Monday, June 27, 2011

Forget Cedar Wood, Scarlet, And Hyssop. Just Wash Your Hands

Image courtesy of Google Images.

God is omniscient. God created the earth and everything in it. God is loving.

These three pillars of the Christian religion could hardly be denied by any legitimate Christian. I am normally hesitant to cherry pick parts of the Bible in an attempt to make any point. Examine a work of literature in whole if you are going to critique it. Doubtless those who do believe in God will assume that I am cherry picking here, and that there is some “logical” reason why the following path of reason doesn’t apply. But, as I state, one could hardly deny the three claims above if one were to accept the God of the Bible.

God is omniscient. He knows everything and he always has known everything. He has known all along that there are microbes in the soil, on our skin, in our digestive tracts, in our feces, everywhere. He has always known that microbes not only exist but that they are one of the fundamental health threats to primitive humanity. (One wonders whether Christians believe Jesus walked around with all this knowledge in the forefront of his consciousness or if he somehow limited himself to being a genuine first century Jewish man with only the knowledge appropriate to that). How many hundreds of millions of infants in the history of humanity have perished due to microbial infection? How many billions of good young men and women have contracted some easily preventable infectious disease and died prematurely and left families devastated and without means? What single best action is everyone in the modern world aware of to prevent this fate themselves? You’ve heard it since pre-school: wash your hands. Simple hand washing is probably the single best action that can be taken in the prevention of communicable diseases. Simple, cheap, and very effective. Yet, mentioned no where in the Bible. (There are, of course, verses in the Bible that deal with ritual washing and so on. Leviticus 15:11, for example, states: “Anyone the man with a discharge touches without rinsing his hands with water must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.” (Almost seems like an attempt at modern medicine, doesn’t it? But then you realize there is no universal prescription for hand washing on a regular basis. It is not at all clear from reading the Bible that you probably should wash your hands after going to the bathroom and before eating. Given the critical nature of this simple action to the well-being of a primitive tribe living in ancient times, you would think that a God, providing the only written book to his chosen people, would have ensured that one command, above all else, was crystal clear. Instead, pages and pages are devoted to tedious agricultural laws and requirements. Dire consequences are spelled out for those who deviate from specific sexual guidelines (none of which seem particularly inclined to prevent STDs, by the way), and all sorts of ridiculous rules about the uncleanliness of women during their period are introduced (despite the fact that there is really nothing particularly infectious or unclean about this normal, regular physiological function). In any case, had the god of the Bible actually passed on this simple piece of personal hygiene advice, you would expect it to have been followed and therefore you would expect to observe the followers of the Bible suffering far less infectious disease than other primitive societies. But, of course, you do not observe this because it didn’t happen.

Why did it not happen? Did God decide that it wasn’t that important? Perhaps, due to his mysterious ways, God decided it was OK for hundreds of millions of people to die prematurely even while it was unacceptable for people to work on Saturdays. Are we really to accept that this all-loving deity, whom Christians refer to as a father figure, covered all manners of detailed trivial instructions on how his earthly children should live their lives, but knowingly withheld all information that might have helped them live a healthier life, that might have helped countless offspring survive infancy? What kind of abusive father figure would actually behave that way towards his children whom he apparently loves?

No, this is simply one more piece of evidence supporting the fact that deities are man-made rather than the other way around. A deity’s knowledge is always limited by the knowledge of their creators. You never see a deity offer a tidbit of knowledge that might help his people make leaps and bounds forward in health, technology, or even simple education. I can hear the Christian argument already: God is a loving father who wants his children to discover things on their own without being given all the answers. Rubbish. The simple fact is, God is man-made. The god of the Old Testament is completely limited by the people of the time. There is not one piece of information in the Bible that couldn’t have originated from the people of the time. There is not one technological, scientific, medical, or even agricultural fact that was further advanced than the people of the time and might have helped them in their daily struggle for survival. Quite the opposite might be true in fact. All the countless resources and time spent building tabernacles, paying priests, sacrificing healthy and useful animals, not working certain days, warring with tribes of rival religions, and so on, would have been much better allocated towards more productive undertakings in helping primitive societies in their daily struggle for survival.

