If I had to sum up my feelings...

If someone was to ask me why I didn't believe in God, I would like to imagine myself saying the following:

"God is not necessary for any process that can otherwise be explained by natural means. For situations that cannot be explained by natural means, there is no more physical evidence for using God as an explanation than any other story that could be created by the imagination. In all likelihood, the explanations and answers to the biggest questions we still cannot answer is likely to be far more incredible and amazing than we can even imagine, and I feel no fear in admitting there is still much to learn about the universe. The time we are experiencing is so small compared to the billions and billions of years that have brought us to this point. Are you brave enough to acknowledge your own insignificance? Expand your mind, you don't need any mental crutch. Live for the betterment of our planet and the life that inhabits it, not for the promise of eternal bliss in the world to come."

Things like that are a lot harder to put into words in real life.

Sorry updates haven't been very frequent, to whomever is reading!


Best Cartoon Edits

I've been cruising youtube lately looking for the best cartoon re-edits that I can find. Some of these are fantastic. The editing is so on you'll swear it was what the creators originally intended.

How Disney Makes its Money
Wow, I thought I'd seen that scene somewhere before.

The Jungle Book on Venetian Snares
This is what happens when you mix IDM and Jungle. Get it? HAW HAW. I don't even want to imagine the editing process involved in creating this.

Bert & Ernie Try Gangsta Rap
Older than the internet, but the synchronization is perfect and its a classic, so give it another watch.

The Count Censored

What have they done with my childhood educational shows? Made them awesome. Also, the count did always seem like a bit of a sex fiend didn't he?

Toy Story Requiem
Anything put to that soundtrack sounds epic, but I think the bar for mash-ups has been raised on this one.

Duck Tales vs. Lil Jon & Three 6 Mafia - Act a Fool

GOOSE GOT ME LOOSE. GONE ON PETRONE... Scrooge suits the ballin' lifestyle perfectly.

Fieval Goes West vs. Creep Crawl Flash - No Cats
Just to calm things down again, this is a cool, ethereal music video made for the song No Cats. I haven't seen Fieval since I was a little kid so this is pretty neat.

Three 6 Mafia - Smokin' on the Dro vs. Alice in Wonderland
Read the description and you'll learn that this was submitted as a final project for some student's class. Must be a cool prof. The editing in this one is fantastic.

Pogo - Wonderland
Alice makes another appearance to finish the list in this amazing track that bounces along and sucks you into the imagination of Carrol. The track is as good as the editing, and the user has a number of videos of the same caliber that you should check out.

And if that last one wasn't awesome enough, here's an added bonus:
Alice on YooouuuTuuube.com


John Minus Kate Divided by 8

Well, its over. America's favourite Christian couple has called it quits, citing personal differences and the strain that raising such a huge number of children has put on their relationship. Never mind all of those conspiracy theories about them having actually filed for divorce two years ago (not true) and claims that they've been cheating on one another. That's not what I want to discuss today. I want to attack their personal view that somehow god was the agent behind them being able to 'pull through'. If they feel that god was the one that got them to this point, how is tearing their family apart part of his marvelous plan? No, you may not use the "God works in mysterious ways" cop-out.

You might not guess it from the show but if you give their book "Multiple Bles8ings: Surviving to Thriving with Twins and Sextuplets" a read, you'll see that they're a strongly christian family. Taking a glance at some of the reviews for the book on Amazon.com, you can see that their religious views have really been highlighted in this book. Unfortunately I don't have a copy in front of me to take any quotes from, but some enlightened reviewers have said:
"This book really shows that you should turn to the Lord in tough times."

"Most importantly, I think Kate is a great witness of the Christian faith. Her devotion to God and her family is demonstrated throughout the book. As a Christian and a mother, I learned a lot from this book on patience and love."

"I especially liked that Kate is very forthcoming about her strong faith in God and how He alone brought them through their trials in dealing with twins and sextuplets as toddlers and infants. God's timing is truly perfect, and I found myself moved to tears by some of the miraculous little stories Kate shared."
I'll save you reading the book and give you the truism they're trying to communicate in this book: "If shit gets messy, throw up your hands in defeat and let God take over. Give yourself to christ and everything will work out just fine. See, look, it worked for us!" Wow, how inspiring. This is the part that really grinds my gears: whenever hardship is overcome, you hear them saying "Thanks to God for giving us the strength to get through it". Name one thing that god did, besides exist as an idea in your mind. You could get the same strength in an invisible friend named Grover if you could delude yourself enough to think that he was really there. I can't stand it when people who achieve success credit their work to god instead of themselves and those who really did help. Sports teams who thank god for helping them win the superbowl, or musicians who get up on stage to accept an award and thank god for getting them to where they are. Do you understand how self-serving and ridiculous this sounds? Why did god choose your team, or your band, or your family over all the other ones out there? I guess you just prayed harder, right? Wow, and you thought atheists were arrogant. I've got a better idea: stop trying to look humble via god and give credit where credit is due!

Buy my book so I can feed my kids!

Not to mention this show sets a disturbing precedent of promoting massively large families. It has already inspired copycat shows like 18 Kids and Counting, a strange show about a family that glorifies the idiocy of the Quiverfull movement, which is basically just Christianity for people who love to fuck and want to dump their twisted views on as many minds as they can influence or create. On an unrelated note, if you want to read up on how I feel about overpopulation, check out my previous post on what I think will bring about our demise on this planet.

You know the ones I feel the most sorry for are the kids here. They've been put on display for the world to watch, just like many multiple births in the past, and I can't see how anything positive will come from continuing the family circus. They've got enough money to raise the family, and the fame is already starting to rot the core and tear them apart. If they really did care about their kids, they'd put an end to this right now. They're not an inspiration, they're a trainwreck, and perhaps now that their family is crumbling, they'll take a moment to wonder if THIS was all part of god's big plan too.

