Thursday, December 24, 2009

About Christmas

It's Christmas Eve and my wife read me a post from a forum she follows. A woman wrote that she didn't know why atheists would celebrate Xmas except, maybe, for the presents. My cool wife responded that she did indeed do it for the presents; she loves making and giving them.

I really love Xmas and I don't care whether Jesus was perceived as a deity, or whether he was a religious leader, or whether he was just a composite of several 1st cen. messianic types. I gladly take the day off and enjoy the time on Martin Luther King Day and Presidents' Day and I enjoy the green beer on St. Patrick's Day without once thinking of any of them as my god and savior.

I often read Xian writers who assume that unless one buys into the Jesus mythology, that they cannot, or perhaps, should not enjoy any aspect of the celebration. For one thing, many assume any reference to Jesus in song or activity would be an irritant that atheists would try hard to avoid, I think that's because so many Xians assume that atheists hate their religion when, in fact it's just that we don't believe any of it. So, they probably think we are tolerating unpleasant experiences just to get to the cookies and presents.

I will assure the Xians that the lights are just as pretty, the music is just as melodious, the people are just as generous and joyful, and the warm feeling one gets from giving is just as warm if you don't believe in the divinity of the birthday boy.

To everyone who reads this; happy holidays, whichever holidays you choose to celebrate. For those who don't understand, if you see me smiling, singing carols, generally enjoying the season, it's because I sincerely love everything about Xmas except the parts about Jesus being a deity. It doesn't mean that I'm faking it for the treats and it doesn't mean I've become a Xian again.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Shroud: Shrouded in Mystery

By an interesting coincidence, I read an article yesterday in Discovery News about a burial shroud found recently in a 1st cen. tomb in Jerusalem that is very dissimilar to the shroud of Turin. Then, today, I watched an episode of "Mysteries of the Bible" on the National Geographic Channel that was on the subject of the Shroud of Turin. Then in yet another coincidence, I started thinking about shows and articles about the shroud of Turin.

The discussion of the famous shroud is, not surprisingly, very polarized, with commentators frequently saying either it is a medieval fake or it is proof of the resurrection of Jesus. Rarely have I heard anyone discuss any possible interpretations between these two extremes.

I'll say up front that I lean more toward thinking it is a medieval fake (probably not a big surprise to anyone) but I would also point out other interpretations. For instance, one book I've read (I'm sorry I can remember neither the title nor the author) suggested that it is a burial shroud of a 14th cen. man tortured to death in an imitation of Jesus' crucifixion. The author even referenced an article about postmortem occurrences that account for the creation of the image on the cloth. This brings me to my main rant.

Even if one could prove that the Shroud of Turin is a 1st cen. shroud from Jerusalem, it does not prove that the image on the shroud is that of Jesus. Hardly anyone has suggested in their discussions that this image might be of someone else. Who is to say that this is not the shroud of Smelly Joe of Jerusalem whose extreme body odor caused permanent damage to all his clothing?

Proponents of the religious relic view point to the evidence of injuries consistent with the descriptions of the crucifixion in the bible (off the subject: does anyone else think it's funny that bible is pronounced "buy bull"?) but we have no way of knowing whether Jesus' treatment was unique or whether lots of people received similar treatment. The Roman soldiers might have been giving him torture package #7, especially since they seem to have had robes and thorny crowns conveniently at hand.

Likewise, the opponents of the relic view rarely consider that the shroud might not be an intentional counterfeit and they therefore may be overlooking some processes of decomposition or chemical action that may be serendipitously useful in a modern application. While this kind of scientific scrutiny would probably be the most beneficial use of the cloth, the odds of prying it out of the hands of the Catholic church long enough to do tests are pretty slim.

Meanwhile, for the faithful the less scrutiny the shroud receives, the better it is for them. Since Jesus' existence has never really been proven, positively identifying the man depicted on the cloth could be catastrophic, although like all inconvenient truths, most likely they would just deny it anyway. Still, the thought that maybe we should really be celebrating Smellyjoemas on Friday is pretty funny to me.

Friday, December 18, 2009

God Loves Copyright Infringement

What do you do if you want to attract young people to Xianity with references to pop culture? You break copyright laws. This artcle talks about Xian stores that sell shirts and things that take popular corporate logos and change them subtly to a Xian message, like, for instance, taking an Abercrombie & Fitch logo and changing the words to "Abreadcrumb & Fish."

Jay Reeves, the author of the article asked a manufacturer of Xian gifts about this practice and the manufacturer assured him that if the owner of the copyright wrote to ask them to cut it out, the manufacturer would stop production. Isn't that nice? I always thought that one of the 10 commandments said "Thou shalt not steal," but apparently it says "Thou shalt stop stealing after the victim finds out." It's just us heathens that believe stealing is wrong.

Needling Your Kids?

The good news is; the boy is recovering from surgery and will be all right as long as he avoids magnets. The bad news is that he's a two-year old whose step-father shoved between 30 and 50 "blessed" sewing needles into his body and only the 4 most life-threatening needles have been removed so far.

A news article from AP tells of a Brazilian man who shoved needles into the body of his stepson during a month-long series of rituals wherein the man's lover would enter a trance and then direct the insertion of the needles. The lover had supposedly had the needles blessed by a woman connected with the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomble and told the step-father that these rituals would allow them to be together.

