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: (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."
I mentioned this essay on The Sci Phi Show and said that I'd put it back at the top of the site when the episode aired so the listeners could see the illustration, so here it is.

Imagine if transportation was defined as a device that uses horses or sails-- automobile drivers would be accused of denying the existence of transportation.

We're genetically programmed to see an Alpha Male in our primate pack as the source of truth and moral law. This explains the difficulty I have in communicating alternative models of truth and moral law to bible believers. It's not that they reject the model I present, it's that they literally don't know what I'm saying. It's a mental block. We take away the concept of the Alpha Male Monkey in the sky, and they think we've declared truth and morality to be nonexistent, because to them, "right" is defined as: "whatever the Alpha Male Monkey says." By definition. I put the discussion behind this link ...with drawings. ) Morality doesn't look like this:

It looks like this:
Read more... )
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Carl Sagan died ten years ago today. An extended excerpt from the epilogue to Billions and Billions, written by his wife Ann Druyan, was posted to the web, and five or six years ago I read it while wandering in the collapsed shell of a faith that didn't work for me. Sagan's good death influenced my development for the better as much as did his good life. I wonder if that is why so many people are memorializing this anniversary as much as that of his birth?

To the bible-believer, the death of any humanist is a repudiation of what he or she stood for. Many a time I've heard it said of the death of one who was publicly irreligious that he or she "knows better now." Fear is a powerful influence on the ability to think clearly. I've often been asked "what if you're wrong? You would spend eternity in hell." This argument-by-threat is equivalent to a prosecution attorney telling a jury "There is no good reason to suppose the defendant is guilty of murder, but what if he is? He would sneak into your houses and kill your families. So you'd better convict him." The vivid imagery of hell actually makes that tactic work.

It's possible, as Sagan demonstrated on his deathbed, to be an atheist in a foxhole; to see the biblical mythology the same way that a bible-believing Christian would dismiss a threat from Allah or Hare Krishna; to not be cowed by the groundless fears of folklore. As Sagan famously said, "I don't want to believe, I want to know." This confidence makes it possible to do as he did, and stare one's own obliteration in the face with a level of coping skill few achieve even in adulthood. As Eric Hoffer wrote, "Faith, enthusiasm, and passionate intensity in general are substitutes for the self-confidence born of experience and the possession of skill." Sagan exemplified this distinction. Once I began to realize what it was like to go out and experience for one's self instead of taking someone's word for it-- to research and find out rather than to postulate convictions-- faith seemed a paltry stop-gap measure for knowledge, if not a symptom of downright insecurity.

Thank you, Carl Sagan. I wish I had not missed out on your life.

This has been part of the Carl Sagan memorial blog-a-thon.

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.
Edge.org 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... )
The phrase "the Alpha Male Monkey" may be the most useful new explanatory tool I've encountered in years. [livejournal.com profile] paranthropus gave it to me in a recent LJ post about primate group psychology. It was an inspirational and motivational insight into the evolutionary biology of my psychology which has kept me up at night thinking of the implications. I wrote about it in this subsequent LJ post, but it occurred to me that this is valuable for explaining myself to bible-believing Christians.

We're genetically programmed to see an Alpha Male in our primate pack as the source of truth and moral law. This explains the difficulty I have in communicating alternative models of truth and moral law to bible believers. It's not that they reject the model I present, it's that they literally don't know what I'm saying. It's a mental block. We take away the concept of the Alpha Male Monkey in the sky, and they think we've declared truth and morality to be nonexistent, because to them, "right" is defined as: "whatever the Alpha Male Monkey says." By definition. I put the discussion behind this link ...with drawings. ) Morality doesn't look like this:

It looks like this:
Read more... )
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... )
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. )
For those who may not know, EPCOT (formerly known as Epcot Center) is part of the Walt Disney World resort complex in Florida. The "giant golf ball", as it is sometimes known from its flagship globe, is the only permanent World's Fair of human knowledge, technology, art and travel. This was where I first saw computers, videophones, cell phones, hydroponics and Segways. Under the username "epkat" I've been posting a lot to EPCOT Central, a blog for fans of the Disney park to post their dissatisfaction with the management direction in the past ten years, and who have high hopes that John Lasseter of Pixar will fix it now that he's in charge of the parks.

