I get e-mail! (TL;DR edition)

I have an account on OKCupid, mostly because I use it to take tests and answer questions, though I have in the past used it to date. I often get messages that are perfectly ignorable, but occasionally I get ones that are interested in my skeptical positions. A gentleman who is my age sent me a message, and here is the conversation we’ve had so far. Any editing is just to make it more readable.

I just wanted to say, I am totally interested in you and I kinda wanted to expand my mind by entering into a debate over religion and politics with you if that’s cool.

I start first by saying that I’m totally mature and open to even the deepest levels of debate on these taboo subjects…even deeper than most would feel comfortable.

Next, I was raise in a single parent home where my mother (who her own mother died of cancer) believed in GOD but hated his ass. When I was 13, I found GOD, and my Dad, and read the entire bible. My Dad who was a devout christian abuse me from 13 to 15.

I have seen a lot of shit and I’ve grown enough to realize that while there are things that occur that made me believe that GOD does exist, I too like mother hates even the mere thought of it. That some being over saw my life and CHOSE for or allowed that shit to happen…and to happen to all of the others in the world that suffer daily without justice or sufficient help.

I believe that religion is a method of control used to keep us in check. If life had no purpose than why would we buy IPODs right!?! They want us to buy and consume. It’s a fucking trick. It has ALWAYS been a political tool.

Now then, with that being said. I DO believe in and have witnessed to events occurring that appears to be beyond coincidence…like fate or something…I can’t explain it….Anywho your thoughts?

I was also raised in a single parent home by a devout mother, she lost both of her parents to cancer at a young age.

I was about 13 when I became really interested in religion because it all struck me as untrue. I read a lot about world religions, I wanted to see if anything struck me as true because the bible never had. Eventually, I decided I was agnostic, until 9/11 at which point I sort of dropped the whole interest in organized religion.

I’ve never seen anything that I think the only explanation could be god. Usually when exploring something either scientifically or statistically, rare events are actually very common. I obviously cannot speak to your specific experiences, as they are personal, but I can tell you that the experience of religion is a psychological one that people who are not religious can experience — it’s a set of chemical reactions, like the ones associated with near death experiences.

I think spirituality, particularly a questing one, is generally a positive thing, so long as it’s not overly credulous. People who believe anything they hear are prone to being swindled or hurt. Organized religion, on the other hand, is a manmade institution posing as a Godly one — and for that reason generally capable of the kinds of evil most men don’t even dream of.

Outstanding…I misspoke earlier…Instead of saying some experiences prove there is a God…I should have said some experience make me believe in the extraordinary or supernatural.

I totally believe that we are only conscious matter floating in space…but I also believe that things can occur that aren’t readily or easy explain…though I’m sure can be with the right mind. I’m speaking more about probability here because EVERYTHING ELSE CAN BE EXPLAINED THOUGH SCIENTIFIC AND LOGICAL METHODS. But can someone explain how or why back in 2007 when I was needing money for my family so I buy a lotto ticket, the 19 year kid behind me buys the same ticket scratches the jackpot…I can’t explain that…but I was pissed at who ever orchestrated that little joke on me….just saying..

Anywho thanks for humoring me this was fun…..Oh and I totally wish I typed what you typed earlier….cause I totally agreed… :)

Well, almost all the people who buy lotto tickets are in need of money. Socioeconomically speaking, the most economically disadvantaged tend to be the biggest buyers of lottery tickets — this is part of the reason that a lot of people have moral problems with state lottos as they are essentially a tax on the poor. So, everyone who ever buys a ticket is going to be horrified that someone else got the jackpot when they didn’t. People are incredibly self-centered, and so they remember the odd things that happened in which they were the star — which is why this stands out in your memory. In reality, if you ever play the lotto, the odds are pretty good that you won’t win, however someone has to actually win it. So while your odds aren’t that good, your odds of encountering a winner, especially if you play often and spend time with others who do as well, are pretty high.

