Brandon Sanderson, a Mormon, a fantasy author (I'll leave off the easy joke), and Penguicon's Author Guest of Honor, recently took a position similar to mine; that the government should get out of the marriage business. Everyone should just get a civil union, and if you want to also get married, you can get that in any ceremony of your choice. If you're religious, you get it through whatever ceremony your religion involves.

He also claimed that homosexuality is sin; but only a minor impediment to spiritual growth, like littering. We see this all the time these days. "I have to say homosex is a minor speed bump on the path of spiritual growth, I guess?" *SHRUG* I think it should be called the Shrug Maneuver. Or maybe the Palms Upturned Shoulder Shrug Evasive Equivocation. I remember being in the same place. I give it ten years, and he'll have changed his mind about this too.

Then there's the second classic maneuver: "But the gays are not nearly as bad as I am! If I call myself bad too, then it's OK!" (Imagine the equivalent: "I think blacks smell funny, but I'm not racist, because smelling bad is not some great evil, and because I think I smell terrible!") It's just not a fact.

No matter how milquetoast and apologetic he is about it, he himself would be outraged at the very thought of such a position if it weren't for his faith shoving this baloney down his reluctant, gagging throat.

He describes the tough place one is in when trying to reconcile tradition. There is a unique irony in this. It's kind of like the way he was chosen to finish Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. How many pages long was it when he got it? Like the Book of Mormon, it must have landed on his desk with a thud. Here, Brandon! You're stuck with thousands and thousands of Robert Jordan's judgements and decisions and have to figure out how to work around it. Most of them are pretty good, but none of them perfect, and some of them atrocious. but they're canon now, and you've got to act like God gave the Wheel of Time series to Robert Jordan on gold tablets.

Now, you might think it is consistent with an iconoclastic style to say "screw the Wheel of Time canon" or "Star Trek is better in J.J. Abrams' reboot" or "I like the new Battlestar Galactica". Actually no. I'm just advocating for original work. At the risk of stretching this metaphor too far, atheism means original work. Which is why you can't get atheists to agree on very much.

Trying to retcon stupid doctrines basically constitutes fanservice. In a long history of bad ideas, the idea of a god's perfect word through a prophet is the worst idea this species has ever had. Gods do not hand down perfection to man, whether it's Joseph Smith or anyone else. That just gets in the way of correcting mistakes. God had some good characters but seemed to get lost in a cult of personality bigger than Heinlein, lost the plot, and vanished up his own ass somewhere around Leviticus, when he wasn't even four books into the series. The reboots made some improvements, but not near enough.
Watch episode 11 of Louis C. K.'s show Louie on Hulu, or through Netflix instant watch if you have it. The show is normally a comedy, but this episode isn't.

You know, I could write several pages about it. But I'll give my blood pressure a rest.

Sky Cake

Sep. 1st, 2009 02:36 pm
"No! I did not spend my life not raping and killing people, only to get to the magical sky city and find out that the sky-cookies and sky-pie and sky-baklava people get to share my sky-cake!"

nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Here is a link to the controversial blog entry by obscure science fiction author John C. Wright. The conversation surrounding his remarks will only involve talking past each other, until we see it as an argument over the three moral dimensions unique to social conservatives: purity, obedience, and loyalty. His hostility will only make sense in that light. By contrast, social liberals have two moral values: fairness/reciprocity, and avoidance of harm. Conservative moral intuitions share those two dimensions, but subordinate them to the other three.

The odd thing is, the more dimensions to an author's morality, the more cardboard the characters and settings are likely to be. Liberals have been around the block enough that they have seen loyalty, obedience, and purity prop up organizational heirarchies that create harm and inhibit reciprocity. A commitment to harm-avoidance and a level playing field must precede all other values. Otherwise loyalty is nepotism and cronyism; obedience is a jack-booted thug; and purity is obsessive-compulsive disorder. In short, they are all forms of corrupted governance, hoarding worldly power through self-serving double-standards. There are countless ways for us to appeal to the two values we share with conservatives. Countless examples to illustrate how they cannot honor both sets of their values because one set sabotages the other. Spend the time doing that.

