Sunday, September 26, 2010

Secular religion gone crazy

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Religion has unfolded into a plethora of different schools over the last 3000 years or so. We might well ask - what is the next step. I can see light at the end of the tunnel. A religion which is open to everyone regardless of what they believe. I believe I have found them on a website called I do like the fact that they do state their values upfront. True to their name, they count an atheist among them. I guess that is consistent with their belief in democracy.
Where I disagree with them is:
1. "In the inherent worth of every person. People are worthy of respect, support, and caring simply because they are human. Unfortunately, we have not reached a consensus on when human life, in the form of an ovum and spermatozoon, becomes a human person. On this matter, our lack of agreement on when personhood begins mirrors that of society at large".
Let me add some clarity. When a person is 'inherently' or intrinsically of value, you admonish the very concept of value, or any notion of a hierarchy of values. Intrinsic values are thus a repudiation of life, of meaning, of science, and of knowledge. People are worthy of respect, support and caring to the extent that they have earned your respect, and you theirs. The reason why you can't reach a consensus on what life is, is because you see the implications of that decision. In any respect, abortion is not an issue related to when life begins, but the proper ethics between lives. You clearly believe that a life ought to be able to impose obligations on other lives. This is evident is abortion and the collectivist state, i.e. welfare, education (i.e. the right to an education is the right to coerce teachers into providing an education).
2. "In working towards a culture that is relatively free of discrimination on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, physical disability, age, body shape, etc".
Well, there would be less discrimination if educators actually recognised its cause. Discrimination is not actually the problem. Discrimination is actually a proper consequence of making value judgements. Price discrimination is something we do every day, and we make all manner of value judgements. Why not racial, religious and sex discrimination? Well, in some context they are appropriate, and mostly they are not, but its a question of reasons and context. There is no dogmatic way to make such decisions. Clearly religious people are more likely to exercise such irrational forms of discrimination because they make a virtue out of 'faith' (or acceptance without reason). Given their humble acknowledgement of their prejudice, you will often hear Christians say, I wish I did not have this prejudice...oh well, I am only human. Original Sin - its the ultimate cope out.
3. "In the value of the human person. We oppose the use of torture and cruel or unusual punishment including the death penalty".
There are good reasons to repudiate the use of capital punishment. Perhaps the most important reasons are that (i) our justice system is underfunded, (ii) Our government persecutes more than it prosecutes given its underlying value system, (iii) the objectivity and critical thinking skills of our judiciary is lacklustre, (iv) Our court system integrates with the police and prison system, so there is a possibility of judicial indifference, bias and unaccountability, and (v) attitudes to evidence, and what constitutes evidence are often arbitrary or non-contextual. I do however think there is a place for capital punishment; but at this point government bureaucrats cannot be trusted with the responsibility or its regulation.
4. "In the importance of democracy within religious, political and other structures".
Not sure what this means, but these institutions are entirely consistent. We have religion which repudiates the mind, and we have a political system which subjugates the rational thoughts of some individuals to the mindless indifference of the majority, who are themselves disempowered, vestiges of their former, mal-developed selves.
5. "In the separation of religion and state; and the freedoms of speech, association, and expression".
Nice idea, but unfortunately it makes little difference. Whilst religion might have little direct influence on politics, on some level it affects the thinking of people, and that culminates in coercive government policy, and the oppression of individuals. Just as religion is based on arbirtrary dogma, so is government policy. The difference is that religious dogma comes from traditional nonsense, whilst government policy derives from collectivist nonsense. Our democratic tradition is based on subjugation of individuals to the majority, which is not a competition in 'quality' arguments, but a 'numbers' game which precludes the possibility of conflict, which prevents the realisation of solutions. This is what we call the 'tyranny of the majority', which is more concerning that the 'tyranny of some minority' because it has the force and legitimacy of the law. Your arbitrary Senate structure offers little in the way of protection, such that many people actually consider it worthwhile to abolish the institution of 'accountability'.
6. "That freedom of speech is one of our most important rights. This includes the freedom to compare the beliefs of faith groups with each other and with other sources of information. It includes the freedom to criticize faith and other groups when they harm others".
What good is freedom of speech when you have no freedom of property. What good does it do me to have the freedom of speech when I have no right to material expression, say the creation of wealth. What is the purpose of ideas, but to seek some material manifestation of it. Knowledge is not an end in itself. But yes, you ought to have the freedom to be stupid, or not. But I should be free of any motivation you might have to impose your values upon me. In which case your arbitrary assertions tend to manifest in wars, which is why religion is ultimately as dangerous as any other subjectivist (i.e. collectivist political) movement.
7. "That the systems of truth that we have studied on the topics of morals, ethics, and religious belief are often considered absolute within various religions and secular belief systems. However, they are obviously relative because they vary greatly from one culture, religion, and time to another".
Wow, this is an intellectual contortion. Truth is absolute, but it is also objective and contextual. It is not a 'dogmatic' absolute divorced of context. As soon as you talk about reconciling dogmas and secular thought is where you descend into relativism. It cannot be done with any credibility. Either you are preaching absolute mumbo-jumbo, or you are talking relativist mumbo-jumbo. Anyway, any mystic idealist is condemned to descend into scepticism by merely 'virtue' of their idiocy and declining morale. Hence the ultimate scepticism.
8. "In the generally positive influence that most religions have had on their followers and on society".
Religion has a terrible historical legacy, but I guess if you accept that humanity was born with 'Original Sin', you could delude yourself into thinking almost anything. Are we better? Does that correlate with the declining levels of religious belief. Empirical evidence suggests that atheists commit fewer crimes than Christians. I don't want to suggest that only Christians are bad people, but that all critical thinkers are going to be educated 'thinkers'. i.e. The ratio of Christian scientists are far lower at 5%, than the 66% ratio of Christians in the broader community.
9. "In the importance of education. We believe that people are not truly educated unless they have studied the world's major religions and ethical systems. They need to learn of both the good and evil impacts that each has had on society".
Studying all the major religions of the world would be great if it was not all you studied, as it might highlight in your mind the fact that they all descended from paganism, and are thus forms of early deception, and how institutionalised religion is really nothing more than plagiarism of early paganism.

