The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

2003 October

Teen Upbeat Despite Failed Audition for Wholesome Family Drama

October 31, 2003 | 6 Comments

Salt Lake City, Utah, October 30, 2003
Special to The Raving Atheist

A winsome Utah teen figured she’d be a shoo-in for a role in a family-oriented movie — after all, she’d be playing herself!

So Elizabeth Smart, 15, admits she was just a tad miffed when grumpy TV producers nixed her bid to star in the dramatization of her joyous reunion with her family after nine months of statutory rape by a bedraggled, wild-eyed, schizophrenic, heroin-addicted, scripture-spouting, polygamous Mormon drifter. “Why don’t they want me?” she asked her parents.

“We reminded her that a smile is just a frown turned upside down,” said Elizabeth’s father, Ed Smart, who authorized CBS to made The Elizabeth Smart Story. “And she snapped right back to being her old sweet self, just like she did after nine months of sex in a mountain teepee with a self-proclaimed prophet of God and his witch-like concubine.”

In June 2002 Elizabeth, then 14, was taken from her home by transient panhandlers Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee. Ed Smart, also a Mormon, had earlier hired Mitchell to do some work on his roof. “We chatted about how our God sent prophets down to Earth to spread polygamy and collect child-brides,” said Smart. “I never would have suspected him of doing what he did.”

Smart said he’s sure that Mitchell will snap back to being his old sweet self if he ever gets out of prison. “And then Maybe he and Elizabeth could co-star in a movie about the life of Joseph Smith. ” Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, took thirty-three wives before being murdered in jail by an angry mob.

Jews Behaving Badly

October 30, 2003 | 24 Comments

Another riot in Brooklyn, from today’s New York Post:

A holy war between two feuding Brooklyn Hasidic groups erupted outside a religious school in Williamsburgh yesterday as more than 150 students tried to storm a religious school closed by a rival faction.

The school for recently married men, known as a kolel, was closed for the second straight day yesterday morning when the students arrived and were met by security guards and German shepherds.

Then, all hell broke loose.

“Someone said,, ‘We’ll push our way in, and that’s it,” said one witness, who asked not to be named. “That’s what we did.”

Another witness described a rebellion of “screaming and yelling” at around 9:30 a.m. as he approached the locked school.

“It’s a fight between the people in the community,” he said. Police officers were called, but no arrests were made and there were no injuries. Police sources described it as an “internal fight.”

The attempted shuttering of the kolel is the latest chapter in an ongoing saga between two partisan camps in the Satmar Hasidic community

Cuter!

October 29, 2003 | 20 Comments

Just yesterday their little hearts were filled with religiously-fueled hate. What a difference a day makes!

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Pennsylvania Miners Pray for Second Disney Deal

October 29, 2003 | 4 Comments

Somerset, Pennsylvania, October 29, 2003
Special to The Raving Atheist

Leading a prayer-based rescue effort to free 13 men trapped in a flooded Russian coal mine, nine miners from Pennsylvania beseeched God to reward their words with a second television movie deal with The Walt Disney Company. God responded to similar prayers last year, inducing Disney to pay each man $150,000 for the rights to the story of how they persuaded Him to release them from the Quecreek mine in July 2002.

“I’ve been praying for them,” said miner Popernack, 42. “And I pray that God will recognize the value of my efforts in persuading Him not to kill the Zapadnaya miners, and open Disney’s coffers to me once again.”

The Pennsylvania miners warned their Russian counterparts not to pray for themselves. “Leave this to the experienced prayer professionals,” said John Unger. “That’s what Disney pays us for.”

Popernack said that if his prayers are answered, the new TV movie will not cover the same ground as the first. Instead of focusing on the success of the mine rescue, it will highlight the miracle of the miners’ answered prayers for a second Disney deal. The group is currently negotiating with several major networks the sale of exclusive rights to coverage of the miners safely emerging out of the elevators of Disney’s corporate headquarters with a freshly-inked contract. President Bush has vowed to be there to commend the men for their faith.

The Pennsylvania miners also condemned the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry for obstructing the prayer efforts with digging and pumping equipment. “This is a matter between us, God and Disney,” said Popernack. Popernack additionally faulted the Russian authorities for interjecting numerology into the crisis. He noted that one emergencies ministry official, referring to the number of trapped miners, told Reuters that “thirteen is an ominous number.” Popernack cautioned that there “is no room for science or pseudo-science in this rescue– it is strictly a religious and monetary question.”

The earlier Pennsylvania rescue/movie deal was severely hampered by the interference of an engineer, Bob Long, who wrongfully attempted to take credit for God’s work. Long had taken courses at night school to master the math he needed to operate the company’s $60,000 Global Positioning System driving iron stakes into his own backyard every weekend to practice locating coordinates until he was satisfied he could do it perfectly. Long then used the Star Wars technology of the GPS to pinpoint the drilling sites with sub-centimeter accuracy.

In other words, say the miners, he “just pushed a button.” Leslie Mayhugh, the wife of one of the miners, noted that Long was just “up there wearing gold chains and penny loafers.” Long was the only non-praying, non-miner to share in the Disney deal. “I don’t understand why the hell he got the same amount we did,” said miner Tom Foy. However, God later recognized his error and induced Long to commit suicide.

Cute!

October 28, 2003 | 30 Comments

Some adorable little tykes, from today’s New York Daily News:

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God Saves Teen From Bus Blast for a Reason

October 28, 2003 | 4 Comments

Jerusalem, Israel, October 28, 2003
Special to The Raving Atheist

God saved the life of a teenage girl from a deadly Jerusalem bus bomb blast for a reason, according to the New York Post.

Basheva Taubenfeld, 16, gave her seat near the front of the bus to an older woman and moved to the accordian-like midsection of the vehicle. Minutes later, a Palestinian disguised as an Orthodox Jew boarded the bus and detonated an explosives belt.

“I’m lucky to be alive,” said Basheva. “God saved my life for a reason.”

The older woman, Liba Schwartz, 57, was reduced to a pulpy mixture of tissue and bone chips oozing out of the seat so courteously vacated for her. “I didn’t think twice about giving my seat to the woman,” say Basheva. “I would always give up my seat to someone older than me. That’s the way I’ve been brought up,” she said softly.

