Sunday, October 21, 2012

Religion vs. Science

A pro-science meme has been circulating on the internet regarding the shooting of the 15 year old Pakistani, Malala Yousufzai, girl who spoke out in favor of educating girls.  It goes something like this:

"Hello Religion,

I sent a man to the moon and returned him safely.  You shot a girl in the head because she went to school.

Sincerely,

Science"

I wish I could take credit for this, but it wasn't my idea.  I am happy to pass it on, however.  If you use it with a religious person, expect some blather about how the Taliban don't represent all religious people.  Just stick to your guns and point out that the shooter was undoubtedly motivated by religion, just like the 9/11 hijackers.  You can also point out that this is not an isolated incident.  There have been numerous occasions in which the Taliban have murdered girls for simply going to school.  You can also point out that using force to punish people for disagreeing is one of religion's primary characteristics.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Religion and Artificial Selection

In recent years, there have been several attempts to explain the phenomenon of religion by referring to human nature.  It is claimed that people "need" religion in some fashion, and that this need is some inherent, unchanging part of our makeup.  In fact, one often sees references to attempts to find the "god gene" that makes us "need" religion.  In addition, ordinary believers often refer to the fact that "a lot of people believe" as if this were proof that belief is logical.

As someone who has spent a lot of time studying the phenomenon of religion as well as human history, I think these explanations and research projects into the possible existence of a "god gene" seem terribly misguided.  They are misguided because they fail to take into account the effects of religion and history on the human population.

I think it is fair to say that the human population has been changed by religion.  The average person today is not the same as the average person would have been had religion not dominated human affairs for thousands of years. This is because religion has led to the systematic extermination of skeptics and critical thinkers.

Most, if not all, religions encourage the herd to attack those who don't conform.  Of course, they don't explicitly tell their members to do this.  They achieve the result by teaching their members that those who don't believe are necessarily bad people--immoral, untrustworthy, hostile, full of evil intent, etc.

In effect this means that religion causes societies to weed out those individuals who think for themselves.  Those individuals are necessarily the most intelligent and innovative members of the populace.  The less intelligent and innovative make up the compliant herd of sheep that the clergy use as a power base.  These less intelligent individuals receive the full benefit of membership in the church, which effectively acts like a society wide union protecting the herd members and their interests.  As a consequence, even those skeptics who manage to survive the persecution are less likely to be successful members of society and therefore less likely to have children and pass on their traits.

The result is a process of artificial selection that has been at work in the human population in many societies for millennia.  This artificial selection process culls out the most intelligent (and encourages the less intelligent to breed).

This may explain why some populations tend to do better than others on tests of intelligence.  (I know that such tests are controversial.  I will discuss that at a later point.)  Populations that have less of a tendency to persecute their most intelligent members but instead revere intellectual achievement will eventually see such improved performance when compared to populations that persecute their intelligent members.  Many Asian populations tend to reflect this phenomenon.  A reverence for intellectual achievement eventually leading to higher average scores on intelligence tests.  I think it is no accident that those societies are also less religious in many ways.  Many of them are dominated by religions that don't really have a "god" (such as Buddhism) and by Western standards might even be more properly called philosophies.

The net result for the more religious societies is a population in which the majority is simply not equipped to think for themselves.  Looking solely at that population and neglecting to take into account the effects of millennia of artificial selection can, indeed, result in the facile conclusion that belief in god reflects some natural, inherent need.

A study of those who were not brought up to believe in god or gods, however, shows rather quickly that belief is not automatic or necessarily inherent in human nature.  Studies of such populations show that people who were not taught to believe in gods as children rarely ever feel the need to believe.  Only in cases of severe emotional need do such persons suddenly convert to belief in the supernatural.  (I refer readers once again to a very insightful book called "Atheists: A Groundbreaking Study of America's Nonbelievers".)

The religious are quite aware of the role played by extreme emotional need in the conversion process.  They often deliberately try to create such severe emotional need in non-believers in order to convert them--or prey on them when such need arises on its own.  I have touched on this despicable tactic of theirs before and will discuss it at length in a later post.

For now, suffice it to say that humans do have a demonstrable need to belong to a group--we have a herding instinct, which is not surprising given the evolutionary history of life on this planet.  (For example, see this study.)  This desire to belong helps explain why so many otherwise sensible people believe.  The desire to belong combined with religious indoctrination vilifying non-believers explains the prevalence of religious belief in some populations.  This desire to belong, however, is not the same as a need to believe in god.

Evidence for the need to belong is compelling, but the evidence for a need to believe in a god is simply not there.  There are millions of people--entire societies as well--that get along just fine without a god belief.  Only those who have spent their lives in societies dominated by a religion with a god at its center seem to think that there might be a universal need to believe in a god.  This is because such individuals have not studied other societies without such god beliefs and assume his or her experience is universally applicable.

So, the next time someone alleges a universal human need to believe in a god, you can say something like:

"You religious people have spent thousands of years systematically exterminating those who don't believe, so it may well seem that way to you."


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Being an Atheist ...

Being an atheist is like 
 I saw this graphic and couldn't help but notice how well it summed up so much of what I have been trying to say about religion and the world we live in.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Our Moral Obligation to Future Generations

If you are like me, you have probably noticed that the "pro-life" religious people seem to apply their principles in an inconsistent manner.  They claim to care about the "child" so much that they feel they can interfere and override the decisions even of the woman who has to carry it to term in her own body, but the second after the baby is born he or she suddenly becomes no concern of theirs.

In addition, they claim it's god's will whether or not a child is conceived, but nothing else about the life or death of the child is god's will apparently because they have no objections to other forms of medical intervention.

These sorts of inconsistencies (among other things) reveal their actual motivations.  They are actually motivated by their disapproval of notions of pleasure and permissiveness.  They would rather see the entire world suffer and die than appear to give permission for people to experience pleasure.  (This is yet another inconsistency and is the basic inconsistency that underlies the others.  They are not actually pro-life so much as anti-pleasure.  This motivation is also revealed by the alacrity with which they accuse those who disagree with them of being merely licentious libertines.)

Recently it occurred to me to investigate their opinions concerning the spaying and neutering of pets because the situation is analogous to that of humans.  Such procedures constitute artificial birth control (and sometimes abortion, if the female is pregnant at the time of the procedure.)  There is little doubt, however, that such procedures are necessary.  Without some form of birth control, too many domestic animals will be born and a great deal of suffering on their part will result from this overpopulation.

