The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

2002 August

Sex in the Cathedral (Part III)

August 30, 2002 | 5 Comments

American Atheists has officially weighed in on the controversy over the couple who had sex in St. Patrick’s Cathedral as part of a shock jock radio competition. Noting that “at least no children were involved” in the stunt, AA chastised the FCC for fast-tracking the investigation. However, AA’s main objection appears to be to the identity of the complainant — the Catholic League — and its “long history and unhealthy precedent of demanding that plays, lectures, newspaper and magazine articles which in any way offend the sensibilities of the League be censored.”

The Raving Atheist dislikes the Catholic League for a variety of reasons, but the focus should remain on the merits of the actual complaint at issue (which may be moot since the League announced that it would petition the FCC to cease its investigation after WNEW canceled Opie and Anthony, although I can’t tell from the FCC’s website whether the matter has been dropped). What the League specifically cited in demanding revocation of the radio station’s license was “a deliberate pattern of indecency, now reaching an apex by the deliberate occurrence of a crime perpetrated in a house of worship.” A copy of the League’s letter is available here (in Acrobat PDF format only). While the nature of the venue is irrelevant (another couple was encouraged to have sex at a construction site), as is the prurience of the conduct (every media outlet would have to have its license pulling for reporting on the Lewinsky scandal), the transcripts of the show (attached to the League’s letter, above, and available in audio format at
The Smoking Gun) charge that the public airwaves were used to encourage a crime is a serious charge. And it appears that Opie and Anthony were indisputably doing just that, as well as encouraging the participants to lie to the police to evade arrest:

Host [Opie or Anthony]: Hey Paul [Paul Mercurio, a producer)! A lot of listeners calling in complaining that your team is not actually doing this [having sex] in these establishments.

Mercurio: What do you mean?

Host: You can’t just go in front of a place, like the Carnegie Deli. It has

to be inside.

Mercurio: Alright, we’ll take them inside. We’re gonna go in.

* * *

Mercurio: We’ll go in the church. We’ll go in. Don’t worry about it.

Host: Go ahead! That’s why it’s such a big-money [contest prize money] place.

* * *

Host: What’s up, Paul?

Mercurio: We’re in St. Pat’s, and he’s doing [anal sex] and a security guy is coming up to us right now . . . [talking to security guard]: Let them go, they’re OK there, No, let them go. We’re just looking for the restroom, that’s all . . . I need to use the restroom. What’s the problem?

* * *

Mercurio [To police officers outside the church]: Our side of the story is these people were looking in the church, he had to go to the bathroom. He’s saying [the security guard] that they were having sex.

* * *

Mercurio [To Opie and Anthony, outside earshot of police]: The guy [says to me] “I’ll tell him, I’ll tell him we did it and it was just like a radio prank,” and I said no, if you admit it, that, no. No.

* * *

Host: I like your take on the whole thing. There’s nothing, the guard saw nothing, then there’s no crime.

I suspect that if the Catholic League sent representatives over to American Atheists’ headquarters to engage in sex acts, and broadcast the festivities over the radio, AA would not be framing the question as one of free speech.

That being said, a legitimate issue of hypocrisy does arise when one considers the Church’s outrage over this incident and its treatment of its own pedophile priests, a point I’ve made elsewhere. It’s something the Catholic League doesn’t appreciate, or even seem to understand. The League President cited this as an example of anti-Catholic “viciousness”:

David Letterman is piling on as well. His monologue on Monday included a joke about people having sex in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and then getting ordained. Last night he used the St. Pat’s incident again, though this time he crossed the line for sure: he made reference to a priest molesting an altar boy in the Cathedral.

The League hasn’t petitioned for the revocation of CBS’ license, but I will support that effort if they explain why Letterman’s second joke “crosses the line” but not the first, or, for that matter, why either joke does.

Finally, I’m surprised I haven’t seen the hypocrisy issue raised anywhere by the mainstream press (although it’s made its way here and there into a few letters to the editor). I can see why, since the Church was the aggrieved party in this particular incident, that it might be overlooked. But the transcripts of the broadcast demonstrate that it was very much a part of the story itself:

Mercurio: Hey, we’re, ah, on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral . . . and we’re getting looks like you wouldn’t believe. One of them even yelled, “That’s a church! You should be ashamed of yourself!”

Host: Yeah, can’t you do some pedophilia?

* * *

Mercurio [To security guard inside church]: Not a problem what priests do to kids, though . . . I guess if the doors are closed it happens right on the altar, right? Nothing like meat and potatoes sex to turn that Church around?

* * *

Mercurio [Responding to security guard]: I’m a scumbag? What the Catholic Church has done to kids for 35 years? How could you be part of that? You’re culpable. You should be ashamed of yourself. Maybe meat and potatoes sex is what the Church needs. Step up! Be counted! Where’s your God now?

Host: [laughter] Whoa!

* * *

Mercurio: On top of it, the Catholic Church! How could they be moral about sex? Think about that for a minute.

“Meat and potatoes” sex? Just make sure its fish on Friday.

EEOC Vindicates Muslim Employee’s Right to Spook the Living Bejesus out of Airline Passengers with Hijab Headdress

August 29, 2002 | Comments Off

Washington, D.C., August 29, 2002
Special to The Raving Atheist

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission yesterday filed a religious discrimination suit against American Airlines for refusing to hire a Muslim woman, Rania Fneiche, who wanted to wear the terror-inducing Islamic Hijab scarf on the job. According to EEOC spokesman Peter Hanson, the airline failed to make a reasonable accommodation to Fneiche’s right to scare the living bejesus out of already jittery airline passengers by donning the Allah-inspired head covering.

“American passengers have a right to be greeted by the friendly, threatening face of Islam as they board what they then immediately perceive to be the last flight they will ever make,” said Hanson. “And every family that has had one of its teenaged daughters strip-searched in pursuit of a bomb no one could even remotely suspect her of carrying, is entitled to experience the irony of having its luggage spirited away by precisely the sort of person security should have been looking for in the first place.”

Hanson also applauded a recently-announced no-tolerance policy for passenger comments about airline workers in Muslim garb. “Just as there is zero correlation between people who make clumsy, obvious jokes about having bombs and the kind of people who are actually likely to have them, there is absolutely no relationship between the sort of person who would make a crack about a flight attendant in Islamic attire and an actual terrorist,” he noted. “Justice therefore demands that such passengers be immediately escorted off of the airplane to face prosecution and a potential ten-year prison sentence.”

The EEOC later issued a press release intended to quell passenger fears. “It has come to our attention that some passengers inaccurately and discriminatorily associate the Hijab with the Taliban,” it said. “In fact, the traditional dress of the Taliban is the body-covering Burqa. In contrast, the Hijab is worn by women in Saudi Arabia . Only 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers, and Osama bin Laden himself, were citizens of Saudi Arabia.”

In a related development, the EEOC announced that it would not pursue legal action against American Airlines for firing a flight attendant who wore the fruit-laden Carmen Miranda headdress to work. “Although the stewardesses’ comical hat had a cheering effect on passengers and was an improvement over the usual airline food, the employee made no claim that any infidel-hating deity commanded her to wear it,” explained Hanson. “Accordingly, the airline is not required to put up with such nonsense.”

