Bigotry on the Brink of Theocracy

Years ago, I read two novels by author Ben Bova, “Mars” and “Return to Mars,” which described scenarios by which mankind would explore the surface of the Red Planet. I vaguely remember enjoying them.

While wandering through Barnes & Noble, I stumbled upon a third Mars book by Bova, entitled “Mars Life.” It was a paperback priced at $6.99, so it was a low-risk purchase in which I indulged. Yet only twenty pages into the thing, I’m ready to throw it across the room and never pick it up again.

Bova’s book is built on the scientifically indefensible premise that the polar ice caps will melt in just a few years, which will result in… well, I’ll let you tell you himself.

From his preface:

The political results of massive greenhouse flooding will be, I fear, to accelerate a trend toward ultraconservative religion-based governments almost everywhere on earth, a trend that is already evident in much of the world, including the United States.

When I read sentences like that, I fall into despair.

Mr. Bova seems to be, by all accounts, a bright man. But if he truly believes that theocracy is just around the corner, then he has misunderstood me and others like me in such a profound way that it is impossible to believe that we could have any productive communication whatsoever. It’s also impossible for me to respect anything he says, as he has revealed himself to be vapid, arrogant, and almost irredeemably ignorant.

For further evidence of such, consider this fictional scientific presentation to a California school board that Bova thinks is a plausible prediction of the near future:

Maxwell remained in his chair, smiling back at the board members. He was a stocky man in his late forties, with crinkles around his deep set eyes.

“This won’t take long. I represent the Mars Foundation, as most of you know. The Foundation wants to make its package of learning materials available to the schools of your district.” Almost as an afterthought, he added, “For free, of course. ”

“A package of learning materials?” asked one of the board members.

 

“About Mars. About the exploration work going on there,” Maxwell said. “The lifeforms they found. The cliff dwellings. The ancient volcanoes. The kids’ll love it.”

 

One of the two male board members, tanned and sun-blond as a beachcomber, knit his brows. “This is science stuff, isn’t it?”

 

Nodding, Maxwell replied, “The exploration’s being done by scientists, yes. But it’s exciting. It’s an adventure in discovery!”

 

The beachcomber shook his head. Turning to the chairperson, he complained, “Look, they tried to ram Darwin down our throats years ago. The scientists are always trying to sneak their ideas into the school curriculum. It’s our duty to protect our children from their secularist propaganda.”

 

“But it’s not propaganda! “Maxwell cried, sounding genuinely hurt. “It’s real. They’re actually searching for the remains of a village that intelligent Martians lived in millions of years ago!”

 

“Yeah. And I’m descended from a monkey. “

Granted, the possibility of ancient Martian villages may seem absurd, but it’s far less ludicrous than the possibility of a California public school board rejecting Darwinism as “secular propaganda.” Maybe that’s why Bova moves onto an easier target at the end of this passage.

For it seems that having been rejected by the Sacramento Inquisition, this poor fictional scientist dreads what comes next.

From page 20:

Reluctantly Maxwell got to his feet and shuffled out of the meeting room. He knew what the board’s decision would be. And he didn’t look forward to the next stop on his itinerary: Salt Lake City.

Oh, spare me.

We are left to assume that the Mormons like me epitomize the tyrannical theocracy that is to come. Mr. Bova fears me, but he clearly does not understand me. There is a word to describe people who slander others they fear but do not understand.

That word is “bigot. And “bigot” is a label that Ben Bova goes out of his way to earn.

Only prejudice can explain the premise that the Western world is on the brink of theocracy. The fact is that, outside of the Middle East, religion has never been more marginalized in affairs of state than it is today, and the worldwide trend is decidedly toward the secular, not the sacred. Europe is now essentially a post-Christian continent, and anyone who tries to mention God in a state-sanctioned setting in America is subject to lengthy and costly litigation. Maybe Bova’s worried that China, the world’s fastest growing economy and an officially atheistic nation, is about to wholeheartedly turn to Jesus?

That’s something that can only be believed by willfully ignoring reality. And the willful ignorance of reality is a primary criterion for bigotry.

So this is why I despair. Asking me to find common ground with a bigot like Bova is like asking the Chairman of the NAACP to reach out to the Klan. There can be no productive discussions until bigotry is set aside and people treat each other with respect and courtesy, all the while acknowledging a common set of facts.

But Bova’s bigotry is not accepted as such by the cool people, the people who consider prejudice to be enlightenment, who hide behind scholarly pretense to breed ignorance and stoke fear.

