Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Rumors of My Death

Yeah, I know. This blog hasn't been updated in quite awhile. Unfortunately, that's pretty much the way things are going to be for the forseeable future. Judging from past experience on various message boards, I'll post regularly for awhile and then drop off the face of the Earth. I hope to eventually make this blog enough of a going concern that it will be updated regularly.

I'll have a real post up in a day or so. In a couple of weeks I'm taking a vacation from work so I'll be able to devote some serious time here then. I'm considering using my new camera to do some video blogging, so maybe in a couple of weeks I'll try that.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Gay Marriage Undermines Real Marriage

This is just too hilarious to pass up; Jon Swift posted this. It seems that Deborah Palfrey's phone records have finally been made public. Prominent among those who engaged in business relations with employees of Pamela Martin and Associates is one David Vitter, a US Senator from Louisiana. The actual story itself is arguably funnier than Swift's satirical take on it.

You see, Vitter is a prominent opponent of gay marriage. He opposes it on the grounds that it undermines the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. After all, he's a morally upright defender of family values. He hates the perverted liberal message Hollywood is sending to the rest of the country. Unfortunately, it simply didn't occur to him that the sanctity of his own marriage could be potentially undermined by the fact that he was fucking other women.

The Bible's position on sex is centuries, if not millennia, out of date. There simply isn't any valid reason today for opposing homosexuality and denying gays the same rights as straights. This is especially true if you actually read the Bible; the Bible opposes sex without the intention of procreation. A Biblical purist should be just as upset with straight couples who don't have children as they are with gay couples.

While I vehemently disagree with the position, I can respect Christians who state they believe homosexuality is wrong. I have considerably less respect for those who actively try to force this view on others. I have nothing but scorn for morally-bankrupt hypocrites like Vitter. Trying to force your morality on to others while holding yourself exempt is reprehensible. He should be thrown out of the Senate; it's just a shame he won't face criminal charges.

Once caught red-handed, Vitter immediately chose to come clean with the public and confess those of his misdeeds that had been discovered. Being a good Christian, he was already off the hook because he had asked God for forgiveness. This illustrates one of the main reasons I have so little respect for Christianity. Far from being a force for encouraging moral behavior, it gives people an out for engaging in immoral acts without consequence.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

An Open Mind

I pride myself on being open-minded. I try to see both sides of every issue. Politically, I'm neither a liberal or a conservative; neither a Republican or a Democrat. Politics isn't a sporting event; the issues are too important to simply pick your favorite team and root for them to win. Generally speaking, both sides have at least some good points to make.

The polarized state of politics in the U.S. today is the main reason nothing is ever done to fix problems. No matter what the problem, as soon as one side offers a solution the other side automatically opposes it. No real progress is ever made since both sides are too busy trying to thwart the other to actually address the issue. In most cases the actual solution lies somewhere in the middle of the extreme positions the parties tend to take.

Like I said, I'm open-minded. It mean considering all aspects of a situation before making up one's mind. Unfortunately, open-minded has become a buzzword for those who believe it is a synonym for credulous. Faith is the final refuge of the religious, claiming to be open-minded is the final refuge for those who wish to believe in all manner of nonsense.

I'm talking about everything from astrology to UFOs, homeopathy to talking to the dead. A truly open-minded person would consider the possibility that these ideas are false. I'm agnostic; one of the main themes running through this blog is the danger of claiming certainty when one doesn't have sufficient evidence. However, in pretty much all cases involving pseudo-scientific claims, the evidence is so overwhelming that it is not a violation of my agnostic principles to claim that they are false.

Monday, July 9, 2007

1 Scooter, Slightly Used - Free

Don't know how frequently I'll voice an opinion on current political events, but I couldn't resist this one. I know I'm going against conventional wisdom, but I think Bush made the correct decision when commuting Libby's sentence. Of course Libby wasn't the victim of a partisan vendetta, but his conviction was political none the less. Perjury charges are almost always a way for a prosecutor to take another bite at the apple when the original charges fail to stick.

I think the outing of an undercover CIA agent is an offense worthy of treason charges. But, once all the dust settled it was pretty clear that Plame's identity was an open secret that was leaked by at least two sources with two different agendas. It's a shame that no charges were ever filed for the actual leak; I just don't see how justice was served by settling for going after Libby.

Libby was by no means the only one obstructing the effort to discover what happened; and certainly wasn't the one calling the shots. He was simply low enough on the food chain to serve as a sacrificial goat. The general Executive branch disregard for cooperation with the other branches is deplorable (and probably grounds for impeachment) but sending Libby to jail wouldn't change that.

It's worth mentioning that Clinton also lied under oath. This doesn't excuse perjury anymore than claiming O.J. did it too excuses killing one's ex-wife. It does, however, make for a good way of detecting bias. Let's get real, at least 99% of those claiming Libby deserved mercy would have been yelling that the sentence was too light if it were a Democrat that had been convicted. Fred Thompson was pretty much the only major player defending Libby who could honestly say he would have argued the same.

On the other side of the fence I've seen mainly two reaction. First, frustration that they wouldn't get to see someone from the Bush administration go to jail. Libby was supposed to symbolically do time for the whole administration. Second, outrage that Bush was giving special treatment to a friend. This is essentially the two wrongs make a right theory. You can't use this to oppose Libby's commutation without conceding that Bush was right in his earlier refusals of clemency.

