Empty Argument

I know letters pages are traditionally fertile grounds for finding crazy opinions and attitudes but its not that often you get in on the Guardian (especially when compared with the Mail or even BBC Online). Today however we see a familiar empty argument trotted out by someone who apparently has taken offence that Atheists have dared to try and teach children – when everyone knows only the Church are allowed to brainwash.

Patrick Smith, from Essex, writes:

It is great that young people are being taught to think (Summer camp offers ‘godless’ alternative for atheists, 30 July). Alas, it seems Camp Quest will be assuming science is the only way to find truth, a view not shared by most of humanity. Experience of love, music, art and (yes) religion are just as important. Atheists can brainwash as shamelessly as any cult!

Now, correct me if I am wrong but this seems completely flawed. Mr Smith is missing the point by such a large amount it seems he must be talking about something else. I have no personal experience of the atheist camp, so I am (like Mr Smith, I suspect) forced to use the article referenced for background reading.

It seems the children are being taught to think:

The idea behind the camp is to give a “godless” alternative to traditional religious summer camps. In the morning the participants discuss philosophical ideas and learn about subjects such as astronomy.

But nothing there makes me think that it assumes “science is the only way to find a truth.” (I am a bit confused as to otherways to find a “truth” though). Children, 12 years old, discussing philosophy fills my heart with joy and renews some of my faith in human nature. (all irony is intentional). But it continues:

Then in the afternoons they take part in more traditional camp activities. They swim, they run, they climb, they row. In the evening – if the rain relents – they sit round the campfire and toast marshmallows.

Ok – this strikes me as all wholesome, childrens activities. It also carries the implication that they are still active in the evenings. Unless we assume they sit silently around the campfire then they are likely to be listening to music, talking about artistic subjects or learning how to interact with others.

This sort of leaves me confused what Mr Smith is objecting to – unless he feels, like lots of Christians seem to do, that without god being invoked at every sentence then the lessons are meaningless and unimportant. The unintentional irony in that viewpoint is there is a religion where god is mentioned in almost every sentence, and Christians seem to hate it.

For those with strong irony meters and in need of some laughs at the unintentional idiocy that “people with faith” can demonstrate, the comments on the Guardian article about the camp are very funny.

By toutatis!

Enticing as this BBC story is – Pagan Police Get Solstice Leave, as so often, the content doesn’t live up to the hype.

Pagan police officers in some areas are being allowed to take as many as eight days leave a year for events such as the summer solstice and Halloween.
It comes after the Pagan Police Association was set up following discussions with Home Office officials.

Just in case you are a police officer reading this and you think can see hitherto-unsuspected benefits resulting from a quick faith change – of the kind that so many people undergo when their children reach school age – there aren’t actually any extra holiday opportunities for pagan police.

You would only get to swap your standard bank holidays for pagan bank holidays.

Which is a pity, because I was wondering if the “extra leave” principle might transfer to other jobs and other belief systems. Or at least, there’s a chance that non-believers could slip in under the pagan wire, given that a dictionary meaning of pagan is probably “non-christian”. I was wondering if even my employers could be persuaded to look sympathetically on my need to stay off work on Darwin days and Russell’s Birthday celebrations.

However, although you don’t get any more holidays, don’t despair yet, pagan police officers, just move to Hertfordshire. The BBC says that it has appointed two – note that, not just one, but two – pagan police chaplains. How unutterably cool is that?

A miracle for E-Bay

A piece of toast has miraculously appeared on a wikipedia image of Jesus.

miraculous appearnce of toast

miraculous appearnce of toast

Let there be no light

I am overawed by the predictive power of Leviticus, if I’m right in thinking that that’s the book that set the rules for orthodox jews.

As far as I can make out, from this BBC story, (Light sensors cause religious row) orthodox jews aren’t allowed to see by electric light on holy days.

A couple have taken legal action after claiming motion sensors installed at their holiday flat in Dorset breached their rights as Orthodox Jews.
Gordon and Dena Coleman said they cannot leave or enter their Bournemouth flat on the Sabbath because the hallway sensors automatically switch on lights.
The couple’s religious code bans lights and other electrical equipment being switched on during Jewish holidays.

I can’t understand the problem, here. If the hallway sensors detect that it’s dark – the outside world will have street lighting, surely.

