Ascent out of Darkness ~ Armchair Philosophy from the 'Silly Beliefs' Team
|So ... what's on TV tonight?|
OK, so NZ is now in lockdown for 4 weeks (at least), where, apart from essential services, everyone must stay at home, and people are starting to wonder what they're going to do to fill in the time.
What about reading a book? As a friend often reminds me if I mention a book — 'I'm not a reader' — and her sentiment, while meant as joke, is unfortunately typical of many people today. Even people I've met at the local 'Skeptics in the Pub' meetings, whom one would have thought would be more inclined to read a book to be better informed about the claims they challenge, have continually refused my offers of relevant books to read, preferring to get their 'facts' from movies, YouTube videos and Facebook posts. My friend works as a real estate agent and made the observation that of the untold houses she has been through, most have no books to be seen, and if the written word can be found then it's usually the likes of a lightweight biography of a sports celebrity, a glossy book on Princess Diana's dresses, a guide to last year's horoscopes, or some trashy magazine such as 'NZ Woman's Weekly', 'NZ House & Garden' or 'NZ Rugby'. Or of course, the book that trumps them all for worthlessness, that many houses do possess, the Bible. So even if people now find themselves in Homer Simpson's situation when he moaned, 'I'm so bored I could read', the reality is that most will have no decent book to pick up. And with libraries and book shops closed, there is no opportunity to go out and get one. And yes, book shops, like blacksmiths, do still exist but it's increasing hard to find one that stocks anything but the mindless crap I mentioned above. And as for that Bible gathering dust in a drawer somewhere, lying on your back and counting ceiling tiles is a more productive activity. Some people say that reading the Bible cover to cover will turn any intelligent person into an atheist, but seriously, no one is yet desperate enough to do that. There is a good reason why even most Christians haven't read beyond the first chapter or two. Trust me, the tale the ceiling tiles have to tell will be more enjoyable.
Puzzles and jigsaws are another option, but again many households won't have any these days, or at least not ones that will challenge adults. Team games for adults like Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary and Scattergories were very popular years ago but not so today, probably due to the fact that some intelligence and knowledge is involved. Likewise card games and board games like chess, again games that require people to think, have largely disappeared from homes. Entertainment these days seems to focus on people switching off their brain and mindlessly sitting in front of a flickering screen for a few hours, either alone or in a group.
So for most that means watching TV. I've noticed, and my real estate agent friend again noted, that no matter how poor someone claimed to be, most houses always have a huge widescreen TV and a DVD player, often with a home theatre sound system, with DVD movies on shelves where decades ago books used to be. Which is good because cinemas are now closed, as are video rental stores. But thankfully the shops that sell alcohol are considered essential services and remain open. One NZ shop said they saw an 1800% increase in alcohol sales as people prepared for the lockdown. Alcohol and toilet paper (and in the USA, guns as well) seem to be the essential items that people feel they need to stock up on to get through this pandemic. So, sitting on your comfy stash of toilet paper, with a beer in one hand and TV remote in the other, your viewing selection is now limited to your personal DVD library — probably 'The Lion King', 'Forrest Gump' and 'Titanic' — and what is screened on free-to-air TV. For those lucky few that can afford it, and can pay for a high-speed Internet connection, they can subscribe to some of the streaming services such as Netflix and Neon.
I remember someone complaining a few years ago that she spent each night channel surfing trying to find something worth watching. I agreed, noting that with 20 channels on Freeview TV it's pathetic that there is so little worth watching. I'm old enough to remember the good old days when a portion of TV programming was comprised of science and history documentaries, current affairs programs, investigative reporting on important topics affecting your region and the world, interviews and debates featuring politicians and academics, and a time when reality TV meant TV showing us what was real in the world, not a TV crew following some celebrities in bikinis around a desert island. And we got all that in a time when we only had one or two channels! The argument at the time for increasing the number of TV channels available was that it would greatly increase the variety of TV programs available, so no matter whether you liked to watch sports, movies, documentaries, soap operas, comedies, dramas, cooking shows, kid's cartoons, or only the news, your type of program would be screening on one of the channels at a convenient time. But instead of getting individual channels that offered a real choice, we got a raft of channels that were often clones of each other. During primetime TV the main channels have all settled on screening a very limited selection of the same type of program, mainly reality TV and sports, with a few movies, comedies and news shows sprinkled in between for good measure. But the two main daily News programs both screen at the same time on competing channels. When a good movie is to be screened on one channel, competing channels quickly screen other movies at the same time to tempt viewers away. If a cooking show or a home renovation show or a dating show becomes popular then similar shows are quickly made and screened on competing channels. Different sports events will often screen on different channels at the same time, forcing fans to make a choice. Channels aren't working together to provide viewing diversity, as we hoped they would, they're in financial competition to get as many viewers as they can by any means necessary, which usually means copying the type of programs that are successful on other channels, no matter how moronic they might be.
Documentaries and current affairs programs, which require expertise, time and money to produce, are pretty much non-existent across all channels, whereas reality TV shows rule the roost because they're cheap and easily made by idiots, meaning they're very profitable. And because they usually focus on conflict and senseless competition, most viewers love them. The sad thing being is that there is nothing real about their 'reality', they are as fake as the Shroud of Turin or stories of the Virgin Mary, and rather than educate and inform viewers, they only make the world dumber. One needs look no further than Donald Trump and the army of morons that support him. As I write this I looked at today's TV Guide, and here is just some of the truly pathetic shows that people in lockdown can watch. Well, they can't watch them all because many are on competing channels, so they'll have to choose which piece of crap is going to eat away at their brain cells:
20 Years Of Jamie Oliver, Motorway Patrol, Police Ten 7, Ambulance Australia, LEGO Masters USA, Graham Norton's Good Story Guide, Storage Wars, Easy Eats, Sidewalk Karaoke, Ozzy and Jack's World Detour, American Pickers, 8/10 Cats Does Countdown, House Hunters International, Love It or List It, Tattoo Fixers, The Real Housewives Of Cheshire, Island Life, Bath Crashers, Married At First Sight Australia, Celebrity Antiques Road Trip, Millionaire Hot Seat, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Naked Attraction, My Lottery Dream Home, Selling Houses Australia, Emmerdale, Coronation Street, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Home And Away, Shortland Street, Wheel Of Fortune, Jeopardy, Judge Rinder, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, America's Funniest Home Videos, The Hairy Bikers' Comfort Food, Pawn Stars, Outback Truckers, Love Island UK, America's Most Desperate Kitchens.And that truly depressing choice of programs is only from half of the available channels, on just one day. The other channels, believe it or not, are even worse. For example, one is a mindless shopping channel; three channels, yes three, are devoted to Christian evangelism; and two are in a foreign language, not in English. Why is it that we can have three channels pushing religion, as if one isn't already too many, and yet not even one channel devoted to the likes of science, history, news and current affairs? Why can't they drop us a few crumbs? We know that these programs do exist. They don't even have to allocate a separate channel. Many people have digital recorders, so they can screen them at some weird time on an existing channel and we'll record them and watch them later. Mindless drones can keep watching their drivel, all we ask is that they share the airwaves. Screen a few programs that require at least an average IQ to understand, programs that don't insult our intelligence, that require viewers to think and that educate and inform us.
But later I got to thinking, and I realised that we're actually very lucky that so much rubbish is broadcast. Let me explain. In NZ, 20 Freeview TV channels means a potential of 480 hours of programming per day. If someone slept 8 hours and watched TV for every hour they were awake, that means they could only watch 16 hours of TV, even though 480 hours were broadcast. They couldn't watch more than just over 3% of the programs broadcast even if they wanted to. Of course few people watch TV every waking hour. Evidently we watch on average around 3 hours of TV per day, so let's use that figure. 480 hours of programs are broadcast every day but we are only going to watch 3 hours worth. So if we don't want to feel annoyed that we are missing some really great programs every day, we seriously need to believe that those 477 hours of TV that we're not watching are utter rubbish, or are at least irrelevant. And from what I've seen, they are indeed rubbish and irrelevant. No one needs to keep up with the Kardashians, get married at first sight or eavesdrop on the pathetic housewives of Beverly Hills. So if we do the sums, the average of 3 hours viewing is less than 1% of what's available (0.6% to be more exact). That means that not only is over 99% of TV programming unwatched, for us intelligent and discerning viewers to be content we actually want and need that 99% to be utter rubbish and unworthy of our time. So thank you TV broadcasters and TV producers, you're doing great.
Think about it, if over 99% of TV wasn't utter rubbish we'd all feel that we were missing out, and we'd have to increase the hours we spend watching TV, and of course some other activity would have to be sacrificed to free up those extra hours for TV viewing. But as I've said, even if we spent every waking hour watching TV, we could only watch just over 3% of what's available. So even then we would still find ourselves hoping and desiring that around 97% of what's on TV is not worth watching. So we shouldn't complain that nearly all the TV programs are utter rubbish, since if they weren't we'd just be pissed off that we didn't have time to watch more. We should only complain if, buried in a mountain of rubbish, we can't find a few quality programs to fill in the 2 or 3 hours that we might choose to spend in front of TV. That over 99% of TV programs are utter rubbish is a good thing, something that in hindsight we don't want changed, we just need to hope that there are still a few rare gems to be found in the swill.
Unfortunately I'm not finding many, in fact in the last few weeks, apart from a couple of movies (which were repeats of repeats) and the nightly News, my TV has only been used to watch DVDs. Free-to-air programming could almost be classed a non-essential service and closed down, since watching the drivel they broadcast is more depressing than the COVID-19 updates. You'd think that the government would realise that since adults are not currently at the pubs, restaurants, cinemas, brothels, sports events and untold other social gatherings, then they need to entertain these housebound adults by getting broadcasters to put some decent programs on TV for the duration. But no. The crap continues unabated, totally ignorant of any pandemic. I truly feel sorry for many households, having lost the art of conversation and crappy TV their only entertainment, cabin fever has no doubt already set in. Instead of just predicting a rise in domestic violence during this lockdown, the authorities should have thought about providing some safer diversions, like screening some good movies and interesting documentaries rather than just continuing with the regular mind-numbing reality TV.
Luckily I have a library of DVDs and books to draw from, but for many households with no books, no puzzles and games, and no DVDs other than little kid's movies and 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy, then the lack of any decent programs on free-to-air TV is going to make this lockdown seem like torture. Ahh ... now I see why they kept the liquor stores open. Even reality TV might just be bearable if you're horribly drunk and incapable of rational thought. Too bad if they have kids though.
UPDATE: 28 Mar, 2020. Three days into lockdown, last night's TV3 newsreader gleefully informed us that one silver lining of the coronavirus was the opportunity to binge on all the new TV shows that were being offered, and that later in the bulletin the channel's movie critic was going 'to help guide your choices and highlight all the fresh releases'. I waited with bated breath, and eventually movie critic Kate Rogers told viewers of a TV drama series about an American financial advisor caught up in laundering money for a Mexican drug cartel, and a movie about a missing daughter and murdered sex workers. She admitted that, 'now clearly [this movie] might not exactly be the feel good virtual hug some of you might be needing right now, but it's none the less a good watch, not the best of its genre, but a good watch ... and you'll find it on Netflix'. So at a time when people are worried and stressed, Rogers recommends we watch a crime drama and a movie about murdered sex workers. WTF? She even realised that the movie was likely not what most people need right now, and yet the stupid bitch recommended it anyway. And it's not as though it was just one depressing movie from a list of many upbeat ones, it was the only movie she recommended. And if murdered sex workers aren't your thing, then watch the series about the murderous Mexican drug cartel. When we were told she was going to 'highlight all the fresh releases' coming on TV to keep us entertained during this lockdown, I was expecting more than just two, and something that wasn't so bloody depressing. But it gets worse. The fact is that neither of her viewing recommendations, as crap as they are, are actually going to be screened on TV. We were lied to. She finished her spiel with, 'and you'll find it on Netflix'. Clearly both Rogers and the TV3 News producers hold the out-of-touch, arrogant assumption that everyone in NZ has a pay TV subscription and a high-speed Internet connection. Right, just as we all have a wine cellar, a pool and servants to do our bidding. At a time when many people are losing their jobs and the economy is taking a major dive, they're suggesting people spend money on a new TV channel, quite ignorant of the difference between a luxury and a necessity. And clearly they miss the irony, where we have people working for a free-to-air TV channel recommending that their viewers should ditch their channel for the better programming to be found on a pay TV channel. Given the chance to recommend some shows worth watching on their own channel, they came up short and recommended their viewers change channels to Netflix (credit card required). I was hoping that our free-to-air broadcasters were going to help out by ditching some of their pathetic lineup and screening some decent programs while we're stuck at home, but no. It's business as usual.
|Of viruses, zombies and quarantine|
In our last post on the coronavirus I mentioned that the NZ government has finally realised their mistake and have now banned all foreigners from entering NZ, but are still encouraging Kiwis that are abroad to quickly come back home, whether they think they may have been exposed to the virus or not. Other countries are doing likewise.
NZ currently has 52 COVID-19 cases. Two of the latest cases are being investigated as possible community transmission, but the reality is that ALL the cases of coronavirus were brought into NZ by returning Kiwis AFTER the world was well aware of how dangerous and contagious this virus was. This is not a disease that has suddenly appeared in various countries independently and by mere coincidence. At the start of this outbreak, well before we had our first case, our government health officials kept warning us that the disease would reach NZ, even though we are isolated at the bottom of the world, and of course they knew this because they intended to fly it here in the live bodies of Kiwis that they were bringing out of disease hotspots. Of course they were hoping returning Kiwis wouldn't be carriers of the disease, but their experts would have, should have, told them that it was a foolish and ill-informed risk. It's Epidemiology 101, or something learnt from any Hollywood movie featuring a disease outbreak. The outbreak in NZ was started by authorities that gambled with our health, a gamble they were sure they would lose. And they did.
How does disease containment, a quarantine, work if you allow, and not just allow but encourage, certain groups of people to leave a known outbreak area and return to their home, knowing that some will without doubt be taking the virus with them and starting a new outbreak in a new country? Surely it would make more sense to keep everyone where they are, to fight an epidemic rather than a pandemic, by preventing people from fleeing back to every corner of the world?
Imagine watching a movie where a zombie outbreak occurs in downtown Manhattan, New York, and the military rushes to isolate the city in order to prevent the spread, to quickly stop the rest of the country, and the world, from becoming infected. They close all the bridges, tunnels etc, erect barriers and prevent any boats or flights from leaving the quarantined island. They finally manage to contain the outbreak, isolating all the zombies to the island of Manhattan. An unfortunate consequence of this enforced quarantine is that terrified non-zombies that are in hiding, people that have not yet been taken over by the zombie virus, are caught up in this isolation zone. Our movie scientists determine that the zombie virus spreads from personal contact with a zombie or something a zombie has recently touched, and once infected, it takes 5 days before symptoms start to show and a person suddenly realises they are infected. So in this movie scenario, do you think it would be sensible for the authorities to shoot any citizen behaving like a homicidal zombie that tries to breach the barriers? I'm thinking yes! Do you also think it would be sensible for the authorities to let any citizen through the barriers that appears normal? Remember that due to the incubation period these citizens could easily be infected with the zombie virus, and the more you let escape to safety increases the odds that at least one will be infected. Sooner or later it is almost guaranteed that you will destroy your successful containment of the zombie virus by foolishly letting the virus smuggle itself out in healthy looking citizens that you know all too well are potential carriers. You would be gambling with the future of the world, and are almost certain to lose. I'd like to think that the authorities facing this zombie apocalypse would realise that the risk to the world was far too great to allow anyone from within the containment zone to leave. There should be no humanitarian gesture that anyone feeling OK at the moment can leave. We've all seen the movies where an infected person hides their growing symptoms and sneaks out with the other survivors so that they can visit their family before they die, and bang, a virus outbreak begins in a new region. It only takes one selfish, despicable person that suspects they are infected but keeps quiet or one that doesn't yet realise they are infected to make it through the containment line and the epidemic starts anew. And the number that are going to die horrible deaths jumps enormously. And I'm not just talking movies, we see it happening now in this coronavirus outbreak, where people worried that they may be ill flee back to their home countries before they become noticeably unwell.
So in our zombie movie, reason would dictate that once the barriers are erected, then no one gets out. By definition that is what a containment or quarantine zone is, and it's what makes them successful in combating disease outbreaks spread by person to person transmission. But rather than the argument that authorities should let "healthy" looking people out, what if the US President turned up and said to let out all the people that are rich millionaires, and that voted for him. Imagine Donald Trump. I'm hoping that most people would think that would be an unjust and irrational move that no one (except some rich people) would stand for. After all, why should rich Republicans get saved and everyone else is forced to stay and take their chances, especially since rich Republicans would be just as likely to carry the virus as would rich, or poor, Democrats? The best case for containment and then eradication is that everyone stays, no exceptions for rich people. But then imagine that the NZ Prime Minister turned up and said any New Zealanders stuck in Manhattan would be allowed to leave the containment zone. They wouldn't be tested for the zombie virus, if they feel OK then that's good enough reason to let them go home, even though it's almost certain that a few will be infected and will take the zombie virus to NZ, quickly destroying the successful containment that was in place. If the authorities wouldn't make an exemption for rich people, why should they (or we) make an exemption for Kiwis? If we are to jeopardise containment by releasing a group based solely on some arbitrary nature — rich or Kiwi or Hindu — and not that they've been proven virus-free which would be the only valid reason, then it appears that we're letting our emotions override our intellect. We want our loved ones home even if it means spreading this deadly virus to our family, our community, our country and eventually the world. This would be sheer madness, we'd be acting like ignorant, superstitious peasants of millennia past that didn't understand that healthy looking people can harbour microscopic killers and that enforced quarantines for everyone — rich or poor, New York resident or Kiwi tourist, male or female, adult or child — was absolutely crucial to limiting the spread of an epidemic.
