A Question of Atheist Scruples – Round 1

May 1, 2012

I found a copy of this at Value Village, a version of the game from 1984. I had no idea the game was still being made, though. According to official rules:

Scruples makes players sweat as they ask each other what they would do in a moral predicament. Luckily no one has to tell the truth and there’s no right answer!

Well, I guess that’s one way to play it. I was planning on playing it straight, though, since the point of this whole endeavor is to demonstrate an atheist’s ability to make ethical and moral choices. I’m going to pick three questions out of my card deck and answer them seriously. A fourth question will be added for readers who want to “play along” but feel free to respond to any question that looks like fun to answer.

So, question 1: You’ve gone to see a nude show. Next day, a female colleague asks how you spent the evening. Do you tell her?

Recall here that I am a woman, not a guy.

First, it depends on the atmosphere of the work place. I know people who made the mistake of telling coworkers they’d gone to the casino when it first opened and rumours got flying about how often they were probably gambling. Some of them were close to the truth, but that’s beside the point. Gossip might be the glue that holds a social group together but what people do off the job should be their own business (so long as it’s not illegal or hurting anyone). People love to judge other people on their choices, though. Setting up the notion that someone might have a reputation as a problem gambler (or “slut”) may effect how that person is treated in the workplace.

Second, it depends on how well I know her and what her role is in that workplace in comparison to mine. If she’s my supervisor, I don’t know if I’d admit I went to Chippendales or whatever. If I knew the woman well enough to know she was heavily religious and unlikely to be impressed with my blasé account of seeing men with their kit off, I’d probably lie and say I’d stayed in. If she was someone I did know well who’d be heartily envious over how I spent my night, I’d go to town elaborating on the show when we found a quiet time to catch up.

As an aside, Saskatchewan is the only province in Canada that bans the mixing of strip clubs and alcohol. A protest show called “Naked if I Want” is set to run here in Saskatoon on May 4th at the Cosmo Civic Centre. Email mybodymydance@hotmail.com to get more information or request a place on the guest list.

The idea was for the Liberals to host the stripping event and oppose the alcohol control regulation that prohibits establishments from serving liquor when the entertainment involves nudity, a strip tease performance, or a wet clothing contest—but the party shut it down.

“The members didn’t like it, there was no official policy passed, so it got shut down,” Buckner said. “I was devastated.”

Buckner, who performs as a drag king with the stage name Stevie Blunder, has since decided to hold the show and give the proceeds to support the Saskatoon Slut Walk and Consentfest. Both events are dedicated to “ending victim-blaming and making sex-positive attitudes where we really need them—here in Saskatchewan,” she said.

What a good first question. You’d think I had planned it so I could lead into that story, but I assure it it was all coincidence.

Question 2: In his will, a man leaves your charitable organization a substantial bequest but fails to provide for his sick widow. (The bastard!) The whole estate is needed to maintain the widow. (Shit!) Do you fight to keep the bequest?

Cripes. Temptation is to keep it, but if word got out, and it inevitably would hit the Twitterverse in a heartbeat, my organization would be likely shitbombed with complaints and accusations and a withdrawal of support from dedicated donors. Bloggers would write about this poor woman and set up funds so people the world over could dig deep into their own wallets for a couple bucks to help her out. She’d probably get a lot more money that way… but the right thing to do would be to announce publicly that the bequest was going to be redirected to her. The good press garnered from that magnanimous gesture would boost my reputation as a caring person and probably boost donations to my charity. Maybe I wouldn’t get the same dollar value in the long run, but I’d feel better about myself. She’d get the help she needs and I’d still be able to help others. Win win.

Question 3: You are the director of the neighbourhood food cooperative. A member – a single mother with four children – is caught shoplifting $30 in groceries. You suspect she has been stealing for years. Do you press charges?

I had to look up how food co-ops work. I’ve never used one, but I’ve walked by Steep Hill on Broadway quite often.

As a co-operative, our products represent what our members want: quality, not profit, is our motive. We as Steep Hill members have the opportunity to be involved with the everyday operation of our store through a monthly work commitment.

Shopping at Steep Hill is a friendly experience, without the pressures and stresses of supermarket shopping. Meeting your neighbours, getting to know people with similar concerns are added attractions at Steep Hill Co-op. Nobody profits except the members.

