Sunday, July 29, 2012


Recently The Oatmeal published a comic titled "How to suck at your religion".  While it ruffled a lot of religious feathers I thought it was incredible, funny and a worthwhile, thought provoking read no matter what your theistic beliefs are.

The Slacktivist liked it but had one serious quibble with the comic:

"It’s funny. It’s also thoughtful, provocatively irreverent and wise. Until near the end, where it stumbles badly.

Here’s the bit that goes wobbly:

    Does your religion inspire you to help people? Does it make you happier? Does it help you cope with the fact that you are a bag of meat sitting on a rock in outer space and that someday you will die and you are completely powerless, helpless, and insignificant in the wake of this beautiful cosmic shitstorm we call existence? Does it help with that? Yes? Excellent! Carry on …

The problem is that third question — the long one, which makes three assertions. The first two are fine. The last one is partly fine, but contains one word which is really, really, really not at all fine.

That word is “insignificant.” And that’s just utterly wrong.

You are not “completely insignificant.” You are, in fact, precisely the opposite of that."

I'm not sure if I agree with that.  I get that we would all like to think we are significant, but are we?  Really?  How can tiny, fragile, short lived, imperfect people like us ever hope to be significant in such a vast, ancient universe?  But fine, mostly when people talk about significance they don't mean "significant to the universe" they mean "significant to each other".  But just how significant are we to one another?

Imagine that you died.

Everyone who knew you is devastated because they loved you and valued your presence in their lives.  The moons of Mars may not care but to them you were significant and they do care.  In the depths of their grief they soon notice something terrible.  Even though it feels like the world just stopped, it didn't.  Everything and everyone is carrying on exactly as before without an ounce of deference for the pain they feel.  People still eat, drink, go to work and have banal conversations about banal things.  Dogs bark, cars honk and shitty sitcoms keep spewing out canned laughter like nothing's happened.  Even the people closest to them will acknowledge their grief, nod, look serious and offer condolences or empty consolation that is anything but and then they just resume life as usual.  They will walk away and have a snack and make stupid jokes about stupid things and then other people will laugh politely even though it wasn't even funny.

After a while, even those people will start looking at them strangely.  Why are you still sad?  Why are you not resuming life as usual?  Why is your grieving not over yet?  See your death, terrible as it was, is supposed to be something people just get over.  People understand sadness and grieving, but only so much.  People are supposed to move on.  And they do.

At first it will take some effort.  They will have to get up, stare at themselves hard in the mirror and will themselves to not seem sad.  But after a while it won't be so hard anymore.  The banalities of life will suck them right back in with everyone else and after a while they will only think of you when they are reminded of you.

The worst part?  After a while even that will be hard for them.  Time will pass and those who loved you the most will realise that they have trouble picturing your face, that they can't remember exactly what your voice sounded like.  They will still remember things about you, memories with you in them but not like before.  In the end you become something more like a character in a book or on an old TV show.  Someone who is sort of remembered, mostly fondly, once in a distant while.  Or maybe you'll get lucky and someone who loved you will desperately cling to your memory.  The problem with memories though is that they are moments trapped in amber, they're not you.  That time you were silly or crazy or angry or passionate about something were parts of you but they weren't all of you.  To just remember that part of you is to make you into something you never were.

And so it goes.  Your descendants - should you be lucky enough to have them - will have no memory of you at all apart from a name they heard and a picture in a frame.  They will spend more time thinking about the bowel movements of exotic monkeys than they spend remembering you.  Everything will be as it always was after you go.

Are we significant? 

I don't know.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Unimpressed Martyrs

If there is one thing I'm consistently irked by it's the Persecution Envy of modern Western Christians.  They live in a world where they have more religious freedom than at just about any time in history and yet you wouldn't know that just by listening to them.  Somehow this privileged group considers itself the most persecuted group in the world.  They keep finding more and more ridiculous reasons to feel "persecuted".  Schools teaching evolution is not persecution.  Someone calling you a bigot because you said gays were abominations that will destroy civilization as we know it is not persecuting you.  Neither is someone who doesn't agree with your view that everything will be perfect if only we got rid of democracy and got a Christian Theocracy instead.

How did we come to a point where criticism = persecution?  That's an insult to everyone who has ever been ACTUALLY persecuted - for instance the countless Christians who were robbed, beaten, tortured and killed for their faith through the ages.  Two thousand years ago persecuted Christians had to face lions, now they just have to face facts!

