Archive for the 'Catholicism' Category

Steve Jobs, RIP

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Considering I’m closer to an anti-Apple guy than an Apple booster, Steve Jobs death yesterday hit me harder than I expected.

I’m most definitely a PC guy. My phone runs Android. I was pulling for the HP Touchpad for more reasons than because I work for HP. I have bought (and still own) exactly one Apple product: a 10 year old 32 GB, 3rd gen, hard-drive based iPod (one of the early video editions). I’ve never bought anything from iTunes. I don’t like Apple’s closed architecture model. The fact that they’ve never released an “i” product with a flash slot really gets under my skin (BTW, one of the HUGE, HUGE, HUGE mistakes of the Touchpad: they followed Apple’s lead in this regard).

I bring this up not to spit on the grave of Steve Jobs, but to make it clear I’ve got no special love for his company nor the products his company has made. But here’s what I do know…

Steve Jobs was a visionary who believed in some core principles that have propelled the electronics industry to greatness. He believed that regular people deserve access to the same great technology that techies used. He believed that research and development were cornerstones of a great technology company, not just slapping together components from other companies. He believed that the key to success was making great products that people wanted to buy.

Whether or not you liked his particular products is not really relevant. How he pushed the industry forward affected the products I bought as well. The PC and Windows wouldn’t be what it is today without Steve Jobs. There wouldn’t be Android as it exists today without Steve Jobs. Even when he wasn’t the innovator, he embraced the great innovations and built upon them. He wasn’t the first on the frontier of the Internet, but his more recent products embraced it and took it to a new level. Frankly, the world owes him a debt of gratitude. There will be a big hole in Apple now that will be nearly impossible to fill.

I know all too well the hole a founding father of a company can leave. I joined HP during its last few years before it abandoned its founding principles. What occurred to me was that when I joined the company, Bill and Dave hadn’t bee actively involved in at least a decade. So what was it that changed a few years after I joined? At which point I came to this fact: On January 12th, 2001 William Hewlett died, the last of the two founders. Carly had already been CEO for over a year but she couldn’t shake the presence of the founders. Even though it was never stated, it’s plainly obvious to me that the moves she made after his death (she initiated the Compaq merger about a year later) reflected a CEO freed from the restraint and wisdom of the founder.

So while most people point to the moment a founding CEO steps down as the key moment, it was in a moment of clarity today that it occurred to me that a founder’s impact and influence will stay with the company long after that. It’s not really until their death that the ship loses its anchor.

To use another example, Microsoft will be responsible to Bill Gates as long as he’s alive, even though he hasn’t been CEO for a long time. Similarly HP was still the company that embodied The HP Way when I joined in the late 90’s. It wasn’t until William Hewlett died that HP lost its compass.

For a technology company that is embodied by its founder’s greatness, it’s a bit like the impact one’s parents have. We worry about what our parents will think as long as they’re alive, and that affects our decisions in ways we couldn’t possibly detangle from what we truly want. They have a presence that can’t be ignored. We will be judged by them and our decisions reflect that reality down to our subconscious. But when our parents finally die, that awareness, that concern, leaves us. We now are unleashed from that concern and we operate more freely in ways we couldn’t possibly have anticipated.

In the case of one’s parents, sometimes that freedom is exactly what we need and can lead to much better things. Some people even manage to escape from this impact before a parent’s physical death, often trying to get away from some destructive influence.

But with a great founder, as with a great parent, it will not be escaped until they die. Similarly, what is “escaped” is really something lost, something that in rare instances can be substituted, but can never be matched.

So today I mourn for Steve Jobs. I mourn for the HP that was lost when William Hewlett died. I mourn for the loss of Dave Packard, a man who’s philosophy for business was unparalleled. I mourn for myself, for what I’ve lost now working for a company that has lost the soul of its founders. It’s a company I consciously decided to work for, turning down more lucrative offers, offers for jobs closer to the technologies I wanted to develop. I mourn for all those who work for Apple, from it’s CEO down to the janitor who have lost the compass that Steve Jobs gave them, that for some mystical reason, can not survive death. I feel I have an insight to what was lost for them, even more so than they can now yet realize, but which will be more clear in the years to come. Finally, I mourn for the entire technology industry that has lost that challenging influence that made it strive to compete with the innovations with Apple.

