The Raving Theist

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2003 March

God Squad Review XXXVII

March 31, 2003 | 28 Comments

The Squad delivered a Christmas sermon so deranged last year that I noted that I was “eagerly anticipating the Squad’s Passover sermon.” This week the Squad delivers, throwing in Easter to boot.

According to the Squad, the two holidays “are arriving at just the right time this year.” Why? Perhaps because there’s really no choice of when they arrive, having been scheduled centuries in advance? No — because they’re part of God’s plan to free Iraq:

The Passover message is that God hears the cries of the oppressed and wants us to act to set them free . . . The Iraqi people are living in “Egypt,” and Saddam is “pharaoh.” At this season, we pray for a new liberation for the suffering Iraqis, whose cries may not always reach the evening news but always reach the ear of God . . . Easter is also about liberation — freedom from sin, offered up as the supreme gift of the suffering Son of God. By his death and resurrection, Christ opened the gates of salvation for all people.

I don’t know how many Iraqis live in Egypt or celebrate Passover and/or Easter, or why the Squad didn’t include the Muslim take on the conflict. But I do know that you don’t have to wait for the “evening news” to see the casualties. It’s not just Huntley-Brinkley anymore, boys — the war is being covered live, 24/7.

As to the actual message of the holidays, they’re not really all about freedom. The one consistent theme seems to be that the innocent must die. Passover is about slaughtering perfectly blameless little babies:

At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.

(see Exodus 12:29-30). The Jewish babies were, spared, of course, their parents having been warned to smear lamb’s blood on their doorframes so God would know to keep out (see Exodus 12:22-24). How this strategy translates to the current situation is not clear. Plainly, there’s no need to worry about the blood this time, since, as the Squad noted before, the cries “always reach the ear of God.” But the oppressor and the oppressed are both Iraqi, and killing Iraqi infants doesn’t seem fair. Maybe spare the firstborn, kill the second?

With Easter, though, it’s pretty clear. As the Squad notes, “[t]he idea is that Jesus was the innocent lamb led to the slaughter in order to save the world from sin.” So this time, a Jew does get killed, except it’s an adult one. But the Jewish babies are again spared — as long as they convert, since “[t]he liberation offered up through the ceremonies and theology of Easter teaches us that going out of Egypt is not enough.”

Unnaturally Speaking

March 28, 2003 | 5 Comments

Professor Volokh takes another stab at theology, in the context of whether homosexuality is wrong because it is “unnatural.” After considering and disposing with various definitions of that word, he analyzes one of the religious meanings:

“Unnatural” [might mean] “contrary to the will of God, who created nature, as expressed in certain authoritative religious works.” Now with that I can’t argue — theologians debate about how various religious works should be interpreted on this score, and people also debate, of course, about which works are the correct ones. I have no expertise in those debates, and not much interest.

But it seems to me that this argument really has next to nothing to do with nature as such. Killing, stealing, and adultery seem natural under virtually any definition of nature; the religious objection to them may turn on them being contrary to the will of God, but I don’t think it really has anything to do with naturalness. Likewise for homosexuality.

And this is an important point, because when people say “homosexuality is wrong because it’s unnatural,” it seems to me that they are trying to assert more than just “homosexuality is wrong because it’s contrary to my contested interpretation of contested religious texts” — they are trying to call on a more objectively defined, uncontroversial authority called “nature,” which is why they say “unnatural” rather than “ungodly.” (Some do say “ungodly,” but that’s not the argument I’m confronting here.) The trouble is that this call fails: Whatever one’s definition of natural, either homosexuality is natural, or it’s unnaturalness says nothing at all about its propriety.

As I said yesterday, Volokh vastly overestimates the intelligence of religious people. The “god said it, I believe it, that ends it” mentality does not lend itself to the fine distinctions that the Professor suggests. People who believe something merely because it is in a book tend to cut philosophical corners. The “objectively defined, uncontroversial authority” they ultimately appeal to is God, not nature. Apparent, and very real, natural consequences are disregarded if they conflict with God’s word. Yes, there are those who use the word “unnatural” in a theological sense to condemn an act, but when they do so they mean to equate it with “ungodly” rather than distinguish it. “Bad,” “ungodly” and “unnatural” are simply synonyms for violations of God’s will.

The difficulty with this sort of moral reasoning is that it is, well, unnatural. The basic atheistic premise is that everything is natural. The entire universe is “natural” and the universe is all that there is. Nothing is “unnatural.” Or non-natural. Or supernatural. So appeals to unseen, unheard, speculative entities is at best fruitless and at worst harmful.

Nature alone must be the guide to morality. This does not, of course, mean that everything “natural” is good; were that the criteria, everything would be good. But as Ayn Rand once said, “nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” The scientifically discovered laws of cause and effect tell us what causes pleasure and pain, what sustains life, and what ends it. Drinking poison and jumping out of airplanes generally lead to death, quite naturally, due to the laws of biology and gravity; insulin and parachutes generally lead to life for similar reasons.

But no bad consequences flow naturally from homosexuality, nor do any good ones flow from talking to the sky. Only delusional, scripture-driven fantasies about unnatural, supernatural punishments or rewards can justify laws criminalizing gay relationships or permitting faith healing. Or Congressional resolutions advocating prayer to win wars. So it is unwise to profess, as Volokh does, indifference or neutrality as to which religious texts are “correct.” None of them are. And it is worse yet, as he did yesterday, to insist that religion be taken seriously, or that public policy be based on what is good for it. Religion is false, religion is unnatural, and religion is bad.

The Right Prayers

March 27, 2003 | 3 Comments

Professor Eugene Volokh opines that the proposed House resolution asking the President to declare a day of “prayer and fasting” — to “secure the blessings and protection of Providence for the people of the United States and our Armed Forces during the conflict in Iraq and under the threat of terrorism at home” — is constitutional. Given the caselaw upholding (in the name of “tradition”) the use of taxpayer money to pay priests and rabbis and imans to chatter at the sky, I reluctantly concur.

But I wish the Professor had just left it at that, or perhaps suggested it was time to overturn those ugly judicial relics (and to repeal the religion-favoring Free Exercise clause, while they’re at it). Instead, his criticism of the resolution maddeningly focuses on what’s “best for religion.” Now, when the ACLU employs that sort of multiculturalist happy-talk, I console myself with the possibility that it’s part of a cynical put-on. But I think Volokh might be serious. His quotes, and my commentary, follow:

[I]t it seems to me that these resolutions are neither good government nor good religion.

What Volokh means by the oxymoron “good religion” becomes clearer later. Suffice it to say at this juncture that if the resolution was good religion, that would hardly be anything to recommend it. Rather, that would be conclusive of its unconstitutionality.

I think the American people are themselves perfectly good judges of what they should pray about and when, and they don’t need the President to instruct them in this.

Actually, the fact that Americans pray at any time shows that they aren’t very good judges, because talking to an imaginary being doesn’t accomplish anything. Also, many of them think that the beginning of the school day is a good time to pray, and would like to revert to the pre-1963 state of affairs when Bible verses were read aloud. As to what they pray about, they are also very poor judges — they’ve convinced over 40 state legislatures to allow prayer as a substitute for medical care for children. And a significant percentage of the praying population consists of mysogynistic homophobic creationist monkeys.

True, the people don’t need prayer instruction from the current President, since they already engage in Jesus-worship identical to his. But if in doing so they are being “perfectly good judges,” it’s a logical necessity that those who pray differently from them are not. Those people clearly do need presidential guidance, don’t they?

