Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Church Even I Might Attend

My previous blog post had a comment from a 'Bishop Winslow' who attempted to defend the idea of organized prayer with actual Biblical references (that didn't really make his point), implied references from the Old Testament (no chapter or verse) and an assertion that Great Revivals were preceded by "corporate and organized prayer." I didn't think he made a good case but I did get an understanding of what open prayers mean to fundamentalist Christians - they really believe they are legitimate ways of bringing people to Christ. Prayers are an advertising message that works! (or so they think)

If religions are good at something, it's getting things wrong.

Everybody dislikes advertising messages being imposed upon them, even if they are true. I'm sure even the most ardent fundamentalist would get weary of constant prayers being played from loudspeakers 24/7 over the city. This is what Orwell was trying to remind us of in 1984 (I was privileged to read that book in 1984).

While Bishop Winslow may lament the loss of god in America he's not even aware of what the real problem is. Although some people are losing gods most people are not. If anything, people are losing religion - specific interpretations of god. What people want today is the freedom to understand god their way, not the way of a religion. God-worshipers want to be free from religion to speak to gods in their own manner. Of course, this won't keep the utilities and mortgage paid at the local church. What are churches to do?

Maybe churches need to stop the one-way flow of god-worship. Instead of the leader speaking to the followers why not take a lesson from the American Constitution? Create a church of 'We The People'. Put the members in charge. Let the members speak about what god means to them instead of letting the minister monopolize the interpretation. Make all prayer time silent. No one leads the congregation in prayer. Everyone takes that one or two minutes to pray and say whatever they want to whatever god they choose. A church is no longer an institution to dictate but a place of worship where anyone, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, atheists can gather to hear inspiring messages (members can take turns talking about things that interest them in science, philosophy, comedy or religion). Every gathering is a meeting not of people who are like-minded in religion but are interested in current events, new ideas and want a communal place to converse with god (or not!).

That's a church that maybe, just maybe, I'd go to.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Why Christians Should Oppose Organized Prayer

I've found that trying to convince Christians that organized prayer in public is wrong, never works. They interpret it as, "you're trying to take away my right to pray!" In recognition of this, I've formulated a better argument against it which I hope even Christians will appreciate.

In the past, I would sometimes point out Matthew 6, verse 5-6:

6:5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6:6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.


Christians tend to ignore this passage or interpret it to say that an organized prayer in a church is fine since everyone there is praying en masse so the whole church or event is a 'closet' shared by like-minded people.

However, what Christians really are neglecting is how organized prayer is really interrupting their personal relationship with Jesus and their freedom to pray whenever and however they want.

If they truly want freedom and a personal relationship with Jesus they should be demanding that they be free to say whatever prayer they want, in any way they want, inside their own minds. When a person of authority leads a prayer out loud they are infringing on how a believer can speak in a personal way to Jesus.

This now has become my argument against prayers in schools, at public events or during Town Council meetings. If time for a prayer is going to be allowed, every praying person must be free to say whatever prayer they want. It is an infringement of a person's freedom to have a directed prayer or to be coerced into saying the prayer the leader chooses.

If I step into a church and an organized prayer is going to be said, that's fine since I have opted-in to be a part of how this church conducts its rituals. However, because public places are open to everyone, no one must give up their freedom of mind or conscious so that another person or group can impose their prayer on those around them. Even Christians should be offended that someone else is telling them which prayer to say during their personal conversation with Jesus.

I don't oppose a 'moment of silence' to open a public event since I am free (and are believers) to do whatever mental ritual I want (or not) without interference. A good example is the two minutes of silence on Remembrance Day. During these two minutes, I can remember the great wars (or not) in any way I want. I choose to think about my grandfather that fought in the First World War. I'd be angry if some person or group demanded I take part in their memories.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Everybody Draw Mohammad Day!

My contribution:

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Foundation of Public Education and Why You Must Protect It

A local public school decided to send all Grade 8 students on an outdoor educational experience at a local camp. The purpose of the trip was to enhance their learning of nature and to provide the opportunity for the students to bond with each other, their teachers and their school. It was reasonably priced and the organizing teacher had been to the facility before and was highly impressed with the staff and their dedication to the kids.

I very strongly opposed the trip, have sent a letter to the principal and have called my local Trustee to explain the gravity of my concerns. If you lived within the boundaries of my school board, I would hope you'd do the same.