Rest in peace, Steve Jobs.

Satan’s switch and trap

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

I just finish watching the movie ‘The Switch’. It’s about a man and a woman who are friends, and are very honest with one another. She decides she can’t wait to find the right guy and is going to be artificially inseminated. He objects, both because he knows that it’s just not the right way to go and because deep down inside he loves her. Long story short (too late!), he switches his semen for the donors while in a very drunk state and doesn’t remember that he did it. Flash forward 7 years and he’s reunited with his friend and the child that is his son and he pieces it back together because the boy is so like him. There’s a key scene where he tells the son that he is proud of him and it really got to me.

Part of it was that longing that every boy has for his father to be proud of him. Having a relationship that is strained by differences in faith makes that hard. Part of it was wanting to make sure my boys knew how proud I am of them. I’m a pretty demanding father, so I worry that I don’t tell them enough how proud I am.

And it got me to thinking, why do we crave that approval?

I think it’s because we desire to overcome our weaknesses and our failures, and our father’s approval helps us to know that at least on some level, we have. But we have another Father who is always ready to forgive us. Our Father in heaven, one that I’ve been having a hard time lately admitting to that I’ve sinned.

I know I’m a sinful man and I know I fail. But sometimes it’s hard to walk into that confessional and admit it. I don’t want Him to be ashamed. I want Him to be proud. I think it’s particularly important to me because as a person who’s very vocal about my faith, the charge of being a hypocrite is something I want to avoid. And as stupid as it is, if I can bury my sins instead of asking forgiveness for them, somehow I convince myself into thinking I can avoid the charge of hypocrite.

And this is the devil’s greatest bait and switch. It is the trap he hopes we will all fall for. He tries to get us to make a choice between two false options. Society is quickly buying into the denial of sin option. There is no such thing as sin. It can be ignored. It can be, to use my earlier word, buried. But when we do that, we give up our right to proclaim truth and the devil has won. Which reveals the other choice, we can be hypocrites. Since we all inevitably fail, we can proclaim truth and fall short of that truth and thus be hypocrites.

It’s no surprise that the charge leveled at the disgraced Christian who’s sins have been revealed is that of hypocrite. Society can’t charge them with sin, because we deny the concept of sin. But it is wrong for the disgraced because they’ve preached against it. They are the hypocrite and they can be disgraced and thus ignored.

These are the two choices the devil gives: deny sin or be a hypocrite. But there is a third option, one the devil will never admit to. It is the one that Christ came to this earth to give us all: To be forgiven.

This is why we long to hear our Father say that He’s proud of us. It’s why we want to tell our children that we are proud of them. It’s not based on some cosmic desire to deny that we’ve failed or to deny the weakness and failings of our children. It’s because we believe deep in our hearts in the power of forgiveness. We know it is possible despite our failings for our Father to be proud of us. To be forgiven.

God in Heaven, I’m a sinful man. Forgive me my sins. Help me to find the nearest confessional to to receive your forgiveness in the healing Sacrament of Reconciliation. It has been far too long. I repent of all that I have done and ask your forgiveness. I promise to strive to sin no more and to be your servant here on earth.

Who are we kidding

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

I used to be for the death penalty, but when I became Catholic, I changed my mind. I’ll be honest, it’s one Church teaching I have a hard time with. On one level, the consistency of the life ethic makes it easy for me to accept Church teaching, but I can’t deny that I have an instinctive reaction when I hear of what these people have done and desire retribution.

In the end I submit to the teaching authority of the Church and go with the life consistency.

But at some level, it becomes easier and easier for me when I see the statistics on how things work out in practice. Take this data from the state of California:

Since 1978 when the death penalty was reenacted in California, a total of 89 people have died on death row. Yet only 14 of them, FOURTEEN, were actually executed. The rest died of natural causes, suicide or a number of other means:

-Natural causes: 52
-Suicide: 18
-Executed: 14
-Killed: 2 (not clear if the killing was done by guards or other inmates)
-Drug overdose: 2
-Pepper spray induced heart attack: 1

To put those numbers in perspective, looking into the future, there are 720 people currently on death row in California, the youngest of which are about 20. Since people only live to about 80, AT BEST, only 100 or so of the 720 will actually be executed, if we return to our peak rate of about 2 executions a year (from 1999 to 2001, 5 people were executed, our fastest stretch in modern state history).

