A Lapsed-Catholic reply to the Catholic Reply to “How To Suck At Your Religion”

First, some background.

Web comic “The Oatmeal” published a very funny web-comic, called “How To Suck At Your Religion“, taking aim at some of the more bullshit qualities of modern religions.

Of course, a bunch of Catholics were hyper-offended by this examination of religions in general (not just their religious beliefs, but it must’ve struck a nerve for them or something). They posted a multi-point rebuttal to the comic, “A Catholic Reply to ‘How To Suck At Your Religion'”, attempting to show how “wrong” the comic is.

So, now, with that out of the way, let’s do a point-by-point rebuttal to their rebuttal. 🙂

1.) This article makes a very auspicious claim: “the Church has never declared anyone in Hell”, which is a very tricky bit of writing. Who is “in Hell”? Of course, they’ve never said “Adolf Hitler is in Hell”, because obviously, how would they know?

But that’s not what the Oatmeal comic says. The rebuttal authors have constructed an excellent strawman argument and then knocked it down.  What the Oatmeal comic describes is telling people “they will go to hell”, and that’s something Catholicism has a long history of doing, even in the modern era.

For instance, the Catholic Church is very clear on the fact people DO go to hell, they’re just not in the business of picking specific individuals who have. In fact, the Church, shortly after their leader tried to explain that deeds-not-words was what Jehovah cared about, completely torpedoed that assertion, and reaffirmed that even “good” unbelievers go to hell.

2.) Their protestations to the contrary, the web comic gets the Galileo narrative exactly right. Unfortunately, their entire rebuttal is in a dead link, so, y’know, “loss by default”? Nah, we’ll go to the version of the page at Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

In that document, the Church’s whole argument seems to come down to “Well, we wouldn’t have sent the Inquisition after him, if he’d just spoken to us more nicely,” because y’know, that’s a completely valid justification for massive overreaction, right? Since you weren’t nice to us and consider our feelings, we’re going to send the fucking Inquisitors after you.

Galileo may well have been a colossal dick. But that doesn’t change that the church persecuted him for trying to spread scientific fact.

The article tries to inject some disagreement about whether or not the Church tried to stop him from teaching heliocentrism. ProTip: the only people for whom this is still “in doubt” are Catholic apologists.  Certainly the Church hated him enough to condemn him for heresy, an error that stood for centuries until only recently. That certainly lends a substantial amount of credence to the persecution claims, an amount of credence which Catholicism’s claims to the contrary do nothing to overcome.

3.) I’m tempted to simply invoke Godwin’s law on this point, since they try to make comparisons to the Nazis, but I’ll hold that in reserve for the moment.

This is the argument of this blog posting where the authors come closest to making a coherent argument.  It’s true, as a matter of scientific fact, that a human life-form is created at conception (technically, shortly thereafter, but for the purposes of this discussion topic, they can be assumed to be human life).

However, the Christian argument that this is “mass murder” falls flat for a number of reasons:

1.) Legally, it’s not. While it’s a murky gray area where they actually reach “personhood” and have legal rights, it’s certainly not the case at the stage where Embryonic Stem Cells (ESCs) can be harvested.

2.) Logically, it fails. ESCs are generally harvested from embryos which are never going to be brought to term, as a result of in vitro fertilization (IVF). Without them being artificially protected from death (by being frozen), they would simply die in a test-tube somewhere. It’s not murder, in most people’s eyes, to find a silver lining when a person is going to die anyway. Think of ESC harvesting in much the same way as organ donors — the embryos weren’t created specifically for stem-cell harvesting, they were created for IVF. The embryos in question aren’t being killed specifically for the purpose of harvesting, they were going to die anyway. Those are the two places where the morality argument can come into play – if they were created for this purpose, or they’re being selected for death for this purpose, and neither is the case. So now, since they’re going to die anyway, if their dying can help stop pain and suffering for others, this is considered a societal win, and would be acceptable even if the stem cells were considered to have legal personhood.

