My Old Kentucky Homesite

Archive for June, 2010

Technology Throughout History #1

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 06/28/2010

On June 28, 1776, after emailing back and forth with a few of his friends, Thomas Jefferson sent out the following series of text messages to his entire social network.

IMHO if a guvmint isnt ur BFF it sux!

evry1 is =.
th cre8r gave us a rite 2 life, librtE and :)

K. George? NFW!
he has S4B & duz lotsa bad stuff.
hes g2g.

FYI these :Ez are now free 4eva.
CUL8R. Bring ur musket.

It’s a good thing we could communicate by cell phone back then, or we’d all be English today.

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Posted in It's History, Language & Meaning, Seriously Silly | 20 Comments »

When The Lights Go On Again (All Over the World)

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 06/26/2010

While reading my previous post, some of you may have been wondering if I was indirectly praising Roman Catholicism and Judaism. The short answer is: nope. I do think that Catholic and Jewish households may provide an environment in which falling away from those odious superstititions is easier than in, say, Protestant or Muslim households. But the teachings of religious “leaders” — ha! — of any persuasion are always geared toward keeping the faithful in the dark. These days, in fact, officials of the Roman Catholic Church are trying to dim not only the glow of reason, but also the torch of justice.

Many of you know that in 2004, three men in Kentucky filed a case against the Vatican for criminal negligence in failing to protect children against, and for covering up, widespread instances of child abuse. Their attorney, William McMurry, filed a class-action suit against the Catholic Church’s Hide-out in the name of hundreds of victims across the United States. Part of his reasoning is that American bishops are either employed by, or officers of, the Vatican.

McMurry has been trying to get the U.S. District Court in Louisville to (1) order the release of Roman Catholic administrative documents, (2) allow him to depose Pope Benny. The Catholic Church, of course, argues that (1) no evidence has been established linking officials in the Holy-Shit City to boy-rape in America, and (2) Il Papa is a head of state, so deposing him would violate international law.

As of Thursday, the arguments by both sides were submitted to the Court. But even if the judges find in the victims’ favor, could the ruling be enforced?

My gut-feeling was, originally, “no.”

But then I got to thinking. An international conspiracy to abuse children or abet their abuse is clearly terrorism. At very least, the Vatican officials are aiding and/or providing a safe haven to terrorists.

We will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.

George W. Bush on September 20, 2001

I think our country’s duty is clear. There’s plenty of evidence against the Catholiban. So, for the good of America and all freedom-loving peoples around the world, we must invade the Vatican.

And, hey! I’ve even found an appropriate tune for our civilians at home to sing. Since the Roman Catholic Church has been a champion at disseminating intellectual darkness for centuries and centuries, I suggest that we cheer on our troops with this old song from World War II.

Posted in Freedom from Faith, Random Rants | 17 Comments »

The Humor Theory of Atheism: Laugh Your Way to Godlessness

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 06/25/2010

Fellow Lexingtonian atheist BrentH is a new friend of mine, and he has already left a number of funny and/or insightful comments on this blog. But some of his best stuff has come in private emails to me. So I’m going to give him credit for most of the ideas that follow. I agree with them, though, so if you think they’re ridiculous, don’t hesitate to attack either one of us. (Like I have to encourage you, right?) Brent can always say “fuck you” and leave the thread if you get too nasty. Or boring. I’m sorta stuck here – this being my old Kentucky (yikes!) Homesite – disproving by counter-example the myth of Southern gentility. So bring it on, you clowns. (At least, I’m guessing that you’re clowns. As you’ll soon see.)

Brent and I have been discussing the kinds of people who become atheists after having been raised in various specific religions. He grew up in a moderately Catholic home. I grew up in a household headed by a religiously indifferent mother and a loud-mouthed atheist father, but my neighborhood was heavily Jewish.

We noticed – through the filters of our own experiences – that in this country, ex-Catholics and former Jews do not usually seem to go through months and months, even years and years, of torturous angst after breaking free from their particular superstitions. We wondered why those groups were different from most Protestants, particularly, say, Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, Charismatics, and all those other Fundamentalist types. Some of those poor folks struggle agonizingly when they come to realize that they no longer believe.

