The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

2004 January

Heaven on Earth

January 31, 2004 | 5 Comments

Captain Kangaroo died last week and, according to this cartoon, is busy re-creating one of his show’s old routines by dropping ping pong balls from Heaven:

Kangaroo.jpg

Technically, though, we can’t really know that it’s Heaven that the balls are supposed be coming from. It might well be that the cartoon was drawn by an atheist trying to show all the fun that can be had in a godless afterlife. Or mocking Mr. Kangaroo for not outliving Mr. Moose or Mr. Bunny Rabbit.

Whatever the case, the cartoon is atypical because the usual convention is to depict the newly-deceased entertaining the dead, usually right inside the Pearly Gates and under the watchful eye of St. Peter (see here and here). I suppose The Captain is being permitted to interact with the living because the alternative would be to show him cavorting before an audience of murdered and cancer-stricken children. But there are ways around that, as the death of Mister Rogersdemonstrated.

I’m waiting for some cartoonist to depict a famous doctor practicing his craft on Earth after death. Why not show Dr. Christiaan Barnard’s spirit switching hearts in the operating room? And how come there weren’t any cartoons of Mother Teresa performing her posthumous healing miracles?

Newdow

January 29, 2004 | 9 Comments

Do you think that the Supreme Court will strike down the Pledge of Allegiance as unconstitutional?

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Thorne In God’s Side

January 29, 2004 | 6 Comments

For a fee, some companies will put your name on a tiny, invisible star billions of light years away. Mister Thorne is offering a better deal here on earth — he’ll put your name on a Supreme Court brief aimed at striking down the Prayer of Allegiance! Just imagine Justice Rehnquist reading your name and gnashing his teeth as tears of helpless rage stream down his face! Just imagine Justice Scalia quivering and quaking and soiling his pants as the middle finger of blasphemy leaps off the page and pokes out his eyes! Just imagine your name sitting in the back of a dark filing cabinet drawer in the Supreme Court basement for all eternity, roaches scurrying off it every ten years or so as future generations of legal scholars exhume it to write their master’s theses!

The Raving Atheist heartily endorses this endeavor and beseeches you, in the name of, er, uh, whatever, to seize this opportunity. Your voice is important, because apparently a lot of groups ordinarily in favor of church/state separation have wussed out, doubtlessly out of some misguided notion of religious “tolerance.” Read Mister Thorne’s e-mail for the details on how you can become part of atheistic history:

This message concerns the case of Elk Grove Unified School District v. Michael Newdow, commonly known as the “Pledge of Allegiance case,” set for oral argument before the United States Supreme Court on 24 March 2004.

This is a request for assistance.

I hope to file an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in this case. The deadline for filing such a brief is 13 February 2004 (according to the docket for case #02-1624, 13 February 2004 is the deadline for submitting respondent’s briefs on the merits).

The brief will raise such arguments as these:

1. The reference to divinity in the current Pledge of Allegiance does not merely recognize as historical fact that our Nation was believed to have been founded ‘under God.’ It is an affirmation that this IS “one nation under God.” Nor is it simply an “acknowledgment of our religious heritage.” It’s a STATEMENT OF BELIEF: that there is a god, and that that god is, in some sense, over the United States.

2. A law that requires the current Pledge of Allegiance to be recited each day in public school is a law that requires the daily affirmation of a controversial religious belief.

3. A law that requires the current Pledge of Allegiance to be recited each day in public school exposes the State’s preference for one particular religious belief over others (e.g. the belief that there are no gods, or that there are many gods).

4. A law that requires the current Pledge of Allegiance to be recited each day in public school interferes with the rights of parents to “direct the religious upbringing of their children.” Specifically, it interferes with the rights of parents who wish to teach their children that there are no gods, or that there are many gods, or that the gods have no particular interest in the United States.

5. A law that requires the current Pledge of Allegiance (including the particular religious belief it proclaims) to be recited each day in public schools amounts to state-sponsored religious indoctrination of public school students in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

These arguments dispute those made by the many other amicus briefs already filed in this case.

So far, 40 amicus curiae briefs have been filed in this case, and they all oppose Newdow. Even the brief from Americans United for Separation of Church and State opposes Newdow (by asking the court not to even hear the case). The ACLU has not filed a brief and neither has American Atheists [Update:. Mister Thorne advises me that American Atheists will be submitting a brief].

In other words, all the court is hearing are reasons why it should rule AGAINST Newdow.

My brief will argue that the court should rule IN FAVOR OF Newdow, that it should uphold the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling.

There’s a hitch though. Right now, I’m two weeks shy of being out of work for two whole years. That’s right! There are jobs around here, but nobody seems much inclined to hire someone who’s in his 50s, try as he might.

So . . . I’m asking for your financial support. I’m asking you to donate to the cause so I can afford to have 40 copies of the brief printed (as required by the Supreme Court).

Can you help me? Can you donate $25? If I can get enough people to donate enough money fast enough, I can get this done.

NOTE: Supreme Court rule 37.6 requires that the names of those who “made a monetary contribution to the preparation or submission of the brief” be listed in the brief. In other words, if you make a donation, your name will appear in the brief. See the following for details:

http://www.supremecourtus.gov/ctrules/rulesofthecourt.pdf

Please don’t send nickels and dimes. I won’t accept them. The brief is limited to 30 pages, and I’m not going to submit a brief that has room for nothing but names of donors. If 100 people decide to send me $25 each, then I’m going to deposit the first dozen donations, or so, and return the others.

Why sit back and let Newdow get clobbered by the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, the Attorney’s General of 49 out of 50 states, the U.S. Solicitor General and a host of others, including the American Legion and the Rutherford Institute and the Christian Legal Society and the American Center for Law & Justice? (For a complete list of those who have weighed in AGAINST Newdow, check the docket for the case at the following link:

http://www.supremecourtus.gov/docket/02-1624.htm

Get Involved! Take this opportunity so you can say that you acted in the matter; you didn’t just sit by while the U.S. Supreme Court decided that it’s OK for the State to train our kids in its official religious belief.

And if this sounds like some sort of a scam to raise money, feel free to call me about this, or send me a message asking for further details. The reason I’ve waited so long in asking for your help is I’ve been trying to help myself (i.e., land a job so I don’t have to beg).

Thanks.

