Friday, January 16, 2009

Curses Or Prayers -- What's the Difference When It Comes To Football?

Most theists are quick to tell you that prayers get answered all the time. Of course, the empirical data says otherwise, but we all know how impervious theists are to rational examination of their beliefs.

However, I've got a question for all those honest theists who are so insistent that their preferred deity will answer their prayers. What is the difference between the answer to a prayer and the fullfilment of a curse?

Seriously, aren't they basically the same thing, and only the outcome being different (one for a "positive" result, the other for something "negative")? Is a curse something that God would deliver on, or is it just as ineffective as intercessory prayers?

At least in the world of sports, it's a common practice for individuals and teams to gather together and pray. Many credit "god" for their good fortune, skills and ability (of course, that leaves good old mom-and-dad out in the cold: thanks for those genes!) The KC Star has an article today about the faith of football players. Great for them -- they pray together.

But what are they really praying for? Luck, points surrepitously added to their score, or -- perhaps the injury and/or failure of the other team? After all, if "god" is going to favor one side, there is obviously a lack of such favor on the other, and what really is the difference between giving the favored side a little boost and the opponent a kick in the shorts?

Seriously -- would these professional, highly trained, extremely talented athletes be getting a lot of praise and positive press if they were calling down curses, hellfire and damnation on the other team? I can just see the quarterback standing in the middle of the field, his teammates huddled around him, chanting and swaying together as he calls out on his "god" to smite the other team, smack them down hard, make them hurt, make them suffer, make them LOSE!!!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Buddhas at the Zoo cause Christian Zealot to Cry "Foul!"

Well, it finally happened! The Christian zealots have finally found a religious icon not related to JudeoChristianity on public property, and they're making a stink. David Engle was at the KC Zoo last weekend, and witnessed the abuse of religious power that Buddhism has over the zoo staff. There are apparently two statues of Buddha flanking the entrance of the Tiger Trail, and despite protests by the zoo management that they were only meant as decoration and to represent Asia, it was clear to Mr. Engle that they were there specifically and only for worship, to the exclusion of all other Asian belief systems.

Actually, while I do think the zoo wasn't trying to promote any religious bias, I have to somewhat agree with Mr. Engle on this one. After the fuss and protest about the bias given towards Christianity in the public square, the oversensitized feelings of all parties needs to be taken into account (including theists).

I haven't seen these Buddha statues, so I don't know if they are a traditional version (like a bodhisattva) or more in line with a Hotei, or "laughing Buddha". Either way, while Buddha statues aren't quite as common around these parts as crucifixes, they still represent a sectarian philosophical religion (albeit one that is nominally atheistic in nature), and should probably be taken down.

It's somewhat of a sad statement of today's overhyped sensationalism regarding religious iconography in the public square. While I do think there is too much influence of specifically Christian icons, references and symbolism in American government and the public square -- especially instances where it is intentionally used for sectarian influence -- there still needs to be some acknowledgement of the history and heritage of all cultures, which includes the religious traditions.

I would be very curious to know if the Buddhist community in KC pushed the zoo to adopt the Buddha statues for the Tiger Trail. This would be similar to the illegal influence of Christian groups who pushed (successfully) to get religious symbols, words and phrases inserted into official government places ("Under God" in the Pledge, "In God We Trust" on our currency, Christmas Trees in the capitol rotundas, etc). If they did, then it is definitely a case of state/religion comingling that shouldn't happen.

But if it was simply a case where the zoo employee thought the statues looked "Asian", then it is probably not quite so bad. Either way, the statues should go. After all, we wouldn't want to see all those good Christian kids turning Buddhist because they rubbed the belly of a Buddha!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Evolution In Action: Bettwer Watch Out for the Flu Bug!

Guess what? Even when we know it happens, it can still surprise. Case in point, the current dominant strain of influenza that is causing people to use up all their sick days at work this winter happens to have be a "mutant" strain that is resistant to one of the newest and best antiviral drugs on the market.

Not only is the H1N1 strain resistant, but the very mutation that causes that resistance has been identified. It's a spontaneous mutation (apparently not caused by selective pressure from the use of antiviral drugs), but the sudden increase and overwhelming replacement this season in the flu genome is tremendous. The mutation was identified a few years ago, but was contained to a small percentage of the total cases. In fact, last year the resistant variety was less than 11% of the total flu cases. This year -- 99%.

Now, this isn't the dreaded pandemic of "bird flu" -- but it does show the incredible power and effect of mutation plus natural selection, i.e., evolution. But one of the biggest problems is the lack of a rapid differential identity test between strains. Not even in the biggest hospitals can the doctors tell which strain a sick person has until it's too late to start on the antiviral treatment (it has to be started within 48 hours of infection to be effective).

Lucky for us humans, the flu isn't capable of horizontal gene transfer -- er. . . wait a minute, yes it is. Hmmm. Better keep that box of tissues handy, the drugstore might not be able to help you in a few years!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What if we used other words in the motto?

I've got a question for everyone who insists that the words "In God We Trust" and "Under God" are not an establishment of religion when they are prominently displayed on our money and in our Pledge of Allegience (and on just about every government building). If, as has been claimed, these are inocuous, ceremonial words that simply celebrate the heritage and history of our nation, then what happens if at some time in the future (and it may be sooner than you think) Muslims become a large enough group to gain a majority?

Will you have a problem if they suggest, mildly and with respect, that the word "God" should be replaced with "Allah"? After all, it would only be a recognition of the Muslim traditional and linguistic history, and not at all about a "founding of religion". It's not like they're pushing their full religious beliefs on you -- they just want to recognize in their traditional language the exact sentiments already present.

Think about it --

"In Allah We Trust" on the money.

"Under Allah" in the Pledge.

Would you be offended or upset by that? Why? The term "allah" simply means "god" in Arabic, so there really shouldn't be any reason to be angry, worried or threatened by it -- it means exactly the same thing! If it's OK and not an imposition of any specific religious belief or faith, then using a word from another language that has exactly the same meaning shouldn't bother you at all.

On the other hand, perhaps if you consider the situation in these terms, you can begin to understand why the prevelance and ubiquity of religious-words (like "God") on our national symbols, seals, oaths and money do seem somewhat oppressive and offensive to those of us who don't have a belief in your gods.