Friday, January 28, 2011

Atheism V Mormonism- A note to Daniel C. Peterson

Double Talk

Atheists have been the subject of a couple of high profile articles in the Deseret News Mormon Times Section.  The most recent article was by Daniel Peterson.

Trying to make their view seem merely a minor logical extension of my own, several atheistic acquaintances have assured me that there is little difference between us: They just happen to disbelieve in one more god than I do.
Mr. Peterson, We are not trying to make our beliefs a logical extension to yours we are just pointing out that you do not believe the other religions manifestation of god is equal to yours and in fact you have been taught they are false.
They seem to imagine that being a Latter-day Saint entails rejecting all non-Mormon religious experiences and disbelieving every doctrine of every other faith. This, however, is not true.
You are guilty of revisionist history.  The official record shows:

Joseph Smith said, "My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right — and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong, and the personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in His sight: that those professors were all corrupt . . ." (Joseph Smith, "History of the Church, Vol. 1, page 5-6.)
And scripture says this:

The Book of Mormon says, "And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth" (1 Nephi 14:10).
Given that.  How can you justify saying this:
When Joseph Smith learned that the then-existing Christian churches were corrupt, that didn't mean that they were totally wrong. To say that something is "corrupt" means that it has been damaged. We speak of "corrupted texts" or "corrupted files," intending to say that they have been infected or tainted — not that their original content has been replaced by something completely different.
In fact, many mainstream Christian doctrines were and are substantially correct. There is indeed a God. He has a divine Son who came to earth, atoned for our sins, rose again on the third day and now sits at the right hand of his Father. Those who taught prayer, preached of the Savior and translated the New Testament during the centuries between the early apostles and the Restoration preserved and transmitted many central gospel truths.
But what about non-Christians? Do they worship false gods?
Jews certainly don't. Believing Jews accept the Old Testament, venerating the God who brought Israel out of Egypt, spoke through the prophet Isaiah and was proclaimed by Jesus (a Palestinian Jew).
According to Brigham Young they do:

"I would rather undertake to convert five thousand Lamanites , than to convert one of those poor miserable creatures whose fathers killed the savior... Yes, I would rather undertake to convert the devil himself, if it were possible... I would say, leave them, and come home, the Lord does not require you to stay there, for they must suffer and be damned... [L]eave them to live and die in their sins and ignorance... [T]hey take pleasure in their wickedness..." (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 2, p. 143, 1854)