BTW: It was the appeals court’s decision in Newdow v. U.S. Congress (June 2002) that inspired me to start a monthly column titled Religion in the News. If you’re not familiar with it, you might want to take a look at it to get a better feel for my take on this issue as well as others. Here’s the link:

http://www.misterthorne.org/NEWS/RIN_TOC.htm

_____________
Mister Thorne
11 Crestline Drive
San Francisco, CA 94131

(415) 285 5777

Nothing

January 28, 2004 | 24 Comments

Reader Darin asks:

I’m just curious — Muslims have paradise to look forward to in the afterlife — Christians have heaven — Buddhists have Nirvana . . . as of my current knowledge, atheists believe that when they die, they just go into a mental state of nothing . . . is that something to really look forward to?

I understand that atheists believe that you should reject the idea of heaven, and therefore believe there isn’t anything in the afterlife other than non-existence. This, however, still seems very depressing to me.

My question then is—

1. Is my information about atheism correct?

2. Are atheists always depressed because they have nothing in life to look forward to but nothingness?

“Nothingness” accurately describes the most common atheistic conception of what transpires after death. Plainly, any God-designed or God-sustained afterlife is inconsistent with atheism. Reincarnation — or other theories which posit a new existence which rewards or punishes one’s conduct in the past life — are also fundamentally theistic because they necessarily presuppose some external, supernatural form of consciousness making moral judgments about each person and administering justice accordingly.

One could certainly concoct a theory, consistent with atheism, in which consciousness survives death without any outside deistic assistance. But it would still invoke a supernatural state of affairs, since in nature, minds do not exist without matter, without brains. If they do, you might be surrounded by undetectable people, and infinite numbers of them, everywhere you go. And since your own mind is not dependent on your brain, maybe you exist somewhere else, as someone else in an alternative universe. Maybe you just split off into a thousand different people every time you walk into an elevator or a closet; no reason that “death” should be the special moment. Maybe all this happens and you just don’t know it, although I don’t know what “knowing it” could mean in any context other than being conscious of something.

And maybe consciousness adheres, also undetectable, in all forms of matter. Rocks are conscious. Brain-dead people are conscious

Afterlife

January 28, 2004 | 13 Comments

Is believing in an afterlife consistent with atheism?

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Popcorn Theology

January 27, 2004 | 16 Comments

The Anti-Defamation League has reviewed the final cut of “The Passion of Christ”, Mel Gibson’s upcoming resurrection movie. They hate it, because it shifts the blame for God’s death from the Italians to the Jews. But once again, the group is employing the dubious tactic of fighting theology with theology. And it’s not even their own theology that they’re using:

Mel Gibson has every right to say that this is his personal religious vision. But when he says it is historically accurate, that gives us concern, as the film runs contrary to Biblical scholarship and the teachings of Vatican II, which absolved the Jewish people of guilt in the death of Jesus. We are especially concerned that this telling of the Crucifixion narrative is being hawked as a commercial crusade to the church community.

The Biblical scholars are, of course, Christian scholars, since very few Jewish ones have an interest in the Gospels. And Vatican II is Catholic doctrine. But if the ADL believes that those teachings are the only “historically accurate” religious accounts of what happened circa 32 A.D., they’d also have to accept the bit about King of the Jews rising from the dead so that all who believeth in Him may have eternal life. Promoting Catholic teaching while rejecting Jesus is like keeping the bath water but throwing out the baby.

The ADL’s contention that the movie is Gibson’s “person religious vision” is also problematic. Gibson belongs to a separate Catholic group, the Holy Family, which rejects Vatican II, so it’s not like he made the whole thing up by himself — he made it up with others. Plus, the Pope happens to love Mel’s flick. Even under Vatican II, the Pope’s word, not the ADL’s, is infallible in matters of theology. So if the ADL’s going to attack people with “visions” that are inconsistent with Catholicism, it would have better luck going after the Muslims and the Hindus. Or itself.

Gibson

January 27, 2004 | Comments Off

(See today’s post for background)

What exactlly does the ADL mean to communicate by saying that it is concerned that Mel Gibson’s “telling of the Crucifixion narrative [in his upcoming movie) is being hawked as a commercial crusade to the church community”?

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God Squad LXXV (Was Jesus the Messiah?)

January 26, 2004 | Comments Off

A Jewish Squad reader with “very little Jewish education” wants to know why a “small group of Jews believe[d]] Jesus was the Messiah, while the great of majority of Jews denied his messianic claim.” The Squad replies that Christians believe due to the many eyewitnesses to the resurrection described in the Gospels, and that Jews disbelieve because the partisan accounts in the Christian scriptures are no more reliable as an “objective historical account” than the partisan Jewish account of the Exodus in the Old Testament. Additionally, says the Squad, Jews reject Jesus because he failed to “gather all Jews to Israel, defeat all evil in the world and resurrect all dead people to new and everlasting life.”

Once again, the Squad ignores the actual question, which was why the great majority of Jews back at the time of Christ rejected him. Plainly, it wasn’t because they had doubts about the impartiality of the Gospels

Sculpture

January 26, 2004 | 9 Comments

Should a public university be permitted to host the display a scupture of a priest wearing a penis-shaped miter — meant to symbolize the Catholic Church’s child-molestation scandal?

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Catholic League Round-Up

January 23, 2004 | 21 Comments

William Donohue — the one-man defender of the world’s most oppressed billion-member organization, The Catholic Church — writes a paranoid little blog called The Catholic League. The posts, which he calls “News Releases,” are always entertainingly wrong-headed. Here are a few of my recent favorites:

Tolerating Sexual Abuse In The Public Schools

At first glance, Donohue seems to be criticizing the Board of the Boys Choir of Harlem (created by public school officials) for voting to keep on its director, Walter Turnbull, even though he engaged in a cover-up of child sexual molestation by one of the Choir’s employees. In fact, what really bothers Donohue is that Michael Dowd, lawyer for one of the molested boys, once called for the resignation of Brooklyn Bishop Thomas Daily when he sued the diocese in a similar scandal. So although Donohue doesn’t think that anybody who merely covers up child abuse should ever have to resign, he’s pissed that Dowd isn’t agitating as strongly for Turnbull’s ouster. But Donohue doesn’t cite a source for his claim that Dowd wants Turnbull to stay on, which would be surprising given that Dowd is also suing the Choir leader personally for routinely slapping and punching his charges. But even if Dowd is applying a double standard, Donohue’s conclusion is a bit loony: “Let’s stop with the pretense that this issue is all about protecting kids: it’s about getting the Catholic Church.”