I'm not holding my breath though. It seems like the crappier things go for people of faith, the more they claim the event has 'only strengthened their faith in god'. Wake up people! He didn't get you in this mess, and he's not going to save you either.


God Provides?

There is a very old and rather cliched joke about a devout Christian who was warned on the radio that the river next to his house was rising and would flood the town and that all of the residents should evacuate their homes. The man saw no need to evacuate. "I'm religious," he told himself. "I pray. God loves me. God will save me." So time went by and the river swelled and flooded the first floor of his house. A neighbour in a row boat came along and, seeing him through the second story window, shouted, "Hey, you in there! The town is flooding. Let me take you to safety." But the man shouted back, "I'm religious. I pray. God loves me and God will save me." The waters continued to rise and soon the man was forced up on to his roof. A helicopter came by and lowered him a rope ladder. The pilot shouted down to him in a megaphone, "Hey you, down there. The town is flooding. Climb up this ladder and I'll take you to safety." But the man shouted back that he was religious, that he prayed, that God loved him and would take him to safety. The man drowned and standing at the gates of St. Peter, he demanded an audience with God. "Lord," he said, "I’m a religious man, I pray. I thought you loved me. Why did this happen?" God said, "I sent you a radio report, a helicopter, and a guy in a rowboat. What the hell are you doing here?"

Following up on the last topic of prayer, another promise religions seem to make is that God is watching out for us and is there to provide for us. This is a common theme reiterated time and again to tired, frustrated parishioners from the pulpits. The Bible is full of promises that if one lives a moral life (according to Yahweh) or has faith in Jesus, they will be rewarded.

Televangelists often attempt the argument that if a person gives their heart and mind to Jesus they ought to demonstrate that trust with their pocketbooks. Trust God with your finances, they say, he wants you to be wealthy and happy. I'm thinking of Joel Osteen and his prosperity gospel but there are many others, the minister in my local pentecostal church, for example. If you give ten percent of your income to God, he will give you a return on that investment in terms of the blessings he will shower upon you.

This is probably an instance where the "man-made" aspect of religion shines through a little stronger than others. Interestingly, though not at all surprising, religions never use this psychology on themselves. The local Roman Catholic church decided that due to the high volume of parishioners it now claimed, a building expansion was required. So a committee was struck to approve the plans and begin fundraising. Then parishioners were called on to donate money directly through mail campaigns, as extra at collection, and through special fundraising events. All of these activities were completely orchestrated by humans, driven by a goal.

So where is God in all of that? It seems strange to preach to the congregation that God looks after your finances and will bless you and make you wealthy, yet at the same time, when his own house needs fixing, he relies on his followers to do EVERYTHING. You would almost think, if religion wasn't entirely false, that God might throw in some money of his own or he could just make a new building appear for them and save them the trouble. I guess the age of such miracles is past us, but why are we now reduced to "finding God" in the work of human beings? If one contractor donates the materials out of a sense of religious and civic duty, praise is given to God. God should only be given praise for things he actually did, by himself, without the aid of humans. But then what would that leave?

The common rebuke of the religious is that God works through human beings. He uses us (like puppets?) to do his good works. That contractor must have done the good deed because God made him do it, a claim the contractor might discount. Or we can take a less direct and less objectionable approach by diluting God and his powers down to being synonymous with any good deed. We find evidence of God in good works or God is the good works of others. This means nothing, it is purely semantics; a rhetorical trick where one changes the definition of God to equal good deeds and then can successfully argue that because good deeds exist, then God also must.

To return to the opening narrative about the religious man, either the helicopter and the rowboat pilots were compelled by God to go help the man, in which case free will has been decimated. Or they felt a compulsion based upon their own moral convictions, in which case they themselves were responsible for attempting to rescue the man. How then did God, "send" them? This is a question with implications beyond the scope of this post, but it is enough to point out that the joke's punchline does not, at a closer, more theological view, provide a simple easy answer to the question of why God seemingly does not provide for his people.

I think it would show greater faith, if the particular Roman Catholic church I spoke of before, or any such religious center in general, rather than do the work themselves to build and rebuild the temporal lodgings of the divine, simply prayed for God to provide for them. If prayer, trust and faith are enough for the faithful, they should be good enough for the priests, right?

There is, of course, an example where the faithful did exactly that. There was a certain United Church that fell on tough times. It had a long and proud history, from humble beginnings meeting in a tiny one room church at the turn of the century, to growing into a large congregation, having multiple additions to the building, suffering the deaths of many members during the First and Second World Wars, and continuing to grow throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, managing to make it to its 120th anniversary. As the east end of London began to decline and families generally moved to more affluent areas, church attendance and revenue began to decline. When the minister retired, the church committee prayed hard and long before selecting a replacement, hoping that God would aid them in their decision and send a saviour. The replacement minister was not a success and through his dull sermons and offensive manner, drastically swelled the decline. By the end of the decade, after much prayer and reflection, as well as heated debate, he was forced out by the saddened parishioners and replaced with another minister, who promised to get the job done of increasing attendance. A few years later the church closed, having failed to bring in new regularly attending members, and unable to afford the rather costly maintenance bills for such a massive centennial building. What remained of the church membership was amalgamated with another more successful church in a different part of town.

How does the closing of this church and the loss of so much of its history and members, factor into God's plan? Where was he? When the church committees prayed for God's aid and guidance, why did he not offer it? If he did, it was faulty. Why did he want a church to grow and then die? Obviously such questions are silly. This church's problems were demographic not theological, but yet it raises them nonetheless. Why couldn't the church afford its bills to stay open and provide community services for the local people of the east end? Why couldn't God have aided them? Why didn't God provide? No explanation was ever requested, nor provided.

