The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

2004 May

Story Time

May 30, 2004 | 2 Comments

Don’t waste your Memorial Day weekend watching The Day After Tomorrow. For a movie with better special effects, and more theological nuance than The Passion of the Christ, catch the long-overlooked masterpiece A Story about God. Director M. Swill’s “thought-provoking look into the nature of God, man’s place in the universe, and the power of prayer” is available on the internet in its entirety here (scroll down to and click on the word “Play” in red crayon). Or, for a different kind of religious experience, watch Swill’s minor classic, The Endless Handbag. Archived interviews with God are also available here.

Symbolism

May 28, 2004 | 36 Comments

I was busy filing the words “In God We Trust” off a few thousand pennies when I came across this piece by Professor Volokh, critical of the ACLU’s lawsuit to remove a cross from the Los Angeles Country seal. The cross, symbolizing the city’s many Catholic missions, was inserted in 1957 as a tribute to the contributions and influence of religion. In the context of the seal, it’s relatively inconspicuous; look for it below in the square side panel, above the sacred cow and to the right of much larger depiction of Pomona — the goddess of gardens and fruit trees:

lasealfin3.jpg

The Professor writes:

[W]hatever might have been said in 1957, it seems to me that in context the reasonable, well-informed observer will indeed see the cross as a historical referent, rather than as an endorsement of religion (which is the Establishment Clause test).

* * *

Religion is a fundamental part of California history, as it is part of the history of the country as a whole. There should be no constitutional obligation to extirpate all historical religious references from American public life. Even if the Court is right that government endorsement of religion is unconstitutional, courts must distinguish references that will be seen as endorsing religions from references that simply recognize religion’s role in American history — and the seal seems to me to be well on the side of history, not endorsement.

I’m with the Professor on this one. Apart from the fact that no one actually looks at county seals, it’s unfair to punish Jesus but not the fruit salad deity and the cow. Moreover, despite the Church’s historical issues with women and gays, many other American institutions too have been backwards in that regard. You have to take the good with the bad, and let bygones be bygones.

Legal Lottery

May 27, 2004 | 11 Comments

My Magic Chinese Fortune Cookie once again failed to predict last night’s Lotto numbers, so I’m out $58 million. Should I sue the restaurant that sold it to me? It’s not as crazy an idea as you might think.

Ordinarily a lawsuit that frivolous would be dismissed on the spot, with the attorney bringing it sanctioned into bankruptcy and possibly thrown behind bars for contempt. But throw a little religion into the mix, and the courts get all teary-eyed and mushy. Consider the case of Pando v. Fernandez, in which a teenager successfully sued a woman for a cut of her $2.9 million New York lottery jackpot on the theory that he prayed to a “Saint Eleggua” to make her numbers win.

The plaintiff lost the first round at the trial court level (485 N.Y.S.2d 162 [Sup Ct NY Co. 1984]), which dismissed the suit on the ground that the kid could never prove that St. Eleggua was actually responsible for the win. But instead of castigating the litigant, the court waxed eloquent on the wonders of religious ignorance:

To recover, plaintiff must demonstrate that his prayers caused the miracle to occur. How can we really know what happened? Is a court to engage in the epistemological inquiry as to the acquisition of knowledge and belief through proof or through faith? Faith is the antithesis of proof. It is a belief which is firmly held even though demonstrable proof may be lacking. It is instinctive, spiritual, and profound, arrived at not through a coldly logical appraisal of the facts but, in Wordsworth’s phrase, by “a passionate intuition”. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Paul, Epistle to Hebrews: xi, 1.

* * *

Establishing that this occurred is not susceptible to forensic proof. It calls for matters which transcend proof — the existence of saints, the power of prayer, and divine intervention in temporal affairs. “What is faith,” said St. Augustine, “unless it is to believe what you do not see?”

* * *

This court has no desire to denigrate the power of prayer, matters of spirit, or the workings of the hand of God, but such matters, not susceptible of rational courtroom proof, are for theology and not jurisprudence. Concededly, “there are more things in heaven and in earth . . . than are dream’t of in [our] philosophy.”

But mere lip service wasn’t enough for the appellate court (499 N.Y.S.2d 950 [1st Dept 1986]), which reversed and sent the matter to trial:

[P]laintiff was obligated only to use his best efforts to enlist Saint Eleggua’s help in exchange for which defendant agreed to pay for the tickets and split the prize should it be won. If, as is possible, defendant bargained simply for the assistance of plaintiff whose help she believed would be efficacious, having received that assistance she cannot now disown her obligations under the agreement by imposing the additional condition that plaintiff prove the effect of his prayers. Plaintiff’s prayers in this scenario had value to defendant because she believed in their power to help effectuate the desired end; the prayers having been made, the sought after consequence, she believed, was at least more likely to follow. It is then entirely possible that defendant bargained simply for the benefit of those acts which if performed by plaintiff she felt would enhance her chances of winning the lottery. Under this version of the agreement plaintiff as required to do no more than purchase the tickets, select the numbers, and pray to the Saint in order to fulfill his end of the bargain. Certainly, none of these actions is impossible to prove in a court of law.

The court later froze the winnings, finding that plaintiff was likely to succeed on the merits.

Aside from the surprising disregard for the ordinary legal requirement of proof of causation, there are at least three problems with the court’s logic. First, even if the plaintiff was only required to pray to Eleggua, he would still have to prove the existence of the saint to demonstrate he was praying to it. Had plaintiff instead been offered payment to drop a letter into a mailbox on Elm Street, the defendant might rightly object on the grounds that there was no mailbox there — even if the letter had nevertheless arrived after having fortuitously being blown on to the intended recipient’s lawn or having been delivered by another relative. The point is hardly academic here, as it turns out that there’s not even an imaginary Saint Eleggua. The lower court conceded in a footnote that the closest thing its research could uncover was a “St. Eligius,” the patron saint of goldsmiths (“[N]o wonder defendant sought to invoke his aid as the means to overwhelming riches!” the judge lamely exclaimed). Unbeknownst to either reviewing court in those pre-internet days, the kid wasn’t praying to a saint at all, but to the Santeria voodoo spirit Eleggua.

Second, the notion that the prayers had “value” to defendant because she believed they enhanced her chances is nonsense. The prayers would have value only if, in fact, their utterance actually caused the winning numbers to be selected

Dogmatism

May 26, 2004 | 28 Comments

One dogma I’ve never understood is “the cover-up is worse than the crime.” Usually it’s uttered by some self-righteous, finger-wagging journalist who is trying to convince us that the American public is “smart enough” not to care about a politician’s hotel sexcapades so long as he doesn’t try to “hide something” by resisting the newspaper’s subpoena for the videotapes. However, if the tapes show something we don’t care about, then I see nothing wrong at all with a cover-up to keep our noses out of where they don’t belong anyway; and if the tapes show a dead prostitute the crime is obviously worse. So the cover-up is almost never worse than the crime.

Julian Baggini promotes a similar dogma about dogma in Atheism: A Very Short Introduction (previously discussed here):

I am opposed to dogmatic atheism as anyone, and I am also opposed to dogmatic theism. Indeed, it is my personal view that dogmatic views of any kind are in general more dangerous than the views themselves. Intelligent atheists often have much more in common with undogmatic theist than one might suppose.

