Christianity Stifles the Search for God

Richard CarrierIn the following 12 minute conversation (really more of a monologue), Richard Carrier explains why he is not a Christian. One of the reasons that I really like Carrier is that he isn’t an idiot. Unlike most atheists, I feel that he would understand where I come from. I’m an atheist but I understand the purpose of religion and I think those unanswerable questions are the most important questions there are. As I always say, my thinking about these issues never leads to answers, but it does lead to better questions. And that’s all I want: more insightful questions.

When it comes to the issue of Christianity, I am a pretty typical atheist. Christianity is a pretty silly religion. I don’t say that to be mean. All of the Abrahamic religions are silly. Anyone who thinks that they really answer the fundamental existential questions must have a very primitive notion of what those questions are. The Bible answers the great questions as much as Hugard and Braue’s Expert Card Technique. Look, both of those books are great—there is no question of that. And I love them both for completely different reasons. But neither has helped me understand my existence, which is so improbable that it can be treated as a singularity. (On the other hand, the Bible has some great stories in it and ECT has some swell card tricks.)

Carrier presents four reasons why he isn’t a Christian. The first is that God is silent. This is the biggest reason for me. If God cared about us at all, why did send his only begotten son to a backwater and then expect word to travel? Was it all part of God’s plan that billions of people should burn in hell because they just happened to grow up learning a different religion? Really?! If that is really who God is, he is either so unknowable or so evil that he does not deserve to be worshiped. This is like Theology 101. And I has a question to all the Christians in the US, “Do you think it is a coincidence that you think Christianity is true and you just happened to be born in a country that is overwhelmingly Christian?” Come on!

The rest of Carrier’s reasons aren’t as compelling. The second is basically the argument from evil. Why does God allow so much evil. He follows these with the fact that the evidence for Christianity sucks and that if Christianity were true, we would live in a different universe—one more like that described in the Bible. Christians have arguments for all of this, of course. In fact, they have arguments for every objection that we atheists have. The problem is that as they counter arguments, it becomes clear that only a fool would worship such a god. He is perfectly good, but in a way that we can’t comprehend. That is to say that whatever the hell he does is by definition good, which is what I call evil. What’s more, he is omnipotent, but not so omnipotent that he could provide us with a universe without paradoxes. (Good example: can God create something that is so heavy he can’t lift it?)

As usual, I really want to talk to other people about the wonder that I feel about my existence. People who are into New Age stuff are usually cranks, but they are open minded. Christians, on the other hand, nine times out of ten, just want to quote Bible versus. But there are two problems. First, I already know what the Bible says. Second, I know that the Bible is no more written by God than is Don Quixote. So these people don’t really want to talk about God. They’re more akin to Amway salesmen. It’s sad, really. They have long given up looking for God. And thus, they are dead to him, her, or whatever the hell it might be.

Marshall McLuhan Is the Message

Marshall McLuhanFrench astronomer Jean Picard was born on this day in 1620. I bring this up only because I never understood why Star Trek‘s Jean-Luc Picard had a British accent. And that includes the episode where he goes home and we find that his brother had a French accent. And what did the family do for a living? Make wine, of course. That’s because the only thing that Star Trek writers knew about France is that they make a lot of wine. Pathetic. French pioneer of thermodynamics, Henri Victor Regnault was born in 1810. So that’s two famous Frenchmen who didn’t make wine for a living. Just in case any Star Trek writers are reading…

Train robber (who apparently always had their picture taken) Sam Bass was born in 1851. Austrian painter Emil Orlik was born in 1870. As much as he was a fairly awful human being, the absolutely great writer Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899. Painter and sculpter Constant Nieuwenhuys was born in 1920. That same day, the great violinist Isaac Stern was born. Just how good was he? Well, here he is playing one of Bach’s ridiculously difficult pieces for solo violin, Chaconne in D minor. Admittedly, unlike when a flute player does one of these pieces, Stern doesn’t need to worry about breathing. But it is hard to make these pieces musical, and just listen to what he does. It is a joy:

And finally, comedian Don Knotts was born in 1924. Here he is in the still very good The Ghost And Mr Chicken:

The great Hollywood director Norman Jewison is 87 today. Janet Reno is 75. I bring her up only because libertarians really hate her for the Waco siege. Ken Starr is 67. The only reason I bring up this villain of American history is because he is so much like Russell George. I guess there isn’t much variation between different Republican lackeys. Two great artists are turning 65 today, so of course, they will retire and we won’t be seeing any work from them. (In case you haven’t noticed, that is the same joke I use every day that anyone turns 65.) First is Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau. The second is Steven Demetre Georgiou. Or Yusuf Islam. Or Cat Stevens. Here he is as the second name (just to show you that he still has it) performing “Where Do the Children Play”:

Wildman Robin Williams is 62. And not so wildman Jon Lovitz is 56.

The day, however, belongs to communication theorist Marshall McLuhan. I never really understood him until I read Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. That was when I understood that The Medium is the Massage. If you really want to understand the modern world, you have to read McLuhan’s work. Because how you take in information really does change it. And more important: it limits you. Approached in the right way, McLuhan is the most terrifying writing in human history. Here is a wonderfully ironic interview with him where you can misunderstand his ideas in the visual medium:

Happy birthday Marshall Mcluhan!


