27 June 2007

A different kind of summer camp

I suppose it was only a matter of time before we would see the development of secular summer camps as a response to the growing number of religious camps for kids, some of which are nothing more than engines of indoctrination to create "faith warriors" out of kids as young as six or seven.

While I am pleased to see that kids are being encouraged to seek answers with an open mind (and to question the answers they find themselves), I can see the argument from opponents who believe that such a camp would be dangerous to kids, giving them a skewed grasp of morality and ethics, endangering their immortal souls, etc.

To those critics I would simply ask that they read the article, and in particular take a look at the photos featured in the Tribune article. Now, juxtapose those images with some taken from Becky Fischer's Kids on Fire (sponsored by Kids In Ministry International, also run by Fischer) which was featured on ABC News and in the 2006 documentary "Jesus Camp."

The images of children playing and interacting at the atheist Camp Quest contrast sharply with Fischer's brainwashed kids who are training to be literal "soldiers of Christ": they sing martial hymns while wearing camouflage paint, speak in jibberish (sorry, I mean they "speak in tongues"), and pray before a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush.

This nascent movement to give non-religious kids a summer camp of their own is heartening, especially given the rise of such brainwiping camps like Fischer's and Ron Luce's hypocritical "Battlecry" movement (which mixes elements of old-fashioned religious revivals and televangelist charlatanry in a rock concert-like setting). Both serve only to make unquestioning drones of children, a new generation of religious automatons ready to do the "will of God."

But the rise of atheist summer camps also betrays a darker side to the current culture over children: while it is indeed heartening to know that these kids have a place where they can be themselves and be with others like themselves, the separation of children into different camps (literally and figuratively) is hurtful. Summer camps for children should be open to all, regardless of belief or creed. Should it not be possible to have a summer camp that simply teaches kids skills and crafts in an encouraging community setting that encourages nothing more than human fellowship? Is it not possible to do that without addressing belief or non-belief? The current cultural climate is not very conducive to that at this moment, I know, which is why there is a need for camps like Camp Quest. I know that there will also continue to be Christian, Muslim, and other religious camps But I do hope that, in the future, instead of being "Christian" or "Atheist" or what have you, children will be able to go to summer camp and just be KIDS!

23 June 2007

I'm sure I need not remind anyone here about the uproar in 2005 over some Danish political cartoons that were perceived to be blasphemous depictions of the "prophet" Muhammad, so I won't bother to go through yet another telling of the sad, sordid affair. The only reason I bring this up again (regrettably so, because I'm rather tired of hearing about it myself) is to bring your attention to yet another example of the clamoring of unlettered mobs who live where the most backward of the monotheistic religions still hold considerable way.

I'm talking, of course, about Islam. And the uproar this time is over the honor of knighthood that has been bestowed upon author Salman Rushdie.

How fearful and ignorant do you have to be so that even the most mundane representations of your faith or creed's doctrines and dogmas result in violent acts of false indignation and pretended outrage? Why be afraid to let some critics make your flaws known so you can address them in a constructive way? Well, when you're dealing with the divine, it is necessary for it to be thought of as flawless so that it can keep the little people enthralled and pliable.

Only corrupt and tyrannic entities fear self-examination to the extent that it restricts others from examining it out of the fear it might have to confront itself. I hope Mr. Rushdie keeps writing, because its good for Muslims to be forced to look in the mirror a little more often.

10 June 2007

God is dead...

Happy Sunday Morning!

As funny as this classic Kids in the Hall sketch is, it's also quite poignant.

God is indeed small, and the sketch's portrayal of such a small deity is a metaphor for just how petty and parochial the God of Abraham truly is. Indeed, all deities placed at the heads of the great theistic religions, monotheistic and polytheistic alike, are credited with the creation of a vast universe but afterwards seem only concerned with that tiny corner of existence that happens to contain a certain "chosen" people.

The insignificance of God is further illustrated in the sketch by two other elements. First, the toddler-sized jacket with "GOD" embroidered on the back shows us that, were it not for the self-advertisement, we might forget that the tiny, seemingly innocuous person we're dealing with is the all-knowing, all-seeing creator of the cosmos. The second element comes at the end of the sketch, where the finality of God's insignificance is shown as the people of Earth go right on with their lives, where "it's business as usual on the streets and highways that God built."

"Yes, God did exist...he died...he was very small...mystery solved!" If only it were that simple.

08 June 2007

Things move quickly...

