The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

2002 October

Irrelevant?

October 31, 2002 | Comments Off

Yesterday’s Rave touched upon a widely-shared attitude regarding politics and religion: that a candidate’s religion is a private, personal matter immune from inquiry. Journalists may probe every political, social or corporate membership the candidate has ever held, but his church affiliation is out of bounds, completely irrelevant to judging his fitness for office. It was a “canard” to suggest that JFK might be beholden to the Pope, and to this day any attempt to tie a Catholic office-seeker to the Vatican is condemned as anti-Catholic bigotry.

To be sure, a candidate might put aside his religious convictions in favor of his oath of office. But why should that be the presumption? Elected officials are routinely required to divest themselves of any corporate interest that might pose even an appearance of conflict of interest — the argument that they might place the public ahead of their finances is not given a second thought. And that’s only about money. A candidate’s religion reflects, presumably, his most sacred, deeply-held convictions about morality. Isn’t that exactly what the public is entitled to know?

The Pope recently decreed that no Catholic judge or lawyer should participate in a divorce proceeding. United States Supreme Court Justice Scalia similarly opined that a Catholic judge should resign rather than uphold a law that conflicts with mandatory Catholic teachings. Are we to regard these pronouncements from two of the world’s most powerful clerical and civil authorities as irrelevant to our consideration of a judicial candidate or appointee? It has become a tradition among candidates over past couple of decades to shed membership in any whites-only or men-only golf or other social club. Why shouldn’t they likewise be compelled to sever their ties with the mainstream misogynistic, homophobic orthodox Christian, Jewish and Islamic religious organizations or suffer the consequences?

Just yesterday, in a story no one will pay much attention to, a New York Catholic judge let an embezzling priest off the hook with probation, heralding the convict’s “great gift from God” and noting that “[t]he church really needs good priests.” A women who had been victimized by the same priest — she was fired after she exposed his theft and alleges that he sexually molested her — remarked after sentencing that “[t]he judge is a Catholic, and Catholics are supposed to show compassion for one another.” And a 1985 confidential report on priest abuse, prepared with the help of Cardinal Law at the urging of the nation’s top bishops, openly conceded the Church’s “dependence in the past on Roman Catholic judges and attorneys protecting the Diocese and clerics.” Irrelevant?

A Shared Blindness

October 30, 2002 | Comments Off

Those of you who collect icky religious legal position papers should be thrilled by the release this month of A Shared Vision: Religious Liberty in the 21st Century by a coalition of Baptist, Jewish and interfaith organizations (available here in pdf format). The Raving Atheist is endlessly amused by documents of this genre, created by teams of vicious, brass-knuckled lawyers who are paid to make their clients’ loathsome political agendas more palatable by dressing them up in gentle, pastoral tones.

Thus, Vision lulls us for several pages with a vague, obsequious tribute to “America’s embrace of religious liberty . . . robust liberty” which was part of “a bold experiment . . . a lively experiment.” Not an “experiment” in the scientific sense, mind you . . . Vision does not attribute any medical cures or useful inventions to what America has “embraced.” Rather, what the experiment has produced is “the most religiously pluralistic nation in
history . . .” a “religiously diverse culture,” i.e., more religion. Is that a good thing? Well, Vision acknowledges that “we are beset by religious and ethnic conflict abroad” and “exploding pluralism challenges us at home.”

Exploding pluralism. Boom! So why should we value this particular sort of explosive diversity? On that point Vision shifts the debate a bit: “we must reaffirm our dedication to providing . . . a haven for the cause of conscience.” Ah, conscience. But don’t the non-religious have consciences, too? Vision gives lip service to “freedom for persons of all faiths or no faith,” but, of course, the argument very quickly leads elsewhere.

Beginning with its definition of “neutrality.” Vision sees neutrality as something “by which religion is accommodated,” not conscience in general. In this connection, its authors are particularly upset by the Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in Employment Division v. Smith, which “tragically” stripped away religious liberty so that it “was not only [our] first [liberty], it was barely a liberty.” Vision doesn’t quite have the courage to describe the facts of Smith, which held that the State of Oregon could deny unemployment benefits to drug counselors who were terminated for violating a generally applicable criminal law prohibiting the use of the hallucinogenic peyote, notwithstanding their claim that the Native American Church required them to inhale. Conversely, Vision applauds Congress’ passage of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which allows religious organizations, and religious organizations alone, to violate zoning and land-use regulations, and compels prisons to accommodate the religious needs (but no other needs) of inmates.

In short, for the Vision folks “conscience” is limited to delusional religious whims, with special reference to religiously-inspired drug use, land-grabs and meals for felons. They also complain that the courts aren’t sufficiently hectoring private employers into accommodating the religious beliefs of their workers. Since they don’t give any examples of the sort of on-the-job practices that are being unfairly squelched, I can’t really comment except to say I have my suspicions about what there are, and that they would make you laugh. Naturally, Vision is silent about whether private religious employers should be required to make accommodations for the sex, sexual orientation or race of their employees, but it’s pretty clear that “conscience” wouldn’t permit that sort of intrusion.

On the bright side, Vision does oppose a single-denomination theocracy and the teaching of creationism in the public schools (I suppose the latter is “con science” rather than “conscience”). However, it suggests that the schools “offer an opportunity . . . to “promote respect for differing . . . religions.” That’s neutrality? Why not just explain exactly what each religion teaches, what its adherents actually do, and let the students decide whether “respect” is warranted?

But the silliest part of is its discussion of religion and politics. Here, having no legal barriers to complain about, Vision promotes the absurd notion that “religious voices” are somehow excluded from the “public square,” and urges us to engage in self-censorship so that the loonies can, immune from criticism, “express their prophetic witness by influencing moral values and public policy.” We must not “regard religious arguments as na

Fate of Universe Hangs on Mary’s Sex Life

October 29, 2002 | 4 Comments

Jerusalem, Israel, October 29, 2002
Special to The Raving Atheist

The discovery of a tomb purporting to contain the remains of a brother of Jesus Christ has cast doubt upon the doctrine of the “perpetual virginity” of Mary. The find poses a challenge to millennia of Catholic teaching, which holds that Mary bore Jesus through an immaculate conception and remained chaste throughout her marriage to Joseph. Top Vatican officials warn that the universe may be imperiled if it turns out, as the evidence suggests, that Mary was dirty filthy whore who had sex with her husband.

