Friday, March 29, 2013

Happy Ostara!

It's about time for the annual celebration of Ostara, or as the Christians like to call it, Easter. Keeping consistent with the theft of Christmas, Easter is yet another stolen holiday. Christians... They just can't come up with good holidays on their own.

We all recognize brightly colored eggs and the bunnies as obvious symbols of Easter. But what do they have to do with the church's official stance that Easter is about the resurrection of their Christ? The answer is, not a damn thing! The true origins of Easter do not stem from fairytale of a man being tortured to death and raising from the grave just days later. No, despite what Christianity says, zombie Jesus is not the reason for this season.

The celebrations actually stem from the pagan celebration of the Vernal Equinox. This is the day that the days and nights are once again equal in length (as opposed to the longer nights in Winter), as well as marking the first day of Spring. Nature has long been important in the Pagan traditions, and this time of year was no exception. In fact, the 'new life' of the greening plants was revered. This was the time to celebrate Ostara. (Easter moves about fair bit due to the way the date is calculated and the way the days of the week fall that year.)

The name Ostara comes from the Germanic goddess of Spring called Eostre. But remember the significance of the new life that was of quite import to the Pagans. Well, Ostara was more than just a Spring festival... It was also a fertility festival. This made this time of year a time for planting seeds since this was thought to be the most fertile time of the year. The fertility symbolism is where we find the most recognizable symbols of Easter...

I'm sure we've all heard the phrase 'breeding like rabbits'. This well known idiom is in reference to the quickness with which rabbit can reproduce. The fact that these hare's could conceive while still pregnant with a litter was not lost on the Pagans, who would use the hare as a symbol of their fertility festival.

Then there are the brightly colored eggs that little children find and place in baskets. Eggs in general are another obvious fertility symbol. The painting and chocolate did come later to make money and make the holiday now known as Easter more appealing to kids. But one thing that can easily be seen is that Christianity stole the most favored parts of Easter from the Pagans, just like they stole the most favored parts of Christmas.

But what about the Jesus story? Surely that's original. Yeah, about that... Let me tell you about the pre-Christian god Mithra. Mithra was a Persian god that was said to have been born on the Winter Solstice, and resurrected in the Spring. Sounds familiar doesn't it. In fact, the concept of resurrection was fairly common with various other Pagan gods. Given that this was a time of birth and rebirth, this isn't really that hard to understand.

So with these facts in mind, don't let Christians tell you that Easter is all about Jesus. Armed with these facts, you will know better. Ostara is the original Spring celebration, and the source of the customs so many enjoy. So ditch the praising of some Jewish zombie, and celebrate the wonder of the arrival of Spring.

-Brain Hulk

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Anti-equality fail

I'm sure many of us have seen our facebook friends and followers profile pictures changing to equality symbols is support of marriage equality. While it's nice to see a lot of people supporting the common sense of equal rights, it has also caused those that somehow have an issue with equality to counter with their regular nonsense. The most common one that I've seen has been a countering of the '=' with '+'.

The explanation is that the the equals sign is made up of two identical shapes that are the same orientation. However, they are forever separated.

Conversely, they claim that the cross (looks more like an addition symbol to me), is the union of two different orientations together as one. And then it is finished up with the meaningless yet expected 'defend marriage'. A rather odd statement since marriage isn't under attack!

But a quick look at the image shows that they really didn't think it through at all. Not a surprise really, but the attempt at clever word play only goes to make this fail even more.

Okay, so the equals sign is presented as being two bars of the same orientation, and forever apart. It's not hard to see that the 'orientation' claim is made in reference to sexual orientation. But it doesn't just say what they think it means. The intention was to push a representation of gay and gay forever apart. But that's just one of the possibilities. But using their criteria, it could equally mean straight and straight forever apart. Not whet they intended, I'm sure. But here are the possibilities the text allows.

• Gay and gay, forever apart
• Straight and straight, forever apart
• Bisexual and bisexual, forever apart
• Asexual and asexual, forever apart

As you can see, the attempt the single our homosexuals exclusively fails miserably. The image actually disallows the union of a pair of ANY sexual orientation... Including the straight man/woman relationship that they want to force all into.

Now lets take a look at the plus symbol. They describe it as the fusion of two different orientations into one (to symbolize marriage). But it obvious that they didn't think that wording through for half a second. I can only thing that they said, the '+' looks sort of like a cross and will work well in a facebook =/+ avatar war. That is just a lazy concept and lazy application. But the concept also fails, and does so miserably.

Remember, these are the people that are only in favor of straight man + straight woman. Those are both the same (sexual) orientation, yet they claim two different are what is needed... So what possibilities does that leave us?

• Straight man/woman + gay man/woman
• Straight man/woman + bi man/woman
• Straight man/woman + asexual man/woman
• Gay man/woman + bi man/woman
• Gay man/woman + asexual man/woman
• Bi man/woman + asexual man/woman

What that leaves us with is plenty of combination, but with the only combination they are in favor of is conspicuously absent. Like I said, failure of concept and application.

There is a second way to look at the chart though. You could say that the equals sign is made of two shapes that are the same, but forever separated. They could represent two men or two women... Which it is doesn't really matter. But then they could say that the addition symbol is the combination of two different shapes to form a binding union of one shape. Man + woman = marriage, if you like. But there's a big problem with that as well.

The addition symbol is NOT made of two different shapes. It's made of the same two shapes as the equals symbol. It's just that one is rotated 90°. If the shapes are meant to represent sexes, the '+' would actually be the fusion of two men or two women. That could be either union in marriage, or even sexual intercourse. Yeah... they are REALLY against those. So if that was the attempted meaning, we find ourselves once again faced with their failure.

Finally, lets take a step back to realize that while the '=' equality symbol is being used to represent equality of sexual orientation, that isn't it's only meaning. An equals symbol is used to represent the word equality.In whole, this symbol is used to promote equality for race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability, age, etc. Yet as soon as it's used for the promotion of marriage equality, the Bible gang has to try to tear it down in totality. Thankfully, they failed as their explanations often do. But it sickens me that someone would wish to destroy a symbol f equality based only on one usage, if at all.

So as a straight married atheist who loves his wife, I implore you to support marriage equality, and equality in every sense really. And if you see this ridiculous image pop up on your newsfeed, please do share this link with them so they can see how much of a fail their =/+ war really is.


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Monday, March 25, 2013

Forgiveness? More like blackmail!

Well, well, well... Billy Graham delivers yet more entertainment yet again. Lets take a look at his flawless delivery of yet more terrible advice...
With God's help, we can forgive
-Billy Graham

DEAR BILLY GRAHAM: How can you forgive someone who’s really hurt you, and yet they don’t even realize it? My business partner was lazy and it eventually destroyed our company, but he still blames it all on the economy. I’d be a hypocrite if I said I’d forgiven him, because I can’t. — J.G.

DEAR J.G.: Forgiving someone who has deeply hurt us — no matter what they did — is one of the hardest things some of us will ever do. It’s so hard, in fact, that I don’t believe we can really do it without God’s help. But with God’s help we can — and I pray you’ll discover this truth for yourself as you learn to forgive this person.

What is the key? The key is to understand how God has forgiven us. We don’t deserve to be forgiven; we’ve rebelled against God and turned our backs on him, and there’s no reason why he should forgive us for our sins. Even if we think we’re fairly good, we still aren’t worthy of God’s forgiveness. As the Bible says, “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10).

And yet God reaches out and offers to forgive us — not because we deserve it, but simply because of his grace and mercy and love. His grace is so great that he sent his son into the world to pay the price for our redemption. If God forgave us in spite of our sin, shouldn’t we forgive others the same way? The Bible says, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).

