Trust the Experts

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Following Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, a meme has surfaced suggesting that ordinary people have taken to rejecting and ignoring experts; that we no longer trust or respect them and have taken decisions, which in the past they would have made for us, into our own hands (with, the implication is, disastrous results).

If only our experts were experts in the field they profess to be experts in. The views and advice we reject are very often not those of the knowledgeable at all, but merely of those who claim to be experts.

In democracies, ministers and government administrators are, to give them the benefit of the doubt, experts in a given area – frequently in UK government in economics and politics itself – but are, on election, often appointed to a position outside this area of expertise. The current Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, for example, has no health related qualifications; his degree is in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Being generous, we might say that he is an expert in these areas, but, he has no expertise whatsoever in the field of health, healthcare, the management of hospitals nor even the management of people. There are those who rightly point out that in these areas, he really hasn’t much of a clue. Yet, as Secretary of State for Health, he manages the entire NHS in England and Wales. Was there really no-one who could make a better job of it than Mr Hunt – an expert, say? Was Hunt any more of an expert in Culture, the post he held before being shunted into Health by David Cameron (another ‘expert’ – in Media Communications – who had no experience, let alone expertise, of managing the Health service)?

Similarly, Justine Greening, the current Education secretary – who has previously been Economic secretary, Transport secretary and secretary for International Development – is an economist and accountant. She is not an expert in Education, nor was she for all of her previous responsibilities. Then there’s Lynn Truss, Secretary of State for Justice (an economist), Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport (historian), Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (degree in maths), Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary (classics), Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (political science), Michael Fallon, Secretary of State for Defence (classics & ancient history) and Theresa May (geography).

And it isn’t just in the UK; the appointment of similarly non-expert experts is taking place right now under Donald Trump – himself an expert in what? – in the USA. Granted that in the UK government, there are some ministers whose qualifications bear some resemblance to the posts they hold (Philip Hammond, Sajid David) but why do we, the electorate, tolerate the deplorable mismatch of others? Ministers do, of course, have civil servants to advise them on their roles, but these are unelected, unknown bureaucrats and who is to say whether their expertise lies within the fields on which they’re advising?

It is no wonder the populace seems to have lost faith in experts. It is because too many of them are not. When I’m ill, I call the doctor not an accountant. When I’m concerned about the environment, I listen to a climate change expert not a political scientist. If I’m seeking justice, I appeal to the courts system, not the banking sector. Why don’t government appointments work like this? Why are we managed by people who have no expertise and, in many cases, no experience in the field in which they present themselves as the ultimate expert? And why are we expected to trust them, to follow their advice and believe in their promises and plans? Most of the time they don’t, quite literally, have much idea of what they’re taking about, and when they’ve got themselves and the service they’re supposedly overseeing into a mess, they’re moved on in a cabinet reshuffle, to another post they don’t know very much about.

It’s difficult to see how things could be any different with the system the way it is, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be. If it’s the system that needs to change, then it should. It isn’t too much to ask of those who govern us that they have some expertise in the areas for which they accept responsibility.

And what has this to do with religion, you may ask? Be assured it has. Next time.

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It’s Only Make Believe

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All you have to do to become a Christian/be saved from sin/gain eternal life is to accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.

Except, it isn’t.

You’ve also to put your faith in the Bible, acknowledging it’s God’s word in some form or other. It would be impossible to be a Christian without it; you’re required  to read it, let the Holy Spirit or one of God’s chosen instruments here on Earth interpret it for you and you’ve to live by it.

And this, in turn, entails believing in the menagerie of supernatural creatures and invisible realms the Bible assumes exist. Angels and demons we considered last time, and then there’s –

The Risen Christ who sits at the hand of the Father. He sits? He’s like a real body, but at the same time not a real body? A spiritual body, then, who metaphorically ‘sits’ next to –

God the Father, whom no human has ever seen (confirmed by John 1.18 but contradicted by Genesis 32.20) who abides in –

Heaven, a place no-one has ever seen. No, really, no-one. Not even those people who have hallucinated about being there. Hallucinations, dreams, visions, even so-called out of body experiences, are not evidence Heaven exists. They’re evidence that people sometimes hallucinate, dream and have visions and out of body experiences. The same is true of ‘sightings’ of God himself and of –

