Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Persecution Complex?

I suffer from a tiny bit of paranoia. I am a little concerned that the masses will find out about me and burn me at the stake. Where does this come from? Why am I more concerned than most? It is a lot of things, from the way I was raised, to the reactions I get from people to a knowledge of history.

My Grandfather was a member of the American Communist Party. Yep, he was a Red. In the fifties. I am not sure how many of you out there know the depth of the Red Scare, but it was a vicious bit of Fascism by our government on it's own citizens. The FBI opened their mail and put it back in the wrong envelopes (Gas bill from aunt Florence or College transcripts from a bulk mailer etc.).

My grandfather, who taught at Cornell, was fired and the Dean gave him a job as a Janitor to keep my Grandfather around for conversations. My grandfather had a farm of 86 acres and built the rear half of the family farmhouse. He was a scholar and a hands on kind of intelligence.

My mother found out, years later, when she ran into an old elementary schoolmate that "government men" came to the school when the Cooks (my maternal family) were out and advised the children not to play with the Cooks because my grandfather would steal them away to Russia. Not only did my Grandfather not want to steal children to Russia but he felt that the Bolsheviks had bastardized the Communist ideals of egalitarianism, and equality.

My mother was involved in the anti war movement and a founding member of the Western New York Peace Center, she protested Nukes, whale killers, racist cops, and the like. Because of that my household had (on and off) been subject to the COINTELPRO program and it's successors of the seventies and eighties, where the government investigated leftist groups illegally(look it up).

This gave me the impression that they could turn on you and it would be all over. Paranoid? Well, a little. Keep in mind I am also a Jew and had great aunts and uncles who were fine upstanding citizens in the most culturally advanced nation on in Europe before the Nazis came to power. Then they were tortured and killed for their race. So, no, I do not think my concern is totally unreasonable.

I have always kept my mouth shut when I meet new people. Since I keep quiet and people like me I get to hear what they think. People always assume that people they like share their beliefs. So I got to hear a lot of insider stuff about "the blacks", "the Jews", liberals and, of course, atheists. A lot of people who wear their beliefs on their sleeve do not get the inside info. I got enough of it to scare the hell out of me. The disdain they have when talking about atheists is shocking and discomforting. Many of the most religious of people seem to get all Old Testament on atheism. It is like something out of that movie Hostel. They want to torture and kill us. Not just anonymously on a message board or a webpage, but in person to each other. I am not saying that all religious people are blood hungry monsters, I know quite a few who are not, perhaps a majority. But they all look the same. Walk into a room and it could be time for some tough questions and debate or fear of violence. Me, I am cautious.

I am not suggesting that we keep our beliefs secret and try to 'pass' but I am offering up some of my history to show people what can, has and may happen.

I have become a lot better at seeing people. I am a better judge of the inner demons people have than I used to be. This explains my recent very flagrant atheism. I have had few weird or unpleasant experiences with the religious in recent years. I do, though, still keep my mouth shut until I get a lay of the land and until I feel people will be more inclined to try and understand how I am misguided rather than suggest that it is the devil speaking through me.

-Josh
Darwinseye

Thursday, August 25, 2011

ALS and Dr. Chi

If you have read my earlier post, "My Scars remind me that the past is real," you would know that in 2007 my mother died of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease).

ALS is a degenerative neuro-muscular disease which is terminal by all accounts. There is no cure and there is very little known about the disease. My mother came to terms with this but participated in a study of an experimental drug which might slow down the inevitable. Allow her to use her hands or legs a little longer. The thing she felt the study would be most beneficial for was to accumulate data on this terrible ailment. She felt that if she was gonna die she would do some good in the process.

She did the best intelligent thing she could do for herself and for anybody who followed her. She also spent some time visiting Europe before she died and tried to call my father (her estranged husband) to say good by. She looked at the evidence and did the most reasonable thing she could do. I applaud the rationality of that.

My mother had four brothers and one of them is into New Age pseudoscience and lives in NYC. During a visit to New York he scheduled her for an appointment with Doctor Chi. I am not making that name up. I have no idea what his qualifications ad "Doctor" are but he had a title. My mother was 63 at the time. Doctor Chi looked at her eyes, her tongue and her palms and diagnosed her as having evidence of :

High Blood Pressure
Heart Disease
Memory Loss
Acid Reflux
Arthritis
Cancer
general feminine problems

None of which she suffered from. He also failed to diagnose ALS or some neuro-muscular disease in general. What he did is called "fishing". If you look at that list you will see the statistically most likely candidates that a woman of her age would suffer from. If one of those had been right she might have forgotten the others and remembered that he knew what her illness was by looking at her. He then "prescribed" a regimen of 75 pills per day of "natural supplements" to be taken daily. All of which he sold. By coincidence, I assume.

