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.

Twitter Boot Camp?!!

Yes, that’s right, kids, if “how to type meaningless crap in under 140 characters” is something you’re having trouble figuring out, O’Reilly is running a Twitter Boot Camp. For the low-low price of $399, you too can be “trained” on things that are essentially covered in the help pages of what has to be the simplest and yet most inane product ever devised on the web (and let’s be honest, that’s saying a LOT).
What’s more, there’s the option of UPGRADING to the boot camp plus a “talk twitter dinner” with Tim O’Reilly, for $1500. Now, meaning no disrespect to Tim, because he’s a fine human being and he keeps robo-signing my quarterly royalty checks, but …. SERIOUSLY!?! $1100 extra to “talk about Twitter” with Tim over dinner? For fucks sake, that dinner better be cooked personally by Mario Batali at that price, and include full-GFE with someone cute, because that’s just insane.
You can go to the O’Reilly Open Source conference (or, frankly, almost any conference O’Reilly runs) and sit down at the same table as Tim at lunch and eat a meal with him, and I’m sure he’d happily discuss Twitter, or Perl, or web 2.0, or whatever other topic you brought up, because that’s the kind of guy he is. He loves to chat about tech issues. There’s nobody so hard up to talk to Tim that they need to pay $1100 to do it, when Tim does it for free all the time. 🙂
It truly is a world gone mad, I tell you…..

BBC Blocking Basic Web Content For Overseas Visitors

I’m a big fan of the BBC show Spooks. A&E aired? airs? it in the US as MI-5 but it was always a cut-down chopped-up version made to fit in US timeslots, so I’ve never really watched it that way.
For me, I wait until a given season is available on DVD in the UK, and then buy the DVD set, and import it into the US so I can watch it then. Historically, how this is worked is that I see on the BBC web site (here) that there’s a new season in the works, and then I start looking at UK DVD retailers a few months later to see if there’s a release date for the DVD set.
Having just received my Season 6 DVDs a few days ago, I decided to check in on Season 7. After all, by the time one season makes it to DVD, the next season is usually in production. That rule seems to apply the same both here and in the UK.
However, when I go to the BBC homepage for spooks, I’m instead redirected to http://www.bbc.co.uk/spooks/nonuk.shtml, which tells me:


I feel like the Weekend Update folks from SNL. I just want to babble “SERIOUSLY?!!?” over and over at them. They have decided that I, as a non-UK citizen, aren’t even allowed to know about the show. No, if I want information about Spooks, I’ve got to hope Wikipedia and the DVD retailers can keep me up to date.
It’s not as though this is something based on them having sold the rights to a US broadcaster, because the Doctor Who website is alive and well for non-UK viewers.
It really does boggle the mind how much the BBC just “doesn’t get it” when it comes to the web….
UPDATE: Dan Taylor from the BBC noted in the comments that they’ve fixed the problem. Well done and thanks!

On The Proposed Bailout

CNN has a story about the proposed $700,000,000,000 bailout of the financial industry. There’s a great quote in there:

Paulson said that the bailout plan is the only way to unfreeze financial markets, giving firms the confidence they need to start lending to one another once again.

