left biblioblography: August 2007

Monday, August 27, 2007

'A Perfect Stranger' - A Perfectly Dreadful Waste Of Time

I keep trolling the waters of religion, hoping to catch perhaps something more substantial than an old boot, or some discarded flotsam.

Teach a man to fish in an ocean of delusion, and he will learn that old shoe leather properly prepared is quite tasty.

Case in point: I had another whopper of an argument with my religious buddy (we've stayed in touch and stayed close over 30-odd years, so it's a little hard to let go, embarrassing as some of the things he says are), and it began with his mentioning this flick.

We went off on a tangent, mostly with my having to repeat specific questions to him. One such occurred in (approximately) this manner.

I told him that I had no real problem with his worldview, but that folks with his mindset tend to spread disinformation (such as evolution) about specific topics.

I heard that 'Evolution is so full of holes!' I asked him, like what? Fum-fah, flubber blubber, he didn't know. But I heard the old 'It's just a THEORY!' I very specifically pointed out that he had no idea what the word meant. I then proceeded to read the dictionary definition to him. And pointed out that gravity is a theory also. He directly challenged the definition I'd read to him! "What's the source!?!? Huh?" I told him the same thing I told a conspiracy theorist at work (who I read a definition to, of another word, 'fascism': he, too, didn't like the definition he heard). I told them both the same thing: "It's the standard definition. This is what it means. I don't know what to tell you. This is the agreed upon definition."

He got quite upset at the idea that his fellow Christians were disseminating disinformation. "We don't talk about this, it doesn't come up in conversation." I had to ask, several times in fact, where he'd specifically heard the 'itsonlyatheory' crapola. "Oh, I don't know, probably from a pastor in church" (at which juncture, he began attacking my honesty - diversionary tactic).

(To my long-time buddy's credit, he conceded the 'gravity' theory point was a good one. He also called back the next day, and apologized for his behavior.)

Anyways, back to the point. I decided to rent The Perfect Stranger - it came nicely recommended.

Not impressed. Actually, it was pure dreck.

It varied (apparently) from the novel: the book features a man, the film's hero(ine) is an unsatisfied, harried modern working woman, apparently our 'representative' for skepticism. (I'd have preferred Richard Dawkins, but hey, it's a biased sample, too much to ask).

So she asks her husband (an overworked VP at a corporation) for a night out, as their daughter is on a sleep-over. He declines (too many hours).

She receives an invite to dinner from the big J himself. Thinking it a joke, she shows up. She's shown to a table where a stranger sits.

She considers bailing, but sticks it out. The fellow is, well, likable and down-to-earth, despite the extravagant claim of being Jebus hisself.

They discuss a wide range of topics in what are little better than fluffy soundbites.

I don't recall what came first, but the question came up: "What about evolution?" The answer? "Oh, they just don't like the 'made in his image part'. Another question was, "What about Hinduism?" He answers, "Remember that class you took? What did they say about the universe? The universe is eternal. We know better now."

Eye-crossing. Especially since the Old Testament pronounced the world flat. Some idiots claim it's only 6,000 years old, based on the bibble.

And then she brings up the contradictions in the bible. Ole JC spouts off about some crap about how one gospel says JC healed one blind guy, another says he healed two. The point? "Not essential to the story." Say what?!? Are you kidding me? There's so much disharmony, it's hard (say, impossible) to take the thing seriously! It's not about what color sandals somebody wore, or what kind of robe! There are nineteen (count 'em, nineteen!) discrepancies, and that's just in the crucifixion story ALONE.

And having a disjointed lost 'soul' representing skepticism (we have not only two strong legs to stand upon, we have teeth as well) - it's insulting, to say the least.

I couldn't finish the rest of it. It was stupid, and insulted my intelligence on a number of levels.

Emotional pablum.


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Believing In 'Nothing'...And Lo And Behold, There's Evidence Of Nothing!

Cross-posted at God Is For Suckers!