So, to sum up, I’m done with “Mars Life,” and I wasted seven bucks. Maybe I’ll just read Harry Potter again.

To Save the Planet, Get Your Hands Dirty

Well, it looks like global warming is real.

Yes, despite a 15-year pause in the process which was not predicted by global climate models and which modern scientists can’t adequately explain, those same infallible scientists are 97% agreed that we are turning earth into a toxic fireball because of all the CO2 we generate, and, when you get right down to it, it’s all your fault. (And, of course, my fault, since I have spawned too many children who exhale carbon dioxide. It’s also probably George W. Bush’s fault, too, but he’s already got enough blame to be going on with.)

In order to avoid being branded as a Flat Earther, you have to stipulate to the above tenets at the outset of any global warming discussion.

So I hereby so stipulate.

I refuse to argue about the underlying science. How could I? I’m not a scientist. I’m no longer going to ask pesky questions about how much of the climatic variability is natural and how much is man-made, even though this monolithic scientific consensus doesn’t agree on the percentage of warming attributable to human activity. I’m happy to overlook the fact that previous climate models were wildly off the mark in predicting our current rate of warming, and I’m going to presume that no such errors exist in weather forecasts ten years out. Squabbling about the underlying science is so yesterday’s news.

Nope. The science is settled. To paraphrase Al Gore, the planet has a fever, and humanity is the virus. (Case in point: Miley Cyrus. Need I say more?)

The debate is over. It’s time to take action!

So here’s what I’m going to do. Every morning, I’m going to get up and go to my backyard. There’s a big patch of dirt over in the northeastern corner of the yard that used to be the kids’ sandbox. That is where I’m going to send a daily message to the Earth, employing naught but the extremities Gaia evolved me with. Using my right index finger inserted into soil moistened by the morning dew, I’m going to write the following words at dawn in big bold letters, all in caps:

“COOL DOWN!!!!”

Four exclamation points seem sufficient, but if the mood strikes me, I may add a fifth.

This primal communication, produced by all-natural means with a minimal carbon footprint, will establish a mystical connection between myself and the dust from which I sprang. The synchronicity of all things will make it impossible for the planet to reject the heartfelt plea of one of its children. And if one lone finger’s daily scrawl will not go unnoticed, imagine the power of every man, woman, and child of this great nation giving Mother Earth the finger on a daily basis.

Sure, the unenlightened will scoff, claiming that collective dirt doodles aren’t going to actually accomplish anything.

Pffft.

When did efficacy become the standard by which we measure efforts to combat global warming? 100% of scientists agree that cap-and-trade, a carbon tax, and every other political solution being championed by Al Gore and his ilk will be just as effective as my dirty digitary demonstrations, but they don’t abandon their silly proposals just because they will have no impact on global temperatures, either. Indeed, they applaud the effort because, well, at least they’re doing something.

Well, I’m doing something, too!

Furthermore, my something is just as effective as their something, and, really, it costs a whole lot less than cap-and-trade’s multi-trillion dollar price tag of new taxes and diminished economic output. Plus, under my plan, you to get to put your fingers in dirt. So it’s win-win all around!

In the future, this is where I will make my stand whenever this issue is discussed. Wasting time diagnosing the problem over and over again is pointless when every cure you propose is nothing more than environmental homeopathy.

Everyone wants to do something about global warming. Great. But what’s the point of doing something really, really expensive that doesn’t work?

On Request: Weird Mormon Stuff

It looks like I’m taking requests now.

I received the following message at one of the various goofy billboards I frequent.

Do you take requests for your blog? If so, I’d like to read something by you on a particular aspect of Mormonism. The concept that we are in essence training to be gods of our own worlds which we create. I find this so fascinating, and I’m surprised whole books haven’t been written about it.

This concept poses so many interesting questions.

Yes, it does, but it’s a whole lot more boring than that. Church would likely be more exciting if it were a series of “God training sessions” where we landscape planets and divvy out Spock ears. Instead, the “training” we receive is how to be more like Christ, which is essentially the same kind of training that most Churches provide for their members. The idea is that through Christ, we can become, in Biblical terms, “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” ( Romans 8:17 ) The mechanics of this inheritance – planets and solar systems and such – are rarely, if ever, discussed.

For instance, if people who have died have since become gods of their own worlds, do these worlds represent extraterrestrials? Or are their worlds in some seperate reality?

