Lately, I’ve been re-reading the Greek Bible (a.k.a. “The New Testament”) while listening to Prof. Luke Timothy Johnson’s lecture course, Jesus and the Gospels. Johnson is a believer, unlike Bart Ehrman. But he’s a scholarly, thinking Roman Catholic — not a knee-jerk Biblical literalist. So I’m enjoying the course far more than expected.

When William Stoddard recommended the poem “The Disciple” by Rudyard Kipling on another comment thread, I was intrigued! Better yet, I was not disappointed on reading the poem.

The Disciple
Rudyard Kipling

He that hath a Gospel
To loose upon Mankind,
Though he serve it utterly–
Body, soul and mind–
Though he go to Calvary
Daily for its gain–
It is His Disciple
Shall make his labour vain.

He that hath a Gospel
For all earth to own–
Though he etch it on the steel,
Or carve it on the stone–
Not to be misdoubted
Through the after-days–
It is His Disciple
Shall read it many ways.

It is His Disciple
(Ere Those Bones are dust )
Who shall change the Charter,
Who shall split the Trust–
Amplify distinctions,
Rationalize the Claim;
Preaching that the Master
Would have done the same.

It is His Disciple
Who shall tell us how
Much the Master would have scrapped
Had he lived till now–
What he would have modified
Of what he said before.
It is His Disciple
Shall do this and more….

He that hath a Gospel
Whereby Heaven is won
( Carpenter, or cameleer,
Or Maya’s dreaming son ),
Many swords shell pierce Him,
Mingling blood with gall;
But His Own Disciple
Shall wound Him worst of all!

In the years that I’ve been studying the history and texts of early Christianity, I’ve grown to love and appreciate the Gospels as literature. They’re rich, complex, and philosophical. I’ve also developed some sympathy for Jesus — as much as I disagree with every bit of his preaching — because his message was so quickly and wildly distorted by his followers. To use Bart Ehrman’s language, there’s a gap between the religion proclaimed by Jesus and the religion about Jesus. And it’s huge.

Santorum Versus Free Speech, Again

Mar 272012

Rick Santorum wants to ban hard-core pornography:

Rick Santorum wants to put an end to the distribution of pornography in the United States.

“America is suffering a pandemic of harm from pornography,” Santorum’s official website reads. “Pornography is toxic to marriages and relationships. It contributes to misogyny and violence against women. It is a contributing factor to prostitution and sex trafficking.” The former Pennsylvania senator states that, “as a parent, I am concerned about the widespread distribution of illegal obscene pornography and its profound effects on our culture.”

Santorum criticized the Obama administration for turning “a blind eye … to the scourge of pornography” and for refusing to enforce obscenity laws. “If elected President, I will appoint an Attorney General who will do so,” Santorum writes. “While the Obama Department of Justice seems to favor pornographers over children and families, that will change under a Santorum Administration.”

In fact, America is suffering a pandemic of harm from meddling statist politicians, particularly of the theocratic variety, such as … Rick Santorum!

Oh, and if that’s not alarming enough, see for yourself how preacher Chris Terry introduces Rick Santorum:

For more, see Pastor Dennis Terry Introduces Rick Santorum, Tells Liberals and Non-Christians to ‘Get Out’ of America.

Video: Judging Religions as Better and Worse

Feb 242012

In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed judging religions as better and worse. The question was:

Are some religions better than others? Do certain religions encourage rationality more than others? Do some promote better moral systems than others? I am curious both about different forms of Christianity (Catholic, Protestant, Unitarian, Mormon, etc.), as well as other religions (Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Baha’i, etc.). Should rational atheists respect followers of certain religions more than others?

My answer, in brief:

Religions are better or worse in their core doctrines and in their effects on a culture. However, due to the complexity of religions – not merely as ideologies but also as a cultural movements – they can’t be easily judged as better or worse. Also, just because a person claims to be an adherent of a given religion doesn’t tell much about what he believes or practices, nor whether they are honest.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

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Is Criticism of Islam Racist? Are Most Muslims Peaceful?

