Thursday, July 17, 2008

Glen Beck Plans Parenthood

In “An Inconvenient Book,” Glen Beck is at times blatantly biased and selectively informed and at others hilariously insightful. Maybe just hilarious. One of Beck’s insights is to have the government oversee the rights to procreation. His main point is that something is wrong if you need a license to drive your ’89 geo metro but to bring a human being into the world all you need are a couple of shots of tequila and a blanket to cover the coffee stains and crumbs in the back seat.

To become a parent, one should have to pass a written test, be deemed psychologically stable and have sufficient savings to care for the child. The fact is, illiterate of alcoholic compulsive gamblers do not make the best parents. You know, the whole apple doesn’t fall far from the tree thing. If we have to put down payments on cars you would think that someone would want to make sure we have enough money for diapers and baby food. Admittedly, it is an elitist position to look down my nose and deem another human unfit for parenthood. However, we as a society have already put our trust in government for determining who is or is not suitable for much lesser responsibilities. And it’s not like I’m saying that only beautiful people should be allowed to have kids (or am I...).

To enforce the new “No Child Left Behind” legislation (maybe this title will have a better go the second time around) I recommend a tax for each child born without license. The revenue generated would go to programs that help families who already cannot afford their families, the development of 100% reliable ‘super-condoms’ and paying off Hannah Montana to never appear in public again. Ever.

Now, before you call Glen Beck or myself a communist, or make comparisons to cupid’s loveless step-brother Jerry who wants to ruin it for everyone else, let me point out that we face some serious problems if we continue on our reproductive rampage.

According to the U.N. Population Division, world population could skyrocket to as high as 10.8 billion by the year 2050. In a world that already struggles to supply adequate food, medicine and clean water to its people, an additional 4 billion in just over 40 years could push us to the breaking point. Also, Lester Brown makes the interesting point in Plan B 3.0 called the demographic bonus that, “When countries move quickly to smaller families, growth in the number of young dependents—those who need nurturing and educating—declines relative to the number of working adults. In this situation, productivity surges, savings and investment climb, and economic growth accelerates. This effect lasts for only a few decades, but it is usually enough to launch a country into the modern era. Indeed, except for a few oil-rich countries, no developing country has successfully modernized without slowing population growth.” Sounds like “No Child Left Behind” part two has found a home.

And if you’re still unconvinced that some people should be denied the right fornicate without a full body condom a la Leslie Nielson, check this out http://youtube.com/watch?v=OKfYT7Zvpqg. Some people are hopeless.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fundamentally Speaking, They’ve Got This One Right: A Case for Literal Interpretation of the Bible

Apart from such gems as, ‘if you tell people they are descended from monkeys, how can you expect them behave like anything other than monkeys’ and “Oh, you’re one of the sodomites, you should only get aids and die (Thank you Michael Savage)” Christian fundamentalists do have one thing right: the literal truth of their scripture.

First of all, let me say that I don’t believe that either the New or Old Testament bears complete literal truth. Not even close; that is my own persuasion. When I say that the fundamentalist understanding of the Bible as literal truth is ‘right,’ I mean that fundamentalists correctly grasp the fact that any other method of interpretation of scripture undermines the ultimate authority of the Canon as a source of truth and morality. Let me explain:

A quick history lesson: To be a Christian means, among other things (see, but please do not be limited to, the first paragraph for some other wonderful Christian platforms), accepting the Bible as written by men divinely inspired and as God’s revelation of himself to man, a perfect treasure of divine instruction (I gleaned this particular bit of theology from the Baptist Faith and message). That is, the Bible is the source of all truth and the entire content of the Bible is true ***(If you in fact call your self a Christian but do not believe the above statement, feel free to stop reading here and turn on the 700 Club since what I am about to continue rambling on about has no importance for you whatsoever.)*** Seriously, stop reading now if you think that, this will just waste your time.

Now, allegorical and metaphorical interpretation of scripture enter stage left. These modern approaches claim that many stories and parables in the Bible are not in themselves literally true but they serve to illustrate a larger truth. This analysis of scripture is popular in more liberal Christian communities who see and feel the conflict between science, reason and Biblical history. The stories of Jonah and the whale, the ark and the fall of Jericho all score in the lowest percentile on the plausibility test, so many liberal Christians choose to interpret these legends as allegorical; keyword choose.

