Saturday, October 14, 2006

Flashback

The other day, as part of a radio interview, I heard a group of children reciting in that sing-song way that children have, “god is great, god is good, let us thank him for our food….”

A memory stirred, and then another. That chant was part of my childhood. I’m getting old, and the memory is faded. I heard that chant over and over again, and it wasn’t from Sunday School. Where was it? Television … Romper Room perhaps? Maybe some other children’s program I can’t remember. Kindergarten? Did they make us say that over milk and cookies, before all the flap about prayer in school? The memory teases me. It won’t solidify. I think to myself, “How young we were when they began their instruction, their indoctrination, their demand that we accept without question this mythology.”

And who else did we thank? No one.

Never mind the farmer who risked his annual income to grow vegetables and animal feed and livestock. He was probably praying to the god too. He might even think that the god is pulling for him every time the weather cooperates. And when the god screws his brothers somewhere else with hail or drought, well, they must have deserved it by pissing the god off somehow.

Never mind the men who risked their lives pulling oil out of the ground, or from beneath the ocean floor to run the farmer’s tractor, and other equipment. Never mind the truckers and the men who built the trucks that bring the food to market. Never mind the people at the power station, and the line workers, and the other people working to provide the electricity that runs the freezers and refrigerators and assembly lines that make food distribution on this scale possible. Never mind the biologists that create genetic hybrids to increase crop yield. Never mind the engineers that design and constantly improve all of the machinery necessary to sustain this level of food production. Never mind the parents that sell their time to their employers to pay for the food and the table to put it on. Never mind the teachers that helped all these people find and understand the knowledge to do these jobs. In short, ignore the entire vast human infrastructure that put cold milk and Cheerios in front of that kid.

Many of these farmers and truckers and biologists and other employees have beliefs and talismans of their own, and some don’t. The ones that ask their deity for protection and special consideration are just as statistically likely as those that don’t to lose their lives in an accident, but no one seems to notice that. No one that is, except the actuaries at the insurance company that make no discount for religious affiliation because no correlation exists.

A theist might argue that without the god none of the above is possible and we exist only “by the grace” of that god, which I take to mean at the god’s whim. Before I am accused of building a straw man, let me say that I have received that exact argument in response to a similar argument. I have two problems with that in the context of the discussion above. First, none of the ramifications have been explained to the four-year old that is being taught to say “grace”. The kid is left with the impression that god pulled the food out of his armpit or something. Second, it reduces the self-perpetuating ecosystem in general and the Human Race in particular to a cosmic version of Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm

19 Comments:

At 11:13 AM, Blogger kalanchoe542 said...

I learned that very same chant when I was very young, but I, too, am getting old and can't remember where I heard it. I think it might have been Romper Room, which they broadcast to the communities in Massachusetts where I grew up. I was not raised in a religious household, and discovered that the kids in my school took a very simplistic view of food, and clothes, and everything in their lives. They were fed Catholic doctrine and it was good enough for them. I always felt that most of them weren't too bright. I, on the other hand, grew up on a small semi-farm where we grew our own vegetables and raised chickens (primarily for eggs; my mother was a softie) and learned what it was to work the soil from a very young age. I would think about God and would wander into the fields or the woods, maybe sit by the stream, and realized that I was a part of the deity. It was all around me, holding me in a soft, warm, grassy embrace, or challenging me with a blustery cold burst of snow. I watched the seasons change and had the luxury of developing my understanding that the earth was my mother without having someone else's mythologies thrust down my throat. I saw the cruelties and the kindnesses of nature, the softness of a summer breeze and the very infrequent destruction of hurricane force winds. I saw a tree split in two by lightning and never once wondered what the tree had done to invoke the wrath of "god". It just happens.

Humans flourish and survive by their wits. Indeed, it is our limited intelligence that has led us to defile the earth and overpopulate to the point that she can no longer support us without artificial means, concocted by the "dominant species".

