Saturday, August 24, 2013

Mike Huckabee has really gone off the deep end on this one.

So Mike Huckabee is really concerned about the state of education in this country, so am I, but this is where the similarities end. Huckabee wants to help kids learn about history, and he thinks he understands why kids aren’t interested in it anymore. Get this, the reason kids aren’t interested is because we aren’t selling American exceptionalism as hard as we used too.

America's youth aren't excited about our past because they're being taught history in a way that minimizes what has made America a beacon of hope around the world for over 200 years. Instead, history lessons today often focus on America's faults," said Governor Huckabee.  "It's impossible to overestimate the importance of giving our children a historically accurate and unbiased education that allows kids today to enjoy and understand our history, and build their pride in our great nation.

I suppose he has never heard the old saying, “those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” It gives us a good reason to learn about our countries faults along with it’s successes. However, people like Huckabee seem to want us to forget our faults. It is ironic that he continues to speak about providing people historically accurate education after flat out admitting that his goal is to white wash history of any mistakes America might have made. And by what logic does one claim that kids base their interest in American history on whether or not we did good or bad things? I fail to see how that is something they even consider.

Lets take a look at one of these videos, a preview that talks about Regan’s rise to the white house.

Here is Huckabee's own description of the videos.

"Each video we produce is developed in cooperation with a respected team of educators and leading historians to ensure both historical accuracy and a learning experience that children will love.

First off from a simple measure of video quality, (animation, voice acting, presentation) I’m fairly certain that children will love the experience of watching these video’s about as much as they love dense tomes about macro economics. As a nerd I’m some what of a connoisseur of cartoons, both American and Japanese. I’ve seen less stiff animation from old episodes of He-Man, and Regan looks like a deformed Muppet’s reflection in a fun house mirror. It’s done with CG, but the texturing is awful and the shading…well who are we kidding there isn’t any shading at all. I guess no one casts shadows in their universe. The voice acting is painful to listen to, and none of the writing makes sense for children. “the downturn in the economy is killing us,” twelve year olds do not generally speak this way. Frankly on the production values alone I’m embarrassed for Huckabee.

Further, I don’t know which educators approved of the “history” in this video but whoever respected them clearly has no clue. It has clear racist overtones in at least one place. The mugger at 24 seconds is black. (and wearing a disco shirt for some inexplicable reason) Regan is promoted as some kind of divine savior who wanted to return us to godly values. There is also a separate video up dealing with the 9/11 attacks which paint Bush is essentially the same light. There is nothing even remotely like unbiased history here, it is blatant propaganda for Christianity and American exceptionalism.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Friendly atheist discussing millennials leaving the church on CNN.

Hemant Mehta from Friendly Atheist had a discussion on CNN with an evangelical blogger named Rachel Evens about why people are leaving the church.

What I found interesting about the evangelical’s statements is that I actually started out agreeing with her. She begins by saying that people are leaving the church by failing to stay relevant. She acknowledges that the church is loosing relevance to many people and it’s attempts to become more “hip” are generally not working. The church is failing to attract members by modernizing their services with worship bands and laid back dress codes etc. This is true enough.

The part where she looses the plot is that she seems to think the reason the church is loosing relevance is that people want a more “traditional faith.” She doesn’t explain exactly what she means by this but all I can assume is that she means they want church's are have more traditional liturgy, theology, or perhaps both. In this I think she engages in exactly the same flaw in thinking that caused the church to start trying to become more “hip.” to begin with. That is, she puts style before substance.

539511344_bd789b8570This isn’t a new thing, back when I was a believer back in the 90’s was when this tread really took of the ground. Christian music was just taking off and it was full of musicians who seemed to be copying the sounds of popular “secular” bands. The market was being flooded with Christian T-shirts that parodied popular logos. We though we were being funny and creative even though we were doing neither of those things. These trends still continues today.

The issue was that Christianity was already loosing relevance before this trend started. The thing is that evangelicals define their morality and their ideals about how the world works on the Bible, and that book isn’t changing, so they are caught between two opposing forces. Trying to stay relevant on the one hand and trying to stay true to their religious beliefs on the other.

