Jul 252017
 

As y’all know, I’ve little enough use for Christian “End Times” prophesying. To me the Book of Revelation reads like someone with schizophrenia got hold of some magic mushrooms… which is quite possibly not that far from the mark. The various “signs and portents” do not impress me. But the problem as I see it is that they do impress a whole lot of other folk.One that impresses a whole lot of folk is the idea of the “mark of the beast:”

Revelation 13:15-18New International Version (NIV)

The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.

So, what we got here is a mark on the right hand or forehead that is required for buying or selling. With End-Timers, there’s a weird mix of literalism and metaphor, so that the “mark of the beast” could be any damn thing, from a simple mark like a tattooed symbol to an idea (like the holder of the mark simply believes something or other) to, now, thanks to modern technology, some sort of implanted microchip.

I won’t start worrying about the end of days until we get a winter that lasts three years. But other folk worry about (or, indeed, look forward to) Armageddon. And often enough, history has shown that when people merely *believe* some sort of thing is going to happen, they’ll *make* it happen, for good or ill. So, imagine how thrilling this news item will be:

Tech company workers agree to have microchips implanted into their hands

In short, the company is providing, optionally and for free, the implantation of RFID chips similar to what you can get for your dog or cat. The purpose of this is that the company will have RFID chip readers on doors and vending machines, so all an employee needs to do is wave their chipped hand over the sensor and the door will open or their account will be charged.

Having my employer surgically implant something within me to “help” me do my job is more than a little creepifyin’, but it’s the march of progress, I suppose. But you *know* some people are going to be directly freaked the hell out about this and start going off about The Beast. The kind of funny thing: I expect RFID chipping of humans to be a fad. Before too long, doors and vending machines and billboards and cops will have biometric readers that don’t need some clunky old-fashioned chip to be implanted… they’ll recognize your fingerprints, or your iris patterns or your voice or, a few years further down the line, your DNA. Then the “mark of the Beast” will be something you’re born with. And nothing bad could possibly come of that.

 Posted by at 4:03 am
Jul 232017
 

“The Ark Encounter” always promised to be pure ridiculouslness, and it seems that things are starting to come to a head. Basically, it’s a sh!tshow of epic and hopefully legally actionable proportions.

The city of Williamstown, Kentucky, decided to charge a 50 cent “safety tax” to each ticket sold. The purpose of this tax is to pay for government services – police, ambulance, fire and so on – that a tourist “attraction” like this needs to have available to it. Such fees are common for theme parks and the like. Since Ark Encounter was sold to the city as a “For Profit” endeavor, it can (and should) be taxed. But Ken Hamm worked up a way around that… the Ark Encounter for-profit people sold the land to *themselves* for $10.  What was the point? Well, the for-profit Answers In Genesis that owned the land and which in turn is owned by Hamm sold the land to Crosswater Canyon, a religious non-profit organization… that Hamm also owns. And now that it’s a religious non-profit, it can’t be taxed.

Perfectly legal, but ultra-scumbaggery. Unsurprisingly, it has ticked off the city and state government who were sold this bill of goods as being a for-profit enterprise which would bring in bajillions of out of state tourists (it hasn’t) and spur the local economy (it hasn’t). And so…

Kentucky Officials Have Ended the $18 Million Tax Rebate Deal With Ark Encounter

The safety tax was expected to cost the Ark $700 grand a year. They tried to sleaze out of it, and lost themselves $18 million as a result.

Hmm.

 

So, who wants to prophesy how this is all going to end up? I foresee two possibilities of roughly equal likelihood;

1) The Ark winds up getting sold off and turned into a hotel, casino, something like that.

2) As things start to collapse, the Ark  burns to the ground. Hamm & company blame militant atheists for it, but a whole lot of folks figure it to be an inside job.The insurance companies are *really* interested in looking into how the fire started…

 Posted by at 12:43 am
Jul 192017
 

Party members told to give up religion for Party unity or face punishment

“Party members should not have religious beliefs, which is a red line for all members … Party members should be firm Marxist atheists, obey Party rules and stick to the Party’s faith … they are not allowed to seek value and belief in religion,” Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) wrote in an article released in the Qiushi Journal on Saturday, the flagship magazine of the CPC Central Committee.

Officials who have religious faith should be persuaded to give it up, and those who resist would be punished by the Party organization, Wang wrote.

How terribly progressive of them.

“It is important that Wang constantly reminds Party members not to have religious beliefs. Some people who claim to be scholars support religious beliefs in the Party, which has undermined the Party’s values based on dialectical materialism,” Zhu Weiqun, chairman of the Ethnic and Religious Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Ah, the ol’ “dialectical materialism” ploy.

It should be pointed out that in Marxism, “atheism” isn’t exactly “atheism.” The normal definition of an atheist is someone who does not believe in god (cue the arguments over the difference between “not believing there’s a god” and “believing there is no god”), but commies are a bit different. They yammer on about how there is no god, and about how religion is bad, and how their form of “dialectical materialism” is good. But at the same time, they elevate the state to the *role* of god, turn the Communist Party and its ideology into the exact duplicate of a religion, and the objective results of their materialism *sucks.* The only reason why Communist China has turned itself into something of an economic powerhouse is because they have fallen from the true communist faith and have embraced capitalism, just not in name. They are now something far closer to National Socialism than Communism in the way they run their economy, but the way they run their government is still classically communist.

Some of this is due to an innate need in many, perhaps most, humans to believe that there’s some sort of magical superpower out there, whether it’s God or the State or Fate or whatever. But mostly I think it’s because religion was developed over perhaps tens of thousands of years and refined into a *really* quite effective way to keep most of a society in line, and commies, who are all about power and control, want that ability for themselves.

Remember, kiddies: this is the same China that a whole lot of people are hoping will take the reins from the US as the “leader of the world.”

 Posted by at 10:28 pm
Jul 152017
 

To me, “faith” is neither good nor bad, though it *tends* towards the latter. Especially “unexamined faith,” or faith based not on facts but feels. “Faith in science” I am generally good with, because science is a process that has repeatedly proven itself to be a reliable way to understand, utilize and, most importantly, predict the real world. “Faith in Supernatural Entity X” is something I’m less understanding of because history has shown that  that’s a *terrible* way to get a handle on the future. And if some such faith or other actually works as a dandy way to predict the afterlife… well, the data on that is wholly lacking.

With that, a dandy way to examines ones faith is to ask “what sort of thing could conceivably occur that would convince me that my faith is wrong?” For people who believe there are no gods, it’s of course quite conceivable that if there *was* a god, that god could do something that would prove that gods existence. Of course, “god” is a pretty vague descriptor, covering anything from “superpowered human-like critter from ancient myth or old Star Trek,” on up to “creator of the universe.” Some people claim that there is no such demonstration that could prove the existence of an all-powerful universe-creating god, because anything that such a god might choose to do could conceivably be done by sufficiently advanced, yet non-god, aliens who just want to screw with us. However, I can think of two demonstrations that would be hard to argue away. And appropriately, both come from science fiction. The first was described in Carl Sagan’s “Contact:” buried deep within constants like pi are undeniable messages. Pi can’t, so far as I’m aware, be tinkered with; if there’s a message in it, it could only have been put there by an intelligent agent that created the universal constants. This is close enough to “a god” for engineering purposes, though it of course does not nail down the specifics of that god finely enough to decide if I should avoid shellfish and mixing cotton and polyester.

The second example was somewhat similar. As eventually described in the underrated “Stargate: Universe” series, fifty million years ago an incredibly advanced alien race discovered that there was an intelligent message embedded within the cosmic background radiation. The message was fragmentary, so in order to collect the whole thing they needed to send out an automated starship to the far end of the universe, apparently collecting data all along the way. A message in the CBR, especially if detected across billions of lightyears, would also be a good sign of an intelligent universe-creator.

If either of these notions were borne out, it would be difficult for an honest atheist or agnostic to claim that there was no universe-creator. Of course, the further nature of that creator, including whether of not it gave a rats ass about critters like us, would remain unknown, unless that message was *really* detailed.

But on the opposite end of the scale: assuming you have some religious belief or other, what sort of event would, if it were to occur, cause you to go, “whelp, guess I was wrong.” If you were a Muslim and the Ka’aba was successfully nuked into vapor, would that do it? If you’re a Catholic and R’lyeh rose from the depths, Cthulhu took over the world and Deep Ones swarmed up out of the sea and turned the Vatican into a spawning ground… would that do it? If you’re an evangelical and Satan shows up, tangles with the second coming of Jesus and the angels and wins, takes over the world and turns out to be not such a bad feller, would that do it? If you’re a Mormon and letters were dug out of the LDS Church archive that are verified as having been written by Joseph Smith back in the day, where he tells a pen pal that he was creating a new religion as a way to make money and nail some hot chicks, would that do it? If you’re Jewish and all of a sudden the old Egyptian gods show up en masse, take a look around and say “we were only gone 4,500 years, and look what you’ve done to the place” and promptly re-order the world to their liking, would that do it?

History has provided billions of examples of people who have lost their faith for reasons *far* less spectacular than the rise of ancient alien chaos gods or the discovery of messages in universal constants. Generally those de-faithing incidents arise from unplanned-for exterior yet deeply personal events… the loss of a loved one, a trusted priest or religious hierarchy turning out to be scumbags, discovery that a long-held belief about some historical or scientific fact is just plain dead wrong, that sort of thing. These are hard to plan for. But I think it’s always worthwhile to put one’s own faith to the question. The scientific method involves you coming up with an explanation you like…. and then YOU go about trying to prove it wrong. You design a series of experiments with the goal of finding the flaws. But to do that, you need to have some idea of what would prove your scientific hypothesis wrong.

So: what would prove your religious hypothesis wrong?

 Posted by at 12:17 am
Jul 082017
 

No matter how mind-snappingly stupid an idea or a movement is, no matter how objectively and *obviously* flawed its basic premise is… there will be people who cling to it forever. Observe:

These Coloradans say Earth is flat. And gravity’s a hoax. Now, they’re being persecuted.

The Flat Earth movement is growing in Colorado, thanks to technology and skepticism about science

Oy.

There’s no point in me rehashing the history and ideas behind the flat Earthers, we’ve heard it all before and it remains an infuriatingly awful conspiracy theory. What’s of interest is that as scientific data proving the non-flat nature of the Earth continues to pile up, more people seem to be signing on. Why?  Well… I think one quote from the article nails the cause:

“They want you to think you’re insignificant, a speck on the earth, a cosmic mistake,” Sargent says. “The flat earth says you are special, we are special, there is a creator, this isn’t some accident.”

Here’s the thing: you *ARE* insignificant. And I don’t even mean on the cosmic scale. Take *any* random human, from you, dear blog reader, to your most cherished loved one, your workplace nemesis, your best friend, your neighbor, whoever. Now, assume that that human has a perfectly normal heart attack and dies tomorrow. Will people care? Sure, probably. But how many? For virtually all the seven billion+ people, that one persons passing will be completely un-noticed. It would be surprising if the news goes beyond an obituary in the back of the local paper. And in a hundred years, that perfectly average human will have been *entirely* forgotten by living humans, remembered solely by unread words on a stone in a cemetery and in unread old databases.

Yeah, you’re insignificant. You’re a speck on the Earth, a cosmic mistake.

But you’re one insignificant speck among seven billion others. If you work at it, aren’t a jerk and behave rationally and intelligently, you might help be a part of turning this mess of specks into something meaningful on a cosmic scale. *YOU* won’t live to see it, but so what? If you live well, you might enjoy your brief life and have some satisfaction that you did something useful.

Or… you could decide to live delusionally and just decide that you are more important than you really are. It might make you feel special to think that the universe was set up just for your piddly ass, but it won’t mean that you really are special. In the end, you will not only die and be forgotten, like everyone else, you will play no useful or meaningful role in advancing mankind.

Oh, and headline writer? Being mocked is not “persecution.”

 Posted by at 3:46 pm
Jun 282017
 

On the one hand, destroying government property = bad. But on the other hand, if that property is manifestly unconstitutional… Hmmmm.  I guess I’d rate this about like someone plowing through an illegal barricade blocking them from getting around on their own property.

Arkansas’ Ten Commandments Monument Lasted Less Than 24 Hours

Interestingly… I bet that a whole lot of the people who are outraged by this act of destruction would celebrate the destruction of an atheist or Satanist monument plopped right next to the Ten Commandments.

 Posted by at 5:31 pm
Jun 172017
 

Step one: be a Swedish “expert on multiculturalism and Islamophobia.”

Step two: collect substantial sums from the Swedish government in the form of welfare payments

Step three: Convert to islam

Step four: Move your entire family to Syria to fight with ISIS

Step five: call for terrorist attacks against civilians within Sweden

Step six…?

Step seven: blame violence on Trump supporters and right-wing talk radio rhetoric, I suppose…

 Posted by at 2:06 pm