United Church members are among the most liberal and worldly of the protestant denominations and never questioned the fact that it was worldly factors which led to the church's closing. The faithful are very reluctant to blame God today for effects which have causes which we can clearly identify scientifically as having natural explanations, without any sort of supernatural requirement.

Clearly from countless examples across the world, God does not provide for his people. His people still suffer and lose their wealth and he does nothing. They pray and ask for guidance and instead, his churches close and discontinue important social services. They grow and require structural improvements and he does nothing, so they do it for him. God does not provide because God does not exist and what is most interesting is observing the dissonance between how the faithful insist he does, yet are forced to live their lives as though he does not, taking matters into their own hands whenever something useful must be done. God helps those who help themselves, the proverb goes, and today the faithful are subconsciously aware that much like the religious man on the roof, failure to acknowledge the laws of nature means death. Unfortunately, there is no God waiting on the other side of death with a humorous punchline.


Doing Nothing

Welcome welcome, today's topic is prayer. Yes that's right, it is time to take the magnifying glass to another building block of faith, or as I like to picture them, ants.

Such a serious topic. You disagree? Go look at the search results for 'prayer' on google images. Look how serious those people look!

If this guy was any more serious, he'd be in a gravitas-off with Stone Phillips. Alright, so we've established that prayer is a central, important activity for the faithful, and even extends beyond the boundaries of one religion. It makes its presence known in each of 'the big three', as well as variations in many other spiritual outlets around the world. However, prayer obviously comes in as many flavours as Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Some light candles, some get out the doormat, some wash, some make a sign, and some don't eat. Whatever the case, what actually happens when someone prays?

I recall wondering this same question when I was a child and feeling disappointed that everyone else seemed to 'get it' while I had no idea what was going on. I was told that prayer was a chance for me to 'talk to God' or 'have a conversation', and when I looked around at all the other kids deep in concentration, I figured they were actually conversing with God. I didn't understand why when I closed my eyes and concentrated, nothing happened. Literally. I heard my own voice in my head, then waited for a reply, only to be greeted with silence. I wondered what I was doing wrong that all the other kids got to hear what god sounds like, but I couldn't. It wasn't until I was much older that I became aware that I wasn't the only one getting god's answering machine. So without all the pomp and reverence, prayer is:

Closing your eyes, concentrating, then talking to yourself.

How, then, is praying any different than making a wish, or even daydreaming? You go through the same actions, although maybe thinking about a different subject, and you get the same answers. Oh, but prayer is addressed to God, you say. I used to address my christmas list to Santa until I figured out that unless my parents were cc'ed a copy, I probably wouldn't be seeing those presents. There is physically nothing different when a person says a prayer for their sick child and when they wish for them to get better. Labelling it as a 'prayer' doesn't somehow send out a beam of spiritual energy to empower the petitioner. Apparently, a few religious leaders have realized the stupidity of this 'talking to oneself' and come up with a new form of prayer they call Listening Prayer which involves convincing people that the reason they're not hearing god speak to them is because they're doing it wrong and simply aren't 'tuned-in' to god while they pray. Oh my, aren't we being pretentious now? Well I can be churlish, so for the rest of this post, we'll refer to prayer by a new name: Doing Nothing.

When someone says to you "I'll pray for you", I don't thank them, I say thanks for nothing, because in essence what they've said to you is "I care about you, but not enough that I'd actually get off my ass and do something to help you".

But prayer doing nothing works, you say! Does it? Well, despite what your personal experience might lead you to believe, when you take large numbers of people (an appropriate sample size) and run the tests under controlled conditions, there is no effect. Perhaps your great aunt's miraculous recovery gained its strength from the fact that she had the social support of a family that loved her and hoped she got better, or maybe another phenomenon that is not fully understood played some part, such as the placebo effect. Francis Galton showed this over one hundred years ago with his study on Royals and the efficiacy of doing nothing. It does nothing to further our understanding of what is happening by attributing the reason to a force that is beyond our comprehension or control. In fact, I have always considered the 'God is beyond our understanding' argument to be incredibly weak, simply because if he was truly beyond our understanding, that invalidates any claims that the religious can make about him. Unless of course those who say this are actually arrogant enough to believe they posess mental powers that the rest of the population does not, as Bill Maher so eloquently put in his film Religulous. I'm getting off-topic though.

In the end, I think we have deluded ourselves into thinking that we're so special that when we close our eyes and open our hearts, there will always be a person listening to us and to us specifically. No matter how lonely we our, how much everyone else hates us, there is an operator on our mental line who never needs to put us on hold. What a comforting, yet naive thought. What it comes down to is the reason for your doing nothing. Do you want to actually do something about the problem, or do you just want to feel better about it? Atheists such as myself don't have the luxury of this choice, although I'm sure actually doing something about a problem would probably have a greater effect in the end.

As Robert Ingersoll once said, "Hands that help are far better than lips that pray".


Lets Roll!

Our first dose of publicity! Maybe this is what it feels like to bring software out of the beta testing phase.

We've joined forces with the Atheist Blogroll run by Mojoey, a blogroll with over 700 other atheist bloggers such as ourselves already posting and sharing their thoughts. I hope this will bring us a visitor or two, and I'm really looking forward to what the future has in store!

And here's your WTF image of the day!


Crucifying Christianity, Part 3: Jesus, The Best God Could Do?

