Archive for the “Metaphysics” Category

Aimless metaphysics of all sorts

Baby yellingIt’s still August, but the annual “war on Christmas” trope has seen its first salvo. Actor, director and militant Christofascist Kirk Cameron announced the limited release of his latest movie, Saving Christmas. His fellow Christofascist Glenn Beck’s house organ, the Blaze, advertises for tells the story of his crusade to defend his holy day from total eradication by those vile secularist types (WebCite cached article):

Actor Kirk Cameron is taking political correctness to task this fall with a new movie that aims to deflate arguments regularly made against Christmas, while simultaneously pushing back against atheist activists’ annual attacks on the holiday.

In “Saving Christmas,” Cameron plans to tackle some of the most controversial and disputed issues surrounding the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birthday — claims that he says have had a profound impact on the way believers and nonbelievers alike view the Christian celebration.

Still acting the part of the boy he once played on a sitcom, his motvation is a juvenile effort to get a dig in at the atheists he despises:

And while he has no idea exactly how atheists will respond to the feature film, which is slated to open November 14 in theaters across America, he predicts they likely won’t be too elated with its storyline.

“I assume they’re going to get frustrated to see some of their best arguments deflated by this movie, because we take on some of the most commonly parroted myths about the origins of Christmas,” Cameron exclusively told TheBlaze Tuesday.

Some of those “commonly parroted myths,” the Blaze and Cameron tell us, are:

Cameron said some of the claims that will be addressed in the film include: the notion that Christmas is really a church co-opting of winter solstice celebrations, that Jesus was not born on December 25, that Christmas trees are pagan and that consumerism is overshadowing the true reason for the season.

A few years ago I addressed a lot of Christians’ beliefs about Christmas, and the effort to outlaw it that their paranoid minds have have deluded them into thinking exists, in a static page on this blog. So I sympathize with Cameron’s fact-checking effort. I also agree that the jury is out as to whether setting Christmas on December 25 was part of a conscious, methodical effort to stamp out other pagan celebrations around the same time I rather think they did it for the same reason there had been so many celebrations at that point in the calendar, before then — simply because it was a convenient time to have a holiday. The culture they lived in had already adapted to having a holiday around that time, so it just made sense to peg their own to that spot on the calendar. I also do not view Christmas trees as a clearly “pagan” practice that Christians saw pagans doing and then decided to take it up for themselves. Christmas trees didn’t come into vogue until the Reformation, and by that time Europe had been Christianized — with no pagans around — for centuries.

That said, I’d love to hear Kirkie’s evidence that Jesus was born on December 25; a lot of Christians acknowledge it was extremely unlikely he was born on that day, and suppose rather that he’d been born sometime in the spring. There’s nothing in scripture or in any other 1st-century Christian document that suggests he was born on December 25. So Cameron must have latched onto some astounding discovery, if he can demonstrate December 25 definitely was Jesus’ birthday.

As for “consumerism is overshadowing the true reason for the season,” if that’s happening, it’s something Christians have largely done themselves, and it must be very old. For instance, the reason Thanksgiving in the U.S. has its current date is because retailers agitated for a longer Christmas shopping season. It would make no sense for them to have done so — and to have been reliant on Christmas shoppers — if consumerism hadn’t already been rooted in Christmas by the 1930s, which predates “political correctness” by decades.

At any rate, another Blaze quote confirms Cameron’s paranoia:

Cameron continued, “It’s obvious that there is a deliberate attempt to snuff out the holy root that has produced all this wonderful Christmas-time fruit. I think it’s about time someone spoke out and made a movie about this.”

None of this is “obvious” at all! For the record, Kirkie, I know of no “atheist” who wants to deprive you of “the holy root” of your precious holiday. Nor could they do so, even if they wished to, which they don’t. I know of no “atheist” who’s offended if you celebrate Christmas. Again, they could hardly stop you. I know of no “atheist” who cares whether you approve of Christmas commercialism. What concerns many of them is when Christians like yourselves use government authority to promote Christmas and intimate that all Americans are required to celebrate it — whether they wish to or not. What concerns me, particularly (and I’m no atheist), are all the outright lies you and your fellow Christians tell in the name of pushing Christmas, just so you can feel all nice and persecuted for your Jesus (because the psychopathology of your religion tricks you into doing so.) Just stop already with the delusions and lies. Go celebrate Christmas in your homes and churches. Leave the rest of us out of it, fercryinoutloud. Is that such a difficult thing to do?

