kottke.org posts about religion

Heaven's Gate still open for businessSep 17 2014

Heavens Gate

In late March 1997, 39 members of the Heaven's Gate group were found dead in a mansion in California, having committed mass suicide in anticipation of being picked up by a spacecraft following the Hale-Bopp comet. When police discovered the bodies and word began to spread via national news, mailing lists, and online forums, a major point of focus was the extensive amount of information left on the group's website.

Whether Hale-Bopp has a "companion" or not is irrelevant from our perspective. However, its arrival is joyously very significant to us at "Heaven's Gate." The joy is that our Older Member in the Evolutionary Level Above Human (the "Kingdom of Heaven") has made it clear to us that Hale-Bopp's approach is the "marker" we've been waiting for -- the time for the arrival of the spacecraft from the Level Above Human to take us home to "Their World" -- in the literal Heavens. Our 22 years of classroom here on planet Earth is finally coming to conclusion -- "graduation" from the Human Evolutionary Level. We are happily prepared to leave "this world" and go with Ti's crew.

If you study the material on this website you will hopefully understand our joy and what our purpose here on Earth has been. You may even find your "boarding pass" to leave with us during this brief "window."

Which website, as Gizmodo's Ashley Feinberg reports, is still very much operational, thanks to the efforts of a pair of Heaven's Gate members who chose to remain in their fleshy "vehicles" on Earth.

Every month, the bills get paid on time. The emails get answered, and any orders filled. Which, for HeavensGate.com, is positively extraordinary. Because as far as the public is aware, every last member of the suicide cult died 17 years ago from a cocktail of arsenic and apple sauce. A few stayed behind, though. Someone had to keep the homepage going.

The site is still up, in part, because the group supported themselves financially by running a web design business.

As far as early 90s web design firms go, Higher Source did it all. And looking back at the archived site for the group's occupational design firm, while they never directly mention their affiliation with the Heaven's Gate cult, subtle references to the company's origins abound. With Higher Source, you were getting "a crew-minded effort" from people who have worked "closely" together for 20 years. Of course, close in this case meant literal bunkmates.

You were getting a lot more than that, though. UFO and suicide cult connotations of hindsight aside, this is one of the most pristine testaments to early internet web design around. Not only could Higher Source program in Java, C++, and Visual Basic as well as use Shockwave, QuickTime, and AVI, they could gradient the hell out of your word art, too.

In 1997, I was working as a web designer for a small web development firm in Minneapolis. Our homepage and services offered were not all that different than Higher Source's. I remember vividly being in the office when the news of the suicide hit and a bunch of us gathered around a computer, browsing through the site before the TV news mentions finally crashed it. It was the first time an internet meme was a major aspect of a national news story. Like, holy shit, they are talking about web design on CNN!

What I don't remember clearly is if Heaven's Gate / Higher Source was being discussed online before the suicides happened. It seems like a UFO cult that also did web design would have been a prime topic for conversation in web development circles. Does anyone recall either way?

Update: Meant to add, watching the videotaped statements of each Heaven's Gate Member before they killed themselves is weird and chilling. They're almost giddy!

Clickbaiting the 10 CommandmentsJul 25 2014

Over at McSweeney's, David Tate imagines more engaging copy for the Ten Commandments, aka you won't believe what God said to this man...

At the Beginning He Had Me Confused, But by Minute Two I Knew That I Shouldn't Have Other Gods.

37 Things in Your Bedroom That You Need to Get Rid of Right Now, Like Adulteresses.

Creation clip from NoahMay 12 2014

This was one of my favorite scenes the film...Russell Crowe's Noah telling his children the creation story, which ends up being half supernatural and half evolution.

Worth watching for the special effects alone.

The new Ten CommandmentsApr 20 2014

From God's Twitter account, a new set of ten commandments:

1 Laugh.
2 Read.
3 Say please.
4 Floss.
5 Doubt.
6 Exercise.
7 Learn.
8 Don't hate.
9 Cut the bullshit.
10 Chill.

Amen.

The Prayer of Saint FrancisApr 08 2014

I am not a religious person, but Reverend Smith spoke a few lines of the Prayer of Saint Francis on an episode of Deadwood I watched recently and I can't stop thinking about it. The prayer in full:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

The Reverend put it slightly differently:

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted, to understand, than to be understood, to love, than to be loved...

Believer in eternal life or not, that's a way of living life I can get behind.

The Bible's anachronistic camel problemFeb 13 2014

There are too many camels in the Bible. Evidence suggests they were domesticated in Israel centuries after the events in Genesis took place.

Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times. Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham's servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac.

These anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history. These camel stories "do not encapsulate memories from the second millennium," said Noam Mizrahi, an Israeli biblical scholar, "but should be viewed as back-projections from a much later period."

Dr. Mizrahi likened the practice to a historical account of medieval events that veers off to a description of "how people in the Middle Ages used semitrailers in order to transport goods from one European kingdom to another."

Update: Added "in Israel" to clarify the camel domestication timeline...they were domesticated much earlier in the Arabian Peninsula.

Archaeologists have established that camels were probably domesticated in the Arabian Peninsula for use as pack animals sometime towards the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. In the southern Levant, where Israel is located, the oldest known domesticated camel bones are from the Aravah Valley, which runs along the Israeli-Jordanian border from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea and was an ancient center of copper production. At a 2009 dig, Dr. Ben-Yosef dated an Aravah Valley copper smelting camp where the domesticated camel bones were found to the 11th to 9th century BCE.

(via @arbesman)

Scientific answers for creationistsFeb 06 2014

The other day, Bill Nye debated Ken Ham about evolution and creationism. At the event, Matt Stopera asked self-identifying creationists to write question/notes to those who "believe" in evolution. Here's one:

Creation is amazing

Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy responded to each of the 22 notes/questions from the creationists. Here's his answer to the comment above:

I agree; it is amazing! I've written about this many times. But we know that complexity can arise naturally through the laws of physics. It doesn't take very complex rules to create huge diversity. Look at poker; a simple set of rules creates a game that has so many combinations it's essentially infinite to human experience. We can figure out the rules of nature by studying the way processes follow them, and deduce what's going on behind the scenes. And whenever we do, we see science.

This makes me think of Richard Feynman's ode to the scientific beauty of a flower:

I have a friend who's an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don't agree with very well. He'll hold up a flower and say "look how beautiful it is," and I'll agree. Then he says "I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing," and I think that he's kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is ... I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it's not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there's also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don't understand how it subtracts.

Snowden and not Pope is Person of the YearDec 11 2013

This morning, Time magazine named Pope Francis their Person of the Year.

He took the name of a humble saint and then called for a church of healing. The first non-European pope in 1,200 years is poised to transform a place that measures change by the century.

On Monday, The New Yorker's John Cassidy argued that Edward Snowden deserved the honor.

According to Time, its award, which will be bestowed on Wednesday, goes to the person who, in the opinion of the magazine's editors, had the most influence on the news. By this metric, it's no contest. In downloading thousands of files from the computers of the electronic spying agency and handing them over to journalists like Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Barton Gellman, Snowden unleashed a torrent of news stories that began in May, when the Guardian and the Washington Post published a series of articles about the N.S.A.'s surveillance activities. Seven months later, the gusher is still open. Just last week, we learned that the agency is tracking the whereabouts of hundreds of millions of cell phones, gathering nearly five billion records a day.

Agreed.

Trailer for NoahNov 14 2013

Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, Black Swan) has made a movie called Noah, about Noah's ark. It stars Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, and Anthony Hopkins. Here's the trailer:

Spoiler: Noah survives and lives to the age of 950. More spoilers in Genesis Chapter 6. (via devour)

The Jewish prisonerMay 02 2013

In a piece published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, David Arenberg describes his experience as one of the very few Jews in the state prison in which he's currently incarcerated.

I am always the last person to eat. It's part of a compromise I worked out with the skinheads who run the western state prison complex where I am incarcerated. Under this compromise, I'm allowed to sit at the whites' tables, but only after the "heads," and then the "woods," and then the "lames" have eaten. I am lower on the totem pole than all of them, the untouchable. I should feel lucky I'm allowed to eat at the whites' tables at all.

Not that there's anywhere else I could eat. The prison yard is broken down into five distinct racial categories and segregation is strictly enforced. There are the "woods" (short for peckerwoods) that encompass the whites, the "kinfolk" (blacks), the "Raza" (American-born people of Mexican descent), the "paisas" (Mexico-born Mexicans), and the "chiefs" (American Indians). Under the strict rules that govern interracial relations, different races are allowed to play on the same sports teams but not play individual games (e.g., chess) together; they may be in each others' cubicles together if the situation warrants but not sit on each others' beds or watch each others' televisions. They may go to the same church services but not pray together. But if you accidentally break one of these rules, the consequences are usually pretty mild: you might get a talking to by one of the heads (who, of course, claims exemption from this rule himself), or at worst, a "chin check."

Eating with another race, however, is a different story. It is an inviolate rule that different races may not break bread together under any circumstances. Violating this rule leads to harsh consequences. If you eat at the same table as another race, you'll get beaten down. If you eat from the same tray as another race, you'll be put in the hospital. And if you eat from the same food item as another race, that is, after another race has already taken a bite of it, you can get killed. This is one area where even the heads don't have any play.

Penn Jillette: Let's end religionJan 24 2013

In response to "Is Atheism a Religion", Penn Jillette answers with a resounding NO.

Religion is faith. Faith is belief without evidence. Belief without evidence cannot be shared. Faith is a feeling. Love is also a feeling, but love makes no universal claims. Love is pure. The lover reports on his or her feelings and needs nothing more. Faith claims knowledge of a world we share but without evidence we can share. Feeling love is beautiful. Feeling the earth is 6,000 years old is stupid.

Religion is often just tribalism: pride in a group one was born into, a group that is often believed to have "God" on its side. We don't need to replace tribalism with anything other than love for all humanity. Let's do that, okay?

