The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

2003 January

Anti-Anti-Secularism

January 31, 2003 | Comments Off

The Raving Atheist is honored to be the target of the debut post of The Secularist Critique, whose modest ambition is to offer “criticism of atheism, secularism, materialism, and every other ism that is false and inhuman.” Before I address his specific criticism of me, a few words about what I find fascinating, philosophically-speaking, about the concept of an anti-secularist blog.

Atheism, as the term suggests, is largely a negative philosophy — it is anti-theism, anti-God, anti-religion, a denial of whatever positive assertions may be made about a deity. But anti-secularism is a negative-negative philosophy, a denial of a denial; it is anti-atheism, anti-anti-theism. Formal logic notwithstanding, anti-secularism presents a case in which two negatives do not make a positive. The anti-secularist does not merely promote a particular positive theology — Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Islam, Branch Davidianism or Jews for Jesus-ism — but attacks the attacks on all of those religions. It is polytheism at its most extreme, a relativistic, ecumenicalist God Squadism.

Thus, the anti-secularist must defend the Christian assertion of the divinity of Jesus and the Jewish denial of it; the Judeo-Christian-Islamic denial of over 30 million Hindu deities; the Wiccan worship of the God and Goddess. Even when advocating a generic god-of-the-philosophers theism, the anti-secularist must simultaneously defend conflicting definitions of the alleged divine attributes (i.e. Gellman’s, Mavrodes’s, Swinburne’s, Taliafero’s varying concepts of omnipotence). More significantly, this difficulty extends to God-command theology and thus all of morality (morality is the whole point of religion, isn’t it?) — the anti-secularist must defend God’s conflicting edicts on abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia homosexuality, cannibalism and whatever else is advocated or opposed somewhere, anywhere, on religious grounds.

The Raving Atheist is anti-abortion, pro-death penalty, pro-euthanasia, pro-homosexuality and anti-cannibalism. Presumably there is some religious denomination espousing the exact same combination of positions these issues. The anti-secularist will have the daunting task of demonstrating why I am right for the wrong reasons on each issue, and why I am wrong on each issue for the reasons offered by some competing sect. Unless, of course, The Secularist Critique is just another Catholic blog.

In any event, TSC has taken me to task for my false and inhuman account of the first cause argument (in Monday’s God Squad Review):


Apparently, atheists don’t actually read the arguments, they just make up fictitious premises that are easy for them to refute. The amazing thing is that ever since Bertrand Russel[l] goofed up the argument, publishers like [P]rometheus [Books] have been continuing the error. Now that’s professional competency! I challenge anyone to show any historical ‘first cause’ argument that contains the premise ‘everything must have a cause’. Good luck

.

And in yesterday’s post, TSC attacks Diana Hsieh as “another philosopher prop[a]gating the straw man premise ‘everything must have a cause.'” He concludes:


Again, it would be good if atheists actually consulted the actual historical sources for these arguments instead of making them up so that they are conveniently contradictory. I’m starting to think though, that it’s not really about truth, but creating a nice little self-affirming bubble to live in, one where they can go on believing that belief in God is analogous to [S]anta [C]lause blah blah blah.

Very well. The contested premise is found in the second of St. Thomas Aquinas’s “five ways“:


The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or only one. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.

The underlined language, fairly read, states that nothing causes itself (because it would be, impossibly, prior to itself), i.e., that everything is caused by something else prior to it. It has been interpreted as such by every philosopher, theistic and atheistic, for the past eight hundred years, including, as TSC notes, Bertrand Russell. And even if you refuse to concede that the premise “nothing causes itself” is the same as “everything has a cause,” you’re still saddled with the same contradiction: if nothing causes itself, how can God cause Himself?

So it’s hardly a straw man premise. And, as I was careful to point out, it’s not even a bad premise. But TSC’s entire argument was a straw man; my main objection to the first cause argument did not involve the substance of that premise, or even its conflict with the conclusion:


But the primary difficulty with the first cause argument lies elsewhere. There is nothing self-contradictory about an uncaused first cause, or about an infinite regress of causes. The real problem is attributing the characteristics of the traditional God to the first cause, or to the infinite regress of causes. The Squad doesn’t pretend to explain how it derived existence of a world-protecting, peace-giving and soul-saving creature from its cosmological thesis. Being first or being infinite doesn’t imply being omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent or, for that matter, even conscious. Nor does it resolve the various contradictions between those attributes.

Apparently, theists don’t actually read the arguments, they just make up fictitious premises that are easy for them to refute . . . .

Pro-Life Abortion Post at Atheist Blog Draws Zero Comments

January 30, 2003 | 6 Comments

New York, New York, January 30, 2003
Special to The Raving Atheist

An anti-abortion posting last week at an atheist blog provoked absolutely no reader comments, reports The Raving Atheist. “I checked the Site Meter several times to make sure the site wasn’t down, but that wasn’t it, it was getting the usual number of hits,” he said. “I just don’t understand it – abortion is such a controversial and popular topic that I was positive that the comment counter would shoot through the double digits.”

Blogosphere insiders speculate that TRA simply misjudged his target audience, which consists largely of liberal or libertarian freethinkers of a predominantly pro-choice bent. “I clicked on the TRA bookmark expecting to see him raving about some homophobic Catholic or evangelical outrage, but he was defending day-old fetuses like the Pope himself,” said R.G., who, like all TRA readers, runs her own blog. “At first I thought it was a put-on which would soon reveal itself to be a humorous, disguised attack on patriarchal misogyny, but the shrill, moralistic tone continued to the last word and I finally realized that he was serious about imposing state-ownership over my uterus.”