Baggini doesn’t provide a single example of a dogmatic view that’s more dangerous than the view itself, much less any support for the proposition that dogmatically-held views are “in general” more dangerous. Dogmatically-held false views are generally dangerous, but it’s their falsity that creates most of the danger. A dogmatically-held true view isn’t harmful at all, and its truth is all the more reason to hold it dogmatically. I really don’t see any advantage that an undogmatic believer in an all-present but undetectable cannibal-God has over a dogmatic non-believer.

Baggini’s nevertheless purports to rest his case on the concept of defeasilibity. He notes that analytic truths, such as those of logic or math, are general considered indefeasible because they are true as a matter of definition. One plus one always equals two, and all bachelors are unmarried men. In contrast, he explains, factual, empirical claims are defeasible because one can at least conceive of a contrary state of affairs –however unlikely, one can imagine the sun not rising tomorrow in a way that one cannot imagine one plus one equaling three. I agree with him up to here, but then he makes the following misstep:

However, several philosophers, notably W.V.O. Quine, have held that even basic truths of mathematics are defeasible. We can’t rule out the possibility that we might find reasons to say that 1 + 1 does not always equal 2.

Fortunately, we do not need to enter these deep waters here. All we need do is borrow the idea of defeasibility to explain the difference between dogmatism and firmly held belief. To be dogmatic is basically to hold that one’s beliefs are indefeasible when such a refusal to countenance the possibility of being wrong is not justified. A dogmatic atheist is therefore someone who believes that God does not exist and that there is no way that they could possibly be wrong to hold that belief. A dogmatic theist is similarly someone who believes that God exists and that there is no way that they could possibly be wrong to hold that belief. It would be fair to object to both these dogmatists that their beliefs are unjustified, since there is no way either can be so sure that they are right.

But my disbelief is God is founded heavily on the logical, analytical disproofs that show that God is no more possible than a square circle, or than 1 + 1 turning out to be 2. I do rule out such possibilities, and there are not any conceivable reasons I might find to conclude otherwise. In reality, Baginni’s thesis rests entirely on Quine’s notion that being dogmatic about logical truths is unjustified. But he never shows why it is unjustified, how it could be otherwise than that 1 + 1 equals 2. Instead, he pretends that we need not resolve the question, while basing the remainder of his argument on the implicit premise that the question has been resolved in favor of the defeasibility of math and logic.

Moreover, even as to the defeasible factual truths, I don’t see the what the great harm is in being dogmatic, or what the great benefit is in acknowledging the possibility of error. Yes, the moon may have a tootsie-roll center and yes, my office may be crowded with hippopotamuses that I never see because they quickly dodge under the furniture whenever I turn around to look, and yes, sugar water may cure cancer. Baginni’s theory is in reality a defense of an extreme for of agnosticism — not just about God but about everything — although he denies the charge with this eminently defeasible argument:

But this does not mean that they should become agnostics. All it means is that they should allow for the defeasibility of their beliefs: they just need to admit it is possible that they could be wrong. This is not agnosticism. Indeed, one can have very strongly held beliefs and still admit their defeasibility. For instance, an atheist who says that they believe there are no good reasons for being anything other than an atheist and they themselves cannot imagine a situation arising in which they would give up their beliefs is still not being dogmatic, just as long as they acknowledge the possibility that they could be wrong. Of course, one is not truly undogmatic unless one sincerely acknowledges this possibility and doesn’t just gesture towards it. As long as that sincerity is there, there is no reason why one cannot have firmly held atheist beliefs and thus follow the middle path between unwarranted agnosticism and dogmatism.

How does one sincerely acknowledge the possibility that one is wrong about something one cannot even imagine one being wrong about? This plea for non-dogmatism is at best a demand for false modesty and hypocrisy. And a man who was sincerely modest in the way suggested by Baginni could best be described by Churchill’s famous put-down: “He is a modest little man who has a good deal to be modest about.”

Towards the end of his book, Baginni acknowledges that there “is evidence that religious believers have effectively opted out of the usual standards of truth or false.” He concedes that “[t]heir refusal to be bothered by seeming contradictions shows that they are essentially irrational in their beliefs” and that “[r]eligion is by all ordinary standards demonstrably false, and this can only be refuted by rejecting the standards of proof and evidence that intelligent discourse relies upon.” But he still refuses to say he’s right:

I have a great deal of sympathy with [the] militant view, but am held back from embracing it by a simple methodological principle I described earlier: avoid dogmatism, meaning always leave open the possibility that one is wrong. I think that the arguments do all point to the falsity of religion. But because there are no standards for judging these questions shared by atheists and believers, I think that simply asserting that one’s own standards must be right is dogmatic. It is enough for me that the arguments and evidence, to my mind, all point to the falsity of religion. I also think that all rational people should agree on this, but a good deal do not, and I think it healthier to at least admit the possibility that there is something in what they believe than to simply stamp my foot and curse their stupidity.

What, exactly, is “healthy” about “rejecting the standards of proof and evidence that intelligent discourse relies upon”? It may be true that religious people don’t share such standards, but that’s only because they are “rejecting the standards of proof and evidence that intelligent discourse relies upon.” In other words, they’re blithering idiots. And even if one accepts Baginni’s thesis

Annie Banno is My Friend

May 25, 2004 | 83 Comments

Annie Banno is my friend.

Annie sent me a tearful e-mail last week, which I am reprinting below with her permission. I have warned her that she’s likely to be savaged again like she was in the comments section to my Mother’s Day Announcement, and that, indeed, many of you will assume that I tricked her into giving me permission just so I could hold her up to ridicule in some way. Clearly there’s plenty of raw material in it, no different from anything I’ve mocked before. It contains variants of Pascal’s wager and the argument from design, and I’m sure many of you will find the tone, despite her protestations, to be as patronizing as you found any of her previously-posted comments.

But I have not tricked her. If you are reading this, you are reading this only because she read every word of it in advance and has given me the go-ahead. She knows exactly what I am. I have told her flat out that I believe that religion is superstition. She has perused my blog enough to know that it is often viciously, cruelly and screechingly anti-religious, and that many of my diatribes have been directed at her beloved Catholic Church. She knows that I reject her views on homosexuality and gay rights and that I have condemned people who hold such views in stronger terms that any of you have. And that I will continue to do so.

Her willingness to come to my site, to converse with me, to converse with you, despite all she knows, is one of the reasons that she is my friend. And despite all her imperfections (see who is being condescending and patronizing now?) there is a solid core of good to her. Apart from her blog advocacy, she volunteers her time to persuade and help women who are debating whether to have an abortion to choose life. She convinces a few. That is enough good for me. You may say that those few women would have chosen life anyway, or that what they ultimately did do fully constituted their choice. Suffice it to say, for the time being at least, that I do not consider her efforts to be useless or irrelevant. I hope that those of you who have said that that you are pro-choice but “personally opposed” or “anti-abortion” will occasionally engage in similar efforts.

