Thursday, March 31, 2011

Interview: Officer Mike #1

Bret: I’m here with Mike, of Christian Cognition. So Mike, tell us what you do.

Mike: I am a police officer in Michigan... have been for 13 years now.

Bret: How would you describe your work to an alien who doesn’t know what a police officer is?

Mike: There are bad people who either can’t or won’t control their urges to make other peoples’ lives miserable. It is my job to keep them from repeating their actions. sometimes that requires jail time.

Bret: Why doesn’t the government just put cameras everywhere?

Mike: I don’t think Americans like the idea of “big brother” watching everything we do. I’m certainly not in favor of it. As is the case with all government policy, power corrupts and absolute power absolutely corrupts. I only see bad things come out of that.

Bret: And yet, that’s sort of what God is, correct?

Mike: Big brother watching? Explain...

Bret: Well, I’m this alien who knows nothing... but I did hear something about this being called God who watches everything and knows everything. I mean, even aliens know about God.

Mike: That assumes that always watching and knowing is automatically evil. Humans are corrupt, and we’ll corrupt just about everything we touch. I don’t think we can compare God to us in the way we behave and respond.

Bret: So aliens know about God, but I don’t, having never met Him. How would you describe God?

Mike: God is difficult to describe, but He is said to have attributes similar to ours (we call them communicable attributes). For example, love, jealousy, etc are communicable attributes. On the other hand, He also is a being who is so unlike us. Those attributes are what we call incommunicable attributes. For example, his holiness, his omniscience, omnipresence, etc.

Bret: Where do you think God is?

Mike: Wow. Well, that’s challenging. Because He is omnipresent, He is said to be throned in His heavenly kingdom, as well as present among us.

Bret: Does God have any family?

Mike: In a spiritual sense we could say He does: the Bible calls those who put their trust in Him “children”. The Bible speaks a lot about “adoption”, a very deep theme. But the Bible writers used a lot of descriptive language of difficult-to-understand theological topics that people could more easily understand. And “adoption” is one of those themes we understand. We have the possibility of taking children into our families who were not physically born to us. But then, somehow, they become our children. Spiritually, the same occurs with God and us

Bret: That’s right, you have an adopted child.

Mike: I have a son we adopted. He was once a foster child of ours, and we adopted him. We consider him our own. I would have never understood the power of that had I not adopted my own.

Bret: Are you pro-life?

Mike: Very much so. But I can probably guess where you’re going next...especially considering my profession

Bret: Really? Tell me, cause I’m at a loss. If anyone has a right to be pro-life, it’s people who adopt. I can’t stand people who want to foist parenthood on people and they aren’t part of the solution to the real problem, which is all the children out there who need parents.

Mike: “Capitol Punishment” and “police use of deadly force” maybe???

Bret: Eh, liberals are going to kill me, but I believe in capital punishment. And deadly use of force happens, I’m more horrified at how common it is for police to use tasers now. I don’t think they’re rushing for the gun, they seem to be reaching for the taser any time someone is remotely non-compliant. But that’s just the perception from my limited exposure to law enforcement from the media, which only airs the extreme cases.

Mike: I think you’re right though. Many police, rather than calling for backup first, trust solely in the power of the taser as their backup. As mentioned earlier, power corrupts.

Bret: But it’s better than the night-stick or the gun. So I wouldn’t dream of taking the taser away.

Mike: On the flip side, more and more police are being assaulted these days. It shouldn’t be expected of us to simply roll over and take a hit for the citizens.

Bret: There is an extreme amount of hostility towards law enforcement officials. Are there any root causes, in your opinion?

Mike: That’s a hard one to pinpoint. Where I work, racial tension is a huge issue. A sagging economy would probably come in at a close second...people are stressed and angry and want to take it out on others. Sadly, it often happens to be on their loved ones or on police.

Bret: Yeah, which are usually the people there to help, not the cause of their problems. It’s always the people who roll up their sleeves and try to do something, huh?

Mike: Seems that way

Bret: Do you think God feels that way?

Mike: Not sure, but I do know that one day all wrongs will be righted, and justice will be served. That is the hope I have in Christ.

Bret: I hear a lot of atheists say things like, “I don’t believe in God because of the appendix,” implying that if they were in charge, they would have done things “better.” How do you feel about that as an argument against God?

Mike: I’ll be honest with you... you’ll blow me away in the realm of science. I’m not so proud to say there’s a lot I don’t know...and I’m not afraid to admit it.

Bret: Obviously you never read my college transcript...

Mike: But I know that there are things that exist that we may consider useless or bad, but maybe we just don’t understand the purpose behind it. One can only guess...

Bret: What to you is the single most compelling reason to be Christian?

Mike: Great question. The most compelling to me is my knowledge of my sin. I am convinced sin is what’s wrong with the world...I am what’s wrong with the world. I prove daily that I am in need of a Savior. I believe that Savior to be Jesus Christ. The Resurrection assures Jesus is like none other.

Bret: Do you feel being Christian can make you a better person, or is it just about getting saved and you’re pretty much who you are regardless of your religion?

Mike: I know many people who have found reasons to be “better” people. My issue is not so much about trying to be “better”. Instead, it’s about dealing with my sin. If God is holy and I am not, then I stand to face some serious consequences. As I trust Christ for salvation and my sin has been dealt with and is in the process of being dealt with...and will be dealt with in the future, how can that not cause me to be a better person? I have no choice but to be gracious with others, merciful, thankful, etc.

Bret: I’m tempted to ask you what’s the worst sin you’re willing to publicly confess to...
But that would be pretty Catholic of me.

Mike: I’m not willing, sorry. I’ve confessed it only to a couple close people. It’s pretty heinous, I confess. And not I’m not referring to something so simplistic as stealing a candy bar. Much worse.

Bret: So you stole a candy bar?

Mike: I struggle with things unbelievers struggle with. Porn. Anger.

Bret: You struggle with porn? I can refer you to free sites. No sense in dealing with those complex credit card accounts.

Mike: Thanks for helping! That’s funny.

Bret: Hey, if you’re struggling, you’re probably doing it wrong. And I think anger comes with your job. I don’t know how anyone can be surrounded by the kinds of people you interact with and keep all their marbles. Aren’t we all entitled to a few holes punched in the wall?

Mike: No joke, there! It is a daily struggle to not throat-punch a few people.

Bret: Okay, last question for this interview: Who’s better, Buddha or Mohammed?

Mike: I don’t know much about Buddha. However, I have read a large bulk of the Qu’ran and a few books written by clerics. Muhammad’s writing was confused...he’s illogical, he changed his mind a lot, etc. I guess I can’t really answer, cuz I don’t favor either. Sorry!

Bret: I would just say Mohammed, because no Buddhist will kill you for saying so.

Mike: Hahahaha

Bret: Alright, good night, and thanks for doing this. Hope we can do it again soon.

Mike: Absolutely! It inspires me to think more!!!!

Bret: Thinking is fun... sometimes.

Mike: G’nite, friend.

WTF Moment of the Month

Just in under the wire for March, having the Fox News feed on my homepage finally paid off. Behold: the most disturbing thing you may ever read. The headline says it all.

Obese Ohio Man Dies After Being Fused to Chair for 2 Years

This guy didn’t stand up from his chair in two years. Mind you, this is a chair, not a toilet. When officers arrived at the scene, the man’s skin had “fused” to the fabric of the chair, and he was sitting in his own feces and urine… and maggots. At least they don’t have to worry about a funeral, since the body was already found in turd.

*ba dum bump ch*

Most of this story reads like a bad joke. He was so big, they had to cut a hole in the floor to get him out of the house. One of the officers threw away his uniform after making contact with him during the removal. The landlady never realized because whenever she came over, he would be covered in a blanket. But the most shocking part about this? He was being fed by his girlfriend.

The unnamed man will be remembered for his chilling role in “Seven,” as the 17 year old blonde cheerleader you chatted with online when you were in high school, and for being the envy of everyone who plays World of Warcraft.

Pithy News 3/31/11

Charlie Sheen may not be acting like an asshole for free much longer. He has been offered his job back after “One and a Half Men” didn’t do well with test audiences.

Japan is still working to keep a handful of nuclear reactors from melting down. Experts say this is the worst Japanese disaster since 1998’s “Godzilla,” starring Matthew Broderick.

Donald Trump is supposedly considering a run for the presidency. Just what America needs in these times of high unemployment: a president known for firing people.

Newt Gingrich says the US is in danger of becoming a “secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists.” Asked if this is a contradiction, he replied that it’s as feasible as being a Christian nation that hates the poor and sick.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Discussion: New Home

Assuming no barriers (be it citizenship, language, or cost), where would you move if you had to leave where you live now and go elsewhere?

Top Ten: Countries I Would Like to Live In (Besides the US)

10. Japan
9. Australia
8. Denmark
7. Switzerland
6. Canada
5. New Zealand
4. Sweden
3. The Netherlands
2. Finland
1. Norway

Monday, March 28, 2011

Music Monday: George Thorogood

Simply the most famous person ever born in Delaware (easily edging out Joe Biden), George Thorogood is best known for creating blues rock hits that are jukebox classics. His songs set the gritty biker-bar mood in hundreds of films. His covers of songs by the likes of Hank Williams (“Move It On Over”) and Bo Diddly (“Who Do You Love”) have eclipsed the originals in popularity.

Thorogood popularized simple, heavily distorted guitar riffs over a decade before they would reach their pinnacle of success (and over-use) in pop music with the grunge movement. For that matter, the blues roots of punk can be seen clearly in Thorogood’s lyrics, covering topics from being an outcast to unabashed substance abuse.

Unlike the burn-out nature of the punk and grunge stars, Thorogood shared a similar fate as that of the Rolling Stones, who he opened for early in his career. Decades after releasing his first hit albums, he’s still writing new material and touring.







Saturday, March 26, 2011

Saturday Reflection #22

The only time I question democracy is after having a conversation with someone who votes.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Interview: Tristan Vick #1

Bret: Today I’ll be talking to Tristan of Advocatus Atheist, who lives in Japan. First international interview, I can’t wait. So Tristan, my first question might seem odd, but I get asked all the time: if you’re an atheist, why get married?