It could be argued, with the same force, that the American people are perfectly good judges of when to call psychic hotlines and what questions to ask the operators. If Congress issued a resolution proposing that the President pick up the phone on their behalf for advice on the conduct of the war, would the Professor frame the issue as one of who is best suited make the calls?

Moreover, while in a former time these resolutions might have helped bring the nation together, I don’t think this is actually likely today (though I do think that more personalized religious symbolism in a President’s own speeches given in time of crisis may still have that effect, for complex reasons).

In other words, the criteria for the official, governmental use of religion is whether it brings people together.

[T]he very details of this resolution demonstrate how government involvement in these matters ends up verging on the ridiculous. The Congress urging the President to urge the people “to seek guidance from God to achieve a greater understanding of our own failings and to learn how we can do better in our everyday activities”? “Do better in our everyday activities”? This is what we need a Presidential proclamation for? That this is the prayer that politicians are trying to write for us just shows how bad politicians are at writing prayers, especially by committee.

Prayer itself, apparently, isn’t ridiculous. But “good judges” of what to pray for would never ask God for understanding of their personal failings or an improvement in their daily behavior. That would be “ridiculous,” something only “bad politicians” could conceive of. Has Volokh ever been to church? Has he ever spoken to any of these “American people” about what they pray for? “Give us this day our daily bread . . .

I’ve written about this before. Volokh is basically the sanctimonious sportscaster who attacks the jocks for praying for a field goal — not because praying to an imaginary being is silly, but because he believes that the imaginary being only answers “important” prayers. Plainly, the war in Iraq and terrorism at home are important matters, and they are the primary focus of the resolution; would the Professor support the resolution if it simply omitted the reference to “everyday activities?”

Moreover, a day of prayer and fasting? Yes, I know that this is part of the historical tradition to which the House is appealing, but unless I’m mistaken very few Americans today, even the most devout, actually see fasting as the proper response to national crisis. Many people do fast on certain days (such as Yom Kippur, Lent, or Ramadan) dictated by religious tradition; but I think very few fast outside these traditions, even in times that call for prayer and reflection.

Not only must the prayers be important, but the fasting must conform to the orthodoxy of the Judeo-Christian Diet God. If the Government is going to pass a resolution, it must avoid ceremonial, historical gestures and insure that the measure establishes a religion consistent with the mainstream denominations. But let’s not consider for a second that fasting, like prayer, has no more effect on anything than flipping a coin or twiddling one’s thumbs.

I doubt that President Bush, or the majority of the House of Representatives, would actually fast (though they may well pray) in response to this resolution, even if they vote for it. The suggested ‘recogni[tion of] the public need for fasting and prayer” is therefore not, I think, an actual recognition of public need for fasting and prayer — rather, it’s a sort of dramatic gesture aimed at symbolically tying us to a centuries-old American tradition (which I take it originated in a time when people did take fasting seriously in this situation). These dramatic gestures may be fine in politics, but I don’t think they’re right in religion: If you call for a sacred observance, it seems to me that you should really seriously want the sacred observance to take place.

The standards of sincerity ought to be higher in religion than in political gestures. But such high standards are hard to maintain when Congress gets involved in religion, even symbolically.

Again, Volokh opposes the resolution on the ground that it fails to properly establish religion. The government must do what’s “right in religion” and make sure that the “sacred observance” is taken “seriously.” While we’re at it, let’s make sure that when the kids say “under God,” they really mean it.

Buggy Doctype

March 26, 2003 | 16 Comments

In attempts to make The Raving Atheist validate, I 1) lost cable connection in the middle of my work, 2) lost the almost valid doctype I was using, and 3) just plain had to get some other stuff done.

So I’m back at square one. I tested the site in Mozilla and IE6, everything works fine — for me. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it works fine for you. If You are having problems viewing the site, please leave a very descriptive comment here so I can make it usable by all browsers.

If something is very hooky and you’re using an old browser, I suggest you upgrade to an HTML 4.01 standards compliant browser..

Response to a Godidiot

March 26, 2003 | 59 Comments

Zombyboy of Resurrectionsong has posted his response to winning last week’s Godidiot Award. I reproduce it below, together with my reply.

We have to start from the bottom of your commentary as that really shapes the rest of the conversation in my mind. I stand by my assertion that atheism is a “faith-based belief.” Faith is defined as a “confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.” That seems to describe your position pretty damned well. The article that you linked to didn’t really address that at all

1) Faith is not merely “confident belief” in something. One may have confident beliefs in the existence of tables, chairs, cats and dogs, and in the truth of the proposition that 1 + 1 = 2, but those beliefs are not based upon faith. They are based upon logic and evidence.

2) As indicated in the article I linked, faith is belief in a fact or a proposition without evidence or proof, or belief contrary to the evidence and proof.

not accusing you of having religious beliefs but I am saying (again) that you’ve made a choice based on insufficient data. This is simply to begin a basis for conversation; there is no possible way to divine the existence of god.
The logical proofs [that you cite are nothing of the sort. They merely are you asserting that “just because someone says it’s so doesn’t make it so.” Well, just because you say it isn’t so doesn’t change the situation either. I can sit here and tell you that there is no such thing as an alien, and, based on my own personal experience, it would be a very logical statement. That doesn’t mean that there is no alien life on an as yet undiscovered planet orbiting some little-noticed star. My belief or lack of belief doesn’t change the reality of the situation—the reality merely remains unknowable.

1) My logical disproofs are addressed to contradictions arising in the most common definitions of God. To refute them, you must explain what errors I made in reaching my conclusions. Or, you may propose your own definition of God and offer your own proof as to its existence. You haven’t done either.

2) Your are correct that proofs are not valid merely because I say they are. If I said that 1 + 1 = 3, or that a square circle exists, the propositions would remain false — despite my claiming that they were true– because they contain contradictions. And in refuting them, you would rely upon a standard other than your own say-so. My disproofs of the existence of god contain no such contradictions. If you were to offer your “say-so” that my proofs were flawed, I would point out contradictions in your say-so. But you have not said so yet.

3) Your examples regarding alien life and undiscovered planets do not involve definitional contradictions. I agree that I cannot, sitting in an armchair, disprove that they exist. I can, however, sitting in an armchair, prove that 1 + 1 does not equal 3, and that no square circles exist (or planets shaped like square circles), anywhere in the universe. And to the extent that a definition of God contains the contradictions enumerated in my disproofs, I can prove that God does not exist anywhere in the universe.

Your sort of rules for what god would or wouldn’t look like are simply assumptions and games. If god exists, your understanding may be entirely based on a faulty understanding, especially since you choose to base your entire logic on what your understanding of a Judeo-Christian god is comprised of — while not even acknowledging the incredible variance of descriptions within the various interpretations of those religions.

1) I do not make the rules or assumptions. I address other people’s rules and assumptions and explain why they are false. My disproof varies with the god proposed. Since the Judeo-Christian-Islamic god is the most common one, and the attributes of omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolence are the attributes most commonly ascribed to it, most of my criticism deals with that construct. Also, your criticism of my “animosity” is based upon what I have said about believers in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic god.

2) Since you haven’t defined your god, I don’t know what concept you believe to be based on a non-faulty understanding. However, if your god has limited powers, limited knowledge, and is only party good, it might not qualify as a god. It might just be me. And if the only power it has is to turn bread brown, it might be a toaster.

