Sunday, January 31, 2010

50 blogs on disbelieft - Strange Bedfellows

50 Blogs on Disbelief
My thoughts on the book, 50 Voices of Disbelief, Why We Are Athiests, edited by Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk. Written as I read them in no particular order. The page number of the essay is provided at the top of each entry.
p 323 Udo Schuklenk - "Human Self-Determination, Biomedical Progress, and God"

Udo took the time to make a comment on an earlier blog, so I thought I would start the second phase of this project with his essay. He begins with two questions:

“Why am I an atheist? Why do I think it is important to speak out against the harmful consequences of religious interpretations of the world and of our place in it?”

I think his focus is more on the second question, and the answers to it lead to the answer of his answer of the first question. He prayed to God when he was young for youthful wishes such as help with his homework and, regarding God, figured that,

"If you are omnipotent and omniscient, helping a desperate teenage out of the claws of 'malevolent' Latin teachers should be a walk in the park."

His thoughts on God became more sophisticated and led him to the big theological question of “why is so much going so wrong so often?” In later studies he found that many people had asked the same question. Eventually he could not reconcile the existence of a God and the facts of events such as the Holocaust. He refused a Leibnizian interpretation.

I had to look up Gottfied Leibniz. He was 17th century philosopher and mathematician who had met Baruch Spinoza. I hope to find the time to study more of Spinoza, but the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument did not appear to offer much. Udo Schuklenk recommends Voltaire’s “Candide” whose character Pangloss has this view of the world. Udo would have been at peace just leaving it at that, but he could not ignore the “harmful consequences” of those who continue to believe. He goes on to list a few of these consequences.

He starts with abortion, and tells of Catholic hospitals that are prepared to sacrifice pregnant women’s lives for the purpose of rescuing embryos. I have never heard of this before, and he does provide a footnote (Judith Hendrick, “Law and Ethics in Nursing and Health Care” [New York: Nelson Thornes Ltd, 2005] p. 54), so I could research it myself. He has another footnote when he states that Muslim women “frequently” die in labor because their husbands do not permit a c-section.

Both of these cases seem extreme to me and say very little about 6,000 years of human history. By citing extreme examples, he skirts the issue of whether or not it is ethical for a couple to agree to abort their pregnancy. Our laws vary from state to state regarding how old a fetus can be when it is aborted and people’s responses to questions of abortion vary when a pregnancy is caused by incest or rape. These moral questions do not have definitive secular answers. Claiming that religion muddies the waters appears more like avoiding the question to me.

His next set of reasons for having a problem with religion I am in partial agreement with, but again, he takes an extreme position, which I think weakens his overall argument. He brings up the issue of homosexuality. I agree the United States has been slow to deal this and the church has been on the wrong side of if for too long. I also agree that the religious justifications for not doing stem cell research are just plain crazy (that is my extreme language, not his).

He then makes a statement that I can’t really argue with, “Churches routinely campaign against civil right protections that would guarantee the equal and fair treatment of all of a country’s citizens”. HOWEVER, I don’t attend those churches. I attend the churches that have a Peace with Justice Committee, the ones that march in the Gay Pride parade, the ones that organize campaigns to raise awareness about the School of the Americas and in the tradition of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., support civil rights.

He goes on to discuss “conscientious objection”. This is a law that allows for protection of professionals who choose, for religious reasons, not to provide services. Again I had never heard of this before, and he provides many footnotes for those who would wish to look into it. This goes beyond just not serving in the military, it extends to not providing services, such as abortions or even condoms because you object to them on religious grounds. Apparently precedence has been set in the US and UK. Then he provides a hypothetical example that gets a bit tough to swallow:

“An Aryan Nation church might well give its members a conscientious reason to refuse treating Black patients. Why should their conscientious objection be any less acceptable than that of members of any other church?”

He does not answer his rhetorical question, but I will. That would not be acceptable because it would violate laws that were fought for and debated over for generations by citizens of this country, many of them good Christians. I don’t think choosing not to abort a potential life and refusing to help a grown person even belong in the same class. This is a “slippery slope” argument, a logical fallacy.

His third and final reason regards death with dignity. Here we are in agreement again. The strange relationship Christians in particular have with death was demonstrated in 2005 when Pope John Paul II was on his death bed. At the same time, in Florida, people were arguing over keeping Terry Schiavo alive, someone who had been in a vegetative state for 15 years. Many people could not accept that we should “play God” and decide if she should live or die. The Pope, who lived 85 wonderful years, had deteriorated to the point that heroic attempts to resuscitate him and prolong his life would have been cruel. His final words were, ““Let me go to the house of the Father”.

So Udo is one of the strange partners that I have in a very confused world. We live in a world where thousands are mobilized to keep a feeding tube in someone who has no recognizable brain function, but just a few hundred miles away children are dying of hunger and none of them notice. We live in a world where criticizing a Muslim for abusing the women in his life is misconstrued as racism. I agree with him that we should vigorously confront the political activism of these fundamentalist regardless of race, creed or color. Church should not interfere with human rights. Mr. Schuklenk and I part company when he claims the solution is to confront belief.