Tristan: Basically, I think people who ask that sort of question are simply under the misconception that marriage is about love. Marriage, until quite recently, has NOT been about love. For over 200,000 years marriage has been a means to an end.

Bret: So you got married to ally your tribe with your wife’s?

Tristan: First it was tribal allegiances, yes. When agricultural societies developed, and patriarchies matured, women were bartered for as part of the man’s property--as chattel. This is the sort of marriage we find in the Christian Bible. Marriage traditionally had to do with sustaining the family. So either you procured a wife who could produce many sons to help maintain the land and do labor, or you used your daughters are bargaining chips to attempt to marry them into a wealthier family--this usually involved arranged marriages.

Bret: Though to be fair, women did work as well. It’s not like women stayed at home sipping wine and watching soap operas before the 50s.

Tristan: Another thing that strikes me odd about that question is that it sounds very Eurocentric, in the Christian sense, as if non-Christian cultures could even possibly comprehend the concept of marriage. The Chinese were paying dowries and marrying thousands of years before Jews ever walked the face of the Earth. I’m just saying, it seems to me that this notion that marriage is supposed to be about love is relatively recent. So why get married? Because you love someone. My sarcastic answer would be, why not?

Bret: Good answer, we also would have accepted “for insurance” or “for citizenship.” I guess you don’t have to worry about the former in Japan. Though what about the latter, was citizenship a factor when you got married?

Tristan: Those are other reasons, yes. All this just goes to show that marriage is not a simple construct. No, citizenship never entered into it. Japanese law is so strict that it is nearly impossible to naturalize and become a Japanese citizen. It’s been done, but I have never thought of myself as anything other than American. That said, marriage to a foreign national does have its benefits, such as Visa status.

Bret: Do you plan to live in Japan permanently?

Tristan: No. I think of Japan as my second home now, but I’ve already enrolled to begin my Masters and PhD at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Also, JET Programme, the teaching job I do, has a limit of 5 years. I’ve done all five. So it was either find a new job or return to the States and continue my education.

Bret: How are things in Japan? We don’t usually hear much about that country, but obviously it’s been in the news a lot. How do you think the nation is handling the recent disaster?
Tristan: The people are great. Natural disasters are commonplace here. Every month there is an earthquake or a volcanic eruption or typhoon. This time it was a daisy-chain of events; one of the worst earthquakes in human history off the coast of Tohoku Japan devastated the entire Eastern seaboard. This set off a massive tsunami, waves 43 feet high, traveling at 800 km/h (about the speed of a jet) which crippled half the country. So it is devastating to say the least. The good news is Japan is well prepared, and well equipped, to handle it. The bad news is that foreign aid isn’t getting to the victims of the disaster because of too much red tape.

Bret: Here in the states, everyone is focused on what they perceive might affect us here, namely the nuclear power plant meltdowns. Have mutated zombies taken to the streets there yet?

Tristan: If the zombies are as cute as the Japanese girl in the opening scene of Resident Evil 4, then I’m not worried.

Bret: One thing a lot of people in the US (particularly on the right) obsess about is deregulation. Do you think the strict regulations placed by the Japanese government saved lives there?

Tristan: They’re more organized because of it. I don’t know. It works both ways. Regulation can be beneficial, but at the same time, as I mentioned above, things can get caught up in red tape and become unnecessarily time consuming. I would say that having Government mandated social healthcare/insurance has been hugely beneficial for me and my family. When my wife and I had our first child last year, the Japanese government paid us! We had a $4,000 bill wiped clean. This included hospital bills, ultra sounds, and even now my daughter gets free immunization shots.

Bret: Yeah, but in return you have to work the salt mines in the Communist labor camps, right?

Tristan: It’s about three hundred dollars a month for a family of three. But heck, my last dentist check up cost two dollars. So I think it evens out somewhere.

Bret: My insurance is like six hundred dollars a month, and I get a reduced rate through my wife’s job. I’ve been so misinformed about socialized medicine! And yet I haven’t been to a doctor in like 3 years. Anyway, what is the religious situation in Japan? Lots of atheists?

Tristan: Mostly. Yeah. About 75% of the Japanese consider themselves secular free thinkers. Another portion is Buddhist, again the secular kind. Which leaves Shinto as the largest theistic faith with a presence in Japan. There are Christians too, but few and far between. And nothing like “American Christianity.” Sometimes I wish Christians would just go to other countries to see how Christianity has evolved there. A lot of the time, I don’t think they would even recognize it as Christianity.

Bret: But of course with the disaster that just hit, that will all change as people flock to churches to find answers, right?

Tristan: Nope. Not here. Japan is a humanist culture first and foremost. What will likely happen is they’ll do what they always do, help each other up, and get things back. As I mentioned, natural disasters hit here every week basically, it’s been this way since the first people came to Japan, and it’s part of their psychology. They deal with it and then move on. Religion is not part of the equation. And even if it were, the Japanese do not believe in talking about their faith with anyone. It’s meant to be a personal matter.

Bret: Ah, now I see. God is punishing them for not spreading the good word enough.

Tristan: That seems to be what a lot of American Evangelical fucktards are saying--but they’re just ignorant.

Bret: True, it might be gay people that caused it, you never know.

Tristan: I just read on the ‘Atheist Revolution’ blog a list of Christians who think God is punishing Japan or that it’s a sign of the apocalypse, or some such drivel. Basically these people are out of touch with reality. They have a world weariness, as I like to call it, and are so terrified, or so utterly stupid, or both... that they can’t help but play the part of the fool.

Bret: Why do you think Christians accept tectonic plate theory and not evolution?

Tristan: Confirmation bias, plain and simple. Tectonic plates don’t interfere with the core theology near enough for it to constitute a problem for them. God made the world that way... so be it. However, evolution suggests that much of Christian theology is incorrect. That we evolved from a common ancestor, and were not created (from clay) by some divine God. What’s more, it implied we were not created in God’s image, therefore evolution does away with the whole first man concept vital to get original sin rolling. Evolution also suggests we’re not special, that the universe was intended for us, that we’re just another animal species--without design and purpose.
And religion constantly tries to suggest that we are special, that there is design and purpose. These are just some of the implications of evolution on Christian theology as I see them. But apparently the Catholic church is in support of Darwin’s theory of evolution now. Times are a changin’.

Bret: Yeah, the pope even started speculating that there might be aliens. I found that kind of... L. Ron Hubbardish.

Tristan: Well, there have to be aliens. It’s a statistical dilemma. You’d be more incorrect to say there weren’t aliens than to say there are, but this isn’t probably the Pope’s line of reasoning. But then again, I don’t know what goes on under that pointy hat of his. For all I know he could be a math genius.

Bret: This pope is particularly scholastic. I don’t know about his math credentials, but he’s much more professorial than the last pope, who was more of a well liked, charismatic figure compared to the bookish nature of Benedict. But you weren’t Catholic before becoming atheist, right?

Tristan: No. My mom recently married a Catholic though. They couldn’t get the blessing of his church because she’s twice divorced, and so they hired a retired priest to marry them. Weird religious politics.

Bret: When did you deconvert from Christianity?
Tristan: About a year and a half ago I became atheist. Before that I was about two years in limbo. And two years prior to that I was attending a Messianic Jewish temple. But I was born and raised an Evangelical Christian, Assemblies of God.

Bret: So you can clearly remember being religious, unlike me.

Tristan: Oh yeah. It was a large part of my life. My mom is extremely religious, and so I was inculcated early on. At 14 I was born again and on fire for Christ. I became a Bible Camp Counselor and taught the ‘good news’ to children--basically indoctrination. I joined Campus Crusades for Christ in college. I was head of my youth group. I went on many interfaith youth retreats... I was pretty much a ‘Jesus freak’.

Bret: That’s funny, I used to deface the signs that Campus Crusades put up at my college.

Tristan: I probably wouldn’t vandalize something, but I may tear something down if I found it overtly offensive.

Bret: I don’t see any harm is writing on a 10 cent photo-copied piece of paper that Christians should remember to bring their suit of armor to the Campus Crusades, or that Muslims should look out. It was more public service announcement than vandalism, really. I hated the use of “Crusade” like it was anything but a bloody reminder of religious violence. Could you imagine if the Muslim student union held a Jihad event?

Tristan: It was motivated by religious politics, definitely. I’d go to a Jihad event just to see the FBI raid.

Bret: What is your stance on religion’s existence, like... do you think the world would be better off without religion or does the mere existence of religion not matter to you?

Tristan: I think those who think religion has to be eradicated and wiped off the face of the Earth don’t understand anything about religion. Bruce M. Hood has written a great book on how our brains naturally create supernatural explanations for things before we are fully aware we’re doing it. He has tested many children in the field of children’s psychology to test mind design theory, and his book ‘Supersense’ is a must read. David Eller also has a good book on the religious anthropology called ‘Introducing Anthropology of Religion.’ Also, the anthropologist Pascal Boyer has an amazing book on religious development called ‘Religion Explained.’
My take is that as long as there are humans there will be religion, in one form or another, since it seems that religion is just something our poorly evolved brains generate to compensate for our lack of understanding about the world. David Eller also has a good book on religion. His book ‘Atheism Advanced’ is also excellent.

Bret: I’m not a big anti-religionist, but I’m not sure I’m sold on the idea that a concept we have naturally cannot be overcome. Bigotry is a natural thing that occurs among all people across the globe, but I also believe it’s possible to overcome, though I don’t necessarily see religion as something that needs to be erased.

Tristan: The difference is in that our minds aren’t hard wired to generate bigotry. Bigotry occurs, most likely, for other reasons. Upbringing, social status, etc. Religion seems to be, at least in part, related to human psychology. When I critique religion I am usually looking at either the history, the philosophy, or the consequences of active belief. These are things I feel I can comment on.

Bret: I’m pretty convinced bigotry is hardwired. Kids treat people who appear strange in a different way, and I think there’s even an evolutionary reason for this, in that seeing outsiders as something to be feared may be a useful trait to have in a world full of violent human beings. So if religion was somehow erased from human culture, you think kids would reinvent it?