And by the way: yes, it is our job to educate them. Do you like it when they tell you to change and then say that the reasons are beyond our understanding, so they don't have to support it? Pretty obnoxious, isn't it? With that attitude, there is no way to ever find out that you're living under the wrong rules. Well, I've seen liberals do that, and it's no better. Never tell someone to change and then say "It's not my job to educate you". Any time anyone asks anyone else to change, the burden of proof is on them that the change is for the better. Skepticism is healthy, never forget that. It is our job to back up our claims as to why loyalty, obedience and purity can be taken to destructive extremes. Otherwise we ask them to obey our inscrutable demands through blind faith. Quit it, please. We have the facts on our side, and may as well use them.

In the meantime, a point about this boycott on Mr. Wright's obscure books. Were you going to read them anyway? Don't get me wrong, there are some extremely good stories written by authors who you could look up in your Monster Manual under "Dire Amish". But I'm comfortable missing out on throwback work with a shallow understanding of the world. My reading pile is too full already, and the competition too fierce, to shed much of a tear. Most of us are less concerned with the quality of writing than we are about the issues that literature addresses: science, business, religion, politics, philosophy. Authors can get obsessed with writing skills. It's their job, that's understandable. But when we read the last page and close your book, we readers continue to exist! And then we do those other things, which we usually care about more.

I would bet that the saving grace for Orson Scott Card's career was that he was already famous for his literary work before starting to write ultra-fundamentalist newspaper opinion columns. Whereas the recent kerfuffle surrounding Mr. Wright has probably garnered more attention than most of his novels, and is likely the height of his fame. Few are likely to explore the work of an author if their first and only exposure has been to find out he hates their friends and family on blind faith. There are just too many equally good authors and good books to direct our scarce exploratory reading in that direction.

I don't expect Mr. Wright to stop saying what he thinks just because I am no longer interested in his books. His stories would not somehow become richer if he stopped slandering and put in some characters who he doesn't understand at all. Let's not make this a boycott. I don't intend it as a disincentive-- just a helpful new way to winnow down information overload. It takes a really good reason for me to pick up a new author, and any excuse will do to avoid one. Look at the supply and demand ratio. The audience for fiction is what these days? Twelve people? Thirteen? (I kid, but you get the point.) And how many really high-quality novels and short story collections have accumulated? Several human lifetimes' worth. As Cory Doctorow says, writing is almost a non-economic activity now. A hobby. Which kind of author do we want to be among the few for whom it is an economical profession? Screeching red-eyed lecturers, or warm, genial sweethearts?
nemorathwald: (I'm losin' it)
Somehow, my desire for sincere work does not rule out performing the occasional wedding.

A young military couple were being sent overseas, and arranged at the last minute to be married by a Justice of the Peace so as to be less likely to be separated by the military. Upon hearing this plan, their families asked to be allowed to put together a real wedding they could attend with all the trappings. The Justice of the Peace would already have done the legal work; the following ceremony would be for show. The families had to work fast. No clergy could be persuaded to perform a ceremony on the Fourth of July with twenty-four hours notice. They went hunting for someone, anyone, who would know how to make the service look and sound traditionally authentic.

Their friend-of-a-friend Tomak thought of me, mostly because I perform the Coffee Ritual at Penguicon. I ritualistically grind, brew, and serve coffee, and parody the High Church singsong cadence, while wearing a Pope costume with a Starbucks logo on the hat.

Tomak: "You're a Bible college dropout, right?"
Me: "I graduated, actually."
Tomak: "Rock on!"
Me: "With an art degree."
Tomak: "Good enough."

When asked what denomination I was, Tomak told them "he was trained Baptist, but now he's more ... Unitarian Universalist." That's one way to put it. I should remember that one.

Jen worked very hard Friday night to put together a setting complete with an altar, unity candles, a humongous Bible with side-by-side English and Greek translations, and a lovely printed manuscript of the ceremony for a memento. She wrote the ceremony, and pasted a printed copy inside a black notebook for me to glance at, since I lacked any time to memorize my lines. I wore a black suit and white turtleneck.