When I heard about this I laughed and mocked but also felt a little disgusted. This guy was offering medical advice to people in the hopes of solving their medical problems. He was selling snake oil.

My mother declined to mega-dose vitamins and herbs. She took caffeine and ginseng and the drugs prescribed by her doctors. The first two to relieve the fatigue and the latter because it was the best medical advice available to her.

We will fast forward a couple months. My Uncle sent my mother a months supply of all these supplements. They were in bottles without names. Seriously. She did not take them. When he came to visit her the following month she told him she did not take them. He was annoyed because he felt these herbs could cure a disease that is supposedly incurable. He had also spent (we found out then) a thousand dollars on those unlabeled pills. $1,000.00!!!!!!!!!! Holy crap!

By this point my mother had the excuse that she could no longer swallow pills. Unfazed, my uncle took out what looked like a tiny fishnet bag. He proceeded to put the 75 pills in it and tied it to her ankle. He explained that the "energy signature" from the pills would permeate her body through the skin. Not kidding! I am really not!

I guess that is not that far fetched if one accept the principles of Homeopathy that things leave an "energy signature" in the water they are dissolved in even after the point that they have been diluted and re-diluted to the point that there is no trace of the substance in the solution. Just water with an "energy signature".

That is my story. If you have one like it please drop me a line. I would love to hear it.

-Josh

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Freewill (faith redux)

You can't know God's plan.

God has offered you a choice between eternal damnation, and everlasting peace. In order to reach salvation, one must accept God into his or her heart willingly, knowingly, and, freely.

Since God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, he already knows your choice. He built you as the programmed machine that will one day be confronted with this ultimate choice. In the tombs and books of the mind of the omniscient, your deeds, choices, and, decisions are laid out, plain as day, carved in stone, unerring, unmovable.

And you are free. You are free because of faith. You are free because God allows you to make this choice of your own accord. If God came down and lit the earth with glorious wonder, stood on top of Everest and let his light permeate the world, then our very will would be subjugated by the fact that, with absolute knowledge of the existence of God, we would choose our salvation not out of love, but out of fear of the clear reprisal that comes with disavowing your king.

So, the argument goes, you must have faith, because proof of God's existence would eliminate your ability to choose. Knowledge would pollute your choice.

I don't have a problem with this. I am a huge proponent of the 'double-blind' study. Experimenters do their best not to interfere, or allow their own biases to influence the outcome of the experiment. If there is an experiment being performed where rats are compelled to run a maze, and some of these rats have been given a new drug which may allow them to process visual-spatial data more acutely, and it is my job to monitor and record how the rats perform, it is clearly better that I don't know which rats have received the medication.

I understand this concept of 'knowledge modifying the result." That is not my problem at all. A God in your face, with his hand upon your shoulder pointing you in the direction of salvation would limit your ability to choose. I accept that.

I have a few questions:

1. If knowledge of the miraculous would limit our ability to choose, then why did Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead?

2. If we cannot know God's plan, then why did he give us various instruction manuals in the form of the Bible, the Koran, the Torah?

3. If knowledge of the hereafter would limit our will, then why is the virgin Mary crying out of statues, and appearing in grilled cheese sandwiches?

4. If we are to be allowed freewill, then what is this supposed 'evidence?' By the argument, there should be no evidence whatsoever, as evidence would limit our will.

Faith is supposed to answer all of the questions we may have about God's plan. We are supposed to accept that we cannot know the mind of God, and that he has a plan for us.

And we have provided with texts that state that it is improper to eat shellfish, work on the sabbath, represent Mohammad in any fashion, take the lord's name in vain, lust after a women, worship 'false' idols, allow your enemies to live.

These texts are considered by many to be evidence of God's majesty.

So, the argument that God chooses not to reveal himself to us in order to allow for free will is a bit suspect. According to theists, there is plenty of evidence that God exists, and has affected the world. I suppose the part that we are supposed to take on faith is the part where the evidence is crappy.

If Jesus were to come to earth today, book a spot on 'Good Morning, America,' and raise a person from the dead, this would violate our free will in choosing to accept him as our personal savior...but if he raised Lazarus from the dead, and it was recorded in the Gospels, that does not.

And Romans 11:33-36 illustrates the point most clearly: God is too complicated for us to understand. We can't understand God's plan. but he, according to Romans 3:19, 6:23, and 9:19-21, he is going to hold us responsible anyway. God knows the future, according to Matthew 6:8, and has total, complete, and absolute control over all things per Collossians 1:16-17, Yet will punish us with eternal torment according to Matthew 5:22.