“It was embarrassing,” said M.B., whose site has a link to TRA. “I read the first line and thought, uh oh, he’s doing this weird abortion thing, what’s with that,” he explained. “No way I was going to leave a comment. I knew that saying nothing would be like pretending not to hear a really loud fart, but I couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t hurt his feelings.”

“It’s like you think you know someone real well and suddenly he starts talking all the time about how much he loves Jesus so you have to start conspicuously ignoring him,” said J.M., who has left comments on other TRA posts. “Actually, it’s different because TRA has always been talking about Jesus, but hates him,” she added. “But maybe this abortion thing is just a gimmick to seem eccentric or iconoclastic or complex or clever, like that Andrew Sullivan and Eve Tushnet shtick about being gay and pretending to be Catholic, or possibly pretending to be gay,” she added. “In any event, it’s nothing I was about to encourage by leaving a comment.”

The Raving Atheist said that he fully understood and respected the reluctance to comment, and that everybody who consciously declined to do so for whatever reason and treat him like a leper better immediately self-identify and admit it in a comment or have their sites immediately moved to a new “Blogs by Babykillers’ link list. “I know who they are and they know who they are,” he said. “So come out of the closet, you god-hating homosexual feminist child murderers.”

Godidiots of the Week: William F. Buckley and Leon Wieseltier

January 29, 2003 | Comments Off

It’s the Battle of the Magazine Godidiots in the correspondence section of this week’s New Republic. The war started a few issues back, when Wieseltier pronounced Buckley “the most distinguished anti-Semite in American Catholicism” for supporting continued efforts to convert Jews to Christianity. The Jews have their own covenant with God, says Wieseltier, and he’s angered that Buckley lacks the “decency” to accept the U.S. Catholic Bishop’s resolution to leave the Tribe alone. Indeed, Wieseltier believes that “the Christian mission to the Jews is a delegitimization of Jewish belief [and] is downright un-American.” Wieseltier also finds the doctrine of the Incarnation to be “unacceptable” and a “philosophical absurdity.” It is also “idolatry,” he says, and he is “grateful to Yahweh that [he] is not beholden to it.”

But Wieseltier, being a Yahweh-worshipper, is still beholden to Yahweh. So he’s hardly in a position to judge the absurdity of Buckley’s belief. If Yahweh exists, and He made the whole universe, He’d certainly have no difficultly turning himself in to a man (or a frog or a tree). Being Jesus is a lesser included power of being God. Once you’ve bought into a Santa myth, you can’t complain about the “absurdity” of flying reindeer and little elves. And if you’ve gotten to the point of actually thanking God for not making you believe in Jesus, you can’t really blame those who haven’t been similarly blessed. Your faith is all a matter of grace, and He must have a reason, no?

Wieseltier is right that Catholicism is anti-Semitism. But so what? Judaism is anti-Catholicism. Each fairy tale denies what the other asserts, and consequently “delegitimatizes” the other. Both faiths are anti-atheism, and atheism is anti-godism. The only meaningful question is which Ism is the True Ism.

But Wieseltier isn’t really interested in getting into that. (I am; go here). After all, it’s “downright un-American” to try to convince others of the truth of your beliefs, or at least your religious ones. Well, not quite. He supports the Catholic Bishop’s approach, which, as I explained here, is just another form of nasty, fundamentalist theology. Yes, it recognizes that the Jews don’t have to be saved, but only because they have their own Old Testament covenant with God. Everyone else is fair game. It’s basically a religious Hitler/Stalin pact.

Wieseltier never explains why religious beliefs are the only ones that may not permissibly, and American-ly, be proselytized. Democrats are anti-Republican, pro-life is anti-choice and so on down the line. No one in their right mind would contend no one has the right to switch parties, change their minds, or seek to persuade others. Wieseltier writes books about his religious beliefs; I have to assume that their premise is that he is right about God and everyone else is wrong. That’s as much an effort at conversion as anything else; why attack others for doing it by ringing doorbells and other means? It’s not like the Catholic Church kidnaps and brainwashes people (okay, it is like that, but it’s legal because they have parental consent).

Wieseltier does concede that “there are Americans who conceptions of truth and justice and freedom are perfectly godless in origin and in substance, and yet they are legitimately and profitably in the thick of the discussion.” But if the “origin” of some moral principle is godlessness, isn’t that origin also worth examining? And if so, isn’t it equally worth examining those “origins” which are rooted in ancient covenants and virgin births?

Buckley, of course, is a Godidiot too for believing in the doctrine of the Incarnation (which would be “philosophically absurd,” if it were philosophy at all) and wanting to spread it to the Jews or anyone else. I won’t belabor that point here, although I’ve belabored it plenty elsewhere and don’t intend to stop. But there is some virtue in his consistency, however misguided: as he says, those who believe in the Incarnation “necessarily believe that its meaning extends to all men.” The alternative, suggested by Wieseltier, is a polytheistic jumble of mutually exclusive deities which are all somehow simultaneously “real” just because someone, somewhere, believes in them.

