Tags: christianity

Cocktopus

Their Personal God

For quite some time now, I've been saying that not only do cultures create their gods in their own images, so too do individual believers within these cultures invent their gods in their own individual images. Not too long ago, we got some medical data which seems to support this contention.

A year or so ago, I remember reading about some interesting studies. What had happened was that a number of voulenteers had their heads hooked up to scanning devices which monitored activity in different sections of their brains under different sets of stimuli. These voulenteers were asked a number of questions, all along similar lines, such as "What do you think about 'topic A'", "what do you think about 'topic B'", and so on and so forth. The actual topics being asked about are largely immaterial. They were then asked a similar set of questions, along the lines of "What do you think the average American thinks of 'topic A', 'topic B', 'topic C'", and so on and so forth. Interspersed among all of these second set of questions was the question "What do you think god thinks of 'Topic C'", or what have you.

What they found was really quite amazing.

Whenever these people were asked what they, personally, thought about a given topic, one section of the brain lit up with activity. Let's call this 'section 1'. Whenever they were asked what they thought someone ELSE thought on a given topic, a separate section of the brain lit up with activity. Let's call this 'section 2' (more specific details of which can be found here). But when they were asked what they thought god thought about a given topic? It was always section 1 that got busy. It seemed that when these people were forced to think about their god's motives and tastes, they invariably just thought of their own and then assigned these motives to their god.

Indeed, in a separate part of the same survey, people were asked about their own values on given topics, and then about their god's values on these topics. They were then presented with strong arguments in favour of an alternate position on these issues. Wherever their own personal beliefs on these topics were altered by these arguments, so too did they report that their god's views were similarly altered.

This got me to thinking.

For a long time now, it's been clear to me that a given christian will typically pick and choose which parts of the bible are "literally true" or merely "symbolic/metaphorical/allegorical/the product of human error" on the basis of which ones do and do not line up with their personal values and ethics. Every christian invents their own little god in their own heads, based upon what they like to believe of their god, and then, when confronted with something like the story of Noah's Flood, asks themselves something like "Well, do I think that it's morally permissible to murder every man, woman and child on Earth who disagrees with me?" If they view this as morally repugnant, then so too, naturally, does their god. Therefore he would never do something like that. Therefore the Flood never happened. Therefore the story is no more than myth and legend. Another christian, of a more bloodthirsty streak, might say "Well, of course, I would be glad to murder everyone on the planet who disagrees with me," and they might be a bit more likely to view the Flood as historical fact, and one that they think of rather fondly. These people are kind of terrifying.

The variability of this personal bias has long been a point of frustration for me when discussing this stuff with christians. They seem to feel free to dismiss any part of their mythology that they find uncomfortable as being, for whatever reason, not a fit topic for discussion, especially where the actions of their god, as described within that mythology, are in conflict with their own sense of right and wrong. Sometimes they can find ways to reconcile these conflicts, and sometimes they just pretend the conflict doesn't exist, such as by saying that these events simply never took place, even if the bible is otherwise largely a true story. I will sometimes push them to justify this selective editing process that they go through; "Show me where in the bible it spells it out that this story is no more than myth and folklore", I'll ask them, and will point out all the eminent christian authorities who will confidently assert that these stories are historical fact. Of course they can't do so, and will tend to fall back on a wishy-washy excuse such as "you've just got to have faith", and assertions that I need to pray to their god for guidance on the topic so that it can be made as plain to me as it is to them (choosing to ignore the fact that these other christians have doubtless done the same things and gotten different answers from their god).

But now I think it becomes a bit more clear what's going on here. The selection process is literally no more complicated than "Do I want this story to be true? No? Well then neither does god, and therefore it isn't true, because god wants whatever I want." They don't phrase it in this manner, and I'm sure the majority of them aren't even faintly aware of this process consciously, but the results are the same.

I've always wondered why so many christians take it so very personally when I point out the various moral failings of their god, as evidenced in their mythology. It always seemed to run more deeply than the resentment one might feel at a criticism of a friend of family member. I begin to see, now, what's going on here. To attack the moral character of their god, on an emotional level, seems no different than an attack upon themselves, because their god is nothing more than a deification of themselves.