My original thesis was this: For both of those groups, Catholics and Jews, regardless of how devout they are, the family at home is still the primary social unit. (That’s not always a good thing, as anyone with a Jewish mother can tell you.) For many Protestants, however, particularly those whose sects lean strongly in the Fundy direction, the church itself becomes the primary social unit. So, obviously, “leaving the faith” has tremendous interpersonal ramifications for those people, far stronger than it does for theists whose houses of worship are not life-encompassing.

Brent had a more profound hypothesis, which I’ll call “The Humor Theory of Atheism” (or HTA, for short). It may be easier, he said, for Catholics and Jews to “slide from being devout/observant” into atheism because both those groups have a tradition of comedy and humor. He noted that his family often mocked and satirized one another. That certainly was also true in my house, where it was difficult to survive a meal if you didn’t have a healthy streak of wiseguy, as well as a strong stomach.

We’re not talking about redneck guffaws here. Although Brent didn’t specifically say this, I think he meant that humor was used in his home as it was in mine, as a kind of intellectual challenge. You had to be alert, you had to be quick, and you had to be clever. Even the most innocent dinner-table pronouncements were always scrutinized for maximum comic effect. In my kitchen, we sat there shoveling my mother’s inedible food as we listened carefully to what one another said. All the while, our minds worked overtime to find an absurd connection, a weird association, a hilarious logical meander, or just a perfectly appropriate goofy face. We always knew that whatever we said was going to be examined, and we likewise dissected the statements of the others. We were under the impression that we were merely making jokes, but really, we were thinking critically.

Brent also pointed out that both Catholics and Jews tend to be found mostly in urban environments, places that are “edgy, irreverent, and even blasphemous.” Big cities are incubators for skepticism, particularly of the sardonically witty variety. What I learned to do at home, I did everywhere I went; and I’m guessing, from our short acquaintance, that he did, too.

Most of the funniest people I know are freethinkers, regardless of whether or not they’re out-and-out heathens. The kind of humor I’ve described is definitely not limited to only Catholics and Jews. But perhaps it comes a little more naturally for them because of their long traditions of derision, sarcasm, and even self-deprecation. In any case, whoever its practitioners are, humor is often an entry into critical thinking. Does that always result in atheism? Obviously, not. But without the ability and the desire to think critically, it may be impossible to break the mental chains forged by childhood indoctrination.

This is still a thesis in progress. So I’m asking: Do you agree or disagree with the following propositions?
(1) People raised as Catholics or Jews generally have an easier time acknowledging their freedom from faith than do those brought up in many other traditions.
(2) Humor is a very effective pathway to atheism.

Any (critical) thoughts?

Posted in Freedom from Faith, Once a New Yorker ... | 29 Comments »

Is Hating “Hate Crimes” a Hate Crime?

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 06/23/2010

In a truly free country where the intellectual climate wasn’t overwhelmed by a combination of right-wing Christian superstition and left-wing love-child emotionalism, it would be a truism that we don’t all have to like one another. We’d be free to express our feelings that our neighbor is an unbearable asshole, our boss a despicable jerk, and our family members worse than troglodytes. In short, we’d be free to dislike, even hate, one another. And we’d also be free to hate whole groups of people based on their ethnicities, races, nationalities, genders, age-ranges, geographical backgrounds, even their professions and hair-styles.

What we wouldn’t be free to do is to act on our hatreds in any way that broke the law. Because breaking the law is just that: breaking the law. So, obviously, we couldn’t use our antipathies for a specific group to justify killing one another, stealing from one another, or defrauding one another. We couldn’t plead that our prejudices made it OK for us to assault anyone, rape somebody, or burgle a person’s house.

In other words, we couldn’t explain away crimes as a result of our hatred. In a reasonable country, crimes would be crimes, regardless of their motives. All illegal activities would be prosecuted equally. The government would not try to enter the mind-reading business, which is an enterprise doomed to failure — or abuse.

However, here in the U.S. of A., the Jesus-is-love crowd joined forces with the flower-power generation to come up with the concept of so-called “hate crimes.” These crimes can be prosecuted whenever the authorities make a distinction between kinds of motivations, and then go on to draw a conclusion about the “reasoning” behind a particular criminal activity. You beat up a person and stole his money because he was wearing clothes that made you think he was rich? That’s all right; we’ll put you on trial for robbery. You beat up a person and stole his money because he was wearing clothes that made you think he was gay? Sorry. You’re gonna be charged with a hate crime.