Basheva also lost her mother and five-month old brother in the attack.

God admitted that he acted for a reason. “I like teenage girls,” he said.
“Also, I’m nuts.”

In a related story, God admitted that he responded to prayers from a chain e-mail initiated by supermodel Christie Brinkley to help her mother through several very difficult and complicated surgeries. “I don’t like spam, but she’s pretty,” he said. “Also, I’m nuts.”

Secularist Seeks to Purge Last Vestiges of Reason from Right-To-Die Debate

October 27, 2003 | 8 Comments

Redmond, Washington, October 25, 2003
Special to The Raving Atheist

Concerned that the two religious factions battling over the fate of a comatose Florida woman have failed to sufficiently trivialize the issues, Dahlia Lithwick of Slate has offered a unique secular perspective to insure that the Terri Schiavo controversy is debated in only the most meaningless of terms.

While Lithwick is pleased that Schiavo’s death-seeking husband is represented by a demonic quasi-Christian New Age spiritualist who claims an ability to communicate directly with the souls of the brain-damaged, and that Schiavo’s parents are Catholics who oppose starving her because she might be in a state of mortal sin upon regaining consciousness after death, the journalist is dismayed that the dispute has not yet achieved the level of 100% wackiness and incomprehensibility usually associated with inter-sectarian squabbles.

“They’re still much too focused on what Terri wants or thinks, or whether she wants or thinks at all — in this life or another,” Lithwick writes. “But who cares?”

Lithwick proposes instead that Schiavo’s actual state of consciousness be disregarded as “immaterial.” “Whether one believes that her blinks and smiles are signs of cognition or automated reflexes is similarly not the issue,” Lithwick writes. Indeed, Lithwick urges, “[o]ne needn’t take a position on the right-to-life/right-to-die controversy” at all in forming one’s moral opinion on the very question under discussion.

Instead, Lithwick contends, “[a]ll that matters is that these disputes are governed by law, that the law says Michael Schiavo is her legal guardian, and that his decision ought to have been final.” The journalist argues that what’s most important is that a single person decide the fate of a brain-damaged person, rather than many, and the decision be accorded unquestioning respect. “Because where a life is at stake it’s better to have consistency and finality than contentiousness and chaos,” she writes. If Schiavo is starved to death, she notes, all the contentiousness and chaos will end because the woman’s life will no longer be at stake.

Lithwick did add a touch of religion, however, to her arguments in an attempt to draw the two sides closer together and extinguish all pretense of rational thought. “Call it the Solomon rule . . . [b]etter one certain guardian than a life of unremitting, unresolvable conflict,” she suggested, invoking the Biblical King who threatened to cut a baby in half to determine its true mother. In Lithwick’s version, however, the child is awarded to whoever wants it dead — thus averting an unremitting, unresolvable, life-long custody battle.

Critics of Lithwick’s approach says she doesn’t go far enough. “While she’s right that Terri’s consciousness and welfare should be ignored, her argument is still slightly sensical to the extent that it suggests that the actual outcome matters,” said a source close to the case. “She shouldn’t have taken a position on who decides or what their decision is,” he said, noting that the law regarding who is the appropriate decision-maker might change in the future. “Lithwick should have simply have observed that if the courts uphold the newly-enacted legislation which authorized the Governor to re-insert Schiavo’s feeding tube, all that will matter is that the dispute will have been governed by law, and that the law will then be that the Governor could do what he did.”

God Squad Review LXIII (Ten Commandments)

October 27, 2003 | 1 Comment

The Squad explains why there are differing versions of the Ten Commandments. Ultimately they suggest the rules might be cut down to nine (although George Carlin got them down to three). The end with a bit of unexplained numerology:

No matter how you count the Ten Commandments, the first four are obligations to God, but the last six are obligations we have to each other. Four to six seems to us exactly the right ratio.

Isn’t it supposed to 10 to nothing in God’s favor? Why do humans get a slight majority? And isn’t the Golden Mean 1 to 1.618034

Mr. Anger

October 25, 2003 | 5 Comments

He’s got a metal plate in his head, believes in paying reparations to slave owners, wants to award a golden electric chair to the state with the most executions, but I’m sure that Weekly World News columnist Ed Anger speaks for all Americans when he says he speaks for all Americans on this:

Put the Ten Commandments on Every Lawn in America!

I’m madder than Moses at the burning bush with no marshmallows at these God-hating liberal heathens who hauled away the Ten Commandments from that judge’s courthouse in Alabama!

What’s next? I guess next time I’m getting sworn in as a character witness at one of cousin Billy Bob’s trials, a bunch fo jackbooted atheist thugs are gonna storm in and yank the Bible right out of my hand.

The commandments are Gods laws, by jimminy, and we ought to remind people not to break them the clearest way we can. Taking that stone monument away from the courthouse is as good as telling criminals everywhere it’s perfectly O.K. to murder, rape and steal.

I say we ought to put the Ten Commandments right out in front of every public building in America, from the Post Office to CIA headquarters, every school, library county clerk’s office — even the dog pound, by gum.

But that’s just for starters. We should pass a law making it mandatory for every American citizen to put the Ten Commandments on their front lawn.

Yep, I know those First Amendment fanatics will squeal like stuck pigs over the new law, saying that’s establishing Christianity as the national religion.

Hogwash!

Every religion ever created has had those same basic regulations. Even African pygmies beating out their laws on drums and red Indians getting the word out by smoke signals had rules about not killing and so on.

About the only exception is Satanism — I expect Devil-worshipers have their own stone tablets somewhere, carved with a pitchfork most likely, telling them to kill, rob, lie under oath and sacrifice little babies every chance they get. But we don’t want those sickos in America anyway.

(Not yet available online).

Even if he’s a little off-base on this one, I admire his enthusiasm. And he’s got some good ideas — he wants a McDonald’s in every church, and to limit Christmas celebrations to once every four years (and New Years too!)

