Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Take It On Faith...Or Else.....

This was to be the first chapter in a book I intended to call Epiphany of an Atheist. Sadly I don't have the stamina to fight the battle of self publishing, and not many publishers are interested in the musings of someone without high profile.

How I Became a True Believer . .. . With a Few Doubts


Keith Taylor

One night sixty-one years ago, a young lass and I were – as they say today – making out. We were parked in the shadow of a tree on a Naval station near Seattle. She had let me get to second base. My hand was under her blouse. Only her thin bra stood between my fingers and a real life titty.

Surely it was about to happen; my 20-year virginity would come to an end right there in the back seat. I had read Forever Amber and Duchess Hotspur. It was all there – the passionate kissing, the heavy breathing, the tight embrace.

I pleaded, “Can we do it? You know, go all the way?”

She stopped me with, “Oh God, I want to, but I can’t, not unless we’re married.”

“Let's get married tonight, maybe drive to Canada or something?”

“No, it has to be by a priest, and I can’t even do that unless you are a Catholic.”

The next morning I hied myself down to Saint Cecilia’s, found the parish priest, and asked him how I could become a Catholic. He told me I would have to take instructions. That was easy. Hell, I was a sailor and folks gave me instructions all day long. I couldn't even clean the head without a boatswain's mate telling me how to clean up the turd tracks.

But instructions on how to find God defied logic. Father Murphy explained that people didn’t really have to believe that a woman talked to a snake, but they had to be baptized to excise the damage done by that conversation anyhow. He also taught me that the passion that led me to St. Cecilia’s was itself a sin. I would have to sincerely repent the heavy breathing as well as the indecent touching that caused it.

Also I would have to firmly resolve that it wouldn’t happen again. How disappointing! That girl taught me how to French kiss and I liked it so much I was sure we would do it again even before holy words sanctified the consummation of our lust.

She went back home to Illinois. The Navy kept me in the Seattle area. All the while I practiced the repenting and firmly-resolving business, but those prurient sinful thoughts popped up again and again. Self-abuse was immediately followed by prayers begging forgiveness for doing it. This religious business took all the fun out of it.

Although I’d always been one of those who felt “something must be out there” the instructions taught by Father Murphy revealed a religion not filled with hope and answers, but one filled with conundrums. Some had been with the church from the beginning; others were added, seemingly willy-nilly, over 2000 years. Father Murphy’s answer to my questions was that each had a special purpose and must be taken on faith.

The Father Murphys of the world were allowed to make their claims with little interference, even from outside the church. The rare dissenting voices were shushed with "oh it's their right to believe what they want." Any doubts I might have had were simply to be subjected the one great truth and immune from critical thought, as were claims proclaimed by a thousand different interpretations by thousands of other religions.

A parishioner had to take all sorts of things on faith. Furthermore that faith must not be questioned, especially by reading. The Catholic Church of the 1950s dutifully provided “The Index of Forbidden Books” – a compilation of books, plays, songs, and other heretical tracts deemed dangerous to people’s faith. The list, running into the thousands, forbad a Catholic’s reading some or all of the works of many of the most respected writers in history.

After I thwarted the devil by having water dumped on my head, I could no longer read things by Anatole France, RenĂ© Descartes, Emile Zola and, it seems, some versions of God’s book itself. The King James version of the holy book was not only off limits for reading, in 1950, a Catholic could not have one in his house!

While all this was going on, the girl who caused my conversion sent me a “Dear John.” She had gone back home to Elgin, Illinois and left me to marry a Marine. Undeterred I went on with my conversion. The priest said things in Latin as he poured water over my head. I tried but didn’t feel the ecstasy associated with the possibility of now living forever in bliss.

I was a Catholic, the only one from Sevastopol, Indiana. My conversion lasted about ten years.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

From Presidential Candidates to ComicCon....

So be it. Jon Huntsman, Republican running for Prez of the USA...just happens to be the only decent, honest candidate I have seen. Therefore, he's my choice for Prez, no matter that I have never voted Repub before. So that's settled.

