To the uninitiated, the word “Rapture” refers to the events that Christians believe will happen when Jesus comes back to Earth for the second and final time. Exactly what happens then is a matter of some debate depending on the specific denomination, but generally the idea is that the “saved” go to heaven while the rest are either sent to hell or doomed to be “left behind” on the mortal plane. If the Christians are to be believed, this momentous event will be accompanied by numerous miracles, processions of angels, heavenly trumpets etc.
To atheists like myself, all of this is hogwash, but this fine group has decided to make an enterprise of selling rapture insurance. Basically, any Christian pet owner who believes that the Rapture is going to happen within the next 10 years pays them a premium of US$110.00 and if the Rapture actually happens within the insurance coverage period and the pet owner actually does go to Heaven as a result while leaving the pet behind, the group will step in to take care of the pet.
From their website:
You’ve committed your life to Jesus. You know you’re saved. But when the Rapture comes what’s to become of your loving pets who are left behind? Eternal Earth-Bound Pets takes that burden off your mind.
We are a group of dedicated animal lovers, and atheists. Each Eternal Earth-Bound Pet representative is a confirmed atheist, and as such will still be here on Earth after you’ve received your reward. Our network of animal activists are committed to step in when you step up to Jesus.
We are currently active in 20 states and growing. Our representatives have been screened to ensure that they are atheists, animal lovers, are moral / ethical with no criminal background, have the ability and desire to rescue your pet and the means to retrieve them and ensure their care for your pet’s natural life.
I have no idea how many if any customers they’ve managed to get so far but it seems like a good business idea. It’s basically asking people to put their money where their mouths are. If you genuinely believe that the Rapture is going to happen, then you should also believe that this service is delivering genuine value. Still, it’s an interesting question whether or not the group selling this is behaving ethically. After all, they are selling insurance for an event which they believe will never happen, so does this count as a scam? To me, since they openly state that they are atheists and do not believe the Rapture will happen, it is not a scam as long as they actually do spend the money that they get on arranging real foster homes for the pets registered under this scheme. It’s a win-win situation for everybody!
Should they? The Wall Street Journal has a report on the attempts of various atheist organizations in the U.S. to make atheism more acceptable to the general public. Atheists are in many ways the least represented and most reviled minority in the U.S. with opinion polls consistently rating atheists as the least trustworthy group, below homosexuals and Muslims. The Economist noted in an article last year that only one U.S. congressman out of 535 would publicly admit to be an atheist, making him the highest-ranking politician to do so.
At the same time, atheists represent a fairly significant proportion of the population, though the exact figures depend on whom you count as an atheist. According to Adherents.com, if you count the people who put themselves in the secular, non-religious, agnostic or atheist categories as a single group, they would form the world’s third largest religious group. This is admittedly not entirely fair. The site takes pains to note that plenty of people in this category are theistic or spiritual but do not profess affiliation with any religious denomination. For many others, it would be more accurate to say that they are indifferent to religion rather than being non-believers and would not be interested in organized atheism anyway.
Continue reading Should atheists organize?
“There are two great powers,” the man said, “and they’ve been fighting since time began. Every advance in human life, every scrap of knowledge and wisdom and decency we have has been torn from by one side from the teeth of the other. Every little increase in human freedom has been fought over ferociously between those who want us to know more and be wiser and stronger, and those who want us to obey and be humble and submit.”
– Phillip Pullman in The Subtle Knife
(Normally I try to keep my book reviews relatively free of spoilers so that readers can choose to read the books themselves and still enjoy them after having read my review. However, to do the same for these books would prevent me from saying what I want to say about them, so instead of a review, this post should really be thought of as a kind of analysis. As such, be warned that further reading will spoil the books for you.)
It’s not hard to imagine what went through the minds of the executives at New Line Cinema when they greenlighted the movie version of The Golden Compass that was released late last year. Their film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings had proved to be a tremendous commercial success. Walt Disney Pictures had The Chronicles of Narnia series going for them and Warner Bros. had the goldmine that is the Harry Potter series. The movie-going public clearly has an appetite for the fantasy genre, especially for films adapted from children’s books, so what could be better than the new and popular His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman?
Continue reading Books: His Dark Materials
This story was spread around a few days ago and got digged. It really is a bit of a non-story though, since it’s based on a Time magazine story that’s dated 7th December 1970. It concerns a case in which a pair of parents in the United States, one an atheist and the other a pantheist, was denied the right to adopt a baby because a judge ruled that since the parents did not believe in a Supreme Being, it would be tantamount to unduly influencing the child and depriving her of the freedom to worship as she sees fit. In any case, as far as I can tell, that ruling was overturned in 1971 in which the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal to deny adoption solely on the basis of lack of belief in any religion.
