Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Without A Prayer

Lawrence O'Donnell recently said on TV:

Mormonism was created by a guy in upstate New York in 1830 when he got caught having sex with the maid and explained to his wife that God told him to do it. Forty-eight wives later, Joseph Smith's lifestyle was completely sanctified in the religion he invented to go with it. Which Mitt Romney says he believes.

I can't believe this rhetoric will help Obama, even though O'Donnell may see himself as making the attacks the Obama campaign isn't allowed to.  In any case, it's pretty slimy.

First, he's a hypocrite for attacking Romney this way but not, say, Harry Reid.  Second, it's easy for non-believers to mock the fantastic stories that virtually every religion has--but why would O'Donnell be so selective except that he's a hypocrite twice over?  Third, he's appealing to bigotry and the worst in people.  Fourth, this is irrelevant--we can see how Romney runs a state and what he believes politically, and it's got nothing to do with Joseph Smith's life or even that much to do with Romney's faith--the Founders didn't believe in a religious test for office, and this is a good example why.

In a non-related religious story, Dinesh D'Souza has a new book out trying to prove how you can have an omnipotent, loving deity and yet so much pain in the world.  Last time we heard D'Souza trying to justify his religious beliefs, he fell short.  From what I can tell, this book is another strikeout.

I'm being unfair, because I haven't read the book, but I did hear him discuss it on radio and if that snippet was anything like the rest of the book, I don't see any point in checking it out.

He talks about how for centuries people wondered why we had so much pain caused by natural disasters like earthquakes and volcanoes and tsunamis.  He claims modern science has helped explain.  Unlike other planets, we've got tectonic plates floating around, and this system allows life to develop--which is why those other planets are dead.  So the plates give us life, even though there's also the side effect of things like earthquakes and volcanoes.

So D'Souza is claiming his omnipotent deity is such a blunderer he can't even create a planet designed for life without having natural disasters that wipe out millions.  It's not the first time I've heard a religious person trying to explain something by claiming serious limitations on an omnipotent being's power, which makes me wonder what part of omnipotent don't they get?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, well, tell it Rowling, who made her billion dollars off it.

1:32 AM, April 11, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well religion is just ideology and its worth while to pin folks down on whether they believe all the nuttiness or are just acting hypocritically. The growing stength of non-believers does cahnge this approach a little. We want to know about the candidate's beliefs- why should a subset called "religion" get a pass?

That being said, the social club aspect of religion should probably be off limits.

2:31 AM, April 11, 2012  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I'm not saying people should get a pass on religion, I'm saying it's hypocritical to take on one in particular when most or all are equally vulnerable.

I'm not quite sure what you mean by the "social club" aspects of religion, but that sounds like it should be criticized more, not less, than personal beliefs that don't directly effect policy.

As to the growing strength of non-believers, I'd just note they're still pretty weak. Certainly, at this point, no self-professed atheist could become President.

10:24 AM, April 11, 2012  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

You assert that "most or all" religions are "equally vulnerable" to criticism for their "fantastic stories". If you are asserting this as your opinion, that's perfectly fine. If you are asserting it as something that ought to be objectively accepted by religious believers and nonbelievers alike, I think it requires an argument based on evidence. Assuming that there were an objective way to measure the level of "fantasy" (not the best word, IMO) in each fantastic story, and then add up the total amount of "fantasy" in a religion, it seems a priori extremely unlikely that every major religion and irreligion on the planet would have the same score, or even close to the same score.

Also, it's unclear how one can factor in the interrelatedness of these stories. I know many "liberal" and "centrist" Christians who don't believe in the story of Jonah being swallowed by a fish/whale, because this is just too fantastic for them. Yet they believe in a God who is all-powerful, who created the universe, who has on rare occasion performed miracles (local suspensions of the physical laws he himself devised), and who has on occasion interacted with human beings in ways designed to teach them lessons. If one accepts all of these things (which you would rate as "fantastic"), does the total amount of fantasticness in Christianity actually increase if the story of Jonah is then taken literally?

Personally, I do think that Mormon theology is more problematic than Christian theology (to the degree that such things can be objective), because I think that the strongest arguments for God have to do with the inability of science to explain the existence of the universe. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and philosophical monotheism postulate a God that solves this problem, but who is "fantastic" in his own way. So I can easily see how one could be a monotheist or an atheist. But Mormon theology postulates gods who did not create the universe (which has existed for infinite time, while each individual god began to exist a finite number of years in the past). It seems to me that this adds all of the God-related "fantasy points" without decreasing the "fantasy points" that science's non-explanation of the universe produce.

But of course, this is irrelevant to Romney. Perhaps one could argue that if Romney had invented this theology we could deduce something about his mental state from that fact, but he was born into it.

2:29 PM, April 11, 2012  
Blogger LAGuy said...

In the past I've discussed different levels of plausibility for crackpot ideas--Holocaust denial, 9/11 conspiracies, fairies, etc. No doubt if there were some accurate way to measure these things (and there may be), we'd find that some are thousands of times more likely than others. Yet, at a certain point, it gets hard to separate degrees of implausibility.

Just about all the major religions that I'm familiar with require adherents to believe fantastic stories. (Perhaps "require" is the wrong word, but if you don't believe any of these stories, I'm not sure where you stand.) The magic that takes place in Mormon's beliefs doesn't seem to me particularly more amazing that the magic of other religions. Perhaps because it happened more recently, in an age when we don't believe in such magic as much, and when we could record what happened better, some have more trouble with it, but at base, it's hard to see how it's that different.

Believers believe, and also believe their beliefs make sense while others don't. But if you look at religions you're not sympathetic too, I don't see why anyone, even a religious person, wouldn't see their supernatural stories as unlikely as those of the Mormon's. In fact, I have heard, occasionally, attacks similar to O'Donnell's against Islam, from Christians, with particular emphasis on ugly stories about its founder.

As a side point, I don't see how any inability of science to explain the existence of the universe makes it logical to introduce a further, supernatural factor, whether that's one or many gods. In fact, it seems like that just gives you one more thing you can't explain.

3:16 PM, April 11, 2012  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

I agree with the charge that O'Donnell is being a hypocritical partisan in attacking Mormon theology as somehow more "fantastical" than other popular religions. But this is nothing new for O'Donnell.

It is true that most religions proffer fantastic tales, but I believe these are simply imperfect reflections of the obvious fact that the universe is pretty fantastic. It is not explainable by rational science, starting with the idea that it sprang into existence from nothing. This basic mystery, that science and religion alike believe, is not a criticism of either.

I have not read D'Souza's works, but it seems to me the most basic explanation from religion for why people suffer (including good people) is that such suffering serves a greater purpose which is good.

Why did God lead Abraham to the point of nearly sacrificing his son (which had been a gift of God's power in the first place)? I know there are tomes written on the subject, but the obvious initial reason is so tomes could be written on the subject. Humanity's struggles against pain and loss are what leads mankind to advance.

How this fits with an omnipotent God is another subject. Could God have simply created perfect replicas of Himself? I don't know, maybe this is how it's done. To quote George Carlin, "Could God create a stone so large that He Himself could not lift it?"

4:42 PM, April 11, 2012  

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