Unattached Virgin Bachelor Condemns Loving Human Relationships

January 28, 2003 | 11 Comments

The Vatican, Italy, January 28, 2003
Special to The Raving Atheist

An elderly, life-long bachelor who has never experienced an intimate personal relationship with another human being of either sex yesterday condemned loving unions between gays as “inauthentic.” Pope John Paul II — a celibate 82-year-old virgin who lives in a palace, wears a two horned mitre and carries a silver scepter — declared that the gay lifestyle was a “caricature.” Homosexuals suffer from “individual egoism,” stated the Pope, who considers himself to be God’s infallible representative on Earth and is also known as the Supreme Pontiff, the Holy Father and the Prince of the Apostles.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger concurred with the Pope’s pronouncements. Ratzinger — who believes that water cures cancer and turns into wine, that bread turns into human flesh, and that the Virgin Mary flies and intercepts bullets — opined that homosexuals are “psychologically disturbed.” He noted that the Church has adhered to its inerrant doctrine regarding gays for centuries, “even back when the Earth was flat and evolution was false.”

POPECH~1.jpg

Michael Navarro of the United Gay Alliance said he was moved by the words from the Vatican and vowed to follow the Pope’s example. “Tomorrow I shall glide along my balcony bedecked in a golden triple tiara, a pearl-encrusted vest, flowing silk robes and a cape,” he said. “Just like last Thursday.”

God Squad Review XXVIII

January 27, 2003 | Comments Off

“Who made God?” A grandfather has written to the Squad this week for an answer to that question, having been left “astonished and tongue-tied” when it was posed to him by his five-year-old grandson. After noting that “[f]ive-year-olds are the best theologians we know,” the Squad suggests the following responses:


1. Nobody made God but God made everything.

2. Just like a potter makes a pot but is not the pot, so too God made the world, but God is not the world.

3. God takes care of everything in the world.

4. Death is not the end of us because God takes our souls to heaven after our bodies die.

5. God loves you always and will protect your soul always and will care for you always and will be around always and will bring peace someday, somehow.

I do not doubt that the best theologians that the Squad knows are five years old, or that they consulted them for these responses. Note that only the first answer even remotely addresses the question, and that it is a mere assumption rather than an explanation.

The question “who made God?” is, in fact, part of the traditional atheistic refutation of the “first cause” proof of the almighty. That argument states that God must exist because everything, including the universe, must have a cause. The Squad’s answer — that “nobody” made God – simply contradicts the premise of the argument, i.e., that everything must have a cause. So asking “who made God?” points up this particular logical deficiency.

But the primary difficulty with the first cause argument lies elsewhere. There is nothing self-contradictory about an uncaused first cause, or about an infinite regress of causes. The real problem is attributing the characteristics of the traditional God to the first cause, or to the infinite regress of causes. The Squad doesn’t pretend to explain how it derived existence of a world-protecting, peace-giving and soul-saving creature from its cosmological thesis. Being first or being infinite doesn’t imply being omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent or, for that matter, even conscious. Nor does it resolve the various contradictions between those attributes.

Second Opinion

January 24, 2003 | Comments Off

Vicky at Liquid Courage self-diagnoses herself with foot-in-mouth disease for having mistaken a Catholic colleague’s Ash Wednesday forehead smudge for copier toner. The woman curtly corrected Vicky and stormed off, leaving Vicky feeling like “crawling into a hole.”

Having reviewed the charts, Dr. Raving believes that Vicky has identified the wrong ailment, and, indeed, the wrong patient. Vicky didn’t have foot-in-mouth disease. Rather, her co-worker had shit-in-brain disease.

Yes, I know — in America we are supposed to maintain the utmost respect for people of faith. We must walk on eggshells to avoid offending the pious. We are to be embarrassed for our ignorance of any religious custom, and offer groveling apologies for any slight, even unintentional, that might be interpreted as insensitivity. The yarmulke, the crucifix-on-a-chain, the dot or charcoal on the forehead are signs of profound holiness, of piety, of depth, that must not be desecrated in any manner by word or deed.

But this has things quite backwards. People who seriously believe that some invisible being wants them to decorate or dirty their the bodies deserve nothing but contempt. It’s audacious of them to demand that others memorize their holy rule-books, their religious calendars, their gods’ cookbooks, when they themselves couldn’t offer the slightest justification for their silly superstitions. As far as I am concerned, people who wear their faith on their sleeve might as well be wearing dunce caps, “kick me” signs, or propeller beanies. They are shallow, self-centered, self-righteous and ignorant twits who should concentrate on educating themselves rather than imposing their half-baked, half-assed theology on everyone else.

If Vicky’s snippy little officemate didn’t want to be insulted by hygiene suggestions she should have worn a bag over her head (okay, maybe that would have provoked mockery too, but at least nobody would know who she was). Having failed to do so, she certainly shouldn’t have blamed Vicky for trying to be helpful. The proper response would have been “thank you for your concern, but I am an idiot.” People like her should be ashamed of being so stupid, but, unfortunately, they are also too stupid to be ashamed.

God the Abortionist (Part 2)

January 23, 2003 | Comments Off

As I noted in an earlier Rave, to the religious left abortion is not a question of life or death: it’s a matter of “expressing your spirituality.” The religious right is, for the most part, more properly focused on the threshold question of the personhood of the fetus. But even its arguments lose force as soon as the God-talk begins. For example, the National Review’s Ramesh Ponuru introduces his otherwise excellent Roe v. Wade retrospective with this misstep:


It is, of course, possible to be pro-life without being religious (and vice-versa). It is even possible for unbelievers to oppose abortion for the same reasons that impel religious pro-lifers: because the state has a duty to bar the private use of deadly force against human beings, and that’s what abortion is. But the purely secular pro-lifer does not have the consolation of believing in an infinitely just, merciful, and loving God.