Because we as a society are so love-addled, we’re averse to the darker side of human emotions. So it’s easier for a prosecutor to get a guilty verdict when a defendant is charged with a hate crime. Juries love to hate someone who hates.

But I’m not comfortable creating a system of measurement for illegal activities. Honestly? If some thug were to kick me in the nuts and run away with my wallet, I wouldn’t be too concerned about what his motivation was.

My feeling is: if you did something that’s against the law, you should be arrested and tried. If found guilty, you should be jailed and/or fined. Unless you’re Jean Valjean, I don’t give a shit why you did what you did.

That’s why I’m against the entire concept of “hate crimes,” mostly because it’s stupid and makes an unnecessary distinction that neither acts as a deterrent nor furthers the cause of justice. But also because it’s a sneaky attempt to enforce “love” as the norm.

Imagine my shock and anger, therefore, when I read this article in today’s New York Times.

It seems that in Queens, prosecutors now don’t even have to try to prove “hate” to charge a criminal with a hate crime.

The legal thinking behind the novel method is that New York’s hate crimes statute does not require prosecutors to prove defendants “hate” the group the victim belongs to, merely that they commit the crime because of some belief, correct or not, they hold about the group.

So if you’ve bilked a few old, confused codgers because you believed that they were easier to fool than some young, alert guys, bingo! You committed a “hate crime.” Never mind that “hate” didn’t enter into it. Haven’t you ever heard of Newspeak?

Well, you’d better watch out, you young, alert guys. Sooner or later, you’re gonna be the only safe targets left. That is, until some enterprising Queens D.A. decides that stealing from you is a hate crime, too, because criminals happen to believe, correctly or not, that your group comprises the only safe targets left.

Can you say “reductio ad absurdum,” boys and girls?

Posted in Random Rants | 20 Comments »

Was Michelangelo a Joking Atheist?

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 06/22/2010

My friend Srsny called me up yesterday all excited by a story about Michelangelo that she’d just heard on NPR. It seems that one of his depictions of Yahweh in the Sistine Chapel contains an anatomically correct brainstem in the Big Guy’s neck.

According to the two Johns Hopkins neurosurgery researchers who studied the painting, Michelangelo likely included the brainstem as (a) a kind of signature, (b) a joke, and/or (c) a nose-thumbing “fuck you” to the Vatican.

Apparently, it’s fairly well known that Renaissance artists, interested in learning human anatomy, obtained cadavers for dissection. The Church frowned on this practice at the same time that it paid for, and encouraged, realism in the painting of biblical subjects. So the authors hypothesize that Michelangelo included the brain in his painting essentially to twit the religious authorities with a subtle “Guess what I did!”

My take, as an atheist, is a different one. Perhaps Michelangelo was pointing out that his god’s brain was exactly the same as an ordinary human’s. Surely, the great painter had dissected the bodies of other creatures besides those of our species, and he would have known that animals’ organs, including their brains, are not the same as ours. So, if the heavenly creator were indeed more “superior” to Man than Man is to the beasts, his godly brain should have been of a different size and proportion altogether. For his brain to be so much like ours, he must have been a construct of mere mortals, rather than a supreme being to take seriously.

But that got me thinking about how amazing our brain really is. One of the things most interesting to me about the story was the great joke by the editors — the closing play-out music. This kind of joke is broadcast all the time on NPR’s various programs, but today was the first time I ever thought about the mechanics of such a gag.

First, the listeners have to recognize a collection of noises as music rather than just a group of odd sounds. Second, the audience has to “translate” what they’re hearing into a tune they know, even though the melody is played in a version that’s most likely a variant of the one they’re familiar with; perhaps it’s orchestrated differently, or performed at a different tempo, or slightly varied in its rhythms. Third, when the tune is recognized, its music has to be so indelibly tied to its title and/or lyrics as to make a certain phrase spring to mind immediately upon identification of the melody. Fourth, the listeners have to understand that the associated phrase is not just a random string of words, but one that communicates a definite message from the programming staff. Fifth, the message has to be processed by filtering the phrase through the context of the preceding story. Sixth, the juxtaposition of story and phrase has to be enough of a surprise to engender an involuntary laugh reflex; the more inappropriate the original context of the song to the broadcast context, the bigger the laugh is likely to be. That’s a pretty astounding series of “calculations” for an organ, mortal or not, to perform.

