Archive for October, 2009

Religion is a Stealth Atheism

October 28, 2009

David Sloan Wilson, one of two new editions to scienceblogs, has a seven part series called “Atheism as a Stealth Religion”, by Erin Johnson. The title makes me roll my eyes, but it has seven parts, and if it has worthwhile or insightful criticism of atheists, I’d like to check it out and respond in turn.

Here we go:

The new atheists hate religion for causing between-group conflict and especially for its wanton disregard of the canons of rational thought. Yet, both of these problems extend far more widely than religion.

How long can people be “new atheists”? Another 5-10 years? 20? I can’t wait to have been a “new” atheist for 20 years or so. Kind of a blessing really, even as I age my atheism will still be “new”.

Of course irrationality extends beyond religion. All being an atheist means is not believing in deities. Get as many self-identified atheists as you can together, and all you will really be able to say about them is what they don’t believe. If the world was a saner place, “atheism” wouldn’t even be a word, any more than one needs to be identified as a heliocentrist or aheliocentrist in ours today.

The vast majority of atheists turned away from their given religion, so why is it such a big deal for them to voice their criticisms of it? There are all sorts of irrationality, supernatural or not, but few as persistent or large a problem as religion (political ideologies can be quite toxic).

Ayn Rand and her crappy “objectivist” nonsense might still sell thousands of books a year, and fleece thousands more from their money to chase some literary fiction, but they don’t insist on shitting their “philosophy” into as many schools, government buildings, and as much public property as possible. They don’t bankroll political campaigns to take away gay’s rights, or seek to ruin children’s education in the name of their god.

It is humbling to contemplate that the concerns typically voiced about religion need to be extended to virtually all forms of human thought. If anything, non-religious belief systems are a greater cause for concern because they do a better job of masquerading as factual reality. Call them stealth religions.

I agree with the first point. Atheism alone really doesn’t require rational thought or even critical thinking. You could not believe in deities for the same reason others do believe, because their parents told them so when they were young. For many though, atheism is really the result of trying to think in a more rational/skeptical/humanist/critical way. It is trying to get away from the errors and pains all forms of irrationality can bring about. Thinking about religion may have been the point of entry for many people who call themselves atheists, but that is just a launching pad for where to go next.

Johnson says the “new” atheists show many hallmarks of what he calls stealth religion. This is illustrated by using book titles (and subtitles). The points the authors actually make in the books mentioned are not the polarized us-and-them views put forward by the likes of fundamentalists.

Johnson also talks about fundamentalist religions portraying a world in which much “factual realism” is sacrificed for “practical realism” (if I am using the terms right), and how “at least some” versions of atheism fare no better. I agree again, and also that many “versions” of atheism (say, Bill Mahr) are still prone to large errors, irrational thought, and everything else. If anyone thinks not believing in deities makes them fully rational, they’ve fucked up.

And finally, Johnson can associate religion with humility, but that would be wrong. Astronomy and Cosmology teach humility better than most religions could ever imagine. What passes for humility in most religions is a kind of self-negation, declaring oneself to be worthless BUT for god. All this on top of the amazingly self-centered and arrogant view put forward by many religions that mankind is the whole point and center of the universe. What humility!

Catholic church, and the creeping creepiness

October 20, 2009

Bill Donahue, best known for double crossing the pope to kill jesus during his appearance on South Park, recently released a letter in response to the excellent idea by Sarah Silverman to Sell the Vatican.

Donahue replies

… Silverman’s assault on Catholicism is just another example of HBO’s corporate irresponsibility. Time and again, if it’s not Bill Maher thrashing the Catholic Church, it’s one of his guests. There is obviously something pathological going on there: Silverman’s filthy diatribe would never be allowed if the chosen target were the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and the state of Israel. …

Bill, seriously, assault on Catholicism? Comon now, Sarah was just offering some good outside the box thinking, and the Pope should be thankful, that’s hard to come by in a city-sized box. Think of it this way — if you solve world hunger by selling that gilded blackhole of wealth, there’ll be lots more people to baptize and tell not to wear condoms! Double score, easy.

Its always nice to see Donahue daring people to insult other religions. Donahue is helpful in that way – every now and then you could, conceivably, be about to confuse him with someone who is motivated by a concern for religious tolerance or expression, or some first amendment issue. Then, he goes and says something like the above, and shows himself to be, like the catholic church, only concerned about the catholic church.

