The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ!’

Stuff Read

Posted by Matt on July 15, 2011

How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered The World: A Short History of Modern Delusions,
by Francis Wheen

When I decided to read Francis Wheen’s polemic against irrationality, I made the (understandable) error in thinking the majority of the book would sock the major players in the world of quackery and supernatural bollocks, something that I read on a regular basis and quite enjoy. That’s not to say the gang wasn’t all there: Wheen went after homeopathy, UFO conspiracy theorists, creationism, astrology, motivational speakers, and false prophets both ancient and modern in good order. But all these things, all relatively easy targets as widespread as they are, were simply the symptoms of something greater, Wheen says, and repeatedly traces it back to one decade: the 1980s. I think you know where this is going.

The thesis of the book seems to be that the 1980s, and the election of the Iron Lady in Britain and the Gipper in the US, ushered in a new era, a “counter-enlightenment”, whose primary goal was to undo the scientific rationalism that began to spread with the work of the 18th century Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire, Diderot, and the American founding fathers. The search for truth those great thinkers advocated was derided as the source of the world’s woes, and various forms of political and economic mysticism were invoked to get the world back on track. Wheen tracks the movement to every aspect of life: the massive deregulation of businesses and the subsequent overzealous businessmen who rose and fell in the manic trends (which we’ve seen even more of since the book was published), America’s search for a new post-Cold War archenemy (which was, apparently, Japan for a very short while), the takeover of academia by post-structuralist and postmodern thinkers who take healthy skepticism of authority to unheard levels by rejecting reality itself, and the massive outbreak of overemotional hysteria that reached its apex with the death of Princess Diana in 1997. What all these have in common, Wheen argues, is that they all derive from an ideology that rejects every advance made by Enlightenment 200 years earlier, putting emotion and belief ahead of thought and understanding. Even worse, he writes, the people who should be fighting back, the so-called progressive thinkers, have succumbed to the same illness, firmly planting themselves in their own opposition ideology of anti-Western fervor that they rarely see the forest for the trees.

It’s a powerful, eye-opening argument, and one that Wheen does an excellent job supporting. That the stories of dot-com era businessmen putting all their money in websites that literally make no money somehow end up being more damning of the deficiencies of the modern world than stories of fear-stricken dunderheads making preparations for California-destroying earthquakes caused by a rare planetary alignment is definitely a point in the book’s favour. Of course, we would all think to point and laugh at the latter and wonder what’s wrong with people, but to consider that the former and latter (and many more instances of both institutional and cultural insanity) derive from the same sweeping epidemic of anti-inquiry? That’s frightening.

So, a book that would initially seem to be an amusing look at snake-oil salesman and their marks (and Wheen’s style is definitely still quite amusing, even as he dives into the bleakness of the situation) turns into an examination of a world that has turned its back on critical thinking, and won’t stop it’s retreat to the dark ages even as it’s endeavors fail again and again. It was a bit of a surprise for me, but that only made the read more rewarding. The connections between all these irrational things hold up, and creates a disturbing realization of just how embedded these inanities are in our culture.

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Scumbags on Parade

Posted by Matt on January 31, 2011

The Canadian Values people won’t leave me alone. Now ‘Dr.’ Charles McVety is his entourage of kooks are whining to me about their TV channel being ‘censored’:

“In December, the CRTC, through their Canadian Broadcast Standards Council began to censor Charles McVety and his television broadcast Word TV for unapproved political speech. Fearing the heavy hand of the CRTC the new corporate leadership at CTS bowed to the censors, rejected three subsequent Word TV programs for frivolous reasons and then publically announced that CTS will no longer air the program.”

Gee, I’d like to help, but you don’t seem to be giving me much information. What are these ‘frivolous’ reasons? When did it happen? It’s almost as if you’re withholding these facts from us so you easily manipulate and propagandize this press release.

“Dr. McVety says “I don’t know how they want me to talk. I thought I lived in a free democratic country and that political censorship was reserved for totalitarian regimes. The first thing a dictator like Hugo Chavez does is silence voices of opposition. Iran, Cuba, North Korea and other despotic regimes all move swiftly to suppress voices of dissent. Canada criticizes China heavily for human rights violations of denying free speech while Canada practices heavy handed political censorship. I am not suggesting Canada is moving toward fascism, but toward total control of the education of our children. No country on earth confuses its children as young as eight-years-old with “gender identity” teaching.””

“I am not suggesting Canadia is moving towards fascism”

Of course not.

And are you still on the gender identity thing? Get off this fucking obsession you have, especially when it has nothing to do with what your talking about! This seems to be a regular feature of McVety’s news ejaculations.

“For years this Orwellian Council has attacked other Christian leaders such as James Dobson, John Hagee, Jack Van Impe, James Robison and many more however this is the first time their acts of censorship have forced a Canadian Christian leader from the air.”

Yes, that would the James Dobson who has spent over thirty years rallying against homosexuals, gay marriage (which will “Destroy the earth”, I remind you), and convincing parents to ‘fix’ their kids if they ever show any sign of the queer.

And yes, that would be John Hagee, apocalyptic cult leader and all-around chucklehead.

Yes, McVety puts himself in good company.

“McVety says “This is an attack on all Christians and we will fight to defend our basic human rights afforded to us by Canada’s Charter that guarantees (a) freedom of conscience and religion;(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication”.

As leaders representing hundreds of thousands of Canadians, we believe the actions of CRTC, CBSC and CTS contravene the Broadcast Act and are unconstitutional. Together we call on the CRTC and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to uphold our basic human rights and to cease and desist all actions of political censorship.”

Yeah, good luck with that.

