Sunday, 2 December 2007

You're either deluded, ignorant, or an idiot\asshole\crackpot\fruitcake if:

I’m getting fed up of hearing people excuse their religion by saying “Well I don’t believe that” when they are members of a church where “that” is the official line or the opinion of the majority of their churches followers. So I decided to make a specific list of beliefs to stop the get out clauses. It’s probably not comprehensive but here’s a first stab at it anyway.

You’re either deluded, ignorant, or an idiot\asshole\crackpot\fruitcake if:

You believe the world, or life on it, originated at any time in the last million years, or that humanity came into being at any time in the last twenty-thousand (scientists will find these numbers remarkably permissive, but I’m looking for stark-raving ignorance here, not just misconception)

You think it’s OK to punish someone for changing/losing/denying their religion.

You think it’s OK to punish someone for drawing or printing a picture of a religious figure, even if you find it offensive.

You think it’s OK to punish someone because God tells you to.

You think it’s OK to punish someone because they are homosexual.

You think it’s OK to punish someone because of what clothes they wear, how they wear their hair, how much skin/hair they show in public.

You think it’s OK to punish anyone for any acts that cause no harm to anyone else, which occur in private between any number of consenting, mentally competent, adults.

You think homosexuals (practising or otherwise) should be forbidden any goods/services/job/position in any organisation (including your church) or punished in any way because of their sexual preference.

You think women should be forbidden any goods/services/job/position in any organisation solely on the basis of their gender.

You think any particular race should be forbidden any goods/services/job/position in any organisation solely on that basis.

You believe your people are the “chosen” people.

You believe that people should be segregated in the street, on the bus, in school, theatres, cinema or anywhere else based on their gender, race, religion or gender preference.

You believe that the universe, or even just the earth, was created for humanity’s benefit.

You don’t believe that evolution by natural selection is responsible for all the many and varied life forms on the planet.

You understand the meaning of the phrases “Creation Science”, “Irreducible Complexity” or “Intelligent Design” and they don’t make you want to either laugh, cry or punch something.

You will allow yourself or someone else to die rather than have some type of medical treatment you think your god proscribes.

You believe abortion and/or contraception are worse crimes than rape.

You believe women are worth less than men.

You think that we are born guilty of anything.

You think that menstruating women are somehow “unclean”

You think a woman who exposes herself, up to and including going naked in the street, or meets with men who are not her family, would be more to blame for being sexually assaulted than her attacker, or deserves any punishment more severe than a stern reproving look.

You think it’s OK to kill someone for holding hands or kissing in the street, even if it does “bring dishonour” to your family.

You think it’s OK to punish someone for insulting a religion or a religious figure/prophet/god or speaking/printing their name.

You think it’s OK to punish someone for giving the name of your god/prophet/whatever to a pet or cuddly toy.

You think that the angel Moroni actually appeared to Joseph Smith or that Mr. Smith ever really translated those gold plates, with or without benefit of magic lenses/stones.

You believe anything L. Ron Hubbard wrote other than the bit about religion being the only way to make easy money.

You think it’s OK to hush up cases where priests are found to be paedophiles.

You think your religious leader really is infallible, even if you only think he’s only infallible when he’s sitting on his special magic chair.

You think AIDS is a divine punishment for homosexuality/promiscuity.

You think any natural disasters are a divine punishment for anything.

You believe a woman should be subservient to her husband.

You think it’s ever OK to cut bits off, or sew up, any part of a child’s sexual organs (or any other part of their body for that matter) for non-medical reasons. And no “it’s easier to keep clean” doesn’t count as a medical reason.

You believe global warming doesn’t matter because Jesus is going to come back in your lifetime and sort everything out.

You blame modern Jews for crucifying Jesus. Especially since that’s what god apparently had planned all along, but mostly because THEY WEREN’T FUCKING THERE! And, of course, partly because it may never have actually happened.

You think morality is impossible or meaningless without religion.

You believe that the ability to convince yourself or maintain that something is true, without a shred of evidence, or even in the face of evidence to the contrary, is ever a good thing.

You think Harry Potter is leading children into the occult and it should be banned on that basis.

You think that the ten commandments really are the ten most important moral imperatives; especially if you believe that and can’t name them.

You think that the teaching your religion to third world countries is a valid use of money donated to lift them out of poverty.

You think abstinence-only sex-education programs are a good thing in any realistic context.

You are against any medical procedure that will save lives (e.g. HPV inoculation) because you think it will “encourage promiscuity”

You teach children about hellfire and brimstone.

You think you’ll be granted eternal paradise/any number of virgins for dying in the process of killing people in service to your god.

You think any of the idiot beliefs above should be exempt from ridicule.

