Clown World: Parents aren’t Britons

The Independent published an article with this headline today (screenshotted for posterity):

The Only Way

It’s a singularly insensitive article claiming that the parents of those who died ought to go on exactly as before or at least, it is implying that since they cannot do just that, they are not truly Britons.

The author admits that the concert goers were young women:

Her Twitter bio declares she is a “dangerous woman”. But in truth, a lot of her fans are teenage girls, teenage girls who get taken to her concerts by their mums or dads.

The author goes on to claim (attempt to argue?) that:

But if the intention of those who commit acts of terror is to disrupt ordinary life, then the only possible response is not to let that happen. That is not to say police should not track down who was responsible for such vile murder. That is not to say the security services should not step up their efforts and do all they can to stop a repeat of such slaughter.

Of course, even the mayor of London has claimed that terror attacks are part and parcel of big city life (which has never been true on a global scale). But if that is true, living ordinary life is not possible. If a sizable percentage of a city wishes to prey upon the rest of its residents, then the residents simply cannot live ordinary life anymore. Neither can the parents of lost children go on as though their children weren’t brutally murdered.

We’re not actually equipped to do that much at all, other than to try to carry on, to not allow ourselves to be terrorised, to not stop living our lives. And that means means continuing with the general election May felt obliged to call, or keep on buying tickets to see the likes of Ariana Grande.

Being terrorised can hardly be defined more clearly that having your nations children murdered. You cannot ‘refuse to be terrorised’ unless you choose to live something beyond an ordinary life. I don’t wish to politicize a horror. I instead simply sigh at the attempt to politicize it in a certain direction using empty platitudes.

Addendum:

Does anybody claim that Palestinian parents should go on living as though nothing happened when Israeli bombs kill their children.

 

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Does Religion Cause All Those Wars?

Reposted from my old blog.

This post was meant to be a brief response to Sam de Britto’s short article on the relationship of God-belief to war. It mostly became a rambling essay spring boarding from his thoughts.

Atheists are goofuses

Sam de Britto posted a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald about God and war. He’s one of those brilliant brights who intentionally mischaracterizes what most believers in God claim their God-belief constitutes. So he calls God a sky-wizard and gives up his effort to prove a point by saying, “Build your churches, mosques and temples – I’m building a bomb shelter.”
The article has some statements that might be factual, but that is disputable. What interests me is that based upon his own logic (not mine) he’s wrong:
It must be frustrating worshipping an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful being and He does nothing to smite, humiliate or deter those who do not. Violence or discrimination in God’s name thus seems to be the ultimate redundancy because surely the point of divine omnipotence is setting the chessboard just as you’d like it…
Take the same stand against God [that I take] in the US and you’ll never see high public office, which means every “leader of the free world” now believes in the Sky Wizard or is so fearful of a pious backlash, they lie about it in public and toddle off to church every Sunday to complete the charade…
So, according to his presupposition, “nothing happens to humiliate or deter unbelief” he is incorrect. This is the case because he whines that atheists are persecuted and that world leaders have to pretend to believe in God to be elected.
This should have been obvious to him because on his (wrong view) of divine omnipotence, God very well could have set it up so that the leaders of the free world believe in the sky wizard, and indeed has done so. De Britto even sarcastically identifies the alleged persecution he faces , at the hands of religious fanatics in Australia, with God: “God is very much with us and he’s coming to get me…” With respect to his first premise, if these persecutors are real, then things do happen to deter unbelief.
So, if God is setting up a chess board (which I doubt) and God’s work is to be identified with what believers do without qualification (which is a stupid idea, but de Britto accepts it), then God did make the state of affairs difficult for atheists.  The author is wrong on several levels since most religions really do claim, in their own holy books, that there is a right and a wrong way to do their religion. This means that one cannot attribute the works of every religious person to the deity to whom they give allegiance. There’s a heuristic in a holy book, tradition, or aphorism.