It’s a bit insulting to imply that opposition to the use of deadly force against human beings is a primarily religious concept, one which it is merely “possible” for atheists to share (see the Atheist and Agnostic Pro-Life League webpage for additional anti-abortion rationales). I also fail to see how the secular pro-lifer is at some sort of a moral disadvantage in lacking a religious “consolation” over the tragedy of abortion. It is precisely because, as the atheist believes, death is final — that is there is no afterlife Disneyland where everything is made right — that this life is so precious.

Indeed, in the religious context, it’s difficult for matters of life and death to take on any real moral dimension. Life is just a game, a test, an inessential and miserable first act. As Justice Scalia declared, in defending the potential execution of innocent prisoners, “for the believing Christian, death is no big deal.”

The casting of the abortion debate in religious terms also creates practical political difficulties for those who oppose the practice on rational, secular grounds. The Catholic Church — so wrong, immoral and irrational in its positions on so many other social issues — is the backbone of the pro-life movement. So it is tempting for those who justifiably hate the Church for what it is to, quite literally, throw out the baby with the bath water. Why side with a delusional, patriarchal, homophobic dictatorship on an issue of such importance?

Indeed, as NARAL founder Bernard Nathanson admits, playing the “Catholic card” was a key tactic of the early pro-choice movement. “The fact that other Christian as well as non-Christian religions were (and still are) monolithically opposed to abortion was constantly suppressed, along with pro-life atheists’ opinions,” Nathanson says. Of course, now that Nathanson has himself converted to Catholicism (formerly being a self-described “stiff-backed Jewish atheist”), the same card is frequently drawn to discredit his new-found pro-life views. Likewise, as Vicky of Liquid Courage demonstrates, it’s easy to dismiss pro-life Catholic-covert Norma McCorvey — the original “Jane Roe” of Roe v. Wade — as a “Supreme Nut Case,” sitting, as she does, in a living room “papered with images of Jesus, posters, books and bumper stickers.” It’s an unfortunate case of killing the message because of the messenger, but that’s something that’s hard to avoid when the messenger delivers the message, and other more hateful ones, in delusional sky-god baby talk.

Godidiot of the Week: Jack M. Balkin

January 22, 2003 | Comments Off

“[I]t may be disappointing to some graduates of Princeton University to see their alma mater’s name associated with the CD-ROM version of the I Ching,” notes The Skeptic’s Dictionary. Yale Law School grads should be mortified, then, by the antics of this week’s Godidiot — Jack M. Balkin, the school’s Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment. He recently published an entire book on the I Ching, and, in his new blog, he consults it to decide whether the United States should invade Iraq.

For the mercifully uninitiated, I Ching is an ancient Chinese text used as an “oracle” by New Age pinheads. Divining the hidden Cosmic Truth is easy. You just flip coins or pick straws to select one of 64 “hexagrams,” each of which consists of six broken or unbroken lines. These, in turn, lead you to (as noted by the Skeptic’s Dictionary) “bits of fortune cookie wisdom as: ‘Treading upon the tail of the tiger. It does not bite the man’. . . [o]r . . . ‘the superior man discriminates between high and low.'” In the promotional blurb for his book, Balkin himself declares the I Ching to be “nothing less than an explanation of the laws of change in the universe and of how human beings can learn to live in harmony with them.”

Balkin backpedals a bit, though, before consulting I Ching to forecast America’s military policy. His disclaimer is longer, though less emphatic, than the “For Entertainment Purposes Only” warning that usually accompanies commercials for telephone psychics:


The I Ching does not predict the future. All it does is give you something to chew on, stimulate your unconscious mind. There is absolutely no evidence that randomly throwing coins predicts future events. But reading selected passages from the book itself is quite good at shaking up your accustomed patterns of thought. And sometimes it can be eerily on point, in part because the reader brings his or her own unconscious thoughts and desires to the reading of a text that is by nature ambiguous and subject to multiple interpretations.

It was indeed heartening to read that the future cannot be predicted by flipping coins (or, at least that there is “no evidence” — at this time). That is the sort of scientific, hard-headed conclusion one would expect from the piercing intellect of an Ivy League professor with an endowed chair in constitutional law. But what’s the point of stimulating one’s unconscious mind to decide such important questions? Isn’t that the part that makes us want to fuck our mothers and dream about flying and putting saucer-sized contact lenses into our eyes? Why is it still important, despite the lack of evidence, to select randomly the passage we are going to use to talk to ourselves? And what is so “eerie” about the fact that our unconscious thoughts and desires are going to lead us to a conclusion in which we already believe?

Ain’t that Special

January 21, 2003 | Comments Off

I don’t recall learning in law school that the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom was meant to protect pedophiles and bigots (that was the job of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments). But things are different down South. According to the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, requiring the clergy to report confessions of child abuse “is not a victims’ rights issue.” Rather, it’s an infringement of religious freedom, a violation of the sacrament of penance. Apparently God wants the kiddie-raping to continue, so long as the perpetrator has made himself feel better about his crime.

In Tennessee, the god-fearing are going to get a special license to hate fags. They’re likely going to be exempt from a new law prohibiting discrimination against gays in housing and employment. The bill’s lead sponsor, Councilman Chris Ferrell, is backing off a blanket prohibition. He recognizes that people have the right to do whatever the fuck they want as long as they say God commands it. “I’m not going to be in the position of telling anybody what their theology has to be,” he says.