Forget for a moment the politics or the justice issues… seriously, who are we kidding? The vast majority of people on “death row” are really on life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Quick hitters – Taxes, the DMV and hell

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Today’s quick hitters:

  • This whole brouhaha about the Bush tax cuts is fascinating to me. I never thought I’d see the Democratic base turn so quickly on Obama like they have over this. He’s even had to call in former President Clinton to his defense. For what it’s worth, this is an area where I see both sides. I see our deficit and wonder if we can afford to keep taxes so low (and the wealthy are more able to take that hit). On the other hand, the income tax code is already HORRIFICALLY biased towards taking taxes from the wealthy. What I pay in taxes now with 3 kids a big mortgage an only 1 income is less than a tenth, yes you read that right, 10%, of what I paid 10 years ago without the kids and two incomes that was only 50% more than I make today. Heck, I’ll give you round number specifics: I paid around $2k in taxes for 2009 on about $50k of post deduction income ($80k pre-deductions). In 2001, I paid around $30k in taxes on $120k of income (and we had no deductions). An additional $28k in taxes for $40k in increased income!?! Something’s not right with that.
  • There’s a story in today’s Chronicle about a transgender person who’s ticked off because the DMV person who took their gender re-assignment paperwork, took their address and started soliciting them with religious material. Let me go on record as saying it was highly inappropriate of the DMV worker to do that. When it’s your job to preserve someone’s private information for the government (and anyone who takes an address down is), you’ve got to do their job, no matter how deplorable the actions of the person are. The transgender person is absolutely right to object to that.
  • That said, it’s just baffling to me that our society allows people to “change their gender”. What does that even mean? We define sex by our chromosomes… and those can’t be changed. Sure, you can slice off the penis, drill a hole in their pelvis, put breast implants in their chest, and give them hormone injections, but the chromosomes don’t change. At some level I understand why because of our noble insistence on liberty in the US we allow the surgery to go forward (although I can make a compelling argument why our liberties end before that). But there’s no reason why someone’s birth certificate/driver’s license should be able to be changed. Those surgeries didn’t change their fundamentals. While it wasn’t right for the DMV worker to take advantage of their role to notify this person of their perversion, the perversion of the nature of our humanity is quite real, as is the associated risk of hell that goes along with it.

Thoughts on Prop. 8/Gay Marriage ruling

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

I could just write a screed here against Judge Walker and all the things he did wrong today, but in the end, it would just be a stupid post that wouldn’t convince anyone of anything. Those who agree with me would agree and those who don’t, who see the world entirely differently, wouldn’t agree and there would be little point of trying to convince them.

I’ve also given up hope in trying to explain in a forum like this how to see the world through the lens that an understanding Catholic does. People have such strong opinions and won’t spend the time to challenge their preconceptions, not even to change their mind, but even to appreciate seeing the world in a very different way. Again, it wouldn’t accomplish anything.

So what I hope to do in this post is make an admission: We’ve lost the battle.

It’s not the gay marriage battle we’ve lost. That’s just the tail of the dog. What we’ve lost is the argument of what sex is about. We lost it 50 years ago when contraception became socially accepted and the implications of that loss continues to haunt us. Most people who embraced contraception didn’t realize what they were really embracing and so many of them to this day do not realize why others, who have embraced the fullness of what contraception means, are pushing for things they find reprehensible.

But in the end, I can’t argue against gay marriage without going back to the fundamentals: Sex is about procreation. Any sexual act that is not open to procreation resulting, is a disordered sexual act. There’s a ton of objections that will be raised at this point and there’s no way I can address them all in a post or two. But that’s kinda the point. We’re SOOOOO far past arguing about this fundamental premise about the nature of sex, that one can’t even advance the point, even with people who otherwise embrace a Christian worldview, without thousands of words defending the premise.