Probably the former, although I’m not sure if I understand the distinction. Certainly they would exist in worlds apart from this one, as Mormon scriptures state the following:

“And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten.” (Moses 1:33)

I think traditional Christian theology, which also posits the existence of heaven and angels and things not of this earth, would be more likely to view these things as existing in a separate reality, whereas Mormons have the audacity to locate God and His creations within time and space.

Would any potential extraterrestrials then owe humans fealty since we become their gods?

That’s not how it works. The fundamental unit of the gospel is the family. Your father on Earth is the father of your body, but God is the father of your spirit. We will always be subject to Him, and we will always be part of his family. Those on other worlds He has created are His children, too, and He will always remain their God. In crude terms, we don’t get to muscle in on His territory.

Do Mormons then believe in the possibility of extraterrestrials?

Yes, although Joseph Smith has said that “there are no angels who minister to this earth but those who do belong or have belonged to it.” That would seem to preclude a lot of traffic between worlds. In addition, Mormon theology suggests that these other worlds are very much like this one, since, like Earth, they are inhabited by the children of God. From my perspective, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for flying saucers and bug-eyed monsters.

And since people will one day become gods, which means there will be more than one, does that make Mormonism a form of polytheism?

That’s the accusation, but it’s misleading.

There are two distinct ideas that invite the “Mormons are polytheists” label. The first is that Mormons reject the traditional definition of the Trinity, which states that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are all the same person, or, at least, that they are three people and one person at the same time, or of the same “substance.” The traditional creeds define this one-in-three, three-in-one relationship as inherently incomprehensible, which is fine by me, because it makes no sense at all. To my mind, the Trinity is a shortcut; it allows Christians to affirm their Monotheism and still acknowledge three different Gods, but it does so by an indefinable intellectual fiat.

Mormons believe that these three are, in fact, three distinct people, and all three can rightfully be called God. However, they also believe these three are infinitely more alike than they are separate, and that all three are completely united in purpose, power, and authority. There aren’t three separate agendas in play, and each member of the Godhead can speak for the other. In that sense, the Father is the only God, since both the Son and the Holy Ghost exist solely to do His will. So, despite objections by Trinitarians, we’re essentially monotheists in terms of how we worship.

This, however, is a bit of a tangent from your question. The second concept that gets Mormons into trouble, which is the one you raise, is that if people can go on to become like God, then there must be a number of Gods, perhaps an infinite number, who are distinct from the God who is our Father. This is more or less accurate. It’s essential to note, however, that we will never cease to be subject to our own Father and God, so the existence of these other Gods and other families has no bearing on our own faith and religious fealty. Some have more accurately defined Mormons as “henotheists,” which means devotion to a single God while acknowledging the existence of other gods.

Is this the purpose of the possibility reincarnation?

No. Mormon doctrine rejects the idea of reincarnation entirely. We do believe in an infinite soul with no beginning and no end, but the trajectory of that soul is linear, not circular. Nobody gets born into mortality more than once.

That each life we live is a class in the school of Earth, and we become gods when we graduate?

Kind of. Mortality is very much a “testing ground,” but what we’re learning isn’t necessarily how to govern planets. It’s how to be more like Christ. And, I should note, it’s a test all of us ultimately fail without Christ’s sacrifice.

Since the Mormons believe that God resides on Kolob, is the God of either Kolob or Earth formerly a mortal being who similarily achieved godhood after living many lives and graudating?

Take out the “many lives” part and you’ve got the gist of it, although we don’t know the details. One church leader penned the couplet “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” He didn’t elaborate beyond that.

Incidentally, that couplet was lifted by “Battlestar Galactica” in the second part of the “War of the Gods” episode.

What is the God/Earth/Kolob relationship? What is Kolob like? Where is it, do astonomers know? If so, why haven’t Mormons suggested aiming Hubble there? If they did, is there hubble telemetry of Kolob?

We don’t know jack-diddly about Kolob, other than the fact that it’s a star, not a planet, and it’s the star “nearest unto the throne of God.” (Abraham 3:2-3) A handful of Mormons who are loonier than me have made some wild guesses as to where or what it is, but there’s just not much hard info.

How did the Mormons develop this belief?

Mormons believe that the era of revelation didn’t end with the original apostles. These doctrines are all the product of modern revelation to modern prophets.

Didn’t the Mormon faith pre date the popularization of the idea of beings on other planets?

Probably. Joseph Smith was talking about this stuff back in the 1830s.

Anyway, I’d like to see you tackle this on your blog.

How’d I do?

