Reason Freely


Posted in discussion seed, news by reasonfreely on January 11, 2011

I was reading an article in the Post about the Arizona shootings today, referring to the classic The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder when I saw a comment from an Angry Atheist:

Do you believers ever stop to wonder if your god is simply incompetent?

You people forgive your god a lot more than it ever forgives you, and for much bigger things too. How do you compare a lustful thought against a quarter million people lost to a tsunami, against a little girl killed by a nut?


What caught my eye was that the article discusses the mystery of evil — why do bad things happen to good people? — and the commenter was off topic.  It caught my eye at first because I’m annoyed by off-topic comments since they ignore the points raised in the article and make their own.  I believe if you want to make a totally tangential point, make it in your own blog.

So here I go.

First, let’s ignore the first sentence.  It’s acerbic and insulting; and it has nothing to do with the interesting part.

Now, look at the second paragraph:  It’s two sentences long and tangential to the On Faith article.   First it reminds us that some evil is committed by man (little girl killed by a nut) and some is committed by nature (tsunami).  Those that believe that the acts of others are guided by God have to accept both; but the majority of Theists I know attribute only natural occurrences to God (however, He seems content to sit idly by, watching 9-year-olds get shot by sick nutjobs without so much as a clear omen of warning or providential jam in the gun).

Instead of exploring the metaphysics of the question of evil (as I have, here; as Thornton Wilder does in his novel; and as Julia Duin does for On Faith) he throws it back in our face:  “You people forgive your god a lot more than it ever forgives you, and for much bigger things too. How do you compare a lustful thought against…”  He’s not saying “God can only be at most two of the three:  just, knowing, or powerful” as many philosophers have reasoned, dryly and ad nauseum.   He’s just pointing out the obvious — that to give up resenting God for natural disasters or failure to save the innocent (by arguments like “He works in mysterious ways”; “He is testing us”; or “we cannot hope to understand his plans for us”) is to forgive.  And, the commenter points out, Theists seem to do quite a lot more forgiving of Him than they expect from Him.

What does that mean?

What do you think?

Insightful comment?  Internet trolling?  Both?


Emotion and Revelation

Posted in discussion seed by reasonfreely on August 19, 2010

Does an extreme emotion or serious crisis ready a person’s mind for things beyond itself, touch the soul, break down the barriers of mundane concerns, awaken the spirit, and open your heart to the divine?

Or does it cloud your thinking, bias your judgment, and impair critical analysis?

I’ve heard it both ways.

Chaplains Urge Lawmakers to Reconsider Dropping DADT; Adm. Mullen Deploys Chaplains to Crimea River

Posted in discussion seed, news by reasonfreely on July 13, 2010

The Military Readiness Act is going to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and allow gays in the military.  Theoretically that should increase recruitment for the military in times of war by a small but much-needed margin.  And it would make service a lot less stressful for the homosexual men and women in the military already.

The joint chiefs seem to approve.  Adm. Mullen has been pushing for it for a while.  Other than a few homophobes afraid someone’s going to be oggling their Pvt. Parts in the group shower, some tea party extremists who don’t understand what “libertarian” means, and a few COs worrying about a stressful adjustment period, who’s really bothered by this?

If you guessed “chaplains,” you win!

They say that being ordered to stop preaching homophobia is going to restrict their religious freedom.  That would be a very valid complaint, if the idea of chaplaincy wasn’t questionably un/constitutional to begin with!  They seem to forget that the government is paying them. Government employees  shouldn’t be preaching anything to begin with, but somehow prison and military chaplains get a pass.

I’m not going to call for the abolishment of the chaplaincy, though I wouldn’t be opposed to a shift to a more humanist chaplaincy.  And I’m on the record opposing military proselytization or at least supporting a group that opposes it.  I think it keeps our soldiers’ morale up and provides valuable counseling — and those are worth some fraction of my income tax check.  I imagine we could do the same good with secular counselors and morale officers, but it would take a cultural shift, and generations of time.  A particularly strident author I’ve talked about before has called for it, though.

