Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – follow those laws….or not

This week, there were a couple of fascinating columns from the usual theistic suspects, Rabbi Gellman and Billy Graham.

Billy has a column on the “ten” commandments.   The querent asks why we should follow them now. Billy asks in return “which of them would you do away with if you could?” as a challenge, because how could anyone want to get rid of “you will not steal”? Of course, he forgets to mention the commandments that require that everyone worships his god and that says that everyone is damned by the sins of their parents. He asks if the querent would dare to want to get rid of the other commandments, the ones that “demand we put God first in our lives or even the one safeguarding the family by commanding sexual purity.”   Oh yes, that one that says that homosexual should be killed.   According to Billy, if we ignore any of these commandments we will end in chaos. So what does that mean when Billy ignores those commandments he doesn’t like?   The one that says to pay your employees every day? The one that one isn’t to wear mixed fibers?   Do you think Billy has never eaten a shrimp? Pork? A cheeseburger? Where is Billy trying to kill those who dare to work on Sundays?   Where’s his beard? How many menstruating women has Billy chased out of church? How many divorced men and women has he tried to kill?

Yep, we don’t see Billy following those silly rules either, those ones that he says that we must follow or, you know, chaos. Thanks for leading the charge to chaos, Billy! Of course, this all nonsense, and the usual “do as I say, not as I do” from a hypocrite.

Then we have Rabbi Gellman who says something quite different, at least on the surface. The querent asks about the practice of creating a “eruv” by Orthodox Jews, an “enclosure” that observant Jews do not leave during the Sabbath. The eruv mentioned is a town, Westhampton Beach, NY. In the bible, in Exodus 16, it says “29 Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.” This is in reference of keeping the “Sabbath” holy and not working during it, one of those commandments that Billy mentioned.   It is inconvenient to be stuck at home and to be forbidding to carry things, so the eruv gets bigger and bigger dependent on the needs of the believers.

The querent asks if this is “bending the rules” that this god gave. The rabbi gives quite an answer. You can read the entire thing here, but it can be summed up by one of the sentences “All religions alter supposedly unalterably laws to help people more easily find God in their lives.”

Now, I’ve always wondered about a god that is so interested in such ludicrous minutia.   Why would an omnipotent, omniscient being care about what humans do with their genitalia.   One idea I came up with is that if you can’t do something so simple, as follow a law like “don’t eat shrimp” why think you could do anything harder or more complicated? The rabbi does mention the obvious problems with his attitude. If this god really did give these laws, how can humans ignore them or change them?   He excuses this because those laws were inconvenient for people so they needed to be changed because one just can’t have people unable to use strollers or lock their homes. This seems to assume that God didn’t think of such things and humans need to make sure that they are comfy.   The rabbi says “It’s the natural consequence of living with laws and compassionately altering them when their intent was being thwarted by their implementation.” Which is the typical claim of a theist that they know the intent better than anyone else, including others of their religion.

Not so amazingly, Gellman defends the Christians who also change their god’s supposedly immutable laws, saying that it was perfectly fine for the Catholic Church to invent “annulments” to allow “In Catholicism, for example, the laws forbidding divorce and remarriage in the Church have caused many Catholics great pain because they feel excluded from being in communion with the Church they love.”

Funny how the rabbi doesn’t suggest that the Church should just ignore those bits about homosexuality to allow gays and lesbians to be in the church that they love.

As always, people make gods and make up what those gods really “want”.   The rabbi and the pastor want to be the ones to tell everyone that it’s okay for them to say what their god wants.

Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – Yet more evidence that it’s not about concern but control, and some ruminations on prayer

Here in PA, we have yet more evidence that those who claim to be “pro-life” are concerned with nothing more than control of anyone who disagrees with them. There was a bill that would require that employers offer their pregnant employees a seat or allowing them to have a beverage at their work station. We have 55 legislators who have supported a bill that would significantly restrict abortion access. You know how many of the same people voted for this aid for women? Three. Yep, so much for thinking of the women and children. It’s only “think of how much we can force them to obey something that we claim is true.” Lovely to see such a perfect example of hypocrisy.

god and modern medicineOn other matters, prayer as a subject has been on my mind because of the ebola outbreak in western Africa and its constituent countries. A missionary and a doctor got a rare experimental serum created by the scientific method and appear likely to survive the ravages of the disease. This serum was allowed to be used because of a US exception to the law that if something might help, the drug or treatment can be used without the usual safeguards. This also means that this serum may never be available if it doesn’t meet the usual standards of safety and effectiveness *OR* if it doesn’t meet the profitability for its producer. A lot of people will again be left with nothing or with prayer as their only options.

