Monday, December 30, 2013

Does Minority Report have atheistic overtones?

When it comes to movies, I'm not as hard on Tom Cruise as others are these days. Yes, I think he's a total Scientologist nutjob in real life, but for the most part he's put together some decent movies, even if he runs in everyone of them. I was a moderate fan of Jack Reacher, I thought Cruise was hilarious in Tropic Thunder and his first Mission Impossible was better than average. But my absolute favorite Cruise flick was Minority Report. I am usually a fan of Steven Spielberg, I dig cool special effects and enjoy science fiction, so this movie already had a lot going for it.

My past attempts in analyzing movies that have atheistic views, themes or overtones (Matrix and Wizard of Oz) were pretty straightforward as others either agree with me or take a similar line of thinking. But I don't think anyone has ever looked at M.R. through an unbeliever's eyes. I don't for a second believe this is an atheistic movie, but it's fun to hypothesize, if only for a moment.

A quick recap: The movie takes place in April 2054, in Washington, D.C., where the government has been running a highly controversial police force called PreCrime. Cruise plays Capt. John Anderton, who basically leads the PreCrime team when making arrests. This system uses "visions" of three "precogs," who are mutated humans with precognitive abilities. They can see crime (murders in particular) before it happens, submitting the names of the individuals who theoretically will commit these crimes.

The success is overwhelming (no murders in six years), but before PreCrime can be taken to a national level, it must be audited by Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell), a member of the United States Justice Department. A Minority Report, which is a vision where all three precogs don't agree, gets discarded somewhat innocently, but this vision is the rub of the film, and Cruise gets himself set up and becomes a victim of the system he so strongly supported.

Immediately, anyone can recognize the free will vs. determinism theme of this movie. Theologians and philosophers have wrestled with this very subject for centuries. Do we have free will or are our actions predetermined by some cosmic force or deity's Master Plan? If precogs could exist, and they could accurately predict the future, then we wouldn't have free will, as they would be tapping into some higher power blueprints or script. And of course PreCrime equates to "Thought Crime," as Christopher Hitchens so eloquently used to put it when discussing his disdain for Christianity and its all-knowing god.

The three precogs in Minority Report bring to mind the Christian trinity, with Agatha being Yahweh, if you will, since she is the "leader" and her predictions are always correct. But near the end, she (and the system) is manipulated with implanted memories and staged murders. It raises the question: If someone knows their fate, will they automatically live that life, regardless of how improbable or vile it may be? This recalls the Old Testament "prophesies" ultimately being self-fulfilled by Jesus and those around him. The people of the New Testament so wanted Jesus to be the messiah that they made up incredible tales and journeys to make sure he was following the OT prophesies. It doesn't make him the Son of God; it means people manipulated his life and forced the prophesies to come true. If I say, "At 6 p.m. I am going to the movies," and then when 6 p.m. rolls around and I actually go to the movies, it's not amazing; it's self-fulfilling.

In the future setting of M.R., just about all technology is driven by the human retina through society's optical recognition system. Advertising, commerce and even GPS systems get their information by scanning the retinas of people, whether in the street, in malls or on mass transportation. Once Cruise becomes a PreCrime fugitive, he hires a questionable surgeon to swap out his eyes so the PreCrime unit can't detect his location. The atheist can enjoy this storyline as seeing the world through a different set of eyes, not unlike the once-believers who finally see the world through the eyes of reason with critical thinking and rationality. It's while using these eyes Anderton does his investigating and realizes the PreCrime system has its flaws.

Witmer (Farrell) plays one of the antagonists, and his role is particularly interesting. Witmer spent three years in divinity school and carries a rosary wherever he goes, even carrying it while performing hand-to-hand combat. He serves as the higher-power believer, the one who is dubious of anything that is supernatural that isn't divine. He pursues Anderton with all the vigor of a Christian eager to convert an unbeliever. At the end of the movie, Anderton's boss surfaces as the villain, and foils his own legacy and PreCrime existence by killing himself, choosing a path separate from what the precogs predicted.