“The Blessed Mother is glorified as the very essence of purity and innocence,” said Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. “It will be unfortunate if, after investigation, it is confirmed that she was, like all other women, just a cock-hungry cunting tramp,” he explained. “God may well have to destroy the universe and start over.”

Other theologians concurred that existence would be meaningless if Jesus had a sibling conceived through sexual intercourse. “Such an abomination would pollute the moral fiber of all creation,” said Professor Thomas Fitzgerald of the Yale Divinity School. “Without Mary as a role model, redemption and salvation is impossible for the world’s man-humping, sex-crazed trollops and their diseased and corrupted progeny.”

God Squad Review XV

October 28, 2002 | Comments Off

The Squad this week introduces the concept of “spiritual correctness” in its response to Melanie, who opposes her son’s choice to dress up as a devil for Halloween. Although the boy has assured her that “it’s not real,” Melanie is still “uncomfortable” with the idea of him trick-or-treating in red suit.

The Squad sides with Mother on this one. They disagree with those who argue that “a devil suit is no more likely to seduce [a] child into the ways of Satanism than Superman duds are likely to convince him to leap off tall buildings,” although the stats supporting the contrary premise were apparently unavailable at press time. They also believe that choosing the costume can be used as a “teachable moment” to explain “who Satan is and what he represents.”

Now, the Squad attempted to explain that very point just last week, concluding (for all I could tell) that Satan is an angelic critic that God keeps around to help humans tap into their inner strength. They’ve changed their tune somewhat this week, however, since it’s implied that Satan is as bad as Saddam Hussein — another character they do not think should be “glorified” through a costume. Instead, sonny should dress up as a firefighter, policeman, doctor, nurse, clown, baseball player, cowboy or ghost. They even suggest, quite seriously, that Melanie’s kid could don a yarmulke and a clerical collar to impersonate the God Squad (but didn’t they already suggest “clown”?).

If a child today truly believes that he is “glorifying” the character portrayed by his Halloween disguise, he is suffering from a mental illness that is going to take more than one “teachable moment” to cure. And isn’t the whole point of Halloween to dress up as something nasty like a witch, goblin or devil? Sure, it might be a problem for someone who can’t distinguish make-believe from reality, but Melanie’s son has expressed his understanding that “it’s not real.” It’s the Squad that’s suffering from biblically-induced delusions, objecting to a bit of simple fun on the ground that the fellow with the horns, tail and pitchfork really exists.

I suspect that most readers of the Squad’s column this week came off with little more than the impression that they were being a bit too priggish. They’re lucky that Melanie didn’t have a daughter who wanted to dress up as a witch — another biblically-endorsed being. Because they’d forced to make the exact same arguments they did against dressing up as Satan, an exercise which would make them seem, well, insane. Plus, the letters they’d get from the Wiccans . . .

Corel Beware

October 28, 2002 | Comments Off

Spell-checking my last post, I noticed that the first replacement suggested for the word “Wiccans” is “wackiness.” Perhaps it should be added as a synonym in the thesaurus, as well.

Eruv Error II

October 25, 2002 | Comments Off

As I noted in an earlier Rave, last year a New Jersey federal court ruled that the Town of Tenafly was not required to permit Orthodox Jews to erect an Eruv — a stick and string contraption that God needs to see before he lets people take wheelchairs and strollers out of the house — on public utility poles. Yesterday, an appeals court
reversed certain parts of that ruling, a move which Eruv supporters are heralding as a triumph for religious freedom. Legally speaking, however, the decision is pretty limited, granting no new favors to the delusionally devout.

The core of the court’s decision was a factual finding that the Town discriminatorily enforced one of its own anti-sign-and-advertisement ordinances. Although Tenafly took action against the Eruv, it ignored other violations such as lost animal posters, house number signs, church directional signs, orange ribbons (relating to a high school regionalization dispute), and permitted the display of holiday wreaths, ribbons and seasonal lights. The ruling did not grant the Orthodox any special rights, but simply said that if Tenafly lets anyone use their poles, they have to let everyone use them. And even as to that issue the controversy is not over, since the decision was not a binding one on the merits, but simply a tentative finding for the purposes of determining whether the Jews were entitled to a preliminary injunction. All the court held was that the Jews had shown enough evidence of discrimination to allow them to put the Eruv up during the pendency of the litigation, but Tenafly will be allowed to challenge that proof at trial.

Notably, the court did not rule that Tenafly must affirmatively accommodate a demand for an Eruv. If, ultimately, Tenafly decides to strictly enforce its anti-sign laws, it will not have to make a special exception for God-mandated displays. The court also rejected the argument that the Town’s conduct violated the Jews’ free speech rights (the Eruv does not “express” any idea) or that the Town violated the Fair Housing Act (prohibiting the Eruv wouldn’t impermissibly stop Jews from moving to Tenafly, even if the lack of an Eruv might discourage them).

The court was permitted, unfortunately, to sidestep one issue: whether the Town could be forced to issue the proclamation, required by Jewish law, renting the space to the Jews for their Eruv. Even assuming that the Town overlooked lost pet posters, I suspect it would have rejected the demand of any owner for a utility pole lease to put up a picture of Fido. However, the Jews snuck behind the Town Board’s back and got a proclamation from the Bergen County Executive, who was not named in the suit, and no party elected to challenge the constitutionality of that act.

God Shoots, Spares Sniper Victim

October 24, 2002 | Comments Off

Columbia, South Carolina, October 24, 2002
Special to The Raving Atheist

The first sniper victim shot in Virginia credits God’s intervention with saving her life, according to her sister, Debbie Gainey. The victim, whose name has not been released, revealed that she turned aside a moment before she was wounded by a bullet in a Fredericksburg parking lot, thus averting a shot directly in the middle of her back. “Normally, I stand completely motionless in parking lots for hours,” she explained. “However, that particular day I was miraculously in motion, having decided, inexplicably, to avoid getting run over by all the shopping traffic and walk to my own car.” The victim added that she believes that God must have a purpose for her and that she is so fucking special and that God must hate all of those worthless sniper victims who he let die.