It also begins to become more clear why it's so difficult to get believers to find fault with the moral character of their god. I had always believed it was just fear that prevented them from agreeing with me when I pointed out that acts which they would call evil if performed by anyone other than their god were also evil when performed by him. Fear of hell, fear of doubt, fear of whatever. And perhaps it still is on some level. But more fundamentally, if their god's values are identical to their own, then how in the world are you supposed to get them to disagree with or disapprove of the moral character of this god? You may as well be trying to get them to disagree with the actions of their own shadow or mirror reflection even as they're performing them, since this is all that their god is.

It's given me pause to re-think my approach to talking with christians on this topic. All this talk of "letting Jesus into your heart" makes a lot more sense now; their god is not some entity separate from themselves, but an extension of themselves, whether they realize it or not. My strategy of getting people to see the moral bankruptcy and obsolescence of their creator-figure seems to have a flaw in it that I had hitherto fore not considered, and one that bears some reflecting-upon.
Cocktopus

Having Ventured Behind Enemy Lines, Part 2

The other day I told the first part of my encounter with a christian revival tent rally, and one of the believers there. Today, let me tell you about the latter half of my evening there.

As the evening went on, there were a number of speakers interspersed between the songs. Lay people, so far as I could tell, who were giving their “testamonials” about how they had managed to screw up their lives and only subsequently got their shit together after a conversion to christianity. It reminded me heavily of a conversation I had had a few months ago with my mother, in which I was talking about how christianity requires weakness in its followers in order to function. It needs some void within a person – real or imaginary – that it can claim to fill. It can be financial, emotional, social, medical or mental, but there needs to be something you see as fundamentally wrong with you that only their god can solve, or forgive, or what-have-you. If no such flaw exists, then they will create the illusion of one, through their catch-all of “original sin”, and then provide the illusion of a cure for this through a lifetime of service and cash donations. Like a drug dealer who creates the problem of an addiction in a user’s life, and then offers to solve the problem of the cravings thus-engendered through regular financial transactions.

This sense was re-enforced a short while later as one of the staffers – and I can’t say I’m sure I know what his role was, though I suspect he must have been some sort of deacon or something – came up to the podium and started asking if anyone had any ailments, down to and including a medical dependence upon prescription drugs. He promised that through the magic of his imaginary god, these illnesses could be cured, and that the sufferers could simply stop taking whatever drugs it was their doctors told them they needed. At this point, I recall my demeanour towards these charlatans becoming decidedly more hostile, as it became how dangerously ignorant and irresponsible they were. It was fortunate that nobody took them up on this offer, because this is the sort of behaviour that really can get gullible believers killed, when they stop taking their life-saving treatments thanks to their irrational belief that the magical sky daddy has cast a magical spell of healing upon them.

Finally, the preacher got up to preach. His sermon was rather unpleasant to listen to, at least for me (though naturally I do not pretend not to have a bias here). His voice was frantic, nearly shrieking, as though what he said was SO URGENT that it needed to be conveyed with the same sense of immediate panic that one might communicate to a rescue worker that THERE ARE TWO KIDS TRAPPED IN THAT BURNING BUILDING LISTEN TO ME NOW AND DO NOT TAKE THE CHANCE THAT I AM NOT 100% CORRECT. He gesticulated about wildly, so as to keep all eyes and all focus upon him, and seemed at times almost ready to burst into carefully-rehearsed tears.

His sermon revolved around a small part of the story of Jacob and Esau, in which Esau, starving, comes to Jacob and begs for a bowl of soup. In his moment of need, he short-sightedly offers to trade away his inheritance and birthright in return for this bowl of soup, and later comes to regret having done so. This, the priest used as an analogy for trading away one’s chance to get into heaven in return for a BOWL OF SOUP, whatever that BOWL OF SOUP may be, whether your BOWL OF SOUP be money, your BOWL OF SOUP be sex, your BOWL OF SOUP be drugs, or whatever else it is that distracts you from the better use of your time which is to spend it groveling before his god. A simple metaphor which takes all of ten seconds to explain, but which he spent the better part of an hour belabouring, shouting the phrase BOWL OF SOUP some hundred or so times after doing so had already lost any rhetorical or theatrical value. Towards the end of his sermon, he asked all in attendance what that BOWL OF SOUP was for each individual; what distraction it was that kept us from fully embracing his god. I remember laughing out loud as I thought to myself “A desire for moral and intellectual integrity.”