Okay, so I think what might work in a case like this would be bringing it to the attention of the other members to get their input. Would they be pissed off enough to want to cancel her membership or would they be willing to make arrangements for her to work the value of the food off? With four kids, she’d definitely need the food. I suppose it would also depend on how bad off she actually is. What if this is a woman who got a hell of a divorce settlement and could afford to buy organic at Sobeys but likes to give the impression that she’s merely a community conscious volunteer? In that case, yeah, I would want to press charges.

Question 4, and open to comments from the peanut gallery: You’ve accepted a date when someone you REALLY like calls and asks you out for the same night. Do you try to get out of the first date?

Okay, some of the questions are a little less thought-provoking than others…

So, I bought a copy of “A Question of Scruples”

April 21, 2012

Two bucks at the local Value Village. Can’t go wrong. Anyway, once I’m back to blogging more often, I’m going to start a series where I go through some questions from that game each week and demonstrate how an atheist can reason things out and come to ethical and morally sound conclusions. Feel free to add your own comments about my answers, if you agree or disagree with the choice I make. Might generate some interesting discussion and I promise I’ll actually participate in them.

Religious Canadians distrust atheists, too…

December 2, 2011

… going by results of a recent study published in the Vancouver Sun, at least.

Religious believers distrust atheists more than members of other religious groups, gays and feminists, according to a new study by University of B.C. researchers.

The only group the study’s participants distrusted as much as atheists was rapists, said doctoral student Will Gervais, lead author of the study published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

That prejudice had a significant impact on what kinds of jobs people said they would hire atheists to do.

“People are willing to hire an atheist for a job that is perceived as low-trust, for instance as a waitress,” said Gervais. “But when hiring for a high-trust job like daycare worker, they were like, nope, not going to hire an atheist for that job.”

The antipathy does not seem to run both ways, though. Atheists are indifferent to religious belief when it comes to deciding who is trustworthy.

“Atheists don’t necessarily favour other atheists over Christians or anyone else,” he said. “They seem to think that religion is not an important signal for who you can trust.”

I’d agree with that last line. Ideally one’s religion (or lack of) won’t even come into play when it comes to deciding who you can count on. Morality and ethics are not the sole (soul?) property of one particular group, religious or not. I wonder if people who are religious get cause and effect mixed up a bit sometimes. Their religion might not be the reason they’re good, just, honest people. They might have been that way even if they didn’t have a religious explanation to fall back on. Can’t turn back the clock and send them down a different future to test that, sadly, but exposure to religion might not be the main reason a person’s decent anyway. What if it has more to do with who their parents were and knew and what sort of upbringing and education they were able to get besides that? I think it really comes down to the kind of person you are, regardless of the kind of beliefs you hold. It’s hardly the only trait with merit.

Gervais was surprised that people harbour such strong feelings about a group that is hard to see or identify. He opines that religious believers are just more comfortable with other people who believe a deity with the power to reward and punish is watching them.

I’d bet a cookie that it has to do with the same fear that Invasion of the Body Snatchers preyed upon back in 1956. Communists were feared not just because of their ideologies but because you couldn’t tell just by looking who was a commie. They could be anyone! Some probably would like it if every atheist stamped themselves with the big red A and relieved the confusion. That would almost be useful though; then when atheists inevitably stop getting served at various restaurants, or get fired, they could argue in court that it’s account of their atheism. And perhaps win. But anyway, on with the article.

“If you believe your behaviour is being watched [by God] you are going to be on your best behaviour,” said Gervais. “But that wouldn’t apply for an atheist. That would allow people to use religious belief as a signal for how trustworthy a person is.”

Not just the thought of God watching, though. Other studies have been done showing how behaviour varies no matter what people think is watching, be it eyes by the “On your Honour” tea kitty or an invisible princess who might see you cheat at a game and report you.

Religious belief is known to have a variety of social functions. Past research has found that common religious beliefs can promote cooperation within groups.

Sure, but humans aren’t the only creatures on this planet that know how to cooperate in a group. Ants and termites can do it. Birds do it every day when they take wing suddenly, seemingly on cue. Many animals act as a team to take down their prey. Prey will often cooperate to avoid that. It might be possible to make the case that cooperation is simply an evolutionary by-product of herd/group living. Some might be better or worse at it, of course, and maybe in humans it made sense to further encourage cooperation by adding religious thought-processes into the mix. Animals don’t always cooperate, either. If you have two bulls after the same cow, neither will yield gracefully. Maybe religion has more to do with creating a means to combat our selfish instincts. Maybe the bigger pity is that it does take the fear of hell to make some people do the right thing.

