Saturday, January 06, 2007

What I Don't Like About Christianity

This post is sort of a followup on my post about atheism ("Christmas Sermon for the Heathens").

I have no interest whatsoever in scientific or logical arguments about the truth of religious beliefs. I don't care what people believe about the ultimate nature of reality EXCEPT when those beliefs affect how they behave towards the world. Along those lines, I thought I would share a bunch of things that I don't like about Christianity. [Click Permalink for the rest...]
  1. Emphasis on souls: I don't like the Christian emphasis on immortal immaterial souls. This emphasis puts an artificial separation between humans and other animals (who presumably don't have souls). It also leads to shrugging off the physical body as insignifant, or even a nuisance. To think of bodies as just a shell into which we stuff a pre-existing soul is to miss out on what's miraculous and wonderful about life. To me, the miracle of human life is that our natural, material bodies can give rise to love and science and art.

  2. Emphasis on life after death: This bugs me tremendously, for similar reasons as the above. It encourages people to be dismissive of this precious Earthly life. This was a remark made by Penn Jillette on his atheism: "I'm not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it's everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me."

  3. Miscellaneous ridiculous moral rules: Some of the greatest mischief done by Christianity (as well as other religions) has been to punish and shame those who do no harm to anyone. I'm talking particularly about sexual morality. Why should God give a damn whether someone is homosexual, or masturbates? Doesn't He have more important things to worry about?

  4. Intolerance of dissenting thoughts: Surely the most harmful effect of Christianity has been the often violent oppression of those who believe differently, be they Jewish, or atheist, or Pagan.

  5. The emphasis on duty to God: To me it seems that God is a big guy, he can take care of himself. Morality seems to me to be much more about how we treat the little guys---children, the poor, the downtrodden.

  6. The emphasis on what's in your "heart": Christianity has this idea that if a person is evil his entire life, but then sincerely repents on his deathbed, then all is forgiven. I think that's completely backwards. Who cares what's really going on in your heart? Why isn't how you treat others the ultimate criterion for goodness?

I guess what it boils down to is that I'm actually emotionally a pagan, rather than a Christian. I care about the things of this world---the wind, the rain, animals, bodies, food---and not so much about otherworldly things (souls, heaven, etc.) I agree with Penn that the natural world is plenty, and we should appreciate it, instead of pining away for the oh-so-much-more-wonderful world to come.
Permalink 12:16 PM

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Miscellaneous Post-Christmas Thoughts

  • Dommiss received an electric scooter (top speed: 8 mph). I don't know what Santa was thinking. When I saw him riding it indoors, I hit the roof, and yelled at him for scratching our nice hardwood floors. But then he completely cracked me up by calmly patting my shoulder and saying "Dad, this is all just a big misunderstanding..."

  • The little kids gave out their own Christmas presents this year (since finding out about Santa's reckless non-existence, they felt that they had to take up some of the slack). They all purchased their presents at the local dollar store (no present cost more than $1). My favorite was Bridget's present for me: a very handsome Day Planner, dated 1998.

  • I noticed that a number of Christmas movies ("The Santa Clause" and "Elf" come immediately to mind) indulge the theme that Santa Claus exists, but that only children believe in him. Now, I have no problem with suspension of disbelief---if a movie wants to posit that there really is a Santa Claus, that's fine with me. But, assuming that he exists, how in the world is it possible that parents wouldn't know? I mean, on Christmas morning the Dad comes downstairs and there is a ridiculous present such as an electric scooter. For damn sure, Dad didn't buy it! Isn't the existence of Santa the only logical conclusion?

  • My brother Kyle suggested this resolution to the paradox: In the world of the movies, Santa exists, and leaves presents for kids on Christmas morning. However, he implants into the minds of parents fake memories of trudging miserably down the aisles of Walmart and staying up until 3 wrapping presents.

  • The tradition in my family holds that the Christmas season is not over until the last Christmas card arrives. If you haven't received one from me, then it's still Christmastime (to be precise, Christmas 1999 hasn't ended yet...)
Permalink 10:39 PM

Why Does Squinting Help?

Via CognitiveDaily , LiveScience has a discussion of how squinting appears to help us see better. The gist of it is, according to the article, that
Squinting reduces the amount of peripheral light coming into the eye so that a greater percentage of light comes from the center of the visual field.
I don't find that explanation particularly illuminating. Why should blocking peripheral light make the image sharper?

[Click permalink to read more...]

When I have investigated this myself, it seemed clear to me that the key point of squinting is that it blocks all light except for that coming from a tiny hole. If you are nearsighted, then you can verify this for yourself by taking a sheet of paper, and poking a tiny pinhole through it. Images through the pinhole are much sharper. But why is that? I suppose that one could think of the pinhole as somehow like a lens, but it has one big difference from glass lenses: In the case of lenses, a lens that will help nearsightedness will make farsightedness worse, and vice-versa. In contrast, a pinhole seems to help both nearsightedness and farsightedness.

Well, here's my attempt at a simple explanation. Instead of dealing with eyeballs and retinas, I'm going to switch to the problem of how to take a picture. You want a sharp image of a point on the object you are photographing (I've chosen an arrowhead in the pictures below) to appear at a precise spot on the photographic plate or film.

Figure 1 below shows what happens if you just hold up a photographic plate next to the object. Light from your object shows up everywhere on the plate, and so you just get a smear of many, many images.

Figure 2 shows how a lens helps things. Light passing through the lens is bent, so that light rays directed at the top of the photographic plate are bent downwards, and light rays directed at the bottom of the photographic plate are bent upwards. This effect (with the right lens and the right distances between object, lens and plate) causes all the rays from the arrowhead to land at the same spot on the photographic plate. So you get a sharp image.

Figure 3 shows the effects of using a pinhole. Unlike a lens, the pinhole doesn't do any focusing. Instead, it blocks most of the rays coming from the arrowhead. Only those rays pointing in roughly the same direction make it to the photographic plate. So a sharp image is made on the plate.
Note: Figure 3 has one glaring inaccuracy about it. What is it?

Figure 1: Image is blurred on film, because light from arrowhead is spread throughout the photographic plate.

Figure 2: Inserting a lens bends some light rays up and some light rays down, so that light from arrowhead is focused at one spot on the plate.

Figure 3: Inserting a screen with a pinhole removes all images of the arrowhead except those that fall in one small region of the photographic plate.
Permalink 10:47 AM