The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Fred Nile’s Insidious Theocracy

Fred Nile

A lot of people find Fred Nile faintly amusing. I understand this, as a casual glance at God’s own MP can leave a mistaken impression of some harmless old throwback shouting into a secular and unresponsive darkness. The truth, however, is far more disturbing.

The Christian Democratic Party (CDP), of which Nile is president, is a small, but potent force in Australian politics. Sure, they’ve hardly any seats in parliament and, like most personality cult parties, the CDP has lost about as many seats as it’s held through endorsed members splintering off to do their own even whackier stuff. But bums on legislative seats is not the whole story by a long shot. The CDP fields multiple candidates in multiple states every election and by-election, not because they expect to win, but because their profile makes them reasonably certain to attract enough votes to receive Electoral Commission funding. You can click the link and do the maths, if you like, but the long and short of it is that parties can draw close to $1.5 million dollars in funding and ‘reimbursements’ by winning a single seat. Add to this the odd few thousand, up to a cap of about $12,000, which candidates receive if they garner at least 4% of the vote, and it becomes apparent that the CDP is a proper moneymaker.

This is not, of course, a rort in any sense of the word. The funding exists for sensible and admirable reasons, but the sad reality is that seasoned political operators will invariably ‘game’ this and any other system around. So what begins as a democratic initiative to encourage worthy candidates to stand again, evolves into a fundraising arm of what I can only describe as one of the most bigoted, non-violent extremist groups I have ever encountered. Fred Nile’s harmless old coot persona does not survive more than a few seconds of scrutiny. His ideas aren’t so much old fashioned as they are Mediaeval. Homosexuality, in his world, is a ‘mental disorder and lifestyle choice’, ‘adoption unnatural’, and any and all forms of fertility or sexual treatment/therapy a gratuitous misuse of God’s procreative design features. And as if this weren’t enough, Nile is said to have resigned from the Uniting Church because it “officially decided to part with a literal interpretation of the Judeo-Christian Bible“.

What I wonder is why this party isn’t given the same treatment as Neo-Nazis or Islamist Jihadis. Sure, they’re not beating up minorities in the street or beheading people on the internet, but their beliefs are at least as regressive and hateful. And how much harm – how many suicides, breakdowns, and so on – are brought about by the airing of their hateful ideas? If the limit of free speech is generally agreed to be the incitement of hate and harm, why do Fred Nile and his Christian Jihadis get not only a pass, but a bunch of our money? It must boil down to the double standard which is operative when we’re dealing with Christian extremists – a result of the fact that, in some ways, our country is still very Christian. Sure, church attendance is dropping, and secularism is a rising force, but as a whole we are still biased towards the notion that familiar evils, like Nile’s, are somehow less dangerous or harmful than exotic ones.

The Curious Effect of the Sharia ‘Threat’

It’s a well known fact that importing Muslims into our country puts us under threat of having our culture obliterated and our hapless citizens yoked to the harsh and oppressive juggernaut that is Sharia Law. That is, it’s well known amongst people who are unclear on the definitions of the following words:

  • Muslim
  • Threat
  • Culture
  • Sharia
  • Law
  • Fact
  • Mat
  • Cat
  • Sat

Leaving such minor matters aside, we are still confronted with the reality that a growing number of Australians is embracing the idea that the Islamification of Australia is a threat which exists outside the realm of paranoid white supremacist fantasy. This growing anxiety is pushing more and more of our fine citizens to the political right, where we find such sterling products of the democratic process as Pauline Hanson, Corey Bernardi and George Christensen.

Now, to be fair, I do need to point out that the right wing is not the exclusive province of the sort of people who inspire the design of signs like this:

No, the political right has its fair share of savvy, intellectually agile and politically sophisticated adherents, well grounded in the complex theoretical bases behind nativist monoculturalism, protectionism, and so on. It’s just that they tend to limit themselves to painstakingly levering these concepts into the tiny minds of shrill populists, presumably via the exclusive use of words of one syllable.

This situation is imbued with a twofold irony. Firstly, there is the fact of people like Hanson – a spokesperson for the people who is incapable of coherent speech. And then there is the deeper and more worrying irony, mostly having to do not with the nationalist or white supremacist side of politics, but with the stolid core of ultra-conservatism.