PETA Rips Off Catholic Iconography

Showing his usual sense of perspective, Donohue compares PETA’s alleged trivialization of the Holocaust with the animal rights group’s trivialization of the Immaculate Conception. PETA’s offense? Using a portrait of the Virgin Mary holding a dead chicken, accompanied by the inscription, “GO VEGETARIAN: It’s an Immaculate Conception.”

ACLU Bid to Defend Catholics Rejected

Donohue ridicules a lawsuit brought by the ACLU against the Iowa Statehouse for displaying only the King James version of the Ten Commandments, excluding versions used by Catholics, Lutherans and Jews. Say Donohue: “In fact, the Catholic League would like to see the display of the Ten Commandments in every statehouse, and it matters not a whit whether it is the Catholic, Protestant or Jewish version.” Getting God’s law right doesn’t matter one whit? You’d think Donohue would be concerned

Holidays

January 23, 2004 | 9 Comments

Should a public employer which fires workers for taking days off to go to the movies be permitted to fire employees who take days off to attend religious services?

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Eat This

January 22, 2004 | 2 Comments

Inspired by this trial, Mark Shea of Catholic and Enjoying it declared that consensual cannibalism was a Libertarian ideal — only to have Andy of World Wide Rant point out that the Catholic Eucharist is itself cannibalism. This got Mark all huffy; he labeled the charge “Grey-Bearded Anti-Catholic Canard #23094823″ and linked to his earlier explanation of why devouring Jesus is good but eating anyone else is bad :

The Eucharist is, of course, not the consumption of dead flesh, but of the Living, Risen and Glorified Christ.

* * *

There are a number of paradoxes which the gospel teaches. We are not to worship men, but there is one Man whom we absolutely must worship. Human sacrifice is against the will of God, but in one unique case, a human sacrifice was at the heart of God’s plan. In the Old Testament the eating of blood was forbidden since “the blood is the life.” That is, we are not to seek our “life” from creatures. We are to seek it from God. And when God assumes flesh and blood he therefore tells us, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

Cannibalism is not sinful because it’s “icky”. It’s sinful (unless done for desperate purposes as in the Donner Party) because it violates the dignity of the human body and it violates our dignity if done (as it typically is) for the religious purpose of seeking our life from a creature rather than from God. Cannibalism is virtually always a religious act, as it was in Germany. And it is a religious act fundamentally ordered to blaspheme God and those in his image either by treating a human being as an idol or as an animal, but not as a human being.

On the other hand, Mark states, ” . . . Libertarianism simply has no sane response here . . . [t]he Libertarian definition of the Good has been achieved when people eat each other by mutual consent.”

One sane response might be that a person possessed of a cannibalistic death wish lacks the mental faculties normally associated with the power to give consent. And most secular moral philosophies count death, being so final, as the ultimate “bad” thing (other than when chosen to end a painful, terminal illness). And I can think of no secular theory which features a ritual so closely resembling cannibalism that an elaborate explanation is necessary to discourage emulation, much less an explanation which excuses the conduct on the ground that the victim is alive.

So it’s really Catholicism that lacks any sane response. For a believing Christian, death is no big deal. Get eaten, and you can still live again. Since it’s all a matter of God’s grace rather than good works, there’s no way to know whether you’re going to Heaven or Hell no matter what you do. And even if there is some prohibition against cannibalism, it’s nothing a little last minute repentance can’t fix. Even Hitler has a shot!

Shea’s dissertation on “dignity” resolves nothing. If it “violates dignity” to seek life from another creature, then any meat-eating (or even plant-eating) is as bad as cannibalism. Furthermore, saying something “violates dignity” is just another way of saying it’s bad or “icky”. It says nothing about the actual consequences of the act which, as noted above, under Catholicism are either unpredictable or avoidable.

Cannibalism

January 22, 2004 | 5 Comments

Is the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ prohibition against blood transfusions consistent with Mark Shea’s theory that humans are forbidden from seeking life from a being other than God?

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Time Out

January 21, 2004 | 5 Comments

Religious employees are entitled to more paid vacation than non-religious ones, a New York appellate court held last week. In Matter of Maine-Endwell Teachers’ Association. v. Board of Education of Maine-Endwell Central School District (3d Dept 2004), a four to one majority upheld as constitutional a public school collective bargaining agreement which provided that “[t]eachers shall be allowed up to three (3) paid days for religious observance where as a requirement of his/her religion he observes his Sabbath or other holy day” but did not provide equal time off for non-observant employees.

In doing so, the court distinguished an earlier appellate decision, Matter of Port Washington Union Free School District v. Port Washington Teachers’ Association, 268 AD2d 523 [2000], which had invalidated a contract which specifically designated which religious holidays were acceptable and thus preferred particular religions over others. The court also noted that because the collective bargaining agreement limited the number of days off

Grieving

January 20, 2004 | 10 Comments

Submitted by Laura:

What’s the best way to respond to someone who says “God had a purpose for taking him” to parents who have just lost a child?

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Dean Clarifies Stance on Jesus

January 20, 2004 | 10 Comments

Des Moines, Iowa, January 20, 2004
Special to The Raving Atheist

In the wake of his disappointing third-place finish in the Iowa caucus, former democratic presidential front-runner Howard Dean has offered a clarification of his statement earlier this month that Jesus is the Son of God.

“What I meant was ‘Son of a Bitch,'” he said. “An imaginary cocksucking Son of a Bitch whose ass you have to kiss because he’s worshipped by sister-screwing hillbilly white trash racists living in Third-World southern states whose primaries I’ll never see.”

How Could you Do That?

January 20, 2004 | 1 Comment

As a convert to Catholicism, Greg Krehbiel finds that people constantly ask him “How could you do that?” Linking to Krehbiel’s explanation,Mark Shea comments:

What amazes me is that every age finds conversion shocking and thinks that, in previous ages, it would have been seen as “conventional”. But now, it is supposed, things are totally different. Now, because of X, becoming Catholic is something no thinking person (except Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Origen, Edith Stein, Elizabeth Anscombe, etc etc etc) could do. No, a really *deep* person would not fall for such a shallow thing as the Catholic faith. He would be a profound thinker like, uh, Richard Dawkins. Or Phil Donahue.

