Thursday, November 5, 2009

Show from: Nov. 4, 2009

Here are thinks to the news items discussed on the show:,0,2239900.story

Not Discussed:,3846,n,n

And my rant on God's right to judge:

Okay, it’s time to tackle yet another of our “basic assumptions.” The one up for review? The one that assumes that God has the right to judge us. And let me put up for clarity now that I will be working off of the Judeo-Christian god, for reasons of relating to this Christianity saturated culture. The Bible is filled with examples of God’s wrath and his “holy” and “righteous” judgment. God will not let into the gates of his heavenly city “dogs, and socerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” For the Isrealites who did not keep his law as set down in Leviticus he would send down terror; lethal tuberculosis and fevers. If “Man lie with man as with woman” they are to be killed. If one is to break any law, be it eating of swine, commiting adultery, or whatsoever, God will “continue to punish you sevenfold.” That’s right. Now, I’ve heard of “an eye for an eye” but I’ve not heard of “two eyes, a nose, the ears, your tounge, and perhaps an arm for an eye.” No, that would be unjust, especially by today’s standards. But God will rain down “terror” on his own chosen people for betraying the slightest law. Indeed, he prefaces his promise of terror by saying that he will bring the destruction if “you do not observe all these commandments.” The usual argument for all these strict laws is usually that they were for health reasons and to keep an identity as a nation, however, what good is a law to protect your health when the penalty for forgetting that law is death? What good is a national identity if the laws are broken and the nation is destroyed? Many will say that God is our father and therefore has the right to tell you what to do, and to do what he will with you, his creation. I wholeheartedly disagree. The idea that “I made you, I can destroy you” is absolutely wicked. We know that a father here on Earth could not simply do away with his child should that child come to displease him. Why is God given this right? Let me stretch this analogy further, to encompass my frustration and irritation with “final judgment.” I would say that an Earthly father has more right to judge us than God does. A Judge here on Earth has more right, and I’ll say why in a moment. But his is not the “ultimate justice that so many crave. People want to know how I can deal with not thinking that there is some ultimate justice. Well, that’s not something I can decide on how to deal with. Some people get justice, some don’t. It’s a fact of life. But I know that I sure as hell wouldn’t want some holier than thou being judging me, or anyone else. How can an eternal, supposedly all good, all powerful being ever possible decide what is justice for us mere humans with our human whims and human emotions? That’s why here on Earth we have a jury of peers because they are the only ones who have even a remote understanding of our situations in life. It’s why our laws have been developed by men over thousands of years. God has never had to lose a loved one, fear for his life, or support a family; God has never been a homosexual, wondered where he will go when he dies, or wondered if he exists. How could he POSSIBLY know how to judge us? I will be told that it is because God is good. And not only is he good, he is perfect goodness and that we cannot question whether or not he is good, because of course he is good, he is the pinnacle of good; he is above us and his ways are not ours. They say we cannot understand why he does what he does. But I say that’s a bunch of hogwash. We may not understand why one man kills another, or if he had some purpose in mind, we still know that it is inherently wrong to kill another man, even if the murderer decided it was “good.” And if God’s ways are above our reasoning, then who are we to say if his ways are good OR bad to begin with. It’s all absurdities. Of course we can question whether or not God is good. How did our ancestors decide that he was good in the first place? They based it on their own ethical evaluations. Ethical evaluations that have changed! The standards of ethics and morality are changing and improving over most of the world. It’s not okay, in most places, to kill someone for stealing or for consensual sodomy. Humanity’s sense of moral has changed GREATLY from God’s as he set down in the Bible. It has changed for the better. For humankind as it is now our goodness depends on kindness, love, mercy, compassion. These are good and we know it. We don’t need mysticism or a higher power to understand that love is good, that kindness is good, that mercy is good, that helping people is good. God serves his own interests and judges us based on whether or not we fit into his “plan.” I don’t want to be judged by that. I would rather not be judged at all, for who, truly, can ever understand the nuanced lives of any person on Earth and what drives them to righteousness or piety, but should I be judged, I would want to be judged on whether or not I was a good person, and be judged by those who know me and understand me. God coming down as Jesus doesn’t cut it for understanding humans. Jesus knew who he was (GOD) and where he was going (HEAVEN). If we KNEW that God existed and KNEW where we went after death you can be sure that piety and would be much easier. Jesus: thanks, but no thanks. I’ll take oblivion before I spend eternity bowing before you.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Show from: Oct. 28, 2009

Here are the links for the news articles from the show this week:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Show From: Oct. 14, 2009 (ABORTION RANT)

Abortion Rant

So, my topic for this week is abortion. This can be a touchy subject, and my particular viewpoints will not make the subject much easier to swallow. All the same, I ask you to hear me out to the end, as the final reasoning of my ideas make the face of my beliefs seem less extreme, or so I believe.
I do not have a problem with abortion, far from it. I fully support abortion, for any reason, of any unborn fetus. I believe that the happiness of any functioning human far outweighs any concern for what is no more than a small mass of cells.
And here comes the doozy: I support something that I term a “fourth trimester abortion.” Think about that for a second. Yes, I said it. I support the deliberate putting-to-death of an infant, up to three months after birth, in cases were the child is significantly mentally or physically disabled, to the point where we could reasonably determine that the negative experiences of their life would outweigh the positive ones.
You see, I put value on sentience—the power of experiencing sensation and feelings. With sentience we have the only thing that truly matters: the basis for the human condition, the ability to experience pain and experience joy. I do value different lives in different ways. Allow me to illustrate. In the hypothetical situation of choosing to save either the five year old or the fifteen year old, I choose the fifteen year old. Why? First, on the personal basis of the teen: he or she has the heightened ability to understand the value of life, and is in greater fear of death. They are fully conscious of the pain they will face and are able to consider the existential questions of what happens when I die, which add to the fear. They have formed connections and have memories, all of which they will b even more distraught to lose. Furthermore, the teen has had ten more years during which they have interacted with others, forming bonds with many more persons than the child. In this way, the death of the teen will cause significantly more people to grieve his loss. Returnging to the five year old, we must consider that they do not have the higher thinking ability and will not be able to consider the greater consequences of his or her death. The experience for them is significantly less traumatizing in this way. And, paralleling my example with the teen, the child does not have many connections to the people around them, and those they have been with have not had as much time to form as concrete bonds as the teen has. For someone like me, who values the greatest positivity in the world and the least negativity, there is a great difference in the value of a life.
But there are exceptions to this idea I have. What if the five year old is a child prodigy and the teenager is a severely handicapped person whose constant situation is to experience discomfort? In that case, who I save switches. Everything comes down to: how much positivity can we allow in the world and how much negativity can we prevent?
I save the adult over the child, the child over the dog, the dog over the ant, the ant over the amoeba. Descending levels of sentience, descending levels of value.
When it comes to destroying a fetus, we can be relatively certain that it has no emotional cognition. For that, you need a reference point. You need to know what sets off the pleasure center of your brain versus the pain center; you need to understand the value of being conscious before you can begin to concern yourself with the vagaries of the possibility of never being conscious again. Fetuses lack al of this. Therefore, their destruction leads to no positive or negative emotion from the fetus itself. Therefore, if the mother is made happy by the fetus’s destruction then we have introduced more positive emotion into the world.
Now, to defend my position on the so-called fourth trimester abortion, I say this: some abortions are too dangerous to do inside the womb, and some disabilities are not discovered until a little while after the child is born. Before the child grows up and has experiences, and begins to develop those reference points that allow them to begin to understand and better feel pain and terror, we could determine, somehow, if the child’s disability would lead to a significantly negative life. We draw an arbitrary line at three months so as to prevent things going out of control. This allows time for the child’s condition to develop and for the family and physicians to discuss the options and the child’s proposed quality of life. If the parents choose to keep the child and raise it as best they can, then alright. If the parents choose to be humane and allow the child to be killed, all the better. There is enough suffering in the world. Let’s stop some of it before it has a chance to get started.
Now I will discuss a few counterpoints. The biggest argument I hear is the “life begins at conception” idea. Any religiously based defenses of this are dismissed out of hand. People say that a fetus is human and humans have rights, therefore fetus’s have rights, QED. This particular argument is fundamentally flawed, and is easily demonstrated as such. First off, humans do not inherently have rights because we are human. Our governments and our society affords us that. Beyond that, we know that merely being human does not give you equal rights to every other human within the same social or political environment. Humans are given different rights based on a variety of different factors. You get sent to jail, you loose some rights. You’re born a male, you lose the right to enter a women’s room. You turn eighteen you earn the right to vote; you turn twenty-one you earn the right to drink alcohol. If you are born Native American you are given the right to cultivate an otherwise highly illegal substance. And, for the most part, if you are unborn, you have no right to life. There is nothing inherent in one’s genetic composition that affords it any rights.
And don’t give me the adoption argument. There are too many children needing to be adopted as is in this world. We don’t need any more.
The other big objection I hear is that of what I will call the “Baby Mozart Fallacy,” this idea that just because the child could turn out to be the next Mozart that it needs to live. First off, this argument dies when you propose that the fetus could also turn out to be the next Jeffery Dahmer. Secondly, potential proves nothing. It is not a real positive effect on the world, but an imagined one. And thirdly, the potentiality argument is shown to be a bit absurd when we consider that every one of my own ejaculations has the potential to be a person. Should I run to a sperm bank every time I need to masturbate? Should every woman, from the moment she begins to menstruate be required to conceive, lest she deposit hundreds of little potential Johnnies and Janies onto little Kotex pads over the course of her life? How would we even keep up with all that potential, what with the millions of viable sperm in every ejaculation and the severe dearth of women to accomadate that. Theoretically, I could produce enough sperm to bless every fertile woman on Earth with a little Edwin Jr. But then what about the potential of my co-host’s sperm? Granted, I may be taking this argument on a small trip down a slippery slope, but I’m trying to prove the point that you can put the moment of potential at any point on the line. Some people just want to place that arbitrary moment at the point when the sperm and the egg come together. I say, potentiality is imaginary, and is therefore insufficient to base legislation on.
To sum up my argument: if a woman wants to kill anything in her womb, even just for kicks, I say go for it. If the child has been born and a handicap that we could reasonably determine to cause more pain than joy can be identified within three months of the birth I say allow the parents to terminate the child. In my heart of hearts I’d honestly say we should require it.

