Monthly Archives: March 2011

How to Get Your Prayers Answered

Buy a prayer rug?

Apparently so, according to this mailing I received. I learned that if one is selling stuff with absolutely no value (promises of medical recovery, money, land, eternal life, etc.), one might as well design it in such a way as to make the reader nauseous. Rows of rows of bolding and ostentatious underlining, combined with content that makes me want to throw up: that’s apparently more than enough to convince people of the power of answered prayers.

The Choice

There’s nothing more entertaining than watching people say what they believe. Pastor Mark Driscoll tells it as it is.

My job is to tell you the truth. Your job is to make a decision.

Yes, apparently as a human being, he knows such incredible details about what happens after we die and what thoughts we must have in order to not get roasted for eternity, and he holds a job for telling us about it. As for the rest of us, we just have to make a choice between keeping ourselves sane and believing in some God who can only forgive you if you believe in a human sacrifice.

But my point is that Pastor Mark Driscoll is absolutely right.

If the Bible is the Word of God and if Jesus was the Son of God, the overwhelming majority of people who have ever lived are in Hell. Most people on Earth will probably end up there too. I’m also sick and tired of new-age Christians who want to metaphorize this reality away. I also don’t want to hear my fellow atheists tell me I’m not studying enough theology, I’m taking the Bible out of context, I’m being as bad as a fundamentalist, or any other excuses that I’ve heard.

My job is also to tell you the truth: the Bible’s message of salvation by faith alone is real, and this message will not disappear no matter how hard you try to study history, theology, philosophy, etc. The only thing people can do is to ignore it and live with the cognitive dissonance.

I tell the truth, and you make the decision. Either you accept Christianity as Jesus says (and live with all the immoralities and absurdities that it entails) or you take my position: religion is a human invention, and it shows.

Why Atheists Go to Hell

If an atheist made it to heaven, he would want to be conscious. Some say that people aren’t really conscious in Heaven. They say that only the soul or spirit goes up, and that we really won’t be aware of where or what we are. As far as the atheist can see, that would mean we’re as good as dead, which can’t possibly be the case.

If an atheist made it to heaven conscious, he would want to have free will. Without free will, God could indeed make us act (and even think) perfectly and without sin, but we wouldn’t be us. We would be in terrible pain if we could not control the movement of our limbs or the thoughts in our head. We must therefore have free will.

If an atheist made it to heaven conscious and with free will, he would want his reasoning faculties intact. Without that, he would be incomplete, he would be someone else, someone who could do all kind of crazy, superstitious, nonsensical things. The idea of Heaven as a place without the light of Reason is absurd.

If an atheist made it to heaven conscious, with free will, and with the faculty of reason intact, he would commit the same freaking sins on earth as on heaven. He would doubt and disbelieve in many of the commands and instructions of God. The atheist would still tell white lies, get angry from time to time, and some may even participate in homosexual activities. The atheist would still be himself: created sinful and commanded to be perfect.

That’s why atheists go to hell. Because they mess it up.

Now, what do Christians do when they go to Heaven?

Double Standards, and Arrogance

A very good video. My favorite part is the last part, of course, on the topic of arrogance vs. humility.

Taking Apart the Soul

Religious people insist that we have souls. For example, Rabbi Wolpe, when he looks into the eyes of another human being, can’t help but conclude that the person he is looking at is more than just a collection of atoms. He insists that there must be something immaterial about us. Whatever the “soul” means to you, it is clearly something that goes beyond the material, something that we have that other things like chairs and trees don’t.

This question of the soul really came to my attention after I watched Never Let Me Go, a very somber movie based on an Ishiguro novel about human beings who were made to be organ donors. A central theme, of course, is on the question of whether such cloned humans have souls.

Suppose I had a atom/molecule printer, and I “scanned” and “printed” you exactly, molecule by molecule, atom by atom. I would be reconstructing your material existence, and only that. Having no supernatural powers of my own, I could not possibly breath a soul into such a clone of you.

Yet, if we ever interacted with such a clone, how could we possibly tell the difference? How could we deny that his/her ability to think, to reason, to love, to feel pain and sorrow, to erupt in joy, to cry, to laugh, to form bonds, to live a fun and exciting life–all of this is merely a result of a “collection of atoms”?

However, we are just atoms. There’s no evidence that there’s anything spirit or force that exists independently of the body (something that we have that other objects don’t). And that’s okay.

