I gets Ben Stein email!

December 7, 2009

Warning: this blog post will be quite very long. A Christian friend of mine sent me this. I’ve seen things like it before, lots of emails get sent around Christian circles and I’m privy to precious few. I suppose they help with the persecution complex. Anyway so it’s a piece written by Ben “science leads you to killing people” Stein in 2005, with a bit added on by someone else, apparently. I’m going to see if I can take it apart.

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish.  And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees.  I don’t feel threatened.  I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are:  Christmas trees. It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say, ‘Merry Christmas’ to me.  I don’t think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto.  In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year.

That’s fine, I agree with him completely here, I have no problem with people saying Merry Christmas to me. Even if I did consider Christmas an explicitly Christian holiday (and I don’t), it’s the sentiment that counts. Similarly I have a friend who almost always says “goodnight and God bless” when he leaves, and most of the time he corrects himself and apologises to me. I don’t mind it at all and he doesn’t have to apologise, it’s the sentiment that counts.

But this is interesting. Here we have a Jew saying he doesn’t mind the season being called Christmas, a tolerant image. Presumably, since he then goes on to wonder when America became an atheist nation, he’s accusing atheists of being intolerant and waging a war on Christmas. The kind of people who do this usually have an issue with Christmas trees being referred to as ‘Holiday Trees’ and people saying ‘Happy Holidays’. There are countless videos of Bill O’Rly? bemoaning the fact that Christmas has now become secular in name as well as in substance. So it’s almost like Stein is saying he doesn’t mind it when it’s called something from a different religion, whilst presumably at the same time he’s siding with the Christians who do mind when it’s called something from a different religion.

But what is it that’s intolerant about the term holiday as opposed to Christmas? It’s not like atheists are going around forcing other people to replace the term Christmas with ‘holiday’. In reality all they’re doing is recognising that there are other holidays, religious and non-religious, happening at the same time, and that Christmas is no more important than any other. That’s no more offensive to Christians than recognising that Muslims exist. They really do whinge a lot more than they should when you think about it.

It doesn’t bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu   If people want a crèche, it’s just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don’t like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians.  I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period.  I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country.  I can’t find it in the Constitution and I don’t like it being shoved down my throat.

Erm, big straw man… noone claims that American is an explicitly atheist country. What they do say is that it is a secular country, where people are free to express their religious beliefs or lack thereof, without the government advocating any one of them. I also have no problem with people having a nativity scene or a Menorah, that’s their choice and it’s an expression of their beliefs, go ahead. I know very few atheists who would have a problem with such a private display.

I do know some atheists who have a problem with public nativity scenes (as in nativity scenes put up by the government), and I think they’re perfectly within their rights! The government is spending their money on explicitly religious displays. That is a clear violation of the separation of church and state, so they definitely have a case, especially in the States. Personally I’m not all that arsed about that either, they’re going to spend the money on some kind of decoration, I don’t care what it’s like, and I’d rather concentrate on infringements that actually matter, but I certainly understand why these people care.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren’t allowed to worship God as we understand Him?  I guess that’s a sign that I’m getting old, too..   But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to.

Woah woah, who said you’re not allowed to worship God? Noone who advocates a secular state (which includes many religious people) says that. Stop making stuff up to get offended about! And noone really says you should worship celebrities (if you’re wondering where the idea of celebrities came from, it’s at the start of the original version broadcast on CBS, which got edited out of this emailed version). I also think the celebrity culture that exists now is terrible. People get admired for things that aren’t all that admirable at all, and earn millions in the process, purely by luck of the draw rather than anything you could call work.

So, bear in mind that from here on, this isn’t Ben Stein writing as the piece that gets emailed around claims it to be, someone’s added it in. But I’ll treat it as it was when it was sent to me. I’m also going to miss a few bits out that aren’t at all that relevant or interesting, you can read the full version here (the part at the top and the part at the bottom together).

Billy Graham’s daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her ‘How could God let something like this happen?’ (regarding Katrina) Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response.  She said, ‘I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives.  And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out.  How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?’

First of all, if the Bible is anything to go by, God is not a gent. If  you believe that God created everything, then you can’t say that he just ‘let’ this happen, as if Katrina was somehow an act of negligence. People certainly didn’t do it, he did, if he is responsible for the creation of the world. It was a natural disaster. I also question whether an all-loving God would leave the Katrina victims to the hurricane, even by their own wish. If someone told me they wanted me to leave them alone, and then I saw a car coming their way, there’s no way I’d just turn away and leave them to it. So it’s hardly ‘extremely profound’, seems to me like she’s barely thought about this at all.

In light of recent events… terrorists attack, school shootings, etc..  I think it started when Madeleine Murray O’Hare [sic] (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn’t want prayer in our schools, and we said OK.  Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school.  The Bible says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself.  And we said OK.

