The one type of presidential candidate everyone hates

Many glass ceilings are being smashed with the announcement of the democratic party’s vice-presidential nominee. It is rare to have a woman as a national party’s candidate, and even more unusual to have a person of color. There’s one barrier that hasn’t been crossed, though. There hasn’t been an openly atheist presidential or vice-presidential candidate, and there won’t be anytime soon.

Research continually demonstrates that nearly half of voters will not support an atheist. Also, although trends show quick and increasing acceptance for other diverse voices including people from the LGBTQ community or people with non-white racial heritage, the needle is barely budging on atheist acceptance. It simply is politically unfeasible to self-identify as an atheist when such a broad swath of voters will disqualify you on this merit alone. A candidate is more likely to identify as a socialist than an atheist, even when they’re probably both.

It is past time for an atheist president. Getting past this hurdle of public opinion, though, will take some time.

Do Biblical contradictions make homosexuality ethical?

I was pulling up the old Biblical gem about rabbits chewing cud the other day and my search resulted in several pages defending Biblical literalism and “disproving” the error. The argument broadly goes that, although the Bible says unequivocally that rabbits chew cud, and although rabbits are not ruminants, that rabbits do re-digest their food through a process called cecotrophy. The word which we translate as “chew the cud” today would, when the document was written, have been meant to encompass a larger group of activities, and so although the rabbit doesn’t chew cud by our classification today, rabbits can be said to fall under the qualifications of the original term used.

GAY RABBIT

This is obviously quite a stretch, but it is this statement, shared by many pages making a similar argument, which really jumps out at me:

Simply stated, it is not reasonable to accuse a 3500-year-old document of error because it does not adhere to a modern man-made classification system.

Tommy Mitchell

We can extrapolate further; the condemnations against same-sex relationships and gender fluidity rely on a classification system 3,500 years old. Our current understanding of these things is significantly removed from the way the words are used in the Bible. Thus, just as the Bible is not in error regarding rabbits, the Bible also cannot be understood to make any statement about our modern conception of LGBTQIA rights.

You’d all agree, right fundamentalists and literalists?

NPR gets to the point

It seems almost startling to see an article from an impartial news source so directly tie Christianity to America’s racist roots, but here we are, and with a swarthy picture of Rep. John Lewis at the header to boot!

I don’t suppose there are any surprises in the history the article outlines, but it is continually shocking to see people look at the story of Jesus and interpret it so wildly wrong. Jesus was undeniably a revolutionary, his entire mission was a rebuke of the status quo. He was so dangerous to the establishment that they literally killed him for it! Flash forward to the 20th century and Christianity is (some what inexplicably) the dominant religion in America. How do those American Christians assume that Jesus’ revolutionary attitudes no longer apply to them? Its like watching the Hegalian dialectic in action but somehow missing that synthesis never happened.

The Power of Prayer on Yesterday’s News

I stumbled upon a fascinating and wonderful research paper that has blown open my brain in the best way. In fact, the study itself is a little suspect but the impact it has already had on me is more useful than the study itself could ever be.

A researcher in Israel ran a clinical, randomized, double-blind study of patients hospitalized with blood infections. A person was given the list of the first names of one group, and this person prayed for the recovery for each individual and the group as a whole. The group that was the subject of prayer had a slightly shorter mortality rate and a significantly shorter length of hospital stay, thus supporting the efficacy of prayer as therapeutic intervention. The study recommends prayer as an effective, low or no cost therapeutic method with no side-effects that should be instituted in clinical practice.

Oh, and did I mention that the groups of patients were in the hospital 4-10 years prior to the study?

That’s right; in recognition that the power of God transcends space and time, these prayers were made several years after the diagnosis and treatment of the blood infection. The patients had all recovered or died already, making the study both easy to blind and easy to conduct. The researcher only had to randomize the selection of the groups, have someone say a prayer for one group without knowing the outcomes of the patients, and then look to see what had happened to them all once the prayer had been said.

This is a joke of an experiment. No, literally. It was meant as a spoof, a reductio ad absurdam on the problems with randomized trials for obviously impossible treatments. It was published in a reputable journal in full recognition of its silliness as a novelty, although some scientists called for the study’s retraction.

Besides the obvious flaws it demonstrates in our methods of randomization and trial construction, I wonder why this wouldn’t be a compelling support for a believer in the power of prayer. The scientific method relies on a concept of linear time as a presupposition; the idea of a retroactive effect doesn’t square with this basic assumption. But theological argument doesn’t require this given, at least if we recognize God’s power as being greater than space or time. If God transcends time, then why shouldn’t our petitions to them include requests that also transcend time? If God is omnipotent, why couldn’t they effect change in the past?

This is one of those thought experiment paradoxes like “can God microwave a burrito so hot that God can’t eat it.” But if the power of prayer is as transcendent as many say it is, why shouldn’t we pray for an end to world wars? For the elimination of deadly viruses before they even spread? For a change in heart in murderous despots? For a plentiful bounty in the grimmest historical growing seasons? Or does the existence of historical atrocity imply that we haven’t prayed hard or successfully enough in the present? If we had only prayed better throughout time would God have altered the devastation of those historical events? Or perhaps our prayers have worked and the horror of certain historical events has already been mitigated by God’s guiding hand? We don’t have an historical control group, after all.

It is always difficult to square paradoxes in time travel, as any sci-fi enthusiast will attest. This is probably because our limited means of understanding are entirely framed by time as a linear concept. But it is a pressing question to people who pray: can your prayers effect the past?