Category Archives: Religion

Don’t Muslims Have Something More Important To Do?

In response to the violence in parts of the Muslim world over The Innocence of Muslims video, Eric Zorn is rightly puzzled:

Why would a robust, enduring worldwide faith pay any mind whatsoever to assorted pesky critics? Don’t their conniptions over the blasphemies of infidels betray weakness rather than strength? What good is respect for one’s religion if it’s maintained through the fear of violent retribution and, in many countries, imprisonment?

Here’s another question: Why would a robust, enduring worldwide faith pay any mind whatsoever to a YouTube video? From accounts, The Innocence of Muslims is an implied porn flick with anti-Islamic overdubbing. Protesting it is the equivalent of protesting an obscene marker drawing of Muhammad scrawled on the wall of a public restroom.



What a friggin’ waste of my time! It’s now 6:22 pm local time and still no Rapture. It was supposed to start at 6:00 pm and I was all ready for it. I had my camera with a basic theodolite setup, and pointing directly towards a local church. Being in a typical American city, there are churches every few blocks, of course, so I was ready to slew the camera towards at least one more church as well.

After all, there must be at least some of the pastors and priests or nuns who would get the final calling.
By getting a few directional and angle fixes, plus knowing the distances to the churches, I should have been able to calculate the precise direction of Heaven. At just before 6:04 local time I thought I saw something and took my first fix.
Rapture Photo_003.JPG
It turned out to be nothing but a bird landing in that tree on the left.
Talk about crappy luck. I had the equipment and procedure all setup and ready for a major discovery and nothing happens but a bird landing on a tree.
Update at 9:11 pm

See Ya

So I hear that someone somewhere is saying the rapture will happen tomorrow. Of course, for my Jewish and Muslim readers this is no big deal, since everyone knows that only Christians are eligible for rapture. Actually, as my co-blogger Ken pointed out to me the other day, only the really good Christians will be raptured. The rest have to stay here to slug it out with the antichrist like everyone else.

As for readers of this blog, I expect to see all of you still here come Sunday morning.

Happy Easter!

For those of you not familiar with it, allow me to fill you in on the details about this annual event called “Easter”. Easter is a series of rituals celebrating the Great Jewish Zombie Uprising of 33 A.D. That uprising is described in one of the Holy Books of the followers of the Great Zombie Jesus. The Book called Mathew, chapter 27, verses 51-53 recounts:

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

The culminating event of this weekend uprising was their leader Jesus himself rising from his grave to lead his army into the city of Jerusalem in an effort to rebuild their ancient temple which had previously been destroyed. The followers of the Great Zombie Jesus refer to him as the “Messiah” which is an ancient Hebrew word for “Great Warrior” and “King of Kings”. He was believed to be a direct descendant of a previous warrior, credited with leading great bloody battle campaigns, called David.

The army of zombies, lead by this messianic zombie warrior Jesus, was driven back by the valiant Roman soldiers protecting the good people of Jerusalem. The Zombie Temple was not restored, and no one has heard from Jesus and his zombie army since that fateful weekend in Jerusalem.

Zombie cults, however, don’t die out easily, as is evidenced by the many incarnations of Resident Evil. Despite the defeat of Zombie Jesus and his Army of Zombies, his followers kept the idea alive that someday, he would rise again, leading a new army of two hundred million to destroy not just Jerusalem, but one third of the entire human population. From the Book Revelations, chapter 9, verses 13-17:

Then the sixth angel sounded: And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind. Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them. And thus I saw the horses in the vision: those who sat on them had breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone.

The modern Zombie Worshipers of today are still hoping for this apocalypse, and pray for the day that the Great Zombie Jesus will wreak his vengeance upon the people of Earth. To this end, they practice a variety of strange rituals which are supposed to help bring this destruction about. It’s no surprise that one of these zombie rituals involves symbolic cannibalism, whereby they drink red wine and eat bread which they believe has been magically transformed into actual human blood and human flesh. If you sneak into one of their temples, you can actually see them stand in line, eager to rip into bits and pieces of what they believe to be the zombie leader Jesus.

Another disturbing ritual is the coloration of dead chicken embryos which are hidden all about by adults. Cult members think that these embryos will hatch into undead chickens, recreating the Great Jewish Zombie Uprising on a smaller scale. With chickens.

Undead chickens.

They send their children out to find and retrieve these dead embryos, counting them up. If the number of embryos retrieved is less than the number hidden, it’s proof that at least some undead chickens were hatched, and that the power of the zombie Jesus is still strong. Special clothing is often purchased just for these events.