Why the references to Dawkins, an atheist, and Donahue, an agnostic?

According to Krehbiel’s essay, the people who ask him “How could you do that?” aren’t snooty Brights ridiculing the shallowness of Catholic theology. Krehbiel, a convert from Evangelicalism, was actually answering co-religionists who charged that “Rome has lost the Gospel,” and explaining “how a commitment to Rome does not necessarily entail a repudiation of the Protestant doctrine of justification.” Krehbiel concludes that, as with his former Protestant faith, under Catholicism “we approach God by grace on the basis of faith and not because of our ‘good works.'”

In other words, Krehbiel converted to Catholicism because he found it was consistent with his prior blind faith in a book that tells him there’s a God doesn’t let people earn salvation through moral conduct, but distributes it arbitrarily.

Deep. Real deep. Phil Donahue? Even Jerry Springer could do better than that.

Donahue

January 19, 2004 | 7 Comments

Who was Phil Donahue’s very first guest?

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God Squad Review LXXV (Keeping Kosher)

January 19, 2004 | 2 Comments

A Squad reader making a half-assed attempt to comply with Kosher law — avoiding pork and shellfish, but mixing dairy and meat — wants to know what to do when served something “that goes against my personal discipline.” Specifically, the reader wants to know whether it’s best to “forget the Jewish dietary laws or say something that might offend my host?” Says the Squad:

Your question also could apply to a Muslim who tries to eat only halal meat, to a vegetarian who is served meat, to someone on a low-carb diet who is served pasta or to anyone whose dietary regimen is violated by a well-meaning but uninformed host.

If your religious dietary rules are important enough to you to apply them both inside and outside your home, call ahead to inform hosts about your restrictions.

* * *

When you do violate your religious dietary regimen, say to yourself, “I missed the mark today, but I’ll hit it tomorrow.” In the end, as T.S. Eliot remarked, “It is the trying that matters. Everything else is just not our business.”

Common courtesy actually dictates a different answer: unless your plate is covered with broken glass or has cockroaches crawling all over it, eat whatever is put in front of you. You’re a guest. If you don’t like being a guest, eat at home, or in a restaurant which will accept money to cater to your fantasies about God’s cookbook.

Also, if you’ve relaxed what you believe to be God’s dietary rules to suit your “personal discipline,” you really don’t have a right to demand strict compliance from your host. Why should he fulfill YOUR directions to the letter, when you’re cutting corners with GOD’s commands?

I also reject the Squad’s analogy between religious diets and health diets. With real diets, it isn’t merely the trying that matters, it’s the succeeding. You don’t lose weight, reduce your cholesterol or blood pressure if you cheat.

Religious Organizations

January 18, 2004 | 3 Comments

Submitted by Phalse Phrophet (and inspired by Jean-Paul Fastidious):


Do organizations like the Boy Scouts and the Masons, which require a belief in a higher power to belong and exclude Atheists from membership for refusing to adhere to these beliefs, cross the line from being simply a religious/spiritual association into being their own separate religion?

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I’m Not Religious, I’m Spiritual

January 18, 2004 | 10 Comments

“I’m not religious, I’m spiritual.”

What do people mean when they say this? Surfing for an answer, I came across this explanation from cccasional TRA commentor Christopher Rhoades D

Word Games

January 17, 2004 | 5 Comments

Replaying Thursday’s O’Reilly Factor segment on the Boy Scouts’ expulsion from a San Diego park for being a religious organization, I found his discussion with Boy Scout lead counsel George Davidson and legal expert Lis Wiehl made even less sense to me the second time around:

O’Reilly: But, in two cases as we cited, you have in print — lawyers, I don’t whether you or not — that it is a “religious organization.” So I’m sitting here, and I’m going, look, this guy in San Diego [the councilman who insisted the Scouts were a religious organization on Wednesday’s broadcast], I want to be honest, if I made a mistake, I want to admit it. But did I make a mistake?

Davidson: Well, Bill, I don’t think you made a mistake. “Religious” can be used in two different senses. And I think you’ve got an ACLU word game going here. “Religious” can refer to a religious sect, such as the Roman Catholic Church, and it can refer to belief in God generally. The Boy Scouts is . . .

O’Reilly: That’s spiritual, not religious.

Davidson: Oh, well, the Boy Scouts is an organization of people that believe in God.

O’Reilly: And God can be nature, right?

Davidison: Well, I wouldn’t get into defining that, we have a religious relationship . . .

O’Reilly: Well, we have a statement from the Boy Scouts that God can be nature, like pantheism, um, er, you know, um, deism and all of that.

Davidson: (Smirking) Well, um, I do know they didn’t let in the Wiccans, who are . . .

O’Reilly: Yeah, but, that’s a witchcraft pagan deal, I mean, you know . . .

* * *

Liz Wiehl: If you establish yourself as a religious organization, then there is an issue of church and state, giving preferential . . .

O’Reilly: But the Boy Scouts haven’t established themselves . . .

Liz Wiehl: They have named themselves as a religious organization.

O’Reilly: They haven’t established themselves as that. They use that to exclude atheists, which I wouldn’t do, Counselor, and I think you ought to rethink that. I’d say we’re spiritual in nature, and this is our charter. We want a belief in a higher power, it could be nature, and if you come in and say I don’t believe in a higher power, you don’t fit.

Davidson: Well, that’s right.

O’Reilly: Well, why don’t you say “spiritual” instead of “religious”, see, look, the judge, Jones, Napoleon Jones, who hates you guys, all right? — he took this, he took it, and he’s using it as a club to bang you with.

* * *

O’Reilly:All right, you can’t have it both ways, counselor, use the word “spiritual” instead of “religi[ous]” and give us a break here, okay, because we do want to obey the law in the United States.

So under O’Reilly’s theory, (1) a religious organization excludes atheists, whereas a spiritual organization excludes only atheists who don’t believe in a “higher power,” (2) a “witchcraft pagan deal” is neither religious nor spiritual, (3) there’s a difference between an organization “establishing” itself as religious and just “using” religion to exclude atheists.