This movie isn't about atheism, but it does have its moments. While not trying to, it points out the problem in having a deity with a Master Plan and eternal punishment tied into that plan. An omniscient god that has set everything up as a preordained story can't claim his "children" have free will; that is a contradiction in terms. If this deity (or in the Minority Report a precog) knows what you will do before you do it, then how can you have the free will to choose your path?

And in the movie, if you know your path before you walk it, you can change it, proving we have free will and should never be punished for something we never did. Just like in real life. If an omniscient god sets up a plan for us and we follow his plan, how can he condemn the players of his act to eternal hellfire for doing what they were supposed to do?

Friday, December 27, 2013

Jesus, Interrupted

On Christmas Day, I obtained a copy of Dr. Bart Ehrman's Jesus, Interrupted, a book that explains most of the discrepancies of the gospels and the Acts of the bible. It also takes a very hard look at who the authors of these books were. While I was very familiar with the works of Ehrman through other writers quoting him and from seeing some of his lectures on YouTube, this was the first opportunity I had to read one of his books.

I enjoyed his writing style as it was very conversational (a mark of a good non-fiction writer), though at some times he was forced to be monotonous and repetitive because of the subject matter. There are only so many times you can say "this gospel is different than this gospel," but his reasons are sound. When dealing with indoctrinated readers, it's not easy breaking through their walls to help them see the truth. So he wants to hammer home enough discrepancies to show these gospels were anything but historically accurate.

He employs a style he dubs "horizontal reading." This means taking the four gospels and putting them side by side and comparing them, instead of the traditional "vertical" reading of top to bottom and front to back. He contends people don't catch these significant errors and discrepancies because they read the bible from front to back or at the very least one at a time and never next to each other.

I admit, heading into this book I knew much of what he was going to say as I have done this research myself, but there were some other tidbits he provided that surprised me. He is the world's leading expert on bible study, especially the NT, having been a strict fundie for years and years, studying in some of the finest seminary schools and bible colleges there are. One thing he said was that all pastors/priests know about these discrepancies, especially the ones that can't be reconciled, and he surmised the reason the average person doesn't know about them is that these religious leaders don't want their parishioners to overreact and start questioning their faith. Of course they don't, otherwise they'd be out of a job.

I read this book because I was brushing up on my debating skills for this very subject. I am currently embroiled in an email debate on whether MMLJ wrote these gospels and when. Despite my efforts to prove the evidence exists to show these gospels weren't written by MMLJ nor were they written at the time of the events, my opponent just refuses to believe it. Remember what I said about being monotonous to break through the indoctrination? The gospels themselves give the best evidence they were written decades after the "fact" but that still may not be enough for this person. So I have new ammo to use if the next correspondence still doesn't result in a point conceded.

Finally, on the history of authorship, Ehrman makes a great point that any rational human being could arrive at if they gave it enough thought: Jesus, if he existed the way the bible tells it, was surrounded by illiterate goat herders who only spoke Aramaic. The gospels were written by very literate people who spoke and wrote in Greek. There is no way MMLJ spoke and wrote fluently in Greek, nor would they have taken those decades afterward to learn that language for the purposes of recording Jesus' time here on earth.

Anyone looking to learn the truth about the gospels should pick up (or download) this book. He also discussed the historicity of Jesus and how the bible came together. Good stuff.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas, to celebrate or not?

I love Christmas; not for the commercialism or the religious connections obviously, but for the family, the smiles on the children's faces and the general good mood people usually are in this time of year. I love the food, too.

While this is my first Christmas as an admitted atheist, that doesn't mean the holiday is any less special. I've known for decades that Christmas wasn't a Christian invention and that Jesus (if he even existed) wasn't born on Dec. 25 or anywhere near that date. I suppose the holiday does have a slightly different meaning for me these days, as my critical thinking has led me to research about the holiday.

For instance, long before Christianity even existed, the ancient Romans celebrated Mithra the sun god on Dec. 25 with a pair of festivals: Saturnalia and Juvenalia. These celebrations centered around the wealth of agriculture (Saturnalia) and children (Juvenalia, hence juveniles). Gifts were exchanged, food was eaten.

But once Christianity took hold of Rome, that's when the Christ Mass took center stage. But the leaders didn't want to let go of their festivals, so these celebrations coincided with religion.

