2005

sumanah liked the Satanist joke in the last entry, so I thought I’d mention revdj‘s quote: “Satanists are Libertarians who realized that they were not going to get sex by quoting Ayn Rand to women in their twenties.”

Everyone loves Ayn Rand, of course, but I can see his point. It occurs to me that someone could do a Forum 2000 clone on LJ by creating appropriately named accounts. Unfortunately, both aynrand and ayn_rand already exist, and in any case, you just can’t get the bored CMU grad students these days.

I’m a man of wealth and taste:

You scored as Satanism. Your beliefs most closely resemble those of Satanism! Before you scream, do a bit of research on it. To be a Satanist, you don’t actually have to believe in Satan. Satanism generally focuses upon the spiritual advancement of the self, rather than upon submission to a deity or a set of moral codes. Do some research if you immediately think of the satanic cult stereotype. Your beliefs may also resemble those of earth-based religions such as paganism.

Satanism

58%

atheism

54%

Buddhism

42%

agnosticism

42%

Islam

29%

paganism

25%

Judaism

17%

Hinduism

17%

Christianity

8%

Which religion is the right one for you? (new version)
created with QuizFarm.com

The quiz author seems to have in mind the modern Satanism of people like our old friend Aleister Crowley and Anton LaVey. It’s more likely that I’d cast my lot in with the Dark Lord (who only exists in a metaphorical sense, remember) than that I’d, say, convert to Islam, but that’s not saying very much. Satanism seems to be an elaborate prank designed to annoy Christians while having some good parties (which of course, I can do anyway), rather than a system one could practically live by. If any Satannic evangelists would like to compete with nlj21 for my attention, then we can always talk, of course.

In the meantime, I will stick to the True Faith of the Invisible Pink Unicorn (May Her Hooves Never Be Shod) and Kelvin, who is The Lord.

S introduced me to Buffy the Vampire Slayer a little while ago. I’d seen the occasional episode on TV, but never watched them all in order. The other day, I watched the final episode, having previously watched the preceding 7 series, in order. From this you might be able to tell that I like the show.

<lj-cut text=”Some minor Buffy spoilers within”> For anyone who’s not had the pleasure, the series follows the eponymous Buffy, a teenage girl in the Californian town of Sunnydale. Sunnydale is build on a Hellmouth, a centre for supernatural evil. Buffy is the Slayer, a chosen woman with supernatural strength and agility, a teenager in High School as the show begins. The story follows an arc that takes Buffy and her friends through their school years to university, with a new enemy each season.

The show’s appeal lies in its affection for its characters, its humour, and its ability to switch from humour to horror without clashing gears. Like other long running shows with a story arc (Babylon 5 springs to mind) the show rewards the viewers’ perseverance by actually doing stuff with its characters, whether it’s the development of the main characters or reprising cameos.

You can object (and many have) to inconsistencies in what seems to be called the Buffyverse. Why don’t guns work there, except for that one time? Just how much daylight does it take to kill a vampire? Why do so few of the villians investigate the possibilities of explosives (and when they do, fail to apply them to the greatest threat, viz, the lady herself)? Since when were there mines near London? Just where is Spike’s accent from, anyway? But that’s not the point.

The point is that BtVS has a story about people to tell, and does so rather well. I hear Firefly is quite good, too.

Went to Safi’s birthday party, which included a ceidlidh by the marvelous Karl Sandeman, who seems to have cornered the market in this town. Much fun was had.

I had a random encounter with an evangelical Christian, who we shall call R, who it turns out I recognised from my StAG days. Found myself wishing for hyperlinks in conversation, since a lot of it covered ground I’ve been over before. Along with another atheist, who we shall call A, we talked about what basis there was for morality without God. R felt that any atheistic morality would eventually come down to “might makes right”. While that’s true in the sense that if a very large number of people believe something, it’s hard for people who don’t to make any headway (and perhaps even for them to survive), I hope intelligent people see the need for co-operation and that a civilised society is better than Mad Max. In any case, evangelical Christianity also comes down to might making right: it’s just in their case, it’s God who will impose his will by force one day.

