Garstor's World, My realm of 3D art, LEGO and atheism

Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

Madison, Wisconsin Trip & The 40th National FFRF Convention

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

As previously noted, last week I was back in Madison, Wisconsin for FFRF’s 40th National Convention. I arrived two days early so that I could spend some time with my friends Dan and Kevin.

Kevin is a Wisconsinite through and through. He suggested that we visit Devil’s Lake State Park, the Wisconsin Dells (Kevin made a 3D model inspired by The Dells) and the Botanical Gardens. All three were excellent choices and my only regret is that I did not have more time to spend with my friends exploring them.

Part of the Convention included the Betty Lou Boat Tours of Lake Mendota or Lake Monona. So I took a lot of photos. Quite possibly more photos that I have ever taken before. I am still sorting the wheat from the chaff and editing the RAW files for upload to Flickr. I will try to get that album created this weekend.

I am happy to report that the FFRF membership has seen a considerable spike upward this year. This is almost certainly caused by the election of Donald Trump. The White Evangelical segment continues to support this dumpster-fire of an administration because they have been promised arch-conservative judges being nominated to the bench. The obvious goal is to further restrict abortion and LGBTQ rights. This is a match made in hell if ever there was one.

At least people are pushing back against this. As the columnist Dan Savage likes to say, “Impeach the motherfucker already!”

Of course, the FFRF National Convention was also excellent. I practically gush about it every year since it feels so good to be surrounded by like-minded persons.

There was a solid line-up of speakers this year that I thoroughly enjoyed. Steven Pinker, Katha Pollitt, Maryam Namazie, young Kelly Helton (only 12 years old and already a firebrand for reason!) and Michelle Goldberg.

I kept myself on a leash this year and only bought one new t-shirt and one book – Katha Pollitt’s Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights.

The 10th Anniversary Of “The God Delusion”

Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

Today Hemant Mehta at The Friendly Atheist published about the 10th anniversary of Richard Dawkins’ excellent The God Delusion.

Like so many other thousands of people, The God Delusion was a major factor in my de-conversion to atheism. One day I will write a detailed, personal account of that process. For now, I want to express my gratitude to Professor Dawkins for his incredible work.

The near future of the world will be better as more and more atheists are able to come out openly. Today’s youth are rejecting organized religion in record numbers; soon they will be raising their own families and hopefully the new generation will be equally non-religious. Meanwhile, the older generations are facing the inevitability of death.

The future is secular. I can’t wait!

Happy 1st Anniversary To The Obergefell Decision

Sunday, June 26th, 2016

Today marks one year since the SCOTUS Obergefell decision legalized marriage equality across the United States.

Suspiciously absent is the god-spawned smiting we were promised.

No-H8

Everybody should have the right to marry the person that they love. It is simple as that.

EDIT: I want to link to Camille Beredjick’s post at Friendly Atheist. A celebration of major victories is important; but work remains. There is much prejudice and discrimination that still must be overcome.

Finished Reading “Did Jesus Exist”

Monday, March 28th, 2016

I guess it was appropriate that I finished the book on Easter! Open-mouthed smile I would have completed it sooner but I took it out of my laptop back to fit the Surface Pro and work laptop in there.

As I fully expected with Bart Ehrman’s writing, I enjoyed this book immensely. He presented a ton of useful information about the historical criterion for evaluating the likelihood of some past event. It is very difficult to argue against these points.

I was a little disappointed with the section on Josephus. The Antiquities Of The Jews has long been cited by believers as evidence for their stories. I remember the shock of reading (in Earl Dougherty’s book, The Jesus Puzzle and later in Robert Price’s The Incredible Shrinking Son Of Man) that the paragraphs about Jesus are likely later insertions by Christians to beef up their claims. I think that they present a solid case for that claim.

Ehrman makes the opposite claim. To me this part of the discussion feels too much like a He-Said-She-Said argument. Ultimately, neither side will overcome the other. My only other choice is to become a first century historian and Josephus expert myself – something I have neither the time, money or sufficient interest in doing.