So I decided to create some LOLart (based on the "Unimpressed" meme) to illustrate just how ludicrous and pathetic the faux-persecution complex of the modern Christian is.

So maybe lay off the hyperbole and whining and be grateful for just how great you have it?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Secular Government is a Sane One - Part 2

A while back I wrote a post arguing that the current infusion of religious fundamentalism into politics (in the US specifically) was very dangerous and that the only sane form of government was a secular one.  Not everyone agreed with me on that, not because they thought that religious fundamentalism was good but rather because they considered secularism to be bad.  However I suspect it was because I wasn't that clear regarding what I mean by "secular".

So let me be clear then.  Secular does not mean anti-religious.  It simply means that government takes no sides in religion and that they don't promote one belief over another.  Now I realise that to some religious people this in itself is considered an attack on their faith.  If you really believe that your rights are being violated by the government not giving privilege to your beliefs then you may as well stop reading here, we're never going to agree.  What you want is a theocracy, not a democracy.  But ask yourself this - what if the government starts to mandate and privilege a religious view and it's different from yours?  The problem with theocrats is that they always assume their group will be the ones in charge.

That is exactly the kind of scenario that a secular government prevents.  Under a secular government everyone is free to believe what they like, provided it does infringe on the same freedom for others.  Therefore you can pray however you like, interpret your holy book as you choose and have the sacraments you believe in.  In a world where the church up the road - who considers your beliefs misguided and heretical - got to make the rules, you wouldn't be able to do any of that.  Think about that.  Best part is, under a secular government, you even get to disagree!  You get to call those other guys who do things differently things like "misguided" or "heretics" or "blasphemers" (and they get to call you the same) without the government throwing anyone in jail for it!  No one is forced to conform to anything.  You get to have and keep your beliefs.  A secular government is not an anti-religious one.  On the contrary!

Now I do understand that sometimes even the people in government fail to understand the nuances of secularism which leads to them actually acting anti-religious.  When that happens though, they are in the wrong.  You can turn to the law and the law will vindicate you.

Secular does not mean that no religious activity is allowed on government property.  It means that no one group gets exclusive access to government property.  Presbyterians can meet in a public park but not Presbyterians ONLY.  Anglicans, Catholics, Pentecostals, Muslims, Jews and the Secular Student Alliance all get the same access to it.

Secular doesn't mean you don't get to pray in school.  It means the government doesn't get to tell you what to pray or who to pray to.  If you were a Baptist, would you be OK with a school led prayer to the Virgin Mary?  I didn't think so.  When no one belief is forced on anyone, everyone is free to believe as they choose.

Similarly secular doesn't mean that for instance the Bible is banned from schools.  It just means the government doesn't get to force anyone to read it.  If you were a Christian, you wouldn't like it if your kids were forced to read the Book of Mormon would you?  And no, doing Bible readings and letting some kids "opt out" by standing outside is pretty much the same as forcing everyone to read the Bible.  Peer pressure is immense in school, not many kids will willingly choose to become outcasts.

No one is forced not to have a religion.  Even politicians get to have religious faith and still be in a secular government.  They just don't get to impose their religious views on others.  Secularism is simply about keeping government and religion separate.  The government doesn't tell you what to believe (or not believe) and faith groups don't get to mandate rules for everyone else to follow.  

OK, that was my clumsy attempt at explaining Secularism as applied to government.  For a far superior and much more eloquent explanation, please check out this video by youtuber QualiaSoup.  One day I wish to be this good at explaining myself...


Thursday, July 19, 2012

God of the Gaps VS Newton

Reading "The Ascent of Man" is the best part of my commute.  In it I found this jewel of a quote by Sir Isaac Newton:

"To explain all nature is too difficult a task for any one man or even for any one age.  'Tis much better to do a little with certainty, and leave the rest for others that come after you, than to explain all things."

Brilliant.  Just brilliant.  It's probably one of the best comebacks ever to the old "but science can't explain everything" stupidity.  The fact that it comes from every creationist's favourite scientist just makes it so much sweeter! 

