Apology Apologetics

We’re sorry that the Pope just doesn’t know what a proper apology looks like. An apology is a request for forgiveness for harm done. However, a proper apology requires that the person apologizing admit to the harm he has caused and display an understanding of the impact on the victim. A proper apology requires a demonstration of learning to show that the perpetrator has changed his ways and will avoid making the same mistake in the future. A proper apology means taking responsibility for one’s own actions. Such an apology is a sign of moral maturity and growth as a human being. The Pope’s July 19thapology” to victims of the Catholic church’s pedophilic predilections simply doesn’t measure up. We’re sorry that anyone thinks the Pope has offered a valid apology.

The Pope did not bother to address the victims of the Church’s crime. Instead, he issued his pretend apology to an audience of bishops and seminarians. He certainly didn’t admit his own wrong doing. Ratzinger actively perpetuated a long-standing policy of official secrecy of sex abuse claims by clergy and issued an order for clergy to obstruct justice in sex abuse claims. We’re talking tens of thousands of victims over more than forty years. Simply put, the Catholic Church is a racket.

His attempted apology, said in part, “Victims should receive compassion and care, and those responsible for these evils must be brought to justice.” He certainly didn’t want to draw any attention to his own role in this sordid affair or that of the Catholic hierarchy. Remember that in 2005, he requested diplomatic immunity in the US for his crimes to evade a lawsuit where these facts would be front-page news for weeks. That would be bad for business. Besides running a pedophile ring, he is the head of the pretend nation called the Vatican. We’re sorry that the Pope has no intention of taking responsibility for his actions. We’re also sorry that the Pope, presumably the very best that Christianity has to offer, doesn’t even meet remedial standards of moral behavior.

We’re sorry that the Pope’s edicts put the Catholic hierarchy in the US in a conflict of interest. Were they to follow the Pope’s order and actively impede criminal investigations, lie, blame others, and claim church-state separation to avoid taking responsibility for their actions? Or would they do the right thing, follow US law, and side with the victims in bringing the criminals to justice? We all know the answer: “screw the victims.” Let us count the ways. We’re sorry that the Catholic hierarchy is all too happy to sell out children to save their own sanctimonious butts. We’re sorry that anyone looks to the Catholic church for moral advice.

We’re sorry that the media will dutifully print the latest moral ramblings of a cad in a funny hat, but they give a free pass to a foreign head of state who is actively controlling his Bishops here in the US. These stooges are systematically violating our laws with impunity. In this age of “the war on terror,” you would think that someone would give a shit about some actual harm done to Americans on US soil by foreign interests. We’re sorry that the media aids and abets such blatant contempt for our country, our citizens, and our laws by simply ignoring it.

We’re sorry that the Catholic laity still amply funds the Catholic church despite their systematic abuse of children. We’re sorry they don’t get to watch the real-life kiddie porn they’ve funded with their tithes. We’re sorry that so many people are happy to sell out children for magic crackers and make-believe trips to see Jeezus after you die, somewhere over the rainbow. We’re sorry that the rest of Christianity is so enthralled with the concept of “religious tolerance” that they’re happy to overlook the problems of their Catholic brethren, so that the Catholics will do the same when they perpetrate their own immoral acts. We’re sorry that Christians are largely ignorant of the long history of crimes of their religion.

We’re sorry the Bible says nothing negative about pedophilia. Children are disposable property in the Bible, owned by their father. We’re sorry that believers worship a god who is either too powerless to help children or who gets off watching the show. We’re sorry that believers think that because they worship such a god, they have done their part to make the world a better place. We’re sorry it never occurs to them that maybe their god doesn’t exist, they should stop being dupes, and maybe stop the harm.

We’re not sorry for the secular courts and twelve-member juries of ordinary people who have done more to clean up this sorry mess than God and all of Christendom with its empty claims of moral authority and power.

There is a little lesson in there somewhere.

What’s the Difference?

When I first recognized I was an atheist, I hadn’t read any atheist literature. I studied and came to my own conclusions about god after being brought up as a fundamentalist (and for many years accepting the Bible as the inerrant word of god). After a few years as an atheist, visiting atheist forums and debating and dialoging with atheists and theists alike, I stumbled upon ACA in my community. I had already begun drawing Atheist Eve–a character who reflected my own perspective of what I saw as problems in my own past “logic” and who also voiced my assessment of current Christian doctrines and trends.