So I’m writing today not to those who are all for gay marriage. I’m writing today to those who are baffled and upset by the decision, yet embrace contraception. And here’s what I have to say to you:

The battle was lost when you embraced contraception. Once you separated procreation from the sexual act, then obviously, sex not oriented towards procreation was acceptable. Once that sort of sex was acceptable, it was just a matter of time until alternate ways to indulge yourself sexually, from homosexual acts to masturbation, were the next logical step. Once that was acceptable, the lifelong sexual union (aka marriage) was going to be opened to those who had found other ways to sexually gratify themselves.

Sure, it took 50 years for it to happen, but it nevertheless did happen.

So, while I see the world through a very different lens, one where sex is bound to procreation, the reality is that over 90% of my fellow citizens disagree. And since the underpinnings of my argument rest on sex bound to procreation, I can not deny that only 10%, if that, of American citizens embrace the underpinnings of marriage being between a man and a woman. I can not deny that in the way the vast majority of Americans view the world, the gay marriage proponents are right, that in the way society views the world, their unions are not that different from everyone elses.

I refuse to buy into that view, so I will continue to fight against not just gay marriage, but against the idea that procreation and sex can be separated. Whenever that battle is won, we won’t need to fight against “gay marriage”, because “gay marriage” just won’t make any sense, it’ll be as obvious as it was in 1950, when someone who suggested “there’s no tie between marriage and procreation” would be laughed out of court, out of office and out of about any social group. It was as obvious as night and day.

Today it apparently is not so obvious and there’s only one reason: the prevalence of contraception. So I say to all of you who reject gay marriage and wonder how we got here yet embrace contraception: It’s time for you to look in the mirror.

TGD – Chapter 10

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Dawkins wraps up “The God Delusion” with a wide ranging chapter titled “A Much Needed Gap?” He starts off the chapter with a discussion of childhood imaginary friends and tying them to the belief in God. At first he goes with the paedomorphosis suggestion, that what children do that adults should not do but some don’t grow out of. There’s no need to even rebut this idea as it clearly comes from his biased position. Then he spends some toying with the opposite, that imaginary friends are the evolutionary left-overs of the instinct to believe in God, which assumably we no longer need. But you can tell Dawkins himself doesn’t much buy into this theory, at a minimum, it has the problem of suggesting it was valuable at some time.

The next section is titled “Consolation” and it’s Dawkins attempt to rebut the idea that even if God doesn’t exist, he’s worth believing in because he gives comfort to others. He addresses two aspects of it, both suggesting that just because something feels good, doesn’t mean we should endorse the idea irrelevant of its truth (I wholeheartedly agree with him on that) and that there’s little evidence that belief in God is of any comfort.

On that I entirely disagree as a former atheist. The thing the atheist has to come to terms with is that this life will be all there is. Dawkins touches on this idea, suggesting that it’s a thrilling challenge that makes life more enjoyable. There’s some truth to that, but there’s also the opposite, that mistakes are far more unforgivable. If you make a mistake that prematurely costs you your life, that’s it. So the atheist is left with the very difficult challenge of living life to its fullness but doing it in a way that is as mistake free as possible. It’s a very difficult balance. Should I go sky-diving and get the thrill of that or should I avoid it because it could prematurely end my life? I personally found it very uncomforting and am far more at peace since discovering God’s existence. Am I perfectly at peace? No. I still question things and worry and do all the things that my faith tell me I shouldn’t be concerned with. But I recognize that as part of my human nature and try to turn away from it. Overall, I’m still at far more peace than I used to be.

There’s not much notable in this section of the book outside of that, but there was an odd diversion to talking of purgatory that I feel obligated to rebut. The first point is the justification for purgatory. Dawkins rightly points out that the high level justification is that without it there would be no purpose in praying for the dead, as a soul would be either in eternal paradise or damnation from the moment of their death without a place in the middle. But then he dismisses it saying that all it shows is that prayer for the dead is meaningless. There’s a whole thread of building blocks that would need to be laid to justify the following statement, and I lack the time to lay all that out, but the key statement is that we’ve been given by God assurance that prayer for the dead is efficacious. Of course, Dawkins would reject that evidence, but the point is that within our boundaries, it makes perfect sense. What Dawkins is attempting to do is use this example to further disprove the worldview because it seems so ridiculous to him, but in fact, he’s using circular logic, since from within our worldview it makes complete logical sense.

