Consideration 1; Extraordinary Claims vs. Proof

April 5, 2012 19 comments

It will come as a surprise to no one, nor will anyone be able to argue, that Christianity makes some unusual statements. Christianity needs the claims to be unusual, for it is part of its purported attraction that it offers something that nothing else does, the promise of eternal life, for example. If this claim was not unusual, it might be said that eternal life can be found elsewhere. If eternal life does not exist at all, then the claim that one can attain it is not unusual, but bogus and immoral. That is a subject for another article.

We can go one step further and say that Christianity makes claims that are not simply unusual, but downright extraordinary. Beyond ordinary. If something is ordinary, it is also unremarkable and unworthy of all but a passing glance. Like usual things, ordinary things can be found in more than one place; they are not rare. Christianity claims to be the only purveyor of true salvation, through which we can attain eternal life. Therefore it can be said that Christianity makes extraordinary claims.

We can now address the fact that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Yet this goes directly against another principle of Christian teaching, that it must be accepted on the basis of faith. There is no evidence for the divinity of Jesus Christ, no evidence for a creator god, and no evidence for a god at all, yet these are all integral parts of Christian belief. It is faith-based by necessity and by its own admission. It welcomes the idea of faith. It gladly owns the idea of faith. Yet it then sets forth highly dogmatic ideas and principles, many of which are just as extraordinary as that of eternal life, the acceptance of which is what allows one to attain that same eternal life. In other words, one must accept as true a list of extraordinary claims in order to attain the benefits of yet another extraordinary claim.

The problem with this, beyond the obvious, is that it presents the Christian god in a very poor light, indeed. No reasonable person would expect another reasonable person to accept grandiose claims with no basis of proof. And if they did expect it, they certainly would not condemn the person to death for disappointing them. Yet this is what the Christian god is supposed to do.

It is difficult to imagine a god, defined by Christianity as all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing, setting up such a scheme. Imagine what such a god would have to have said to itself.

“Well, it seems that the humans have bungled it again. I will save them and this is how I will do it. I will set up a system by which they must believe that my son died and rose again. However, I will be careful to provide no supporting evidence, because that would lessen the importance of faith. I want everyone to have free will and too much evidence might infringe on that right. If they don’t believe these unsupported claims I will send them to a place of eternal torment, because they could not rely on blind faith.”

This is what Christianity demands that we all believe about their god. First, this is a ridiculous line of reasoning for an all-knowing god. Second, it is a cruel stance for an all-loving god, and finally it shows a lack of creativity one would not expect in an all-powerful god. With what manner of consideration does this leave us? Is the Christian god not omniscient or omnipotent? Does it not contain a measure of love inconceivable to humanity? Christianity would have us believe all these things in the affirmative, yet we are left with a problem.

An all-knowing god would understand the ramifications of such a system and foresee the impact of implementing it to a species capable of rational thought. It would know that many people would have difficulty with such claims, not because they do not necessarily wish to believe, but because they cannot. To follow Christian theology, god created the minds of the skeptics and designed those minds in a way that will not allow them to follow a path of blind faith. If an all-knowing god were to set up a path to save all of humanity, one would have to think it would design it in such a way as to be accessible to all people. If this is not the case, then we must decide whether this god is not all-knowing and made a mistake or does not possess limitless love, since no truly loving god would segregate their creation in such a way.

Based on this, we can see that perhaps the method allegedly chosen by god to save humanity might not have been the best choice. If god is all-knowing it would have known this and, just as importantly, if it is all-powerful, it would have had the ability to change the plan. If god did not have the foresight to recognize the problems the plan would cause, then it is not all-knowing. If it did not have the power to create a plan reasonable to all, then it cannot be said to be all-powerful. If god is not all-knowing or all-powerful, then one cannot say that it is responsible for extraordinary acts and authority that would only be possible for such a supreme being.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Yet we not only see the lack of such proof, but also see the weaknesses of setting proof aside in favor of faith in a god that would make such proof possible. Therefore, if proof is not present and faith is unreasonable, what is the allure of the belief in question?