VoidWhereProhibited3 "If you look long enough into the void the void begins to look back through you." - Friedrich Nietzsche

No doubt, if you've been around the blogosphere long enough, you'll eventually hear that hoary old chestnut - "You believe in nothing." This is oftentimes followed by some trite vanilla monologue about how them thar nasty ole ay-thee-ists shore do make a big noise about sumpin' they don't be-LIEVE in, ow-huh! The inferred accusations are three-fold: A. if we don't believe in 'anything', why say anything at all, which becomes a twisted allegorical nod to on high, all in the speaker's own subjective opinion, and B. Please, become a casual secularist, stop talking about it, you're making me extremely uncomfortable, or C. Gee, you're so full of anger and hatred, who made you like this?

Fact is, I believe in humanity, I don't worship my species, thanks much for putting words in my mouth (PTUI!), I don't really worship myself (very much: obviously, I love the sound of my own voice, or I'd be that silent 'casual secularist' the religious loonies so yearn for), and I really don't want the world blown to bits over a few scraps of parchment found in a desert.

Now that the nutshell epistemology is over and done with, I present to you (with tongue firmly ensconced in cheek), that 'nothing' we're credited with 'worshiping':

Great 'cosmic nothingness' found

Astronomers have found an enormous void in space that measures nearly a billion light-years across.

It is empty of both normal matter - such as galaxies and stars - and the mysterious "dark matter" that cannot be seen directly with telescopes.

The "hole" is located in the direction of the Eridanus constellation and has been identified in data from a survey of the sky made at radio wavelengths.

Previous sky surveys that have traced the large-scale structure of the nearby Universe have long shown, for example, how the clustering of galaxies is strung into vast filaments and sheets that are separated by great gaps.

But the void discovered by a University of Minnesota team is about 1,000 times the volume of what would be expected in typical cosmic gaps.

"It's hard even for astronomers to picture how big these things are," conceded Minnesota's Professor Lawrence Rudnick.

"If you were to travel at the speed of light, it would take you several years to get to the nearest stars in our own Milky Way galaxy; but if you were to go to this hole and enter one side, you'd have to travel for a billion years before you would get to the other side," he told BBC News.

The void is roughly 6-10 billion light-years away and takes a sizeable chunk out of the visible Universe in its direction.

 Wow, so astronomers have found the Rub al Khali among the stars - bereft of all things. A hole in the heart of the universe. A large maw of absolutely nothing.

It beggars the imagination (mine, at least) - a void so vast, composed of an abstract of zero. Wrap your minds around that one, and get back to me.

This is the Apostate, signing off.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Top Ten Knee-Mails That Gord Answers

Cross-posted at God Is For Suckers!

This is just quite...amusing, to say the least.

Number 1:

Go(r)d, Show Me That You Exist

Go(r)d is just waiting for honest doubters to cry out for a little revelation! In fact, he is knocking at their doors, eager to oblige. The door to the human heart can be opened only from the inside. Go(r)d will never force his way in. All we have to do is open.

Even if we already know that Go(r)d exists and promises to be there for us, sometimes we don't feel his presence or see him moving in our lives. Then even strong believers experience doubts. They, too, need fresh reminders that he is there, aware and listening--and that he promises to respond:

Sometimes?!?! Try not at all. This is more along the lines of "Bend over, I'll drive!"

Number 2:

Go(r)d, Make Me an Instrument

Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)
Quite literally one of the oldest Christian prayers in the Book, the request that Go(r)d make you an instrument is the one that Go(r)d will answer fastest.

Jesus is making an important promise: When two or three (or more) of us are together in his name, we have an opportunity to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is real love, not some mushy feeling or hormonal rush: It is allowing Go(r)d to make us his "instruments" and live his life through us.

Yeah, because if you go on your own, it'll come apart, like a daffodil spore on a windy day. Gotta get that reinforcement thing going. No, it's still simply a chemical response, no squishy-squishy romantic delusion.

Number 3:

Go(r)d, Outdo Me in Generosity

Give and it will be given to you, full measure, pressed down, overflowing. (Luke 6:38)
Go(r)d will never be outdone in generosity!
Here's how it works: As you give generously to people in need, Go(r)d will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others....Yes, you will be enriched so that you can give even more generously (see II Corinthians 9:8-13).

