Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lee & Me

The idea of writing this blog post has given me some pause.  See I have on many occasions mentioned that I find former journalist and current Christian author Lee Strobel to be deeply dishonest and I thought a short post to clarify my motivations for that was in order.  However, I really don’t want this blog to become just another cog in the great internet hate machine with post after post about how much everything and everyone sucks.  I decided that this blog was worth writing for two reasons though.  Firstly, to simply call someone dishonest and never explain why makes me no better than those anonymous online commentators who seem to think that simply calling something “gay” is a fully formed argument.  Secondly, I am very strongly against groupthink; and that is the main reason I have the “The Christian I am not” tag on this blog.  If someone in your group – albeit family, ideological, religious or political – does something you strongly disagree with and instead of voicing your disagreement you keep your head down and go with the crowd then you lose all right to complain when a critic tars you with the same brush.

So why Lee Strobel?  He seems like a nice enough guy after all.  Looks like the kind of man who pays his taxes, obeys the law and he is probably a good husband and father, the kind of man who (and this is just a wild guess) doesn’t kick puppies.  Yet this man – nice fellow as he may be – manages to be more dishonest than all the other Creationist speakers out there.  See a Creationist like Kent Hovind (even though he is in jail for tax evasion) will tell you right off the bat who he is (a Young Earth Creationist), what he believes (The Earth was created 6000 years ago in 6 literal days) and why he believes it (because that’s what the Bible says).  Not so with Mr Strobel.  He pretends to be a skeptic, a man of science just looking for some truth.

Now let’s say I make that very same claim.  I tell you I’m a skeptic regarding the efficacy of so called Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM).  I tell you that as a skeptic, I am going to do an investigation to see which side has the proof – Science based medicine or CAM.  However, in my investigation I do something really weird though.  I don’t speak any medical professional who disagrees with CAM.  I don’t visit any medical schools or pharmaceutical labs to speak to the many experts there who are supremely knowledgeable in the field.  In fact I ignore pretty much all doctors, surgeons and pharmacists and the only person with a medical degree I actually speak to is someone like Dr Oz who is fully and vocally in support of CAM.  For the rest of my investigation I speak only to shamans, acupuncturists, herbalists, reiki masters and homoeopaths and report their claims uncritically.  In fact in lieu of actually finding out for myself, I instead let the CAM crowd tell me what the scientifically based medical community believes and why they are wrong to do so.  At no point in my investigation do I give actual medical professionals a chance to respond to these claims.

Now if at the end of my investigation I claim that after thoroughly investigating the matter I have learned that CAM is actually the best possible way to treat illness and that the science based medical community is actually a sham designed to keep you sick, would you take me seriously?  I hope you don't!!  Why should you, its clear that I started out already convinced about CAM and that the whole “investigation” was just a sham since I clearly only picked “experts” who were guaranteed to give me the answers I wanted!  So no, you shouldn’t take hypothetical medical investigator me seriously at all and you shouldn’t take Lee Strobel seriously either.

In his series of “The Case for ….” books he does pretty much exactly what hypothetical medical investigator me did and nowhere more outrageously than in “The Case for a Creator”.  In this book he pretends to play a skeptic looking into Creationism and Evolution but exclusively talks to those in the “Intelligent Design” community and presents their views uncritically.  See I could still make excuses for hypothetical medical investigator me – maybe I’m really gullible, maybe I have no idea how to properly investigate something – but there is no way to excuse Lee Strobel.  He used to be a very successful journalist before he became a pastor, he knows how to investigate, he knows how to properly report in a balanced fashion but he chose not to.  That is what makes him so immensely dishonest in my view.  See I'm not calling him dishonest because he has a view that differs from mine.  I call him dishonest because he knows how to properly investigate a viewpoint to see if it's true but despite pretending to do so, in reality he bends over backwards to ensure that he does no such thing.  No wonder he gets nominated for the Golden Crocoduck award (awarded for the biggest breach of the Ninth Commandment in pursuit of the Creationist cause) every year!

For anyone interested in a piece by piece dissection of The Case for a Creator, there is a very informative one here.   For those who are interested but don’t like reading and with about 2 hours to kill, here is an excellent critical analysis of the Case for a Creator video:

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Who Would Jesus Shoot?


Ever since ABC News reported that, since 2005, military contractor Trijicon has been engraving coded Bible passages on sniper sights supplied to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, there has been a lot of reaction from all over.  The Onion joked about it.  Others didn't find it funny and sent threats to those who tried to get rid of the Jesus guns.  Some journalists claimed it was no big deal while another even felt it was justified because the Muslims totally started it started it (SPOILER ALERT: They both work for Fox).  Other journalists pointed out that this was in fact a big deal because it gave Islamic extremists a potent propaganda and recruitment tool by turning the "War on Terror" into a "Christianity vs Islam" conflict.  The Anglican Church denounced it, as did the top US military commanders
Trijicon, responded by pointing out:  "We believe that America is great when its people are good," ...  "This goodness has been based on Biblical standards throughout our history, and we will strive to follow those morals."*  They also added that that those objecting to it are simply "not Christian".  Obviously!!