I would like to live in a world in which prayer and encouragement is never a paid acting performance. I didn't want to encourage a young couple that they are doing the right thing, when every evidence available to statistics and brain science tells us they are most certainly not. But it's their lives to live as they choose.

I was worried that I would feel terrible; that it would be the most desperate and grasping thing I've ever done for money. In other words, I felt like one must feel when preparing to appear in one's first porn film. If porn stars can do it, I have no cause to demur. Yes, I said; I will draw from porn stars' strength of determination, learn from their example, and set aside these silly qualms. I will not Hoekstra.

I did not dwell on it while it was happening. I just went with the flow. I kept my mouth shut as much as possible before and after. I was thanked and praised to the skies by clients and their families who were thrilled to tears. Then I hopped in the getaway car and put it out of my mind for several days. The back of my mind is constantly aware that there is video, which might appear on YouTube and come back to haunt me. If I make a habit of presiding over the downfall of beautiful relationships every day, I would experience emotional corrosion quickly. I take comfort that perhaps weary porn stars and reluctant wedding officiants might be the Yin to each other's Yang on some weird karmic scale.
I'd like all of you to at least skim this, even if your past experiences with me suggest you aren't going to agree with it. I think on this one, you just might.

This holiday season I heard "don't lose sight" a lot. An interesting phrase. I've been mulling it over for a month. It's common in discussions of values. I think that a lot of talk of "theism" and "atheism" is a blind alley. I am an atheist, no doubt about it. But I just don't think the nonexistence of the supernatural is the point of anything I really have been trying to get across. While I am not saying my actual point of view on atheism vs. theism has changed, I think that whole discussion is too often part of the problem. The problem is philosophy that loses eye contact.

Atheists can count the angels dancing on the head of a pin just as badly as theists can. You see where, when secularists are upset that a "higher" or "deeper" person is losing sight of the tangible reality of human relationships, we can easily get distracted onto attacking the "higher" and "deeper". But what's important is not that people are looking "higher" or "deeper", it's that they're neglecting what's right in front of their eyes. Don't lose sight of visible things. So far as I know, there isn't a philosophical "ism" name for that position.

I consider that walking by sight, not by faith, but hey, that's just me. Being more in touch with tangible human relationships than with heavenly abstractions is what I'm all about. We call that "atheism" or "secularism" or a dozen different versions of that, but you might not, and that's fine. Besides, that word is a distraction. What matters is that I make choices that those around me can live with, and that you make choices that I can live with. Agreement on the reasons for doing so are less important to a life well-lived.

A focus on abstractions is just a smokescreen to keep from having to engage the empathy part of your brain and really talk to the people in your life. This is why so many of the teachers and students I remember from fundamentalist Christianity were so emotionally stunted and clumsy in relating to people. Philosophy that loses eye-contact is an avoidance technique. The best way to switch off your empathy is to focus on ivory-tower abstractions and lose sight of human relationships. Look at every atrocity committed by any philosophical branch. Religious people point at the secular ones, non-religious people point at the religious ones, but notice the one thing they all have in common. It's "the state", "god", "society", rather than the suffering of their victims. Even Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber were into pretentious manifestos.

How does it come about that someone softens up toward homosexuals? One of their loved ones comes out of the closet and they're not just an abstraction. How does it come about that a person can become cruel and destructive toward others, for a metaphysical position? Philosophy that loses eye contact. How do you become an abortion protester who hasn't even thought through what will happen if they get their way? Philosophy that loses eye contact. Some of them squeeze their eyes closed to recite their philosophies to themselves over and over in prayer. This alienates them from the reality in front of their eyes, and all too often, they lose sight as hard as they can. It happens in politics too.