God Squad Review XXVII

January 20, 2003 | Comments Off

Last September the Squad addressed the efficacy of a child’s prayer on a “very sick” dog. This week grandma’s on her deathbed, and “M” of New Jersey is concerned that her eight year old daughter, who is praying for a cure, will be disillusioned when God says “No.”

The Squad, it appears, has lost the faith over the past few months. Their advice regarding the dog was to pray for Buster’s recovery, with a suggestion for a back-up prayer for admission to heaven just in case. But with grandma, it’s all gloom and doom. “God answers prayers in many ways — and not always the way we imagine . . .[w]hen Grandma dies, make sure your daughter is a part of the wake/funeral.” Nowhere do they offer the hope for the kind of miracle that apparently saves dogs. The best they can muster is “[r]emind [your daughter that her prayers for her grandmother’s recovery are wonderful prayers even if Grandma dies.”

No Argument Here

January 18, 2003 | Comments Off

During a free moment between home hospice care nursing assignments, ex-Catholic Just a Girl in the World demonstrates why “the argument that God does not have a hand in earthquakes, flood, famine, disease really contradicts the whole argument that God is . . . omnipotent….omnipresent….omnibenevolent . . . [and omniscient].'” She lays waste to 2,000 years of traditional theology in a couple of paragraphs, ably outlining some of the insurmountable logical difficulties posed by the problem of evil. However, she gently assures us that she’s “[n]ot being argumentative, really – – just validating [her] own stance and opinions that a god does not exist and the Christian concept and description of their god contradicts with the ‘actions’ and ‘non actions’ of said god.”

So atheism is true and Christianity is false. Nothing “argumentative” about that. But for those who disagree, she has graciously provided a “spank me” button on the right-side menu of the
homepage of her blog.

Faith Will Guide My Sex Life: Lieberman

January 17, 2003 | Comments Off

Stamford, Connecticut, January 17, 2003
Special to The Raving Atheist

Declaring that “my faith is at the center of who I am,” Senator Joseph Lieberman vowed that the teachings of Orthodox Judaism would guide his personal, moral and sexual conduct in the White House. Lieberman, who announced his bid for the presidency earlier this week, promised that his tenure in office would be unmarred by the sort of scandals that rocked the Clinton Administration.

“As the conscience of the Senate, I was the first to condemn the President’s inappropriate relationship with a 21-year old intern,” Lieberman said. Noting that under Jewish law a girl becomes an adult at age 13, the Senator condemned Clinton for exploiting the sexual desperation brought about by Monica Lewinsky’s advance into late womanhood. Lieberman stated that under no circumstances would he bed any staffer over the age of 14.

Lieberman also criticized Clinton for “desecrating” the White House by masturbating Lewinsky with a cigar in the Oval Office and ejaculating on her dress in an adjacent hallway. “If elected, I will preserve the dignity of the presidency by having sex with teenage women through a hole in a sheet according to Talmudic law,” Lieberman said. “Furthermore, the only object that will penetrate their vaginas will be my three-inch, circumcised Kosher salami or, perhaps, a shofar.” Lieberman further vowed to sacrifice a ram in atonement for any liaison with a betrothed bondmaid or a prostitute, and to slayeth any staff member who doth lie down with a beast.

Godidiot of the Week: Maggie Gallagher

January 16, 2003 | Comments Off

This week’s Godidiot, syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher, wins the award not for her dogmatic Catholicism — but for her equally idiotic religious and intellectual relativism. She celebrates the atmosphere of religious tolerance that has permitted Orthodox Jew Joe Lieberman to throw his yarmulke into the presidential ring, citing polls that show that the Tribe is especially popular among fundamentalist and evangelical Christians. But Maggie is upset that the circle of tolerance is not complete — because, she notes, the same polls show that Christian fundamentalists still get low approval ratings. She blames the “Party of Unbelief,” i.e., the Democrats, for this alleged “intolerance.” It’s the party of “[a]theists, agnostics, anti-fundamentalists and determined secularists,” she complains, and it hypocritically believes in “tolerating all points of view, unless they you happen to have one they find really irritating, in which case all bets are off.”

Gallagher’s theory, of course, rests on the notion that people must “approve” of others simply because they profess some sort of — any sort of — religious belief. This is simply absurd. If religious belief actually means anything to its adherents (and Gallagher thinks it should, applauding Lieberman for declaring his Judaism to be the “center” of his being), it is going to necessarily manifest itself in moral and political conduct. This being the case, a person would be required to simultaneously approve of every conflicting position on capital punishment, homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, faith healing, etc., simply because it was religiously dictated. That’s just not possible. Moral and political views are legitimately considered in gauging one’s approval of others. If they are not, I cannot imagine what is.

Perhaps Gallagher is referring to approval based solely on theological doctrine or dogma, divorced from political or other conduct. But I’m not sure why I should “approve” of somebody simply because they believe in salvation through Christ, that the Jews have a special covenant with God, that God has an elephant’s head, that the universe was created in seven days and all the dinosaur bones were planted by Satan. I may not hate them, but I don’t find any of those theories to be intellectually respectable, any more than I’d find a literal belief in the Wizard of Oz respectable. So I don’t respect or approve of such people.