I also admire Annie because she represents a certain type of tolerance that I respect, even though her beliefs, mistaken though I think they are, have led her to seem so intolerant in the classic sense. Many people equate tolerance with the attitude that every belief is equally true, and that we should all simply accept this fact and go our separate ways. But I view tolerance as the willingness to come together, to face one another in the same room and hack at each other with claw hammers until the truth finally trickles out from the blood and the tears. So with that, here is her e-mail. Try to see the good in her and express it if you can.

Subj: RE: mothers’ day announcement thread
Date: 5/17/2004 2:16:59 PM Eastern Standard Time
From: smok22@charter.net
To: RavingAtheist@aol.com

Raving A.,

I’m sorry. You probably don’t want to converse with me any longer, given the thread going on at your mothers’ day announcement, and you may not want to ever speak to me again, but I am in tears. Not sure if I can explain it, but I am not strong enough to withstand, nor to keep coming back to refute (even though I could), the viciousness, twisting and hatred there. I am not a scholar, not as “eloquent” as some think they are there. Or perhaps I don’t have the time to become so. I do know I have been through experiences that words cannot do justice, and they will never understand those experiences as “justification” for my “blind faith.” It is pointless to try to explain it to them. I am not strong enough, and I am in tears because I cannot find the words or the strength. I also am in tears for them all. I don’t know if you can understand me, why this happens to me when I see such hatred and anger. I am not angry at them, or at you, I am not crying because I personally have been attacked or hurt. They can’t hurt me anymore. I cry because in my heart, I know they are lost just as I was lost, and I just don’t want to see anyone be lost. AND because so much harm has been done, too, in the name of God, of Jesus, and that is so wrong. Why else would they be so hateful toward Catholics/Christians? I am too naive perhaps to think that that can be rectified.

Please don’t see this as holier-than-thou or condescending or patronizing. It is just how we who REALLY believe in the great love and sacrifice of Christ feel about everyone: we just want them to feel the joy and love we feel by having “been found.” And I can’t say that to your readers. It would be like a feeding frenzy, and I don’t think it will be seen for what it really is. It will be labeled “stop telling me how to live my life/stop forcing your religious superstitions on us. Right now.”

I am sorry if I haven’t been able to say well what is in my heart. I ache for them all.
I also just want to say to them-but will never say-that when it is all over, when all our lives end, if “I was wrong”–there IS no God and no heaven that I’ve been striving for–then what have I lost? Nothing. I’ll have lived following, obeying and loving God and accepting His blessings and gifts, and in the process, have “helped even one life breathe more easily” (Bessie Stanley, not Ralph Waldo Emerson), and then there’s nothingness after that.

But if “I am right” and there IS a God and a Heaven to enjoy eternally, and I’ve lived following and loving God, then what will they, those attacking me, have lost?

Everything.

I just took my son to the cardiologist today, to have his heart tested to be sure he doesn’t have the heart condition I have and doesn’t drop dead of heart failure on the lacrosse field at camp this summer at the age of 14 like those football/baseball/basketball players we’ve heard of lately. I watched an echocardiogram of his heart beating. I said, “It’s amazing that it just keeps going and going and never stops like that, isn’t it?” The doctor said, “It beats 100,000 times a day. Imagine how many beats it pumps in our lifetimes.”

I figured it out. If a lifetime runs 80 years, that little fist-sized piece of muscle beats almost three BILLION heartbeats, without (hopefully) stopping. Three billion times, whether we think about it or not, before it wears out.

If a human could have made a machine that does just that, all these thousands of years, I wouldn’t believe there is a God, I guess.
This isn’t an evangelistic attempt. I am just in awe of the Creator’s handiwork that is you and me. That’s what I believe.

I just am grateful for what He has given me, and that is everything. I would stake my life on that.

I am sorry, Raving A. if I’ve angered you too. Since I believe, I must be true to my God and my belief in Him as the God of love but also justice. (Did Adam & Eve Have Belly Buttons, by Pinto, was one of the books I was going to refer you to) I will not force my beliefs on anyone, nor try to “save” anyone who doesn’t feel they are lost. It doesn’t work that way, never did, never will, never should.

I’m going to take a big risk here and give you a poem and a reference to a book. The poem is not mine, I don’t know who wrote it, but it explains me and my faith perhaps better than any one reference. The book might help understand me better . . .

A CHRISTIAN CREED

I believe in one God, I believe He is personal, that He loves me,
without condition, without pause,
whether or not I love Him back.
I believe He wants me to love Him back.
I believe that every day, in the most extraordinary, everyday ways,
He is involved in my life,
and wants me to be involved in His.
I cannot imagine that He was ever less than whole,
but I believe He grows,
through me, and with me, and in me,
as I dare to know Him.
I believe that He began on the simplest level,
the one thing we call life,
and that He helps us to make the world, day by day.
I believe in His Son, Jesus Christ;
I believe that Jesus lived to show us how a man can live,
if he loves his Father and brothers enough.
I believe that Jesus’ life was an example.
I believe God wants us to know Christ’s cross was borne for us,
and that there is a piece of true cross for each of us,
if we can bear it.
I believe in God’s Spirit:
I believe He helps to make me whole and holy.
I believe He talks to us through every whole man,
and through every man who tries his best to be.
I believe that when I open myself to Him,
He gives my tongue the right words to say,
and my heart the courage to act rightly.
I believe He loves me, and that His love, taken in,
brings out love in me for every man,
whether he likes me or not
whether he be like me or not
whether he is likeable or not
whether he likes it or not.
I believe in God’s Church, which is me, and my brothers.
I believe that if I can love me enough,
I can face what is not whole in me,
heal what is not healthy,
mend what is torn, strengthen what is weak,
make whole what is half-hearted.
Create of me a house where God can live, freely,
because I believe that no matter how cramped,
God will squeeze Himself in somehow.
I love God, and I am sorry for all the times it does not show.
I believe that my life can be a resurrection.
I believe in life!
Amen!

~ Author is unknown. Written sometime prior to 1975. This article is believed to be in the public domain. No copyright infringement intended.

The book is one I wrote and published under a pseudonym 3 years ago. Emily knows of it. She links to a poem in the book about post-abortive grief and shame (Deirdre’s Poem). It’s a book that is fact-based fiction, called “Loosely-Braided Fog: A 3-D Single Mom In The Making,” and it’s available cheap on Amazon. Its subtheme is subtly about the strayings and returnings of faith. I don’t know if it will explain me and my reason for believing better, but it might. If I had a mailing address and if you wanted me to, I’d send you a copy.

Thank you for listening. I am sorry I cannot continue…and sorry if you feel angry too.

Annie

God Squad Review LXXXIX (Jews for Jesus)

May 24, 2004 | 4 Comments

The God Squad is a priest-and-rabbi team devoted to downplaying the differences between Christians and Jews. Strange, then, that this week’s column declares that the one impossible religion is the Jews for Jesus:

This is impossible since Jews are people who do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah.

If you are a Jew, you cannot be a Christian. It’s like trying to be a duck and an onion at the same time.

Ducks are good and onion are good, but you just can’t be a flying onion.

* * *

Despite what the Jews for Jesus or Messianic Jews or whatever they call themselves want to say, the truth is that in this world, you have to choose to be a duck or an onion.

Some choices are just basic and real and true. This is one of them.