You see, the camp is a Christian Camp. Here are the first two paragraphs from the Camp's Welcome page (I have omitted the camp name):

Camp 'M...' is a Christian Camp that is committed to introducing children and young people to the message of Jesus Christ from the Bible through a camping experience that incorporates practical spiritual teaching, skill development, physical activity, friendship and lots of fun.

We want each camper to feel welcome, safe and accepted for who they are. Our goal is to provide real experiences; character-building opportunities that will develop young people physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually and allow them to stretch and flourish – to be the people God wants them to be.


The main purpose of this camp is not to provide outdoor education, it is to introduce, strengthen and indoctrinate children into the camp's specific view of Christianity. The camping experience is merely icing on a cake. I'm reminded of the story of Hansel and Gretel where they are attracted to the house by its candy covering but this is merely a ruse to get the children inside the house for an unrelated purpose.

My local trustee immediately recognized my concern. The two representatives at the school I have spoken to (a teacher and an administrator) did not. There is no requirement that they agree with me but it is disturbing that they do not even understand my objection. Instead of questioning whether the trip may violate Board policy or the Education Act they are trying to defend the trip. I understand that the trip may be a very important activity for the kids and I completely support its purpose. However, it may not happen at this camp!

Why am I so concerned? So what if a bunch of new teenagers hear a few prayers during a camping trip? Won't most of the kids simply ignore any of the religious messages? Why not just let the kids and the school have some fun?

The answers to these questions are complex but I believe it boils down to a simple, fundamental principle of public education; a grand pillar that must never be allowed to fall.

Education of children must take the form of giving them useful and substantiated skills and knowledge. The ultimate strength of the public education system is that it does not teach opinion, it teaches facts. We recognize that every human on the planet has a unique and complex combination of opinions on thousands of issues from aesthetics, politics, history to the supernatural and beyond. However because they are unique, it is impossible for there to be two or more humans holding opinions that are completely true. Either one person holds only true opinions, or no one does. If one person holds the truth, how do we find them? What tools do we use to determine that their opinions are, in fact, true?

The answer to this is the greatest strength of public education. 'Separate' or 'private' schools, by definition, tout that they are the ones with the answers. They wish to remain separate and private for the very reason that they believe they have the 'correct' opinion and they want to be able to enclose impressionable young children within a confined bubble where the only opinion they get to hear and are not allowed to question, is that of the school, its administrators and the benefactors.

The power of the public school system is not that it allows all opinions free reign in the school but that it allows only those opinions which have clear, substantiated and peer-reviewed evidence on their side. One plus one equals two is not taught because it is the opinion of some people that say it is true, it is taught because mountains of evidence demonstrate that it is. Public education teaches public knowledge that has passed the rigorous scientific method, the greatest tool that humans ever invented.

Teachers and administrators must recognize that their opinions may be flawed. They must also recognize that they are likely to not know which of their opinions are flawed. For this reason, teachers and administrators must agree to keep their opinions to themselves and never try to convince the children in their charge to adopt their specific ideas. They are bound by an understanding that it is their job to ensure that children are given only the knowledge which has been gathered by the most educated people in their field. As the saying goes, "only the facts."

But, teachers have one more important role. It's to teach kids how to think, not what to think. They need to teach children how to recognize the difference between opinion and fact. How to analyze opinions, how to distinguish between real evidence and anecdotes. Ultimately, it is not the teacher's job to make children think like they do, but to teach them how to find the flaws in the teacher's own opinions. Any teacher should feel proud when a student makes the teacher reconsider an opinion. They've done their job well.

I opposed the trip to the Christian camp because the camp will attempt to pass their opinion of their specific brand of religion onto the children under the guise of truth. They know that most children will not fall to their knees and believe during prayer before spaghetti but they are planting seeds. And, like every farmer and marketing person knows, the more seeds you plant, the greater the chance your crop will grow.

Stand up for public education! Contact your schools and convince yourself that your school is adhering to these high standards. Let's raise a generation of children that will not adopt our opinions but scrutinize and improve them.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Science Centre Promoting Pseudo-Science?

I recently came back from a trip to Dynamic Earth in Sudbury, Ontario with my daughter's class. Great facility and a fun tour into a inactive mine!

However, while perusing the Gift Shop I came across some magnetic jewelry. However, under the display was a bunch of cards from the manufacturer of the jewelry that was extolling the virtues of magnets and how researchers are finding health benefits from them.

Wait.