Tristan: Only if our minds hadn’t progressed enough to cope with not understanding the world. Basically is has to do with how our brains substitute information and make inferences. Take, for example, the evolutionary vestigial trait of ‘jumping in fright’ at a scary noise, being startled when someone unexpectedly happens upon us, or that spooky old tree outside the bedroom window--our brains our programmed by natural selection to fear these things... because if they were real threats it would pay to be aware of them instead of oblivious, because we’d be dead.
Now we can exploit this physiological reaction by watching scary movies and triggering it for pleasure. Other than that, it serves us little purpose today.

Bret: Well besides giving us great fodder for prank TV shows.

Tristan: My point is, when our brains substitute ‘old scary witch’ instead of spooky tree, this is the same thing which is happening on various different levels when it comes to religion. Also, perhaps in part, it is also due to the awareness of our own mortality. One of the growing theories is that because we often have the experience of seeing or feeling loved ones after they have passed, in pre-modern times, these experiences would have seemed spiritual in nature. Now we can explain such events with modern science, but to the scientifically illiterate (which it seems most religious are) these experiences constitute a mysterious reality. The brain then assumes, like the false assumption of the tree being a threat, that similarly dead people aren’t necessarily gone forever. In a sense, they haunt us. Thus ghost stories are generated. Fables and folklore. Religious ideas. And so forth.

Bret: You bring up an interesting point, because I think most people today think of religion as being about gods, but it’s more than that. There are entire religions that have no gods, or else acknowledge the idea of gods but put no importance in them. Do you think religion will evolve beyond gods?

Tristan: I think it mostly has. Although theistic monotheism is the dominant religion in sheer number of adherents, it is the minority when it comes to types of religions. In fact, non-theistic religions outnumber theistic ones. That is to say, there are more religions without gods than with gods. David Eller actually emphasizes this point in his book. The problem is, however, that we’re so saturated with “God talk” on a daily basis that we often forget that other religious perspectives exist. The Buddhism that is in Japan is mainly secular, it is ancestor worship more or less, but it has nothing to do with any active theology or belief in Buddhist gods. So I’ve seen first hand a non-theistic religion, and it works just fine, if not better than other theistic varieties.

Bret: Do you think religion has to contain some element of the supernatural?

Tristan: Yes, because I think that is the key component in how our brains generate religious thought. The belief in the supernatural is, in my view, a prerequisite for full on religion. But another aspect is ritual. These are the two key elements in every religious belief, to varying degrees of course.

Bret: Oh without a doubt, I was taught in every course I ever took on religion or theology that religion is ritual more than anything else. But in that sense, anything can be a religion, since even brushing your teeth is a ritual, but that doesn’t make dentistry a religion to me. So, I think that the supernatural aspect tends to be what separates religion from sciences or philosophies.

Tristan: Well, most religions are comprised of various beliefs, tenets, and practices. There has never been a religion based on just one belief and one belief only.

Bret: Evangelical Christianity comes close with the concept of “saving grace.”

Tristan: Belief in the tooth fairy is supernatural, but it’s not a religion in itself. Just as dentistry isn’t a religion unto itself. But if you combined them somehow so visiting the dentist, brushing teeth, and belief in the tooth fairy are all part of the same system of belief... it would be much closer to a religion than any of those things independently.

Bret: Like I needed another reason to hate going to get my teeth worked on... How do you feel about people saying science is a religion?

Tristan: It’s sort of like saying auto-repair is a religion. They’re idiots and they need to be corrected for the very fact that such ideas are painfully stupid.

Bret: What about those who say atheism is a religion or a faith? Oh and for the record, when I do auto-repair, I do a lot of praying...

Tristan: It can be. It depends on the atheist I suppose. Atheism doesn’t technically have a dogma, but many atheists try to give it one. The atheist John Loftus, of Debunking Christianity, is one such atheist. He seems to have replaced one fundamentalism for another--but much of what he is on about is simply echoes of his past Christianity. If he’d realize this he’d spend less time being a zealous atheist and more time being a real atheist.Which is to say... I personally do not see how atheism can be misconstrued as a religion as per the nature of atheism itself. So no, atheism is not a form of religion, although it can certainly sometimes appear that way. What it lacks, however, is belief in the supernatural, regular rituals, tenets, and dogmas. It’s theology is evidence--so no--I don’t see any logical progression from atheism to religion.

Bret: Yeah, atheism is a religion like a sauce pot is a hat. It can be, but that’s not really what it’s for. I hate to ask, but do you think I take atheism to the lengths of being a religion?

Tristan: I wouldn’t know. Just this week I was accused by a family member of being a ‘militant atheist.’ I don’t think they meant it as an attack, but I think any criticism of religion is going to come off as seeming a bit strident--perhaps overzealous--even when it’s not.

Bret: Well, religion is serious business. What could matter more than the destiny of our eternal souls?

Tristan: Let me give you an example of atheism as it should be vs. atheism as many use it. When a religious person comes up to tell you that your soul is on the line, that your very eternal salvation depends on you accepting Jesus Christ as your lord and savior, the wrong sort of atheism will simply assert the opposite--nuh-uh! This is what I see John Loftus doing. Christianity says one thing, he tries to disprove it by showing the opposite to be the case. An analytical technique which works for deconstructing various ideas and concepts, but it misses the point. The true atheist would simply respond to all the religious talk with, “I don’t understand you--you make no sense.”

Bret: So a good atheist is an apatheist? Or would it be more accurate to say a good atheist is almost an agnostic?

Tristan: Not exactly. The ‘good atheist’ is one who has no belief. In order for belief to be properly sustained, one needs evidence for proposed theories. If someone comes to me and tells me a wild tale about sin and salvation, talking snakes, God becoming incarnate in the form of his own son, only to sacrifice himself to himself, to atone for the original curse of sin he put on us in the first place... it seems to me to entertain such the notion, even in the slightest, let alone to pretend to know what it means in the literal sense, and is simply not possible, given the complete lack of evidence. As interesting, engrossing, enticing, moving, and powerful of a story it may be... in the real world it is completely without basis. To be asked to take it on a matter of faith... then... is to simply raise the question, “What could you possibly mean by that?” As atheists don’t believe, playing the religious game puts the ball in the court of believers. They can then dictate the rules. If atheism is to effectively deal with religion, it can’t allow religion to dictate the terms of the debate. Atheism will simply have to fall back on the defense that the religious proposal lacks all basis for support and makes no sense, that is, is mainly incoherent, which it is. And that is atheism proper, when belief in the supernatural, and theistic belief, is taken out of the equation. But atheists can be agnostic as well. I personally do not know whether some Deistic entity exists out there somewhere (over the rainbow). But somehow I highly doubt it.

Bret: Do you think the very name “atheist” is allowing theists to define the debate? I am all on board with redefining the label to something else like irreligious, but even that still pays lip service to religion itself. Any thoughts on that?

Tristan: I personally like the rule of parsimony when it comes to terminology. Atheism is the simplest, most straight forward, and clear term. It’s not all encompassing, however, and that’s why modifiers are added, e.g., militant atheist, new atheist, naturalistic atheist, and so on. As a term it suffices. As a philosophy, I think there is more to atheistic philosophy than commonly assumed. It’s still evolving.

Bret: I used to like “humanist,” but I kind of lost my faith in humanity. I’m not sure I like the idea of almost implying I have faith in us. And I certainly wouldn’t raise human beings up to the level of gods.

Tristan: I’ve coined the term Augere Atheist to explain my sort of atheism. But in terms of god belief, I consider myself a post-theist atheist.

Bret: Do you worry that post-theist may imply there were gods at one time?

Tristan: It literally means ‘after theism’--implying that I was once a theist but not any more. I don’t see how one could derive deity from mere belief in deities in the generic sense.

Bret: Anything else you want to tell the world (or the limited portion of it that reads my blog) before we let you get some sleep?

Tristan: I actually thought you were going to ask me more controversial questions, like what sorts of Christians piss you off and what tenet or belief makes you the most irrate.

Bret: Well feel free to tell me. I try not to ask people what pisses them off, that isn’t the best mood setter. But yeah, lay into those damn Christians with all your hate if you want.

Tristan: I don’t hate Christians, per se. I hate certain people and I despise their love of ignorance and am astonished at certain people’s level of credulity.

Bret: Anyone in particular?

Tristan: I guess the sort of Christian I dislike the most is the Christian who thanks God every other word, and quotes the Bible, then thanks God again, quotes the Bible, and never makes a damn point. And they talk like this ad nauseam. The tenet which makes me irate is the belief that we aren’t born innocent, that for some reason, we are born tainted, corrupted, all inherently programmed to be sinful child rapists and cannibal nudists. Original sin is, in my opinion, the most sinister, most puerile, most wicked of assumptions.

Bret: Well, now I feel bad because I believe in that. Not “original sin,” but that we’re born horrible people. To be fair, we are born as nudists... check and mate. But little kids also lie, steal, hit, say mean things... basically all of the things we have to make rules for, kids have to be taught not to do. Our first act on this Earth is to cause great pain to our mothers, also.

Tristan: It depends if you view human emotional suffering on the same level of sin, or just a consequence of our biology. I think a lot of human nature comes from our adaptation to things like our environment and what not. Children lie, steal, and do mean things because, a) they don’t know any better, b) it’s a survival mechanism, c) they weren’t taught properly. So we may be born rough around the edges, but this doesn’t mean we are morally deficient--or outrigh immoral--which is what the doctrine of original sin suggests.

Bret: I think it’s because we’re born selfish and needy. And helpless.

Tristan: Yes, helpless, needy, and selfish--all part of the human condition. But this doesn’t connote moral depravity. Otherwise we could never be moral. I guess the best example of this is the person forced to steal food for the first time or starve to death. Maybe if they were not selfish or needy, if they were a Tibetan monk, they would choose to starve to death. Let’s say you are a father, and your only child is starving to death, your failure to steal food for her survival is a greater moral evil.

Bret: Well, if they were a Tibetan monk, they would beg for food with an open bowl and probably be given something. But I get what you’re saying.

Tristan: For me, to suggest we are all morally depraved from the beginning is to suggest we could never make the necessary moral choice--because our morality would be hindered by some supernatural force--i.e., sin. That’s just absurd.

