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Anyone who does serious work in history has probably gotten into a discussion-slash-argument with someone who doesn’t approve of the current historical standard of using “BCE/CE” instead of “BC/AD”.

It occurred to me during a recent such argument that critics have gotten entirely the wrong end of the stick. Far from trying to excise Christianity from history, the modern standard is putting an end to a long standing anti-Christian message!

After all, what does BC stand for? “Before Christ”! It’s clearly an endorsement of the Arian heresy, implying that there existed a time where the Father existed but the Son did not, in violation of all good orthodox trinitarian theology! True Christians everywhere should be glad that we’re finally doing away with that vile heresy and removing it from the history books, in accordance with Constantine the Great’s edict of 333 CE!
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 - Envelope containing a piece of coloured material. Written on it was "Your soul existed before time - Bhagavad Gita 2:20".

Hindu evangelism, I guess. Wasn't expecting to ever encounter that...

New Rule:

Mar. 1st, 2011 02:22 pm
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Anyone seriously trying to use the Ontological Argument for the existance of God is automatically barred from participating in philosophy ever again.

I mean, hell, I've got more respect for Pascal's Wager...
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Trying not to be a snarky atheist here, but… regarding the process of Canonization. So, to be named a saint, you need two confirmed miracles. Said miracles tend to take the form of an individual praying to the would-be Saint regarding illnesses and such things.

Question: If you’re praying for someone to intercede for your illness, why would you pick someone who hasn’t already been confirmed as a saint? I mean, wouldn’t you want to hedge your bets a little bit and go for one of the major saints who already has miracles attributed to them?

Yeah, my mind started to wander while watching the news – more than half of which was devoted to ‘live’ updates of the canonization of Mary MacKillop… said updates largely consisting of footage of St. Peter’s square with a reporter confirming that no, the ceremony still hadn’t started.
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So, I’m sure everyone’s seen this article about atheists outdoing religious people on a survey about religious knowledge? Doesn't surprise me, but that's not what I find interesting about the results. What fascinates me is this bit:

“Forty-five percent of Catholics did not know that their church teaches that the consecrated bread and wine in holy communion are not merely symbols, but actually become the body and blood of Christ.”


I’d be really curious to see what the actual question asked there was – I assume it was a simple yes/no question, which makes an incorrect result that high really surprising. It’s fascinating, considering how significant the doctrine of Transubstantiation was throughout the last thousand years of Christian history and how much of a symbolic issue it became in dividing the Catholic and Protestant churches during the Reformation. I’m wondering how much of this is ignorance of the doctrine, and how much of it is modern Catholics actually consciously rejecting it.


I’d also love to know if there are similar patterns among Catholics outside the US…

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Just me, or is it a little hypocritical for the Pope to be complaining about ‘aggressive secularism’ when it’s only because we live in such a secular age that a Pope visiting Britain can be such an unremarkable event?

And considering there were actual murderous atheist regimes in Europe in the twentieth century, I do wonder why the hell he decided to try and paint the Nazis as an atheist ideology…


Aug. 2nd, 2010 02:10 pm
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Just in case the election campaign wasn't worrying you enough about the direction Australia's heading in...

PRIMARY school students are being taught that man and dinosaurs walked the Earth together and that there is fossil evidence to prove it.
Fundamentalist Christians are hijacking Religious Instruction (RI) classes in Queensland despite education experts saying Creationism and attempts to convert children to Christianity have no place in state schools.
Students have been told Noah collected dinosaur eggs to bring on the Ark, and Adam and Eve were not eaten by dinosaurs because they were under a protective spell.
 - Creationists Hijack Lessons

Dungeons and Dragons should totally have a 'Protection From Dinosaurs" spell.
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"Marc Grizzard, of Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton, North Carolina, says that the first King James translation of the Bible is the only true declaration of God’s word, and that all others are “satanic”. Pastor Grizzard and 14 other members of the church plan to burn copies of the other “perversions” of Scripture on Halloween, 31 October."

- The Telegraph, 'North Carolina church plans Halloween Bible burning'

Ah, nothing like a good old-fasioned Halloween Bible-Burning to encourage people to join your church!