Anthropologists believe this particular tradition was started when the zombie followers believed that rabbits were actually undead chickens. The rapid increase in the number of rabbits was credited to the hatching of the dead chicken embryos.

After the ritual of the Hidden Embryos, zombie worshipers usually hold a feast where they roast the largest short pig they can find, which is the closest they can legally get to roasting long pig and eating of their flesh. Since the quality isn’t as good, they make up for it in quantity, often roasting enough meat for several meals. Eventually, sated on short pig, they doze off dreaming of zombie uprisings.

The truly amazing thing is that, except when playing hide and seek with chicken embryos in the bushes, these cult members manage to fit in surprisingly well into modern society. Yes, it’s likely you may even know one of these cult members yourself! Perhaps you stood next to one in the grocery line. You may even work next to one without even realizing.

Just like the zombies they worship, zombie followers are harmless individually or even in small numbers. A small chainsaw, or a simple katana hiding behind a nearby drainpipe in your local shopping mall, will dispatch a few zombies, or zombie sympathizers, quickly and easily. They know this as well which is why you can safely have lunch with them in the cafeteria without being worried about their cannibalistic urges.

Zombie worshipers are only dangerous in large hordes. Once they are in large enough groups to form a voting bloc, they turn on you and try to eat the brains of your children. Fortunately for mankind, the cult, over the course of 2000 years, has split into smaller warring sects, limiting their ability to form into large hordes.

So, on this Easter Day in 2011, feel free to partake in some of these quaint customs of this unusual group. Maybe color and hide some embryos of your own, or steal some of the hidden embryos you find, throwing off the count of the zombie worshipers. Roast up a nice pig and stuff yourself to the gills (or whatever part of your throat is a remnant of when your ancestors had gills) and laze around for the afternoon.

Just make sure you keep an eye on how many zombie followers may be around you. The difference between a “group” and a “horde” is often not easy to discern. Have fun today, but remember to play it safe and always know where the nearest shopping mall is in your area.

Yuri Gagarin and the War on Terror

Fifty years ago today Yuri Gagarin became the first human to venture into space. What an adventure by a true hero! I’ve heard great things about the book Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin. I wish it would come out in e-book format.

An inspiring quote attributed to Gagarin is:

“I saw for the first time the earth’s shape. I could easily see the shores of continents, islands, great rivers, folds of the terrain, large bodies of water. The horizon is dark blue, smoothly turning to black. . . the feelings which filled me I can express with one word–joy.”

For more information about what it must be like to orbit Earth, check out Ethan Siegel’s Orbiting Earth 101: What You’d See / What You’d Do.

Given the propaganda uses of both Soviet and American astronauts, many stories about Gagarin and quotes from him are apocryphal. I’m sure many are true as well. Either way, my favorite Gagarin quote is:

“I looked and looked but I didn’t see God.”

It was a message from the hero of an officially atheist nation directed towards America which, at the time, was busy differentiating itself from the USSR by promoting Christianity as part of the Cold War. America had just added the words “under God” to the pledge of allegiance seven years earlier in 1954, and adopted the official motto “In God We Trust” in 1956. That motto had first been placed on some American coinage to introduce the notion that God was on our side during the Civil War. Starting in 1957 all paper money started to printed with that motto as well.

Previous to that, our money and mottos tended to be remarkably deity-free, embracing the notion of a secular state. Benjamin Franklin supposedly designed our first penny with the motto “Mind Your Business” in it which was also used as the design for the Continental Dollar. The motto “We Are One” was also incorporated into the designs of money at that time, followed by “E pluribus unum” after ratification of the Constitution.

War, though, seems to breed insecurity and fear, which apparently sends Americans running to God. Laws are adopted in these times of war which otherwise wouldn’t have been allowed. The Americans of 1865 understood the Establishment Clause, yet chose to ignore it because they were afraid and insecure while the nation was at war and in peril. The rush to God became even more extreme in the 1950’s during the Cold War. States started forcing all children to openly pray to the Christian God. The official public school prayer in New York State was

“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.”

Following those wars, however, we never seem to fully shed the unconstitutional trappings adopted in those times of crisis. The Cold War, after all, dragged on for 40 years. Americans couldn’t let their guards down for two generations. By the third generation after the start of the war few Americans remember that America didn’t always have a Christian government, but was, in fact, founded as a secular nation and operated as a secular nation (except in times of war).

