Protecting religions

Ed Brayton writes:

But there is an inherent danger in having the government decide which religions deserve protection and which do not, which are “legitimate” and which are not, especially since all religions are ultimately illegitimate. On the other hand, it seems absolutely clear to me that Scientology was created for the sole purpose of being a swindle, a con, a way to make money. I don’t think that’s true of other religions, even if they all do have adherents who find a way to get rich from it. It’s a very tough issue for me.

He’s right, it’s a tough issue. I suggest making a distinction: a free society should protect religious belief and religious speech, but religious institutions should not receive any more protection than any other organization. In other words, it should not be legal to discriminate against individuals for having or promoting religious beliefs, but religious institutions should not receive any additional benefits not available to other institutions or organizations.

In particular, religious institutions should not be exempt from accountability with respect to their constituents. If they make promises to their adherents that involve being paid or otherwise compensated for things, then they should be just as accountable as any other institution for delivering what they promised. And in cases where it’s disputable whether or not they kept their end of the bargain, the consumer should have the benefit of the doubt. The religious institution received tangible benefit from the consumer, and should therefore be obligated to prove that it provided tangible benefit to the consumer, or face appropriate breach-of-contract penalties.

Yeah, I know, I should also wish for a pony while I’m at it. But the first step in fixing a broken system is determining what a working system would look like.


13 words

In Ecclesiastes 6:11, we read, “For there are many words which increase futility. What then is the advantage to a man?” I’ve spent a number of years of my life studying the Bible, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this verse pretty much sums up the whole thing. You look at most religions, and they all have these elaborate Scriptures, and what are they all really? “Many words.” Solomon (or whoever) had it exactly right.

Good religion does not need many words. In fact, here’s a good religion that takes precisely 13 words to express: “Our purpose is to make life better for ourselves and those around us.” We could elaborate on these 13 words, of course. We take care of ourself first (so that other people don’t have to do it for us), then we make life better for our family, our neighbors, our friends and co-workers, our community, our country and our world. And we focus our efforts where the circles are smallest, since that’s most efficient. But still, 13 words sums it up.


The Omega Bowl

Well, I missed the Super Bowl (though honestly I didn’t miss it much). I don’t really care much which side of what line some little leather ball is on, but I don’t want to rule out the possibility of interesting Bowl games altogether. What I’m thinking of is—the Omega Bowl. Is that name taken? We could call it the Alpha and Omega Bowl if we need to be more specific. But it’s not a contest between two football teams. It’s a battle of the gods. Literally.

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I’m my own grandpa

This week at Evangelical Realism, we take a look at one big factor that William Lane Craig leaves out when trying to decide what Jesus must have meant by “the Son of God.” According to the Gospels, Jesus’ mom was impregnated by God Himself, making Jesus God’s (bastard) son—a relationship of mere biology rather than shared divinity. In the process of typing out “the son of God” versus “God the Son,” though, it struck me that the story of the Virgin Birth really wreaks havoc with Trinitarian theology. If Jesus is the son of God, then whom, exactly, is he the son of?

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Consistency with the truth

Our recent (and ongoing?) discussion with Kevin got me thinking about truth and the supernatural. By definition, the difference between a true story and a false one is that the true story is consistent with reality and the false one isn’t. This consistency has two aspects: negatively, consistency means the true story does not contradict reality, and positively, it means that there’s a connection between the events in the story and the events in the real world, above and beyond what’s reported in the story itself.

The the first aspect is fairly clear, and I think most of us think of consistency as non-contradiction. The positive aspect of consistency is just as important, however. Let’s look at an example. In the summer of 2009, a mob of vigilantes demanded that police arrest a goat, on the grounds that he was really a car thief who had transformed himself into a goat upon being apprehended. Was their story true? If it was, then we ought to find connections between the story and the reality above and beyond what was reported. For example, car thieves don’t typically walk around naked, looking for cars to steal, because that’s a sure way to attract unwanted attention! So was the goat dressed in human clothes? If not, where are the clothes?

Goats are easy to lock up, and legal to kill. If this story were true, then it’s describing a suspect who used black magic to make himself more vulnerable to the retributions of the mob. And why would he be stealing cars when he could be using his magical powers to become an overnight celebrity, changing from human to goat and back for astonished audiences around the world? And so on.

In other words, the implications of the story go far beyond the immediate report in the story itself. If the story were true, then there would be a number of other things that would be true as well. Thus, we can check the validity of the report by following up on all the implications of the story. If people report a supernatural occurrence, and their story implies the existence of other facts that ought to be present in the real world, then it’s reasonable and reliable to assess the veracity of the story by checking for the existence of the implied consequences. And that’s what I referred to as “the 7th criterion,” in my review of the six criteria William Lane Craig claims to use in assessing the historicity of the resurrection.

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Gospel Disproof #35: Birthers

Here’s a Gospel Disproof that’s almost certain to be dated in a few years: birthers. The only reason anyone has for denying that Barack Obama is a US citizen is because they don’t want him to be president, so once he’s an ex-president, it will cease to be an issue. What will endure, however, is the way birthers illustrate the principle of “denial as a source of knowledge.”

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The year of …?

Via Ed Brayton comes this report that the Pennsylvania House has declared 2012 to be “The Year of the Bible,” on the spurious grounds that “Biblical teachings inspired concepts of civil government that are contained in our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States” etc, etc. Which of course is why the three branches of American government are the king, the priesthood, and the prophets, just like the governments ordained in the Bible.

Anyway, I was just thinking: what year should 2013 be? The Year of the Koran? The Year of the Book of Mormon? The Year of Dianetics?

Or perhaps we should go with The Year of On Origin of Species? Or perhaps Demon-Haunted World? (One of my favorites.) Or how about Letter to a Christian Nation?

What’s your nomination?