Bush's record as governor of Texas is disgusting. Gubernatorial review of death sentences is in place for a reason; abrogating that responsibility by claiming to trust the courts is a cold-hearted callous thing to do. Further, the Bush-era Justice Department's position is that criminals should be denied the right to consideration during sentencing exactly those considerations Bush used in commuting Libby's sentence. As long as Bush could claim he was standing on his principles he could justify his actions. Ironically, by doing what I believe to be the right thing, President Bush exposed himself as a miserable mean-spirited human being. Oh well, so much for Christian compassion.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Why I'm Not An Atheist

I am not an Atheist. I do not disbelieve in God. My belief system is simple; I believe that you can't accept anything as true without evidence to support that belief. Since there is no objective evidence of the existence of a god, much less a legitimate way of determining what god, I do not believe that there is a god. This is not the same as disbelieving; it's a subtle but important difference.

I realise that most people who believe as I do refer to themselves as Atheists; I choose not to. To do so would imply that lack of belief in God is the central aspect of my belief system. In reality, it's simply a consequence. If I walked outside tonight and the stars had rearranged themselves to spell out JESUS RULES I'd simply shrug and think to myself "Wow, guess he's real after all." My reconversion to Christianity wouldn't require any adjustments to my belief system because it wouldn't change the fact that as of this writing the likelihood that He exists given the evidence available is pretty much nil.

Another reason I dislike the term Atheist is that it implies that belief in God is the default position. I refuse to define myself by what beliefs I don't hold. By defining myself as being in opposition to another system of belief I implicitly legitimize the other belief system.

I prefer the term Agnostic. It does a much better job of characterizing my actual belief system. And, it's a good fit with my general outlook. I don't take anything I hear at face value. I always try to be careful to make sure to keep track of where I hear any given piece of information and take the source into account when evaluating said information. This does not lead to indecision. It's perfectly possible to make decisions based on the available information while still keeping in mind the possibility that some of that information might be incorrect.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Doing Unto Others

I realise that many people draw comfort from their personal faith. Unfortunately, once you accept the principle that it's fine for you to insist things are true because you want them to be true, then you have to accept that it's fine for others to do so also. That's when the ugly side of faith kicks in; religious-based terrorism is the most obvious example. But, that's only the tip of the iceberg when talking about the truly ugly things that have been done in the name of religion and justified by faith.

The Golden Rule is inherent within human nature. It's not in religion's best interest to admit this. The claim that you need to believe in a certain supernatural being or outlook on life to be a good person is one of religion's big drawing points. Unfortunately, there's a more insidious reason for this claim.

While the Golden Rule is inherent in human nature, so is the search for loopholes. The most useful loophole is dividing the human race up into those you can do unto as you please and those you have to treat as you want to be treated. Enter religion; since those who don't believe in the same God as you do are evil sinners then they don't deserve to be treated as equals.

Consider, the Hebrew conquest of the Promised Land. You've been wandering in the desert for forty years and suddenly come upon a fertile new land; unfortunately, it's already occupied. What do you do? Well, your Ten Commandants say Thou Shall Not Kill. Fortunately, your God wants you to have this land and the current owners are Godless heathens. Turns out it's all right to slaughter them. See also the European conquest of the new world, the slave trade, and 9/11.

But, comes the objection, what about Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia? Religion doesn't allow evil to be done in its name because of its supernatural elements. Faith enables a sense of superiority over others that allows one to suspend one's sense of right and wrong. This faith-based sense of superiority can be instilled by a purely secular doctrine also. It doesn't take religion to commit atrocities; merely faith in one's own inherent destiny.

Eyes Without a Faith

I didn't choose to stop believing in God. To the contrary, my epiphany was the realization that I couldn't simply choose what I did and didn't want to believe. Belief needs to be based on evidence. What's true is what's true; my personal desire is irrelevant. Or to put it more crudely: the universe doesn't give a shit what I think.

I remain agnostic on the question of whether or not some form of divine being exists. If so, it clearly isn't the insecure narcissistic sadist I used to worship. The Christian god is a product of a long distant time. While He's still popular, belief in Him requires a willful suspension of disbelief. There's too much about the Bible and Christianity that don't make any sense to an objective observer.

Of course, the Christian answer to any objection is to simply "have faith". In recent years attempts have been made to provide more concrete arguments justifying that faith; witness the farce of Intelligent Design. But ultimately, their defense of their belief system will fall back on declaring that they believe what they want to believe. The fact that there is absolutely no supporting evidence for their position is turned into a positive.

If it seems like I'm picking on Christians, consider that I'm an ex-Christian living in the Bible belt. They're the religious group I'm most familiar with and the only one I regularly come into contact with. Pretty much every other organised religious group in the world suffers from the same flaw of relying on claiming faith when reality collides with their religious doctrine.

The problem I have is with faith, not religion as such. Don't get me wrong, I think spirituality is a good thing. I only have a problem when faith is used to ignore reality. There's more than enough in the natural world to inspire awe; there's no need to invent a supernatural one. Take strength from what is real, don't rely on self-delusion.