Friday, August 01, 2008

Walking In with a Guitar Case

On a Sunday morning in 2008 July, in at least two Unitarian Universalist churches in this country, a man walked into the church with a guitar case in his hand.

At one of these churches, Greg Greenway walked in with a guitar case, and during the service, he pulled a guitar out of the case and started whacking away at it with his plastic-tipped fingers, producing inspiring music for us, such as "The Color Yellow", and "On the Side of Love".

At another one, Jim David Atkisson walked in with a guitar case, and during the service, he pulled a shotgun out of the case and started firing away at the congregants with his trigger-pulling finger, wounding several people and killing some, such as Greg McKendry and Linda Kraeger. His actions halted the service and brought in the police. It also scared and scarred the congregation, who tried to make sense out of the killings.

One of these churches had a service that encountered life. One of these churches had a service that encountered death.

We can say that perhaps Greenway was on the side of love, or in this case life. But earlier, Dave Atkisson played good music out of his guitar, including duets with his wife at the time, one of which was recorded in 1996 for SUUSI. What made him trade the guitar for the shotgun? That's one of the mysteries of life. It may have had something to do with his wife. It may have had something to do with hatred for liberals, but then why did he go to a church noted for liberal values? Did he feel discontent because his wife left him after he became angry at her? Did liberals represent his former wife to him?

Greenway also has his peeves, as indicated in his song "I Love Everybody", that is, except his ex-girl friends, most Republicans (the other side of "Liberals") and the state of Missouri. But he expressed his feelings to these with his guitar. What makes one person express feelings about girl friends, Republicans and Missourians with his guitar and another express his feelings about girl friends, liberals, and Tennesseans with his shotgun? Is it desperation? Is it feelings about life? Or about girl friends, liberals, Republicans and so forth?

That's a mystery. We choose to follow life the best we can, hoping that we find the way of life, like Greenway, and not the way of death, like Atkisson.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Just Who Is the Enemy Anyway?

Today I heard of an atheist soldier, Army Spc. Jeremy Hall, who has sued the Department of Defense and other military elements, saying that the Army discriminates against those who believe in God; in fact, those who are not Christian. Spc. Hall was a devout Baptist, believing in what the Bible says; that is, until he started reading the Bible. That caused him to realize that the Bible is merely the story of a people (the Israelites) and of Jesus, and not anything like the word of God. So he stopped believing in God.

He continued to serve in Iraq, along with his comrades, where they faced several enemies, mainly insurgents who ambush Americans and Iraqis and booby-trap the roads with improvised explosive devices (IEDs). But the actions of his comrades probably made him wonder just who was the enemy anyway. In particular, he was made to sit somewhere else because he would not pray at the dinner table. After one attack in which he was nearly killed, he was asked, "Now do you believe in Jesus?" If I were him, I would have answered, "Well, maybe I believe that there is no god but God, and that Muhammad is his prophet." The point is that his buddy was trying to force one set of beliefs on him. There are also other sets of belief, and there is non-belief.

I worked for the Army for over 20 years, and in those years I found plenty of instances of religious preference or discrimination. My workplace held prayer breakfasts, for instance. Many events had Christian invocations before them, and high-ranking officers use "God" in their email signatures. And there is that old phrase, "There are no atheists in foxholes." That reminds me of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last year at Harvard when he said in Iran there are no homosexuals. Spc. Hall was one such atheist - not in a foxhole but clearly in a place where he could get killed.

Now the insurgents who the Army is fighting against in Iraq are even worse - they are trying to force Muslim beliefs on the people over there. So they are no friends. But as I have just said, Spc. Hall is not only fighting insurgents, he is fighting another enemy as well - religious discrimination within his own ranks.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Religion on Cliffhanger

It has come to my attention that my companion blog Cliffhanger, which deals with Peak Oil and related problems of the world today, has attracted a lot of religious interest, with seven comments, including some of my own. So I am transferring that discussion here, to Beyond God, since Cliffhanger discusses Peak Oil and related problems, not the existence of God or how Satan came to be.

