left biblioblography: December 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tuesday Funny–Calvin And Hobbes And Philosophy




Saturday, December 25, 2010

Everyone Has Problems– And Religion Fixes Them How Exactly?

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasiswhatcrazychristiansattend

I stumbled across an article that tries to approach the concept of who is and who isn’t bonkers when it comes to religion. The qualifying word in that last sentence is “tries”.

Line between divine inspiration and religious insanity is a narrow one

(I’d substitute ‘nothing’ for ‘a narrow one’, but maybe that’s just me.)

(RNS) A teenager says God and Jesus appeared to him in a grove and told him to start a new Christian church. Another person claims the Almighty talks to him through the radio.

A French girl gets messages from heaven to lead an army against the British, while a Utah woman thinks she is meant to have Jesus’ baby and 12 husbands.

Some of these figures were considered prophets and saints, while others were judged insane. The question is: How do you tell which is which?

Nobody upstairs, so you tell me.

Brian David Mitchell, convicted Friday (Dec. 10) of kidnapping and raping Elizabeth Smart, insisted that God gave him license to do so, though his attorneys argued he was mentally ill.

Ah, the old ‘Sacred Cow’ argument. Who’s up for steaks?

The main difference between a prophet and a psychopath, says Ralph Hood, who teaches psychology of religion at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, is “whether or not (they) can get followers.”

Mr. Hood is obviously talking out his ass. Jamestown? Charlie Manson? Adolph Hitler? Hello?

Historic figures who started new religious movements—including Martin Luther (the Reformation), Joseph Smith (Mormonism), Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science), Ellen White (Seventh-day Adventism), Jim Jones (People’s Temple) and David Koresh (Branch Davidians)—were viewed by outsiders as delusional.

Gee, why ever would that be?

But followers, ranging from the millions to the hundreds, found each of them to be credible guides to divinity.

Argument from numbers? How is it anyone takes this as a credible argument?

“There is ample research to suggest that, for the most part, religious people are no more inclined to mental illness than nonreligious people,” says Wendy Ulrich, a Mormon and founder of Sixteen Stones Center for Growth, a small group of mental-health professionals, in Alpine, Utah.

There’s ample evidence that everyone’s a little bit crazy, too. And I’d not trust a religious opinion about that, because it implies a confirmation bias.

The pathology arises, Ulrich says, when a person’s search for meaning “goes into extreme overdrive” and people “lose touch with vital aspects of reality.”

I’d say the pathology lies with some chemical imbalance.

From the start, psychologists must weigh a person’s religious and cultural expectations. The more important faith is, the more prominent a role religious language will play in a person’s mental process.

Which translates to a distinct lack of critical thought.

Maybe the person is speaking in tongues, communing with the dead, sensing the presence of a guardian angel or getting messages from milk cartons.

There’s no ‘maybe’ involved: these are all signs of mental imbalance, and should be treated as such.

So the first question becomes: Does the experience fit with some religious tradition that is dominant in a culture? Does it make sense to a particular faith community, or is it out of the norm? Is it consistent with the faith’s scripture, practices and beliefs or does it challenge them?

This all presupposes so many underlying concepts, such as assuming that if it’s a society that endorses it, then it’s normal, or that it isn’t right to challenge some faith’s issues.

As a clinical psychologist, Brent Slife might bring in a pastor or priest to help answer that question.

Which makes his credits questionable.

“I would want to know how contextually appropriate their behavior or the things they are espousing are,” says Slife, a Protestant who teaches at Brigham Young University. “Are they able to adapt to different contexts?”

Ach, and again, the confirmation bias.

Unbalanced people may repeatedly quote scriptures or obsessively perform rituals or adopt a grander, more spiritual identity such as King David, Moses, Muhammad or Jesus.

Having seen a huge amount of these behaviors from religious bloggers online, I’d say that they hide it well in real life.

“If the pope says he’s the Vicar of Christ, that’s OK because it fits with a centuries-old tradition,” Hood says. “If I think I am, I’m in trouble.”

Ummm…or the pope’s a crazy loon too?

