Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

Fred Phelps Reported Ill

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

It’s really considered pretty tacky and rude to wish someone dead, even if you strongly disagree with them.  So, call me tacky, call me rude, call me anything you want, but I can’t wait for the old bastard to kick the bucket…

Via Fox News:

Spokesman: Rev. Fred Phelps, founder of anti-gay Kansas church, is ill and in care facility

TOPEKA, Kan. – The Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., who founded a Kansas church that’s widely known for its protests at military funerals and anti-gay sentiments, is in a care facility.

Westboro Baptist Church spokesman Steve Drain said Sunday that Phelps is being cared for in a Shawnee County facility. Drain wouldn’t identify the facility but says Phelps is 84 and “having some health problems.”

Members of the Westboro church, based in Topeka, frequently protest at funerals of soldiers with signs containing messages like “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “Thank God for 9/11,” claiming the deaths are God’s punishment for American immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.

Lets hope it is finally the end for Phelps. He’s 84 years old and tends to avoid the hospital unless absolutely necessary. The fact that this was announced does give some hope that his health is finally failing.

No, I don’t wish him death because I’m vengeful or vindictive. At least, that’s not the primary reason. The Westboro Baptist Church has all the hallmarks of a cult, and cults need a charismatic leader. When the leader of a cult dies, it is very common for the cult to fall apart. I believe that is what will happen with the WBC.

Phelp’s group has done everything possible to make others miserable. They protest funerals and picket tragic events around the country. It’s easy to say “just ignore them,” and most people do. Their antics don’t generally get them any followers or sympathy. But they do cause real suffering to those trying to quietly grieve their losses. That’s the whole point of their actions. They know laughing at the caskets of the dead and making the event less dignified will cut to the bone of the survivors.

If I were religious myself, I would imagine now would be the time that Satan is stoking the fires of hell and waiting to start cooking a juicy one.

No, An Earthquake Did Not Create the Shroud of Turin or Skew Carbon Dating

Friday, February 21st, 2014

shroud-2_1The Shroud of Turin is one of the most revered and famous artifacts of Christianity.  For centuries, it was claimed to be the burial cloth of Jesus, having been left with a haunting image of the the very face of the savior mysteriously imprinted on it.   The cloth, which is kept in a church in the city of Turin, Italy, gained great attention when it was first photographed, in the late 1800′s.  It was revealed that the image on the cloth is far more easily discerned in a photographic negative than in the normal “positive” direct view.

shrouddateIn 1988, however, enthusiasm for the shroud took a major hit when samples were subjected to radiocarbon dating and revealed the cloth to be of more modern origin.   The final result put the age of the cloth at less than one thousand years old.  The period it was dated to, in fact, turned out to coincide perfectly with the historical record of when the shroud first appeared on the record – about 1350 AD.   The procedure was done by multiple laboratories, using the most reliable radiocarbon dating protocol available, and all analysis was in agreement.  The shroud was thus far too young g to be the burial cloth of Christ.

Almost immediately, objections were raised.  Many of the faithful would go to extreme lengths to explain why the tests might not be accurate.   Some claimed that the samples were contaminated with external organic material.  While this may be possible, it’s a well known issue with radiocarbon dating and procedures therefore exist, and were used, to remove surface contamination.  Others said that the cloth was taken from an area where newer cloth had been added for repairs.  This seems to be at least semi-plausible, but there is no hard evidence that the material was not original to the cloth and the examination conducted at the time indicated that the samples were well representative of the entire cloth.  Others claimed that the cloth could have been contaminated by soot or smoke from a fire or that there had been errors made in the calculations.

In the end, none of these claims have much hard evidence to back them.  Radiocarbon dating has been well tested and is a mature science.  The laboratories that tested the shroud samples were well qualified and followed the highest protocol standards.  Radiocarbon dating does not produce an exact year of origin, but gives a range of probable years.  It’s possible that the actual origin could be outside this period and could be skewed by some environmental factors, but for it to be more than 1,200 years off, there would have to be a major procedural error or confounding factor and no evidence of this has been produced.

Now a new claim has begun to make the rounds.  It’s so unfounded, so unsupported, so speculative and so absurd that it really is not news.  But, despite this, the news media has jumped on it.


