Gault's Gulch

April 14, 2010

God Seems a Little Petty.

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gault @ 9:28 am
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Alright…I know that this is two religion posts in a row.  I promise, next time around, it’s back to politics.  In the meantime, however, I want to address a particular aspect of Christianity which has been bugging me.  It seems to me, that the criteria by which admission into that eternal Club-Med, Heaven, is judged, is a little off-kilter.

Let’s take atheism off the table for the time being.  Let’s just assume that Christianity, above all the many other religions of the world–past and present–is correct and the Bible is, in fact, the instruction book for life, death, and the hereafter.  Most people don’t talk about the fact that, even then, one still has a decision to make.  Given the teachings of Christianity, is the God of the Bible a god worthy of our love and worship? 

In addressing this issue, one could easily take pot-shots at the more horrific stories of the Bible.  The Old Testament, especially, is rife with examples of cruelty, misogyny, sanctioned slavery, racism, infidelity, murder, torture, etc.  But let’s face it–Heaven is the prize.  Just like those who follow Allah are counting the days until they get their 72 virgins, Christians plod through life and the rituals of their religion with the understanding that they will, eventually, be rewarded for their good behavior with the blessings of Heaven.  So, let’s even ignore the questionable teachings of the Bible and concentrate solely on the price of admission into the cosmos’ most bitchin’ nightclub–Heaven.  Consider these two potential residents of Studio 54 in the Sky…

First, we have Dave.  He’s generally a good guy.  He doesn’t steal.  He doesn’t lie (aside from the occasional “No, honey. Those jeans most definitely do not make you look fat.).  He cares about those around him and does his best to help those in genuine need.  He respects his parents and rather than get jealous of those around him who have more wealth or convenience than he does, he’s happy for their good fortune and grateful for those things that he DOES have.  All in all, Dave’s a good guy.  He pays his taxes, he works hard, he loves his family and he tries to avoid hurting the other guy.  Oh yeah, Dave’s an atheist.  He’s not agnostic.  He’s not buddhist.  He doesn’t belong to the wrong sect of Christianity.  He adamantly and willfully denies the existence of any God whatsoever based on his intellectual need for proof which, he feels, has never been met.  Dave holds this point of view until he dies at age 90 in his sleep.

Now, let’s meet Jeffrey.  Jeffrey lives most of his life as a real a-hole.  He believes in God, but like a lot of people, he doesn’t let that belief stand in the way of doing and taking what he wants.  In his twenties and thirties, Jeffrey steals cars, assaults little old ladies, forges checks–he even robbed a gas station at gun point while wearing a crucifix around his neck.  In his forties, Jeffrey spends some time in prison where he sells drugs, gets in fights, and even kills another prisoner in the shower.  In short, Jeffrey is a lousy Christian.  Jeffrey is jealous of others and spends his life pouting that “they’re no better than I am”.  He wastes 90% of his life in a squalor of crime, drugs, and hurting those around him.  Then Jeffrey gets lung cancer at age 50.  It progresses pretty fast and by 52,  Jeffrey knows he doesn’t have much time left.  He decides to reacquaint himself with God.  He reads the Bible and decides that he shouldn’t have done all those terrible things he did when he was younger.  It doesn’t even occur to Jeffrey that the last time he was out of bed, he smacked his wife across the face and that now, while he’s unable to move around freely, he’s really incapable of committing very much evil even if he wanted to.  No, Jeffrey has come to Jesus.  He’s sorry for the life he’s led.  He asks Jesus for forgiveness.  He says penitence, or he confesses, or whatever ritual your particular brand of Christianity demands in these circumstances.  By his last days, Jeffrey has made his peace with God.

Who goes to Heaven?  Every Christian that I’ve ever discussed this situation with has reluctantly agreed that Dave can’t go to heaven because he denies the existence of God.  They say that one can pick the wrong flavor of Christianity, or even pick another religion all together–but one must believe in God–in some form–and fear him (or love him) in order to get the golden ticket.  These same Christians also tell me that Jeffrey gets a pass.  Jesus, apparently, paid upfront for all the crap that we, as a people, can get into during our lives by dying on the cross.  All we have to do to repay him is worship him.  Jeffrey lived a life of pain, cruelty, and debauchery, but he made the appropriate pleas for forgiveness before the eleventh-hour and he truly meant them…So Jeffrey’s cool.  Jeffrey goes to Heaven.