Oddly enough, I can’t think of a single instance in the bible of people using their god-like brains to laugh at a pure, clever joke like the musical one that followed NPR’s story, or the one that Michelangelo painted. Can you?

Posted in Freedom from Faith, Music | 28 Comments »

Happy Boopday (Or Maybe Not)

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 06/19/2010

There will be no earworms here at the Homesite this Saturday, because today is the anniversary of Max Fleischer’s birth.
[Update 4:50 a.m.: Actually, that’s a lie. I misread my source. His birthday was July 19, not June. But, hey, it was late when I wrote this, and what are a couple of letters between friends? Anyway, I like to get my cards out early to be sure they’ll arrive in time. So, sue me. But enjoy this tribute first; don’t let all my Googling go to waste. FYI: The information in the rest of the post, to the best of my knowledge, is correct.]

Max was a genius at animation. He and his brother Dave started the Fleischer Studios in 1921. Among their successes were the “Out of the Inkwell” series and the “Song Car-Tunes,” which invited audiences to “follow the bouncing ball” as they sang along. The Fleischers also created the Popeye series and made adventure cartoons starring Superman.

But the Fleischer shorts that I love best are the ones that scared me shitless when I was a very little boy, and left me fascinated, both visually and auditorily, when I was a little older. They were wildly surrealistic, really wacko. Some of them featured popular jazz artists of the 1930s, both in live action and as “voice-overs.” These psycho-sexual extravaganzas appealed to me on a level I didn’t even recognize. Their “star” was Betty Boop.

In honor of Fleischer’s birthday [next month!], I present you with some of his eeriest, most wonderful work.

First, three cartoons that helped launch Cab Calloway’s career. He not only sings and conducts his band, but — because Max had invented the rotoscope, which recorded live action for animators to trace over —he dances, too.

Minnie the Moocher

Snow White (including “St. James Infirmary”)

The Old Man of the Mountain

The Fleischers also got a great performance out of Louis Armstrong.

I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You

In this last cartoon, Don Redman sings and conducts two numbers, “How’m I Doin’?” and the title song.

I Heard

Even given the flawed YouTube incarnations, I still find those cartoons pleasurably creepy.

Posted in Music, Old Movies, Pop Culture | 23 Comments »

One Nation, Under the Shrimping God

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 06/16/2010

Sort of like our preacher-in-chief was last night, I’m pretty much speechless. But I have to say: If the government asks me to sacrifice a goat, I’m going to refuse.

[T]ime and again, we have refused to settle for the paltry limits of conventional wisdom. Instead, what has defined us as a nation since our founding is the capacity to shape our destiny -– our determination to fight for the America we want for our children. Even if we’re unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don’t yet know precisely how we’re going to get there. We know we’ll get there.

It’s a faith in the future that sustains us as a people. It is that same faith that sustains our neighbors in the Gulf right now.

Each year, at the beginning of shrimping season, the region’s fishermen take part in a tradition that was brought to America long ago by fishing immigrants from Europe. It’s called “The Blessing of the Fleet,” and today it’s a celebration where clergy from different religions gather to say a prayer for the safety and success of the men and women who will soon head out to sea -– some for weeks at a time.

The ceremony goes on in good times and in bad. It took place after Katrina, and it took place a few weeks ago –- at the beginning of the most difficult season these fishermen have ever faced.

And still, they came and they prayed. For as a priest and former fisherman once said of the tradition, “The blessing is not that God has promised to remove all obstacles and dangers. The blessing is that He is with us always,” a blessing that’s granted “even in the midst of the storm.”

The oil spill is not the last crisis America will face. This nation has known hard times before and we will surely know them again. What sees us through -– what has always seen us through –- is our strength, our resilience, and our unyielding faith that something better awaits us if we summon the courage to reach for it.

