This Weeks Reader December 15, 2007  

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Looking for That A-Ha Moment
A Discovery Channel (or similar) program regarding Jesus or the History of the Bible made on off-hand comment that there was controversy over the historicity of Jesus. It wasn’t the main topic of the show, it was one comment, an aside, one sentence – but to me it stood out like neon. I could say that it was the sudden flash The Exterminator was talking about, but if it hadn’t been for the earlier nudges, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed it.

Another holiday effort from a group of atheists
I'm afraid that when people whine at me that we need to be more sensitive to those pious beliefs, when I'm told that atheists must be more tasteful, unaggressive, and quiet, I know what an exercise in futility that is — our very existence is offensive to some, and just the fact that we're living in freedom is an affront to the religious right. You can't win by accepting their rules and surrendering, so you might as well raise a ruckus and offend, offend, offend. And do it proudly.

The Golden Compass
This is a coming-of-age story set in a conflict with an evil religious empire bent on expanding their control, and willing to experiment on children to do it. It's barely detectable in this movie. I think if the producers had been a little braver and set this up as a clearer parable for the dangers of wedding political control and religious belief, it would have been a much more comprehensible and powerful movie.

Constant Viewer: I Am Legend
This third film version of a 1954 Richard Matheson novel is mildly entertaining but, as is so often the case, it hardly lives up to its pre-opening hype. Others will no doubt comment at length on how the film serves as none too subtle propaganda for a very strong version of the precautionary principle so popular these day among many medical ethicists.

Because I heard it on the radio today.
Watch another video from sader-mama.

Are Mystical Experiences the Result of Natural Causes?
Now, simply think of common, non-mystical experience as one kind of map — say a road map — and mystical experience as another kind of map — say a strata map. Let’s even say both maps are created by the same cartographer (i.e. by natural causes). The point is, both could be equally accurate — and equally false — and equally useful fictions. There is no reason to suppose that if common, non-mystical experience is a useful fiction, then mystical experience cannot be an equally useful fiction.

Of Grief in Dusty Corners, Take 2
This is a beautiful poem. The way the words fit in with the meter is very natural. When I read it out loud it flows together so well I could almost take it for prose. I love the second stanza. I love the tie in between mathematics and odds and evens, and especially the word cornucopia. That may sound silly, but I love to say that word.

The Reason/Belief Disconnect
This is known as confirmation bias. Religious thinking, where the existence of an all powerful, omni-benevolent god is presumed, expects that the good things we experience, especially the rare ones, are the result of supernatural intervention. It is the rarity of the event that allows people to expect that there is no rational, material explanation, and hence it must be an act of god. Good things that happen every day, like making a green light when you’re in a hurry, or finding the item you want to purchase is on sale, are not usually attributed to acts of god (though I’m sure some fervent believers are inclined to do so). Once indoctrinated, (or infected) with the religious presuppositions, one is biased to expect that good things only come from god, so when they do, their bias is confirmed.

You Shall Be My Witnesses
Whenever stories like these erupt, Christians everywhere are quick to ask non-Christians not to judge the whole body by the misdeeds of a few and to consider the substance of their doctrines rather than the content of their characters. This plea is not entirely misplaced, for any group contains subsets of those who deviate from group norms. But there is another group of believers that, with regard to the persuasive power of their witness, is far more problematic for the Body of Christ than the egregious examples cited above. These are the believers with whom people rub shoulders every day: the gossips, the hypocrites, the domineering, the selfish….

Unholy Union: Secret Sin and Spiritual Abuse
They returned a week later to find no improvement in their friend’s condition. Again, they prayed for her with fervor, but to no avail. Before leaving, they boldly announced to this young lady that she had not been healed because she harbored a shameful secret sin, a sin she would have to acknowledge, confess openly and seek forgiveness for before healing could occur.The so-called friends left, satisfied within themselves that they had done all they could. They were confident that their faith was pure, blameless and sufficient to accomplish mighty works. The reason their prayers had not yielded the results they sought was not due to any fault of theirs, nor to any lack of will or power on the part of their God; surely, the blame for their failed healing attempts lay within the young woman’s own sin-stained soul. Needless to say, the injured woman was devastated by their harsh verdict.

Deeply Disturbed...
This news today has awakened me once again. I can not sit by and watch while lives are destroyed and lost. If you have followed this blog, you'd know that leaving the Church for me has been an emotional roller coaster. Recently, the questions keep popping up in my head - who am I? What is my moral code? Where do I claim that this code comes from? How do I want to live? Who do I want to be? What do I want to do with my life? In working to leave the Church, I became something of a blank slate. No answers, but lots of questions.

