Tag Archives: Christianity

Interesting links

I’m leaving on holiday to Taiwan soon and will be leaving my job after that. This means that this blog will probably be updated only intermittently while I’m a in transition phase. In the meantime, here are a few links to some of the most interesting things I’ve read recently.

  • As everyone knows by now, the Rapture did not in fact arrive on schedule. Or perhaps it did but no one, including the folks from Family Radio International who so hyped up the event, was judged worthy. The station’s owner and preacher Harold Camping has since come out with a statement claiming that he’d made a mistake. May 21st was merely the spiritual Judgment Day during which God evaluated everyone’s souls. But the judgment will actually be executed only on October 21st, five months from now, triggering the end of the world.
  • Thankfully Malaysian high schools are nothing like the hellholes that public US high schools seem to be but thanks to American shows and movies, we have a decent idea of what they’re like. One aspect of the US high school experience is how students are segregated into different groups that are organized into a hierarchy that revolves around popularity. This extended essay examines why nerds in school, who are consistently found to be smarter than their peers, are consistently among the least popular students and comes up with some interesting insights.
  • Many vegetarians don’t eat meat because of the perceived moral issues involved in killing an animal for food. What if meat no longer had to obtained by butchering animals? What if you could simply grow the meat in a test-tube? This article looks at how meat could be grown by immersing stem cell samples in nutrient-filled petri dishes, and then moving them into scaffolding platforms to get them to grow into muscle tissue. If this gets off the ground, not only will it dispense with the moral issue of eating animals, it will also be a far cheaper and more environmentally friendly way to farm the meat that we so crave.
  • When I mentioned on QT3 that Ted Chiang had never published a novel, a fellow fan was quick to correct me. Actually, it’s more like a novella than a novel, but you can judge for yourself since The Lifecycle of Software Objects is now freely available to be read online. To be honest I find it to be the weakest of Chiang’s works I’ve read and it’s really more of an essay presenting many different insights and ideas about conscious software as pets and children than a novel. The central thesis is that you can’t create an artificial intelligence by writing an algorithm and running it iteratively until it reaches sentience. Instead, you need to nurture it just as you would a pet or a child, patiently teaching it and allowing it to have a variety of different life experiences to enable it to grow.
  • Finally, just for Malaysians, here is a link to the latest report on house price indices for Malaysia, updated for the first quarter of 2011. Some very tentative conclusions are that overall house prices in Malaysia are still increasing and especially prices for terrace houses in the Klang Valley are still holding up. But prices for high-rises in the Klang Valley is stagnant and has dropped for Malaysia as a whole. Condo prices in Penang in particular seem to be dropped significantly and the index has dropped to 2009 levels. This is especially illuminating since I’ve heard many people complain about very low occupation rates for condos in Penang despite the high prices. As always, a single quarter’s worth of data is not proof of a developing trend and should be taken with the usual grain of salt.

Agora

Any review that I could possibly write about this film must pale in comparison to Gordon Cameron’s excellent post on his blog Picture’s Up, so I’ll just link it. Some observations of my own:

  • The characterization and pacing feel a bit off. The slave Davus’ conflicted loyalties don’t seem very convincing at all. He clearly adores Hypatia and has a talent for science, but is attracted towards the egalitarianism of Christianity. But how does that drive him to bloodlust? He just seems far too enthusiastic about the sacking of the library than the situation warrants.
  • Similarly the flash forward to several years later feels clumsy. Suddenly we see that Orestes, who was happy to grab a sword to kill Christians, is now the Prefect and has been baptized himself. It would have been more believable if the film had previously established him as being ambitious and willing to go along with the tide for political gain. As it stands, it’s odd how he seems to think of himself as a genuine Christian even in private.
  • My wife totally caught how the filmmakers had chosen to garb the Christians in black robes and generally look and act like the stereotypical Muslim terrorists of our time. This is something that Marginal Revolution picked up on this too.
  • Some reviewers have claimed that the film is a condemnation of all fundamentalism rather than Christianity specifically but I can’t think of a single sympathetic Christian in the film. At least the Pagans were shown to respect knowledge and seem generally more civilized and orderly, even if they started the violence first. Plus, of course, even Hypatia clearly thought that owning slaves was perfectly normal. But the Christians are just a hateful bunch throughout. Even when Davus is handing out bread at the church, the beggars look like greedy locusts who eagerly take whatever is offered and eat it without so much as a word of thanks or a moment of appreciation. Then there’s Davus’ questioning of whether the Christians should consider forgiving their enemies and the rebuke he gets in response.
  • My wife says that Synesius is totally evil at the end and I agree. His brand of evil is certainly more scary than that of Cyril. The latter is just the typical religious demagogue. It’s not even clear that Cyril is passionate about Christ. He just seems interested in power. Synesius however seems to genuinely think of himself as being a good friend to both Orestes and Hypatia, and believes that wholehearted acceptance of Christ is what’s best for them, regardless of what they actually want or believe in. He’s scary because there’s no reasoning with him. Cyril at least could probably be cowed with sufficient application of temporal power.
  • Gordon Cameron thinks that the truest emotion the film evokes is frustration about how easily such valuable progress in human knowledge can be lost. While the film tries to play up that angle, especially obvious with the scenes of Hypatia and her colleagues desperately trying to save as many priceless manuscripts as they can before the mob, I don’t think this is what really rings out to me. After all, Hypatia didn’t seem to work very hard to ensure that her own insights would be recorded for posterity. Instead, the strongest emotional reaction I had was the fearful power of mob rule and how it utterly ignores reason and facts. The frustration that I felt was not so much the loss of knowledge but the downfall of civilization and the end of what seemed to be peaceful and orderly lives for so many.

Anyway I’m glad I watched this film but then as I’m one of those militant atheist types. Setting this aside, I don’t think I could say that this is a very good film. It’s a good subject matter and it’s shot beautifully enough but it’s too handles too many things too awkwardly. It does make for a wonderful film to troll Christians with, if I could ever convince one to watch it with me.

One Nation under God

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This painting by Jon McNaughton is currently making the rounds of the Internet. It’s easy enough to tell what the artist is getting at, but if you really need some rather heavy-handed hints, you can check out a full-sized picture at the artist’s own website where he also provides handy mouse-over explanations on what all of the symbolism is supposed to mean. Everyone who reads this site should know by now that I’m no fan of Christianity or any other religion, but what this artist and many other conservatives (in the modern rather than the classical sense of the word) in the U.S. are trying to do should be regarded by all Christians everywhere as being ridiculous and faintly blasphemous.

For one thing, they claim that the U.S. is uniquely blessed by the Christian God. It shows Jesus Christ appearing out of nowhere with a copy of the U.S. constitution in his hand and the Founding Fathers and deceased heroes of the country behind him. In the lower left corner, one immigrant is even depicted as cowering in shock as he realizes what the source of America’s greatness is. Of course, this is just one painting but it’s emblematic of the whole conservative movement in the U.S. For example, just take a look at the Conservative Bible Project, which is an initiative to create a better version of the Bible by removing “liberal” influences from it.

Secondly, the painting presents an untruthful view of history. The artist implies that the separation of church and state in the U.S. is the work of activist judges, hence why a Supreme Court judge is depicted as on the side of Satan, whereas in reality the separation is written in the U.S. constitution at the instigation of Founding Fathers such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The painting  even portrays Thomas Paine as being on the side of Jesus Christ, the same man who wrote the following passage:

I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church. All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

Finally, the painting infuriates Democrats because it mercilessly attacks the liberal movement (e.g. the liberal news reporter and the professor who holds a copy of Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” in his hand) while appropriating liberal heroes like Susan B. Anthony and John F. Kennedy for its own side. It even includes a black soldier who’s supposed to be a reference to Martin Luther King, Jr. as if King wouldn’t be considered a liberal in today’s political climate.