We have now reached the point where the Supreme Court has decided that the phrase “In God We Trust” is secular and not religious. If that’s the case, perhaps we should change the motto of the United States of America to “In Gods We Trust”. That is, after all, a more accurate secular phrase. Somehow I’m guessing that the most religious people in the nation would complain about such a change the most. That alone should be enough to demonstrate that the phrase is indeed religious and then, maybe, we can get rid of it.

But that won’t happen because we are at war. It’s once again time for all fearful and insecure Americans to look to God to smite our enemies. Never mind that this Forever War will last longer than the Cold War; the people are afraid and need their God running the country, not mere mortals. The problem is that not every American has the same God or, indeed, any god at all.

If only some really smart people would have thought to create a secular government and constitution that protected all citizens by preventing the government from respecting the establishment of any religion while still allowing the practice of all religions in the nation. Our founding fathers must have been idiots if they couldn’t have come up with an idea like that. Maybe we should add an amendment to the US Constitution along those lines.

Oops, I forgot about the Forever War.

Burning Books is So 20th Century

Let me get this out of the way in the first paragraph: Terry Jones of Qur’an burning fame is a bigoted fool. He’s a bigoted fool not because he burned his copy of the Qur’an, but because he hates people simply because they don’t worship the same God he does in a similar enough way. What a tool!

The number of people (and legislators) over-reacting to this incident, however seems to have reached an intensity I haven’t seen before. I’m hoping it will die down without any further stupid actions, but, baring another nuclear meltdown somewhere soon, I’m concerned it will not.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here about free speech, so I’ll skip the lessons about the Heckler’s Veto and importance of protecting unpopular speech beyond simply reaffirming that popular speech rarely needs protection in a democracy.

One element in this story that seems to have been neglected in the rush to ban such speech is that the original demonstrations over the Qur’an in Afghanistan were small and peaceful; similar to the kinds of protests I see in Chicago over immigration policies. The trigger that seems to have set off the violence and killings is President Hamid Karzai deciding to use the Qur’an burning in a speech of his as a political tool. It seems he wanted to show how much he cares about some of the fundamentalists in his country.

The reaction to that was, apparently, the Taliban deciding to cash in politically as well, and they joined one of the peaceful marches, broke off from the main group, and committed pre-meditated murderous acts. Their motive was, almost certainly, a political reaction to Karzai’s stumping.

The incident in Afghanistan seems to have been far more about politics than religion.

Now we cut to the reaction in America. Senator Reid would like to start Congressional hearings to look into ways he can protect people in other nations by banning speech in America. Senator Graham would like to invoke wartime powers (in our Forever War) to directly ban speech which could “inspire the enemy”. When can I expect politicians to start accusing each other of being soft on book burnings?

The reaction in America seems to be far more about politics than religion.

Let’s pretend, however, that this really is all about religion and free expression. There seem to be a few different arguments out in the community about why this type of speech should be banned. They all seem flawed. The problem is that I’m not a Constitutional scholar, and may have some very wrong ideas about free speech, so I’ll go over some of the common arguments I’ve been seeing and present my understanding of them even though I may be wrong. If anyone knows better, please enlighten me in the comments.

The most common argument I see is that America “restricts” speech anyway all the time, so we don’t really have free speech, so why are you complaining about just one more restriction in the name of saving lives? The basic problem with this argument is that there is a difference between restricting speech and banning speech. As far as I can tell (not being a Constitutional Scholar) is that America only outright bans one type of speech, regardless of time or place. You cannot directly incite violence. Period.

Some commentators have latched onto this idea and simply accuse Jones of incitement and proceed to call for banning of such speech on the same grounds. I consider this to be a most insidious and worrisome argument. If Congress were to ban speech by broadening the definition of incitement, we could run head first into the problems of the Heckler’s Veto, but I fear it would be used simply to ban speech the majority considers unpopular. I truly fear the majority in a democracy, for they can be more difficult to overthrow than a dictator.

Beyond incitement, though, I can’t think of any other speech that is outright banned in America. There is a variety of restrictions, but not a banning of speech beyond incitement. I suppose libel would be the speech with the most restrictions that is not outright banned. Even so, as I understand it, there are situations where libel is allowed, or perhaps isn’t legally called libel in America. I know it’s nearly impossible to stop someone from knowingly lying about a public figure, such as a celebrity or politician. I wonder if this blog is enough for me to be considered a “public figure”. I imagine there are legal debates going on right now about how that definition is changing in the new media.

Another form of speech that seems to be cited as heavily restricted is when conspiring to commit a crime. In this case it is not the speech that is illegal but the conspiracy. From what I have read, the speech is the evidence used to prove conspiracy. The situation and intent is all important here as Rod Blagojevich has been trying to prove. If you say the words in jest, they are not evidence of a conspiracy.