Weaseling Out

January 16, 2004 | 5 Comments

As I noted yesterday, Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly has repeatedly called the ruling that the Boy Scouts are a “religious organization” so absurd that the judge who handed down the decision — kicking the group out of San Diego’s Balboa Park on church/state separation grounds — should be impeached. Confronted Wednesday night by a San Diego councilman who insisted that the Scouts themselves conceded as much, O’Reilly accused the judge of inventing that admission. However, he promised to investigate the matter further and apologize if he was wrong.

This is how he weaseled out of his vow on his O’Reilly Insider website:

Unfortunately, the Scouts have a problem — a legal problem — that’s largely of their own making. And here it is.

On Oct. 21, 2003 Greg Shields – National Spokesman for the Boy Scouts — told FOX News, “we are not a religious organization.” Officially, this IS the Boy Scout position: The Scouts are a spiritual, not a religious, organization.

But in 1992 and 1998 court briefs, other lawyers for the Boy Scouts argued in court that the Scouts are a religious organization. In the two cases, the Scouts were defending against atheists who were suing to become Scout masters, and threatening the Scouts right to free association (which was affirmed in Dale vs. Boy Scouts, another case, in 1999.)

Specifically in 1998, the Scouts said in a court briefing: “Although the Scouts are not a religious organization like a Church or a Synagogue, the Boy Scouts are a religious organization (to the extent that they believe in God).”

As FOX News Legal Analyst Lis Wiehl says (and she’s sympathetic to the Scouts and has a kid in the Scouts): “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say you’re a religious organization when you defend against atheists and say you aren’t when you defend against the ACLU in a religious discrimination suit.”

As Bill and Lis point out, if the Scouts defined themselves as a spiritual — not religious — organization, the legal jeopardy the Scouts are facing would have been avoided.

O’Reilly repeated these points on his broadcast last night, albeit admitting he was “confused” and openly wondering whether he should apologize (both of his guests insisted he shouldn’t). Ultimately, he dismissed the controversy as one arising from the ACLU’s legalistic “word games.”

Is it possible to impeach a talk show host?

First, O’Reilly’s original accusation was that the judge in the San Diego case lied by saying that the Scouts had admitted being a religious organization in that litigation. What the Scout’s spokesman decided to claim in October 2003

Kafkaesqui

January 15, 2004 | 7 Comments

Does anyone know what happened to TRA prolific commentator Kafkaesqui, who hasn’t left a comment since early December and whose own blog has apparently closed down? Please feel free to engage in reckless, defamatory speculation and innuendo.

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O’Really?

January 15, 2004 | 4 Comments

The San Diego City Council has agreed to kick the Boy Scouts out of Balboa Park and pay the ACLU $950,000, settling a suit which charged that the City’s $1-a-year lease to the Scouts violated church/state separation by favoring a religious organization. The Boy Scouts, however, aren’t throwing in the towel.

And neither is Bill O’Reilly. Last summer he called for the impeachment of the federal judge who ruled that the scouts are a “religious organization,” and last night he picked a fight over that issue with one of the council members, Michael Zucchet, who voted in favor of the settlement. O’Reilly still maintains that calling the Boy Scouts religious is absurd, even though the Scouts (1) describe religious belief and practice as fundamental to the services they provide, (2) require all members to profess a belief in God, (3) compel all scouts to vow to do their duty to God, and (4) expel members who do not believe in God.

Zucchet quietly pointed out that Scouts actually admitted in their pleadings in the underlying suit that they were a religious organization, but O’Reilly would have none of it. He insisted that the “admission” was simply an invention of the “nut” judge, Napoleon Jones, and that the Scouts have steadfastly denied any faith-based orientation. He vowed to apologize on air tomorrow if the record proved him wrong, and had Zucchet promise to do the same.

O’Reilly’s going to have a lot of egg on his face. Judge Jones may “so far out there it’s frightening,” as O’Reilly charged, but I really doubt he just made up all of the paragraph citations to the Boy Scout’s litigation papers:

As an initial matter, the Boy Scouts is a religious organization with a “religious purpose” and a “faith-based mission to serve young people and their families.” B[oy] S[couts of] A[merica-D[esert] P[acific] C[ouncil] Resp. to [Plaintiff’s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts] 166, 168, 184-187. Adult leaders and youth members of the BSA-DPC are required to have a belief in a formal deity, to swear a duty to God. Id. 161, 169, 171, 173, 174, 176-181, 183, 190, 192. Belief in God is and always has been central to BSA’s principles and purposes. Id. 164. Adult leaders are expected to reinforce in Scouts the values of duty to God and reverence. Id. 235. Scouting is referred to as “the ‘sleeping giant of outreach’ for local churches.” Id. 232. Scouting offers the church “unparalleled training, materials and facility support,” such as camps. Id. “There are few religions in America which can boast of millions of youth who meet each week and openly affirm their belief in God.” Id. 191. “Because of Scouting’s devotion to the spiritual element of character education and its willingness to submerge itself in the religious traditions of its sponsors, America’s churches and synagogues enthusiastically [have] embraced Scouting.” Id. 233. The undisputed facts thus show that the BSA engages in religious, albeit nondenominational, instruction through its various Scout oaths, religious emblems program, chaplaincy program, Religious Relationships Committee, religious publications and the integration of religion in Scouting activities.

Barnes-Wallace v. Boy Scouts of America, 275 F.Supp.2d 1259, 1270 (S.D.Cal 2003). And it certainly didn’t help O’Reilly’s case when he began waving a letter in Zucchet’s face from the Justice Department and gloating that Attorney General Ascroft was going to investigate the City for “religious discrimination” against the Scouts. Strangely, the O’Reilly Factor Insider coverage of the debate doesn’t mention the religious issue at all.

Boy Scouts

January 14, 2004 | 5 Comments

Are the Boy Scouts a religious organization?

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Freedom from Logic

January 14, 2004 | 8 Comments

“Freedom of religion, not from religion” is the mantra of the theocrats, notes Ron of God is for Suckers. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Lieberman has chanted it from time to time, suggesting that morality cannot be maintained without faith. Confronting with his anti-secular bigotry at a recent radio debate, Lieberman offered this baffling defense:

I always through it was a remarkable, a brilliant act of principle when in the Declaration of Independence Jefferson wrote and the others signed that there were self-evident truths that we all have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as an endowment from our creator. And one of those rights in America is not to believe in the creator if you don’t want to.

