Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category


by Chaz Bufe, publisher See Sharp Press

Know-nothingism has become fashionable on the religious right. Many right-wing fundamentalists insist that assertions contained in an ancient mish-mash of a book are every bit as valid as carefully arrived-at, repeatedly tested scientific theories and conclusions.

In a striking bit of irony, some go even further and (unconsciously) mimic academic postmodernists, insisting that all “opinions” (including scientific conclusions) are equal. Thus willful ignorance among the least educated mirrors willful ignorance among the most educated.

Given all this, it’s good to remind ourselves of why facts matter, and why science is superior to religious faith.

Failure to take facts into account has real-world consequences. To cite a trivial example, if you believe you’re invulnerable because you believe you are, test your hypothesis by stepping in front of a truck. To cite a sadder, all-too-real example, science has established that the similarities between human beings vastly outweigh the differences, and that there’s no basis for assertions that any race is superior to any other. So, are the opinions of racists just as valid as  the scientific conclusion that the differences between racial groups are trivial?

To cite still another example of why facts matter, in the Middle Ages in Europe, with science at a standstill, many believed that disease and bad weather were caused by witchcraft. End result? Tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of “witches” were brutally murdered for “causing” storms and disease.

There are innumerable other examples demonstrating why facts matter. And, yes, you can’t absolutely prove anything, but probabilities are so high in so many cases that it’s reasonable to act as if the probablity is 100%.

So, facts do matter. But why does science trump religion?

1. The scientific method is the only reliable way to arrive at the most probably correct explanation of almost anything. Scientists reach conclusions by formulating hypotheses, checking those hypotheses against observed phenomena, devising experiments to test the hypotheses, checking them for internal consistency, and checking to see if the hypotheses can generate accurate predictions. Then doing all this over and over again, with different scientists repeatedly testing the hypotheses (“theories” if they consistently pass all these tests over a prolonged period of time) through experiment, observation, and analysis.

This is a bit different than pointing to a hoary book written by iron-age slaveholders and asserting, “This is a fact! It says so here!”

2. Science is self-correcting. Religion isn’t. Science continually tests and refines hypotheses and theories to arrive at more accurate explanations. Religion doesn’t.

A good example of this is provided by scientific exploration of racial differences between humans. In the 19th century, some scientists asserted that whites were superior to other races. By the middle of the 20th century, other scientists had definitively debunked those assertions through observation, experiment, and analysis. (Yes, there are still a few racist scientists, but their assertions are knocked down almost as soon as they make them, and the vast majority of scientists now accept, in line with scientific research, that assertions of racial superiority or inferiority are baseless.)

The overt racism of the Book of Mormon slightly predates the racist assertions of some 19th-century scientists, with the Book of Mormon itself referring to caucasians as “white and exceedingly fair and delightsome” (2 Nephi 5:20-21); and as late as 1935, Mormon Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith asserted that “because of [Cain’s] wickedness he became the father of an inferior race.” (The Way to Perfection, p. 101)

Finally, in 1978, in response to widespread social condemnation (and undoubtedly a desire to increase the number of potential converts), then-prophet Spencer W. Kimball announced a new “revelation” that the church should abandon its racial restrictions on the priesthood (but not the “revealed” racist passage in 2 Nephi, nor the racist statements of previous “prophets”). That’s a bit different than the way science handled the matter, eh?

3. Science improves daily life. Religion doesn’t. One clear example of this is in the field of medicine. Scientists discovered the microbial nature of disease. That discovery led to use of antiseptics and the later development of antibiotics, which have saved the lives of untold millions.

In contrast, religion has led to no developments that improve daily life. (And please don’t start talking about the power of prayer and the peace it supposedly brings–we’re speaking here of demonstrable physical improvement.)

4. Science leads. Religion lags. A good example of this is our understanding of the universe beyond the Earth. Early scientists (Copernicus, Galileo, et al.) led the way to accurate description of the physical universe.

At the same time, the church was insisting that the sun revolves around the Earth, and hauling scientists who dared to state the opposite before the Inquisition.

Another example is the scientific versus religious attitude toward women. Science has established that while there are obvious and not-so-obvious differences between men and women, their intellectual abilities are almost identical (with a few end-of-the-bell-curve differences in a few specific areas).

In contrast, religion has insisted on the inferiority and consequent subordination of women from antiquity. To cite but two of a great many Bible verses denigrating women, “How then can man be justified with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a woman?” (Job 25:4) and “These [redeemed] are they which were not defiled with women.” (Revelation 14:4)

Today, some religions have acknowledged reality and accept the equality of men and women. Others have dug in their heels and still insist upon female subordination, though most are now wary of openly stating that women are inferior. And it’s safe to say that the more conservative the religion–that is, the more literally its members take their scriptures–the more likely they are to insist upon the inferiority and subjugation of women.

5. Finally, as Neil deGrasse Tyson famously remarked, science opens doors and religion closes them. Science not only leads to improvement in daily life, but to broader intellectual horizons; it encourages people to think for themselves, to question everything; it leads to one question after another.

Religion insists that all the answers are contained in ancient holy books, and that it’s wrong, dangerous to question those answers–that you have an intellect, but you shouldn’t use it.

