Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – review of “Faith vs. Fact”; no pussyfooting allowed

This is Pussyfoot, a Warner Brother character that I find far too cute.

This is Pussyfoot, a Warner Brother character that I find far too cute.

I just finished Jerry Coyne’s new book “Faith vs. Fact”.   It was a great deal of fun to read, even though I know, and have used, most of the arguments in it. Dr. Coyne does an excellent job of stating a premise, carefully defining terms, and then proceeding to support it with evidence, likely a habit gained from writing research papers. One of the parts I liked best about it is the plethora of quotes presented, a fair number that I had not encountered before.   I would recommend it to anyone who wants to have one quick resource on how to respond to theist claims of evidence and to accomodationist claims that there are no real conflicts  between science and religion. Each claim and excuse is carefully dissected and addressed. Dr. Coyne does an admirable job of showing how pussyfooting around the contradictions and baseless claims of religion does no one any good in clear straightforward language, and with no apologies for showing the emperor has no clothes at all. In addition, there’s almost thirty pages of notes and references, something I love for any nonfiction book.

I’d like to make an offer to any of my theist readers that if they agree to read “Faith vs. Fact”, I would agree to read a book of their recommendation. We could both then discuss the books. Of course, a discussion will quickly reveal if the books were actually read or not.

As I was reading this book, I have been discussing religion with some of its adherents. Over at the HessianWithTeeth blog, Hessian wrote about how many Christians want to tell non-Christians “just believe”. A Christian, Skinbark, came on to say that other Christians are wrong for saying that and that “real” faith depends on “solid understanding” of this person “God” because the bible said so. This is a good example of the problems that Dr. Coyne explores when comparing faith with fact, especially when it comes to what faith means to a believer and what “God” means to a believer. Christians cannot agree whether they want a “person” as their god, intimately involved with every aspect of their lives and having definable goals and desires, or the vague deity that can’t be pinned down. Unsurprisingly, when asked why other Christians didn’t agree with them and where exactly did the bible say understanding was important, Skinbark responded in that time honored fashion, accusing anyone of asking questions to not be truly interested in the answers, so they don’t have to provide any.

Not surprising at all that fact and faith are incompatible.   :)

Just noting that Pussyfoot is doing anything but pussyfooting around, considering the expression of Marc Antony the Bulldog

From the Bar and Kitchen – grilled chicken, shrimp, beer, and random kibitzing

Hello! Finally getting a chance to catch up on posts about food, alcohol and other things. I do get wrapped up in commenting on other blogs and sadly neglect my own. Current blog commenting is with a Catholic, Joe, which has been interesting, especially when I have asked him if he would obey a Christian theocracy, and with Barry, someone who considers religion something other than believing in a deity and worshipping it, the basic definition of religion. That one is a mind-bender and many thanks to my dear friend, Mak, for hosting the discussion.

shrimpsWith the weather being unusually warm, we’ve had a chance to grill out a couple of times. One meal was grilled shrimp, grilled romaine (yes, the lettuce) and a very tasty rice blend, Texmati Royal Blend. We brushed the shrimps with Frank’s Sweet Chili Sauce, and grilled them over a very hot fire for a short amount of time. We also always remove the tails, since saucy tails are rather pointless. I like the sauce since it has a good hit of vinegar in amongst the sweet and heat. The romaine was brushed with olive oil, grilled to get a nice char and then dressed with Gazebo Room Greek Salad Dressing. It’s a Harrisburg original, an oil and vinegar dressing with a fair amount of oregano (I think). I love it on cold cut subs.  The rice is Texmati Royal Blend White, Brown and Red Rice, which smells like popcorn when cooking.

chickenWe experimented on another weekend with cooking chicken legs. It is definitely a time for indirect cooking. We built a pile of charcoal in the center of the grill, and arranged the legs around it in a circle, turning them about every 10 minutes for around 45 minutes. It was the first time I actually got a golden brown, not half rubbery and half charcoal skin on my chicken on a grill.




squirel 1While we were cooking one evening, a squirrel decided to join us. I gave him some roasted peanuts in the shell.

wallWe have been restructuring the backyard. Here’s our new stonewall mostly done, with water pipe and new statue of the three Graces.

