Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Islamic double-standard


Jewish date:  12 Tishri 5770.

Worthy cause of the day:  “Increase Funding to Fight Heart Disease and Stroke” and “Upgrade Aid”.

Unusual personal religious activity:  Yesterday I successfully reassembled my sukkah.  Today I hope to properly decorate it with plastic fruit and CDs.  (The latter have a shiny side and reflect in a variety of colors when light bounces off of them.  Old AOL CDs work very nicely for this purpose, with two placed together with their shiny sides outside and their dull sides inside.)  I may also hang up some Indian corn as well.

Today’s topic:  “Some Holy Books Are More Equal Than Others”.  This is a succinct commentary (with links) on how Islam and the Qur’an are often treated in the West with a deference not accorded to other religions or religious texts.  This is not due to attacks on other religions not being considered offensive; people do take offense at their religion being treated shabbily.  Rather, most people protest in peaceful ways.  Muslims, on the other hand, get violent.  And that scares others into granting them an unfair amount of deference, such as treating desecration of the Qur’an as a hate crime.  While such behavior may not be religiously fallacious for Muslims, it is a double standard for non-Muslims.  If your belief system is not Islam, you do not have any reason to treat Muslims as better than anyone else (or if you do, you belief system is pretty weird).  The fact that someone may beat you up if offended (an implied appeal to force) does not make that person any more right or anyone else more wrong.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Michael Jackson and Bill Maher


Jewish date:  11 Tishri 5770.

Today’s holiday:  Sukkah-Building Day.  (The day after Yom Kippur is traditionally considered the best day to start work on one’s sukkah.)

Note:  I just mowed the backyard so I can build my sukkah.  Someone please send electric grapes.

Worthy cause of the day:  “Help Halt Logging in Our Forests”.

Michael Jackson StarImage via Wikipedia
Topic 1:  “The Destructive Deification of Michael Jackson”—Rav Boteach deals with some unrealistic, anti-empirical of Michael Jackson since the latter’s death.  Though people often try to portray the deceased in a favorable ligwishful thinking that they are perfect does not actually work.  Physical reality does not care what we want, but instead remains what it is regardless.  This is especially true for the deceased, who are no longer capable of changing themselves.  Very notable is the notion that a hero is not someone who is perfect, but rather someone who does something great despite his/her imperfection.  To that idea I would like to add that no human can never hope to be perfect.  An imperfect hero is thus better for us to learn from, seeing that he/she must struggle in the same way that we struggle, and we may realistically achieve the sorts of things he/she achieves.

Bill Maher at the PETA screening of I Am An An...Image via Wikipedia
Topic 2:  I have already noted that pseudo-comedian Bill Maher, creator of the irrational, anti-religious pseudo-documentary Religulous, believes in medical pseudoscience.  “Bill Maher endorses cancer quackery” deals with Maher’s ignorance and support of quackery in gory detail.  Also mentioned is Richard Dawkins’ support for Maher.  Note that Dawkins is supposed to be pro-reason, something which I have shown he is not, and his support for Maher only makes his claim to being pro-reason even less tenable.

And yes, I am starting to have fun with Zemata to add images to my blog.

OK, back to working in the backyard.  Have an easy time putting up your sukkah.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Yom Kippur, Goldstone, the Temple Mount, and a panacea


Jewish date:  9 Tishri 5769.

Today’s holidays:  ‘Erev Yom Kippur (Judaism), Twenty-Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Feast of Cosmus & Damianus (Thelema), Greater Eleusinian Mysteries (Thelema).

Worthy cause of the day:  Give blood.  I cannot say this enough.  Just do not do on a day when you are fasting or the day before, which is just asking for trouble.  Also:  “Sierra Club:  Help Us Reach Our Goal of 100,000 Champions for National Parks by October 4th!”

My apologies to those who have received an earlier version of this post.  Blogger did something really stupid and published prematurely.

Topic 1:  “Israel TV Laughs at Goldstone”.  This is a comic look at the perverse morality of the anti-Semitic Goldstone Report.  Anything I can say pales in comparison with what comedians can get away with.

Topic 2:  Tonight starts Yom Kippur (the Jewish Day of Atonement).  Two articles on practical questions about Yom Kippur:  A) “'Doctor, should I fast?'”, which deals with the medical issue of when someone ill should fast, which is not a trivial question.  B) “Halachic arbiter: No Crocs on Yom Kippur”, which deals with the less-famous issue of what footwear is appropriate for Yom Kippur.  Wearing leather shoes, which are traditionally associated with comfort, is prohibited on Yom Kippur.  Currently, people tend to wear relatively casual shoes on Yom Kippur, such as sneakers, and thus Crocs are a question.  It sounds a bit odd, but in any living religion strange practical questions are bound to be asked.