In fact, the Church is quite adamant about the duties of human pet owners in this regard:

"Millions of cats and dogs to which homes are not available must be destroyed each year in the United States. Additional millions roam the country, homeless, uncared for and unwanted by anyone. Spaying of owned female dogs and cats, as a means of preventing the suffering caused by breeding additional unwanted animals, while millions of dogs and cats are without homes or care, is recognized by Catholic humanitarians as not only morally permissible but urgently indicated."  See:  http://doggypedia.info/pet-neuter/neutering-your-dog-its-only-a-matter-of-time-5/

Of course, the religious will excuse this by saying that god gave man dominion over the animals and that animals don't have souls.  It is this second argument that reveals the religious nature of their stance against birth control.  To their minds, a soul is created (or otherwise implanted) in a human fetus at the moment of conception.  Thus, regardless of the age or development of the fetus, it is, according to their religious beliefs, a human being.

They have recognized that this argument carries little weight with those who are not convinced of the existence of souls and thus have tried to focus on the fetus's potential to develop into a human being, but that argument is merely a post hoc rationalization.  It is an argument that was created in an effort to win the public relations battle with the general public, which does not share their religious beliefs.

The "potential human being" argument has been somewhat successful.  Today, one even finds non-believers who have come to oppose abortion because of it. 

But, let's return to the attitude of the religious toward birth control for animals.  The feeling that so many people have for their pets caused many to treat them as quasi-human beings and oppose their sterilization.  The National Catholic Society for Animal Welfare (now the Society for Animal Rights) had to issue a statement concerning the spaying of animals. It says:

"Catholic humanitarians often are asked whether the church approves of spaying animals to prevent their reproduction. Catholic doctrine does not forbid the control or prevention of animal breeding. Animals are not moral persons; they do not have intellect and will. Therefore, there can be no moral imputability in limiting or preventing the breeding of unwanted animals."
One Catholic Priest puts it this way:

"Neutering or sterilizing pets should be seen as part of the respect and care we owe them as stewards of the resources of the universe entrusted us by God. This wealth is given in trust, and 'cannot be separated from respect [for] moral obligations, including those toward generations to come'."
This statement causes me to want to ask why the moral obligation toward generations to come doesn't also require us to control the human population as well as the animal population.  After all, the world's population has already exceeded our ability to feed it using traditional means, and the evidence that the size of the human population presents a grave danger to our ecosystem is overwhelming.  If our ecosystem collapses, billions of people will die.  If resources become too scarce, we could see more world wars but this time with nuclear weapons.  It is even possible that homo sapiens might become extinct.

So, if you are looking for a bon mot to throw into the thought processes a "pro-life" religious person, ask him or her why overpopulation doesn't violate our moral obligation toward generations to come.

You can even  point out that the situation is dire enough that the moral obligation we are violating by overpopulating the planet may be to our own children and not some vague, distant generation to come.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Believe In Nothing

I have written a little on this topic before.  When the religious accuse non-believers of believing in nothing, they are essentially equating atheism with nihilism, which is a mistake.  Pointing that out, however, often will not do the trick because the point is too cerebral.  A reply with punch is needed.  Therefore I suggest the following:

"I believe in reality; you are the one who believes in nothing."

If clarification is needed, one can add:

"Your god is nothing--a mere figment of your imagination."

You can also say, either after the first suggestion above or after the second:

"I believe I know the difference between atheism and nihilism and you don't."

By pointing out the believer's obvious ignorance, this last suggestion has the benefit of adding emotional force to an otherwise entirely intellectual point.  As I have pointed out before, such emotional force is a necessary component when arguing with religious people because, for them, the emotional motivation behind a person's words is much more important than the actual meaning of the words themselves.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Religion Makes People Less Moral, Not More

I have discussed this topic before at some length, but I think it is important to have it summed up in one's mind both for clarity of thought and for potential delivery in an argument.  When the argument is made that religion is needed as the basis of morals, you can reply with:

"Religion makes people less moral, not more."

This statement will, of course, require clarification in such circumstances, and that is the payoff for making the statement.  It gives you a chance to discuss the moral insanity of religion.  You can follow up the statement (either directly or after the religious person responds) with:

"Because it sets the lowest possible standard for morality, the fear of punishment standard, which most people would otherwise naturally grow out of while still young children."

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bomb Mots

I have often mentioned the need to have "bon mots" ready to toss into a conversation with believers.  These "bon mots" should be designed to make the believers think about some or all of what they believe.  For most situations, they should be subtle and polite so as not to arouse the ire of the believer's ego.  Such as "no one knows how the universe came to be and anyone claiming to know is making a claim that cannot be true" or "faith is just another way of saying that you don't care about evidence and logic".  Sometimes, however, it can be useful to rattle the believer's mental cage just a bit.

Such "disturbing" statements can be thought of as "bomb mots" and should be used much like Zen Koans.  That is, they can be used to try to break the other person out of his canalized thinking habits.  As is the case with most conversational bombs, it is usually best to say it, perhaps explain just a little immediately thereafter while the believer is still registering what you said, then move on, either literally or figuratively, and let the believer give it some thought.  I like to use these "bomb mots" to undermine believers' implicit assumptions, which are usually those that they learned as young children and have never questioned.  (In fact, that is the purpose of the Zen Koan as well.  They are purposefully absurd statements designed to get the listener to look at the world anew--much as he did when a child.)

For instance, believers have been taught that faith is a virtue.  Frankly, this has always bothered me immensely because I can't see how rejecting evidence and reason can possibly be a virtue.  So, one of the things I like to drop into conversations with believers from time to time is this:

Faith is the single most obscene word in the English language.

Likewise, believers have been taught that religion is a good thing both for the individual and for humanity in general.  One might say in reply:

Religion is a crime against Humanity.

When believers assert that religion is the source of morality, possible replies include:

The moral function of religion is to allow bad people to feel good about themselves.

Religious morality consists of the notion that getting caught and punished are all that matters and that might makes right.

No sane, intelligent person believes religion is true, and no moral person would want it to be true.

If you use any of these or others like them, the best result is that the religious person actually stops and listens to your explanation of why you think it is true.  In many cases, however, it will be best just to move on--or away, as the case may require.

The last suggested reply (that no moral person would want religion to be true) is also useful when religious people accuse non-believers of rejecting god because they want to be immoral.  The first reply to such an accusation is, of course, to say

"I know that is how religious people choose their facts, but I don't choose my facts based on how I feel about them.  I choose them based on evidence." 

Then point out that religion is most certainly not moral and, as I said, that no moral person would want it to be true.  Be ready to explain why religion is not moral.  See my previous posts on that subject for material

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Verdict in Dover

I recently watched the documentary "Judgment Day:  Intelligent Design on Trial" and I just had to post some thoughts about it.  If interested, the reader can view the film for him or her self on YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hTZ5AYzs8o&feature=related.

In case anyone doesn't know, the documentary was about the trial in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover, 400 F. Supp. 2d 707 (M.D. Pa. 2005), the rather famous case in which a local Pennsylvania school board tried to put the teaching of creationism back into public schools by calling it "intelligent design" and by using the usual nonsense arguments that evolution is not a fact and that the theory contains "gaps" that can't be explained by science.

