Good Reason

It's okay to be wrong. It's not okay to stay wrong.

Category: memes (page 1 of 3)

Free de-baptisms

It was Orientation Day at UWA. Clubs (like the UWA Atheist and Skeptic Society) set up booths and attract members. So do churches.

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It’s not my idea. I think I saw it here first.

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Where did I say that? Oh, yes: here. Why are atheists so rude?

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Meme alert: Any good man and any good woman

“Do you think it’s true that any good man and any good woman can make a relationship work?” a friend asked me today.

“No,” was my immediate response. I’m a good man, and my relationship with a good woman didn’t work. I guess it depends on what you call ‘good’. But if you go there, the whole proposition gets untestably vague. “Why do you ask?”

“Oh,” she said, “I was in a relationship with a Jehovah’s Witness guy once, and that’s what he said.”

“Really?” I said. “That’s odd. They used to say the very same thing in the Mormon Church. Exact same wording and everything.”

Unless he was actually a Mormon guy, and she got mixed up. But she should know, wouldn’t you think?

Like I say, I don’t believe it. Maybe two good people can tough it out, but will they be happy? I think the extra effort is going to cost them in other ways.

But let’s not go too far the other way, and say there’s a “one” out there for you. I’m with Dan Savage: there is no “one”. But there are lots of .8s and .7s. Then you round up to 1.

And I think it helps if you can start as close to 1 as you can. My wife and I are about a .995 for each other. And that makes it so much easier and nicer.

But it got me thinking: Why would it benefit a religion to have this “any good man and any good woman” belief? I have one possible answer.

Religions operate well in a ‘bubble’ — an environment where only positive information gets in, and disconfirmatory information bounces off. People inside the Bubble continually reaffirm to each other that life inside the Bubble is good, and life outside the Bubble is dangerous and scary. It’s very nice.

For the concept of a ‘bubble’, this video is worth watching again.

There can be lots of bubbles. Utah is a bubble for Mormons, as are parts of Idaho. But when your religion doesn’t have a geographical majority, the most effective bubble is a family. Marrying outside your faith is a killer for religious bubbles. It helps you see someone else’s point of view too well. That’s why religions explicitly forbid it.

Now imagine that you’re a member of a minority religion, and you’re only supposed to marry within your faith. The dating pool is going to suck. (Mormon YSAs: amirite?) So the “any good man and any good woman” idea is a way to convince people to settle for someone of the same religion who’s not right for them. It’s amazingly effective at building bubbles — as well as miserable but occasionally functional relationships.

Talk the Talk: Blasphemy!

If you like Good Reason for the atheism, but not so much for the linguistics, then this episode of Talk the Talk might be for you. It’s about blasphemy, the recent Muslim film riots, and the need for Blasphemy Day (which is September 30 — get your costumes early!).

It’s a little soap-boxy, but I said what I wanted to say: The right to question — and even ridicule — religious ideas is important. There needs to be a way of saying, “This is a bad idea.” It’s wrong to give up that right just because it will hurt someone’s feelings. If someone is willing to resort to violence and murder when their ideas aren’t treated with kid gloves, then this is an admission that their ideas aren’t defensible using regular means, and are invalid. Muslims, I’m looking at you.

On the other hand not all religious people lose their shit when they get sent up. Even though I have no love for the Mormon Church, I do cite them as an example of how to respond to criticism and mockery.

It was fun to be a bit blasphemous on the radio, and it was fun to watch Jess Allen squirm more and more throughout the interview. The look on her face when she heard “Hasa Diga Eebowai” for the first time was truly priceless — I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

One-off show: Here
Subscribe via iTunes: Here
Show notes: Here

The case against the word ‘spirituality’

I’ve had lots of talks with people about ‘spirituality’, and the one thing I’ve learned is that it’s important to figure out what they mean by that.

If by ‘spirituality’, they mean

  • ‘a feeling of wonder and awe at the universe’, or
  • ‘a sense of being interconnected with all things’, or even
  • ‘a focus on worthwhile but non-material things, like relationships’

then they’ll get very little argument with me, because I like those things too.