God is omniscient. So he must have known about microbiology and the benefits of hand-washing at all times. God created the earth and everything in it. Including bacteria, viruses, and all other microbes. God is loving. He loves humans more than any other creatures, judging by the amount of time and effort (not to mention self-sacrifice) dedicated to them. How to fit these “facts” together?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Don’t Think, Just Follow The Code

Image courtesy of Google Images.

The following is a transcript of Don Cherry, a Canadian ice hockey commentator who has a regular segment called Coach’s Corner during the first intermission of hockey games on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) show Hockey Night in Canada. This particular broadcast was made on June 10th, 2011, and was originally transcribed from this link, starting at about the five minute mark.

“Now, I hope we got a little time for this. I’m sitting with you [Ron McLean] watching, you know how I get made fun of: “There’s a code. Oh, that silly code, you know. There’s a code in every sport, and you and I are watching the Red Sox, and I saw Ortiz throw his bat, and I went wild and you kind of looked at me like I was nuts and everything. But watch Ortiz throw the bat. [Video transitions to baseball replay]. This is a big thing in the States right now. This has been going, well you’ll see it the second time [video repeats]. He throws it. This is a big thing in the States right now. In the papers, the U.S. day to day, and Giordaro, what is his name? [Ron McLean interjects] (unintelligible), he just goes nuts on the whole thing and he got up the next time, we’re not going to show it, he got dinged. The next game he got dinged. And he made a little apology, he said: “You know, I,...380 home runs and I throw my bat once.” You DON’T DO IT [yelling]. You don’t, there’s a code that you people don’t know about. Because you saw that and say: “So what? He threw his bat.” It’s the same thing as when I got ripped, what did they say? Entertainment. Watch Ovechkin same thing, he doesn’t do it anymore. I tried to tell you about all this stuff. There’s a code in hockey of how you act, kids, and look at this, he never, ever did this again [video of Alex Ovechkin worshiping his “hot hockey stick”]. Bruce [Boudreau] talked to him and everything. There’s a code in hockey, there’s a code in baseball, and be sure to follow it or you’ll really get it like Ortiz did.”

The first thing that I hope strikes the reader is the appalling grammar and perversion of the English language that comes through even in writing that has been edited for clarity (for example, the term “everythink” to “everything”). Christopher Hitchens has stated that anyone who can really speak properly can write, but then goes on to ask how many people have really speak properly. But, this is besides the point.

The “code” that Mr. Cherry speaks about is a real entity in the sporting world. During the recent Stanley Cup finals in ice hockey, there was an incident in which one player was accused of biting another players gloved finger. The accused player was ostracized as being classless, even though all around him other players were witnessed punching opponents in the face, slashing the back of their opponents’ legs with hockey sticks, and hurling verbal abuse at each other. But, biting is considered outside the code, while all of these other disrespectful actions are considered within the code. There is no rhyme or reason to the code in some sports such as ice hockey. The code simply evolves, much like a religion, over time. Certain actions are considered disrespectful while others, seemingly equally as bad, are not. In ice hockey, for example, yelling obscene insults about an opponent’s wife is perfectly fine. Saying anything racist is not.

The “code” that Mr. Cherry refers to, and demands that kids learn and obey, is really a code of conduct. In his baseball example, a player is ostracized for tossing a bat to the side after hitting a home run (despite the fact the bat was not thrown dangerously, it was merely tossed to one side rather than the other). The reality in that case is that the action was perceived as cocky by the player. This is a laughable offense in the world of professional sports where the participants are applauded for being cocky in most scenarios.

In Mr. Cherry’s world, people should not question. Do not question the code, just respect it. Don’t question why it is unacceptable or disrespectful to throw a bat or to kick an opponent, but it is acceptable (and tough) to punch an opponent in the face or hack him with your hockey stick. Don’t question it, just respect it, or else. (Note the introduction of fear into the equation indicating that there will be dire consequences if you ignore the code).