The School Board's curriculum committee drafted a statement to be read to all 9th grade biology students that was a classic statement of the deliberate misconceptions of creationists.  First, they say that the "theory is not a fact".  This is a classic misstatement that I have been hearing from creationists for several decades and was around even before that.  It is one of many examples where religious people deliberately attempt to confuse and conflate the different definitions that apply to a particular word--just as they so often try to do with the word "faith".

The word "theory" has more than one definition.  The different definitions apply in different contexts and the word does not mean the same thing in a scientific context that it does in a conversation between laymen. 

To a scientist, the word "theory" implies a complex idea or set of related ideas that have been tested repeatedly and found to be true.  To a layman, the word means "just someone's suggestion or idea".  Yet, I have also seen and heard numerous efforts on the part of those who support science to explain this distinction to creationists.  So much so, that I can scarce believe that anyone hasn't had a chance to learn this distinction by now.  The fact that one still hears this misstatement tells me that either some religious people have led very sheltered and ignorant lives or that they have deliberately chosen to ignore attempts to edify them.

In fact, this particular phenomenon is one of the reasons that I say that religious people lie constantly.  Even after it has been explained to them why a particular argument that they have made is incorrect they will continue to make it.  They may not make the argument again to the person who explained to them why it was wrong, but they will use it again with other people.  This tells me quite clearly that they are not concerned with whether or not their arguments are sound or valid, only with whether or not they will work on a particular audience.

A normal person wants to be right in his assessments of the facts.  A religious person--like all narcissists--is obsessed with never being wrong, or, at least, with never appearing to be wrong.

Also classic is the assertion that Darwin's theory contains "gaps", which they then go on to imply can only be filled by "an intelligent designer".   This, too, is a classic example of theistic reasoning, so much so that it has been a term of derision applied to theistic thinking by non-believers.  For decades, non-believers have been pointing out that the "god of the gaps" arguments are not justified.  It does not follow that god must exist or that "god did it", simply because one can find places in scientific knowledge that are incomplete.  A determined critic will always be able to say that human knowledge is incomplete.  If necessary, they will even resort to solipsism to imply that there "might" be something more that mankind doesn't know about a subject.

Perhaps the most appalling thing one sees in the documentary is the complete shamelessness of the two primary perpetrators of the attempt to put creationism in the public schools.  Even after their scheme was exposed and ruled un-Constitutional and even after having been caught lying under oath about it, they are utterly shameless.

One of these dishonest fanatics, Mr. Buckingham, is actually a retired policeman.  Not only does this former officer of the law appear to have lied under oath, he appears to have been involved in the theft of a mural depicting evolution from one of the schools.  A student had painted a mural depicting the "Ascent of Man" via evolutionary stages.  At some point during the controversy, the mural disappeared from the school where it was displayed.   After the 19 minute mark, the science teachers from the high school relate how board member Buckingham admitted to them that he "watched it burn", which clearly implicates him in the act of theft and vandalism.

In other words, there is reason to believe that the student mural was stolen and destroyed by (or with the collusion of) one or more school board members.  Perhaps the same members who were seeking to undermine the science curriculum.  This action, combined with their other actions and statements reveal the motivations and goals of creationists.  Their goal is to make sure that their viewpoint is the only one represented.  Their goal is to suppress all other views and anything related to them--to deny others their voice.

Also quite revealing, is  a comment made by a local Pastor, Ray Mummert, who reveals a great deal about the motivation of creationists when he says that he finds evolution personally insulting because it implies he descended from an ape.  Apparently, his ego isn't strong enough to cope with that thought.  He would rather deny facts than accept the notion that he is not "special".  This is yet another bit of evidence that religion is driven by the egos of believers--that it is an expression of their narcissistic personality disorder.

His comment is also directly related to the observation I have made before concerning the close link between creationism and racism.  Both are driven by the believer's need to feel superior to others.  Admitting that one is merely an example of a species of primate--just another type of monkey--is simply not acceptable to such people.

See also:

Religion and Racism II

Religion and Racism III

Religion, Racism, and Narcissism

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Right to Refrain from Speaking

“Just as the right to speak and the right to refrain from speaking are complementary components of a broader concept of individual freedom of mind, so also the individual's freedom to choose his own creed is the counterpart of his right to refrain from accepting the creed established by the majority. At one time it was thought that this right merely proscribed the preference of one Christian sect over another, but would not require equal respect for the conscience of the infidel, the atheist, or the adherent of a non-Christian faith such as Mohammedism or Judaism. But when the underlying principle has been examined in the crucible of litigation, the Court has unambiguously concluded that the individual freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all.”
— Justice Stevens for the majority, Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, June 4, 1985.

The above quotation and the Supreme Court decision from which it came are important for non-believers.  We should all be aware of them and what they mean.  They mean that the right to choose not to believe is just as important as the right to choose which church to join.  In other words, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not just protect believers as some have tried to maintain.

Also important is the recognition that the right to refrain from speaking is just as important as the right to speak.  This is particularly important in school prayer and other "captive audience" cases where believers put people on the spot and force them to declare their beliefs in some fashion--such as publicly failing to participate in prayer or refusing to answer a question.  In such cases, the right to remain silent can only be protected by forbidding the government from taking actions that will put people in such situations.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Excellent Quotation

This quotation from Sam Harris' "The End of Faith" has been seen and used by many but it is still a good one to have handy for use with a religious person who insists that religion is a, if not "the", source of morality:

“The men who committed the atrocities of September 11 were certainly not "cowards," as they were repeatedly described in the Western media, nor were they lunatics in any ordinary sense. They were men of faith—perfect faith, as it turns out—and this, it must finally be acknowledged, is a terrible thing to be.” ― Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason."

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Rights

Many of the things that believers say to non-believers amount to little more than euphemisms for "shut up".  Often they will tell us this quite directly.  It is rare (but not unknown) for them to be completely direct.  Usually, however, they will preface their bullying with statements that it is our right to believe there is no god but that we shouldn't say it.  One possible response is to say some version of the following:

If I don't have the right to say it, then I really don't have the right to believe it.  "Rights" are only an issue when determining how others treat you and that only happens after they know you have different beliefs.

If needed to make the point clear, you can add:

What people think, but never say, is unknown to others and thus there is no question of "rights".

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Birth Control and Faith Healing

Like so many other sane people, I sincerely hoped never to hear of Rick Santorum again after he lost his re-election bid to the Senate.  I was very disturbed that someone so obviously insane could ever have been elected to the Senate at all, and his defeat confirmed my belief in the soundness of Democracy.

Yet, here we are again.  He's not only back in the public eye in a big way, he is actually running a relatively successful campaign for President of the United States.  He may never be President, he may never even be on the republican ticket, but he has won a surprising number of republican state primaries.  One can argue that this is only because the republican base doesn't trust the conservative bona fides of the frontrunner, Mitt Romney, but it is disturbing nonetheless.