In my work in suicide prevention, I’ve met some chaplains and trained with some of them.  They’ve all been good folks, and they showed empathy to Christians, Muslims, Jews and atheists all the same.  That’s the Love Thy Neighbor ethos I like so much about some flavors of Christianity.  But, apparently, not all chaplains are like the ones I’ve met, if they’re willing to fight for their already-questionable “right” to preach intolerance on the taxpayers’ dime.

Thankfully Admiral Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs, seems to find this objection about as irrelevant as I do.

Oh, and on a related note; what’s your opinion on the new $4 million survey of servicemembers?  As a sociologist and a fan of reasoning freely, I like making decisions with all the information I can get, but do you think this survey will gather valid, valuable, or reliable information?  See any interesting questions on there?  I think I do…

Follow-Up: 20-something “nones” getting married by friends

Posted in discussion seed, news by reasonfreely on June 29, 2010

Remember the article about college students being more nonreligious this year?  Well other 20-somethings are eschewing the clergy in their own way.  Just like the college kids are getting more secular, weddings are starting to eschew traditional authority:

Here at Reason Freely, we love breaking from tradition and traditional authority.  That’s what it’s all about here.  So I love hearing stories like this.  I’m not cheering the demise of the ministry’s role in marriages so much as cheering the increasing freedom within which people are choosing their officiants.

I think religious officiants and settings do a great job of adding a sense of ancient austerity to a ceremony, but I like the idea of choosing a personal friend or family member to officiate, as well.  Instead of choosing from a list of approved religious passages, the friend can personalize the ceremony a lot better, based on shared experiences and intimate knowledge of the couple.

Let’s discuss factors that contribute to these numbers.  Here are my first-blush thoughts:

– There are more nonbelievers.  Recall from a previous post, 21.9% of college freshmen are “nones.”  And ARIS says 16.1% of the US are nones.  1/7 is 14.3%, so some of the nones are still getting married with pastoral officiants:  In some cases, nones are marrying people of faith, and acquiescing to a religious marriage out of respect (myself, for instance).

– Probably more licensed officiants are “nones” now.  Thank you Universal Life Church.

– Keep in mind, just because a friend is officiating doesn’t mean the couple or the officiant aren’t deeply religious.  However, it means that the couple and the friend are willing to break from traditional religious authority and custom.  That, alone, demonstrates free thought.  As I’ve said over and over again, I’m not against religion; I’m for free thought.

– There are more mixed marriages, with denomination meaning less and less and tolerant denominations (methodism, unitarianisn) growing in popularity (no source right now, sorry).  If you’re going to argue whether his or her pastor should officiate, and if you’re already marrying a heathen anyway (depending on the tolerance level of your denomination); why not do away with argument and let your best friend officiate?

– Community no longer means the people you go to church with.  Modern technology keeps you in touch with friends in ways you couldn’t before.  Now your friends are your community, even if they’re spread over a 500-mile+ diaspora.

– Weddings are getting expensive and heinously over-planned as expressions of self-identity and personal/family pecuniary might.  If your wedding becomes more of a personal expression than a religious sacrament, it makes sense to personalize the officiant, too.  Especially if you’re not as socially bound to your preacher.

Did anyone out there consider a friend for an officiant?  Anyone have a friend officiate?  If so, please comment with your reasons and thoughts.  I’d love to hear them!

Gotta get back to Nonfiction

Posted in discussion seed by reasonfreely on May 13, 2010

I’ve been slacking here! Home renovation, you know. Well, plus I’ve been reading a lot of fiction. Anyway, I’m considering two books.

Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife
From Booklist:

According to various polls, most Americans believe in heaven even, as Miller points out, when they don’t know what heaven means. Miller, Newsweek’s religion editor, addresses what and where heaven is and why the concept endures. Having covered many aspects of religion and interviewed people of many different faiths, she offers portraits of famous and ordinary people as well as experts in religious studies to educe how their views do or, more commonly, do not reflect the “official teaching, whatever that is.” The crux of the book focuses on believers, not beliefs, “for how people imagine heaven changes with who they are and how they live.” Miller discusses the heavenly city, afterlife in the Hebrew Bible, resurrection, and salvation, includes a chapter on visionaries, and comments extensively on how heaven is portrayed in pop culture ranging from the Talking Heads’ song “Heaven” to Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones (2002). Miller’s whirlwind tour of heaven is an entertaining primer on a most complex subject. –June Sawyers

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer
From Publishers Weekly

In this sometimes provocative, often pedantic memoir of his own attempts to answer the great theological question about the persistence of evil in the world, Ehrman, a UNC–Chapel Hill religion professor, refuses to accept the standard theological answers. Through close readings of every section of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, he discovers that the Bible offers numerous answers that are often contradictory. The prophets think God sends pain and suffering as a punishment for sin and also that human beings who oppress others create such misery; the writers who tell the Jesus story and the Joseph stories think God works through suffering to achieve redemptive purposes; the writers of Job view pain as God’s test; and the writers of Job and Ecclesiastes conclude that we simply cannot know why we suffer. In the end, frustrated that the Bible offers such a range of opposing answers, Ehrman gives up on his Christian faith and fashions a peculiarly utilitarian solution to suffering and evil in the world: first, make this life as pleasing to ourselves as we can and then make it pleasing to others. Although Ehrman’s readings of the biblical texts are instructive, he fails to convince readers that these are indeed God’s problems, and he fails to advance the conversation any further than it’s already come. (Mar.)

Feel free to suggest other freethinker-related books in comments. They don’t have to be religion-related. In fact, I might even prefer if they weren’t!

Richard Dawkins defeats Pascal’s Wager in 1 min 24 sec

Posted in discussion seed by reasonfreely on April 19, 2010

Pascal’s wager is never officially brought up. However, the questioner asks basically the same question: “What if you’re wrong?” (that God does not exist) to Richard Dawkins. She implies that there is a consequence to his unbelief and wants him to discuss his thoughts on that. His reply is a bit more scathing than I would prefer (see my previous post about that). But he does make it funny, and he isn’t entirely heartless.

Pascal’s wager, by the way, basically goes like this: If you’re religious, you expend some effort to avoid hell. If there is no hell, you have wasted some effort for zero gain; if there is a hell, you have used some effort for an immeasurable (infinite, according to Pascal) gain. The flaw, as Dawkins points out, is that there are other options (Pascal’s wager was invented in relatively religiously homogeneous Europe). What if — just to throw one out there — right-wing Muslims were right, and the unconverted (e.g. Christians) are doomed to infinite torment?

EDIT: Similar to what Dawkins says, what Heaven looks like depends on what your culture longs for.
Good read.

Penn Jilette – This I Believe

Posted in discussion seed by reasonfreely on March 10, 2010

A discussion on a previous post inspired me to look around for an entertaining essay that also distinguishes strong atheism from weak atheism.  Penn Jilette does a great job of it on his NPR audio essay for This I Believe.


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Ayn Rand on Human Nature, Credulity and Authority

Posted in discussion seed by reasonfreely on March 2, 2010
“You see, Dr. Stadler, people don’t want to think. And the deeper they get into trouble, the less they want to think. But by some sort of instinct, they feel that they ought to and it makes them feel guilty. So they’ll bless and follow anyone who gives them justification for not thinking. Anyone who makes a virtue – out of what they know to be sin, their weakness and their guilt.”
– Dr. Ferris to Dr. Stadler (Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, p. 322)
I hated that book.
Feel free to discuss this quote in comments.  Or discuss Ayn Rand’s unique life that led her to radical ultra-libertarianism and a burning, vocal distaste for religion.