As mentioned, I will read some more of the mythicist side regarding Jesus’ existence. Richard Carrier and more Robert Price are likely. There will probably be a palate cleansing read in-between though. Winking smile

Ehrman’s newest writing concerns how Jesus has been transformed into God over the centuries. There is even a video lecture series about this. I’m very likely to buy this lecture and probably Ehrman’s book too.

New Books & Reading Progress

Sunday, February 7th, 2016

One nice benefit of a commute to Mississauga or Toronto on the GO Transit system is that I can get more reading time in. Still not as much as I would like – I have found that the evening trip home is especially difficult to focus on something deep.

didJesusExistI mentioned previously that I want to dig-in to the historicity versus the mythic stories of Jesus. To that end, I have begun reading Bart Ehrman’s excellent (so far) Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument For Jesus Of Nazareth. Ehrman is certainly a historicist; it is not a spoiler to say this because it is printed right on the dust jacket flaps. Ehrman is focusing on the evidence he sees for Jesus having been someone walking around early first century Palestine.

Currently, I am approaching the half-way mark. So far Professor Ehrman has considered the evidence from the Gospels and from the Bible outside of Gospels (focusing specifically on Paul’s writings). He has touched on Flavius Josephus and his epic The Antiquities Of The Jews and will examining this in greater depth later in the book.

islamAs a bit of a change, I also read the short book Islam And The Future Of Tolerance by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz.

This book is slightly longer than Harris’ Letter To A Christian Nation, but a marginally slower read since Letter is more like a rant and this book is a back-and-forth discussion between two very smart men.

It is refreshing to give Harris enough time to expound on his ideas. Famously, on Bill Maher’s show Real Time, Ben Affleck began a shouting session – actually changing the topic since Harris was not on the show to discuss Islam – that devolved rapidly.

Nawaz is a former radical Muslim who spent time in an Egyptian prison. He did not come out of prison a non-believer. He still practices Islam; however, he agrees that there needs to be secular reform. He helped create the Quilliam Foundation to promote and foster these ideas.

It is dialogue like this that gives me hope. As an atheist, I wish religion would just disappear; but I know that that won’t happen.

Both of these books are well worth reading.

The Missing Hymn

Saturday, December 19th, 2015

I would have posted sooner but there were some permissions issues with WebHost4Life.

At any rate, a friend of mine managed to find the lyrics to that horrible hymn that I mentioned earlier. Here they are:

Like A River Of Tears

Like a river of tears your love pours upon us;
Like a sunshine of blessing your grace will sustain us;
Like a star-studded sky your spirit shines o’er us, starry night
Renewing our spirits with courage and faith.

Like a bird in free flight by windows around us;
Like a wind in the forest that breathes life among us;
Like a phoenix that’s rising from ashes around us,
Renewing our spirits with vision and grace.

Like a pillar of cloud you promise to guide us;
Like a bright fiery bush you come to speak to us;
Like a calm cooling breeze your spirit breathes in us,
Renewing our spirits with loving embrace.

Like a lover’s caress your spirit revives us;
Like a song of the soul you come to be with us;
Like a prayer of the heart you heal and restore us,
Renewing our spirits, the future to face.

See what I mean about it being a jumble of mixed metaphors?

So I Went To Church Today…

Sunday, December 6th, 2015

I just could not bring myself to write about yet another mass-shooting or the sheer, bat-shit lunacy of the Republican candidates. The first is far too depressing and although it is being talked about by better writers than myself, I find it too difficult to hope that anything will change. The second I got totally wrong. I thought a Trump candidacy would be hilarious; how wrong can one be? How much more toxic can this campaign get?

Screeching segue… I went to church today.

Honestly, I cannot remember the last time that I was inside a church – much less intentionally listened to a sermon. The last two times I watched a minister acting in an official capacity were weddings. Both being held outdoors.

New Vision United ChurchFor the past few years when I was visiting Hamilton, I noticed that a Pride flag was hung outside Centenary United Church (sorry for such a poor photo, maybe you can see the flag above the pickup truck). Curious, but not entirely out-of-line with the United Church Of Canada.

Now that I am living downtown, the church is just two blocks away from my condo. There are two churches that are even closer to me (an Anglican and a Presbyterian) but these seem to maintain a more – uhm…traditional – set of appearances.