How is it that a supernatural, unseen critter gets all the credit? This still loses me.

Number 4:

Go(r)d, Get Me Through This Suffering

Go(r)d will not let you be tested beyond your strength. With your trial, he will also provide you with a means of escape, so that you will be able to endure it. (I Corinthians 10:13)
This prayer is not a way out of suffering itself, but a reminder that we can count on being consoled and fortified by Go(r)d--if we ask for help. That shoulder you cried on, the understanding hug, the cup of tea--all are little gifts of comfort from Go(r)d

Tell that to all the people who've snapped and gone apeshit. Or the suicides. Or the walking wounded, who shamble about raving to themselves. A nice long walk on the streets of Berkeley will put this nonsense to rest.

Oh, wait, it's their fault. Of course! Blame the victim. That's where that pathology stems from.

Number 5:

Go(r)d, Forgive Me

He is faithful and just to forgive our sins. (I John 1:9)
Go(r)d is so gracious. But while we're rejoicing in his grace, it's a good idea to remember that there are rules, and there are consequences in our lives here and now. For instance: If I regard sin in my heart, the Lord will not hear me (Psalm 66:18).
Confession is our route around a big roadblock to answered prayer. Sin is such a serious matter to Go(r)d that he gave the life of his son to set us free from it, so it pays to keep short accounts with him. He has not made that difficult to do.

I mean, this begs the Big Question: why even burden your children with such a thing? This is the behavior of a psychopath.

Number 6:

Go(r)d, Give Me Peace

You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3 NKJV)
Real, inner peace goes beyond emotions; it comes from focusing on Go(r)d. Jesus said, "I leave you peace....My peace I give to you."
Without him we won't have the peace that takes us unshaken through life's physical and emotional earthquakes. We need the peace of faith that knows Go(r)d is there, walking alongside, whispering, Trust me; I have a plan and you are going to be okay. Just keep on going.

Yeah, history sure dispels that myth.

Number 7:

Go(r)d, Give Me Courage

The Lord... delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:4)
The great Christian writer C.S. Lewis once said that "courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point, which means at the point of highest reality." Even honesty, self-control, patience and chastity take courage.
You need courage to persevere through life's difficulties, to endure suffering, to take risks, to give witness to the truth, to dare to do great things. Every time we admit our weakness and our dependency on God, we're ripe for his grace and help.

For the weaker of heart and mind, it requires a little something extra...like, say, a codependence on an invisible friend. Hey, Harvey!

Number 8:

Go(r)d, Give Me Wisdom

If anyone lacks in wisdom, let him ask Go(r)d, who is always ready to give. (James 1:5)
We face lots of challenges in our world today. Just turn on the television and there they are: war, an unpredictable economy, spiraling fuel prices, new pandemic diseases. What next?
Being smart isn't enough to handle all this; we need wisdom. We need direction from someone who sees our whole life at a glance, the big picture and the intricate details, someone who knows what's coming down the road.

Eenie-beanie, chili-weenie, the spirits are about to speak! I keep hearing Bullwinkle's voice through these vacuous platitudes, don't you?

Number 9:

Go(r)d, Bring Good Out of This Bad Situation

All things work together for good, for those who love Go(r)d and are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
That's a wonderful Bible verse to quote and feel comforted by--except, of course, when you feel crushed by some impossible situation. Then what do you do? Quote it anyway. Tuck it into your mind and let it take root there. Then wait on Go(r)d to work his redemptive purpose out of the circumstances that threaten to overwhelm you.

Sometimes God allows suffering in order to get our attention: to divert us from wrong paths; to build our faith and our courage, to help us grow strong and resilient; to make us wiser. Or to turn our bad situations into good ones.

And sometimes Gord allows suffering because there ain't no such critter. Again, tell all this unmitigated horse manure to the walking wounded, who I've mentioned before. That is, if the world hasn't snapped them so badly they're capable of interacting with other people.

