Sunday, October 30, 2011

Random Bible Verse of the Day - 2 Kings

Nebuchadnezzar ponder how to
  turn GOD against Judah by p0wn-ing them!
So this one is a bit weird, even by the Bible's standards...or not; you decide.  I randomly flipped to a page, put my finger down and looked where it landed.  It happened to be 2 Kings 24:15.  But this happened to be in the middle of the passage about "King Jehoiachin of Judah" (verse 8).  So I read that short story.

We learn in the first couple verses that Jehoiachin had "sinned against the LORD".  Interested to know what he did that pissed off the "LORD", I read on to the next verse, which says "It was during his reign that the Babylonian army, commanded by King Nebuchadnezzar's officers, marched against Jerusalem and besieged it." Followed by the detail of the siege.  So I guess the big "sin" was to let Jerusalem be, well, besieged.

Doesn't seem like much of a sin if you ask me.  Frankly, it makes you wonder, why, if Jerusalem was so damn important to the ALL-POWERFUL LORDTM, god didn't just send a plague or something masterfully devastating to kill Nebuchadnezzar's army?

But apparently, this "sin" has a history among Jerusalem's Kings:
(2 Kings 23: 32-33):   Following in the example of his ancestors, [King Joahaz] sinned against the LORD.  His reign ended when King Neco of Egypt took him prisoner in Riblah, in the land of Hamath, and made Judah pay 7,500 pounds of silver and 75 pounds of gold as a tribute.
(2 Kings 23 34): King Neco made Josiah' son eliakim king of Judah as successor to Josia, and changed his name to Jehoiakim... 37Following the example of his ancestors, Jehoiakim sinned against the LORD.  24 While Jehoiakim was king, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia invaded Judah, and for three years Jehoiakim was forced to subbmit to his rule; then he rebelled.
(2 Kings 24: 9-10): Following the example of his father, Jehoiachin sinned against the LORD.  It was during his reign that the Babylonian army, commanded by King Nebuchadnezzars' officers besieged it.
 (2 Kings 24:19-20): King Zedekiah sinned against the LORD, just as King Jehoiakim had done. The LORD became so angry with the people of Jerusalem and Judah that he banished them from his sight.
So basically, as far as I can tell, four generations of Kings of Judah, aged 18 - 23 "sinned" against the "LORD" by allowing the holy city of Jerusalem to be invaded and plundered.  How rude and disrespectful of them!

Its bad enough to have to pay to be invaded and tortured and killed, but to be branded as a "sinner" against THE LORD, well that's just salt on the wound.

But as with, I'm sure, many passages in the Bible, it doesn't really add up.  Let's flash back to King Jehoiachin's reign when he sinned against the LORD by allowing Nebuchadnezzar to invade Judah:
(2 Kings 24:2): The LORD sent armed bands of Babylonians, Syrians, Moabites, and Ammonites against Jehoiakim to destroy Judah, as the LORD had said through his servants the prophets that he would do. 
So Jehoiakim sinned against the LORD by letting Nebuchadnezzar invade him which was commanded by GOD HIMSELF?  Seriously, this guy can't win! WTF?

Yet another random example of why the Bible is stupid and I learned nothing from it (except that it espouses a fucked up morality).

Can't wait for tomorrow's random verse!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Is Your Pastor an Atheist?

As a former Christian of a fairly moderate/liberal denomination that didn't actively preach against homosexuality, women's rights, or the evils of science, my memory of what was actually taught was along the lines being thankful for what you have, helping others, and other such ideals that, quite frankly require no supernatural parental figure.

And while I went to Sunday school for the first 16 years of my life, I couldn't say that I was ever really made aware in a meaningful way of what the Bible actually had to say about morality.  The most greusome and what I now consider disgusting parts of the Bible were either not presented or were couched in apologetics.

