Dysfunction’s Role in Religion

28 08 2009

From Newsweek (believe it or not):

In brief, the number of American non-believers has doubled since 1990, a 2008 Pew survey found, and increased even more in some other advanced democracies. What’s curious is not so much the overall decline of belief (which has caused the Vatican to lament the de-Christianization of Europe) as the pattern. In a paper last month in the online journal Evolutionary Psychology, Gregory Paul finds that countries with the lowest rates of social dysfunction—based on 25 measures, including rates of homicide, abortion, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, unemployment, and poverty—have become the most secular. Those with the most dysfunction, such as Portugal and the U.S., are the most religious, as measured by self-professed belief, church attendance, habits of prayer, and the like.

What is also disturbing about this is that the US is considered a country with more dysfunction.

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The Sexual Orientation of the Earth-Worm

21 08 2009

Lesbian worms.  Need I say more?

By altering a gene in the brain of a female worm, scientists were able to change its sexual orientation so that it was attracted to other females. Scientists activated the gene that makes male structures develop in the body, but only turned it on in the brain.

Here’s a dirty picture:

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Oh sure, you laugh now, but wait until my army of lesbian worms is complete.  World domination my friend, world domination.





The Necessity of Cable News Quacks

18 08 2009

When one thinks of people like Glenn Beck, Keith Olberman, Bill O’Reily, and Rush Limbaugh, one often finds oneself wanting to stab ice picks in one’s ears. These people are commentators, not newsmen, but this distinction is not understood by a lot of people.

But let’s imagine a world in which these vitriolic opinionated ass-hats didn’t exist.  It would be a world of reporting only the facts.  “People gathered outside the capitol today and protested the legality of President Obama’s birth certificate.”  “Some republicans are upset about the death panels that would be created under the congress’ health care reform bill.”

The point is that there are some truly crazy people out there and perhaps it takes some crazy people to cover them.  I’ve seen the so called serious news cover these events and with only a few exceptions they are far more interested in not offending anyone that they don’t say anything at all.  They’re afraid that if they point out that there is no way that Obama isn’t a citizen they’ll be accused of being left wing and biased.  The right has embraced so many lies that it is impossible to report the truth without appearing to be leftist.

When we have actual US Congressmen (I’m looking at you, Michele Bachmann) who think that the census leads to internment camps, who receives huge amount of campaign donations from the insurance companies and proceeds to act as their puppet, who has consistently worked to incite violence against those who oppose her, who thinks CO2 is natural and therefore harmless to the environment, and who thinks  that we need to go through and purge the congress of all of those with what she has determined to be “anti-american” philosophies – why shouldn’t we have crazy people on tv talking about them?

Until we start electing serious people there will be no possibility of serious news.  This is not to say that there are not good news sources out there, and it is not to say that all cable news commentators were created equal.  But it is to say that the serious news should spend less time complaining about the so-called “fake” newsmen on cable news and start complaining more about the “fake” people who are deciding our fate.

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Stomp out Atheists in America

3 08 2009

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Alternative Medicine an Alternative to Effective

3 08 2009

Salon has a great piece about the somewhat more than sketchy health articles on the Huffington Post.

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I get a lot of news from the Huffington Post.  It is even my homepage on my computer.  But I’ve also learned never to venture into the “Living” section – as it is full of almost nothing but metaphysical homeopathic bullshit.

While I admit that the drug companies have too much pull over health-care in this country, I also know that they are not ones to turn down a profit.  The drug companies are not engaged in a conspiracy in which they convince the American people that only their drugs work for any given illness.  If drinking wormwood tea made cancer go away they wouldn’t try to cover it up, they would try to sell it.

I often hear people say we just need to give homeopathy a chance – that we are too biased to traditional western medicine.  What they don’t understand is that we did give alternative treatments a chance.  We gave all treatments a chance, and those that worked became medicine and those that didn’t became “alternative medicine”. 

The scientific method applies the same to western medicine as it applies to gravity or to the nature of matter.  Just because you want Aloe Vera Gel to cure your arthritis doesn’t mean it will.  Either accept everything that the scientific method gives us or accept none of it.  If you pick and choose than you undermine it’s very usefulness as a system.

The government is spending an increasing amount of money by investigating the legitimacy of so-called alternative medicine.  And so far all they’ve found is that they are simply an alternative to effective.  And yet they through more money down the well. 

Like the family that was recently held responsible for the death of their child (for not taking her to the hospital in lieu of prayer) people put themselves and others at risk when they turn away from western medicine.

