sarahmichigan: (reading)
"What Is My Cat Thinking?: The Essential Guide to Understanding Pet Behavior" by Gwen Bailey. The book could have been more carefully edited, but I liked all the photos of cats in different poses and the explanation of what the pose (or ear and tail movements) were likely to signify: friendship, aggression, fear, etc. The author seems to really know her animal behavior science.


"God is Not Great" by Christopher Hitchens, as an audiobook read by the author. The context was especially amusing since J. and I listened to this during a road trip through the Bible Belt where there are homemade billboards with "Jesus Loves You" and the 10 commandments posted near the highway, particularly in rural Kentucky. I knew a lot already about what he had to say about Christianity and Judaism, but I learned something from his critiques of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and a few other minor sects. Not likely to be read by diehard believers, this would be an informative read for anyone on the fence and an entertaining read for an established atheist such as myself.

My full comments on both books here.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
I'm not 100 percent in favor of *tactics* that organization's like Freedom From Religion Foundation and Americans United use to get nativity scenes out of public parks and prayer out of city council meetings and high school graduations. However, I also think that the Christians (and it's almost 100 percent Christians who want 100 percent Christian prayer) who are pushing back on the issues are being a little hypocritical. Nobody is keeping them from praying - they just can't necessarily use public venues to pray.

It makes me wonder if any of them have read the 6th chapter of the book of Matthew, especially verse 6...

sarahmichigan: (Default)
I feel like somehow the universe has conspired to educate me about other cultures and expand my mind. Or maybe I just "put it out to the universe" without realizing it.  In the last week, I've had some really fun conversations with strangers from fairly diverse backgrounds.

1) The most shallow but funny conversation happened last week with an older black guy who was waiting at the auto shop for his car to be looked at. He told me that he'd been hit by a drunk that morning after dropping his grandchild off at work. He told me some other horror stories about crazy Ypsilanti drivers, including the time he was sitting in his car at a red light and got hit by a cop. "They're worse drivers than we are!" he said.

2) Last night, I hung out with a guy from India who reccently came to the states as a contract I.T. worker. We talked for a little over an hour, and I learned a lot about his take on Indian family life, racism (he thinks it's worse in the U.K. than in America, but I noted that he hadn't spent much time in the South) and a variety of other topics. One interesting thing I learned was that he became an atheist after witnessing the 1992 ethnic and religious riots in Bombay (now Mumbai)  when he was a student there. He said at that time he had the most Muslim friends of any Hindu he knew, and he was really scared through the whole thing. He thought it was ridiculous and awful and had no use for religion after that.

3) I was at the auto repair shop AGAIN today and had another incidence of having a total stranger just start talking to me. He was a nice Vietnamese man who had spent some time under communist rule. He saw I was carrying a copy of "The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living" by the Dalai Lama and talked to me for about a half hour about Tibet, Buddhism and how I handle Jehovah's Witnesses who come to the door (I just don't answer the doorbell, typically).

This last incident flowed from a recent interest in learning more about the Dalai Lama. I'm not Buddhist, though I respect a lot of the teachings of Buddhism and especially the Dalai Lama's forward-thinking approach to harmony between science and Buddhist thought. A few years ago, I read Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama. I loved the fact that-- unlike religious leaders from many other traditions-- when science contradicts his faith, he's more likely to revise his philosophy of religion than to reject the science. I'm also fairly interested in brain science, psychology and the idea that we can choose to be happy and content even when outside events and circumstances are trying or tragic.

Fast forward to a few months ago: I watched Seven Years in Tibet which was a flawed film but gave me some information about the history of Tibet's conflict with China. More recently, I watched 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama. The New Age music and the documentary maker's somewhat overly-reverential tone made it more of a 3-star film than a 5-star film, but the cinematography of the Himalayas, the streets of India, the ceremonies and festivals was spectacular. I also love listening to the Dalai Lama speak- he sound a bit like Yoda with a hint of PeeWee Herman. (As an aside, is it really sick and wrong of me that when they showed old black and white footage of him at age 19-20 I thought he was kind of hot in a nerdy sort of way?) I also learned more about the politics of the Free Tibet movement and Chinese communist disdain for Tibet's religious tradition and so on. Also, did you know that both Google and Yahoo! agreed to censor the results of searches for keywords like "Tibet" and "Dalai Lama" to only show Chinese government-approved pages?