The discussion related from my posting on Cliffhanger what I believe are the five biggest problems today (to that I can now add the subprime mortgage and credit crisis). Number 4 of these was Mainline Religions, in which I maintained that people invoke a God to deal with their problems instead of trying to solve them themselves, and that they justify all kinds of mayhem in the name of God (i.e., their God). One of the posts says that God did not create Satan. That's a contradiction. We are given that God created everything. Therefore, he created Satan. It is this type of contradiction that leads me to believe that there is no God. One could even argue that God is Satan as follows: God created everything. Therefore, he created Satan. Creation of an evil entity (e.g., Hitler of Auschwitz) is itself an evil act. Therefore, God is evil. God is the Supreme Being; so he therefore is the Supreme Being of Evil, so God is Satan. But the next step would say that since God created Satan, therefore God created God, which is impossible - nothing can create itself. The whole idea of a supreme Being like this is therefore refuted, and that is why I don't believe in a God.

The only way God could make sense, is to say that, since nothing is conceivable unless it comes under God or God created it (because of God's omnipresence and omnipotence), therefore, everything comes under God. But since God results in everything, therefore, God is Everything. So theories of Everything, including physical theories and Ken Wilber's books, are really works about God. However, I don't even believe that this God exists. This is because I believe in the Beyond Theory: There is something beyond anything you name. Anything has something beyond it. That rules out Everything, as there would have to be something beyond it. And that is the reason I named this blog Beyond God.

Incidentally, if you want to find out about the Bible, instead of just quoting it to prove your point, try Rev. Miles' Bible classes at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond. She tells us not just what is in the Bible but what motivated the characters and the authors of the Bible's many stories.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter Lunacy

This year is remarkable. The Christian holiday of Easter comes the earliest that it will come in our lifetimes - on March 23. It last came this early in 1913, and will not be this early again until 2160. Why is Easter so early? And why does it move around the calendar like it does? When I was a child, I looked at a calendar of 1953 and found Easter in the first week of April. So the next year I expected it again in the first week of April, but found by surprise that it was two weeks later, on April 18.

It is because Easter is based on the Moon as well as the Sun. The date of Easter is based on Passover, which occurs in the first Jewish month of the spring, on Nisan 15, the date of the full moon. It was decided to put Easter as the first Sunday past the first full moon after the March equinox. Instead of basing it directly on the Jewish calendar, for example, the first Sunday on or after Nisan 15, a new algorithm was developed, involving creating a mathematical model of the Moon called the Paschal full moon, and saying that Easter is the Sunday after that (if it is on Sunday, it's the next Sunday). The calculation of this moon involves calculating the Golden Number and the epact; the details can be found, for example, at Web Exhibits.

Since Easter is based on the Moon, one would expect a lot of lunacy with respect to this celebration. And sure enough there is. The very idea of holding Easter on a date that jumps from year to year in the calendar that we use in our everyday life can cause considerable disruption. This year, it is so early that it impinged on St. Patrick's Day. Most places celebrated it as usual, but the Catholic Church saw fit not to celebrate it because of it being in holy week. In many places it is cold this early, and some places may have weather more suitable for Christmas. Stores usually use holidays to promote their items, but there is no really good holiday between this year's Easter and Mother's Day this year, and April Fool's Day and Tax Day (April 15) just won't do.

Further, there is a lot of nonsense on the web about Easter. For example, in the Monticello, Indiana, Herald Journal, there appears this excerpt from Jerry Whybrew:

He said to them, "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority." Acts 1:7 Apparently, Easter day falls this year earlier than it has since 1913. It will be 2060 before it falls this early again. This is a very early Easter. Probably, if most of us would have our own way, we would move Easter later a few weeks when it would be a little warmer, flowers would be budding, and spring would be in full swing. But we aren't in control, and God has a purpose and a time for each and every event and situation in life. We can never expect to out-guess God. Life begins and life ends, and God is in control.

First of all, this person doesn't have control of his life. God does. The danger with supposing the existence of such a God is that the role of God could be filled by an actual person, and when it is, it is usually filled by a dictator. Next, he also says the date of Easter is one of those things we can't control. Not so. It is human beings, at the Nicene Council and other places that decided on the golden number-epact rule for Easter. There is nothing magical about it, and it doesn't even coincide with the Jewish feast of Passover or the actual full Moon. It can be as much as two days off from the real Moon, and this year, with Easter on March 23, Passover is April 19-26. And finally, he got the date of Easter in 2060 wrong. It is April 18 that year. Maybe he meant 2160, when Easter once again is March 23. There is an earlier possible date, which requires an epact which cannot occur this century: March 22. Next time it's that early is 2285.

