Science News Ad with Snake Could be Evil

This is a trivial post, but I found this screenshot I took of ScienceNews.org amusing. You might think it is because of the article title “Male DNA found in female brains” and while that was an interesting read, what I’m referring to is the ScienceNews ad on the right. They chose a snake to represent “the gift of ScienceNews.” I doubt it was intentional, but the snake traditionally represents Satan and possibly it was a poke at superstition. Most likely the designer of the ad simply thought it was a nice photo. However, take a look at Ken Ham’s book on creationism, an attack on science, and you’ll see why the original ad caught my eye and made me laugh.

‘The Freethinker’s Child’ Review: Eternal Security Horror

The Freethinker’s Child is a horror novel by Sean Phillips,  a regular visitor to Freethunk who comments on my posts and we’ve emailed back and forth on various topics, debated a bit and so forth. I was interested in his book since I collect autographed copies of works by authors and artists I run into and so I asked him for a copy. Because it’s a fiction piece on the eternal security of the soul it may have an interest to some Freethunk visitors who like the horror genre. The best way to describe the feel of the book is John Saul meets Frank Peretti with a  little Stephen King thrown in (as I’m reminded of Cycle of the Werewolf).

The horror genre itself works as a vehicle for Sean to expose the doctrine of Eternal Security; the idea that once saved by Christ, always saved by Christ. The problem with this doctrine is fairly obvious as we have to ask, “What if I kill someone, am I still saved?” Context matters, yes, however, if you accept Jesus Christ into your heart and then go on a killing spree? What good is salvation that protects mass murderers? Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer were professed Christians before they died.

And that’s where we meet Jebson Proust. From the back cover: “…the charismatic pastor of Carlsville Holy Gospel Church, a man of dazzling persona who virtually owns the town and its budding university.” Proust is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, in more ways than one. Proust has taken over a small town with his Christian university, church and community interests. We don’t know what he’s exactly up to, but the prologue suggests he’s not talking to god but the other guy.

The freethinker’s child in question is the son of the token atheist, Dr. Collins who was invited to teach at the university to give it an air of unbiased learning. Unfortunately, young Sam Collins can’t keep his mouth shut and parrots many of his dad’s ideas, in a less civil manner. From the book when another child, the son of a Christian couple, describes Sam’s behavior: “‘Sam’s always braggin’ about he’s smarter than everyone ‘cuz he doesn’t believe in God or go to church. If anyone ever says something about Jesus, he calls them a dummy, and tells them he’s way too smart to believe.'” Not exactly how most atheists would like to be represented, a simplified playground retort to larger questions of god’s existence, science and reason. Children aren’t exactly known for sophisticated theology (remember the Transformers versus Gobots debate, who would win? Or maybe I’m dating myself).

Sam stirs up the wrath of Jebson Proust which is immediately noticed by the hero of the book, David Louther (and I’m betting Louther was chosen because it sounds like Martin Luther, a reformer of doctrine–just a guess though). Louther came to Carlsville to work for the University and the token atheist. He is a freethinker of sorts himself, questioning Jebson’s firm stance on the validity of Eternal Security. There are several dialogues throughout the book on for and against arguments, but David is our guide to the end that shows Eternal Security is a farce.

In full disclosure, the author is Christian, but the book is a critique of a known Christian doctrine. It is a fast read and done in the manner of what I would call popular writing (like I mentioned, Frank Peretti and John Saul). I wouldn’t pick it up to delve deeply into theology. It is entertainment with a twist, one that shows, at least by supernatural means, that Eternal Security allows for too much freedom to ever be of use to a religion that professes to be moral. As an atheist, I take issue with salvation to begin with and have made the point several times that using blood atonement to forgive sins makes no sense unless you believe in a god with limited powers (they can only forgive if this or that ritual is done). To me salvation is a free pass on past crimes, no matter how horrible. Hitler indirectly killed six million Jews through his government sponsored cult, but if he professed Christ before his death (and was executed instead of shooting himself) then he could go to heaven–that is the Christian message.

Eternal Security itself is a ludicrous position that extends the free pass far into the future. Once saved, always saved? Why not cheat, steal and kill and make your life better if there are no eternal consequences. Sure, you might go to jail, but it was worth the risk if your eternal soul is secure. For atheists, we’re about the here and now which means the risk is great if we do anything to get ourselves thrown in jail (that was your life, it’s gone). It’s about reason and rationally understanding what is going to be a good life using morality to live peacefully with others. There are more believers in jail than atheists because when someone is caught, they tend to to turn (or often return) to religion after the fact–religion never made them moral when it counted.

