Saturday, July 10, 2010

Carl Sagan: A Universe Not Made For Us

We are the custodians of life's meaning. We long for a parent to care for us, to forgive us our errors, to save us from our childish mistakes. But knowledge is preferable to ignorance. Better by far to embrace the hard truth than a reassuring fable. If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.
~ Carl Sagan

It's been a while since I made a Sagan Sunday post. I discovered this video today and loved it. The world could use more people like Carl Sagan. Happy Sunday.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

52,000 Nephite coins discovered in Mexico!

Okay, not really. Today, a friend elsewhere on the Interwebs pulled this exact same April Fool's prank in July. (If you're reading this, I hope you don't mind me stealing it!) He linked to an amazing article about a treasure hunter finding 52,000 Roman coins in Britain and titled the link as if someone had found Nephite coins in Mexico.

The point is that the Romans were in Britain at about the same time the Nephites are alleged to have been in the Americas. Yet while Roman artifacts are constantly unearthed in the UK, we have yet to find any coins, or any other evidence for that matter, of Book of Mormon peoples anywhere.

Frankly, I'm shocked that anyone would assume that we should find any actual archeological evidence of the Nephite and Lamanite civilizations in America, just because we find abundant evidence of ancient Romans everywhere in Britain. Hello...? That was like, totally across the ocean! Think, McFly, think!

Also, Moroni is well-known to have taken Book of Mormon evidence back to heaven in the form of brass plates. Since this is the only action he is known to have taken vis à vis BoM evidence, why would we think he would leave some evidence behind? It doesn't fit with what we know of his character.

Those senines and shiblums and amnor coins were Moroni's wishes, Moroni's dreams. And he took them back. He took them all back.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Chrissy Satterfield's kind of vandals

The Friendly Atheist reports about a billboard that was recently put up along the Billy Graham Parkway by the North Carolina Secular Association. Naturally, it was vandalized within a week. I would expect no less.

Any normal person, regardless of their affiliation, would condemn vandalism and destruction of property, right? Well, apparently not everyone. Chrissy Satterfield of WorldNetDaily thinks the vandals are heroes for sticking it to the atheists. She says,

I would like to extend my deepest thanks to the man or woman responsible for this vandalism. I appreciate the action you took. Thank you for reminding me that I'm not alone. It took a lot of guts to do what you did – and the fact that you haven't stepped forward to take credit makes you a hero.

A hero indeed. Some heroes defend our nation on the front lines of battle, and others defend it with a can of spray paint in the middle of the night. Onward, Christian soldiers.

Chrissy Satterfield also asks, "How is this billboard not offensive to me?" And she's right. I feel really terrible that Chrissy Satterfield, along with countless other Christians in North Carolina, had to be exposed to a quote from the Pledge of Allegiance as it was originally written. This billboard went too far. Atheists have no right to make their presence known on a billboard, especially not on the Fourth of July, and especially not on a street named after Billy Graham. Do they have no respect for our country or its Christian leaders? If atheists want to exercise their freedom of expression with a billboard, they should do it on a back road somewhere where nobody can see it, and they certainly shouldn't imply that they can be patriotic Americans just like religious folks. Talk about wolves in sheep's clothing! In a way, it was every patriotic American's duty to vandalize this billboard, to make sure America stays #1.

There's a bright side, though. In the comments to the Friendly Atheist article, Ryan Tombleson wrote:
I’d hate to be the one to break it to Ms. Satterfield, but the billboard in Charlotte was repaired on the Friday before the holiday. I would also like to thank the man or woman who committed the vandalism. Because of his or her action, the billboard gained national attention and membership of CAA has exploded. We’re on pace to set a record amount of attendees at our next social meeting and will be joined by a local reporter who is covering the group. Because of someone’s ignorance, people who were stuck in the bible belt and unaware of our presence now have a place to meet other link-minded individuals. It’s a beautiful thing.

In a way, it's interesting to me that the vandalized billboard accurately reflects the Pledge of Allegiance itself: "one nation indivisible" with the words "under God" incongruously scrawled by someone who felt the need to inject their personal religion into our secular government. Thanks indeed to the Christian vandals for their clear demonstration of how the words "under God" got there in the first place.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Why America is worth defending

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

~ The original Pledge of Allegiance

American flagToday's lesson in church was all about how the United States is a choice nation blessed by God himself, how the Constitution was divinely inspired, and how true patriots should love and follow the Lord Jesus Christ. The instructor even got in a dig against all those silly people who want to remove God from the Pledge of Allegiance. "Chill out," I think he said. But seriously, everything that is good about America was flatly asserted to be tied to belief in God, Jesus, and specifically, the Mormon church.

I get a little tired of all the quote-mining and emotional rah-rahing that is supposed to prove that obviously this is a Christian nation and obviously God blesses us only when we believe in him and marginalize those who don't. One lady during testimony time said something like, "The more I read the New Testament, the less I understand how the Jews could reject Jesus. He's so clearly the Messiah!" Um... yes, I suppose one might get that impression by taking the Christian scriptures at face value. I don't think I've ever slapped my forehead so hard during church, and that's saying something.

Normally I tend to keep quiet because I'm not sure I have anything helpful to say, but today I needed to speak up.

I didn't bring up the fact that the Constitution does not mention God, Christ, Jesus, a Creator, or anything like that. I didn't mention that the Treaty of Tripoli, signed by President John Adams in 1797, states explicitly that "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion". I didn't mention that the "under God" clause was only added to the Pledge of the Allegiance in 1954 at the height of McCarthy anti-communist xenophobia.

What I did share is something absolutely dear to me. I said that to me, the heart of patriotism and my love for freedom is embodied by a quote commonly attributed to Voltaire (a French philosopher, I dared to mention). "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." This is the attitude on which is based our freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of association... all the basic human freedoms America claims to value and ensure.

I said that you cannot go to every country in the world and vocalize your dissatisfaction with your neighbor or your government. In some countries, you will find yourself incarcerated or even executed. I think that perhaps the most fundamental virtue of America is the fact that we have the right to disagree peaceably. I have noticed an escalating polarization, especially in our nation's politics, where we tend to demonize those we disagree with, to call them unpatriotic, not real Americans, or worse. I said that we need to recognize that we are all trying to do what is right and what is best for our country, and it does not help when we refuse to listen to those we disagree with. I expressed hope that we are not taking for granted our individual right to express ourselves, and the corresponding responsibility to hear others' expression.

Okay, that's probably not exactly what I said. But it was pretty much along those lines. My point is that flag-waving means nothing to me. It's too easy and superficial. I don't believe the USA is #1 just because we wave a giant foam finger that says so. I believe that America has fundamental strengths that many of its citizens don't fully appreciate. They are difficult strengths and rare human virtues, the kind that have to be paid for with the blood of patriots. It's not just a matter of repeating a mantra, that America is the "greatest" nation in the world, whatever that means. It's also not a matter of promoting our own religious ideology above all others. It is a matter of honoring the freedoms that our valiant dead have died for, and treasuring the exchange of ideas that our system makes possible. It's a matter of defending our right to disagree, even when it feels more natural to try to squelch the competition by shouting them down. Let's not take that greatness for granted.