Gervais started his line of inquiry about the exclusion of atheists after seeing a Gallup poll that suggested the majority of Americans would not vote for an atheist presidential candidate. Gervais and his colleagues conducted a series of six studies on a group of 350 American adults and a group 420 UBC students.

But even in more secular Canada, distrust of atheists ran high.

“We see consistently strong effects,” he said. “Even here in Vancouver, our student participants still say atheists are really untrustworthy.”

I got this story from friend and fellow Freethinker koinosuke, who’s made the point at various Sask Skeptic‘s pub nights that it’s always better to find the actual study and read it, but not all of us have that kind of dedication to the truth, I guess. Or the time. Or the ability to parse what’s hidden in there, for that matter. What I’m curious about with this is where these respondents got their information about atheists being untrustworthy. Not from actual/known-to-be atheists, probably. Where did they develop this bias? In terms of the students in Canada, where were they born? It’s probably the same everywhere, but universities in Canada are notorious for luring foreign money students over. I don’t know where I’d find the statistics on it, but I think Vancouver has a pretty high ratio of immigrants to “natives”, as well. If most came from countries that are typically anti-atheist, that’ll skew the results. If most were born here, where exactly? Some areas of the country are a lot more religious than others. Hell, some towns are super devout compared to a town 20 minutes away. There’s a lot of variation.

It definitely points to signs that atheist groups need to work a bit harder in the Vancouver area, and the rest of the country, too. Even though people like to say the opinions of others shouldn’t matter, I don’t particularly like the idea of strangers making that kind of assumption about me without evidence for it. It’s a stereotype that needs a serious shooting down.

Don’t be religious at work unless your work is religious

October 26, 2011

Doesn’t that sound sensible? I think that sounds sensible.

Sadly, it isn’t all that easy a guideline to follow in a world with so many religions, some of which requiring the followers follow incredibly strict dress codes and behaviour rules like mandatory prayer breaks five times a day, or avoiding certain foods at all times or fasting for weeks on end. Dealing with religion in the workplace can be tricky business, as those who study law and ethics are quick to point out.

Attorney Chad Wilson, who teaches applied ethics at UT, said the issue of religion in the workplace is almost a footnote in law school, but surprisingly is still evolving under the law.

Most of the laws protecting workers against religious harassment in the workplace stem from federal legislation passed in 1960s and ’70s, including Title VII. The laws apply on a state and local level and are not restricted to “established” religions, he said.

Most managers believe the way to avoid discrimination charges is to treat everyone in the workplace equally. While this may be possible in a homogeneous environment, sometimes it isn’t possible in the modern workplace, according to Wilson.

“Sometimes treating everyone equally means treating some people differently,” he said.

Like making room in the uniform codes for turbans or other head coverings, for example. Compromise winds up being the buzz word, but some employees and employers are more willing than others to yield. I thought there was news more recent than January about this, but I was reminded of a Christian Justice of the Peace here in Saskatchewan who was trying to claim his religious beliefs trumped the right gays had to get married and refused to do it. It’s since been deemed unconstitutional for Saskatchewan marriage commissioners to opt out of providing those services on religious grounds.

Justice Gene Anne Smith, writing a second decision for the court, noted the argument put forward by the religious commissioners could be claimed by those who sell marriage licences or rent halls for weddings.

“But more than this, it could just as easily, and with as much validity, be made by those who provide rental living accommodation to married couples [was tried by a landlord in Yellowknife a couple years ago], and even those who provide restaurant meals or entertainment to the public.

“The desire of individuals providing these services to the public to withhold the service from same-sex couples, on grounds of religious disapproval of same-sex relationships, is hardly restricted to marriage commissioners . . . It is fair to ask, then, why it is particularly important to accommodate marriage commissioners’ religious beliefs in this respect.”

Of course people have the right to follow their religions to the letter and believe whatever they have to believe in order to follow them. But when those rights are impeding on the rights of others, that’s where problems crop up – especially when someone tries to claim their rights are “more right” than the other person’s.

Knox County Law Director Joe Jarret said private and public sector managers have good reason to keep pace with changing standards associated with religious discrimination claims. Most of the laws protecting against religious discrimination are federal and carry large penalties.