The Squad has apparently never seen this recipe for Braised Duck with Onion. As I’ve noted before, there’s no inherent logical contradiction in a Jew believing in Jesus. Judaism isn’t defined by the rejection of Jesus or any other Messiah, and the Old Testament specifically foretells that a Messiah will come. There’s nothing particularly difficult about observing old Jewish traditions while worshipping Christ. The Squad would do better to explore the real contradictions between the divine attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, etc., that plague every religion, than to pretend there’s some sort of metaphysical roadblock to wearing both a yarmulke and a crucifix.

Oddly, the Squad abandons its logical objections when it comes to other divisions within Judaism. People who challenge the matriarchal definition of Judaism don’t get hit with duck-and-onion analogies:

Jewish identity comes from your mother. There are other Jewish views that say that if your father was Jewish, you can be Jewish if you are raised to be a Jew and taught in a synagogue, however, that’s just the opinion of some Jews and is not the general teaching of Judaism.

It’s the opinion of some Jews? Seems to me that if Jewish identity depends on the religion of the mother, it could be just the opinion of some Catholic or Hindu or Muslim who just doesn’t understand the rules. As it turns out, the Squad’s real problem with the Jews for Jesus rests upon other considerations:

People who call themselves Messianic Jews are simply Christians who want to convert Jews to Christianity.

We do not believe in proselytizing other people, but we do accept and bless those who have chosen to convert to Judaism or Christianity.

So the legitimacy of a religion depends, it seems, on its adherents’ willingness to refrain from convincing anyone else that it’s true. Unless they’ve already done so over a period of thousands of years through crusades and inquisitions. Whatever the case, it’s hard to understand which conversions the Squad would bless. If Messianic Jews are Christians, presumably they would bless a conversion to Jews for Jesusism.

* * *

The Squad applies a similar brand of logic in response to a mother whose son can’t receive Communion because he has celiac disease, which prevents him from eating wheat or gluten in any form. After specifically explaining that “[t]he wine becomes the blood of Christ in the Mass and the bread becomes Christ’s body,” the Squad explains advises her that (1) and wine is BOTH blood and body, (2) grape juice is wine, and (3) drinking just blood is enough:

What both you and your son should have been told long ago is that taking the wine counts as if you took both the wine and the bread. The blood counts as if it were also the body. This means you can take Communion by just taking the wine.

When your young son is ready for his first communion, if you do not want him to drink the wine, have the priest consecrate some grape juice for him.

God never intended any Catholic to be prevented from taking Holy Communion just because of a chronic disease.

The blood of Christ will be enough for you and your son to feel and to know the salvation of Jesus Christ.

The Squad doesn’t say what to do if you if you have celiac AND a grape allergy. Maybe there’s some crazy cult you can join that lets you worship Jesus without taking Communion.

Alcoholics

May 21, 2004 | 18 Comments

Submitted by Emily

Is a non-believer who develops a relationship with a”higher power” for the purpose of being permitted to remain in Alcoholics Anonymous still an atheist — where AA permits the “higher power to be defined as “his sense of a benevolent universe” or the AA group itself?

Parasitism

May 21, 2004 | 5 Comments

From the amount of religion-bashing some atheists do, you’d think it was an entirely negative philosophy. Julian Baggini seeks to counter this perception in Atheism: A Very Short Introduction:

My main aim in this book is to provide a positive case for atheism, one that is not simply about rubbishing religious belief. In other words, I hope it will be as much about why one should be an atheist as why one should not be a theist. Many critics of atheism will say that this is not possible, since atheism is parasitic on religion. This evident in its very name — atheism is a-theism: the negation of theistic belief. Hence atheism is by its very nature negative and relies for its existence on the religious beliefs it rejects.

I think this view is profoundly mistaken.

Baggini first notes that origin of the word “atheism” is not conclusive of its meaning

ET

May 20, 2004 | 18 Comments

Would an extra-terrestrial the size of Jupiter which threatened to evaporate the Earth with its death ray unless humans worked eighteen hours a day to make enough mashed potatoes to feed it, qualify as “God”?

ET

May 20, 2004 | 5 Comments

Frequent TRA commentator Zrokewl recently conducted an informal poll of atheists, asking whether they believed that there was extra-terrestrial life anywhere in the universe. Since there is no direct evidence of the existence of ET’s to date, an atheist who answers “yes” might be accused of believing on faith without knowledge. Here are the questions, together with my hurriedly formulated, slightly-edited, answers:

1) Do you believe Extraterrestrials (ETs) exist?

Yes.

2) By ETs, I mean intelligent life (as or more intelligent than humans) originating from somewhere in the universe besides earth (or our solar system). Do you believe ETs exist? Why or why not?

Yes, because the universe is so vast that statistically there are probably billions of planets with the same conditions as ours that have also existed for billions of years. Since our experience is that physical laws remain constant everywhere, I’m assuming that the same biochemical reactions that gave rise to life here have occurred elsewhere — in the same way I’m pretty sure that lightning and volcanoes and hurricanes occur in distant solar systems we haven’t even detected.

3) Do you think there is empirical evidence for the existence of ETs? What and/or why?

Not other than the same reasonable inferences that can be drawn as to the existence of lightning on other planets.

4) What do you think the probability is that ETs exist? How certain of that probability are you?

For some reason I find it absolutely impossible to answer this question. If you had asked me what the probability that gold or copper exists on some planet a trillion light years away, I’d probably say 100%. I am tempted to say the same thing about the existence of life, but another part of me wants to say it’s nearer to 0%. I have no idea why. (I am sure, however, that square circles and similar constructs don’t exist anywhere).

5) What (if any) implications does belief or lack of belief in ETs have? (ie: is there a purpose why someone might want to presuppose/assume/believe ETs exist?)

I suppose it would have about the same implications to me as discovering life in China would have had to a Native American 10,000 years ago. Surprising at first (despite my theoretical near-certainty), but I’d get used to it.

I’ve given the reasons I would presuppose/assume/believe there are ET’s above and what I believe the inferential evidence to be. It really isn’t any different than the presupposition etc. about gold or copper. As far as the “wanting” there to be ETs, yes, it is something I guess I would want, insofar as it would give me greater hope of being thawed out/reconstructed by something very smart after I die. Assuming that’s not how I got here in the first place.

The key thing to keep in mind here is that ZroKewl’s questions deal solely with the location of life, not the existence of life. We already know with complete certainty that life does exists, at least on Earth. The question of the existence of God is quite different, and includes threshold issues regarding the very coherence of the concept and logical, definitional difficulties arising from contradictions the divine attributes.

I think that belief in life on other planets poses more serious problems for theists than atheists. Apart from diluting the common notion that the Earth is the unique centerpiece of God’s creation, it complicates many of the more particularized, sectarian beliefs. Do beings on other planets believe in Jesus? Is He the ambassador to Earth alone? Has Jesus been “cheating” on us, pulling the same resurrection stunt on two planets in every solar system in the galaxy Traxon? Did God procreate with life forms to supply a martyr for a strange alien race?

Philistines

May 19, 2004 | 2 Comments

“I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like,” says the philistine. Usually what the philistine likes is something that looks like something, or, more particuarly, something real. Any chimpanzee could throw paint at a canvas and pass it off as art, the reasoning goes, and some actually have. The test of a true artist is the ability to draw a straight line or that deer on the matchbook art school ad.