God, I love you!!! I mean I freaking LOVE YOU!!! You’re sooo honest but equally informed, like Bill Maher or the old non bitch-assed Dennis Miller. That analysis of my 2007 lotto situation felt like…..liiiiike…..like a HARD kick in the nuts with a steel toe boot and I didn’t even braise myself. I just turned around and then WHACK!!! Right in the balls, yet in some masochistic way it welcomed….I can’t explain it really…I feel like revealing some other personal things about myself so you could dissect them again….then ram your results down my throat!

That was a joke…I’m not a creep…

Anyway – My retort: You’re totally right. I AM self-centered. Everyone should be. My interpretation of the world is based on MY own experiences as is EVERYONES. (World- including any cultural, societal, and spiritual beliefs/moral.) While this IS true (as I say, at least for me) I find that I’m also unusually empathic to the plight of other Sapiens though I can’t ever completely hone cultures that are totally different from the one I was raised (Western Civilization).

With that being said, I can not help my dark and selfish nature. I DO desire more than what I have, though I have more than most human beings because of our “luck” in being born here in privilege.

Referring back to your aforementioned statement regarding the emotion poor, arrogant, idiots endure from losing at an inherently masked and corrupted faux-tax dubbed “the lottery” – why can’t I assume that since I was “lucky” enough to be born out of oppression (African and South Asian countries) that I’d also be “lucky” enough to win the lotto AND not FEEL so self-centered!…. :)

One more thing, I have to go to work tonight around 5:30pm til 6am the next mourning so If I miss your reply today than I can’t reply again until this time tomorrow mourning…Thanks again for the attention.

If you think about all the encounters we have every single day, it would actually be really strange if there weren’t any coincidences.

My mom, for example, thinks she has the ability to make me call her because sometimes when she thinks of me, I do call her. But I call her all the time, and she probably thinks about me often. She just remembers when the two overlap and forgets all the times she thinks of me and I don’t call, or all the times I do call and she wasn’t thinking of me. Selective memory and confirmation bias.

Hmmm…..Totally feeling the coincidence theorem, but I feel that there’s more. Jesus-babble aside, How do you feel about telepathy, or ki energy/ aura manipulation, or other forms of extrasensory perception? My feelings towards these subjects are totally rooted in science.

I think all of that is, not to put too fine a point on it, complete bullshit.

Seriously!?! Really though!?! Crap, I have SOOO much more to say but I HAVE to leave for work in 30 mins. BUT BEFORE I GO – String Theory??? Quantum Mechanics??? Alternate Dimensions???

I think that particle physics is very interesting, but I think there’s a big difference in string theory and the nonsense put forth by “what the bleep do we know”.

Huh?? I don’t follow…What is “What the bleep do we know”??? Is that the name of something…like a noun. A title of a book or TV show??? What is the “nonsense” that you speak of. Can I google it for more info?

Anyway, I need to speak more about your mother’s supposed clairvoyance and how I feel its purposed presence is relevant to several theorem posed by some credible names in Quantum physics…..But first I need to eat my Corn Pops and watch Fringe….So I’ll typie type a little later. :)

Ok, sigh…..I know I’m JUST typing you back…but I encountered a traumatic experience last night and I’m soooo frustrated by it that I can hardly stand myself.

Here’s what happened: Last night, I disconnected my netbook then sat down stairs to watch Smallville and Supernatural while simultaneously typing my feelings on your “My Mom’s a telepath” example.

I typed soooo much stuff, and during second half commercials I went to my kitchen to blend some juice and frozen fruit. While I was doing that, Smallville was airing a showdown between Clark and an old Lex. So I sat down to watch this. Another commercial comes so I run in the kitchen to stop my blender, pour my beverage then sit back down to chill. When I looked back at my netbook, it was turned off. I figured it went to STANDBY. But when I tried to log on I realized that the friggin battery died!!! I gathered the wall plug then turn on my N-book, and realized then that NOTHING was saved!!! NOTHING!!!! I was livid!