(via @dens)

Hanukkah and Thanksgiving overlap this year...and then almost never againJan 17 2013

This year, the first day of Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving Day. Amazingly, this is the first second time it's happened since President Lincoln established Thanksgiving in 1863 and it is also the last time it'll happen until the year 79,811. I'll say that again: after this year, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving Day won't overlap for another 77,798 years.

The reason is because the Jewish calendar is very slowly getting out of sync with the solar calendar, at a rate of 4 days per 1000 years (not bad for a many centuries old calendar!) This means that while presently Hanukkah can be as early as 11/28, over the years the calendar will drift forward, such that the earliest Hanukkah can be is 11/29. The last time Hanukkah falls on 11/28 is 2146 (which happens to be a Monday).

(via @hchamp)

Update: As noted above, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah overlapped once before, in 1888, because Thanksgiving used to fall on the last Thursday in November and not the fourth Thursday.

Lawrence Wright's Scientology bookJan 16 2013

Here's just one of the many odd revelations from Lawrence Wright's book on Scientology that's coming out this week:

John Travolta began taking Scientology courses before his audition for the TV show Welcome Back, Kotter, and fellow students pointed in the direction of ABC Studios to telepathically communicate: 'We want John Travolta for the part.' (He got the part.)

Thankfully, Horshack got the part the old-fashioned way. He raised his hand and said, oooooohhhhh! oooooohhhhh! oooooohhhhh!

We're sacrificing America's children to "our great god Gun"Dec 17 2012

When God said in the Bible "you shall have no other gods before me", one of the gods he was referring to was Moloch, an Ammonite god worshipped by the Phoenicians and Canaanites who was associated with the sacrifice of children by his followers. In a short essay for The New York Review of Books, Gary Wills singles out the gun as America's Moloch.

Read again those lines, with recent images seared into our brains-"besmeared with blood" and "parents' tears." They give the real meaning of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning. That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily-sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children's lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometimes this is done by mass killings (eight this year), sometimes by private offerings to the god (thousands this year).

The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?

Jehovah's Witnesses to the deaf: no masturbation in da clubNov 06 2012

Some genius paired 50 Cent's In Da Club with a video put out by the Jehovah's Witnesses to encourage deaf people not to masturbate. This is probably inappropriate or deafist or whatever, but it also provided me with a much-needed tears-rolling-down face laugh the other day.

(via stellar)

Mrs. Jesus ChristSep 18 2012

A small piece of papyrus with 4th-century writing has turned up recently and the text on it refers to Jesus' wife.

A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School has identified a scrap of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a phrase never seen in any piece of Scripture: "Jesus said to them, 'My wife ...'"

The faded papyrus fragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side, in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. Just below the line about Jesus having a wife, the papyrus includes a second provocative clause that purportedly says, "she will be able to be my disciple."

The article says the papyrus is "probably genuine" but I wouldn't rule out a forgery financed by Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code fortune. (via @Rebeccamead_NYC)

Rushdie: what it's like to live under threat of deathSep 12 2012

In the New Yorker, Salman Rushdie describes how quickly his entire life changed after Iran's Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie's "execution".

He unlocked the front door, went outside, got into the car, and was driven away. Although he did not know it then -- so the moment of leaving his home did not feel unusually freighted with meaning -- he would not return to that house, at 41 St. Peter's Street, which had been his home for half a decade, until three years later, by which time it would no longer be his.

The article is excerpted from Rushdie's memoir, Joseph Anton, which comes out next week. Joseph Anton was the name Rushdie adopted in hiding and, now that I think about it, explains why the NYer piece was written in the third person.

The view of Scientology from the insideAug 07 2012

Tony Ortega has a long interview in the Village Voice with John Brousseau, who was a 32-year member of the Church of Scientology until he left in 2010.

In some ways, Brousseau's tale is one of the most remarkable to come out of the secretive organization, and one that parallels so much of Scientology's own development and controversies.

He and [Scientology leader David] Miscavige were brothers in law. They were both young cameramen working for Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard during his movie-making phase. Brousseau was Hubbard's personal chauffeur and helped maintain the cloak of secrecy when Hubbard vanished for good. He watched Miscavige transform Scientology and turn its base into a prison camp. He worked for Tom Cruise, which included serving in the household with Cruise and Katie Holmes. And having worked closely with both Cruise and Miscavige, he has choice things to say about the nature of their relationship.

Here's part two of the interview.

The Bible's book of Revelation explainedJun 26 2012

Adam Gopnik reviews Elaine Pagels' book, Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation, for the New Yorker. Like much of the Bible, Revelation is largely a reaction to what was happening in that part of the world at the time.

Pagels then shows that Revelation, far from being meant as a hallucinatory prophecy, is actually a coded account of events that were happening at the time John was writing. It's essentially a political cartoon about the crisis in the Jesus movement in the late first century, with Jerusalem fallen and the Temple destroyed and the Saviour, despite his promises, still not back. All the imagery of the rapt and the raptured and the rest that the "Left Behind" books have made a staple for fundamentalist Christians represents contemporary people and events, and was well understood in those terms by the original audience. Revelation is really like one of those old-fashioned editorial drawings where Labor is a pair of overalls and a hammer, and Capital a bag of money in a tuxedo and top hat, and Economic Justice a woman in flowing robes, with a worried look. "When John says that 'the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear's and its mouth was like a lion's mouth,' he revises Daniel's vision to picture Rome as the worst empire of all," Pagels writes. "When he says that the beast's seven heads are 'seven kings,' John probably means the Roman emperors who ruled from the time of Augustus until his own time." As for the creepy 666, the "number of the beast," the original text adds, helpfully, "Let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person." This almost certainly refers-by way of Gematria, the Jewish numerological system-to the contemporary Emperor Nero. Even John's vision of a great mountain exploding is a topical reference to the recent eruption of Vesuvius, in C.E. 79. Revelation is a highly colored picture of the present, not a prophecy of the future.

You'll have to read through the article to discover what early Christianity has to do with this ad for Prada perfume directed by Ridley Scott and starring Daria Werbowy:

Girls Gone Slightly Less Wholesome: Amish spring breakApr 16 2012

Pinecraft, Florida is a popular spring vacation destination for Amish and Mennonites, a place where they can let their hair down by using cellphones and electricity.

Walking around Pinecraft is like entering an idyllic time warp. White bungalows and honeybell orange trees line streets named after Amish families: Kaufman, Schrock, Yoder. The local Laundromat keeps lines outside to hang clothes to dry. (You have to bring your own pins.) And the techiest piece of equipment at the post office is a calculator. The Sarasota county government plans to designate the village, which spreads out over 178 acres, as a cultural heritage district.

Many travelers I spoke to jokingly call it the "Amish Las Vegas," riffing off the clich'e that what happens in Pinecraft stays in Pinecraft. Cellphone and cameras, normally off-limits to Amish, occasionally make appearances, and almost everyone uses electricity in their rental homes. Three-wheeled bicycles, instead of horses and buggies, are ubiquitous.

"When you come down here, you can pitch religion a little bit and let loose," said Amanda Yoder, 19, from Missouri. "What I'm wearing right now, I wouldn't at home," she said, gesturing at sunglasses with sparkly rhinestones and bikini strings peeking out of a tight black tank top. On the outskirts of the village, she boarded public bus No. 11 with six other sunburned teenagers. They were bound for Siesta Key, a quartz-sand beach about eight miles away.

On the occasion of your going into spaceJan 19 2012

Scott Carpenter was one of the original seven Mercury astronauts and the second American to orbit the Earth. Just before he went into space, his father wrote this wonderful letter.

And I venture to predict that after all the huzzas have been uttered and the public acclaim is but a memory, you will derive the greatest satisfaction from the serene knowledge that you have discovered new truths. You can say to yourself: this I saw, this I experienced, this I know to be the truth. This experience is a precious thing; it is known to all researchers, in whatever field of endeavour, who have ventured into the unknown and have discovered new truths.

How Martin Luther's message went viralDec 21 2011

This is a fascinating article from The Economist about how Lutheranism spread through 16th century social networks & media.

The media environment that Luther had shown himself so adept at managing had much in common with today's online ecosystem of blogs, social networks and discussion threads. It was a decentralised system whose participants took care of distribution, deciding collectively which messages to amplify through sharing and recommendation. Modern media theorists refer to participants in such systems as a "networked public", rather than an "audience", since they do more than just consume information. Luther would pass the text of a new pamphlet to a friendly printer (no money changed hands) and then wait for it to ripple through the network of printing centres across Germany.

Unlike larger books, which took weeks or months to produce, a pamphlet could be printed in a day or two. Copies of the initial edition, which cost about the same as a chicken, would first spread throughout the town where it was printed. Luther's sympathisers recommended it to their friends. Booksellers promoted it and itinerant colporteurs hawked it. Travelling merchants, traders and preachers would then carry copies to other towns, and if they sparked sufficient interest, local printers would quickly produce their own editions, in batches of 1,000 or so, in the hope of cashing in on the buzz. A popular pamphlet would thus spread quickly without its author's involvement.

And the bit on news ballads is especially interesting:

The news ballad, like the pamphlet, was a relatively new form of media. It set a poetic and often exaggerated description of contemporary events to a familiar tune so that it could be easily learned, sung and taught to others. News ballads were often "contrafacta" that deliberately mashed up a pious melody with secular or even profane lyrics. They were distributed in the form of printed lyric sheets, with a note to indicate which tune they should be sung to. Once learned they could spread even among the illiterate through the practice of communal singing.

Auto-tune the News anyone? And I thought this sounded an awful lot like Tom Standage (The Economist doesn't use bylines)...turns out this article was adapted from a chapter of his upcoming book on the history of social media.

Exact nonsenseDec 16 2011

From Penn Jillette's book, God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales:

There is no god and that's the simple truth. If every trace of any single religion died out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.