Don’t hold on to your bitterness and anger any longer — for they’ll become a poison to your soul. Instead, ask God to forgive you for your own sins — and then ask him to help you forgive this person and put the past behind you.

 Wow! That really is a quite amazing and absurd statement there Billy. You really don't think people can forgive without God? Well, I'm living proof that you are dead wrong. I've been wronged. I've held a grudge. But far more often than not, I've forgiven. Something that Mr. Graham claims shouldn't be possible for an atheist like myself. So tell me, how is it possible that I am able to forgive when you claim it to be an act only capable to those in tune with the divine? The answer is simple really... He's just plain wrong! Forgiveness is an act of maturity, not divinity. We all have very real feelings and emotions. We can either allow them to help guide us and our decisions, including forgiving those that deserve it, or we can try to hold every tiny thing someone's ever done over their head like the God of Abraham.

Then there's that concept again that 'we don't deserve to be forgiven', that 'we rebelled against God', and that 'we don't deserve God's forgiveness'... Tell me again what a newborn baby has ever done to 'rebel against God' or even have a need to be forgiven in the first place? What about someone like me who lives a good and honest life? What offense have I or a newborn ever committed that would be worthy of an eternal grudge? Yet again, the disgusting Christian doctrine that all are born dirty and deprived rears it's ugly head. It's odd how this religion that sells itself at being about forgiveness and love, it really amazingly judgmental and decides to hold humanity at it's lowest. This is a true disservice to humanity, and the goodness that oh so many of us posses.

Christians often say that God wants to forgive us. So why doesn't he? It really is simple. If he wants to, and can tell if we are deserving, there is no need for a test. No need for a barbaric and unnecessary human sacrifice. They like to talk of Jesus' death as this amazing gift, when in reality it's just proof that Christianity isn't far removed from the previous cults of sacrifice and tribal behavior that it pretends to be so similar to. Christianity is not a divine and glorious revelation, but a rather primitive belief system for primitive people. Yet you have spin doctors that have tried to present Christianity as a glorious and transcendent vision, and somehow actually got people to buy it.

Then there's this gem... 'If God forgave us in spite of our sin, shouldn't we forgive others the same way?' I certainly hope not! I feel that it's actually a very good thing that people don't tend to 'forgive' like God does. If they did it would be a pretty horrible thing. What if someone told you that they wanted to forgive you for hitting their car. But, to gain that forgiveness you must agree to be their slave for the rest of your life. If you don't agree, he'll have no choice but to lock you in his basement until you die. Would you call that forgiveness? I wouldn't, but that's exactly what Christianity tries to sell as forgiveness. The offer is that God wants to forgive you (even when you are guilty of nothing), BUT in order to be forgiven you must accept a blood sacrifice and everything that comes with it. Don't, and the price is eternal torture.

That's not forgiveness, that's blackmail! How is that any different than a P.I. dangling compromising photos in front of you and offering to give them to you and destroy the negatives? Only for a price of course... Pay up, or I'll give the images to your boss, wife, news, etc... Pay up or face the consequences. That's the same offer Christianity makes. Pay up, or be punished. That is not how forgiveness works. Forgiveness doesn't require payment. The only side effects of not being forgiven are avoidance or the holding of a grudge. Real forgiveness is selfless. What Christianity offers is not. Worship me or be destroyed... Does that sound selfless or loving to you? I should hope not. So the next time someone tells you about the 'religion of love and forgiveness', remember the truth. You can be a far more moral and forgiving person by NOT following the Christian example.


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Friday, March 22, 2013

Taking liberties with religious liberties

Remember the post where I tore apart a chain email attributed to Ben Stein? Well, I actually sent it out to everyone else that was on the email chain that I received. Surprisingly, one person actually replied. Less surprisingly, they replied with a poorly reasoned and poorly researched argument. You have to give them the fact that they're consistent at least...

This person attempted to argue that people's religious rights are being infringed upon, and that President Obama is doing so worse than anyone. That's quite a strong statement, so you'd expect some examples to back it up. So what was on offer? Oh, only the claim that healthcare law requires religious institutions to cover birth-control; which is contrary to their beliefs. You know, if the healthcare law did this, I might be inclined to agree with him. However, there's just one teeny tiny insignificant point to remember... Religious institutions are exempt from this requirement! Had this email been received around the time when this fact wasn't spread far and wide yet, I could maybe just shrug my shoulders and assume that he just didn't do any research. But that wasn't the case. He makes this argument months after this exemption becoming common knowledge. Because of this I can on;y assume that he's the Faux News type that simply repeats whatever tripe fits with his preconceived notions and refuses to listen to or ignores anything else. Such a sad state of affairs...

I was fully anticipating this person to come back with the 'Hobby Lobby argument', but he instead opted to sulk off into the darkness. But that does raise the question of if Hobby Lobby had a case when they argued that they should also be eligible for the exception. They have very religious owners, and claimed that should mean that they could opt-out of the health care requirements as well. The government decided, and I fell correctly, that they were not eligible. It doesn't matter what the owners believe, since they are not a religious organization. Because of this fact, they must fulfill the healthcare code as prescribed.

I'm sure that some would still try and argue that this violates the owner's beliefs, and it may be true that they feel ill toward birth control. Well, I'd tell them that if they don't like birth control, don't use it. Simple as that! Some would argue that employers should have veto rights for any 'moral reasons'. This is a dangerous idea that would actually serve to trample the rights of others in favor of the employers personal views. What if a company was owned by a Jehovah's Witness? Should they be allowed to project their beliefs and disallow the coverage of a non Jehovah's Wittiness employee's life saving blood transfusion. Should the employers private view actually force an employee to choose to pay for something that should be covered out of pocket, less they die?

No, this argument is not one for protecting the religious rights of the business owner, but a wish for them to be legally permitted to force their beliefs on the entirety of their staff. In my opinion, that would be a much larger cause for concern.

Another case where local Christians were raising a fuss over a claim of  religious liberties being violated was the fight for marriage equality. The complaint was that legalizing same-sex marriages would infringe of their religious rights by forcing churches to marry people against the church's beliefs. Wrong! If the bill actually forced churches to do this, they would actually be correct. Forcing a church to marry a same-sex couple when same-sex unions are against that church's beliefs would be a violation. But there is a very important factor at play here as well. As with the healthcare law, the marriage bill exempted religious institutions from marrying anyone against the will or beliefs of the church. So we again find no violation, and only the will of the religious to impose their beliefs on others.

Then there's the more common examples of Christians crying foul when a painting of Jesus is removed from a school, prayer banner removed, Ten Commandments removed from a court house, or some other blatant church/state violation. It still amazes me that the most populous religion in the USA is always the one claiming oppression. Yet when you actually examine their claims you find the ugly truth. The realization that it's not actually about protecting their rights (which aren't being violated), and actually the unashamed will to force their beliefs on everyone else. In my opinion, that is incredibly selfish and much closer to religious oppression than anything they claim.


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Monday, March 18, 2013

Bad advice Bill

The Sunday paper brings yet more bad advice from our old friend Billy Graham. This time he actually answers two questions in the Q&A column that our local paper publishes. Lets take a look at them one at a time...

Only God can keep us steady in the midst of life's storms

Q: We have two small boys, and we worry about the world they're going to be facing when they grow up -- a bad economy, wars, a breakdown in morals, and so on. What can we do to help prepare them for such a scary future? -- Mrs. A.M.

A: The best thing you can do is to provide them with a solid foundation of faith -- faith in God, faith in Jesus Christ, and faith in God's Word, the Bible.