Bill Nye Debates Creationist Ken Ham

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

For those who don’t know, science advocate and educator Bill Nye recently debated young earth creationist Ken Ham in a highly publicized internet-broadcast event.

There have been many mixed feelings from the scientific community on the event.  Many of which, I would tend to agree with.  Debating a creationist really won’t do much of anything.  Believers will continue to believe in what they want, regardless of the arguments or evidence.  Those who look at things objectively will have no choice but accept evolution as a well tested and established scientific fact.

Some might say that the debate raises creationism to a level it does not deserve.  It is not a matter of debate for the scientific community; it was closed long ago.  If we were to assume the earth were thousands of years old, biology were the result of a being simply willing it to be so and the bible could guide all scientific thought, we would have to throw away most of the advancements of science.  Evolution is key to our understanding of biology.  We have seen it happen and have fossil evidence of how it has shaped life over the long term.

Some warned that Bill Nye could end up losing the debate, or just come off looking bad, if Ham backed him into a corner using contentions that were too illogical to easily and directly refute or by forcing Nye to waste his time providing a class in biology 101 in order to simply explain where he is coming from.  Given that creationism has no scientific evidence, only religious faith, it seems likely that a creationist would fall back on appealing logical fallacies.   It should be noted that one can be factually correct and still lose a debate if faced with a skilled opponent.

Thankfully, Bill Nye seems to have held his own.  Still, I tend to side with those who think it was unnecessary and generally unproductive to even bother engaging in the debate.   It didn’t change anyone’s mind.

Here’s the video for those interested (Starts at roughly 13:00)

Christian Groups Insist Magicians Working With the Devil

Saturday, July 20th, 2013

This is one of the most ridiculous things I have heard in a while.   Apparently some Christian groups in the UK are claiming that the tricks and illusions preformed by magicians are evidence that they are working with evil spirits or the devil.  The magicians, some of whom are actually Christian, have defended their performances, insisting that they are not, in fact, doing anything supernatural, but are using illusions to create the appearance of something that is not really happening. Or that, at the very least, it’s an attempt to convince people of magical powers of the occult.

Via the Christian Post:

Christian Magicians Rise to Defend Themselves as Not Involved With the Occult

Christian magicians are rising to defend themselves against assertions made by a Christian Post columnist that the performance of magic may involve the occult.

They are upset with columnist Dan Delzell’s opinion that the U.K.-based magician Dynamo’s illusion of levitating alongside a red London double decker bus was real. Delzell related the performance to “witchcraft and contact with evil spirits, and the presumption that the art of magic is a gateway to demonic involvement.”

Delzell’s column incited a number of Christian magicians to leave comments criticizing his assumption that magic performances are linked to demonic power. These magicians included Jim Munroe, who works with worldwide ministries; Rob Robinson, a Christian magician and mentalist; and Joe Turner, who is a member of the Fellowship of Christian Magicians and served on the board of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.

Munroe, who has worked with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, I Am Second, and Cru (formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ), told The Christian Post on Monday that he received Delzell’s column through a secular magician friend and felt compelled to respond to it.

He is concerned that statements such as Delzell’s can hurt the Christian witness. He wrote a comment under the opinion piece, “The Illusion That Seduces and Bewitches Magicians.”

“I can tell you, with full authority, that the ‘magic trick’ created by Dynamo is in fact a ‘trick,’” Munroe stated. “Its effect is in no way achieved by supernatural means. It was achieved by natural means, and its purpose was to illicit a reaction similar to Steven Spielberg’s when he created the dinosaur in Jurassic Park: that of wonder … Don’t write about things that you don’t know anything about because you widen a gap with individuals that I am trying to shrink. You counteract the very inclusion that Jesus shared.”

This is so stupid it’s amazing anyone, even a fundamentalist would buy into it. The only thing I can think is that they are so prone to magical thinking that when they see something that appears to defy the laws of nature, they assume that it must, in fact, be magic. One wonders if they apply this same thinking to anything which produces an effect by means that are not readily observable. For example, why do mobile phones produce voices from distant people? Is it invisible electromagnetic waves or the power of Satan?

