Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Does Homer Make A Better Comparison To The Bible Than Harry Potter?

Homer makes THE BEST literary comparison to the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible), period, hands down, game over, what's for lunch. Neither the Iliad nor the Odyssey nor the Pentateuch was considered fiction when it was written. People believed that Adam, Eve, Abraham, Achilles, Jehovah and Zeus were real. In the case of Harry Potter right from the start everyone understood that Harry was a fictional character, and that J K Rowling didn't really believe in witches. (Which is only one of the reasons why the claim that 2000 years from now people will believe that Harry was real, a claim often made by these New Atheist idiots comparing Harry Potter to the Bible, is so teeth-grindingly, head-spinningly stupid. It would require a catastrophic decline in our civilization, a huge breakdown, a Mad Max-type situation, in order for people to believe Harry was real. [4 years of President Ted Cruz might do it.] Fiction was written 2000 years ago. Everybody today knows that nobody 2000 years ago thought that Plautus' plays or Petronius' novel Satyricon [Yes, I said novel. There were novels before Tom Jones and before Don Quixote and before Gargantua and of Pantagruel, and yes I mean novels written in prose and everything.] were meant to be taken as non-fictional depictions of anything.) Also, the Exodus, if it happened (if so it was much smaller than described in the Bible) happened right around the same time as the Trojan War, if that war happened, and of course if it happened the Greek deities didn't participate, because they're not any more real than Jehovah or Satan. The time period of the Exodus is the same as that of the Trojan War, somewhere between 1400 and 1200 BC, a time of general chaos throughout the Middle East, when some civilizations vanished and some others arose, a time from which relatively few records survive. With both Homer and the Pentateuch, we don't know who originally wrote them (there's a legendary author in each case, Homer and Moses), or when they first began to be written down. Both were in something resembling their current written form by the 6th century BC. Both laid the cornerstone for a whole society, Greece in the one case and the Hebrews in the other. The resemblances are just remarkable.

Of course, that's only the first five books of the Bible.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

News-Show Hosts Who've Been Fired By MSNBC:

Keith Olbermann, Phil Donahue, Cenk Uygur, Pat Buchanan, Don Imus, Michael Savage (if we're generous with the definition of "news show"), and now Alec Baldwin. With the caveat that the hirings of Buchanan, Imus and especially Savage could very reasonably have been called somewhere between odd and insane to begin with, that seems like a lot of host-firing to me. Donahue was fired for criticizing the Iraq war -- in 2003, so with the perspective of history, his failing was being, not edgy, but ahead of his time. Alec Baldwin was fired for losing his temper and shouting something homophobic -- at a paparazzo. Baldwin is unambiguously and prominently an advocate for gay marriage, GLBT rights, HIV/Aids research and every liberal cause, and has been for a long, long time, and everyone knows it. And no-one in the US should be punished for attacking paparazzi. Ever. Period. End of discussion. (Not that I should be understood as letting paparazzi in other countries off the hook, it's just that I'm only familiar with the paparazzi situation in the US. For all I know it's actually worse somewhere else.)

We may never know why Olbermann was fired. I really literally cannot imagine a good reason for having done that. Olbermann was the soul, the backbone, the guts and the Vincent Black Shadow of MSNBC. I don't know who's got their hand on the switch over there, but they're a nut. A nut wearing a propeller beanie and slurping on a great big rainbow-swirl lollypop. They never should have been given more responsibility than the assistant janitor of a small school, no more than W ever should been.

And to be completely accurate, I don't know whether Uygur was actually fired or whether he followed Olbermann to Current of his own free will. I do know that it's a $%#$&^*&(*&^ waste having Olbermann on ESPN now, with his contract stipulation that he completely refrain from all political comments while on air. WHAT?! Wonder how long that'll last, if, that is, Olbermann hasn't violated that clause of his contract already. He certainly should. Having Keith do a sports show under the condition that he make no remarks concerning politics is a lot like having Picasso renovate your kitchen under the condition that he will under no circumstances paint or sculpt anything -- it's flat-out stupid, it's a huge waste. The years of not having Olbermann tell people what's what about politics on TV nightly have been a sad, sad waste. People who are both that smart and that angry don't grow on trees. It may actually be that there have been no more than one or two of them alive in the US at any given time. Melville, Twain, Bierce, Hunter S Thompson and Keith -- yeah, one or two, no more. #$%$ you, you *@#!ing idiots running things and running them into the ground!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Church Of England Faces Extinction, Says Former Archbishop Of Canterbury Lord George Carey

We are one generation away from extinction and if we do not invest in young people there is going to be no one in the future, Lord Carey said one week ago today.

"Extinction" is an imprecise and overly melodramatic term when used in this context. Extinction refers to the literal, physical death of organisms. One of the things I dislike most intensely about Christian theologians is this tendency toward imprecision and wild exaggeration in their language -- when, that is, they're not outright lying or talking gibberish. If 12 pimply-faced young boys who used to comprise a model-airplane-building club have ceased to attend the meetings of that club, so that the club has ceased to be, no extinction has therewith occurred. It may well be that all 12 of the boys are, in fact, still alive. There may, in fact, be still more good news: perhaps some of the boys' faces have cleared up, perhaps some of them have gotten girlfriends, perhaps all of them now are socializing in wider circles, so that the fact that there is now no longer a model-airplane-building club might actually have to be considered, by all 12 boys and almost any outside observer, to be a very good thing, all in all. Not that there's anything wrong with model airplanes per se, of course. A man such as myself, with my passionate interest in pocket watches, would of course be on rather thin ice were he to suggest that there were anything wrong with model airplanes per se.

But my hypothetical example involves only 12 people. According to the linked article, the Anglican church has 85 million members worldwide. There are perhaps 100,000 sea otters living in the world today, perhaps 4000 black rhinos, most of them in captivity, only a few hundred Siberian tigers, perhaps 4000 or 5000 snow leopards. Throwing around terms like "extinction" in reference to a group of 85 million people would be insulting to all of those animals even if it actually were the people themselves which were meant, even if living, breathing organisms were meant.