After all, every generation faces challenges; the world has seldom been a peaceful or easy place to live. By the time they're grown, your sons may have to face challenges that aren't even on the horizon right now. What will keep them steady in the midst of life's storms? What will give them the moral and spiritual strength they'll need? Only God can do that -- and He will, as they learn to put their trust in Him and be guided by His Word.

Teach your sons -- simply but clearly -- that God not only exists, but also that He loves them and wants to help them. Teach them, too, about prayer, and about Jesus Christ and what He did for us by His death and resurrection. Teach them, as well, the importance of the Bible to guide them through life. (Your local Christian bookstore can suggest a Bible storybook for children.)

Above all, ask God to help you be an example to your children of what it means to follow Jesus. Your words to them are important, but so is your example. God's will -- for both you and your children -- is that "you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe" (Philippians 2:15).
Ah, where to start... How about with the questioner. Yes, the economy isn't great, but it's getting better. Sometimes the economy is better than other times, but that's a shared issue we all have to deal with. Wars are certainly nothing new either. Just about every generation has been witness to war in some way or another. Breakdown in morality? How so? Was it a breakdown in morality when 'blacks' fought for and gained equal rights? Was it a breakdown in morality when women gained the right to vote? Do you consider it a breakdown in morality now that 'gays' are finally gaining the equal rights they have always deserved and are also being allowed to marry in some states? Is it a breakdown in morality that bullying is finally beginning to be taken seriously? Is the dropping homicide rate a sign of moral breakdown? In my opinion, morality is gaining stronger overall, not weaker.

So, what's Billy's answer? The same answer he gives to everything... you need more Jesus. But this is far from good advice. The lady questioner is worried about the economy, so does it make sense to push a religion who's churches often expect you to donate generously to the church? Wars? Religions have been behind, or heavily involved in  most of the conflicts that have happened throughout history. Breakdown of morality? Religions seldom have much room to speak on morality. Christianity is no exception. No real issue with slavery, misogynistic, stoning disobedient kids to death, demanding genocides, death to homosexuals, selling daughters, offering daughters up for rape, forcing women to marry their rapist... And the list goes on and on.

Furthermore, Billy (and Christianity) says that you are powerless without God/Jesus. In my opinion, that is horrible advice for someone who is worried about their children facing a potentially difficult future. If you are worried about your children facing a difficult future, you want them to feel empowered, not powerless. Yet Graham is teaching that the exact opposite of what they need to hear. That they are powerless without divine guidance. However, I would tell you that most people are stronger and capable of more than they may personally believe. When someone gets a promotion and gives God the credit, they are selling the work they did short. They got that promotion on their own merit, and need to realize that. My advice to Mrs. A.M. would be for her kids to get as much education as they can. To stay strong, determined and work hard. Through that hard work and determination, they will find the recipe for success, not through deferring to the will of divine guidance that will never come.

The hard questions in science will be solved through hard work. The big medical advances will be made through hard work. If they start a business, it will be through hard work. If they work their way up in a company, it will be through hard work. Hard work that they put in and expended the effort toward. So, do not hang your hopes on the false hope that a god will take care of everything. Rather, believe in yourself instead of a god, and your future will be all the better for it.
Q: I've gotten involved in a ministry that our church has started to prisoners in our local jail, but I honestly wonder if we're doing any good. Just holding a chapel service once a week doesn't seem like much. Am I wrong? -- F.N.

A: Over the years, I've received countless letters from prisoners, and I want to assure you that what your church is doing is important. God may open up additional opportunities as time goes on, but thank Him for giving you this opportunity, and ask Him to help you use it wisely.

Remember, many of those you see every week have never heard the Gospel before, and have had nothing to do with church or Christians. Some, however, come from Christian homes, and even now their loved ones are praying for them. But whatever their background, they all need the new life that comes only from knowing Christ. Make Him the center of your work, and ask God to use your time there to point others to Jesus.

Do you remember Jesus' parable of the seed and the sower? (You can find it in Luke 8:4-15.) The farmer in Jesus' parable sowed seed throughout his field, and not all of it sprouted and grew. But some of it did -- and the same is true when we spread the "seed" of God's Word. God has promised, "My word... will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire" (Isaiah 55:11).
 Seriously?! 'Many of those you see every week have never heard the Gospel before, and have had nothing to do with church or Christians'. That has to quite frankly be one of the most absurd claims I've ever heard! How does he expect that these people had nothing 'to do' with Christians when at least 78.4% of Americans are Christians? But what about the religiosity of inmates. The statistics vary, but a 2012 study found that 66.3% of inmates are Christian. A 1997 study put it at about 80% Christian. Both studies used quite different methodologies,  but one thing that is clear is that the majority of inmates are Christian, and most of the rest belong to different religions. In fact, the 1997 study found that only 0.2% of inmates were atheists. The 2012 study placed 10.6% under 'no religious preference', but does not go further to divide that between atheists and those that are spiritual, or religious but don't subscribe to an organized form. So Billy, your claim is outright folly.

Next you must consider that the Christian promise is not a good tool for rehabilitating criminals. By telling inmates that any 'sin' can be forgiven, you are taking away any reason to become reformed. Why change their ways if they can always be forgiven anyway? Our criminal justice system has problems in it, and I feel that the religious influence is one that has left us with such a poor recidivism rate in America. We can expect that 67% of prisoners will be re-arrested, while 52% would be re-incarcerated. Meanwhile, the less religious country of Norway has a rate of 20%.  As you can see, more Christianity does not lead to safer conditions, or more repentant prisoners.

I hope I have illustrated that God is not what is needed to get through tough times, or the reformation of prisoners. So work hard, believe in yourself, and push for real criminal justice reform. Most inmates are already Christian, so more Jesus isn't going to change them, just as Jesus isn't going to bring the first questioner's children success. Hopefully this sense of personal responsibility will God is the last thing these people need.


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Sunday, March 17, 2013

The good news?

It never seems to fail... Whenever the door to door religion salesmen come knocking, I'm just not home. Unlike most that want to avoid them, I would actually like to explain the errors of their flawed arguments. Sadly, they either come when only my wife is home, or when we are both out. The latter was the case yesterday. We got back to find one of their senseless flyers stuffed in our screen door. Since I keep missing them, I am now left responding digitally instead... so lets get started!

First I must take issue with the need to proselytize door-to-door as they do. One thing that seems to be consistent with these incessant salesmen (well, they're sometimes women as well, which highlights their ignorance of their own scripture) is the need to tell you about the 'good news'. Yes, they start to tell you about Jesus and Heaven like it's some brand new information that no one has ever heard before. Guess what, going door-to-door asking people if they've heard about Christianity makes as much sense as walking into a computer lab and asking if they've heard of Google. We've all heard about it. Be it from family, friends, church, etc. Christianity is not some new revelation, and your sect isn't any more special.

By going door-to-door as you are, you are only annoying those trying to sleep in, spreading very old 'news', and stroking your own egos. It is also a rather wasteful and counterproductive thing to do. Rather than doing the equivalent of asking Civil War reenactors if they've heard of Gettysburg, why not do something positive and productive? These leaflets are nothing more than a waste of paper and ink that will either wind up in people's trash or recycling without the majority even being read. So the time and expense of creating and distributing these materials is wasted. Why not donate the resources to the Red Cross? Instead of going door-to-door, why not organize a food drive instead? If your true intentions are to do good, I can tell you that you are failing at that mission.

Okay, now on to the leaflet...