It turns out that Centenary church merged with St. Giles to form New Vision United.

Although there is clearly a large sanctuary in this building, the congregation meets in the basement. I use the word loosely because entering from Main Street puts the meeting room directly in front you. The (former?) sanctuary requires climbing staircases. My guess is that they meet here to make it easier for elderly and infirm members. Cool. I picked up a bulletin and sat in the back.

Members were friendly and welcoming. Since there is only about 40 of them, a new face is pretty easy to spot. Several people greeted me.

I’m not familiar with the church rituals. Things differed substantially from the church my family attended when I was a kid. There was a Lighting Of Our Candles ceremony. The white candle symbolizing Christ’s light in the world. Sure, whatever. Then there was the rainbow-striped Pride colours candle to symbolize the congregation and all their diversity. Alright, nice touch there.

The opening hymn was Like A River Of Tears. No, not the Eric Clapton song. I tried to find the lyrics to this hymn online, but could only find Clapton’s work. You have to see these lyrics to believe it. What a jumble of mixed metaphors and awkward rhymes! Just terrible stuff.

Reverend Ian’s sermon riffed off of Malachi 3:1-4.

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

I am sorry to say this Reverend, but the sermon was every bit a word salad that Like A River Of Tears was. I really want to say more on this, but the above quote came from Bible Gateway (using New Revised Standard Version) and it is not matching well with what was printed in the church NRSV. The key parts of the pastor’s sermon are missing in the above quote.

This reminds of the half-serious, half-joke question, “Why do you need so many versions of the truth?” But I digress.

He opened discussing the first person grammar of the first verse and the third person grammar of the rest. I found that bit interesting – that is the bible study that fascinates me and why I read Robert Price and Bart Ehrman. Sadly, the rest of the sermon went downhill from there, dropping into repeated but still incoherent thoughts about the meaning of the verses. I couldn’t help but be reminded of this recent Friendly Atheist post.

There was a communion. More differences from my childhood experiences. I didn’t partake since it is a silly notion to me and I did not want to – profane, I guess – a ritual that is clearly important to these people.

Reverend Ian greeted me afterward and welcomed me to the church. He wasn’t the least bit put-off when I said I was an atheist. In fact, he agreed that living in Texas would do more to turn people into atheists! Bravo sir! He explained that the church is affirming. I have to admit that I like that word to describe inclusiveness.

Since I mentioned that the Pride flag is what brought me into the church, he introduced me to a lesbian member. She was from Indiana but her partner is Canadian. Like myself, she had to leave the USA due to work visa issues. So the two of them settled in Hamilton after finding New Vision United through online searches.

I was also introduced to a bisexual, polyamourous woman who is married to an atheist (former Catholic). In an odd coincidence, this young woman works in 3D animation! Her husband worked on the short-lived Ugly Americans series. Neat!

Will I return? Well, I didn’t get an answer to how this church squares the circle with the LGBTQ community and the vile hatred poured out by the “holy” texts. Shouldn’t they be killing these people as directed in Leviticus? At least 3 Republican candidates appear to think so…

Stay tuned I suppose!

The Ahmed Mohamed Incident & Texas Stupidity

Sunday, September 20th, 2015

Texas - Days without being a national embarassmentOh boy was I pissed off when I read about what the Irving school district did to Ahmed Mohamed. I live in Irving (my property taxes go to the Coppell school district though) and even though I have a general distaste for Texas, this felt like it hit close to home in more than a geographic sense.

I have no doubt in my mind that this is nothing more than anti-Muslim bigotry stirred-up by hateful, small-minded idiots.

Such are the types of people that Texans – though many are intelligent and caring people – seem to prefer electing to represent them. The current Irving mayor, Beth Van Duyne, campaigned around not “allowing Sharia law into Irving.”

I was disappointed that Bill Maher (whom I frequently agree with) supported the school district. Maher does clearly draw a distinction between the 14-year old geek who happens to be Muslim and the radical Islamists that routinely – and correctly – draw his ire. However he is completely misguided when he says, “…and the people at the school thought it might be a bomb. Perhaps cuz it looks exactly like a fucking bomb.”

