Sunday, April 24, 2011

Let the products sell themselves, Round 2 - Idiot Businessman of Zombie Week

This week's award has to go to Dr. Rick Jackson of Gentle Dentistry of Oak Grove, bearing this mind-blowing and philosophically unassailable mantra on his marquee:

"Jesus Did It / The Bible Tells It / I Believe It / That Settles It"

(Insert Keanu Reeves reaction here)

I especially like how such Truthiness(tm) is supposed to be more convincing if it rhymes or has some kind of juvenile parallelism to it.  I wonder what he could have posted for Passover... "Rub-a-dub-dub / Thanks for the grub / Yay god", perhaps?  Maybe someday we'll see, "C is for Cookie / That's good enough for me"...then again, advertising cookies is probably worse for business than advertising your crazy personal beliefs.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

No, Mr. Durant - no, he didn't.

A quick note to Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder - your "lord and savior" did not, in fact, put you in place to win Game 1 of your playoff series.  To say nothing of all the other people who did actually contribute to the team being where it is (fans, ownership, employees, coaches, teammates, the people in Seattle who bailed on the Zombie Sonics), it's awfully crass and solipsistic - that means self-absorbed, O King of the One-and-Done - to think the universe's creator cares so dearly about your heroics at the expense of, say, people on Denver's sideline who likely believe a similar version of the same nonsense you spouted.  And besides, you know, there's no better way to show how great the Sky Daddy is than to throw a bit of leather through a metal ring.  

I hoped this crap would be mitigated by the NFL's league-wide ban on the sort of ridiculousness Tim Tebow displayed in college, but no, it just migrated west.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Must-see TV that isn't mere hype

AKA, House comes through, just when I felt certain it should have been canceled at the end of last season...

For fans of Hugh Laurie and fans of House in general, the last couple of seasons have been frustrating.  They pulled the trigger on the House/Cuddy relationship that never needed to happen.  House is back on Vicodin, surprise surprise.  Certain members of the cast - Jesse Spencer and Robert Sean Leonard in particular - seem M.I.A. in terms of real character development as Amber Tamblyn's newbie hogs the attention (though more deservedly so in the last few episodes).  And meanwhile, the writing has, for quite some time, seemed phoned-in and flaccid - not the sort of thing one needs to hear about what is possibly the most formulaic show currently being aired.  When the episode structure is straight from a Screenwriting for Dummies book, the actual dialogue and plot cannot be.  A little part of me has longed for a mercy-kill for a while; euthanize House, please, FOX.

And then what do they do?  They bring back Olivia Wilde, who seems like she's a much better actress than when she left the show to do Cowboys and Aliens (or perhaps she had this built up, knowing how they'd bring her back), they ratchet up the funny with House's side plot, and they write a show about euthanasia.  The Kuttner episode ("Simple Explanation") was, until now, one of the episodes you could show people to say that television, for all its screwed-up tendencies, can say something significant (in that case, regarding an unexplained suicide).  But, "The Dig" probably has that one beat.

It's been a long time in coming, though, and the payoff here was somewhat unexpected: that 13 is still relatively healthy was probably not predicted by many when the character vanished in the season premiere.  But it's a solid payoff, given how carefully the character has been handled all along, and the moments of honesty and truth and difficulty that we see out of House & 13 as they come to terms with what's happened and what they have faced (and will face, apparently), are moments that send an important message to the viewer: that death with dignity is of utmost concern to the dying person, and, compared to that, the wishes and qualms and morals of anyone else are, at best, a lot of selfish bluster.  

There are few marks against this nation and this society that are more shameful, more hideous, and more cancerous than our continued allergy to choice, not just in this realm but in so many others.  One would sincerely hope that the greatly enjoyable efforts of House's cast and crew will not go to waste, that the cause of choice in dying will be advanced by this brave and genuine effort.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Let the products sell themselves - without Jesus, preferably.

One of the more absurd local trends is the need for branding, of a sort: the self-identification of business owners as Christians, whether by putting those idiotic fishies on their storefronts or just as often by tossing a verse number onto their marquees.  Or there are stories like this one, where some mouth-breather wonders how his own foot tastes and reveals what sort of person and businessman he really is.

Thing is, we get it.  It's bloody South Carolina.  We know you're there.  It's like telling people you inhale and exhale...only what you're really saying is that you'd prefer not to breathe the same air as those of us who disagree with your crazy bullshit.  So, good on ya, I guess: sure, you scoop up the business of your fellow god-botherers, but it also turns off others.  Intentionally so...but there is a statistical confluence between belief and education level, and the more educated *do* tend to make -- and therefore have the potential to spend -- more money.  So, there's that.

But really, the point here is to build up a little compendium of all the businesses who take this quietly cynical tack of flaunting their religion to make a quick buck.  The one I keep encountering of late is Certified Cars on Highway 378, who spits Psalm 103 & Matthew 1:20 at the rest of us.  The funny thing is that their ignorance appears to be of Biblical proportions as well. Matthew 1:21 is the "thou shalt call his name JESUS~!", which is probably the intended quote they wanted to share, and yet they screwed it up, instead selecting a verse that seems to insinuate it's OK to marry a woman who's already got kids.  Not that I disagree with that message on any level, per se, but I doubt it was Certified's intent.  Good job!