Y’know what? I’m not sure I want them to be confident right now. They shouldn’t be confident. They should have the same insecurities about decision-making that we all do right now, mostly because it was their bad decision-making that caused this mess in the first place. Sure, you can point to people who borrowed more on mortgages than they could reasonably pay back, but the counterpoint to that argument is that these lenders lent money they should have known couldn’t be paid back, or they bought mortgages from lenders without investigating fully the thing it was they were buying.
At the end of the day, the corporations gambled on their ability to predict the future and came up short.
If corporations get a free do-over, at taxpayer expense, then I for one am fully in favor of Phil Hellmuth walking into the Treasury Department, saying, “I flopped a set of Queens, and some idiot who didn’t know the odds held on until the river and cracked my set with a straight. I got busted out of the tournament and lost my $50,000 entrance fee. Can I have a check, please?”
Because that’s EXACTLY the same goddamned thing. These corporations gambled and they gambled badly. If they don’t suffer, they will not learn a damned thing other than “we’re considered too important to ACTUALLY lose money, so we can gamble however we want to and the taxpayers will come in and cover our losses… but obviously, we don’t share our wins with the taxpayer.”
Yes, it will mean tough times if these companies are allowed to fail. We need tough times.
My grandparents’ generation lived through a Depression. An honest to goodness “I’ll work for food” depression. They learned the importance of savings. They learned to save up for what they wanted to buy before they bought it, and the only debt most of them carried was a mortgage.
We’ve grown soft since then — and make no mistake I count myself in that “we”. We’ve accumulated far more per-capita debt than ever. Our annual personal savings figure has declined to the point where, each year, we save negative money. Why shouldn’t we live on deficit spending? The government’s been doing it for years with no problems….
Let the economy fail. And my generation, and the generation to come will grow up with the hard lesson that apparently needs to be re-taught every so often, on how to handle their finances.

Fannie Mae / Freddie Mac

It’s been hard to avoid hearing about the Fannie-Mae/Freddie-Mac debacle, and how our congresscritters are planning to bail them out. “It’ll be the end of the world” they say, “too big to be allowed to fail,” they say.
I say horseshit.
There was a wonderful quote on NPR this morning which talked about the inherent impropriety of corporations where you have “Privatized profits and socialized losses.”
If we — you and I the American taxpayers — are going to be bailing out these two giants, who’ve been passing along corporate profits to shareholders for years instead of building up the capital reserves they needed then the shareholder interests are immediately forfeit.
But in reality. I’m all in favor of letting them fail. Yeah, it might have some repercussions. Yeah, the corporations in question will crap themselves hard and all that. But how many private entities are we — the voting taxpayer — going to allow to make really really phenomenally stupid business decisions, and then have us pick up the tab for them? We do it with the airlines, we’ve been doing it left and right with mortgage companies, and now we’re talking about doing it to the tune of billions of dollars.
No. You made your bed, now lie in it. And maybe the next generation of investors will learn to research better when they invest their money in companies with unsound business practices.

Why CBS Are Idiots

CBS really needs to learn what every other broadcast network has learned:

  • Live sporting events always run long
  • The programming which follows live sporting events should be “flexible” in its timing… give that time to the affiliates for their local news, for example.
  • If you’re not going to make it flexible timing, then you certainly don’t do your season premiere episodes soon enough after the overrun slot that you can’t have stolen back the time from the commercial sponsors

As we sat down to watch our TiVo’ed copy of this season’s premiere of Amazing Race, we realized that the first thirty minutes of the time slot was us watching some crappy 60 Minutes episode we didn’t give a wet slap about. We were still in the 9pm-10pm time-slot when we noticed this, and nothing else had started recording, so we were able to quickly tell the TiVo to grab “whatever is on CBS from 9-10”, and it grabbed everything starting at the beginning of the 30-minute live-window, from 9:07-9:37pm, but seriously, if we had decided to watch it like the next day, I’d have been pissed. (Heck, we already were a bit pissed, we missed seven minutes of footage of them traipsing about Ireland, and we’d been sort of curious to see if they went anywhere we did).
What adds insult to injury is that if CBS had “Clue One”, they’d butcher their live 60 Minutes airing… it’s fucking 60 Minutes… it’s a whole series of 15-minute news pieces. Here’s an idea, if the fucking NFL broadcast is running 30 minutes over — chop two pieces out of the 60 Minutes episode and air them NEXT week. I mean seriously, we’re not talking Quantum Mechanics here. You’ve got a program that you can slice up into manageable time-slices. Tell the on-air talent for the football broadcast “Get us to the nearest quarter hour”, and then show however many segments from 60 Minutes are appropriate. If you insist that “60 Minutes” live up to its name, don’t air it right after a live sporting event that you know will always run late!!!
Seriously, if I can sort this out, and I’m not in television professionally, you’d think that people who get paid to do it for a living would catch a ride on the Clue Bus.