This core, represented by the likes of Bernardi, Nile, and Christensen, is one possessed of deep religious roots, and an unshakeable belief in the idea that civil law should be informed by one or more of the many flavours of Christianity. As crazy as this idea might sound, it’s not a conspiracy theory I have confected in order to fight fantasy with fantasy – this is an openly stated position.

This means that the imaginary threat of a sharia-based criminal code is causing a movement towards politicians who believe that religion is a sound basis for the creation of laws.  Or, to put it another way, the fear of religious law is causing people to support politicians who wish to enact religious law.

This being the case, I think our most urgent policy priority should be the mass production of this warning sign:

Let’s hope it’s as least as effective as the chainsaw one.

The Australian Christian Lobby’s Delusions of Adequacy

Australian Christian Lobby

This is the ACL’s idea of an ‘argument’. Note the complete absence of logic of any kind.

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) is a frustrating organisation, not least because of its militant parochialism and refusal to accept that positions based on a combination of Christian revanchism and bigotry are, in fact, revanchist and bigoted. Its tendency to bleat out an utterly fabricated narrative of persecution, its insistence on blaming some amorphous ‘left wing media conspiracy’ for reverses generally caused by its own media incompetence, and its startling inability to pursue or even to form any kind of logically coherent argument are all extremely annoying. And Lyle Shelton, their managing director, is the kind of attention-seeking, self-pitying, incompetently grandiloquent noisemaker who makes the fists of all right-thinking folk become seriously itchy.

So, given just how annoying they are, it’s not hard to understand why someone blowing up a van in their carpark could immediately be put down to a targeted attack. I myself thought it highly probable, given how I feel every time Shelton opens his stupid gob or mashes ineffectually at his keyboard. And I wasn’t alone in this. There are huge sections of the voting public who apparently take ghoulish glee in attributing any and every act of non-domestic violence to Muslim terrorism or Muslim immigration or Muslims in general, possibly because a narrative as inherently irrational as Islamophobia requires quite a lot of fodder to sustain. Within twenty minutes of the first run of the the story, thousands of comments claiming that this was definitely the work of Islamic State and that the leftard libtard media was deliberately suppressing any mention of this, had engulfed certain pointy-headed and ill-spelled corners of the internet. Incontrovertible, iron-clad arguments like: “It was a quiet area, so it must have been a terrorist attack” were helpfully formulated, presumably to assist the police in their investigation, and not to muddy the waters with irrational reactionism. Quite a valuable contribution given that the poor, helpless counter-terrorism and  security experts of the world tend to be stuck with the idea that mass casualty attacks are generally conducted in busy areas at busy times of day. In order to cause mass casualties. Such narrow, blinkered thinking was obviously much enriched by the public’s insightful contributions.

In any case, during the initial phase of this story, the ACL actually had my sympathies. It doesn’t matter how mendacious, petty, bigoted or deluded one’s beliefs are – no law abiding organisation deserves to be the target of political violence. Shelton’s initial Twitterings were mostly generous and politic, though his comment, “hard to believe this could happen in Australia” sounded an ominous warning of the stupidity to come. And my word did he deliver. It appears that in the wake of the explosion, his first and admirable priority was to see to the welfare of his staff, which meant cutting short his holiday and returning to Canberra. In view of the fact that the building was empty at the time, and that none of his staff were injured or killed or, presumably, present at the time, this seemed a little odd. But then, if someone blows up the front of your building, it makes sense that you should repair immediately to the scene. It appears, however, that upon his return he did little other than stand in front of cameras and say stupid things stupidly to the media.

Australian Christian Lobby

Lyle Shelton, proclaiming his organisation’s suspect martyrdom.

By the end of the day, the ground was laid out as follows. The Canberra police had interviewed the suspect, who was unknown to police, and therefore presumably to domestic intelligence, and who said that his sole aim was to “blow myself up”. This, and the host of other factors militating against the interpretation of this event as an attempted mass casualty attack led the police to conclude that there was “no ideological or political motive” behind the explosion. Shelton, of course, wasn’t at all happy about this, and by evening he had proclaimed that the police had been too quick to jump to conclusions, jumped himself to the conclusion that the ACL was the victim of a terror attack and blamed the Greens and other parliamentarians for inciting anti-Christian terrorism by using the word ‘bigot’ to describe his bigoted views.

