Saturday, April 28, 2007

Is Karl Rove an atheist?

Here's the interview, by Boris Kachka, where Christopher Hitchens says that Karl Rove is an atheist and that George Bush isn't entirely sincere: Are You There, God? It's Me, Hitchens.

Here are the quotes:

Has anyone in the Bush administration confided in you about being an atheist?

Well, I don’t talk that much to them—maybe people think I do. I know something which is known to few but is not a secret. Karl Rove is not a believer, and he doesn’t shout it from the rooftops, but when asked, he answers quite honestly. I think the way he puts it is, “I’m not fortunate enough to be a person of faith.”

What must Bush make of that?

I think it’s false to say that the president acts as if he believes he has God’s instructions. Compared to Jimmy Carter, he’s nowhere. He’s a Methodist, having joined his wife’s church in the end. He also claims that Jesus got him off the demon drink. He doesn’t believe it. His wife said, “If you don’t stop, I’m leaving and I’m taking the kids.” You can say that you got help from Jesus if you want, but that’s just a polite way of putting it in Texas.

Rove is beginning to sound like he's a Martin Bormann. Bormann was a prominent Nazi official, head of the Party Chancellery and private secretary to Adolf Hitler. He gained Hitler's trust and derived immense power within the Third Reich by controlling access to the Führer. Bormann was one of very, very few vocal atheists in the Nazi leadership.

It was Bormann who edited "Hitler's Table Talk," 1941–1944, mostly a re-telling of Hitler's wartime dinner conversations. It went into print in 1951. The accuracy of the Table Talk is highly disputed and it contradicts many of Hitler's publicly held positions, especially in regards to religious adherence. It is the only original source to hint that Hitler was an atheist. Richard C. Carrier's, On the Trail of Bogus Quotes, attributes it to dishonest translations. Here's a tid-bit:

Such is the state of the source for Hitler's remarks. "I shall never come to terms with the Christian lie," Hitler supposedly said on 27 February 1942. "Our epoch will certainly see the end of the disease of Christianity." From this you would certainly conclude that Hitler believed all Christianity was a lie, a disease he wished gone. But the German does not say this! And there lies the scandal. The text of both Jochmann and (the corrected) Picker agree in every detail, yet say something completely different from the English everyone quotes. I will give you my own literal translations so you can see for yourself.

Let's take the "disease" remark first. Here is what Picker/Jochmann says (the preceding three sentences must be included now for context, though all but the first of these sentences are completely missing from Trevor-Roper and Genoud):

"I have never found pleasure in maltreating others, even if I know it isn't possible to maintain oneself in the world without force. Life is granted only to those who fight the hardest. It is the law of life: Defend yourself!"

"The time in which we live has the appearance of the collapse of this idea. It can still take 100 or 200 years. I am sorry that, like Moses, I can only see the Promised Land from a distance."

At once you can see the English endorsed by Trevor-Roper and used by Glover (and everyone else: this is the only English translation in print) is a lie. There is no "disease of Christianity." Rather, in place of that phrase is a reference to what Hitler says in the preceding sentences, which Trevor-Roper's English doesn't even include: the idea of expediency, survival of the fittest, the "necessary evil" of using force to implement your will. That is what Hitler wishes will end (and he certainly believed it would, when the Third Reich finally became the utopian state of every Nazi's dreams).

Martin Bormann is part of the reason Christian apologists can get some foothold on claiming that Nazism was anti-Christian. Often quotes attributed to Hitler are actually Bormann's. Bormann secretly worked against the Catholica behind Hitler's back and without Hitler's permission. The fight against the church organizations were Bormann's projects. In spite of Bormann's repeated attempts to persuade Hitler to act against the Churches, Hitler never did. He only acted against Christians who opposed him.

Will the fundies re-interpret Bush because of Rove in the same way they did Hitler based on Bormann?

Hitler had made Christian school prayer mandatory for the 1930's German schoolchildren and he publicly espoused "family values", which in his mind meant the condemnation of sexual "perversions," reminiscent of the right-wing fundamentalist position today. The German Christian Social movement resembled the modern right-wing Christian Fundamentalist movement. Hitler closely followed the anti-Semitic teachings of Martin Luther. Luther wrote a book called "On Jews and their Lies."

Either way you slice it, the majority of Christians come off as clueless suckers in Hitler's time and in ours. It would be reasonable to assume that the religious population was considerably larger than the atheist population in Germany in Hitler's time. If the religious population had been minuscule, there would be little reason for Hitler to pander to them. If the atheist population had been large, wouldn't Hitler have tried to use propaganda to win them to his side, rather than railing against them and driving them to support the Socialists or Communists?

Religious pandering is still the mark of a scoundrel whether they believe what they are saying or not. Rove and Bormann were scoundrels chasing the easy way to power and influence.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

If Hitler was a Darwinist...

Then why did the Nazis burn Darwin's books? Or, did they?

If you go to a website called “When books burn," an online exhibit sponsored by the University of Arizona Library, you'll find lists of books that the Nazis banned. On a page called "Lists of Banned Books, 1932-1939" you can page down to find this item 6 on the list of types of books Nazis wanted banned:
Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism (Häckel).

That only shows Darwin's books were banned at one time, in one place by Nazis. It is possible that Darwin and Haeckel were promoted at some times and places because the Nazis were inconsistent. They had no coherent relationship to Darwin and evolution. Hitler had no interest in or understanding of the theory as evidenced by his writing.

I bring this up because in my comments section for "If Hitler was an atheist..." I got a comment from someone calling themselves "jewish philosopher" saying:

Hitler was not exactly an atheist or a theist. He was a pantheist and Darwinist.

"Jewish philosopher" (JP) is another clueless sucker who doesn't know the difference between Darwin's theory of evolution and its precursors and influences. However, JP is not as clueless as Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly. This is one of those ideas that the web hasn't yet absorbed but it's related my earlier post that debunked Hitler's supposed atheism. Unlike looking for "Hitler, atheist" on google which gets you many sites debunking the claim Hitler was an atheist, if you search on "Darwin, Hitler, evolution, Nazis" you get 539,000 sites the vast bulk of them trying to smear evolution and atheism. It is either ignorance or a dishonest attempt to score political points in the culture war on the backs of six million Jewish victims and others who died at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust. "jewish philosopher" has been suckered by them, writing on his website:

Hitler seemed to have believed in a sort of impersonal god of nature who wanted all life to achieve the greatest perfection possible through struggle, conflict, extermination of the weak and success of the strong. This, combined with German nationalism and anti-Semitism, was the essence of Nazism. Apparently, his god was the Darwinian force of nature. Hitler, while not exactly an atheist, was a post-Christian European.

There is no "perfection" in evolution as Darwin envisioned it. There is only the fittest and most well adapted. That term "greatest perfection" actually points to a religious belief. As Lenny Flank points out in his little assay, "Creationists, Hitler and Evolution," the claims that Hitler's actions were based on Darwinain evolutionary theory are false.

Look at any of the online English translations of Mein Kampf and you will find only one use of the word "evolution" and that is in a context which does not refer to biology, but to the development of political ideas in Germany: "This evolution has not yet taken the shape of a conscious intention and movement to restore the political power and independence of our nation." You will find no mention of Darwin. What you will find is this sentence: "For God's will gave men their form, their essence and their abilities."

In Mein Kampf, Hitler writes that Aryans are the "highest image of the Lord," put here specifically to rule over the "subhuman" races:

"Human culture and civilization on this continent are inseparably bound up with the presence of the Aryan. If he dies out or declines, the dark veils of an age without culture will again descend on this globe. The undermining of the existence of human culture by the destruction of its bearer seems in the eyes of a folkish philosophy the most execrable crime. Anyone who dares to lay hands on the highest image of the Lord commits sacrilege against the benevolent Creator of this miracle and contributes to the expulsion from paradise."