Just so I have this straight: God controls 100% of my actions and thoughts, knows the future, has an existence that is miles outside of our brain's ability to even understand, and will hold me accountable for my (or, since he has 100% control, HIS,) actions? Furthermore, he cannot offer substantive proof that he even exists, because that would make it too easy for us to accept him. He can, however, perform cheap carnival tricks, and we can read the stories of him turning water into wine, being frugal with fish, etc., so long as there is no corroborating evidence that might allow for verifiable proof of his existence which, again, would make it too easy.

And you laugh because you think that what the Scientologists believe is somehow more ridiculous.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Are theists less moral than Atheists

Are theists less moral than Atheists? This is not the way this question is usually worded but I think this is a reasonable question. So many atrocities have been done in the name of religion, God or the supernatural that it begs the question, "Are religious people bad people?"

I am often confronted with the question about where I get my morals. Without God, can't I just do whatever I want? Can't I rape, murder, extort, cheat or whatever? Well, yeah. If the Christian belief of free will is valid I can ask the same question. We can do whatever we are physically able. The real question should be "why do people chose not to terrible things?"

The Christian perspective: There is an all powerful, all knowing being who has mapped out what is good and what is bad (and the exceptions) and shall judge us for violating these rules. We are punished for our bad behavior at the end of our materal existence and the result will be eternal damnation or eternal paradise (unless you are a Catholic where there are incremental forms of punishment). We can avoid damnation even if our crimes are unspeakable if we are genuinely sorry and seek true repentance in the arms of Jesus. Theists do not commit terrible acts because they fear punishment by an all powerful deity.

The Atheist perspective: There are ways to behave and there are ways not to. Most are inherited but some are figured out by the individual. My upbringing gave me some general and some specific parameters to live by. I have tweaked those based upon experience and contemplation. I think this is the case for most Atheists. We are raised a certain way and figure out the rest. We use a lot of common sense and critical thinking. We do not commit terrible acts because that is a messed up thing to do. But we do it for us. Not to avoid punishment.

Thus far, this is a pretty standard argument. Atheists are better because we chose not to rape morally and theists do it out of fear of punishment. It provides us with any number of witty retorts to theists but I do not think it actually shows the real picture.

In debates I often ask why the Christian marters themselves for one one section of the Bible and ignores another. Wearing fabrics of different varieties and not stoning women who help their husbands in fights as the bible commands. Why they think swearing is sinful when it is not a sin in the Bible. The Lords name in vain seems to be so forgotten as a sin but shit is damnation worthy. How is this sort of thing justified? How do they decide which sections of the bible are really really serious and which parts are based upon the culture of the time? Slavery, owning ones wife, and Idolatry are just a couple of examples.

They use common sense and critical thinking. They read a passage and decide if it is applicable to life today. As a culture we have decided that slave owning is bad; therefor the bible does not really really condone it, while you may not like you really can suffer a witch to live. Things of the like. To make that determination they use the same tools we atheists and non-religious do. They use common sense and critical thinking.

Based upon the above I would argue that the Bible does little to aid them in their journey to morality. Seems they use the Bible to gain higher moral ground and look down on the rest of us for making the same decision without a prop. Why the prop makes you a better person I cannot say. Hundreds of years of PR perhaps.

Now we can finally get to the area where theists may be less moral than atheists; justified hate. If I hate the gays or the Jews or the Mormons or whoever I need to justify that with my personal standard. I have rules which work. "Do not burn people at the stake" I am stuck justifying any exceptions I may choose to make. I need to justify with logic, reason and create an argument that supports my exception.

Religious based morality can have any number of exceptions. There are plenty of them in the Bible. God says thou shall not kill except your son if you are Abraham or in a just war according to Tom Aquinuas or to save the holy land from the heathens or kill an abortion doctor. It is easy to make exceptions to the rules when you can believe that the creator of the rules wants you to.

In fact, any rule can be overruled by those who think God wants it overruled. Those of us who need to justify and hold internal consistency cannot do this. We are bound by rules we accept. We are the arbiters of our morality. We cannot claim that a higher authority has allowed us to commit horrible acts. We need to stick with those rules we have built for ourselves and hold the responsibility for all we do on our shoulders.

If I commit a murder, I do not have the option of saying it was God's will. I am stuck taking full responsibility for everything I do.

I am not saying that Atheists do not do terrible things. Just that they have chosen that path and cannot hide behind a higher morality. Stuck with the real world. And I am not saying that the Christian is more likely to commit terrible acts. Just that they have a nice divine shield to hide culpability behind.



