Wednesday, June 30, 2010

WTF Moment of the Month

Wednesday Word: Ninjavitis

Ninjavitis: the leading cause of tooth loss among martial artists


If there’s one thing I really understand, it’s religion. And yet, like a biologist who is unable to truly define what “life” means, I am at a loss for formulating a perfect, succinct definition of religion. Like a biologist, I have to “know it when I see it,” and my view will not be the same as everyone else’s.

I find some people who reject the idea of gods to be religious, in some ways I might even include myself. As it turns out, gods are not a necessary component of religion. Religion doesn’t even need mythology.

We tend to think of religion in the modern sense, limited as we are by the handful of faiths we come in contact with (less than a dozen, really, of the thousands that have existed). We think of their shared characteristics as the foundations of faith, but the truth is that the idea of gods is no more common or required for a religion than dietary restrictions, ethical guidelines, or even genital mutilation.

Like most people who spend time studying religion from a secular perspective, I have settled on the conclusion that the only thing all religions have in common is ritual. Whether you believe there’s a daddy in heaven watching over us, or that scores of gods are enacting divine soap operas, or perhaps that everything has a spark of the divine, or even that Xenu left us here trillions of years ago… there are rituals you can perform that will “help.”

Religion is sort of like the history of human understanding. Religion is all about cause and effect. Before the monotheistic faiths took over, one of the primary religious ideas in the West was Cosmic Sympathy, the idea that all things are connected. It explained how people could tell the future by reading tea leaves or animal entrails or the flights of birds. It was the basis of astrology and all kinds of magic.

The lunacy! Chew on Willow bark and your headache goes away. Insane witch doctors!

As it turns out, lots of rituals “work” in one way or another. Sometimes we manage to figure out (through trial and error… lots of error) that certain natural substances have interesting effects on us. Sometimes the mechanism of action is nothing more than simple psychology, which today we would chalk up to the placebo effect.

Science is almost a religion. Science changes far too quickly to be recognizable as a religion. If religion were ice, science would be water. Some people treat aspects of science like religion, especially medicine. Plenty of people dutifully take their pills on a regular schedule with faith in the doctor and pharmacist. Some of them are taking placebos and don’t even know it… which is actually part of why it works.

There are also lots of different ways of classifying ritual. There is superstition, which I like to define as “rituals the observer finds ridiculous.” There are rites of passage, which are some of my least favorite rituals. I particularly hate the rituals of initiation or hazing, but I am also annoyed by transition ceremonies (particularly graduations and other self-congratulatory embellishment spectacles). Even brushing your teeth may be seen as a ritual of hygiene.

All rituals work. I may not successfully make someone experience pain with a voodoo doll, but the ritual itself provides the practitioner tangible utility in the form of emotional release. My prayer to cure someone’s disease may not elongate their life, but it will ease my own stress. I could choose to perform any ritual I wanted, and the more I believe in it, the more I gain. Ritual is the natural human anti-anxiety.

So what of atheists? What are our rituals? Well, for one, some of us feel compelled to comment on religious news of the day. Some throw rocks at churches. Some talk to friends and family about our lack of belief.

Sure, we probably don’t pray or look down on gay people, but most of us hope for the impossible and plenty look down on religious people. Atheism can easily be a religion, and it can even be a faith if one lets it.

If “I see no evidence for gods,” turns into “There is no God,” you have stepped into the circle with those making unverifiable claims. Who is worse, the Christian who looks down on atheists, or the atheist who looks down on Christians? To me, it is the atheist, because Christians are often told they are better by their books and preachers. What excuse does the atheist have?

The most common ritual in religion is one that many people have heard of, but rarely think about or understand. The Scapegoat ritual has deep origins and is present in every ideology that has ever been formulated by mankind.

Playing on the cause and effect nature of magic, a scapegoat is something that we are told must be destroyed. If it is destroyed, good things will happen. The rains will come, the sun will rise, all people will live together in peace and harmony forever and forever. This last one is actually a tenant of the religion of some Atheists.