נוצר על ידי :he:משתמש:אסף.Image via Wikipedia
Topic 3:  A case of religious discrimination in Israel:  “Intolerance on the Temple Mount”.  The discrimination is against Jews, who are prohibited from praying on the Temple Mount.  The point of this is an attempt at appeasing Muslims, who can do pretty much whatever they want up there.  This appeasement, it is correctly noted, has done nothing to curb Islamic intolerance, destruction of Jewish archaeological remains, and terrorism.  (See “Two policemen injured in riots on the Temple Mount”.)  And this has been going on for decades.  Behavioral psychologists should see this as rewarding bad behavior, an extremely bad idea since it only makes further bad behavior more likely.  This is why I believe, if only for the sake of peace, that Israel should take the politically counterintuitive step of knocking down the Muslim structures on the Temple Mount, banning Muslims from setting foot in the 500 × 500 cubit area which has the status of the Temple Mount in Jewish law, and rebuilding the Temple.  If the Muslims actually can see that they have something to lose by failing to behave properly, that there are negative consequences to intolerance and terrorism, they will actually have a reason to learn to get along with other people.

Topic 4:  “Where Tutu (and Gandhi) went wrong”:  More dissection of poorly though-out anti-Semetic thinking on the part of Desmond Tutu and Mohandas Gandhi.  (Actually, is there such a thing as well thought-out anti-Semitic thinking?)  Notable is the idea that nonviolence is always better than violence.  While nonviolence indeed is probably likely to have better results that violence when one’s enemies have no interest in violence, nonviolence is likely to result in pointless slaughter against murderous enemies.

Topic 5:  “Yom Kippur 2009”:  The latest Dry Bones cartoon.

May all of you who are fasting have an easy and meaningful fast, and may you all be sealed in the book of life for a good year.


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Friday, September 25, 2009

“The ten worst verses of the Bible”


Jewish date:  7 Tishri 5770.

Today’s holidays:  Ten Days of Repentance (Judaism), Friday of the Twenty-Fifth Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Greater Eleusinian Mysteries (Thelema).

Worthy cause of the day:  “Protect Yellowstone/Greater Rockies”, “Repeal telecom immunity and roll back PATRIOT ACT abuses”, “Break Up Insurance Monopolies”, “Divided We Fail:  Tell Congress that they can't stop now!”, and “Go to Africa”.

Today’s topic:  “The ten worst verses of the Bible”:  I have been sitting on this article from Christian site Ship of Fools for a while now.  They took a poll and listed the “winners”.  However, they gave no defense whatsoever of the verses, which I consider a horrible mistake.  I am therefore undertaking to correct this defect here by defending the verses from the Hebrew Bible.

As I have told people many times before, both in the physical world and on the Internet, morality is purely a matter of opinion.  As such, any objection based on moral grounds—one of the major possibilities—is liable to be ignored or summarily dismissed due to the objector and the defender having incompatible opinions on morality.  E.g., I, an Orthodox Jew, will not accept arguments that eating meat is wrong because my moral system, Judaism, is rooted in the Hebrew Bible, and the Hebrew Bible explicitly permits eating animals.

1) "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent." (1 Timothy 2:12)—This is from the New Testament.  I am under no obligation to defend it.

2) "This is what the Lord Almighty says... 'Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'" (1 Samuel 15:3)—‘Amaleq was the sworn enemy of the Children of Yisra’el.  This was war, plain, simple, brutal, and ugly.

3) "Do not allow a sorceress to live." (Exodus 22:18)—Magic, as mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, is not benign, harmless, or what David Copperfield does.  It is divination, attempting to foretell the future through implausible means.  Today we call these people “psychics” and “mediums”, and they are infamous for lying, cheating people out of their money, and ruining people’s lives.  Execution (by a court, not vigilantism) is as fitting a punishment as any.

4) "Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!" (Psalm 137:9)—This is a lament of Jews deported to Babylon.  The sentiment is an expression of their emotional pain and not a recommendation for action.

5) "So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go." (Judges 19:25)—This is a horrible incident.  The man was desperate and did something panicky and stupid.  The rape (which was ultimately fatal) outraged the Children of Yisra’el so much that it caused a war among the tribes.  Keep in mind:  noting that something happened is not necessarily approval of it.  Even those who participate in the war were eventually shocked at what they have done.

6) "In the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error." (Romans 1:27)—New Testament.  Not my problem.

7) "And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, 'If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord's, to be offered up by me as a burnt-offering.'" (Judges 11:30-1)—And to make a long story short, Yiftaḥ, due to not foreseeing that something not acceptable for sacrifice might be the first being to come out to him, is put in the unspeakable position of having to sacrifice his daughter.  To be blunt, Yiftaḥ was an idiot and deserves nothing but condemnation for his idiocy, and I have never heard of a contrary opinion.

8) "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you." (Genesis 22:2)—It was a test.  It was only a test.  And the point is that in Judaism morality is top-down, dictated by YHWH and not by humans.  The moral opinion of YHWH is the one that counts, not ours.  I have also heard the claim that while Yiṣḥaq was not actually slaughtered and burned, he did have something of the status of a sacrifice after this incident, e.g., he was not allowed to leave the Land of Yisra’el, just as a sacrifice may not be taken out of Yisra’el.