Schiavo Lawyer Admits To Religious Right Agenda

October 24, 2003 | 16 Comments

Pinellas Park, Florida, October 23, 2003
Special to The Raving Atheist

An attorney seeking to keep a brain-damaged Florida woman alive against the wishes of her husband has admitted that his position is based upon his conservative religious beliefs, according to the St. Petersburg Times. Kevin O’Brien, lawyer for the parents of Terri Schiavo, has spent has spent time a monastery and considers himself “a spiritual being first and a lawyer second.” Author of “Litigation as Spiritual Practice, “O’Brien contends that his belief in God is what drives him. “You can’t separate your work life from your spiritual life,” he said. “I believe that Christ was God incarnate and was resurrected.”

O’Brien’s efforts to block the removal of Schiavo’s feeding tube have galvanized and emboldened pro-life forces within the religious right. A Catholic priest visits her hospital room once a week.

O’Brien has fought for the rights of disabled patients in several highly-publicized cases over the past decade. In one case he represented Estelle Browning, a stroke victim who was kept alive by artificial means because she was not technically brain-dead. Although Browning could not speak, O’Brien says his spiritual side picked up on something. He says her soul cried out to his soul and said, “I want to live!”

Does O’Brien believe Terri Schiavo’s soul has spoken to his?

He declines to answer, showing his lawyerly side. “It’s a pending case,” O’Brien said. However, he added that “[i]t is simply inhumane and barbaric to interrupt her life process . . . .[j]ust because Terri Schiavo is not conscious doesn’t mean she doesn’t have dignity.”

AARF AARF

October 23, 2003 | 2 Comments

Poor Austin Cline of the Agnosticism/Atheism pages of About.com is wringing his hands over the sinister fascist organization known as Atheists Against Religious Freedom. I am apparently the President of AARF, having recently reaffirmed my opposition to the Free Exercise clause of the Constitution. Citing my words, Cline writes:

Granted, just because you are an atheist doesn’t mean that you are interested in liberty on any level, religion included, nevertheless most atheists who do take the time to think about atheism and defend it do believe in religious liberty. But not all — I was distressed to read this [The Raving Atheist’s October 21st post] today . . .

* * *

It’s simply a false dichotomy to imply that we have to choose between having religious freedom and having people kill kids in the name of their religion. No freedom is absolute when it comes to how one acts.

If there were no free exercise of religion, the government could:

– close churches
– confiscate church property
– force Sikhs to shave their beards
– force Jehovah’s Witnesses to swear an oath to the flag
– refuse to grant Quakers conscientious objector status
– ban the public display of crosses, anywhere
– arrest priests for celebrating Mass
– criminalize Sunday School programs

All of those involve actions — people could be free to believe and say that they should wear beards, attend Mass, or refrain from killing but only the free exercise of religion protects their ability to act on those beliefs.

All of what is said at the above link could be rephrased for the political realm as well. People could be free to think and talk about whatever political beliefs they want, but that wouldn’t stop the government from acting to suppress particular political organizations deemed “subversive” because they are “crazy” (where “crazy” is determined by the ruling authorities).

Am I the only one disturbed by this, or is there a growing number of atheists who have decided that religious freedom is too much trouble and should be abandoned?

I was under the impression that “most atheists who do take the time to think about atheism and defend it” know how to read. Mr. Cline apparently does not. My objection was not to some general “freedom” to practice religion, but to the judicially-defined concept of “free exercise.” That term

Relativism

October 22, 2003 | 15 Comments

Anticipating the release of a study of sexual abuse in the clergy over the past 50 years, the president of U.S. Roman Catholic bishops, Wilson Gregory, has warned that the numbers may be “startling.” However, he asked that the figures be viewed in a “larger context.” “We don’t have a similar study for the school system, for athletic coaches, for scouting programs, for doctors, for therapists,” Gregory said, noting that it would be impossible to say if the numbers were high or low compared to others. Arthur Silber of The Light of Reason finds this reasoning “absolutely fascinating”:

Here is the Catholic Church, which for a couple of millennia has specialized in promulgating moral absolutes. But now that it is the Church itself that is being examined and criticized, the Church apparently has just discovered that judgment of moral harm and blame ought to be made by using a comparative sliding scale.

The charge is valid to the extent that the Church has generally held itself to a standard of infallibility. But hypocrisy aside, Gregory is correct. The numbers are relevant. He’s simply employing the scientific method. If — and, of course, it’s a big “if” — the incidence of pedophilia among priests is significantly lower than in other professions, the Church should receive credit for that fact.

The real problem, however, is that the Church has been held, by society and itself, to a much lower standard in its response to the problem. The Church hierarchy did not terminate the offending priests, but reassigned them to other parishes where they could continue their predation. A corporation which implemented a similar official policy would find itself immediately bankrupted and the responsible executives would be sent to jail. But district attorneys and legislatures have not been able to muster a sense of outrage proportionate to the offense. And citing the principle of “religious autonomy,” the Church, until recently, has sought faith-based exemptions from abuse-reporting laws and insisted that the matter be treated as a private, internal concern.

Good Guess!

October 21, 2003 | 9 Comments

“I guess [The Raving Atheist is] not in favor of preserving the free exercise of religion (which, by the way, is in the Bill of Rights).”

— Catchy Handle Here, October 17, 2003 [In comments section of Choose].

What a shocking accusation! But does the record support this reckless libel? Let’s see:

Whether a law is “constitutional” or “unconstitutional” matters to me no more than whether it is “biblical” or “unbiblical.

— The Raving Atheist, Nothing at All, June 27, 2003

God is taken seriously, and religious belief has unfortunately been accorded constitutional protections and benefits that no other ideology receives.”

— The Raving Atheist, Apatheism, May 27, 2003

I wish the Professor [Eugene Volokh] 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).

— The Raving Atheist, The Right Prayers, March 27, 2003

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.

— The Raving Atheist, Neutrality, Part 2, March 11, 2003

Because the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment bestows special privileges upon people who subscribe to delusional, sky-god, baby-talk beliefs, the Raving Atheist is tormented on virtually a daily basis by legal decisions awarding his tax money to one crackpot or another.

