January 5, 2013
The Blessings of Atheism
By SUSAN JACOBY
IN a recent conversation with a fellow journalist, I voiced my exasperation at the endless talk about faith in God as the only consolation for those devastated by the unfathomable murders in Newtown, Conn. Some of those grieving parents surely believe, as I do, that this is our one and only life. Atheists cannot find solace in the idea that dead children are now angels in heaven. "That only shows the limits of atheism," my colleague replied. "It's all about nonbelief and has nothing to offer when people are suffering."
This widespread misapprehension that atheists believe in nothing positive is one of the main reasons secularly inclined Americans -- roughly 20 percent of the population -- do not wield public influence commensurate with their numbers. One major problem is the dearth of secular community institutions. But the most powerful force holding us back is our own reluctance to speak, particularly at moments of high national drama and emotion, with the combination of reason and passion needed to erase the image of the atheist as a bloodless intellectual robot.
The secular community is fearful of seeming to proselytize. When giving talks on college campuses, I used to avoid personal discussions of my atheism. But over the years, I have changed my mind because such diffidence contributes to the false image of the atheist as someone whose convictions are removed from ordinary experience. It is vital to show that there are indeed atheists in foxholes, and wherever else human beings suffer and die.
Now when students ask how I came to believe what I believe, I tell them that I trace my atheism to my first encounter, at age 7, with the scourge of polio. In 1952, a 9-year-old friend was stricken by the disease and clinging to life in an iron lung. After visiting him in the hospital, I asked my mother, "Why would God do that to a little boy?" She sighed in a way that telegraphed her lack of conviction and said: "I don't know. The priest would say God must have his reasons, but I don't know what they could be."
Just two years later, in 1954, Jonas Salk's vaccine began the process of eradicating polio, and my mother took the opportunity to suggest that God may have guided his research. I remember replying, "Well, God should have guided the doctors a long time ago so that Al wouldn't be in an iron lung." (He was to die only eight years later, by which time I was a committed atheist.)
The first time I told this story to a class, I was deeply gratified when one student confided that his religious doubts arose from the struggles of a severely disabled sibling, and that he had never been able to discuss the subject candidly with his fundamentalist parents. One of the most positive things any atheist can do is provide a willing ear for a doubter -- even if the doubter remains a religious believer.
IT is primarily in the face of suffering, whether the tragedy is individual or collective, that I am forcefully reminded of what atheism has to offer. When I try to help a loved one losing his mind to Alzheimer's, when I see homeless people shivering in the wake of a deadly storm, when the news media bring me almost obscenely close to the raw grief of bereft parents, I do not have to ask, as all people of faith must, why an all-powerful, all-good God allows such things to happen.
It is a positive blessing, not a negation of belief, to be free of what is known as the theodicy problem. Human "free will" is Western monotheism's answer to the question of why God does not use his power to prevent the slaughter of innocents, and many people throughout history (some murdered as heretics) have not been able to let God off the hook in that fashion.
The atheist is free to concentrate on the fate of this world -- whether that means visiting a friend in a hospital or advocating for tougher gun control laws -- without trying to square things with an unseen overlord in the next. Atheists do not want to deny religious believers the comfort of their faith. We do want our fellow citizens to respect our deeply held conviction that the absence of an afterlife lends a greater, not a lesser, moral importance to our actions on earth.
Today's atheists would do well to emulate some of the great 19th-century American freethinkers, who insisted that reason and emotion were not opposed but complementary.
Robert Green Ingersoll, who died in 1899 and was one of the most famous orators of his generation, personified this combination of passion and rationality. Called "The Great Agnostic," Ingersoll insisted that there was no difference between atheism and agnosticism because it was impossible for anyone to "know" whether God existed or not. He used his secular pulpit to advocate for social causes like justice for African-Americans, women's rights, prison reform and the elimination of cruelty to animals.
He also frequently delivered secular eulogies at funerals and offered consolation that he clearly considered an important part of his mission. In 1882, at the graveside of a friend's child, he declared: "They who stand with breaking hearts around this little grave, need have no fear. The larger and the nobler faith in all that is, and is to be, tells us that death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest ... The dead do not suffer."
Today's secularists must do more than mount defensive campaigns proclaiming that we can be "good without God." Atheists must stand up instead of calling themselves freethinkers, agnostics, secular humanists or "spiritual, but not religious." The last phrase, translated from the psychobabble, can mean just about anything -- that the speaker is an atheist who fears social disapproval or a fence-sitter who wants the theoretical benefits of faith, including hope of eternal life, without the obligations of actually practicing a religion. Atheists may also be secular humanists and freethinkers -- I answer to all three -- but avoidance of identification with atheism confines us to a closet that encourages us to fade or be pushed into the background when tragedy strikes.
We must speak up as atheists in order to take responsibility for whatever it is humans are responsible for -- including violence in our streets and schools. We need to demonstrate that atheism is rooted in empathy as well as intellect. And although atheism is not a religion, we need community-based outreach programs so that our activists will be as recognizable to their neighbors as the clergy.
Finally, we need to show up at gravesides, as Ingersoll did, to offer whatever consolation we can.
In his speech at an interfaith prayer vigil in Newtown on Dec. 16, President Obama observed that "the world's religions -- so many of them represented here today -- start with a simple question: Why are we here? What gives our life meaning?" He could easily have amended that to "the world's religions and secular philosophies." He could have said something like, "Whether you are religious or nonreligious, may you find solace in the knowledge that the suffering is ours, but that those we love suffer no more."
Somewhere in that audience, and in the larger national audience, there were mourners who would have been comforted by the acknowledgment that their lives have meaning even if they do not regard death as the door to another life, but "only perfect rest."
Susan Jacoby is the author of the forthcoming book "The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought."
Mike Huckabee Deceptively Remembers The Chick-Fil-A Controversy of 2012
It's Christmas Day and I happened to be going from point A to point B and turned on the radio. Mike Huckabee's show was in progress and Mr. Huckabee was talking about the "Chick Fil-A Appreciation Day" that he spearheaded last summer. But my attention was drawn to how utterly deceptively Mr. Huckabee recounted it.
Specifically, Mr. Huckabee said that all Dan Cathy had done was to "express his support for traditional marriage" to create a controversy. But, of course, that's not what Cathy did. Cathy didn't express his support for good marriages, for anything that might contribute to or strengthen good marriages or prevent divorce or protect the children of struggling marriages or anything at all like that. Had he done so there would have been no controversy. But what Cathy did was not to express support for anything or anybody. What he did was attack the idea and the efforts of many -- now supported by a majority or a near-majority of Americans -- to allow gays and lesbians to marry. That is, Cathy did not "express support" for anyone to get married, but opposition to allowing gays and lesbians to marry. Why? Because, said Cathy, "we're inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him, and say, you know, we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage."