I can already hear the theologians responding: "Oh, but a denomination IS a living, breathing organism!" Oh, but it's not! And no matter how many times you repeat yourselves, a denomination will still not be a living thing, and no matter how many other people you eventually wear down, so that finally they say, "Okay, okay, the Church of England (or the Methodist Church or Sikhism or what have you) is a living, breathing organism!" just so that they can politely be done talking to you and stagger away, desperately searching for some sensible person somewhere to talk to about something sans gibberish -- no matter how many others you wear down, you smug infuriating pustules, you will not ever get me to say that a denomination is a living thing or that 2 and 2 are 5 or that we are one in the Grace of the Body of Christ, fuck you and your tiresome boring voodoo, you evil impediments to the progress and well-being of this Earth!

Dixit Carey: "To sit in a cold church, looking at the back of people’s heads, is perhaps not considered the most exciting place to meet new people and hear prophetic words." Do you really think that the problem has more to do with the heating in churches and with the backs of people's heads than with things such as your concept of prophecy? When the Church of England began, it was, in Ricky Gervais' words, a matter of "cake or death" : English men and women were offered the choice of swallowing a piece of cake and a slurp of wine and sitting quietly while men like you blathered on and on about things like "prophetic words" -- or being imprisoned, tortured and then burned alive. And so, not really surprisingly, most said, "Uh... I believe I'll have the cake, please. Thank you very much. And yes, I'll just sit here quietly until you're done speaking, Lord Reverend" or whatever the title happened to be at the specific place and time.

But you can't get away with torturing and killing people over religious differences any more, not in England at least, and so, horribly to your traditional soul, people are free to stand up and say things like, "'Prophetic words'?! Pull the other one, Guv!" and walk out on you, and even to point out that your use of terms like "extinction" is imprecise, overly-melodramatic, self-serving, self-pitying and all-round ridiculous. People who are REALLY concerned about actual extinction are working on things like AIDS research and combating poaching and volunteering in disaster areas and boy o boy do you look petty and small and yet still like an enormous waste of time and resources compared to them.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Bazillion Brazilians --

-- is the title of one of the novels for which, as yet, I haven't come up with much more than the title. It could refer to residents of Brazil, to the fashionable style of womanscaping, to the Brazilian real, the country's currency, or perhaps in indirect ways to all of the above as well as to other things. The title of another novel I haven't written yet is You Magnificent Bastards. As with A Bazillion Brazilians, I haven't moved very far in the actual writing of the novel past liking the way the title sounds.

Then there's Because It's There. I've actually written 3 figures of pages' worth of various drafts of this one. Its protagonist is a man in his late 20's who's appeared rather unremarkable and lazy in his life so far, until, one night, he suddenly stands up in his usual dive bar, sets down his longneck Bud, announces to his drinking buddies that he's going to walk and swim all of the way around the world, with no motor vehicles, no boats, no life jackets, no nuthin', and walks out into the Ohio night and proceeds to do exactly that. The Key West-to-Cuba scene will now have to be rewritten with a reference to Diana Nyad. This swim will be perhaps the greatest challenge of the entire journey for my young hero, because until now he has not been a good swimmer by anyone's standards. Fortunately, the walk from Ohio to Florida has both gotten him into much better physical shape, and given him a lot of alone time in which to mentally steel himself for the long swim. Still, it's not as accurate to say that he swims up onto the beach in Cuba 6 days after leaving Florida, as that he washes up on shore, half-dead. Luckily, he's discovered before he actually dies and rushed to a hospital where he receives excellent medical care free of charge. Staying true to the rule he set for himself, he backtracks on foot to the beach he landed on before continuing the trip.

Then there's the novel about angels I started to write on this blog a couple of years ago.

So why don't I ever finish a novel, you ask? I have. I've finished two of them, Salvation and Independents. How many have YOU finished? Yeah, that's what I thought! You want to be helpful, don't stand there complaining, go scare me up an agent so I can publish some of this stuff, kay thanx.

Is New Atheism A Religion?

When I first heard the term "New Atheists" a few years ago, for a little while I assumed that I was one, because I vociferously criticize religion. However, religion isn't the ONLY thing I criticize, and soon after I began to hang with New Atheists I began to clash with them, because I criticize some of the things they say, including memes like calling the authors of the Bible "Bronze Age goat herders." (No evidence of written Hebrew before the Iron Age exists, most of the authors of the Bible were urban, and as if that weren't enough, the ancient Israelites raised more sheep than goats.) I had assumed that New Atheists would welcome corrections and a honing of their message. Not so much. I find this very ironic because so many of the New Atheists are scientists (including Dawkins, of course, who, unless I'm misinformed, came up with the Bronze Age goat herder meme), and, in their arguments with believers, they very often (and correctly) emphasize the importance of peer review. They don't seem to realize, or to care, that peer review also exists in disciplines such as history, archaeology and, yes, even Biblical studies. Point out the weakness in one of their slogans, and New Atheists are liable to accuse you of lending aid and comfort to the enemy. But my enemy is misinformation, nonsense and inaccuracy, even if it's being spread by other atheists.

PS: No, New Atheism is not a religion. What a silly thing to say. Of course it's not a religion. Neither is Communism, or sports, simply because they, like religion, involve large masses of people, charismatic leaders, occasional violence and simplistic slogans. (Just kidding about the violence in the case of New Atheism. As far as I know, it has not become violent. Yet.) Not only do I see a lot to criticize and oppose in religion, and in New Atheism, I can see a lot of problems in other atheist critiques of New Atheism as well, and a frequent one is this assertion that New Atheism is a religion. It's a silly accusation, and all it does is anger New Atheists without contributing anything to the discussion. (And as a rule they're already pretty angry.) As I've often said to New Atheists in re: religion: there's no need to exaggerate or distort, there's plenty to criticize here while remaining scrupulously accurate.

But who cares about things like scrupulous accuracy and logical consistency when there are points to be scored and zingers to be delivered, eh?

I do, that's who. Who will follow my charismatic lead in a mass movement of Anti-New Atheist Atheism? A little tip at this point: if you're breathlessly following me and painting quotes from me on signs and ostracizing those who dare to criticize me and preparing to march behind me, you're probably misunderstanding me. What I would most appreciate are readers who like what I say, and then criticize it, hone it and take it further. Not followers, but colleagues. People who can appreciate a good point being made without it shutting their brains off. Let's try to evolve, shall we?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Maybe I'm Too Elitist (Just Kidding)

New Atheism provides a place for the simpleminded. It used to be that atheists were rare and quick-witted and well-read. Now our name is legion, and quality control has suffered accordingly.