9) "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord." (Ephesians 5:22)—More New Testament.

10) "Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel." (1 Peter 2:18)—Also more New Testament.

Shabbath shalom.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Anti-Semitism and Eastwick


Jewish date:  6 Tishri 5770.

Today’s holidays:  Ten Days of Repentance (Judaism), Thursday of the Twenty-Fifth Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Greater Eleusinian Mysteries (Thelema).

Worthy cause of the day:  “Save Orphan Bears: End Cruel Den Hunts” and “Sierra Club:  Add Your Voice and Help Us Reach Our Goal by October 4th!”  Also:  “Video: Will Ferrell stands up for the real health care victims”.

Topic 1:  More anti-Semitism using Orwellian language documented:  “New Statesman: Propaganda for Terrorists”.  Commentary on anti-Semitism in the United Nations:  “the Goldstone UN Gaza Report”.

Topic 2:  Last night was the pilot episode of the new TV series Eastwick, based on John Updike’s novel The Witches of Eastwick.  The vibes I got from the promo suggested it would be bad or at least go into territory better left unexplored on TV, but a check on Wikipedia suggested that one of the characters, at least in the original novel or movie versions thereof, might be the Devil.  Dreading what the result would be (especially since I have not read the novel or seen the movie versions), I watched it, hoping it would be irrelevant to my project and I could ignore it afterwards.  Unfortunately, it turned out relevant, and so you all have to suffer along with me.  (Where is another season of Kings or even Reaper when you need it?)

The show is set it the fictional New England town of Eastwick, which has the stereotypical Pilgrim heritage, including hints of past burning of witches.  Three women who live in this town, Roxanne Torcoletti, Joanna Frankel, and Kat Gardener, find mysterious coins which they throw into a fountain, wishing for better lives.  Soon afterwards, a rich, charismatic, and mysterious stranger with an aura of evil and the too-obvious name Darryl Van Horne arrives in town and starts acquiring real estate and businesses.  He hits on all three of the aforementioned women (unsurprisingly, with a name like that) and reveals to them that they have magic powers, which can be evoked by wishing, wittingly or unwittingly.  Roxanne, hired by Darryl to make a sculpture of him, has highly detailed predictive dreams.  Joanna learns she has hypnotic powers she can use to control people—and has to wrestle with the morality of using them.  Kat’s power seems to be calling down lightning to strike her good-for-nothing husband.  There are also allegations that Van Horne has been in Eastwick previously, with hints of an unnaturally long lifespan.  This episode comes off as working towards the paranoid Christian fantasy of witches making deals with the Devil, including having sexual intercourse with him—though this being just the pilot, nothing near this far has happened yet.

What I want to see, in order to prevent this series turning into a total theological train wreck:  above anything else, a justification for the behavior of the Christian Satan.  One possibility is that he is fantastically stupid; angels are far less powerful than deities, so Satan is arguably being an idiot for rebelling against God.  He is also arguably a highly stubborn idiot, since thousands (or billions) of years is a long time to be holding a grudge which one can never truly satisfy.  The best he can hope for is to carry on a petty vendetta until he finally gets squished like the (relative) bug he is.  However, an idiot Satan is an ineffective Satan, so this is unlikely to be invoked.  More workable would be to give Satan a different value system than God or even to be working for God in quality assurance.  Another plausible route would be to make Darryl something other than the Devil, though this route requires more creativity.

OK, on to other things I need to do today...


Wednesday, September 23, 2009



Jewish date:  5 Tishri 5770.

Today’s holidays:  Ten Days of Repentance (Judaism), Conception of the Forerunner (Greek Orthodox Christianity), Feast Day of Paracelsus (Thelema).

Worthy cause of the day:  THAT Big Book Sale 2009 (a book sale of the Charleston County Public Library System; the need volunteers), “American Jaguars Need Your Help to Survive”, and “Health Care for America NOW!

Today’s topic:  “Demonization From Down Under” and “Respectable Anti Semites”:  Anti-Semitism, like paranoia in general, involves sloppy thinking.  These articles document uncritical acceptance of common false assumptions, omitting context, loaded language, weasel words, double-standards, hatred of one’s own people, one-sidedness, and the madness of expecting something to work which has repeatedly failed to work.  And the cartoon cited in the second article does a good job of demonstrating some of this.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Darwin, Ali, and Satan


Jewish date:  4 Tishri 5770.

Today’s holidays:  Ten Days of Repentance (Judaism), Tuesday of the Twenty-Fifth Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Mabon (Wicca).

Worthy cause of the day:  Urge your Senators to Protect the EPA’s Ability to Curb Global Warming Pollution.