So the litigious couple can’t go in the street anyway, as far as I can see. Because then they would be in non-kosher electric light anyway….

Unless street-lighting doesn’t count because those lights are already on when the couple leave their home. In which case, I suggest that they trick the sensors and just switch the lights on permanently in advance of any jewish holiday… Lateral thinking, hey?.

Did Leviticus ban all electric light? Or just proscribe electric light switches and motion sensors but say some lights were acceptably kosher?

As I said at the beginning – this rulebook seems so amazingly farsighted. There must have been real prophets at work, if they foresaw electric lighting a few thousand years ago. Is there anything in there about when we get the jetpacks?

Religious Ironies

Excommunication doesn’t seem much of a sanction to non-believers, granted, but it’s a bit rough for Catholics. It seems you can do just about anything and still remain a Catholic, from holocaust denial (you can apparently even be a bishop, in that case) to taking part in mass murder in Rwanda.

However, what you can’t do and remain incommunicated is arrange an abortion for a Brazilian nine-year-old who was pregnant with twins, after being raped by her stepfather.

In fact, having sane social views can also get you suspended as a priest in Brazil, if not completely excommunicated.

It appears that Father Couto landed in trouble with the Church authorities because of an interview that he gave to a local newspaper defending the use of condoms as a matter of public health. (from the BBC)

Unlike the more senior Brazilian Catholic church hierarchy…

…. He has received threats to his life in the past for his opposition to death squads that operate in the north east of Brazil.

So, it appears that being genuinely “pro-life” – in any sense of the word that doesn’t mean “supporting breeding, whatever the human cost” – can get you into trouble in the Catholic Church.

But death squads, AIDS deaths and raped children are just part of god’s unquestionable plan.

The second set of ironies come from yet another church shooting in the US.

A week ago, the Guardian’s Saturday magazine had an seemingly-interminable parade of born-again American christians talking about their firepower. (That “Turn the other cheek” stuff really must be too fragile to survive the rebirthing process.) The piece was clearly just there to make us English people feel smug.

I remembered an old post that I did here about Wingnut daily and its claim that going armed into church would just make worshippers safer.

This referred to a book called “Shooting Back” published by Worldnet Daily itself, the message of which seems to revolve around always having a revolver. Even – or indeed, especially – in church.

What would you do if armed terrorists broke into your church and starting attacking your friends with automatic weapons in the middle of a worship service?

Well. oddly, this seems to be a not-unheard of occurence, now. But, surprise, surprise, they aren’t organised “armed terrorists” but good old traditional yankee “lone gunman” figures. The very people who are claiming that it’s their inalienable human right to bear arms, no less.

It’s been a while since I underwent the reading-wingnut-daily experience. Scanning its ugly intro page, I spotted a link to a piece of nonsense in our old friend, the English Daily Mail.

Which was unsurprising, given that as soon as I looked at the worldnet daily site content, I saw the extreme wing of the Daily Mail’, with its trademark mix of political scare stories and crackpot health stories.

OK, worldnet daily doesn’t have the Mail’s prurient celeb stories with its daily fake concern about starlet x’s love life or singer y’s bulimia problems. But then, the Mail doesn’t have the insane nonsense about Obama’s being a secret muslim or not being a really American. So, on balance, I think this is – for once – a win for the Daily Mail and its acres of celebri-toss. If it didn’t have that, it could easily tip over into worldnettery and then the UK would be in serious trouble.

FSTDT Lives

I’ve been away for a while, so it was with shock, horror and sadness I realised that FSTDT had died, but it was joy when I realised it had been resurrected.

The posts can now be found at FSTDT.net, although it is still very rough and ready. As you can see, the look and feel has remained, but the new system means there are a lot less quotes getting through. IMHO this is both good and bad, in the past some pretty un-fundie quotes were being approved, but at least you were getting a lot of comedy. Now it seems like there is only going to be a quote or two each day. With the restrictions placed on moderation, there is also a good chance that only quotes from known-regular-fundies will make it though – everyone else is scared of approving non-fundie, non-funny stuff. Hopefully none of this will transpire and my pathetic attempts at prediction will remain pathetic.

A few other things I don’t like about the changes are – the lack of any ability to edit your own posts; the difficulty in getting back to the post index/archives after you have viewed a comment and the lack of apparent monthly threading. It is possible that Distind is going to address these points, so time will tell.