Show from Oct. 21, 2009

I apologize for taking so long to put the shows up on iTunes and get these show notes out. Everything should be finished uploading by tomorrow evening.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Show From : Sept. 30, 2009

This is the script from the September 30, 2009 show. It includes Godless Wisdom and the news items.

Today we have an article from Search Magazine by Sam Kean entitled “Open to Revisions.”

Sam Webster has serious tech credentials. He has lived for decades in the San Francisco Bay area, a techie Mecca. Back in the early 1990s, before most people had even heard of the Internet, he was writing code for some of the early sites on the World Wide Web. He’s now a systems analyst, or, as he says, “I’m a geek for a living.”
What Webster never envisioned himself as was a prophet. He’d been involved in a pagan group called the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (left) since the early 1980s, and in February 2001, he decided to hold a workshop on his religion in the Bay area. “I never thought it would catch on,” he admits, but people took a shine to the order. They decided to establish a permanent chapter in northern California.
At the same time, Webster and his fellows were itching to remake themselves. The Hermetic Order grew out of Free Masonry and Kabbalah, a school of Jewish mysticism. “But we didn’t want to do the traditional things like adhere to secrecy,” Webster says. The group also wanted to incorporate practices from other mainstream faiths, include women in their mix, and, perhaps most important, put a mechanism in place to make room for good ideas in the future. So the group self-consciously decided to involve its members by encouraging them to tinker with the order’s structure and practices. And that’s the moment when Webster realized his dual role as geek and prophet.
“I said, ‘Wait a minute, there’s a name for this’,” Webster remembers. “Open source.”
Open-source religion is an amalgamation of two ways of thinking about the world. The first is religion, a common set of practices, rituals, and beliefs. It’s as old as the hills, one of the most enduring traits of humankind. The “open source” component is new, an unforeseen consequence of the Internet revolution of the 1990s. It’s a reference to open-source computer code, code that anyone is allowed to rewrite, add to, or delete. Most websites or blogs are not open source, because even when the pages change frequently, a handful of people at most make all the changes. Wikipedia is open source because many people collaborate to produce one common text.
The best-known example of open-source software is Linux, an operating system released in 1991 by a Finn name Linus Torvalds. Unlike Microsoft XP or the Macintosh OS, Linux is free. The latest versions of it represent the fruit of millions of man-hours of labor—people poring over arcane code to improve Linux’s security, compatibility, aesthetics, speed, etc., without any hope of compensation or gain. And by many measures Linux performs better than its for-profit competitors: So many eyes have gone over the code, it’s unlikely anything has been overlooked. Linux also draws on more people for ideas, and it’s easier to incorporate good ideas into Linux because users don’t have to wait for a corporation to roll out a new product. They can download a patch from the Internet in minutes.
So why doesn’t everyone use Linux? Perhaps because it’s unfamiliar, even scary, and for things they’re unfamiliar with, people prefer to trust experts and professionals. They often mistrust the idea of mass participation. The same holds true for religion. In dealing with supernatural or spiritual phenomena, rabbis and priests and medicine men who can draw on pre-existing faith traditions can provide comfort that newer, changeable religions cannot. (If nothing else, how often do people convince themselves of something by saying, “It’s ancient wisdom. The so-and-so peoples have been doing this for thousands of years?”)
But adherents of open-source religion note that tradition can calcify into dogma, and if there’s one common trait to people who practice open-source religion, it’s distaste for dogma. Some open-source believers want to found entirely new religions, and some merely want to reinvigorate a mainstream faith. All want to change people’s perceptions of religion from something that’s handed down to them, something they receive, and make religion something people do. All religions evolve, of course, but the tinkering inherent to open-source religions can benefit founders and followers alike, Webster says. “When you share what you learn, you learn better,” he notes, “and the content evolves that much more efficiently.”
For an example of how open-source religions work in practice, Douglas Rushkoff, founder of the Open Source Judaism movement, cited a project he started around the Haggadah, the Jewish text that lays out the practices of the Passover Seder meal and all the associated prayers and family rituals.
Rushkoff first approached open-source Judaism more from the techie side than the religious side. He was both inspired by the possibilities of widespread, democratic, participatory media like the Internet, but also fearful that the Internet could be used to manipulate people or invade their privacy on an unprecedented scale.
So, he says, he looked for “historical examples of how people had dealt with media before, ethical templates,” and he found some examples in his own religion. He was most excited about flexible templates that people could alter as they needed, and this led directly to open-source Haggadah. Rushkoff set up a website for Jews to upload pictures, prayers, and descriptions of their Seder meals, encouraging people to adapt the practices however they wanted.
It’s a modest example, but it’s actually a good test of the viability of open-source practices in religions. Among the areas of Judaism appropriate for open-source revisions, Rushkoff cited Torah commentary as the most obvious example. (He also cited interfaith studies, including the study of how Judaism originated in relation to other religions.) One area of Judaism not amenable to open-source change, he discovered, was ritual practices. This surprised Rushkoff, since he supposed that actions were less intrinsically part of a person’s religion than beliefs, but he says, “people really depend on it for some reason. People are much less likely to engage in ritual in a do-it-yourself fashion.”
This observation seems borne out on the Open Source Haggadah website. It’s impossible to say how many people downloaded texts and adapted them privately, and the site’s webmaster notes that financial and technical limitations have curbed the site’s impact, but beyond the basic, traditional Haggadah, few people bothered posting additional ideas or commentary. These days, much of the site’s activity has migrated to projects run by affiliated groups such as Matzat and Jew-It-Yourself.
Webster agreed that in his Golden Dawn Order, rituals often don’t change much once they get set, remaining rather conservative. “We have some rituals that are pretty honed,” he says. He gave the example of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, an invocation that links the four cardinal directions and the archangels Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, and Uriel, and which has existed for centuries. But honed doesn’t mean inflexible, Webster adds. “We approach it like it’s a really good recipe, but you might add a little bit of cinnamon or cheese.” In the Pentagram ritual, the “cinnamon or cheese” substitutions might mean invoking a different set of sacred figures than the archangels, for instance.
Limitations aside, followers say that Judaism and paganism are among the religions most amenable to open-source practices. In Judaism, that springs from both the participatory nature of Talmud commentary and the early history of the religion, says Rushkoff. “The more I looked at Judaism, it was largely the result of the invention of text, a religion based on the contract-covenant, writing your own laws instead of living according to preexisting laws.” He sees no reason why Jews today cannot continue to write their own laws. In fact, he feels that “institutional Judaism” often betrays that original ideal.
As for paganism (or “neopaganism,” as the modern practice is called; symbols of modern pagans are shown to the left) some scholars also see an open-source ethos built directly into its foundation. In an essay titled “Learning about Paganism,” scholar Helen Berger traces the constant revision of neopaganism to its not being “a religion of ‘The Book,’ but of [many] books,” from which people could select what suited them. She added that “most American neopagans are solitary practitioners” who can adopt new practices more readily than larger groups can.
Douglas Cowen, in his book Cyberhenge, goes even further, making an explicit analogy to computer coding: “Pagans are ‘hacking’ their own religious traditions out of the ‘source codes’ provided by pantheons, faith practices, liturgies, rituals, and divinatory practices drawn from a variety of cultures worldwide.” Given all that “hacking,” it’s no wonder that, as Webster says, “There are a huge number of pagan people in the high-tech space.”
Rushkoff and especially Webster talk about transforming their religious inheritance by updating it with new knowledge and ideas. Other people who practice open-source religion have much different intentions—some aim to found entirely new religions, others simply to tweak a mainstream religion and make it more relevant for the modern world.
Andrew Perriman falls into the latter set, having, as he says “come out of a fairly normal evangelical background” in Great Britain. “‘Open source’ in this instance is really only a metaphor for a much more transparent and collaborative approach to doing theology within what is to my mind still a mainstream Christian tradition.”
Perriman started a website called after noticing that the modern evangelical movement was rebelling against “pre-packaged” theology in much the same way that Linux users rebelled against pre-written software from Microsoft. “People feel they’ve been told how to think, and feel they don’t have much scope to think for themselves,” he says. That view of theology as closed off is particularly true in Europe, he adds, “where people regard Christianity as a historical disaster. If [Christianity] has a future at all it will require quite a radical rethinking of what this faith narrative means, going to back to the biblical story and asking how we can re-appropriate it.”
Perriman’s approach to open-source religion, then, might be best described as legalistic. In the modern jurisprudence system, process is everything: Even when we “know” somebody is guilty or innocent, he still has to stand trial, and trials are judged as fair if the correct procedure is followed throughout. In other words, the process gets privilege over the end result and verdict of the trial.
Perriman, who has a Ph.D. in theology and works as an independent writer and theologian, thinks theology should work the same way. Unlike what most people believe, “Theology is not a set of beliefs, it’s a shared mindset,” he argues. And revising theology through open-source means is “more an issue of methodology than [of challenging] a particular point of content.”
As a result, Perriman cannot yet point to any doctrinal changes that open-source Christianity has brought about. At the same time, he said, especially compared with the authoritarian traditions of evangelical Christianity, “It’s significant that people feel they can explore [changes] without transgressing in some horrible way that will get them thrown out of the church.”
Perriman’s is one view of what open-source religion can do: Get people involved, even if not much changes about their faith in the end. Those interested in founding new religions, which lack a coherent, pre-established body of beliefs and practices, take a different view. Daniel Kriegman, founder of a new religion called Yoism, stresses that content and process have to work together in a fledgling movement because many things will likely change at the beginning. “It’s extremely important what you end up with, since it has to comport to everyone’s experience. Content has to be something we convincingly believe.”
Kriegman works as a psychologist and has long studied the interplay of psychology, evolutionary biology, and religion. And after years of inquiry, he has some rather strong views about the dangers of traditional religions. “Human history is the history of mass murders,” he said, “and it all seems to be organized about these crazy belief systems.” When he really gets going on the topic, Kriegman likes to make gorilla noises for emphasis, which to him are the onomatopoeic embodiment of dangerous groupthink. About old-time religion, he says, “This way of knitting together a group into an ideological system and going ‘oo-oo-oo-oo!’ has ancient roots.”
After growing more and more distressed about the dangers of religion, Kriegman finally had an epiphany: “What if someone developed a religion that made sense, and that people could test and see for themselves?” He started calling his idea an open-source religion after his son, an early adopter of Linux, described the parallels to Kriegman. (Kriegman claims he was the first person to found an open-source religion. Others credit Webster.)
Though jazzed about the prospects of founding a new religion to combat old religions, Kriegman hesitated: “I was embarrassed. I’m going to start a new religion? Every once in a while a psychologist goes off the deep end, and I was afraid my colleagues might think that was me.” But he soon founded a church called “Ozacua,” a portmanteau made up of the names of his three sons. It was also a character (a giant) in a bedtime fairy tale he used to tell them. Its moral was “United we stand, divided we fall.” He based the Ozacua religion on a cocktail of rational inquiry, empiricism, and science. His group eschews talk of visions, for instance, since however real the vision may be to the visionary, no one else in the group can experience it. To this rationalism—and here’s the religious angle—Kriegman mixed in a healthy dram of the pantheistic god of Spinzoa (above) and Einstein, a sort of life force that permeates the universe. It’s science that respects mystery and preserves awe.
Things were going well for Kriegman’s religion early on, until he almost ran aground on an uncomfortable disagreement: People liked the religion but hated the name. A lot. For an open-source religion, this was a sure test of its viability. In a religion more imbued with priestly authority, the flock can be overruled if the high priest dislikes the change. Kriegman wasn’t a priest in his religion, but he had a natural leadership role as its founder—not to mention a personal attachment to the name—and the soft, focus-group-like rebellion of his adherents concerned him. “I was not upset about losing the name,” he says, as much as “upset that people assumed [the religion] would become too associated with me, that it was a sort of cult underneath.”
In the end, a few dozen fellow believers had long debates about the name before they finally settled on Yoism, which is derived from Yo, the name they gave the vague spirit-force that permeates their universe. At first “yo” was a meaningless syllable, but group members have since come across many pleasing associations: “yo” means “I” in Spanish and “friend” in Chinese (hence Yo-Yo Ma), and is reminiscent of “you” in English. A few African cultures use the word in their creation myths as well, Kriegman says. In fact the name grew to have so many associations that Kriegman joked that perhaps god wanted it that way: “It’s like a miracle!”
He also adds, more seriously, “The mind finds lots of coincidences and puts them together, but [the name] does come to mean lots of things.” And those layers of meaning are something the few thousand followers of Yoism worldwide can share.
The question about the future of open-source religion is the same question that haunts any new religious movement—will it last? Most new religions don’t, and many versions of open-source religion are working at a disadvantage. For all the prosaic reasons people follow one faith or another—it’s what they grew up with, it’s socially advantageous, etc.—many people stick with a faith because they believe in its principles and doctrines.
But the aversion of open-source religions to doctrine and dogmas makes it seems likely they will have trouble attracting followers who need that core, that bedrock. For if every idea is at least open to revision, even if it doesn’t change in practice, religion can lose its authority, and doubts can creep in. Would Christianity really be Christianity if people could vote that Christ was not divine? Would Hinduism remain Hinduism if people could throw out reincarnation? (Even in the radically democratic world of open-source computing, Linux founder Torvalds and a few trusted advisors retain exclusive control over the Linux “kernel,” its most important underlying code.) If the beliefs are so arbitrary that majority votes can change them, why believe at all?
Indeed, there’s a certain lackadaisicalness about some open-source religions. Kriegman has been meaning to develop an initiation rite for Yoism for years but hasn’t quite gotten around to it, and he admits that other projects have fallen by the wayside. This includes his sometime battle to restore the Wikipedia page about his group, a page someone deleted as too marginal a topic. Wikipedia is an important tool for a religion founded on the principles of the free and open Internet, and Kriegman fought the deletion with Wikipedia administrators. But after losing his appeal, he hasn’t done much lately. He seems to lack the fanaticism that, for better or worse, does mark successful new religions. It’s hard to imagine John Calvin or Mohammed not fighting back.
With open-source Judaism, its founder, Rushkoff has more or less dropped out of the movement, though he still believes in it and promotes it when he can. As to the reason, he said, “No one really wanted to fund it, and at least at the time, most Jews weren’t really interested.” Even more importantly, “I wasn’t really committed to it to the point where I would contend with all the crap that comes with pushing an idea before its time.”
However much they adhere to the ideal of open source, most open-source religions do in practice maintain at least a few core and inviolable beliefs. If nothing else, their commitment to openness and the possibility of constant revision is itself a dogma. What’s more, there are other reasons people stick with a religion beyond fanatic commitment to it. Those reasons include community ties and a stable tradition, and here at least there’s evidence that open-source religions might have an advantage over traditional religions.
Rushkoff explains that religions with priests and elite castes are often committed to maintaining a status quo. But on the other hand, if change is necessary, the small number of people in charge make it easier to change the religion all at once, via fiat. “But I think in open-source, change is actually slower and more steady,” he says.
Plus, he adds, even if open-source religions weaken ties with the past by changing rituals or reinterpreting texts, open-source work can also help each generation of believers cohere among themselves
“It’s every generation’s obligation to reinterpret and reboot the religion,” Rushkoff says. “It’s much harder to accept and understand, but it’s actually a form of continuity, too.”
And now onto news!