On a side note, I doubt the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem of Israel lives in his own sovereign city-state.

Since Donahue takes any thought against the catholic church as an “assault”, I’ll offer up another. I was raised catholic, was an alter boy, went to catholic schools k through 12. The idea of gods existing seems wrong to me now, but then I was still on the standard catholic circumcised-baptised-confessionalised-communionised-confirmation-ized track. Like the majority of kids who go to catholic school (in america), I never had any weird or abusive experiences with priests in that time.

Just how large is that majority, though? Given the chruch’s terrible record when it comes to things like this, how would I know if another kid had in fact, been the victim of abuse? In the short time between when I started writing the first draft for this post and when I started again, another ugly story about the catholic church surfaced, about a priest acting poorly, with the church again, only caring about itself. This makes me curious — how often is some indiscretion the real motivation for priests changing parishes? I can imagine there are plenty of legitimate reasons for a priest to change from one parish to another, but it seems like “keeping-it-quiet” is a reason at least some of the time.

The fact that my memories don’t raise any red flags in retrospect isn’t helpful. When I was still going to catholic school, the church was not something you criticized. By the time I started hearing about the bad things priests did, it was in high school, and I was out of whatever danger zone I might have been in.

Whether there were no cases of child abuse or priestly misconduct ever at the church I used to go to (which would be my guess), or if it was a serious problem that was tied to the school closing the year after I graduated (probably was declining enrollment), the only thing I can certain of, it seems, is that *if* anything abusive was going on, priests could and would use their undeserved trust and authority (in how many of the abuse stories does the kid first report what happens to another priest?) to silence children. Failing that, every means would be used, even legal sanctions of silence, while the offender goes off to a fresh parish.

The mind reels. How many hundreds of years has this been going on? Given the catholic church’s steadfast ability to not change, it may very well be that this shit has been going on for fucking ever.

1990. Rape and Murder. Glenn Beck. And Free Speech

October 11, 2009

In a shocking move, Glenn Beck continues refusing to deny that in 1990, he raped and murdered a young girl. I mean, I don’t think that Glenn Beck is the kind of person who would rape OR murder anyone, especially not a young girl in 1990. But a lot of Americans want to know, why are you trying to get around the US court system? I’m not trying to call Glenn Beck unpatriotic, or even a shallow exploiter of tragedy.

It’s just that, as someone who spends at least as much time as Glenn Beck reading the Constitution aloud, wrapped in a giant authentic civil war flag as the battle hymm of the republic plays, I want him to prove to me that he’s not trying to sidestep the first amendment to silence criticism. I mean, I don’t think anyone who heavily depends on the right of free speech to do their job as a pompous talking head would try to reach around the first amendment to jack off a critic.

I think though, that a lot of Americans are asking about you Beck. They see that you’re a pro-American kind of guy. But then you turn to an international body to try to kill a website, because you know our American 1st amendment would throw it out. And what they want you to prove to them, Beck, and I’m not accusing you of this, is that you’re not a traitor to this country’s laws. Turncoat is not the way I’d describe you Beck, but I think you need to prove to me that your skirting the US court system isn’t the work of a thin-skinned coward. I don’t think you’re a traitor, Beck, but it would make a lot of people sleep easier at night if you could explain this to us. All you need to do is stop refusing to deny that you’re a traitor.

Get the damn flu shot

October 6, 2009

I’ve now run into three people who expressed skepticism about the flu shot. Two of those people were involved in the medical field. People. Who work in hospitals. Not talking up vaccines. This blows my mind. The last flu epidemic killed as many people as WW2. It took a lot of nasty work to kill 50 million humans in WW2. The flu killed 50 million people by existing in a nasty strain for a while.

“I never get flu except when I get the vaccine”, “I’ve never gotten the flu before, why should I get the shot?”. These were two of the attitudes of people I ran into over the last few weeks. Not getting the flu, (yet) doesn’t mean you can’t get the flu (ever). I would even think that, as a person who’s never gotten the flu in recent memory, that being vaccinated would be the best way to avoid getting the flu without actually having to get sick. But you know, thats just based on what the the CDC says.