And yet, in the real world, that is exactly what has happened. Countries around the world, including NZ, have sent out the word to their citizens abroad. If you're currently in a disease hotspot then you need to come home. Flee the infected that surround you and do your bit by helping to spread this deadly virus to your friends and loved ones at home. Why should they miss out? Why should regions be allowed to create containment zones and keep this virus to themselves? That's just being selfish and greedy. Many say that countries divide us, but we're all humans so we should be united as one. So let's use the coronavirus to unite us, whether we're Chinese or Italian or Kiwi, we can all feel united by all succumbing to a common virus. No one should feel special or left out. Break the containment zones, ignore the social distancing requests, gather with others for silly reasons, let's pretend we're ignorant peasants back in the Middle Ages and this is our "Black Death" experience.
I'm not saying there isn't an argument for flying potentially infectious Kiwis back to NZ in some situations, but at the very least the threat should have been recognised and they should have been isolated and tested before being released into the wild. And of course the authorities did know how to do better, since when the outbreak began in China and two weeks after the city of Wuhan was placed in lockdown, the NZ government evacuated 193 Kiwis from the region, flying them back to NZ and putting them into isolation at a military base. So the risk was recognised and precautions taken. But only for those arrivals. After the outbreak spread around the world, the same authorities who should have fully expected some of these returning Kiwis to carry the virus, merely waved them through immigration with not even a temperature check, saying, 'You're home now, and safe. Go gather with your family and friends and regale them of your worldly adventures'.
Lest you think I'm an uncaring brute, I do feel enormous sympathy for people trapped in the centre of a disease outbreak, but I'm rational enough to realise that taking them, and the highly contagious virus, out of containment zones is only making things worse. Pandemics, outbreaks of a disease in different countries, are caused mainly by infected people fleeing the initial epidemic, the source of the disease, and spreading it to their home countries. It's bad enough when selfish people do this surreptitiously, but isn't it worse when their governments assist them to escape quarantine? Even if a legal quarantine hasn't been established, the physical isolation between many countries serves as such, but unfortunately such isolation is easily broken these days thanks to air travel. We wouldn't sneak people out of hospital isolation wards and home for a coffee and cake, that would be seen as totally irresponsible, but how is that any different from flying them out of a disease hotspot to their home country where they gather with family and friends for a coffee and cake?
Of course the damage is done with COVID-19, the horse has bolted, no sense closing the stable door now. But perhaps in the future we should look at isolating an epidemic at its source rather than sharing it with the rest of the world. The deadly 1918 Spanish Flu was without question made far more devastating because of WWI soldiers returning home from Europe carrying the virus. A localised flu became a worldwide flu. It's just so stupid to lay claim to all this amazing scientific knowledge on how diseases spread, and how they can be contained and combated, and then to ignore it all by breaking quarantines and embracing the inflicted in a fit of compassion. And then ... oh no, now I'm sick. How did that happen? Compassion is fine, but not when it kills you.
I should add that when I suggest isolating an epidemic at its source, I'm not suggesting that the rest of the world should then ignore that outbreak and carry on as normal. The world could agree to assist by sending troops to maintain containment and medical staff to work towards eradication, similar to what already happens in natural disasters like earthquakes and floods. The commitment of resources by other countries would be small in comparison to what is happening now in each country, and therefore wouldn't severely impact the world economy. Likewise each country could expend more effort on isolating and testing their voluntary staff before flying them back to their home countries contagion-free.
Countries worldwide are closing borders, limiting internal travel and putting cities and regions into lockdown. Economies are degrading, citizens worldwide are suffering and dying. That is, they are setting up their country as one large quarantine zone. But why was this only done AFTER countries had deliberately brought in untold potential carriers of the disease that were fleeing outbreaks in other countries? And rather than isolate these incoming carriers and test them for the disease, they knowingly let them spread to every corner of the country, all the better to cause a new outbreak where previously there was none. Rather than create untold quarantine zones around the world, severely impact the world economy and threaten the world's population, surely it makes more sense to contain and isolate a deadly disease outbreak at its source. No one gets out. The disease response teams go to them, we don't encourage and enable potential carriers of some deadly pathogen to flee back home where their mother will care for them with a hot bowl of chicken soup, a prayer and a comforting touch.
|Coronavirus and the church|
As the NZ government brings in a ban of mass gatherings of more than 500 people to try and combat the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, I read that Brian Tamaki, the self-appointed bishop of Destiny Church, has said he will be continuing to encourage his flock to attend services. He even put a special invite out for all his followers to gather at Destiny Church Auckland for a National Day of Prayer on March 15th. I guess he won't be breaking any laws if numbers at future services remain under 500 (although I get the sense that he wants to flout the law even if the threshold goes way down), but even smaller groups are being irresponsible in my view, since we're all being encouraged to avoid unnecessary group gatherings, and we know that coronavirus spreads by personal contact. If someone is infected it potentially only takes a few seconds for virus transmission on meeting another person, so I'm a little mystified as to why health officials say that groups of 499 or less people are safe, and you can be near someone that is self-isolating and may potentially have the virus as long as you stand 2 metres away and you spend no more than 15 minutes in their company. So ... umm ... does the virus take a minimum of 15 minutes to jump from person to person? I've read that a sneeze travels at about 160 kph, and can travel as far as 8 metres, and that a virus can last on a surface a lot longer than 15 minutes. That's why I'm for avoiding any unnecessary group gatherings, and church services are one of the most unnecessary group gatherings on the planet. They always have been — I mean, talking to other people about your imaginary friend, how unnecessary is that? — and with a contagious disease doing the rounds, what better reason to sleep in on Sunday? If something is really urgent, then surely God is on Facebook and has a Twitter account? Right? Even Donald Trump has the brains to use Twitter, so how hard can it be?
Tamaki is the first I've heard encouraging his flock to keep attending church, but that said I haven't heard any minister or priest of any other church suggest that their flock might want to consider staying away for a bit. If we look at the Catholic church where one of NZ's know cases of coronavirus attended a service, the church didn't recommend that those that may have come into contact with the infected person stay away and self-isolate, instead they told everyone to come to the next church service and sit with others when the priest would explain who the infected person was. Such stupidity! Even the reporters that ran this story on the TV news didn't question the church's plan. Have they not heard of that newfangled invention, the telephone? The sad reality is that as people should have become more informed about appropriate behaviour in disease outbreaks, I still haven't seen a single church or mosque put a halt to their services and tell followers to stay away for the safety of themselves and their community.
I did see on the TV news that the Catholic Church were making some changes, that priests are no longer permitted to touch people (but since when has that stopped them?) Also, in the Eucharist ritual instead of putting a piece of Jesus's body directly into the mouth of believers, they must place it in their hand instead and let them put it in their mouth, and instead of believers all sharing a goblet of Jesus's blood, only the priest drinks it. Wait ... what ... Catholics believe they are actually eating the body of Jesus and drinking his blood? Isn't that cannibalism, you ask? Yes, it is. As we've said, religion has a lot of totally screwed up beliefs. But regardless of these minor changes to their rituals, the Catholic Church is not suggesting their blood thirsty followers stay away, apparently God will protect their group.
So while Destiny Church's Brian Tamaki is being forthright and publicly encouraging his followers to keep coming together as a group in church, it appears that most other churches support this stance, they're just not saying it publicly. And why wouldn't they agree with Tamaki, they're all Christians following the same superstitious script. The only difference is that Tamaki has the guts and conviction to make his primitive and offensive views public, whereas the others only say what they really believe behind closed doors and between friends. After all, for example, it's not just Tamaki and his church that hate homosexuals, Catholics feel the same way, in fact it was from the Catholics that Protestants like Tamaki learnt how he should behave towards homosexuals. All Christian churches say they follow the word of God, and God hates homosexuals. He views them as an abomination and commands his followers to persecute them. God's view is quite clear, as is the view of Jesus. There is some confusion amongst Christians as to who Jesus was, some say he was actually God in disguise, others say he was the son of God, but regardless, Jesus said he was not going to change a single letter of God's laws, so God's commandments regarding homosexuality stand. Any Christian who says they have no problem with homosexuals is telling you how they feel, not how God feels. I commend them for their stance, but they're still going to roast in Hell for it.
Tamaki suggested to the NZ Herald that deadly pandemics (and any disaster actually) are likely to be a judgment from God, saying that,
'There have from time to time been judgments on nations, and it's clear right through the Bible, the word of God, that sometimes God allows those pestilences and plagues and famines. ... When people remove and replace God, then those judgments were a way of getting attention back again and saying that he is the one true God.'I guess if God killed some of my family and many in my community, and collapsed the world economy, then he would certainly have got my attention, but I just can't help but think that there might have been an easier way, you know, without all the killing and suffering? Like giving me a call, sending me an email or even being really old-fashioned about it and knocking on my door with a coffee and donuts. I've often said, and God must know this, that I'll quickly swap to believing in God if someone shows me the evidence that God is real. I've never even hinted that the deaths of untold people due to a pandemic that appears to have a natural cause would convince me that the cause was in fact supernatural. And even if I did make that quite irrational leap, why would I suspect the Christian god as being the culprit and not the Greek god Zeus or the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl? Disasters certainly get my attention, but when God goes to a lot of trouble to make them appear completely natural, then all suspicion goes off God and onto elements in the natural world. God has committed the perfect crime, there is no hint that he is involved, he wasn't even seen loitering in the Chinese city of Wuhan, but Tamaki thinks that, clear evidence to the contrary, we should still go after God. But it gets worse. Even if we could be convinced that it was indeed God that is causing all this death and suffering, my immediate thought would be that this God is a barbaric, murderous psychopath and I hate the bastard, yet Tamaki thinks I should feel boundless love for what God has done. If God wants my affection, then maybe he should try the carrot rather than the stick. Or the coffee and donuts. Why the fuck won't God get off his arse and get our attention with something truly amazing that doesn't involve killing, instead of hiding and hiding and hiding and then moaning into his beard that intelligent people of the world don't believe he even exists. You'd think that a being with infinite intelligence could easily realise that a publicity campaign that involved hiding wasn't going to achieve the results he was hoping for, but no. Clearly God is not as bright as Christians believe.
Tamaki goes on to assure his followers and other true Christians that gathering together is perfectly safe if they follow God, saying that, 'He will protect you and your family from the pestilence', and he instructs them to read Psalm 91:10, which says, 'no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent'. But what if you're not lucky enough to own a tent? I read that Reverend Dr Helen Jacobi of Auckland's St Matthew-in-the-City criticised Tamaki's advice as being 'incredibly unsafe', and adds that, 'Certainly in the Anglican church we have been sharing the message to follow public health advice, and we follow it in our own gatherings'. It's good that Rev Jacobi is pushing public health advice rather than God's advice, but note how she is still arranging church gatherings to share that message rather than cancelling services and sharing on Facebook.
So here's what Tamaki said when officials started talking about restricting public gatherings,
'I'm not about to let a filthy virus scare us out of having church. ... In a time when people are fearful, they need faith, hope, and the presence of God, so we will be keeping our churches open.'That was Tamaki expressing his own view, but I believe it is a view that one could safely attribute to the leader of any Christian church, not just Destiny Church. It's not offensive and seems to be a view that untold Christians would happily support, but does it really make sense, is it a view that a true believer should hold?
Tamaki states, 'In a time when people are fearful ...', and of course many will be fearful. So how might we reduce that level of fear? For us normal folk, ie atheists, things like an effective police force, capable doctors and house and life insurance give us some measure of safety. We know that bad things may still happen, but if they do then the likes of the police or doctors or insurance companies will come to our aid and hopefully lessen the harm. It's not perfect, some people may still die, but it's certainly better than nothing. But Tamaki is referring to God's children, not to us heathens, which makes me wonder, why should true believers be fearful of a 'filthy virus'? As Tamaki "proved" with Psalm 91, they have the love and protection of God, an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving being. True believers should be strutting around carefree knowing that they have the best health insurance, not just in their community, but in the universe. If they don't feel safe, if they're fearful, even with God on their side, then what use is their pact with God? Apparently they are worried that no matter how much they pledge their fidelity and loyalty to God, no matter how much time and money they donate towards doing God's work, they're scared that regardless of how good they try to be, God might still smite them.
And history has shown their fears to be justified, Christians should be scared, as they suffer just as much from these natural disasters as atheists, so Tamaki continues, 'they need faith, hope, and the presence of God, so we will be keeping our churches open'. But again, a true believer should already have faith, that irrational belief that his God is real; he should already have hope, being utterly confident that God will protect him and his family; and he should already feel the presence of God, since God is everywhere, even joining him in the shower for a little quality time. How can a Christian call themselves a true believer if they don't already have faith that God is looking out for them and can't already feel his presence? As an atheist I have the same feelings towards God, the difference being that I explain God's absence by the simple fact that he doesn't exist. Christians on the other hand believe he does exist, so they explain his worrying absence with one of several coping mechanisms. Perhaps they've sinned and rightly deserve to be punished by God. One of the core beliefs of Christianity is that we've all sinned, that we are born with sin, and no Christian on the planet hasn't sinned by breaking numerous commandments in the Bible. Have you killed a homosexual lately? It's a sin if you haven't. Another excuse Christians spin is that God works in mysterious ways, so while a good Christian dying from coronavirus may seem unjust to her family, God has a good reason for why she had to die, he's just not prepared to tell us what that reason is. Another favourite is that if things are going badly, no matter how much you pray and run through all the appropriate rituals, like tithing (giving some of your hard earned money to the rich guy running your church), then you're clearly not doing it right, not being sincere enough, and God can tell when someone is just going through the motions. So yeah, if Granny dies of coronavirus, then it's your fault, since you clearly didn't pray hard enough, or give enough money. Another reason for bad things happening to good people, according to Christians, is that they are sometimes just collateral damage. There are always some atheists or homosexuals or people that masturbate living in the same neighbourhood or city as the good Christians, and when God visits his wrath upon them, perhaps by raining brimstone and fire as he did with Sodom and Gomorrah, or perhaps by utilising the coronavirus, then unfortunately many good Christians are going to perish as well. Apparently it can't be helped. Strangely, as all-powerful and all-knowing and all-loving as God is claimed to be, he either doesn't know how to target just the guilty people, or doesn't know which ones they are, or doesn't care that innocent people die in his angry outburst.
I actually find it embarrassing listening to Christians come up with pitiful excuses as to why their God was noticeably absent during some disaster. Not only do their excuses reveal an ignorance of their own religion, if true they reveal a god that isn't worth worshiping at all. Why waste time on a god that is going to punish you regardless, if your future actions won't change that punishment in the slightest? Why try to work out how you should behave, since you have no idea what sort of behaviour, good or bad, God is looking for, and he won't tell you? Why commit your life to God when your sincere commitment most likely will never be good enough? Why lead a godly life, and boring life, if God is just as likely to kill you accidentally as he targets your fun-loving neighbour?
If God were real, and as loving and as powerful as morons like Tamaki believe, then no government would ever try to close a church or limit a mass gathering of its parishioners. Why not? Well, because everyone, even we atheists, would accept that, for reasons we may debate, it is nevertheless clear that Christians seem to be utterly immune to whatever disaster is striking the wider community. In a pandemic like coronavirus, not a single Christian would ever contract the disease, let alone die from it, even though their exposure to the virus is identical to the rest of the population. In other disasters, the Christian ability to come through unscathed would show through. Tornados, forest fires, earthquakes and floods wreak huge destruction and loss of life, and yet miraculously Christian lives and properties would always escape unharmed. If God were real then we would all recognise Christians as being under divine protection and their churches as the safest place on the planet. Tamaki would never have to fear authorities closing his doors or turning away believers, on the contrary, governments would be imploring people like Tamaki to enlarge their churches and their membership. Rather than telling people to self-isolate or sending them to hospitals, they'd be sending them to a church. That would be where our salvation lies, if the world is to combat coronavirus (or any threat) then churches are the safe answer.
But clearly they're not the answer, that's why Tamaki's flock is rightfully fearful and he feels he needs to keep his doors open to console them, and the collection plate ready to cover his costs, and then some. If his god was helping good Christians then it would be obvious for all to see, but good Christians are dying like everyone else. Their loving god, God the creator, the maker of all things, made the virus that killed them, just as he made some human bodies with immune systems not good enough to fight it. It's bad enough to die horribly from a nasty disease, but it must surely be worse knowing that your loving father in heaven was the mad scientist who created the deadly virus and then decided that you would be infected by it. Oh yeah, he loves you alright.
Tamaki has a foot in both camps, the moron camp and the selfish, greedy businessman camp. He believes an invisible sky fairy will come to his aid, so clearly a moron, and he is willing to risk the health and lives of his followers and his community just so that his church, his business, can remain open and keep making him money. A leader that genuinely cared for his followers would tell them to go home, and remind them that God is already there waiting for them.
And that's another weird thing regarding Tamaki calling people to church. One of the causes of the 16th century Reformation (when the Roman Catholic Church splintered and the Protestant churches were established), was that most Catholics (and at the time all Christians were Catholics) believed that you could only connect with God through their priests, that you had to go to church and priests would pass your concerns or thanks on to God. But some Catholics thought that believers should be able to talk with God directly, no matter where they were, in church or at home or out walking the dog, since God was everywhere and wanted a relationship with them personally, not just from edited messages relayed from a priest. These breakaway Catholics became Protestants. The weird thing is that Tamaki is a Protestant, and yet by arguing that Christians have to go to church to feel the presence of God, to connect with God, he's acting like a Catholic. Tamaki may or may not realise this (although of course he should, as should all Christians), but regardless, Tamaki does know that he can't take their money and continue to wield power over his followers if they stop attending his church. But God can hear the pitiful prayers of Christians no matter where they are, even at home, it's only church leaders like Tamaki that can't hear their prayers until they're kneeling in the pews, so who are these fearful Christians actually trying to reach, God or Tamaki?
