Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Apologetically Yours

I've just posted an unintentionally comic link from a Christian apologist determined to demonstrate how his God was not a moral monster.
It's weapons grade stupid. Hilariously absurd. 
Where to begin. Oh yeah, how about the fact that it was ok for God to order the slaughter of women and children because they had become so defiled and mired in sin and depravity. But wait for it, God does offer them the lifeline of fleeing their lands and assigning themselves homeless rather than face the imminent Israeli onslaught.  This sounds not dissimilar to events played out in modern day third world nations, but Hey Ho, it's apparently better to be a refugee than a dead native.
I'm just warming up. What should one do, from a biblical perspective, when a child cheeks his/her parents. It's perfectly simple, the parent should kill them. And for the simple fact the the child has sinned against God (vertically), rather than his parent (horizontally). Our intrepid apologist does go on to venture that there is not one single recorded incident of a parent actually carrying out this decree, but the Creator of the universe is perfectly clear on the issue.
And lastly, what to do when one happens across a man gathering sticks on the sabbath? A word of caution perhaps? A scowl and a tut tut? Oh no, and yes you've guessed it. One must take the poor, stick laden fellow in front of the tribe and stone him until dead.
Call me excessively liberal, but none of the examples highlighted appear to illustrate reason at its zenith? One could be forgiven for thinking that the good Lord had a bit of a penchant for violence. In fact, assuming these events are  historical (None are), then God appears well up for all manner of orgiastic savagery at more or less the drop of the hat.
Ok, ok, I know that no thinking person believes that any of the above actually occurred, but that's not the thing that concerns me. What strikes me as terrifying is that at the start of the 21st century there exist educated people who seek to justify the brute savagery I've just referred to. Worse, there's no shortage of people willing to soak up these non justifications quicker than you can say Jack Flash. It's majestically bizarre, isn't it?
I admit that most believers I know are not prone to ethnic cleansing, child  murder, or the stoning of sabbath breakers. Concerning the latter, if they were would they be required to stone those that man the church book stalls each Sunday?
I digress, and my tongue is firmly in cheek here. I just wanted to illustrate the mind gymnastics that some deploy to defend a work of fiction, a silly old collection of writings more commonly referred to as the Bible.
Talk to an average believer, and they'll admit that they don't believe any of the above actually happened. But ask yourself, who gave them permission to pick and choose which parts of the Bible are literal and which historical? I've read the Bible, and nowhere does it say that we can cherry pick.
To conclude, the other day I saw a status update from a well educated Christian female who chose to self define as a foolish believer. It was intended to be a remark laced with irony. On reflection, perhaps she wasn't so far from the truth.

The Turning Of The Tide

Those of you who read this blog know that I am a passionate critic of religion. I have however, for some years, wondered upon the best approach to take and I have often been clumsy in how I go about this. 
For the most part, trying to dissuade a person from religious belief is a crusade which, much like the real crusades, is doomed to failure. Religion isn't based upon evidence or conventional rules of reason and logic, and what happens is that believers tend to become more entrenched when challenged. So instead I've aimed my guns at those on the periphery, at people with hardly any belief or with weak beliefs. Or to put it bluntly, at those with open minds. In many respects this has been extremely successful and it has insulated a good few people against developing corrosive religious views. More than ever I realise that trying to target the hardcore is like trying the dig a tunnel using a piece of lettuce. Direct confrontation is largely futile; other techniques are far more productive.
Take for instance the way I am with my kids. They know I'm an atheist yet I've never forced my views upon them. All I've done is answer questions about my unbelief when they have asked, whilst at other times I've taught them about other Gods, or evolution, or about how a good mind learns to think about issues. It's a process of fragments, of gentle honesty, and with my oldest I suspect I've had some success. She understands the processes of evolution far better than many adults. She knows that a seven day creation is utterly laughable. I've also allowed her to read chapters from Richard Dawkins wonderful "The Magic Of Reality", which does a sterling job of revealing how wonderful the real world is, and explains in understandable ways how we know what we know. This approach has been devoid of confrontation and appears to be helping her develop a mind that knows "How" to think rather than just "What" to think. I will do just the same with my youngest daughter when the opportunity presents. Contrast this with how an average church sermon works. You have somebody up front who has an unchallenged platform that they use to make claims unsupported by evidence. When you think of it its quite horrible. A lone voice pumping folly and historical falsehoods into the minds of people accustomed to receiving information in this way. Creepier still, when people disclose a crisis of faith it's all dealt with in house, no suggestion made that the struggler should read or watch material that might cause them to think another way. Exactly how is this not coercive control? Why don't the leaders have the courage to let people take time out to imbibe alternative views?
Happily, as I've said before, those with a determined streak have the Internet at their disposal. It's a tool near purpose built for identifying and destroying false claims, which is why so many are now leaving religion in their droves. The Internet is where religion comes to die, and there's nothing church leaders can do about it. Future generations will laugh that we ever held to such ideas as the flood myth, or virgin births, or any number of other unverified and unverifiable claims. This is sweet music as far as I'm concerned, and it will protect young minds from predatory clergy or unthinking parents. Surely this has to be a good thing? Which is why I've realised that I don't need to be as confrontational. I can trust that the information age will slowly but surely deflate the tyres of the vehicle more commonly known as religious belief. And perhaps those same young minds, now free from the old dogma's can set about the task of making this world worth living for.