And then, of course, the story faded from view. This is partly because the only sources of credible information are a tight-lipped police command and a man with burns to 75% of his body, but mostly because the ACL is basically not all that important. Sure, it’s loud in its claims to represent the Christian community, but there isn’t any real evidence that it does. Its base, purportedly largely made up of Pentecostal and non-conformist churches, does not in fact support its views on marriage equality. Its measurable impact on elections is negligible to non-existent. To an informed observer, the ACL’s principle role is to be trotted out in front of the cameras whenever journalists want to provide the appearance of balance by padding out a panel with a talking head from the lunatic Christian right. And this represents, for me, the single most frustrating thing about the ACL – their persistent and unfounded delusions of adequacy. On no level do they actually contribute in any meaningful way to the debate on any issue, but their notoriety and fatuous self importance means that they have a profile which is all out of proportion to their relevance.

So, in the unlikely event that there’s anyone out there who actually is planning an attack on the ACL, I would urge you to reconsider. Not only would such an action be illegal, immoral and inhuman, it would also be of material assistance in backing their delusional narrative of persecution. They’re just not important enough to attack. In fact, I’m convinced that they’re not even important enough to respond to. Like every other screaming toddler, I firmly believe that the best tactic by far is to simply ignore them.

Secular Understandings of the Bible – Creation and Paradise

creation and paradise

In most creation stories the same themes tend to emerge, namely: separation, categorisation and what Levi-Strauss likes to call the ‘tension between the raw and the cooked’, or, in other words, the essential conflict between sedentary civilisation and hunter/gatherer models of life.

Genesis deals fairly curtly with the first two of these (separation and categorisation), taking care of it all within a handful of verses. It’s almost as if the authors felt that this story was already known and, looking at Sumerian/Babylonian/Egyptian myth there’s good reasons to believe that this is the case. The undeniable cross-propagation of these cultures meant that there was already a template of sorts for creation. In all of these cultures there is a sort of organiser god, one who is not necessarily tied to a single idea or aspect of nature, but who resonates with the role of administrator or scribe. Generally, this god sits around in some kind of no-space/time and, for reasons which are usually obscure, goes about separating light from dark, water from earth, and so on. Hard on the heels of this sorting endeavour comes an account of the first man. And yes, it usually is a man.

In understanding the parallels between this kind of god and the function and legitimacy of government in ancient civilisations, I think the etiological purpose of creation stories is pretty obvious. What’s less obvious, though, is whether or not the creators of these stories actually expected them to be believed as literal truth. This is another subject on which people much cleverer and more erudite than myself have spent years shouting at each other about, which makes me a little hesitant to add my own two cents. For what it’s worth, though, my own reading has nearly persuaded me that they did not. What we’re looking at for a great part of history is alien mentality. The world as we see it is necessarily very different from that perceived by ancient and proto-historical peoples. I think that looking at the way Classical Greeks and Romans talked about their own myths, as well as the relationship with magic and mysticism still existing amongst less developed cultures, should reveal to us that there are many ways in which to interpret and understand truth, and that the literal interpretation of myth and magic is a view more likely to be found amongst questionably sane modern Westerners than anywhere else.

A note about alien mentality: Anthropologist Nigel Barley tells an excellent story from his first field assignment in Africa. He became aware that the people he was studying simply had no concept of photography as a representation of self. He noticed that all of their ID cards had the same picture. The idea of individuality or a sense of self being transferrable or recordable in this way was completely alien to their existence. When testing this idea, he handed one person a photograph of a lion. He looked at the photo, turned it over, and then said, “I do not know this man.” His brain was either incapable or simply refused to understand representation in photographic form. If such variation in psychic landscape can exist synchronologically, then it surely follows that it must exist across time as well.

Anyway, we move from the suspiciously familiar creation story to the much abused tale of Adam and Eve. Frankly disgusting attempts to co-opt this story by fundamentalists, anti-equality groups, and other loonies are, I think, so far wide of the point they may as well stop talking about the story entirely. It’s the elements of the story, appreciated in context, which are important. Sure, on one level, this is an implausible fairy tale about God, a dysfunctional couple and talking animals in a garden, but this is really the least important level. What we’re talking about here is the advent of civilisation, and the deep problems this causes to the human psyche. The fruit of knowledge is such a widespread trope it deserves a post all to itself, but that’s not one I’m qualified to write. For the purposes of this article, however, suffice it to say that knowledge in the mythical sense is about self-awareness. It’s hard to imagine, but it’s generally agreed that self-awareness, or a sense of self, isn’t something we humans have always had. This means there must have been some point in time when humans somehow acquired it, and there’s a compelling argument to be made that most stories which contain the knowledge trope are attempts to interpret the dim memory of this. If you want to look into this idea further, Professors William Propp and Steve Tinney do a much better job than me of explaining it.