No, science can't explain everything right now.  That doesn't mean that your mystery of choice will never ever be explained.  We may not even get the answer in your lifetime but that doesn't mean we will never get the answer.  With each generation of scientists building on the work of their predecessors, we keep learning and understanding more, just like Newton said.  So if I can't give you a scientific explanation right this second, it doesn't mean the answer isn't out there.   It certainly doesn't mean that you get to make up your own answer in the meantime!

In the past there were tons of things we didn't understand.  Today we understand a lot more about a great many things.  Interestingly enough, everytime something was figured out no matter how long it took us or how difficult it was to figure out, the answer has never ever EVER been "magic".

So on that note since I started this post with a quote from an eccentric genius I'll end it  with the words of another brilliant weirdo:

"Life is full of mystery, yeah,
But there are answers out there
And they won't be found
By people sitting around
Looking serious
And saying isn't life mysterious?"
Tim Minchin, Storm

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Galileo Moment

"The news was sensational.  It made a reputation larger even than the triumph among the trading community.  And yet it was not altogether welcome, because what Galileo saw in the sky, and revealed to everyone who was willing to look, was that the Ptolemaic heaven simply would not work.  Copernicus's powerful guess had been right, and now stood open and revealed.  And like many more recent scientific results, that did not at all please the prejudice of the establishment of his day.

Galileo thought that all he had to do was to show that Copernicus was right, and everybody would listen.  That was his first mistake:  the mistake of being naive about people's motives which scientists make all the time.  "
Excerpt from 'The Ascent of Man' by Jacob Bronowski

Galileo didn't invent the telescope.  He did however improve on it.  A lot.  This amazing new device that enabled you to see ships from miles away as if it were right in front of you was a technological marvel and everyone wanted to look through it.  The problem was that Galileo didn't stop with looking at ships.  He kept improving the telescope and then he turned it to the stars.  That did not go over very well with some people, especially the Catholic Church.  It's not that they didn't accept science.  No, it's just that there was a certain kind of science they accepted and anything that dared to contradict it was blasphemy.  The fact that the earth was the unmoving center of the universe and that the sun revolved around the earth - these were articles of faith.  These ideas were wrong though understandable.  With the limited tools of the time, those seemed reasonable enough.  But science brought better tools and with better tools came better understanding and with better understanding came the upsetting of established doctrine.  It should have been undeniable, for the truth was there for anyone brave enough to look through the telescope, but no.  Protecting the established doctrine was far more important to the Pope than observing the truth.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  I'm sure Galileo would be saddened but not terribly surprised by the current efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution.  People have very strong ideas about how things are supposed to be but then sometimes science comes along and says "Actually... no... you're wrong".  This leads to a very curious paradox where people want to be right but they prefer to hold on to their own idea of "right" (no matter how demonstrably wrong it may be) rather than accepting the truth and actually being right.  Very curious indeed.

This isn't true for everyone though.  I think most of us come to crossroads like these.  On the one side is everything you've been taught to believe is true, what everyone you've ever known has always insisted was true.  Maybe it's even that which you most deeply wished were true.  But on the other side is something that proves what you used to believe wrong.  Maybe it's something small yet nagging, like your conscience, your empathy, your sense of reason and logic or an experience you've had that made you see things differently.  Or maybe it's hard evidence, some science or historical fact you've never been exposed to before and no even though you wanted to dismiss it, you can't because it's very clearly true.  So you have the world you know (and are used to) on the one hand and a strange new, scary world on the other  What do you do?

Well, some people pretend there is no crossroad.  People like the church in Galileo's day or Answers in Genesis in ours just look away and say, "There is no other road but the one we have always followed.  The only thing that can be true is the thing we've always said was true.  We cannot have been wrong, not now, not ever.  "  And so they keep on their way, completely unwilling to even look through the telescope, for to do so would cost them too much.  It is a price they simply cannot pay.

But there are others.  Heretics, Apostates, Freethinkers - these are some of the nicer names we get called - who simply cannot do that.  We have to look, we have to know.  It's not always easy.  Knowing changes you.  No one enjoys finding out they were wrong, no one likes having their entire world turned upside down.  But that is the price of looking for the truth and we pay it.  Sometimes gladly, sometimes with difficulty, but we do it none the less.  The thing with truth is that no matter how disagreeable you find it, it's still the truth.

For some there is a choice between the facts and what they would like the facts to be.  For others there is no choice at all.  Some people can tell themselves they are right despite seeing more than enough to convince them they are wrong.  That's no way to live.

At least not for me.