Jarret cautioned against trying to make value judgments about any particular faith.

“Employers get in trouble when they question the sincerity of another’s faith,” he said.

As far as the law is concerned, practices including voodoo and Santeria are legitimate religious beliefs. Atheism is considered a form of belief and is protected, too, he said.

Jarret urged employers to try to understand and educate themselves on the variety of religions that might be found in the workplace.

Take that, American military! Atheists are soldiers, too! There shouldn’t be mandatory religious service or bibles passed out upon entry or rock concerts with a solid Christian edge or bible verses on gun sights or anything of that nature.

The article briefly notes religious schools and hospitals where the work is guided by faith-based mission statements. To me, it seems they’re in a different category in terms of this issue and I think they wind up having more rights to be discriminatory than they probably should. I’ve heard that Catholic schools would prefer to only hire Catholics who aren’t practicing gays and church-run hospitals still want the right to refuse to do abortions and other things they disagree with on bible-based grounds. I don’t think that’s at all right, but so long as other schools and hospitals are within easy reach, at least the general public isn’t forced to comply with those absurd restrictions.

There’s a big difference, though, between employers allowing for turbans and employers asking for crosses to be removed for safety purposes. The RCMP couldn’t discriminate against Sikhs by insisting only their official officer cap should be worn. Shirley Chaplin was offered a different position in the hospital, a valid option for employers according to the article. If the clothing or accoutrements will get in the way of doing business, change the way those people do the business. If it’s going to make no difference, just adapt practices and move on.

Personally, I’m glad I don’t have to be the one who worries about this type of thing. I just get to go to work, do my job, and go home again. Three cheers for manual labour…

Any movie can be “moral-based”

September 30, 2011

A zombie loving friend of mine and I keep saying that we ought to get together to have a bible-themed movie night but we never seem to get around to organizing one. Consider this another reminder, zombie lover… Bibleman or bust!

Anyway, the Kansas City Star is reporting on a Christian movie company and its success in creating Christian-themed movies that are actually watchable and appealing to a broader audience — at least, that’s the hope. Sherwood Pictures released their fourth movie this week, called Courageous, and it’s being shown in 1400 theaters across the States, and also doing a run through Canadian cinemas.

This film company is about as far from Hollywood as you can get. It’s a ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., a midsize town about three hours south of Atlanta. Its purpose: Produce movies that promote a Christian message using mostly volunteers, then funnel the profits into outreach programs that benefit communities and start-up churches.

“It’s not about making money with them. It’s about making a difference,” Whitehurst says. “They use movies as a way to get that message across globally. They know this is a medium that has the power to impact people way beyond the pews.”

I’m going to use the word “awesome” now because it’s great to see people want to make money for the specific purpose of doing something good with it beyond buying mansions and shoes and drugs and cars. Apologies to the people whose jobs rely solely on the culture of greed, but it’s nice to see that not everyone intends to spend their earnings in those consciously consumerist ways.

The only argument I wind up making is that Christians don’t hold the monopoly on morality or ethics. I don’t mind that Christian movies exist; it’s a niche market people want to see filled. The library buys all kinds of movies that have been approved by religious/family groups that promote purity over smut and people are very grateful to see those seals of approval on DVD cases. They’re glad to take home something that won’t cross much in the way of lines.

However, the best movies in the world tend to be the ones that cross lines and leave the main characters stranded on the wrong side of a bad decision. We watch from our seats (hopefully) unsure of how they’ll save the day, fix their mistakes, or adapt and move on in the wake of some tragedy. Courageous sounds like that kind of movie:

the tragic loss of a loved one, the dangers of gang involvement, and the consequences of breaking the law..

Like all Sherwood films, there’s a strong moral message that will be accompanied by books and study guides. The filmmakers hope “Courageous” sparks a conversation about fatherhood as “Fireproof” did for marriage.

I can’t speak for everyone, obviously, but I tend to get turned off when a message gets hammered into me in a heavy-handed fashion. If more are like me, and learn that Courageous is funded by a church, they may never buy a ticket to it so they might wind up missing something that actually turns out to be a fine film. I don’t imagine I’m going to watch it this weekend; Attack the Block just came to town and I’d rather spend my hard earned coins on that. I don’t care if it’s crap. I’m going.

