Archive for September, 2016

All About Mormons

September 13, 2016

The creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, have a curious relationship towards religion. They are not religious and enjoy mocking religion in their show, yet they deny being atheists and have been just as quick to make fun of the pretensions of Atheism and the New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, and they have admitted to having  a certain curiosity and respect for religious belief. In fact, a closer look at the South Park episodes which ridicule religion shows that they are really opposed to hypocrisy or bad actions justified by religious belief.

Parker and Stone have a particular liking for Mormonism. Growing up in Colorado, right next to the Mormon promised land of Utah, they knew many Mormons and have expressed an appreciation for their politeness and niceness, even while regarding the story of Joseph Smith and Mormon beliefs as ridiculous. Their feelings about Mormonism and religion in general are expressed in the seventh season episode, “All About Mormons“.

In this episode, a Mormon family, the Harrisons, moves to South Park and one of the boys, named Gary, is in the same class as the series regulars.  The Harrisons are nice and polite and eager to befriend everyone in South Park, particularly the Marshes and while they do not want to force their religious beliefs on anyone, they are more than willing to tell their neighbors the history and beliefs of the Mormon religion and it’s prophet Joseph Smith.

The Harrisons

The Harrisons

This history is told through a series of musical flashbacks.

Stan is not impressed with their account of Joseph Smith and points out the inconsistencies and logical fallacies that suggest that Joseph Smith was simply making up his stories about the golden plates and the Angel Moroni.

"All you've got are a bunch of stories about some asswipe who read plates nobody ever saw out of a hat and then couldn't do it again when the translations were hidden!"

“All you’ve got are a bunch of stories about some asswipe who read plates nobody ever saw out of a hat and then couldn’t do it again when the translations were hidden!”

The next day Gary confronts Stan at the bus stop and explains why he is a Mormon even if the stories are a little silly.

Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, but I have a great life, and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that. The truth is, I don’t care if Joseph Smith made it all up, because what the church teaches now is loving your family, being nice and helping people. And even though people in this town might think that’s stupid, I still choose to believe in it. All I ever did was try to be your friend, Stan, but you’re so high and mighty you couldn’t look past my religion and just be my friend back. You’ve got a lot of growing up to do, buddy. Suck my balls.

The sentiment expressed by Gary, and presumably shared by Parker and Stone is one that I would hope if widely adopted, might promote greater tolerance and civility between persons of different faiths, and with those with no faith. Still, it doesn’t satisfy me because it ignores the question that is most important to me. It is good if the religion you follow makes you a better person, but the question I think more important is, is the religion true? Can the assertions and claims made by this particular religion be shown to be true or false?

I do not mean the metaphysical claims made by nearly all religions concerning deities or the afterlife or anything of that sort. These matters cannot be shown to be true or false this side of eternity and properly matters of faith Nor do I expect that every word of the Book of Mormon or spoken by Joseph Smith to be literally and completely true. That is a burden that even my own mainstream Christianity couldn’t bear. I do think it is fair to ask whether, in a broad sense, the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith are what they claim to be. Is the Book of Mormon really a historical record of Jewish refugees who settled in the New World? Is Joseph Smith really a prophet of the Lord who translated this account?

The answer to both questions would seem to be no. Studies of the DNA of the Native Americans show that their ancestry is almost entirely from Northern Asia or Siberia. There is no indication of any ancestors of Semitic or Middle Eastern origin. There is no archeological evidence that any of the events described in the Book of Mormon ever took place Not a single city or country named in the Book of Mormon has ever been positively located or identified, nor do any individuals named in the Book of Mormon appear in any historical record outside the Book of Mormon. In contrast, many places in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, can be located on a map and many people named in the Bible can be attested in other sources. It may well be that some of the accounts in the Bible are slanted, or even fictitious, but there is no question that there really were places like Israel, Judah, Jerusalem, or Babylon and that people like the kings and prophets of Israel, Jesus and his apostles really did exist.

As for Joseph Smith, he had something of a reputation as a con artist who practiced folk magic, specializing in money digging, or searching for lost treasure by occult means. It is possible that Smith reformed after the visions he claimed to have had, but Smith’s actions even after he founded the Mormon religion do not seem to be those of an honest man, still less a prophet.

Does it matter it there is any truth to the Book of Mormon or the story of Joseph Smith, so long as it improves people’s lives? Perhaps not, but it seems to me that a faith built on untruths is a faith built on sand rather than solid rock. I do not believe that such a faith can endure.