Bret: Some, like Epicurus, would say self-sufficiency is a moral issue.

Tristan: Epicurus also taught moderation. Whether sinful indulgences or moral extremes, I think he’d say to take the middle ground.

Bret: Certainly. Anything else before I finally let you get to bed?

Tristan: Epicurus also believed wine helped one think more clearly. Maybe he was on to something?

Bret: I don’t know... I turn all Mel Gibson when I drink. Maybe it’s different for people with Greek genetics.

Tristan: Do you mean to tell me that you become anti-Semetic when you’re drunk?

Bret: Oh no I don’t turn anti-Semitic... I just let my anti-Semitism out when drinking. But it’s okay, my wife’s Jewish. Though that does mean she starts all the fights in our relationship.

Tristan: I think my wife has the best advice to those who share different religious views and are married---just don’t talk about religion. We did fine when I was a Christian, and we do even better now that I’m not.

Bret: Oh she’s an atheist, but you know how Jews are. It’s a religion when they want it to be, an ethnicity when they want it to be, or a culture when they want it to be.

Tristan: It’s a versatile faith, yes.

Bret: The worst part is my kids will have a Jewish mother. So in that case, I hear they round up.
Alrighty, I think we offended enough people for one day. I feel bad I went 30 minutes over. It’s past 2am there now, right?

Tristan: No problem. It’s 2:07.

Bret: Time flies when talking atheism.

Tristan: I’ll head to bed the moment I log off.

Bret: Be sure you do, I can’t be held responsible for it if you’re crabby tomorrow.

Tristan: Before I do however, I’d like to thank you for the conversation and if you have follow-up questions feel free to drop me a line sometime.

Bret: Oh of course, and being interviewed once doesn’t mean you can’t be interviewed again in the future. This is always a good way to get ideas out there. I sometimes think blogs run by one person end up a little stagnant in their ideas, since it’s all coming from one point of view. It’s been a pleasure, Tristan.

Tristan: Thanks Bret, have a good one.

Bret: Good night.

Tristan: Oyasumi-nasai. (Japanese for goodnight)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Most Random Thing in the Bible

Feel free to challenge it, but I submit that the most random thing in the Bible is the concept of circumcising male foreskin.

That is all.

Interview: Nikk Jakson #1 (Part 3 of 3)

Bret: What are your feelings on America’s addictions, drugs and oil?

Nikk: Oil is a finite resource, drugs we can create an endless supply. Draw your own conclusions.

Bret: Actually we might run out of ecstasy. It’s harvested largely from the oil of some tree in Asia, I think it’s primarily found in Cambodia. The illicit production of the oil results not only in deforestation, but pollution, because the chemical run off from the on-site manufacture pollutes the area.

Nikk: Well, then, we run out of it, there’s always something to get high on.

Bret: True, but how will people dance all night and die of dehydration? The electronic music industry will collapse.

Nikk: I wouldn’t shed any tears over that...

Bret: I just shudder to imagine all of those house DJ’s beat boxing on the streets, begging for change. So you don’t have any problem with drug use or abuse?

Nikk: No, of course not. People have the right to do what they want with their bodies. Drug abuse is sad, but sadder still is the toll the drug war has wrought.

Bret: Do you know much about the Anglo-Chinese Opium wars?

Nikk: A little.

Bret: So do you think the economic exploitation of a population caused by pushing an addictive substance on a people is a problem?

Nikk: Pushing? The illegality drives the process. Those drug gangs in Mexico don’t want legalization. Alcohol causes millions of deaths, but prohibition wasn’t the answer.

Bret: I agree, but how would you tread the line between these two problems?

Nikk: I think all economic exploitation is a problem. The banks do it, the company you work for does it...

Bret: Right, but we don’t have to swing between two extremes. I wouldn’t make banks or corporations illegal just because they can and have exploited people, just as I wouldn’t try to deny the usefulness of government. But I wouldn’t have them be completely free to do whatever they want, be it a bank, company or government. I mean... just look at the pharmaceutical industry. They have the freedom to do pretty much anything they want, within some limits, and look what we have: a bunch of kids running around doped up, diagnosed with phony “diseases” because they don’t sit still like an adult.

Nikk: Let free exchange take place, and get people into treatment who need it (you can’t force it, but you can make it a very open process where they feel they’ll be helped to a better life). Overall, we have to end the economic exploitation of capitalism so people can earn a decent, human living.

Bret: Who pays for treatment, considering most people who seek it are flat broke after hitting bottom?

Nikk: Well, Big Pharma, you know I hate that state-supported industry.

Bret: Yeah, but the state-supported part is the important part, namely development.

Nikk: Who pays for it is like asking who will build and maintain roads. Some things will be done voluntarily but in common. No one should own large tracts of land that they can’t possibly use personally, and people can choose to pool their resources for things like drug treatment so it’s available when they or a freind or family member needs it. I’m more of a socialist than you think I am, but an anarchist socialist.

Bret: Yeah but most people don’t want to willingly do that. You’re talking about a population that doesn’t want to give poor kids medicine, and you expect me to believe people will pool their resources out of the goodness of their own hearts to help drug addicts? Most people are just going to say “Fuck ‘em, they made a dumb choice, why should we pay to help them? We should spend our money on helping orphans and the physically disabled.” Except here in reality, we have to deal with the consequences of everyone’s actions, and we can’t just dismiss a person as not worthy of help when they are in trouble. I get what you’re saying, but you have to realize that the people who are making millions of dollars would never give 30% of their income to help people, which isn’t even what they’re giving now after tax loopholes. And yet we’re still short on cash. I just don’t understand how a selfish people will magically become generous in the absence of government.

Nikk: IP, like real property claims that aren’t based on use, is a fraud. You can’t patent something and then morally make the claim that someone else, who may have come up with the same idea independently, is stealing from you because they failed to get to the patent office before you did.

Bret: Most IP has nothing to do with independent discovery. It has to do with compensating those who innovate while discouraging those who poach ideas and seek to put creative and intelligent people out of business. We can talk about how IP law should be changed in many cases, but to say people don’t have a right to profit exclusively from their discoveries is not a very good idea. It might work in medicine, because most medical research is done in public universities funded largely by tax dollars. So in that case, yeah, it would be nice if publicly funded discoveries were public.

Nikk: Even if they did “steal” your idea, you can’t morally prevent them from using their own property to create something using your idea. I’ve gone over this before, and the history of invention really doesn’t support your notion.

Bret: Actually the history of invention shows that in nations that defend IP, science and industry grow at a more rapid pace. And what’s more, from an artistic point of view, IP is the sole method for success. If I write a book and someone else can just print thousands of copies of it and sell it for a dollar less than I sell it for, how is that going to encourage me to write another?

Nikk: So, you’re a utilitarian? I’m not. And again, I don’t think the facts support what you’re saying anyway.

Bret: I’m just a pragmatist, I see that certain things work and certain things don’t. I don’t see people like Edison as particularly amazing, but I know his drive to invent was largely premised on the goal of making money. I don’t think people would make a career out of innovation if there was no incentive to do so.

Nikk: What encouraged Shakespeare to write all those plays? Not to mention that he stole all his plots.

Bret: Shakespeare earned money for having his plays performed. Do you think he would have written more than one if he hadn’t? I know I don’t write for the hell of it, I hope to one day be paid to be a writer.

Nikk: But he couldn’t copyright them. Today, musicians can still earn from performing their music, too, and most earn far more from that than record sales.

Bret: Meh, record sales and online piracy are fundamentally different. No one is making money off of pirated music. Well, not the online piracy anyway. Plus there’s also a unique situation where the pirated version is superior to the legitimate version. MP3s are more useful than CDs. So yeah, if someone was giving away vaccines that were better than regular ones, I would support that. But that isn’t happening.

Nikk: I’m not sure what your point is...the argument goes that “illegal” downloading cuts into music industry profits, but like Shakespeare and his plays, you earn most of your money from live performance anyway.

Bret: I’m not saying downloading music illegally for free is wrong, nor would I see it as violation of IP, since no one is profiting off of someone else’s IP. If downloading a song for free is IP infringement, than so would pulling up to someone who has their music on loud, since you could hear it without paying for it. I’m even on the fence about sneaking into a concert. Is it wrong? Who’s to say? Now, if you’re charging people to sneak them in, you’re an asshole who should be punished.

Nikk: Again, profit or not isn’t the point or focus of the copyright Nazis. They say that the fact that you can get something for free makes people unwilling to pay for it, depriving record companies of profits.

Bret: Right, but we’re talking about how we would do it. I also wouldn’t be in Afghanistan or Iraq, but I am not willing to say war is always wrong. IP can change, I just don’t think it should be eradicated. In fact, I can’t even think of something off the top of my head that ought to be eradicated at all.

Nikk: Well, you’re more reasonable than the corporate assholes who control most copyrights, then. Reform would be better than what we have now.

Bret: I’m more reasonable than people who would directly benefit from overzealous application of an otherwise useful concept? Shocking. This is why I think we need government, there is no such thing as self-regulation. You need someone standing apart from it all saying, “Uh, excuse me, what the hell are you doing?”

Nikk: Society can govern itself, that’s all I’m saying. We don’t need a class of people to do it for us and lord it over us.

Bret: Society is governing itself, some societies better than others. I think your fundamental flaw is in seeing government as apart from the rest of us somehow.

Nikk: Exactly. But society is not the same as the state. Don’t make the mistake of conflating them.

Bret: I see the president as no different than me (besides him being wrong, of course). “The state” isn’t a thing, it’s an idea. It’s certainly not a person or group of people or some particular class.

Nikk: Yes, goverment is apart, because it claims special privileges for itself that don’t apply universally to everyone.

Bret: There are going to be certain actions I don’t want the average person to be able to have. And yet those actions may need to be taken in some fashion. But I think you’ll find that citizens have more of those rights than you think. Most states allow for basic things like citizen’s arrests, and people are arming themselves (despite the fact that I don’t even want most police to carry weapons).

Nikk: Well, I don’t want them to have the power to kidnap people for non-violent actions either, the difference is, the state does claim that right.