God, who announced that he was the sniper last week, both confirmed and disputed parts of the victim’s speculation. “I did indeed spare Tammy Jo’s life,” he admitted. “But while I did have a purpose for keeping her alive — the world needs semi-retarded dishwashers — I also had a purpose in shooting her,” he said. “And that purpose was to inflict painful internal injuries.”

God also confirmed that he made sure that most of his sniper victims died because they were useless, purposeless piles of shit. “But Tammy has overrated her own worth,” he noted. “After all, there are billions of people that I deliberately missed or did not shoot at at all.” God added that Tammy will likely reconsider her purposefulness in three months after falling face first into a wheat thresher.

God also took issue with Tammy’s account of the shooting. “I did not miss the middle of her back because she suddenly turned, nor did I make her turn so that the bullet would hit her side,” he said. “I am everywhere, and do not need a particular angle from which to hit a target,” God explained. “So Tammy was shot exactly where she needed to be shot.”

The Blame Game

October 23, 2002 | Comments Off

New York Post Catholic apologist Maggie Gallagher is in a snit over the characterization of Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh as a “Christian terrorist” (not in the Post’s online version but probably available here tomorrow). She claims that he was, in fact, an “avowed agnostic,” a Star Trek Junkie who read Penthouse, Hustler and Ayn Rand (you know the type). Yes, McVeigh asked for a Catholic priest just before his execution, but that “surprised everyone who knew him.” Gallagher sees the “Christian terrorist” label as an irresponsible slur by a liberal media that has a “psychic need to equate Christian Fundamentalists . . . with radical Islamic terrorists who commit mass murder.” She traces the origin of this libel to a September 2001 San Francisco Chronicle column which opined that “[t]he hijackers are no more typical Muslims than Timothy McVeigh is a typical Christian.”

I’m not sure why Gallagher took such offense at that last quote, the point of which was that even if McVeigh was a Christian, he was an aberration. But the idea that any Christian could perpetrate such an atrocity is incomprehensible to her. Only Islam and avowed agnosticism, apparently, are capable of inspiring such rage. Now, I do agree with Gallagher that in McVeigh’s case, the link between his religious beliefs (if any) and the act were somewhere between tenuous and non-existent; he never claimed that Jesus made him do it and he wasn’t going for the Christian afterlife equivalent of 72 virgins. But, certainly, the Branch Davidians whom McVeigh sought to avenge were Christian, Koresh himself purporting to be some kind of Jesus. So, too, the pedophile priests and the Church hierarchy that protected them — Maggie, is the Pope Catholic?

Not that I really have a dog in this fight. I’m not an agnostic, avowed or otherwise; I consider them to be pansy-assed fence-sitters whose position is less philosophically justified that either atheism or theism (oops, there goes half my readership). But it’s ridiculous to imply, as I think Gallagher was, that agnosticism had any more to do with McVeigh’s behavior than his alleged Christianity. Agnosticism doesn’t really motivate people in the way that theism or atheism sometimes do. Being an avowed agnostic is like being an avowed undecided.

So, who to blame for McVeigh? We’ve ruled out agnosticism and Christianity, which leaves Star Trek, porno and Ayn Rand. Now, I recall that there is either a Star Trek episode, or a novel by Bob Guccione, Larry Flynt or Ayn Rand, glorifying a man who blew up a publicly-financed building, but I’m not sure which. Any ideas, Arthur?

Jesus Says . . .

October 23, 2002 | 1 Comment

A couple of weeks ago Jesus was telling folks that gas was free. This week some of that gas might have been used by Kentucky porn shop owner Michael Braithwaite, who burned up $10,000 worth of smut at Jesus’ specific request. Braithwaite says that he had the revelation that he was involved in a sinful business after he was injured in a car accident, and plans to open up a Christian bookstore. So instead of selling magazines depicting naked women in bubble baths, he’s going to sell books depicting rape, incest, cannibalism, genocide . . .

God Squad XIV

October 22, 2002 | Comments Off

The Squad this week fields a question from Marcie, who wants to know 1) why, if God is all-powerful, he doesn’t destroy Satan, and 2) why did Satan turn to evil when he was once an angel?

The Squad responds to only the first part of the question, and their answer, as usual, is a model of double-talk. First, they assure us that “[a]ll of Satan’s power is from God” and that “God could destroy Satan but [chose] not to do so.” However, it turns out, Satan is not really evil, but rather “more of an accuser angel than some evil, fire-breathing devil.” Satan “is not another god with powers equal to God . . . [he is] just somebody rooting for us to fail.”

So Satan is nothing more than a critic. Here, I presumed that the Squad would declare that it was unnecessary for God to destroy Satan, who is just a noisy but harmless pest. Instead, though, they opine that God keeps him around so that we can “personify the evil inclinations we all have and find the courage to overcome them.”

What “evil inclinations”? The inclinations to accuse each other and root for each other to fail? I’ve seen people do much worse than that — who are they imitating? And if we’re incapable of doing evil unless there is a Satan we can imitate, aren’t we also incapable of finding courage unless there’s some creature with that quality that we can mimic? How do we know not to mimic, instead, Satan’s tendency not to find courage? And are we nothing more than puppets imitating good and bad characters?

Death

October 21, 2002 | Comments Off

No posting today due to death in the family. Yes, of course the death has made me rethink everything and now I believe in God.

I will return tomorrow with God Squad Review XIV.

Philosophy for Dummies

October 18, 2002 | 1 Comment

You can judge a book by its cover. Philosophy for Dummies is the most idiotic, and evil, mass circulation paperback The Raving Atheist has encountered. Masquerading as an introductory text on philosophy, the book is really little more than a Catholic religious tract. Not surprising, given that its author, Tom Morris, holds a Ph.D in Religious Studies from Yale and taught at Notre Dame for fifteen years. Morris also edited the dreadful God and the Philosophers, a collection of essays by devout philosophy professors who were asked to reconcile their faith with the truth-demands of philosophy (most instead just reminisce fondly about their childhoods and college days).