Tonight, we pray for that courage. We pray for the people of the Gulf. And we pray that a hand may guide us through the storm towards a brighter day. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

After he’s done fixing the mess in the Gulf, perhaps Obama’s deity will help America conquer Jericho, or vanquish the armies of the demon king Ravana, or maybe even get Helen back from the Trojans. Gee, I sure hope he doesn’t decide to turn Michelle into a pillar of salt — although a swan would probably be OK. But, really, if the president’s god is going to do that bird trick, an American brown pelican might be more useful.

[Update – 06/16 at 3:10 p.m.: Instead of reciting a boring ol’ prayer, maybe Obama should have led the nation in song. Please note that the first 21 seconds of the video are silent so that you’ll have time to turn to the appropriate page in your hymnal.]

Posted in Freedom from Faith, Playing Politics | 49 Comments »

Homesite Puzzler #5: May I Have This St. Vitus Dance?

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 06/15/2010

Today is the feast day of St. Vitus, after whom uncontrollable dancing mania is named. So, to be fair, I decided to throw my readers’ minds into rhythmic spasms. But St. Vitus never constructed any great puzzles that I know of, except the one I played today: trying somehow to tie him into this post.

St. Vitus Dance is, allegedly, one symptom of mercury poisoning. Mercury poisoning was not uncommon among workers in the hat industry, who used mercurous nitrate to help turn fur into felt. Hence, the expression “mad as a hatter.” Aha!

Lewis Carroll, who created the Mad Hatter, loved setting little problems in logical deduction for his child-friends. I don’t see how any of today’s kids could conceivably solve any of those monsters, when they can’t even figure out that it’s impossible to earn a sports trophy just by showing up. So if any of you are children — and if you are, do your parents know you’re reading this? — you’ll probably be thoroughly confused by this puzzle. Hell, even most grown-ups would find it ridiculous. I do, even though I’m dancing as fast as I can.

Carroll’s Symbolic Logic Puzzles consisted of a number of if-then statements (but not always phrased quite so simply) that could be combined in proper sequence to form a logical deduction that was hilarious nonsense. I’ll give you a simple example, and an explanation of the deduction:

Propositions
1. No one really appreciates mustard unless he loves hot dogs.
2. Nobody who likes Sarah Palin has good taste.
3. If you love hot dogs, you have good taste.

Explanation
Let’s reduce the phrases to symbols:
Appreciates Mustard = M
Loves Hot Dogs = H
likes Sarah Palin = S
Has Good Taste = T

1. M —> H (If you really appreciate mustard, you love hot dogs.)
2. S —>~T (If you like Sarah Palin, you do not have good taste.)
3. H —> T (If you love hot dogs, you have good taste.)

Remember: The contrapositive of a true proposition is also true. A contrapositive is obtained by reversing the direction of the “implies” arrow, and negating both terms.
So if 2. S —> ~T is true, then
2a. T —> ~S is also true.

Now we can construct a simple string:
M —> H
H —> T
T —> ~S

Assuming that all propositions are true, the deduction is:
If you really appreciate mustard, then you don’t like Sarah Palin.
Or it’s contrapositive: If you like Sarah Palin, then you really don’t appreciate mustard.

Here’s the puzzle. Your job is to assume (obviously, for purposes of this game only) that all the following propositions are true. Then, come up with the final deduction. To be fair to everyone who might want to try this, DO NOT put your answer in a comment. Instead, send it to elwallberg at gmail.com. (As usual, those who arrive at the correct solution will get credit at the bottom of the post.) Of course, you can feel free to leave other types of comments, like “Who the hell is Lewis Carroll?” or “I hate hot dogs unless they’re kosher,” or “Screw you, Wallberg.”

1. Everyone who’s hooked on Chocolate Cheerios loves sweet crunchy things.
2. If you thrive on nonsense, you recite “Jabberwocky” constantly.
3) Unless you long for expensive toys, you’re not a kid at heart.
4) A true Christian loves Jesus.
5) If you’re not hooked on Chocolate Cheerios, you’re a mighty sad person.
6) You must watch a lot of TV commercials, if you long for expensive toys.
7) Love Jesus, and you shall have focus in your life.
8) If you’re not a kid at heart, you don’t love sweet crunchy things.
9) All those who are mighty sad persons have been abandoned by God.
10) Only those who thrive on nonsense watch a lot of TV commercials.
11) If you’ve got focus in your life, you don’t recite “Jabberwocky” constantly.

