The Stupid Question

It is likely that at some point in your life, someone has said to you that, "There are no stupid questions".  That person was probably trying to make you feel at ease in a learning environment.

Unfortunately that person was incorrect.  Possibly they didn't know any better.  But the truth is, there is most definitely such a thing as a "stupid question".

A stupid question is a question that is asked with the intent to halt discussion and interfere with learning.  It is asked with the intent to belittle the subject at hand and the person talking about that subject.  Stupid questions are used make black insinuations about the receiver's character and morals.

The person asking the stupid question will defend him or herself by saying, "It's just a question" or "Don't be so touchy" or "Why are you taking this so personally?"

"When did you stop beating your wife?"  This is an excellent example of a stupid question.  It impugns the recipient's moral character, and forces the recipient to take the time to unpack the question, dissect it and answer it.  It could be an excellent "drive by" question that would derail any conversation.  It is never asked in the spirit of conversation or learning.  It is never asked by someone seeking truth.

"Were you there?"  This is a favorite question of creationists.  This isn't just an example of a stupid question, it is a very common question that pops up in discussions with creationists all the time.

Like any stupid question, the person asking the question is not looking for any sort of answer that increases knowledge or seeks truth.  Instead, the creationist asking this question is trying to shut down the conversation in order to declare victory over the other person.

Again, a stupid question is asked in order to stop the discussion.  And in order to answer the question, it must be unpacked, examined on its own and then answered.  Which of course derails the conversation - which accomplishes the questioner's goal.

Creationists love this tactic of asking stupid questions so much that they actually instruct school children to ask these questions in science class.

Don't allow yourself to be tricked into asking a stupid question by people with an agenda.  Instead, learn how to ask smart questions.  Ask a question that is designed to elicit further explanation, to encourage teaching, to enhance your own learning.

Ask, "How do you know?"  That is a smart question.

Most of my money is "Godless".

America has two mottos, the first is "E Pluribus Unum" proposed by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson in 1776, and adopted in 1782. It is a Latin phrase that means "Out of many, One". Which by its very nature includes all Americans. It leaves no one out. This motto is part of the Great Seal of the United States.

Our second motto is, "In God We Trust". It was adopted in 1956, during the Second Red Scare and that period of McCarthyism where America was reacting to the "Godless Soviets". It is a motto enacted out of fear. This second motto is inherently divisive, since it divides those Americans who do not believe in a God, who do not believe in one god, or who do not agree that the God of America is a Christian God (as opposed to Hindu or Islamic).

This has led to secular efforts to remove God from American money.

I say that this is no longer necessary. God is on very little of my money.

Let me explain.

Facebook image

You can find lots of people online who will exclaim, "You don't like 'God' on your money?  Then give it all to me!"

Yes, this is a "Gotcha" statement by immature people who believe they are being clever.  But the reality is, lots of people - maybe most - just don't carry that much "God" money on us.

Let us assume that I would be willing to transfer to you all the money in my possession that has "God" printed on it, if you would agree to transfer all the money in your possession that does NOT have "God" printed on it.

Let me look around.  I've got $40 in two twenties that I'll use to pay the gentleman who cuts my grass.  I've got a couple dollars, and about three dollars in quarters.  There may be an additional few dollars in pennies, nickles and dimes around my house.  All together, it is probably less than $60 total - and that's being generous.

But what about my bank account you ask?

I have several bank accounts for various reasons.  I'll look at the statement for my "personal allowance" account for March of this year.  I deposit money in this account as my personal allowance, that I allow myself to use for things like eating out, buying toys or books, or shopping online.  At the end of March I had a balance of $323.15.

In my statement, there are no photographs of this money.  My online statement is more up-to-date than my printed statement, but even this lacks a hyperlink to images of my money.  I can't point you to the actual hundreds, twenties, and ones that make up the balance of this account.  That is because as long as it is in my bank account, it does not refer to bills or coins, but is instead merely numbers in a computer accounting system.

But surely those numbers are backed by actual paper and coin?

No.  According to the Federal Reserve, the numbers in my bank account are backed by collateral - collateral chiefly represented by government securities.  So perhaps some of the numbers in my bank account are backed by Gold or Silver, but more likely, they are backed by the National Debt of the United States - which is also columns of numbers in an accounting system.

Nowhere in these columns of numbers does "God" appear.

When I go shopping, whether to purchase gum, gasoline, or a new roof for my house, I don't pay with god-based money.  Instead I pay with a debit card, a credit card, or in very rare cases - a cashier's check, money order, or personal check.  None of these forms of payment have the words, "In God We Trust" on them.