Tur-Ban Ban

August 28, 2002 | Comments Off

Happy Mann (his real name) is not a happy man. Mr. Mann is a Sikh who’s sick that a Canadian helmet law doesn’t exempt turban-wearing children from donning protective headgear while riding bicycles. The authorities aren’t buying his claim that wrapped cloth is as hard as polyurethane, and he’s rebuffed their proposal to ask manufacturers to modify the helmets to fit around the turbans (he claims the new odd-looking helmets would subject the children to taunts, the bullies apparently having already tired of mocking the turbans themselves). So he’ll go to the Alberta human rights commission to preserve the kids’ right to crack their skulls open rather than shed their God-mandated headdress.

Children already have that dubious right in the province of British Columbia , where the bicycle-helmet laws were amended in 1996 to exempt Sikhs. Adults there too may decorate the highways with cranial bone fragments, a Human Rights Tribunal having God-mandated headdress in 1999 that religious freedom outweighs the increased risk of motorcycling without a helmet. British Columbian non-Sikhs, however, have no right to complain that these exemptions are discriminatory, as the BC Supreme Court ruled last year that you have to develop your own hat-related delusion before crying discrimination. Sanity, so far, has prevailed here in America, where at least one court has found that requiring Sikhs to replace turbans with helmets while riding motorcycles doesn’t violate their freedom of religion.

The wisdom of the safety laws themselves, of course, presents a separate question. The government may well go too far sometimes in protecting people from themselves, or impose unreasonable restrictions which have little impact on the risks posed by the activity at issue. These issues are generally beyond the scope of my screed, but The Raving Atheist does occasionally find himself conflicted about what to say when a religious group wants out from some stupid law that nobody should be subjected to in the first place. Let’s assume (contrary to the statistics) that the bicycle helmet law is irrational and doesn’t really prevent any injuries. Freeing Sikhs from its dictates won’t cause any societal harm; why oppose an exemption in such a case, other than out of a jealous, spiteful desire to make all children suffer equally?

Catholic Church, Scientists Reach Accord on Death Penalty

August 27, 2002 | Comments Off

The Vatican, Rome, August 27, 2002
Special to The Raving Atheist

In an historic agreement with an international team of scientists, the Catholic Church has abandoned its opposition to capital punishment in favor of new method of execution. A committee of Cardinals, in consultation with top neurologists and psychologists, have developed a substitute for lethal injection which is not only painless but actually makes death a welcome event. Instead of an injection, the following three passages about the Trinity from Garry Wills’ Why I Am A Catholic — digitized into physicist Stephen Hawkins’ synthesized electronic voice — are piped into the condemned’s ears through headphones:

What if relationship could be neither substance nor accident? What if God the Father were entirely his relationship to the God the Son and God the Spirit? This relationship is a matter of neither of substance nor of accident. If it were God’s substance to be Father, he would be father of himself. If his fatherhood were an accident, like a human father’s, there would have been a time when he was not a father, or he could cease to be a father by losing his son. Neither happens to God (p. 304).

* * *

So the three-into-one-won’t-go problem is not as clear-cut a matter as at first it seems. We are dealing with the conjunction of two different levels of reality

God Squad Review VI

August 26, 2002 | Comments Off

The Squad declares war on The Raving Atheist this week, in response to a mother who’s upset that her bright 15-year old son Sean is “wrestling with the existence of God” and has announced that he is an agnostic. After encouraging her to “be glad that Sean is only an agnostic and not yet an atheist,” the Squad offers its “best proofs for God.” Things get somewhat hurtful at the end of the answer, when the Squad suggests that atheists have “no reason to get out of bed in the morning and no reason to believe that life has an edge over death, hope an edge over despair and love an edge over hate.”

Ouch! I thought it was short people who got no reason to live. Anyway, since this is the first time that the Squad has engaged in something resembling actual theology, I’ll reproduce each “proof” below verbatim, followed by the most standard philosophical and atheistic refutations.

Proof No. 1:
We think God is real, because if there was no God there would be nothing to start the world.

This is the “first cause” argument, one of the so-called cosmological arguments. The usual form of the argument is that everything must have a cause, hence the universe must have a cause, and that cause could only be what is known as God. The argument fails for a number of reasons, including:

1) The conclusion contradicts the premise. God cannot be the “first cause,” because if the premise that EVERYTHING must have a cause is true, then God too must have a cause, and so on, and so on. The reply that God is eternal or uncaused cannot save the argument, since it contradicts the premise that everything must have a cause, and in any event it could be equally argued that the universe is eternal or uncaused.

2) The conclusion that the first cause must be God is specious; the argument does not purport to establish that the first cause is conscious or possesses any of the traditional divine attributes of omnipotence, omniscient and omnibenevolence. Nor does the argument establish that there must be only one cause.

3) Even if God was the cause of the universe, the argument doesn’t prove that God still exists.

Proof No. 2:
If there is no God, there would be no reason to do good.

This is not, strictly speaking, a proof of God, as it may well be that there is no reason to do good. To the extent the Squad is suggesting that belief in God is a necessary prerequisite to doing good things, their conclusion is plainly false, since atheists do good things (and theists do bad things, despite their belief). And there are plenty of reasons to behave (enlightened self-interest, love of others, the legal and societal consequences of bad conduct) other than belief in God. Furthermore, even if it were established that believers were more likely to be moral than non-believers, this would at most demonstrate a practical benefit of god belief, not the truth of god belief.

Second, the Squad’s conclusion that God’s existence is a reason” to do good relies upon the unspoken premises that God rewards good and punishes evil in an afterlife. Father Hartman and Rabbi Gellman are hardly in a position to promote such a theory. The Catholic Church requires a deathbed belief in Jesus, not a lifetime of good act, to qualify for Heaven. And the Jews do not have any consistent or formal doctrine regarding an afterlife; the emphasis is creating Heaven on Earth in this life.

Finally, the Squad may also be relying on any of a number of axiological arguments which hold that goodness and moral values cannot exist without God. However, if something is good merely because God says it is, then torturing babies would be good if God commanded it to be. To argue that such conduct is not good, (or that God would not command it because it is not good), one must appeal to a standard of morality that is independent of god. And if there is such a standard, then god is not essential to morality.

Proof No. 3:
If there is no God, there would be no difference between people and animals.

I think I can tell the difference (in most cases). This, again, is not really a proof, but merely a bald assertion that there is a God and He is responsible for making humans different from animals.

I presume what the Squad means is that without a God, we would have no reason to treat people better than animals. If that’s the case, it’s just a variation of Proof No. 2, above. And in any event, the monastic Jainists have pretty much reached that conclusion despite their belief in God.

Proof No. 4:
If there is no God, there would be no souls and no chance that souls could live on after death.

Again, not a proof of God, but merely a suggestion that belief in a god that provides an afterlife is more pleasant than the alternative. Furthermore, the question of whether the consciousness survives death is quite distinct from whether there is a god. And death is an arbitrary dividing line; the Squad could have as easily argued that without God, there would be no chance of a person living more than five years, or ten years, or a hundred years. I also note that if there is a finite amount of matter in the universe, in the infinity of time it may well cycle through all the possible permutations and create each one of us over and over again, if it hasn’t already (maybe that’s what deja vu is about).

Proof No. 5:
Mostly, If there is no God, there is no reason to get out of bed in the morning and no reason to believe that life has an edge over death, hope an edge over despair and love an edge over hate.