If, however, by ‘spirituality’, they mean ‘a belief that our material reality is overlaid with an invisible realm of spirits and incorporeal beings’, then that’s just crap. Nobody has any evidence for that.

Well, Sam Harris is making an argument that we should be reclaiming the word ‘spiritual’ to refer to my first bracket of concepts above.

We must reclaim good words and put them to good use—and this is what I intend to do with “spiritual.” I have no quarrel with Hitch’s general use of it to mean something like “beauty or significance that provokes awe,” but I believe that we can also use it in a narrower and, indeed, more transcendent sense.

Of course, “spiritual” and its cognates have some unfortunate associations unrelated to their etymology—and I will do my best to cut those ties as well. But there seems to be no other term (apart from the even more problematic “mystical” or the more restrictive “contemplative”) with which to discuss the deliberate efforts some people make to overcome their feeling of separateness—through meditation, psychedelics, or other means of inducing non-ordinary states of consciousness. And I find neologisms pretentious and annoying. Hence, I appear to have no choice: “Spiritual” it is.

Neologisms (new words) may indeed be pretentious and annoying, but the reality is that they’re also very difficult to implement. It took a good 30 years for Richard Dawkins’ meme to catch on, and even then it’s likely to refer to a picture of a cat. Curse you, semantic shift!

What Harris doesn’t allow for is that reclaiming a word is very difficult as well. It only seems to work with taboo labels for people (queer and nigger come to mind), and only then to be used among people it was formerly applied to. It takes a lot of people to make this kind of change happen, and I just don’t see the impetus for it. If the word is moving at all, it’s moving toward that group of people who describe themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’, meaning that they believe in a god, but not a church. And they’re much more numerous than us pantheistic-leaning Sagan fans.

I just don’t think ‘spirituality’ is a good choice to refer to the transcendent and ineffable. It’s so fuzzy and imprecise — it could mean anything. And that means that when you use it, you’re leaving yourself open to misinterpretation. Why use a word that you have to explain every time you use it?

Not only that, it’s going to be very difficult to uncouple the word from a set of associations people have about it; memories of being in a church, an implication that religion is positive. These are implications I don’t intend and don’t want to reinforce.

And of course, the link between the word ‘spirituality’ and supernaturalism is well-nigh insurmountable. It has ‘spirit’ at its root. How is someone not supposed to think of spirits whenever you use it?

Instead of trying to redeem the word ‘spiritual’ out of the muck of supernaturalism and religious tradition, why not use another word: transcendent. Or transcendence, if you need a noun to replace ‘spirituality’. These convey the transportive sense of wonder and awe most adequately.

Why I engage

I had an online discussion (or perhaps a “run-in”) with a Mormon guy who I disagreed with on some issue. The issue isn’t important (gay people). What was interesting was his way of dealing with the disagreement. His response was essentially: I don’t expect you to agree with me. I’m a Mormon. You’re an ex-Mormon atheist. Our worldviews are too different.

Now I think this is a cop-out. I’m very open to hearing other views, and if they’re based on sound evidence and logic, I’ll even change my mind. But his “different worldview” view allowed him to miscast my reasons for not accepting his argument. It wasn’t that his reasons or his argument weren’t good ones; no, no. It was that I wasn’t open to change, or that our views just weren’t reconcilable.

I think this is projection on his part. While reason and evidence would change my mind, I seriously doubt that it would change his. He’s the one who is immune to reasoned argument because reason isn’t how he arrived at his religious opinion. And if he tries to use secular arguments, they’ll be hollow because they’re not his real reasons. He’s just using them to justify his religious reasons. He hauls out the secular reasons when he’s talking to secular people, but if those arguments are faulty, it won’t affect him at all. He’ll just shrug and keep believing.

I mentioned the discussion to an ex-Mormon friend who knows him, and to my surprise she said essentially the same thing: What did you expect? He’s a Mormon. He lives in Provo, for crying out loud.