Actually, you didn’t say OK, you bitched about it for years and continue to do so. But I don’t think bad things suddenly started happening the day Maddy Murray O’Hair won the case (yes, it was a court case according to the Constitution, not that you’d know it from the way it’s described here) to have obligatory prayers banned. The history of bad stuff happening goes a lot further back than that. I’m not sure why they mention her murder here. Maybe they’re implying that God did it to her. That’s not true, a crazed lunatic did. I also think the way they cherry-pick what the Bible says, and then awkwardly shoe-horn it into this paragraph, is a bit pathetic. There are very few good moral teachings in the Bible, and they represent a very small proportion of its total content.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn’t spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr Spock’s son committed suicide).  We said an expert should know what he’s talking about.  And we said OK.

How the hell did we get onto corporal punishment? Is this just a collection of right-wing agenda issues? Are we going to turn to gun ownership and the death penalty next? Whoever added this bit needs to wipe their mouth, they’re foaming a bit. Oh and, by the way, Dr B Spock’s children are both alive. One of his grandchildren did commit suicide, but he was apparently schizofrenic. Ironically that same article mentions how a psychologist who advocated corporal punishment had a son, who actually did commit suicide, not that it matters.

Now we’re asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don’t know right from wrong, and why it doesn’t bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Bloody hell, scaremongering much? Does this guy (I’m presuming it’s a guy, I don’t think the feminists will mind considering who it is)  think nutters didn’t exist in the past or something? Get him a job at the Mail!

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world’s going to hell.  Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says.  Funny how you can send ‘jokes’ through e-mail and they spread like wildfire but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing.  Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

I believe certain newspapers more than the Bible because those newspapers and its writers have a history of being factually correct. They are also scrutinised and we can check what they say for ourselves, unlike the Bible. And there are plenty of stories of people being suspended or fired for sending obscene material whilst at work. Back in the real world where Christians aren’t being persecuted, people are often afraid of pulling their employees up on evangelising, in case the Christian Institute get on their backs.

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you’re not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.

Oh here we go, the defining feature of all spam email. “Send this to 59 people in your contacts list in 43 seconds or a creepy swamp monster will crawl into your bed at night and shit on your face before slitting your throat!!!one!!”

Pass it on if you think it has merit.  If not then just discard it… no one will know you did.  But, if you discard this thought process, don’t sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.

Right, that makes sense. Accept my batshit crazy argument that bad things happen because we told an invisible sky-fairy to fuck off, or you can’t comment on why bad things happen.

My Best Regards,  Honestly and respectfully,

Ben Stein

Honestly? Respectfully? Ben Stein? None of thats true!

So a bit of a mix on the fictional War on Christmas, the problem of evil and lying for Jesus. Not bad for one email.

The Problem of Evil

August 25, 2009

So following on from yesterday, I’m going to do a piece on the problem of evil. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the argument that uneccesary and gratuitous evil exists, and therefore the idea of God held by theists cannot possibly exist, because if an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God did exist, then there would be no suffering, because he would want to, and would be able to, prevent it. Hopefully that makes sense.

Anyway there are various ways this is explained away by Christians (I say Christians only because that’s the religious group I’m most accustomed to, I daresay it applies equally well to many other religious groups), depending often on what kind of Christian they are.

Fairly traditional Christians may point to the Fall as an explanation. They say that God created the world perfectly without sin, without death and without suffering, but man turned away from God, and this brought sin into the world. The punishment for sin is death and suffering, so it’s all our fault (as usual in Christianity).

This Fall doesn’t make sense unless you’re a creationist, for a fairly simple reason. If someone uses this as an explanation, all you have to do is ask when the Fall supposedly happened. If they say it happened in the Garden of Eden about 6,000 years ago, you can point to geology and evolution to prove them wrong as usual. But if they’re a theistic evolutionist, it doesn’t fly, because animals were killing each other and eating each other and dying from the word go, there was no time when there was no death, certainly not right the way up until anything resembling humans came around within the last 200,000 years. That’s how natural selection works. When you’re in the middle of a debate it’s quite useful, as Stuart demonstrated once, to ask something like “so when did the Fall happen, before or after the Precambrian?”, because this divides the creationists from the theistic evolutionists. I also used this with a street preacher and he was left saying “erm erm erm” because if he’d said “in the Garden of Eden 6,000 years ago”, then everyone listening would have laughed and walked away.

I did once hear a curious answer which took me by surprise and stopped me using this argument for a while because I thought he’d put a hole in it. A geologist said that it didn’t matter when the Fall happened because whenever it happened, it had ripples of effect both forwards and backwards in time and space. Think about that, he means that it could happen in the future… weird eh? That sounds pretty solid but actually it isn’t, that’s impossible too. If humans did it, and then it had effects corrupting the creation throughout history as well, then that means in some other now-corrupted reality humans must have evolved without death and suffering, and as I’ve said, that’s impossible with natural selection. So the Fall only works if you’re a full-blown creationist.