There are at least two common ways in which mental patients describe their delusional experiences with God, Ulrich says. Schizophrenics hear voices or see things that are not there. Those suffering from paranoia, meanwhile, see conspiracy in everyday events or think God is speaking specially to them.

These behaviors are ubiquitous, but Ulrich makes them sound isolated and extreme.

“They over-interpret common experiences to mean either someone is out to get them or God is out to help them,” Ulrich says. “Ideas of grandiosity and thinking of themselves as special or chosen in some way are not uncommon.”

Again, ubiquitous to the point of embarrassing.

But it never is easy to assess the authenticity of another person’s spiritual experience.

That’s assuming there’s any such thing.

Ulrich has known people whose behavior could be inspiring or could signal a muddled mind. Many of them take part in church services without fellow believers even being aware.

Well, it gets glossed over quite easily.

She has known some religious folks who are unusually clairvoyant, with a penchant for and openness to revelatory experiences. They largely are calm, highly functioning, rational people, who are socially engaged but don’t call attention to themselves.

There’s no such thing as a clairvoyant. Just folks who have a finely honed penchant for reading social cues.

“They pretty much play by the rules of society and don’t think of themselves as special,” she says. “They know their `gifts’ are not always believed in or valued, so they have a sense of humor about them.”

Of course, no name-dropping.

She’s also seen people who are “very high-functioning in some areas of life and can be quite charismatic, intelligent and charming,” but they begin to “over-interpret impressions or events as messages from God in ways that make other people nervous, even people within their own value system or religious system.”

The internet abounds with such nonsense, so I leave it to the readers to supply them.

Such people think the “rules” of the community don’t apply to them and may start to feel that others are out to get them, she says, and they don’t understand why.

Disconnect with reality much?

If you ask a religious person how God communicates, she might say through impressions or a kind of whispering. But if you ask a mentally ill person that question, he might say, “I shook hands with him yesterday.”

All of these are signs of mental illness. The next sentence is classic:

Studies show that reasoning with schizophrenic patients about God never works, Measom says. They cannot be convinced of any other interpretation. It’s a matter, he says, of core beliefs and brain chemistry.

Measom obviously doesn’t surf the web much.

For a believer such as the Rev. Gregory Johnson, the line between genuine religious experience and madness sometimes is blurred.

The boundaries of sanity aren’t up for debate. They’re not ‘re-interpreted’ to suit the many or the one. There is no such thing as a ‘genuine religious experience’, just heightened alterations of brain patterns.

Johnson, who directs Standing Together, a Utah group of evangelical pastors, is not a charismatic Christian, so he doesn’t speak in tongues or engage in the more ecstatic practices. But he does believe God heals, speaks and leads.

But he’s sane, how?

“I see a range of healthiness and levels of extremity within the confines (of Christianity),” he said. “I see people who are zealous but not insane.”

Well, if he’d read this article with a discerning eye, he’d seen that just about all the religious folks that anyone anywhere knows fits into the multiple patterns already mentioned.

One of the tests, Johnson says, might be the “fruits” or outcomes of the divine communication. Does the experience lead a person into more altruistic actions, greater caring for others and deeper relations, or does it simply draw the recipient further into narcissism?

It’s easily demonstrated: people need to feel good about what they do, so they invent excuses to do so, and ‘religious experiences’ are as a rule, an excuse. It’s all narcissism.

As a pastor, Johnson says, he would worry about actions that are “destructive to other people or to themselves.”

Hey, isn’t that the yardstick by which we measure crazy anyways? There’s benign crazy, and there’s malign crazy, and the latter is always scary.

Mormons are urged to seek and receive God’s guidance for themselves and their families. But only the church’s “prophet, seer and revelator” can receive messages for the whole faith and the world. Such institutional controls may inhibit individual experiences, but they do prevent mentally ill members from distracting or confusing the faithful.

Again with the Mormons? Among the top ten of crazy in Christianity?

Even as a young Mormon teen, Elizabeth Smart says she knew the difference between a genuine religious leader and Mitchell.

