The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

2002 December

Santa and Eve

December 31, 2002 | Comments Off

Catholic convert Eve Tushnet opposes telling children the Santa Claus myth (here and here) because “it unnecessarily complicates Christmas, and blurs the line between fun storytelling and, well, lying,” because it “makes Christmas about Santa Claus rather than [Christ],” and because “superstition is anti-Christian and magic-y.” This might be a respectable (albeit misguided) position to take if you’ve ever attempted to defend your Christianity on rational (albeit flawed) grounds. But Tushnet believes primarily upon faith, characteristically defending her Christianity with this sort of vague, sloppy romanticism:

Christianity best describes the world as I have experienced it. It best describes wrongdoing, beauty, and the heroism of Harry Wu. It explains the longing that suffuses a wanting world. It provides a basis for a non-selfish and non-Heloise-like “love is beyond good and evil” ethics. It might do all this and still be false, I know; that is where faith comes in, perhaps.

How would substituting “Santa Claus” for “Christianity” in this paragraph change its meaning in the slightest?

God Squad Review XIV

December 30, 2002 | Comments Off

The Squad this week proposes some New Year’s resolutions, none of them having much to do with religion except for a couple of bland admonitions to pray (for peace, but not for yourself). However, I caught a few minutes of “Father Tom and Friends” on Saturday — the Catholics-only show he hosts without God Squad rabbi Marc Gellman — and saw him promoting this fraud about a man whose cancer was allegedly cured by the electric touch of a mysterious hitchhiker in 1997. The hitchhiker turned out to be Padre Pio, the stigmatic Capuchin Franciscan priest who died in 1968 and was proclaimed a saint last June. Hartman, as it turns out, is also “supportive” of TV medium John Edward, the charlatan who tricks gullible morons into believing they’re talking to their dearly departed.

Coincidentally, on a tip from Andy of World Wide Rant, on Friday night I had watched Dateline NBC’s expos

Disprove It!

December 27, 2002 | 8 Comments

Jim Holt of Slate poses this interesting question: Can you prove that a blark doesn’t wibble? He then compounds the difficulty of the problem by imposing the following condition: disprove it without knowing what either “blark” or “wibble” mean. The solution, which Holt reveals near the end of the piece, is that the phrase “blark wibbles,” in its undefined state, isn’t really a proposition that calls for an answer. Rather, it “is cognitively meaningless and hence neither true nor false.” It is a mere sound, like a cough, signifying nothing. A person who coughs isn’t saying anything about anything. To claim that you agree, or disagree, with the cougher would be silly, because he hasn’t said anything calling for assent or dissent.

Holt’s reasoning is perfectly sound, but I am mystified as to why he implies that it is all some sort of an argument against atheism. True, his actual problem substitutes the utterance “god exists” for “blark wibbles,” but since both phrases are merely empty noises, they are cognitively equivalent, and thus equivalently meaningless. Certainly, neither sound makes any sort of theological statement (or any statement at all), which is precisely what you have to do to even be engaging in the theist/atheist debate. Indeed, Holt’s argument is classic atheism: as I state in my Basic Assumptions, my ravingly atheistic position is that “all definitions of the word “God” are either self-contradictory, incoherent, meaningless or refuted by empirical, scientific evidence.”

Since Holt never clearly states what he does mean by “God” — an indispensable step in any theological debate — my remaining quibbles with his piece will be largely shadow-boxing. He begins by equating the term with the deity that “90 percent to 95 percent of Americans profess to believe in,” but, again, never offers a definition of that deity. Later, he asserts that the “divinity” that scientific research supports “is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or even of Garry Wills . . . [i]t is just some intelligent entity that somehow has something to do with the ordering of the universe.” This latter definition would certainly make 90 percent to 95 percent of Americans atheists, as the God they do believe in is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Wills. It is much closer to the theory of the atheist David Hume, who concluded that “the cause or causes of order in the universe probably bear some remote analogy to human intelligence.” But since the laws of physics and other natural laws bear this same “remote analogy,” we are still talking about naturalism, not supernaturalism.

Holt completely evades the mainstream atheistic logical disproofs of the traditionally-defined omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God. These disproofs, together with links to other disproofs, are set forth in my Basic Assumptions, but for the sake of convenience I will repeat them here:

1) Divine omnipotence is impossible because God would, at a minimum, be unable to limit his powers, e.g., make a stone he cannot lift; if he could make such a stone, then his inability to lift it would defeat his omnipotence;

2) God’s omnipotence conflicts with his omniscience, because if God knows everything that is going to happen in advance, he cannot do anything in the present; he must simply watch the future unfold as previously foreseen, because changing anything would falsify his prior belief concerning the future;

3) God’s omnipotence precludes him from having knowledge of any sensations or emotions associated with weakness, e.g., fear, frustration, despair, sickness, etc., and thus conflicts with him omniscience;

4) God’s omniscience precludes him from having knowledge of any emotions associated with surprise or anticipation, and thus conflicts with itself;

5) God’s omniscience conflicts with his disembodiedness, since a being without a body could not know how to drive, swim, or perform any activity associated with having a body;

6) God’s omniscience conflicts with his omnibenevolence, since a morally perfect god could not have knowledge of feelings of hate, lust, or envy, or cruelty, etc.;

7) God’s omniscience and omnipotence conflict with his omnibenevolence, since a god who could prevent evil would do so unless he were unable to do so or unaware of the evil.

Each of these disproofs establishes that the concept of God is incoherent in the sense that His alleged attributes are self-contradictory. They show that the existence of God is as logically impossible as the existence of a square circle. However, Holt alludes to disproofs numbers 1 and 6, and then, without any analysis, concludes that these are “very much a philosopher’s argument[s], and [they have] been worked over to the point of inconclusiveness.” He doesn’t present any refutations or counter-arguments to what are quite clearly insuperable objections, and fails to identify who it was that supposedly established the “inconclusiveness” of these disproofs.

Holt also briefly addresses disproof number 7, the so-called “problem of evil,” asserting that the problem has been “countered with tremendous subtlety, most recently by the Notre Dame philosopher Peter van Inwagen.” Van Inwagen’s refutation? “To ask God to give me free choice between x and y and to see to it that I chose x instead of y is to ask him to do the logically impossible.” But even a child can imagine a world full of perfectly free beings who are incapable of suffering either pain or death (isn’t God one of them, and isn’t He perfectly free?). There is nothing logically impossible about that. The fact that I cannot fly or make myself invisible is not a limitation upon my free will; why would stripping me of the capacity to feel pain be any more so? And, of course, Van Inwagen ignores the fact that most suffering is not caused by the exercise of human free will: it is caused by disease and natural disaster. So even if the elimination of moral evils could not be accomplished without sacrificing free will, there is no reason why a perfectly good god could not eliminate, or at least meaningfully curtail, the extent of suffering cause by natural evils.

The remainder of Holt’s arguments are directed at straw men such as Christopher Hitchens, Katha Pollitt, Gore Vidal and Woody Allen, publicly declared atheists who offer either no reasons, or bad reasons, for their disbelief. Holt would do better debating with David Hume, Michael Martin, George H. Smith, J.L. Mackie, John Stuart Mill, Anthony Flew, Kai Nielsen, real philosophers who have actually thought about the matter, and addressing their arguments, which, for the most part, have been set forth above. And in doing so I would caution him against relying upon Garry Wills, whom he erroneously considers a “rational and fiercely intelligent thinker” regarding the question of God. As I have indicated in previous post, Wills is clueless on the subject of natural theology. He has written perhaps three paragraphs on it in his life, the following pretty much summing up his analysis:

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

In other words, blarks wibble.


December 26, 2002 | Comments Off

The $315 million Powerball winner, Andrew “Jack” Whittaker Jr., is a tither, so he’s going to give 10% of his winnings to the Church of God. CNN was reporting that the gift would be $11 million, but I am puzzled about the mathematics. He took a lump sum of $170 million, so 10% of the net would be $17 million. But Whittaker insisted to reporters that he’s be calculating the tithe based on the gross amount, which would dictate a gift of $31 million. I doubt his church will make much of a stink when he reneges on his promise and gives the lesser amount, but it should provoke an interesting discussion about promise-keeping.