You support any organisation that fits any of the above criteria, and wonder why people criticise you for it.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Faith! What is it good for? (pt. 6)

Faith teaches us morality/without faith there can be no morals

The idea that morality is not possible without religion is so obviously untrue that it would be laughable if the consequences of the lie weren’t so serious. If one actually looks at the evidence the implication is almost that reverse is true. Mark Twain once said "The so-called Christian nations are the most enlightened and progressive...but in spite of their religion, not because of it. The Church has opposed every innovation and discovery from the day of Galileo down to our own time, when the use of anaesthetic in childbirth was regarded as a sin because it avoided the biblical curse pronounced against Eve. And every step in astronomy and geology ever taken has been opposed by bigotry and superstition." And that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the barbarity committed by the religious, not just in the name of their faith, but because of it. If you look at violent-crime rate figures worldwide and correlate them with religiosity it becomes clear that the non-believers are a much more peaceful bunch than the supernaturally credulous. The same is true if this correlation is made by US state, rather than nations. It seems clear that the more religious a group becomes, the greater it’s propensity for bloodshed. The problem here is that the holy books of the three major abrahamic religions teach barbarity and inhuman acts on a grand scale. They are littered with the depiction and glorification of genocide, incest, slavery, rape and murder, not just witnessed by god or done in his name, but ordered and required by him. Against this background, people of reason have had to fight to gain laws that reflect morality that is obvious to them, but proscribed by biblical law, for the last few thousand years. As Bertrand Russell pointed out “the moral objection [to religion] is that religious precepts date from a time when men were more cruel than they are and therefore tend to perpetuate inhumanities which the moral conscience of the age would otherwise outgrow.” The very fact that people today are more moral than the holy books describe and prescribe should be evidence enough that it is people themselves who determine morality and not their faith. The Bible is unequivocal in its support for slavery, even the supposedly gentle Jesus was OK with it as long as you didn’t beat them so hard you knocked out their teeth and eyes or killed them on the spot (Luke 12:47). He also said that children should be put to death for swearing at their parents (Matthew 15:4-7) though, so why should we look to him for guidance? It should be clear that our modern sense of morals is neither derived from these writings nor should be. Even the most seemingly innocuous of Jesus’ teachings are can be shown to be immoral if one actually takes the time to think about it. Take loving thy enemies and turning the other cheek. Love thy Enemies? Why? Why Should I love people who want to kill me, my family and friends? Standing by and doing nothing while the evil commit evil acts it is within your power to prevent is an evil act itself. There are Christians who say that we can safely disregard the Old Testament as having been written for a different age when times were hard and barbarity was the norm. Though this is questionable in itself, if it is true we are still left with the assumption that the teachings of Jesus in the new testament are the pinnacle of morality and still relevant today. It is apparent from the examples above alone that this is not the case, and they’re not the only instances. Jesus, if indeed he existed, clearly had some very progressive thinking, for his time and place, but he has little to tell us today. Indeed he would have had little if anything to tell the Greek philosophers who predated him.

The facts are that Children demonstrate concern for the wellbeing of others long before they learn to read or are old enough to understand indoctrination from their parents. From this alone it should be clear that the roots of morality are innate. Many “lower” primates have complex systems of morality and justice: reward for good behaviour and punishment for bad, and I can’t recall ever having seen a monkey reading the Torah.

Christopher Hitchens, on his US tour in support of his latest book “God is not Great : How religion poisons everything.” challenges his audiences to come up with one single moral statement made by the faithful that could not easily have been spoken by the secular. Nobody has yet managed it, which surprises me as I can think of a few. How about “Abortion and contraception are the greatest threats to peace in the world today”? An idiotic statement made by Mother Theresa when accepting her ill-gotten Nobel peace prize. OK, maybe it could have been said by an atheist, but it would have to have been a really stupid one.

There are moral atheists, no question. Ask youself, who is the more moral, someone who does the right thing because they believe it to be right, or someone who does it because they believe their god wants it and will punish them if they don’t? Doing things out of fear of retribution or promise of payback isn’t morality, it is cowardice and avarice.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Faith! What is it good for? (pt. 5)

You lose nothing by having faith, but stand to gain everything.

French philosopher Blaise Pascal attempted to apply the science of decision theory to the choice of whether to believe in god and came up with the argument now known as Pascal’s Wager (or Gambit), which I shall paraphrase here:

God either exists or he doesn’t. It is not possible for man to know for certain whether god exists or not, and we are already in the game of life so we are forced to bet on one possibility or the other. So we must play the odds against the benefits. If god exists, the benefits for believing are infinite, and the penalty for not believing is severe. If god does not exist and you believe you have lost nothing. Therefore it is prudent to believe.

I’ve heard variants of this argument used by several people, some of whom were unaware that Pascal had got there before them, or that it is easily refuted. There are several problems with Pascal’s wager. Firstly, the premise that it is not possible to know for certain whether god exists or not. This is by no means proven; just because no one has yet proven the existence or non-existence of a divine creator does not mean it is not possible to do so. However, this is the least of our disagreements with Pascal, since if this premise were replaced with “We do not currently know for certain the status of god’s existence.” we could continue reasoning from there. The major problems with the logic are the assumption of unspoken presuppositions, the first of which is unfounded unless we already believe the bible to be true, and the second is just plain wrong even if we do:

· God (if he exists) values and rewards belief, and punishes non-belief.

· Belief in god costs nothing.

Let’s examine each in turn.

God (if he exists) values and rewards belief and punishes non-belief.