But what of Islam? Isn't "Allah" a false god? No. According to the Qur'an, Allah created the earth in six days, placed Adam and Eve in Eden, and then inspired prophets like Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Sound familiar?
"Allah" is simply the Arabic equivalent of English "God," related to the Hebrew "Elohim." Moreover, Allah is the God not only of Muslims but of all Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews. "In the beginning, (Allah) created the heavens and the earth," reads Arabic Genesis. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with (Allah), and the Word was (Allah)," says the Arabic version of John 1:1. "We believe in (Allah), the Eternal Father," says the first Article of Faith in Arabic, "and in his Son, Jesus Christ."
Muslims, Christians and Jews disagree about God, but that doesn't create numerically different gods. My neighbor regards Senator Foghorn as the greatest orator since Daniel Webster; I think he's a noxious windbag. But there is, mercifully, only one Senator Foghorn. Our different opinions don't spawn multiple senators.
There has been less said about Muslims.  But much has been said about dark skinned people and people of other races.  In fact while not officially supported by the official doctrine since the late 70's it is still supported in attitude among a significant number of members.  
But what of the non-Abrahamic religions? Are they too far wrong? It seems presumptuous to declare that mistaken but sincere devotion means nothing to our loving Father in Heaven.
In fact, Christians have been quite willing over the centuries to equate Zeus, the supreme ruler and father of the Greek Gods (the Romans' Jupiter or Jove), with the God of Christian belief. Shakespeare's Juliet chides Romeo from her balcony with a close paraphrase of the pagan Roman poet Ovid: "At lovers' perjuries, they say, Jove laughs." The great medieval Christian poet Dante says that it was Jove who died on the cross ("Purgatorio" 6:118-119).
When the apostle Paul, preaching on Mars Hill, sought to connect with the pagan Athenians (Acts 17:24-28), he identified Zeus with Israel's God: "For in him we live and move and have our being," he taught, quoting the words about Zeus of a sixth-century B.C. Cretan philosopher. "As some of your own poets have said," he continued, citing a third-century B.C. philosopher's verse about Zeus, "'we are his offspring.'"
In the final volume of C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia," a Calormene soldier named Emeth (= Hebrew "truth") has been a sincere worshiper of the false god Tash all of his life. When, at the end, he meets Aslan and recognizes the true God, he expects severe punishment. But Aslan graciously reassures him that "all the service thou hast done to Tash, I accept as service done to me," explaining that, although Emeth had been unaware of it, his honest devotion was actually to Aslan, rather than to Tash. "No service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him."
 The last three quotes paragraphs are comical at best.  Mr. Peterson you are quoting works of fiction as a support for your argument.  The worlds of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and the works of Dante were fantasies.  The world of C.S Lewis' Narnia did not exist and Zeus according to common theological thought was nothing more than an invention of the men who worshiped him.
God's sheep recognize his voice, even when it's in a different language or imperfectly heard. They follow him as best they can and will not lose their reward.
If this last paragraph is true then the plan a salvation is a hoax.  The time and service you demand from followers is a hoax.  Baptism for the dead is a hoax.  You cannot have it both ways.  You cannot claim the as atheists we are wrong and rally the other folks of faith together telling them that you were just kidding about the whole abomination thing.

Here is the reality Mr. Peterson; as we look at the history of the LDS Church with a critical eye the claims made and promises offered appear to be absurdities.  The men who made those claims were even more suspect in character.  We spent years searching for comfort in the plan of salvation and when we discovered the church was not what it purports to be we left.  Not only was our faith no longer in tact but neither was our ability to believe in any god.  Through further investigation we discovered the claims of Islam, Christianity, and Jewish faiths were equally suspect.  We believe in one less god than you do.  You do not hold the gods of other faiths in the same regard as you do your own.  They are not minor doctrinal issues but major chasms in which your members have been taught they are better than the others and they have the only plan of salvation.  The rest are "Whores of the Earth."

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Somethings are Slow to Change

Every once in awhile you see something that will haunt your existence for good or bad.  Last night I saw Spring Awakening at Kingsbury Hall.  I have not been able to get this show out of my head.  It was a truly fresh and amazing experience.  It was here in Utah for a limited three show engagement.  I was surprised by the  fact the theatre was not sold out.  It has a rockus sound track that is raw and edgy and beautiful all at the same time.  It was this show that launched Lea Michele's (Glee) career.

The show explores 'coming of age' at the end of the 19th century in Germany.  This original play by Frank Wedekind was written between 1891 and 1900.  It has long been a censored and banned play because of its frank discussion of teen sexuality and the consequences of of ignoring their natural curiosity and failing to provide them with the information they need to make good choices.  

Spring Awakening was updated and set to music by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik.  It boldly deals with all aspects of teen life and sexuality from the pressures that school brings added with the awakening of sexual desire.  This show touches on all of it from masturbation, academic pressures, sex in the religious context, sexual and physical abuse, homosexuality, sex for the first time and teen pregnancy.  The musical is largely a tragedy displaying the effects of ignorance, piety and ambition on our youth.  The devices of language, simulated masturbation and nudity are boldly appropriately integrated in this production.