3) The “incredible variance of descriptions” and interpretations among religions only confirms that believers are talking about made-up nonsense. Nobody gives wildy varying descriptions of tables and chairs and cats and dogs. And I discuss just about every description of nonsense which comes to my attention. However, as I have indicated in my Basic Assumptions, I generally don’t discuss Zeus or Poseidon or Wotan (or elves or unicorns or leprechauns) because nobody seriously believes in them.

4) You’re the one playing a game, since you a) object to me criticizing the common and existing definitions of god, without explaining why that criticism is wrong b) object to me not adopting and criticizing definitions that haven’t even been proposed, and c) never propose your own definition of the word “god”.

Science and logic once proved that the world was flat. And that the Earth was the center of the universe. Both of these very logical conclusions were also very wrong.

1) The shape and position of the earth present empirical, not logical, propositions. The Earth may flatten out, move, or disappear in the future. We have to keeping watching.

2) How do you know that those conclusions were wrong back then? Through God and religion?

To me, it is much more difficult to believe that the entire universe just is. Where did it begin? The big bang? Fair enough; only it leaves the question of how all the matter in the universe was condensed into such a tiny space and what conditions changed to cause the great explosion of matter and what existed before and—well, again, where did it begin? There is no scientific theory that satisfactorily explains any of those questions. That is not to say that there isn’t an explanation that doesn’t require the existence of a supernatural entity outside our understanding, just that, perhaps, it hasn’t yet been found. Until science can find a plausible answer, though, the most plausible answer is still the one that you refute: god.

1) Not knowing your definition of “god,” I can’t evaluate the plausibility of your answer. But my logical refutations of the most common definitions of god still hold.

2) If your definition of god is “whatever explains the existence of the universe,” then I agree that god exists. It’s not much of a definition, though, since as you point out it doesn’t tell us whether the entity is conscious, natural, or supernatural.

3) If you find it difficult to believe that the entire universe just is, it should be more difficult for you to believe that a “supernatural entity outside [your] understanding” just is. In fact, you can’t believe in it as all because it is “outside your understanding.”

My unwillingness to shill for a specific religion, though, comes not from a lack of faith in a deity, but from a lack of faith in myself. That is, I fully realize that any conceptualization I might have of god is limited by my own senses and understanding of the world. I know that I am fallible and that my explanations will likely fall short of the reality. This leads me to question, on a daily basis, the shape of my beliefs, and to form an ethical system based on my understanding. Don’t mistake my lack of preaching as a weakness of faith. My religion does more than comfort me on occasion, it informs my life with a sense of curiosity and purpose along with a sense of my own limitations.

1) I still don’t have the foggiest idea what your concept of god is.

2) I still don’t have the foggiest concept of how your concept of god helps you form an ethical system.

This does not mean that I have to accept any action from other religious believers as you somehow seem to think. I’m not sure where you got that idea, because it certainly wasn’t from anything I said. Religious belief is no excuse for murder or oppression; I’m as firmly opposed to terrorist bombers as I would have been to the Crusades. And, in fact, religion is usually used as an excuse for these actions, not the real reason behind the actions. Most “religious” wars have a economic or political basis beyond religion. Even the excuse, however, is repugnant.

1) You originally said “[w]hat I don’t really understand is the level of animosity towards people like me–that is, people with religious beliefs.” You seemed to be self-identifying with the religious people toward which I direct my animosity.

2) I am glad that you now reject religious excuses for immorality. Perhaps you can direct a certain level of animosity towards people who

Godidiot of the Week: John Gray

March 26, 2003 | Comments Off

Upon further consideration, I retroactively designate the subject of yesterday’s post, John Gray, as Godidot of the Week.

Blast from the Past

March 26, 2003 | 1 Comment

This week I finally finished the miserable and tedious task of cutting and pasting my archives to Moveable Type (thanks, again, to Chris Michaud of Monosyllabically). They are fully and accurately searchable, so feel free to peruse them for the religious target of your choice.

The biggest laugh I got in the process was from re-reading this post. Not from what I wrote, but from the link in the entry to this article at Pat Robertson’s site tying the veracity of the soon-to-be discredited age claim of Little League pitcher Danny Almonte to the truth of the Bible:

Despite extreme efforts to poke holes in [Almonte’s] team they just keep rolling along. This is very reminiscent of educated scholars, scientists, and politicians throughout history who have tried to refute the second coming of our savior Jesus Christ. From evolution to the environment, Christ has continually survived and will always overcome attempts to poke holes in His validity and the need for His love to us.

Every word of the Bible is completely true. Second Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

God supervised the writers of the Bible. In essence, they wrote His thoughts, His words, and His plan for us. Without the Bible, we could never discover the true God and the truth about life. His truth is never altered or changed over the course of time. It is important that we take this absolute truth and apply it to our own lives.

So, just as the Bronx Baby Bombers have survived attempts by private investigators to poke holes in eligibility, take a moment today to consider how the Bible has survived attack after attack regarding its validity. To survive as many investigations as it has, it can be nothing else except the absolute truth.

Knowledge is Gray

March 25, 2003 | 3 Comments

A number of readers have attacked John Gray for certain comments he makes, seemingly critical of atheism, in Exposing the Myth of Secularism. Eva objects to this:

The need for religion appears to be hard-wired in the human animal. Certainly the behaviour of secular humanists supports this hypothesis. Atheists are usually just as emotionally engaged as believers. Quite commonly, they are more intellectually rigid. No doubt there are many reasons for this state of affairs, but I suspect it is the repression of the religious impulse that explains the obsessive rigidity of secular thought.

The role of humanist thought in shaping the past century’s worst regimes is easily demonstrable, but it is passed over, or denied, by those who harp on about the crimes of religion. Yet the mass murders of the 20th century were not perpetrated by some latter-day version of the Spanish Inquisition. They were done by atheist regimes in the service of Enlightenment ideals of progress. Stalin and Mao were not believers in original sin. Even Hitler, who despised Enlightenment values of equality and freedom, shared the Enlightenment faith that a new world could be created by human will. Each of these tyrants imagined that the human condition could be transformed through the use of science.
If, as some claim, the Victorians covered piano legs in a vain effort to exorcise sex from their lives, secular humanists behave similarly when they condemn religion as irrational. It seems not to have occurred to them to ask where it comes from. History and anthropology show it to be a species-wide phenomenon. There is no more reason to think that we will cease to be religious animals than there is to think we will some day be asexual.

The attack on secular humanism and the attribution of atheism to Hitler, Stalin and Mao are indeed familiar weapons in the arsenal of religious fundamentalists. But the comparison of religion to sex signals that something is seriously awry. Gray — Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics — is, in fact, in many ways fundamentally anti-religionist. This passage, from a review of Gray’s book “Straw Dogs: Thoughts On Humans And Other Animals,” pretty much sums up his “theology”:

Gray . . . finds no hope of salvation either in this world or any other. There is no refuge to be sought in religion, mysticism, or technology, and the quest for a universally applicable morality is a superstition originating in the Old Testament. There is, he concludes, no purpose in life, yet we humans seem incapable of accepting this fact. As for our much-vaunted consciousness, this plays a smaller role than we like to suppose, for most of what goes on in our brains never reaches consciousness at all and we are largely unaware of our own motives. As might be expected, Gray decisively rejects the notion of free will.

* * *

Gray has some respect for Buddhism, especially because of its “no Self” doctrine, but he does not accept the Buddhist view that meditation can liberate us from suffering by showing us things as they really are. And he finds the Buddhist aim of escaping from the cycle of birth and death to be irrelevant for those of us who think that this life is the only one we have.