Most of the discussion spurred by Whittaker’s announcement, however, will be about the practice of tithing itself. Televangelists like Pat Robertson use scripture to portray tithing as a lottery that’s easy to win, based on the supposedly divine “law of reciprocity.” The 700 Club will no doubt attempt to spark a surge in contributions by pretending Whittaker’s luck is the rule rather than the exception.

Isn’t it Ironic, Don’t You Think?

December 26, 2002 | Comments Off

According to the
New York Post, a homeless man was dragged out of St. Patrick’s Cathedral by police officers yesterday during the Christmas Mass. However, he wasn’t arrested. Instead, he was committed to Bellevue Hospital for psychiatric evaluation. What made them think he was crazy?

He claimed to be the son of God.

Ah, if only those same cops had been around 2,000 years ago . . .

santa grave

December 25, 2002 | Comments Off


Painting of Dogs Playing Poker Miraculously Spared in Blaze

December 24, 2002 | 2 Comments

Detroit, Michigan, December 24, 2002
Special to The Raving Atheist

Atheists take note: Flames roared through a Detroit home and destroyed everything — except an oil painting of Dogs Playing Poker.

Homeowner Pauline Mallory says the miracle proves that Dogs Playing Poker rule the universe. “My house, my husband, my four kids, and all of my possessions were reduced to a mound of black soot, except for that picture,” she noted. “Praise be to Dogs Playing Poker.” Mallory also stated that she would soon start gambling, cheating and smoking cigars just like them.

By surviving the fire, Dogs Playing Poker deposed Elvis Presley as the supreme being. The Rock ‘n Roll pioneer had served in that capacity since 1992, when a framed Velvet Elvis portrait survived a flood that destroyed Mallory’s mobile home.

Christian Charity

December 23, 2002 | 3 Comments

Michelle Malkin bestows martyrdom upon a Virginia Beach Christian-based charity, Mothers Inc., which she claims is the victim of government-spearheaded “punitive legal campaign.” Although it provides food, toys and shelter to the poor, governmental “meanies,” egged on by “cranky neighbors,” have slapped the organization with zoning and tax charges. Malkin concludes that “local governments, infected by NIMBYism, are increasingly using zoning rules to curtail many charitable groups’ First Amendment rights to assemble and freely exercise their religious mission of ministering to the disadvantaged.”

Malkin’s defense is so light on the facts that I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to the merits of the specific legal claims against Mothers Inc. But nowhere does she support her charge of religious discrimination. And Malkin’s account of the controversy, as one-sided as it is, still leaves the distinct impression that the charity falls somewhere between a pest and a scam.

Mothers Inc. is run by Brenda McCormick, “an Air Force widow with two children who had seen lean times herself during the holidays.” Yes, had — past tense — since considering where she lives, the hard times are over. Her home is located “a block from Virginia Beach’s popular tourist strip.” Nevertheless, McCormick has elected to run a “grass-roots distribution network” from her property, even though it is “tucked into a residential district.” After her charity became “more successful,” her neighbors began to complain of excess traffic and the unloading and littering of packages on her lawn. McCormick also installed a sign on her front lawn advertising her organization, together with a table touting a sign offering “free bread” next to a sliced loaf. So the local authorities filed a misdemeanor complaint against her for illegally operating a charitable organization in a residential neighborhood, and have “impugned her record-keeping and unjustly smeared her as a tax scofflaw.”

Anti-Christianity? Hard to say, as we aren’t told if the local government is dominated by atheists, Jews or Muslims. My guess is that McCormick’s alleged persecutors are every bit as Christian as she, but are just a little more sensitive to her neighbors’ objections to living next to a skid row mission. Presumably, they pay the high property taxes associated with living near a “popular tourist strip” — but does Mrs. McCormick? Again, I have no idea what tax violation she’s accused of, but I assume it has something to do with an unwarranted charitable deduction or an excessive or undeclared salary. It’s easy, and fun, to play Santa Claus when someone else is paying for your sleigh.

I have no objection to charity. Everybody engages in it, willingly or not, through the redistribution of wealth through taxation. But even the Red Cross isn’t permitted to convert residential neighborhoods into loading docks, or solicit funds free from public scrutiny. No, we don’t have to audit every bake sale or lemonade stand, but if Mrs. McCormick’s operation is as successful as Malkin suggests it can certainly afford to rent some space in a less pricey, appropriately-zoned area. Plenty of charities would love to set up shop in busy tourist areas and live off the backs of tax-paying commercial enterprises, but if all of them did, well, they wouldn’t be busy tourists areas anymore.

Malkin denies that she’s arguing that “home-based charities should be exempt from standard fire, public safety, traffic and building use codes.” So why the shrill cry of “religious discrimination” when those very laws are employed against an organization which so obviously flouts them?

God Squad Review XXIII

December 23, 2002 | Comments Off

The Squad this week tries to take the Christ out of Christmas, offering a homily so generic, homogenized and bland that I almost fell asleep before I got to the part specifically addressed to me. Near the end, however, they declare that “[f]or people of all faiths and no faith, the Christmas story contains the universal message that we need to be people of love.” This is supposed to appeal to cold-blooded atheists because by “Christmas story,” they mean something other than what you would ordinarily expect, something “[b]eyond the particular theological affirmations of Christmas, beyond the joyfulness at the birth of a Messiah whom God sent into the world to redeem it from sin and offer salvation.”

Hmmmm . . . I thought that was the Christmas story. I don’t see how you get “beyond” those particular facts and have anything that remotely resembles it. And I thought the whole point of the Christmas story was that if we do venture “beyond” those facts and simply love each other, we go to hell. Yes, it’s a story about cute a little baby in a manger, but everyone in the story is rushing over to honor and entertain it for a reason.

I’m eagerly anticipating the Squad’s Passover sermon. Because it has a universal message of love for Egyptians and non-Egyptians alike, once you get “beyond” the slaughter of Egyptian babies.

Duly Noted

December 20, 2002 | Comments Off

The New York Post issued this helpful warning yesterday in its “Weird but True” round-up:

Atheists take note: Flames roared through a Detroit home and destroyed everything — except an oil painting of Jesus.

“It’s quite amazing. It was hanging above a couch. The couch was all black, the wall behind the painting was black,” said homeowner Pauline Mallory.

She and neighbors believe the incident was a miracle.

Atheists take note? Why not “Jews take note” or “Muslims take note?” Certainly those groups have at least as much to fear as atheists if the story — together with its elaborate but unspoken set of premises and inferences — is true. Jesus Christ is Lord, and only those who believeth in him shalt be saved. That His picture alone miraculously survived unscathed from a fire is more than a mere sign; it is proof absolute. Just like the crucifix formed by the beams from the World Trade Center wreckage. All non-Christians go to hell.

Of course, we all know why the author didn’t use Jews or Muslims in his example. The Post would have been bullied into an apologies by indignant press releases from the Anti-Defamation League and The Council on Islamic Relations. Telling Jews and Muslims that they should “take note” of the sovereignty of Jesus Christ is “intolerant” and “disrespectful.” To announce that Christianity is the one true faith is the height of arrogance.

No matter that Christians actually do believe that to be the case. And no matter that the Jews and Muslims also believe the same thing about their respective religions. In addition to its own ridiculous, self-contradictory and absolutist monotheistic claims, every religion is required to accept the equally impossible polytheistic notion that all gods — Jehovah, Allah and Jesus — exist simultaneously. As long as some group believes in a god, that god exists for them. Even if the existence of that god logically entails the non-existence of all others.

Only the perfectly logical and self-consistent view that no god exists is prohibited. Take note, atheists.

* * *

Not that it matters, but The Post story omitted certain facts that make the Jesus-picture story somewhat less compelling than it first appears. As noted by the original story in the
Detroit Now News, a bedroom and a bathroom also survived the blaze. So a tube of Preparation H, a box of condoms, and a few rolls of toilet paper may soon be staking claims to divinity. And since all of the Mallory’s Christmas presents perished, Jesus’ claim is comparatively weakened. I would also suggest that a house that boasts an oil painting of Jesus in the living room might contain similar artifacts (bibles, statutes of Mary, rosaries), none which apparently survived the flames. Not to mention that the Mallory family — a man, his pregnant wife and four kids — are homeless and begging for money (call Sherri at the North Sashabaw Elementary School if you wish to donate). Praise Jesus!