The Holy Spirit. That’s the part of God Christians dupe themselves into thinking has moved in inside them to guide them through their Christian life. That’s the same Holy Spirit who’s guided God’s Chosen to create 34,000 different distinct interpretations of the Truth. Even now, the Spirit is leading church after church down the road of apostasy, according to those he also leads to condemn them. Confused yet? It all makes sense if you recognise that it’s all imaginary, created by human beings who didn’t and don’t know any better. Like –

Satan is. He’s the character who evolves during the course of Bible until he’s a cross between Lex Luthor and the Joker; God’s arch-enemy. He only ‘exists’ to get God off the hook. All the bad in the word can’t be God’s fault now, can it? Somebody’s got to carry the can and it sure isn’t YHWH. So Satan, the devil, gets to be the embodiment of evil. Which isn’t to say evil doesn’t exist because it does, but it’s not caused by this third-rate Dick Dastardly. Nor is –

The Anti-Christ. This is the guy Christians believe will appear at the end of the age, some time around AD 100 according to Revelation 14.9-10. Never mind his creator there calls him something else entirely (‘the Beast’ as it happens); unless he’s finally arrived in the shape of Donald J. Trump, he’s no more real than –

Those who’ve died (‘the saints’ according to Catholics) and have been given new, magic bodies in Heaven or –

Those who’ve died and have gone to Hell to be tortured forever. That’s because –

Hell doesn’t exist either.

Nor do seraphim (Isaiah 6.2), cherubim (Hebrews 9.5), dragons (Psalm 148.7), satyrs (Isaiah 13.21) or unicorns (Numbers 23.22 etc) .

How do we know these beings, places and states don’t exist? Well, they’re all invisible, intangible, undetectable, unverifiable, supernatural (literally, ‘outside nature’), and, ultimately, unconvincing. They’re rejects from far more interesting mythologies that abounded in the ancient world. Today’s mythologies – of Middle Earth, Game of Thrones and the innumerable virtual worlds of computer games – are far more plausible (and even then, not very).

The supernatural doesn’t exist; everything we know is part of a physical universe. There is no evidence anything exists outside, alongside or in addition to that universe. (Though if you think there is evidence for the supernatural – and I mean evidence, not ‘feelings’, personal experiences or ancient texts – then please make it known in the comments).

There is an abundance of evidence, however, that –

Human beings are rather good at inventing stories and mythologies;

Their psychology inclines them to inner imaginings;

They are largely irrational and with a tendency to attribute agency to inanimate objects, phenomena and the chimera of their own imagining;

They have a fear of death and their own personal extinction.

How could religion, with all of its make-believe, not fail to materialise under such conditions? And how can anyone in this day and age take it seriously, knowing what we do now?

I know I can’t.

Angels & Demons

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Last time, Benjamin Corey was feeling rather pleased with himself that he’s able to take a more considered, adult approach to the Bible. He doesn’t interpret it like those dim-witted fundamentalists. Instead, he consults ‘scholars’ to tell him what the Bible’s really about. And in case we’re in doubt, that is never (ever) anything to do with myths or fairy tales.

Which makes me wonder: what do mature, clever Christians like Benjamin make of the Bible’s supernatural fantasies and its cast of invisible beings?

Do they, for example, dismiss the demons that are all over the New Testament? Jesus, you see, believed in demons; he thought some illnesses were caused by them and had a repertoire of incantations for exorcising them from their victims. There are cranks today who believe the same sort of thing, but that’s a bit too much of a fundie approach for the kind of serious-minded Christian I’m talking about here. They probably don’t care that the Bible says in Ephesians 6.12 (written by fake-Paul) that demons are all around us, engaged in invisible spiritual warfare in equally invisible heavenly realms.

I can’t help but think that if only a demon would make itself visible and show us what it looks like, we would know that fake-Paul and Jesus were right and not just religious fanatics inculcated with the unscientific notions of their primitive cultures. But no, no demons have ever shown themselves in person (as opposed to ‘in a person’) except, of course, in third-rate horror films.

So how about angels? Maybe we could see an angel – an undeniable, indisputable, bona fide angel. According to the Bible, they were often seen back when people didn’t know any better. Mary, shepherds watching their flocks, the disciples, Mary Magdalene, Paul and even Jesus himself encountered angels in the flesh. So why don’t we see them now? Why don’t they make themselves known, outside of people’s imaginations? According to fundies they do, but alas, there’s no evidence this is true, which is convenient to say the least.