We don’t need special supernatural, supermaterial properties to have value. A clone is just as spiritless as all of us, but he/she is just as human, and just as worthy of respect and dignity.

Einstein says it very nicely.

The mystical trend of our time, which shows itself particularly in the rampant growth of the so-called Theosophy and Spiritualism, is for me no more than a symptom of weakness and confusion. Since our inner experiences consist of reproductions and combinations of sensory impressions, the concept of a soul without a body seems to me to be empty and devoid of meaning.

Not Very Inspiring

Yes, there’s a lot of debate about “bad teachers” and “competency” in an increasingly large discussion about school reform. How much professional training do we owe teachers, and at what point do we choose to let teachers go?

Whatever your view is on these topics, I hope you agree that there’s at least one thing we cannot tolerate from science teachers: the deliberate attempt to teach creationism in the public schools.

It’s not only illegal, it’s insulting to the millions of people around this country who don’t want more religious nonsense to be subsidized by taxpayer money.

So when a Libertyville High School science teacher taught creationism, the school board decided to intervene. How? By doing nothing, apparently.

The teacher in question is a long standing D128 educator, cooperated fully with administrators looking into this concern, and we will not be recommending his termination as this is remediable behavior.

Remediable? Okay, if this was a science teacher whose students didn’t quite make the expected improvements on their standardized tests, perhaps we can “remediate” this teacher.

But this is someone who deliberately sought to violate law, undermine Illinois science standards, and mislead students about science. This is not a teacher wanting to improve his teaching; this is someone who think he has a God-given, Biblical right to teach his set of superstitious beliefs.

As posted before, an estimate 13% of public school teachers in America teach creationism. This is setting a very very bad standard. For students who want to learn real science–for secular students who feel out of place with their religious surroundings especially–this is not very inspiring.

Keep Trying and Never Give Up

If there’s anything that new-age Christians and “liberal” religious people do, it is that they keep trying and they never give up.

I’m writing this somewhat in response to the graduate advisor for the UChicago Secular Student Alliance. He writes a blog called Sleeping in Sundays, and apparently this Sunday, he couldn’t find a better example of ignorance and dishonesty than from a post by Sam Harris, who, after citing a myriad of verses from it, merely concluded that the Quran gives “a unified message of triumphalism, otherworldliness, and religious hatred” and that Muslims who deny this are being dishonest.

Note that this in no way obstructs what Muslims in particular and religious people in general want to do anyways: interpret and metaphorize every verse that conflicts with 21st century morals. There’s no denying that this is what religious people do. But should this impress us?

The usual argument goes like this:

The reason that we have so many crazies (creationists, genital mutilators, suicide bombers, etc.) and backwards societies (theocracies, religious laws, religious education, etc.) is that there are a few fundamentalists. Why do millions and millions of people take to the streets to call for governments to shut down newspapers? Why do religious societies treat women so horribly? Why do we open therapy camps in this country to treat homosexuality? It’s the fundamentalists. They ruin it for everyone else. Simple as that.

How do they ruin it for everyone else? Fundamentalists: they aren’t as fancy and sophisticated as us. They don’t think about the text. They don’t look at context. They don’t look at history. And most important of all: they don’t “struggle” and “wrestle” with the text. They just give up.

The solution? Let’s have the determination to wrestle with the text. When there’s something in the Bible that is outrageous, you must be reading it wrong. When there are entire stories in the Quran that show the overwhelming superiority of Muslims over atheists, you must be ignoring history. Indeed, if you ever ever have an interpretation of a Holy Book that is upsetting, you just aren’t trying hard enough to contextualize it. The solution to all these social ills is to keep trying, to never ever give up.

When countless societies and millions and millions of religious people fail again and again and again at reaching the “correct” interpretation (one in line with secular humanistic values), let’s keep trying again and again and again to fix it, by wrestling with the text.

Another Trojan Horse

The Dangerous Army

The Christians are at it again. When the Giles County School Board made the right decision to remove public display of the Ten Commandments from its school buildings, the Christians got really upset. So upset that about 200 students walked out of class to protest. Their message: If you don’t like our illegal government-sanctioned endorsement of religion, you should just move away.

“This is Giles County and Christ is a big, big, big part of Giles County. For those who don’t like it, go somewhere else,” shouted one student.  She was greeted by a round of cheers from the crowd.