Santorum's views on many matters are so far outside the mainstream that it is disturbing that a significant number of people would vote for him under any circumstances.

One of the more disturbing view he holds was recently brought to light by his comments on birth control.  A few months ago, when he was still considered a lunatic fringe candidate, he stated in an interview

"It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be."  See Time Magazine's coverage here.

What I noticed immediately was that this reasoning is equally applicable to the use of antibiotics and I wondered if Mr. Santorum ever gave his children or himself antibiotics when ill.  Would he be willing to stand by and let one of them die as god's will rather than use modern technology because it is "counter to the way things are supposed to be"?

By the same token I realized that this reasoning applies to modern medicine in general.  It is, in effect, the sort of reasoning one hears from those who believe in faith healing.  This conclusion is further reinforced by Mr. Santorum's view that the "decision" of whether or not a new life is begun by a sexual act is "god's" and not man's.

If you think, perhaps, that he doesn't really see things this way, just consider his comment concerning women who become pregnant as a result of rape:
"The right approach is to accept this ... gift of human life, and accept what god has given you." 
In other words, every pregnancy is god's decision, god's gift.

I am sure that if you point this out to Mr. Santorum or those like him you will hear an argument based on the distinction between preserving life and ending it.  In other words, they think it is permissible for man to intervene to preserve what could be considered life but not for any other purpose.  Unfortunately for those who think this way, however, the reasoning applies equally to all such situations.  If the decision is god's, then mankind should not be interfering.

The problem, of course, is that this position is a purely religious one (no matter how hard they try to dress it up as something else).  As such, it is the right of the individuals involved to decide for themselves how to proceed.  It is not up to Mr. Santorum, the Government, or anyone else to determine matters as personal as birth control and religious belief.  And, those who don't see this don't respect the right of others to have their own opinions or private lives.

Friday, March 30, 2012


I just came across this picture and I had to share it because I can't tell you how many times theists have had the unmitigated gall to call me "intolerant" because I didn't agree with them.  I am glad to have this picture because now I can simply print it, write "birdbrain" on the back and give it to the next idiot who says such a stupid thing.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Classic Shamelessness

A news item appeared recently about the trial of a clergy abuse case in Pennsylvania.  The case involves sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.  This may seem almost like old news, but it is significant for a couple of reasons.  First, it is legally significant because one of the accused is being charged with endangering children for his handling of complaints lodged against priests under his supervision.  He, no surprise, covered up the allegations and reassigned the accused priests to new parishes.

The case is also significant to my thinking because it illustrates a phenomenon I have seen on many occasions when dealing with the religious.  They treat people so badly that it causes psychological damage, then turn around and say that the symptoms of that damage prove there was something wrong with the victim and that he or she should therefor not be given any credence.  At the end of the news article one can find evidence of a plan to do just that:

"Defense lawyers plan to argue that the accusers are out for money or hope to explain away their troubled lives. Both accusers have criminal records and a history of drug addiction."

This is truly an example of utter shamelessness.  Of course the victims have problems.  How could they not after suffering such horrific abuse at the hands of trusted authority figures?  For the perpetrators to then argue that the very problems the abuse caused are proof that the claims are false and (let's face it) to imply that the plaintiffs are unworthy is to display a complete lack of a conscience.  This is the behavior of a psychopath or someone with severe narcissistic personality disorder with psychopathic traits.  Yet, I have seen this sort of behavior from the religious numerous times both in news reports and in real life.

Such people apparently believe that because they are "god's agents" they are entitled to special privileges.  They think their well-being is more important than that of the sheep (and lambs) in the flock.  They think that the sheep should be happy (or at least quiescent) to "serve their needs".  The fact that the victims feel damaged and display signs of damage simply proves their unworthiness--apparently.

Lest it seem like I am overstating the case, remember that attacking a person's motivation for saying something is not a logical argument regarding the merits of the dispute.  It is a personal attack on one of the disputants. 

People always have motivations for their actions, thus such a disingenuous argument can always be made.  Because they can be argued to undermine a witness' credibility, however, they are usually allowed.  Please note, however, that this is barely one step removed from arguing that a rape victim was a slut who was asking for it. 

The actual purpose for introducing such evidence is often to cause the plaintiff to drop the case rather than undergo the embarrassment of being cross-examined about the worst parts of their lives, or, if that doesn't work, turn the jury against the accusing party--to convince the jury to rule against that party not because of the merits of the case but because they don't like him or her. 

This is a tried and true tactic of the religious and they use it both in and out of the law courts.  Even if their victims don't sue or press charges, you can bet the victim will be subjected to a slander campaign if he or she dares to complain to anyone--and sometimes merely on the suspicion of complaining about the mistreatment.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

An Insightful Old Joke

There is an old joke that periodically makes the rounds, especially amongst non-believers, that I think is actually quite insightful.  It goes like this:

It seems a Christian missionary was visiting with remote Inuit (aka, Eskimo) people in the Arctic, and had explained to this particular man that if one believed in Jesus, one would would go to heaven, while those who didn't, would go to hell.

The Inuit asked, "What about all the people who have never heard of your Jesus? Are they all going to hell?'

The missionary explained, "No, of course not. God wants you to have a choice. God is a merciful God, he would never send anyone to hell who'd never heard of Jesus."

The Inuit replied, "So why did you tell me?"

The rather obvious answer to the Inuit's question is this:  "In order to coerce you to join my religion."

In other words, the joke is actually an illustration of the psychologically coercive nature of religion in general and the myth of Hell in particular.  Most people won't see this, however, unless it is pointed out to them.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Respect

One hears a lot of talk about "respect" from the religious, especially when it comes to their religion.  I find that usually they don't really mean that others should respect their beliefs.  What they mean is that those who question their beliefs had better shut up or else.  What they mean is that we had better fear them.  Whenever one of them starts talking about respect, this lack of understanding of the term can usually be sensed by the way in which they use it or by comparing the treatment they are demanding with the treatment they give to other religions or to the non-religious. 

I find that sometimes a good response is to say something along the lines of the following:

"Respect is a two way street.  If you demand respect without giving it, then what you are really doing is demanding fear--just like a common bully."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Lie That Hitler Was an Atheist

I have written at length concerning this most outrageous lie that has come to be circulated in recent years by the supposedly honest, Ten Commandment abiding, Christians.  Deeply ashamed of the crimes committed by their fellow Christians in the Nazi holocaust, many Christians have slipped into denial and are trying to re-write history in order to substitute a lie and blame the whole thing on atheism. 

Central to this claim is their assertion that Hitler was secretly an atheist.  Central to that false claim is the book "Hitler's Table Talk", which allegedly provides transcriptions of private conversations that Hitler had over a series of mealtime conversations between 1941 and 1944.