That is, at the heart of the Chick-Fil-A controversy was Cathy's claim that marriage -- an institution of the state no different in form than a driver's license or a license to operate a nuclear power plant -- should be denied to gays and lesbians because of Cathy's theological beliefs. But perhaps the more interesting thing is Mr. Huckabee's deceptive portrayal of the controversy, because is bet rays the fact that Mr. Huckabee knows all of this perfectly well. Mr. Huckabee's lies show that he also knows perfectly well how unacceptable and how objectionable -- not just in a "personal opinion" or "freedom of speech" sense, but in a moral sense -- Dan Cathy's ignorant and hateful assertions are. Otherwise Mr. Huckabee would have accurately and honestly characterized those assertions and explicitly agreed with them, as he clearly, implicitly, does.
On this one, Mr. Huckabee is a liar and a hypocrite. But, it should be remembered, hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue. Dan Cathy, whatever else he is, did not behave hypocritically. Mike Huckabee is so behaving. Mike Huckabee knows better but he doesn't care.
15 Years of NTCOF
Wednesday, 10 February 2010 20:06
The North Texas Church of Freethought Celebrates Fifteen Years of Preaching The Good News of Rationalism in Religion!!On February 5th of 1995, the NTCOF held its first regular monthly service, and has not stopped since. No one knew, in the beginning, if this pioneering experiment would work. There were plenty of people who said it was a bad idea and would be a flop. Yet here we are! And now we have people write us and say that they had had this idea themselves. In Houston, fellow Freethinkers established the HCOF ten years ago. HAPPY BIRTHDAY to them too!
A lot has happened these last 15 years. 15 years is enough time for people to meet and start families, for children to grow up, and, yes, for some of us to grow old and die. We've had all of those things happen over the years. It has a been a wonderful journey full of the usual ups and downs that are typical of our lives. But change is continual and change is inevitable. Through the wonders of modern technology, wo of the NTCOF's founders, Mike and Marilyn Sullivan, who retired and moved to Florida in 2008, joined us at our February 2010 service. They aptly pointed out what an achievement it is for this pioneering experiment to have been as successful as it has been. And THIS MONTH - March 2010 - the HOUSTON Church of Freethought is celebrating its TENTH anniversay with its March 14th service! If you're anywhere near Houston, check them out! Dr. Gorski will be speaking at the HCOF's 10th Anniversary Celebration service.
Tuesday, 09 March 2010 00:12
ALBERT ELLIS: Founder of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy
Albert Ellis was born in Pittsburgh in 1913. Ellis recalled both his parents as being emotionally (and often physically) unavailable and wrote that he had assumed much of the care of his two younger siblings. As a very young child he also had numerous health problems and much of his years between the age of 5 and 7 in the hospital.
After graduating from college with a business degree in 1934, Ellis tried and did not succeed in business or as a fiction writer. He subsequently became interested in human sexuality, wrote on the subject, and became sought-after for his expertise and advice. This motivated him to begin a program of study at Columbia University in clinical psychology as well as a clinical practice as a psychologist since there were in New York no laws requiring licensure at the time. Also prior to receiving his PhD in 1947, Ellis began to write about the lack of scientific validity of various personality tests then in use.
In 1950, Ellis wrote about the problem of the scientific and evidential basis for psychoanalysis, in which he himself had been trained:
"Some analysts, notably Jung, have at times been frankly unscientific, even antiscientific, and have contended that there are more things to analysis than are dreamed of in scientific ideologies. Other analysts ... have offered doughty lip-service to scientific ideals, but have in practice advocated semi-mystical theories of analysis that are antithetical to scientific viewpoints. ... Most contemporary psychologists and psychiatrists agree, however, that thorough going scientific knowledge is the only valid basis for analytic (and other) therapy, and that rigorous criticism of non-scientific psychological methods is quite justified."
Ellis continued to study and write about human sexuality and also collaborated in legal cases defending publishers of sexual materials, gays, and others accused of "obscenity" and consensual sexual "crimes." These latter activities did not come without cost as Ellis was refused teaching positions and had presentations canceled or banned.
But by 1953 Ellis is said to have broken with the psychoanalytic methods in which he had been trained and began calling himself a rational therapist. In 1955 he began calling his approach "Rational-Emotive Therapy," basing it on the examination and correction of self-defeating beliefs and the behaviors that followed from them. By this time he had also begun teaching he technique to other therapists. In 1959, Ellis founded a non-profit organization, The Institute for Rational-Emotive Therapy, to facilitate this work.
Now known as Rational-Emotive Behavioral Therapy, or REBT, Ellis stated that he derived his approach from his own professional experiences, his reading of classical philosophy and especially the writings of ancient Stoics, and the ideas of Polish-American philosopher and scientist Alfred Korzybski, who developed the theory of General Semantics. There is an anecdote concerning Korzybski's demonstration of how context and beliefs play into human experience and especially emotional responses:
"One day, Korzybski was giving a lecture to a group of students, and he suddenly interrupted the lesson in order to retrieve a packet of biscuits, wrapped in white paper, from his briefcase. He muttered that he just had to eat something, and he asked the students on the seats in the front row, if they would also like a biscuit. A few students took a biscuit. 'Nice biscuit, don't you think,' said Korzybski, while he took a second one. The students were chewing vigorously. Then he tore the white paper from the biscuits, in order to reveal the original packaging. On it was a big picture of a dog's head and the words 'Dog Cookies.' The students looked at the package, and were shocked. Two of them wanted to throw up, put their hands in front of their mouths, and ran out of the lecture hall to the toilet. 'You see, ladies and gentlemen,' Korzybski remarked, 'I have just demonstrated that people don't just eat food, but also words, and that the taste of the former is often outdone by the taste of the latter.' Apparently his prank aimed to illustrate how some human suffering originates from the confusion or conflation of linguistic representations of reality and reality itself." [R. Diekstra, Haarlemmer Dagblad, 1993, cited by L. Derks & J. Hollander, Essenties van NLP (Utrecht: Servire, 1996), p. 58, quoted in Wikipedia]
According to Ellis, REBT:
" ... is a comprehensive approach to psychological treatment that deals not only with the emotional and behavioral aspects of human disturbance, but places a great deal of stress on its thinking component. Human beings are exceptionally complex, and there neither seems to be any simple way in which they become 'emotionally disturbed,' nor is there a single way in which they can be helped to be less-defeating. Their psychological problems arise from their misperceptions and mistaken cognitions about what they perceive; from their emotional underreactions or overreactions to normal and unusual stimuli; and from their habitually dysfunctional behavior patterns, which enable them to keep repeating nonadjustive responses even when they 'know' that they are behaving poorly."
Ellis was a known atheist and humanist and thought that unbelief was the most emotionally healthy stance. He was recognized by the American Humanist Association as "Humanist of the Year" in 1971. At the same time, Ellis acknowledged that he could not be absolutely certain that no god(s) exist and was also careful to state that REBT did not depend on one's beliefs about religion. In fact, Ellis coauthored a book with a Mormon and a Christian evangelical religious psychologist that integrated REBT with belief systems based on the supernatural.