Still, raising this old story did serve to raise public consciousness for a few days about atheists’ rights as the story made the rounds on the internet and on public radio talk shows in the US. Personally, I’ve long found that religious people tend not to accord atheists the same personal belief space that they automatically give to believers of other religions. For example, a Christian instinctively knows that it would be rude to even so much as utter a praise to Jesus in the presence of a Muslim or a Buddhist, but no such consideration is ever afforded to atheists. Yet as a recent special report in The Economist noted, if atheism were considered a religion, it would be the fourth largest religion worldwide.
This is of course because religious people tend to believe that atheists don’t really take their atheism seriously and so are ripe for conversion. This might be true for many atheists and, perhaps even truer for self-proclaimed agnostics, but at the same time, from my observations, many of the religious don’t take their own religious belief particularly seriously either, being religious only as a form of social networking or as taking the path of least resistance.
But for me at least and for others I hope, atheism is a conscious, rational and carefully thought out choice and I dare say that I have spent more time and effort on researching the basis of my beliefs than many religious have spent on theirs. That I think is something that ought to be respected. So if you religiously inclined yourself, keep that in mind the next time you hear someone profess to be an atheist.
Pope Benedict XVI targets atheists in his second encyclical, the most important papal document possible. The most immediate target is actually the Russian revolution and the suffering it caused. The gist of the Pope’s arguments seems to be that all attempts to make life better on Earth without involving God is doomed to failure as he notes, “A world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope.”
This is a huge slap in the face for atheists of course, or for that matter anyone who believes that human efforts in the here and now to make the world a better place do make a difference, but not unexpected for the Pope. After all, as the Pope, he has to believe that faith in God is a necessary component, even the only component that matters, in the salvation of humanity.
A more pertinent criticism is that the Pope seems to imply that the suffering and “violations of justice” that occurred under communism are typical results of such efforts to improve the world without the involvement of God. This not only ignores the suffering and injustices that occurred directly under the auspices of the Roman Catholic religious authorities including the Crusades, the persecutions of the Huguenots and flirtations with antisemitism, it also discounts the improvements to overall social well-being that occurred in spite of the church’s objections such as a reduction in prejudice against women, a wider acceptance of homosexuality, an increase in the usage of birth control methods and proper family planning and arguably, due to its resistance against the idea of separation of church and state and the idea of individual freedom of conscience, the rise of modern liberal democracies as the most effective and moral form of government.
There are many possible objections to this statement from a philosophical point of view as well, including what would human effort and determination to improve life on Earth mean if none of it ultimately matters except faith in God and what the often vaunted statement that God did indeed give humanity free will mean in this context. More generally, the sheer arrogance of the Pope’s statement makes me wonder, not for the first time, what is, if any, the net contribution of religion to society? The Pope sees that religions now play a smaller role in people’s lives both public and private than in the past and blames the present ills of society on this. I see that the present time offers a higher quality of life and greater freedoms for the average inhabitant of planet Earth than at any other point in human history and if He existed, I’d be inclined to thank God for being born in an era in which his influence is weaker than in any previous one.
Ordinarily, I try not to make this blog into a “today on QT3” sort of thing, but at times something comes up that’s too interesting and relevant to my own interests to ignore.
A poster on QT3 recently linked to an article by Dinesh D’Souza attacking atheism based on Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Admittedly, the argument does not constitute an affirmation of theism. It merely seeks to demonstrate what D’Souza considers to be a failing of atheism. Essentially, D’Souza argues that, as Kant pointed out, the province of reason is limited to the things that we can perceive and to the things as we can perceive them. This means that we have no way of knowing what Kant calls the noumena, the things as they are in themselves, unfiltered by the limitations of human perception, and to D’Souza this opens to door to religious faith.
Within hours of the original post however, QT3 member Hawkeye Fierce posted an excellent response:
Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason has always seemed like a lot of mental masturbation to me. He says that the capacities of reason are limited because our perception is limited, and that there could exist phenomena that we are simply incapable of perceiving in any way. I suppose that could be true, but if we are unable to perceive these phenomena, I don’t see how it follows that we should act any differently. Reality may be bigger than we can perceive, but if the part that we can’t see can’t actually affect us, it may as well not exist. And if it can affect us, well then it’s no longer imperceptible. Also, without experiential information, all theories about what the imperceptible universe is like are equally valid and invalid, so there’s no reason to pick one over the other.
I can really put it no better than the above. D’Souza writes that he tried to get a rebuttal from Daniel Dennett but didn’t get a satisfactory response. This seems like a pretty good response to me.