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Fearless Philosophy For Free Minds: March 2008

Friday, March 21, 2008

Short Easter Quiz

Most of us know the Easter Story: Jesus of Nazareth was condemned by an angry mob to die on a cross, was placed in a tomb, rose from the dead on the third day, and after taking care of a little unfinished business, he ascended into the clouds promising that he would return before the passing of his generation (Mark 9:1, so far he was off by roughly 2000 years). These alleged events are given in the four gospels Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John. Obviously, as any minister or devout Christian will tell you, the Bible is the infallible, inerrant, perfect word of god, therefore; these four accounts of the crucifixion, resurrection, and exit from Earth to heaven must agree on the all the facts right?

Well, not exactly.

What were Jesus’ last words on the cross?

A. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mathew 27:46)
B. “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)
C. “It is finished” (John 19:30)

I suppose one could argue that Jesus said all of these things one right after the other. Perhaps I could believe that Jesus uttered B and then C but A doesn’t seem to go along with the other two at all.

Moving on to the empty tomb. Who and how many went to the tomb to discover that Jesus’ body was missing?

A. Mary Magdalene (John 20:1)
B. Mary Magdalene and the “other” Mary (Mathew 28:1)
C. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (Mark 16:1)
D. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and “other women with them” (Luke 24:1)

Well, at least they all agree Mary Magdalene was there.

Last question: who met Mary Magdalene (with or without the above mentioned) at the empty tomb?

A. An angel “the angel of the Lord” (Mathew 28:2)
B. A young man dressed in a white garment (Mark 16:5)
C. Two men dressed in shining garments (Luke 24:4)
D. Two angels (John 20:12)

Some might argue that the man/men was/were really (an) angel(s). Even if we want to concede this, we are still left with the question: was there one angel or two angels who met Mary Magdalene (and perhaps others) at the tomb? It cannot be both! At best, only one of these accounts can be true.

I suppose that one could argue that these details are insignificant and that I’m missing the point of the story. After all, aren’t there contradictions in just about any historical account of any event? Sure, but no one ever tries to claim that these historical accounts are infallible, inerrant, or perfect neither. If the bible were inerrant, then there would be no contradictions among the many unknown authors. The ones I mentioned only represent a small sample of contradictions one will find in the bible.

The video below is a lecture given by Dr. Bart Ehrman, Biblical scholar and author of the book Misquoting Jesus: Scribes Who Altered Scripture and Readers Who Will Never Know. Dr. Ehrman came into his religious studies course a Christian true believer but after years of studying the bible, translating, and reading the “original” writings as compared with the bibles which are currently read, Dr. Ehrman came out a skeptic. Why? He found contradiction after contradiction and error after error. Dr. Ehrman explains that over time, scribes made copies of copies of copies of the scriptures which originally came from an oral tradition. As a result, the scribes made mistakes, added passages*, deleted passages (sometimes entire books), and injected their political biases. This would explain why the four gospels contradict each other regarding the Easter Story.

Whether you are a believer or not this lecture by Dr. Ehrman is extremely interesting and educational. The lecture runs 1 hour and 39 minutes in 10 youtube clips (or click here to see the entire presentation uninterrupted).

Hat Tip: Iron Wolf

*Such as the story about woman caught in adultery and Jesus admonishes the Pharisees: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" (John Chapter 8). This is one of the few parts of the bible I actually like but as it turns out, this story does not appear in the oldest texts.
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Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Vatican Introduces New Sins!

As if Catholics didn’t have enough to feel guilty about with the original “Seven Deadly Sins,” now there are seven new deadly sins and a “Driver’s 10 Commandments.” Yes, the Vatican, the symbol of moral purity, perfection, piety, and expert driving has come up with a list to guide us through life to help us escape eternal damnation.

The Seven New Mortal Sins

#1. Genetic Modification: Scientists genetically modifying food to alleviate starving in the third world - we can’t have that! That’s playing god. Only the Catholic Church has the moral authority to play god.

#2. Carrying out experiments on humans: So if you are an individual who is terminally ill but willing to try experimental drugs or surgery, that’s a sin? I think I would rather take my chances of eternal damnation.