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

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Kelly McBride / The Community Press, via the Cincinnati EnquirerBy now I assume most of my readers have heard of “the Ice Bucket Challenge” which has become a wildly successful fund-raiser for the ALS Association. Well, it turns out that the R.C. archdiocese of Cincinnati doesn’t approve. As the Cincinnati Enquirer reports, they’ve declared the challenge and its associated charity persona non grata (WebCite cached article):

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has asked the principals at its Catholic schools not to encourage students to raise money for the ALS Association as the ice-bucket challenge becomes an internet sensation.

The challenge itself is fine, said Dan Andriacco, spokesman for the Archdiocese.

The Archdiocese just doesn’t want fundraising to be sent to the association, which funds at least one study using embryonic stem cells, Andriacco said.

“(Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is a terrible disease,” Andriacco said, a day after an email was sent to principals from Superintendent Jim Rigg.

“We appreciate the compassion that has caused so many people to engage in this,” Andriacco said. “But it’s a well established moral principle that a good end is not enough. The means to that ends must be morally licit.”

An embryo must be destroyed to harvest its stem cells, Andriacco said. Many Catholics relate that to abortion.

Gosh, I’m so glad the archdiocese managed to acknowledge how horrific ALS (aka “Lou Gehrig’s disease”) is. They just don’t approve of the science being done to fight it. The archdiocese demands Catholics give the Church all their charity money:

The Archdiocese asks that any money raised is sent instead to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City, Iowa, where the research is only conducted using adult stem cells.

Gee, how convenient of the Church to decide that it should retain custody of all that money. Hmm. I wonder who’s profiting off that? Anyone care to guess?

By the way, the idea that adult stem cells are equivalent to embryonic stem cells, is a Roman Catholic lie. They are not, in fact, the same. There are things embryonic stem cells can do, which adult stem cells cannot — which the Church pretends is not the case. It is, of course, true that adult stem cells have their virtues as well; the bottom line is that both types of stem cell research are necessary for ALS research. Limiting oneself to just one type is foolhardy.

In any event, the R.C. Church doesn’t have the standing to declare whether or not any given medical-research charity is morally acceptable. As I’ve blogged so many times before, the Church tore up and burned its “moral arbiter” card long ago, when as a matter of long-standing worldwide policy its hierarchs purposely allowed its own clergy to abuse children in its care and actively protected the abusers from being caught and punished. (On top of all that, they’ve had the gall, over the past several years, to blame their own policies and behavior on other people and things, including Jews, gays, the Devil, the mass media, and even the child victims themselves.) They’ve got the morals of the Mafia and the scruples of used-car dealers. I no longer fucking care what any given R.C. hierarch thinks about the morality of anything — nor should anyone else. They no longer have a vote.

As a token of my disrespect for the Cincinnati archdiocese’s announcement, I’ve just donated to the ALS Association. And I urge all my readers to do the same. Please give as generously as you can. Thank you!

Photo credit: Kelly McBride/The Community Press, via the Cincinnati Enquirer.

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Michael Jarrell (Paul Kieu, The Advertiser)For a very long time I’ve compared Roman Catholicism’s hierarchs to the Mafia. The parallels are rather obvious: They’re dodgy, secretive, and get all worked up when the authorities start poking around in their business. A few days ago, a Louisiana bishop exhibited yet more Mafia-like ethics when, as the Lafayette (LA) Daily Advertiser reports, he refused to disclose the names of several known abusive priests (WebCite cached article):

Ten years after admitting the Diocese of Lafayette and its insurers paid more than $26 million to the families of children molested by priests, Bishop Michael Jarrell this week refused to release the names of those priests.

“Bishop Jarrell sees no purpose in such action,” Monsignor Richard Greene, media liaison, wrote in response to The Daily Advertiser’s request for the priests’ names.…

The names of those priests were never made public despite policies by the Catholic Church to be transparent about child sexual abuse issues.…

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2005 adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People that outlines policies and actions church leaders are to follow in responding to allegations of sexual abuse of minors.…

The Charter also states that dioceses are “to be open and transparent in communicating with the public about sexual abuse of minors by clergy,” report allegations of abuse to “public authorities” and cooperate with their investigation, and if the allegation is deemed not substantiated, take every step possible to restore the priest’s good name.

So Jarrell is disobeying even the meagre “reforms” of the USCCB. Those of us with brains unclouded by a desire to protect the Catholic Church at all costs, understand the compelling reason for naming abusers: So families can keep their children the hell away from perverts! Bishop Jarrell, apparently, doesn’t know that. Apparently he thinks nothing of letting abusers get to kids. Of course, that may be because he has no kids of his own and never will have them, so it’s something he doesn’t need to concern himself with and doesn’t consider it worthwhile. I guess.