Anyway, I don’t feel like remembering EVERY-FREAKING-THING I typed so I’ll summarize: Your mom COULD HAVE thought a thought that was “mentally emailed” and then received by you at the time of her first thinking of that thought, but that single thought wasn’t enough to overpower EVERY OTHER thought that you were thinking at that exact moment. So that thought “To Call Your Mom” was deferred to a later time/date or not EVEN important enough for you to store in your long term memory. So you forget the thought…until you “remembered” later only by then you think it’s your original thought then you call but LONG after SHE originally thought the thought in the first instance. It’s actually hard to measure unless you were doing some sort of trial experiments or something.

Thoughts “POP” into our heads ALL of the time but our primitive levels of cognition are always prioritized over all other less meaningful/important thoughts. For instance, hunger or pain or fatigue – all forms of discomfort – WILL cause you to forget or postpone even the most important of your daily tasks.

Imagine this experiment: Clear your mind of as many distractions as you can. Ensure that you’re completely comfortable. Then see if you can feel the thoughts of someone else in close proximity. The feeling should resemble the feeling of when a thought just “pop” in your mind.

There’s sooo much more I want to say about this subject but I want to send this (before my battery dies again) and have you respond to see if this even interests you…because I may need to change the subject I guess…..

Are you familiar with Occam’s Razor? It’s the premise with the least contingencies, the least clarifications, the simplest premise is usually correct.

What is more likely? That I usually call my mom several times a day regardless or that the entire world’s understanding of physics is incorrect and there’s some magical way for one brain to communicate with another, regardless of proximity, strength of connection or thought? A way of communication that has been repeatedly proven false in laboratory tests.

Basically what I’m saying is everything you just said is nonsense with no evidence and a complicated explanation for something that has an incredibly simple, natural explanation. No supernatural forces necessary.

http://listverse.com/2008/04/10/top-10-psychic-debunkings/

Magical!?! SUPERNATURAL!?! Ouch… Look, Ms. Tech – Einstein said matter and energy are equal. You and I are matter. We also emit low electromagnetic waves. Is it SO far fetched to believe that our bodies can interpret incoming “waves” as information!?! You’re starting to sound like a FLAT-EARTHER! lol

Okay……Okay, sorry about the name calling….I like to keep an open mind to EVERY possibility….plus I’m a little sleepy and in turn cranky. I’ll message again when I’m rested…again, I’m sorry :)

You are mixing your concepts. There’s no reason to think that people emit thoughts via electromagnetic waves. So, assuming that you could even detect electromagnetic waves, which humans can’t because they don’t have the necessary sensory organs, unlike sharks for example. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ampullae_of_Lorenzini ) Electric fields are generated by muscles, which your brain is most certainly not.

Furthermore, even in a conducive body (ie water), even with organs specifically directed to that purpose, sharks cannot sense small electric fields from great distances.

Finally, we’re not talking about something that no one’s ever thought of or investigated. It’s not like string theory, where it’s difficult to run experiments. Hundreds of experiments on psychic powers have repeatedly shown that any form of telepathy is complete and utter bunk.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xrbtt_110-esp_tech

Colbert on Immigration Reform

I watched the entire two hours on CSPAN so you don’t have to. I have to say it’s interesting how completely defensive the witnesses were, both on the Republican (anti-immigrant) and Democrat (pro-immigrant) sides. I get that people have a point of view and an argument they’re trying to make, but when someone has a valid question you only make yourself look wrong by dodging it. The dissembling was worse on the Republican side, but only because it seems like the Dems asked tougher questions and the Republicans tended to just espouse a POV rather than ask questions.

Colbert’s statement was funny, and a little bit silly, and stated, “I endorse all Republican policies without question.” He had a couple zingers, but most of his testimony had genuine heartfelt and legitimate concerns behind it. This was part of his statement:

But maybe we could offer more visas to the immigrants who, let’s face it, will probably be doing these jobs anyway. And this improved legal status might allow immigrants recourse if they are abused. And it just stands to reason, to me, that if your coworker can’t be exploited, then you’re less likely to be exploited yourself. And that, itself, might improve pay and working conditions on these farms, and eventually, Americans may consider taking these jobs again.

The best part of the night was in response to why he cared about this issue, I found it incredibly touching.