So your very right to be an atheist is actually a gift from God! But this creates a problem: if there is no God, the foundation for that right crumbles, and you lose the right not to believe!

UFOs

January 13, 2004 | 12 Comments

Submitted by Jarod:

The description for a History Channel documentary entitled “UFOs in the Bible” claims that “through intensive reinterpretation of early religious documents, researchers believe that they have found evidence of ancient UFO activity.” Does the airing of such programs impair the credibility of the channel’s programs about actual historical events?

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Disabled

January 13, 2004 | Comments Off

Should religious belief be treated as a disability? Avi Schick may be on to something in his Slate piece: he suggests that Americans with Disabilities Act could be used to afford treatment to those suffering from God-delusions. Once cured of their mental illnesses, the formerly faithful could return to serve more productively on the job, undistracted by the onerous additional demands of various deities.

In my dreams. What he actually proposes is that private employers be forced to cater to voluntary religious beliefs to the same extent they as do in meeting the real needs of handicapped workers under the ADA. Apparently he’s appalled that religious workplace demands are accorded “second-class status” compared to the treatment afforded the blind and deaf. But his primary concern seems to be with dress and appearance codes which interfere with religious garb and grooming (yarmulkes, fez, Sikh beards). Somehow I suspect an observant Jew could survive at work without his headgear more easily than a quadriplegic could function without a ramp.

I agree that it makes no sense for a company to impose work rules that don’t reasonable further its business objectives, but having the government dictate new, religion-favoring codes isn’t the answer. Just let employees dress anyway they please. Draft a statute that says “no employer shall impose dress or grooming unrelated to performance or productivity.” Problem solved!

But Mr. Schick doesn’t propose this, because fairness isn’t his real objective.
State-mandated preference for superstitious beliefs at the expense of all others is his goal. Thus, he’s offended by the reasoning of the main judicial roadblock to his plan — the Supreme Court’s ruling in TWA v Hardison — which refused to trample the contractual rights of an airline’s employees to accommodate the religious demands of a plaintiff for a Sabbath vacation:

It was essential to TWA’s business to require Saturday and Sunday work from at least a few employees even though most employees preferred those days off. Allocating the burdens of weekend work was a matter for collective bargaining. In considering criteria to govern this allocation, TWA and the union had two alternatives: adopt a neutral system, such as seniority, a lottery, or rotating shifts; or allocate days off in accordance with the religious needs of its employees. TWA would have had to adopt the latter in order to assure [plaintiff] and others like him of getting the days off necessary for strict observance of their religion, but it could have done so only at the expense of others who had strong, but perhaps nonreligious, reasons for not working on weekends. There were no volunteers to relieve [plaintiff] on Saturdays, and to give [plaintiff] Saturdays off, TWA would have had to deprive another employee of his shift preference at least in part because he did not adhere to a religion that observed the Saturday Sabbath.

* * *

It would be anomalous to conclude that by “reasonable accommodation” Congress meant that an employer must deny the shift and job preference of some employees, as well as deprive them of their contractual rights, in order to accommodate or prefer the religious needs of others, and we conclude that Title VII does not require an employer to go that far.

So Schick proposes that we all pressure local politicians to enact state laws to get God back into the workplace. I’ve got a counter-proposal — let’s force religious employers to comply with sex and sexual orientation anti-discrimination laws.

Dean

January 12, 2004 | 6 Comments

Which is Howard Dean’s true belief system: atheism, agnositicism, or Christianity?

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God Squad Review LXXIV (God and Morality)

January 12, 2004 | 5 Comments

No mention of God or religion in this week’s Squad, in which they counsel their readers on how to get a recipe from a mother-in-law, stop grandparents from spoiling their grandchildren, and restrain a shop-a-holic daughter. I don’t whether it’s because they think the issues are too trivial to merit God’s attention, or because they believe right and wrong can be determined without reference to the deity. Or maybe both: Here’s a sample of their past writings on the relationship of God to morality:

From their August 24, 2002 column:

If there is no God, there would be no reason to do good. If there is no God, there would be no difference between people and animals. If there is no God, there would be no souls and no chance that souls could live on after death. Mostly, if there is no God, there is just no reason to get out of bed in the morning and no reason to believe that life has an edge over death, hope an edge over despair and love an edge over hate.

From page 58 of their book, “Religion for Dummies,” released August 2002:

All of us know good people who don’t believe in the divine, as well as not-so-good people who do. You don’t need to believe in a God to be good.

Morality

January 11, 2004 | 7 Comments

Who is more likely to commit murder: an atheist who believes there is no God to punish him after death for the crime, or a theist who believes God has commanded him to kill for a heavenly reward?

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Blasphemy

January 9, 2004 | 3 Comments

Professor Volokh criticizes FrontPageMagazine.com for some allegedly “unsound criticism” of the Ford Foundation. Specifically, he faults FPM for implying than an educational website funded by the Foundation is encouraging students to explore how the Constitution could be revised to conform to strict Islamic law by prohibiting blasphemy against Allah. Volokh contends that the site is actually critical of blasphemy laws, and merely presents a harmless classroom exercise designed to foster discussion of the merits of blasphemy laws in general (not specifically anti-Islam blasphemy). Referring to the exercise, which asks students to imagine students that they are advising a U.S. Senator on the advantages and disadvantages of a Constitutional amendment which would free the states “to enact anti-blasphemy laws as long as they prohibit offensive speech against all religions,” Volokh asks:

What in heaven’s name is wrong with this? It seems to be a perfectly sound educational technique: Rather than just telling students “blasphemy laws bad, attacks on Salman Rushdie bad,” it asks them to thoughtfully discuss reasons why some might support blasphemy laws (as many Christians have in the American past, and as I’ve heard a few support even today), and why others might oppose them.

Volokh then compares the exercise to a textbook exercise he wrote asking students to consider a “murder advocacy exception” to free speech.