He also spends a fair amount of time picking on the Church for “selling” indulgences, a topic of which there is much confusion and perversion of what happened in the past. The perspective of the Church is that by doing good, one can shorten the amount of purification that one needs in purgatory. It’s a pretty obvious concept. If we get our act in gear on earth, there will be less need to do so in purgatory. And if one thinks about it, generosity is one of the key tenants of Christianity. So telling someone that by giving of their wealth to a good cause they are reducing their time in purgatory is similarly uncontroversial once one thinks about it. What stepped over the line was the over specific nature of the indulgences given based on very specific sums of money. There’s no doubt that this cheapened what is fundamentally a sound idea and turned a spiritual truth into the “selling” of something that the Church has always taught can not be sold (and even did so at the time despite engaging in a practice that implicitly undermined the idea). But this is wholly different than what the Church is accused of in general and Dawkins plays right into that stereotypical misunderstanding.

Dawkings wraps up the chapter and the book with an oddly “spiritual” section titled “Inspiration”. His main point is that the world is an amazing place. He talked about the frequencies of light we can’t see being far more abundant than those we can. He talks about how the space between atoms is so huge that what seems solid is effectively empty space. He talks about the wonders of quantum mechanics. He talks about all of things things in a “wow, they’re all so amazing. It’s amazing how little we know and understand about the universe!” kinda way. It honestly had me scratching my head. All of these things are so complex and far beyond our comprehension yet he’s so absolutely confident that there’s no “god” lurking amongst these unknowns? He’s had so much confidence and so much clarity that science has all but shown that God doesn’t exist, but when he wraps things up, it’s an amazing world that we know so little about.

It left me thinking that Dawkins and his ilk are the close minded ones. They’ve decided what science has to say on the matter, heck, they’ve gone so far as to try to define science in such a way that basically excludes the possibility of a deity, but yet they freely admit how little they know. Sure there are other ways that many religious are close minded, but when I look at God, I’m left with the same sense of wonder and awe and the confidence that I know so little.

Finally, it all comes back to his early assertion that in his mind there can be no “NOMA” (Non-Overlapping Magisterium). I find everything he talks about as amazing in the universe just as amazing and wonderful as he does. I’m excited to see where the science takes us as we learn more and more about these things. His assumption that faith and science are incompatible is complete hogwash and he’s done nothing to prove otherwise in his book. So while Dawkins looks at the universe and is marveled by it, I too am similarly marveled by it. I too want to learn more about it. In addition I’m marveled by that which extends beyond the physical universe to the meta-physical and am similarly as marveled by it as I am by the physical universe and I’m eager to learn more and take the evidence where it leads me in both realms.

In the end, I don’t think I’m the close minded one.

TGD – Chapter 9

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

Chapter 9 is titled “Childhood, Abuse and the Escape From Religion”. It’s a chapter I’ve somewhat been looking forward to both because Dawkins has referenced it a number of times in previous chapters and because having 3 children myself, I’m keenly aware of the importance of bringing one’s children up well and very protective of my right, and I do believe it is one of the most fundamental rights that exists, to raise my children as I see fit.

Dawkins starts off the chapter with the story of Edgardo Mortara. As Dawkins tells it, and I have no knowledge of these events but considering Dawkins track record of distorting events regarding religious people I wouldn’t be the least surprised if there’s more to the story than Dawkins suggests, Edgardo was a Jewish boy who was taken from parents when he was 6 by the government of the papal states (what is now Italy). The reason he was taken, according to Dawkins, was that he had been secretly baptized at some earlier point in his life. As Dawkins rightly points out, baptism is the defining sacrament of Christianity, and according to him the reason he was taken was that so now as a Christian he could receive a proper Christian education.

