The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

2002 November

Godidiot of the Week: Benjamin Kepple

November 27, 2002 | Comments Off

“Who are we,” asks Benjamin Kepple, “to look into the mind of God?” I, certainly, am not in a position to take such a peek, any more than I am to look into the mind of a square circle or unicorn or a blark. But being a rational creature, I am perfectly situated to look into the confused mind of Mr. Kepple — whose propensity to ask logic-defying, question-begging questions earns him the distinction of Godidiot of the Week.

Kepple defends the notion that there is a being that might torture humans after death just for not believing in him (or not knowing about him) on the grounds that, being omnipotent, God could do anything. “[T]he idea that God acts in a manner some people find irrational can’t lead to the conclusion that God does not exist,” he says. Certainly, says Kepple, God is entitled to do anything he wants, and it’s silly to exclude a possibility just because it seems unpleasant to us.

The Raving Atheist does not shy away from unpleasant realities. After all, the conclusion of atheism is that the best and worst of us meet the same fate after death; Hitler was not punished and Gandhi was not rewarded. However, my objection to Kepple’s eschatology, apart from its complete arbitrariness and lack of evidentiary support, is that it is irrational, illogical and internally inconsistent. And those are perfectly good reasons to declare that it is false. Kepple’s arguments that we can’t know God, or that human logic is not God’s logic, are either meaningless or self-destructing.

First, the notion that we cannot know, conceive of, or question God is fashionable among certain types of believers, who fancy it to be a clever, yet humble-sounding position. The problem with this argument is that it is not an argument about God at all. Rather, it is an extreme form of skeptical agnosticism which, in reality, is talking about nothing at all. If God is “unknowable,” then the word “God” is reduced to a mere sound devoid of any meaning, indistinguishable from utterances such as “poy” or “blark” or “unie.” Most people, confronted with the question “does poy exist” would not answer “yes,” “no,” or “I don’t know,” but would rather demand to know what is signified by “poy.” It is simply impossible to commit to a belief in, a disbelief in, or even the unknowability of a concept that lacks any definition whatsoever.

Godidiots like Mr. Kepple, however, despite their feigned ignorance and humility, always turn out to know quite a lot about God and the workings of His mind. They hem and haw on this point or that, but it always turns out that God is omnipotent and omniscient, omnibenevolent and, in Mr. Kepple’s universe, a being that sent his only son down to Earth to be sacrificed for the good of mankind. Additionally, He has created a Heaven, and possibly a Hell, for some of us to go when we die. All of these are fairly concrete assertions about the Deity. The Godidiot does not claim that these attributes and facts are unknowable; they form the premise of every argument he makes. The argument about some aspect of God’s nature being “unknowable” only pops up when the Godidiot is confronted with some unpleasant consequence of his theory.

The Godidiot uses the same tactic with the logic he uses to defend his conclusions. He will use logic to get the argument off the ground, and employ it for as long as it suits him, but then abandon it as soon as he runs into an inconvenient objection. Thus, Godidiots like Kepple will lecture about the necessary, logical implications of God’s omnipotence and omniscience, but as soon as someone points out the contradictions between these divine attributes, he will declare that God is not subject to logic. Make assertions, as Mr. Kepple does, that “[t]o argue with the ways of an omnipotent, omniscient God is futile,” while declaring, in the same breath, that the only logic available to validate the this statement regarding the alleged futility is merely human, and therefore worthless.

Let’s examine this Godidiot technique a little more closely in connection with the central doctrine of the Christian faith: that killing His own son was God’s method of saving mankind. How killing one’s offspring saves everybody is not immediately apparent to us humans, but we are assured that God’s logic is perfect. Perhaps the Godidiot will make a half-hearted attempt to portray Jesus as some sort of shock absorber, but will quickly dropped the analogy once its deficiencies are exposed. Ultimately, the Godidiot will announce, human logic is not a means of comprehending the mystery, and the soundness of the plan must be accepted on faith.

Interesting, though, is how the Godidiot will thereafter embrace human logic to evaluate any attacks or defenses of this theory. Suppose I propose the following reasons that the Jesus-sacrifice works: 1) People could live forever by eating his body, 2) blue grasshoppers hop quickly, and 3) t’was brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe? The first reason would be dismissed as impractical; the second as irrelevant, and the third as incomprehensible. But if there is some sort of logic superior to ours, how is anyone to say whether any of those “reasons” are consistent (or inconsistent) with it? Yet Mr. Kepple would never posit the speed of grasshoppers or the behavior of slithy toves as reasons for his salvation theory — so why does he adopt, as his underlying theory, a premise that makes as little sense as either one of those reasons? How is the need to sacrifice one’s son to save others, and to make belief in that sacrifice a condition of salvation, consistent with any meaningful definitions of omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolence?

Mr. Kepple might argue, as Godidiots are prone to do, that we can’t understand because we are saddled with merely human definitions of those terms. But then, as Sidney Hook once pointed out, if that is the case, it makes equal sense to say that God is purple, polka-dotted and every inch a woman. It may not make much sense to us here on Earth, the argument goes, but it’s true in God’s mind. But if you asked a Godidiot why he refrains from calling God a purple polka-dotted woman he’d reply, without hesitation, that the definition doesn’t make any sense to his human logic. But he’ll substitute the terms “omnipotent” and “omniscient” for “purple” and “polka-dotted,” and claim that theory is somehow saved — even though we still have absolutely no idea what those terms mean in God’s mind.

In an attempt to save his theory, Kepple does an amusing about-face. After issuing the usual modest disclaimers (“I don’t claim to know the mind of God, what He thinks, who He chooses who gets in and who doesn’t”), he asserts that “I have never thought Him so bound by earthly logic that He would not find a way to reward those who served Him without knowing that they did so.” But it is not earthly logic that would devise a God that refuses to reward good people who serve him unknowingly. Rather, as he concedes a few lines down, what his earthly logic says is that that conclusion “just doesn’t seem to fit with the notion of an all-powerful, but also merciful and loving God.”

Kepple’s sloppy, waffling misuse of logic infects the remainder of his god-awful arguments. He embraces the analysis of one of the supreme Godidiots of our time, C.S. Lewis, who, as Kepple notes, argued that Christ must have intended that we think of him as the Son of God rather than merely a great moral teacher. So, once again, despite Kepple’s admonitions against reading the mind of God, we are invited to evaluate what Christ “intended” according to a human logical standard. A standard which, of course, we are urged to abandon once it perceives the irrationality of the notion of becoming one’s own son to save mankind, or the irrationality of making belief in that notion a precondition of participating in that salvation. And abandon it we must; for any consistent and sustained application of logic to the options proposed by Lewis would lead us to adopt the conclusion that Christ was, in fact, “mad as a poached egg.”