In fact, I'm allowed to personalize my credit card.  So I put a "terrible atheist" symbol on it.  One that has been in use for over 130 years to represent secular, humanist, and atheist causes.  I branded my atheist credit card with a field of Pansies.  Every time I use it to purchase something, I am literally paying with atheist money.  (Well, atheist credit, at least!)  And at the end of the month, I make my accounts balance by going online to my credit card company, and transferring a column of numbers from my bank account to my credit card account.

No God involved.

So you can see that my bank accounts, my mortgage account, my retirement accounts, and my credit card account have no dealing with God or gods.  They are not representing, nor represented by a deity.  They are merely numbers in differing accounts, held by a polite fiction that our society has agreed to pretend means something.

So if I give you the approximately $60 that I have in Federal Reserve banknotes and coins that have "In God We Trust" printed on it, then you should give me all the money you have that does NOT have "God" printed on it.  All those numbers in columns in your bank account.

No, you won't have to purchase banknotes to do this - I have my own debit / credit card reader.  They are free to get, and easy to use!

Or, I'll happily take a cashier's check.

I attended the Jehovah's Witness Memorial Celebration

On Friday, April 3, 2015, I attended the Jehovah's Witness annual memorial celebration of Christ's death.

Invitation to attend memorial - click to enlargeYes, I was invited.  Three very nice JWs arrived at my door, and presented me with an invitation.  They said it didn't matter what I believed, or did not believe.

So of course I went!  I even dressed up for the event!

The event was held at the Verdi Club, a banquet facility in Fresno.  It's a somewhat stark looking place, surrounded by a 6 foot chain link fence,  It's on a rough side of town, near the highway and train tracks.

When I and a friend arrived, security for the event was obvious, with off duty police, security guards, and people in suits and sunglasses directing traffic.  I guess we were dressed sufficiently, because no one stopped us from walking into the event.

We were greeted by lots of people welcoming us into the event, and shaking hands.  We found seating on the second row from the front.

The event reminded me a lot of the many hundreds of hours I've spent listening to a "teaching preacher", who explained where a particular tradition came from and why we were all following it now.  This was interspersed with a couple of hymns and some prayer.  Very little was different from my upbringing in the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, except this speaker tended to drone in a monotone.  This wasn't nearly as exciting as the worship I've experienced in American Baptist, Korean Baptist or Korean Pentecostal churches.  It took a serious effort to distill the drone of the officiant into something I could process.

The one thing that I did find very interesting, that I did not already know, is that communion is restricted to the 144,000 who the Holy Spirit has already selected to go to Heaven.  So when communion was passed around, I was interested to see that no one partook of it.

It would seem to me that partaking of communion would be a sign of hubris and narcissism by anyone who did so.

I've always felt somewhat indebted to the Jehovah's Witnesses, since it was a witness who got me thinking about religion in general, and that started me on my investigation of cults, and later of religions in general.  That self-study of religions where I compared one to another is what led me to compare my own beliefs to what I had learned, and found just as little evidence for those beliefs as I had for all the other cults and religions I had studied.

A quick check in on Ronnie

So Ronnie got out of prison in September 2013.  What's he been up to since then?

First, he is required to check in with the Texas Department of Public Safety sex offender registry once a quarter for the rest of his life.  They take photos of him and update his other information at this time.

From his latest photo, you can see he is really working on covering up his receding chin with his beard.  His hair looks mussed... which is interesting because he was usually very careful about keeping it neatly combed.

He's not wearing a military surplus jacket.  Maybe it just wasn't that cold when this photo was taken.  Or maybe because it is difficult for Ronnie to claim they were issued to him while in the Army... 40 years ago.  He's 63 years old at this point.

When he was released, the TDPS listed his new address at a religious rescue operation called, "New Birth Outreach Ministries".  This facility has 24 beds, and supports the homeless, battered men and women, and veterans.  They don't seem to support families or children, which is a good thing considering that Ronnie is a pedophile.  New Birth has been in business since 2006, and is run by a minister and his wife.

The street address for "New Birth" is still listed as his place of residence.  So I think he is either living there full time, or is partly homeless with his home address at this location.

So now I'm wondering if he has dropped the, "I used to be Army so I'm confident and capable and know everything" shtick he used to snow everyone with.  Perhaps now his new thing is, "poor (almost) homeless veteran".  I wouldn't put it past him.

When I knew Ronnie, he was a skilled chameleon.  He could be very charming at the drop of a hat.  He could seem very sincere when he was playing someone.  I can't see him letting those skills go to waste.  If it meant 3 hots and a cot, I could see Ronnie being very sincere while in Church on Sunday.

The reason why I think he is actually living there full time is that Ronnie was never lazy - he was industrious, and he had that "good ol' boy" attitude and ability to work hard and be handy with lots of things.  He would make himself useful around the ministry.

You can find him on the Texas Sex Offender Registry.

So what's with Islamic intolerance? I could guess, but instead I asked a local Imam!