Then there's the Oslo killer. Pay attention here: he is NOT a Muslim. What he is is a CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALIST. You sure wouldn't know it from most of the media reports. We have a whole bunch of those people on the Repub Right. Especially in the Southern US states. Now, who do you think we'd best keep an eye on?

It's hotter than hell in almost every state in the USA. Only civilized weather is in Alaska, and the West Coast states...along the beaches only.

Don't you just admire the new labels on cigarettes? GAWD! But don't try and convince me that drinking doesn't kill more people...especially drinking and driving. I have yet to see a single person, upon getting a whiff of someone's cigarette smoke, just keel over dead...but a clip from a drinking or texting driver on any road in the country can make people dead a whole lot faster...and does, every hour of every day.

Somehow, some way, the scientists MUST find a way to cure or eliminate cancer. One out of every five men is cursed with prostate cancer. Our daughter died when her second brain cancer developed and attached to her brain stem. A horrible way to go. Moments before her death, her facial muscles just melted away and her face below her eyes simply flowed down toward her right ear. She'd been beautiful and was a former model. Never mind new weapons...CURE CANCER.

Some good news...ComicCon, with somewhere around 130,000 attendees at the San Diego Convention Center, has been a tremendous success. Yesterday afternoon, strolling through the lobby and stopping to chat with people, was Johnny Depp...star of Pirates of the Carribean. Not going to see stars doing that very often, but attend ComicCon and you will. Keep in mind though that Security Guards from all over the city and those who work there were keeping Conv.Center safe. Not that they had anything much to do since the attendees were all happy souls and behaving wonderfully well as usual. And the media were definitely in attendence. One of their groups asked permission of the Conv Ctrs' #1 Doorman to photo and interview him. His reply was that it was fine with him, but they'd have to get an okay from his bosses to do that. But no, the media did not have time. Too much else needed to be covered.
A pity. That doorman has worked there for 21 years and has been at the door for every ComicCon that has been held there...and so knows all the guys who originated the convention.

And that's all for now...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Science? Deliberate Ignorance? Choose...

This appeared in Skeptical Inquirer, a magazine dedicated to rational and critical thought and to using science, not dogma or superstition to find answers. It is available at some newstands. Individual copies can also be bought at www.csicop.org



Keith Taylor

Perhaps fearful that even a small amount of it is a dangerous thing, knowledge is held in disdain by many Americans. Yet the same people accept ridiculous claims as long as they are they want to hear. And legislators know what that is!

Turn on C-SPAN and the chances are good you'll see a member of Congress leading a blind charge into the land of make believe.

Climate change? Some time back, the chair of the Senate Science Climate Change Committee invited a science fiction author, not a scientist, and certainly not a climatologist, to testify. Then, having heard what he wanted to hear, the Senator joined the author in declaring that the scientists' concern over the looming disaster was a myth.

That year was the hottest on record. So was the next and the next. The pattern continues, but thanks in part to the senator, the myth about a myth persists.

Science can be touted, but only if it reflects what a legislator thinks the majority of his constituents want to hear. One from the Midwest regularly holds forth on the virtues of ethanol to protect us from the climate change he doesn't believe in. I've never heard him own up to the scientifically tested and vetted fact that ethanol made from corn or soy beans gives a us net increase of CO2 in the atmosphere while decreasing the world food supply.

Deliberate ignorance along with jingoism and dogmatic stubbornness shapes too much of America's intellect. During the cold war we simply would not be beat or outdone by the Soviets, not even in silly things. In the late sixties someone in our intelligence services suspected the commies were keeping tabs on us with remote viewing. Not to be outdone in dumb ideas our army set up a program headed by the Stanford Research Institute -- no direct connection to the university.

By 1985 no useful information was gleaned by folks sitting around thinking real hard, so the Army ceased funding it. Still when an idea, no matter how wacko, gets the attention of Congress it's life is extended and the money keeps coming in.