Finally, the sermon came to an end, and with it, the service proper. People began milling about and chatting, joining one another in various prayer groups and suchlike. It was at this point that the priest, who could not help but to have noticed me standing outside of the tent the whole time, came over to speak with me.

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Cocktopus

Having Ventured Behind Enemy Lines, Part 1


So, as promised, I attended the Freaky Weirdo Brand Deluxe Christians’ tent rally on Saturday. 

I had never attended one of these events before and really, really did not know what to expect. It was a relatively small and unspectacular affair, as I had expected it to be; I doubt there was more than twenty-five people present (aside from the eight or so who were running the show) at any given moment during the three hours it ran for. To their credit, though, the organizers seemed to have a fairly realistic view of this, and there were maybe forty seats within the tent, anyways.

As I arrived, they were booming out a lot of music from their loudspeakers, all played live by modestly talented but extremely enthusiastic players. I decided I would observe the affair from a comfortable distance; the tent was wide open, and so there was no need for me to come within 20 meters of the place, as I could easily see and hear everything (and with the added benefit of not being deafened in the process) from there. The songs were of a type which I suppose a habitual church-goer wouldn’t find peculiar, but from my outsider’s perspective were kind of revealing. It was all songs about “we” and “us”, with lots and lots of prompting by the organizers to the audience to stand at certain points, wave their hands at others, and so on. There was a strong group identity vibe going on, as everyone was having it re-enforced quite aggressively that they were all one group, and all under the command of the central authority there. It was a little crude, but obviously effective in terms of bringing together the flock, so to speak.

One of the songs in particular vexed me somewhat; I would hazard a guess that it was entitled “Jesus Set Me Free”, as that was the primary theme and refrain of the song. It was at around the time that I was listening to this that a woman – plainly a believer, based upon her many pins and medallions – came out to speak to me.

After a little bit of chit-chat, during which it was established that I was interested in the topic of christianity but was not a christian myself, I turned the conversation towards the topic of the song. I figured I would ask her a few questions about her particular beliefs, since, as I would repeat throughout the evening (and have confirmed for me repeatedly), “You can ask two christians a single question about any fine point in their mythology and get three different answers.” Specifically, I asked her if she believed that her god created hell (yes), that he set the criteria for who goes to hell (yes), if, being omnipotent, he could have chosen to set any specific criteria that he had wished (yes), and if she believed that Jesus was, in fact, her god, clothed in human flesh (yes).

“If that is the case, then does it not then follow that the only reason that hell is even a threat to us is because Jesus, as god, created that threat and then hung it over all of our heads? To that extent, does he not simply offer to save us from himself? Is that not essentially like having Jesus point a gun at your head, and then offer to NOT shoot you with it if you offer to serve him faithfully? To me, this is not the action of a hero, but of a slaver, promising to murder anyone who doesn’t agree to be his slave. How is this praiseworthy, especially if you then watch him going around shooting the vast portion of the population that does not agree to his terms?”

(I didn’t fire it all at her at once like that, but over the course of some five minutes or so of conversation, with various pauses for clarification and such; I can’t promise to be able to reproduce an absolutely accurate transcript of any discussion I had this day)

Her response was hardly a novel one, but one which I had never given any real thought to up until that moment; “No, no! God is LOVE, okay? He loves us!” with various emphatic clarifications and exhortations to this effect.

And so I asked her, “Do you believe an evil person is capable of loving someone else?”

She thought about this for a moment, and responded “Yes... but it’s usually a selfish and destructive sort of love.”

“Okay, good answer,” I replied entirely honestly. “I can buy that. Now, let’s say your god is real, and is more or less as you describe him. He loves you, but if you don’t do what he says, he will viciously punish you for all time, and has regularly done so to the majority of the world which he claims also to love. He has sent his people in the past into the lands of Canaan and told them to murder every man, woman and child there, where they died without having heard The Good News, and so were consigned to hell merely for having been born into the wrong culture. To me, that sounds like the ‘selfish and destructive’ love of an evil being that you describe.”

She was quite taken aback by this, and emphatically denied that her god was an evil being. I asked her if she believed that abortion was murder. She affirmed (as I suspected) that it was.