Thou Shalt Not Make Sense (Part II)

December 19, 2002 | Comments Off

I critiqued the first three installments of Chris Hedges’ New York Times series on the Ten Commandments here. Tomorrow at 2 p.m. Mr. Hedges will be conducting an online forum about the series, answering questions e-mailed in advance to I know it’s wishful thinking, but I’ve submitted the following questions; if you want him to know that we’re not all idiots, please do the same.

Questions about the Commandments Generally

1) Why should anybody follow a list of rules just because they are in a book?

2) Isn’t the list of commandments too short and arbitrary to have been written by an omnipotent being?

3) What use is the list if we don’t know what the consequences are for violating each rule?

First Commandment Questions

1) Doesn’t the first commandment say that you should believe in only one god rather than that everything is fated by God?

2) Why did the Asch family believe that the first commandment was about predestination, rather than the number of gods that they should believe in?

3) Why would a god care whether people believe in on god, many gods or no gods?

4) Did the Asch family really believe that all of the wars, disasters and other tragedies that occurred before the death of their daughter were fated by a god?

Second Commandment Questions

1) Ms. Senturia’s problem was that she went to Phish concerts to the exclusion of anything else, including earning a living; what does that have to do with worshipping graven images?

2) Since Phish members thought Phish’s lead guitarist was god, weren’t they breaking the first commandment rather than the second?

3) Isn’t Ms. Senturia now just worshipping money and success rather than music?

4) Couldn’t Ms. Senturia still keep her job if she just worshipped a statute of a cat for five minutes a day?

Third Commandment Questions

1) Isn’t the problem with what the swindlers did in the harm that it caused to their victims, rather than in taking a false oath to god?

2) It was the victims who submitted false oaths on their credit applications, not the swindlers, wasn’t it?

3) How is the victims’ false swearing about their creditworthiness material to their plight? Wouldn’t the swindlers have stolen the loan proceeds even if they told the truth about their credit?

Godidiot of the Week: Amy Welborn

December 18, 2002 | Comments Off

I was pressed for time today, so this week’s Godidiot, Amy Welborn of In Between Naps is somewhat of a sniper victim: picked out at random from the list of Catholic blogs at Praise of Glory. Well, not completely at random; I started from the top of the list and worked my way down, looking for the first arguably God-idiotic recent post. It didn’t take long — she’s just fourth on the list.

I admit that the evidence of her God-idiotism is circumstantial. It consists of just eleven words: “Because, you know . . . gays and lesbians are so victimized by discrimination . . .” — with the text hyperlinked to an article from the Detroit News about Ford Motor’s efforts to market Jaguars to gays because they tend to be “fairly affluent with a taste for luxury goods.” Normally, this sort of sarcasm is used to demonstrate that a group demanding affirmative action or some other economic handout is doing just fine without it. But in the context of a Catholic blog, the translation is as follows: “Although God, the Church and I hate gays and think they should suffer from discrimination, gays are whiners because there is no evidence that they have actually suffered from economic discrimination.”

Apart from the defect in its internal logic, this line of reasoning is ridiculous because gays aren’t, for the most part, complaining about economic discrimination or demanding special privileges. They’re seeking to have their private sexual conduct decriminalized, and to obtain mere equality under the law with respect to marriage, adoption, insurance and other rights. Presumably, Welborn is alluding to employment discrimination, but even then, her argument would prove very little. It certainly wouldn’t prove that gays have the same class-based protection against termination that women like Ms. Welborn have, and it certainly could be explained by the fact that relatively few gays reveal their sexual orientation on the job, or sue if they’re fired for that preference. I’m not sure why Welborn raises the point at all, since her Church views avarice as a sin and poverty as a blessing.

Ms. Welborn is a married mom with four kids. Let’s dissolve her marriage, prohibit her from having sex, and let gays adopt her children. Relieved of those distractions, she can devote more time to her career. And maybe buy a Jaguar.

Thou Shalt Not Make Sense

December 17, 2002 | 1 Comment

The New York Times is running a series on the Ten Commandments that makes the God Squad seem scholarly. The ostensible reason for the series is that the Commandments “resonate in a season when many take time to carve out sacred space in their lives,” and each installment purports to showcase a “personal struggle to comply” with one of the Commandments. So far, the series has not lived up to even this annoying and murky premise.

The installment on the First Commandment — “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” — focuses on the heartbreak of the Asch family over their daughter’s death from asthma. The Asches now reject that Commandment. Why? Because they’re now worshipping Ganesh and Moloch? No — they still believe in Him, and only Him. It’s because, we are solemnly informed, the First Commandment actually stands for the proposition that everything that happens is fated by God, and the Asches don’t believe that He killed their daughter. Despite what the words of the Commandment actually say, it’s all about predestination. So the Asches are still monotheists; they’re just not Calvinists anymore. Out of respect for their grief (now 26 years old), I will not examine the question of how the Asches could be so sheltered as to think that their tragedy was the first bad thing not fated by God.

The Second Commandment — forbidding the worship of graven images — is examined in an installment about a “tour rat,” or groupie, of the band Phish. Although the Commandment “calls on believers to worship the mystery of the divine” and “cautions them against paying homage to objects created by humankind,” young Beth Senturia has dropped out of college to follow the band around and believes that the band’s lead singer, Trey, is God. But isn’t that more of a violation of the First Commandment? Trey is not an object created by mankind, but a false god. And I’m not sure why any of this is Beth’s personal struggle, since she doesn’t appear to care about the Commandments in the first place. Nor is it clear what her alternatives are, since leaving the tour rat race for the regular rat race would just being pursuing a different idol — money.

We don’t even know who’s struggling with the Third Commandment

Godidiot Nominations Needed

December 17, 2002 | Comments Off

The Raving Atheist will be humiliating another Godidiot tomorrow. Please submit your nominations by 7 p.m. today (criteria here). Again, if you wish to dissect a Godidiot yourself, I shall publish, in the main section of the blog, an uncensored and uneditied “Godidiot of the Day” award under your name. But I bet you’re a bunch of fucking cowards.

God Squad Review XXII

December 16, 2002 | Comments Off

The Squad this week attempts to quell the fears of “C” from Astoria, who has been hearing lately that Islam is a “bad religion.” In fact, friends of C have quoted portions of the Quran which speak about killing infidels, and which compare non-Muslims to apes and monkeys.

The Squad doesn’t deny the quotes (they apparently read Kathy Kinsley too), but counters that “[t]he big issue is not the quote but the quoter.” Every religion has passages in its sacred Scripture that are “violent, prejudiced, embarrassing or maybe just plain wrong,” they explain. They are in there only because God’s infinite wisdom was transcribed by fallible human beings. And those troublemakers who distort those passages by repeating them verbatim are up to no good. In quoting the “bad parts of our traditions,” such people are either (1) trying “to use religion like a weapon, to hurt other people,” or (2) showing that their “hatred and prejudice are so strong they have perverted [their] faith.” The Squad recommends that we focus on the “true and noble teachings” of each holy text instead, as the bad parts are “vastly outweighed by the good, loving compassionate, constructive, egalitarian parts.”

To The Raving Atheist, the blame rests squarely with the quotes. C’s friends were not “using religion like a weapon,” they were criticizing it. They were not demonstrating their own hatred and prejudice, they were pointing out hateful and prejudiced quotes. It is the people who believe the holy texts that use them like weapons to express their hatred and prejudice, not people outside the religion who quote from those texts.

If an 800-page high school civics or history text contained a single sentence advocating the murder of niggers, spics, cunts and fags, the book would not be defended on the grounds that the length of the passage was inconsiderable when compared to the entire work. The quoter would not be attacked as a troublemaker. The quote alone would be sufficient to raise questions as to whether all of the remaining “good parts” were part of some larger nasty trick.

The Squad blames the scriptural deficiencies on the fallible humans who transcribed them, but that’s like excusing the textbook publisher for entrusting the editing and typesetting to the Ku Klux Klan. An omniscient being presumably knows the company it keeps.

Furthermore, the Squad does not suggest how, if we are to use a book as our guide to morality, we are to distinguish the good from the bad. If we are already in a position to do so, I don’t see the need for the book in the first place. We might as well pick individual words from a dictionary, being careful to form only sentences that conform to our moral sense. Picking and choosing from texts transcribed by ancient, misogynistic racists seems to be a much riskier way to go about it. As discussed in an earlier post, Father Tom of the Squad believes that all go to Hell except those who believe in Jesus. That strikes me as at least as prejudiced as a comparison of non-Muslims to apes and monkeys.