EPCOT is still great, despite the efforts of the current management to strip it of all that it was ever meant to accomplish. The blog keeps reminding me of little details, like the way they artificially pumped a musty museum smell into the leg of the globe as the ride cars ascend the steep slope in darkness, traveling into the past. I recall the laser display projecting the map of the earth spinning on the exterior of the globe when the park closes.

It is a park for geeks. In the way that it's perceived in the culture, there is a sense there just aren't enough people interested in the wonders of science, technology, history and geography to sustain it. Supposedly the money is all to be found in thrill rides and cartoon characters, which is why Disney started replacing everything with that ever since the mid 90's. Read more... )
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 HowStuffWorks.com, 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)
The different social rules that apply to different settings have occupied my thoughts for the past several days. It has been noticed that I tend to be much more gentle and conciliatory face-to-face than in the written word. One has gone to far as to describe my words as "socially feral." That would only be true if I had spoken the words while hobnobbing at a party or a church. That's where people come together for pleasant experiences and fellowship, and so the rules of the social setting are whatever facilitates that.

The reason I am so seldom combative in person is that those I know from the above social settings seldom come together for the purposes of getting something done effectively. When someone suggested Orson Scott Card as a Guest of Honor for a convention, I made my views clear and did not pull punches for the sake of politeness. It was not a party where we don't want to spoil the mood; it was decision-making time. It's well and good to try to speak the truth in a pleasant way, but they sometimes don't fit together.

David Brin has an article here that is astonishing in its insight into this matter and inspired many of these thoughts. A different set of social rules apply in competitive spaces which exist to test adversaries against each other: the courtroom, the free market, and the scientific peer-review/conference are some examples. These arenas are soaked in the blood of ideas that have been tested against each other. It has partially replaced evolution; ideas now die in our place.Read more... )There is no doubt however, that many in fandom think the entire world should be in cocktail-party courtesy at all times. They offer a bare description of the state of their mind, with no sense that it might actually be good to support it; then smile at each other and disperse having gained nothing. Read more... )
At one time or another I've faced down most of the arguments listed on this site: Over 300 Proofs of God's Existence collected from discussions with religious people on the Internet Infidels forums. It just keeps getting funnier and funnier.

17. ARGUMENT FROM INTIMIDATION
(1) See this bonfire?
(2) Therefore, God exists.
Read more... )
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Last year, a United Church of Christ TV ad was rejected by CBS and NBC for being too controversial. It depicts bouncers of the sort that stand guard over the doors of popular nightclubs. But these are granting and withholding admission to a non-Church-of-Christ church service. The commercial then says that Jesus never turned anyone away. It's a good commercial, and it's true that people should accept all the groups the commercial identifies. I only bring it up because the campaign slogan is "God is still speaking." That sentence is either confused or scary. It's bad enough for the United Church of Christ to have a set of doctrines that you and I are not allowed to deny. It's worse if they get to change what we are not allowed to contradict, from year to year. People ignore progressive churches for the same reason they ignore the latest findings about cholesterol as the conclusions flip flop. If God's not even better than science, that's not very godlike.

Religions up until recently have emphasized faith in what one is told to believe, but they don't ignore personal observation and reason. That is, they don't ignore rationality with new recruits, but only with the most advanced followers. They employ personal observation and reason only far enough to discredit personal observation and reason in favor of believing whatever one is told. That's the way they maintain power over their congregations. Their God or holy book has already done all their important thinking for them, and yet they manage to convince their congregations that they have only given up thinking for themselves because this was the logical outcome of thinking. This is a nod to the value of somebody somewhere doing some thinking, but it remains only for them to learn it by rote. One can't have a message from Perfection Personified and simultaneously have room for improvement. That wouldn't be Perfection Personified. That's why dropping the "G" bomb is so final and absolutist. The concept of "god" can only be used as a sanction that asserts perfection and puts ideas outside of the realm of discourse.