Any honest magician will tell you, at least candidly, that there’s nothing magical about what they do. Their illusions are exactly that. Their skill is to use misdirection, props, optical illusion and special effects to make it seem as if the impossible is happening.

Here is the illusion that some Christians are so up in arms about:



Monday, February 11th, 2013

I am sure most readers know this by now, but Pope Benedict has announced he will resign on February 28.

This is very unusual.   The last time a pope resigned was Pope Gregory XVI in 1415.  The vast majority of popes serve until their death.   Church law was revised in 1983 to make it more clear how a papal resignation could be handled.   In modern times, as life-extending medicine has improved, it has become more clear that it was only a matter of time before a Pope reached a mental and physical state that would necessitate their resignation some time before death.

Via the New York Times:

VATICAN CITY — Citing advanced years and infirmity, but showing characteristic tough-mindedness and unpredictability, Pope Benedict XVI shocked Roman Catholics on Monday by saying that he would resign on Feb. 28, becoming the first pope to do so in six centuries.

Speaking in Latin to a small gathering of cardinals at the Vatican on Monday morning, Benedict said that after examining his conscience “before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise” of leading the world’s one billion Roman Catholics.

The statement, soon translated into seven languages, ricocheted around the globe.

A shy, tough-minded theologian who seemed to relish writing books more than greeting stadium crowds, Benedict, 85, was elected by fellow cardinals in 2005 after the death of John Paul II. An often divisive figure, he spent much of his papacy in the shadow of his beloved predecessor.

I do question his reasons for resigning. While he is not a young man, the 85 year old pope has not had any very serious health problems and popes have served in much more frail and elderly states.

It’s possible that the resignation may be due to the division and the criticism that has followed this pope. Seeing how this pope has dealt with the church sex abuse scandal and various social issues has made me long for John Paul II41
who, by comparison, seemed to be very liberal and reasonable. Granted, at the time, he didn’t seem it, but compared to the current pope, even John Paul II looks good.

I should add that I am from a Catholic family. For those who are not, it’s hard to even begin to explain what a big deal this is to the world’s Catholics. To members of the Catholic Church, the pope is beloved, almost as a family member, and also a superstar. Catholics will no-doubt, be glued to their televisions as the Vatican begins its elections for a new pope. When one is chosen, it will be a big event across the world.

For those who are not Catholic or not religious at all, the importance of the pope should not be dismissed. He is the official head of the Vatican state and the leader of the single largest centrally-organized religion on earth. The pope’s word is so revered that it can alter the habits and actions of Catholics from the United States to Europe to Africa and India. It is especially potent in the most Catholic regions of the world, such as Poland, Ireland and Latin America. The Catholic Church distributes billions of dollars to affiliated organizations and the size of the Catholic voting block makes it a power player in the politics of many countries.

While I am sure that I will not agree with the next pope on all issues, I very much hope someone can be elected who will do a better job than Benedict XVI at bringing the Catholic Church into the 21st century and helping to end some of the most offensive practices, especially coming down hard on those who protect abusive priests.

I hope that other secularists and non-religious individuals will withhold their judgement on the next pope, at least until we see what kind of policy stands he takes. Clearly anyone who rejects religion is not likely to find any pope very agreeable, but we can at least hope to find one who will help bring things forward.

For the Record (On Christmas)

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

I cannot believe how many people ask me about this, so I’ll just state it here and hopefully be done with it:

1.  I most often call it Christmas, as opposed to the yuletide, the holidays, the season etc.   The reason for this is that I was raised that way and invokes the traditions I have generally been part of and the culture to which I am a member.  I don’t care what word or words you care to use.  They are all fine by me.

2.  No, I do not believe that using the word “Christmas” implies religion.  That is simply the name that is most recently associated with the midwinter festival, which has been called many things and symbolized many beliefs.  The fact that some modern traditions are based on Christianity means nothing.  Many others are based on paganism.  It’s an amalgam of different beliefs.  You can have a religiously-inspired festival and continue to celebrate it despite dropping the original religious basis.