God the Abortionist

December 13, 2002 | 2 Comments

Time to take a break from controversy and discuss something fun and easy like abortion. The Raving Atheist finds the religious left’s trivialization of the issue to be not only intellectually and morally irresponsible, but downright repugnant.

The first, central, and indispensable issue regarding abortion is whether the fetus is a person. Issues regarding the woman’s “choice” or other such euphemisms need not, and cannot, be considered until the fetus’ status is resolved. If the fetus is nothing more than a wart, tumor or similar aggregation of cells, there is no moral question involved. Nobody disputes a woman’s right to remove the growth under those circumstances, and it would be silly to frame the debate in terms of “choice” if that were all that were involved. However, if the fetus is a person, then the woman’s “choice” is restricted in the same way it would be were she considering the killing of any other person: an abortion would be permissible only if her life was endangered. Plenty of people place emotional and physical burdens upon our lives, often in excess of the nine months of the average pregnancy, but we do not get to kill them unless they are trying to kill us.

But the issue of personhood gets short shrift from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Consider one of the brochures offered on their website: “Abortion: Finding Your Own Truth” by Corrintha Rebecca Bennett. For Ms. Bennett, abortion is merely a matter of “expressing your spirituality.” Indeed, she says, “[i]ncluding your spirituality in your decision-making can enrich and enhance this experience in your life . . . [m]aking a choice about your pregnancy can be a gift of learning and growth . . . [i]t is an invitation for you to develop a larger vision of yourself and to practice compassion and loving kindness toward yourself.”

After noting that spirituality has many names (God, Greater Truth, Higher Power, Voice Within, Inner Light, Infinite Wisdom), she expresses her own preference for “Truth, or the voice of Truth” — the name she’s going to use for it in the various “exercises” she proposes for making the abortion decision. First, she announces, you must find the “voice of Truth” which “resides in a place within you that is wise and loving, and knows when you choose to honor it.” It speaks to you from your “dreams, imagination and intuition” and through “physical reactions to thoughts, images and actions.” She recommends that you close your eyes, relax and practice deep breathing, all the time “listening to your body and noticing its reaction.” Other exercises include lighting a candle, dancing your feelings, drawing and painting.

Bennett does recommend that you consider certain questions during this trance, none of them having to do with the status of the fetus. Rather, you must “[l]isten to the wise and loving place inside you as you ask yourself these questions: What Truths do I live by? What is sacred in my life? What are my beliefs about life and death? What do I know to be true about myself? What are my beliefs about abortion? For what reason do I believe this pregnancy occurred? For what reasons would I consider abortion?” This drivel goes on for three pages before concluding with a little hint:

Rituals are important aids for expressing spirituality and can be used a bridges to connect with your Truth. If honoring your Truth means choosing abortion, you may want to say goodbye to the pregnancy and send the spirit of that life on its way with love.

Another brochure, “Clarifying What You Believe“, offers similar theological meat. The uncredited author, who prefers the name “God” over “Truth,” notes that “[y]our pregnancy may be a call to discover God’s intention and love for you” and offers the following helpful advice:

Only you can decide what is right for you. God has given us the gift of free will and blesses decisions that are made prayerfully. Be assured that, no matter what you decide, you are a person who is loved and valued by God.

Que sera, sera. Any decision about anything is fine with God, as long as you pray a little. However, God does express a little preference now and then:

Contrary to popular belief, God does not will the beginning of all new life or that all pregnancies must continue. Consider that one out of every three pregnancies ends naturally in a miscarriage.

Consider also, I suppose, the number of children between the ages of one and ten whose lives end naturally from leukemia and other diseases. Infanticide, anyone? The biblical advice suffers from a similar slant:

It’s also important to know that sincere people of faith interpret passages of the Bible differently and disagree about what’s right. For instance, the Bible does not mention the word abortion. Yet some scholars interpret passages to mean abortion is not a sin, and other scholars interpret the same passages to mean abortion is a sin. No matter what you believe, do not be afraid that God will punish you for having an abortion.

No matter what you believe? What if you believe that God punishes sin, and that abortion is a sin? To further insure that you consider these weighty questions carefully and make the right choice (abortion) the brochure recommends that you talk to someone “non-judgmental” and “avoid those you feel will not be supportive.”

The site offers other articles devoted to biblical and religious analysis, all containing logic of the same quality. One of them, “The Fetus Is Not a Person,” actually concludes that “[t]he Bible is silent on the subject of abortion.” Another, under the misleading heading “Personhood,” again refers to natural spontaneous abortion and asks “[i]f every beginning is so precious that we may not choose to deny it birth, why does God make reproduction work this way?”

Elsewhere, the Coalition provides a long list of position statements from churches and other religious organizations which support abortion. Not one offers a serious discussion on the question of the personhood of the fetus; those that mention it at all dismiss it as an irrelevancy in view of the woman’s “choice.”

I sought refuge, to no avail, at the site of the atheistic Freedom from Religion Foundation. They promote a book, Abortion is a Blessing and, amazingly, offer the same biblical advice offered by the Coalition. The whole question of personhood ultimately gets trivialized like this:

Belief that ‘a human being exists at conception’ is a matter of faith, not fact. Legislating antiabortion faith would be as immoral and unAmerican as passing a law that all citizens must attend Catholic mass!

But whether the fetus is a person is a factual, not a religious question. Fetuses exist in this world, not in some imaginary heaven.

The religious right, of course, correctly identifies personhood as the central issue but analyzes it, again, as a question of God’s will. Where is a good atheist to turn?

Talking to a Wall

December 12, 2002 | Comments Off

I once suggested that the mind-numbing prose of Garry Wills’ Why I Am a Catholic be used in executions as a substitute for lethal injection. But for those who want to die laughing, I recommend readings from Women of the Wall: Claiming Sacred Ground at Judaism’s Holy Site. Try to remember as you read the following excerpt (mercifully unavailable online) that what’s at stake is nothing less than the future of women’s rights — to yak at a wall (my comments in brackets):

This volume is the history of Women of the Wall, the story of our struggle, at least in its beginning stages.

[As it stands, this book is 429 pages long and covers a period of fourteen years. At least in its beginning stages. Noble wall-struggles take time, you know.]

We are a group of Jewish women who have gathered together to pray at the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

[Like commercials on the Oxygen, We, and Lifetime networks, all women in this book speak in unison the first-person plural. “We” are women, “We” are strong, “We” all think and act alike, “We” are all highly individualistic, “We” all want to talk to a wall.]

It is also the story of those who wish to deny us this religious right . . .

[Note that “those who wish to deny” have just a “story,” not a “history.” Since they wish to deny somebody something, they’re clearly evil people, especially since a religious right is at stake. And such an obvious right -

Godidiot of the Week: Andrew Sullivan

December 11, 2002 | 2 Comments

I have as little sympathy for gay Catholics as I do for Jewish Nazis. So Jesus-worshipping Andrew Sullivan’s whine today about the irrationality of homophobia earns him the title of Godidiot of the Week.

The morality of homosexual conduct can easily be defended on the ground that it does not hurt those who participate in it, or anybody else. That is the beginning and the end of the argument, and, indeed, of any moral argument. The issue only becomes complicated, and unnecessarily so, when one invokes the will of some unseen, self-contradictory and/or unknowable celestial creature as the standard of morality. It becomes further complicated, and insanely so, when one argues that belief in the resurrection of that creature’s son is a moral imperative. Since any and every conclusion follows from a contradiction, any and every precept can be derived, or claimed to be derived, from that screwball state of affairs. Human experience and logic have been thrown out the window, and anything goes.

Hence the Catholic Church despises homosexuals, despite all its gentle blather about loving the sinner and hating the sin only. Sullivan, naturally, distances himself from the Church as an institution, but claims that there are “Catholic – yes, Catholic – principles about the inherent dignity and equality of gay people.” What makes these principles particularly “Catholic” he never explains. Sullivan hasn’t started his own church, and the only other Catholic church that has spoken on the matter is the Roman Catholic Church, which considers homosexuality a sin.