The Wikipedia article does a good job of summarizing the plot

For me this show is a mirrored representation of the culture we all still live in with little progress on the public discussion of how we educate our children about sex and it consequences.  I saw this show with my wife and my 20 year-old daughter.  During intermission she told me, "Dad theses are the conversations we have today."  Unfortunately the topic will keep the pious and fundamentally inclined away from the production and if they were to see it the open representation of our culture will prevent them from hearing the message.  For parents the message is: When we deny our children information and understanding on the topic of sex it leads to disaster and we are ultimately responsible for the tragedy that results.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Apple Fell Close to The Tree

My beautiful daughter Jessica has started a new blog.  According to her she will write about feminism, fashion, theatre, growing up in a non-Mormon in Utah, and whatever else she chooses.  I have written about her in my blog and she now moving into the 20 somethings and she feels like she has something to share.

Her blog name is Kate the Cursed; which I used to call her when she exhibited a strangely fierce independence as a young girl.  I hope the followers of this blog will welcome her into the blogging community.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Attacking Beliefs.... When Does One Cross into Incivility?

I know there is a bunch of attention in the blog-o-sphere regarding the Arizona Congresswoman Shooting.  There has been a bunch of discussion regarding the power of words.  I feel like this has been well addressed by my friend Andrew Hackman at Hackman's Musings.   I am not going to rehash the obvious outrage to the senseless violence that occurred in Arizona.  This has been contemporary to a couple of conversations I have engaged in on Facebook.

I have noted that tone and context are somewhat subjective in prior posts.  While the writer does have the ability to guide the tone and context in any piece whether you find it funny, offensive, believe it to be true or false depends on your own filters and experience that makes up those filters.  I posted two PZ Myers' links.... here and here.  The first post was an opinion piece written by Myers and posted on his blog.  I happen to agree with the content of the topic however it did result in the following conversation on Facebook:

  • Face Book User: Kevin? You do realize that by pasting and applauding these inane rantings you become the exact person you rail against day after day; right? Myers "thoughts" are equivalent to an atheist "Chick Tract".
    January 2 at 10:06pm · 

  • Kevin Dudley I love PZ and I agree with this post. If you can give an example as to why he is wrong... I would be happy to discuss that.
    January 2 at 10:09pm · 

  • another user: I'm with you, Kevin.
    January 2 at 10:13pm · 

  • Face Book UseI know you love him, Kevin, it's rather obvious. His errors are legion, he's the atheist equivalent of Kirk Cameron.
    January 2 at 10:13pm · 

  • Kevin Dudley I disagree. He is a biologist who has a pretty good understanding of how life begins and evolves. Kirk Cameron is an actor (has been) who knows nothing and pretends to know something. If I have to bank my future on someone it will be the likes of PZ and not the likes of Cameron or any other theist.
    January 2 at 10:17pm · 
  • Face Book User

    Well . . . 1) If Myers is correct, you have no "future". 2) Kirk Cameron is an actor . . . much like someone else I know . . . yet that someone else has the intellectual ability and educational background to judge Myers understanding of how life begins as , "pretty good"? Seems like a stretch to me, that is unless a certain someone has a biology degree I don't know about. Why should I believe one actor over another, Kevin? 3) Myers uses oversimplifications and bombastic language designed for the pulpit, he's not "setting anyone straight" he's building strawmen and hacking them down in front of a friendly crowd . . . much like Cameron and Comfort.

    January 2 at 10:35pm · 

  • Kevin Dudley 
    PZ states and accurately that there is no evidence for the existence for god. I have plenty of future without a God. There is absolutely no evidence that there is more after you die and the threat of hell does not govern my actions. Myers has and is willing to debate his stance with any theist. He does not just play to a friendly audience. This post was merely an expression of opinion but he has posted many others with evidence, citations, and peer reviewed research. What has the theist community put out? What is the evidence for God. I dare say there is none. Just because it is not explainable does not mean god did it.

    Myers, Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Barker are all men that I agree with and will stand on their court any day. Unless there is evidence to the contrary presented, I believe God and all Gods are myths. They deserve no more consideration than Santa Claus.