This is something all churches must address. If, as they claim, God is everywhere, even on your sofa in your own home, then why are they still keeping their churches open and holding services during a pandemic, when the sensible and caring thing to do would be to close their doors until God recalls his killer virus?
UPDATE: 20 Mar, 2020. The government has now brought in a ban on indoor gatherings of more than 100 people, down from 500, which will affect gatherings such as funerals and weddings, as well as many pubs and churches, with a fine or prison sentence for offenders. It will be hoped that punishment applies to both the organiser and the attendees. That said, I still don't see why 100 is now the magic figure. I understand that the more people you come into contact with the higher your probability of contracting a contagious disease, but why are 100 people safe at a wedding and 101 aren't? What's the research that supports this?
If you go to a concert with 5,000 other people, you're only likely to come into close contact with maybe 50-100 people, if that (and yes, I'm guessing here, just going from experience), the rest will be distant to you and might as well not be there in terms of virus transmission. The people that pose the most risk to you are those in your immediate vicinity, standing in the crowd around you, maybe some 50-100 people. But the current restrictions, if you're outdoors, don't shield you from the 500 people that are closest to you, they only shield you from the hundreds of people over that 500 maximum that have been banned from the concert, and who would have been way, way over there anyway, while the people that are the greatest threat are those dozen or so right next to you. The coronavirus doesn't suddenly activate and spread when it reaches a certain threshold, say 100 people indoors or 500 outdoors. You could have a concert with 10,000 people and be completely safe if there is no infected person attending, or quite unsafe at a concert with just two people if one is infected. What I'm saying is that if there is one infected person at a gathering, it doesn't matter if it's a gathering of 50 or 500 or 5,000, that person will likely only come into close contact with the same number of people no matter the size of the gathering. They will potentially infect just as many people at a small gathering of 50 as they would at a gathering of 5,000. When you attend a gathering of 5,000 you don't get to meet them all, not even close, whereas at a gathering of 50 you often do talk with nearly everyone. If the virus is present, then small gatherings carry the same potential of transmission as large ones, so I'd be encouraging the cancellation of all unnecessary gatherings, since it is just two people meeting that transmits the virus, not some magic number of people around 100 or 500.
Unfortunately what I deem an unnecessary gathering in light of a dangerous disease outbreak is being challenged by many in society. It's not just the large organised events that people are fighting to ensure they still go ahead, like the national ANZAC Day commemorations (which have only just been cancelled!), but also friends gathering at a pub to drink beer and talk rugby, or meeting at a café for an expensive coffee and muffin to catch up on gossip, going to the gym to work off that coffee and muffin, attending church to talk to your imaginary friend, running up a field with a ball while others contest your ownership of said ball, visiting a brothel for some "companionship" and stress relief, supporting some event that promotes your hobby, like tractor pulling, bridge or line dancing, shunning your widescreen TV to sit with others, in the dark and in silence, at the movies, and throwing those leftovers into the rubbish and going out for a restaurant meal with friends instead. I have no problem with people doing all those things during normal times, but these are not normal times, and a lot of angry, ignorant, selfish people need to educate themselves and act responsibly for the welfare of their community. The world will not end if they stay away from the pubs, cafés, gyms, sports fields, churches, brothels, restaurants etc, until the coronavirus threat ends. They can still drink alcohol and coffee at home, exercise in the park, watch movies on Netflix or DVD, gain stress relief via solitary methods, eat nice meals and talk to their imaginary friend. And in this day and age when everyone supposedly communicates via social media rather than face-to-face, a lot of people shouldn't notice any change.
|Coronavirus — are we all doomed?|
OK, to allay any fears I'll reveal straight away that no, we are not all doomed. After all, a few weeks ago I saw President Donald Trump on TV, leader of the free world, addressing the nation and telling us all that talk of an emerging coronavirus was a hoax. Just more fake news. Worryingly though, he has since changed his mind (or what passes for a mind) and has now declared a national emergency. To reassure US citizens Trump has put his vice president, Mike Pence, in charge of hoax containment — sorry, I mean coronavirus containment — even though Pence has no expertise and is well known as being anti-science (as is Trump), someone who dismisses climate change, denies smoking causes cancer and doubts that evolution is true.
And lest you wonder where I stand, I view the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic as quite real, that many more people will likely die before it is contained, and that the economic impact will be severe and far reaching. Unfortunately the effect of the pandemic will be made worse, unnecessarily so, by ignorant morons like Trump and Pence and by selfish and greedy individuals thinking only of themselves. And in case you're wondering why there seems to be different names for this pandemic, technically the strain of coronavirus responsible for the disease has been called 'SARS-CoV-2' (where SARS stands for 'Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome'), while the disease that results from this virus has been called 'coronavirus disease 2019', which in turn has been abbreviated to 'COVID-19'.
First, the morons. I'm disappointed to say that even a member of my own family, a niece, is part of the moron army. Asked in an email what I was up to, I half-jokingly said I was lying low to avoid coronavirus and door-knocking Christians. She replied with her opinion that 'this virus is all hype and scaremongering'. And she wonders why I don't visit. Then on the TV news they reported that some North Island marathon (or half marathon) went ahead as planned. One competitor was asked if she was concerned that such large gatherings might help spread the virus, and she replied dismissively, 'No. It's just a flu, right?' In one sense she's right, coronavirus is like the flu (or more correctly, influenza), in that they are both contagious respiratory infections that are spread by a virus and that kill their victims in the most severe cases. However, clearly her view was that the flu is more like the common cold, if caught it's merely an annoyance that might keep you away from work and makes you feel miserable for a week or so. The problem with this view is that around 500 people die of the flu in NZ each year, more than are killed in road accidents. And yet while people are fully aware that cars kill, many are quite ignorant of the fact that the flu also kills, and in potentially much greater numbers. Professor Michael Baker, from the University of Otago, believes that many flu deaths go unrecorded as such, and could even be up to twenty times higher, ie 10,000 deaths per year. So yes, while the coronavirus is certainly not the flu, it can be thought of as a sort of flu as long as that thinking centres around a contagious disease that kills people. Another person I spoke to at a 'Skeptics in the Pub' meetup accepted that the outbreak was real, but said that it would soon be resolved as he'd seen on Facebook that a coronavirus vaccine had been developed and was being released. The problem is that this amazing news would be a surprise to the likes of the CDC, and unfortunately most people these days put more trust in a tweet from a stranger than they do from a report from scientists at the CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention). Most will never have even heard of the CDC, unless they perhaps remember it mentioned in some zombie movie.
Speaking of zombie movies and similar movies portraying some devastating disease outbreak that ravages the world and sends everyone into a panic, these movies should be quite instructive since they usually show all the many silly, stupid things you shouldn't do in such a situation if you want to live, and keep society safe. They show how the contagious virus (be it working alone or inside a zombie) is spread by idiots and selfish individuals ignoring the advice of health authorities and sneaking over borders or ignoring quarantine to visit their family or lover. I know that these movies only work as entertainment because of the moronic behaviour of the movie characters, that there would have been no outbreak if certain people had only followed safety precautions or hadn't tried to sell some pathogen to pay off their gambling debts or hadn't lied about how dangerous and unsafe some new treatment was in order to keep their company viable. So having seen this stupid behaviour in untold disaster movies, behaviour that almost always gets them killed, why in real life do people do the same things? Why do they ignore the advice of scientists with expertise in the spread of diseases, why do they think that they can safely ignore quarantines, why do they encourage gatherings of large groups and expect the virus to stay away? And still on the moron theme, what's this panic buying of toilet paper all about, why aren't the morons fighting in the aisles over food? If isolated from society, I know which I'd prefer my cupboards to be full of.
In real life, many people ignore medical advice because they don't trust and/or don't understand the advice scientists and doctors are giving. Look at the anti-vaccination movement. It is ignorance of science. I've heard many people when asked if they might have some disease, like the flu or the measles, look at their hands and reply, 'No, I'm good'. Their flawed logic is that if they can't see the germs on their hands then clearly they are germ free. As long as their hands appear clean then they don't see themselves as a risk to anyone, so they can, in their mind, safely mix with others with no fear of passing on some disease. It's like we're still living in the Middle Ages. These idiots ignore the advice of health authorities because of ignorance, they fail to truly understand what a virus (or bacterium) is, and thus they feel it's quite safe for them to move around freely, ignoring whatever restrictions may be in place. Others know the risk, but ignore quarantines or go ahead with large events because any curtailing of the freedom of movement or cancellation of events could impact negatively on their business or reputation or some personal plan they have. These are the selfish and greedy individuals.
This combination of ignorant morons and selfish, greedy bastards put society in great peril. When you have people arguing that we don't need to do anything because, hey, it's just another flu, it's not going to kill ya, and you join that group with others that selfishly put you at risk just so they can keep their business or personal endeavour going, then it's a real struggle for society to remain safe.
Watching the nightly TV news I haven't got a lot of confidence in how the NZ government and some local organisations are handling the outbreak. They keep denying that some suggested preventative or precautionary measure is necessary, insisting that other countries are overreacting, arguing that those measures are too extreme and totally unnecessary, but then a day or two later we have a complete reversal and those measures are brought in. We're never pro-active, we always seem to be reactive, always playing catch-up. Other countries started temperature screening passengers from China, the source of the outbreak, while our government argued that passengers could just be waved through immigration. Enjoy your stay in our wonderful country. Even worried passengers that highlighted they had come from overseas hotspots were told to move along. The first person in NZ to be confirmed with coronavirus had to go back to the hospital three times before they finally agreed he was infected. A TV news report said there was a passenger on a local Air NZ flight suspected of having the virus and the airline told their staff not to inform the other passengers, the media or the health authorities and to just keep quiet. The government and the health department say don't worry, doctors are well prepared, yet the doctors themselves say they lack basic equipment. The official virus help line says go to your doctor if you think you could be infected, whereas the doctors say stay away and just call us or else you'll infect everyone at the clinic. Then we have the US banning all flights into the USA from Europe, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern responds by stating that we're not prepared to do anything like that, stating that for example all our pharmaceutical supplies come in on commercial flights. Then the very next day she claims to have brought in the most restrictive flight restrictions of any country in the world, not banning flights but forcing all incoming passengers to undergo a two week self-isolation or quarantine. No exceptions, she says, even returning citizens must self-isolate. Then she reveals that her no exception rule does actually have an exception, people from the Pacific Islands are free to come and are exempt from the self-isolation rule! WTF? Do Pacific Islanders have some sort of immunity that we don't know about? Trump only stopped flights from the Europe, and Ardern criticised him for it, then she effectively stopped flights here from the entire world. No, she hasn't banned flights, but no tourist or business person is going to come to NZ if they have to spend an entire fortnight, possibly their entire trip, isolated from other people. While not banned, the international flights will still soon stop as no airline is going to fly a plane to NZ with no passengers on board, or even half a dozen. Thus the pharmaceutical supplies she mentioned will stop coming, so how will she solve that problem? And how does she intend to police the restriction that people must self-isolate? And where would tourists self-isolate, surely you can't send them to a hotel, motel or camping ground because the one thing they have in common is being a place where people congregate? The government insists that unlike other countries we've had our pandemic plan in operation for weeks, and yet only after the US brought in their ban did we bring in ours! Only after another country makes some move do we make a similar move a day or two later. Is that all our pandemic plan actually is, watch what other countries do and then, if it's not too onerous, copy them?
In the weekend numerous public gatherings were planned around NZ to commemorate last year's terrorist shooting at the Christchurch mosques. Even where I live, there were not one but three events planned. The government and local authorities were encouraging everyone to show up and mingle and pay their respects, while they should be trying to combat the spread of coronavirus by discouraging large public gatherings and people shaking hands or hugging each other. The day before the main public event in Christchurch Jacinda Ardern was shown on TV preparing for it, nicely wrapped up in a Muslim headscarf, and she assured us it was safe to attend and no, it wasn't going to be cancelled. The next day it was cancelled. I guess no one advised her of the potential risk that large public gatherings create concerning the spread of contagious diseases, and when they finally did, she naturally had to cancel it. Of course the real reason for not cancelling the events as soon as the threat arose is that the wankers desperately want to get NZ back on the international stage and, being an election year, want their political candidates out there shaking hands and kissing babies, so selfish political and religious motives override their desire to keep communities safe from a potential epidemic. Bastards! I've noticed that over the last few weeks some high risk events around the world haven't been cancelled (apparently due to organisers not wanting to lose money) while some low risk events that probably could have gone ahead have been cancelled. Then in the last few days as the outbreak continues to spread, countries finally start to get serious and numerous large events worldwide have been cancelled or put on hold, from sporting events such as football in Britain to basketball and golf in the USA, even Disney has closed all its parks worldwide. France has closed schools and the likes of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. Italy and Spain have put entire regions of millions of people into lockdown. And yet the organisers for the Olympic Games in Tokyo still insist that they will be going ahead as planned, pandemic be dammed. What's more important than sport, right? Of course the motivation for holding the Olympic Games is different depending on who you ask. For the organisers it's all about not losing money, while for the competitors it's all about not wasting years of preparation and of not being able to show off on the world stage. Money and reputation easily outweigh the risk of someone (probably many) dying from a virus contracted while watching someone run down a field or throwing a stick. On last night's TV news I saw an American athlete, Will Claye, say that the Games should go ahead with this argument: 'I think the Olympics could show the world and unite the world, and show everyone that things will be OK, we're coming together and we're going to fight this thing'. To me that is an ignorant, selfish and blatantly transparent argument. First, Claye has already competed and won medals in two Olympics, and is willing to risk others dying just to go yet again. Second, getting people to come together in a mass gathering for an extended period, near the very source of the outbreak, is the worst thing one can do to control a pandemic. Does he not understand how viruses spread? And third, how could people watching and competing in games show the world that the fight against coronavirus is going well? It would more likely distract them from the fight and lull them into a false sense of security, that things are going so well on the virus front that we can spend time playing.
While our government woke up at the very last minute and cancelled the mosque gatherings, they say they won't decide on any restrictions for mass gatherings just yet. Of what use is their pandemic plan if it doesn't advise them on the risk of mass gatherings, that these restrictions need to be put in place immediately, before a virus surfaces in the community, not afterwards? Are they not yet convinced that close contact at these sorts of events aids virus transmission? Or are they taking a gamble with our health? Would they prefer to wager on the off-chance that the pandemic will disappear as quickly as it arrived, and therefore not have the need to cause some people to suffer financial hardship from event cancellation or to deny some spectators from attending their favourite concert? Because of course angry people are also voters and will remember come election time. Scientists and doctors will ask what they need to do to stop the pandemic and save lives, no matter who is inconvenienced, whereas politicians will ask what they need to do to keep their jobs and remain in power, no matter who dies. Some people put their own selfish desires before their humanity.
The Chinese doctor who first tried to warn of a coronavirus threat was silenced by Chinese authorities, their reputation was more important than telling the world, or even their own citizens, that a new killer virus had surfaced. It is suspected that Iran, one of the many countries where the virus has spread to and where a major outbreak is occurring, is suppressing the true account of how many are infected and how many have died. Again, politicians see their country's reputation as more important than telling their citizens how serious the outbreak truly is. And this has all happened before. As this Washington Post article states, when the Spanish Flu struck in 1918 at the end of World War I, the American government, state authorities and even the likes of newspaper editors hid the truth about the seriousness of the flu, they censored and silenced doctors who spoke out, and encouraged communities to organise mass gatherings to welcome home returning soldiers, the very people carrying the lethal virus. The Surgeon General at the time claimed that, 'There is no cause for alarm...', while 'another top health official dismissed it as "ordinary influenza by another name".' The article notes that an 'historian is worried the Trump administration is failing to heed the lesson of one of the world's worst pandemics: Don't hide the truth'. Because of wartime news blackouts, Britain, France, Germany and other European governments suppressed news of the dangerous outbreak of influenza, only Spain, which was a neutral country in the war and not censoring it's news, told the truth about what was happening, and since Spain was where the world first heard the truth from, many mistakenly assumed that was where the flu arose and so they called it the Spanish Flu. Although details are sketchy since record keeping was poor, it's estimated that the 1918 Spanish Flu infected nearly a third of the world's population, and killed around 20 million to 50 million people, perhaps as many as 100 million. More people died from the Spanish Flu than died in World War I, probably twice as many and maybe even five times as many. I fear that many people treat talk of a pandemic killing millions as something like a Hollywood disaster movie, very scary and quite possible, like aliens attacking, but not something that's likely to happen, so let's not get too carried away. But the truth is that something as simple as a common flu outbreak has killed tens of millions, it's not theoretical, it's part of recent history, and it's a lesson we should all be taking very seriously. Even the head of the World Health Organisation delayed labelling the outbreak a pandemic when it first became one, since he claimed if people heard that the outbreak was spreading worldwide it might provoke panic. He was watering down the truth. It's true that if confronted with bad news some people will panic, but likewise if falsely told that all is well, that everything is under control, then many people will do nothing, and will support their government doing nothing. The answer is to tell the truth, and to display confidence by explaining what action needs to be taken, lying will never cause problems to fix themselves.