It's been strange, fun and educational. I wonder what's next...

sarahmichigan: (Default)
You may know Julia Sweeney as an ex-SNL member and not know much more about her. Well, she's an atheist who has written a one-woman show about losing her faith in god, a cancer survivor, and the single mother of an adopted child as well.

She gave a speech at a "Freedom From Religion Foundation" convention not too long ago, and there are excerpts on the FFRF website. I love some of the points she makes about religion and belief (and she's funny, too).

#1. People Want to be good. "When I talk to [my friends] about religion, they don't say, "Oh, did I feel good yesterday thinking how Mary was a virgin and conceived Jesus!" They don't say anything about Catholicism. They talk about the community work that they've done. And that's what they connect with their church. They assign that good feeling to their church."

#2. A code of behavior is often necessary.

#3. People want to be in a club.

#4. People love to hate. "People feel closer to other people if they have a common person they don't like. Come on, everybody knows that's true! And it's true for us, too. Religion delivers on that, too! It gives people an instant common enemy, whether it's Islamic fundamentalists or secularists, that's immediately there and provided. At Saturday Night Live, we were never closer than when Steven Seagal hosted--because we hated him so much!"

Read the whole piece here.


May. 9th, 2007 11:54 am
sarahmichigan: (Default)
For [ profile] simianpower, the Walken dancing:

For [ profile] dionysus1999. You need to read "The God Delusion," too. I was listening to the bit about cargo cults in the car this morning, and I know you'd enjoy it. You might also like these links:
sarahmichigan: (Default)
I was reading about these guys in a (not very positive) article in a women's health magazine recently:

Boy, way to hit most of my major buttons! Weight loss talk that says all fat people are gluttons! Conservative fundamentalist Christianity! Corporal punishment and/or physical abuse of children!

Ick, ick, ick...

As I've said to a few friends, eating is one of the few "vices" that fundies have left after you take away drugs, drinking, pre-marital sex, dancing, and gambling. Let the poor buggers have their food!
sarahmichigan: (Default)
I always thought the British were a little more sensible about religious frenzies, the scientific method, not letting religion muck about with teaching science. So, it's too bad to hear that creationists nonsense is getting taught in schools over there. Luckily, scientists there are fighting back.

(link found via pharyngula)

"Leading scientists have launched an unprecedented attack on the teaching of creationist theories in Tony Blair's flagship academies. Britain's most prestigious scientific body, the Royal Society, said children were being confused by the teaching of the Bible's creation story in science lessons.

It follows a recent revival in creationist thinking, most notably in three schools supported by multi-millionaire car dealer and evangelical Christian Sir Peter Vardy. In a statement issued today, the Royal Society defends Darwin's theory of evolution as the best explanation for life on earth.

It accuses the Government of failing in its duty to ensure pupils at state schools, including the academies, learn the value of genuine science."

On a related note, with craziness about "Intelligent Design" in the curriculum abounding in several states recently, it makes me extra-proud to live in an area that has chosen a book about evolution, "Beak of the Finch," as the community read for this year. It'll probably be one of the next books I pick up to read for my "50 books in '06."
sarahmichigan: (Default)
A link found via [ profile] windswept about the damage that can be done by Scientology's stance on psychiatry. "Tom Cruise Killed Mommy":

I thought [ profile] dionysus1999 would appreciate this, as well as the "bonus link" toward the bottom of the post about the agreement you must sign that says they can kill you.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
A website dedicated to exposing the underbelly of Scientology. Thought it'd be of interest to several folks on my friends list, but especially [ profile] dionysus1999:
sarahmichigan: (Default)
As part of my book on CD kick, I'm reading "Destructive Emotions." It's about the overlap between Buddhist philosophy of the mind and neuropsychology, and I'm gaining new respect for Buddhism and the Dalai Lama. I think it's especially neat that he thinks that if science proves a tenet of Buddhism wrong (for instance, when he was a boy, Buddhist cosmology still said the earth was flat), then Buddhism should change to align itself with the science. He's doing that to make Buddhism relevant and creditable in the modern world, and I think that's pretty cool.