My emphasis ought not to be on the metaphysics of the supernatural plane, or millions of years ago. When a religious person in a conflict tries to resolve it using such abstractions, I'll just say "Look me in the eyes. If I want to talk to God, I know where to find him-- I want to know what you think. This is an issue of discomfort between me, and you. You are trying to move it off of that discomfort, but it won't really resolve it. You are responsible for your position, not God. If I'm wrong, I accept responsibility for that. If you're wrong, no one is to blame but you."

Repeat "you" and "me" as often as necessary. Maintain their eye contact on you, if necessary using your index and middle finger in a V shape positioned in the eye-line. Bring them down to the visceral, human level of having to use actual conflict-resolution skills. To take responsibility for their own position. To say, "It's not about God; it's about a problem you and I have with each other's behaviors. It can only be resolved on that level."
Using color-coded animation on a map of the world, this page shows the geographic origin and spread of the five most well-known religions through the last five thousand years.
nemorathwald: (sinfest devil clerk)
Just when you thought you didn't need yet another version of Linux...

Hot on the heels of Ubuntu Christian Edition is Ubuntu Satanic Edition, "Evil Edgy" release.

Mr. Toll

Dec. 8th, 2006 04:56 pm
The very best years of my education were the last two years of high school-- the years in public education. In particular, an astronomy teacher named Mr. Toll made a significant difference for the better, on my life and on who I am as a person.

I spent my Junior and Senior years at Roseville High because my parents could no longer afford religious private schooling for all of their children. Rather than put me back into home-schooling, they allowed me, their eldest, to complete my education in the public school system. Perhaps it was financial desperation, or perhaps it was in the hopes that the church brainwashing had sufficiently set in to resist the exposure to other influences. It had set in enough that I went on from Roseville High to attend an insane cult compound named Pensacola Christian College, but two years at Roseville High were a crucial break in the program of church-run education which carefully conditions the perceptions and world-view of students to be mindless Christian soldiers.

During that break, my mind was expanded and I was exposed to better role models. (By the way, the excellent science fiction in the Roseville High School library didn't hurt either when it came to expanding my mind.)

I was shocked, at first, when Mr. Toll admitted with no shame that he was a member of CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims Of the Paranormal. Yet despite this, to me he clearly wasn't a bad person. To the contrary, when compared to members of the church, his motivations were more honest, his vision of the universe and our evolutionary place in it was more beautiful, his friendship with students was more inclusive, his hope for this life (rather than the afterlife) was more inspiring.

By demonstrating a passionate interest in finding a happy and moral place in the universe as it truly is, he served as a role model it make it seem like a viable alternative for me to give up insisting by faith that the cosmos is as we wish it to be. The seeds which Mr. Toll planted of scientific honesty, and of a humanism which I can only clumsily term "anti-misanthropy", took several years to finish bearing fruit. Nevertheless I could never quite fit in religious fundamentalism after I took his astronomy class, and through many subsequent influences and experiences eventually became a well-adjusted and happy secularist. brought my attention to responses in the letters column of the New York Times (quoted below the cut), by the three atheists most prominently cited in the resurgence of outspoken atheism-- Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. They plead for the simplicity and gentleness of their positions, against the reputations they are acquiring from those who have only heard about them from their detractors. Those who take the time to actually read their books find out that far from over-reaching, cruelty, or arrogance, they gently point out obvious ennobling and enriching insights which it has been impolite to mention.

In a free society, most secularists are far more interested in ending the immunity which religious faith is granted than we are interested in the hopeless folly of attempting to end faith itself. Unfortunately, it seems that faith reacts badly to challenges to its sacred-cow status, resulting in the mischaracterizations of the New Atheists.

A frequent objection is made that Harris, Dawkins and Dennett mischaracterize religion. Exactly what religious adherents are those objectors looking at? It doesn't matter that the top 1% most sophisticated religious people are not as bad as all that. They aren't the 99% who are making problems for us. There is a No True Scotsman fallacy at work here.
Argument: "Religious faith isn't a problem."
Reply: "I'd be wealthy if I had a nickel for every example of family, friends and local leaders in the past couple of months making an appeal to credibility, where no attempt in the slightest has been made to establish that credibility, and any such attempt would be considered disloyal. They call that 'faith'."
Rebuttal: "Well, no true religious faith is a problem." The remaining rebuttal consists of the flavor-of-the-month redefinition of religion and faith to have nothing to do with the tactic we encounter in our lives from about 325 million users of the English word "faith".