I was so ignorant of the atheist community and what it offered that I recall a discussion on the ACA list where someone quoted Richard Dawkins. I replied, “Who is Richard Dawkins? And why should I care what he says?” Interestingly, while I’m not proud of my ignorance, I am happy with my response. Here’s why:

As a Christian, I was always reading the Bible, attending Bible studies and reading commentaries that reinforced my fundamentalist beliefs about doctrine and interpretation. I wanted to be thoroughly informed about what I “believed” (although I have a lot of trouble calling something I have to learn and constantly reinforce _my_ “belief”).

With atheism, it didn’t work that way. I observed and studied all I could about the nature of existence around me, and concluded that god appeared to be a metaphor.

While I can’t claim that no one might read Dawkins and change their mind with regard to religious beliefs, I can claim that I never was “swayed” by Satan in the form of any atheist writer. No silky smooth sophistry confused me into atheism. No angry incident with my church or a preacher made me hate god. No rebellion against the Christian lifestyle or rules and regulations made Christianity impossible for me. No desire to sin with abandon drove my motives. (In fact, later, when I began to adopt a more Buddhist perspective, I was far more morally restricted than I ever had been as a Christian. Personal sacrifice has never been an impediment for me. I’m simply not a highly materialistic person). The truth is, believe it or don’t, I just put my mind to the task of considering the question and studied relevant data as much as I could, and I determined god is a metaphor.

What made me happy about my own ignorance, though, is that there is something to be said for being able to respond to apologetic criticisms that I’m being blindly led astray by the intellectual prowess of such as Dawkins, by pointing out that it can hardly be a valid criticism while it is aimed at someone who has never read any atheist author’s views on religion, and who doesn’t know who Dawkins is. So, even after discovering Dawkins, I never read more than one article. I didn’t want to “learn” arguments from him. I didn’t want to be accused of adopting the beliefs of others and simply labeling them as “my own,” in the same way I had done in my religious years. There is no atheist leader. There is nothing in atheism to follow. And if I disagree with Dawkins, it’s OK to say, “So what if Dawkins says it? I don’t agree.”

When is the last time a fundamentalist posted, “So what if the Bible says it? I don’t agree.”

That’s the difference. And it’s a biggie. And so, if there could ever be a positive result to ignorance, hopefully it was illustrated in my reply on the atheist list those years ago.

But Dawkins is a man, and the Bible, well, that’s god, isn’t it? That’s why you won’t hear that from a fundamentalist. That’s what I would have said as a fundamentalist in response to my own point above. After taking a course of Josh McDowell’s materials with my preacher at about 15 years old, I would have insisted it was inarguable. The Bible was the inerrant word of god. My church said it. My family said it. My school never disputed it. My community held to it. Everyone knew the Bible was the word of god. Everyone knew that if there was a god, then Christianity was the option. And none of us ever bothered to confirm any of our assumptions.

Now, after many years of avoiding reading books about atheists and atheism, I feel I’ve proven my point—mainly to myself, but perhaps to some others—that atheism is my fully informed choice and “my” belief based on “my” conclusions. I have not accepted the claim of atheism from someone else. I’ve given theists their opportunity. I’ve looked at the world and universe around me, and after crunching the data, god is a metaphor.

In celebrating my release from the feeling of obligation that I need to respond to those who would accuse me of succumbing to Satanic atheist dogma that presumably corrupted my brain, I now have begun reading atheist literature. I read some Bertrand Russell, some George Smith, some Dawkins, and now I’m reading Ehrman. I enjoy some of it. I enjoy some of it somewhat less. I find some of it hard to read. I find some of it easy to read. I agree with some of it. I disagree with some of it. But I am able to evaluate all of it and make up my own mind whether or not I deem it as valid based on what I know of the world around me and how it operates.

The Erhman book I’m reading currently reminded me very much of my own experiences with religion in my past. And I decided to write some notes about that to someone, and I’m going to share a portion of that correspondence (somewhat paraphrased) here for anyone who likes that sort of thing:

“…At 15, I still would not commit to Christianity, because I was too unsure if there was a god or not. Finally, a preacher invited me to attend a series based on the materials of Josh McDowell, who puts forward the inerrancy of scripture via historical ‘evidence.’

“I was so swayed by McDowell (back then there was no Internet, and local libraries in small towns weren’t overflowing with controversial books that questioned mainstream ideas). It wasn’t until college that I even met anyone who questioned whether or not the foundation of my beliefs (the Bible–and even the existence of god) was something I should probably think more about. [Because truth was important to me, I took their advice.]

