Thursday, February 27, 2014

Woe For You

Today, if you – kind reader – will allow, I am going to make a bit of a departure from my usual screed. I’m going to take a bit of a tour of a book that the religious right in the US reveres but apparently fails to read – or at least to comprehend. I am going to apply biblical teaching to politics.

This screed is brought to you by nobody in particular; it is true that I have recently had an exchange with someone guilty of the very thing I will discuss, but it is because the practice is so rampant that I want to address it. That practice is that of repeating things which are blatantly and demonstrably untrue in the hopes of convincing people that they are true. For example, Fox News recently ran with the story taken from a poorly labeled poll that 71% of Obama voters in 2012 “regret their choice to vote for Obama.”

This is of course not true, and even a very minimal amount of research (like actually taking the three minutes it took to locate the poll and read the results page) makes it apparent that this is not what the poll shows at all. It actually shows that 90% are happy with their choice and would vote for the president again if they had the choice. It shows that of the 10% who would not hypothetically vote for him again, 71% of those regret having voted for him in the first place. But that is not newsworthy, then is it? “71% Of People, Who Believe They Have Made A Mistake, Regret It” won’t sell many papers – or gain many viewers.  

I have seen this same “Statistic” referenced by a number of my acquaintances on facebook recently and what really makes me sad is that far from being the least bit interested in whether it is true or not, the people who quote it go on to make sweeping generalizations about the president and anyone who thinks he is anything less than Satan incarnate. And herein lay the biblical lesson:

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves."
Matthew 23:15

It seems that some of the purveyors of these blatant falsehoods seem to have forgotten (or never learned in the first place) in the biblical telling of the Woes to the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus calls out the religious leaders of the time for hypocrisy and perjury. The authors of the gospels include this as part of the story of Jesus in one form or another in all four gospels (unlike the nativity – but that is another story…) so they apparently thought that it was important not to perjure oneself or be a hypocrite.

So, how does this apply? The lesson, my dear readers, is that one should really do some minimal amount of questioning before one spreads “news” that has even the hint of contrivance to it. The pharisees (see definition 2) of today are the people who view “news” as a means to an end. A way to convince people to believe the things they want them to believe; regardless of whether what they want people to believe is true or not.

Like the proselyte who becomes twice the “son of hell,” the people who mindlessly repeat the falsehoods presented by such slanted “coverage” go on to spout all manner of garbage which is equally baseless. This, then, becomes meme and spreads. In the discussion that spawned this screed, the proselyte in question went on to quote such classic tropes as millions of doctors losing their jobs because of Obamacare (a charge that even the healthcare industry disputes), that people are losing their homes because of the cost of healthcare (and while this is true, it has nothing to do with Obamacare – in fact, the law may help to mitigate this), and that the president has somehow committed acts that amount to treason (a vague charge that is never fully explained).

In this particular thread, there are also vague and implied claims that the president is the only one in history to have ever lied. I am absolutely nonplussed! Unlike Bill Maher, I am not willing to write these claims off entirely to racism, but then, I did believe eight years ago, when I was living in London, that we would not elect a black man as president. I was certain that the US was not ready to see a black man in the oval office. I guess I was about half-right.

Wherever you are today, I hope that you will have the intellectual integrity to do some minimal amount of research before spreading whatever baseless “news” that you happen to come across.

Don Bergquist – February 27, 2014 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA       


Anonymous said...

I've always found your religious ideas to be insightful but I don't recall seeing you quote from the Bible before. I was wondering if you still are a Catholic who doesn't go to church very much or if maybe things have changed for you and you might now be more involved in a church somewhere?

Anonymous Reader

Don Bergquist said...

Dear Anonymous Reader,

Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog. You do have a knack for asking interesting (and thought-provoking) questions. At the risk of alienating my friends and family who still are practicing Catholics, I will just say that I am no longer convinced that there is sufficient evidence to support the validity of the practice of the religion of my parents.

Have I really never quoted The Bible before? Odd, I tend do to do it rather a lot when discussing the fallacies of religious arguments in the real-space universe. I may not have done it often enough to be necessary in cyber space.

Bill Nye, in his recent debate made a good argument – essentially that there is no evidence for a god-creator of the universe that does not beg the question, but there is plenty evidence which has been experimentally predicted and later verified for a Big Bang. So, since the intelligent god-creator entity hypothesis makes one create an entity that adds nothing to the understanding of the cosmos, and in fact actively suppresses investigation that can be beneficial to the human race, it should be – per Ockham’s Razor, be removed from the equation.

Now, before you assume that I have just said that I am an atheist, I will admit to being somewhat atheistic. We are all atheists to some extent. I do not, for instance, believe that Zeus created the world, or that Nut, the Egyptian sky goddess eats the sun each evening, causing the night time. I am not, however an Atheist with a capital “A.” I do not have enough info to say with 100% Certainty that there is NO god; just that I see no independent evidence for any of the gods that creation, and all the natural phenomena we see around us. Bertrand Russell’s Teapot pours both ways. Just as we say that we cannot accept the existence of a god-creator without direct evidence, we cannot really dismiss him without such evidence.

Any entity which is not directly detectable nor observable can neither be proven nor disproven; it can lay no more claim to authenticity than any other can. And no matter what Mr. Ham (from the aforementioned debate) would have you believe, divine inspiration is neither evidence nor proof. I could claim that the Celestial Teapot poured me a cuppa in a dream last night. That is neither evidence nor proof of its existence. I think that the best we can say is that in our current cosmological model the need for a god-creator is no longer needed, and the chances of the biblical god being an actual and accurate depiction of an actual entity is, on the face of it pretty slim.

But none of this actually answers the question as stated. Am I still a Catholic? No, I believe that the history of the church is sketchy at best. For example telling us that there was nothing south of the equator but a region of impenetrable fire (a fact that I can easily refute from my trips to Australia and South Africa), They also insisted that Copernicus should recant his claim that the earth orbits the sun – instead of the church dogmatic position, the other way round. I will admit to being an existential Catholic. I believe in the existence of the church and believe that some of the underlying ethos (if not the dogma) is good for the human race. It is the mysticism and the active suppression of science that I brook no patience with.

I hope this answers your question.

Thanks again for reading and commenting on my blog.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes I think it is the lack of hard evidence to prove the existence of God that makes a lot of dishonest people embrace religion. They can make any claim they want to about their "relationship" with God and they know that nobody has enough evidence to prove what they are saying is not true.


Don Bergquist said...

Dear Anonymous Reader:

Thanks for reading and commenting!

I am not so sure that I would go so far as to say that dishonest people embrace religion – my point was more to draw the lesson from religion that should be employed in politics. It is aimed at the disingenuous reporting style that panders to the religious right. But then they go on to bear false witness (the religious way of saying “LIE”) in order to persuade the gullible to swallow their political preferences.

But that is not to say that some of the religious arguments that the religious right makes are not highly dishonest. Just look at the case of the law passed in Louisiana that allows state funds to pay for religious schools. The Christian right then seemed to be scandalized to discover that there were religions other than Christianity.

Or take, for example, the religious prejudice law that was just vetoed by Jan Brewer in Arizona. Had it gone into force and allowed the religious right to discriminate with impunity against people who do not hold their beliefs, how surprised would they have been when people with other religions that disagree with theirs stared discriminating against them!?

No, the point here is that dishonest people will say and do anything to suit their ends. It is just amusing when what they say and do doesn’t hold an even keel!

Thanks again for reading and commenting, Anonymous Reader, you always bring-up such interesting topics for discussion.