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XKCD Makes the NYT

W00t.

I adore xkcd. The site is not that old (Sept. 2005), but it had instant appeal among the slashdot crowd, and these days its popular at digg nd stumbledupon. I looked in my bookmarks, and my first xkcd saved link is from April 2006, so I’m old skool, baby! (I’m worried, my Firefox spell checker did not catch my purposeful mis-spelling of the word “school”)

This is the intersection of popular and geek culture, like the Lord of the Rings movies, or Internet Party 2 (New! Improved!) There IS internet culture, people, and we are forming it ourselves.

Consider this the Wild West, only with more porn and body fat and less cows and guns. The Wild Frontier of flame-wars, virulent memes, and chubby chicks; this will be talked about in reverent tones in years to come.

I love you, xkcd.

In fact, I’m totally gay for you.

Five Things Religions Shouldn’t Do

I’ve been participating on the religious bulletins at amazon.com. There are some very intelligent people who hang out in the that forum, which I guess is not to surprising, as it is amazon. There are also some very dumb people. It’s quite fun!

All the discussions over there inspired me to write this amazing authoritative ideological masterpiece about what religions should not do. I know, I know, you can give me the Nobel Peace Prize later.

1) Holy War

Please, as a world, can we finally just decide that killing each other over religion is a really bad idea? These meme should not be difficult it spread, especially if the religious “Moral Majority” vocally denounce those in their group who advocate any type of religious violence.

2) Government

A good modern day example of why theocracies are a bad idea is Saudi Arabia. Christianity joined up with Rome within a few hundred years of its birth. Islam was a religion with political goals right from the start. Outside of that dynasties ruled as gods, going back to the earliest agricultural city-states. So the idea that religion should not be running governments is relatively new. There is a very good reason for this, though, and that leads to the next thing religions shouldn’t do.

3) Persecute

No religious group should ever persecute another religious group, ever, for any reason. Due to the traditionally hybrid nature of church and state, persecution of other religions became an excuse for invasion and war. See the genocide in Joshua for a pertinent example, but there are many others. But there is more to persecution than War. Ostracizing people, considering them second class citizens, telling them they are going to hell. You shouldn’t treat other people bad simply because they don’t believe your religion, or believe something weird. Persecution should not be allowed, including persecutions for religious reasons.

4) Science

Let’s face it, Science and Religion are always going too have an uneasy relationship. Myself, I’m a firm believer in NOMA. But it’s important to remember that the Catholic Church still has egg on its face for prosecuting Galileo. If fact, religion as a whole was discredited for that move, so they should be very careful when making claims that can be checked by Science. If you need an approximation of objective truth, use the scientific method. If you’re looking for meaning and purpose, philosophy and/or religion are your best bet.

5) Control Adherents:

I’ve been following the Anon vs. Scientology protests, and I’ve really been thinking about how much control people give to their religions. Many of them are so intertwined that it completely consumes their life, even coming before family and friends! In the “religious practices” meaning of the word, these behaviors mark the members of “cults”, where religious behavior is reflected in every single thing the adherent does, to reflect their complete devotion. This sort of control is NOT HEALTHY, and religions should not venerate this behavior, or require it. Other inputs are necessary to have a full and well-balanced view of the world.

We’d all be a lot better of if religions didn’t do these things. Anything else?

Arius and Athanasius: Early Christian Disputes

Original Posted Date: June 5, 2006 – Monday – 11:02 AM

It was about 300 years after the death of Christ, and things were going pretty well for the Christian church. In the West, persecution by Rome had ceased due to Constantine’s Edict of Milan, which ended all religious persecution across the empire and restored the wealth that had been stolen in previous years.

As is human nature, now that they weren’t under direct threat Christians started arguing with each other. The Bible had not been canonized yet, so there were many different “flavors” of Christianity, not yet one catholic (Greek for “universal”) faith.

It was a theologian named Arius started all the trouble. His question appeared harmless at first glance, “How could Jesus Christ have been God in the same way as God the Father”.

