Monday, March 28, 2011

Is everything part of god's plan and what's the point.

If you believe in God then you believe in a being who both knows about every event that is going to happen and permits those events to happen, since He could act to prevent it, presumably, if he so chose. That is, allowing an event to occur that you have the power to stop is itself a moral action and makes one an accomplice in the action.

Therefore, when God believers see any particular event happen in the world, they must believe that it is because it is part of God's plan. Simply put, God wanted/needed it to happen for some perhaps inscrutable reason.

Now the question is, do you believe this? Do you believe that everything that happens really is part of an infinitely complex, incomprehensible plan, or do you think that sometimes things just happen and are not really part of any sentient plan at all? It think that it is easier to believe that sometimes things happen that are not part of anyone or anything's grand plan. Nobody wanted or needed certain things to happen. Nobody let it happen indirectly by refusing to intervene. It just happened and there was nobody at the switch to decide to cause or prevent it either way.

Theism commits itself to the notion that there are no truly "random" events. God is watching over everything and controlling whether it happens or does not happen according to his plan. Non-theism allows that random things can happen from time to time. This is not to say that the events were not caused by some physical mechanism.

Heat inside the Earth, for example, may eventually lead to the eruption of a volcano. However, the volcano was not part of any particular plan. The people who may have died were not targeted for death on purpose as part of a dark, sinister plan or because of sins they committed, or because of divine decree. Volcanos simply erupt from time to time and have no ability to know or care about what might be in their way when this happens.

Some people might look at such a situation and rail against the "pointlessless" for such a system, but the so-called "pointlessness" *is* "the point" here. It is a relief that there was no purpose behind the volcano erupting, and is simply blind, unthinking physical forces. If the volcano had been designed intentionally to kill people this would be some form of supernatural terrorism. It would be better to have a "pointless" volcanic eruption than one planned and executed on purpose.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

If god created shadows....

I saw a person, presumably Catholic, with a t-shirt that said, “If God created shadows it was to better emphasize the light”. The quote was attributed to Pope John XXIII. In some ways this is a quite conventional "contrast" argument, but in other ways it is amazingly cynical. I guess I am not surprised that adherents don't see the difficulty, but to recovering former Catholics like myself, the glaring issue is the shadiness of the sentiment. In essence it is saying (if it is saying anything at all) that this pope believes god allows things like mass murderers who torture people to death, so that he can let us know how good we have it. It is saying that god wanted a little accent lighting, so he decided that he would unleash vicious evil upon us so that we could recognize the good things in the world, when we weren't being victimized by evil.

It seems a remarkably bad cop-out for the existence of evil to say that it was put there just to help us better see non-evil. From whom else would we accept such an excuse. What if a sociopath claimed defense against his crimes of raping and murdering a little girl on the grounds that he just wanted to show people how, by following the opposite of his example (i.e. not raping and murdering) that they could be better people? Would we accept that this psychopath or his crime were necessary in order for us to grasp how to be good.

Furthermore, couldn't we argue that there have been more than enough examples throughout history of badness so that allowing even more of these to happen on a continuous basis, is not necessary, and does not communicate any kind of new message that has not been already amply demonstrated.

However, what I like most about the quote is that the pope didn't even commit to whether god created evil. He only speaks hypothetically, and then presumes to know god's motivation for an action which God might not even have taken. Nobody does double talk more blatantly than theologians.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

In an age of universal skepticism religion looks worried

It is simply a fact that we live in a world where people are increasingly more ready and able to question things. Now I know that there is cognitive dissonance, where people can apply different standards to their own beliefs than to others. I also know that religion is so engrained in culture that it often passes under the radar. I will even grant that most people are still not all that skeptical, because that requires independent, critical thinking. However, given all that, I still submit that people do question more things. We live in a time where almost anything can be questioned far more openly that ever before. Therefore, because everything is up for grabs it means that even the one thing which declared itself immune from criticism since the earliest of times, is no longer immune from criticism.

Of course people won't always criticize it all that vigorously, because often we just don't care about it. Still, some people will and, as it turns out, in this day and age of modern digital communication, it is a bad day to be an obscurantist bible literalist. Boy did you guys pick the wrong time to invest all your money in buggy whip factories, a century after people stopped riding horse drawn carriages as a primary means of transportation. That is the digital equivalent of what is necessary to maintain the blinders of biblical literalism in an age where people can look at any version of the bible and any number of commentaries, pro and con, on a given biblical passage.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Revelation versus "pulled out of your b*tttt"

Many religious people speak of God "revealing" things to them, perhaps in a dream, or just as a thought. The rest of us just call this thinking, but, in the highly religious mind, these are email style messages beamed directly to them by the creator of the universe.

However, the question arises of how we are tell the difference between a legitimate "revelation" and just random crazy thoughts. After all, we've all had weird dreams. If we took every dream we've ever had seriously as a direct message by God then the world would be even stranger than it is already by at least an order of magnitude (10 times for non-mathies).

Seriously, though. How can you know the difference between something that is truly a divine revelation versus a "brain fart". Furthermore, have many of the so-called revelations, such as the elaborate one recorded in the Book of Revelation (attributed to John of Patmos), been subjected to rigorous standards, so that we can filter the divine nuggets from the proverbial flatulence?

I think the answer is far from an unequivocal "yes", which is unfortunate. People often accept their alleged "revelations" rather uncritically, it seems, and take them at face value. Many Christians, as witnessed by the popularity of the _Left Behind_ series, believe that the Revelation of John is a literal road map to predicting events thousands of years from the date it was originally written (aka today).

Similarly, when many other religious leaders have some off-the-wall idea, they have no way of separating this from divine revelation. Now, I know some people will claim that they "pray about it", but that is using the same suspect process, because the "answer" to prayers is more "revelations".

Some might say that the details of the revelation itself can be tested. However, as we can see, there is little in the Revelation of John which could be "tested", since it is allegedly predicting events that are supposed to happen thousands of years from the date it was written. Of course, it doesn't disclose that fact, so people throughout the past few thousand years have often thought that it was describing events that were happening in their own time.

In other words, many revelations are not specific enough to test, especially when they may not specify even the ballpark time in which they occur. For this reason, we must be careful reliance on "revelation". It is inherently subjective and even otherwise good people can have all kinds of bizarre dreams and brain farts, which could be declared "revelations" if one is so inclined to label them that way.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I wanted to be born again, but ......

I wanted to be born again, but....I didn't want to put my mother through that again.

When you hear most people discussing the term "born again", it's usually as the punchline to a bad joke. It's just a fact that the term "born again" sounds inherently unrealistic, and has become virtually synonymous with "kook" and "religious extremist", at least in the minds of the average person I know who is not one of them.

Naturally, the "born again" don't see themselves the same way. They see themselves as hip and happenin'. They're trying to turn their mega churches into weekly rock concerts in a desperate attempt to court and co-opt popular culture, but the fact remains that Christian Rock doesn't rock and the moment the lyrics betray that the music is Christian, there is a collective groan from most listeners, who don't want a sermon even if it is backed up by steel guitars and a drum solo. A phrase that became overly popular to describe this sort of phenomenon in the last election cycle was "putting lipstick on a pig". Christian Rock is the quintessential lipstick on a megapig, and "born again" is lipstick on Christianity.