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 – what to do if your child comes to the conclusion they are an atheist? maybe not follow the God Squad’s advice

Double-standard-of-modern-mythologyIn one of the latest God Squad columns, the querent is a Catholic parent whose 16 year old son has declared he is an atheist. He asks for Rabbi Gellman’s advice on how to convince his son there is a god.   The parent, the father, admits that even he and the mother don’t go to Mass much nor take part of the sacraments and considers himself “spiritual” rather than Catholic. He seems to just want his son to believe in some kind of a “higher power” and accept at least “intelligent design”. The son accepts biology and evolutionary theory as correct and evidently has some respect for his biology teacher.

The main question I have here is why? Why is it so important for the father to have his son agree with him that there is a higher power? At the moment, it seems that the only reason is to get external validation, that my son believes, my wife believes, my neighbor believes so I must be right and have some “truth”.   The father’s last sentence also seems to be revealing “I’m at a loss as to how to debate the issue with him, but I wish, for his own sake, that he were open to the idea of a higher power.”. It seems no more than a variant of Pascal’s Wager, where one assumes that one is believing in the correct god *and* that this belief has some worth in getting you out of whatever divine punishment might be waiting if you didn’t believe in it.

Rabbi Gellman says that it’s good for atheists and theists to live together, that beliefs are “sharpened and refined” in the heat of dialogue. Unfortunately, on the theist’s side, they are stuck with believing that the atheist that they may love somehow deserves to die or be tortured eternally for not believing in what the theist does. Only universalists, those who believe their god will accept everyone in some form, get out of that little problem and their beliefs are not to be shown any more true than those who believe in divine punishmenet.

The rabbi seems to be taking refuge in the idea that atheism is only a method of his god to teach someone else something of importance, in this case “patience and forbearance”. Now, patience does mean forbearance, but forebearance can have a more detailed meaning, patience with someone who is “difficult” aka “stubborn or unreasonable”. This seems to be nothing more than the usual attempt by a theist to claim that an atheist is just being rebellious for no reason. That is a nice excuse but it does fail when reasons and facts can be brought to bear against the claims of the existence of a god. I am no more rebellious against a god than I am against the Emperor and Darth Vader. I can be rebellious against edicts claimed to be made in their name, that is a reaction to something real, not the fictional characters involved.

I do agree that it is very important that a teen does feel his parents do respect him or her. But to tell that teen that they should believe in something that has no evidence is rather like telling them that they should still believe in Santa Claus because it makes the parents feel better. Most teens that I know, or that I was decades ago, would just laugh at that since they came to the conclusion that Santa isn’t the one who is leaving the presents under the tree.

It isn’t terribly surprising that the rabbi claims that when he’s changed his beliefs it wasn’t because of a better argument. He claims that it was because he’s seen a “better life” in those people who have changed his beliefs, and many people do accept beliefs from people who appear to be telling some truth. One sees evidence and if it is misattributed to a divine being rather than a human, it’s easy to think that religion is true. But if one finds out what that evidence really supports, the conclusion changes. Since Rabbi Gellman has been good friends for years with a Catholic priest, I would guess that one of his changes in belief is that people of different religions are decent people and that there is no good reason to believe that they are going to be killed or tortured for what they believe. One can come to the same conclusion by realizing that there is no evidence for any version of the Judeo-Islamo-Christian god.

If I witness that someone is a good person, generous and forgiving, I attribute that to that person, not to some religion because I know that religion affects people in entirely different ways; it is not a consistent cause and effect. These ways are so diametrically opposite that again there is no reason to believe that one god is doing anything at all. The rabbi claims that “If he can witness in your generosity and forgiveness, your kindness and compassion the results of a pious life lived in an impious world, he might want to have the same qualities in his life.” Sigh. And what prevents this young man from having these same qualities without religion? What prevents atheists from being the generous and forgiving, kind and compassionate role-models? Again we have a theist tryingto make the argument that non-theists can’t possibly be good, forgiving, kind and generous. What happens when this young man points out that he can witness plenty of people, of his religion and not, being decent and humane and doesn’t need religion at all to be that? The rabbi’s argument fails, like so many theistic arguments have.

It also seems that the rabbi wants to adjust expectations for his arguments even before they are made, which seems to only be to excuse how badly they do fail.   His supposedly one guaranteed argument against atheists is “What is the source of your hope? Is there something in the way you view your place in the world that gives you a reason to get up in the morning and try to make the world a better place?””   This appears to be to assume that atheists have no hope which is again a rather sad little lie on the part of a theist.

I, and many atheists, have plenty of hope. I have great hope in humanity, though occasionally not a great deal in many individual humans. Humans have done great things and we have done it in spite of religion and its dogma and reinforced ignorance. We now say slavery is wrong when it was perfectly fine to supposed omnipotent and omniscient gods. We say humans deserve to have basic rights. We, or at least a lot of us, look beyond tribal, religious and state identities and see us all as humans.

What gets me up in the morning to make the world a better place? My fellow humans and some good ol’ enlightened self-interest. I don’t need the threat of a god to make me do any of this. I don’t need a promise of a magical present after I am dead to make me do any of this.   Gods are useless ideas that are nothing but humans wanting to explain things that they don’t understand and to pretend that they “know” better than other humans. The idea of a god certainly doesn’t make anyone automatically good, decent, kind and compassionate.

The rabbi say he doesn’t care if one uses the word God if we have a world view that does this for us. I do think he does care if we don’t use the word God at all and we say, and show, that this god doesn’t exist. He might not mind if some other theist says Allah, or Goddess, or Vishnu, but if I say that there is no magical supernatural force that does anything, then I’m guessing that the rabbi will be a bit offended. He still insists on trying to imply that atheists don’t have any hope and that we are all somehow nihilists, with his quoting of Camus “The meaning of life is just that it ends.” It tends to indicate that the rabbi has apparently talked to no atheists at all if he trots out such old tired nonsense.

Finally, we have the rabbi saying that he would encourage the father to “revisit” his decision to allow his son to stop going to Mass.   Per the rabbi, “family outings” produce bonds that are important. I do think that family outings are indeed important, but to a church where you are doing anything but interacting with your family but sitting still listening to things you’ve heard before? That seems to be the exact opposite intent. It’s no more effective than watching who will be thrown off the island again. Go for a walk, visit a museum, do something that makes you think, rather than something that says don’t think at all.

The rabbi says that the father has a “right” to expect church attendance for a “few more years”. Really? I know teens, and that might not be the tact you want to take. You want rebellious? That’s a great way to get that.

A note to the father of the teen here. Listen to your son and don’t just decide that he has to do what you say because you are the parent and need some validation. He very well might be right in his conclusion that there are no gods. You might be wrong and that’s not a bad thing as long as you can admit it. Kids realize their parents aren’t perfect long before the parents realize that they have and it is a rough thing to accept, especially if they know they are right. They’ll respect you a lot more when you stop trying to play the card that says I’m older than you and I’m part of your DNA.