Are there any other translations of the Bible that attract fundamentalists in the same way as the King James? I can understand why people would choose to elevate the KJV above all other translations - it's got the authoritative weight of being old along with the more important weight of sounding very old - but you think occassionally you'd hear about crackpots that have developed an obsession with some other version. Is there, for example, a specific German translation that tends to be at the centre of nutty interpretations?
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“ATTORNEY-GENERAL Rob Hulls will today announce a controversial compromise struck with the state's religious groups that will allow them to continue to discriminate against gays and lesbians, single mothers and people who hold different spiritual beliefs”
 - Government bows to religious right


Few points: one, why only allow discrimination on basis of ‘sex, sexuality, marital and parental status and gender identity’? Why are those acceptable targets for religious bigotry but not race or ‘political beliefs or activity’? Especially the last one – if you’re allowed to discriminate against people because they’re gay, why not against people because they’re strong supporters of gay rights? Surely that’s just as much a case of someone who ‘they believe may undermine their beliefs’.

Two – apparently, under the new deal, the religious group still has to ‘demonstrate how this action conformed with its religious doctrine’. That’s a bit of a slippery slope, isn’t it? Can the group just point to Leviticus, or do they have to provide evidence of a pre-existing theological argument and proof that their sect has historically followed that interpretation? Presumably you can’t just say “I’m not hiring Bob because I had a revelation last night that being called “Bob” was against God’s will”, but then where’s the dividing line between plain old regular discrimination and discrimination backed by legitimate religious doctrine? It really doesn’t seem like this is something the state government should be getting involved in determining.

And that’s really the problem – you can’t justify bigotry just by saying that it’s your religion. Or rather, you can, but you can’t expect that justification to hold any weight with anyone except your coreligionists. Religious freedom should be about the right to express your ideas freely, not to enforce them.
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...with capes

I guess they decided to go for truth in advertising, creating a set of uniforms that just scream "minions of an evil cult/corporation in a bad sci-fi movie".

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“MORE than four in 10 Australians who don't consider themselves "born again" nevertheless believe Jesus rose from the dead, while one in 10 doesn't believe he even existed…These are two of the surprising results from an independent survey of 2500 Australians, according to noted author and church historian John Dickson, co-director of the Centre for Public Christianity in Sydney.”
- The Age

There’s something pretty damn disingenuous about this survey. See, the article claims that ‘the results were produced from those who were non-religious, or from another religion, or who loosely indentified with Christianity.’ So you look at it like that, and you think “Wow, even people who don’t call themselves Christian still believe in Christ!”. Except… well, ‘don’t consider themselves born-again’ isn’t the same thing as ‘non-religious’ or ‘non-Christian. Considering oneself “Born Again” is pretty much unique to evangelical Protestantism. Catholics tend not to use the term in that way. Orthodox Christians don’t use the term that way. Anglicans don’t tend to use the term that way.

And Australian Christians are overwhelmingly from those denominations, not evangelicals. So the results end up being far less surprising than Mr. Dickson seems to believe. I can’t help but feel there’s a political motive here – an attempt to minimise the influence of non-Christians by being able to point to surveys that ‘prove’ that even most ‘non-Christians’ still believe in the divinity of Jesus. Not to mention what looks like an attempt to define evangelical Protestantism as ‘real Christianity’.

The Age has a religion editor – I’ve mocked him a few times. Perhaps he could stop writing terrible editorials and start actually editing these stories so they’ve got a bit of context and don’t just take the survey maker’s interpretation at face value?

Oh, and it’s not an odd finding “that 31 per cent of Australians believe Jesus lived BC”. The gospels record Jesus’s birth as occurring during the reign of Herod the Great. Herod died in 4 BCE. It’s not that obscure a fact to know that 1 CE probably does not correspond to Jesus’s birth year.

God Mode

Feb. 15th, 2009 07:49 pm
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You know, sometimes after spending hours blasting super mutants, annihilating rival civilizations, and playing ‘just one more’ game of Bejewled, one might get the urge to play something a little more spiritually rewarding. Maybe.

And that’s where Wisdom Tree Games come in, with their line of Christian themed video games! Much like ‘Christian Rock’, ‘Christian Novels’ and any other form of popular culture that’s prefixed by ‘Christian’, Christian video games tend to be shameless rip-offs of more popular products, with biblical references inserted at random.