#3. Polluting the environment: The Catholic Church and organized religion in general has been polluting minds by encouraging unreason (faith) and discouraging reason for time and memorial. I can accept this rule if it means that organized religion will cease to insist that their superstitions should be given the same respect as science in an academic setting. I won’t hold my breath.

#4. Causing social injustice: Oh, you mean like enabling priests to rape children by moving pedophile priests from parish to parish and refusing to cooperate with law enforcement thereby stopping victims from having their day in court?

#5. Causing Poverty: If the Vatican means causing poverty through theft, force, or fraud then I would agree (it seems to me that this was already covered by “thou shalt not steal”). How else does one “cause poverty” ?

#6. Becoming Obscenely Wealthy: Again, apparently this does not apply to the Catholic Church (this list was probably written with a solid gold jewel encrusted fountain pen). Most of the “obscenely wealthy” derive their wealth from providing/producing useful goods and services people want and/or need (apparently the Vatican has never heard of what Adam Smith called “the invisible hand”). The Catholic Church produces nothing but false fear and false hope to individuals and derives its obscene wealth from millions of individuals, many of which could be described as poor (It seems that the Catholic Church has been violating sin #5 since it’s not-so-immaculate inception!). Perhaps the Pope should read Atlas Shrugged to get an idea of what might happen if the men and women of the mind decided to follow this rule by not pursuing “selfish profits” by going on strike. If nothing else, the Pope should read Francisco’s money speech where he asks the following: “So you think that money is the root of all evil? Have you ever asked what is the root of money?”

#7. Taking Drugs: I guess the Catholic Church will have to use grape juice instead of wine for communion like the protestants do.

The “Driver’s Ten Commandments”

#1. You shall not kill: I seem to remember this being one of the original Ten Commandments; seems redundant.

#2. The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.

#3. Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.

#4. Be charitable and help your neighbor in need, especially victims of accidents.

#5. Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin: Oh, like the Pope Mobile? [pictured above] Whenever the Pope starts driving a Pinto or a used Volkswagen, maybe I could read this commandment without bowling over in laughter.

#6. Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.

#7. Support the families of accident victims.

#8. Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.

#9. On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.

#10. Feel responsible toward others.

It seems that most of these commandments should be intended for Phoenix Dioceses Bishop Thomas O’Brien. O’Brien fled the scene after hitting a pedestrian; his victim later died. While it turned out that the victim was drunk crossing the street after dark (something that happens quite often in Phoenix and probably every other major metropolitan area), there is no excuse for O’Brien failing to render aid to this person. Rather than being a responsible person, he fled the scene and tried to cover up the accident. Incredibly, O’Brien’s punishment was four years of probation with 1,000 hours of community service. To add insult to injury, O’Brien’s community service was not picking up trash along the highways in an orange jumpsuit (as what would happen to anyone else if they were lucky) but to “minister to the sick and dying.” Isn’t that what the men of the cloth are supposed to do anyway? That would be like punishing Eliot Spitzer’s prostitute by requiring her to turn 1,000 hours worth of tricks for free!

Clearly, there is a great deal of hypocrisy in all of these sins and commandments.
More heretical posts:
Atheist Atrocities (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)
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Friday, March 07, 2008

Fair Tax Webinar with Neal Boortz

Neal Boortz has a webinar on the Fair Tax for anyone who would like to learn more about the bill which would replace the income tax with a national sales tax. Boortz explains what the Fair Tax is, how it would work, and answers the common questions/criticisms of the plan.

Anyone interested in going to the webinar can click here to attend.
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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Fearless Philosophy Flashback: Town Hall Meeting with Senator John McCain

In light of John McCain’s securing of the Republican nomination yesterday, the following is a post I had written in December of 2005 after attending a town hall meeting with John McCain back when I was living in Arizona. As I have written many times before, I have serious misgivings about the idea of a McCain Administration as he would drag the Republican Party even further to the left than President Bush has. In certain areas, however, McCain would be an improvement over Bush on issues such as spending and government waste and voted against Bush’s expansion of Medicare. Even so, McCain’s disdain for the First Amendment is a very difficult pill for me to swallow. Count me in the “undecided” column for right now; I will probably change my mind 15 times before the general election.