So Jerry Falwell, he’s not. (He’s also not the “John Gray” of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” fame). What he is, I really can’t say. The reviewer indicates that Gray “prefers . . . the Taoist position, which he takes to be an acceptance that we can never escape from the dream of the self” and that Gray’s “super-hero is Chuang Tzu, with his famous account of having dreamed he was a butterfly and, on waking, not known if he was a man dreaming he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was a man.” Perhaps a skeptical anti-mystical mystic, then. But there is still a vague core of atheism in much of what he says. He rejects all religious explanations as myths and accepts the findings of science (subject, of course, to the possibility that everything is a dream).

And it’s hard to tell whether all of Gray’s criticisms of atheism are actually criticisms. Although he describes atheists as more “intellectually rigid” due to their “repression” of the religious impluse,” so what? Of course I am “intellectually rigid” with respect to atheism; I believe it to be absolutely true and I can give my reasons. I am also “intellectually rigid” as to whether one plus one equals two, and a host of other similar propositions. I can’t say whether religion is a “hard-wired” biological need — I certainly don’t feel it

God Squad Review XXXVI

March 24, 2003 | 7 Comments

Exhibiting characteristic moral clarity, the Squad puts spirituality before politics this week in declaring its stance on the war with Iraq:

Please consult your favorite pundit or politician to have your views on war with Iraq confirmed. That’s not our job. Our job is to state clearly what we know to be true from the texts and traditions, the faith and the friendship at the heart of all faith.

So, it looks like the Squad is going to join hands with the Pope, the Dixie Chicks and Michael Moore in opposing the war? Not quite. They adopt the broader view of the ” Abrahamic faiths of Christianity, Islam and Judaism.” And this is what the “the faith and the friendship at the heart of all faith” tells them:

The argument that war with Iraq is unjust because people will die is not spiritually valid.

* * *

We agree that destroying weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a ruthless dictator who has thwarted the international community for 12 years is a just reason for war . . . [t]he one spiritual argument we cannot accept is that the war is wrong because people would die.

The next thing we know to be true about war with Iraq, from a spiritual standpoint, is that the need to free the Iraqi people from tyranny and oppression supercedes even America’s need to be free from terrorism. While many people question the danger Saddam Hussein poses to the United States and our allies, he’s clearly a crushing danger to his own people.

* * *

We are moved to support war with Iraq far more by the oppression of the Iraqi people, who’ve been gassed, tortured, raped and murdered by Saddam Hussein, than by the views of those who order other people’s children into war.

The basis of these purely “spiritual” conclusions, according to the Squad, is the book of Exodus. There, “we learn that the motivation of God’s redemptive act of liberation was not the threat the pharaoh of Egypt posed to other nations but the threat he posed to his own people.” In other words, God doesn’t care if a country is going to annihilate the rest of the world, as long as it treats its own citizens well.

On the other hand, the Squad states that “we also honor those who believe [the war] is premature and ill-considered.” In other words, let the inspections work — and once we are assured that Saddam poses no threat to the rest of us, let him go back to gassing, torturing, raping and murdering his own people. All clear now?

To Hell With It

March 22, 2003 | 20 Comments

It’s impolite to speak ill of the dead. So cartoons depicting a famous person greeted by Satan in Hell are far rarer than those showing a celebrity with St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. But Saddam Hussein, not yet dead, is already dancing with the Devil:




(Yes, I know the Grim Reaper is not Satan, but Wednesday’s New York Post cartoon showing Saddam in Hell has not yet been archived.)

There are dozens of proofs (and disproofs) of the existence of God; why aren’t there any proving the existence of the Devil? Satan is frequently offered as a possible explanation for the presence of evil in the world (as in the third cartoon), but you simply don’t have the same sort of rigorous, logical attempts to demonstrate that he is a “necessary” being in the way God supposedly is. I suspect that most of the standard God arguments could be adapted to that purpose by adding a word here and there (e.g., “every bad effect must have a bad cause; Satan is the first bad cause,” or “the existence of evil design in the universe requires an evil designer”), but I’m not aware of any theologian who has seen fit to go through the motions.

One stumbling block might be proving that Satan is completely evil. After all, his sole eschatological role is punishing evildoers; he acts as an agent of God, tormenting those who have been tossed into the Lake of Fire. So in that capacity he’s basically a prison warden; not necessarily a nice or pleasant fellow, but clearly aligned with the good guys, the forces of law and order.

House Votes to Condemn Pledge Ruling, Slop Pigs

March 21, 2003 | 11 Comments

Washington, D.C., March 21, 2003
Special to The Raving Atheist

The House of Representatives yesterday voted to condemn the federal appeals court ruling that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is unconstitutional because of its reference to God. The resolution, which passed 400 to 7, also contained a separate provision stressing the importance of slopping pigs.

“The 9th Circuit continues to get it wrong,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner. Sensenbrenner stated that he “would vindicate the outrage of Mr. and Mrs. America at the ruling and added that pigs should be fed buckets of sticky, gooey slop to stop them from running around their pens squealing. He also criticized the court for refusing to rehear the case at a time when the nation is preparing for “an impending war to defend the values upon which our great nation is founded.” Ann M. Veneman, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, concurred that judicial re-hearings of public school Establishment Clause cases should be timed to coincide with major foreign policy initiatives, and recommended a nutritious blend of rice, kitchen waste and sour milk to keep pigs fat, sleepy, stupid and docile.

The resolution states that the phrase “one nation under God” in the pledge reflects the religious faith central to the founding of the nation and that its recitation is a patriotic act, not a statement of religious faith. Sensenbrenner emphasized the need to pay homage to the historical deism of Thomas Jefferson rather than permit prayer into the schools, noting that God should not have been taken out of the classroom and that all Americans have the inalienable constitutional right to worship as they see fit. Veneman noted pigs can be led to believe that even the blandest slop tastes good if they are confused with excited calls of “sooey” and encouraged to eat with fast-talking patter and hand-clapping.

Thanks, Mom!

March 20, 2003 | 34 Comments

From today’s New York Post:

Two-year-old Matthew Anthony must have been born with Superman’s genes. His mom accidentally drove over him four times with a 4,600-pound van

Godidiot of the Week: Zombyboy of Resurrectionsong

March 19, 2003 | 31 Comments

This week’s Godidiot is Zombyboy of Resurrectionsong, a frequent commentator of late in The Raving Atheist’s comments section. Since he’s an inquisitive sort, I’ll adopt a Q&A format this time around:

Q: What I don’t really understand is the level of animosity towards people like me–that is, people with religious beliefs. Why does it bother you so much that I pray or believe in something you do not?

Hell, I figure I’m a pretty good guy. Pretty normal, really. What about me annoys you so much (in a general atheist v. Christian sense, not in a “he posts too damned much and I don’t think he’s terribly amusing” sense)?

What’s so terribly wrong with people believing something that you don’t? Or finding comfort in prayer when very little other comfort is forthcoming? What about my simple belief in God makes me a “religionist asshole?”

Would I miraculously (and, yes, I use the term quite specifically here) be a better person if I didn’t believe in God? Why? My basic personality wouldn’t change, nor would my politics or my daily existence. I would still be a 32 year old divorced graphic designer who plays music too loud, likes to drink, is jonesing for another tattoo, and reads a handful of blogs for entertainment (I found this one through TBOCOTW). Is my faith, or lack of faith, so defining that it has the power to invalidate the rest of my existence?