Actions which aid the "subhumans" at the expense of the Aryan master race, Hitler declared, were an offense against God. So, rather than basing his racism on any evolutionary theory, Hitler based it squarely on his view of white Aryans as the favored people of God. Apparently he thought, like the Jews Old Testament, that he was part of God's chosen people. Concepts in Mein Kampf about "subhumans" the "purity of blood" are in no way evolutionary. They have more a pseudo-religious flavor than a pseudo-scientific flavor.

The concept of purity shows up in a different way in Leviticus where the blind and the lame cannot serve in temple, because they are unclean, and only unblemished lambs can be offered to God. The inferiority of the imperfect is part of the Bible. Jesus healed the blind and the lame so they could look good in the eyes of God, their creator, and he was himself offered as an unblemished lamb, so we all could be accepted by God. If it wasn't because of a zealous God, who was hard to please, all this would not have made any sense.

In Mein Kampf, Hitler listed Martin Luther as one of the greatest reformers and Luther was one of those who promoted antisemitism in Europe. Luther in turn was influence by anti-Jewish theologians like Lyra, Burgensis, (and John Chrysostom, before them). Luther's 1543 book, "On the Jews and their lies" proposed setting fire to Jewish synagogues and schools, to taking away their homes and forbidding them to pray or teach. Luther wanted to "be rid of them" and he wanted the government to deal with them. He requested preachers to issue warnings against the Jews. He goes so far as to say; "We are at fault in not slaying them" to avenge Christ's death. The Nazi government of the 1930s and 40s fit Luther's desires to a tee.

In discussing racial purity and "race-mixing," Hitler chooses not the words of evolutionary biology or eugenics, but of religion without even a light touch of eugenic pseudo-science. Aryan blood, lower peoples, racial mixture, racial poisoning, those are the concepts you find in Mein Kampf. If you think they have any origin in ideas about evolution, you're an ignorant twit who doesn't know what the theory of evolution is.

Neo-Nazis in America also use God and the Bible in support of racism. The Aryan Nation group wants to "serve the Lord of Glory and His Holy Race." The Ku Klux Klan says that only those of "Christian faith" can be members, and asks every new recruit "Do you believe in Jesus Christ?" None of their racist websites mentions "Darwin" or "evolution" or "eugenics" as a justification for any of their beliefs. Many of them are as creationist as Hitler probably was.

The connection of Darwin to Hitler is very round about and dishonest and it goes through eugenics. Ann Coulter’s book Godless (chapter 11, “The Aped Crusader”) is about Darwin and Hitler. Coulter wrote:

"The path between Darwinism and Nazism may not be ineluctable, but it is more ineluctable than the evolutionary path from monkey to man. Darwin’s theory overturned every aspect of Biblical morality. Instead of honor they mother and father, the Darwinian ethic was honor thy children. Instead of enshrining moral values, the Darwinian ethic enshrined biological instincts. Instead of transcendent moral values, the Darwinian ethic sanctified death.

So it should not be surprising that eugenicists, racists, and assorted psychopaths always gravitate to Darwinism. From the most evil dictators to today’s antismoking crusaders, sexual profligates, and animal rights nuts, Darwinism has infect the whole culture. And yet small school children who know that George Washington had slaves are never told of the centrality of Darwin’s theory to Nazism, eugenics, abortion, infanticide, “racial hygiene” societies, genocide, and the Soviet gulags.

In his magnificent book From Darwin to Hitler, Richard Weikart documents the proliferation of eugenics organizations in Germany around 1900, all of which asserted their “scientific imprimatur by claiming harmony with the laws of evolution.”
-- Ann Coulter, "Godless: The Church of Liberalism"

You don't need Darwin to have eugenics and in fact, Darwin cuts away at many eugenic concepts. Eugenics would have been better off if science had stopped before Darwin's theory became accepted because the creationist scientists before Darwin had a more eugenic-friendly idea of natural selection.

The creationist Edward Blyth had already in the 1830s, many years before Darwin, written about natural selection as a mechanism that weeded out the defective individuals, those who deviated from the species. He included a concept of God ordained perfection that Darwin eliminated. The aim of Darwin's evolutionary theory is to explain the origins of biological diversity. Edward Blyth and Hitler just credit "God" for that.

Blyth's version of natural selection was a mechanism to conserve the species, like most biologists believed in the generations before Darwin. Natural selection sustained what God created individually. What fell by time's decay, individuals who did not have the required strength, swiftness, hardiness, or attractiveness, fell without reproducing. They fell either to predators or disease or malnourishment. Their place taken by the more "perfect" of their own kind.

The idea of eliminating the sub-standard to keep the standard was there long before Darwin. Darwin's addition was that natural selection could even improve a species. The idea of species being created perfect in a creationist mind would not lead to Darwin's concept of evolution.

Natural selection ranked as a standard item in biological discourse, but with a crucial difference from Darwin’s version. For in Blyth's interpretation natural selection was part of an argument for created permanency. Natural selection, in this negative formulation, acted only to preserve the type, constant and inviolate, by eliminating extreme variants and unfit individuals who threatened to degrade the essence of created form. Natural selection had eliminated the less viable forms.

Darwin saw past that and realized that the variation could create new forms. Darwin changed natural selection around to mean evolutionary descent of all beings from a common ancestor, which was never Blyth's original contention at all. Another mental leap Darwin made was seeing humans not as specially created, but having evolved from animals and therefore subject to the same natural laws as animals.

It's Blyth's ideas that led to Eugenics, not Darwin's. And It's Blyth's ideas that modern creationists and Intelligent Design proponents still believe. They are projecting their own guilt on people who do not share it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

If Hitler was an atheist...

Then why did Nazi soldiers ware belt buckles inscribed with "Gott mit uns," which translates to "God is with us."

I caught the tail end of Bill O'Reilly's interview of Richard Dawkins. Billo's arguments were remarkably stupid and clueless, like, "I'm a Catholic and that's truth to me." He also made the tired old claim about Stalin and Hitler being atheists and thus tried to stereotype atheists as immoral.

What makes the "Hitler was an atheist" claim so clueless is the fact that there is such overwhelming evidence against it. Just type the words "Hitler, atheist" into goggle and you get 928,000 sites listed and at least most of the first ones provide evidence that Hitler called himself a Christian. It takes an incredibly clueless sucker to believe Hitler was an atheist today when the facts can be easily checked.

And it's not just Bill O'Reilly, on an edition of Meet the Press some time ago, Tim Russert talked to Rick Warren, the author of The Purpose Driven Life, and this is one of the things Rick Warren said:
Sam [Harris] is overlooking the 20th century. Because the truth of the 20th century is more people were killed in the 20th century by atheist governments than all Christian ideas throughout history combined. When you look at the godless communism, and Nazism, which in itself we’re the ruler—tens and tens of millions, maybe a hundred million people were killed in the 20th century by atheists, not by believers. So yes, you can go back to the Crusades, and they were wrong. They were flat out wrong. But let’s take the most recent history. Atheists were what caused the most people—Stalin was an atheist, Mao was an atheist, Hitler was an atheist. He was an occultist, actually. And, and so let’s just make sure that history is told.

Here are some Hitler quotes, mostly from:

"My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before in the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice.... And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.... When I go out in the morning and see these men standing in their queues and look into their pinched faces, then I believe I would be no Christian, but a very devil if I felt no pity for them, if I did not, as did our Lord two thousand years ago, turn against those by whom to-day this poor people is plundered and exploited."
- Adolf Hitler, in his speech in Munich on 12 April 1922

German Christian Movement Badge. Hitler backed The German Christians movement (DC) with the party's organizational support.

"We are a people of different faiths, but we are one. Which faith conquers the other is not the question; rather, the question is whether Christianity stands or falls.... We tolerate no one in our ranks who attacks the ideas of Christianity... in fact our movement is Christian. We are filled with a desire for Catholics and Protestants to discover one another in the deep distress of our own people."
-Adolf Hitler, in a speech in Passau, 27 October 1928, Bundesarchiv Berlin-Zehlendorf

Note the "Cross of Christ" standing atop the Swastika, indicating its higher supremacy.