My question to the Christians out there is–Even if we believe with certainty in the existence of God as described in the Bible, how do you justify the love, respect, and obedience you pay to him if he would choose opportunistic worship to HIM, over a lifetime of compassion and good works as a benchmark for everlasting bliss?  Doesn’t a god that would value the petty, small-minded devotion of a thief and wife-beater over that of an objectively moral and good-hearted member of the human race strike you as a God that has more in common with Kim Jong-Il than the image of Jesus Christ we have all grown up with?  Why should blind devotion to “The Leader” outweigh the behavior of someone who, by all accounts, lives the life of a “good Christian”–just without all the knee-bound devotionals and prostrate declarations of belief?

I would argue that Christians really don’t need to agree with atheists in order to toss their Bibles out with the Wednesday recycling.  They only need to READ those bibles and decide with a critical mind if Yahweh is really a god worth devoting their lives to.  Of course, if you don’t, he’ll send you to Hell–just like Stalin sent his dissenters to the gulags.

March 4, 2010

Hamilton James–Run! The Christians Are After You!

Every atheist who has ever debated the subject of religion with a person of faith has, at one time or another, come against the following question:

“Even if you’re right, and there really is no God, what’s the harm in people believing in him?  God teaches people to live a good life and surely there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?”

Atheists will often come back with a list of many religiously fuelled conflicts which have bloodied the world throughout the ages–the Crusades, The Salem Witch Trials, Northern Ireland, etc.  Sometimes they will cite the tendency of religion to hold back process in areas of science and to stagnate human knowledge about the universe.  The ambitious atheist may even try to convince the person of faith that the only difference between a cult and a religion is the size of its member’s list–and we all know how destructive cults can be (Now’s the time when we throw in the obligatory Jonestown reference).  Recently, however, a more subtle–but I believe telling–example of the harm that religion can do has come to light.  The American Family Organization, a fundamentalist Christian organization, is calling for the stoning (yes, stoning) of Tillikum, the orca whale that recently killed a trainer at Sea World. 

The AFO cites Old Testament law as the basis for their outrage.  Apparently, hiding among the talking snake, the man who lived inside a whale, and the human beings that lived hundreds of years with nary a hitch in their giddy-up, is a law that spells out–quite clearly–what the consequences should be if a person’s animal should kill another person.  Exodus 21:28 states:  “When an ox gores a man or woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner shall not be liable.”  So, even though we, as human beings, chose to pin a dangerous (they are called KILLER whales, after all)  animal into a confined space and coerce it into performing tricks for gawking tourists, no human being should bear liability for the dead trainer.  Instead, the AFO is calling for Tillikum to be STONED TO DEATH!  That one still gets me…Stoned to death.  Not euthanized.  Not even shot.  Stoned to death.  You gotta love Christianity.  Anyway…The issue doesn’t end there, however.  The problem is that the pesky bible doesn’t just anticipate the one-time offender.  No, this far-seeing work of legal excellence also outlines what we should do if the owner of the offending animal should neglect his duty to stone the murdering whale and it should kill again (remember, this was the third person that Tillikum has killed over the years).  Exodus 21:29 (the very next verse) states that if a man’s ox should kill a second time, ““the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death.”  Uh-oh. 

Well, Sea World owns Tillikuk.  You can’t put an amusement park to death…Sea World is, in turn, owned by Sea World Parks and Entertainment.  Well, you can’t really put a corporate entity to death either (the stoning would be very unsatisfying).  Sea World P&E is owned by The Blackstone Group, a publicly traded equity firm.  So, no ONE PERSON owns Blackstone either.  But, surely, when the bible talks about an ox’s “owner” we can assume that it means a person responsible for said ox, can’t we?  After all, technically Tillikum is owned by every person who owns a share of Blackstone stock and that’s a lot of people to put to death, even for a Christian.  So, who’s responsible for The Blackstone Group?  Firm President Hamilton James, that’s who.  Since Tillikum is the whale world’s answer to Son of Sam, the AFO’s logic will allow nothing short of Hamilton James’s death to vindicate the actions of that murdering mammal.  Run, Hamilton James, run for your life!

O.K…That was fun.  But the inevitable response will be, “John, you’re just using a fringe religious movement to represent all the reasonable people of faith in the world.  You’re not being fair.”  Sure I am.  I’m also being kind.  The AFO is only calling for the stoning of a whale–and maybe Hamilton James.  Still, that’s nothing in comparison to the heinous crimes that have been perpetrated against the world in the name of one fictitious God or another.  Even when you take the deaths out of the picture, you still have to face the utter lunacy of the whole thing.  To most “reasonable” Christians, the AFO is a group of extremists.  But what about those who claim the Earth is 6000 years old and that Adam and Eve pranced about with T-Rex in the Garden of Eden?  What about the Creationists?  Aren’t they extremists?  What about a President who goes to war under the credo that “God is on OUR side”.  Isn’t he an extremist?  You swap one flavor of God for another and you get a plane load of terrorists crashing into a skyscraper.  The fact is that the same blind faith, the same aversion to logic and reason, the same willingness to accept the unacceptable, is at the base of all these things–Tillikum the whale is just the most recent–and LEAST crazy example.