I like talking about people who don’t have any power. And it seems like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come in and do our work, but don’t have any rights as a result. And yet, we still invite them to come here, and at the same time, ask them to leave. And that’s an interesting contradiction to me, and um…

You know, “whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers,” and these seem like the least of our brothers, right now. A lot of people are “least brothers” right now, because the economy’s so hard, and I don’t want to take anyone’s hardship away from them or diminish it or anything like that. But migrant workers suffer, and have no rights.

Hitchens briefly on the immorality of Christianity

Let’s say that the consensus is that our species, being the higher primates, Homo Sapiens, has been on the planet for at least 100,000 years, maybe more. Francis Collins says maybe 100,000. Richard Dawkins thinks maybe a quarter-of-a-million. I’ll take 100,000. In order to be a Christian, you have to believe that for 98,000 years, our species suffered and died, most of its children dying in childbirth, most other people having a life expectancy of about 25 years, dying of their teeth.

Famine, struggle, bitterness, war, suffering, misery, all of that for 98,000 years. Heaven watches this with complete indifference. And then 2,000 years ago, thinks “That’s enough of that. It’s time to intervene,” and the best way to do this would be by condemning someone to a human sacrifice somewhere in the less literate parts of the Middle East.

Don’t let’s appeal to the Chinese, for example, where people can read and study evidence and have a civilization. Let’s go to the desert and have another revelation there. This is nonsense. It can’t be believed by a thinking person.

Why am I glad this is the case? To get to the point of the wrongness of Christianity, because I think the teachings of Christianity are immoral. The central one is the most immoral of all, and that is the one of vicarious redemption. You can throw your sins onto somebody else, vulgarly known as scapegoating. In fact, originating as scapegoating in the same area, the same desert.

I can pay your debt if I love you. I can serve your term in prison if I love you very much. I can volunteer to do that. I can’t take your sins away, because I can’t abolish your responsibility, and I shouldn’t offer to do so. Your responsibility has to stay with you. There’s no vicarious redemption.

There very probably, in fact, is no redemption at all. It’s just a part of wish-thinking, and I don’t think wish-thinking is good for people either. It even manages to pollute the central question, the word I just employed, the most important word of all: the word love, by making love compulsory, by saying you must love. You must love your neighbor as yourself, something you can’t actually do. You’ll always fall short, so you can always be found guilty.

By saying you must love someone who you also must fear. That’s to say a supreme being, an eternal father, someone of whom you must be afraid, but you must love him, too. If you fail in this duty, you’re again a wretched sinner. This is not mentally or morally or intellectually healthy.

And that brings me to the final objection – I’ll condense it, Dr. Olafsky – which is, this is a totalitarian system. If there was a God who could do these things and demand these things of us, and he was eternal and unchanging, we’d be living under a dictatorship from which there is no appeal, and one that can never change and one that knows our thoughts and can convict us of thought crime, and condemn us to eternal punishment for actions that we are condemned in advance to be taking.

All this in the round, and I could say more, it’s an excellent thing that we have absolutely no reason to believe any of it to be true.

Google Voice Transcription

It’s actually pretty good, but it cannot cope with my mother’s accent. I don’t get a lot of messages, but the other ones I get are basically correct on the words with maybe weird punctuation.

This is how it interprets my mom:

Hi Ash, on Monday the bed in about 15 minutes. I was just calling you back up finished cooking. Sieman Sent to lighting love you bye.

Hey ash, um I’m going to go to bed in about 15 minutes. I was just calling you back, I finished cooking salmon. Scintillating. Love you, bye.

How about:

HI because they actually call me.

Ashley, Call me.

Here’s another good one:

I was calling to say. If you wanna grab some the box.

I was calling to see if you wanted to grab something to eat. Bye.

And another:

Hi Ash, just calling to say hello. I’m back to you and didn’t think it’d be nice if this is something that’s a couple of minutes call me back if not I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Love you bye.

Hey Ash, um, calling to say hello. I’m back in the room getting ready to go to bed. If you get this within the next couple of minutes call me back if not I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Love you bye.

Real America – Roy Zimmerman

I couldn’t find these lyrics online anywhere, and I really love them, so I just… did them. You should buy Roy Zimmerman’s album of the same name.