And we know that prayer is utterly ineffective for actual aiding the sick and dying. At best, it may make people believe that they feel better, but they still die with the same rates as anyone else. It also makes people feel like they did something when they did nothing but whistle in the wind. This is underlined in the latest couple of columns from Billy Graham and Rabbi Gellman of the God Squad.

In Billy’s column, the querent says that people get better or not depending on how they respond to treatment, prayer does nothing. Of course, Billy insists that prayer is important because people “almost always turn to prayer” if they or their loved ones have a “serious health crisis.” In case you don’t recognize this, it’s the claim that there are no atheists in foxholes so, surprise, there has to be a god! (there are plenty of atheists in foxholes) Billy then goes on to say that heck, even if there is no god, we should pray for them anyway, it can’t hurt can it? He also assumes that the querent isn’t sure if this god exists, and then goes into making the usual baseless claims that this god does, that its avatar Jesus exists and that we should believe no matter what,, making the usual Pascal’s wager argument. Yep, the bible says that JC says that he is the way and the truth and the life, but we may as well believe that Lord Krishna is the same thing, with the same amount of evidence.

Rabbi Gellman’s column (beware site has annoying popups) has the querent, a Catholic, asking if the prayers that they say daily at mass do any good. They admit that the prayers make *them* feel good, because they imagine that they are doing something. The querent wants to know if this god gives the patient “peace and acceptance”.

The rabbi addresses this as the difference between why some people believe and some people don’t. Theists believe in things that have no evidence. Other theists don’t believe that other gods do anything. And non-theists don’t believe that something happens when there is no evidence of such a thing. The rabbi does admit that there has been no scientific evidence for prayer working. Good for him, for that is the truth. But the rabbi wants to keep pretending that something happens when there is nothing that shows it does. One may as well say that “hey, there is no evidence at all for aliens visiting earth. But heck, I want to believe in it anyway, no matter what reality says *and* I’ll keep telling nonsense to others so I feel better about myself.” Seems a bit delusional, no? Continue reading “Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – Yet more evidence that it’s not about concern but control, and some ruminations on prayer”

Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – Just what is a cult? Another review of Billy Graham’s columns

Cults-A-ComparisonWe have a new column from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which has been the gift that keeps on giving.  What is this one about, you may ask?   It’s about how to identify cults.  Yes, you might know where this is going already.   When a theist calls something a cult, it’s hard to look away from the train wreck that always ensues.

The querent asks how they can know if a group is a cult or not.  A coworker of the querent has invited this person to attend her “religious assembly”, but the querent doesn’t know anything about it.  The querent finishes by saying that they are not from a religious family but they know that they need God, aka the Christian one.

In that the querent didn’t simply ask the woman about her church e.g. religious assembly, or do an internet search of it is curious enough.   We also have no idea on how someone can come to know that they need some god.  Billy is of course joyous that someone knows that they need his god.  He also has some advice on how to know if a group is a cult or not.  He is sure that such “cults” will lead away from his god rather than toward him.

So how does one identify one of those cults according to the BGEA?

“One way is to find out if the members think that they, and they alone, have all the truth about God.”

The problem with this is that most, if not all religions, do claim this.  Even Billy claims this when he states that his religion is the “only way” repeatedly in this article, titled “The Only Way”. Ahem…. 🙄

“To put it another way, most cults teach that every other church is wrong, and they alone are right.”

Which the BGEA has done when it had an article up on its website saying that Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc were cults and when it claims that anyone who uses other books or sources other than the bible is also a cult, aka Roman Catholics. (Billy himself seems to be straying from this position, see the bottom of the article) This article was removed when Billy was schmoozing with Mitt Romney, former presidential candidate and Mormon.

And of course we have other TrueChristians sure that Billy Graham isn’t a TrueChristian at all, here at Christian Apologetics and Research Ministries, a wonderful nest of TrueChristians insisting that they and they alone have all of the truth about their god.  Could it be we have another band of cultists?