More lunacy occurs in Newsbeat, from BBC. According to this article, "Easter always comes on the Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of spring." In a general sense, that is true. But really the rule should read "Easter comes on the Sunday after the first Paschal full moon after March 21." The equinox does not always occur on March 21. This year it was on the 20th. And the Paschal full moon, the one determined by the mathematical model, is March 22 this year, but the real full moon occurred on March 21. Further, the article says, "Easter will not come this early again for approximately another 220 years." That means in the year 2228. True, Easter is March 23 that year. But it is also on March 23 in 2160.

Where is there some sense on the Internet about Easter? Maybe in USA Today. That article does have the correct rule for Easter, but not the algorithm for computing it. Further, it explains the difference between the Paschal full moon and the real astronomical one. The Easter rule fixes the equinox on March 21, when for the next few decades, it will be March 20, or earlier. Using the astronomical full moon, Easter should be on March 28 in 2038, since the full moon is the 21st, and the equinox is on the 20th. But the Paschal full moon is on April 18 instead, since the previous mathematical full moon is March 20; it is off by a day. So Easter that year is on April 25, the latest possible.

This article also says that the Moon is never full. No, I don't think that is correct. There is a time of full moon, when the Moon is opposite the Sun and the lit portion stops increasing and starts decreasing. This may be altered by lunar terrain, but there has to be a turning point.

So celebrate Easter, on this early date. Maybe the date of Easter will be changed; there was a movement to do so in 1963, perhaps to the second Sunday in April. But remember that it can be changed. God does not determine Easter for us, we do.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Jesus and the Devil: Brothers?

The latest flap I have heard among the candidates is Mike Huckabee's comment about what Mormons believe about Jesus and the Devil:

Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?

Mitt Romney, the Mormon candidate, replied "attacking someone's religion is really going too far." This caused a hullabaloo among the media and Republicans, and eventually Rev. Huckabee was forced to apologize for making the statement.

But are they brothers? Here is what the Mormon church says about it:

We believe, as other Christians believe and as Paul wrote, that God is the father of all," a spokeswoman for the LDS church, Kim Farah, told the AP. "That means that all beings were created by God and are his spirit children. Christ, on the other hand, was the only begotten in the flesh and we worship him as the son of God and the savior of mankind. Satan is the exact opposite of who Christ is and what he stands for."

So let's go to the definition of "brother". As I see it, brothers are humans (and non-human beings) that have a common parent, either a father or a mother or both. What do we see here? God is the father of all. That would certainly make Jesus and the Devil brothers. In fact, it makes all of us brothers, even women. It does not say so, but I would certainly take it from this passage that Satan was a son of God. Since both Jesus and Satan are sons of God, Jesus and Satan are brothers.

I don't see what all the hoopla is about. From the Christians I know, it seems that Christians in general believe that God is the father of all. This makes the statement "Jesus and Satan are brothers" a trite tautology. So I don't see what all it's all about. To me this whole episode discredits both Huckabee and Romney and turns the Republican Presidential race into a three-ring circus. Huckabee was not attacking Romney's religion; he was just stating what his religion says. But it seems that Huckabee was trying to make a big deal of it. In that sense, he was hyping to the media.

But take another look at the religions of both Huckabee and Romney. Their beliefs imply that God is Satan! Here is the proof: God created everything, so God created Satan. Satan is evil. Creation of an evil entity is itself an evil act (for example, Hitler creating Auschwitz). Therefore, God is evil. Since God is the Supreme Being, he is the Supreme Being of Evil. Therefore, God is Satan. But let anyone in the Presidential race try to say that. But it's what their religions imply.

We can go one step further. God created Satan. God is Satan. Therefore, God created himself, which is a contradiction. Nothing can create itself. That says that all this is make-believe, that there is no God or Satan, and that if Jesus existed, he was a human being just like the rest of us.

It's best if the political candidates keep God, Satan, and Jesus out of their campaigns.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The God Index

The 2008 Presidential Campaign is heating up, with over 20 candidates. Naturally I want objective ways to rate the candidates, and sifting through their pro-themselves rhetoric can be tedious. A way around this is to use Google to rate the candidates. One facetious way of rating it is the Idiot Index, by counting the number of web pages throughout the Web that contain the phrase "candidate is an idiot". Hillary Clinton tops that one. More details can be found at J. Clifford's blog and at my brother blog, Beyond Opinion. (You may have to scroll down to get the story.)