The imaginative atheist

Aside from barely rising to the level of writing a self-consistent article, the author ran into other troubles as well. He also accepts the idea that the west, in general, isn’t friendly toward atheists. He appears to have imagined a version of western civilization that is more akin to a Caliphate than any actual Western nation. But when it comes to the data available, some polls show that even atheists distrust atheists,  but it still remains the case that in general Christians and non-Christian religious types are quite friendly toward atheists.
This might be because Christians were identified as atheists by the pagan roman empire. Christians who know that might feel some kinship with atheists. We understand why people worship other things, we just find said worship to be unappealing on the basis of our other commitments. It is also the case that my atheist friends, many of whom I befriended after they made fun of me and I joked back with them, eventually reveal that they make fun of religious people or start debates with them in the midst of non-argumentative conversation. In other words, they pick fights. Everybody argues with that guy, whether a Christian a libertarian, or an atheist. If you act like the weird uncle and then also act shocked by people thinking you’re a jerk, then you are the weird uncle.

The Historically Errant Atheist

The main error is obvious, but he makes more. It’s not even his identification of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and the late Hitchens as esteemed thinkers (of then, only Hitchens stands out). He steals their hypothesis that moderate religious people somehow enable extremists (no citation?!?! Sad!):
As has been pointed out by many esteemed thinkers, this is the insidious nature of “moderate” religion. It makes it all so reasonable to respect and treasure “fantastic propositions” that can be believed without evidence and that it’s only extremists who distort the “truth”.
If the religion has a heuristic, you can tell if its followers are doing it right or wrong by checking:
  1. the source text (Bibles, Vedas, etc.)
  2. how the mainstream sects interpret said text
  3. what are people doing that either contradicts or comports with that interpretation.
In other words, any religion that judges its extremists according to it’s orthodoxy is, by definition, not enabling them. As an aside, atheism, as simple belief that God is not, has no orthodoxy, so it’s weird to hear atheists criticize atheists for not being atheistic correctly.

The Potentially Violent Atheist

Another problem problem is the over-all premise that because he identifies certain social ills that have a connection to God belief, that he’s found the solution to all wars: Get rid of God belief, get rid of violence. He’s not as violent about it as Sam Harris, who famously recommends preemptive violence against others based on their beliefs, but he does allude to Harris, so one wonders if he buys Harris’ argument that killing religious people for their beliefs is a good idea. Harris mentions this in his book The End of Faith:
The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live. Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense. This is what the United States attempted in Afghanistan, and it is what we and other Western powers are bound to attempt, at an even greater cost to ourselves and to innocents abroad, elsewhere in the Muslim world. We will continue to spill blood in what is, at bottom, a war of ideas.

The Historically Errant Atheist

Now, Mike Bird deals with his argument on the level of articulating what Christians actually believe or at least what their holy book articulates (some Christians do not know that the New Testament says to love your enemies).
But I’m more interested in the fact that the “religion causes wars trope” has been refuted. Vox Day refuted it by actually checking the Encyclopedia of Wars (don’t buy it, it’s pricey, several libraries have it, check worldcat.org). I have a digital copy and searched through its religion references. He is potentially correct when he notes that the Encyclopedia of War lists as religious “123 wars in all, which sounds as it is would support the case of the New Atheists, until one recalls that these 123 wars represent only 6.98 % of all of the wars recorded in the encyclopedia” (Vox Day, The Irrational Atheist, 105). As an aside, Vox includes more wars than the authors do in the “religiously motivated wars” category. It’s honestly difficult to even find that many.
So, are there atrocities that are apparently happening as a logical consequence of certain forms of God-belief? Yes. Or more clearly put: Are people doing evil things for which they use God-belief as a justification and warrant? Yes. But is it the case that horrible conflicts, strange evils, and injustices would end if we got rid of religious belief? No. People find lots of reasons that are disconnected from God to go to war, to cheat, to steal, to wantonly mistreat others, destroy property, and so-on.