Billy also has that another way one can tell is if the “cult” is of recent origin that it is wrong.  Now, at one point his religion was recent, about two thousand years ago or so.  Did that make it a cult?  The people at the time certainly seemed to think so, which would indicate that the “time in grade” argument is utterly subjective and meaningless.  It does indeed help the TrueChristian to decry other religions and even sects of their own religion.  With this claim, the Catholics are much less “culty” than Protestant sects, which seems to indicate that everyone should be a Catholic rather than holding to Protestant ideals of sola scriptura, etc.  Perhaps even the Coptic Christians are even less “culty” than them, so who knows who has the “right” answers?  And then we have to consider the Jewish faith, which is even older and the variations of ancient religions that people have done their best to recreate that may be from much farther back.   To claim that “time in grade” or age is nothing more than the logical fallacy of appealing to tradition.  The inverse can also be true, that just because something is old doesn’t mean that it isn’t true, the fallacy of the appeal to novelty, but as always evidence is needed to establish truth, not just a claim of a fact that has no determined correlation to the claims of truth.

Billy also tries to claim that if a group doesn’t agree with him about what the bible “really” says,  then they are a cult by definition. “Do they see him as both fully God and fully man? Most cults don’t, but the Bible does. Do they teach that because of his death and resurrection we can be saved as we put our faith and trust in him? Most cults don’t, but the Bible does.”   This is no more than insisting that he’s right and everyone else is wrong, what he claims as a sign of a cult repeatedly.  Hmmm, seems we are indeed going in circles here.

Finally, after looking at the BGEA’s website we have this about cults: “Cults also often have a leader who demands full obedience, and threatens members with condemnation if they doubt his teachings. They also may try to cut them off from their families, or anyone else who might try to draw them away.”

Like this? The a new believer of a religious movement says “Before I join you, let me go back and say goodbye to my family“ and the leader replies “You cannot.  If you look back, you are not fit for my religion.”

Or the leader of the religious movement says “Everyone who follows me must hate their family and their own life.  They must give up everything. If they do not, they are not worthy.” ( incidentally, both of the above are in the Gospel of Luke, chap 9 and 14 respectively).

Seems like Billy’s religion is a cult exactly as defined by Billy:  a leader that requires full obedience, an insistence that they and they alone are “right” and a recent minting date for their particular version of the religion, at best circa 1517 or so, and likely much more recent since I rather doubt that Martin Luther would agree with Billy. (A quick look around the internet, search differences Lutheran baptist, shows that at least some Lutherans are quite sure that Billy, a Baptist, is wrong about what their god “really” wants.  More recent words from Billy, that “everyone loves Christ” whether they know it or not and that they will be saved no matter what they worship has incensed some other TrueChristians who again are sure that they have the only “right” answer.)

It is no surprise that such arguments about cults can so easily be turned against those who make them.

Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – prayers and theist claims, or “again, why believe such claims?”

Prayer-vs_-DeedsIn a delightful coincidence (no gods needed), w have another Billy Graham bit of nonsense about prayer,  prayers for water in the American west, our current TrueChristian, KD, claims about how his prayer was answered, and his claims on how dare anyone bring that up, complete with indignant words on why it’s the atheist’s fault for not doing anything to help those who need help.

In Nevada, home of Las Vegas, and Utah, ground zero for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, aka Mormons, they are praying for rain.  The snow pack in the Rocky Mountains is very small and that means very bad times for farmers who need water.  Similar prayers have been offered for Texas, for the Southeast, etc, and unsurprisingly, they haven’t been answered.  Rain has indeed come to some parts but weather patterns, not gods, do this, and the drought in the southwest and west has not gone away with some divine deluge.

In Nevada,  it was a  multi-faith service, which seems to mean that they’re appealing to any god at all to get some relief.  This of course is a little odd since Judeo-Christo-Islamic religions generally insist that their god and theirs alone is real and is the one to be beseeched.  At this event, there were Buddhists, Hindus, Bah’ai, Muslims, and the various sects of Christianity doing their best to get their gods’ attention.   The one fellow, Rajan Zed,  who started this says “”When God sees (all these) leaders sitting together in unity and harmony and praying in diverse traditions and seeking common good for the entire community, God will be naturally moved to provide the devotees relief from drought so that it will not affect their quality of life, livelihood and health,”.   Mr. Zed is a Hindu believer. In that the Hindu religion can be presented as all of their gods as aspects of one god, it is not surprising that Mr. Zed invokes God and not Indra, the appropriate aspect.  It certainly does make it much easier to gloss over that “God” is not the same to all people.