December 30, 2009

The Middle East is the World’s Longest Running Bar-Fight…

Filed under: Politics — John Gault @ 12:58 pm
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Amid all the talk of the Christmas Day Bomber, I thought it might be nice to examine our relationship with Middle Eastern terrorism and it’s roots.

Some reports (disputed reports, but reports nonetheless) have stated that the man who tried to blow up an American plane on Christmas did so in retaliation for our bombing of Yemen several days previous.  Following the trail backwards, you get something like this:

We bombed Yemen to kill Al Qaeda.  We want to kill Al Qaeda because they attacked us on 9/11.  They attacked us on 9/11 because of our policy of supporting Israel in their conflict with their Arab neighbors.  Therein lies the rub…

Now, before I lose the one internet challenged reader who accidentally stumbled on this blog because he thought it was porn amid charges of antisemitism, let me head you off at the pass.  I am not ANTI-jewish.  I’m also not ANTI-muslim.  I am ANTI-religion, and I am PRO-America.  To be honest, I couldn’t possibly care less who ends up controlling some far-flung patch of sand on the other side of the globe.  My concern is the effect that this ongoing conflict has had on the rest of the world.

The most recent news regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict is that Israel is starting to build new settlements in disputed territory.  Ask an Israeli why they would do this knowing that it will most likely cause Arab retaliation, and they will probably tell you two things.  Number one, it is their biblical right.  Pish-posh.  I dismiss this out-of-hand because property rights do not spring from fictional books.  The second argument, however, is more powerful.  Apparently, there was a delicate truce between the Israelis and the Palestinians which the Israelis claim was broken by  Palestinian abduction of Israeli soldiers.  O.K.  If you already possess the land and you were considering halting development of it in consideration for the feelings of an ancient enemy, and then said enemy spits in your face, then you build settlements.  Got it.  But then you ask the Palestinians why they would kidnap soldiers during a truce and they tell you that Israel broke the truce first by raiding the city of Nablus and killing a Palestinian general.  Why raid Nablus?  Because the Palestinians were launching rocket attacks from there.  Why launch rocket attacks?  You get the picture.  You can start from today and trace this conflict backwards, punch and counterpunch, through Munich, the six-day war, World War II–all the way back to the kitchen table of Abraham and a sibling rivalry between Isaac and Ishmael.  Enough already. 

Both sides in this conflict are fuelled by religious fervor and an unwavering belief in the fact that the other guy started the fight.  They are like two drunks at a roadhouse tavern that are too intoxicated to remember who threw out the first insult but damn sure they’re gonna wipe the floor with the other guy’s face.  The trouble is that when drunks start fighting in a bar, tables get broken, the band stops playing, and I spill my beer in my lap when one idiot throws the other into the back of my chair.  This conflict has disrupted and divided the world for at least the last hundred years and arguably back to biblical times.  Isn’t it time we tossed both the drunks out into the parking lot and let them fight it out on their own?

We need to stop supporting Israel in this fight.  We need to cut off their aid.  I know that the mere mention of this subject will brand me to some as a Jew-hater.  I am not.  I wish them well.  Considering the fact that no Jews have ever flown an airplane into a skyscraper on America soil, I’ll even root for them from the sidelines.  But this is their war, not ours, and our continued support has only served to piss off the rest of the world, give terrorists an even more prestigious enemy to attack, and cost us billions upon billions of dollars in aid for a war that WILL NEVER END.  Israel is that friend that is constantly getting in to fights, getting thrown into jail, and calling at two in the morning for bail money.  Sure, he’s a nice guy and the people he gets into fights with are arguably worse than he is, but sometimes a friend is just too much trouble and your wife tells you that you can’t hang out with him anymore.

December 23, 2009

Utopia

Filed under: Politics — John Gault @ 2:17 pm
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People often debate the great questions of life.  They argue about politics.  They argue about religion.  They argue about the Beatles vs. Elvis.  The problem is that people seldom consider what would happen if they won the argument.  What would the world look like if your personal philosophies of life, love, and death were suddenly the philosophies of the world at large?  What would your personal Utopia consist of?  Gault’s Gulch is a forum for me to share my personal philosophies with those who are interested enough (or bored enough) to read them.  It is also a forum for those who disagree with me to challenge those philosophies.  I feel, however, that those goals can be more effectively met if I provide a broad-stroke overview of “The World According to Gault”. 