What I received was in two parts; a small flyer telling me 'How to get to Heaven', and a smaller pamphlet with other silly claims that only make any sense at all if you already believe (further highlighting the futility of this practice of door-to-door proselytizing). Let's start with the four point 'How to get to Heaven' flyer...

1). We are all sinners. Lovely way to start off a conversation. How would you like it if you went to a gathering after work and when people walked up to talk said that you were a disgusting and terrible person before asking how your day at the office was? Would you carry on that conversation? Would you view this person as loving and compassionate? I should hope not! But that's what you're doing and how you're asking people to view you. In fact, Christianity as a whole continues this ugly path. Christianity says that everyone is born dirty, terrible, disgusting sinners that are deserving of eternal fire and torment for the penalty of simply being born. Even innocent newborns that have literally done nothing more than eat, sleep and poop. Then Christianity turns around and tries to claim that it is compassionate and loving because they want to try and 'save' you from that lake of fire. No, Christianity is not as compassionate as it would like to think it is. You reduce life to a prison, while I embrace it. So please, carry on claiming that atheism makes life meaningless, when Christianity is the one actually claiming all lives start out horrible and worthy of punishment...

2) There is a penalty for sin! Actually no, not there isn't. The important part to realize is that there is no 'sin' to begin with. Sure, there is right and wrong, but no sin or eternal sin. When someone claims to hold both the disease and the cure, you better take notice! Christianity claims that there is this terrible 'disease' of sin. Then, rather conveniently, it also claims to hold the one and only cure for this blight. Trouble is, all we have are outstanding claims, and nothing to back them up. So this claim is as meaningless to me, as Mormonism's claim of Joseph Smith's seer stone and golden plates are to you.

3) Christ died for your sin! Please prove sin, and also that Jesus (who's existence also isn't confirmed) died for them. Furthermore, why glorify human sacrifice? Isn't that rather barbaric and speak volumes of the primitive people who wrote the text that you so glorify? Some will claim that Jesus had to die to wash away the sins of humanity. But why? You also claim to have an omniscient and omnipotent god. such a being doesn't have to do anything. If I were that god, rather than resorting to ritual sacrifice, I would look into the 'hearts' of all to derive who is worthy, and who isn't. Far more loving, and bringing us to point four...

4) You must ask Jesus to save you! Amazingly, Christians today largely miss how flawed this proposed system is. Romans 10:13 claims that whoever calls upon the Lord shall be saved. So taking this excerpt (that this church included) at it's word, it doesn't matter what kind of a person you are. According to this, though I live a good and honest life, try to help others when I can, have never been arrested, done drugs, and am about as non-threatening as they come, I will spend an eternity in Hell fire. Meanwhile, a man can kill, rape and steal, but then be genuinely repentant of his crimes and find himself in paradise. Christianity is basically a big 'get out of jail free' card. Acts are of no importance. I can live a crime-free life, and Christianity would punish me simply because I no longer believe. Yet the life-long criminal could be rewarded simply because he believes in and worships the deity in question. Talk about terrible injustice trying to sell itself as the ultimate justice! Oh, course, there is no Heaven or Hell, so this gaping flaw is of any real import.

Now for the itty-bitty Easter pamphlet that was included...

The first ridiculous claim  made is this... 'Every leader of every other belief system has died and their bodies remain in the grave. However, Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose again from the dead'. Let's just ignore the fact that Jesus' very existence remains unconfirmed. Thusly his supposed resurrection remains a wholly unsubstantiated claim. Until you can prove these things, your assertions are meaningless. Furthermore, your claim reveals your ignorance and/or lack of research into other belief systems. Resurrection was old hat for gods by time Jesus 'came around'. There is actually a decent list of deities that are said to have been resurrected  from death. Some sharing the same time of year Christians will claim Jesus was born and was resurrected. Not surprising, since there is very little original in Christianity. Heck, some Pagan belief systems believe in the annual death and rebirth of their god(s) and/or goddess(es) to this very day. So no, even if we take your claim at face value, you are very wrong.

Next it claims that 'Sin is the reason there is death.' Come again... Sin being the reason for death isn't even consistent with the teachings of Christianity. Ah, but when have they ever let that bother them before... When I was still a Christian, we were taught that Jesus was sinless. Otherwise, his sacrifice would not be the 'ultimate sacrifice'. Yet Jesus still died. If Jesus was 'sinless' and still died, then sin can't be the reason for death. If sin is the reason for death, he should not have been able to die if he didn't sin.

Then, on the very next page is says that Jesus never sinned. Talk about a short attention span! They claim that God does not want anyone to perish, and that Jesus' death was the only answer to the problem. Oh how little they think of their god. If he is as all powerful as Christians claim, then the previous claims become meaningless. If God doesn't want them to perish, they don't have to. If God is all powerful, Jesus doesn't have to die to wash away sins. Why not simply judge people by who they are, rather than what they believe? It would certainly be more just.

Finally, it claims that receiving Jesus is the only way into Heaven. Funny since they assume that there is a heaven, that it is a good place, and that you want to go there. Truth is, if Heaven is real, and as advertised by the Christians who constantly talk it up, I am not interested. Heaven as 'sold' is a terribly unjust, boring place where to unending nature of eternity would make ceasing to exist quite more appealing. So please consider these facts before you try going-door-to-door again. You are assuming people haven't heard your message... They have. You're assuming people want to hear your message... Most don't. Finally you're assuming your message is positive and appealing... Newsflash, it isn't!


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Friday, March 15, 2013

Happy Irish beer day!

It's time again for St. Patrick's Day. The favorite holiday of beer lovers everywhere. Everyone wearing green, drinking plenty of beer, partying, and trying on their worst Irish accent. A fun and innocent celebration, so long no one drinks and drives, or starts a drunken brawl. But what is the history of St. Patrick's Day?

In the Christian tradition, Saint Patrick was a patron saint of Ireland. His honorific day is observed on March 17th to mark the date of his death. One of the most fanciful legends regarding St. Patrick is that he drove the snakes from Ireland. This legend was meant to explain the lack of snakes native to the Irish countryside. The story told of how he would stamp his staff on the ground and drove the snakes into the sea, never to return. An interesting story... But how does it stand up to the facts?

The answer is, very poorly indeed. The first point that there were no snakes for him to drive away in the first place. Evidence points toward the land that would be Ireland being insulated buy ice during the last ice age. Snakes are not uncommon in Scotland, which is not far separated from Ireland, yet Ireland has no native snake species. The simple fact is that the ice separating Ireland from other nearby shores might as well been a 50ft tall wall. This is because the snakes, being cold blooded would be unable to survive a passage across the separative ice sheet. So there you have it... And if you ask me, the natural explanation is a much more satisfying and interesting one.

But there's more the story of St. Patrick and the snakes. Though he didn't drive literal snakes from Ireland, the story may be based on some unfortunate truth. Remember that St. Patrick is also credited (falsely) for introducing Christianity to Ireland. Prior to then, Druidism and Paganism were the common traditions. Serpents (snakes) were the usual symbolism Christians used to represent these non-Christian Pagans. So the 'snakes' St. Patrick was driving from Ireland were the the Druids and Pagans. Sadly, it wasn't as simple of him driving Paganism from Ireland.

Like is so often the case, Christianity would supplant the present Druid and pagan faiths by force. Granted, not all converted by way of threat. But there were those that resisted the new Christian faith when Patrick came to their shores, as well as those that came before them. But sadly, Christianity (represented by St. Patrick) would drive the snakes (representative of the Druids/Pagans) out of Ireland (well, for the most part). But this wasn't a pleasant transition.