Stuffy critics, of course, would find it impertinent to ask whether Picasso or Basquiat could draw a straight line. The connoisseur’s eye sees what the philistine’s can’t. Even if it looks like spilled paint or a child’s crayon scribble, when confronted by greatness there’s no need to dispel one’s suspicious by demanding a look at the author’s art school portfolio. Greatness lies not in slavisly mimicking reality, but in creating one’s own reality.

I’ll leave art to the critics, but I’m a philistine when it comes to religion. The subject matter — God — is purportedly real and, indeed, the ultimate reality. So anyone who purports to have experienced a square circle had better be prepared to draw it, and to demonstrate that he knows what a straight line is. Otherwise, I’ll assume I’m dealing with a chimpanzee.

Get A Life

May 18, 2004 | 7 Comments

“Why don’t you get a life?” More than one newcomer to my site has posed that question to me by comment or e-mail, wondering why I spend so much time “trashing other people’s beliefs” or otherwise “bringing them down.” Similar comments follow whenever I attempt to explain the philosophical basis of my atheism. “You take this way to seriously, man.” Or, “You need to get out and get some fresh air.” Or, “you should really come down from that ivory tower.” Or, “you atheists take religion more seriously than most religious people do.”

Does it work like this the other way around? There are countless blogs out there espousing Catholicism or Protestantism or Judaism. Do atheists (or members of whatever religion the blog ain’t) just jump into the middle of a discussion and, no matter what the topic, ask the writer why he doesn’t get a life?

Try this one day. Find someone with ashes on their forehead, or maybe a red dot. Then ask (in a tone that suggests you’re genuinely interested) what the significance of the decoration is. Let the person explain for a bit, and ask a few probing questions to make sure the answer received is sufficiently complicated. Then roll your eyes, shake your head, and ask:

“Why don’t you get a life?”

[Concept via PurpleCar]

God Squad Review LXXXVIII (Evolution and the Bible)

May 17, 2004 | 31 Comments

Which is true: the Biblical account of creation or evolution? That’s the question posed to the Squad by an eight-grade Florida student, who also wants their “expert perspective” on how the topic should be taught in the schools. Noting that “[t]he Bible tells us why people and the world were made, and science tells us how people and the world were made,” the Squad explains:

In the Bible, we learn that rocks and stuff were made by God, and that’s a reason to respect them. We learn that animals were made by God and blessed by God, which makes them more special and holy than rocks and stuff. Finally, we learn in the Bible that people were made by God and blessed by God, but only people are made in the image of God, which means they are special and holy.

This answer seems to cover both the “how” and “why” of creation, although God’s reasons are a bit sketchy and I didn’t know I had to respect rocks. So what’s left over for evolution? This:

Darwin had a theory — and being only a theory, it may be right, or it may be wrong — about how all the rocks and animals and people were created, and how they continue to change and adapt.

The rocks have been evolving, too? I do respect them now, even though it’s “only a theory” unlike the Bible. But does the Bible have any limitations? Well, first, it “has no interest in explaining how life changes, only that life in all its forms must be respected and helped to survive.” So I guess it’s not survival of the fittest, even though it appears that the rock forms of life got more help than the dinosaur forms. Second, it appears there are a few other problems with God’s immutable Word:

Some biblical stories, like the one about the snake who talked to Eve, and the one about Noah and the ark, teach us true lessons about life, but they are not true stories.

Snakes can’t talk, and if two of every kind of animal were put in one boat, even a big boat, they would have sunk the ark!

So even though evolution is “only a theory,” the parts of the Bible which aren’t absolutely true are absolutely false. Or somewhere in between:

Genesis teaches that the sun, moon and stars were not created until the fourth day, so the first three days could have been billions of years long. It teaches that people were created last, also part of the theory of evolution. The contradictions between Genesis and Darwin are not as big as some people think.

No, they’re just little contradictions, and if a contradiction is little enough, it can be true. But I have a few difficulties with the Squad’s time scheme. I don’t see why we can’t keep the seven-day creation schedule and just claim that each year is a trillonth of a second long or so. We do something like that with dog years, I think, with people years being shorter by a factor of seven. Also, there’s a problem saying that all the stars and moon were created on the fourth day, since some are still being created now. In any event, the Squad concludes with this risky advice:

We believe science and religion are two different places to stand and look at our wonderful world. That’s the way we think evolution and religion should be taught in school, and we think that’s what you should tell your teacher. (If you get a bad grade on your project for doing this, find a new teacher. We’d give you an A just for your questions.)

I really don’t think the Constitution permits religion to be taught in the schools, at least not in the way the Squad is suggesting. It probably doesn’t even allow evolution to be taught this way, not if kids are going to be taught that rocks are alive. Whether children should be allowed to shop around for teachers, whether religion columnists should be allowed to award grades, and whether grades should be awarded for questions rather than answers, I leave for another day.

The Cookie Crumbles

May 16, 2004 | 3 Comments

My Magic Chinese Fortune Cookie didn’t predict a single number from last night’s Lotto drawing. Maybe it’s one of those situations where it has the power to predict the numbers, but it doesn’t always let the prediction come true. Just like you can pray to God for something, but God can say “no”.

Either that, or it’s just a bad cookie like this one.

A Lott o’ Crap

May 14, 2004 | 12 Comments

A couple of weeks ago I vowed to become an agnostic if my magic Chinese fortune cookie correctly predicted three of the six numbers of New York’s Lotto game. Wednesday night it did. The cookie picked 16, 17, 20, 23, 26, 38 and the winning numbers were 5, 7, 11, 20, 26, 38.

My policy to date has been to disregard the results of drawings which do not result in a winner of the big jackpot, on the theory that God could be deliberately letting the monies roll over from week to week to maximize my ultimate payout. However, the most recent drawing has presented me with a dilemma. Although nobody won the $47 million grand prize, my three numbers were good enough to entitle to me some prize. Along with the other 120,298 players who beat the astronomical 1-in-96 odds, I pocketed the grand sum of $1.

Does it count or not? I say no. The cookie gave me six numbers to play, clearly indicating that I was entitled to a shot at the big prize. Until somebody else proves that my picks aren’t divine by claiming the whole enchilada with a different set of numbers, I’m still in the game.

I believe this to be a reasonable interpretation. And it certainly serves the purpose of most “interpretation” — to focus your attention on a seemingly logical argument in order to distract you from the fact that I am proceeding from a completely arbitrary and insane premise. It’s a form of the oldest theological trick in the book: once you’ve allowed yourself to be suckered into a debate over whether God meant “A” or “B” by a particular scriptural passage, it’s too late to ask whether “God” means anything, or whether it’s a good idea to assume something’s true just because it’s in a book.

Free Verse

May 13, 2004 | 2 Comments

I wonder if the prophet Jeremiah forsaw this story:

A school district agreed as part of a legal settlement to apologize to a high school valedictorian whose yearbook quote was removed because it was a Bible verse.

