Monday, July 28, 2014

God's QC 10.3: Our Compassionate Savior

Here I continue my thoughts on the many bizarre disconnects that occur among those who profess to follow Jesus. In this video, I'll continue to explore the question whether Jesus was in fact a compassionate figure, and thus whether the shocking lack of compassion among his followers is indeed the grotesque hypocrisy it might seem to be.

I made a mistake in my previous video, in not making it clear exactly which Jesus I was talking about. It seems to me that there are three primary flavors of Jesus. First, the savior, the Jesus who emerges from an acceptance of the entire Gospel account, complete with supernatural mission and supernatural powers. Second, the merely human Jesus, fictional or not, surrounded by tales of his compassionate miracles. People who like this Jesus see these fictional stories as inspiring metaphor. Third, the Jesus whose story is stripped of all hints of the supernatural. People who like this Jesus find inspiration in a carefully selected subset of his words while rejecting most of the story as legendary.

It was the second flavor of Jesus that I intended in the previous video, but I didn't make that clear, and I apologize for the oversight. Fortunately, some of you called me on it, which prompted me to think it through—always a good thing—and to make this video—I'll leave it to you to decide whether that was a good thing.

You who spoke up mentioned that Christians would likely defend Jesus' cavalier attitude toward suffering, especially with respect to his efforts to get himself crucified rather than devoting himself to alleviating human misery. Christians would say that he rightly focused primarily on his mission to save the world from eternal suffering in the afterlife, leaving little time for him to address all the temporary suffering of this life. That is the first Jesus, the supernatural character who came to save us from hell. It is very illuminating to ask whether that Jesus would inspire compassion in his followers. Let's have a look.

In Matthew Chapter 19 and Luke Chapter 18, Jesus declares that the kingdom of heaven belongs to children. This is usually interpreted to mean that children are guaranteed a place in heaven. In Matthew Chapters 7 and 22, and Luke Chapter 13, Jesus proclaims that a vanishingly small fraction of humankind will be allowed into heaven. In other words, the vast majority of humans who live beyond childhood will burn in hell. Compassion leaves room for only one course of action: kill all children, those alive now and any who are born in the future, to ensure their entrance into heaven by preventing them graduating from childhood into almost certain doom. Compassion demands a determined effort to drive humans to extinction as quickly as possible, to minimize the number of people in hell. The deafening silence from Jesus on this matter is a far worse failure of compassion than any of the trifling complaints I could ever make against the other flavors of Jesus.

As an aside, a similarly unfathomable failure of compassion occurs among those who expect to go to heaven: they imagine for themselves eternal bliss and ecstasy, knowing full well that the overwhelming majority of their fellow humans—even many of their own loved ones—are in torment every second of every day without reprieve, ever. These "saints" will even spend much—if not all—of their eternity falling on their faces to praise and glorify the hideous creature who condemned the rest of us.

But is hell really all that bad? Almost everyone watching this video has spoken to Christians who, having no stomach for fire-torture, piously intone that "hell" is just a place of separation from "god". But even minor discomfort, extended into eternity, is a horror beyond imagination. Substituting "separation from god" for "being burned with fire" changes nothing relative to the question of whether Jesus truly cared about suffering.

The savior Jesus of the Gospels is an unspeakable monster. Given this conclusion, it is clear that modern Christians are innocent of the charge of hypocrisy with respect to their shocking lack of compassion. They are simply following Jesus' lead.

That's 10.3. Thanks for watching.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

God's QC 10.2: Immigration / Acts of Compassion

Here I continue my thoughts on the surprising disconnect between what Christians claim to believe and their actual attitudes and behaviors. In this video, I'll show that the astounding lack of compassion among Christians is not at all the ugly hypocrisy it seems to be. A friend of mine pointed me to a recent commentary by Stephen Colbert that demonstrates the typical Christian response to the Central American refugee crisis, which is laughably referred to as an immigration problem. On the surface, this commentary might seem to be an exposé of Christian pretense to compassion:
Bill O'Reilly: I feel bad, as I said: if I were in South or Central America or Mexico, I'd try to get here...it's not the immigrants' fault.
Broken-hearted...we all really feel bad for these kids.
Laura Ingraham: I've been in Central America many times; I have a Guatemalan daughter, now an American citizen. I speak Spanish. I love the Latin American people. First thing you do is start deporting people. Not by the hundreds, not by the dozens, but by the thousands.
Shocking, you might say, for people who claim to follow Jesus, who has a reputation of great sympathy for those who suffer, a reputation common even among my fellow asuperstitionists. But was Jesus a promoter of compassion, an opponent of human misery? Let's look for clues in his behavior.

The Gospel of Matthew reports, in 4:23, that "Jesus went throughout Galilee... healing every disease and sickness among the people." Similar healings of indefinite but presumably large numbers of people are mentioned four more times, in chapters 8, 9, 12, and 15. He healed the lame and the crippled. He healed those suffering from severe pain, demon-possession, seizures, paralysis, blindness, mutism. Further, there are some 14 other stories of Jesus healing one or two people at a time.

According to Matthew 14:20, Jesus fed some 15,000 or more somewhere near the Sea of Galilee, and—if we consider 15:37 to be anything more than a copying error—he fed a further 12,000 or more on a separate occasion.

