LiveJournal was my public space on the Internet for a while. Now it's Google+. If you're on Google +, you can follow me by clicking on this link. If you're not on Google+, you can get an account by following this link.
Joining Google+ inspired me to start a proper blog. It's called Atheist Sunday School. It offers an atheist perspective on the sorts of topics that you might encounter in Sunday school: creation, the fall of humanity, morality, grief, ceremony, etc. In real life, my Sunday school students are middle schoolers, but on my blog the posts are aimed at an adult audience.
In Kentucky, State Representative Tim Moore has introduced a bill to question evolution in public schools. He says, "Our kids are being presented theories as though they are facts." If he's right, then there really is a problem. Evolution is way more important than any mere fact. In science, a theory is a broad explanation for many facts, something that guides new scientific research and the discovery of new facts. That penicillin clears infections is a fact, and it's based on the germ theory of disease. That we share almost all our genes with apes is a fact, a fact that's explained by the theory of evolution. If Kentucky teachers are teaching evolution as if it were merely a fact, they're doing their students an injustice. Evolution: it's not just a fact, it's a theory!
Pope Benedict XVI has summoned 24 bishops from Ireland so they can explain to him how the decades systematic sex abuse and cover ups in the Irish church came to be. What doesn't the Pope understand? The Church gives people power over other people, and that power gets abused. That's what people sometimes do with power that they have over others. Give a small number of people (priests) spiritual authority over a large number of people (the laity), and abuses will occur sooner or later. If you tell everyone that the few superiors are somehow better in God's eyes than the many, you're asking for trouble. Then if you isolate vulnerable young people in a school or camp or office, with their spiritual superiors as their guardians, you're practically begging to get some kids raped. If you want to make matters worse, you can have the superiors consist of men who have voluntarily given up having sex with women for life. Who does the Pope think is going to sign up for the all-male lifestyle more readily? Try closeted gay men who are denying their own sexual orientation because of religious guilt. Now make pubescent boys to take confession and tell their dirty sex secrets to Father So-and-so. Make them trust Father So-and-so to tell them what to do. Just what does the Pope think is going to happen? Even if Father So-and-so has the best intentions when he enters the clergy, temptation is up to the task of breaking him. Where's the mystery? As for cover ups, is the Pope naïve? Is he really going to say, "Why did you cover up damning evidence of the Church's moral failures?" There's no mystery there, either. It's like asking, "Why did you help your fellow ordained superior brethren at the expense of those lesser beings among the laity?" The answer is so plain to see that no one even has to offer it. The Pope treats these totally understandable patterns of abuse as if they were some sort of mystery. "How could these terrible things ever have happened?" he asks. Indeed, how could they not have?
When Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab failed to blow up Flight 253, it was a victory for the West. High fives all around! We caught a would-be terrorist red-handed! Our security measures are working. Our enemies are forced to use bogus, unreliable methods when they try to bomb us. In fact, if our security were tighter, Abdulmutallab might never have even tried his attack, and we wouldn't have captured him. But now, thanks to our slightly loose security, we have a live source of information on the people who threaten us. When Hamas captures an Israeli soldier, they're happy about it. Why can't we be happy? We got the crotch bomber! Hurray! Take that, bad people!
But instead of chortling and raising a glass, we wring our hands and points fingers. Sure, we got lucky, but it wasn't all luck. Sure, we can do better, but why do we have to be so glum when we actually won this time? The conservatives won't celebrate because the liberals run the government. The liberals won't celebrate because they're motivated by a sense of how bad things are. The media won't celebrate because fear sells better than success. But that doesn't stop us. Hip hip hurray!
The US quarter-dollar coin embodies the bipolar nature of Western Christianity. On one side is an eagle, ancient symbol of imperial Roman power. On the other is the phrase “In God we trust.”
Herod the Great had a Roman eagle carved into the stone over the main entrance to the Jewish Temple. The insult was so great that Zealots staged a commando raid to remove the eagle. For their guerrilla iconoclasm, the Zealots were crucified. Jesus himself was crucified for Rome’s sake, so that he wouldn’t cause trouble with the Roman occupiers. Early Christians suffered repeated persecution, starting in Rome under Emperor Nero, the “Beast” whose number is 666. Later books of the New Testament refer to Rome as Babylon or the Whore of Babylon. Rome and God would seem to be mortal enemies.
On the other side of the quarter, however, it says “In God we trust.” Rome killed Jesus, but within 300 years Christianity had occupied Rome. Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor, unified church and state. Rome adopted nearly universal Christian practice, and the Western Church adopted Rome’s inclination to legislate, to rule, and to build. Jesus, the Son of God, was married off to the emperor, also known as the Son of God. This unlikely pairing led naturally to travesties, such as popes leading armies and Christians executing neighbors for their neighbors’ beliefs. Jesus, the story ran, officially backed the empire, whichever empire was on top.
Early on, the US avoided this paradox by establishing a nation not founded on Christianity. Our symbol was the eagle, with no Christian counterpoint. In the 19th century, however, religion spread throughout the States, at the same time that in Europe it was being replaced by science and history. During a rise in Christian sentiment during World War II, the phrase “In God we trust” was first added to US coins. In 1956, when the US had finally achieved imperial power, that phrase became our national motto. The move meant to shore up our nation in the global battle with godless communism. “In God we trust” replaced the traditional, pluralist motto, “E pluribus unum” (out of many, one).
Church and state have been more or less intermingled since Constantine, and old habits are hard to break.
It's Christmas time again, and lots of my fellow non-Christians are celebrating Christmas. Those of you with young kids might like to find your way to a Christmas pageant. Where else would your kid get to be a shepherd or a sheep or an angel? They don't put on nativity pageants in public schools any more. So where can a non-Christian kid get to participate in a Christmas show? Try your local Unitarian church. Kids can be sheep, angels, wise men, and even Mary and Joseph. And at a Unitarian church, no one is going to tell your kid that they'll go to hell if they don't toe the line.
Here's the speech that I wish Obama or the pope would make.
America, you're about to enter your annual binge of consumer spending, the Christmas season. Yes, you do need to spend this year to help the economy recover. The money you spend is your neighbor's paycheck. But times are hard, so this time around spend smart. Avoid gifts that would tend to make us fatter, lazier, and more distracted. Buy gifts instead that make your loved one's healthier, stronger, smarter, better connected, and better informed. Your spending does the nation good by supporting our neighbors. In better times, that would be enough. But these days times are harder, and we need to be smarter. We need to get double duty out of our spending. So buy gifts that are going to make us richer, gifts that are good for us.
These are the topics and issues that I prepared for the evolution foot polls I ran at Burning Man. The game was that I, acting as emcee, would have the players move right or left to indicate their stance on various topics related to evolution. In addition to straight dichotomies, I would sometimes run a poll on two axes. Players would move left or right in response to one proposition and then move forward or back in response to another.
The Livejournal post that, in recent memory, has stuck with me the most is mylescorcoran 's post about how to doubt yourself. It refers to an experiment that says you can reduce how much your guess errs by if you average your guess with the guess of an imaginary other guy. It's a sign of the advance of modernity that scientists are studying how people can best doubt themselves. Probably I've thought about this post so much because I'm repeatedly making mistakes and realizing that I should be doubting myself more.
As the owner of a big yard in the suburbs, I see a lot of nature, and nature is pretty much evenly split between happy growing things and and sad dying things. The advantage is pretty plants and the occasional racoon. The drawbacks include dead birds and doomed ones.