They found only one way to balance these things, which was to change the style. There was a surge of churches that sprung up who used a worship band instead of a piano or organ. They had relaxed dress codes, and even the preachers would wear t-shirts and jeans. Maybe the youth minister even had an earing. These churches thought of themselves as “hip,” and thought surely the youth of today will take them seriously now. Unfortunately it hasn’t really happened that way. However, it’s not because the youth want a more traditional experience as Evens claims, but because the church is fundamentally the same traditional organization it’s always been just with some new windows dressing. It didn’t work for the same reason that you can’t repair a house with a rotten foundation by slapping on a new coat of paint. The church thought a couple of guitars and some blue jeans would convince us they had modernized while allowing them to continue doing business as usual. It didn’t work.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Nothing like listening to a sermon to remind me why I don’t go to church.

A book caught my eye today through a social media link called God Behaving Badly. It’s written by a pastor trying to explain some of the more “difficult” passages in the bible from the outlook of a conservative theologian. I’m always interested in this kind of stuff because I like to see if the other side is making any new or innovative arguments, but I really hated the idea of coughing up nine bucks for the book when I was fairly certain from the description that it was not going to have anything particularly original. Plus I always hate the idea of giving money to an evangelist, it makes me feel a bit dirty.

Since I couldn’t find a free copy online so I thought I’d look on YouTube to see if the guy had done any live talks that had been recorded. While looking I ran into a video where an unrelated pastor was doing a talk about the same subject. 

What’s this? A pastor wearing jeans and sandals. A bare brick wall? A Mac Book on a table. Yeah this church has a bit of a hipster vibe. Thought to tell the truth this was the sort of church I tended to be attracted to when I was a believer. I was a college student for most of that time after all.

In any case, the preacher is speaking about sexism in the bible and trying to explain how it doesn’t really exist. Now, I will give the guy a bit of credit here, he actually seems to really work hard reinterpret the bible as non sexist. And he doesn’t skip out of dealing with the more difficult passages. As opposed to people like Pastor Steven Anderson who the Friendly Atheist has written about several times who seems to outright revel in the sexism of the bible this guy does actually work rather hard to clean up the Bible’s image.

Unfortunately he fails in this task quite spectacularly. The sermon starts out with him reading a pithy top 10 list of reasons god created Eve including things like “God was afraid Adam would get lost in Eden because he wouldn’t ask for directions,” I know he only intended this to be a funny opening, though it was absolutely not funny, but either way, starting out by making blatantly sexist jokes was probably a poor way to start this topic. He then goes through several passages. He explains the passage in Genesis 2:18-25 which refers to woman as man’s helper. He claims the word helper doesn’t imply secondary class since the term is used to refer to god as well in the Bible, but it seems like he misses the basic point that claiming women exist primarily to help men is inherently sexist.

He brings up several other verses, like the one is 1st Timothy 2 that is used by most churches as a justification to not allow women any positions of authority in the church. One of the things I’ve always found interesting about this verse is that it never specifies whether the writer believes this rule should apply in all situations or only in church, and some churches even read the statement in 2:15 about childbearing as a statement that only women who give birth can be saved. The passage is actually quite confusing even for fundamentalists, but he fails to bring up these problems at all.  Of course he acknowledges that his church does prevent women from having positions of authority over men, which should be a straight up admission that his church engages in sexism. He does not do this though, instead he makes several arguments to justify this interpretation as not actually being sexist.

The first thing he does is to essentially make a separate but equal argument. He does this by bringing up the old, “women are just different than men” canard. This argument is unfortunately pretty common even outside of the church circles, anyone remember “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus?” However, I’ve written several times (here for instance) about the shoddy pseudo-scientific nature these sorts of claims. Typically these arguments are built around questionable statistical inferences and anecdotal evidence. The pastor doesn’t surprise in this area as he brings up the differences between he and his wife as proof. Unfortunately for him it doesn’t get around the basic problem that his church is taking the position that women are not suited for certain types of jobs merely because of their gender. This is sexism, no matter how you spin it, no matter what bible passages justify the position.

