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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

 

You won’t believe the BEST reason for being an atheist! February 5, 2018

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches, Responses.
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17 comments

A while back Jim posed a question on his blog, The Common Atheist.

His request was “If each of you would share right here one of your best arguments for atheism…”

And I replied with one of my best reasons, but since it was in a comment thread I tried to keep my answer brief.  However, I think the point I was making deserves a more careful discussion.  So here’s a full post about it. (more…)

“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…)

“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Deprogramming (part 1) January 14, 2018

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Responses.
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At last we are at the end of this book.  (The 1968 guide for Mormon Missionaries, if you remember)

We’ve learned how to be a perfect Mormon robot, selling the product, living with no privacy, working incredibly hard every waking hour, not even thinking about subjects that aren’t approved to think about, and don’t forget to smile!

Now she’s finally going to talk about coming back home.

Chapter 23.  The After-Mission Adjustment (more…)

“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Fun with Beans December 30, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
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We’re nearing the end of this book.  (The 1968 guide for Mormon Missionaries, if you missed it.)  I’m going to be quoting at length from some sections of this chapter, because it’s just priceless.

Chapter 22, Recreation

Chapter after chapter in this book, there’s been instructions about the correct way to work your butt off.  Preach, cook, preach, clean, preach, wash, preach, write letters, preach, keep a journal, preach, and most especially DON’T EVER THINK ABOUT SEX.

Just reading about what these guys are expected to do is exhausting.  So finally we get to a chapter about how to rest and unwind.  Oh – not so fast now! (more…)

No true Santaist December 23, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Humor, Rants, Responses.
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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…)

“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Communicating August 9, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
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Continuing with my chapter-by-chapter review of the 1968 guidebook for prospective Mormon missionaries.  I’ve been away from this series for a long time, let’s get back to it.  Chapter 16: Conversation Care.

So far, there has been a lot of bad advice in this book, a lot of condescension, and quite a few amusingly outdated attitudes.  But finally we’ve come to a chapter where our author actually has mostly good advice for these kids!  Apparently she has enough experience with talking to people that she knows her stuff here.  Mostly.

Her advice includes:

  • Paying attention to first impressions.
  • Avoiding bad grammar,  slang, and pretentious vocabulary.
  • Maintaining a tone of voice that is not harsh, loud, or monotonous.
  • Avoiding profanity.
  • Listening more than you talk, and not monopolizing a conversation.
  • Avoiding off-color stories, and long boring personal stories.
  • Avoiding gossiping or bragging.
  • Avoiding responding to insults to your home country in kind.
  • Not fidgeting or chewing gum.
  • Looking to the people around you for cues as to appropriate formality in speech.
  • Not embarrassing someone for not remembering your name.

This is all good stuff, and should be observed by anyone who is trying to persuade people through conversation.

However, sometimes her good advice comes crashing back down into preachiness:

“Keep an open mind and never be afraid to listen to another version of truth.  Learn to say, “I think” or “It seems to me” except, of course, when it comes to talking about the gospel and bearing your testimony; then you always say “I know.” (pg 147)

And she concludes with a complicated discussion about making introductions, and whose name you should mention first.  I remember seeing similar sets of rules for this when I was a child, and I don’t remember ever having occasion to use them.    Here’s her rules:

“Rule I: Introduce the younger person to the older.  This means you say the older person’s name first…

Rule II: Introduce the male to the female. This means you say the female’s name first…

Rule III: Introduce the less important person to the more important. This means you say the more important person’s name first.” (pg 149)

And then this:

“Unfortunately there will be a few times when these rules will have to be broken.  Perhaps you’ll need to introduce an elderly man to an important man, or an important man to a woman.  In such cases, rule breaking is based on respect.  The very old person’s name is said first to show respect for old age, and the person holding an important church or civic position is mentioned first to show respect for a man of his stature and office.” (pg 150)

I’m still confused.  What if you need to introduce a fairly important person to a rather old person?  Or an important woman to an elderly man?  (Oh, silly me!  This is Mormonism, there is no such thing as an important woman!)

But my real problem with these rules is that it forces the person making the introductions to make value judgments about people, and letting them know how you judged them.  You have to evaluate whether a person is more important than the other person is old, or whether someone’s importance or age places them ahead of women in introductions.  I hate this whole thing!  By the simple act of helping people get to know each other, you might inadvertently offend somebody!  And you sometimes have to make these snap judgement on the spot, too.  And there are things that you might have wanted to consider, such as which person you know better, or which person you arrived with, or who you are currently talking to, and none of these are allowed to be considered in this artificial system.  Let’s just have nametags and be done with it.

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Quotes worth stealing June 16, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Responses.
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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.
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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.