Bret: But you can’t use another example to justify this one. If drugs were legal, for instance, would this even be an issue? Isn’t the hostility most people have towards the police these days a product of the perception that they enforce laws we don’t want or need? And if this is the case, why are we blaming the executive branch for a problem of the legislature? I want cops to be able to “kidnap” people, especially people who are committing crimes and would just commit more if they were left free to do so. And I’m assuming real crimes here.

Nikk: Well, it would still be an issue as long as there are any laws that make non-aggressive activities or actions (including refusing to pay taxes that you didn’t agree to) illegal. Real crimes are crimes with or without a state. It takes the state to invent crimes where they didn’t exist before.

Bret: Why not go some place you don’t have to pay taxes? I think it’s a crime to refuse to pay taxes. It’s like saying you’re more important than everyone else. I don’t see why anyone should just get a free ride because they morally object to taxes.

Nikk: Why should I have to leave? You’re begging the question and assuming the government has the right to tax me in the first place.

Bret: No, I’m looking around at the things taxes have paid for and thinking “This wasn’t free.” You should fight to have taxes spent the way you want, not try to justify to yourself that you are above paying taxes. I don’t like knowing my taxes go to bomb foreign nations, I don’t like knowing my taxes go to oil companies and farming corporations. But not paying my taxes isn’t going to fix that.

Nikk: No, it’s saying you don’t have the right to steal from me, just because you’re bigger and stronger than I am. If everyone refused, that would fix the problem.

Bret: No, it would kill millions of Americans who rely on the kindness of others to live. Besides, income tax is much better and more equitable than sales tax.

Nikk: If they’re relying on kindness, then you don’t need to take from anyone by force.

Bret: I don’t think you understood what I said... there are people who rely on a government check to pay for assistance and basic amenities just to live. They won’t find that kindness elsewhere, or else they may find it with conditions through some private means. I guess if you’re trying to push people into the waiting arms of churches, then yeah, this is a brilliant plan.

Nikk: Well, we’re dealing with a different subject. But theft is theft. Are you saying that people don’t want to help anyone, that they’re so bad and selfish that they need to be forced to give their money to the state to do it for them? You’re saying even Wal-mart workers would rather keep their own money than have to pay income taxes, but if that’s true, then the whole system you support is anti-democratic. You can’t have it both ways...

Bret: There are countries that don’t have taxes. Want to guess how they’re doing?

Nikk: You didn’t answer my question, though. If taxes were voluntary, including sales taxes, would anyone pay them? People would give to help others, but that’s not what I’m asking.

Bret: I don’t understand your question.

Nikk: If people would not willingly pay, then the system is anti-democratic to its rotten core.

Bret: If I could kill someone, I would, does that mean it’s oppression to prevent me from doing so? I think you’re mistaking selfishness for democracy. Democracy doesn’t mean we all just give in to whatever we want to do.

Nikk: Not wanting to pay a tax is the same as wanting to murder someone? Most people don’t want to go around killing people, but the vast majority would not pay a tax if doing so was made voluntary, not mandatory, that’s my point.

Bret: That’s weird, because the vast majority don’t pay the vast majority of taxes, so we’re almost there. And I can come up with a thousand things from speeding to littering that would be allowed if people were just given free reign to say “Do whatever you want.”

Nikk: Everyone pays sales tax. Do you think most would if they were asked if they wanted to add another 5, 6, 7 or even 10% to their purchases?

Bret: I not only find this to be am empty argument, I think the ultimate result is so monstrous I don’t even want to bother thinking about it. We can argue all day about how we’re all forced to wear clothes or we’re required to not yell fire in a crowded theatre or whatever miniscule thing it is that makes you think you’re somehow being oppressed. But ultimately the freedoms paid for with taxes are mountains compared to the molehill of “tyranny” that results from the “force” applied to collecting taxes.

Nikk: The speed laws are also anti-democratic and mostly about making money for local government, not about safety. Most people ignore them when there are no cops around, at least when it is reasonable to ignore them. If only a few people are speeding on certain road, then my point about governing ourselves is made.

Bret: Speed laws are largely about safety and fuel consumption. Tickets are about income. Tickets wouldn’t even be written if people followed the clearly stated law. You’re really hitting on a nerve here with me, because you’re talking about something that kills thousands of people a year. You can’t convince me auto safety laws are tyranny, if anything we have far too few.

Nikk: Yeah, thousands die, on GOVERNMENT roads.

Bret: It’s the government’s fault people drive like psychopaths? If only there was some group that would educate people on how to drive and regulate who is allowed to drive... I can’t imagine who could ever do that...

Nikk: I’m in favor of abolishing all state DMVs. They’re just another government extortion racket. Driving your own car is a right, not some government granted privilege.

Bret: I think I have the right to not be endangered by other drivers. Maybe I’m insane for wanting that right, since it requires a governing body that can tell people “you’re too old and blind to drive.”

Nikk: Who said you didn’t? But what’s that got to do with it? I have to keep getting my driver license renewed, even though they no longer test me on anything. In my state, I just send in the fee and get a new one. So how is it about safety? If I fail to renew, though, suddenly I’m a dangerous driver because I don’t have the approval of the state?

Bret: Again, it’s not about what it’s like now, it’s about what could/should be done. I think the licensing process (especially for new drivers) is a joke that should be taken seriously, but my point is that dismantling the DMV system doesn’t bring us a step closer to what I want, it’s a huge step back.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Interview: Nikk Jakson #1 (Part 2 of 3)

Nikk: Well, what other questions can you possibly ask, or what else would you like to know? I have plenty of time...

Bret: Where do you see the US in 10, 20 and 50 years?

Nikk: I’m going to attempt to eat a giant chocolate chip cookie before I answer that.

[time passes]

Nikk: Okay, cookie was too big. I had to break it up into smaller pieces. Just like the U.S. is too big, both geographically and in population. You can’t effectively govern such bigness from a single capital city. In ten years I see the US as a dying superpower, with such massive debt that it must pull out of its overseas military operations. In 20 years, either some form of temporary stability through real reform, or a strong man named Bret Alan comes to power to “solve” our problems [editor’s note: not a role I ever want, and not something I imagine I will ever have to worry about being offered]. In 50 years, I think the country will be broken up into smaller, independent states.

Bret: So which state will attack another first when we break up? My money is on Texas invading Calizona. No no, Calizonada. Hmm…. or Calizonadagon… ooh and Texahomsas.

Nikk: Don’t mess with Texas! I’ve known a couple of people who’ve moved there. They like it. No one will attack; they’ll have learned the foolishness of such things by the failures of the old Federal government’s invasions.

Bret: See, I disagree. European history indicates that people don’t “learn” that lesson. As does Chinese history.

Nikk: The US isn’t Europe.

Bret: True, we didn’t last even a fraction as long as Rome.

Nikk: No, we didn’t, and it would be interesting to see what future historians will say about the United States.

Bret: I think historians will talk about the US like they talk about the Habsburg Empire... which is to say only historians will be talking about us. So you believe in American exceptionalism? Or am I mistaken in my interpretation.

Nikk: To an extent, I do. I think something different was created on this American continent, and those ideals are still there below the surface. What other nation gives at least the lip service that we do to freedom of speech, even offensive speech, as one example. There isn’t the commitment to such things as basic principles anywhere else.

Bret: Well, Japan is pretty free. Holland is pretty free.

Nikk: Okay. I like Japan. Hate speech, openly racist speech, use of certain symbols, denying the Holocaust, in Europe those are an issue. I can’t speak to Holland in particular.

Bret: You know what I find interesting about Japan? While our biggest production industry is weapons, we prevented Japan through government order to not produce weapons and not even keep a standing army, and look at their industry.

Nikk: Big standing armies are bad for economies and bad for liberties.

Bret: Well that’s just it, they aren’t bad for economies (at least in some respects), which is one reason why people support it.For example, if you shuttered the doors of businesses that produced the weapons of war, you’d have hundreds of thousands of people unemployed. You or I would say “They should get another job,” but those jobs don’t exist yet.

Nikk: Oh, I disagree. In the long run they are bad. They cost too much without producing real growth except through government spending, but that party doesn’t last forever.

Bret: I agree, because we’re just dropping our future in the form of explosives over innocent people. How to put this... I’ll approach this another way, do you agree that government can have an effect on an economy?

Nikk: Positive or negative? Both. But anything it does is harmful over the longer term. In the short term, it can create what looks like prosperous times (especially if it has some free markets as the foundation of wealth generation).

Bret: I don’t get it... how can everything it does (or doesn’t do) end up being harmful?

Nikk: Well, it’s best when it’s not doing much of anything. When it does, it creates more problems, though they may not come for generations. I’d throw Social Security in there, as there is no way to meet those obligations, certainly not now with the baby boomers beginning to retire. You can inflate and destroy your currency, or go into more debt and tax young workers at higher rates, but none of those solutions will really fix it without doing even more harm to the economy.

Bret: And yet countries like Japan have effective social security and socialized medicine (not to mention very high life expectancy), despite a stagnant fertility rate. Plenty of countries have very effectively governed themselves into success, which is undeniable on many counts. Norway, Sweden, Finland, and pretty soon we might even see nations that were once thought to be too large to succeed coming into the same success using similar methods, like in China. I don’t understand how you can actually ignore the numerous examples we have of effective governance. Look at the education systems in these nations: run by the state, more successful than in the US, and their teachers are even unionized.

Nikk: Well, the money has to come from somewhere. The US government has tens of trillions of dollars in currently unfunded liabilities with both Social Security and Medicare. Social Security is in the red right now, with less coming in than is going out in retirement checks.
Bret: But the logic of anarchists, libertarians, conservatives, and other “small government” advocates is that those countries should be falling apart like the Soviet Union. Those other countries have higher taxes rates, that’s how they pay for their success. We have pitifully low taxes, especially on our mega-wealthy. I mean. come on, we have people pulling in billion dollar bonuses who add basically no utility or productive capacity to the system. I could be a CEO of any company in this country, and I’m not even that bright.

Nikk: Who says they’re not going to? Other European countries are already seeing the strain and experiencing unrest.

Bret: Other European countries... that foolishly invested in America. You want to talk about a collapsing system, that would be unregulated capitalism.