This happened with Halloween.  We still go out and give candy and have parties, yet very few really stop and consider it to be “The Feast of All Hallows’ Eve.”  Hence, you can keep the name.  You can keep the customs and you can expand on the and invent new ones.  You don’t have to actually make it a religious thing.

3.  I will take any excuse to be festive and do things like give gifts, take off time, spend time with the family etc.  It’s not like we have enough of those to begin with.

4.  I’m opposed to the notion that Christmas, being religious in origin, should be dropped as a national holiday and I think the atheist groups that are for that are idiots.  You have to pick your battles.  If you are going to fight tooth and nail to take away everyone’s day off of work, you will gain no allies.  Lets face it, even religious Jews who in no way recognize Christmas like the fact that they generally get a day off work, and hence have established the Jewish tradition of “Chinese food day.”   So please, you are fighting to get rid of Christmas as an official holiday, find yourself something else to fight for.

5.  You can say Happy Holidays and I appreciate it and am not offended.  You can say Happy Yuletide, Happy Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Haunaka.  I appreciate the sentiment for all of them.   Personally, I tend to use “Happy Holidays” in general public discussion.  I tend to use “Merry Christmas” on the actual 25th of December and also in conversation with those I know to celebrate Christmas, but really, it’s all interchangeable and I don’t make a big deal out of it.

6.  Christmas does not end on the 25th and it is valid to say that “Merry Christmas” tomorrow and the day after.  Christmas day is the start of the twelve day Christmas celebration which ends with the Feast of the Epiphany.   Hence, it may not be Christmas Day tomorrow, but it’s still the Feast of Stephen and therefore, still Christmas.   Religious in origin?  Sure, but again, it’s an excuse to celebrate even if you secularize it.   It’s a “FEAST!”  Why on earth would you say no to a feast?  There can be no rational justification for turning down a reason to feast.

In many countries it is known as “Boxing Day,” which again, is a great excuse to celebrate.  The name, by the way, is of unknown origin, but may comes from the tradition of gift giving to workers, who would have been off on Christmas.  Regardless of the origin, it is almost certainly not related to punching people in the face, so please, do not celebrate Boxing Day by punching someone in the face.  (Well, unless they are really asking for it.)

7.  No, I don’t have a problem with commercialism.  If Christmas, as secularized, is associated with things like buying and putting up holiday lights and decorations, then fine.  I like flashy colorful things.  Who doesn’t?   If it is associated with shopping, then fine.  It’s good to give things to other people and consumerism is not inherently bad.

As long as it is not mean-spirited or dominated by stress, then I’m all for it.

8.  If you consider the stresses of implied expectations to be a bigger deal than the festive and happy aspects of the holiday, you are doing it wrong.   Take a deep breath and reevaluate it.  You are not *required* to get anything for anyone or to even observe it.   It’s supposed to be enjoyable.

9.  Holiday lights use up almost no electricity compared to major appliances.  Even the old incandescent ones are very low power devices and the increase in electricity as the result of holiday displays is hardly noticeable to utilities.  It’s nothing compared to the surge in the summer from air conditioning.  If I hear one more person suggest we should all turn off our festive displays because it’s killing the earth, I just might feel the need to celebrate boxing day as the name might imply.

10.  Merry Christmas to everyone reading this.

As 12.21.12 Dawns, There is Some Reason For Concern

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

December 21, 2012 has arived already for much of the world.  As of this post, it is already afternoon on the 21 of December in Australia, and the date is now dawning across Europe.

As most know, this is the day that much todo has been made of due to reports that it was the last day listed on the Mayan Calendar.  To some, this equated to a prediction of the end of the world.   Of course, if you actually look at the beliefs of the Mayans, that’s not what it would mean, and even if it did, there’s no reason to think that the ancient civilization would have some magical insight into the future.  There are no indications that anything is actually going to happen to the earth or humanity on this day.

So, why then, should this cause any concern?

December 21, 2012 is certainly not the first day which is predicted to be doomsday and it won’t be the last.  However, it has gotten much more media coverage and more than most and has a greater number of serious followers than most such predicted events.

