Archive for July, 2012

Michelangelo's "God", from "the Creation of Adam"Every time some hideous catastrophe takes place in the occidental world, inevitably, people start musing about “where God was” while it was going on. I’ve noticed this has been particularly common in regard to the Aurora massacre that happened just over a week ago. CNN’s Belief blog alone has hosted multiple postings which ask this one question … but that’s hardly the only place. The media and the blogosphere are literally choked with people asking that question. Last Sunday, preachers and pastors around the country were (trying to) answer it for their flocks during their sermons, and I assume are still trying to do so.

I tangentially mentioned that particular question myself, just a few days ago — so I have to confess, even I have stumbled into it. Given how frequently this question has come up, I’ve decided I must address it a little more directly.

The question, “Where God was during the Aurora massacre?” is a direct consequence of “the problem of evil” which lies at the philosophical heart of the Abrahamic faiths.

Elsewhere I’ve devoted an entire Web page to this particular dilemma. To keep it brief, the problem lies in the fact that the Abrahamic faiths believe in a creator deity which is simultaneously omnipotent (i.e. having the power to do anything s/he/it wants), omniscient (i.e. knowing everything that can be known: past, present, and future alike), and benevolent (i.e. wanting there to be no suffering on the part of anyone). In spite of this supposed combination of traits, though, we know that this deity’s creation contains suffering … a lot of it. Over the centuries many theodicies have been proposed to explain how this presumed creator deity can have all three of these traits yet still there is a lot of suffering. All of those theodicies, however, fail the test of logic, because they all fail to take into account the absolute nature of the three traits the Abrahamic deity is assumed to possess, as well as his role as the creator of the universe.

The one most apologists use is the “free will” theodicy, or the claim that the creator has given humanity “free will,” so that each of us can do whatevever s/he wishes at any time, and said deity refuses to do anything about it … hence there is suffering in the world that God cannot prevent. Unfortunately this fails for three reasons: First, not all suffering is even of human origin, so that someone’s presumed “free will” played no role in it and cannot have caused it. Second, that creator deity is believed to have intervened in human affairs many times in history and has gone so far as to order people around; clearly he is not some kind of remote spectator-being who’s philosophically opposed to getting involved in people’s decisions and unwilling to get in their way. Third, as the creator, he must have known how his creation would turn out; he must have known in advance what everyone would do; he must have known there would be widespread suffering for uncountable billions of people over many generations; yet — despite knowing all of this prior to the moment of creation — he created the universe anyway.

Ultimately, a truly omnipotent and omniscient being can never be absolved of any responsibility for what he creates; if he exists, and if he created this universe, he and he alone is responsible for everything that ever happens in it. Those who are part of that creation can, at best, only be secondary agents — since he created them as they are, and they did not create themselves. In the end, simply put, it is logically impossible for the creator of the universe we live in — which has suffering in it — to simultaneously be omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent. It just doesn’t work.

The curious thing about the problem of evil is, as soon as you take the Abrahamic deity’s presumed benevolence out of the equation, the rest of it actually becomes logically tenable. Removing his omnipotence or omniscience tends not to work so well: If you assume the creator was less-than-omnipotent, you’re still left with a creator who made a universe he knew would get out of his control and have suffering in it that he couldn’t do anything about; and even if the deity was less-than-omniscient, he still must have had some idea that he was risking creating a universe that might have suffering in it. So even taking either or both of those out, you’re still left with a creator-being who must have behaved in a less-than-totally-benevolent manner.

While this is coolly logical, it unfortunately does not fit with prevailing notions about the Abrahamic faiths. Most Jews, Christians and Muslims are unnerved even to consider that the deity they worship might be something other than benevolent. Some are willing to dispense with his omnipotence or omniscience (e.g. Harold Kushner, author of the best-selling When Bad Things Happen to Good People), but for the most part they simply refuse even to entertain the idea that their creator deity could be anything less than loving and compassionate.