Ah, and the grist of this is: it’s all an apologist’s approach to detach the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping from any actual religious connections. The old ‘he wasn’t one of us’ excuse. 

“God would never tell someone to kidnap a young girl from her family’s home in the middle of the night from her bed that she shared with her sister ... and sexually abuse her and give her no free agency to choose what she did,” Smart testified. “I know (Mitchell) was not called of God because God would never do something like that.”

I find it fascinating that these people always seem to know the mind of their alleged deity, and how closely it syncs up with their own opinion. Fascinating, but not surprising.

Happy Holidays, troops.

Till the next post, then.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tuesday Funny–Drunken Octopus

(Hat tip to Deep Sea News)



Saturday, December 18, 2010

Another Wall Comes A’ Tumbling Down–DADT Repealed.

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis

gaysmilitarycartoonDon't ask, don't tell, just keep it all to yourself
And there's something about those blue eyes
And the sweet, sweet smell of a summer night
It makes me forget whoever it is I should be remembering
Remembering now. – Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, by Shut Up And Deal

It’s been an eventful year. Proposition 8 got voted into California legislature, and is now ruled unconstitutional. And now, another discriminatory practice, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is out the window.

There are still hurdles to be leaped. There is for instance, the ban of gay men giving blood. There is institutionalized homophobia in just about any country you can name (excepting the more secular ones).

In fact, homosexuality in the military was once sanctioned by Plato, yet widely discriminated against over the centuries. And it comes as no surprise, that the foremost opponents of the repealing of DADT are…drum roll please…a bunch of neurotic and repressed religionists:

Despite an outpouring of calls, emails and faxes, Illinois U.S. Senator Mark Kirk joined his liberal colleague Dick Durbin in support of invoking cloture on the radical anti-military, anti-family repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for our military.
The lame duck U.S. Senate voted 63 to 33 on Saturday morning to end the filibuster, which clears the way for the bill to pass with a simple majority. Every Senate Democrat voted yes, and six Republicans joined them: U.S. Senators Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Scott Brown (Massachusetts), as well as retiring Senator George Voinovich (Ohio) and our own junior Senator from Illinois, Mark Kirk.

That six Republicans actually joined the ranks is an amazing thing to me.

Just perusing the ‘Illinois Family Fantasy Institution” is actually a revolting stroll down false memory lane. The ‘articles’ they post are anachronistic memes screeching as they circle down the toilet. One such ‘article’ is way over the border:

Illinois U.S. Representatives Don Manzullo and Peter Roskam and 40 of their colleagues in Congress are calling on President Barack Obama to acknowledge America's Godly heritage.
Manzullo and Roskam co-signed a letter asking President Obama to correct remarks he recently made in Indonesia where he referred to America's national motto as "E Pluribus Unum -- out of one, many." The actual national motto, adopted by Congress in 1956, is "In God We Trust."

And actually, this is correct. IGWT is indeed the national motto. Of course, if anyone moves to have it stricken, there will be quite the fuss. And screw the Founding Fathers – these folks only quote the selected highlights, and play the contextomy game.

It’s in the nature of people to resist change, the paradox being that change is a mainstay of existence. But the war of attrition is slowly eroding the barriers that separate people from one another, and some day, raging xenophobia will be a thing of the past.

Till the next post, then.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wednesday Funny–Somewhat Amusing, Somewhat Poignant…

…mostly because the religious do indeed live in a comic book world. Nice fantasy.




Sunday, December 12, 2010

The NCP: Crazy People Making More People Crazy, And The Crazy Just Seems To Keep On Keepin’ on….

Council-for-National-PolicyThe lunatic is on the grass.
The lunatic is on the grass.
Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs.
Got to keep the loonies on the path.
The lunatic is in the hall.
The lunatics are in my hall.
The paper holds their folded faces to the floor
And every day the paper boy brings more. – Pink Floyd,
Brain Damage

Surfing the web (or whatever phraseology is in vogue right now), I came across something that could scare any secular humanist in any country: a very benign-sounding council that is anything but benign, with the sobriquet of the Council For National Policy. Sounds harmless, no?