Although many of Ellis' ideas were criticized from the beginning, REBT proved to be the forerunner of a therapeutic strategy now known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. CBT's are in wide use internationally and have gained significant theoretical and scientific support. In 1982, a survey of American and Canadian psychologists ranked Ellis ahead of Freud in terms of impact on their profession. In the same year, a survey of US psychology journals found that he was the most cited author after 1957.
Ellis' work eventually extended into areas such as business, education and politics. He publicly debated others involved in these subjects including Objectivist Nathanial Branden and anti-psychiatric activist Thomas Szasz. And Ellis held many workshops and seminars worldwide for many years and well into his 90's.
Ellis was diagnosed with diabetes in 1953 but this did not prevent his living a long life. Towards the end he was in poor health but remained remarkably active nonetheless. His last book, published after his death on July 24, 2007, combined his theory of personality with biological and evolutionary concepts.
A number of quotes help to shed light on Albert Ellis' key ideas:
"Acceptance is not love. You love a person because he or she has lovable traits, but you accept everybody just because they're alive and human."
"As a result of my philosophy, I wasn't even upset about Hitler. I was willing to go to war to knock him off, but I didn't hate him. I hated what he was doing."
"By not caring too much about what people think, I'm able to think for myself and propagate ideas which are very often unpopular. And I succeed."
"I get people to truly accept themselves unconditionally, whether or not their therapist or anyone loves them."
"I had a great many sex and love cases where people were absolutely devastated when somebody with whom they were compulsively in love didn't love them back. They were killing themselves with anxiety and depression."
"I think it's unfair, but they have the right as fallible, screwed-up humans to be unfair; that's the human condition."
"I think the future of psychotherapy and psychology is in the school system. We need to teach every child how to rarely seriously disturb himself or herself and how to overcome disturbance when it occurs."
"If something is irrational, that means it won't work. It's usually unrealistic."
Ellis even had something to say about the changes in the medical care system:
"In the old days we used to get more referrals, because people had insurance that paid for therapy."
Friday, 16 July 2010 20:48
American Exceptionalism is the idea that the United States is special. Do you agree with that? How about you as an individual? Are you special? We all are, of course. But if everyone is special then no one is special, are they? Or, ... is someone like President Obama or Queen Elizabeth II or the Dalai Lama special in a way that the rest of us aren't? And, if they are special, is the United States special in a similar way?
It seems doubtful that such questions have scientific answers.
There are also those who object to the idea of American Exceptionalism. They say it is self-serving. They say it is arrogant. They say it's intended to denigrate other nations or used to justify anything and everything ever done by the United States.
But exceptional doesn't have to mean better in every way. An exceptional student may still grow up to be a criminal. But neither is an exceptional student one that excels at field trip attendance, pep rally cheering or returning books to the library on time. Exceptionalism means achievement or distinction in something that is of particular importance.
American Exceptionalism is an idea usually attributed to the French writer Alexis de Tocqueville.
Toqueville and another man were sent by the French government in 1831 to study the American prison system. But they took notes on everything they saw from which Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America. For Tocqueville, American Exceptionalism meant the success of the American political experiment in representative democracy. It was a remarkable achievement because it had never been done before, especially on such a large scale. All previous efforts at self-government had been short-lived and hadn't worked very well, even in the fabled Greek city-states where democracy was invented.
But it is said that no other than Joseph Stalin actually first used the term "American Exceptionalism." He did so while calling it a "heresy" advanced by fellow communists who used it as an excuse for failing to make the same inroads into American society and culture as had been made in other nations.
It turns out that President Obama had something to say about American Exceptionalism, which was this:
"I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."
President Obama was slammed for this statement, it being said that it showed that he does not actually believe in American Exceptionalism, that the President thinks that America is no more exceptional than Britain or Greece.
This quote is not on the White House website, by the way, but I was able to track it down elsewhere as part of a news conference held by the President in Strasbourg, France on April 4th of 2009. Here is the question the President was responding to, from Ed Luce of The Financial Times:
"could I ask you whether you subscribe, as many of your predecessors have, to the school of American exceptionalism that sees America as uniquely qualified to lead the world, or do you have a slightly different philosophy? And if so, would you be able to elaborate on it?"
So we see here, firstly, that the question is coming from a European, in Europe, and in the context, specifically, of America's role as a world leader and with reference to previous US Presidents' viewpoints. The answer given by President Obama was therefore a political one for the specific political circumstances. And quite a good one probably. But, wait, there's more. Like him or not, agree with his policies or not, the President went on to say:
"I'm enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don't think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that. ... the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality that, though imperfect, are exceptional."
This seems the right approach to the idea of American Exceptionalism. The facts are that the United States is exceptional. History has now shown that reason and right are on the side of both government by consent of the governed - democracy - as well as the principle that governments are instituted for the specific purpose of securing human rights. The majority is not entitled to do anything it wants just because it is the majority.
Has our nation always lived up to these ideals? No. But it has not gone so completely off the rails as to wreck itself and the rest of world either. As former President Clinton said:
"There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America."
CURTIS SEVERNS CASE FEATURED ON ABC 20/20 MAY 7
Wednesday, 05 May 2010 13:14
Friday May 7th's ABC 20/20 program included a segment about junk science being used to send people to prison - even sentenced to death and executed - for supposed arson. NTCOF's own Curtis Severns languishes today in Texas' Beaumont Federal Prison and is featured in the 20/20 magazine program's online item here. http://abc.go.com/watch/2020/166626/260464/fire-scientist-questions-arson-finding
The portion on Curtis is short and didn't carry the emotional impact of the stories of mothers jailed for supposedly setting fires that killed their children. But viewers got to see video that the jury at Curtis' trial never got to see: a fire test that showed that the explosion of heated aerosol cans caused the appearance of "multiple points of origin" that arson investigators in the case insisted proved arson.
The most infuriating part of the story was when Jay Schadler interviewed fire investigator John DeHaan in the last portion of the broadcast. DeHaan had changed his conclusion in a case that had sent a woman to jail, but without telling anyone! "I don't invent reasons to go back and re-examine cases," said DeHaan, as if people doing time for crimes they didn't commit and crimes that never even were are reasons that have to be "invented!" When DeHaan was asked if he ever called the woman to apologize out of simple humanity and with the realization that his mistakes had put her "through hell," DeHann responded: "I've been dealing with clients of all kinds for 40 years and I'm sure the experiences they've had have been unpleasant." He declined to even offer any remarks for the woman on air. And DeHann is the same "expert" the prosecution used to convict Curtis Severns! This was not mentioned in the 20/20 program.
