Friday, October 10, 2008

Question from Greg

Here's an interesting question posed by Jeffrey Luhn, one of our new members:

"My sister-in-law just passed away from cancer at age 57. We have some young people in our family and they want to know why it happened to her and not to someone bad (Dick Cheney for instance). They also ask me where she went after her heart stopped beating.

I've always thought life is a crap shoot and some people don't get a fair shot. If there was a god, he'd be a better judge of character, no? Heaven? As I get older I can't help hoping, but my brain tells me it ain't so.

But these aren't the things to say to a 9-year-old. I've been wrestling with this. Does anyone have a simple answer or concept to these questions that a child could understand - and their parents would not be upset at me for saying?"

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sam on Sarah

Here are some interesting comments from Sam Harris about Sarah Palin and her religious views.

"I care even more about the many things Palin thinks she knows but doesn't: like her conviction that the Biblical God consciously directs world events. Needless to say, she shares this belief with mil-lions of Americans—but we shouldn't be eager to give these people our nuclear codes, either. There is no question that if President McCain chokes on a spare rib and Palin becomes the first woman president, she and her supporters will believe that God, in all his majesty and wisdom, has brought it to pass. Why would God give Sarah Palin a job she isn't ready for? He wouldn't. Everything happens for a reason. Palin seems perfectly willing to stake the welfare of our country—even the welfare of our species—as collateral in her own personal journey of faith. Of course, McCain has made the same unconscionable wager on his personal journey to the White House.

In speaking before her church about her son going to war in Iraq, Palin urged the congregation to pray "that our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God; that's what we have to make sure we are praying for, that there is a plan, and that plan is God's plan." When asked about these remarks in her interview with Gibson, Palin successfully dodged the issue of her religious beliefs by claiming that she had been merely echoing the words of Abraham Lincoln. The New York Times later dubbed her response "absurd." It was worse than absurd; it was a lie calculated to conceal the true character of her religious infatuations. Every detail that has emerged about Palin's life in Alaska suggests that she is as devout and literal-minded in her Christian dogmatism as any man or woman in the land. Given her long affiliation with the Assemblies of God church, Palin very likely believes that Biblical prophecy is an infallible guide to future events and that we are living in the "end times." Which is to say she very likely thinks that human history will soon unravel in a foreordained cataclysm of war and bad weather. Undoubtedly Palin believes that this will be a good thing—as all true Christians will be lifted bodily into the sky to make merry with Jesus, while all nonbelievers, Jews, Methodists and other rabble will be punished for eternity in a lake of fire. Like many Pentecostals, Palin may even imagine that she and her fellow parishioners enjoy the power of prophecy themselves. Otherwise, what could she have meant when declaring to her congregation that "God's going to tell you what is going on, and what is going to go on, and you guys are going to have that within you"?

You can learn something about a person by the company she keeps. In the churches where Palin has worshiped for decades, parishioners enjoy "baptism in the Holy Spirit," "miraculous healings" and "the gift of tongues." Invariably, they offer astonishingly irrational accounts of this behavior and of its significance for the entire cosmos. Palin's spiritual colleagues describe themselves as part of "the final generation," engaged in "spiritual warfare" to purge the earth of "demonic strongholds." Palin has spent her entire adult life immersed in this apocalyptic hysteria. Ask yourself: Is it a good idea to place the most powerful military on earth at her disposal? Do we actually want our leaders thinking about the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy when it comes time to say to the Iranians, or to the North Koreans, or to the Pakistanis, or to the Russians or to the Chinese: "All options remain on the table"?"

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bill Maher's New Film

Bill Maher's new film "Religulous" is now playing at the Del Mar theatre in downtown Santa Cruz. It is at once funny, wickedly to the point, and often quite perceptive. Maher goes after all the religions of the book and ends by saying that if we don't soon throw off the suffocating shackles of religion...well, go see for yourself.

The night I went there was a good crowd, but I don't imagine the film will be there for long.

Reviews have been quite good from top media. Variety hails "Religulous" as "brilliant, incendiary," while Entertainment Weekly adds, "It's a film that's destined to make a lot of people mad, but Maher, for all his showy atheistic 'doubt,' isn't just trying to crucify religion — he truly wants to know what makes it tick. He leaves no stone tablet unturned." Other raves come from the New York Times, USA Today, Hollywood Reporter and from Roger Ebert at the Chicago Sun-Times. Among the pans is the Washington Post.