The story alone wouldn’t be too troubling to anyone if it were truly an isolated case, but according to Dawkins this was both a common practice at the time and in his words, “the attitudes of mind that it betrays are lamentably current, even though the practical details are not.” Dawkins uses this slight of hand all the time and it’s worth pointing out again that slight. He doesn’t suggest what “attitudes” he’s speaking of… is it just religious attitudes? Or is there some large scale Christian desire to kidnap children and educate them in the faith? Dawkins doesn’t say and I think it’s entirely intentional. He wants to let the mind think the latter without saying it explicitly or having to defend an outlandish claim like that.

Similarly, he suggests it was quite common at the time, but then points to the international uproar over this specific event, things that are nearly mutually exclusive. As with the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, we don’t talk much about specific cases because the issue is one of the magnitude of it. The same would have been true here if it were so common as Dawkins suggests. In fact, later in the chapter, long after he’s made the emotional point he’s after, concedes that “it is surprising that cases like Edgardo Mortara’s were not more common than they were.”

In either case, the key point is that Dawkins would have a hard time suggesting that there’s any significant movement anywhere in the Christian world to kidnap children from people who are going to raise their children in some other faith (including atheism).

Dawkins finishes up the section with an odd aside, suggesting that the parents of Edgardo were just as stupid because they didn’t “[accept] the priests’ entreaties and agreed to be baptised themselves.” He suggests that “a splash of water and a dozen meaningless words” were all that stood between them and their child and they were foolish to not do it “with their fingers crossed”. Seriously? Could you IMAGINE the uproar Dawkins would have if he were expected to be baptized to get some benefit? There is NO WAY this man would submit to “a splash of water and a dozen meaningless words” and he would starkly describe why he wouldn’t do it as a matter of principle.

The next section is titled “Physical and Mental Abuse” and it is mostly about Dawkins suggesting that raising one’s child in a specific faith is worse than a priest sexually molesting children. I wish I were making this up, but to quote him specifically so there’s no confusion on the matter: “horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place.” He even defends the Catholic Church who is being attacked by a bunch of vigilantes whereas any sane person, even us Catholics, know we deserve 95% of the criticism we’re getting and it’s extremely important that we stop it (which, at least here in the US, we have (annual cases of abuse in 1975: approx. 800. 2009: 6)).

He spends the rest of the section sharing excerpts of letters of people who were traumatized by their religious upbringing, specifically about hell and associated nightmares. Of course there’s no mention of the fact that tons of children have nightmares about all sorts of things, from finding out meat comes from animals to that when Uncle Bob dies that’s the end of his existence and he will be no more. (I personally know of a few cases of people who came to faith because of near panic over that realization of the atheist viewpoint). It matters not if it can be terrifying to a child, what matters is whether it is true.

The next two sections are titled “In Defense of Children” and “An Educational Scandal” and are the closest Dawkins comes to saying what he would suggest as an alternative to the religious and parental freedom to raise our children in the faith of our choosing. He starts out by attacking freedom of speech in this regard. Quoting Dr. Nicholas Humphrey, Dawkins suggests “In short, children have the right not to have their minds addled by nonsense, and we as a society have a duty to protect them from it.” It’s at this point Dawkins attempts to address the obvious objection to any of this. Who determines what is nonsense? His lone defense is that this is about “how” to think not “what”. If you’ve been reading the rest of these reviews, you’ll know how ridiculous of a claim that is. I’m quite confident that Dawkins wouldn’t limit himself to just teaching kids how to think and his very strong opinions would be front and center if he were setting the world wide curriculum of schools.

But beyond thinking that public schools shouldn’t be able to teach any religious principles, something he focuses on an example of in Britain in the “Scandal” section, Dawkins doesn’t suggest what kind of policy he’s actually after. Even though he makes it clear that children should be free of religious education “especially the education a child receives at home”, there’s no mention of what exactly the policy should be. Should the state be able to kidnap (term chosen based on the Edgardo story from earlier in the chapter) children from religious families to be brought up by the state? He doesn’t say. Or perhaps jailing those parents in the better solution? Fines? One can’t have a law without a punishment and I think Dawkins refuses to address the matter because he knows how crazy any suggestion would sound.