Monday, 21 May 2012


Cold hard truth. Truth without compromise. Truth without sentiment.
We've all been on the receiving end of it, and it can cause immense pain and angst. We form ideas about the world, about ourselves, and we invest a lot of time in them. What emerges is our picture of reality, a series of values and ideals and perspectives. And we can be darn precious about them; so much so that we find it almost impossible to change. Thing is, this thing called reality is an impartial beast. Doesn't care about you, or about me, which is actually a really good thing because it means that it can never bend to our will.
What am I getting at here? Well I'm mulling what it means when the facts don't dovetail with our perception of reality? When this happens, what are you going to do?
Your response to this says an awful lot about you, and a lot about your moral character. You see, I just don't get how people can cling onto views when everything else screams that those self same views are false?
By way of an example consider the following; I have people close to me who have publicly stated that even if they knew they were wrong they would continue to hold their existing set of beliefs. I'm tempted to repeat that sentence but it doesn't get any better 2nd time around. And wait for it, both people who have stated this are educators. People tasked with teaching others how to think.
It's astonishing, isn't it? Why would anybody want to chose unreality over truth? How does that happen?
Well, it isn't really much of a mystery.
We like our world to be as safe as we can make it, which is why we form networks of ideas that often create little cushions around us. It makes the whole thing a bit more palatable. Thing is, I just couldn't get comfortable on a cushion like that. I mean can it really offer comfort? Can it provide support? What's it good for?
Ok then, to the business end. I cordially invite you to align your views with reality, and to be open to new ideas and new experience, allowing you to be free from ideas chaining you down. If what you believe doesn't conform with the facts then have the courage to admit this. The most important questions surely relates to how the world really is. And why wouldn't you want to know? Is it truly preferable to maintain a veneer of ignorance?
I just don't get it. It's alien to me. Which is why I'm always going to make a certain type of person uncomfortable. You see, I cannot; no, I will not indulge you when you make claims that the facts don't support. I like you too much and as a matter of fact respect you too much.
For my part, I confess to holding passionate views. But here's the thing; I will change these if the facts compel me to do so. No matter the emotional pain, no matter the implications. I cannot live a lie just because it's sugar coated with the promise of false comfort. And if I'm not prepared to lie to myself, then don't expect me to lie to you.