— The Raving Atheist, What’s Kooking, July 23, 2002

Egads! I guess I’m not in favor of preserving the free exercise of religion. While I believe that people are entitled to think and talk about what their God wants, I don’t believe they should actually be entitled to act upon it — any more than anyone would be entitled to act upon any crazy made-up belief. Whether a practice is harmful or helpful should be determined by human experience and logic. Otherwise, anyone could attribute any desire to God: that God wants us to kill our children, to smoke peyote, to fly planes into skyscrapers, to hold slaves (also once protected by the Constitution).

The heart of the problem is this: theism in the political realm functions as a kind of philosophical nihilism.

The Real Problem

October 20, 2003 | 8 Comments

According to John Venlet of Improved Clinch,

The real problem between atheists and Christians isn’t the God thing, it’s the fact that Christians typically attempt to force their moral beliefs onto everyone else. If there was no mention of God invoked on the Christians’ part, when they push their moral agenda, they would receive the same amount of flack from atheists and others for attempting to force feed their moral code onto others. If God wasn’t invoked by the Christians, as authority for their morality, the disagreements between atheists and Christians on morality would be more akin to the Sharks and the Jets rumbling in “West Side Story” or Republicans and Democrats disagreeing about tax and spend issues.

Good try. But the real problem isn’t the attempt to “force morality” upon others. The entirety of the secular law, particularly the criminal law, is devoted to that coercive endeavor. I do a fair amount of moralizing myself, and I wouldn’t want to live in a society in which prohibitions against murder, rape and theft weren’t forced upon the general populace.

The real problem is the imposition of harmful, irrational moral rules which lack any secular justification, rules whose only basis is “god’s will” or the prospect of some imagined reward or punishment in the afterlife. Homophobia, sexism, and other prejudices are hard to defend anymore without trotting out a Bible. Christians generally don’t try to push those agendas without invoking God, because there aren’t really any persuasive non-theological rationales. If the arguments could stand on their own — if the Christian could demonstrate why in this life the practices harmed actual people — they’d get no flack from atheists. But generally the only justification they offer is that God will be unhappy or someone’s going to burn. And there are plenty of Christians who believe it would be sacriligeous to assert that morality could rest on anything other than God’s wishes.

Additionally, many of the contemporary church/state controversies involve issues which are simply impossible to discuss without mentioning God. The Pledge controversy involves nothing but the word “God,” as do most other school prayer arguments. Disputes over Ten Commandments monuments are likewise exclusively religious in nature. So, too with the financing of religious schools and religious property tax exemptions. Every privilege or exemption claimed under the Free Exercise Clause

Choose!

October 19, 2003 | 28 Comments

A friend dared me to blog about the sad case of Terri Schiavo-Schindler, a Florida woman who has been on life support since 1990 after suffering brain damage due to a freak heart attack. Her feeding tube was removed Wednesday after a lengthy legal battle between her parents, who want her alive, and her husband, who wants her dead. Governor Jeb Bush has vowed to intervene on behalf of the parents.

After reading the New York Times account I declined my friend’s invitation. I simply failed to see any religious aspect to the story. The only issue raised seemed to be whether she was in fact brain-dead and in an irreversible vegetative state. On that question there seems to be a serious, but purely secular dispute, insofar as “[s]he breathes on her own and is awake much of the time” (emphasis added). Although the piece notes that a Catholic priest visits her once a week, that’s neither here nor there. There was no indication that considerations of dogma were supplanting the scientific ones.

But my friend persisted, noting that only the religious right seemed to care about the case. Where was the secular outcry over the potential violation of this woman’s rights?

Google seemed to bear him out. The support for Terri seems to be overwhelmingly religious (although my hasty search did not reveal any support from the religious left). Times Against Humanity lists nearly forty Catholic blogs which have expressed outrage over her fate.

But does any of this make the controversy a religious one? Indirectly. Occasionally an issue takes on a religious aspect not because the believers’ position is shaped by irrational theological considerations, but because the secular position is driven by a reflexive, irrational reaction to the religious identity of the other side’s advocates. As I’ve noted before, the issues underlying the abortion debate have been unnecessarily clouded by the anti-Catholic origin of the early pro-choice movement. Some of the slogans — “keep your rosaries off my ovaries” — make explicit the premise that no serious life-or-death issue is involved, that the humanity of the fetus is mere religious superstition. The climate resulting from animus is such in some quarters that earlier this year a regional president of the National Organization For Women, Mavra Stark, opposed a murder charge against Scott Peterson for the death an unborn child a few weeks away from birth.

And so I suspect some of the secular inertia in Terri’s case stems from the reluctance of those on the left to align themselves with her pro-life support base. Her life being more difficult to trivialize than that of a fetus, however, no anti-religious slogans have been coined to hasten her death. Instead there’s a polite silence, much like that which greeted Ms. Stark’s unnerving pronouncement.

I don’t embrace every aspect of the Catholic Church’s position on euthanasia. The theological rationale against it escapes me; if there’s life after death, there’s no harm to the practice. I reject the distinction between active and passive euthanasia, one which permits death through the torture of starvation but prohibits the painless injection of toxins. And I don’t believe that life is worth living at any cost. Two years ago my sister discovered her boyfriend unconscious on the floor of his apartment, victim to a massive aneurysm. He later awoke on life support, paralyzed except for his eyelids, his consciousness staring out of his body like a fly trapped in a spider’s web. If he survived, he was told, the best he had to look forward to was life in a wheelchair, unable to perform the simplest of tasks. Toward the end my sister asked if he’d like her to bring one of his cats to his bedside. He blinked no. I imagine that the pain of refusing that simple offer was only slightly less than the pain of accepting it, the pain of being reminded of one of the many small things that had made his worth living life. I don’t fault him for the later decision he made with a blink of his eyes.

But Terri cannot choose. The decision to end her life resembles more closely the one made by Scott Peterson’s than anything else. Terri’s fate was based in large part on her husband’s claim that, while healthy, she expressed a general opposition to life-support; and it is a claim by a man who once stood, while there was still some money left, to inherit whatever settlement funds were no longer needed for her care. The focus is not squarely where it should be, on whether she is alive in any meaningful sense, on whether she shall ever be able to communicate what her actual wishes are.