Just a little while ago I jumped into an exchange between a believer and a New Atheist:

BELIEVER: Here is one person whose conscience is not dead towards God.

NEW ATHEIST: Which GOD would that be?

ME: Context, Dude. You know which one, and that meme is tired.

NEW ATHEIST: Since there are thousands of GODS to choose from; we need to demand more specifics about which invisible supreme being we are talking about.

ME: Since I'm here I'll try one more time: you know [BELIEVER'S HANDLE] is talking about about the Judaeo-Christian God, the one from the Bible, and you know there's a 99% chance or so that [BELIEVER'S HANDLE] is a Christian. (Ooooh, wow, there are polytheists and different religions, you blew my mind, not.)

NEW ATHEIST: One should never assume anything about GODS or religions.

ME: You and [BELIEVER'S HANDLE] deserve each other. Have fun. I'm outta here.

NEW ATHEIST: You don't know what he believes or which GOD he worships?

Wow. Now that's some hardcore atheist stupid. I noticed that he asked someone else "Which GOD would that be?" this morning. The same inane waste-of-space question, word for word down to the same capitalization of "GOD." It occurred to me to Google that question, word for word, in quotes: "which god would that be." About 1,920,000 results (0.19 seconds). Not long ago it was "Have you heard about my friend Jesus?" Now it's "Which GOD would that be?" I guess morons never have to be lonely. About 695,000 results (0.32 seconds) for bronze age goat herders.

Early in his career Hunter S Thompson had been a sportswriter, and sometimes later he regretted that he had not been stupid enough to remain one. He fantasized about regressing: "It was a wonderful gig, in retrospect, and at times I wish I could go back to it — just punch a big hatpin through my frontal lobes and maybe regain that happy lost innocence." If he did it he knew all he'd really need would be a Roget's Thesaurus, to ensure he didn't write passages like "The precision-jack-hammer attack of the Miami Dolphins stomped the balls off the Washington Redskins today by stomping and hammering with one precise jack-thrust after another up the middle, mixed with pinpoint-precision passes into the flat and numerous hammer-jack stomps around both ends...."

Should I go the do-it-yourself hatpin-lobotomy route and seek happiness as a New Atheist? Clearly, I wouldn't even need the thesaurus: mind-numbing repetition of simplistic memes is not seen by them as a defect, it is actually encouraged, and the lack of such repetition is regarded with suspicion and hostility. ("WHY does he REFUSE to say 'bronze age goat herders'?!")

Ah yes, but even as it is now, pre-hatpin, I'm fascinated by shiny objects and brilliant colors, and religion has by far the best stained glass. it looks like I might never be a New Atheist.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Someone Said About Sarah Silverman:

"This chick is the antithesis of a comic genius."

Hold on there, Daddy-O -- this chick is a cool kitty! All the hep cats and groovy kitties wig when she makes with the yucks. She's what's happenin', so you better dig it, Baby!

New Atheists Need To Learn A Lot About Biblical Archaeology, And In The Meantime They Need To STFU About It

Whenever there's a story about Biblical archaeology a bunch of nimwits come out of the woodwork, attacking things with which the story has nothing to do: "Just because Jerusalem exists doesn't mean Jesus existed, any more than the existence of London means that Harry Potterexists." "Manhattan is real, but that doesn't mean that Spider-Manis." "There's no more evidence for the existence of Moses or Jesus or Nazareth than there is for Fred Flintstoneor Bedrock."

For one thing, it's always Harry Potter and Spider-Man and the Flintstones with these guys. This should give you a great big honkin' clue about these New Atheists' cultural reference-points, and their level of intellectual sophistication. You never hear them say something like "Ancient artifacts don't mean Jesus existed, any more than the V-2 rocket means that Tyrone Slothropreally caught a glimpse of Pirate Prentice" or "The existence of Paris doesn't mean that Bernardspent a night with Olivier." It seems that they're grown-ups reading novels written for children and comic books -- if, that is, I'm not giving them entirely too much credit as readers, and they actually only know Harry and Spidey from the movies. You're not going to catch these guys quoting Ovidin Latin or Dantein either Italian or Latin, or even Popein English, cause they've kinda got their heads up their asses.

More to the point in this particular case, you'll never hear them quote Finkelsteinor Dever,because they've never read them, although they will often drop Finkelstein's name, because they've heard, contrary to the truth, that Finkelstein is in sympathy with their positions concerning history and the Bible, and is as bitterly opposed to Biblical archaeology as they are. That's right: they go on and on about how horrible and reactionary and superstitious Biblical archaeology is, and they claim that Finkelstein is on their side in this matter, and they don't have a blessed clue that Israel Finkelstein is actually The. Most. Prominent. Biblical. Archaeologist. In. The. World.

They rail against Biblical archaeology without having any idea what it is. A century ago most educated people still assumed that Moses was an historical figure and that there was an Exodus and that centuries before Moses, there really had been an Abraham. Today no educated person assumes that Abraham is historical, and rather few still assume that Moses is. What brought about this change, what was it which educated people about these things? Why, it was the discoveries of Biblical archaeology, of course.

Friday, November 15, 2013

So I Actually Watched The First Episode Of "Bible Secrets Revealed"

I didn't learn anything new about the Bible from this episode, which is not to say that nobody would learn anything from it. But the question is, how much misinformation would they get from the show which would stick, and how many erroneous preconceptions which they had would the show confirm? "Bible Secrets Revealed" has a very impressive array of talking heads on hand, including some bona-fide experts in Biblical studies such as Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels, some others in the grad-student-to-Associate-Professor range who made few egregious blunders, and, at least in the first episode, "Lost in Translation," only a couple of dingbats. A very low proportion of dingbats for a show on the so-called History Channel. Unfortunately, very poor use was made of the academic talent on hand. (Why, oh, why do Ehrman and Pagels and other real historians continue to work with the so-called History Channel, giving it what little credibility it has?) The narration, the most dominant voice in any documentary on an historical subject, was written by a dingbat. All those competent scholars got just a few seconds at a time on the audio track, and over and over, just about when they were going to get to something interesting, the narrator broke in and said something vapid or downright stupid. For example, in my previous blog post on this series, I speculated:

"It will be interesting to see whether this series addresses misconceptions about the Bible, such as the very widespread one about the Bible having been written and/or re-written and/or edited and/or altered in any other way at the Council of Nicea. It would be very impressive if the show addresses the way in which that particular misconception has been perpetuated by the so-called History Channel."