Topic 1:  “Who Cares About Darwin?”:  This article deals with a creationist tactic of claiming that Charles Darwin is a horrible person who is responsible for Hitler, the Nazis, the Holocaust, and anything else awful one can imagine.  I have already dealt with why this is completely unfounded this to some degree in my review of Expelled:  No Intelligence Allowed, largely that anti-Semitism, including violent anti-Semitism, existed long before Hitler and that Hitler fails completely to reference Darwin or evolution in Mein Kampf.  This article goes into other aspects of why this guilt by association fails:  that we do not believe in evolution because of the authority of Darwin, Darwin’s life is irrelevant to whether evolution in true, and how evolution works (really or allegedly) is a matter of physical fact and not moral prescription.

Topic 2:  “Store Honors Islamic Martyr”:  This article is a warning to make sure one is interpreting something correctly.  This article deals with a sign saying a store would be closed on September 11 to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Ali.  Someone mistook this for a celebration of one of the 9/11 terrorists.  However, Imam Ali was really Muḥammad’s son-in-law and cousin.

Topic 3:  “Why do I”:
funny pictures of cats with captions
This is yet another LOLcat picture featuring Basement Cat, and like all good religious humor, it is founded on something actually part of religion.  Basement Cat is the LOLcat equivalent of Christianity’s Satan, who in Matthew 4:1-11 attempts to tempt Jesus.  This picture reflects an interpretation of evil as something external to and separate from us.  While not the only explanation given for the origin of evil, it is one with an inherent danger when taken literally:  since ultimately Satan is the author of evil, not us, arguably it is Satan who is responsible.  “Satan made me do it” is thus an easy way of shirking moral responsibility.  Such a conclusion is a position neither the Hebrew Bible nor the New Testament take; “Satan made me do it” is never used as a defense by anyone therein, and similar defenses (e.g., ’Adham blaming Ḥawwah and Ḥawwah blaming the Serpent) do not past muster either.

Somebody bug me to blog about what I believe to be the real origin of evil at some point when I have more time...


Monday, September 21, 2009

The International Church of Jediism


Jewish date:  3 Tishri 5770.

Today’s holidays:  The Fast of Gedhalyah (Judaism), Feast Day of Virgilius and Fall Equinox (Ritual of the Elements) (Thelema).

Worthy cause of the day:  My brother Barry has asked me to post this:
I am asking everyone to participate in ARC of Indian River County's 6th Annual Divine Dining Drawing.  In these tough times, state funding to help people with developmental disabilities has been cut, and donations are more important than ever.  Your donation will help support ARC's group homes, work supports, and behavioral services for people with developmental disabilities.  For every $2.00 ticket you buy, you will get a chance of winning many fabulous prizes including dining at a number of wonderful restaurants, gift cards for Publix, and a pie a month from Bob Evans for a year.  The drawing will be held on November 20th, so time is running out.  You can get tickets from me personally, or you can call (772) 562-6854 x217 or write to  You can learn more about this fundraiser at or about ARC in general at  Thank you for attention and hopefully your support.
Also:  “Payment Cuts for Medicare Physicians are Bad News for Older Americans”, “Stand with Dawn”, and “September is Hunger Action Month -- Fight to End Hunger!

Today’s topic is “Supermarket bans Jedi Knight”.  Apparently a store in Wales has banned someone for wearing a “hoodie”, even though that person is Daniel Jones, the founder of the International Church of Jediism, and the hood is part of his religion.  I am going to put aside completely the question of whether the store is right in banning Mr. Jones.  Rather, I would like discuss the theory behind Jediism in all forms.  Religions are traditionally based on one or more divine revelations or the authority of someone otherwise purported to be able to know something beyond our natural world.  The most obvious problem for Jediism is that Jedi originate in the fictional Star Wars franchise.  It would therefore seem that any source of authority for a real-life Jedi religion is lacking, as George Lucas makes no claims of prophecy or that anything in the franchise is an accurate representation of events that happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

There are at least two ways around this dilemma.  The first is that the founders of real-life Jediism could have had a revelation from a deity commanding that they found a new religion based on the fictional Jedi.  The major problem with this is that real-life Jedis are purportedly non-theistic.  Even without making claim to having been commanded by a deity, they could still claim to have special access to hidden information which shows that somehow that the Jedi lifestyle is the right way of life.  But none of the Jedi sites linked to from the Wikipedia article (The Jediism WayThe Jedi Resource Center/Gatherings GroupUnited JediThe Jedi SanctuaryTemple of the Jedi ForceJedi Church), at least on their front pages, seem to be leaning in this direction.