Patrick and his followers would kill off the Druids. Rather than stamping his staff on the ground to drive away snakes, the stamping of this staff was a signal to his followers that this was a Druid to be disposed of. Slowly these teachers of Paganism began to dwindle in number, and the new Teachers of Christianity rose up to take the place that they forcefully made vacant.

Luckily, very few view St. Patrick's Day as a Catholic holiday anymore, nor celebrate it to pay honor to Patrick and his supposed accomplishments. To me, this is one case where it is a good thing that a holiday is so far removed from it's origins. While I am not a big fan of beer, I can appreciate that St. Patrick's Day has really become a day for people to drink and have a good time. My partial Irish heritage makes me happy to see Ireland get it's own day... Even if it comes along with Irish stereotypes and bad accents. I can even tolerate the green food, green beer, green clothes, and Leprechauns since they are all taking the spotlight off of St. Patrick. After all, he never did what he is credited ti do, and the actions he did commit make him very far from a good role model.


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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Resolve to ignore Billy Graham

Looking through my local newspaper, I came across another Q & A column by Billy Graham. It wasn't surprising to see it was long on judgement and short on sense. Here's the text from the article:

With Christ, you can keep your New Year's resolutions

DEAR BILLY GRAHAM: I made a whole list of New Year’s resolutions this year, and I’ve hardly kept any of them, although the year has barely started. I really want to be a better person, but something keeps holding me back. Why am I such a miserable failure? — N.K.

A: I suspect that if a poll were taken of all the people who made a list of New Year’s resolutions this year, the majority would probably say what you’ve said. Jesus’ words apply to us all: “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Mark 14:38).

Why can’t we keep our resolutions to become better people? Sometimes, of course, it’s because our resolutions haven’t really been resolutions but only vague wishes. Other resolutions may have been sincere, but they were unrealistic or the person who made them had no practical plan to reach their goal. I might resolve to lose 30 pounds, for example, but if I have no realistic plan to do so, I probably won’t get it done.

But the real problem is inside of us, within our own hearts and minds. Although we may hate to admit it, we are morally and spiritually crippled, unable to do everything that’s right and turn away from everything wrong. The reason, the Bible says, is because we all have a spiritual “disease,” the “disease” of sin.

This is why we need Christ, for only he can forgive our past and give us the strength we need to do what is right. Don’t despair, but repent of your sins and by faith ask Christ to come into your life. Then ask him to help you become the person he wants you to be — and he will, as his Spirit works within you. The Bible says, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

So according to Mr. Graham, the reason people don't keep their resolutions is because they just need more Jesus. Seriously? This is a rather odd claim for him to make when you consider that the most recent survey of religiosity in America showed 78.4% of Americans to be Christians. Meanwhile, about 60% of Americans say that they make New Year's resolutions. Assuming resolution trends are equal by religious group, that would mean that 78.4% of resolutionaries are Christians, 4.7% belong to other religions, and 16.1% were 'unaffiliated/no religion' (0.8% didn't answer). Meanwhile, 72% of people who made resolutions end up breaking them.

As you can see, even if every non-Christian failed to keep their resolutions, the vast majority of those that failed at their resolutions were still Christians. But I'm sure we all know that it's expected that Christians and non-Christians alike would have similar success rates with their resolutions. This brings the failure rate of Christian resolutions even higher. So Mr. Graham, considering the fact that most who break their resolutions are Christian, how is it that they failed? After all, you were the one posting that one can keep resolutions once they've welcomed Christ into their lives. If these stats actually suggest anything, it's that Christianity actually has an adverse effect on one's ability to keep resolutions. Also, what about the non-Christians who do keep their resolutions? They don't have the Christ that you are deeming necessary for success. It should be fairly obvious now that your advice is no more than meaningless tripe.

But then there's the personal factor. The questioner asks why she is such a miserable failure, and Graham goes on to give Jesus credit for strength and success. It's rather sad that 'loving' Christian's like Graham have no problem with the concept that all humans are born terrible, defective and powerless. Such is a horrible picture to paint of humanity. NK, considers themselves a miserable failure. But are they? In Graham's eyes, anyone who doesn't worship his good 24/7 is. But in mine, I'm not going to consider someone a 'miserable failure' just for not keeping some silly resolutions.

I don't even make any, but I know that people tend to make them with good intentions. Sometimes admitting to yourself  that you need to eat better, lose a few pounds, or even spend less money is half the battle. Where I would tell you that there is no substitute for determination, Graham would tell you that you are powerless without his god. This is a terrible disservice to humanity and a slight to the personal capability of one and all. This attitude can leave those that believe this feeling defeated before they even begin. You are not powerless, you do not need some supernatural guide to accomplish even the simplest goals. The power is withing you, it's within me, it's in all of us. We are all capable of more than Graham would give us credit for. So when you want to accomplish something, work hard and stay mentally strong. And when you succeed, don't thank some invisible force. Rather give yourself a well deserved pat on the back, because you were doing all the work all along.


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Monday, March 11, 2013

Japan: Two years later

This entry is going to be a bit different from what I typically write about. Today's post is more of a paying of respect, that the usual critique and response I engage in. But I'll be back to that before you know it...

Two years ago, the eastern coast of Japan was struck with a terrible tragedy. On March 11, 2011 a 9.0 earthquake at 2:46PM (JST). While the earthquake off the coast did do damage, it was but a prelude to the true path of destruction that was rushing toward shore. This devastating blow came in the form of an incredibly powerful and devastating tsunami. The footage of the destructive water was shocking and almost hard to believe. Once the waters receded, that path of destruction was shockingly severe. The nuclear power plant in Fukushima was badly damaged and left crippled. $235 billion of  physical damage was done. But the real toll were the many lives that were lost. The final toll was 15,881 dead, 6,142 injuries, and 2,668 still missing.

 Reuters/Mainichi Shimbun

Though the death toll was great, there were also encouraging signs that caused my respect for the Japanese people to swell. Here in the United States, the raindrops had barely stopped falling from hurricane Katrina, and looting quickly became widespread. In stark contrast I didn't hear of any looting after the Japanese tsunami. Perhaps it's due to their disciplined culture. Maybe the magnitude of the disaster made it clear that they needed to come together. But one thing is pretty clear to me... That is not how it would have happened here. In the US, I feel that the usual cycle of looting would have been the norm, rather than a rarity as it was in Japan.

Then there were the lines for food. Immediately following, markets were rationing food to the effected citizens. The set up was an open table/cart and everyone was told what they were allowed to take. In such a panic situation, you would think that these food limits would be ignored, and that people would just storm the table, grab what they could, and fight over the scraps. But that's not what happened. People actually queued to wait their turn in line, and then took only what was permitted in a very orderly pattern.

The situation at Fukushima still isn't solved, but there were workers who were willing to risk it all to try and solve the situation. Two hundred pensioners actually volunteered to go into the radioactive conditions and do any work that was needed to try and bring the situation under control. Their argument was that if anyone is going to go in and expose themselves to that radiation and the risks involved, it should be them. They were over sixty years of age, and have less life to live, thus less time for the effects of the radiation to manifest. Willing to lay down their lives, or at least cut them short so that the younger generation need not face that danger. Talk about amazingly selfless! I fear that if that happened here, the priority would be on who to blame, and many going in would be more concerned with lawsuits than a selfless desire to help.

Okay, so these people lost a lot. So what do you think the reaction would be when someone who lost everything finds a safe full of money washed up in the debris? Most people would probably keep it. But what did the Japanese do? They gave it back! In total, the peoples finding money returned $78 million in lost cash. Most was in wallets and purses, but safes were found as well. One safe containing $1 million was found! Those finding the money reasoned that if a safe was washed up, that means a house was destroyed. These people lost everything and could certainly use this money they also likely considered lost. So even though those finding the money were also in need, they held the return to it's rightful owner (in need), over benefiting from another's tragedy, even though they themselves were in need as well. Amazing!

