Near Earth Archive

A backup of Near Earth Object by Paul Fidalgo

Month: March, 2011

Un-Americanizing Atheists

This is nothing new, but once again religionists in Congress want to bolster their already-slobbering support for “In God We Trust” as the national motto of the United States. This latest rumbling, from the House Judiciary Committee, is the germ of Rep. Randy Forbes of Virginia, chair of the Willful Ignorance Caucus (I mean “Congressional Prayer Caucus”).

Among its goals is to have the motto displayed more often, and more prominently (as if having it on all the money wasn’t enough) on government buildings, including, yes, schools.

As counterpoint, the particular piece to which I’ve linked quotes Barry Lynn from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who of course is always, always, always quoted in every church-state separation article written ever-ever-for-all-time-ever. Lynn says, “This is all part of a silly season that usually occurs closer to election cycles,” and I’m tempted to agree. Passage of such a measure would be just taking one wrong (the unconstitutional invocation of a deity as though it were a sentiment shared universally) and making it wronger, and that’s bad. But substantively, it’s a hunk of red meat thrown to the country’s religionists who are under the bizarre and false impression that they are being oppressed. It’s absurd, it’s laughable, and it’s a waste of time.

But I think it’s important for folks in the secularist/atheist community to remember what results from all this otherwise-empty grandstanding for the pious mob: that we are implicitly excluded from this great big concept we call “America.” If the national motto, the aphorism to which all denizens are expected to subscribe, declares that we not only believe in, but trust an imaginary super-being, then atheists and our ilk are therefore not included. We are not part of the “We” in the motto. We are not of America.

Forbes is a run-of-the-mill hack theocrat. But today’s Congress is way over its quota on his type, and the president is really no help on these matters. So while this measure may just be another example of a ham-fisted pander to God-fearin’, gun-totin’ Real America, its codification also delivers a dark byproduct: further making nonbelievers aliens in their own land.

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Un-Americanizing Atheists

This is nothing new, but once again religionists in Congress want to bolster their already-slobbering support for “In God We Trust” as the national motto of the United States. This latest rumbling, from the House Judiciary Committee, is the germ of Rep. Randy Forbes of Virginia, chair of the Willful Ignorance Caucus (I mean “Congressional Prayer Caucus”).

Among its goals is to have the motto displayed more often, and more prominently (as if having it on all the money wasn’t enough) on government buildings, including, yes, schools.

As counterpoint, the particular piece to which I’ve linked quotes Barry Lynn from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who of course is always, always, always quoted in every church-state separation article written ever-ever-for-all-time-ever. Lynn says, “This is all part of a silly season that usually occurs closer to election cycles,” and I’m tempted to agree. Passage of such a measure would be just taking one wrong (the unconstitutional invocation of a deity as though it were a sentiment shared universally) and making it wronger, and that’s bad. But substantively, it’s a hunk of red meat thrown to the country’s religionists who are under the bizarre and false impression that they are being oppressed. It’s absurd, it’s laughable, and it’s a waste of time.

But I think it’s important for folks in the secularist/atheist community to remember what results from all this otherwise-empty grandstanding for the pious mob: that we are implicitly excluded from this great big concept we call “America.” If the national motto, the aphorism to which all denizens are expected to subscribe, declares that we not only believe in, but trust an imaginary super-being, then atheists and our ilk are therefore not included. We are not part of the “We” in the motto. We are not of America.

Forbes is a run-of-the-mill hack theocrat. But today’s Congress is way over its quota on his type, and the president is really no help on these matters. So while this measure may just be another example of a ham-fisted pander to God-fearin’, gun-totin’ Real America, its codification also delivers a dark byproduct: further making nonbelievers aliens in their own land.

Bell, Dinged

Pastor Rob Bell has my attention. From what I’ve gathered of the various bits of media that have sprung up in recent weeks about him, he’s a relatively hip, relatively liberal evangelical who is trying to open up Christianity to folks who find its more dogmatic and arcane aspects intimidating. He is repackaging Christianity — as many liberal religionists do these days — as essentially about love.