Few of those who call the New Atheists "mean" notice the focus on beautiful, ennobling, enriching, and motivational answers offered by secular world views to traditionally religious questions ... even for traditionally religious purposes such as understanding your brain and genes well enough to seek how to be happy and find meaning! This New York Times article about a conference of scientists dealing with religious objections to their findings is typical in that it focuses on how many of them were combative, but in this social climate the article is remarkable that it notices their positive alternative offering at all.
Read more... )
Just write your letter and it will be hand-delivered immediately following the exodus of the pure from the Earth. But you must be thinking to yourself, "How can the letters be delivered after the Rapture?" The answer is simple. The creators of this site are Atheists. That's right, we don't believe in God. How else would we be able to deliver your correspondence after the Rapture?

Yes, I went to the order form, and it appears that they are seriously taking money for this through Paypal. Actually delivering the letters would cost a lot of the money (if any) they're earning from this service. As funny and farcical as this site is, they need to set aside enough of their earnings (if any) in highly liquid safe slow-growth investments sufficient that they would be able to carry through on their promise, despite the certainty that they will not have to carry through on it.

If I promise to mail customers an umbrella in the event of worldwide inundation by flying pigs, and have no plan in place to gain the means to purchase said umbrellas, that means I do not intend to do it even if it happens. That would be fraud. The fact that we will never see the aforementioned porcine blitzkrieg would not make the earnings any less fraudulent.

But if they truly have a workable plan in place for the impossible, they are acting in good faith based on the beliefs of those who are losing out through this transaction and sincerely wish to do so. Casinos are no worse. For this, I toast the Post-Rapture Post.
I may write a book someday about my experiences with experiments with Un-churches. One of the chapters would concern Universism. For those who don't know, Universism is a "religion" like Unitarian Universalism except that instead of embracing all religious heritages, it rejects all of them in favor of "faith in reason, inspiration in nature, and hope in progress". The emphasis was "on the attitude and spirit in which you address religious questions, and the tools you use to do so, rather than focusing on any conclusions that you may arrive at". Those tools were personal experience and reason. Flaky new-agers did not find a very welcome home among us, despite their attraction to the idea of experimental religion, because they didn't enjoy our disapproval of blind faith, prophets, and gurus.

The movement gained worldwide attention, hosted live internet chats with John Horgan, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins, and many appearances in radio, television and newspapers. Universist YouTube videos still circulate.

Today I found out how that chapter of the book ends. Many of you met Universism's founder, Ford Vox, when he visited me last year and accompanied me to the weekly gathering of fans at Tio's in Ann Arbor. He has replaced the Universism website with a retraction of the desire to present an opposing force to faith. Much of what he says is true and valuable, but no reason to back down. Read more... )
Why do I keep reading PCCBoard*? I'm the board's resident infidel. I don't post all that much anymore, but when someone started a thread (click here) to wish me a happy birthday, and dozens of members chimed in, I felt like it would almost be rude not to participate.

Eventually, the results became predictably uncivil. Several people baited me, and I finally responded to one of them in a manner which I felt was non-inflammatory. This one was a suggestion that I should thank God for the good circumstances 2006 has brought me. It was thought-provoking to realize how many of the things I now enjoy are in direct contradiction to their teachings; even if their deity really existed, it would seem odd to thank him for things he prohibits. In fact, scripture states that divine punishment is reserved only to improve the character of the devout, serving as evidence that I will not be in heaven. If I were to accept that teaching, that's an incongruous thing to thank God for. The thread immediately descended into claims that I am incapable of logic, I receive my life's guidance from video games, I need to repent before I'm destroyed, and I should tell Spock hello.

Fortunately there are many on PCCBoard who sincerely wish me well and even like me; but given that so many fundamentalist churches teach that a funeral is a good time and place to point out that the deceased is in hell, it seems inevitable for the virtual birthday party to be crashed.