Given so much healing and feeding, one might be tempted to say that Jesus was a man of great compassion, a man who understood suffering and worked hard to minimize it. But there are a couple of incredible failures of compassion in Jesus' actions, failures that should cause anyone who reveres Jesus to reconsider their opinion.

The most obvious failure of compassion on Jesus' part is that although he had unprecedented skill at healing the sick and feeding the hungry, he didn't make more than a part-time job of either one. Instead, he spent much of his time preaching nonsense, arguing with the Jewish leaders, and eventually getting himself killed, cutting short a promising career as a healer. It seems that great compassion would result in different priorities.

Another failure, perhaps less obvious but certainly more consequential, is that he never bothered to teach anyone else how to heal the sick and feed the hungry. Matthew 10:1 tells us that Jesus gave his 12 disciples "authority" to heal (although apparently not the authority to feed). This "authority" turns out to have been limited: 17:19 tells us that the disciples encountered a demon that could not be cast out. Did Jesus teach them how to solve this problem, so they could go forth and cure more people? No, he simply scolded them for not having enough faith. Further, he didn't instruct his disciples to teach their craft to others, as the skill of healing seems to have disappeared not more than a few decades after Jesus' death.

But just think, instead of a handful of men helping—at the most—a few thousand people, and over a span of maybe two generations, Jesus could have started a school of healing and feeding that would have made a real difference throughout the world and throughout history. Again, it seems that such an effort would have been among the top priorities of someone who actually cares about suffering. And the remainder of the New Testament makes it abundantly clear that Jesus never gave his Apostles any guidance in this area. Obviously, he didn't care, and he didn't encourage them to care.

Based on Jesus' minimal and lukewarm efforts at mitigating human suffering, one can see that modern Christians are innocent of the charge of hypocrisy with respect to their shocking lack of compassion. They are simply following Jesus' lead.

That's 10.2. Thanks for watching.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

God's QC 11.8: Nye-Ham Debate: Burgess

Here I continue my thoughts on the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham on Feb 4 2014 at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. In this video I'll address the comments made by Stuart Burgess, one of the scientists that Ken Ham trotted out when trying to demonstrate that creationists can also be scientists.

The fundamental error in Ham's use of Burgess—and his other show dogs Faulkner and Damadian—is his emphasis on the irrelevant question whether a person can be both a creationist and a scientist. Of course a person can be both; Isaac Newton himself was a superstitious crackpot. But that is not what matters here. What matters is whether a person is actually engaging in science while undertaking a given activity. When the renowned scientist Francis Collins chooses superstition because he sees a frozen waterfall, he is not engaging in science. When the renowned charlatan Ken Ham formulates and tests a hypothesis that a museum dedicated to stupidity will cause superstitious nincompoops to empty their pockets into his hands, he is engaging in science.

Stuart Burgess is a professor of engineering design who has published many scientific papers relating to mechanical engineering: hinges and joints for robotic machinery, dental materials, bicycle design. Is Dr. Burgess a scientist? Obviously. Did he engage in science when he researched these areas and published these papers? Absolutely. But consider this statement, which Ken Ham presented during the debate:
From my research work, I have found that the scientific evidence fully supports creationism as the best explanation to origins.
Did Dr. Burgess engage in science when he gathered this evidence and when he concluded that said evidence supports creationism? Given only this bold but rather vague assertion, it's impossible to say. To learn more, I contacted him directly by email to ask about his research relating to creationism. We ended up having a mostly empty conversation lasting two weeks, which boiled down to two primary points:
  1. Evolutionary theory is false, therefore there must be a designer.
  2. The "brilliance of design in the natural world" indicates that said designer is exactly like the one described in the bible.
Honest. After a total of 17 emails between us, these two points are literally all he was able to provide.

During the course of the conversation, he suggested that I read his book, "Hallmarks of Design". The first chapter, which was all I could stomach, is dedicated to showing that evolutionary theory is false. He refers to the supposed irreducible complexity of the human knee joint. Being a true follower of Yahweh, Dr. Burgess tells a big fat lie, saying, "According to evolution, all the characteristics of the knee have evolved one at a time." Anyone able to read can spend half an hour reading and find that evolutionary theory says nothing like this. And clearly, even if evolutionary theory were utterly false, it wouldn't necessarily imply that there is a designer.

Concerning the second point, his claim that the natural world indicates that the designer is indeed the "god" of the bible, Dr. Burgess is more correct than he realizes. He looks at the world and sees "brilliance", which, according to him, suggests the "god" of the bible. But obviously, at least to anyone who has actually read the bible, the "god" described there is hideous. One might observe the existence of viruses and cancers, and conclude, as Dr. Burgess has, although in a sense that would scandalize him, that the world does indeed indicate the "god" of the bible.

Near the end of our conversation, Dr. Burgess, perhaps unwittingly, rephrased the bold assertion he made for Ken Ham, saying instead, "[M]y work fully supports my belief in creation." Note the lack of mention of science, and the shift from "fully supports creationism" to "fully supports my belief". When I asked him whether this version was what he intended to say in the Ken Ham video, he brought the conversation to an abrupt end by throwing bible verses at me.

Is Dr. Stuart Burgess a scientist? Yes. Has he actually found any scientific evidence that supports creationism? No. Did he engage in science to reach his conclusions about creationism? No. His conclusions are not based on science, or for that matter, on critical thinking, or even honesty.

That's 11.8. Thanks for watching.