"We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out."
- Adolf Hitler, in a speech in Berlin on 24 Oct. 1933

Hitler Youth Day Badge 1933

"National Socialism neither opposes the Church nor is it anti-religious, but on the contrary it stands on the ground of a real Christianity.... For their interests cannot fail to coincide with ours alike in our fight against the symptoms of degeneracy in the world of to-day, in our fight against a Bolshevist culture, against atheistic movement, against criminality, and in our struggle for a consciousness of a community in our national life... These are not anti-Christian, these are Christian principles! And I believe that if we should fail to follow these principles then we should to be able to point to our successes, for the result of our political battle is surely not unblest by God."
- Adolf Hitler, in his speech at Koblenz, to the Germans of the Saar, 26 Aug. 1934

Nazi Army (Heer) chaplain's hat with silver Christian cross.
"God the Almighty has made our nation. By defending its existence we are defending His work...."
- Adolf Hitler, in a radio address, 30 Jan. 1945

Priests giving the Nazi salute.

Atheists have been the targets of a vicious smear campaign for years that uses big lies, illogical arguments and Orwellian manipulations. It has been highly effective and according to a University of Minnesota study, atheists are America’s most distrusted minority. Atheists rank even lower on the charts than Muslims, immigrants, homosexuals, and every other minority group. Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry. Bill O'Reilly, Rick Warren, Ann Coulter and many of the media's Christian spokespersons claim to believe Adolf Hitler was an atheist. Do they know something we don't?

Hitler's claim to be a Christian might have been a lie, in which case the Christian followers of Hitler were clueless suckers. And we can't say for sure that Bill O'Reilly, Rick Warren and Ann Coulter believe the things they say about Hitler's atheism. So, they are either idiots or liars, or perhaps both.

However, we have more clues than what Hitler told people about his beliefs. We know what was in Hitler's library:

"Another indication of Hitler's beliefs about religion comes from his private library of numerous books. Although most of Hitler's books came as gifts from writers and publishers, those where he penciled and underlined sections reveal, not only the books that he read, but also those that he commented on and had an interest in. Timothy W. Ryback, who examined Hitler's books, found more than 130 books devoted to spirituality and religion including the teachings of Jesus Christ. Some of the titles included, Sunday Meditations; On Prayer; A Primer for Religious Questions, Large and Small; Large Truths About Mankind, the World and God; a German translation of E. Stanley Jones's 1931 best seller, The Christ of the Mount; and a 500-page work on the life and teachings of Jesus, published in 1935 under the title The Son: The Evangelical Sources and Pronouncements of Jesus of Nazareth in Their Original Form and With the Jewish Influences. Ryback also found a leather-bound tome -- with WORTE CHRISTI, or "Words of Christ," embossed in gold on the cover -- According to Ryback, it "was well worn, the silky, supple leather peeling upward in gentle curls along the edges. Human hands had obviously spent a lot of time with this book.... I scanned the book for marginalia that might suggest a close study of the text. A white-silk bookmark, preserved in its original perfection between pages 22 and 23 (only the portion exposed to the air had deteriorated), lay across a description of the Last Supper as related by Saint John. A series of pages that followed contained only a single aphorism each: 'Believe in God' (page 31), 'Have no fear, just believe' (page 52), 'If you believe, anything is possible' (page 53), and so on, all the way to page 95, which offers the solemn wisdom 'Many are called but few are chosen.'"

We know what books were in Hitler's library, and it contained plenty of Christian theology and those books had notes in the margins, in Hitler's hand, indicating he'd read them and thought about them a lot. The evidence is there and if you can look at all that evidence, the words Hitler wrote and said, the Christian symbolism of the Nazis, etc. and still say Hitler was an atheist, then you are willfully ignorant and simply prefer your delusions to reality.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Jolie: Another Clueless Sucker

Well, I got another one of those clueless suckers making comments on my blog. This one is Jolie who said, in the "Indiana’s New License Plate" comments area, this:

It is a sad to see your closed mindedness and disrespect to people that believe in God. It sounds like utter hatred.

We are all people man, your blog rips people for not being perfect and having different beliefs. NEWSFLASH- people on Earth are NOT perfect and I'm thankful most are not as overtly disrespectful.

My blog does not rip people for not being perfect and having different beliefs, it "rips" on them for some very specifically ill formed and ultimately destructive beliefs which, for the most part, I clearly define. Jolie on the other hand remains incredibly general and vague; it's just "other beliefs" and "believing in God."

The post Jolie commented on, "Indiana’s New License Plate," rips on those people who gave us the plate (and to a lesser extent, by implication, a bit on Indiana citizens in general for being the clueless suckers of Christian Right and their manipulations). When I saw the plate, I smelled a rat and, sure enough, I found a couple rats who lie and cheat. In the case of the Indiana Plate they are Eric Miller and his Advance America, and Rep. Woody Burton. If you click on the site linked by Eric Miller's name in both of these posts you'll find linked there an article called "Miller's Self-Dealing At Advance America Escalates."

Miller, founder of the "nonprofit" Advance America, had that organization pay him money. Eric Miller received a compensation package worth $106,546, while the organization paid another $134,800 to Miller's law firm for legal services. The quarter-million dollars paid directly to Miller or his law firm represented more than one-third of the nonprofit's expenditures for the year. And it doesn't end there.

Advance America's two primary purposes; it lobbies the Indiana legislature on a variety of social issues and it also compiles legislative voting records and voter guides based upon the narrow issues. I'm not sure those are legitimate nonprofit purposes. So why isn't anyone doing anything? Well, all I can figure is there are too many suckers in Indiana who aren't paying attention.

Read the article for even more.

That post wasn't about God belief. It was about political power and pandering. Advance America's money comes from suckers, (like Jolie perhaps?), who probably (like Jolie) see me doing nothing but ripping on "God belief." That blindness is what makes clueless suckers who can't see there are legit issues here that even God believers should be paying attention too. And that gives me another clue to how Jolie is being lied too and manipulated by the Christian right.

I laid out a basic issue, are they stepping over the line to endorse a specific religion or blurring the line that separates church and state. Now Jolie, what do you think separation of church and state is? Why do you think it's important? Or is it?

I pointed to a lie these guys made in their Press release, claiming that "In God we Trust" are the words of our founding fathers. They are not.

I feel sorry for you. As this is an open blog, I decided to contribute, giving you another perspective than that of your FOLLOWERS like mel here. And yes, if people want "In God We Trust" on their license plates, I'm not going to stop them. This is a free society and last time I checked, China and North Korea are pretty opressive to Christians. Perhaps you should relocate, you might fit in better there.

Hey, if people want "In God We Trust" on their license plates let them buy vanity plates instead of taking money from everybody in Indiana, including those that don't want the plate. This is not a free society if everybody has to pay to endorse your religion no matter how vague the endorsement. To compare that to China's and North Korea's oppression (and not just of Christians) is really stupid and clueless.

I'm sure you will probably rip me as well, as I would expect nothing more than more intolerance. Feel free to prove me wrong...

Oh, I guess I'm ripping on you, but not for believing in God. Those words are too vague and general to rip on. What's God? What does it mean to believe? I am ripping on you for being a clueless sucker with the reading skills of a turnip who can't see the facts right in front of their nose. I'm ripping on you for blindly endorsing state-sanctioned hypocrisy while not being able to see how your blindness gets us all ripped off.

You comment only on my attitude, not my arguements or my facts. My attitude will not change until I stop finding the rats I always do find behind all these Christianist operations.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Indiana’s New License Plate : "In God We Trust"

I just got back from the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles after renewing my license. The new Indiana license plates now have the words "In God we Trust" taking up about half the plate. I just got a one year sticker, not the new plate.

Indiana is being taken over by Christianists.