References

Phillips, Charles, and Alan Axelrod. 2005. Encyclopedia of Wars. New York: Facts on File, Inc.
Vox Day. 2008, The Irrational Atheist. Benbella
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The Dark Knight Trilogy and Intertextuality: Stallone, Dumas, Hugo, and Dickens

I’ve always loved intertexuality. I especially love the interplay between books and film.

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is a great example.

The movies have many resonances. For instance, the trilogy is intentionally based upon Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities. Most obviously, when Commissioner Gordon reads from the book:

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

But there were other allusions as well. Some outside of French literature. For instance, there’s an almost plagiarized line from Rocky III in the film:

“I was wondering what would break first…your spirit…or your body!”

And then:

“If I can’t break your spirit, I sure enough can break your back.”

And then, of course, the movie also follows the pattern of Rocky III as well as the Rocky III theme song, Eye of the Tiger:

So many times it happens too fast
You change your passion for glory
Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive

And again:

“Peace has cost you your strength. Victory has defeated you.”

While Thunderlips couldn’t break Rocky’s spirit, Clubber Lang did. But his former opponent, Apollo Creed invites Rocky into a dangerous and new training environment in order to come back and attempt one last fight against Lang. Similarly, Bruce Wayne, after having his body and spirit broken by Bane ends up in a prison filled with the criminal element of the world (Wayne’s primal enemy). But it is the criminal element that understands the fear of death and the desire for life and freedom that allows the Batman to fight Bane with renewed vigor, “Rising up to the challenge of survival.”

But aside from Rocky and the Tale of Two Cities, what other literature adds meaning to the films? Two examples are Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.

The character Bane, is essentially a combination of Javert from Les Miserables and Dantes from Monte Cristo.

For instance, Javert and Bane are both born in prison. Both are deeply obsessed with the idea of innocence. To the extent that both are willing to die rather than be implicated in actual wrong doing. Bane is willing to die in a nuclear blast in order to cleanse Gotham of evil as well as for the sin of allowing Batman to escape prison. Similarly, Javert ends his life when he realizes the contradiction between the law and his own life. Also, in Javert’s confrontation with Valjean (I’ll quote the musical for familiarity’s sake), he claims that he can easily understand and defeat Valjean despite Valjean’s superior strength because of his personal familiarity with the scum of the earth:

Valjean

I am warning you, Javert
I’m a stronger man by far
There is power in me yet
My race is not yet run!

I am warning you, Javert
There is nothing I won’t dare
If I have to kill you here
I’ll do what must be done!

Javert

Dare you talk to me of crime
And the price you had to pay
Every man is born in sin
Every man must choose his way

You know nothing of Javert
I was born inside a jail
I was born with scum like you
I am from the gutter, too

This is essentially Bane’s line when the Batman attempts to use the power of the shadows to defeat him:

“I was born in the darkness…the shadows betray you because they belong to ME.”

Both Bane and the Batman are painted with shades of Edmond Dantes. For instance, in the comic books and in Bane’s backstory in the movie, he was trained in prison by a priest who taught him deeply in philosophy, mathematics, science, and linguistics. And Bane, in the film, can perform advanced nuclear physics in his head, not only so, but he was picked up and trained by the League of Shadows partly due to his already considerable fighting prowess. But this training is what Edmond Dantes received when he was wrongly imprisoned, with the addition of fencing. Bane, after further training from the League of Shadows, seeks to do anything possible to cleanse civilization from any elements which are dangerous or corrupting of children. But Bruce Wayne is also an allusion Dantes. When Bruce Wayne is wrongly imprisoned, he sinks into despair and wishes to simply die until a wise sage-like character (perhaps Bane’s teacher) who encourages him to regain his strength and escape and gain vengeance upon the man who broke his spirit and left him to languish unjustly in prison. This is, of course, very important in the Nolan Trilogy, because Bruce Wayne becomes the Batman from prison in the first film, for there he means the leader of the League of Shadows.