And when I’m done watching it, I’ll resurrect my “Morality Movie Monday” project and work through the themes presented and demonstrate how anyone can take good lessons from a movie, regardless of the film’s original intent.

Stay tuned.

quick edit to add link to article. Oopsie.

1minion continues debating 5 year old article

August 31, 2011

I’d found this article Interpretation versus belief a couple weeks ago and I thought it’d be fun to write a response from the atheist point of view. This is part two. (Read part 1)

Phillip Owens argues that the bible needs no interpretation; it just needs to be believed word for word. I, of course, have a problem with this. I think interpretation is unavoidable and absolutely necessary. The trouble comes in how people interpret the bloody thing, not the fact that they interpret it in the first place. People seek to find meaning in everything, usually. It’s inevitable that they’d want to find meaning in this book since they’ve set their entire lives toward following it in some manner. They want purpose. They want lessons. They want explanations. Sometimes they want justifications. And sometimes they want permission to be complete and utter bastards. There are interpretations that gear themselves to any and all kinds of desires, whether terrific or fearfully terrible. I can see why Owens find this problematic, because it is. But I think his solution is quite silly and impossible to manage. For him, all you really need is the faith. The belief. Believe what you read and question nothing.

Why then don’t people “understand” this? Likely it is because of all the consequences. If Jesus is God’s Son, all He says is significant — it is authorative. His Words are true, morality is important, how we deal with each other has eternal bearing, and He will judge us in the final day (John 12:48). We should therefore live our lives according to His teaching. Therefore, Jesus’ being God’s Son is not so much interpretation as it is belief!

I can agree with part of that but what part of Jesus’ beliefs translate into believers being the best people they can possibly be? If Jesus truly meant “love thy neighbours as yourself” then why spew so much vitriol at gays or atheists? Unless “neighbour” wasn’t the word used by him back then and he really meant for followers to only love those in their local tribe only and continue to war against anyone who thinks or believes another way. Who really knows? Nobody. Nothing was written down until years after he would have died and nobody would remember what he said verbatim anyway. The whole damn thing is interpretation and guesswork intended to guide believers toward a particular thought process and goal, all of which varies depending on who’s done the interpreting.

There’s also the fact that Christians don’t seem content to just read what Jesus supposedly said and did and what Paul and company wrote later. Do they hang onto their favourite parts of the Old Testament because they remember Jesus was a Jew who would have believed that stuff? I have no idea if that’s part of it. Why do they badger the world into following archaic rules and regulations (aimed at a long-gone society) regarding propriety and sin? Why the reluctance to admit how flawed a lot of it is when compared to what we know about biology and nature and history today? Admitting that some parts aren’t worth supporting anymore doesn’t have to mean it’s necessary to completely negate the rest. I’ve never bought into the “one bad apple spoils the bunch” idea. Of course, that opens it up to more arguments about what parts need to be ignored and which need keeping…

The next part of the article focuses on New Testament verses supporting the idea that Christ meant for all his followers to follow “One Church”. He’s claiming that Christ’s intent was to build a belief system that would eventually wipe out the competition (he notes “Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, Essenes and others”) so that the only possible life choice would be his brand of Christianity for ever and always.

Since Christ is not divided, and neither Paul nor anyone but Christ was crucified for us, and we are not to be baptized into anyone except Christ, then Paul argues that we “speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10-13).

This is straightforward and really needs no “interpretation.” The problem is that given hundreds of years from the first century, religious division, a plurality of man-made churches, and a failure to use only the Scriptures as our authority, we now have religious chaos.

I add to this the fact that a lot of gospels were written in those early days that were later judged to be wrong and heretical or just inappropriate for addition when the bible was assembled. Who’s to say those rejected books aren’t really more in line with what Christ thought and intended? They were chucked but what if that was the wrong move? What would this religion look like today if they’d kept those instead? Would it have lasted or died out? There’s no way to know what impact they would have had.

People choose for themselves what’s important. When preaching the gospel, those preaching will inevitably emphasize the parts that speak loudest to them. The result of that is somewhat obvious; the audience will get a biased sermon, and they may go on to give their own based around what parts they thought were most important. Sure, they’re all based on the gospels, but some will promote the goodness, others might promote good works, more will promote meek inheriting, others will focus on other key points and eventually there’s conflict over what Jesus might have thought was most important of all. What did Jesus think was most important of all? If it was this one church thing, then every Christian is a colossal failure.