Operation Stargate, as it was sometimes called, was kept alive. It only cost 20 million dollars and had some interesting results which couldn't be denied because they were never tested. In 1996 the Science Applications International Corp, a San Diego Based think tank had conducted some of the experiments. When I checked on it for a story, they admitted they participated in the program but all results are classified. I called the FBI and a PR guy also told me told they couldn't comment because it was classified.

The best I got was from a less reticent source, the grapevine. There I "learned" one remote viewer got a peek inside a Rusky submarine but wasn't able see anything classified. Nor was she able to determine which ocean the U-boat was in, but it was somewhere! As a retired Navy cryptologist I was amazed at the ability of an outfit to spend so much for information which could be gleaned by just thinking.

Thomas Jefferson warned us, "An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic." You have to wonder what ol' Tom would have to say about the citizenry which elected today's leaders.

Where do we get our wacko ideas? Try the information highway. The brightest scholars in history would envy today's Americans with who have so much valid scientific information available on the web. But today's Americans also have even more claims of things they want to believe, verification be damned!

Then they vote.

Is there help in stemming this tide of deliberate ignorance? Not from Texas it seems. In May, the Texas State Board of Education adopted a social studies and history curriculum which undermined much of what we know about science and our past. Tom Jefferson who worried about such credulity was himself was downgraded, perhaps to make room for Jefferson Davis who was President of the Confederacy.

Because Texas is one of the largest buyers of textbooks, credulous ideas will be taught as fact to children across our nation. The pious Texans want us to understand that we were founded as a Christian nation, which might have surprised one of the founders. John Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli which emphatically said America was in no sense a Christian nation. That treaty was ratified unanimously by the Senate and has never been withdrawn.

The Constitution's only mention of religion is to restrict it.

But today. America is galloping blithely down the road to blind faith in nonsense. Their race into credulous thinking is supported by the vested interests of those who want their next quarter's interests protected whether an interminably long summer bodes ill for our grandchildren or not.

We hear "oh scientists don't know everything" so often it ought to be a warning to every skeptic. We who believe in science are also dismissed with the canard that we are merely eccentric. After all deliberate ignorance works wonders for the deliberately ignorant. To those of us who want our history untainted and our findings of science tested it will be a disaster.

Can this disaster be avoided or averted? Sure, but it will take a massive effort backed by a knowledgeable populace.

Will it? Probably not unless more of the populace start looking for real answers That won't be easy when faced with relentless barrage of sophistic answers from deniers of hard facts. The ultimate refuge for deniers of hard facts is religion; every congressman except Pete Stark of Oakland claims a belief in a supreme being. , and only Pete Stark in Oakland will admit he didn't believe.

I hate to be contrary, but was anybody except me frightened when, at a political debate of would-be presidents, three viable candidates admitted they admitted they do not believe in evolution. And how much different are they from the rest of the candidates who will grudgingly admit they do believe in the most tested scientific theory of all time, but refuse to support it?

Science can't compete with charisma except in the real world.

And don't forget the money! A recent headline blared: OIL BILLIONAIRES BACKING PROP. 23 -- a California effort to curb global warming. Yup, and that included a million from Koch Industries, ranked by Forbes as the second largest private company in the U.S.A. It is also among the top ten polluters. I'm proud to say my state rejected the self-serving proposition.

We're in a world of hurt here folks and you can take that from a very worried but eccentric curmudgeon.

//Keith Taylor is a former president and current program chair of the San Diego Association for Rational Inquiry living in Chula Vista, Ca. He can be reached at krtaylorxyz@aol.com//


Monday, July 04, 2011

Trying Honesty...

Let's Try Honesty


Keith Taylor

Loch David Crane just sent a letter announcing his intention to run for mayor of San Diego. He has no chance, but he's got my support. San Diego would be better off with a mayor of his stature and imagination. This is an open letter to my hero:

Dear Loch: Sorry I cannot give you more encouragement, but you aren't going to be elected. Mayors of cities the size of San Diego are bought by the folks who own the country -- the corporations. They aren't about to open their pockets to a man so honest he won't claim supernatural powers to pull rabbits out of a hat.