Addendum:

This post has gotten away from me. I intended to compare some information I found on the internet. I have attached a couple of amusing webpages. One showing the religious affiliation of persons in prison and another talking about how atheists are more likely to swear in public. Which of these shows better what is and what is not a moral person.

http://holysmoke.org/icr-pri.htm
Federal Data of Prison population this is self reported data based upon prison entry forms.

http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/atheists_more_immoral.html
Self reported survey taken from http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/16-teensnext-gen/25-young-adults-and-liberals-struggle-with-morality
Survey talks about the difference between Evangelicals and Atheists in things like lying. Keep in mind this is self report so consider how many people may have lied about lying. Makes me smile.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The God of Peace and Love


In my youth, I attended Catechism. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Catechism involves the indoctrination of children presented as 'religion class.' For me, religion class was after school, at the house of a member of the church. This church member typically had  their own child in the parish, and certainly had no formal education or training in the instruction of youth.

That didn't matter, though....there was a book. A guide on how to bring children into the loving embrace of our lord and savior, Jesus Christ. The cover of this book typically had a picture of a cloud, with a ray of sunlight breaking through. God's love illuminating the world, no doubt.


A large part of being Catholic, I learned, was to accept the teachings of God through the prophets of the old testament, as well as the new. It was important to really know and understand that long before Jesus walked on water, Jonah had lived in the belly of a whale. Long before Saint Peter spread the good news, Moses had the Israelites wander around the desert for 40 years. Long before the holy spirit put upon The Christ all of the sins of man so that he may die and give us peace, God was gambling with the devil over how much he could beat the shit out of Job and still be loved by him. (That's called Stockholm Syndrome, Job.)

So I learned about the temples of Jerusalem, and how the temples built on this particular spot in the Middle East were the place where God touched this earth, the place where God chooses to sleep. There is no closer connection to God than these stone buildings that were destroyed, these Temples of Solomon and Herod.

I learned of Solomon's Temple, and how it was burned at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar II. I learned of the Jewish exile, and the return to build the second temple, Herod's Temple. I learned that this new holy site was destroyed by the Romans.

I learned of the belief that one day the temple will be built a third time, and this will signal the beginning of the end times. How a final battle must take place between God's chosen people...and God's chosen people. Hmm, problematic.

The Temple Mount is currently occupied by a Mosque referred to as 'The Dome of the Rock.' Apparently, During one of the times when the temple was on hiatus, Mohammad went to a rock standing in the middle of where the temple once stood, and ascended to heaven. It was there that Mohammad had a conference with Jesus Christ, Moses, and Abraham. Upon returning to earth, and stepping off of this rock, Mohammad began his Ministry on earth.

So, as a twelve year old, I was confused. I was taught that the Jews, Muslims, and Christians were all worshiping the same God. God is good, no matter what you call him. I was taught that they have their way of following faith, and we have ours, but we are all following the same guy.

My confusion was fostered by the idea that this spot in Jerusalem was clearly very very holy, and everyone seemed to agree.  If we were all worshiping the same God, and God had deemed that particular spot 'good,' then we all should recognize it as good. I certainly could not make any sense of the fighting that was constantly occurring over this plot of land. Mohammad had lunch with Jesus, Moses, and Abraham, for christ's sake, why couldn't we humans do the same?

The answer I received when asking this question was "It's more complicated than that."

I'm sure it is, but my basic question has persisted for 22 years without a sufficient answer. the Advocates of every religion on earth are espousing that 'God is Great.' They purport that their God is a God of love, and that one only needs to allow him into his or her heart to know true peace and joy. They state in absolute terms that god is the only arbiter of an absolute morality. Every single major religion states that killing is wrong.

It seems to me that there are complicated questions, that maybe even God would struggle with. Stem cells, abortion, euthanasia, who can say? But this one seems easy. All the books say 'do not kill.' All the books say 'keep holy that which is holy.'

If God is unable to stop the fighting that occurs over a wall and a rock, and that fighting is a direct result of said wall and rock being an influence of peace and love on earth, then God's almighty power and majesty is certainly suspect.

The basic tenants of peace and love are bullshit. You don't believe in it, theists, you never have. You state it in public circles, and then go behind closed doors and calculate how you can further your agenda. You need to stop pretending that your God can be 'good' and 'right' at the same time.

With the genesis of all of the world's dominant religions has come death, destruction, suffering, and torment. Think about that the next time you want to claim the higher ground of moral superiority.

-Paul Wittmeyer

Monday, August 15, 2011

Pedophilia and Priests



What is the matter with the priesthood? Why is it a cesspool of pedophilia? What is it about the priesthood which draws or influences men toward this sort of behavior?