Interestingly, R didn’t think that the reason why God doesn’t show himself much was to avoid overwhelming our free will (which is an argument I’ve heard before), but rather that it was up to God to decide how much to reveal of himself, and that he’d revealed enough that non-believers were without excuse. She made reference to the line at the end of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” So it was arrogant of people to insist on more evidence. I think that’s something of a cop-out, myself. Although I can see that it’d make sense if you were already committed to the idea that what God says goes, it isn’t particularly useful for evangelism.

Got onto how well attested the New Testament was from other sources, which really becomes an argument about how much the Gospel writers made up, and whether there are later Christian modifications to people like Josephus. I attempted to short circuit this discussion by saying that nobody is asking me to bet my eternal destiny on whether Julius Caesar existed, but if I’m to choose between EvangelicalChristianGod, Allah, and whoever, I’d better have a bit more evidence because those deities’ followers tell me the stakes are rather high.

We then got on to whether creation provides evidence of a God. It went like this:

R: The Bible says that God is clearly seen in creation, so that unbelievers are without excuse.
Me: aha, but science and God of the gaps.
R: aha, but Just Six Numbers.
A: aha, but Weak Anthropic Principle.
Me: and deism isn’t Christianity, right? All this is just a plausibility argument.

Thence to the fate of us unbelievers. Like nlj21 (see recent discussion), R was clear that A and I are pretty much doomed, as we’ve heard the evangelical Christian gospel and rejected it. A was not worried by this as he thinks it’s all a lie anyway, but was was more interested in R’s opinion on the fate of people who haven’t heard. Somewhat surprisingly, R thought that they might be doomed too. Her reasoning was that God was justified in condemning everyone, and so whoever was saved should thank God for his grace and favour. A seemed somewhat shocked by this. Felt compelled to defend Christianity and point out that not all Christians believe this.

Again, there’s that disconnect between what evangelical Christians think they and others are guilty of and what most people think of as justice. As I’ve said elsewhere, I find it hard to comprehend the mentality that believes itself to be deserving of Hell. It seems a common tactic among evangelical Christians to say things like “I know how sinful I am”, presumably in an attempt to show that they don’t think they’re better than non-Christians. The problem is, the people saying this are generally the nice personable ones (such as the anonymous commenter who’s been talking to me about my essay, on this entry). It makes me want to shake them, sometimes. In non-Christian love, of course.

Then we talked about the evangelical way of reading the Bible, of which I’ve said a lot already, so I won’t rehearse it all here.

Then the party ended and I went home, after delivering a very dense amp back to Homerton. There isn’t a conclusion, other than that people don’t really seem to reach conclusions in arguments like this. Still, they’re quite fun to have, anyhow.

It seems someone from CICCU (or at least, someone from a Cambridge IP address) posted an advert for this year’s CICCU Convert-a-thon to my last entry. You’ve got to admire the brass neck of that: it seems vaguely reminiscent of something old JC himself might have done. I replied in kind, and so The Great God Debate thread was begun. It’s mostly me and robhu vs nlj21 right now. Feel free to join us, as long as you can spell and punctuate and are not any sort of nutter.

ladysisyphus writes about why she is a Christian even though she cannot say unequivocally that Jesus Christ is her Lord and Saviour, which, as we all know, is the litmus of such things. People who thought that the Jerry Springer entry was intended to imply that I believed all American Christians were nutters, take note: there is at least one who is not. andrewducker says what I’d have said about truth and facts, in a conversation which reminds me of those I’ve had with cathedral_life.

People who read Hebrew might want to have a look at the huge thread on Creationism that developed under my post here, since some of it relies on what I suspect are standard Creationist assertions about the Hebrew used in Genesis. Or you might not: after I while, I learned to avoid the Creationism threads on uk.r.c, only popping out occasionally to ambush people with physics.

There are more photos of the musicals party, to add to bluap’s. My camera’s rubbish in low light, alas.

Random Flash linkage: To Kill A Mockingbird, Numa Numa. Been doing the rounds, but I mention it in case you’ve not seen it.

Update: I got a comment from someone recommending the CICCU mission talks this year (which have now been and gone). This has started a debate on whether God is just. Read all about it in the comments inside.