So this atheist joins the Catholic blogs in opposing what seems to me to be a reckless rush to death. Terri deserves at least the benefit of the doubt. If those who would starve her slowly are so confident of their decision they should do instead what its premise truly demands: Choose! Choose decisively. Kill her now. Declare that she is a lifeless heap of protoplasm, harvest her organs, and throw the useless remains into the garbage.

OhWell

October 17, 2003 | 9 Comments

Commenter Agraham suggests that I confused Orson Welles with “Orwell” in yesterday’s post. But those with even a limited education are aware that Welles had a son whom he not only named after himself (Orson Welles), but who was himself. I’m a bit offended that I have to make this clarification; the concept of a Father being Himself and his Son at once is self-evident, and it is those who deny it who are not very “bright,” not me.

I’m not being facetious. And rather than admit any error, I’m going to stick with this story for the next 2,000 years. Do not tell me that a father giving birth to himself presents a biological, empirical difficulty, or that the notion of two distinct entities being the same entity is a logical impossibility. Do not call me stupid for abandoning the tools of reason and observation that I find necessary to employ to make this very argument. And if you do, could it be that your limited human mind struggles with concepts that reach beyond your abilities?

Ch00se

October 16, 2003 | 31 Comments

George Dvorsky offers an insightful critique of the “brights.” I agree with much of what he says, particularly his concern that the movement may degenerate into an exercise in nasty, snobbish, quasi-religious tribalism. But Dvorsky’s evangelical agnosticism gives the piece a somewhat schizophrenic quality.

One the one hand, he correctly chides Daniel Dennett for suggesting that what atheists “want most of all” is “to be treated with the same respect accorded to Baptists and Hindus and Catholics, no more and no less.” I concur with Dvorsky that Dennett is being disingenuous; like me, I’m sure that Dennett believes atheists are entitled to much more respect than the cud-chewing sky-god baby-talkers. The second of my Basic Assumptions is that “[a]theism is not merely one possible theological theory among many” but “the only true, provable theory, and [that] all other religious theories are false and delusional.” But Dvorsky considers this certainty a liability:

[T]he bright strategy smacks of quasi-religious overtones. The fact that Dennett would compare the brights to Baptists, Hindus and Catholics exposes the true nature of the movement. It would seem that the brights are trying to defeat the enemy at its own game. By creating a distinctive club with specific metaphysical convictions, the brights have essentially created their own religion, and that is unfortunate. It is for this exact reason that I have rejected atheism in favor of agnosticism; both theists and atheists are profoundly guilty of taking monumental and irrational leaps of faith.

Orson Welles was once quoted as saying, “I have a great love and respect for religion, great love and respect for atheism. What I hate is agnosticism, people who do not choose.” This is utter nonsense, and utterly dangerous. It is this mentality that has caused so much suffering and fanaticism in the name of religion, and it is the same mentality that compels people to think that they must choose one or the other, lest they be labeled a fence sitter or as lacking convictions.

* * *

As a result, there is a part of me that resents the brights including agnostics amongst their flock. I consider agnosticism to be in a different category altogether from atheism and theism.

Of course atheism is “a distinctive club with specific metaphysical convictions.” Every ideology that is recognizable as anything is. But those convictions are not something that makes atheism a religion; rather, it is precisely those convictions that distinguishes it from religion. The question is not whether atheism can be identified as a discrete set of precepts, but whether those precepts are true. I have demonstrated in my first assumption and through numerous posts that they are, and that every religion is nothing but a set of incoherent, meaningless, self-contradictory or empirically unjustified dogmas.

I agree with Dvorsky that Welles’ statement is nonsense, but it is only half-nonsense. It’s nonsense to the extent that it suggests that the choice between atheism and theism is a toss-up. It’s not even close. And because it’s not close, I also have little respect for those who claim it’s more reasonable to reserve judgment on the question than to chose the side in favor of which the logical and empirical proof is so very lopsided. In the same way, I don’t respect both sides of the astrology debate, and disrespect only those remain neutral. I fault the astrologers for choosing as they do, and the “agnostics” for pretending that the choice is difficult and that abstaining is a virtue. There’s nothing “utterly dangerous” about a mentality which compels choices when the choices are clear. I don’t know what “monumental and irrational leaps of faith” Dvorsky feels atheists have taken; I do know it takes an extraordinary degree of faith and irrationality to declare the God debate a draw when 1) the word “God” hasn’t been defined, 2) the terms defining the word “God” are self-contradictory, 3) there is no empirical evidence in favor of a particularly “God” and all the existing evidence contradicts it.

Dvorsky acknowledges, somewhat condescendingly, that “evangelical” atheism has “a time and a place.” OhWellThankYouVeryMuch. So he acknowledges that “the struggle against pseudoscience, misinformation and psychologically damaging worldviews is an important and noble cause,” and that the American Atheists “have been instrumental in several rulings against Alabama judge Roy Moore and they have crusaded successfully against many faith-based initiatives.” But he’s in no position to make such value judgments unless he’s conclusively resolved the truth of the God-question. It’s not “psychologically damaging” to fear Hell if Hell is real. Roy Moore’s crusade and faith-based initiatives are noble causes if the beliefs motivating them are true.

I’ve recognized repeatedly that a principled doctrine of separation of church and state cannot be based upon agnosticism but must rest on a presumption of atheism. But many agnostics (or “belief atheists” who hold that it’s just a belief like any other) conveniently ignore the necessity of disproving the very religious beliefs that they insist should be filtered out of law and public policy. Steve Ben Beste Gravity Lens]

God Avenges Prayer-Kill

October 15, 2003 | 26 Comments

Tallulah, Louisiana, October 15, 2003
Special to The Raving Atheist

An elderly Texas man who killed one high school student and injured three others last Saturday by plowing into them as they took a prayer break on the side of the road thought he had gotten away with murder after he wasn’t charged in the incident.

Guess again, old geezer!

God took decisive retaliatory action Monday morning, killing eight Texas senior citizens by hurling their church bus into a tractor-trailer parked on the side of the road. The 66 year-old driver of the bus “fell asleep” just before the accident.

“Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?” said God, quoting a song by Alanis Morisette. “A little too ironic . . . and yeah I really do think,” He snickered.

God explained that he wasn’t being vindictive. “And it’s certainly not like Heaven actually needs eight more old people,” He said. God added that the thing is, you just don’t fuck with kids while they are actually in the act of praying to Me, and who the hell gives these old farts licenses anyway.

[Links courtesy of Phil Dennison of The Third Kind and Melkor]

Mayor Averts Controversy at Columbus Day Parade

October 14, 2003 | 2 Comments

New York, New York, October 14, 2003
Special to The Raving Atheist

Stung by criticism for having missed last year’s Columbus Day Parade to lunch with two award-winning actors, Mayor Bloomberg sought to avoid controversy at yesterday’s holiday procession — by greeting the pedophile-enabling, homophobic Cardinal Edward Egan on a red carpet in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

During the 2002 event, The Mayor entertained “Sopranos” stars Dominic Chianese and Lorraine Bracco at an Italian restaurant in the Bronx after parade organizers threatened to bar them for their negative portrayal of Italian-Americans on the hit HBO series.

“I am deeply ashamed that I met with friends who play fictional criminals on television,” said Bloomberg. “This year, however, I am proud to have honored a real-life felon whose hatred of gays and disregard for sexually victimized children embodies the time-honored stereotype of the Catholic priesthood.”

During his reign as bishop of the Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocese, Egan failed to investigate aggressively abuse allegations, did not refer complaints to criminal authorities and, suggested that a dozen people who made complaints of rape, molestation and beatings against the same priest may have all been lying.

Political pundits praised the Mayor’s savvy. “The public hates leaders who consort with phony, make-believe criminals,” said consultant Hank Richards. “They want their public officials to associate with men of conviction — perhaps next year the Mayor will march with born-again serial killer David Berkowitz.”

God Squad Review LXII (Organ Donation)

October 14, 2003 | 5 Comments

“What’s the Catholic Church’s stance on organ donation?” asks a Squad reader who is reluctant to give due to an old grade school rumor. In particular, he remembers a nun saying the Church opposed donation because “in the end you will need your body intact to be resurrected.” Apparently, there’s been a slight change in one of the Immutable Truths:

The story you remember from grade school no longer is valid. With the advent of new anti-rejection drugs, the life-saving aspects of organ donation simply override the old theological concerns that when Jesus returns and resurrects the dead, they should have all their parts on hand. Catholic teaching affirms the sanctity of organ donation without reservation.

Jewish law, by the way, has the same theological concerns about the effect of organ donation on the resurrection of the dead at the end of time. Most Jewish authorities also have come to endorse organ donation as the supreme act of saving a life in the face of the searing pain of death.

Today, organ donation is as close to resurrection as we can get in our unredeemed world.

But the goal is not to get “close” to resurrection in this unredeemed world

Fag-Hating Civic Group Opposes Anti-Gay Monument

October 10, 2003 | 11 Comments

Casper, Wyoming, October 10, 2003
Special to The Raving Atheist

In a legal maneuver aimed at blocking the erection of an anti-gay shrine in a Casper, Wyoming park, a local fag-hating civic organization is seeking the return of a Ten Commandments momument it donated to the City in 1965.

The Fraternal Order of Eagles hopes that removing its own Old Testament display will prevent the Rev. Fred Phelps from arguing for equal access to construct a religious monument celebrating the beating-murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard. Phelps, founder the God Hates Fags website, intends to place a plaque on the momument declaring that “Matthew Shepard entered Hell October 12, 1998, at age 21 in defiance of God’s solemn warning: ‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination': Leviticus 18:22.”

Eagle spokesman Herschel Nickerson said that he was appalled at the idea of a second display expressing the same rabidly homophobic values that his organization so dearly embraces. “Matthew Shepard was a filthy, depraved, libidinous, cocksucking dog wallowing in his own feces,” said Nickerson. “But to trumpet God’s law on a second monument would violate the first monument’s clearly-engraved, Second Commandment proscription against idolatry.” Nickerson also pointed out that the new display would leave less room in the park to bludgeon, chain-whip and disembowel dirty reprobate fornicating ass-fucking Hell-bound faggots.

Phelps countered that there was plenty of room in town to slaughter the wicked, blaspheming unrepentant cum-garglers who trolled its cowboy bars for unnatural flesh. “The righteous may even smash vile unclean faggot skulls against the concrete slab memorializing Shepard’s soul-damning abomination,” Phelps suggested. “The Eagles should ensure that all of God’s laws are displayed and enforced in the fag-enabling sodomite whorehouse of Casper.”

[link and concept courtesy of Vicky of Liquid Courage]

Window Pain

October 9, 2003 | 18 Comments

As I alluded to in an earlier post, last June crowds began flocking to Milton Hospital in Massachusetts to worship an image of the Virgin Mary that appeared in a third floor window. Although the hospital noted that the throngs presented a “a substantial safety issue” which interfered with its operations, it let the apparition remain where it was out of respect for the religious sensitivities of the mouth-breathing morons who gathered to view it each day.

In July, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston consulted with window specialists and concluded that the apparition was caused by chemical deposits building up inside the window. Because of this natural explanation, the Church declared that the image was not a miracle. This, naturally, persuaded no one. The hospital considered limiting the viewing hours or moving the window, but apparently abandoned the plan. When I called this morning, I was informed it could be viewed at any time before dusk in its original location. You can also now visit Mary at www.milton-hospital.com. The site helpfully declares that “[T]his is NOT the Web Address of the Milton Hospital,” for those who might otherwise believe that a hospital’s chief mission is to display questionable window art.