It’s hard to conceive of anything more stultifying.


amazon logo

Shelf Awareness reports that Amazon.com has announced that it’s starting its “Black Friday Sale” on, yes, Good Friday.

(Actually, you can make this stuff up, but it’s all too believable, given the evil that Amazon does — the dire effects it’s had on independent bookstores and on small publishers.)


by Chaz Bufe, author of The American Heretic’s Dictionary

Religious fundamentalists  — all of them, Christian, Muslim, Mormon, Jewish, Hindu — are a threat to our freedoms, our families, our economic well-being, their own children, the environment, and human survival.

I’m not exaggerating.

This threat is not the result of particular religious beliefs; it results from the very nature of fundamentalism.

Virtually all fundamentalists have the following in common:

  • They place faith (belief without evidence) above reason (which along with observation forms the basis of science). As Martin Luther put it in his “Table Talk”: “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has . . .”
  • They place their faith in ancient (Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Muslim) or modern (Mormon, Scientology) “holy” books and the cynical or simply delusional men who wrote them; they then place their faith in the founders’ interpreters and successors. Why? Because the books, their writers, and those who follow tell them the books and prophets are true.
  • They systemically engage in childhood religious indoctrination — an insidious form of child abuse — to spread their delusions to their children, who in turn will indoctrinate their children, who in turn . . . . . This results in generation after generation who disrespect and disregard rationality and evidence, and consider belief without evidence the highest virtue.
  • They place faith above family.
  • One of the primary, perhaps the primary, tenet of fundamentalists is that they must obey unconditionally, without question, the commands of their religion’s holy books and holy men. This makes fundamentalists very easy prey for manipulators, and very dangerous. They abdicate their decision-making responsibility and instead blindly follow orders, no matter how crazy or vicious.
  • They regard doubt as unholy, sinful, and, quite often, regard doubters as being in the grip of Satan.
  • They regard themselves as “the chosen,” “the elect,” “God’s people,” who by virtue of their shared delusions are better than the rest of us.
  • Worse, virtually all fundamentalists believe that they have the right, indeed the duty, to impose their religious beliefs on nonbelievers, through violence if necessary. And they’ll feel righteous while doing so.

Evidence of all these things is abundant. A few examples, from a near infinite number:

  • American “faith healer” cultists routinely allow their children to suffer horribly and, in some cases, die unnecessarily rather than allow medical science to save them. (For information on this problem see the site of Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty [CHILD] and this article on them.)
  • One of the most horrible examples of childhood religious indoctrination is provided by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and other groups of fundamentalist, polygamous Mormons), whose members follow the divine injunction to forcibly “marry” young girls (as young as 13 or 14) to much older men, who then rape them.  (See John Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven for sickening details, or just google FLDS.) The great majority of girls, who do not escape this nightmarish abuse, then give birth to broods who continue this unutterably vile, “divinely ordained,” form of indoctrination/sexual abuse, which not incidentally also involves widespread incest.
  • “Disconnection” from “apostates” is common among fundamentalist families. It’s widespread among Mormons, Muslims, the Ultra Orthodox, and it seems to be the rule among Scientologists.
  • Fundamentalists are easy prey for manipulators, for transparent charlatans. There are millions of American fundamentalists who send massive amounts of money to televangelists, including “prosperity gospel” hustlers who tell their viewers to send “seed money” to them, which will then return to them tenfold or a hundredfold.
  • This proneness to manipulation — this lack of a bullshit filter — has real-world consequences for the rest of us. Donald Trump, as transparent and grotesque a con man as has ever appeared on the American scene, received the votes of 81% of American fundamentalists in the 2016 election. Why? Why would they vote for this grossly immoral–by their own standards–disgrace to humanity? Because he told them what they wanted to hear.
  • Fundamentalists seem especially prone to persecuting nonbelievers. This takes its current most flagrant form in areas controlled by Islamic fundamentalists, with their floggings, torture, and beheadings of atheists and other infidels. This occurs not only in areas controlled by ISIS and Al-Qaeda, but also in countries controlled by Islamic fundamentalists, notably Iran and Saudi Arabia. Here in the West, there were anti-blasphemy laws (and resulting imprisonment) well up into the 19th and 20th centuries.
  • Fundamentalists also want to control the most intimate aspect of daily life, and the punishments they inflict on those who don’t comply with their moral dictates are often barbarous, not only in Islamic countries, but also in Christian fundamentalist countries — e.g., Uganda’s “kill the gays” law, inspired directly by American fundamentalists. Here in the U.S., fundamentalists (and conservative Catholics and Mormons) are the driving force behind attempts to restrict reproductive rights, and those same forces are in many states denying people the right to end their own lives, even when in intolerable pain.

They feel proud of all this; they feel virtuous about it; and they’re intent on forcing their perverted beliefs on the rest of us.