Thus, as far as I’m concerned, for followers of the Abrahamic faiths to have to ask themselves, “Where was God during the Aurora massacre?” just provides more evidence of the inherent, undeniable absurdity of their beliefs. They shouldn’t even be asking it! What they should be asking — instead — is, “Why do I believe in a creator-deity to whom tradition assigns a combination of traits that logic tells me he can’t possibly have?”

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Photo of Charles & Te' Andrea Wilson / WLBT-TVIt really shouldn’t surprise me — knowing as much as I do about Christianity — but now and again I nevertheless find myself amazed by a story of Christians brazenly and unapologetically refusing to live up to the dictates of their own religion, as its founder taught them to follow it. The latest example is reported by WLBT-TV (via WBRC-TV), and involves white congregants at a Baptist church in Crystal Springs, MS who refused to allow a black couple to be married there (WebCite cached article):

It was to be their big day, but a Jackson couple says the church where they were planning to wed turned them away because of their race.

Now, the couple wants answers, and the church’s pastor is questioning the mindset of some of members of his congregation who caused the problem in the first place.

They had set the date and printed and mailed out all the invitations, but the day before wedding bells were to ring for Charles and Te’Andrea Wilson, they say they got some bad news from the pastor.

“The church congregation had decided no black could be married at that church, and that if he went on to marry her, then they would vote him out the church,” said Charles Wilson.

That pastor claims to have been on the couple’s side, yet he ended up giving in to his bigoted congregants by sidestepping the matter:

The church’s pastor, Dr. Stan Weatherford, says he was taken by surprise by what he calls a small minority against the black marriage at the church.

“This had never been done before here, so it was setting a new precedent, and there are those who reacted to that because of that,” said Weatherford.

Weatherford went on and performed the wedding at a nearby church.

That’s Christian courage for you. Faced with what he calls a small group of congregants who didn’t like what he’d planned to do, he scooted off and ended up doing it somewhere else. Nice work, Pastor. What a marvelous job of triangulation you’ve done!

Residents of Crystal Springs don’t seem to be too pleased about this turn of events, as WBLT further reports (cached) … but so far as I can see, no one has yet confronted the bigots in question and corrected them. So whatever kind of upset has been churned up, hasn’t really produced anything meaningful. Like Pastor Weatherford, the people of Crystal Springs are more or less just triangulating … claiming to be upset by the bigotry, yet unwilling, themselves, to do anything about it. Again, well done, Christians. Well done! Your Jesus must be so proud!

OK, I was being sarcastic in that last sentence. The truth about Jesus is that, according to the gospels, he associated with undesirables, outsiders and outcasts, and he was vocal about doing so. For Christians to make others into outcasts … no matter the reason they might have to do it (whether it’s occupation, skin color, whatever) … is decidedly and certainly un-Christian. Period. They need to fucking stop this kind of bullshit already and start living according to Jesus’ own teachings as he supposedly delivered them.

Hat tip: CNN Belief blog.

Photo credit: WBLT-TV.

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little angel / tzunghaor, via Open Clip Art LibraryThe massacre in Aurora CO late last week continues to draw religious impulses out of people. Their responses range from asking themselves where God was while a young man was slaughtering people[1], to spewing pious rage over irreligion causing the massacre, to putting up memorial crosses as a display of public piety[2], to seeing an angel over the theater in which the shooting took place. KMGH-TV in Denver offers this story accompanying a photo which — some say shows precisely that (WebCite cached article):

A 7NEWS viewer snapped a photo that shows what she said is an angel in the clouds above the vigil site for the theater rampage victims.

Tellingly, the article concludes by inviting commenters to report whether or not they see this angel. At the risk of pointing out the obvious: If you have to ask people if they can see this “angel” … then — sorry to say — it’s probably not there!

Here’s the picture in question, I invite you to be your own judge:

'Angel' in clouds above Century 16 theater, Aurora CO / Crystal Fuller, via KMGH-TV

‘Angel’ in clouds above Century 16 theater, Aurora CO / Crystal Fuller, via KMGH-TV

I certainly don’t see anything like an angel in this picture. Yes, there are some clouds in a “spray” arrangement above the theater, but honestly, it looks more like a dreaded “funnel cloud” formation, than an “angel.”

