Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Memorandum to God (Part One)



TO: God

FROM: Teleprompter


I hope you are well, whoever or wherever you may be. My friends and family have urged me to contact you over some pressing issues I have encountered. I hope that I am not wasting your time. Here are some of my questions for you:

1. "Your followers call you the judge of the world. You are expected to love justice and fair play. You’re expected to loath all ill treatment of one person by another. A corrupt judge who has no interest in seeing right triumph over wrong is, by biblical standards, a monstrosity.

Moreover, a judge who is found to be living a double life–one condemning criminals and one condoning his own crimes–deserves no such respect, honor or admiration."

- paraphrased from statements made by Demian Farnworth, Christian apologist

So why do you allow so much injustice in your name? Why have you allowed your followers to mistreat women, gays and minorities? Why do you allow wholesale slaughter of tribes with differing theological views?

Why do you condemn those who murder in the Ten Commandments yet simultaneously order the genocide of thousands at Sihon (Deuteronomy 2:34), Bashan (Deuteronomy 3:3), Jericho (Joshua 6:21), Ai (Joshua 8:2), Libnah (Joshua 10:30), Lachish (Joshua 10:32), Eglon (Joshua 10:35), Hebron (Joshua 10:37), Debir (Joshua 10:39), the Negev (Joshua 10:40), and the northern royal cities (Joshua 11:14)? Why did you allow the destruction of the Anakites (Joshua 11:21-22)? Why did you order the total decimation of the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizites, Hivites, and Jebusites (Deuteronomy 7:1-2)?

Why did you harden the hearts of the kings of some of these cities so that you could wage war against them so that your followers “might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy” according to your commands (Joshua 11:21)?

(NOTE: this project is an ongoing series; I will devote each installment to a new question; once again, thanks for your participation!)

(SECOND NOTE: part of the opening section to this essay is a paraphrase of commentary written by Demian Farnworth on his blog Fallen and Flawed; you can read the essay in which his statements originally appeared here. The paraphrase was borrowed for rhetorical comparison.)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Encounter with a Proselytizer (Part Two)

I apologize for the length of time which has elapsed since Part One. Thank you for waiting!

I received a phone call when I was at home several days later from the pastor of the church which handed me the brochure about Jesus.

I struggled to think of something coherent to say to the preacher on the other end of the line. Here I was, talking to him directly. What was I going to say? Was I going to make a fool of myself?

I told the pastor that I had been handed the glossy bulletin, that I had read it, and that I decided to call the included number to discuss some questions I had about the information in the brochure.

For my first question I stammered, "What does your church think about the Bible?"

He relayed to me the teachings on Biblical inerrancy: that everything in the Bible is truth, and that the Bible is internally consistent. The preacher also mentioned that his church exclusively uses the King James Version of the Bible.

I asked him why the church uses the King James Version? He replied that the King James Version used direct translation from the "original" languages of the Bible. I did not proceed further with this because I am not knowledgeable enough about the history of the Biblical documents to contend with his claims.

Another angle which my conversant preacher had emphasized about the Bible was that it contains God's messages. It was given to humans, but God had written it ahead of time, so the Bible was God's perfect word to humanity.

I decided to ask the pastor about certain tenets of Biblical morality. I discussed certain acts of genocide and crime in the world today: Serbia/Kosovo, Rwanda, etc.

Did he agree that these acts were wrong? Yes, he did.

I then cited the book of Joshua: the slaughter of the various tribes of Canaan whom the Israelites supposedly displaced.

If the Bible condones an act of terror that we agree is untenable, then why should I follow its teachings as a moral guide?

The preacher directly informed me that the slaughter of these peoples was really the work of God, not the Israelites, and that they were really evil, anyway.

I asked the pastor, "If God told you to murder someone, would you do it?"

He retorted that he would never murder someone, but if God murdered someone, he would understand why God did it.

Just as God slaughtered many of the Canaanites for their immoral ways, God could similarly "send judgment" to many Americans today for the current state of our immoral society.

But the bottom line, the preacher reasserted, is that Jesus saved us, and God sent the Bible to us. The real important point is whether I believe that or not.

"Do you believe in God?" he stated sharply.

"I don't know," I answered.

"You don't know? But the Bible is God's Word!" the pastor responded. "This book talks about Jesus and why he came, so Jesus was either telling the truth or he was a liar. Do you believe what the Bible says about Jesus?"