From the New York Times, “Holy month ends, and violence rises again in Iraq.”

Eighteen people were killed and at least 55 others were wounded in bombings across Iraq on Monday as the country’s level of violence picked up again after a relative lull during the holy month of Ramadan.
Monday’s attacks occurred in Shiite and Sunni areas of the country and took aim not only at the Iraqi Army and the police but also at civilians.

Also from the NY Times, “When Religion is involved, a game is just that.”

This is a most wonderful gesture, having the Yankees and the Red Sox play at 1 p.m. on Sunday. It could even be the start of something better.
Instead of putting the game at 8 p.m. — prime time, as the networks call it — ESPN and Major League Baseball are accommodating thousands of fans who at sundown will be observing Yom Kippur, the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar.
Not only that, but the N.F.L. has allowed both New York teams to play at 1 on Sunday — Jets at home, Giants on the road — just to get the tackling and selling and screaming over before sundown.

Next, from The Guardian, “JK Rowling lost out on US medal over Harry Potter witchcraft.”

A memoir by George W Bush's former speechwriter claims that Bush administration officials objected to giving JK Rowling a presidential medal of freedom on the grounds that her Harry Potter books "encouraged witchcraft".
According to the liberal American blog Think Progress, Matt Latimer's Speech-Less: Tales of a White House Survivor reveals how politicised the medal, which is America's highest civilian honour, became during the Bush administration.
Latimer, whose memoir was published last week by Crown in the US, says that the "narrow thinking" of "people in the White House" led them "to actually object to giving the author JK Rowling a presidential medal because the Harry Potter books encouraged witchcraft".
The medal is given to "individuals who make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavours". During the Bush administration, it was awarded to individuals including Tony Blair, Harper Lee, Muhammad Ali, Alan Greenspan, Nelson Mandela, Doris Day and Charlton Heston.
The first 16 recipients of Barack Obama's presidential medal, handed out in August, included Stephen Hawking and Senator Ted Kennedy – who, according to Latimer's book, failed to receive the medal during the Bush administration because he was "a liberal".

