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The End of the World Show March 21, 2018

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
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Well, a few days after I got the ultra-impressive, extremely professionally produced Shen Yun booklet, I got another flyer for a religious event.  Full color, yes, but much thinner paper, and only four pages, so I’m going to post them all here for you.

Oh my.  The Shen Yun flyer had really professional graphics, careful layouts, and even if it was advertising a cult recruitment event, it was at least lovely to look at.  This one hurts my eyes.  Look at the cover, they’ve plopped a bunch of random images down, and then put yellow and white text on top of an image that already has a lot of yellow in it.  And I think there’s at least three different fonts.  Ow.

So let’s look at the content.  It’s inviting us to a series of lectures on “Revelation’s Ancient Discoveries”.  On the front it’s at least quite clear that this is a “Bible Prophecy Seminar” and it’s also clear that it’s free, so at least there’s that much up front.

So who is presenting this?

Join Mark Finley, a world traveler, an international speaker, for an incredible journey through Bible Prophecy.  You will be amazed that recent world events are a fulfillment of these ancient predictions.

Finley has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East to Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Turkey.  You will thrill at his clear state-of-the-art, fully-illustrated presentations that reveal the secrets of the ancient past and their meaning for our lives today!

I notice that Mark Finley is described as a “world traveler” but not as a scholar.  All you need to be a world traveler is a passport and sufficient money.  (I traveled all around southern England, but I don’t think that makes me qualified to lecture on the “Mysteries of Stonehenge”!)

So what organization is behind this?  I had my suspicions, but first I thought I’d start with the information on the flyer.  No religious denomination is listed anywhere on it.  Ah, but there’s a website listed!  revelationsdiscoveries(dot)com.  Surely there’s more information there?  No, just a single page with a link to reserve a seat, and no additional information at all.

So off to Wikipedia, where there’s a page for Mark Finley, identifying him as a Seventh Day Adventist, and a televangelist.  Which is exactly what I was expecting to find, and that’s entirely thanks to the “Oh, No, Ross and Carrie” podcast (their motto is “We show up so you don’t have to”).  They recently did a hilarious multi-part series on the lectures called “Amazing Facts” and I’ve listened to all the podcast episodes.  When this flyer arrived, my first thought was “Is this Amazing Facts?” because it’s so similar.  It had the same sort of focus on “end times”, and having exactly the right understanding of Revelation, was also free, and also was very cagey about what the organization was behind it.  Amazing Facts started with one set of lectures, but once those were completed, of course there were additional lectures for anyone who wanted the whole story.  If you look at page 3 of this flyer, it lists six scheduled lectures, but then there is a section that says “Future programs include”, so that’s the same as well.  So if you have any curiosity about what might be in a these lectures, go listen to the podcast series, because Ross and Carrie have already endured the pain of this for you.

But, I will have to say, I don’t think this flyer is trying to trick me in the same way the Shen Yun one is.  Once, when I was a kid, I went to a lecture series on Ancient Egyptian history, which was one of my hobbies back then.  The first couple were really interesting, but then in the next one the speaker went off on a bunch of “end times prophecies” nonsense, and even though I was still Presbyterian at the time, I was massively disappointed.  How worthwhile is your religion if you have to trick people into listening to you preach?  I guess I had just run into my first instance of “lying for Jesus”.  Mark Finley isn’t trying to trick anyone into listening to him blather about the bible, at least.

Except – on the back, there’s a box labeled “Children’s Program Ages 4-9” with no further information about exactly what they will be telling the children.  No.  Just NO.  Parents, even if you are interested in this series for yourselves, please DON’T subject your kids to it!

