christian believers explaining why they support and do research into evolution and why they do not find it a conflict with their faith.

Going back to the main subject now, why is it that this naturalistic assumption is necessary for science to work?  The short answer as to why this is so is that “God did it” is a showstopper.  It stops us from looking further and deeper.

There is a Sydney Harris cartoon with two scientists watching a third writing a complicated mathematical formula on a blackboard. Between the two halves of the formula on the blackboard though are the words “And a Miracle Occurred”.    One on the watching scientist says to the other “I think he needs to be a little more explicit on that second step”

The Creationists(and this includes the Intelligent Design people since ID is nothing but a subset of creationism)  are like that scientist writing on the blackboard. 

When asked about how something occurs in the world there is a natural tendency to say that this is so complicated and we currently have no clue to how it occurred that therefore God must have done it.  However ignorance is proof of nothing but ignorance.  To be able to really make that argument work you would have to show how we can distinguish between these four possibilities when faced with a difficult question:

1)There is a natural explanation but we have not come up with the evidence needed to show us how to answer it or come up with the right way to look at the problem to solve it.  Some examples would be Plate Tectonics and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

2) There is a natural explanation but we do not have the tools needed to solve it.  Examples are the Germ Theory of Disease (microscope) and most of Astronomy (telescope).

3)  There is a natural explanation but we will never be able to solve it because we just do not have the intelligence to do so.  For example imagine one of our early ancestors – possibly Homo Erectus – sitting on the shores of the ocean.  She notices the tides and wonders what causes them.  However her intelligence is too limited for her to ever understand how the gravitational effects of the moon and sun cause the tides.  Because of this she might conclude a god caused the tides when taking baths even though there is a natural explanation.

4)  God did it.

Until we come with a way to reliable way distinguish between these four possible hypotheses then assuming that God did it stops our questioning too soon.  If we had stopped with God causes disease to strike as punishment we would never have developed modern medicine.  If we had stopped with God causes the lightning we would never have learned about electricity and developed lightning rods among many other useful benefits.

 For people of faith, using an unknown as evidence that God did it not only stops us from looking for answers too soon but also puts the idea of God at risk.  What will the effect be on a person’s belief in God if part of that belief rested on ignorance and then we found a natural explanation?  Does it put his faith at risk then?  Ignorance is shaky ground to base a belief in God on.  Or any other belief for that matter. 

 I have gone on at probably too great a length because creationists love to use this naturalistic assumption as proof that scientists are atheists and that evolution is a theory driven by atheists.  Neither is correct. 

One of the interesting things about this is that the evidence for evolution and the stage was set for evolution by the creationist scientists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Their discoveries in biology and geology led to questions and answers that eventually resulted in evolution.  For a detailed look at that history Peter J. Bower’s Evolution The History of an Idea.  For a quicker but still good look at this try Edward J. Larson’s Evolution The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory.

Since these arguments are being used most often in the context of evolution I have continued with that emphasis.  However make no mistake, were creationists to be successful in eliminating naturalism from science not only would evolution be destroyed but so too would all of science – from physics through chemistry, from Plate Tectonics to Relativity.   This can be very clearly seen in the other scientific theories and findings that creationist attack – age of the earth, radio-metric dating, Big Bang theory, etc. 

To sum up then, scientists have to assume that there are natural explanations for whatever questions about the natural world they are studying.  To do otherwise leaves them at great risk of missing out on a new discovery that will change the world – such as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity or Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.  To do otherwise would destroy science.

Tiger Woods and Forgiveness – The Blindness Of Your Prisms January 18, 2010

Posted by Bill in atheism, Christianity, Religion, Uncategorized.
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I know that I am a little behind the times on commenting on this.   Life happens though.  Despite that I still would like to get my two cents worth in.

I just saw this little clip from Fox News with Brit Hume stating that in order for Tiger Woods to recover from the mess he has made of his life that he needs to convert from Buddhism to Christianity.  Only Christianity, apparently, can offer the sort of “redemption and forgiveness’ that Tiger needs to turn his life around and become a “great example to the world.” 

This seems to me to typify some of the unconscious arrogance that many Christians exude.  Actually I need to be fair in that many people of various religions do the same, including atheists.   They look at everything through the prism of their beliefs without even considering whether their prism might not be appropriate for making judgements on others beliefs.   Or whether other ways of viewing the world might have their own ways of dealing with difficulties that are just as effective. 

Since this came up  due to me viewing the clip of Brit Hume lets use Buddhism and Christianity as an example.