Psalm 103 is a real juicy bugger, too.  My favorite - and possibly Christopher Hitchens' as well, if reminded of it - is in verse 11:
For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.
It points out what I'd argue is the most crucial aspect of religious thinking: the child-like need to simultaneously love and fear an imaginary friend.  You could go on all day about what's fucked in the head about that: the re-imagining of the parent/child relationship on a cosmic scale; the "perpetual North Korea" aspect that Hitchens has outlined in many of his debates; and the desperate quest for willing servility to any number of things, whether they be demagogues on a pulpit, social mores that are decidedly immoral, or, most perversely, a slew of outmoded mindsets that deliberately excise rationality from the human mind.  That's probably more than Certified wants anyone to dwell on; they just want them to think that you should buy a Jesus Car.  What clowns.

Friday, April 8, 2011

It's the end of the government as we know it, and I feel fine.

Let the government shut down for a bit.

Really.  Let it grind to a halt and see how it falls out for a while.  It ought to serve as a nice empirical test for the Tea Party's absurd notion that public workers are overpaid fat cats; let's find out what happens when 800,000 people are furloughed.  Let's find out what that does to state and local economies.  Let's see how well it works out for consumer spending and the service industry.  The same goes for all those entitled folks nursing at the teat of Social Security, and those slackers siphoning off federal unemployment funds.  The elderly should have planned better, and the lazy should work harder; they could use a little impetus right now, to get out there and really contribute, couldn't they?

This country is getting the government it deserves.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Loony Church Billboard of the Week

From Pineview Baptist Church in West Columbia, SC:

"Jesus Christ is the only hope for humanity"

This seems rather straightforward and predictable on the surface, but, much like yesterday's post, it belies so much that it's worth mentioning.  

From the perspective of the believer, it's all quite sensible: the rules laid out state that belief in all that silliness - everything surrounding divinity, crucifixion, and resurrection - is absolutely necessary to achieve everlasting life.  But let's not even dwell on whether everlasting life is worth having.  Let's not even broach the topic of whether or not Jesus was a real person; you can fish around the Why Evolution Is True blog for Ben Goren's posts, and you'll find he routinely rolls out evidence against that particular bit of crazy.  Instead, let's look at what they're saying to everyone else by putting this out there.

If some long-dead rabble-rouser is "humanity's only hope", then what does that say for all the things we do to improve our lives?  Striving to improve our health?  Waste of time.  Cleaning up environmental messes and trying to find cleaner energy sources?  Bah, run on Jesus Juice!  Scientific research and advancement?  God did it anyway!

But what's truly astounding is the underlying cynicism of such a message, the negativity inherent in telling total strangers that their lives have so little value as to be hopeless without some ancient book, a book that can't even have the decency to be internally consistent.  It takes quite a large disconnect to say something so profoundly rude to someone else and yet believe that it's done for a good cause; it's Lying for Jesus 101, maybe even 001. It's more fear-mongering from a faith that fellates love and peace; it's another bit of emotional blackmail intended to warp the minds of the fearful, the weak, and the marginalized.  And it's absolutely necessary for those who believe such bilge to say such cynical things, as it's nigh impossible to mold some poor sap into the nice, quaint, unquestioning little Jesus Juicer you want unless you first break their spirit and resolve.  When selling snake oil, you must first convince the buyers of that awful, otherwise-intractable disease they're carrying around all the time.

Believers will drive right by this billboard and grin.  I think I'd rather vomit, and it routinely receives a good-luck salute.  And frankly, this is tame for the kind of stuff the church typically posts; I'm sure they'll have some return appearances to this section.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A few intended projects in the coming weeks

For those interested (right now, that being me), I'll be reading through chapters of the King James Bible as well as the Qu'ran, taking a red pen to these allegedly infallible texts.  I've already got a set of notes written up for the ludicrous book known as Genesis, and I may bounce back and forth between suras and parts of the Bible.  Perhaps one each month is a good plan, since it'll keep me from getting so annoyed that I delete either one from my HDD before I finish the project.  The least I can do is finish them both, since I haven't done so yet, and it's good to know what the other side of an argument is.

The posts will probably be titled, "The Literary Critic versus" whichever book/sura is upcoming, so keep an eye out.

Faith is not a virtue - and neither is emotional blackmail

The sign stood just on the west side of the Gervais Street bridge: stark black-on-white, immediate, unmistakable.

If I died today, would I go to H_____?”