As I’ve been saying … the hierarchs are little different from mafiosi.

Photo credit: Paul Kieu/The Advertiser.

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Embers 01I suppose this is one of those stories that could only have come from a militantly religionist state like Alabama, where fundamentalist Christianity reigns supreme. As AL.Com reports, an agency of “the Yellowhammer State” recently invoked the Lord as the reason Alabamans must defy federal environmental regulations (WebCite cached article):

Alabama’s coal industry will lose jobs and consumers will see their utility bills increase should the EPA implement proposed regulations on coal-fired power plants, Alabama regulators said at a press conference in which they invoked the name of God in the fight over fossil fuels.

Two members of the Alabama Public Service Commission, a member-elect and an Alabama representative to the Republican National Committee said proposed EPA regulations that aim to reduce power plant carbon emissions by 30 percent represent “an assault on our way of life” and are a purposeful attempt by the Obama administration to kill coal-related jobs.

“We will not stand for what they are doing to our way of life in Alabama,” said PSC President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh. “We will take our fight to the EPA.”

These officials laid out their rationale for defying the Feds rather plainly:

At their news conference today Cavanaugh and PSC commissioner-elect Chip Beeker invoked the name of God in stating their opposition to the EPA proposal. Beeker, a Republican who is running unopposed for a PSC seat, said coal was created in Alabama by God, and the federal government should not enact policy that runs counter to God’s plan.

“Who has the right to take what God’s given a state?” he said.

Cavanaugh called on the people of the state to ask for God’s intervention.

“I hope all the citizens of Alabama will be in prayer that the right thing will be done,” she said.

The upshot of this, as far as I can see, goes something like this: “The Lord gave us coal; his plan is for us to burn it; therefore we must burn it all; and it’s profane for the Feds to tell us we can’t.” Or something like that. And Alabamans are being ordered to pray doom down on the EPA. Or something like that. (Their call for imprecatory prayer reminds me of all the “pray for Obama Psalm 109″ talk that went around a few years ago. How fucking mature.)

Alabamans largely won’t see this kind of idiocy for what it is, and I’m guessing they actually like hearing this sort of talk from state officials. They must … because otherwise they wouldn’t allow these people to run their state. All the more reason for me never to set foot there!

Hat tip: RationalWiki.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Police arrive after the houses of a religious minority group were torched by a mob following accusations of blasphemy in Gujranwala, Pakistan, early on Monday. Muhammad Owais/EPA, via NBC NewsThis story is one which, sadly, isn’t surprising. I mean, this is Pakistan we’re talking abouta place which is second only to Afghanistan in its degree of hyperreligious immaturity. As NBC News reports, it seems a mob of sanctimoniously-enraged Pakistanis simply couldn’t help but murder three people over a supposedly blasphemous Facebook posting (WebCite cached article):

A mob attacked and killed a grandmother and two children over a “blasphemous” Facebook post allegedly published by a member of their minority religious sect in Pakistan on Sunday. Police allege that Aqib Salim, 25, uploaded an “obscene and objectionable picture of the Kaaba [Islam’s holiest site] and a scantily clad woman” on the site.

Rehmat Ali, head constable of Gujranwala police, told NBC News that the post “angered the local community” and several people asked for Salim to be arrested. “When we insisted on a formal complaint, they took the law into their own hands,” Ali said. “What followed was unabated mob violence.” Up to 600 people were involved as the mob set fire to five homes and several shops in Gujranwala belonging to membbrs of the Ahmadi sect — which Pakistan declared “non-Muslim” in 1984 due to its alternative belief system. An Ahmadi woman aged in her late 40s and her granddaughters aged eight and seven months were killed.

Making this childish mob of c. 600 enraged Pakistani Muslims throwing a violent tantrum even worse, was that local police watched with tacit approval:

Saleem ud-Din, spokesman of the Jaamat-e-Ahmadiya, which represents Pakistan’s 700,000 Ahmadis, said police stood by as Ahmadis’ property was burned and looted.

Also, no one who was killed had anything to do with the “offensive” Facebook posting … but hey, what does that have to do with anything, when you’re an angry, juvenile mob who’s out for blood?

I assume most of my readers won’t have heard of the Ahmadi; theirs is a Muslim sect that appeared around the turn of the 20th century. It’s sort of a messianic version of Sunni Islam … although that’s an oversimplification … with some added beliefs most other Muslims don’t adhere to (although they weren’t always considered objectionable).