You don't have to get the new plate. I was told that there was a "green plate" or "blue plate" you could get for no extra fee. The green plate is Indiana's regular license plate, while the blue plate is the "In God We Trust" plate. They are required by law to issue you the regular Indiana license plate unless you reqest one of the special license plates from which there are several dozen to choose. What's different is that this new "vanity" plate doesn't cost anything extra. It's like a regular plate.

I did a short google on the topic and found this Press Release.

House Enrolled Act 1013, authored by Rep. Burton and passed by the General Assembly in the 2006 legislative session, allows for the manufacture and purchase of state license plates featuring the words, "In God We Trust." No additional fee will be enforced for purchase of the plate, as is the case with all other specialty license plates. It will be offered for all vehicle types, including cars, trucks, and SUVs.

The license plate will be available to the public on January 1, 2007 (at the time of the person's plate registration renewal based upon the first letter of his/her last name).

Source: Indiana House Republican Caucus

The Press release also contains this historical inaccuracy:
The symbolism portrayed by the American Flag displays our loyalty to the United States and the words of our founding fathers. It is my hope that thousands of Hoosiers will choose this plate and display it proudly.

The words "In God we Trust" are not really the words of our founding fathers. They never put it on our money. It's not part of our founding documents, neither the declaration or constitution. Attempts were made to do that, but they were voted down.

The "In God We Trust" plate costs no more than the regular license plate because it benefits no specific group. But the BMV is issuing the license plate as a regular license plate and either stepping over the line to endorse a specific religion or blurring the line that separates church and state. No other kind of license plate is set up next to the regular plate and displayed that way, no other plate costs no extra money. It may also be that employees are being directed to issue the "In God We Trust" plate over the regular license plate.

It was the idea of Eric Miller's Advance America, and the legislation authorizing it was authored by Rep. Woody Burton, a Republican of course.

It's not just Indiana:

Tennessee has its own "In God We Trust" licesnse plates, but theirs are not free. It requires paying a fee to the American Eagle Foundation, an organization dedicated to saving the American Bald Eagle.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Don't try this at home

Andrew Sullivan's latest entry in the blogabate is called "Deus Caritas Est."

I was going to post on the Harris versus Sullivan debate first, but then I read an essay, called "Why Bad Beliefs Don't Die," on the CSICOP site which is linked on Richard Dawkins' site in the comments section of the thread about the Harris versus Sullivan debate by someone calling themselves debaser71 on page 11.

I was going to post a snarky and insulting essay about Andrew's response to Sam, much like my past comments on this debate, about the fact that Andrew Sullivan has, more or less, made a crazy and evasive response to Sam's questions. I'm going to re-write that post and put it up later. You'll see it by tomorrow night if not sooner. I'm re-writing it because it was just too snarky and insulting.

The CSICOP article points to one factor that keeps people from changing their beliefs and even helps us define good mental hygiene that makes the rational processes that leads to atheism so necessary. It also warns people against using snark and insults when debating those you want persuade. So, don't try my snark and cynicism at home in your debates. This blog is not a debate and I'm a professional cynic.

Now, here's a summary of the article with my own thoughts mixed in with some stolen sentences:

It's hard to change people's minds because beliefs and related behaviors are biologically designed to be strongly resistant to change. Consider addiction and how the brain defends drug abuse and cigarette smoking, producing the familiar lying, sneaking, denying, rationalizing, and justifying commonly exhibited by individuals suffering from addiction. There we see a clear example of feelings winning out over rational thought. This seems to happen with Andrew Sullivan too. The addict knows they are doing themselves harm, but feeling better matters more. Believing, like smoking, is in a certain sense a behavior. And we can clearly see why Andrew Sullivan would feel better thinking he will never really die and that there is a God upstairs in Heaven who loves him.

A failure to understand the biological purpose of beliefs and the neurological necessity for them to be resistant to change can lead to counter-productive tactics, like my snark and insults if I were the one debating Andrew instead of Sam. I suspect those tactics would make me come off as threatening and uncaring. The only threat that's really there is that I won't take you seriously. The uncaring part is, in many cases, true on my part; I rarely care about theists who choose to argue with me on the web and I care less about those that won't. I only have a kind of abstract care about the mental health of everyone on this planet and I've never seen a religion that looks like good mental health. It puts me at a disadvantage because the religious proselytes will claim to care very specifically about those they want to convert, and listening to people who seem to care generally aids survival more than listening to people who think you're a contemptuous idiot. Unfortunately, to change beliefs we have to be aware of the brain's "survival" and "comfort" issues and of longer term meanings and implications in addition to discussing the evidence and argument at hand.

"Belief" is the name we give to the survival tool of the brain that augments the reward/threat-identification function of our senses and instincts. Beliefs are like maps into both known and unknown territory. Experience fills out our maps of the known territory while trust in, or faith in, others fills in the unknown territory. Thus our beliefs artificially extend the range of our senses and we get to take advantage of other people's experiences so that we can better detect dangers and benefits. Our beliefs should improve our chances of survival as we move into and out of unfamiliar territory, but that's not always the case. Our beliefs are "maps" of those parts of the world with which we do not have immediate sensory contact, no matter whether that belief is about the exit coming up on the interstate or what comes after we die.

There are also other effective ways of getting attention and getting temporarily believed that are not legitimately accessible to atheists, such as telling people what they want to hear and telling people to either avoid or do a very simple specific act, like mailing off a chain letter to get good luck, not stepping on a crack to prevent breaking your mother's back or not walking under ladders other simple acts which form so many superstitious behaviors. Christians can exploit both options; they can tell you that you can live forever in paradise and then tell you how very simply; you confess your sins, pray to God and ask him to come into your life. There it is, a desire met and a simple act and it can be squeezed it into a 15-second sound-bite. And if you've ever tried performing that simple act because the proposition was made to you then you understand how effective that ploy is. You're not alone. In high school I did it several times but nothing ever happened, though I did wonder for a short time if something had.

You can tell yourself that you're just performing an experiment to see what will happen, but by engaging the act you've already, potentially, planted the seed by taking the proposition seriously enough to act on it. And you have to wonder, when and if it doesn't work for you, why does it work for others? It works because they're not aware of the serious emotional manipulation perpetrated on them and the potential effects it can have.

Earlier on in the Harris/Sullivan debate Andrew told of how his faith came alive when he thought he was going to die. He had already watched one of his closest friends die in front of him. He started to experience religious visions. He heard a voice that seemed divine. He experienced a moment of doubt followed by unsought-for relief. And he knew he wasn't the only person to have experienced such things. Now, auditory hallucinations are usually associated with psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, and they hold special significance in diagnosing those conditions. But they are also more common in non-psychotics than most people realize. You don't have to be psychotic or schizophrenic. They usually happen when normal, non-psychotic people, are fatigued or because of extreme anxiety or stress. They also happen with high doses of cocaine, amphetamine or other stimulants.

Andrew certainly described some extreme anxiety and stress. If that was the only time it happened, during a stress situation, Andrew in all probability is of normal sanity, at least normal for those who don't practice good mental hygiene. Christian dogma has its own anxiety inducing elements (will you be damned to hell or go to Heaven?) thus Christian dogma can help create the conditions for auditory hallucinations and born again experiences. Also, extreme religion does attract psychotics. But Andrew is not really extreme in his religiosity. The question is if he hears voices on any kind of regular basis. I don't think he does. His experience is an example of the kind of seemingly spiritual experiences that can be induced by emotional manipulation you are exposed to in our Christian culture.

Sitting here in front of my computer I cannot see the grocery store where I shop. Using only my immediate sensory data I do not know if the store is still there. At this moment my sensory data is of little use to me regarding how I get more food. In order to find food I, like apparently most other animals with significant brains, need an internal map of the location of that food as well as beliefs about how to get at it. By using my belief rather than just sensory data and instinct, my brain can "know" much more about the world.