This looks like Proof No. 2 again, but I’ll concede defeat anyway. I’m in bed 24 hours a day, in a state of hopeless suicidal despair, hating everybody.

Book Entitled “Why I Am A Catholic” Fails to Explain Why Author is Catholic

August 25, 2002 | 8 Comments

Chicago, Illinois, August 25, 2002
Special to The Raving Atheist

In a bid at entry into the Guinness Book of World Records, author Garry Wills has written a 390 page book entitled “Why I Am A Catholic” which never actually discusses his reasons for believing in God or Catholic doctrine. Ian McWhirter, Director of Record Authentication at Guinness Publishing, suggested Friday that Wills’ feat could well be certified as a record in the category “Longest Book Which Never Addresses the Very Subject it is Purportedly Devoted To” by early next week. That category, part of the chapter on literary records, also includes entries for “Longest Book Written Without Using the Letter ‘E'” and “Shortest Sentence Using All 26 Letters” (“Jackdaws love my big Sphinx of quartz”).

“One would think that a book setting forth one’s most deeply-held beliefs about the Supreme Being responsible for the universe would necessarily be devoted to exploring the reasons for positing its existence,” said McWhirter. “Although Wills’ book contains references to Bing Crosby, H.G. Well and Martin Scorsese, it never addresses any of the elementary proofs of natural theology; there is not a single word about the ontological, teleological, cosmological arguments or their refutations.” McWhirter also noted the most remarkable feature of the book – nowhere in the nearly 400 page torrent of words can one even find a definition of God or a description of His attributes. Indeed, on page 302 Wills, quoting St. Augustine, declares that he does not have the slightest idea of what he means when he utters the sound formed by combining the letters G-o-d:


Since it is God we are speaking of, you do not understand it. If you could understand it, it would not be God. We speak of God only in inadequate analogies, where nothing that we say is strictly true. Whatever you can describe will not be indescribable. But God, precisely, is indescribable.

Leading literary figures and philosophers acclaimed Wills’ book as a unique achievement. “Books employing anagrams or palindromes may be composed by the relatively simple manipulation of words and letters,” said Harvard University philosophy professor Clarence Witherspoon. “But Wills has constructed a intellectual work of extraordinary length on a subject without discussing a single concept normally associated with the topic,” he said. “In masterpiece of unparalleled scholarship, Wills has managed to say completely nothing about the very matter he sets about not to explain, and while simultaneously proclaiming his passionate and undying devotion to doctrines which have absolutely no meaning to him whatsoever.”

Philosophers of religion were particularly impressed with the book’s lack of a single reference to the writings of Descartes, Hume, Kant, or Spinoza in its non-discussion of God. George H. Smith, author of “Atheism: The Case Against God,” noted that “whereas no atheist could write more than two paragraphs about the God question without borrowing from the seminal works of those philosophical giants, Wills has written nearly two thousand.” Smith added that he was so impressed with Wills’ theological exposition that he would likely convert to Catholicism himself if his brain ever fell out of his head and was flattened by a steamroller.

Stvn Hndrson, author of “Longest Book Written Without Using the Letter ‘E'”, hailed Wills’ accomplishment as the most stunning literary breakthrough ever. “Even I could not avoid using the letter “E” several times in the title of my book, just so that people would have some idea of what the point of it all was,” he said. “But Wills has avoided talking about the point of his book at all, a point which it does not even really have.” Hndrson added that he could not even imagine attempting a similar record in the genre of letter-omitting books. “To do the equivalent of what Wills did, I would not only have to leave out the letter “E” from my book, but the remaining twenty-five letters of the alphabet as well,” he said. “And even then, I doubt I could say as little as Wills did in “Why I Am A Catholic.”

Catholic theologians noted that Wills’ book accomplished the additional feat of not explaining his undefined Catholicism while simultaneously attacking the Catholic Church, the Papacy and everything they stand for, a move Father John Neuhaus of Notre Dame called “breathtaking.” He noted that while Catholicism is by definition those beliefs promulgated and explicated by infallible authority the Church and the Pope, Wills repudiates their every pronouncement. “Wills painstakingly identifies every reason that he might not be a Catholic, and then declares himself to be a Catholic despite those reasons, without ever identifying the beliefs that actually do constitute his faith,” said Neuhaus.

With his book, Wills has beaten the record set by William F. Buckley’s 313 page “Nearer, My God,” which also advocated Catholicism without even a half-hearted attempt to define God or prove his existence. Buckley’s book was marred, however, by a discussion, albeit short and one-sided, regarding the problem of evil.

Sex in the Cathedral (Part II)

August 25, 2002 | Comments Off

Radio shock jocks Opie and Anthony have been fired because one of their producers encouraged a couple to have sex in a cathedral. Note to Cardinal Egan (repeat ten times): When sex in a church results from the negligent supervision of an employee, the supervisor must be fired. When sex in a church results from the negligent supervision of an employee the supervisor must be fired. When sex . . .

Inherit the Wind, Part 5,893

August 23, 2002 | Comments Off

As I noted in an earlier Rave, the Cobb County Georgia School Board assigned its attorney the daunting task of drafting a policy requiring the teaching of creationism alongside evolution, despite unambiguous Supreme Court precedent forbidding school boards from requiring the teaching of creationism alongside evolution. Their counsel has now devised an ingenious scheme to circumvent that legal obstacle: a new policy requiring the teaching of creationism alongside evolution. The ACLU, which filed suit against the board Wednesday to make it remove illegal disclaimers regarding evolution from its science textbooks, has vowed to amend that suit to torpedo the new policy as well.

Look forward to a very quick lawsuit with very steep sanctions against the board.

United We Hate

August 22, 2002 | Comments Off

Kathy Kinsley has an interesting item on the potential benefits of an Islamic reformation similar to the Protestant one — the idea being that if the Muslims splinter into a sufficient number of competing rival sects, they’ll all hate each other so much that they’ll adopt a secular government for the purpose of mutual self-defense.

Eruv Error

August 22, 2002 | 14 Comments

Construction of Britain’s first Eruv began Tuesday. The American landscape is already dotted with these pole-and-fishing-line-structures, which extend the borders of the house in an imaginary way so that Orthodox Jews can carry objects outside on the Sabbath, an activity otherwise prohibited by an imaginary god. The chief beneficiaries of eruvs are young children and the elderly, who would be housebound without the use of strollers, wheelchairs and canes.

So far, two American courts have ruled that a municipality may permit public lands to be used for an eruv without violating the First Amendment’s ban on establishing or promoting religion. Last year, however, a New Jersey federal court ruled that the state is not required to accommodate the structures. That decision is on appeal (the eruv remaining in place until a final decision is made), and arguments were heard in the Third Circuit Court of Appeal last March.

The Raving Atheist naturally opposes any use of public lands to foster delusion. Of course, in the gee-whiz golly gosh who knows world of American jurisprudence, the reasonableness of the belief is irrelevant, since every idea is equal and the religious ones are favored. But apart from the insanity of the belief, there are still plenty of valid legal reasons that the state should neither be required nor permitted to get into the eruv business.

First, the construction of an eruv always necessarily involves the endorsement of, and entanglement with, religion. Under Jewish law, an eruv must be built on public, as opposed to private land; it’s not enough just to reach an agreement with the phone or cable company for the use of their poles. Additionally, the state must agree to a contract to accept rent for the eruv (usually $1.00 a year) or the structure will be ineffective. Accordingly, eruv-building requires the state to become an active participant in, and endorser of, a Jewish law game.