Of course, the funniest thing in the painting is the tree symbol on Jesus’ chest. The artist claims that it is a reference to the “Tree of Life” but it looks suspiciously like the White Tree of Gondor, prompting someone on QT3 to ask whether Jesus is supposed to be from Minas Tirith.

Rapture insurance

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!

Did Bush ask France to attack Gog and Magog in Iraq?

This Free Inquirer article has been making the rounds among atheists and agnostics on the net. In it, a senior editor of the magazine James A. Haught claims that back in 2003 when then U.S. President Bush was trying to assemble his “Coalition of the Willing” to invade Iraq, he told the French President of the time Jacques Chirac that Iraq had to be attacked because the Biblical demons Gog and Magog was at work in Iraq and that the confrontation was willed by God.

To the writer’s credit, the article details explicitly how this information was obtained so it’s hard to dismiss it as just hearsay. Still, I find it hard to believe that Bush actually meant it seriously. It’s one thing for Bush to throw in the Gog and Magog thing as a half joke, quite another thing to use it as justification to implore France to take action against Iraq. After all, why would Bush have expected Chirac to understand the obscure Biblical reference? It should also be noted that Chirac has a history of being quite derisive towards Bush’s religious beliefs, so mischaracterizing what he actually said would not be entirely out of the question.

Far from it for me to defend Bush’s record, it’s just that I believe in appropriating both blame and credit fairly and truthfully. For me, what is both more credible and ultimately more insidious are the accompanying revelations that the U.S. military regularly uses Biblical language in its reports. Quotes from the Bible for example are often used as prefaces to reports especially when it is known that the superior officer who will be reading them is a devout Christian. This practice apparently dates back from before the Bush era but seems to have become more common under his presidency. Needless to say, any attempt to reframe the mission and purpose of the U.S. military in Biblical terms, ignoring the separation of church and state, should make any reasonable person extremely nervous.

U.S. Army attempting to spread Christianity in Afghanistan?

For a blog that’s supposedly about atheism, I’m aware that I’ve done precious little writing on it of late. So here’s an article that, if true, makes for a great example of why government should always be separate from religion. It’s from Al Jazeera, admittedly not the most reliable of news sources especially on subject like this, and alleges that elements of the U.S. military are surreptitiously trying to proselytize to the local populace in Afghanistan.

From the article:

In one recorded sermon, Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley, the chief of the US military chaplains in Afghanistan, tells soldiers that, as followers of Jesus Christ, they all have a responsibility “to be witnesses for him”.

“The special forces guys – they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down,” he says.

“Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom. That’s what we do, that’s our business.”

The good news is that this is already against the U.S. military’s own rules. The bad news is that it’s not certain how far up this goes and how widespread this is. From my reading of the discussion thread on QT3 where this popped up, it seems that this is a relatively new thing and might well be another one of George W. Bush’s unfortunate legacies. To be sure, it is not the proselytization of Christianity that I oppose, even if it is illegal according to Afghan law, but the fact that it is being done by a government agency and that this clearly undermines the very mission the U.S. is performing in Afghanistan.

How to be an Ex-Masturbator

This is just too awesome for words. Quoted from the page:

When God wants to take His message of deliverance across the globe, there is NO stopping Him.¬† Check out this feature of the EX Shirts on one of the fastest growing Christian Hip Hop magazines in the US: www.DaSouth.com. Also, hit up their new article, “Masturbation” It breaks down the lies behind masturbation, explains how this is actually a sin, and how we can be freed through Christ.

And if you need even more encouragement, check out ya girl Dameco’s latest blog entry, in which she fearlessly testifies to her struggle and victory over masturbation!

We pray that you will join us in breaking the silence on an issue that has stayed silent for too long. Be the first to boldly rock your Ex-Masturbator shirt and let’s change the world baby! Click below on one of the pictures to order your shirt.

My problem is that I can never tell if campaigns like this are serious or a deliberate attempt at humour. I know, I know, I’m a sick, sick person.