Then he makes the argument that all people, including men, are called to be servants by the bible so rather than a put down of women these passages are good things. Basically he is saying that women should feel special because god has given them a special calling to be the servants of men. Now don’t all the women reading this feel special? It’s like they are saying everyone is called to service one another, but women are called a little bit more, and don’t be angry at men for this because it’s not us men who are being patriarchal, it’s God’s law. Convenient how that works right?

Interspersed in these arguments he brings up passages in the bible where women are given authority or power in some way as an argument that the bible is not sexist. I found this odd since this argument seems to actually contradict the others. Of course, I am happy to acknowledge that the bible contradicts itself on this issue, but he want’s to treat these passages as clarifications of passages like the one is 1st Timothy instead of contradictions. The thing is the passages don’t really support that kind of interpretation.

You know, when someone like Anderson, or James Dobson opens their mouth to speak on feminists issues I usually find myself getting angry at the outright unapologetic sexism in their attitudes, but with this I honestly feel pity. He seems like a decent guy who doesn’t want to be sexist, and therefore really wants the religion he believes in not to be sexist. He really does his best to preform a balancing act between this desire and his desire to maintain a fundamentalist approach to the bible. I feel for this guy precisely because I used to be this guy, but in the end we just have a fundamentalist who really wants to have his cake and eat it too, but unfortunately for him one can either believe the bible is morally inerrant or be a feminist, it is not possible to do both.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

I see ridiculous tweets.

I saw a post on twitter this evening that went like this.

Now Christians say this all the time but I find it rather presumptuous, it’s as if they are the only game in town. Atheists have to pick, Christianity or Atheism. This is silly because there are plenty of other religions out there. Most people who are atheists are going to disbelieve for other reasons, since if this were there reason they might just as well go off and join some other religion.

I pointed this out to him and ended up in a short conversation that turned to the bible and he had this to say about slavery in the bible.

So there you have it folks, slavery was ok because you were only a slave for life, you got to go free once you died.

And he also said this

Don’t get me wrong I have some problems with the way modern American Capitalism is run, but to claim it is exactly the same as a system that allowed you to beat your slave to death as long as it took a couple of days for him to die, (Exodus 21:20-21) is just plan ridiculous.

It’s like the old joke PSA Futurama did about downloading songs from the internet being exactly like ripping out a beating human heart. Except that was a joke and this guy was apparently serious.

Of course when none of that works he throws out Pascal’s freaking wager.

We moved on to science and of course he asked about evolution, when I answered I got this gem.

Then he ended with this one.

I replied.

Overall more polite than many of my interactions on twitter, but still full of the same bad arguments that drove me to stop believing in the first place. I think it’s funny how Christians always talk about one day having the answers. They talk about it as this final thing where you finally know what’s going on and can just stop thinking. Personally I am a curious person and don’t much mind the uncertainty of rational thought. It just means there is more thinking to be done, and I actually like thinking.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Street preacher beat during Seattle gay pride event.


This happened, if you remember, early last month. I meant to write something about it there but got caught up in other things so I’m writing something about it now. One of the reasons I’ve been slow to write something is that it’s rather hard to find details about this story. Even now, nearly a month after the story broke, I’ve had trouble finding news about the story from an unbiased source. Most of the information from the story comes from ideologically biased Christian sources who view the event as more proof that Christians are being persecuted and LGBT activists are evil violent people. Just look at some of the comments on the fox news article to see this in action. Though to be fair there have been some more balanced views of the issue like the post from Christ and Pop Culture.

First let me say that violence is wrong. These people didn’t deserve to be beaten. Though there behavior was crass, unnecessary and they should have known that that their presence would likely cause negative reactions from the crowd, they should not have been attacked.  Unless someone is behaving violently first we have no right to become violent ourselves, A.K.A. self defense. Of course it’s possible the preachers were doing something to drive the altercation before the recording started, but from what I can gather from the story this seems to not be the case. So we do our movements no service when engaging in this sort of behavior unprovoked.