Christians will probably like Sean’s horror novel. Atheists might be amused but also annoyed at the token atheist who is shown to mainly have an interest in protecting his university standing and reputation (which may be true of many academics). The book could have expanded further, but as a horror read with some theological bantering, it’s a nice escape on a “dark and stormy” afternoon. The timing might be perfect as we enter into October and one of my favorite holidays…

The Freethinker’s Child is available in paperback from Amazon.com

SIDENOTE: I got to see Frank Peretti speak at a Bible college when his book This Present Darkness hit it big. That guy eats too much sugar, was hyper.

Sikh Woman Needs to Keep Facial Hair

From Yahoo News, there is an article about a Sikh woman that has decided to let her facial hair grow because of a tenet in her religion that demands it. The woman’s name is Balpreet Kaur and and according to the article “…she is forbidden from altering her body, as it is considered a sacred gift from God.”

The reason this became news is that a user on Reddit.com took a photo of her and posted it. Readers’ comments varied from taunts to confusion to kudos for remaining “natural.”

To clarify first, I don’t believe in taunting anyone and I don’t think it was appropriate to take a picture of a random stranger for the purposes of posting on a social network site. I also am willing to befriend anyone regardless of looks because I have found that after the initial awkwardness the issue goes away as you get to know someone. In addition, I grew up geek with thick glasses and ridiculous hair so who am I to judge? HOWEVER, I don’t believe the body is a sacred gift from any god and the idea of natural is meaningless. Nature is not always a friend which is why this woman has more facial hair than we would expect on a woman. There may very well be a medical issue that a cosmetologist or dermatologist could assist with. We fight nature all the time and there is nothing wrong with getting laser hair removal or taking medication to control the growth of hair.

If this woman’s decision was based on not conforming to cultural standards then that would make more sense–plenty of rebellious women do that–but to base it on God wanting you to have facial hair? That’s ridiculous. I also see nothing wrong in beautifying yourself as long as you’re keeping a balance between the exterior and the interior. Some beautiful women turn out to be absolutely ugly because they have horrible personalities. They’re pretty much good for sex and nothing else (I know that’s a callous remark, but…). Other beautiful women have taken the time to be intellectuals and not let men dominate conversations of importance on subjects like science, politics and religion. I find this sexy. I am also a sucker for a woman in glasses (beautiful nerds!).

Some of us were not born beautiful. Why do we have to accept that? It’s good to have confidence in who you are and there are extremes to modifying your face and body, but as medical science progresses it is going to become easier and easier to fix nature’s flaws. No one should feel guilty about doing that and no one should think there’s a god judging them for not accepting His “design” mistakes. If you feel more comfortable in your odd natural appearance, then that’s fine too. We have some great character actors who wouldn’t be what they are without a unique face.

It all comes down to personal choice, not religion dictating how we should look. I feel bad for Miss Kaur in that she’s been tricked into thinking this way.

 

Hobby Lobby’s Religious Stance on Morning After Pill

Hobby Lobby, as a decor and crafter’s paradise, is pretty impressive. I’ve gone there several times to pick up a variety of items and was surprised to see they weren’t open on Sundays. This and their stance on the morning after pill may be a clue to the management’s religiosity. According to the Huffington Post, they are suing “Obamacare” because of the Supreme Court upholding the mandate to provide for birth control which includes the disputed morning after pill.

Because they don’t want to provide this healthcare need to women, there is now a backlash. A petition is being signed at Ultraviolet, a women’s activist site,  and various other groups on Facebook and Tumblr are calling for a boycott.

Hobby Lobby stands to lose 1.3 million in fines per day if they lose their lawsuit, which apparently they think is worth fighting for. The question is if the morning after pill is not acceptable then where is the limit? Catholic-owned Hercules Industries is also appealing the required coverage for the morning after pill and why wouldn’t they? It seems they would object to coverage for any sort of birth control.

It appears the fines may not matter to the management of Hobby Lobby in regards to their faith. In their FAQ they answer why they are not open on Sundays: We have chosen to close on the day most widely recognized as a day of rest, in order to allow our employees and customers more time for worship and family. This has not been an easy decision for Hobby Lobby because we realize that this decision may cost us financially. Yet we also realize that there are things more important than profits. This is a matter of principle for our company owner and officers. 