If this dialogue made little sense to you, it is because you need to raise your intellectual proficiency. There are a great many books to read....i suggest you get started.
------------------------------------Andrew Sheldon

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Christian Fundamentalist response to 'Koran smoking'

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In my last post I discussed the smoking of the bible and Koran by an Australian. He was of course making a point that people should relax, and not take religion 'so seriously' and their 'sacred books' so symbolically. He argues correctly that they are just books. I have actually torn up a bible on one occasion on public transport to the disdain of a fellow commuter. I was given the bible by a Christian promoting his cause. I wanted to destroy the bible because its antithetical to my values.
In my case the gesture was practical. I wanted to remove one cancerous book from society. I would not be silly enough to buy the book, but it made the Christian virtuous for giving me the book, and by a different moral standard, it made me virtuous to destroy it. He was very angry at me, but made no effort to beat me up. I challenged his arguments with my own, and he calmed down.

So let's look at a video by a Fundamentalist Christian and examine his arguments....
1. He accuses him of doing drugs in the video - but in fact they are clearly not real drugs. Maybe he has tobacco in them, but they are not 'rollies'.
2. Censoring himself - He may not have closed his account, its probable that the University of Queensland required him to close the account, or maybe YouTube closed the account.
3. He could lose his job - Well some things are worth fighting for; but actually its actually improbable he would lose his job. He has actually raised healthy communication with this video. Its actually a celebration of religious tolerance and Australian anti-intellectualism, i.e. 'just get over it'.
4. Same as Terry Jones - Its not like the Terry Jones case at all. Alex is an atheist opposed to fundamentalism, and Terry Jones is a fundamentalist. Could the disparity be any greater?
5. Because of Terry Jones - Alex Stewart's opportunity to take a stand arose because of Terry Jones. True enough, but why is that an issue. Did he plagiarize Terry's content? No. Actually, he came up with his own. The flipside is actually true. This fundamentalist is not just making this presentation, which is contingent upon Alex's action, but he actually recites mostly media material without any references.
But 'hell', don't expect any intellectual honesty or coherent ideas from Christians or Muslims. That is why they believe - because they need some intrinsic concept of value to satisfy their under-developed minds. Defined by fear at such a fundamental level that they know not their true nature. That is the defining aspect of a fundamentalist - Christian or Muslim.
Andrew Sheldon

