jump to navigation

Quotes worth stealing June 16, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Responses.
Tags: , , , ,
2 comments

I ran across a couple of amazing quotes recently, from a couple of my favorite bloggers.  They are too good not to share, plus making a post will help me remember them.

First, this is from the latest post at Neil Carter’s Godless in Dixie,

Our religions don’t make us who we are. We just are who we are, and we learn to tell different stories about ourselves. We simply change lenses through which we see ourselves. That’s all.

And then I found this gem from Captain Cassidy at Roll to Disbelieve:

When a broken system and a toxic worldview love each other very, very much, they create hypocrites.

These are worthy of T-shirts!  I wish I could write like that.

Box of Apologetics June 8, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
6 comments

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.

What’s the point of prayer? May 17, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Responses.
Tags: , , , , , ,
15 comments

I recently left this as a comment on Wondering Eagle’s blog post about prayer.  Since I haven’t blogged much recently, and I’m pretty pleased with the comment, I thought I should give it its own post.

I’ve always been puzzled about the disconnect between what evangelicals say about god, and what they say about prayer. They say their god is all-powerful, all knowing, benevolent, and has a perfect plan for their lives. Then they spend time telling god things and begging god to change stuff. If god already knows what people need, why spend time telling him what you want? If god has a perfect plan, then why are they asking him to change it, just for them? And why do they think a request to change his perfect plan is more effective if they have more people doing it? Is god not going to “bless America” unless a bunch of christian politicians make sure to ask him to in their every speech? (This is why I laugh at the whole “prayer warrior” idea. It’s just magical thinking.) They say “trust god” and “let go and let god” and then they spend long hours in prayer not trusting him and giving him advice on what to do.

Back when I was a believer, the only kinds of prayer that actually made sense were things like “Help me understand. Help me be strong to do the things that I need to do. Help me cope with what I can’t change.”

Now the way evangelicals pray would make a lot more sense if they were talking about a limited god, like the ones in the Greek pantheon. Those gods didn’t have perfect plans, didn’t know everything you were thinking, and if you sucked up to them enough, and sacrificed enough cattle, they might be willing to take your advice about what to do. Modern evangelicals often sound like they are preaching about YHWH and Jesus, but then praying and tithing to Zeus.

The Supernatural and “Supernatural” November 7, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
8 comments

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.
Tags: , , , ,
18 comments

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.

Funeral frustrations October 11, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Rants.
Tags: , , ,
19 comments

Most of the time, I can arrange my life so I don’t have to have much contact with religion.  Sure I sing with a chorus that sings music with religious texts, but I can appreciate the artistic quality, and try to ignore the words as much as possible.  But other than that, I’ve managed to exclude the religious practices and expectations of others pretty well from my day-to-day existence.

Except.

Earlier this month, a good friend from my chorus died in a pointless accident.  You know how, in most organizations, 10% of the people do 90% of the work?  He was one of those 10% and then some.  He was a stalwart member of the chorus, not only singing, but taking on more responsibilities than anybody else, and holding a really important position in the organization.  He always went above and beyond, was always positive and cheerful, and I will miss him terribly.

The funeral is Friday.

It’s Methodist.  His wife is the pastor.

AAARGH.  I’m already hearing the religious platitudes about “He’s looking down at us” and such being thrown about.  Going to listen to an extended session of “he’s in a better place” and “god has a plan” and all the other religious tripe that people say is not how I want to be spending an afternoon.  That’s not how I cope with loss.  Instead of grieving, at the funeral I would be trying to keep my mouth shut, and finding a way not to be rude or roll my eyes when the crowd around me is playing their pretendy-game that he’s in heaven and they will see him again.  My friend is gone, really gone, when he should have had at least another twenty years ahead  of him.  This completely sucks.  They get to be honest, but I don’t, because if I say what I really think I’ll offend someone, and a funeral is not the appropriate time to be doing that.  If I go I have to be fake and polite.  Sheesh.