Nikk: Well, I don’t think higher taxes can solve the enormous obligations that exist under those entitlements. They’re too big. What will happen is that average workers (not the rich) will see more and more taken from their paychecks, as was the “solution” under both President Carter and President Reagan to “save” social security. It worked for a while, but now we face it again. Young workers will start to resent it and resist it.

Bret: I don’t think you’re ever going to see anyone get rid of something they paid into, and if you are seriously expecting the young to get politically active about an issue, you picked the wrong one (though I think picking any would be foolhardy, given the apathy of American youths). You could actually not tax 90% of the population and still pay for social security, to be quite frank. Some very high percentage of the population doesn’t even pay taxes, because they either don’t earn enough or they earn nothing. I don’t know it off-hand, but it’s approaching 40% I believe. Taxes are not why Americans are pressed for cash, they’re pressed for cash because the pool of money that the rich are looting for their undeserved fortunes is the same as the pool that workers are paid from. No one goes bankrupt due to taxes. Hell, half of all bankruptcies in this country are due to medical bills.

Nikk: If they work, they pay the tax to fund Social Security, though they may not end up owing any income tax.

Bret: That’s true, but no one is losing their house because of SS tax. And if they’re that poor, they’re the type of person who can’t afford to pay for their retirement and need SS the most anyway. If you want to save on SS, there are ways to do it, like means testing for benefits.

Nikk: I myself have difficulty paying my rent because of taxes. I’m going to owe again this year, with my income tax at several thousand dollars, and I earn less than $30,000 a year. That money would make an enormous difference to me. I don’t even know at this moment where I’ll come up with the part I’ll have to pay on April 15.

Bret: I think it’s criminal that you work and can’t even get by, but the criminal isn’t the one who’s taking some tiny percent of your paycheck to pay for poor people to eat and heat their homes or for children to get an education and a warm breakfast. The criminal entity is the company who is not paying you a decent wage for your work. The criminal is the jackass who drives a car worth more than your house. And a house worth more than your life is valued by an insurance company.

Nikk: As for means testing Social Security, it won’t ever happen. It was designed to be a univeral program that you “earned”, not welfare. Trying to change it would create a thunderous lobbying effort from senior citizens, many of them well off enough to not really need that SS check every month to survive, but they feel that it’s their’s because they paid into the system for decades.

Bret: I wouldn’t say many are well off enough. Some are, probably not even enough to make SS break even right now without additional funds from non-SS taxes. But it’s just a start. It’s strange that you think means testing is a stumbling block while ending SS entirely is plausible. Besides, in any good system, there will still be people disappointed. My goal isn’t to make everyone happy, it’s to make sure everyone can pursue happiness. Right now, there are entire classes of people and regions of the country that are doomed by our system, or lack thereof. What’s more, I think extreme taxes on the rich solves one of the major problems we both have with government, namely that our politicians are bought and paid for by the wealthy.

Nikk: But yes, I’m against the current system, too.

Bret: I think everyone is, which is why I’m so confounded as to why no one is moving to change it. I imagine it’s a function of the fact that we have no unified direction.

Wednesday Word: Copyrighteousness

Copyrighteousness: belief in moral justification for intellectual property

Discussion: Fishing


Have you ever been fishing?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Top Ten: Songs on Albums of the Same Name

10. Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A Changin’
9. The Clash – London Calling
8. Jethro Tull – Aqualung
7. Michael Jackson – Thriller
6. Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
5. Stevie Wonder – My Cherie Amour
4. John Lennon – Imagine
3. AC/DC – Back in Black
2. The Who – My Generation
1. The Beatles – Let It Be

Interview: Nikk Jakson #1 (Part 1 of 3)

Bret: I’d like to thank Nikk of Skeptical Eye ahead of time (in case he hates me by the end) for being my first interviewee.

Bret: So Nikk, I’m gonna get right to it... what kind of sandwich are you eating?

Nikk: Tuna. I don’t eat it much (mercury levels you know) and I don’t eat albacore as it has about 3 times as much mercury (I think) as other tuna species.

Bret: Delicious, any mayo?

Nikk: I just use generic brand mayo. Sometimes I like to add chopped pickles or relish to my tuna

Bret: Classic. So how would you describe your blog in one sentence which can be easily taken out of context?

Nikk: The Nikk Jakson/Bret Alan fight blog! No, it’s just a blog. I had the name (and owned the domain) long before I even knew it would go with a blog. At first it was going to be just about atheism and James Randi type skeptical subjects. In one sentence? How about a long sentence? “A libertarian, anarchist and left-wing blog that also covers music, food, books and religion, actually just about everything, but never in too serious a manner”. Or I could go with “exposing the machinery of mass conformity.”

Bret: How long have you been an anarchist?

Nikk: Good question! Believe it or not, I was a traditional socialist before I moved to libertarianism. I would say I’ve been an anarchist for about 5 years, but it was an evolution. I slowly moved over to more of a left-libertarian, more socialist anarchism, very anti-corporate and anti-capitalist (state capitalism, that is, though I’m against all kinds).

Bret: How long have you been an atheist?

Nikk: I was a Christian of a very evangelical sort for years. I had an awakening upon reading a book called “The Mind of the Bible Believer” by Edmund D. Cohen. It really went into detail about the way Christianity was really a form of mind control, and a very clever one at that. I still retained some belief in God for a while, but couldn’t get past the problem of evil (still can’t). I would say I’ve been outright atheist for about 6 years, though I’d call myself agnostic right now.

Bret: Would you say your atheism and anarchism are ideologically linked?

Nikk: I thought that for a long time, as if the two were inseparable (perhaps influenced by the fact that almost all anarchists are atheists, and also by Bakunin’s “God and the State”). I once got into an argument with Lew Rockwell about the subject (he’s a Catholic) and he told me basically that he didn’t care what I thought, but as there are many Christian anarchists, and I don’t think a majority of the population will ever become atheists, I wouldn’t say anymore that they are necessarily linked.

Bret: But for yourself, you would say there was a sort of connection?

Nikk: Yes, because if you are against all hierarchies, how can you believe in the ultimate hierarchy of God ruling over everything, like a complete dictator.

Bret: But you would say you’re agnostic now? What to you is the difference between atheism and agnosticism?

Nikk: Okay, sure. Well, I’m no longer as certain as I used to be that the arguments (and they are good ones) of atheists are as unassailable as I thought they were. There is always room for doubt, so I prefer to be called an agnostic. I honestly don’t think we can know for sure one way or the other.

Bret: True, but I find that how someone self-identifies may not always be an indication of their actual actions. If you don’t believe in a god, are you not without theism? I don’t mean to be cornering you on changing how you label yourself, but I guess what I’m asking is... do you pray or go to church or throw spilt salt over your shoulder?

Nikk: I don’t do any of those things, no (well, I do find little prayers on occasion are a hard habit to break from my Christian days, but they’re like playing the lotto; I don’t really believe it will make a difference). I’m an atheist in the sense that an agnostic doesn’t have a belief in a god, but thinks maybe a god might exist.

Bret: Which gods do you hope exist?

Nikk: I said might, not “hope”. However, I hope if there is a god it would be the god of philosophy, outside of any religion, who loves all people and will provide us with life after death. He/she wouldn’t be much of a god worth caring about or hoping for, if there’s no afterlife to right the injustices of life on earth.

Bret: So you’re not keen on reincarnation?

Nikk: I see reincarnation as just another form of life after death..we continue on in some way. I’m don’t feel strongly about it one way or the other. I’m going to do more looking into the work of Ian Stevenson (which I know has critics) which has interested me for years. My girlfriend is a Buddhist, so it’s kind of part of her belief system.

Bret: Supposing you had the choice, what would you reincarnate as?

Nikk: A very healthy, young billionaire! I’m tired of being poor. Actually, the thought of coming back as anything doesn’t appeal to me too much. I don’t want to go through all the nonsense and heartache again. The eternal sleep of the grave almost is more desirable.

Bret: Dark stuff. So, enough religion, I know that isn’t your thing. The Daily Show just ended [11:33 pm] , after being off the air for a week. So as a liberal, I finally know what’s happening in the world and I can ask questions about topics you’re more used to covering. So... Libya... there must be a question in there somewhere... what are your thoughts on all that mess?

Nikk: I don’t like dictators, but I also don’t think it’s any of our business. You can be for the rebels without wanting intervention by the U.S. and its puppet states (and our wars aren’t about freedom and democracy anyway, our leaders have other motives).

Bret: How would you feel about selling cruise missiles to the rebels? That way, instead of spending millions of dollars, we make money AND fight against dictatorships.

Nikk: That would still be by our government, which would still be intervening, so no, I don’t think I’d be for that. I’m not a pacifist, but I don’t think we should be selling weapons of death either.

Bret: Well, in an anarchy, it wouldn’t be up to us, it would be up to arms manufacturers, right?

Nikk: Well, if the whole world was anarchist...No, I think it WOULD be up to us, or to those who owned the arms company, which would be the workers in an anarchy. Without the national security state to support it, the arms industry would collapse as we know it. We would still need some weapons for defense against foreign enemies, and there might be the temptation to sell arms to various rebel groups around the world, but it might not be wise. Better to live in peace with all nations but be ready to defend yourself if attacked.

Bret: Well I’ll be honest, if there was no one manufacturing the weapons of war, that sounds like the industry I would break into, since it would lack competition. Why would ruthless men cease wanting things like bombers and tanks and unmanned Predator drones?

Nikk: Oh, they wouldn’t cease wanting it, I suppose, but without a state, what’s the point.?

Bret: Without a state, who would stop them? It wouldn’t be a stateless world for long, I guess is what I’m saying, unless we managed to make all people “wise.” I agree, I would like to live peacefully with people (especially after the people I hate are dead), and it is wise to seek peace, but there is a type of peace on the other side of war which cannot be achieved through talks, or do you disagree on that point?

Nikk: Without a state, who would stop any sort of crime? Anarchy doesn’t mean there aren’t rules of conduct. Society is quite capable of managing without rulers who impose their values and laws on everyone. But I don’t think the existence of nation states has lead to peace, just the opposite. I don’t think war is necessary to achieve peace, you don’t need to “defeat” an “enemy”, though you may have to repel them. Some modern wars may or may not have been unavoidable, but were talking about a world where states are the only governing systems, and they’ve proven their capacity for mass murder over and over.