But I don't really "know" in an absolute sense. I may head to the grocery store and find out that it is now a hardware store. I would be slightly upset if that happened without some warning. Everyone has to believe in many things because we can't afford to be constantly questioning everything. I would be even more upset if instead of the grocery store being there I found a huge boulder standing where the store should be, between the Blockbuster and the car dealership. How could that have gotten there? Why would that happen? That would make me question more things than I can easily deal with questioning. As Andrew might say, that's a mystery that would no doubt strengthen his faith in God. The more mystery, the more he believes, which means, the less he knows the more he believes and that is rather backwards.

Understanding the biological purpose of beliefs should make us more effective in challenging irrational beliefs. Beliefs are designed to be able to disagree, up to a point, with sensory data and good arguments. When data and belief come into conflict, the brain does not automatically give preference to new evidence. This is why beliefs, even irrational beliefs, often don't die in the face of contradictory evidence. This is why scientists, like Francis Collins, can believe in God. It is a feature of beliefs that makes a young police officer substantially safer if he believes that someone stopped for a traffic violation might be an armed psychopath with a desire to kill and run even though it has never happened to the officer before and the violator in question has a seemingly innocuous appearance.

Just like the young police officer who has never met a killer psychopath, Christians fear the possibility of things only reported by trusted others, like damnation, in some cases demonic possession and God's judgment, or, in Andrew's case, apparently death itself. The brain doesn't care whether or not the belief matches past experience. It cares whether the belief feels like it is helpful for survival.

Neither the young police officer nor the Christian has beliefs that were formed individually or in a vacuum. They are related to one another in a tightly interlocking system that creates that person's fundamental world view. It is this system that the brain relies on in order to experience consistency, control, cohesion, and safety in the world. It must maintain this system intact in order to feel that survival is being successfully accomplished. Like those old Japanese soldiers found on islands in the Pacific that didn't quite believe that the war was really over, the brain often refuses to surrender its weapon even though new data says it should. While the scientific, rational part of our brains may think that data, experience and better theories should supersede the contradicted beliefs, the scientifically untrained, or skeptically untrained, brain has no such bias. It is extremely reticent to jettison its beliefs. Scientific thinking conditions people to reexamination and belief change.

We should always appreciate how hard it is for people to have their beliefs challenged. It is, quite literally, a threat to their sense of survival. Becoming sarcastic or demeaning gives their defense mechanism a foothold to engage in combative tit-for-tat exchanges that justify their feelings of being threatened ("Of course we fight the skeptics; look what uncaring, hostile jerks they are!") rather than a continued focus on the truth. Being dignified and tactful is important, and Sam Harris did a fairly good job at that. The way to deal with defensiveness is to de-escalate the fighting rather than inflame it.

You probably should avoid arguing with people whose positions you find too offensive because you probably won't be able to hide the hostility that make you feel. For example, some fundy Christians will tell you, (and every one who doesn't believe in Jesus), that you are damned to Hell for all eternity and they think that makes them special and above the rest of us since God has chosen them. The Heaven and Hell dichotomy is one of the most offensive of Christian beliefs and it's an incredible mindfuck that I've already written about in my essays, Hope is the Bait and Fear is the Trap.

It's hard not to treat with raging contempt someone who tells you that you're damned if you don't believe something that's so impossible to believe. It is such an obvious psychological manipulation you can't help but be offended by the proposition that they would argue for. I think it is the real reason that Christianity and Islam became major world religions. I've already written on how religious ideas about the afterlife evolved in a past comment on the Harris/Sullivan debate in the post called, "Andrew Sullivan talks death." The concept of the extreme reward and punishment in the afterlife evolved over thousands of years and the extreme versions beat out the more egalitarian versions. To an irrational, non-skeptical mind the Heaven and Hell extreme is a meme of exceptional infectiousness. It gives Pascal's Wager more threat and promise, and it also builds a barrier of mutual offensiveness between believers and non-believers.

This, of course, doesn't always mean you shouldn't make arguments or debate, it means you should think differently about them. And that takes us to another essay I didn't write on "Framing." This short article, Framing the debate, will help a little with that concept if you're not familiar with it.

Don't try to "win" the debate. Instead, try to move the "Overton window" into position.

The Overton window is a concept in political theory that describes a "window" in the range of public reactions to ideas in public discourse, in a spectrum of all possible options on an issue. Moving that window may be all you can accomplish, getting people to include previously excluded ideas, while excluding previously acceptable ideas is a partial goal. The degrees of acceptance of ideas can be roughly laid out this way:

0 -- Unthinkable / Terrified
1 -- Radical / Uncomfortable
2 -- Acceptable / Not so bad
3 -- Sensible / Rational
4 -- Popular / Credible
5 -- Policy / Believed

If visualizing which attitudes define the range of acceptance of atheism by where they fall in the above spectrum, then atheism world probably terrorize most fundy Christians. They would thus find it "unthinkable." If you've moved them from being terrified to being merely uncomfortable with atheism you haven't done that bad.

And remember how badly you are outnumbered. Look at your television. Check out Fox, MSNBC, CNN, ABC, NBC, and CBS. How many scientists or atheists do you see? An Anderson Cooper "360" show that discussed religion and science gave me several minutes worth of creationist Ken Ham babbling, home schooling moms explaining how evolution is bunk, and only one token scientist who only got time for two sentences. A lying con man who will promise you eternal life, if only you really believe Jesus created the earth in 4004 BC deserves more time on CNN than a scientist. My cable service has several channels to dedicated non-stop religion, all of them working hard to frame atheism in the most negative way possible.

Friday, April 6, 2007

What's Love got to do with it?

Andrew Sullivan's latest response to Sam Harris is here. He continues to assume the questionable position that "faith" may be intrinsic to being human and therefore something we should engage rather than deny. Using the word "faith" here instead of terms like "God belief" or "religious beliefs" or "supernatural beliefs" is another example of apologetic theology's devious art of framing things in the most oblique and distorting way possible. "Faith" is not what we are arguing against.

"Faith," if defined non-religiously, as trust and loyalty, is indeed intrinsic to the human condition. I can't know everything or do everything so I need to be able to trust other people, doctors, plumbers, friends, etc., to get by in this world, but belief in God or any religious or supernatural belief should not be so intrinsic. Buddhists don't believe in God, the Egyptians and Greeks had radically different ideas about what gods were. Supernatural beliefs were merely the best "scientific" guesses of ancient peoples mixed in with a lot of wishful thinking and creative imagination. Better science should be able to replace supernatural beliefs and it often does.

Andrew abuses the term "faith" using it as a substitute word for "believing (having faith) in the supernatural claims of an ancient book (which needs to be heavily interpreted before it can have any meaning or relevance)" helps to distort and hide the fundamental irrationality of Andrew's position. The argument isn't about faith but what we put faith in and why.

The "faith" we talk about when not using the word in a religious context is usually something that has to be earned. I trust people who have demonstrated they are trustworthy or who put things on the line and take a risk with me when I trust them. But with religious faith you are supposed to, as Andrew put it, "believe against so much evidence." Andrew cannot share whatever reason he thinks he has, he can only continue to make incoherent assertions. There is little evidence to suggest that Andrew's faith isn't a faith unearned and fueled only by his desire to believe it, and to deny death, rather than a faith based on evidence or any real earning of it.

Andrew does make some good points though:

You make the solid point that we are also programmed by evolution for rape. Does that make rape defensible? Of course not, even though, as you point out, rape is a very effective and very natural way to disseminate DNA. But my response would not be to say that the evolutionary impulse to inseminate should be resisted entirely. I'd argue that the sex drive should be channeled respectfully toward others, i.e. moderated. So rape cedes to consensual DNA dissemination. Similarly, the drive for faith needs to be channeled respectfully toward others, i.e. moderated.

Fundamentalism cedes to toleration. Hence my insistence on maintaining the humility appropriate for such immense claims about the meaning of everything; and hence my support for a faith that is live-and-let-believe in its social manifestation. I think my project in this respect is far more feasible than yours. By attempting to abolish rather than moderate faith, I fear you deliver an intrinsic human impulse into the hands of those who most abuse it - the fundamentalists of all stripes.