But the most disturbing thing to me about Godidiot Kepple is that he is a convert to Catholicism. It’s one thing if you are brainwashed into that faith from childhood and simply continue believing mindlessly; it’s another if you’ve stopped and thought about it, and made a consciousness decision to embrace it. I won’t repeat my usual slurs about the Church and its deranged, senile, pedophile-enabling leader, but I must comment on Kepple’s declared reason for making the switch from Methodism: someone was nice to him. Is this what happened?

conversion.jpg

Okay, I just did that out of gratuitous nastiness. It’s just that I ate with Kepple and he made loaves of bread disappear faster than Jesus made them materialize. And if called to account for the picture, I will just point out all the nasty things that his Church says about atheists.

Who’s a Jew?

November 26, 2002 | 6 Comments

The only thing worse than the self-righteous certainty of Orthodox Judaism is the relativistic uncertainty of Reform Judaism. Whenever I read an Op-Ed like Douglas Rushkoff’s “Judging Judaism By the Numbers” (in last week’s New York Times), I feel like reaching for a yarmulke.

Responding to an unreleased $6 million study by the United Jewish Communities that found the number of Jews is shrinking, Rushkoff argues that we shouldn’t judge the strength of Judaism by the size of the Jewish population. The Jews are not a race, he asserts; in fact, that definition is racist, and is precisely the one that Jewish enemies (the Pharaoh, Hitler) have seized upon in their efforts at extermination. “The core of a religion is faith, not demographics,” he declares, so the Jews should stop panicking about assimilation, intermarriage, and the failure of young parents to raise their children in the Jewish tradition. Furthermore, Jewish institutions should stop being “more dedicated to safeguarding the Jewish race than to teaching Judaism.” He warns that “[d]ark pictures with retrograde notions of race do not help keep young American Jews in the fold,” and he considers it a “cruel joke” that that those who are “born Jewish” but end up expressing their spirituality through the pursuit of social justice or the “ego-shattering practice of Buddhism” are counted as lapsed Jews simply because they lack any synagogue affiliation.

Very well. Judaism is a belief system like Christianity, transcending race, ethnicity and other artificial borders, opening to anyone who embraces its ideas. But if that is the case, how does Rushkoff define, in the first place, the “American Jews” that he is talking about, and how does he define the “fold” that he wants to keep them in? How can he possibly say that they were “born Jewish?” If “they” are merely people who self-identify as Jews but have never been taught Judaism, why call them Jews at all? Why target them, above all others, for membership in the “fold?” If it’s just a set of ideas, why not go proselytize among the Eskimos? If the Pharaoh and Hitler were mistaken in the criteria they used to round up Jews, how do we know they killed any Jews at all?

And why does Rushkoff insist that the label of “Jew” be applied to civil libertarian and Buddhists who have shed their ties to mainstream Judaism? The answer lies in Rushkoff’s ultimate definition of Judaism, which, unsurprisingly, has little to do with religion at all:

As I have come to understand it, Judaism was built around the contention that human beings can make the world a better more just place . . . Judaism is founded in iconoclasm, a principle especially relevant to a world so hypnotized by its many false idols. Judaism finds it expression in radical pluralism, an assertion that there is no name for God — at least none that any human being could conceive.

Okay, Jews are iconoclastic pluralists who want to make the world a better place. Who know how to identify the false idols but can’t conceive of what God actually is. I’m a Jew, you’re a Jew, everybody’s a Jew. L’Chaim.

God Squad Review XIV

November 25, 2002 | Comments Off

My review of the God Squad this week is that they are a pair of lazy shits. They didn’t put out a column for me to mock this week! Now, I’m just one person, working a full-time job, and I still manage to grind out at least five Raves a week. Why can’t two guys, each of whom works only one day a week, produce a single column, especially when their output is completely unresearched, off-the-top-of-their-heads baby talk?

Anyway, had they published I suspect that they would have addressed this old theological chestnut: was Abraham guilty of attempted murder for raising a knife to his son Isaac? That was the question submitted yesterday to a mock California jury (yes, I know that “mock California jury” is redundant). Presiding was Judge Wapner, the judicial composite of the Squad and Judge Ito. Naturally, the father of the Jews was acquitted, although by a relatively narrow 225-216 margin (apparently, in California, you’re entitled to a mock jury of ALL of your peers).

Plainly a case of jury nullification. The evidence was overwhelming (Genesis 22:10: “Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son”). Although Wapner specifically instructed the jury to put aside their religious beliefs, he nevertheless permitted the defense to remind them that “God praised Abraham for following his orders, and rewarded him by making him the father of the chosen people.” And as in the O.J. case, there was a slight problem of venue: the jury was impaneled at the Bel Air University of Judaism.

I’m sure this silly exercise gets repeated annually at law and theology schools nationwide, with similar results. The perceived commands of god must be followed at any cost, even where they are immoral by mere human standards. It would be interesting if one day Abraham’s mock lawyers braved the inevitable uproar to present an insanity defense. Which would be the only option, if the jury were to truly put aside their religious beliefs.

What’s in a (Christian) Name?

November 24, 2002 | 1 Comment

Christel of chrism.us presents a new twist on an old problem: how do you escape an unwanted religious heritage when it’s branded into your very name? Historically, the question has been of interest primarily to Jews desiring to avoid ostracism, or gain acceptance, in Christian America. So Issur Danilovich Demsky and Bernard Schwartz became, respectively, Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis; the list goes on and on (sorry, the most virulently anti-Semitic sites seem to have the most complete rosters).

Now, Christel was named after a Jew, too — but his name was Christ. Her hippie mother named her “Christel,” and when she spells it out for shipping clerks they say, perceptively, “Oh, like Christ.” So she wants take the Christ out of Christel, but without being called just “El.” She’s contemplating taking that little “cross” (the “t’) off the end of Christ and just calling herself “Chris.”

I can’t think of another case of someone actually de-Christianizing their name except Caryn Johnson (Whoopi Goldberg), and I doubt religious (or anti-religious) considerations motivated that change. The problem is, there’s really no place to go. Virtually every name in America is a Christian name; indeed, “Christian name” was until recently a synonym for first name. Sensitive multiculturalist bureaucrats and PC corporate marketing departments have more or less banished that term from their application forms, but unless you’re Jewish, Asian, or Moon Unit Zappa, Jesus likely had some role in determining what your signature looks like.

And I think Christel’s solution only makes things worse. From “Chris,” most people are going to assume her full name is Christine, which has a distinctly Catholic flavor. She’s best off leaving things as they are because, as Frances Gumm (Judy Garland) could have told her, the solution has been with her all the time. Her mother, being a hippie, probably didn’t name her after Christ; more likely she was thinking of magic “crystals” or some similar New Age paraphernalia. So just substitute a “y” for the “i” and annoying shipping clerks will be a thing of past. Instead of thinking you’re a Christian, they’ll think you believe in some silly, childish, superstitious, magical . . . oh, never mind.