Here is, sadly, what McLuhan is most remembered for:

Free Markets Won’t Fix Monopolies

Why I Left Goldman SachsThere is big news this morning. At the New York Times, David Kocieniewski has written an article about how Goldman Sachs has used its effective control of aluminum warehouses to increase prices on the metal by an estimated 7%. Now I understand that 7% doesn’t sound like that much. And in the grander scheme of the economy, it isn’t very much. But it is like how oil companies are always screaming about drilling on national parks in Alaska: not much oil for us, but huge profits for them.

In talking about the article, Dean Baker noted that this is on the order of what he always though more generally. “The piece suggests that the impact on price is limited, but worth a huge amount given the volumes involved. This is what I had always assumed about the extent to which this sort of speculation can affect the price of products. Speculation might add 20-30 cents to the price of gas, but it can’t explain why we are paying $4.00 a gallon rather than $1.50 a gallon.” But the huge profits are not the whole story. After all, why stop at huge when you can go for huger?

I thought about this because of Matt Yglesias’ head scratching article this morning, How Does This Commodities Scam Work? It is frustrating, because Yglesias is such a smart guy. But he allows a certain kind of “everyone knows” blindness that really hurts his analysis at times. It is the typical kind of upper-middle class belief in supposedly free markets. In this case, he couldn’t understand how Goldman Sachs could add a price premium to aluminum storage. He was making a classic libertarian mistake (even though he isn’t a libertarian) when he wrote, “The story is entirely missing a clear explanation of why this doesn’t just lead someone else to open aluminum warehouses and undercut them.” Oh, Grasshopper!

The reason is the 7%. Goldman Sachs isn’t causing prices to go up by 300%. What is the point of another company coming into the market just to deprive Goldman Sachs of this small marginal profit? Remember: Goldman Sachs is already in this business. A new competitor would have to invest to start doing it. What’s more, if they did, Goldman Sachs could just lower its prices and drive them out of the market. The delays and costs that Goldman Sachs adds to the process just don’t offer great market opportunities. And in this way, we could say that the market is working. Goldman Sachs knows they can only screw people so much before they will cause other businesses to see an opportunity.

None of this takes away from the outrage factor of this story. But then, like most people, I believe in antitrust laws. I think that capitalism is a useful tool that can help everyone. But allowed free reign, it will do great damage. Allowing Goldman Sachs to gain this extra profit is like pretending that stealing is not wrong. Unfortunately, if recent American history is any gauge, nothing will be done to Goldman Sachs because, you know, stealing is only wrong if the thief is poor.

America Accepts Police Power Abuse

Police AbuseThe video below is quite interesting and worth watching. But let me give you an overview. The police have a woman in handcuffs and are searching her and her car. A man who lives across the street yells at the cops that they are Nazis and similar taunts. The police are in the process of letting the woman go, so two of the cops go up to the guy and demand to see his identification. They eventually arrest him for disturbing the peace or some such. Toward the end of the video, you case see a lot of guy’s wacky beliefs. But that doesn’t matter as far as I’m concerned. People have a right not only to hold wacky opinions, they have a right to say them.

What’s clear in the video is that this guy didn’t disturb any peace and he didn’t interfere with an investigation—note that the police only approached the man after they were done with the woman. What the guy did do is annoy the cops. And the cops used their power to arrest someone for no other reason than that they did not like the guy. Anyone who has had any interactions with the police knows how this works. If they don’t like you, they will arrest you. It doesn’t matter what it is for and it certainly doesn’t matter if the charges are later dropped. You will be out time and often money because, for example, your car got towed.

This situation is actually worse than a police state. It effectively means that the police are above the law. Think about the situation above. Lots of people do important jobs, but those people don’t have the right to just arrest anyone they think is making their work less productive. In the video, it is clear that if the guy had just backed down and allowed the cops to feel like they had the power in the situation, the guy never would have been arrested. So he was arrested because he didn’t show due deference to the police. That’s a very bad situation and it exists everywhere in the United States.

What really struck me about the video, however, were the comments. Based upon my viewing, over half of the comments were against the guy. People thought that he should have been arrested. Look: I understand that the guy is a walking, talking anarcho-cliche. But the issue is not him. There is no (official) law against calling the police Nazis. What’s more, nothing the guy did interfered with their work and the cops could have just gotten in their car and gone. In fact, I think it was only one of the cops who really pushed it. Did the cops have a right to be annoyed by this guy? Absolutely. They also had a right to talk to the guy. But beyond that, they overstepped their rights. And the fact that over half the comments on YouTube don’t seem to understand that is a big problem.

It’s also interesting that the police handcuffed the woman, and searched her car and body (including her breasts) thoroughly. There were also three police cars on the scene to deal with this dangerous woman. And then they let her go. It makes me wonder if arresting this guy was a consolation prize for the officers. I know they get an adrenaline rush during stops like this one. They must have been sorely disappointed that they didn’t get to arrest the woman. So they went after the guy.

This video should be enough for anyone to see that we don’t live in a free country. This is feudal lord kind of stuff: mustn’t annoy the police or they will arrest you. Personally, I avoid cops for the same reasons I avoid grizzly bears: they are dangerous, only interested in themselves, and stupid. But that doesn’t mean that others shouldn’t express their contempt for a profession that has become almost completely divorced from real crime.

H/T: Paul Day