I have to commend them for their convictions since my local Christian bookstore remains open on Sundays, a situation I have found to be a point of hypocrisy all the way back to my younger days as a Christian. However, healthcare is a very personal issue for women and these are not moral decisions Hobby Lobby can make for others. Remember that some birth control pills act as abortifacients anyway and so it really should be a coverage ban on all birth control if Hobby Lobby is to be consistent with this conservative pro-life stance.  And, taking it further, if prayer is used for the purposes of healing why should Hobby Lobby offer coverage at all if it were not mandated? The morning after pill as well as general birth control usurps god and so do doctors and medical science.

Women in control of when they conceive make for a better society. We can argue abortion healthcare coverage rights all we want as it is larger in scope, but I think the morning after pill is a reasonable request for women to make as we work on reforming healthcare.

SIDNOTE: I know there is a question in all this about the freedom of the business to make its own decisions and I’m not going to pretend there are easy answers. In the past, businesses were free to exclude certain ethnic groups from being hired or from being patrons and some of this was due to religious convictions. We’re seeing the same issue come up with the hiring of gay people by Christian ministries who claim it violates the Bible. A libertarian position would be to let the business do anything it pleases and a liberal position is that we are allowed to control some business practices. The Republican position, from the comments I’ve seen about Hobby Lobby, is more of a cultural/holy war against Obama.

I wish I could believe that allowing businesses to do whatever they want was the way to go. I do read about  plenty of corporations that do the right thing.  But in terms of healthcare, letting the business have the final say scares me. If Hobby Lobby can disallow the morning after pill then that is a legal precedent where other businesses can follow suit not just on the morning after pill but maybe a new drug for AIDs patients (claimed to be the gay disease by some conservatives) or other medications deemed to be evil. Maybe we need to take one step at a time, but it sure seems like we are progressively falling behind in America (as if the morning after pill should be a controversy in the first place!). Compromises do have to be made, I mean hasn’t Hobby Lobby had to hire atheists and other nonreligious misfits due to rules on hiring without prejudice? Aren’t these same misfits entitled to proper healthcare coverage without religious bias if it is to be provided? Not all of Hobby Lobby’s employees are pro-life Christians.

‘The Master,’ Pretentious Art Film or ‘Master’piece?

The Master — * Star

My first instinct is to tell you that after watching The Master, the new film by director Paul Thomas Anderson (of Boogie Nights fame) is that it is pretentious shit. And part of that is because of all the rave reviews I saw of this film before going  into the theater. I have a fairly high tolerance for self-indulgent directors and wandering films that provide no guidance for the audience as I can always read up on any visual cues or background information later, but halfway into this film I started to get bored and really annoyed. I also felt this from everyone around me and the crowd was an older, introspective group who, like me, was looking for a literary experience (based on the rave reviews) and some insight into how cults may have started after World War 2.

If you don’t already know, The Master mirrors Scientology (in the film they call it “The Cause”) and founder L. Ron Hubbard. The producers and I believe even the director are quick to dismiss that the film is a critique of the religion–it’s supposed to be a period piece fueled by character studies; only observations with no judgments. That is exactly true. The Master isn’t a  critique of anything, purely observational which is the problem. We feel so damned lost with these characters that it’s like a bad dinner conversation that’s gone off into some bizarre direction where you can’t remember if there ever was a topic of interest. Then throw in some odd sexual moments for additional confusion. It also suffers because the film isn’t dangerous. You would think with a director taking on subject matter inspired by L. Ron Hubbard that the film would have some bite. Not so, there’s no teeth and we’re slowly gummed into apathy.

The only good thing I can say about the film are the performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman as the cult leader Lancaster Dodd and Joaquin Phoenix as his protege  Freddie Quell. Joaquin especially seems to transform himself into the ultimate war vet loser who can’t embrace the new religion but is loyal to its leader since he has no other friends.

It’s not that Director Anderson had to take a stance against Scientology, but he should have explored it more than what was pictured. Yes, he did take some time to focus on “processing” which is code for Scientology’s “auditing” and it did show some of the techniques used to break down a person’s resistance to it’s strange ideas. However, as there was no apparent transformation of Freddie Quell (he starts off as a boozer with violent tendencies and after a long session of manipulativel exercises continues his life in the same manner as shown by his attack on a book publisher). We learn nothing. The excuse is that the film is really about Freddie Quell, but Quell is not likable in the least and he’s not even that fascinating from that perspective. I found him a dull character study, the guy who should have been left on the side while we spent time with Lancaster Dodd and what made him start a new religion.