Second, the eruv itself is a religious symbol, or, at the very least, has religious significance. It may not be as obtrusive as a cr

I’ll Drink to That

August 22, 2002 | Comments Off

The Fellbrigg Inn in Sheffield, England is being turned into a church — the first time a pub has been so converted since the 19th century.

I guess they’ll still serve alcohol at Communion; the main difference will be that the incoherent rambling will begin before the drinking starts.

Lewdness in the Cathedral

August 21, 2002 | Comments Off

After Dennis Heiner splashed white paint over the “Blessed Virgin” exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, the sentencing judge declared the act to be one “not of hate, but of love” and let him off with a $250 fine. It is doubtful that the couple who this week engaged in the first act of love ever at St. Patrick’s Cathedral — that is, the first consensual act of love between two adults — will be so lucky. Technically the charges are obscenity in the third degree and public lewdness, but the uncharged crime of “sacrilege” is what will weigh most heavily against them at the time of sentencing. There are still some offenses against Catholic sensibilities which can result in more than a mere transfer to another unsuspecting parish.

The Raving Atheist does not in any way condone the St. Patrick’s sex show. Like any private property owner, the Church is entitled to regulate the conduct on its premises and be free from unwanted intrusions. But the law should not enhance the penalties simply because some group views the crime as an affront to its imagined deity. The St. Patrick’s exhibitionists should receive a sentence somewhere in the neighborhood of the 75 hours of community service that Pee Wee Herman got for masturbating in a porno theater. Or perhaps less — after all, unlike Pee Wee, the St. Pat’s couple did not disrupt a show with any socially redeeming value.

The Catholic League is naturally agitating to yank the license of the radio station that promoted the stunt, and the FCC has vowed to “fast-track” the matter. Again, the outrage has nothing to do with the sexual content of the broadcast — you’ll find more lewdness in the average beer commercial — but everything to do with the perceived “blasphemy.” Of course, if that term had any meaning it would also apply to every utterance of the pedophile-friendly Cardinal Egan, but don’t expect the FCC to take action any time soon against the station that broadcasts his pompous ramblings.

Public Service Announcement

August 20, 2002 | Comments Off

Child abductions, rapes and murders may now be prevented by chanting “in the name of Jesus Christ, I bind Satan and all his sex-perverted and lust demons off these children.” The full incantation (from a letter to the editor of the Alabama Dothan Eagle) may be found at The Raven.

Que Sera, Sera

August 20, 2002 | Comments Off

The Washington Post addressed the “complicated theological issue” of the efficacy of so-called “flare prayers” — prayers made to avert death in an emergency situation. The unchallenged premise of the piece, of course, is that there is a god (and just one) and that it listens to prayers. The only unsettled issue, apparently, is what to say to Him and what sort of response to expect. The consensus among the clergy interviewed for the article is that 1) God answers some prayers, 2) God denies some prayers, 3) we can’t know which choice God will make in a given situation, but 4) it’s always for the greater good and part of some divine plan. Accordingly, if you do pray, they recommend that you simply ask God to do whatever it is His will to do. Don’t try to “dictate” or “manipulate” the outcome in your favor (which, accordingly to one theologian, would be “materialistic”).

Accepting that formulation of things, The Raving Atheist has some difficulty seeing precisely what the difference would be between “praying” and “not praying” in a crisis. I suspect the advantage of praying is that you get to flatter God by expressing your faith in his divine wisdom, and to impress Him with your selfless indifference to life or death. In other words, it’s a chance to manipulate the outcome in your favor. Not that He wouldn’t see right through that.

A word of caution: sometimes God works through humans in an emergency situation, rather than personally performing an on-the-scene miracle. In such cases, your entreaties to the rescue personnel are no different than prayers made directly to God. So whether you’re talking to the firemen, the EMTs, the burn unit personnel or the micro-surgery re-attachment team, do not try to manipulate the outcome by expressing a preference for treatment or non-treatment or, for that matter, living or dying.

Finally, I note that one of the sources for the Post article suggested that God didn’t respond to prayers during the WTC attack. He apparently missed the following item:

God Responds to Prayers of WTC Attack Victim’s Relatives

August 20, 2002 | Comments Off

New York, New York, September 12, 2001
Special to The Raving Atheist

God today answered the prayers of thousands of relatives that their missing loved ones would be found alive among the ruins of the World Trade Center towers. His answer, however, was an emphatic “No.”

“Not even one,” God said. “In fact,” He added, “not only will you never see them alive again, but the few of you who even get to see the corpses of your kin will have little to gaze upon except badly charred, unrecognizable chunks of flesh and assorted body parts.”

God added that it was unrealistic to expect any human body to survive a thousand foot drop, followed by the impact of tons of steel and concrete and accompanied by 1000 degree temperatures. “You may have noticed that relatively little remains even of the towers themselves, the bulk of their mass having been reduced to a fine, pulverized dust,” He noted. “So, too, your relatives have been vaporized. You are probably breathing in particles of them at this very moment.”

God did offer some glimpses into the last moments of some of the victims. “I understand that many of your loved ones were unable to reach you by cell phone to express their final, wrenching, tearful goodbyes,” He said. “That being the case, let me describe the fairly typical case of Cantor Fitzgerald bond trader David Johnson. David’s legs were crushed by six tons of concrete as jagged shards of flying glass lacerated his face. Flaming jet fuel soon consumed his entire body, the intense heat eventually causing his eyes to pop forcefully out of his head. And he remained alive, in unspeakable pain, for a few moments even as his eyes were bouncing down West Street.”

God thanked the relatives, however, for bringing their desires to His attention. “Until I heard you prayers, I had absolutely no clue that you wanted your loved ones spared,” He said. “It was completely and totally necessary for you to communicate that information to me verbally . . . I would have had no other way of knowing, really.

God then added, “Yes, of course I’m being sarcastic. Being omniscient, I knew well in advance not only what you’d be saying, but how you would react when I ignored your requests. And don’t you think, that if I wanted your relatives to live, I would have simply just snatched the planes out of the air before they hit? Why would I let them demolish the towers, and then wait for you to pray for me to pick them out of the rubble?”

Welcome Norah

August 19, 2002 | Comments Off

Norah Vincent has joined the blogging community. The Raving Atheist looks forward to more baffling and incoherent god talk from her to feed his musings.

God Squad Review V

August 19, 2002 | Comments Off

The Squad this week explains how to achieve peace in this Middle East, in response to a reader who is heartbroken over all the violence and wants to know what she can do. Their answer: “You can pray.” The suggested prayer is long, though, a full four paragraphs, and you have to address God as “Oh God” or “Oh Lord” each time you make a recommendation to him.

One specific piece of advice the Squad makes to God is to “[h]elp the Israeli people and the Palestinian people maintain their courage during this time of terror and help them to find each other, not kill each other.” Since it’s an emergency situation, I think the part about helping them “find” each other can be dispensed with for the time being. So just remind God not to help them kill each other. Although they might continue killing each other by themselves, without God actually helping them do so things might calm down a bit.

I’m not sure the Squad’s advice is all that original. I noticed that the Pope called for prayers for peace in the Middle East earlier this year, and in 2001, and in 2000. . .