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THE NO. 1 SHOW in the world? March 21, 2018

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
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I received an advertising flyer at my office a few days back.  This is nothing unusual, I get stuff like that all the time – restaurant menus, computer sale flyers, postcards from one particularly pushy dental office.  But this time I got something different – a large ten-page full-color glossy brochure on heavy paper, advertising one theater production:


 Holy cow.  Everything about this ad is over the top with “this is the most wonderful show you will ever see in your whole life ever”.  It’s full of lush photos in brilliant color of dancers in front of vivid Chinese backgrounds.  Like this:

Testimonial after testimonial after gushing review from random celebrities and officials.  They are trying really hard, and have certainly sunk a lot of money into this ad campaign.  So what’s up with this?  Who are these people really?

The answer was in the return address: Falun Dafa.  Otherwise known as Falun Gong, a group that originates in China, but the Chinese Government considers it a cult and has outlawed it.

So I went looking to see what regular people had actually said about this performance, to see if it was overtly a push for their religious cult or was actually a nice cultural event.  When I first googled “Shen Yun” all that came up were ads for it and gushing articles raving about how wonderful it was.  Likewise, a search on YouTube comes up with trailers and other videos that are either direct advertisements or full of glowing praise for them.  So, in addition to the slick glossy brochures, this group has obviously put a lot of effort into doctoring their internet presence, and removing anything negative from the first few pages of search results.

But then I tried looking specifically for Yelp reviews.  Oh, boy, was that ever a different perspective!  I found some reviews from people who liked it, but others were so disappointed that they had walked out of the show in the middle of it.  They wrote that it was pretty, but not nearly as impressive as the advertising had let on, that many of the dances were overt pushes for their cult beliefs, that the singing performances were religious propaganda songs with lyrics like “The heresy of evolution now eclipses the Divine word.”  It wasn’t a spectacular cultural event, it was mediocre evangelizing.

How, then are they funding all this?  The brochure I got was just addressed to “postal customer” so it’s a sure bet that they mailed out massive numbers of these ads.  And the effort required to make sure that every google search returns only positive things about the group for the first few pages can’t be cheap either.  Where’s the money coming from?  Here’s one answer:Even the nosebleed seats on a weeknight will set you back $80, and the good seats are $250!  (For comparison on seat prices, the New York City Ballet is at the Kennedy Center in this same hall this weekend, and the best seats can be had for $99.00.  I didn’t find any nearly comparable prices for seats in this hall until I looked at the prices for Hamilton.  And I’m pretty sure that the audience for Hamilton won’t be disappointed by bait-and-switch preaching.)

I’ve scanned the entire brochure to a .pdf file, so if you’d like, you can get a look at all of the hype in its full glory:

Shen Yun Flyer – click here

 

“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Deprogramming (Part 2) February 4, 2018

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Rants, Responses.
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So this will be the last post in this series, I think.  It’s been interesting to peer into this world, where devoting two years of young adulthood to being an overworked salesman for a religion (at your own expense) is considered an important Thing To Do.

For anybody just joining us, a while back I found this book at a used booksale:

This is not the official LDS book of rules, this is supposed to be a helpful guide, based on the author’s experiences, and those of many returned missionaries she knew over the years. It was published in 1968, but it’s obvious that some of the advice and tips in it are from many years before that.  I’ve been looking at it chapter by chapter, and it’s been interesting to see what’s changed, and what hasn’t. (more…)

No true Santaist December 23, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Humor, Rants, Responses.
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5 comments

Over on ex-christian.net, there has recently been a commenter who seems very earnest, but less prepared than most to defend what he believes.  He assures us that he knows god personally, and that he knows because he is “filled with the holy spirit”.  But of course he is unable to demonstrate this in any way, and we’ve replied to him that we also had strong feelings back when we were religious, and that his personal feelings in no way establish the truth about his claims.   He’s been asserting that all of the ex-christians were never True Christians™ because, of course, anybody who left christianity could never have been a real christian.  He’s sure that nobody who has felt what he has felt would ever change their mind.