Fire investigator Douglas Fogg, whose "science" led to the execution of Todd Willingham, fire investigator John DeHaan, and the detective in the case involving DeHaan, Detective Sandoval, were unrepentant. Fogg and Sandoval remained absolutely certain that the innocent peopled they helped to convict were, in fact guilty. It is a sobering reminder of how people become convinced of something and will choose to ignore or deny anything and everything that casts doubt on that belief. The truth is that beliefs are not the important thing. Thinking and how we arrive at our beliefs, beliefs that we should remain willing to give up for better ones at any time, is what is important. As the 20th Century physicist and Nobelist Richard Feynmann said, real honesty is always bending over backwards to see if we might be wrong. When can this possibly be more important than when people's lives are at stake? But, sadly, these ideas and attitudes are not yet a part of public morals.
The Texas Observer ran an article on the subject of false convictions in arson cases a year ago which is here (http://www.texasobserver.org/archives/item/15613-3002-burn-patterns) and takes note of this week's ABC program here (http://www.texasobserver.org/contrarian/abc-news-investigates-disputed-texas-arson-case). The Dallas Morning News' TEXAS DEATH PENALTY BLOG also calls attention to the additional publicity here (http://deathpenaltyblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2010/05/05/). As we know, dozens of Texans have been exonerated over the last few years after being convicted "beyond a reasonable doubt," and not just for arson Efforts to establish an Innocence Commission to ferret out these injustices and correct them continue to be resisted, even by Texas' Governor Perry who objects to "an added layer of government."(http://www.star-telegram.com/2010/04/22/2136725/timothy-cole-panel-questions-the.html) And we thought Republicans were the ones who most recognized how often and easily the government screws things up! Finally, John Lentini, who was also featured on the 20/20 program as a fire investigator who supports relying on science and freeing people convicted on the basis of myths and "old wives tales," has a website here.(http://www.firescientist.com/)
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Write your FEDERAL Senators and Representative asking them to support legislation to set up an Innocence Commission to re-examine cases such as that of Curtis Severns. Efforts in Texas are also worth supporting but will not help those, like Curtis, who were prosecuted and convicted in the federal system. Also visit here, a website set up by Curtis' nephew.
NTCOF Outreach Recognized
Thursday, 07 January 2010 20:38
Congratulations to NTCOF Outreach Director Susette Geissler, as well as to everyone who has participated in our charitable outreaches throughout 2009! We've baked cookies, promoted safer sex practices, supported battered women and their children, donated gallons of blood, and brought a smile to the faces of secular soldiers who are serving our country abroad.
And not only that, we've been recognized for our efforts by a columnist at Squidoo.com, who lists out some of the top "atheist charities," and WE'RE LISTED AT #3!!!!
If you'd like to build on this fantastic success and continue to help Susette and the other Outreach volunteers in 2010, please don't miss the organizational meeting THIS SATURDAY. Please RSVP at Meetup.com here.
NTCOF Supports Foxhole Atheists
Wednesday, 02 December 2009 14:47
Last year, the NTCOF donated to the North Alabama Freethought Association's "Operation Foxhole Atheists" to supply secular members of the military with items of particular needs and interests. This year, that program has been shut down, so under the direction of Outreach Director Susette Geissler, we've found our own secular soldiers to support this solstice season. According to one Army officer, our efforts are very much appreciated:
To the North Texas Church of Freethought-
My jaw dropped when I saw the stack of care packages from you! A thousand thanks to your group of fanatically antifanatical champions of freethought, the big and bright ever-twinkling stars of Texas who have gifted me with loot aplenty!
Great stuff all around. I never expected to recieve Monty Python, Bill Maher, and Weird Al in the same box. I'm surprised that it did not all form some sort of singularity of irreverance into which the collective superstitions of humanity would disappear as the discarded toilet paper of millenia of ignorant exploitation.
I was running low on Spam, and I appreciate whoever replenished my stocks. As room-temperature meats go, so goes the war. Ask anyone who has ever dined upon the Meal Ready to Eat. When dining on absurdities, man must have variety or perish. All hail the meat of mystery! All hail the delicacy of the desperate! All hail SPAM!
And I especially appreciate whoever included "On Killing." A man must reflect, and that reflection often turns ugly. He who would seek answers for the troubles of his mind cannot trust the military's systems for mental illness (as well-intentioned in design as they are malicious in execution) unless he wants his every thought reported back to the command. Books must be the silent man's chaplain.
The books, the magazines the cards, the dice, the tea, the broth, the sweets... all will lighten the load and pass the time.
This 25th of December, when the powers that be in Manas will break out the projector and screen for some sappy holiday fare, I believe I will stage a repeat of my Halloween antics. "Religulous" shall make an unexpected appearance to a rather captive audience, who will find the projection booth mysteriously locked.
Take care, and please accept my thanks to your group for the outpouring of swag! Please remember that I execute foriegn policy and have nothing to do with defense of freedoms: that is and has always been the responsibility of a well-informed, politically active, and socially responsible public. Vote smart.
Stephen A. Mooney
3rd BDE, 10th Mountain Division
United States Army
Lieutenant Mooney enjoyed a brief career as a street counter-evangelist prior to his military endeavors.
FRIENDSHIP Featured at May 2010 Service
Tuesday, 04 May 2010 00:00
The May 2nd service of the NTCOF featured the subject of FRIENDSHIP by NTCOF Presenters Don Lewellyn, Erin Taylor and Licensed Professional Counselor Luciana Whipple. Mr. Lewellyn considered some stories of friendship and the lessons - and questions! - such stories offer us in thinking about what it means to have friends and how friends help us bring meaning to our lives. Ms. Whipple reminded us of what friends do for us and what we do for our friends, and also what friendships can't do. She discussed levels of friendship in terms of the degrees of trust and intimacy we establish with others, that friends offer benefits that show up in not just our emotional but our physical health. Scientific evidence strongly suggests that loneliness and friendlessness can adversely affect life and health. Drug and alcohol addictions can be the cause and/or effect of a failure to establish and maintain healthy friendships. Most importantly, "friendship brings us joy!" Whipple discussed how true friendships can survive conflict and difficulties, can overcome the bounds of time and space and even "dissolve the distance between life and death" when we remember and continue to benefit from our past connections with friends who have died. Ms. Whipple identified 15 elements of successful friendships:
TRUST (We need to be able to trust and to be loyal to our friends.)
HONESTY (Tactful honesty is a foundation of friendship!)
RESPECT (We honor our disagreements as well as our agreements and respect healthy boundaries.)
ACCEPTANCE (We want to "be ourselves" with our friends and accept our friends for who they are as well.)
SHARED INTERESTS (It makes it easier to have friends when we can do things together.)
SHARED VALUES (The most solid friendships depend on similar core values.)
COOPERATION (Friendships depend on a certain level of working together to foster and support the friendship and its needs.)
RELIABILITY (Friends rely on each other so friends need to be dependable.)