The fact that Christians are choosing which biblical records to believe (virgin birth, water to wine, resurrection) and which stories are myth points to a source of truth outside of the revealed word of God. As far as I know a biblical writer never preceded a chapter with both a genealogy and a disclaimer that the following material, while based on actual events, is mostly fictional. To pick and choose what verses are true and what are not places the power of discerning truth in human reason, not the revealed word of God. Thus, a certain verse or commandment is not true because it is in the Bible, it is true because it’s in the bible and someone decided that it wasn’t allegory.

Consequently, Christians who do not read the Bible as literal truth lose the privilege to cite the Bible authoritatively. They cannot defend the validity of any claim because it is the ‘word of God.’ Using reason to choose which of God’s revelations are ultimately true and which only bear allegorical truth tacitly permits a source of truth outside of and independent of God: human reason. Thus, the claims that Jesus is the Son of God, messiah and savior of humankind must also be proved independently of scripture because someone could, just as easily as the story of the ark, dismiss the Gospels as allegorical as well.

A quick example (but only one example) to illuminate this point (don't get hung up on this example, the real argument stands alone.) Acts 1:18 of the New Testament claims regarding Judas's death, "he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out." Really? No not really! If you had read further to verse 19 you would know that, "This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that this field is called in their language Hakeldama, that is, The Field of Blood." This is just an explanatory narrative and it has nothing to do with the central truths of Jesus or God!

Although that position may calm the stomachs of hemophobic Christians, it vastly undermines their ability to lay claim on scriptural authority to equally implausible Christian positions (when considered rationally and objectively) such as Jesus is son of God, was born of a Virgin, died and was later resurrected. In those cases, who’s not to say, Clearly Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin! Have you ever even watched the discovery channel? And the resurrection? Come on, people don’t just come back to life!

Friday, July 11, 2008

I Have a Dream! (had)

Last night I had a dream that I was at the mall visiting some friends (something I have never in real life actually done). The mall was not one I had ever been to. I don't remember the overall plot line of the dream but one thing in particular stood out to me. 

At one point we all came across a candy booth with lots of different flavors of candy. Strange flavors, like jelly belly beans. There were slots to put quarters in but the bins were open so you could take candy out anyway. One of the candies was titled "Beer Flavored." In the bin there was a multitude of different shapes and sizes of 'beer jelly beans' each with the name of the beer they were supposed to taste like printed on the side of the bean itself. The thing that struck me the most about the beer beans was that they looked like uncooked sausages.

I went to try one of the beans, I don't remember which beer it was supposed to taste like, but when I put it in my mouth it didn't taste like anything! Will someone please tell me what this means?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Meaning Of Life (Really, I Think I Got It This Time...There Is None)

Why are we here? The question has preoccupied humanity since the dawn of consciousness (a bit dramatic but it works). However, to that I would respond, why does it matter? If you belong to the asylum of thought that believes that God (who or whatever that is, don’t ask) has a plan for us, then of course it matters. God wants us to love each other, God wants us to honor and worship his majesty, God wants us to put the needs of the poor above our own needs. Whatever God wants, that is our purpose. Without dealing explicitly with each and every one of the obnoxious doctrines expounding the deigns of deity, let’s take a look at what it means to have a purpose.

However, before diving headfirst into what it means to have purpose, let’s test the waters first. Why are we here might not even be the right question. It might even be flat out wrong. In the vein of logical positivism, it is important to note that not every question is necessarily meaningful. Theologians systematically disregard arguments against God’s omnipotence hinging on her ability to do the logically impossible, such as creating a square circle. Rightly so, a square circle is nonsense and proponents of arguments of that form are inane.

Now, back to determining the meaningfulness of the purpose question. No one in their right mind would ask what is a square circle or why do blue unicorns eat fruit loops? The questions in themselves are meaningless. One typically doesn’t compare questions of this variety to questions regarding the sacred meaning of life, if only because square circles and blue unicorns are objects of our imaginations. However, the two families share more blood than it might first appear.