(via mlkshk)

Richard Feynman on beautyOct 04 2011

Richard Feynman talking about the beauty of science and of the natural world over a bunch of video footage taken from NASA, Microcosmos, and BBC nature docs like Planet Earth? This is fantastically right up my alley.

Part two is Honours and part three is Curiosity. If I ever go on hallucinogenic walkabout in the desert, I'd want Richard Feynman to be my spirit animal. (via ★interesting)

Christopher Hitchens on capital punishmentSep 22 2011

From Lapham's Quarterly, Christopher Hitchens on capital punishment in America.

Since then no country has been allowed to apply for membership or association with the European Union without, as a precondition, dismantling its apparatus of execution. This has led states like Turkey to forego what was once a sort of national staple. The United Nations condemns capital punishment-especially for those who have not yet reached adulthood-and the Vatican has come close to forbidding if not actually anathematizing the business. This leaves the United States of America as the only nation in what one might call the West, that does not just continue with the infliction of the death penalty but has in the recent past expanded its reach. More American states have restored it in theory and carried it out in practice, and the last time the Supreme Court heard argument on the question it was to determine whether capital punishment should be inflicted for a crime other than first-degree murder (the rape of a child being the suggested pretext for extension).

Hitchens, as you may have guessed, pins much of the blame on religion...after all, the US is the most (or only?) fundamentalist country in the West. (via ★interesting-links)

The New Yorker takes on ScientologyFeb 10 2011

I'm still powering through it, but the Scientology article in the latest New Yorker is a great read. The article focuses on director and screenwriter Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby), who recently left the church after reaching the church's highest level.

Saddam's blood KoranDec 21 2010

I always thought Kim Jong-il was the clear winner in the Craziest-Ass Dictator Competition, but this move from Saddam Hussein is bold indeed.

Over the course of two painstaking years in the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein had sat regularly with a nurse and an Islamic calligrapher; the former drawing 27 litres of his blood and the latter using it as a macabre ink to transcribe a Qur'an.

(thx, darren)

Faith and knowledgeSep 28 2010

The Pew Research Center recently ran a religious knowledge survey in the US and the results show that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than adherents of various Judeo-Christian religions.

On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life. Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.

You can take a sample survey here. Woo, 15/15. (via mr)

Parting the Red Sea, a scientific explanationSep 24 2010

Using computer modeling of a process called wind setdown, researchers have come up with a plausible scientific explanation of the Biblical parting of the Red Sea.

This animation shows how a strong east wind over the Nile Delta could have pushed water back into ancient waterways after blowing for about nine hours, exposing mud flats and possibly providing an overland escape route similar to the biblical account of the Red Sea parting.

Castro, Israel, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and dolphinsSep 09 2010

Jeffrey Goldberg visited with Fidel Castro recently and has two posts on his Atlantic blog about his meetings with the former Cuban head of state: part one and part two.

After this first meeting, I asked Julia to explain the meaning of Castro's invitation to me, and of his message to Ahmadinejad. "Fidel is at an early stage of reinventing himself as a senior statesman, not as head of state, on the domestic stage, but primarily on the international stage, which has always been a priority for him," she said. "Matters of war, peace and international security are a central focus: Nuclear proliferation climate change, these are the major issues for him, and he's really just getting started, using any potential media platform to communicate his views. He has time on his hands now that he didn't expect to have. And he's revisiting history, and revisiting his own history."

This is substantial reporting but I'll admit my favorite line was:

I've never seen someone enjoy a dolphin show as much as Fidel Castro enjoyed the dolphin show.

Because of Goldberg's reportage on Castro's remarks regarding anti-Semitism, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (and strong critic of Israel) announced yesterday that he would meet with Venezuela's Jewish leaders. Someone get Errol Morris down to Cuba to make a sequel to his film about Robert McNamara. The Fog of Cold War perhaps? (via @kbanderson)

The embryonic stem cell messAug 31 2010

The New Yorker has a long profile of Francis Collins, the ardent Christian whom Obama picked to head up the NIH, and the NIH's role in embryonic stem cell research.

A year later, Obama's appointment of Collins seemed an inspired choice. The President had found not only a man who reflected his own view of the harmony between science and faith but an evangelical Christian who hoped that the government's expansion of embryonic-stem-cell research might bring the culture war over science to a quiet end. On August 23rd, however, Judge Royce C. Lamberth, of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, halted federal spending for embryonic-stem-cell research, putting hundreds of research projects in limbo and plunging the N.I.H. back into a newly contentious national debate.

References to Jesus in FuturamaAug 13 2010

A show like Futurama just can't stay in the past. It keeps coming back, just like our friend Jesus. So do references to Jesus in the show.

You would think that dropping the J-word would initially be pretty mild and nonspecific, then ramp up. But the first season's "When Aliens Attack" comes out swinging:

Earth is invaded by Omicronians demanding to see the season finale of Single Female Lawyer, a television show which was accidentally knocked off the air 1,000 years earlier by Fry. Professor Farnsworth explains that the show no longer exists because most video tapes from that era were destroyed during the Second Coming of Jesus in the year 2443. Ken Keeler, the writer of the episode, considered this joke one of the most blasphemous lines in the show, because it suggested that the Second Coming had been and gone and life on Earth had carried on much as before.

The beginning of "Future Stock" has a toss-off reference:

At the Bot Mitzvah, Fry asks a Jewish robot if they don't believe in Robot Jesus, to which the robot replies, "We believe he was built, and that he was a very well-programmed robot, but he wasn't our Messiah".

In "A Tale of Two Santas", Bender, posing as the murderous robot Santa Claus, is arrested and put on death row. "All of the crew dress up as Santa and Zoidberg dresses up as 'his friend Jesus' to attempt to stay Bender's execution."

Fry: I'm Santa Claus!
Hermes: No, I'm Santa Claus!
Amy: We're also Santa Claus!
Dr. Zoidberg: And I'm his friend Jesus.
Mayor: You guys aren't Santa! You're not even robots. How dare you lie in front of Jesus?

All of the summaries above and below are from Wikipedia's "Religion in Futurama" entry:

When the real Robot Santa appears and attacks the crew and the people attempting to execute Bender, the executioner exclaims "Get him, Jesus!" before diving behind an object, and in reference to Benjamin Franklin's famous remark, Zoidberg replies, "I help those who help themselves."

On several occasions, Professor Farnsworth uses the phrase "Sweet Zombie Jesus!" as an expression of shock or dismay. These exclamations are usually cut for syndication in the United States. In the DVD of Futurama episode "The Deep South," a cut scene shows Farnsworth muttering in his sleep about the Zombie Jesus returning at tea-time, when Farnsworth has no food to supply it.

But that Wikipedia entry missed this line from "Less Than Hero":

Leela: Man, I'm sore all over. I feel like I just went ten rounds with mighty Thor.
Fry: I feel like I was mauled by Jesus.

(All direct quotes from Wikiquote's Futurama page.)

Apple as religious experienceJul 23 2010

At The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal has an interesting post about Apple as a religion and uses that lens to look at the so-called Antennagate** brouhaha. For example, Apple was built on four key myths:

1. a creation myth highlighting the counter-cultural origin and emergence of the Apple Mac as a transformative moment;
2. a hero myth presenting the Mac and its founder Jobs as saving its users from the corporate domination of the PC world;
3. a satanic myth that presents Bill Gates as the enemy of Mac loyalists;
4. and, finally, a resurrection myth of Jobs returning to save the failing company...

On Twitter, Tim Carmody adds that Apple's problems are increasingly theological in nature -- "Free will, problem of evil, Satanic rebellion" -- which is a really interesting way to look at the whole thing. (John Gruber the Baptist?)

** The Antennagate being, of course, the hotel where Apple Inc. is headquartered.

Searching for JesusJun 04 2010

From a recent issue of the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik surveys a recent selection of books about who Jesus was.

The American scholar Bart Ehrman has been explaining the scholars' truths for more than a decade now, in a series of sincere, quiet, and successful books. Ehrman is one of those best-selling authors like Richard Dawkins and Robert Ludlum and Peter Mayle, who write the same book over and over -- but the basic template is so good that the new version is always worth reading. In his latest installment, "Jesus, Interrupted", Ehrman once again shares with his readers the not entirely good news he found a quarter century ago when, after a fundamentalist youth, he went to graduate school: that all the Gospels were written decades after Jesus' death; that all were written in Greek, which Jesus and the apostles didn't speak and couldn't write (if they could read and write at all); and that they were written as testaments of faith, not chronicles of biography, shaped to fit a prophecy rather than report a profile.

Three Sons of God walk into the loony bin...Jun 02 2010

In the late 1950s, psychologist Milton Rokeach took three patients who believed they were Jesus Christ and made them live with each other for two years.

The early meetings were stormy. "You oughta worship me, I'll tell you that!" one of the Christs yelled. "I will not worship you! You're a creature! You better live your own life and wake up to the facts!" another snapped back. "No two men are Jesus Christs. ... I am the Good Lord!" the third interjected, barely concealing his anger.

Dawkins and Hitchens: arrest the PopeApr 13 2010

Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens want to arrest the Pope when he visits Britain in September.

Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the atheist author, have asked human rights lawyers to produce a case for charging Pope Benedict XVI over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church. The pair believe they can exploit the same legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998.

Update: The Times article quoted above is a little misleading says Dawkins.

Needless to say, I did NOT say "I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI" or anything so personally grandiloquent. You have to remember that The Sunday Times is a Murdoch newspaper, and that all newspapers follow the odd custom of entrusting headlines to a sub-editor, not the author of the article itself. What I DID say to Marc Horne when he telephoned me out of the blue, and I repeat it here, is that I am whole-heartedly behind the initiative by Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens to mount a legal challenge to the Pope's proposed visit to Britain.

Nonetheless, there is a legal challenge involving the Pope's visit underway, initiated in part by Dawkins and Hitchens. (thx, lots of people)

Pretend ChristiansFeb 24 2010

From the inbox over at the Freakonomics blog, a family in Texas pretends to be Christian so that their children won't be excluded from play dates.