Of course, he’s still completely wrong as far as the existence of God and Jesus and whatnot, but it’s at least a little relieving that there’s someone on his side of the reality fence is looking to make feel a little more secure and welcoming rather than xenophobic and discriminatory. If nothing else, he’s extremely charismatic. So as I’ve watched some of his material, I find myself fascinated by his presentation and his rhetoric, even while I roll my eyes at the underlying substance. Here’s a bit of what I mean (and sorry about the subtitles, I can’t find a version of this video without them).

 

http://www.viddler.com/player/8b15da06/ 

And to get more of an idea, here’s his (apparently unembeddable) video about the new book he’s hawking.

Atheist Media Blog just posted an interview Bell did with Martin Bashir (a “committed Christian” himself), and it typifies what I’ve seen as the reaction from traditional Christians. Here’s the video:

 

 

Even at Atheist Media, there were commenters who thought Bashir’s treatment of Bell indicated a capital-S skeptical worldview, but that’s not at all the case, at least theologically. Bashir comes at Bell as someone who feels that Bell is playing fast and loose with “Biblical truth,” and it’s perceivable in Bashir’s tone (and Bell’s discomfort). As an another example of the reaction, there’s Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary writing in the Christian Post, who seems to really get where Bell is coming from while damning his methods:

As a communicator, Rob Bell is a genius. He is the master of the pungent question, the turn-the-picture-upside-down story, and the personal anecdote. [. . .] Rob Bell is a master communicator. Had he set out to defend the biblical doctrine of hell, he could have done so marvelously. He would have done the church a great service. But that is not what he set out to do.

[. . .] There is no reason to doubt that Bell wrote this book out of his own personal concern for people who are put off by the doctrine of hell. Had that concern been turned toward a presentation of how the biblical doctrine of hell fits within the larger context of God’s love and justice and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that would have been a help to untold thousands of Christians and others seeking to understand the Christian faith. But that is not what Bell does in this new book.

Instead, Rob Bell uses his incredible power of literary skill and communication to unravel the Bible’s message and to cast doubt on its teachings.

That’s obviously a threat to the usual order of things in Evangelical circles. There’s a pretty well-established way of keeping folks in the fold, and Bell is upending it with very loose interpretations of what the Bible tells us.

One of the many, many ironies here is, of course, that it’s not as though Mohler and his ilk are following the Bible to the letter, either, or else once Mohler finished his column, he’d have to go and make sure his slaves were fed, and perhaps slay someone who doubted Jesus’ divinity. I’m going to guess he did something else.

As an atheist and a liberal, I am at least vaguely heartened that there are religious leaders who are trying to emphasize goodness and love over punishment. If all Christians were Bell-type Christians, perhaps there would be little need for a concerted atheist/secularist movement (something I’ve also said about the worldview of folks like Karen Armstrong).

But what remains troubling, what is not at all different from the fire-and-brimstone religionists, is that Bell’s basis for his teachings are just as airy and substanceless as any other faith’s. Perhaps even less so, for if you ask traditional religionists, he’s not even taking the fictional evidence seriously.

Perhaps it’s six of one, half-dozen of another. One tradition sticks to a certain set of cherry-picked biblical notions and will not be moved from them. Another newer idea says “no, no, it’s these ideas that are more important,” but hews much more loosely to the (dubious) founding documents. Everyone in the equation is making things up, and tying their worldviews to Bronze Age fictions that have no bearing on reality or modernity.

At least one of them is being a little bit nicer about it. It’s all based on fairy tales, but at least it’s coming from what appears to be a well-meaning place. I’ll be very curious to see what becomes of Bell and his message as he goes.

Bell, Dinged

Pastor Rob Bell has my attention. From what I’ve gathered of the various bits of media that have sprung up in recent weeks about him, he’s a relatively hip, relatively liberal evangelical who is trying to open up Christianity to folks who find its more dogmatic and arcane aspects intimidating. He is repackaging Christianity — as many liberal religionists do these days — as essentially about love.

Of course, he’s still completely wrong as far as the existence of God and Jesus and whatnot, but it’s at least a little relieving that there’s someone on his side of the reality fence is looking to make feel a little more secure and welcoming rather than xenophobic and discriminatory. If nothing else, he’s extremely charismatic. So as I’ve watched some of his material, I find myself fascinated by his presentation and his rhetoric, even while I roll my eyes at the underlying substance. Here’s a bit of what I mean (and sorry about the subtitles, I can’t find a version of this video without them).