But one of the things that began my liberating journey to godlessness was a re-reading of the Bible without any assumption of divine infallibility.  I wish I could say I've read the whole thing, but with the internet, it is quite easy to find extensive critiques of it.

I think, as others have also observed, that the more one reads the Bible, the more likely they are to lose their faith.  Consider these particularly despicable passages:
1 Samuel 15:3 - This is what the Lord Almighty says... ‘Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey. 
Psalm 137:9 - Happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us – he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.
1 Peter 2:18 - Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel.
Ephesians 5:22 - Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.
Genesis 22:2 - Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.
The more you read, the more you realize that whoever wrote these words was a complete asshole by today's standards.  Clearly the standards of two thousand years ago were much lower.  If anything positive can be concluded from this fact, its that humanity seems to have come, however slowly, to value equality and peace more as civilization has advanced  (which I would contend is a result of a greater understanding of the natural world to develop modern medicine and economic stability - but that is another posting).

Certainly for an average churchgoing Christain who had only read small portions of the Bible uncritically, one can easily see how the hateful, mysoginistic, vengeful teachings of the Bible could escape scrutiny.  I imagine that for many casually religious people the continued identity as a Christian is merely a function of habit rather than any deep conviction.

But what about those that have professed such a deep conviction to their faith that they have dedicated their life and career to it?  Imagine all the study of the Bible and the philosophies that have sprung out of it and the history of the influence it has had on civilization; imagine what a seminary student goes through.

The reason I bring this up is because Tufts Philosopher and New Atheist, Dan Dennett and Linda LaScola published an essay of Preachers Who are Not Believers [pdf].  The essay seeks to answer the question of if there are clergy who don't believe in god.  And not just if there are former clergy - but currently practicing clergy. 

The essay presents five anonymous (for obvious reasons) currently practicing pastors who identify as 'non-believers'.  Based on the interviews presented in this essay, these non-believing pastors seem to believe that they are just the tip of the iceberg.  Of course, with only five data points it is impossible to draw any conclusions about the prevalence of non-believers in the pastoral ranks.  But  the Clergy Project, which launched in March 2011, has as of October 2011, nearly 100 members (after screening to ensure authenticity and by invitation only) of active and former clergy.  You can read interviews with the members here, which are quite fascinating.

One can only imaging the internal turmoil of having given your life to your faith only to find that you don't have faith.  And not only do you not have faith, but outside of profession your false faith, you have no marketable skills in the workforce.  Yet you have a wife and two kids to care for.  How can you possibly reconcile your profession of faith where perhaps hundreds of people look to you as a person of faith with your personal lack of faith?

From the essay:
Wes, age 42, has been the pastor of a liberal Methodist church in the Northwest for 10 years. He has a 10 year old son and is married to a schoolteacher who shares his views about religion. Wes and his wife are raising their son to recognize that Bible stories are not factual:
And so when we talk to him about Bible stories, we remind him constantly that these are just stories. These are stories; think about them in no different way than you would any other stories.
 Here's another interesting excerpt:
Darryl is a 36 year old Presbyterian minister with a church outside of Baltimore. He is married and has three young children. After an initial phone conversation about the study, he sent an email further explaining his desire to participate. In it, he wrote: 
We are not “un-believers” in our own minds – but would not withstand a strict “litmus test” should we be subjected to one. I want to see this new movement within the church given validity in some way. 
I reject the virgin birth. I reject substitutionary atonement. I reject the divinity of Jesus. I reject heaven and hell in the traditional sense, and I am not alone. 
"Jack" the Baptist minister is very straightforward in his assessment of Christianity -"...Christianity, for me, is just a bunch of bunk."
About 10 years ago, he decided to read through the Bible very carefully. He did this completely on his own, as a way to get closer to his faith. However, his study has had the opposite effect:
The pursuit of Christianity brought me to the point of not believing in God. Not that somebody did something mean to me. Let me tell you; ain’t nothing anybody did in a church can compare to what my parents did to me, OK?