I do believe that saying grace originated as a means to thank the earth for her gifts, as is a practice of many of the Pagan cultures that still exist. No meal is consumed without thanking the mother for her bounty. I think the original concept is lovely. I think the borrowing of it, as well as a host of other traditions, by the Christians in order to sway the old ones to subscribe to this new mythology was very clever. I do, however, think that giving praise and thanks to a remote, disembodied God that is supposedly watching our every move and casting judgement upon us, is a little silly. Why not give credit where credit is due? If it were not for the ability of the earth to support our life forms, and if it were not for the ingenuity of humans to make the most of what we have, where would we be? I am willing to bet that most or many of the folks who contribute their thoughts to this blog wouldn't even be here were it not for the "blessing" of modern medicine, and antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, anticoagulants, antipruritics (the list goes on and on). Don't try to tell me that it's all a gift from a distant God that also lets tiny children die horribly and painfully of cancer.

Good old mother earth. Gotta love her and her clever children. What a mess we have made.

 
At 11:15 AM, Blogger kalanchoe542 said...

Oh yes! OMG, I almost forgot! Uncle Milton! I can't believe they still make that! Wow...that takes me back about 45 years. Holy shit, I'm old...

 
At 1:50 PM, Anonymous ConcernedEngineer said...

Of course, Christians believe that God is our creator, and that he created the farmer, the trucker, the biologist, the engineer, the factory worker, and everyone else with gifts and talents. And children (and adults) would do well to appreciate the hard work that happens in order to get food on the table. Thanking God for His blessings does not equate with teaching children not to appreciate other people. On the contrary, those who thank God on a regular basis for all His blessings often are reminded to thank people for their gifts, sacrifices, and hard work.

I am compelled to ask: Considering the fact that you do not believe in God, why are you so obsessed with Him? Perhaps you have a clever answer ready, or perhaps you will come up with one. But before you do, do you suppose that it is possible that you are so obsessed, because you were designed to be?

 
At 10:43 PM, Anonymous SH said...

What is the fastest and most effective way to get children to obey the rules? Fear. Immediate and future control over the behavior of human beings is the primary function of religious memes. It's a clever trick. Do what I tell you or my invisible friend will kick your ass. Beats hard work required to actually explain the complex world to a child. Leaves a lot of time for bombing abortion clinics and stoning gays. It works well on the children who then grow up to be confused adults with engineering degrees, who spend their lives defending incoherent propositions, questionable morality, politics of war and torture of the fellow humans. They start by murdering logic and rationality. They end by beheadings, burnings at stake and dropping of bombs. They call it compassion and concern. "Allah Akhbar"* cry children of the East, "God is good" respond children of the West, as they are getting ready to slaughter each other once again. What a beautiful world...

--------------------
* "God is Great"

 
At 6:10 AM, Anonymous ConcernedEngineer said...

"Beats hard work required to actually explain the complex world to a child."

Many people - Christian and non-Christian - have provoked me to think very deeply. Reading the Bible and submitting to God's rule has not caused me to turn off my brain. On the contrary, the Bible has inspired me to think things through. We have been commanded to love God with all our minds.

We are to fear the LORD. God is worthy of awesome reverence. He is holy and pure and glorious. The fear of the LORD keeps men on the straight and narrow. Jesus talked about hell several times during the course of his ministry - warning people to repent. We ignore His teaching at our own peril.

"Leaves a lot of time for bombing abortion clinics and stoning gays."

There are a few fanatics who bomb abortion clinics. How you equate the actions of those few people with the beliefs and lifestyles of most orthodox Christians is crazy. I don't bomb abortion clinics.

I do however condemn abortion with every fiber of my being. The unborn fetus is a human person and therefore has the same rights as anyone else. Abortion is America's Holocaust. By continuing to tolerate the practice of abortion with are essentially asking God to pour out His wrath on us.

As for homosexuality, my position is to love the sinner and hate the sin. Homosexuality is a perversion. Homosexuals are people who are created in God's image and who are extremely valuable. They are to be loved.