Happy St. Vitus dancing, all you mad readers out there.

Champion Deducers:
Philly Chief
Hemant Mehta
Mutzali

[If you’d like to see the step-by-step solution, drop me an email and I’ll send it to you.]

Posted in Puzzles and Games | 10 Comments »

Hey, Guess What! I’m Not a Brand.

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 06/12/2010

A “contributing columnist” to the Herald-Leader’s Life + Dumbth pages is a local preacher named Paul Prather. Today, his written sermon was entitled “New atheists embody the very things they hate.” Original, huh?

Of course, Prather began by railing against “popular books demeaning any form of belief in God.” He mentioned — who else? — Dawkins and Hitchens. And Bill Maher, whose “anti-faith film,” Religulous, “got a ton of attention.” Never mind that Maher has never claimed to be an atheist. Doesn’t matter.

Then Prather went on to point out “the online comments that follow every news story about religion.” The responses, Prather said, “seem to come disproportionately from readers who jeer at all references to God or piety.” That assertion, unsupported by any examples or statistics, must be true. A minister wrote it. What stake could he possibly have had in misrepresenting the numbers?

Anyway, we atheists should show a little respect. That’s the Christian thing to do.

The real kicker of the argument came when Prather accused “the current brand of aggressive atheism” as being “just another form of fundamentalism.” Oddly, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with him if he’d said “a few atheists,” or even “some non-theists.” I’ve met plenty of bull-headed knee-jerk “rationalists.” Haven’t you?

But atheism doesn’t have a “current brand.” Not believing in something nonsensical is simply … not believing in something nonsensical. There have been atheists ( whatever they may have called themselves) throughout history who refused to succumb to their societies’ overwhelming pressure to bow to superstition. There’s no “brand” involved. If we atheists open our mouths at all, we’re perceived as “vocal” and “combative.” And “aggressive.” That’s always our brand, at least when Christians are doing the labeling.

The article continued with the usual foolishness about atheism being just another kind of church. That’s a ludicrous idea, even if it was recently bolstered by at least one Lexington idiot who seemingly claimed to speak for all atheists. In the very same newspaper section. How convenient.

But Prather is full of the milk of human kindness. “This might surprise you,” he wrote, “but I have nothing against atheists.” That’s blatant bullshit, the equivalent of “some of my best friends are Jewish.” Whenever I heard that, growing up in the Bronx, I knew that an anti-Semitic crack was coming. There was always going to be a “but …” involved.

The crux of Prather’s argument, nearly half his column, is that most “smug, dogmatic, and mean-spirited” atheists have not spent time reading a BP-gusher’s-worth of Christian apologetics. “I wish these atheists would venture, say, into a seminary library. They’d find tens of thousands of volumes written by thinkers great and obscure across two millennia.”

Many Christian arguments come around to that. We atheists haven’t sampled enough flavors of their religion to justify our blanket dismissal of its senseless tenets.

So, here are some generalizations about Christians of all brands. These statements are, I think, virtually impossible to challenge except by someone who has an extremely odd sense of what “Christianity” is:

1. Christians accept the existence of a god who is one or more (not necessarily all) of the following: omnipotent, omnipresent, omnisicient, and omnibenevolent.

2. Christians believe that a character known as Jesus Christ actually lived sometime during the first century (by our current counting system).

3. Christians say that this Jesus had ties to their god, through either (a) actually being that god, (b) being a manifestation of that god, (c) having some physical kinship to that god, and/or (d) experiencing an unusually close intellectual bond between himself and that god. (Note: You may notice that (d) might well define any delusional person with charisma enough to attract followers.)

4. Christians assume that belief in any or all of the above numbered items will do one or more of the following: (a) make them better people, (b) improve their lives, and/or (c) ensure them a pleasant afterlife. (Happy deathday to you.)

Now, when I look at even that small list, I don’t feel compelled to spend hours, days, months, years reading about those beliefs. Frankly, they sound pretty goddamned stupid to me.