Number 10:

Go(r)d, Lead Me to My Destiny

Before you were born, I consecrated you. (Jeremiah 1:5)
You came into this world a champion! Special, unique you; a miracle predetermined by Go(r)d. It follows, then, that you have a unique destiny.
Your destiny is not the same as your dream. Dreams can lead you away from the destiny Go(r)d has planned for you. He knows where you fit and what you can accomplish.

Gah! I think I've contracted a metaphorical version of diabetes! Holy crap! What was that saying of P.T Barnum, about suckers being born every minute?

Destiny is the word that weaker minds use in pretense of purpose. If there is such a thing, then we weave it ourselves, out of whole cloth.

Prayer - it doesn't work. It never has.

This is the Apostate, signing off.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Armageddon! And Gerbils?

Perhaps one of the funniest urban legends yet.
After watching/listening to this, the word 'armageddon' takes on a whole new meaning.

As hysterical as this is, sadly, it's completely false, in accordance with Snopes.com:
*Origins:* Contrary to widespread public belief, Gerbil
"gerbil-stuffing" is unknown as an actual sexual practice, nor are we aware of a verified medical case of a gerbil having been extracted from a patient's rectum. Despite the assiduousness with which doctors record unusual items removed from patients' rectums in order to write them up as illustrative cases, we haven't yet found a medical journal article involving a gerbil removal. (Doctors, like most people, often repeat urban legends and stories told to them by others as first-person experiences, hence our standard for declaring this true is a peer-reviewed journal article rather than anecdote.) The notion of gerbilling (not necessarily restricted to homosexuals ? the insertion of items into the rectum for purposes of autoeroticism is practiced by heterosexuals as well) appears to be pure invention, a tale fabricated to demonstrate the depravity with which "faggots" allegedly pursue sexual pleasure. (While people do stick all sorts of unusual items up their rectums, they also do so for reasons other than sexual pleasure.)

Colonscopies and enemas being two such items I can name off the top of my head.

Anyways, from hereon out, I'll always snicker like an adolescent boy every time I hear the word, "Armageddon!" It will be henceforth an end, but not of days.



Monday, August 13, 2007

What Exactly IS A Militant Atheist, Anyways?

Back in May, I took one of those goofy tests (fun, but probably as worthwhile as any of those found in any of the magazine racks), which estimated me at 83% scientific, and 83% militant.

Then I read this bit of codswallop at Pharyngula, and the few brain cells remaining to me began to rub together.

Just a taste:

To those of us who identify with liberal and progressive cultural movements, whether religious or humanist, there are potentially worrying trends here. The intensity with which new atheist identities are being forged through a hatred of imagined religious others is matched by the hatred felt by some conservative religious groups towards those they perceive as godless.

Hey, sorry, I just have a problem with stupidity, is all. Scratch that, I have a problem with stupidity that envisions itself as intelligence.

Back to that test.

The only reason I can fathom, in that it hoisted me up to 'militancy', is that I do indeed tear down religious pamphlets. Yep, that's right: I'm an intolerant liberal, all rightie.

Funny, but when someone uses the word 'militant', it conjures up (in my mind, at least) visions of black clad vigiliantes sneaking about at night, churches burning, mobs bearing pitchforks and torches, bricks flung through bible book store windows, tracer bullets mowing down the 'faithful'...you ken me drift, I think.

The dictionary defines militancy as:

"1. The state of being militant; warfare.

2. A military spirit or system; militarism. H. Spencer."

The thesaurus lists the synonyms as:

    1. Hostile behavior: aggression, aggressiveness, belligerence, belligerency, combativeness, contentiousness, hostility, militance. See attack/defend.
    2. Warlike or hostile attitude or nature: bellicoseness, bellicosity, belligerence, belligerency, combativeness, contentiousness, hostility, militance, pugnaciousness, pugnacity, truculence, truculency. See attack/defend.

Hmmm...militant it is.

So be it.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Atheism As Self Actualization


Cross-posted at God Is For Suckers

Let's talk about actualization, you and I. Take a good, strong look at where we stand.

Abraham Maslow, in 1943, a leader in humanistic psychology, came up with the theory of self-actualization.