I have searched the Internet in vain for any coherent explanation from Sullivan reconciling his homosexuality with his alleged Catholicism. He doesn’t discuss it much, and when he does, it’s just incredibly vague, mystical double-talk:

Like faith, one’s sexuality is not simply a choice; it informs a whole way of being. But like faith, it involves choices — the choice to affirm or deny a central part of one’s being, the choice to live a life that does not deny but confronts reality. It is, like faith, mysterious, emerging clearly one day, only to disappear the next, taking different forms — of passion, of lust, of intimacy, of fear. And like faith, it points toward something other and more powerful than the self. The physical communion with the other in sexual life hints at the same kind of transcendence as the physical Communion with the Other that lies at the heart of the sacramental Catholic vision.

So when I came to be asked, later in life, how I could be gay and Catholic, I could answer only that I simply was. What to others appeared a simple contradiction was, in reality, the existence of these two connected, yet sometimes parallel, experiences of the world.

Later in this same mess Sullivan analyzes a 1975 declaration regarding homosexuality and asks “[h]ow intelligible is the Church’s theological and moral position on the blamelessness of homosexuality and the moral depravity of homosexual acts?” I don’t know: How intelligible is the Church’s position on the Virgin Birth, the Immaculate Conception or salvation through Christ? Maybe the intelligibility is like faith, something “mysterious, emerging clearly one day, only to disappear the next.” Maybe if asked how it could be anti-gay and Catholic, the Church could answer only that “it simply is.” What’s logic got to do with it?

Gays, like everybody else, have a right to practice whatever silly religion strikes their fancy. But defending one’s sexual orientation on murky theological grounds disentitles one from complaining that someone else’s equally incomprehensible dogma is less logical than your own.

Godidiot Nominations Needed

December 10, 2002 | Comments Off

Godidiot Nominations Needed

The Raving Atheist will be humiliating another Godidiot tomorrow. Please submit your nominations by 7 p.m. today (criteria here). Also, if you wish to dissect a Godidiot yourself, I shall publish, in the main section of the blog, an uncensored and uneditied “Godidiot of the Day” award under your name.

Rosary Beads Deemed Car Safety Device

December 10, 2002 | 1 Comment

Westmont, Illinois, December 10, 2002
Special to The Raving Atheist

An Illinois judge has dismissed a traffic ticket for windshield obstruction, siding with a devout Catholic driver who contended that the rosary beads hanging from her rear view mirror were a safety device. The driver, Westmont resident Catherine “Kit” Morris, avoided $75 fine by arguing “[i]t’s a rosary for goodness sake . . . [i]t’s for praying . . . [i]t’s supposed to protect you.”

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader hailed the decision as a victory for public safety. “During a 75-mile-per-hour collision caused by an obstructed windshield view, a string of rosary beads acts as a lasso,” he said. “Although it does not appreciably slow the motorist’s trajectory through the windshield, it faciliates speedier decapitation so that the head rolls directly into Jesus’ waiting arms.” Nader called upon the National Highway Safety Commission to require airbags to be replaced by communion wafers in all new cars by 2005.

You Asked for It, You Got It

December 9, 2002 | Comments Off

You Asked for It, You Got It

Minute Particulars
complains that it could not find the following comments about Bernard Cardinal Law on a blog like mine:

1) Y’know, maybe they should prosecute Cardinal Law and the archdiocese under RICO — It sure as hell looks like organized crime to me. Institutional white slavery, prostitution, drug abuse and child abuse all impeccably documented by the minions of Madam (er, Cardinal) Law.

2) Time to go. Time to go. Time to go . . .

3) Cardinal Law, compromised moral idiot though he is . . .

Now he can. Now, can someone tell me why Naked Writing is on his blogroll?

God Squad Review XXI

December 9, 2002 | Comments Off

The Squad this week educates “M.P.” of Locust Valley about a strange and foreign custom. M.P., it seems, has just read about these odd people called “suicide tourists” — sick individuals who travel to Switzerland to get a “fatal dose of something so they can die.” The Squad, worldly men that they are, have heard about this Swiss practice — and they do not approve. Apparently, says the Squad, the Swiss picked it up from the Greeks, who call it “euthanasia,” meaning “good death.” But the Squad knows that you can’t put a pretty face on death just by calling it “good,” so they have their own name for it: “killing the sick.” It’s not nice to kill the sick; after all we should help the sick get well, not kick them when they’re down.

Fortunately, Americans haven’t really heard about this exotic issue, as it’s only come up Oregon (where they have a law about it), and in Michigan (where some crazy doctor was prosecuted for it). But, just in case there’s an increase in Swiss-Greek immigration, the Squad alerts us to the “central ethical issue” with killing the sick. It’s actually a property rights question: Who owns your body, you or God? They point out that “[i]f you believe that you own your body, then you have a right to sell your organs, fill your body with drugs or even end the life of your body.” But, “if God owns you body, then you’re only renting, and you can’t destroy what you don’t own.” The Squad has done some landlord/tenant counseling for sick leaseholders; although some “died in despair,” others “were able to move through the physical, spiritual and emotional trauma to find new meaning for their lives.”

The Squad’s discussion reminded me of an issue that has come up in America with some frequency. The word for it, also “euthanasia,’ is English, not Greek, although I suspect from the similarity in that one of the languages might have borrowed the word from the other. Anyway, the American “euthanasia” is a somewhat more serious matter — some of the sick people are terminally ill, and in chronic, horrible, relentless, unceasing physical and emotional pain. It’s not just something that carefree tourists do on a lark after seeing a Swiss clock factory, or the Parthenon.

The law in America, too, could explain the difference: most people, rightly or wrongly, believe that if they own anything, the own their own bodies. They look at their fingers, their hands, their legs, their toes and think: hey, these things are attached to me. Sometimes they do get into property disputes over unattached, inert physical objects like cars and watches and books and other things, but who owns those things isn’t so clear unless there’s a receipt or someone’s stamped or written their name on them. But no one claims to own someone else’s body, usually, mainly because of the whole “this is attached to me” concept.

Another problem Americans might have with someone, or something, else owning their bodies is that you’re not really supposed to do anything with someone else’s property. If something called God owns my body, not only should I refrain from destroying it, I shouldn’t even move it. I should leave it right where it is until He comes to pick it up. No moving, eating, haircutting, nail-clipping, etc. — would you do those things, even to a doll, that was owned by someone else? Certainly, you would not cut it open to donate blood, or a kidney, or bone marrow or anything like that.

* * *

It occurred to me sometime after writing the above that maybe the Squad was talking about the same kind of euthanasia that I was — that they are actually a pair of insane, sick fucks who would let a helpless, terminally-ill patient writhe in pain no matter how hard he or she begged to die. I knew before that they were stupid, but I never imagined that they were sadists. Perhaps it’s just that the people they counsel are complete strangers, not relatives or other people that they love or for whom they have day-to-day responsibility for. But if they truly believe, as they say, that “[d]eath will one day claim our bodies but never our souls,” what’s this fixation on prolonging the bodily suffering? If death is not death in any real sense, but just continuation of consciousness after the shedding of a temporary, useless, pain-ridden body, what’s the big deal about suicide?

They claim that it is because only God is allowed to “determine the number of our days,” but that implies that God is helpless to thwart a suicide attempt. If God is responsible for determining “the number of our days” in all circumstances other than suicide, does he get the blame for all deaths caused by murder, accident, disease and lightning? And why does the Squad support the exhaustion of “all medical treatments” — doesn’t that extend the divinely pre-determined number of days? And if God does support medical interference, why do they support leaving the hospital for a hospice? Shouldn’t heroic measures be taken to extend the number of days as far possible, even in the cases of terminal illness?

Crossing Over

December 7, 2002 | Comments Off

Godidiots like to taunt non-believers by declaring that some great thinker or theologian “used to be an atheist.” The implication is that the notable in question has “been there, done that,” has fully considered and rejected atheism on his path to Enlightenment. Benjamin Kepple, for example, suggests that I “don’t care” for C.S. Lewis “perhaps because Lewis was at one time in [my atheistic] camp.”

The short answer is, of course, that the truth of atheism is not dependent upon who believes it, or used to believe it. But I do occasionally wonder precisely what sort of atheist converts like Lewis were, and whether at the time they were supposedly atheists they actually had any intellectual understanding of the arguments supporting their disbelief. Lewis never wrote a treatise on atheism, and nothing in his later writings convinces me that he had the slightest grasp of modern atheistic philosophy. So if he was once an atheist, I suspect it was only in the way that cats and babies are “atheists,” i.e., simply lacking a belief in God rather than affirmatively disbelieving in the concept. Or, possibly, Lewis briefly “questioned” God following a death in the family or other such tragedy, a condition closer to pessimism or depression than true analytical atheism.