Obviously the school did not think Ahmed’s clock was a bomb. Multiple teachers saw the clock and did not react. The school was not evacuated and the bomb squad was not called. I cannot accept that line of weak sauce reasoning. I have seen enough of the South’s ill-concealed racism to believe that the school was reacting to Ahmed’s name and his religion. Sure, the authorities deny this.

The clarifications that Mark Cuban adds are very interesting. Chris Matthews’ outburst was unexpected and funny but also spot-on.

It was heartening to see so many support Ahmed. That was a nice counter-balance to the spectacular stupidity from the school and from moronic bigots like Bristol Palin. George Takei, Satya Naedalla, Mark Zuckerberg and even President Obama.

Many have called out the support of technical companies like Microsoft and Google as crass marketing gimmicks. That might be true to an extent. However, I think that these companies are also sending a message to the rest of America’s youth – and America’s political leaders. “Hey! Listen up! This is the creativity, curiosity and technical knowledge that we want to encourage and eventually hire.”

This is about more than fear, racism and religious bigotry. This about the United States miserable and worsening performance in the STEM fields of studies.

The Kim Davis Furor

Sunday, September 6th, 2015

I cannot write a post about the hypocrite bigot Josh Duggar and not mention the other recent religious maelstrom around Kim Davis. What a saga this turned out to be.

Some criticism against Davis turned needlessly personal and ultimately off-topic. I got tired of that pretty quickly. I agree with Libby Anne’s thesis here, but I do disagree with the example that she used.

I do not see the use of the Southern drawl as being “classist.” I do not see this as mocking the way that Davis talks and I certainly do not see it as a barb against her intelligence. This simply sells the point of who is being represented here.

I definitely disagreed with the memes that attacked Davis as a whore or a bitch or questioned why any of her husbands would marry her in the first place. Such things are completely irrelevant and just mean-spirited. Questioning the obvious hypocrisy of her supposedly Bible-based position is absolutely correct and valid.

My biggest wish is that Kim Davis had been incarcerated and fined. Judge Bunning noted that a fine alone would not incentivize her to do her job. He was correct at the time – many people worried that fundie believers would simply setup a GoFundMe account to cover her expenses – however, GoFundMe has changed their rules to preclude such a thing.

Both Dan Savage and The Friendly Atheist summed everything up rather nicely.

Now, we’ll just see how long she’ll stay in jail. The main thing is that marriage equality continues to gain ground and acceptance despite the efforts of bigots.

The Josh Duggar Schadenfreude

Friday, August 21st, 2015

Although we should not take pleasures in the misfortunes of another, sometimes it simply cannot be resisted. The Duggar family has done such spectacular damage to basic human rights and dignity that I won’t hide the smile on my face caused by their so-called plight.

The revelations that Josh Duggar – in addition to being a child molester – has also cheated on his wife obviously gave a speed boost to the downward spiral ride for the family.

Duggar epitomy of conservative values

This sniveling worm’s public statement tries to put the blame for his actions on an “addiction” to pornography. There is no such thing as porn or sex addiction according to the DSM-5. This is just another way to shift responsibility instead of being a real man and owning one’s actions.

Friendly Atheist commenter Holytape puts it far better than I though:

Not true, Joshy. Don’t beat your self up like that. Sure you’re a hypocrite. Sure you’re a miserable piece of dog shit with the moral compass, of… well you. Sure you campaigned to make people’s lives miserable for no other reason that your narcissistic desire to control other people’s happiness. But you’re not the biggest hypocrite ever. You’re not that important. Most people don’t know about your work at being an asshole. They only know of your existence because you were the first one out of that clown car they call your mother’s vagina. So people really don’t care enough to make you the biggest hypocrite ever. And don’t worry, by this time next year, everyone will have forgotten your transgressions, because they will have forgotten about you entirely.

It will be wonderful when the world has completely forgotten about this brood of hypocrites. That day cannot come too soon – I only wish that all the other asshole Christians would be forgotten too.

Society would benefit tremendously.

Way To Go SCOTUS!

Friday, June 26th, 2015

The Supreme Court Of the United States has made some spectacularly bad decisions over the years – Citizens United has flooded the political system with legalized bribes.