There are similarities and differences between the current coronavirus pandemic and the Spanish Flu pandemic. They are both contagious respiratory infections that are spread by a virus and that kill their victims in the most severe cases. They are both unique viruses that the human body hasn't developed an immunity to. Their spread has been exacerbated by world travel, the Spanish Flu by infected soldiers returning to their home countries from WWI, and coronavirus by tourists and business people flitting from country to country on a whim. A difference is that coronavirus tends to kill the very young and the old, people that may have a compromised immune system, whereas the Spanish Flu was unusual in that it tended to kill healthy young adults. Another element that may be different is how many people each virus can infect, and of those, how many it will end up killing. Unfortunately it could be some time before the infection rate and fatality rate are known with any accuracy, so my hope is that authorities worldwide assume a worst case scenario and act accordingly. If the coronavirus pandemic will soon cease on its own accord, regardless of our extreme measures to curtail its spread, then all well and good, but we have no assurance that that scenario is likely. We need to assume that if we let it, if we are lax in our efforts of containment, then coronavirus could potentially infect billions and kill millions. Some will argue that governments spending money and bringing in restrictions (like in combating climate change) will severely affect their current lifestyle, so let's just wait and see if it's really going to be a problem. But what is the threshold for these people, how many people have to die before they say, OK, it's getting serious, you should probably look at doing something now. How many deaths are they willing to accept before their lifestyle should suffer? As I write some 170,000 people have been infected worldwide and 6,500 have died. How many should die before we get serious — 10,000 or 100,000 or 1 million?
The Pasifika Festival was rightly cancelled by the Auckland council due to fears of mass gatherings, but then some selfish stall holders frantically began looking for alternative venues and the Pacific Business Hub opened up its premises to the stall holders so that they wouldn't lose money. Their business interests trumped the safety of their community. There are untold examples in NZ and worldwide of individuals and governments doing things, or neglecting to do things, for selfish and/or ignorant reasons. It's bad enough that people take health risks due to ignorance, such as not getting vaccinated, but it's worse when authorities that know better, or should know better, take risks with our health due to their desire to lessen an economic hit to some sector of society. Like, let's keep letting in tourists and hope that none are infected, or let's not bother with the expense of screening incoming passengers until all hell breaks loose, or let's hold that great PR event and pray that no one gets ill.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the task faced by governments and officials isn't daunting, it must be a bloody nightmare, and the challenges they face and decisions they have to make will truly test them. And us. But I want them to treat me like an adult and tell me the truth. And as rational adults, I want them to listen to the medical expertise they have available and to make the tough choices that keep us safe. I want them to err on the side of caution, even if that means the resulting financial woes sees some of us having to cancel our Netflix subscription and only going to the spa once a fortnight. Governments and officials need to remember that it is their job to keep the country safe, not to keep their jobs safe, and that it's more important to keep us alive than rich.
So, due to ignorant morons that see coronavirus as 'all hype and scaremongering', selfish bastards that would rather risk a few strangers dying than cancel their big beer tasting event, and cowardly officials that weigh up their decisions against how it might impact on their reputation, I suspect that if we come through this relatively OK, it will be because of good luck and not good management.
UPDATE: 20 Mar, 2020. The government has finally realised — surprise, surprise — that naively relying on the honesty of incoming tourists to self-isolate for 14 days won't work, with tourists simply ignoring the restriction. They have now banned all foreigners from entering NZ, but are still encouraging citizens that are abroad to quickly flee back home, as are other countries, with or without the virus. The government has also finally banned flights from the Pacific Islands, since it seems Pacific Islanders can catch the virus after all. Who would have known?
|Enough with the bloody apologies!|
Should people apologise on behalf of others? This is something that has irked me for years, years that have been increasingly filled with individuals, usually a spokesperson for some organisation or government, publicity apologising for some act that people now long dead had performed. We have vote-seeking politicians worldwide, including New Zealand, Australia, USA and South Africa, offering apologies and aggrieved natives tearfully accepting them for the way governments handled colonisation several hundred years ago. In America we have apologies for the slave trade, for how the government, landowners and merchants traded in human lives as if they were livestock. We have apologies from health institutes, churches and authorities concerning the ill-treatment of women, orphans, homosexuals, the mentally ill and ethnic minorities in centuries past.
But don't get me wrong, these events from our past are all things that we can and should condemn. With increased knowledge and better communication we can now realise that great injustices were perpetrated against millions, and sometimes we must shamefully admit, perhaps even by our own ancestors. But being able to condemn some wrong, an event that is separated from us by time and/or space, is quite different to being able to apologise for it. We have no right to speak for others, especially those who are dead and can't reply in their own defence.
As current prime ministers and presidents have done, they can acknowledge that modern governments wouldn't undertake the many actions that past governments did, that they and their citizens would now view them as unjust and totally wrong. But it needs to be remembered that when those actions that we now all condemn were undertaken, they weren't viewed as wrong or illegal or immoral by the government of the day or their citizens. They believed they were acting with the best of intentions and with the full support of the law, of God and of the people. They would have found it incomprehensible that we, some hundreds of years later, might now be offering an apology for their actions. I suspect they would be quite furious and offended to learn that we would be so presumptuous and arrogant to think that we could apologise for their deliberate behaviour. That's why I'm annoyed when I hear officials go beyond simply condemning past injustices and actually making public apologies for the decisions their predecessors made a couple of centuries ago.
Should you ever apologise for someone else's behaviour? You can perhaps apologise that you personally failed to anticipate and prevent someone acting in a way you thought was offensive or harmful, but I don't believe you can apologise for the person who committed said act. I could apologise for inviting Uncle Randy to a family get-together, since I knew he was an obnoxious racist that would likely cause offence, which he, true to form, did. But I can only apologise for foolishly inviting him, not for the insults he uttered, as if he later regretted them. An apology, to quote my dictionary, is 'An acknowledgment expressing regret or asking pardon for a fault or offense'. As I say, you can apologise for your own personal failure, for something you did or failed to do, but you can't pretend to be apologising for the act of another, since that person has not expressed regret for their actions, or sought forgiveness. Only you know if you now regret some action, and if you do, only you can issue a genuine apology. Anything else is bogus.
Concerning people from the past, I could apologise for the genocidal actions of Hitler, or for a Viking who raped a young woman during a raid on England, or for a Catholic priest that had burned a young woman at the stake for being a witch, or for a racist who lynched innocent blacks in 19th century America, but I can almost guarantee that each of them would, were they still alive, vehemently oppose my apology, that each would insist that I had no right to speak for them, and I certainly had no right to apologise for actions that they were in no way apologetic for. Nazis, Vikings, Catholics and racists, given a voice today, would be just as convinced now as they were then that their actions were justifiable, and in no need of an apology.
I simply don't understand how people can gain some peace of mind in receiving an apology, not a genuine apology from the person that wronged them, but a false apology from someone who is a stranger to the events in question. Let's say someone attacks you and puts you in a wheelchair for the remainder of your life, or permanently blinds you, and then ten years later some complete stranger knocks on your door and says they're sorry for the attack, it was wrong and it should never have happened. They are very remorseful and seek your forgiveness. You're confused, as they clearly aren't your attacker, so you ask them what connection they had with the attack. Did they order it or encourage the attacker in some way? They say they had no connection whatsoever, they simply feel that the attack was wrong and that an apology is due. However, you know that the real attacker is still in jail and is utterly unrepentant, that he has refused to apologise even though some sign of contrition might have seen a reduction in his sentence.
So, could you accept the apology of this stranger as somehow speaking for your attacker, that things are now a little better since he accepts his wrongdoing, when of course he does nothing of the sort? Could you delude yourself into believing that this stranger's generic apology is as meaningful as a heartfelt apology from your attacker? Perhaps you could, but it would, as I say, be a delusion. You might as well lie and convince yourself that you're not in a wheelchair or blind, that it's all just a bad dream and you'll wake up any minute now. An apology from someone other than the one who committed the offence is worthless, and any intelligent person should see it as such. People that accept such bogus apologies as if they're genuine should be apologising themselves for willingly allowing themselves to be deluded; for accepting the ridiculous notion that if someone wrongs us we should just get a stranger to offer an empty apology and all will be put right with the world.
Imagine a shark kills a surfer, and the local mayor goes on TV and says, 'I'd like to apologise to the family in their time of loss on behalf of the shark ... '. People would rightly say that's ridiculous, as the shark can't have expressed his regret, and wouldn't have seen what it did as wrong anyway. So why do people accept apologies of behalf people long dead, who likewise can't have expressed their regret, and also wouldn't have seen what they did as wrong, which is likely why they did it? Why would they laugh at an apparent apology from a shark, but accept an equally bogus apology from a dead person?
I've heard numerous aggrieved people insist that a public apology is required, even though the guilty party is long dead and unable to even consider issuing said apology. No matter, they demand it from an ancestor or official spokesperson. They won't accept sincere words of empathy or sympathy or condemnation of past actions, they demand an apology. Even though it can be nothing but an invention, mere words that convey a sentiment that is completely made up, a falsehood cunningly designed to console someone, some people still prefer an obvious lie to the truth. And the truth is that some people have done bad things, and they're not at all sorry. They're not going to be turning up on your doorstep with flowers and a tearful apology. People need to deal with that and stop insisting officials lie and make up apologies just so they can feel better. Are these lies about apologies from dead people just an adult version of the way many comfort little kids with lies about death, like how their dog Spot has gone to the big farm in the sky? And he says sorry about leaving.
|Giving God a much needed makeover|
'Why Christianity Must Change or Die'. That was the title of a book Bishop John Shelby Spong wrote twenty years ago, and it's a cry that's continued to be heard over the intervening years, uttered by some of the Christian hierarchy and by many in the pews. Even the Catholics who are more dogmatic than many Christian denominations have recently called for reform. Patrick pointed me to a recent article where Pope Francis talks of being alarmed by a 'world where Christianity is increasingly irrelevant', where he regrets that, 'Today we are no longer the only ones that produce culture, no longer the first nor the most listened to. The faith in Europe and in much of the West is no longer an obvious presumption but is often denied, derided, marginalized and ridiculed'.
Well of course. No organisation that still sincerely promotes such nonsense as Christianity does should have any influence on modern society, and any that continues to try should be 'denied, derided, marginalized and ridiculed'. End of story. This is the 21st century, not the Dark Ages.
But unfortunately, and not unexpectedly, this speech from the pope isn't one of defeat and resignation, he isn't taking off his frock and silly hat, closing down the churches and getting a real job, one that might give back to society rather than one that just takes all the time, one that might make the world a kinder and safer place, especially for little boys. No, the pope highlights their clear drop in the polls in an attempt to rally the troops. Quoting a dead guy, which is something Christians do a lot of, the pope 'lamented that the church found itself "200 years behind" because of its inbred fear of change'. To counter this trend, the pope 'called for Vatican bureaucrats to instead embrace change', if they wanted to 'make the church attractive so that it can fulfill its mission to spread the faith'.
My initial thought is what would real change look like, change that could make an effective difference, change that would remove all the things that people find repulsive or laughable about God, and if achieved, would it save Christianity or destroy it?
But why is change even thought necessary? Well, because many Christians are not happy with God's way of seeing the world, many are leaving the Church and less people are joining. If given the chance, Christians will tell you that their core beliefs about the world and how they should behave come from the Bible, and that what troubles them most is the major conflict between the views their Bible stories promote and the views that modern science, history and ethics promote. For example, many find it truly difficult to love a child or friend that is homosexual when their Bible tells them they must abhor them, or they find it deeply disturbing when their priest explains Hell to their young child, utterly unable to understand how their loving god could even make such a place. Likewise they don't understand why God is punishing them for something Adam and Eve did (where's the justice in that?), and frankly, according to science Adam and Eve didn't even exist. Naturally they'd welcome changes to resolve these concerns, and clearly any change to the way they do things and view the world must result from changes being made to the Bible, the very source of the conflict, and the only thing that is actually in their power to change.
So, if the Church was to make the required changes in an attempt to mollify parishioners and attract new followers, that would, at the very least, see them throwing out the barbaric, jealous God of the Old Testament and the totally vile notion of Hell, as many Christians have long argued for. Many have fought, unsuccessfully, to have the Old Testament ditched from the Bible and just have the New Testament, and some churches do just hand out only the New Testament. When I was given my first Bible as a kid, it was just the New Testament. And Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd president of the US, actually rewrote the New Testament to exclude all the supernatural nonsense. Not that there isn't also immoral stuff that deeply embarrass Christians in the New Testament, there certainly is, but less so than the Old Testament. But without God of the Old Testament there can be no Jesus Christ. For Luke Skywalker to become a hero, Darth Vader must be a villain. If you get rid of the obnoxious father, argue that he was always just a fantasy of the ancient Hebrews, then the son ceases to exist as well. If you cleanse Christianity sufficiently to appease modern sensibilities, if you rid it of all the immorality, such as God demanding we kill homosexuals and Jesus demanding we hate our parents and children and love him instead, and if you delete all the contradictions, the childish claims of magic and the scientific and historical errors, then you will have erased much of what's in the Bible. You'll be left with a confusing, disjointed, boring old book that's not much larger than a brochure. Granted it will still include some erotic poetry, since 'The Song of Songs' (or 'Song of Solomon') in the Old Testament has nothing to say about God, science or history, it's just a guy raving about how great sex is with his girlfriend, especially the joy of cunnilingus. Of course religious prudes have largely hidden it's actual meaning, just as in Genesis they disguised sex between Adam and Eve as, 'And Adam knew Eve his wife', which has confused many a young reader down through the centuries. Why they even added erotic poetry to the Bible when God clearly has a huge problem with sex is quite baffling, but regardless, when good commitment-free porn is now just a click away on the Internet, I doubt some ancient porn with no pictures is going to attract much of a following and revitalise Christianity.
Without the God stories, the horribly immoral God stories, the disgustingly barbaric God stories, the laughably false God stories, then there is nothing left for believers to hold on to, nothing to give them hope or comfort. And it is without doubt those very stories that have to go, the stories of God's silly six-day creation, complete with talking snake, stories of God's bigoted condemnation of homosexuality and sexual equality, of God's strict insistence on how we must behave, and the stories of the horror that God is preparing for most of us when we die, for it is those stories that offend the modern psyche, it is the inhumane and offensive values laid down in those stories that people are referring to when they argue for change in Christianity.
Strip away the immorality and inaccuracies from the Bible and little is left but an empty shell, a stinking husk that serves no purpose but to remind one of the primitive, superstitious crap it once contained. Real change, effective change, the change concerned people truly seek from the Church, would obviously destroy it in the process, and the beliefs of the ancient Hebrews would quickly be relegated to mythology alongside the other false stories of gods from the ancient Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Persians, Vikings, Maya, Aztec, Maori and thousands of others.
So is the pope talking of real change, or just thinking about some minor tinkering around the edges, like admitting that unicorns aren't real, even though the Bible mentions them some eight times? Or is the pope simply thinking of introducing Casual Friday to the Vatican? Pope Francis may be genuinely appalled by the injustices caused by Christianity, and especially Catholicism, but unfortunately the Vatican and many devout Catholics, brainwashed as they are, are never going to allow the necessary changes to be brought about because they'd view them as destructive and blasphemous. They'd rightly cry that you can't edit the Bible, God's Word, or the Catholic interpretation of it, as doing so would destroy the unique nature of Catholicism. They're quite deluded but they're not completely stupid. So the pope's comments will do nothing but soothe the worries of a few concerned Catholics, lulling them into the false belief that changes, while not yet apparent, are at least beginning to happen ... OK, being talked about ... in the background.
They couldn't be more wrong. The Christians that truly come to see the Bible as bullshit, that truly see the harm that its injunctions cause, that realise that changing the God stories to prevent that harm would clearly destroy the meaning of God, these Christians simply admit they were badly mislead and walk away. They reason that the Bible stories are either true and God is a monster, or they're false, nothing but primitive fantasies from an Iron Age tribe in the Middle East, and as such the entire Bible can be rejected as ignorant, superstitious nonsense. They don't remain in a vain attempt to make minor changes to something they see as irreparably broken.
The only Christians that call for changes to Christianity are those that recognise some of the harms and injustices it causes, but haven't yet grasped that the very source of that harm comes from God, and God is immutable, meaning God by definition cannot change or be changed. Nor would he ever want to. We're told that God is perfect, and if you were to change something that is already perfect, that change could only make it less than perfect. So no conceivable change could ever make God more perfect than he already is since you can't improve on perfection. Any tinkering with who God is, what he knows and what he's done can only detract from the greatness Christianity claims God has, it could only make him a lesser god. Each change made to assuage the worries of his followers would be another nail in God's coffin.
This means that the way God feels about, for example, homosexuals, can never change. For the record, he hates them. To have a perfect understanding of homosexuality, as God does, is to understand that it is an abomination. If the stories about God in the Bible are true, and we're assured they most definitely are, then God hated homosexuals several thousand years ago, and being incapable of change, he must logically still hate homosexuals today, and will do so a million years hence. If you as a humble Christian could present an argument to God that would make him change his mind, about anything, then God would be admitting that he had made a mistake, that he had held a view that was wrong. But again, since God is all-knowing, that concept is impossible. God is perfect and all-knowing and immutable, so his view on some matter, be it homosexuality, talking snakes or the desirability of the male foreskin, must be correct, whether you like it or not. End of discussion. No matter that we might disagree about same-sex relationships, talkative reptiles and foreskins, if God exists then God must nevertheless be the one in the right. God cannot exist and at the same time be wrong about anything. A true believer must accept God's word, and having read their Bible and learnt that no one should dare challenge or change a single letter of God's word, a view that Jesus later reiterated, knowing that any change could only corrupt the truth (and send you to Hell), a true believer wouldn't even suggest that we consider changing some elements of what God has clearly commanded. So WTF is the pope thinking?