To say that the New Testament teaches there is one body, one church, sounds so narrow to many. Yet it is the truth. Why do people have problems with such an “interpretation”? It is not because the Bible “means different things to different people, but because people do not believe it.

Don’t be fooled by the “just your interpretation” idea. Believe the Bible can be understood (Ephesians 3:3-5) and believe and obey the gospel.

Trouble is, the gospels are woefully out of date on many issues, and it doesn’t matter how many new versions are published, the absence of information remains. That is why people tend to interpret the text in the hopes of convincing people that Jesus was rabidly against homosexuals and abortion and evolution and climate change. A lot has been learned in 2000 years and some of what’s been learned runs completely counter to stuff in that book. Our values and motivations have changed. We’re not living in little ignorant groups of goat herders any more. We have access to so much more in the way of medicine and education and philosophy and diverse viewpoints on every issue, no matter how trite or vital. We can see how big the world is. We can better know how our decisions will affect others, be they our neighbours or enemies half a world away. We’re better equipped to see the big picture. Maybe it can be argued we’re still woefully inept at dealing with it, but admitting that puts us in a far better position to fix it, I’m sure. We know what needs doing and those who can and care are working on it.

What good does it to do read a bible and believe every word printed within it? How does that fix anything? It strikes me that to do so would be avoidance, turning one’s back on the problems of the world in order to focus on personal salvation in the last days, for believers would be forced to agree with Jesus and John and Paul: the apocalypse is imminent and the earth is doomed. Why find alternatives to oil? Why give children a decent science education when they won’t live long enough to use it? Why care about the environment? A world’s worth of unbelievers will be going to hell any moment now, so why bother? Jesus loves me and will guide me to heaven! I can hardly wait to sit up on my cloud and watch flames devour everyone who doesn’t think like I do.

What a waste of brain power that kind of thinking is.

If belief in god and Jesus Christ is what gets some people through the day, whatever. Fine. But they really shouldn’t buy into what people like Owen preach. Belief in those words is not enough. How those words are interpreted makes a huge impact on what people do because of them. What are they doing because of them? How are they behaving? How are they treating people? How are they educating their children? How are they dealing with the clash of reality when it bumps up against their precious tome? How do they vote? How do they think? How do they react? All of that is going to matter more than anything in that book.

I’d rather be a “Flying Spaghetti Monster Slapper”

August 9, 2011

Via a blogger at the New York Times I learn a new phrase: Fish Slapper. It’s used to describe those who use religion in their advertising of products and services. The inevitable question gets asked: do they invoke religious iconography to prove they’re devout followers to their potential customers or merely trying lure devout followers in?

Forever 21, the American chain of stores selling trendy, value-priced clothes for young women has a Bible verse, John 3:16, on the bottom of its plastic shopping bags. West Coast-based In and Out Burger features the same verse on the bottom inside rim of its cups.

Perhaps this kind of branding is shorthand for “we’re a good company, trust us.” Do others have the notion that capitalism and religion should be mutually exclusive? Are consumers more inclined to do business with companies who align with a religion or does a company risk alienating audiences?

The blog’s author, MP Mueller, interviewed some business leaders to see what their thoughts were about this. Josh Wall, the vice president of development at Christian Brothers Automotive explained the history behind their name (coincidence masquerading as a miracle sent from God) but stated that most people “actually don’t connect the dots” and instead think people with the surname Christian started the business. It’s interesting to note that they don’t correct that erroneous assumption when it happens. You’d think they would have the urge to do so if they feel so compelled to retain their Christianized company name. But no:

We are just trying to be a light in the world. Love our neighbor as ourselves, treat them the way we want to treat our family. Those who don’t get to know our brand better may question or be cynical about our motives. That’s okay, we welcome that. We just want the opportunity to show people what excellent automotive repair is about.”

I think “excellent automotive repair” should be about a commitment to hire people who are skilled at automotive repair. Quality education and training doesn’t require a hearty dose of Jesus love in order to validate it. All consumers should care about is their willingness to stand by their work and their reputation. That doesn’t require Jesus either. Work ethic can be independent of religious ethic. I think some would argue that it always should be. Those people who think their devotion to crucifixes matter more than their doing their jobs come to mind.