“In all of the lands of Canaan, do you believe there were any pregnant women? There must have been some. And of course, your god told his followers to murder everyone in Canaan, and made no provision where pregnant women are concerned. Your god ordered the murder of all of those unborn children. If that’s murder in your eyes, and an evil act, then how can a god who ordered it be anything but evil?”

This one shook her pretty badly, and indeed, later on I heard her discussing it with some of her fellow believers in fairly unhappy tones. Nevertheless, her response was to assert that, no matter whether or not these acts might SEEM evil, there must have been a good reason for it, because anything that her god does is automatically and perfectly good. I asked her if she could imagine a good reason to go into a city and kill everyone in sight, from the youngest boy to the oldest woman, for no other purpose than to steal their land. Of course, she could not, but asserted that there must be some reason, simply because “god is god.”

“So, it’s basically a might makes right type of situation?” I asked.

“No! It’s just that the bible tells us that god is all good, and all perfect.”

“What if the bible is wrong?”

“It can’t be wrong. It’s the perfect word of god.”

“And you know this because it’s written in the bible, right?”

“That’s right.”

“What if, when your god claimed to be all good, and incapable of lying or being mistaken, he was lying?”

“Well he can’t lie. He’s god.”

“What if you only believe he’s incapable of lying because he tricked you into believing that he’s incapable of lying, thus ensuring that all future lies would thus be covered? Would this not be the perfect smokescreen?”

The conversation went on for some time, with this poor woman becoming increasingly flustered. She agreed that these were all very good questions and that she would have “about five serious questions to ask my pastor about tomorrow.” She further said that I should talk to a professional theologian, who might have the answers for my questions (which I doubt, but it might be worth my time as a mental exercise). Nevertheless, she continued to assert that “you just have to have faith.”

“Faith that I’m wrong and that your god is right?”

“Well, basically...”

“Because your god tells you you need to have that faith?”

“Yes...”

“That, too, sounds like a perfect smokescreen to me.”

It was at around that time that she decided to break off her conversation with me, but not before asking me if I would mind her praying for me. “I have no objections to you talking to yourself in my presence, no.” I responded.

Her prayers were of a predictable sort, revolving around wishing that I would embrace the conditional and viciously-mis-expressed love of her monster god (though she did not phrase it in specifically these terms), before rejoining the rest of the flock under the tent.

(Tomorrow, in part 2 of 2, I get a chance to monopolize the priest's time for a while. It is a peculiar exchange.) 
Cocktopus

Venturing behind enemy lines?


For the past week or so, I've been seeing signs all over my neighborhood for what would appear to be an upcoming old-timey christian-themed tent rally quite near to where I lived.  I gave it almost no thought whatsoever, as this is really not a very christian neighborhood - according to the last census data, over 30% of the local population chose "no religion", and were the largest single segment of the population - and figured it would come and go with no consequence whatsoever.

While I still feel this is essentially the case, I saw, this morning, a big white van parked a block away from my place which was plastered with crudely-rendered signs advertising this event, and moreover, some weird imagery. It had, in place of your usual christian imagery which involves either a tortured and suffering or else meek and mild Jesus... a sword, surrounded by swirling flames. This momentarily arrested me. This was not the sort of vibe or imagery I was expecting at all. These were apparently not merely christians: These were Freaky Weirdo Brand Deluxe Christians.

And at that moment, I became curious. I spend a good amount of time discussing this religion on my blog here, and a part of the reason that I do so is that I have no other outlet for it. I don't know any christians. I never get to interact with them in a situation where discussing their religion is appropriate, much less Freaky Weirdo Brand Deluxe Christians. And it occurred to me, it might be interesting to try to delve into the belly of the beast here a bit.

My aim here is not antagonism PER SE. I think I would like to show up, be conspicuously out of place (this is inevitable, given the way I dress, groom myself and carry myself), and, should anyone strike up a conversation with me, just be 100% honest, and see where the discussion takes us.

And it occurs to me, this might be a fun little outing.

And so I put it to Vancouver-area people: Is anyone interested in joining me in this expedition behind enemy lines? It should be an entertaining and enlightening experience, and, in the hopefully-unlikely event that these Freaky Weirdo Brand Deluxe Christians (which I emphatically do not intend to refer to as such to their faces) should turn ugly on me, a bit of backup might not be a bad thing either.
Cocktopus

Subjective Morality

I’ve had a thought rumbling around in my head in recent months – a product of one of my occasional and innumerable hypothetical debates with theists – which a post this morning on the atheist community prompted me to begin to formulate more textually.