What puzzles me most is why the Church refused to certify the window stain. Just this week, the Pope named three new saints, all of whom had to perform posthumous healing miracles to earn the title. Daniel Comboni stopped a Muslim woman from hemorrhaging after a caesarian; Arnold Janssen treated a “serious cranial-encephalic trauma with the formation of an epidural hematoma on the right side, profound coma, central apnea, endocrenal hypertension and a parietal fracture”; Josef Freinademetz is credited with causing the complete remission of leukemia in a Japanese man (apparently none of them thought to tackle the Pope’s Parkinson’s

Dream On

October 8, 2003 | 39 Comments

Do Catholics have some secret code that makes their philosophical musings unintelligible to everyone outside of the faith? Reading Minute Particular’s take on the omniscience vs free will question, I wonder:

I noticed that Michelle of And Then? (scroll to “Seeking that V-8 moment”) has a response to Raving Atheist about prayer. RA trots out the ol’ standards which always strike me as explanations about why you can’t hang a hat on a painted hook; what’s strange about these kinds of explanations is that the expounder never seems to realize that the hook is painted and the hat is not.

That God exists and that I have free will are not contradictory facts. That God is omniscient and that I have free will are not contradictory facts. That God made every fiber of my being and that I have free will are not contradictory ideas. It’s true, and the debate even among believers has been very heated on this, that exactly how our actions contribute to or impede our salvation is a difficult question. But that it’s difficult points to the complexity of our condition, our multifaceted understanding of Revelation, and our limited grasp of those things which transcend us.

* * *

The problem with RA’s response, as with two other responses he links to here and here, is that it derives from an apparent conviction that there aren’t more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in materialist philosophies. I don’t mean the denial of superstition and wispy notions of spirit and sky gods; any pure philosophy ought to deny such things as not within the realm of reason. No, I mean the reasoning in the responses is founded on a primitive philosophy, an underdeveloped metaphysics to be precise, which assumes that all possible existence is material existence.

Arguments based on a primitive grasp of philosophy aren’t flawed by a failure to believe, but a failure to be reasonable. In this case, the arguments lack any nuanced understanding of being, existence, essence, substance, act, potency and the like.

Michelle punningly calls this a “particular” response but it’s anything but. My straightforward argument was that the notion of free will is incompatible with the existence of a being which knows — trillions of years before I was born — every word I will say, every thought I will think, and whether I will go to Heaven or Hell. Michelle’s response was that everything is happening at once for God; that it’s 10 million B.C., it’s 2003, and it’s Judgment Day, all simultaneously. But MP addresses none of those issues. Instead, he makes the bald, conclusory assertion that free will and omniscience are compatible, not bothering to identify any specific errors in my reasoning or to indicate which, if any, of Michelle’s arguments he endorses. Does MP really believe that he’s simultaneously experiencing the thoughts of his past two year old self and his future 95 year-old self? Can he reconcile the obvious contradiction between the notion he’s having all those thoughts now while actually not thinking them at all?

My arguments are primitive, underdeveloped and unreasonable, MP insists, but his arguments are non-existent. Rather than tackling the actual subject matter, he evades it by suggesting that we might find “nuanced” arguments elsewhere, insofar as there are “more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in materialist philosophies.” Putting aside the fact that my arguments had nothing to do with materialism, MP’s speculation about theories that might work in an alternate reality is completely empty. There’s no hint as to the content of those theories or a showing that they are coherent and do not involve obvious contradictions. Once any specifics are supplied the flaw in MP’s reasoning becomes apparent. Let’s say that in the alternate reality free will and omniscience are reconcilable because “t’was brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe” or because 1 + 1 = 3. Can those “answers” be justified on the ground that there are “more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of?”

And eventually the argument even turns upon itself. Perhaps in the alternate reality, my arguments are nuanced and MP’s are primitive. Or both of our arguments are nuanced and primitive all at once, Perhaps MP is arguing precisely the opposite of what he appears to be. Remember — there are “more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of.”

What’s important to note here is that free will/omniscience question is a logical rather than empirical one. The contradiction does not require an investigation of the entire universe to establish. No conjecture about what may be “dreamt” of will ever overcome it. My argument isn’t that there’s “no evidence” for Michelle’s theory; it’s that the argument makes absolutely no sense at all by its very terms. And MP presents absolutely no theory at all, other than saying we might dream of some place where some currently undefined argument about omniscience that he might chose to advance might make sense.

Finally, at the risk of sounding primitive, I’ll explain why the argument that you can’t hang a hat on a painted hook is very different from the arguments against the reconciliation of free will and omniscience. I would never argue against the possibility of hanging a hat on a painted wall because it is not impossible. It could be done whether the hook was painted, the hat was painted, the wall was painted, or the person doing the hanging was painted. The notion of hanging a hat is not incoherent or self-contradictory.

Two Little Girls

October 7, 2003 | 66 Comments

Two little girls:

Dawn Olsen recently recounted the cocaine-fuled murder of six year old Lisa Steinberg, whose fate made Dawn “sick to the point of vomiting and sad to the point of unstoppable tears.” From her response, one can infer that Dawn believes that Lisa’s father, Joel, got off too easily with fifteen years in prison:

YOU DESERVE DEATH JOEL STEINBERG AND I HOPE YOU MEET YOUR END SOON. LIKE TOMORROW. AND I HOPE THE PERSON WHO FINALLY GIVES YOU THE JUSTICE YOU DESERVE, YOU REMORSELESS FUCK, DOES SO WITH A SMILE SO WIDE AS TO BREAK THEIR FACE.

I related the similar story of a murdered little girl, done in by a California couple who treated her meningitis with prayer instead of medicine. They, too, got off easy

D’imwit

October 6, 2003 | 5 Comments

Dinesh D’Souza trots out a variant of the argumentum ad ignorantiam against atheism in today’s Wall Street Journal. We’re limited beings with a paltry five senses, he argues — and since we can’t know everything, any competely made-up shit about what supernatural forces lay beyond our perception is as intellectually respectable as non-belief. Moreover, even while functioning within the world we do know, it’s perfectly acceptable to act on our completely made-up shit beliefs no matter how they conflict with apparent “reality.” Faith healing, child-sacrifice, suicide bombing — bring it on!

Fiona’s father has ably dissected the key excerpts (WSJ is by subscription only). One thing I’ll add is that even if D’Souza were blessed with 100 senses beyond sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste, nothing he’d find could lay a finger on the numbered disproofs of in my Basic Assumptions. They rely solely upon logic — demonstrating impossibility through contradiction — and neither super-X-ray vision nor “faith” will bring you one step closer to justifying belief in an omnipotent, omniscient square circle. And since D’Souza relies upon logic to make every single point in his Op-Ed, he can’t attack it as just another flawed sense without reducing his arguments to complete incoherence.