 

 

And to get more of an idea, here’s his (apparently unembeddable) video about the new book he’s hawking.

Atheist Media Blog just posted an interview Bell did with Martin Bashir (a “committed Christian” himself), and it typifies what I’ve seen as the reaction from traditional Christians. Here’s the video:

 

 

Even at Atheist Media, there were commenters who thought Bashir’s treatment of Bell indicated a capital-S skeptical worldview, but that’s not at all the case, at least theologically. Bashir comes at Bell as someone who feels that Bell is playing fast and loose with “Biblical truth,” and it’s perceivable in Bashir’s tone (and Bell’s discomfort). As an another example of the reaction, there’s Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary writing in the Christian Post, who seems to really get where Bell is coming from while damning his methods:

As a communicator, Rob Bell is a genius. He is the master of the pungent question, the turn-the-picture-upside-down story, and the personal anecdote. [. . .] Rob Bell is a master communicator. Had he set out to defend the biblical doctrine of hell, he could have done so marvelously. He would have done the church a great service. But that is not what he set out to do.

[. . .] There is no reason to doubt that Bell wrote this book out of his own personal concern for people who are put off by the doctrine of hell. Had that concern been turned toward a presentation of how the biblical doctrine of hell fits within the larger context of God’s love and justice and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that would have been a help to untold thousands of Christians and others seeking to understand the Christian faith. But that is not what Bell does in this new book.

Instead, Rob Bell uses his incredible power of literary skill and communication to unravel the Bible’s message and to cast doubt on its teachings.

That’s obviously a threat to the usual order of things in Evangelical circles. There’s a pretty well-established way of keeping folks in the fold, and Bell is upending it with very loose interpretations of what the Bible tells us.

One of the many, many ironies here is, of course, that it’s not as though Mohler and his ilk are following the Bible to the letter, either, or else once Mohler finished his column, he’d have to go and make sure his slaves were fed, and perhaps slay someone who doubted Jesus’ divinity. I’m going to guess he did something else.

As an atheist and a liberal, I am at least vaguely heartened that there are religious leaders who are trying to emphasize goodness and love over punishment. If all Christians were Bell-type Christians, perhaps there would be little need for a concerted atheist/secularist movement (something I’ve also said about the worldview of folks like Karen Armstrong).

But what remains troubling, what is not at all different from the fire-and-brimstone religionists, is that Bell’s basis for his teachings are just as airy and substanceless as any other faith’s. Perhaps even less so, for if you ask traditional religionists, he’s not even taking the fictional evidence seriously.

Perhaps it’s six of one, half-dozen of another. One tradition sticks to a certain set of cherry-picked biblical notions and will not be moved from them. Another newer idea says “no, no, it’s these ideas that are more important,” but hews much more loosely to the (dubious) founding documents. Everyone in the equation is making things up, and tying their worldviews to Bronze Age fictions that have no bearing on reality or modernity.

At least one of them is being a little bit nicer about it. It’s all based on fairy tales, but at least it’s coming from what appears to be a well-meaning place. I’ll be very curious to see what becomes of Bell and his message as he goes.

Keep the Internet Proper

The AP is officially doing away with the hyphen in “e-mail” in favor of “email” and removing the spaces in “cell phone” and “smart phone,” turning both into single words. Paul Carr at TechCrunch marks this epic shift with most excellent irreverence.

First they came for e-mail, but I haven’t used the hyphenated form for years, so I did nothing.

Then they came for “cell phone” and “smart phone” but I’m not my grandparents, so I did nothing.

… and then they came for the uppercase ‘I’ in ‘Internet’.

Out of my cold, dead hands, AP. Out of my cold, dead hands.

I liked the hyphen, if for no other reason than the hyphenated “e” meant that it was a stand-alone sound phonetically. “Email” reads to me like “eh-mail” or something. But I can live with this change. I didn’t even know most people weren’t already using “cellphone” and “smartphone.” So, fine.

And though Carr is only joking about the uppercase “I” in “Internet,” now he has me spooked. The Internet needs to remain a proper noun. It’s not a utility in the way water or cable is. The data that travels over the Internet might be considered as such, but not the Internet itself. The Internet, like the World Wide Web, is a kind of place, a singular arena in which our digital lives are carried out.