The Council for National Policy (CNP), is an umbrella organization and networking group for social conservative activists in the United States. It has been described by The New York Times as a "little-known group of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country," who meet three times yearly behind closed doors at undisclosed locations for a confidential conference. Nation magazine has called it a secretive organization that "networks wealthy right-wing donors together with top conservative operatives to plan long-term movement strategy." It was founded in 1981 by Tim LaHaye as a forum for conservative Christians seeking to strengthen the political right in the United States.

LaHaye is that crazy asshole who wrote those ridiculous books about Left Behind, a Christian superstition about their elitist deity who will only take those who ‘qualify’ for their ‘sinlessness’ at the End of Days.

The CNP describes itself as "an educational foundation organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. We do not lobby Congress, support candidates, or issue public policy statements on controversial issues. Our over 600 members include many of our nation's leaders from the fields of government, business, the media, religion, and the professions. Our members are united in their belief in a free enterprise system, a strong national defense, and support for traditional western values. They meet to share the best information available on national and world problems, know one another on a personal basis, and collaborate in achieving their shared goals."

What exactly are their ‘shared goals’? Reading between the lines (something you need when dealing with these crazies), you find hints of crazy:

Marc J. Ambinder of ABC News said about the Council: "The group wants to be the conservative version of the Council on Foreign Relations." The CNP was founded in 1981. Among its founding members were: Tim LaHaye, then the head of the Moral Majority, Nelson Baker Hunt, T. Cullen Davis, William Cies, and Paul Weyrich.

The Moral Majority? Are you kidding me? Top tier crazy. The rest is a who’s who of people I wouldn’t trust with the time of day:

Members of the CNP have included: General John Singlaub, shipping magnate J. Peter Grace, Edwin J. Feulner Jr of the Heritage Foundation, Rev. Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Jerry Falwell, Senator Trent Lott, Senator Don Nickles, former United States Attorneys General Ed Meese and John Ashcroft, gun-rights activist Larry Pratt, Col. Oliver North, and philanthropist Else Prince, mother of Erik Prince, the founder of the Blackwater private security firm.

And to make it oh so much more frightening:

Membership is by invitation only. The membership list, previously made public, is now "strictly confidential." Guests may attend "only with the unanimous approval of the executive committee." Members are instructed not to refer to the organization by name, to protect against leaks. New York Times political writer David D. Kirkpatrick suggested that the secrecy since its founding was intended to insulate the Council from the "liberal bias of the news media".

The liberal what? Is that what they’re playing on their fascist banjos these days?

CNP's meetings are closed to the general public, reportedly to allow for a free-flowing exchange of ideas. The group meets three times per year. This policy is said to be similar to the long-held policy of the Council on Foreign Relations, to which the CNP has at times been compared. CNP's 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status was revoked by the IRS in 1992 on grounds that it was not an organization run for the public benefit. The group successfully challenged this ruling in federal court. A quarterly journal aimed at educating the public, promised in the wake of this incident, has not substantially materialized. The group has launched a website that contains selected speeches from past gatherings.

The funniest sentence in that paragraph is the first one. We all know that folks like these are more interested in sharing an isolated introspective travesty of reality as contrasted with what they’d like to actually be.

While those involved are almost entirely from the United States, their organizations and influence cover the globe, both religiously and politically. Members include corporate executives, legislators former high ranking government officers, leaders of 'think tanks' dedicated to molding society and those whom many view as "Christian leadership".

I’m pretty sure where that will end up.

And the leadership of this crowd is a laundry list of some of the more insane people in the limelight:

CNP was founded in 1981 by Tim LaHaye, author of the Left Behind series of books. Other early participants included Cleon Skousen, a prominent theologian and law enforcement expert; Paul Weyrich; Phyllis Schlafly; Robert Grant; Howard Phillips, a former Republican affiliated with the Constitution Party; Richard Viguerie, the direct-mail specialist; and Morton Blackwell, a Louisiana and Virginia activist who is considered a specialist on the rules of the Republican Party.