SUPPORT (As Mark Twain put it, we want friends that can defend us when we're in the wrong since nearly everyone will defend us when we're in the right!)
UNDERSTANDING (Most people would rather be understood even more than agreed with.)
SENSITIVITY (Friends who know us can often know how we are feeling.)
RECIPROCITY (What we expect or do with or for our friends is what is expected of us.)
ABILITY TO COMPROMISE (Friends are willing to "give in" at times and let the other person have something their way.)
SENSE OF EQUALITY (It is hard to have a real friendship with someone that we are either responsible to or for. This is why it doesn't work out well for a parent to try to be "best friends" with their child(ren).)
FORGIVENESS (Too much to say about this! And even with friends forgiving is not the same as forgetting or even setting ourselves up for another cause for forgiveness.)
Finally, Ms. Whipple reminded us that we often need different friends for different situations and at different levels of intimacy, that one friend cannot fulfill all of our needs. Our challenge, she concluded, is also to explore what it means to restore the public nature of friendship to the world. There are connections between friendships and choice, justice and the public good that need to receive greater attention and care.
GOOD WITH AND WITHOUT GOD(S)
Monday, 07 February 2011 17:06
"Good Without God" is not just a slogan. Like the spherical earth, like heliocentrism, like evolution, it's a very important idea that adds to and allows us to advance our ideas, in this case, about morality. Like these other important concepts, it's hard to make the best sense of it without first considering what came before it, in this case the notion of "Good With God." This is not about bashing other people's beliefs. It's about being sure we understand how the good with god(s) has problems that force us to turn to the principle of good without god(s). After all, before astronomy could really get started it was necessary to understand why astrology - which also still persists! - is unsatisfactory.
GOOD WITH GOD(S)
When believers connect their theological beliefs with morality they seem to do so by supposing that a system of rewards (eternal life and heavenly bliss) and punishment (eternal torture in hell) is necessary to motivate people to do good and not do evil. It has to be more complicated than this, though, because many more people believe in heaven than in hell. Maybe some people believe in "temporary hell," who knows? It's an interesting question.
But how about the facts? As many of us know, believers are disproportionately represented in the nation's prisons. And there is also data suggesting that homicide rates and teenage pregnancy rates are either uncorrelated or even positively correlated with the prevalence of theological beliefs in a nation. (See Gregory S. Paul's article in the 2005 Journal of Religion & Society available online here ) http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.html
Now if we were to be as uncharitable as those who say atheists are immoral we might even say that the promise of heaven and the threat of any kind of punishment is of no motivational value anyway because it is so easy to cancel out wrongdoing in the Christian scheme of things. Robert Ingersoll, the American "Great Agnostic" of the 19th Century, called it "crime on credit." Some Christians even believe in a doctrine of "once saved always saved," which is like some kind of double-O license of predestination that renders being good - or evil - irrelevant.
The idea that being good requires rewards and punishments is corrosive of morality in another way too. Because it means that being good is not an end in itself but only a means to the end of getting into heaven and staying out of hell. It means that having pleasure and avoiding pain - even if it's pushed off to "the next life" - is really the most important thing. "Where will you go when you die?" is a question used by believers not to appeal to the best in humanity but to the worst. To appreciate this better, just ask yourself what we would think about someone who agreed to spend eternity being tortured in hell in exchange for their loved ones being spared such misery.
Believers like the philosophy professor I quote in today's bulletin are more sophisticated. They consider the matter to be more philosophical than motivational. Their idea is that someone has to say what morality is, and the best one to do it is an immortal and all-powerful being who can really make it stick. Perhaps the most sophisticated version of a divine command theory -and I recommend looking into it further because otherwise we're only attacking "straw man" theology - is that of the contemporary philosopher Robert Merrihew Adams. Adams, currently at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a past president of the Society of Christian Philosophers, spent his career - he is now 73 years old - on a modified divine command theory of morals, a key part of which is an insistence that the deity he is quite sure exists "is a loving God."
Theists who make a philosophical connection between morals and their deity seem to suppose that there just has to be some "higher power" for morals to exist. This leaves at least an echo of the idea of a system of future rewards and punishments. But it may also show that modern theists may be infected by postmodernism's rejection of objective truth, that there can be truths - in this case, right and wrong - independent of what anybody thinks about it. Yet there can be a "higher power" without it's being a deity. Who is there, after all, to say what science or math is? That may seem a silly question. But, in fact, it is possible to make, say, geocentrism - the scheme of the sun and all the planets revolving around the earth - "work." Geocentrism did work for a long long time and it never stopped working. Heliocentrism, after Copernicus and others suggested and argued for it, just worked better. And what do we mean by better? We mean that it accounted for the facts in a simpler way, and in a way that led to Kepler's laws of planetary motion and then to Newton's laws of motion and other advances. Despite the fact that there was - and is - no authority to say that heliocentrism is true and geocentrism is false, "everyone knows" that this is the case because our brains go to work and make sense of our perceptions by organizing and simplifying them.
Now suppose money disappears from the bank and one of the tellers is later found spending it. What can we conclude? But now suppose further that the teller says: "the money just dematerialized from the bank and rematerialized in my home! How was I to know?!" Then a video from the bank's security system is found that shows the teller taking the money. "Aliens planted that video!" says the teller. Again, what are we to think? Can we prove beyond any doubt whatsoever that what the teller says is wrong? Let us remember: "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." Can we be so arrogant as to dismiss the teller's explanations and protestations of innocence as fatuous and self-serving? What if the teller took and passed a lie-detector test? What if huge numbers of people staged demonstrations taking the teller's side of the matter? Could we just ignore all that? Could we just throw up our hands and say we don't know and it doesn't matter?
Clearly, we can conclude that the teller stole the money. Why? Because a "higher power" than anyone's personal beliefs or feelings tells us that there is no reasonable doubt that the teller stole the money. This "higher power" is facts and reason. And a reliance on facts and reason is how we human beings live, or ought to live. Certainly, our system of civil and criminal justice relies on facts and reason and no one in their right mind would want it to be otherwise. Even theists don't defend themselves in court by saying "God told me to do it!" At least not yet they don't.
It's about Occam's Razor: "entities are not to be multiplied unnecessarily." The explanation with the fewest assumptions is to be preferred. Or as Albert Einstein is said to have put it (it certainly expresses his opinion well): "Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler." When it comes to morality and god(s) it's also about something else, something known to be a serious problem for thousands of years and even for hundreds of years before the New Testament was written. In Plato's dialogue, The Euthyphro, Socrates asks:
"Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious?
Or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?"
We can understand "pious" here as "the good." And this is really the crux of the matter, isn't it? What makes something good or right and something else bad or wrong? And when people connect deities to morality is it because the deities know right from wrong and behave and issue their orders accordingly or is it because right and wrong is whatever the deities say that it is? This is "The Euthyphro Dilemma."