I did locate an interesting debate from some years back over whether there were any intelligent, well-read and “committed atheists” who had ever converted to Christianity. Farrell Till, Editor of The Skeptical Review, wrote in 1996:

I personally don’t know a single person who was once a committed atheist but is now a Christian, but I know several atheists who were once very committed Christians. All one has to do is read the Mailbag column in TSR to see evidence of that.

I do know that it is rather commonplace for Christians, especially preachers, to claim that they were once atheists or agnostics but when they took the time to investigate the Bible, they saw such compelling evidence that it was inspired of God that they became Christians; however, I have never met a preacher that makes this claim whose reputation in the freethought movement was established before he “converted” to Christianity. Josh McDowell, for example, alleges that he was an atheist until he took the time to investigate the Bible, but I don’t know of a single article or book that McDowell wrote or a single lecture he presented on the subject of atheism before his alleged conversion happened. I suspect that these claims of atheism before conversion to Christianity are exaggerations or else honest delusions of people who had no firm commitments to skepticism before becoming Christians. The closest that I can come to the name of someone who changed from atheism to Christianity is Austin Miles, the author of Don’t Call Me Brother Anymore, and I don’t actually know if Miles ever considered himself an atheist. He made the transition from Christian to at least skepticism (at which time he wrote the above book) and back to Christianity, but in all sincerity I have to wonder how much he was committed to freethought. I personally find it hard to understand how that any skeptic who takes the time to research biblical errancy and really become informed on the subject could possibly return to believing that it is the “inspired word of God.”

The next year, responding to a Mr. Casao who identified “Joseph Joubert, a philosopher, disciple and collaborator of Diderot and a self-confessed atheist before his conversion, and Henri Gheon, who changed from a Nietzschean atheism to Catholicism,” Mr. Till wrote:

Perhaps Mr. Casao just didn’t understand what I meant by “committed atheists.” When I refer to committed atheists, I mean atheists who have studied the major arguments for the existence of God and the many refutations that have been published and use this knowledge to try to educate others to the fallacies in theistic thinking. Since I don’t even know the backgrounds of the converted atheists that Mr. Casao has listed in his letters, I have no way of knowing if they were ever committed atheists in the sense that I use the term. Of all the Christians who have said to me that they were once atheists, I had never heard of any of them. Since I have done extensive reading in freethought and atheistic literature, I’m sure that I would have encountered their names if they had been committed atheists before their conversions. It seems to me that Mr. Casao is trying to make an issue where none exists. I was asked if I knew of any committed atheists who have converted to theism, and I said that I didn’t. And that was the truth.

This provoked a response the next year from subscriber Jeff Epler, who opined:

No matter how much I like Till, or how right he usually is, I must foremost take exception to the discussion on Page 14 re: “More about Converted Atheists…” Till has ranted in the past that some Christians say of other Christians-particularly ones who converted to another faith or to atheism-that he “wasn’t a real Christian.” Now I read Till saying the same thing: They were not “committed atheists.” Till’s whole reply reads just like a Christian explaining how no real Christian has ever converted to atheism.

I guess I don’t understand even the point of trying to establish that no “committed atheists” have ever reverted/converted to Christianity. So what? If nobody ever converted from Christianity to atheism, I might argue that it was merely because Christians were so closed-minded that such a thing was impossible, but that wouldn’t really do anything to prove atheism. Similarly, a Christian could point at the lack of atheist converts and say that it’s because we’re too closed-minded about the idea of God or of “the supernatural.”

Furthermore, when Till says he’s never heard of these guys who were said to be atheists but are now Christians, I don’t know that he had ever heard of Dan Barker the Christian before he had read/knew/heard of Dan Barker the former-Christian atheist. I certainly hadn’t, and even today I tend to think of Bob Barker (The Price is Right gentleman, I believe) before I think of Dan.

So, Till, how is your dismissal of those who have converted from atheism to theism as not “committed atheists” different from Christians saying of others that they aren’t or weren’t real Christians? Even if there is some relevant difference, what does this demonstrate about the superiority of the atheist position?

In the same issue, addressing both Casao and Epler, Till replied:

I do know Christians who claim that they were once atheists, but in talking to them, I formed the opinion that they had been unchurched rather than atheists. I found none of them who seemed to know much about responses that have been made to the traditional theistic arguments. Mr. Casao has reached back into the 18th century for some examples of what he considers committed atheists who converted to Christianity. As far as I know, he may be right about them, because I am not familiar with the lives of either Joubert or Gheon. Mr. Casao identified them both as philosophers, so I will make a cynical comment about whether philosophers should be considered committed to anything except their philosophical ideas. Whenever I read philosophical works, I sometimes find myself wondering if even the writers know what they’re trying to say. I’m willing, however, to concede that Joubert and Gheon were atheists who converted, but as Jeff Epler pointed out, what does it matter? I didn’t know either one of them, and so I can still say that I have never known a committed atheist who converted to Christianity.

I won’t add anything to this debate other than to say that my sympathies are largely with Mr. Till. And to say that it all brings to mind a quote from John Stuart Mill’s “Utilitarianism,” if you substitute “atheist” for both “human” and “Socrates,” and “Christian” for both “pig” and “fool”:

It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.

Response to a Godidiot (Benjamin Kepple)

December 6, 2002 | Comments Off

I write this having been transformed into a newt by this week’s Godidiot, Wiccan Archpriest Pete “Pathfinder” Davis. But even my now pea-sized brain resists a conversion to the sort of Catholicism suggested by last week’s winner, Benjamin Kepple.

Kepple starts out in the right direction, acknowledging “our atheist would agree that one cannot sustain a belief in God through logic alone.” Indeed, as set forth and explained in my Basic Assumptions, I maintain something much stronger: that “all definitions of the word ‘God’ are either self-contradictory, incoherent, meaningless or refuted by empirical, scientific evidence.” In short, logic affirmatively disproves the existence of every meaningfully-defined God.

The original focus of our debate, however, was on a much simpler task. I was not seeking to refute every conceivable God, but only the limited one defined by the God Squad and Kepple as an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being who excludes or tortures those who fail to believe that He killed and resurrected His own son to save mankind. Logic certainly defeats that concept: Kepple openly concedes that it is not a logical belief, that it “may be arbitrary” and that he “may not have evidence to support [his] claim.” Accordingly, Kepple doesn’t bother to address any of the standard contradictions (linked to and identified in my Basic Assumptions) between the alleged divine attributes. Nor does he address the more specific conflict between the idea of omniscience and omnibenevolence, on the one hand, and, on the other, the Rube Goldberg-esque son-killing salvation scheme that is the centerpiece of Christianity.

One would think that the debate would end here, with the concession that the Godidiot argument is illogical, contradictory, and therefore, by definition, false. But (after a few diversions that I shall address shortly) Kepple asks “Why [is] faith . . . an invalid standard? Since “faith” is belief in something without, or contrary to, logic or proof, the question becomes “Why is it invalid to believe something not supported by logic or proof?”

It is a question that answers itself: by asking “Why,” it calls for a response that is supported by logic or proof. If I were to reply that faith is an invalid means of knowledge because “blue grasshoppers hop quickly” or “1 + 1 = 13″ or “t’was brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe” or “just because I believe faith is invalid,” Kepple would certainly attack my explanation as false, unresponsive, irrelevant or incoherent. He would accuse me of employing an invalid standard. And it would be an invalid standard because it failed to employ, or was contradicted by, logic or proof — which is precisely the failure of faith. Faith resolves absolutely nothing; certainly Kepple does not explain why the faith that leads him to Christianity leads others to belief Allah, Zeus, Wotan, unicorns, witches, or how, on the basis of faith, he could reject those alternate beliefs.

This is why Kepple himself purports to resort to logic, and implicitly condemns faith, throughout the body of his argument. He claims that atheism can be defeated by logic and condemns me for not “set[t]ing out points or an outline to support or refute a position.” But if logic is invalid (or some alternative logic applies), why trust it to refute atheism? And if faith is valid, why not faith in atheism? Why condemn an atheistic argument for not proving or supporting its own conclusions? What’s wrong with, as he says, sticking my head in the sand and ignoring all rational arguments and evidence? Isn’t that precisely the methodology of faith?