The only change that will really make a genuine and noticeable difference to many of the injustices in today's world will be when Christians (or the followers of any religion) realise they have been hoodwinked by superstitious nonsense and reject it outright. Change can only come when they realise that it is they that have been helping perpetuate many injustices by their blind adherence to a primitive moral code. A code they naively believed was thought up by a god, a being that's no more real than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Real change will come when Christians wake up, walk away and start challenging those still immersed in their dangerous fantasy. No effective reform will come about by Christians trying to change Christianity from within, since it's impossible to change a god that can't be changed. Even harder since the thing they're trying to change doesn't even exist.
God isn't real. Once Christians accept that, then they might have made a change that will finally set the world on a path to a better future. Any change less than that means that Pope Francis and his fellow believers are still causing major grief for homosexuals, women, choir boys, atheists, those seeking sexual equality, contraception or an abortion, those in Africa wanting condoms to prevent HIV transmission and untold children terrorised by nightmares of Hell. As they say, talk is cheap, and talk from the likes of Pope Francis that change is necessary will achieve nothing of importance. Have you ever heard someone describe an action as no better than 'rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic', meaning it's a futile action that won't achieve anything? Apparently that 'phrase was first used in print in 1969, in Time Magazine, in reference to reforms in the Catholic Church'. So fifty years ago the Catholic Church were being ridiculed for promising changes that they clearly weren't going to make, and now here they go again. More lies to comfort the gullible.
Who are these
This post is our look at part four of Gavan O'Farrell's four part series entitled, 'Atheism is not all it's cracked up to be'. (Go here to read our posts on part 1, part 2 and part 3).
The title of part four is 'Who are these atheists, anyway?' Gavan O'Farrell, who describes himself as a 'fully conscious committed Christian', begins by explaining that,
'This final Part on the series on atheism is less concerned with argument and more focused on who we're talking about (and to).O'Farrell is correct, many atheists apparently fear the term atheist and opt instead for a number of different euphemisms. However, just as a gay man is still a homosexual, a naturist is still a nudist, and a Catholic is still a Christian, those that truly have a 'non-belief in God' are still atheists. I get a little peeved when people want to label or talk about those that have no belief in gods, even themselves, but they refuse to use the one term that is unambiguous — atheist. Instead they want to confuse the issue by talking about numerous groups that O'Farrell has labelled 'non-theists', which may or may not be actual atheists, since he acknowledges that with most of these groups we find 'labels not being applied consistently'. O'Farrell exposes the reasons some give for disbelief as being flawed, and he's right; those angry with God are not atheists, neither are those that are simply unwilling to accept his authority, nor those that just don't care to get involved. But you can't jump from showing that since some people reject gods for flawed reasons, therefore everyone likely rejects gods for flawed reasons.
The title of O'Farrell's series is, 'Atheism is not all it's cracked up to be', and naturally atheism is going to come off badly if you tackle the topic by considering the views of those least able to provide reliable answers, people that O'Farrell labels non-theists, most of whom he argues are not frank atheists. And we'd agree that the reasons these non-theists sometimes give for their disbelief can be confused and conflicting and flawed. But O'Farrell said his final article was going to be 'focused on who we're talking about', ie atheists, when it merely exposed the flawed thinking of people who perhaps weren't true atheists. It was a diversion, O'Farrell's Christian readers were given the false impression that his point had been proven, that clearly atheism is not all it's cracked up to be, that atheists are not all that rational in their disbelief, when all he did was to make a few non-theists look foolish, while the true atheists hardly got a mention. Diverting our attention with semantics, he swapped the true atheist with a chicken, and then demonstrated that the chicken wasn't thinking straight.
Perhaps introducing these 'non-theists' and then making their stance look weak is an attempt by O'Farrell to diminish the perceived impact of atheism, to push us into the shadows, arguing that most people that are thought of as atheists are not really atheists, so the modern, and for Christians, worrying, view that atheism is fast supplanting belief is not actually true. Christians can rest easy. I'm sure that most Christians would prefer to have a non-theist neighbour or colleague rather than one who is an atheist. Because while most Christians would know what an atheist is, I suspect a great many would not even know what a theist is, let alone a non-theist, or if they did have an inkling, wouldn't find a non-theist as threatening as an atheist. Likewise many would not equate the other labels that O'Farrell offers for non-belief — agnostics, rationalists, realists, sceptics, humanists, secularists — as definite atheists either, since some often aren't. If O'Farrell can dilute the pool of non-believers, make it appear that atheist numbers are much smaller than generally claimed, that many people thought of as atheists are nothing of the sort, they're actually agnostics for example, then suddenly the threat to Christianity reduces. True atheists become an even smaller minority, like Holocaust deniers and Flat Earthers, a deluded fringe group that can be ignored.
Like many Christians and many of his so-called 'non-theists', O'Farrell falsely states that 'frank atheism' is defined as the explicit statement, 'There is no God'. That is not quite true. Atheism at its most basic simply means to have no belief in gods. You're not saying you definitely know that there are no gods, you merely have no belief that there are. Presented with evidence to the contrary, you could change your mind tomorrow. Of course some atheists do say, 'There is no God', but many do not. In the same sense, if I was being precise, I would never say that there is no Santa Claus, because I can't prove that, but I would say that I have no belief that Santa exists. There is an important difference in those two statements that many can't grasp.
Looking for true atheists, O'Farrell states that, 'The most serious non-theists are those atheists who are intellectually attached to the evidence argument: if there were a God, it would have been proved by now'.
I would agree that an informed, intellectual atheist that has reached his of her disbelief based on the evidence is the atheist to take most seriously. However they would not make the argument, 'if there were a God, it would have been proved by now'. My favourite argument for atheism is that there is no evidence for gods or need for gods. It has nothing to do with us not yet having proven God is real, as if there was a time limit on finding God, or we've made and tested a God Detector and it found nothing. O'Farrell's logic is as flawed as if I was to argue, 'There are no aliens out there on any distant planet, if there were, it would have been proved by now'. Umm ... no. Aliens, and gods, could still be out there, waiting to be discovered. All we can say about the possible existence of aliens, or gods, is, based on what we know about the universe, how likely is it that they're out there? We can never say that if we haven't proven it by my next birthday then clearly they don't exist.
Regarding these intellectual atheists, O'Farrell goes on to claim that, 'Ordinarily, atheists are a smallish subset of non-theists but, in this era of maximum self-expression, the number is probably artificially inflated'. Again this seems to be a ploy to reassure those worried Christians that atheist numbers are nothing but a 'smallish subset' that even then is 'probably artificially inflated'. I'd agree that these intellectual atheists are small in number, meaning informed atheists that can use reason backed up by science, philosophy, history and Biblical criticism to argue for atheism. But at the same time, the number of people that are true atheists, that have no belief in gods, even if they don't have the knowledge to win a debate, is not a 'smallish subset' of society in many countries. This Sep 2019 article reveals that 'No religion' officially overtakes Christianity in New Zealand Census stats', showing that Christians are now a minority in NZ, and still falling. Of course it must be acknowledged that some that tick 'No religion' on their census form won't be true atheists, but whatever their beliefs, they're stating that religion, be it Christianity or Islam or Scientology, is no longer important to them. So yes, Christians should be worried, since the view of atheists, that religion is irrelevant in the modern world, is getting through to the masses.
O'Farrell also gauges the visibility of various non-theist types. I again suspect he's hinting that if atheists aren't as visible as Christians then we're still a minority group that can be ignored. Go to even a small town and you can quickly find several churches, but you'll struggle to find an atheist group in all of NZ. The Christian delusion goes thus: You don't see many people arguing that gods aren't real, thus we can be reassured that most people clearly still believe they are. Disbelief is rare. But I'd respond by saying that you also don't see many people arguing that fairies aren't real either, so can we assume that most people clearly still believe they are? Of course disbelief in fairies isn't rare, it's widespread, even though you almost never encounter people discussing the existence of fairies. I'd argue that discussion in day-to-day life about whether gods exist is rare because, like fairies, most people have long ago written gods out of the equation. Religion is about surrounding yourself with god-related rituals, and so believers are obvious, whereas atheism is about utterly ignoring everything god-related and surrounding yourself with other interests, such as family or sport or bird watching. People may recognise you as a devoted family man or sports fanatic or committed bird watcher, but they won't see that you're also an atheist, any more than they're recognise that you don't believe in fairies. Atheism is becoming the silent majority, and if you're judging how accepted and widespread atheism is based on how visible we are, then you're in for a shock. Atheism is the new black.
O'Farrell next mentions that, 'The most visible non-theists are those who have a strong dislike of religion, especially Christianity'.
We should point out that being pissed at God or angry at the priests raping children and then distancing yourself from both is not atheism, even though many Christians and even some atheists think it is. You can dislike your neighbours or be angry with your father and refuse to have anything to do with him, but your dislike or anger at someone doesn't mean that they don't exist. You can dislike Christianity with all your being, and be utterly justified, but your dislike says nothing about whether God exists. Christians dislike Satan with a passion, but they don't for a moment think he's not real. They dislike him because they think he's real. Dislike and disbelief are completely different things.
O'Farrell goes on to say that, 'This dislike may arise from their understanding of the general and historical conduct of the Church — sometimes a genuine misunderstanding that can be treated with information'.
This seems to be O'Farrell repeating his bogus view from his previous article that atheists blindly and willingly 'rely on the hasty acceptance of information that is skewed or incomplete'. When we consider 'the general and historical conduct of the Church', things such as slavery, the persecution of witches, women and homosexuals, and the ongoing protection of priests guilty of sex abuse spring to mind. But apparently we have been too hasty in accepting them as immoral due to a 'genuine misunderstanding' on our part, and that O'Farrell could make us see slavery and persecution and sex abuse in a new light with a liberal dose of Christian 'information'. Of course I wonder why the Christian Church hasn't already released this information and brought about a rewrite of our history books.
Next O'Farrell argues that getting a sneak peak at this Christian information won't help if 'the misunderstanding is deliberate — due to prejudice or even organised enmity'. As an example, he lists socialists, although to be honest I've yet to meet an atheist who claims to dislike Christianity because of socialism. O'Farrell's point seems to be to introduce the notion that some atheists just can't be trusted, that their strong dislike isn't due to reason or evidence, but misinformed and unjustifiable hatred. Meaning that Christians can dismiss their arguments out of hand.
I suspect that the most heartfelt dislike of Christianity comes from what O'Farrell says is 'the result of bad experiences within the Church ... Many are angry: mere indignation for some, while for others it is real hurt. This anger is sometimes directed at God, not at religion ... eg I might "punish God" by proclaiming that I don't believe in Him'.
As I've already explained, being angry at a priest that abused you or a God that watched and did nothing is not atheism. Some atheists may say that some such event made them an atheist, but they're only an atheist if they have honestly reached the conclusion, by the use of reason and evidence, that gods do not exist, or to put it more accurately, they lose their belief that gods are real. For people that develop a dislike of religion or become angry towards God, the most this emotion could do is make them suspect that God might not be real, since that would explain why he did nothing to stop the Holocaust or cure Granny's cancer. Their anger could turn them into an atheist, if they do the work and look at the evidence, but simply being angry at God doesn't make anyone an atheist. They simply remain angry Christians, and deluded, since they're venting at something that doesn't even exist. It actually confounds me to listen to the many stories from Christians who are clearly angry with their religion or their pastor or even with their God, and while they may question certain Biblical commandments or inappropriate behaviour from ministers or even God's inaction, they almost never question God's existence. They don't become atheists, they simply remain disgruntled Christians.
The next atheist, sorry, the next non-theist O'Farrell describes is the person who proclaims, "I don't need a God to feel significant or secure". Or, "I'm very clever and educated, I'll take it from here". Or simply, "No-one's the boss of me!"
Again, as for the previous angry non-theist, simply having that attitude does not make you an atheist, anymore than wanting independence from your parents suddenly means they don't exist. Christians can ignore God's demands because they disagree with them, as all the Christians I know do, but their refusal to be bossed around doesn't make them atheists.
Then O'Farrell says that some atheists were 'were raised as non-theists and, like some Christians, think habitually and speak by rote'. The implication is that children raised by atheist parents are just parroting their parent's views with no independent thought, they're just unthinking automatons reading from a script, brainwashed from birth, so they can be ignored. This may be true for some, just as it is certainly true for the great majority of Christians, since nearly all Christians were raised by Christians, and they often speak by rote, their arguments and commandments are often word for word. So if this manner of passing on knowledge from parent to child is badly flawed then it also discredits all Christians and everything they say too. However most atheists likely weren't raised by atheists, so most atheists cannot be accused of mindlessly parroting their parents, but most Christians certainly can be accused of doing exactly that. I've met untold people who care little about Christianity, yet still identify themselves as Christians solely because their parents told them they were Christians, and that God was real. I've yet to meet an atheist who is one simply because his parents told him God wasn't real. Of course, even if an atheist does merely repeat what his parents told him — that gods don't exist — the positive thing is that he's still expressing the truth, the unfortunate thing is that he doesn't know why it's true.
We're next told that, 'Some non-theists call themselves "sceptics", but I have found that they are typically half-sceptics — sceptical about God and the supernatural but not about their own claims about rationality and evidence (or the social and moral positions put forward by the Left)'.
Again O'Farrell confuses the issue by labelling sceptics (or skeptics) as atheists, when some skeptics do believe in God. But that aside, any true skeptic would insist that they question the reasons, evidence and morals offered by the likes of science, history and philosophy just as much as they question the reasons, evidence and morals presented by believers in gods. Their examination of both sides of the debate is what will have lead them to atheism; people aren't born atheists. (Well, technically they are, but to become an informed atheist requires research.) O'Farrell is implying that atheistic thinking is flawed, and thus suspect (I'd argue it's not), but from what I've observed, the criticism O'Farrell directs at atheistic skeptics certainly also applies to Christians, even more so. Most Christians are typically half-skeptics and half-believers. Most Christians are skeptical of many claims made about God, the supernatural and the Bible. Most no longer believe Adam and Eve and the talking snake were real, or the six day creation or Noah's flood or a host of other Bible stories. They're skeptical of the Biblical evidence that claims to support these stories. Most are skeptical of God's moral position that they should kill homosexuals and witches and prevent women from talking outside the home. But they're not skeptical of the claim that Jesus rose from the dead, or walked on water, or is busy in Heaven preparing a luxurious hotel room for them. They're skeptical of half the stuff Jesus expects them to believe and they believe half the stuff they should be skeptical of. Christians, by their growing skepticism of their own religion, have shown us atheists that we have good reason to be skeptical too. After all, what does it say when even Christians won't believe much of their own religion?
O'Farrell next states that, 'Most non-theists are agnostics. This position is more understandable than a dogmatic "Ain't no God". On the other hand, "I don't know" is often a cover for "I don't care". It seems strange not to care that there might be Someone who made the cosmos and is in touch with humanity ... '.
The reality is that most atheists are also agnostics, and in fact so are many Christians, since you can be an agnostic atheist and an agnostic theist. Agnosticism simply means that we can't prove whether God exists or not. Note that it does not say whether we may have a belief that God exists or not, merely that we cannot prove that belief. An atheist that says they don't believe God exists, but accepts that they can't prove he doesn't, is an agnostic, and a Christian who says they do believe God exists, but also accepts that they can't prove he does, is also an agnostic. To say 'I don't know' if God is real is to say you haven't proven that God is real or not, it is a statement about what knowledge you possess, about what you "know", and not a statement about what you believe. (If you're interested, we've expressed our view of agnosticism in more detail here.)
It actually annoys me when Christians take exception to an atheist saying that God doesn't exist (in the same way we might say Santa doesn't exist), and they argue that admitting that we simply don't know would be a more rational, and less confrontational, position, as when O'Farrell states that agnosticism 'is more understandable than a dogmatic "Ain't no God".' And yet when you ask these same Christians if they believe God exists, they don't hesitate, they don't go down the 'I don't know' path, they immediately say, 'Yes, of course there is a God ... and he loves us'. Confronted with the question of whether God exists, they expect atheists to say we don't know, and if we're honest, can't know, but in the same conversation they'll arrogantly insist on claiming they do know; God is real, hallelujah. What can we say, they're hypocrites.
O'Farrell is correct that for most agnostics the label is just a way of saying 'I don't care', and that applies equally to both agnostic atheists and agnostic theists. Would you think it strange if I didn't care whether Santa might be exploiting the elves that make his toys? If some issue has no relevance to my life then I pay it little attention, and for most people, both atheists and Christians, the old Bible stories about a jealous and vindictive God have no relevance to modern life, and they are largely ignored. That's why neither the atheist calling himself an agnostic nor your typical Christian calling himself a believer can list God's Ten Commandments or tell you what Jesus' real name was. O'Farrell thinks 'It seems strange not to care that there might be Someone who made the cosmos and is in touch with humanity ... ', but atheist agnostics see no evidence that this 'Someone' exists, thus there is no more reason to care about this someone and seek him out than there would be to look for someone who delivers toys at Xmas with his flying reindeer. What should concern O'Farrell is not the uncaring atheists but his fellow Christians. They absolutely believe in this 'Someone' that made the cosmos and yet, beyond saying that they believe, they couldn't give a shit about learning more about him, can't be bothered memorising the Ten Commandments, and aren't embarrassed that informed atheists know far more about their God and his cosmos than they do. Their view seems to be that once they've joined the club they don't need to read the rules or go to meetings to receive the club benefits. Simply being baptised as a baby is sufficient to get them a 'Get into Heaven Free' card. Until then, 'Party on dude!'
