Saturday, December 11, 2010

Stupid prayers

By Googling "stupid prayer requests," I discovered Kim Kardashian used to pray for smaller breasts. Actually, this is more understandable than people praying for lost keys or lotto jackpots - especially since she was 11 and being teased. Still, is this something The Grand Master of the Universe is going to tend to?

"You know it's a myth."

I certainly think religious folk get overly hysterical about atheist billboards and bus signs. However, I do think AA's new sign is kind of jerkish. It's rude and obnoxious to tell people you know what they're thinking better than they do. Which do you find more annoying, someone who says, "Jesus is Lord," or someone who says to you, "You know Jesus is the one true God in your heart, you're just denying it."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A little project - "Please pray"

I'm going to start collecting some prayer requests.

Asking an omniscient god for stuff makes no sense. Especially when it's Yahweh, who is pretty tetchy about puny humans thinking they know anything better than he does (see his response to Job, e.g.). But when this is pointed out in debate, apologists tend to respond that prayer isn't for asking for stuff, it's all about giving thanks, or just checking in with your buddy Jesus, or something. It's all related to the objection that atheists never pick on sophisticated versions of Christianity, just the comically backwards beliefs that a very small, benighted group of people hold.

Well, here's some evidence that lots of believers (many of them in the mainstream) believe in asking god for stuff:

Currently circulating on Facebook:
We are asking everyone to say a prayer for "Darkhorse" 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines and their families. They are fighting it out in Afghanistan and have lost 9 Marines in 4 days. Please re-post this. IT WOULD BE NICE TO SEE IT ON EVERYONE'S PAGE!! Even if it's only for an hour. Come on......people show your support.

A quick Google search turned up, where you can ask people to pray for everything from healing children with brain cancer to helping you win online sweepstakes!

Answers in Genesis is doing a radio upgrade, and they ask, "Please pray for no installation problems, improved reception and clarity." They have a whole page devoted to constantly updated prayer requests, and a page where you can pledge:
Believing that Prayer is our most strategic weapon in waging the war against compromise, I make a commitment to lift up the rebuilding of biblical foundations in our church and culture. I will pray throughout the day as God brings Answers in Genesis to mind and fast once a month, asking God to glorify His name in the specific requests relayed to me. This commitment is for one year.
And you give your digital signature and e-mail address to seal the deal. Nifty!

Monday, November 29, 2010

In which a goddess bestows a parking spot

Over the weekend I hit Target. It was MOBBED, but I happened to get the primo parking space, right in the first spot next to the doors. On my way out, I saw a car approaching that aisle, and it slowed down to let me cross. I decided to be nice and point out where I was about to pull out. As I gestured ostentatiously at my fantastic space, I realized the driver was a friend of mine!

Divine intervention? Some people might really think so (see previous post), but it was actually just a combination of dumb luck and my own awesomeness.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Package-deal Skepticism

In the crunchy mothering world, I run into this odd phenomenon. Women get involved in some aspect of mothering that is counter-cultural: extended breastfeeding or natural childbirth for instance - practices that are actually supported by evidence or are merely matters of personal preference. By engaging in this "weird" behavior, they find themselves battling against social norms and doctors' expectations. They find support in a group of like-minded people, and get used to filtering, altering, or outright rejecting advice from uninitiated people, from mothers in law to pediatricians.

Now, it can be perfectly rational to take uninformed advice with a grain of salt. And sadly even experts can be terribly uninformed about, say, breastfeeding. Doctors don't get a lot of training in this area, and often even well-read laypeople will be more up to date on the research than medical professionals.

The problem is, many people seem built not to question everything, but to act more like they're choosing between competing clubs. So many women just seem to see it as a choice between boilerplate belief systems, rather than an investigation into the truth. Either you eat processed factory farmed foods, have an intervention-heavy birth in a hospital, feed your baby formula, vaccinate them, and keep them in a car seat or crib 24/7, OR you eat organic whole foods, have a homebirth, nurse your child until they decide to stop, skip vaccinations in favor of homeopathic remedies, and wear them and cosleep with them.

The choice to reject medical authorities on one subject (which may make sense) tends to lead to rejection of all scientific authority and adoption of crunchy-culture alternatives, even in cases like homeopathy, when it is completely stupid.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Jesus and Mary, please help me win a million dollars!"

We watch The Amazing Race, and one of my favorite things is to choose teams to root for, and against. Usually it's the teams that are horrible to each other that I like to wish disaster on. But in the most recent episode, I realized that Gary and Mallory were running way behind, and I really didn't care. I would have felt bad if the doctors or the home shopping gals got chopped, and Gary and Mallory share a lot of their positive qualities - almost always being upbeat, interested in their surroundings, and friendly. So why didn't I care whether they won or lost?

Well, one factor is that Mallory has a really offensive habit. She's a wealthy, privileged beauty queen in a reality show race to win a million dollars, and she's constantly praying for help. I know, I know, she's not really thinking about the theological implications, and her invocations probably don't mean much more than when I say, "Oh my god." But truly, it is somewhere between tacky and horrific to pray to Jesus to help you win a million dollars. Especially when He doesn't seem to interested in preventing babies from being born with cleft palates, or cerebral palsy, or Spinal Muscular Atrophy, or scores of other horrible problems.