4.) Religion is fine, and you’re more than welcome to tell your kids “this is what your mother and I believe”, and answer their questions, but make available to them the full spectrum of beliefs, and let them decide for themselves what makes the most sense to THEM.

Children are incredibly inquisitive. Let them read the Bible, the Qur’an, the teachings of Buddha, the writings of Dawkins. Answer their questions about the beliefs you’re legitimately knowledgeable in. Refer them to others to answer questions on the other belief systems where you’re not a legitimate authority of knowledge.

If your flavor of mysticism is truly superior, parents should have absolutely no problem allowing their child to explore in this fashion, confident that they will follow their parents’ lead.

5.) The comic doesn’t say that “good parenting is to pretend to be agnostic”. Again, a wonderful misinterpretation of the comic. The comic says to expose your child to a multitude of ideas, and let them consider them and make up their own mind, instead of doing — what so many believers do — of insisting that the child go through the steps of becoming indoctrinated into their own religion.

I remember trying to convince my own parents that I was an atheist, and still being forced — forced — to go to Sunday School and Church. My fondest memory is the Sunday after I was confirmed, when I was able to look my parents in the eye and say “in the eyes of this religion, I am an adult who can make my own decisions, and my decision is — I reject them fully.”

Shoving your religion down children’s throats doesn’t make them faithful, it makes them ignorant. Having limited exposure to other beliefs, they will go through their formative years having none of their religious beliefs challenged, compared to other childrens’ beliefs from different parts of the world. Think of it like the Montessori school of teaching, as applied to religion.

6.) I’m not sure the point they’re trying to make here. “Well, other things cause sexual hang-ups too, so it’s not a problem if we dog-pile onto that list”?

7.) Nobody is saying you can’t try and convince people that your belief system is right. But you don’t have a right to intrude upon their personal time and space, by coming onto their property to tell them how wrong they are and how right you are. Religions that simply try to “convert” are cults. Plain and simple. Religions which accept all seekers of “truth”, who come to them seeking purpose, or comfort, or whatever, are perfectly acceptable. This is the point the comic is making by comparisons to, say, Judaism, where the teaching of their religion isn’t “go tell people how wrong they are”, but instead “welcome anyone who comes seeking enlightenment”.

As to the rebuttal’s argument about it being better if you “make it hard to join”, I think of the scene in Fight Club, where Bob (Meat Loaf) is forced to stand outside on the stoop for a few days straight, to show how exactly much he wants to join up.It’s not about exclusivity, but about showing commitment to the belief system.

Many religions which don’t measure their success on conversion rates, do typically have stages where the seeker has to demonstrate to some extent a strong desire to join the ranks of the faithful, whether by consistently showing that they have a moral/ethical code consistent with the religion’s teachings, or any number of other things.

8.) Perhaps the author of this rebuttal is wonderful at being civil. But the vast majority of his brethren come across as mouth-breathing assholes who will insist that you’re wrong/insane if you believe some crazy-ass mythology that isn’t in their holy book, and yet their holy book is full of some crazy-ass mythology.

9.) Plenty of people vote completely based on religious beliefs. I’ve known people who would vote for candidates who are going to completely screw them over, simply they believe in the same mythology with the same level of orthodoxy. There’s plenty of places in America where people will vote for a candidate specifically because “he wants to put prayer back in our schools”, or whatever. The author of that post may never have encountered these folks, but in the flyover-states, those voters are like flies on shit.

10.) Don’t kid yourself, true believer. It’s more like both Christians and Muslims are on this “crazy scale”. And there’s elements of radical Islam that are way further into the realm of crazy than Christians are. But make no mistake, just because you’re not as far out there that you’ll launch a worldwide holy war over something (well, not *anymore*, right? I mean you used to be) as inane as a cartoon doesn’t mean you’re not still crazy enough to kill people because they have different views than you do.

11.) If you’re hurting someone in the name of your chosen mythology, you’re wrong, even if it doesn’t rise to the level of “killed them”.

12.) I’m not sure the author understands the word “placebo”. Your chosen religion can be as real to you as you like. So long as you don’t harm anyone else, try to force them to live by your beliefs, then go nuts, folks.