But this week, this country took some big steps forward. The Court upheld key provisions of the Affordable Care Act and this morning they ruled that love conquers all – the states cannot ban marriage equality! My LGBTQ friends can marry whom they choose. This is a great day for the United States.

Cracked’s article A 30-Second Guide To How The Gay Marriage Ruling Affects You nails this perfectly:

If You Are a Homosexual and Want to Get Married:

Where before this came down to whether or not your state had legalized it, now you are free to do so regardless of which state you live in.

If You Are a Heterosexual and Do NOT Want to Enter into a Homosexual Marriage:

You will not be required to marry a gay person. This is a common misunderstanding. This decision actually does not affect you in any way.

If You Are Currently in a Heterosexual Marriage:

This decision does not affect you in any way.

If You Are a Heterosexual Who Is Not Currently Married:

This decision does not affect you in any way.

It goes on like that. “This decision does not affect you in any way.” EXACTLY!

Equal rights for everyone.

Je Suis Charlie – 2

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Also, fuck you Anjem Choudary.

Je Suis Charlie

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Of course I am shocked and repulsed at the vile and cowardly attacks in Paris yesterday. Having a free society obviously includes the freedom to criticize or satirize any idea – including (especially?) religious ideas. Of course, I am not surprised either.

Islamic intolerance of criticism is no longer shocking to us. We expect it.

Indeed, according to the clueless and disgusting Catholic toad Bill Donohue, these attacks are the fault of the cartoonists themselves. There is no level too low that this cretin won’t sink to.

I’ll just leave this image here…

fuck islam

 

While we are at it … fuck Bill Donohue too.

Freedom From Religion Foundation Convention – 2014

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

I was in Los Angeles, California last week for the 37th Freedom From Religion Foundation Convention. This is the fourth convention that I have attended and I am looking forward to many more in the future. FFRF is a great organization with a mission statement that all should support – even if one holds religious beliefs.

This year’s speakers were every bit as excellent as I expected.

Paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson spoke about his discovery of the famed fossil Lucy. Theoretical physicist Sean Carroll gave a somewhat tongue-in-cheek talk about death and physics.

Professor Anthony Pinn gave a moving and inspiring talk. Just as inspiring were Christopher Johnson and Scott Clifton. Barbara Mancini’s story was utterly heart-wrenching.

Constitutional lawyer and scholar Erwin Chemerinsky discussed the philosophies of the current Supreme Court makeup and how this influences their (sometimes awful) decisions. Marci Hamilton showed the history of the wretched federal statute RFRA (what drove the horrid Hobby Lobby decision).

Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens talked about their experiences with the Supreme Court and the Greece v. Galloway decision.

The Exodus Of Exodus

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

I could hardly have been happier when I first read that Exodus International was closing its doors.

They were on a fool’s errand right from the very beginning. What is deeply tragic – so I am pleased to hear a sincere apology from Alan Chambers – is the amount of hurt that they caused over the last 30+ years. Shaming gays and lesbians when prayer alone didn’t “cure” them of their natural attractions. Chambers also admitted that he continued having same-sex attractions over the years.

Hemant Mehta at Friendly Atheist dealt with this story.

This is an on-going change and something that is making us more civilized as a species. To fight against it is to (try to) drag humanity backward. You are on the losing end of this fight; so come around to reasonableness and be a better human being.

Forged

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

A couple of days ago I finished reading Bart Ehrman’s Forged.

Powerful stuff. When combined with his other books; – Jesus, Interrupted and Misquoting Jesus – you get something much closer to real bible study than what I ever experienced inside a church. This actually is one of the most frustrating things that I face when discussing Christianity with believers – they simply cannot accept that their holy books have been altered over the centuries. The idea is completely alien to them.

Ehrman’s work is not intended to make new atheists or to trash a religion. Simply, he seeks to uncover the truth about Christianity’s history. There is so much that happened during the first few formative centuries and we only have enticing snippets of it today. The belief systems of the various sects – again, modern Christians simply cannot seem to wrap their heads around other, equally valid but now all-but-lost, ways of thinking and worshipping. This stuff is endlessly fascinating to me.

I look forward to reading more of Bart Ehrman’s books.

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