Overall, I think that Dawkins completely misunderstands the nature of freedom. I believe he thinks of it in terms of betterment of society because it allows people to challenge outmoded ideas that were prevalent to date. Beyond that, I think he sees it as a detriment. To some extent he’s right. Freedom, whether it be to raise a child as you wish or in some entirely different respect, has it’s problems. Everything from having the freedom to yell “FIRE” in a crowded movie theater to the freedom to have specifically disingenuous television ads, has certain negative affects on society. At the same time, a lack of freedom has tremendous downsides as well. It is the reality of these downsides, how quickly what seems like reasonable limitations on what one can say, do or think, can transform into a highly restrictive dictatorship, that has made western society so resistant to any significant restrictions, particularly on freedom of speech.

One need only look at Soviet Russia to see how this happens. What started as a way to free them from the supposedly repressive religious state quickly turned into a state where religion was effectively outlawed. And the way they did it was eerily similar to what Dawkins seems to be suggesting: compulsory state education free (really antagonistic to) of religion and making it illegal to share the faith with children until they’ve reached the age of reason. The result was that they became a totalitarian state that controlled far more than just religion, but matters across the board.

Are there people who abuse the freedom to raise their children in their ridiculous beliefs? Yes, there are, and Dawkins points to a few of them. However the cure to that disease is far worse than the illness. This is something that is a lesson the whole world has learned over the last 1000 years, even the Catholic Church who’s supposedly been the stick in the mud on the subject, but apparently something that Dawkins is at least somewhat oblivious to.

Dawkins wraps up the chapter with a section titled “Consciousness-raising Again” where he repeats his oft-stated mantra that kids should not be called “religious” but “children of religious” and then a section on his lone concession, that biblical literacy should be taught because of how important it is to understanding literature in the final section titled “Religious Education As A Part of Literary Culture”.

Overall, the chapter is a disappointment both because Dawkins effectively refuses to state what his solution to the “problem” is and that he’s mostly ranting against the most extreme example and not taking a more nuanced view of the realities of the situation.

More thought on Utilitarian Bioethics

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Below in my post titled What the “Utilitarians” offer, commenter Shane reasonably rebukes me for speaking too broadly, implying that all atheists agree with Peter Singer and his ilk. Shane was absolutely right that I didn’t properly caveat my statements so it was stated far to broadly. For that, I apologize. From what I’ve seen significant portions of atheists and the vast majority of agnostics do not hold the extreme views of the utilitarian bioethicists like Peter Singer and I apologize for sounding as if I believed that.

However, there is a relationship between atheism and the utilitarian bioethicists that I feel compelled to elaborate on. You will not find religious people advocating for the hyper-darwinian, suffering paranoid ethical positions that people like Singer advance. At the same time, the arguments that Singer and company use are the same arguments that atheists, particularly scientifically oriented ones in general use. While Singer may take them to much further logical extremes than the average atheist, the fact that they’re grounded in the same principles should scare just about everyone, including the atheist who isn’t willing to advance what Singer is.

To be absolutely clear about Singer, while there was a small amount of caricature of Singer in my post (something Shane pointed out as well), I wouldn’t consider it over the top. Who would be willing to deny the following?:

  • Singer advances that elderly and disabled have a moral obligation to kill themselves when they become a burden.
  • Singer thinks both physically and mentally disabled fetuses should be aborted and parents who don’t are doing an injustice to society.
  • Singer thinks infanticide can be justified when pre-natal disabilities are not discovered before birth and the infant can be killed at that point just as they could be aborted before hand.
  • Going further with infants, Singer doesn’t think infants have the rights of “personhood” any more than a cow does.
  • Singer thinks physically and mentally disabled people, even those who are not terminally ill, should have the right to kill themselves.
  • Whether he would encourage them to kill themselves is perhaps stretching it, but Singer dances awful close to that line, crossing it for sure when they become a burden.

These are Singer’s repeatedly stated positions. In the article linked in the post below, he added to it the idea that there’s nothing wrong with the purposeful extinction of the human race through non-reproduction. Just like with encouraging disabled people to kill themselves, while he won’t explicitly state that he things this is a good idea, he dances enough on line without crossing it to know where he’s coming from.