You can read his commentary here:

http://new.exchristian.net/2017/12/love-is-not-christian-it-is-human.html

So after trying to talk to the guy for awhile, an idea for a  cartoon about this guy popped into my head, and would not go away until I drew it.  I have very limited skills with computer graphics, so I just used powerpoint’s drawing tools to create this.  I’ll put it after the break, so there won’t be spoilers for any small children who are reading over your shoulder. (more…)

Box of Apologetics June 8, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
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Every Monday I listen to the previous Sunday’s broadcast of The Atheist Experience.  And generally the show is a lot of fun, lots of promotion of critical thinking and jousting with theists.  My favorite host is Tracie Harris, who just hits it out of the park, and it’s pretty satisfying when Matt Dillahunty hangs up on an annoying troll.  But lately I have been getting frustrated when some apologist calls in with their favorite clever twist on some tired old apologetic, and they proceed to argue in endless circles, because they just have to “get the atheist to admit that they are right”.  These calls tend to go on way too long and almost never accomplish anything.

I’ve realized that if I were hosting the show and one of these guys got going, that there is something specific I would want to say to them.  But since that’s unlikely ever to happen, I’ll just say it here instead:

“Hey Mr. Apologist!  Before you begin on whatever clever argument for god you are about to present, I need to ask you three background questions.  So, for the time being, instead of discussing it right away, we’re going to put your apologetic in a box.

This Box.

“We’re not going to unpack it just yet.  Not until I find out a few things about the person I am talking to.  First I need to ask you when you first started believing in god.”

(A typical theist will probably tell me that they have been a believer their whole lives, or from when they were very young.)

“OK.  And when did you first learn this argument you are about to present?”

(Let’s assume they tell us about the book they read in high school, or the class their church had recently, or some such.  It’s not likely that they learned a complicated argument in their earliest Sunday School classes.)

“All right.  And finally, suppose that your apologetics teacher (or Pope, or whoever is an authority for your sect) came to you and said ‘Dude, we found a flaw in this particular argument.  It doesn’t actually prove the thing it’s supposed to prove.  You have to stop using it.’  If that were to happen, would you still believe in god?  Would you have to reconsider anything about what you believe, or would you still believe exactly as you do now?”

(I would expect that a typical True Believer™ would declare that their faith would continue to be steadfast in that case.)

“OK, so let me review what we’ve learned about the argument in this box.

  1. It’s not what initially persuaded you to believe, because you didn’t have it at that time.
  2. It’s not what’s keeping you in your faith, because you would still be a believer even if you lost what’s in the box. 

SO, what that tells me is that we don’t actually need to open this box at all!  The question for callers is “Tell us what you believe and why.”  And we have just established that the argument in this box is not really part of your “why“.  So we can throw out this box unopened.  It’s not relevant.

“Here’s the box we ought to open up:

“What we should be talking about are the real reasons that you believe.   What initially persuaded you to start believing?  What things are so central to your beliefs that you would have to rethink your entire belief system if they were discredited?   I don’t know what’s in this box for you.  Maybe it’s things like ‘trust in your teachers,’ ‘personal experience,’ ‘clerical authority,’ or ‘biblical infallibility.’  Maybe it’s something else.  We won’t know until we start unpacking it.” Those are the interesting and useful discussions to have, not these circular apologetic word games.

If I ever were in the position similar to the hosts on TAE, I think that I would have to label some real boxes to use as visual aids.  Because, unless a caller says that their argument was specifically why they started believing, or that their faith would collapse without it, there’s no way that I would want to waste my energy listening to their endless philosophical wanking.  I have better things to do, like watching paint dry.

Dog ate his homework February 2, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
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At a speech about Black History Month, Hair Twitler said this:

“I am very proud now that we have a museum on the National Mall where people can learn about Reverend King, so many other things, Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.”

So Frederick Douglass is still alive?  Wut?