But hey, on the bright side, no one is going to drag me in front of the Inquisition and threaten to torture me for disagreeing!  Thank goodness some things at least did change since the days of Galileo!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Is God an Abusive Partner?

Last week I saw this picture on Facebook, comparing the Judeo-Christian God to an abusive husband/boyfriend:

Interestingly enough, the first thing I noticed in the comments were several people disputing these statements by claiming that this is only what man says about God, not what God actually says.  Fair question.  I've certainly heard such sentiments preached in church and I've read it in Christian books, but does God actually say anything like this?  So I decided to do some digging.  For the sake of this exercise I'll be looking at the Bible as my source for what God said.  Now I realise that for more liberal Christians this would be insufficient since their view of Scripture is far more elastic than most.  Obviously if you only consider the verses you agree with to be truly "from God" then trying to debate this will be like trying to nail jello to a wall.  So I'm not doing that.  Instead I'm going to go with the more orthodox view of Scripture as being the Word of God.  Unless the verse in question is a quote by an enemy of God or is directly repudiated by God in the same chapter I will consider it representative of God's view.

OK then, lets look at the charges and the Word:

"You're NOTHING without me."

"Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. " John 15:4-6   

"If you even THINK about leaving me..."

"If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again."  Deut 13:6-11

"If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginningIt would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,”and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.”"  2 Pet 2:20-22

"It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned."  Heb 6:4-8

"You don't DESERVE me."

"Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah." Ps 39:5

"For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." Ps 51:3-5

"The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done."  Gen 8:21

"You will never find ANYONE as good as me."

"“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone." Mark 10:18

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." Jam 1:17

"You brought this upon yourself"

"For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. " 1 Cor 15:21-22

"Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned" Rom 5:12

"Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous." Rom 5:18-19   

"You're a TERRIBLE person and you need me to be better"

"Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.  Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.  Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. " Ps 51:5-7

"As it is written:  “There is no one righteous, not even one;"  Rom 3:10

"Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin."  Rom 3:20

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God" Eph 2:8   

"Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. " Joh 14:6

"I know best."

"The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today." Deut 6:24

"Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. " Mat 6:8

"If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything." 1 Joh 3:20

"The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart;  I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. ” " Jer 1:4-5

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. " Jer 29:11

"Yet you, Lord, are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. " Isa 64:8

"You're not worthy of my love"
(See also "You don't DESERVE me.")

"All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. " Isa 64:6

"What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written:  “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.” “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.”  “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. " Rom 3:9-19

"I'm only doing this because I love you."

"have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,   and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline —then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."
Heb 12:5-11

"Don't listen to ANYONE who doesn't understand what we have."

"But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!"   Gal 1:8-9 

"What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.” " Rom 3:3-4

"For it is written:  “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" 1 Cor 1:19-20

So is God like an abusive partner?  There is definitely a strong case to be made but you can decide that for yourself.  You may disagree with the verses quoted here or with my interpretation thereof but I didn't change a word of it and I quoted from the New Testament as much as possible to avoid the whole "but that was the OLD testament" complaint.  And yes, I do realise that there are many verses full of love and kindness in the Bible.  The thing is, that only strengthens the case.  After all, one of the reasons people in abusive relationships stay loyal to their abuser is because of the occasional kindness that lets them hold on to the hope that it's not really all bad.  It's that mix of love and fear, kindness and cruelty that makes long term abusive relationships possible.

I'll let CDK007 have the final word.  Think about it. 


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dogmatic Skepticism and the Art of Baking

Recently I read a piece where a scientist addressed the question all of today's foremost "science" channels love to ask, "Are human beings the result of engineering by aliens?".  PZ Myers had a simple answer:  "No."  But then someone in the comments got really upset because "no" is not what a Real True Scientist/Skeptic would say.  "No" is too dogmatic!  Real True Honest Skeptics have to say "I don't know".

So now, since I'm trying to become a better skeptic myself, I have to ask myself if that's really the way I should answer questions.  Are simple yes or no answers wrong?  Am I supposed to be skeptical of everything all the time always?  Is skepticism = agnosticism about all things?

I find that baking helps me think so today I tried baking bread for the first time in my life.  Not just any bread either, it was a healthy organic artisan bread made from the finest unbleached, stone ground flour.  It was a lot of fun to make and while there is a lot of room for improvement, I'm very happy with how it turned out.  It was delicious!  Soft inside with a crunchy crust and a rich, nutty taste.  I've eaten half of it already!