While I doubt anybody still thinks about those films, they really are rich with intertexts as well as archetypal figures (remember, in the first film the penultimate villain is a Jungian psychiatrist!). The key archetype is the relationship of vulnerable humanity to the chaos and danger in the world. For Bruce Wayne (or Bane) to overcome evil in the world, they must descend into the depths of the underworld as well as their own souls. This is analogous to the Christian discipline of confession. One must truly discover one’s own filth and admit it in order to take any steps to clean up the world. Or, to put it another way, one must gain the cunning abilities of the serpent, but only use them innocently in order to avoid becoming the serpents prey (Matthew 10:16). You have to have the teeth of the predator in order to be a protector, etc.

Because the movies touch on such universal themes, they will remain significant to any who watch them regardless of whether their legacy will endure.

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Atheists and Toleration

 

John Locke famously argued that atheism/atheists ought not be tolerated in a religiously free society:

Lastly, those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration. As for other practical opinions, though not absolutely free from all error, if they do not tend to establish domination over others, or civil impunity to the Church in which they are taught, there can be no reason why they should not be tolerated.

While this makes me uncomfortable, I am reminded of what Rosenberg wrote, of atheists, in his book The Atheist Guide to Reality:

The interesting thing is to recognize how totally unavoidable [the answers to the questions below] they are, provided you place your confidence in science to provide the answers.

Is there a God? No.
What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is.
What is the purpose of the universe? There is none.
What is the meaning of life? Ditto.
Why am I here? Just dumb luck.
Does prayer work? Of course not.
Is there a soul? Is it immortal? Are you kidding?
Is there free will? Not a chance!
What happens when we die? Everything pretty much goes on as before, except us.
What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? There is no moral difference between them.
Why should I be moral? Because it makes you feel better than being immoral.
Is abortion, euthanasia, suicide, paying taxes, foreign aid, or anything else you don’t like forbidden, permissible, or sometimes obligatory? Anything goes.
What is love, and how can I find it? Love is the solution to a strategic interaction problem. Don’t look for it; it will find you when you need it.
Does history have any meaning or purpose? It’s full of sound and fury, but signifies nothing.
Does the human past have any lessons for our future? Fewer and fewer, if it ever had any to begin with.[1]

Aside from the hilarity of an Atheist writing ‘ THE guide to reality’ for other atheists while decrying as stupid those who believe in sacred literature, in what you read above there are two major incoherencies:

  1. If you can learn nothing from the human past, then you can learn nothing from science for every experiment was done in the past.
  2. If there is no difference between any opinion, moral or otherwise, and no meaning to human history, then it makes no difference to believe in illusions or not, so the book is frivolous and without meaning.

But aside from atheism’s ability to inject such incoherencies into one’s thoughtspace, it also does precisely what John Locke feared: it devalues the keeping of promises because the reason to be moral is that “it makes you feel better than being immoral.”

There is no valuation attributed even to the individual life nor to the project of civilization. Even evolution, for all its transfer of data and information and the thousands of years it took for luck to yield beings who experience the universe as a series of ecstasies and horrors, has no point and the information given to offspring through culture and DNA has no meaning (this is false on the surface because our cells find plenty of meaning in DNA).

Anyway, if human contracts, human civilization, and human life have no meaning in this worldview, then Locke was right to be suspicious of those who held it.

References

[1] Alex Rosenberg The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions (Digital Edition), 22.9/669.

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Clown World: laws against child abuse are insensitive to people from abusive cultures

In Minnesota, citizens are concerned about the increasing prevalence of female genital mutilation amongst new Minnesota residents. So, a bill was passed to prohibit the practice, but a lot of folks aren’t happy.