In  the traditional Christian you have a fallen humanity.  A humanity trapped and doomed by its sinful nature that needs help in order to be saved.  Humanity needs to be redeemed by God.  Otherwise after death a person is destined for the eternal pain and suffering that his own fallen nature demands.     In this concept you have a God and a life followed by an eternal death.   And you have a waiting judgement on each and every one of us. 

In Buddhism though you have a totally different concept of humanity and the universe.  First off, God is optional.   There may be a God, Gods, or no God.  It really makes no difference.  What you have is the universe, humanity within the universe and how we relate to the universe, to others, and to ourselves.

A second difference is that there no permanent essence of an individual self which survives death.  What this means is that there is no eternal suffering for an individual after death.  There is no heaven for an individual after death.   There is no judgement. 

From http://buddhism.about.com/

In his book What the Buddha Taught (1959), Theravada scholar Walpola Rahula asked,

“If we can understand that in this life we can continue without a permanent, unchanging substance like Self or Soul, why can’t we understand that those forces themselves can continue without a Self or Soul behind them after the non-functioning of the body?

“When this physical body is no more capable of functioning, energies do not die with it, but continue to take some other shape or form, which we call another life. … Physical and mental energies which constitute the so-called being have within themselves the power to take a new form, and grow gradually and gather force to the full.”

Zen teacher John Daido Loori said,

“… the Buddha’s experience was that when you go beyond the skandhas, beyond the aggregates, what remains is nothing. The self is an idea, a mental construct. That is not only the Buddha’s experience, but the experience of each realized Buddhist man and woman from 2,500 years ago to the present day. That being the case, what is it that dies? 

There is no question that when this physical body is no longer capable of functioning, the energies within it, the atoms and molecules it is made up of, don’t die with it. They take on another form, another shape. You can call that another life, but as there is no permanent, unchanging substance, nothing passes from one moment to the next. Quite obviously, nothing permanent or unchanging can pass or transmigrate from one life to the next. Being born and dying continues unbroken but changes every moment.”

From http://buddhism.about.com/od/basicbuddhistteachings/u/basics.htm

The teachers tell us that “me” is a series of thought-moments.  Each thought-moment conditions the next thought-moment.  In the same way, the last thought-moment of one life conditions the first thought-moment of another life, which is the continuation of a series.  “The person who dies here and is reborn elsewhere is neither the same person, nor another, “Walpola Rahula wrote. 

This is not easy to understand, and cannot be fully understood with intellect alone. For this reason, many schools of Buddhism emphasize a meditation practice that enables intimate realization of the illusion of self.

Karma and Rebirth

The force that propels this continuity is karma. Karma is another Asian concept that Westerners (and, for that matter, a lot of Easterners) often misunderstand. Karma is not fate, but simple action and reaction, cause and effect. For a more complete explanation, please see “Karma for Buddhists 101: Introduction to the Buddhist Understanding of Karma.”

Very simply, Buddhism teaches that karma means “volitional action.” Any thought, word or deed conditioned by desire, hate, passion and illusion create karma. When the effects of karma reach across lifetimes, karma brings about rebirth.

The Persistence of Belief in Reincarnation

There is no question that many Buddhists, East and West, continue to believe in individual reincarnation. Parables from the sutras and “teaching aids” like the Tibetan Wheel of Life tend to reinforce this belief.

The Rev. Takashi Tsuji, a Jodo Shinshu priest, wrote about belief in reincarnation:

“It is said that the Buddha left 84,000 teachings; the symbolic figure represents the diverse backgrounds characteristics, tastes, etc. of the people. The Buddha taught according to the mental and spiritual capacity of each individual. For the simple village folks living during the time of the Buddha, the doctrine of reincarnation was a powerful moral lesson. Fear of birth into the animal world must have frightened many people from acting like animals in this life. If we take this teaching literally today we are confused because we cannot understand it rationally.

“…A parable, when taken literally, does not make sense to the modern mind. Therefore we must learn to differentiate the parables and myths from actuality.”

What’s the Point?

People often turn to religion for doctrines that provide simple answers to difficult questions. Buddhism doesn’t work that way. Merely believing in some doctrine about reincarnation or rebirth has no purpose. Buddhism is a practice that enables experiencing illusion as illusion and reality as reality.

The Buddha taught that our delusional belief in “me” causes our many dissatisfactions with life (dukkha). When the illusion is experienced as illusion, we are liberated.”

It is obvious that this is a very different view of the universe and man’s role in it than that of Christianity.  Which means what the Buddhist presribes for dealing with the pains and sorrows of life will be different than that of Christianity’s.