Categories: Religion

New Business Card

March 26, 2012 2 comments

Having been referred to over the weekend as a “Two Bit Internet Hack” by an angry blog commenter, I thought it would be hilarious to make up a business card for myself. I rather enjoy the title. I asked the angry man for permission to use the motto, but he did not respond to my question. So I’ve taken the liberty of using it anyway.

hackbusinesscard

Categories: Religion

Inbox Inferno #1

January 21, 2012 6 comments

As some of you might know, my most recent book is causing quite a stir among those associated with the fundamentalist movement. As such, my inbox is livening up with submissions from various sources. On such email is included below, along with my own commentary. It is intended for entertainment purposes only.

Once in a lifetime, you may receive an email that will change how you view everything. I have received such an email. It is so powerful, so convincing, and so well-constructed that I cannot help but bow before its superior wisdom and change how I view myself and the world.

The author of said email, who shall remain nameless, opens her rant with the following line: “I am so disappointed that you choose to try to magnify yourself by deeply hurting your family.” This was a brilliant point, as I’m sure anyone else will agree. You see, it has always been my goal to attack my family and that is why I wrote a book that scarcely admits I even have a family and mentions them a mere handful of times, all in passing and never as the focus of the text. I thought this would be a highly clever method of really sticking it to the group of people with whom I spent the formative years of my life. The writer saw right through my carefully laid plans! Curses!

Oh, but the mystery email writer continues: “Maybe you need to get a counselor to help you work thru your anger.” I think this is a valid suggestion. Many times I wake up in the middle of the night, consumed with anger for no conceivable reason. I fly out of bed like a bat possessed by the ghost of Jerry Falwell and charge around the room, screaming with rage and breaking random items. I also find it impossible to incorporate humor into any part of my life, including what I write. For the examples of humor that are peppered throughout my book, I was forced to rely on the services of a ghost writer, as my wrath always prevented me from penning any humorous lines of my own.

“…you are trampling on their [your parents] early grave.” How true this is! Goodness and forsooth, this email writer has caught a glimpse of my evil, dusty soul! Why, just the other day, I traipsed down to the graveyard with a makeshift tombstone constructed entirely out of cardboard with the words “Mom and Dad” written on it in crayon. After securing it to a space of hallowed ground with a rock or three, I proceeded to stomp, nay, trample, all over it. I’m just that kind of person, you see. I take pleasure in mindless cruelty, like beating up old people, stealing pacifiers from babies, and two-stepping on the early graves of loving parents. I can’t describe it. It’s simply a heck of a good time. Try it sometime…you’ll see.

“One day you will regret this and if you choose to have kids, will reap this anger.” Whoa, Nelly! If I ever have kids I will deserve worse than this! Besides, reaping sounds like fun. After all, I’d hate to think I sat around all furious and miserable for years, only to be cursed with happy-go-lucky offspring. How disheartening that would be!

“To make things worse is how you are plastering it on the internet and facebook. This does not make you look great, quite the contrary, it makes you look ungrateful and desperate for attention.” Well, let’s see. I write. I make my writings available to the public. That’s kind of how it works. But, you got me. Once again you saw through my façade. My clever plan to attain greatness does indeed include dealing with niche subjects through a medium that 90% of its practitioners find lacking in both finance and notoriety. It’s the best plan I could come up with.

“Please take your blasphemous talk off the public eye…” Heck, no! As you said yourself, dear emailer, I am attempting to become wealthy and influential. How can I do that if I am not both accessible and blasphemous? In fact, I suspect I could stand to be a bit more so of both. And a few more emails like this might just convince me to make the effort.

Why Do Intelligent Christians Believe?

January 3, 2012 18 comments

Why do intelligent people believe crazy things? In all fairness, it must be pointed out that “crazy” is often in the eye of the beholder. Something that makes absolutely no sense to one person sounds like genius to another. We see this in every election cycle, for example. One candidate seems like the savior of the republic to one voter, but looks like the anti-christ to the next. Some people love broccoli, others think it is something only the anti-christ would eat.

Yet often these types of disagreements occur over things which can be demonstrated as false, inaccurate, or at the very least so unlikely as to be so. Those of you familiar with my blog no doubt know I am talking about various tenets held by the highly religious, particularly those of the fundamentalist persuasion.