I agree that the FrontPage piece is a bit over-heated and inaccurate, as the Foundation-funded site never quite crosses over the line into explicitly supporting anti-blasphemy laws. But I think Volokh’s piece is misleading to the extent that it suggests that the site is actually critical of such legislation. There are absolutely no good reasons to support anti-blasphemy laws — none whatsoever — and the site’s mere implication that the subject is actually a topic worthy of debate among Senators comes pretty close to advocacy. If the exercise had students debating whether to advise Senators on an amendment to repeal women’s suffrage or reinstitute segregation, I think it would be fair to question to the motives of the educators in raising the issue in the first place. You can’t drop questions like that and then claim you were “just askin’.”

The exercise is not at all like debating the murder advocacy exception. Plainly, such advocacy could easily inch over into incitement or conspiracy to murder and it’s helpful to draw some lines. But Volokh doesn’t suggest what the “thoughtful” reasons in favor of anti-blasphemy legislation might be; all he does is coyly suggest that “many Christians” have supported it.”

Yes, indeed, they have: in 1951 New York’s highest Court, apparently in the pocket of the Catholic Archdiocese, banned the showing of Rosellini’s film “The Miracle” as sacrilegious. But this was the best argument the learned judges could muster, before being reversed by the Supreme Court:

To say that government may not intervene to protect religious beliefs from purely private or commercial attacks or persecution, whatever the underlying motive, and however skillfully accomplished, as distinguished from the assertion of conflicting beliefs, is to deny not only its power to keep the peace, but also the very right to ‘the free exercise’ of religion, guaranteed by the First Amendment. The offering of public gratuitous insult to recognized religious beliefs by means of commercial motion pictures is not only offensive to decency and morals, but constitutes in itself in infringement of the freedom of others to worship and believe as they choose. Insult, mockery, contempt and ridicule can be a deadly form of persecution often far more so than more direct forms of action.

* * *

This nation is a land of religious freedom; it would be strange indeed if our Constitution, intended to protect that freedom, were construed as an instrument to uphold those who publicly and sacrilegiously ridicule and lampoon the most sacred beliefs of any religious denomination to provide amusement and for commercial gain.

Worthy of a classroom debate or a Congressional hearing? How about this official justification for the proposed New York blasphemy bill (which would make it a Class B misdemeanor to “hold up the diety or the religious beliefs of any religious class of people to ridicule or hatred or present religious beliefs in an obscene, lewd, profane or lascivious manner”):

Since Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” was boycotted for its ridicule of all religions through a reluctant messiah named Jesus, religious ridicule has been a major issue among the clergy. The movie was seen by religious leaders as a cruel and blasphemous mockery of religion, Holy Scripture, the ancient Jewish faith, and the life and death of Christ.

This legislation is religiously neutral while focusing on the need for protection against attacks on religion that frustrate society itself. In addition, these attacks directly inflict injury on the members of the targeted group while undermining the validity of religious oaths.

A closer question, and one much more deserving of legislative attention, is whether the government itself blaspheming religion. Volokh today, discussing a anti-Catholic sculpture at a public university (it “depicts a Catholic bishop with a grotesque facial expression wearing a phallus on his head that is shaped like a bishop’s miter,”) suggests that there’s a “pretty strong argument” against government disapproval of religion. I, on the other hand, believe that the government has an obligation to mock religion when it becomes detrimental to the public welfare. Let the senators debate!

Blasphemy

January 9, 2004 | 2 Comments

Pretend you are an advisor to a U.S. Senator. How would you advise him to vote on a constitutional amendment providing that “The First Amendment shall not be interpreted to protect speech that denies that Allah is a syphilitic whoremonger who fucks goats in an outhouse, that the Virgin Mary gives blowjobs to Jesus for ten cents a pop, and that Ganesh rapes the corpses of stillborn babies”?

(See today’s post for background).

Godidiot of the Week: Con Artist Robert Frey

January 8, 2004 | 22 Comments

This week’s Godidiot is a nasty, fraudulent, arrogant, fear-mongering, greedy, lying piece-of-shit con man named Robert Frey who’s such a big crybaby that he’s threatened a blogger with a libel suit (and eternal damnation) for exposing his little scam.

As Brent of Unscrewing the Inscrutable explains, Frey’s hustle is hawking Ten Commandments signs to help gullible Christians “defy” the evil forces that brought down the grandstanding Roy Moore. As a news story linked from Frey’s site demonstrates, he’s encouraging his marks to overwhelm the ACLU’s litigation machine by putting the signs on their lawns:

Now, instead of worrying about a single granite display of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of an Alabama courthouse, we can watch as the ACLU and its deceived followers go absolutely crazy over the thousands, if not millions, of Ten Commandments displays cropping up all over the American landscape.

But what’s the ACLU’s official position private religious displays on private property? Not quite what Frey suggests:

The First Amendment protects the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech; thus, all private parties have the right to display religious symbols on their own private property. So, for example, churches have a right to display the creche on their land, as do individuals in their yards.

And did the ACLU go “absolutely crazy” after residents of a small Louisiana town

Grand Canyon

January 7, 2004 | 7 Comments

Submitted by Jarod: Controversy at the Grand Canyon

A creationist book entitled “Grand Canyon: A Different View” asserts that the Grand Canyon was formed by the Old Testament flood a few thousand years ago. Would the refusal of a Park Service bookstore to sell the book constitute a violation of the separation of church and state?

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God of the Jocks (Part 4)

January 7, 2004 | 4 Comments

David Bernstein of the Volokh Conspiracy criticizes the Mega Millions jackpot winner for crediting “a blessing” rather than luck for her $162 windfall. He complains that he hasn’t “noticed a countervailing tendency to blame God when things go wrong, an especially annoying defect in the sports world, where victories are freely attributed to Jesus’s blessings.” Bernstein concludes that “[j]ust once, I’d like to see the losing Super Bowl quarterback tell the media ‘Guess Jesus really had it in for me today.'”

As I noted over a year ago, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna did indeed credit God for his team’s losing 2002 season. But I doubt that will satisfy Mr. Bernstein. As I also noted in that post (and this one as well), criticisms of Jock Theology are generally rooted in some equally silly theology which only fancies itself as more sophisticated.