We found by experience that if we were truthful about not being regular church attenders, the play dates suddenly ended. Thus started the faking of the religious funk.

Thankfully this doesn't seem to be an issue in Manhattan. (via clusterflock)

An American jihadist in SomaliaFeb 03 2010

Omar Hammami was a fairly normal kid from a small town in Alabama -- "as a teenager, his passions veered between Shakespeare and Kurt Cobain, soccer and Nintendo" -- who is now in Somalia, leading terrorist attacks for a group called Shabab, which is loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda.

In the three years since Hammami made his way to Somalia, his ascent into the Shabab's leadership has put him in a class of his own, according to United States law-enforcement and intelligence officials. While other American terror suspects have drawn greater publicity, Hammami exercises a more powerful role, commanding guerrilla forces in the field, organizing attacks and plotting strategy with Qaeda operatives, the officials said. He has also emerged as something of a jihadist icon, starring in a recruitment campaign that has helped draw hundreds of foreign fighters to Somalia. "To have an American citizen that has risen to this kind of a rank in a terrorist organization - we have not seen that before," a senior American law-enforcement official said earlier this month.

See also a New Yorker article about Adam Gadahn, an American who is now a member of Al Qaeda.

After enough erosion you get touristsJan 15 2010

Paul Ford is asked if there is an afterlife and he replies with a thoughtful non-answer answer.

Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking couldn't throw away her dead husband's shoes, for fear that he'd need them when he returned. After my grandfather died I used to fantasize that I could call him and he would answer. "Hey buddy," he'd say. "I was just thinking of you." But they changed the area code for that part of Pennsylvania, from 215 to 610, sold the house, and got rid of his clothes.

The future is AmishDec 10 2009

Kevin Kelly on defining ourselves by technology we don't use:

I'm interested in how people personally decide to refuse a technology. I'm interested in that process, because I think that will happen more and more as the number of technologies keep increasing. The only way we can sort our identity is by not using technology. We're used to be that you define yourself by what you use now. You define yourself by what you don't use.

"Tis not polite to say, English, but we told thee so." See also. (via lined and unlined)

Christopher Hitchens vs.Oct 26 2009

Christopher Hitchens has travelled the world debating religious people. Here's what he has learned.

I haven't yet run into an argument that has made me want to change my mind. After all, a believing religious person, however brilliant or however good in debate, is compelled to stick fairly closely to a "script" that is known in advance, and known to me, too. However, I have discovered that the so-called Christian right is much less monolithic, and very much more polite and hospitable, than I would once have thought, or than most liberals believe.

The weight of a human soulSep 24 2009

In 1907, Dr. Duncan MacDougall found a bunch of people who were about to die and weighed them as they expired. MacDougall claimed that at the point of death, the bodies became lighter. That lost weight, the doctor assumed, was the escaping soul. He even postulated that the souls of the sluggish in life are slow in death:

The subject was that of a man of larger physical build, with a pronounced sluggish temperament. When life ceased, as the body lay in bed upon the scales, for a full minute there appeared to be no change in weight. The physicians waiting in the room looked into each other's faces silently, shaking their heads in the conviction that out test had failed.

Then suddenly the same thing happened that had occurred in the other cases. There was a sudden diminution in weight, which was soon found to be the same as that of the preceding experiments.

I believe that in this case, that of a phlegmatic man slow of thought and action, that the soul remained suspended in the body after death, during the minute that elapsed before it came to the consciousness of its freedom. There is no other way of accounting for it, and it is what might be expected to happen in a man of the subject's temperament.

The weight lost of MacDougall's first subject at death was 3/4 of an ounce...or about 21 grams. (via radiolab)

Religion and science sitting in a tree, c-o-o-p-e-r-a-t-i-n-gAug 24 2009

Writing in the New York Times this weekend, Robert Wright attempts to reconcile religion and science. The middle ground is the "built-in" moral sense of our universe, in that the universe builds and rewards organisms that cooperate with one another.

I bring good news! These two warring groups have more in common than they realize. And, no, it isn't just that they're both wrong. It's that they're wrong for the same reason. Oddly, an underestimation of natural selection's creative power clouds the vision not just of the intensely religious but also of the militantly atheistic.

If both groups were to truly accept that power, the landscape might look different. Believers could scale back their conception of God's role in creation, and atheists could accept that some notions of "higher purpose" are compatible with scientific materialism. And the two might learn to get along.

This is essentially the subject of the last chapter or two of Wright's The Evolution of God, the only part of this excellent book that I didn't quite buy into, even though I've been thinking about his conclusion quite a bit since finishing the book.

Angels in AmazonJul 30 2009

The Kindle version of the Koran lists Gabriel as a co-author...you know, the angel who revealed the Koran to Muhammad. (via the browser)

No faith in scienceJul 29 2009

The mother of an 11-year-old girl who died of undiagnosed diabetes as the family prayed for her to get better testified Tuesday that she believes sickness is caused by sin and can be cured by God.

Leilani Neumann told the jury in her husband's trial that she thought her daughter's March 2008 illness was a test of her religious faith and she didn't take the girl to a doctor because that would have been "complete disobedience to what we believe."

There isn't enough hard drive space on my server to record all the Fuck Yous I'd love to direct at Mrs. Naumann and her husband in this post. I hope the judge's god is telling him to sentence these two monsters to forever in prison. (via cyn-c)

Megachurches and corporations are alikeJun 26 2009

From Joseph Clarke in Triple Canopy, a comparison of the histories of the American megachurch and corporation.

Lakewood and America's twelve hundred other megachurches -- congregations that draw between two thousand and fifty thousand people per weekend -- are not simply vast machines for passive spectatorship. Sunday services are convergences of worshipers who spend their weeknights at prayer groups, Bible studies, ministries, and missionary training sessions. Successful megachurches are like well-run companies, with intricate corporate structures devised to keep each member personally engaged; their pastors are like chief executives, maximizing the productivity of laborers in the evangelism enterprise. Jumbotron notwithstanding, the architectural and organizational tropes of the megachurch are best compared to those of the modern white-collar workplace.

BreathariansJun 24 2009

Last night I found out about the most amazing load of crap I have ever heard of: breatharianism, a extreme diet whose most dedicated followers claim to subsist on air only. There are a number of variations on this basic theme but perhaps the most colorful breatharian is Wily Brooks. From Wikipedia:

Wiley Brooks is a purported breatharian, and founder of the "Breatharian Institute of America". He was first introduced to the public in 1980, when he appeared on the TV show That's Incredible!. Wiley has stopped teaching in recent years, so he can "devote 100% of his time on solving the problem as to why he needed to eat some type of food to keep his physical body alive and allow his light body to manifest completely." Wiley Brooks believes that he has found "four major deterrents" which prevented him from living without food: "people pollution", "food pollution", "air pollution" and "electro pollution". In 1983 he was allegedly observed leaving a Santa Cruz 7-Eleven with a Slurpee, hot dog and Twinkies.

He told Colors magazine in 2003 that he periodically breaks his fasting with a cheeseburger and a cola, explaining that when he's surrounded by junk culture and junk food, consuming them adds balance. On his website, Brooks explains that his future followers must first prepare by combining the junk food diet with the meditative incantation of five magic "fifth-dimensional" words which appear on his website. In the "Question and Answer" section of his website, Brooks explains that the "Double Quarter-Pounder with Cheese" meal from McDonald's possesses a special "base frequency" and that he thus recommends it as occasional food for beginning breatharians. He then goes on to reveal that the secret of Diet Coke is "liquid light". Prospective disciples are asked after some time on this junk food/magic word preparation to revisit his website in order to test if they can feel the magic.

He further mentions that those interested can call him on his fifth-dimensional phone number in order to get the correct pronunciation of the five magic words. In case the line is busy, prospective recruits are asked to meditate on the five magic words for a few minutes, and then try calling again; he does not explain how anyone can meditate with words they cannot yet pronounce. Brooks's "institute", in the past, charged varying fees to prospective clients who wished to learn how to live without food, which ranged from US$15 million to $25 million. These charges have historically been presented as limited time offers exclusively for billionaires, New lower fees have been set to $10,000 with an initial deposit of $2,000.

He wants to consume only air but can't stop eating McDonald's hamburgers! Diet Coke is liquid light! My impulse is to say "you just can't make this stuff up, folks" but that's obviously not true. Kinda makes you want to start your own completely implausible religion, doesn't it? (thx, andy)

Geeking OutJun 17 2009

Geeking Out sounds interesting, but I can't go. Perhaps you'd like to?

This month, we'll be discussing the interaction between science and religion with speakers including: astrophysicist and Is God a Mathematician? author Mario Livio; psychologist Paul Bloom, the author of Descartes' Baby; and The GOD Part of the Brain author Matthew Alper, one of the founders of the field of neurotheology. The work of local artists will be on display as well.

Geeking Out will be held Thursday, June 18th, at 7:30 pm (doors open at 7:00 pm) at the JLA Studios art gallery on 63 Pearl St in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn. Admission is FREE. Drinks will be available. Please spread the word and bring your friends.

Ricky Gervais on atheismMay 29 2009

A quote attributed to Ricky Gervais about his atheism.

It annoys me that the burden of proof is on us. It should be: you came up with the idea. Why do you believe it?

(via cyn-c)

The Evolution of GodMay 11 2009

The Evolution of God

Robert Wright has a new book out soon called The Evolution of God. Andrew Sullivan has a review.

From primitive animists to the legends of the first gods, battling like irrational cloud-inhabiting humans over the cosmos, Wright tells the story of how war and trade, technology and human interaction slowly exposed humans to the gods of others. How this awareness led to the Jewish innovation of a hidden and universal God, how the cosmopolitan early Christians, in order to market their doctrines more successfully, universalised and sanitised this Jewish God in turn, and how Islam equally included a civilising universalism despite its doctrinal rigidity and founding violence.

Last month's issue of The Atlantic contained an excerpt.