If we are starting from the position where we are uncertain about the existence of god, there is no reason to suppose any of his characteristics. In order to believe this statement, we must already believe that the bible is the true and inerrant word of god, thus leading us back to our old friend the circular argument. Suppose we instead assume that god values moral actions and rewards or punishes accordingly regardless of belief in him. You might then think that those who act upon a morality arrived in a rational manner unfettered by barbaric bronze-age or medieval thinking are more likely to enter the kingdom of heaven than those who adhere to the doctrines present in so-called holy books written in antiquity. This kind of thinking has arrived at the Atheist’s Wager:

You should live your life and try to make the world a better place for your being in it, whether or not you believe in God. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will be remembered fondly by those you left behind. If there is a benevolent God, he may judge you on your merits coupled with your commitments, and not just on whether or not you believed in him.

My favourite question to ask those who assert that faith in god is a requirement for entry into heaven goes something like this: “If your god is genuinely benevolent, would he deny heaven to a man who had followed all of his rules but did not believe in him, but permit it to someone who murdered and raped but had been absolved through Jesus on his deathbed.” Often with the addition of “If he would he’s a fucking petty-minded shit-head.”

Belief in God costs Nothing

This is patently nonsense. Many churches demand tithes, donations etc. even if they don’t, most belief systems demand at the very least that time and effort are spent in devotion. The problem is that if the non-believers are right, and there is no after life, and we’ve spent this one slaughtering goats in order to fix broken aeroplanes, or waiting for a child-molester in a frock to put a wafer he believes to be the flesh of his dead god in our mouths, we’ve wasted a portion of the only life we’ve got. We would have paid a significant price for our unwarranted credulity. Not least because that time we’ve wasted could have been spent doing something that is actually beneficial for mankind. Even staying at home and melting our brain by watching execrable drivel like the x-factor or big brother would probably be more productive; at least it wouldn’t be in support of organisations who teach pernicious falsehoods that cause genuine harm.

There are a couple of other problems with Pascal’s Wager, and they both hinge around the potential consequences of us agreeing with Pascal and deciding to believe in god. First, if we decide to believe in god, we have the question of which of the many permutations of faith should we subscribe to. Since we’re playing odds games, if we pick any one, due to sheer number of religions available to us our odds of being wrong are enormous. I can see the scene at the pearly gates (or local equivalent) “Ah fuck, the mormons had it right? That shit with the gold tablets being dug up in upstate New York just seemed too incredible.” Or maybe “Shinto? You’re shitting me right?!”

Second if we don’t believe and we take the bet and decide that we should, it’s simply not possible to suddenly make ourselves believe something we don’t, and believe me I’ve tried. If we are starting from unbelief, we need to reason something out or have it proved in order to start believing it. Of course we could say “well, I don’t really believe, but I’ll go through the motions for the possibility of eternity in paradise”, but if god is omniscient, and rewards belief, do we really think he’ll fall for that? Christopher Hitchens has prepared his response to god should he confront him about his lack of faith after his death: “I presume, divine sir, that you have some respect for intellectual honesty and to moral courage and that you would look with more favour on somebody who made an honest profession of unbelief than on someone who acceded to belief in you in the hope of a handout.” Terry Pratchett offers us a slightly more humorous illustration. In his novel the Hogfather, a man reasons out the potential risks and benefits in a manner very similar to Pascal’s wager and decides that he should therefore believe in the existence of the gods: “When he died he woke up in a circle of gods holding nasty-looking sticks and one of them said ‘We're going to show you what we think of Mr Clever Dick in these parts...’”

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Faith! What is it good for? (pt. 4)

My faith gives me great comfort.

My pants give me great comfort, but I'm not going to make supernatural claims based on that fact, and at least they definitely exist. In the words of Sam Harris, "before we examine the validity of this claim, it's worth noting that it's a total non-sequitur"; the amount of comfort or sense of wellbeing afforded someone by a given article of faith has no relevance on the truth-value of that claim. This type of logical fallacy is called argumentum as consequentum : Appeal to Consequences or wishful thinking. Sam gives the example of his imaginary belief that there is a giant diamond buried in his back-yard. He states that he would be laughed at and thought a lunatic if he started making statements like “It gives me an enormous sense of wellbeing to believe that there is an enormous diamond buried in my back yard.”, “I wouldn’t want to live in a world where there wasn’t an enormous diamond buried in my back yard, it gives my life meaning.” None of these statements give us any inclination to take the existence of such a gem seriously, yet somehow we are expected to refrain from laughing hysterically when the faithful use these kinds of phrases about their equally unfounded claims. If there is a reason we ought not to laugh it is not that we should respect faith, but that what they are really saying is “Please stop highlighting my misconceptions, it hurts.” We should be sympathetic to this since it will not help us free them from their delusion if we inflict unnecessary discomfort, but this should not signal an end to the discussion. Sometimes a little pain is necessary for progress.