 However that does not mean that they are any less effective.  Any religion that did not offer a satisfactory answer to what are universal human questions and problems would never have become a world religion.   Religion deals with universal human needs after all and if it cannot in some manner meet those needs then it fails and dies.   Keeping this in mind let me point out that Buddhism is older than Christianity. 

And that is where Bret Hume got it wrong – in his assumption that Buddhism cannot offer a way for Tiger Woods to change his life.  He assumes that there is only one way that can occur when in reality there are many ways. 

Now it might seem that I am promoting some sort of New Age idea that all ideas are equal and truth is in the mind of the beholder.  However I am not.  I am making no claim here on the truthfulness of any of these beliefs.  Instead I am pointing out that each religion or view of the world has a way of dealing with troubles and that these ways may be equally effective.

After all the Ptolemiac view of the solar system was effective at predicting the positions of the planets, but it was not as true as the Copernican view.  Effectiveness and truth are related but they are not always the same. 

 

Are Muslims Violent Liars? November 12, 2009

Posted by Bill in atheism, Christianity, Church and State, Islam, Muslims, Politics, Religion.
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With the recent shootings of 13 people by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan  there has been a lot of blog activity against Muslims.  Most of them along the lines that Islam is an inherently violent religion and that Muslims are commanded by the Qur’an to lie to unbelievers

Warning, this is an exceeding long blog.  I make no apologies for this for even at its current length it still does not begin to do justice to the question of is Islam inherently dishonest with unbelievers and violent.  I hope that this just makes some of those who think they already know the answer based on readings from certain websites question their certainty and delve deeper into the question using many different resources. 

Lets start by looking at a representative site that promotes this view.  

From   http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Pages/Statement-on-Muslims.htm

 “Yes, there are Muslims who take issue with these aspects of Islamic theology, but it doesn’t change what Islam is.  Don’t confuse the ideology with the individual.  Don’t draw conclusions about Islam based on the Muslims that you know, be they terrorists or humanitarians.  Islam must be understood on the basis of what it is, as presented objectively in the Qur’an, Hadith and Sira (biography of Muhammad).”

And

 “Even if there is no such thing as moderate Islam, it does not mean that there are no moderate Muslims.”

 Thank goodness this site is not as radical as many.  In fact it is a rather moderate example of its type.

“The Muslims that you know are not terrorists.  More than likely, their interests in life are similar to yours and they have the same ambitions for their children.  They should neither be shunned, mistreated, nor disrespected merely because of their religion.  Their property should not be abused, and neither should copies of their sacred book be vandalized.

Prejudging an individual by their group identity (or presumed group identity) is not only unethical, it is blatantly irrational, since group identity reveals absolutely nothing about a person.  Every individual should be judged only on the basis of their own words and deeds. 

Don’t judge Islam by the Muslims that you know, and don’t judge the Muslims that you know by Islam.”

However although it is more moderate it still makes the same assumptions about Muslims that the more radical sites do, that is:

 1)      The Qur’an not only allows lying to unbelievers but encourages it in furtherance of Islam.

 2)      Islam is inherently violent.  Muslims that say it is not either do not know their religion or are not very religious.

 3)      Muslims who disagree with either or both of the above two points are either not good Muslims or are ignorant about their religion. 

 I disagree with all three statements.  And with good reason because none are true.  In the following I will deal with all three.

 Lets deal with the lying claim first.  These sites quote sections from the Qur’an as evidence that their statements are true.  However how accurate a representation are their quotes? 

 This is from http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Quran/011-taqiyya.htm

 The Qur’an:

Qur’an (16:106) – Establishes that there are circumstances that can “compel” a Muslim to tell a lie.

Qur’an (3:28) – This verse tells Muslims not to take those outside the faith as friends, unless it is to “guard themselves.” 

Qur’an (9:3)“…Allah and His Messenger are free from liability to the idolaters…”  The dissolution of oaths with the pagans who remained at Mecca following its capture.  They did nothing wrong, but were evicted anyway.

Qur’an (40:28) – A man is introduced as a believer, but one who must “hide his faith” among those who are not believers.

Qur’an (2:225)“Allah will not call you to account for thoughtlessness in your oaths, but for the intention in your hearts”

Qur’an (66:2)“Allah has already ordained for you, (O men), the dissolution of your oaths”

Qur’an (3:54)“And they (the disbelievers) schemed, and Allah schemed (against them): and Allah is the best of schemers.”  The Arabic word used here for scheme (or plot) is makara, which literally means deceit.  If Allah is deceitful toward unbelievers, then there is little basis for denying that Muslims are allowed to do the same.