Keep the Internet Proper

The AP is officially doing away with the hyphen in “e-mail” in favor of “email” and removing the spaces in “cell phone” and “smart phone,” turning both into single words. Paul Carr at TechCrunch marks this epic shift with most excellent irreverence.

First they came for e-mail, but I haven’t used the hyphenated form for years, so I did nothing.

Then they came for “cell phone” and “smart phone” but I’m not my grandparents, so I did nothing.

… and then they came for the uppercase ‘I’ in ‘Internet’.

Out of my cold, dead hands, AP. Out of my cold, dead hands.

I liked the hyphen, if for no other reason than the hyphenated “e” meant that it was a stand-alone sound phonetically. “Email” reads to me like “eh-mail” or something. But I can live with this change. I didn’t even know most people weren’t already using “cellphone” and “smartphone.” So, fine.

And though Carr is only joking about the uppercase “I” in “Internet,” now he has me spooked. The Internet needs to remain a proper noun. It’s not a utility in the way water or cable is. The data that travels over the Internet might be considered as such, but not the Internet itself. The Internet, like the World Wide Web, is a kind of place, a singular arena in which our digital lives are carried out.

Sagging Standards

Don’t pretend you already knew how sagging pants became in vogue for the younger set. Like so much else that our nation’s youth admires, this otherwise incomprehensible fashion trend comes from that mass producer of role models, our penal system. Take it away, Florida House of Representatives staffers:

Although no rigidly academic analysis of the history of ‘sagging’ has yet been conducted, it is commonly thought that ‘sagging’ originated in prisons where belts are not issued because they may be used to commit suicide or used as weapons. The lack of belts combined with loose, ill-fitting pants result in pants falling below the waist.

Wow, the kids these days really aim high, don’t they? I’m hoping that the kids who want to be seen as edgy, but without the implications of having been wholly corrupted, will opt for gaudy ankle bracelets, perhaps accoutered with fun ringtones, or doubling as mobile WiFi hotspots.

The kids who want to look like white collar criminals, of course, don’t have a special costume, because they so rarely wind up in jail. Unless, perhaps, one counts a shit-eating grin.

Sagging Standards

Don’t pretend you already knew how sagging pants became in vogue for the younger set. Like so much else that our nation’s youth admires, this otherwise incomprehensible fashion trend comes from that mass producer of role models, our penal system. Take it away, Florida House of Representatives staffers:

Although no rigidly academic analysis of the history of ‘sagging’ has yet been conducted, it is commonly thought that ‘sagging’ originated in prisons where belts are not issued because they may be used to commit suicide or used as weapons. The lack of belts combined with loose, ill-fitting pants result in pants falling below the waist.

Wow, the kids these days really aim high, don’t they? I’m hoping that the kids who want to be seen as edgy, but without the implications of having been wholly corrupted, will opt for gaudy ankle bracelets, perhaps accoutered with fun ringtones, or doubling as mobile WiFi hotspots.

The kids who want to look like white collar criminals, of course, don’t have a special costume, because they so rarely wind up in jail. Unless, perhaps, one counts a shit-eating grin.

Justification Fail

Gawker chief Nick Denton, in an Atlantic piece, makes and then misses a point.

The people who are mainly interested in politics are crazy in a way . . . Maybe I’d rather reach people whose first passion is video games, or fashion, or are retirees or young professional women. Their interest in politics is the normal interest in politics, not as the main source of rage and resentment in their lives or to the exclusion of everything else.

I could not agree more with the spirit of his first assertion. I strongly feel that modern political journalism is far too insular and self-referential, and therefore mainly irrelevant to those who do not live and breathe the industry.

But give me a god damn break. There may be a need for an outlet that can talk politics within a context that has salience for non-politicos, but Gawker is most assuredly not an example of that. Sorry, but ethically dubious exposés on the sexual semi-escapades of unimportant political figures does not count.

So I’m sure Denton is reaching those people he mentions. But he’s not reaching them with anything that matters.

There’s a New Band in Town, But You Can’t Get the Sound from a Story in a Magazine

Oh wait.

Enjoy, average teen.