Our culture’s growing appetite for natural and organic foods cannot be allowed to spread to far.  Soon there will be a movement against penicillin and the very plastic that makes the syringes that carry it.

Our intellects enable us to create things from other things – it is why we’re on the top of the food chain, it is what makes us human.  Homeopathy is a move away from progress, from evolution.  It is a move to simpler times, with simple remedies, simple sickness, and simple death.





Complex Theology of a Lutheran Minister

13 07 2009

I recently conducted an interview with an openly gay Lutheran minister. We discussed the philosophy of religion and specifically how he conceives of the divine. As part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, one would expect the pastor to stick to certain dogmatic truths – but what I found is that his conception of faith is much more fluid and malleable than I anticipated it to be.

The pastor began by saying that, “Lutherans, when we’re at our best self-understanding, say that Christianity isn’t a religion.” Here he is working off of the definition of religion being a means by which humanity phenomenologically manipulates the god or gods. God neither can be nor need be manipulated by humans to the Lutheran conception. While this is perhaps simply a semantic distinction, it does provide us with a hint as to how and why Lutheran faith works as it does.

God is “radical love, radical acceptance, radical good.” Like Demea in Hume’s Dialogues, the pastor does not think that God is something that we can know through empiricism. He believes that God exists because the story makes sense to him; belief in God is dependent on faith. He does not rely on Plato’s cosmological argument, Anselm’s ontological argument, or the argument from design (expressed so well by Hume). Beyond God’s existence our pastor doesn’t believe that one can even conceive of God’s nature through empiricism. God, and all that is God, is outside the realm of human understanding. The only way we can know God is through the person of Jesus Christ.

All of the pastor’s theology is based on the foundational belief that God is good. In epistemology there exists a notion of foundationalism which says that in order to know anything we must first accept a foundational belief – namely reason. But reason as a foundational belief is less problematic than ‘God is good’. One can, when pressed, express why it is acceptable and even preferable to use reason as a foundation. Reason, in a sense, finds itself reasonable – which while not the most perfect form of evidence does give us some understanding about the nature of reason. Blanket statements about God’s nature on the other hand require a leap of faith, so to speak. It simply does not have a basis in the same way in which rationalism has a basis. All we know is what we are capable of perceiving through our senses and so any statement that is not a product of our sensual stimuli is speculative at best. When asked where he gets his foundational beliefs the pastor replies, “Here’s where you end up going in a circle. I would say that that does come from the story. And where is the story in scripture? And so, one of the wonderful things to me about the whole Lutheran tradition is we say, ‘you know we do pick and choose’.” He continues to say that they “choose to give primacy to those things that are about the God who says, ‘I’d rather die than raise my hand in vengeance.’”

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Jesus personifies love and forgiveness – and those qualities then become the mold into which we pour the God of the Bible. All that is love and forgiveness becomes god and all that doesn’t fit in the mold we throw out. But which parts of the Bible do we accept and which do we reject? The pastor cites Luther and analogizes the Bible to the manger that held Christ. The Bible contains Christ in just that way. And like an actual manger the Bible contains, “shit and piss.” Morality is something that the pastor sees as distinct from faith. He says that the church’s business is forgiveness and that it is the state’s job to judge. The individual uses “informed conscience” to reason to a moral stance.

Morality is not a rigid, black and white system to the Lutherans. Mostly it is a business of picking the lesser of evils. The church, for instance, reasons that abortion is a bad thing. They also reason though that sometimes it is the lesser of evils – and therefore their position is one where they work to make abortions both rare and safe.

To say that judgment is not the place of a Christian church may seem antithetical to the modern conception of Christian belief. This Lutheran pastor however characterizes God’s attitude towards humanity this way: “Humanity is guilty as hell, but guess what, I’ve gone out of the judgment business . . . I’ve decided that everyone gets into My banquet.” This emphasizes the importance of natural morality because it essentially removes morality as motivation. If everyone is already forgiven than morality is not a prerequisite for entry into heaven.

On the question of evil the pastor gives a simple answer: “I don’t know”. He acknowledges that evil is present in the world (unlike Hume’s Demea), but does not blame God for said evil. He trusts that God is perfectly benevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent. How that can be when there is evil in the world is something he chalks up to being beyond human understanding.

“Reason,” he says, “leads us to atheism.” He argues though that there are more ways of knowing than just through reason. Ultimately this is the point of divergence between the theist and the atheist. Epistemological foundationalism is a subject that is beyond the scope of this article, suffice it to say that it is a topic that is hotly debated.





Obama Accomplishes Nothing

14 06 2009

My thoughts exactly almost exactly.