Just because one can phrase a question correctly in English does not make it meaningful. A question could still be a bad one even if it doesn’t include fantastical or logically impossible elements. No one foists a purpose on the radioactive decay of carbon 14 to carbon 12. No one claims that this process occurs because God wanted us to experience the wonders of carbon dating. Carbon 12 exists because it came from carbon 14. Just because carbon 12 has an origin outside of itself does not mean that it has a life purpose. Some might object to the comparison of human beings to the carbon nucleus. But we know where carbon comes from. It’s science. This is the business of souls!

Although the discussion of whether or not humans have souls is a good one, I choose to not take it up entirely here. It should suffice to say that until we knew what happened in gunpowder or how to predict eclipses, high priests who used knowledge of those powers as evidence of magic or God to oppress the uneducated peasants around them. Attributing God to processes we don’t yet understand is a bad move for theologians, which many recognize and no longer continue to do, because science may at some point clarify what is going on and what is going on probably won’t be God (see young earth creationism, story of Adam and Eve, and the time when God ‘stopped’ the sun so that the Israelites had more daylight to fight in). The point is this, comparing carbon decay or any other known process to human existence is not a bad claim.

To return to the discussion of good and bad questions, I propose that a better question than why are we here might be why do we need to know why we are here? Before continuing with that question, let’s take a moment to preemptively anticipate an argument against this new (and in my opinion better) question. It is possible that someone might try to apply logical positivism in the same way I did above to say that asking why we ask why we are here is equally meaningless to just asking why we are here. On the surface this argument may be appealing to those who have been fuming as I tell them that their life doesn’t really matter. It is true, both are questions and both start with the word why, however only one could have universally testable answers. Although religious revelation is for many the source of meaning in their lives, it is not applicable to all for many reasons, most obvious being the fact that not everyone ascribes to the same paradigm of myth. One might claim that belief in reason is dogmatic in its own right. However, there are two problems with that claim. One, reason never hesitates to discard old beliefs, no matter how old or cherished. Secondly, those who claim revelation as a separate form of knowledge only disregard reason when it buts up against revealed truth. There is no one who completely discounts reason. That is, reason, even for the most ardent revelationists, is applicable in at least some respect. You dry the dishes after you wash them. No one regards that as dogmatic.

With that out of the way let us return to the better question: why do we ask why are we here? One solution, although I am not an expert in sociology or anthropology, might be the task-oriented nature of human, and really all animal, life. Everyone is familiar with the basic needs of survival; food, shelter, water and warmth. In survival level animal societies the only way to be successful (survive) is to continually fulfill those needs. Any time one of these necessities of life disappears; life itself is liable to disappear. The success of conscious organisms depends in large part on their ability to recognize a need, and then to fulfill that need. Once that need is taken care of, the organism must look to the next. The meticulous preparation of squirrels for hibernation is an excellent example of this sort of task conscious behavior. The collect nuts day in and day out until they have enough to last the winter. Since we don’t see any squirrels sitting around reading the New Yorker it is presumable that they continue to prepare even to the point of excess. This is the nature of task-oriented organisms in survival mode.

The connection to humans is that although we are by nature task oriented (clearly we don’t come from squirrels, this would be a massively anachronistic and incorrect interpretation of natural selection, however for the sake of argument the analogy holds well enough) we are past the point of survival. Not only are we secure in our confidence of survival, we know it. We have the luxury to ponder other things. Once we have collected all the nuts we ask now what? What is our purpose? There has to be more to life than nuts! But why should there be? Nobody claims that squirrels have a grand purpose outside of themselves to life. Nobody claims that the tree in his or her front yard photosynthesizes for a reason. So what makes humans so special?