The next claim O'Farrell makes is that, 'Some people prefer agnosticism because they believe it can accommodate spirituality ... However, with no connection with God or the supernatural, "spirituality" is just a species of strong emotion'. Wrong, spirituality means the state of being spiritual, which concerns the nature of the spirit or soul, and of spirits and the supernatural. Where do Christians thinks souls and spirits commute from if not the supernatural world, Texas perhaps? The supernatural world wasn't patented by God. Of course spirituality as a means to understanding the world is still a worthless crock (as we discuss here), but at least they're not embracing Christianity, or Islam.
O'Farrell argues that, 'True atheism — "truth is about reason and evidence"— is hard to market ... Enhancing non-theism with "spirituality" is smart marketing, but that's all it is'. I'd agree that the truth is often hard to market — you will die, you will pay taxes, you will lose in love, earthquakes will happen, wars will be fought — but the truth is still preferable to childish fantasy — you will live forever, you and your fellow Christians will rule the world, your love will always be reciprocated, God will answer your prayers, whatever and whoever you desire will be yours. Atheism is about seeing the world as it is, not as you desire it to be, with invisible angels fluttering overhead ready to steady you if you stumble. Christianity and the promise of a 5-star afterlife is smart marketing for stupid people, but that's all it is.
The reason most people prefer to label themselves agnostics rather than atheists is because they're too lazy and/or too afraid to commit, it's so much easier to sit on the fence than take a stand. Yet they clearly feel there is more evidence and reason to disbelieve in gods rather than believe, or else they'd be Christians and not merely the undecided.
Next O'Farrell moves on to 'Atheism and politics', and notes that on 'Visiting an atheist site, I once asked "Are there any conservative atheists or are you all Lefties?". I was told, "If you're smart enough to be an atheist, you're probably smart enough to be progressive".'
The reality is that conservatives get that label because they favour traditional views and values, meaning they typically believe in God, oppose abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, stem cell research etc, in other words they act like people traditionally did centuries ago. Liberals (or lefties or progressives) stand for ideas like liberty, equality, rights, progress etc. And yes, anyone smart enough to be an atheist usually realises that individual liberty is preferable to authority dished out by some imaginary god on high.
He goes on to say that,
'Like much of academia, the media, the education system, much of government and parts of the Church, popular non-theism seems to have been infiltrated and largely taken over by "progressives"— to be politically allied with third-wave feminism, the LGBTIQ lobby and other "diversity" lobbies, and united with these in protecting Islam from criticism.'He's right, thankfully, that 'much of academia, the media, the education system, much of government and parts of the Church' are more liberal than conservative, if they weren't we'd probably still be teaching that the Earth was flat and the centre of the universe, banning books that said otherwise, and prohibiting Catholics, Jews and women from entering government. But he's quite wrong if he thinks atheists, either independently or inside academia, the media etc, are 'protecting Islam from criticism'. Clearly he's never read any of the books by Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens etc, just to name some famous critics, or even heard of them it seems. There is probably more criticism of Islam these days than there has ever been, and it's coming largely from atheists. Many ordinary Christians are also criticising Islam, but many in the Church hierarchy are advocating that all religions should be respected, and that includes Islam, and by respect they mean they are not be criticised. They've taken this stance in a futile attempt to stop atheists criticising Christianity, to silence the likes of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens, and to seem genuine, they have to embrace all religions in their 'Hands Off' policy, which includes Islam. To mount an offensive against atheism they've had to get into bed with the enemy.
As for his claim that atheists are 'politically allied with third-wave feminism, the LGBTIQ lobby and other "diversity" lobbies', he goes on to also say, 'As far as I can tell, all these groups have in common is a, shall we say, "warm dislike" of Christianity. I don't know how else to make sense of this outlandish alliance'. Well, it's hardly outlandish, naturally groups such as feminists and LGBTIQ folk would have a dislike of Christianity because of Christianity's ongoing persecution of them. It's not rocket science. And since atheists generally oppose the Biblical persecution of feminists and LGBTIQ folk (along with witches, atheists, disobedient children etc), it's really quite easy to see why there would be an alliance between atheists and feminists etc. It's truly surprising that he can't see this, I would have thought it would have been blindingly obvious. We have a common enemy, your loving God hates us all and wants us dead.
But it's all a mystery to O'Farrell, who states, 'It is strange that such independent thinkers ... should all of a sudden be of one mind about such difficult and complex issues'. Umm, no, it's not strange that people persecuted over centuries by one group — Christians — would independently come to the same conclusion, those fucking Christians have to go!
O'Farrell finishes by writing that,
'Some non-theists are seriously dedicated to reality and reason and have avoided being ensnared by these movements. It is possible to have positive ethical and political conversations with these more independent non-theists. There is likely to be mutual acceptance of the starting proposition that human beings are highly, and equally, valuable'.So if you label yourself a conservative and a non-theist, rather than a true atheist (those of us that insist 'truth is about reason and evidence' rather than just blind faith), and you've 'avoided being ensnared' by those blasphemous movements that are pushing for sexual equality, or presumably with any other group that contradicts God's word, then O'Farrell might be willing to have a conversation with you about his God, since he thinks that, 'There is likely to be mutual acceptance of the starting proposition that human beings are highly, and equally, valuable'.
Of course, after his little feminist/LGBTIQ outburst, and his series on the problems with atheists, we can assume that when he says humans are equally valued, there's a catch. Like when the Hebrews said in the Bible, 'Thou shalt not kill', they of course only meant that Hebrews shouldn't kill other Hebrews, killing non-Hebrews was fine. Clearly O'Farrell means that only the humans his god has chosen are equally valued. I suspect his 'ethical and political conversations with these more independent non-theists' would revolve around how we put women back in the kitchen, homosexuals back in the closet and outspoken atheists back into a silent and loathsome minority. But it's too late Gavan, the genie's out of the bottle, and the bottle's been broken. We're sick and tired of being persecuted by an imaginary god and his sycophant followers.
As believable worldviews based on reason and evidence and ethics go, it's not atheism but Christianity that's not all it's cracked up to be, and anyone who thinks its arguments and morality are supportable is clearly just not too bright. Tell us again about the talking snake, your god's hatred of gays and the carpenter who spent a weekend dead, and explain again how all that is more believable, more rational, more moral, than those flying reindeer or that tooth-collecting fairy?
|Atheists say the darndest things|
Continuing on from our last two posts (1 and 2), we'll now look at part three of Gavan O'Farrell's four part series entitled, 'Atheism is not all it's cracked up to be'.
The title to this part is 'I don't want it, so it isn't there!', which I guess is O'Farrell's way of saying that the atheist argument rests on a silly, childish notion, that we're simply throwing a hissy fit; we don't want God to be real, so he isn't. It's that simple. Well, actually Gavan, even though many Christians believe that atheists deny God simply because we're angry with God, you've been misinformed, first about your God and then about why we don't believe in him. Our beliefs follow the evidence, not our desires.
It's a little ironic that O'Farrell would give that silly example, since that's exactly the sort of reasoning Christians do use to justify their belief in God — I want a loving father figure who's also a powerful wizard to be watching out for me from space, and even though I can't see, feel or detect him, I just know he's there. I want him to be real, so he is real.
Having tackled the atheist take on reason and evidence (part one) and morality (part two), O'Farrell writes that in part three he'll 'briefly canvas some of the other things atheists often say'. He starts with this question from atheists:
'"Which religion?": A common reason for rejecting God seems to be: "There are thousands of religions, most of them mutually incompatible, they can't all be true."OK, error #1, there are indeed thousands of religions. Maybe O'Farrell should have done the work. According to Dr Michael Shermer, 'anthropologists estimate that over the past ten thousand years humans have created roughly ten thousand different religions'. And these have splintered into 100,000 different sects. Even if we just look at the God botherers and Jesus freaks, each Christian church claims that all the others are pushing a distorted version of Christianity, which is why there is at present some 44,000 different Christian denominations, and counting. No doubt O'Farrell will argue that Christianity is just one religion when taken at its most simplistic level, ie a vague belief that Jesus was God or was fathered by God, and that religions that ancient civilisations and long dead cultures believed in don't count as no one now believes their gods were actually real. But Christians can't simply discount the gods of the ancient Egyptians or Aztec simply because it's now obvious to intelligent, informed people that their gods weren't real, because intelligent, informed people also say, for the exact same reasons, that the gods of the ancient Hebrews weren't real either. Once you argue that gods are possible, at least one is anyway, as Christians do, you can't in the same breath argue that the gods of other cultures are impossible. Even the Bible notes that other gods are real, but inferior.
Concerning these thousands of ancient religions, O'Farrell correctly argues that 'one of them could be true'. It could be true that the ancient Sumerians, or some culture that history has forgotten, discovered the one true religion but no one believed them, and their true beliefs were replaced with false religions from other cultures. Just because Christianity is currently the dominant religion in O'Farrell's society, doesn't mean that Christianity must be true. If O'Farrell was born in the Middle East he would likely be arguing that Islam was the true religion, not Christianity.
O'Farrell correctly states the atheistic argument, 'There are thousands of religions, most of them mutually incompatible, they can't all be true', but then he deviously corrupts the argument, making a claim that atheists haven't made. He falsely adds, 'This atheist assertion insinuates, "Religions can't all be true, so none of them are"'. Obviously no rational atheist would ever say, 'so none of them are'. That would be as silly as arguing, 'Animals can't all fly, so none of them can'. Obviously some can. It's revealing when a falsehood must be spun in an attempt to make the atheistic argument look illogical.
So how do we resolve this problem of thousands of religions, since as O'Farrell says, 'one of them could be true, the atheist just doesn't know which one'. He insists that, 'If you are curious, you will do the work of inquiring'. This is what is known as a time waster, where the cunning Christian sets the naïve atheist a task that can likely never be resolved, but at least we're not annoying the Christian with embarrassing questions about Jesus and that talking snake. The reality is that no matter how many religions we investigate, and show to be false, the Christian can always say that a religion we haven't yet looked at could be the true one. Even if we did investigate every known religion, which is unrealistic, Christians could still correctly say that we haven't checked out religions that are unknown to history, religions belonging to tribes or cultures that disappeared without trace. Our search would be futile since we couldn't examine everything. Clearly it makes no sense for atheists to challenge and disprove the individual claims made by thousands of religions. Debunking religions one by one is a fool's errand, one Christians want to send us off on.
However, even though atheists haven't and can't check all religions for real gods, we are still rationally justified in dismissing all religions out of hand, without even scanning the appropriate holy book with our handheld, pasta-powered "God Detector". The thing is that all religions have many of the same basic elements, they all have the same foundations, even though they may give their gods different names and abilities and histories. All these gods and angels and demons transcend the natural world and exist in some unseen supernatural world, exhibiting powers not found in the natural world. Each religion normally allocates one god to be the creator of the world and of life, although some have several. To dismiss all religions all you have to do is show that their foundations are impossible, or at the very least, utterly undetectable and unnecessary, that we can explain the world and life by natural means without having to stir gods and magic into the mix. For example, once I have proven scientifically that giant animals like King Kong are impossible, I don't have to go check out reports of a giant chicken in Peru. If giant animals are impossible, then ALL giant animals are impossible. Likewise, once I have determined that a flying reindeer called Rudolf is impossible, I don't have to repeat the same checks on all the remaining reindeer of Santa's sleigh. Ditto with gods, if a simple god is impossible, say one that just creates lightning, then a complicated one that creates entire universes certainly is. If the notion of the supernatural and invisible gods doing magic is clearly nonsense, I can immediately dismiss some new claim about some new god doing magic. The supernatural was bullshit yesterday, it will still be bullshit tomorrow.
And that's where it has stood for thousands of years, with no evidence that gods exist, and what mistakenly passed for evidence in the past was simply ignorant people misinterpreting the working of the natural world, 'No, of course you can't have lightning without a god!' No evidence then, no evidence now. It's as if these gods are deliberately hiding from us, and then punishing us for not believing in them. Of course if gods really do exist, as O'Farrell insists, then rather than argue that it's atheists that should be doing the work and finding God, since O'Farrell has already found God, he should just point him out to us.
That's the easy way to find the one true religion. The god, or gods, of the true religion could simply put their hands up, or tentacles or whatever. Rather than them hiding and forcing atheists to find them under some rock, on another planet, in another galaxy, they could make things easy and simply front up. Do a few miracles, that sort of thing. If I said I could fly like Superman, normal people would doubt my claim and ask me to prove it. People would walk away laughing if I refused and simply said that they needed to prove that I couldn't fly. Like me claiming I can fly, Christians claim their god is real, and the obvious way to demonstrate truthfulness is to produce evidence that supports your claim, reluctance to do so suggests you've got something to hide. The ball is their court, and we atheists can enjoy life and assume God doesn't exist until they prove otherwise, just as we do for gremlins and fairies.
That stance, a stance O'Farrell argues atheists misunderstand, is known as the 'onus of proof' (or burden of proof), that it is the responsibility of people that make some positive claim to prove it's true. And yet O'Farrell argues that the onus of proof somehow lies with atheists rather than Christians. Even though it is Christians that have for thousands of years claimed that God is real, O'Farrell argues that it is the responsibility of atheists to get curious, do the work and prove he's not. Why are Christians so afraid of providing the proof they keep saying they have, and instead insist that we find our own? I'm beginning to suspect that maybe their evidence for God is as flimsy and as creaky as my young niece's evidence for the Tooth Fairy. Look Gavan, you say you know God, so let's stop mucking around, if he's real he knows my phone number, so get him to call me.
But O'Farrell denies the burden of proof, and argues that Christians 'do wish to persuade about God, but it's not a matter of "proof"... we Christians commend our faith to others'. But doesn't your faith say that God is real, that Jesus died for our sins and rose again and is now relaxing poolside in Heaven, sipping a bottomless margarita? O'Farrell defends his refusal to provide proof by stating that, 'By contrast, atheists insist that it is only permissible to talk facts (including facts about God) if those facts are proved empirically/scientifically'. O'Farrell appears to be acknowledging (how could he do otherwise?) that there are no known facts about God, that it's all just a matter of faith, or to put it more accurately, wishful thinking. Since O'Farrell can't say anything factual about God he's arguing that he should say nothing at all, that he'll leave it up to atheists to investigate and describe God with our facts, with our 'empirical/scientific proof'.
While I disagree with O'Farrell over where the onus of proof lies, I agree that if we're going to talk about reality and real things, then we must deal in facts that are supported by evidence and reason, not in the fantasies of an ignorant, superstitious Bronze Age goat herder. A fact is something that has demonstrable existence, and yet O'Farrell apparently wants to discuss God using "facts" that haven't been shown to be, well, factual. He's annoyed that we atheists insist on using real facts, and that we refuse to accept his unfounded beliefs as another form of fact. Christians can't grasp that if we started allowing unsupported beliefs to inform us about reality then we would have to open the door to all manner of nonsense, that perhaps reindeer can fly at Xmas time, that perhaps gremlins did clog up my spa pool, and perhaps Jesus is watching me in the shower. Atheists insist on dealing in facts because without them we'd be Christians, or perhaps Muslims or Scientologists.
O'Farrell says he mentions the atheist arguments about thousands of religions and the onus of proof, 'not because they are intrinsically important but because they come up so frequently. They have negligible logical value as arguments. Really, they seem to me to be excuses rather than arguments — attempted justification for not believing and for not being inquisitive. Another refuge ...'
Rubbish. I believe he mentions them in an a clear attempt to discredit them, because thinking Christians, and I use that phrase lightly, find them confronting. The Christian wonders how billions of people can believe in other religions and other gods, both now and throughout history — Why can't they see the obvious flaws in their religion? They ask me the same question, so is it perhaps me that is deluded? And why can't I find proof to support my belief, why must I twist it back on the atheist, and demand he proves me wrong instead? Am I the fool?
O'Farrell attempts to console the worried Christian, arguing that the atheist can be ignored, that we are creating illogical and unreasonable arguments, and that when pressed by atheists for answers they should just say, 'No comment', and walk away.
Next O'Farrell notes that, 'Atheists often say Christianity is evil and offer a bundle of "proofs" which have become familiar — war, forced conversion, the Spanish Inquisition, witch-hunting, tolerance of slavery, the oppression of women and gays, the suppression of science and, more recently, protected paedophilia. To this list might be added Old Testament violence and the "immoral" nature of Redemption by Christ's death'.
Well, he won't get an argument from me, we certainly do say that. But of course it's not just Christianity that we atheists see as having harmed people, all religions have promoted primitive, superstitious, harmful beliefs that are rightly condemned by enlightened folk.
It's hard to believe that anyone could support even one item in the above list of injustices committed in the name of God, but O'Farrell warns that 'Atheists should hesitate before offering moral judgements'. Oh, screw you O'Farrell. I can understand how Christians might hesitate, thinking that if they register even some slight disapproval then they'll be punished by their all-knowing god, but we atheists aren't cowered by some imaginary demon, we can quickly and confidently pass moral judgment. Conclusion: they're all immoral. To hesitate, to wonder if those actions were right or wrong, both in the past and now, is to expose yourself as someone who needs to be locked up, or sent back in time to the 10th century. And then locked up.
So how to paint this evil in a good light? O'Farrell initially seems to accept the 'wrongs we know the Church has done', but then adds, 'For the most part, though, the proofs rely on the hasty acceptance of information that is skewed or incomplete'. All I can take from that is that O'Farrell now seems to be suggesting that the events in his list weren't as bad as atheists make out, that the acceptance of slavery, the persecution of witches, women and homosexuals, the protection of priests guilty of sex abuse, all these events have been too hastily accepted as immoral due to skewed or incomplete information. If only the world could see the full story then we wouldn't see religious wars or the Spanish Inquisition in such a bad light. And God torturing and murdering his own son, trust me, that's actually a heartwarming story, full of love and joy. There's even kittens. This stance is shamefully similar to that of those that argue that the Holocaust was wildly exaggerated, and that Hitler was misunderstood and unfairly condemned.