There’s a place called Real America.
I heard about it from a rich politician.
It magically appears,
Especially in election years.

Life is good in Real America.
It’s like living with a thousand Sarah Palins.
Stroll Main Street hand in hand,
And take a right to Fantasy Land.

Let’s go to Real America,
Happy Meal America.
Where we can be proud we don’t talk well.
Meet me in Real America,
Michael Steele America.
At the corner of Norman and Rockwell…

Things are real in Real America.
And up is down and Joe the Plumber is a genius.
They’ve got just two stop lights,
And no one steals and no fights… for civil rights.

Let’s go to Real America,
Oldsmobile America.
Shove the kids in the backseat and bring ‘em
Along to Real America,
Spin the big wheel America.
All done up in denim and gingham.

I don’t know who they got there,
but I can tell you whose not there:

Ain’t none of them Ivy League elites
Not a one of them San Francisco treats
Ain’t none of them whining tofu snobs
Not a one of them Daily Show whack jobs

Ain’t none of them corporate media sluts
Not a one of the academia nuts
Ain’t none of them friggin’ francophiles
Not a one of them New York non-gentiles…

I believe in Real America…
So I vote against my economic interests…

Let’s go to Real America,
Deal or No Deal America.
I can’t tell you how happy I’d be if I
Get to go to Real America,
Norman Vincent Peale America,
Where Ronald Reagan is deified…
Real America.

Uh huh
Real America
Well, duh
Where no one uses profanity…
Real America
Cuz they’re so full of Sean Hannity.

And you can watch his hilariousness on the YouTubes:

50 Book Challenge: 41-45

5 Books left!

It is the end of week 37, and I have just finished book 45.  I feel like I should continue reviewing books I finish after the fifty, keep counting to see how many I finish, because 50 is now basically inevitable.  Maybe my challenge for next year will be to try to finish more than this year, rather than 50.

41. The Atheist’s Introduction to the New Testament – Mike Davis

Asimov’s New Testament book sits heavily on my shelf, waiting impatiently for me to rally the nerve to throw myself into reading it.  I find the Old Testament a lot more interesting than the New Testament, mostly because it’s way more mythological and hardcore, and it’s more a history of an entire people than just like this one guy.

As a kid, I always thought Jesus was both kinda creepy and really boring — like Ned Flanders.  There was just something about the image of this weird hippie guy with long hair always hanging out with kids and lambs that I found unsettling in a “don’t get in the van” sort of way.  And the New Testament, when I read it, never made that feeling go away.  So I’m just sort of predisposed not to be terribly interested in the NT, but I feel like I should be, since I dislike Christianity so much.  It just gives me the heebie jeebies.

All of this being my way of saying that I read this because it was way shorter than Asimov’s book and I hoped it would make me more interested.  It did and it didn’t.  I find the story of how the NT came to be (eg Bart Ehrman’s work) a lot more interesting than anything in the NT, and this book certainly feeds into some of that.  It’s a very very interesting read, and I’d obviously recommend it to any curious believer.  I think this book is a slightly easier read that Bart Ehrman, but not nearly as exhaustively well-informed.

42. Lyra’s Oxford – Philip Pullman

This was a short book that was not nearly as good as the books it is a sequel to, His Dark Materials.  Basically, it was just way too short and tacked on, very little there.

43. LSAT Logic Games Bible – David Killoran

I really like logic and logic games so I did actually enjoy reading this book and solving the problems in it.  But I’m a huge nerd, so I’m not sure that you should just accept that.  Unless you’re taking the LSAT, obviously, in which case you should like this too.

44. The Truth – Terry Pratchett, read by Stephen Briggs

Not to be confused with The Truth (with Jokes) by Al Franken, of course.  I enjoyed this book, it’s basically about the invention of/introduction of newspapers to Ankh Morpork, but it was hardly anything to write home about.  A solid B.  It’s basically a stand alone novel, with only bit parts for characters in the city that have featured in other Discworld novels.  I didn’t particularly care for any of the main characters, which sort of made the whole thing less interesting.