Nor is there actually a great deal of respect between these silly, mythologies themselves; indeed, the Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals believe that everyone else is going to burn in Hell. That doesn’t sound like approval to me. Gallagher’s own Church has declared that all other faiths are “gravely deficient,” having only recently made a damnation escape clause for the Jews, and the Jews alone. So I don’t understand why she singles out atheists, etc., for expressing their own disbelief in these nasty superstitions; they’re hardly alone, and at least their view is based on reason and experience rather than blind faith and dogma. Maybe Gallagher herself believes that all religious theories are equally true, but that would make her more of a confused, relativistic agnostic than a Catholic. Not to mention a complete idiot.

It’s also worth noting that Gallagher, while whining that anti-fundamentalism is the last acceptable hatred, doesn’t give the approval ratings for atheists. Did they really out-score the fundamentalists in the popularity contest? Did they even beat out cannibals and pedophiles? And do they really control the Democratic party? As Gallagher herself points out, they only represent 16% of the population.

Finally, if Gallagher actually means “tolerance” rather than “approval,” she can’t blame the secularists. There wouldn’t be any tolerance without secularism, as religious liberty itself depends upon having a secular, non-sectarian government. And Gallagher should be grateful, given how ignorant and intolerant and corrupt her own religion is, that it is tolerated at all. Astrologers, numerologists, psychics and snake-oil salesmen certainly aren’t afforded the same protections and privileges as her homophobic, misogynistic, pedophile-tolerating church.

Miss Cleo Denounces Move to Legalize Clergy Fortune Telling

January 14, 2003 | Comments Off

Miss Cleo Denounces Move to Legalize Clergy Fortune Telling

Cedar Rapids, Iowa, January 14, 2003
Special to The Raving Atheist

An Iowa city’s plan to lift a ban on fortune telling — on the ground that it is a constitutionally protected religious practice — has drawn fire from telephone psychic Miss Cleo. “Fortune telling is heartless fraud perpetrated by avaricious, professional con artists against stupid, gullible people,” she noted. “Permitting sincere, religiously-motivated, stupid, gullible people who actually believe they have magic powers to engage in fortune telling will make it impossible to tell who is being defrauded, if anyone.”

Miss Cleo also noted that clergy-psychics will not be required to meet the non-existent licensing standards of the American Association of Professional Psychics. “AAPP fleece their victims knowing that they are backed by an official-looking, downloadable phony certificate which attests to their ability to predict Luck in Love, Financial Troubles and Evil Influences,” she said. “However, a psychic minister will be guided by nothing but his own made-up standards, virtually guaranteeing that the nature of each false prediction will vary from church to church,” Cleo observed. “As a result, people will begin to question the accuracy of even our professionally-rendered bogus readings.”

Snake oil industry spokesman Clyde Thompson concurred that clergy involvement in scams is problematic. “When the legislatures started legalizing faith healing, sales of patent medicine plummeted,” said Thompson. “Who is going to pay $10 for a bottle of sugar water to cure their kid of cancer, when he can be killed just as certainly by a few useless prayers?”

God Squad Review XXVI

January 13, 2003 | Comments Off

The Squad this week revisits the question of who gets into heaven, having been hit by “a flood of evangelical responses that the only way to get through the pearly gates is by having a certain and deep faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior.” They again posit that “[t]hat may indeed be the way,” but, unlike last time, they don’t herald the view as glorious or courageous. And, significantly, Father Tom doesn’t reaffirm his personal belief in that doctrine. Instead, the Squad proclaims that “we believe that living a kindly and faithful life will most likely get you into heaven, and living a cruel life will definitely keep you out.”

What turned Tom around isn’t clear. Yes, they identify the problem that “many righteous and saintly non-Christians will be doomed to hell . . . a grossly unfair posture for the God of love to take,” but that difficulty was the very subject of their last post on the issue. And the other problem they identify — “that the proof of it comes only from Christian texts, which are not believed to be the word of God by non-Christians” — was also before them last time, and is hardly something that would trouble a Catholic priest.

It appears that the Squad has been doing a little reading, and decided to put the matter to a vote. They found that the Jews and Muslims believe that “the righteous of all nations will inherit a share of the world to come,” that the Hindus think that well-behaved stop being reborn, and that the Buddhists believe that the good just disappear. So . . . that’s 1) one vote for heaven through Christ, 2) two votes for heaven through good acts, and 3) two votes for no heaven at all. In other words, three-to-two against heaven-through-goodness — so heaven wins!

Stark Reality

January 11, 2003 | Comments Off

Physiology, rather than socialization, explains why men are less religious than women, concludes Washington University Professor of Sociology and Comparative Religion Rodney Stark. Stark asserts that “far more males than females have an underdeveloped ability to inhibit their impulses, especially those involving immediate gratification and thrills” and that “[n]ot being religious is similar to any other shortsighted, risky and impulsive behavior that some men — primarily young males — engage in, such as assault, robbery, burglary, murder and rape.” Because some men are short-sighted and don’t think ahead, “going to prison or going to hell just doesn’t matter to these men,” Stark said.

Andy of World Wide Rant has critiqued Stark’s findings, noting that 1) people may reject religion because it’s irrational, rather than out of shortsightedness, and 2) criminality is higher among the religious than atheists. While I don’t necessarily disagree with either of these observations, I think they miss the mark somewhat.