As I mentioned in an earlier Rave, Dummies begins its discussion of God by recounting how the Almighty answered Morris’ young son’s prayers for the return of a beach ball. I suppose that the “proof” could have stopped there, but since Morris has yet to provide a definition of God (a step curiously viewed as optional by many religionists), he apparently feels duty-bound to continue. So, we learn, God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipresent, incorporeal, aseitic, eternal, ineffable, simplicity, perfect and “it could go on” (being “ineffable,” God’s nature can never fully be put into words, you know). Morris assures us that “despite the many differences to be found in religious beliefs throughout the world, there is an amazing amount of agreement on the fundamental, and pivotal, idea of God.”

Yes, especially on the “omnibenevolent” part — we all agree that God’s goodness lies somewhere being protecting ants and slamming airplanes into skyscrapers. And Morris leaves out (as do most theologians) the traits that, implicitly or explicitly, actually play the most prominent role in his conception of the divine nature: God’s desire to be worshipped, glorified and praised; God’s need to listen to prayer to discover what our problems are; God’s practice of answering prayers (sometimes); God’s power as bestower or denier of an afterlife (especially his attribute of denying entry to heaven to anyone who doesn’t believe in Him).

How we know there is a being with any of these attributes is, of course, never explained. Morris does offer four of the standard so-called proofs of God — the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, the argument from design and the argument from religious experience — but none of those long-discredited ruses even purports to establish the existence of a being with the ten or so characteristics earlier listed. The discussion of the design argument is particularly disgraceful, containing not one reference to David Hume or his dispositive arguments on the issue.

Worse yet, Dummies does not address any of the many basic logical and analytical arguments against God based upon contradictions in the definitions of the deity’s alleged attributes (see my Basic Assumptions). Morris might have as well argued that because there are squares and circles, there must be a square circle.

And then comes the bad part. After glossing over the problem of evil (it’s a “mystery”), Morris spends an entire chapter on the laughable Pascal’s Wager, concluding it by asking to the reader to choose between two “package deals.” Here is, verbatim, the unbiased “choice” we are offered:

The main theistic package:

An objective moral order
Free will
A soul
Life after death
God
Meaning
Bliss

The main naturalistic [atheistic] package:

No objective moral order
No free will
No soul
No life after death
No God
No meaning
No hope

How this false dichotomy flows from anything he has said before is what is truly a “mystery,” but no matter. As Morris explains, “[t]he meaning of life as a whole is tied to the existence of God.” So, what will it be, Ladies and Gentlemen, an ice cream cone or a rusty nail through the eye? You choose. And if you feel doubts start to creep in, just remember: according to the “About the Author” section, Morris is “the only thinker ever to engage in early morning philosophy with Regis and Kathie Lee.”

Shroud Dating Proves Jesus Was “Oz” Scarecrow

October 17, 2002 | Comments Off

Wichita, Kansas, October 17, 2002
Special to The Raving Atheist

Carbon dating of the Shroud of Turin now shows that Jesus was propped up in a Kansas cornfield in 1900 rather than crucified in Jerusalem in 32 A.D., say scientists affiliated with the authentication project. Furthermore, a microscopic examination of impressions near the top of the Shroud reveals that they were made by straw rather than hair — confirming the widely-held theory that Christ was, in reality, the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz.

Pope John Paul II angrily denounced the findings as “impoceros.” The Pontiff also cautioned that any Christians who believe the new claims regarding Jesus’ identity will be thrashed from top to bottomus, knotted up in cellophant and be thrown off the Yellow Brick Road to Salvation. Reporters at the press conference were further warned to stop looking at a little man behind the curtain who was pulling levers synchronized with the Pope’s lip movements.

Scientists did credit Jesus with some words of eternal wisdom, however. “The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles does indeed equal the square root of the remaining side,” noted Gordon Haverstick, Professor of Thinkology at M.I.T. And local property records show that the Kansas farm where Christ was strung up was foreclosed upon by international Zionist conspiracy banking interests, demonstrating that the Jews were, in fact, responsible for Jesus’ death.

Muslims Circumvent Islamic Law Interest Ban

October 16, 2002 | 3 Comments

London, England, October 16, 2002
Special to The Raving Atheist

In an effort to evade the Islamic Sharia law ban on the receipt or payment of interest, British Muslims have devised a financial scheme so complex that it cannot even be unraveled by the infinite intelligence of Allah, reports the Guardian. The plan was devised to meet the needs of Muslim home buyers, who have experienced difficulty finding banks willing to extend long-term, interest-free mortgages.

Robert C. Merton, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, described the interest-avoiding scheme as “utterly mind-boggling,” and stated that his limited intelligence could only grasp the barest conceptual framework of the plan. “It appears, though, that through some incomprehensible mathematical wizardry, they have invented a method of charging a higher initial purchase price in lieu of interest,” he explained. As an example, Merton hypothesized that a Muslim buyer might purchase a $360,000 home for $396,000 and make monthly interest-free installment payments of $1,100 for 30 years — exactly the amount he would pay if he took out a 10% mortgage on the lower, original asking price.

“But no one could look at that $1,100 check and tell you whether any portion of it represented interest or not,” he said. “Even Almighty God could not see through that ruse.” Merton speculated that whoever formulated the scheme must have had access to a $100,000,000 Cray Super-Cooled Abacus.

Upon learning of the development, American banks immediately announced plans to tap into the obviously super-intelligent Islamic consumer financial market. “We are pleased to unveil our new Sharia-compliant Super Select Platinum Interest Free “Mattress” Savings Account,” said Chase Manhattan Bank spokeswoman Barbara Harris. “Additionally, our Muslim friends may open a 0% certificate of deposit on a wide variety of terms, ranging from three months to ten years,” she said. “And even if they chose the longer term, they can rest assured that the exact amount deposited will be waiting for them at the expiration date.”

mattresssavings.jpg

Bucking the trend, the Ford Motor Company and various national department stores have announced that they have no intention of changing their financing plans. “We are already offering zero percent financing through 2004 to the super-intelligent American consumer,” said Ford spokesman Brad Peters. As an accommodation to Muslim car buyers, however, Peters noted that Ford was considering a plan to stone any unchaperoned woman who appears in their sales rooms.