 Lets now take at  these verses one by one.  My source for both the Qur’an and commentary is

 http://www.muslim.org/english-quran/quran.htm

 Qur’an 16:106 – Whoso disbelieves in Allah after his belief – not he who is compelled  while his heart is content with the faith, but he who opens his breast for disbelief – on them is the wrath of Allah, and for them is a grievous chastisement. 

 Note that TheReligionOfPeace reference has it wrong.  The reference says this verse details circumstances which “compel” a Muslim to tell a lie.  However this verse says a Muslim may tell a lie if under compulsion.  Here is the commentary of this verse.

 Commentary – “Only very rare circumstances are met with early in the history of Islam in which the converts even under compulsion ever recanted.  For instance, Yasir and Sumayyah, husband and wife, suffered death at the hands of the disbelievers because they would not recant, the latter being put to death most cruelly, her legs being tied to two camels which were made to run in opposite directions.  Their son Ammar, however, was not so resolute.  The cruelest persecutions were inflicted on those slaves who had become converts to Islam.  Muir says: “These were seized and imprisoned, or they were exposed upon the scorching gravel of the valley to the intense glare of the midday sun.  The torment was enhanced by intolerable thirst, until the wretched sufferers scarcely knew what they said.”  Yet even under these trying circumstances, which would have maddened even the most resolute man, there were those among these slave-converts who were as firm as a mountain; as in the case of Bilal, of whom it is recorded that “in the depth of his anguish the persecutors could force out of him but one expression, Ahad! Ahad! (One, One God) (Muir)

 So this verse, far from detailing when a Muslim is compelled to lie, instead allows him to lie if under extreme duress. 

 Qur’an 3:28 – Let not the believers take the disbelievers for friends rather than believers.  And whoever does this has no connection with Allah – except that you guard yourselves against them, guarding carefully.  And Allah cautions you against his retribution.  And to Allah is the eventual coming. 

 Commentary – The Muslims, being in a state of war with the disbelievers, were forbidden to look to their enemies to guard their interests or for help of any kind.  The clear statement made in 60: 8, 9 settles the point beyond all doubt.  “Allah forbids you not respecting those who fight you not for religion, nor drive you forth from your homes, that you show them kindness and deal with them justly… Allah forbids you only respecting those who fight you for your religion and drive you forth from your homes, and help (others) in your expulsion, that you make friends with them. 

 In short Muslims can and have been friends with unbelievers.  It is not against the Qur’an.  Now the radical Muslims interpret the war in Iraq and Afghanistan as a holy war of Christianity against Islam and will therefore interpret this verse rather broadly.  However most Muslims do not.

 I will make one more point here.  Just as the Bible has to be looked at holistically to get a proper understanding of what each verse means so too does the Qur’an.  If you treat the Bible the same as this site is doing with the Qur’an then Christianity can be used to justify many atrocities.  It has in the past been used so.

 Qur’an 9:3  – And an announcement from Allah and his Messenger to the people on the day of the greater pilgrimage that Allah is free from liability to the idolaters, and so is his Messenger.  So if you repent, it will be better for you:  and if you turn away, then know that you will not escape Allah.  And announce painful chastisement to those who disbelief.

 It seems the TheReligionofPeace reference did not bother to read the very next verse, shown below.

 Qur’an 9: 4 –  Except those of the idolaters with whom you made an agreement, then they have not failed you in anything and have not backed up anyone against you; so fulfill their agreement to the end of their term.  Surely Allah loves those who keep their duty. 

 In other words if they break their word to you then you are not obliged to honor your word to them.  If they keep true to their word then you have to keep true to yours.  How is that different than what we do?  Did we keep to any treaties we made with Japan in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor during WW 2?

 Qur’an 40:28 – And a believing man of Pharaoh’s people, who hid his faith, said:  Will you slay a man because he says, My Lord is Allah, and indeed he has brought you clear arguments from your Lord?  And if he be a liar, on him will be his lie, and if he be truthful, there will befall you some of that which he threatens you with.  Surely Allah guides not one who is prodigal, a liar. 

 This is an instruction for the believer to hide his faith from the non-believers?  Especially with the admonition about Allah not backing a liar.  The Qur’an is telling a story not giving instructions here. 

 Should TheReligionOfPeace site take the time to read the surrounding context they would find that this story is the story of Moses.  This verse relates a conversation that a believer had with the Pharaoh about Moses.  He is arguing with the Pharaoh for Moses. 