Of course that doesn't mean your effort has to be in vain. Richard Rider, who could be your inspiration in losing elections, pointed out that in 1940 Socialist perennial presidential candidate Norman Thomas was asked if he'd run for a seventh time. Thomas remarked that he didn't need to. Everything the Socialists had fought for in 1916 had been enacted by Republicans and Democrats by 1940.

And of course it's true. We can't always effect change but we can sit quietly by as it evolves. Uh, don't use the word "evolve" in your campaign. Let God take credit for it all. Then folks will admire your sagacity.

In your campaign you ought not have any problem getting plenty of attention from the media. They love the flamboyant over the mundane. Be sure to use your startrike, USS Enterprise, the one connoting the starship not CVN-69.

I remember you got some great publicity when you used the contraption to give a lift to Mike Aguirre. He needed a ride so he could make his commitment to both the Rock and Roll Marathon and his engagement to speak at the graduation ceremony of the Thomas Jefferson Law School.

Perhaps some sort of reenactment of that would be appropriate. The publicity might be even more effective if you took Mike off somewhere, say in Oklahoma, and left him there. Mike has little political capital. His record didn't inspire voters in his own run for mayor. I'm telling ya being honest just isn't going to do much for you on election day.

First you're gonna need a platform. No, don't promise to fix the impressive debt racked up by your predecessors. That can't be done unless we get more money and that means taxes, and taxes are more deadly than cuss words at a Mormon prayer meeting. Also don't promise a commitment to the new library. That's only of interest to folks who actually read, a rapidly shrinking part of our population.

One issue will ensure the inevitable, your defeat. It will also ensure all sorts of attention which can be used after honesty comes back into vogue.

Come out in support of the Constitution. Demand the city obey the law and take down the cross from Mt. Soledad. While it is true that most San Diegans are Christians, a significant minority are not. Furthermore they're getting restless at listening to talk show hosts shoving a decidedly sectarian symbol in their faces then claiming the symbol as a reason to make decisions based on belief not rational thought.

Just think of the wacko things we've done in the name of God. Then when someone objects, pseudo pious leaders claim symbols as validation for whatever they choose to believe and do.

Suck it up Loch and take a giant stand for the minority of us who don't believe. Be the leader who makes his decisions based on science and facts rather than obeisance to a being who hasn't shown up for two thousand years.

You won't ride that idea into the mayor's mansion (do we have one?) but you aren't going to win anyhow. Let's use your candidacy to help advance ideas not superstition. Believe me you won't have much competition.

The cross issue is an open and shut case. It was placed atop the mountain on Easter Sunday 1954 and dedicated to "our lord and savior, Jesus Christ." Each Easter thereafter an Easter sunrise service was held atop the mountain.

Then in 1989 my good friend Phil Paulson and his co-litigant Howard Kristner sued to have it removed from public property. In 1993 the decision in favor of the plaintiffs was handed down by Gordon Thompson, a judge for the United States District Court. Suddenly -- almost supernaturally -- plaques started appearing on the base of the cross.

We had us a retroactive war memorial. History and truth be damned! The cross is still there, still mocking those of us who don't accept a symbol which also has been used to as a reason for 2000 years of crusades, wars, inquisitions, book burning, slavery and other misdemeanors.

But in the eyes of the courts the case has been settled. The thing left to do is lead a charge to get San Diego to obey the law.

Naturally there will be a last ditch stand by those who insist we shun critical thinking and embrace dogma. Leading the charge are Maureen O'Connor and Roger Hedgecock, two former mayors who have pledged to defend the symbol from destruction by lying down in front of the bulldozers.

That alone would be worth the effort. Just think of Maureen and Roger lying down together. In a moment of passion they might do to each other what they did to the city while in office.