It’s the Children (Really)

October 15, 2002 | 3 Comments

The holy grail of every slippery slope moral argument is a dead baby

God Squad Review XIII

October 14, 2002 | Comments Off

Last week the Squad offered cold comfort to a grieving widow, telling her, among other things, that she didn’t deserve her husband in the first place. This week Joy (a Catholic) seeks consolation from the Squad, having lost to a miscarriage a baby she had been trying to conceive for three years. Now, it goes without saying that Joy fully deserved this tragedy, but all she wants to know from the Squad is whether her baby will go to heaven. Surely, they will grant her that much?

Unfortunately, the best they can do is somewhere between “no” and “maybe.” Joy has apparently forgotten about the importance of sprinkled water, and the Squad is quick to remind her that under the early, infallible teachings of the Church “when a baby died without being baptized, it could not get into heaven.” However, they note, later infallible teachings speak of a “limbus infantium” for unbaptized infants, “a place near heaven with no pain but not within the gates of paradise.” And the modern infallible Catechism offers a hair more hope: although “[a]s regards children who died without Baptism, the church can only entrust them to the mercy of God,” God’s “great mercy” and “Jesus’ tenderness toward children” do “allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism” (Catechism, 1261).

Depressing as the Squad’s answer is, I’m afraid that a bit of sugar-coating is still going on here. When Jesus was talking of his love for children in Mark 10:14, it wasn’t in the context of baptism. When he did speak of baptism, he was rather clear: in John 3:5 he states that “[e]xcept a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” and in Mark 16:16, he declares that [h]e that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Thus, as noted in section 1257 of the Catechism, “[t]he Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation.”

Children are no exception. They are nasty, filthy, sinful creatures. The fact that they haven’t had a chance to show their true nature doesn’t give them a free pass: “[b]orn with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God” (Catechism 1250). Thus, “parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth” (Catechism 1250). And don’t forget that in this particular case, we are dealing with a miscarried fetus. Baptism is only available, as set forth in the above-quoted Catechism “after birth”; the unborn are not even eligible for salvation.

Even so, I think the Squad has overlooked the upside of this sad situation. If Joy herself makes it to heaven, does she really want to spend her time caring for an eternal fetus?

Let’s Get it Straight

October 11, 2002 | Comments Off

Congress on Tuesday passed another bill reaffirming its support for the “Under God” language in the Pledge of Allegiance. Among the few (it passed 401 to 5) who voted against the measure was Barney Frank, the openly gay Congressman from Massachusetts. Frank’s opposition illustrates precisely why the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was legally wrong in ruling to strike the god reference. It also shows why the bill was necessary and, unfortunately, why it does not go far enough.

Because there is a god, America is a heterosexual nation. That is the law of the land. Under the Supreme Court’s decision in Bowers v Hardwick, a state may criminalize homosexual conduct because, as Justice Burger stated “[c]ondemnation of those practices is firmly rooted in Judeo-Christian moral and ethical standards.” Indeed, under Leviticus 20:13, homosexuality is an “abomination.” The great legal scholar Blackstone codified this concept into law, noting that homosexuality is an “infamous crime against nature,” an offense of “deeper malignity” than rape, a heinous act “the very mention of which is a disgrace to human nature,” and “a crime not fit to be named.” In short, as we can learn for the name of a popular website, “GodHatesFags.”

Thus, the God we pray to when we recite the Pledge is, as a legal matter, a fag-hater. Homos like Frank who seek to remove God from the Pledge are simply trying to escape from the divinely-ordained and legally sanctioned moral order. But Bowers is still good law, so they won’t evade God’s will in Heaven or on Earth.

Nor should they escape it in the classroom. The ceremonial deism in the Pledge needs to be augmented with some ceremonial straightness. Its language needs to incorporate the governing legal standard so to make explicit implications of our belief in God. Since no kid can pronounce “indivisible” anyway, I propose we substitute “one nation, under God, heterosexual, with liberty and justice for all.”

Let’s Get it Straight

October 11, 2002 | Comments Off

Congress on Tuesday passed another bill reaffirming its support for the “Under God” language in the Pledge of Allegiance. Among the few (it passed 401 to 5) who voted against the measure was Barney Frank, the openly gay Congressman from Massachusetts. Frank’s opposition illustrates precisely why the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was legally wrong in ruling to strike the god reference. It also shows why the bill was necessary and, unfortunately, why it does not go far enough.

Because there is a god, America is a heterosexual nation. That is the law of the land. Under the Supreme Court’s decision in Bowers v Hardwick, a state may criminalize homosexual conduct because, as Justice Burger stated “[c]ondemnation of those practices is firmly rooted in Judeo-Christian moral and ethical standards.” Indeed, under Leviticus 20:13, homosexuality is an “abomination.” The great legal scholar Blackstone codified this concept into law, noting that homosexuality is an “infamous crime against nature,” an offense of “deeper malignity” than rape, a heinous act “the very mention of which is a disgrace to human nature,” and “a crime not fit to be named.” In short, as we can learn for the name of a popular website, “GodHatesFags.”

Thus, the God we pray to when we recite the Pledge is, as a legal matter, a fag-hater. Homos like Frank who seek to remove God from the Pledge are simply trying to escape from the divinely-ordained and legally sanctioned moral order. But Bowers is still good law, so they won’t evade God’s will in Heaven or on Earth.

Nor should they escape it in the classroom. The ceremonial deism in the Pledge needs to be augmented with some ceremonial straightness. Its language needs to incorporate the governing legal standard so to make explicit implications of our belief in God. Since no kid can pronounce “indivisible” anyway, I propose we substitute “one nation, under God, heterosexual, with liberty and justice for all.”