Taking the “X” out of X-Mas

November 22, 2002 | Comments Off

Is it possible to take the Christ out of Christ-mas? A theater critic has proposed just that, chiding the Radio City Christmas Spectacular for including a “living nativity” skit wherein the Rockettes re-enact the birth of Christ. Mark Lowry of the Dallas/Fort Worth Star Telegram complains that


. . . to lure spectators of all faiths (and nonfaiths) with the promise of an entertaining holiday revue, and then to ambush them with Christian theology, is dated and borderline offensive, especially at a time when understanding of other cultures and beliefs is more important than ever.

The show’s creators are wrong to assume that Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians don’t have the same right to holiday fluff that Christians do.

Megan McArdle (who provided the link) finds this all a bit too PC, as, after all, Christmas is by definition about the birth of Christ.

The funny thing is that Mr. Lowry would be 100% correct if he were speaking about the legal status of Christmas in America. To get around church/state problems which might arise from the fact that Christmas is an official government holiday, and from that fact that virtually every town government in the country sponsors some sort of Christmas display, the Supreme Court has endorsed the fiction that the holiday is a “secular” one. That being the case, the state has to make sure to include lots of that generic “holiday fluff” that all those Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians so desperately desire. You can stick in a nativity scene as long as it’s not too big, and as long as it’s surrounded by lots of Santas, reindeer and Christmas trees. The key is to ensure that the average citizen would not view the display, overall, as an “endorsement” of Christianity.

Of course, since Santas and reindeers and Christmas trees are associated exclusively with Christmas, the theory doesn’t make much sense. Christ is always lurking in the background. I don’t know what silly secular Santa-equivalents the Muslims have devised to celebrate Ramadan, but no town could get away with placing an inflatable Prophet Mohammed outside its courthouse just by sandwiching him between Abdul the Red-Nosed Hijacker and a generic adulteress-stoning scene.

The concept does make a certain sense in the context of Halloween – technically “All Saints Day” — a pagan holiday later adapted to celebrate the heroes of the Catholic Church. Nobody thinks about Christianity while trick-or-treating, and Town Hall doesn’t erect statutes of saints to celebrate it. Indeed, most people would find it ridiculous if in the middle of a Halloween television special, St. Paul stepped out to give a lecture on the sanctity of marriage.

Christmas may well be headed down the path of Halloween, but it’s nowhere near that yet. Christ is still very much a part of it. We are constantly lectured by media editorialists to forget the Santa-based commercialism and remember the “real” meaning of Christmas – the birth of Christ.

Being a private organization, Radio City is free to play the Christmas card any way it pleases. It could devote the entire show to the nativity scene, or even adopt a particular Catholic perspective emphasizing the Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth (I think even Megan might bridle at that). But Radio City is not a religious organization. In many ways it finds itself in the same position as the government, with a broader public to serve, and it will not sell many tickets unless it minimizes the sectarian aspects of the show. Eventually, it will start calling the show a “Holiday” Spectacular, and you’ll see dancing dreidels and Mohammed on his Camel-drawn sleigh.

The Godidiot Responds!

November 21, 2002 | Comments Off

Jay Ambrose, Editorial Director of the Knight-Ridder Newspapers, has graciously responded to my post yesterday naming him the recipient of The Raving Atheist’s first “Godidiot” award. I guess honey does work better than vinegar! I promised him I would post his reply unedited and respond to it only briefly. So here it is, with his caveat that he “wrote it in a hurry and may have gone over the cliff on something [he] said”:


Thank for your demonstration of wit, taste and logic. It is wonderful to have opponents such as yourself. But it is not entirely clear to me why you and your co-atheists so vigorously proselytize your own beliefs, which you have made into a kind of religion. But you do, of course. You have groups that are churches of a sort, and your preach sermons (see below). I am wondering whether you believe in honor. If someone joins an organization and says its code over and over again without believing it, isn’t the honorable thing to quit and quit saying the code? Or should he say to the other 5 million members, why don’t you change? If someone in your group was a true believer and demanded that the rest of you accept his preachment of God, would you find it somehow amiss of you to ask him to leave? Would you say that, well, he is moral and can stay? Lordy.

My response:

1) Those of us who proselytize do so because (a) we believe it to be true; and (b) people like Mr. Ambrose unfairly equate atheism with immorality and moral subjectivism, and, inter alia, seek to exclude us from large, quasi-public organizations like the Scouts on that basis.

2) I’ve always found it strange when religious people attack atheism by calling it a, sneeringly, a “religion”; why use the term “religion” in a derogatory manner if it is the very thing you are defending? It’s a little like the pot calling the kettle a pot. The primary inference is that atheists, like believers, hang their hats on nothing but faith. That may be true of some atheists (for whom I have little respect), but the classic atheist doctrine is grounded in logic (see my Basic Assumptions) and science. Mr. Ambrose himself noted the distinction, noting that “in the face of science and rationalism, faith was receding.” For a good discussion of how atheism differs from religion (complete with a comparison chart), click here.

3) Yes, we can be preachy, and but not as preachy as believers would be if we inscribed “there is no god” on all the currency. As for our “churches,” they’re largely political organizations devoted to church/state separation issues. But I agree, overall, that there’s not much point in atheists congregating merely because they are atheists, as their shared non-belief will not necessarily entail any other common interests (other than philosophy and theology). It’s a little like forming a club based upon non-belief in unicorns.

4) Yes, I believe in honor. But Mr. Ambrose’s original point was that atheists should be excluded because their rejection of God makes them immoral (an argument that he has not defended), not that they are immoral because they lie by taking an oath expressing a belief in God. Indeed, the Scouts promised to let the atheist Eagle Scout stay if only he’d lie once more. It’s also a little disingenuous for the Scouts to pretend that the God-oath is a critical part of the scouting experience when virtually any kind of God-belief qualifies, and they don’t dictate which moral beliefs necessarily derive from the existence of God. And as I noted, if “God” has one, absolute meaning, plenty of Scouts are swearing to believe in God when they really believe in something else. Just like all those kids who are forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Should they all be expelled for lack of honor?

5) As I indicated in an earlier post, I agree with Mr. Ambrose to the extent that I believe the Scouts are likely within their legal rights in excluding atheists, and that a self-respecting atheist should just quit if he doesn’t like it. I don’t believe the Scout’s position is rational, but, if in fact they are a private organization, their membership is their business.

6) Okay, I lied when I said I’d reply “briefly.” But what do you expect from an atheist?

