Sunday, November 27, 2011

National Day of Theocracy, more like

I was in the room while my parents were watching the Hope Channel yesterday evening when a show called Global Faith and Freedom, which discusses issues of religious liberty came on. The topic of discussion was the issue of the National Day of Prayer in the United States. It was really more of a circle jerk than a debate, with the host and all three guests masturbating over how awesome and good and totally not unconstitutional the Day of Prayer is, which left me thinking "what's the point of all of this, anyway?"

I wasn't listening much while I was in the room, and wound up having to leave because every word I did hear was really just driving me mad, but I do believe there was some side issue they were discussing, more about the exclusion of certain religious groups from official proceedings at the White House or Pentagon or wherever raising concern about the neutrality of the government. I think this discussion completely missed the point - separation of church and state is not simply about not supporting one faith group above all others, or hindering one against all others, and is definitely not about supporting all religions equally. The state should have nothing at all to do with supporting religion. The issue has been raised before about such events excluding a significant and ever growing segment of the population - those who have no religion - not to mention that it draws unnecessary time and resources.

I was a bit surprised at the stance the program took on the issue. Such ecumenical "uniting of faiths" is just the sort of thing I would have expected Seventh-Day Adventists to be dead set against, what with the fact that the end will be brought about by the Antichrist forming just such a union of religions. I wonder, is this apparent cognitive dissonance brought about by the usual Christian priviledge, or is it out of some gleeful subconscious desire to accelerate the "end times".

Thursday, November 10, 2011

About a speck

I was doing some gardening earlier this evening, admiring the full moon and Jupiter in the Eastern sky when I noticed a bright speck moving in from the North. The speck was moving quite fast, headed right for Jupiter, and from my vantage point passed less than a finger's breadth from the big guy. I continued to track the speck until it disappeared behind a stand of trees - my Stellarium tells me that if I'd had a clear horizon, I'd have been able to see the speck until it set further South. What's so special about this speck, one may ask. What's so different about it compared to all the other specks in the sky, both those that are relatively stationary from our perception and others like it that move perceptibly. Well, the special thing about that speck is that it had people on it.

The speck was the International Space Station, hurtling four hundred kilometers above the Earth, carrying a crew of American, Russian and Japanese astronauts. It's been all of humanity's shot at having a permanent space presence for over 11 years now. I used to get out and take a look at the Station whenever I could but haven't done so in a long time, so that, coupled with the chance alignment with Jupiter, made this time particularly poignant for me. To think that there are human beings "up there", doing research and looking down upon the curve of the Earth, is a magnificent thought. It boggles the mind to think that there are people living, breathing and working on that little speck. And yet we know that if you go out far enough, even the Earth itself, the hub of all human activity, where we work, share, love and live out our entire existence, looks like a bright speck.

My favorite picture of that speck. Saturn always makes everything more beautiful.

It is my fervent hope that even if I may not be able to view Earth from such a position, one day my descendents will, and they will remember the intrepid men and women who pioneered it all, even though they only went but a stone's throw from their planet.

I'll leave you with the immortal words of Carl Sagan (who would have been 77 yesterday):

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sabbath School 05/11/11 - I'm no masochist

The natives were fasting yesterday, then went on to have an all-night prayer to sprinkle some Jesus Magic on an upcoming crusade they're holding over the next two weeks (not that kind of crusade. They don't do those anymore - it's just a two week long preach fest, though one has to question the taste of calling them after such a violent era). Needless to say, I participated in neither - I had three full, healthy meals and went on to double-break the Sabbath by splitting a takeout with a buddy, then went home, watched the new Pirates movie (which was terrible) and had a good night's sleep.

The whole affair - the fasting and sleep deprivation, as well as the greater blanket issue of asceticism, smacks of masochism. defines masochism thusly:


[mas-uh-kiz-uhm, maz-]

2. gratification gained from pain, deprivation, degradation, etc.,inflicted or imposed on oneself, either as a result of one'sown actions or the actions of others, especially thetendency to seek this form of gratification.

I do believe strongly religious people gain some gratification from their pain, just as much as the more fanatical auto-flagellants do, the difference being that religiously motivated masochists have developed a rationale behind their actions. Those who fast tell me that it gets them closer to god, that they can feel a stronger connection being forged and that their prayers are being heard. Of course, I'd argue that it's more likely the lack of food affecting their brain, but that's just me. Among Adventists (at least locally, anyway) such self-denialist streaks run even deeper than the occasional fast. Especially around older folks, you get the feeling that simply having any sort of fun is wrong. Last Sunday, I was at a friend's birthday party, and the amount of supplication that went on just dazzled me. Before anything had begun, there were pleas for god to forgive everyone in advance for any sins they may commit and a blessing for everyone to enjoy themselves, "but not too much" in case they sinned, then after it all, another prayer for god to forgive everyone's sins, both those they committed "knowingly" and "unknowingly". Frankly, this brings images of an abusive relationship, where one partner is so afraid of angering the abusive partner that they are constantly begging for forgiveness and limiting their activities in order to avoid arousing their ire.

All this is simply another way religion poisons peoples' minds, limiting their view of the world and their enjoyment of life.


If this piece seemed a little disjointed, forgive me. I actually watched considerably more than the Pirates movie last night.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Sabbath School 29/10/11 - Fiction

In our local Adventist churches, there is always a story told for the children before the main sermon every Sabbath. Usually, these take the form of morality tales that reinforce simple values like kindness and honesty, or retell Bible stories in the form of modern allegories. Occasionally, though, you'll get the miracle stories. Many are innocent enough - "answered prayers" wierd coincidences that are attributed to God and such, but sometimes there'll be truly fantastical ones, which tend for some reason to always be the ones set in rural Africa. The one we ahd last week was one of the former type. It was about a couple of kids who were lost in the bush when they came across a lion. One of them remembers that their mother had told them that they should sing if ever they're cornered by a lion, so they start singing one of the well known hymns and the lion leaves them be. A short while later, some villagers who'd been looking for them arrive at the scene. They remark that they'd been led there when they heard a multitude of voices singing, the implication being that angels had joined the kids and scared the lion away.

"Well, it's just a story," some might say. What's wrong with that? Well, I have no problem with stories. I do have a problem, however, when they're being peddled to children in order to reinforce superstition. We can almost be certain that no such event has ever happened, but a child has no way of knowing that. To a child, everything you tell them is true. Every word is laden with vivid fact and they find it hard to tell what is true, what is allegory and what is pure imagination. Fairy tales also deliver to kids the same type of feeling, one of wonder at things which are not 100% true. Unlike fairytales, however, stories told in a religious setting are reinforced and never revealed outright to be simply imagination conveying a message. In the same breath, children are also told similarly fantastic stories from the Bible, which they are told are 100% infallible truth. Such stories wind up being a tool for crushing minds to better take in religious indoctrination - the child grows up with a stunted ability to tell the difference between fact and fiction, ripe for inculcating with all sorts of superstition, stories of miracles and the like.

Tomorrow, I will talk about the admissibility of stories as evidence, with particular attention paid to miracle stories.