Insofar as Kepple does use logic to attack atheism, the arguments are simply bad. He first quotes C.S. Lewis’ attempted refutation of a bad paraphrase of the problem of evil: “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust . . . [b]ut how had I got this idea of just and unjust . . . [a] man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” But the proposition in question is whether an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenelovent being exists. How do our feelings about justice, our ability to know crooked from straight, hot from cold (or other qualities from their opposites) remotely establish the existence of such a being? How do these abilities address the contradictions between the divine attributes? How does asking “where” these senses derive from lead to the conclusion that a God exists? And what does Kepple’s observation that we all share the same sense of logic have to do with the existence of the almighty? Why not just say our sense of truth, logic and good are derived from square circles or crocodiles?

I also note that existence of a universal standard of good — if it existed — would count heavily against the God of Kepple and Lewis. If God’s will is the measure of such a standard (which it would have to be if He is omnibenevolent), then torturing babies would be good if God commanded it to be. To argue that such conduct is not good, (or that God would not command it because it is not good), one must appeal to a standard of morality that is independent of God. And if there is such a standard, then God is not essential to morality. I have to say that I am surprised that Kepple relied on this particular argument of Lewis; after all, Kepple’s original premise was that we are not in any position to judge the rationality of God’s nutty salvation-through-Jesus-belief, not that we have some absolute sense of right and wrong. Indeed, Kepple’s original premise was that “I don’t claim to know the mind of God, what He thinks, how He chooses who gets in and who doesn’t.” This is about as far away from a roadmap for morality as one can get.

I was cruel enough last time regarding the reasons for Kepple’s conversion to Catholicism, so I won’t post another picture. But I was rather surprised how everyone missed the point of the original illustration. The focus should have been on the corn-throwing Pope, not the pig-bodied-and-snouted Kepple. My point (apart from being mean) was that the niceness of the messenger is no guarantee of the truth of his beliefs; indeed, since under Kepple’s theory belief in the “right” God trumps living a nice life, one should be as nasty as necessary to make sure the infidels get onto the right path.

Kepple does now assert, however, that he was attracted to Catholicism not solely because of a nice friend, but because of the religion’s “intellectual rigor, its strength in holding to its theological doctrines instead of bowing to the ever-changing tastes of the world-at-large, and its acceptance of reason while holding fast to its spirituality.” I’ve addressed the issues of “reason” and “intellectual rigor” above, but will add that very few practicing Catholics are familiar with even the bad arguments that Kepple offers, or with their own Church’s definition of omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolence. The focus is rather upon on the anthropomorphized father, son and Mary, the familiar miracles and mysteries of the Bible, and the clever tricks performed by recently-deceased saint-wannabe’s. I also note that Kepple studiously avoids any response to my attacks on the Pontiff and his delusions regarding Fatima, his suffering during the Year of the Family and other such matters. As to the Church’s constancy and resistance to change — hardly attributes that recommend it — it’s as fad-driven as another other religious institution. The Virgin Birth, the Immaculate Conception, the exalted status of Mary are all relatively recent non-Scriptural inventions. Its positions on anesthesia, capital punishment and evolution have also changed radically, for better or worse, in the last 100 years or so.

Finally, Kepple and others wonder why I do not tackle St. Augustine, Tertullian or Eusebius. The focus of this blog is how religion trivializes American law and politics, and the point of the Godidiot award is to humiliate those who do the trivializing. To the extent that my Godidiots rely on Augustinian, Tertullianian and Eusebiusian arguments I will address them, as I have with the arguments Kepple borrowed from C.S. Lewis. I seriously doubt, however, that the level of discourse would be particularly higher if I took on the old texts directly. For example, here’s a bit of Tertullian:

And the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And He was buried and rose again the fact is certain because it is impossible.

Even Kepple makes more sense than that.

God of the Jocks (Part 3)

December 5, 2002 | Comments Off

In an earlier Rave, I expressed my displeasure with those commentators who attacked “Jock theology” –i.e., praising God for a sports victory — while simultaneously promoting a theology just as silly. One of their usual points is that it’s inconsistent for an athlete to credit god with a win, but not blame him for a loss. The flaw in this approach was exposed this week by Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna, who does indeed blame God for his team’s losing season, according to SportsbyBrooks.

This, of course, does not stop SportsbyBrooks from finding it “laughable that Kitna would put God in that context.” But Brooks doesn’t suggest the contexts in which he believes God is not laughable. I suspect, if pressed, he would find the doctrine of the Trinity, of transubstantiation, of the Jews’ Covenant with God, of the visions of Mohammed, of the God-imposed dietary restrictions of any number of religions, or of the ban on opposite-sex handshaking, to be perfectly “serious” matters. For we all know that God only bothers himself with matters of the utmost importance.

(Link courtesy of Paul Frankenstein)

Godidiot of Eight Days Ago

December 5, 2002 | Comments Off

Due to time constraints imposed upon me by Higher Powers, my response to last week’s Godidiot shall be postponed for one more day. I promise. For whatever an atheist’s promise is worth.

Godidiot of the Week: Pete “Pathfinder” Davis

December 4, 2002 | Comments Off

The inability to discern fact from fiction is one of the hallmarks of religion. The problem is particularly acute among the Wiccans, who reject the elusive Judeo-Christian-Islamic God in favor of a much more obviously made-up witch-based concept. To paraphrase an old joke, it’s like knowing that Jesus is make-believe because Santa Claus told you so. Although all religions are false, there’s something extraordinarily gullible about adopting The Wizard of Oz as your bible after you’ve rejected the “real” Bible as unworthy of belief.

I’ve made this point about the Wiccans before here, here, and, more recently, here, where I parodied the notion that an atheist rejected by the mainstream national scouting would fly into the arms of the SpiralScouts, run by the God-and-Goddess embracing Wiccans. I noted that the SpiralScouts were “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” and suggested that an atheist would “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.” However, displaying the precise kind of gullibility that I was illustrating, SpiralScouts founder Pete “Pathfinder” Davis — The Raving Atheist’s Godidiot of the Week – – didn’t get the joke. Last week Davis, who is also Archpriest of the Wiccan Aquarian Tabernacle Church, posted the following comment:

Your recent posting which purports to quote me as having offered membership in our SpiralScouts program to the Eagle Scout Darrell Lambert is a complete fabrication on your part. I have never had any such conversation with Lambert or anyone else on his behalf. This brings into question the truthfulness of your purported quotes from Mr. Lambert as well. Your comments are actionable and I must ask you to remove the posting as it is both fanciful and libelous and has no basis in any facts whatsoever. The SpiralScouts program was created as a religiously neutral alternative to Boy Scouts, and groups can even be sponsored by athiests [sic] if they choose to do so. Our only criteria for sponsorship is personal responsibility. That’s probably why our program has experienced explosive growth across the US and Canada, at the rate of 5,600% in the last 2 years. If you want to attack us, at least stick to the facts and refrain from having to create something with lies and quotes that have never happened, please.

“Fanciful,” indeed. Someone who incorporates the word “Pathfinder” into his name is presumably good at picking up on clues. Mr. Davis, look at the previous three stories on my site’s “News” roster: “6,000 Years of Jewish Oppression Ended with Suspension of Alternate-Side of Street Parking Rules,” “Popular Mechanics Offers Do-It-Yourself Jesus Kit,” “Fate of Universe Hangs on Mary’s Sex Life.” Do you detect some sort of pattern? And do you know anybody, much less a 19-year-old Eagle Scout, who speaks in the robotic, Mr. Spock-like jargon I attributed to Mr. Lambert (“[h]aving rejected Christianity specifically because of its irrationality, I now indiscriminately embrace any illogical, intelligence-insulting ideology which pronounces itself to be non-Christian”)?

Funnier yet is how Davis misconstrues the perfectly factual elements of the parody. I never “quoted” Davis as offering membership specifically to Lambert, or of having a “conversation” with the scout. In fact, I never quoted Davis as saying anything at all. All I did was accurately convey the SpiralScouts’ general, open offer, fully documented by the accompanying link, to indoctrinate “pagans, atheists and others” in the Wiccan religion. And as Davis’ claim that the SpiralScouts are actually “religiously neutral,” let’s again look at the record:

1) SpiralScouts is the youth program of the Wiccan Church; Davis “created the SpiralScouts as the Aquarian Tabernacle Church’s ‘answer’ to the Boy Scouts and other youth organizations that subscribe only to ‘traditional’ faiths'” (see last link).