Having grown up in the Church, I met many (well, maybe a couple) people I still consider highly intelligent, those possessing the ability to critically analyze, ponder, and interpret. Some of these people (well, maybe one of them) are still in the Church, showing that having the tools does not equate to using them. Why do intelligent people who grow up in the Church continue to stay? Being a believing child is one thing, since the ability to critically examine comes later in life. However, once they mature enough to think independently, why do they not all depart? Naturally, this is my own perspective, but let’s examine what these people must believe in order to remain in good standing in the Church of which I speak.

Crazy Belief: Over the course of a week, a supreme being snapped his fingers and created the universe a few thousand years ago.

Why This Is Crazy: There is no scientific or physical evidence for a creationist or young earth viewpoint, yet there is for a more evolutionary process. It is one thing to choose between two equally unsubstantiated claims. It is quite another to look at two unequal ideas and choose the one with no support simply because one wants it to be accurate.

Crazy Belief: The Bible is the inerrant, inspired word of God.

Why This Is Crazy: To accept the Bible as true and from God, you must believe in magic and ignore endless contradictions, inaccuracies, not to mention accept the authority of suspiciously anonymous writings. You must believe that praying can alter the laws of physics, that God approves of genocide, and that the majority of people, no matter how upstanding they may be, are going to burn forever in a place called hell.

Crazy Belief: Jesus is going to come back to earth and when that happens, believers who died will rise from the dead.

Why This Is Crazy: Other than the fact that we are all still waiting 2,000 years after Jesus promised to return during the life of that generation, we would have to believe that physical corpses, which have deteriorated to mere skeletons and piles of dust, will reassemble and break from their graves, jetting off into the sunset like a host of grisly spacecraft.

And there are many more. The point is, however, that smart people must believe not-so-smart things in order to be Christian. How is this possible? Does this mean that all Christians are actually stupid and their perceived intelligence was mere illusion? I know this isn’t the case, so the answer must be something else.

The human mind is a fascinating thing. When we are talking about spiritual belief systems, there is always a level of improvable foundation that must be constructed. In other words, we must say “I can’t prove this, but I’m convinced enough to use it as a cornerstone so that I may continue building my belief system.” There must be something by which all future conclusions may be reached. A standard, in other words. For example, you must first believe that humans contain a spiritual element. Otherwise, proceeding with a spiritual self-examination and consequent construction of a spiritual worldview is utterly pointless.

Christians, of course, are no exception. They must believe certain things if their faith is to work. The things many of us believe are crazy make perfect sense to them, because they are viewing them through the lenses of things they have already accepted. Prayer can change the laws of physics, because you are praying to the being who created those laws. If he created them, why could he not break them? The Bible is worthy of trust because God inspired it and therefore it cannot errors, and all questions regarding its veracity are really secondary given that assumption. It doesn’t matter how unlikely the Second Coming or the resurrection of the saints may be, the fact is that the Bible (and therefore God) says it is going to happen. Case closed.

This is why intelligent people can believe crazy things. It is because they have made a conscious choice to ignore certain basic problems and accept an existing belief system foundation (Christianity). This in itself may be considered proof of a lack of intelligence, and the point could certainly be made. As I mentioned earlier, “It is one thing to choose between two equally unsubstantiated claims. It is quite another to look at two unequal ideas and choose the one with no support simply because one wants it to be accurate.”

So there must be motives for accepting a faulty premise as a belief system foundation. Christians have many motivating factors. Here are a few consequences of not believing for those raised in the faith:

  • You will go to hell.
  • Your family might reject you.
  • Your friends may leave you.
  • All that energy you’ve poured into the church, religious education, and ministry would be in vain and shown as a waste of time.
  • You will lose the confidence of knowing your future.
  • You will be without a belief system that for now stabilizes your existence.
  • Questions regarding the purpose of life become unanswered.
  • You will likely lose the warm sense of community within the church.
  • You will be called a sinner, heretic, heathen, lost soul, etc.
  • You will be used in sermons to illustrate the cleverness of Satan and the allure of sin.

And the list goes on. So you can see that it might be shown, in a literal sense, for people to choose to ignore the lack of veracity inherent in the Christian foundation in order to accept its other precepts. After all, is it truly intelligent to willingly subject oneself to all the above-mentioned consequences? It may not be. The intelligent choice, from this perspective, may be to continue as things are. The question, however, is it honest? And if it is not, then one must recognize that to accept the faith in the face of a mountain of disputing evidence is to live a lie, thereby contradicting the foundation itself. So it is up to you. Which do you think is ultimately the more intelligent choice?

