Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Prejudice of the Hypothetical

I am reading god is not Great by Christopher Hitchens. I’m less than half way through this book, and already I owe Mr. Hitchens a debt of gratitude. He has identified for me a type of confusion I had not noticed. From page 18:

“A week before the events of September 11, 2001, I was on a panel with Dennis Prager, who is one of America’s better-known religious broadcasters. He challenged me in public to answer what he called a ‘straight yes/no question,’ and I happily agreed. Very well, he said, I was to imagine myself in a strange city as evening was coming on. Toward me I was to imagine that I saw a large group of men approaching. Now --- would I feel safer, or less safe, if I was to learn that they were just coming from a prayer meeting? As the reader will see, this is not a question to which a yes/no answer can be given. But I was able to answer as if it were not hypothetical.”

His answer is long and excellent, but that would be a spoiler. Aside from the rephrasing required for a yes/no answer, Mr. Hitchens recognizes this type of question and identifies it elsewhere in the book as a “trick question.”

The human brain tends to evaluate hypothetical questions like this one subjectively. It is statistically doubtful that one living in the US has ever encountered a group of militant religious fanatics exiting a prayer meeting. Further, it is doubtful that the description “militant religious fanatics” would be employed in the process of elimination one would use to identify a group of men exiting a religious edifice in the US. Additional visual queues would be required to plant that suspicion, like the presence of side arms, or KKK robes, Nazi arm bands, and the like. Elsewhere around the globe, the possibility is more immediate to the casual onlooker, and including that possibility in one’s list of possible identifications could make the difference between life and death.

Our life experiences color the internal picture we paint to interpret the hypothetical question. In addition, those fortunate enough to live in relatively peaceful countries are conditioned to give people and situations the “benefit of the doubt.” Those living in more dangerous times and places know this can get you killed. When a person asks a hypothetical question, and that person is depending on the generic nature of that question to color the audience’s perception of the answer to that question, a subtle trap has been laid. It’s obvious to me that Mr. Hitchen’s intellect, education, or both is superior to mine because he recognized this, and was able to avoid the direct, ambiguous answer with concrete examples supporting his position. Thanks to him, I will do the same should the situation arise.

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

Assholes in Florida!

What a surprise. There are assholes everywhere. Somehow, Florida seems to have a bumper crop of the brain-dead religious zealot variety, and a surplus of asshole clergymen to feed off them. The latest rash load of shit from the particular assholes in question has to do with the manufactured outrage and protest against the FLASH recruiting billboard seen here.

According to this WSVN story, the billboard, which can be seen from Interstate 95, is “next to a business owned by an African-American preacher.” Gee, I wonder who is winding up the little automatons and filling them full of moral outrage. Does this preacher really feel that the undeserving stranglehold religious corporations have on the minds, emotions and imaginations of the masses is threatened by this sign? Or, are these Christians so starved for stimulus for their built-in persecution complex that they are grasping at any excuse to feed it?

Citing fair use and further quoting the over-aggressively copyrighted WSVN story:

The members of the community cite two main problems: born-again Christians own the business right next to the sign, and the billboard is located right in the middle of an African-American community.

Now wait a minute here! First, we’ve already established that this is not just some Jesus drone that owns that business, it is a full-fledged man of the cloth, pan-handling exploiter of human fear, weakness and uncertainty. In short, a class A manipulator and user of the system. Second, and even more egregious, what the F- does the ethnicity of the neighborhood have to do with anything? Is this some bizarre form of denigration (look it up before you play the “race card”) of this community? Are they saying that African-Americans are less tolerant than white people? Do African-Americans have a problem with distinguishing a thing from that to which it is adjacent? Does this particular community have a problem with the concepts of tolerance, and free speech? Excuse me while my head explodes!

Just so I’m clear on this position, correct me if I’m wrong.

It’s okay for the myriad of religious machines to:

Broadcast religious, televangelistic, and telethon programming without apparent limit on TV and radio.

Post religious billboards on highways, and billboards advertising bottom-feeding religious “help” organizations.

Insinuate themselves into sporting events and college graduation ceremonies.

Monopolize every meaningful event in a person’s life, from cradle to grave, and insist on injecting religious overtones.

Insure that every politician and almost every prime-time television show injects a little God-belief into their scripts.

Foster all manner of superstitious twaddle that directly or indirectly supports the alleged power of the church, and the alleged afterlife.

It’s not okay for a secular organization to:

Put up a billboard that goes out of its way not to say anything offensive concerning contrary beliefs.

Another quote from the WSVN news article:

After seeing the billboard, Team of Life community activist Essie "Big Mama" Reed brought her students out to protest it Wednesday afternoon. "Nothing else matters, but that sign needs to come down. In the name of Jesus," Big Mama chanted, as she led her students in protest.
She said the sign affects something much deeper than business. "I don't know the reason for putting this sign up," said Big Mama. "It says 'Do not believe in God.' How are we going to make it? Look at our schools, everyday. Everyday there's something going on. Kids are out here killing each other, kids are here using drugs. Who else are they going to believe in?"

People like you, who are blind to their own narrow-minded bigotry, are reason enough for putting that sign up. Thousands of years of religious indoctrination have not made a dent in the social problems you see around you, but somehow, that is the only answer you have. Do you know what doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result is called?

Nothing else matters but that sign needs to come down? Do you know how stupid that sounds? There are real issues to fight for the world over, and people are dying. But I forget, this life has no meaning for you. The only things you obsess on are the weird scenes you imagine await you when you die.

Who else are they going to believe in? How about themselves for starters. How would it be if every aspect of home and social life wasn’t telling them over and over that they were inferior, worthless, and weak. How if they were taught self-reliance instead of being taught to be a permanent child, and letting others do the thinking for them? All in the name of Gawd the Father of course. It’s great for your sense of self-worth that you can organize so many followers, but what about their ability to lead, even if only themselves? Do they move to achieve their goals, or pray and wait?

Now you can be offended!

Hat tip to vjack at Atheist Revolution

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