The other way around the dilemma, which seems to be the one used, is an outright abandonment of empiricism.  Rather than having an actual reason for becoming a Jedi, one feels it is the right thing to do. The Temple of the Jedi Force makes this most clear:
All religions no matter what they are have a Story to tell. These stories impart wisdom to the follower and show a path to the soul. That's what their there for. The story or "Myth" is what defines a religion. Now when I say myth it's not to say a religious story is true or false, to me that does not matter. What really matters is it true or false to YOU. These stories must be believed by the person who follows them. To believe the myth of your faith is to take it into your soul and make it part of your story, your myth if you will. You see it's that belief, that faith, that gives it the power to change us. without it how would it touch our souls? This does not mean to follow blindly, but to put your trust in the wisdom of the storyteller.
To the writer of these words, subjectivity is more important that objectivity, the story over whether there is any reason to believe the story—or even the context of the story.  The problem with this notion is that it does not reflect religion as it is traditionally or normally believed and practiced.  Do note that a lot of conflicts on this planet of ours are centered around religion.  If religion is nothing more than stories which appeal to whoever “believes” in them, then such conflicts reduce to obvious idiocy; there is no reason the same stories have to appeal to everyone and that different people cannot like different stories.  Furthermore, people ought to be able to rewrite the stories at will to suit their own tastes, whims, and convenience, while in reality people often stick to the same old narratives even if they cause hardship.  The truth—the objective truth, the truth that is true to everyone and not merely “true to you”—is that religion is more than “myth”.  What makes the stories something other than fiction is that people believe them to be objective truth.  Instead of fighting for fantasy, people actually fight over the objective truth.  Instead of changing their narratives willy-nilly, people cling to the old narratives because they believe them to be the objective truth.  Because once you throw out the notion of objective truth, religion is reduced to a fandom, a fantasy world which one can enter and leave at will without any obligations—and this is not the sort of religion worth believing in.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Adoption of Muslim practices and terminology by non-Muslims and the Goldstone Report


Jewish date:  29 ’Elul 5769.

Today’s holidays:  ’Erev Ro’sh hashShanah.

Worthy cause of the day:  “” and “Take Action: Colorado's pristine forests need your help today!

Topic 1:  “Non-Muslims Join the Ramadan Fast”:  This article details adoption of Islamic practices and terminology by Christians in the United States and the United Kingdom.  Considering that Paul tended to make himself appear like the people he was preaching to, there is some sense in this.  However, no mention is made of trying to preach the Gospel to Muslims.  The reasons given are in terms of understanding Islam and Muslims.  I can appreciate trying to understand one’s neighbors, though there is the risk of going over the line and practicing a religion one does not believe in.  Using Muslim terminology also invites redefining one’s religion in Islamic terms.  (This is a very real worry.  That is why I try to avoid using “God” and instead use “YHWH” and “HashShem”:  my god is not the Christian Trinity, and “God” is a term with a lot of Christian baggage.)  Very inappropriate is for government officials to promote adoption of Islamic practices; this is a blatant violation of separation of church and state.

Topic 2:  “The Goldstone Report: Rewarding Palestinian Terror”:  The Goldstone Report, along with anti-Semitic rhetoric in general, seems to be gross insensitivity to facts.  Please note that physical reality is highly insensitive to what people want it to be and stubbornly remains what it is.

Shabbath shalom, and may you be written and sealed for a good year.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Black cats and animal rights violence


Jewish date:  28 ’Elul 5769.

Today’s holidays:  Laylat Al-Qadr.

Before discussing any topics today, I would like to note that the Days of Awe, Ro’sh hashShanah (one of the Jewish new years; we have four) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) will be here very soon.  One of the themes of these holidays is repentance.  In that spirit, I would like to apologize to anyone I have inadvertently offended.  I am human and have my own share of faults, and I make my fair share of stupid mistakes to try to avoid repeating in the coming year.  (YHWH help me, please!)  I also grant forgiveness to all of those who have inadvertently sinned against me, whether or not they apologize; there are enough problems in this world, and I do not want to make them any worse by bearing a grudge which will seem stupid and pointless in the long run.

Topic 1:  “Honey, call the exorcist.”:
funny pictures of cats with captions
Basement Cat, of course, is a joke.  But he is a joke with roots in the idea that black cats are connected to evil, as the familiars of witches or otherwise.  I have no idea where this notion comes from, and if anyone has any idea, please let me know.

Topic 2:  “Scientists targeted by opponents of animal research speak out”:  My problem is with the people who are opposed to animal research.  Firstly, unless these people are strict vegans, they seem to be inconsistent since they find it unacceptable to harm or kill an animal for the sake of helping humans yet acceptable to kill an animal for their own pleasure.  (Humans do not need to eat meat in order to live.)    I will presume that some of these people are strict vegans, but this leads to the second problem:  animals in the wild regularly do horrible, cruel things to each other, such as hunt down and eat each other.  Why are only humans subject to censure for cruelty to animals?  Why are these people not up in arms over predations of lions, tigers, and bears?  Humans are just as much animals as the rest of the animal kingdom.  Why are humans being held to a higher standard?  Thirdly, some animal rights activists commit acts of violence against or murder those who perform research on animals.  However, since, as mentioned, humans qualify as animals, attacking or murdering a human is attacking or murdering an animal—the very sort of behavior these people are supposed to be against.  Fourthly, these attacks and murders are done without any evidence of immediate danger or fair trial.  As such, there is no guarantee the victims are in any way guilty of the offenses they are accused of, and people who may have done nothing to hurt non-human animals may be harmed in the process.