Abby Moler, a 2001 graduate, was among students asked to offer their thoughts for Stevenson High School’s yearbook. Her entry included the verse, Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, `plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”

As a free speech absolutist I applaud this outcome. Plus, high school yearbooks are much more fun to leaf through later if they capture what the kids were actually thinking at the time, even if their minds were then addled by drugs, alcohol or even the opiate of the masses. It doesn’t bother me if poor, confused Abby was touched by a passage about God kidnapping people and making them captives in Babylon so that he could return then to Jerusalem 70 years later after doing this to those who remained behind:

I will send upon the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will make them like vile figs, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil.

And I will persecute them with the sword, with the famine, and with the pestilience, and will deliver them to be removed to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, and an astonishment, and an hissing, and a reproach, among all the nations whither I have driven them. (Jeremiah 17:18)

For all I care, Abby could have quoted the passages about killing fags and stoning menstruating women and about how the Jews killed Christ. That’s what’s free speech is all about (although I’m sure that if that were the case the court would have conjured up some bogus distinction between offensive and non-offensive scripture). And this woman is owed an apology as well, if not a medal, for her efforts to protect schoolchildren.

But I’m also an equal protection absolutist. If there are going to be apologies in this case, let’s make sure all those atheists whose free speech rights were violated by being forced to swear an oath to god for twelve years get theirs as well.

alrighty

May 12, 2004 | 9 Comments

Update: Bear with me as I get all the browser bugs smashed.

This is the obligatory it actually fucking works post!

You might want to refrain from posting comments for just a while longer but feel free to flame me here. Go ahead, I know you wanna find out if the comment’s are faster.

Note to Self/Honey Do List:

  1. archive redirects for new improved archive locations
  2. main archive
  3. fix invalid characters in posts
  4. fix broken image links
  5. error page make over
  6. better search solution
  7. link organization – clean out stale links
  8. reduce clutter
  9. entry format buttons ran away
  10. simple comments (no longer necessary)
  11. make qotd & ra noticeably different/comments
  12. bread crumbs php – never be lost again
  13. make it all look pretty and run faster
  14. fix comments name/email shit
  15. remind people that i’m not the raving atheist

Jews for Gibson

May 12, 2004 | 6 Comments

A number of leading Jewish organizations have criticized Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ as anti-Semitic, charging that the film resurrects the old New Testament canard that the Jews killed Christ. The perception is decidedly different, however, among Jews who embrace Jesus, or the deity of some other religion. Here are a few of the valuable, but overlooked perspectives:

(1) From the Jews for Jesus:

So how can anyone be blamed for the death of a person who is in fact alive? Messiah’s willing sacrifice and resurrection bring hope to a world that is desperately in need of some good news. Jesus stands ready to be our helper and redeemer and friend! Not everyone wants to hear that. Maybe they’ve never read the records of his life for themselves. Or maybe they’ve heard things about Jesus that are wrong. Whatever the case, I just want to tell you to hang in there, Mel. There are lots of us Jewish people who are grateful that you made this film. Because of “The Passion,” this important topic is being discussed passionately—and that’s a good thing.

(2) From the Jews for Allah:

I also feel this film will be a good thing for the exterior stereotypes of Muslim men and women. The image of Muslim men; because Jesus is portrayed as a dark haired brown eyed man, as well as his companions, so the myth of a blond haired and blue eyed Jesus is dispelled. Furthermore, it was surprising that Jews in those days wore Islamic caps similar to Muslims today. For the Muslim women, this film reaffirms what modern Christians have evolved into denying, that Mary, the mother of Jesus, wore a veil as well. I would not be surprised if some Christian women revert to wearing veils after this film.

* * *

Lastly, as a Muslim who is active in inviting Jews and Christians to Islam, I believe overall this film is Satanic, yet with the most sincere and divine intentions. As the devil was tempting Jesus throughout the film to loose his faith in God, this film too was tempting to loose my sins in Christ. As we all carry sins, this film was a major invitation to unload your weight on Jesus, as Jesus volunteered to be tortured for our sins in this film so that we don’t incur the torture in Hell.

It is also very tempting to dump garbage in someone else’s property, to blame others for our actions, or to avoid liability. Instead, I will bear my own sins and be accountable for the good and bad I have done in this brief life, and not scapegoat Jesus as I have witnessed why it is so easy to do. Mel Gibson has made the best effort I’ve seen to show how Jesus loved us and died for the sins of the world, and although it is a enchanting thought, it only adds sins to this world because Christians no longer feel responsibility, which is what the Devil wants. Amen.

(3) From the Jews for Ganesh:

It is a testimony to the sensitivity of the filmmakers that no elephants were harmed, or for that matter used, in the making of this picture. Our gentle Lord Ganesh would have smiled upon this fine production. It is such respect, indeed, that forms the very cornerstone of our Judaism. The Hebrew authors of the Torah forbade idolatry and did not violate the ineffability of our great Hindu Majesty by representing or revealing Him through the text of their scripture. Nor is his coming impiously foreshadowed through the Gospels, although the glorious sacrifice of the Holy Jew-Christ paved the way for the ultimate entrance of the Grand Pachyderm Ruler of our World.

Swivel Heads

May 11, 2004 | 9 Comments

I’ve created a rift in the ordinarily unified atheist-pagan front. Some Wiccans on a Delphi Forums message board have taken umbrage at an old post of mine (Wiccan Teen Defends Right to Be Beaten Up for Aggressively Silly and Obviously Made-Up Religion), having apparently missed my trashing of them last week. And they’re talking mutiny:

From: Rev.James (VonHelton)
To: SiFan

The Pagans on Delphi who ally themselves to people like this need their head examined………

I want every Pagan on Delphi to read this article, and see what their buddies over on Atheist Forums REALLY think about them!!

From: ketutar
To: Rev.James (VonHelton)

I don’t understand why some people have the urge to justify their choices by mocking everyone else’s. Somehow makes me feel that they are not quite sure they have made the right choice . . .

From: Rev.James (VonHelton)
To: ketutar

There are whole forums full of Pagans on Delphi who will tell you it’s perfectly ok to ally yourself with these people, since the only ones they are going after are christians………

……..But as you can see from the article & subsequent comments, they say one thing & do another.

Pagans better wake up & keep their head on a swivel, because when they’re done with the christians, jews & muslims, we’re next!

Nowhere in our founding documents does it say “freedom FROM religion”…….It says freedom OF religion, and people better learn the difference.

At least they’re not threatening to sue me like the Archpriest of the Wiccan Aquarian Tabernacle Church once did. But who knows what a little further provocation might accomplish.

I know I’m doing things right when the witches start parroting the same “it’s not freedom from religion” line that their enemies on the religious right are so fond of. Unfortunately, Rev. James has caught on to my religious genocide plan and the order of the exterminations. I should have known that going in alphabetical order was too obvious.

God Squad Review LXXXVII (Pat Tillman)

May 10, 2004 | 5 Comments

Did Pat Tillman undergo a deathbed conversion to Judeo-Christianity? The Squad seems to be trying to claim the atheist/agnostic football-player-turned-soldier as one of their own:

We pray that his soul will be received in heaven with the other heroes who gave their lives in the fight. We ask God to comfort his wife and family, and we ask our readers to pray for his soul and to learn from his life.