Wisdom Tree are most famous for their Super Nintendo game ‘Super Noah’s Ark 3D’, which is, of all things, a modification of Wolfenstein 3D. Only instead of infiltrating a Nazi base and shooting enemy soldiers, you’re wandering through Noah’s Ark, throwing food at animals so they’ll ‘go to sleep’ and stop trying to eat Noah. I have to wonder, did they somehow acquire the Wolfenstein engine first, then have to struggle to work out what they could do with it? Or did they actually come up with the idea of a biblical animal-feeding game first, then tried to work out how to make it?

While Wisdom Tree still tries to sell Super Noah’s Ark, some of their other old games are free to play on their website! Like King of Kings, where you play a Wise Man collecting huge quantities of frankincense while your camel kills desert wildlife by spitting at them. Camel spit is, I think, an underused theme in video games. Or Bible Buffet, which… I am utterly baffled by. It’s a rip-off of Bomberman, but with a board game thing as well, and you fight hostile vegetables while collecting other vegetables for points – and they’re often the same sort of vegetables. Is this in the bible? Maybe the apocrypha, somewhere? The Epistle of St Paul to the Evil Tomato People, or something?

Wisdom Tree’s more recent releases are just as deranged. Try ‘Jesus in Space’ – “use the BABEL 4000 translator to figure out how to explain "baptism" to aliens who live underwater.” I’m actually vaguely intrigued by that concept. Or ‘Galilee Flyer’, where you fly a Triplane over the sea of Galilee. No, I don’t know why either. I was thinking maybe the three wings are symbolic of the Holy Trinity, but I think I’m putting more thought into it than the designers did – they probably just licensed someone else’s triplane simulator and just changed the landscape…

I wonder with stuff like this – are the people who make it sincerely convinced that they’re making quality work? Or are they cynical enough to realise their audience will buy anything that’s bible-themed and that they’ve got no reason to do any better than low-quality rip-offs of more popular games?
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With the confirmed death toll now standing at 181, and dozens of fires still burning out of control, Danny Nalliah, pastor of the unfortunately named ‘Catch the Fire Ministries’ and general asshole, decided to make a statement about the bushfires.

"God's protection has been taken off the state, and Satan is having a go at the nation," Mr Nalliah, senior pastor of Catch the Fire Ministries, told The Age… Catch the Fire Ministries today starts a week-long campaign of fasting and prayer to repent the abortion law reforms and other "unrighteous, ungodly, and unjust laws and practices".
 - The Age

Now, some of you might be saying “But wait a minute, didn’t the bill decriminalising abortion pass more than three months ago? What took God so long to notice? And didn’t the ACT decriminalise abortion years ago? And what’s with the flooding in Queensland, then? – they’ve got the strictest abortion laws in the country!”

And some of you might be saying “But wait, isn’t the idea that Satan can act openly in the world with God’s consent theologically troubling for a variety of reasons?”

And then, some of you might be saying “THE HELL WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU SICKENING BASTARD?!” I think there’s a fair bit of merit to that position…

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So apparently the Humanist Society has developed a curriculum for a humanist alternative to religious instruction classes in Victorian primary schools. Now my first thought was that non-religious religious instruction struck me as a pretty strange idea, but after giving it a little bit of thought, I think it’s not that bad a proposal to teach basic secular ethics in schools – on an opt-in basis, of course.

The ministry in charge of the Christian religious instruction isn’t pleased, though. Their chief executive has said that “she did not think humanism fell under ‘the relevant legislation to be classified as a faith-based religion in religious instruction in the way that Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism’”

Well, maybe not – but once you’re allowing monotheism, polytheism, and a religion that teaches that the gods are a false path to enlightenment, maybe religious instruction is broad enough now to let some secular ethics into the room as well. And if not – well, maybe it’s time to start reconsidering if religious instruction should have a place in public schools.

At the very least, surely Access Ministries can see that humanist philosophy class would make a more logical alternative to Christian religious instruction than my primary school’s idea of offering non-Christians an extra half hour of Phys. Ed. instead? Why, yes, I did end up picking RE when given that choice; I don’t think the poor teacher knew what to do with me. In my defence, I wasn’t trying to be offensive – I mean, I was nine years old, raised in a secular household. How was I supposed to know that people considered Christianity something more than a rather dull mythology? Besides, Aslan and Bacchus hang out together in Narnia; why wouldn’t Osiris and Jesus know each other too?
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Entertainingly idiotic editorial in The Age today, offering an incoherent criticism of modern Christmas celebrations. It’s a jumbled mess of the traditional complaints about commercialism, mixed in with brand new rants about how those damn secularists are ruining everything for those poor put-upon Christians.