No, this is no New Age nonsense: it's not some Deepak Chopra chaff. It's a theory that makes a lotta sense.

Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs is as follows:

a theory in psychology that Abraham Maslow proposed in his 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation, which he subsequently extended to include his observations of man's innate curiosity. His theory contended that as humans meet 'basic needs', they seek to satisfy successively 'higher needs' that occupy a set hierarchy. Maslow studied exemplary people such as Albert Einstein, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglass rather than mentally ill or neurotic people, writing that "the study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy."[1] Maslow also studied one percent of the healthiest college student population. While Maslow's theory was regarded as an improvement over previous theories of personality and motivation, it had its detractors. For example, in their extensive review of research that is dependent on Maslow's theory, Wabha and Bridwell (1976) found little evidence for the ranking of needs that Maslow described, or even for the existence of a definite hierarchy at all.

I disagree with this last sentence. We require our physical needs be met. We yearn for security, routine. As pack animals, we absolutely must be loved, and provided with a sense of belonging. From those three, flows the fourth. We are, after all, hierarchal creatures.

My addendum to this, is that the religious folks are pretty much stuck at the Esteem level.

Let's elaborate, with a personal anecdote. I had a pretty tough childhood (yeah, I know, we all did, just bear with me). Insecure, bullied, wrestling with the divergent hormone avalanche, I sought out alternative ways of validation. Food was one. The occult was another.

It gave me a secret, it gave me the illusion of power. Adolescent fantasies of strength. Luckily, I outgrew all that folderol.

And here is my take: there are many, many things in this life, this world, this universe, that are out of our individual control. Weather, other people's behavior, other variables over which we exert zero control.

So it is in this cloak of flesh we wear, that insecurity plagues us, dogs our footsteps, and sends the wearer on various bunny trails.

So, of all the paths we tread, those that are most tempting, are the ones that are well trodden, that whisper of the ego of personal power. Whether it be of ourselves as the mighty warrior or the keeper of darkness, the vessel of some ghostly power that will act upon us or to impart some supernatural element in hopes that all will be made right one day, that keening wail of the down-trodden that someone comes someday to pass judgment so that the scales will be righted.

If we look at the fifth level, the formula comes clear: most atheists I know are in possession of those attributes (that I know of: there are exceptions, no doubt).

Atheism is what adults do, that is, when the bloom is off the adolescent rose.

And so we as atheists go about, attempting to educate fellow our adults, who are trying to clutch the dreams of their youth with tremulous hands. It falls to us, then, to lead the world to maturity.

This is the Apostate, signing off.


Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Rare Find - The 'Varsity Blues' Portrays Religion As Exceptionally Confusing

This is my first foray into putting together some film clips on Youtube.

I found a copy of 'Varsity Blues' on DVD laying about at work. Now, I'm not a huge fan of 'coming of age' movies. I find them to be trite as a rule: I recall absolutely no one being quite as...together as the protagonist usually is (it's silly - most teenie-boppers are for the most part, not quite as capable in real life as they are in the movie). Apart from that, I'm not a football fan. In fact, not at all enchanted as most Americans are with team sports. As a rule, they put me to sleep. But, since the damn thing was free, I shrugged and thought, 'What the hell?'

It was actually not bad. It compares the foolishness of deifying sports and sports figures with the issues of real life (everybody in the small town is so enamored of high school football, that they even built a bronze statue of the coach who's won them so many state titles). Jon Voight is excellent as the heavy-handed asshole coach who cares more about winning than his players, the characters are believable, albeit set against some wild caricatures (the head quarterback actually has a billboard of himself on his own front lawn - funny, but way out in left field, Tweeter, a secondary character, will screw anything female, you know, the works).

The little brother Kyle shines, in these two clips. The first is a compilation of clips, the second is the result of Youtube's limitation on uploads (the first got truncated, I think). Kyle is a little boy who's searching for the 'one true religion'.