Watched a couple of movies recently. The newest Godzilla movie is bad. I love giant monster movies, so suspension of disbelief isn’t hard for me. However, this sorry movie had so many ridiculous, LAZY, plot holes in it, it was ridiculous. Same for X-Men: Days of Future Past. I used to be a huge X-Men fan in the 70s and 80s. Nice special effects, utter nonsense for a story.


krampusoverflowing beerFinally, we had brewed some beer over the winter, the Festivus Ale from Northern Brewing. We put a label with the Krampus on it. It was a Festivus miracle since we got nearly 12% alcohol if our measuring device is to be believed. It was a very tasty beer, with fairly sweet with toffee and a good measure of spice. We kept it perhaps too long since it started foaming uncontrollably and did actually blow up some bottles. Glad we had the bottles in a plastic bag lined cardboard box because the glass bottles became bombs, peppering the inside of the box with shrapnel.






Here’s a cat picture for good measure.cats

Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – external validation

hp-lovecraft-religion_thumbI’ve had two recent demonstrations of the need for external validation by theists. One on Mike’s website, where a woman, Emily Rose Lewis in comments, insisted that only she was right with her fantasies about her god. When her claims were demonstrated to be false, and she was asked for evidence, the threats fell fast and heavy. I was told that I should be grateful that her god was so “merciful” because if she was in charge she’d “fry” everyone who didn’t worship her god exactly as she did. If you want to “fry” someone, it certainly seems that you hate that someone, and people don’t often hate for no reason. They hate someone or something because it has or could take something away from them, something that they are afraid of losing.

In the second instance, there is much the same thing. Now, at this writing, this news story hasn’t been confirmed entirely. At a local school, in Carlisle, PA, a student was in the school nurse’s office when the morning pledge of allegiance was said. The student refused to participate in the pledge. The nurse’s reaction was (allegedly) “I don’t have to serve you.” (It seems that it was much worse, according to Hemant Mehta). A grown woman was threatened by the act of a girl, because she dared to not give the woman the external validation she needed. Now, could this woman be something else than a Christian? Perhaps, in another culture, but in Pennsylvania, that chance of her not being a Christian is no more than a snowball’s chance in hell (9th circle of hell, Dantean style, not included of course).

(Of course, there are many parallels to the instances where theists wish to invoke their religion so that they may pick and choose who to serve. It always makes me wonder how they would tell the difference among their clientele. What tests would they invoke to make sure their “morals” weren’t impinged?)

External validation is one of those things that humans love. We often learn from external validation, when someone tells us we did something correctly, be it a skill or a behavior desired in society.

In most, if not all, religions, external validation is very important to a certain subset, those who want to believe that they are the only right ones and, somewhat paradoxically, believe that they should never be questioned about their claims. One would think that such surety would invite questions.

This type of theist wants to be right and want no one else to know that they aren’t. They need constant agreement with them so they ceaselessly try to find those who will support their claims and who won’t question them. It often becomes very close to narcissism, especially when the theist is sure that God speaks to them and only them.

If the believer doesn’t get the attention and admiration that they think they deserve, they get downright nasty. The few things that are decent about religion go right out the window.   Their self-worth is entirely wrapped up in what they believe is true.   If they present their claims to a stranger confident that no one can question them, and that stranger says “no” or worse “no, and here’s why”, then it is an attack on their entire being. They are no longer the worthy, special “chosen” that they thought they were. If someone doesn’t ape their actions, then that person is a threat.

They find any action other than the one that they demand to be frightening. I think frightened is the best reason to explain why someone would act like so many theists do, be they Christian, Muslim, etc.

In my opinion, some of the actions of theists, the violence and intolerance based on fear, is symptomatic of the loss of certainty that theists once had. Where at one time religious differences were settled by the stake and the rack, they are now open discussion.   The respect and silence built out of fear and ignorance is failing.

When someone says “I don’t have to serve you.” Or that “If it were up to me Id have fried have the world by now.”, it does a lovely job of showing how much they are afraid of anyone different than they are and how much that fear inspires violence. These people wish the law to only allow those people like them to exist, wishing that the protections of the law only applied to them and no one else.  They wish to claim that the “other” isn’t in society, that they aren’t human.

What the Boss Likes – welcome to Easter, syncretic religion at its best

Welcome to Easter.   Based spring fertility worship, changed to a worship of blood sacrifice and then resurrection, we have a holiday that has many faces.  We’ve even had many dates for it, and the usual religious friction of who is “right”.

My favorite evidence of how religion changes is this:

Take this guinea pig and chica in remembrance of me.

Take this guinea pig and chicha in remembrance of me.


This is a painting by Marcos Zapata in 1753, where Jesus Christ and the apostles are enjoying Peruvian cuisine(more about the cathedral here).  If there’s a picture, it must have happened right?   This sure would have made my serving of communion a much more interesting experience.