The council employs about eight people. Its first executive director was Woody Jenkins; later, Morton Blackwell served in this role, which is currently held by Steve Baldwin (b. 1957), not to be confused with actor Stephen Baldwin. Presidents have included Nelson Bunker Hunt of Dallas, Amway co-founder Richard DeVos of Michigan, Pat Robertson of Virginia Beach, Paul Pressler of Houston, and former Reagan Cabinet secretaries Ed Meese and Donald Hodel, as well as current president Kenneth Cribb. Former Texas state Republican chairman George Strake, Jr., was a member during the 1990s.

Seriously, this sort of thing freaks me right out: Schlafly is wackjob. Anybody associated with the Constitution Party is living in a self-designed bubble. Amway’s a religion of its own. Any Texan Republican is automatically bad news.

Here comes the scariest part:

The Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy at Cornell University considers the Council for National Policy a leading force in the Dominionist movement. TheocracyWatch, a CRESP project, describes it as "an umbrella organization of right-wing leaders who gather regularly to plot strategy, share ideas and fund causes and candidates to advance the theocratic agenda."

They will pry my ideological rights from between my cold dead fingers, is what. If this nation ever becomes a theocracy, I will (and this is no lie) pick up arms against the oppressor, and I will go forth to do literal battle with the slavemasters that would shackle those of us with their superstition, their fantasy, their mental slavery.

I will go to war.

Who is with me?


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Wednesday Funny–Godwinned!

Very nice.



Saturday, December 04, 2010

Muslim Misfires: Pamela Taylor Misses The Boat…

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasisdasdasdwss

It’s interesting, that the logical fallacies religious people use seem to be ever-present, and the only sort of ‘logic’ they can agree on. Here’s a few articles by Pamela Taylor:

Atheists, Pew, and Webster's

Clearly those folks who identified themselves as atheists and then went on to say that they believed in God and even prayed regularly don't know what an atheist is. Atheists by definition do not believe in God. It's not a matter of debate; that's what it means to be an atheist.

What a brutal non-starter. What? Who? I love the lack of name-dropping these people use.

It strikes me that the use of atheist by those who believe in God(s) and even pray to Him/Her/It/Them is parallel to the use of agnostic by hundreds of thousands of vaguely Christian folks who do not belong to a particular denomination or church. They aren't actually agnostic anymore than someone who believes in God is an atheist. A true agnostic believes that the question "Is there a God?" cannot be answered and therefore chooses not to ask it.

Again, who the fuck are these people? Some of this is correct, some of it sounds ludicrous.

It is also, perhaps, analogous to feminists who will not define themselves as such.

Umm…who isn’t a feminist these day? I mean, anybody in their right mind.

"Atheists" who believe in God, one suspects, prefer not to be identified with a particular religious group.

Really, the juggling of contradiction as paradox is ridiculous.

So too, "agnostics" who are really non-churched Christians prefer not to be identified with a popular notion of Christianity. And women (and men) who clearly adhere to feminist ideals prefer not to identified with that label. The common thread is the fact that those labels are either used pejoratively by various groups, or perceived as limiting and narrowing.

Screw labels, I say.

If you are feminist you have to eschew dressing sexy.

Hey, I’m a feminist, but I’m a guy. Afraid my dressing sexy days are over, though.

If you're a Christian you have to be socially conservative and intolerant of other faiths.

Not necessarily true – anyone can use religion as a rationalization for anything that blows their dress up.

If you're a ______ (fill in the blank with whatever religion) you have to follow certain tenets.

I don’t ‘believe’ in the supernatural, so I don’t have to follow any tenets.

In an attempt to avoid the negatives associated with various labels, people search for a different label for themselves.

Welcome to ‘playing with words 101’. Hey, say it loud ‘n proud.

Thus I'm proud to define myself as a feminist, and to admit I love men, not just as potential mates, but intellectually, artistically, as human beings. I'm proud to be Muslim, though I emphatically reject the branches of the faith that are misogynist, militant, and extreme.