"What if the people who wrote the Bible made up the stuff that Jesus said?" I inquired.

(My query was ignored and previous assertions were repeated.)

"How can you not believe the Bible?" he asked incredulously. "It contains the words of Jesus. Do you believe them?"

"I could write a book about President Obama and say that he said something, but that doesn't mean he said it," I retorted.

My acquaintance was not amused by that comment. He abruptly ended the conversation.

"Look, if you don't understand this about the Bible, I can't even talk to you."

I thanked the preacher for the discussion, and hung up the phone.

Maybe I should've used some other analogy besides Barack Obama...my second thought was Harry Potter...never mind.

Some conversations are doomed to futility.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Monday Meter: Losing My Religion

This post is a day late, but I want to let you know that I am creating a new regular feature here on Avert Your Eye.

Each Monday, I wish share writing that is meaningful from my life.

(Also, Part 2 of Encounter with a Proselytizer is coming soon. Sorry for the delay!)

And here are this week's pertinent thoughts:

"Losing My Religion"

Oh, life is bigger
It's bigger than you
And you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes
Oh no, I've said too much
I set it up

That's me in the corner
That's me in the spotlight, I'm
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don't know if I can do it
Oh no, I've said too much
I haven't said enough
I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

Every whisper
Of every waking hour I'm
Choosing my confessions
Trying to keep an eye on you
Like a hurt lost and blinded fool, fool
Oh no, I've said too much
I set it up
Consider this
Consider this
The hint of the century
Consider this
The slip that brought me
To my knees failed
What if all these fantasies
Come flailing around
Now I've said too much
I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream
That was just a dream

(repeat chorus)

But that was just a dream
Try, cry, why try?
That was just a dream
Just a dream, just a dream


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Encounter with a Proselytizer (Part One)

I was working in the sun last week, trying to finish pulling weeds from my neighbors' lawn before the start of a thunderstorm, when a man came up to me and started a conversation.

"Hi there, I see you are a Reds fan, too?"

I was sporting a Cincinnati Reds baseball caps. In fact, I do happen to root for the Redlegs. Last summer, I was fortunate enough to catch Jay Bruce's debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The man introduced himself - let's call him "Jim" - and he said that he lived down the street. He told about his experiences as a young Reds fan growing up in Cincinnati during the era of the Big Red Machine - when Pete Rose, Davey Concepcion, and Johnny Bench proudly strode the environs of Crosley Field.

It was a normal conversation until the man pulled a brochure from his pocket and handed it to me - that's when the realization struck, that he was proselytizing me.

He stated that he didn't know if I had a church home, but let me know that I was welcome to attend his Baptist church. I thanked the neighbor, and stuffed the bulletin into my pants' pocket, eager to finish my work before the rain came down.

I didn't want to harass him about religion - being a former Christian, I know what nerves it takes to talk to a stranger about your church. Anyway, he wasn't too pushy, so I was willing to give him some leeway. I thought that it would be rude to argue with this guy on the street.

After I drove home and put my equipment away, I opened the brochure and inspected its contents. It contained a somewhat typical message about sin and Jesus, redemption and the wages of death. Pretty standard stuff - things I would've heard about, if I had still been in the church I had attended for the previous 18 years.

Then I spied a phone number, denoted with the following inscription:

"Have any questions about the Bible? We'd love to hear from you!"

Being the curious kind of guy that I am, I punched the church's number into my cell phone. I had to leave a message - I let it be known that I had received a tract and that I had some questions about its contents. I asked if it was possible that someone could call me back and that I could speak with someone about the brochure.

That was about a week ago. For a description of what happened when my call from the church was returned yesterday, please wait for (Part Two). Thanks!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

30 Great YouTube Channels for Freethought

The Atheist Blogroll provides a wonderful service for those who wish to participate in the freethought blogging community, and it's also a great resource for those who wish to learn more information about atheism and agnosticism. However, blogging is not the only way in which people can access information about freethought.

As many of you may know by now, YouTube is also a great place to inform one's self about these issues. Disconcertingly, there is no compendium or guide in which to index all of the highlights of the skeptical community's contributions on YouTube.

Therefore, I have composed an informal list of 30 YouTube channels about atheism or freethought that I really enjoy. I am subscribed to all of them. I did not rank the channels which fell out of the top ten in my rankings; those are listed in alphabetical order below my top ten.