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Show From : Sept. 23, 2009

This is the script from the September 23, 2009 show. It includes Edwin's rant on the 9/11 steel beam crucifix, Godless Wisdom, and the news items.

I have a little rant that I have to share. It’s based around 9/11 and I was hoping to share it closer to the date, but I suppose it doesn’t matter much anyway. This little monologue of mine will help new members of the panel, and new listeners to kind of get an idea for the type of stuff I’m thinking and whatnot. Take everything with a grain of salt and the understanding that I’m rather big on tongue in cheek humor. I don’t hate God, I don’t hate religious people—let’s get that out of the way to start with.

I would like to note, before I begin, that I am about to say a number of things that may prove inflammatory and instead of stopping every few moments to assert that these are my opinions alone, I will make it clear now that all that follows is born of my individual opinion, and while I’m pretty certain that my opinions are right and your are wrong, that is, in and of itself, an opinion, so proceed with caution.\

Walking through the science buildings in the university I saw many well decorated professors’ doors, most containing some comic strip cut out tossing a jab at creationism, religion, spirituality, and general unreason. However, at one point, I had the misfortune of passing by a secretary’s office where I saw on the door a cardboard framed image of the crossed beams left standing at the World Trade Center. Irritation, a dash of anger, and a smidgen of nausea overcame me. This usually happens when I see that image given a place of respect,.
What could possibly be the reason for showing such great appreciation towards those two crossed beams? Let us forget for a moment that there were undoubtedly thousands of crossed beams between those two buildings and one surviving is no great surprise; let us ignore that a true miracle would have been the spontaneous intangibility of the planes which allowed them to pass directly through the buildings; let us banish the notion that all God needed to do was create a strong enough gust of wind to knock the plane off course; let us unfathom the idea that God could have at least left the towers standing—and let us presuppose miraculous nature of the crossed beams. Well, the miraculous nature of the Christian god anyway. Screw the dead Jews, Hindus, and atheists. Oh, and let’s also forget that the whole of the day’s events (steel crucifix excluded) do point to the presence and assistance of a god—Allah.
What possible comfort could the presence of a crucifix at the site of one of this nation’s worst massacres possibly provide? Is it the message that “God was there?” Is that supposed to make you feel better—that God was there, in all his omnipotent grace, watched, with all his omniscient wonder, and made a clear choice not to act. God was there on that beautiful September morning, immaterial in the clear sky, but didn’t even see fit to let United 93 down gently into the fields of Pennsylvania. God could have done any number of things to reduce the horror of that day, but he chose not to.
Perhaps it was god’s plan to send the U.S. to war; however, only one tower need have fallen and America still would have mobilized for war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The package deal was unnecessary to coerce this nation into battle. There was no miracle that day. There is no greater proof that if God does exist he doesn’t care the smallest bit about us, than the fact that he didn’t even see fit to reach out his hand and guide the Pennsylvania flight to safety. One saved plane and perhaps I could rationalize away the awe people would have with God, looking through their flimsy worldview.
The reality of this, where God is concerned, is that He was there but chose to do nothing. What a slap in the face.
How dare these people prostrate themselves before a god who couldn’t care less about their measly lives? How terribly, horribly pathetic, that we humans would reduce ourselves, through prayer and supplication, to groveling for our lives. Show some gumption and flip God the bird! He screwed you over—he showed you exactly what he thinks of your insignificance—and now you owe him nothing more than your disdain. Are such a great quantity of Americans the type of people who, when marched towards certain death, would scream and plead and flail about for their lives? Are there not more brave souls who would drag their feet below a stolid mien and lay down their own necks at the chopping block just to show their captors that they care not for the cruelty of what is to be done? Perhaps not. Perhaps that is by far too idealistic.
But even so, didn’t the Lord say in Matthew that whenever two people are gathered in His name and ask for one thing it shall be done? He did, in Matthew 18:19. Look it up. And you can’t tell me that there weren’t at least two people praying not to die as flames charred flesh to bone and smoke ravaged throats. Maybe there was an odd number of people praying; maybe He only answers prayer in groups of people that are divisible by two.
But allow me to present a response to my rant thus far.
I was walking with someone that night I saw the picture on the secretary’s door. Playing Angel’s Advocate, she suggested that it was a reminder that, yes, indeed, God was there, and that he has a plan, that it was all part of a plan. This, supposedly, is some sort of comfort to people. It means there is a purpose and a reason for existence and for suffering. But using even a quarter ounce of freethinking magic dust and sprinkling it over our poor, weak heads, I think we can realize that this is no comfort at all.
First off, if God has a plan for you to reach some end for Him, He has made it clear that you are expendable in this cosmic drive towards success. Not only are you expendable, but since God is supposedly all-powerful, then he could achieve his goals instantly, without you, but instead chooses to play a game with our lives. Indeed, you have zero worth to him. You are expendable and interchangeable. For those of you convinced that God loves you: newsflash—this is not love. If you do, indeed, have a relationship with god, I believe it’s what is referred to as abusive. He hurts you, then tells you he loves you, makes it all better, hurts you again, and repeat. Sounds healthy to me. But I’m getting off topic; my apologies.
Furthermore, if there is a plan, that means you are due to die at some point, irrespective of your desires or wishes. If it is in God’s plan, you will live to a hundred and fifty, or you will die tonight. There is no security in this. You’re living life where each survived day is an empty chamber in a game of Russian Roulette. This is true whether or not God exists. The only difference is that, in the theistic worldview, God’s pulling the trigger and he knows exactly where the bullet is and he’s not going to unload it except into your skull.
But you don’t want to die. You want to grovel and piss yourself in front of this megalomaniac for the chance at eternal life, because you’re scared. But eternal life? Really? Why? What value does your existence have if it is eternal? Once you’ve read every book thrice, and watched every frame of every piece of film ever, listened to every radio transmission, and studied the life of every single sub-atomic particle throughout all the multiverse’s existences, and you have fraternized for a thousand years with every person who has ever lived—you will still have another eternity to go, and one after that, and one after that, and an infinity number of eternities after that. But I digress.
What’s that you say? Perhaps God is testing us? Well, I’d say you don’t test one person by killing another; Hollywood tried that already—it’s the plot to the Saw movies.
You believe God was there on September 11th, and isn’t that a comfort to you? How dare you spit on the ashes of every person who died that day? God left a symbol instead of a building? How dare you urinate in the faces of every family affected? God is testing us? Does that mean everyone who died that morning failed? It was all in God’s plan? Every atomized middle finger flips you off.
No. This happened because misguided people did bad things. Who died, and who survived, was entirely random. And this is a comfort. Allow me to explain.
If there is no all-powerful god—under whom we are entirely at the mercy of his whims—no great plan—over which we have no control—then we have the opportunity to save our own lives and to make things better. Think about it. If it is part of God’s plan that there should be a genocide in the future, then it will happen. But if there is no god, then we have the opportunity to educate the world and perhaps prevent such atrocities. If God needs you to be in poverty to fuel his plan, then you will never rise from society’s gutter. If there is no god then you have the opportunity to work your way out of squalor. If it is in God’s plan to have you die at a certain age, then you will die. If there is no god, then we might be able to save you from whatever ails you.
No gods means opportunity and a chance to make this world a better place. We can prevent events like September 11th from ever happening again. Without God, there is true freedom and true hope.

Okay, well, that was a lot. Any thoughts?________________

Okay, now we move on to Godless Wisdom. Today we have an article from Search Magazine by Barbara Bradley Hagerty, a religious correspondent for NPR, entitled, “Tuning In.”

I was sitting in a small examination room at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital when the question hit me with the force of a tank: Is the brain a radio, or a CD player? Not an elegant question, surely, but it has nipped at my heels for the past three years.

The conundrum offered itself as I was interviewing a man named Terrence Ayala at the hospital’s epilepsy clinic. Several years earlier, Ayala had undergone an operation that left him with a stuttering problem, and more. Often when falling asleep, but other times as well, he would sense a “dark presence,” usually looming over him, as real and tangible as the chair he was sitting on.

The neurologists at Henry Ford suspected Ayala’s surgery had left scarring on his brain, which had eventually resulted in temporal lobe epilepsy. And in fact the epilepsy medications he had taken over the past few months had eviscerated this “sensed presence.” But rather than relief, Ayala told me he felt robbed—as if someone had dismantled his bridge to the spiritual realm.

“We have a habit of trying to bring people into conformity through medication and modern science and all kinds of things,” he observed. “Who knows what realities we’re medicating away?”

This begged another question in my mind: Are transcendent experiences—not just Terrence Ayala’s, but also Teresa of Ávila’s—merely a physiological event, or does the brain activity reflect an encounter with another dimension? This is where the CD vs. radio debate begins. Reductionists think that the brain is like a CD player. The content—the song, for example—is playing in a closed system, and if you take a hammer to the machine, then it’s impossible to hear the song. No God exists outside the brain trying to communicate; all spiritual experience is inside the brain, and when you destroy that, God and spirituality die as well.

