Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Religion Diminishes Inquiry at an Early Age

My daughter is a substitute teacher. She related to me a story about what happened with a fifth grade class she was teaching the other day. The subject was science and she was teaching them about renewable resources. One of the resources listed was wind energy. That prompted one of the students to ask, "What causes the wind?" Well, science is not my daughter's strong suit, so she whipped out her iPhone to make sure she told them the right answer. In the meantime, some of the students tried to answer it themselves. They settled on the answer, "God makes the wind."

They were all ready to just settle for that answer. It was all they needed. But my daughter, having found the real answer about the uneven heating of the earth's surface, creating pressure differences, wrote the answer on the board and told them this is what causes wind. "But God causes that to happen, right Ms Wilson?" My daughter, being an atheist, replied that it was not her belief but that it's ok if that's what they wanted to believe. She said some of the kids looked a little stunned or perplexed that she didn't believe in God.

Maybe, though, she planted a little seed of religious doubt in their little heads without actually crossing any lines. She didn't try teaching them that there was no god. She just stated her belief in response to a question. The main point, though, is that at an early age, the religiously indoctrinated are turning off scientific inquiry and substituting it with the pat answer, "God did it." Sad.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Before You Can Understand the Bible You Need to Understand its History

Fundamentalist Christians believe, and will tell you, that every word of the bible is true, that it is the Word of God, that it means what it says in the literal sense. Therefore, they believe things like the world was created in six days and that Jonah was eaten by a big fish and spat out three days later. They believe that Noah really did build a big boat and put two (or seven) of every animal species in it. And they, of course, believe that Jesus really did die and was bodily resurrected on the third day.

But which bible, exactly, are they believing? Is it the King James Version? Maybe it's the New Revised Standard Version. Or perhaps it is the New International Version or the American Standard Version. Maybe it's another one of the plethora of other versions, all of which translate things slightly differently. For example, the King James Version clearly has humans being created prior to the creation of animals in Genesis Chapter 2. But in the New International Version, the syntax is changed just slightly to make it seem as though God had already created the animals. It's a slick use of the past participle when the KJV simply uses past tense.

But there are many other questions besides just which modern version of the bible is used. What about the language? Did Jesus speak English? Of course not, and that means the King James Version and all other English versions are translations. Translations almost always present with a bias of the translator. Jesus spoke Aramaic. But the Gospels were all written in Greek. So even the original manuscripts represent translations. The trouble is, we do not have the original transcripts - the ones written sometime in the first century CE but decades after Jesus died. Prior to the written Gospels, all that was known about Jesus was transmitted by word of mouth. How can we abide by the Word of God when we don't even know what it originally was?

So which word of God did the earliest Christians use? There was no bible. Their Scripture consisted of what we now call the Old Testament plus a loose collection of gospels, apocalypses, and letters written by followers of the Christian movement. Some of these early manuscripts were eventually included in the canon; others were not. And there was hot debate among the early bishops as to which ones should be included. Should the Gospel of Thomas be included? What about Revelation? Eventually, the former was not included, the latter was. But there were very many early manuscripts that devoted Christians of the day followed religiously that did not get included in the canon. Most were lost forever, though some have been found within the last hundred years or so.

So the Holy Bible that you find in your bookstore is not the Word of God; it is the translated, transcribed, and highly edited word of humans trying to make the best of what they knew. To live one's life as though every word of the bible were dictated by God is surely to live a delusion. Before anyone tries to understand what the bible is telling them, they first need to understand the history of how the bible was written and canonized. It wouldn't hurt, also, to understand a little bit about Jewish history, especially that of the first centuries BCE and CE. Context is everything.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Sometimes it's Hard not to be a Little Racist

I try not to be racist because I know it isn't fair to individuals to prejudge them due to their ethnicity. But sometimes certain things happen, and you just go WTF!!!

My daughter was substitute teaching for a class of inner-city middle schoolers for the past 2 weeks. Today was her last day. They had to take a standardized test. The test weighs very heavily on whether or not the kids will be moved up a grade. This is a charter school that is supposedly for college prep science and math.

Anyway, one class (almost all black students) was rowdy and wasn't taking the test seriously. She asked them, "This test is important. You seem to be ignorant of the significance of this test?" This set the class off: One girl said, "Are you calling me ignorant? I'm not stupid!" She tried to explain that ignorant just simply means you don't have knowledge about something but they wouldn't hear of it. Then, her co-teacher (also a sub) went and got another permanent teacher (who was a black woman) and brought her back to the class. The permanent teach laid into my daughter saying that the word ignorant is derogatory and that she was calling her whole class stupid. She threatened to tell the director.

My daughter told the other sub to watch the class and she would walk with the other teacher to the director's office. While there, the director told my daughter that she had used the word properly and that she hadn't done anything wrong, after dismissing the black teacher from the room where she hadn't shut up yet. But the director (who is white) said he didn't realize that the word ignorant was derogatory to blacks but that he should put that on his list (along with the Spanish word "negro" which just means black, that they are now not allowed to teach in that school due to a prior incident). When my daughter got back to the room for her next class, the black co-teacher wouldn't let it go, calling my daughter racist.

Are we supposed to tiptoe around actual words that people in the real world of work should know just because some inner city blacks are IGNORANT of them? Shouldn't the school actually be trying to teach the real meaning of these words instead of avoiding them for fear of pissing off the blacks?

Thankfully, five black students came up to my daughter after class and apologized for their classmates, saying they knew what the word really meant. I feel sorry for them. The students can be forgiven, since they haven't been taught, obviously. But there is no excuse for a college-educated teacher not knowing what an everyday word really means and then using that ignorance to lambast a colleague in front of students.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Fetuses are not Babies

A fetus is not the same thing as a baby. A fetus is attached to its mother and depends on that person for its very survival. A fetus takes its nutrition directly from the mother's body through the placenta. The mother cannot just hand it off if she is tired of nourishing it or if it is causing her nausea or causing her back pain. It is there 24/7 and it demands to be nurtured.

A baby is also dependent, but not necessarily on the mother that gave it birth. The birth mother can, if she doesn't want the baby, leave it at the hospital, or give it up for adoption. She can wash her hands of the whole baby affair. But while it is a fetus, she is stuck with it, regardless of what kind of hardship she must endure.

Now, one might argue that if she didn't want to put up with the hardship maybe she shouldn't have gotten pregnant. Maybe. But is that anyone else's call but her own? Is it your place to judge? More importantly, is it your place to mandate her choices? I don't think so.

For some reason that is hard to figure out, Republicans believe that they have the right, even the obligation, to make it as difficult as possible for women to be able to choose abortion. Small-government Republicans have passed more legislation that restricts personal choices over the past few years than Democratic lawmakers ever have. It is incredibly ironic.

I want one of these Republicans to explain to me in coherent English why it is they can espouse to be hands-off, small-government, even libertarian-leaning conservatives while at the same time dictating to women that they are not allowed to freely choose to have an abortion without government restriction. And I want them to explain it to me without using biblical morality as their reason. Because if that truly is their reason, they have to realize that it is an unconstitutional reason. That may not bother them much, seeing that most of them share a revisionist view of history. But history is what it is, and the Constitution is what it is. It won't change just because a vocal group of revisionist lunatics is uncomfortable with the facts.