Last Thursday, I received an email from a group that bills themselves “Friends of John McCain” announcing that Senator McCain had a town hall meeting scheduled at the Performing Arts Center at Sandra Day O’Connor High School that evening. I took a look at the address and realized that the town hall meeting was taking place only 4 miles to the North of my home. After thinking it over for a couple of minutes, I decided I would go. I did not support John McCain in the last election but he is one of my senators so I felt like I should go to listen and hopefully question him on the issues I care about.

Armed with a notebook, a pencil, and a tape recorder, I arrived a little over an hour early. Surprisingly there were not many people in the auditorium by that time. This gave me a chance to sit pretty much wherever I wanted. I chose a seat in the fourth row, stage right. I figured this position would give me the best shot at being called on for a comment. With roughly an hour remaining until the scheduled start of the meeting, I took my notebook and pencil and dutifully scrawled out four questions. My questions concerned government size & waste, the Kelo ruling, McCain’s apparent opposition to the Fair Tax, and the impact on bloggers from the McCain/Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act.

In the course of the two-hour town hall meeting two of the four questions were asked and answered. Unfortunately, although several people around me made comments, I was not called on. Though I was a little disappointed about that, there were a lot of great questions from the crowd. Unlike many of these types of events, this event was not scripted and completely unfiltered. Senator McCain had no knowledge of exactly what questions he would be asked. I have to give him his props for that; could you imagine Hillary Clinton (or President Bush for that matter) taking unprepared questions from the unwashed masses? I can’t!

Government Spending & Growth
Perhaps the greatest concern for many of us, particularly those of us in the Life, Liberty, and Property community is the out-of-control government spending (waste) and government growth that has occurred under a Republican administration with a Republican-controlled congress. Senator McCain addressed this issue right out of the box in his opening monologue:

In the last five years there’s been a larger expansion of government and a larger increase in spending than in any time since the Great Societies. That is not something that I am proud of. I am embarrassed that we are laying debt of trillions and trillions on future generations of Americans. We have got to get spending under control and we have to make some tough decisions in order to do so. Let me just give you a few suggestions and I’ll move on.

One, take the $24 billion that was in pork in the highway bill and send it to Hurricane Katrina...

Second thing, why don’t we take the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill which was, which was supposed to be when we it $400 billion over ten years and its now gone up to over $800 billion over the next ten years and $2 trillion over the final ten, ten years and no senior that I know understands it. Why don’t we delay the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill for a couple of years; that will save another $60 billion.

The third thing I would do is I would take 5% across the board cut from the non-defense, non-Homeland Security spending and cut 5% and take 1% and give it to the president as a contingency fund... A 4% which would be [inaudible] across the board cut would be another $80 billion.

So my friends, we can if we want to eliminate wasteful and unnecessary spending and get this under control. Now, everybody says ‘what about taxes?’ How can we go to the American people with clean hands and say ‘we’re going to increase your taxes’ when we haven’t taken every step possible to reduce wasteful spending? That’s a cop out! It’s a cop out. So we need to uh, I believe come to make some tough decisions and I hope the President of the United States will take some of these big appropriations bills that are laden with pork and veto.
McCain made some additional comments in response to a question about pork-barrel spending:

I’ve never gotten a pork barrel project for my State of Arizona. I’ve never requested for it, I’ve never requested earmarks nor have I ever gotten one. And I guarantee if I ever do request one, it would be one of the most famous earmarks in history.

But what I have done, I’ve run out and have said when I brought out the director of NASA to U of A and ASU and I said: ‘Look at what these people have; look what the U of A has. They lead the country in astronomy and lenses and all of this, uh, telescopes…I would like you to have a look.’ He came, he looked at it. Guess what? U of A got the biggest grant ever given to a university in history and they competed for it. They didn’t earmark it. They didn’t say ‘we’re going to give’ I think it was $350 million to U of A. They didn’t say ‘I’m going to give it because McCain wrote it into a piece of legislation.’ They did it because they looked at every possible university…in the country and they picked U of A. The same thing happened at ASU with NASA…We compete and we succeed.