I find this baffling. Here I am on the blog, and a lot of readers probably agree with things I write because, after all, we can’t read everything, and we like to pick things to read that make us feel good about our worldview. (Or I do.) But I’m also happy to engage with readers who disagree, and in fact I hope I get a lot of them. I learn a lot more that way, and it’s more interesting. But I feel like I’m standing on a chasm, shouting to ideological opposites.

Is there any point to discussing things? (Have I done any good on the blog today?) Or are we doomed to be divided into two camps that can never understand each other because of our different worldviews? I don’t think so. I think there’s a point to engaging in the Great Debates for two reasons.

First, people do change their views. I have, quite a lot, and I’ll do it again. Engaging with others is my way of saying that maybe no one’s beyond hope. Okay, maybe an online discussion won’t change the committed, in which case I’ll still keep arguing and discussing because I’m not trying to convince the committed — I’m trying to convince uncommitted bystanders.

The other reason I engage is that if I’m wrong about something, I want to know about it. How is it that I can say so confidently that there’s no evidence for the Book of Mormon? that that arguments for gods are uniformly awful? Because I’m here on the blog, and anyone who wants to can tell me something I don’t know, and I’ll consider it and change my mind if necessary. It’s not just meme propagation. It’s my continuing education.

30-Day Blog September

I’m starting something new, and I’m calling it 30-Day Blog September. Every day in the month of September, I am going to blog something. It may be the most interesting news article I found that day, a thought I had, or a longer piece, but it will be something, and it will be every day.

You could try it too, if you have a blog. Maybe it will shake us both out of Blog Lethargy, and help us realise that not every post needs to be a Serious Thought Piece. Want to join me?

UPDATE: I has a graphic.

If you’re up for 30-Day Blog September, slap this graphic somewhere on your blog, and link to this post.

Peace for one day

A friend showed me this TED talk about Jeremy Gilley, who had an idea: What if everyone decided to stop war for one day?

You could say all kinds of things about this. Crazy. Idealistic. Naïve. And you’d be kind of right. For one thing, war happens anyway. For another, getting people to agree not to fight is futile because war is a failure to agree in the first place. That’s the problem. What you’re saying is, “If only we could get people to agree, then we could start to work on the problem of people not agreeing!”

Not everyone wants peace, anyway. One of the worst Christian memes around now is that if a major world political leader brings peace, that’s a sign that they’re the antichrist. Apparently, God is the only one who is supposed to bring peace, and anyone else is a satanic impersonator. So they’re suspicious of peace. Isn’t that lovely? But anyway.

And yet, despite all this, the Peace One Day project has done some good. Even the Taliban agreed to it one year, and violence went down that day.

You have to try stuff, as idealistic as it seems. Maybe, as Gilley says, it won’t work, and nothing will happen. But maybe it will, and someone won’t get blown up or killed for a day. You have to try.

And anyway, whether it “works” or not isn’t the point. As I see it, the point of this exercise is that it’s important to affirm values. It’s important for the world community to state that peace is a collective goal. We need to say “You know peace? Well, we want that.” And we need to keep saying that over and over again, because some people will keep chipping away at that value. We can’t ever assume that any of our values are so universally held and so solid that we can never lose them. We can slip backward. It happened with torture. It’s happening with the right to choose to have an abortion. You think child labour laws are an irretractable value? Public education? Conservatives right now are working feverishly to turn the clock back on our progressive values, even the ones that we think we could never lose. We need to keep affirming that these are the values we have.

September 21 is the day, by the way. It’s not too far off. Maybe there’s something we could do.

Problem solved!








HBO v LDS: ‘Big Love’ to show fragment of boring religious ceremony

Trouble brewing.

HBO’s Depiction Of Mormon Ceremony Upsets Church

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Is ‘Appalled’ at the TV Series

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is angry over an episode of HBO’s hit series “Big Love” that the church says is in “appallingly bad taste.”

An upcoming episode of “Big Love,” which chronicles the lives of a fictional polygamist family, is reported to be depicting an endowment ceremony, one of the most sacred rituals of the Mormon Church.

HBO has apologised.