That leaves the various “time and place” restrictions. The thought experiment generally cited is the classic “yelling ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater”. The speech “Fire!” is not banned in America. The time and place of that speech makes creating the ensuing dangerous panic illegal.*

The other time and place restrictions such as getting your bullhorn out at 3:00 am in front of a hospital are, just like the “yelling fire” example, not banning speech, but placing reasonable restrictions on speech. The same speech is allowed in most places at most times. Saying you want to restrict burning holy books just like America restricts people from yelling “fire” is not at all the same. You can yell “Fire!” outside of the theater, or even inside when the theater is not crowded. Banning book burnings is not a time and place restriction.

In conclusion, let me reiterate a point I’ve made before. It’s just a friggin’ book! It’s paper, ink and some binding material. The words and ideas within cannot be destroyed by burning a copy of a book. I once suggested the correct reaction to such situations was to burn the holy books of as many religions as possible all at once to demonstrate this fact as well as show that it’s not just about religious penis envy.

I now realize, however, that’s so 20th century. We should instead organize a mass deletion of holy e-books. I want to not just delete them, however, since I know that all of the words will still exist. We need to destroy those magnetic bits so they can’t be reconstructed. On PC’s it will be easy to download software to overwrite that Bible with random electronic signals, utterly destroying that copy forever. In other e-book devices you may need to erase that Qur’an then upload new, larger books in its place, then delete that and repeat enough times to make the original words vanish into digital oblivion.

Buddhavacana, Norse eddas, the Four Books of Confucianism, the Book of Enoch, the Tabula Cortonensis and many, many more. Let’s get digital copies and erase them en masse! Mash those Holy Ones and Zeros together with such a fury that even the NSA couldn’t put them back in any semblance of order. Grab your old book reader loaded with all these texts and turn on that giant electro magnet you built years ago but never had a use for! Listen to that glorious buzz as the memory chips are hopelessly cleansed of Bronze Age rituals and misogynistic rules!

What the world needs now is a Holy E-Book Demolition Party! Can you still book Comiskey Park?

*By the way, I think it’s time for the scholars to update that thought experiment. Yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater today would, most likely, just result in a head full of popcorn and getting yelled at to sit down and shut up. The fire codes are so good (not saying they couldn’t be improved at all) that most people would no longer be panicked by such a statement barring secondary indications of a conflagration such as smoke and a fire alarm going off. Perhaps we can use “Yelling ‘Muslim!’ in a crowded Tea Party Convention”.

That’s a Lot of Candles

Today, October 23, is a good day to celebrate the birth of the universe. The question is just how many candles do we need for the cake?

There are some competing theories about the age of the universe. One is based upon observations of, well, the universe.
Scientists have been studying the cosmic background radiation that permeates the universe in every direction and is a remnant of an explosion so large it created all space, time and matter that can be detected either directly or indirectly. Physicists have run the numbers to figure out just how hot that explosion was and have then figured out how long it would take to cool down to the temperature that we now see in this background radiation.
Astronomers have also managed to run tests using observations which show the universe is expanding away in all directions, and even still is accelerating, being pushed outward by a dark energy which can’t be seen directly, but which must exist to cause such an acceleration. The cool thing is that such an energy was predicted in the standard model of physics. When the scientists work backwards and calculate how long such an expansion has been going on for, they end up with a dating method for creation.
The age of the universe, as determined by looking at the universe, is approximately 13,750,000,000 years, give or take 170,000,000 years. With better instruments, scientists have been narrowing down the uncertainty in that estimate.
As PZ Myers reminded me this morning, the main competing theory to the age of the universe is not based upon looking at the universe, but instead confines all of its calculations to a single book written by nomadic sheep herders thousands of years ago. The great advantage to this method of dating (as calculated by James Ussher, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland) is it’s accuracy. There is no give-or-take uncertainty using this method. He just took the current date and used the power of subtraction to work his way back through the events in that book to the moment the book says everything was created.
His answer was 23 October, 4004 BCE, 6013 years ago today.
There is no need to develop more accurate instruments to help narrow down the calculations since there are no observations of the universe involved using this method. Cool! As long as you never allow your eyes to waver away from the single book and actually look at the thing you are trying to date, all is well.
I won’t tell you which method I place my trust in since I wouldn’t want to influence your analysis in any way.
So go out, buy a cake, and celebrate the birth of the universe today! I certainly will. I should warn you, though, that if you are anywhere near Chicago you probably won’t be able to get your hands on any candles. I plan on buying a lot of them.