Mueller also notes the existence of a Jewish attorneys network and the creators of it report being somewhat surprised by the majority of gentiles (is that word still used?) who select their services. They think it’s because the downtrodden in need of legal aid tend to assume Jewish lawyers will be most sympathetic to what they’re going through, considering their own past as a culture. Maybe they’re right, but lawyers have a commitment to making sure justice is done; if that person is nearly as guilty as Hitler, a Jewish lawyer can hardly lay a “Get Out of Jail Free” card on the table to save him.

As far as myself, I think I’d go out of my way to avoid overtly religious companies and organizations when distinctly secular options are readily available. Obviously I’m not going to grill every shop owner on his or her relationship with Jesus before I’ll commit to spending money there. That would be ridiculous. Walmart is pro-Christian but I boycott it for crimes against humanity types of reasons, not because they’re a “family values” behemoth sitting in judgement of what’s Christian enough to be sold in their stores. It goes against my ethics to support a company that doesn’t value its families enough to provide adequate wages and health care.

Consumers have to decide what they value. Maybe some don’t care about the ethics and morality behind the places they choose to shop. Maybe they don’t wonder what gets done with their money after they give it over. Maybe they don’t think about the people who work in shoddy conditions to provide that merchandise for sale. Who knows.

Claiming a Christian influence isn’t good enough, though. Not to my way of thinking. It might create an assumption that they’re better people, but does that give them leave never to be called upon to prove it?

I don’t have a good end to this. Feel free to add any thoughts that come to mind.

CFI-Saskatoon thanks Pastor Sandra Beardsall for a fantastic talk on feminism and the United Church

June 19, 2011

Don’t you all wish you were in Saskatoon and members of this awesome group? It was terrific. Sadly koinosuke couldn’t be at today’s meet but she’s the one who contacted the Pastor about talking to us so I promised I’d take copious notes and report back. Hopefully my notes don’t make hash of what she said or misrepresent any of it. If any Freethinkers who were there want to add comments, please do. I’m going to do this in parts, the second to drop tomorrow morning, and a third in the afternoon if needed.

Sandra is currently a professor of Church History and Ecumenics at St. Andrew’s College on the U of Saskatchewan campus. She participates in research related to Christian history and the development of interfaith/interchurch dialogue. She talked about the history of Enlightenment and how the philosophies of René Descartes and others ultimately affected the Church.

Thanks to those writers in the 16th and 17th centuries, ideologies evolved from an automatic given that God was the root of all things to people developing theories and mindsets with a more internalized, self-based origin to thought and philosophy. “I think, therefore I am,” Descartes eventually declared and that was a bigger deal than I ever realized. It was a big deal for philosophers at the time, too, as they worked on ways to build on this wild epiphany and completely new thought process. This was the Enlightenment of humanity, finally being able to give humans credit for their own minds and thoughts instead of automatically assuming (without question) a god’s personal hands were guiding everyone.

The Church and theologians had some trouble with the idea that the self could be the center of knowledge. Sandra listed several reactions they had to this concept.

The first she mentioned was the creation of a more deistic approach to God, the notion that a prime mover of sorts got the world rolling but overall has left us the hell alone to do our own thing, for good or ill. Deists, she said, focus mostly on ethics and behaviour, the need to do one’s duty, employ reason, and delight in creation. (Not to be confused with Creationists, though. Different ball of wax.)

The second was the development of orthodoxy and a retreat in some circles toward a focus on “correct belief.” She went on a bit of a tangent here to discuss Europe’s changing political structure at the time that had a lot to do with why the orthodox movement enamoured so many believers. The feudal system had collapsed or was on the verge or something and merchant-based commerce and trade was starting to gain in popularity, shifting money and power around in bunch of good and not so good ways. I scribbled down “guard turf” for some reason… She was talking about how the nature of Authority was changing at this time, so the social stress of that helped lead people back into thinking of the past and past beliefs being better for people. Safer, I suppose, traditional? (That part’s lost to my brain now. I have large gaps in my history knowledge and this is one of them. If I feel like it later I’ll look for some links to expand on this and learn more. You see why I say this was fantastic, though, right?)

The third reaction was a move toward “pietism” and the creation of the Evangelical and Spriritualism movements that gained a lot of popularity later on. Germans get the credit for jump-starting this, apparently. (I’ve got Quakers written down here and Jacob Bain — I guessed on spelling and might have gotten that completely wrong. Some spiritualist/mystic styled guy of some reknown.) The emphasis for these people was to bring belief to the heart, I guess could be said, to share experiences of God from very personal perspectives, independent of doctrine or theology. I wrote “emphasis on interior experience, feeling; congruence of the inner and outer self” here.