So then, should someone ask me if I baked this bread what should I say?  Can I say "yes" or would that make me a bad skeptic?  Shouldn't I rather say "I don't know"?  After all, maybe I didn't bake it!

Perhaps I was abducted by aliens!  But since people always seem to figure out they were abducted because they realise they are missing some time, perhaps the aliens planted a false memory of me spending 2 hours making a baguette, even leaving me with a freshly baked one from the mothership's kitchen so I would remember all the probing!

Perhaps I stumbled across a faerie in need somewhere in the garden and after helping it out of a perilous situation it decided to call in a troop of faeries to bake me a bread in gratitude!  Of course since their very existence must remain secret they used their faerie magic to make me believe that I baked it myself!

Perhaps I did set out to bake a bread but the one I put in the oven turned out to be a massive flop.  However Empanda, goddess of bread did not want me to become discouraged lest I abandon bread making forever so she used her divine powers to replace my failed bread with a much better loaf.

Perhaps I'm actually mentally ill and I actually bought it at the supermarket and everything else is just the delusions of my fevered mind.

Perhaps I really bought it from a small artisan bakery in town but after buying it I did something terrible and completely unforgivable so the baker - who is also a stage magician and mentalist - used hypnosis to erase all memory of the bakery from my mind, replacing it with a false memory.

Or perhaps none of this is real and I'm actually living inside a computer simulation a la The Matrix, in which case there is no bread...

All of those options may sound unlikely - because they are - but its not like I could be 100% sure.  So while it's far fetched, there is an extremely remote chance that one of them could be true.  So then, if someone asks "Did you bake that bread" the only honest answer I can give as someone trying to be a skeptic is "I don't know", right?  Wrong!

I will say, "Yes I did!" because all those other options are fucking stupid!  But most importantly because I have absolutely no reason or evidence to suspect one of those fucking stupid options may be right!

So if you want me to be more skeptical, you have to give me a reason.  Either prove me wrong or at least give me some evidence that calls my version of events into question.  If you can't do that, I will remain dogmatic about the fact that I baked that delicious loaf as well as the fact that I'm not the result of an alien eugenics program.  That's not me being dishonest, that's me being entirely reasonable.  All evidence points one way and if you want me to consider a different way, offer me a compelling reason.  As the saying goes, there is being open minded and there is having a hole in your head where your brains leak out.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Think God can't use you? Read this list and be glad He doesn't!

"Motivational" emails tend to be terrible.  Christian motivational emails tend to be worse.  The following one may be one of the worst.  It just fails on every possible level and yet it remains incredibly popular.  I've received it multiple times as part of mass emails over the years and now it has resurfaced as a popular shared item on Facebook.

Terrible, just terrible!  Poorly thought out doesn't begin to describe it!  If you've actually read the Bible you'd know that most of these cases are the opposite of motivational!  Nevertheless Christians just love this thing and I don't know why.  I mean if you just stop to think about it...  Oh wait, I think I just figured it out...

Anyway, I'm just need to get this out of my system!  This list sucks!  Here is why:

Noah was a drunk.
No he wasn't.  The Bible records him getting drunk exactly once.  That hardly makes him a drunk! (Unless you subscribe the the Comfort-Cameron school of fucking terrible philosophy)  Being late once doesn't make you tardy.  Missing work once doesn't make you lazy.  Getting bad marks on one test doesn't make you stupid.  Getting drunk once doesn't make you "a drunk".  Not that any of this matters, since Noah only got drunk after God used him.  You know, with the whole "drowning the world" thing.

Abraham was too old.
For what exactly?  Having kids?  Yes he was.  However by that time he had been working for the Lord for a long time already.  In fact, leaving his home and country behind to work for God was something he did as a much younger man.  Really THIS would have been a better place to use Noah.  God used him to build the ark at age 600!  Isn't that a better example of "you're never too old for God to use you"?

Isaac was a daydreamer.
Really?  The man was nearly a human sacrifice, got married at 40 in an arranged marriage and got conned by his wife and least favourite son when he was old and feeble and we're going with "daydreamer" here?  Really?  Joseph was the dreamer.  Isaac was just the guy you hear about a little bit during the short detour between the grand stories of Abraham and Jacob.  Apart from keeping the bloodline going, how exactly did God use him?