But enough of the boring opinions, lets get to the big picture that all those armchair generals seem to be missing.  The Military Religious Freedom Foundation reported a case where an officer told his troops that thanks to these scopes an ordinary rifle is "spiritually transformed into the Fire Arm of Jesus Christ" and when it runs out of ammo it becomes the "spiritually transformed club of Jesus Christ".   See?  All these reporters and politicians seem to be missing the fact that all Trijicon actually tried to do was to supply the troops with Divine Weapons of Conquest and Victory!  You know, like the ones Jesus gave to the Apostles.

However when I read the Bible verses that was engraved onto the scopes I spotted a teensy problem.  They all use verses like:

2 Corinthians 4:6 "For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."

John 8:12  "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.""

As well as other citations from the books of Revelation, Matthew and John dealing with Jesus as "the light of the world."  Really, what is up with all these verses about light?  Are they using frikken laser beams now?  No wonder the war is dragging on forever!  Of course the magic spell won't be effective if you try and enchant your weapon with something irrelevant!!  So as a free service, I'm offering some more appropriate verses for turning your ordinary machine gun into a Magic Jesus Gun.  Jesus did after all have plenty to say regarding the use of force and violence as well as matters of defence.  How about:

Matt 5:44 “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” 
Matt 5:39 “But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also”
Matt 26:52 “Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” 
Matt 7:12 “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you”
Matt 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God”

Yep, I think those are the kind of Scriptures Jesus would put on HIS machine gun!

*  However they quickly changed their tune when the Pentagon threatened to stop the money train.  It just goes to show that the Bible is true, you really can't serve Jesus AND Mammon!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Of Cake and Catholics

You know, the saying "you can't have your cake and eat it" used to make no sense to me.  Maybe it was because English was my second language but somehow that saying just seemed ridiculous.  As far as I knew "lets have some cake" and "lets eat some cake" meant exactly the same thing so what was up with that weird proverb?  Eventually I actually bothered to look it up and found that the modern saying is a corruption of the original form which was "wolde you bothe eate your cake, and have your cake?"* which (olde Englishe aside) made a lot more sense.  Obviously you can't eat your cake and expect to have cake afterwards, it should have been obvious all along!!

Well, I can at least find some solace in the fact that I'm not the only one who has trouble grasping the whole concept of "you can't have your cake and eat it".  It seems to afflict a great many of my Christian brothers and sisters as well.  One of the most baffling instances seems to be regarding Catholics.  If you ask a Protestant whether they think Roman Catholics are Christians, the answer is almost guaranteed to be an emphatic "no".  Opinions differ of course.  Some merely think them deluded while guys like Jack Chick teach that Catholics are actually the agents of the Antichrist who have been spending the last 2000 years trying to destroy Real True Christianity.  Yet whenever said Protestants need their numbers to look high - especially regarding the core values of Christianity** - then suddenly Catholics are totally Christian enough.  The best examples of this confusing line of thinking usually occur during debates about creation vs evolution.  It tends to go a little something like this:

Creo:  "Evolution is just something Atheists made up to destroy faith in God"
Evo:  "That's not true, the Catholic Church fully accept evolution and it finds no conflict with their faith.
Creo:  "Ah, but you see, Catholics aren't really Christians, that's why!"
...later in the same conversation...
Creo:  "Evolution is an Atheistic worldview that promotes racism and eugenics.  Christianity on the other hand provides a worldview that is all about helping others.  Why just look at the names of the hospitals in your city - St John's, St Mary's, St Anne's, the list of Christian hospitals is huge!  Name one Atheist hospital!"

See what just happened there?  In the course of one conversation, Catholics went from non-Christians to Christians without skipping a beat.  It makes my head spin.  Seriously people, you can't have your Catholics and eat them too!

That actually sounded better in my head...

Anyway, there is one other instance of wanting to have your cake and eat it too among Christians that really grinds my gears.  I blogged about it before and everyone disagreed with me but I'm sticking to my guns.  Look, if you believe that every human being is handcrafted and sculpted in the womb by God Himself that's fine.  If you believe that people look the way they do because they are the product of the random arrangement of genes inherited from both parents that is fine too.  What is not fine is being inconsistent about it.  You can't have it both ways!!  To claim plastic surgery is wrong because "you are perfect the way God made you" on the one hand but on the other claim that its OK to fix birth defects because that's just genetic accident is hypocritical.  Either we look the way God intended or we look the way our parent's genes determined.  It doesn't work both ways, it can't just be God when its good and accident when it's bad.  If you think God gave you your chiselled jawline then doesn't it follow logically that God also gives some babies harelips?

It's not that I'm for frivolous plastic surgery.  It's the having your cake and eat it too part that gets me.  If you want to discourage a loved one from getting some work done, make a real argument against it.  Simply throwing God in front of the bus is just plain lazy.  However if you truly believe that then why not be consistent with it - don't get your kids braces either.  

* From a 1546 book called "A dialogue Conteinyng the Nomber in Effect of All the Prouerbes in the Englishe Tongue" by John Heywood.  Sounds like a real pageturner.
** Being anti-abortion, anti-homosexual and pro-abstinence only sex ed.