Miss Cleo Denounces Sniper God for Tarot Malpractice

October 10, 2002 | Comments Off

Sarasota, Florida, October 10, 2002
Special to The Raving Atheist

Television Tarot psychic Miss Cleo yesterday denounced God for his misuse of Tarot cards. God, who is on a multi-state sniper-killing rampage, left the Death Card at the site of his most recent murder — even though that card symbolizes change and transition rather than death.

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“He is giving professional Tarot readers a bad name,” said Miss Cleo, an actress whose real name is Youree Cleomili Harris. “The Death Card helps those who have been Unlucky in Love, or who have Family Troubles or some other vaguely-defined difficulty,” she said. “This is basic knowledge that any person properly trained to portray a Tarot telephone psychic would know.”

Miss Cleo called for legislation which would prohibit psycho serial killers pretending to be God from giving Tarot readings without a license. “As an actress pretending to be a Tarot psychic, I could not play a non-existent God without the proper divinity school diploma,” she noted. “Fundamental fairness dictates that someone posing as a member of a make-believe profession to which they do not actually belong, cannot pose as something that somebody else is not without the appropriate official-looking, printed, bogus certificate.”

Miss Cleo also issued a special warning to people with Financial Worries to avoid the sniper God. “He will leave the Fool Card on top of your shallow grave, causing your survivors Tribulation, Woe, and Travail,” she cautioned. “Instead, call me within the next half hour and I will end all of your Money Concerns for $5.99 a minute, with one of the first five minutes that it takes us to take down your credit card and other personal information absolutely free.”

Battle of the Network Theologians

October 9, 2002 | Comments Off

In last Friday’s Rave, I noted that NBC sportscaster Bob Costas condemns the notion that God would trivialize himself by meddling with the outcome of sporting events. The policy is apparently different at CBS, where David Letterman interviewed fly fishing nun Carol Anne Corley (the subject of yesterday’s Rave) without challenging her theory that God blesses her worms and rearranges the weather for her outings.

NBC, however, may be coming around to CBS’ view of things. Costas’ boss, NBC Sports President Ken Schanzer, has endorsed a book, “Philosophy for Dummies,” which would make even the most ardent Jock for Jesus blush. In it, author Tom Morris, Ph.D (a long time Catholic professor of philosophy at Notre Dame) opens his discussion of the existence of God with a story about how the Almighty answered his four year-old son’s prayer for the return of a beach ball that had floated out to sea. Some boaters found it. Morris relates what transpired when he relayed the story of this “miracle” to his colleagues:


I got back to the philosophy department and spun my tale for everyone who was sitting around in the mail room. Placing the ball down on the floor in front of me, I told the whole story. It had all the elements a philosopher would love: Childlike faith, worldly skepticism, prayer as an empirical test, apparently miraculous intervention, and the evidential confirmation of a world view.

One of my colleagues broke the silence that ensued and commented, “It would have been a lot better if the ball had floated back to you three feet above the water.” I said, “Yeah, but that’s not what I asked for.”

Another professor shook his head and said, with a weariness bordering on disgust, “While the cancer wards and hospitals of the world are full of suffering and dying people, you get your beach ball back. Somewhere in the world, people were being murdered at that very moment, and yet you got your beach ball back.” Everyone turned and looked at me. And then at the ball.

“Yes.”

Schanzer’s admonition to “read it and grow wise” is prominently featured on both the front and back covers of the book. So, to Bob Costas, who says “[i]t makes no sense that a God who, for all human understanding, can appear indifferent to major pain and suffering on a large scale or the illness of a child, would intercede to help get a first down,” I say:

“Yes.”

Nun Sees God’s Work in Desperate,

October 8, 2002 | Comments Off

Fort Smith, Arkansas, October 8, 2002
Special to The Raving Atheist (via a link from Kathy Kinsley)

What’s black and white and red all over?

Not just a newspaper. There’s also Sister Carol Anne Corley — her habit splattered with fish blood as she tears a barbed steel hook through the roof of the mouth of a spasming, suffocating speckled sea trout and pulls it out through the top of its head.

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For the 58-year-old nun, fly fishing is a spiritual experience which teaches her to appreciate God’s gifts. “Until I saw my first catfish nearly pump its heart out through its gills in a futile attempt to flop back into the water, the true beauty of nature eluded me,” she explained. “But now I know that it lies in the sight of a fish with a jaggedly-severed jaw suffering a lingering brain-death while thrashing about in a puddle of its own blood.”

Sister Corley uses her heavenly connections to ensure success on her frequent outings. “Of course, I bless the flies and pray for good weather,” she said. “But most importantly, I beseech God to keep the fishes’ brains tiny enough to be fooled by the plastic bait, but big enough to experience the pain that keeps them in desperate convulsions as I pull them inside-out from the throat.”

God Squad Review XII

October 7, 2002 | Comments Off

The Squad this week adds insult (and a great deal of confusion) to the injury of a young widow who lost her husband last month in an auto accident. Nancy is “furious that God would let this happen” and feels “like the world is just rolling on and I am being left behind.”

With the sort of compassion you would expect from The Raving Atheist, the Squad opens by telling Nancy that “[t]he word is rolling on, and you are being left behind.” But then, quite unlike me, they advise her to seek “a more balanced view of God.” Why? Because “it is true that the same God who gave you a love you did not deserve also has given you a pain you did not deserve.”

Now, Nancy, I know you are grieving, and that it might be hard to read the Squad’s answer through all those tears. But I think it’s important to dry them and re-read it very carefully, several times over. Stop pitying yourself, because God gave you a love YOU DID NOT DESERVE. Nancy, YOU DIDN’T DESERVE him, Nancy. Although the Squad has never met you, they do know one thing: you are a lowly, worthless, sinful being who DID NOT DESERVE the love she had. It was a gift, a freebie, you whining, worthless cunt.

And that is why, Nancy, that God “has given you a pain you did not deserve.” Yes, God GAVE you that pain. He MADE you suffer. Even though you DID NOT DESERVE that pain. And please overlook the fact that it would make a lot more sense, and, in fact, it would ONLY make sense, if you DID deserve the pain.