In light of evolution we know that there is no clear dividing line between humans and our ancestors. There is no point were all of a sudden collecting nuts and photosynthesizing just doesn’t cut it anymore. If one accepts that single cell ameba and dandelions have no purpose to life, it seems unwise to assume that their derivatives should be any different. Granted humans are more sophisticated than our rodent friends, the road to humanity is a level and continuous one indeed. There is no point in the evolutionary history of humans that we can say there, right there! That is the point where we become different. All of earth’s inhabitants are of the same life-giving substance, and none of us are really that different (considering evolutionary histories) from the other. Thus, we cannot give our own lives special purpose or meaning without doing the same for every single microorganism that we know of. It’s the same problem parents face when their kids ask: do dogs go to heaven? Many parents answer that yes of course dogs go to heaven, in which case I would respond with the chilling yet more revealing question, does the AIDS virus go to heaven? I doubt that the AIDS virus does much soul searching into morality, truth or any of the other virtues we typically associate with life’s purpose, but if St. Peter’s gates are open to humans, dogs and cats, the AIDS virus is really just one good letter of recommendation short of entry to eternal bliss.

A New Take On The Cosmological Argument

Regardless of whether or not the cosmological argument proves the existence of a First Mover, Uncaused Causer etc, the conclusion that this mover must be called God is a fallacious. Why God, with all its metaphysical and religious baggage? Why not just some overweight guy with a back brace asking you where you want your couch? To call the First Mover, or creator of the universe, God is intellectual high treason because what ‘God’ is, theologically and in popular interpretation, is so much more than just a creator. Depending on where one was born, ‘God,’ in addition to creating all that is, throws lightning bolts, hears prayers and is born of virgins. To say that the cosmological argument proves the existence of God (Zeus, Yahweh, Allah...) ignores the fact that the argument makes no distinction as to any of the other qualities of a cosmic creator.

So although the cosmological argument does not show that the creator is ‘God’ with all of the implications that go along with that, why do so many take that next step themselves? Why not just say, “We exist because we exist.” It really is to say the same thing. To say that the stars exist because of God is no different than to say that they exist because they exist. Neither offers a real explanation for the existence of the stars. Consider as an analogous situation the postulates of any of the axiomatized sciences such as Euclidean geometry and arithmetic. Geometricians (and I suspect you as well) accept that the shortest length between two points is a straight line, not because of previous assertions or proofs but rather just because. However, most humans refuse to accept that the universe exists just because. No sane geometrician would propose that the shortest length between two points is a straight line or that one plus one equals two because of God. So why is the postulate (that’s really what it is, a postulate) of the existence of the universe any different?

It is highly likely that the reason why humans demand a teleological explanation for the existence of the universe is a psychological one depending in large part on the idea that there must be some meaning of life. There must be a reason why we’re here! I think therefore I am? No, I am because God says so! And thus the circle of logic is complete. Humanity demands that there must be a creator God because we must have a purpose, which must have been assigned by the creator. This is what the success of the cosmological argument really hinges on. All that the argument really proves is that we exist. Our psychological predisposition for teleology then fills in the blanks; we exist, therefore we must have been created, therefore the creator gives purpose and meaning to life and the creator is actually three persons in one, so on and so forth. Even if one were to accept the logic of the cosmological argument (which many don’t, see: David Hume, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultimate_Boeing_747_gambit, etc...) the assignment of purpose and character to the creator is a by-product of humanity’s own psychological makeup.

Santa Claus is God? Well, Kinda...

Santa Claus: white beard, red hat, beer belly. The guy who occasionally works under the pseudonyms of Saint Nick, Chris Cringle and in a today’s fashionable unus nomen culture, S.C. That Guy. Many, although most not tall enough to look mall Santa imposters in the eye, are under the impression that he makes all your dreams come true; trains, ponies, G.I. Joes, you name it. The best part is that, with obnoxious reoccurrence, the nice get to cash in on the same day every year: Judgment day... I mean Christmas.

There’s only one catch, ya gotta believe! Let the holy Christmas spirit flow through you. That’s all it takes, convince yourself that you’re convinced that a fat guy can eclipse the sped of light and the laws of mass-energy conservation for the sole purpose of passing out new bikes and dollhouses. Of course, if you’re reading this, you’re a grown up, at least that’s what you tell the other ‘grown-ups.’ You don’t fall for every scam throwing itself at you in thirty-second spots on daytime TV and you certainly don’t believe that a cosmic creator would allow its perfect laws of physics to be broken solely to reward you for being nice. I mean, come on! Where does he fit all the presents? How is it that a few reindeer, on a diet of candy-canes and hot chocolate (not exactly a breakfast of champions) pull this fat guy and all his gifts through the stratosphere? How can Chris get up and down every chimney in the world? I mean, it’s science, and it just doesn’t make sense. It’s not possible, barely even plausible.