It doesn't stop there, either, as Christmas utilizes pagan practices from other cultures, too, including the winter solstice. Cultures that celebrated the winter solstice (the marking of the longest day of winter is behind them and spring and harvest is on the way) were aplenty, as evergreen trees were decorated and celebrated as a symbol of hope, meaning the cold winter couldn't claim the tree or the people.

There's so much more history I could delve into, but that's not the point. Christmas is not a Christian invention, even if Christ is baked right into the name. It's a holiday that is an amalgamation of pagan rituals and other long-forgotten cultures. When someone says Christmas is a Christian holiday you can proudly tell them it's anything but.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Bible-thumping backwoods bigot

I'm happy to see A&E step up and suspend/fire Phil Robertson from that train wreck of a show Duck Dynasty. I don't watch the show (I gave it a ride for a couple of episodes and didn't care for it), but it was of no surprise that this backwoods bigot would cite the bible as his end-all be-all way of thinking. 

His remarks in GQ magazine comparing homosexuality to beastiality and how African-American slaves were happier when they were slaves is not surprising either, because the bible endorses this exact line of thinking. It's absolutely pathetic that people think this way and is the No. 1 reason why the bible and religion should be erased from the face of the earth. 

While I couldn't care less about Duck Dynasty, when I saw people on Facebook and in news stories reacting in favor of this bigot and hiding behind his right to free speech I thought I would say something.

People think the First Amendment and its cornerstone of free speech means you can say anything in any circumstance anywhere and not have any repercussions. This is grossly ignorant and enormously incorrect.

Yes, the First Amendment guarantees all American citizens the right to speak and say whatever they want -- though there are exceptions/restrictions such as things that could affect public safety, like screaming fire in a crowded movie theater, and obscenity) without fear of retribution or risk of being silenced by the (state or federal) government.

But here's the rub: This freedom doesn't extend to the consequences a person may face (for what he/she says) from private persons, private employers and other private entities.

If you say something you believe in but it sounds like intolerance or hatred toward others -- you have every right to say it; the government can't stop you or retaliate -- but you can face repercussions from family, employers, customers, viewers, etc.

Freedom of speech doesn't exist in a vacuum. Duck Dynasty's Robertson has every constitutional right to his views and to speak them. But he must also face the consequences of having such views when he speaks about them when he works in an industry driven by image and perception. A contract of employment is not covered by the First Amendment.

And for those like Sarah Palin who have flown to this guy's aid with your support, would you still back him if you removed "homosexual" from his statement and replaced it with the N-word? Or if he had a similar remark about glandular obese people or those who are mentally challenged? There's no difference. ZERO. I applaud A&E.

Intolerance and backwoods bigotry is repulsive and you should be ashamed if you support him. And the First Amendment tells me I can say that about you.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Debating a theist

I know I have been away from my blog lately, but it's for good reason. Out of the blue, a family member essentially challenged me to a debate. Apparently she (a Catholic) has been engaging in debate with Protestants in one of their online groups and wanted to practice with me. I welcomed the challenge and surprised myself with my defenses and ability to identify her use of specific fallacies and calling her out on it.

What I've noticed is she likes to ignore points that I back up with stats and evidence and then harp on the one or two things she thinks are valid refutations. She also likes to assume way too much and accuse me of certain things when they are completely unfounded. She likes to "move the goal posts" and "special plead." She just refuses to concede a point and refuses to accept the Catholic Church is wrong, especially as it pertains to child abuse.

I'm in the midst of back-and-forth correspondence via email and I'm not sure how long this will last or where it will go, but I plan on posting the exchanges on here in modified form (since it can be very long and convoluted).

But for now I'll be engaged in these debates for the foreseeable future and may not post on here as often.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Was Jesus Christ real? Part IV: the conclusion

As I've said before, be sure to read the first three parts of this series before reading on.

In trying to wrap up this series, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the remarkable "coincidences" the story of Jesus has with other deities/messiahs/saviors. While many theists will go to great lengths to disprove what they can (and ignore what they can't), there are just too many details that are exactly the same to ignore them.

From virgin births and resurrections to fleeing from infanticide and raising the dead, the miracles associated with previous deities fall peculiarly in line with those of Jesus. It's almost impossible to not think his story is a collection of tales from other cultures and religions, taking what they consider the best of the rest and forming their own god.

Bits and chunks of Horus, Mithras, Krishna, Dionysus and many others can be found in the Christ story, some almost verbatim. Take Krishna, which predates Jesus, for instance.

Both were called the Son of God. 
Both were sent from heaven to Earth in the form of a man.
Both were called savior, and the second person of the Trinity. 
Both had adoptive human fathers who were carpenters. 
Both had a spirit or ghost as their actual father. 
Both were royal descent. 
Both were visited at birth by wise men and shepherds, guided by a star.
Both had angels warning of a local dictator who planned to kill the baby. 
Both had parents who fled. Christ's stayed in Muturea; Krishna’s stayed in Mathura. 
Both withdrew to the wilderness as adults, and fasted. 
Both were called “the lion of the tribe."
Both claimed: “I am the resurrection.” 
Both were “without sin.” 
Both were god-men, considered human and divine. 
Both performed many miracles, including the healing of disease. 
Both made a leper whole. 
Both cast out indwelling demons and raised the dead.
Both selected disciples to spread his teachings. 
Both were meek and merciful. 
Both were criticized for associating with sinners. 
Both celebrated a last supper. 
Both forgave his enemies. 
Both were crucified.
Both were resurrected.

And that's just Krishna, which looks a lot like plagiarism to me. But, if you think these are common deity characteristics and a little overlap is bound to happen, then what if I told you some of the strongest evidence that Jesus didn't exist comes again from the bible itself? And that Christ was just a reinvention of someone else who comes from the Old Testament, where we find Joseph and his story's unbelievable resemblance to Jesus.

Here is a link that sums it up much better than I can, but some of the highlights include both being born through miracles, both starting their ministry at 30, both going to Egypt at a young age, Joseph miraculously gave bread to the people around him because he received God's revelation which saved the people from dying during the famine. Jesus miraculously gave bread to the people around him because he received God's revelation which saved the people from the spiritual famine.

The list goes on and on, as the link will attest. How can anyone read the story of Joseph and not think of Jesus? How can anyone, given the parallels and evidence I laid out in this series, plus my comparisons of the gospels to show their inconsistencies, believe this character existed? It's safe to now say that I think he could have been a person, but the evidence just isn't there in the end.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The irony of American politics and religion

Isn't it sad we live in a country that was founded specifically to avoid religious tyrants and ensure freedom and yet every politician running this country would be committing political suicide with their careers if they admitted they were atheists? Statistics prove at least 20 percent of these hypocrites are non-religious and likely agnostic or atheist, yet no one has stepped forward for fear of losing their careers. 

It's easier for a senator or representative to come out as gay than it is for him to admit he doesn't believe in some invisible sky king. Retired politician Barney Frank, who came out of the closet as gay in the late '80s, couldn't admit he was an atheist until he quit his life of politics. He claimed it was because he didn't want people to think he was abandoning his Jewish heritage, and that may be true, but he certainly didn't want to lose the paycheck because he didn't believe in any god.

So many early leaders in America, especially presidents, were less than religious and/or downright non-theists. James Monroe didn't have any religious affiliation or beliefs, nor did Abraham Lincoln. A little while ago, a few of my family members discussed Lincoln on Facebook and claimed he was religious and I kept my mouth shut at the time. His faith, or lack thereof, has long been the root of many a debate. But a recent article on shed some definitive light on the subject.

"After his death, Lincoln’s wife reported, 'Mr. Lincoln had no hope and no faith in the usual acceptance of these words.' His lifelong friend and executor, Judge David Davis, agreed, saying, 'He had no faith in the Christian sense of the term.' This was confirmed by another of Lincoln’s closest friends, Ward Hill Lamon, who knew Lincoln in his early years in Illinois, was with him during the whole Washington period and later wrote his biography. As Lamon put it, 'Never in all that time did he let fall from his lips or his pen an expression which remotely implied the slightest faith in Jesus as the son of God and the Savior of men.' ”

I didn't write this to "claim" any politician for "our" side, like so many believers are so eager/desperate to do with any prominent figure. I think that's a worthless endeavor and is an appeal-to-authority fallacy, meaning if someone who is an authority figure feels the way you do then it must be right. That is complete and utter bollocks.

I wrote this post to show just how sad it is that in the 21st century in America that atheists/agnostics are still shunned despite making up a larger percentage of voters in this country than Jews. Plus the fact that this country was founded on the idea that we shouldn't be persecuted for our beliefs is ironic because now we are being persecuted for our non-beliefs.

John 3:16 ... I call bullshit!

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. -- John 3:16

I can't be the only one who calls bullshit on this, right? Where do I begin?

Let's see, I assume this is alluding to the fact that he was sacrificed on the cross, so "gave" means he had a son, and allowed him to die for our "sins." If Jesus existed, and obviously I have my doubts, how much of a sacrifice is this? He was tortured and killed. 

First, people die every day, so death is only tough on those who survive him. The torture likely hurt, but this was god, how much pain did he feel? Plus, he arose three days later. Some sacrifice. God didn't give his one and only son because he didn't die, he came back. Where's the sacrifice? And presumably Jesus, who is god, if you can follow that sick path, knew he would be returning to heaven and eternal glory, so again, where is the sacrifice?

I just can't buy it, plus who asked for this sacrifice anyway? And we didn't do anything wrong. The fact that there's this ancestral sin is one of the most appalling ludicrous ideas ever propagated. Even if Adam and Eve screwed up paradise, how could we be held accountable? But it's not even worth discussing because science proves there was no Adam and Eve, hence no Original Sin, hence no reason to have Jesus sacrificed. 

And the last part of the verse, that if you believe in Jesus you won't perish and you'll have eternal life, really has me perplexed. So, what that means is we can ignore the commandments because as long as we believe in Jesus we're saved, yes? That's how I read it. 

"Did you just kill that guy?"
"Yeah, so?"
"Aren't you afraid of going to hell?"
"Nah, I believe in Jesus."

Let me guess, there are technicalities by which we must abide. "Sure, we said you'd have eternal life, but we didn't really mean it, you'll have to do more than that."

The bible is filled with crap like this, where things contradict each other or are just incongruent with a skewed philosophy. When I consider the bible is supposed to be the word of a supreme all-knowing omniscient being, I can't help but laugh. 

The verse should read, "For God so didn't give a rat's ass about his minions that he wrote this confusing tome to create thousands of schisms and religions."

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Don't sink to their level

I've often railed against the meaningless and mindless religious memes that flood Facebook, and with good reason. 

First, most of these people reposting "Share if you believe in Jesus!" images, etc., are so scared of their "afterlife" that they truly believe what they are posting makes a difference. As if their deity had the foresight to see Facebook as a vehicle for spreading his good news, and is reading every page to make sure his believers are doing their duty. 

Second, these people are so desperate to please their make-believe god that they don't even realize most of these images and sites are scams to gain more "friends" or "followers," so it's sad and quite annoying. I've had to unfollow quite a few family members because it just got to be too much to weed through to see what was actually important in my news feed, etc.

But I am seeing another side to this coin that is bothering me as well. There are a few atheistic pages/people I follow on FB, and lately their memes, while comical and entertaining some of the time, are quite often childish, unprovoked and downright disgusting. I see that these people are trying to create some sort of cyber balancing act, putting atheist memes out to counteract the theist memes, and I get that. It's like politicians getting equal air time on networks during an election year.

It's the immaturity of these memes that gets me. Atheists are often looked at as strident, arrogant, insulting and militant, which I find unfair and mostly ignorant. But when images of Jesus performing sex acts or whatever are posted for no reason other than shock value, it only makes atheists look bad. 

There's nothing wrong with presenting facts, refuting ridiculous claims and even using ridicule when confronted with irrational theists, but unprovoked salvos of horrific anti-religious imagery is really uncalled for and sad.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Do they hear themselves?