Then there is the recovery. Above is a picture of a road that was badly damaged by the earthquake. How long do you think this repair took? Weeks? Months? Try six days on for size! Yes, this amazing repair only took six days. I don't know about the road crews where you live. But my local crews take weeks just to get out and fix a pothole. I don't even want to try and estimate how long this repair would take!

Then there's the following pictures that show the state of some of the badly effected areas from hurricane Katrina here in the US. These photo were taken five years after the storm hit.

Julie Dermansky
Now let me tell you that the cost of hurricane Katrina was $81 billion. As we stated earlier, the 3-11 Japanese earthquake/tsunami caused $235 billion of damage. So after two years, how do you think the sites look today? Well, scroll down and look at the before and after images to see for yourself...
Getty Images
The transitions are astonishing! The masses of debris have been removed. Almost all of the heavily damaged structures have been demolished. Less damaged structures have or are being repaired. Some areas have not been rebuilt and instead are now considered to be flood plains and too risky to build up to their former state again. A lot of credit has to go out to them for cleaning up as well as they did, and as quickly as they have. The forsight to forfeit some plots of land is also a smart one. Yet it makes me sad to see that Katrina was much less devastating (in comparison), and more time was available to clean up, yet the state of those hard hit places in New Orleans simply looks like they left it as-is and didn't even bother to try and clean up. In one way that makes me sad of the response, but may also be a good thing if it means that this land that is bellow sea level will remain uninhabited for saftey's sake.
But one thing is clear... Either in comparison or in it's own, the Japanese recovery is an amazing and inspirational one. Then consider how the Japanese people reacted in the face of this disaster, and I can't help but tip my hat to them in heartfelt respect an admiration.

-Brain Hulk

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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Where are the honest atheists? Here's one!

Yesterday (March 8, 2013), Damon Linker published an article entitled "Where are the honest atheists?" His opinion piece was that many of the atheist books out there are just more of the same repeated over and over, but that if godlessness is true, that it is also terrible and that we are unwilling to even consider that thought. Is that true? I don't think so. I for one have considered the possibilities and favorability if 'religion A' were true, if 'religion B' were true, if 'religion C were true' and if atheism were true. But the important thing is that none of that matters to what is true. Would I find it to be awesome if it was true that I'd be reincarnated after my death? Absolutely I would! But me liking the idea holds no bearing on if it is the truth or not. The simple fact is that as far as we know thus far, all signs point to death being it for us. Do not pass go, don't collect $100. But even then, I don't think that spells out the terrible world that Linker thinks it would.

His story goes on to say this:
It's quite another to claim, as these authors also invariably do, that godlessness is not only true but also unambiguously good for human beings. It quite obviously is not.

If atheism is true, it is far from being good news. Learning that we're alone in the universe, that no one hears or answers our prayers, that humanity is entirely the product of random events, that we have no more intrinsic dignity than non-human and even non-animate clumps of matter, that we face certain annihilation in death, that our sufferings are ultimately pointless, that our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense, that those who commit horrific evils and elude human punishment get away with their crimes scot free — all of this (and much more) is utterly tragic.
I must say that I quite disagree with Linker's assertion that us being alone in the universe or not being the center of everything diminishes life to a lowly pointless and worthless state. Actually, I think it makes life all the more grand! Am I being dishonest with myself as Damon would argue? I don't think so.

First of all, atheism does not tell us we're alone in the universe. Atheism does opine that there is no ever-present deity watching over us, but as for life in the universe, there's no 'party line' stance on that subject. Actually, I'd say that the major religions are the ones that would say we are alone in the universe, save their favored invisible book keep and guidance counselor. Christianity places the Earth and humanity at the center of creation and leaves it assumed the we are it. Atheism on the other hand, wouldn't denounce the idea that there could be other life far out in the cosmos. Actually, I'd be one of those that thinks that it's pretty likely that we are not the only life among the stars. Do I think that extra-terrestrials ever visited Earth or abducted anyone? No, no I don't. But given the vast numbers of galaxies, starts and planets out there, I find it hard to believe that life would only happen once. Actually, if there is other life out there, I bet they are also asking the question of if they are alone in the universe.

Next, lets look at the statement that atheism means that no one listens to or answers prayers... Well, you got us on this one. But no one is answering you prayers anyway, so why fight reality? Plus, if you are Christian and opine that your god is omniscient, then prayer is pointless anyway. But would it be a good thing if prayers were answered? Well... that depends. Perhaps you pray for good things for others, and get what you want. Okay, that's fine. But what of people praying for selfish things, or even ill will on others? If these people got their way, how could you sat that was a good thing? I don't think that prayer actually working would be all that great. But since we know that prayer does not work, lets look at the fact that the concept diminishes the hard work and effort of real people. So you pray for that promotion, but then work hard and get it. Then you give all the credit to your prayers being answered and your god. The sad fact being is that you are selling yourself short, since it was your effort that got you the promotion, and not murmuring to your bedroom ceiling at night. Your god is not great, you are simple capable of so much more than you give yourself credit for. And in my opinion, that is far more sad than the prospect of prayer being pointless.

Linker also states that 'humanity is entirely the product of random events'... Sounds like someone missed the class on evolution back in his school days. At least, I'm assuming he's referring to the old apologist canard that evolution reduces humanity to a product of random chance, and thus reduces the meaning of humanity. The trouble is that evolution is not random chance. Sure, mutations may be random, but natural selection is certainly NOT random. Evolution by natural selection selects for traits that are best fitted for the environment that these individuals find themselves in. These slightly better fitted individuals are more likely to survive and reproduce. This passes on their genes with greater success than those that are less fitted, and don't survive or reproduce at as great a pace. Over time, there is a shifting in the population as the available gene pool becomes more and more concentrated with the more favorable genes. Then consider that this process never stops and you can easily see that the path that eventually led to humanity is very possible, and far from the result of just some random chance.Furthermore, the fact that we evolved as far as we have and weren't 'created' in no way takes any grandeur away from life. I see it as a spectacular gift that didn't have to happen, rather than the whim of some deity.
Next is his statement that this means that 'we have no more intrinsic dignity than non-human and even non-animate clumps of matter'. Really?! I mean, seriously now? How does not being a 'special creation' mean that we are the same as a rock or a rat? Does the path to humanity really in any way change the value of humanity? I certainly don't think so. Being human has value through what we can do and have done. Through what we've accomplished and will accomplish. Though we were not purposely created,  being human still means so much! In the eyes of the universe, we may hold as much importance as pond algae. But from a local perspective, that conclusion does not match with an Earthly view. We may not be THE reason all is here, but we can certainly have quite more of an impact than that aforementioned algae. We can care for others. We can have a profound impact on the environment. We can reach for the stars, and can build our knowledge for the benefit of following generations. Sure, there is no grand purpose for our being, but to suggest that this equates us to a chunk of quartz is a horribly narrow minded view of what life without a creator means.

Then there's the grand-daddy statement that 'we face certain annihilation in death, that our sufferings are ultimately pointless, that our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense'. This is certainly a statement that I couldn't disagree with much more. Yes, we face annihilation in death. But is that so terrible? To me, eternity would be far more maddening (as I have covered in this earlier post). The only favorable version of afterlife to me would be reincarnation. But is death being the end so bad? If what I think about death is true, than death will be just like before I was ever born. Did my non-existence cause me any troubles twenty years before I was ever conceived? No, of course not! So why should my non-existence after I die be any different than that? Sure, the idea of no longer being may be saddening or unsettling to a degree, but does that make it a terrible fate? I'd argue that it doesn't.