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Posted by Matt on August 5, 2010

One of the things that frustrates me about the standard-issue arguments about religion is how myopic they almost inevitably are. Usually, there tends to be two ‘sides’: some nebulous form of Christianity, and non-believers. Christianity serves to represent religious belief as a whole, which is of course very much a product of the western origins of these conversations. There are often variations on these two sides: sometimes the Christians are casual, sometimes they are fervent; sometimes the non-believer is agnostic, and will repeatedly bring up how they don’t dismiss the possibility of the supernatural, even if they show no reason to believe in it. But aside from the intensity of the debate, these don’t really alter the fundamental problems with the argument.

One of the maxims of the elder gods of the online atheist community (places like Pharyngula) is that there is no point in debating the hardcore religious defenders, the fundamentalists especially. They have no actual argument, no desire to argue any point, but will revel in their inner huckster and just try to sell their religion to the audience via emotional pleas and instilling guilt, alongside the usual ad hominem and out-and-out lying. There is no reason for any intelligent person to enter into such a debate, which exists merely to give their opponent an advertising opportunity. So, for the most part, the kinds of public debates you often see between well-known unbelievers and believers are little more than elaborate pitches to the audience, where the better snake oil salesman is the winner, not the one who uses, you know, facts.

This alone stifles actual attempts to inform, as well as permeates that myopic view of the debate, as it’s almost always an atheist with several major books about how much they don’t believe in God, and either a true Christian nut or some pencil-neck Catholic nebbish whose never had his passive-aggressive newspaper columns challenged. As I’ve said, I know this is because most of these debates occur in the west, where Christianity is the dominant religion and the thing that immediately comes to everyone’s mind when someone says ‘religion’. But religion is far more complicated than these black and white arguments would imply, even within the context of Christianity. How can one say that the argument of the religious representative in this debates really represents religion, when his particular belief in God doesn’t even square with the other people who believe in the same God? This is the reason ‘arguments’ like Pascal’s Wager are so utterly worthless on their face: it’s not that one could simply believe in God, or not believe in God; there are countless gods one could believe in, and countless ways to believe in any of those gods. It is NOT simply atheism vs. Christianity.

This is what leads me to think that there is very little reason for unbelievers to try to argue against religion, and should instead let religion argue itself into oblivion. The fact is, although you can present the logical argument for why one should avoid believing in any of the permutations of religious belief, it won’t matter to the person you’re arguing with, or the audience. Most people believe in a certain religion for reasons that aren’t logical or something that could be easily debated: culture, family, social relationships, subjective emotional reasons, etc. At some point (mostly through the misuse of education), some will go on to concoct bogus ‘logic’ to defend their belief, but it still all comes down to a subjective, often heavily societal-based, origin for their religious beliefs. Considering this, the best one can do is simply provide facts about what we know about the nature of the universe and call out extreme cases where religious incursions cause direct harm (which ranges from violent extremism to more local, social problems like the gay marriage debate). They don’t really need to ‘prove’ religion wrong, nor is it a particularly easy or worthwhile task.

No, if someone wants to challenge people’s beliefs, there is simply no better argument against religion than religion itself. Simply put, the multitude of mutually-exclusive belief systems, all coexisting all over the world, and each entirely convinced of its own status as the sole truth, will likely make someone question their beliefs at an equal, if maybe slightly greater, rate than the arguments against belief entirely. Why do they believe that they can only find salvation through Jesus Christ, and not that they should pray to Lord Krishna, or that life is part of the cycle that must be broken through following the example of the Buddha? Because of the way the religion argument is framed, very few are ever confronted with this question, which I think is fundamental to either reaffirming their own religious belief for whatever reason way they imagine, or really getting them to think about why. And no matter the conclusion, at least they know a little bit more about the nature of belief.

Of course, even getting that far can be difficult. Aside from western arrogance, one of the reasons other religious beliefs are never brought up is because the religious side of the equation (as established, whatever brand of Christianity they found a volunteer from that week) are often completely dismissive of beliefs other than their own. The other religions might as be speaking gibberish about rainbows and Martians. I even find it among atheists: for whatever reason, the beliefs of Mormons are somehow less believable than those of mainstream Christianity, for example. It just doesn’t make sense to me: it’s like arguing whether Star Wars or Godzilla is more ‘fake’. There may be more or less harmful proclamations within their scripture, but that has nothing to do with whether or not the religion is more ‘real’ than another. If you think they’re all fake, what does it matter?

These are the difficulties of this line of reasoning, although really, at the point where someone will dismiss someone else’s god or belief in god while continuing their own, there is likely no argument that could convince them to even consider looking at their beliefs critically.

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Hazzuh

Posted by Matt on August 28, 2009

Fun thing that happened to me once:

When I was in grade school, I noticed that several kids were going inside earlier than everyone else. Considering that this was against the rules, I was curious to see why. So, a few times, I followed them in, as inconspicuous as possible. They all sat in the library with the principal. Sometimes there would be a TV. The principal would talk to them about things. It was all vague enough for me at the time that I really didn’t understand what was being discussed or why.

It wasn’t until recently that I figured it out. Those were Bible classes. Maybe the presence of Veggie Tales should have tipped me off sooner.

On a similar note, the school division is going through some sort of thing right now where they have to distribute flyers informing children about other religions so the local Gideon group can also be allowed to pass out Bibles to those that want it. Okay fair enough. I still kinda think it would be better if they did not print a pamphlet and just told those proselytizers to fuck off from public schools. But this is the next best thing!

On a completely unrelated note, I think recording my dreams was a good idea. Now all I have to do is figure out a way to chain them all together into one story or series of story. Now there’s a challenge!

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