Saturday, October 13, 2012

You Can Never Have Too Many Unicorns

The unicorn analogy to religion is an old and common one. Many atheists pull out the Invisible Pink Unicorn (IPU), a fictional deity (well, I guess one doesn't really need the redundant word "fictional") used to point out that any god really isn't any more supported by evidence than one that has been dreamed up deliberately within recent memory. The whole point of the IPU, in my opinion, is to point out the silliness of believing that one god is real just because he is written about in an ancient book and is accepted by many millions of people, while rejecting a similarly made up god (the IPU) which is not.

The IPU has probably run its course in some ways because it is often used in ridicule, something that is not a very productive form of communication (I've never known anyone to be ridiculed out of their religious beliefs). It is also dismissed superficially by the religious without really considering how it relates to their beliefs. Nevertheless, it is an analogy worth repeating, and often.

Today I was listening to the radio and heard a snippet of an interview that was an ad for an upcoming interview with a Christian scholar. The man was talking about persecution of Christians in other places around the world, and pointing out that, by comparison to the genuine and often violent persecution of Christians in various places around the world, North American Christians can't really claim persecution of their faith. But, he objected, North American Christians can genuinely claim to have been marginalized, a trend that he obviously did not agree was a good thing. The interview was going to discuss his views on this marginalization. Unfortunately my car ride ended before the interview, so I profess ignorance to his actual points about the marginalization of Christians in society, but I thought it was an interesting startint point for some thoughts.

Are Christians marginalized in North America? And, if so, is that a good or bad thing?

I would argue that Christians and Christianity is most definitely not marginalized, but I do understand how someone with a Christian bias might think so. Christianity and Christian beliefs are at the forefront of almost every political discussion, particularly in America. We all know that no political leader will ever get elected to high office without professing a personal faith in Christianity. There is a constant battle to introduce Christianity into schools, museums, and legislation in the United States. Canada might be a bit more openly secular, but Christianity runs pretty deep in parts of this country too. The reason many Christians think they are being marginalized is because of a warping of their importance in the past. Their voice has been far louder than other groups, both religious and other. There probably has been a diminishing in this in recent years, or at least an examination of it, with the trend of "new atheism". But, to say that Christianity has become marginalized in society is to way overstate things. Its impact might be decreasing slighly, but it still carries far more weight in societal discussions than other religions or beliefs do. Often more than the facts and evidence that science brings too.

Is it a good or bad thing for Christianity to be marginalized? Well, this is where the unicorn analogy comes in. We don't want a society in which individual people are marginalized. That does happen, of course, but we should strive for a society in which it is minimalized. But, we do want a society in which Christianity is marginalized. Many Christians would initially object and talk about how their religion is the foundation of a civil society. But, they need to embrace the unicorn analogy to understand their position objectively. If there were a group of people who believed in unicorns, and indeed who believed that unicorns talked to them privately, told them how to live, told politicians when to invade other countries, et cetera, would we not want that group marginalized? Surely we would not want a crowd like that to have a loud voice in decision making in society. We would not want people who believed in something that we all know is fiction to be more important in society than everyone else, would we? That is the exact position that the rest of us have with regards to Christians. We think their beliefs are fictional. We think that the voice of God that they hear in prayer is simply in their head. We think that when they make decisions based on their Christian beliefs, and especially when they push them on others, that the result is often disastrous and negative.

When you think that your religion should be afforded more respect, ask yourself how much respect you would give to a group of unicorn-believers. Then expect exactly the same amount of respect and clout in society yourself.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

It's a Miracle! Oh...wait, nevermind.

This post is aimed at moderate, intelligent Christians (or those of other religions that require the supernatural). Many times the popular media, comment boards, and blogs involve discussions with and about those of the religious who are frankly out of touch with reality and a bit extremist. If you think the world is 10,000 years old, then this post is not for you. But, if you are the kind of Christian who accepts science and evolution, and who also believes in Jesus Christ as your personal saviour, then I'd be happy to hear your comments on this post.

Image courtesy of Google Images

My question is this. Why do you likely reject the "miracles" that some people make in our modern world which are obvious shams. Do you realize that when a grilled cheese sandwich seems to have the image of the Virgin Mary on it, it is just a coincidence of the cooking pattern of the bread combined with our human bias to recognize human faces where they are not actually in existence? If so, then you probably reject the notion that God is speaking through the grilled cheese sandwich as a bit of a silly side of your religion, right? So, if you're still with me so far, then let me ask why you likely don't reject the equally amazing miracles described in an ancient book? Do you believe that the Red Sea physically parted and allowed thousands of Israelites to walk through on dry land? Do you believe that Lazarus rose from the dead to live again? Do you believe that fire came down from heaven and consumed Elijah's offering and the stones that it was built on? Do you believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, died and then came to life again a couple of days later? (Presumably you must believe this latter miracle, since it is part of the basis of the Christian religion). So, why the discrepancy? Why reject the crazy, ridiculous things that people claim today as miracles and yet accept and embrace the stories from the ancients about similarly ridiculous, physically impossible events? Is it only because they are written down in the Bible? Is it because the Bible is the inspired word of God? Wouldn't anyone who wanted to start a religion simply tell you in their book that the book is the inspired word of God and that you should accept it as such?