 Qur’an 2:225 – Allah will not call you to account for what is vain in your oaths, but he will call you to account for what your hearts have earned.  And Allah is forgiving, forbearing.

 Commentary – By vain oaths are meant unintentional or thoughtless oaths in ordinary conversation, and by what the hearts have earned is meant an oath intentionally taken. 

 In other words if a Muslim swears an oath then he is held accountable for it by Allah. 

 Qur’an 66:2  – So when they have reached their prescribed time, retain them with kindness or dismiss them with kindness, and call to witness two just one from among you, and give upright testimony for Allah.  With that is admonished he who believes in Allah and the latter day.  And whoever keeps his duty to Allah, he ordains a way out for him. 

 This time it seems instead of not reading the next verse TheReligionOfPeace site did not read the verse ahead of it. 

 Qur’an 66:1 – O Prophet, when you divorce women, divorce them for their prescribed period, and calculate the period; and keep your duty to Allah, your Lord.  Turn them not out of their houses – nor should they themselves go forth –  unless they commit an open indecency.  And these are the limits of Allah.  And whoever goes beyond the limits of Allah, he indeed wrongs his own soul.  Thou knowest not that Allah may after that bring about an event. 

 Read in context – something this site is very much not interested in doing – this is talking about marriage and divorce.  I do not fully understand the Qur’an ideas about marriage but apparently there are limits on when divorce is allowed and it is this to which 66:2 is referring to.  From quickly looking at it there are times when you are allowed to divorce and other times you are not allowed to divorce.  Here is the commentary on 66:1 to help give a little more information about marriage.

 Commentary – The prescribed time is ordinarily, according to 2:228, three courses.  But in the case of woman with child, and in certain other cases, the prescribed time is laid down in v. 4 of this chapter.  It should be noted how every direction in connection with the subject of divorce is followed by the injunction “keep your duty to Allah”, throughout this chapter.  The utmost carefulness must be exercised in the matter of divorce.  Divorce is allowed but the right must be used sparingly and under exceptional circumstances. 

 Qur’an 3:54 – And (the Jews) planned and Allah (also) planned.  And Allah is the best of planners. 

 It  think it might be interesting to go on to the next verse so that you can see what this verse is talking about. 

 Qur’an 3:55 – When Allah said:  Oh Jesus, I will cause thee to die and exalt thee in My presence and clear thee of those who disbelieve and make those who follow thee above those who disbelieve to the day of the Resurrection.  Then to Me is your return, so I shall  decide between you concerning that wherein you differ. 

 Commentary – Makr  is explained by R as the turning of another with ingenuity  or skill from that which he aims at, and he considers makr as two sorts, a good one and an evil one.  Therefore the best interpretation of makara (including both sorts) is that adopted by T, viz. he exercised craft, cunning, art or skill in the management or ordering of affairs with excellent consideration or deliberation, and ability to manage according to his own free will (LL)……Allah is here called Khair al-makirin or the Best of Planners, the qualifying word khair being inapplicable to an evil object.   

 Nothing here about deceit.  Instead, as in the Bible, this is stating that God took the evil idea of killing Jesus and turned it into something good and great instead.  

 Taken collectively this shows that you’re TheReligionOfPeace site is quote mining – lifting bits and pieces out of context and using them to paint a false picture. 

 I was going to quote the Qur’an on honesty but this is getting too long and there are some more things I wish to say.  So instead of quoting I will just state that there are many, many verses on the importance of honesty.  I would suggest you spend some time looking them up if interested.   I will however just quote this from Saheeh Al-Bukhari, a hadith of the Sunni Muslims, as representative of those verse.  This hadith is considered one of the six canonical hadiths of the Sunni’s.

 “Truthfulness leads to righteousness, and righteousness leads to Paradise.  In addition, a man keeps on telling the truth until he becomes a truthful person.  Falsehood leads to wickedness and evil-doing, and wickedness leads to the (Hell) Fire, and a man may keep on telling lies till he is written before God, as a liar”. (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)

 The insidious thing about the claim that the Qur’an promotes lying to the unbelievers is that those sites such as TheReligionOfPeace then blow off anything the more moderate Muslims say in response to terrorism and acts of violence.  When the many moderates in the United States and in the world state that they they abhor what Major Hasan did at Fort Hood and wholeheartedly condemn it these sites then question their sincerity.  Further they then start lashing at out Muslims for not condemning the violence.  Talk about moderate Muslims having the deck stacked against them. 