    January 2 at 10:58pm · 

  • One of My ChildrenPersonally I'm willing to ignore Kirk because his conversion was based entirely on Pascal's wager. A line of thought filled with so many fallacies as to be laughable. If that's the best he could reason, find evidence, and sort information, then he truly isn't qualified to provide 'truth'. PZ Myers actually has education in his field and provides evidence. I'm willing to take a biology professors word on biology and science. Call me crazy.
    January 2 at 11:54pm · 
  • Face Book User

    Kevin? I have nowhere declared that your behavior should take into account future punishment, I have not attacked your worldview at all. I'm very sure that you came to your intellectual holdings through reasoned clarity. I have not claimed that just because something is not understandable = therefore - God. All I have said is that Myers is a very poor spokesmodel for atheism. Having read dozens of books on the subject, been to many lectures and explored countless discussions in the atheist/theist arena, it's safe for me to declare Myers rantings as buffoonery. Agreeing with someone does not mean that they are good representatives of a given cause . . . agreed?

    January 3 at 5:55am · 

  • Kevin Dudley Agreed and not agreed. I don't see him the same way you do. Maybe it is because we use different filters

The second post was much more terse:

  • facebook Friend II 
    And I suppose we should stop eating in restaurants out of fear that the kitchen crew forgot to wash their hands?

    The fear of exposure in this instance came from a person distributing the wafers, not parishioners drinking from a common chalice. Please do your homework and check your sources before proceding to malign what we already know you don't believe. You demand that of your dissenters, right?

    Partaking of the chalice is optional since Catholics believe the fullness of Christ exists in the wafer alone. Catholics who don't want to "swap fluids" already have the option of abstaining. In this case, clearly, it was stupid for an ill person with unclean hands to distribute Communion. As a Communion Minister at my own parish, we can't/don't serve when ill; we always thoroughly wash and sanitize our hands before serving; and during the swine flu scare last year, the diocese removed the common chalice and the holy water from the common fonts.

    Now that I've said my peace, I'll go back to observing my "silly rituals."

    January 4 at 8:41pm ·  ·  1 person

  • Facebook user PWND
    January 5 at 8:54am · 

  • Good Friend
    I was going to post a reply yesterday but decided to wait and think it over. Facebook Friend II has done a wonderful job of posting some of my original thoughts about homework and maligning.
    You know I am not one to believe in "God" as ascribed in organized religion. I respect your convictions and enjoy for the most part reading your well thought out discussions.
    However, this current thread smacks of Tea Party, Palin, Right Wing playground tactics used to dehumanize. Disingenuous and totally unexpected from you to resort to name calling while trying to express your view.

    January 5 at 9:05am · 

  • Kevin Dudley 
    The CNN link to the article does not discuss the delivery method. Does your minister require the use of food service gloves? What percentage of your parish shares from the same chalis?

    While I will acknowledge PZ Myers made an assumption it was a natural assumption considering the traditionally practiced ritual and again the CNN article did not discuss the delivery method.

    In the broader context in the name of religious freedom Rabbis in New York have recently been under fire for performing circumcisions in a method that exposes the infant to mouth to genital contact. Many infants have contacted hep infections and staff infections for what? An imaginary or unprovable claim of salvation?

    In other communities in America women/ girls are forced in to marriages (many plural). All in the name of ritual and tradition. The point of my link is that religion is not benign.

    I appreciate your passionate rebuttal however and I am aware of where you stand on matters of your faith.

    .... Hey Facebook user.

    January 5 at 9:09am · 

  • Kevin Dudley Good Friend, point received.
    January 5 at 9:23am · 
  • facebook Friend II

    Kevin, did you click on the ABC News link I provided? It clarifies that it was the wafer and not the chalice that was the problem. PZ Myers had made reference to the chalice.

    No, my particular parish does not require food service gloves. I don't know of any parish that does. We take other precautions prior to serving, though.