No, no, we adults, unlike our na├»ve children, don’t spend Christmas Eve dreaming of Saint Nick and the rancid milk and cookie crumbs stuck in his beard from 6 billion other houses. No, we’ve upgraded our operating system. We’re running SC 2.0, more commonly known as Jesus. Eight pound six ounce baby Jesus. You see, as adults, we don’t believe in ridiculous things such as reindeer and elves. We have science magazines and enough real life experience in this world to know stuff like that just doesn’t happen. No fat guy raising himself out of our chimneys. Instead we have a dead guy raising himself out of a cave. Although If you asked me, I’d would say an overweight inhabitant of the north pole shimmying his way up a chimney is more miraculous than the resurrection of the dead (which is probably why nobody over the age of 6 believes that anyway.)

Now, this is not a polemic against the Godhood of Jesus nor is its purpose to prove Santa’s non-existence (no doubt a bit of theological hand waving in Catholic Encyclopedia would be more than enough to serve as ‘evidence’ for Santa’s existence for many). The point is just that there are similarities. Feel free to disagree (I’m sure you will) but essentially Santa is a commercialized, simplified, americanized version of the Judeo-Christian God, formerly known as Yahweh, Elohim or Jehovah. God for ages 2-6 (it says so on the box.)

A consequence of the similarities is that children of Christian parents are primed for a life filled with fear of judgment and acceptance as fact of ridiculous mythologies. Upon the maturation of their minds to a stage where they are capable of abstract and critical thought, their minds are already warped, unfairly predisposed, to accept paradigms of thought and action that, had they been allowed to develop free from tampering, they would not have chosen on their own. Consider the values forced upon the future of our species when we tell them, “If you believe, you will receive!”

First, we tell them that belief itself is valuable. It doesn’t matter what it is you believe (if you were really radical you could become a Lutheran Wisconsin synod!) but as long as you do believe, good things come your way in a sleigh. Belief in belief as a mode to gift or greater good is the root of all organizations that have done great harm in world history. Imagine the trust in the foresight and inherent goodness in leadership or wherever it is that people receive supposed direction (God?) required for an entire people to take up the extermination of another (see: Holocaust and Darfur, or milder cases such as the Spanish Inquisition, Western Christian Crusades and current Israeli-Palestinian conflict). It seems that belief in belief is one of the most, if not the most, detrimental roadblocks to free thought, which it should go without saying is a good thing.

Second, we teach our children (and thus future generations of adults) that belief is valuable even in the face of (and sometimes in spite of) reason. It doesn’t matter what arguments or scientific evidence you present counter to your beliefs, you need to stick with what you believe. Otherwise you won’t get that G.I. Joe, dollhouse, or everlasting grace.

Third, there is a bearded guy not at the north pole but in the sky (But not really...everyone knows that!) who keeps tabs on who was naughty and nice, thus deciding who gets a lump of coal in their stocking and who will burn in hell for an eternity of eternities.

Invariably somebody somewhere is thinking right now, Hey! What’s so bad about believing in Jesus? I mean, have you even read the Bible? He was a good guy. He healed sick people, fed hungry people and hung out with a bunch of degenerate sinners. Not to mention he went on a booze run for an entire wedding! What a guy! It’s all true, one would be hard pressed to say that Jesus really wasn’t all that, but again that would be missing the point. This isn’t about whether living the Christian (or Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu) life is good or bad. It’s about priming out most malleable minds for belief in anything, be it unconditional love and compassion for all of humanity or unconditional fury and hate directed at most of humanity. The line between these two is much thinner (using scripture) than most liberal religious minds will choose to admit. So is the line between the infantile conception of Santa and the adult desire for a father figure with all the answers.

The Santa Claus myth is no different from any of the things adults spoon-feed themselves to feed good. The particulars differ, of course, but the basis remains the same: Believe in something irrational, and you will receive! Santa Claus is the playground where we teach our kids to abandon their powerful minds in favor of old superstitions. Kind of makes you wish you were a kid again right?