I don’t get it. I really don’t.

A: You certainly don’t.

This blog addresses injustices arising from 1) penalizing innocent people and innocent conduct on the basis of false and irrational religious beliefs and 2) awarding people special privileges based upon their religious beliefs. For example:

1. Over forty state legislatures have enacted laws allowing parents to withhold simple, effective, life-saving medical treatment from their children provided they get a note from a preacher verifying that they believe in faith healing.

2. Relying upon religious tradition, the Supreme Court has ruled that a state may imprison gays for having sex. Gays may not marry or receive many of the benefits available to heterosexual couples.

3. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia believes that executing innocent people is “no big deal” because God makes things right in the afterlife.

4. Commercial and residential property owners must pay higher taxes to make up for revenue lost on tax-exempt religious property.

5. States maintain taxpayer financed kosher law enforcement divisions to insure that religious dietary strictures are being followed by private commercial establishments.

6. People who profess a belief in God receive special privileges (exemptions from narcotics and traffic laws, lighter prison sentences, special food) that non-believers do not.

7. Many state laws require public school teachers to lead their students in declaring that this is a nation “under God.” No state law requires public school teachers to lead their students in declaring that there is no God.

You claim that your religion doesn’t have much effect on your politics or your daily life, other than comforting you on occasion. If that’s the case, then I can’t imagine why you’ve sensed any animosity from this blog. My hostility is directed more at people who take their religion seriously, i.e., support laws like those listed above, or fly airplanes into skyscrapers so that Allah will reward them with 77 virgins.

Do you feel hostility towards such people? I don’t seen how you could, when you say things like this:

God can neither be proven nor refuted–there is no method by which I can point god out to you, but there is also no method by which you can test for the presence of god. And any scientific evidence you point to only raises more questions without ruling out the potential of a deity or some kind of force outside our current reckoning. This is why I won’t debate the existence of a deity–it isn’t debatable in either direction. I consider atheism to be as much a faith-based belief as any religion–it’s a choice that’s being made with insufficient data.

So who are you to say whether the WTC hijackers were right or wrong about their God? Shhh . . . don’t answer . . . remember, as you say, “it isn’t debatable in either direction.” Insufficient data. And don’t question the Hasids’ belief in the talking carp or the Catholics’ belief in their crying icons, either. Just accept those miracles as proof of orthodox Judaism or orthodox Christianity and help them imprison or execute gays. Or, abandon modern medicine in favor of faith healing and help the Christian Scientists shut down all of America’s hospitals. Why not? Don’t tell me that innocent people will die

Hebrew-Speaking Carp Was Hoax: Hasidim

March 18, 2003 | 21 Comments

New Square, New York, March 18, 2003
Special to the Raving Atheist

A carp which allegedly shouted apocalyptic warnings in Hebrew was part of an elaborate hoax, says one of the fish-cutters who reported the talking fish last January. Zalmen Rosen, a 57-year-old member of the obscure Skver sect of Hasidim in New Square, New York, originally told the New York Times that the carp said “Tzaruch shemirah” and “Hasof bah,” which mean that everyone needs to account for themselves because the end is near. However, Rosen yesterday revealed that the carp — which was ultimately made into gefilte fish for Sabbath dinner — was merely using religion in an attempt to secure a pardon.

“The world is not going to end,” said Rosen. “A fish will say anything, in any language, to avoid being slaughtered.” According to Rosen, the carp eventually confessed that it had gotten the idea from the town’s Grand Rabbi, David Twersky, who in 1999 engineered a presidential pardon for four local men who had been convicted of laundering millions of dollars in federal education and housing funds through a nonexistent yeshiva. President Clinton pardoned the men upon leaving office in 2001, two months after his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, received 99% of New Square’s vote in her successful senatorial bid.


Rosen said he suspected something was amiss when the carp began commanding him to pray and study the Torah. “That fish was certainly in no position to be giving me orders,” he said. “And then I hear it whispering to my gentile friend that he should pray to Christ,” said Rosen. “Believe me, I know a scam when I see one.”

In the course of the ensuing conversation, the fish complained bitterly of the respect accorded to apparitions of the Virgin Mary. “Nobody questions those miracles or mocks the idiots who flock to worship some bleeding or crying statue, even though it’s obvious that someone just rigged up the whole thing with an eye-dropper,” said the carp. “But you just know that a Hebrew-speaking fish is going to be the butt of endless jokes, even if it’s predicting Armageddon.” Rosen said he decided to put an end to the kvetching when the fish threatened to call the Anti-Defamation League. “I grabbed the cleaver and told him that in about two seconds, he’d be able to take the matter up directly with God.”

(link courtesy of Don McArthur of The Misanthropyst)

God Squad Review XXXV

March 17, 2003 | 9 Comments

The Squad disses my profession this week, comparing lawyers to rats. I was all set to respond, but couldn’t stop laughing after I read this letter about the Squad in today’s Newsday:

Theological Differences

There is a fundamental problem with a Catholic monsignor and a Jewish rabbi collaborating to give advice on ultimate spiritual issues [“God Squad,” Part II]. Are there not, inherent within their beliefs, basic differences that would keep them from drawing the same conclusions about life after death? Doesn’t Rabbi Marc Gellman believe that Jehovah God has promised a Messiah, but that the Messiah has not yet been sent?

Doesn’t Msgr. Thomas Hartman believe that God sent Jesus to this Earth as full deity, yet perfect humanity, able to be a sacrifice and substitute for everyone who would believe in him?

If these men do believe the basic tenets of their respective faiths, how can they agree on how a person gets to heaven? At least one of them is wrong. Let’s even allow that they are both wrong, for they most certainly cannot both be right.

Christopher Schaaf


Ah, they’re catching on to you, boys, they’re catching on . . .

Miracle or Messiah?

March 17, 2003 | 52 Comments

When a little girl is rescued from the bottom of a mineshaft, her survival may safely be called a “miracle” without fear of refutation. Mineshafts don’t speak and thus are in no position to deny the intervention of the Supreme Being. But competing claims may arise when a child is trapped by human rather than natural forces. Elizabeth Smart was “abducted” by a man who claimed to be a messiah fulfilling a holy mission. How to decide whether her return was a miracle — the official position of the Smart family and its Mormon Church — or a violation of God’s will?

Theologically speaking, I would say that the alleged kidnapper, Brian David Mitchell, has the better of the argument. The Mormon Church was founded by Joseph Smith Jr., a man who claimed that God and Jesus told him that polygamy was a prerequiste to salvation, and who ultimately took at least thirty-three wives. The truth of Mormonism completely stands or falls upon the veracity of his claims. His teachings on polygamy can still be found in Section 132 of Doctrines and Covenants, one of the Church’s four volumes of scripture. Although the Church outlawed polygamy in 1890, the ban came about only upon the strength of a direct revelation by God to Mormon President Wilford Woodruff.

Mitchell similarly relies upon revelation, claiming that on Thanksgiving Day 2000 God informed him that the celestial law of polygamy had been reinstated and directed him to take seven wives. In contrast, the Smart family’s claim of a miracle does not rely upon any communications from God. The facts certainly do not suggest divine intervention; it’s not as if Elizabeth fled home after Mitchell was struck dead by lightning. She wandered about in public with her captors for months without being recognized. She didn’t so much as try to contact her family during Mitchell’s hospitalization or imprisonment, and resisted her return to the end. Furthermore, Mitchell’s lifestyle

Abducted Girl Feared Brainwashed by Cult

March 14, 2003 | 25 Comments

Provo, Utah, March 13, 2003
Special to The Raving Atheist

Elizabeth Smart may have been brainwashed by a polygamous, messianic cult that breeds like rabbits, according to law enforcement sources. Investigators close to the case revealed that the girl — missing for nine months before being returned to her family Wednesday — was subjected to years of indoctrination by the Mormon church prior to her abduction. Consequently, authorities have speculated that when kidnapped by another polygamous messianic breeding cult, the fourteen year old may never have actually realized that she was away from her real family.