Important Announcement: Godidiot of the Week Awards

November 20, 2002 | Comments Off

Each Wednesday, starting today, The Raving Atheist will bestow a “Godidiot of the Week” award upon the journalist or blogger who makes the most inane and poorly-reasoned theological argument in support of a moral, political or legal position. The term “godidiot” (etymology self-explanatory), to the best of my knowledge, was coined by atheists on AOL as a term of derisive affection for the fundamentalist Christians (a/k/a “fundies”) who invaded their chat rooms to spread the gospel in misspelled, ungrammatical and completely capitalized text (e.g.,”ACEPT JESUS OR YOUR GOIGN TO HELL”). However, the spirit of godidiotism lives in all of us, or at least 95% of us, and probably you if you landed here due to a Google search like “Jesus+Angels+”remove tattoo”+NASCAR.”

Nominations are welcome. If you have a candidate, please e-mail me at
ravingatheist@ravingatheist.com with the link to the offending item, or put it into the comments section of this post. Please do not nominate the God Squad because they are dealt with on Mondays.

And now . . .


:::::: DRUM ROLL:::::::

The first Godidiot of the Week award goes to Jay Ambrose, Director of Editorial Policy for Scripps Howard, for his syndicated piece “Scouting out Nihilisml” (see below).

Next Week’s Recipient: Benjamin Kepple

Jay Ambrose, Godidiot of the Week

November 20, 2002 | Comments Off

In his syndicated op-ed this week, “Scouting out Nihilisml,” Jay Ambrose defends the Boy Scouts’ expulsion of atheists on the ground that they are inherently immoral. He complains that “[t]he critics of the Boy Scouts do not seem to get it that there might be highly important, eminently justifiable reasons to require boys to pledge to do their duty to God in an oath . . . [t]he organization thereby puts its heft behind a conviction that can serve as a personal stay against moral chaos.” He chides those critics for failing to “concede any merit to this grounding of ideals in something unshakably supreme and real,” and explains that “without a holy absolute, there is no foundation for objective morality or meaningfulness as was once known . . . “[t]ruth becomes strictly relative, strictly subjective.”

The problem is, however, that different Gods have different moral principles. And since the Boy Scouts do not require a belief in any particular god — they will accept a belief in Jesus, Jehovah, any of the millions of Hindu gods, Allah, Wotan, or even “Mother Nature” — they do not prescribe any particular moral viewpoint. They are the ultimate subjectivists, both theologically and morally.

It would certainly be interesting if the Scouts did promulgate the absolute moral code that Ambrose insists they have. Wouldn’t it be fun if they announced tomorrow that they were expelling all Scouts who took the wrong position on capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia, eating pork or shaking hands with women? Despite all his thundering about morality, Ambrose doesn’t identify a single ethical principle that he believes the Scouts actually promote.

But I can. The Scouts have, quite unequivocally, come out in favor of lying. They advised the atheist Eagle Scout in question that he could stay so long as he declared, quite falsely, that he believed in a higher power. They also favor hypocrisy, for, as I explained in an earlier Rave, a substantial percentage of their membership is already composed people who are atheists insofar as they believe in phony, non-existent gods at variance with whatever the Scouts’ official definition of the deity may be.

Most laughable, however, is Ambrose’s charge of prejudice against those who disagree with the Scout’s policy. To prejudge a person is to condemn him without inquiring into his actual moral character. That is precisely what the Scouts have done; they expelled a young atheist despite his known and admitted good moral character. That is also precisely what Ambrose is doing, condemning all atheists as amoral nihilists simply because they won’t swear to a belief in a being he hasn’t even bothered to define. That’s wrong — immutably, absolutely and unshakably wrong — and I don’t need a god to tell me that.

Let Us Praise Narrow-Minded Men

November 19, 2002 | Comments Off

The God Squad column this week was objectionable in so many respects that I could not do justice to every logical, theological and moral outrage contained in its discussion of whether Jesus-belief is the price of a ticket to paradise. So I’ll comment further here on one of the more egregious missteps.

As I noted in my original review, the Squad declared that “part of the glory of Christianity is that it’s had the courage to proclaim such an unpopular and seemingly narrow-minded view to the world.” This fallacy is very popular in religious circles. A lone, brave individualist with strange and new ideas martyrs himself for a cause; certainly there must be grain of truth in what he says, or perhaps the Ultimate Truth itself?

Uh — no. The truth of a belief is unrelated to the number of people who reject it or embrace it. An unpopular belief may be unpopular because it obviously false, or because although it is true, few people have the intelligence to appreciate it. But nothing at all may be deduced from the fact of its unpopularity alone. Likewise, “seeming narrow-mindedness” is not a quality that recommends or condemns an idea. And there’s certainly nothing glorious about courageously proclaiming an unpopular and narrow-minded view which is also false.

Of course, there are many examples of unpopular and strange ideas that ultimately turned out to be correct. That truism is what the Squad is banking on to secure our assent to the glory of Christianity. But if pressed to give examples, the bankruptcy of their argument would be exposed: for every example they could give would be of a strange scientific theory which was unpopular among the religious. It’s never the other way around. The roundness of the Earth, its position in the universe, the origin of life; the theories of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Darwin; those are the strange theories and martyrs that validate the Squad’s position. But again, it’s not the strangeness or the martyrdom that vindicates the science; it’s the empirical, testable truth of the theory in question.

The Squad does not, of course, assert that the existence of heaven, or the necessity of salvation through Christ, are empirical, testable truths. Indeed, they say, the priest believes it’s true, the rabbi doesn’t, and “[t]here’s simply no way to know.” But at least we can take some solace in the knowledge that it’s unpopular and narrow-minded.

God Squad Review XVIII

November 18, 2002 | Comments Off

The Squad this week answers another question about the afterlife from Angela, who has been arguing with her sister about who goes to heaven. Her sister “feels only those who accept Jesus as their savior will go to heaven,” while Angela herself “find[s] it hard to believe that Gandhi, or Jerry Seinfeld, for that matter, will burn eternally because they aren’t Christians.”

The Squad’s answer to Angela is simple and straightforward: “we agree with you.” Well, as it turns out, not exactly “we.” Just a couple of paragraphs later the Squad advises us that “the Christian claim that accepting Jesus as lord and savior is essential to getting through those pearly gates may indeed be true . . . Tom believes it’s true, and obviously, Marc does not believe it’s true.”

So, how are the sisters to decide who to believe, Tom or Marc? The Squad notes that “it’s important to understand that this heaven debate is mostly a Christian matter . . . Judaism and Islam, for example, both teach that all righteous people will go to heaven . . . [t]he belief that only some righteous people go to heaven is a Christian belief.” That settles it: the sisters are obviously Christian, Tom is Christian, so Mahatma and Jerry (and apparently Marc) are all going to hell.