Treating religion as “true” is disingenuous. Modern religion is just the latest instantiation in a long history of man-made mythologies. Take a cocktail of “stuff humans are afraid of”, sprinkle in “stuff humans haven’t worked out through science yet”, and throw in “smart people who know how to use their oratory and writing skills to convince other people to give them power”, and you’ve described nearly every religion in the history of mankind, including Christianity (in fact, Christianity might very well be the textbook example of this phenomenon).

So while “true believers” might get offended by the Oatmeal’s lambasting of their flaws, and get their warm-n-fuzzy back by reading off a point by point rebuttal from one of their own faithful, that rebuttal really only exemplifies the lengths of twisting of reality that some religious leadership will go to, in order to protect their control over others.

Blog Version 3.0

With my departure from the land of Facebook, I decided to spend some time on a Sunday morning and re-vamp the blog a little bit, since it’ll probably be the new place for my sharing of thoughts. I got neck-deep in it pretty fast, and it became clear it was now a “whole new thing” as it were.

I don’t yet know what all will end up here, but I wanted to make it someplace I felt interested in again as opposed to a snapshot of what a web page looked like in 2011 or so when I moved this to WordPress.


Quitting Facebook

I deactivated my Facebook account last night.

This story on Slate does a pretty good job of summing up what I would call “the straw that broke the camel’s back” for me. Chuq von Rospach also summarizes things pretty well, also.

I guess this means I might start using this thing more often again. After all, I’m still going to have the occasional thing I want to “say”, but Google+ as a forum is a wasteland.

I don’t harbor any belief that my act of defiance will change the world or anything. I just know that I can’t sit by and be a rat in their lab.

Is Alan Chartock really T. Herman Zweibel in disguise?

I’ve always gotten a kick out of Alan Chartock, the president/CEO of our local NPR station based out of Albany. I don’t always agree with him (in fact, almost never) but he’s got a way of expressing himself that I find intriguing and intelligent, which is so often missing on both sides of modern debates.

That said, though, I saw this recent picture of him getting a surprise birthday cake:

and all I could think to myself was how much he looked, in that shot, like the fictional “Father of American Journalism”, T. Herman Zweibel, descendant of the founder of The Onion:

Alan, is there something you’d like to tell us about your relationship to the founder of The Onion?

Soviet-Era Nuclear Target Map

Years ago, I was helping a friend do some wiring work at an office in CT, and one of the decorations they had in their office was this vintage map of the US that was labeled like “Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Soviet Nuclear Bomb Targets” (or something like that). My memory of it was that it looked quite official, probably something FEMA had printed up for emergency response personnel or something during the 60s.
However, I’ve never been able to actually find one for myself (and the company in question is long since gone, I’m sure, so going down that path seems like a waste of time). My google-fu on this topic just seems to be completely failing me.
Anyone ever seen something like this? I’d love to get one for my office…

Sears Tower To Be Renamed (No Really!)

So apparently “Willis Insurance” (who I have never heard of before) is moving into the Sears Tower, has acquired naming rights, and expects everyone henceforth to call it “Willis Tower” (story).
Yeah, ummm, good luck with that, chumps. Hope you didn’t pay too much for the naming rights, cuz I really don’t see too many Chicagoans actually changing how they refer to it….