Stark was examining gender-based differences in religious belief. So arguing that some people do (or should) reject religion on rational grounds doesn’t explain why more men reject it than women, unless your argument is one sex is less rational than the other. That, actually, is close to what Stark is saying, except — because he apparently believes that it’s rational to be religious — he concludes that women are, for physiological reasons, more rational than men. So to counter Stark’s argument without being sexist, one has to either deny that there is a gender-based disparity in religiosity, or counter his finding that the differences are based on nature rather than nurture.

However, there’s probably no need to waste one’s time conducting a counter-study. The real flaw in Stark’s methodology lies in his definition of what it means to be “religious.” As he uses it, it really doesn’t have anything to do with a belief in God. He’s not saying that the supposedly “irreligious” men are philosophical atheists; he’s just saying that they act impulsively and take risks despite their belief in God. The fact that they act without caring or thinking about what God might do to them doesn’t negate the belief in the deity. I suspect 100% of both men and women hold a literal belief in the existence of prisons; the fact more men act without caring if they end up in jail hardly proves that they disbelieve in it.

Godidiot of the Week: Christine Lehman

January 8, 2003 | 61 Comments

(nominated by Andy of World Wide Rant)

This week’s Godidiot, Christine Lehman of A Theist Gal, was selected not for something she wrote but for what she is — an atheist who converted to Catholicism. Or, technically, a Catholic who converted to atheism who re-converted to Catholicism. Her site used to be called “Atheist Gal,” but she added the space between that “A” and the “theist” after Jesus snatched her back about a year ago. She doesn’t really blog, but just maintains a website with a few essays recounting her meandering spiritual journey and some Catholic links.

In a previous post, I questioned whether there were any intelligent, well-read and “committed atheists” who had ever converted to Christianity. Ms. Lehman wasn’t one, if one accepts her reasons for re-Poping: September 11. She was impressed with the faith all those Catholic firemen who prayed before they sacrificed their lives to save others, and by Todd “Let’s Roll” Beamer’s pre-crash prayer on Flight 93. Her conclusion: “Hands that help = lips that pray.”

How any of this proves the existence of a God, or a Christian God, is not explained. And, as a Google search reveals, Ms. Lehman’s initial reaction to 9/11 was actually a bit different than she lets on. On September 13, 2001, she made this post at the Positive Atheism website:

Dear Cliff [Cliff Walker, of Positive Atheism Magazine]:

This morning, after reading the latest accounts of the tragedy in New York, watching the news, and wondering what’s next, I checked my e-mail and found the following charming little missive addressed to my “Atheist Gal” page:

I’m sorry you feel this way. You know a lot of times people’s reaction to Jesus is based upon their relationship to their own father. How is your relationship w/your own father? Take a few minutes and evaluate your relationship w/him. See if there is some parallels between that and your outlook on God. You may be surprised. Please don’t be upset w/this email, I mean no harm or insult.

Take care,

Ivan

I sent “Ivan the Terrible” the following in response:

I think you ought to be ashamed of yourself, sending me this. This is America, the land of the free. Especially now, when so many of our loved ones have died at the hands of fanatical religious terrorists, you ought to be thanking your God that you live in a free country, where people like me are free to express our beliefs and our opinions without fear of reprisal. Think about it.

It may sound corny but I was so angry. Since our President has declared tomorrow a “National Day of Prayer,” I think it’s even more important to remind people that those of us who don’t pray are Americans too.

What do you think?

Christine Lehman
aka “Atheist Gal”

And she was still an “Atheist Gal” a couple of weeks later, albeit a wearier one, in her next letter to Positive Atheism:

Well, I’m still “Atheist Gal” but I’ve radically changed my web — in fact, today I cut it down even further, for practical reasons (it doesn’t really get enough hits to justify my continuing time and effort). But also because the fun of getting outraged e-mails from angry, illiterate Christians just got old.

Who am I to try and take away a frightened kid’s teddy bear when he’s just awakened from a terrible nightmare? If his imaginary friend helps him get back to sleep, more power to him. I’ll draw the line when he asks me to kiss it!

Thanks, Cliff. You’ve really helped me clarify a lot of issues in my life. You’re one of the good guys.

Christine Lehman — aka “Atheist Gal”

So, what was it that really brought her back to the Church? The answer is found her essay “How NOT to argue with an atheist“:

And yet … today I am back in the Catholic Church! Why? Well, it wasn’t because a Christian gave me an airtight “proof for God” that I couldn’t argue against. It was simply because a Christian was kind to me, and shared a joke with me that made me laugh — and treated me as a friend rather than an enemy.

Well, two can play at that game. Christine, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “A doctor, a lawyer and priest are on an airplane . . . ”

Amused at Bemusement

January 7, 2003 | Comments Off

I have made Astonished Head chuckle, but I don’t know why:


I’m often bemused by the raving atheists [linking to me] out there, the ones who make it their business to expose every hypocritical failing of every religious group, to mock the professed faith of all who dare voice it, and to defeat by logical argument every proof of God’s existence ever conceived by humanity. I’m bemused because–even though I don’t call myself a person of faith, or even a theist–I believe that I know something about faith, and about theism. These things are not about religious groups and their sins; they’re not about professed belief; and they’re certainly not encompassed by arguments made of frail words created by human minds. All of those are constructs. Words, made semi-imperishable, which in turn become the ideas that drive the creation and evolution of human cultures.

Beneath all of that, below the complexity, the philosophy, the ethos, and the words…are individual experiences and desires. That’s why the committed atheist often expresses such frustrated incredulity when confronted with the truly committed theist: the theist has had an undeniable experience which the atheist has not. And while experience can be explained away, it can’t be dismissed. Experience is a powerful thing, and can wrap a person up in a sheltered, solipsistic cocoon.