They did not address that popular misconception directly. The narrator did strongly, erroneously imply that Constantine wrote or re-wrote the Bible, and flatly, erroneously stated that Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

So many people competent on the subject of the history of the Bible were around this time, in the making of this particular series, but as usual it is obvious, both that none of them had a say in the final draft of the narration, and also that whoever did write the narration wasn't listening at all closely to that unusually-large collection of experts and competent non-nincompoops, which was an unusually-large waste of brains, even for the so-called History Channel.

Maybe the narration was written by Reza Aslan, one of the unusually-few dingbats among the talking heads. Aslan, who toward the end of the episode rhapsodized about the stories in the Bible having been around for "5000 years." (Try roughly half that, Sparky. Theories about the composition of the Bible more than about 2500 to 3000 years ago are quite speculative.) The plot of the narration began with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls -- but no mention was made of Nag Hammadi or Oxyrhynchus -- which Bart Ehrman called "beyond a doubt the most significant archaeological find of the 20th century." But surely, Bart, you meant to say the most significant biblical find of the century, not the most significant find of any kind. Right? And surely you have to mention Nag Hammadi and Oxyrhynchus in the same breath. Right? Even though Oxyrhynchus began to be excavated in the 19th century. Well, very possibly Ehrman did mention those sites, and still others, in the same breath, and quite possibly he did qualify his remark about the Dead Sea Scrolls, calling them the most significant 20th-century-find having to do specifically with the Bible, or perhaps he was more specific still and called the Scrolls the most important 20th-century find having to do with the Old Testament. We may never know, what with the so-called History Channel's ADD-afflicted style of editing which gives us 4 or 5 seconds of talking-head commentary at a time, between longer stretches of dingbat-written narration.

It'd be nice to have the full interviews with the talking heads -- with some of them, I mean, of course. I could live quite comfortably without Aslan's full contribution. But some of the others might have mentioned, in this early part of the episode, when they were discussing how certain parts of the New Testament were altered, their best guesses about when during the first three centuries of Christianity these changes were made, and with the approval of which leaders of the early Church. (But who wants to hear a bunch of dates and names in a program on a historical subject, right?)

But no. And the episode leaps from this spotty coverage of pre-Nicene times and some of its Biblical-textual problems to late-Medieval England, and John Wycliffe. The Vulgate is mentioned only in passing in reference to the English bible translations of Wycliffe and Tyndale and the King James Version. Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Syrian, Gothic, French, Slavonic, German (Luther, hello!) and other Bible translations are mentioned not at all, and apparently the English translations are only mentioned because it takes us to the USA. Apparently God is still a God-fearing English-speaking Amurrkin at the so-called History Channel. A mention of the Jefferson Bible, the book of Mormon, pro-slavery bible readings in the Confederacy, some video montage of international scenes in place of any mention of non-English versions after Antiquity, and the so-called History Channel calls it a wrap, thinking, yes, this will do as a representation of the entire subject of Biblical textual criticism.

It won't do. People who know better need to speak up louder about the shoddy nature of the so-called History Channel. (And I'll say it again, specifically to Ehrman and Pagels: they need to stop appearing on it! How badly will their contributions have to be mangled and distorted before thay say Enough?) Competent historians should receive more support from other media. From outlets like the television channels from National Geographic and the Smithsonian Institution, which seemed at first like they might be a breath of fresh air, but instead have decided that the viewing public needs to be inundated with shows about aircraft crashes and survivalists.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"Bible Secrets Revealed" On The History Channel

Tonight a series entitled "Bible Secrets Revealed" will debut on the so-called History Channel.

First things first: in the title of a show on the so-called History Channel, "Secrets" generally means "out-of-date scholarship, superstition, mistranslation, mispronunciation and straight-up, mind-boggling, how-on-Earth-are--they-able-to-sell-this-crap bullshit," and that ain't no secret, Daddy-O. I don't see any reason to suspect that things will be different in this case. The "experts" consulted for this series include University of Iowa Assistant Professor Robert Cargill, already guilty of serial collaboration with the so-called History Channel, Reza Aslan, who may be an expert on finding a good literary agent and had the incredible good luck to be propelled into literary superstardom when he was insulted on-air by a Fox News "pundit," and David Wolpe, who is just a dingbat. Cargill and Aslan and some other talking heads may make some accurate statements which don't get cut from their interviews, but unless the so-called History Channel undergoes a massive transformation with this series, and there's absolutely no reason to suspect that it will, experts will be nicely balanced in the mix by people who think -- or at least, who say -- that they've found Noah's Arc and Adam and Eve's DNA. Also, par for the course on the so-called History Channel is for some actual expert to say something like, "Object X has been conclusively proven to be a 20th-century forgery," immediately followed by the voice-over narrator saying something like, "Is Object X actually a 3000-year-old artifact which was touched by Moses himself? We may never know for sure. But for believers, [...]" I see no reason to believe that the narrators and the people who write the narration on the so-called History Channel even listen to the talking heads -- If they did, the narrators wouldn't commit the spectacular, aforementioned mispronunciations nearly so often -- let alone being able to sort the actual experts out from the idiots and the hucksters.

It will be interesting to see whether this series addresses misconceptions about the Bible, such as the very widespread one about the Bible having been written and/or re-written and/or edited and/or altered in any other way at the Council of Nicea. It would be very impressive if the show addresses the way in which that particular misconception has been perpetuated by the so-called History Channel. ... ... ...

... ... ...

Excuse me. I fell off of my chair laughing just then, at the thought of the so-called History Channel doing something impressive and/or consciously attempting to clean up a bit of the dreck and confusion it itself has spread.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Another Theologian Pining For The Good Old Days Before Atheists Became Uppity

John Carlson has taken the occasion of Albert Camus' 100th birthday to complain about horrible the New Atheists are.