There’s no point in my going for my own benefit.  There’s no point in my going for my friend’s benefit, he’s dead and so has no opinion on this.  There’s no point in my going for his family’s benefit, because I don’t know them and they don’t know me.

But-

As someone who has also held major positions in the chorus in the past, there’s an expectation that I’ll be there.  The director, the other past and present officers, and the chorus members are expecting me to be there.  It’s part of the solidarity needed to keep the chorus functioning through this.  I don’t need to be there for me, but they need me to be there for them, so I can’t not go.

The chorus has been invited to sing.  If I go, I can’t not sing.

So there I’ll be, the atheist in the choir loft.   Crap.

Happy Blasphemy! September 30, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Responses.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
12 comments

blasphemy-day

It’s Blasphemy Rights Day!

In appreciation for living in a country where it’s (currently) not illegal to say bad things about people’s beliefs, I’d like to state the following:

Islam is a religion that contains a few good ideas and a lot of really horrible ones.  People who follow it should quit.

Christianity is a religion that contains a few good ideas and a lot of really horrible ones. People who follow it should quit.

Judaism is a religion that contains a few good ideas and a lot of really horrible ones. People who follow it should quit.

Same for Scientology, Hinduism, Mormonism, and most other isms out there.  Stop giving these organizations your money.  Stop doing what their self-appointed holy men tell you to do.

worst-kite-ever

And now, to make sure I have offended everybody:

Professional sports aren’t really important, and we spend too much money on them.

The Battlestar Galactica reboot could have used better writers.  So could Lost.

Beer is gross.  So is champagne.  So is coffee.

“Sherlock” is only just OK, and doesn’t compare to the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series.

Did I miss anybody?

jeez-it

Women in Secularism 4 – summaries September 26, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events.
Tags: , , , ,
6 comments

WiS4

I’ve just spent a great weekend at Women in Secularism 4, sponsored by CFI.  I took many notes, but I’m not going to try to outline all the points of all the talks there, because it’s already been done!

Paul Fidalgo of The Morning Heresy, liveblogged each speech and panel discussion.  So for good summaries please go here:

CFI Live Women in Secularism

In the coming days I’ll probably put together my thoughts on a few of the themes that were discussed.

 

Religion of peace? September 25, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
15 comments

I spent a good part of this morning at WIS4 listening to a talk from Bonya Ahmed, a survivor of a vicious machete attack by Al-Qaeda Islamist fundamentalists in Bangladesh.

bonya-ahmed

She is an amazing human being.  Her husband, Dr. Avijit Roy, was killed and she barely survived.  Many people would have just given up and gone into hiding after that, but she has carried on the work, and speaks out strongly and articulately.   I’ll be posting my comments on the WIS4 talks at a later time, but I just want to say that she is an inspiration for me, her bravery gives me hope for what people can accomplish.

Then I got home and found this headline.

“Jordanian Writer Murdered After Sharing “Offensive” Cartoon Mocking Terrorists’ Vision of Paradise”

Shit.

Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar was murdered this morning for sharing a cartoon on Facebook, a cartoon that mocked the beliefs of ISIS terrorists.  Not even for drawing it, just for sharing it.  And he was killed while heading to court to answer for charges of “offending Islam,” also from posting the cartoon.  Since I have the privilege of living in a country where we have no laws against offending religion (yet), the very least I can do is share the English version of the cartoon:

mo-in-bed-with-women-asking-for-wine-and-cashews

Their god is apparently so weak that their beliefs can’t stand up to a little mockery.  Their religion is so fragile that its followers kill people just for the suggestion that it doesn’t have to be taken seriously.

Religion of peace my ass.

Nonbeliever LGBT survey August 17, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Responses.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

As part of a long-term research project, Friendly Atheist has created a survey about the attitudes of the non-religious on LGBT issues.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2016/08/17/please-help-us-out-by-taking-this-short-survey-about-atheism-and-lgbt-rights/

If you are non-religious and would like to help them with their research, you can link directly  to the survey here:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/LGBTatheism

(Hemant asked people to spread the link on their social media, and this is the only social media I use. )