Having established that the truth of the statement “My faith gives me great comfort” has no bearing on whether the object of faith is true, let’s have a look at the premise itself. Well clearly it is in many cases, people do derive comfort from the ideas that they will never die, and neither will their beloved friends and family, that all will live in bliss in paradise for eternity, that their prayers for their loved ones and the world at large are having some positive impact etc. Unfortunately, given the lack of evidence for these suppositions, their positive affect on mental state is nothing more than the placebo effect in action. Additionally, I hypothesize that to a large degree the need for this comfort is brought about only because of the pre-existence of the faith. Like the smoker for whom a cigarette buys temporary respite from the pangs of withdrawal that would not be present were he not a smoker, much of the distress people of faith find themselves in need of alleviation from is brought about by having been taught falsehoods such as that they are born in sin for which they must atone, or that they or their loved ones will go to hell for failing to believe (the argument ad baculum : appeal to force). People are taught to feel guilt for harmless actions, often perfectly natural, sometimes even biologically unavoidable ones. This guilt can only be assuaged by prayer, or confession, or other such wastes of effort that could otherwise be used doing something genuinely beneficial. The Catholic Church even used to allow people to pay cash to buy-off their sins with cash to make themselves feel better; these days many churches ask their congregations to pay tithes for the same reason.

Even if it is true that faith gives comfort, it's worth noting that taking morphine or laudanum would probably make you feel much more relaxed about your place in the world too, but I don't think anyone sensible is going to advocate that as a viable long term solution.

In addition to all this, the argument that you have a right to something or that it is beneficial to mankind because it brings you personal comfort is not good enough. Giving support to organisations that do evil deeds or preach that they should be done, because it makes you feel better is clearly an immoral act, and should be discouraged whenever possible. After all, we would not listen politely to people who say “I like punching people in the face, it makes me feel better about myself and my place in the world.” Or maybe we would, but only out of fear that they may punch us in the face.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Faith! What is it good for? (pt. 3)

3) It’s impolite to discuss religion in polite company.

Oh fuck off!

Why is it? Because the faithful made up that rule so that people couldn’t criticise them. This isn’t an argument for faith, it’s a (lame) reason to stop talking about it. The late lamented Douglas Adams (God rest his soul ;)) had some useful stuff to say on this matter, and he’s funnier than me so I’ll hand this post over to him:

“Now, the invention of the scientific method and science is, I'm sure we'll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and that it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked and if it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn't withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn't seem to work like that; it has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That's an idea we're so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it's kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is 'Here is an idea or a notion that you're not allowed to say anything bad about; you're just not. Why not? — because you're not!' If somebody votes for a party that you don't agree with, you're free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it, but on the other hand if somebody says 'I mustn't move a light switch on a Saturday', you say, 'Fine, I respect that'.

The odd thing is, even as I am saying that I am thinking 'Is there an Orthodox Jew here who is going to be offended by the fact that I just said that?' but I wouldn't have thought 'Maybe there's somebody from the left wing or somebody from the right wing or somebody who subscribes to this view or the other in economics' when I was making the other points. I just think 'Fine, we have different opinions'. But, the moment I say something that has something to do with somebody's (I'm going to stick my neck out here and say irrational) beliefs, then we all become terribly protective and terribly defensive and say 'No, we don't attack that; that's an irrational belief but no, we respect it'.

It's rather like, if you think back in terms of animal evolution, an animal that's grown an incredible carapace around it, such as a tortoise—that's a great survival strategy because nothing can get through it; or maybe like a poisonous fish that nothing will come close to, which therefore thrives by keeping away any challenges to what it is it is. In the case of an idea, if we think 'Here is an idea that is protected by holiness or sanctity', what does it mean? Why should it be that it's perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows, but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe, no, that's holy? What does that mean? Why do we ring-fence that for any other reason other than that we've just got used to doing so? There's no other reason at all, it's just one of those things that crept into being and once that loop gets going it's very, very powerful. So, we are used to not challenging religious ideas but it's very interesting how much of a furore Richard [Dawkins] creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you're not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn't be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn't be.”

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Faith! What is it good for? (pt. 2)

2) Faith is a virtue.

No it isn't. It might be one of the so called "Christian Virtues" (Faith, Hope and Charity/Love/Agape – 1 Corinthians 13:13) but we might only believe this is genuinely a virtue if we have faith that the bible is true. "I have faith that the bible is true, and the bible tells me faith is a virtue ipso facto, QED". All major religions have some article of scripture lauding faith, and all only stand up if you already have faith in the truth of those documents. This kind of circular reasoning gets us nowhere, and the name for this logical fallacy is petitio principii: begging the question. To paraphrase Sam Harris, how virtuous has Islam’s doctrine of martyrdom been shown to be recently? Or the Catholic insistence on the tenets that condoms and abortion are evil? Or the Christian teaching that sodomy is an abomination? These beliefs, and a multitude of other grievous lies, can only be interpreted as virtuous by those who already buy-in to the delusion that their holy book is the inerrant word of god, and that their interpretation is the only possible correct one.

Until faith can be demonstrated to have positive effects that outweigh its negative ones, despite the evidence to the contrary, we should fall back to the default position and assume that all such propositions are false.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Faith! What is it good for? (pt. 1)

1) You can't disprove my article of faith, therefore it's as valid as any claim you might make.