 Now on to the violence claim.  What I would like to do first is show how Christianity, in the past, has been a violent religion.  And further how verses taken from the Bible can lend support for the claim that Christianity is a violent religion.  

 Now this will sound as if I am trying to paint Christianity as an inherently violent religion.  I am not.  Instead I am trying to show how Christianity, as is Islam today, can be portrayed as such with the use of history and verses from the Bible. 

 Deuteronomy 17:12 (New International Version)

12 The man who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the LORD your God must be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel.

Leviticus 20:27 (New International Version)

27 ” ‘A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads.’ ”

Deuteronomy 13:6-17 (New International Version)

6 If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known, 7 gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), 8 do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. 9 You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. 10 Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 11 Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again. 12 If you hear it said about one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you to live in 13 that wicked men have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods you have not known), 14 then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, 15 you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. Destroy it completely, [a] both its people and its livestock. 16 Gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the LORD your God. It is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt.

Matthew 5:17 (New International Version)

17″Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Hebrews 10:28-29 (New International Version)

28Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?

Mark 7:9-10 (New International Version)

9And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe[a] your own traditions! 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’[b] and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’[c]

Luke 19:26-27 (New International Version)

26″He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. 27But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.”

Matthew 27:25 (New International Version)

            25All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”

These are some of the verses that can be used to paint Christianity a violent religion.  This is even leaving out the whole book of Joshua, the stoning of rebellious children, and witchcraft.  Now lets look at some of Christian history in regards to violent conversions and enforcement of orthodoxy. 

1) Pogroms against Jews.  From the 11th up to the 15th century there were numerous pogroms against the Jews.  If they did not convert they were burned or otherwise killed. 

 During  just one series of pogroms from 1348 to 1351 over 60 major and 150 minor Jewish communities were wiped out.  A favorite method was to build a house and force all the Jews in the community to enter it and then burn it down. 

I will also mention that a yellow marker on clothing to identify Jews was not a Hitler invention.  From the 13th century until the 18th century Jews were required to wear a yellow badge on their outer clothing. 

 This does not include the more recent pogroms against Jews in Tsarist Russia from the 17th to the 20th centuries. 

 The Biblical justification for this, from  http://www.levitt.com/essays/bloodlibel.html

 When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands and said, “I am innocent of the blood of this Just person. You see to it.” And all the people answered and said, “His blood be upon us and on our children.” (Matthew 27:24–25)

 Matthew 27:25 arguably stands out as one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted passages in all of Holy Scripture. Of the proposed interpretations for Matthew 27:25, the anti-Jewish interpretation is the oldest and most frequently cited in the history of the Church. This view says the Jewish people are permanently guilty and condemned in the eyes of God for their murder of Jesus Christ. As such, the cry of “His blood be upon us” means that the Jewish crowd in Jerusalem admitted full guilt for killing the Lord Jesus Christ and thereby invoked God’s curse upon themselves and their descendants until the end of time. This interpretation first surfaced in the writings of the early church fathers in the second century AD. It became universally accepted by the Middle Ages.

2.)    The suppression of Heresies:  During its first 300 years Christians were not in charge of the government.  Pagan Rome was.  Consequently the worse that they could do with heretics – the “false teachers” warned about in the Bible was to expel them from their midst and attach labels to them such as “fools”, “wild dogs”, and “Servants of Satan”.   That changed though as Christians took over the government.

 The first person to be executed for heresy was Priscillian of Avila in 385, 60 years after the First Council of Nicaea.  I will say that this was at the orders of Emperor Magnus Maximus and over the objections of some Bishops.  However Bishops objections did not last. 

 St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) was the first major proponent of persecution for heresy.  At first he was for peaceful methods of persuasion but by 400 he began to endorse coercion.  He used Matthew 13:24–30 and Luke 14:21–23 as Biblical justification.  Later Protestants would use the same Biblical verses to justify their persecutions. 

 Everyone has heard of the Spanish Inquisitions, but that was actually only one of many.  Linked to the beginnings of the Medieval Inquisition  was the Albigensian Crusade of 1220 to 1229 which was a military campaign initiated by the Catholic Church to stamp out the Cathar Heresy in Languedoc.

 Reportedly the last person to be burned for heresy by the Catholic church was Giordano Bruno, executed in 1600. 

 3)  Do I really need to mention the wars between Catholics and Protestants?   The executions of Catholics by Protestants and of Protestants by Catholics?   Ireland?