Still, I’m sure you can be a Christian without believing in angels and demons, even if the Bible is sure they’re real. You don’t have to believe everything it says (right, Dr Corey?)

So what about the rest of the Bible’s fantasies, its invisible creatures and make-believe places? Next time we’ll take a look at the evidence for them and ask, are they really just the low-fi special effects of a book well past its sell-by date?

Things a Christian Wishes (Some) Atheists Would Stop Doing (And Saying)

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On his blog recently, Doctor Benjamin Corey offered up a post called ‘S%#t I Wish (Some) Atheists Would Stop Doing (And Saying)’. I discovered it via the Friendly Atheist blog and naturally felt compelled to respond to Doctor Corey’s four bits of S%#t. The comment I posted on The Official Blog of Benjamin L. Corey is as follows:

S%#t 1: Please stop saying or insinuating that we’re a bunch of uneducated or unenlightened idiots.

Do atheists say or insinuate this? I’m not sure they do. I would suggest atheists find it difficult to understand why people of evident intelligence choose to believe propositions for which little or no evidence exists, that are rooted in myth and which, in reality, fail to deliver on their promise. It’s not that believers are necessarily unintelligent or idiots – clearly many are not – it’s that they are prepared to disengage their intelligence, critical faculties and rationality in order to believe all manner of spurious nonsense.

S%#t 2: Please stop insisting that we read our Bible like right-wing fundamentalists.

I’m surprised you offer this as something you wish atheists would stop ‘insisting’. First of course, atheists don’t insist that anyone read the Bible the same way as anyone else. We would prefer it if no-one read it at all. It is well past its sell-by date and has nothing to offer people living nearly two thousand years after its creation; it is after all a testimony to the failure of the beliefs that spawned it (the Son of Man ascending to the Earth to establish the Kingdom of God here).

Second, implicit in this demand is that there is an intelligent way to read the Bible and there’s the ‘ring-wing fundamentalist’ way. In fact, you don’t even insinuate that certain Christians are ‘ignorant’ and ‘unenlightened’ because of how they read the Bible, you say so explicitly when you talk, ungrammatically, about the ‘unenlightened, ignorant nonsense that fundamentalists do with the Bible.’

But at least fundamentalists regard the Bible as the Word of God (agreed they cherry-pick it and don’t behave according to it precepts) and claim it is ineffable and infallible. Perhaps, as you suggest, more enlightened Christians are free to interpret it in more liberal ways, dismissing that which is context-bound and so on. But then, where does that leave it? Is it authoritative or not? Does it speak directly to people or can it only ‘really’ be understood through the exegesis of scholars? If the latter, as you imply, then can it only be read and understood by those with above average intelligence? How does this square with Jesus’ insistence that his Kingdom was for those with child-like trust?

S%#t 3: Please stop referring to our belief system(s) as fairy tales.

Difficult this one. It depends whether myth and fairy tale are synonymous. Having taught English literature for many years at a university in the UK, I would argue they’re not. To the layman, however, they probably are in that both involve fantasy beings, implausible events, symbolic characters, sacrifice and enlightenment – just like religion really. So no, there is definitely a case here, Dr Corey, that if the cap fits… if your ‘belief-system’ walks, talks and smells like a myth (or fairy tale) then it probably is. You are stuck with atheists pointing this out to you, I’m afraid.

(By the way, your examples of Mickey Mouse and the Old Woman in the Shoe are not fairy tales. One is a commercial enterprise involving anthropomorphised animals and the other a nursery rhyme. I suggest you consult scholars who can explain to you what a fairy tale is, and the differences and similarities between it and myth.)

S%#t 4: Maybe lay off the whole, “religion hasn’t done any good for humanity” type of argument, because it’s obnoxiously untrue.

Reference for this quotation or did you just make it up? Sam Harris perhaps comes closest to saying this sort of thing – comes close but doesn’t actually say it. He says on balance that the good religion has done is outweighed by the evil perpetrated in its name. He doesn’t, though, say no good has come from religion. Sorry, Benjamin, but this is a straw man ‘argument’ you’re presenting here and is itself ‘obnoxiously untrue’.