For all the advances and wonders of our global era, Christians, Jews, and Muslims seem ever more locked in mortal combat. But history suggests a happier outcome for the Peoples of the Book. As technological evolution has brought communities, nations, and faiths into closer contact, it is the prophets of tolerance and love that have prospered, along with the religions they represent. Is globalization, in fact, God's will?

I loved two of Wright's previous books, The Moral Animal and especially Nonzero. (via marginal revolution)

Open-mindednessApr 08 2009

This video explains how to counteract the "you're not being open-minded" argument that atheists and scientists sometimes get when confronted by those who believe in the supernatural.

Trying to suggest that a lack of explanation is evidence that supernatural powers are at work is actually a contradiction. In effect what it's saying is, "I can't explain something, therefore I can explain it."

(via buzzfeed)

The Evolution of ReligionsApr 07 2009

Jared Diamond lecture on the evolution of religions.

Sabbath ModeMar 25 2009

Some appliances are sold with a Sabbath Mode for those who observe the Jewish day of rest. Here are the notes for a Sub-Zero refrigerator:

- The door can be opened/closed at any time without concern of directly turning on or off any lights, digital readouts, solenoids, fans, valves, compressor, icons, tones or alarms.

- Any defrost cycle that becomes active will not be a function of the number of times or the length of time that the door is opened.

- The ice maker is disabled automatically. Ice cubes can then be made manually (using a standard ice cube tray) as needed for that Sabbath/Holiday.

- All dispenser functions are deactivated.

There are also special Shabbot elevators that stop on each floor so that no buttons need to be pushed. One could imagine a Sabbath Web Browser that would require no button pushing...it would just browse through a list of your favorite web sites automatically and you could dip in and read when you wanted.

Field trip to DarwinismMar 16 2009

Every year, a professor from Liberty University takes his Advanced Creation Studies biology class to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History to check out the opposition.

"There's nothing balanced here. It's completely, 100 percent evolution-based," said DeWitt, a professor of biology. "We come every year, because I don't hold anything back from the students."

Creationists, who take their view of natural history straight from the book of Genesis, believe that scientific data can be interpreted to support their idea that God made the first human, Adam, in an essentially modern form 6,000 to 10,000 years ago.

A 2006 poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 42 percent of Americans believe humans have always existed in their present form. At universities such as Liberty, founded by the late Jerry Falwell, those views inform the entire science curriculum.

(via clusterflock)

Did Reagan Try to Convert Gorbachev?Mar 16 2009

One of the many things on Ronald Reagan's mind during the height of the Cold War in the 1980s was the nature of Mikhail Gorbachev's religious beliefs. Some recently declassified notes taken during a summit meeting in Moscow in 1988 indicate that Reagan went so far as to attempt to convert Gorbachev to Christianity.

Gorbachev tried to switch the subject. Perhaps the United States and the Soviet Union might open the way for greater cooperation in space, he told the president. But the president wasn't to be diverted. According to the transcript, Reagan told Gorbachev that space was in the direction of heaven, but not as close to heaven as some other things that they had been discussing.

As the meeting ended, Reagan became even more direct and personal. He noted that his own son Ron did not believe in God either. "The President concluded that there was one thing he had long yearned to do for his atheist son. He wanted to serve his son the perfect gourmet dinner, to have him enjoy the meal, and then to ask him if he believed there was a cook."

Amish technologyFeb 12 2009

Kevin Kelly has written a great post called Amish Hackers, which addresses the myth that the Amish don't use technology. As Kelly illustrates, the Amish use electricity, cell phones, cars and even the internet but their adoption of technology is not quick, they rent rather than buy (e.g. taking taxis rather than owning cars), and their default stance with any new gadget is to test first to see if it fits with their views.

One Amish-man told me that the problem with phones, pagers, and PDAs (yes he knew about them) was that "you got messages rather than conversations." That's about as an accurate summation of our times as any. Henry, his long white beard contrasting with his young bright eyes told me, "If I had a TV, I'd watch it." What could be simpler?

(via waxy)

David Attenborough gets hate mail?Jan 27 2009

David Attenborough, the voice of several thousand hours of nature films, gets hate mail from viewers who believe he should be crediting God for nature's beauty.

Telling the magazine that he was asked why he did not give "credit" to God, Attenborough added: "They always mean beautiful things like hummingbirds. I always reply by saying that I think of a little child in east Africa with a worm burrowing through his eyeball. The worm cannot live in any other way, except by burrowing through eyeballs. I find that hard to reconcile with the notion of a divine and benevolent creator."

(via cyn-c)

Whole wheat Christ has more flavorDec 26 2008

The Cavanagh Company of Greenville, Rhode Island makes about 80% of the communion wafers used by several Christian churches in the US.

Some customers say the Cavanaghs have such a big market share because their product is about as close to perfect as earthly possible. "It doesn't crumb, and I don't like fragments of our Lord scattering all over the floor," said the Rev. Bob Dietel, an Episcopal priest.

Some unusual BiblesDec 15 2008

The best selling Bible study text on Amazon right now is Bible Illuminated, a "286-page glossy oversized magazine style" version of the New Testament (look inside here).

A site that bills itself as the #1 Christian Porn Site sells Jesus Loves Porn Stars Bibles.

The Green Bible is also very popular on Amazon.

The Green Bible will equip and encourage people to see God's vision for creation and help them engage in the work of healing and sustaining it. With over 1,000 references to the earth in the Bible, compared to 490 references to heaven and 530 references to love, the Bible carries a powerful message for the earth.

James Earl Jones Reads The Bible.

In a voice as rich as it is recognized, James Earl Jones lends his narrative talents to the King James Version of the New Testament. In over 19 hours on 16 compact discs enhanced with a complete musical score, James Earl Jones interprets the most enduring book of our time utilizing the acclaimed actor's superb storytelling and skilled characterizations. Hailed as the greatest spoken-word bible version ever, and with almost half a million copies sold, this exquisite audio treasury is certain to enthuse and inspire.

The Message Remix 2.0 is a version for young people written in "today's language". Here's the first few verses of Genesis:

First this: God created the Heavens and Earth -- all you see, all you don't see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God's Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.

Inspired By The Bible Experience is a 85-hour audiobook of the entire Bible with over 400 different readers, including Cuba Gooding Jr., Denzel Washington, LL Cool J, and Faith Evans. Samuel L. Jackson plays God! I wonder if he gets to recite this bit from Pulp Fiction:

The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.

The Chronological Study Bible presents the text of the Bible in the order in which they occurred.

The Manga Bible.

The Brick Testament is an online Lego version of the Bible. See The Last Supper. (via BBC)

A very important ladderNov 24 2008

On one of the window ledges of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem sits a wooden ladder that's been there since at least 1835. The purpose of the ladder is unclear but its placement there is due to the Status Quo. When the wood rots, it's replaced. And like many other aspects of the church's ownership arrangement, the continued existence of the ladder is taken very seriously.

Last Monday, chairs, iron bars, and fists flew on the roof of one of the most revered sites in Christianity, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. When the dust cleared, seven Ethiopian Orthodox monks and four Egyptian (Coptic) monks had been injured. The fight started when an Egyptian monk decided to move his chair into the shade -- technically, argued the Ethiopians, encroaching on the latter's jurisdiction.

The linked-to page is on Geocities so it'll likely reach its quota very quickly...maybe bookmark and come back for a look? (thx, phil)

Our daily breadAug 18 2008

Every now and then, you may find yourself wondering: how many atoms of Jesus do you eat everyday?

In the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, the eucharist actually becomes the blood and body of Jesus Christ. [...] Transubstantiation means that eventually the earth's entire biomass will be made out of Jesus.

Eventually = 4.91 billion years.

No image in toast for atheistAug 07 2008

Atheist finds image of nothing in his toast. Quick, put the toast on eBay!

Banana, the atheist's nightmareJun 09 2008

Man, I love this video. It's some guy explaining how the banana -- "the atheist's nightmare" -- so perfectly fits in the human hand and peels so easily that it must have been made by God**. Kirk Cameron listens intently. I can't wait for the followup video where he explains why watermelons don't have handles and what God was thinking when he built the coconut.

** Not that this guy cares or whatever, but the modern banana is a cultivated fruit...i.e. pressured by humans to, oh what's the word...evolve into its present form. And other varieties of bananas are smaller or larger and differently shaped. Some wild bananas have large hard seeds. I could go on....

No professing about itJun 04 2008

We were talking about the cocksure Christopher Hitchens at lunch today and when I get back to my desk, a link to an interview with Hitchens appears in my newsreader.

Oh, and I do not "profess" to despise religious extremists. I really do despise them.

(via clusterflock)

Masonic handbookApr 30 2008

Photos of a Masonic handbook from 1920 called King Solomon and His Followers -- A Valuable Aid to the Memory. The text is written in shorthand. (via clusterflock)

You won't need to do that. SheApr 29 2008

You won't need to do that. She will be alive by then.

That's what the parents of a dead 11-year-old girl said when told the medical examiner was to do an autopsy on her. The girl died from untreated diabetes while her parents, convinced she was under "spiritual attack", prayed for her instead of taking her to the doctor. They face up to 25 years in prison and probably zero guilt because it was all God's plan.

A list of the Bible's greatest massacres.Apr 17 2008

A list of the Bible's greatest massacres.

3. Elijah (and God) burned to death 102 religious leaders in a prayer contest. 2 Kings 1:10-12

(via cyn-c)

A profile of elaborate huckster Pat Robertson.Apr 01 2008

A profile of elaborate huckster Pat Robertson. Here's the introduction to the article from the VQR blog:

Sizemore looks at Roberton's weight-loss diet shakes, his Liberian diamond-mining operation, African gold-mining operation, his Cayman Island for-profit corporation, and his role in the US attorney appointments scandal. In short, Sizemore doesn't find much to like about the man.

