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February 2013

Betrayal of the Intellect

Last night, at the Cambridge Union debating society, Professor Richard Dawkins debated the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. The image here comes from a story on the Huffington Post where Dawkins is quoted as saying that religion is a "betrayal of the intellect". When I referred to this story on Google+, someone replied to my post by saying the trouble with Richard Dawkins is that he is a "rabid, fundamentalist, atheist" and as deluded at the former Archbishop. He further suggested that neither science nor religion will ever settle this issue.  

Here's my take . . . whether or not some deity or other exists, I can say with near absolute certainty that it's not the god of the Bible, Talmud, Torah, Koran, or any of the books that are paraded as God's word on this planet. Furthermore, the evidence suggests, with near absolute certainty, that there is no god, at least not in the way that most religious people envision such a being.

It's true that Dawkins can be a little rough when it comes to taking on religion, but that's not to say he's wrong, or that he's just plain mean-spirated. Richard Dawkins, and others like him, take on religion because they see it not only as a delusion (as Dawkins calls it) but as a dangerous superstition that stands as the basis for fear, ignorance, and hate, and much the evil that accompanies fear, ignorance, and hate. Christopher Hitchens believed it, Sam Harris believes it, and I believe it.

On the issue of whether religion or science will ever settle this, Religion has already settled this. It's true. But religion has settled the issue by giving in to ignorance and taking it on faith, possibly the least virtuous virtue imaginable because religious faith is pretty much the same as ignorance without question. Science, while it may never 100% settle the argument of whether some kind of god exists, is vastly different from religion in the best possible way. Science is based on observation and hypothesis, finely tuned and forever open to re-examination by experiment. Using the tools of science, we can say with near absolute certainty, that there is no god. At least not in the sense that such a being is represented in the planet's holy books.

Rather than trash atheists, religious people should rally around guys like Dawkins, and give him and other scientists all the support they can. For the first time in history, the religious have the opportunity to test faith against the tools of reason and science. If the god hypothesis can survive the scrutiny of science and reason, then religious people will be vindicated in their beliefs. If, however, god fails on all counts, as so far he has, they can cast off the yoke of ignorance, darkness, and fear, and step joyfully into the light of reason.

The True Meaning of Lent

Feb 14, 2013 - Tags:

Even though the language I am most comfortable with is English, my first language was French. I spoke my first English words when I was 9 years old, and to this day, I still remember those first words. We had moved from Alma, Quebec to Ontario and didn't yet have a place to live. So my parents rented a room at the Sleepy Time Motel in St. Thomas, Ontario, where we stayed for a couple of weeks. The motel was just on the outskirts of town. Just a short walk down from the motel was a chip wagon selling hamburgers, fries, hot dogs, and so on. I wanted a hot dog, so I asked my Dad for some money and the English words I would need to ask for my treat. I practiced that line over and over again, reciting it out loud and in my head as I walked toward the chip wagon. Those words, "I want a hot dog with everything on it" still echo through my mind to this day.

Those types of early language memories can be powerful. Consequently, there are still a lot of French idiomatic expressions floating around in my head. I still occasionally say "Close the light" instead of "turn off the light". Which brings me to Lent.

This is the time of year when Christians give up something they really, really like for reasons they don't actually understand but are told they should from childhood and into adulthood. For most people, it's seen more as an endurance contest, to see whether they can make it 40 days without taking a drink of alcohol or eating bacon double cheeseburgers. Kids are started on this road by suggesting they give up chocolate or Saturday morning cartoons. It's a last man standing game where the person who retains their sanity after having gone without, oh, let's say bacon, is the winner.  Sure, there's a religious component there. Lent is about, uh, well, you know, some churchy thing. Oh, here . . . let me Google if for you.

What, you ask, does all this Lent stuff have to do with speaking French? Well, in my mind, I see "lent" which is the French word meaning "slow". Lent is that 40 day period when you are frankly sick to death of winter and you are barely hanging on waiting for the days to get longer and the weather to get warmer. Right around the time of Lent, or lent, if you will, time seems to move so slowly that pulling out your own fingernails starts to seem like an interesting passtime. 

Interestingly enough, for those who practice the religious ritual of Lent, the meaning is often the same. It's a long, painful, and s-l-o-w 40 days while you wait, barely hanging on, for the taste of an ice cold beer. Or chocolate. Or bacon.

Or a hot dog with everything on it.


It’s an incredible con job when you think about it, to believe something now in exchange for something after death. Even corporations with their reward systems don’t try to make it posthumous.

Gloria Steinem