When people sincerely believe that your eternal destiny is at stake, it's reasonable, necessary, or even unavoidable to prioritize addressing that problem above all other concerns, given their views. I thought I was participating in a classy and pleasant discussion, but they don't perceive any such discussion in those terms. This is because they consider spiritual talk a "serious" topic, and I consider it no more of a downer than debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. The social customs are completely different than those in the reality-based community.

* is the unofficial messageboard of my wacky fundamentalist alma mater, Pensacola Christian College, which I have posted about many times.
nemorathwald: (I'm losin' it)
The village of Hell, Michigan threw a party yesterday because the date was 06/06/06. My friends and I visited, and found it to be strangely worthwhile.

It's a large clearing in a forest. I had to drive all over Hell's half acre to get there. The road to Hell is hemmed in on both sides with trees, and on 6/6/6, it was also lined with cars on either side for a couple of miles. The townsfolk clearly were insufficiently prepared; they did not expect tens of thousands of people to break Hell wide open. They had good intentions-- but they paved the road to Hell with asphalt.

The three buildings were the general store, the "Screams" ice cream shop where Hell freezes over, and the Dam Site Inn. Behind this restaurant I visited a river with a dam across it. This town is where Hell Creek is dammed.

It's said that "wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereby," but that was not the case. Other than the scattering of homes, the only three buildings in Hell had lines stretching out in which one could wait for an hour, more reminiscent of the line for Peter's pearly gates. Hell is long lines.

There were a lot of signs to stick your head through and take pictures with; hearses painted with macabre and beautiful illustrations; a bell with a huge wooden gong; souveneirs for $6.66; people wearing elaborate monster costumes and handbaskets; and a singing, guitar-strumming vampire from whom we bought CDs. And yet despite the quick depletion of everything to see in Hell, and almost nothing to do, the occupants of Hell had no fury like a woman scorned. Instead there were smiles everywhere. It was the typical fairgoing crowd, made up of hundreds of curiosity seekers from most walks of life, plus massive quantities of bikers and several extremely visible police. I expected to say "never was there a more wretched hive of scum and villiany" but ... no. Not so much.

I arrived too late to see the main attraction, which was a street preacher. He warned the revelers of impending catastrophe and offered salvation, until the bikers blew an enormous cloud of tire-smoke on him. (Image from the Detroit Free Press is here.) And the street preachers walked away; that means on 6/6/6 the bikers made the lame to walk. But they were still lame.

I'm kind of upset that I missed it because that's really what 6/6/6 in Hell Michigan is all about. We were there to celebrate that man's insane mythology just like we celebrate a TV show or a comic book. These tales would not have come down to us through the centuries without people who took them seriously. He was like that lady I met at a Star Trek convention who said that one day, after she fell down the stairs and hit her head, she started picking up transmissions from the Pliades constellation, and forgot 200 words of Klingon vocabulary.

The original author of the book of Revelation in the New Testament of the Christian Bible didn't take 6-6-6 seriously, and might be amused by the Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia of those who do. The attributes of the Beast, such as this number, were a set of euphemisms he used to represent Emperor Nero, who was persecuting Christians at the time. He couldn't come out and name the things he was talking about because he would get in trouble, so the entire book is full of satirical symbolism. Our own editorial cartoons will probably make no sense 2000 years from now, but I hope they don't become the source of a superstition.

Images behind this link. )
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)

Click here
to read a story titled "The Purpose-Driven Life-Takers". It's on Talk To Action, a site about resisting religious Dominionism. This is their synopsis of the new video game based on the Left Behind books:

Imagine: you are a foot soldier in a paramilitary group whose purpose is to remake America as a Christian theocracy, and establish its worldly vision of the dominion of Christ over all aspects of life. You are issued high-tech military weaponry, and instructed to engage the infidel on the streets of New York City. You are on a mission - both a religious mission and a military mission -- to convert or kill Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, gays, and anyone who advocates the separation of church and state - especially moderate, mainstream Christians. Your mission is "to conduct physical and spiritual warfare"; all who resist must be taken out with extreme prejudice.