Jesus seems like a pretty good guy. I would have hung-out with him. Of course that is assuming we really know what Jesus was like. I said earlier that I did not wish to dwell on the historical accuracy of the Bible and would assume, for argument's sake, that everything in the Bible was accurate and that God's inspired words managed to make it through 2,000 years of human error to its present form. I will simply say that the all-loving, forgiving, personal Lord and Savior (invisible best friend), WWJD, hippie-style portrait of Jesus, which is emphasized today, is probably more a reflection of the values of our society rather than what kind of person he actually was. We will never know what the historical Jesus was ever really like, although considering the time period he inhabited, I think his message was considerably more medieval "fire and brimstone" or at least less what we would consider today to be enlightened teaching.

But if Jesus really was God, why was his 30 or so years on Earth so low-key? Remember we're not talking about a Prophet or a Judge. We're talking about God incarnate. God was actually here on Earth in human form and all he did was heal some lepers, let a blind man see, raise a person from the dead, walk on water, multiply fish and loaves of bread and turn water into wine. Okay there's a much larger list of "miracles" I'm leaving off for the sake of space, but those are sufficient to make my point. Having a friend who could turn water into wine sure would have been exciting, but really... come on. Why didn't God cure blindness? Why didn't he eliminate all diseases or at least teach us how to do it, through medicine and science? Why didn't he give us enough clean water to keep the entire world from going thirsty or enough vegetation to feed the world forever? There are any number of incredible miracles that no one - pagan, atheist, or believer alike - could have ever doubted had been done by an all-powerful deity. Instead he does simple signs; miracles that world religions are replete with since the dawn of time. He does things that agnostics can easily dismiss due to implausibility and lack of supporting evidence. This would be an understandable frustration given an ordinary human historical event, but shouldn't God have planned for his miracles to be better recorded or have evidence remain to substantiate them? He knew one day we would become more scientific and demand proof, rather than take the oral tradition at face value.

At the very least, he could have made sure that the entire world knew that Jesus was God and that he was here on Earth. He could have appeared in brilliant form, more like he was described in John's Revelation. Imagine if instead of walking around a tiny backwoods country, talking to mostly illiterate, uneducated crowds here and there, Jesus had traveled to Rome, the center of the world at the time, and began teaching the educated leaders of the world what it was that God actually wanted humanity to do. He could have displayed so much power and might that all of Rome would have been humbled and paganism would have been instantly eliminated. He could have spoken to rooms of scribes and made sure his every word was accurately recorded in the lingua franca of the time so that people from all over would hear and know the signs. Better yet, God could have appeared simultaneously to everyone everywhere and told them clearly what it was they needed to do and believe. Why not reveal knowledge to all the people, which God is reported to love equally, instead of just a few selected apostles?

God doesn't even take care to make sure that his sayings are accurately preserved. The English King James version was not the actual language that any of the books of the Bible were written in. The original texts from which the Bible was compiled were written in ancient Hebrew for the Old Testament and Greek for the New Testament. For the New Testament we do not possess any of the original copies of any of the books. We only have copies of copies which have so many mistakes and errors from copy to copy that scholars have to debate what the originals actually said. There is also evidence of theologically-driven changes being made by Monks who wanted the books to say what they believed it should say. Why so much human error?

Jesus could have at least written the Bible himself this time, rather than leave it up to us to write decades after his life. In fact, in order to prevent anything being accurately recorded, he recruited a bunch of illiterate peasants - people who could not even write their own names, more or less a Gospel - and then entrusted them with his words. Just in case the apostles might have found people who could write down what they saw and knew about Jesus, he went and told his followers that he would return imminently. The early church did not even organize itself because it believed, falsely, that the end times would occur before the apostles had died. If Jesus was God and he said he would return before they died, then why would they bother to make sure what they knew was written down for posterity? What posterity? In that context writing holy scriptures would seem a little pointless. When Jesus promised to return, the people took that to mean he would come back within their lifetimes. Why did he have to deceive them about that?

Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (Matthew 24:34)
When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 10:23)
For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his conduct. Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. (Matthew 16:27, 28)
You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. (James 5:8,9)
The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. (1 Peter 4:7)

This is probably one of the most embarrassing truth claims the Bible and Christianity make: that the world is coming to an imminent end within the lifetimes of the early Christian followers. This claim has been proved to be false. All of the early followers are dead and the world is still here. Jesus did not return. So God caused the Church a lot of embarrassment forcing them to do some massive damage control and reinterpret the imminent part out of his message. Jesus could not be wrong, they reasoned, so the Church must have misinterpreted his message. They did do an amazing job. Ask a Christian today what the principle message of Jesus was and they'll likely refer to the Beatitudes and a warm-fuzzy "love your neighbour as yourself" directive, completely ignoring the "Chicken Little" aspect of his preaching about the destruction of the world and the coming Kingdom of God. Jesus' principle message was that the end of the world was right around the corner and one had better repent and become a better person now before it was too late.

As a final note to this part of my essay, I thought I would include a link to a cartoon which humorously articulates my point that if Jesus was God incarnate on Earth, he was an extreme underachiever.

Only the mind of the religious...

So I was reading the my local newspaper today, the London Free Press, which has been in a state of orgasmic news ecstasy since the kidnapping and murder of Tori Stafford. Before I go any further, I just want to say that in any other newspaper I've read, this case has been now reduced to a shocking news brief, not the front page material almost every single day for almost a month now (and continuing). I feel absolutely terrible about what happened, but something inside me is screaming 'leave them alone!' now. The daily timelines, the videos, the fact that the LFP has an entire web directory devoted to the case is just getting creepy. I don't want to hear any more gruesome details.


Now that that's off my chest, I can tell you what I was going to talk about. So here I was, hypocritically reading yet another article in today's paper (I am as guilty as anyone else), and the first few paragraphs of the article made my jaw hit the floor. Here, read it for yourselves:

WOODSTOCK -- Two strangers, a man and woman, walk up to the front porch of Tara McDonald's house, one carrying a large box.