But something about the careful wording of the Squad’s column tells me that they must have done enough research to know Tillman was godless. First, they begin with a “prayer for Pat Tillman” which defines faith not as a belief in God, but as doing “what is difficult all one’s life as if it were easy.” Then comes this broadly-worded passage:

In this struggle [the war in Iraq], some will speak of God as the guide and guardian of the struggle, while others will speak of a higher power, and still others will look within to summon up a deep and personal courage that knows no denomination or catechism.

Wherever the strength comes from, and whatever words are used, the truth of this struggle and the truth of Pat Tillman’s death must be clear to us now.

I’m sure that if the Squad had discovered that Tillman was Catholic or Jewish they would have somehow tied his character to his faith. But they probably read his brother’s assessment of the “truth” of his death — “Pat isn’t with God . . . [h]e’s fucking dead” — and decided to go with some generic platitudes rather than utter the dreaded “A” word.

Conversion

May 10, 2004 | 46 Comments

Would an anti-abortion atheist blog be more likely to (1) convert anti-abortion Catholics to atheism, or (2) convert pro-choice atheists to anti-abortionism?

Mother’s Day Announcement

May 9, 2004 | 113 Comments

Sometime before September, The Raving Atheist will become, in part, an anti-abortion/anti-choice (with exception for serious threat to life of mother) blog. The site name and color will change one day a week (maybe more) to reflect the topic switch and give you a chance to flee if discussions of fetus-killing upset you.

Although my decision for pursuing this direction was inspired largely by some deeply religious people (they know who they are), my reasons are entirely secular. I am anti-abortion and anti-choice because if the choice had been made to abort me at any time after my conception I wouldn’t be here, and neither would you. While it is true I wouldn’t now be in a position to notice my non-existence, that is just yet another reason I oppose abortion. I’m glad to be here, and glad you made it as well.

Thanks, mom!

God Bless Pat Tillman

May 8, 2004 | 5 Comments

God Bless Pat Tillman.

God Bless Pat Tillman.

God Bless Pat Tillman.

God Bless Pat Tillman.

God Bless Pat Tillman.

Tillman’s Death Weighs Heavily on Churchgoers.

Pat Tillman, One of the 36.

God willing Pat Tillman would like to return to NFL in 2005.

Now find me some good cartoons.

Hooked (Part II)

May 7, 2004 | 14 Comments

Is Christian prayer more sensible or effective than Wiccan spell-casting? That was the narrow issue I raised in this post last week. Pope-boy Ben Kepple’s latest response substantially expands the scope of the debate; my comments, in boldface, follow his:

We should start by saying there is plenty of stuff in both our arguments which obscures the real debate at the core of our disagreement: namely, whether God exists.

Although I’ve debated God’s existence with Kepple before (see here and here), the original core of our disagreement this go-round was whether belief in prayer is justified in a way that belief in spelling-casting is not. Kepple entered the fray by embracing my position that Wiccans were a bunch of superstitious, deluded idiots for believing that money-spells could improve their chances of winning the lottery. On that point, the core of our disagreement wasn’t whether the God in question existed: we both reject the Wiccan God, or whatever supernatural agency Wiccans believe makes spells effective. The core of our disagreement, then, was not such much whether any god exists generally, but rather whether it makes sense to believe in a God that responds to sky-talking when you’ve rejected one that responds to wand-waving.

[Addressing my point that Mass-going Catholics are hardly in a position to criticize Wiccans for wasting money on the candles and incense used in their useless spells]] The Raving Atheist knows full well that candles and incense may be easily disposed with in Catholic ceremonies. The essence of the Mass is in the transubstantiation of the Eucharist; all else is subordinate to that. However, were a Wiccan or other neo-pagan to cast a spell, the components of the spell would be central to that act. Hence one cannot, if one is intellectually honest, compare the two practices that way.

If candles and incense are “easily disposed with” at Mass then they are as much a waste of money as the ones used by Wiccans in their ineffective spells. However, even were candles and incense central to the Mass, they would be a waste of money because they would do nothing to turn bread and water into flesh and blood (whatever end that might accomplish), because bread and water never turn into flesh and blood. What’s intellectually dishonest is pretending that there’s difference between a superstition that turns a spell into money, and a superstition which turns bread and water into flesh and blood.

The flaw is in the core argument itself. For the argument an atheist must make to prove his point is not, “God has not been proven to exist, therefore He must not exist.” The argument an atheist must make is “God has been proven to not exist, therefore He must not exist.”

For all their carping about not having any conclusive proof from theists about God’s existence, not one atheist has managed yet to conclusively and scientifically disprove the existence of God. This is, of course, because it cannot be done. Never mind the basic assumptions which The Raving Atheist has set out; they are flawed attempts to impose temporal logic on spiritual matters. Such cutesy arguments might delight the like-minded, but they do not fundamentally address the one thing that might convince theists they were in the wrong: namely, a conclusive and scientific proof that God does not exist.

My Basic Assumptions do conclusively disprove the existence of the traditionally-defined monotheistic God, and they do so by demonstrating that the concept is a logical impossibility (due to the conflicts between the attributes of omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolence) rather than merely pointing to an absence of empirical proof. There’s no need to move on to scientific proof once the existence of something has been disproven with logic. Once it’s been established through logic that a square circle cannot exist, or that a man who is at the same time taller than six feet but shorter than four feet cannot exist, searching through the universe for those entities would be futile. It’s impossible to apply the scientific method when one lacks a coherent or non-contradictory definition of the objects which form the very subject matter of the exploration.

Temporal logic can be imposed on spiritual matters to the extent that those spiritual matters relate to the consistency of the defined attributes of God. Any argument by Kepple otherwise (and he doesn’t offer any) would itself have to involve temporal logic. If his theory is that temporal logic is inherently flawed, then he can’t make any argument at all because the validity of his conclusion would necessarily depend on the use of the same flawed logical system.

The notion that scientific proof would be more effective on people who already reject temporal logic is dubious. The scientific process itself incorporates many aspects of temporal logic, including mathematics. Moreover, there is conclusive, scientific proof that bread and water don’t spontaneously turn into flesh and blood (whether surrounded by incense and candles or not), but that doesn’t convince many Catholics. Belief in the supernatural constitutes the rejection, or at least a disbelief in the uniformity, of natural science.

Finally, as relevant to the original dispute, Kepple’s rejection of temporal logic and science leave him without any tools with which to attack the validity of Wicca and its spells, or to distinguish Wicca from Catholicism and its prayers. If temporal logic can’t be imposed upon spiritual matters then it’s as helpless as against a witch as it is against a Holy Ghost. Kepple can’t trash Wicca as illogical and unscientific if he’s unwilling to hold Catholicism to the same tests. So what he’s left with is a standardless, relativistic universe where no theory makes any more sense than another, because sense itself has been abandoned.

Personally speaking, we would better understand The Raving Atheist’s anti-religious positions if he would merely admit that he has, for whatever reasons, animus towards organized religions and the people who follow them. Really, sir, just come out and say it, and leave it at that.

It is true that doing such a thing, compared to espousing militant atheism, might not be as rebellious or as witty or as well-received with the intellectuals at some dinner party. But perhaps it would be liberating.