Topic 3:  “Jewish New Year (1994)”.  Just a topical Dry Bones cartoon for Ro’sh hashShanah.

Have a minimally-stressful day.


Wanted: a definition for “personal truth” or “subjective truth”


I am pondering rewriting the first chapter of my book in progress.  This chapter is supposed to deal with the nature of truth and how to seek it.  The type of truth I consider useful for my purposes is objective truth, i.e., what is actually correct.  However, there are other kinds of “truth” in use (thus sparing my definition from being quite so trivial as it may seem), and while I had originally planned to deal with non-objective kinds of “truth” in another chapter, I have received a serious suggestion, worthy of consideration, of introducing the non-objective kinds of truth up front and showing why they are not useful for discussing religion before introducing objective truth.  Truth-as-consensus and truth-as-whatever-the-authorities-say-it-is are easy enough concepts.  Unfortunately, one also hears periodically of “personal truth” and “subjective truth” as well, and these concepts do not seem to have formal definitions.  Wikipedia has no articles on these kinds of truth.  Apple’s’s New Oxford American Dictionary module has no entries on  them.  Feed these terms into Google, and not much in the way of definitions will show up which mean anything different from “opinion” or “belief”.  It almost seems as if “personal truth” and “subjective truth” are left for people to define according to their personal whims and subjective point of view.  Either that or they really are meant to be a way to say “opinion” and “belief” without risking the possibility of being called “wrong”.  If anyone out there knows of any definitions of “personal truth” and “subjective truth” beyond mere “opinion” or “belief”, I would be very appreciative if you would let me know.  Thanks in advance for any help anyone can provide.


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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Guilt by association, organ trafficking libel, and poisoning the well


Jewish date:  27 ’Elul 5769.
Worthy cause of the day:  I got a flu shot earlier today.  Please consider getting one yourself and save someone else the inconvenience (or death) from getting the flu.  Thank you.
On with the daily dose of religious fallacies and misinformation.
Topic 1:  “Nazi Fetishist Suspended by HRW” (Subtitle:  “Human Rights Watch's weapons "expert" suspended following outcry over bizarre "hobby".”):  This affair is logically a rather strange one.  The fact that Marc Garlasco of Human Rights Watch collects Nazi memorabilia does not make anything he claims wrong; he could plausibly claim to be extremely interested in World War II.  Furthermore, even the fact that he took this interest to the point where he was caught “wearing a Nazi-themed sweatshirt” does not make his claims necessarily wrong; he could just be insensitive and offensive.  What makes him wrong is that he has done a lousy job as a reporter writing about the Arab-Israel War and failed to do proper fact-checking or aim for unbiased reporting.  And what is likewise strange is that outrage over Garlasco’s intellectual dishonesty was not enough for Human Rights Watch to suspend him, but outrage over his unpalatable hobby was.   Exactly where are their priorities that people have to resort to guilt by association to have action taken against a fraud?
Topic 2:  “Organ theft reports picked up by Arab media”:  Another report of dishonest reporting, in this case of an improbable, unsubstantiated claim of the trafficking of the organs of Algerian children, with Israelis and Americans as the scapegoats.  No documentation or other proof is known to exist.  The blood libel is unfortunately not dead.
Topic 3:  “J Street’s Shameful Attacks on Aipac”:  Rav Boteach correctly notes that disagreeing with someone does not mean one’s opponents are stupid or irrational (or even wrong).  Assuming they are without giving proof is a form of poisoning the well (an ad hominem used to stifle an argument, thus providing an illusion of victory without doing the actual work).  Such a tactic does nothing to bring anyone closer to the truth, and it has the nasty side effect that it causes pointless hatred.  We most certainly can do better than this.
Have a good day.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Inaugural post


Jewish date:  26 ’Elul 5769.
Today’s holiday:  Our Lady of Sorrows.
Worthy cause of the day:  “  Help us hold the line:  All major advertisers have left Beck:  Help us keep them from returning” and “Divided We Fail:  Real people, real stories”.  (I am a religious man, and it is commonly considered the duty of religious people to worry about people.)

Welcome to the inaugural post of Divine Misconceptions, the blog which looks at religious fallacies and misinformation and an aid to me writing a book on the subject.  Formerly such material had a home at my other blog, Weird thing of the day, but intuition insisted that that blog was spreading itself over too wide a range of topics.  Now on with today’s dose of religious fallacies and misconceptions from across the Internet.

Topic 1:  “Kids send Marcus the lamb to slaughter”:  Thus is it written:
A group of schoolchildren who reared a lamb from birth and named it Marcus has overridden objections by parents and rights activists and voted to send the animal to slaughter.
This is not strictly a religious issue, but it is a moral/ethical one, and morality and ethics frequently overlap with religion.  The children in question were studying farming, and as part of the project they raised a lamb (among other animals), and they decided to cull the lamb and use the proceeds to buy pigs.  And somehow this made a lot of people very mad, and yet there is a strange inconsistency to this anger.  Most of us eat meat and make use of leather, even though neither is strictly necessary for life; thus most of us in one way or another contribute to the killing of animals, including cute, furry animals like Murray the Lamb.  Most of this slaughter happens without anyone except vegans or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals noticing or even caring.  Most of us, therefore, did what these children did, and yet we complain when these children copy us.  The only difference is that the children did it deliberately, and the rest of us ordered hamburgers and let a company decide that a cow would die.  For the sake of consistency, all the protesters should consider setting a good example by becoming vegans.

Topic 2:  “Saving Anthony” and “Reading Nature and Reading Scripture”:  These are evangelical Christian articles warning against inflexible theology.  Obviously not everything in a revealed religion is up for grabs; there is material handed down all the way back to the beginning.  But the amount of information that is handed down is always finite, so rather than there being just a single, crystal-clear theology possible, there is always a sizable range of possibilities.  It therefore makes no sense to jump to the conclusion that one’s religion is wrong if one discovers that one’s favored theology is wrong, since there may be other possible theologies which are still viable.  Only when the data is inconsistent with all of a religion’s possible theologies can it be legitimately be considered disproved.  So if one discovers potential problems with one’s theologies, the first thing to do is DON’T PANIC!


Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Divine Misconceptions bounty list

I, Aaron Solomon Adelman, in the search for better information, hereby declare the following bounties.  The first person to provide any of the requested data to my satisfaction will receive one (1) book from my PaperBackSwap bookshelf or the equivalent monetary value thereof ($3.95).  (I do not currently have huge resources.  The prize is about honor, not money.)
  1. Any solid evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis.  I am not looking for literary criticism, but rather positive evidence that separate J, E, P, or D ever existed.  If the Documentary Hypothesis is true, there should have been groups which did not accept the redacted Torah but clung to J, E, P, or D, as almost inevitably there would be some who did not accept the innovation.   Is there any record of any such group ever existing?  Has anyone ever heard of a group which held by a longer Torah or a shorter Torah?
  2. Empirical testing of The Secret by Rhonda Byrne.  The claimant must perform a clinical trial of the methodology in The Secret according to the standards necessary for publication in a respectable, peer-reviewed scientific journal.  This includes defining outcomes in advance, a comparable control group, randomization, and a sufficient sample size.
  3. Any solid evidence of the existence of demons.  An actual demon, dead or alive, or some portion thereof, of a quality sufficient to describe in a respected, peer-reviewed scientific journal, must be provided.  This bounty carries the additional prize that the qualifying claimant also gets naming rights.  Also note that demons or other sentient nonhumans may be and are encouraged to be claimants.
  4. Theism is in principle demonstrable, since empirically demonstrable prophecy is conceivable.  However, what can an atheist do to demonstrate that no god exists?   Even if one is convinced based on the structure and workings of the Universe that no material deity exists, (so far as we can tell), we are not empowered to observe anything outside our own physically reality.  Therefore, how can one distinguish experimentally or observationally between atheism, deism, covert panenthesim (immanent theism), and covert transcendent theism?
To file a claim or ask questions, please write to Aaron.

Note:  Serious claims only, please.  Anyone sending anything that smells of a joke or a hoax risks having his/her claim dissected as part of theDivine Misconceptions series.

The Divine Misconceptions FAQ

The Divine Misconceptions FAQ
© 2009 Aaron Solomon Adelman

What is Divine Misconceptions?
A few years ago, I became disgusted with widespread religious illiteracy in our society. One aspect of this lack of understanding is ignorance of religion; people often know little about the religion they claim to believe, much less other people’s religions. Another, arguably more dangerous aspect is that many support their religious ideas with poor reasoning or none at all; indeed, for many religion has become synonymous with unreason, through which people can believe and do whatever is right in their own eyes in complete disregard of evidence and sense. At first my disgust led me to merely list misinformation and bad logic claimed in the name of religion. However, the list has grown not merely in length, extent, and organization, but it is evolving into a series of books (working title:  Divine Misconception) on why religious misinformation and poor thinking are wrong.

The goal of the Divine Misconceptions project is to produce a series of books covering all the common religious fallacies and misinformation in contemporary society. The hope is that this project will help people to think more about what they believe and why they believe it, because the stakes are high. Religion is not a game or a mere social activity. What are at risk rank among the most important things known to humanity: truth, morality, salvation, and even life itself, with major questions of what is obligatory or unconditionally prohibited dependent on the truth of beliefs. People are regularly harmed or killed by religious irrationality of various kinds, including refusal of vaccination or blood transfusions; use of “complementary” and “alternative” medicines; slander; exploitation by cults and people with alleged divinatory powers; and oppression, violence, homicide and war with an alleged prophetic basis. Given that contemporary society is extremely tolerant and even accepting of religious illiteracy and poor reasoning, and Hillel says in Pirqe ’Avoth 2:6 “And in a place that there are no men, make efforts to be a man”, I am stepping forward to do something, anything to change the situation for the better.