“If only religion were gone,” we’re told, “the world would be [insert suspect claim of utopian society here].” Getting rid of religion won’t do a damn thing if Atheism acts precisely like a religion.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Nothing At All

I am not one of those kinds of atheists who believes. When theists claim atheism is a faith, I understand what they’re saying, because I have also witnessed religious non-believers.

I make a clear distinction between atheism and Atheism. Simple atheism is nothing: it is not a faith, it is not a religion, it is really not even a stance so much as a lack of one. As far as I know, everyone is born this way. So far, no one has popped out of the womb with their hands clasped, head bowed, muttering Hail Mary’s (maybe because no one has shoved a rosary up there since “The Exorcist” in 1973?).

While babies are born atheist, they are also igtheist: completely lacking any understanding of what gods are. Once the concept of gods is explained, one ceases to be an igtheist, but rejecting the idea as false is not what it takes to be an Atheist.

Atheism, also known as Atheism™ and Athei$m, is essentially a religion. There are books, t-shirts, mouse pads, coffee mugs, and inflatable Richard Dawkins sex dolls to purchase. There are weekly meetings one ought to attend in order to show support for those like you, and even special classes for your kids that will teach them how to be just like mommy and daddy.

However, atheists have no interest in that stuff. Personally, I was turned off by religions for doing those very same things. I can’t even say “there are no gods,” because I can’t prove that. I have simply never experienced anything divine, nor has anyone presented me convincing evidence that there are deities of any sort.

Like most atheists, I am as unimpressed by the idea of religion as I am by the idea of gods. I think religion is a fundamentally flawed system. I understand religions brought us this far, but there is no evidence it can take us much further. Religion was the cradle of philosophy, but we have long since out grown our crib.

I see no future in Atheism, only the forming of a new army to square off on the ideological battlefield. I prefer the idea of being a part of no group but the whole of humanity, the only group that really means anything. Sure, most of us are nuts and think we are talking to magical beings, but try getting dolphins to make you a sandwich or letting a dog proof-read your blog post.

Until my non-hominid society materializes, we must make due. And yes, I consider vegetarians to be traitors, and I feel I should legally be allowed to eat them because I am technically higher on the food chain.

Friday, June 25, 2010


When discussing the creation of the universe, smart theists get really metaphorical. In famous debates over the big-bang, the most common question it all boils down to has been: what made the gas or singularity, or what caused the explosion or expansion?

Theists smile triumphantly upon saying it, and feel that because there is something unknown or poorly understood, they have found a wedge in which to insert God (always “the God,” never any of the thousands of other deities humans have come up with).

And yet, many an atheist has wondered: where does God come from? There is never an answer.

Since atheism is claimed by others to be a religion, I have long felt it useful to consider it as such… so long as it was convenient to me at that moment (why should Christians get all the fun?). Since religion is made up of abstract ideas, I shall create my own concept.

Suppose there is such a thing as the divine, and it created the universe. For simplicity, we’ll assume this is the fabled One God of the Abrahamic faiths. While one may choose to aspire to understand and worship this God, I choose instead to worship that which brought that God into existence.

I call this process: theogenesis.

I can’t explain to you precisely how it works. It’s very mysterious, you see, but I think a cow is involved somehow. This process demands no worship, either, it merely calls out to me to be acknowledged. I see you, theogenesis. I know people want to deny you occur, but I know you are there because something exist without being created.

Why worship God when you can worship that which created Him?

“But Ginx, before God there was nothing.”

Sounds good to me. I shall worship Nothing.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Two Dudes: Blind Mystery

English: Learn to Speak It

Are we going to make language skills the standard of citizenship? Here’s what ordinary Americans have to say about it:

You know what gets my goose? Mexicans. I can’t reckon a single gosh dern word they’s sayin’. If yer comin to this here country, learn the language!