I didn’t plan to become an atheist. I didn’t even want to become an atheist. It’s just that I had no choice. If I’m being honest with myself. 
I’ve just this autumn, started saying to myself, out loud, “I don’t believe in God anymore.” It’s not like, I don’t want to believe in God. I don’t believe in God. And it’s because of all my pursuits of Christianity. I want to understand Christianity, and that’s what I’ve tried to do. And I’ve wanted to be a Christian. I’ve tried to be a Christian, and all the ways they say to do it. It just didn’t add up.
The love stuff is good. And you can still believe in that, and live a life like that. But the whole grand scheme of Christianity, for me, is just a bunch of bunk. 
This part is classic - Jack again:
Well, I think most Christians have to be in a state of denial to read the Bible and believe it. Because there are so many contradicting stories. You’re encouraged to be violent on one page, and you’re encouraged to give sacrificial love on another page. You’re encouraged to bash a baby’s head on one page, and there’s other pages that say, you know, give your brother your fair share of everything you have if they ask for it.
But if God was going to reveal himself to us, don’t you think it would be in a way that we wouldn’t question?... I mean, if I was wanting to have ... people teach about the Bible ... I would probably make sure they knew I existed.... I mean, I wouldn’t send them mysterious notes, encrypted in a way that it took a linguist to figure out. 
Earlier I mentioned the difficulties of going through seminary and learning the historical implications of Christianity and how the Bible was actually assembled and who wrote the various disparate chapters.  The essay explains [emphasis added]
A gulf opened up between what one says from the pulpit and what one has been taught in seminary.  
Every Christian minister, not just those in our little study, has to confront this awkwardness, and no doubt there are many more ways of responding to it than our small sample illustrates. How widespread is this phenomenon? When we asked one of the other pastors we talked with initially if he thought clergy with his views were rare in the church, he responded, “Oh, you can’t go through seminary and come out believing in God!” Surely an overstatement, but a telling one. As Wes put it:
...there are a lot of clergy out there who --- if you were to ask them --- if you were to list the five things that you think may be the most central beliefs of Christianity, they would reject every one of them.   
What a tragic state of affairs that one, with all the best intentions, could commit themselves to years of scholarship only to learn that the underlying assumption of the divinity of the Bible - indeed of god's very existence - is shown to be completely false.  And that others had come to this same conclusion but could not, out of concern for their own livelihood, give young aspiring pastors a warning that they are on a dead-end road.

When a belief system is dependent on unquestioning belief and lack of critical thought, there is no correcting mechanism.   In contrast the central and perhaps most important aspect of science, a process which has been unparalleled in its success in bringing new insights civilization, is that it thrives on critical examination by peers to dispose of failed ideas and to explore promising ones - as determined by evidence and replication.  This is the tragic lesson of religion and faith - without critical examination of its claims it cannot progress on its own.  I would argue that the progress that has been brought about in religion has been the result of non-religious forces.  But by lacking any room for questions, religion creates a trap for those who want to leave but are financially dependent on perpetuating its myths.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Random Bible Verse of the Day - Lamentations

This verse is a bit different from what I might have naively expected from the Bible.   I must say, in my unsophisticated taste for poetry, this is quite nice prose.  I find the imagery vibrant and engaging.  Though I find the plot a bit weird and contradictory rather than clever that in the end reflects the basest of human tendencies so often shown in the Bible.  This one is a bit long, but not a hard to comprehend so let's read some Lamentations - Chapter 3.