I agree with Andrew in one sense, "faith," or rather supernatural belief, does need to be moderated if people can't let go of it. Religious beliefs cannot be an excuse for murder, rape, spreading a religion by sword and by law, or used as an alternative to science. The news out of Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or Indonesia, where blasphemy is a capital offense, is often about violent repression of religious minorities. Some Christians have killed abortion doctors and they aggressively push politicians to impose their beliefs on others. Rules about separation of church and state are a good thing.

What Andrew can't understand is that there is no contradiction between Sam's practices and Andrew's moderation. Sam is exceptionally moderate in how he tries to communicate his ideas. Atheists like Harris are not so much attempting to abolish religious belief so much as trying to grow the ranks of atheists and become a political force, a voting block that cannot be ignored. I fully endorse moderating religious belief, including atheistic beliefs, through various legal institutions and I'm pretty sure Sam would too. If religion is "abolished" it has to be through methods like argument, reason and education, exactly those methods Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins use. No force should be used. A problem in any belief system, even atheism, begins when you start thinking that living by and asserting the rightness of your beliefs is more important than the rights of other people to assert theirs and live by them. Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are often accused of being intolerant, but they're really not. Criticism is not intolerance and at least Andrew seems to get that, but he can't really accept Harris and Dawkins without slamming them with the "you want to abolish" religion slur.

It's the word "abolish" that is spin here. Sure, it would be nice if everyone did wake up from their religious dreams, but I don't have to believe in that outcome to keep trying to reason people out of their irrational beliefs. I can still encourage moderation in existing religious beliefs at the same time, including atheistic beliefs.

I don't think we'll see masses of people giving up their faith, but it is in the realm of possibility that we could become, in a few generations, more like Sweden and other European countries where non-belief is more common and a force that their governments cannot ignore the way the Bush's administration has successfully ignored atheist-Americans and funneled money into Pat Robertson's "Operation Blessing" through the faith based initiatives. No one was forced to give up religion in Sweden. They even have a state church. It just became irrelevant to many of them.

The next part of Andrew's reply is meant to answer why he finds it hard to imagine his own future non-existence. Andrew claims it is because he believes that God loves him. Yet if he believes in this "God of love" it necessarily leads to logical contradictions, or an Orwellian re-definition of "love" where a loving God can damn people to eternal hell and order genocide like the Old Testament version did, or a radical reinterpretation of Christianity and the Bible that rejects many explicit statements within the Bible.

Andrew's option looks like a radical reinterpretation of Christianity, the Bible and Catholicism, but his presentation is so incoherent it's hard to tell. Consider the way Andrew re-worded Sam's Monty Hall problem and then chose his own option and the confusion it represents. Sam had offered three options:

(1) There is no God.

(2) There is a God, but all of our religions have distorted Her reality. Jesus was just an ordinary prophet who happened to become the center of a myth-making cult. God loves everyone and has never been concerned about what a person believes. After death, all people, Christians and non-Christians, simply merge with the Deity in a loving embrace.

(3) Christianity is the one true religion, and Catholics have the truest version of it.

Andrew thinks he is choosing option (3), but he rewords it to explain his faith a little better. Andrew's version of the options includes these choices:

(5) There is a God, but all of our religions have distorted Her reality. Jesus was a man more suffused with divinity than any other human being who has ever lived. God loves everyone and has never been concerned about what a person believes, except that a person know God and accept God's love freely and expresses that love toward everyone he or she encounters. Jesus uniquely showed us how to accept God's love and how to be worthy of it. After death, all people, Christians and non-Christians, simply merge with the Deity in a loving embrace. But Jesus was the proof that such love exists, and that it is divine and eternal, and that it cares for us.

(6) None of us knows anything about these things.

I guess I've tipped my hand by endorsing (5) but acknowledging the wisdom of (6).

The problem for Andrew is that his option (5) is not really close to Sam's option (3), which is "Christianity is the one true religion, and Catholics have the truest version of it." Catholics believe in Hell, but Andrew says: "After death, all people, Christians and non-Christians, simply merge with the Deity in a loving embrace." Does Andrew not believe in Hell? Is no one going to Hell? Has he never read the New Testament? How does he deal with the Jesus that is not the loving deity Andrew thinks Jesus is, but rather a hater who speaks of Hell? It's hard to know what Andrew believes based on what he has just written and if he knows of the complex mumbo jumbo about the afterlife that his Catholic doctrines expound on.

Christians have thousands of beliefs about the afterlife, many completely uninformed by what the Bible and their church claims. There is no consensus of religious opinion even in the same churches. Some say that Hell is eternal. Some say it is only temporary, and the souls in Hell will cease to exist after serving their time. Others believe there is no real Hell at all and the word refers to the decay of bodies in the ground. Others believe that after serving their time in Hell all souls are reconciled to God and admitted to heaven, or ways are found to bring all souls to repentance so that Hell is never experienced. Those beliefs are called Universalism and that seems to be what Andrew is expressing.

The Catholic view of Hell is presented in its Catechism and it is not Andrew's apparent Universalism, if Universalism is what Andrew believes: "To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from Him for ever by one's own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called 'Hell'." And that means not everyone gets that loving embrace from God as Andrew thinks.

Andrews says God doesn't care what you believe but then contradicts himself when he adds a more Catholic-friendly line: "...except that a person know God and accept God's love freely and expresses that love toward everyone he or she encounters." It's a contradiction because one must first believe there is a God before you could accept any love from "her." Or would you?

Does Andrew think that people make unconscious choices to reject God's love, sort of like Jerry Falwell believes Andrew made a sinful and unconscious choice to be gay?

Andrew claims he has accepted, freely and sanely, the love of Jesus, and that he has felt it, heard it and known it. And so Andrew could never cease to exist and neither could any of the people he has known and loved.

One of us doesn't know what Andrew is talking about and I think it is Andrew.

The problem with Andrew's claim, he basically said God doesn't care what you believe, as long as you believe in God. It doesn't make sense. It's a contradiction, either he cares or doesn't. And his use of the phrase "freely accepted" implies the a choice similar to the one Jerry Falwell attributes to gays. I can't accept God's love because I don't know God, thus I can not fulfill the conditions of accepting God's love because I see nothing there to accept.

So, all I have to do is accept the unconditional love of a deity that wants to give me eternal life in paradise, hey, it sounds great, but where is it? Who wouldn't want the unconditional love of a god who can do such wonderful things for us? Okay, I'll take some if you got it, where is it? What? I have to confess my sins? Okay, I've lied, masturbated, had sex out of wed-lock, lusted in my heart, not lived a life of unselfish giving, yada, yada. So, did I miss any? What exactly is a sin anyway? What? I have to stop doing all that stuff? I thought this love was unconditional – aren't you putting conditions on it? Doesn't that mean it's not really free? Doesn't that make you a liar? Do I have to sell all I own and join the Peace Corps? Andrew Sullivan hasn't done that, has he? He just sits around all day blogging, doesn't he? And look at all those wealthy preachers who own more stuff than I do; their not selling all of it and giving it to the poor. Look at how the pope lives. Why don't you just forgive me? You want me to change? Then come into my heart, change my desires, and show me why I should believe all this apparent bullshit. I've got no reason to believe any of this and I can't trust God any more than I trust a lawyer from Nigeria telling me I've inherited a few million dollars. Okay, let's see the goods.

God isn't telling me to do this stuff, men are and I don't think they are sane men. Why should I believe it? Andrew can't accept heterosexuality any better than I can accept God. He can try to have sex with women, but he'll be as happy as me in the Peace Corps. It's not who he is.

And how can Andrew be sure some of those people he might have known and loved have accepted God's love? Does he test them? Is he a bigot who won't love atheists? Does he have a "don't ask and don't tell" policy on accepting God's love before he decides to love someone himself?

The words "Damned" and "Hell" come right from the Bible and the words were spoken by Jesus. Here are just a couple examples:

Matthew 5:29. And if thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than thy whole body be cast into hell.