And even if this truly were an angel, looking down on the prayer vigil … one wonders why there’d have been a supernatural intervention at that moment, rather than during the shooting itself. That angel could have showed up and used his/her/its awesome angelic power to prevent shooter James Holmes from blowing away a whole bunch of people. Showing up only after the fact seems just a little bit “too little, too late,” don’t you think?

Look, I get that people love to see things like this at times when their emotions are frayed. Really, I do understand it. But I’m not sure it’s really worth anyone’s time to try to see this supposed “angel.”

Photo credit, top: tzunghaor, via Open Clip Art Library.

Photo credit, middle: Crystal Fuller, via KMGH-TV.

[1] No one would have to ask or answer such an absurd question, if not for the widespread yet irrational notion that God is both omnipotent and benevolent. In a universe which God supposedly created and which nevertheless has evil in it, this combination of traits in a deity is a logical impossibility.

[2] Unfortunately for Christians with such impulses, their own Jesus explicitly and clearly forbid his followers ever to express their piety in public. They really need to start obeying the founder of their own religion, and stop pulling this kind of crap all the time.

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Monsignor William Lynn walks to the Criminal Justice Center before a scheduled verdict reading, Friday, June 22, 2012, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, via CBS News)A month ago I blogged about Monsignor William Lynn, the manager of clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who was convicted of child endangerment. As the AP reports via NBC News, he was sentenced today to 3 years in prison (WebCite cached article):

The first U.S. church official convicted of covering up sex-abuse claims against Roman Catholic priests was sentenced Tuesday to three to six years in prison by a judge who said he “enabled monsters in clerical garb … to destroy the souls of children.”

Monsignor William Lynn, the former secretary for clergy at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, “helped many but also failed many” in his 36-year church career, Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina said. …

She believed he initially hoped to address the sex abuse problem and perhaps drafted a 1994 list of accused priests for that reason. But when Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua instead had the list destroyed, Lynn chose to remain in the job and obey his bishop – by keeping quiet – as children suffered, she said.

“You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn, but you chose wrong,” Sarmina said.

And that, folks, is the crux of this whole matter. Here you have a man who knew what clergy in the Philadelphia archdiocese were doing, and who’d attempted to address it, but then caved in to archepiscopal pressure and proceeded to remain utterly silent on the matter for an entire decade thereafter. He had other options: He could have continued to ask his archbishop to deal with the abusers; he could have turned the abusers in to local authorities but remained at his post; or he could have resigned in protest of the archbishop’s refusal to act and then turned them in. But those actions all required a certain amount of courage. Lynn had no courage, so he took the coward’s way out, silently acquiescing to his archbishop’s disgusting abuse-enablement scheme.

Hopefully this won’t be the only conviction of a diocesan official. Msgr Lynn might not have abused any children himself, but he consented (via silence) to the abuse of children by others, and that’s just as evil.

P.S. As an aside, I find the practice of giving out sentences which are a range of numbers (in this case, “3-6 years”) to be confusing, if not dishonest. I assume the sentence Lynn will serve is the lowest end of that range, i.e. 3 years. Why the inclusion of a supposed extra three years which — in all likelihood — he will never serve? What does that accomplish, except to make it seem as though he’ll spend more time in prison than he actually will?

AP Photo/Matt Rourke, via CBS News.

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Police are seen outside a Century 16 movie theater where as many as 12 people were killed and dozens more injured in a shooting during a midnight showing of 'The Dark Knight Rises,' in Aurora, Colo., July 20, 2012. Author: Edecio Martinez. Credit: AP Photo/Ed Andrieski. Via CBS News.By now you’ve heard about the shooting last night/early this morning in Aurora CO. I knew some sanctimoniously-enraged Religious Rightist would find a way to blame it on irreligion, but I honestly didn’t think it would take only a few hours. But as CBS News reports, Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert did precisely that (WebCite cached article):

In a radio interview Friday morning, Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas associated the Colorado mass shooting that’s left at least 12 people dead to “attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs.”…

Host Ernest Istook asked Gohmert, “What is your experience with the way that we have too many twisted minds in our society?”…

The congressman continued, “And what really gets me as a Christian is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs and then some senseless crazy act of a derelict takes place.”