I do not want to be misleading here, I do not think all priests are child molesters. My issue is not even with the cover ups, though they are despicable and revolting. My issue is with the seemingly disproportionate number of cases where priests have molested children. Either there is a larger number of pedophiles in the priesthood or there are undiscovered pedophiles in all manor of industry who need to be rooted out. I agree with the former.

Here is where, I think, the practical world has screwed with the church. Lets say there is a Catholic boy growing up and suffers from pedophilic tendencies and acknowledges they are bad. He seeks guidance and help from the bible and the church. He devotes his life to trying to subdue this urge. I would commend him for this. He chooses a life of celibacy to avoid the whole situation and the priesthood gives one a paycheck and an excuse for not consorting with women. Problem solved, right? Well, this guy has sought no real counseling or psychological treatment, he has just tried to hide the feelings from himself and others.

Now our priest is given authority over people and especially children. He is seen as pious and above reproach. As we all know power is very hard to control when you want something you should not want. Once the word gets out to his higher ups he is moved to a new parish. I am sure he feels he could seek guidance from God and start anew. He also has suffered very little real world punishment and received no psychological help. Now he is back in power over small children. This can go on and on as long as the church tries to avoid public scrutiny.

I am not claiming that the vow of celibacy makes priests celibate, I am just asking if you had a clearly deviant sexual desire and really believed in the healing power of God wouldn't the priesthood be a place you could end up? This would cause the disproportionate number of pedofiles in the priesthood and the church's desire to hide the problem does not allow the evolutionary nature of groups to weed out, over time, those unfit by way of perversion.

This post is a bit of a thought exercise for me so please send me some feedback if you like, I would love to hear it.

-Josh




Notes on clerical celibacy:

The priestly vows are inherently sexual. They ask humans to deny a basic biological function as a sign of devotion to the almighty. Why? Pope Gregory VII decreed that no married man could be a member of the priesthood in 1075. More than half the history of Catholicism priests have had the option of marriage. In 1123 the First Lateran Counsel adopted two interesting Cannons.
Cannon 3: We absolutely forbid priests, deacons, and subdeacons to associate with concubines and women, or to live with women other than such as the Nicene Counsel for reasons of necessity permitted, namely, the mother, sister, or aunt, or any such person concerning whom no suspicion could arise.
Cannon 21: We absolutely forbid priests, deacons, subdeacons, and monks to have concubines or to contract marriage. We decree in accordance with the definitions of the sacred cannons, that marriages already contracted by such persons must be dissolved, and that the persons be condemned to do penance.

Sixteen years later, in 1139, the Second Lateran Counsel enacted the following cannons:
Cannon 6: We also decree that those who in the subdiaconate and higher orders have contracted marriage or have concubines, be deprived of their office and ecclesiastical benefice. For since they should be and be called the temple of God, vessel of the Lord, the abode of the Holy Spirit, it is unbecoming that they indulge in marriage and in impurities.
Cannon 7: Following in the footsteps of our predecessors, the Roman pontiffs Gregory VII, Urban, and Paschal, we command that no one attend the masses of those who are known to have wives or concubines. But that the law of continence and purity, so pleasing to God, may become more general among persons constituted in sacred orders, we decree that bishops, priests, deacons, subdeacons, cannons regular, monks and professed clerics (conversi) who, transgressing the holy precept, have dared to contract marriage, shall be separated. For a union of this kind which has been contracted in violation of the ecclesiastical law, we do not regard as matrimony. Those who have been separated from each other, shall do penance commensurate with such excesses.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

REASON part 1: The cosmological argument

Ever since the snake with arms convinced Eve that pomegranates have free-radical isolating anti-oxidant properties, there have been those among us who defend unreasonable positions with the attempted application of logic and reason. Michael Shermer stated it best in his thesis for the book 'Why people believe weird things,' by stating the the human mind is incredibly effective at rationally defending positions that were stumbled upon by irrational circumstances.

We have tried, so many times, to put forth a logical and rational explaination for our belief in the supernatural. The arguments for the existence of God are myriad, and have been presented over the centuries by our greatest thinkers.

Every single argument for the existence of God begins with a pre-supposition: God exists. Sure, some are more veiled than others, but in the end, the apologetics practiced therein, by necessity, begin with this premise. My purpose in presenting these arguments is NOT to refute them. These arguments fall under the category of PRATT - previously refuted a thousand times. My purpose here is to show how we use language, hidden premises, and the bastardization of logic to substantiate our positions.

That being said...The cosmological argument.