I have pointed out before that even if every word of that book is taken as absolute truth, it only shows a hostility toward the established christian churches.  It does not show hostility toward Christ or Christianity as Hitler perceived it.  It most definitely does not show that Hitler was an atheist, or even an agnostic.

I recently came across a webpage that lays out the pertinent passages from that book as well as the history of the book.  I heartily recommend that anyone interested in the truth of these matters peruse this webpage.  It explains in succinct manner that these quotations do not remotely support the notions that Hitler was a secularist of any sort or that Nazism was a secular movement of any sort.  It also explains that even the passages critical of established christian churches may have been inserted by Martin Bormann, who edited the first drafts of the notes on which it was based and who, himself, was hostile to the Catholic Church.

Most importantly, the webpage points out that the original German language transcript that was not edited by Bormann does not contain these passages.  The transcript that was edited by Bormann existed only as a single copy in the possession of Swiss collaborator Francois Genoud until 1980.  It is this transcript that allegedly shows Hitler making statements against Christianity.  The man who possessed it privately for years and "translated" it into French, Francois Genoud, went on to fabricate an entire book of Hitler quotes, allegedly made to Bormann, which he claimed to be a "continuation" of the "Table Talk" conversations between Bormann and Hitler in 1945.

In other words, the anti-Christian statements were almost certainly inserted in the text by either Bormann or Genoud.  In any event, hostility toward Christianity certainly is not the same as atheism or secularism, especially given Hitler's other statements concerning the way in which Hitler thought Paul (a Jew) heavily influenced Christianity after Christ's death.  Any anti-Christian statements made by Hitler would have to been seen as criticism of Paul's influence.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Religion as the "Perfection of Narcissism"

Below is a video of part of a talk that Sam Harris gave at the University of Notre Dame.  I found it on YouTube under the title "Sam Harris simply destroys catholicism".  He certainly levels some devastating critiques at Catholicism in the video, but mostly he speaks about the problem of theodicy (the question of why god allows evil) and how the fact that believers are undisturbed by this evil proves their utter lack of empathy and compassion for other people.  This lack of empathy for others combined with the smug self-satisfaction of believers for having been born into the "one true religion" is, as Sam correctly notes, "the perfection of narcissism."

Friday, February 10, 2012

Well, That's Embarrassing

After giving Pat Condell's website a recommendation in my last post, I went back to it and played what seems to be his latest video commentary.  I found, much to my horror, that this video features Pat repeating one of the strawman type arguments made by theocrats in the U.S. as if it were the truth--and worse, mimicking their outrage over this lie that they claim American atheists say but that we don't actually say (except perhaps a few confused atheists who have been in the bible belt too long--so long that they have begun to parrot the bullies who beset them). 

This ridiculous strawman argument is that atheists want religious symbols removed from government building in the U.S. because the symbols hurt our feelings or otherwise offend us.  Frankly, this is so wrong that it is shocking to hear it coming from Pat.  He has always been very insightful in the past.  I can only assume that his comfortable position in a country where secularism is widespread has rendered him ignorant of what it is like to live in the U.S. where almost the entire country is in the grip of religion and where atheists have to fear for their jobs and their physical safety.

First, such displays of religious symbols on government property are permissible under the U.S. Constitution only if the forum is open to displays of all religious viewpoints.  There would be no basis for complaint unless the government officials in charge of the particular property had excluded other religious viewpoints.  So, NO, Pat, this isn't about our feelings being hurt.  It is about enforcing our laws, specifically our Constitution.

Second, the reason our Constitution forbids government endorsement of religion (or the appearance thereof) is that it gives those who are already intolerant and theocratic an excuse and encouragement to be actively bigoted and engage in discrimination or outright attacks against those who don't believe.  This has actually happened to me more than once, Pat, so don't think that I am making this up.  If you doubt me, research it yourself.  I am not the only one who has had such experiences.

Imagine if those intolerant Muslims in England who so frequently cause you to fog up your glasses with heated rhetoric had actually reached such numbers that they were effectively in control of your government.  Imagine some of the things they would do.  Well, that is the situation here in the U.S., Pat, except that the lunatics are "christians".  The only thing we non-believers can do to fight them is insist on strict adherence to the separation of church and state, as provided in our Constitution.

Pat Condell On "Insulting Religion"

A few months ago, Pat Condell posted a video in which he correctly pointed out that he has a right to insult religions that insult him, which almost all of them do--especially Christianity and Islam.  I love Pat's commentaries.  He is almost always absolutely correct.  I highly recommend his website.  Here is the video:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How a Mob Forms

Almost a year ago the Manchester Guardian published a frightening article (republished on Alternet) about the influence of Fox News, which stated that "[o]ne in four Americans believes "most or all" of what's said on Fox News, despite Fox's fabrication of everything from death panels to Climategate."

I have noticed that in study after study of gullibility, pliability, and outright insanity, there seems to be a consistent finding that about a quarter of the test subjects are extremely vulnerable.

The Asch Experiments, studying conformity, the Milgram experiments, studying blind obedience, and data on the incidence of serious mental illness all show around the same percentage of the population is essentially irrational and out of control.  These studies have shown that anywhere from 25 to 35 percent of any population is disturbed in some fashion--simply unable to see or react to reality in a rational manner. 

I have also noticed that many times those who are more rational will go along with, or give undue deference to, whichever person or group frightens them the most.  To my mind, this is a huge moral failure on their part:  doing what is easier rather than what is right.

It has occurred to me that this is how mobs form--they coalesce around the core of scary, out of control people because most other people are scared of them.  They would rather go along to get along and are probably simply happy that they are not the mob's target.  Such people console themselves that the target has "brought this upon him or herself" by not being "smart" enough to go along with the crowd.

What religion and right wing political movements have in common is that they both use the emotionally disturbed and mentally challenged as weapons.  They push the emotional buttons of such people, whip them into a frenzy and then point them toward their political opponents.  

I think that this describes much of what is occurring in American politics today.  The religious and political right are taking advantage of the instinctual, emotional desire present in most people to protect the young.  They convince people that fetuses are actually "babies" and use this instinctual desire to whip them into a moral frenzy that blinds them to other considerations. 

If that doesn't work on particular individuals, then they use racism.  This takes the form of objections to taxes and the size of Government.  Such objections arouse feelings of selfishness and fear of those who are different (usually black people or Hispanics).

Those who object to taxes and "big Government" are almost always completely unperturbed by obscene levels of defense spending and unprovoked wars against those who are "different" (currently, Muslims).  What they object to, in a most vociferous fashion, is spending to help those who are poor.  This is obviously because the poor in the U.S. have historically been black or Hispanic.