Last Night’s Concert

I’m glad I saw the Police back in 2007, so that I wouldn’t have to choose “which was my favorite concert of the year” between that show and last night’s Metallica gig at Nassau Coliseum.
Holy. Fucking. Crap.
It was a setlist designed to appease… to make amends with veteran fans from way-back-when who were as much in denial about the existence of Load and Reload as Highlander fans are in denial about Highlander 2. In their two hour setlist, not a single song featured on the “Load”s appeared, nor did anything from their album after that, St. Anger.
All the setlist had in it was what could best be called “classic” Metallica tracks, from the black album prior, as well as “new classics”, songs from their recent release, Death Magnetic, which was a clear return to their roots.
I’ve seen plenty of Metallica shows in my day. When they toured in support of the black album, I must’ve seen them a dozen or more times. There was a point in time where Little George and I could’ve talked ourselves through the inter-song banter, “insert-city-name-here”ing ourselves through two hours of great tunes.
Last night’s show? Quite possibly the best show I’ve ever been at. The setlist was filled with tons of rarely heard classics: Phantom Lord — only the second time since 2003 that song has come out of the vault)… The Thing That Should Not Be — holy crap what a rush when they started into that….
I ended the concert completely dehydrated (major props, by the way, to the Marriott front-desk woman, who when I asked her to break a $20 so I could find a vending machine and buy some bottled water, just went into the back and got me, Big George, and Mark three bottles for free even though she knew I wasn’t a guest… great service!)… my neck still hurts, and there’s still a little bit of hoarseness in my throat from singing and shouting all night long.
The boys are definitely back. Felt like old times. Almost enough to make me forget the decade of crushing pain in between “then” and “now” …. 🙂

How To Cook Statistics To Meet An Agenda

On Facebook, a friend of mine linked to this article, which claims that low-price airfares are damaging the environment because aircraft emissions are SOOOO much worse than other types, etc., etc.
Here are some of its claims:

Air travel produces 19 times the greenhouse gas emissions of trains

“produces” how? In terms of “ppm per hour”? per passenger? per passenger-hour? total?
Remember that a train by and large takes far longer to get from A to B than a train does. So while it may produce “more pollution per hour”, an airplane trip from NY to LA only takes 6.5 hours, where a similar train trip takes 62 hours. Is it worth generating only 2x the emissions to get there 10x faster? I’d like to think “probably”.

One return flight to Florida produces the equivalent CO2 of a year’s average motoring

An average motorist drives 15k miles per year on their car, give or take. A round-trip flight (which in “Brit-speak” is a “return flight”) is approximately 8k miles (4k each way). A British Airways 747, in its most “packed” variation, holds 295 passengers. So if the statistic that you get 2,360,000 flight-miles for the same emissions as driving a car-load (4 passengers) of people a total of 60,000 passenger-miles, then I’m perfectly A-OK with that.
Of course MY interpretation of the statistic provided doesn’t provide nearly the gloom and doom value of their interpretation, now does it?
Who knows which of us is right? I don’t. They didn’t cite their source for the statistics so there’s no way to go back and look to see what the statistics WERE (as opposed to how they were interpreted for easy consumption). My experience tends towards “oh, they didn’t cite their source? Then it probably says what they say it does, but not what they say it means.”

Death Magnetic

Holy cow. Old Metallica is back!
After the ultra-disappointments of Load and Reload, and a promising but ultimately still not-that-great St. Anger… I was braced for the worst with their latest release Death Magnetic. After all, we’d heard it many times before – that they were going back to basics, revisiting their roots, all the euphemisms bands use when they want to say, “Ummmm, we strayed too far and started to lose our core fanbase. Shit!”
From the long forlorn intro to That Was Just Your Life, you wonder what you’re in for, but then it proceeds to just attempt to kick your ass over… and over… and over again.
There’s a couple questionable decisions (Unforgiven III?? Seriously, you need to go back and tap that well again!??… I mean, it wasn’t your greatest success to start with, let it go… At least you didn’t milk the same riff the entire song this time like Unforgiven II) but overall the disc marks a honest to goodness return to what made Metallica popular in the late 80s and early 90s, and not a moment too soon.
It’s no secret that at times in my past I’ve been one of Metallica’s biggest fans, and later that turned to being one of their staunchest critics. This album reminds me a lot of the Metallica tapes I wore out over and over again in my old Dodge Shadow, with George and I road-tripping to Metallica shows all over the northeast, and while I don’t foresee D and I jumping in a car and driving to Boston “just because”, I’m definitely looking forward to the January show I’ve got tickets to…
… just so long as they play as little as possible from the Loads. 🙂
UPDATE: Oh, and I forgot one other thing…. props to the return of the kick-ass instrumental. How long’s it been since they put one of those on? Oh, right… friggin … And Justice For All, that’s how long…. 20 years.