Leaving the megalithic topic of knowledge aside, though, understanding that this is what the Adam and Eve story is about tends to clarify the rest of it. What we’re left with, then, is a heavily symbolic account and exploration of the pros and cons of the advent of sedentary civilisation. Paradise is not so much a physical location as a state of being. Prior to the Neolithic revolution, humanity existed in what some call ‘a state of nature’. This is Levi-Strauss’ idea of ‘the raw’. Hunter gatherers may spend quite a bit of their day wandering around looking for things, but what they don’t really do is work. It’s not until farming, and all the other paraphernalia of civilisation that come with it (trade, disease, etc.) that humanity becomes familiar with the idea of work. If we look closely at the ‘punishments’ handed out to Adam and Eve, they’re mostly identifiable as the simple consequences of civilised agrarian life. Many scholars, in fact, like to deviate from the Augustinian narrative of crime and punishment and see this story as an account of humanity’s involuntary trade-off of awareness and surplus for freedom and the psychic immortality which comes with an ignorance of death. I’d also like to make a note about contextualising the symbols in a story this old. It’s very important that we don’t apply modern values to ancient symbols – the snake is a prime example. The erroneous association of the snake with Satan is very much a product of our own modern view of snakes. In the ancient world, all the way down to late antiquity, snakes are symbols of wisdom, knowledge and longevity/immortality, and are overwhelmingly not seen as evil. Which puts a completely different complexion on things, if you think about it.

Looked at in this way, and understanding the heavily symbolic nature of the story elements, this myth actually has value as a kind of mnemo-narrative of our deep, deep history. If nothing else, it tells us that ancient peoples preserved a memory, however corrupted, of a key moment in the history of human civilisation. And also that they were wont to think about it in very much the same terms we do today. Compare the anguish with which the sufferings of civilisation are recounted with our own modern fetishisation of pristine/tribal societies. In both cases we see a nostalgia for a simpler, less cultivated consciousness and mode of life, and an attempt to understand and come to terms with the bargain we made all those millennia ago.

In my next post, I’ll be talking about that favourite hobby horse of both atheists and creationists alike – The Flood.

Secular Understandings of the Bible – Genesis and Genealogy

Uruk and the Bible

INTRODUCTION

I find quite a lot of the debate surrounding the Bible a bit sterile. What it generally consists of is atheists pointing out the impossibility of literal interpretations of famous stories, or snarkily quoting passages from Leviticus or Deuteronomy while, on the other side, pie-eyed and frankly insane fundamentalists point to the handful of textual and archaeological attestations of which they’re aware, whilst simultaneously threatening the atheists with a hell in which they presumably don’t believe.

This strikes me as being about as productive as dry humping a telegraph pole. All the appearances of the thing are there, but it’s a very, very long way from the thing itself. The idea that a text can survive in oral tradition for five or six hundred years, and then roughly two and a half thousand in written form without undergoing major revisions, redactions and distortions is just laughable. Anyone capable of believing in something like this simply isn’t worth arguing with, as they’re clearly not at home to Mr Rational Thought.

What I hope to demonstrate over the next few posts is that the argument about literal truth is moot (in the American sense of the word), and that there’s quite a lot of very interesting information in the Bible, none of which has to do with God, but rather with literary truth, mnemo-narrative, and the real relationship between Christianity and the roots of Western law and culture.

I should point out at the very top that I am not a Biblical scholar, and that this is not a scholarly series of articles. This means I’m not going to bother with footnotes and references as I shamelessly steal the work of the following professors: William Propp, Richard Friedman, Aren Maeir, Eric Cline and Israel Finkelstein. To a much lesser extent I shall also be drawing on the minimalist/revisionist work of Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou. I’ve linked to some of their major works so that you can check them out for yourself, if you’re so inclined.