Friday, 18 May 2012

When The Comet Swings By

Halley's comet visits the Earth once every 75/76 years. Its last visitation was in 1985, and it won't return until 2061. The world renowned scientist Richard Dawkins recounts how he took  his baby daughter outside one night when the comet was visible and held her up to see it. He told her that he would never see it again, but that she would.
I find this anecdote strangely moving. It captures something of life's astonishing journey. If we are fortunate we may live for several decades before the lights go out and the torch is passed to the next generation. I often ask myself how I want to spend my time, because to the best of my knowledge this is the one life I can be sure I have. I've long since evolved beyond religious falsehoods, but I retain a sense of wonder at the secrets our universe is yet to divulge. I want to be open to new experience, willing to think beyond my own biases. I never want to assume that I have ultimate knowledge, or that I'm anything more than an ignoramus fumbling in the dark. What the human race has achieved is stunning, and yet we occupy such a tiny part of a universe so immense that it defies comprehension. What other civilisations, if any, are out there? How has life evolved on other worlds? Our powerful telescopes are now regularly identifying planets with the potential to harbour life, and as our vision extends who knows what we may uncover?  One of my dreams, before I close my eyes forever, is to have it confirmed that there are indeed other worlds with similarities to our own. That would move me and inspire me so much. This planet is a jewel in the darkness, no matter what terrible things we have done. It's a pale blue dot spinning in the void, an oasis in an otherwise hostile immensity. I want to learn about these other oasis, because on the balance of probabilities they almost certainly exist. To think that right now alien eyes could be looking up at other moons, other suns, and perhaps even reflecting on the nature of their existence sends a shiver down my spine.
Reality is amazing. Reality is truly magical. Let's embrace it and cast our small minds further from our own mental shores. See where it takes you. See what you learn. Bon voyage.

Monday, 14 May 2012

You Haven't Got A Clue, Have You?

Whenever I hear anybody complain about their pension further to the economic collapse I internally say the following; "Today 6/10th's of the world population will eat only rice should they be fortunate enough to eat at all. Yes, you will be working longer, paying more, and receiving less, but don't think for a second that you are poor."
Poor is having nothing to eat. No shelter, no access to healthcare, no protection against those stronger or more devious. Poor is seeing your child die in your arms, seeing your home washed away at the whimsy of mother nature, or having a distended belly and a throat desperate for water.
Those of you reading this are not poor. You're not close to anything even remotely resembling poor. In global terms your standard of living is prodigious, far beyond the reach of the vast majority. 
So when I hear you bleat it pisses me off. It offends me at just about every level. Your lack of insight, the narrowness of your vision, your bloated expectations make me want to vomit. You really do make me sick. And I'm tired of hearing you complain about how you are being ripped off, or about how legal contracts aren't being honoured, or that your life is going to be harder. You could be technically correct on all these counts, but you still wouldn't  be poor. Not within a country mile of poor. Not even close. So will you do me a kindness and keep your sanctimonious bullshit our of my earshot. I've been a good boy so far and haven't responded in the manner your conduct merits. I cannot promise to maintain this indefinitely however, and I'm concerned that if I do go off on one you're going to be the recipient of some unwanted truths.
You will almost certainly be working for longer. You're very likely to be paying more into your pension. And when it matures it is unlikely to yield as much as you had hoped for.
Tough. Welcome to 2012 and a whole new world. Get a grip, get your head down, and get on with it. You may be less affluent. You ain't poor.

Friday, 11 May 2012

It was Never For The Money

I work in Law and Order. I am aware that what I am about to say is going to be unpopular. Welcome to my world.
There's big changes afoot for policing. Changes in terms and conditions, in pensions, and possible privatisation for some roles traditionally carried out by uniformed officers.
I don't much care. I accept that the world has, circa 2008 and the banking crash, changed. I expect to have to work for longer, and possibly for less. I accept that I will not be the recipient of as much comfort and security as I might hope for.
Once again, I don't much care. What drives me is a desire to make people's bad days just a bit better. What drives me is an urge to play some small part in keeping the good guys safe from the bad guys. I do not expect to earn a fortune for this. I never did. I do, however, want to go home at the end of a day and feel that I have done a little good. I don't do this for the money, nor the hours, nor the shift pattern (which is shit), or to look good in the eyes of other people. I do this because somewhere, deep down inside this cranky and erratic shell is a person who wants to see others have a fighting chance at having a better life. I spend long hours marvelling at the sheer vileness of some people with whom I deal; the deceivers and the sadists and thieves. But more than that, I know also that there is a vast and varied ocean of human goodness that ebbs and flows every second of every day. I cannot change the world, and I recognise that my sphere of influence is tiny. But I like the thought of doing something, and I'm going to keep doing it even if my pension is smaller, and even if we've less resources to do the job, and even when everybody else thinks that the police are brimming with goons and thugs.
I do not think I am a voice in the wilderness here. I think a lot of my colleagues feel the same desire to help. So if it's all the same to you, and cutting through the cheap sentimentality and melancholy, that's how I'll be spending my time.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Presidents Gamble