    We have five chalices at each Sunday Mass: the priest drinks from the main one at the altar; the extra ministers use the other four to serve a section of the congregation. I would say it's about 50-50 in each section as to who partakes and who doesn't. Many of the older generation doesn't drink from the chalice because they weren't brought up to do so. Having the laity receive from the chalice wasn't the norm prior to the church reforms in the 1960's. Many children don't drink from the chalice because they don't like the taste. Diabetics often refrain as well. Anyone who is concerned about the spread of disease has the right to refrain from either the wafer or the chalice. It's that simple.

    I've always known that you don't believe in God and are not religious. I can respect that. I always enjoyed our thought-provoking conversations when we worked together. I am struggling to understand, though, why the philosophical position of atheist ... of saying to oneself "I don't believe in God" ... spills over into attacks on people who do. Yes, I've read your disclaimers that what you post is not particularly faith-promoting and that it's not about other people. I get it; you're articulating your views. I just didn't anticipate that "not faith-promoting" = "faith-attacking" so much of the time. My mistake, I guess. As someone who does believe, reading or skimming through the frequent insults becomes tedious and maddening.

    January 5 at 7:41pm ·  ·  1 person

  • Kevin Dudley 
    facebook Friend II, I will acknowledge that the word I used, "silly", was harsh and the speed to post the article was rash. However CNN was a reliable source for the article.

    My question is how do you draw the line between challenging religion attacking it. It is my experience if you draw a line between a piece of doctrine and its absurdity you are considered an attacker by a theist. Help me understand where than line exists.

    January 5 at 7:52pm · 
  • Facebook user

    facebook friend II has articulated very well what I was getting at the other day, Kevin. I'll add my .02. PZ is a purveyor of a particular flavor of bombast that is exceedingly distasteful to a great many on both sides of the aisle. He is quick to ridicule and harsh in his technique, he seeks not to foster understanding but rather play a game of one-upsmanship against those who believe. When I read any text authored by Meyers or his ilk I'm instantly jaded and read his thoughts from a completely defensive posture. Facebooking his blog as often as you do serves to label you a member of his camp. That's not the Kevin I know.

    January 5 at 8:09pm ·  ·  1 person

  • Facebook Friend II 
    CNN was a reliable source; however, you posted it via PZ Myers blog. His language framing the article was inaccurate. His bias compromised the accuracy.

    You posted awhile ago on your own blog that the tone of a written piece is subjective in the mind of the reader. I disagree. Tone is a function of a writer's word choice. If it weren't, we couldn't distinguish between seriousness, hyberbole, humor, sarcasm, irony, farce, or other literary constructions. To answer your question with a question: why does a question about a religious doctrine or discipline have to come loaded with insults? Raising a question about religion isn't offensive. Saying that you disagree with a doctrine isn't offensive. Saying that you think a doctrine is absurd isn't offensive. Attacking the people who practice it is. Maybe it's a difference between a discussion of the ideas and maligning the people who freely choose to participate in them.

    ("Silly" really isn't the harshest word you could have used; I've seen worse in PZ Myer's blog. You use him a lot as a source.)

I admit, now, I might not have put it up had I looked at the details of the situation and I believe the PZ made a rush to condemn Catholics.  I also enjoy the friendships of the folks that entered into the Facebook conversation on the two posts.  I also learned from the conversation that occurred as a result of the posts.

PZ Myer's is nearly as prominent in the atheist community as Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris.  He has a Phd and is a prominent speaker on the atheist circuit.  When I post from him it is not with the intent to offend but because he articulates my views and I see him as an authority in many of the topics he posts on including the creation debate and the origins of life.  He is a professor and well regarded in the scientific community.  He is also a militant atheist who calls the religious establishment on their crap.

The the question becomes when is one attacking someones beliefs.  In what ways and in what situations is it appropriate challenge someone's beliefs.  Is the direct and sometimes terse statement of your beliefs an attack?  Is there anyway to walk the line in the middle and still make it clear that you think that someone is full of crap.  I think in light of the recent violence in Arizona and the resulting calls for civility (which apparently have been ignored) it is a good time to evaluate our interactions.  Do we know the difference between asserting a well researched opinion and ginning up the masses.  Is someone right only because you agree with them?