And then I realized what this reminds me of.  This is the book report from the kid who goofed off and didn’t bother to read the book.  You know, this:

calvin-book-report

I’m not the first to have noticed this, though.  Back during the campaign there was a marvellous Twitter stream of Drumpf’s “hasn’t read the book book reports”:  https://twitter.com/antoniofrench/status/788928579086217216?lang=en

Of course, we already know that Il Douche can’t actually read.  So no surprise there.

Weather Report January 20, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants.
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Today’s weather headline:

Weather for Trump’s Inauguration Day will be damp, dreary

grumpy-cat

What she said November 21, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
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I haven’t really been able to post what I think about the election, because I’m still too full of rage and despair to put it together coherently.  But I just found this video on Friendly Atheist, and I think Tess Rafferty puts it very well:

So for my own mental health at the moment, I’m going to keep avoiding newspapers, and newscasts, and pretty much anything political, because I need to cope with the rest of my life at the moment, and if I think about what happened I just shut down and can’t do anything.    Eventually I may be able to dig in and fight.  But, as Tess said “… I may scream when I do and if I start I may not stop.”

 

The Supernatural and “Supernatural” November 7, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
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Oftentimes, during a conversation between a theist making a conversion attempt and an atheist, the topic of lack of evidence for the supernatural comes up.  And sometimes the atheist demands, not only evidence that the supernatural exists, but some kind of an explanation for the mechanism by how it operates.  But I don’t need that second part, and don’t think we need to demand it.  If I had strong enough evidence that the supernatural existed, I’d accept that it did.

The theist will then usually protest about how there’s tons of evidence.  Faith healing that’s not statistically better than placebos!  A plane crashed and somebody survived!  Just look at the trees! And other such stuff that isn’t good evidence for the supernatural.

What would a world look like where there was good evidence for the existence of the supernatural?  I’ve found a really good example.  I’ve just finished a binge watch on Netflix of the first eleven seasons of the series Supernatural (go figure).  The basic setup, for those of you unfamiliar with the show, is a pair of brothers who travel the country saving people from various supernatural bad guys and monsters.  In their world, this stuff really exists, and behaves in predictable ways.  The brothers are often testing solutions to see what works, and researching into records to see what has been successful for other monster hunters in the past. For example, what works on a werewolf always works on a werewolf, but is not necessarily effective on a skinwalker or a vampire.  The trunk of their car is filled with dozens of different weapons, to be prepared for anything they run into.

I’d like to look at the show’s treatment of demons in particular, since often theists claim that demons are real.

In this show, if someone is possessed by a demon, there’s no vague “I think they’re possessed because they said crazy things” or “I have a bad feeling”.  Nope, in the Supernatural world, if you think someone is demon possessed, throw holy water on them.  If it burns them, and they smoke and scream, there’s a demon.  If they say “what did you do that for?” then it’s not a demon.  (Could be something else, though.  Best to run a few other tests.)

Demons can possess people without their permission, but can be evicted by someone else performing the exorcism incantation, upon which they exit from the possessed person visibly.  No uncertain “I feel better now, so it must be gone” stuff. You can see it leave.

demon-leaving

But if you want to kill it, you need a special demon knife.  And there are specific rules and constraints on their behavior.   They are unable to possess someone who has a warding tattoo:

anti-demon-tattoo

If you trick one of them into standing on a devil’s trap, even if it’s under a carpet, they can’t leave until the trap outline is broken.

devils-trap

If you put specific items in a box, bury it at a crossroads, and say the right incantation, a crossroads demon will appear, ready to make a deal with you.

crossroads-demonAnd if you make a deal with a demon, they will abide by it, no cheating.  But you had better read the fine print first, because they will abide by the letter of the agreement, not the intent.