The cosmological argument is more commonly referred to as 'the first cause' argument. Essentially, it states that 'something' must have caused the universe to exist, and that 'something,' is, by necessity, God. In a causal universe, every action is caused by a previous action. I strike a cue ball, and it in turn stikes a number of different billiard balls, as is the cause of their action. The argument is extrapolated to state that, in fact, our existence is a pool table full of moving billiard balls acted upon by the events that led to the collisions put into motion by the 'prime mover.' That prime mover is the person holding the pool cue, that prime mover is God.

There are a couple of problems with this.

First off: Ok, fine...but God, in this argument, is just a name given to the guy holding the pool cue. I prefer to call him Steve. So, let's take a look at Steve's beliefs: Now, I'm fairly certain that Steve believes he is playing pool, but I cannot even be certain of that. He may think that he is golfing.  That is the firmest ground I can find, because Steve's beliefs on whether or not I should pray to Mecca five times a day, not eat meat on Friday, or whether I should strap a bomb to myself to blow up the damn eight ball, are unclear. The logical leap of 'Steve is God, the God I believe in, who sent his only begotten son...' is problematic because we have no information about Steve other than the fact that he is holding a pool cue.

Unfortunately for theists, that is not the greatest problem with the cosmological argument.

The greatest problem is infinite regression. To state this another way: Who made Steve? Who made whoever made Steve? The cosmological argument has a big, huge, glaring logical fallacy, and that is the fallacy of special pleading. To restate the argument: everything requires a cause...EXCEPT FOR STEVE!

The argument hinges on the presumption that everything we can see, touch, taste, hear, and smell is the product of a series of events leading to the moment we experience those sensations. Special pleading is an informal logical fallacy that removes Steve from the constrants of the premise that the entire argument is based on. So, why doesn't Steve require a cause? Because Steve is God.

This sort of thinking can only come from a mind that has decided, before formulating the argument, that Steve is God, and as such, deserves special consideration.

The logical arguments for the existence of God are myriad, and put forth by theists as a way to support the conclusions they have come to by other means. In my experience, the greatest question to ask when presented with a logical proof for the existence of God:

Is that why you believe in God?

The answers will be, invariably, no...and the answers will be infinitely entertaining. At least they are to me.

-Paul Wittmeyer

Friday, August 5, 2011

My scars remind me that the past is real

I was never religious, never had any faith whatsoever. Possibly due to my mother’s desire not to lie to me. She never told me in the affirmative that Santa existed. She did not deny it but she never affirmed it. She did not want to lie and wanted me to make up my own mind on how to weigh incoming data.

When I was nine, my sister died of Myasthenia gravis. I was, as expected, devastated. People universally told me that “she was in a better place”, “it was all for the best” or that it was “God’s will.” This provided me no modicum of comfort. I thought there was something wrong with me. I became sad that I could not feel the love of a God, the comfort that people felt in time of grief.

I began a religious journey. I read, talked and attended services of every religion that I could find. I began with Christianity, the most accessible. I looked into Catholicism, Baptism, Methodism, Pentecostal, and whatever I could find. I grew up in a neighborhood where there were lots of Baptist churches and my great aunt, great uncle were Methodist ministers and Catholic churches are everywhere. The others were not as easy but I got them. I am Jewish by birth but had never really practiced so they were next on my list. None were fulfilling.

I moved on to the eastern beliefs. I looked into Hinduism, Taoism, Sikhism, and Confucianism but spent the most time on Buddhism. They all had the same fatal flaw, faith. They could not give me the product they offered without me giving up my sense of reality. I had to accept ridiculous claims, Karma, metaphysical law, rebirth or Heaven. None of these has any support. I felt like they were holding their miracle cure until I made an offering of reason. Give up a part of what makes me what I am to get this sense of peace which they offered.

I came to realize that many of the people seeking comfort from these religious systems were like me. They got comfort from the other people but had to pretend that the system itself offered them comfort. They confessed to me that they had to feign faith to avoid losing their community. When, it is the community which helped them. The more I heard this the angrier I became. Angry that this blackmail was going on and angry that I could not bow to the pressure. Why did I have to question and examine empty statements? Why could I not just bow my head and do my taxes in my head while the leader prayed. I found more and more people were doing just that.

My inability to play the game had screwed me out of the caring community which might have helped me in my time of need.

The thought of prayer has never occurred to me. Time of trouble or grief has never pushed me into supernaturalism. I remember when my mother died the Hospice people (great folks by the way) offered a minister who my mother had spoken to could come to the house. My mother had just died and was laying there. I recalled that she had a vague faith of some nondenominational sort and if she had talked to this fellow maybe she would have like some kind of last rite or something. I said they could bring the guy. I do not care if I agree with your beliefs; I will do my damndest to support them when you cannot. When the guy got there he tried talking to me. I was so confused by this. I kept telling him that my mother was back there in the bedroom. He kept trying to be spiritual and such. Eventually I realized that he thought he was there for me. Talk about egg on your face. I felt bad for making him come all the way down there for nothing so I got the old mother-in-law and put them together. He could counsel her and she liked all that stuff.