“Obviously, it was not our intention to do anything disrespectful to the church, but to those who may be offended, we offer our sincere apology,” read the statement.

It’s one of those apologies like “Sorry you got mad” or “Sorry you’re so touchy.” Except in this case, it’s “Sorry, but we’re running the episode anyway.”

Does it seem strange that the LDS Church is objecting to people knowing the details of ceremonies which, according to them, contain the truly great things that all people need to know for salvation? Okay, that’s not really fair. They just want people to see the temple ceremony with the appropriate “context”, by which they mean the kind of context where you join the church and pay them lots of money over years and years. That kind of context.

Here’s the issue: the LDS Church has (don’t take this wrong) occult practices. I don’t mean ‘occult’ as in ‘satanic’ like people sometimes do. I mean ‘occult’ in an earlier sense: ‘occult’ meaning ‘hidden’. Many 19th century movements, religious and otherwise, taught that the really great truths were held in reserve for those who were initiated into the mysteries. The Masons and the Rosicrucians, the Gnostics and the Theosophists, all used this strategy. Joseph Smith plumped for it too in later years, for better or worse. But of course, secret knowledge has a way of getting leaked in the 21st century. How reasonable is it to expect the mysteries to stay hidden in the Information Age?

I understand the Mormons wanting to control their Endowment ceremony. After all, they wrote it. But it’s not reasonable to expect everyone else to share their concern.

No attempt to find the god that ordered the hit

It’s hard to find good minions anymore.

The Chestermere man charged with attempted murder in Minnesota says it was God that made him stab another truck driver.

According to documents filed in the Clay County Court, Harmit Singh Bhangu, 32 of Chestermere, told an officer who was interviewing him that God orders him to do things.

How the mighty have fallen. God used to have henchmen like Moses and Joshua, and now he’s reduced to working with crazy people.

I don’t want to pick on the poor guy, even though he’s a very very scary poor guy who’s just about killed another poor guy. Mr Bhangu has got some serious problems, and maybe some medication might have helped him.

But the Brain Teaser of the Day is: On what basis would a religious believer claim that God didn’t really order him to kill a man?

Is it because God would never tell someone to kill someone else? That’s a hard view to defend from the Bible. Try reading Joshua 13, where Yahweh appears as some kind of evil familiar, impelling the aged Joshua to yet more slaughter.

Is it because Mr Bhangu is doing obviously crazy things? Ezekiel lay on his side for over a year. He also ate bread cooked over a cow pat. All perfectly biblical, and extremely loopy.

As a Mormon, the question of how to evaluate other people’s revelations used to be a tough one. Now as an atheist, it’s easy. Anyone who says that a god is speaking to them is wrong. But I don’t care so much as long as they’re keeping their delusion to themselves, keeping it away from children, not harming anyone with it, and not trying to legislate on the basis of it. When they overstep these bounds, they move from deluded to dangerous, like Mr Bhangu.

Now here’s a part from the article that caught my attention:

“(The) defendant stated that he knew it was wrong to kill people in this country but that God had ordered him to do it,” say the documents filed by police.

And if God orders you to do something, you don’t worry about a trifling thing like law. All my life, I heard people in church telling me that God came first. God’s law was higher than man’s law. Little did I realise that they were implanting a meme that would justify my breaking any law that the church considered wrong.

And I see that it’s not just Mormons that are getting the treatment. Here’s a Christian columnist asking kids the musical question:

What Would You Do If Arrested For Talking About God?

“If they threatened to hurt me if I didn’t stop talking about God, I wouldn’t listen to them because I know that I am pleasing God,” says Megan, 9.

Megan would be following the example of the Apostles Peter and John upon their release from jail.

Ask this question: If police were told to arrest all Christians in your area, would they come to your house?

Hurt them? Arrest them? Who’s advocating this? Or is this a bit of galvanisation through paranoia?

This article delivers two memes at once: ‘Religious Dogma Over Secular Law’, and ‘They’re Coming to Get Us’. But fancy putting either one before a child. At best, you make them fearful for the safety of their family, and at worst you raise a generation of Law-Breakers for Jesus.

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