And there’s a lot more specifics on demons, that I won’t go into here.  Each different sort of baddie in the series also has specific characteristics and weaknesses.  Not some vague woo-woo “I feel a spirit in the room whose name starts with either a C or a J”.  Nope, if there’s a ghost around, the temperature drops, the EM meter goes whoop, the ghost is usually visible and often solid, and they are repelled by cold iron or salt.  You want to be rid of them?  Find out what is tethering them to earth (usually remains of some kind) salt and burn that, and the ghost disappears in a burst of flame.  Usually just in the nick of time, of course.

burn-the-bones

Sam and Dean don’t need to know the actual mechanism that makes all this possible.  They just see it in action, every day.  If theists could pull out examples of stuff like this, that’s predictable and testable and doesn’t line up with the laws of our physical universe, and our most thorough testing was unable to reveal any use of trickery or special effects, then I’d be willing to consider that the supernatural exists.  I wouldn’t need to know how it works, I’d be fine with seeing that it does work.

But Sam and Dean’s world isn’t our world.  The show even made this point by having the characters break through into our world at one point, where they found themselves on a TV set in Vancouver, and to their dismay found out that magic doesn’t work here!

Of course, I would not need a theist to show me exactly this evidence to establish that the supernatural is something more than their imagination.   But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  Claiming the existence of an invisible realm full of invisible super-beings that interact with us?  That’s really, really extraordinary.  Show me evidence as strong as the characters are provided with on this show, or don’t bother.

Funeral update October 20, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Rants, Responses.
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Well, I went to the funeral for my friend.  And it was pretty much like I expected.

First, I want to give all due credit for the good stuff, the thoughtful stuff, the stuff that helped us all remember:

  • There was a display of some of his favorite things, and favorite T-shirts in the lobby.
  • There was a slideshow of years worth of family pictures playing on several screens for about an hour prior to the service.
  • There was a terrific reception with tons of food provided, so that all the people there could have a chance to talk afterwards.
  • There was a crowd of more than 600 people.  The seats were filled and there was overflow seating set up in the lobby.
  • My chorus had almost 50 people show up, and we did a really good job singing the piece we were performing.
  • There were several people who spoke about my friend, and his life, and his influence on them, and especially his sense of humor. Some of his family spoke, and some of them wrote their thoughts down and had somebody else read them, which I think is great for when someone is too emotional to speak, or just too terrified of public speaking to speak.

But.

The service was maybe 1/4 about my friend’s life, and how much we will miss him.  The other 3/4 was about how religious he was, how important religion is, god, grace, god, heaven, god, bible, Jesus, and more god.  Yes, he was a religious man, yes he was active in religious groups, and yes his wife’s a pastor.  I’m not saying that their church shouldn’t focus so much on that, it’s their church and they should do their thing, it’s what the congregation expects.

But wow was it awkward for me as a non-believer to sit through all that.

The thing that maybe bothered me the most was the sermon.  It was actually a sermon, not a eulogy.  Instead of talking about the deceased, the preacher talked mostly about the biblical story of Lazarus.   OK, I guess this is appropriate for a funeral, given that it’s about Jesus bringing a dead man back to life.  But the pastor really focused for a bit on this sentence:

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

And what I’m thinking is, if their benevolent god actually existed, one that cared about people’s beliefs, and wanted people to be righteous and religiously observant, and to serve their fellow man, then there wasn’t a better example of a faithful follower of that ideal than my friend.  My friend who died in a pointless accident.  My friend who should have had at least another 20 good years.  I’m thinking “If their Lord was real, and cared, this man should not have died.” But no, then he went on to talk at length about Jesus bringing Lazarus back, a thing that in our modern experience never actually happens.  You know, if their god existed and actually wanted to me to believe that he existed, at that point all he needed to do was to have my friend walk into that room, in perfect health, and I’d probably change my mind.

But alas, all we get is talk about grace, and the “arms of god” and “we’ll see him again” and the happy fairy tales people tell themselves to make us feel better.  On the outside I was not showing my annoyance, but on the inside here’s the version of the sermon that was going through my head:

I think my presence there was helpful for my chorus, and I think the chorus’s presence there was helpful for the family.  So I’m glad that I was there for them, even if I hated most of the actual service.