However, as I mentioned, Christians who oppose LGBT rights have been claiming that this as an example of how Christians are being persecuted and that the liberal LGBT movement is more intolerant than the Christian right which they decry for being intolerant. These people are wrong on multiple counts. First it should be noted that there is a highly unreported fact in this story. The main instigator of the violence against these preachers has been arrested 29 times since 1995, and has been convicted at least once for domestic violence, as reported here. Further, if you watch the whole video you see several other attendees try to separate this man from the preachers several times before violence ensued, because most of the people in the LBGT movement decry violence as much as anyone and could see that the man needed to cool off. Several other people got up in the preachers face and were rude and even tried to take away his sign but never touched him. However, even the man who eventually ended up punching the preacher actually advised a large crowd of people to disperse moments before the violence started by letting people know that police were coming. I can only assume that someone from the pride parade had called to complain about the presence of the preachers. The man who would eventually start punching the preacher actually started walking off with a few others.

What actually sets off the altercation is another man running up and trying to grab the sign away from the preacher. I imagine that he probably thought by running up suddenly without warning he would catch the preacher by surprise and run off with the sign. Unfortunately the preacher is about a foot taller and doesn’t let go. What resulted was a several seconds of tug of war between the two people while other people from both sides attempted to join in. After several seconds both of the men, as well as some others involved, fell to the ground, and the preacher ended up on top of the other man. This caused the man who had been leaving to run back over to help, seeing the preacher on top of another man and likely being already angry he probably assumed the preacher was attacking the man, and began to punch the preacher from behind. Of course, it’s hard to tell from the video if the preacher was actually punching the man underneath him, seconds after the altercation ended the man who was on the ground did intimate that he had been punched at least once by the preacher.  It is also important that many of the other LGBT supporters there acted quickly to separate those who were fighting and and handed the broken signs back to the preachers after separating them.

It seems clear here that for Christians to complain about persecution or the horrible behavior of LGBT people is simply nonsense. The Christians held up signs intentionally designed to aggravate LGBT people at a gay pride parade, and unsurprisingly tempers between both groups flared until they hit a boiling point. It seems more like this is just a general example of how mob mentalities can cause anyone to do things they might not normally do. It doesn't seem that any of the activists there set out to start a fight, a few of them just made a series of unwise choices that exacerbated a tense situation until violence happened. It’s not the first time humans have done this and it unfortunately wont’ be the last.

I would also argue that Christians who seem to think of this as an example of how they now face the same kind of persecution, for their religion, that gay people face, for their sexual orientation, is simply false equivalence.  Gay people have faced decades of violent acts in this country from people with very similar messages to the one the preachers had, and many of these acts ended with much worse results than the preachers got. In fact hundreds of gay people have been straight up murdered by people who have imbibed bigoted notions about gay people based upon church teachings. There is a Wikipedia page about this which I looked up and was startled to find just how many times this has happened just in the last decade.

History of violence against LGBT people in the United States

And most of these instances didn’t involve gay people showing up at somebodies church with an obnoxious sign that called Christians bigots or something equivalent to what these preachers were doing; these were people who were just minding their own business living life when suddenly they get accosted by people and beat to death. Now, some Christians might point out that these people are violent criminals and should be locked up, that they rightfully decry such violence too and it isn’t fair to judge them by the actions of their worst adherents. To them I say, yes, which is exactly why you shouldn’t Judge the entire LBGT movement by it’s worst defenders either. Still, you should take the time to acknowledge that the existence of people who have beaten homosexuals to death on the basis of similar arguments to the ones the preachers used might just give some of the pride parade attendees cause to be just a bit nervous with of such men present at their rally, Further, it ought to encourage sensitive, thoughtful people, whatever their religious beliefs, reason to present their arguments in a less combative manner in the future.