GENESIS – GENEALOGIES

There’s a general consensus that Paradise is somewhere in the vicinity of the ancient city of Uruk. Or somewhere in Ethiopia. Or possibly Greece, Israel or, most nuttily of all, England. It doesn’t really matter all that much, but for what it’s worth, Uruk makes sense to me. The mythologised patriarch Abraham is said to have come from Ur, which isn’t that far away, and Uruk is generally thought of as the first proper city (that’s a little bit controversial, but let’s just go with it). The reason this makes sense is because of the clear and overt purposes of Genesis. These are the recording of creation myth and the validation of a set of kings and priests via a genealogical line from the ‘first man’ through to the first patriarch (Abraham).

As a hard historical source, I don’t think there’s any real dispute that Genesis is garbage. The genealogies and timelines of Genesis form the basis for the laughably incorrect chronology of Baeda and, by extension, the Young Earth nutters. But it’s not what we’d call egregious. When compared to roughly contemporaneous documents and stories of a similar nature, it becomes clear that Genesis isn’t really much better or worse than anyone else’s account. Sumerian and Egyptian king lists contain a hodge podge of gods and people mixed together with wild abandon and, in comparison with the tens of thousands of years of life claimed for the first seven Sumerian kings, some of the biblical claims are actually quite modest.

For the purposes of a broad (rather than a minute and scholarly) understanding, we can go with the breathtaking over-simplification that the whole thing is an exercise in legitimacy – political, cultural, territorial and spiritual. Basically, tracing through to Abraham is a way of claiming legitimate ownership of Yahweh, Israel, the Torah and authority over the Jewish peoples, by the authors of the version which has come down to us today. There are a great many debates raging, far above my head, about the historicity of Abraham and whether or not he ever existed, but I’m not really sure how important this is for understanding what all this begetting/begatting nonsense is about. It’s basically the same thing as Princess Diana’s family tracing their lineage back to the mythical version of King Arthur, or the Romans claiming the equally mythical Trojan War survivor Aeneas as the founder of their culture. It’s a mixture of the political and the etiological – we come from a line of god-like heroes, therefore what we have and what we are both have absolute legitimacy.

In the next post, I intend to have a crack at the creation myth and the story of Adam and Eve, hopefully demonstrating that their dismissal as ‘Bronze Age fairy tales’, or their veneration as ‘literal truth’ are both somewhat wide of the point.

A media release from the Australian Christian Lobby

MEDIA RELEASE
For immediate release
_____

The Australian Christian Lobby has questioned the wisdom of a campaign by some Australian corporations supporting a change to the definition of marriage.

“I just wonder if they have thought about how legislating a family structure which causes children to miss out on one of their parents is fair,” ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton said.

In order to keep his position internally consistent, Mr Shelton then also called for legislation to force married couples to have children, and to ban marriage for couples who don’t want children or who have children from previous marriages, and to ban unmarried couples from having children, and to force married couples without children to get divorced, and to ban divorce. When asked how he would both ban and require divorce, Mr Shelton shouted “OMG THAT TREE LOOKS LIKE JESUS!”, and ran from the room.

When he returned, Mr Shelton went on to say, “This debate needs to move beyond politically correct ideology to a mature and open debate. Men have pee-pees and women have hoo-has, and that’s all there is to it. Furthermore, you’re all poopy-heads, and I will now close my eyes and stick my fingers in my ears until you leave”.

Noting that the Football Federal of Australia had also backed the campaign, Mr Shelton wondered where this left the tens of thousands of Australians who play soccer but also believe a child should be raised by their mother and father. “I wonder where this leaves the tens of thousands of Australians who play soccer but also believe a child should be raised by their mother and father,” he wondered. “Mexico? Aruba? That place where all the refugees come from? Even if it leaves them exactly where they were before, playing soccer and believing a child should be raised by their mother and father, I’m pretty sure they all stand around during games thinking about children not being raised by their mothers and fathers instead of thinking about whether they’re in an off-side position, and it will make them sad to think that the governing body wants to change the definition of marriage, and much sadder than the thousands of gay, trans and intersex players who stay in the closet because they think the governing body and society in general won’t accept them. I just really feel for them.”

“The corporates involved in this latest campaign really are not showing very much tolerance to those in the community who have a different view about marriage and the rights of children,” Mr Shelton said. “Of course, if the FFA came out in support of my own personal view of marriage, that would be fine.”

When asked whether he understood the meaning of irony, and whether it was intolerant to be intolerant of intolerance, Mr Shelton yelled “POOPY-HEADS!” and ran from the room.