45. Thief of Time – Terry Pratchett, read by Stephen Briggs

I enjoyed this quite a bit.  It has one of my favorite Discworld characters, Susan, and touches on some of the same apocalyptic themes as Good Omens.  I think this will end up being one of my favorites, one that I may try to read some time again in the future.  It involved chocolate saving the day by blowing people up because it was so delicious.

Even with nougat you can have a perfect moment.

Extra: I tried to read Freethinkers by Susan Jacoby and I got about 200 pages into it before being too bored to continue.  When faced with the dilemma of finishing it before I had to return it to the library or not… I chose not.  My intense disinterest in the history of America after 1865 probably didn’t help.

Richard Dawkins Welcomes Ratzinger

Joseph Ratzinger is an enemy of humanity.

He’s an enemy of children, whose bodies he’s allowed to be raped and whose minds he’s encouraged to be infected with guilt. It’s embarrassingly clear that the church is less concerned with saving child bodies from rapists than with saving priestly souls from hell. And most concerned with saving the longterm reputation of the church itself.

He’s an enemy of gay people. Bestowing on them the sort of bigotry that his church used to reserve for Jews before 1962.

He’s an enemy of women, barring them from the priesthood as though a penis were an essential tool for pastoral duties.

He’s an enemy of truth, promoting barefaced lies about condoms not protecting against AIDS, especially in Africa.

He’s an enemy of the poorest people on the planet, condemning them to inflated families they cannot feed and so keeping them in the bondage of perpetual poverty. A poverty which sits ill beside the obscene wealth of the Vatican.

He’s an enemy of science. Obstructing vital stem cell research on grounds, not of true morality, but on pre-scientific superstition.

Ratzinger is even an enemy of the Queen’s own church, arrogantly dissing Anglican orders as “absolutely null and utterly void,” while at the same time shamelessly trying to poach Anglican vicars to shore up his own pitifully declining priesthood.

Finally, perhaps of most personal concern to me, Ratzinger is an enemy of education. Quite apart from the lifelong psychological damage caused by the guilt and fear that have made Catholic education infamous throughout the world, he and his church foster the educationally pernicious doctrine that evidence is a less reliable basis for belief than faith, tradition, revelation, and authority. His authority.

The South and God

I had forgotten how religious this place is.  I can’t tell if people here are genuinely more into religion or if they just like to talk about it more.  I have had religiousish conversations with far too many people today.  I will say this though, none of them have been at all horrible to me when I am outed as an atheist, so I feel like that’s good.

I went to an atheist meetup group here and I have learned that there are several atheists who go to the Unitarian Universalist church in town.  Now, I appreciate the need for community, and being someone just moving to a new place where I don’t really know anyone, I can see the appeal.  I am however completely wary of any place that’s churchy and it seems like the UUs are really open-minded to the point that their brains will fall out.  I’m not good about not being critical of beliefs I find… we’ll go with wacky at best.

I did listen to the most recent sermon of the guy who is the head priest thing at the local UU and it was about Religious Humanism, which is sort of like a slightly less interesting Secular Humanism.  Why can’t someone be both religious and a Secular Humanist?  (Aside from the fact that most religions have tenets that are cruel).  I am intrigued, I plan on going some time with my mom, since she’s also curious, though she’s coming at it from the opposite (ie already religious) perspective.

I realized today that one of my biggest problems with Christianity is the fact that it takes away the morality of your choices.  Your beliefs all come from somewhere else, you never have to think about what is or isn’t moral.  Gay people are awful because the bible says so, and you never ever have to question that belief because if you questioned it, your entire belief structure would come crashing down on you and it’s just so much easier to not confront the idea. Women can’t be pastors because the Bible is pretty clear on the fact that women just aren’t as good as men.  Slavery is OK, but let’s not talk about that.

People talk about how difficult it is to be an atheist, to be an outcast and different and not have the consolation of knowing that you go to heaven when you die, but the part that’s the hardest work is probably having to think through your own morality.  It’s also the best part.  My morality comes from trying to do right by other people, not from fear of hellfire.  I find letting god shoulder all the responsibility of your morality to be lazy and more than a little immoral.  “Because the bible says so” seems to me to be the most morally bankrupt and intellectually lazy thing someone could possibly believe.