Atheists for Satan

August 18, 2002 | Comments Off

Another annoyingly smug, patronizing and clueless article about atheism in today’s New York Times, in connection with the debate over whether to exclude certain Satanist groups from November’s Godless Americans March on Washington . The ignorance begins with the headline, “A Turf Battle Between Non-Believers,” which, of course, begs the very question in dispute

English Town Liberated by Network of Tangled String

August 17, 2002 | Comments Off

Golders Green, England, August 17, 2002
Special to The Raving Atheist

In a move guaranteed to provide greater freedom to children, the elderly and the disabled, a north London suburb will erect 84 poles, each up to 30 feet in height, and connect them with fishing line, according to The New York Times. “For twelve years, it was impossible to use strollers, canes or wheelchairs on Saturday,” said Golders Green resident Abraham Steinberg. “Once the town is enmeshed in an incomprehensibly complex web of string and sticks, the problem will be mercifully remedied.

The town board decided to approve the “E.R.U.V.”

Inherit the Wind, Part 5,892

August 16, 2002 | Comments Off

I pity the attorney for the Cobb County Georgia School Board. Yesterday, the board unanimously voted to ask him or her to craft a policy permitting the teaching of scientific creationism alongside evolution. I don’t know how clever their lawyer is, but whatever policy is drafted will have overcome an unbroken line of Supreme Court and federal court precedent which 1) forbids a state from requiring the teaching of creationism alongside evolution; 2) permits a school district to prohibit the teaching of creationism; 3) forbids a state from banning the teaching of evolution; 4) holds that the teaching of evolution does not infringe upon the rights of creationist parents and their children; and 4) prohibits a school board from requiring teachers to read a disclaimer before teaching the theory of evolution.

In March of this year, a school board in Joes, Colorado voted to introduce creationism into its curriculum, but reversed itself less than a month later upon receiving a letter threatening litigation from Americans United for Separation of Church and State. I don’t know if the Cobb board will be so easily intimidated; earlier this year, it voted to insert disclaimers regarding evolution in its biology textbooks. Also, compared with the impoverished Joes school district, which has only 100 students, Cobb has over 100,000. And a very fancy website to boot.

No More Jesus for Jews (cont’d)

August 15, 2002 | Comments Off

In yesterday’s Rave I reviewed the Catholic Church’s new non-proselytization policy towards the Jews. This move puts Catholics at odds with evangelical Protestants, most notably the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC passed a resolution in 1996 calling for renewed efforts at spreading the gospel to Jews, and in 1999 prayed during the High Holy Holidays for the Jews to convert. As noted in the Boston Globe, the SBC has, in response to the Catholic Church’s latest declaration, reaffirmed its policy of evangelizing Jews.

The SBC position has been harshly condemned by the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL issued a press release calling the 1996 resolution “an insult to the Jewish people” and suggested that it demonstrated an “absence of respect by Christianity for Judaism’s legitimacy” equivalent to the intolerance that led to the Holocaust. A 1999 press release denounced the prayer sessions as “offensive and disrespectful.” The ADL voiced similar sentiments in praising the new Catholic policy, noting that it indicated “once and for all that Jews have an authentic relationship with God and an authentic mission in the world, and therefore there is no reason for, or logic in, trying to evangelize Jews.”

At the risk of seriously soiling myself, The Raving Atheist is going to come down on the side of the SBC on this one. What’s so insulting and disrespectful about running a membership drive based upon your organization’s sincerely held beliefs? As long as the SBC isn’t engaging in kidnapping or brainwashing, it’s really none of the ADL’s business whether some Jews come to accept Jesus. People change their political and philosophical beliefs all the time in response to outside persuasion; why should it be any different with religious beliefs?

As it turns out, the ADL’s position has nothing to do with “respect,” but rather with the promotion of its own distinctive religious doctrine. The ADL issued a report and a press release last year attacking the Jews for Jesus for engaging in “subterfuge and deception” in connection with an ad campaign which featured Holocaust survivors who had joined the sect. The ADL’s accusation had nothing to do with the authenticity of the survivors, who included Marion Parkhurst, who lost a child while at Bergen-Belsen, where she also encountered Dr. Mengele. Rather, the “subterfuge and deception” was this: the ads “misleadingly claim[ed] that accepting Jesus as the Messiah is compatible with Jewish theology.” In other words, the Jews for Jesus used Holocaust survivors who held false theological beliefs. So much for religious tolerance.

Apparently recognizing the weakness of that argument, the ADL later in the report attempted a pathetic smear with the assertion that the “Jews for Jesus missionary activities have involved the group in litigation and controversy.” But the two examples hardly reflect badly on JFJ: in the first, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York agreed to stop interfering with the JFJ’s plans to rent a Catskills hotel and paid JFJ $15,000 in expenses; in the second, an outdoor ad company cancelled the JFJ’s bus shelter ad campaign due to vandalism and complaints. Had any other religious group been so victimized, the ADL would have deemed it a hate crime.

No More Jesus for Jews

August 14, 2002 | Comments Off

An ecumenical coalition representing American Catholics and Jews has condemned the targeting of Jews for conversion to Christianity. In a document released Monday — Reflections on Covenant and Mission — the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops joined with the National Council of Synagogues in declaring that such conversions, practiced for most of the Roman Catholic Church’s 2,000 year history, are no longer acceptable.

To The Raving Atheist, of course, this all sounds a bit like the Society of People Who Believe They’re Napoleon agreeing not to convert members of the Society of People Who Believe They’re Julius Caesar. I really don’t have much of a stake in the outcome of such affairs, since whichever way they turn out some form of delusional baby-talk is guaranteed to prevail. But a few comments, nonetheless.

First, the joint declaration isn’t as ecumenical as it sounds. The Catholic hands-off policy is not based upon a new-found respect for all religious beliefs. Rather, the policy is limited to the Jews, on the theological ground that they have made a separate covenant with God that does not require salvation through Jesus. Because in the Bible that covenant “is quite specific to Judaism,” all other religions are still fair game. And notably, the “Jewish Reflections” contained in the declaration express an “abhorrence of intermarriage”

God Squad Review IV

August 13, 2002 | Comments Off

The Squad cruelly baits The Raving Atheist this week, answering the first question — “Do you think the rescue of those nine miners in Pennsylvania was a miracle?” — with an “Absolutely!” The Squad gushes that “[t]hose men and their rescuers in Pennsylvania are not only our heroes, they are also our spiritual teachers in the ways of seeing miracles just by looking up,” pointing out that one of the miners said that “God was the 10th man buried down there with us.”

Ignoring the Squad’s inane characterization of passive, helpless (and now Disney-enriched) victims as “heroes” because it does not really raise any theological question, I will move on to the even more inane characterization of the rescue as a “miracle.” The Squad’s only reasons for calling the rescue a miracle appear to be that 1) some of the miners thought it was and 2) it was a good thing. However, a miracle is generally defined as an extraordinary event that is not explainable by the laws of nature and must therefore have been brought about by divine intervention in the scheme of things. As I recall, the rescue of the Quecreek nine had a perfectly naturalistic explanation — the use of drills and other common digging devices. It was not brought about by sudden and unexplainable parting of the earth. It may be true that the ground did shake a bit, but that was just Geraldo Rivera jumping up and down, and Geraldo does not qualify as a god except in his own mind.