Congress Is A [insert insult here]

December 23, 2011 2 comments

Congress has graciously decided to allow us to keep approximately eighty more dollars of our own money each month. Thank you, sires, thank you! The decision, of course, came after several eons of bickering between Republicans and Democrats over various proposals. What we ended up getting was a two-month extension of tax relief. Which means that we will be back in this same position in, say, two months!

The bill not only extends the tax cut, but also federal unemployment and prevents cuts in payments to Medicare physicians. So let’s examine what actually happened during this ninety-nine ring circus. Wait…I actually have no idea. Yeah, that’s right, I’m totally confused. Both parties spent the entire proceedings saying they wanted the same thing: extend the tax cuts. Yay! But then both sides kept rejecting proposals from the opposition to accomplish just that. Boo! Why was this such a big deal? There are several reasons, three of which are:

1. It’s an election year. Each party wants to be able to claim that they are the ones who extended the cuts.

2. Both sides kept attaching things to the bills, in attempts to sneak through extra little pieces of their agendas.

3. Congresspeople are dildos.

So who came out ahead here? Republicans? Democrats? The American people? Well, we can forget that last one, since the people never come out ahead, even though we’re supposed to be in charge. (Har har.) Up until the last home stretch of the debacle, the Republicans stood poised to deliver the tax cuts, propelled by a nice little bi-partisan vote in the U.S. Senate. The final vote there was 89-10 in favor. Perhaps the 100th senator was some guy in the corner who simply yelled out, “Meh!” when his name was called. (Actually, it was Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, who was attending a niece’s wedding.) From there the bill headed to the House for consideration, which promptly followed the lead of the mythical 100th senator and yelled out “MEH!” The sticking point? Well, the Republicans got a little greedy and wanted an entire year of tax cuts. Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple. It never is.

House Majority Leader John Boehner initially signaled support for the two-month extension, but faced pressure from Republican colleagues in the House to push for a year-long deal. Boehner listened to their whining and announced that the House would not bring the two-month bill up for a vote. Not long after, intense pressure began mounting against the House Republicans to just pass a damn bill! and those who petitioned Boehner ultimately retreated, leaving the hapless Speaker holding the bag.

It’s clear both sides played politics with the bill, an obscene activity, especially around this time of year. However, the Republicans received a fairly severe beat-down on this one, completely outmaneuvering themselves by pressing the issue, much like a dog that chases its tail, catches it, and then realizes, “Hey, that hurts!” From a purely practical standpoint, a year of tax relief is way better for “the people” than a mere two-month extension. The problem is that the cuts were set to expire in January, which means that we came very close to getting no tax relief, which is decidedly worse than a two-month extension.

In short, the House Republicans should not have obstructed passage of the Senate bill, which not only extended the tax cuts, but also included a provision to force President Obama to make a quick decision on the controversial Keystone pipeline, an issue that is becoming a winner for Republican presidential candidates. At that point, the Republicans would have come out ahead. Instead, they took what could have been a nice victory heading into the high-profile primary season and turned it into a dog turd, which they smeared all over their faces. With approximately 10% of the electorate hanging in the balance, smelling like poo is not likely to help their cause and could very well come back to haunt them in the coming presidential campaign.*

*Bold = Craig Prediction

What Is Religion?

December 20, 2011 15 comments

Religion is power. To control the minds, lives, allegiance, and—presumably—the destiny of a millions of people must be a heady concept indeed. But religion’s founders accomplished this amazing feat and did so in brilliant fashion, by using one of humankind’s most basic needs to create a product to fulfill that same need. The human race has always had three deep, innermost desires: to know, to express, and to improve. The “desire to know” created philosophy, the “desire to express” created art, and the “desire to improve” has resulted in an endless progression of increasingly complex developments intended to change life for the better.