[via Andy of the World Wide Rant]

God Squad Review LXI (Suicide)

October 6, 2003 | 5 Comments

“Can a person who committed suicide be given a funeral mass in church?” a Ronkonkomanian asks the Squad. After a six paragraph explanation of why suicide’s a bad idea (it’s “spiritual theft”), the Squad gets to the point:

Although suicide is a mortal sin in the eyes of the Catholic Church, it is no barrier to having a funeral mass for the deceased in a church, because no one can be sure whether the suicide victim asked for forgiveness from God with his or her last breath.

The compassionate assumption must prevail, and such a person is both mourned and blessed and buried with the prayers of the church.

Judaism and Islam use similar reasoning to justify burying a suicide victim, even though suicide is also clearly a violation of both Jewish and Islamic law.

If we were certain the victim was totally unrepentant and intended his or her suicide to be an act of terror or evil, or defiance of God, then the victim could not be blessed or buried. However, compassionate religions are always ready to give people the spiritual benefit of the doubt, even if the ultimate resolution of that doubt awaits us in the next world.

Compassionate, indeed. Someone’s so miserable that he’s about to blow his brains all over the ceiling, but if he forgets to beg forgiveness before he pulls the trigger he goes to Hell.

What, precisely, is the “benefit” of the spiritual benefit of the doubt? If we’re wrong about the deceased’s repentance and go ahead give him the Mass anyway, is God somehow bound by our mistake and obligated to take the person to Heaven? It would seem not, since “the ultimate resolution of that doubt awaits us in the next world.” And vice versa — if we mistakely deny the Mass because some prankster planted an unambiguous but phony “fuck you God” suicide note on the body — God’s not going to be obligated to roast him eternally, is He?

Godidiot of the Week: Fiona of The World Wide Rant

October 3, 2003 | 47 Comments

All Godtalk is babytalk, but this week’s Godidiot, Fiona of The World Wide Rant, has raised incoherence to an art form. Not only are her words about God — or about anything, for that matter — incomprehensible, but the very thoughts upon which they are based are a meaningless, static buzz. No need, in her mind, to define terms or shape concepts into any recognizable form. For all the sense that comes out of her drooling little mouth, she might as well be spitting out strained carrots.

Beneath it all, however, lies the same vicious, nasty, selfish theology that drives the worldview of every racist, sexist, homophobic creationist monkey. Galileo was persecuted for suggesting that the Earth was not the center of the universe — but Fiona would have burned him at the stake for denying that everything revolves around her. And Fiona sees prayer as the answer to everything; she just lies on her back gurgling and whining at the ceiling, as if expecting that some giant omniscient sky-daddy — who knew her needs before she started crying — will come rushing to her aid and make everything better.

Although it may seem as if I am picking on a little infant, Fiona’s youth is no excuse. She perceives the world with the same five senses, and the same brain, as any other human being. There’s no reason what bubbles out between her lips should be the same as that which oozes out of her little pink bottom. Whether she spews it now, or when she is 100, it will still be the same old stinking shit.

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So “tolerance” is not the answer. Miscreants like Fiona should shut up, sit down in their high chairs and let us educate them, or be confined to cribs until such time as evolution transforms them into something more civilized.

County Treasurer: Jurors Accountable to God

October 2, 2003 | 6 Comments

Golden, Colorado, October 2, 2003
Special to The Raving Atheist

A Colorado county treasurer is handing out booklets to potential jurors saying they are answerable “only to God almighty” and not to the law when it comes to deliberations.

Jefferson County Treasurer Mark Paschall, a former state lawmaker known for his staunch opposition to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), said the booklets are “my personal gift to the people.” The 61-page bookets encourage jurors to disregard GAAP in favor of Divine Law.

In particular, Paschall promotes a controversial accounting treatment known as gain-on-sale accounting, in which lenders post upfront the estimated profit from a securitization transaction, which is the sale to investors of a pool of loans.

“”I’m a passionate man, and I’m willing to stand up for the things I believe in,” said Paschall. “God intended that a company selling a loan record profit for the excess of the sales price and the present value of the estimated interest income that is expected to be received on the loans above the amounts funded on the loans and the present value of the interest agreed to be paid to the buyers of the loan-backed securities.”

Paschall further noted a company which securitizes its residual loan interests may accelerate a significant portion of the cash flow it expects to receive rather than taking it over the life of the underlying loans. He also condemned the issuance of cross-collateralized non-recourse revolving grid notes as an “abomination.”

[Link courtesy of Delilah of Liminal Liberal]

Cathedral Blasphemer Struck Dead

October 1, 2003 | 17 Comments

New York, New York, October 1, 2003
Special to The Raving Atheist

A Virginia man who simulated a sex act in St. Patrick’s Cathedral was struck dead of a heart attack at age 38 — just a week before he was scheduled to plead guilty to the offense.

“It was very sudden,” said Maranda Fritz, the lawyer for the deceased man. Fritz said that his client, Brian Florence, died last Thursday, and that the man’s girlfriend, Loretta Lynn Harper, was “in a state of shock.”

Florence and Harper broadcast their pretend sex from the Cathedral as part of radio stunt for WNEW-FM’s Opie and Anthony show in August 2002.

The segment’s producer, Paul Mercurio, pled guilty to disorderly conduct in connection with the incident yesterday. Although he claimed to regret his participation he refused to actually apologize publicly, evading reporters and ducking into a nearby park to avoid questioning.

However, The Raving Atheist — who has criticized the Catholic Church on occasion — said that he was “sobered” by Florence’s inexplicable death and that he “could take a hint.”

“It is important to prostrate oneself with groveling, sniveling, and seemingly sincere apologies whenever it appears one’s conduct might have unforeseen personal consequences,” he said. “So — to the omniscient Eye in the Sky who watched 50 years of boy-rape in the New York’s premiere pedophiliac brothel before killing Mr. Florence for consensual fake sex — I say I am truly, truly sorry.”

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