I suppose the Squad would, at this point, accuse me of just “looking down at the mud.” As they explain, “[t]here’s a Jewish legend that some of the people who walked through the Red Sea never saw the miracle because they never looked up — all they saw was mud.” The problem with this analogy, of course, is that if one did look up during the Quecreek rescue one would not see anything so remarkable and inexplicable as the parting of a sea, but, again, merely drills and other equipment. Of course, by telling us to “look up,” the Squad wants us to focus on the fact that the rescue was a positive, happy event — but not every positive, happy event is a miracle. Rather, there has to be some miraculous aspect to it.

Further confusing the issue, the Squad suggests that the reason many people don’t recognize miracles like the rescue is that “[t]he muck we look at and read about day after day has obscured our spiritual vision.” Now, in the Squad’s original Red Sea analogy, the “muck” was an unpleasant aspect of the conditions surrounding the miracle — the mud of the Sea’s bed. Is the Squad suggesting, then, that people don’t consider the rescue of the miners a miracle because they were trapped in damp, uncomfortable conditions? Of course not — no one has ever proposed that. What the Squad has latched on to is the fact that in so many other similar situations, we do not have miracles, but unhappy endings. This is devastating evidence against the sort of God the Squad proposes. So do they explain this evidence away? Of course not!

In fact, the Squad abandons its support of miracles in the very next letter, from a man who asks if it’s wrong to pray for the death of his cancer-ridden mother. If any situation called for a true, anti-naturalistic miracle, it would be one involving terminal cancer. So does the Squad suggest that the son pray for his mother to be cured? Of course not! They know that advanced cancer generally will not reverse its course naturally, so that there cannot be a happy ending to call a “miracle.” So instead they chide us for being a “a death-denying society” and insist that “[p]raying for a good death is as spiritually noble as praying for a good life.” I guess we’ll know what to do the next time a mine collapses.

Simple Faith

August 12, 2002 | Comments Off

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Guatemalan village which is the birthplace of the conjoined twins who were separated last week is crediting marathon prayer sessions for the success of the operation. The Raving Atheist is not surprised that an ignorant, impoverished, superstitious people who have no running water or electricity, much less doctors, would reach such a conclusion, but is nevertheless irritated at how the mainstream press presents such stories: always as a glowing tribute to the “simple faith” of a noble people who, for all we know, may well be right.

Atheists for Syncretism

August 9, 2002 | Comments Off

In an earlier Rave, I expressed my distaste for syncretism, the namby-pamby, ecumenical practice which proclaims that “we all worship the same God.” As I have pointed out, ceaselessly, there is no God, and, even if there were, as a matter of logic, only one of the countless gods that are currently worshipped could be him. However, if what Pope Leo VIII said in 1885 is true, I may reconsider:

To hold, therefore, that there is no difference in matters of religion between forms that are unlike each other, and even contrary to each other, most clearly leads in the end to the rejection of all religion in both theory and practice. And this is the same thing as atheism, however it may differ from it in name. Men who really believe in the existence of God must, in order to be consistent with themselves and to avoid absurd conclusions, understand that differing modes of divine worship involving dissimilarity and conflict even on most important points cannot all be equally probable, equally good, and equally acceptable to God.

Kosher Pork III

August 8, 2002 | Comments Off

Sherry F. Colb, a Rutgers law professor raised as an Orthodox Jew, has written an excellent analysis of why the Second Circuit Court of Appeals was correct in striking down New York’s kosher laws. The Orthodox Union, of course, simply issued an unreasoned whine upon hearing of the decision.

Nobody seems to have learned much from the whole Kosher controversy. California last month enacted the Halal Food Bill making it a crime to falsely advertise that food has been prepared to Allah’s taste. New Jersey, Minnesota, and Illinois already have such legislation, and New York, Texas, and Virginia are supposedly considering similar bills. I can’t imagine New York having Halal laws but not Kosher laws, but it could well happen. One of the prime reasons that the New New York kosher statutes were struck down was that since there was no agreement on the meaning of “kosher,” it was unfair to enforce only the orthodox definition. But if there is no similar dispute over what “Halal” means, the law could well withstand scrutiny. Until The Raving Atheist starts marketing Muslim delicacies, of course. More on this later.

Don’t Blame God

August 7, 2002 | Comments Off

Norah Vincent has written a “ya gotta have faith” piece so theologically clueless that it leaves even scripture-spouting fundamentalists who agree with it scratching their heads. Jason Steffens of the Christian Conservative blog Antioch Road opines that it “ultimately makes a good point, but says some poorly reasoned things in the process” and questions why Vincent had to say “a bunch of nonsense in order to get to that point.” The Raving Atheist agrees that the piece is a poor reasoned bunch of nonsense, but cannot for the life of him figure out exactly what her point is.

Like most amateur theologians, Vincent never bothers to define the God she is discussing, never lists any of its attributes, never supplies any reasons or evidence for supposing that it exists, and never explains what it would mean to have “faith” in such an undefined and unproven entity. Most of her argument is devoted, instead, to attacking the “cheap and bribable faith” of Americans who conceive of God as a beneficent being who helps to resuce miners, and yet who question His existence when little girls like Samantha Runnion are raped and murdered. Now, I agree that that view is self-contradictory, insofar as it declares that God both exists and doesn’t exist. But the theist who argues that God exists despite the bad stuff has only three choices: 1) to argue that the bad is either actually disguised good, or at least justified (because it either results in some later, greater good or is necessary for free will) 2) to argue that God is limited in some way that makes Him incapable of knowing of or stopping all evil, or 3) to argue that God is partly evil or indifferent.

Vincent’s answer? Who knows. She concludes that “[o]ur God should be constant, the God both of tears and laughter, not the God of good fortune at the racetrack,” but never explains away the “tears.” And although she warns that if God is “praised only on the auspicious days, then we have lost the faith . . . that makes [America] worth defending,” she again neglects to explain why we should maintain this faith on the inauspicious days.

It would be bad enough if Vincent were just encouraging faith despite all the unexplained evil. But in a number of places she argues that we should have faith even though God isn’t responsible for the good stuff. And she’s not just saying that we shouldn’t praise God for trivial, selfish things like gambling victories. Despite her advocacy of a “God of laughter,” she actually doesn’t think He’s behind anything good. For example, addressing whether God was there when the miners were rescued, she declares “”[i]t suits us well to think so, but it shouldn’t.” In fact, crediting God with the miner rescue is just as bad as praising Him for giving you the winning lotto numbers . . . that makes Him “just a euphemism for getting what we want, a capricious projection of our selfish wants, a good day for a rescue crew.” To push home the point, immediately following her exhortation to have the kind of faith that makes the nation worth defending, she reminds us that “[h]appy endings have nothing to do with it.”

To summarize: we should have faith in a being, otherwise undefined, that doesn’t do good things and either ignores or causes evil. And why is it important to have such faith, if “[h]appy endings have nothing to do with it?” Her answer makes as much sense as the rest of her rambling double-talk: it matters “[b]ecause we are in a religious war with militant Islam . . . and God is in the middle of it.”

Kosher Pork (cont’d)

August 6, 2002 | 1 Comment

In Sunday’s Rave, I forecast defeat for New York State’s appellate efforts to employ Orthodox Kosher law as the sole measure of whether food has God’s blessing. However, even if I am correct, the state’s role in discerning Yahweh’s culinary tastes will by no means end. Indeed, it may well expand in a number of noxious and expensive ways.