There is some support for this line of thinking. For like magicians with their trick rabbits, scientists can now make these transcendent “realities” appear or disappear at will. Recently, a group of Swiss researchers evaluated a twenty-two-year-old woman for possible brain surgery. She had no psychiatric history. The researchers were homing in on a particular spot in the brain—the junction of the temporal lobes (thought to be the seat of the emotional self) and the parietal lobes (the area that orients your body in space and in relation to other objects). When the researchers electrically stimulated that area, the patient felt the presence of another person behind her. When they increased the voltage, she saw the “person” was young, of indeterminate sex, a “shadow” who did not speak or move. In the next stimulation, she observed a “man” sitting behind her, clasping her in his arms, which, she allowed, was somewhat unpleasant.

Stimulating alternate realities is a bit of a party trick. Making them disappear is far more common. Indeed, that is what epilepsy specialists are paid to do. It’s called treatment. They lesion the brain and remove the offending tissue, or they medicate the brain and tamp down the electrical spikes—and voilà, the spiritual experiences disappear. God is shown to be epiphenomenal.

But suppose the brain is not a CD player, but a radio. In this analogy, everyone possesses the neural equipment to receive the radio program in varying degrees. Some have the volume turned low—in the case of an atheist, perhaps, so low it is inaudible. Many hear their favorite programs every now and again. Others, through no fault of their own, have the volume turned up too high, or receive a cacophony of noise that makes no sense, as if they are tuning into two overlapping stations while driving through rural Georgia.

If this analogy is carried further—and it is, by an increasing number of scientists—then the “sender” is separate from the receiver. The content of the transmission does not originate in the brain; the brain is only picking up a transmission from, say, Studio 2A at National Public Radio, where the hosts of “All Things Considered” are sitting. If you destroy the radio, the transmission—the words spoken by Michele Norris and Robert Siegel—is still operating. If the brain is a receiver, then it is picking up God’s communications, which never stop even when the brain does.

This is not to say that all our thoughts come from another, spiritual realm, any more than everything we hear comes through the radio. It merely suggests that people who suffer from an overactive temporal lobe—or who have transcendent moments—are able to tune into another dimension of reality that many of us ignore.

Maybe St. Paul and Joan of Arc and Dostoyevsky were not crazy. Maybe they just had better antennae.

Now on to the news!

First, a “no duh” story from the BBC: “Faith Healing Risks Recovery.”

A belief in faith healing could jeopardise recovery from illness, according to a new study by a University of Ulster researcher.
Dr Tony Cassidy said he believes that some people who put their trust in faith healing may be less likely to adhere to medical advice.
He will be presenting his research at a British Psychological Society conference in Birmingham.
The Coleraine-based academic's research team questioned 766 people on their belief in and intention to use faith healing.
They were also surveyed about their intention to adhere to medical advice.
"We found that belief and intention to use faith healing was a significant predictor of self-reported non-adherence to a medication," Dr Cassidy said.
"Participants who believed strongly in faith healing were also more likely to say they were less satisfied with their GP.
"Given that only about one-in-three people follow medical advice totally and about one in four put their lives at risk through non-adherence, it's important that health care professionals understand their patients' beliefs about alternative remedies, such as faith healing."
But one Belfast GP, Dr Paul Corry, believes that sometimes the opposite is the case.
"Often patients that do have a faith in God or have had a Christian healing prayer for them, show a better outcome because they are more positive," Dr Corry explained.
"They have hope where maybe they didn't have it before."

Next, another “no, really?” story from the New York Times: Religion’s Link to Teen Pregnancy.

A report this week in the journal Reproductive Health describes what researchers call “a strong association” between the teenage birth rate of a particular state and its “level of religiosity.”
The correlation is not what you might expect. The more religious the state, the higher the rates of teen pregnancy.
Joseph Strayhorn, an adjunct faculty member with Drexel University and the University of Pittsburgh, and Jillian Strayhorn reached their conclusions by analyzing data from the Pew Forum’s US Religious Landscapes Survey and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first asks respondents to agree or disagree with such statements as ‘There is only one way to interpret the teachings of my religion’ or ‘Scripture should be taken literally, word for word’. The second tracks the rate of teen pregnancy in every state from year to year.
How to explain the disconnect? It could be that more religious teens are having sex than less religious teens, hence more of them become pregnant. It could also be that the percentage of teens who become pregnant in each state is similar, but the percentage who terminate in the less religious states is higher, leading to more reported pregnancies and births (although the authors did take some steps to adjust for that.) Or it could be, Strayhorn suggests, “that religious communities in the US are more successful in discouraging the use of contraception among their teenagers than they are in discouraging sexual intercourse itself”.
What do you think?

Next, we have a few news report of interesting discrimination. First, from the Associated Press: Teens tossed from NJ ballpark sue, saying it was over refusal to stand for 'God Bless America'

Three teenagers who say they were tossed from a New Jersey ballpark over their refusal to stand during the song "God Bless America" are suing the minor league Newark Bears.
The boys argue that their constitutional rights were violated when they were asked to leave Newark's Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium on June 29 by Bears' president and co-owner Thomas Cetnar.
Cetnar acknowledged the boys were asked to leave but declined to say why. He also has denied making some statements attributed to him in the lawsuit.
The boys — Millburn High seniors Bryce Gadye and Nilkumar Patel, both 17, and junior Shaan Mohammad Khan, 16 — sued in federal court on Friday seeking unspecified damages.
According to the lawsuit, the boys were seated behind home plate when the song began playing. Once it ended, they say Cetnar approached them yelling.
"Nobody sits during the singing of 'God Bless America' in my stadium," the lawsuit quotes Cetnar as saying. "Now the get the (expletive) out of here."
Cetnar denied saying that: "Never, never did that ever happen."
Cetnar said he hasn't seen the lawsuit, but called the boys' account "a huge fabrication."
The boys are being represented by Bryce Gadye's father, Ross, who said the boys weren't protesting the song and no one asked them to stand.

Next up, from CBS: Abercrombie & Fitch Sued Over Head Scarf

A Muslim teenager claims in a federal lawsuit that she was denied a job at an Abercrombie & Fitch clothing store at a Tulsa mall because she wore a head scarf.

In the lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Tulsa by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 17-year-old Samantha Elauf said she applied for a sales position at the Abercrombie Kids store in the Woodland Hills Mall in June 2008. The teen, who wears a hijab in accordance with her religious beliefs, claims the manager told her the head scarf violates the store's "Look Policy."

"These actions constitute discrimination against Ms. Elauf on the basis of religion," the lawsuit states.

A spokeswoman for the New Albany, Ohio-based retailer declined to comment on the lawsuit but said the company has "a strong equal employment opportunity policy, and we accommodate religious beliefs and practices when possible."

The suit seeks back pay for the teen and a permanent injunction against the retailer from participating in what it describes as discriminatory employment practices. It seeks undisclosed monetary and non-monetary losses resulting from "emotional pain, suffering, anxiety, loss of enjoyment of life, humiliation and inconvenience."

The suit also seeks punitive damages against the company for its "malice or reckless indifference to her federally protected rights."

In 2004, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. agreed to pay $50 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the EEOC that accused the company of promoting whites over minorities and cultivating a practically all-white image in its catalogs and elsewhere.

Now, to make you feel a little better about living in America, a story from England: Christians face trial for criticising Islam.

The Christian owners of a hotel are being prosecuted for a crime because they defended their faith and criticised Islam in a debate with a Muslim guest.
Police arrested Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang, who run the Bounty House Hotel in Liverpool, after a Muslim woman complained that she was offended by comments made on 20 March.
According to newspaper reports, the debate involved discussion of whether Jesus was the Son of God or just a minor prophet of Islam.
Newspapers also report that the debate included comments that Mohammed was a warlord and Muslim dress for women was a form of bondage.
However, the facts of the case are disputed.
The pair are now being prosecuted for a “religiously aggravated” public order offence. A criminal trial is set for 8 and 9 December at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court.
The couple’s lawyer, David Whiting, said: “Ben and Sharon do not accept they were threatening, abusive or insulting.
“They are committed Christians and it is the defence’s contention that they have every right to defend their religious beliefs and explain those beliefs to others who do not hold similar views.”
The couple were arrested and charged in July under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 and Section 31 (1) (c) and (5) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.
If convicted the couple face a maximum fine of £5,000 and a criminal record

Next, an interesting story for anyone in the NYC area, this comes from the Wall Street Journal: Muslims Press for School Holidays in New York City.