I think [ profile] novapsyche would like this book a great deal.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
I'm not sure why I bother arguing with fundamentalists and creationists, because it just makes my head hurt. I can understand the feeling or impulse many people have that there just MUST have been some higher being that set things in motion. But I find it hard to take seriously the arguments of anyone who subscribes, wholesale, to a particular sect of a particular religion and believes that their sect's version of creation should have equal weight in classroom discussions of science. I'm willing to bet most fundamentalist Christians would scream bloody murder if Hindu teachings about the origins of the world were included in classroom discussions.

[ profile] matt_arnold pointed me to a tongue-in-cheek discussion on [ profile] paulskemp's LJ regarding teaching "Faerie Chainism" in the classroom. Of course, a fundy Christian jumped right in saying that scientists are close-minded and the Bible is "rife" with internal consistency and that science has "proven" Biblical "discoveries" to be "true."

This ensued:

K: Whereas, the Bible is rife with internal evidences concerning scientific discoveries revealed long before Science "discovered" them. Doesn't that lend it credibility?

Me: Such as? That's total hooey. All the "discoveries" in the Bible that were "later validated" by science are pretty vague and open to interpretation. I'd like to see you list some examples. I've read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation at least 3 times and took Bible survey classes at a Christian college and I can't come up with even one legitimate example.

K: I've been a student of the Bible for over eight years now. I didn't pay anything for it, and came up with a couple examples from memory. Perhaps you should consider getting your money back?

Sorry, I couldn't resist. :D It always makes me grin when people start throwing around credentials as support for their argument in a debate. ;)

Me: I wasn't throwing around credentials, just trying to establish that I have some Biblical knowledge. If we were talking about Shakespeare's sonnets, my opinion would matter more if I'd read them all and studied them in college classes, rather than if I'd only read one or two in high school and never again since, right? That's all.

I think your examples are ridiculous, though.

[his examples were:

1) Psalms 8:8 (NKJ) - "The birds of the air, and the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the sea." as referring to the idea, later discovered, of ocean currents, and

2) Job (38:7 NJK): "When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy." as being a reference to the discovery that celestial bodies emit audible radio waves.]

Me (continued): The ancient Greeks, around the same time as Jesus was walking the earth, came up with the idea of the "atom" that was later validated by science. Primitive peoples can have inklings and insights into how the universe works, but it doesn't mean that they were divinely inspired or that everything they say about science is valid and correct. For every thing the ancient Greeks got right, there is some wacky theory that has NOT stood the test of time. The Bible also has a talking donkey in it. Do you think science will later prove that donkeys can, indeed, talk?

However, I think that paulskemp gave the best rebuttal to that line of thinking:

Two verses from the Koran:

From 25:54: "It is He who has created man from water...."
From 51:47: "And the sky, We built it with might and We expanded
it wide"

Obviously the former is an anticipatory reference to the fact that man is composed primarily of water and the latter that the universe is expanding. Both of those statements were later proved true by science! Clearly, the Koran is divinely inspired.

Or it could be that I'm forcing an unwarranted meaning onto some ambiguous/poetic language so that it supports my worldview. I have no doubt that I could pull similar verses from virtually any religious text in the world and attach it to some point of science.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
I've said before to a friend that I'm a little too much of a nature-worshipper to feel comfortable around rabid atheists, but too much a rationalist to fit in with the pagans.

My current label, which I'm pretty comfortable with, though, is "atheist."

I guess the basics of why I am an atheist are:

1) I know of no compelling evidence for the supernatural/God
2) I have no intutitive feeling that there *must* be a god
3) The various religions of the world all have some truth in them, and all have elements of what I consider to be nonsense, so I can't align myself with any particular one of them
4) Most religions, especially Judeo-Christian-Islamic, put a great deal of emphasis on faith and believing in the unseen, which, in my opinion, contributes to an overall paucity of rational thinking in their inherents
5) I believe irrational thinking and superstition contribute to a great deal of suffering in the world
6) If you're going to pick a religion, you should pick one that helps you live an ethical life an find your way through the world. No religion I have found yet has helped me do that. Paganism was the closest. Atheism is the best fit for me, personally.