Sponsored by BBN Radio of Charlotte, NC and LifeSigns of Gaston, SC, the billboard, which displayed this message for only a month or two at the end of 2010 before being replaced with more mundane advertisements for housing subdivisions, served as the most blatant recent reminder of what Christianity truly symbolizes, particularly in the South, where there is little to no chance of real pushback or public discussion. If nothing else, the carrot-and-stick message it conveyed felt more honest and straight than most of the cliched dribble one would find on the marquees of local churches. Believe our ridiculous nonsense and get a treat…but you can’t have it now, you’ll have to trust us. Don’t believe, and you will suffer forever…not that we can prove this place of suffering exists anymore than the treat does, but we know that’s where you’re headed. Join us or else; Big Brother is watching.

There’s so much wrapped up in this wrong-headed bit of emotional blackmail that it’s difficult to know where to start (once the side-splitting laughter subsides, that is). What strikes me most profoundly is the need for emotional blackmail at all. As Richard Yates described in his novel Revolutionary Road, people don’t forget what the truth sounds like; they only become better at lying. If there were any real truth to the revelatory claims of any religion, then what need would there be for a reward & punishment system at all?

No proponents of, for example, the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection would suggest that there are any long-term consequences to understanding or not understanding the facts that underpin it – aside from being laughed at for espousing creationism, anyway. Quantum Theory doesn’t care if you believe its own forms of truth; that reactor in Fukushima is pumping out radiation even if you close your eyes, plug your ears, and scream “LA LA LA” for the rest of your life. The Theory of Relativity doesn’t require your faith, and it cares not if you think it’s a source of moral decay; the Shapiro delay calculations built into your GPS will still get you to church on-time, whether or not you know it’s there.

Of course, there is a small category error in the argument I've just made. Scientific 'truths', such as the theories I've mentioned, are provisional. New evidence could change what we know. But we can still rely upon them everyday to make accurate predictions about the future, and each day that goes by without some wild overturning of our knowledge base only strengthens our certainty in the discoveries we've made. The revelatory claims of religion, on the other hand, are not only subjective but are often treated as though they are self-evident, as though there is no need for further substantiating evidence. The mere idea of questioning those 'factual' claims is, in fact, quite often heretical.

To summarize, if the existence of the Christian's invisible friend were as powerful and convincing as they seem to think, there would be no need to use such loaded language on a billboard; there would no point in fear-mongering so blatantly. It would stand on its own merits, and skeptics would become converts based on sensible assessment of the information at hand. That this doesn't occur, that instead we see such scare tactics, is a clarion call of sorts, a beacon that their message is bluster and their allegedly certain foundation is built upon sand – not a new discovery to non-believers by any stretch, but a detail worth pointing out to the faithful, a finger placed wryly on the side of the nose to say, “We know. You know. We know that you know, and now you know that we know you know.”

And LifeSigns continues to peddle this sort of emotionally-charged rhetoric on other billboards throughout the area, with the quote, “The night cometh”, ripped from John 9:4.

Of course, the faithful will respond that their faith is the most important aspect of their way of life, that no such deity can be so obvious, that it's necessary to take that cliched leap. It's even in the book itself: “But without faith it is impossible to please him” (Heb. 11:6). Such reasoning, if one can name it that, is difficult to penetrate, even when armed with the far superior and consistently practical reasoning that faith does not support the existence of fairies, leprechauns, the Chupacabra, or any other mythical thing any better than it does an all-seeing sky cop. Once one is certain faith is a virtue, any number of poor arguments seem bullet-proof.

The other great factor worth mentioning in these pin-headed messages is the fear factor for children; it seems, again, pointless to discuss with fellow skeptics, atheists, and non-believers who have said the same things ad nauseum, but a child's mind processes the idea of Hell differently from the adult mind. Few things are more motivating, for good or ill, to a child than fear and pain can be; adults can and do tolerate and cope with both differently. And few things are more reprehensible or irresponsible than the point-blank messages that LifeSigns and their customers have so carelessly scattered throughout the area.

But again, warped logic re-emerges to try to counter: 'Isn't frightening someone worth it if you save their immortal soul? Aren't you reminding them of the consequences of their decisions?' And sandcastle certainty rejoins it: 'Oh, but of course people have souls, it's what makes us human!' And thus the nature of evangelical religion – take your pick among them – is shown to have little to do with the truth and more to do with forcing conformity.

The Liar for Jesus might say, “Don't question the existence of the soul; never mind that the best and brightest minds throughout history have studied human anatomy, physiology, and neurology and found no such thing; you just have to believe more – what's wrong with you to even suggest such a thing? Don't you just know it's real? Where's your faith? And since we now know we have souls, aren't you worried what will happen to it when you die? Hmm? Well, it all just follows from there, doesn't it? We just want you to be saved...saved where? What's saved? Oh, you and your questions! Where's your faith?”

My faith doesn't exist, because it's nothing but a corrosive element. What distinguishes us from the animals (I hesitate to say 'separate', because we are not so separate from them, and we are certainly not above them as so many people assume) is not a soul, but the capacity for rational thought, and few things are more hideously destructive to that capacity than our pathetic, small-minded, and often selfish reasons for believing foolish things.  And the attempts made to press foolishness on others are equally pathetic and small.


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