Adult Onset Atheist

Monday, April 14, 2014

Watership Down is for Real

On Wednesday the long anticipated film adaptation of the long-running #1 bestseller “Heaven Is For Real” will hit the big screen. It is the story of a preacher’s son who has a near death experience (NDE) in which he goes to Heaven, and meets all sorts of nice people with wings.

Tickets are available now

The NDE is often accepted as a means for divine communication. The death part of the NDE helps to distinguish the words of one’s deity from other types of psychosis. One might understand why it is important to know which disembodied voice in one’s head is coming from whom. The NDE is characterized by trauma, blood loss to the brain, and often heavy medication; clues which apparently help to prove that the voice is that of some god.

On March 5th 2003 Colton Burpo underwent surgery for a burst appendix; he is said to have been saved from death by Jesus himself, with a little help of modern medicine. Also on March 5th 2003 a car bomb went off at the Davao City airport in the Philippines and 19 people were not saved from dying by Jesus or anyone else. Also on March 5th 2003 a car bomb exploded in Cúcuta Columbia where 7 people were not saved by Jesus. Also on March 5th 2003 a bomb exploded in Haifa Israel, close to Jesus’s hometown, and 10 people were not saved.

On March 13th 2003 poor Colton underwent another surgery. Abscesses were drained. At 7:45PM local time a bomb went off in the first-class ladies compartment of a Mumbai Suburban Railway train pulling into Mulund station. Another 10 people were not saved by Jesus.

Colton’s descriptions of heaven, Jesus, and the nice winged people he met inspired his father Todd to work with Lynn Vincent to write a book. Lynn Vincent is famous for co-writing Sarah Palin’s first book: “Going Rouge”.

The Wednesday before Easter Sunday is an auspicious day for opening a movie about resurrection. Called “Holy Wednesday”, it is thought by many fundamentalists to be the actual day of Jesus’s crucifixion.

The Wednesday crucifixion argument relies on a Sunday resurrection, and Mathew 12:40. The passage from Mathew states that Jesus was in the ground for three days and nights, and the only way to do that is schedule a crucifixion for a Wednesday.

“For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” – Mathew 12:40 (KJB)

Easter itself is scheduled each year for the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (The paschal moon ). The rules for determining when Easter is are so divinely inspired that the calculation has its own branch of study called “Computus”; a name from which many important modern fields of study can be linked.

Whenever Jesus was resurrected the entire Christian world knows that he was crucified either the Friday (Good Friday) or Wednesday (Holy Wednesday) before Easter Sunday. Many Christians will celebrate the torture and mutilation of their Lord and Savior by filling baskets with cellophane grass and suggesting that a magic rabbit lays chocolate eggs for good little boys and girls.

I’ve always liked the part about the rabbit.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Virgil's Colony Colapse Disorder

Spring hints through the occasional snowfall, and my thoughts turn towards the birds and the bees … especially the bees for some reason.

I have decided to raise honeybees again. I will be raising the carnelian strain (Apis mellifera carnica Pollmann) because it, of the strains available to me, is the best adapted to “long winters”, and at the altitude I will be raising them the winters are still longer than those experienced by flatlanders.

I have received a pile of wood from Mann Lake, and I will soon assemble the Langstroth hives my bees will live in. My bees will arrive at CAL ranch in a screen-sided wooden box sometime in May. I might name them “Raymond”.

Internet chatter would suggest that a malady called CCD (for Colony Collapse Disorder) threatens the continued existence of bees. It is unfortunately true that CCD is amongst the ever-growing number of threats to any hive. I lost my last hive to a harshly cold winter and -probably Nosema-induced- dysentery. The bees emerged from the hive on a too-cold winter day to paint little black stripes on just about everything. There were none left to emerge in the spring.

Long before 2006, when CCD was named, hive deaths were a problem. In the winter of 2000-2001 50% of Pennsylvania hives were lost. But the problem of hive deaths goes back in time much farther than that. In-or-around 29 BCE Virgil published his now famous book of four poems called the Georgics; the fourth of these was devoted to Apiology, with special attention to hive collapse.

Virgil sat down with Octavian shortly after he returned from the battle of Actium as the most powerful man in the Western World (in 31 BCE), and read him a pre-publication copy of the Georgics.

“It's monstrous labour, when I wash my brain, and it grows fouler.”
          -- Gaius Julius Octavius (Caesar Augustus) to Marc Antony in “Antony and Cleopatra” by William Shakespeare (Act II Scene VII)

Virgil is perhaps best known as Dante’s guide through the environs of Hell. In the “Inferno” Dante recounts wild and wacky adventures in Hell with Virgil; his posthumous friend and mentor. In Hell they see the sights, go skinny dipping with strange women in the river Lethe, and sightsee the ongoing torture of the damned.

“He with the cloven tail assumed the figure
The other one was losing, and his skin
Became elastic, and the other's hard.” -- Dante from “Inferno”

Dante chose Virgil as his guide through hell because the complexity of Virgil’s verse could compactly communicate many themes. When talking about placement of hives Virgil could have simply stated “avoid swallows as they eat bees”. Instead he said:

“And Procne smirched with blood upon the breast
From her own murderous hands. For these roam wide
Wasting all substance, or the bees themselves
Strike flying, and in their beaks bear home, to glut
Those savage nestlings with the dainty prey.” – from Virgil’s Georgics

Procne was Tereus’s Wife. Tereus raped his sister-in-law Philomena one day, and then ripped out her tongue to prevent her telling. Philomena wove a tapestry to tell her sister about her husband’s escapades, and together they behead, then cook, then feed Procne’s son to his father. Tereus becomes angry when he finds out, and the two sisters narrowly escape his axe by being turned into birds by the Gods.