The Government:

The government should have an extremely limited role in the life of the average human being.  It’s power should be limited to enforcing the explicit rights of individuals against the infringement or encroachment of others and providing those very few goods and services which are communal in their consumption and must, therefore, be communal in their production.  This means that beyond a police force and a court system, the government should, essentially, be limited to the role of providing for the common defense and building things–like roads–which would be impossible through the private sector.  The government should have absolutely no role whatsoever in “protecting us from ourselves” “giving people a hand up” “providing a safety net” or any other such nonsense.  This means no social security, no welfare, no income tax, no drug laws, no public education, and no I.R.S.  Fortunately for those of us who live in the United States, this was the government envisioned by our forefathers and provided for in the Constitution.  We need only to stop corrupting its content and ignoring its wisdom and we will have taken back that which we once had.

Economics:

I believe in pure, unadulterated, laissez-faire capitalism.  This is not the economic model of the Democratic or Republican party.  The former is quasi-socialist authoritarianism while the latter is quasi-authoritarian corporatism.  No, I believe that the free market should be allowed to function without the hand of government upon it and that individuals should be free to buy, sell, trade, save, gift, invest, or destroy the products of their own efforts without interference from anyone and in any manner they see fit.  The Federal Reserve should be abolished, the gold standard returned, and the Interstate Commerce Clause refined back to its original, constitutional power.  In Gault’s Utopia, money is a good thing as it is the universal representation of that which we have produced–and therefore contributed to society as a whole. 

Charity:

Charity is a personal choice.  In the perfect world, individuals would have the choice to donate the product of their efforts–money, time, goods, services, etc.–to whomever or whatever causes they saw fit.  One might believe that this is the case in today’s world, but one would be very, very wrong.  The government has, through its taxation policies and budget allocations, forced every American to give substantial percentages of their income to charities that were not chosen by them, but by the legislators who approved government funding for their cause.  Charity should be valued and encouraged as a gesture of caring and love for a cause that one deems valuable–but it should never be forced upon anyone for any reason.

Religion:

This is a tricky one at first because it is a topic where my feelings and my principles come into direct conflict with one another.  I am an atheist.  I do not believe in God, Heaven, Hell, angels, demons, spirits, ghosts, or miracles.  I further believe that while these superstitions have provided a great deal of comfort for a great number of people throughout the ages, they have also served as the basis for more suffering than any other causes throughout human history.  How many people have died unnecessarily in the name of God?  I further believe that God is an evolutionary security blanket that keeps humanity from “growing up” and facing the universe in all its beautiful, but frightening, glory.  Religion inhibits reason, logic, and critical thinking.  It retards scientific progress and it delays the advancement of the human race on every front from biology to politics.  On those grounds, I would love nothing more than to ban religions, superstition, and mysticism from my Utopia.  Unfortunately, this conflicts with my absolute dedication to personal liberty.  No one–not even me–has the right to tell another individual that they can not believe in anything they want or worship anything they see fit.  In my Utopia, there would be absolute religious freedom.  Religion, however, would receive absolutely no special status or protection in the world of Gault.  That means no tax exempt status on the operations or property of the church beyond that which is extended to any other legal entity.  The Catholic Church would be no different, legally, from Microsoft.  I would hope, however, that in my Utopia, the value placed upon logic and rationality would render religion obsolete pretty quickly–one can hope.

Individual Liberty:

As mentioned in the Religion section, Gault’s world would be zealously devoted to the guarding of individual rights and liberty.  No government in Gault’s Utopia would have the right to tell an individual citizen how to live their life in any way unless their actions were a direct infringement upon the rights of another citizen.  That seems self-explanatory, but modern government–including our American one–has so trampled the idea of civil liberty that people have been conditioned to not recognize what they actually are.  So here are some examples.  Theft, murder, assault, rape–these are easy.  They directly infringe upon the rights of others and so they are illegal.  Drugs of any kind–legal unless you force others to take them against their will.  Gay marriage–definitely legal.  Abortion–legal.  Drinking–legal.  Drunk driving-illegal.  Seat belts–wear ’em or not, your choice.  Simple, common-sense stuff. 

Much of what has been advocated for in this utopian vision may seem cruel to those who have been indoctrinated to believe that we each have an obligation to help those who have less than we do.  I would argue, however, that this long-held belief is the cruelest of all.  In my world, the individual is prized as the most powerful, resilient, innovative, intelligent force on Earth.  As such, he or she should be respected to make the best decisions for their own lives.  Those who succeed will do so with the knowledge that it was on their own merits that they did so.  Those who fail will do so with the same knowledge.  What more could one possibly want from life than the freedom to succeed or fail based on one’s own effort and ability?  What better world could we, as a people, ask for than one which rewards excellence rather than deficiency?

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