Jan 102012

In the Facebook Group for Front Range Objectivism, a reasonable person posted the following remarks:

Fabulous discussion last night [at an event where some Front Range Objectivists spoke]. However, I was truly disturbed to meet some among us, who are influential in the Objectivist community, who express prejudice against Muslims in general. I was hoping this kind of racism was going away, but it appears to be alive and well. We alienate reasonable people who might otherwise ally themselves with us when we make statements about all Muslims being terrorists. Yes, there are Muslims who are subversive terrorists. Unfortunately we have one in the White House right now. But we don’t do ourselves any favors by stating that the Koran itself promotes terrorism, and that anyone who is a Muslim wants the world to be run by Sharia law. If you look carefully at the Bible, there are lots of dated and outrageous statements which no good Christian would incorporate into their lives today.

I have been fortunate to have many Pakistani Muslim friends, who are American citizens, who are patriots. Most if them are conservatives, too, and quite closely aligned with the Objectivist philosophy. They are disturbed and alienated by the kind of prejudice I heard last night. And they are voting with their votes and their substantial campaign donations. So am I.

Those themes are common, and I wanted to lay out my own view. So here’s my reply, slightly edited. I could have done better, rhetorically speaking. Still, I think that I articulated my own position reasonably well.

Islam is a chosen religion, not a race. So it’s not “racism” to criticize Islam or Muslims, any more than it’s racism to criticize Christianity or to regard theocratic Christians as a major threat to liberty in the America. It’s not proper to discriminate based on race, because race is unchosen, and has nothing to do with moral character. Religion is chosen, and has a huge impact on a person’s character, values, and actions. A person should be judged for his chosen religion, not given a free pass.

As for how many Muslims are jihadists — or support that — that’s another question. Given that Muslim violence against “the infidel” and others is not strongly and loudly condemned by Muslims in the US (and elsewhere), but instead often excused, condoned, and urged on, I can only regard most Muslims as either active or passive supporters of violent jihad. In contrast, that’s not true of Christians in America. While the political views of most Americans are influenced (for the worse) by Christianity, most American Christians oppose attempts to impose sectarian dogmas by law, and they deplore violence. That’s because Christianity, unlike Islam, has been tempered by the Enlightenment. (Alas, that’s disappearing slowly…)

Muslims opposed to violent jihad are disobeying the explicit commands of their religion. If that’s their true view, however, then they ought to stand up and say that, particularly given the barbaric acts of their fellow adherents. But they’re almost entirely silent. Hence, the rest of us are entitled to assume that they really don’t have a huge problem with fellow Muslims blowing up Jewish children, murdering daughters for being too western, executing gays, stoning rape victims, killing apostates, and so on.

Of course, if you know particular Muslims who support American values… that’s AWESOME. However, just as with Christians, those Muslims ought to abandon their religious beliefs, because they’re wholly incompatible with any concern or respect for individual rights.

Update: There’s a bunch of comments already posted to the copy of this post on the blog of the Coalition for Secular Government.

Michelle Bachmann, Theocrat

Jul 152011

I refuse to vote for politicians whose votes are determined by prayer. I’m looking at you, Michelle Bachmann!

She’s speaking about the 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling that denying marriage rights to same-sex couples violated the state constitution. Here’s the transcript:

When that happened, I heard the news on my local Christian radio station in Minneapolis, St. Paul and I was devastated. And I took a walk and I just went to prayer and I said Lord, what would you have me do in the Minnesota state senate? And just through prayer I knew that I was to introduce the marriage amendment in Minnesota.

While we’re here, don’t forget about the varieties of marriage that God sanctions in His Holy Scriptures. (Click to read the fabulous details!)

Maybe, Michelle, if you pray real hard, God will make you some powerful man’s concubine! Alas, that’s one of the better alternatives.