Part of my reason for this has to do with why I disagree with his assertion that our lives and sufferings are pointless and our lives without meaning if what I believe is correct. Problem is, I am far too full of gratitude to entertain the thought of being dealt a bad hand simply because I will one day die. This is because I am alive and have been living the gift of life! When we look at the number of people in the world and the complexities of genetics, the number of 'potential people' is staggering. Had the genes been different there could have been someone smarter than Einstein, a playwright more brilliant than Shakespeare, or even an Olympian that could have shattered all records with ease. But instead of those possibilities, it is I that won what Richard Dawkins has referred to as the 'lottery of life'.

I could just as easily not been born as well. Had my parents not met as they did and when they did, had their parents not met as they did... back, generation after generation, I simply wouldn't be here. Or I would be a different 'me' than the 'me' that I am today. I am too preoccupied with the overwhelming gratitude of my own existence to feel that I'm facing a disservice to on day die and simply be no more. One day I will die, but before that day, I get to live. I get to live love and experience this life to the fullest while there are those other 'potential people' who were never even conceived, let alone get the chance to experience life. As I see it, death is the price I will eventually have to pay for living this amazing and fulfilling gift we call life. If you ask me, that's a small price to pay, and far from what Linker calls a 'terrible reality'.

Then there is his thought that our lives and sufferings do not matter because we don't have some grand predestined purpose for our lives. Such a self centric view of reality is quite arrogant. So what if we aren't the center of everything? So what if there's not some grand plan that you're here for? In what way does 'it all' not being about you take away from the meaning of life. True, there's no predetermined meaning, but a finite godless life can still have plenty of meaning. I get to live my life. I get to love my wife. Our cats will make us laugh, and also upset when they break something. There may be bumps in the road of life that we have to get past, but ultimately make the good time feel all the better. How does this life have no meaning when I wake up every morning, look in my wife's eyes, tell her that I love her, and have her say that she loves me back. How can you argue that a creator-less life makes this experience meaningless? Sure, one day we will both be dead and gone. In the vast expanse of history we may be forgotten. But so what if we aren't remembered. Here and now, we are living a wonderful and meaningful life. To me, now is what matter, and exemplifies that this non-theistic life truly is a meaningful one.

Now, one thing that I will give him is that he says that if there is no afterlife, than if someone breaks the law and is never caught, they will get away with it and never be punished. For the sake of argument, we are going to assume that the offender is not faced with crushing guilt. So he would be right that the 'bad guy' would end up going unpunished, since he would just die like everyone else, and wouldn't find himself in Hell. But then again, there is no Hell anyway, so it's a moot point really... The simple fact is that though he is right, that's the truth of the matter. Life isn't always fair, and justice isn't always done. But this certainly doesn't mean that we should just give up and make up a story to make us feel better about the problem. Rather, we should work to improve our justice system so that fewer and fewer offenders go unpunished.

I must find it odd that those that follow the Abrahamic tradition will argue that the nonbeliever's view on life is the 'sad' or 'tragic' one. Yet Christianity teaches that everyone is born a disgusting, dirty, sinful creatures that are deserving of eternal fiery torrent. Meanwhile, I try to to see the best in everyone. Sure, it is tougher with some people. But I'm not condemning all to eternity in Hell for the 'crime' of simply being born. So you tell me, who really thinks less of life? Also, the more I think about it, I can't even grant Linker his conclusion that a godless universe is less just. With his previous proposal of someone committing a crime and getting away with it, he claims that justice is not done if there is no afterlife. He makes the mistake of simply assuming that this person would end up in Hell to pay for his deed(s). But it's not so cut and dry. Christianity teaches the sins can be forgiven. So, if this criminal goes uncaught and later on is genuinely repentant, then Jesus is supposedly able to forgive this person of their sins and end up in Heaven. So under this theistic worldview, the criminal could conceivably be rewarded, rather than punished. Where is the justice in that?

Somehow Mr. Linker goes as far to call this godless view of life 'utterly tragic'. As I hope I have illustrated above, this bleak view of a non-theistic life is far from justified. He says that the 'honest atheist' will admit that this kind of existence is a sad, cold, pitiful one. However, I feel as though I am being honest and painting a far more positive picture that the one Linker was painting. Sure, this life isn't the picture perfect fantasy we may want it to be. But this doesn't make any other view of life 'tragic'. I'd wager that this life rooted in reality is an amazingly magical and positive one, despite the sad conclusions of our poorly reasoned columnist. So I say, embrace the reality of life and death, and seize the gift of life while you still can.


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Friday, March 8, 2013

You are what you (artificially) eat

We all eat. We like some things better than others, and sometimes we try to change our diet to lose weight, health reasons, our of favor, or just the will to eat better. But last year, there was a story that stated that a study had showed that organic produce and non-organic produce contain the same nutrition information. The instant reaction by some was to call organic products a scam.They laughed that they knew it was all bunk, and that you just pay extra for the same thing. Do you though?

The main problem with calling organic products a scam because of that study is that the purpose of organic produce wasn't because it was more nutritious. When someone says that organic is better for you (and the environment), it's because of other factors. Conventional produce is fed with chemical fertilizers and are sprayed with chemical insecticides and herbicides. Non-organic products may also come from livestock fed artificial growth hormones and antibiotics. Many conventional products will contain plenty of preservatives and artificial sweeteners as well.

Conversely, organic produce is fertilized naturally and use natural methods of controlling insects and damaging weeds. Organic milk will come from cows that aren't fed growth hormones. Also, no artificial sweeteners or loads of preservatives. Granted, the pesticides used on conventionally grown crops is below the recommended levels for consumption, but I still like the idea of limiting my exposure further. Another consideration is that not using chemical pesticides and fertilizers means that there is no worry of pollution from run-off.  In my opinion, the true selling point of organics is freshness, environmental responsibility, and to limit additional exposure to chemical agents. Hell, I think organic produce tastes better as well. This is probably due to the freshness, and would explain what why what I grow in our little garden always tastes so much better than what's at the store. So no, I don't agree that organics are a scam. Rather, I think those making that claim need to learn the actual goal of organic foods actually is before scoffing and downing some chili-mac.

And on that discrepancy of freshness... Just how fresh is the 'fresh produce' at your local grocery store? Apples, look nice don't they? Too bad they are shiny due to a coat of wax. Then there's the fact that these conventionally grown apples may be 6-12 months old! Potatoes? 2-12 months. Carrots? 1-9 months. Luckily there are some items like bananas and lettuce that have a short life no matter what, so they have to be relatively fresh when you get them at the store. But I'll take the organically grown carrots from my garden that will be at most two weeks old before we must discard then, than thirty-six week old carrots. Better yet, when the farmer's market opens up again, the freshest of the fresh will be available, and taste all the better.

A new troubling development comes from the milk industry... The national milk industry is actually lobbying the FDA to change the definition of milk. Yeah, you read that right; change the definition of milk! I hope I'm not the only one that thinks that sounds crazy. What they want to do is define milk in such a way that they can include artificial sweeteners in any milk or milk based products without a need to state as such on the label or even list it in the ingredients. Personally, if you want to put an artificial sweetener in my milk, you better tell me clearly! I do not want milk with aspartame in it! Milk is supposed to be a drink that is good for you, so why put sweeteners very well may not be good for you?