And here's a fun little snippet about how they were planning for the broadcast of the second coming of Jesus:

We even discussed how Jesus' radiance might be too bright for the cameras and how we would have to make adjustments for that problem. Can you imagine telling Jesus, 'Hey, Lord, please tone down your luminosity; we're having a problem with contrast. You're causing the picture to flare.'

If only toning down the luminosity of Jesus were that simple.

A short list of What Every AmericanApr 01 2008

A short list of What Every American Should Know About the Middle East.

Arabs are part of an ethnic group, not a religion. Arabs were around long before Islam, and there have been (and still are) Arab Christians and Arab Jews. In general, you're an Arab if you 1) are of Arab descent (blood), or 2) speak the main Arab language (Arabic).

A companion list of what every resident of the Middle East should know about the US might also be helpful. (via chris glass)

In The Year of Living Biblically, AJMar 31 2008

In The Year of Living Biblically, AJ Jacobs followed all the rules in the Bible as literally as he could.

The book that came out of the year has several layers.

- An exploration of some of the Bible's startlingly relevant rules. I tried not to covet, gossip, or lie for a year. I'm a journalist in New York. This was not easy.

- An investigation of the rules that baffle the 21st century brain. How to justify the laws about stoning homosexuals? Or smashing idols? Or sacrificing oxen? And how do you follow those in modern-day Manhattan?

Jacobs was recently interviewed by Jewish culture magazine Jewcy about the book and will be talking about his experience tomorrow at the 92nd St. Y.

Despite a common heritage, the social, economic,Mar 31 2008

Despite a common heritage, the social, economic, and political differences between the United States and Britain are, in some cases, great.

Like most west Europeans, Britons tend to have more left-wing views than Americans, but the first chart shows that this is often by a surprising margin. ("Left" and "right" are harder to locate than they were: here "left" implies a big-state, secular, socially liberal, internationalist and green outlook; right, the reverse.) The data are derived by subtracting left-wing answers from right-wing ones, for each country and for each main political grouping within each country. A net minus rating suggests predominantly left-wing views and a positive rating suggests a preponderance of right-wing views.

Compared to Britain, the US is a remarkably conservative nation. The companion chart is a good look at some of the data. (via gongblog)

Maybe this is surprising to you: whenMar 12 2008

Maybe this is surprising to you: when compared to Roman Catholicism, Islam is less conservative when it comes to sexual ethics.

Video of a debate between Christopher HitchensFeb 08 2008

Video of a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on the topic of "Does God Exist?"

John Allen Paulos has 12 irreligious questions forFeb 05 2008

John Allen Paulos has 12 irreligious questions for the candidates. Among them:

Is it right to suggest, as many have, that atheists and agnostics are somehow less moral when the numbers on crime, divorce, alcoholism and other measures of social dysfunction show that non-believers in the United States are extremely under-represented in each category?

How would you suggest that we reason with someone who claims that his or her decisions are informed, shaped, even dictated by fundamental religious principles, which nevertheless can't be probed or questioned by those who don't share them?

(via 3qd)

Cynical-C shares some of the more interestingJan 31 2008

Cynical-C shares some of the more interesting complaints received by the FCC about television programming. One viewer complains about The Family Guy:

The show has no redeeming/moral value what so ever. The show actually had the gall to show GOD in bed with a young woman ready to have sexual intercourse and the dialogue to go with that event, including the use of condoms. They also had Jesus and his earthly father Joseph having an argument. Along with portraying the total disrespect of family values Stewie hitting his mother, the father and son ganging up on the wife/mother, there was also a male sexual predator in this episode as well.; The whole show was quite revolting. It should be taken off the air.

God's Eye View presents four important BiblicalDec 17 2007

God's Eye View presents four important Biblical events as if captured by Google Earth, including The Crucifixion, Noah's Ark, and Moses parting the Red Sea.

Duelity is a split-screen movie with oneDec 12 2007

Duelity is a split-screen movie with one half of the screen showing the six-day creation of the earth & man in scientific terms and the other half showing the Big Bang/evolution origin of the universe as it might have been written in the Bible. (Click on "watch" then "duelity" to get the full effect.) Nice use of infographics and illustration. (thx, slava)

Photographer Justin Guariglia spent eight years documentingNov 27 2007

Photographer Justin Guariglia spent eight years documenting the secretive warrior monks of the Shaolin Temple.

With the blessing of the main abbot, Shi Yong Xin, Guariglia has earned the full collaboration of the monks to create an astonishing, empathic record of the Shaolin art forms and the individuals who consider themselves the keepers of these traditions. It is the first time the monks have allowed such extensive documentation of these masters and their centuries-old art forms-from Buddhist mudras to classical kung fu-in their original setting, a 1,500-year-old Buddhist temple.

Photos and video here. Watching the videos, especially the one featuring Tong Jian Quan, I was reminded of hip hop dancing (Michael Jackson in particular) in a way that watching kung-fu and other martial arts in Hollywood movies does not.

Also, Shaolin monk Hai Deng was famous for performing a one-finger handstand. The video seems a little suspect but this performance brings the single finger handstand into the realm of possibility.

Sarah Hepola has a pair of interviewsOct 26 2007

Sarah Hepola has a pair of interviews up on her site with two Mormon teens (first interview, second interview).

Joseph Smith was evil incarnate -- a little insane, but more evil. Sort of like Charles Manson, only slightly better looking.

I hereby declare the interviewees the two most articulate teenagers on the internet. (via the morning news)

No place for childrenOct 04 2007

We're running a bit behind in watching The War; we stopped the other night right before D-Day. The series is quite good so far, even with all its flaws. The last section we watched dealt with the Battle of Monte Cassino and the related Battle of Anzio in Italy. With the Germans holding the high ground, these battles were some of toughest of the war for the Allies. During one particularly difficult moment, an American soldier yelled out a prayer (I'm paraphrasing slightly): "Oh God, where are you? We really could use your help down here. And don't send Jesus, come down here yourself. This ain't no place for children."

How to Read the BibleOct 01 2007

How to Read the Bible

James Kugel is a former professor of Hebrew Studies at Harvard and an Orthodox Jew whose current book, How to Read the Bible, is getting really good reviews. From a NY Times piece on the book:

Most unsettling to religious Jews and Christians may be Kugel's chapters about the origins of God and his chosen people. Kugel says that there is essentially no evidence -- archaeological, historical, cultural -- for the events in the Torah. No sign of an exodus from Egypt; no proof that Israelites ever invaded, much less conquered, Canaan; no indication that Jericho was ever sacked. In fact, quite the contrary: current evidence suggests that the Israelites were probably Canaanites themselves, semi-nomadic highlanders or fleeing city dwellers who gradually separated from their mother culture, established a distinct identity and invented a mythical past.

A first chapter of the book is also available:

In going through the Bible, however, this book will focus not only on what the text says but on the larger question of what a modern reader is to make of it, how it is to be read. This will mean examining two quite different ways of understanding the Bible, those of modern biblical scholars and of ancient interpreters.

(via mr, where the normally unreserved Tyler Cowen says of the book, "[it's] so good I don't know what to say about [it]")

From an article about teen Christians campaigningSep 13 2007

From an article about teen Christians campaigning against pop culture:

"At one point in Jared Hutchins' young life, the Beatles were a big problem. 'I had to stop listening to them for a while,' said Hutchins, who lives in Cumming, Georgia, and plays the piano, guitar and harmonica. He said the group's world view 'had a negative effect on me,' and made him irritable and angry."

"'We're fighting for those who don't know they have a voice, that are being manipulated by our pop culture indulging in things that, really, they're not mature enough to be thinking about yet,' Luce told CNN. 'Kids are hurting,' he said. And of those who he feels inflict these moral wounds, Luce said, 'We call them terrorists, virtue terrorists, that are destroying our kids. They're raping virgin teenage America on the sidewalk, and everybody's walking by and acting like everything's OK. And it's just not OK.'"

"Virtue terrorists raping virgin teenage America" is quite the turn-of-phrase.

Biologists Helping Bookstores is a guerilla effortJul 29 2007

Biologists Helping Bookstores is a guerilla effort to reshelve pseudo-scientific books (books on intelligent design, for instance), taking them from the Science section and moving them to a more appropriate area of the store, like Philosophy, Religion, or Religious Fiction. (via mr)

Christopher Hitchens' book about religion and atheismJun 25 2007

Christopher Hitchens' book about religion and atheism is a surprise hit.

The results from a recent Gallup pollJun 14 2007

The results from a recent Gallup poll show that more Americans accept creationism than do evolution. Among registered Republicans, almost 7 in 10 don't believe in evolution. (via cynical-c)

David Plotz has finished his Blogging theJun 07 2007

David Plotz has finished his Blogging the Bible series at Slate...he wrote about each book of the Old Testament. "While I've been blogging the Bible, I have tried not to take myself too seriously and not to pretend more insight than I actually have. I just wanted to read the book and write about what it's like to read it. No essays, no philosophy, no experts."

Earlier this month during a debate betweenMay 31 2007

Earlier this month during a debate between the Republican candidates for the US Presidency in 2008, three candidates raised their hands when asked if they didn't believe in evolution. One of the three, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, has an op-ed in the NY Times today that more fully expresses his view. "The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God."

Update: A related op-ed from The Onion: I Believe In Evolution, Except For The Whole Triassic Period. (thx, third)

Last 100 posts, part 8May 30 2007

Here are some updates on some of the topics, links, ideas, posts, people, etc. that have appeared on kottke.org recently (previous installment is here):

The Celluloid Skyline exhibition at Grand Central is well worth checking out...I was up there this past weekend. Pentagram collaborated with Saunders on the exhibit and wrote up a brief piece on how it came together.

My short post on Nina Planck's reaction to the recent "death by veganism", as she calls it, of a baby boy is a good reminder that I don't always agree with the things I link to. My only criteria for posting a link is that it's interesting, whether I think it's right or wrong or am still trying to form an opinion about it. Anyway, I got lots of mail about this one, much of it that said that the parents' veganism was beside the point -- which the prosecutors and jury in the subsequent criminal case agreed with (thx, matt) -- and that a headline like "Death By Stupidity" was probably more appropriate. After all, you don't see "Death by Omnivorism" headlines every time a baby with a more traditional diet dies of starvation.