Matthew 10:28. And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 25:41. Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels.

Mark 16, 16. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned.

The Bible is pretty explicit about the eternity and the pains of hell. Revelations says the torments of the damned shall last forever and ever. Jesus said, of Judas that (Matthew 26:24): "it were better for him, if that man had not been born." God says of the damned (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:43, 45, 47): "Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched." The fire of hell is repeatedly called "eternal and unquenchable." Many of the martyrs claimed that they were glad to suffer pain of brief duration in order to escape the eternal torments of Hell.

Jesus tried to terrify people into belief by threats of eternal torment. He was responsible for the idea of a fiery hell.

I haven't felt Jesus' love and I don't think Sam has either. This is not my free choice; there is nothing there to "freely or sanely" accept any more than Andrew could freely accept his heterosexuality. I haven't felt, heard or known Jesus' love any more than I've felt, heard and known Zeus' love, or the cat in the hat's love, or the tree outside my window's love. Could Andrew accept, freely and sanely, the love of Zeus too? Could Andrew accept, freely and sanely, the love of the cat in the hat? Would a ritual help Andrew experience the real love and presence of the cat in the hat?

What does it mean to accept any love? If Jesus or the tree in my yard wants to love me I'm not going to do anything to stop it, I just don't believe it is real or that trees and dead fictional characters can love. I just don't see any evidence that Jesus is anything but a mostly fictional character in a book.

Whatever man the Gospels might have been based on, the character described in the book is no more Jesus than Abraham Lincoln is what exists between the pages of Allen Guelzo's "Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President." That would be mistaking the map for the territory. I don't know this Jesus and it sure seems like most Christians don't know him either since they can't agree on who he was or what he meant.

I only know love in others imperfectly when I see it demonstrated. I can only make educated guesses as to the motives of those who claim to love me. I'm not even all that sure of my own feelings when I feel love for someone. Some people I think do love me, others I suspect of having other motives for saying so. Some Christians say they are called to love everyone, but do they? Christians say shit like that all the time and obviously don't know what they're talking about. They tell you they love you but then they won't give you the shirt off their back when you ask, and like the Bible tells them they should.

They just lecture you, argue with you, and then ignore you. There is really an utter indifference to me. They don't even know who I am. How utterly bogus of them to claim they love me.

At least Andrew does seem to know that what he is talking about is a preposterous claim but he doesn't quite grasp that it's also an incoherent claim:

For me, the radical truth of my faith is therefore not that God exists, but that God is love (a far less likely proposition). On its face, this is a preposterous claim, and in my defense, I have never really argued in this dialogue that you should not find it preposterous. It can be reasoned about, but its truth itself is not reasonable or reachable through reason alone. But I believe it to be true - not as a fable or as a comfort or as a culture. As truth. And one reason I am grateful for this discussion is that you take this truth claim seriously on its own terms.

Andrew's "God is love" concept remains completely undeveloped through out his whole exchange with Sam. Why is it framed as "God is love" and not as "God loves us"? Does he literally mean that God is our human feelings of love? Is this some sort of metaphysical love that's different than human love? Is it figurative or metaphorical? Did "Love" create the universe? Can love think and reason?

Pope John Paul II said something similar about God being the source of Joy, "The images of hell that Sacred Scripture presents to us must be correctly interpreted. They show the complete frustration and emptiness of life without God. Rather than a place, Hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy."

God is the source of all life and joy? No, that would be chemistry and neurobiology, not God. The sort of supernatural metaphysics the pope believes in is contradicted by modern science just as much as the theory of evolution contradicts the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis. And you don't want a life of constant joy; experiments have shown it destroys your motivation to do anything worthwhile in the world. In the 1950s scientists found that rats would repeatedly press levers to receive jolts of electric current through electrodes implanted within their brains.

When the brain stimulation was targeted at certain areas of the brain the rats would stop almost all other normal behaviors, including feeding, drinking and sex so they could repeatedly press the lever up to 2000 times per hour.

The findings seemed to suggest that they had discovered the pleasure centre in the brain, but the truth is a bit more complex. Pleasure and desire are not the same, they found a kind of desire center, and neurological structures don't really map to the parochial structures of non-specialist language. However, the point remains valid. Our emotions are a product of the brain and they only make sense as part of a whole system and we only know them through contrast with other feelings.

Can you imagine what kind of science we'd have if twisted by such theology?

Love too is a set of emotional reactions and feelings that, in my opinion, have a neurobiological basis. Scientists have even studied brain activity associated with love using functional MRI scans.

Andrew really seems to believe his preposterous and ultimately incoherent claims. His statements may reveal a kind of neurological disorder that is the result of a "loving" indoctrination into a "faith" he acquired during his dependent childhood from those who took care of him and actually did demonstrate love. Andrew admits he cannot fully understand what he is talking about:

I call myself a Christian because I believe that, in a way I cannot fully understand, the force behind everything decided to prove itself benign by becoming us, and being with us.

Nothing is proved today by a mere book full of overly incredible events that supposedly happened two thousand years ago. The world is full of such books, the Egyptian book of the dead, the Greek myths, Hindu scriptures, Scientology's "Dianetics," the Book of Mormon, the Koran, etc.. A book proves nothing. "Proof" comes from evidence, not incoherent assertions. On the whole this pious, simpering testimony doesn't meet any reasonable rational standard of discourse. It's not argument or evidence, it's an incoherent testimony about Andrew's subjective beliefs.

There is a poor historical record of Jesus. If Jesus ever wrote anything himself it didn't survive to our day, all the accounts of Jesus' life are second hand, created a generation after his ministry. There is little documentation of his existence outside the gospels. Many writers in Jesus' own time who should have known about him wrote nothing about him. Philo of Alexandria, for example, a Jewish philosopher and a contemporary of Jesus, who mixed Jewish ideas with Greek thought and introduced the concept of Logos, which he called the Son of God, the Paraclete, the mediator between God and man, ideas which later seem plagiarized by Christians to refer to Jesus, would have had an interest in Israel and of Jesus who used his ideas if he knew such a man existed. If there was a Jew who claimed to be the Son of God and the Logos (as the gospel of John says) and who supposedly rose from the dead, it is curious that Philo would not have wrote of him. Yet there is no mention of Jesus or his followers. Justus of Tiberias, a Jewish historian, born in Galilee about the time of Jesus crucifixion should have grown up with people who knew of Jesus preaching. It is odd that in his history of the war and his chronicle of events from Moses to Agrippa II (d. AD100), there is not a single reference made to Jesus.

There is more evidence supporting the divinity of the Roman emperors Caligula and Julius Caesar than of Jesus' divinity. Caligula demanded that he be worshipped as a god. Julius Caesar resisted it but allowed it. Examples of Julius Caesar's writings still exist. Historians record how people claimed to be cured by Caligula's statue. There are first hand personal accounts of their lives. Both men were considered gods and were, in part, killed for that too, just like Jesus.

And as soon as people grasped what had happened, what was happening, the world changed forever.

What exactly changed in the world? Another new religion entered the world is all that happened. I guess every major new religion is a big change but I don't really think Andrew has grasped how many religions there have been on Earth and each introduced major changes in society. Religion is evolving and many versions are distinctly unhealthy, like a virus, good only at spreading and leaving damage behind. Christians didn't behave any differently than the pagans who feed the Christian's to the lions. The Christians burned more witches and heretics than the Roman's killed Christians. Nothing much of importance really changed except for men worshipping a new god, a new enforced state religion. Rome eventually fell, bringing in the dark ages. The new cultures weren't much better; in fact, it got worse in Europe and the Eastern part of Rome fell to Islam. To my mind the world went through even more important, radical and positive changes after Galileo and Newton and then the Enlightenment. Now that was change, the birth of modern science, the separation of church and state, new forms of democracy instead of the popes crowning kings. You can't credit the Enlightenment to Christianity, you'd be more correct to credit it to the failure of Christianity.