Uh…that would be, what, 90% of them? The Koran, like the bible, is a load of hooey. Mostly because it’s built on the latter.

And to add more idiocy to the stew:

Atheism also a matter of faith

Faith is, obviously, a matter of faith. It's a belief that there is such a thing as God (or Gods). Atheism, also, is a matter of faith. It is a belief that there is no such a thing as God (or Gods). Since we cannot prove (or at least to date have not been able to prove) whether God does or does not exist -- though many point to evidence for and against God as though it were proof (and often the very same evidence is cited by both sides!) -- either position remains a position of belief, of faith. The only rational stance is to admit that we cannot prove either position; a stance which, incidentally, can be taken by believers or atheists or agnostics.

This is a huge swing and a miss – and strike three! Yer….OUTTA HERE!

It’s a trope we constantly get banged over the head with…and one of those items that send a goodly percentage of us into a tither. No, disbelief is not a matter of ‘faith’. It’s a critique of an extravagant positive claim. We want evidence. No – scratch that, we want verifiable, testable, falsifiable proof. Something that will hold up while we prod it, measure it, reproduce it. Not something that seems to vanish in a laboratory every single time. Every single religion offers up something that passes their particular litmus tests, and yet comes apart like ancient parchment when touched, vanishes like dust under close scrutiny. Because the bar is conspicuously close to the floor, ridiculously easy for even a toddler to hurdle.

And then Ms. Taylor comes up with this mind-boggling paragraph, which contradicts itself:

Similarly a rational approach to ethics, law, and politics can be adopted by believers, atheists or agnostics. One of the reasons I embraced Islam was that its ethics closely converged with my own Kantian system of morality. And where I found discrepancies between my personal ethics and Islam, I also found disagreement among Muslims over what Islam really teaches -- whether it be over the position of women in family and society, the role of hudud punishments in today's world, homosexuality, theocracy, or the meaning of jihad.

You must be joking. The position of women in family and society is that of chattel. Theocracy is a mainstay in the Muslim world. Homosexuals are punished, killed, harassed. Stop apologizing for this barbaric anachronism already. Accommodationist politics are pathetic.

She says much in the article that makes her out to be a moderate Muslim (because, yes, they do exist, I’ve met a few, mostly lapsed), but then:

And lastly, there is the rampant Islamophobia that seems to have gripped much of this political season. Factual discussion about Muslims, radical or not, is pretty much as elusive as rational discussion about the role of Christianity or parties in our politics. Some would have you believe we are in the midst of all out war of cultures; others claim that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim; that there is no such thing as a loyal American Muslim, and that the real goal of American Muslims is to take over America and impose shari'ah on it. Sadly, these outrageous claims are being trumpeted not by the fringe, but by serious, influential politicians.

I’ve already stipulated there are moderates among Muslims, but am convinced that they are afraid to speak out against their more extreme sects. That right there, is a condemnation of that system. It allows bullies to dogpile onto rationality. I’m sure there are loyal American Muslims, and they just want to live their lives in peace and quiet, just like anyone else. The problem is, that there’s a lot of bad press. And I don’t mean isolated instances: there’s a LOT of it. And the tired excuse of “They’re not one of us!” just won’t hold up anymore.

Yes, I’m an Islamophobe, much in the same way I’m a Judeo-phobe, or a Christ-o-phobe: these people are, for the most part, unhinged. Frightening. Crazy. If I were to speak out against Christianity or Judaism in a crowd of those adherents, chances are that I would be pummeled. Muslims? I’m very sure it would go the extra mile.

So back on course: I am foursquare against taking people’s rights away. Regardless of the fact that their beliefs are pure fantasy. I am also foursquare against religion – because that’s what it does, it usurps reason, it deprives people of their rights and posits discrimination. It’s a conundrum wrapped in a puzzle, all right.

The only answer at this stage, is to stand up and calmly denounce any and all religion, regardless of the din it ignites.

Till the next post, then.


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Wednesday Funny–Get Fuzzy

I think this is an accurate representation of how an anti-evolutionist thinks: