Thursday 22 September 2011

The “Christian" Killing of Troy Davis

At 11:08PM (03:08 GMT), Troy Davis was pronounced dead following his execution by the state of Georgia for the murder of police officer Mark MacPhail.

Despite claims from Amnesty that there “was serious doubts about his guilt", the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency.

The current members of the State Board of Pardons and Paroles that approved the killing of Troy Davis by lethal injection are listed here. The board members biographies include the following quotes:

“He is involved in a local Baptist Church and takes part in many community events and activities.”

“He is an avid supporter of his church and community activities, and serves as a member of several government and civic boards.”
In fact the Hinterland Gazette state that all 5 members of the board are Christians “Who hold the word of God true and close at Heart”.

I would hope that if any UK government agencies where staffed solely with members of a particular religious persuasion, then a few flags of bias concern would be raised. However, I suspect that in the state of Georgia, the fact that the State Board of Pardons and Paroles is exclusively representative of one specific religious viewpoint is no more surprising than the fact that the Georgia Right to Life, anti abortion organisation is also dominated by Christian dogmas.

To a non Christian it may seem rather paradoxical that Christian ideology is both the driving force behind anti abortion and euthanasia organisations as well as common trait in those that appear to support a barbaric death penalty willing to take the life of a fellow human being.

However any perceived paradox is merely a misunderstanding of Christian ideology. Where there is unquestioning faith in an all powerful supernatural being with the ultimate power and divine right to both grant, and ruthlessly take away life, it is inevitable that there will be mortal accomplices willing to assist.


In answer to Michael Grayer's excellent comment below the fold...

I have indeed mined the two quotes from the biographies of the 2 board members that include a statement of their Christian faith on their official State Board biographies.  The other three board members do not include a statement of faith in their biographies. There seems however little doubt that all 5 members are practicing Christians as can bee seen from the following links that I apologise for not including in the original post.

L Gale Buckner is "an ctive member of the Holy Creek Baptist Church"

Robert E. Keller is a "Sunday School teacher, choir member and administrative board member of the Jonesboro First United Methodist Church"

and (not quite so conclusive I admit) Albert Murray's background includes the use of faith based programmes for at-risk youths.

I think my original point stands, the killing of Troy Davis was sanctioned by 5 Christians. Of course I would expect most moderate Christians to oppose the death penalty, hence my supposed paradox, however there remains an uncanny correlation (not necessarily a causation) between right wing christian views and the support of the death penalty. I was therefore simply musing that the worshipping of a deity who frequently demonstrates scant regard for human life my influence similar thinking in his followers.

Sunday 18 September 2011

Magical v. Rational Candles

My wife loves candles.

Our garden is strewn with lanterns, numerous devices for holding tea lights and a selection of garden candles. Things don’t get much better inside, we have candles perched on the mantelpiece and suspended from anywhere that will grant suitable purchase. If Thomas Eddison ever comes round for tea, he’ll wonder why he bothered.

One of the gifts bestowed upon my wife from one of her friends for her birthday last month was, unsurprisingly, a candle. Partly because of my wife’s love of candles, but also (I suspect), partly to try and wind me up, as it was no ordinary candle, it was a magical candle.

I often try and parody irrational nonsense on this blog by ridiculing uncritical ideas or exaggerating irrational claims to their extreme to expose their inherent silliness.

However as much as I tried, I couldn’t write anything more outlandish or more amusing than the text already supplied with the magical candle. So here it is:

"The Herbs and oils included in this candle are associated with the moon.
Use this candle for psychic receptivity, intuition, soul dreams, magic, emotional memory, adaptability, feelings and reflection.
Our ancestors used candles for both ritual & domestic purposes. The sacred flame can be used as a focus in candle burning to reflect the divine light within. Through colour and magical herbal infusions added to the wax when blending each candle serves its own purpose.

Three important factors to remember when candle burning are Concentration, Visualisation and Willpower.

Energy follows thought. To turn your dreams, wishes and visualisations into realities, follow thought with action, charged with the cosmic energy of the sacred flame.

Until not too long ago, candles and oil lamps were the only source of light after night had fallen and during the long hours of darkness during the winter months, candles lit up the imagination, painted shadows on the walls and illuminated the twilight zone between consciousness and imagination.

Star Child Magical Candles are created by hand, using a selection of high quality waxes to ensure a long lasting flame, each candle is potentised with our lunar prepared magical infusions.

Many spiritual traditions use candles as magical tools to reflect the divine light or as votive offerings to accompany prayers.

Our candles are intended to kindle the sacred flame within and bring your magic alive, they may be used for spiritual and ritual work to aid concentration for a specific magical intent. As you focus on the flame visualise your intentions being consumed and transformed into ethereal thought forms.
Magical Candles create an ambience which helps focus attention and at the same time serves as a reminder of the inner flame, the divine spark that shines within.

Our Magical Infusions contain herbs, flowers, resins, barks and magical tokens collected at sacred sites from all over the world. They are prepared in accordance with the cycles of the sun and the moon. The symbols assigned to each type of candle indicate the ethereal nature of the special infusions added to the respective blends and thus provide a reference to their magical qualities.

Magically, the purpose of invoking planetary and elemental energies is to bring about corresponding changes on the mental, physical or emotional plane."

 Impressive bollocksmithing indeed.

As it was my wife’s friend’s birthday last week, I felt compelled to return the favour, so I repackaged a standard garden candle as a “Rational Candle”. Here it is with my accompanying product information:

I’m pretty sure she’ll see the funny side as I’m confident she rightly treats the rhetoric of the magical candle with a pinch of salt.

In fact I imagine most people who buy the candles must either buy them as a tongue in cheek novelty item or because they simply like the fairytale ambience and tone of the product rather than a staunch belief in the candles ability to actually increase psychic receptibility.

I also suspect that the company that manufactures the candles are motivated to do so more by their business acumen to fill a market requirement rather than a blind belief in the magical qualities of their products. And of course their mystical yet shrewd weasel words insure that no specific magical claims are actually made. Like Boots selling un-evidenced homeopathy, if people are daft enough to buy it, there’s always someone more than willing to sell it.

So I’m not going to take the bait and write a lengthy diatribe on the dangers and consequences of such wooly thinking. I’m optimistic enough to hope that even the targeted consumers don’t really take the magical candle bullshit seriously.

But nonetheless I can’t help but feel a little bemused. I think that the information on my rational candle, though no doubt considered dry and boring by the majority, is far more awe inspiring than the more marketable new age dribble espoused by the magical candle.

As explained on my rational candle, the colours of the flame can be used to construe the molecular composition of the consumed fuel. A basic scientific principle that when investigated by the likes of Herschel, Talbot and Swan was extrapolated to allow scientists to use spectral analysis to deduce the chemical composition of the distant stars and thus determine that hydrogen is by far the most abundant element in the universe. Why is that not more fascinating?

As Douglas Adams famously wrote:
"Is it not enough to see that the garden is beautiful, without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"
In many cases, apparently not.

Thursday 15 September 2011

An Apology from God … Inspired by Johann Hari

Having recently read Johann Hari’s apology in The Independent I felt that I ought to come clean too …

I did two wrong and stupid things.

The first concerns that fact that I have allowed many people to believe that the Bible is my literal word.

When we compiled the bible we found historical accounts that seemed perfectly reasonable at the time they were written, but later didn’t really convey the values we wanted to propagate. Some were quite confusing and unclear. When this happened we simply excluded these accounts from the bible and selected alternative accounts that expressed our current vision for Christianity. At the time I justified this by saying I was giving the clearest possible representation of what the religion should be like.

But I was wrong. A divinely revealed text isn’t a cherry picked selection of man-made narratives and stories to support a particular ideology and currently fashionable set of values. It’s a beautiful articulate and comprehensible celestial dictation of the mind of an all-powerful supernatural entity that transcends current knowledge and confirms subsequently discovered wisdom. If you want to simply compile a canon of man made ideas, histories and laws there are conventions to let you do that. You write, “The best explanation at the time was” rather than “And so it came to pass”, and instead of “Thus said the Lord” you write “So said some bloke or other with voices in his head”.

If I had asked some of the other deities they would have told me how best to chronicle my myths. It was arrogant and stupid of me not to ask.

The other thing I did wrong was that I started to allow religious fundamentalists to create visions of the religion that weren’t my own. Using this fundamentalism I allowed them to try and take out scientific facts that contradicted my revealed word. I allowed fundamentalists to hold views that were divisive and exclusive. I even allowed some of them to say that "I hate fags". I am mortified to have done this because it breaches the most basic humanitarian principles. I appologise to the later group unreservedly and totally.

If it were the other way around – if another deity had been homophobic, attempted to subjugate women or promote dangerous misinformation on sexual health – I’d be withering. I’d say, it’s not hard, stop spreading such divisive misinformation, and don’t threaten disbelievers with eternal torture. Spare me the self-pitying excuses. Plenty of deities have your problems and pressures and none have the amount of followers you do, and they don’t do anything half as awful.

In 2007 I travelled to Lourdes to heal a few believers of cancer. An anonymous claim was made that I had failed to divinely intervene and send the cancer of one pilgrim into remission. However, a Vatican investigation into these claims said that it was a real miracle and that they had photos and everything.

The worst part of this for me has been thinking about the people I have let down. The believers who have prayed to me over the years and told me they love all the stuff I’ve done in the bible. I am sorry that it isn’t all literally true.

But offering words of apology is not enough. So first, even though I stand by my account in Genesis, I am renouncing the geocentric model. I am withdrawing it as an act of contrition for the errors I made elsewhere. But this isn’t much, since it has been abandoned by scientists for years anyway. So second, I am going to take an unpaid leave of absence from the universe, and at my own expense I will be undertaking a programme of deity training. (I created the earth in just six days straight after the big bang). And third, when I return I’ll finally stamp out all wars, poverty and suffering.

Many thanks to Johann for helping me see my own flaws and I would like to apologise again to my believers and the people hurt by my actions. I know that some of you have lost faith in my work. I will do everything I can now to regain it. I hope, after a period of retraining, you will give me the chance.

Yours God.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

2012 Olympic Prayer Testing

Great Britain's athletes are being warned about the risks of seeking divine intervention in the build-up to the 2012 Olympics.

Recent high profile cases have seen British shot putter Sister Inviolata of the Immaculate Conception banned for four months after members of her convent tested positive for intercessory prayer.

It is this sort of thing that UK Anti Wishful Thinking Agency is keen to help athletes avoid as the time approaches when the eyes of the sporting world will be focused on London.

Surveys have shown that one in ten British athletes have at one time or other dabbled with performance enhancing prayers in the hope of gaining a slight edge over their competitors. Many athletes believe that the all powerful deity of their choice will be willing to influence the outcome of sporting events to their advantage and the detriment of their fellow athletes, if they ask nicely enough.

A spokeswoman for the UK Anti Wishful Thinking Agency stated that prayer abuse has been rife in many sports for years but due to the inability to record any actual measurable differences in those athletes using divine intervention, it has always been hard to prosecute.

In the run up to the London 2012 Olympics athletes are being warned that the prayer-testing authorities are being extra vigilant and will be keeping an eye out for the tell-tale signs of illegal performance enhancing prayers such as the possession of rosary beads, a travel rug or the excessive head-butting of tall walls.

With many prayers readily available these days in high street churches and mosques it is all too easy for unsuspecting young athletes to get access to mystic mantras and celestial appeals that they do not realise are on the World Supernatural Pleading Prohibited list.

The UK Anti Wishful Thinking Agency will be working with many young British athletes over the coming months to educate them in basic critical thinking techniques to ensure they do not fall foul of these strict anti prayer regulations. A spokeswoman for the agency stated:

'I think it's something that everyone would agree with and is an aim for everyone involved in sport - to make it as incredulous as possible. That is what we are all working towards.'

Science Reason & Critical Thinking wish all our athletes the very best of British and advise them to keep their heads up and their hands apart.

Thursday 8 September 2011

Why Photographs of the Apollo Landing Site Will Not Convince the Denialists

As interesting and fascinating as this weeks lunar photographs showing the Apollo landing sites are, they are as much use as tits on a bull when it comes to convincing moon landing deniers of the reality of those epic and pioneering missions.

If a belief has been uncritically adopted because it aligns with existing beliefs and assumptions, was communicated by an articulate authority figure to impressionable ears, or simply panders to the subjects inbuilt paranoia, then logical reasoned arguments and even photographic evidence will struggle to overturn them.

Such beliefs become even harder to overturn as they become entrenched over time as believers invest more and more personal stock in that belief. Indeed believers are able to add more and more ridiculous beliefs to their arsenal as their initial foundations become more solidified. This is the principal deviously employed by scientology. No one in their right mind can be pulled off the street and made to believe that they are inhabited by the tortured souls of dead aliens who came to earth long ago in a big ass spaceship. This is precisely why scientology sought to restrict such information to those believers who had progressed their credulity far enough to uncritically accept such ideas. By spoon feeding nonsense in small increments it eventually becomes possible to believe in the most outlandish nonsense.

In much the same way creationism, homophobia and female subjugation can sit firmly on the solid foundation of more mainstream and acceptable religious beliefs. Moon landing denial is another example of a rather silly belief taking root on the foundations of other conspiracy “theories” which in turn often sit on perfectly plausible conspiracies. As a general rule of thumb the addition of the qualifier “theory” is usually a good demarcation marker as to when things get a bit silly.

Back to the point. Having developed and embroidered a rather nutty idea (such as moon landing denial) and spending years shoring it up with cherry picked anecdotes, it becomes a matter of routine to simply bat away any inconvenient and incontrovertible evidence that would at first sight appear to piss on that theory. In fact the more ridiculous the belief, the easier it becomes to invent ridiculous excuses to explain away inconvenient truths. I’m sure the conspiracy theory message boards will already be rammed with comments from believers claiming that NASA are “in” on the conspiracy and the photographs are therefore clearly photoshopped. Presumably there’ll be some much more elaborate excuses too.

There are countless examples of frauds and charlatans who've methods have been clearly exposed, yet the faithful continue to follow undeterred. So I suspect that even If the most ardent moon landing denialist was physically taken to the moon and shown the Apollo landing site first hand, he would no doubt still claim he'd been in a flight simulator and a film set.