Putting aside these political questions, it is useful to be aware of the dynamics of mob formation because, as non-believers, we are uniquely vulnerable to mob action.  Our non-belief gives a ready made weapon to anyone who takes a dislike to us.  Should that person be manipulative and a bit (or a lot) psychopathic, he or she can use this to whip the core of the mob into a frenzy.  If this is done in the workplace, a church, or a school--i.e., a place where the rational must get along with everyone because they are there for the long term--then we can find ourselves the target of an irrational mob before we know it.

If you see evidence that someone is trying to do this to you, you need to take action immediately.  The action needed will vary with the circumstances but can include placating that individual who has targeted you, making friends with other leaders in the group, finding a way to force the troublemaker out, or even leaving the group yourself.  Usually, people don't want to take that last step of leaving, but I have found that whatever the cost of the move is, it will be far less than the cost of staying if all other stratagems have failed or will fail.  And, the sooner one realizes this and makes a diplomatic exit, the better.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Kafkaesque Bullying

By now I am sure almost everyone has heard about the awful treatment received by Jessica Ahlquist in Rhode Island (of all places!) when she agreed to act as the plaintiff in a lawsuit to have a clearly Christian prayer removed from the wall of her public high school.  She has been threatened with all sorts of horrible things.  Not just the usual hellfire and brimstone.  There have been actual threats of rape and other forms of violence.  You have to read it for yourself both because it's hard to believe and because I can hardly stand to think about it, much less repeat it.  Almost needless to say, there has been name calling that would peel the paint off a wall at 30 paces.

Atheist commentators have had a lot to say about it, of course.  Jon Willis' comments are wonderful.  The Friendly Atheist has even set up a scholarship fund for her, and I encourage everyone to contribute.

Some have pointed out how these threats and insults prove the need for anti-bullying laws to protect gays and non-believers from religious bullies.  (Or, more generally, unpopular minorities from being bullied or mobbed by the majority.) 

Tennessee is considering a law that would do just the opposite (no surprise).  It would allow religious based discrimination and bullying as a form of "religious expression".

Opponents of this proposed law frequently cite the case of a young man who had been in a high school near Nashville.  He committed suicide recently as a result of being bullied because he was gay.  His case is just one of many that have followed a similar pattern throughout history, but because it is recent and occurred in the state of Tennessee near its capital city it seems ideal as evidence for the need to stop such religious based bullying.

Supporters of the law that would protect religious based bullying have argued that his suicide was not the result of bullying but was the result of the young man's drug and alcohol problems, which, of course, are blamed on his rejection of god.

There is little doubt in my mind, however, that any alcohol or drug problems this young man had were probably the result of trying to cope with continual bullying.  For the people who bullied him to then blame him for his reactions to the way they treated him is so typical of the way these people think.  As I pointed out before, they will do or say anything and everything to make it appear that their victim is the one with the problem--that he is the one to blame.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Atheism Is Not a Religion III

If you didn't catch Bill Maher's show Real Time on Friday night (February 3, 2012), at the end of his "new rules" segment he had a wonderful "new rule":  "Idiots must stop claiming that atheism is a religion".  Here is the video:


Perhaps the most insightful part of the video occurs at the 1:22 mark where Bill says:

"Now, it's a dodge, of course, straight out of the grand intellectual tradition of 'I know you are, but what am I?'"

Because it reveals what is almost always true of religious arguments:  They are dishonest attempts to dress up reasoning that would be more at home on a kindergarten playground.

See also my previous posts related to this topic:

Atheism Is Not a Religion

Atheism Is Not a Religion II

The Lie that Nazism Was an Atheistic Movement VI

I have written several posts on this particular lie that has become so popular among the religious in recent years.  In my very first post on this topic, I mentioned the fact that some of the countries within the sphere of Nazi influence did much more to resist the implementation of the holocaust than others.  I mentioned that Norway, Denmark, and Bulgaria with their non-Catholic churches refused to go along and effectively prevented the extermination of most of the Jews living in those countries.

I would like to add Greece to this list of places that resisted.  Although the government of Greece was complicit in the Holocaust, the Greek Orthodox Church resisted. 

When the Nazis began trying to round up Greece's Jews, Archbishop Damaskinos Papandreou of Athens formally protested in a letter sent to both the Nazis and the leaders of Greece's wartime collaborationist government.

According to The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, Damaskinos' letter is unique.  No similar document protesting against the Nazis during World War II has come to light in any other European country.

The letter reads, in part:

The Greek Orthodox Church and the Academic World of Greek People Protest against the Persecution... The Greek people were... deeply grieved to learn that the German Occupation Authorities have already started to put into effect a program of gradual deportation of the Greek Jewish community... and that the first groups of deportees are already on their way to Poland... According to the terms of the armistice, all Greek citizens, without distinction of race or religion, were to be treated equally by the Occupation Authorities. The Greek Jews have proven themselves... valuable contributors to the economic growth of the country [and] law-abiding citizens who fully understand their duties as Greeks. They have made sacrifices for the Greek country, and were always on the front lines of the struggle of the Greek nation to defend its inalienable historical rights...
In our national consciousness, all the children of Mother Greece are an inseparable unity: they are equal members of the national body irrespective of religion... Our holy religion does not recognize superior or inferior qualities based on race or religion, as it is stated: 'There is neither Jew nor Greek' and thus condemns any attempt to discriminate or create racial or religious differences. Our common fate both in days of glory and in periods of national misfortune forged inseparable bonds between all Greek citizens, without exemption, irrespective of race...
Today we are... deeply concerned with the fate of 60,000 of our fellow citizens who are Jews... we have lived together in both slavery and freedom, and we have come to appreciate their feelings, their brotherly attitude, their economic activity, and most important, their indefectible patriotism...

Damaskinos went on to publish the letter, even though the local Schutzstaffel commander, J├╝rgen Stroop, threatened to execute him by firing squad. Damaskinos's famous response to him was:

According to the traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church, our prelates are hanged, not shot.  Please respect our traditions!
The Archbishop's brazen reply was sarcasm.  He was referring to the hanging of Patriarch Gregory V of Constantinople by a Turkish mob in 1821, the point being made that the SS commander would act in a similarly barbaric fashion if he were to carry out his threat.

Even more revealing than Damaskinos' formal and public protests were the orders given to the priests under his jurisdiction.  They were quietly told by Damaskinos to distribute Christian baptismal certificates to Jews fleeing the Nazis, thus saving thousands of Jews in and around Athens.  Fortunately, the Jewish community in Greece was so ancient and well-integrated that it was impossible to discern them from Greeks of other religions.  Baptismal certificates were usually sufficient to save them.

Thanks in no small part to Damaskinos' actions, only a very small number of Greek Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

One has to wonder why comparable actions were not taken by the Pope and other religious leaders in Europe at that time.