“Elizabeth has 16,358 siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and other relatives in the immediate area,” said a Provo police detective. “And she lived for several months during her ‘abuction’ up in the hills right behind her family’s sprawling mountain-top mansion, so she might well have thought that she had merely wandered into another room.” The detective also noted that her alleged abductor, Brian David Mitchell, was just another local charismatic self-proclaimed Christian prophet in search of additional child-brides. At no time during her prolonged absence did the teenager attempt to call home or escape, despite the ample opportunities which aronse when Mitchell was imprisoned or hospitalized.

Elizabeth’s father, Ed Smart, hired Mitchell to work on his house and noticed nothing unusual about the bedraggled, preaching, wild-eyed Charles Manson look-alike who called himself Emmanuel. “When I was up there on the roof with him, I never could have guessed . . . he was so soft-spoken; he was so quiet,” Smart said. Police sources suggested that Elizabeth may well have mistaken Mitchell for her own father, or perhaps one of the 4,924 uncles and step-uncles who are authorized to speak on her behalf on television as official family spokesmen.

Godidiot of the Week: PC Watch

March 13, 2003 | 23 Comments

John Ray and Peter Cuthbertson have co-founded an entertaining new blog, PC Watch, presumably intended to skewer the sort of over-sensitive and humorless ideological inflexibility that comes at the expense of common sense. But this item and the others mentioned below make them co-recipients of the Godidiot Award:

Political correctness even has the potential to trump religious freedom. Church schools in the Australian State of Queensland had only a narrow escape from it in 2002. The Labor Party government in Queensland tried to pass a law that would have forbidden them from rejecting gays as teachers in their schools. An escape clause for church schools (but not other schools) was built in only at the last moment after some heavy lobbying.

The post is entitled “Political Correctness Versus Freedom Of Religion.” “Versus”?!?!? I have news for you, fellows

Children’s Rights

March 12, 2003 | 12 Comments

God-Pledge defenders occasionally frame the issue in terms of children’s rights. The majority of religious kids are being denied their “right” to say “under God” by a handful of atheists, they argue. In a similar vein, they wonder how any child could possibly be “harmed” by hearing the G-word.

The issue is a phony one. This simple fact is that, legally speaking, children have no rights in the matter. The Constitution does not prevent a child from being forced to his knees to pray to Allah or Jesus or speak in tongues for five hours a day. The parents have an absolute right to subject their children to whatever religious training or ritual they see fit. The state, except in exceptional circumstances involving physical injury, may not intervene on the grounds that the child is “harmed.” And the choice of religion is not the child’s, but the parent’s. In custody disputes between interfaith couples, the child’s religion is settled through stipulation by the stroke of a pen. A parent can convert from Judaism to Christianity to Hindi in a years’ time without the child’s consent.

So let’s suppose the public schools did, as the Ninth Circuit suggested, introduce a prayer with the words “under Jesus.” Everybody, including the staunchest Pledge advocates, would agree that the practice is unconstitutional. But why? What is the harm in hearing those two little words? If parents can send their kids to pray to Jesus in a Catholic school for twelve years, how could any public school child be harmed by mouthing Christ’s name for half a second a day? Or Allah’s name on alternate Tuesdays?

The stock reply, of course, is that saying “under God” is ceremonial deism, whereas “under Jesus” is sectarian. Apart from the fact that it’s a bad argument on its own terms, it is completely irrelevant to the question posed here. A very specific claim has been made that some child’s right to freely practice his or her religion has been infringed, and that the child has been “harmed.” How so? And how does imposing a generic prayer

Neutrality, Part 2

March 11, 2003 | 34 Comments

As I indicated in an earlier Rave, encouraging children to declare that this is a nation “under God” every morning plainly favors religion over irreligion. Under the First Amendment, the government is obligated to remain “neutral” with respect to religion — neither promoting nor discouraging a particular belief, nor favoring belief over non-belief. But there is one argument in favor of neutrality, raised in various forms by civil libertarians, which leaves me cold. The ACLU trotted it out last June in a press release expressing its support for the ban on the God-Pledge:

[T]he United States, with more than 1,500 different religious bodies and 360,000 churches, mosques and synagogues, is the most religiously diverse nation in the world because of, not in spite of, the fact that we do not allow government to become entangled with religion

In other words, neutrality toward religion promotes religion. The depressing premise here is that given a free choice, the populace will choose some form of dogmatic irrationality, any form, over atheism. Also implicit in this rationale is that diversity of superstition is a good in itself, notwithstanding the reason-hating mysogynistic homophobic child-neglecting practices it invariably entails. The argument might have some appeal to polytheists oppressed by the monotheism of the Pledge, or adherents of a religion that prohibits G_d’s name to be said aloud, but there is nothing in it for atheists at all.

I favor neutrality only in the sense that the Government should be indifferent to the religiosity of an argument, and I do so only because it is the best way to interpret the Constitution as it stands. But I think the Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom was a terrible (if historically necessary) error, to the extent that it singles out religion for special attention and treatment. It would have been by far fairer to guarantee a general freedom of philosophy or thought generally (which is essentially what the free speech clause does), rather than to favor only those theories based upon incoherent supernaturalism. The Founders might have as well included a clauses guaranteeing freedom of astrology, numerology, alchemy and other such superstitions and pseudo-sciences. Many of which are, in fact, protected to the extent they intersect with religion.

In practice, the government does discriminate against religion in many instances where it matters. The belief that one’s child will go to Hell if given a life-saving blood transfusion is generally disregarded by the courts, even if other forms of theologically-sanctioned abuse are permitted. But the religious conscience is still favored over the secular one in many areas. A Catholic may invoke a “conscience clause” to prevent his or her healthcare premiums from financing abortions, whereas my atheistic moral principles would be insufficient for that purpose. A Native American may ingest peyote to commune with the sky gods, whereas I would be imprisoned were I inclined to try the narcotic as part of some sort of libertarian experiment. I don’t pretend that conflicts over policy would not arise if purely secular standards were applied, but favoring religion as a touchstone of morality gravely distorts the debate.

God Squad Review XXXIV

March 10, 2003 | 8 Comments

The Squad this week offers its position on the Catholic Church’s deepening child abuse scandal. Its statement was solicited by a reader who “finds it difficult to go to a church and give money to a church that seems guilt of cover-ups,” and who stopped going to Mass after the priest who conducted it left under a cloud of sex abuse accusations.

The response is a long one, so I’ll break it up:

1) The Squad says it was “both frustrated and heartened” by the Church’s response to the scandal, and “believe[s] the church will prove it deserves the trust some leaders squandered.” It assures the reader that that only a “small minority” of priests were involved in the abuse and that “most bishops and cardinals were diligent in protecting their sacred trust and dealing with criminal priests.” Given the new procedures, that Squad believes that “the safety of Catholic children is now certain.”