What a shame that the Bible doesn't struggle with such questions! What a shame that believers are not invited by their leaders to consider this problem! And what a world we might be living in today if our ancestors had paid attention to questions like these instead of arguing - and killing each other - over whether Jesus was part God or wholly God or "of the same substance" or only "spiritually" the same as God and so on and so on. The closest the Bible comes to trying to make sense of this problem is when Paul, in the 9th chapter of his epistle to the Romans, refers to the fact that God "hardened the heart" of the Egyptian Pharaoh in the Exodus story and yet the Egyptians were then punished for it. Paul writes:
"O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him
that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay,
of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonor?"
Here Paul takes the second horn of the dilemma: that what makes something good is that God says it's good. But what is this but a moral principle of might makes right? And that ultimate might - possessing ultimate power over "the same lump" of different human beings - makes ultimate right? What, then, is the moral standard that Paul elsewhere referred to as being "written on the hearts" and arising from the conscience of Gentiles? And does Paul's God have anything like a conscience?
The philosopher Adams' modified divine command theory has God possessing something like a conscience since Adams takes the other horn of the Socratic dilemma. For requiring that God be "loving" effectively sets "good" equal to "motivated by love." That seems much better, doesn't it? Until we may begin to wonder whether God is good only because he is loving or whether being loving is good only because God is loving.
However it's looked at, good with god(s) is not so simple as most believers seem to think. In fact, it's way more complicated than any system of morality without god(s) because, just as when deities are layered on top of or in and around the sciences, there are all the questions of morality to deal with and then the additional complications of theology.
GOOD WITHOUT GOD(S)
Over two millennia of philosophical thinking about right and wrong has produced some very interesting, well-developed and detailed moral theories. This, too, is a signpost on the trail of truth: that it is possible and productive to consider moral problems from a completely facts-and-reason point of view. We see the same thing in the evolution-Creationism "controversy" in that the wealth of ideas relating to evolution contrasts with the poverty of thinking in Creationism which is pretty much limited to the claim that: "there's not any good explanation for ___fill-in-the-blank___ and so God must have done it!"
Philosophical theories of meta-ethics, ideas about what morality is and where it "comes from" are currently classified as either Realism or Anti-Realism. Anti-Realism further breaks down into things like nihilism, emotivism or expressivism, subjectivism or relativism. We've already mentioned divine command theory, which is considered - with good reason, as we know - as a form of anti-realism. There is even a version of divine command theory in which the deity is understood to be a hypothetical entity - this is called Ideal Observer Theory.
Another classification is that of cognitivism, which holds that moral statements can be true or false, versus non-cognitivism which holds that such statements cannot be true or false. Error theory is yet another view to the effect that moral statements are all wrong.
This all gets very complicated very fast, just as any serious consideration of real problems usually does. But when it comes to practical moral principles to be used in human society there are really only two distinct ideas that seem to have been thought of. One is undoubtedly the older: the moral theory of The Law Of The Jungle or Might Makes Right. As we have seen, this is really what divine command theories boil down to: the nominal "might" being a deity and the functional "might" being those who manage to have it believed that they speak for or interpret the deity's commands.
Might Makes Right is widespread in nature. And in human society it "works" after a fashion. It has "worked" throughout history about as well as it has "worked" for Hosni Mubarak, Kim Jong Il and other dictators "good" and "bad." The problem with it is that those who are mighty tend to get into disputes with others who are mighty or who want to get the might for themselves. The mighty, like everyone else, get older, can become infirm or turn their attention away from threats. They have to sleep sometimes too. And struggles between the mighty and over who will possess the might almost always hurt those of us who are not mighty.
The second, and only alternative practical moral principle is: The Law Of Reciprocity, also known as "Do Unto Others" or "The Golden Rule" and sometimes "The Platinum Rule" or another variation. The idea here is that, regardless of who is most mighty, there is a kind of moral symmetry between any one person and any other person such that no one entitled to do anything that anyone else is entitled to do. "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow," the Rabbi Hillel is said to have put it even before Jesus is supposed to have lived. But Confucius taught the same 500 years before Hillel and the idea appears to go back at least another 1000 years before that.
Reciprocity is a thoroughly atheistic moral concept inasmuch as no deity is needed to say: "this is what good means!" And even if it were to be seriously asserted that Might Makes Right is a better rule, even if it were asserted by a deity, we should consider the problem of which is the better idea in the same way that we can consider the ideas of geocentrism and heliocentrism. Which is the simpler principle? Which principle makes it easier to answer moral questions and resolve moral problems? Which lends itself better to a system of laws and justice that must struggle to settle constantly-arising disputes in a complex global society? Although it seems doubtful that right and wrong will ever be simple and easy to sort out in all situations, the principle of Reciprocity is obviously much more powerful than that of Might Makes Right.
This is all that Good Without God means.
150 Years of Natural Selection
Tuesday, 24 November 2009 15:10
It was 150 years ago today that Charles Darwin published "On the Origin of Species," a book that he considered to be only an abstract summary of the theory he had been developing since he returned to Britain from his voyage on the HMS Beagle in 1836.
Darwin's theory has continued to develop and evolve since his time, with a steady stream of new discoveries and observations about our natural world influencing the science of evolution, just as it does in every other scientific field. Most notably, the development of genetics provided a robust molecular mechanism of change, measurable to the individual nucleotide, with which we can track individual mutations and correlate them with expressed phenotypes in many different species. This "modern synthesis" is made all the more relevant with the birth of the Genomic Era, in which the entire DNA landscape of dozens of species are now easily viewable and downloadable from any computer in the world.
And yet the basic concepts that are the foundation of evolutionary theory (shared ancestry, development of novel forms, and the relationship of humans to other species) are easily communicated to and understood by small children. Kate Miller of Charlie's Playhouse has assembled the following video that demonstrates this easily:
Be sure to check out Kate's website for great ideas for solstice presents for any kid you know that's excited to learn about science, and who would love to explore evolution!
THE OPEN SOCIETY
Wednesday, 09 March 2011 19:57
THE OPEN SOCIETY
The Open Society was an idea first suggested by French philosopher Henri Bergson in his 1932 book The Two Sources of Morality and Religion. Bergson's idea was of a society that was "represented by all mankind" but that was yet to become "an accomplished fact." Bergson may have been thinking of where the League of Nations, which he helped to set up, might go. As we know, of course, it went nowhere until after World War II when it was reincarnated as the United Nations.
Bergson goes on to develop the idea that "the open society" depends on "open morality." This he distinguished from "closed morality" in a number of important ways. For one thing, "open morality" is personal as opposed to impersonal. That is, "open morality" cannot be completely described with rules. It inheres in people and, specifically and most notably in the great saintly or prophetic figures of history and legend such as Confucius, Socrates, Jesus, and so on. More importantly, whereas "closed morality" comes from habit, is something we passively submit to and is best illustrated by examples of what happens when it is resisted or violated - people are hurt, die, or go to jail or are executed and so on - "open morality" is something that is aspired to, something that is actively embraced and practiced as well as taught and learned by positive example. And while "closed morality" needs something external to it, some out-group or evil to stand against, "open morality" does not need these things and is open to all people, all concerns, and, especially, to the future.