Doomsday cults and predictions have been around for at least centuries.  In each case, the predictions have failed to materialize, leading to some extreme disipointments.  In a few notable cases, some of the followers were so convinced that the world was about to end, they had abandoned their belongs, left jobs and otherwise destroyed their lives in the expectations of the end of days.  While there are few reports of that happening in preparation  for December 21, 2012, there are many who have invested a great deal in shelters and survival equipment in the hope of making it through the fall of human civilization.   (Of course, they can always use that stuff for the next predicted end of the world.)

Yet there is still some danger in these widespread beliefs.  Those who have bought into the idea that the coming day marks some great disaster or even the end of the world may simply wait for it to happen and then react with great disappointment when they wake up on the 22nd and realize they didn’t buy any Christmas presents or pay their bills for the month.  However, for the more extreme, and especially those who may have been followers of cults or movements centered around the prediction that the world is about to end, there is a danger of more extreme reactions.

Although rare, some doomsday predictions have resulted in mass suicide or violence. In 1995, members of the the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo cult came to believe that the end of the world was upon them and that their leader, a reincarnation of Jesus Christ, was preparing to save the sinners of the world, but that in order for this to happen, a great war, which had been foretold, must begin. Their convoluted beliefs motivated them to release sarin nerve gas on the Tokyo Subway, injuring hundreds and killing thirteen and injuring hundreds.

Suicides have been more common. Members of the French Cult, the Order of the Solar Temple, were part of a handful of high profile mass suicides in the 1990′s. In 1997, 39 members of the group Heaven’s Gate committed suicide, believing that an alien spacecraft, following the Comet Hale-Bopp was arriving to deliver their souls from earth. (It is unclear whether they believed this was directly related to the end of the world, although apparently they expected that would occur in the relatively near future.)

I certainly do not wish to raise the alarm and nobody should be overly concerned of major acts of terrorism – such actions can happen anytime, anyway.  In all likelihood the day will pass without any major incidents.   However, if you happen to have a friend or family member who is very deeply involved in cult-like practices or is just prone to taking these things very seriously, it might be a good idea to check up on them.

Blasphamy Law in India: Yes It Really Is that Bad

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

In recent years, India has been advancing toward becoming a fully industrial country and a world power.   Across the country, technology companies are taking root.  Indian Universities are improving their engineering and science departments and becoming true world-class institutions.   The Indian Space Agency has developed and deployed highly capable indigenous launch systems and is planning ever more ambitious missions.

Still, there is quite a way to go.  Many Indians still have not seen their standard of living increase, despite the development of much of the country.  The general state of healthcare is still poor for most Indians.   Lack of reliable infrastructure remains a problem and has reduced the appeal of India for some business development.   Large areas of the Indian countryside have not benefited from technical development.

One of the major issues that has held India back seems to be the enshrinement of superstition in government policy, resulting in some astoundingly bad laws and judgements.  Homeopathy is fully embraced by the Indian healthcare system, and courts have ruled astrology to be a “science.” One might expect this kind of thing in an exceptionally backward area of a third world country, such as in Nigeria, where police took a goat into custody, after it was claimed to be an armed robber who had transformed into the animal through black magic. However, for a country which is trying to become a modern, industrial power, such idiocy cannot be tolerated.

One especially absurd and downright dangerous problem is Indian law regarding blasphemy.   In India, anyone who attempts to disprove or otherwise openly questions claims made in the area of religion can face stiff punishment.

Such laws offer a great degree of protection for the various scam artists who bilk poor Indians out of their meager savings with a combination of magic tricks and claims of magical cures and rituals.   Charismatic gurus, known as Godmen, commonly travel across the country, mostly preying on the poor and amassing fortunes in the process.  Although organizations like the Indian Rationalist Association have worked to debunk such scams, blasphemy laws have been used to silence many critics of these and other religious-based scammers.

One recent and exceptionally dramatic example of what can happen when the claims of religious authorities are questioned or shown to be false is that of Sanal Edamaruku:

Video Source

If you want a more detailed explanation of exactly what was happening that caused the “Weeping Jesus” effect, it can be found here. Basically, what happened is that the local sewage system outside the church had become backed up, resulting in raw sewage being expelled into the local ground. The problem was so severe, that the ground had become waterlogged to the point of saturation underneath the outdoor Jesus statue. The wooden cross of the Jesus statue penetrated the pavement into the waterlogged ground, where a combination of back-pressure and capillary action resulted in some of the water traveling up through the wooden cross. The nail where the feet of the Jesus statue are attached provided a point where the water could drip out from the cross. Thus, water would dribble out from the feet of Jesus (so it wasn’t really “weeping either.)