No, no it's not... really. I think Bertrand Russell's celestial teapot argument dealt with this one adequately, as do the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Invisible Pink Unicorn etc. In case you haven't heard of any of these, they all essentially hinge around highlighting the fallacy of the following hypothesis: if I believe something, no matter how ludicrous, that cannot be disproved, it is therefore valid, worthy of my continued attention and not open to ridicule. Of course in actuality just because something might be true, this gives us no reason to believe that it is, particularly if there is not one single shred of actual concrete evidence that might allude to its truth. If it's extremely unlikely to be true, it's best for everyone if we just assume that it's false and behave accordingly; the burden of proof is on the holder of the faith, not on the rest of us. As Carl Sagan said: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. In fact if the person of faith were to go as far as to assert that their article of faith were definitely true because there is no proof to the contrary, we find there is a name for that logical fallacy: argumentum ad ignorantiam : the argument from ignorance. Of course, another aspect of the argument from ignorance would be an argument that an article of faith is proven false by the absence of proof that it is true. Anyone who can think clearly would not use such an argument alone to suggest that someone's faith is unfounded, and nor need they for there are plenty of others available. The simple fact of the matter is, if you have no proof for something and it is extremely unlikely, I have no reason to take any suggestions arrived at as a result of your faith seriously or show them any respect.

"What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof." - Christopher Hitchens

Friday, 21 September 2007

Faith! HUH! Good god y'all. What is it good for? (intro)

erm, well, ah, almost nothing. Say it again. OWWWW!

OK, so before I can start talking about what faith is good for, I guess I need to define what it is, or at least how I'm using it in this context. Let's have a look at

faith –noun

1. confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another's ability.

2. belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.

3. belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.

4. belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.

5. a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.

6. the obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement, etc.: Failure to appear would be breaking faith.

7. the observance of this obligation; fidelity to one's promise, oath, allegiance, etc.: He was the only one who proved his faith during our recent troubles.

8. Christian Theology. the trust in God and in His promises as made through Christ and the Scriptures by which humans are justified or saved. —Idiom

9. in faith, in truth; indeed: In faith, he is a fine lad.

I'm talking about definitions 2, 3, 5 and 8, with maybe a smattering of 4.

I might even add a definition of my own that I think is probably omitted because it's supposed to be impolite to question someone's faith.

10. Belief that is in spite of the, often overwhelming, evidence to the contrary. AKA the "LALALALA, I'm not listening." defence.

There are plenty of arguments for it, not many of them valid. What follows is my attempt at deconstructing the major ones I've heard. Note that I’m not refuting arguments for why people have faith (check out Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained for that), I’m refuting arguments that people give for their faith; these two are not the same thing.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Addenda to Religions are all Shite pt. 1

Now The Vatican has instructed all Catholics to cease their support for and donations to Amnesty International because they now officially support a woman's right to abortion after rape or if the pregnancy will severely harm the health of the mother.
They say fuck all about the Nazis but instruct all their followers to cease their support for Amnesty!
FFS! What a bunch of cunts?!

Friday, 3 August 2007

Religions are all shite, pt. 1

So, see if you can can guess what group I'm talking about.
Attempted genocide, ethnic cleansing, suppression of knowledge, subjugation of non-believers, mass-murder of complete innocents, indoctrination under the guise of education, demonising common medical practice, covering up the sexual abuse of children and protecting the perpetrators, demonising contraception so that thousands of Africans die from AIDS, forcing through the canonisation worshippers of suffering with twisted morals, murdering or imprisoning scientists for speaking the truth, preventing medical research that could save hundreds of thousands of lives for no good reason, demonising Jews, demonising homosexuals, tacit support for the Nazis, utter fucking hypocrisy. That's right, it's the Catholics, wooo! And some of that lot is still going on today.

Why am I ranting about the Catholics in particular today? Well it's because I have to vent my frustration somehow after barely managing to nod and smile calmly when I was recently given a patronising lecture about not turning my back on something because "that's where Jesus lives." by a one of the unwitting followers of this immense force for evil and stupidity in the world.

Let's briefly cover the history of the Catholic church shall we? Just so we can see how we got to the current state of affairs.