There are two main facts about the notion of “blasphemy” which are undeniable:

  1. It’s entirely subjective: One believer’s “blasphemy” can be someone else’s “sincere belief.” For instance, while most Christians would consider the statement “Jesus is not God” offensive, there were, and are, some Christians who don’t see it that way. So what truly makes the statement “Jesus is not God” blasphemy? In short, it doesn’t … not objectively, anyway.
  2. Blasphemy harms no one and nothing: Honestly, no one can be hurt by someone saying or doing something blasphemous. Sure, a believer might be angered to hear something s/he’d rather not have heard … but that anger is not an injury. Nor can a religion be harmed by blasphemy; let’s face it, if a religion were true, nothing anyone says about it could take away its veracity. So it causes no damage.

This is the sort of mature, rational assessment that childish little Pakistanis appear incapable of, even if they’re old enough to know better. The police and the Pakistani government indulge these folks, because pushing back against this sort of murderous childishness is tough and requires a lot of courage — not to mention a shitload of rubber bullets, tear gas and stun guns.

The bottom line is that three people died because a mob refused to grow the fuck up already, and because those who knew better were to craven and cowardly to intervene. Has anyone had enough yet of this sort of thing? I know I have. Unfortunately, no one else seems to give a flying fuck. I guess life is just too damned cheap. After all, al-Lah wills it, does he not?

Photo credit: Muhammad Owais/EPA, via NBC News.

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Scary Ghost / naoshika, via Open Clip Art LibraryIt’s been a while since I last blogged about the phenomenon of “hauntings as news.” Of course, that’s not because media outlets have stopped reporting on “hauntings” and other “paranormal” events as though they were legitimate news stories. Oh no. In this age of so-called “reality” shows featuring ghost hunters, mediums, etc., it’s obviously something the media have decided they’re not going to let go of.

And frankly, why should they? “Haunting” stories are the sorts of things that literally drop themselves into reporters’ laps. Either people tip reporters off to “hauntings,” or else they overhear a “haunting” story and decide to relay it. They might have to talk with a couple of people familiar with the supposedly-haunted location, but most of those folks are willing interviews who have a lot of information to give (or so they think). It’s quick and easy to write a “haunting” story … whereas, by comparison, most other types of real news are much harder to develop. In this age of pared-down newsrooms, one can see the appeal of such stories.

As for “reality” shows, supposed ghost hunters (cached) and “paranormal investigators” are very good at ginning up drama and staging things to appear however they wish them to. The shows’ producers don’t have to work too hard at their jobs. It’s easy money!

The latest example of “paranormal journalism” caught my eye — and engendered this blog post — because the venerable Hartford Courant reported flat-out that a building is haunted. As though it were definite and confirmed. There are no caveats, qualifiers, “reportedlys” or anything of the kind. Reporter Dan Haar lays it out unequivocally and unreservedly (WebCite cached article):

In Canton, near the town green, the contrast between The Junk Shop and The Blue House a few doors away is striking.

Both sell antiques and vintage furnishings but The Junk Shop, owned and run by Eric Hathaway, has the feel of a chaotic workshop and is open to noise from Route 44. The Blue House, owned and run by Eric’s wife, Kimberly Hathaway, is quiet, orderly, filled with linens and lace, artwork and clothing.

Oh, and The Blue House is haunted.

Did you catch that? It’s a simple, clear, unqualified statement: “… The Blue House is haunted.” Nothing else.

This is not the first time Connecticut’s newspaper of record has declared a building definitively “haunted”; I caught them at it right around 5 years ago. The Courant is also part of the same group (within the larger Tribune media conglomerate) which thought exorcisms were genuine “news” a couple years ago and told us all about how a “spiritual battle” is underway, and that “in recent years, it has intensified” … as though they’d somehow managed to verify that claim.

Anyone with a brain — and who can use it — knows there’s no such thing as a verified haunting. Lots of places are supposedly “haunted,” but that’s a far cry from being definitely known as “haunted.”

If Canton’s “The Blue House” has, in fact, been confirmed haunted, it ought to be trivial for its owners (or for reporter Haar or anyone else connected with the place) to provide verification of it. So let’s have it! Upon what objective evidence can anyone know this building is “haunted”? I dare someone to demonstrate it. (Oh, and when they’ve done so, they may as well turn around and apply for the million-dollar grant that the Randi Foundation will no doubt provide them.)