I started this no fewer than 4 days ago and already I've been cited over at Slate.com.

Check it out!

07 June 2007

Stem Cells Get Lost in Politics

Stem Cells are amazing things. They can be coaxed by medical researchers to assume the form of almost any tissue needed, leading to the hope that some of the most debilitating diseases could be ultimately cured. But the damned little things are so versatile that they seem to be able to conform to almost any political view as well:

The political fray has obscured quiet efforts in recent months to compare stem cells from many different sources. Experts doing the research say some cells may be best for treating certain diseases, while others are easier to grow in the lab. The upshot is likely to be an array of trade-offs that lack the clarity of the moral debate.

"You can't say one cell type is better than another," said Dr. Anthony Atala, director of Wake Forest's Institute for Regenerative Medicine, who is leading one stem cell comparison study. "Each cell has its own properties. We won't know what the properties are unless they're studied and we find out which cells do best for certain applications."
This reminds me of a paper I wrote on the controversy surrounding Hannah Arendt's book Eichmann in Jerusalem. Commenting herself on the madness of the controversy, the great twentieth century sociologist and philosopher said that there are certain groups with "down-to-Earth interests...whose excitement is entirely concerned with factual matters and who therefore try to distort the facts." Too true.

The Tribune article also included a nice little graphic showing the different lines of stem cell research being pursued today. Have a look.

06 June 2007

Hammerhead Jesus?

And yea, unto you a savior shall be born of a virgin, and he will eat you...

Unnatural "Pipe Fittings"

Apparently, we are to believe that homosexuality is a "choice" and can be "cured," so says the White House's nominee for Surgeon General.

From the article:
Sixteen years ago, [Dr. James Holsinger] wrote a paper for the church in which he likened the reproductive organs to male and female "pipe fittings" and argued that homosexuality is therefore biologically unnatural.

"When the complementarity of the sexes is breached, injuries and diseases may occur," Holsinger wrote, citing studies showing higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases among gay men and the risk of injury from anal sex.
Is anyone surprised to hear this kind of drivel from a Bush nominee? I'm not. Oh, and that whole thing about homosexuality being unnatural, here's a great little tidbit about homo dolphins!

"Relative" Speaking on Morals

There is a double-standard that is inherent in any theist’s accusations against non-theists regarding the idea of “moral relativism.” I need not go too much into the argument itself, because it is particularly old hat. It argues in favor of the universality of religion-based morals, and is repeated ad nauseum by proponents of religious belief who, at most, read the Cliff notes for Plato’s Euthyphro and suddenly think themselves experts on moral philosophy.

Basically, the argument runs thusly: If you do not have God telling you what is morally right or wrong, and instead rely on society’s best efforts to enforce moral behavior, the relative difference from culture to culture and society to society creates an environment where potentially everything is permissible, to the extent that even the moral precepts against murder, theft, and child abuse (which are seemingly innate to every normal human being) can be sanctioned in some form or another.

But theists who foolishly put forward this trope walk blithely into the trap that illustrates the painfully obvious double-standard inherent in the argument. To be specific, religion is the best example of moral relativism that is ever to be found in the history of civilized culture. It is a fact that every religion legislates for its adherents what it declares to be “universal morality.” It is also a fact that every religion claims special exceptions to the very same universal, unbreakable moral code that everyone is supposed to follow.

Let me repeat: ALL of the major theistic religions claim exclusive declaratory rights to impose universal morality upon the whole of humankind while at the same time claiming special exceptions to or exemptions from truly universal adherence to its own supposedly universal morality.

I’ll go even further by stating unequivocally that it is religion, and not reasonable non-theistic beliefs, that have repeatedly justified exceptions to those innate human moral precepts I mentioned before. Namely, do not kill, do not steal, and do not hurt children.

Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all have committed atrocious acts of murder and genocide on each other as well as their own people so as to make even the paranoid-schizophrenic bloodlust of Ivan the Terrible seem positively benign. All have institutionalized torture in the past (as well as in contemporary times) in order to enforce each’s particular interpretation of the “Will of God.”

And all, too, have killed in the name of God’s will.