Muslims groups here are pressing city officials to close public schools on two of the faith's holiest days, just as schools do for major Jewish and Christian holidays. But the groups have yet to persuade the man in charge of New York City schools, Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Muslim groups have asked the city to cancel classes on Eid Ul-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, and Eid Ul-Adha, which marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
New York is one of many public-school systems now struggling with appropriate ways to recognize religious holidays for a diverse population. An estimated 100,000 Muslim children are enrolled in New York City schools, about 10% of the enrollment.
The matter has taken on a political aspect as Mr. Bloomberg, seeking a third term as mayor, has steadily courted the endorsement of a slew of ethnic groups. One city councilman said Muslims might withhold their votes if the mayor doesn't heed their wishes. Candidates are running in a primary Tuesday for the right to face Mr. Bloomberg, an independent, in the November election.
"This city is supposedly the most diverse city in the world. The city's laws and rules have to reflect that," said Councilman Robert Jackson, a Muslim from the borough of Manhattan. "I am hoping that pressure from the Muslim community will help Mayor Bloomberg decide, in the best interest of himself politically, to incorporate these two holidays."
The mayor often says children need to be in school more, not less, and that establishing more holidays would encourage every religious group to demand that their holy days be recognized. Children are required to attend school for at least 180 days a year in New York.
Other states have found a workable approach. Dearborn, Mich., where nearly half of the 18,000 students are Muslim, is believed to be the first city to close school on Muslim holy days, a spokesman said. Several cities in New Jersey now close school on the holy days.
After Muslims asked for school closings in Hillsborough County, Fla., the school board in 2007 approved a secular calendar that doesn't commemorate any religious holidays for the 189,000 students. Schools remain open on Good Friday, a Christian holiday, even though many students are absent, said Linda Cobbe, a spokeswoman. "There are so many religions we don't want to single out one or two," she said.

Now, from Fox News: Pledge of Confusion? Schools Wrestle with Flag Policy in Classroom.

It's a new school year, but an old fight is brewing in American classrooms. Teachers and administrators around the country are scratching their heads once again over the Pledge of Allegiance.
The courts have consistently ruled that students have the right not to recite the pledge in public schools. But now some First Amendment advocates are taking it one step further, arguing that the law compels educators to inform kids at the beginning of school that the decision is entirely up to them.
They're advocating a "Miranda warning" for the Pledge -- an administrative notice to students that they have the right to remain silent.
“The Pledge of Allegiance creates a constitutional problem. You have to tell students they can opt out,” the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told FOX News.
New Mexico dealt with this question last month when its education secretary upheld that students are permitted to opt out of the Pledge, but rejected an ACLU-backed amendment that would require schools to inform parents and students that they have the option.
In Florida, schools have tried to resolve uncertainty by announcing a new policy — students don't have to participate, as long as they have a letter from Mom and Dad.
These are just the latest in a litany of challenges to the Pledge and its place in the classroom.
Thirty-six states now have laws requiring that the Pledge of Allegiance be recited daily in public schools. But the oath as it's written does not sit well with some Americans.
“The Pledge doesn’t even state the truth. We are not one nation under God," Lynn said. "I don’t think we should lie to students, and there’s no way we can require them to say it.”
But supporters of the Pledge insist that the words are both constitutional and an important part of our national heritage.
“There has been a recurring effort by the ACLU and others to try to stop the Pledge of Allegiance from being said. The fact of the matter is that the American people like the Pledge of Allegiance, they like it the way it is,” Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the Eagle Forum, told
“The teachers are government employees, their paychecks are paid by the taxpayers, and the American people support the Pledge. I’m with the American people,” Schlafly said.
The majority of Americans do, in fact, overwhelmingly support the Pledge of Allegiance in its current form. A FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll from November of 2005 showed that 90 percent of Americans approve of the oath. Only 7 percent of people polled said they would change the language of the Pledge, while three percent of Americans were undecided.
The Pledge's popularity aside, the Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that mandating a student to participate in the oath was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.

Also, not from the show, I found three other articles of some potential interest:

"The Right Way To Pray?"

"Taliban Leader Said to Warn U.S. on War."

"Religion Battles Medicine in Kenya."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

My Spiritual Experience

I had a spiritual experience on Saturday. Don't worry--I didn't act on it.

You see, sometime Saturday morning my car was broken into. The rear passenger window was shattered and my two backpacks were stolen. A laptop with priceless ideas and documents yet to be backed up, an iPod with years of collected music, books, and my wallet with every credit card, identification, and penny I had were all taken.

Coming from New York, I was in Atlanta, Georgia ending a brief visit with an old friend, on my way to Kerrville, Texas. I found a stash of $30 hidden away in the trunk. That, and what gas I had in the tank was all I had to get me where I needed to go. I was stranded.

Then my friend lent me $20--the only money she had. Another friend in Dallas, Texas left $40 hidden along his driveway. That meant making it on $50 and half a tank from Atlanta to Dallas. I had not eaten since the early afternoon the previous day. Ditto sleep. There was a very good chance I would not make it.

Six o' clock in the morning I se out, starving, tired, my phone essentially useless, hopped up on caffeine and emotion, and unsure if I'd end up a Yankee stranded in the Deep South.

Somewhere between Alabama and Mississippi, a very foreign sensation filled me and set in my mind the strongest desire to pray.

More alone than I've ever been in my life, scared and depressed, I suddenly felt my heart open to God. I tried to rationalize it: "It couldn't hurt. What if? I have nothing else." I wanted the help so bad. Even in my days as a full and quasi-believer, I can't imagine that I'd ever felt the urge to cry out to the Lord as strongly as I did on Saturday.

I almost prayed. Almost. I gathered the words in my head and prepared to address the almighty. But I stopped. I looked at myself in the (rearview) mirror and chastised myself for such absurdity--such weakness of character, heart, and mind. What would I achieve through beseeching the nonexistent? Did I not already have help and concern and love? Did I not still have my wits about me? I put the idea of prayer from out of my mind and took instead to substantial thought: how could I help myself? How could I, with virtually no resources, improve my situation?

I know that if I had started down the rabbit hole of prayer I would have been trapped until I arrived in Dallas or my car ran out of gas, and I would have been at a loss for a solution. Instead, I put my mind to work. I determined that if I found a Best Buy I could convince them to charge my phone and lend me the use of a computer to look up directions, cancel cards, and the like. I decided that if I broke down I would not be reduced to mere beggary. I considered that the small travel refrigerator would be a good sale for some $10 or $20. The chilled beverages within could be sold.

Luckily, I made it to Dallas with a quarter tank left and was sure that $5 for food and $35 for gas would be sufficient to get me to Kerrville where my job and all my people were. A Best Buy in the area indeed helped me out and I charged my phone, changed passwords, got directions, looked up resources, contacted worried friends, etc.

I had also one other desire. The desire for a reason, also often provided through supernatural means. And I do hope this happened for a reason. Not some cosmic, predetermined, greater-good, but for the reason that the person who burglarized me really needed what they took to preserve themselves. Maybe the profits from my goods will get them where they need to be, help them feed their family, whatever. Then again, maybe not. I put my faith in hope. I hope the thief had no choice. I hope it helped them.

Here's the ultimate lesson: prayer would not have helped. It may have indulged my baser nature, my need for a primeval assurance of safety, for reason, but it would not have devised solutions. I would never have thought to go to Best Buy. If my car had run out of gas I would have been at a loss for a solution.

And if I had prayed, and gotten to Dallas alright? Would I thank God? Heavens forbid! How dare I! What of reality? What of the friends who cared enough to give money, to offer money, to stay on the phone with me? What of my mother who helped me call the credit card companies, the insurance people? What of the kindness of a gas station attendant who gave me a place to lay my head, out of the rain and the heat? What of the Best Buy worker who assisted me when I needed it? Would their credit go to God? I would never allow such a thing.

Once again, personal ingenuity and human kindness prevailed above superstition. I thank every person who helped me through one of the most difficult and scary times I’ve gone through yet.

Things are what they are, and nothing changes that. Only human goodness can deliver us from adversity. And I’m okay with that. The elation I feel now, knowing how I was helped, outshines those dark moments on Saturday.

So, remember, when you’re down, and things appear bleak, and everything seems too hard, look inside yourself and reach out to others, and find your salvation there.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

News for July 11-17, 2009

Atheist Convention to Take Place:
The Atheist Alliance International will be hosting an Atheist convention on October 2,3, and 4 at the Burbank Airport Marriot and Convention Center. Guest set to appear include, Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, Eugenie Scott, and many more. Check out the link to see more.

Kiss-in Planned in Utah:
A couple of days ago a male couple kissed briefly on the property of the Salt lake City Temple (Mormon Church) and they were promptly escorted off the premises by security. Tomorrow at noon a whistle will be blown to signal the gathering of people to begin kissing on the LDS property.

Episcopalians Decide to Treat Gays Like Normal People:
Earlier this week the Episcopalian Church voted to allow openly gay men to be ordained as bishops. Now these bishops are looking to create procedures for blessing gay marriages. Thank God.

FFRF at it Again:
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is at it again, filing a lawsuit to prevent "In God We Trust" from being engraved at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington. Best of luck to them.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

This news could not wait for Friday

One of these is satirical and the other is real. I had a pretty hard time telling the difference. You try.

Bill to Ban Mermaids

NASA Launches First Ever Faith Based Space Program

There simply are no words...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Finished the BIBLE!!

Wow, okay, so I just finished the Holy Bible. That's right, the Old AND New Testament. I began on May 15th at an unknown time and finished this evening/morning, July 15th, 2 AM. Hallelujah!