Now that you are sufficiently disoriented, Nancy, read the rest of the Squad’s answer. “But the God we love is crying with you now. The God we love did not cause the auto accident that took your husband away.”

Everything clear now, Nancy? If not, let me summarize: 1) God gave you a love you did not deserve, 2) killed him in an accident to give you pain you did not deserve, 3) is crying about killing him in that accident, and 4) did NOT cause that accident.

One last thing, Nancy: “[T]he God we love is waiting to dry your tears.” So go to him, Nancy. Trust the Squad on this one. Go. A little closer, a little closer . . . keep going . . . He’s waiting with the tissues . . . closer, closer . . . WHACK!!! Sorry, Nancy, you didn’t deserve that. Yes you did. And God didn’t do it. Yes He did. No he didn’t. Yes he did. No he didn’t. Yes he did . . .

The God of the Jocks

October 4, 2002 | Comments Off

Salon runs an annoyingly typical piece on “jock theology,” ridiculing those athletes who pray on the field and praise God for their victories. It accuses the players of having “a kindergartner’s mentality about religion” and of “treating God as a good-luck charm.” Sportscaster Bob Costas criticizes the jocks’ “simplistic and self-serving view of what God is and does,” noting that “[i]t makes no sense that a God who, for all human understanding, can appear indifferent to major pain and suffering on a large scale or the illness of a child, would intercede to help get a first down.” And Robert Benne, director of the Roanoke College Center for Religion and Society, points out how inconsistent it is for the players to credit God for a touchdown or a win, but not for a block or a loss. The author concludes that these public displays be banned “in the name of metaphysical neutrality” and “in the quest to stamp out spiritual fakery.”

You might think that The Raving Atheist would be pleased by this sort of mockery, but I am not. Articles of this nature always leave me in a state somewhere between irritation and rage. Of course the jocks are deluded idiots, but Salon is just promoting religion of a different sort. Instead of offering the simplistic, kindergarten-ish God of the Jocks, it offers the simplistic, kindergarten-ish and incoherent God of the Philosophers. There’s nothing “metaphysically neutral” about this view; it’s just another form of “spiritual fakery” masquerading as something more sophisticated.

What’s most frustrating about the piece is that it presents all the atheistic arguments against God as if they were somehow proofs of Him. Indeed, Mr. Costas, “it makes no sense” that a God indifferent to great suffering and dying children would intercede in a football game, but that indifference is an argument against any god at all: it “makes no sense” to call such a being “God,” if part of the definition of that word is “all good.” And Mr. Benne’s conclusion that God should be credited for the losses as well as the wins is precisely the notion that modern, “sophisticated” theology rejects: God gets credit for the Pennsylvania miners but not the blame for 9/11, with the discrepancy justified by some indefensible clap-trappety double-talk about how all evil is just “apparent” evil, either part of some longer-range divine plan or the result of human free will.

Maybe it’s just all over my head. Perhaps Bob Costas has worked out the problem of evil and come up with a conception of God which transcends my limited human understanding. Maybe something as profound as the vision of Heaven in his eulogy to Mickey Mantle:

I just hope God has a place for him where he can run again. Where he can play practical jokes on his teammates and smile that boyish smile, ’cause God knows, no one’s perfect. And God knows there’s something special about heroes.

Gee, wouldn’t that be swell.

Objectivism and the Atheists

October 3, 2002 | Comments Off

In my series on God and the Objectivists, I focused on whether a person who believes in God could be an Objectivist. I concluded that an Objectivist could believe in a very abstract sort of god, but could not derive any moral principles from the fact of its existence. To formulate an ethics from the existence of God, an Objectivist would have to abandon reason and reality and adopt some from of primitive, god-command theology. However, I also noted that on any particular moral issue, an Objectivist’s view might well coincide with the position advocated by any number of faiths.

In the same way that theism will not necessarily prevent one from becoming an Objectivist, atheism will not require a person to become one. Although atheism is certain a common by-product of the rationalism advocated by Objectivism, atheism is also a feature of many anti-Objectivist ideologies such as communism, socialism, Marxism, and nihilism. This is because, as I have noted before, atheism does not dictate any particular moral stance. I think atheism is useful on the moral plane to the extent it discourages one from attaching undue moral significance to various eating, dressing, and sexual practices, but beyond that is not particularly helpful in telling one how to live or behave.

Even so, atheism is frequently portrayed as an important starting point of ethics. As Dostoevsky said, “If God does not exist, everything is permitted” (in fact, he never actually said anything like that, but it’s what he meant). The statement differs little from “with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26), but the atheistic formulation is for some reason more likely to be interpreted as an invitation to do evil. The Objectivist answer to all this is that reason and reality place significant limitations on all things and everything you can do. Whether there is a God that punishes murder or not, there are plenty of reasons that killing may not be in your self-interest.

On this point I agree with the Randians: God is not necessary to a coherent ethical system. But I differ with the Objectivists on two significant issues, and I think my disagreements are common to atheists of a particular mindset. First, I agree with Hume that “reason is the slave of the passions.” Reason does not tell you what to want or what to value, but only how to get it. You can cultivate and change your desires and tastes to a certain extent, if reason tells you that your life would be happier or longer by doing so; but what actually makes you happy, or whether a longer life would be better, are moral/emotional judgments not dictated or determinable by reason.

Second, like many existential philosophies, I think Objectivism overstates the extent of human freedom or free will. One standard atheistic argument against God is that his alleged foreknowledge of everything would defeat our free will, and from this many have erroneously concluded removing god leads to freedom. But many atheists, like myself, embrace a hard, naturalistic, scientific determinism which destroys free will as effectively as an omniscient god. Important characteristics, such as one’s sexual orientation and intelligence, appear to be fixed at birth, and whether every human action thereafter is predetermined by our material beings is an open question. Declaring that we are “free, terribly free,” or that “we are the cause of our own actions” simply beg the question rather than answering it.

