Measure of the Man

Here’s a piece. about the utter vacuity of people who describe homosexuality as a choice. The following paragraph is as moving a thing as I’ve read this year:

He shakes his head in sadness at the life his grandson has had to live. He says he fought alongside homosexuals in those battles, that they did their part and bothered no one. One of his best friends in the service was gay, and he never knew it until the end, and when he did find out, it mattered not at all. That wasn’t the measure of the man.

VP Pick

Some group I’ve never heard of is asking that the next Vice President be a ‘True Christian’, given that neither Presidential candidate counts, apparently. It brings up the old whine about marriage again, unsurprisingly:

The group isn’t suggesting names but is citing criteria for a perfect candidate, including that it be someone who is against abortion and for defining marriage as “a union between one man and one woman.” It plans to send the petition to the presidential candidates.

I don’t like that definition particularly, but part of my dislike is because it’s so wishy-washy. Historically marriage hasn’t been like that in many places and times, so what these loons are using isn’t historical precedent but their religious teaching. That’s fine, I guess, but if you’re going to commit to these things then you should commit:

It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:

But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.
Matthew 5:31-32

So marriage is between one man and one woman for life. And don’t think that you can get away with adultery:

And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
Leviticus 20:9-11*

Worryingly even not getting divorced doesn’t seem to be much protection there:

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:

But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
Matthew 5:27-28

That’s a pretty tall standard to live up to there. Or to quote a less Biblical scholar, Tony Hancock, “Stone me!”

*Yes I know, Christ’s arrival allowed us to put away some of the excesses of Old Testament behaviour, so we can just revile adulterers rather than actually killing them.

Vox Day

A religious friend shares a number of links through google reader which has greatly expanded my reading, if not my mind. One recent article is a book review of sorts for ‘The Irrational Atheist’ by Vox Day, a deeply unpleasant man.

The article, unsurprisingly, is about as perceptive and well-reasoned as I would have guessed the book to be. I lack the focus of many bloggers on the standard anti-atheist arguments, so a lot of what is wrong with it passed me by, but a few things stood out.

As for the nature of the wars themselves, talk about specific: Day found 123 wars that could validly be claimed to have religion at their heart—a grand total of 6.98 percent of all wars fought.

I’m able to make wild assertions with the best of them on a blog, but if I were writing a book I’d aim for a little thoroughness, particularly in research I claim to be original. So let’s say half a day per war to establish its true origins (not nearly enough, I think, but let’s be kind). 123 is 6.98% of 1762, which comes in just under 3 years, 5 months of working weeks. Just for one fact that Vox Day worked out for himself. And all to counter an argument that even I, one of those damnable atheists, doesn’t find particularly convincing (people cause wars, not religion, though religion can be a catalyst by focussing our natural desire for ‘them’ and ‘us’)

Day sics the anthropic principle on him, which Dawkins rejects because any God capable of fine-tuning the universe so as to make possible the advent of DNA is at least as improbable as the universe in question, because he would have to be a being of unimaginable complexity. Day offers as a refutation the existence of the mathematician who calculated the “goldilocks values” (the cosmic fine-tuning that the birth of man would require) in the first place, this “despite being less complex than the sum of everyone and everything else in the universe.”

Dawkins argument is that you need to be at least as complex as the thing you create. It can descend into a debate over terms – is a mathematical formula that controls the motion of planets more or less complex than the squidgy bag of cells that formulated it? – but the basic idea is both sound and simple. To conceive of something is straightforward (an impressive trick, but entirely human), but that’s hardly comparable to actually creating what you conceived. As one example, not only have we not created a computer as intelligent as we are, we can’t even work out whether it’s theoretically possible.

Day cites the more reliable 2001 ARIS study and finds that atheists are “twice as likely to get divorced and have fewer children than any other group in the United States.”

Looking at the results of the quoted survey here, it appears that ‘NO RELIGION’, which I assume means atheists, are about average for divorce. A quick look through the list also shows that most or all of the non-Christian churches (depending on who you consider Christian) are below average, which means that Christians are above average. But we shouldn’t let facts stand in the way of a good statistic.

I could go on, but you’re probably as bored as I am by now. The point is that all of the authors Vox Day examines are open to criticism (Sam Harris’ most famous book, in particular, I found to be 99% assertion and 1% evidence at best), but inept critique’s like Day’s serve only to polarize, not to illuminate. That, of course, is the point.

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The Archbishop of Canterbury has stirred up a hornet’s nest by suggesting that there is a place for Sharia law in the UK. I’ve been impressed by how roundly his views have been rejected; politicians, religious groups, and people in the street are united in opposition, which is a level of agreement we rarely reach as a nation.

A couple of interesting points have been made, and one missed. First, there already is a place for Sharia in British law. The equivalent of contract negotiations can be conducted under any set of ‘rules’ that the participants agree to, so a divorce settlement can be handled by Sharia law. Similarly any contract that only has standing under Sharia law (a Muslim marriage, distinct from the corresponding civil marriage) can be adjudicated under that law – that’s what currently happens under Jewish law, for example.

The other point made is that this is a Trojan horse from Williams; if there is a place for Sharia law then surely there must be room for Christian law outside the legal establishment. I’m less convinced by this idea; just stating what he wanted would spark far less resentment about the whole subject than using Islam as a gateway. Whatever his tactics are, I suspect they’re more subtle than this. At least I hope so, otherwise he’s not as smart as I’d given him credit for.

What has been missed in the discussion so far is the arbitrariness of recognition for religious views. Let’s concede for a moment that there should be accommodation for views such as Sharia. Why, then, shouldn’t there be similar concessions for the 390,000 people who listed themselves as Jedis on the latest census? And why not recognition for the views of the 70,000 members of the Cyclist’s Touring Club? The only plausible answer is that religions are different, which rests on one of two assumptions. One is that religious beliefs are more heartfelt than even the most passionate cyclist’s, for example. I’d question whether that’s true, but even if it were we don’t formulate laws based on passion.

The other, often unspoken, assumption is that religions deserve special consideration because they are in some way true. That’s the essence of what too many religious believers seek in government; a recognition that what they believe is more than just belief. The very best democracies shy away from this. That England has not is to its shame.

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Church Distribution

Here’s an image showing the distribution of the various (Christian) churches in the US by county. I hadn’t realized how dominant Baptists are in the South, but I guess the surprise for most people would be the dominance of the Catholic church. Many Minnesotans don’t realize that Lutherans aren’t the main religious group in the state (and while we’re at it, the single ethnic origin is German, not Norwegian).

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