The thing I remember was that it never occurred to me that he would come for me. I assumed it was part of my mother’s wishes and wanted to honor that. It took me a few minutes to realize that people would think that superstition would comfort me. It was such a bazaar and foreign idea. I felt so bad for the guy, wasting his time.

That is my journey. I looked for faith. I found empty promises and blackmail. I found communities which asked me to turn off my mind. Deliberately make myself blind in one area. I tried to do it. I tried so hard. I failed. I am a failure at the game of religion.

-Joshua

Meet some people who are going to hell


If you have not already heard of Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen, then let me introduce you:

"Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen have rightly become national heroes in Norway after they rescued 40 fleeing teens from the massacre on Utoya Island. Using their boat, they made multiple trips into the waters around Utoya where Anders Breivik was murdering 69 people and ferried as many as they could to safety. Bullet holes later discovered in their boat indicate Breivik fired upon them."
- Gavon Laessig

Oh, and by the way, they are a lesbian married couple.

So, let me tell this story as best I can. Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen were having a picnic on an island near Utoya Island, when they heard sounds indicating something was amiss. To quote Dalen:

“We were eating. Then shooting and then the awful screaming. We saw how the young people ran in panic into the lake.”

What this couple did next is beyond anything I can explain or understand. They took a row boat, and rowed in the direction of the gunfire. They rowed to the island where a massacre was taking place, and filled that rowboat with as many human beings as they could possibly hold, and rowed back to safety.

Would you like to know what they did next? They unloaded the rowboat, and went back to save more human beings. They did this a total of four times. By the end, the rowboat was riddled with bullet holes. They shuttled a total of 40 human lives to safety.

FOUR TIMES

Four times, they put themselves in harm's way for strangers. Four times, they thought of the suffering of their fellow human beings, and made the choice to put themselves directly in the line of fire way to help others find a way out of it..

We talk of heroes. We talk of the firefighters who ran into the World Trade Center, we talk of the soldiers who ran in the direction of Fallujah. I think we talk about these things, and refer to the participants as heroes, because we would like to hope that we would be brave enough to do the same as they did. We would like to hope that in our finest hour, we would sacrifice ourselves for our fellow human beings. We call these men and women heroes because we hope that we would, and we fear that we could not.

The truth is...we probably could. In times of crisis, we react. Maybe we all would have rowed that boat across the isle because we knew that people were in harm's way, and we knew we had the ability to help them. Maybe we would because that's what you are supposed to do...because that's the way to be a person.

...And that's what the fellow in the video above perhaps forgets. He forgets that those who is damning to eternal torment are human beings, people he may meet at the grocery store. People who may hold differing and staunch beliefs about which sports team is better...people who may sacrifice their bodies and minds to do the right thing when the chips are down. People who would help you in spite of the fact that you were wishing them eternal torment and suffering.

I want this shit to stop. I want an edict from the pope. I want an acknowledgment that these two human beings were doing the right thing. I want a facebook page, a website, I want it known to the world. I want it declared by his holiness, the Pontiff of Rome, declared by every religious leader on the planet, that Hege Dalen and Toril Hanse SHALL NOT burn in hell for all eternity. I want Hege Dalen and Toril Hanse to be celebrated as the heroes that they are.

Anders Breivik perpetrated the wholesale slaughter of as many human beings as he possibly could, and he did so to support  his xenophobic worldview, which includes support for varying degrees of cultural conservatism, right-wing populism, ultranationalism, crusades, Islamophobia, far-right Zionism and Serbian para-militarism, and to preserve a Christian Europe. He did so because he hated the 'other.'

Hege Dalen and Toril Hanse did not see the 'other,' they saw people in need. They acted like any brave, and strong human being would in that situation. They represent the best of what we can be, and that is how they should be judged. That is how we all should be judged...by OUR actions, not YOUR beliefs.

-Paul Wittmeyer

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Holy Hell

The commonly thought of concept of Hell is a place where ‘sinners’ spend eternity being punished for their sins. Any transgression without repentance condemns one to an eternity of suffering. There is no hope for appeal, judicial review or probation, just eternity of ‘suffering.’