According to some Christians, daring to be with non-TrueChristians  is a big no-no.  Can’t get the big guy jealous, you know.   Even Mr. Zed was a target for this, when he was the first person to be a guest chaplain in the US Senate and to offer a Hindu prayer.  The TrueChristians were horrified!  I guess when you are desperate to save your way of life, any port in a storm. It’s a shame that it’s a lot of effort for nothing.  Perhaps they’ll realize that and, in addition, that none of their gods do anything, it’s up to them.

The latest Billy Graham column in the local paper also mentions prayer.  This one is titled “Those in positions of power need prayers.”  The querent asks why nothing seems to get “better” even though their pastor prays for “our nation’s leaders” and their local government leaders.  Considering that prayer is to get what one wants, it’s not hard to make an informed guess that the querent wants their way when it comes to laws, etc and since it’s Billy, being beseeched, the querent is not happy with the current folks in power.

Billy (aka his staff) says that we should imagine how much worse things would be without those prayers.   Which begs the question, just how “omnipotent” is this being if it can’t make things supposedly so much better than *this*? Of course, BG says that God’s ways are mysterious, and that it must be intentional that we don’t see this god doing anything at all, or at least only making a half-assed effort.   We also have a bible verse quoted, 1 Timothy 2:1, where Paul says that one should pray for everyone so that “we” can have peaceful quiet lives.  This doesn’t make much sense if one also believes the bible’s claim that this god put all of these leaders into power in the first place (Romans 13 and Titus 3 which says submit to the authorities, not pray that they change), .  If that is true, why the continued need for prayers?   Incidentally, this bit in Timothy is also the chapter that has Paul insisting that no women ever have power over a man, including teach them (Christian interpreters can’t quite decide if this says man, men, or husband.).  Makes a lot of elementary school teachers quite the sinners, eh?  Also, women are only saved by childbearing, which is quite a bummer for those who can’t have children at all.

These two instances regarding prayer underline why prayer is such an odd concept, especially with the assumption of a omniscient god.  Omniscient is Latin for “all knowing”, knowing everything ever without regard for time or place.  It’s also a problem with the claim that a god has everything happening according to some master plan.  A prayer is worthless: the god already knows what the person wants and has already decided not to do it or it would have occurred without any effort at all.   If a god *needs* a prayer,  it blows those other attributes out of the water.  It needs reminded?  It needs its ego fluffed?  I’ve seen arguments that gods require prayers but don’t “need” them, which seems to be splitting more than a few hairs and seems like “do this pointless task just to make me happy”, a divine “on the truck, off the truck” exercise (a reference to the military tendency to have soldiers to do busy work).

Finally, an update on the claims of KD, my frequent TrueChristian commenter, and his wedding ring miracle.  He did answer my question on why should one believe such a claim and would he believe the claim if used to support the existence of another god than  his own, the Christian one.  He has stated that he believes that other gods exist, a fair answer since the bible supports that, as well as supporting the claims that there is only one god.  His answer isn’t a typical one but as has been noted, Christians don’t always agree on much.

He was asked why we should believe this god answered his prayer about a ring and at the same time, this god ignores the desperate prayers of the starving, dying, etc.  I noted that when I was young, I wondered why this god did not help the hungry in Sahel region in Africa. I wondered why there was no manna, no quail, no loaves and fishes.   KD answered by asking why I did nothing to help, still no explanation of why his god was a no show.  It seems that one young gal in the US was expected to figure things out and help everyone.  What can I say? No one told me that this god couldn’t do anything in some of the most Christian countries in the world so it was up to me and my Halloween UNICEF box.

There in a nutshell, we have why prayer is worthless, it makes you think you are doing something when in reality you are doing nothing but abdicating responsibility.  Do something, even if it is that UNICEF box from a girl who lived on a farm where we didn’t have much money but we were lucky enough to have food.   It’s worth vastly more than hoping your imaginary friend will do something.

As an aside,  we have even more stupidity here in the US.  Coca-Cola did a lovely, if mildly jingoistic and goddy, ad(auto launches with sound) that dared to have a patriotic song sung in languages other than American English and a gay couple celebrating with their child.  The usual suspects are being the expected twits about it.  No surprise there at all.  Sigh.

PS – the current snowy weather here:

The current Snowmaggeddon
The current Snowmaggeddon