Debra from Culiblog pointed out that contrary to Planck's assertion that "there are no vegan societies", the Jainists practice vegetarianism and veganism. On the other side of the aisle, meat fan Michael Ruhlman chastised Planck for going too easy on vegans, saying that "Veganism is a colossal arrogance, a refusal to admit to our own nature, a denial of our humanity. Sometimes it kills people. And it's not very much fun, besides." You can imagine the discussion that generated...although it was nothing like the 300+ comment thread on MetaFilter.

My opinion of Cars improved with a second viewing.

Discover's chat bot conversation reminded a reader of this old interview with the Ask Jeeves search engine (thx david). Back in 2002, I interviewed ELLEGirl magazine's AIMbot:

jkottke: Do you do anything to celebrate or recognize the changing of seasons?
ELLEgirlBuddy: do you do anything to celebrate or recognize the changing of seasons? that's a tough choice.
jkottke: yes, to celebrate or merely recognize. that is a toughie.
ELLEgirlBuddy: yes to celebrate or merely recognize that is a toughie? i dunno.
jkottke: you seem like an actual 13 year old girl.
ELLEgirlBuddy: i haven't really made a decision 'bout that.
jkottke: growing up is tough, isn't it?
ELLEgirlBuddy: i dunno.

And whoever posted the chat bot story to Digg (5696 Diggs and counting!) used the exact wording from my original post. You're welcome!

Prime, David Burke's quarter-million-dollar Black Angus bull, has his own web site. (thx, brian)

Regarding Alex Reisner's excellent baseball statistics web site and, in particular, the pennant race graphs, here's another interesting visualization of the pennant races...you can see the teams race to the end of the year like horses. (thx, scott)

Re: my post on better living through self-deception, I've heard that pregnant women tend to forget the pain of childbirth, perhaps because "endorphins reduce the amount of information trauma victims can store". Also related tangetially is this article on research into lying and laughing, which includes this simple test to see if you're a good liar:

Are you a good liar? Most people think that they are, but in reality there are big differences in how well we can pull the wool over the eyes of others. There is a very simple test that can help determine your ability to lie. Using the first finger of your dominant hand, draw a capital letter Q on your forehead.

Some people draw the letter Q in such a way that they themselves can read it. That is, they place the tail of the Q on the right-hand side of their forehead. Other people draw the letter in a way that can be read by someone facing them, with the tail of the Q on the left side of their forehead. This quick test provides a rough measure of a concept known as "self-monitoring". High self-monitors tend to draw the letter Q in a way in which it could be seen by someone facing them. Low self-monitors tend to draw the letter Q in a way in which it could be read by themselves.

High self-monitors tend to be concerned with how other people see them. They are happy being the centre of attention, can easily adapt their behaviour to suit the situation in which they find themselves, and are skilled at manipulating the way in which others see them. As a result, they tend to be good at lying. In contrast, low self-monitors come across as being the "same person" in different situations. Their behaviour is guided more by their inner feelings and values, and they are less aware of their impact on those around them. They also tend to lie less in life, and so not be so skilled at deceit.

The skyscraper with one floor isn't exactly a new idea. Rem Koolhaas won a competition to build two libraries in France with one spiraling floor in 1992 (thx, mike). Of course, there's the Guggenheim in NYC and many parking garages.

After posting a brief piece on Baltimore last week, I discovered that several of my readers are current or former residents of Charm City...or at least have an interest in it. Armin sent along the Renaming Baltimore project...possible names are Domino, Maryland and Lessismore. A Baltimore Sun article on the Baltimore Youth Lacrosse League published shortly after my post also referenced the idea of "Two Baltimores. Two cities in one." The Wire's many juxtapositions of the "old" and "new" Baltimore are evident to viewers of the series. Meanwhile, Mobtown Shank took a look at the crime statistics for Baltimore and noted that crime has actually decreased more than 40% from 1999 to 2005. (thx, fred)

Cognitive Daily took an informal poll and found that fewer than half the respondants worked a standard 8-5 Mon-Fri schedule. Maybe that's why the streets and coffeeshops aren't empty during the workday.

By now, you've probably heard of theMay 30 2007

By now, you've probably heard of the Creation Museum that just opened in Kentucky with the idea that the Bible is "the history book of the universe". Pharyngula has an extensive roundup of information and reaction to the museum, including this inside look at the place. "Journalists, you have a problem. Most of the articles written on this 'museum' bend over backwards to treat questions like 'Did Man walk among Dinosaurs?' as serious, requiring some kind of measured response from multiple points of view, and rarely even recognized the scientific position that the question should not only be answered with a strong negative, but that it is absurd."

Religions ranked by number of adherents. 1. Christianity 2. Islam 3. Nonreligious.May 21 2007

Religions ranked by number of adherents. 1. Christianity 2. Islam 3. Nonreligious.

Three of the candidates in the recentMay 05 2007

Three of the candidates in the recent Republican presidential debate said they don't believe in evolution: Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Hard to believe that this is 2007 and not 1807. John McCain said he did believe in evolution but that "I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also".

Update: An earlier version of this post wrongly stated that Mitt Romney raised his hand when asked about disbelieving evolution...Tom Tancredo was the third person. (thx to several who wrote in about this)

Darren Aronofsky is working on a screenplayMay 02 2007

Darren Aronofsky is working on a screenplay for a film about Noah. You know, the dude with the Ark. "Noah was the first person to plant vineyards and drink wine and get drunk. It's there in the Bible -- it was one of the first things he did when he reached land. There was some real survivor's guilt going on there. He's a dark, complicated character."

rating: 3.0 stars

Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples TempleApr 12 2007

Even though I wasn't that familiar with the whole Jim Jones/Jonestown story, I felt like they rushed through the early parts of the story...might have worked better at 2 hours than at 90 minutes. The ending is great, a well-paced mix of personal narrative, photography, audio, and video from the last fateful day of over 900 people. After the movie ended, I was trying to imagine what would happen if Jonestown (or to a lesser extent, the Branch Davidian thing or Heaven's Gate) occurred today. Religious cult leader brainwashes all these people and then kills 900 of them in the South American jungle, including a United States Congressman? CNN, et. al. would got nuts for a start...I don't know if 72 pt. type on their homepage would be enough. The blogosphere would probably go supernova as well.

The American Experience site has more information about Jones and the film. Check your local listings as well...you might be able to catch the film on PBS sometime in the next week or so.

Recency of historyMar 22 2007

Thoughtful post on the extreme recency of recorded human history. We know very little about the people who lived before the invention of writing and collections of stories like the Bible, save for what we can glean from speechless skeletons, footprints, and other remains.

And look at how much is lost. Between the time of the couple fleeing across a field of volcanic ash and poor dead Lucy lies 400,000 years. If a Bible is a record of the struggle of a people for 2,000 years, we'd need 200 Bibles to tell us the tale of just this one obscure, remote branch of our lineage.

(thx, alexander)

An Intelligent Designer designs a cow. "HowMar 22 2007

An Intelligent Designer designs a cow. "How about we give it three, no eleven, no four stomachs! Four stomachs! For the efficient eating, of the grass. I am truly inspired! Don't stop there. How's this? This animal should urinate milk. From its groin, no less."

The Face2Face Project takes similar photographsMar 09 2007

The Face2Face Project takes similar photographs of Palestinians and Israelis and displays them together in pairs. "After a week [in Israel and Palestine], we had a conclusion with the same words: these people look the same; they speak almost the same language, like twin brothers raised in different families. It's obvious, but they don't see that. We must put them face to face. They will realize." (via 3qd)

In 1940, an ultra orthodox Jewish group knownMar 06 2007

In 1940, an ultra orthodox Jewish group known as the Lubavitchers bought a building at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. The building became so well-known and revered within the community that other "770s" have been built around the world and subsequently captured by photographers Andrea Robbins and Max Becher. (via paks)

Why do we believe in God?Mar 05 2007

The cover story in this week's NY Times Magazine is called Darwin's God and covers, from an evolutionary biology standpoint, why people believe in God. Most scientists studying the matter believe that humans have a built-in mechanism for religious belief. For instance, anthropologist Scott Atran sometimes conducts an intriguing experiment with his students:

His research interests include cognitive science and evolutionary biology, and sometimes he presents students with a wooden box that he pretends is an African relic. "If you have negative sentiments toward religion," he tells them, "the box will destroy whatever you put inside it." Many of his students say they doubt the existence of God, but in this demonstration they act as if they believe in something. Put your pencil into the magic box, he tells them, and the nonbelievers do so blithely. Put in your driver's license, he says, and most do, but only after significant hesitation. And when he tells them to put in their hands, few will. If they don't believe in God, what exactly are they afraid of?

Or rather, why are they afraid? One possible reason is that humans are conditioned to be on the lookout for "agents" and we tend to find them even when they're not there:

So if there is motion just out of our line of sight, we presume it is caused by an agent, an animal or person with the ability to move independently. This usually operates in one direction only; lots of people mistake a rock for a bear, but almost no one mistakes a bear for a rock.

What does this mean for belief in the supernatural? It means our brains are primed for it, ready to presume the presence of agents even when such presence confounds logic. "The most central concepts in religions are related to agents," Justin Barrett, a psychologist, wrote in his 2004 summary of the byproduct theory, "Why Would Anyone Believe in God?" Religious agents are often supernatural, he wrote, "people with superpowers, statues that can answer requests or disembodied minds that can act on us and the world."

Another reason for the instinctive religious impulse may be that people are able to put themselves in other peoples' minds, to think about how another person might be feeling or thinking:

Folkpsychology, as Atran and his colleagues see it, is essential to getting along in the contemporary world, just as it has been since prehistoric times. It allows us to anticipate the actions of others and to lead others to believe what we want them to believe; it is at the heart of everything from marriage to office politics to poker. People without this trait, like those with severe autism, are impaired, unable to imagine themselves in other people's heads.