This game immerses children in present-day New York City -- 500 square blocks, stretching from Wall Street to Chinatown, Greenwich Village, the United Nations headquarters, and Harlem. The game rewards children for how effectively they role play the killing of those who resist becoming a born again Christian. The game also offers players the opportunity to switch sides and fight for the army of the AntiChrist, releasing cloven-hoofed demons who feast on conservative Christians and their panicked proselytes (who taste a lot like Christian).

Is this paramilitary mission simulator for children anything other than prejudice and bigotry using religion as an organizing tool to get people in a violent frame of mind? The dialogue includes people saying, "Praise the Lord," as they blow infidels away.
Mere hours after I blogged about neurobiologist Paul Z. Myers yesterday, ConFusion picked up on my suggestion and invited him to be their Science Guest of Honor for 2007, and he accepted!

Krysta asked me to write an announcement for the e-mail list:

Dr. Myers, or PZ as he is known, is author of the popular blog, where he holds forth on science, religion, and the politics of science and religion.

Not only does he know the findings of science, he knows why science does its job better than the alternatives, and he is not afraid to name religious extremism when he sees it.

Evolution need not be a mystery to anyone. If you ever felt like you needed a firmer handle on the evidence in the creation vs. evolution issue, this is your chance. In his accessable and fiesty style, PZ will take us from the startling marvels of DNA, to the living wonder of the sea.

... It also doesn't hurt that he has a sense of humor, such as in his blog entries about porn for worms!
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
And so concludes another discussion, this time with someone who says he is "completely objective now as faer [sic] as is humanly possible". According to him, the way to become objective is to stop hardening your heart against Christ, and instead harden your heart against anything other than Christ. I particularly love how he prefaces a statement by saying "LOGIC:" Isn't that cute?

On the one hand he is proud of his higher education and expects me to take his word for it because of this; and on the other hand he simultaneously considers universities to be in the business of deceiving people. He is really impressed with pseudoscientist Creationists who have not published any papers through peer-reviewed journals. In those rare moments where he stops telling me what my motives are and attempts to put together an argument, this is the main thrust. He eventually concludes our exchange with a frustrated series of insults couched in love and friendship. He specifically denies that I got to him, but obviously I did. Poor guy.

Not trusting e-mail alone to keep my records, I am archiving it here even though it will be of limited interest to you. I am also removing the name of my correspondent.
Read more... )
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Followers of Christ did not get the label "Christian" until several decades after Christ. The term was coined by non-Christians in Asia Minor as a derisive term, meaning "little Christ ones." In a stroke of genius, the followers of Christ adopted the term as their name and it came to mean something good. I saw a similar opportunity in a newspaper editorial by Orson Scott Card. Mr. Card refers to the non-Heartland derisively as "Smartland." Don't you love that name? America's Smartland. Let's start using it. In fact, let's think of ways to spread it as a meme. I think I'll make a banner for people to post on their sites and blogs. Perhaps it will feature an image of Mr. Card with a word balloon saying, "This site a proud resident of America's Smartland."

The problem is that there is seriously a non-Smartland in America. Sane, responsible Christians and religious people who are members of Smartland are much better than American Christians and religious people who are not. This is often used as an excuse to not try to reach out to insane and irresponsible forms of religion in non-Smartland, and cut off one of its major weapons by proving God doesn't exist. For instance, Marshall Brain, who runs, recently put out a gentle and incisive online book that intends to help with that goal, and John Scalzi (an agnostic) wrote a blog post to lambaste it as a waste of time because we're hurting the feelings of Brother Guy Consolmagno and other religious residents of Smartland. Never mind that the book is not aimed at religous residents of Smartland. We are taking weapons out of the hands of those who abuse them. That's what matters.

John is correct when he says there is just as much of a problem with 20th-century secular dictators as there had been with the Inquisition, Crusades, and witch trials of earlier centuries. But nobody who thinks faith-based cultures are more virtuous and socially stable than secular cultures knows about the comparison with Sweden.

