Posts Tagged “religious”

Demon of CalicutMost believers think that adhering to their metaphysical notions — whatever they might be — is virtuous. It somehow makes them better people, superior to others, even. Or something. I’m still not clear as to how that works, exactly, but they’re convinced of it, and they just love telling everyone so. The problem is, their beliefs can and do have some terrible ramifications. Take, for example, this report from the Associated Press via the Washington Post, about a Virginia father who killed his little daughter because of his metaphysics (WebCite cached article):

A Virginia man who said his 2-year-old daughter was possessed by a demon has been sentence to more than 20 years in prison for her death.

Thirty-year-old Eder Guzman-Rodriguez was sentenced Monday in Floyd County after pleading no contest to first-degree murder. His daughter, Jocelyn, was found dead in November 2011.

Prosecutors say Guzman-Rodriguez told police that his daughter had a demon inside of her and that he had attempted to exorcise her of the demon.

But this conflicts with other information the father had provided:

According to Shortt’s summary of the evidence, Guzman-Rodriquez told police that a “bad spirit” had entered him. He said that he saw his daughter gesturing to him, as if she wanted to fight and that he punched her “over and over” with his bare hands, Shortt said.

So, was the baby possessed, or the father? In the end, no one can say. Until someone provides objective, verifiable evidence to the contrary, I must assume neither was possessed. Nevertheless, I guess it was necessary to kill the baby. Or something.

I note that, when police arrived, there were some other people there, holding Bibles. It’s not clear if they played any part in Guzman-Rodriguez’s exorcism attempt; the article doesn’t say — possibly because the police never were able to make any determination. They very well could have arrived after the deed. I certainly hope they weren’t involved in Jocelyn’s murder.

Hat tip: Doubtful News.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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The Stupid It Burns / plognarkThis is a topic I’ve covered before, but it seems I have to address it again. The recent Pew Forum study about America’s religious lanscape … which media outlets have misrepresented … has renewed repetition of a phrase that ought to have died out long ago. And that is, “spiritual but not religious.” As but one example, this illogical phrase is the focus of this piece on CNN’s Belief blog (WebCite cached article).

I simply can’t put this any other way: There is no such thing as “spiritual but not religious.” This statement is a contradiction in terms. The reason I say that, is because everything one can call “spiritual” also happens to fit the definition of “religion.” There’s no meaingful difference between the two. People think there is one, but really, if you look at the definitions involved, you’ll see they refer to the very same things. Here are some definitions of “religion”:

  • Merriam-Webster (cached)
    2 : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
  • Oxford US English Dictionary (cached)
    the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods
  • American Heritage Dictionary (cached)
    1. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.
    2. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.
  • Wiktionary (cached)
    1. The belief in and worship of a supernatural controlling power, especially a personal god or gods.
    2. A particular system of faith and worship.

Now, compare all of these with the definitions of “spiritual”:

  • Merriam-Webster (cached)
    1 : of, relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit : incorporeal <spiritual needs>
    2 a : of or relating to sacred matters <spiritual songs>
    b : ecclesiastical rather than lay or temporal <spiritual authority> <lords spiritual>
    3 : concerned with religious values
    4 : related or joined in spirit <our spiritual home> <his spiritual heir>
    5 a : of or relating to supernatural beings or phenomena
  • Oxford US English Dictionary (cached)
    1 of, relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things
    2 of or relating to religion or religious belief
  • American Heritage Dictionary (cached)
    1. Of, relating to, consisting of, or having the nature of spirit; not tangible or material.
    2. Of, concerned with, or affecting the soul.
    3. Of, from, or relating to God; deific.
    4. Of or belonging to a church or religion; sacred.
    5. Relating to or having the nature of spirits or a spirit; supernatural.
  • Wiktionary (cached)
    1. Of or pertaining to the spirit or the soul
    2. Of or pertaining to the God or a Church; sacred
    3. Of or pertaining to spirits; supernatural

You see from all of these that “spiritual” includes beliefs about the supernatural, deities, the soul, spirits, the sacred, the incorporeal, etc. But the word “religion” also involves the very same things, as well. Believing the universe was created by a an almighty deity, is just as much a “spiritual” belief as it is a “religious” one. Believing in guardian angels is just as much a “spiritual” belief as it is a “religious” one. Believing in karma is just as much a “spiritual” belief as it is a “religious” one. Belief in hauntings is just as much a “spiritual” belief as it is a “religious” one. Reincarnation, astral projection, and channeling are all just as “spiritual” as they are “religious.” I could go on and on … but why should I? By now you should already have gotten the point. “Spiritual” and “religious” are equivalent words, because they all relate to the same referents.

Look, I get that a lot of people associate “religion” and “religious” with “religious institutions” or “organizations,” but the fact is that “organization” is not a requirement for any of the above definitions of “religion.” In fact, the M-W and AH definitions explicitly state that “religion” can be either individualized or institutionalized. One need not belong to a religious organization in order to have religious beliefs.