The students prayed and then one by one students spoke out on the reasons they wanted the Ten Commandments placed back in their school.

“This is America and we can have our Ten Commandments and if they don’t like it, they can get out,” said one boy.

“If you don’t like the Ten Commandments, don’t look at them. They are ours to look at if we like to look at them. If you don’t like them, don’t look at them,” said one girl.

“It’s just freedom of religion and speech,” said one boy.

“It’s our choice to have the Ten Commandments. It’s not the law’s choice or anything, it’s not the state’s choice or anything. It’s Giles County’s choice. It’s the kid’s choice,” said another student.

Too bad these people don’t understand that there’s no such thing as a collective right to proselytize one’s own religion via our tax dollars. The Constitution protects individuals, not certain interest groups. It does not matter if everyone in the county wants the Ten Commandments shown. Atheists have rights, and they don’t disappear no matter how hard or how many Christians pray or vote.

Also, these people are protesting against the ACLU, who threatened to sue the Giles County School Board over the public, government-endorsed display of religion. What they might have troubling getting their heads around, however, is that the ACLU is actually defending the students’ right to have their own private displays of the Ten Commandments.

The Trojan Horse

The Trojan Horse is a new attack on the separation of church and state organized by parents in Giles County. They now want to put a display of the Declaration of Independence alongside multiple documents that they claim influenced its creation. Of course, one of those “documents” just happens to be the Ten Commandments.

These people first have to explain what having no Gods before Yahweh, not taking the Lord’s name in vain, not coveting my neighbor’s wife, ox, or donkey, and keeping the Sabbath holy have to do with our country’s independence. People who claim that the Ten Commandments gives us general, humanistic values to live by often have no idea what the Ten Commandments actually are.

Also, Thomas Jefferson, the person who actually drafted the Declaration of Independence, had this to say in 1814:

Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.

Jefferson in 1808:

Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the “wall of separation between church and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.

Finally, the one I find most inspiring of all. Thomas Jefferson talks about his view of independent self-government.

May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man.

I think we should therefore call out this attempt for what it really is: another Christian distortion of history and an attack on our Constitutional rights.

I Called It

Remember that video that showed some Christian girl thanking God for the tsunami in Japan? It went viral on the internet and incited outrage by both the religious and the nonreligious.

But I never really believed it was real. And I found out a couple days ago that I was right:

She is a demonstration of Poe’s Law, the fact that it is impossible to distinguish between religious crazies and the people who parody them. However, she didn’t fool me, for the following reason:

1) I looked through many of her videos and deduced that she had a very good understanding of science and religion.

2) Her positions are actually opposite of what you would expect. No desperate attempts to understand natural tragedies (that God allows for) with ceaseless prayer and groveling. No guilty conscience. That’s very rare for religious people.

3) She looks like an atheist and smells like one too.

It Finally Ends, and the Permanent Income Hypothesis

Finally I turned in my Philosophy of Science final paper, which marks the end of the past 100 hours of studying, sleeping, and writing. Finals week at UChicago is over for me. Until the one in Spring Quarter.

Of course, in the middle of that studying, sleeping, and writing, I’ve been glued to news reports about Japan. The condition of the nuclear reactors is extremely troubling, but so is the condition of many people in areas destroyed by the tsunami.

While Japan is a wealthy nation with lots of resources, there’s no such thing as offering too much help. I’ve been reflecting on how we can help, and I’ve also been reading a lot in the blogosphere on this very topic.

One of my favorite organizations in the world is Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).They are in nearly every country that needs help, and they’ve sent a small team to Japan. You can offer a donation online.

One of the things I’ve notice is that, unlike the Red Cross, they don’t allow you to earmark funds for a certain cause, which is actually MSF’s stated policy. It made me realize that as people who want to support organizations like these, it may actually make much more sense to spread out donations over time for multiple causes.

As an economics major, it is what I call the Permanent Income Hypothesis of Charity. Instead of making large one-time donations in response to disasters, perhaps we all can, in response to tragic events like the one in Japan, pledge to regularly give an equal amount of money over time. This would allow organizations to have funds and resources before disasters, as well as provide them with a steady and certain amount of income. Smooth income leads to optimal expectations leads to better results.

I have a lot of topics I want to cover during Spring Break, so stay tuned.