As far as I can tell, there's no clear and widely-accepted definition of just who exactly is a New Atheist and who isn't. I'm sure some people consider me to be a New Atheist, although I don't consider myself one. If stridency is the only criterium then I may be one. Stridency is not necessarily a good thing, but I'd much rather my statements were strident and accurate than mild and vapid. In any case, I don't know of many things more likely to unite atheists, New and not, in opposition, than articles like this one. (Which is so typical of the contributions of the Huffington Post on the subject of atheism, so familiar, that I was quite surprised when I checked Carlson's author bio and found that this is his very first piece for the Huffington Post.) One of the things that's particularly annoying is the assertion that an atheist who is now dead would've been on the author's side and not on the side of these horrible atheists these days, and because Camus is dead he of course cannot contradict the author. Get a living atheist to say that he thinks you write great stuff, and then maybe I'll be impressed. Maybe. It would of course depend on which living atheist it was, among other things. There are some atheists, * cough cough, Huffington Post regular Chris Stedman, cough cough *, who have made careers around ostensibly representing atheists, when what they really do for a living is suck up to powerful religious leaders, and who are therefore very unpopular with the atheists they supposedly represent. Including this one.

And although Carlson may be right in his depiction of Camus as an avowed atheist who was particularly considerate and kind and gentle and conciliatory in his statements to believers, his suggestion that Camus was typical in this way of atheists of his time, and that stridency and open hostility to religion were invented by the New Atheists, is absurd. Even for a theologian. Hobbes and Spinoza and Hume and Gibbon and Marx and Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and Camus' good friend Sartre were all outrageous on the subject of religion, they all outraged their religious contemporaries. On purpose. We can debate the ways in which Camus' overt friendliness to religious believers may have been good or bad; but there is no denying that it made him unusual among the publicly-avowed atheists in Christendom in the past few centuries. Which is as long as we've been allowed to be publicly-avowed atheists. Which is just one of a bunch of perfectly good reasons for us to be pissed off in general and impatient with theologians in particular and occasionally impolite. In short, Carlson's "longing for the old atheism" is another case of nostalgia being a longing for something which never existed, as nostalgia is roughly 100% of the time.

Hope this isn't confusing to those of my readers who are used to me bashing New Atheists. Don't worry, I'll get back to them. But not today. A theologian pontificating in general terms about atheism makes me feel a temporary solidarity with almost all other atheists just about every single time. Except of course for a few jerks such as the aforementioned Chris Stedman.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Pub Theology

A ridiculous person named Bryan Berghoef has published a few ridiculous articles on that ridiculous presence (on which I spend a ridiculous amount of time), the Huffington Post, plugging his ridiculous career, pub theology. His latest ridiculous effort is entitled "Pub Theology Is a Waste of Time," and he's right, or, that is to say, he would be right except that he is speaking ironically. In this article he erects an amazing number of small flimsy straw men, a collection of objections to his calling of pub theology which I simply don't believe exists apart from his imagination and this article, in order to deftly knock each one down.

Except that he's not really so deft. Take the following example, with which I wouldn't even be bothering you if the Huffington Post moderation had not rejected several perfectly reasonable and mild attempts of mine (Over there, I didn't even use the word "ridiculous"! Not once!) to address it. As my regular readers well know, I WON'T be IGNORED:

"I've heard some criticism along these lines, and I've had some of these thoughts myself. Pub theology -- gathering with folks to talk about life over beer -- is nice. But isn't it time to start doing some things that really matter? Isn't it just dressing up a relic without really changing anything?"

Hæc locutus est Atriummontem! Leaving aside for the moment the imaginary nature of this criticism -- which Mountaincourt advances in order to distract from real critics. Like me. With the craven assistance of his tools, the Huffington Post moderation -- Corte de Montaña here clumsily attempts to disguise his ware, theology.

Mmwahaha! Nice try, Corte de la Montagna, not! Gathering to talk about life is not theology. Theology is the study of God. Life exists. God doesn't. By defending all sorts of things in this article, normal, everyday, healthy, non-ridiculous things, falsely defending them because no one has assailed them, you are attempting to smuggle theology, theological nonsense and doubletalk and confusion, in among all of these normal everyday inoffensive things. And you're fooling me about as much as those green night-vision filters on the camera lenses make me think there really are ghosts on "Ghost Adventures," and about as much as I've been swindled into thinking that the talking heads on "Ancient Aliens" are world-renowned scientists. And if I ever meet you in a pub, Cour de la Montagne, I'll say so to your ridiculous face, in which I might also just laugh, and your big strong moderators won't be there to muzzle me!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sean Carroll's Analysis Of Morality Agrees With Mine In Some Points -- I Think

Sean Carroll -- Sean M Carroll, that is, the physicist at Cal Tech, not Sean B Carroll, the biologist at the University of Wisconsin -- is a prominent scientist and also an outspoken atheist, which may sound as if he a New Atheist. I'm not sure whether he is, though. He has repeatedly publicly criticized positions of prominent New Atheists, which, as I pointed out in this blog post, New Atheists just don't seem to do, being much too busy attacking religion, The Cause Of All Evil Since The Beginning Of Time in their estimation.

In the case of this article, Carroll finds himself at odds with New Atheist superstar Sam Harris on the subject of morality.

And in agreement with me, I think. I study philosophy in the way which involves learning other languages so as to be able to read Nietzsche, Spinoza and Sartre, and so forth, in German, Latin and French, and so forth; whereas Carroll seems to favor the approach which requires learning English words with 5, 6 or even more syllables, many of which, frankly, I don't understand: "consequentialist." "Deontological." Horrible, horrible words like that. But I think we both agree that Harris, and, for example, John Stuart Mill, completely miss the inevitable subjectivity of morality. Mill and Nietzsche and Sartre and Harris and Carroll and I all would very likely want the same things, I think, in the vast majority of cases of what are commonly called moral choices. But Nietzsche and Sartre and Carroll and I grasp the complexity of the world somewhat better than do Mill and Harris, and the inevitable difficulties involved in "making everything right," and the necessity of putting quotation marks around phrases such as "making everything right," and so forth.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Missed My Window

It's too late for me to apologize to him for inaccurately assuming that he had been a suburban boy with certain things in common with me, because I hadn't known he was a kid in Brooklyn before his family moved to Long Island. And beyond just acknowledging that I was wrong, that I was misinformed, as I'm doing now, I don't feel the need to apologize to anybody else about it.