And it’s clearly all secular people’s fault, as the author points out that he’s “never met a Muslim, Jew, Buddhist or Hindu who resented Christmas. Indeed, they welcome it, and hope only that their religious festivals might also get a modicum of recognition.” Of course it’s not as if he devotes any time to complaining about how schools aren’t doing anything to mark this week’s Eid festival, so it’s not as if he actually cares if other religion’s holy days are recognised or not. Still, it’s nice to see a token attempt to argue that he doesn’t have anything against other religions, just non-believers.

But clearly, secularism has destroyed Christmas, through such actions as ensuring the Myer Christmas Pageant is dominated by advertisements for products sold at – shockingly – Myer stores. I’d perhaps suggest that a Myer department store may not be the best place to be looking for a spiritual experience, and perhaps he’d be better off trying one of the rather nice churches just down the road instead. But then, I’m a filthy secularist, so what do I know?

The author’s argument is confused at best. He complains about commercialism taking over the holiday, but judging by the rest of his rant, would be thrown into a fever if stores decided to stop observing Christmas altogether. He’s annoyed at secular messages replacing explicitly Christian ones, while at the same time insisting he doesn’t expect Christmas to be a uniquely Christian festival. He wants “to keep some spiritual relevance in Christmas, for believer and atheist alike”, apparently believing that atheists will be able to find some relevance in the birth of the Christian saviour – and apparently forgetting again about the existence of non-Christian believers. So he wants a non-commercial Christmas, with corporate sponsored pageants that focus entirely on the religious message of the day, which will deliver a non-denominational generic ‘spiritual’ message to everyone, while schools teach explicitly Christian carols. Yeah… I’m going to have to get back to you on that one.

What is it about Christmas that inspires these sorts of ranting? You don’t see Christians complaining about how the non-religious aren’t participating in Easter enough; it’s a religious festival, people of that religion observe it, the rest of us eat chocolate eggs. It doesn’t seem to confuse people when you say you’re not Christian and therefore don’t observe it. Christmas though – well, alright, it’s gotten out of control. I can understand Christians not likening what it has become. But the problem isn’t that secular people are corrupting it; the only reason we’re involved at all is because people like the author of this piece are convinced that everyone needs to observe their religious festival. I’d be more than happy if Christianity returned to its religious roots – but only as long as those of us who aren’t of that religion can extricate ourselves from it. I’ve no more interest in participating in a generic ‘spiritual’ Christmas than in any other religious festival.
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So, Melbourne city council is apparently concerned about people drinking too much. To combat this scourge, they've done what any responsible person would do: Created a drinking themed Frogger game! You're a badly animated pedestrian, who has to cross several lanes of traffic in order to get to Flinders Street Station. Avoid the beers, they make this fiendishly difficult game even harder! Collect the bottles of water - as you know, drinking a single bottle of water will completly eliminate all the alcohol in your system! Sometimes the crossing zones flash red, and you get fined for jaywalking - this is an important detail, because we want to encourage people to rush across the traffic filled roads, rather than cautiously wait in the safe areas! The beer bottles are only present in the first couple of lanes, making the theme of the game less "Don't drink to excess" and more "Melbourne's traffic will kill you".

In other news, the Anglican church has started banning gnomes from cemeteries, on the grounds that they're unnatural. As an athiest, I could make a snarky comment about other things which don't exist, but I'm in a good mood today so I won't. Instead, I'm going to ask - does the church still tolerate gargoyles?
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Was doing some reading to prepare for my exam for the Apocalyptic Cults unit I'm studying this semester; I'm probably going to focus on the development of the concept of the Antichrist in interpretations of Christian prophesy when I answer the exam question.

Anyway, in one of the books I was reading, I came across this amusing attempt to determine the identity of the Antichrist:

"For some visionaries, Oliver Cromwell himself became the Man of Sin... One pamphleteer found that the title 'OLIVER LORD PROTECTOR' could be made to total 666 - provided one omitted the 'L' from 'Lord'."

You'd think that as long as you were pulling numbers out of your ass anyway, you could at least make them add up properly...