My recent reading of David James Duncan’s “God laughs and plays” has helped me understand this form of atheism. He abhorrence with stories of a God that are sometimes violent and followers that feel it is there duty to choose how grace is distributed led him to reject anything related to religion and find and expose the worst of it. He does this in honor of his humanity. I hope he can understand the humanity of those who continue to honor the traditions.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

God laughs and plays, book review

I have been on vacation, not just from blogging, from everything. I had plenty of time to read, so I finished “God laughs and plays” by David James Duncan. I really can’t say enough about this book. I circled and marked many places in this book and created my own index in the back. I will be referring it many times in the future. Many thanks to one of my early commenter’s for referring it to me.

David James Duncan’s is well documented. He was raised Seventh Day Adventist and abandoned it fairly early on, as has much of his family now. He spent many days fly fishing in the rivers of Oregon and found a connection to all things there. But instead of naming that connection and becoming an evangelical for fly fishing, he found a way to express it that many could relate to regardless of their favorite pastime or indoctrination.

Here is a sample:

There are agnostic and atheist humanitarians who believe as they do, and love their neighbor as they do, because the cruelty of humanity makes it impossible for them to conceive of a God who is anything but remiss or cruel. Rather than consider God cruel, they choose doubt or disbelief, and serve others anyway. This is a backhanded form of reverence a beautiful kind of “shame”.

The book is a collection of essays, interviews and personal stories. Some of them sweet yarns from his youth, others are heavy analysis of the problems caused by mixing fundamental Christianity and politics. For young people just coming in to voting age, the essay “When Compassion Becomes Dissent” should be required reading.

Well, I don’t want to drag on too long about this. I think you get the idea that I liked it.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


If you are looking for a definition of ubuntu, be sure to include Desmond Tutu in your search. Otherwise you are likely to get a lot of hits on a computer operating system of the same name. The concept of ubuntu is that we are who we are through the experience of others. This page is a more in depth explanation

Tutu on Ubuntu

I first heard of this concept when it was used by an Episcopalian bishop. News of her statement spread rapidly throughout the Christian community, not because it was embraced as a positive message for world peace, but because it was perceived as a threat. On this blogger’s page, the Bishop Katherine Jefferts-Schori is awarded the “Rand villain award”, apparently something just made up, for her statement. The controversial part of her speech is excerpted

The Controversy

If you are interested in the entire speech, it is here

The whole speech

Did you have any trouble finding the controversial parts? If I had not been told someone had a problem with this speech, I don’t think I would have guessed it. Below is another reference to the Bishop with a short video of her. I had to read the paragraph about it a few times to understand where the writer of it was coming from. I still don’t know what definition of “grace” they are using that they would call the Bishop “twisted”.


In the past, Christian sects have split off based on whether or not leavened bread should be used in communion, or whether the words “Mary, Mother of God” should be used in prayer. That may seem silly to us now, but it definitely was not then. The question of whether Jesus died for the whole world or do individuals need to continue to seek salvation and access God through specific actions will, I hope, seem silly to our ancestors. Now, it seems very serious to some people because it has implications for how they should be treating people who are gay, people who are Muslim and complex questions of the right to life.

Desmond Tutu has a book on the subject of Ubuntu if you would like to explore that further.

Desmond's book

If you want in introduction to what the “traditional” Anglicans are thinking, you could try reading this article by someone who attempted to engage the Bishop on this topic. I have nothing good to say about it, so I will leave it up to you to judge.

Another opinion

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Pee Wee's New Year

My favorite scene in the movie “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” is the one where Pee Wee is sitting in the mouth of big dinosaur statue, somewhere along Route 66 with a woman he just met, talking about going after his dreams. The woman starts talking about her dreams then says, “but”. Pee Wee jumps in and says, “That’s the problem, everybody has a big but.” He goes on talking about her “but”, meanwhile her big dumb boyfriend is sneaking up on them and listens in on the middle of the conversation. He thinks Pee Wee is hitting on his girlfriend and Pee Wee has to take off on his bicycle again.

My wife and I always talk about New Year’s resolutions, although for many years I stuck to my New Year’s resolution to not make New Year’s resolutions. I finally broke it a few years ago. My wife annually commits to stop swearing. She has already broken it. I decided to go all out this year, I am going to end chronic hunger in the world, complete the Triathlon (the one in Hawaii), and run for Governor. Oh yeah and relearn Spanish. I started working on all of them right away, except the Governor, I figure I have some time for that one.

My wife knows Spanish a little better than me, okay a lot better, so we started translating road signs on the way home from New Year’s Eve dinner. I am already working on world hunger and expect that to wrap up pretty soon. I am doing yoga every day and just need to work on that 2 mile swim, otherwise I think I’m good to go for the triathlon. “But” you say? Well, at least I won’t be able to say that I have broken my New Year’s promises until much later this year, meanwhile, it gives me something to do when I get up in the morning.