In the same interview I saw recently and found out he was originally from Brooklyn, among the many ones airing since he died, he also said that the first music he was really into was early rock n roll such as doo-wop, rockabilly, Dion, like that. I'll never have a chance to ask him how that music relates to the music he recorded, if it does at all. His music doesn't sound like 50's rock n roll to me, not at all. I know that's Dion singing back-up on Dirty Boulevard,and that's a great record and Dion most surely sounds great on it, but I don't hear any hints of 50's Dion on it, and I don't know if I'm meant to, I don't know if Lou heard anything related to 50's music when he listened to it, and I'll never be able to ask him. I never met him, and maybe it's incredibly presumptuous to write like this, as if I mean to imply that I might possibly have had a chance to ask him things like that, and maybe that earlier blog post about him also had nothing at all to do with who he really was. I never knew him, and I have no right to act as if I ever did. But his music affected me deeply, and hearing that he died felt like something vital was being ripped out of me, leaving blood all over the place, leaving me helpless. I never knew him but I miss him.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Teen Suspended By School For Ripping Out Bible Pages

Just think of all those centuries in Christendom when no one was allowed to do these sorts of things which are found to be a bit shocking today because we all still take religion much, much too seriously. In fact, who would ever rip pages out of a book if they didn't take that book too seriously? Yes, I get symbolism and all that. But it doesn't surprise me that Isaiah Smith, the teen suspended from a Texas high school for tearing pages out of a Bible, is a Christian.

Smith is a gay Christian, and he tore out those Bible pages as a protest against anti-gay bullying to which he had been subjected at the school, and because he doesn't believe that the Bible condemns homosexuality. The pages he tore out, from Leviticus, contain passages which very strongly suggest otherwise.

I am against bullying, period, whether kids are being bullied because of their sexual orientation or their gender or their ethnicity or because of a handicap or because of any damn reason at all, I'm against it, strongly against it, we as a society can't have that sort of thing and still claim to be fully civilized, we have to deal with it. And Smith has guts for standing up to bullying, I admire that very much, and his making a formal public protest against it, as he did, is even better. A kid such as Smith making a protest such is this is not only standing up for himself, he's also standing up for other bullied kids he's never met, and encouraging them to resist bullying as well. That's all very, very good. I admire Isaiah Smith, I salute him, and I stand with him. Good for him. Good, good, good.

Okay. And now for the part where many of you may honestly wonder what my problem is. And vice-versa: some of you who will agree with the following may have been wondering up until now what my problem was. The thing is that Christianity does condemn and persecute homosexuality. Considered over the whole course of its history, Christianity must be considered the single greatest catastrophe for gay people in the history of the world. Yes, that's changing. Today many Christians are openly and passionately pro-gay-rights. And that's good. Very, very good. The question, pressed both by more traditional Christians and also by some atheists such as myself and by some other non-Christian onlookers, is: how Christian is this new gay-friendly attitude? And it is new: out of Christianity's whole 2000-year history, homosexuality has ceased to be condemned by some congregations for 2, 3, sometimes even 4 whole decades. And how has it been done? Exactly the same way Isaiah Smith did it: by tearing out a part of Christianity which had been there from the start and pretending it had never been there. Simple as that. Very inconvenient, if Christians had ever been terrible concerned about consistency, but of course they never have been. If consistency and logic had ever been big parts of religion, both Christians and also Jews would not only oppose homosexuality but also the eating of pork and shellfish and working on the Sabbath, when Christians and Jews can't even agree on which day of the week is the day of rest which most of them don't observe anymore anyway, because, in fact, these religions are fading away, being observed less strictly than they were. Which is a very, very good thing.

Many gay people in the US and other places have found welcoming places in Christian (and Jewish, and Muslim) congregations, where they can be out and be accepted for who they are. And that welcoming is a good thing. I'm not going to try to interfere with the good thing they have going there. It's not as if there's too much human love and understanding in the world just yet. Love and understanding are more important than theology.

But I'm still going to point out all the contradictions and denial and ridiculousness, still going to criticize religion per se. In the appropriate places and at the appropriate times, which will continue to be in many more places much more of the time than many reasonable people will think, and I will continue to hope that as reasonable people we can agree to disagree and both keep a sense of what's most important of all in human life -- such as being fair and decent and kind to each other -- and also keep a commitment to speak openly about what does and doesn't make sense. Because that's important too.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Dream Log: McBride Rocks Coward In Seattle

I dreamed that Danny R McBride was playing the lead role in a Noel Coward play in Seattle and that I had been cast in a supporting role. I was somewhat concerned about what accent Danny would use, and also about whether he would keep the "Eastbound And Down" mullet.

As opening night approached, I couldn't remember any of my lines. I didn't know whether I gotten my costumes yet. I knew which locker was mine in the dressing room, but I didn't know whether there were any costumes in it and I was afraid to open it up and look.

A fellow cast member said some nice things about how well the cast's costumes were being looked after. I told him I hadn't done any of that, but it turned out he had been talking to the wardrobe master, who'd been walking by, and not to me. It was awkward.

Not only could I not remember any of my lines, I couldn't even remember which play we were doing. Surely I'd been given a copy of the play at some point, but I couldn't find it. I couldn't remember what my cues were for going onstage and coming back off.

It was opening night, I didn't know my lines or cues, and I was horribly dirty and unshaven as well. Not to mention that I didn't know if I had any performance wardrobe and was dressed in a dirty T-shirt and jeans, when almost certainly my role called for upscale early-20th-century men's suits.

I blacked out during the whole opening night performance. When I came to the entire cast was onstage, taking bows to a tremendously enthusiastic standing ovation. McBride was standing a little ways in front of the rest of us, waving to the crowd, wearing a vintage silk suit and that mullet. I was not only quite clean and clean-shaven, I was wearing just a dab of some very nice cologne to boot and my hair was slicked back with pomade, and I was wearing a very nice ca 1930 suit. McBride turned around and waved to me to come downstage and stand beside him. When I came downstage I got a very loud cheer from the crowd. Louder than the other cast members when they stepped forward one by one. I had absolutely no memory of the play.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Masters Of The Universe, Gates vs Zuckerberg, And Is Gates The Only One Fighting?