1 I am the man who has seen affliction
   by the rod of the LORD’s wrath.
2 He has driven me away and made me walk
   in darkness rather than light;
3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me
   again and again, all day long.
 4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
   and has broken my bones.
5 He has besieged me and surrounded me
   with bitterness and hardship.
6 He has made me dwell in darkness
   like those long dead.
This passage obviously is written from a human perspective, yet it sets out to enumerate the way that the author's lord has caused grief.  Given god's Old Testament temper, this isn't too surprising, but the way it is presented, from a seemingly bitter individual, is interesting.  But, as the author concludes his airing of grievances, she seems to have a change of heart:

 25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
   to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
   for the salvation of the LORD.
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke
   while he is young.
 28 Let him sit alone in silence,
   for the LORD has laid it on him.
29 Let him bury his face in the dust—
   there may yet be hope.
30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
   and let him be filled with disgrace.
 31 For no one is cast off
   by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
   so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
   or grief to anyone.
 This portion of the verse seems to be fraught with contradictions and inconsistencies.  First we are told that the lord rewards those who seek him which is immediately followed by the assertion one should wait for the which is it!

Then we have the notion that the young must endure grief in order to be free from despair, which is attributed to the work of god.  ...And immediately followed by the claim that god couldn't help it.  So much for omnipotence!
52 Those who were my enemies without cause
   hunted me like a bird.
53 They tried to end my life in a pit
   and threw stones at me;
54 the waters closed over my head,
   and I thought I was about to perish.
 55 I called on your name, LORD,
   from the depths of the pit.
56 You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears
   to my cry for relief.”
57 You came near when I called you,
   and you said, “Do not fear.”
And now we have the twist of the story - it really wasn't god's fault that he had to inflict such suffering on the author.  Instead it was the author's enemies that made god do bad things to the author.  But god took a power nap and is ready to kick some ass!
64 Pay them back what they deserve, LORD,
   for what their hands have done.
65 Put a veil over their hearts,
   and may your curse be on them!
66 Pursue them in anger and destroy them
   from under the heavens of the LORD.
And now you understand what happens when you believe an all powerful being communicates with you and has chosen you as his own - you will suffer, then rationalize that suffering as part of god's plan, then blame your suffering on your 'enemies', and then seek righteous revenge in the name of THE LORD YOUR GOD.

You will be wiser and realize that inflicting human suffering to avenge human suffering is a fulfilling and effective strategy that will ensure more human suffering thereby clearing your way to eternal bliss and bloodshed. </sarcasm>

As I said at the beginning, I find the prose well done even if the plot perpetuates some futile ethics.  But I was curious as to what this chapter was actually talking about.  From Wikipedia:
the Book of Lamentations was written by one or more authors in Judah, shortly after the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BCE;[8] and was penned as a response to Babylonian Exile, the intense suffering of the people of Judah, and the complete and utter destruction of Jerusalem
Well that makes a lot of sense and explains the non-supernatural source of the suffering described.
The Book of Lamentations reflects the theological and biblical view that what happened to Jerusalem was a deserved punishment; and its destruction was instigated by their god for the communal sins of the people.
This is an unfortunate feature of religion that it has a tendency to ascribe greater meaning to an event than is necessary. 

Surely there is a more parsimonious explanation for an adverse event than just "we made god upset". Yet we see this faulty thinking even today. Just turn on the news after a natural or man-induced disaster and you will inevitably hear someone attributing the carnage to god's wrath brought on by humans or thanking god for sparing them of the destruction.

One would hope that society would have moved past such faulty attribution of random events.  I suppose there is more work to be done.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Random Bible Verse of the Day

Holy Bible: A bunch of random shit
So I think I'm going to periodically post a random Bible verse.  There really won't be any filter so it could be some reasonable insight or some disgusting parable of misogyny or something just plain weird along with some commentary. 

So without further ado, here is today's Random Bible Verse - Psalm 128:

 1 Blessed are all who fear the LORD,
   who walk in obedience to him. [he does sound like a bully, so this might be good advice for the weaklings that don't like confrontation]
2 You will eat the fruit of your labor;
   blessings and prosperity will be yours.
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
   within your house; [you really don't have to look far for that old fashioned misogyny]
your children will be like olive shoots
   around your table.
4 Yes, this will be the blessing
   for the man who fears the LORD.
 5 May the LORD bless you from Zion;
   may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem [screw the rest of Creation!]
   all the days of your life.
6 May you live to see your children’s children—
   peace be on Israel. [how's that been working out for ya?]