Yeah, cause like, I can’t stand, like, when you’re talking to, like, someone who doesn’t, like, speak English good, like, it’s all, like, so slow to, like, even say a single… what is that called… it’s like… oh right, sentence. What was I, like, saying again?

LOL rite, omg its tuff 2 spk /w teh mexis. Y cant evry1 jus use eng? WTF is /w “jears” instd of “years”? ROFL, laff at own jke.

Seriously, what the fuck? If you’re fucking going through the fucking effort of fucking coming to this fucking country, learn to fucking speak English mother fuckers!

I-i-i-it’s v-v-v-v-v-very diff-f-f-f-f-cul-l-l-lt f-f-f-f-f-for m-m-m-m-me t-t-t-t-to sum… sum… summon the p-p-p-p-p-p-patience t-t-t-t-to listen to p-p-p-p-people wh-h-h-h-ho d-d-d-d-d-don’t s-s-s-sp-sp-sp-speak English.

I have news for you: if they did a grammar and speech tests for voting, no Republican would ever win again.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Treaty of Tripoli

Pirates have not always been so romanticized as they are these days (though Somalia may have muddied those waters…). In the 18th century, when America was in its infancy, piracy was actually a major problem.

One of the primary pirate outposts was the North African port of Tripoli, in modern day Libya. Muslim pirates based in Tripoli would not only steal the ships and cargo of American and European ships, they would hold the passengers ransom and sell into slavery those without families to pay the exorbitant bounties for their release.

Needless to say, this made trade risky, unpleasant, and expensive. So what did America do? This was the 1700’s, so they didn’t roll in with their massive fleet and install a huge invading force. We had no desire for a military engagement, so we paid them off. The US paid money for safe passage of ships flying the US flag. (Americans thought of it as tolls, the Barbary coast pirates saw it as tribute).

But this isn’t a post about foreign policy. As stated earlier, the pirates were Muslims. They wanted nothing to do with making pacts with a Christian nation. Luckily, our forefathers wanted nothing to do with being a Christian nation, so they had no qualms with Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli:

Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims],—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Muslim] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

In other words: we understand you’re Muslim and you have problems with the Christian nations of Europe. We’re nothing like them, please work with us.

What I find most interesting is that the Treat of Tripoli had to be ratified by the House and Senate. Guess how many of the 339 Representatives and Senators in 1797 agreed to these terms?

Answer: all of them. It was the third unanimous vote in US history.

Wednesday Word: Maizing

Maizing: a form of hazing involving an ear of corn...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Two Dudes: Santa

Your Powers Are Weak, Old Man

One of the classic arguments against divine worship is theodicy, or divine justice. Epicurus is famous for formulating the dilemma:

1. Evil exists
2. God is incapable of preventing evil OR God does not wish to prevent evil
3. God either cannot or will not prevent evil

Many would say a God who does not prevent evil is not worthy of praise. Others would say God is capable but chooses not to for some mystical reason we cannot know. This is not a logical argument, only a plea for ignorant acceptance of faith.

The fact is, Christian theology makes it quite clear God should be able to have a place free of evil. In fact, Christians call that place heaven, and they believe everyone who is good is destined to go there. This leaves one wondering: what of this life, here and now?

This world, according to the Bible, is a place of vast amounts of magic. “Miracles,” or “signs” are magical events meant to dazzle people into belief. There is one magical act in the New Testament that stands out to me as the most obvious limitation on God’s powers: the crucifixion.

What is the crucifixion all about? It is a magical sacrifice. Jesus, the exalted and pure lamb of God, is sacrificed by mankind in absolution for the sins of all humanity. That is the explicit description as taken from the Bible, and this is the core belief of Christianity. It is the basis for salvation ideology.

But what does this say about God? Why does God need to perform magic? Why can’t God simply speak and make it so, as during the creation of the universe? It seems to me that the Christian God is little more than a demon, playing by larger rules outside of His control.