This is the kind the bullshit a paper like the Courant ought never to stoop to. It’s beneath their dignity, and their editors ought to have known better. And it’s a cheap way of grabbing eyeballs. As I said above, I get why they want to churn out stories like this. It’s easy writing and it’s dramatic. People like hearing this crap. Unfortunately, it remains crap, no matter how much readers might like it. And reporting affirmatively that a building is “haunted” without any verification that it actually is, is dishonest at best and lying at worst. It needs to fucking stop. It just does. No one is served by overly-credulous reporters repeating bullshit and lies as though it’s all true — no matter what excuse they come up with for having done so.

Photo credit: Naoshika, via Open Clip Art Library.

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Vatican flag (8583012024)It seems Pope Francis’s own handlers within the Vatican are having difficulty keeping him in line. He recently had another interview with Eugenio Scalfari, founder of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, and today they published an article on it (WebCite cached article). (A Google translation of this article is available (cached).

This interview covered a lot of ground, but among the topics covered were pedophiles within the priesthood, and celibacy for clergy. First, on pedophilia within the Church (both quotes from the interview below are automated Google translations into English, so pardon the poor language):

Many of my co-workers who struggle with me reassure me with reliable data that assess pedophilia within the Church at the level of two percent. This finding should reassure me but I must tell you that I do not reassuring at all. I consider it very serious indeed. Two percent of pedophiles are priests and even bishops and cardinals. And others, more numerous, they know but they keep silent, punish, but without saying why. I find this situation intolerable and I intend to tackle it with the seriousness it requires.

About clerical celibacy, the Pope said:

“Maybe she does not know that celibacy was established in the tenth century, that is, 900 years after the death of our Lord. The Eastern Catholic Church has the power right now that its priests to marry. The problem certainly exists but is not of great magnitude. It takes time but there are solutions and find it.

Now, almost anyone would consider both of these remarkable. For the Pope to say that even a low-sounding 2% proportion of priests being pedophiles is “intolerable,” is certainly strong language. Also, for him to say that there may be “problems” with clerical celibacy and that he’s willing to “find solutions,” is also unprecedented. To date the Church has consistently dismissed priestly pedophilia, at best acknowledging it as an unusual and marginal phenomenon — when they’re even willing to admit it exists (they frequently deny it outright). Also, the Church has repeatedly declared there is absolutely nothing wrong with clerical celibacy and that the practice dates to the beginning of the Church. That it might cause “problems” with it, is something the Church has never once conceded.

But no sooner did the ink dry on the pages of this morning’s La Repubblica, than the Vatican machinery cranked out objections to it. The paper’s own English-language blog goes over their complaints (cached):

But a few hours after the account of Scalfari’s conversation with the Pope was published, Father Federico Lombardi, official Vatican spokesman, issued a strongly worded statement calling Scalfari’s account of the conversation into question.

“One cannot and one must not speak in any way of an interview in the usual sense of the word… The conversation was cordial and very interesting and touched principally on the themes of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors and the Church’s attitude towards the mafia. However… it is important to note that the words that Mr Scalfari attributes to the Pope, reporting his words in quotation marks, are from the memory of an experienced journalist, but not a precise transcription or recording, nor have they been approved by the person to whom the remarks are attributed.”

Father Lombardi was particularly keen to undermine Scalfari’s recollection of the remarks on paedophilia and those on celibacy, even hinting that the pontiff may have been deliberately misquoted.

“The individual remarks… cannot be confidently attributed to the Pope. For example and in particular… the fact that there are paedophile cardinals, and that “I will find a solution” to the problem of celibacy.

“In the article published in La Repubblica these two affirmations are clearly attributed to the Pope, but — curiously — the quotation marks were opened at the beginning but were not closed at the end… An oversight or explicit recognition that it is an attempt to manipulate some ingenuous readers?”

An oversight by Repubblica’s sub-editors, or a sign that Pope Francis’s willingness to tackle certain controversial issues head on frightens the conservatives within the Vatican?

That’s the way to go about it, Fr Lombardi! Quibble over possible typos (e.g. the missing/misplaced quotation marks) in an effort to suggest La Repubblica published fabricated quotations of your Pope. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

If the interview, as published this morning, does accurately reflect the Pope’s own thinking — and right now, no one has any reason to think it doesn’t, Fr Lombardi’s accusations notwithstanding — then Pope Francis clearly is at odds with his own bureaucracy in the Vatican. How long is that going to last? Is he going to bend to suit them, or is he going to crack down on them and whip them into line? It will be interesting to find out, although given the Catholic Church’s vast machinery and its almost crippling institutional inertia, I suspect it’s the Pope who will have to give in, before Vatican functionaries do.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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