It’s time for people to stop claiming to be something they aren’t by trotting out non sequiturs like “spiritual but not religious.” If you are spiritual, then by the above definitions, you are also religious — and vice versa. There’s no effective difference between the two. None. Just fucking stop already with that gibberish. OK?

Editor’s note: I’ve repurposed and slightly edited this blog post, as a static page on this blog. So if you think I’m repeating myself … well, I guess I am!

Photo credit: Plognark.

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Setting the world on fire, for Jesus (literally) | PsiCop originalA couple months ago the well-known food company General Mills apparently committed the cardinal sin — in the eyes of militant religionists, anyway — of supporting gay rights. A devout Christian was so outraged by this, that he decided to stage a protest at company headquarters, by burning some Cheerios. But as the Smoking Gun reports, he managed to do just a little bit more than that (WebCite cached article):

The gay marriage opponent seen in a viral video accidentally setting a fire outside the General Mills headquarters is a Minnesota real estate broker who has previously recorded a series of anti-gay YouTube clips.

In the above video, Michael Leisner, 65, can be seen outside the General Mills corporate campus in Golden Valley. He is carrying a box of Honey Nut Cheerios in one hand and a blowtorch in the other.

As an aside … I wonder if there’s any particular reason Leisner chose “Honey Nut” Cheerios for his protest? But I digress:

But after Leisner torches the Cheerios box, he somehow allows flames to spread to the lawn in front of a giant General Mills sign. After trying–and failing–to stamp out the flames with his feet, Leisner tells two young companions, “Okay, get out of here guys.”

You’ve just got to love the way this idiot and his cadre of gay-haters fled the fire. What a class act!

Here’s video of this little exercise of religious expression:

I may have read the Bible extensively — from front to back, up and down, including reading the New Testament in its original Greek — but sadly, I appear to have missed Jesus’ instruction to his followers to “Go forth and set fires in My name.” If anyone out there would be so kind as to supply me with chapter and verse on that, I’d be much obliged. Thank you!

Please note that I refrained from exploiting the obvious pun reference to “flaming.” It would have been just too easy!

Photo credit: PsiCop original.

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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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ScarletLetterIt almost goes without saying that there’s a strong antipathy toward non-believers in this country. Examples of it are fairly common. But just in case you needed one more, I can offer one. Consumerist reports that Capital One refuses to let an atheist “A” on any of its credit cards (WebCite cached article):

Consumerist reader Mike has a Capital One credit card. He’d hoped to get one of the bank’s customizable “Image Cards” printed with a big red “A” for atheism. His initial upload was rejected by Capital One, which sent him a long list of possible reasons. And when he called to appeal, things just more bizarre. …

“I spoke to someone after the second rejection that someone there said that there was a note in my file regarding the fact that they do not allow religious or anti-religious images,” Mike tells Consumerist.

However, this policy doesn’t actually exist, as Mike discovered:

But why, Mike asks, does the card-making interface on Capital One’s own website have 34 photos in a category it labels “Spiritual” and which includes several options to put Christian and Jewish imagery on your card?

Look, there’s no mystery here. Capital One just doesn’t want to allow an atheism symbol on its cards, but they don’t want to just come right out and admit it. Instead of just being honest about it, they become evasive, sniveling cowards, and invent fictitious excuses for it.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Richard DawkinsThe world’s theists can’t handle the fact that atheists (and other types of non-believers) exist. They’d prefer never to hear, see, or know about them. They view the very existence of non-belief as a direct and imminent threat to their very existence. This means they’re especially incensed whenever a vocal atheist (or other type of non-believer) comes along. They think non-believers are required to be silent and go away … and those who refuse to comply are trying to destroy them utterly.

The so-called “New Atheists” (i.e. Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens) have especially invoked their sanctimonious outrage. Because they’ve all been successful authors, ardent theists have cast about for years to find any and all means of discrediting them. Most of the time all they can come up with is a repeated, old, juvenile whine along the lines of, “Why, these people are criticizing religion! How dare they!? They can’t do that! It’s not allowed!!! Religion is just too precious to permit any critique!”

Apparently, as the (UK) Daily Mail reports, Richard Dawkins recently handed militant theists what they perceive as “ammunition” they can use against him (WebCite cached article):

Professor Richard Dawkins today dismissed his hard-earned reputation as a militant atheist – admitting that he is actually agnostic as he can’t prove God doesn’t exist.

The country’s foremost champion of the Darwinist evolution, who wrote The God Delusion, stunned audience members when he made the confession during a lively debate on the origins of the universe with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The heart of this matter is a clarification, by Dawkins, about exactly what he believes about God:

But when Archbishop Dr Rowan Williams suggested that Professor Darwin is often described as the world’s most famous atheist, the geneticist responded: ‘Not by me’.

He said: ‘On a scale of seven, where one means I know he exists, and seven I know he doesn’t, I call myself a six.’

Professor Dawkins went on to say he believed was a ’6.9′, stating: ‘That doesn’t mean I’m absolutely confident, that I absolutely know, because I don’t.’