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"There have been 7,000 madrasses built along that border [Afghanistan/Pakistan]. We should be helping them build schools to compete for those hearts and minds of the people in the region so that we're actually able to take on terrorism"
   - Senator Joe Biden, 2008 Vice Presidential Debate

Alright, here's the thing. Madrassa? It means 'school' or 'university'. It's Arabic, meaning literally 'place where learning is done', and it's been adopted as a loan word in a number of languages, including Farsi, Urdu, Turkish, and Indonesian. What it does not mean - in any of these languages - is 'religious school' or 'Islamic school'.

Now, granted, general foreign words are often used in English in a more specific sense, to refer to things specifically from that country; Sombrero and Salsa are two obvious examples. Still, the use of Madrassa in an unmodified sense bothers me; if Biden had said 'seven thousand fundamentalist madrassas built' or 'Taliban-run madrassas', I wouldn't have an issue, but as it is the use of the term carries the implication that all schools in the Arabic-speaking and Arabic influenced world are terrorist indoctrination centres...

In other debate observations - Castro must be pleased to see that he still ranks a mention as a threat to the US...

4thofeleven: (Default)
Apparently we're not allowed to annoy the Pope anymore...

EXTRAORDINARY new powers will allow police to arrest and fine people for "causing annoyance" to World Youth Day participants and permit partial strip searches at hundreds of Sydney sites, beginning today...Police and emergency services volunteers will be able to direct people to cease engaging in conduct that "causes annoyance or inconvenience to participants in a World Youth Day event" or risk a $5500 fine.
Look, I understand the need for security. But this isn't security - this isn't stopping assasins or terrorists or even violent protests. This is about clamping down on free speech because it might offend the Pope or the Catholic pilgrims. We somehow managed to have the Dalai Lama visit last month without needing to pull this kind of crap against protests by Shugden Buddhists, but apparently if we're to have World Youth Day we need these sort of controls in place, lest some unsuspecting pilgrim see a same-sex couple or an offensive t-shirt.

Now, I'm not blaming the Catholic Church; they've said they didn't ask for this sort of special treatment. So why the hell is it happening? The government already spent more than a hundred million dollars on what is, after all, a religious event. Now we need these sort of restrictions on those of us who aren't overjoyed that the Pope's visiting our shores to ensure it goes smoothly?
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So, I'm doing a unit on Islamic history and culture this semester. We have to do a brief presentation on some aspect of Islam in class, so I did mine this week to get it over and done with, and I chose the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca as my topic.

Now, one of the things I find fascinating about the Hajj is the size of it. Hajj is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, and all Muslims are obligated to perform the pilgrimage at least once if possible. Of course, until recently, most Muslims couldn't afford to ever travel that far - but thanks to greater prosperity and improved transportation possibilities, the number of pilgrims who can participate in the Hajj is pretty much only limited by how many visas the Saudi government is willing to issue. The last Hajj had two million participants, down slightly from previous years, mainly because, well, the facilities don't exist to accommodate the larger numbers which used to be permitted to participate a decade ago, especially when all those pilgrims are trying to cram into a small area simultaneously.

So the Saudi government both limits the number of Hajj visas it issues, and makes efforts to improve the facilities to prevent the trampling and other deadly incidents that have marred recent Hajjs. And that's great and all, but I can't help but think something is being lost. For example, the ancient stone pillars that pilgrims throw stones at as part of the "Stoning the Devil" ritual were replaced in 2004 with high stone walls, so more pilgrims can throw stones simultaneously.

And then there's the sa'i ritual. This is part of the first day of the Hajj, and is supposed to be a re-enactment of the incident described in the Qu'ran where Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, frantically ran across the desert serching for water for her infant son, before Ishmael miraculously uncovered the Zamzam springs. So, historically, pigrims have re-enacted this by running seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah, before drinking from the Zamzam Well. Except, of course, having two million pilgrims running back and forth is just a recipe for disaster, as pilgrims end up either being trampled or collapsing from the heat. So now the pilgrims don't run - they walk. And instead of traveling in the open air, they go through air-conditioned tunnels. And they don't drink from the spring directly, they get given bottled water from coolers.

Now, alright, it's not my religion, and it's not my pilgrimage, and it doesn't really affect me either way how the Hajj is performed. And it is good that the Saudi government it making an effort to ensure as many pilgrims can participate in the Hajj as possible without compromising safety. On the other hand, it ends up sounding less like the holiest pilgrimidge of the Islamic faith, and more and more like being trapped in an airport for a few days...


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David Newgreen

August 2017

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