You’ll note that the Squad refers to a “small minority” of actual abusers, but does not say that a “small minority” of bishops and cardinals were involved in the cover-up. It just says that “most” (51%?) were not involved, without informing us whether “most” of the transgressors were removed. Would you be “certain” of your child’s safety at a day care center with that sort of guarantee?

2) The Squad also doesn’t think the Church should be democratized by allowing participation by the Voice of the Faithful, a reform group formed in response to the Boston scandal. Rather, it thinks that “the church hierarchy is both willing and able to clean its own house, with proper legal oversight from secular law enforcement authorities.”

Does this mean they’d rather have police officers on the premises monitoring the priesthood rather than volunteers from a lay Catholic organization? Hardly. I really don’t think they mean “oversight” at all. What they mean is that if a priest abuses a child, the police should arrest him if the accusation survive a cover-up. Catch us if you can!

3) The Squad also believes that “[t]o use this scandal, as some critics clearly
have done, to advance their agendas for changing church teachings about celibacy, abortion, birth control, women in the priesthood or other social reforms, is both an insult to the victims and inauthentic to the way the church has changed in the past and the ways it may yet change.” It opines that “[w]hatever the merits of these ideas, they must be worked out by theologians, not in the media.”

In other words, regardless of the actual merits of a moral position, it should be rejected unless ratified through some procedure approved by theologians rather than the media. Interesting, given their earlier admission that they were “saddened” that the child abuse scandal “came to light only because of media scrutiny and not because of what should have been the effective internal procedures of the church.”


March 9, 2003 | 8 Comments

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last week reaffirmed its Pledge of Allegiance ruling, which held that the state many not constitutionally lead children in declaring that the nation is “under God.” Attorney General Ashcroft immediately announced that the Justice Department would “spare no effort” in making things right, and a few days later the Senate voted 94-0 for a resolution authorizing its lawyers to challenge the decision. On Thursday, House Majority leader Tom DeLay threatened to remedy matters by either limiting federal court jurisdiction in Pledge cases or amending the Constitution.

The threats are idle, legally speaking. And the hysteria they convey will only make it harder for opponents of the decision to argue before the Supreme Court, as they must, that the Pledge’s reference to God is merely empty “ceremonial deism.” What’s the big deal, if the words “under God” don’t really mean anything? The new dissent to amended opinion (by six Circuit judges who did not participate in the original decision), compounds the problem with this priceless language:

Newdow II [the amended opinion] goes further, and confers a favored status on atheism in our public life. In a society with a pervasive public sector, our public schools are a most important means for transmitting ideas and values to future generations. The silence the majority commands is not neutral—it itself conveys a powerful message, and creates a distorted impression about the place of religion in our national life. The absolute prohibition on any mention of God in our schools creates a bias against religion. The panel majority cannot credibly advance the notion that Newdow II is neutral with respect to belief versus non-belief; it affirmatively favors the latter to the former. One wonders, then, does atheism become the default religion protected by the Establishment Clause?

How can a prohibition against the mention of “God” create a bias against religion if the word has no religious connotations in the first place? Plainly the dissent believes it does, to the extent that merely failing to utter it constitutes some form of blasphemy. And I can’t even begin to understand their concept of “neutrality”: apparently, a Pledge which mentions neither theism nor atheism “affirmatively favors” godlessness, yet one which mentions only “God” is neutral. If that’s the case, how come no one challenged the terrifying state-mandated atheism of the Pledge between 1892 and 1954, before “God” was added to it? For that matter, if the dissent ultimately has its way, how will any utterance by any teacher on any subject which omits a reference to the Almighty withstand Establishment Clause scrutiny?

Furthermore, as the majority noted, what the Pledge promotes is not merely theism, but monotheism. So the dissent might have as well wondered whether polytheism, rather than atheism, is the “default religion” protected by the First Amendment. Yes, in this particular case it was an atheist who sought to remove the “G” word


March 7, 2003 | 9 Comments

The Raving Atheist is being renovated! The malicious, uncensored, anti-religious diatribing will resume shortly.

Chris M of — next Wednesday’s Saint of the Week — suggested that a make-over was in order and graciously offered to re-design the site. I thank her heartily for her tireless, professional efforts on behalf of the cause of godlessness.

Parking Tix Nixed: Lot Too Crowded

March 6, 2003 | 2 Comments

Staten Island, New York, March 6. 2003
Special to The Raving Atheist

Approximately two dozen drivers cited for parking violations will have their tickets voided on the ground that the parking lot they wanted to use was full, according to The New York Post. New York Police Department officials said that canceling the summonses — issued to people rushing into a building to put dirt on their foreheads — was a matter of “common sense” and done to “right a wrong.” The officer who wrote the tickets was also admonished for bad judgment and poor taste. “If there’s no space in a parking lot and you need to put dirt on your head, what choice do you have but to block a fire hydrant?” asked one of the drivers.

The NYPD’s action was applauded by motorists waiting on long lines to pay parking fines at the State DMV. “My head was throbbing from a sudden migraine when I ditched my car in a no parking zone to run into the drugstore for Advil,” said Janet Hendricks. “But I fully deserved the ticket, because it’s not as if I couldn’t have anticipated the emergency and planned ahead,” she said. “In contrast, I understand that the date of the dirt-smudging ceremony was set with less than four hundred year’s notice — how could they possibly have prepared for that?” she asked. Hendricks also noted that although her brain felt like it was about to explode when she fled from her car, her forehead was in no needing of blackening at the time.

Barbara Humphreys, paying a $150 fine for leaving her car in a handicapped spot, also praised the NYPD. “My kid had to vomit, but that’s no excuse for breaking the law,” she admitted. “But I can see why people illegally parking to entertain themselves at a hastily planned event like a movie or a dirt-head smearing should be excused,” Humphreys said. “And I am glad that their tickets were automatically voided with no questions asked . . . people engaged in presumptively unlawful activity shouldn’t be compelled to demonstrate any necessity or excuse for their conduct when they are suffering from clean foreheads. Humphreys was fined an additional $100 for operating her vehicle without protective rosary beads.

Godidiot Of The Week: Nicholas D. Kristof

March 5, 2003 | 9 Comments

(Link courtesy of reader gmanedit)

“Hate the symptoms, love the disease.” That’s the philosophy of this week’s Godidiot, Nicholas D. Kristof, whose New York Times Op-Ed yesterday suggests that sensible, intelligent people should play Chamberlain to the ignorant, dangerous, anti-intellectual Hitlers known as evangelicals.

Kristof clearly knows better. He paints a depressing picture of America, which is now 46% born-again. Only 28% of Americans accept evolution, while 48% accept creationism and 68% believe in the Devil. He notes that a Christian “left behind” series about the Apocalypse has sold 50 million copies and that Benny Hinn — the lying, murdering faith healer — is one of America’s most prominent television personalities. Kristof himself tends “to disagree with evangelicals on almost everything” and sees “no problem with aggressively pointing out the dismal consequences of this increasing religious influence.” But . . . but . . .

. . . [b]ut liberal critiques sometimes seem not just filled with outrage evangelical-backed policies, which is fair, but also to have a sneering tone about conservative Christianity itself. Such mockery of religious faith is inexcusable.

I did a double-take reading the word “inexcusable” — did Mr. Kristof perhaps really mean “inevitable” or “indispensable”? No. Religious faith is, after all, religious faith, so we have to somehow respect the very idiocy used to justify and bring about the “dismal consequences.” It is “unfair” to do otherwise. So we must, says Kristof, “drop the contempt and display some of the inclusive wisdom of Einstein, who wrote in his memoir: ‘Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.'”