OK, so Singer may be an extreme example, and I concede that many atheists won’t endorse Singer’s extreme positions, but it’s both more common that many would be willing to admit amongst atheists and, and this is the more important point, the philosophical underpinnings are the usually the same.

I purposely chose the cow in my bullet point about infant “personhood” because it’s the animal Dawkins reference to the ethical nature of abortion based on the comparison of the nervous system of a cow and a fetus in TGD. So while Dawkins may not be for infanticide, the reality is that Singer is using the same concepts, the equivalency of animals to our fetuses or our disabled people, to determine whether those human beings have “personhood”, to argue for infanticide.

The underlying concept at play in all of this is human exceptionalism. Human exceptionalism is the idea that a human race is a unique and special species that is set apart from all other species. Only our species is a moral species. This gives every human being special worth, worth beyond that of any other animal.

The alternative is to believe that we are not unique, that being human does not give us particular rights. Instead our worth is determined by our capabilities, both physical and mental. “Personhood” becomes the threshold. “Personhood” is the utilitarian bioethicist’s word to replace “human rights” because they deny that merely being human gives one particular rights. While different groups put the “personhood line” at very different places, some including all sorts of animals as having “personhood” and others thinking only certain humans have “personhood”, they universally believe that certain humans do NOT have “personhood”, even though it may be an extremely small group of humans who miss the cut.

It’s not technically necessary to be religious to believe in human exceptionalism (one could just be observant and see how different we all from all other animals and embrace the idea). At the same time, it IS necessary for religious people, particularly those from western religions, to by definition believe that humanity is special, created by God in a special way and with special worth. Simply stated, just about all religious people believe in human exceptionalism.

Where then does that leave us? Religious, by the very nature of their beliefs will never endorse what Singer does. Atheists, may not be willing to either, but their atheism leaves them open to the possibility. I think it’s important for the average atheist to concede that while they won’t go to the same extremes that Singer does, these utilitarian bioethicists are only able to advance what they do because they deny the existence of God and the exceptional nature of the human race, something that the vast majority of atheists agree on despite being unwilling to take the implications of that statement to its logical extreme.

This is what I was pointing to in my previous post and I believe it to be defensible. Thoughts or rebuttals?

TGD back in my possession

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Update on TGD: I’ve gotten the book back from the library and hope to finish it up this weekend, although it might bleed into next week.

Example of Christian Fundamentalism Gone Wrong

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Dawkins spends a fair amount of time showing examples of religious people who are complete idiots and then tries to extend that generalization to all who believe. I’ve repeatedly shown how his generalizations aren’t accurate. Which brings me to an article I read today that further illustrates the point I’ve been trying to make:

New *Bible* Evidence Obama Is the Antichrist! by Jimmy Akin

The title of the article is a bit confusing, as the article is about refuting a YouTube video that claims that the name of the anti-Christ is “Baw-Rawk ‘U’ Bam-Maw” based on some patched together scripture passages. I encourage you to at a minimum watch the video and if you have time read the article.

The author, Jimmy Akin, is one of those guys who’s too thorough for his own good, often making for very drawn out articles. When I watched the video my response was “All this guy has shown is that there’s a few words in the bible that if you throw them together they sound like Barack Obama.”

But the overall point is this: Mr. Akin is Catholic and very fervently so. I’m similarly Catholic. I’m sure there are plenty of other religious of Jewish, Protestant and Orthodox faith who would similarly watch this video and come away with the “what an idiot” response. And while Dawkins didn’t use this particular example in his book, nor do I know of him ever sighting this video, my instincts tell me that he’d at a minimum stow it away in his own mind as further proof of the ridiculousness of religion.

And he’s wrong. Just because some people misuse religion for their own purposes (in this case in a ridiculous attempt to make President Obama look like the anti-Christ or the devil) doesn’t mean we all will. Some of us take scripture seriously and on the appropriate terms. We don’t manipulate it for our own purposes nor overstate (or understate for that matter) what certain passages imply or mean. We take it seriously enough that when someone like this idiot makes a video abusing scripture, we find it worth our time to rebut him and set the record straight.

Hopefully this is just yet another example of how anecdotal stories don’t prove what Dawkins thinks they prove.