 4)  The killing of witches.  Biblical justifications used were Exodus 22:17 and  Deut. 18:10-12,

 5)  The persecution and executions of Baptists, Quakers and other minority groups in the 17th and 18th centuries.  This occurred both in Europe and America.  This persecution is one of the reasons why the Pilgrims left Europe for America.  And then they started the same with other religious groups once they had established themselves here. 

 Should more modern examples be needed – abortion clinic bombers, those protesting at soldiers funerals, those that promote the killing of witches and gays

 Here is a link to an article about Christians in Africa who mutilate and kill their own children because they believe they are witches and “thou shall not suffer a witch to live”.

 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/dec/09/tracymcveigh.theobserver

 Now I know that most modern Christians would denounce all of the above as not Christian.  However it was at one time.  And many still believe it even today. 

 A religion is what its followers make of it.

 Now there are many followers of Islam who interpret the Qur’an in a violent manner.  However this is not the only way to interpret it and there are many groups and sects that do not.  These more moderate Muslim voices state that what is needed is a holistic understanding of the Qur’an and the times and circumstances it was written in. 

 The circumstances at the time Mohammed was writing the Qur’an were dire.  He and the other Muslims of the time were being persecuted, killed, driven from their homes.  Because of this a great deal of the focus of the Qur’an was on self defense.  It is this that has been hijacked by the radical Muslims to justify their terrorist tactics and this that those on such sites that I have quoted from use to justify their claim that Islam is inherently violent. 

 From  http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/09/0925_TVkoran.html

 “Islamic scholars interviewed by the TV news show National Geographic Today agreed that terrorists such as Usama bin Laden and his supporters are fanatics using Islam to further their own worldly causes.

“In order for them to generate support beyond their small group, they have to latch onto universal symbols, and this is where Islam becomes a target of convenience for them,” says Nyang

People combine pieces of verse from the Koran and use it to justify their actions, says Khouj. “But to understand the full meaning of the verse,” he says, “you have to read the one before it, the one after it, maybe five to six verses to get the full picture.”

The “full picture” of Islam and the Koran, say Khouj and Nyang, is captured by Chapter 5, Verse 32: “[I]f anyone slew a person—unless it be for murder or spreading mischief in the land—it would be as if he slew the whole people. And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.”

For most Muslims, the callous and indiscriminate taking of human life violates Allah’s wishes. It defies the Koran’s central message and undermines the peace that Islam promises to deliver to all people.

“Human life in Islam is extremely sacred,” says Khouj. “We’re not talking about just Muslim [life], but human life in general.”

 Which brings us now to the third issue – that of the claims that Muslims who do not interpret the Qur’an in the same manner as the radical Muslims are not good Muslims.  That they are either weak in faith or unknowledgeable about their faith  

Does this mean that those Christians today who do not believe as those who burned the witches and Jews are not good Christians?  Does this mean that they do not understand their beliefs or are weak in faith? 

No.

Again, religion is what its people make of it.  There have been more peaceful strains in Islam all throughout its history.  And even now the more radical, violent version is not the majority view.

At this point I would like to point out that Christianity did not really begin to give up its violent ways until the start of the Enlightenment with its emphasis on reason and more skeptical approach to religion; and its finest accomplishment – the creation of a secular state with the United States. 

While this is somewhat over-simplistic, it has a very large kernel of truth in it too.  And that is what I believe Islam needs now, its version of an enlightenment.  I believe it has the foundations of one. 

I am puzzled by those who claim that Islam only has one interpretation.  There are at least three main sects – Sunni, Shi’a, and Sufi – and many smaller ones.  Even within the main sects there are many different thoughts about what the Qur’an means and how it should be applied to the world.  These different thoughts run the gamut from very conservative to very liberal.  To claim that only one is the definitive one is to claim far too much. 

There is no central authority in Islam.  With no central authority there can be no uniformity of belief and doctrine (rather like Protestant Christianity).  Indeed should you look at their Qur’an’s and the other central writings and compare those of the Sunni, Shi’a, Sufi, and Ahmadiyya you will find differences in meaning and emphasis. 

 In many ways this reminds me of some of the creation/evolution disputes (something I am very involved in). 

 There are creationists who say that no Christian can believe in evolution and that any who do are not Christian.  They are false Christians.  And then there are atheists who also say that evolution and science disproves Christianity.  And they both reinforce their opponents point of view.  They both ignore and do not deal with the fact that there is a way to be both Christian and support evolution and that millions of people and thousands of scientists do so. 