Republicans, reliably afraid of looking bad for making democrats unhappy had this to say:

Now, the author of the Senate version is voicing second thoughts about approving the legislation yet this session, though Senate GOP leadership have not committed to a course of action. “We all agree this practice is absolutely horrible, and something needs to be done,” said the author, Sen. Karin Housley. “How can we empower communities to address this practice from within rather than having Big Brother come down and say, ‘This is wrong?’ ”

In other words, “This is a horrible practice (see, I’m against it, don’t call me a coward) but let’s not make it illegal (please don’t call me racist or xenophobic).”

Anyway, read the whole article. The issue of female genital cutting has an obvious answer: don’t do it, it’s wrong and despicable.

On the other hand, Christians need to think about what our revulsion to this practice means for the frequent Protestant appropriation of circumcision.

But back to the issue at hand, it’s really easy to let people entering the country know that you can’t practice FGM: include a “we don’t chop children’s genitals” portion of the immigration class.

About six months ago I made the joke that perhaps FGM should be made legal or even mandatory and be covered by the Affordable Care Act because otherwise people would get back alley procedures done as an analogy to the similar pro-choice. I fear that, based on the increase in the practice, we actually aren’t far from a third wave feminist argument to that effect. I’ve already seen this:

FGM is called, “gender egalitarian surgery.” How long until the game of changing the terminology becomes a game of competing for government funding for the practice as a routine medical procedure? My hope is that that timeline approaches infinity.

Now, I think that there is a way for the legal system to meet people halfway, but you don’t do that by refusing to outlaw child abuse.

As an aside, in my home town a child was left in a car while the family watched a movie and the parents were simply warned because of their different culture rather.

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Trump, Steak, and Diversity of Opinion

A few months ago, these posts showed up in my news feed:

 

trump steak 2Trump Steak

Life, as they say, comes at you fast.

I hadn’t realized they were by the same publication, though the authors are different. At least they have diversity of opinion. The first author is a closeted Trump supporter.

Diversity of opinion is probably useful from a content aggregator services (I don’t consider the HuffingtonPost to be news). But I know plenty of Trump supporters, most eat their steak differently from one another (seasoning, marinade, cook, etc), but only one of them is critical of other steak styles. Weird.

 

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What planet am I on?

I’ve always had an eye for the bizarre or sensational. I love conspiracy theories, cold cases, and paranormal  hoaxes. I even love reading about strange scientific theories, weird math quandaries, retrowave music, and decrepit programming languages.

Anyway, in all of that strangeness, I never could have imagined living in a timeline in which a famous film director makes an advertisement for Planned ParentSpinsterhood which is promoted with this tagline (archived to avoid giving them traffic):

Watch. Share. Slay.

pp slay

Now, it isn’t difficult to imagine that a group which uses notions of women’s rights in order to help women slaughter their children and end up lonely with cats and regret would be shameless. But what is interesting is that Joss Whedon, the alleged master of optics who made the video also Tweeted this gem:

whedon tweet

Now, it’s obvious that Joss isn’t actually confessing to the murder of his mother with the hope of plausible deniability due to the nature of Twitter as a medium, but to not catch the obvious implication is a sign he may be losing his touch. The only other interpretation is that he is so obsessed with politics that he literally cannot fondly remember his mother without immediately referring to political frustrations, which is a sign of a weak and sad mind.

But to create an advert for an organization that recently came under fire for selling baby parts, using your credibility as the director of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with the following quote on the webpage boggles my mind:

“it’s our responsibility to use our super powers to slay”

What is the implication? Are unborn children the vampires in the analogy? I don’t normally toss words like degenerate around, but seriously, what a bunch of degenerates.

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Francis Bacon and the virtues which tend to fortune

Here’s a favorite section of mind from Bacon’s essays:

It cannot be denied, but outward accidents conduce much to fortune; favor, opportunity, death of others, occasion fitting virtue. But chiefly, the mould of a man’s fortune is in his own hands. Faber quisque fortunæ suæ [Every one is the architect of his own fortune], saith the poet. And the most frequent of external causes is, that the folly of one man is the fortune of another. For no man prospers so suddenly as by others’ errors. Serpens nisi serpentem comederit non fit draco [A serpent must have eaten another serpent before he can become a dragon]. Overt and apparent virtues bring forth praise; but there be secret and hidden virtues that bring forth fortune; certain deliveries of a man’s self, which have no name.