This is the 23-volume set of the teachings of Kabbalah, the man says, launching into a conversation about the religion.

McDonald asks polite questions and allows herself to be hugged.

Oddly, after about 15 minutes of a conversation on the porch -- amidst the floral arrangements, teddy bears, purple butterflies, 'Tori come home' signs and other mementoes for Tori Stafford, the man asks McDonald.

"What's your name?"

It doesn't phase her.

A few minutes later, the man suggests that to find spiritual awareness, McDonald think of something she loves and give it up.

That begs the harsh question a reporter would like to ask: Isn't giving up her daughter enough?

But McDonald calmly thinks about it for awhile, offers a few suggestions, thanks the pair and walks inside.

WHAT?? What the hell did I just read? After showing up on the grieving family's doorstep with a box of religious bullshit, insulting the mother by not even having the decency to remember her name, this man actually has the GALL to tell her that she should consider giving up something she loves to in order to find 'spiritual awareness'. There is only one image that can truly describe my complete flabbergastedness:

ONLY the mind of a religious person could EVER believe that what transpired in the paragraph above is in any way helpful. I'm not sure how I feel about Tara McDonald, but after enduring episodes like that, and it seems like that was in no way an isolated incident, I have to say that her restraint is truly impressive.

I hope she put those 23 volumes straight into the trash. Unbelievable.


Apocalypse NOW!

The end is nigh! Be it judgment day, rapture, or apocalypse, whatever your flavour. It seems that our species has become obsessed with the time we hand over our crown as most dominant on this planet. That is, if you even consider us the most dominant. For a religious person, that status is a simple one to adopt, but I’ve met many a microbiologist or etymologist that could make a very convincing case for their species. Even mycologists have been held similar thoughts, like Nicholas P. Money, who said “After millions of years of unwitnessed toil, the biological careers of fungi happen to have intersected with ours. They followed us indoors from the woods, joined us as cabin-mates across oceans and into orbit, and when human history comes to a close, a deluge of their spores will help erase the record of our presence on this planet.”

Realistically though, what do you think would be most likely to end our time on this planet?

I’ll give you my top 10 list, from least to most likely.

10) Suicidal Dictatorship:

Inevitability: 3/10

Severity: 5/10

Recoverability: 6/10

Immediate Danger: 5/10

Starting us off as least likely, but still possible enough to make the list is Suicidal Dictatorship. First, I gave this 3/10 for inevitability because I think there's a good chance our entire race isn't stupid enough to voluntarily kill itself simply because a leader says so. It still gets some points because I've heard cases of almost a thousand people doing such an activity, but 6 billion is stretching it. Severity score is moderate, because if someone like that actually did come into power, judging by their level of sanity, it probably would be pretty hard to fight back. Someone like that would obviously surround themselves with protection out of paranoia. Recovering is quite possible because, like I said, it would be difficult to exert that amount of control over 6 billion people at once. Someone somewhere would probably survive. I put the immediate danger scale at moderate as well because I think if this course were to ever happen, it is prob

ably more likely to occur now, with the world's current level of globalization, than ever before. Also, we have seen that brutal dictatorships are a very real scenario for many parts of the world at this moment.

9) Incinerated by our Sun

Inevitability: 10/10

Severity: 10/10

Recoverability: 0 /10

Immediate Danger: 0/10

Unless the life of our sun can be extended in some fashion, it is a cosmic certainty that one day our sun will die out. Also note the complete and total annihilation of everything. You can't get much more destructive than this! Ergo 10/10 for inevitability and severity. Recoverability is 0 because it would be impossible (unless we escaped Sun's gravity? :O ). However this threat will sit here at the bottom of this top 10 list for a few million years yet. Not a threat. NEXT!

8) Killed by More Advanced Life Form

Inevitability: 5/10

Severity: 8/10

Recoverability: 5/10

Immediate Danger: 2/10

Ah yes, the template sci-fi plot itself. While I don't consider myself a believer in alien abductions, the possibility that life exists somewhere in the universe, given what we know about the size of it, is quite high. If our species lives long enough, it might one day discover a way to cross those great expanses of space, but we're a long way from that right now. However there may be another race out there that's had a few million years to take a crack at the problem. And if they had, I have no idea how to predict whether they would be friendly or hostile toward us, given how we often behave. I also give severity a high score because something tells me that if they had the capability to get here, they would probably have similarly advanced weaponry. Recoverability? I'm not exactly sure on this one. Immediate danger is low, however, keeping this up at number #8 because we've been looking with the best telescopes and dishes we have, and we've yet to come across anything we could even call intelligent, let alone threatening.

7) Pollution Related Extinction

Inevitability: 4/10

Severity: 8/10

Recoverability: 5/10

Immediate Danger: 8/10

This category could include things like global warming, pollution related cancers and diseases, etc. To think that we could actually pollute our planet with refuse and chemical waste to the point that we could no longer exist on it is as absolutely stupifying as it is horrifying. One would hope we would devote a great amount of resources to NOT letting this happen, as it wouldn't be a 'wake up one day' disaster, and hopefully we would be motivated to recognize the signs soon enough to tackle the problem. I gave immediate danger a high score after reading some of the long term effects we've already caused on this planet in the book "The World Without Us" by Alan Weisman. An entry I hope will not increase on this list in my lifetime!