What bothers Bernstein and his ilk is not the inconsistency in crediting God for the good and not the bad (and it’s not an inconsistency at all, because if God is by definition perfectly good, the bad has to be someone else’s fault). What really bothers him is the notion that God would be involved in such “trivial” matters as lotteries or football games. Bernstein’s god just operates at an ostensibly “higher” level. I doubt Bernstein would object to a mother’s crediting God with something “important” like her child’s recovery from cancer to God, or insist, for the sake of consistency, that she blame God for the deaths of all the other children in the cancer ward. And I suspect (as I noted before) that wouldn’t dare mock such “serious” doctrines such as that of the Trinity, of transubstantiation, of the Jews’ Covenant with God, of the visions of Mohammed, or the God-imposed dietary restrictions of any number of religions, even though they’re just as childish and contradiction-ridden as any jock-uttered drivel.

And at the risk of pulling an Easterbrook, I’m going to guess from his surname that Bernstein is Jewish and that his real beef is with the espoused Christianity of so many athletes rather than their general theology. The title of his post is “Jesus Really Had it in for Me Today” (even though the lottery winner didn’t specifically mention Him) and he specifies that his annoyance is at jock references to “Jesus’s blessings.” I doubt he’d find the references as offensive if they were just to some generic “god.” But if it’s really Our Lord and Savior that irks him, there are better targets than the improbability of His involvement in ball games. Why not complain how silly it is to believe that He was His own Father and that He killed Himself so that all who believe in that sacrifice might have eternal life?

World Wide rant

January 6, 2004 | 4 Comments

Now that Andy of World Wide Rant is playing e-mail footsie with Papist homophobe Mark Shea, how long will it be before he finds himself joyfully manwiched between Pieter Friedrich and Fred Phelps?

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Grievously Wounded Iranian Quake Victims Offended by Physician’s Headwear

January 6, 2004 | 12 Comments

Bam, Iran, January 6, 2004
Special to The Raving Atheist

An American surgeon en route to earthquake-ravaged Iran with crates of medical supplies forgot the most important piece of equipment of all — a headscarf, which is required attire for women in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Susan Briggs, a doctor from Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital, improvised a Hijab out of an arm-sling and begged her potential patients to forgive her immodesty.

“I am a filthy, skanking whore-dog unfit to dress your many wounds,” said Briggs. “I hope that by covering my face with a rag you will forget that I am cursed in the sight of Allah and permit me to administer live-saving medical attention.”

Quake victim Mohammed Khatami accepted Brigg’s offer of treatment but said he was undecided about whether he would make her one of his thirty-eight wives. “She has greatly disrespected Islam by forgetting her head-covering,” he said. “Perhaps I might allow her to be a maid-servant in charge of washing my left foot — once she reattaches it.”

Wounded Bam resident Abdul Khadari was less forgiving. “She has also sinned against The Great One by obtaining an education,” said Khadari, speaking from underneath sixteen tons of mud-brick rubble. “My mighty sword shall cleave her head from her body — once she reattaches my arms.”

Quake Attire

January 5, 2004 | 12 Comments

Should female American personnel rendering medical treatment to earthquake victims in Iran be required to comply with the country’s Islamic dress code?

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God Squad Review LXXIII

January 5, 2004 | 2 Comments

In response to a question from a wife complaining that her husband has lost any interest child-rearing, the the Squad proposes an interesting analogy:

In both the church and the synagogue, prayer has many names, but one of the more interesting is “work.” Even something that’s supposed to be joyous and transforming, like prayer, can be difficult because the demands are scheduled regularly and impose upon us a spiritual discipline that can be inconvenient, even oppressive, to some people at some times.

Raising a baby is, in our opinion, the physical version of prayer.

No way! Isn’t talking to the sky much, much harder than raising a child? Isn’t prayer more like cleaning out the rendering vat at a slaughterhouse, working at a sweatshop or as a diamond slave in the Congo?

George W. Bush

January 4, 2004 | 6 Comments

Do George W. Bush’s recent statements that he “certainly see[s] [Jesus Christ] as the son of God” and that he has been “feeling a little more Job-like recently” reflect on his qualifications for the Presidency?

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Time Out

January 2, 2004 | 1 Comment

American Atheists, in its New Years Eve press release, condemns Time Magazine for deliberately excluding religious leaders from its “Phonies and Frauds” list. Time defended its decision as follows:

This list originally included a number of religious leaders. But we are convinced by protests from offended supporters that their inclusion, no matter how well justified in some cases by their behavior, might well stimulate an attitude of contempt for others’ religious beliefs.

I disagree, of course, with Time’s apparent conclusion that contempt for religious belief is a bad thing. But given its perspective, I can’t fault the magazine’s reasoning. Because all religion is phony and fraudulent, a close examination of one denomination’s lies will necessarily bring into question the similar fallacies underlying the claims of all other faiths. This isn’t true of other phonies, such as medical quacks; because medicine makes true, useful and verifiable claims, listing a few incompetent or dishonest doctors isn’t going to tear down public confidence in medicine as a whole. But you can’t dissect what’s wrong with the theology of Jerry Falwell or the Jews for Jesus without undermining belief in Christianity and Judaism generally.

What puzzles me more than Time’s predictably limp stance is AA’s own handling of the story. First of all, it’s very, very old news. Although AA characterizes the feature as an “end-of-the-year” list and implies that it was released along with its designation of the American Soldier as the 2003 Person of the Year, the “Phonies” list was in fact released (and voting for it closed) nearly four years ago, in January 2000. It was actually an “end-of-last-century” list. And Time’s announcement that it was removing the names of religious phonies from the roster came even earlier

Pat Robertson

January 2, 2004 | 12 Comments

Pat Robertson announced today that he believes God told him President Bush will be re-elected in a “blowout” in November. If Bush is re-elected, would that prove the existence of God or could there an alternative, naturalistic explanation for the electoral result?

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Question of the Day

January 1, 2004 | Comments Off

To kick off the New Year, I am instituting a “Question of the Day” feature (see top box, column immediately to the left). Please submit your answers to the comment section beneath the question. I will provide the correct answer (or identify the reader who did) in the comment section the next day.

Please feel free to submit your own questions to ravingatheist@ravingatheist.com. (Do NOT put them in the comment section). If I use your question, I will credit you (unless you indicate otherwise) by name and a link to your blog (if you have one).

Free Exercise

January 1, 2004 | 3 Comments

Should the U.S. Constitution be amended to protect the free exercise of “conscience, philosophy, thought and desire” instead of the free exercise of religion?

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