Lately, I've been aware of people's comments, especially when it comes to using the words god or Jesus in their appeals or thanks. I'm not talking about being petty and militant about phrases such as "God Bless You" when someone sneezes or when someone is casually saying, "Thank God" when they are glad something trivial happened. I'm not on some mission to be irate over every reference to a deity in everyday conversation. I'm not so arrogant as to think people should completely forget about their belief system, just like I wouldn't want believers to be so arrogant as to think I should feel the way they do or be pissed at me (even though that is the norm).

What I'm talking about comes from a different kind of arrogance. For instance, tonight I watched an episode of Survivor, and there was a competition segment. This season the show is pitting family members against each other, but in some cases they are put in a position where they can root for their family members. In this competition, three players faced off in a house-of-cards building challenge where the tallest houses would win and the shortest was eliminated from the game forever, costing them a shot at a million dollars. It came down to one guy and a mother of a mother-daughter tandem. The guy was besting the mother and was a mere three minutes from clinching the competition when his stack leaned too far and toppled over to the ground. The daughter, watching from the sideline, said, "Thank you, Jesus."

Like Jesus, the Jesus they believe in, has nothing better to do than watch this competition on a remote island and blow a guiding breeze toward this guy's house of cards just so this mother could advance. Do Christians really believe Jesus (and/or god, whatever) performs petty acts like this, so much so that he deserves thanks? And if so, are they this arrogant to feel he's acting on their benefit and directly against their opponent? It gets back to my last post about the two college football teams; Jesus/God, even if they did exist, don't have rooting interests in petty competitions.

It makes me sick to think there are people on this planet who believe their deity is concerning himself with their specific petty interests while children all around this world are starving, dying of said starvation, drinking from watering holes where E. coli and other life-threatening diseases are prevalent and are contracting diseases that will make them die a horrific painful death. But keep believing your god is making cards fall over so your favorite cast member in a reality show will survive another week.

Why is this a problem? Well, it seems harmless on the surface, right? You have to carry it out to its extreme and ultimate conclusion to see what kind of damage it can do. If you have people who truly believe a diety is acting on their personal behalf, first this is irrational behavior and borderline insane, but when you think these people could be making decisions that affect your life, you start to understand why this is so scary. There are far too many people dying these days when parents won't take their gravely ill children to a hospital because they believe their god will heal them. And these people are rightfully being thrown in jail. Now imagine these people running a country and thinking their deity is acting on their behalf.

Believing in a mythical god is bad enough, thinking everything that happens is him doing it just for you is just plain loco.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


You may recall a post I had earlier this year when the NFL season began and I said the inevitable "Thanks to the lord!" crap would be spewing from athletes every Sunday, but it was a Saturday college football game that really took the prize.

Yesterday, Auburn upset Alabama in the Iron Bowl in dramatic fashion. Alabama, the two-time defending national champs and No. 1 team in the country, had its dreams of an unprecedented third straight national title dashed when it got greedy and tried to win the tied game with a mammoth 57-yard field goal as time expired. What the Tide hadn't accounted for was the Auburn coach realizing the kicker probably couldn't get the ball that deep, so he placed his best return man in the end zone, thinking there would be a shot of returning this kick with no time on the clock.

Sure enough, the kick fell into the returner's hands and he promptly ran it back for 100 yards for the monumental upset victory, 34-28. As the player is being engulfed by celebrating teammates, the CBS announcer, caught up in his own religious superstitions, exclaims, "a prayer answered!" Then, in an interview with the player immediately after the game, he was asked what was going through his mind as he crossed the goal line. His response? "God is good, god is good."

That's right, it wasn't all of your hard work over the years and the preparation, or the teammates blocking for you; it was god's magic wand. It wasn't the coach having a great presence of mind to realize the kicker wasn't strong enough and to put you back there. Nope, god is good. At least he recognized god's limitations and didn't say he was great.

Yep, god is an Auburn fan apparently. Never mind the millions of Alabama fans who were praying for the field goal to be good, they can suck it, because god loves the Tigers this year. Actually, this doesn't prove god loves Auburn, it means he loves Florida State, because the Seminoles would never have beaten Alabama in the national championship game, but they will now kick Ohio State's tail for the title.

God loves FSU!