This is not an unusual idea, especially for pagans and Gnostics. The non-monotheistic faiths all describe deceptive spirits, from dualism to the vast plethora of deities presented in the various pantheons of polytheists. Gnostics and other dualistic faiths often attribute the creation of the universe not to the power that represents good, but instead claim matter is a product of evil.

I used to ponder whether the Christian deity was good or evil, and I have finally settled on Him being little more than a social construct, but I feel this is optimistic because Yahweh is probably a deceitful liar who must stoop to settling for the praise of mortals while leading them on a campaign to forget those who outrank Him.

If you’re going to worship something, take a look around and decide whether the creator is truly the one worthy of praise. Better yet, ask yourself: what part of any of this even seems designed? If we are living in the product of divine handicraft, I should hope God spends some time studying His mistakes before trying this again.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Israeli Propaganda: So Hilarious It's Scary

This “news article” has got to be one of the most unbelievable things I have ever read. I imagine the cover of this newspaper has a picture of Obama shaking hands with a Nazi who is an alien from outer space, and they have a baby together that weighed 200 pounds at birth.

Highlights include:

"The American President told me in confidence that he is a Muslim," said Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Nile TV.

"It is insane, it is sick. Relations between Jerusalem and Washington are simply disastrous; the situation has never been so dangerous. This US President wants to establish a Palestinian state at any price and hand them Jerusalem on a silver platter." [says “one Netanyahu confidant”]

"Israel's relations with the US are at a low point, and Obama poses a danger to Israel," wrote Nahum Barnea in the nation's biggest newspaper Yediot Ahronot.

"The Americans know very well that Israeli construction has always been happening in East Jerusalem [which is against agreed upon policy] and building in Jewish neighborhoods has never been frozen [also against policy]," said another official. "The Americans use excuses like [the Jewish neighborhood of] Ramat Shlomo and the Shepherd Hotel [another Jewish building project in East Jerusalem] to confront Netanyahu."

"Jerusalem was, is and always will be the united capital of Israel," said Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. "Construction in all parts of Jerusalem will continue."

if Obama continues to underestimate Israeli resolve on Jerusalem, his peace efforts are doomed to failure.

I find it funny that Israel is worried about something I wish would happen, though I know never will.

Two Dudes: Drinking

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Top Ten: Top Ten Lists

I was looking over my blog when I realized I had ten Top Ten lists… which were calling out to me to order them into a new Top Ten. So here they are, my Top Ten list of Top Ten lists.

10. Top Ten: Favorite Single-Player/Cooperative Games – I planned to do a second list for multiplayer games, but I realized I shouldn’t delve any deeper into video games on my blog. I dunno… it just seems so… masturbatory. I'm also not sure I want people to know I played WoW [oops].

9. Top Ten: Songs About Sex – Sex is great, but songs about sex just make me uncomfortable… especially when my mom is in the car… and she’s singing along to it. This is why Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” did not make the list. *shiver* True story.

8. Top Ten: Other Gods – An ambitious list, it turned out ridiculously biased towards Greek and Nordic mythology. This is an idea I will have to revisit and revise.

7. Top Ten: Songs About Labor – Would have placed higher, but I deducted points for the Men at Work song having very little to do with work. It’s not “Top Ten Songs and Bands That Are Vaguely Related To Labor.” I find it ironic that when it came to the labor list, I got lazy.

6. Top Ten: Songs About Flying – Also known as the list of songs radio stations wouldn’t play for a while after September 11th.

5. Top Ten: Burning Songs – I burned my hand last year, so I felt compelled to do this list of songs about burning.

4. Top Ten: Songs About Drugs – This was an under-handed lob. Anyone can come up with songs alluding to drug use. In fact, I doubt anyone would want a record collection that contained only music written while completely straight. Even Clapton’s stuff started to lose its luster after he went clean.

3. Top Ten: Songs Containing Innuendo – You may be thinking, “Innuendo?” No, in your end-o. This is really the first and better of the two “Top Ten: Songs about Sex” list. The innuendo is thinly veiled at best. Still, a solid list.