Since the ridiculous and unsupported claims are all on their side in the constant “debate” with atheists, the onus is on Christians to prove those claims. Asking an atheist like me to read “tens of thousands of volumes,” all written to explain the many divergent ramifications of those four essential beliefs that even a non-threatened child would find incredible, is a tremendous imposition. Do Christians ask one another to visit the library and read thousands and thousands of books on Muslim or Jewish or Hindu apologetics? Or, for that matter, on areligious subjects? “Hey, you can’t honestly say that you don’t enjoy Shakespeare unless you’ve worked your way through two or three million volumes of analyses.” Or: “How can you claim that a diet of Entenmann’s Chocolate Donuts is bad for you unless you’ve read tens of thousands of books on nutrition?”

So, instead of attacking his imagined “new atheists,” Prather ought to challenge himself to clear his head. With no foregone conclusions and with a critical mind, he should read the myriad of silly books that he, himself, recommended.

I repeat: With no foregone conclusions. And with a critical mind.

But since Prather is one of the current brand of god-pushers, it’s never going to happen.

Posted in Freedom from Faith | 40 Comments »

A Bit of Sourness to Brighten Your Day

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 06/10/2010

The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears it is true.
(J. Robert Oppenheimer)

It turns out that there are a rare few intelligent atheists in the Lexington area. One of them is Sherwood Burress, a pleasingly cranky new friend with whom I had an interesting conversation yesterday.

Sherwood was bemoaning the fact that most Americans seem to hold a largely undisputed, but nevertheless unfounded, belief that the “trajectory of history is positive.” Such a view of history, Sherwood said, “undergirds exceptionalism,” which “continues to befog our spectacles when we look at the world.”

Nice vitriol. And I agree with his assessment. Most of us atheists — and even many aatheists — realize that the species homo sapiens is not the zenith of nature, nor the greatest “achievement” of any god’s creation, nor the point to which evolution was headed. However, many of those same “rationalists” do make the mistake of discussing human history as if it had some kind of foreordained direction. Onward and upward. To infinity and beyond.

But think about it. History has no trajectory at all. It’s just peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys, over and over and over again, with occasional, but recurring, plummets into the abyss of ignorance, and once in a great while a relatively short spurt of intellectual mountain-building. Of course, one man’s peak is another man’s precipice.

I get so tired of hearing statements that begin:

It’s the 21st century, so you’d think …

Quite frankly, I’d think … nothing, or at least, not the kind of drivel that usually follows those ellipses. It makes perfect sense to me that, for instance, BP doesn’t know how to fix its own gusher and clean up its eco-mess; why would it? Some uncontrolled companies have grown too big to fail. Duh, of course! Fundamentalists of all religions are waging war against one another all over the globe, and using the most deadly resources available. Why should anyone assume that they wouldn’t?

I’m not shocked that our country seems to be getting more and more ignorant and theocratic by the day. It should have been obvious from the nation’s birth that such a thing was bound to happen. We’re governed by humans, aren’t we? Yes, some of the so-called Founders had the brilliant idea to try building safeguards against the “populist” mentality into the Constitution. But, unfortunately, they didn’t anticipate a culture in which “majority rules” — essentially, “might makes right!” — is a kind of mindless mantra. Nor did they foresee that most of the country’s bastions of learning would be taken over by professional sports promoters, or that our main source of news would be a piece of furniture in front of which we passively sit while words and images lull us into a stupor.

It’s awesome, in the old-fashioned sense of the word, that our current knowledge of science has reached a level not heretofore attained. But we’d better be mindful that all of our learning can be wiped out in a mere historical “second.” I don’t see any reason to assume that the Dark Ages were an anomaly. Ignorance persists, and it’s always stronger and more widespread than intelligence. I’ve yet to see evidence that wisdom is a genetic benefit.

But just look at our progress, some of you may argue. Everyone with access to a computer has the ability to find all kinds of information instantly today. Isn’t that a huge boon to the advancement of knowledge? Won’t our species grow increasingly enlightened as we become more and more educated? I’d argue: Yeah, we have some pretty amazing communication tools, unheard of in the past. And, f’Chrissakes, we’ve got “aps” for everything. But most of the messages that are communicated, the vast majority of fact-nuggets that we exchange with one another, are probably no more cogent than primitive drumbeats. In what way are semi-literate tweets an improvement over the expressive grunts of our ancestors?

So, it’s the 21st century. Congratulations on being able to count from Jesus to 2,010.

But try not to be too smug about it, eh?

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