6) Asteroid Impact

Inevitability: 7/10

Severity: 9/10

Recoverability: 5/10

Immediate Danger: 2/10

It is a fact that large asteroid impacts have played an enormous role in the geological history of our planet. Take a look over at the moon and the effect is quite easy to see. It is also true that at some point we will probably encounter another large asteroid impact on our planet at some point in its lifespan. Judging by the extinction of the dinosaurs which is believed to have been due to a large asteroid impact, I would also rate the severity very high. Recoverability? Its possible, we're resourceful, and some life did survive during other impacts, so a 5. Telescopes currently give us an all clear for immediate danger, but unfortunately with asteroids, sometimes the warning time is unhelpfully small.

5) Intraspecies War

Inevitability: 6/10

Severity: 6/10

Recoverability: 8/10

Immediate Danger: 7/10

"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."
-- Albert Einstein

I don't think there's much I need to say here.

4) Killed by our own Creations

Inevitability: 3/10

Severity: 7/10

Recoverability: 2/10

Immediate Danger: 5/10

Terminator anyone? So far we're safe, but sometimes when I see those creepy talking robots in Japan, I start to wonder.

3) Massive Natural Disaster

Inevitability: 10/10

Severity: 8/10

Recoverability: 6/10

Immediate Danger: 4/10

This category could include earthquakes, ice ages, fires, drought, floods, super volcanos, tsunamis, hurricanes, or any other sort of Earth-based disaster. There have been a few examples of mega-disasters during Earth's history, and some scientists predict that we're about due for another of one type or another. No matter how technologically advanced our species gets, we still tremble before the mighty forces of our planet. Fortunately, these dangers do not occur on specific regular intervals but in geological time. We could be a thousand or a hundred thousand years before an occurance. All we have to give us clues are the intervals from the past.

2) Disease Outbreak

Inevitability: 7/10

Severity: 9/10

Recoverability: 4/10

Immediate Danger: 9/10

Mad Cow Disease. SARS. Avian Bird Flu. Swine Flu. A common news headline every few years is the most recent outbreak of whatever new infectious agent is making its rounds. Diseases have taken a chunk out of the human population in the past. The bubonic plague and the spanish influenza of 1917 come to mind. We've managed to lessen the impact of many diseases with our recent improvements to sanitation and our supply of food and drinking water, but we've also increased the number of hosts and our proximity to one another. Bacteria and viruses mutate quickly, and many of our miracle antibiotics are not effective against superbugs. Right now it's an arms race, but don't expect it to end without some casualties on both sides.

1) Overpopulation

Inevitability: 8/10

Severity: 8/10

Recoverability: 5/10

Immediate Danger: 9/10

With out a doubt, number one on the list. Why? Its so incredibly obvious, just take a look at an extrapolated graph of our population.

It slowly crawls along for a few million years or so, then about a hundred or so years ago literally exploded exponentially. Within our lifetime the population of the world will most likely double, and although predicting the number of people that our planet can decently provide for is incredibly difficult to do accurately, it will probably be reached within a few generations. Either we WILL find a way to curb our population growth rate or we WILL NOT have enough resources. The conclusion is inescapable and undeniable. Within your children or their children's lifetime, some big shit is going to happen on this issue, and I can't see many miracle solutions to this one. The only comforting thought, if it can be called that, is that in nature, once a population is once again lowered to a sustainable level, the numbers will usually stable out, but in that situation we're talking about an isolated ecosystem that is often replenished by nearby stable ecosystems. There is nothing to restock Earth. If we ruin our ecosystem, it has to build itself again, on its own.

Notice that rapture is nowhere on that list? That's because it's ridiculous. The rapture story wasn't even thought up until a few hundred years ago, and now serves as some sort of sick right wing christian wet dream where they can imagine themselves watching others who weren't fortunate enough to be born into the same faith as them in torment. The only thing scarier than the predictions themselves is their self-fulfilling aspect. The rapture theology now forms the backbone for christian republican support of the state of Israel. Nothing about it makes sense when you consider the additional fact of the authorship of the gospel in which the account comes from. Sure, rapture grabs bits and pieces from other parts of the bible too, but for the most part, it is considered to be authored by John. Unfortunately, any biblical scholar can tell you that the John that wrote that gospel was either a complete forgery or a pseudepigraphical mistake, because there was no way that the day labourers that made up Jesus' posse could have been literate given the time and era they lived in.

The rapture is an idea that makes those who subscribe to it feel better about all of the tedious requirements of faith that they are required to perform, from handing over their earnings to sacrificing their free time. They know that they must be on their best behaviour because they never know when the big man upstairs is going to be dropping by to end his little 6000 year experiment. The story just doesn't make any sense! God, for whatever reason (he was lonely?) decided to start time, then during a micro slice of it in one tiny dot in the galaxy in the universe, he had a few of us make a choice between good and evil that he already knew we would make. Then, at some later time of his choosing, he will gather up the few of his followers out of however many billions of us exist at that time that he feels chose the right faith and take them to his really cool clubhouse while the rest of us that he also created and knew we were going to make the wrong choice get to suffer an infinite amount forever with no hope of reprise. What? If there's one thing I've learned about people, it's that they hate uncertainty. Admitting that we don't know is not a common thread in religion, but it is a stance we must take. Admitting to how much you don't know is a sign of true knowledge, and as a species, we are only just beginning to open our eyes.

Reason and Faith, the Perpetual War

In his essay, “Faith and Reason, the Perpetual War: Ruminations of a Fool”, Stewart Shapiro takes the position that religious faith conflicts with rationalism and that it seems evident that holding dual beliefs in both science/philosophy and religious faith are logically inconsistent. Shapiro’s essay succinctly analyzes two common attempts to address the problem: that rational belief and religious faith work cooperatively to understand the world, or that they are incommensurable. Ultimately he finds both positions untenable and makes a strong case for all that remains: reason and faith in conflict.