The Gospels - all of them, including some that were rejected by the early Church - are mere sketches of a life actually lived, and an experience that can never be reduced to words or texts or doctrines...

Indeed, the map is not the territory. The character in the book is not the man. Nor can the story in the Gospels mean anything coherent without either some magical event (the Holy Spirit entering you according to some Christians) that allows you to believe a story that isn't credible on the surface. Either that or some psychological event that distorts your neurological processes thus causing people like Andrew to check their brains at the door any time their faith is challenged and just repeat trite fallacies that don't hold together logically because they've learned them, poorly, from sermons and apologetics.

In this nonfundamentalist understanding of faith, practice is more important then theory, love more important than law, and mystery is seen as an insight into truth rather than an obstacle.

If Andrew wants to practice love, well, I'm not going to object to that. But the actual practice he talks about next is this:

... a commemoration of that man, as he asked us to commemorate him - in a meal, a breaking of bread, a Seder-made-new, the mass, as Catholics have come to understand it. This is my faith, if I were forced to describe it."

I can't object to that either if Andrew wants to do it, it's no skin off my teeth. However, that's not "love" in my book and more importantly it is rooted in what Andrew claims it's not, it is rooted in theory. That "mass, as Catholics have come to understand it," is practicing a superstitious ritual and it is wedded to what must, in a generous view, call a theory in this context: It is based on some model of why one would do such a thing that has no obvious benefit ever during one's life time. The only benefit is theoretical; a hypothetical character in a story wants it done and you please him by doing it.

What I object to is the way language is abused and distorted by Andrew's statements. He doesn't seem to know how to use the word "theory." He can't possibly know if what he claims is true, human knowledge just doesn't work that way, and it can only be approached as a kind of theory.

He starts off telling us that practice is more important than theory but then gives us a practice that is more wedded to theory than most Christian practices. If he had talked about how he practices "love" as non-Christians know it, then he might have scored a few points. But instead he wrote contradictory nonsense. I wasn't expecting it to be that bad. I was expecting Tony Campolo's social gospel.

Andrew could have easily spoke of giving to charities, helping his church feed the poor or trying to be helpful to his neighbors and other ways of putting into practice the Sermon on the Mount.

That would have been practicing love in a "non-theoretical" way because the benefits are obvious and real, no theory is needed to believe you've done good because the results are obvious. His first chance to talk concretely about love and he blows it because he seems to have his sermons and apologetics all scrambled up in some incoherent way.

This is what Jesus told people: to treat God as an intimate father, to pray simply, to believe against so much evidence that good does indeed prevail against evil,...

I think Andrew is leaving out quite a bit on the subject of what Jesus told people. Jesus also told people that (Matt 17:20): a faith the size of a mustard seed could move mountains? Okay, let's see an example, just one example of a mountain moved by faith. I wonder what Andrew thinks of "The Secret," that best selling book that claims that your thoughts create your reality.

Jesus also said, Matthew 19:11-12, 'There are some eunuchs who were born that way, and there are some who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Anyone who can accept this should accept it.'

Jesus also said, Mark 4, 11-12. But unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.

Well, it's all nonsense to me, so apparently Jesus doesn't want me converted.

Jesus also cursed a fig tree.

And it is crazy to say that "to believe against so much evidence that good does indeed prevail against evil" and then think that believing that will make it happen. It's magical thinking at its most naked. As I said before, good is not the opposite of evil, the opposite of good is bad and the opposite of evil is nurturing and help, you might call it "love." To really prevail against evil you need to know what you're doing. Your love will be as powerless as you are if you don't have any real understanding or power. What good is your love if you can't do anything for the ones you love? It's not enough to just want it. Like everything else in life you have to study it and religious beliefs interfere with seeing evil and love for what they are.

... what Jesus lived: a life full of love and friendship and self-giving, even to the point of non-violent submission to violence, as proof of God's love.

If he really was a god, then his brief life and death on Earth wasn't all that much to give compared to what he supposedly has to offer. He didn't really die in the way I think people die, ceasing to exist completely. He was thirty years on Earth, but he's been in Heaven the last two thousand years. And there are men, people like Martin Luther King and Gandhi, that have given more of what they had because they were not gods and didn't have as much to give, though they may not have known it. And I wonder how their wives felt about it? In the real world there is no infinite supply of love or benefit I can give. The more I spread it out the less I have for those that matter most to me.

There is no reason not to think Jesus was not some wandering preacher of his time whose powerlessness to help the hungry and suffering around him, and the authorities that wouldn't lift a finger to help, inspired thoughts of revenge in an eternal hell on those rich authorities. Then myth and legend makers would have added the miracles, stories from the poor as a discomforting revenge on the comforting wealth that the wealthy didn't share. Considering how the poor out numbered the astoundingly wealthy and greedy rich of Rome, it's no wonder the religion became so popular. Jesus hit the nail on the head in one sense; he saw one problem in the human condition fairly accurately.

As for friendship, I don't see much in the New Testament that makes Jesus out as a great friend. He spoke in riddles and parables even to the apostles. Did he tell a good joke? Did he stay up all night with Peter when Peter was sick? Maybe he cured the disciples whenever they got a cold? Jesus in the New Testament comes across as arrogant, aloof and haughty to me, full of secrets, condescending, impossibly idealistic, not giving people direct answers and more free with criticism than praise. In Luke 11, 37-40 a Pharisee has Jesus over for dinner and when the Pharisee sees that Jesus did not first wash before dinner he comments on it and Jesus says to him, "Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. Ye fools ..." Reading that I wouldn't get the impression that Jesus is a polite guest. He did miracle charity work, supposedly, he supposedly fed a bunch of people with fewer loaves and fishes than should have fed them, he supposedly healed some blind people and lepers but why didn't he just eliminate all blindness and disease? Why not something really impressive that would have made a real mark on history? Something that would really prove a god had been here? Add up all the people Jesus might have fed and cured and you're not going to get that large a number. No pagan writer in Christ's time seems to have wondered at all the well fed and disease free people in Judea.

Now, when we talk science, we're talking about some real marks made on history. You want to talk about feeding thousands? How about feeding a billion? Norman Borlaug, an American agricultural scientist, is called the father of the Green Revolution because while working in agricultural research he developed some high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties and helped introduce these high yielding varieties, and modern agricultural production techniques, to Mexico, Pakistan and India. As a result, Mexico became a net exporter of wheat by 1963, wheat yields nearly doubled in Pakistan and India. Millions more people were fed. People like Borlaug are the reason that people who used Thomas Malthus' concepts got it wrong.

Borlaug is often credited with saving over a billion people from starvation. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 because of his contributions to world peace through increasing food supply. All the charitable donations to all the churchy institutions aren't going to buy food that doesn't exist. And last I heard Jesus' followers haven't been able to pull off that trick with the loaves and fishes no matter how much faith they have. They haven't moved any mountains with their faith either.

And on the flip side you've got Trofim Lysenko, his bad science starved millions but his intensions were the same as Borlaug's.

All the good intensions in the world aren't going to help if you haven't got your facts right. You could do more harm than good.

But for me, the words of Jesus speak of God's love more truly than anything else I have ever come across. I'm still looking.

Jesus, appearing in a very short series of 4 repetitive Gospels, who speaks mostly in riddles and parables, who was arrogant and insane if human and stingy and selfish if a god, and who talked about hell and damnation and casting people into eternal fire is someone Andrew thinks spoke of love more truly than anything else he has ever read? There were a few good paragraphs on the subject in the Bible, but if Andrew is really "still looking" I would suggest Ray Bradbury's "Something Wicked this way Comes." It's about love and values and choices people make when confronted with dark magic that can seemingly give them what they think they most desire.

The mystery here is why Andrew thinks he is right when he has no evidence or reasonable arguments to give his belief any more credibility than that of any uneducated fundamentalist who takes the Bible as evidence. Sam Harris would probably have better luck convincing a fundy than Andrew. And it's fundamentalism that is spreading, not Andrew's more moderate and liberal religion.