It runs along similar lines to a lot of my thoughts on this topic (which you can view as pedantry, consistency or some combination thereof), and deals with the question of secular morality versus theistic morality.

One of the charges which we atheists frequently have leveled against us is that, in the absence of any kind of supreme being to dictate and arbitrate morality, there can be no true morality, and that as such, we atheists must by our very nature be amoral beings. These charges then often become wild and fanciful, assigning to us a desire to rape, murder and steal at whim, since apparently in the minds of these christians, taking part in these sorts activities is a good path to a happy and fulfilling life (which invokes the usual question of whether these are the sorts of things THEY would like to be doing, but feel restrained from indulging in merely because of their fear of hell, and furthermore what that says about them).

This has always rung somewhat hollow to me, as it may not surprise you to learn, and one of various reasons why has lately become clear to me.

If you or I (or indeed some third party not taking part in this discussion) somehow had the ability to drown the entire world, and decided, because we were displeased with the general moral character of the peoples of the world, to go ahead and do so (whether or not we decided to spare a small family of middle easterners in the process), we would be guilty of an unspeakable evil. The christian god is purported, in christian (and indeed Jewish, and I presume Islamic) mythology to have done precisely this and precisely for these reasons. He, however, is reckoned by the proponents of this mythology, to have been good for having done so.

The reason behind this has nothing to do with the act itself, but rather the person (or entity or what have you) doing it. Any and all acts performed by this being – even if they would be evil if performed by anyone else -–are automatically rendered “good” simply because of who he is. So goes the mythology, anyways. If this were true, then it seems to me that morality becomes entirely meaningless; situational and subjective. The term “good” holds no more meaning, in that an evil act can be “good” simply because of the person (entity, whatever) performing it.

In a world without such an entity to distort and deform morality, we’re all on a level playing field, and can make meaningful moral judgements based upon whether or not our acts are selfish, destructive or harmful to those around us.

In a world with such a being, morality is just a hodge-podge of personal biases and whims of an obviously-deranged and capricious monster, who rules the universe in an indifferent and haphazard manner, while claiming absolute moral authority over everything while doing so.

Christians ask me how we can have true morality without their second-hand, bronze age, middle eastern tribal deity. I ask them in return: How could we have true morality WITH such an entity?
Cocktopus

Gandalfian Fundamentalists, Liberal Megatronists, and other related strangeness

“Listen, I realize that Lord of the Rings is just a story written by one guy, okay? I’m not one of those fundamentalists who believes everything that Tolkien said just because it’s in some book. I don’t believe in Sauron or anything. That’s obviously bullshit. I do believe in Gandalf the Grey, though, don’t get me wrong. I believe that he was some kind of wizard, and that he had some part to play in leading the Fellowship of the Ring in destroying the One Ring, I just don’t believe in all that obviously made-up stuff in Lord of the Rings.”

Imagine if someone said this to you. Imagine how absolutely taken aback you would be by what they were saying. For someone to say that they acknowledge that a work of fiction is a work of fiction and yet that one of the main characters of that work of fiction, who was invented in order to fulfill a role within that narrative, was nevertheless a real entity. Would that be more ridiculous or less ridiculous than a person who believed the story itself to be a true story? At least someone who believed Lord of the Rings was a historical tale could be forgiven, on some level, for believing that the people described within it to have been real people; after all, the events could hardly have been real if the people who enacted these events did not actually exist.

“I’m not saying he literally wears a red and white suit. That was an invention of an advertising campaign for Coca Cola. I know fiction when I see it. I’m not saying that I know what his Reindeer’s names are, and I know that Rudolf is entirely imaginary. I’m a rational person, see? But at the same time, for me to deny that there’s a jolly old fat man who lives at the north pole and who delivers presents to all the good little boys and girls of the world every December 25th? That would require more faith from me than saying that there’s NOT.”

It would still be bizarre that they thought that this fantastical tale were a description of actual events, but at least the lesser assumption that the people within it were real would logically follow from that initial, faulty assumption. But for them to acknowledge that the tale is a man-made construction but that one of the characters explicitly invented for the sake of that story remains real is one which is puzzlingly without any basis or reason whatsoever.

“Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that Megatron LITERALLY transforms into a gun. I’m not saying he actually sounds like Frank Welker. I’m not one of those crazy Transformers literalists who insists that everything you see in the cartoon is literally true, and a hand-drawn transcription of actual documentary footage. I know it was just a cartoon created in order to sell cheap Japanese toys to children. Obviously. I’m just saying that he’s a giant transforming robot that comes from somewhere out there – and I’m not claiming to know where; we humans don’t know almost anything about what goes on on other planets! – that came to Earth, leading an army of other giant transforming robots, in search of some sort of exotic energy source. You tell me that nobody’s ever SEEN Megatron? That there’s no proof of his existence, and so there’s no reason to believe he’s real? What part of ‘robots in disguise’ don’t you get? He’s taken on the form of some sort of mundane earthly machine or device or possibly animal, and lives among us. The fact that we’ve never seen him only PROVES that he’s good capable of flawlessly transforming into a terrestrial disguise. If anything, you’re strengthening my faith by pointing this out!”

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Cocktopus

Pascal's Cowards

Most of you will be aware of Pascal's Wager, and indeed, of those of you who aren't aware of it by name, most of you will likely have heard it without knowing what it's called.

In the briefest of terms, here it is: Blaise Pascal, a 17th Century French Mathematician, posited this argument in favour of his religion: If you're an atheist and you're right, then life is good enough for you, but there's no afterlife reward. If you're a christian and you're right, then life is good, and then you get a GREAT afterlife. If you're an atheist and you're wrong, then you will suffer horrible crap forever. If you're a christian and you're wrong, then no big deal, right? Therefore, the only good ending is in being a christian, the only bad ending is in being an atheist, and therefore everyone should join his religion.

It's a primitive argument, that's been refuted so many times in so many ways that when - as happened yesterday - I have some moron try to throw it at me, I can only laugh. Laugh and spend an hour or so working on a complex macro image so that from now on, I can just post a fucking link rather than waste time making the same arguments over and over again.

Also, I decided to have some fun with it, since I can no longer take this matter seriously.


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Cocktopus

Jesus the Magical Meat-Puppet Man

I was thinking today about a particular line of “thought” put forth by certain christians of a particularly evangelical stripe. I know that the odious Ray Comfort has popularized it, though I don’t know if it originates with him or not.

The line goes a little something like this:

“Do you consider yourself a good person?” (The presumption here is that most people will answer “yes”)

“Have you ever told a lie?” (Again, the answer here, obviously, is expected to be yes, as it is with the next couple of questions)

“Have you ever had a lustful thought about another human being?”

“Have you ever stolen anything in your life?”

“Have you ever taken the lord’s name in vain?”

“Well, then, by your own admission, you’re a lying, adulterous, thieving blasphemer. Do you still think that you’re a good person?”

The core concept here, basically, is that all human beings are, according to the standards held by Jesus in christian mythology, abhorrent and amoral monsters, and that they all deserve to be tortured in hell for eternity. But don’t worry! Just admit to Jesus that you are what he wants you to believe that you are, and you’ll be allowed into heaven in spite of the fact that you’re a misbegotten sack of shit! Hooray!

I’ve spoken before about this line of thinking, some time ago, and at that time remarked that this criteria is so broad that it is plainly defined in such a way as to catch up everyone; it would do just as well to have rules saying “Thou shalt not drink of the water nor breathe of the air, for both of these acts are abominations in the eyes of the lord thy god.” It would be about as meaningful and about as valid. Something more occurred to me this morning, however.

This same mythology holds that when the christian god, Yahweh, took on human form as Jesus, he lived out his life free of all sin, and was the one human being ever to have gone through his life without ever doing anything deserving of going to hell. All humans are held to that same standard, and all are found wanting by comparison.

It strikes me that this is insane bullshit.

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Cocktopus

On Pat Robertson, Consistency, and Earthquakes

I’ve pointed out a time or three that one of the central tenets of modern christianity is that their god, Yahweh, is an absolutely inept communicator, incapable of making himself understood or speaking and a coherent or comprehensible way; the bible is about 90% stuff that you’re apparently not supposed to take literally, or indeed observe at all, and what’s more, it is patently ridiculous to assume that anything that Yahweh says in that book means anything resembling the words actually used to convey it.