What’s more, they say, it’s “part of the glory of Christianity that it’s had the courage to proclaim such an unpopular and seemingly narrow-minded view to the world . . . [f]or a true Christian, proclaiming the ‘good news’ that the way to the father is through Jesus, the son, is not an insult to non-Christians but rather an act of love for a world in need of salvation.” Think of that love while you roast, Jerry.

But there is a loophole, at least if you believe those progressive Christians. The Squad explains that under the doctrine of “baptism by desire,” non-Christians can accept Jesus by living righteous lives, “even though they don’t accept him as savior with their lips — and even though they don’t realize they’re accepting Jesus at all.” That’s all well and good, I suppose, but we have to keep in mind that Tom is a Catholic, not a progressive Christian . . . he still believes, as noted above, that “accepting Jesus as lord and savior is essential to getting through those pearly gates.”

How to get out of this dilemma? The Squad gives this advice: the “standoff is solved, or at least moderated, by a good dose of humility . . . [i]f religious people who wish to convert others to their faith would focus on acts of kindness and charity, justice and mercy, they would both serve their faith and increase their flock far more than by beating prospective converts over the head with texts they don’t believe.” But how does this resolve anything? Serving one’s faith and increasing one’s flock doesn’t help anyone, if the faith is false and the flock goes to hell. And how is someone’s being nice to you a reason to accept his beliefs about the afterlife? Isn’t the whole debate over whether it’s (1) being nice, or (2) believing in Jesus, that gets you into heaven? Wouldn’t it be much nicer, in the long run, to beat people over the head with texts to insure their eternal life?

Let me propose my own solution. There is zero evidence that human consciousness survives death, and zero evidence that heaven exists. The notion that some omnipotent being had a son and killed him just to formulate a belief-based litmus test for letting people into heaven is insane. People may well see my name in the telephone book and question whether I really exist, whether it’s just a misprint or a name planted by the telephone company to combat copyright infringement — but their disbelief would not entitle me to torture them for a short while, much less eternity, even if I had murdered a kid to give them something to believe in. So why not just drop all this silly afterlife talk and be nice to each other during the only lives we’ve got?

They’re All Like This

November 15, 2002 | Comments Off

Just another Mickey Mouse religion.

The Untouchables (Part II)

November 15, 2002 | Comments Off

This is how the Jewish Ethicist (as opposed the New York Times Ethicist) thinks a woman should act when her Orthodox Jewish real estate broker refuses to shake her hand. In case you were wondering, Senator Lieberman shakes hands (imagine the outcry if he didn’t), but he calls himself “observant” rather than “orthodox.”

The Untouchables

November 14, 2002 | Comments Off

What’s a girl to do when the Orthodox Jewish real estate agent she hired to rent her house refuses to shake hands on the ground that his religion forbids him to touch a woman? New York Times “Ethicist” Randy Cohen has stirred up a controversy, suggesting that she should tear up the contract because a woman is “entitled to work with someone who will treat you with the dignity and respect he shows his male clients . . . sexism is sexism, even when motivated by religious convictions.” The resulting outcry forced Cohen and his editor to meet with a delegation from the Union of Orthodox Congregations, which views the issue as one of “modesty” rather than sexism. The practice isn’t sexist, they say, because the prohibition works both ways — Orthodox women are forbidden from shaking hands with men, too.

The Raving Atheist, surprisingly even to himself, disagrees with both Cohen’s reasoning and his remedy. Yes, at first blush, it does seem to be a case of open-and-shut sexism. Certainly, the “separate but equal” defense is hogwash, isn’t it? The Jim Crow laws were still racist, weren’t they, notwithstanding that the same laws which prohibited blacks from using “whites only” bathrooms also forbade whites from using the “colored only” ones?

The problem with this argument is that we do still have “men only” and “women only” bathrooms, and the justification is, uh, er, well, modesty. It’s not a sexist thing, it’s not a religious thing, it’s just something that makes everybody comfortable. The Orthodox Jews are just a bit more prudish than society at large, viewing the pressing of the flesh as more intimate than most people do. In some Hollywood circles a wet, juicy kiss on the lips is a standard greeting between the sexes, but in Peoria (and just about everywhere else) the religious and secular alike eschew that custom — again, out of “modesty” rather than sexism.

Of course, with the Orthodox Jews we know that sexism also plays a part, since they demean and discriminate against their women in ways that go beyond merely refusing to participate in handshaking ceremonies. But that is certainly something that the offended house-renter in Cohen’s example should have known going in. Handshake or not, she was going to be dealing with a sexist pig. Why tear up the contract only at the end, when he engages in a little bit of sexism which is much more innocuous than his treatment of women generally? His views would be the same even if the handshaking issue never came up, or if she dealt with him exclusively over the phone; if they were are so obnoxious to her, why did she deal with him in the first place?

Which brings me to the remedy. Why should the broker’s views deter her from using his services, so long as he is competent and tries his hardest to get her a good price? Does she also inquire as to the political correctness of the man behind counter at the pizzeria, refusing a slice if he doesn’t declare that rape is a crime of power? And just let her try to find another male broker who isn’t, ten times a minute, fantasizing about nailing her to his desk so hard that his “Best Salesman” trophies shake off the wall. Wouldn’t she be more comfortable with overt, safe sexual Puritanism of the Orthodox Jew that with the covert sexism of a secular hound-dog?

No, she shouldn’t have to chose. But, in reality, she must. As an atheist, it would be impossible for me to function if I imposed a theological litmus test upon everyone I did business with. Virtually everyone has a religion, and virtually every religion calls for atheists to go to hell. That’s disrespectful too, almost as bad as being denied a handshake.

Wiccan Troop Offers Welcome Alternative to Atheist Boy Scout

November 13, 2002 | Comments Off

Seattle, Washington
Special to The Raving Atheist

The atheist teen facing expulsion from the Boy Scouts for refusing to acknowledge the existence of god may find refuge in a Wiccan scouting troop. SpiralScouts, founded by Archpriest Pete “Pathfinder” Davis of the Wiccan Aquarian Tabernacle Church, is generously offering indoctrination in the preposterous witch-religion to atheists, pagans and others who have been denied brainwashing by the mainstream Judeo-Christian scouting organizations.

Darrell Lambert, who was ordered to declare a belief in God or leave the Eagle Scouts, enthusiastically welcomed the Wiccan’s offer. “The Wiccans have astutely perceived that the cold-blooded rationalism which compels me to reject every form of deity will gladly accommodate both the God and Goddess of their pretentiously silly Earth religion,” he said. “I look forward to memorizing the Wiccan Rede, and the Law of Three, mixing powerless potions and casting ineffective spells.”