Sweden is the most atheistic country per-capita in the world, and yet somehow not only don't they descend into genocide, they have better rates on just about everything than do highly religious nations. More to the point, according to this article (which reports a systematic study that found current global statistics the exact opposite of religious assumptions), this and countless other recent comprehensive studies show dramatically that the less religious a nation is, the more virtuously its citizens act. The article says, Read more... )
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
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Within the "Read More" link are my results from the religious categorization quiz, gakked from [ profile] sarahmichigan and [ profile] rikhei.

Of course it listed me in the atheist quadrant. "But why," I hear you ask, "did you score only 60% scientific and 60% reason-oriented? Why not 100%?" Because it was testing what kind of person I am, not necessarily what kind I want to be. For instance, I answered "right-brained" instead of "left-brained" because although my values assert the primacy of reason and technical expertise, any techie who knows me will tell you I lack the temperament to write shell scripts, compile software, patch my kernel, etc. ad nauseum. I'd rather read an instruction book rich with storytelling metaphor, like Unix for the Beginning Mage. I'm more like a journalist attempting fervently to accurately report on a science outside his scope, to a public who knows even less.

I noticed that there are two kinds of people in my life. There are the technical experts, with whom I enjoy shooting the breeze and absorbing some of their knowledge. Then there are those with no interest in such things, who, when they hear me shooting said breeze with said experts, don't realize the most I know about each topic is the name of the topic and the broad category of problems to which it is applied. Each group thinks I am in the other group. I've been mistaken for a computer science person for as long as computers have existed. Before that time, classmates assumed I would be a psychologist.

My aptitudes are those of an artist, a storyteller, a speechmaker, an emotional engineer. I'm interested in embodying secular, skeptical, scientific values into the inner world of the heart. It is a connection that has rarely been made except by science fiction literature. The universe of the skeptical, scientific, secular view is not a cold and boring place. It's bursting with vitality, passion, interest and love.

Over lunch at a restaurant during ConClave, the inestimable Chuck Child described an RPG campaign he had played in the White Wolf game "Mage: The Ascension." I was fascinated by his description of the Virtual Adepts: hackers who figured out that the universe was a massive computation, and devised ways to hack into it. In this way, they found a "Scooby-Doo" explanation for all the other supposedly magical phenomena in the game's setting.

It's a good thing I heard Chuck describe the hacking re-interpretation before he loaned me the roleplaying sourcebook, or I would never have gotten past the introduction. The majority of the book laments the success of science as changeless mediocrity, disparages the virtue of reason as the sterilization of creativity, and glorifies denial. "Reason is the festering scab laid down over reality... It's not a pretty picture, this dream of reason," reads page 36. Nothing could be further from the truth. Granted-- like any work of fiction, this is not intended to be taken literally. But who is intended to enjoy that sort of talk coming from a protagonist instead of a villianous cult leader or a mob? Is it marketed to someone who can't find anything to acheive or be happy about or interested in among that which is possible? When I thought about what wonder and beauty are revealed in the real-life universe, what oddness and adventure are scientifically plausible, and the mind-blowing vision of post-human ascension the twenty-first century could bring to the world as we know it, I honestly chuckled at how atrophied and sad is the vision of Mage: The Ascension.

Chuck's campaign had been a renegade attempt to squeeze unauthorized lemonade from this lemon. If I were to play the game as originally intended, I might have to join the antagonists of the setting, the men in black of the oppressive "Technocracy", just in order to hang around with players and characters who don't hate me. Interestingly, the Virtual Adepts used to be a well-meaning group within the Technocracy but left because they disagreed with their attempts to enforce conformity.

Does the freedom to believe anything you want a legal freedom, where no one can put you in jail for thought crime, or does it also mean the freedom to not be proven wrong? If somebody shows evidence that you've believed the wrong thing, you are kind of "coerced" by reality to stop believing it. Unless, that is, your brain is outfitted with the sort of industrial-grade denial usually reserved for tantrum-throwing toddlers.

September 2017

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