The process begins with positing the existence of minds, our own and others', that we cannot see or feel. This leaves us open, almost instinctively, to belief in the separation of the body (the visible) and the mind (the invisible). If you can posit minds in other people that you cannot verify empirically, suggests Paul Bloom, a psychologist and the author of "Descartes' Baby," published in 2004, it is a short step to positing minds that do not have to be anchored to a body. And from there, he said, it is another short step to positing an immaterial soul and a transcendent God.

There's lots more in the article...it's well worth a read.

Not a joke: James Cameron claims toFeb 27 2007

Not a joke: James Cameron claims to have discovered the burial cave of Jesus and his family. Includes the obligatory Da Vinci Code reference. "The [burial] boxes bear the names: Yeshua [Jesus] bar Yosef [son of Joseph]; Maria [the Latin version of Miriam, which is the English Mary]; Matia [the Hebrew equivalent of Matthew, a name common in the lineage of both Mary and Joseph]; Yose [the Gospel of Mark refers to Yose as a brother of Jesus]; Yehuda bar Yeshua, or Judah, son of Jesus; and in Greek, Mariamne e mara, meaning 'Mariamne, known as the master.' According to Harvard professor Francois Bovon, interviewed in the film, Mariamne was Mary Magdalene's real name."

An interview with Tamir Goodman, the "JewishFeb 16 2007

An interview with Tamir Goodman, the "Jewish Jordan". Even in the Israeli pro leagues, he is the only Orthodox Jew playing. "Tamir [has] the respect of his coaches and teammates for his religious dedication, as well as for his ability to throw down two handed jams and no look passes."

"Love bombing is the deliberate show ofFeb 13 2007

"Love bombing is the deliberate show of affection or friendship by an individual or a group of people toward another individual. Critics have asserted that this action may be motivated in part by the desire to recruit or otherwise influence."

Social network map of the New Testament.Jan 26 2007

Social network map of the New Testament. Jesus Christ, supernode. (via waxy)

A nearly continuous wire that encompasses 150 cityDec 27 2006

A nearly continuous wire that encompasses 150 city blocks of Manhattan forms the "walls" of a symbolic Jewish household called an eruv.

The Orthodox and other observant Jews living within this 'home' are permitted certain actions outside their literal homes -- pushing a stroller to the synagogue, carrying keys, walking a dog on a leash -- that would otherwise be forbidden on the Sabbath.

Why I Celebrate Christmas. "[Santa Claus is]Dec 21 2006

Why I Celebrate Christmas. "[Santa Claus is] clearly what Jesus would be if he was real. Nobody would ever consider nailing this omnibenevolent deity to anything, would they? Nor does he hold anything against you longer than a year." (via cyn-c)

Professor Richard Dawkins Speaks at Fair HillsDec 19 2006

Professor Richard Dawkins Speaks at Fair Hills Kindergarten Regarding Santa Claus. "If you are the sort of person who is interested in the truth, perhaps you would consider asking yourself this question: how exactly does a single elderly man not only manufacture but also deliver in a single evening what would, by all forms of logic, account to be millions of toys?"

Two weeks ago, author and professional gamblerDec 15 2006

Two weeks ago, author and professional gambler David Sklansky offered $50,000 to any Christian who believes in Jesus' resurrection, believes non-believers will go to hell, *and* could beat his score on the SAT. A dumb bet, but ok. Jeopardy uber-champion Ken Jennings, a Mormon, says bring it on: " I've already taken the SAT -- why bother taking it again? I know what I got, and the College Board can back me up on it. Sklansky looks older than me, but I assume he took the 1600-point SAT at some point. I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours. Fifty grand, math/verbal total." (thx, david)

When you're a Muslim in orbit, howDec 08 2006

When you're a Muslim in orbit, how do you determine which way Mecca is and how often you need to pray? "The ISS is more than 200 miles from the Earth's surface and orbits the earth every ninety-two minutes, or roughly sixteen times a day. Do we have to worship eighty times a day (sixteen orbits a day multiplied by five prayer times)?"

Nicholas Kristof's "Modest Proposal for a TruceDec 06 2006

Nicholas Kristof's "Modest Proposal for a Truce on Religion," and responses by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett. "Mr. Kristof has simply become acclimatized to the convention that you can criticize anything else but you mustn't criticize religion."

Richard Dawkins answers some questions from readersDec 06 2006

Richard Dawkins answers some questions from readers of the Independent. "Terrible things have been done in the name of Christ, but all he ever taught was peace and love. What's wrong with that?"

A Polish exchange student spent six monthsNov 29 2006

A Polish exchange student spent six months with a fundamentalist Christian family in the US and didn't have such a good time. "When I got out of the plane in Greensboro in the US state of North Carolina, I would never have expected my host family to welcome me at the airport, wielding a Bible, and saying, 'Child, our Lord sent you half-way around the world to bring you to us.' At that moment I just wanted to turn round and run back to the plane." (via clusterflock)

Geological features called chevrons could be evidenceNov 16 2006

Geological features called chevrons could be evidence of violent comet/asteroid impacts as recently as 1000 years ago. The chevrons are formed by massive tsunamis; scientists believe one such tsunami occurred in the Indian Ocean 4,800 years ago and was 600 feet high. These impact-caused tsunamis may also be responsible for the various flood myths found in world religions. (thx, matt)

Gary Wolf talks to three prominent atheists (Oct 26 2006

Gary Wolf talks to three prominent atheists (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett) and concludes that "the irony of the New Atheism -- this prophetic attack on prophecy, this extremism in opposition to extremism -- is too much for me".

Richard Dawkins: Why there almost certainly isOct 24 2006

Richard Dawkins: Why there almost certainly is no God. "We cannot, of course, disprove God, just as we can't disprove Thor, fairies, leprechauns and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But, like those other fantasies that we can't disprove, we can say that God is very very improbable."

Happy birthday, universeOct 23 2006

According to the Ussher-Lightfoot Calendar, today is the 6,009th birthday of the universe. Based on James Ussher's interpretation of the Bible, God created "the heaven and the earth" on October 23, 4004 BC. Happy birthday, everything!

Note: I'm doing Mr. Ussher's precise chronology a disservice by fudging the Julian calendar date that he derived with the Gregorian calendar we now use. For that, I apologize.

PopTech day 2 wrap-upOct 21 2006

Some notes from day 2 at PopTech, with a little backtracking into day 1 as well. In no particular order:

The upshot of Thomas Barnett's entertaining and provacative talk (or one of the the upshots, anyway): China is the new world power and needs a sidekick to help globalize the world. And like when the US was the rising power in the world and took the outgoing power, England, along for the ride so that, as Barnett put it, "England could fight above its weight", China could take the outgoing power (the US) along for the globalization ride. The US would provide the military force to strike initial blows and the Chinese would provide peacekeeping; Barnett argued that both capabilities are essential in a post-Cold War world.

Juan Enriquez talked about boundries...specifically if there will be more or less of them in the United States in the future. 45 states? 65 states? One thing that the US has to deal with is how we treat immigrants. Echoing William Gibson, Enriquez said "the words you use today will resonate through history for a long time". That is, if you don't let the Mexican immigrants in the US speak their own language, don't welcome their contributions to our society, and just generally make people feel unwelcome in the place where they live, it will come back to bite you in the ass (like, say, when southern California decides it would rather be a part of Mexico or its own nation).

Enriquez again, regarding our current income tax proclivities: "if we pay more and our children don't owe less, that's not taxes...it's just a long-term, high-interest loan".

Number of times ordained minister Martin Marty said "hell" during his presentation: 2. Number of times Marty said "goddamn": 1. Number of times uber-heathen Richard Dawkins said "hell", "goddamn", or any other blasphemous swear: 0.

Dawkins told the story of Kurt Wise, who took a scissors to the Bible and cut out every passage which was in discord with the theory of evolution, eventually ending up with a fragmented mess. Confronted with this crisis of faith and science, Wise renounced evolution and became a geologist who believes that the earth is only 6000 years old.

The story of Micah Garen's capture by Iraqi militants and Marie-Helene Carlton's efforts to get her boyfriend back home safely illustrates the power of the connected world. Marie-Helene and Micah's family used emails, mobile phones, and sat phones to reach out through their global social network, eventually reaching people in Iraq whom Micah's captors might listen to. A woman in the audience stood during the Q&A and related her story of her boyfriend being on a hijacked plane out of Athens in 1985 and how powerless she was to do anything in the age before mobiles, email, and sat phones. Today, Stanley Milgram might say, an Ayatollah is never more than 4 or 5 people away.

Lexicographer Erin McKean told us several interesting things about dictionaries, including that "lexicographer" can be found in even the smallest of dictionaries because, duh, look who's responsible for compiling the words in a dictionary. She called dictionaries the vodka of literature: a distillation of really meaty mixture of substances into something that odorless, tasteless, colorless, and yet very powerful. Here an interview with her and a video of a lecture she gave at Google.

rating: 0.5 stars

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the WardrobeOct 18 2006

This is one of the most disturbing movies I've ever seen. If I had kids, I'd rather take them to see Scarface or Requiem for a Dream. Better: Lazy Sunday, aka The Chronic of Narnia.

A collection of artists each picked aOct 16 2006

A collection of artists each picked a page from The Pat Robertson and Friends Coloring Book and "colored" them in. (thx, gk)

If God didn't want us to blog,Oct 13 2006

If God didn't want us to blog, he wouldn't have created Movable Type, am I right? "Let me emphasize that no one -- including adults -- should have a blog or personal website."

Richard Dawkins' latest book is out: TheSep 28 2006

Richard Dawkins' latest book is out: The God Delusion. (Guess what it's about!) Here's a clip of Dawkins discussing the book where he namechecks the Flying Spaghetti Monster. And here's a recent presentation Dawkins gave at TED.

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