O'Farrell then trots out the usual lame Christian excuse for all the evil done in God's name, he explains that, 'After all, the Church consists largely of human beings and has wielded enormous power — a notoriously dangerous combination'.
It never fails to amaze me how quickly Christians are willing to castrate their god, to belittle him, strip him of his powers, all in an attempt to distance him from what was happening in the world, to grant him plausible deniability. Their pathetic excuses suggest that perhaps their all-knowing god didn't know of all the evil his followers were committing in his name, or that their all-powerful god knew about it but couldn't stop his followers, or that their all-loving god did know and could stop it, but just didn't care enough to bother. We can all agree that humans can be corrupted by power, and if they've also been corrupted by barbaric fairy tales, then great harm can result. However Christians (and Muslims, Jews etc) are forever pushing their belief that their god has a plan for all humanity, that he is watching us all, and that nothing happens that he didn't intend to happen. Things happen for a reason, we're told, a mysterious reason perhaps, but certainly a divine reason. When good things happen, the religious are indecently quick to attribute their god as the cause, and to give thanks. When dangerous things are unfolding the religious are fervent in their prayers to their god, supremely confident that their god will deliver them good fortune. And when all goes well, there's another spate of prayers thanking god, perhaps even going on TV to tell others how God helped them and is always there for them, and us. But when things turn to shit, when disaster strikes and no matter how much one prays, the worst happens, loved ones die and homes are lost, then suddenly it was just a freak of nature. God wasn't involved, hell, he didn't even know it was happening, he was off on vacation, or something. Dead maybe. No, we can't blame God when bad things happen. Bad things are our fault.
Most Christians accept that the evils in O'Farrell's list actually happened, but then they go on to argue that it was just humans that committed the atrocities, which is actually true. But, from a Christian perspective, this means that God just sat back and watched while his priests raped children or burned innocent women at the stake or while the Nazis slaughtered his chosen people in the gas chambers. God had to be involved, even if that involvement just meant watching and doing nothing, because God is omnipresent, meaning God is everywhere. He couldn't help but witness every single atrocity committed by his deluded followers. The question that torments every Christian is why he did nothing. Some try and argue that human free will means that God is compelled to let us fend for ourselves, but that's clearly bullshit. In the only record we have of how God behaves, the Bible, God is interfering in the lives of everyone, from start to finish. He spies on everyone, he rewards people, he punishes people, he orders everyone around, he continually makes his presence known with miracles, he even rapes a virgin that takes his fancy, just so as to give himself a son he can torture and kill horribly further down the track. But it was all planned, free will be damned, God was in your face, and your life was anything but your own. God was desperate for people to worship him, in this life and the next, the last thing he wanted was for people to use their free will to determine that he didn't exist. He ordered your family, friends and neighbours to kill you if you started talking like that. Well, that's assuming the Bible stories are true.
Keen to take the spotlight off God and shine it on sinful humans that are simply following God's commandments, O'Farrell states that 'atheists don't seem to consider the possibility that God might also be appalled at some things the Church has done'. Of course we don't consider that possibility, because it's impossible for God to be appalled at the actions of his followers. My dictionary states that being appalled 'implies a sense of helplessness caused by an awareness of the enormity of something'. How could God have a sense of helplessness as he watched a priest rape a child? Again, O'Farrell's argument only works if God has none of God's powers, that he, like us humans, only found out what his followers had done after the fact, by which time it was too late to act. O'Farrell has to make his god feeble and impotent so that we don't accuse him of cold indifference — it's not that he didn't want to help, but that he couldn't. But O'Farrell's excuses for God make him unworthy of worship. O'Farrell's message is that if you see Christians acting badly, call the police, because God can't help.
So that's the pickle that Christians like O'Farrell find themselves in. When God fails to act, and innocent people are harmed, Christians are so desperate to absolve him of blame that they're willing to strip him of his superhero powers and argue that God can know and do no more than your typical human, that he can't be everywhere, or know everything that's going on, or stop anything faster than a tennis ball. And judging by God's interaction with the world in the last couple of thousand years, these Christians are right, their god has apparently been restrained with the divine version of kryptonite. He can do nothing about world affairs except watch them on TV after the fact. To excuse God of his glaring inaction Christians have effectively become atheists to explain his absence. True atheists say we don't see God because he doesn't exist. Christians like O'Farrell say we don't see God because either he's ignorant of our plight, or unable to help, or simply doesn't care. And even if that ineffectual being does exist, by any definition, he certainly isn't God. So O'Farrell's argument effectively ends with the conclusion that the Biblical God doesn't exist.
In his above list of Christian evils, O'Farrell mentions 'the "immoral" nature of Redemption by Christ's death'. His placing "immoral" within quotation marks implies that torturing and killing your own son isn't an immoral act, contrary to what we atheists might say. Thus O'Farrell ends his article by criticising atheists for our 'attack on Redemption'. My dictionary defines Redemption as 'Salvation from sin through Jesus's sacrifice', or to put it simply, Jesus had to die on the cross to save us from being tortured by God when we die. Basically this is the Christian fairytale that all humans are born with sin, which is punishment for those innocent and naïve nudists Adam and Eve accepting some fruit from a talking snake. Why we should be punished for something others did is never explained, it's just something God thinks is just and fair. Anyway, having decided we should all be burdened with sin, thousands of years later God decides, again with no explanation, that he will now forgive this sin. Maybe he realised we didn't deserve it? But powerful wizard as he is, rather than just casting a spell, 'I forgive all sin', something similar to his 'Let there be light' spell, he decided to rape an innocent, virginal young girl, get her pregnant, leave her to raise the child alone, and then return some thirty years later to conspire to have his illegitimate son arrested, tortured and executed. Why would someone do such a horrible thing you may ask? Well, the Hebrews already had a silly and barbaric ritual, given to them by God in earlier times, that involved what is known as a scapegoat, which was a real goat that was made to magically bear the blame or sins of others. Rather than blame the person that had actually committed some wrong, they shifted the blame onto some innocent goat and sent him off into the desert, with no water or GPS. The goat died and their sins with him, meaning the guilty Hebrews were magically forgiven. Actually they always used two goats, the other one was slaughtered as a blood sacrifice to God. God just loved his blood sacrifices. So apparently God thought that since the silly Hebrews were familiar with the concept of both the blood sacrifice and of a scapegoat taking away their misdeeds, he could pull the same ploy with original sin, the sin we're all born with. But God wanted to go big on this one, as it would be a one-off event. And what's bigger than making a blood sacrifice, not of a goat, but of your own son? You could magically load the sins of everyone, people living then and in the future, onto the shoulders of your son nailed to a cross and have him die a horrible death. Now that, thought God, is a blood sacrifice. People will be impressed. And some were, but most were appalled. But of course it was all a con, it was revealed later that Jesus was actually alive and well, meaning there was no sacrifice if his life wasn't actually sacrificed. A sacrifice is where you give up something of value in order to get something of greater value. What did Jesus sacrifice if he's still alive and well? I'd willingly sacrifice my life on Friday if I knew I'd get it back, in better health, plus ten billion dollars plus a mansion full of Playboy bunnies on Monday. If Jesus truly gave his life to forgive the sins of all humans then he should be dead. If he's not, then there was no sacrifice on his part as Christians claim, and he hasn't saved me. Oh, woe is me!
So that is Christian redemption, the truly sick and disgusting belief that a father must rape a virgin, get a son and then torture and kill that son in order to forgive me for a sin I didn't even commit. It's amazing that humans can forgive each other without demanding a blood sacrifice, so why is it that a god who is supposedly infinitely greater than us, can't also simply say, 'I forgive you'? Of course he shouldn't even be saying, 'I forgive you', he should be saying, 'I'm so, so sorry. It was very wrong of me to blame you for sins you hadn't even committed. What was I thinking? Can you ever forgive me?' And even if a blood sacrifice made sense, even if it wasn't a primitive, superstitious notion, even if Jesus had to die to save us, why did he have to die a horrible death? Why couldn't he have just eaten a dodgy chicken falafel and died of food poisoning, why did he have to suffer terribly? The Hebrews didn't torture their goats before they sacrificed them, so why did God feel the need to have Jesus tortured first? I guess ancient tribal gods of war just have a vicious streak in them.
Of course Christians like O'Farrell believe the actions of God and Jesus were noble and loving, but I'd hate to see a father treat his son the way God treated Jesus. O'Farrell says that, 'We believe Christ volunteered to, so to speak, "carry our sins into the desert", that He did this long ago without any urging from you or me, that He returned in excellent condition and that He now asks us whether the sins He bore included ours. We say Yes, not to be cruel, but out of common sense and awe-struck gratitude. It would be unspeakably stupid to say No'.
Since Jesus has been in hiding for the last two thousand years, how do we know he returned from his brush with death in 'excellent condition', and again, if he did survive his death, then there was no sacrifice. Remember that the argument is that there had to be this sacrifice for the trick to work, so without the sacrifice, how can our sins be forgiven? Furthermore, while Jesus has my phone number and address, he has not asked me whether the sins he carried might have included mine. Why not? I'm guessing O'Farrell is fudging the truth a bit, and means that a character in an old book has asked if we will give our lives over to him. O'Farrell reckons 'It would be unspeakably stupid to say No'. But what about other old books, there's a character, a god called Allah, in another old book called the Quran that asks if we will give our lives over to him. Plus he promises 72 virgins as an incentive. By the same logic, shouldn't O'Farrell answer, 'It would be unspeakably stupid to say No'. Why is O'Farrell willing to scoff at demands made by gods in untold holy books, and yet blindly gives his life over to a long dead Jewish carpenter who was executed for sedition by the Romans, a man that never left a thing for us to read, and by all reliable accounts likely never even existed?
So in conclusion, O'Farrell's criticism of some of the other things atheists often say fails badly. That said, his flawed arguments no doubt console tormented Christians, those worried that they can't respond rationally to questions from atheists — Seriously, you're saying the only way God could think of forgiving me for taking the last chocolate was to murder his son?
|Are atheists using God's morals?|
Our last post looked at part one of Gavan O'Farrell's series of articles entitled, 'Atheism is not all it's cracked up to be', which is described as,
'A four part series by Gavan O'Farrell, who works as a public sector lawyer at the Parliamentary Council Office drafting legislation. Raised and educated as a Catholic, he studied law and philosophy and has completed half of a Master of Divinity. He became a fully conscious committed Christian among evangelicals at university and has straddled the Catholic and evangelical environments ever since.'This post will look at part two, 'Morality and the Human Being', where the crux of his article is that everyone gets their morals, and that includes atheists, from an invisible space wizard, or as Christians call him, God, or sometimes Jesus. They're a little confused as to who's really in charge, often jumping from one to the other and back again in the same argument. Then sometimes they insist they're the same person, just in disguise, while at other times they claim categorically that one is the father and the other is the son. It pays not to quiz Christians on this identity problem, they can get a little tetchy.
O'Farrell starts his article by reminding his readers as to the true nature of atheists: 'Atheists say that Christians often accuse them of being wicked'. His next sentence then almost suggests that this is a malicious lie spread by atheists to denigrate Christians: 'Such an accusation (which I've personally never heard in New Zealand) is not only rude but false: it is quite apparent that many atheists are very moral people'.
O'Farrell acts mystified as to why atheists would even suggest that loving Christians might think them wicked. Of course O'Farrell should be well aware of where the accusation of wicked atheists arose — the Bible (although he may not be, since many Christians are quite ignorant of much of what their favourite book says). So for O'Farrell's enlightenment, here is one example of how his God views atheists: 'The fool says in his heart, "There is no God". They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.' PS 14:1.
So surely this raises a huge problem, since how can O'Farrell insist that 'many atheists are very moral people', when God, his god, is asserting that we're all corrupt and vile, eg wicked. Surely an all-knowing god knows more about atheists than does a lawyer in Wellington? Shouldn't O'Farrell be meekly deferring to God's wisdom? Are we to believe O'Farrell's implication that God is wrong about the morals of atheists? Can an omniscient God even be wrong?
But while O'Farrell disagrees with God and insists atheists can be moral, he believes there is a more pressing problem (of course God may think otherwise). The problem apparently is that 'atheists cannot explain their morals. The morals of virtually all atheists are inherited from Christianity'. By this he means that while many atheists are moral, the morals we live by are not part of some unique moral code discovered and adopted by atheists independent of God and the Bible, they are simply morals we've stolen from Christians and called our own.
This problem with morals and O'Farrell's accusation of theft is often broken into two separate parts by Christians. In the past they argued that atheists (like animals) simply lacked morals, end of story. This worked for millennia. But especially in recent times there arose Christians like Gavan O'Farrell who recognised that most atheists were as moral as Christians, often more so. How could this be? The answer settled on by mystified Christians is that immoral atheists must have stolen God's moral code and are using it to make ourselves appear moral, at least in public.
Looking at the first part, Christians throughout history have usually claimed that atheists are immoral because God said we were, and God should know, or we were at the very least amoral, thus there was never a need for Christians to explain how atheists could have a moral code because clearly we didn't. Not only did we lack morality, it was impossible for us to find or devise a moral code independent of God because only God could dictate what was right and wrong, and that covers the entire Goddamn universe, not just some backwater in the Middle East several thousand years ago. And again they knew this because God said so. But clearly this is bullshit, or at least it is to anyone whose study of ancient history goes further back than the mythical birth of the world's first nudists, Adam and Eve, or extends beyond the desert that Moses and his followers got lost in for thirty years.
It's an obvious fact that many cultures and civilisations developed their own set of morals long before the Hebrews arose and devised their list, so you could argue that the Hebrews merely cherry picked morals from neighbouring cultures and called them their own. Like the way they likely plagiarised the old Sumerian flood myth — Epic of Gilgamesh — and rewrote it with Noah as the star. Also cultures and civilisations that were contemporary with the Hebrews, or arose later in history, but were geographically isolated and thus had no knowledge of what the Hebrews believed, also managed to independently develop their own set of morals. The claim that ancient man could not devise a set of morals, and needed God to hand them out on stone tablets, is a childish nonsense, obvious to anyone who has studied a little ancient history. Does anyone seriously believe that the ancient Hebrews were the first and only people to think that perhaps wanton killing and stealing made things worse, not better? Well, if the Bible is true, actually even they weren't bright even to realise that, they had to be repeatedly told by their god, and even then it didn't sink in, the Bible and the history of the Hebrews is one of the most bloodthirsty books you can read. So clearly there's plenty of evidence that people can come up with a moral code independent of the Hebrew God. The most you could argue is whether these alternative moral codes were actually ethical. Is the behaviour they promote actually right and just? Let's remember that for most of history slavery and the stoning of witches was considered moral by Christians, and masturbation was immoral. Clearly, just because an ancient holy book written by a superstitious goat herder believes something is right or wrong doesn't mean it actually is.
So that takes us to the second part of O'Farrell's accusation. Contrary to the historical argument, clearly atheists (and untold non-Christian societies) have now somehow managed to produce a moral code, so where did we get it from? O'Farrell's answer — we stole it. Sure, he says 'inherited', but when you're accused of taking something from someone without permission, when you scrape off the serial numbers, repaint it in your team colours, and claim that you've always owned it, then that's theft in my book.
Normally accusations of theft, be it of a physical object or perhaps the answers to an exam, are usually proven when the object or answers can be shown to be identical to that which was stolen. So are my atheist morals quite distinct from Christian morals, or is my morality nothing but a cheap knockoff of God's original? But first, let's remind ourselves what morals are and what morality means. My dictionary defines morals as, 'Rules or habits of conduct, especially of sexual conduct, with reference to standards of right and wrong'. So someone's morality is a kind of guidebook of rules that dictates how they conduct themselves when confronted with life. A situation arises and they ask themselves what is the right or good or just behaviour that they should perform. They consult their code of morals, usually stored in their head, and act accordingly. Of course we've already established that every culture and society throughout history has developed their own moral code, and every individual within these societies will have held their own unique version of their societies' code, but just having a moral code doesn't mean that your morals are actually good and just, as I'll show in a moment. Right now we're simply trying to determine if, as O'Farrell claims, the atheist and the Christian moral codes are actually the same moral code.
I believe I have my own moral code that is utterly divorced from God, a code I have settled on based on ethics, fairness, equality, justice and not doing harm to others. The source of my morality is the application of reason and emotion on observing how various behaviours impact others in society. With the help of others who have thought far deeper on these matters than I ever could, I have adopted an evolving code of behaviour that I feel truly represents what is right and good and just. For most of my choices I can provide rational reasons, but there are some situations for which I can do no more than simply say I feel that this action is right and that action wrong. This would be where O'Farrell would likely argue that I'm unknowingly falling back on Biblical morals that, thanks to society, I've been immersed in and influenced by all my life, whether I realise it or not. Or perhaps that God is whispering in my ear. I disagree, but let's assume for the moment that he's correct, that the source of my morals is indeed the Bible, that I am unknowingly following God's Word and deluding myself into believing that I reached these moral decisions on my own.
It's very simple to test, since if O'Farrell is correct, then regardless of how I decided whether some action is moral or immoral, my answer should clearly match the answer that has already been provided by God, and written down in his Holy book. If, as O'Farrell says, 'The morals of virtually all atheists are inherited from Christianity', then my morals should align precisely with Christian morals, we'll both agree that homosexuals are an abomination and must die. My morals should match the morals Christianity has been promoting for the last 2,000 years, the morals that Jesus held fast to, the morals set down by the God of the Hebrews and set forth in the Bible. And we should mention that Christians often insist that the word of Jesus and the New Testament supersedes all of God's commandments — God's moral code — that are found in the Old Testament, but they conveniently ignore the bit where Jesus himself said:
'Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.' (MT 5:17-20)
They also conveniently forget to remind us that their famous list, the Ten Commandments that God gave Moses on Mount Sinai, the supposed core of their moral code, is in the Old Testament, the embarrassing part of their Bible they're urging us to ignore. And even though the Ten Commandments form the very basis of their morality, I've yet to meet a Christian who can list all ten, most can't get more than five, and it gets much worse, since there are actually 613 moral commandments from God in the Bible, not just ten. Christians love to say they have the one and only true moral code, they just can't be bothered to actually read it and remember it.