Beekeeping is even more interesting when one realizes that some threats to the hive are not delicately chirping birds but vengeful cannibals.

So important is the message in Virgil’s beekeeping description that one French translator for the Georgics was recommended to the Académie française by Voltaire. Jacques Delille served as professor for Latin poetry through the French revolution, he would translate Virgil’s Aeneid, he would write original poetry, but his translation of the Georgics would remain one of his most treasured works.

Delille would be succeded as professor of Latin Poetry by Pierre François Tissot. Tissot was the brother-in-law of Jean Marie Claude Alexandre Goujon. Goujon, a famous “La Montagne” revolutionary, famously stabbed himself to death with a knife Tissot supplied while on his way to be beheaded.

As Jacques “The French Virgil” Delille lay in state Tissot allowed a young historian by the name of Aime Nicolas Leroy access to the body of his predecessor. Leroy removed a large swatch of skin from Delille’s chest, and another from his leg. Leroy then used this human skin to bind a copy of Delille’s translation of the Georgics. History does not suggest that Tissot supplied Leroy with the knife he used to flay the French poet, but I like to think he did.

“I don't think I was seen by anyone; rich with my little treasure, I left and disappeared at once. Some will perhaps find a little fault with the act I have just confessed. When I got the idea of stealing these fragments, so frail but so precious for me, it overcame me, and I felt myself driven on by my respect for an illustrious dead man . . . and I committed; this Larceny by way of reverence.”
Aime Nicolas Leroy quoted in “Religatum de Pelle Humana” by Lawrence S. Thompson

It is fitting that the Georgics should have such a complex and bloody history as this complements the causes of colony collapse that it describes.

Not content with the standard theist “God Did It” explanation for natural phenomenon, Virgil provides a backstory for the collapse of a particular set of hives. The backstory is full of the type of jealousy, betrayal, and carnage that makes for great telling. In order to resurrect the hives the beekeeper is sent on a journey into hell; for advice and ingredients.

This is Virgil’s method of reversing CCD:

“ But not Cyrene, who unquestioned thus
Bespake the trembling listener: "Nay, my son,
From that sad bosom thou mayst banish care:
Hence came that plague of sickness, hence the nymphs,
With whom in the tall woods the dance she wove,
Wrought on thy bees, alas! this deadly bane.
Bend thou before the Dell-nymphs, gracious powers:
Bring gifts, and sue for pardon: they will grant
Peace to thine asking, and an end of wrath.
But how to approach them will I first unfold-
Four chosen bulls of peerless form and bulk,
That browse to-day the green Lycaean heights,
Pick from thy herds, as many kine to match,
Whose necks the yoke pressed never: then for these
Build up four altars by the lofty fanes,
And from their throats let gush the victims' blood,
And in the greenwood leave their bodies lone.
Then, when the ninth dawn hath displayed its beams,
To Orpheus shalt thou send his funeral dues,
Poppies of Lethe, and let slay a sheep
Coal-black, then seek the grove again, and soon
For pardon found adore Eurydice
With a slain calf for victim."” -- Book 4 of Virgil’s Georgics

Virgil offers proof that this works.

“But sudden, strange to tell
A portent they espy: through the oxen's flesh,
Waxed soft in dissolution, hark! there hum
Bees from the belly; the rent ribs overboil
In endless clouds they spread them, till at last
On yon tree-top together fused they cling,
And drop their cluster from the bending boughs.” -- Book 4 of Virgil’s Georgics

Saturday, April 5, 2014

This Is Where I Leave You

Come out, come out, wherever you are!

Tomorrow -April 6th 2014- a Mass Resignation for Mormons will take place; also taking place will be the biannual conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. There will be speakers and good company at the mass resignation. If I can make the time I will be there.

At 11am people will start congregating at City Creek Park in Salt Lake city. City Creek Park is on the NorthEast corner of North Temple and State Street; just across form the LDS Church offices and the down a block from the conference center where the big LDS conference will be going on.

Things will really get started about 11:45 when everyone will accompany those resigning around temple square to wherever one drops off letters of resignation.

Then, at about 1230, there will be some more kind words by several people including David Silverman (President of Atheists of America) who is flying out for the event.

Route of Mass Resignation March

To many readers of this blog the idea of a mass resignation from a church might sound bizarre. I was personally icncredulous when first presented with the idea that one had to actively pursue removal from the LDS church in order to not be considered a member by that church. Even people who were simply born to Mormons, and had never attended church in their lives, are considered “inactive Mormons” until they successfully petition the church to remove their records. I have been told that the LDS Church has at times refused requests to be removed from their Church.

The removal from the Church is a non-trivial action by the inhabitants of Utah. It limits employment. It limits opportunities -social, athletic, and academic- for one's kids. It often exposes the petty small-minded nature of one's relatives; a nature one grows up hoping is not contaminating one's own gene pool.

On the other hand it is an absurd way of performing the absurd ritual needed to leave an absurd Church based on absurd ideas.  A Theater of the Absurd made real.

I like the idea of a mass resignation.

Make it a party.