Gore Vidal advised keeping both of one's hands firmly clamped over one's wallet anytime one was anywhere near a billionaire. Gore was very, very, very smart, and seemed sincere in his advice and his concern for the little fellas. Also, he met a few billionaires personally and I haven't yet. (I've known a few people who may have become billionaires since the last time I saw them. Or maybe I'm overestimating their success. And no, I can't put in a good word for you with them, it's been a long, long time since I've seen any of these people and I have no reason to think that they're at all well-disposed toward me and just dying for my input on how best to invest their enormous wealth.) When I first heard Gore's advice I was surprised, because from my point of view Gore was pretty close to being a billionaire himself. Ten million dollars, or three hundred million or however much Gore was worth at the time, versus a billion or a hundred billion -- what's the difference? I thought. It was all filthy stinking rich to me. Since then, however, Gore's apparent conception of billionaires as a race apart, as people quite UNlike him, has only served to clearly underscore what I had begun to perceive long before: that almost no-one thinks of him- or herself as rich. Almost everybody seems to stare with gnawing envy at someone who has a still bigger pile of lucre.

And in any case, Gore's advice was not about the size of the pile but about the behavior of the tycoon, and perhaps he was entirely right, perhaps what separated him from a billionaire was that he wouldn't rip you off at the earliest opportunity and the billionaire would. I like what the Gates Foundation is doing, but I haven't forgotten that Gates amassed his billions by eliminating his competition, beating them in price wars and/or buying them out, creating monopolies. There are Carnegie Libraries and Institutions and Foundations doing good things, but I can't hear about any one of them without thinking about how Carnegie treated his many thousands of employees. (Very badly, is how.) I don't think that Mark Zuckerberg amassed his pile of cash by pure genius or pure goodness, either, but the fact is that both Gates and Zuckerberg are now applying massive piles of money, and large portions of their managerial skills, toward attempts to make the world a better place.

So, good. Thing is, Gates just publicly dissed Zuckerberg for, in Gates' view, thinking that bringing Internet access to the world's poor is the solution to their problems. It's more important, Gates says, to combat malaria, and to get food and water to people dying of hunger and thirst.

And of course he's right, it is more important, it is more urgent. Thing is -- when did Zuckerberg say that Internet access was THE solution? Unless I'm mis-informed, Zuckerberg called Internet access AN important part of efforts to help the poor, not THE solution to all their problems.

With massive problems like poverty, disease, pollution, there are no single solutions. Solar power isn't THE solution to humanity's self-inflicted problems brought on by our energy consumption -- solar power is ONE OF the solutions, along with wind power, geothermal power, public transportation, walking and biking more and driving less and many other things. Ironically, if someone here is guilty of oversimplifying things and believing in a magic bullet to help the poor, it's Gates, with his single-issue focus on disease. Yes, it's great, and tremendously important, what he's doing to fight malaria and AIDS and other epidemics, no, he shouldn't stop. But instead of criticizing Zuckerberg for spreading the Internet, why not, oh, say -- work WITH Zuckerberg, use Zuckerberg's new networks to help get doctors and medicine and mosquito nets and so forth to those who need them, to strengthen the chains of relief logistics and information? Remember when "synergy" used to be a big buzzword? Maybe you're too young to remember that time. It was before Microsoft got huge. I just wonder whether Gates' attitude toward Zuckerberg's give-poor-people-the-hook-up efforts doesn't reflect exactly the same inability to play well with others which the world knows all too well from Microsoft's business practices. I'm not trying to interfere with your charity work, Bill. Exactly the opposite: I'm trying to help you do it better.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Mr Ex-President Clinton, You Compared The POTUS To WHAT?!

Yr busted, Bill: Mark Halperin and John Heilemann have a new book coming outabout the 2012 Presidential campaign, and in it they tell the world that during the campaign you often referred to Barack as "luckier than a dog with two dicks."

A few thoughts, Sir. For one thing, that was skill, not luck. I would've thought a consummately professional politician like you would have less trouble spotting another one. Maybe the way Barack beat Hillary in 2008 just got under your skin and stayed there, I don't know, but it's remarkable the way you seem to underestimate the abilities of our current Commander-in-Chief, who has accomplished quite a lot in the teeth of a stupendous, still-ongoing effort on the part of the GOP to sabotage every thing he does. Barack's lucky they can't shoot straight? It'd be a lot luckier for him if they weren't shooting at him at all, and behaving like normal stupid reactionary partly-civilized Republicans.

Another thing. I know you didn't plan for this remark to go public, but still, are you really the sort of person who should ever compare anyone else to that kind of dog? I love you, Bill, but the jokes are just making themselves. It's hard to imagine how happy Bill Maher and Jay Leno have been made by this. I hope for your sake that you've developed a thick skin about those jokes.

Most of all, though, to me it just seems like a shame. Imagine what the three of you, you, Hillary and Barack, could accomplish if all three of you LIKED each other! Look how much you and Barack have done while not liking each other very much at all. I just don't get it, it just seems to me that the two of you were made to be pulling the same way on the same rope all the time. Maybe that just shows that I don't know a thing about how politics works up there at your level. Maybe it's sort of like how a football team can't have two quarterbacks on the field at once, or something like that.

Or maybe I'm completely right and it's nothing but a damn shame and a waste that the three of you -- or maybe I should say the four of you, because who knows how much of a politician Michelle is going to turn out to be? -- don't all get along.

More Bad Ideas And Unhelpful Suggestions

* Let's hear Ted Cruz out!

* The author of Eat Pray Love should write a book about kittens called Eat Poop Play Pounce Sleep Purr.

* Hollywood's next James Bond should be... Helen Mirren! She can do anything! (Good idea: Hollywood's next James Bond should actually be either Lucy Liu or Jennifer Garner.)

* Turn away from the skid, just to see what happens.

* Sell everything you have, hock what you can't sell, and bet all the money on Jacksonville turning it around and winning Super Bowl XLVIII.

* It's time to give up on wind power and get serious about coal. Also, this whole "hybrid car" idea? It'll never work.

* Eat bacon every day, and avoid green vegetables and other foods which are green. They are a mind-control device used by the Green Party! Did you think it was a COINCIDENCE that so many vegans are always going on and on about wind power and solar power and yada yada yada?