There you have it. According to Gohmert, this shooting happened because “Judeo-Christian beliefs” have somehow been “attacked.” At the moment, no one really knows what drove the accused killer to do it … but Louie-boy is unaware of that. He — and he alone — in all the universe has managed to determine accused killer James Holmes’s motive! Oh, and he added this militant little quip:

Gohmert also wondered during the interview, “With all those people in the theater, was there nobody that was carrying a gun that could have stopped this guy more quickly?”

Apparently Louie-boy thinks many more bullets flying in many more directions in the crowded setting of a theater complex packed to the gills with Dark Knight Rises premiere moviegoers, would have been a good idea. I honestly don’t know how that works … but apparently Gohmert does.

What a fucking moron this guy is. Louie-boy’s militant religiosity has robbed him of his brains. Not that it’s entirely surprising … the Religious Right long ago lost its collective mind, and has been wallowing in insanity and idiocy for years.

Update: Yesterday’s incident near the Empire State Building in New York City should serve as a warning to Gohmert and the many other Wild West-loving gun-freaks who think a shootout would have been a good idea: All nine of the people wounded there, were hit by police firing back at the gunman (cached). During the Aurora shooting, Holmes had body armor on, which means the number of bystanders endangered would have been that much higher. What a fucking moron Gohmert is.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Ed Andrieski, via CBS News.

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Jesus Facepalm: He gave up too so please stop this foolishness (Demotivators; defunct)The killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, FL is another of those stories I’d assumed I’d never mention on this blog. But it turns out I was wrong about that (as was the case with a few other major stories I hadn’t thought could end up having a religious angle). But people’s desire and ability to shoehorn religiosity into just about anything is boundless, so it’s going to happen from time to time.

CNN’s Belief blog reports on the latest example of someone using religion to defend the indefensible (WebCite cached article):

It was “God’s plan” that brought together George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin in a fatal confrontation in February, Zimmerman told Fox News host Sean Hannity Wednesday in his first television interview. …

Zimmerman, who said he routinely carried a gun except when he was at work, told Hannity he didn’t regret deciding to follow Martin that night, after deciding the teen was acting suspiciously, and he didn’t regret having a gun.

“Do you feel you wouldn’t be here for this interview if you didn’t have that gun?” Hannity asked.

“No, sir,” Zimmerman responded.

“You feel you would not be here?” Hannity pressed.

“I feel it was all God’s plan and for me to second guess it or judge it…” Zimmerman said, pursing his lips and shaking his head.

The degree of Zimmerman’s culpability for Martin’s death has yet to be assessed by Florida courts. That will be decided only after months of legal wrangling and what’s sure to be a senationalized trial (assuming Zimmerman doesn’t plead guilty before then). But what’s incontrovertible is that his encounter with Martin ended in Martin’s death. For Zimmerman to blithely wave this away as “God’s plan,” and to say therefore that he has no regrets, is bone-chilling. The obvious logical ramification of the idea that “God’s plan” is for terrible things to happen to people, is that believers ought to just sit back and allow all manner of terrible things to happen to people — otherwise they might be thwarting “God’s will.” Despite this (and I do realize that most of them don’t think that way), most Christians … and people of other faiths, too … frequently use the “it must have been ‘God’s plan'” mantra to comfort themselves when something awful happens.

It’s natural Zimmerman would use an appeal to religion as a way of defending himself. The Right in the US has been on his side since the story of Martin’s death broke nationally. Their support for him accelerated after Leftsists they despise — such as Al Sharpton — condemned Zimmerman, and President Obama mentioned that, if he’d had a son, he might have looked like Martin. But it’s been a while since then; now that he’s has resumed trolling for donations for his defense, Zimmerman needed to curry the Right’s favor once more — and there’s no better way of getting the legions of the Right to do whatever one wants them to, than by appealing to their religiosity. (Hey, it worked for the shamed-out-of-office convicted-felon ex-governor of Connecticut John Rowland, didn’t it?)