Karl Popper later popularized the concept of the "open society" as a more fleshed-out description of applied political freedom. Undoubtedly an atheist, of the agnostic variety, Popper was born in Vienna in 1902 and earned his doctorate in Psychology. He taught secondary school in the 1930's and then moved to New Zealand in 1937, right before the Nazis took over Austria. While in New Zealand, Popper wrote The Open Soiety and its Enemies, a two-volume work that was published in 1945 as the Second World War ended and the Cold War began. Popper settled in London and taught at the London School of Economics in 1946.
The first volume of Open Society, subtitled "The Spell of Plato" takes apart the ideas of this revered ancient Greek philosopher relating to the ideal state as described in Plato's Republic:
"Plato identifies justice with the principle of class rule and of class privilege. For the principle that every class should attend to its own business means, briefly and bluntly, that the state is just if the ruler rules, if the worker works, and if the slave slaves."
Popper asserts an alternative:
"The humanitarian theory of justice makes three main demands or proposals, namely (a) the equalitarian principle proper, i.e. the proposal to eliminate 'natural privileges,' (b) the general principle of individualism, and (c) the principle that it should be the task and the purpose of the state to protect the freedom of its citizens. To each of these political demands or proposals there corresponds a directly opposite principle of Platonism, namely (a1) the principle of natural privilege, (b1) the general principle of holism or collectivism, and (c1) the principle that it should be the task and purpose of the individual to maintain, and to strengthen, the stability of the state."
If you have read such works as George Orwell's 1984 you will remember the theme of the subordination of knowledge and even of history to political needs. The example today is Creationism, which, happily, has not yet enjoyed the success that Lysenkoism did in the USSR in the 1930's and 40's. Popper saw that this was an example of a general problem of a lack of distinction between natural laws and social customs typical of "closed societies." That is, he saw that totalitarianism was not just the total control of everything by the state but the absence even of distinctions between natural law and social customs that left no room for individual opinion or responsibility:
"it can be said against ... [the idea that] the officers of the state should be concerned with the morality of the citizens, and that they should use their power not so much for the protection of the citizens' freedom as for the control of their moral life ... that those who raise such demands apparently do not see that this would be the end of the individual's moral responsibility, and that it would not improve but destroy morality. It would replace personal responsibility by tribalistic taboos and by the totalitarian irresponsibility of the individual. Against this whole attitude, the individualist must maintain that the morality of states (if there is any such thing) tends to be considerably lower than that of the average citizen, so that it is much more desirable that the morality of the state should be controlled by the citizens than the opposite. What we need and what we want is to moralize politics, and not to politicize morals."
Above all, the idea of the open society, said Popper, rests on the answer to an altogether different question than that which Plato asked and others have struggled with relating to the exercise of political power. Popper wrote:
"by expressing the problem of politics in the form 'Who should rule?' or "Whose will should be supreme?', etc., Plato created a lasting confusion in political philosophy. It is indeed analogous to the confusion he created in the field of moral philosophy by his identification, discussed in the last chapter, of collectivism and altruism. It is clear that once the question 'Who should rule?' is asked, it is hard to avoid some such reply as 'the best' or 'the wisest' or 'the born ruler' or 'he who masters the art of ruling' (or, perhaps, 'The General Will' or 'The Master Race' or 'The Industrial Workers' or 'The People'). But such a reply, convincing as it may sound - for who would advocate the rule of 'the worst' or 'the greatest fool' or 'the born slave'? - is, as I shall try to show, quite useless. ... For even those who share this assumption of Plato's admit that political rulers are not always sufficiently 'good' or ';wise' (we need not worry about the precise meaning of these terms), and that it is not at all easy to get a government on whose goodness and wisdom one can implicitly rely. If that is granted, then we must ask whether political thought should not face from the beginning the possibility of bad government; whether we should not prepare for the worse leaders, and hope for the best. But this leads to a new approach to the problem of politics, for it forces us to replace the question: Who should rule? by a new question: How can we so organize political institutions that bad or incompetent rulers can be prevented from doing too much damage?"
The open society, said Popper, has an open-ness to the future, and therefore to change, without the need of violence. Closed societies - tyranny - he said, "consists of governments which the ruled cannot get rid of except by way of a successful revolution - that is to say, in most cases, not at all."
This was Popper's response to the problem of violence, the problem that caused him to flee Austria, the problem that engulfed the world during his years in New Zealand, and the problem that has hung over the world ever since, particularly during the Cold War when it assumed global thermonuclear dimensions. Popper insisted that:
"The use of violence is justified only under a tyranny which makes reforms without violence impossible, and should have only one aim, that is, to bring about a state of affairs which makes reforms without violence possible."
The second volume of Open Society criticizes Hegel and especially Marxist ideas of "historical inevitability." Popper is extremely effective at dismantling Marxism, having been a Marxist in his youth and subsequently becoming close friends with free market champion Friedrich Hayek. But of "historical inevitability," Popper wrote in The Open Society:
"Sweeping historical prophecies are entirely beyond the scope of scientific method. The future depends on ourselves, and we do not depend on any historical necessity. ... prophetic wisdom is harmful, [and] the metaphysics of history impede the application of the piecemeal methods of science to the problems of social reform. ... we may become the makers of our fate when we have ceased to pose as its prophets."
A discussion about the open society would be missing something if it did not include mention of George Soros. Soros was born in 1930 in Budapest, Hungary. When George was 13 the Nazis occupied Hungary. Soros worked for the Jewish Council, an organization that the Nazis required Jews to form through which the Nazi program of persecution, deportation, and the confiscation of property was carried out.
After the war Soros immigrated to England and worked as a porter and a waiter. In the late 1940's and early 1950's he attended the London School of Economics where he was a student of Karl Popper and was later to draw inspiration (remember Bergson's "open morality?") from the concept of the open society. Soros moved to New York City in 1956 and worked as an arbitrage trader and analyst and eventually started his own investment fund in 1970. His original intention was to earn enough money to allow him to live as an author and philosopher.
Soros is known as "the man that broke the Bank of England." Why? Because when the British financial/monetary authorities got into trouble and were faced with either having to raise interest rates or devalue the pound sterling, Soros' fund bet that the latter would happen and sold short $10 billion worth of British pounds. After denying - falsely - that there were any problems, the British authorities did devalue the currency and it is estimated that Soros' fund made $1.1 billion when that happened. This is a tidy 11% profit almost overnight, but it's certainly not an especially spectacular gain when you consider, for example, that oil prices have gone up close to 30% in just the the past month. The Bank of England really broke itself and Soros just happened to anticipate and profit from it. (Something similar happened when Nixon was forced to take the US off the gold standard, while denying beforehand that this would ever happen!)