The experience was at times difficult, often exhausting, and frequently tedious. But all in all I greatly enjoyed the experience. My views of the Bible and characters within have been in some ways reinforced by my readings, but in many more ways my preconceptions were often revealed as misguided and off-the-mark.

Yahweh is a bit of a prick, but in reading the whole of His story I feel like I understand His motives and personality a little bit better. Reading the Old Testament directly into the New Testament rewarded me with a perspective on Jesus that I think I could never have had reading them seperately. The contexts of the time, the hopes, fears, and desires of the Jewish nation are powerfully expressed in the last books of the OT, and the arrival of Jesus, and his subsequent appeal to non-Jews as well, cannot be fully appreciated without proper context.

I'll definitely return to this subject again, and I'll be posting chapter by chapter summaries of each book. Real summaries. Like one or two sentences a chapter. Should be interesting.

All in all, my favorite books were Genesis, Exodus, Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Jonah, Luke, and Revelation.

If you want to read a verse that will blow your mind with the absolutely grotesque and horrifc nature of the image, check out Deuteronomy 28:53-57. The guys who wrote Saw didn't think of anything that messed up.

If you're looking to understand the history that is recorded in the Bible and want to read narratives, read, in order, Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, Matthew, Luke, Acts, and Revelation. That's the meat of the Bible, the history, the story-telling. Everything minus the prophecy, poems, and tedious dictation. Those books were, as a whole, pretty interesting.

Reading the Bible was absolutely amazing, and I liken it akin to viewing the entire Star Wars series from beginning to end. As when Anakin shows up alongside Obi-Wan and Yoday, so was the final "Amen" in Revelations incredibly powerful. I read a story of a people, the supposed human race, rise from the dust to take over the world, fall, rise again, catching themselves in perpetual conflict, and finally fall to the Kingdom of God. It was epic in every sense of the word.

All the same, I can't imagine how anyone thinks that stuff is true.

Great stuff; highly recommended :)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Godless Wisdom: Douglas Adams

Here's a classic quote that I think almost everyone has heard or read before. All the same, I feel that it bears repeating:

"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"

- Douglas Adams

What a beautiful statement that really sums up a true appreciation of the world--a scientific viewpoint, if you will. That very sentiment is at the heart of every rational minded person who denies the supernatural and searches for the wonders that are within our world, our existence, as it is.

In many ways, it bothers me to hear the credulous person cast their eyes to the heavens and proclaim, "There has to be more." More?? What more could you desire beyond infinity? The expanse of the universe stretches to the borders of imagination and defies all applied ingenuity for a definitive explanation, and yet some people are searching for greater mysteries!

Our minds are capable of perceiving the world and reacting to it in a way that, as far as we know, no other type of being is, or has ever, been able to, and yet we have no cohesive understanding of how it works. We can't comprehend how we communicate within ourselves and others are postulating that we communicate with others using nothing but our minds.

For these people, and many others, the mind is seperate from ourselves (despite any evidence to the contrary) and will exist beyond our decaying bodies. For those who believe, this is a comfort. A perpetual existence where there is no driving force, no chance for risk, no reason for being. And if you believe in God--well, don't get me started on that.

Death is the one true factor in existence that makes all things truly powerful. Knowing that Death's scythe catches the glint of every dawn's rising sun drives one to achieve immortality. How do some do it? By wasting their lives in supplication working through telepathy for an ethereal post-corporeal being. Others are doing it through music and marble, film and fiction, research and risk. Who are the true immortals? The latter. Those whose works have existed and will exist well beyond themselves; indeed, the memory of them may never die.

If man defeats supposed fate and perpetuates humanity beyond the cessation of our universe then what should ever be there to cause the last recording of Mozart to cease mid-symphony?

If man defeats the natural death of the flesh, how much more poignant will be the destruction of one person? A child at fifty, how great could have been their life? A sage, at a thousand, how terrible the loss of their myriad experience? What new art might be formed by the hands and minds of practitioners honed through the ages? What discoveries made by intellects so experienced?

There is, of course, a place to wonder about telekinesis and astral projection, about gods and nymphs, devils and wizards, fairies and leprechauns. But it is in books, movies, songs, theatre, and our imagination. Let us relegate fancy to its place and reality to the present. There is no more than what we have. There is life as we know it, and wanting something beyond that doesn't make it true--it only distracts from our reality. We are losing our minds and, indeed, our souls to "fairies at the bottom." We must reclaim our lives and learn to pry ourselves off the flowerbed to stand and appreciate the vast garden of our existence that is before us.

Friday, July 10, 2009

News for the First Week of July!

NYC Atheists Bus Campaign:
It seems that the local atheist organization, NYC Atheists I joining the bandwagon with D.C., London, and others, and comissioning an ad campaign for the MTA's buses. Two dozen buses across NYC will have the message, "You don't have to believe in God to be a moral or ethical person," plastered across their sides.

Atheist Billboard in Idaho:
You know what goes great with potatoes? Butter, sour cream, chives...oh! And atheism!

The sign in Moscow, Idaho, along Highway 95 and Sweet Avenue reads, "Want a better world? Prayer not required."

Atheist Billboards in Florida:
Yay for atheist activism! We're finally standing up and really getting our message out there. A sign in Florida reads, "Being a good person doesn't require God. Don't believe in God? You're NOT alone!"

I have to admit, seeing a "Don't believe in God, You're not alone," sign in New Jersey a few years back was one of the things that really made me feel good, helped me feel less lonely about my lack of belief, and was one of many little pushes that got me moving towards my involvement with atheist activism.

I love these signs and I hope they keep putting more out!

Pharmacists Forced to Supply Pharmaceuticals:
Gasp! In Washington State a federal appeals court has ruled that pharmacies must dispense Plan B pills regardless of personally held religious beliefs. Supposedly, this could have wide ranging effects over the whole of the Western United States.

If you ask me, provide the pills or get a new profession.

Free Speech Outlawed in Ireland:
Blasphemy has been outlawed in Ireland! This idea has been rolling around in the UN for a while, but it has become reality in Ireland where any speech that is blasphemous and results in causing an outrage has been deemed illegal and punishable by a 25,000 Euro fine. This covers not only published statements and broadcast statements, but mere utterances as well! It gets worse. Your blasphemous materials, lets say a copy of "The God Delusion," may also be confiscated--by force.

For the full text of the legislation as well as some interesting consequences, check out this post.

Daniel Radcliff is an Atheist:
Score one for the team! Catholics have Braveheart, Scientologists have Ethan Hunt, but we atheists now have freakin' Harry Potter!

Radcliff was quoted as saying, "I'm an atheist, but I'm very relaxed about it. I don't preach my atheism, but I have a huge amount of respect for people like Richard Dawkins who do. Anything he does on television, I will watch."

Take that, muggles!

Pope is an Idiot:
Oh, wait, that's not news. Never mind. Well, I do have an article here about the supposed bones of St. Paul being exhumed and tested by Vatican scientists. Basically, they took the bones out of a sarcophagus that hasn't been touched since before we had, oh I dunno, documentation, dated them to the first or second century, and have yet to report on whether or not there are signs of trauma from Paul's reported beheading. But, based strictly on the dating, the Pope is saying that they have conclusive evidence that these are the bones of St. Paul.

Now that I think of it, my heading for this news item was pretty spot-on.

Chores Instead of Rape in Afghanistan:

A while back I reported on the fact that Afghanis essentially made marital rape legal. Well, that has been reversed and now its illegal, as long as women do the house work. Um...yay, I guess?

Shroud of Turin May Have Been Fabricated by Da Vinci:

MAY have. The gist of it is this: the facial features and dimensions seem to match up with those of Da Vinci from drawings and the Shroud first appears in the general time around the life of Da Vinci. But really, the shroud first turns up long before Da Vinci was even born, and even if it had been created during his lifetime its a stretch to say he was its creator when the only thing you're going on are a handful of drawings of one man. Sorry, but I'm having a hard time being convinced that Da Vinci was the ONLY person able to do this, which is the only reasonable reason to posit such an idea. Why Da Vinci? The shape of the features match? There's a lot of people that have been over this planet, and I'm sure many others fit the bill. In my opinion, I think it's just a bunch of Dan Brown infused excitement rolling off the Angels and Demons movie and the ucoming sequel novel. Check the article out and judge for yourself.

Game Show to Convert Atheists:
There's a game show being put on in Turkey when a bunch of religious leaders try to convert atheists to any one of their religions. The winner gets a free vactions to the holy land of their chosen religion. I can't describe any more. I'm typing with one hand because the other one is clasped to my head in bemused exasperation.


Hello, all! I'm not sure who was reading this blog or who will be, but as is clearly evident by the time stamps on these posts I've been gone for about two months now. The radio show went on hiatus until September and I went out to California for my summer job and didn't have any time to keep up with the world of religion and atheism, much less the blog or podcast!

But things have slowed down a little bit. I'm home for about two weeks, then I'm off to Pennsylvania to work an archaeology dig, and then I'm out to Texas to work some more, however, things have slowed down enough that I think I can keep up with the blog again.

At the least, I will be bringing you the week's best news in religion, spirituality, and atheism every Friday.