Religion grew out of the “desire to know.” It claims to provide solutions to life’s persistent questions, such as: “why am I here,” “is there a god,” “what happens after I die,” and a myriad of others. Given the intense desire, no, need of people to know these answers, it is hardly surprising that the various religions around the world have gained legions of followers. What is surprising, however, is that generation after generation of these followers have continued to blindly accept the basic tenets of a certain religion without once sitting down to honestly and brutally examine the foundations of what they claim to believe. One would have to assume that at some point a generation would blink their staring eyes and think, “Waaait a minute…”

This is that generation.

For centuries, religion has spoon-fed ideas and concepts to willing and often eager followers, who gobbled up everything offered and ran off to shove it down the throats of everyone else, never once stopping to examine what they’d been given. Religion is power. How can we know religion is power? Centuries ago, when the Christian church was at its highest point, controlling not only people’s individual lives, but entire governments and nations, believing in anything other than the sanctioned religion was heresy, an offense punishable by death. To destroy anyone who doesn’t agree with you? That’s power. Throughout history, nations have invaded other nations that did not hold to the same religion. To declare war on a nation that doesn’t hold to the same religion, or even the same theology of the same religion? That’s power. Indulgences were sold in exchange for absolution from sins. To charge money in exchange for the security of one’s soul? That’s power.

One might argue that religion is not directly responsible for these and other evils and it is therefore unfair to target it by saying “religion is power.” Consider this: what is more powerful? Something that makes someone evil or something that can be successfully used to excuse evil deeds? I would suggest the later. Let me provide an example. A drug lord sends his minions on various nefarious errands. He is responsible for their evil deeds. He is considered powerful. However, he must remain in hiding and if ever discovered is taken away by the authorities to the cheers of the public. Now consider a priest of high station and great reputation who abuses an altar boy in the rectory. He is found out, but because he is a “religious” man and because of his station, the authorities and much of the public turns a blind eye. Who is more powerful? The drug lord who does evil but must be careful to avoid the public eye or the priest who does evil and continues to appear piously before a congregation every week? Religion has not forced the priest to violate a minor, but it is so powerful a concept that is allows him to get away with it. Now that is power.

We’re a long way from the Middle Ages—on the timeline, anyway. In other ways, it seems we have progressed not at all. The church is still using its influence to rule people’s lives, keep the faithful to the fold, and control their beliefs. And while religion may not be evil in and of itself (it is simply a collection of ideas, after all) the fact that man is prone to evil or, as Nietzsche would say, the “Will to Power,” makes it a doomed system. Religion is tailor-made for abuse and has gone unchecked for too long. It is now inextricably intertwined with evil and exploitation. It cannot be remedied and therefore must be rooted out.

There is a difference between religion and faith, and between faith and spirituality. As defined by this book, religion is a set of beliefs that exists for a specific purpose. Christianity, for example, states that the acceptance of its belief system will result in the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. A typical aspect of religion is reward for obedience and judgment in return for rejection. So we can see that religion is about power and domination. By claiming to control the future of an individual, and convincing them that this future is dependent on adhering to a certain set of rules, the church controls the individual’s present existence. Once you control someone’s existence, you control everything about them. And that has always been the object of religion: to keep a tight-fisted grip on its converts and keep itself alive by squeezing the life out of them. Religion is a parasite, feeding on those who come to it for strength. Therefore, religion is, as we know it, evil. It is important to note that the vast majority of the references to religion in this book refer to that of the preceding definition.
The reason religion is evil, of course, is because it is administrated by human beings. I’m not going to get into a discussion here about whether man is basically bad or good, but it is safe to say that mankind rarely passes up an opportunity to make life miserable for its fellows. Religion turned out to be the perfect vehicle, for the very reasons articulated above.

The misuse of religion is nothing new. It has been going on from the very beginning. As soon as someone realized they could make someone else do something simply by telling them they would burn forever if they didn’t, the world was doomed. And we still haven’t gotten away from it. People are still living their lives in certain ways just to avoid eternal damnation, to avoid making God “angry.” But what is religion, exactly? What about it makes it so attractive to people? Certainly there has to be some reason why millions have flocked to various faiths, even if those religions haven’t treated them particularly well. Why does religion have such a hold on people? There are many reasons.