Biblical Marriage

Jun 152011

The religious right claims to advocate “biblical marriage”… but what does that actually mean? Take a look, and be sure to click on the image to read the fine print.

Hooray for family values!

Christianity: Obey and Suffer… and Shut Your Mouth!

May 172011

Many Christians would watch this music video of kids urging respect for and obedience to authority with some measure of alarm.

Many Christians, after all, want their children to think and judge for themselves, not to mindlessly obey their parents, teachers, and ministers. And they’re right — not only because some adults are unworthy of trust — but also because they recognize in some way that independence is a virtue.

Yet in so doing, Christians are rejecting scripture in favor of plain old good common sense. Scripture is clear — from the story of Abraham and Isaac to that of Doubting Thomas that faith in and obedience to authorities is morally required — even when they demand that you believe ridiculous tales and perform unspeakable acts. In fact, such is the explicit advice of given by the Apostle Paul to Christians in Romans 13:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience.

Remember that, next time you hear of a priest molesting a child or dictator slaughtering his people. Or worse, apply the following advice from 1 Peter 2 to those cases:

Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. For it is to your credit if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, where is the credit in that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.

Do you think that Christianity offers help and solace to innocent people, unjustly downtrodden by the powerful? Think again!

Horcruxes and Harry Potter

Apr 222011

In this video, Ari Armstrong of Free Colorado delves into the deeper meaning of a “Horcrux” in Harry Potter by contrasting it with that of the Christian cross, then explaining why the latter does not represent the values in the novel. It’s well-worth watching, as I’d never noticed the parallels he explains here so clearly.

On a related note, Ari just released an expanded version of his excellent book Values of Harry Potter. Here’s his tour through the book:

The release of the Expanded Edition of my book Values of Harry Potter offers a good opportunity for me to walk people through the book.

In the Introduction, I quickly review my own history with the Potter series and introduce the main topics of the original edition. I also summarize my take on the religious themes of J. K. Rowling’s novels: “Some people argue that the books should be avoided because they oppose Christianity. Others argue that the books should be read and praised because they promote Christian themes. My claim is that the Christian elements of the Potter books are real but disconnected from the broader moral themes of the books.”

Chapter One, “The Heroic Fight for Values,” first discusses the major values that Harry Potter and his allies pursue: their lives and the lives of loved ones, their liberty, and their ability to live and work in peace. In contrast, “all the villains achieve is misery and self-destruction;” they destroy the values that make life worth living. The last part of the chapter, “Values in the Face of Death,” reviews the stories of Lily protecting Harry with her life, Dumbledore doing the same for Draco, and Harry confronting Voldemort thinking he’ll die in the process. I argue that these cases, too, illustrate the heroes acting heroically for their values.

Chapter Two, “Independence: Mark of the Hero,” explores the virtue of independence in Rowling’s heroes and the vice of dependence (or, to invoke Ayn Rand’s term, second-handedness) in the villains. Independence in this context means approaching “all of life…according to one’s own considered judgment of the facts,” not “ignoring others, disdaining them, avoiding their company, or rejecting their help.” Key examples of the second-handed approach are the Dursleys and Gilderoy Lockhart. The section, “Second-Handers and Power,” discusses how power-lusters such as Minister Fudge, Dolores Umbridge, and Voldemort himself embody the second-hand mentality. By contrast, the heroes of the novels, particularly Dobby, Hermione, and Harry, maintain a fierce independence.

Chapter Three, “Free Will: ‘It Matters Not What Someone Is Born,’” considers the similarities and differences between Harry and Voldemort. “Rowling shows that choice is key” to the very different paths they travel. The chapter also reviews the cases of Sirius Black and Severus Snape as illustrations of the power of free will. However, free will also has its limits, and the chapter explores these as well, as illustrated by the cases of Ariana (Dumbledore’s sister), Merope (Voldemort’s mother), and the house elf Kreacher.