For my part, if it were shown that the claims of Christianity were false, I would be obliged to change religions. I could not take comfort in the idea that it does not matter whether the stories the gospels tell about Jesus are true so long as I follow the teachings in the gospels because Christianity is not based on the teachings of Jesus, or Paul, or anyone else. Buddhism could still exist even if it were shown that there was no such person as Gautama because his teachings about life and suffering stand on their own regardless whether he existed or not. The same could be true of Confucius or Socrates or many other sages. The teachings of Christ are not much different from the teachings of other sages and express the same truths common to the whole human race. The central message of Christianity is a historical one, that the man Jesus of Nazareth was God in human form who was crucified for our sins, who died and was resurrected, defeating sin and death. If Jesus were shown to have never existed or were shown to have been just an ordinary man, than I, and every other Christian, have been wasting our time. As Paul put it,

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1Cor 15:12-19)

Is this true of Mormonism? I don’t know. The family values taught by the contemporary Mormon faith certainly have little to do with the polygamous Joseph Smith. It may be that the faith is better than its founder. And yet, the family values that Mormonism teaches are, or used to be, the mainstream within the Judeo-Christian tradition. If one can have the family values without the silly stories about Joseph Smith, why bother with the silly stories? If the Mormon religion gives life meaning but is shown to be based on falsehoods, than then meaning one derives from the faith is also based upon falsehoods. I think I would rather have a faith based on truth.

Fifteen Years

September 11, 2016

It has been fifteen years since 9/11. We said that we would never forget, but I am afraid we are already forgetting. They are even starting to teach in colleges that it was our fault.  A person turning eighteen this year, old enough to vote, was only five on that fateful day. I don’t imagine that they would have any clear personal memories of that day, unless they or someone close was personally affected. I am afraid that we are trying to forget the most important lesson of 9/11, that the world is a dangerous place, and there are people out there who would like to destroy us, even if Barack Obama, the lightworker, is the president. Judging from the headlines, we are already relearning the fact that withdrawing from the world will not make the bad guys decide to leave us alone. Too bad the lightworker is incapable of learning from history. Even now he has made a deal with Iran with virtually guarantees that they will be able to develop nuclear weapons without interference from us. It may well be that the next 9/11 attack will be nuclear one.

Well, I will never forget that dreadful day fifteen years ago, no matter how long I live. We will just have to keep telling the story to the younger generations so they will not have to experience any such attacks for themselves. With that in mind, I am going to copy what I wrote three years ago.

On that Tuesday morning, I was at work, driving from Madison to North Vernon when I got a call from my wife. She asked me if I were listening to the radio. I was not. She told me to turn it on because something terrible was happening. I turned my car radio on and listened to the coverage of the attack.

I went about my duties at the stores in North Vernon in a sort of state of shock.  The North Vernon WalMart and Jay C played continuing news coverage of the day’s events instead of the usual soothing Musak. Not too many people were working or shopping in the stores. They were mostly just listening.

I had to go to Seymour for a meeting that afternoon. On the way I noticed that some gas stations had raised the price of gasoline to a then unheard of price of $5 per gallon. At the meeting, no one wanted to discus the business at hand. Instead we talked about the terrorist attack. It seemed certain to us all that more attacks were on the way and that this time we couldn’t just launch a few missiles, blow up some tents, and then move on. We were in for a long fight.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that day. I went home but I don’t remember much about it.

I was once in the World Trade Center. I was in New York with some friends as a sort of tourist and we took the elevator to the top floor of one of the twin towers. There was a gallery up there where you could look out over the city of New York. The day was foggy so I didn’t see anything. They had a gift shop in the center section of the floor. It sickens me to think that the people who worked there went to work one morning, and then had to choose between burning to death or jumping, Not to mention the tourists, who only wanted to look at the city.

It still sickens me to think about the people who were only doing their jobs having to lose their lives.

twin

 

The Ku Klux Klan is Coming to Town

September 4, 2016

The Confederate White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan has decided to honor my home town Madison, Indiana with a rally held the very same weekend as one of our more popular events, the Chautauqua/ Old Courthouse Days. Oh joy.

Our local newspaper, the Madison Courier, reports on this exciting development.

City, county and state law enforcement agencies are coordinating efforts to ensure public safety on Saturday, Sept. 24, when the Confederate White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan plan to hold a rally from noon to 2 p.m. at Madison’s Fireman’s Park on Vaughn Drive — during the Chautauqua Festival of Art and Old Court Days celebrations.