While homosexuality is a perversion, there are plenty of forms of heterosexual perversion as well. All sexual sin is wrong. Sex, as God intended it, is to be a wonderful celebration of love between one man and one woman in the context of marriage. Anything else is a perversion. Love the sinner; hate the sin.

"They start by murdering logic and rationality."

Once again, the secularist claims the intellecutal high ground. Do you know how to tell a valid syllogism from an invalid syllogism? Have you ever studied formal logic? Show me, exactly, where I have committed a logical fallacy.

"They end by beheadings, burnings at stake and dropping of bombs."

I am not an Islamic terrorist. I am also not a pacifist. Are you a pacifist? Is there never a time for war?

As I recall, the ancient Romans and Greeks had their share of carnage.

I do support the death penalty. But I am against burning at the stake. I'm not sure what I think about beheading. If it goes well, it would be a very quick death.

Do you condemn "dropping bombs" in all situations? Is everyone who disagrees with you a bigot?

 
At 9:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

CE,
It has been said that a true sign of insanity is attempting the identical process over and over again with the expectation that sooner or later one will achieve a different outcome. I humbly submit that you appear to be past that point. I would suggest you hang it up.

 
At 10:29 AM, Anonymous ConcernedEngineer said...

Anonymous,

Yeah... I'm sure the same thing or something similar was said repeatedly to John Adams. Did you know that the first guy to think of a drive-thru at McDonalds was laughed out of the meeting he was in? Or how about those crazy abolitionists in 18th and 19th centuries? How many times did Thomas Edison fail before he achieved success?

Come to think of it: You must think that the far left extremists are pretty insane! You've seen me contend for a belief for what - a few days? The far left has been protesting the Bush Administration for the past 6 years! They're not convincing many people - other than those who are already convinced.

In truth, while I may not be popular on the blogs of hardcore atheists and secularists, I am respected in my community, and am actively engaged in teaching people the wonderful truths of the Bible. Many people listen to me and have deep respect for what I say. But even if they didn't, I'll be damned if I shut up and lie down. Throughout history, great prophets and apostles and evangelists and priests and common men and women have contended for the very doctrines that I am contending for. They have been the light of the world. Therefore, since I am surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, I will not give up. I will fight the good fight of faith. I will run the race as in a way to win. I will contend for justice - though my words will often fall on deaf ears. I will not be silenced. "Last breath, before the candle flickers out, I will speak the name of Jesus!"

Don't be a coward. Be courageous. Dare to believe. Contend for justice - even when you don't see hope.

Go read To Kill A Mockingbird and learn something about courage, perseverance, faith, integrity, and determination.

Jesus died for you, because you are a sinner. One day, you will bow before Christ - in this life - or on Judgment Day. Mark my words.

 
At 10:49 AM, Blogger breakerslion said...

I find myself in general agreement with SH.

While I am sure most Christians do not succumb to the messages of prejudice and hate that some preachers pour into their ears and others take up as the "party line", I am equally sure that this is how the whole thing started. The invisible super being used to command lightning, pestilence, wind and wave. The construct was useful for wresting power from the tribal alpha male and creating the blueprint for what became today's hierarchical society. We have moved past that with secular laws, judicial systems, enforcement agencies, and bureaucracies. The institutions of religion have consequently retreated further and further into the realm of the supernatural, superstition, and the human psyche. To me, modern religion resembles a series of hesitation wounds on the corpus of humanity. Religion creates willing conscripts in an imagined cosmic "war" between "good" and "evil" by creating shame, fear, and feelings of helplessness in their followers. In short, they stunt personal growth, and self-reliance in order to create a state of permanent childhood and servility. The "god's children" and "sheep" analogies in the bible are not for nothing. Such nervousness as is created by this lurid imagery creates a desperate herd mentality, just right for keeping a congregation huddled together, needing reassurance. Read with a jaundiced eye, the bible becomes an instruction book on how to flim-flam your fellow humans into ceding what little personal power they might have to their new leader, you. All you have to do is mouth the same old formulas and you have an instant network of "good old boys" to back up almost everything you say. If you have a personal or political agenda, just slip it in between the "praise gods" and the "hallelujahs" and your hypnagogic followers will suck it right in.