Jacob was a liar.
Yes he was and he got very rich and successful because of it.

Leah was ugly.
Poor Leah!  Hers is a terribly tragic story - she's the homely girl who is forced to marry a guy who only has eyes for her hot little sister.  Again, how exactly did God use her?  Her only role was to be one of the women Jacob had sex with - reluctantly - and she gave birth to some of his children.

Joseph was abused.
OK I guess Isaac had to be stuck with the "daydreaming" thing because Joseph was going to get the "abused" thing.  Here's the thing though, Joseph getting abused was how God used him!  All that getting sold into slavery and the abuse that went with it?  That was God using Joseph.  See for yourself, it says so right there in Genesis 
"I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.  For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.  “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.  "

Moses had a stuttering problem.
Did he though?  I know that's what he said at one point but I always wondered about that.  See later we are told that "Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action" (Acts 7:22) so that makes it sound like he was just making excuses when talking to God.  It's debatable though.  Point is Moses was a bit more than just some dude with a speech impediment!  He also happened to be a highly educated man groomed for leadership.

Gideon was afraid.
Yes he was.  He also came from a rich and powerful family.  Pretty sure that came in handy when it was time to raise an army.

Sampson had long hair and was a womanizer.
OK, WTF was that?  Throwing out his long hair like he was some kind of hippie that God managed to use despite his unwillingness to get a damn haircut!  His long hair was the very thing showing to the world that God was using him!  Cutting his hair meant he was no longer able to beat people to death for the Lord so it was kind of crucial to the whole "being used by God" thing!

Rahab was a prostitute.
Don't be so modest!  She was so much more than just a prostitute!  She was also a traitor who sold out her people and traded her own life (and that of her family) for that of every man, woman and child in Jericho!

Jeremiah and Timothy were too young.
Meh, not bad but I would have gone with Samuel instead.  He started working for God as a child already!  Beat that!

David had an affair and was a murderer.
I love how this always gets mentioned as if the whole Bathsheba incident was the only time David ever tripped up.  Forget Sampson, David was the guy who went through women like they were pringles!  He had a bunch of wives, more than one harem and even when he was too old to do anything with them he still had the most beautiful girl in the land brought in to keep him warm at night.  Worst beauty pageant prize EVER!  But fair enough, God considered David a man after His own heart and certainly used him a lot so I concede this one.

Elijah was suicidal.
Fun fact though, he was only suicidal because God was using him!  It's not like God found him about to jump off a cliff and decided to make him a prophet.  No, it was his prophetic career that led to him wishing he was dead!

Isaiah preached naked.
He didn't preach naked because he was some kind of crazy nudist who was called to preach by God.  He had to preach naked because God told him to.  Preaching naked was how God used him!  Isaiah 20:2 "the Lord spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet,” and he did so, walking naked and barefoot."

Jonah ran from God.
Yes he did and was famously kidnapped via fish and put back to work.  Which makes me wonder, doesn't Jonah's story make this whole list pointless?  Clearly if God wants to use you He will do it.  Against your will if need be!

Naomi was a widow.
Of all the widows in the Bible, why choose Naomi?  Whoever made this list must not like women much because they chose really shitty examples!  Naomi pimped out her (also widowed) daughter in law to a rich guy.  I'm not judging, if you're a poor widow in a patriarchal bronze age society, you do what you must to stay alive.  But how did God use her exactly?

Job went bankrupt.
I would just like to take a moment to point out that Job did not "go bankrupt".  God had Job's livelihood destroyed in order to win a bet.  So Job wasn't used by God despite losing everything, he lost everything because God was using him.  To win a bet.  With Satan.

John the Baptist ate locusts.
Perhaps, though it's much more likely a reference to the fruit of the Carob tree than actual bugs.

Peter denied Christ.
Yes he did.

The Disciples fell asleep while praying.
Indeed.  Though all night prayer is pretty tough.  All night anything really!

Martha worried about everything.
In her defense, she kind of had to.  Jesus and His crew were crashing at her place and her sister decided to just hang with the guys leaving Martha to do ALL THE THINGS!  Also, I'm getting a little tired of typing this but apart from waiting on Jesus and the disciples (and her lazy ass sister), how exactly did God use her?