Chapter Four, “The Clash of Love and Sacrifice,” grows more critical. Is Lily’s act of protecting Harry an example of sacrificial love in the Christian tradition? Invoking the wisdom of Aristotle, I argue that it is not; instead, Lily acts to protect her most cherished value. Though Rowling herself injects Christian symbolism into her stories, her characters actually show that they act in pursuit of their own values, and calling that “sacrifice” makes little sense. The chapter also considers the cases of Ron “sacrificing” himself on the chess board, Harry rescuing his enemies, and Dumbledore caring for his sister.

Chapter Five, “Materialism and Immortality,” examines the significance of the Horcrux, an object of great evil. Central to the plot of the novels is Harry’s quest to destroy Voldemort’s Horcruxes. I argue that, while Rowling suggests belief in an immortal soul is necessary for virtue, her characters actually demonstrate otherwise.

For the Conclusion to the original edition, “Mischief Managed,” I discuss Rowling’s work as an example of Romantic literature. I argue, “The deeper magic of Harry Potter flows through our world, too.”

Part Three: Additional Essays consists of eight essays new to the Expanded Edition.

The Psychology of Harry Potter reviews Rowling’s experience with depression and relates it to the dementors of the novels. The essay goes on to explore the psychological significance of boggarts, the Mirror of Erised, the Resurrection Stone, and the scar that Voldemort gives Harry.

Wizard Law and Segregation reviews the various roles that government plays in the novels. In brief, the government protects wizards from harm, oppresses other races (which the heroes condemn), and regulates various behaviors. Notably, Rowling creates a world in which wizards forcibly segregate themselves from Muggles, something that seems at odds with Rowling’s broader themes of political liberty.

News Media in Harry Potter counters criticism of the novels’ treatment of journalism. I argue that Rowling actually presents a “constructive view of journalism within the series.” I conclude, “The novels encourage readers to critically examine claims, regardless of their source, for internal consistency and adherence to the facts. Most importantly, the series urges readers to fight for the truth.”

The final five essays review The Tales of Beedle the Bard, contrast Rowling’s use of magic with the magic of fantasy writers J. R. R. Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander, recount “Harry Potter’s Lessons for Muggle Politicians,” discuss some similarities between Rowling and Ayn Rand, and review the Potter films.

If this seems interesting to you, I invite you to read my entire book!

I’ve not yet read the expanded edition of the book, but I really enjoyed the original version. In case you missed it before, here’s the endorsement that I wrote for the original edition:

I’ve read all the Harry Potter novels multiple times, discussed them at length with friends, read essays analyzing them, and even published an essay of my own. Yet Ari Armstrong’s Values of Harry Potter offered me a delightful array of fresh insights into J. K. Rowling’s works. It offers fans of Harry Potter a unique opportunity to explore the core values of the novels, to discover why we find them so captivating and so inspiring. Readers will develop a deeper appreciation for Rowling’s achievement in portraying life-loving, courageous heroes. They will discover compelling answers to any half-formed questions and doubts about the significance of her Christian themes. When I re-read the Harry Potter series — as I’m eager to do again — I will gain far more insight and inspiration from them than ever before, thanks to Values of Harry Potter.

If that sounds interesting, you can buy the paperback for $14.99 or the Kindle edition for $8.99.

Note to Appease the FTC Thugs: Ari sent me a free copy of this new edition of his book. That, plus our criminal history together in Mexico, is my sole reason for this blog post. Granted, any commissions earned from purchases thereof goes to Greg Perkins, my other partner in crime, due to Colorado’s Amazon Tax. However, I’d find some way around that were it not for that Las Vegas caper involving the hooker, the truck driver, and the one-handed midget little person. He knows too much, dammit!

Mar 082002

Peggy Noonan apparently thinks that cloning will bring on the apocalypse, as she indicates in the second section of this piece. As she says “God is not mocked.”

Strangely enough, it only gets worse.

And, just for fun *pbbbbbt* to God!

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