That’s why, when I happen to pray–which I do often, despite an acute lack of belief–there’s always an element of Show yourself! in the act. Beguile me. Give me an experience. I’ve already dismissed the arguments of theist and atheist alike as beside the point. Ah, but to know, fully…that would be something, wouldn’t it?

Let’s see. Faith and theism are not about 1) religious groups, 2) religious beliefs or 3) religious arguments, because those things are merely “words” and “constructs.” Now, it seems to me that “faith” and “theism” are also words and constructs, as is, indeed, Astonished Head’s entire argument. However, faith and theism (unlike the religious groups, beliefs and arguments) apparently also relate to some actual underlying “experiences and desires.”

And what is the nature of those experiences and desires? Frustrated atheists don’t know. Neither does Astonished Head, who is praying for such an experience — although, somehow, he is in a position to know that the experience is “undeniable” and undismissable (although it “can be explained away”). He also knows that is an experience that relates to faith and theism (as opposed to overeating or sex), notwithstanding that those words, and any arguments about them, are “beside the point.”

As it turns out, I am familiar with that experience. It is the experience of startled, unfocussed, muddleheaded confusion one undergoes while groggily and half-consciously groping to swat the “sleep” button on the alarm clock. And as to the people who spend their entire lives suspended in that state — I am not jealous of them one bit.

God Squad Review XXV

January 6, 2003 | Comments Off

The Squad is in a somewhat relativist mode this week. They all but concede the futility of scripturally revealed Truth in their answer to “L” of Florida. “L,” who observes that “[w]hen you have a troubling question and talk to clergy, those from some denominations or faiths refer to the Bible for guidance, while others offer an answer based on their doctrine, education, experience or opinion,” wants to know the Squad’s preferred approach. After noting that the Bible, the Quran, the Vedas and the Book of Mormon are all “spiritual compasses,” they conclude:


We find that each circumstance we face in life requires a dialogue between what we personally know to be true and what we’ve inherited as the truth from our faiths. There is no set way to assure that our instincts will always conform to the spiritual wisdom we inherit, but as long as we try to reconcile the two and do not merely live our lives on instinct and impulse, we’ll be OK. Remember, there is no owner’s manual for life.

In other words, it doesn’t matter 1) which holy book you read, 2) how you interpret it, or 3) how you reconcile it with your better judgment. So wing it, baby!

Separation of Priest and Boy

January 4, 2003 | Comments Off

Jeff Miller of Atheist to a Theist sees the ugly head of state-sponsored anti-Catholicism in Philadelphia’s annual Mummer’s Parade, which this year includes a satirical sketch mocking sexually abusive priests:


In this tolerance-charged politically correct society anti-Catholicism remains the protected bigotry of choice. If they had a bunch of suicide bombers being chased by police officers with women in burkas in go-go cages, I don’t think this would have been accepted. Exactly how does nuns in go-go cages reflect that people are ticked off about the scandal? If people want to engage in mockery of the church, fine; just don’t have the city endorsing it. I don’t think we are going to hear from the People for the Separation of Church and State on this one.

Actually, the People for the Separation of Church and State might take up Jeff’s cause — if they were in the mood to incur thousands of dollars in sanctions for a frivolous lawsuit. Under the First Amendment (the free speech clause) the City of Philadelphia is prohibited from censoring the viewpoints of those who participate in the parade. The City doesn’t endorse anti-Catholicism by permitting Church critics to march, any more than it endorses homophobia by permitting Catholic paintings to hang in public museums. And as to whether suicide bomber skits would have been accepted, they were; indeed, they dominated last year’s Mummers’ Parade.

Anti-Catholicism is the protected bigotry of choice? No, that distinction goes to Catholicism itself, which shields itself from criticism of its hatred for gays and women with theological baby-talk. And even with respect to pedophilia, the Church has received decades of protection from a Catholic-friendly judiciary. Maybe the People for the Separation of Church and State should look into that.

Cardinal Egan Cleared of Blowing Little Boys in 1969

January 2, 2003 | Comments Off

Chicago, January 2, 2003
Special to The Raving Atheist

In a stunning victory for the Catholic Church, Edward Cardinal Egan was cleared of blowing little boys in calendar year 1969. “It is a glorious day indeed when the Archbishop of New York is vindicated of sucking off pre-pubescent boys for an entire year,” said Archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling. “The Cook County District Attorney has completely exonerated the Cardinal, finding that there was ‘no credible evidence’ that his Eminence blew a boy during the period commencing January 1, 1969 and ending on December 31, 1969.”

Zwilling said that the Cardinal was “relieved” by the prosecutor’s finding, but not surprised. “The archbishop was in the best position to know whether there was any credible evidence of him fellating young kids, and did not seriously think that any proof of that would be found after thirty-four years,” said Zwilling.

Zwilling added that the Archdiocese “welcomes” such investigations, and invited the Illinois prosecutor to determine whether Cardinal Egan blew any boys in January through April, June through October and December of 1970, or during fiscal 1971.

Happy 37622

January 1, 2003 | Comments Off

Like all atheists, I refuse to use a calendar based on the number of years since the birth of Christ. Instead, I measure time in days, using the numerical designations employed for dates in Excel spreadsheets. So happy 37622. And if you don’t hit my site tomorrow, happy 37623.

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