Jesus creates a bit of a stir in Judea with some remarkably progressive thinking, a lot of charisma, and a few magic tricks, and is eventually crucified (probably).
St. Peter and St. Paul took their interpretations of Jesus' teachings to Rome where they and their converts were persecuted for them and both were likely executed.
Christianity continued to be an underground movement following the teaching of Jesus, with various people, many of whom had never met Jesus or even been to the "holy" land, writing gospels about his life and teachings and, largely, making it up. As an indication that most of these weren't written by the disciples, most of them were written in Greek - not the native language of the average red-sea pedestrian - and mostly 50 or so years after Jesus' supposed death. And so the gospels get coloured by typical Roman thinking; most notably Mithraism. Mithras is the son of god, born of a virgin on 25th December, etc., etc.
Eventually (313 CE), for reasons best known only to himself (probably hedging his bets), the Roman Emperor Constantine I converts to Christianity on his deathbed and starts the process eventually completed by Theodosius I, who declares Catholic Christianity to be the official state religion of the Roman Empire and declares all others "heretics" in 380 CE. Et Voila, the Roman Catholic Church is born.
What do they do first? They establish a "Canonical" set of books for the Bible (most of which weren't written by disciples remember), eliminating anything that looks like women might have any say in anything, and suppressing all the books they don't like or are too ridiculous for anyone to believe, like the gospel of Thomas where the young Jesus uses his magic powers to turn his brothers into dogs for a laugh. It's OK he turns them back :D. They have it all translated into Latin and make that the official "holy" language, despite the fact that Jesus almost certainly never spoke a word of it. The word then spread throughout Europe and the middle-east with all of the Roman Empire's might behind it. Where they can't stop the locals celebrating their local festivals, they steal and modify them and claim they was theirs all along. Easter FFS, what have bunnies and chicks got to do with Jesus' resurrection? Fuck all, that's what. The bloody festival is even named after a fertility goddess!
What followed is more than a thousand years of persecution and murder actively endorsed and encouraged by the Catholic church, of anyone who disagreed with them: The Inquisitions, The Crusades, both in the "Holy" land and in Europe. People tend to forget, or were never taught, stuff like the Albigensian Crusades where de Montfort and others attempted to murder everyone in the Languedoc, and succeeded in killing about 20,000 of them, at the direct request of the Pope. They even condemned as heretics people who dared to suggest that the bible might be translated into anything other than Latin. You might think that they didn't want the common man reading it, or he might realise that it's full of shit and the church are teaching them rubbish that isn't even in there.
Eventually, they were forced to modernise a bit, the zeitgeist changed so that they couldn't get away with mass-murder or locking up innocent scientists anymore. Why in 1992 (that's right nineteen-ninety-two) the Pontiff even managed to apologise for imprisoning and excommunicating Galileo for daring to suggest that the Earth wasn't the centre of the universe like it says in the bible.

Now you might say, "c'mon Tim, that was a long time ago; the church isn't like that now." but, at the risk of being (unjustifiably) accused of argumentum ad nazium, how long do you think it will be before we listen to people who say things like "Well, I know the Nazis did a lot of bad stuff, but we're just not like that anymore.", "Yeah but what about all the good the Nazis did for Germany", "Well, I am a Nazi, but I don't believe all that final-solution stuff, that's obviously rubbish"? Fifty years is obviously not long enough, how about two-hundred? five-hundred? What if, like the Catholic Church, they were still committing acts that are tantamount to genocide today, and attempting to justify it by citing specific passages of a book that they choose to ignore almost all of the rest of? Would it be OK to wear their badge then? or go to their meetings? or self-identify as a Nazi? To Bring your children up as Nazis? I think not. Incidentally, before I move on to detail the modern atrocities of the catholic church, it's worth pointing out that Hitler was a Roman Catholic. The very anti-semitism that he espoused, and that allowed him to rise to power, is a direct product of the Catholic doctrine that held the Jews responsible for the crucifixion (because obviously it can't have been the Romans' fault.) The propaganda war they started against the Jews that came up with such lies as the blood-libel and accusations of deicide is still going on today, although these days it's more likely to be by Muslims and US fundamentalist born-again Christians than Catholics, but they started it. And what did God's emissary on earth do when (arguably) the worst evil the western world has seen for millennia marched across Europe committing genocide on the way? Not one thing. Tacit support even, one might say. You might think that the earthly representative of a benevolent God might say something against such obviously immoral horrors, no matter what the cost to himself; but no, not one titter. Fantastic. You've really convinced me that you are a moral authority now mate. Oh, and It's also worth noting that a certain Mr. Ratzinger, the current pope, was a member of the Hitler Youth during all this. BTW, in 1961 the Vatican officially forgave the Jews for killing Jesus, and told Catholics to stop persecuting them; better late than never I always say, and at least they beat Galileo by thirty-one years.