I wanted to be sure Senator McCain’s votes in the Senate matched with his commentary so I went to the Citizens Against Government Waste website to see his report card. CAGW gives McCain a rating of 88% making him a ‘taxpayer hero’ voting against the Highway Bill and in favor of the Highway Bill Cut (among other wasteful bills). As far as government spending is concerned, Senator John McCain is one of the good guys.

Kelo (Eminent Domain)

Before attending this town hall meeting, I had no idea where Senator McCain stood on the Kelo ruling. A concerned citizen asked the senator if he or any others in congress were doing anything to undo the damage of Kelo.


[T]he United States Supreme Court made the incredible decision that basically allows local governments to take property for purposes of development. I was astonished. I treat the United States Supreme Court with great reverence and respect but on this one, I don’t get it. And I and some others are talking now about some kind of legislation that we can enact to cure this.

Now there’s such a thing as…a local government to be able to take over some property for a public purpose of some compelling reason that you can argue that it’s for the good for the safety and security of the entire community. How you can justify taking over a piece of property for development of a hotel or resort just because its gonna bring in greater tax revenue is something I don’t get…

I happen to think its [Kelo] is one of the worst decisions that I have ever seen in the United States Supreme Court.
Score 2 points for Senator McCain. On the remaining two questions I had prepared, the Fair Tax and the effects of McCain/Feingold on free speech, no one asked but I’m not confident that he would do anything to effect change on either of these issues. Someone did bring up the issue of the federal tax code; McCain agreed it is too confusing and needed some kind of reform. McCain did not mention the Fair Tax at all but was critical of the Value Added Tax and the Flat Tax. I was a little puzzled why he did not mention the Fair Tax because the Fair Tax better addresses the weaknesses he mentioned of the other two competing plans.

Whether or not John McCain supports the Fair Tax is not my biggest bone of contention with him, however. My biggest problem with Senator McCain is his campaign finance bill which effectively censors political speech at election time. I wrote a post on what this means for bloggers way back in March of this year and I am still very concerned about this blatant violation of the First Amendment.

Overall, the town hall meeting was a very positive experience. I would encourage everyone to go to an event like this if you ever have a chance – whether you support the person or not. One thing became very clear to me; at least one senator is aware of our disgust with the current direction of the party in power [the Republicans].

Additional Comments
I had a couple of additional comments following the post responding to reader comments and criticisms which I thought I should re-post here.

When I say that McCain is ‘one of the good guys,’ I mean as far as spending goes and relative to the senate. CAGW’s average rating for the U.S. Senate for 2004 was 40%. Senate Democrats average rating was 16% while Senate Republicans average rating was 63%. These ratings are based solely on how each senator voted on various issues regarding wasteful spending (in the opinion of CAGW that is). Relative to these averages, Senator McCain is ‘one of the good guys’ with a rating of 88% for the 108th Congress and a lifetime rating of 87%. Certainly, there are other senators with an even higher rating (our other senator, Jon Kyle has the highest rating in the senate with 94%).

Having said all that, we could argue that McCain’s comment that he had never brought in any pork to Arizona is just spin. He had the director of NASA ‘take a look’ at what U of A and ASU was doing? His influence as a high profile senator had ‘nothing’ to do with it? Is it reasonable to say that the U of A was the best university for NASA to invest its resources in? I have no idea.

We could also ask whether or not NASA granting U of A all this money is wasteful. An even more fundamental question would be: should the government be involved in space exploration at all or should this be the domain of the private sector? Persuasive arguments can be made on either side of this issue (but maybe we’ll delve into that some other time).

Overall, I still haven’t made up my mind about McCain. There are certain things I like about him and certain things I don’t. The McCain/Feingold bill is a real sore spot with me. I think you and others have made good points here about how we should judge a politician more by his or her actions than by his or her words. I completely agree. We should go by Reagan’s philosophy he used when dealing with the Soviet Union: “Trust but Verify.” Then again, in the realm of politics, maybe we should just ‘verify.’

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