Bret: That first question is a good one, who would stop any sort of crime without government? I don’t think a nation or even a state is necessary for enforcement of rules, as humans did it for thousands of years before the first true nations were formed. But what would be your ideal model for mitigating power in such a way as to prevent abuse?

Nikk: Well, these are good questions. I will say this first, and that is you don’t have to know all the details or provide complete solutions before you can be against something or know it’s just wrong. There were atheists long before there was any scientific theory of evolution, and the gods must have seemed like the only explanation for life and complexity, yet thousands of years ago, there were atheists who knew god wasn’t a good explanation for anything. As for what I do think, first, the current system sucks, and it’s evil. Hierarchies are wrong. You have to have decentralized democracy on a small scale, such as decision making in the workplace, where workers govern themselves.

Bret: I don’t want to go off on a religious tangent... but I’m going to. Atheism is actually not that old, and it did appear right alongside the rise of scientific answers. Are you speaking of philosophers like Epicurus as “atheists” in the modern sense of not believing in gods?

Nikk: Well, go back to more modern times if you want. David Hume didn’t have a good explanation for the existence of complex organs such as eyes, but he was no doubt an atheist (many atheists weren’t open about it when it was too risky to proclaim such defiant unbelief, so they called themselves deists, or whatever). My point is, you don’t have to provide all the answers before you declare you no longer believe in something.

Bret: Would you say it’s important then for anarchists to focus on finding those answers?

Nikk: Of course. Part of the answer we know already, it’s just the details that have to be worked out. We know we have to built alternative social structures to the state that can exist alongside it and eventually fulfill many of its functions after the state has been dissolved or overthrown.

Bret: Part of why I find Skeptical Eye frustrating is that I see more criticism than I see problem solving. I shouldn’t be surprised given the name (it’s not Solution Eye). But I see a fundamental difference between criticizing religion without all the facts and criticizing government without hardly any answers. If I stop believing in gods, the sun will rise tomorrow, gravity will still hold us down to the Earth, babies will still be born, flowers will still bloom... basically nothing depends on our religions. Some stupid people might lose their minds, but that doesn’t seem too different than the situation we have now regarding religion. Governments, on the other hand, do things, and the roles they play won’t continue to be filled without tangible solutions. What’s more, everything I have ever seen regarding anarchism relies upon models which require privatization (which is code for, “You pay for everything yourself”). The biggest problem I see in anarchy is this: how does an anarchy handle millions of orphans, millions of people who are too disabled to even breathe on their own and whose very ability to live is funded by taxes (or as it’s called on SE, “thievery”). I guess my question is this... what is wrong with stealing (if you insist on that language) from people who have so much in order to solve the problems which private charities and churches have failed to handle throughout history?

Nikk: Well, I don’t think the state has solved those problems either. We have inequality now, and we have to look at why we have it. Taxation in the arbitrary manner it’s done, where basically the government decides how much of the money I earn I get to keep, is wrong. I don’t believe justice can be achieved through unjust means. However, the system of state capitalism we have now is the root problem, so I don’t really disagree with many left-wing critics of the super rich and their enormous weath. How did they get so weathly? Most likely through some form of exploitation or state-granted priveledge. I want to address your point about criticism without solutions, though. Part of my aim, or any anarchist’s aim, is to undermine the legitimacy of the state in the minds of people. Anarchy has no hope if people continue to give legitimacy to the state because of continuing propaganda that says states have rights that no one else has and that the legal monopoly on the use of force is somehow moral and right. People have to doubt and question the existing system before they can begin to see there might be an alternative. Capitalism and statism are the problem. The solution is liberty AND equality. You can’t have one without the other. The state cannot provide or guarantee it because it exists to give special rights to a ruling class. All states have done this, even “socialist” ones.

Bret: I’m not sure I really asked about equality, simply that there are people whose very survival depends upon the state, and these are people who have fallen through the cracks of the systems I have seen various libertarian and anarchist thinkers say will take care of people in absence of government. Not really a question, more a critique.

Nikk: Fair enough. But when we have a society that is based more on cooperation than on the dog eat dog competition we have now, we’ll have far less poverty, and I don’t believe anyone will starve of go without basic needs. It will be a less cruel society.

Bret: Well, time to steer this interview into the lightning round, since I bet you’re losing interest. I’m going to go through a laundry list of issues, and I want you to give simple and straight forward answers regarding your stance, don’t worry about explaining it. And remember, you aren’t running for office, so no bullshit.

Bret: Abortion: yay or nay?

Bret: Abortion: yay or nay?

Nikk: Abortion? I’ve said before that it is NOT an issue about the humanness of the fetus, but about the right to control your own body. A woman has the right to expel an unwanted parasite. It’s that simple. Whether she should or not, that’s another question. I believe in the right to abort a pregnancy for any reason.

Bret: So... can I get a yay for abortion?

[long pause]

Bret: Kidding... Unions, yay or nay?

Nikk: As long as they’re not public schoolteacher’s unions! Yes, I believe in unions, but more, I believe in the right of workers to their workplace. It belongs to those who are the real creators of the wealth. I’m a real big fan of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World).
Bret: I’ll resist the urge to point out the hypocrisy of saying it’s okay for a government to step in and tell people how they can organize... failed. I’m so weak.

Nikk: Well, I’m just against the coercion of the public school system, so its teachers aren’t much of a concern of mine. Compulsory education is anti-human and anti-child, and exists to prepare wage slaves for the capitalist system. It’s also funded through property taxation, which is immoral and makes the government a landlord and the homeowner merely a tenant. No one should be forced to pay for a service they don’t use, either.

Bret: That’s not how the lightning round works, cheater!

Nikk: Well, I’m sorry!

Bret: How about child pornography, yay or nay? I’m determined to just get a simple answer on one of these.

Nikk: Child porn violates the rights of children, as they don’t give their consent to be in it. It’s a form of very cruel exploitation, of course.

Bret: So nay on child porn?

Nikk: I answered that.

Bret: You said nay? Or you said child porn violates the rights of children... blah blah blah. Just say nay, it’s not a trick.

Nikk: I’m against child pornography, yes. I’m also against expanding its definition to things where no real child is ever involved.

Bret: You’re over-thinking this.

Nikk: No. The law has tried to claim it’s illegal to depict children in sex acts in a comic book that is entirely the creation of someone’s imagination, for example. I wouldn’t be in favor of such comic books, or novels, or whatever. But you can’t arrest people for thought crimes.

Bret: Torturing Bradley Manning, yay or nay?

Nikk: Nay on the torture of real heroes.

Bret: If you could have lunch with anyone, who would it be?

Nikk: Dead, Karl Marx, to ask him if there’s any substance behind that enormous beard. What was up with that beard?

Bret: I think him and Darwin were having a Satanic beard-off.

Nikk: Living? Someone who will pay for a very nice restaurant. I’m too broke to afford a good meal

Nikk: Dead, second choice, Isaac Asimov. He would be fun.

Bret: How many free meals are you expecting here? Maybe you are left-wing.

Nikk: At least one! When do we eat, Brett?

Bret: We just did, you had a tuna sandwich.

[End of part 1 of 3... the interview went for hours and stretched 18 pages single spaced. Intense.]

Monday, March 21, 2011

Music Monday: Steve Miller Band

Some of the most well recognized classic rock staples of the 70s and 80s almost never were when Steve Miller broke his neck in a car accident in 1972 and then contracted hepatitis. Following a year of recuperation, Steve Miller managed to produce his best-known work, releasing several albums and singles that would go platinum during what was arguably the richest era in rock history. Featuring an ever changing cycle of studio musicians, the Steve Miller Band still tours and releases new material, with their next album set to drop this coming April.







Sunday, March 20, 2011

Two Dudes: Black and White and Red

Interviews

I can’t imagine anyone wants to interview me, but I am now actively looking for individuals who would like to be interviewed. The format will have to be through some sort of instant messaging service (AIM, Yahoo, ICQ, MSN, Facebook, whatever) or just through e~mail.

So why would you want to be interviewed by me? I can offer you two perks:

1. Publicity (though not fame)
2. The last word in the interview

Some clarification:

I will link to any of your sites or blogs in the interview. I reserve the right to correct spelling and simple grammatical errors in your written answers (I will not draw attention to it, I will simply correct it when published).

If interested, please send e~mail requests to: AnythingButTheist@gmail.com

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Friday, March 18, 2011

Israel/Palestine Update

I spent the last post mostly criticizing Muslims, so I think it’s only fair I share my views on the Israel/Palestine… let’s call it a “situation.”

I’m married to a woman who was raised Jewish and she has many friends and family who live in Israel, so my Facebook feed blew up this past week regarding the death of 5 Israelis. After almost a week of it, I finally commented on the feed of someone who had been particularly obsessive with the calls for violent retaliation, and I commented back and forth with people the entire day.

I don’t think Israel has a right to exist. Period, the end. There isn’t any more about the situation that I need to know. The Jews who forced out hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were in the wrong from the beginning, they were in the wrong when they expanded their borders in 1967, and they’ve been wrong in their violent retaliation for perceived threats or acts against Israeli occupiers. I couldn’t have any less sympathy for the Jews living there, and the only basic right I would afford them is the right to leave with their lives.

This pretty much puts me at odds with every Jew I have ever met, and in their mind it aligns me with terrorists. I was called a “rabid Jew hater” by an asshole who was at my wedding, and I was told by another wedding invitee that I was unable to understand the situation because I didn’t have friends and family in Israel (though I do, if you count in-laws, and my wife is an Israeli citizen).

This is basically the problem faced by anyone in the West who tries to evaluate this “situation” (which is just a euphemism for “on-going war crime”). If you don’t fawn over the poor victimized Jews who kill 10 Palestinians for every dead Israeli, you’re an anti-Semite Nazi terrorist sympathizer. What’s more, they’re say that by virtue of not being Jewish, I can’t really understand what’s going on.