* The teaching of "the arts," English, foreign languages, history, science, math, philosophy (apart from that contained within Christian theology) and civics must be halted in our public schools, because research has shown that education in those subjects breeds Communists. As far as private schools are concerned, they should get a certificate of approval from the Southern Baptist Convention or be shut down altogether.

* Horses must wear pants! No discussion! No discussion! Fountain Inn, South Carolina caved much too easily on this one!

* Smokers, take a stand! Anti-smoking regulations are just the thin edge of the wedge of tyranny. And besides, all those alleged "negative effects" have never been proven! Never! Shut up! Smoke everywhere you can, but especially concentrate on doing it wherever oxygen tanks are in use. You'll find a lot of smokers and ex-smokers there. Enjoy.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Victor Stenger Is A New Atheist, And I'm Still Not

When I first learned back in 2010 that there was a group called the New Atheists who were very vocally critical of religion and its interference with reason, I at first assumed I was one. And I suppose that's a judgement call, and that I could be regarded as a New Atheist. But I no longer consider myself to be one. I'm as critical of religion as I ever was, but the thing is, I also find myself butting heads with New Atheists on a regular basis, and also, and perhaps this is the very crux of this particular biscuit: I don't see New Atheists criticizing each other. I was going to say: "I don't see New Atheists criticizing each other very much," but the thing is, I don't see it at all.

Victor Stenger calls himself a New Atheist. I wasn't entirely clear about that until this article of his. I agree with most of what Stenger says in this new article. Like him I see a basic conflict between religion and science. (I see this conflict as becoming clearer and sharper as science develops, and as our understanding of religion develops, based on the study of history and other things which in other languages are called sciences but which in English are not, which is unfortunate, and seems to have interfered with some English-speaking scientists' understanding of those other disciplines.) I agree with Stenger that science's quarrel is not just with religious fundamentalism, but with religious "moderates" as well. The point of departure of the "moderates" are the same holy texts read by the fundies, the "moderates" refuse to cease according those texts an importance above that of other texts, they still engage in magical thinking, in short: the distance between the "moderates" and the fundamentalists is not nearly as great as the "moderates" would have you believe. I can't keep myself from constantly underlining this point by always putting quotation marks around the word "moderates."

So far I seem just like a New Atheist, and it's not surprising that for a while I thought I was one.

It seems that very many of the New Atheists are scientists, in the narrow English definition of science as pure natural science. And science lives and breathes on debate and self-criticism and the constant modification and refinement of its views in light of new information. So do other disciplines, but the New Atheists don't seem to criticize each others' statements about religion and society and history and archaeology. It's ironic, and it's very unfortunate: when these scientists, the New Atheists, take on religion, their approach is quite unscientific. History and archaeology have peer review and debate just as much as biology does, but it seems as if this would be news to the New Atheists. In a few recent Wrong Monkey blog posts I've discussed an example of this, the statement by the big Mac Daddy of New Atheists, Richard Dawkins, that the Old Testament authors were "Bronze-Age goat herders," when in fact Hebrew did not begin to be written until the Iron Age, the Old Testament was written by city dwellers such as Temple scribes, herdsmen at the time tended to be illiterate, and those rural Israelites who did tend herds raised many more sheep than goats. If Dawkins had made such a thoroughly-mistaken statement about biology, his colleagues would've been all over it instantly, and quite soon, whether good-naturedly or shame-facedly, he would have been compelled to issue a public retraction for the sake of his professional reputation.

But what criticism of Dawkins' "Bronze-Age goat herders" meme there has been has come from outside of the New Atheist community. Which has led some New Atheists to declare that "no one at all" has any problem with it. On the contrary, it has become a tremendously popular meme among New Atheists. Astonishingly, it's repeated by many people who don't seem to care whether it's accurate or not -- it expresses contempt for the Bible, that's the main thing. It also expresses contempt for accuracy in historical statements, and, astonishingly, New Atheists are simply not calling each other on that.

Or on any statement of opposition to religion, it seems. Here are a couple of examples culled from the comments on Stenger's article. Examples of stupid rash statements made by New Atheists and deemed by other New Atheists not to require challenge or criticism;

"Religion isn't just a collection of yokels incapable of understanding current scientific theory. It is a system of social incapacitation, perpetuated by the worst amognst us, made efficient over a very long period of time undeserving of your respect. "

You're undeserving of my respect, Sparky! Religion currently comprises billions of people. Not all of those billions beling to the worst among us, nor are all of the worst among us religious. "Incapacitation" does not describe all of what religion is. The world simply isn't that black-and-white. Sorry to be the one to break it to you, Bubba, but any time you've got a group of billions-with-a-b of people, some of what some of them are doing some of the time is going to be good.

"The single quote: 'Ignorance is Bliss' covers the entire article. People are afraid, so they take comfort in their willful ignorance. It's as simple as that."

Your worldview is as simple as that. Mine's not.

I didn't have to look long or far to find those statements. But New Atheists criticizing such simpleminded statements made by other atheists? That's as rare as a New Atheist challenging Dawkins' "Bronze-Age goat herders" meme. (Well. I suppose I shouldn't call something rare if it's possible that it's completely nonexistent.) And a group which doesn't keep itself honest and call each other out on such a basic level of crude clueless statements made on behalf on the group is a group of ignorant fanatics. When a group is too busy criticizing their enemy to criticize itself at all, it greatly diminishes whatever effect its legitimate criticisms might have had. With a complete lack of self-criticism, the group will eventually wither away and disappear, or so one certainly hopes, and good riddance and the sooner the better.

So, is Stenger himself guilty of any of these clueless whoppers, putting them out there to the approval of the in-group, while the group of others who are listening at all keeps shrinking? Yes, he is, as a matter of fact he wrote one in this very article:

"From its very beginning in prehistory, religion has been a tool used by those in power to retain that power and keep the masses in line."

Oh man, where do I start? Well, for one thing, nobody knows when religion began. For another, we know very little about how religion functioned tens of thousands of years ago. At this point, the best we can do is guess -- not only about the nature of religion at that time, but about any of the power relationships within human society. But Stenger's statement is a nice black-and-white, 100%-anti-religion gross oversimplification of the kind New Atheists love. They won't criticize it, they won't pay attention to those of us who will. They live in a bubble.