Smoking the bible and Koran - Alex Stewart

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News is circulating about Australian Alex Stuart, a professor at the University of Queensland, and a self-professed atheist. In the spirit of dissension, in probably inspired by the Florida pastor who proposed to burn copies of the Koran as a protest against the building of a mosque near the World Trade Centre; Alex recorded a YouTube video showing himself smoking a page from the Bible, as well as a page from the Koran. He argued that the Bible tasted better and the Koran made him sick. He also said that those who are upset by his video are taking life way too seriously. Alex has been placed on leave, and may face the loss of his job for his efforts.
Alex's account has been closed, whether by him or YouTube, however clips can be viewed elsewhere. EXCUSE the idiot who posted this. Myself excluded.
We might ask - what exactly has the guy done wrong. A number of points are made:
1. He is not anti-Christianity or anti-Islam, he is against both forms of mysticism
2. He is exercising his right of self-expression. If it is ok for a person to believe in God, then it has to be ok to believe in atheism. He is therefore against all forms of persecution. Despite this, the University of Queensland is at a loss as to what to do about the situation. Just as they want to declare they are tolerant of religions, they need to be tolerant of those who profess none, and rejoice in their lack of a religion.
3. He is actually highlighting a 'possible' institutionalised discrimination of atheism. For this reason, I believe Alex willretain his job. After all he is dealing with an academic institution right? Who values reasoned arguments right? We can only hope.

But what of the practical consequences of these actions. Is a single, or even a group of Australians smoking the bible and Koran going to cause soldiers in the Middle East to be attacked. Well that is an interesting point. I would suggest it is. And here is why.....THEY ARE DIFFERENT. The Middle East is packed full of collectivists. They are not lovers of freedom, so don't expect them to embrace freedoms. You think you can remove persecution in countries where it is so embedded. This fails to appreciate the extent to which collectivism is embedded in the culture. Its not just political, its deeper, so its pointless dealing with it on this level. For this reason, there is a need for Australia and other Western countries to either remove themselves from the Middle East, or hold them accountable for their values.
Do we really need to placate fundamentalists? Do we really think fundamentalists are only people who blow up their children? Christianity has their nutters as you see the correlation?
In the NZ Herald, the president of the Islamic Association of Australia said "Mr Stewart's motives were deeply hurtful to Muslims but his future was for the university to decide". Well, actually if his philosophy was meaningful he ought to praise him for his honesty. He made no judgement about religion. In fact, in essence, he is opposing extremism in the most non-judgemental way. He is saying people need to relax. Did he intend the issue to be divisive? Probably. But maybe he just wanted people to reflect on the fact that 'they are just books'. Even good whiskey is more valuable than any particular bible. He is opposed to symbolism, which he sees as mindless.
Sheik Muhammad Wahid said:
"We condemn it and our feelings have been hurt by this man. ...There is no need for this kind of thing, just to create disunity and disharmony among people living in Australia".
The reality is that he has not created disunity....there was never any unity. He has exposed what was always there, but for the sake of political correctness and fear, few people are willing to deal with. The reality is that this is a test for Muslims and Christians alike. Who will resort to retaliatory acts? Catholics? Protestants? Muslims? Of course some fundamentalists are destined to fail, and because of psychological repression and political correctness around the world, the disdain for Alex's actions will overlook an important issue....Alex has allowed us to see that its ok for people to have different views. He is a role model for peace in Jerusalem. After all his views are not exactly embraced by the majority of Australians. Atheists number (10%) about as many as Muslims (5%) in Australia, and Muslims are closer to Christianity than atheism.
"With respect to books like the Bible and the Koran, whatever, just get over it," he says. "That said, I don't think it's completely appropriate unless it's done for a good purpose, which I've done today".
Alex is not entirely consistent. He says 'get over it'. Get over what? This sounds like repression to me. Anyway, its a side issue. Why does he favour the bible? He suggests its probably the paper. Of course the Islamic clerics are not interested in the contents of the video, merely in its capacity to be used as a matter for scandal. Why are Islamic clerics [and Christians] making more of this than it is ...because they are fundamentalists with a desire to appease their followers, or to incite hatred, so they will have a following. Nothing wrong with that, except they are not using facts.
In my next blog I will talk more about the response by Christian fundamentalists.
Andrew Sheldon