Religion gives people a sense of belonging. Church congregations are often close-knit and clannish. In my home church the congregation was quite small and had the feel of a small town. Everybody knew everything, it was “us” against the world, we were a tiny kingdom all to ourselves. Although there were the inevitable problems, there was a sense of camaraderie, almost as if it we all had a membership to the same exclusive club (which I guess we did). People yearn for companionship and, to be fair, religion (in the form of churches) provides that: youth groups, couples’ night, and potluck dinners. It may sound like a small thing, but once you’ve belonged somewhere, it’s not easy to put it aside and set sail for the unknown. It’s often easier just to stay where you are and deal with the uncertainties in silence, or even ignore them altogether.

Also, people often don’t want to think about the issues. It is simpler to do what they’re told, instead of finding their own way. Why struggle with the deep problems of life and eternity when you can let someone else to it for you and then just take their word for it? If they’re wrong, then it’s their problem, right? However, the Bible, the sacred book of these same followers, instructs them to “…work out your own salvation…” (Phil. 2:12) Yet, who bothers to do that? Most often, believers simply rely on tradition and habit. Generations attend the same church, because leaving would cause a family rift. A disillusioned member continues teaching Sunday School, because to quit would raise questions about their spirituality. A teenager joins the church because he thinks it is the right thing to do. Religion has such a long tradition that it simply does not occur to many people that there are options.

The last and most obvious reason for religion’s success is that it promises people life after death: bliss if they were good, torment if they were bad. Religion has served as a way to make living life a little bit easier, given human beings a sense of purpose and a motivation to be decent. Everybody wants to believe that there is something else out there waiting for us, that this strange, often downright unpleasant existence isn’t all there is to it. That our efforts to be “good” will somehow pay off in the end and that the evil among us will eventually get their comeuppance. It’s comforting to think about and certainly one can’t blame anyone for choosing this avenue if it gives them a measure of peace. People want to believe it. It does not, however, make it accurate. Freud, in writing The Future of an Illusion, said “what is characteristic of illusions is that they are derived from human wishes.” Therefore religion, with its comfortable promises of reward and certain desirable elements such as all evil eventually being repaid and all being set right in the end, is just a bit too tidy. Too convenient. Of course, just because something is “pleasant” or an “illusion” does not make it necessarily false, as Freud goes on to say. However, religion does possess a “too good to be true” quality.

- excerpted from the book, Passing Through: An Ex-Fundamentalist’s Pursuit of Personal Spirituality

“Cigars: The Heart & Soul of Cuba” Movie Review

December 13, 2011 2 comments

Although I watched Cigars: The Heart & Soul of Cuba with the intention of reviewing, I would have felt compelled to do so anyway. The film is a study of Cuban cigars, the creation process, and why they are the best cigars in the world. The film features James Suckling, an internationally acclaimed wine critic and journalist, and former European editor of Cigar Aficionado magazine. His passion for cigars shows through in his new movie, Cigars: The Heart & Soul of Cuba. Acclaimed director James Orr wrote and directed the film. Check out the official trailer below.

While immensely informative on the subject, the movie is not simply about the cigar making process. It is also about the people behind the scenes. The individuals who grow and create those works of art we know as the Cuban cigar. The making of a fine cigar is, indeed, an art and this is shown clearly throughout the film. The back-breaking, painstaking, loving attention to a cigar’s evolution and creation is illustrated in stunning detail by the film. We get to know the people and process, feel the heat and humidity, and smell the heavenly aroma of fresh tobacco and cigar smoke. Yes, it makes you want a cigar, but it also makes you appreciate and think about them more while they are enjoyed. This movie has increased my cigar-smoking pleasure and I think it will yours, as well. That alone should be worth the price.

The soundtrack for the movie is excellent. You can get a taste of it at the film’s website by clicking the “Play” button at the top of the page or by watching the trailer. You truly get the feeling that you are there with the crew, immersed in the culture. It isn’t often I get this feeling from a documentary, but it was truly superb.

Cigars: The Heart & Soul of Cuba is available both via DVD and digital download through the website. If you are at all interested in cigars or even just curious, I strongly encourage you to give this movie a try. I actually hit replay the instant the fifty-three minute show was over, because I wanted to watch it again and I’m sure I’ll revisit this film again after more time passes. It is true that I am a cigar enthusiast and view the film from that perspective, but I think more that just cigar nuts will appreciate the work.

Categories: Cigars Tags: , , ,
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