October 15, 2017

Maybe Your Deceased Loved One is Looking Up On You

hell fire
I'm sure you've noticed that people often refer to deceased loved ones as “looking down” on them. The implication, of course, is that their loved one is now in heaven. This strikes me as more than a little presumptuous. How do they know where their loved one now resides? It seems like there are plenty of cases where it would make more sense to describe one's deceased loved one as “looking up” on them instead. Strangely, I don't believe I've ever heard someone say that. Have you?

This raises an interesting question. If we assume for a moment that Christians are right about heaven and hell, wouldn't we have to suspect that the majority of humans who have lived and died now reside in hell? I mean, wouldn't it be a fairly safe bet to think that all the non-Christians would be there? Maybe not.

I imagine the answer a Christian would give to this question depends on what sort of Christian he or she is. I've known Christians who confidently assert that almost everyone goes to heaven and only the truly horrible end up in hell (e.g., people who disagree with their political views). On the other hand, I've known Christians who confidently claim that most people will spend an eternity in hell because only those few who practice the same brand of evangelical fundamentalist Christianity they themselves practice have any realistic shot at heaven.

October 14, 2017

October 2017 Horror Watching

Halloween monster with knife

One of the October traditions for which I try to find some time every year involves watching as many horror movies as I can. I am fairly successful some years, managing to see several. And there are other years where it just doesn't work out at all, with the month flying by before I realize what I missed.

Last year I discovered that the quality of the horror flicks available on cable improved to some degree as the month went on. I am hoping that will happen again this October, as things aren't off to an encouraging start.

October 13, 2017

Friday the 13th: Religious Superstitions Are Even Worse

black cat
I'm not sure what percentage of Americans would say that they are at all concerned by the fact that today is Friday the 13th. My guess is that at least 30% would say so if they were polled, but this is just a guess and is based on nothing more than an observation I've made over the years that roughly 30% of Americans seem to endorse the most ridiculous things on surveys. But even if I'm right and 30% or more would express such views, I'm not sure we need to worry much about it. I'd guess that the number who actually behave differently because today is Friday the 13th would be much lower.

What I am suggesting here is that there is often a big discrepancy between the sort of beliefs one reports having on surveys and how one behaves. I shake my head in puzzlement when I encounter people who claim to believe in bad luck, ghosts, Bigfoot creatures, demons, hauntings, and the like, but I can often console myself with the knowledge that most of them do not act on these beliefs. And among those few who do, not many act in ways that would be expected to have an adverse impact on others.

October 12, 2017

Thoughts and Prayers

thoughts and prayers
In the wake of every tragedy to touch the U.S., social media fills with Christians calling for "thoughts and prayers." Elected officials quickly get in on the act, and this includes both Democrats and Republicans. These calls are inevitably followed by a chorus of mild outrage and mockery by atheists and others who recognize that calls for prayer accomplish little.

Some take aim primarily at the elected officials, pointing out how inappropriate it is to use their offices to promote religiosity (i.e., prayer). Others aim more broadly, reminding their audience that "thoughts and prayers" serve primarily to make one feel that one is helping without actually having to help. We have seen this happen again and again, as tragedies are never in short supply.

It seems like we are now seeing a growing number of people pushing back against our claim that "thoughts and prayers" are useless. This article by Kathie Obradovich is one of many recent examples. In it, she writes:
I’ve been watching the backlash rise against the expression of thoughts and prayers for a while now, with more than a little unease. We’ve seen snarling responses to prayers offered for victims of hurricanes, floods and wildfires along the lines of “get off your knees and donate/volunteer/work to stop climate change.”

October 11, 2017

Skepticism and the Joys of October

PumpkinsOctober has been my favorite month for as long as I can remember, although the reasons for that have changed over time. As a child, it was simple. October marked the beginning of fall and was the month of my favorite holiday (i.e., Halloween). That was more than enough to make it attractive.

As an adult, October is the month when the oppressive Mississippi heat and humidity finally begin to subside, when the TV is full of awesomely bad horror flicks and odd specials that pretend that supernatural entities are real, when the grocery stores break into their pumpkin spice frenzy (yes, I love the stuff), and when a palpable sort of terror descends upon the local Southern Baptists as they imagine the evils associated with Halloween. And of course, I look forward to the JesusWeen tradition of distributing Christian bibles to the neighborhood children and seeing the looks of disappointment on their faces.