Thursday, August 09, 2007

Brownback Mountain

(hat tip to Pharyngula)

I wish I could come up with some truly memorable commentary on this particular obscenity - it bears all the earmarks of the remarkable craziness of religion. Satanic conspiracies, declarations of imagined victories, them 'durn evul libruls', baby-killing, the whole shebang.

I can't tell if it's satire, or seriousness. If the former, hilarious, if the latter, well, there's a whole lotta empty straitjackets that are missing their owners.

If your eyes are used to such madness, then it's fun reading. Otherwise, it'll come as a shock, even to the irreverent, jaded lot we've all come to be.

A metaphorical shower would suit me around now.


Sunday, August 05, 2007

Take One Tablet, And Bingo! The Bible Is Fact!


Cross-posted at God is for Suckers!

I came across this bit of tomfoolery, and I gotta say:

Are you kidding me?

"The sound of unbridled joy seldom breaks the quiet of the British Museum's great Arched Room, which holds its collection of 130,000 Assyrian cuneiform tablets, dating back 5,000 years.

"This fragment is a receipt for payment made by a figure in the Old Testament."

Oh yippee.

"But Michael Jursa, a visiting professor from Vienna, let out such a cry last Thursday. He had made what has been called the most important find in Biblical archaeology for 100 years, a discovery that supports the view that the historical books of the Old Testament are based on fact."

Oh, one tiny piece of evidence is suddenly pivotal? Is the case for the 'historical' bible that flimsy?

Apparently so.

"Searching for Babylonian financial accounts among the tablets, Prof Jursa suddenly came across a name he half remembered - Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, described there in a hand 2,500 years old, as "the chief eunuch" of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon."

"Prof Jursa, an Assyriologist, checked the Old Testament and there in chapter 39 of the Book of Jeremiah, he found, spelled differently, the same name - Nebo-Sarsekim."

My question is: how common was this name?

"Nebo-Sarsekim, according to Jeremiah, was Nebuchadnezzar II's "chief officer" and was with him at the siege of Jerusalem in 587 BC, when the Babylonians overran the city."

Oh, how nice for y'all. No evidence of any of the big names in the bible, but one minute find can make all the difference!

That is, if you're reaching.

"The small tablet, the size of "a packet of 10 cigarettes" according to Irving Finkel, a British Museum expert, is a bill of receipt acknowledging Nabu-sharrussu-ukin's payment of 0.75 kg of gold to a temple in Babylon.

"The tablet is dated to the 10th year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, 595BC, 12 years before the siege of Jerusalem.

"Evidence from non-Biblical sources of people named in the Bible is not unknown, but Nabu-sharrussu-ukin would have been a relatively insignificant figure."

And insignificant it remains...to the world at large. In fact, it's just foolish to think that one small find contradicts the vast amount of historical data which proves that old grimoire false.

"This is a fantastic discovery, a world-class find," Dr Finkel said yesterday. "If Nebo-Sarsekim existed, which other lesser figures in the Old Testament existed? A throwaway detail in the Old Testament turns out to be accurate and true. I think that it means that the whole of the narrative [of Jeremiah] takes on a new kind of power."

'New kind of power'? Have these yobbos even read the narrative? It's chock full of historical errors. The entire Old Testament is filled to bursting with inaccuracies, as I've shown here. Jeremiah made all kinds of fuck-ups, from how long the Israelites would be restored from the Babylonian captivity, to the relatively 'minor' error that the temple would never be destroyed again.

"The full translation of the tablet reads: (Regarding) 1.5 minas (0.75 kg) of gold, the property of Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, the chief eunuch, which he sent via Arad-Banitu the eunuch to [the temple] Esangila: Arad-Banitu has delivered [it] to Esangila. In the presence of Bel-usat, son of Alpaya, the royal bodyguard, [and of] Nadin, son of Marduk-zer-ibni. Month XI, day 18, year 10 [of] Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.

Next thing you know, they'll be producing Moses' left testicle.

It's an allegorical leap of faith, to think that some miniscule detail of minor import is going to lend credence to a defunct tome. And that chasm they're leaping across? It's a loonngg way down.

Metaphorically speaking, of course.

This is the Apostate, signing off.