I'm trying to figure out how allowing gay marriage lessens heterosexual marriage? Its an objection I've heard, and one that doesn't impress me one bit. I've been married for nigh on fourteen years, and I'm a fan of the whole traditional family unit. My wife is lovely, the kids barmy, and the dog is a basket case. We're a chaotic unit, and we have our friction, but aside from all the conventional temptations we've thus far steered the ship on a consistent forward course. How is allowing gay marriage going to compromise, threaten, or usurp this? Just what is it that the religious right in America is afraid of?
At present they are deeply unhappy bunnies because President Obama has finally come out in support of same sex institutions, taking a brave yet I suspect calculated risk. Interestingly, the majority of young Americans support his position, which bodes well for the future. Hopefully the religious zealots will  simply fade from the market place of legitimate ideas in due course, and tomorrows leaders will wonder why so much time was spent on this non issue.
I support strong relationships. Heterosexual, homosexual, I frankly care not. Good relationships are the bedrock of society, and we see what brokenness does to those caught up in it. I really do not understand why so many hours have been burned up concerning ourselves with this, although I do have my suspicions. As always, the core opponents to gay marriage are persons of religion, those who think that reading one two thousand year old book beats reading lots of modern ones. As Mark Twain so famously observed, religion will always oppose progress, and only when they've failed to impose their Monty Python silliness do they join the procession at the back of the line. For me, to support gay marriage does nothing to devalue marriage itself.  It merely extends privileges that I as a heterosexual male already enjoy. That your holy book causes you to hold fast an array of ugly ideas is your business as a person of faith, but please do not seek to inhibit the rights of others based on such a sub standard set of ideals.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Not So Tough

During the course of my work I see weakness and vulnerability on a daily basis. Part and parcel of my chosen career path. Yet ask me who, of all the people I deal with, I consider to be the weakest, most unimpressive specimens and my answer might surprise you. Its violent men. They are by far the weakest creatures you could ever hope to engage with. If you look beyond the aggression and the verbal unpleasantness and the coercive behaviour what you see is a creature that is, quite frankly, pathetic. Pathetic because they don’t seem able to cope without resorting the extreme behaviour. Pathetic because they often have very small brains that seem incapable of reasoning. It’s frankly bizarre that men who claim to be the ultimate examples of masculinity and manhood seem so inept at exemplifying the kind of qualities that define, by my reckoning, a real man. But then what does it mean to be a real man? Well strength is certainly one aspect of it, along with perhaps a quiet confidence and an ability to think clearly under pressure. Yet surely part of being a man is helping others to realise their potential? Surely we need to be approachable and honest and prepared to give of ourselves for our partners, family, and wider community. Weak men do none of this. Weak men don’t seem able to see beyond their own personal deficiencies, which they conceal amidst a facade of aggression. Yet there’s another quality which I value and one which I think deserves to be at the top of our aspiration list. And it’s the simple ability to be flexible in the face of new information, and honest enough to admit when we go wrong. I see real strength in learning from new information and being able to adapt, even if this sometimes means going down roads we wouldn’t otherwise choose to. More than that, it proves that as men we can grow and that we don’t get caught up in lazy thinking and destructive patterns of behaviour. Heck, these aren’t just male qualities. We should all be chomping at the bit to aspire to them. But what’s clear to me as that nobody grows when they just stand still. Nobody evolves when all they want to do is stick with the staid and with the familiar. Learn from error and build your foundation on the honest pursuit of truth and decency. It makes life so much more beguiling, and our journey all the more real.