What would this Einsteinian “inclusivity” entail? Nationalizing America’s hospitals under the leadership of Benny Hinn? Perhaps. Kristof certainly believes that “accusations of institutional bias have merit” when it comes to the media: he “can’t think of a single evangelical working for a major news organization.” He complains that “nearly all of us in the news business are completely out of touch with a group that includes 46 percent of Americans.” Well, we can’t have “institutional bias” can we? And what’s good for the newsroom should be good for the emergency room, shouldn’t it? After all, medicine without religion would be lame. So what if 100% of the doctors are “completely out of touch” with the snake oil salesmen?

Kristof is also appalled that the liberal media elites who “sometimes show more intellectual curiosity about the religion of Afghanistan than that of Alabama, and more interest in reading the Upanishads than in reading the Book of Revelation.” Yes, I agree that there are certain muddle-headed nitwits out there who prefer the gospel of Alice in Wonderland to that of the Wizard of Oz — but is the solution really to be indiscriminately stupid and tolerant and accept anything and everything? And is it really “intellectual” curiosity to give serious consideration to some preposterous theory for no better reason than that it appears in an ancient text that declares itself to be true?

Given Kristof’s penchant for citing population figures as proof of Evangelicalism’s “importance,” maybe his real concern is that mockery is an impolitic way of dealing with hoardes of ignorant savages. Very well; I will drop the tone and say it plainly:

The beliefs of the Evangelicals are false and worthless. They should be met with nothing but denial and refutation. The relationship between science and religion should not be one of mutual respect, but one of teacher and student. The Evangelicals should shut up, sit down in their high chairs and let us educate them, or be confined to cages until such time as the evolution they reject transforms them into something more civilized.

God the Numerologist

March 4, 2003 | 1 Comment

You may have received this e-mail recently from the World Prayer Center:

The World Prayer Center is calling all Christians worldwide to a Worldwide Day of Prayer on Monday, March 3, 2003.

Ted Haggard, President of The World Prayer Team, says his office has been flooded with messages from people all over the world saying that God is impressing upon them to prepare to pray on 03-03-03. “These believers do not know one another, nor are they connected to one another. They do not know that the others are saying the same thing. Clearly, the Holy Spirit is speaking to His church, and He is calling His people to pray,” says Haggard.

“As these reports began to come in, we sensed in our hearts that God wants us to promote a huge outpouring of prayer on this special date. Many believe there is significance to this date because of its numerical sequence (03-03-03) which reminds many Christians of the Trinity. Moreover, the Holy Spirit has highlighted Jeremiah 33:3 (again, three 3’s) as our call to action, ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know,'” says Haggard.

* * *

The magnitude of this date is not lost on the non-Christian world as well. The Global Consciousness movement (New Age) has for years been planning a worldwide “Largest ever experiment into global consciousness” to take place on 03-03-03. Their effort is slated to begin at 3:33am (Fiji local time), on the 3rd day of the 3rd month of the 3rd millennium. It has gained widespread notoriety in New Age circles.

* * *

Should this not be enough to cause Christians to pray, the significance of 03-03-03 becomes even more pressing as America could launch a war with Iraq at about that very hour, against a leader, Saddam Hussein, who has only recently embraced Islam as a way of gaining support from the Islamic world.

* * *

The World Prayer Team therefore calls on all Christian churches and individuals to set aside at least 3 minutes to pray at 3:33 PM in their time zone on 03/03/03.

PRAYER FOCUS: Pray that the armies of heaven will push back the powers of darkness in the Middle East. Pray that Saddam Hussein will leave the country before war is required to remove him from power.

Overlooked in all this excitement was the fact that on 3/3/03, The Raving Atheist posted his 33rd God Squad Review! And the lead topic was Ash Wednesday — the day that the Pope and the World Council of Churches have set aside instead for prayers for peace.

Careful, though — doubling “333” does not bring you twice the luck. To the contrary, it brings you to “666” — the Mark of the Beast. That’s the number that, in the last days, gets stamped on the foreheads or hands of sinners to mark them for eternal punishment (see Revelation 13:16-18). The Kentucky Mountain Bible College just last week won a battle with the phone company to get the “666” prefix dropped from its telephone number; apparently just dialing that sequence can erase a life of good works.

That, of course, was just a case of a private business accommodating a customer. But the Government occasionally has to bow to the Mark as well. There are quite a few nuts out there who believe that a Social Security number — whether it contains any sixes or not — is the Mark, and that being required to supply an SSN in an application for a welfare, a driver’s license or other government benefit violates one’s religious freedom. The argument has met with an unusual degree of success (see here and here) although the Supreme Court, in a somewhat fragmented decision, has indicated that, on occasion, sanity may be applied in such cases.

God Squad Review XXXIII

March 3, 2003 | 1 Comment

Vicky of Liquid Courage has gone Yentl one better this week, impersonating God Squad Rabbi Marc Gellman in order to ask Father Hartman why a priest friend of hers shows up one day every spring with an ashen cross on his forehead. She’s “too embarrassed to ask him what it all means,” apparently still shaken from her last encounter with a rude Catholic colleague whose ashes she innocently misidentified as copier toner. But Father Tom shows no mercy. “You got to be kidding!” he chides, before telling her that the smudge means that “you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

As I explained in an earlier Rave, a more appropriate response would have been “thank you for your concern, but I am an idiot.” But I actually like Father Tom’s nihilistic “dust” answer better. I always thought Catholic theology made more extravagant claims about the afterlife.

* * *

The Squad returns to its usual dogmatism in responding to a second letter, from a woman whose daughter has pierced her ears and her navel and is about to add her tongue to the list. Consistent with its position on forehead ashes, the Squad claims that it is “open to a variety of weird and goofy modes of self-expression.” Strangely, however, it draws the line at body piercing, on the grounds that “[a]ny practice that involves self-wounding or self-mutilation is prohibited by Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious authorities.” Tattoos are verboten too, falling into the same category of “nonreversible stupid body woundings.” The Squad then opines that “[t]he real spiritual problem with all of this is the arrogance that assumes the body we’ve been given is imperfect and in need of some further decoration . . . [t]he body is a holy thing, not an Etch-A-Sketch tablet” and notes that its “favorite decoration for the body is a smile.”

If the body is “perfect” I don’t see why any decoration is needed or why the Squad draws the line at reversibility [Note to Squad: Etch-A-Sketch drawings are reversible by turning it upside down and shaking]. So let’s all go around wearing nothing but the Squad’s recommended smiles — and no make-up or deodorant either. But I guess if we did that we’d all see that Rabbi Gellman is arrogantly circumcised. Of course, he’d say that circumcision is not self-mutilation, although that explanation carries very little force against a theory based upon the body’s supposed natural perfection. And even if it did, doesn’t a Muslim gouge his own eyes out after seeing Mecca?

Now, The Raving Atheist would sooner drive a stake through his heart than a stud through his tongue. But I rely on a more tangible criterion — pain — rather than God. And the Squad’s “perfection” rationale is used to oppose surgery for a wide variety of easily correctable deformities such as cleft-palates and club foots, and more generally to favor faith healing over modern medicine.

I seriously doubt Father Tom scolds all those sweet ladies who show up for Mass wearing earrings. The Squad betrays its real target when they note that “[u]nfortunately, most folks thinking about putting a bolt through their tongue are not concerned about what some old religious law has to say.” Ah, those fucking Wiccans.

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