Arius was actually very moderate for the time; he did not deny the divinity of Christ, but considered him a “lesser god”. And he was able to use accepted scriptures of the time to back himself up. Being a musician, he set this to song and the debate spread across the land.

Arius’ bishop had an assistant named Athanasius, who strongly disagreed with Arius. Jesus Christ was fully and completely God, and also fully and completely Man. He was equal with the Creator, as was the Holy Spirit. Thus the concept of the “Trinity” was made concrete. Athanasius also believed that to deny the full divinity of Christ was to earn eternal damnation.

A theological war broke out, with both sides supported at some points and banished at others. Athanasius himself was banished at least 5 times, although not all banishments were due to theology. This controversy went on for quite some time, and for some believers it continues to this day.

Near the end of his life, Arius gained a chance to sway things his way, with Constantine calling him back from exile and commanding Athanasius to reconcile Arius with the Church. Athanasius refused to do this; and Arius gained entrace with the Emporor. After he presented his Creed, Constantine declared his works orthodox and ordered Alexander (Arius’ and Athanasius’ old bishop) to give Arius communion. But quite suddenly Arius died under unusual and embarrasing circumstances, most likely due to poisoning.

So in the newly forming Universal Church, Athanasius view of God prevailed; and he went on to be a very influential theologian; even to being the first to identify the New Testament Canon, and today he is considered “The Father of Orthodoxy”.
Whether or not he murdered Arius, Athanasius has been criticized for using physical force, bribery, and excommunication to enforce “Gods” will. His defense was that he was saving future Christian souls from Hell; a justification repeated many times throughout history. Father of Orthodoxy indeed.

Answers in Genesis: Part VI – Religion and Intelligent Design

<–Intelligent Design Landing Page

In spite of what you might get from some of my posts, I am not against Religion. Sure, I’ve read Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and even some Daniel Dennett (although I’m more of a Douglas Hoffstadter fan). I’ve read Camus, Marx, Ayn Rand, Arthur C. Clarke, RH, blah blah,…godless atheists all.

But I’ve also read the Bible, virtually all of it, much of it more than once. And I’ve studied it, and studied heurmeneutics. And I’ve read C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Donald Miller, Oswald Chambers, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Francis AND Frank Schaeffer, blah blah Christians all, mostly Protestants.

And I’ve studied Christian history extensively, higher criticism, historical-grammatical interpretations, Arius and Athanasius for everyone, blah blah.  OK, I’m done bragging, but I have a decent reason for it.

One of the things I’ve learned in all this is that there is nothing simple about Christianity, or any other religion. And there is nothing simple about secular humanism and skepticism. I read a lot of atheists and agnostic saying really foolish things about religion, and that irritates me. Conversely I go home at Christmas and hear a lot of foolish things about “liberals”.

Stein: When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you.

Crouch: That’s right.

You should not be required to give up your intellectual freedom to join a religion. Not that you get to do anything you want, every religion prohibits certain activity. But censoring or “spinning” information is a bad sign, and a religion that demands conformity in everything should make you run away. A good example of this is the Scientologist who work for the church and have their internet access strongly censored if they try to do research on Scientology. Hmmmm….

You should not be required to give up you intellectual freedom to be a scientist. This should go without saying, but there is a lot of talk out there about “Fundamentalist Darwinism”. The sad thing is that there is some truth there; many “popular science” textbooks on evolution make it seem like there is only one proper way to think about this stuff, and that it’s all figured out! The fact is, revolutions are difficult, evolution is difficult, even in science. Rigor is definitely important, but we should be more accepting of new hypothesis, even when they seem rather silly. not that the actual PRACTICE of science needs to change much; what we really need is better PR, like the religious folks have. I mean, not very many people have full time jobs to preach about science.