The Long Road From Eden

Not many people believe in a literal Adam from the Garden of Eden. Those that do are considered fundamentalists and out of touch with reality. They hold to the view that Adam’s literal historical existence is a vital part of the Christian position on original sin and the restorative mission of Jesus. They are right on this point. Vital doesn’t even begin to describe it. Indulge me for a moment. Original sin was, according to Genesis, the work of Eve encouraging Adam to eat a forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge, a very special tree in Eden and one that God expressly forbade the happy couple from eating from.  To cut a very long story short, they couldn’t resist and sin entered the world, contaminating every single person that came after. Sin is, from a Christian perspective, such a grave condition that we need salvation from it, hence Jesus being sent from heaven to die on the cross, and in so doing absorbing all our sins and allowing mankind the opportunity to once again enjoy a relationship with God. A nice myth, I hear you say. Trouble is; if it’s just a myth then the whole house of cards is in trouble. You see, evolution teaches us that mankind has emerged over billions of years from simpler organisms, a process known as natural selection winnowing us and making us into the creatures we are today. From a strictly biological sense then, there never was a “first” man or a “first” woman, any more than there was a “first” horse or a “first” broccoli. This then begs the very troubling question. If there never was a literal first man, specifically created by God, then what does this do to the doctrine of original sin? More important, what did Jesus die for? Well, if you accept the sophisticated version; or the myth if you like, then it means that Jesus died for a metaphor. Now putting aside the myriad problems with the Gospels and the historicity of the resurrection, it means that the core component of Jesus mission, in fact the primary reason for his mission was built upon an event that never actually occurred. In essence, what you do is remove the spine from Christian doctrine, leaving something gelatinous and loose and vague. I suppose you could continue to argue that we need salvation from our sins, but you cannot refer to a specific event, a central historical event that set the whole thing off. So in a sense the fundamentalists are right to be worried. If they compromise here then they’ve compromised on everything.   If I were a true believer it would have to be fundamentalism or nothing. Any less is just a compromise. Any less is an affront to the teachings of Christ. Just think of what it is claimed he endured during his time of Earth. The flogging, the crown of thorns, the humiliation, the crucifixion. For a myth? For a fable? And whilst I’m being picky, at what point do my early ancestors become culpable of this thing we call sin? In our present form we could probably go back about 200,000 years and still call ourselves human. At what point during our story did sin enter our understanding? More pressing, why did Jesus wait 198,000 years to act? These are difficult, some might say troubling questions for believers. I fear that evolution really does provide traditional religion with a very large hurdle to overcome. And I’m not at all convinced that it has.    

Wednesday, 2 May 2012


There are some mental images that I could well do without. Amongst them are snapshots of Ken Barlow and Tony Blackburn shagging their way across the nation. Apparently boring old Ken's had thousands, whilst Tony is at five hundred. I am of course referring to the number of comely wenches that the pair have bedded down the years. Perhaps I should feel inadequate? I mean, I've slept with three women in 41 years. That's not exactly suggestive of a gigolo, is it?. Thing is, and call me unmanly, but I've never been one for shagging around. I'd much rather commit my energies, sexual and otherwise, into maintaining a relationship that really means something to me. For a couple of years during my late teens, early twenties I had a "friends with benefits" kind of relationship with one lovely girl, and at first I was the cat that got the cream. We enjoyed each others company, had fun, got drunk, and she looked great in black stockings. It was a total no strings arrangement right up until the moment she confessed that she had always wanted more. You see that's the problem with relationships. They're never totally equal. Always one person a little more invested than the other, always one a fraction less. And the really odd thing was, towards the end whenever we awoke in the morning I often felt just a bit hollow. It wasn't that we hadn't had a ball; it was just there was something important missing. My  heart just wasn't in it. Perhaps I'm atypical of what it means to be a man, but It just wasn't for me. A bit ironic really because I absolutely love women and I make good connections with them. And frankly I'm regularly tempted to do the wrong thing, but I've always just about stepped back from the brink. Fact is, whilst my mind goes off on all kinds of fantasies and indiscretions, at the end of the day I know just how much I have to lose. I'm a married man with a family and the amount of harm I could cause so outweighs any selfish benefit that it just ain't worth the risk. So there you have it. I'm no Ken B, and I'm no Tony. At least not in the practical sense. In my mind I've probably committed adultery countless times, as have the majority of males alive. But thus far, and thankfully, I've not made that fatal mistake. I'm writing this because I want to be real, and I expect a lot of men in relationships secretly have the same inner quarrel. The libido, ably aided and abetted by the imagination pulling in one direction, whilst the conscience and the heart tugs in the other. I don't want to hurt people and I'm acutely aware that I've got some real points of weakness when it comes to self control. This is just me, I'm afraid. Just contradictory, unpredictable old me. I often want to do the wrong thing and take those crazy risks, which is kind of laughable for a man in his 4th decade. I wonder, am I really such an isolated case?