And you call a couple of consenting, but unmarried adults (of whatever gender) playing "slap and tickle" immoral?

 
At 10:53 AM, Anonymous ConcernedEngineer said...

Anonymous,

You got me really pumped up. I'm all inspired and ready to conquer the world. So, I wanted to invite everyone here share your favorite, most inspirational movie or book quotes.

I like the quote from The Shawshank Redemption:

"I guess it comes down to a simple choice: Get busy living or get busy dying."

Or how about Sam's encouraging words to Frodo at the end of The Two Towers:

Sam: "It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. 'Cause sometimes you didn't want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How can the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it's only a passing thing. A shadow even darkness must pass. A new day will come and when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were to small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folks in those stories had lots of chances in turning back only they didn't. They kept going because they were holding onto to something."

Frodo: "What are we holding onto, Sam?"

Sam: "That there's some good left in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fighting for."

 
At 11:07 AM, Anonymous ConcernedEngineer said...

"The invisible super being used to command lightning, pestilence, wind and wave."

He still does. We happen to know more about the physics of all this now, but God is still in control and holding everything together by His powerful word.

"Religion creates willing conscripts in an imagined cosmic 'war' between 'good' and 'evil' by creating shame, fear, and feelings of helplessness in their followers."

Certainly, man made religion has done this. I have seen this happen at times in the Name of Christianity, and it is a great tragedy. Those who are truly committed to God would and do confront this hypocrisy. This is very tricky business. People have created in their minds a construct of who they suppose God is. Very often, their view of God is inaccurate. But then God Himself, reveals Himself to people. It is often subtle, but it makes all the difference in the world. One is damnable and evil; the other is salvation and glory and life and peace. One leads to bigotry and self-righteousness and general stupidity; the other leads to compassion, true righteousness, growth, and wisdom. One causes people to be overconfident and prideful and arrogant OR causes unnecessary pain and shame. The other causes people to be deeply reverent and respectful for God and compassionate towards people created in His image. Too often, people sprinkle Christian rheotric over their own personal (and often inaccurate) view of God. Furthermore, by becoming well-trained in the complex rhetoric of a distorted view of God, it is often extremely difficult to confront such a person with the truth, because there is a lot of truth in what he already knows. He is able to throw up all kinds of smokescreens in order to keep the truth at arm's length.

So, it is easy to recognize this and then go to the other extreme and deny the existence of God and deny the spiritual war between good and evil altogether. But that would be very foolish. To anyone who has any sense, it is very clear that there is evil in the world. That's not difficult to recognize. What is difficult to recognize is the evil that resides within my heart. That - I'd rather not deal with. That is what I must deal with. And that is why I am totally dependent on God to help me. For without Christ, we are totally depraved.

But in Christ, there is life and peace; forgiveness and new beginnings; mercy and discipline. Best of all, there is fellowship with God.

But I certainly do agree that many men have invented a construct of God, and that construct is inaccurate.

 
At 1:37 PM, Blogger breakerslion said...

"But I certainly do agree that many men have invented a construct of God, and that construct is inaccurate."

The only difference of opinion on that point then, is that I believe all constructs of (any) god is/are man made, invented, and completely inaccurate. Sort of a round-about way of saying the old "I just believe in one less god than you do." Actually two, since the shi-tan is also technically a god, no matter what hairs you split in terms of ranking.

 
At 1:54 PM, Anonymous ConcernedEngineer said...

All human constructs of God are inaccurate. That is why we need God to reveal himself to us.

And this, He has done for me.

And He will do for you, if you seek Him.

 
At 7:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone who wishes to seek is free and welcome to seek. Anyone who does not wish to seek will not. It should not be forced on anyone, for it would be hollow and meaningless. No amount of badgering and bullying will create a desire to seek, it will only serve to alienate.