Saturday, October 22, 2011

What Would Yahweh Do?

Just a quick post today for some lulz.  From NonStamCollector comes an instant classic

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Occupy This! You Lazy, Pot-Smoking, Hippie, Communists!

Hippie Communist hides face in shame
As the Occupy Wall St movement has spread to other cities across the nation it has begun generating discussion about the financial and political systems that dictate heavily influence the country's policies and the appropriate relationship between business and government.  Indeed, there is a lot of discussion to be had; despite the vague calls for smaller government by the wingnuts, private industry is deeply dependent on government contracts and payments.  In 2012 the federal government is projected to spend more than half a trillion dollars [pdf] on contracts and payments going to private industry.

Another point of discussion, and perhaps the one that is the focus of the "Occupy" movement, is the growing inequality between the top 1% of earners and everyone else.  Salon reported on some interesting statistics.  Among them is this one, which poignantly illustrates how far behind the 'average worker' is falling:
The Rich get richer and fuck everyone else!
But don't construe the lament of this growing disparity as the grumblings of disgruntled do-nothings that simply haven't earned the success that CEOs have.  I would argue that CEOs as individuals have a right to earn whatever they can negotiate (and that sword swings both ways - front line workers have the right to earn whatever they can negotiate - whether collectively or individually).  Certainly executive compensation should be a reflection of the success of the company.

But this is often not the case - it is not uncommon for CEOs whose companies fail to meet earnings expectations to not only receive exorbitant compensation but truly mind-numbing bonuses.  And when the entire financial industry has been pulled back from the brink of epic collapse and failure by its own doing (by the very entity - the government - which many of those critical of the Occupy movement wish to shrink or eliminate) financial industry executives still received staggeringly absurd bonuses.

Consider Thomas Montag from Merrill Lynch who was paid $39m in bonuses in 2008, the year of the financial meltdown.  Now, perhaps we should not rush to judge - it is possible that Montag was able to successfully navigate the perilous environment.  Maybe he actually deserved that $39m.
As head of global sales and trading, Montag ran the Merrill unit that piled up the brunt of the company’s $15.31 billion net loss in the fourth quarter of 2008.
Right - I think that speaks for itself.

But hey, if that's how Merrill Lynch wants to run their operations, that's their prerogative in a free-market capitalist society, right?

Fortunately for Merrill Lynch, the government stepped in and bought their toxic assets for 22 cents on the dollar, so at least then it was the government's problem and not Merrill's.
That unexpectedly large loss forced taxpayers to shell out an additional $20 billion to Bank of America to make sure its $50 billion acquisition of Merrill closed in January 2009.
So in the end, Montag fucked up to the tune of $15 billion, got a bonus that could otherwise support 1000 American families, and the US taxpayers got to foot the bill plus another $20 billion.  Now that is true America economic justice.

What I take away from the Occupy movement is that the system is broken.  That to an increasing degree, politicians are creating policy that specifically benefits corporations and those whose financial security has already been secured at the expense of the interests 99% of Americans who work one or more full time job(s) while trying to raise a family.

One example of this broken system is a news item that gained mainstream media attention in the spring of 2011.  I am referring to the fact that General Electric (GE) earned $14 billion in profits, yet did not pay federal taxes in 2010.

You would expect that a company that is doing so well financially to be hiring personnel to expand its business.  Or at the very least to maintain a steady workforce.  Or if you're a cynic (and perhaps a realist) you might expect GE to lay off tens of thousands of workers.  Well, the verdict is in and the cynics have it.  In 2009 not only didn't pay federal taxes, but actually received a $2 billion tax credit on $11 billion in profit, GE laid off 18,000 of its own employees.