This is not a religious claim and it’s not an affront against the basic faith of the Catholic Church. You can continue to believe that Jesus died for your sins. You can continue to believe Catholic doctrine in general. You can continue to believe that miracles and signs from god happen. This in no way challenges that. However, this one isolated case was not a miracle, it was a case of extremely poor sewage system design and maintenance.

The fact that this would be prosecuted is absurd, nevermind the fact that such blasphemy laws are ridiculous to begin with. Given the circumstances, I have to question the motives of the authorities and the Association of Concerned Catholics, who filed the charges. If they were indeed honestly looking to express their faith, they should not be so concerned that one particular event would be discovered to not be divine. Indeed, the Catholic church in other parts of the world routinely dismisses claims of miracles after an obvious cause is discovered. The motives in this case are thus very transparent. The statue was making the church money and Sanal Edamaruku threatened that. Moreover, as an unapologetic atheist and vocal critic of faith healers and godmen, Sanal Edamaruku is a thorn in the side of all the scam artists of India. Prosecutions like this are nothing more than an attempt to silence such critics.

Question: Where is the international Catholic Church?   Why hasn’t the Pope said anything?

Of course, there is one organization that could easily end this insanity.  Although India may be far from Rome, the Vatican has authority over all Catholic churches. Whether or not the “Association of Concerned Catholics” is officially aligned with the international Catholic Church, as self-described Catholics, they would have a hard time not withdrawing the complaint if the Pope told them to.   After all, the Pope is infallible.   Thus, all that would have to happen is Ben saying “This is ridiculous.  It’s not blasphamy to point out that a statue is actually leaking sewage when it clearly is.”

Unfortunately the Catholic Church has stayed quiet on this one.  The official position of the church is that they support religious freedom and freedom of speech.  The church does not advocate for blasphemy laws like this to be passed in first world countries.  (Granted, they were not always so liberal, but now they claim to be.)

So why the silence?   My guess is they just don’t care.  Hand out condoms in Africa and they will get very upset, but persecute people in their name?  That does not draw any attention.   Perhaps they just don’t want to risk turning off a sect in India, where they don’t have many followers to begin with.   Or perhaps they are not even as enlightened as they would seem to indicate.  Could it be that they are only so accepting of freedom in many countries because they have concluded they are stuck with it?

Still, the blasphemy law of India continues to stand and Sanal Edamaruku remains in exile.  Neither the Catholic Church nor the Indian government seem to see this as a problem.

The One True Religion: The Church of Aircraft

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Many people around the world seek a spiritual life that will be fulfilling and guide them through life.  Religion has filled this need for centuries, but today religion often conflicts with what we see around us.  As best we can tell, none of the traditional religions seem to be factually true and the beliefs are often in conflict with the world we see.

A few churches have attempted to base their theology on reason, but only one can claim to be factually true. That is why I am not a promoter of the one true religion. This the Church of Aircraft.

I cannot claim to be the first to come up with the idea of worshiping aircraft, as others have before, many in remote parts of the world. Indeed, aircraft worship seems to have developed independently on several Pacific islands and may be practiced by tribes in other parts of the world as well.

Now I hope to be the one to bring the good news of the aircraft mainstream!  I hope you will join me in worshiping at the Church of the Aircraft, where we value evidence and truth in a way that no other religion does.

What makes this religion better than others?   We claim only one thing: that our belief system is more objectively and factually correct than any other religion.

Please judge our claims for yourself.  They are listed as they correspond to others, with ours being on the right and the claims of other mainstream religions on the left.  When you are done, ask your self which one you find to be more believable and true.


28 Years Since the Best Today Show Interview Ever

Monday, November 12th, 2012

What more is there to add to this?   It’s via Gawker.   I really think the woman thinks she is being serious and people are really believing her.