The problem is this. Although the Second Circuit struck down the Kosher laws on the ground that they unnecessarily entangled the state in religious determinations, it nevertheless opined that New York has a legitimate “secular purpose” in protecting Kosher purchasers from consumer fraud. Accordingly, the state will doubtlessly adopt the same outrageous scheme employed by New Jersey after that state’s Kosher laws were invalidated in 1992. It will compel merchants to register their various definitions of “kosher” with the State and display them on-site in a poster for consumer review. This plan is ostensibly “neutral” because it doesn’t require the state to resolve what God really means by “kosher.” All the state has to do is make a factual comparison between what’s in the poster and what’s in the food.

So what’s to rave about? Well, let’s go to New Jersey. That state employs a “Bureau Chief of Kosher Enforcement,” one Mr. Francis Xavier O’Donohue. “O’Donohue,” you ask? Yes, O’Donohue. As I said, all that is being made by the state is factual comparison with a poster, not a religious evaluation, so any state employee is qualified to enforce the law.

So why am I still raving? Come on, did you really believe that a Mr. O’Donohue was enforcing New Jersey’s Kosher laws? Of COURSE not. The state’s kosher cop is actually Rabbi Mendy Dombroff, supported by a staff of inspectors and clerical workers. The Rabbi makes all kosher merchants fill out an “extensive questionnaire about what makes the products or establishment kosher,” including a “long checklist that describes just what they mean when they present themselves as kosher.” And as soon as the Rabbi detects the presence of a new kosher establishment in the state, he sends them a “package of literature” and puts them on notice that they must file.

Now remember, the state is taking no position whatsoever as to God’s wishes in this area. So what’s with this “extensive questionnaire”? I couldn’t find New Jersey’s rules anywhere online, but I assume they use a questionnaire similar to that of Maryland (whose original kosher laws suffered a similar fate). This is what Maryland requires in its disclosure statements:

(1) The disclosure statement shall state in the affirmative or negative whether the person:
(a) Operates under rabbinical or other kosher supervision;
(b) Sells or serves meat, dairy, and pareve food described as kosher, as well as food not described as kosher;
(c) Describes meat as kosher only if it is slaughtered under rabbinical or other kosher supervision, is tagged as kosher at the conslusion of the slaughter, and after slaughter is not mixed with meat not described as kosher;
(d) Describes the kosher meat sold as “Glatt kosher” or “Glatt”;
(e) Sells or serves seafood only if it has or had fins and removable scales;
(f) Keeps separate meat described as kosher, dairy described as kosher, pareve food described as kosher, and food not described as kosher;
(g) Uses separate utensils for meat described as kosher, dairy described as kosher, pareve food described as kosher, and food not described as kosher; and
(h) Uses separate working areas for meat described as kosher, dairy described as kosher, pareve food described as kosher, and food not described as kosher.
(2) The disclosure statement shall provide additional information concerning:
(a) The deveining, salting, and other practices about the meat described as kosher;
(b) The handling of food described as kosher and the handling of food not described as kosher; and
(c) What is meant by “Glatt kosher” or “Glatt”, if the person describes the kosher meat sold as “Glatt kosher” or “Glatt”.
D. Disclosure Statement for Persons Who Represent That They Sell or Serve Only Kosher Meat, Including Poultry, and Dairy and Pareve Food.
(1) The disclosure statement shall state in the affirmative or negative whether the person:
(a) Operates under rabbinical or other kosher supervision;
(b) Sells or serves only meat, dairy, and pareve food described as kosher;
(c) Describes meat as kosher only if it is slaughtered under rabbinical or other kosher supervision, is tagged as kosher at the conclusion of the slaughter, and after slaughter is not mixed with meat not described as kosher;
(d) Describes the kosher meat sold as “Glatt kosher” or “Glatt”;
(e) Sells or serves seafood only if it has or had fins and removable scales;
(f) Keeps separate meat, dairy, and pareve food;
(g) Uses separate utensils for meat, dairy, and pareve food; and
(h) Uses separate working areas for meat, dairy, and pareve food.
(2) The disclosure statement shall provide additional information concerning:
(a) The deveining, salting, and other practices about the meat; and
(b) What is meant by “Glatt kosher” or “Glatt”, if the person describes the kosher meat sold as “Glatt kosher” or “Glatt”.

E. Disclosure Statement for Persons Who Represent That They Sell or Serve Only Kosher Meat, Including Poultry, and Pareve Food.
(1) The disclosure statement shall state in the affirmative or negative whether the person:
(a) Operates under rabbinical or other kosher supervision;
(b) Sells or serves only meat and pareve food described as kosher;
(c) Describes meat as kosher only if it is slaughtered under rabbinical or other kosher supervision, is tagged as kosher at the conclusion of the slaughter, and after slaughter is not mixed with meat not described as kosher;
(d) Describes the kosher meat sold as “Glatt kosher” or “Glatt”;
(e) Sells or serves seafood only if it has or had fins and removable scales;
(f) Keeps separate meat and pareve food;
(g) Uses separate utensils for meat and pareve food; and
(h) Uses separate working areas for meat and pareve food.
(2) The disclosure statement shall provide additional information concerning:
(a) The deveining, salting, and other practices about the meat; and
(b) What is meant by “Glatt kosher” or “Glatt”, if the person describes the kosher meat sold as “Glatt kosher” or “Glatt”.

F. Disclosure Statement for Persons Who Represent That They Sell or Serve Only Kosher Dairy and Pareve Food. The disclosure statement shall state in the affirmative or negative whether the person:
(1) Operates under rabbinical or other kosher supervision;
(2) Sells or serves only dairy and pareve food described as kosher;
(3) Sells or serves seafood only if it has or had fins and removable scales;
(4) Keeps separate dairy and pareve food;
(5) Uses separate utensils for dairy and pareve food; and
(6) Uses separate working areas for dairy and pareve food.

G. Disclosure Statement for Persons Who Represent That They Sell or Serve Food as Kosher for Passover.
(1) The disclosure statement shall state in the affirmative or negative whether the person:
(a) Makes the Passover preparations under rabbinical or other kosher supervision;
(b) Keeps separate food described as kosher for Passover and food not described as kosher for Passover;
(c) Uses separate utensils for Passover items; and
(d) Uses separate working areas for Passover food.

(2) The disclosure statement shall provide additional information about the content of the food that is described as kosher for Passover.

H. Disclosure by Persons Who Represent They Sell or Serve Only Nonkosher Food, Except Kosher Hot Dogs—Alternative to Form in

God Squad Review III

August 5, 2002 | Comments Off

The Squad serves up juicier theological meat than usual this week, answering a letter from a Roman Catholic soldier (employed by Operation Enduring Freedom) who wants to know, despite the Fifth (or Jewish Sixth) commandment, if it’s okay to kill. Apparently this question never arose during the lad’s decades of religious training, nor occurred to him until, after joining the Army, he was forced to sign a document agreeing to defend America against all its enemies. He did have the foresight, however, to ask the Squad rather than the military chaplains, who, he detected, were “biased in favor of the military.”