Another way the problem of evil may be explained away is through Free Will. As you may have read in my last post, God’s Free Will is on shaky ground anyway but let’s carry on regardless. The argument is that God created the world perfectly, but he gave us Free Will and some people have chosen to cause suffering, and that’s the source of evil.

Well, first of all, not all suffering is caused by people choosing to cause evil. What about diseases? What about natural disasters? What about accidents? At this point they may try and cover the gap with the Fall argument, but then you can just go back up to the last argument. One person did try and come back to that with the argument “well, a natural disaster isn’t evil in itself, people being close to it causes the suffering”, which threw me off for a second, but then a bullet isn’t evil in itself, but if I shoot you with it then it is. If people aren’t causing it, then in Christian thinking that leaves God. God is killing people using natural disasters. Brilliant.

Other Christians may explain evil away by saying that evil is caused by Satan, and goodness is caused by God. Well it’s kind of wishful thinking really to attribute all the good things to God but all the bad things to either people or to Satan, fairly arbitrarily. But this argument (and both the above) is fairly easily knocked down by pointing out that God is supposedly omnipotent and whatever is causing this evil, be it people, the Fall or Satan, God should be able to overcome it and prevent suffering. That’s what a loving, perfect God would do.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if someone did something evil, say, shot someone, but then the suffering caused by that evil didn’t happen. Say the victim got shot but was still alive and felt no pain and had no adverse affects. That way the suffering is being prevented but God isn’t affecting Free Will. What if disease and natural disasters happened but didn’t harm people. Then suffering would have been prevented, but the Fall will still have happened. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Wouldn’t that be a good reason to believe in an all-loving God?

I think this is fairly solid but if you can put a hole in any of what I’ve written, or you can think of another way of explaining evil away, go ahead and leave a comment.

God: arsehole

August 24, 2009

You may know these lines from Dawkins’ The God Delusion:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

These are very famous words, and Christians etc will often point at them as an example of ‘fundamentalist atheism’, if there is such a thing. But it’s an easy statement to back up, all you have to do is read the Bible with a critical eye and you’ll see the terrible things he does and advocates. He destroys civilisations for next to no reason, he damns humanity for eating an apple, he turns a woman into a pillar of salt for turning her head around, he’d rather have 2 of Lot’s daughters raped by a mob than 1 man. There are all those crazy laws set in place (which aren’t limited to the Old Testament, btw). An example of good behaviour is Abraham preparing to kill his son for no good reason! First of all, surely an omniscient God would know whether Abraham would have done it or not, there was no need for the test. But more importantly, all this God wants is blind obedience, with no critical thinking whatsoever. How is this in our interest?

But that stuff’s easy to pick out, I want to look at the things that get assumed or taken for granted by Christians, things that are so engrained into our culture that we don’t often look at them for what they really are.

So, big number 1 on the reasons God is an arsehole is the problem of evil. I’ll dedicate a whole post to this soon, I think, as I haven’t really touched on it that much, but I think this is a justifiable reason not to believe in God. Christians blame it on the Fall or Free Will (we’ll get onto that soon enough), but neither of those explanations stand up to scrutiny. Maybe I’ll be writing about that tomorrow. If I was God, you wouldn’t have to pray to me to cure your child of leukemia, I’d just do it, or I wouldn’t have let the child get it in the first place.

Anyway, next up is this free will bollocks. Here’s a series of videos which do the job of explaining much better than I can. Be sure to watch all three parts.

God wants us to choose because he doesn’t want a bunch of mindless drones in heaven with him, and yet one of the choices results in a punishment imposed by him. Say I asked you if you wanted chicken or beef, but that if you chose chicken then I’d blow your brains out, would that be a free choice? Not really. Maybe I really want chicken but because of the punishment I choose beef. Is that what God wants? Surely that’s just the same as having mindless drones? I haven’t chosen God, I’ve just chosen not-hell. It’s blackmail.

It’s ridiculous, and just like in the Abraham story, it’s totally unneccesary. Why bother with Earth when he knows who’s going to choose him and who isn’t? Why not just only create people who he knows are going to choose him? Why create people who he knows are destined to burn in eternal hellfire, like me? It’s sadistic.

Related to this point is what’s required for salvation. Remember, God is making the rules here, he supposedly created everything! First of all he needs a blood sacrifice. He can’t just forgive. That doesn’t sound like an omnipotent God to me. In fact it sounds distinctly like the musings of some stone age barbarians influenced by paganism. Secondly according to Christians, the only way to be saved is by believing in Jesus Christ. Not just being good, not helping other people, just believing. If I were God, I wouldn’t have salvation based on belief in something ludicrous despite the lack of evidence, that would leave me in heaven with a bunch of gullible idiots with no critical thinking skills. No, my requirement would be something like “don’t be a prick”. I wouldn’t care if someone believed in me or not.

So God’s an arsehole. In fact, he’s such an arsehole that even if there were proof of his existence, I’d like to think I wouldn’t worship him. I’d sooner worship a complete stranger, the odds are they’re more moral than the God Christians claim to know and love.