Would we be better of without religion? Without the myth, the deadening of critical faculties and the adversarial nature of ideologies (even within Christianity)? Of course we would. Without precepts like ‘love your neighbor, love your enemies’? No, but then these are not exclusively religious. Far too many believers disregard them anyway.

 

To Hell and back

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The self-righteous have taken it upon themselves this week to indulge in a little rejoicing, and not a little bit more gloating, at the death of George Michael. They are particularly pleased that, in all likelihood, he has gone to Hell, what with him being gay and all. Because of his sexuality – and this is how their damaged minds work – some of these Christians have also decreed George must also have been a ‘paedophile’, a victim of AIDs and possessed by evil spirits. Incredibly, he still managed to fit in a singing career. He was, these true-believers say, an enemy of God and is now frying in Hell forever. Yippee!

Here’s how the Christ-like Steven Anderson puts it:

First of all, George Michael’s burning in Hell right now. He was a very wicked, God-hating sodomite reprobate, and he’s getting the punishment that he deserves right now… If you just look at the lyrics to one of his most famous songs, one of his biggest hits, you can just totally tell this is written by a paedophile… It’s clearly written by a sick pervert because that’s what these homosexuals are. They’re a bunch of paedophiles… Quit mourning the death of this filthy pervert. He’s rotting in Hell right now for being a God-hating homosexual reprobate.

George Michael was none of the things these Christians claim he was. His post-mortem was inconclusive, but even if he had died of an AIDs related illness it would not be a cause for celebration. He was not a paedophile nor demon-possessed, but Christians, having happily embraced today’s post-truth world, think it’s absolutely fine for them to say he was.

They see evil spirits and demons everywhere, particularly in people who don’t share their primitive views; homosexuality is caused by their malevolent presence, and so, apparently, are depression, eating disorders, insomnia, self-harming and sex before marriage. Little wonder, of course, when that first-century ignoramus they claim to follow regarded Satan’s little helpers as the source of sickness and disease (when it wasn’t sin itself that was doing it). It hardly matters there’s absolutely no evidence that such beings exist; Christians are more than happy to take on the demonisation of others themselves.

As for Hell itself, it isn’t real either, as I discuss here. George Michael isn’t there, nor is anyone else who’s died. But let’s humour all those fanatics gentle souls who have persuaded themselves that it does. What does the Bible say about it?

First, it doesn’t claim that individuals go to Hell after death. Rather, it sees Hell as a pit into which Satan and his minions will be thrown at the end of time (Revelation 20.10). No mention humans will go there with them. Instead, the whack-job who wrote Revelation suggests (20.7-9) that the unrighteous dead, once resurrected, will be consumed by the fire God is going to destroy the Earth with at the end of time. You might wonder why God would bother resurrecting bodies only to murder them again, but he’s God, and you know, mysterious ways and all that. Still, he doesn’t seem to have perpetual torment in mind, even so.

Second, Paul tells us that after they’ve died, the dead sleep until the final judgement (1 Thessalonians 4.15-17). So even if they are eventually to be consigned to Hell it certainly won’t be immediately after death. As the final judgement has yet to occur – and won’t ever – dead souls, including George’s, still slumber. (It’s possible of course that for the dead time ceases to exist and the period between death and judgement appears, from their perspective, instantaneous. But this is not what the Bible teaches. It’s not nearly as imaginative as that.)

Third, Jesus is made to imply (it’s all very vague) that those with whom he is displeased will, after death, simply be discarded – thrown on some sort of metaphorical rubbish tip (Matthew 23.33). In fact, he tells only one parable about the after-life (Luke 16.19-31) in which a resurrected rich man finds himself excluded from God’s presence Abraham’s bosom. Not, you’ll note, because he failed to accept Jesus as his personal saviour but because of his disregard for the poor. So, given his philanthropy, it doesn’t look as if George Michael will be spending his eternity in the Hell that Jesus imagined either.

All of those who threaten us with Hell, and who think George Michael is already there, don’t know, and probably don’t care, what God’s Word™ has to say about the place where they’d be happy to see the rest of us suffer everlasting torment. It hardly matters when it doesn’t exist, being a fantasy of primitive zealots, but it does make you wish those who delude themselves into thinking it does would shut the hell up about it. Yes, you Franklin, Stephen, Bob, Kim and Keith. You’re only showing yourselves up for the ignorant hypocrites you are.