For now, however, it remains a fantastic source of idiocy and witty comments. It also remains pretty much the only source of online comedy images I have:

Skepticism

(hat tip: FSTDT Refugee Forum)

Christian variant of classic scam?

Some “get rich quick” internet scams have the decency to target people who are gullible and greedy, as well as having more money than brain cells. (Oh, maybe I’m thinking of hedge funds, rather than email cons, here.)

Apathy Sketchpad has a few posts showing how to deal with some classic Nigerian scams.

There’s a more distasteful type of con that preys upon the mark’s charitable impulses and/or their religious beliefs, rather than their greed.

I found Sam Gipp’s “A Friend to Churches Ministries” site by following a link from fstdt. I was sniggering at posts like this, while thinking how glad I am there’s a whole ocean between me and the ground such people walk on:

Welcome to the U.S.S.A.
Since the “November Revolution” when the Communist Party took over our government and began its conversion to “GODvernment” the old United States of America is gone, replaced by a new entity: the United Socialist States of America. Here are some of the differences between these two countries.

Then I spotted this tale on the about page:

You all know that, in all the years I’ve written these letters I have never asked anyone to send us money…Don’t worry!…I’m not going to start now. But there is an Urgent Need that I am going to tell you about & ask you to help.

Well, I know you aren’t going to do anything so vulgar as to ask for money, Sam. It’s not as if I don’t trust you implicitly.

Carl & Leta Miller have been missionaries to Scotland for 23 years. They have been faithful through extremely difficult times. Their daughter, Libby, has had severe health problems. Carl has had surgery on the retinas in both eyes, needs to have his knees replaced, also his hips and has fought off cancer in his bladder. He cannot walk without leaning on his wife, Leta. Unfortunately, Leta is not much better. She has a severe back problem and uses two canes to walk. The great, government health care program won’t even look at her for surgery until they deem it, “Life threatening.” It takes 18 months just to get a pain shot. (Just wait until we have that here!)

Missionaries to Scotland? Hmm. It’s not as if Scotland isn’t already bursting with various Christian sects. This already stretches credulity.

But the next bit blows any residual credulity right out of the water.

It takes 18 months to get a pain shot.” Eighteen months! Are you insane? Well, OK, the Scots are stereotypically seen as tough, after all. Who knows what is normal in those strange Northern regions?… (Just, never try to take their Freedom.)

Based on an ultra-conservative perspective, he is insulting what he sarcastically calls our “great, government health care program” as if it provides a service that would compare unfavourably with what you’d expect to find in a Somalian war zone.

But, in fact, judging by the long list of health problems suffered by his doughty missionaries, they’ve already benefited from plenty of nationalised health care, including a series of surgeries that would have bankrupted the average American family. What are these people? Health tourists?

We talked to my doctor. He said he would look at her. Get this! The Millers have put every penny into their mission work and couldn’t even afford the plane ticket for Leta to come here for tests. Kathy & I bought her the ticket and paid for the tests. My doctor says he can help here. He said without the surgery she is headed for a wheelchair. Leta is now back in Scotland. The Millers are coming to Louisville in January. A brother has provided airline tickets, a lady at Shawnee Baptist Church is giving them a place to stay and another church is renting them a car. Here’s their problem; they have no health insurance at all. The hospital costs are going to be around $200,000-$250,000.

But, wait. Hooray! He can get these costs discounted! As long as they get the money REALLY REALLY fast.

But! My wonderful wife has talked to the folks at the hospital. They said they will reduce the cost by 60%! They also said, if the bill is paid within 30 days after surgery they will drop it another 20%.

Don’t you just love the idea that a hospital could so drastically reduce a bill of a quarter of a million dollars for a quick sale?

Word For The World Baptist Missions has started a “Leta Miller Medical Fund.” We have given and several churches have also helped. They need around $50,000. Around $15,000 has already come in. Will you help? If they can raise the $50,000 by surgery time, January 26, 2009, they can pay the surgery off and save thousands of dollars.

Wow, how economical is that. Praise the Lord!

But, stop right there, Sam Gyp Gipp. Let me save your donors a few more Yankee dollars. Guess what? We also have private medical care in the UK. Your $15k could buy the unlucky Leta as much UK health care as she can handle. Yes, even in heathen Scotland.