Francis Bacon, “Essays or Counsels: Civil and Moral,” in The Harvard Classics 3: Essays by Bacon, Milton, and Browne, ed. Charles W. Eliot (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1909), 104–105.

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Why I don’t resent the Walmart crowd

One of the most startling elements of modern evangelical academia is how disdainful many of them are of the average parishioner. I sensed this happening to me in seminary and once I realized it, I started to see it in books. Then Twitter was invented and I started following more of these scholars to whom I looked for advice about Biblical interpretation and the like, and I discovered the outright disgust with undergraduate students displayed by those with doctorates, the foul modes of speech they used to talk about those they disagreed with, and the way they made fun of what I would call normal people. I have a social science hypothesis:

Christian academics become socially disassociated from the Christian church (and often their families) and instead become concerned with approval seeking from the academy. Social media exacerbates this by allowing approval seeking behavior in real time.

The recent election made things much worse. I began to see people whose jobs are almost entirely funded by endowments from private universities funded by normal Christians making fun of them with abandon. The level of mockery, dismissal, and hatred was outrageous. I’m trying to avoid naming names or giving too information, but I saw calls from Christian academics to move out of states which voted republican, to personally mock anybody who voted for Trump, mock members of congregations which they used to pastor, associations of Christian conservatives with the “fat slobs and losers at Walmart”, a Methodist academic on Twitter routinely started posting about genitalia almost daily when it came to Trump, etc. I’ve been in the home of a Christian academic when people started talking, seriously, about the possibility a person present (not an academic) destroying the property of suspected Trump supporters when he made house calls, etc. I’ll hear people criticized for beliefs I know they don’t have or read people insist that Christians who lean right hate the poor. It’s so funny to read Christian academics make fun of anybody who believes that the Bible is inerrant while insisting on concern for the poor. But anytime I meet a Christian at a homeless shelter or a recovering addict housed by a Christian, those Christians tend to all believe in inerrancy. It’s almost like the resentment is pure projection.
The list goes on.

I’ll go ahead and air a sense of moral superiority. If you hate the church so much and people in it who disagree with you that you refuse to discuss with them (or mock them despite not even attending church), just leave. Most academics don’t believe in God anyhow. If you want the atheists of academe to approve of you, just hang out with them.

 

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Bad News for Weight Gain: There is a point of no return

In report published last July researchers concluded that under the typical conditions of care for obese and overweight individuals that:

“current nonsurgical obesity treatment strategies are failing to achieve sustained weight loss for the majority of obese patients. For patients with a BMI of 30 or greater kilograms per meters squared, maintaining weight loss was rare and the probability of achieving normal weight was extremely low. Research to develop new and more effective approaches to obesity management is urgently required.(58)”

Thankfully the article isn’t purely deterministic. It ends on a more positive note, I recommend reading it. But the point is that once a certain threshold of weight gain is reached, it can be very difficult to reverse the process. Also, the data reviewed was from the UK primary care database. In other words, it doesn’t include people who see dietitians, personal trainers, or who take personal ownership of their own well-being through research and hard work. My doctor friends tell me that it is rare for patients to respond positively to non-surgical and non-prescription intervention recommendations. And there is some evidence that doctors often don’t tell patients that they are over-weight. The same article linked in the previous sentence indicates that many doctors to not feel competent to help patients lose weight and keep it off.

I typically reject deterministic points of view because of their tendency to force people to give up. The more positive note the article ends on is this, “the greatest opportunity for tackling the current obesity epidemic may be found outside primary care (58).”

References

Alison Fildes et al., “Probability of an Obese Person Attaining Normal Body Weight: Cohort Study Using Electronic Health Records,” American Journal of Public Health 105, no. 9 (July 16, 2015): 54–59.

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