So too with the claim by both radical Islam and many conservative voices when they each state there is only one version of Islam that is true and that all others are false.  They feed each others prejudices and biases and fuel each others hatred and fears.  And they both ignore the fact that they are wrong, there are other options.  And those that follow them are good, faithful, and knowledgeable Muslims. 

To continue to view Islam as inherently and inescapably violent and a religion of liars leaves only one option – and that is a religious war.   Which is what the radical Muslims have said all along that we are engaged in – with some support form conservative Christian comments and sites like the one listed here.   

 I do not believe that this is the true case.  I know that other varieties of Islam are real and not a deception.  I know that Islam is not inherently violent and does not promote lying.  I have provided the start of such evidence that it is here.  However it is only a start. 

 I would recommend to all that they should spend some time and effort seeking out the all the sides of Islam- both in its practice and in its theology, and from both primary as well as secondary sources. 

 

 

 

New American Export or Truth vs. Lies: Evolution and Creationism October 25, 2009

Posted by Bill in atheism, Church and State, Current Events, Evolution, Religion, Science, Uncategorized.
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Apparently America has found something new to export to Europe – creationism.  While not the problem there that it is in the US – yet – it is growing and making inroads.  In Germany a state education minister briefly allowed creationism to be taught as science and in Italy Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi ordered the teaching of evolution halted.  In England creationists are making more and more inroads into the public schools.  Serbia’s education minister ordered the teaching of evolution stopped and has said that in the future creationism should be taught alongside evolution. 

 Fortunately scientists and others are pushing back and the European Union has endorsed a statement of support for Evolution and against Creationism.   Those who value rationality and truth, – whether Christian, atheist, Muslim Hindu, whatever – all need to push back on this whether here or in Europe.   While everyone is entitled to believe as they will they are not entitled to change what science is and what it has discovered  to suit their beliefs.  We do not allow those who dispute the Holocaust to change our history books.  We do not allow astrologers to change our astronomy texts.  We do not allow flat earth theory to be taught in our geology and geography classes. 

 The same holds true for biology.   

 The problem is that evolution hits at who we are as a species and people more directly than the flat earth or astrology – it hits at people’s religious view of the world in a way that other issues do not.  And it has, unfortunately been framed as a religious issue, a Christian versus Atheist issue when it is not. 

Partly this is due to history – moving away from the religious and church inspired view that dominated academia until the 19th century of how the biological and physical world worked to a more secular understanding of the world.   Partly it was due to the enthusiasm that many atheists and agnostics took up evolution because it helped explain so much that had once seemed inexplicable.  An enthusiasm that sometimes led to evolution becoming a cornerstone of a religion instead of a science.  Partly it was due to the strong reaction of many Christians to something that seemed to make their beliefs a lie.  

 However the truth is that evolution is as well supported by the evidence as any theory in science – bar none.  It is supported by findings in genetics, field studies of species, embryology, paleontology, archeology, geology and other areas.  The process of natural selection has been taken up by engineers and other scientists as a way to solve problems and come up with new and novel solutions.  Evolution has impacted medicine and agriculture. 

 Creationism has failed on all of these fronts.  But because it is tied so closely to people’s religious beliefs, beliefs that are of supreme importance to many, it is nonetheless still going strong.

 What many Christians who support creationism do not fully realize is that people of all religious beliefs support evolution.   There are scientists who are also evangelical Christians such as Francis Collins, Mary Schweitzer, Stephen Godfrey, and literally thousands of others.

 Major religious organizations support evolution over creationism.  Millions of Christians support evolution and still believe in an omnipotent personal God, in Jesus his son who died for their sins and was resurrected.  Christianity and religion can be reconciled with the findings of science without damaging reason, ignoring evidence, and debasing truth. 

 This debate is not a religious vs. non-religious issue.  Instead it is an issue of truth vs. lie. The evidence is there for evolution.  It is well supported by facts and by reason and supported by all areas of biology, paleontology, geology, and anthropology.  It is why almost 99% of scientists support evolution. To counter that creationists – whether the Young Earth version or the more sophisticated Intelligent Design version – ignore evidence and propagate inaccuracies and sometimes promote outright lies to make up for their lack of evidence.     

 It is unfortunate that most people do not know enough about science and evolution to realize that they are being misled on what evolution is.  I hear it on the Christian talk shows that I listen to on the radio and the amount of inaccurate information given out as true is astounding.   It would be funny if it weren’t  for the fact that they are trying to get this misinformation taught in the schools as science, as biology.   As true.

 If they do, then we all lose – science, atheist, Christian, all.  No one wins when lies triumph.