So "enough with the ancient history already" I hear you cry, what about now? Well, in Africa, AIDS has reached epidemic proportions, massive numbers of people are dying, children are being born with AIDS and dying before they grow up. In many areas, the only education these people are getting is being given by the Catholic church. That's a good thing you might say, nice Catholics educating the needy, but you'd be wrong. Aid agencies are supplying condoms by the truckload to African nations, and these catholic schools, often the only option available to the locals, are teaching them that to use a condom is a sin, tantamount to murder, for which they will be punished for all eternity. And this is an area where in many cases there is insufficient resources for people to have as many children as they already have. Death and suffering are the inevitable results of these pernicious lies. This is tantamount to genocide and it's happening now, and the catholic church are not only standing by and doing nothing; they actively encourage, endorse and fund it. Instead of teaching people genuine methods of preventing the spread of AIDS these people attempt to teach abstinence. Abstinence programs have been shown to not even work in the west, so how is it going to work among the tribespeople of Africa? Incidentally, studies in America have shown that teenagers who enrol in abstinence programs - where they promise themselves and their god that they will abstain from sex until marriage - are no less likely to indulge in sex before marriage than their less devout contemporaries. In fact, due to their religious education, they are less likely to use contraception when they do, and the inevitable result is unwanted teenage pregnancy and the spread of venereal disease. Nice work.
Africa too far away for you? How about Poland? This year one Polish woman went blind because of the country's stupid catholic-induced abortion laws. She has a condition that meant the increased hormone levels during pregnancy would cause her retinas to fail. In Poland you need the agreement of two doctors and a priest who decide that you medical condition is serious enough to allow an abortion. This poor lady was unable to get such an agreement and has lost her sight because of it. One fact all the news reports failed to mention of course is that if it hadn't been for the socially-retarded Catholic attitudes to contraception prevalent in Poland, a woman who knows these risks almost certainly would never have got pregnant in the first place.
Poland too eastern-European and backward for you? What about America? At least eight abortion clinic workers including doctors, nurses and security guards have been murdered by people who believe abortion is murder because of catholic doctrines, and there have been at least as many convictions for attempted murder. Now you might say that these murderers and would-be murderers were dangerous, insane extremists, but I don't think you'd be right. Friends of theirs usually say they were good and moral people, and often endorse their actions. The point is, that if you genuinely believe that abortion is murder, every sane person has a moral obligation to prevent it. The people that believe this and don't act on it must surely either be cowards or not truly have the courage of their convictions. Teaching people these lies has consequences, and it's about time the catholic church faced up to it, and its adherents stopped supporting them if they wont.
America too far away for you? What about the UK, where Catholic adoption agencies would rather stop helping to place discarded or orphaned children with loving parents than run the risk of having to accept that homosexuals are not evil sinners and treat them as normal human beings. How can you claim to be a moral authority when you will stop giving aid for such pathetic reasons?
Or worldwide, where the teachings of Catholicism cause a large number of people with any sexual leanings that the church say is bad to take the cloth. They can't indulge their leanings and so takes the obvious route of priesthood and celibacy, which you might think is the right thing to do. Unfortunately this then often turns out to involve being in a position of trust within the society. If these persons have a sexual attraction to the young, and no other way to work out their frustrations (masturbation also being a sin obviously), they are often given the perfect opportunity to gain the trust of children, and act out their perversions. In one single event recently the arch-dioces of Los Angeles paid $660 million dollars to settle hundreds of child-abuse allegations. This is by no means an isolated example; it's so common that many catholic institutions actually take out insurance against allegations of child-abuse. Until very recently, the official church policy on child-abuse was to attempt to cover it up and simply move the perpetrator to a different region; where they nearly always reoffended. A spate of recent high-profile cases and the attendant disrepute has forced the church to change it's official line, but how can an organisation claiming to be a moral authority get away with such heinous policies for so long? This respect for the priesthood is so ingrained that in some cases even when the evidence is incontrovertible, the congregations often side with the priest in question and talk about how horrible this ordeal must be for father so-and-so, ignoring the plight of his victims!

There are plenty of other doctrines, teachings and opinions of the Catholic church that are just plain stupid: transubstantiation, the trinity, the virgin birth, original sin, purgatory, limbo, the pope's magic infallibility chair, claiming Harry Potter is corrupting the world's youth and leading them to the devil, etc. but they don't really need our attention as they are not, to my knowledge, particularly harmful beyond the fact that they are evidence of the human race's unbounded capacity for unwarranted credulity in the face unsupported absurdity. There are even a few immoralities and unpleasant, counter-productive falsehoods, both historical and modern, that I haven't covered: selling "indulgences", confession, claiming Mother Theresa was a good person, having enormous amounts of cash and churches full of gold while people they claim to be helping are starving and dying, preventing stem-cell research etc., but this was only meant to be a quick post, and it's turned into a bit of an epic already, and the issues I have covered above really ought to be enough on their own to convince any sensible person of my viewpoint.
There's only really one question left to be asked, and that's why do non-Catholics put up with people that support and endorse this massive edifice of harmful, murderous lies, deceit and corruption? Well there's two reasons, one is that for some bizarre reason it's supposed to be impolite to question idiocy if it's got the "religion" label on it, and the other because by and large, we realise that they're good people and it's not their fault; we know that they have been so inculcated that they are either incapable of, or unwilling to try, thinking clearly about it. The indoctrination takes so well that it's very hard to break free from it, or even see the need to.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Lapsed Pagan WTF?

First, some definitions:

Lapsed: No longer committed to or following the tenets of a particular belief, obligation, position, etc.: e.g. a lapsed Catholic.

(neo)Pagan: Adherent to a 20th-century revival of interest in the worship of nature, fertility, etc.

So that's it then, used to define myself strongly as Pagan (or Neopagan to be more accurate) but not anymore. Why not? Well that's a short question with a long answer and no mistake guv'nor.
The short version of the answer is "It became counter-productive, so I stopped it." To really answer why I stopped being a Pagan, I guess it's important to find out why I was a Pagan in the first place, and what kind of Pagan I was.