I have attached a link where the entire essay can be read, from the anthology by Louise M. Antony, Philosophers Without Gods. This essay initiated a chain of thoughts in my mind which began my rejection of Christianity. Enjoy.

Faith and Reason, the Perpetual War by Stewart Shapiro


Crucifying Christianity, Part 2: Incredulous Incarnation

"And God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life," (John 3:16). So the teaching goes that the world was so screwed up after Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge that something had to be done. Now God went ahead and planted a tree with tempting fruit there knowing full-well what would happen, right? Well if you accept the omniscience of God then, yes. If not, that's a separate argument. Hell, even if you don't accept that God knows the future, it doesn't take a god, or a rocket scientist to realize that if you put fruit in a garden, then put humans who don't know anything about right and wrong (knowledge of which, the fruit gave them) next to it and tell them not to eat it and to obey you, it's unlikely they would listen since they lack the capacity to make moral decisions. In fact, you would naturally assume it was God's fault for not originally endowing humans with rational and moral judgment.

I could go on and on about the logical absurdities in the Expulsion from Paradise myth but the point is that in disobeying God, Adam and Eve gave humanity the stain of sin that would carry on to their children and their childrens' children ad infinitum. This doctrine is the answer to the logical question of why must Christians evangelize? If you would not go to hell for not knowing about Jesus and his teachings then it seems logical that if your goal was to save as many humans from eternal torment in hell, the most efficient way is that you do not tell people at all. Ah, but they'd still rot in hell. Even babies. Because of original sin. Well various churches have differing teachings on this but it seems that original sin is with you when you're born because all humans are evil and can only be saved through the grace of God.

So Yahweh used to accept sacrifices throughout the Old Testament as a method of humanity atoning for its sins. God taught the Israelites when it was appropriate to slaughter animals, usually lambs, and burn them on an altar to him. For the first 4000 years of Hebrew history this was acceptable. I am still unclear how exactly Jesus' death was the key to salvation or how the fact that Jesus "died for me and my sins" makes any sense whatsoever. God apparently required more than burnt offerings after all and decided that in order to justly punish humanity he would have to wipe them out for all of their sins and transgressions, including that original sin we committed in ignorance. But rather than do that, if a worthy sacrifice could be found to replace humanity in general, then everyone could be spared utter annihilation. Since the only sacrifice worthy of God was apparently himself, he finally decided to be incarnated in human form and then made sure that things would work out so that he would be humiliated and crucified by the world's superpower, but in an ironic twist, absolve them from any guilt in doing it. Yes, while Pontius Pilate, a brutal Roman governor, fought for Jesus' life the blood lust of the Jewish crowd was too much. The Jews were the ones who cried for his crucifixion, while the Romans reluctantly complied. After Jesus died, the Roman soldiers who carried out the sentence remarked that "Truly this was the son of God."

So by killing God, God was so satisfied that he washed away the debt of past and future sins. So why do we have to bother living good lives? Well, there's another catch that gets you stuck following Christian rules. God will only look the other way on your sins if you follow the teachings of Jesus (and the Church) and believe that he was and is God. So I guess that is a pretty huge sacrifice to make if only a small percentage of the world even cares enough to accept it. Of course is it really a sacrifice at all if you know you're going to raise yourself from the dead in 2 days? Why was Jesus so scared the night before if he knew? I guess he was just afraid of the pain of dying in anguish, thirsty, sunburned and starving over the course of days. Luckily God died within hours of being up there. He didn't have to suffer the worst part of crucifixion, which was the agonizing slow death over days. The question I couldn't quite get is, why didn't god just spare himself the trouble and forgive our sins from the beginning? He knew we were imperfect beings. He made us to be imperfect beings. So why all the unfair judging?

Maybe God also wanted to go down to Earth and dwell amongst his creation so that he could explain in better detail and through example how he wants us to live. Jesus did make a lot of moral teachings that seem to either refine or contradict orthodox Jewish teachings. But then does that not entail a problem again? Why not simply have explained it better the first time. The whole concept of God having to take a mulligan on his first attempt at Revelation through Moses is a little... shall we say, imperfect? Why again does God chose to reveal information critical to the salvation of the entire world only to a select few people in a tiny insignificant corner of the world, which is itself in a tiny insignificant corner of the galaxy, which is itself a tiny insignificant part of the universe. So vast is this universe that it really makes you wonder why an almighty and omnipotent God's interests are so provincial. I'm getting off topic. So God's revelation was lost in translation through the Israelites. Moses and all the prophets just didn't get it right. So God came and told us how he actually meant to write the Torah.


Mission Aborted

I wondered when I was going to have to lay out an argument for this overdone and redundantly pointless discussion, but it has come up a few times in my personal life lately, so I'll bump it up the queue. About a week ago I was taking a Greyhound home from Hamilton. It passed through Ingersoll, one of a couple small towns along this route, when I noticed a rather well kept yellow bricked church. It was very modern looking, with new insulated glass windows and fancy ramps and elevators to show off how up-to-code and welcoming a place it was. Then, as I was wondering how the recession might be affecting their business, something caught my eye. On the front lawn, at the corner nearest to the intersection where the church sat was a small rose coloured granite statue. The statue was a warped heart shape, and etched into the base were the words In Memory of the Victims of Abortion. I was taken aback. I knew the christian stance on abortion, but there it was, right on the front lawn, for everyone to see. The word victim just carries such a punch, they might as well have put up a a sign that said "Fuck you babykillers!", the point they were trying to convey would have been the same.

What is the church's stance on abortion? Well, as far as I know (and I do hear differing views across the religious spectrum, but I would definitely cluster them closer to one side of the gauge), the church believes that abortion is wrong because "Life is Sacred", and that this life begins at the moment of conception. I don't think I need to go into any more detail about the religious viewpoint to begin my argument, because with those two statements, I already have so much to take issue with.