2. Top Ten: Songs Containing Religion – A decent list, and the one that kicked off my short-lived top ten series. I had set out to prove that I do not blindly dislike things simply because religion is somehow linked to it, and music is a perfect example of something non-believers can enjoy despite religious connotations or messages being present.

1. Top Ten: Anti-Religious Songs – Perhaps to shore up my atheo-cred after the first list, I followed it up with a list of anti-religious songs. This list directs a couple dozen people to my blog every week, and remains my most viewed post (just ahead of this post on the difference between evangelical Christians and evangelical Atheists).

Two Dudes: Unemployment

Friday, June 11, 2010


Neighbor Trouble

Pal S. Stein returns home one day to find his things on the street. His key does not work in the door. He looks in the window and sees an old buddy from school, Jacob, inside his home. He rings the bell.

“Um… hi, why is my stuff in the street? And why do my keys no longer work?”

“Oh, my family was murdered and I was buddies with the sheriff, so he gave me the deed to your house. We moved your stuff out for you and had a locksmith come and –”

“Wait a minute,” says Pal. “I had nothing to do with your family being murdered. Why did they take my house?”

“I grew up in this house,” says Jacob.

“Really? I thought you lived a few blocks from here.”

“I did most of the time, but my parents lived here when I was born and we lived here until I was about three.”

Pal blinks a few times.

“Is there anything I can help you with?” asks Jacob.

“Where am I going to sleep? My stuff is going to get ruined out here.”

“Well, I suppose you can hang around here for a bit and we’ll figure something out. You can sleep on the lawn for now.”

A few days pass. One morning, Pal wakes up to Jacob pointing a gun in his face.

“Get up, I want you off my lawn.”

Your lawn?” asks Pal, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “This is my house, and my lawn, and frankly I’m tired of –”

“Who’s the one with the gun, here?” asks Jacob.

Pal gets up and slowly makes his way to the concrete curb, beside his things.

The next day, Pal wakes up to a loud commotion. Jacob is using a bulldozer to move Pal’s things further away, breaking most of it in the process. Pal shakes his head.

As days go by, Pal grows restless and angry. He sometimes throws rocks at the house, his own home. He stops when Jacob fires warning shots.

Pal decides to call the police, but they are no help. The sheriff, Ulysses Nuremburg, is old friends with Jacob. Nothing Pal says seems to sway law enforcement. “It’s all legal and legit according to us,” says the sheriff.

Pal is livid. “Well of course it is, you’re implicit in the crime of stealing my house. You wouldn’t go and admit now that it’s wrong, that would make you look bad.”

The sheriff thinks long and hard. “I have an idea, but I need to call Jacob and get him over here so we can discuss it.”

Jacob shows up and the sheriff makes his proposal. “How about a two-household solution? Jacob, you can have the first floor, and Pal can have the basement or the attic.”

“I don’t know…” says Jacob.

“Are you kidding me?” asks Pal. “That is my house, it’s mine. I lived there until you guys up and decided to move me out on the street with hardly anything, most of which you then destroyed. I’m not going to settle for living in the unfinished basement or the attic.”

Jacob sighs. “See, he’s so unreasonable. You know he throws rocks at my house?”

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Deafening Sound of Silence

It’s a dark day for journalism. Helen Thomas “retired” today amid the furor over her remarks on Israel. The 89 year old Thomas has been a White House reporter since the end of the Eisenhower administration.

I don’t know which part of it all saddens me most. She apologized for making a perfectly fair proposition, that those who are occupying Palestine should “get the hell out” and go back to where they came from (largely Germany, Poland and the US). While I don’t support the forceful removal of anyone, the best solution for “Israel” would be if everyone there collectively left of their own free will.

Suppose you support a two-state solution, however. Maybe Ms. Thomas’ remarks are a bit crass to one who believes Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish nation (for whatever reason… *cough* holocaust *cough*). Are her comments so harsh that they warrant this response?