Please realize that my preferences are entirely subjective, and I am sure that there are probably one or two channels I have listed which are bigger than the ones I mentioned in my top ten; there are likely some tremendous, outstanding channels out there which I have the misfortune of not having seen before, so if anyone can think of any good additions to my list, I'd be greatly indebted to you for it.

(Also, in the interests of full disclosure: two of the accounts which are included on this list [DefenderOfReason and theowarner] are subscribed to my personal YouTube channel; eight of the accounts included are "friends" of my channel on YouTube [FFreeThinker, AndromedasWake, cdk007, Thunderf00t, NonStampCollector, nathanforst, FactVsReligion, and DefenderOfReason].)

Lastly, I am including a small blurb of information about each channel with every listing.

The Top 10

1) Thunderf00t: A True Master. The PWN'er of creationists everywhere, and an unyielding champion of logic and reason. His "Why Do People Laugh At Creationists?" series is quintessentially fantastic. You will laugh, you will cry, and then you will write letters to YouTube about vote-botting five or six times.
2) EdwardCurrent: This is satire. Even commentators as wise as yours truly have mistaken Edward Current's uproarious brand of "Christianity" for the real item. Must-see list includes: "What If God Disappeared?", "What If Jesus Ran For President?", and "God's Cool Designs".
3) ProfMTH: Possibly the most intelligent, insightful, and thorough presenter of atheism/freethought on all of YouTube. No one has better arguments against Christianity, if that's your thing. Must-sees include: "Jesus Was Wrong" series and "Jesus Was Not The Messiah" series.
4) NonStampCollector: I have a weakness for animation, which explains why three animators are in my top ten list. NSC has created the most succinct and hilarious atheist counter-points to any claims about the morality or inspiration of the Bible, if that's your interest. Very funny takes on free will, Jesus, and the origins of religious thought.
5) TheoreticalBullshit: Yes, he's a professional actor, and it shows. The ladies will be all over him. But TB also happens to be one of the most brilliant debaters in the YouTube atheosphere. His videos are both highly informative and entertaining. Just watch all of them.
6) Nykytyne2: Nykytyne2 has one of the best voices on YouTube, though there are several others in this list who can match him. He's got an amazingly comprehensive series explaining the deficiencies of the main theological arguments called "Doubt 101" which is on-going. Watch all of those, and then watch "Greater Than Us".
7) DefenderOfReason: A rising star. I watch all of her videos. She is succinct, hilarious, engaging, and thoughtful. Her comedies and sci-fi videos are both funny and mind-bending. Be sure to catch "Crimes Against Humanity".
8) theowarner: Please don't get mad at me for this pick. Okay, you may not "get" theowarner's style at first, but once you appreciate his sensibility as an artist (and he is quite the artist), you will never regret the add. A good introductory video is "The Theology of Kodachrome".
9) 43alley: Again, my clear weakness for animation rears its head. I just eat up 43alley's "An Atheist Reads The Bible" series, which combines excerpts from the King Jame's Bible with cheesy 1970s style cartoons. His channel also features animations to accompany selections from Christopher Hitchens and Eddie Izzard.
10) azsuperman01: This is a sentimental pick: azsuperman's channel was one of the first places I found on YouTube. His account of his experience deconverting from Christianity is highly compelling, and it encouraged me as I was traveling down a similar path. Try his "Questions for Christians" series.

Honorable Mention

: "Welcome to the Universe" series. All that needs to be said - it will blow your mind.

AtheistExperience: Matt Dillahunty, host of the call-in show "The Atheist Experience", kicks ass. Some have compared his style to Christopher Hitchens on crack. They're right.

BionicDance: What can I say? Another animator, another sci-fi style video-maker. I like what I like, and BionicDance is freakin' sweet.

cdk007: If you want a good summary of complex biological concepts surrounding abiogenesis or evolution, this is where you should go. Still though, he really should get around to registering that PowerVideoMaker. ;)

DarkTheAtheist: This is another channel that, like theowarner, may not appeal to everyone. Dark's British, I think he's hilarious, and he has a killer video intro. If you like Monty Python, you will like DarkTheAtheist.

DrixDZanth: DrixDZanth, oh DrixDZanth, where have you been? He has not made any videos in months, but on his channel he promises that more will be coming soon - and this is a great thing, indeed. He's logical, he's entertaining, and he's pretty much a badass of science. (Well, that's the title of his video series, anyway.)

