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."

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