It is in light of this that I find it somewhat puzzling that there’s been something of a hew and cry from various christian groups and individuals that Pat Robertson, the host of the popular American television program, The 700 Club, should have made his recent statement on the earthquake in Haiti. In short, for those of you unaware of his words, he said that this earthquake was an act of his god in retaliation for certain Haitians supposedly having made a deal with the devil in order to secure their freedom from their cruel French overlords some two hundred years ago.

To me, this seems entirely logically consistent. A god who could fill his entire holy book with messages which frequently (apparently!) mean the exact inverse of their plainly-expressed meaning would totally do something like this! Think about it, he allows this deal with the devil (which, granted, there exists no historical evidence for) to go down without any sign of his disapproval, and then waits for the culprits to live out their lives in relative peace. He waits a century and a half, and then abruptly lashes out at the people who live on that same island – people who were not involved in the original act, and in many cases are not even descendants of those who were – with an earthquake. This earthquake, among its many other horrible effects, serves additionally to destroy much of their infrastructure, thus making the watching of television essentially impossible. He then communicates his intent in having delivered this earthquake ONLY through a demented and decrepit horrible old man, living in another country altogether, speaking in a language not shared by the majority of the country in question, on a television channel that, through that god’s own supposed works, the majority of the population of the country is incapable of watching.

I fail to see how there’s anything controversial at all about this claim; it is entirely in line with Yahweh’s normal standards for not only communicating incoherently and ineffectively, but punishing those not involved with the initial offense.

I fully expect him to soon vent his wrath for the construction of Stonehenge by dropping a meteor on Melbourne, Australia, and making his intentions clear to the population of that city through a message encoded in the barking of a dog living in Singapore. In the year 1590.
Cocktopus

I could write a better god with my ass tied behind my back!

I was giving some thought to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah the other day.

Most of you will be in broad terms familiar with this fairy tale, but let me sketch it out in brief terms anyways. In the ancient middle east, there were, according to this story, two cities named Sodom and Gomorrah which were exceptionally sexualized societies. The details are a little sketchy, but it seems that homosexuality was not frowned upon, and it is heavily implied that gang rape was a pretty socially accepted sort of thing as well. These were, in short, people who were pretty committed to this whole “sexing” thing. The christian (or, at the time, Hebrew) god, Yahweh, decides that he doesn’t care for the looks of this place too much, and, in one of his frequently not-actually-all-that-omniscient-after-all moments, decides he needs to investigate this town. He makes a deal with his sycophantic toady, Abraham, that if there’s so much as a single person in the city who conforms to his morality, then he’ll let the matter slide.

He sends a couple of his angels on a fact-finding expedition, where they lodge with Abraham’s nephew in town, Lot. While there, they make quite the impression upon the population, who mob Lot’s house in an attempt to get freaky with these angels. Lot, whose sense of family values seems to be about as shakey as that of his uncle, decides that he would rather see his daughters gang raped in the street than allow two angels who could plainly take care of themselves to be confronted by an unruly and evidently horny mob. The mob is having none of it, though, and the angels announce that, as a result, their god is going to have them murder every living thing in the cities. As such, Lot and his family are told to leave and not look back, which 75% of them manage to do (Lot’s wife bringing the family’s total grade down from a solid A+ to a merely respectable C by glancing over her shoulder as she ran and being killed by the angels for the act in a kind of puzzlingly vindictive dick move).

When they’re up in the hills, with the city being rendered a flaming and stinking ruin (the benefit that using fire AND brimstone rather than just fire is not made exactly clear, but one assumes that the unpleasant aroma is meant to be some sort of additional penalty), Lot and his two daughters settle down for the night, and his daughters demonstrate that they were not altogether untouched by the culture of their hometown, as their very first impulse is to drug and rape their father, which they do with gusto.

There’s something that occurs to me, when I think about all of this, though; even if we assume that each and every person in these cities were somehow irredeemably evil, and we assume that Yahweh has the moral prerogative to murder them all as a result (which is a central assumption within the story, so I won’t really get into it here and now beyond calling it “bullshit”), there’s still the sticky question of the children and babies which resided in town, especially vis a vis murdering them for the fact that they happened to have had the wrong parents.

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