END OF MESSAGE

In which Bill Muehlenberg writes a book that is the same as his other book but with a very different title so you have no idea it’s the same as his other book

Once upon a time, Bill wrote a book. Then one day, he wanted to write another book. But writing books is hard. So he came up with the brilliant plan of writing the same book all over again, and changing not one, but two words in the title, so everyone would think it was a new book. The result is [Insert bad word] Relations – The [Insert bad word] of Homosexuality. And it’s brilliant.

Now, let me say from the outset that I haven’t read this book. But I’m going to review it anyway. Why? Because I can. And why can I? Because that’s what Bill does. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Bill, it’s that I’ll turn gay if same-sex marriage is legalised. And that cardigans are awesome. Oh and that we can make judgements on books and movies without reading or watching them. Take his review of Dinesh DiSouza’s film, America, and the book that it’s based on:

I have not seen the film as yet, and my copy of the book is still coming in the mail. But we know enough about the volume to say this: it is a stirring defence of America and a powerful critique of our current POTUS who is doing all he can to destroy America.

Or his review of Noah:

Some misguided Christians claim I must experience this film, otherwise I cannot speak to it. But I haven’t had firsthand experience of a satanic church service either – so what? There are plenty of things I can rely on others about, and/or I don’t need to experience myself.

Or his review of Cory Bernardi’s book:

Now I don’t happen to have a copy of his book as yet. But I know Cory and I know what he stands for so I can imagine pretty well the sort of stuff he says in his book.

YAAAAAAAAAAAAAY! Isn’t that handy? I can just review things without reading or watching them! Such a time saver.

Anyways, Bill’s book. It’s amazing. Kind of like carrotless-vomit, or a piece of poo shaped like a 1979 Corolla, which are both also amazing. I mean, it has footnotes. FOOTNOTES! And as everyone knows, footnotes are a sure sign that the author knows his stuff [1]. And the more footnotes an author uses [2], the better his argument [3].

The best part about the book, however, is the creative title. It’s very different to the title of his previous book, to indicate that the contents are also very different. Strained Relations – The Challenge of Homosexuality… it just has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? Oh sorry that was his first book. Strained Bumholes – The Problem with Pooftas is what I meant to say. Oh no wait that was the working title. Dangerous Attractions – The Threat of My Own Personal Fear of Being Gay is an awesome title. Or it would be, if it ever made it out of Bill’s subconscious [4]. Thaaaaat’s right, now I remember the title of the book I haven’t read that I’m reviewing [5] – Dangerous Relations – The Threat of Homosexuality.

I wonder how long it took him to come up with that title. I mean, thesauruses can be tricky [6]. I can just imagine Bill, sitting there in his study in his cardigan and brown corduroy pants, saying “Pablo! Stop massaging me and fetch me that book that tells me what words mean the same as other words! And no, you cannot put your shirt back on”. And he flicks through to “strained”, and wonders aloud… “Hmm… Tight Relations? Stiff Relations? Hmm. Pablo! What do you think of Stiff Relations?” [7]

This method appears to have worked for the actual book, too. Take this passage from Laboured Relations [8]:

Gay people are bad. They make me sad. But being a bigot makes me glad.

And now compare it to this, from Nasty Relations [9]:

Gay people are crappy. They make me unhappy. But being a fanatical religious zealot makes me dance in the streets with joy [10].

See how easy that was? And how awesome? I mean, the book practically writes itself.

Anyway, the important thing to remember is that gays are bad, and Bill needs twelve dollars and seven cents to tell you that gays are bad. If that sounds like a lot of money, that’s because it is – he tells us gays are bad every day on his blog. FOR COMPLIMENTARY.

Sorry, I meant for free. These thesauruses are tricky.

P.S. I have posted this review to Amazon. I encourage anyone who hasn’t read this book to do the same here.
_____________________

EXTENSIVE FOOTNOTES TO SHOW THAT I AM SMART
[1] Like this one.
[2] Bill uses lots.
[3] Not really, I’m being sarcastic.
[4] Cough cough… Ted Haggard.
[5] Because I can.
[6] Not for normal people though, obviously.
[7] Yes these are actual synonyms.
[8] aka Strained Relations. Laboured is a synonym for strained, see.
[9] aka Dangerous Relations. Nasty is a synonym for dangerous, see.
[10] But not in a gay way.

I AM NO LONGER AN ATHEIST. Oh wait, yes I am.

As some of you may have guessed, I am an atheist. A pretty strong atheist, too. Intellectually, I mean, not physically. I can only do about 10 push-ups.