Pseudo-scientific claims at a Science facility?!?

I've sent off a letter to them and will post their response. The letter is below:

On June 11th, I was a parent volunteer with a Grade 5 class visiting Dynamic Earth. The kids thoroughly enjoyed the facility and enjoyed learning about the science of mining, rocks and minerals.

As always, the gift shop is a fun place for the children to browse and find science-related gifts and memorabilia. However, I was shocked and deeply disappointed to see a small card on display near the magnetic jewelry that was promoting the 'health benefits' of wearing magnetic bracelets. Although I misplaced the card, I remember it saying something about 'researchers have found benefits of magnets for health'.

I am a teacher, skeptic and staunch defender of science. How could a 'science' facility actually promote pseudo-science about magnetic jewelry?

I've taken the liberty to give you a website that looks at the research done on 'magnetic healing' here:

http://skepdic.com/magnetic.html

However, I'm sure you have real scientists at your facility that could look up research into 'magnetic healing' and form their own opinions.

Please, for the good of science, remove any and all claims that magnets might heal people. A scientific facility has an obligation to promote real science and never, ever, promote pseudo-science that is permeating our culture and standing in the way of valuable research. If people want to buy jewelry that is magnetic, fine, but don't promote non-scientific nonsense.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Who Should Vote?

Democracy is a great political innovation. Being able to voice your opinion and having a say in who and how a country is run is powerful and leading to far greater social reform and happiness.

However, a significant number of people freely choose not to vote. Further, many people vote along a party or historical line and attach their vote to a specific issue. In many cases, the reason for supporting (or opposing) an issue is not very clear as the voter has not spent much time understanding their view or the other.

Is it time to change the way we allow people to vote?
In Canada, once you reach 18, you are allowed to vote as long as you are a Canadian citizen. That's it. You magically become eligible to vote! Why are there no other requirements to be able to vote?

First, I don't like the 'regional representation' model of Canadian politics. Years ago, this made sense because travel and communication were limited. However, nowadays voters can easily vote on specific issues and don't necessarily need to be 'regionally' recognized. In fact, if political parties were assigned seats based on national support, minority parties would actually receive more seats since their support is usually thinly spread out and unable to gain power in any one region. Further, some voters may not vote for their preferred party recognizing that their vote will be useless if they are in a minority. Also, this would prevent 'defensive' voting (ie. voting Liberal just to make sure Conservatives don't get a lot of votes even though you support Green).

Professional Voters
I think voting on important issues requires an educated voter. The main problem with Democracy is that anyone can vote, even those who know little about the issue they are voting for! I'd like to see a system where people are required to learn about issues and then earn the right to vote on it. This class of people would become 'qualified' or even 'expert' voters.

The idea is to have a test that neutrally presents the sides of an issue. A potential voter must answer questions that show they understand the arguments being presented and then earn the privilege to vote. This does not mean that uninformed people cannot voice opinions, it simply means they don't vote.

Deciding Issues
Take the issue of Evolution in America. Should Americans 'vote' on whether it is taught in public schools? There are arguments for and against teaching evolution. However, due to the low levels of science education in America, does it make sense to have citizens, illiterate in evolution, to decide whether it's taught?

Imagine critics of evolution want to remove it from the curriculum. To gain support for their idea, they would need to educate those who agree with them not just on the anti-evolution arguments, but also the pro-evolution argument because they know the potential voter must pass a questionnaire to see if they really understand the issue. Only those who do will be allowed to vote on it!

My goal with this idea is to get public policy issues passed by those who are most qualified to decide them. This is very similar to the peer review process in science. In fact, it should ensure that future policies are decided by scientific methods and not on rhetorical arguments. Would you vote for that?

Friday, May 22, 2009

DPRJones is Back... but where's FrankReturns?

Yes! Justice is served!

DPRJones was suspended (apparently, permanently) two days ago because he received the third inappropriate video-flagging in a short period of time. Anyone who has reviewed the subject videos is aware that they did not breach any YouTube guidelines and were 'false-flagged'. Many of us suspected FrankReturns was responsible for the false-flagging campaign.

And now, in a supreme act of pwnage... DPRJones' account is back and FrankReturns has been suspended... AWESOME!

Funny, I sent FrankReturns a message yesterday that simply said, "Goodbye, FrankReturns". My prediction was true! All hail ME, the new Messiah!

Then again, leave me alone, I'm busy buying lottery tickets...