That phrase "Life is Sacred" gets thrown around a lot. I see it on the backs of cars and license plate covers that claim 'Life is Sacred - From Birth to Natural Death" or something like that. Euthanasia is a debate for another place and time, but I really would like to know what exactly this phrase is supposed to mean. In the sense it is being used here, it seems to mean that sacred implies 'worthy of protection' or 'of highest importance'. However, I've heard the term 'sacred' applied to inanimate objects, figurines, rituals, and holidays too. I personally think life is rare, fascinating, and worthy of the highest admiration, but not sacred. Think about it. If life was sacred, wouldn't we be given a little more of it to work with perhaps? Why a 60 to 80-year slice on this planet, at this time in history, when, for so many billions and billions of years, not only on this planet but as far as we can see (for now!) life as we know it played such a miniscule role in the scheme of the universe? An amazing development, for sure, but sacred? This 'sacred' life is regularly ended for so many people in so many awful and terrible ways every second of every day, week upon month upon year, for hundreds and thousands of years throughout our history. All around us, every person we've ever met, ever will meet, and ever could meet will die. You might say that this preciousness is exactly what makes life sacred, but I won't accept that. Diamonds aren't considered sacred. I think a more honest definition is that 'sacred' is anything that is important to the continuation and existence of the church, whether by member or by ritual. Due to the fact that parishioners tend to eventually expire, and also that expired parishioners cannot continue to propegate the doctrine of their faith, their members must be continually replenished and expanded. Therefore, anyone who could possibly grow up to be another member of the church and continue these traditions, whether they are two cells or two million, is therefore sacred and worthy of protection, at least until they turn their back on god. I can't wrap my head around the mental gymnastics here. On one hand, you've got folks saying that life is sacred, that the innocent need defending, and that the women who have an abortion should be punished with jail time. Are these the same people protesting lethal injections? What about sending troops overseas to be killed, and to kill others? Where did that sacred regard for life go? Not to steal too many of George Carlin's thoughts, but the message coming across to me here is: 'We only care about you while you're inside someone else's body and don't yet even have the capability to process a thought. Once you're outta that tummy, you're on your own.' I don't need to point out the hypocracy of anyone who uses this argument against abortion and then goes on to threaten any sort of retribution against blasphemers or members of an opposing faith.

One thing that never made sense to me was the claim that abortion is immoral because it is an 'unnatural' procedure. That we can create artificial organs and prevent disease is in no way natural either, and when we look at our close relatives in the animal kingdom, some of the behaviours they perform naturally (incest, murder) are completely unacceptable in civilized society. Where did we get this idea that aborting a child is any less natural than preventing pregnancy in the first place, or for all the fundies in the crowd who disagree with contraception too, any less natural than taking antibiotics for an infection? These are all human creations. If god DID create us, wouldn't it make sense that anything that is within our ability as a species should have been a natural progression of our continued development? To think that we could create new technologies that are somehow offensive to god makes absolutely no sense. If he didn't agree with some specific action he shouldn't have created us with the ability to execute that said action. Oh, wait a second, this is GOD we're talking about here. I forgot for a second that he's a TOTAL JERK and does things like that ALL THE TIME in the bible. You needn't go any further than the garden of Eden in Genesis without him dangling some damn treat in our faces that we're not supposed to touch (even though we wouldn't have understood that this was an evil action at the time. That knowledge came after eating the apple, not before). I won't go off on that tempting creationism-bashing tangent, but I still think it sounds incredibly silly to have, in the words of Gene Roddenberry an "all-knowing, all-powerful god that creates faulty humans and then blames them for his own mistakes". I should point out that statistically, a great percentage of pregnancies abort on their own with no medical influence whatsoever. I hope god will take responsibility for those ones; he should already be aware of the unfathomable amount of violence and hatred that has been carried out in his name during the history of our species.

In a way it all comes back to that essential church doctrine that faith is something that is to be spread and shared with others. People of faith know that not only is their specific interpretation of scripture the correct one among many conflicting interpretations that all also claim infallibility, but that they must ensure that other people must also abide by these rules even if they don't belong to their sect. This is unacceptable. The entire question about when life begins doesn't even matter in the debate, because there is a much more pressing question that first must be answered: why do people of faith think that they have the right to impose their handpicked moral values on others? People of the Jewish faith don't eat pork, but you don't see them trying to pass laws making it illegal for others to do so. It would do the faithful a lot of good to come down from their cloud of sacreds and holies and doctrines and take a few shots of reality every so often. The reality is that we can already see the effects of making abortion illegal, because there are plenty of countries that have already done just that (see this excellent article in the NY Times on El Salvador). What you will learn is that laws against abortion still do not prevent abortion, they simply make it more dangerous for everyone involved. You get babies born into families that can't support them, children born to mothers who find it difficult to love them because they are the product of their emotionally scarring rape and not a loving relationship, soaring populations, and a rising number of inmates.

I'll leave you with one particular story I heard that really highlights the incredulity of this issue: A young single mother was pregnant with a child. During the pregnancy, it was discovered that she had developed a cancerous tumor in her body. Luckily for her, it was caught early and would have been simple to treat with doses of radiation except for the fact that the radiation would have killed her unborn child. So, instead of performing the obvious choice of saving the woman, the doctors refused to treat her cancer as specified by the anti-abortion laws of the country. Her stomach grew, her cancer grew, and after 9 months, she gave birth to a child that she would not have the chance to share the joys of parenthood with, because now the cancer had spread through her whole body. She died shortly after, leaving a very sad little boy to wonder quietly to himself one day as he was growing up what exactly it was about life that was so sacred it was worth killing his mom for.

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