Christmas sets a trap
In the fourth whereas (Christians identify themselves...), King apparently hopes to get a statement of faith into the congressional record. It actually makes no grammatic sense in the contest of the resolution. The whereas' are the reasons for the resolution. The first three make logical sense (whereas there are lots of Christians in the country, we support one of their holidays). The fourth does only makes sense as an effort to deny other religions the same support (whereas Christians believe in salvation through Christ, we support their holidays. If they didn't believe that, we wouldn't support them).

Jesus Loves Poly/Cotton Blends
Oh, those gays and their agenda. I cannot tell you how many times I get stopped on the street by some lesbian who starts humping my leg and then thrusts her "agenda" right in my face. Then I have to go around all day smelling like lesbian agenda, and it's just not very pleasant. God have mercy on our souls if we ever end up like the UK. Every single person over there? Gay. They even have gay babies.

Here's my impression of Barry Arrington
Now, if I was a giant screaming asshole like Barry A, I'd say something like, "People like Bill O'Reilly who make up the imaginary 'war on Christmas' or Ann Coulter and her remarks about Christians being 'perfected Jews' should consider themselves responsible for this event. If they didn't promote their pro-Christmas, pro-Christian agenda, no one would feel the need to attack Jewish people for wishing them a Happy Hanukkah."

theological child abuse
I know many people will discredit his words because of his actions. But I believe him. I lived through very similar experiences and I know for a fact that stories like this are true. I’ve seen parents and pastors act like this, and I know the rest of what goes along with it. Religious indoctrination, when it fails to create pliant and obedient sheep, causes extreme emotional distress and constant mental torment. That’s bad enough for adults, but for children and teenagers, the terrors are beyond anything that can be created by ghost stories or horror movies. I’m 46, quit going to church over 15 years ago, and I still have nightmares. And I am not alone. I am in an ex-fundamentalist support group where I hear stories of adults, and even senior citizens, being haunted by their childhood religious indoctrination over and over and over again.

Voyager 2 probe reaches solar system boundary
On the way, the Voyagers could help determine the source of mysterious radio emissions from the edge of the solar system, which may be the result of CMEs from the Sun crashing into the interstellar medium.

Life in the Dead Zone
I also wanted to point readers to this list that I recently came upon over at on their Science Saturday “diavlog” between science writers George Johnson and John Horgan (two regulars). John Horgan was one of those responsible for compiling this particular list, called The Stevens Seventy Greatest Science Books.

This deadly religious resistance to vaccinations
But why was she so certain the MMR campaign should be stopped? Phillips presented her argument as if she was simply siding with one scientist against another. But in reality, she disputes on religious grounds the very basis of vaccinations: evolution. She says that creationism should be taught in schools, and that evolution is “only a theory.” So it’s no wonder she is so hostile to (and ignorant of) vaccination science. Vaccines only work because we can observe evolution, live, as it happens. Take the flu virus. It is constantly changing – you can watch it under a microscope. That’s why you need a booster shot every year: because the virus has evolved. That’s why a vaccine against the 1918 flu virus would be radically different to a vaccine the 2007 flu virus: it has evolved. Yet when Professor Colin Blakemore, head of the Medical Research Council, pointed out this elementary scientific truth, she accused him of seizing any sneaky opportunity to “beat the drum for Darwin” and for claiming “there was no intelligent design in a virus, only the mindless force of natural selection.”

A letter to a high school student
A lot of people worry that without some moral absolutes, moral behaviour is impossible. I think this is wrong, because we evolved to be a social species, and that means that ordinarily, humans are cooperative and well behaved. But the question how moral behaviour evolved and how to justify a moral standard are two different things. Myself, I think that if a moral duty is a duty, that is justification enough. But I am a bit outside the mainstream on that.

The Zombie Robert Heinlein Rises From the Grave Yet Again to Annoy the Politically Correct
Heinlein’s flat-out readability is why, two decades after his death and now more than half a century after the publication of some of his most famous works, the man is still in print when the vast majority of his contemporaries are not, why he’s still actively influencing the genre, why being favorably compared to him is still a significant coup, and why people are still tearing their hair out that he’s still out there, despite his antediluvian sexual and political stances. If they really want him gone, the solution is simple: Put something out there that’s as readable as what he offers, and which offers a different political and social viewpoint.

Applied Kinesiology and Self Deception
The video is supposed to be a demonstration of AK. What it is really a demonstration of is self-deception, and as such it is very interesting. The subject seems to really believe that his strength is decreasing when he says the name “Hitler.” The lesson should be clear - the human capacity for self-deception is almost limitless. Therefore, we cannot trust anyone’s subjective experience.

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