FactVsReligion: She is really a great film-maker. Most of these channels aren't in this list because it was someone smart or good-looking talking into a camera - there are usually some extra qualities which go into my selections. However, she does fit both of those descriptions quite well.

FFreeThinker: Does anyone know the YouTube atheist community as well as FFreeThinker? I think he friended me maybe five minutes after I made my first video? His "Best of Atheism" videos are well worth watching, as is the rest of his channel, which showcases quality videos from other channels in the atheist community on YouTube.

ghostofdayinperson: Unrepentantly zany. Her videos are beyond description - so why do I even bother? Her music, which she composes herself, is almost as good (and mind-shattering) as her videos.

hairyreasoner: His voice sounds so caressing that people deliberately send him things to read to them in his videos. Honestly, that's the only reason I'm subscribed to him, but trust me, it's a good enough reason.

healthyaddict: She's funny, she's intelligent, she's attractive - why aren't you watching her videos already?

KingHeathen: Hey heathens. I'd watch his videos just for the routine he does every time he has a video (and for the beer). But don't take my word for it, think for yourselves.

misterdeity: If you don't like Mr. Deity, please leave now. This show is a fabulously hilarious parody featuring the comedic trio of Deity, Larry, and Jesse. (But don't forget about Lucy!) And yeah, those readers who are attracted to men should watch this channel just for Jesse.

nathanforst: Nathan Forst is the poor man's next Carl Sagan, and he produced one of my all-time favorite YouTube videos, "Beauty Is Truth". It is one of the greatest tragedies of the Internet Age that "Beauty Is Truth" only has 2,000 views. It deserves your attention.

patcondell: Pat Condell is perhaps the most beloved and the most controversial YouTube atheist today. When I first joined YouTube, I devoured his videos as a parched desert traveler gulps water from an oasis. Now I can't really stand him. However, many of his videos are classics. Warning: if you are religious, you will be insulted.

PBBChannel: Dale McGowan runs this channel. Read his blog The Meming of Life. He provides excellent information on secular parenting. For those who would ordinarily skip over such advice, remember: if it wasn't entertaining, it wouldn't be on this list.

QualiaSoup: Watch "Open-Mindedness". Trust me, you don't have anything better to do, unless you're watching "Beauty Is Truth", NonStampCollector, or EdwardCurrent. "Open-Mindedness" could possibly be the best video on religious skepticism and freethought ever made. Even better, there are many other outstanding videos featured on this channel.

SchrodingersFinch: Have you ever heard of MST3K? The finches unrelentingly mock creationist and ID propaganda, and the results are comedic brilliance, along with a healthy dose of outright pwnage struck for science and freethought.

TheAmazingAtheist: I couldn't make a list of outstanding atheist YouTube channels without referencing TheAmazingAtheist. As long as you ignore the fact that he leads a veritable army of 15-year-old males, you won't regret subscribing to his channel. Most of his videos are quite entertaining, but occasionally he makes one or two that almost force me to unsubscribe to him. Blueberry Pie, anyone?

ZOMGitsCriss: I love her videos, but for some reason I discovered that I wasn't already subscribed to her when I began making this list. Now that that gross injustice has been remedied, I can finally tell you how awesome her videos really are. I won't go Hemant Mehta here, but her channel's definitely worth watching.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Colour My World

Can you imagine the color blue? Do you know what it looks like? Have you experienced it? Is it meaningful to you? Do you see it all around you?

Can you imagine exuberance? Do you know what it looks like? Have you experienced it? Is it meaningful to you? Do you know how it feels? Do you see it all around you?

What if you were color-blind, to emotion? What if you couldn’t feel that sense of connection: that spark, that vividness of experience?

When I notice my friends’ care-free celebrations, their quiet joy, their loud anticipation of pleasurable sensation, I feel blank. I notice a void: there is a lull where the storm should be, and there is a shattering where there should be calm.

I stretch my arms and flex my muscles: here I am. But why don’t I feel like everyone else does? Why do I have the sensation of dis-ease? Why is my life so awkward and unwieldy?

I wish that I could live in the present: I wish that I could forget about everything and just live for once. Sometimes I am depressed, but I don’t want to die; I merely want to live as if I am alive.

I don’t laugh because I have some insight that others do not; I laugh because I realize that I may never understand.