News flash: when you’re too close to a “situation,” you are going to be completely and utterly unable to view it without bias. What’s more, just simply siding with a group because they share your ethnic background is basically the most racist thing you can do, especially considering the loss of life involved here. If Israelis were being slaughtered left and right while being walled in by Muslim communities and cut off from medicine and basic amenities, I would say they’re the victims, but this is the situation of the Palestinians, not the Israelis.

What’s more, the US has sent billions of dollars to Israel, not to mention undeclared nuclear weapons. If you pay taxes in the US, you are an accessory to a brutal massacre at the hands of Israeli “allies.” I don’t see what makes them an ally, by the way, because it’s not as though Israel ever chipped in and helped the US. Israel even accidently sunk a US ship (the USS Liberty) during the Six Day War in 1967, but all was forgiven, despite 34 deaths.

Israel couldn’t be a more racist country. It is a nation founded on racism and one whose entire policy is based on racism. The formation of Israel was largely pushed through by European nations in the UN that were sick of Jews being in Europe and they didn’t want them to return to their homes after WWII. It’s sort of like the white supremacist movement to ship all the black people in America back to Africa.

There’s also a crazy religious component, as it is argued that most of the support for Israel in the US comes from evangelical Christians who believe Jews have to be in control of Jerusalem in order for Big Daddy Jesus to return. US support for Israel is essentially a multi-billion dollar attempt to help a prophecy along.

Meanwhile, millions of Palestinians have been displaced and oppressed at the hands of Israelis, while the US pays the bill. We can’t afford to pay teachers a decent salary, our roads are full of pot-holes, bridges are crumbling, dams are eroding, and we’re sending billions of dollars to a bunch of Jews to oppress and kill Muslims. Brilliant.

Perhaps the most important lesson one can take from this is that no race is any better than another, and that people don’t learn. Who would have ever guessed the Jewish people would go from how they were treated in the Holocaust to being an oppressor using the same tactics just a decade later?

“Never forget” indeed; Jews clearly remember how it’s done.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Atheism and Islam

I was thinking today about Draw Mohammed Day and had to check to see if it was March 20th or May 20th (it’s in May… I always get those months mixed up). And it occurred to me how little there is in the way of anti-Muslim material among atheists.

There’s probably a lot of reasons for this. For one, most blogs are done by people from the Western World (whatever that is), especially English speaking nations, myself included. Islam simply isn’t very influential where we are. Even when I lived down the street from a mosque and a madrasah, Islam just didn’t really affect me. Even the convenience store I went to was run by Muslims and catered largely to a Muslim crowd, and they had some of the best beef jerky I ever tasted.

[Note the obligatory nice thing before I launch into sharp criticism.]

But let’s be honest, if we did live in a Muslim nation, chances are we wouldn’t blog about it, for fear of our lives. Sometimes I see people bending over backwards to try to defend Islam, but they just deserve the same rights as anyone, including the right to be criticized. The problem is, because reasonable people decided to foolishly defend a violent religion, there are primarily rabid Christians who are criticizing Islam, and they do it all wrong.

Yes, the Quran is full of violence, even more than the blood-soaked Bible, but like most people, Muslims aren’t very good at following their book to the letter. Just because I don’t want to live under Sharia law doesn’t mean Muslims should be treated any differently than Christians, or atheists for that matter.

In short, Islam deserves heaps of criticism, but what it’s been getting is largely just a violation of the rights of individual Muslims. Hauling in Muslims to courts like some sort of witch trial, as Republicans are currently advocating, isn’t going to accomplish anything but to strike a blow against our constitution and the ideals we claim to uphold. You can criticize someone without violating the basic principles that made you correct in the first place.

There is something fundamentally better about the culture I am a part of when compared to fundamentalist Muslim nations. Women are more free, homosexuals are more free, minority populations in general are more free… but the key word is “more,” because I’m not from a perfect culture. There are still things to change here, and I don’t think I have an impact on non-English speaking people in countries that commit what I see to be atrocities.

This is why atheists tend to set their sights on Christianity. You talk about what you know, what’s close to you, and what impacts you directly. I suppose if you are a Christian, you have to really reach to pretend you’re being oppressed, and Muslims just seem to fit the bill as being dangerous and hostile enough to warrant being the target of the inherent need in all of us to scapegoat someone.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My First Challenge With Atheism

When I first came to the conclusion that I was an atheist around the age of 13, the only annoying thing about it was that I couldn’t get out of going to church.

My family went on Saturday afternoons, which is arguably worse than Sunday morning, because while my parents sleep in, I have always woken up early for pretty much my entire life except the 4 years I was in high school and some of the early years of college. Today, I rarely sleep in past 10, and I’m usually up around 8 or 9, despite being unemployed and the fact that I often stay up past 2am.

Bah, what is more boring that writing about sleeping, I think I’m nodding off already…

When I was a freshman in High School, I began my local Catholic church’s long process of Confirmation. Most kids get confirmed around 13, but for some reason Our Lady of Mount Carmel had to be different. Not only was it later, it was longer. It would take 2 years, each requiring 56 hours of community service, for a total of 112. It just sounds like a criminal sentence, right?

I had to go to these stupid weekly meetings every Wednesday night, and I always missed South Park because of them. South Park would air again at something like 1 AM, so I would stay up late until after my parents went to sleep and sneak to the basement and watch it with headphones on.

Lessons learned: staying up late, ability to sneak around, willingness to disobey parents

Then there was this stupid weekend retreat that lasted from Friday night until Sunday afternoon. I knew only a few kids from my church. What’s weird was, the only community of people who ever mocked me and made me feel unwelcome in my whole life, despite going to four different school systems for grade school alone (we moved a lot), was church kids.

They all watched movies like Billie Madison and Adam Sandler comedy CDs, and they would quote them constantly, but my parents wouldn’t let me watch or listen that stuff, so I was always out of the loop. I ended up just talking to girls about Bible stories during free time.

Lessons learned: the cool kids like raunchy humor, and girls love it when you talk with them about non-disgusting topics

So anyway, we take this gross old bus to a cabin out in the middle of nowhere (it was Indiana, so we didn’t have to go far). I brought a lot of books, and I got a lot of reading done. I also got offered weed for the first time. Some kids in my bunk had made a pipe out of a Coke can and had been passing it around while I read about ten feet away. I declined, being young and naïve.

A day later, they were caught smoking just outside the dining hall.

Lesson learned: keep it on the down-low

What I probably most remember about this trip was having what I perceive to be my first real debate with a Christian, a man whose name I forget, though he was my Confirmation team leader or something… sort of like an AA sponsor. You were supposed to be able to call him if you felt like Satan was closing in on you or something, I suppose.

He noticed that during all of the breaks, I would retire to an air-conditioned area with a book and just read, rather than socialize with all these kids I basically didn’t know. I wish I remember what I was reading, because he made a comment on how that was “some heady stuff.” I remember thinking it wasn’t.

He then asked me all kinds of questions, and I could tell he thought I had doubt. And like a shark who smells blood, he came at me… verbally.

I wasn’t ready for it. My only understanding of atheism to that point consisted of reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and some George Carlin material. For the most part, I was a neophyte. What’s more, he was one of those slimey Christians who puts words in your mouth and doesn’t really listen, they just obtusely steer the conversation to territory that is familiar to them.

I remember at one point saying something about how there’s essentially no difference between Buddha and Jesus: they both have a lot of wise sayings attributed to them, they both lived a long time ago, they both provide hope to those who fear death… I thought I made a convincing case, frankly.

He came at me with, [and I will never forget this, as long as I live] “But Buddha wasn’t God’s only son who gave his life for us.” I was so dumbfounded. I forget how I responded, and I’m at a loss even now. How do you debate with someone who is so blinded by their own bias that they can’t even imagine a scenario where they are wrong?

Lesson learned: you can’t fix stupid

Most of the community service was done doing free manual labor for the church. Between that and my Catholic High School’s requirement of doing community service to graduate (and it wouldn’t be able to overlap, because I was confirmed by the time I was a Junior, which was when my school required some double digit amount I now forget).

Lesson learned: I hate helping people for free, and I hate people in general

There was an attendance requirement for the weekly meetings. Toward the end, I found out how we were allowed to miss two meetings. So, the last two times my parents dropped me off, I walked into the building until my parents drove off, then I went and sat in a secluded place outside the church, set my alarm to warn me when the meeting would be almost up, and I read. Before the meeting let out, I snuck in a back way, hung out in the entry until the meeting let out, then left through the front door to my parents’ car.

Lesson learned: it’s easier and more fun to do the bare minimum

Finally, I am almost ready to get confirmed, just one little snag: I don’t have a sponsor. I can’t remember if that was the name for it, but it might have been something else (like mentor, though that wasn’t it). The person was supposed to be over 18, and I didn’t know anyone that old. Everyone else was using a relative, but there was some arbitrary rule that it couldn’t be one of your parents. Since I had no relatives who lived in state, I was pretty well screwed.

So, I literally confronted the guy running the confirmation program (not a priest, so I felt safe being in a room alone with him). I explained my situation and bluntly told him that if I wasn’t allowed to ask my friend who was 17, and who had been confirmed years ago at around 13 like most normal Catholics, that I just wasn’t going to be able to be confirmed. He tried to play hardball with me, but I put on some theatrics about how this was such a huge deal to me but that I simply had no contact with older Catholics. He gave in.

My friend knew I had no interest in Catholicism. He was sort of on the fence himself, for that matter. But my parents offered us a surf ’n turf dinner… so that pretty much sealed the deal and made him forget his qualms with being an accessory to my mockery of a sacred religious rite.

The ceremony took forever, I got pimples where the bishop rubbed oil on my forehead, and the dinner was delicious.

Lesson learned: you’ll dine on steak and lobster if you’re a whore

Luckily, the whole thing went off without a hitch, and an agreement I made with my mother finally took effect. I bargained that if I got confirmed, I wouldn’t have to go to church anymore. While I still got dragged on certain holidays and once while in Rome, the hundreds of times I didn’t have to go have totaled literally days worth of time I could spend doing something other than sitting in a hard wooden pew judging which of the girls around me I would bang.

Lesson learned: only being able to see the upper body of women will turn you into a tits man
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