This is how spring should be celebrated, flowers and a nice bock style beer.

Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – a review of “One Nation, Under Gods”

079-Superstition-is-the-foe-of-progress-650x310Recently, I had a short blog post about a new book I’ve read, One Nation, Under Gods.   I love the book, and thought I might write a longer post about it now. And I need to since I’m going to be lending it to my parents to read tomorrow.

One Nation, Under God is a new book by Peter Manseau, a writer who has his doctorate in religion from Georgetown University. This is a book that is definitely needed considering that many Christians in the US are doing their best to rewrite history to fit their fantasy that the US was founded as a “Christian Nation”, though of course they don’t agree on what a “Christian Nation” actually would be. The book presents the facts very well and is not favorable to any particular side.

The book’s strength is that it relates the changing religions in the US, and to a lesser degree, the whole of North America, to the politics and culture of the times. It starts us in 1492, bringing in the state of European religions to how it affected the urge to colonize the New World. From the likely hidden Jews on Columbus’ ships, forced into a masquerade by the murderous Roman Catholics in Spain, to the Muslim slaves of the conquistadors, and the native Americans, we have how religion mix, mesh and change, showing that no religion has some inviolate “truth”.

Next is the immigration of the various northern sects of Christianity coming in from Europe, those who were sure that their versions of Christianity were the only “pure” ones. They, of course, promptly decided that anyone who disagreed with them once they crossed the Atlantic needed to be killed or to be banished from the colonies that they established.   Their quest for a free place to worship was an entirely selfish desire that they would do anything to forbid anyone else access to. Their various “shining cities on the hill” were bastions of fear of the “other”.   We do have the surprising story that Cotton Mather, famous from his sermons often included in Early American Literature classes, trying to encourage the use of a native African superstition which was essentially vaccination to stop smallpox, an awful disease that killed Mather’s family. Mather’s slave, renamed Onesimus after the slave that Paul returned to his master, told him of this practice. Mather did his best to encourage his society to do this but felt the sting of rejection for his new ideas because any attempt at relieving disease was considered going against the will of his god and his god’s divine judgment.

We also had Jews migrating in this period since they were persecuted by most other contries that had some form of Christianity as the state religion. For example, Jews were forbidden in England for 300 years. In the book, it describes the plight of Jews that had to leave a South American colony that had changed hands between the Netherlands and Portugal. With Portugal came the Inquisition, so they begged passage to New Amsterdam aka New York City. They were nearly kept from there too, until the Jewish backers of the Dutch traders threatened to pull their backing.

Continue reading

Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – The case against Hell

gervais hellThe Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has some ads broadcast on CNN recently.  The spokesperson, Ron Reagan, ended the ad with the phrase ” “life-long atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”    The FFRF has an excellent blog post addressing the outcry about that particular phrase and the idea of “hell” here.

I have not much to add to the FFRF post about hell.  I find the idea of a hell, in any religion, to be nothing more than violent sadistic fantasies indulged in by people who want anyone who disagrees with them punished.  Many theists have retreated from their more violent versions to say that their hell is just “separation” from God a la C.S. Lewis, and insist that it’s the choice of the non-believer in whatever religion to go to hell since they don’t want to be around this god anyway.  However, that is just one more fiction to add to the myth.

What the Boss Likes – a new book, One Nation Under Gods

one nationA new book, One Nation, Under Gods by Peter Manseau, is one of the best books I have read in a long time.  Mr. Manseau reviews the history of religion in the United States of America from 1492 (with some info on religion in North America before the Europeans came) up to the present day.  It is a very easy-to-read book, despite being full to the brim with facts.

I think I am fairly well versed in history but this opened my eyes to many more new facts.  I never knew that Cotton Mather (yes, *that* Cotton Mather) advocated for an early form of vaccination, a fair number of the Africans brought to the US were Muslims,  slave owners wavered between teaching Christianity to their slaves and forbidding it, that Thomas Jefferson wrote a favorable letter to a Seneca (a Native American tribe) religious leader, a Muslim slave might be the origin of the black colored kachina in Zuni folklore, Hindu leaders were giving speeches in the US in the 1800s, etc.

I’m only half way through the book.  :)

This book does a lovely job in dismissing the delusion of some American Christians that the US was only established by their version of Christianity and is only for them and them alone.  It does treat religion fairly, showing its benefits and does not hold back at all at showing its warts.  Everyone should read this book if they want to know the deliciously complicated religious history of America.  It is more than worth the price of admission.