But as strong as my atheism is, and much like my believing counterparts, I have the occasional moments of doubt. A crisis of no faith, if you will. After all, no one can be 100% confident in their beliefs 100% of the time, so every now and then I catch myself thinking, “What if I’m wrong?”.

What if I’ve missed something? Is there some argument or evidence for god that I haven’t seen or understood? Should I finally get around to reading the Book of Mormon? Do I really need 72 virgins, and if so, how will I remember all their names? Will Lord XenuNote 1 forgive me for laughing at his spaceship if give him a massage?

Thankfully, tpeople like William Lane Craig exist to help set me straight. Craig is something of a celebrity in Christian Apologetics circles – he’s always on the cover of “People (are going to hell)” magazine – as he appears to bring an air of intellectual respectability to Christian beliefs. He has everything figured out logically, you see, so Christians need not be embarrassed about believing some of the things they do. You know, like that whole Trinity thing, or angels.

Anyway, he has just penned a piece for that other bastion of intellectual respectability – Fox News – in which he lists out the five best arguments for Christianity. I was a little nervous when I sat down to read them. Would this be the moment I would have to publicly recant my atheism? How many ‘likes’ would it get on Facebook? Once I converted, who would teach me how to pick on gays and single mothers?

Let’s see what he had to say.

1
God provides the best explanation of the origin of the universe

Quick! Someone tell the physics professors!

Here Craig presents a dumbed-down version of his already dumbed-down Kalam Cosmological Argument (he is writing for Fox News, after all). If you haven’t heard it already, it goes something like this:

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause; and
  2. The universe had a beginning to its existence; so that must mean
  3. The universe had a cause. Ima call him ‘God’ and use him to pick on gays and single mothers.

This argument is the reason why the word ‘specious’ was invented. If you think about it for a couple of seconds, you will very quickly realise that:

  • The conclusion has been smuggled into the opening premise;
  • That premise should apply equally to God himself;
  • Even if you admit that the universe’s current form had a beginning, it in no way negates the possibility that some other form of universe existed before that;
  • Even if you admit there was a first cause, there’s no reason to assume that he’s an angry old man with a son named Jesus who hates us having fun but desperately wants us to love him.

NEXT.

2
God provides the best explanation for the fine tuning of the universe

Craig’s second argument essentially says, “We exist, so the universe must have been set up for our existence.”

Then again, the universe also seems quite keen to get rid of us, so…

NEXT.

3
God provides the best explanation of objective moral values and duties

And which god would that be, William?

NEXT.

4
God provides the best explanation for the historical facts concerning Jesus’ life, death and resurrection

According to Craig, “most historians” agree that Jesus thought he was the son of god, performed miracles, and was crucified, until a group of his lady-friends found his empty tomb, and it was discovered that he was actually alive and well and living it up on some kind of lecture tour. He then tells us that he “can think of no better explanation of these facts” than “God raised Jesus from the dead”.

Ignoring his rather generous definition of “facts”, it’s clear that William just isn’t thinking hard enough.

What if everyone just made the whole thing up?

5
God can be known and experienced

Finally, we have this:

Down through history Christians have found through Jesus a personal acquaintance with god that has transformed their lives.

Well that’s certainly true, William. Like all of these people who have claimed to be Jesus. Or Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, who not only claimed to be Jesus but that he’d been sent back to earth to kill President Obama. Or Mohammad, if you substitute “Christians” for “Muslims” and “Jesus” for “Allah”.

NEXT.

Oh. That’s all you had. I expected more.

But now that I think about it, I’m not sure why.

_____

Footnotes

  1. In Scientology, “Xenu was … the dictator of the ‘Galactic Confederacy’ who 75 million years ago brought billions of his people to Earth (then known as ‘Teegeeack’) in a DC-8-like spacecraft, stacked them around volcanoes and killed them using hydrogen bombs.” – Wikipedia (back)

Found in translation

Oh Holger, you didn’t. Please tell me you didn’t say that “women should shut up in public”.

Because that’s what the Herald Sun, The Age, The Gaurdian, The Daily Mail and the ABC are saying you said. And, oh dear, I just checked YouTube, and it’s on there too, for all to see. “You push me around like my wife”, you said. “Women should shut up in public”, you said. What do you have to say for yourself?