What is the meaning of the project’s name?
Divine refers specifically to deities (a subject frequently misunderstood) and to religion in general.
Misconceptions refers to the bad ideas.

What is the current state of the project?
I already have what may best be described as a skeleton of a book, stretching over about 150 pages, waiting for me to fill in a lot of details. Current work on the book is comprised mostly of 1) trying to write basic, introductory material and 2) reading/watching relevant material, analyzing it, and reviewing it; some such material has already appeared on my other blog).

There is also effort being expended to decide on the correct scope, both in terms of religions covered and the works about them used; restricting the scope is vital, because religion such a large topic that no single human could hope to cover everything possibly relevant in a single lifetime. Definitely to be investigated are current major world religions, historically important religions, well-publicized new religious movements, and various ideologies and disciplines on the borders of religion. A more extensive list of topics is found below. Also needing to be taken into account are depictions of religion in popular culture; though not authoritative, they frequently reflect people’s views of religion, especially views that might not be expressed in authoritative sources.

Also in need of work is determining how to bring this project properly to fruition. Some of the topics to be covered range far beyond my own experience, and I will probably need the help of experts to wade through the sea of material available to find the information I need. Even in subjects with which I am familiar, there is a need to find people who are qualified and willing to do peer review so that mistakes are corrected before publication. There are also questions about how to go about getting the work published, in how many installments, and whether it would be possible to get funding for the work.

What topics will be covered in Divine Misconceptions?
Note: This list is unlikely to be exhaustive.

Book 1:  Very tentatively titled The Orange Catholic Bible (and, yes, that is a Dune reference):

  • Chapter 1:  “Ode to Truth” (introduction to the concept of truth and how we can learn about it)
  • Chapter 2:  “A Seductive Interest in Logic I:  Contradiction and Formal Fallacies” (bad logic)
  • Chapter 3:  “A Seductive Interest in Logic II:   Informal Fallacies” (rhetorical dirty tricks)
  • Extreme relativism
  • Epistemology (including theism versus atheism)
  • Bad terminology
  • Mediocracy
  • The nature of religion and syncretism
  • Abusing the boundaries between religions
  • Hermeneutics and scripture
  • Deities
  • Prophecy
  • Miracles
  • Science
  • Things claimed to be what really matters to the exclusion of anything else
  • Trust in one’s deity
  • Morality, judgement, commandments, and transgressions
  • Natural rights
  • The human condition
  • Categorization of beings as superior or inferior
  • Groups alleged to be involved in nefarious, religion-related plots
  • Prayer
  • Sexuality
  • Abortion and embryonic stem cell research
  • Miscellaneous

Book 2:  Very tentatively titled The Orange Catholic Bible Commentaries:

  • Commentary on the Hebrew Bible, including common misconceptions and bad interpretations
  • Commentary on the New Testament along the same lines

Further topics to examine, very tentatively going under the rubric The Azhar Book of the Dead:

  • Judaism (including the Qabbalah and Ḥasidhuth) and Pseudo-Judaism (“Reform Judaism” and its descendant ideologies)
  • Christianity and Pseudo-Christianity (including Mormonism)
  • Islam (including the Jihad and Islam’s relations with other religions) and Pseudo-Islam (including Ahmadiyya and the Nation of Islam)
  • Druze religion
  • Vaishnavism, Smartism, Shaivism, and Shaktism (“Hinduism”)
  • Sikhism
  • Jainism
  • Buddhism and Pseudo-Buddhism (including Falun Gong)
  • Confucianism
  • Taoism
  • Zoroastrianism
  • Ancient Greek and Roman religion, ancient Egyptian religion, and other ancient paganisms
  • Baha’i religion
  • Yoruba religion (including Voodoo and Santería)
  • Assorted “native” religions
  • Ceremonial/ritual magic and occultism
  • Theosophy
  • Spiritualism
  • Neopaganism (including Wicca, Discordianism, polytheistic reconstructionism, and the relationship of such ideologies to historical witchcraft and paganisms)
  • LaVeyan Satanism (including its relation to the Christian paranoid fantasy of Satanism) and other Left-Hand Path religions
  • Scientology (including Free Zone)
  • New Age religions
  • Quasi-religious atheistic ideologies
  • Obsolete hypotheses and assorted problematic claims assumed to be true

How can I help?
This project is bigger than any one person, so help is always appreciated.
Also: My current topic of writing focus is truth. If you have questions about the nature of truth, please, let me know!

Thanks in advance for any help anyone can provide.