Maybe I'm just too cynical, but I can't imagine agreeing to any of this, no matter how good a lover this lover was. I mean, if my girlfriend came over, went into a trance and started giving me instructions, even if it was something like making pickle-loaf sandwiches, I'm pretty sure that would be the minute that she became an ex-girlfriend. She'd never get the chance to explain why she had a shopping bag full of needles.

Then, who could listen to a person, with or without an altered state of consciousness, give instructions to stick needles in a toddler, and it doesn't have to be a step-son, even if you found a stray 2 year old by the side of the road and brought him home, wouldn't you get a weird feeling that somehow that plan was flawed. Seriously, I'd have trouble sticking a needle in a toad from the back yard; visualizing a sharp needle in close proximity to a helpless little child sends my stomach into gymnastics.

The bumper sticker says something like; People who believe absurdities can be made to commit atrocities. Or as apostates of fundamentalism have said; when they believe their religious leaders, they follow orders without question, they don't have to analyze the instructions or feel any personal responsibility. They're just a tool of the religion. Those horrible Brazilians just took it to the next level.

A girlfriend in a trance isn't responsible for what she says. She's just a conduit for a (higher?) power. The step-father isn't responsible because he's just following orders and he's using "blessed" needles that have magical properties. The baby is the only rational one of the bunch. It just goes to show how much it can suck to be in the care of believers in absurdities, but on the other hand, it shows there are worse things than threatening children with an imaginary hell.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Freshwater Defense Rests, Finally

The defense rested in the Freshwater hearing after giving John Freshwater the opportunity to tell the "truth" about the circumstances of his firing. The Mount Vernon News has an article detailing the testimony wherein Freshwater denied any wrongdoing and asserted that the school board's case was based on misunderstandings, misinterpretations and big fat lies. Furthermore, he has never, and would never teach creationism in the classroom.

Now, I could either believe that Freshwater has been the innocent victim of a conspiracy to destroy his career, or I could believe that his pants are in dire need of a fire extinguisher. Let me review.

If Freshwater is innocent, investigators of good reputation from a respected company are incompetent to do the job for which they were hired. The school board suddenly decided to pick one popular teacher with 20-some years of service out of the entire school system to fire for no reason. All of the witnesses whose testimony supported the school board's case, including some defense witnesses who did so unintentionally, were either mistaken or lying. Also, all of the items entered as evidence were modified to look incriminating or were misrepresented (Freshwater testified that the creationist handouts were negative examples, used to represent bad science).

The whole hullabaloo about religious freedom and and freedom of speech that rallied supporters and polarized the town must likewise have been a big misunderstanding. It is obvious that the majority of people supporting Freshwater were evangelical Xians who advocate for prayer in school, creationism in science class, and generally relegating that whole separation of church and state thing to the garbage disposal. They must have been shocked and disappointed to learn last week that the man they have been supporting with fundraising, websites and rallies is, in fact, opposed to their views on Xian influence in public school and has argued against creationism in science class.

The other possibility is that a boy really did get his arm burned as photos and witnesses suggest and that Freshwater denied, evaded, and destroyed evidence to avoid punishment. It may be true that Freshwater had religious displays and taught creationism in his classroom as handouts, posters, records of complaints (dating back many years), and testimony of many witnesses would suggest and that he felt entitled to evangelise and impose his beliefs on his students in spite of rules and laws to the contrary. Then, when he and his lawyer saw the accumulation of evidence against him, he chose to lie his ass off under oath and throw all the people, who have supported him through the whole ordeal, under the bus to save his own skin. I sure do wonder which version is true.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Conservative Bible Projection

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but some Xian conservatives, the kind of folks whom I have most often heard calling the Bible “the unalterable word of god”, have decided that the word of god needs alteration. According to an AP article, Andy Schlafly, the founder of and son of Phyllis Schafly (demonstrating, that like apples, nuts don’t fall far from the tree), has decided that liberals have tainted the translations of the bible. He has, therefore, decided that the word of god requires editing to bring it more into line with conservative views of the world.

Schafly and his conservative wiki-buddies have decided that the translators of the bible are college professors, and because they think all college professors are ultra-liberal, then all the bible translations have a liberal bias and need fixing. They, for example, insist that, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." should be deleted from the Gospel of Luke because it doesn’t appear in some early versions and because that quote is very popular with liberals.

Anyway, they probably want Jesus to be less Allan Alda and more Chuck Norris and maybe Moses could be a little more like Dick Cheney. The Sermon on the Mount should probably say the republicans will inherit the earth and Revelations should specifically say that democrats, gays, and atheists will get the worst punishments. Most importantly, the bible needs to affirm that whatever 21st cen. conservative Xians believe is indisputably right and anyone who disagrees will be doomed to hell.

What this silly editing exercise really indicates is that many modern Xians don’t care what lessons the bible was intended to teach and have no intention of modifying their own behavior to more closely follow those lessons. It is far more important that conservative Xians be able to make the bible appear to condone their current behavior. They might as well come right out and admit that they’re just making this stuff up as they go along and any correlation to any religious text is purely coincidental.