“Outside of my normal course load and my part-time job, I made time to spend in the evenings at the university library, looking up religious history–especially regarding the production of the Bible. What I finally determined (much to my dismay) was that the criticisms of my fellow students (many of whom were taking history themselves) were well-founded. In the end, as a layman, sitting many nights at a table with my books all spread out, I was able to piece together the information–that is today put forward in the book ‘Misquoting Jesus’–from many different sources–some religious, some secular (none, however, which were atheistic or anti-religious). Once I recognized that the history of the Bible–even as presented by honest, god-fearing Christians promoting Christian doctrine–indicated a group of texts one should take with a heaping pile of grains of salt–my mind was finally freed to pursue honest truth.

“Thanks to books like Erhman’s and the Internet, there is today a place for fundamentalist youth (or even the aged) to go and find this information in a simpler fashion…for a layman, this information isn’t really old hat, nor is it easy to necessarily even find and put together. But it is becoming more common and available, and that’s because of the work of people like Erhman. At the time I was a teen, Josh McDowell’s claims could stand completely unchallenged by schools, churches, and communities in America. There was no independent, unbiased source to go to, to see if what McDowell claimed was verifiable. Erhman is part of a structure that is slowly growing and finally making sure that all sides of the fundamentalist story are available to the public.

“Freedom of choice surely needs to be respected, but what is
the difference between an uninformed choice and no choice at all? By keeping people ignorant, freedom of choice is clearly impeded. Books like Erhman’s open up real choice to people who might not otherwise realize they even have options. This is upsetting to some people…But they need to ask themselves what ‘truth’ should have to fear from facts. If my version of truth cannot withstand the full brunt of complete disclosure of facts, my version of truth requires re-examination…”

I’m not sure what else to say about it. I no longer have any dogma or doctrine that requires defense against reality or facts or data. I can accept whatever I observe and see how it fits into the rest of the facts and data. If it doesn’t fit, I can re-evaluate the whole enchilada if I have to. Nothing need be too sacred to examine. No question need remain unanswered merely because it’s a taboo of the highest order to even ask it. I have no stake in any “belief” any longer. It can now be purely about truth alone. I have nothing of value that requires me to reject data. In fact, I doubt I would today be capable of valuing anything that would require such a thing from me. I have no bias I’m aware of that causes me to deny what can be observed or to distort its meaning so that it force-fits within my preconceived framework of reality. But as a Christian, I could not have honestly claimed that.

Let’s make Donald Wildmon’s nightmare come true!

Via Brayton, I come across this awesome piece over at OneNewsNow, the “news” site of the fundamentalist hate group American “Family” Association. You know, the same people who had that hilarious editorial gaffe recently involving an Olympic track star.

Wildmon has his knickers in a twist over the upcoming Proposition 8 vote this November in California, in which the haters hope to make gay marriage illegal until, presumably, the end of time. If the Christians lose, Wildmon warns, well, down that slippery slope we fall!

“If the homosexuals are able to defeat the marriage amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, then the culture war is over and we’ve lost — and gradually, secularism will replace Christianity as the foundation of our society,” he adds.

The vote in California, Wildmon explains, will affect the entire nation. “California is a big dam, holding back the flood — and if you take down the dam in California, it’s going to flood 49 other states,” he illustrates. “It will destroy marriage as it has been known for thousands of years, and with that the cultural decline that normally would follow.”

You know, the homophobes constantly rail about how recognizing gay marriage will somehow destroy their own, sanctified straight marriages, but they never explain how. That they take this approach to the argument seems to say voluminous volumes about the insecurity they feel about their own personal situations in marriage. If any situation, including someone else’s marriage, could possibly threaten your own marriage, then your marriage is already a failure, and it’s everything to do with you, gang. How a bunch of folks absolutely none of these terrified, insecure Christians will ever meet personally could threaten them, simply by deciding to commit to one another in marriage while happening to be the same gender, is simply absurd to contemplate. Unless you contemplate it in the context of fundie fear, not reality.

As for secularism replacing Christianity in America, well, three cheers for that and it’s about time! Naturally, the Wildmons of the world will see nothing but the downfall of civilization in such an occurrence. But again, reality paints a different picture. Sure, a nation in which people enjoy happiness based on concepts like personal freedoms rather than the phantom “happiness” of religion’s pie in the sky promises, which merely mask a host of debilitating fears and neuroses, would certainly be hell on Earth to the AFA and their sheep. Read the comments attached to the OneNewsNow article to shake your head over the whirlpool of insecurities and phobias these poor people flounder in.

Ahoy, Californians! Get out there and give Prop. 8 a sound defeat this fall. Because I really really want to read Wildmon’s editorial the following day!