Why was I a Pagan?
I think when I was about 9 or 10, I rejected Christianity as a bag of shite, and had thereafter strongly identified myself as atheist, though perhaps with agnostic tendencies. My parents had half-heartedly tried to bring me up to be CoE, which was tricky since neither of them actually believed it, but paid it lip-service in the lazy way that most British people of no fixed belief do. For a lot of people, it's easier when asked "what religion are you?" to say "Church of England" or just "Christian" (usually with the caveat "but I don't really go to church much") than it is to say "I'm not any." So anyway, fortunately for me, their lacklustre attempts to indoctrinate me into the social norm didn't take.
I developed a strong interest in the so-called paranormal: esp, rosicrucianism, Golden Dawn, Qabbalah (yes before it was trendy) etc. and read a lot about all of it. I also became interested in my Celtic heritage and began to read up on that that. Additionally, I read of loads fantasy literature, much of it with significant Celtic influence. When I was about 14 or 15 I got into rock music, a lot of which has (moreso then than now even) "satanic" or magical themes and imagery associated with it and I was attracted to the glamour of all of this. It was at this point that a few of those I called friends at that point decided to be Satanists 'cause it was "cool". I dabbled with this for a few weeks but quickly came to the realisation that "Satanism", to
most dabblers at least, is just an excuse to act like a cunt to everyone around you in the name of religion, and surround yourself in pseudo-mysticism (so, exactly like Christianity then ;D), so I ditched it, and them. I was around this time that my reading into the paranormal and occult led me to discover the concept of Neopaganism, though no-one used the prefix "neo" at the time. It strongly appealed to my sensibilities: a religion that teaches tolerance, and respect for each other and the natural world, and with a branch that has it's imagery and observances rooted in the Celtic world (albeit in much modified/reconstructionist form), so at some point I guess I thought "I want to be one of those" and hey presto, I was, because you don't need any initiation to be most kinds of Pagan.

What kind of Pagan was I?
So, I read loads Pagan literature; I dismissed Gardnerian Wicca as a sex cult, Asatru as racist, etc. In fact most other Pagans I met just got on my tits with their insistence on a firm standpoint on some very woolly ideas and seemingly unshakeable belief that their practices were the a direct, unbroken descendant of whatever pre-Christian belief system they modelled them on, despite evidence to the contrary (most of it is reconstructed, cobbled together from what little evidence there actually is, or simply made up). I never even joined the Pagan Federation as, at the time, they insisted that you sign up to a firm belief in the Wiccan Rede and the Law of Threefold Return, and I think the law of threefold return is bollocks and that they both represent dogma, which is almost always harmful. They recently relaxed this rule but it was too late. I was what gets called an "eclectic" or "solitary" Pagan; pick and choose bits from the various traditions you like, discard the rest, and make some stuff up for yourself. What was the essence of my belief? You could probably sum it up in a single phrase from The Fast Show if you wanted a sound-bite "Isn't nature brilliant¿"; or, for something a bit more explanatory, "A pantheistic Neopagan following a loosely Celtic oriented path of ritual and meditation, with a mostly naturalistic viewpoint." I'll probably elaborate further in later entries about what I mean by "mostly naturalistic"
Why am I not a Pagan Now?
Well it all started when I read Richard Dawkins excellent polemic on religion "The God Delusion", but it's not quite as simple as "Dawkins says religion is bullshit, so I won't be religious". If you haven't read it (go and fucking read it! ;)) it's a piece by piece deconstruction of all the bullshit reasons people give for being religious, clearly showing how they are all fallacious and don't really stand up to any kind of rational scrutiny. If fact it goes further than that and hypothesises that religion is counter-productive and does more harm than good; wars, gay-bashing, fuck stupid bans on stem-cell research, teaching the third world that contraception is a sin, violence in the middle-east etc. But reading this alone didn't stop me from calling myself Pagan. Because Dawkins necessarily focuses on the "big 3" abrahamic religions, many of the arguments simply don't apply to pantheistic neopaganism; in fact Dawkins describes pantheism as merely "sexed-up atheism". What the book did do, and what I think it's done for a lot of people who detest the hypocrisies of organised religion, is galvanise my opinions and make me want to speak out more against the harmful bullshit that we see all around us that people seem to tolerate because it's religious: "Oh people can believe what they want" no, they fucking can't, not when what they believe causes acts that bring harm to others, or gives support to those who do, and the beliefs those harmful acts are based on is totally unsupported and contrived to be unprovable; that's just bullshit. Anyway, so I started having conversations with people where I say "organised religion is bad" when what I really mean is "dogma is bad" (but part of the problem with having these kinds of conversations is that many people don't really understand what is meant by words like dogma, pantheism, agnostic, theism, deism etc.) and what would often happen is that the best counter-argument that anyone can come up with is the ad hominem "but you're a Pagan." It doesn't really work as an argument, it's a classic logical fallacy, and a transparent diversionary tactic, but it's a pain in the arse having to explain this.
In addition to this, the term "Pagan" carries with it a lot of baggage; many Pagans seem to have an in-built tendency to believe any old new-age bullshit that drifts through their transom from feng-shui to palmistry to astrology. I used to think that the term "Pagan" said more about me and my outlook on life, than the term "Atheist", and I was right, but I've recently come to realise that it also says a lot more than is actually true. While I'd like people to understand that I have a respect for, if not awe of, nature and an interest in history, heritage and the traditions, and art of the celtic peoples (among others), I don't really want them to think that I'm falling for bunk like crystal healing, dreamcatchers or reiki. So that's it, I say I'm not a Pagan and hey presto, as if by magick (sic), I'm not.