Mary Magdalene was, well you know.
No, I don't know.  She was what?  A disciple of Jesus?  One of the very few of His followers who dared to stick around for His crucifixion?  The first person to see Him after the Resurrection?  Ohhhh, you mean slut-whore.  That's not actually in the Bible.  She only became the slutty one during the middle ages when the Pope decided she was a prostitute

The Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once.
That's very possible but it's an interpretation.  All Jesus said was that He knew she had been married 5 times.  Doesn't mean she was necessarily divorced.  What if her husbands just kept dying on her?  There is after all that whole provision in the Law of Moses that if a man dies his wife goes to his brother (and if he dies she goes to the next one and on and on).  I'm just saying that's a possibility we should at least consider!  But fair enough, she had multiple marriages (the shame!  the horror!) and God still used her to evangelize a Samaritan village so finally, an example of a women used by God that actually got used by God!  Woohoo!

Zaccheus was too small. 

Err, correction.  Zaccheus was short.  Not small.  There's a difference.  Still, his height wasn't much of a handicap when it came to being a rich and powerful tax man so I fail to see how it would have prevented him from working for God in the first place...

Paul was too religious.
Wait, being too into working for God is a handicap when it comes to working for God?  Who knew?!  Certainly not the guy who wrote most of the New Testament and basically founded the Christian religion!

Timothy had an ulcer…
Yes, though I'm pretty sure he got that AFTER God started using him!

Lazarus was dead!
Yes he did die.  Twice!  God only used it once though so that's OK.

There you have it, one deeply anti-motivational list!  Seriously, after seeing what "being used by God" can end up meaning any sane person would have really serious reservations about being used by God!!  Who wants to end up broke, naked and abused for God?!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Stop the dance of despair! Resume the dance of joy!

The world is a dark and miserable place.

I had a pretty shitty week.  Nothing particularly bad happened, it was just the combined weight of a thousand tiny frustrations and disappointments that reached critical mass and just made me hate everyone and everything for a while.  Also it was my birthday this week, I think that probably exacerbated the whole situation.

Of course when I start feeling like that I start hearing my mother's voice in my head, telling me to count my blessings and not be so ungrateful and to remember that a lot of people have much more to complain about than me.  None of that helps though, if anything that makes it worse.  Yes I fully understand that I have a better life than millions of people I share this planet with but that doesn't make me feel any better.  I don't know why people use that as a response to anyone's unhappiness.  Perspective is one thing but trivializing someone's feelings not a comfort.  If you broke both your legs would someone telling you how bad quadriplegics have it make your pain and discomfort feel any less?  Somehow I doubt it.

But then I noticed that there was a brand new "Where the hell is Matt?" video so I decided to watch that to try and cheer myself up.

What is it with these videos?  All it is, is a guy who travels all over and does a dance and some of the locals join in.  That is all.  But then why does it seem like more than that?  Why does watching it provoke such an extreme emotional response from me?  I don't get it at all but there is still enough mystic left in me that I can forgo analysis and just embrace the holy darkness.  There is a raw, numinous beauty about it and it moves me.

It also made me feel better.  Maybe all the crying (of totally manly tears, just so you know!) gave me the release I needed.  Maybe it's because it makes me feel a little bit more connected to the human family.  Who cares?  Once my despair lifted I realised something about that video though - Matt went to some very odd places this time!  Rwanda, the Gaza Strip, North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Zimbabwe, basically some of the darkest, most miserable places I can imagine.  And yet...  And yet there were people there who are still dancing.  These may be some of the most unpleasant places in the world, but at least some of the people there have not yet given in to despair.  Somehow they are still finding joy.

That made me feel more hopeful as well.  And that allowed me to find some joy in my world as well.  Wasn't even that hard, turned out that there was a lot of it to be found!  Sure, this year I did get presents or a party but I did get a lot of kind words from all over the world, some even from people I've never met!  I even got a heaping helping of kindness from my favourite podcast this week!  Also, I got a bag full of chocolates yesterday.  Not the cheap stuff either, this was the good chocolate!

So yeah, there is still joy to be found.  There are still kind words and kind people.  There is still good music.  There is still chocolate.  There is still friendship.  Suicide Dachshund still wants to cuddle with me (To the death!  Yes, still...).  Even if everything is pretty shitty, you can still dance like an idiot and mean it.

The world is a dark and miserable place.  But it doesn't have to be.