The claimed reason is kids. They say that if they add artificial sweeteners, it will make the milk more appealing to kids. Kids in turn will drink more and then drink regular milk. I disagree. As a former child, I can tell you that if I am drinking this sweet milk, and like it because it is sweet, standard milk just isn't going to cut the mustard. What it will do is build a taste for sweet food items. If they like the sweet milk, they will build a taste for sweet items. Rather than transitioning to a healthy habit of drinking milk-milk, they will travel from sugar high to sugar high. Quite the opposite of the healthy lifestyle influence they are arguing for. In my opinion, it's the make money, plain and simple. Same with an apple product that I've seen sold at my local grocery store. It's an apple sealed in a plastic bag. But it's been soaked with preservative and artificial sweeteners and also artificially flavored. Who's for a super sweet bubblegum flavored apple? Not this guy! But again, they claim that this is also to get kids to eat apples. No! If you make an apple taste like candy, it will give the kids a taste for candy, not apples.

Now, I realize that organic products can be comparatively expensive. That's part of why I have to pick and choose what I buy organic or otherwise. When it comes to produce, we buy organic when we can. We purchase hormone-free milk, and cage-free eggs. If we need to sweeten a drink, it's honey or Stevia for my wife and I. I used to drink soda all the time, but now it's a rarity and I couldn't be happier with that choice. And that's what I think it's all about. Little choices here and there, that add up to happier and healthier life.


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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

This land is your land, not McFarland's

Alex McFarland is a Christian Apologist that is organizing Project 2026. Project 2026 is described as "A nationwide initiate to see Christianity's place in society restored to maximum strength by America's 250th birthday." Basically,  they blame anything they deem as 'bad' about America is the fault of Christian faith being everywhere and involved in everything. Odd that he would complain that there isn't enough Christianity around when at least 78.4%of Americans are Christians. But I have a feeling he would claim that many aren't true believers or worshiping enough after taking a look at his propaganda site.

In an interview, the ill informed Mr. McFarland had this to say:

Alex, you’ve got Project 2026, I want you to talk a little bit about Project 2026 because in this project you’re not just talking about what’s going on in 2013, you’re looking ahead, a forward view. 2026 is going to be the 250th anniversary of our founding, what is Project 2026 all about?

McFarland: It’s a response, it’s a fifteen year program and we are beginning to get a lot of momentum, it’s a fifteen year program to re-remind our culture about some things that are core that I believe without the rediscovery and reaffirmation of these things we’re going to lose democracy: God; life; morality; family; freedom of religion; American exclusivism, not that we’re better or deserve better but we are unique on the stage of human history. The thing that prompted me Bryan is the four groups that are actively working to secularize and destroy America: humanists; atheists; militant homosexuals; and Muslims. All four of these groups got major momentum beginning in the ’60s and ’70s but they dug in their heels and they said: ‘we’re going to work forty years and we’re going to mainstream atheism; we’re going to mainstream militant homosexuality; dare we say it we’re going to see gay marriage legitimized.’ Why can’t God’s people dig in their heels and say: ‘we’re in it for the duration and America will not die on our watch.’

Pardon me Alex, but you've just revealed that you are clueless about the founding of our country. McFarland speaks ill of Secularism,  yet America was the great experiment in secularism. America isn't under threat from secularism, but has always been a secular nation. Secularism is quite simply the principle of keeping heads of religious institutions and heads of government separate. We quite plainly see the secular framework in the first amendment of the US Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

As you see here, freedom of religion is guaranteed, but an establishment of religion is disallowed.  Thomas Jefferson described this construct as a "Wall of separation between church and state." And that, my friend, is the very definition of Secularism. Despite what you would have your blind and horribly misinformed followers believe, Secularism is NOT inherently irreligious. Quite the contrary. Just look at the secular first amendment. It does work to keep and church separate, but also grants the freedom to worship the religion of ones choosing. What's anti-religious about that. All secularism is really concerned with is keeping religion from corrupting the government, and from the government corrupting religion. The is not a threat to democracy, but a proud moment and product of democracy.

Furthermore, your 'four groups' are, lets say... interesting. You claim that they are working to 'secularize and destroy America'. As I've already shown, America always has been a secular nation, so that claim is patently false. Second of all, as an atheist, I find the accusation that we are trying to destroy America as an insult and an outrage. If anything, the work to promote secularism is work to save and protect America, not destroy it.

You also claim that these groups are fighting to mainstream atheism... Well, lets look at your two claims and each group separately...

Humanists: I'm going to assume that you are referring specifically to Secular Humanists. In that case, the secularism is right there in the name. So check on the promotion of secularism. But promoting the mainstream adoption of atheism? Every Humanist I know simply wants equal treatment, not to have Humanism (or atheism) be the new de facto religion. Wanting to destroy America? You can't be serious!

Atheists: One thing is true, and that most atheists do support the constitutional separation of church and state. If that causes us to be labeled as 'secularists', so be it. I for one will wear it as a badge of honor. Wanting to 'mainstream atheism'? Don't get me wrong, the idea of more people looking at the world rationally is an appealing one. But I would rather they reach that beautiful insight on their own, rather than force it down their throat at 7:30am on a Saturday. My main concerns are getting atheists the equal treatment we deserve, right unjust perceptions, and protect the first amendment. As for destroying America... not on the agenda. But I'll tell you what is. Returning America to the ideals it was founded on. Justice and freedom for one and all.

Militant homosexuals: Was the militant really needed here? I mean, seriously... all it does is make you come across as a bigot. Oh how militant of them to fight for rights that have been unfairly kept from them. Lets class them together with those militant African-Americans who wanted equal rights, those militant woman who wanted to vote, and those militant colonists who wanted representation to go with their taxation. When you get right down to it, there's nothing inherently secular about homosexuality. However, secularists tend to be the ones in favor of granting 'gays' their unjustly denied rights, so the homosexual groups tend to stay in league with secular groups. Homosexuals wanting to may atheism mainstream? How does that work, when a great many homosexuals are themselves religious. You can be Christian and gay at the same time, despite what Alex would probably tell you. As for them wanting to destroy America... Again, a ridiculous conclusion that does more to highlight his narrow-minded picture of what he wants American to be, rather than reflecting reality.

Muslims: Lets face it. the only group the Christian extremists hate as much as atheists is Muslims. They usually like to paint a picture of Muslim extremism as the norm. Muslims that are either secret terrorists or want to institute Sharia Law as the law of the land. Since this narrow-minded view that ignores the peaceful non-confrontational Muslims is that one that they tend to carry, that's the one I'll examine here. Do these Muslims wish to mainstream atheism? Absolutely not! In fact, the penalty of apostasy in Islam in no less than death! But what about the claim that these Muslims are working toward a secular cause? Again, absolutely ridiculous! You can't claim that Muslims wish to enact Sharia Law and also claim them to be secular. The simple fact is that McFarland and those like him, hate Muslims for wanting to do in the name of Islam, what they want to do in the name of Christianity.

They scream that the Muslims want to set up a Muslim nation, with Muslim laws. Likewise, they wish to have a Christian nation, with Christian laws. Pot, meet kettle. Why is it so horrible for the Muslims to want to do, what he want's to do? How does he even begin to pant this blatant want for a theocracy as patriotic, when it' in defiance of our secular roots? I repeat the 'American' idea that he is trying to sell is a Theocracy. This is far from what America is and is closer to an attack on democracy that anything he mentioned.

McFarland and his sad 2026 event are simply grabbing at the ignorance of those that think like him, and is working to deceive and work toward his personal wants and benefits... History be damned. So I think it's time for us to meet him and his lies head on and give him the battle of wits where he will be severely outgunned.


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