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Extreme case of Christian virtue

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Ever wondered what religion is doing to your children or indeed yourself. Consider the following extreme case. I don't want to imply that religion is the only source of abuse, merely one form of collectivism which is undermining human progress.
In a Sussex County court room, New Jersey, the jury heard how a woman made no effort to feed her four starving children, telling them God would provide for them as they grew weaker and hungrier by the day. Estelle Walker, 50, was found guilty of child endangerment. The children, aged 8, 9, 11 and 13, were so malnourished they could hardly speak when discovered by police in 2006. The jury of eight women and four men rejected the unusual defence claim that the New York City woman was not responsible for her actions because of her strict religious beliefs and what her lawyer called an extreme reliance on God. "She was acting to her stringent religious beliefs that God would provide. She lost weight when they lost weight ... She and the children prayed together.
At one point, Walker said to Supreme Court Judge N. Peter Conforti that “God will defend me”. She also told the judge she had been directed by prayer to reject a plea bargain that would have allowed her to go free with time served, or the one year she spent in jail before making bail. She now faces up to 10 years in prison for each of the four counts of second-degree endangerment.
Walker starved the children in a mountain cabin provided by the Manhattan-based Times Square Church, to which she belonged. At the time, she claimed she needed to escape an alcoholic husband. But when Walker refused to leave in May 2006, the church began eviction proceedings and cut off financial support that ranged from $700 to $1,000 per month.
In his closing arguments, Assistant Prosecutor Francis Koch portrayed Walker as a cunning, evil woman who used her religion as an excuse to get a rent-free lake house at the expense of her children’s health. Walker, he said, could have asked for help from friends and family members. Instead, Koch said, "she did nothing".

No one could criticise this woman for a lack of Christian virtue. Sure, there is other dogma which says that you should not test God's faith, but its a game where you stack one dogma up against another, its all enough to drive you insane. Here are some reasons why:
1. Original Sin: You are evil by nature so there is no prospect of doing any good anyway.
2. Dogma has no context so there is no possibility of 'measured virtue'. There is no hierarchy of values to say you are debasing a higher or more fundamental principle for an incidental one. For this reason, people have the potential to engage in unspeakable acts justified by a certain dogma, and at the neglect of another.

Of course some of you are going to argue that non-Christians are also capable of insanity. True enough, which is why I alluded to the other types of non-mystical collectivism which are evident in the world. It is however interesting to explore the relationship between the various mental disorders and values. The reason I think its interesting is because the greater number of 'nutters' seems to be in the Bible belts of countries like America.
Back to the issue of non-mystical collectivist nutters. My mind wonders to Japan. There are people doing some really crazy crimes in Japan. i.e. The kid who cut off his friend's mothers head and put it in her post box. Japan has heaps of such stories. But the country does have a low crime rate. I guess some people are just more accepting of collectivism.
Andrew Sheldon