As Clay Fulks said nearly a century ago:

Having fundamentalists in a nation is like having congenital imbeciles in a family–it’s a calamity. Allow their mountebank, swindling leaders enough control over society and though religious faith would flourish fantastically, society would revert to the sheep-and-goat stage of culture . . . Wherefore it is perfectly irrelevant whether your fundamentalist is honest or utterly hypocritical in his religious beliefs . . . It just doesn’t matter. The question of his intellectual integrity will have to wait until he grows an intellect. In the meantime, however, what the forces of reaction are doing with him constitutes a continuing calamity.”

Christianity, A Continuing Calamity

 


See Sharp Press will publish two titles during the Fall season:

Cutlure Wars (revised & expanded) coverCulture Wars: The Threat to Your Family and Your Freedom (revised & expanded), by Marie Alena Castle, graphically describe religious intrusions into the most intimate aspect of our lives — our rights to contraception, abortion, the right to marry, end-of-life decisions — and how preferential treatment of religion harms all of us financially.

The new edition with provide additional information on the rise of the religious right, its recent anti-women’s rights, anti-reproductive rights, and anti-LGBT campaigns, the Mormon Church’s misogynistic and homophobic attitudes and practices, the harm religious-right policies inflict on us when put into practice, with a particular focus on the havoc wrought in Mike Pence’s Indiana and Sam Brownback’s Kansas, and what we can do to combat the religious right’s assaults on our freedom.

Venezuelan Anarchism: The History of a MovementVenezuelan Anarchism: The History of a Movement, by Rodolfo Montes de Oca, is the newest title in our “History of a Movement” series. (The two previous titles are Cuban Anarchism: The History of a Movement and African Anarchism: The History of a Movement.) In it, Venezuelan author, attorney, and human rights activist Rodolfo Montes de Oca traces the rise of the Venezuelan anarchist movement from colonial times to the present day.

During the Spring 2018 season we plan to publish at least one, probably two, new science fiction titles and a new atheist title. We’ll announce them when it’s nearer to their release dates.


 

cartoon by Pamela Sutter

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This is  the latest from our friend Pamela Sutter, author of the e-book May the Farce be with You: A lighthearted look at why God does not exist.

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May the Farce be with You


Things have been popping in the wild and wacky world of religion recently. Here are a few interesting, horrifying, and amusing things from the last few weeks:

  • Yes, there’s now MormonWikiLeaks, for whistleblowers who want to expose the LDS Church’s secrets. One particularly useful feature of the site (on its front page) is its detailed information on installing and using the Tor browser (for secure, anonymous browsing and communications).
  • Speaking of Mormons, Good4Utah.com reports six members of the horrific cult known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) reached a plea deal on Wednesday with federal prosecutors over a four-and-a-half-year SNAP (food stamp) scam in which FLDS members defrauded the federal government of over $12 million dollars in SNAP benefits, and handed them over to FLDS leaders who shockingly enough didn’t use them on food. The plea deal let all of the fraudsters skate, without jail time, probation or paying restitution. This might seem unjust, but one can rest assured that, in the land of “equal justice under the law,” the “punishment” would have been the same had the criminals been Muslims or atheists.
  • Truthdig has a good piece titled The Truth About Jesus, which explores the historical background of Jesus and his followers and considers the historicity of the deeds and words attributed to Jesus in the Bible. The piece relies fairly heavily on the work of the Jesus Seminar, a colloquium of over 200 Protestant Bible scholars, mostly employed by religious colleges and seminaries, who undertook in 1985 a multi-year investigation into the historicity of the deeds and words attributed to Jesus. They concluded that only 18% of the statements and 16% of the deeds attributed to Jesus in the Bible had a high likelihood of being historically accurate.
  • “Family values” South Carolina Republican representative and Confederate flag waver Chris Corley was arrested the day after Christmas for first-degree domestic violence. According to the arrest report, he beat his wife on the head and in the face with a closed fist before threatening her with a gun — in front of their eight-year-old daughter, who was recorded on the 911 call pleading, “Just stop Daddy. Just stop…Daddy, why are you doing this?” Earlier in the year, Corley voted to, yes, increase the punishment for domestic violence.
  • In another heartening example of religion inspiring ethical behavior, the Detroit Free Press reports that Eaton Rapids, Michigan resident Kyle Craig was arrested last month for erratic driving, hitting several vehicles, and hit-and-run involving injuries to victims. Why — and do we even need to ask? — did he act so irresponsibly? Craig was powerless — he said that the devil made him do it. The Free Press reports: “Craig said he didn’t get much sleep the night before the crashes because he was reading the Bible, and was ‘sucked right in’ while he was driving.” Craig also thanked God for saving him from injury even though he wasn’t wearing a seat belt. Craig, however, had no explanation for why God didn’t save his victims from injury. (And yes, we know, God moves in mysterious ways — much as a blind, wildly swing swordsman moves through a kindergarten.)
  • Finally, in a story that has no obvious connection to religion, though it certainly seems that it should, Deadspin has published its annual list based on emergency room reports, “What did we get stuck in our rectums last year?” There are some real gems, both figurative and literal, in the list. Enjoy!

Cartoon by Pamela Sutter

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(Pamela Sutter is the author and illustrator of May the Farce be with You: A lighthearted look at why God does not exist. The book is part of our 12 Days of Atheist E-book Giveaways that ends on December 26.)

May the Farce be with You