The similarity between some sports and religion is an interesting topic that probably deserves further attention, but at this point I thought I would introduce the topic with the “code”. What is the equivalent to the code in religion? The law. Don’t work on the Sabbath, but it’s OK to have slaves. Stone your children to death for disobedience, but don’t eat pork. Marry as many women as you can afford, but don’t marry a non-virgin. Don’t wear clothes made of more than one fabric, but do cover your head at all times. And most of all (you can hear Mr. Cherry’s gravelly voice interjecting here)...DON’T DO IT. Be sure to follow the code or you’ll really get it. And whatever you do, don’t question the code.

Haphazard rules with a good dose of fear and you are ready either to establish a major league sport or found a religion.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

To infinity…and beyond.

Image courtesy of Google Images.

One of the unavoidable issues one must face head on during or following a shift from being religious to embracing atheism is one’s future death. Many religions promise an afterlife. Indeed, there are those who hypothesize that religion in its most primitive forms originally developed as our species gradually evolved to consciously acknowledge our impending and unavoidable death and in an attempt to escape that prickly part of reality. Whether this is the case or not, however, it does seem clear that most modern popular religions make promises of, if not escape from death outright, an even better alternative than life itself once one passes over to “the flip side”. The religion of my past, Christianity, is infamous for its promises of an afterlife full of either reward or punishment, depending on performance (or at least belief) in this life. But, as one moves away from religion and accepts that we are mammals, restricted to all the nuances of the carbon cycle that we share with all other living things, then there is no alternative but to accept that you will one day die and cease to exist.

I remember, for myself, this was a bit of a stumbling block as I made my move away from religion. It seemed a bit harsh luck to find out that one’s eternal reward wasn’t real after all, and the idea of simply ceasing to exist was at first a bit frightening and somewhat depressing. Mixed in with this, of course, was the relief of knowing that there was no threat of hell either. I wouldn’t be suffering an eternity of pain, loneliness and despair just because once, as a child, the unforgivable thought: “There is no holy spirit,” had crossed through my consciousness (within a few minutes of discovering that that was the only unforgivable sin).

Now I have accepted quite readily that there is no afterlife. It has been quite a relief actually, and has certainly helped me appreciate this one life for what it is. One mustn’t put anything off until after death anymore! One thought, admittedly not my own, that initially helped was the realization that I had not been alive for all of time until my birth and that hadn’t bothered me in the least. Not being alive ever again after my death should be no more frightening or depressing. One shouldn’t feel cheated for no longer having the chance of an afterlife, but rather ecstatic that one exists at all.

Along this line of thought, I started to think a bit about death and the loss of loved ones. Though one’s passage into oblivion could hardly be bothersome to oneself (at least once the actual passing is over with), there is, obviously the potential for sadness and loss amongst loved ones that are “left behind” (temporarily of course). In this light I began to look at my own death in a whole new light. I realize that the solar system, including earth and all life on it, will be obliterated in a few billion years when our sun expands into a red giant and then fizzles down to a white dwarf. Then, for all eternity (as far as we know), there will be nothing as far as our solar system is concerned. Ultimately, to put is bluntly, we are all royally fucked. My present view of death is that at the moment of one’s death, time accelerates immediately to that obliteration. Time, of course, does not accelerate after someone’s death. We have all seen a loved one die and then go on to live many years or decades ourselves. But, that is how time is viewed from our living perspective. Not that time, or anything else for that matter, can be viewed from death, but in a sense the only logical view is that as one dies, everything instantly ceases to exist. In a sense my thinking is that eventually all life will end, so as far as I’m concerned when I die, it happens instantly. My best visualization of this process mimics that moment in the original Star Wars movies when Han Solo engages the hyper drive and every light source in view seems to accelerate at a terrific speed (on that rare occasion when the Millenium Falcon’s hyper drive actually functioned properly).

I have no logic or reason to support this notion of death but, given that the end of all life on earth is a statistical certainty, it seems a close enough approximation of reality. In some ways, this view (or really more of an acceptance of the future reality) could be seen as sad. Every living thing on earth will one day be gone. Every parent knows that their child will also on day die. It is incredibly difficult to look at your young child and accept that. But, it is also a remarkably calming visualization when you think about it. Life is special. It is rare. And, it is short. Cherish every moment.