I had an email from a producer for Radio 4 the other day. She’d seen the famous web page and wanted to talk to me as part of some research for a programme the BBC are doing on people who’ve lost their religion. The programme is intended to show talking heads (er, except it’ll be radio, obviously) rather than debate, so it’ll be a sort of montage of people recounting their experiences.

I spoke to her on Monday lunchtime, having gone out into the car park to avoid being overheard (it’s not a secret from my work colleagues, at least two of whom must have googled me before hiring me, but I didn’t think I’d feel comfortable talking about it in an open-plan office). She asked me some questions about the experience, such as whether I’d found it frightening (no: dislocating and odd yes, but not frightening) and whether I was glad I’d done it (ultimately, yes, although has been a hard 3 years in some ways). She seemed particularly struck with the image, described in the essay, of me stuck above a prayer meeting manning the overhead projector, looking down on it all and wondering what I was doing there.

I’m not sure whether they intend to ask me to be in it. Radio 4 woman said she’d let me know within a few months if they did, and before the programme airs (probably about September) if not. I don’t mind either way, but it’d be interesting to be on the radio. I’ll let you know what happens.

The BBC screened Jerry Springer – The Opera last night. It was musically brilliant and very funny. Although I thought the ending was weak, I can see how problems of theodicy aren’t going to be answered in a comedy opera. So, leaving that aside, a good time was had by all.

However, the broadcast attracted protests from Christians for scenes in the second half of the opera, in which Jesus and Satan swear at each other, Jesus is played by the same actor who played a nappy fetishist earlier (and wears a very similar costume) and Jesus is described as “a little bit gay”. Stephen Green, the leader of the hitherto unknown evangelical pressure group Christian Voice, has been extensively quoted in the press: you can read his arguments on the group’s website (along with his charming views on gay people), but in brief he objects to the BBC’s decision to broadcast something mocking his religion, and also points out that they would not dare do something similar to, say, Islam.

The BBC is a public service broadcaster funded by the TV licence fee, a tax on television owners (Americans always find this astonishing 🙂 The responses from the public on the BBC News site include many objections from Christians to being forced to pay for the screening of something so offensive to them. Of course, they’re not forced to pay at all: owning a television was not required by the Bible last time I looked, so their situation is similar to the National Innumerates Tax payers who object to how Lottery money is spent. That aside, like many other taxes, some of the money is bound to be spent on things we don’t agree with. We submit to taxation because the benefits seem to outweigh the downsides. Despite putting out an awful lot of tat about home decoration and cookery, the BBC still makes some of the best TV and radio in the world. I might object to paying for Songs of Praise (actually, I don’t, as I like old hymns), but I like Radio 2, Radio 4 (except The Archers, obviously, which is blasphemous and should be banned) and Strictly Come Dancing.

Christians don’t and should not have the right to prevent the screening of programmes to which they object: this isn’t America. An attempt to use Britain’s old blasphemy laws to prosecute the BBC (as some of the Christian groups have been threatening) will be the end of the blasphemy laws, not of the BBC’s ability to screen things Christians don’t like.

Green’s second point is more telling though. The BBC wouldn’t screen something which was offensive to Muslims (or Sikhs, obviously), for fear of violent repercussions. What Green has missed is that this is to the credit of British Christianity: compared to these other religions, it has fewer followers who are prepared to use violence to further their religious ends. As I’ve said elsewhere, I find Islam and American conservative Christianity worrying because of the violence they incite in some of their followers, and hypocritical in their whining about persecution and expectation of tolerance towards them when they do not practice tolerance. Let’s be clear: I am an atheist and believe all theisms to be wrong, but some are more wrong than others.

If Green wants some advice from an atheist, it is this: by all means protest, but not in the expectation that the BBC is morally obliged do as you say. Rather, protest to get across your message about what you think Jesus is like, and where the opera has it wrong. Play up the fact that your protests are non-violent. Get across your larger concern for this country. That’s how to be part of the tradition of free speech in this country, which is both your right and the BBC’s.

It appears SixApart bought LiveJournal. OMG! sixapart awaits your obeisances. bradfitz wonders what to do with all that money (link courtesy of marnanel). It’s fun to watch the drama, but I can’t say I care much.

BoingBoing linked to Edge’s question to (and responses from) various scientists, luminaries and latte-drinking iMac users: What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it ? So, how about the rest of you?