But there are more meaningful ways of rating the candidates. Our First Amendment prescribes that there shall be no establishment of religion. I feel that every time the President, Vice President, or any candidate for these positions mentions words like "God", "Jesus", "salvation" and the like, he or she establishes a religion in our government. So a measure of the worthiness of a candidate is to measure how many times he talks about God or is associated with God. CNN claims to do it with their "God-o-Meter", pronounced as if it were the odometer of a car. But I don't know where they get their index from. Hence my God Index.

Here is how to compute the God Index of a candidate. Google for "candidate god" and call this quantityg. Google for "candidate" and call this numbert. Then the God Index I is defined by:

I = t/g

It is the reciprocal of the percent of pages that refer to the candidate that also refer to God. I take the reciprocal so that those candidates least associated with religion and God get the highest scores. The lowest God Index is 1, and represents the case of a candidate who can't get a web page up there with his name on it without having God in it. An index of 2 means half the pages that refer to the candidate refer to God, an index of 5 means that one-fifth or 20% of the pages that refer to the candidate refer to God and so forth.

The results are below. They show some interesting things. McCain, Romney, and Giuliani, the top Republican contenders, show low God indices, meaning that they talk about God and religion a lot. This I feel is the case from seeing them in the media. The index says that Ron Paul is much better, with a God Index over 6, the highest of any of the candidates. However, I heard Ron Paul refer to God a lot as well, so I am not sure how that index came about; maybe there's been a lot of talk about Ron Paul. He has a tendency to come up way out in front of the other Republicans in any measure that relies on the Internet for its data. To me the biggest disappointment is seeing Barack Obama come out as the Goddiest of the candidates. About 70% of the pages that contain "Barack Obama" also contain "God". I would be fearful that he would start a state religion. Up to now I have regarded him as my number 1 candidate, but maybe I will consider Richardson and Edwards now as well. Fred Thompson, the most Republican of the candidates it seems, scores unexpectedly high, and so does Independent Mike Bloomberg, so if it is Obama vs Romney vs Bloomberg, I may vote for Bloomberg. Here is the complete standings:
Paul 1800000 11800000 6.55 Republican
Thompson 1540000 9280000 6.03 Republican
Bloomberg 398000 2267000 5.70 Independent
Gravel 359000 1610000 4.48 Democrat
Edwards 1740000 7800000 4.48 Democrat
Dodd 421000 1740000 4.13 Democrat
Tancredo 515000 1910000 3.71 Republican
Hunter 480000 1760000 3.67 Republican
Biden 776000 2726000 3.51 Democrat
Brownback 532000 1840000 3.46 Republican
Huckabee 629000 1970000 3.13 Republican
Kucinich 701000 1990000 2.84 Democrat
Clinton 2060000 5450000 2.65 Democrat
Richardson 730000 1840000 2.52 Democrat
Keyes 324000 723000 2.23 Republican
Giuliani 1310000 2200000 1.68 Republican
Romney 1540000 2400000 1.56 Republican
McCain 1680000 2320000 1.38 Republican
Obama 1930000 2510000 1.30 Democrat

Sunday, July 29, 2007

100,000 Gullible Visitors

Recently a Creation Museum opened up near Petersburg, Kentucky, portraying how life developed the way that creationists and intelligent-designers see it. In the two months it has been open, the museum has had 100,000 visitors, or about 1600 per day. It is packing the parking lots and making for long lines. What is going on here? A huge herd of lemmings galloping on their way to an abyss of falsity?

It is amazing how many people are fooled by this creation scam. The creationists have taken an allegorical myth out of the Bible and made it into what they believe is fact. There is absolutely no evidence for their thesis. The Bible is not evidence. Instead the evidence found on this planet, including radioactive rocks, fossils, and structural similarities of organisms, point strongly to evolution of life forms out of lesser forms. I don't understand why the propagandists for creationism and intelligent design spout out their mistruths. It reminds me of the violent spouting of Islamic mullahs in the Middle East. At least the creation sort does not cause violent outbursts like the Islamic sort does.

The biggest danger is if this many people are fooled into believing this creation malarkey, they can be fooled by much more dangerous idolatries, such as those coming from Hitler's mouth against the Russians, Jews, and blacks. It's time we question those in authority, especially those in our churches.