Meanwhile, GE CEO Jeffery Immelt (who, in a clear illustration of the need to examine the public/private relationship, Obama appointed as chairman of his Council on Jobs and Competitivenes) saw his compensation rise to $15 million in 2010.

When the loopholes in the federal tax code are such that a hugely profitable multi-national corporation can pay no taxes, contributing nothing financially to the very society upon which its success rests, while laying off tens of thousands of workers, it should be a glaringly obvious indication that the system is broken.

And the fact is that GE isn't the only large corporation not paying taxes.  The Washington Times gives us a Top-10 list of notable corporations not paying taxes in 2010.  Here are just four of them:

 1. Bank of America took $336 billion in bailouts in 2009, but in 2010, flush with $4.4 billion in profits, it paid no taxes. Even Forbes magazine asked, how is that possible? Probably thanks to their 115 offshore tax havens.
2. Boeing just received $35 billion from our government to build 179 airborne tankers, but despite nearly $10 billion in profits from 2008 to 2010, it too paid no taxes, again thanks to foreign tax havens.
3. Citicorp took $476 billion from the bailout and then made monster profits in 2010, yet it paid no taxes, thanks to 427 subsidiaries in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Hong Kong.
4. Exxon/Mobil, received huge oil subsidies from the government and earned $45 billion in 2009 but paid no taxes, again thanks to stashing profits in places like the Bahamas and Singapore.
Go read the rest.

One Facebook friend commented
There's a lot to comment on here, but I'll just focus on two things:

1) Your hand is tipped of willful ignorance or simple laziness when you have the internet at your fingertips, yet you are incapable or unwilling to do the research necessary to answer a question on which has been widely reported.  The implication here is that because this person doesn't know what the purpose of the movement is, then it must not have a purpose or that its purpose is somehow not valid.

2) And then we have the victim-blaming as if it somehow the fault of the unemployed that despite 80% of the Dow Jones components beating Wall Street's Earnings per Share estimates, companies continue to lay off workers by tens of thousands out of concern of economic conditions (in which they continue to be profitable and beat estimates).  That these protestors have realized that the system is rigged against them and are voicing that frustration through peaceful demonstration should not be ridiculed as "pointing fingers".

Instead, those of us that actually care about how public policy is (or, rather, isn't) in the interest of 99% of its constituents, should support the Occupy movement in finding its voice and bringing about change that narrows the disparity of the have's and the rest of us.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Bill O'Reilly: Poopyhead

This past week, Bill O'Reilly had Richard Dawkins on his show to talk about Dawkins' new book The Magic of Reality.  The book is partially aimed at a younger audience and has some great illustrations while describing, as its subtitle indicates, "How we know what's really true".  Topics include the age of the universe, what objects are made of, the structure of the earth, the causes of tsunamis, the diversity of plant and animal life, and human origins.  And critically, it address how we know these things.

I actually just received a copy of the book yesterday and after briefly thumbing through it, it looks like it will be a very enlightening read, even for someone who reads a good amount of science writing.

O'Reilly doesn't even get to the actual interview before getting things wrong.  In the intro he says Dawkins is "on a crusade to convince believers they're idiots."  This is not true; none of the New Atheists deny the fact that many Christians are quite intelligent.  However, being intelligent does not make one immune to believing in things that are not grounded in evidence.  The fact that many Christians are quite intelligent actually highlights the fact that our minds are quite adept at compartmentalizing rational thought processes from those rooted in emotion, tradition or a sense of community.  While the key tenets of Christianity (original sin, the virgin birth and resurrection, et al) are not supported by evidence, believers are clearly capable of exercising rational thought - in their jobs, their personal finances, etc.