I find these facts particularly damning in light of the recent efforts by the Catholic Church to re-write history and claim that Hitler was an atheist when, in fact, he was a Catholic--as were huge numbers of those who carried out the Holocaust.  Fully 50% of the Waffen SS were confessing Catholics.  Many, if not most, of the collaborators who did the actual killing were from Poland, Ukraine, and Lithuania, all of which are heavily Catholic.  (Not to mention the horrors perpetrated by the ultra-Catholic regime in Croatia during the war.)  In addition, unlike the Greek Orthodox priests under Damaskinos' jurisdiction, the Catholic priests inside the German Reich did not provide false baptism records to Jews in their communities.  Instead, they actually opened their records to the Nazis so that they could discover which of the baptized Catholics had Jewish ancestry.

In light of all these facts, it is nothing short of appalling for the church to try to paint the Nazis as atheists.  To do so is comparable to blaming the Holocaust on the Jews--especially when one considers that atheists were among the very first of the Nazis' victims.

Just a few years ago, Pope Benedict XVI, who was himself a member of the Hitler Youth, repeated this outrageous, slanderous calumny.  I would like to reproduce here a letter to the editor of a newspaper.  The letter was written by a contemporary of the Pope soon after this despicable incident.  The author of the letter was himself a German who had been a member of the Hitler Youth during the war:

"According to Reuters, Benedict XVI recently claimed that 'the brutal extermination of Jews by the 'godless' Nazi regime would never be forgotten or denied.' This statement is a blatant falsehood.
As a former member of the Hitler Youth organization, the Pope must have been aware that Hitler considered himself a messenger of God who was sent to rid the world of the "Christ killer" Jews and that Pius XII signed a Concordat with the Nazi regime that gave the Roman Catholic church special rights and privileges. He also must be aware that in religion classes in German schools, Roman Catholic priests told pupils not to feel sorry for the Jews since they deserved what they were getting because "they killed our Lord Jesus."
To now call the Nazi regime "godless" is dishonest and disappointing, coming from a Pope who is expected to tell only the truth."
Hitler was not an atheist, and the Nazis were not godless.  The Pope knows this, as does everyone who knows the facts concerning this period in history.  Furthermore, the Pope's personal history makes this knowledge undeniable and proves quite clearly that he is a manipulative liar and a shameless propagandist and scapegoater. 

In fact, his attempt to rewrite history and use atheists as scapegoats is so completely contrary to the facts that it can only be seen as an implicit admission of the Church's guilt.  After all, the innocent don't need to tell outrageous lies and pin the blame on innocent parties.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Beyond the Universe There Is Nothing"

I stumbled upon this quote at an interesting site called futilitycloset.com.  The site seems to have nothing to do with beliefs either way; it's just a compendium of miscellaneous quotes, facts and etc.  I liked it so much I thought others might like it too.

George F. Spencer of Lyndon Center, Vt., died in 1908 at age 83. His epitaph is inscribed on the sides of a granite monument:

"Beyond the universe there is nothing and within the universe the supernatural does not and cannot exist. Of all deceivers who have plagued mankind, none are so deeply ruinous to human happiness as those impostors who pretend to lead by a light above nature. Science has never killed or persecuted a single person for doubting or denying its teachings, and most of these teachings have been true; but religion has murdered millions for doubting or denying her dogmas, and most of these dogmas have been false."

(From Charles L. Wallis, Stories on Stone, 1954)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Who's Crazy?

I have written before of the accusation that we long term non-believers have so often heard that we are "crazy" for not believing.  I have come up with a rather aggressive reply.  Speaking to the believer who says non-believers are crazy say:

"You have an invisible, psychopathic friend with limitless magic powers and you think I'm crazy?"

If you want to be a bit more polite, then you can add:

"because I refuse to believe in invisible things without evidence?"

This, however, will usually lead to a repeat of their specious claim that the existence of the universe if proof that god exists.  When that happens, just refer to the arguments I have made about this trite bit of circular reasoning.

Does the Universe's Existence Prove God's?

Does the Universe's Existence Prove God's?  Part II

Does the Universe's Existence Prove God's?  Part III

Is the Earth/Universe "Just Right" For Us?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Party of Theocracy

In case anyone has any doubt about the fact that the Republican Party has become the party of theocracy, The Secular Coalition For America has released its 2011 Congressional Report Card.  It can be accessed at the link below.  Please read and send the link to your friends, especially if you have friends who are still in denial about the un-American nature of the current Republican Party.

http://secular.org/content/scorecards/Congress/2011/Summary

Sunday, January 15, 2012

School Prayer and the Secret Ballot

I have written several posts on the subject of school prayer because I know it embodies so many of the ills of religion and reveals so much of the oppressive, totalitarian intent in the religious mind.  One point I have made repeatedly is that the school prayer scenario is inherently coercive, and it is precisely for this reason that the religious are so insistent upon it.

One tactic that non-believers can employ when this topic comes up is to compare it to other situations where coercion would not be acceptable--even to the religious.  (I must admit that as I write those last few words, it occurs to me that there are those among the religious who would find no level of coercion to be unacceptable.  One need only read accounts of life in John Calvin's Geneva to see a well-documented example of this.)

A key to dealing with the self-centered is to help them with their lack of empathy by positing analogous situations that would cause them to feel imposed upon.  The vast majority of people in modern, democratic societies would be aghast at the suggestion that the secret ballot be abolished.  They understand perfectly well that if they were to be forced to vote publicly there would be negative consequences.  They could lose friends or even their livelihood.  Elections would soon be controlled by those with the clout and resources to impose punishments on those who didn't vote as requested and give rewards to those who did.

In fact, before the implementation of the secret ballot, this is precisely the sort of thing that happened.  The secret ballot was adopted specifically to ensure that voters record sincere choices by forestalling attempts to influence the voter by intimidation or bribery.  The explicit purpose of the system is to achieve the goal of political privacy.  Provisions are made at the polling place for the voters to record their preferences in secret.  The ballots are specifically designed to eliminate bias and to prevent anyone from linking voter to ballot.  Partisans are forbidden from engaging in "campaign activities" in or near the voting place for the same reasons.

The secret ballot is a comparatively recent innovation (as, indeed, is the widespread popularity of democracy).  In the United States, most states moved to secret ballots in the only last years of the 19th Century.  The first President of the United States elected completely by secret ballot was president Grover Cleveland in 1892.  Yet, the secret ballot is such an obvious necessity for the proper functioning of democracy that most people are quite surprised when they first learn that it is of recent origin.

Because of its obvious necessity for the proper functioning of democracy, the secret ballot has become sacrosanct in most countries and in the minds of virtually every person in the sphere of Western Civilization's influence.  A politician who campaigned on a platform of doing away with the secret ballot would be lucky to attract any supporters outside of his or her immediate family.  One might as well campaign against democracy itself.