Also, I've spent the first half of the summer reading the Bible cover to cover (I've got about a hundred pages left [out of two thousand!]) and I would like to bring some of my thoughts to the table about the text. You know, share some favorite passages, explore some interesting points, and review some changed or reinforced preconceptions.

I also have a notebook half filled with pages about my adventure through the Koran last summer. I hope to bring you some of those gems as well.

My summer reading list will continue without mercy following the Bible and I will be reading a history on the birth of the Church, a book on the social constructs of Palestine in the time of Christ, a Bart Ehrman book (if you haven't read on of his works, I strongly encourage you to) on the now extinct sects of Christianity, Daniel C. Dennet's book "Breaking the Spell," Bulfinch's Mythology, a complete review of world history complements of Wikipedia, and a book on the history of the English language. That last one has nothing to do with Religion, but it should be interesting.


That's a lot now that I look at it.

Oh, and I'm attempting to learn Latin. We'll see how that goes.

Anywho, I'll be posting a review of this past week's news shortly, just to get in the swing of things.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Show From: May 8, 2009

First: a happy belated National Day of Reason to everyone! It was yesterday, coinciding with the national day of prayer. So, happy reason everyone.

Today I don’t have a Godless Wisdom, per say, but I found an article in the New York Times that was kind of interesting, so I thought we’d give that a read instead.
Does God Want You to Be Bankrupt?
This week, yet another Washington debate over who deserves a break on their debts drew to a close. On Thursday, the Senate voted against allowing judges to adjust the terms of the mortgages of people filing for personal bankruptcy.
Scratch the surface of the opposition in these sorts of debates, and it tends to ooze moral righteousness. “People who get themselves in over their heads,” the upstanding declare, “need to bear some responsibility for their foolishness.”
Maybe so. But if we can’t pass legislation that gives us new tools to determine who should be eligible for debt forgiveness, we need to look elsewhere for written instruction. Given that large numbers of Americans take many of their moral cues from their spiritual beliefs, I decided to turn to the good books of some of the world’s great religions for guidance on the subject.
Just about every doctrinal expert I spoke with, no matter the background, began by mentioning slavery. In ancient times, when interest accrued and compounded, it was common for the indebted to simply work it off. Often, this took the rest of their lives. Many of the teachings that grew up around debt forgiveness aimed to avoid that sort of outcome.
Still, the notion of enslavement, albeit of the psychological sort, survived to modern times. N. Eldon Tanner, a leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wrote: “Those who structure their standard of living to allow a little surplus control their circumstances. Those who spend a little more than they earn are controlled by their circumstances. They are in bondage.”
This will be a familiar idea to people who have considered the idea of paying only the minimum amount on a large credit card debt, only to realize that if they do that, the debt may actually outlive them.
“Binding oneself financially is not something that trumps every other need,” added the Rev. Brian Daley, a Jesuit priest and professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. Scripture suggests that the redistribution of property is also a reasonable thing to do. “You just can’t mention it in public in the United States,” he said. “Our notion of capitalism is so absolutized that we give it a quasi-religious value.”
However strongly we believe in free markets (not, perhaps, as fervently as we did a year or two ago), the theme of forgiveness does run strongly through religious writings of all sorts. In the Old Testament, for instance, Chapter 15 of the book of Deuteronomy calls for the forgiveness of debts once every seven years.
Religious leaders were aware, however, of the chilling effect that could have on lending (particularly in the sixth year). “The Torah says don’t think that way, don’t be stingy” in that sixth year, said Rabbi Mark Washofsky, a professor of Jewish law at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. He added that later on, the Talmud introduced the idea of a Prosbul. This was a sort of workaround court that was not covered by the religious law. The Prosbul could administer debts during or right before the seventh year.
When the court confiscated property outright, sometimes this worked to the benefit of the debtor and sometimes to the benefit of the creditor. “In other words, the ultimate power resides with the community,” Rabbi Washofsky said. “It can intervene in what was a private transaction, in a situation of great need. The power is there. The real question is, do you use it and when?”
The answer depends on who you are ultimately reporting to, your immediate supervisor, your shareholders or the Entity that will ultimately render judgment on you.
Father Daley, of Notre Dame, said that the New Testament talked about debts to God resulting from sin. Another idea popular with rabbis and early Christians, he said, was the notion that doing good deeds turned God into a debtor. “God is a kind of referee or bookkeeper, noticing things that people do,” he said. “And if they do good deeds without obligation, God will repay them in judgment. I think being able to dismiss debts or forgive them is something that is seen as a generous and gracious act.”
Bankers that cater to Muslims, who are not allowed to charge interest because of some of the tenets of Islamic law, claim to foreclose on homeowners less frequently than regular creditors, according to Mahmoud Amin El-Gamal, an expert on Islamic finance and an economics professor at Rice University. He added, however, that any leniency was probably priced into the financing in the first place, making it a bit more expensive.
The Koran, meanwhile, offers one of the more useful ideas on debt. “If the debtor is in a difficulty, grant him time till it is easy for him to repay,” the passage in the second chapter, verse 280, reads. “But if ye remit by way of charity, that is best for you if ye only knew.”
Charity is not required here, according to Mr. El-Gamal. But during that granting of time, he added, the creditor is not allowed to charge interest.
This offers a possible compromise. If lenders and senators are unwilling to allow judges to permanently alter the terms of a mortgage loan, perhaps they would agree to allow qualified borrowers who have lost their jobs or fallen ill to take a two- to six-month break from making payments.
During this time, the lenders would stop the interest clock from ticking, not levy any fees and not tack on missed payments to the end of the loan. Then, once the borrowers were back on their feet, they could start regular payments again. If they weren’t able to make them by then, then foreclosure proceedings could begin.
Or, if this proves unpalatable or too expensive, how about selling an insurance policy that would pay for a six-month period of payments? That could satisfy both God and the gods of capitalism.
Perhaps if the Democrats want to enact bankruptcy reform, they ought to bring an imam to address their opponents.
Obama Watch:
Further details of Obama’s 2010 budget were released yesterday. Good news—abstinence only education is out! The relevant part of the budget reads:


Next up on the Obama watch, we witness the president taking a much needed middle stance on the National Day of Prayer held yesterday. While past observances have included a service held in the White House, Obama chose to simply offer a proclamation acknowledging the day while holding no public events.



Next, I’d like to talk about my irony meter. It’s off the charts. Pope Benedict has arrived in Jordan for the first leg of his first trip to the Holy Land. This past Friday the Pope expressed “deep respect for Muslims.” First off, the Pope got in trouble back in 2006 after making a speech in which he said the Islam brings thing evil and inhuman. Second, the nature of Christianity rejects Muslims, who, by most accounts, will go to Hell if the Catholics are right. How much respect can you have for a people God sees fit to send to an eternity of hellfire? Not to mention that the Koran explicitly speaks out against the Catholics. Oh well, I guess it’s good to see the Vatican turning the other cheek for once, and this time it’s not a but cheek. The pope doesn’t say exactly why he respect the Muslims, but he does want to play a role in fostering peace in the Middle East. That’s fine. That’s great even. As long as he doesn’t come barreling through with any more of his anti-condom propaganda. Remember kids, always use a condom, no matter what some celibate old man tells you.

Ask the Atheists:

I want to ask you guys your opinions on some controversial items in the news. First we have the story of a school in San Leandro. Some parents want religiously themed music banned from school holiday programs. The compromise proposed is to adopt a policy of notifying parents of the holiday music program. What do you think? Is the compromise necessary? Should the music be banned?


Next, we have a story from the military. The Pentagon was involved in the production of a cable program that featured two so-called “extreme” missionaries embedded with a U.S. Army unit in Afghanistan trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.
The popular reality series, "Travel the Road," aired on the Trinity Broadcasting Network and featured Will Decker and Tim Scott, who travel the globe to “preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth and encourage the church to be active in the Great Commission.”
The other cable program green-lit by the Pentagon is “God’s Soldier,” which aired in September on the Military Channel, and was filmed at Forward Operating Base McHenry in Hawijah, Iraq. It features an Army chaplain openly promoting fundamentalist Christianity to active-duty U.S. soldiers in Iraq in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a watchdog organization, amended a federal lawsuit it filed against the Department of Defense last year, currently in federal District Court in Kansas City, Kansas to “include these despicable unconstitutional promotions of fundamentalist Christianity in the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan,” said MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein.

What do you think? Is the military’s promotion of these television programs a problem? What about the evangelizing occurring in the fields?


Next, we have a school in Tennessee that less than a year ago was brought to court for illegally promoting religion. The courts ruled that the school’s actions were indeed illegal. Following in the fear of the judiciary system, the school prevented students from putting up posters that advertised the national day of prayer. The school was sued yet again in March for silencing the student led prayer event. A judge ruled last week that the schools could not prevent religious speech on posters. What do you think? Should student be allowed to promote religion on public school property?


Last, on Ask the Atheists, we have the story of a teacher who called creationism “nonsense” during class. A student brought a lawsuit against the pedagogue and a district judge ruled that the teacher had indeed violated the student’s rights. The student doesn’t want money. He just wants the teacher to be prohibited from saying similar things in the future. What do you think? Was the teacher right or wrong?