Religion and Science are not INHERENTLY in conflict. Morality and Science are not in conflict. Neither is Philosophy and Science, or Art and Science; they speak about different, though related, things! I like S.J. Gould’s concept of NOMA:

“the magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what the Universe is made of (fact) and why does it work in this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty).”

I like this a lot, but I disagree as to how much science and religion overlap. Things are not as clear cut as they might seem, science and religion are going to have to play nice. Some scientific claims do have religious consequences, and some religious claims have scientific consequences.

Due to science, religions need to be very careful about the factually verifiable statements it makes. As covered in earlier blogs on Young Earth Creationism, a literal interpretation of Genesis (undeniably a religious belief) had significant predictive ability. For example, nothing in the universe would be older than 6,000 years, and life, the universe, stars, earth, that everything came into existence at the same time. Our very genes would be a testimony to our two common ancestors, Adam and Eve.

Crouch: What can people of faith do? What do you hope comes from this film?

Stein: Well, we hope that people who have children in schools will tell their children that if the teacher says Darwinism created everything and that there is no explanation for anything in the scientific world except Darwinism, that the student will say, well, Ms. Smith — or whatever the teacher’s name is — how did life begin? What keeps the planets in their orbits? Is there any proof of a separate species ever being seen to evolve?

Of course, if you LITERALLY read Genesis 1 and 2, you see that YHWH created plants, then animals, then man last; and at the same time created man first. then the plants, and animals last. So you have to understand it at least a little metaphorically; otherwise you believe that God created everything twice, in different ways both times (NOTE: Some people believe this very thing, that God created man once, then had to create him again after a pre-diluvian mass disaster, but I digress).

So to the question is “how much allegory should we allow while interpreting the Bible”. I say, “as much as possible”. For example, believing that Genesis is allegory could still supports the redemption theology of original sin, and it still supports the idea that we are special creations. Religions must frankly admit that they got some things wrong, in order to defend those things they got right. Not as unquestioning dogma, but as a living community.

On the side of Science, it’s important to respect the metaphorical and ethical domain of religion. While survival of the fittest genes is a demonstrable evolutionary fact, turning this into the ultimate philosophy to live by is a big leap of FAITH. If atheists like this exist, they are rare polemicists, and are at least evenly matched by religious counterparts.

But even when accepting a very fuzzy line between religion and science, Intelligent Design clearly falls on the Religion side! Science will tell us more about our origins than religion ever has. But this should not negate the value of mythic origin stories; as they have value as archetypes and moral tales if nothing else.

Stein: …Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.

Crouch: Good word, good word.

Top 10 Christian (Evangelical) Albums of the 90s

I was reading the hilarious blog “Rapture Ready“, and was inspired by one of the blogs to come up with my Top 10 Christian (made by Evangelicals) Albums of the 90’s.

  1. Jeremy Enigk’s “Return of the Frog Queen” – Jeremy Enigk was the front man for “Sunny Day Real Estate”, an early example of what is now commonly called “emo”. In the 90s he briefly flirted with being Born Again, and also produced this AMAZING album during that time. Listen to it on youtube here and here.  Better yet, go buy it.
  2. Michael Knott’s “Rocket and a Bomb”– edgy album from the grandfather of christian alternative.
  3. Danielson Famile’s “A Prayer For Every Hour” – These guys are twak, but no ones denies they’re creative. And really, this album is quite wonderful.
  4. Sixpence None the Richer’s “The Fatherless and the Widow” – Not a one hit wonder.
  5. Lost Dog’s “Little Red Riding Hood” – alt-country super group.
  6. Prayer Chain’s “Mercury” – ahead of their time. too good to be Christian music.
  7. StarFlyer59’s “She’s the Queen” – drone pop.  Lost of guitars. Then more guitars.
  8. Poor Old Lu’s “Sraight Six” – these guys were awesome.  Really, really good; again too good for Chrstian music.
  9. The Choir’s “Circle Slide” – beautiful melodic pop.
  10. MxPx’s “On the Cover” – fun pop punk covers.