Vatican Certifies Mother Teresa’s Coin Slide, Ball & Vase Miracles

October 2, 2002 | 2 Comments

The Vatican, October 2, 2002
Special to The Raving Atheist

The Vatican yesterday officially recognized two miracles performed by Mother Teresa after her death, all but guaranteeing that Pope John Paul II will declare her a saint. The revered nun, who died in 1997, is credited with making a quarter and a small plastic ball disappear. Under Catholic law, one posthumous miracle is needed for beatification, while a second trick is required for canonization, or sainthood.

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A pontifical council formed in 1998 to investigate the miracles concluded that there was no scientific explanation for the disappearance of the coin and the ball. Lead Bishop Alphonsus D’Souza announced that the council’s finding were based upon a study conducted by a team of Nobel prize-winning physicists, which examined the Hasbro Coin Slide and the Mattel Ball & Vase over a period of eight months. “Even after reading the instructions, they could not figure out how she did it,” he said. D’Sousa noted that while the scientists discovered the secret compartments in about two seconds, they were baffled about how anyone could operate the gadgets while dead.

The Pope is expected to formally elevate Mother Teresa to sainthood early next year, making her canonization the quickest on record. Although another nun, Sister Maria Cardinale, was canonized in 1958 after only three years, the recognition was ultimately revoked. In 1960, the College of Cardinals declared that Cardinale’s Fly in the Plastic Ice Cube and “Snappy” Wrigley’s Mousetrap Gum feats were “gags” rather than “miracles.”

God and the Objectivists (Part 4)

October 1, 2002 | 1 Comment

This is the final installment in a series of essays exploring whether a belief in God is consistent with Objectivist principles. I previously explored whether God-belief is consistent with an epistemology of reason (here and here) and a metaphysics of objective reality (here). What I ultimately suggested (without explicitly endorsing) was that an Objectivist could reasonably conclude that something vaguely analogous to human intelligence caused the universe, without risking too hard a spanking from Ayn Rand. However, the embrace of a logically self-contradictory definition of God, or a literal belief in any of the scripturally-based, anthropomorphic sky-deities, gets you thrown out of the club.

That being said, I think that a person who questions whether an Objectivist can believe in God isn’t primarily interested in the epistemological and metaphysical issues. Fermat’s theorem and prime number theory and the question of whether there is life on other planets present those same issues, but nobody would make one’s position on some mathematical or astronomical point a litmus test for Objectivist membership. Objectivism is first and foremost a system of ethics, and the asking whether a person who believes in God can be an Objectivist just another way of asking whether Objectivism is consistent with religious morality. Since politics are largely a function of moral views, I will treat ethics and politics as one for the purpose today’s discussion.

Ethics/Politics. The short answer to whether an Objectivist can embrace a religiously-derived or God-based morality is: No. As noted in my previous posts, the abstract, nebulous, universe-creating God that Objectivism might permit is one, as Hume noted, that “affords no inference that affects human life.” Believing that the cause of the universe was conscious rather than unconscious gets you nowhere in formulating a system of moral principles.

One could, of course, believe that The Cause wrote down its desires in a book, or that it whispered its moral precepts into people’s ears, but that sort of God-command theology presumes the existence of one of the primitive, lower-level deities that an Objectivist must reject. Likewise, an Objectivist must reject a morality based on afterlife rewards or punishments, because, John Edward notwithstanding, science and human experience do not support the existence of such realms. And if they do exist, there is no way of knowing what behavior gets punished and what behavior gets rewarded, without resort to revealed theology.

This is not to say, however, that an Objectivist and a believer may not share the exact same opinions on every meaningful moral question. There is no Judeo-Christian-Islamic-Hindi consensus on abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment or any other debatable issue, and you’ll find a sizable number of adherents in every faith whose position on each of those questions coincides which whatever the official Objectivist view is on it (if there is one). Likewise with capitalism and other economic sub-issues. The Objectivist will claim that his or her views are derived from reason; the theist, from God. The difference between the two will be particularly thin where the theist is of a less fundamentalist stripe and merely sees God as the embodiment of Reason, or claims that God endowed humans with reason to discover moral truths. In that case the both the methodology and outcome may well be identical. And even where the believer is more orthodox, there may be little difference where the alleged God-command originated to serve some real human need.

Arthur Silber identifies the critical Objectivist/theist dispute as one between altruism and selfishness, between a morality based upon self-sacrifice to others and one found in the pursuit of one’s own rational self-interest. He ultimately concludes (I think) that the gulf may not be so great in practice because self-interest plays a greater part in most believers’ lives than they are willing to admit. In fact, as atheists frequently point out, selfishness is the explicit motive behind all religious morality: do what God says and you go to Heaven. I think even Ayn Rand could, consistent with her philosophy, lick the feet of lepers and priests and communists for a few measly decades if she knew that an eternity of happiness awaited her earthly demise. So the Objectivist quarrel with religious morality may not be so much a theoretical dispute as a factual one, although I haven’t seen many Randian analyses that attack it as such.

[Yes, I know that many religious people are a bit more coy on this point. They claim to do good purely for the sake of doing good or pleasing God; they assert that admission to Heaven is a matter of divine grace, not works; and they wouldn’t be so presumptuous to think that anything they do on earth would entitle them to an eternal life. But I don’t know of any religion that holds that good acts disqualify one from entry to Heaven, or that offers eternal torment in exchange for a life of charity (although Norah Vincent has encouraged faith in God even though “[h]appy endings have nothing to do with it”].

On the other hand, there’s also some truth in the criticism that much of Randian “selfishness” is merely disguised altruism. Charity is bad not so much because it requires self-sacrifice, but because it doesn’t help the poor enough — they would be better off if their incentive for self-improvement wasn’t defeated by hand-outs. Plus, there are plenty of Objectivists who would stoop to the “self-sacrifice” of pulling some stranger’s baby out of a lake, or passing somebody the salt at McDonald’s, even if they could not in advance calculate the short or long-term benefit of the act to themselves. And since Objectivism doesn’t affirmatively prohibit anyone from acting upon charitable impulses, it would not excommunicate anybody just because they made it a habit of being nice.

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