Yet, this is precisely the type of thing that politicians are doing when they campaign on a platform supporting prayer in public schools.  Organized prayer sessions in public schools force students to publicly declare their religious affiliation in most cases.  Non-believers and those in minority religions cannot participate without violating their religious conscience.  In other words, it is precisely those most in need of the law's protection who are forced to publicly declare their minority status by organized school prayer.  Their only alternative is to allow their religious freedom to be violated and conform to the expectations of the majority.

So, the next time the topic of school prayer comes up, make the point that religious preferences, like political preferences, are private and must remain so if we are to truly have freedom and democracy.  Point out that the purposes of the secret ballot, which the religious person almost certainly understands and supports, apply with equal validity to prayer.

Allowing the state to publicly point out members of religious minorities to the peers with whom they must spend every day is analogous to the state posting copies of each voter's ballot (with the voter's name on it) in his or her place of work.  It is an extreme invasion of privacy and clearly has no purpose except to use mob violence (or the threat thereof) to coerce conformity.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Perfect Example

On this most recent Thanksgiving a lunatic Christian troll came across some of my blog posts and left some very typical comments.  A couple of the comments were just very straightforward attempts at lies, to which I gave quick and easy replies.

One of the comments, though, was such a typical example of "befuddle them with bullshit" argumentation so often employed by the religious that I just shook my head.  After a while though, I decided it was best to take this bull(shit) by the horns--in no small part because this is exactly the sort of reply one might get from the religious in response to some of the points I have made here in my blog.

The comment was:
"Religion in which God is worshiped and not the self = narcissism disorder lol? What a bad atheist argument. No, that's humanistic atheism. Oh and, the high scholars of the DSM removed narcissism disorder as a mental disorder, guess why?

Atheism truly is a destructive lie that makes you morally backwards. So is the mindset of a narcissist."
First, note that this is a good example of the type of "so full of mistakes, I don't know where to start refuting it" religious argument.  Often in such case, the first thing to do is simply state this fact in order to give yourself a little time to begin processing the cascade of misdirection, mischaracterization, and mistakes of logic.

Now, let's take this nonsense one piece at a time.

The very first thing the commenter did was to confuse two different definitions of narcissism.  There is the classical term "narcissism" describing someone in love with himself as was Narcissus of greek mythology.  On the other hand there is clinical narcissism of modern psychology describing someone who presents a false, inflated self to the world in order to bolster his or her damaged ego.  These two things may sometimes overlap, but they are not the same.

It was, of course, the false self-image of clinical narcissism that my posts on narcissism were about.  I made that abundantly clear.  The false self-image that narcissists present to the world (and to themselves) encompasses religion as narcissism.  The false self-image of the religious narcissist includes the delusion that the religious narcissist is in possession of ultimate knowledge and is a friend and confidant of the most powerful being in the universe.

When one encounters this sort of argument, it is often difficult to determine whether the religious person is deliberately trying to be dishonest or is simply stupid--or some combination of the two.  I think it is usually a combination of the two--in a sense.

I find that usually the best explanation of the phenomenon is that the person is so driven by his emotional need to refute and belittle the "evil atheist" that he or she doesn't really take the time to make sure he or she is correct.  Trying to both refute and belittle one's opponent at the same time usually results in this sort of strawman argument where the religious person confuses the different meanings of the terms being used in an attempt to make fun of the non-believer.

As I mentioned before, this is their mistaken version of the reductio ad absurdum argument.  Reductio ad absurdum refers to an argument pointing out an inherent contradiction in the argument being refuted.  It does not consist of making fun of the argument being refuted.

Next, we have the assertion that "humanistic atheism" is narcissism.  This is another strawman argument, in which the religious person misrepresents what humanism and atheism are.  Humanism is a philosophy that holds that the best way for humanity to know itself and better itself is to study itself and learn the truth about itself and that such study will lead to true and proper ethics.  Or, as defined by the website of the American Humanist Association:

"Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity."
It is hardly narcissism for people to conclude that they need to know themselves and rely only on facts when determining what is real.  And, atheism, of course, is simply a lack of belief in a god or gods.  More than anything else, humanism stands for the proposition that humans can seek to better themselves without the guidance or threats of a god.  It is a response to those who maintain that this is impossible because they think humans are irredeemably evil without a god.

Finally, we have a blatant lie.  Narcissistic Personality Disorder has not been removed as a diagnosis from the DSM.  Recent headlines suggest that it might be at some time in the future because the American Psychiatric Association is considering a proposal to re-write the DSM.  The proposal does not, however, truly remove Narcissistic Personality Disorder, rather it proposes a more amorphous category, which would include Narcissistic Personality Disorder as well as others considered to be separate disorders currently, as a more flexible diagnosis.

Not only is it a lie to say that this has already happened, it is also a lie to imply--as does the troll's comment--that this change is in any way related to religion, atheism, or my assertions that religion should be considered a form of or symptom of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.   Instead, the proposal grew out of clinical experience in which it was seen that patients were often diagnosed with more than one of the current categories of personality disorder.  Excessive numbers of co-diagnoses indicated that the present categories overlapped too often to be considered truly separate in all cases.

The troll apparently googled the name of the disorder and came across an article such as this confused one in The New York Times from more than a year ago.  The third paragraph of the article makes the mistake of saying that this change "has" occurred, implying that it is a done deal, but also says that DSM-5 will not be published until 2013, which, of course, means that the change has not actually occurred yet.

Further down in the article (much further than the troll actually read, apparently) it becomes clear that the proposed changes are actually quite controversial in the community of mental health professionals.  It is not clear whether these proposed changes will, in fact, be adopted.  The troll, however, was not seeking the truth.  He was seeking a cudgel he could use to attack the "evil atheist".  He skimmed just enough of the article he found to deceive himself into thinking that he could make an argument based on it.

The great Giordano Bruno captured the essence of such hideous fools perfectly when he wrote:

"For they dispute not in order to find or even to seek Truth, but for victory, and to appear the more learned and strenuous upholders of a contrary opinion."

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Book Review: The Annointed

A couple of days ago, The New York Times published a review of a new book entitled "The Annointed".  The book, by Randall J. Stevens and Karl W. Giberson, examines the god experts in the evangelical fold who have been annointed by the others as their intellectual leaders as they try to undo the enlightenment.  I have often mentioned that many modern religious types want to drag us all back to the Dark Ages.  This claim is seen by many, who lack my experience with religion, as alarmism or even paranoia.

This book should help set the record straight.  Many religious people do, indeed, want to eradicate the enlightenment.  The book also gives us hope by showing how the movement is, as yet, confused in its goals.

When this posts was originally published, I provided a link to a re-publication of the book review, which was written by Molly Worthen.  The re-publication was in the Rick Ross website.  The site has since changed its name and can now be found at www.cultnews.com.  I highly recommend this site for its content on cults--including those that are not often seen as cults because of their sheer size.  (The original site now publishes casino reviews, so don't go there.)

(Post amended Sept. 20, 2013.)