What I'm NOT saying:

1) Religion promotes only evil and no good. Obviously false. Examples abound like Catholic Hospitals and Islamic charities that feed the poor, etc. You have to take the good with the bad when you give examples like that though-- Catholic hospitals are a mixed blessing. Yes, you get medical care, as long as you don't want birth control, a vasectomy, an abortion, to unhook your loved one in a vegetative state, etc.

2) Religious groups are the ONLY groups that perpetuate evil and suffering. Obviously false. As a friend pointed out, political affiliations and other groups can contribute to "us vs. them" and other societal problems. A priest friend of mine pointed out that atrocities were carried out under an ostensibly atheist regime in Communist Russia as well.

3) people who are religious are stupid and haven't examined their own beliefs. Also, demonstrably not true. I know many theologians who struggle mightily with philosophical issues like "the problem of evil and suffering" or whether one can prove the existence of God. I even know fundamentalists who are very intelligent and thoughful. They're just extremely good at "compartmentalizing" their knowlege.

I called myself a pagan for many years(after I recovered from fundamentalist Christianity), but I was always more interested in it for the celebration of the seasons and the sacred drama and the fun myths than having any kind of "higher power" to believe in.

Post Sept. 11, I became disenchanted with all religion, not just mainstream religion. I believe that belief in the supernatural world/spiritual world is the root of a lot of nonsense and grief in this world. I believe that no outside force is going to swoop in and save us, and if things are going to improve in the world, we're going to have to do it ourselves.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
Confessing right off the top that I haven't seen "The Passion of the Christ" and probably won't (MAYBE on DVD), the whole debate about the "gruesomeness" of it is interesting to me. Gibson is following an old kind of fundamentalist revival technique of provoking an emotional response by showing the details of Jesus' suffering.

Modern day people are like "Yeah, yeah, whipping, crucifixion, whatever". So, they try to show it to you in minute, excruciating detail to wake you up and break through the culturally-induced desensitization to violence.

I recall my father preaching a Good Friday sermon much to that effect. He went into great detail about the whipping, the offering of vinegar on a sponge, exact details of how a crucifixion is performed, the slash with the spear in his side.

Jesus was the Lamb of God, a perfect sacrifice, and so he couldn't have any broken bones. So there was a great deal of discussion in the sermon about how they could nail his hands (wrists actually) and feet to the cross without crushing a bone. It's probably actually possible-- an acquaintance of mine told me a story about tripping while carrying her knitting supplies, and having a needle go through her wrist and sliding between bone and muscle.

No point really, just reminiscing. I wouldn't be caught dead in church these days, but I'd go if I could hear my Dad preach one more time.

(Edit: I just realized I was referring to a friend's knitting needle accident as if you all knew her, so I went back and edited that bit)
sarahmichigan: (tired)
I have a re-occurring dream, not exactly a nightmare, but an unpleasant dream. It has lots of variations, but the basics are that I'm at the church I grew up in, at a service. I'm not sure why I'm there, except my mother has probably guilted me into going. I either get disgruntled with the sermon or something else, and I have to find a way out of there, but something usually gets in my way. Sometimes I end up having to walk a couple miles to get away, or something else comes up that makes it difficult for me to leave. I almost always wake up feeling angry.

I had the dream again last night, and it was just the smug faces of the congregants that got my goat-- we'd not even gotten to the sermon in this dream. I announced loudly that I really didn't like much of anybody there, and left the building. Only when I got out to the parking lot and looked back through the window, I saw a commotion. I was convinced that the commotion was due to my mother having a heart attack and dying, so I had to go back into the church building, but when I got there, I could see that the commotion was a bunch of people looking for a decorative pin that fell off the top hat of one of the male congregants (top hat?!?).

The obvious interpretation is that I'm really glad to have escaped my fundamentalist Christian upbringing, but my family makes it difficult to cast it off altogether. However, it's really odd that there doesn't seem to be any regular event (like a phone call with my Mom or something) that triggers these dreams.

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