 
At 7:51 PM, Anonymous SH said...

ConcernedEngineer,

"Show me, exactly, where I have committed a logical fallacy."

Okay.

Go back to this post here and re-read my (first) comment. There I showed you the absurdity of your philosophical position.

Now move to the comment #5 of the same post, where you've "responded" to me. There you acknowledged that I "make an interesting point" and then proceeded to completely ignore it.

You began with a logical fallacy of appeal to authority: "...it becomes a contest of authority. And the Holy Spirit has declared with power that Jesus is the Son of God."

You followed by some of the most spectacular examples of circular reasoning that I've seen in a while. Here is one, for instance: "If people refuse to presuppose that God is real and has spoken, then no secular argument will convince them otherwise."

In case it's not clear what's wrong with what I've just quoted, let me break it down. You are basically saying that in order to "see" that god exists one must presuppose that god exists. In "formal" logic this fallacy is called begging the question I believe, is it not?

We can go on but there is no use, since before you can claim anything, you have to first answer the question that I've asked you before: If everything is presupposed how do you determine what is real from what is not? How do you establish the superiority, let along the validity, of any claim?

And I am sorry "it's a contest of authority" is not a coherent answer, because you first have to explain how one determines what/who is authority in the worldview that is based on arbitrary assumptions. How does one compare such authorities anyway?

And while you are at that, please tell us why we should rely on "formal logic" at all. After all, formal logic is only an assumption and was not proven, according to you.

And before you complain that I painted you in a corner and I am taking it to the level of absurdity, remember that the following are your words, not mine:

"do away with geometry, because Euclid's postulates are not proven."

Good luck.

 
At 5:18 AM, Anonymous ConcernedEngineer said...

Sh,

An appeal to authority is only inappropriate if the authority is not legitimate. Appeals to authority are used in the courtroom all the time. A doctor or a scientist or an engineer who knows more about his particular field than the judge and jury and common person does is called on as a witness. A lawyer will appeal to the authority of the expert witness.

In order to refute this witness, the lawyer for the other side will often bring in someone with the same - if not higher credentials.

So, the point is that appeal to authority is an informal fallacy (as opposed to a formal fallacy) only if the appeal is illegitimate.

When I talk about formal logic, I am talking about syllogisms and deductive reasoning. In no case have I constructed a syllogism that is invalid.

Also, every argument that involves an appeal to authority is either circular or ends up appealing to a higher authority. When you get to the highest authority, the argument becomes completely circular. This is not invalid, for it is not fallacious to appeal to a legitimate authority. So, the highest authority appeals to His own authority, and it is cool, because His own authority is legitimate.

If it were not so, then every single appeal to authority would break down, because, in the final analysis, the credentials are not based on anything.

Let me try to illustrate my point with an example.

A doctor is an authority on medicine. When making a decision concerning our health, it is reasonable to find out what the authority (the doctor) has said. When debating with someone whether or not eating McDonalds every day is healthy, the person who gets the truth from a doctor is probably going to win the debate.

But how do we know that the doctor is a legitimate authority on medicine. Well, he went to Med school, and probably spent the majority of his 20's studying all the books. Plus, he probably interned under other MD's, where he learned and acquired valuable experience.

But how do we know the books are legitimate and that the other doctors were legitimate authorities themselves?

Well, the authors of the books were M.D.'s and/or Ph.D.'s, etc. And the other doctors read the same or similar books and interned under qualified doctors?

You can see that this goes on and on and on. The doctor is a professional because he read all the rights books. We know that the books are "right" because they were written by doctors. We know that those doctors are authorities because they read all the right books. We know that those authors are legitimate because they were doctors themselves.

Circular arguments. No fallacies.

So, there is God. He is going to reveal Himself to men. How does He do it? Does He appeal to an authority greater than Himself to testify to His own greatness? No such authority exists! If it did, then He wouldn't be God! So, what does He do? He testifies to us: His Spirit to our spirits, and He backs Himself up with His own glory. He appeals to His own authority. He is, "I AM!" He does define Himself by placing Himself in reference with anything or anyone else. He is the authority on epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics.