But Christian ignorance aside, the fact remains that we atheists do have access to God's moral code in the form of his Holy Book, and no, I didn't steal it. We can do an atheist versus Christian comparison and see where we stand on moral issues.
So let's look at some moral questions that I as an atheist have clear views on. I've chosen these because we have unambiguous answers in the Bible as to what God's view is, all these matters are clearly explained in his moral code. After reading the Bible (as surely they have ... snigger, snigger) believers should have no confusion as to how they must respond. How might their answers compare to mine?
And here's the thing, in the Bible, the book that Christians insist is the source of their moral code, every one of those questions is answered 'Yes!, most definitely Yes!'; it is right to own slaves, you're doing good by killing disobedient children and homosexuals (it's your duty in fact), women are dirty, unclean property of their husbands that must remain silent in public, we should we hate our parents. Yes to all those questions.
So how can O'Farrell be right when he says my moral choices come from his God's moral code when his God and I disagree on every single question? We couldn't be more at odds. It's like O'Farrell is arguing that black is white. I could accept O'Farrell arguing that in his view my answers to those moral questions are wrong, but to argue that I actually agree with God's view on the likes of slavery and the stoning of witches is just nonsensical. Surely O'Farrell can't be that stupid as to argue that atheists and God are on the same page regarding morals? Even a child could quickly understand that the God of the Bible and atheists are at odds concerning how we should treat slaves, witches and homosexuals.
What I believe O'Farrell is trying to do is create a deceptive argument. He knows all too well that God thinks slavery is perfectly OK. Nothing wrong with it. He also knows your typical atheist abhors slavery and believes it to be immoral. So clearly God and atheists disagree and have opposing moral views. So what O'Farrell does is he takes God and his odious morals out of the argument, he hides him by replacing God with Christians. Instead of stating how God says we should behave, he states how Christians say we should behave, and not ignorant Christians from history, but typical touchy-feely Christians living in modern, secular societies. Now it's no longer about what God demands, it's just about what Christians think we should do. It's no longer a straightforward, unambiguous order from God, it's morphed into opinions expressed by his followers, it's about how Christians view the modern world and their new take on ethics. God has been pushed into a back room and gagged. God's followers are taking Christianity down a new path, and to hell with what he thinks. His time is past, Christianity is under new management.
Run through those above questions with a typical Christian and he or she will give the same response as an atheist. I've never met a Christian that wouldn't answer "no" to every question, most would even angrily accuse me of being offensive by posing such questions, since they'd reply that naturally no decent, moral person would ever answer in the affirmative.
So now we have both Christians and atheists agreeing on moral issues, that slavery is wrong and we shouldn't hate our parents just because Jesus orders us to. But the truly devious move on O'Farrell's part is that he argues that atheists are copying the moral stance of Christians, when clearly it's Christians who are rejecting the moral stance set forth by their God and are instead accepting that the moral stance that atheist's promote is the right and just one.
So that's the problem that Christians must confront. There are untold life situations that will, if God's moral code is followed, lead to specific behaviour, for example, they must support slavery and murder homosexuals. And yet when we look at your typical Christian, their daily behaviour, in every single case, leads in fact to the completely opposite behaviour to that dictated by their God. So when a Christian claims that his moral code comes from God, clearly it doesn't, because he would be one evil, disgusting, son of a bitch if it did. Think about it, could you be friends with anyone who answered "Yes" to the above questions, even just one of them?
I have good friends who are Christian, and we respect each other because we have essentially the same morals. We have the same morals because they have rejected the disgusting morals found in their Bible, as well as the silly myths. They are Christian by name but atheist by deed.
But the embarrassing fact remains, considering the above 15 moral questions (and many more), your typical Christian will quickly ignore God's clear moral imperatives and live his life based on morals that can be found nowhere in the Bible. So where does this modern non-Biblical moral code come from, one that's contradictory to God's, if the Christian argument is that there can only be one source of morals, and that's from God, and any other moral code, one worth living, is impossible? We'll consider the source shortly, but actually it doesn't even matter where this alternative code of morals comes from, the fact that it clearly exists and is embraced by Christians as a better alternative shows that moral codes other than God's are clearly possible. And not just possible, preferable, even with Christians.
So morals other than those from the Bible clearly exist, morals that are considered right, just and good not just by atheists, but even by Christians. Modern society runs on secular morals not Biblical morals. Let's recall that it's not just atheists saying that God was badly mistaken, and that slavery is actually wrong, that witches shouldn't be burnt at the stake and women shouldn't be the submissive property of men, Christians are saying the same things. It's really quite silly for Christians to act all confused about how atheists can possibly have a moral code that doesn't come from the Bible when their basic moral code is essentially the same moral code as adopted by most atheists, one that rests on the evidence, that there is no god and we humans have to work out our own code to allow a peaceful and beneficial coexistence.
It's amazing that Christians are too stupid to see that they're ignoring most of God's moral code, certainly most of the important bits, and are actually adopting the moral code that most atheists follow, not the other way around as O'Farrell claims. They're living a life that if their God actually existed would see them tortured for all eternity. They're too stupid to realise that their moral code is something that they personally design, based on emotion, reason and how society functions, it doesn't come from a boring old book that they haven't even bothered to read. When asked if slavery is OK or if killing homosexuals is justified or if punishing a child for a parent's crime is fair, they don't grab their Bible, they instead think about it and discuss it and make their own decision. They almost always reach a view in total opposition to that of their God, and live their life based on that atheistic view, and yet they childishly tell themselves that the view they hold is one that God told them to hold, and would approve of. I know how people can delude others, but how do they delude themselves?
O'Farrell then goes on with the claim that 'Most atheists say they are moral relativists, who believe ... it is impossible to judge another society, no matter what it does, because there is no objective global standard'. He also correctly notes, in an attempt to imply how silly atheists must be, that 'moral relativism has long been discredited in philosophical circles'. While there may well be some atheists who are moral relativists, I've never met one, I'm certainly not one, and atheist discourse would suggest that most atheists are anything but moral relativists. Atheists raise the ire of Christians and Muslims because we categorically state that persecution of homosexuals and women is wrong, that stoning apostates to death is wrong, that banning condoms in AIDS ravaged countries is wrong, that denying abortion to women is wrong etc. If we were moral relativists then we would simply ignore what other individuals, religions and societies were doing, saying that it's not our place to judge the behaviour of others. The reality is that atheists can and do judge others even though, unlike religions, we don't claim to have knowledge of some objective global standard. Call us arrogant, but we just think priests raping children is wrong, and we don't feel we need to ask some god what he thinks before we'll take action.
O'Farrell then notes that:
'Some atheists believe that basic "moral" behaviours (eg altruism) evolved in order for societies (or humanity itself) to survive. I accept evolution, but it just "happens", it doesn't give value and has no authority. We don't obey moral rules (eg behave altruistically) just because we find them in our midst. We need a reason to obey them. If we are urged to obey for the sake of the survival of humanity, we can still ask why humanity "should" survive. There is an epic urge to survive, but this is different from "should"'.Unlike O'Farrell and other Christians I don't need an 'authority' to tell me not to torture kittens. Christians seem to be at a loss on how to behave morally if they don't have the absolute authority of God laying down the correct behaviour. A happy kitten has value to me, even though evolution doesn't demand that I not harm it. O'Farrell suggests that without God's instruction not to kill others we have no reason not to, and yet I can think of many reasons not to go on a killing spree. I can likewise think of many reasons why I'd like humanity to survive, prime being that I like being alive. Christians have this slavish attitude that they're only here to serve their God, and they see no reason to exist if their God doesn't. They want some authority to order them around, to give them reasons to do one thing rather than another, they're apparently totally unable to decide how to lead a good life by themselves. Pitiful really.
Next we read that 'the atheist tells us that human beings are no more than the latest gorilla upgrade, the planet's most complex organism and top predator and that each of us is a mixed bag of kindness and malice. If this is all a human is, it makes equal sense to hate them as to love them'.
O'Farrell is correct (almost) about the 'gorilla upgrade' (he makes the Christian mistake of saying we evolved from gorillas, usually they say monkeys, whereas we actually all evolved from an ape-like ancestor), but he's deceptive in suggesting that atheists also believe that as humans go, 'it makes equal sense to hate them as to love them'. For all our potential human flaws, atheists love our fellow humans far more than we hate some of them, like child-abusing priests and suicide bombers killing in the name of God. He shouldn't pretend we say things we don't just to make us look unworthy of respect. He goes on to say that 'Atheists talk about justice because they believe in equality', but then ruins it all with the childish argument that 'the evidence says people are not equal ... there are also real inherent superiorities (eg intelligence, strength, agility, prowess, disposition)'. I can't believe this guy's a lawyer! (or are his arguments misleading because he's a lawyer?) How could he honestly argue that atheists think people are equal, meaning that we think all humans are absolutely identical? It's clear to even children that men and women have differences, not even identical twins are 100% identical. Clearly when atheists argue for justice based on equality we don't mean everyone must be treated the same because we're all the same height. These are what's known as straw man arguments, where someone falsely claims that their opponent believes something quite silly or simplistic, and they make them look foolish for holding that view, even though in reality they don't. It's much easier to attack a straw man rather than your actual opponent.
I had to laugh on reading O'Farrell's next claim, where he says, 'We Christians believe each human being to be extremely significant and equally so, regardless of other characteristics, because we are made in God's image and likeness ... Loving people and giving them justice makes immediate sense because of what they are: a human being demands love and justice simply by being a human being'. All humans are equal? Has he not read his Bible? (Don't answer that.) The Hebrews were God's chosen people, how does this not make them superior to everyone else? God and his Hebrew followers slaughtered untold other civilisations comprised of humans, clearly these people weren't 'extremely significant and equally so' in the eyes of God. Read the bit about the ten plagues that God visited on the humans in Egypt, which was insignificant compared to the flood of Noah, where all the humans on the planet bar Noah and his family were drowned. Lot offered his two virginal daughters to a village mob to be raped to protect two men from the same fate. The welfare and protection of his daughters meant far less to him than that of two strangers, and yet O'Farrell argues that in God's world everyone can expect 'love and justice simply by being a human being'. Look at the lowly status of women in the entire Bible, nothing more than the unclean property of men, and of course humans that were also homosexual or non-believers or dabblers in magic were to be dragged to the village square and stoned. They weren't seen as being equal and worthy of love and justice. And then there were the slaves, who obviously weren't equal to their masters. Jesus said that those that didn't hate their parents, siblings and children could never be one of his followers. Not much love there. God, following the advice of Jesus I guess, had him tortured and murdered! A loving and just action? I don't think so, but then I'm an atheist.
Note that O'Farrell said that 'a human being demands love and justice simply by being a human being'. He then goes on to say that 'Secularists reject all this, of course, and have not yet identified (or even imagined) anything lovable to replace it. The basics of post-Christian secular morality are really a memory of Christianity'. What utter nonsense, and how confused O'Farrell is. It is atheists, or secularists as he's now calling us, that have fought for human rights, on the basis that being human is all that is required to demand equality and justice and love. Christianity on the other hand demands that you give your life to Jesus to receive his love, and if you don't submit then he'll torture you for all eternity. In the Christian world simply being human gives you no right to love and justice, you must first call him your lord and master and promise you'll stop eating shellfish and having sex just for the fun of it. Atheists aren't looking for another holy book to replace the Bible, we've found that as humans we can simply love our fellow humans, we don't need a god to give us instructions, or permission.
O'Farrell finishes by stating that, 'It may be that the atheists' difficulty in explaining the value of the individual human being has helped give rise to the new ethos, identity politics'. He condemns identity politics as dangerous because it ignores individuals and 'sees only groups', making reference to 'sex, "gender", sexual orientation, race'. Again, has he not read the Bible? It's identity politics from start to finish. The Hebrews are God's chosen group, and God commands they exterminate all the other groups. God demands that Hebrew men are circumcised so that he can tell them apart from other groups (he doesn't care about identifying the Hebrew women, since it's the job of the men to control their own property, such as their women, sheep and goats). Even the Hebrews themselves are separated into various groups, or 12 tribes. Woman are made subservient to men. Slaves are subservient to their masters. Homosexuals are made an abomination compared to heterosexuals. Men that injured their genitals were placed in another group, one unable to enter the temple to pray. It amazes me that O'Farrell can condemn identity politics in modern society and not see that identity politics in his beloved Bible, the book he wishes we'd all turn to, was far, far worse. And furthermore, it's irrelevant whether atheists can or cannot explain 'the value of the individual human being'. We are quite content to accept that every human has value and merit and worth; end of story. We don't need to explain it, anymore than we need to explain why we find a sunset beautiful. We just do. If I can't explain the value of my cell phone to O'Farrell's satisfaction, does that mean I'm forced to believe it was made by God? O'Farrell falls into this religious trap of always needing an answer, or more importantly, a commandment. O'Farrell can't accept that a human life has value until he reads in an old book that God said human life has value. Life can't just have value in and of itself, it must be placed there by God. For O'Farrell everything can be explained, but not by sinful, infallible humans, only by God. So no matter what the question, be it the origin of the universe or why a human life has value, when an atheist replies, 'I don't know' (yet), the Christian immediately feels superior, because he believes he does know the answer. The answer is God. But for an atheist, that explains nothing, it's no better than saying the answer is Zeus, or Harold.
But before I finish, I want to talk a little about the source of morals, not just for atheists, but everyone. Gavan O'Farrell accepts (how could he not?) that 'many atheists are very moral people', but questions how this is possible without moral guidance from his God. Where might our morals come from? He argues that we get them from Christianity, that we are unwitting Christians, denying the existence of God and Jesus, but at the same time leading a moral life thanks to an unrecognised infusion of God's morality. Living in a country and even a world that has undoubtedly been influenced by Christianity (for good and bad), how could we atheists not be familiar with God's morality? As I've said, I'm an atheist that knows all of the Ten Commandments (and ignores the majority of them), whereas family, friends and acquaintances who claim to be Christian are ignorant of the majority of them.
While clearly familiar with God's moral code, I've argued that it's blatantly obvious that we atheists are not following it. If we were we'd own slaves, execute homosexuals, shun shellfish and pork, persecute women, and work as a witch hunter, but not on the Sabbath. Instead we are outspoken in our opposition to God's moral code, saying it resembles the work of a devil rather than a loving, all-knowing god. So obviously our actions show we are not being influenced by the fact that we may have Christian neighbours.
Some Christians argue that even in our vocal denial of God, we atheists still act morally because God effectively whispers in our ear. When we encounter a moral quandary, and mentally debate what action to take, God makes us take the path that is right and just, even though we are unaware of his input. Of course if this were true then it raises two problems. First, as above, if God was making us unwittingly follow his moral code, then we'd be promoting slavery and hunting homosexuals, and clearly we're not. Second, if God was making our moral choices for us, then that means we don't have free will, we aren't making our own life choices, he's making them for us. We are nothing but robots. But Christians argue that humans most definitely have free will, in fact they use this fact to explain why there is evil in the world. God, so the Christian argument goes, gave us free will, gave us the ability to make our own choices, and that includes moral choices, and unfortunately that means some people make the wrong moral choices that result in evil actions. So when atheists act morally, when we oppose slavery and promote sexual equality and love our parents, then clearly we must be making free choices that were arrived at by independent thinking, with no helping hand from God.
So if not from God, either indirectly or directly, where do the morals that atheists clearly possess come from? One problem with phrasing the question like that is that Christians wrongly assume that the morals that atheists possess are the same morals that Christians posses, meaning that if we both have the same moral code then it's likely we both got it from the same source. But as I've argued, the morality of atheists is radically different, often in complete opposition, to God's morality. Most modern Christians only align themselves with the morality of most atheists because they have rejected their God's morality, but this shift has been so gradual that they don't realise they've changed camps. Their God demands they persecute homosexuals and subjugate women, and yet they stand alongside the atheist and say no, that attitudes like that aren't moral, they're immoral.
Rather than asking atheists where our morals come from, Christians should first be honestly asking themselves, 'Where do my morals come from?' By answering that question they will in the process learn where atheist morality comes from. They would discover that morality comes not from an unseen wizard that was written about in some ancient book, but that morality comes from within, that honest, informed, rational individuals observe society and judge how various interactions between individuals and groups affect their overall wellbeing. If we want to live in a civilised society where we feel safe and happy and contented, where we feel justice applies to everyone, and where individuals are free to make their own life choices, as long as those choices don't harm others, then free thinking individuals need to devise and agree on a code of conduct that brings this about. Morality is of our own making, that's why many of our current "morals" are quite different to that which were popular in the past, in the Middle Ages for example. Meaning it's no longer seen as moral to burn witches at the stake.
If most Christians (and Muslims, Jews, Hindus and believers of every stripe) just thought about it for a minute, they'd realise that their morals no longer come from a boring old book that they haven't even bothered to read all the way through. That their morals instead come from their own mind that has subconsciously accepted that it's time we stopped mistreating each other based on the barbaric ignorance of ancient goat herders. However true believers are not known for thinking too deeply about their religion, and the few that do still seem to get it horribly wrong.
Last Updated Mar 2020