The Squad quickly assures their readers than the matter poses a linguistic rather than a moral issue. There is no actual conflict between God’s word and the Army’s mission. Despite His best efforts at clarity on this point, they explain, God was misquoted. Although God said “lo tirtzach” -

Kosher Pork

August 4, 2002 | Comments Off

In an earlier Rave, I bemoaned the use of my tax dollars to accommodate the religious dietary demands of incarcerated criminals. Being in a cheerful mood, I allowed that the state could (until such time I was declared Atheist Philosopher King) use God’s recipes, as long as every God got His due. My charity at the time was inspired by the knowledge that, just a couple of months earlier, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals had overturned New York’s odious Kosher laws. Specifically, the court ruled that by mandating the imposition of Orthodox Kosher standards upon a Conservative Jewish Kosher deli, the laws “(1) [took] sides in a religious matter, effectively discriminating in favor of the Orthodox Hebrew view of dietary requirements; (2) require[d] the State to take an official position on religious doctrine; and (3) create[d] an impermissible fusion of governmental and religious functions by delegating civic authority to individuals apparently chosen according to religious criteria.” Furthermore, the court found the mere existence of the Kosher Law Enforcement Division’s advisory board to violate the First Amendment.

According to Newsday, the victory was a costly one to the deli that challenged the state-enforced Orthodox cookbook. Profits are down 30% and they’ve been receiving hate mail. Plus, the state is continuing its frivolous litigation so legal fees will snowball.

Assuming it doesn’t first go bankrupt, I suspect the deli will prevail in the Supreme Court. According to the Newsday article, the New York State Attorney General’s office seems intent on pursuing the losing strategy that guaranteed its previous two legal defeats -

Pre-Primitivism

August 3, 2002 | Comments Off

Religion should re-invent itself as “postsecularism” and thus reap all the benefits that incomprehensibility has brought to postmodernism, says Peter Steinfels in today’s New York Times. “[T]he eccentricities of prose and obscurities of jargon that are tolerated, even welcomed, among the post[modernists] suggest a different strategy for achieving both scholarly standing and intellectual leeway,” he suggests. Moreover, even though there is a debate over whether the postmodernists are talking nonsense, this has not “detracted from the theorists’ standing” or posed “a disadvantage in gaining intellectual cachet or establishing academic legitimacy.”

From whom, exactly, does Mr. Steinfels think the postmodernists took their cue? Has Mr. Steinfels ever actually tried to read a religious treatise? Go to the religion section of any library and pick out a book at random and see how clearly it answers these fundamental questions: How is God defined? Is He omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolence, and if so, how are those terms defined? Is it logically possible for such a being to exist? What is your basis for declaring that such a being exists? Can you derive any moral precepts from the existence of your God, and if, so, what are they?

But don’t waste too much time. What you will encounter is no different in degree from what which spews from the the Postmodern Generator, an internet computer program which randomly assembles words into essays mimicking a postmodern style. Compare the following two excepts, the first from the Pope’s Dominus Iesus and the second produced by the Generator:

-1-

The connection is clear between the salvific mystery of the Incarnate Word and that of the Spirit, who actualizes the salvific efficacy of the Son made man in the lives of all people, called by God to a single goal, both those who historically preceded the Word made man, and those who live after his coming in history: the Spirit of the Father, bestowed abundantly by the Son, is the animator of all.

-2-

If one examines the post-textual paradigm of consensus, one is faced with a choice: either reject structural discourse or conclude that truth is capable of significant form. Derrida’s analysis of post-deconstructivist capitalist theory states that expression comes from communication. Therefore, the subject is interpolated into a capitalist paradigm of narrative that includes sexuality as a paradox.

A.J. Ayer earlier last century demonstrated that all religious language is meaningless. And little can be added to David Hume’s recommendation, over two hundred years ago, regarding the preferred treatment of religious texts:

If we take in our hand any volume-of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance-let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

When The Atheists Come Marching In

August 2, 2002 | Comments Off

Gene Expression hit the mark with its criticism of Richard V. Last’s piece in The Weekly Standard belittling the atheists’ upcoming march on Washington. However, upon a closer reading of Last’s article, I realized that he wasn’t really talking about atheists at all, or, for that matter, anyone in particular.

Last first declares that there are “two basic types of atheist”, the first being the kind that believes one must “think freely” and “live free;” that nobody has all the answers and that one must take time to get as close as possible to the truth. I know very few people who object to those general principles, but there is nothing about them that is particularly atheistic. The second type of atheist that Last identifies is the kind who believes in God but hates Him. I’m not sure what dictionary Last uses, but if you’re the type who believes in God, you’re a theist, not an atheist.

Last then opines that it appears strange that “these two schools of atheism” — e.g., the freedom-lovers and theists — should join together in political activism because “you’d think they wouldn’t be able to stand each other.” The reason? “On the one side you have agnostics, who don’t believe that faith in a God is possible, and on the other side you have atheists, who have faith that there is no God.” It’s hard to tell whether Last is now saying that the freedom-lovers are agnostics and the theists are atheists (or vice versa), or whether he’s now proclaiming atheists and agnostics to be the “two basic types of atheist.” However, if whatever he’s saying means whatever it does, it will be a very confusing march indeed.

Priest’s Flawed Analogies Dismay Teachers

August 1, 2002 | 1 Comment

New Buffalo, Michigan, August 1, 2002
Special to The Raving Atheist

English teachers across the nation reacted with dismay to several analogies made yesterday by the Rev. Thomas De Vita, a Michigan Jesuit priest defrocked for molesting a 16-year-old boy. According to The New York Times, De Vita “likened his situation to that of a spouse who realizes the blessings of his marriage only after he is found to have a terminal illness.”

Stella Peters, a high school teacher in Fresno, California, said she would have given De Vita an “F” for that effort. “The first rule of analogy is that the concepts you are comparing must have some reasonable resemblance to each other in reality,” she said. “Now, this guy wasn’t bounced from the church because he was dying

Priest Announces Majority Rule in Prayer Healing

August 1, 2002 | Comments Off

New Buffalo, Michigan, August 1, 2002
Special to The Raving Atheist

As his last official act before being defrocked for molesting a 16-year-old boy, a Michigan priest announced that the probability of God healing a person is directly proportionate to the number of people praying for that person’s recovery. According to The New York Times, the Rev. Thomas De Vita made the pronouncement in connection with his hospital visit to parishioner Mary Jachim, who suffered a heart attack on Tuesday night. De Vita told Ms. Jachim that “[y]ou have a lot of people praying for you, so don’t be surprised if you feel good in a matter of days, if not hours.”

God has confirmed the policy, which He says was instituted to cope with the unusually high volume of prayer He has received since 9/11. “‘First come, first served’ isn’t going to cut it anymore,” He said. Democratic principles, and simple justice, dictate that prayer elections be held to determine who lives and who dies.” After all, he pointed out, “as the Wizard of Oz told the Tin Man, a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.”

God later offered a clarification of the new policy. “Actually, it has nothing to do with how much other people actually love you — it’s solely based upon the number of prayers.” God issued the correction after it was pointed out that Ms. Jachim, a reclusive old spinster, was barely known, much less loved, by anybody, and that all the prayers for her were prompted by a notice in the Church bulletin. “I am hardly in a position to evaluate the quality and sincerity of each prayer,” He said. “Just be happy that I even bother to count them.” God did concede, however, that he was not completely satisfied with the policy, noting that “after all, if it was formulated for some purpose other than sheer expediency, I sure would not have used some ass-raping pedophile priest to make the announcement.”

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