For God (or man) to appeal to a lesser authority in order to confirm the truthfulness of God would be like a doctor appealing to a freshman in high school to convince common people that he deserves the respect that we render to doctors.

So, I hope that this shows you that all arguments from authority are really arguments that involve circular reasoning. To reject circular reasoning, then, to be consistent, you can't place any confidence in doctors.

Furthermore, you have your own set of presuppositions that you accept without scientific evidence, and that you expect others to accept as well.

For example: Racism is wrong. (At least, I hope you hold to this doctrine). How would you go about proving that racism is wrong? You wouldn't. You simply presuppose it.

But, I'm playing the devil's advocate for a moment. I don't buy into your presupposition. I want you to prove to me that racism is wrong. And if you don't buy into my epistemological presuppositions - and if you think that my circular reasoning is inappropriate/fallacious - then you have to prove that racism is wrong without presupposing anything and without relying on circular reasoning / arguments from authority. Good luck.

 
At 5:46 AM, Anonymous ConcernedEngineer said...

Anonymous,

I will tell you this. Those who continually reject God will eventually be given over to their evil desires and to a depraved mind. And that by God. Those who refuse to glorify Him and give Him thanks will be given over to depravity. (Romans 1)

So, people can reject God day in and day out. God, in His patience, kindness, and tolerance will continue to hold out His hands in love to rebellious sinners like myself. It is His kindness that leads us toward repentance. (Romans 2) But He is not a softy. A sinner who turns to God must turn to God on God's terms - not his own. (Romans 6-8)

But friends don't let friends drive drunk. And friends seek to persuade friends to give up their pride and their rebellion, so that they might know the tender mercy and grace of God. For God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (Proverbs and James)

Since we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. I plead with you, by the mercy and grace of God: Be reconciled to God. Jesus died on the cross for you and for me, because without Him we are in sin and depravity - in muck and mire. (2 Corinthians 5) God wants to lift us up out of that muck and mire. He wants us to walk on water. But you can't walk on water, if you don't get out of the boat.

We have been given a birthright, and Christ has promised us a great inheritance. (Colossians 1) Let us not disqualify ourselves from the blessing God, by despising our birthright, and treating our Creator with contempt.

God bless you. May your day be filled with kindness and joy and love.

 
At 7:05 PM, Blogger breakerslion said...

From a VERY old Indian fable:

(badly remembered, but here goes)

There was a certain student of a certain guru who became tired of the slow pace at which the guru imparted wisdom. Disgusted, he left and went his own way to learn the secrets of the world. Twenty years later, he retuned and sought out his former master, who recognized him instantly.

"Where have you been?" the guru asked.

"I have studied these years, and I have learned to walk upon the water!" the former student replied.

"If you wanted to cross water, why did you not just hire a boat?" the guru asked. "It would have taken far less time."

If you insist on believing the "walk on water" myth, I must first point out the fact that few people in Isreal at that time, including sailors, knew how to swim. I must then point out that "treading water" is still in common usage. I must then point out that actually walking on non-frozen water is impossible for a human for the same reason that a woman wearing high heels will punch two half-dime sized holes in a metal bathroom scale. If the alleged Iasus/Ye-shua/Jesus could walk on water, he might have been inflatable, but he wasn't human. If he wasn't human, then the whole crucifiction story falls apart like wet newspaper. You can't have it both ways on alternate Tuesdays.

 
At 9:23 PM, Blogger breakerslion said...

"The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday - but never jam today." - Lewis Carroll

Tortured Christian, or closet athiest?

 
At 11:41 AM, Anonymous ConcernedEngineer said...

No... It's called a miracle. Supernatural forces influenceing what goes on in the natural world, causing the laws of physics in certain locations to temporarily not work. God is omnipotent. It is easy for Him to empower human beings to walk on water.

 

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