From the Crusades to the Inquisition, from Joshua's conquest of Canaan to David Ben-Gurion's Zion, and from Mohammed's sack of Mecca to the current (and numerous) fatwas calling for the destruction of Israel and the whole of western civilization, all of which point to the unbridled malice and wanton destruction wrought by religion’s callous disregard for any kind of universal proscription against murder, much less their own. Further, it is only by religion’s bloody hand that the innate biological proscription against murder (as well as theft and child abuse) is overcome. As physicist Steven Weinberg beautifully expressed it: “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things; but for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

A brief digression must be made to counter the arguments of those who would point out that it is sometimes necessary to kill in order to defend one’s self and others from aggression. The most contemporary expression of this maxim is the favourite of bumper-sticker philosophers across America: “Freedom isn’t Free.” The truth of this statement remains undiluted by its clich├ęd status, and I would not try to argue against it. However, I will argue with all of my conviction that the wars of religion are nearly always aggressive in nature. That is, it is only conquest, plunder, and fresh converts to add to the ranks of the faithful (and woe unto those who resist) which are on the mind of religious leaders who sound the tocsin of war in “defense of the faith.” The “freedom” that religion seeks is always at the expense of the civil liberties enjoyed by whatever society it inhabits; a religion must have dominance in its host society in order to survive, it cannot otherwise exist. From this perspective, the ideal of “freedom of religion” becomes a sad contradiction, because every religion is inherently and explicitly opposed to the idea that individuals can believe what they wish. So much for the notion that the U.S. was founded on “Christian” ideals. Had the founding fathers allowed religion to have an official place at the table of government, the United States would never have evolved into the beacon of freedom and justice that it has become since its inception in 1776. With that being said, I will move on.

All three religions, too, have stolen in the name of God, with the Roman Catholic Church undoubtedly claiming the crown of greediest and most methodical in its acquisition of purloined and extorted riches. But Jews and Muslims, too, have stolen their own great treasures and hoarded them away. Jews have (twice) claimed land occupied by others: the original settlement of the “promised land” (found in the Torah) and the current “re-settlement” that has been taking place in the Levant since the late nineteenth century. Islam is notorious for supporting some of the most heinous examples of organized piracy and extortion in history, and the most famous of these would undoubtedly be the Sultanate of the Ottoman Turks. The Sultans charged incredible ransoms from non-Muslim merchants for the privilege of not having their wares seized and themselves enslaved, while at the same time skimming the profits of similar enterprises from lesser Muslim caliphs, most notably the Barbary princes.

I don’t wish to linger too long on examples of institutionalized child abuse by religious authority, because my own sensibilities recoil in outrage at the discussion of them (one need only read the newspaper stories about forced female circumcision or watch Amy Berg’s disturbing documentary “Deliver Us From Evil,” which focuses acutely on the Catholic Church’s nefarious conduct during the recent scandals involving pedophile priests). However, I do wish to mention that child abuse is institutionalized in religion because religious belief is, by its very nature, something that must be indoctrinated into adherents in order to ensure its own enduring existence, and there is no more susceptible and vulnerable type of person than a child. Religious authorities know this, and so focus much of their attention on the young, frightening them into submission with tales of hellfire and death in order to craft them into ciphers; willing instruments of God’s will, fanatically devoted to carrying out whatever God (or, more appropriately, “God’s” self-proclaimed representatives i.e. bishops, imams, rabbis) instructs them to do, up to and including murdering others and themselves. I am reminded of my encounter with the Phelps family of the Westboro Baptist Church in 2005, where I found it remarkable that, while they held signs that read “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “God Hates Fags,” two of the young boys talked on about race cars. They were no different from any other pre-adolescent boys in America, aside from their indoctrinated religious hatred. Indoctrination into religion is the ultimate form of child abuse, and its virulence is omnipresent across the spectrum of contemporary civilization.

Religious morals are relative. They are relative not only to each other, as religions vary from culture to culture, but they are also relative in the context of each religion’s different iteration of declared universal morality. Don’t kill—unless they’re heathens or heretics. The maxim “Thou shalt not steal” has the same caveat. And the supposed “care” of the young that all three religions claim as among their chief responsibilities instead has led to the ritual mutilation of the body (particularly the genitals), the institutionalization of rape, and the enslavement of the mind. Given this, it will be only the most feeble-minded and willfully ignorant of theists who continue to argue for their respective dogmatic belief system’s exclusive claim on “universal” morality.

Morality is a human construction, just like religion. But unlike religion, morality does not suffer from the application of reason and rationality. As Sam Harris has repeatedly said, no society has ever suffered or committed evil because it was “too rational.” Rather, it is the absence or breakdown of reason and rationality that is often the chief cause of conflict and misery. And in all the breadth of human imagination and experience, there is nothing more unreasonable or irrational than organized religion.