Addendum: Well, clearly it’s true that traditional marriage is always a paradise of connubial bliss where nothing ever goes wring and which never leads to a cultural decline of any kind. Or maybe, where the husband in this case is concerned, teh gayz made him do it after all…

Wednesday science-y goodness in Austin

CFI-Austin, along with Texas Citizens for Science and the UT Section of Integrative Biology, is sponsoring a trio of talks this evening to be held at UT’s Burdine Hall, room 108. I think I had some classes there back in the day. The general theme is “Science Education in Texas,” which, as you may well know, is under a cloud due to the ideological machinations of the arch-conservative State Board of Education and its young-earth-creationist dentist chairman, Dan McLeroy.

Admission is free and it all starts at 6:30. The speakers include the TCS’s own Steve Schafersman, on “How Will Texas Oppose Aggressive, Organized Creationism in Texas?”; Ed Brayton, author of the blog Dispatches from the Culture Wars, on the religious roots of ID (there’s also a Dispatches blog meetup for Ed at Stubb’s BBQ Thursday night at 7); and Josh Rosenau, NCSE staffer and author of the blog Thoughts from Kansas, on the evolution of the creationist movement.

I’m going to do my level best to attend. Hope lots of you can too. If you see me there, wave.


Addendum: Well, bummer, you won’t see me there. If any of our readers do attend, please post a report in the comments.

Chuck Colson responds (response #1)

Chuck Colson has posted a response to my critique of his book at the Zondervan blog. I haven’t read the whole thing in depth yet, but he seems to be polite and respectful, and take at least some of my points seriously. On cursory reading, he appears to have focused on my analysis of his prison group, with an impromptu lecture on how scientific studies are supposed to be done. This should be interesting.

Everyone is welcome to read the entry and comment right here, but I will repeat my request that you remain equally respectful and refrain from trash-talk. I’ll take your comments into consideration when I get around to my own reply. It looks like Chuck is not done yet, so I may not write another response until after he’s finished his reaction to me.

Thanks, Chuck and Mike, for getting back to me.

Hey, kids, guns! And Jesus! Find your faith!

Allow me to preface this by saying that I am not against gun ownership. But this sends a rather peculiar message, don’t you think?

An Oklahoma church canceled a controversial gun giveaway for teenagers at a weekend youth conference.

Windsor Hills Baptist had planned to give away a semiautomatic assault rifle until one of the event’s organizers was unable to attend.

The church’s youth pastor, Bob Ross, said it’s a way of trying to encourage young people to attend the event. The church expected hundreds of teenagers from as far away as Canada.

Wha? Gee, what about iPods or XBox360’s? Or do you not want kids playing those evil violent video games or listening to that godless rock ‘n roll or hip-hop? Yeah, an assault rifle is much better. It’s not like a teenager is likely to misuse that.

“I don’t want people thinking ‘My goodness, we’re putting a weapon in the hand of somebody that doesn’t respect it who are then going to go out and kill,’” said Ross. “That’s not at all what we’re trying to do.”

Perish the thought. It never crossed my mind.

Ross said the conference isn’t all about guns, but rather about teens finding faith.

Okay then, I feel better already! You know, when the Muslims give kids deadly weaponry at a religious function, I think they call it terrorism and it’s the kind of thing that makes the sphincters of priviliged white Oklahoman Christian conservatives completely lose their structural integrity. Well, maybe they’re just taking precautions for when Obama’s elected and he throws a huge party for all his Islamofascist friends on the White House lawn. Must be it.

I suppose if this weren’t all happening in the state that gave us the psychotic Sally Kern, it wouldn’t have such a shudder factor. I’d say, “Could be worse, could be Texas,” but I have a feeling this might be an old Texas tradition…

Wiseman’s TAM6 spoon-bending video

Richard Wiseman has posted the video of the spoon-bending stunt he performed at TAM6, with the assistance of 800 attendees in the crowd. It’s funny to watch it again, but nothing like being part of seeing it done live. For one thing, the video is fairly shaky, and the shots from different angles of the crowd don’t fully communicate that, yes, in fact, there are 800 people in that room, all doing a more-or-less synchronized spoon-bending trick with 800 pre-stressed spoons. (That’s a detail that’s already being commented upon over at YouTube. A lot of folks think the spoons would have to have been pre-cut, when in fact they were all simply pre-stressed, repeatedly bent until just ready to snap.)

So, while I don’t think the whole gag really plays on video as well as it could, it’s fun to watch. And for all you skeptics out there who’ve been unable to make TAM before, maybe it will prompt you to make a special effort to get there next year and join in the fun.