My anti-religious positions are based upon the falsity of religious beliefs and the potential harm that frequently flows from the such beliefs. If I criticize a religious belief I am careful to explain why it is false and what harm it causes when adopted as social policy. In any event, I don’t see how making the false admission that Kepple demands would help him “better understand” my positions, especially since the very premise of his statement is that he already understands that I am motivated (for “whatever reasons”) by animus towards organized religion and its followers. While it’s true that I have an animus towards religion generally (without regard to its organizational structure) and the conduct of some adherents, that animus is driven by reason, rather than the source of my reasons.

But if motive is at all relevant to this discussion, Kepple himself has at least as much “admitting” to do as I regarding his anti-Wiccanism. It, too, is an anti-religious position. And I assume, if he is faithful to his Catholicism, that he is also anti-Muslim, anti-Hindu, anti-Mormon, anti-anything-but-Christian. Ben, just come out and say it, and leave it at that.

I fell unconscious at the last dinner party I attended and have since confined my militant atheism to the Blogosphere. With few exceptions, the intellectuals here – including most of the agnostics and self-described atheists – find my stance repugnantly mean-spirited and intolerant. When it comes to religion, irrationality gets a pass that no other subject receives. But as yet I have no desire to be liberated from my sanity.

Hank Fraud

May 6, 2004 | 8 Comments

My all-time favorite scam was this: a pair of con men tricked a consortium of banks out of $350 million by pretending they were borrowing the money to finance a top-secret plan to develop smokeless cigarettes for Philip Morris. The fraud went undetected for a while — long enough for a chunk of the loot to be gambled away in the stock market — in part because the banks signed confidentiality agreements acknowledging that the project was so secret that they weren’t permitted to discuss the loans with anyone but one of the swindlers. The banks were told that if they did attempt to confirm the project by talking to any Philip Morris officials its existence would be denied because, well, the con men were the only people who knew about it.

I was reminded of the case by this link from a reader, which tells the story of reclusive philanthropist billionaire named “Hank” who founded a town and offered each of the residents $1 million to kiss his ass. However, no one could collect the money until they left town. And they couldn’t leave town without his permission; if they did, they wouldn’t get a cent and Hank would kick the shit out of them. No one had actually ever seen Hank, but his existence was documents by a list of rules, transcribed by his friend Karl, which specifically noted that “Hank dictated this list himself.”

The perpetrators of the bank fraud were convicted, and one of them (the one who didn’t jump bail) is serving a 17 year sentence. No one has even been indicted in the Hank fraud, and to this day, they’re still kissing his ass.

Too Pat

May 4, 2004 | 49 Comments

From Pledge of Allegiance: What We Can Learn from Pat Tillman, on Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcast Network Website:

In coming days, as you hear more and more about the selflessness and incredible sacrifice that Pat Tillman has made for his country, consider how you might better serve our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

From Pat Tillman’s brother, at Pat Tillman’s funeral:

Pat isn’t with God. He’s fucking dead. He wasn’t religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he’s fucking dead.

[Link courtesy of Julia]

Hooked

May 4, 2004 | 2 Comments

If you are fishing for Catholics, bait the hook with Wiccans. The taste of fresh witch is apparently too much for them to resist. Ben Kepple certainly couldn’t keep himself from snapping at the neo-pagans I dangled in front of him in this post about the potential “negative repercussions” of casting spells to win the lottery. He initially joins me in mocking them, but ends up flopping about in a shallow puddle on deck when he tries to defend prayer over witchcraft.

Wiccans are foolish, Kepple correctly concludes, for believing that they’re going to beat 80,000,00 to 1 odds by mumbling a few magic words. A lottery is by definition a losing proposition, he notes, so the first “negative repercussion” of casting a spell to win would be the loss of the money spent on the ticket. But then he asserts that “a second consequence is that it would prompt all sorts of expenditures on incense and candles and herbs and oils and maybe some little hoodoo dolls and what not.” A Catholic, criticizing the use of incense and candles to invoke the supernatural? Has he ever been to Mass?

As it turns out, Kepple doesn’t believe that spells are meaningless. They don’t win lotteries, but they do “invoke spiritual powers from the furthest reaches of the netherworld, and hence put our immortal soul in awful jeopardy according to the tenets of our own religion.” So Wicca isn’t some crazy superstition — it’s actually part of Catholicism, the part that has the bad things in it, like Satan.

Prayer, on the other hand, does appear to be meaningless:

All that said, though, we would take issue with one point The Raving Atheist makes in his essay: the argument that one cannot ask for something directly in prayer. This is silly. Of course one can ask for whatever one wants. It does not ensure one will get it, but one can ask; and if one’s prayers are granted, well, it may be that God has granted that particular request. It could be also be coincidence, of course; but one must weigh the probability inherent in the request. Our atheist did get half the equation right, however; it is generally good form to also ask for strength, to accept what may come regardless.

So you can talk to the sky and whatever happens will happen according to the laws of probability and you better accept it, no matter what.

Update: Mr. Kepple has issued a clarification, having “noticed some small confusion over the direction of [his] mockery.” Other than his criticism of my position on prayer, he asserts, he was not mocking me, but the Wiccans.

Perhaps there has been some confusion over the direction of my mockery, too. As Kepple says, he and I are indeed “bedfellows” with respect to our assessment of the foolishness of the Wiccans. I only disagree with Kepple to the extent that he contends that prayer is meaningfully different from spell-casting, or that Catholicism is meaningfully different from Wicca.

God Squad Review LXXXVI

May 3, 2004 | 7 Comments

A Squad reader thinks his 86 year-old mother “is being picked on because she’s Jewish” the Catholic ladies at the nursing home angrily told her that “that the Jews are killing the Palestinians and that Jews don’t belong in Israel.” The Squad attributes this anti-Zionism to the fact that The Depression Generation “fought other children of immigrants for financial advancement, absorbing the often intense prejudices and bigotry of their ancestors.” Indeed, the Squad “often hear[s] stories from people of [the] mother’s generation about how they were chased home from school by gangs of kids of another religion.”

Was there really that much anti-Israel agitation in the 1930’s? Was there really that much Israel in the 1930’s? Who knows. Anyway, how would the Squad deal with those hateful old Catholic biddies? Like this:

We’d gently remind them the differences that matter most in this world are not those between Jews and Christians, but those between people of faith and those who believe nothing at all.

That’s right, join forces against the evil atheists. But was atheism the religion of those vicious school gangs? What did they do, corner the little Jewish and Christian kids in the locker room and brutally lecture them about the disproofs of the ontological and teleological arguments?

The Squad takes a similar approach in answering a second letter from a woman whose fianc

Turn About

May 2, 2004 | 8 Comments

My modus operandi, in case you haven’t noticed, is to attack a person’s position on a moral issue by demonstrating that it’s based upon a disprovable theological premise. An interesting example of the reverse strategy can be found in the comments to this post in Asymmetrical Information, where “Don P” implies that my brand of “proof atheism” is false because I’m an “anti-abortion fanatic wingnut blogger.” Actually, I’ve always considered myself an anti-idiotarian, barking moonbat who happens to be anti-choice (although somehow I still get a five-star rating from the Lefty Review.

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