For example, diving a vehicle requires rational thought processes based on evidence: if you want to change lanes you will check to ensure that there isn't a car next to you in that lane.  You don't, however, take that fact on faith.  The New Atheists wouldn't argue that because someone is religious, they would not be able to drive; rather that the brain is capable of separating irrational beliefs that, in many cases, isn't an issue of life and death as it would be if your faith was that the lane next to you is always clear.

So no, the mean atheists aren't out to convince you that you're an idiot.  The purpose of outspoken atheism is to get people to think critically about their beliefs and why they hold on to them.  I was a Christian for 26 years before I seriously examined what I believed and why I believed it.  And that introspection was set off by the likes of PZ Myers and the SGU podcast by unapologetically calling out absurd notions like transubstantiation.

But back to O'Reilly, who immediately tries to take Dawkins to task for 'advocating atheism' to children, which is rather ironic given the prevalence of Sunday School, church youth groups, and summer bible camps.  And that's not even touching the more extreme, yet accepted, forms of Christianity-based indoctrination of Jesus CampsKen Ham's indoctrination sessions, or child 4 years old.  Let's play a snippet, just to get a succulent taste of the exploitation at work:

And writing a book about natural phenomenon is the functional equivalent to indoctrinating children with atheism.

O'Reilly claims that Dawkins is mocking god by saying that its a myth, and when Dawkins points out that he talks about ancient myths from numerous ancient cultures (yes, including the Judeo-Christian myth), O'Reilly says "You're trying to get to the kids and say 'you're an idiot if you believe in God'".  That seems like poor pedagogy.  But let's see what the book actually says.  Here's an exceprt from chapter 2, Who was the first person?
 Here's a typical origin myth, from a group of Tasmanian aborigines.  A god called Moinee was defeated by a rival  god called Dromerdeener in a terrible battle up in the stars.  Moinee fell out of the stars down to Tasmania to die.  Before he died, he wanted to give a last blessing to his final resting place, so he decided to create humans.  But he was in such a hurry, knowing he was dying, that he forgot to give them knees; and (no doubt distracted by his plight) he absent-mindedly gave them big tails like kangaroos, which meant they couldn't sit down.  Then he died.  The people hated having kangaroo tails and no knees and they cried out to the heavens for help.  
The mighty Dromerdeener, who was still roaring around they sky on his victory parade, heard their cry and came down to Tasmania to see what the matter was.  He took pit on the people, gave them bendable knees and cut off their inconvienent kangaroo tails so they could all sit down at last; and they lived happily ever after.
 After giving several more examples of origin myths, Dawkins comments:
Stories are fun, and we all love repeating them.  But when we hear a colorful story, whether it is an ancient myth or a modern 'urban legend' whizzing around the internet, it is also worth stopping to ask whether it - or any part of it - is true.  So let's ask ourselves that question - Who was the first person? - and take a look at the true, scientific answer.
 That is quite a far cry from O'Reilly's claim of calling kids idiots for believing in God.

O'Reilly goes on to assert without a shred of evidence that "the Judeo-Christian philosophy isn't a myth, its reality".

And then he goes on to conflate atheism with the despotic regimes of Mao, Pol Pot, and Stalin.  This is such a weak argument it is weird that anyone still finds it worth parroting.  As Dawkins says, there is no logical connection between atheism and doing evil things while, if you believe you have heard the divine word of the supreme being, there is an obvious logical connection to doing evil with religion.

One other point I'd like to make, which is that when Dawkins asks O'Reilly what of the 10 Commandments O'Reilly values, he responds citing 'do not kill'.  Which is a curious one for several reasons.  First, this is a value shared by all cultures whether they are religious or not, so its not a terribly profound revelation (no pun intended), and certainly not a logical consequence of believing in a god.

Second, is O'Reilly so cynical that he doesn't think his viewers will realize that the Republican party which is infinitely entwined with the religous right (and vice versa) is full of war hawks salivating over the opportunity to go to war with Pakistan, Yemen, Iran or whomever else it finds to be a convenient target?  Or that the religious right is just as entwined in fanatic over-interpretation of the Second Amendment?  One might think that such an ostensibly docile 'philosphy' that values notions of 'do not kill' would not actively and vehemently promote the ownership and use of firearms.