In a document submitted several weeks ago to Jefferson County Sheriff John Wallace, representatives from the Klan – Imperial Officers Larry Philmore of Fort Wayne and Robert Preston of Baltimore, MD. – requested to hold the rally on the steps of the Jefferson County Courthouse.

However, since the Courthouse will be surrounded by Old Court Days vendors and patrons, city and county attorneys sought advice from an Indianapolis attorney who specializes in 1st Amendment issues to see if it was legal to ask the Klan to hold the rally at another location, Mayor Damon Welch said.

The attorney advised that, because of the previously planned event, local officials had the right to offer the Klan another location for the rally, Welch said, adding that Klan officials ”verbally agreed” to move the rally to Fireman’s Park, which is outside of the footprint of both Old Court Days and the Chautauqua.

In a telephone interview Friday, Philmore confirmed that his organization did agree to hold the rally at the park.

“We did not know the festival was going on,” he said, adding it wasn’t the Klan’s intention for the rally to coincide with Chautauqua weekend, which draws thousands of visitors to Madison each year. “That’s not how we do things,” he said.

And how is it that we get the honor of hosting a Klan rally?

One reason Madison was chosen for the rally is because the KKK “has had a chapter there for years. It’s been passed down from generation to generation,” Philmore said.

Philmore said, too, that he doesn’t believe it’s an accident that the population of Indiana is still mostly white and that the races are, for the most part, segregated.

“Indiana has always been a big supporter of the Klan,” he said.

I did not know that we have a chapter of the KKK here in Madison, but somehow, I am not surprised. I did know that at one time, the Ku Klux Klan was very powerful in Indiana. Back in the 1920’s, virtually every Democratic politician was a member and the Klan dominated Indiana politics. This is not something most Hoosiers are proud of.

But we mustn’t assume that the planned rally has anything to do with race just because it is the Ku Klux Klan. Their concern is with the growing problem of drugs in small communities.

The subject of race will not be not the focus of the Sept. 24 rally in Madison planned by the Confederate White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a Klan spokesman told a Madison Courier reporter on Friday.

“Our main (issue) is drug trafficking and the drug problem” that is plaguing Jefferson County and other counties throughout southern Indiana, said Larry Philmore of Fort Wayne.

The rally, which will be from 2 to 4 p.m. at Fireman’s Park on Vaughn Drive, is intended to encourage people to “start standing up to drug dealers. It’s time to make a stand,” Philmore said. “If people have a problem with that, it’s on them.”

The Klan is not a hate group, after all.

Philmore said the rally will begin with the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer, followed by a series of speakers. The event will be followed with a member “meet and greet,” he said, which will include “a cross lighting, not a cross burning,” held at an undisclosed location in the county.

“Cross-burning is what idiots do,” Philmore said. “It’s against our rules. It’s done by backyard rednecks that make the Klan look bad.”

Cross lighting, he explained, is simply a fraternal ritual of illuminating the cross with “the light of Jesus Christ. Out of the darkness comes the light,” he said, acknowledging that to be a member of the Klan, one must be a Christian.

“Do we allow any other races in? No. But, we’ve been here 151 years,” he said. “We’re the oldest civil rights organization in the country.”

I can hardly wait to see that burning, sorry lit, cross.

Now, the sensible thing to do when the Ku Klux Klan shows up in town would be to ignore them. Don’t protest them. Don’t drive by and gawk. Don’t argue with them. That only gives these pathetic losers the attention they can’t get any other way. Stay away from the site of the rally and enjoy the Chautauqua.

Of course there are people who do not plan to be sensible. I will call these people the Anti-Klan since they seem to have the same desire to stir people up and get attention for themselves.

A collection of concerned citizens calling themselves Jefferson County United hopes to discourage a late-September visit to Madison by the Ku Klux Klan.

In an open letter to Philmore and Richard Preston of Baltimore, Md., whose names and contact information appear on a document sent to Sheriff John Wallace announcing the Klan’s intent to rally, the group states:

“We pride ourselves on being an open, welcoming community. Maybe our reputation for hospitality was a factor in your decision to visit us. But if so, you take us too much for granted.

“We have been working hard for many years to create a strong, supportive community that welcomes people of all faiths, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and people from all parts of the world. Not everyone in the community shares our ideals, but many of us in Jefferson County strive nonetheless to embrace all people. … We must speak out, therefore, against detestable messages of division, resentment, hatred and white supremacy. … We are keenly aware of the disgraceful history of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana … but this is not the Indiana of the 1920s. … We decry your idealogy.”