Lambert also said he appreciated SpiralScouts’ practice of lumping atheists together with pagans, Wiccans, Satanists and other gullible, superstitious misanthropes. “Having rejected Christianity specifically because of its irrationality, I now indiscriminately embrace any illogical, intelligence-insulting ideology which pronounces itself to be non-Christian,” he said. “I eagerly anticipate absorption into a close-knit community of angry, suicidal, blood-drinking sociopaths united by the common bond of rejecting a theology slightly more coherent than their own.”

Godless Morality

November 12, 2002 | 3 Comments

Godless Capitalist of Gene Expression posted some thoughts Friday touching on, in part, the relationship between atheism and morality. Among the points he made were that:

1) Morality is “real” in the sense that it is “foundationally biochemical,” so that those atheists who reject any notion of an “absolute good” because they equate that concept solely with “God” are suffering from the same sort of ideologically-motivated blindness that leads feminists and creationists to deny the [historically] evolutionarily adaptive benefits of rape; and

2) A biological propensity for religious belief probably encouraged people to stick to laws even when other people weren’t watching, giving religious societies an advantage over secular ones until the religion started to interfere with scientific progress.

I have set forth some of my own views concerning the relationship between atheism and morality here and here; simply put, no affirmative moral principles can be derived from the non-existence of God, any more than they can be derived from the non-existence of elves. The atheist may be at somewhat of an advantage in that he will not make sacrifices in this life in pursuit of an imaginary afterlife, and in that his evaluation of the morality of a particular act will more likely be based upon the actual consequences to himself and others rather than some delusion about what an imaginary god wants. However, there is no Judeo-Christian-Islamic-Hindi consensus on abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment or any other debatable moral issue, nor any consensus among atheists. So god-belief or the lack thereof will not necessarily be a major factor in determining a person’s morality; you will find believers and non-believers who share the exact same views on every single issue.

For similar reasons, I do not see how viewing morality as “foundationally biochemical” provides a particularly reliable guide to conduct. It sounds a lot like determinism, and if that’s the case, then free will, and hence morality, go out the window. This, of course, doesn’t mean that determinism isn’t true, just that there’s no point in discussing morality if all of our conduct is biologically predetermined. Plenty of atheists do embrace determinism; ironically, many of them reject God on the grounds that his alleged omniscience and complete foreknowledge defeats their free will. But, of course, they can’t help believing as they do.

Assuming that there is room for free will in foundational biochemistry, I think the theory fails for the same reason that God-command theology fails: the Euthyphro dilemma. God’s commands are either arbitrary whims, subject to change at any time; if not, there must be a standard of morality independent of God by which his commands can be judged. By the same token, either the results of foundational biochemistry must be judged “successful” because they are the results, or they must be evaluated by some independent standard. If all that is meant by saying that “religiously predisposed communities were at an advantage” is that they survived and while irreligious communities disappeared, fine; but most people would also consider whether disappearing was an “advantage” over being part of a religiously predisposed community. I’m sure that there are many Orthodox Jewish communities in the United States which are thriving, economically and otherwise; I am also quite sure that I’d rather be dead that be a part of any one of them. And it may well turn out in the next five or ten years that the foundational biochemistry of the Islamic world prevails over all others, but again, I would not equate that success with morality.

I also rebel at Godless’ second notion of “a biological propensity for religious belief.” One’s preference for chocolate over vanilla, or women over men, may be biologically determined, but one’s assent to a particular set of beliefs is something that one has substantially more control over. I have very little doubt that a twentieth-generation Muslim baby could be stolen from the crib and molded into an atheist, his Islamic genes notwithstanding.

Finally, I reject the notion that people with those alleged religious propensities are more likely to be law-abiding than others. Plainly, that is an empirical question, but I’m pretty sure that you will not find that atheists have a disproportionate presence in the prison population. And even if those in deeply religious communities are more likely to subject themselves to what they believe to be God’s commands, it is always fair to ask whether those commands are any good. Stoning women and gays may be law-abiding activities in certain communities, but whether they are good activities is a different question from whether they are inspired by bio-chemically determined religious propensities.

God Squad XVII

November 11, 2002 | Comments Off

The Squad this week celebrates Ramadan, the Muslim holy month “based on God’s merciful nature.” They explain that Muslims are required to fast part of every day, “as one of the five pillars of Islam.” I am not sure why this is considered specifically a pillar of Islam — I cannot think of one great system of ethics that does not, like Islam, base at least one or two of its “pillars” on the concept of not eating for part of a day. Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Bentham, Mill all premised a full 20% of their ethical writings on dietary restrictions.

We are also informed that toward the middle of the month, there’s a celebration called Laylat ul-Qad, which commemorates the night when the prophet Muhammad received the first revelation of the Quran from the angel Gabriel. The Squad, having heretofore concentrated on Judeo-Christian revelation from the Old Testament (and on very rare occasions, the New) does not explain exactly how or where Muhammad, the angel Gabriel, Tinkerbell and the Quran fit into the Divine scheme of things. However, Islam now appears to be the world’s last best hope:


Let us all learn from the spirit of Ramadan and hope that this year it brings an end to the bitterness and anger that has brought the scourge of terrorism to our world and fear into our hearts. And if Ramadan cannot end the anger in the world, then let us pray that at least it might end the anger in each of us and help us, with the mercy of God/Allah, to find each other again.

Presumably the Squad is speaking of the “bitterness and anger” of people other than those who celebrate Ramadan, people who have not been exposed to its gentle, forgiving, merciful spirit. I don’t know how all of us crazy scourging non-Muslim terrorists overlooked it before, but it’s never too late to learn. So sit back and be “taught.” Ramadan Mubarak!

6,000 Years of Jewish Oppression Ended with Suspension of Alternate-Side of Street Parking Rules

November 8, 2002 | Comments Off

New York, New York, November 8, 2002
Special to The Raving Atheist

The New York City Council yesterday ended 6,000 years of Jewish persecution, voting in favor of a bill to suspend alternate-side of the street parking rules on Purim. Although Jews are not prohibited from moving their cars on that holiday, religious leaders consider Purim to be “significant” and had decried the lack of “respect and recognition” afforded to the Halloween-like celebration. The measure had been vetoed last month by Mayor Bloomberg, who objected to the potential loss of parking ticket revenue.

Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League applauded the new law as “the end of vehicular anti-Semitism” and that “the New York City Parking Violations Bureau will now join the Pharaoh, the Catholic Church and Adolph Hitler in the dustbin of history.” Foxman noted that denying Purim a parking exemption was particularly egregious in view of the existing suspensions of alternate-side parking rules on Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, the first two days of Succoth, Shimini Atzareth, Simchas Torah, Shevuoth, Purim Ash Wednesday, the first two and last two days of Passover, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Ascension Thursday, Feast of the Assumption, Feast of All Saints, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Orthodox Holy Thursday, Orthodox Good Friday, the Muslim holidays of Eid Ul-Fitr and Eid Ul-Adhaa. “Not only did they discriminate against Jews in favor of other faiths, but they attempted to divide us by discriminating between our holidays,” he said. “I am surprised that they did not simply just shove us back into the gas chambers.”

In a related development, the Council also freed two billion Chinese from the yoke of Communism by passing a similar bill granting the parking exemption to the Asian Lunar New Year.

Double Standard?

November 7, 2002 | Comments Off

There is one essay in Tom Morris’ otherwise execrable “God and the Philosophers” worth reading: David Shatz’ The Overexamined Life is Not Worth Living. One of his points is that philosophers don’t “internalize” many of their own arguments, i.e., act as if they were true in real life. He notes that David Hume was “fascinated by the divorce between philosophy and practical life”; that while Hume recognized, as a philosophical matter, that he had no adequate grounds for believing in the regularity of nature or the reality of the world, once he left his study “those intellectual infirmities [had] not the slightest influence on [his] belief system.” Indeed, notes Shatz, “[e]ven in his study . . . Hume isn’t really a skeptic: He doesn’t doubt he’s putting pen to paper, and doesn’t wonder whether the paper will abruptly pop out of existence.” Shatz thus argues that only a double standard would compel philosophers who are religious (he’s an Orthodox Jew) to abandon their daily faith in favor of their academic speculation:


Hume taught us, in effect, that it is a vice to be too rational, to hold out of rigorous arguments in all walks of life. Only a mad person would want to conduct his or her life with complete, Spock-like logicality. We are possessed not of minds alone, but of hearts, emotions, needs, instincts, and habits; and we inhabit social contexts. Obviously, without the use of reason, anarchy enters; still, in most areas of belief and practice, we don’t — and shouldn’t — let philosophical worries get to us. When the subject isn’t religion, people joke regularly about the stereotypical philosopher whose head is in the clouds and who worries about intellectual puzzles that no none else gives a thought to — or, to repeat, should give a thought to. But then we get to religion, and here I detect a double standard. Suddenly, if our philosophical ruminations don’t profoundly impact our lives, if we live without the two synchronized, we’re accused of being hypocrites and irrational. True, Hume was speaking of beliefs everyone shares, “natural beliefs”; and religion, in our age, no longer fills that bill. Also, the beliefs Hume spoke of were irresistible, which religious belief is not. But try to explain why his point should work only for universally held and irresistible beliefs; the plain fact is that we allow ourselves a considerable degree of nonrational influence when we engage in the business of forming a metaphysics and a world view.

The problem with Shatz’ argument is that all of those “universally held and irresistible beliefs” that Hume identified were beliefs that 1) were not contrary to logic (even if they could not be affirmatively proven by logic) and that 2) were supported by overwhelming and uncontradicted empirical evidence. I believe in the uniformity of nature, despite the impossibility of proving the principle of induction, because countless scientific experiments and my everyday experience confirm the immutability of the laws of gravity, chemistry and physics. Certainly, logic does not exclude the possibility that a dropped rock will go up instead of down; but I have absolutely no reason, based on my experience, to believe it will. Furthermore, even while in my “study” I do not affirmatively disbelieve in induction: I simply recognize that uniformity (or non-uniformity) of the behavior of physical bodies is an issue which cannot be decided, one way or the other, from an armchair. So I expose myself to “nonrational influence” — observation rather than logic — to decide the question.

Religious beliefs fall into an entirely different category. First, most definitions of God are contrary to logic: for all the reasons set forth in my Basic Assumptions, and others, they contain internal contradictions which make the concept incoherent or impossible. The disproof of them in the study makes belief of them outside the study impossible, just as the disproof of square circles in the study dispenses of the need to search for them under rocks once outside. Second, assuming that a meaningful, non-contradictory definition of God could be formulated, the proof of God in the outside world is underwhelming to the same degree that proof of induction is overwhelming. Only the insane claim to see God, and no claim of a miracle has ever withstood the slightest scientific inquiry.

So the notion that religious beliefs are something that should be accepted just like everything else once we leave the philosophical fog is nonsense. They are the fog.

Popular Mechanics Offers Do-It-Yourself Jesus Kit

November 6, 2002 | Comments Off

Lansing, Michigan, November 6, 2002
Special to The Raving Atheist

Hobbyists who have always wondered what Jesus really looked like can find out by purchasing next month’s issue of Popular Mechanics. According to Managing Editor Doug Garrett, the magazine will publish instructions for building a fully functional, life-size robotic Jesus in its December 2002 edition.

“Most historical depictions of Jesus have been composed to flatter the vanities and prejudices of the artist’s cultural and social milieu,” said Garrett. “We believe that our subscribers will be surprised to discover that Jesus was not an emaciated, bearded white European male, or a dung-and-pornography covered African dwarf.” Instead, said Garrett, readers will find that Jesus was a whirring, beeping, clanking battery-powered metal and wire contraption. “We are confident that the completed model will convey with 100% accuracy exactly how Jesus appeared, assuming that he was constructed solely out of the materials included in the kit.”

JesusRobot.jpg

Garrett Added that like the original, the robotic Jesus will be able to perform miracles. “You’ll be able to bolt a serving tray into the 7/8″ stigmata hole in the right-hand mechanism,” he said. “And if he makes it all of the way across the room without veering into a lamp and splattering the coffee all over the wall, it’ll truly be a miracle.”

Irrelevant? (Part 2)

November 5, 2002 | Comments Off

John Venlet of Improved Clinch has posted a response to my Rave regarding the relevance of a politician’s religious beliefs to his fitness for office. John finds a candidate’s faith irrelevant because “[o]ur government is secular, thus, any person who wishes to serve in it must serve in it secularly.” He further notes that “asking those with religious beliefs to divest themselves of their beliefs in order to serve is unrealistic.”

I agree that our government is secular and that all elected and appointed officeholders are sworn to uphold the law. My point was that the press and public routinely scour a candidate’s corporate and social connections for any affiliation that might influence him to violate the oath of office. Why should religious affiliations be treated differently, especially in view of the oft-recited religious maxim that God’s law is superior to man’s law? That is precisely the view that Justice Scalia was promoting — that mandatory Catholic teachings trump secular law to the contrary. He proposed that a judge must resign rather than betray the will of the Vatican. At a minimum, that attitude is relevant to whether a candidate would be able to serve out his full term of office; and certainly, it is legitimate to wonder whether the candidate might elect to impose his religious will upon the populace rather than resign.