Since "god" has no meaning without absolutism, "God is still speaking" is a nerve-wracking pronouncement because it means "absolutist from minute to minute." "Sources of infallible censorship can flip flop without any notice." An image comes to mind of one of the pigs from George Orwell's Animal Farm up on a ladder with a bucket of paint, editing the farm's constitution in the middle of the night. The nice thing is that the gods of progressive churches flop their followers around in the breeze so much that they undermine their confidence and they won't bother the rest of us with knocking on our doors on weekend mornings! I'm appreciative of that.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
We Universists have been getting a streak of publicity lately. United Universists teamed up with writer-director Brian Flemming to distribute a documentary film, "The God Who Wasn't There." Representatives keep getting radio appearances. One of them even recently sat down with a director of Focus on the Family's institute for taking over the culture, in which the director reportedly was not shy about their goal to someday break down our bedroom doors with jackboots. We've had more news articles than I can keep track of.

When the Birmingham, Alabama contingent was not allowed to meet in a local coffee shop, they boycotted and got a story about it in U.S. News and World Report. What do you think? Should a privately-owned business be able to tell people to go elsewhere on the basis of their religious beliefs?

Rachel once visited a service at a local church in Southfield, Michigan. They were offering for sale at huge prices rags of cloth which had been prayed over for healing purposes. If I ran a coffee shop I'm not sure I'd want it to be the hub of activity for door-to-door evangelists from their church. Well, what's good for the goose is good for the gander, so if the proprietor of Cool Beans in Birmingham thinks we're using her store to send ourselves and others to an eternity of getting their flesh burned off, kicking us out of her store would be the least she should do.

The proper response in the Cool Beans case is not to stage a lunch-counter protest to force the coffee-shop to change, just as I wouldn't want to be forced to change if I were in her shoes.Subtle distinctions need to be drawn about this. I'm not saying we should do nothing. We should excercise the same right in reverse-- stop associating with the business that doesn't want to associate with me and my friends. Privately encourage good people to do the same.

This is a different civil rights battle than that of decades ago. There's no moral dimension to being born black. There is a moral dimension to selling or debunking snake oil. I'm sorry to the very sophisticated progressives on my friends list, but untruth does lead to harm, and for this reason, truth claims do matter. This is like a libel/slander prosecution-- if it's true, it's not slander, and if it isn't true, it is slander, and religious discrimination cases should be handled the same way. The truth in the Cool Beans case is that I do not deserve to go to hell for my unbelief, and the truth in the hypothetical case is that rags do not gain medical efficacy by being prayed over. Statements to the contrary are not OK just because they are based on faith. You can't carry out a prosecution or a defense in a court of law by saying "the evidence is against this but I believe it on faith." You ignore everything but the evidence. But that's all secularism is. That's why a nation with multi-lateral religious equality ironically can't help but be a secularist state.
The 2005 World Fair in Aichi Japan has a wonderful website. Check out the pavilions. This World Fair is incredibly robotized, by the way. I'm not talking about Disney's Audio-Animatronics. I mean white plastic robots that walk around and see their environment and interact with it, offering to guide visitors to their destination or just sweeping up the trash. I want one.

I really need to not look at this so much-- it's threatening to my finances. Last week I got out my gigantic Disney Imagineering coffee table book and looked at concept art of Epcot Center for hours. Do any of you love World Fairs (or "Global Expositions" as they are called now)? Do you know what I'm talking about? The apex of the technology, philosophy, and creativity of the human species come together in a meeting of cultures. With each expo, the confusion of tongues is defeated at the hands of mortals, and we glorify the successful completion of the Tower of Babel. This is secular humanism at its most beautiful expression, and I am grateful.
An audio file of Friday's Russ and Dee radio show is now online at:
http://www.subliminallusion.com/universism/031805russanddee.mp3
Having listened to the show again, personally, I think I hit it out of the ballpark.
My call-in begins about a third of the way through the file and ends about half-way through. I'd like to extract that section into a separate audio file for the convenience of my friends, but I don't know how and I don't have the web space.

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