On Tuesday, the group held an informal meeting, inviting members of the Human Relations Commission, as well as law enforcement and representatives of Hanover College, said fellow member James Buckwalter. He said at least 50 people attended, all representing various segments of Jefferson County’s population.

“We are in the process now of trying to think what an appropriate, peaceful, nonconfrontational response would look like,” Buckwalter said. Coming to a consensus is difficult, particularly because of the group’s diversity.

Emphasizing that he was not speaking for the group, Buckwalter said he doesn’t believe anyone wants to confront the Klan. “If there’s a consensus about anything, it’s that (the KKK) is not a good group. We’re concerned about their presence here and we are discussing a possible constructive, peaceful response.”

I really don’t think any response at all is necessary.  After all when the Klan and Anti-Klan meet there can only be one result.

 

 

But, seriously, I really think that protesting or rallying against the Klan is not a good idea. Of course the Anti-Klan doesn’t believe that we should ignore the Klan.

The movement, she said, is also more than being a response to the KKK’s presence.

“I see their visit as an opportunity to open up a conversation that maybe we have been avoiding as a community, about how we welcome people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ, people of all faiths,” said Arico.

“Many people told us the best thing to do is ignore (the Klan) and they’ll go away and everything will return to normal,” Buckwalter said, building on Arico’s comments. “But we don’t want to go back to normal. (Hopefully) their decision to come here will have the opposite effect of what they intended.”

But that is exactly what I want, for the Klan to stay away and everything to stay normal. I do not want this conversation about how we welcome people of color, etc with these people because the conversations always end up the same way. If you don’t tow the liberal line from A to Z than you get called a racist, sexist, homophobe, bigot, etc. These kinds of conversations do no good and only turn people against each other, which perhaps is the intent of the progressives who are always clamoring for them.

I think that if we stopped talking about race relations and just tried to treat everyone decently, we would find after a time that there would no longer be anything to talk about, and groups like the Confederate Knights of the Ku Klux Klan wouldn’t exist anymore.

Murder and Magic

September 1, 2016

Writing a detective story in a science fiction or fantasy setting can be a hazardous undertaking because of the temptation for the writer to cheat by having his hero pull out some gadget that will destroy the suspect’s alibi by showing everyplace he’s been for the last twenty-four hours or casting a magic spell that shows the blood on his hands, literal or not. In order for the mystery writer to play fair with the readers and write a whodunit worth reading, he has to set out the rules and limitations of the advanced technology or magic that his world uses to solve crimes. He need not make the rules explicit in the story, but they have to be there in the background, and they have to be reasonably consistent.

Randall Garrett did an excellent job of combining the mystery and fantasy genres in his Lord Darcy series of stories. Set in an alternate world in which Richard the Lion Hearted managed to survive the accidental crossbow shot that killed in real life.  Instead, the near death experience prompted King Richard to settle down from fighting and crusading and seriously try to govern the lands he ruled, resulting in an Angevin Empire that survives into the twentieth century. Richard also patronised scholars and scientists which led to the discovery of the laws of magic. By the time of Garrett’s stories, the Angevin Empire of England and France, along with the Americas and other colonies is the leading world power and magic is used in everyday applications, much as science and technology are used in ours. Magicians can cast spells to preserve food, secure homes, communicate over long distances, and help solve crimes.

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In this world, Lord Darcy is the Chief Forensic Investigator for the Duke of Normandy. In the course of his duties, Lord Darcy solves crimes and untangles international intrigues, assisted by the forensic sorcerer Sean O’ Lochlainn. Despite the fantasy setting, the cases Lord Darcy investigates are mostly the sort that can be found in any mystery story. Magic is not often used to commit the crimes and Sean O’Lochlainn’s techniques are rather like the more scientific procedures that might be familiar to a viewer of a show like CSI. Magic is a substitute for science in Lord Darcy’s world and a forensic sorcerer can no more solve a crime by magic in that world than a crime scene technician can “magically” solve a crime in our own.

Murder and Magic is Randall Garrett’s  first collection of  Lord Darcy stories. The collection includes four short stories with cases involving a supposed suicide, mistaken identities and blackmail, and a plot by the King of Poland, England-France’s chief international rival, to disrupt the Atlantic trade. I found each of the stories to be entertaining and finished the book wanting to read more. I think that anyone who enjoys reading either mysteries or fantasies will find the stories that combine the two genres to be worth reading.


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