My problem with the Hell concept is that Eternity is a long time. A very long time. Since the system has only two possibilities, Heaven for eternity or Hell for eternity, I must assume that Hell is full of really fun people. There are also probably a few people who simply used the Lord’s name in vain. Goddamnit! There you go, I spend eternity in torment. It is like the state giving the death penalty for every crime. Jaywalking? Death. Speeding? Death. Murder? Death. Arson? Death. Forget to report those taxes from the horse race? Death. Remember “Ignorance of the Law is no excuse.” That is even more so with an Omniscient Judge. And don’t forget the thought crimes of Christianity. The coveting. Hell would be full. Full! But this is not really the point of this post.

I assume Hell would be bad. For the first couple thousand years. After that I would have to assume that one would get used to being in excruciating pain all the time. Rats chewing off extremities forever is bad but I could see, after a couple thousand years, getting used to it.

Once you are used to Hell, it becomes like earth except no possible divine punishment. I assume that it would be nothing but sex and poker. Crazy weird sex you have never thought of. Different gambling games and a lot of rough housing. They say that lifers in prison get used to it and simply exist with that as their reality. Just become accustomed. I assume Hell would be worse than prison but eternity is a long time.

So, here’s me asking to go to Hell and be tormented for a couple thousand years so that I can commit whatever crime I could imagine with no fear of punishment. Plus, remember all the people there are basically immortal in Hell, so they will always be as ok as they were before. No lasting damage, no guilt. My only problem is that I never had much of an inkling to harm others. But, after a few thousand years of torment I might develop a mean streak.

In closing here is my scenario: I say “Jesus” as an exclamation. I die and go to Hell. I am tormented for thousands of years and eventually become a real jackass. I become hateful toward the world and God. Then I commit terrible acts out of boredom (idle hands and all).

When that gets boring I spend the next million years lying, gambling and womanizing. Hell would be full of liars, gamblers and prostitutes.

That seems to be God’s plan. Omniscience kicks ass. I am in no place to question God’s plan.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Big lizard in my backyard

On July 20th, The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo announced that their partner, The Catholic Charities of Buffalo, had surpassed the yearly 'appeal' amount for the year.

Catholic Charities of Buffalo, every year, appeals to the community for funding, and this year, in these economic times,  they had reached their goal by July 20th.

This year's goal: 10.5 million dollars. To date, Catholic Charities of Buffalo has collected $10,601,157.94 from the 8 counties that compose Western New York. To put this in perspective, Western new York contains roughly 2.5 million people.

Catholic Charities is the largest non-governmental 'humanitarian' organization in the country. It was founded in 1910, and is headquartered in Alexandria, Virgina. Their annual revenue is $3.83 billion.

This year's 'appeal' slogan is, to quote the Diocese of Buffalo: "“Whoever. Wherever. Whenever.” because Catholic Charities is always there, providing help for people of all faiths and walks of life when they need it most."

Now, two things: 1) When you quote a sentence that begins with a quote, it looks really stupid, and, 2) 10.6 million dollars??? From people in Western New York? Who are these people? What do they do?

Well, I did some research.

Stated plain as day on Catholic Charities USA's website is the following:

Vision of Catholic Charities

Believing in the presence of God in our midst, we proclaim the sanctity of human life and the dignity of the person by sharing in the mission of Jesus given to the Church. To this end, Catholic Charities works with individuals, families and communities to help them meet their needs, address their issues, eliminate oppression, and build a just and compassionate society. 

Ok, fine, a very nice mission statement. As you may have guessed, I have some concerns. Before the pichforks emerge, please let me state that my concerns are not that they share in the mission of the zombie from Nazareth. As I have stated many times, believe what you want to believe. My problems are a bit more...pragmatic.

In 2006, Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley and leaders of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston announced that the agency would terminate its adoption work, rather than comply with state law which would force it to place children under the guardianship of same-sex couples, which conflicts with the moral teaching of the Church.

In 2009, the Washington, D.C. chapter of Catholic Charities was confronted with legislation that would compel them to offer family health insurance plans for their same sex employees equivalent to the packages provided to heterosexual couples. Catholic Charities, USA's response? They stopped providing health care for ALL employees. Of course, there is a provision that allows any employee who received health insurance previous to this policy shift to be 'grandfathered' in.

None of this would be concerning to me if Catholic Charities wasn't the leading non-governmental adoption program in the United States. None of this would be concerning to me if Catholic Charities didn't employ 304,932 people. But, they do.


While we are filing lawsuits, and protesting memorials, An organization with a clear theological perspective has collected 3.83 billion dollars from the country to further their agenda. They have collected 10 million dollars from your neighbors in the last six months. They are the second largest social service provider in the United States, surpassed only by the federal government. They offer counseling, mental health treatment, disaster relief, and assistance for impoverished neighborhoods.


My real problem is not what they are doing. My problem is: What are we doing?


-Paul Wittmeyer