Why do atheists always have to mock religion?

I was asked this question, sincerely, by a relatively new convert to fundie christianity who had been, throughout the evening, talking an awful lot about church and god and such.  I had gotten bored of that and, over the course of about 10 seconds, referred to the xtian god as an invisible friend, sky daddy, and had finally gone too far by calling Mohammed “Mo”.

He lashed out, very frustrated that I didn’t take the religion thing very seriously, after all I took atheism seriously, right?

I mock religion for the same reason I mock Twilight, though at least Twilight fans generally have the good sense to realize that the book they obsess over is fiction.  It’s very difficult not to make fun of someone with bad taste or who believes something that is obviously very silly, especially when the undertone of your every day life is that there’s something wrong with you for not believing.  And sometimes it’s just fun to make fun of something that is a sacred cow, because why on earth should I have to respect your sacred cows?  I just don’t see why I have to respect your belief that you’re better than everyone else because an invisible man in the sky wrote it down in a self-contradicting book.

I said it was the same as making fun of an adult who still believed in Santa Claus, but he claimed he wouldn’t do that.  I don’t really think the average believer wouldn’t mock someone who believed in Santa at the age of 30, and as believers don’t refrain from mocking other belief systems, I’m going to feel pretty safe in that assumption.

Religion makes factual claims about the physical world, and to be a fundamentalist of any stripe requires ceding your thought process over to something that is demonstrably false.  If you’re going to be a touchy-feely deistic type of believer who doesn’t fund the evil things religion does, then fine, but don’t ask me to respect you for brainwashing children, destroying civil rights, and being responsible for the creation of Christian Rock.

I’m not sure to what degree the average religious believer is willing to “take responsibility” for the religious doctrines they believe, the religious institutions they are members of and support financially, or the religious leaders they follow and thereby give power and authority to. I can’t begin to count how often I’ve seen religious believers disparage civil rights protections for gays on the argument that homosexuality is “chosen” without recognizing that religion is far more like a “chosen” set of behaviors than it is like an inherent characteristic like race or sex.

People say they adopt certain moral positions because it’s what their god wants and thus disclaim any responsibility for either the moral position or any of its consequences. People vote in certain ways because of what religious leaders tell them about the meaning of scripture and/or the will of their god and thus try to avoid personal responsibility for what the government does in their name.

On being number 11

I’m working from my phone, just got to South Carolina, haven’t got internet, so forgive any wonky formatting.

I just read a piece by Thomas L. Friedman about a “Newsweek” article that ranks the US as the eleventh best country to live. I wonder sometimes if the rest of the world gets bored of us always trying to be first. Some people would say something like well done america for being so high on the list or that’s impressive considering some of the great other countries in the world.

He argues that the reason america sucks (being eleventh would probably lead us to kill ourselves if we had japan’s sense of honor) is because our students aren’t motivated and everyone wants to get rich quick – he seems to think this is an american problem not a human one, for some reason. And he argues that the greatest generation was better, and they were better because they had a better attitude and wanted to make sacrifices.  Obsession with being the greatest and number one in everything doesn’t make his ranking of things americans do that are bloody stupid for some reason.

According to Newsweek, it looks like we lag further behind on health and quality of life than we do on education, in absolute terms if not in ranking. Five years difference in average healthy life span isn’t small potatoes. And I call bullshit that the greatest generation had better attitudes. They had a very specific set of circumstances to deal with, and we have a much different one, but anyone arguing that they had better quality of life, healthcare, lifespan, or education is just being ridiculous.

Look at the other top countries and tell me how a country that values independence, freedom, diversity and size can compete with little, rich, homogenous countries? I think we should be amazed that a country with so many immigrants from countries that are much lower on the list is even competing at all.

I’m not saying that there aren’t things, particularly within education and healthcare, that need to be fixed, but I think blaming it on the wrong attitude is a completely shallow and curmugeonly way of looking at what is in fact a very complicated problem because of economy, scale, and a varied population. If he’s got a problem with selfish attitudes destroying america, I’d love to see any evidence that that is true.