2) The avowed purpose of the SpiralScouts, as explicated on its website is to “provide an opportunity for Pagan families to interact with their children”; to instill the “Pagan worldview” and to teach the “many classical mythologies both popular and obscure.”

3) The organizational structure consists of “Hearths,” “Circles,” “Clans” and “Tribes” (see SpiralScouts website).

4) The “single, overarching governing council” is “the ATC, an interfaith church of Wicca and Earth Religion” (see website).

Perhaps, as Davis says, “practicing Wicca is not a mandatory activity” in the SpiralScouts. Rather, “it is up to each SpiralScout unit leader [not the scouts themselves] to decide whether they will teach children the principles and philosophy of the Wiccan religion.” So the SpiralScouts do indeed, as I originally said, “offer indoctrination” in Wicca. And they’re obviously far more sectarian that the Boy Scouts of America, which merely requires the scouts pretend that they believe in the meaningless, ceremonially deistic oath they are required to recite. SpiralScouts – despite Mr. Davis’ protestations otherwise — is quite plainly a recruiting arm of the Wiccan Aquarian Tabernacle Church.

I won’t address the non-theological issues surrounding Mr. Davis’ charge of libel, other than to say that truth is a defense to both defamation and Wicca. I also note that he never contests my characterizations of Wicca as a “preposterous witch-religion,” a “pretentiously silly Earth religion” or an “intelligence-insulting ideology” composed of “gullible, superstitious misanthropes,” focusing instead (and mistakenly) on my alleged misattribution of quotes to him. But, since he’s demanded a retraction, here it is: Mr. Davis, go fuck a witch.

(Note to self: Reread Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”).

Welcome, Wiccans!

December 4, 2002 | 1 Comment

The Raving Atheist proudly welcomes The Pagan Prattle to his blogroll. They’re endearingly anti-Catholic (part of their URL is “”) and they get my jokes, at least when they’re directed at Papists. Rather unfairly, though, they warn (in their third December 3rd post) that I “treat all religions equally, so over-sensitive Wiccans are advised to stay away.” When did I ever say anything bad about the Wiccans?

Godidiot of Last Week

December 4, 2002 | Comments Off

Having immersed myself in the world of Wicca for a few hours, I am seriously contemplating a conversion to Catholicism. If I reconsider, I will post my reply to last week’s Godidiot, Benjamin Kepple, tomorrow.

Volcano Disaster Averted By Divine Non-Intervention

December 3, 2002 | 1 Comment

Rifugio Sapienza, Italy, December 3, 2002
Special to The Raving Atheist (link courtesy of Reed Esau)

An Italian ski resort that was not really in danger of being destroyed by a volcanic eruption was spared after an archbishop beseeched God not to change the laws of gravity, physics and geology, according to CNN . Although local authorities constructed a 1500-by-500 foot protective earth barrier to ensure that the lava from Mt. Etna would merely graze the village of Rifugio Sapienza as it did last summer, Monsignor Salvatore Gristina guaranteed its inevitable safety by asking God not to disturb the 20 billion year reign of invariable causal law. According to witnesses, shortly after Gristina’s benediction the lava non-miraculously began to continue flowing downwards in the direction it was already headed, rather than leaping upwards, backwards or sideways.

The village benefited from a similar act of divine non-intervention last month when the competing ski resort of Piano Provenzana was completely swallowed up by lava behaving in a completely predictable, physically pre-determined fashion. Rifugio Sapienza is further expected to gain its independence from the governing municipality of Nicolosi sometime later this month, after God fails to interfere with the spectacular river of 1000-degree molten rock currently on course to obliterate every last vestige of that city.

Encouraged by the success of his non-intercessory prayer, Gristina has vowed to save the world next year from a collision with the asteroid Ceretus. Ceterus, a pebble-sized body orbiting between the planets Neptune and Pluto, is expected to continue on its harmless course for the next eight billion years before gradually drifting out of the solar system. However, Gristina will pray that Ceterus not inexplicably morph into a clone of Jupiter and hurtle towards the Sun, sucking the Earth into its gaseous red spot before exploding upon impact with Venus.

Godidiot Nominations Needed

December 2, 2002 | Comments Off

The Raving Atheist will be dissecting another Godidiot this Wednesday (and also addressing some issues raised by last week’s winner and his sycophants). Please submit your nominations by 5 p.m. Tuesday (criteria here). Otherwise, it might be YOU.

God Squad XX

December 2, 2002 | Comments Off

The Squad is in fine form on their return from vacation, offering some useless non-responsive advice to a reader who has heard “that you can pray to lose weight.” The reader, “B” from West Islip, overeats “all the time,” but really overdoes it on the holidays. “B” has been praying hard, but doesn’t think it’s going to work. So . . . what is the Squad’s take on the efficacy of prayer to solve a health problem?

Let’s examine the Squad’s answer to this question piece by piece.

1. We are both struggling with being overweight and know how hard it is to succeed…and how depressing it is to fail.

Now, nobody prays more that a priest and rabbi, right? And since they are both into their fifties, they’ve presumably prayed quite a lot over the years. Yet, they are both admittedly overweight, and have failed at losing weight. Will they admit to B that prayer is not the answer?

2. First of all, you might want to start eating less and praying more.

Wait a minute . . .B already knows that to lose weight, one must eat less. B’s problem is that it’s hard to stop eating. Praying more hasn’t helped the Squad to curb their appetite, has it?

3. This is not just a flippant remark. In your prayers, we hope you discover that God wants you healthy (not skinny but healthy) and that overeating is as much an addiction as smoking, drinking or abusing drugs.

So the point of the prayer is to find out whether God wants you healthy in the first place, and whether God agrees with the Squad about the addictiveness of overeating? I assume the Squad is just offering its opinion here, but what is the point of praying to God if He is just going to repeat their advice? And if this is actually advice that the Squad originally got from God, why hasn’t it helped them? And what if B discovers that God disagrees with the Squad, and wants her to eat pounds of deep fried Big Macs?

4. Every weight-loss success story we’ve heard involves regular exercise as a chief component, eating smaller portions and eating additional but smaller meals throughout the day. We are not nutrition experts, so we wouldn’t dare offer advice beyond that.

B didn’t consult the Squad for its nutritional expertise; B wanted to know whether prayer is an effective means of weight loss. Did any of the weight-loss success stories that the Squad heard involve prayer?

5. The main thing to find in your prayers is self-confidence. You have no doubt overcome other obstacles in your life. God can help you overcome this one, too. Have confidence that the God who made you to do something special in this world wants you to succeed and to move beyond obsessing about your weight to obsessing about the injustice and cruelty in the world.

B didn’t claim to be “obsessing” about the weight problem. B just wanted to know whether prayer would reduce the weight. Nor did B claim that God had helped out with other obstacles — B wouldn’t be asking about the usefulness of prayer if it had helped in the past. And why is the Squad suggesting that you can’t obsess about injustice and cruelty until you’ve slimmed down?

6. And don’t think that this struggle with your weight will be settled by spring. It’s a lifelong battle — but one you can win.

Okay, spring is too soon to expect results. After all, the Squad has been fat for five decades. But if it’s a lifelong battle, how do you ever win it, except by dying?

* * *

The last question is from J from Glen Cove, whose 15-year-old daughter was confirmed in the Catholic Church but has stopped going to Mass because of doubts about her faith. Should the girl be forced to go, or given some slack?

The Squad’s response:

[Y]ou might sweeten the occasion [Mass] by telling her you’d like to take her out to lunch after Mass, go to a movie, take a walk or do something else that would make going to church the first act of a family togetherness play — not just an onerous religious rite. If these additional inducements fail to persuade your daughter to come to Mass, talk with her to find out what lies at the bottom of her doubts.

In other words, bribe first and ask questions later — if at all. It’s best that church attendance result from a Pavlovian response rather than a serious intellectual commitment. Only if the “inducements fail” should a parent be put to the task of actually explaining the bizarre fairy tale lying at the heart of Catholicism — redemption through belief in Christ. But if she still doesn’t buy it, J should be careful about writing to the Squad again. Her letter might arrive on a day that Monsignor Hartman is out, and, as we know, Rabbi Gellman has the same “doubts” as J’s daughter.

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