Sometime in the 1970's Soros began funding dissidents in what was then the USSR and other USSR client countries. This eventually turned into an international network of organizations affiliated with the Open Society Institute that Soros set up in 1984. Through these organizations he has supported democratic reforms in the new nations formed out of the old Soviet Union as well as the transition from Communism to Capitalism in his native Hungary.
Soros has written several books about international politics and finance. He has called for a reform of the system of world currency exchange and a more comprehensive system of international law to regulate international trade and financial transactions. He has also said that his mentor Karl Popper's concept of the open society is threatened by manipulation of public opinion and deceptive methods that keep people in ignorance of official corruption and malfeasance.
You may not agree with Soros' political opinions. He is politically liberal and believes that unregulated capitalism threatens peace and freedom. But it is hard to label him a Socialist or Communist inasmuch as he played a role in the downfall of formerly Communist/Socialist regimes in Eastern Europe. On the other hand, he has been very critical of what he considers blind faith in market forces. One of the reasons for this stems from his own personal experience and analysis of self-reinforcing market distortions. Soros is very wealthy, though not as wealthy as Bill Gates or Michael Bloomberg or Warren Buffett. But Soros does spend his money on the causes that he believes in. To the extent that those causes are ones that you believe in too, you may like George Soros. To the extent that his causes are ones that you oppose then you will not like George Soros.
BROTHER SAM at the NTCOF in April 2010
Thursday, 25 March 2010 17:31
Brother SamBROTHER SAM SINGLETON appeared and performed at the April 4th service of the NTCOF! You can find out about the ministry of Brother Sam, the Atheist Evangelist, at http://www.samsingleton.com/Foyer.html which includes videos of his preaching. It will be noticed that Brother Sam, like the "Holy Bible" itself, frequently includes profanity and sexual references in his material. But his remarks at the NTCOF service, as with all of our service materials, was 100% "family friendly." (No, we don't read things like 1 Samuel 18:25-27at our church!)
"Sam Singleton Atheist Evangelist likes to point out that 'unlike you' he has a creator. That's why he claims to identify with God. 'We're both totally made up,' he explains. Brother Sam, as his friends refer to him, considers himself inevitable. 'Sooner or later somebody like me was bound to happen if families kept (messing) with their children's heads. I'm surprised it took this long. You know what Hosea 8:7 says about reaping the whirlwind. Well, here we are.'"
Roger Scott Jackson is the Creator of Brother Sam, who says:
"Brother Sam is not my alter-ego, although the parallels between the two are obvious: childhood terrors involving bizarre religious practices, the expectation to follow previous generations into the ministry, a period of intense spiritual seeking, recognition that God is fictional, estrangement from family, and finally a rich full life free from fear of the supernatural. But, so far as is known, Brother Sam never worked at dozens of jobs, from fish gutter to debate teacher, nor did he toil for years as a reporter and editor, or worse, stoop to writing ostensibly funny copy for radio and other media."
Santa On Trial
Tuesday, 21 December 2010 17:05
NTCOF's December 5th service featured an excerpt from The Trial Of The Century: Santa Claus on trial for multiple crimes and misdemeanors including unauthorized use of airspace in an unlicensed aircraft containing unknown and un-X-rayed cargo, animal cruelty, fraud, home invasion and illegal possession of burglary tools and numerous additional charges, not to mention promoting obesity and bad eating habits. Santa's defense:
"Look, first off: this court has no jurisdiction. I am the sovereign of my own realm at the North Pole. Furthermore, my status is that of an ambassador, so I have diplomatic immunity. This trial is a farce and some of the people who are behind this mockery of a judicial proceeding are just being very, very naughty! I have been putting up with it because, yes, the cookies and milk have been good, but mostly because it seems to me that maybe you all need to learn something that I can help teach you. Maybe, I said. If you're ready to learn what you need to learn.
Do you know what an idea is? We can have an idea of a chair, which is something in our heads. But here, also, is an example of a chair. You can see it. It's there. It's real. But not all ideas have examples in the real world, even though there are some people who want the ideas to be real so badly that they fool themselves into believing in them. So this is a great power of human beings, to have ideas. But like my friend Spider-Man says: "With great power must come great responsibility."
I am an idea. I am your idea. And I want you all to start taking responsibility for that. Start taking responsibility for your ideas! Ideas only lie when you lie to yourselves, and when you let those lies dominate and control you.
How many people believe in world peace? A lot, I think. Does that mean that world peace is a real thing? No. Not yet. Maybe not even ever. But a lot of people have this idea of world peace. They think they know how it might work, what it would be like, and they work towards achieving it. To get a little closer to it. [Yet] every war that has ever been fought has been to defeat somebody's vision of world peace. Because some people's visions of world peace have been that of the forcible imposition of "A Workers' Paradise," or of theocracy, or the rule of some "Dear Leader" and the extermination of those who disagree. But if good people would take responsibility for the vision of world peace -
You've already [reformed the idea of me], and are doing it. How would you like me as I once was, for example, as Krampus? Yes, there was a time before the Industrial Revolution, before all the consumer goods that you take for granted today. In those days there was no toy factory at the North Pole because nobody even knew what factories were. And while Saint Nicholas could throw money through open windows - the guy was a Christian bishop! He could afford it! - most parents back then couldn't do that any more than they could buy dolls and video toys. So, in those days, I was Krampus. I was the bogey-man who punished naughty children because there wasn't much to reward good children with.
[But] how would it be if most people had insisted that "the real Santa" was Krampus? That it was only those wimpy liberals who wanted to make Santa a kinder and gentler figure? Isn't it much better that I've evolved to support the idea of Christmas as a family-centered holiday that includes an exchange of gifts? Christmas was not always so. The Pilgrims didn't ban Christmas because they didn't like me or Rudolph or presents under trees, they banned it because it was an excuse for drunkenness and debauchery. But that's changed - it changed because people changed it. So if there are still things you don't like about Christmas - or something about me! - then take responsibility and work at changing it!
Yes, [the fact that many naughty children of the rich get presents and many good children of the poor don't] is a problem with the sordid world of reality that you live in, not with the wondrous world of the imagination that I live in. But you're learning. You're getting better. More people these days are honestly concerned with how the have-nots can become more like the haves. But here's the important thing: a symbol of generosity and hope like me can't be effective without people like you being generous and helping to create reasons for hope. Let the good things about me serve as an example. Let what you don't like about me motivate you to do better. Light a candle instead of cursing the darkness, as it is said."
But when asked what he had to say to the charge that children might start to doubt in God when they discovered the truth about Santa, the jolly old elf had this to say:
"And that's a bad thing how?"