From all these diverse paths, more things grew out of them. Those I’ll get to in part two.

“three bishops are in custody after they were found with drugs”

June 19, 2011

Rodgers Luhwago reports from Tanzania on the story that broke there recently. Apparently donations from the flocks aren’t the only reason why those religious men are rolling in dough. He states that his source for this is the Guardian on Sunday but he didn’t include a link and I can’t find one. Search engine fail.

Anyway, how they do this, according to police: the bishop/evangelist sends a letter to a foreign country’s denomination asking for permission to organize a seminar or such thing. If the request’s granted (and who’d say no to that?) the letter is used for the visa application. The seminar would take place in that foreign country (funded by the host’s money, not the visitors) and while over there, the drug sale would happen. The booty would be packed in diplomatic bags, which I gather tend to get a pass at customs. In some cases the courier would claim he had to ship several religious donations and would thus pack a container to ferry millions of shillings worth of hidden cocaine and heroin back to Tanzania.

It’s understood that religious items are not taxable.

For instance one of those arrested is allegedly to have used the statues of the Virgin Mary to smuggle cocaine into the country early this year.

Wasn’t that trick used on Lost? Life imitating art?

The source who spoke under conditions of strict anonymity citing the sensitivity of the matter added, “Some of them have wealth which they can’t justify but if you look at the conditions of their churches, they are still using discotheques or hired halls to preach while they have billions.”

Taking the advantage of the respect they command within the circle of society as well as government, previously nobody could suspect some ‘men of God’ to be involved in drug trafficking.

Puts me in mind of Mother Teresa and the Mission of Charity group that was taking in all the donations. All money was received legally (I presume) but how much of that largesse was allocated for buying medicine and helping the poor of Calcutta and the rest? May as well say none. According to Susan Shields, who used to write up receipts for all those generous donations:

We begged for food and supplies from local merchants as though we had no resources. On one of the rare occasions when we ran out of donated bread, we went begging at the local store. When our request was turned down, our superior decreed that the soup kitchen could do without bread for the day.

It was not only merchants who were offered a chance to be generous. Airlines were requested to fly sisters and air cargo free of charge. Hospitals and doctors were expected to absorb the costs of medical treatment for the sisters or to draw on funds designated for the religious. Workmen were encouraged to labor without payment or at reduced rates. We relied heavily on volunteers who worked long hours in our soup kitchens, shelters, and day camps.

There’s a word I’m looking for.. tip of my tongue.. “Despicable” isn’t it, but it’ll do. “Shameful” maybe? “Inhumane” might be another. So many words.

If love of money is supposedly the root of all evil, why do religious folks want so damn much of it? “If we have it all, then it’ll be impossible for regular folks to be evil,” is probably not they way they rationalize it.

Back to Tanzania:

So far none of those arrested have been charged before the court of law. Police say they are still investigating more suspects believed to be using similar methods to traffic into the country.

The arrest comes just a few days after top Christian religious leaders gave a 48-hour ultimatum to President Kikwete to name those he accused of drug trafficking or else they would name all corrupt leaders within his government.

Kind of a pickle there, but one problem at a time, I suppose.

Which reminds me, I see some states are looking to reduce drug penalties. Many prisons have a surplus of one-time stupid users that are taking up space repeat offenders and hard core dealers could be sitting in. Canada, on the other hand, is taking the opposite approach.

Curses, choices, blame and bad ideas

May 7, 2011

This is part two of what’s shaping up to be a rather long screed rebuttal to an opinion piece. Reverend Jeff Barnes of Newsong Fellowship Church believes Adam and Eve cursed the entire planet when they ate the forbidden fruit. And:

In the same way, this curse has fallen upon humanity as well. Things like cancer, viruses, birth defects, unnatural sexual urges, mental disorders and the like can be traced back to the distorting effects of the curse.

I find this kind of idea both troubling and perplexing. How can anyone in this day and age believe this? There’s evidence that certain cancers have an environmental root caused by what we’ve done as humans but to claim it all started because of what happened in Eden? Seriously? We’re supposed to read that and believe that’s the whole reason? Facts stated? Q.E.D? Seriously? Read the rest of this entry »


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