Evolution Poisons Everything

Could some atheist out there explain, when you profess to acknowledge no divine authority, why the Theory of Evolution is sacrosanct? Anyone? Maybe one of these guys?consequences-of-evolution-631I ask this question because Christopher Hitchens, a man I quite admire despite his fiery crusade against all things religious, recently wrote an article about his book tour in support of “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.” In it, he tossed in this snarky aside with regard to the bumpkin-like nature of religious morons like me:

“People seem to be lying to the opinion polls, as well. They claim to go to church in much larger numbers than they actually do (there aren’t enough churches in the country to hold the hordes who boast of attending), and they sometimes seem to believe more in Satan and in the Virgin Birth than in the theory of evolution.”

The first claim, if true, is a legitimate observation of hypocrisy. I fail to understand, though, why it’s so important to Hitchens that evolution be an article of faith among nonbelievers, or why anyone who believes in Satan and the Virgin Birth could not possibly believe in evolution, too.

Hitchens is suggesting that all religious people are incapable of reason, which is an extraordinarily naïve position. It’s as sweeping as the condemnation contained in the title of his book: religion poisons everything. I’ve heard him defend this gross generalization in interviews. For example, a couple of months ago, radio talk show host and practicing Jew Dennis Prager asked him an illuminating question, which I paraphrase here:

“If you were walking in a bad neighborhood in an American inner city late at night and you saw a group of young people walking toward you, would you or would you not be relieved to learn that they had just come from a Bible study class?”

Hitchens didn’t answer right away. How could he? The reasonable answer, no matter what your religious affiliation, would have to be, “Yes, of course. How many gangbangers and hoodlums go to Bible class, after all?” But to so answer would be to concede that religion hadn’t poisoned these young people and had probably improved them. Hitchens tried to change the subject and pretend that the example falls apart if it’s applied to radical Islamists leaving an Iraqi mosque. Prager reminded him that this example focused on an American and not an Iraqi city and a Bible study, not a Koran study.

Remember, to win this argument, Prager doesn’t have to prove that religion doesn’t poison anything; he just has to demonstrate that religion doesn’t poison everything. When pressed to answer, Hitchens said that he would neither be relieved or nor “unrelieved,” and that he hoped they would be coming from a Thomas Paine class instead. (Lots of Thomas Paine outreaches going on in the inner cities these days, I guess.) His answer calls to mind the response of another group of reasoned men, who, when asked by Jesus if the baptism of John was of heaven or of men, answered “we cannot tell.” Sure. Because if either the Pharisees or Hitchens answered honestly, their arguments would utterly collapse.

This kind of nonsense is what makes the atheistic defense of evolution so deeply silly.

Understand this: I’m not advocating teaching the Book of Genesis in science classes. The Theory of Evolution is the best guess that science has been able to assemble to explain life on earth, and, as such, it has a place in the classroom. At the same time, scientists ought to treat it the way they treat every other scientific theory and admit that it’s still a work in progress.

Case in point: recently, two German physicists have claimed to have broken the speed of light, an event which would shatter the fundamental tenets of one of the most respected scientific theories in the world, namely Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. The announcement has been greeted with skepticism, as all new scientific discoveries should be, but will it also be savaged with the kind of fury reserved for those who dare question any of evolution’s principles?

“Oh, you think Einstein was wrong, do you? What, then, you think the Earth was created in six days?”

“Faster than light? Oh, right. You’re one of those religious loons. Maybe Noah has some more room for you on the Ark.”

“So you’re smarter than Albert Einstein. You probably believe in Satan and the Virgin Birth, too.”

Hopefully, this announcement will be subjected to scientific scrutiny and not scorn. (As for me, I feel the same way about this as I did about the two Utah scientists who claimed to have achieved fusion at room temperature: I’ll believe it when I see it.) But the fact is that the theory of evolution is pretty good at explaining intraspecies adaptation but woefully inept at explaining how one species evolves into another, or how complex systems like eyes develop out of a series of random mutations. Start asking questions about this stuff, however, and you’re likely to get called all sorts of names, and if Chris Hitchens is anywhere nearby, the Virgin Birth is going to enter into the equation somehow.

Honest scientists, when confronted with legitimate inquiries about evolution, will answer “we don’t know” or “we’ll still working on it.” Hitchensites, however, will call your motives into question, because otherwise they have to admit that they’re either ignoring the theory’s internal contradictions or exercising faith in a future satisfying explanation. The hard fact is that evolutionary principles that don’t stand up to reason have to be accepted on religious grounds.

For Mr. Hitchens, for whom religion poisons everything, that has to be a bitter pill to swallow.