According to Wikipedia, Tom Cruise was allowed to screen The Master ahead of time and report back to Scientology headquarters, like the good soldier that he is. The offense they took was that at one point in the film Lancaster Dodd’s son tells Freddie Quell that his dad is just making it up as he goes. In other words, L. Ron Hubbard, the science-fiction writer, just made up Scientology too. Honestly, Scientology doesn’t have much to worry about except the drooling critics. The public at large isn’t going to care about this film and even geeks like me are likely not to recommend it (as we can see here with this review). It may be worth one curiosity viewing  if you can tolerate some of the boredom and want to see the performances, but expect to be checking your watch (when is this over?). There is some random nudity (such as a party scene which I don’t know if it was meant to be real or imagined by Freddie Quell), fart humor, a hand job and masturbation, in case that helps (though again, these small offenses add nothing to the story).

If the director wanted to make a film just for himself, he succeeded, but for an audience it’s frustrating. I really went in wanting to like a film that dared to show Scientology in its infancy. All we got is a tease of the potential filled with unexplained moments and yawns.

‘Cellmates’ Movie Review

Cellmates — ***Stars

Released last year in theaters (didn’t see one ad for it, but…), Cellmates is the story of a KKK Grand Dragon named Leroy Lowe who gets thrown in jail by the US government and eventually has to bunk with a Mexican immigrant Emilio. The real story, though, is not how these two manage to get along, but how Leroy falls in love with another Mexican, the warden’s office cleaner (derogatorily referred to as “the maid”). Leroy and the cleaning lady begin passing notes back and forth to each other without the warden catching on. Eventually, as expected, Leroy turns his back on his former life and racist views and, like a puppy, follows after his new love Madalena.

The official website has the tagline: “A Heartwarming Buddy Comedy With Something To Offend Everyone.” …This film is not offensive. It’s very sweet and I think that tagline was a mistake in promoting the film. I suppose some people may be offended initially by the depiction of a KKK leader, but even that is so toned down that I can’t imagine there being an objection. For instance, I don’t remember hearing any racial slurs thrown about by Leroy Lowe, not one. He gave his politics about Mexicans staying in their own country, that’s about as dirty as it got. Dare I say, with the exception of maybe a couple of swear words, this is a family film. There isn’t even so much as a kiss shown when Leroy and Madalena are left alone for the first time.

The sweetness is in the transformation of Leroy Lowe from stubborn white guy to soft-hearted American championing the rights of others because of his friendship to Emilio (falsely arrested because of a labor dispute) and his love for Madalena, hard working cleaning lady who wants to start her own restaurant. There really isn’t much more to the story except the direction is very light-hearted and offbeat. We’re always waiting to see what happens next with the letter passing. The letter where Leroy tells Madalena that Mexicans should stay in their own country is pretty hilarious as her eyes get real wide reading it and then the subsequent lover’s spat in the form of broom sweeping.

Hector Jimenez plays Emilio with the same quirky feel of his other character Esqueleto in Nacho Libre. He has American dreams and strangely enough wants to look like a TV doctor named Ben Casey so he has to figure out how to tame his wild hair (I did find this little subplot kind of weird since it ironically is a rejection of ethnicity even though it’s played for laughs).

You might think that Cellmates is a liberal white man’s fantasy about friending someone of another race and falling in love with a beautiful Mexican woman–which may be true–but I noticed Hector’s credits were listed as an executive producer. He obviously believed enough in the film’s premise to back it and overall it is a relevant story even though the time of the story takes place in the late seventies. There has been so much racism in the last decade about Mexicans taking American jobs and sucking the healthcare system dry it’s hard to imagine we’ve made progress. Sure, Mexican music can be annoying (yes, I said it!), but Mexicans are just the next wave of immigration and they are integrating with our society even as they change our society–it’s called diversity and it can be uncomfortable for the existing population. AND it’s happened before with the Irish, Swedes, Norwegians, Chinese, Germans, etc. Get used to it, bigots. If you were stuck in poverty surrounded by druglords (caused by an American black market) and American run sweatshops, you’d be running for the border too.

Ultimately, the lesson of how to get rid of bigotry is one we know works, because it’s hormonal and natural. A white bigoted man meets an attractive, caring Mexican woman and he’s going to retain his hatred for Mexicans? I don’t think so. Cellmates won’t make you laugh out loud too much, but  you will be smiling by the end of it. It’s a feelgood movie.