Beyond this, particularly in the executive and legislative branches, politicians are called upon not merely to uphold law, but to change or make law. Nothing precludes an officeholder from consulting his religious conscience in doing so. Why shouldn’t we inquire into what that conscience requires?

As far as the question of “divestment,” I did not propose that “candidates divest themselves of their beliefs.” I was proposing that those beliefs be subject to examination in the same light as every other belief, rather than be shielded from review or criticism as “personal” or “private.” Also, while I did suggest that candidates be “compelled to sever their ties with the mainstream misogynistic, homophobic orthodox Christian, Jewish and Islamic organizations” I was not referring compulsion in the legal sense. Rather, I proposed that they follow the lead of the majority of candidates who voluntarily sever their ties with whites-only or men-only golf clubs, or suffer the consequences at the polls. If they wish to defend the policies of their church, synagogue or mosque, fine; but to claim that the affiliation is “irrelevant” in a way that David Duke’s ties to the KKK are not is hypocrisy.

God Squad Review XVI

November 4, 2002 | Comments Off

Corporate employee Matt lobs a softball at the Squad this week, asking whether religious observance should take priority over his work schedule. Knowing God’s insatiable to be worshiped every seventh day, the Squad suggests that Matt call in the lawyers to force his boss to honor “reasonable requests” for time off. However, they warn that “[i]f you’re looking for every Sabbath off at a company where your job requires you to work weekends, you may fail.” Should that be the case, Matt is advised to “get a new job . . . [i]t’s a lot easier than getting a new God!”

The Squad does not, as is their occasional habit, quote scripture outlining the particulars of Sabbath observance. Although they have announced that the Sabbath trumps Matt’s means of survival, the Squad does not even specify which day of the week God wants him home. Indeed, poor Matt isn’t even advised which Calendar, Gregorian, Julian or otherwise, he should consult to determine his days off.

It’s an important question. After all, God has taken the trouble to insure that all time in the universe is measured with specific reference to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, as well as the planet’s revolution about its own axis. It’s no mere coincidence that (1) each day is precisely 24 hours long (give or take a few minutes, and accounting for the fact that the speed of rotation is constantly slowing); (2) that the number days of in the year is precisely divisible by seven (with a remainder of one day, or two days in a leap year), and (3) that the seven days are named after an assortment of Greek, Roman, Germanic and Norse gods like Thor, Woden, Saturn and Mars.

Thus, God is carefully tracking everyone’s movements to make sure, every time the Earth has traveled 1/52nd (approximately) of the way around the Sun, that they stop and pray to him for about an hour or four. Or that they do so every day, five times a day. And although God is “out of time” so that to him it is every day, past, present and future, all at once, he has made it simple for us

God and the Boy Scouts

November 1, 2002 | Comments Off

Does The Raving Atheist believe that the Boy Scouts should ban atheists? Ethically speaking, of course not: excluding them is just a nasty attempt to equate atheism with bad moral character. And atheists should be welcomed into every group — even into the hierarchy of the Catholic Church — so that they may correct whatever false beliefs the membership might hold and disband the organization if necessary.

Legally speaking, however, the question turns on whether the Scouts are a private entity entitled to enforce their membership criteria against all intruders, or a public enterprise which has forfeited some of its associational rights. That question has already been decided by the Supreme Court adversely to gays, so it looks like the Scouts are within their rights to bar the godless as well. Quite frankly, I don’t care all that much, because the Scouts have always struck me as being infected with the same sort of creepy paramilitary religiosity as the Salvation Army, something no self-respecting atheist would want to be involved with, even though I was (okay, Cub Scouts, anyway, unless Webelos counts). And since the question doesn’t really involve any theological issue, it is beyond the scope of this blog.

I can, however, imagine a few alternative legal challenges which could inject God into the fray. First, it could be argued that since Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc., posit contradictory definitions of God, and since only one of those definitions can be the correct one, the Scouts are already admitting a significant number of members who do not actually believe in “God” (depending on which definition is correct). Thus, if Jesus Christ is Lord, the Scouts are impermissibly violating their own policies by admitting Jews (indeed, a friend advises me that in the early 1960’s, she was denied membership in the Girl Scouts on the ground that “the Jews don’t believe in God”). Regardless of whether an organization is public or private, a member has a legal right to compel it to consistently apply its own internal rules. It cannot pick and choose among the atheists it will admit, making irrelevant distinctions between those who profess believe in phony, non-existent gods and those who profess to believe in no god. The case would be particularly strong if the Scouts are found to admit Unitarians, deists and pantheists, whose conceptions of God are so watered down, abstract and/or meaningless so as to be indistinguishable from atheism.

Second, a scout could argue that because it can be proven that there is no god (see my Basic Assumptions), everyone that the organization admits is technically an atheist. (Theists have employed a similar trick, claiming anyone who believes in existence or the universe must necessarily believe in God, and since everyone believes in existence and the universe, no one is an atheist). Merely stating a belief in God does not make one a theist, any more than claiming that oneself to be Napoleon makes one Napoleon. Put another way, the Boy Scouts are imposing a requirement that is impossible for anyone to meet, and it is unfair to admit only those who falsely claim to have fulfilled it.

Finally, it can be argued that the meaning of the word “god” is so vague and elusive that the requirement of god belief is incapable of enforcement. No court could exclude a boy from becoming a scout for violating a (hypothetical) rule requiring him to be blark years old or to have quizzled at least two poys. Rules of those sort cannot be meaningfully and non-arbitrarily applied until the words “blark,” “quizzled” and “poys” are defined.

Certainly, the Scouts could provide an official definition of “God,” and the courts would be powerless to second-guess it, or to question any determination that a particular applicant’s belief failed to qualify him for admission. But the point is, the Scouts have not supplied such a definition. And if they did, my first argument would immediately come into play: the Scouts would have to begin ejecting all the Christians, Jews, Hindus, Branch Davidians, etc., who believed in something different.

Onward, Atheist Soldiers

November 1, 2002 | Comments Off

I tried to compose a “top ten” list of ways that the atheists in this weekend’s Godless March on Washington could avoid looking ridiculous, before realizing that they can’t. Hopefully, there won’t be any coverage of it, but if there is, expect some pretty twenty-something reporter giggling out puns about Satan worship. Anyway, here are the four I came up with before abandoning the project:

1) No more than two speakers up on the podium at one time; otherwise, it will look like they outnumber the audience.

2) I know it was fun dressing up as Satan for Halloween, but take the costumes off for the march.

3) When you hear President Bush receiving a thunderous ovation for declaring that “We are An Atheist Nation,” remember to wake up so that you do not miss the bus.

4) Do not recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the opening ceremony.

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