Friday, September 3, 2010

Everyone is wrong - except me

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Religious leaders in Britain have lashed out at Steven Hawking as he sought to debunk a religious explanation for the creation of the universe. My conclusion - they are both wrong. Let us consider their arguments:
Hawking says that given the existence of gravity, "the universe can and will create itself from nothing" according to an excerpt published in The Times of London.
This is nonsense. Matter does not spontaneously evolve from nothing, it transforms from another form of matter, a matter than is far more dense and thus relatively smaller.
The head of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams, told the Times that "physics on its own will not settle the question of why there is something rather than nothing".
Actually he is right. Physics will not answer that question because science seeks to explain things in terms of causation, and there is no causation. Even non-Christians seem to be mystified by this question, of what caused the universe or matter. The answer is NOTHING. There is no cause...there is no starting point. The universe has always existed. The Big Bang was not the start of the universe, it was merely a fragment in time in which matter underwent massive, but not unprecedented change. I am suggesting that the universe has undergone periods of collapse and re-birth. Gravity provided the momentum for its collapse, and instability (i.e. nuclear fission) provided the basis for its ultimate expansion.
"Belief in God is not about plugging a gap in explaining how one thing relates to another within the Universe. It is the belief that there is an intelligent, living agent on whose activity everything ultimately depends for its existence".
True again. Religion is not about providing rationalisations for reconciling facts and faith. In truth religion and science are incompatible. Science seeks to develop a rational framework for understanding the universe, whilst religious wants people to accept a certain dogma on faith, which involves acceptance despite or without reference to facts. Any resolution offered by science could only diminish your faith, and therefore your virtue.
An intelligent god? Well that is just the unqualified dogma.
Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said: "Science is about explanation. Religion is about interpretation. The Bible simply isn't interested in how the Universe came into being".
This is not strictly correct. Science is about explanation. That much is true, but religion is not about interpreting, as that would involve reference to facts, arguments as well as analysis. Religion is about dogmatic assertion. We must understand that the 'power' or persistence of religion does not derive from its compelling arguments, it arises from people's insecurity, that they would find greater value in intrinsic values rather than objective values, which convey meaning, understanding and the need to earn them. It is those aspects of an objective universe which Christians want to renounce. They want religion not simply as a moral system. Its more fundamental than that. Their need for religion can arise at a more fundamental metaphysical to epistemological level.
"Hawking's god is a god-of-the-gaps used to plug present gaps in our scientific knowledge. "Science provides us with a wonderful narrative as to how [existence] may happen, but theology addresses the meaning of the narrative," he added.
There will always be gaps in science, whether fundamental or incidental. The contradiction that science makes to our life is incoherent because scientific inquiry in marred by poor values, of which religion is part of the toxic pool of diminished cognitive capacity. Anyone with a critical thought capacity (like myself) can find the flaws in religion and science (with may appear like a religion sometimes). We ought to recognise that 'idiot science' is a legacy of the thinking imparted by a religious based private school education, not to mention the public 'collectivist' school system, which ultimately has the same origins....thousands of years of religious self-loathing. The skepticism implied in the quote above is a testament to that.
There are of course those religious defenders who would see God as a passive 'designer' who, having made the universe sits back and derisively laughs at the idiots he created.
Fraser Watts, an Anglican priest and Cambridge expert in the history of science asserts:
"A creator God provides a reasonable and credible explanation of why there is a universe, and ... it is somewhat more likely that there is a God than that there is not".
Andrew Sheldon
Attention all atheists!!
In fact anyone who has had an interesting encounter with a Christian which involved manipulation, deception or blatant rationalisation. This is research or material for a forthcoming book. I am not suggesting that all Christians are criminals, dangerous or threats to society, but I am suggesting that Christianity is a basis for moral inefficacy. There is a reason why Christian nations are always at war. There is a reason why former Christians (or children of Christians) have a tendency to drift into cults and extreme religious groups. Thank you for any life experiences you can recall. ----------------------------------------------- Andrew Sheldon