I’ll say right now that — while I’d welcome Professor Dawkins to the company of agnostics — I neither know nor care whether or not he actually is one. The degree to which he’s an agnostic as compared to being an atheist is not really relevant to me. I have written elsewhere that there is a clear distinction between agnosticism and atheism, and that atheists have revised the definition of “atheism” over the last few decades so as to enlarge their own company. But in the end, agnostics and atheists have far more in common with each other, than either does with theists. That much is undeniable. They are partners — sisters and brothers, even — in non-belief, who are together under siege by militant believers who, rather childishly, cannot and will not accept them as fellow human beings. Dawkins — and the rest of the New Atheists — are as much spokesmen for non-belief in general, as they are for any specific form of “atheism” they may or may not adhere to. Distinctions like this do nothing to mitigate the validity of their critiques of religion or of religious people.

Ultimately, this means that the Daily Mail‘s attempt to discredit Dawkins is a fucking joke. That Dawkins might also be an agnostic in addition to being an atheist, does nothing to refute anything he’s said or done — even if theists erroneously think it does.

One last thing: I love how the Mail called Dawkins a “career atheist.” What a transparent attempt to slur him! Most of us know that Dawkins is, by contrast, a “career scientist.” That he’s published some books on atheism in addition to being a prominent and respected scientist, doesn’t make him any less of a scientist, and it doesn’t mean he’s no longer part of that profession. All it does mean is what I’ve been saying for ages — which is that theists just can’t handle the existence of non-believers, especially outspoken ones like Dawkins.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

Photo credit: Shane Pope, via Flickr.

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Self photographed figure of the Alcoholics Anonymous, via Wikimedia CommonsOn the heels of my previous post on the subject of substance-abuse treatment not getting the skeptical attention it deserves, I thought I’d address one of the more basic problems with Alcoholics Anonymous as an organization … and that is, its overtly religious nature. That’s right, folks, it’s a religious organization!

Let me say at the outset this about AA: Its members (including a number I’ve spoken to) claim it’s not to a religious organization, and some swear they’ve never been forced to pray or do anything religious. My guess is that some chapters truly do not conduct themselves along religious lines. It’s a decentralized organization, and it’s the nature of such groups to have a lot of variation. So it’s entirely possible that some AA members sincerely find that AA is not, in their experience, religious. If you’re one of them, bully for you. The truth of the matter, however, is that AA’s origins are religious, and its central literature — which is used by all of its chapters everywhere — contains clear religious content and instruction.

One of AA’s co-founders, Bill Wilson (better known in AA circles as “Bill W.”) had been a member of a non-denominational Prohibition-era Christian movement known as the Oxford Group. Though he later left it, many of its principles ended up in AA. Moreover, AA’s other co-founder, Dr Bob Smith (aka “Dr. Bob”), admitted that the early AA had grown out of Bible studies.

So AA’s origins are demonstrably religious.

But much more important for modern members of AA, it’s more than just the group’s genesis which is religious. Its content is, too. Most notably, Chapter 4 of AA’s core instruction book, known simply as “the Big Book” (WebCite cached version), states clearly and unambiguously that God’s existence is a “fact,” that each and every person is basically religious, and that therefore all are obligated to believe in God:

Actually we were fooling ourselves, for deep down in every man, woman, and child, is the fundamental idea of God. It may be obscured by calamity, by pomp, by worship of other things, but in some form or other it is there. For faith in a Power greater than ourselves, and miraculous demonstrations of that power in human lives, are facts as old as man himself.

We finally saw that faith in some kind of God was a part of our make-up, just as much as the feeling we have for a friend. Sometimes we had to search fearlessly, by He was there. He was as much a fact as we were. We found the Great Reality deep down within us. In the last analysis it is only there that He may be found.

Moreover, several of the “Twelve Steps” (cached) — which are the heart of the organization’s meaning and very existence — openly mention a deity, particularly the following:

  • Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

  • Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

  • Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

  • Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

  • Step 7: Humbly asked Him [i.e. God] to remove our shortcomings.

  • Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Now, a lot of AAers will point to the words “as we understood Him,” attached to some of these references to God, and claim this means members can pick anything and name it “God.” But really, all these words do is make AA non-sectarian (i.e. it doesn’t matter what religion or sect one belongs to), not non-religious. AA’s non-sectarian nature makes sense, since it emerged from a non-sectarian Christian movement (i.e. the Oxford Group). What doesn’t make sense is to suggest that the Big Book or the 12 Steps don’t mandate some sort of religious belief. Of course they do! They can hardly do otherwise, worded as they are!

Again, I realize a lot of AA members will say they’re not religious. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. But really, that makes no difference. AA’s core literature … i.e. the Big Book and the 12 Steps … mandate belief in a God (some God, any God) for the member. That makes it a religious organization. Until those mentions of God are excised from the Big Book and the 12 Steps, it will remain a religious organization. Period.

Update: Courtesy of friendthegirl, here are a couple of related links on Stinkin’ Thinkin’:

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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