So, if you are reading this, if you are a Christian, then I would sincerely like to hear your point of view on this matter.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Canadian Theocracy

For several years when current Prime Minister Stephen Harper was becoming prominent in the federal political landscape and then was leader of the opposition, there was a feeling that he had a hidden agenda that was undesirable to most Canadians in that it was regressive socially and dominated by antiquated religious dogma. The best trick Harper managed to pull was to get the public to forget about that worry and actually elect him to the highest office in the country. How he did so was by using two words: "jobs" and "economy". Stephen Harper is smart enough to realize that money makes the world go around. You are not going to get elected in Canada by talking about how gays shouldn't marry, about how abortion is wrong, and about how we should generally be a "Christian nation with good family values", whatever that means. That rhetoric might work in Republican dominated states south of the border, but not in a country like Canada that is dominated politically by the main socially progressive cities.

But, most people do care about money and about having a good job, even if they already have a good job. For some reason, when a politician talks about jobs and the economy over and over and over again like a broken record, even those people who have lots of money and a secure job start to listen and start to believe that maybe he's their best bet in the Prime Minister's office. And so, to make a long story short, Stephen Harper and his gang of religious Reform Party (Americans can read this as Tea Party) wingnuts achieved a small majority government in 2011.

And then, as surely as a leopard that has coloured over its spots with some cheap water based paint, the jobs and economy paint because to wear off and the real spots began to show through.

First, it was the Office of Religious Freedom, purportedly established at great expense to Canadian taxpayers, to promote religious freedom in a world in which religion is under attack from all sorts of places. But, of course, this office was solely intended to promote Christianity. Photo ops with the foreign minister were taken with the pope and not with imams or the Dalai Lama. Comments by readers in the popular media were overwhelmingly against this office on two counts: it was a waste of tax payers money by a government that promised fiscal restraint; and secondly it was pretty obvious that it was a thinly veiled and politically spun attempt to spread Christianity with no regard for other religions, never mind those with no religion.

Now, the Conservative government has boldly cancelled the contracts of any religious counsellor for inmates who is not Christian. Therefore, if you are a federal prisoner and happen to be Muslim or Jewish, you can only expect counselling to come from a Christian counsellor. The Muslim or Jewish counsellor you previously had, to help with your rehabilitation and help get you ready for society again, is gone. Of course, every Christian on earth has the goal of increasing the number of Christians, of converting people to the "good news". There are varying degrees of how blatant Christians are with their proselytizing, but a good Christian can hardly claim to not care that their fellow human is headed of to an eternity of hell. No, whether public or private, they want you to convert to Christianity.

Maybe this is simply a voting tactic. Maybe Stephen Harper realizes that most of his votes come from undereducated redneck conservative Christians and therefore the more of them he can create in the voter pool the better his chances of re-election. Watch next for a new law that limits immigration into Canada to places that are crazy fundamentalist Christian. If you are from the deep south or the mid-west of the U.S., well come on in. If you're from Afghanistan or France, well not so much.

But, all joking aside, this is a very frightening trend. Stephen Harper never grew out of his immature, self-serving, Bronze Aged secret agenda. He just figured out that the average Canadian wasn't going to buy it wholesale and so he had to really bury it until he got elected. Harper stopped making all his ridiculous statments about gay marriage, homosexuality, and abortion for a few years, focused on the economy and jobs in his election campaigns, finally got elected when the 65% of the electorate that hates him divided their votes between other parties, and then brought in his crazy theocratic reform.

This all illustrates a characteristic of Christianity that is absolutely deadly in politics: close-mindedness. Christians all believe they are 100% right. They have been told by God what life is all about and what is right and what is wrong, so when they get in positions of power nothing else really matters. If God didn't mention the environment in the Bible, then anything to do with care for the environment must just be some evil anti-God made-up conspiracy and can safely be ignored. If God tells you homosexuality is wrong, then it doesn't really matter how enlightened your society has become on human rights, you can just plough ahead and try to make it illegal because that is what's right. (See American politics for more examples of this type of bull-headed dogmatic "leadership". George Bush was a walking example of it. Never mind that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and that the whole world thinks I'm wrong for invading Iraq, God told me to do it so I'm right). Can you imagine bringing this type of 100% right attitude into any other scenario such as a marriage, a workplace, a friendship? Disaster. Just like when religious people bring their stubborn and ignorant dogma into politics.