You thought you were off the record? Come on Holger, you’ve been playing the press game long enough to know that nothing’s really off the record, especially when you have about 20 microphones in your face and you say something stupid.

Oh hang on, it was only a joke? A private joke between you and your wife? Well, sorry Holger, but just because you and your wife think it’s funny, it doesn’t mean the rest of us have to.

Wait, wait, what was that? What you actually said was “Mulieres taceres in ecclesia”? Haha, nice try Holger, but saying “Women should shut up in public” in Latin doesn’t make it sound any better. In French, maybe… but definitely not Latin.

Ahhhh, I see now. You were just quoting the Bible. 1 Corinthians 14:35, to be exact.

Well that can’t possibly be sexist. Carry on.
__________

Spotted by the eagle-eared Martin from Furious Purpose.

Don’t call me bigot

There are some things that people don’t being called. Like arsehole, for example. Or bitch. Or Quincy. Most of us are fairly immune to such taunts, however, because of a quiet confidence in our true nature. “That’s OK,” we tell ourselves, “I know I’m not an arsehole, or a bitch. And I definitely possess no quince-like qualities.” There is one label, however, that is almost guaranteed to result in an outpouring of outraged indignation.

No one likes being called a bigot.

And, my, have lots of people been called bigots lately. Same-sex marriage opponents have been called bigots. Same-sex marriage supporters have been called bigots, too. Not even Mr James Bigot of Wetherill Park has been safe, despite assuring everyone that the ‘t’ is silent. But it all became a bit much for some people when our Finance Minister, who is raising a child in a committed lesbian relationship, said that the Australian Christian Lobby, and, by implication, all Christians who shared their view, were “peddling prejudice” and engaging in “bigotry that has no place in a modern Australia”.

Needless to say, a lot of people were a little unhappy. The ACL itself said that “the bigotry card…played by none other than the Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Senator Penny Wong [made] no attempt to engage with our argument. Why bother when a slur of Christians will do?” Reverend David Swan shared a similar sentiment, saying that “if Senator Wong could take a moment to engage with the argument that has been proposed rather than simply accuse people of bigotry…then perhaps a better discussion might ensue”. And Gary Bigelow, who I’m told is most definitely not related to Deuce, felt that calling someone a bigot was “divisive and inflammatory…and unworthy of a politician in this country”. Because as we all know, Australian politicians are never divisive or inflammatory, are they? *cough*

So… are any of these criticisms justified?

To answer that question, it might be helpful to revisit what a bigot actually is. According to Merriam-Webster, a bigot is “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices”. I prefer, however, the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said that “The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye; the more light you pour upon it, the more it will contract”.

It all comes down to open-mindedness, or, more specifically, a willingness to consider that you might be wrong. If you’re the kind of person who considers the evidence first and forms an opinion second, or if you adjust your view in light of new evidence, then you’re probably in the clear. But if you decide before you think, or you cling doggedly to your opinion as evidence to the contrary piles up around you, then, I’m sorry, but there’s a very good chance that you’re a bigot. And if your opinion is a basis for discrimination against a particular race, gender or sexuality, that “good chance” becomes a certainty.

So I guess the three people above just need to ask themselves two questions.

1
The first question is a simple one: “Does my view form the basis of discriminatory action against a race, gender or sexuality?”

Why yes, yes it does.

2
The second question is slightly harder. “Can I conceive of any evidence that could change my mind?”

Note that this isn’t asking if such evidence exists, but merely if such evidence is possible. Is it possible that same-sex marriage will not automatically lead to plagues of bestiality and incest? Is it possible it will actually increase societal cohesion, and not lead to complete moral decay? Is it conceivable that a study might show that same-sex families are as happy or happier than their heterosexual equivalents?

Sadly, the answer for many of the opponents of marriage equality seems to be “no”. But, strangely, such people are actually less infuriating than the people who answer “yes”. For, while these people will trumpet any evidence that happens to confirm their particular preconception, they will summarily dismiss any evidence that contradicts it. Say hello, Lyle Shelton.

And they do this because they have to. You see, for someone like Lyle, all these many questions are different versions of just one.

When it comes to homosexuality and marriage, could god be wrong?

And I think we all know how Lyle would answer that one.
_________

So, are you one of these people? Are you willing to consider that you, or your god, could be wrong on marriage equality? No? Then you’re a bigot.

And just like anyone called an arsehole, or a bitch, or Quincy, all you need to do now is decide if you care.