But none of this matters to O'Reilly or his viewers, which only further illustrates the ability of the mind to compartmentalize rational from irrational thought processes.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Greed is Great!

A while back I was playing a game with a friend where you pick from categories on a card to ask each other hypothetical questions to get to know each other better.

One of the questions was something along the lines of "if you had $1 million to donate to a cause, what would it be?"

I said I would give it to the American Association of the Advancement of Sciences or the National Science Foundation, since the  acquisition of new knowledge is something I value as a societal good.

When I posed the question to my friend the response was to give the donation to an organization promoting capitalism.

At the time I thought it was a curious response, but I couldn't quite put my finger on what was peculiar about it. I value making money just like anyone else. And despite what the wingnuts on the right would have you believe, one can fall left of center when it comes to politics and not be a died in the wool communist. Indeed capitalist economies have proven to be effective in generating robust economic growth. Capitalism has generally served society well. Generally.

And that's why I found it a peculiar answer to choose to donate to an organization promoting capitalism.  While it can create economic growth which is, all things being equal, undeniably "good", all things are not always equal.  Namely, human rights are not always commensurate with economic interests.  

For example, in an unregulated free market economy without child labor laws, children, especially of poor parents, could be exploited to be compelled to work at the expense of gaining an education.  This is exactly the case in many parts of the world...and not just in third world countries.  Indeed just this year the Missouri legislature attempted to enact a bill with an amendment that would literally remove all child labor regulation:
SB 222 – This act modifies the child labor laws. It eliminates the prohibition on employment of children under age fourteen. Restrictions on the number of hours and restrictions on when a child may work during the day are also removed.
I think most people recognize the importance of having a well educated workforce (the sponsors of this amendment notwithstanding).  But when framed in the context of defending capitalism, such a blatant violation of what most would otherwise consider disgustingly exploitative is seriously considered.  Certainly one could understand a poor husband and wife who have limited earning capacity, without foresight or care for their child's future, enlist them into providing for the family.  

However, it would be ludicrous to think that it is the powerful Poor Family Lobby is promoting such a deregulation of child labor laws. It seems so obvious that while capitalism, per se, isn't in conflict with human rights or other societal goods, it can certainly create conflicts with the interests of society at large.  Capitalism is the pursuit of profits, which as I've said above isn't in itself a bad thing, but without the appropriate regulations, it has the potential to create human suffering.

I was reminded of my friend's response by PZ Myers' post of George Carlin giving an epic rant on "The American Dream":

The real owners are the big wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions. Forget the politicians, they’re an irrelevancy. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land. They own and control the corporations. They’ve long since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the statehouses, the city halls. They’ve got the judges in their back pockets. And they own all the big media companies, so that they control just about all of the news and information you hear. They’ve got you by the balls. They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying ­ lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want; they want more for themselves and less for everybody else.
But I’ll tell you what they don’t want. They don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. That’s against their interests. They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they’re getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fucking years ago.

You know what they want? Obedient workers ­ people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork but just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, reduced benefits, the end of overtime and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it. And, now, they’re coming for your Social Security. They want your fucking retirement money. They want it back, so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street. And you know something? They’ll get it. They’ll get it all, sooner or later, because they own this fucking place. It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it.
You and I are not in the big club.

This country is finished.
One more thing - I remembered reading about an amusing encounter between a vendor and an out-of-town Tea-Bagger (from DCist):

A couple, both wearing "Palin for President AND Vice President 2008" shirts, are buying a 12 pack of Budweiser.
The clerk tells them it's $9.50. The couple then starts complaining that they're gouging people in town for the rallies, demands to speak to the manager, and that it's un-American.
Cashier: "No sir, that is capitalism."