Her comment was compared to shipping black people back to Africa. This is kind of ironic, because Israel was founded in this way. Europeans were sick of Jews, so they killed many of them. They couldn’t stand them even after the war, so they shipped them off to Israel. Sure, there were some pesky Muslims living there, but fighter plane squadrons, tank battalions, rockets, and more assault rifles than citizens can be a convincing bargaining chip in land disputes.

Israel is a nation founded thanks to anti-Semitism. Had Jews not faced so much persecution, and had European nations not desperately wanted to get rid of them, Israel wouldn’t exist today. If everyone could just get along and play nice, this would have never happened (which is not to say it was inevitable…).

No. Saying Israelis should leave Palestine is actually like… like telling Americans to go back to Europe. What Israel is doing to the Palestinians is really no different than what we did to the Native Americans.

Yet, by Israeli logic, it would be quite fair for the native tribes to come forward and demand the land and homes of all those living in… say… New York and Florida. Ancestral land is ancestral land, right? I wonder if the Jewish lawyers in those areas would handle their cases.

My question: how much suffering must the Palestinians endure before we can stop blindly siding with Israel? At what point have the Palestinians gone through their own holocaust?

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Power of a Book’s Cover

Has someone ever spoken, and you felt dumber for having heard it?

An experiment has found that devout Pentecostal Christians who are told they are hearing a prayer from a faith healer have decreased activity in parts of the prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices, areas associated with skepticism and vigilance.

Two things to note: the person has to believe in faith healing prior to the experiment, and the response is less if the test subject is told the prayer reader is an ordinary Christian. But if you introduce that same ordinary Christian to another subject as a faith healer, their brain is putty.

This study was particularly interesting to me because it wasn’t about what was said, but rather the perception of who was saying it. A very common assertion I have heard among Christians is that it isn’t about the preacher, church, religion or whatever: it’s all about Jesus. The problem is, charismatic leaders still seem to be more popular, and evidence like this indicates that how one feels about the messenger is more important than the message.

I cannot say I am surprised by this. Anyone who has spent any length of time talking with believers about their faith knows one of the most commonly cited reasons for joining a church is because of someone else: often a parent, older relative, mentor, friend, or really anyone that individual respects. Religion often borrows the credibility of those who follow it (when it suits that faith’s purposes; religious people who do bad things are disavowed).

One final thing to keep in mind: the charisma of the speaker originates in the listener. Those who go in skeptical come out skeptical, and those who go in believing come out pliable. The speaker has no innate power that is not willingly given by the audience. You are only as foolish as you allow yourself to be.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Ignored No Longer

I’ve tried to avoid posting about this, because sometimes I feel like I’m too hard on Israel… but honestly, I can’t help it if they keep shooting themselves in the foot.

As anyone who pays attention to the news is well aware, Israeli commandos killed Turkish aid workers trying to break the Israeli naval blockade by bringing supplies to the estimated 1.5 million Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip. They also detained nearly 700 activists from over 35 countries who were on the six ships stormed by Israeli forces.

There’s two issues to consider in this situation: what did Israel do, and why did they do it?

What Israel did was helicopter heavily armed soldiers onto humanitarian aid vessels bound for Palestinians. I can only assume this was done to maintain the impoverished conditions imposed on the people displaced by the unlawful formation of the Nation of Israel.

Perhaps someone can play Israel’s advocate, but I cannot for the life of me wrap my brain around the logic behind this whole operation. Must the people who were chased from their homes by Israeli tanks continue to suffer in horrible squalor simply because some among their ranks wish to stand up for themselves?

If I were a Palestinian, I would not be surprised if I was one of the people driven to fire rockets over Israel’s border. If I were an Israeli, I would certainly not be supporting the systematic genocide of the Palestinian people. I really cannot relate in any way to Israel’s decision to impose wretched ghetto conditions upon a people simply because they do not belong to some chosen race.

I can only assume Israel is a land with no mirrors.

Wednesday Word: Mysteriology

Mysteriology: wouldn't you like to know...
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