I'm sure it's very comforting to feel that the creator of the universe is your personal buddy looking out for you. It probably helps people stay calm and get through difficult days, even if "difficult" is just a frantic high stress day, with no life and death issues. But the implications of Jesus caring enough to find you a good parking spot, but leaving millions of innocent children in unimaginable suffering are truly monstrous.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The morality of using Facebook

So a New Jersey pastor has told married church officials they must delete their Facebook accounts, because Facebook breaks up marriages.

He's concerned because he's seen many people re-connect with exes on Facebook, start flirting, and wind up having an affair.

I can actually see what he's saying - I have heard enough stories from my own circles about such issues, even if it only ever gets to flirting. Facebook makes it easier to get back in touch with old loves. Getting back in touch with old loves can be dangerous to your marriage. It's not really Facebook's fault - it's just that Facebook is an easier and more available method of chatting with old flames than periodic high school reunions and whatnot.

But I think it's interesting that this is a big problem among churchgoers, seemingly as much as the general populace. Because I think this kind of thing stems from a failure to give some sober thought to your morality and where your limits are. And of course, ex-religious atheists tend to examine these moral issues much more than many religious people.

Most people are religious without much inquiry. As products of our culture they probably hold enlightenment ideals and interpret their faith to be consistent with them. They go to church, but only on occasion. They have vague notions of God's rules, heaven, and hell, but don't seem to examine their beliefs.

IMHO, it goes hand in hand with this fuzzy notion of religion that people don't sit down and think about their marital obligations, and whether one has a duty to stop short of flirting, the appearance of impropriety, or just actual intercourse.

I also think religious people may fall into a trap made of their own piousness. "I'm a good person," they think. "I can go to lunch with Mr. Wonderful and I'm not doing anything wrong. I can control myself." I personally have a much more practical approach - stop before you get to a point where you might get carried away. Well before. It's all too easy to rationalize, rationalize, rationalize . . . then "lose control" and do something you regret. Or at least that you'll tell yourself afterward that you never planned to do.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Woo creeps in everywhere

Sometimes it's so frustrating being a skeptic among a sea of the credulous. People don't understand why you have a problem with irrational garbage, because they don't examine it themselves.

We decided to hook Kitty up with a therapist to help her deal with some anxiety. No big problem, it just seems like her worries are making it hard for her to enjoy life fully, and I'd rather help her change her thinking now, than let her negative thought patterns get entrenched. So I asked my therapist (see above, re: entrenched negativity) for a recommendation. She only knew of one person who was good and took our insurance.

So I perused this lady's website. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy . . . good, good. Integrated approach . . . OK. EFT, which uses meridian tapping to relieve depression and anxiety - WHOA NELLY!

I'd never heard of EFT, but that description set off all my pseudoscience alarm bells. I looked it up, and sure enough, it's a load of codswallop about manipulating your "energy fields." It is, of course, untestable and unfalsifiable.

So now my anxiety levels were up. How to proceed? It's possible this person is relatively competent and would teach my kid CBT techniques, and all would be well. Also, no one claims that EFT fails to alleviate anxiety - it's just that it appears to be a combination of placebo effect and distraction. Would it be acceptable for her to teach my child this technique, if it helped her?

I finally decided no, it would not be acceptable. I'm not having someone indoctrinate my impressionable 7yo with magical thinking, even if it might confer some benefit. I decided to call my therapist back and use someone in her practice, paying the out-of-network price. It's worth it.

The scary thing is, you don't necessarily know if your health care provider is infected with woo-think. Not all of them will be kind enough to advertise it on page 1. Naturally, I'll be chatting with this new therapist to suss things out.

But sadly, I think sometimes you have to put up with creduloids. Actually, that name is a bit unfair. Most people are largely rational, with odd pockets of irrational beliefs. Probably that first therapist could have helped my daughter with proven, reasonable methods. And I could have discussed that I didn't want EFT used, I suppose. But that's a hard conversation, isn't it? "I'd like to hire you for your expertise . . . except this one thing you believe is total garbage, so don't use it." Ironically, she's probably used to and totally unoffended by people saying, "Don't use EFT, because we're Christians and it's against our beliefs."

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Harnessing Santa

Kitty has had such a ball being in on the big secret of Santa, I can't help but think it will contribute to her being a religious skeptic. Her personality is definitely oriented toward wanting to be right, in the know, and a keeper of knowledge. She adores being proven right when we disagree about something. And recently I had to pull her aside several times at a friend's party because she kept interrupting his Grandpa's magic show, yelling, "I know that's just a trick," and such. (A good opportunity for discussing the intersection of politeness and skepticism!)

So many people seem to think they are special, in on a secret, especially wise, or gifted because of their religious beliefs. I'm glad my daughter has a foundation for feeling these (admittedly sometimes venal) emotions as inspired by knowledge about the natural world, skepticism, and inquiry.