On Sunday, I and another member of CVAAS attended a small meeting with Dr. Ramadan, the Imam of the Masjid Fresno Islamic Center.  Masjid is the Arabic word for "Mosque".

Dr. Ramadan is a very impressive person.  Born in Egypt, he memorized the Qur'an by the age of 14. (But he told us that his son memorized it by the age of 8!)  He's a native speaker of Arabic, and his second language is English - which he speaks fluently with very little accent.  He also took 5 years of German, but says he's not very fluent in that language.  He's worked as a High School English teacher, and in varying capacities as an English / Arabic translator.  He's been an Imam at both Stockton and Modesto, and has been the Imam at Fresno for over 12 years now.

Dr. Ramadan is of the Sunni tradition, as is the Mosque.  He didn't know the overall affiliation of his congregation.

So, let's get down to the real purpose of this talk.

I asked what he though of the violence in the name of Islam in the Charlie Hebdo murders?

Dr. Ramadan replied that he categorically condemned these killings, and that the murderers were not practicing Islam.  Ramadan quoted Sūrah 5:32:

 Because of that, We decreed upon the
Children of Israel that whoever kills a
soul unless for a soul or for corruption
[done] in the land - it is as if he
had slain mankind entirely.
  • Soul for a soul - in other words, in legal retribution for a murder
  • Corruption done in the land - a crime that legally requires the death penalty

As a side note - I see a possible loophole here.  An Islamic government could possible declare something to be a "crime that requires the death penalty" - crimes that we in America would not consider to be a crime.

From the Bukhari collection of the Hadith, (Volume 9, Book 83, Number 37), we see that Muhammad said there are 3 legal reasons to kill a person.

  1. A person who killed someone unjustly.  
  2. A married person who committed illegal sexual intercourse.  
  3. A man who fought against Allah and His Apostle and deserted Islam and became an apostate

Well, item number 3 explains somewhat the very harsh punishment of Saudi Arabia Blogger Raif Badawi for merely criticizing Islam and the Saudi leaders.  It also means that Islamic countries who execute atheists could be following the Qur'an.  Especially if the atheist in question is an Islamic apostate who speaks out against Islam!

I very much appreciate living in a country with (mostly) secular laws that will not execute me for being a Christian apostate!

But let's get back on topic.

We asked Dr. Ramadan about satire, and images or depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.  

He turned it around, and asked if we found it disrespectful if our prophets were objects of ridicule.  Like Moses, or Jesus.  We pointed out that an artist won an award for his scatological depiction of Christ, and no one ended up dead because of it.  We did mention that many people were upset.  We then pointed out that Theo Van Gogh was murdered for his film, "Submission", which criticized Islam's treatment of women.  We said this to point out the difference in reaction to perceived insult.

Dr. Ramadan said that wasn't a proper Islamic response, and took us back to Sūrah 5:32.

We next asked about Islam's ability to get along with non-Islamic religions.  We pointed out that several religious groups in America were considered heinous,  (we used Westboro Baptist Church as low-hanging fruit as an example).  We pointed out that the correct method of combating words was more words.

Ramadan replied by quoting Sūrah 109:

  1. Say, “O disbelievers,
  2. I do not worship what you worship.
  3. Nor are you worshippers of what I worship.
  4. Nor will I be a worshipper of what you worship.
  5. Nor will you be worshippers of what I worship.
  6. For you is your religion, and for me is my religion."

He interpreted this to mean that Muslims should not criticize other religions.  I would think that this also means that they expect the same courtesy in return - and frankly that is not something I'm prepared to do. No idea is above criticism.  None at all.

Also Dr. Ramadan quoted Sūrah 2, 256 to say that, "there is no compulsion in religion".  To him, this means that Islam must not compel believers of other religions to Islam.

 There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in tāghūt and believes in God has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And God is Hearing and Knowing tāghūt - False objects of worship, such as idols, heavenly bodies, spirits, human beings, etc. 

Click for larger!

But this seems to be a verse that is taken out of context, and the idea that there is no compulsion to belief in Islam is certainly in dispute!  But we didn't know about this at the time, and we let this go unremarked.

Dr. Ramadan did arrange a press release with the Fresno Bee, condemning the Charlie Hebdo attacks.  I've included that here.  You can click on this image to see it separately, in a bigger more readable format.


All in all, I enjoyed my talk with Dr. Ramadan.  He is a very cheerful, pleasant person.  His knowledge of Islam is impressive.  From our meeting with him, I get the feeling that he is a moderate, and I could hope that Islam was more like him.  However, there are definite cultural differences, and he didn't seem to understand that freethought requires the acceptance of distasteful speech.  

We have been invited to meet again at any time, or to invite Dr. Ramadan to speak at any upcoming CVAAS meeting.  I'll update if and when that happens!