As I’ve noted previously, it’s not to any religion’s credit that it can be used to justify something that’s otherwise indefensible. The cold fact here is that, one evening this past February, Zimmerman and Martin ran into each other, and the result was that one of them died. No one who adheres to the supposed “religion of love” could reasonably fail to regret that having happened.

Photo credit: Demotivators (defunct).

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Crusaders at ConstantinopleNote: A minor update on the CT-5 primaries is below.

With primaries underway for both parties in Connecticut’s hotly contested 5th Congressional District, it almost goes without saying that the Republican candidates are falling all over themselves trying to present themselves as dutifully sanctimonious Rightists. They’ve been advertising themselves as “job creators” and as wanting to promote “freedom” (even though, if any of them are elected to Congress, they will never hire anyone, and will only reduce people’s freedom rather than enhance it). They’ve mostly steered clear of religion, but I knew it wouldn’t be long before their urge to express their piety and sanctity would overpower them. The Hartford Courant reports that the first of them to do this, is Mark Greenberg (WebCite cached article):

Republican congressional candidate Mark Greenberg questioned whether Islam was a peaceful religion Thursday and said he believed it was “a cult in many respects.”

His remarks were made in a radio interview on WNPR’s “Where We Live” program. …

When [host John] Dankosky asked Greenberg if people who don’t share those beliefs also change the country and help make it great, Greenberg said, “perhaps, to a certain extent” and went on to talk about aspects related to the religion that he found objectionable. For example, he said he doesn’t believe a mosque should be built near Ground Zero in New York City, and he questioned whether Islam was a religion of peace. …

“I think it’s more a blueprint for living one’s life — a cult in many respects,” he said of Islam. “It’s a religion, but it’s also a way of living.”

Although agreeing with Dankosky that Judaism and Christianity are also ways of living, Greenberg said there is a difference.

“Judaism and Christianity are very peaceful religions,” he said. “I think they are more peaceful than Islam.”

First, I need to begin by commenting that the word “cult” has more or less become useless. It’s a pejorative term, a label slapped on any other religion one happens to dislike. The word itself has long since lost any specific meaning. That Greenberg used it of Islam, just tells me he doesn’t like Islam — it doesn’t mean anything else.

Second, his claim that Islam is not a “religion of peace” but Judaism and Christianity are, is absurd on its face. All three religions have violent pasts and they have adherents willing to resort to violence in the names of their faiths. The scriptures revered by Judaism and Christianity are chock full of violence. Some of that violence was supposedly committed by God himself, and the rest was done by his human followers. Those revered texts tell of the many bloody wars Israel supposedly fought while it was a tribal confederation and then a kingdom, including massacres and genocides. Christians have marched to war in the name of their god Jesus and took part in atrocities of their own. As recently as the late 20th century, Catholics and Protestants in Ireland were killing each other to prove which church was more Christlike. Christians have even engaged in terror campaigns of their own. And modern Judaism isn’t free of the stain of violence either; they are one side of a decades-old conflict in the Middle East, and there are some violent extremists among Jews, too.

As far as I’m concerned, any religion that carries an entitlement to impose itself on other human beings and on reality, can lead to violence in some of its adherents. That’s as true of Islam as it is of Christianity, Judaism, and a whole host of others.

I’m dreading this primary season here in the Nutmeg State. I’m sure things are going to get even weirder, very soon (the primaries are less than a month away).

Update: Things have, indeed, ramped up a bit in the twin primaries for CT’s 5th District, as I predicted they would. Dankosky’s interview with Greenberg was part of a series of planned interviews with all of the CT-5 candidates from both parties. It turns out, as the Torrington Register-Citizen reports (cached), none of the rest of them did any better than Greenberg — and one declined the interview out of fear of being asked a question she’s successfully avoided answering. The 5th District is doomed, folks … not one of these slippery creatures deserves a place in Congress, however, one of them is guaranteed to end up there. Ouch.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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